Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Animism, a term introduced in the eighteenth century by Stahl, a. German physician, who taught that all the phenomena of physical life are controlled by an immaterial anima, which was only a reproduction of a classical theory; it soon fell into disuse, but has recently been revived by Dr. Tylor to denote the doctrine of spiritual beings, which embodies the very essence of spiritualistic, as opposed to materialistic philosophy. Accepting "belief in spiritual beings" as the narrowest definition of religion possible, he holds that there is no evidence of races entirely without religion, though it would be in the highest degree unwise to consider such belief instinctive or innate. The origin of animism appears to be found in the endeavours of savage races to solve the problems of life and death, health and disease, sleep and dreams, trances and visions, by the identification of soul and vital principle and the conception of the soul as a thin substantial human image, corresponding in appearance to the body it animates. This conception has never been lost: so Homer described the shade of Patroclus appearing to Achilles; so Samuel came, "an old man covered with a mantle," when called up by the witch at En-dor; Shakespeare made the ghost in Hamlet revisit Elsinore "in the same figure, like the king that's dead," and such is the popular conception of a ghost at the present day. But since the lower animals and inanimate objects appear in dreams, it follows - if the deduction with regard to the human soul be sound - that they too have something of the same nature, and both animal-souls and object-souls come into prominence in the rite of funeral sacrifice (q.v.). From this conception of the human soul transition to the conception of a future life was easy; and since it was believed that men retained after death the dispositions which distinguished them and the positions they held during life, the spirit world was pictured as peopled by beings of different ranks, unequal in power, and friendly or hostile to man. The doctrine of object-soul paved the way for nature-worship, or a form of dualism (or contest between beneficent and malevolent powers); while the idea of the continuity of human life led to belief in a Supreme Deity, either as a nature-god, or as the soul of the world (as the Manitou of the Red Indians), and so a kind of monotheism was established.