Animism

Background: Animism is one of the oldest belief systems in the world, and people on nearly every continent practice it. Animism is prevalent in East Asia, mostly in folk religions.

Sacred Book: Animism is not an organized religion with a written book and theology. Families and villages through the generations pass down their beliefs through daily life.

The Nature of God: An animist believes that spirits live in everything around them. Trees, animals, homes, and rocks are just a few of the many things that contain spirits. Many Animists believe there is a divine being, but that being is impersonal and distant from them. Some spirits are believed to be intermediaries to a divine god. Other spirits may be the dominant spiritual being themselves.

Human Condition: Animists believe that they can have control over spirits if they do the right things. Animists regularly offer sacrifices to the spirits so that the spirits will not create distress for them or their family. Belief in human souls is central to animism, as is the belief that animals, plants and celestial bodies have spirits.

Eternity: Many believe that their actions in this world will directly affect what happens to them in the next world. Others believe the way a person dies will decide where they go after life here.

What is Salvation? Animism cannot provide a definite answer to the question of salvation. Through sacrifice and ritual, a person can appease the spirits and perhaps gain a higher status in the afterlife.

How is a person saved? Local Shamans, or other trained individuals, are often employed to conduct ritual ceremonies in which the spirits are contacted. Others seek to contact spirits through mediums or through divination. Because animists do not give a concrete definition to “salvation,” it is difficult to provide a path to salvation.

Notes: When confronted with Christianity, many Animists will find that their beliefs are weak. The Animist finds he has no moral base and no answer to the meaning of life. He will generally acknowledge that more formal religions have relevance to “ultimate” issues, but have no relevance to everyday life.

Many people in East Asia claim to belong to a formal religion, such as Islam, but their actual religious practices include a mix of formal religion and animistic practices. These animistic beliefs are often deeply engrained into a people’s cultural history.

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