Animism and Paganism Defined

Prof. Graham Harvey
Reader in Religious Studies
School of Cultural Studies
King Alfred’s College, Winchester

Despite the fact that animism and paganism have no collected sacred scriptures or theology, there are certain definable features relevant to how they are practiced today. As a whole the tradition is informed by indigenous peoples’ traditions, as well certain influences of monothiestic religions. The mystical trend within animism and paganism is the engagement and celebration of the All and the Many, which are seen as inseparable. It is expressed as an immersion in the singularity of all things, and this collected into the All is often referred to as the Goddess.

The working definition of animism given is that of people who encounter a world inhabited by living people. It is a religion that is enacted, not based on belief systems but as an interaction with the world as if everything within it were alive. Animism can be considered the etiquette of relationship between human beings and nature people, in a way that can appease the gods so to restore and maintain a harmony of all things.

Paganism is the religious lifestyle centered on the celebration of nature. As such, it contends the relatedness of all things, with the gods living amongst us. Rituals in paganism are performed in circles, representing the universe and the world, the cycles of life, and the connectedness of all beings. Through such ritual circles the world is recreated, and the awareness of the participants’ connection with the world is affirmed. This building awareness is the beginning of the mystical in paganism and animism, wherein one transcends one’s singularity in order to share a common existence. The ecstatic and mystical practices in paganism and animism include trances, taking hallucinogenics, sacrifices, sweatlodges, and spirit quests.