Handbook of Contemporary Animism, 5



Animism in Contemporary Society

Martin D. Stringer


p. 63 self-application of the term /animism/

"In Burkina Faso, ... we were told, both by the guide and by those we met, that a significant portion of the population were "animists" and we were introduced on more than one occasion to those who defined their own tradition as "animist". ... In Burkina Faso, ... with its French traditions, the term "animist" was used widely, and it appeared[,] with pride. Many of the French tourist guides for the area also use the term "animiste" as a description of the religion of the people".

pp. 64-6 Tylor

p. 64

"At the heart of Tylor's work was ... animism, a word that he borrowed from Stahl

when he discovered that

spiritualism, his preferred term, was unusable ... (1871:I, 384-5; Stringer 1999:543)."

{/Spiritualism/ is overly-prolix in the same as that /animalism/ (instead of /animism/) would be : it hath appended a superfluous /-al-/ (so that /spirituism/ would be a praeferable term).}

"the term "animism" ..., he [Edward Tylor] adapted ... from the German original as used by Stahl,

{Note that Latin /animus/ is simply a corrupt spelling for Hellenic /anemos/, so that /anemism/ would have been praeferrable. Also, the meaning is wrong, for Latin /animus/ usually hath the meaning 'hatred'.}

because he was not able to use his preferred term of "spiritualism" (1871:I, 384-5; Stringer 1999:543). This relates to ... the basic definition of religion that he had stated as

"belief in spiritual beings" (1871:I, 383). ... . {What a misleading misconstruction! If "soul" be defined as a type of "spiritual being" then emotion, sentiment, feeling, sensation, thought, etc. etc., must likewise be defined as types of "spiritual being", for they are all of the same nature as "soul".}

{This definition is faulty, and inaccurate. Accurate definition would be "interactive encountre with praeternatural entities", for such entities are commonly viewed and conversed with both in dreams and in visions witnessed in the waking-world. Only Christianity is so absurd as to demand "belief" in something never witnessed ("No man hath seen God at any time" -- 1st Epistole of Ioannes 4:12). Christianity is the only religion in the world having a definitely nonexistent God, evidence for the existence whereof is denied by its own scripture.}

p. 65

... the famous illustration of the dream (Tylor 1871:I, 380). When people dream they appear to leave their {material} bodies and {usually having dream-bodies instead} engage in other kinds of activities. The same appears to be the case in trances and "out of body" experiences. It is therefore logical to assume ... that the person is made up of two parts, a physical body and a non-material person, a spirit or soul, that can leave the physical body in certain circumstances. If human beings have such a non-material element then ..., all material objects must also have a non-material element (after all, we do also see these objects when we dream).

The basic form of the "spiritual being", therefore, for Tylor, is the soul, the spirit of the individual (1871:I, 385). ... For Tylor the soul is a spiritual being and hence, if the transmigration of souls is a central tenet of belief, as it is for Buddhism, then that belief is a belief in spiritual beings (ibid.:II, 10). ...

I argue that ... "non-empirical", makes much more sense of Tylor's ... spiritual or soul ... ." {False! This is nothing "non-empirical" at all about the soul, whose existence is manifest in all acts of sensation, emotion, sentiment, and consciousness.}

{The evidence for souls (from dreams, etc.) is not only entirely empeirical, but is (in is aspect of consciousness) in fact the strongest possible of all forms of empeirical evidence. The author (M.D.S.) may be either self-deceived, or deceived by materialist dogmata, to be in such blatant denial of the manifestly empeirical nature of this truth.}

p. 66

"Elements of "animism" are retained in ... polytheism or monotheism".

Tylor 1871 = Edward Tylor : Primitive Culture. 2 voll. London : John Murray.

Stringer 1999 = M. D. Stringer : "Rethinking Animism". J OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE (N.S.) 5:541-56.

