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Animism

countrylo %hi %M
China0% 80%1,100
Indonesia 9%80%190
Thailand 1%90%60
Nigeria 10%33%50
Myanmar1% 90%45
Vietnam 1%50%40
South Africa 15%80%40
Angola 15%90%18
Taiwan0% 80%18
Cambodia 75%%12
South Sudan 90%90%9
Cameroon 40%%8
Bolivia 55%60%6
Cte d'Ivoire 25%%6
Haiti2.7% 50%5
Laos 55%%4
Togo 33%%2
Guinea-Bissau 50%%1
Benin 23% %
Burundi 20%%
Philippines 16%%
Burkina Faso 15%%
New Zealand 15%%
DR Congo 12%%
Cuba 10%%
Jamaica 10%%
Central African Rep. 10%%
Gabon10%90%
Lesotho 10%%
Sierra Leone 10%%
Kenya 9%%
Palau 9%%
Ghana 9%%
Guinea 5%%
Sudan 5%%2
Brazil 4.8%%
Suriname 3.6%%
Dominican Republic 2.2%%
Bahamas 1.9%%
Nicaragua 1.5%%
Trinidad and Tobago 1.4%%
Guyana 1.3%%
Venezuela 1.1%v
Colombia 1.0%%
Belize 1.0% %
Described as "Spiritism" in Latin America, or as "Indigenous" in the US Department of State 2009 International Religious Freedom Report. The "low" percentages are based on the highest estimate of people identified as followers of well-defined indigenous religions, while the "high" percentates are based on people who follow animistic practices in addition to those of other religions.
Animism is the belief that non-human entities contain souls or spirits. Shamanism consists of beliefs and practices promoting communication with the spiritual world. Shamanistic beliefs are organized around a shaman or medicine man who - as an intermediary between the human and spirit world - is believed to be able to heal the sick (by healing their souls), communicate with the spirit world, and help souls into the afterlife through the practice of entering a trance. In shaman-based religions, the shaman is also responsible for leading sacred rites.

The world's "great" religions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism - are considered high religions because they pose and answer cosmic questions of life, have written texts (Bible, Quran, etc), have defined leadership roles, and provide a set of directions to live by. In contrast, the low religions grouped under the term animism are focused on immediate problems of daily life (crises, disease, crops, etc), have few or no trustworthy texts, are informally organized, and frequently provide no general set of rules to live by. Animist belief and practice may readily co-exist with a great religion. Animists are highly syncretistic. Judaism, Christianity, Islam are monotheistic, calling for the worship of one god and a distinct denial of all other gods, but animism is not, but quite to the contrary.

Animism is widespread in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But the animist population is widely undercounted, for several reasons. The enthusiasm of Hatian Voodoo and the calm of Chinese folk religion may seem to have little in common, but they are both animist at their core. And a "monotheistic chauvanism" structures a census to first count adherents to the "great" religions. Animists are then sought among those not already counted, generally among tribal or primitive populations. But in any event, the total can never be more than 100%, as the principle of "one believer, one vote" is rigourously adhered to. While this may seem sensible to the educated elite of the central government, it does not conform to popular religious practice in many countries, where nominal adherence to a "great" religion is eagerly supplemented by fervent animist practice.

Animist religions include Voudon, or Voodo (pejorative), in Haiti, Senteria in the Carribean, Candomble and Umbanda in Africa and Macumba in Brazil. Despite having been blanketed by the more recently arrived religions of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism, Animism has survived through the ages. Many nominal Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus continue to practice animistic traditions. Many seemingly incongruous practices from the "old" Animistic religions are today prevalent among the newer faiths. Various aspects of thew old and the new religions overlay and interact with each other, serving together to explain and give meaning to life.

Animism is a belief in spirits, both of dead persons and those of some inanimate objects such as stones, rivers, mountains and trees. This belief holds that each person has a spirit, which continues to exist even after death has claimed its possessor. Because the spirit continues an independent existence, it must be cared for properly and provided with its needs and desires in its spirit state. Unattended spirits may become angry, bitter or revengeful and seek to re-enter the earthly life, which would create havoc in numerous ways. Providing food for ancestors and other spirits is general practice in many ceremonies.

As spirits are associated with people, Animists believe them to be greedy, deceptive, unpredictable, and possessing every trait known to man. Normally, the spirits of departed good people do not create too much concern if the proper rites are performed at the appropriate times, especially those rites which will send them happily on their way to the spirit world. Those who die violently as in accidents or war, are killed by tigers, women who die in childbirth or who die childless, or those whose bodies are not recovered and properly buried or cremated; all cause great fear, because their spirits are embittered by such a fate and are hostile to individuals, families or communities.

