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Author Topic: Animism and the Gods  (Read 6190 times)
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« Reply #15: July 06, 2010, 03:03:04 pm »

Basically, if you wear a loincloth and live directly from nature, you see the world very differently than a suburban burrito eater. We SBEs just deal with abstract gods and we might talk about spirits, but they tend to be symbols for things... you know... like those spirit animal tarot cards where you find your animal guide.

I'm sorry, but I don't think I understand what you're talking about here.  It sounds like you're trying to say that to anyone who doesn't live some sort of feral hermit existence, the gods are just symbols, abstract and distant, and suburbanites are not able to percieve or appreciate animistic forces or nature.  That is completely contrary to my personal experience and most of the personal experiences I've heard related by other people.  (As a suburbanite, though I'm not that fond of burritos:  My gods are most definitely not symbols and don't feel terribly abstract to me, although I guess it depends on how you're defining "abstract".  But they are real beings I can feel at work in my life and have real relationships with, not some sort of distant idea.  And although I'm not that animistic myself, that's something that stems from personal inclination rather than from my living environment.)

It frankly seems like an iteration of the old "people who live in nature are more spiritual than people who live in cities" thing, or possibly of the "noble savage" idea to some extent, and I don't find those ideas terribly realistic.  A city is just as alive in its own way as a forest; that people connect with it in a different form than one might connect with a forest doesn't mean that they are somehow less in tune with the Gods or the spirit of the place they live or whatever.

The rest of it doesn't really make any more sense to me.  Why would agricultural societies be more likely to invent gods (if indeed gods are invented, which is a whole other discussion) than a hunter-gatherer society?  Why would hunter-gatherers be more likely to "invent" animism?  Why would gods and animistic spirits be confused, and can you say more about the differences you see between them?  What does finding faces in trees and shapes in clouds (activities I've heard plenty of suburbanite children engage in, self included) have to do with any of this?  (Those seem like pattern recognition, animism not required.)  And in addition to the question about your source for the date when we invented our first god, what is your reference point for the 200,000 years before that?  (That is, what marker are you using as the beginning of human history, how do you know what humans did then, and what is your source for this information?)

Am I just completely missing your point and your meaning here?  (Always possible--life is eating up my brainspace lately.)
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« Reply #16: July 06, 2010, 03:25:22 pm »

How on earth do you have even the vaguest sort of date for when humans "invented our first god"?

Oh it's kinda like saying "when humans invented the first wheel". Once we could only hunt... then farming happened. When we see tribal peoples who live directly from nature, we see folks who have animistic spirits, but not gods. Gods occur in agricultural societies. Big pantheons of them.

I wouldn't have the vaguest idea of when... except maybe that humanity itself is less than a quarter million years old.... that sort of thing.


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« Reply #17: July 06, 2010, 03:35:55 pm »

I'm sorry, but I don't think I understand what you're talking about here.  It sounds like you're trying to say that to anyone who doesn't live some sort of feral hermit existence, the gods are just symbols, abstract and distant, and suburbanites are not able to percieve or appreciate animistic forces or nature.  That is completely contrary to my personal experience and most of the personal experiences I've heard related by other people.  (As a suburbanite, though I'm not that fond of burritos:  My gods are most definitely not symbols and don't feel terribly abstract to me, although I guess it depends on how you're defining "abstract".  But they are real beings I can feel at work in my life and have real relationships with, not some sort of distant idea.  And although I'm not that animistic myself, that's something that stems from personal inclination rather than from my living environment.)

It frankly seems like an iteration of the old "people who live in nature are more spiritual than people who live in cities" thing, or possibly of the "noble savage" idea to some extent, and I don't find those ideas terribly realistic.  A city is just as alive in its own way as a forest; that people connect with it in a different form than one might connect with a forest doesn't mean that they are somehow less in tune with the Gods or the spirit of the place they live or whatever.

