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(Latin, Anima, Soul)
Animism is the doctrine or theory of the soul. In current language the term has a twofold signification:
I. PHILOSOPHICAL--the doctrine that the soul is the principle of life in man and in other living things. As applied to man it embodies the essence of spiritualistic as opposed to Materialistic philosophy.
II. ETHNOLOGICAL--a theory proposed in recent years to account for the origin and development of religion. As such it is known as the Soul or Ghost-theory of religion.
For the application of the theory of animism to living things in general, see LIFE. So far as it is specially concerned with man, animism aims at a true knowledge of man's nature and dignity by establishing the existence and nature of the soul, its union with the body, its origin and duration. These problems are at the basis of our conscious existence and underlie all our studies in mental and moral life. The importance of animism today is shown because;
In establishing the doctrine of animism the general line of reasoning is from effect to cause, from phenomena to their subject or agent. From the acts of mind and of will manifested in individual conscious life, we are forced to admit the existence of their source and principle, which is the human soul; from the nature of the activity is inferred the nature of the agent. Scholastic philosophy, with Aristotle and the Christian Fathers, vindicates the true dignity of man by proclaiming the soul to be a substantial and spiritual principle endowed with immortality. The soul is a substance because it has the elements of being, potency, stability, and is the subject of modifications--which elements make up the notion of substance. That the soul is a spiritual substance, i.e. immaterial and a spirit, is inferred from its acts of intelligence and of freewill, which are performed without the intrinsic cooperations of the bodily organs. By immortality is understood in general terms the future life of the soul after separation from the body. The chief errors are those which contend;
In this sense animism is the theory proposed by some evolutionists to account for the origin of religion. Evolution assumes that the higher civilized races are the outcome and development from a ruder state. This early stage resembles that of the lowest savages existing today. Their religious belief is known as animism, i.e. belief in spiritual beings, and represents the minimum or rudimentary definition of religion. With this postulate as the groundwork for the philosophy of religion, the development of religious thought can be traced from existing data and therefore admits of scientific treatment. The principle of continuity, which is the basal principle in other departments of knowledge, was thus applied to religion. Comte had given a general outline of this theory in his law of the three states. According to him the conception of the primary mental condition of mankind is a state of "pure fetishism, constantly characterized by the free and direct exercise of our primitive tendency to conceive all external bodies soever, natural or artificial, as animated by a life essentially analogous to our own, with mere difference of intensity". Proposed at a time when evolution was in the ascendency, this opinion fell at once under the dominion of the current conviction. The hope was entertained that by a wider and more complete induction religion might be considered as a purely natural phenomenon and thus at last be placed on a scientific basis.
The foundation of animism as a theory of religion is the twofold principle of evolution:
Animism therefore discovers human life in all moving things. To the savage and to primitive man there is no distinction between the animate and the inanimate. Nature is all alive. Every object is controlled by its own independent spirit. Spirits are seen in the rivers, the lakes, the fountains, the woods, the mountains, the trees, the animals, the flowers, the grass, the birds. Spiritual existences--e.g. elves, gnomes, ghosts, manes, demons, deities--inhabit almost everything, and consequently almost everything is an object of worship. The Milky Way is "the path of the souls leading to the spirit-land"; and the Northern Lights are the dances of the dead warriors and seers in the realms above. The Australians say that the sounds of the wind in the trees are the voices of the ghosts of the dead communing with one another or warning the living of what is to come. The conception of the human soul formed from dreams and visions served as a type on which primitive man framed his ideas of other souls and of spiritual beings from the lowest elf up to the highest god. Thus the gods of the higher religions have been evolved out of the spirits, whether ghosts or not, of the lower religions; and the belief in ghosts and spirits was produced by the savage's experience of dreams and trances. Here, it is claimed, we have the germ of all religions, although Tylor confesses that it is impossible to trace the process by which the doctrine of souls gave rise to the belief in the great gods. Originally, spirits were the application of human souls to non-human beings; they were not supernatural, but only became so in the course of time. Now, as modern science shows the belief in ghosts or spirits to be a hallucination, the highest and purest religion--being only the elaboration of savage beliefs, to the savage mind reasonable enough--cannot be accepted by the modern mind for the reason that it is not supernatural nor even true. Such in brief is the outline of the theory by which Tylor attempts to explain not only the phenomenon but the whole history and development of religion.
Tylor's theory expresses two sides of animism, viz., souls and spirits. Spencer attempts to synthesize them into one, viz., souls or ancestor-worship. He agrees with Tylor in the animistic explanation of dreams, diseases, death, madness, idiocy, i.e. as due to spiritual influences; but differs in presenting one solution only; viz., cult of souls or worship of the dead. "The rudimentary form of all religion", he writes, "is the propitiation of dead ancestors", or "ghost propitiation". Hence Spencer denies that the ascription of life to the whole of nature is a primitive thought, or that men ever ascribed to animals, plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena souls of their own. Spencer's theory is known as the "Ghost-theory of Religion" and at the present time is generally discredited even by evolutionists. With Tylor the worship of the dead is an important subdivision of animism; with Spencer it is the one and all of religion. Lippert consistently carries out the theory of Spencer and, instead of animism, uses the word Seelenkult. De la Saussaye says that Lippert pushes his view to an extreme and supports it with rich, but not over-trustworthy, material. Schultze considers fetishism and animism as equally primitive. F.B. Jevons rejects the theory that all gods of earlier races were spirits of dead men deified.
