There are as many definitions of Animism as there are people on that path. Terms like Modern Animism, Primitive Animism and Bio-regional Animism have been created, defined, then redefined over the last century, and it can all be very confusing. I’ll define Practical Animism from my own perspective here, with the understanding that there are other definitions out there.
Let’s start with Animism. Here is the dictionary definition. (WARNING: Skip over the next three lines if, like me, reading big words makes you sleepy)
… 1. a doctrine that the vital principle of organic development is immaterial spirit
… 2. attribution of conscious life to objects and phenomena of nature or to inanimate objects
… 3. belief in the existence of spirits separable from bodies
Wow. That was REALLY dry, which is not a surprise from a dictionary. Let’s make this all more accessible. For starters, let’s call the “immaterial spirit”, which is a real mouthful, the “spark”. With that term, I’ll lay out a few beliefs…
All things host a spark.
… And I mean ALL things; People, animals, plants, rocks, rivers, clouds, planets, and even ideas.
Sparks have desires.
… This implies consciousness and free will. So a river wants to flow, and fire wants to burn.
Sparks can affect their host.
… When a host has a choice its spark affects that choice. Nothing is really random.
Sparks are aware of each other.
… Sparks can combine their wills when they agree. Everything is connected.
Given these four deceptively simple affirmations, a huge variety of very complex and very different belief structures can be created. This is where we come to the Practical part. How do we apply these simple affirmations to our lives? Since there is no way to know if any of this is really true, I am suggesting an approach where we create a practice that follows this one all important guideline:
Your practice must have a positive effect that is separate from your religious beliefs.
This is actually a hard rule to follow. The idea is that anything we do based on our religious beliefs must have some benefit, even if the religion turns out to be myth. The inverse is that you must never justify a negative act with your religious beliefs. Of course, the definitions of positive and negative are open to interpretation, which is where all the hard work lies.
And that is the challenge I put to you, to recognize and consider the complex ethical and moral dilemmas that arise when you live your life according to your religious beliefs. In my practice I try to examine ethical questions and guess how the spark for some object sees the world, combining these elements in meditation and ritual.
… If I can help someone, must I? Should I not interfere in their journey?
… Is it fine to eat animals if they were treated well and I approach the process with respect? In our world, to live is to kill, so where is the bright line?
… What does a cheeseburger want?
… Can I invoke the spark of the Beaver to help me stop procrastinating? Let’s face it, beavers get it done, one tasty tree at a time. They really know how to stick with a job. (heh!)
And the list goes on and on. See you on the ether!