The rest of it doesn't really make any more sense to me.  Why would agricultural societies be more likely to invent gods (if indeed gods are invented, which is a whole other discussion) than a hunter-gatherer society?  Why would hunter-gatherers be more likely to "invent" animism?  Why would gods and animistic spirits be confused, and can you say more about the differences you see between them?  What does finding faces in trees and shapes in clouds (activities I've heard plenty of suburbanite children engage in, self included) have to do with any of this?  (Those seem like pattern recognition, animism not required.)  And in addition to the question about your source for the date when we invented our first god, what is your reference point for the 200,000 years before that?  (That is, what marker are you using as the beginning of human history, how do you know what humans did then, and what is your source for this information?)

Am I just completely missing your point and your meaning here?  (Always possible--life is eating up my brainspace lately.)


Nice response, Star, thanks for all the questions... I do love to go on about stuff...First of all, let me say that animism occurs spontaneously all over the globe and all through history in any society that is eating directly from the intent of Nature.

Farming societies are very different from tribal hunter/gathering sicities in a few predictable ways. Farming societies are much larger, they involve slavery and soldiering in armies. Farming societies are very vulnerable to wandering nomads, and they need large armies to protect the crops so that folks won't starve. Farming societies need cities.

..... and agricultural societies deal with concepts such as "authority"....and gods have authority... animistic spirits don't... you know... by definition.

Decades ago when tribal peoples were telling anthropologists about how everything is alive, the anthropologists took to calling it "animism". They associated it with "primitive religion" For a while one could not say totemism without adding "and animism".

Well dang... I got to go... more later



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« Reply #18: July 06, 2010, 05:11:02 pm »


Okay... you're still not making a lot of sense to me.  I'm seeing a lot of statements about how things are, but not a lot of support for them.  What is the source for this information?  Where did you hear these things?  What research, what facts, what theories are you drawing on to come to these conclusions?  You are saying these things like they should obviously logically follow, but to me they just don't.  So I'd like to know how you came up with this, so that I can better evaluate what you're saying.
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« Reply #19: July 06, 2010, 06:24:17 pm »

does the natural world have its own spiritual significance for you?

Is the natural world also spiritually sentient - eg tree spirits - and if so, do you regard or treat them any differently from your Gods?

To go back to the original post before looking at the direction the thread is spinning towards;

Aaaaabsolutely! 

It's a tough thread to tease out, and to explain why it's NOT deity, but is instead spirit.  I find that the places where this is attempted to be made black and white, or easily chunked and dismissed when comparing religions is in cases where broad brush strokes for the 'correct' way to interact with the world are used and spirit is bundled into deity.  Deity in my view is a being that bears power over you and interest in you and your personal evolution- regardless of what qualities temper that power. 

Back to spirit :-)

There is bird spirit, which is the unifying bird-ness that all birds carry.  It can be a carrier for information, lessons and communication but at the same time the bird carrying bird spirit is just a bird.  That same bird can also possess the spirit of its species, the spirit of its interactions, the spirit of its action all while just being a plain ol bird that happened to show up.  It's what birds are when they aren't really doing anything.  It's why they are doing when they are not doing anything.  It's the being alive in the way a bird does it that all birds do.

Spirit has no power over you except the power of your interaction with it, your observations and your understanding the connections.  Following the thread of spirit isn't going to gain you any favor with that spirit, spirit isn't going to seek you out, it isn't going to give you a more pleasant afterlife, it isn't going to strike down your enemies or protect you from anything - although it might give you inspiration and indicators of how to do these things for yourself.

