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Thread: Animism And Working With Spirits

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    Animism And Working With Spirits

    The Khoisan people of Southern Africa are an interesting people. They belong to the M Haplogroup genetically speaking. M Haplogroup has been around on earth for over 100,000 years. The Khoisan were and still are “animists,” for the entire duration of their existence. Animism, as far as human culture and genetic data goes, has been in practice for over 100,000 years.

    The word “animism” is a recent Western/Academic term coined and used to refer to practices of an indigenous culture/race of people which shares universal elements across the board. It should be kept in mind that no indigenous culture has a name for their “animism” because such “animism” is simply a part of their ancient human culture. I was born and raised in Thai-Khmer culture, which is animistic.

    “Animism” is so ancient, that most indigenous cultures that are animistic lack a word for “god” in their language, because animism is so ancient, that it pre-dates the human conceptualization of gods and deities. For instance, in Khmer, there is actually no native lexeme [word] for god or deity: such words to denominate such concepts were borrowed into the Khmer language from Pali & Sanskrit.

    The constituent components of what is designated as “animism” are: (1) The Spirit/Matter dichotomic world-mold [that besides a physical/mortal world existing, spirits exist], (2) The belief in the supernatural, or supra-natural, or praeter-natural [that because spirits exist, there is a spiritual realm that is independent of the mortal/physical realm], (3) Ancestor Veneration [that because humans have a spirit, when your kith and kin die, they are still alive and watch over you as spirits], (4) The belief that all things in Nature – trees, plants, rivers, landscape, mountains, rocks, etc – have spirits/psyches/Animus. Animus being the Latin word for something in between Mind [psyche] & Spirit. From where the word “Animism” is derived. Animus corresponds with the Pali word “Vin~n~an” which means Mind, Psyche, Awareness, Spirit, Consciousness, (5) The belief that Nature is both a source of magic & medicine [plants, minerals, and animal parts have both magical and medicinal properties], (6) The communion with spirits and ancestors via various methods.

    Regarding data point 3: Ancestor Veneration is an essential part of my own culture, which is a blend of Thai-Khmer and Chinese culture. We have at our homes ancestor altars for our departed relatives. You offer them food and drinks at their altar, talk to them, pray to them. Your dead ancestors and relatives are the first group of spirits to go to for help when you need help. Ancestor veneration used to be a component of ancient Norse “pagan” cultures as well. As well as ancient European cultures in general: the ancient Celts were animists; and hence the Druids were as well.

    Regarding data point 4: In my culture, we call the animus [spirit/psyche] of plants and landscape “Nik-Ta.” Buddhism considers Nik-Tas to be “low order spirits,” meaning not very spiritually evolved if compared to devas and devatas and ascended beings [bodhisattvas]. We all generally know that in ancient Europe, Roman Empire times, the same types of spirits were referred to as nymphs and dryads and dyads, as well as genii loci [spirit of places]. In fact, in the old Roman Empire cities has public altars to their genius loci upon which you could offer food, drinks, and sacrifices. In Pre-Islamic times, the same types of spirits of nature and places were call Jinn; which later became demonized by Islam. In the British Isles during ancient times, the same types of spirits of plants and places were known as things like Fairies, Faye, Gnomes, Hobgoblins, Elves, and so on.

    Regarding data point 5: Humans get sick. In ancient times children often died very easily due to sickness, disease, and parasitic infection. And so, Traditional Healers, which are called “Kru-Mor” in our culture, were a vital part of ancient human social order. These days the West has coined a term to refer to such Traditional Healers: Shamans. The Etymology of the word “Shaman” comes from the Pali word “Samana” which meant a Buddhist Ascetic, a Samanera being a young Buddhist monk, and Samanos was the word by which Buddhists were known to the ancient Greeks. The Pali word “Samana” comes from the Sanskrit word “Shramana.” The Shramana were a heterodoxic group of people who rejected the Vedas. The Shramana gave rise to Jainism, Buddhism, and Yoga in ancient times. “Shamans” are found in all indigenous cultures. They are the medicine men/women, who commune with spirits of Nature in order to learn the medicinal and magical properties of plants to heal their people.

    Regarding data point 6: There are universal [present in all ancient, animistic, and indigenous human cultures] methods/methodologies for establishing communion with spirits and the supernatural.

    One universal method of communicating with spirits and your ancestors is via divination. In ancient times, before tarot cards, we’re talking about thousands and thousands of years ago, bones and shells were used to divine with. For example, in our Chinese culture we have something called “Moon Blocks,” which we use to talk to spirits with. Moon Blocks [google it] are two wooden blocks that look like red bananas. You ask the spirit a question, toss them, and depending on how they land, you get a “YES/NO” answer. In ancient times, Moon Blocks [called Jiaobei] were made from two clam shells. People inland who did not live near the beach, made wooden clamshells, which became Moon Blocks.

