Lance Foster (hengruh) wrote,
Lance Foster

Theism, Deism, Animism, Animatism

"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... Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names or metaphors in mythology. Religions which emphasize animism are mostly folk religions, such as the various forms of Shamanism, Shinto, or certain currents of Hinduism." (

In anthropology, some differentiate between animism and 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".
Mana, Marett states, is a concentrated form of animatistic force found within any of these objects that confer power, strength, and success. To various cultures, animatism and mana are visible through the successes and failures of these various objects. Success equals a high amount of animatism, or mana, whereas failure is the result of animatism, or mana, being lost." (

Mana is the Polynesian word for "power" much like the Force in Star Wars, or chi (Chinese) or Orenda (Iroquois).

I have heard it explained sometimes is that in animism, a mountain has a spirit (a spirit indwelling the mountain), whereas in animatism, the mountain is alive.

Animism/animatism is perhaps the oldest of all beliefs, as it is found in every traditional indigenous culture of which I am aware.

If one believes in the existence nature spirits, with the souls of dogs and elk and rocks and trees and rivers and thunder, one is aligned with animism/animatism. The idea of "virtues" in plants connects to the idea of the "mana" (power) of plants.


theism = a traditional and/or scripturally based belief in God (belief based on what has been handed down or taught, whether one's elders in oral tradition such as Native American tribal ways, or writings such as the Koran, Bible, etc.

pantheism = God IS the whole (the universe IS God)

panentheism = the whole is IN God (the universe is only a manifest part of God)

polytheism = multiple gods/goddesses

monotheism = one god/goddess


deism= a category of rationalistic (reason-based) belief in God (Spirit, Deity, ground of being, Dao, etc...) based on reason, experience, and the observation of nature

panendeism, polydeism, monodeism, etc.

"Polytheists do not always worship all the gods equally, but can be monolatrists, specialising in the worship of one particular deity. Other polytheists can be kathenotheists, worshiping different deities at different times."

-- all have room for belief in ghosts, spirits, wights, etc.

It can get as complex and convoluted as you want.

Animism does not require any sort of belief in God, of any kind. It just says everything has life, is alive. One could conceivably be a atheist and an animist.

Deism/theism (including polytheism, monotheism, pantheism, etc.) focus on the deity/gods. Pantheism says god is in/behind everything.

Animism just says everything is alive in some way.

You can be a pantheist and not be an animist. In other words, you could believe God is behind/in everything, but not believe that a tree has a soul of its own.

Theism and animism are two independent concepts, except for their belief in something beyond the material and visible.
Tags: animism, god, goddesses, religion

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