Wind/air/sky spirit - depending on the context and grass spirit have been a couple that I've been contemplating lately.  In Tx. everything that exists naturally has to have certain properties to survive the heat and the conditions (plants - soil tolerance, drought tolerance, a means to store water or go without...)  The spirit of the place has these qualities and through place spirit you figure out how to survive and thrive in that place as well.  The people in Tx who do well seem to have embraced and taken on these qualities as well.  They learn from the place.  When I first got there, I dug in and was determined that I was going to grow tropicals, I would do as I had always done and I would be a shining example of urban flair from another place.  Needless to say, my lovely tropicals got shredded by hail - although they were really pretty for the time they lasted, I went through about a million stages of trying to reconcile what to do and finally planted yucca, agave and yaupons.

So now that I'm back in Ca.  I'm looking around trying to find place spirit here, and while bird spirit is bursting out the seams, being in a cultivated/ agricultural belt really makes finding place spirit challenging.  I also don't want to loose the things I found in previous interactions. 

The spirit of the people who are here is a little easier, but even then the volume is so low that I'm relying much more on bird/ sky and air because I'm comfortable with them and I can hang with them and find some conversation every now and again.

I saw some really nice wind the other day over grass.  The grass and the wind moved together and the grass took on this optical illusion where it wasn't grass anymore.  Just above the grass on the hills, the hills glowed gold (ca. the hills go all straw yellow and brown in the summer) and the wind across the grass made it ripple like it would water.  I was able to find it over the hills for the next hour or so while I was driving.  Grass spirit and wind spirit dancing.

It's not a worship so much as the relationship you have with your neighbors.  You don't make offerings to your neighbors, although you might BBQ with them and while you're hanging out you do your best to be on good terms and a good guest and good company.  I try to interact with individuals based upon their own preferences and comfort zones when I am making an effort to be a gracious guest, so when dealing with spirit I apply the same rules.  Each according to their kind.

I don't have any 'gods' per se, so much as the spirits of human concepts, which seem to prefer being treated like gods.  F'ex the spirit of man, the spirit of woman, the spirit of family all seem to prefer a certain type of influence on you because you not only interact with them, you embody them more closely than you could embody the wind. 

With spirit you take the human container out of the picture, except in the case of human spirit. 
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« Reply #20: July 06, 2010, 06:43:46 pm »


Nice response, Star, thanks for all the questions... I do love to go on about stuff...First of all, let me say that animism occurs spontaneously all over the globe and all through history in any society that is eating directly from the intent of Nature.

Farming societies are very different from tribal hunter/gathering sicities in a few predictable ways. Farming societies are much larger, they involve slavery and soldiering in armies. Farming societies are very vulnerable to wandering nomads, and they need large armies to protect the crops so that folks won't starve. Farming societies need cities.

..... and agricultural societies deal with concepts such as "authority"....and gods have authority... animistic spirits don't... you know... by definition.

Decades ago when tribal peoples were telling anthropologists about how everything is alive, the anthropologists took to calling it "animism". They associated it with "primitive religion" For a while one could not say totemism without adding "and animism".

Well dang... I got to go... more later

Hunter-gatherers operate in groups called bands. They are not tribes, they are not tribal. They are generally egalitarian, small (15-60 people, roughly), and lack hierarchy/leadership -- or rather, have shared leadership among the members of the band. They are nomadic.

Tribe can refer to a society with limited instances of social inequality, which a band would not have, or it can refer to a highly stratified society with a chieftain at top, which a band would most certainly not have.

Religious beliefs among these types of societies vary quite widely, and can only be understood in context. In order to classify whether it's animism or pantheism or polytheism or anything else you have to study the culture in question. You can't just look at a whole swath of cultures that happen to have similar subsistence patterns, or similar social structure, and say "They're all animist" or "They all see their gods as symbols". There's a huge danger in speaking in universals because there is no human universal except that we're born and we eventually die.

Furthermore you must take a lot of older anthropological studies with a grain of salt, because when anthropology was still very young (it's only been around for little over a hundred years) field-work was still getting its kinks worked out, so some data got skewed.

So. What specific "tribal peoples" are you referring to, what anthropologists, and what decades? It's really important to keep in mind the anthropologist himself and the time he was writing in when you're reading ethnographies.