    Over in Africa, the Yoruba, the second most ancient human race on earth per genetic y-DNA Haplogroup, use 4 cowrie shells to communicate with their spirits. How the shells land gives you a YES/NO/MAYBE answer. Over in Benin, Togo, and Ghana, where Vodu is practices, they also use 4 shells.

    Besides bone and shell divination tools, Dowsing tools are also used to communicate with spirits. In my culture, Buddhist monks who have spirit teachers [“familiar spirits” in Western terms] ask their spirit teachers questions and use a rod placed into a ring [the dowsing device] to derive the answer from their spirit teacher. In Africa some ancient animist culture [Congo region] use a certain kind of dowsing instrument in the form of a piece of wood shaped like an animal and another piece of small wood that is round and fits in your fingers. The little round piece of wood is rubbed on the smooth back of the wooden animal. If the rubbing is sticky, that is a YES, if the rubbing is smooth and doesn’t stick, that is a NO. The same concept of dowsing via friction and rubbing can be found in use in radionics and psionic devices in the West.

    Another universal method of communicating with spirits and ancestors is via dreams. We would pray to our dead relatives for something, and ask them to enter our dreams.

    Another universal method is asking the spirits and ancestors for signs and omens. This is something I do regularly. It’s a simple method. You ask your spirit or a dead relative to give you a sign: “If I should relocate get this new job, let me see a red bird.”

    Another universal method is via trance/meditation, called “samadhi” in Buddhism. The ancient Greeks called it “Ecstasy.” Ecstasy was the central practice of the Cult of Dionysus. The Cult of Dionysus [google it] is 8000 years old. Trance is used extensively in my culture, in the form of trance mediumship, where a person enters a trance state and spirits speak thru the medium. Balinese culture used trance extensively to work with their spirits. The same with African animistic cultures, such as the Vodu of Benin, which during the slave trade, was brought to Haiti, becoming Haitian Voodoo. As well as Yoruba Religion, which during the slave trade, was brought to Cuba, becoming Santeria.

    Another method of working with spirits is something the ancient Greeks called “Enthusiasm.” Enthusiasm is derived from En+Theos, meaning that the god/divinity enters your body. In contemporary language, we call it “spirit possession.” The very ancient Cult of Dionysus also used enthusiasm. As did the very famous Oracle of Delphi, where the spirit of Apollo entered the body of the Prophetess to give people oracular and logomatic messages/answers to their questions.

    Enthusiasm is used in my culture, as well as Balinese culture and folk Chinese Taoism. The most well known religion, to a Westerner, that uses enthusiasm would be Haitian Voodoo, where the Loas/Lwas [Voodoo spirits] “Mounts” people in ecstatic states. During Tambors [Santeria drumming ceremonies], this also happens where people enter trance by way of frenzy dancing to drumming, and the spirits mount them. Once the spirit takes over your body, they then directly talk and interact with you, and heal you should you need healing.

    In essence, animism is humanity’s only universal religion, or ur-religion to be more precise. Properly understood, “pagan,” meaning the way and folk culture of the paganus [the rural folk in the country side] mean the same thing in practice as animism.

    The unfortunate thing about the word “pagan” is that it has been absurdly abused by the Church and Academia over the past 500 years, that it has lost any real meaning. To the Church, anybody who wasn’t a Christian [mainly Catholic in proper context] was a “pagan” [or “heathen”]. And to the old academic institutions of old world Europe [1600-1700s] “paganism” was a word used to mean any thing that was polytheistic [many gods, hence Classical Paganism], which in practice was so vague and broad, that anything that wasn’t Christian, Jewish, or Muslim is “pagan.” By such nebulous and sweeping generalizations, even a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Taoist would be a “pagan.”

    I find it regretful and unfortunate that although animism was an integral part of ancient European cultures, it is today unknown by most Westerners, and even by Western Occultists. Fortunately, it still exists in practice in rural folk cultures across Europe. It is Europe’s “Old Religion.” What existed before Christianity. It is still alive and well in indigenous cultures and peoples around the earth.

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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    I find people tend to forget that within the Animism category there is also Animatism. Then that idea of Animatism crosses into the idea of Mana for instance where certain things or people can have so much of it that even walking in their footsteps can be lethal to others. So many conditions to both the idea of energy, spirit, life and at which point it is "Alive" and "Aware". That or which point it might be broken from the living entity and simply becomes force but no longer perceived as being alive or aware. Sort of like the seed or the tree is one of the green people, yet a broken branch is simply something that contain's an aspect of their energy but not alive on its own. Yet through that fragment you can connect to the Super Spirit of the Green People.
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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    You'll have to forgive me for not knowing what animatism is: 1) I'm Asian, raised in an Asian culture & 2) I dropped out of school.

