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Animism is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Potentially, animism perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—as animated and alive. Animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the belief system of many indigenous peoples, especially in contrast to the relatively more recent development of organised religions.


  • For animism the world is divided into a reality and a super-reality, a visible phenomenal world and an invisible world of spirits, a mortal body and an immortal soul. The burial customs and rites make it quite clear that Neolithic man was already beginning to conceive the soul as a substance divided from the body. The magic view of the world is monistic, it sees reality in the form of a simple texture, of an uninterrupted and coherent continuum; but animism is dualistic, it forms its knowledge and beliefs into a two-world system. Magic is sensualistic and holds fast to the concrete; animism is spiritualistic and inclines to abstraction. In the one case thought is centred on the life of this world, in the other on that of the world to come. That is the main reason why Palaeolithic art reproduces things true to life and reality, whilst Neolithic art opposes a stylized and idealized super-world to ordinary empirical reality.
    • Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages (1962)

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