If you want to read some good ethnographies on hunter-gatherer (or foraging) bands, I'd suggest Colin Turnbull who did work on a small group of the Mbuti people in the Ituri forest of the Congo, or Richard Lee, whose work on the Ju'/hoansi brought some revolutionary facts about foraging societies to light: namely that these people aren't eking out a hand-to-mouth existence, as was thought, but that they have a lot of time for leisure and play after spending expending the necessary energy for living.
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« Reply #21: July 06, 2010, 06:56:18 pm »


Nice response, Star, thanks for all the questions... I do love to go on about stuff...First of all, let me say that animism occurs spontaneously all over the globe and all through history in any society that is eating directly from the intent of Nature.

Farming societies are very different from tribal hunter/gathering sicities in a few predictable ways. Farming societies are much larger, they involve slavery and soldiering in armies. Farming societies are very vulnerable to wandering nomads, and they need large armies to protect the crops so that folks won't starve. Farming societies need cities.

..... and agricultural societies deal with concepts such as "authority"....and gods have authority... animistic spirits don't... you know... by definition.

Decades ago when tribal peoples were telling anthropologists about how everything is alive, the anthropologists took to calling it "animism". They associated it with "primitive religion" For a while one could not say totemism without adding "and animism".

Well dang... I got to go... more later



Not star or Treekisser, but I do sort of take a bit of an eyebrow raise to a couple of the things you're saying.

The first was that animism and the creation of deity is limited to agricultural societies.  I'm willing to bet gods to spirits that hunter gatherer societies had no problem looking out to the starry starry night and hoping there was a greater voyeur somewhere out there with the ability to smite their neighbor, get them the girl, bring down something big that tastes good and that cared that they existed and prospered and that didn't let the dark or the things in the dark get them.

That in and unto itself is a social need, and in cases where you're at the top of your particular chain of authority people often look for a greater authority to take over the things they cannot control, or do not understand -when you have the moment that you realize there's no one to call for a spare set of keys if you lock yourself out and that you can't just pick up the phone and call someone because there's no one to call.  The structure of even small bands of humans and tribal structure has the intent of putting the most capable person in charge of protecting those in their unit.

I don't think this brings you closer to any kind of spirituality though.  If anything it is an obstacle to spirituality.  Whispering "please grow please grow" while poking the ground with a sacred digging stick doesn't bring you closer to the spirit of growing things, so much as to the spirit of the needs of man - whether you do it in a loincloth, or sitting on a curb in Brooklyn - or both :-P  Whether that is true animism or just the utility of need and narcissism is up for question.

The need to survive is not an unclean one, and the ability to create sustainable survival allows us the leisure time to pursue philosophy and metaphysics in a structured way rather than in between bites of mastodon, or after dragging someone off to a cave to spread genetic material.  


It sounds like you are going No True Scotsman and saying that the surplus that allows societies to progress beyond living hand to mouth by nature brings a disconnection with the spirit of the things outside of urban/suburban existence - as Star said, the noble savage myth.  No true civilian has a connection to the spirit of nature because they experience the benefits of a social unit that does not leave them struggling to curry the favor of nature for survival.

I would not see this as animism or spirit but nature as deity, since nature is being given power over the individual and is being asked to choose who is 'worthy' of survival and those who are making their tortillas with store bought flour in this equation seem to be subject to judgment and cast as lesser.
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Till he learns to let his hair down far enough to climb outside.
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« Reply #22: July 07, 2010, 11:58:28 am »

Well dang... I'm still having navigation difficulties, and I just lost a rather lengthy response to a random key..

Anyway... Do we have a workable definition of a god as opposed to a animistic spirit? One person suggests that patern recognition would not be an aspect of animism. That is, that a hunter/gatherer entering the forest believes the forest is alive and full of spirits... but that faces in trees and voices in the wind aren't part of that?

