Alternative medicine is a range of “systems of healing or treating disease not included in the traditional medical curricula of the US and UK”.*
It includes many methods that you’re probably familiar with, from vitamins to reiki, and it can overlap with some animist practices, notably energy medicine, herbalism and folk magic.
Alternative medicine is a big umbrella containing everything from relatively scientific osteopathy for backache to fermented cabbage for homosexuality (no really*). Saying that a practice is ‘alternative medicine’ tells us very little about it’s origins, function, effectiveness or intent.
But a common misconception is that animism itself is an ‘alternative medicine’ like reiki or herbalism. While animist practice can include methods that have healing effects, like herbalism or energy medicine, a person’s animist practice doesn’t have to include any of these. And it’s possible for an animist to use these methods without any intent of healing or treating disease.
Animism is a highly practical path which focuses on effective solutions over ideology. Animist methods rarely conflict with traditional medical treatments in the way that alternative medicine can. Because practical and effective solutions are the goal in animism, refusing treatment in favor of unproven methods is very unlikely.
This means that if a medical treatment is the best solution to a problem, that’s the solution we use. Conversely, if it means that combining animist practices with traditional medicine is the best solution, that’s what we’ll do. Often, in Western animism, this means that animist practices are used to support the patient or prevent illness in the first place.
For example, animist methods can reduce stress, which has been proven to cause ill health. They can also be used to change destructive behaviour, such as smoking, or to support a patient in following their medical treatment more reliably.
And animist methods of working with psychoactive plants are becoming more and more recognised for their potent healing potential in social, psychological and terminal illness.*
Rather than an alternative medicine, animism is a personal and communal spiritual stance. It offers no guarantees and endorses no experts, rather demanding that we accept the uncertainty of life as it is.