Throughout his life the Animist is fearful of offending the spirits that can cause him harm. He tries to worship and live his everyday life in such a manner as not to offend them, and to placate them in case he has unwittingly offended. Because the Animist believes that the spirits are somewhat humanized, he believes that they can be influenced as humans are, and that the same capacity for doing good and evil. Basically, the animist seeks to influence his gods and spirits by elaborate ceremonies, flattery, cajolery and sometimes by angry words and actions in almost exactly the same manner that men are influenced.

The Animist does not view himself as a helpless or passive victim of the invisible spirit world, but as one who by the use of the proper formulas can achieve his own goals. In his continuous power struggle with the spirit world he grapples for the best advantages so that he may avoid that which otherwise seems certain and dreadful. The Animist spends much of his thought, effort, energy, and wealth in observances and rites which will cause the spirits to do the will of the worshiper and which will placate those spirits that can do him harm. To do this, elaborate rituals and ceremonies are conducted and offerings, sometimes blood sacrifices, are made. These are accompanied by incantations and prayers.

Surrounded as he is by the spirit world, the Animist is constantly on the lookout for those spirits who demand immediate attention, a situation which cannot be ignored with impunity. To aid in this search he seeks help from the important man of his village, the sorcerer. The Animist also places great emphasis on omens which may come in dreams or may appear as signs for these are believed to be sent by the spirits to warn of future evil or good. A dog sneezing at a wedding is a sign that the marriage is not a wise one, and normally the ceremony is halted immediately. The track of an animal across a path in the jungle may be an indication of evil and the traveler may return home to seek advice on whether to continue his journey.

Animists see sickness and death as being spirit-related and so take measures particularly to protect children. Parents may give children nicknames, often very unfavorable ones, and keep the real name in strictest confidence in order to decoy the spirits away from a child. A similar custom is related to the fact that boys are more highly regarded than girls, therefore if a boy is sickly, he may be dressed as a girl or one earring put in a boy's ear in order to fool the spirits into thinking that the child is a girl. Another important concept is that the dead must be properly buried, with the correct ceremonies, or the spirit will forever wander. Warriors may make use of the belief when they mutilate and decapitate bodies. In doing so, they harm not just the body but the spirit, too.

Various other customs are based on the fear of spirits and attempts to prevent their doing harm. Mirrors are placed in doors for a spirit will be frightened at seeing himself and not enter. Likewise red papers representing the god of the threshold may be fixed to doorposts to frighten spirits. Barriers may be erected along pathways leading to a village to stop spirits.

For every part of an Animist's life from birth to burial the spirits are his constant companion to be feared and placated and his belief about them control his every action.

Some organized animist faiths include:

  • Badimo: a form of ancestor worship of the Tswana people of Botswana.
  • Chondogyo: or the religion of the Heavenly Way, is based on Korean shamanism, Buddhism, and Korean folk traditions, with some elements drawn from Christianity. Formulated in the 1860s, it holds that God lives in all of us and strives to convert society into a paradise on earth, populated by believers transformed into intelligent moral beings with a high social conscience.
  • Inuit beliefs are a form of shamanism (see below) based on animistic principles of the Inuit or Eskimo peoples.
  • Kirant: the belief system of the Kirat, a people who live mainly in the Himalayas of Nepal. It is primarily a form of polytheistic shamanism, but includes elements of animism and ancestor worship.
  • Modekngei: a hybrid of Christianity and ancient Palauan culture and oral traditions founded around 1915 on the island of Babeldaob. Adherents simultaneously worship Jesus Christ and Palauan goddesses.
  • Spiritualism: the belief that souls and spirits communicate with the living usually through intermediaries called mediums. Syncretic (fusion of diverse religious beliefs and practices)
  • Santeria: practiced in Cuba, the merging of the Yoruba religion of Nigeria with Roman Catholicism and native Indian traditions. Its practitioners believe that each person has a destiny and eventually transcends to merge with the divine creator and source of all energy, Olorun.
  • Voodoo/Vodun: a form of spirit and ancestor worship combined with some Christian faiths, especially Catholicism. Haitian and Louisiana Voodoo, which have included more Catholic practices, are separate from West African Vodun, which has retained a focus on spirit worship.

Pagan is a blanket term used to describe many unconnected belief practices throughout history, usually in reference to religions outside of the Abrahamic category (monotheistic faiths like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).





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