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Animism and witchcraft

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One of the beliefs that is very important to me as a witch is animism. Animists believe that natural entities, such as animals, plants, rocks, rivers and other natural phenomena, possess their own spirit and consciousness and therefore deserve respect and reverence.

As an animist, I believe that everything possesses a spiritual essence or life force. This life force is an integral essence present in everything and is part of what makes something what it is. In addition, animists believe that everything is connected and part of a cohesive whole, much like an ecosystem where everything depends on everything else. To me, this makes perfect sense. The natural world is obviously interdependent and for this reason, harming or damaging one part of the whole will affect everything else.

In animism there is no higher god who created everything, it is more that everything carries within it the divine. In addition, animism does not tend to have hierarchies within nature. An ant is as important as a human who is as important as a mountain stream, a city tree or a gentle breeze. We are all interdependent and equal.

These ideas are similar to other ancient beliefs such as qi or the Dao. As Karen Armstrong says in her book, Sacred Nature: How we can recover our bond with the natural world, ‘Qi is not a god or being of any kind; it is the energy that pervades all life, harmoniously linking the plant, animal, human and divine worlds and enabling them to fulfil their potential’.

These types of beliefs would have been normal for most humans throughout the world and history up until the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement that revolutionised the way people thought about the world in Europe during the 18th century. It was centred around the idea that reason is the primary source of authority and legitimacy.

Enlightenment thought emphasised reason, science, scepticism and individualism as well as the separation of church and state. The older ways of viewing the natural world began to be seen as superstitious, primitive and inferior. Reason was sound, whereas spiritual beliefs and intuition were worthless. Nature was seen as a resource for man to be dominated and used rather than a living entity deserving of reverence and respect.

However, recent scientific studies are beginning to show how complex and interconnected the natural world is. While we cannot necessarily understand the consciousness of other entities, such as plants or rocks, that does not mean that they do not have them. As we study nature we are continually discovering how complex life forms are. We see evidence of tool and medicine use in animals, such as the recent story of an orangutan who used plants to create a poultice to help heal a cut on his face. We also see close social bonds, interspecies reliance and perhaps even rituals such as elephants and other animals mourning their dead.

We are beginning to understand that trees can communicate with each other, nurture their young and support their elders. I find this new research fascinating and I am glad that science can help us understand the complex world we live in. 

While many witches incorporate animistic beliefs into their practices, others may not resonate with the idea or may follow different spiritual paths altogether. It really depends on the individual witch and their personal beliefs and practices. However, most witches do have a deep love of nature and include nature and natural forces in many of their rituals and practices.

If you would like to know more about animism and how to incorporate this belief system into your practice I’ve included further information along with a simple ritual below.

Key features of animism

Spiritual Presence

Animism holds that all elements of the natural world, whether living or inanimate, are imbued with spiritual energy. This energy is thought to be the source of life and consciousness.

Interconnectedness

Animism emphasises the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things in nature. There is a recognition that humans are part of a broader spiritual community that includes plants, animals, rocks and other natural elements.

Sacred sites

Certain locations, such as mountains, forests, rivers and specific trees or rocks, are often considered sacred in animistic belief systems. These places are believed to have a strong spiritual presence and may be associated with rituals or ceremonies.

Shamanism

Many animistic cultures practice shamanism, where individuals act as intermediaries between the human and natural or spiritual realms. Shamans may communicate with plants, natural environments or spirits to receive wisdom about the natural world. Shamans can use this knowledge to heal, nurture and support others.

Respect for nature

Animism promotes a deep respect for the natural world. Many animistic cultures believe that humans should live in harmony with nature, acknowledging and honouring the spirits that reside in the environment.

Symbolism and totemism

Animals, plants and other natural elements are often assigned symbolic meanings and certain groups may have totemic relationships with specific animals or symbols that represent their connection to the spirit world.

Animist rituals and practices

For an animist, rituals and practices often revolve around connecting with and honouring the spirits believed to inhabit all aspects of the natural world. 

Offerings

Making offerings to the spirits of nature is a common practice in animism. Offerings can include food, drink, flowers or other items that are meaningful to you and symbolise your respect and gratitude for the natural world.