1st Epistole of Ioannes 4:12 http://biblehub.com/1_john/4-12.htm

{Most likely however, the author is not actually deceived by materialist dogmata, but is simply parrotting the official government-imposed stance-pose in this matter, which is entirely a most hypocritical deceit intended to trick and hoodwink the general public.}

{As for the residue of this article, the author is utterly ignoring the dream-experience of the West Africans to whom he is alluding, despite the fact that West African descriptions of dream-experience are among the most elaborate on this planet, and are more thoroughly the basis of religion there than anywhere else on this planet. This fact would tend to indicate utter lack of sincerity on the part of the author (and even more so, of course, on the part of the government, which forced it on him). But he is not the only such faker, for Tylor surely plagiarized (without due acknowledgement) the entire understanding of religion in terms of dreams from Africans and/or from AmerIndians, for every traditionalist African and every traditionalist AmerIndian hath always professed every detail (and then some) of what Tylor hath feigned having invented himself.}

p. 67 polytheistic-animistic coping genre in contemporary social discourse

"In medieval society ... across most of Europe, ... it was possible to engage with a range of non-empirical others {to wit, with angels and with saints in Heaven} at a variety of levels {including prayer, pilgrimage, etc.}, some of which were ... very down to earth and focused on the day-to-day coping of the poor and oppressed (Christian 1981; Stringer 2005). In contemporary Britain ... the coping religions are expressed most commonly, according to our research at least, through conversations with the dead (Stringer 2008:67-82). ... The coping genre that we had identified to be so widespread within British discourses on the non-empirical was, in my view, the fundamental, base genre, the starting point or foundation on which all the other genres and discourses had to be built (ibid.:108)."

Christian 1981 = William Armistead Christian : Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain. Princeton Univ Pr.

Stringer 2005 = Martin D. Stringer : A Sociological History of Christian Worship. Cambridge Univ Pr.

Stringer 2008 = Martin D. Stringer : Contemporary Western Ethnography and the Definition of Religion. London : Continuum.

{It is truly incongruous (on the part of Tylor and and of Stringer and of anyone else deriving any notions from theirs) to designate the everyday-ongoing intense experiences of British spirit-mediumship as " non-empirical" when, in fact, the term /empeirical/ hath the litteral signification of 'experiential'! What spirit-mediumship could more accurately be desigated, would be, e.g., "non-materialistic". And because materialism is in denial of existence of sensation, perception, and consciousness (because none of these are "material"), therefore it is materialism itself that is quite necessarily-and-thoroughly non-experiential, i.e., utterly non-empeirical. [written Jan 2016]}

p. 68 masks owned & inhabited by spirits in Burkina Faso

"Among the Bwa, the Bobo, and other related groups in central Burkina Faso ... (Dagan 1987). When dances take place, even for tourist events, a sacrifice needs to be made to the spirits who own and inhabit the masks, and the dance itself is seen as a close engagement with the spirits themselves."

Dagan 1987 = Esther A. Dagan : Man and His Vision : the Traditional ... of Burkina Faso. Montreal : Galerie Amrad African Arts.

pp. 68-9 tila & tuu` spirits of Burkina Faso

p. 68

"Among the Lobi ..., in the southwest of the country, statues are made to represent the dead and there is an implicit belief that the ancestral spirits, or thila, inhabit the statues that are made for them (Bognolo 2007:10-14). ... .

... "most forms of worship are based on ... a vital

p. 69

principle called thuu` (spirit, double), the prime component of a person" (2007:10). It is the thuu` that after death ... becomes the thila that ... is ... housed within a statue." {See also CFL&SFA.}

Bognolo 2007 = Daniela Bognolo : Lobi. Milan : 5 Continents Ednn.

CFL&SFA = Daniela Bognolo & Anita J. Glaze : Close Focus : Lobi and Senufo Figurative Art. Vol. 1 of :- Marie-Thérèse Brincard (editrix) : Constellations : Studies in African Art. Purchase (NY) : Neuberger Museum of Art, 2009.

p. 69 orders of reality

"Spirits ... are real, there is no question about that, but their reality is of a different order .... (Southwold 1983:150). A spirit cannot be captured, analysed or tested in the way other "empirical" objects can ...; but it is important to note that this is not a distinction between the real and the unreal." {On the same principle, it could aequally be claimed that because emotions, sentiments, feelings, attitudes, thoughts, etc. etc. cannot be "captured" (confined within piece of laboratory test-equipment, is apparently the author's meaning), therefore they are "non-empirical" (and, by implication, non-existent)!}