I suggest that pattern recognition is exactly the mechanism of animism occurring spontaneously in diverse places and times.

Yes, there are wide differences between feral religions... but pattern recognition is a feature of all of them.

Later on, patterns are going to be more complex. Farming orders society much differently... and the differences are evident in religion.

There shouldn't be anything so radical here... animism is not deism. Gods are not spirits.

Just BTW... The sort of spirit of say, femaleness, that would then be an aspect of all females... that's not an animistic spirit. That's a very westernized modern version of "a spirit as a symbol of somnething"

Which is not to disparage the idea... just to put it in context.
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« Reply #23: July 07, 2010, 12:17:32 pm »

Anyway... Do we have a workable definition of a god as opposed to a animistic spirit? One person suggests that patern recognition would not be an aspect of animism. That is, that a hunter/gatherer entering the forest believes the forest is alive and full of spirits... but that faces in trees and voices in the wind aren't part of that?

My daughter (who is not quite three) was finding shapes in the clouds yesterday.  That doesn't make her an animist.  It means her brain is capable of imagining a particular shape in the configuration of the clouds she's seeing.  I've found shapes in clouds and faces in trees plenty of times myself over the years, but I'm not really animistic.  My human mind wants to group randomness into patterns, that's all. 

That isn't to say that finding shapes in clouds and faces in trees couldn't be part of animism.  I'm just saying that such an activity isn't evidence of animism in and of itself.  (I'd also point out that I've also seen faces in buildings and cars, and that the wind with the voices in could be generated by an electric fan just as well as it could be generated by unassisted air movement patterns.  Even if pattern recognition is a function of animism, that still doesn't support your conclusion that living closer to the land is necessary for animism.)

Quote
Yes, there are wide differences between feral religions... but pattern recognition is a feature of all of them.

Sources, please.

Quote
Later on, patterns are going to be more complex. Farming orders society much differently... and the differences are evident in religion.

More specifics, please.  In what ways are the differences evident?  How are these differences traceable to agriculture?  And, again, I'd like to know what you're basing this on.  It's not that I necessarily disagree--but then maybe I do.  Without knowing where this is all coming from and being able to put it into context better, it's difficult to evaluate the claims you're making.

Quote
There shouldn't be anything so radical here... animism is not deism. Gods are not spirits.

Again, you are making statement after statement but not supporting those statements.  Could you expand on this?  What definition of "spirit" and "god" are you using here?  What makes an animistic spirit different from a god?  (Not that I don't feel that there probably are differences.  I'd like to hear more about the differences you see, though.)

Quote
Just BTW... The sort of spirit of say, femaleness, that would then be an aspect of all females... that's not an animistic spirit. That's a very westernized modern version of "a spirit as a symbol of somnething"

I don't understand what this has to do with the discussion at hand.
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« Reply #24: July 08, 2010, 11:30:10 am »

If the natural world (eg sun, moon, trees, etc.) is important in your spirituality, what relationship does it have with your Gods?

Are they connected - eg the sun's importance is due to connection with XYZ solar deity - or does the natural world have its own spiritual significance for you?

Is the natural world also spiritually sentient - eg tree spirits - and if so, do you regard or treat them any differently from your Gods?

my personal view is that the natural world is a manifestation of the Divine and also has its own spirits. e.g. individual trees, flowers etc and also spirits of place like a particular meadow, clearing or whatever.
I suppose for me the difference between those spirits and the god/s is that I dont generally petition those spirits for anything, i.e. prayer... unless it would be about something specifically connected to that place, tree etc.
i would just communicate with those spirits in a matter of appreciation or perhaps in meditation or grounding, or... whatever, depending on the circumstances.
I like to honour the spirits of place when it feels appropriate to do so, as I do with god/desses, but with the gods/goddesses sometimes I ask for help too.
that's not to say I dont believe in the power of the self through magic, but sometimes it seems a bit arrogant to think that I can do things all by myself.  I know self-belief is necessary in raising power but I will sometimes ask for help too if its something seems particularly difficult.
after all, the gods can easily not assist, but you know the old saying, if you dont ask you dont get Cheesy
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« Reply #25: July 08, 2010, 11:49:13 am »

