The Meaning of Animism in Shamanism

Animism (from Latin: anima, ‘breath, spirit, life’) is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Potentially, animism perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—as animated and alive.” This is the Wikipedia definition for animism, which is, leaves a lot to be desired.

All things have the Divine within them but also throughout them. We are all of star matter, light and of the material from this planet we call Earth. It is all intermingled to have brought about all that is, was and forever shall be. The material is combined with the spiritual. It is in fact one.

A rock is just as alive as you or I. Most people, of course, can not perceive its motion because that rock moves in another way than we do. It is at another energy frequency than we are yet it too is of this planet and star matter. As are the trees, four legged, two legged, slithering, crawling, swimming and flying ones. Even water, fire, thunder, lightning, four winds, mountains, clouds all have a material form which can be seen. Within all is the spirit that moves the material. That is one with the material.

So what about those unseen forces which we collectively call spirits? Well, they too have a material form though we do not perceive it as such. We view it as light or darkness depending upon the spirit. That is to say an undead spirit which is bound in this world, for whatever reason, may be seen as a shadow person or darkness. Yet, in order for an undead spirit to be darkness does it not have some form of substance to repel the light? Darkness is the absence of light which is as scientifically measurable as is the speed of light. Our ancient forebears knew these things. They were far smarter than their descendants give them credit for today!

Correctly perceiving the world around you as being fully alive is to live in a different way entirely. This is how I bring it into perspective for others. View every “thing” around you as being a person. Someone whom you should be respectful of and act with honor around. Take from your mind the word, “thing,” and replace it with person. Make the effort to return to a proper perspective. Your relationship with all around you will quickly begin to change.

I have seen people kicking and yelling at their vehicle because it broke down. If they were to treat that vehicle with respect then maybe they would have broken down in their driveway instead of in the middle of rush hour traffic. When we treat others around us as our ancestors did then we place ourselves within the circular cycles of life. We work with others around us. Just like a village working together to bring in the harvest. We work towards a steady flow challenges of life. Honoring one another for each contribution as a part of the microcosm and macrocosm of life.

Where the shaman comes into play is when the balance within and between the microcosm and macrocosm become disturbed. This imbalance creates a situation which upsets the norm. A shamans specialty is to determine what happened to create the imbalance, who was involved, how to resolve the imbalance and thus return all back to the cycle of life.

Within this cycle of life can be found the process of death. It should be noted that many believe we are here to live life for today not tomorrow. When in actuality it is all about tomorrow. It is all about the process of death. How one advances towards death. How one will join with the process through living day. To embrace death is to acknowledge the high value of each day, hour, minute and second. For it is within each day, hour, minute and second we make decisions which will directly affect the outcome of our death.

Death is the central part of animism in that afterwards we return unto the Great Mother. Embraced by her soil to return the shape that was given unto us for a short while. Yet our very essence carries on. The pure energy form of who we really are can not be destroyed. It merely leaves the corporal shape for that of another. Though in the interim we are to return to the underworld. Within this interim we shall be held accountable, in a manner of speaking, for how we lived our life. Did we work within the balance? Were we honorable? Did we respect all life? All spirit? Did we add value to the world in which we departed? This leads us to a very European concept called, hamingja.

You see, as you live your life you can accumulate hamingja or detract from it. It can also be passed down from the lives of your ancestors, or in other words, your previous lives.. Look at it as a sort of bank of “good fortune.” Accumulated by living honorably, respectful of all life, working within the cycles and striving to contribute something benevolent into the world. By doing more than just living life for today or just being a “good person,” you add to your hamingja or bank of good fortune.

This matters because when one meets death it is in the underworld where this good fortune can put you into your next life further ahead than you would be otherwise. It is not that you may or may not come back as a toad or rock or another life form. Rather it is a matter of you coming back remembering your previous life or lives. Having a much further jump start into the new life in which you have been reborn. Being able to contribute even more great works to the world which adds even further to your good fortune for the next life as well as the generations that follow. It is being a part of the cycle that stacks builds upon the next.

Shamans further view this good fortune as a means to becoming a helper from the Otherworld. When we cross over with a great amount of good fortune we may have the opportunity to remain in the Otherworld to better serve shamans in this world. We become masters on the other side. Helping as spirits, guides and the very ones we call upon in this world for help. We will take on shapes of power animals, mythical beings, etc… Hopefully you can now get an understanding of how hamingja has great value!

One can also take away from this spiritual bank of good fortune. Performing acts which are contrary to the light, love, life and luck. Stirring up the following in yourself or others: gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, hatred, sorrow, vainglory and egotism. These states of being can quickly stir one towards a path of bankruptcy. This is not to say that one should not enjoy life but rather all in moderation with a keen eye always on the growth of that good fortune. In doing so you force yourself to live honorable with respect for others. Should another person act dishonorable or disrespectful then it is they who have lost the struggle. It is they who have brought forth ruin. As long as you maintain the high ground then the Great Mother, Spirit, Father and all others will side with you. The balance must be regained and maintained.

We may have gone off the beaten path there a little but all of the aforementioned is valuable to your understanding about animism. How important our ancestors viewed all of their relationships within this world and the other. The role of a shaman as well as their value within the community. Ones good fortune may hinge on the work of a shaman to restore balance. Let alone the shaman of old knew much about the history of the ancestors of the tribe. They knew the “passwords,” “names,” and the location of all of the valuable objects. These we shall cover later but it is important for a quick mention at this time.

In summary, when you look around now see the reality that all is alive. All have the spark within. All have been touched, in some ways more so than others, by our Great Mother, Spirit and Father. The serpent is so much closer to the Great Mother Earth and the Underworld. The many spirits who cross over to help the shaman are, having been selected by the Great Spirit, much closer to the Great Spirit. The high flying eagle, hawk, vultures and great birds of the air are closer to Great Father Sky, Sun, Moon, Stars and celestial powers. All have a purpose within the cycle of life towards death. All have their symbolism and are archetypes as well for very good reason.

Our ancestral heritage is a depth of animism that can not even remotely be described in one sentence. I have attempted to put a better perspective on it with all of what I have written here though even within these paragraphs I am not fully content. Perhaps it best to say that animism is experiential, practical, eternal, cyclical, ancestral and deeply personal yet common amongst all ancient peoples. We shall move on to explore more bits and pieces of animism in the topics ahead. Eventually you too will come into contact with all as a shaman. You can then see for yourself how easy it is to describe such a deep topic in brief!

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