With such a broad definition, it’s helpful to be clear about what animism isn’t.

The Occult Traditions

Occult traditions like Kaballah, the Masons and the Western mystery schools are not animism. Instead, they are often magical systems close to more well known religions.

They have organised structures and a fixed approach that is consistent between practitioners. They also tend to have a series of tools and methods which students progress through.

However, the occult traditions do use (and often keep alive) tools that are grounded in animism such as spirit communication and spiritual healing through prayer. They often work with symbolism and sacred space, like animism, but in a more structured, less individual, approach.

Mysticism

Mysticism is often very close to animism, and sometimes the only distinction I can find is a more inward looking, less practical, approach.

Even so, animism isn’t the same as mysticism, and mystical traditions such as the Christian saints and the Sufi mystics are not animist traditions. Often, like with occult traditions, they are contained with a religious framework.

Animism, on the other hand, can include mystical experiences and practices.

The New Age

The New Age, from what I can tell, is a hodge-podge of beliefs, assumptions, methods, approaches and symbols that have been ‘gathered’ from spiritual traditions around the world. Most of it’s contents seem to be from Eastern religions that have been grafted onto Western psychological thought.

This isn’t to say that the New Age approach is always unhelpful, but it isn’t animism. The New Age tends not to encompass ancestor practices or the less ‘pretty’ methods of animistic cultures. It also seems to bypass practicality in favor of feeling-good-ness.

Having said that, some practices that have been included in New Age thinking can be found in animism. Examples include divination and energy medicine.

Satanism

Satanism is obviously nothing to do with animism, unless you’re coming from a strict religious background. Satanism involves honouring the ‘anti-god’ of a particular religion, as a being or a force, while animism as a tradition recognises no god. While many animists do work with the idea of a deity or deities, many others do not – it’s hard to oppose a god that you don’t believe in.

On the other hand, some forms of satanism honour and promote personal responsibility, boldness, going against the grain and examining taboo, just like many paths in animism.

Historical Re-enactment

While many animists honour their ancestors and work to keep their culture alive where needed, simply re-enacting times past isn’t the same thing. Historical re-enactment doesn’t have a problem solving focus, neither does it often explore the spiritual aspects of our ancestors lives.

Animism is a living, changing tradition – it has to be, to be practical for our lives today. What was useful then, may not be now.

Saying that, getting fully into the mindset and experiences of our ancestors can be very valuable. Not only does it make us appreciate how we live now, it also inspires us to keep making lives better.

Polytheism

Polytheistic religions such as Hinduism or the Mayan religion are not necessarily animism. In fact, they are often a structured religious approach that has grown out of an animistic tradition. We can see this where the religion has formed strict rules for interpreting the mythology, or strict sets of practices for students to follow.

Some polytheistic traditions, however, do seem to have maintained their animistic roots. The Norse religion of the pre-viking times and the Celtic tradition are examples of having many deities, but no strict rules as to how to engage with them. The focus remained on personal relationships and practical tools.