My daughter (who is not quite three) was finding shapes in the clouds yesterday.  That doesn't make her an animist.  It means her brain is capable of imagining a particular shape in the configuration of the clouds she's seeing.  I've found shapes in clouds and faces in trees plenty of times myself over the years, but I'm not really animistic.  My human mind wants to group randomness into patterns, that's all. 

That isn't to say that finding shapes in clouds and faces in trees couldn't be part of animism.  I'm just saying that such an activity isn't evidence of animism in and of itself.  (I'd also point out that I've also seen faces in buildings and cars, and that the wind with the voices in could be generated by an electric fan just as well as it could be generated by unassisted air movement patterns.  Even if pattern recognition is a function of animism, that still doesn't support your conclusion that living closer to the land is necessary for animism.)

Sources, please.

More specifics, please.  In what ways are the differences evident?  How are these differences traceable to agriculture?  And, again, I'd like to know what you're basing this on.  It's not that I necessarily disagree--but then maybe I do.  Without knowing where this is all coming from and being able to put it into context better, it's difficult to evaluate the claims you're making.

Again, you are making statement after statement but not supporting those statements.  Could you expand on this?  What definition of "spirit" and "god" are you using here?  What makes an animistic spirit different from a god?  (Not that I don't feel that there probably are differences.  I'd like to hear more about the differences you see, though.)

I don't understand what this has to do with the discussion at hand.
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« Reply #26: July 08, 2010, 12:00:54 pm »

Well let's see here...

I do not hold that living directly from nature is required for animism as a belief. You can simply choose to believe that everything is alive, and there you are... an animist living in the normal world.

But just like polytheism orders the world differently than monotheism, it's inevitable that doing something as drastic as living from nature would surely adjust your view on stuff.

So about the change from hunting to agriculture... you know you get larger communities, right? You also get armies and slavery. Word is, for all its advantages, shifting to an agricultural society actually hurts people... causes shorter lifespans... urban decay... that sort of thing.

Human beings can, after a lot of education and many years of practice, be rational and logical... but it's not easy for us... it's not what nature designed us to do. We're designed to be pattern recognizers. We are designed to be animists. We are designed to think of everything as being alive. Our brains work best that way...

... you know... in some opinions.

 
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« Reply #27: July 08, 2010, 12:13:33 pm »

Word is,

...

... you know... in some opinions.

Word from whom?  Whose opinions?

I keep asking you on what information you are basing your conclusions.  You keep not answering that question.  I don't think I can continue this discussion very well until you do.  It's really difficult to evaluate the claims you're making without knowing where they're coming from.
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« Reply #28: July 08, 2010, 12:28:30 pm »

I'm going to ask the same question I posed to Darkhawk - granted Shu has other manifestations, do you see a relation between them apart from just being Shu?

Is Shu more than the sum of his manifestations in the natural world?

I'm sorry I'm so late in replying to this; I hardly visit these forums anymore and am surprised when someone responds to something I say!

Anyway, to answer your question: of course. I am not familiar with Shu as a deity, so I do not know what other manifestations He has, but to me, any deity is more than His or Her manifestations. A manifestation is a part of a deity, but does not encompass the whole of Him.
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« Reply #29: July 09, 2010, 05:50:39 am »


Is the natural world also spiritually sentient - eg tree spirits - and if so, do you regard or treat them any differently from your Gods?

In my tradition, local spirits are very important. Bereginya's are worshipped at riverbanks, forests may have a leszi, and other waters may have a rusalka or vodianoi. Even one's home may have a spirit. I believe that the Gods are really just spirits with broader, less local functions.
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