Nature walks and meditation

Spending time in nature and engaging in mindful meditation can help deepen your connection with the spirits of the land, plants, animals and elements. This allows you to quiet your mind, open your senses and attune yourself to the energy of your surroundings.

Ceremonies for seasonal changes

Many animist traditions mark the changing seasons with ceremonies and rituals that celebrate the cycles of nature. 

Ancestor veneration

Some animist traditions include practices that honour the spirits of ancestors and deceased loved ones. This might involve setting up ancestral altars, making offerings to ancestors and holding ceremonies to remember and honour their memory.

Divination

Divination techniques, such as reading omens in natural phenomena or using tools like tarot cards or runes, can be used by animists to seek guidance from the spirits or to gain insight into the natural world and their place within it.

Healing rituals

Animists may perform rituals and ceremonies aimed at healing physical ailments, emotional wounds, or spiritual imbalances. These rituals often involve working with the spirits of plants, animals and elements believed to possess healing properties.

Sacred storytelling

Storytelling plays a significant role in many animist traditions, serving as a way to pass down knowledge, wisdom and cultural heritage. Sacred stories may recount the origins of the natural world, the deeds of legendary spirits, or the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Ecological stewardship

Animists often view themselves as stewards of the Earth and advocates for environmental conservation. Engaging in activities such as tree planting, beach cleanups or habitat restoration can be seen as spiritual practices that honour the interconnected web of life.

A simple animist ritual to connect with a herb plant

This simple but powerful ritual can help you begin to tune into the spirits inherent in everything. We will start with a herb plant as these are easy to find or buy from a supermarket or garden centre. You can perform this ritual outdoors or indoors. You will also need a jug of water.

Choose a quiet space where you can be undisturbed with the herb plant you wish to connect with either outdoors or in your home. If you wish, you can perform a cleansing ritual before you begin.

Begin by setting your intention for the ritual. Take a few deep breaths and centre yourself. Focus your mind on your desire to connect with the spirit of the herb and deepen your understanding of the wisdom it can offer and any healing properties it contains.

Approach the herb plant with reverence and respect. Take a moment to observe its leaves, stems and any flowers, appreciating its beauty and vitality. Express gratitude to the plant for its presence and the gifts it offers.

Make an offering to the plant by watering it with your jug of water. This offering is a gesture of reciprocity, acknowledging the exchange of energy between you and the plant.

Sit or stand comfortably near the herb plant, close your eyes and enter into a meditative state. Visualise roots extending from your body into the earth, connecting you to the energy of the land that sustains you and the plant.

Open your senses to the presence of the plant. Listen for any messages or insights that may come to you. You may also ask questions or seek guidance from the plant spirit. Pay attention to any sensations, emotions or thoughts that arise during this connection. Trust your intuition and allow yourself to be receptive to the plant’s wisdom. You can also ask the plant if it needs anything form you, such as more water, food or a sunnier or cooler position.

When you feel ready, express gratitude to the herb plant for sharing its wisdom and energy with you. Thank the plant spirit for any insights or guidance you received during the ritual.

Offer a final gesture of respect, such as bowing or placing your hand on the plant, before concluding the ritual.

Take a moment to reflect on your experience and any insights gained from connecting with the herb. Consider how you can incorporate this newfound wisdom into your life and your relationship with the natural world. Act on any messages about what the plant needs form you such as more water or food or moving it to a new location.

This ritual is intended to serve as a starting point for connecting with the spirit of a herb but feel free to modify it to align with your own practices and traditions. You can use this template to connect with any other entity such as a tree, a stream, an element or natural landscape.

If you’d like to read more about connecting to nature, especially if you live in an urban environment, check out my post Nature in the city: unleash the power of Mother Earth. You may also be interested in my post Genius Loci: working with the spirit of place.

I hope you have found this post interesting and informative. If you have, please consider sharing it. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below

Eva May Baker
Eva May Baker
Hello, and welcome to The City Witch, your portal into the magical world that exists within the hustle and bustle of city life. My name is Eva Baker and I am an urban folk witch, author and your guide on this magical journey.

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