Exploring Animism: 8 Things To Consider…

Exploring Animism: 8 Things To Consider

Animism, just the very name, conjures up notions of ‘pre-civilized’ ideas about the universe, the world, cosmology. However, we would do well to wonder if we have in fact moved further away from our most basic, and strongest, spiritual connection to the universe by embracing only the esoteric and intangible, as many modern religions inexplicably do.

The Earth is one large organism and we are parts of Her whole – just like SHE (and we) are part of something much larger.

Like the Earth communicates with Herself, our body is constantly communicating with itself. Sometimes we are aware of the ways it does this, like when we get a headache signaling dehydration. Sometimes we are not fully aware but will still suffer the effects, like when our body produces imbalanced hormones in response to stress which can have both short term and long term impacts. We feel it but we don’t see it. We definitely don’t always consciously control it.

In the same way that our mind communicates with parts of our body, the Earth communicates with parts of Herself – us. Since the Earth ultimately exists both inside and outside of ourselves, we can sometimes both see it and interpret it consciously even as we intuitively sense it. Animism is completely in line with basic scientific principles, even as embraced as a pre-religious spirituality and philosophy….however, since wars have literally been fought about this, let’s just skip ahead to some practical and applicable ideas.

SEE ALSO: 4 Ways Yoga Taught Me To Live With An Open Heart

8 things to consider when exploring animism

  1. One common mistake people make is to think every animal they see is there ‘for them’. This stems from being socialized into an ‘egocentric’ (individual and human-centric) rather than an ‘eco-centric’ (nature-centric) society (where humans take their true place as only part of the whole). Humans have, especially in more recent history, placed ourselves at the middle of all due to our own delusional egotistical natures. Being the apex predator that we are, perhaps we sometimes serve as signposts to members of the animal kingdom that they are entering dangerous territory (i.e. ‘Turn back!’).
  2. Another misconception is that you can only have one animal totem and that it stays with you for life. While some people – and some cultures – may feel connected to, or have an affiliation with, a certain animal from birth, this does not mean that yours will always stay static or that it is the only animal spirit that might choose to work with you. You might even have different animal connections which serve you in different ways. One animal – say perhaps, an owl – might be a warning spirit showing up for you as a symbol to be cautious or slow down. Another, say perhaps, a panda, might turn out to be your personal signal to ‘go for it’.
  3. Since I began working with animism on my own, some 20 years ago, outside of any specific cultural reference. I’ve noticed that endangered species seem to be very active in the collective ether – in visions and in dreams. Some people might also attribute this to an egotism on our part as humanity; certainly one might wish to be associated with an exotic, beautiful animal – pandas are sometimes referred to as ‘charismatic megafauna’ for their potential to draw sympathy towards animal causes. (It’s no coincidence they are the ‘face’ of the World Wildlife Federation). However, I have come to wonder – I’ll stop short of saying ‘believe’ – if populations which have dwindled on Earth are now almost over-represented on the spiritual or etheric plains, and therefore, more active there as guides.
  4. Sometimes you don’t need a reference manual. Specific cultures have come together since ‘pre-history’ (i.e. Indigenous and Celtic cultures, etc.) and agreed upon a certain ‘animal medicine vernacular’ – a distinct meaning and representation for each animal in their habitat or collective myths and memories. However, this doesn’t mean you should race for your phone to Google an animal’s ‘meaning’ right after you see it, to find out ‘what it means’ in another cultural paradigm. Rather, if possible, a significant encounter is more a time to be still and watchful. Watch what the animal is doing, what characteristics and mannerisms it is displaying. By all means, if you are in harm’s way, remove yourself as quickly as possible – for your sake and the animal’s! Yet, give it a chance. Give the Earth a chance, to communicate with you directly when possible.
  5. Having discussed the prominence of exotic and ‘charismatic megafauna’, let’s bring our attention to some of the smaller microcosms on our Earthly plane. The ant, the spider, the flea, the most ‘unglamorous’ or ‘not so charismatic mesofauna’ species may even have been labeled ubiquitously as ‘pests’. However, they can still have powerful medicine and serve as important messengers. Ants are team players. And, though they’re probably one of the strongest creatures alive, relatively, they still prefer to work together rather than chase after individual glory. Fleas are pesky and irritating but may serve as a reminder that you are not taking care of your sacred space in a way that maintains proper boundaries.
  6. When you see a dead animal, especially one out of the norm for your immediate everyday experience, consider this in a different way. In many traditions, animals, like human archetypes, have positive and shadow traits. If you see a dead hawk in the middle of the road, consider that you may have been flying too high somewhere in your own life perspective and focusing on the big picture at the cost of important details in your life which need attention. Likewise, if you were to encounter a dead deer, consider that you may have lost your birthright spirit of innocence and wonder in some aspect of your life. Or, that you might be feeling ‘frozen like a deer in headlights’ in a situation from which you need to move on from to avoid serious potential harm.
  7. When the Earth sends you a message, your developed intuition will know when it’s for you. You might be walking on a trail and feel a shiver go up your spine and look down to see a snake or an alligator, depending on where you live and move about. Again, if you are not a member of a larger culture with preordained meanings for animal medicine, don’t try to always force or appropriate your experience into their ideas. Your experience may mean something completely different. However, all books on animal totems and medicine can be helpful to help towards understanding animism as a whole.
  8. Sometimes it is up to you. There are times in your life where you might want to proactively choose an animal spirit to work with, yourself. Let’s say you want to commit to saving up money for retirement. Perhaps you might surround yourself with images, or wear a symbolic image, of a squirrel that stores away nuts for winter. If you are seeking to make a drastic change in your life, maybe you want to surround yourself with images or reminders of butterflies – regardless, they would probably cheer you up in the meantime!


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Dr. Courtney Parker


Dr. Parker holds a PhD in Health Promotion and Behavior from the University of Georgia, where she previously earned a…

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