The animism of Tylor is vague and indefinite. It means the doctrine of spirits in general, and is best expressed by "Animated Nature". Fetishism is a subordinate department of animism, viz, the doctrine of spirits embodied in, or attached to, or conveying influence through, certain animals or material objects. The animism of Tylor differs little from the naturalism of Reville or the fetishism of De Ia Rialle. It accounts for the belief in immortality and metempsychosis. It thus explains the belief in the passage of souls from men to beasts, and to sticks and stones. It includes tree-worship and plant-worship--e.g. the classic hamadrya, the tree-worship of the South African natives, the rice-feasts held by the Dyaks of Borneo to keep the rice-souls in the plants lest by their departure the crop decay. It is the solution proposed for Manes-worship, for the Lares and the Penates among the Greeks and Romans, where the dead ancestors, passing into deities, go on protecting the family as the dead chief watches over the tribe. In animism Tylor finds an explanation for funeral rites and customs--feasts of the dead, the human sacrifices of widows in India, of slaves in Borneo; sending messages to dead chiefs of Dahomey by killing captives taken in war, the slaughtering of the Pawnee's horse and of the Arab's camel at the graves of their masters, placing food and weapons in, or on, the tomb--customs which survive in the practice of burning paper messengers and placing stone, clay, or wooden substitutes on graves in China and Japan.
The general principles of animism are:
Tylor published the third edition of "Primitive Culture" in 1891, confident of having proved the evolution theory as to the origin of our civilization from a savage condition, the savage belief in souls and spirits as the germs of religion, and the continuity of this belief in its progressive forms of development up to Monotheism. Yet the hope was short-lived. More scientific research and severer criticism have deprived this theory of its former wide influence.
(1) The assumption that the lowest savages of today give approximately a faithful picture of primitive times is not true. Savages have a past and a long one, even though not recorded. "Nothing in the natural history of man", writes the Duke of Argyll, "can be more certain than that morally and intellectually and physically he can and often does sink from a higher to a lower level". Max Müller assures us that "if there is one thing which a comparative study of religions places in the clearest light, it is the inevitable decay to which every religion is exposed. . . . Whenever we can trace back a religion to its first beginnings, we find it free from many blemishes that affected it in its later states". Even Tylor admits that animism is everywhere found with the worship of a great God. Brinton holds that the resemblance of the savage mind to that of the child is superficial and likens the savage to the uncultivated and ignorant adult among ourselves.
(2) It is opposed by the Philological and Mythological schools. Thus Max Müller explains much in animism by superstition, a poetical conception of nature, and especially by personification. He says that inanimate objects were conceived as active powers and as such were described as agents by a necessity of language, without, however, predicating life or soul of them; for human language knows at first no agents except human agents. Hence animism was a stage of thought reached slowly, and not by sudden impulses. "What is classed as animism in ancient Aryan mythology", he writes, "is often no more than a poetical conception of nature which enables the poet to address sun, moon, rivers and trees as if they could hear and understand his words." The same truth finds abundant illustration in the Psalms. "Sometimes, however," he adds, "what is called animism is a superstition which, after having recognized agents in sun, moon, rivers and trees, postulates on the strength of analogy the existence of agents or spirits dwelling in other parts of nature also, haunting our houses, bringing misfortunes upon us, though sometimes conferring blessings. These ghosts are often mixed up with the ghosts of the departed and form a large chapter in the history of ancient superstition." The ghost, or ancestor, theory received a fatal blow from Lang's "Making of a Religion", where it is shown that the belief of the most primitive savages is in a High God, Supreme God, and Moral God. Lang thus confutes Tylor's contentions:
(3) Animism is not the sole and chief source of religion. De la Saussaye says that the belief of the early Teutons consisted only to a small extent of animistic ideas concerning souls and spirits. Prof. F. B. Gummere teaches that in Teutonic mythology animism has not succeeded in annexing nature-mythology. F. B. Jevons holds that the religious idea is no part of animism pure and simple, and to make the personal agents of animism into supernatural agents or divine powers there must be added some idea which is not contained in animism, and that idea is a specifically religious idea, one which is apprehended directly or intuitively by the religious consciousness. E. Mogk, whose inclinations lean to Tylor, is yet constrained by a scientific mind to recognize nature-worship and the great gods as original; and he warns the student of Teutonic mythology that he must not allow himself to be seduced into disregarding the fact that the worship of the God of Heaven is one of the most original elements of the Teutonic belief. De la Saussaye and Pfleiderer hold that the supposition according to which every conception of an object--e.g. tree, sun, moon, clouds, thunder, earth, heaven--as a living being has an animistic character is undemonstrable and improbable. They show from Teutonic mythology that the power and beneficent influence of these objects of nature and their symbolic conception belong to another sphere of ideas and sentiments than that of animism.
(4) Prof. W. Robertson Smith and Prof. Frazer conclusively prove that the animistic religion of fear was neither universal nor primitive. According to Prof. Frazer, the primitive reason of sacrifice was communion with God. Even worship of the dead cannot be entirely explained animistically as the cult of souls. Animistic conceptions may enter into the worship of ancestors and heroes; but other ideas are so essential that they cannot be regarded merely as modifications of soul-worship.
(5) It is not primitive nor specific. Prof. Brinton says, "There is no special form of religious thought which expresses itself as what has been called by Dr. Tylor Animism, i.e. the belief that inanimate objects are animated and possess souls or spirits." This opinion, which in one guise or another is common to all religions and many philosophies, "is merely a secondary phenomenon of the religious sentiment, not a trait characteristic of primitive faiths". De la Saussaye holds that animism is always and everywhere mixed up with religion; it is nowhere the whole of religion. Cf. ANTHROPOLOGY, MYTHOLOGY, EVOLUTION, TOTEMISM, SHAMANISM, FETISHISM, RELIGION, SPIRITISM.
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APA citation. (1907). Animism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01526a.htm
MLA citation. "Animism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01526a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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