Animism Today

October 21, 2010by

Many early philosophers, religious thinkers, and traditions of thought and belief throughout the world have maintained a belief in powers beyond what is immediately apparent to human perception. One such belief is referred to as “animism,” exemplified, for instance, by Thales of Miletus, who once declared, “everything is filled with gods.” The general idea is that there is life, or a spiritual power of some kind, spread throughout the phenomenal world. In everything, whether it appears so or not, there is life of some kind.

Such a view begs the question how one might interact with, influence and be influenced by such things. In the following story, told by author and psychologist Andrew Solomon, we have a great illustration of how animistic beliefs inform and shape the practices of a particular culture–in this instance, how to deal with depression.


This story is unique in a couple of ways. For one thing, it is unusual for someone from outside the culture of an animistic worldview and way of life to get to experience it first hand. So, Solomon telling the story from a predominantly western-developed-world perspective provides both a way into the topic, and a conflation of narratives that rarely speak to one another in the din of human experience.