Interpretations of Animism?

Animism (Photo credit: Max Braun)

I’m hoping to get a good discussion going on animism here and our experiences. I’ll provide a little background on where I’m coming from.

First off, I have to say that I haven’t read a great deal on traditional animistic cultures at this time. Of course, I do need to learn more about that aspect of it to broaden my perspective, but the reason I haven’t looked into other cultures much yet is that I had an encounter in the middle of the night in the woods near my house and came back home an animist. I can’t really go into details here, but it was beautiful, terrifying, and very dangerous. Before that point, I accepted animism intellectually, but I hadn’t really experienced it myself.

I am coming to animism strictly based on my own experiences, not based on what I have read of other cultures, so I know that I could be completely different from traditional animist beliefs. In a way, I’m a clean slate when it comes to this — until I can broaden my studies all I have are my own experiences to go on. I’m okay with this, though, because it grounds my beliefs in my own local reality, culture, and worldview. I feel like it is good for me to get a grounding based on how I experience the world before I delve too deeply into other cultures. It gives me a good context, and it’s exciting!

I don’t really have all the details of my emerging worldview worked out, but I do have some tentative ideas. For instance, I have a shrine in my living room for house spirits. Some of the spirits I can tell are local and may not move with me when I go, some of them I know will go with me. The shrine is decorated with objects from around my house or from garage sales, etc., which feels appropriate for house spirits. Some of the pieces I really believe the spirits animate when I interact with them, others like the goats on my shrine represent any spirits in my house in general or nature spirits near me, but not specific entities.

My approach to getting to know the spirits is this: if I see a statue or something that resonates with me, I’ll put it on the shrine. Over time, as I make offerings, I will get an idea of a spirit that has connected to the symbol. Depending on how deeply that spirit impresses itself on me, I may give it a name and create devotions. For example, I have a statue of a topless woman with red pants and black skin. Over time I have come to call her the Black Mother. I associate her with the night sky (or a stormy sky in day time or night) and chaotic elements. When I have to move pretty soon, I’ll move her symbol (I personally refer to it as an emblem) since the night sky will go wherever I go.

I’m a little hazy as to the origins of the various kinds of spirits. I’m really unfamiliar with this outside of my own experiences. But I do have a general idea. I think the universe is ultimately chaotic based on my encounter. That’s kind of how I look at my house spirits. When I move to another house, I’m sure the shrine will look different, I might meet new spirits, some may come, some may go. I think in some real sense my experiences will focus how these spirits emerge out of the chaos we all came from. I believe these spirits are still evolving and changing, just like everything else. Ultimately I believe everything is one. I am not separate from rock or the earth. Ultimately my consciousness emerges out of nothing. I can’t separate myself from a rock — we are both mostly empty space. My consciousness emerges out of nothingness — it is at least an extension of everything else in the universe (or I wouldn’t exist at all).

Outside of my home, I do visit the woods where I had my experience often. Sometimes I make little offerings of bread and water or bird seed, and I usually bring a bag to pick up trash. I can feel spirits there, but I get the sense that they stay there, so it’s a little different from my house spirits. My house spirits are more familiar to me as they seem to live in the house with me and we have a closer connection, but I’ll continue to work on my relationship with the others since they are the ones who brought me into this new perspective to begin with.

I’m wondering if anyone else has a take on this subject. If you are animistic, how do you interpret it? Is your perspective more based on personal experience, studying animistic cultures, or maybe a little of both? Are there any ways in which you think your animism is different from traditional animistic cultures and religions? Did you have an encounter that led to your animism?

I’d love to hear some other perspectives! Thanks.