Lance Foster (hengruh) wrote,
Lance Foster

Just What IS "Bioregional Animism"?

So, just to make it clear to myself and others what I mean when I use the term, Bioregional Animism, it is worth getting into some etymology.

Bioregion, Bioregional, Bioregionalism

Bio- "life" (Greek "bios")

Wikipedia definition of region: "Region is a geographical term that is used in various ways among the different branches of geography. In general, a region is a medium-scale area of land or water, smaller than the whole areas of interest (which could be, for example, the world, a nation, a river basin, mountain range, and so on), and larger than a specific site. A region may be seen as a collection of smaller units (as in "the New England states") or as one part of a larger whole (as in "the New England region of the United States"). Regions can be defined by physical characteristics, human characteristics, and functional characteristics."

As I define it, "bioregion" is an area that is definable by a particular set of biota (living things: plants, animals, etc.). So "bioregional" would be "relating to a bioregion".

-ism= "The suffix -ism denotes a distinctive system of beliefs, myth, doctrine or theory that guides a social movement, institution, class or group. "

So "bioregionalism" would mean "following a system of beliefs, myths, doctrines, or theories, based on an area that is definable by a set of biota (living things: plants, animals, etc.); a definable, distinctive or characteristic set of biota is implied."


Wikipedia defines it so:
"Animism (from Latin anima (soul, life)) is a philosophical, religious or spiritual idea that souls or spirits exist not only in humans and animals but also in plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment..."(Wikipedia:Animism).

Compare it to Animatism:
"Animatism is a term coined by British anthropologist Robert Marett to refer to "a belief in a generalized, impersonal power over which people have some measure of control". Marett argues that certain cultures believe "people, animals, plants, and inanimate objects were endowed with certain powers, which were both impersonal and supernatural..." (Wikipedia:Animatism).

"Convinced that primitive man had not developed the intellectual to form even such simplistic explanations as Tylor proposed, Marett also criticized Tylor’s theories of animism, suggesting that early religion was more emotional and intuitional in origin. He believed that early man recognized some inanimate objects because of their specific characteristics; treated all animate objects as having a life, but never distinguished soul as separate from the body. Considering that early man's universal belief in mana is so self-evident, Marett found insignificant the question of how men and women developed the belief that a spirit or soul resides in all objects" (

Animism implies that a spirit inhabits a rock, sort of how some feel a spirit inhabits a human body...and animatism implies that the rock has a diffuse sort of power shared by all things to one degree or another.

Now, I don't think that indigenous people necessarily made those distinctions...but every indigenous culture is not like another. Perhaps an animistic culture would speak to a particular Rock as a Person (following Hallowell and others), while an animatistic culture would deal more with the Orenda or Mana, and the Rock as a focal point of that Force.

Personally I have had both animistic and animatistic experiences, as well as some others which do not seem to be exactly one or the other. I don't think most people who had those experiences always intellectualized it in that "distancing" way, because the point was to build relationships with the Rock or the Hill or the Bear, not to distance them.

And where does one put the idea of Nature Spirits in Animism and Animatism? For Spirits also sometime reside in a living form not their own: a tree or a stone could house a Nature Spirit, yet the rock or tree have a separate and distinct Personhood different from that of the Alf or Landvaettir.

But back to "Bioregional Animism"...

My own working definition of "Bioregional Animism" is

"A system of animistic beliefs, myths, doctrines, or theories, based on a geographic area that is definable by a set of biota (living things: plants, animals, etc.); a definable, distinctive or characteristic set of biota is implied...and that these biota have souls/spirits with particular powers."

Three things I now see that make what I believe not exactly Bioregional Animism in this sense anyways.

1. I do not restrict souls/spirits (Personhood) only to plants and animals, but also to land forms, stones, rivers, mountains, winds, storms, etc.

2. The concept of a Creator is not inherent in bioregional animism, yet it is not excluded. Most indigenous peoples had both a Creator God, even if distant, and living spirits in the land.

3. There is no discussion of other spirits outside of ensouled biota, not only natural elements, forms and forces, but spirits that never were alive in any sense (angels, devils, etc.) nor at one time in the past were alive: human ghosts (and we Ioways also had animal about plant ghosts? Ghosts of cliffs and stones?). Not to mention thoughtforms that seem like spirits and act like them, but are only shaped-mana-substance. Or entities from other existences (as the Druid code goes, "the love of all existences.") Or Gods and Goddesses and....?

But assuredly, in this blog, my major concern is Bioregional Animism, though I stretch it to include nonbiota, such as stones, cliffs, mountains...and wherever whimsy and experiences take me :-)
Tags: animism, bioregion

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