The term “animism” is defined as the belief of a life-force existing within non-human forms. In other words, according the this idea, non-human forms such as thunder, rocks and trees are possessed by spirits and souls. The term, first developed as “animismus” by chemist/physicist Georg Ernst Stahl in 1832, defined as the “doctrine that animal life is produced by an immaterial soul”, was reintroduced in 1871 by English anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Taylor to be defined as the “theory of the universal animation of nature”.
The mass majority of animistic belief systems holds that the soul within the non-human form will be able to survive physical death. It is believed in some systems that the soul must journey to pass through to an easier world. In other systems, it is said that the soul would remain on earth as a ghost. There are also situations where it would return to earth in order to avenge its death.
If murdered, the spirit would either assist in discovering the identity of its murderer or wreak vengeance for itself. A widespread belief of those who die a violent death is that the soul would become a dangerous spirit and endanger the lives of those who approach the haunted area of the its death. In literature, animism is most often used in mythology and folklore. The myths and folklore generally contain a magical or spiritual sense to the story.
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An example would be of the tale of the Pontianak. The Pontianak is a type of vampire in Malay folklore and Indonesian mythology. It is said that a woman who has died during childbirth becomes undead, seeking revenge and terrorizes villages. The use of animism is applied because the Pontianak is not human and has a spirit within. Many Urarina myths apply animism into their myths by portraying plants, inanimate objects, and animals as personal beings.
An example would be of a Urarina deluge-myth, a myth of a great flood sent by a deity to destroy civilization as a punishment. It is said that a man had saved himself from the flood by climbing a tree. The man's wife had transformed into a termites' nest and was clinging onto the tree and their two sons had transformed into birds. Though the man's wife and sons are not in their human bodies anymore, their souls are still intact within their new form. Therefore, this myth applies the use of animism.
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