    In our culture we don't call it "aminism." We don't call it anything because it's just an aspect of the culture. Terms like "animism" are Western academic designations for things which have existed long before such designations were applied. Long before human civilization. I don't get too caught up in the words. Words point at the Essence and often serve to obscure such essence.
    Last edited by paganus; 25 Sep 2019 at 20:19.

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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    Figure in Animism you roughly have two forms.

    In form A all creature's have a spirit or identity that is individual and unique. From the smallest particle to the largest item, each thing can have a unique spirit or identity. Some groups even believing that man made things could have a spirit contained within them. The Algonquin-speaking peoples of North American use the term Manitou (one of various spellings) which gives everything it's spirit and living force. Even those things that are man made. It is a force that is both placed under Animism and animatism.

    In form B you still have the potential to have a spirit but larger forms will have more defined identities. Smaller forms will have less developed or unique identities, even to the point where they may share group or a mass identity. Group B may also hold the idea of Super spirits where there is a group super spirit. Say a Super spirit for all deer within the Cervidae Biological classification that connection all deer types together while each individual deer as a creature has its own spirit as well. Not to say this idea can not be found in group A also though.

    In animatism it is recognized as a energy that typically has no identity or persona. It's usually impersonal, unseen but permeates through everything in varying amounts. Because of that different things will have different amounts of that "energy" found within it. As such a place might be seen as sacred because of the energy that is found there. A person might be seen as having so much energy flowing through them that they have to be carried so that another is not killed by walking in their footprints. Some Polynesian cultures believed that Mana (that energy) produced by a Chieftain could harm others if they walked in the foot prints left by him.
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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    Thank you Monsno. My culture (Southeast Asian) is probably the first one.

    We don't call it "spirit" though. We call it "Wynyan" or "Vynyan" (my phonetic spelling). That word is from the Pali word "Vyn~n~an" which means "mind, psyche, consciousness, awareness."

    Everything has a Wynyan, a mind/psyche. Roughly corresponding to the old Latin Animus/Anima. As a Theravada Buddhist culture, we don't believe in spirits proper. Everything has a mind, is aware, has chitta (roughly: psyche).

    I suppose a better designation to describe the "animism" of my culture is "panpsychism."

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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    Yeah Spirit becomes a catch-all term many times. It's like for many Native American nation's "Spirit" or Great Spirit sort of means "The Great Unknowable" because it is something that is beyond everything yet is an awareness or consciousness that touches and fills everything. It's more than a god figure as it sits over everything, even the spirit world.

    I follow more of a shamanic like pathway so have lots of animism / animatism influences. Yet unfortunately have to use mostly recognized words to talk about things. But the words really do not properly express just what it is you want to convey. Lots of words to are being modified because people are using them now for everything and anything. You'll find that some of us on this site use term's the old way or have stopped using them for the most part while newer people will still use them.
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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    Yeah, the word "spirit" is over used

    Beyond words, what's important is the practice, the relationship with Nature, and the end results.

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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    Last year I wrote an entire zine about the "animism" practiced in Southeast Asia, Cuba, China, and Latin America. Magic and Sorcery are universal elements in animism, and so the zine talks about those subject matters as well. The practice and end results are what are important. The word/label/designation is merely a finger that points to the essence.

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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    Quote Originally Posted by paganus View Post
    Last year I wrote an entire zine about the "animism" practiced in Southeast Asia, Cuba, China, and Latin America. Magic and Sorcery are universal elements in animism, and so the zine talks about those subject matters as well. The practice and end results are what are important. The word/label/designation is merely a finger that points to the essence.
    That was an interesting read. Still going through it as there is a lot of material contained within it.

    A few thoughts though.

    If your searching a lot of times subjects such as Hoodoo, Voodoo, Voudon, Santeria, etc will also be listed as African Disapora Religions vice ATR's (Africa Traditional Religions). Especially when it comes to how they have been changed and incorporated in the Caribbean, Southern United States and parts of Mexico.

    A term I didn't see in your write up was "HEDGE RIDING" but in parts of Europe that is a form of Animism / Shamanism. How far back it actually goes in origin is hard to say. Crossing the hedge was seen as crossing the veil or crossing both the barrier of life and death but also crossing the boundaries between the dimensions or realities.
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    Re: Animism And Working With Spirits

    I tackle old European animism midway in the Zine as well as Afro-Cuban stuff. And Taoist Sorcery

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