The question “what’s modern animism” continues to come up. We’ve talked about it on the podcast, youtube channel, and on our facebook page a little. The more we share, the more questions come up that show there is more to clarify. So, here’s another stab at modern animism. Let us know what you think.
Why Modern Animism?
To answer the question of “why modern animism,” we have to first look at older types of animism. Animism is simply the belief that everything has a spirit. Before science and technology evolved, there were few methods to prove why things happened. All knowledge came from observation and experience. This led to many conclusions that vary from culture to culture, but included the belief that everything was spiritual. As culture and technology evolved, many people abandoned these beliefs. Native Americans, Australian aborigines, the Sami, the Ainu, Igorots, and Evenks are just some of the people who have continuously practiced animism to modern times. Many of their old beliefs are now being validated by science.
The Old Gods Don’t Fit
It’s neither appropriate nor practical to adopt the spiritual practices of extant indigenous people. One reason why is that the old gods don’t fit. Gods belong to a certain time, certain people, and specific place. They can’t be easily adopted without significantly changing them. For example, what purpose would the Apus (mountain spirits) have in the plains? Can you pick and choose your pantheon, or do they all operate together? Animism is holistic. For me, a pantheon works as a collective. It’s not a buffet.
History tells us that most of the Greek gods simply morphed into Roman gods when the Romans took over. There are many examples of this in other cultures too, so can we just adapt and do the same? Maybe, but not without altering them and/or ourselves. For example, everyone had a hearth goddess because fire is essential to survival. In ancient Greece, she was Hestia. In Rome, she was Vesta. Greeks were spiritual, intellectual, and philosophical, and creative. They valued the present moment. Romans valued morals, actions, having a good life, had a high sense of patriotism, and cared about their afterlife. Hestia was a gentle guardian of the hearth. Everyone had an altar to her in the center of the home. There was also one at the center of the village. Vesta was disciplined, militant, and warlike. She was guardian of the home and state. They are the same at the core, but present very differently.
The values of many gods don’t work in the modern world. Some gods are rapists. Many are vengeful, jealous, and just plain immature. Modern people want a different role models.
Western culture has rapidly evolved in just the last fifty years. Fifty years ago, we didn’t have widespread use of home computers, cell phones, microwaves, televisions, hybrid vehicles, air conditioning, digital cameras, or a thousand other things we now take for granted. Most ancient gods just don’t fit well in these times.
You Can’t Substitute
Can you see how a celebration for one hearth goddess would not be appropriate for the other? Can you imagine how one might fit into your life better than another? Now mix in other gods. Do you start to see how this can be a problem in a holistic system? Each piece is part of a puzzle. If you took many apple puzzles and scrambled them all together, you couldn’t make a complete picture of an apple if one of the puzzles is lifelike, another is cartoonish, and another is abstract.
Let me give you another example of why we need modern animism. Culture matters. Many cultures believed that the skulls of the dead were important. We see evidence for this in the Catholics keeping the heads of saints as holy relics. The skull of Bran the Blessed guards the England to this day in the Tower of London. The head hunters of the Philippines kept skulls of their enemies so that the deceased would serve them in the afterlife. The Khmer display stupas of the skulls of victims of genocide. Although they were violently slaughtered, these are the bones of the ancestors and are meant to be revered.
Would you do this? Most of us wouldn’t. We have different relationships with life and death, so it may not be a heartfelt reflection of who we are now. There are many practices that don’t work well in the western world.
Modern Animism is Respectful
We have destroyed many animist cultures through war and religion. We continue to destroy them by buying and selling spirituality, participating in spiritual tourism, destroying their homelands, and setting ourselves up as experts and spreading misinformation. Adopting modern animism puts a stop to those practices. We can borrow ideas and traditions from native animists, but we shape them to our modern life and call them by their right names. We don’t pass off X as “authentic” or something that it is not.
Our indigenous brothers are our teachers. We learn from them without stealing from them. Nature is our home. We enjoy her and live from her without exploiting her. Each face we see is a reflection of ourselves. In this way, we learn to live in Oneness, respect, and equality.
Modern Animism is Holistic
When we talk about people, crime, the weather, animals, prayer, divination, cooking, medicine – anything – it’s all spiritual. Life is holistic. You can’t say where the mind, body, or spirit begin and end. It’s continuous and indivisible. A holistic spiritual practice shows up in road rage, how you spend your money and time, how you take care of your body, and how you treat others. It teaches you how to be your best self, live in community, and live with a toe in the past, while in the present, and having an eye for the future.
We Live in the Now
For better or worse, we live here now. We can’t go back. We can’t be our ancestors. Neither can we be adopt an ethnicity or cultural history that is not our own. Authenticity means embracing who we are, where we are. We forgive the trespasses we perpetrated and received. We illuminate our blind spots so that we can keep growing and contribute something. Our lives are conscious expressions of our highest and best selves. When we wobble, we make amends, and keep going.
We’re Culturally Mixed
Have you done 23andme? I don’t think it’s much of a surprised that we’re all mixed. Even the most culturally isolated people aren’t “pure.” (Trust me, I was really surprised by my mom’s DNA). This means we have ancestors from many, many different traditions. Which ones are you going to honor? Are you going to follow the traditions of the ones that go back 200 years or 2000? Are the ones on your dad’s dad’s line more to your liking or you mom’s dad? How do you choose? With modern animism, you don’t have to choose. You can be you and honor them all. You don’t have to deny part of who you are because your family tree has some bad apples or some ancestors who look different from you. Just be you.
It Reconnect Us to Nature
Pan Society is not a revealed religion. In revealed religions, God tells his wishes to one person who then has to tell everyone else. That’s law for all time. Some people are included and some are not. It’s a very us vs. them way to approach life.
That’s not us. We are a Nature religion. Everyone has the same opportunity to connect and learn. All you have to do is open your heart and eyes and pay attention. There is air to breathe, food to eat, places to shelter, and teachers in abundance. Everything you need is available. Everyone is of equal value. As life evolves, Nature evolves and we change to adapt. It’s a beautiful, elegant system that teaches us to trust in the wheel of life.
People Need a Tribe
For so long many people were persecuted for having different lifestyles, skin colors, religious belief, healing practices, or for just being different. They chose solitary living and authenticity over going with the flow. Today we don’t have to do that. Today we have a place for all people who believe everything is spiritual. It’s Pan Society. That’s why we were created. To be authentic, share that with others, give others space to share and be seen, and grow together. Together we can create a new animism that is a reflection of modern times. We can use the animist past of our ancestors as a spring board to a new, connected, peaceful, respectful future.
That’s my vision of modern animism. What’s yours?