{Many qualities (qualia) known to be real cannot be "captured" in order to be [materialistically] "analyzed". For example, consciousness cannot be captured and confined to an arbitrary physics-laboratory container; nor can the principles of mathematics nor of physics be analyzed by chemical analysis in a laboratory -- existence of such immaterial qualities can only be deduced by reasoning, much as the existence of spirits can only be deduced (on the basis, largely, of evidence from dreams and from trances -- the same dreams and trances from which the nature of consciousness can be deduced). Just as consciousness and the principles of physics are not material objects, though deducibly existent in some other realm of reality, so likewise for spirits.}

Southwold 1983 = Martin Southwold : Buddhism in Life : the Anthropological Study of Religion and the ... Practice of Buddhism. Dover (NH) : Manchester Univ Pr.

p. 69 distinction between (on the one hand) universal principles of immanence of spirit (or of consciousness), and (on the other hand) particular instances of praesence of a spirit (or of a consciousness)

"It is not the case for the people of Burkina Faso that each object has a spiritual element, or that all spirits have some physical or material manifestation ... . These are not

"nature spirits" as such, "spirit" in the abstract, or the spiritual element of the material world;

{A metaphysics of "the spiritual element of the material world" could be called /pan-en-pneumatism/; and when such "spiritual element" be reckoned as divine (by being described as appearing in dreams and/or in visions) then its metaphysics could be called /pan-en-theism/.}

they are clearly personified entities, each with their {if collective (otherwise, his or her)} own identity and personality."

{Less generalized than a metaphysics of universals, this is a metaphysics of particulars.}

{A "nature spirit" would be a spirit innately inhaerent due to the "nature" (innate quality) of a person or of a substance; this is a variation of universalist metaphysics, with the "elemental spirits" (mentioned as "elementals" in Epistole to the Galatai 4:3-9) of alchemy as typical.}

pp. 69-70 "unsystematic" belief-structure

p. 69

"religious structures in Burkina Faso ... would probably be unsystematic in their belief structure (... Calderoli 2010).

{This, however, could be said of virtually any religion lacking in standardized written texts.}

It is widely accepted, for example, that Evans-Pritchard attempted to provide a structure for the religion of the Nuer that simply was not there (Evans-Pritchard 1956), and ...

{Like many anthropologists of religion, Evans-Pritchard relied on the personal understandings of a single respected expert practitioner of the religion. The result was (as in the similar case of Griaule & Dieterlin 1986) a systematic theology unknown except to that particular practitioner. Such systematizations are well-worth recording, however, as any other local expert would describe a system personally constructed on a similar basis; and perhaps by mutual intercommunication among such experts (encouraged by publication of their systems), some more general consensus might develop amongst tribal practitioners.}

p. 70

much current thinking has rejected his central premise of a clearly systematic and structured set of beliefs."

Calderoli 2010 = Lidia Calderoli : Rite et technique chez les forgerons moose du Burkina Faso ... . Paris : L'Harmattan.

Evans-Pritchard 1956 = Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard : Nuer Religion. Oxford : Clarendon Pr.

Griaule & Dieterlin 1986 = Marcel Griaule & Germaine Dieterlen (transl. by Stephen C. Infantino) : The Pale Fox. Chino Valley (AZ) : Continuum Foundation. (originally published in French as Le renard pâle by l'Institut d'Ethnologie, Paris, 1965)

{Even in praesent-day European religious denominations (mainline variants of Christianity), the views of ordinary layfolk are likewise typically "unsystematic in their belief structure" (where, indeed, they are not downright hypocritical!), with only the clergy holding any views even approaching anything systematic -- and, even then, that clerical "systematic" is often a mere lifeless de-facto materialism with only the thinnest verneer of anything religious -- for Christian clergy are notoriously hypocritical, and materialistic to boot, not to mention being utterly subservient to their respective national governments (including instantly becoming war-mongers -- a sure symptom of hypocrisy -- whenever their governments may declare war).}

p. 70 shrines as abodes for spirits

"For many of the peoples of Burkina Faso spiritual beings ... are encouraged to live within the shrines in the houses of the village ... and encouraged ... to maintain good relations with the living."

{Is this not likewise true of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Coptic shrines, reputedly housing (at least on religious-holiday occasions) angels? Or, for that matter, of Hindu, Taoist, Shinto, or any other religion's shrines?}

{Episcopalian/Anglican congregations used to (at least) be taught the very same doctrine, until this teaching was relatively recently largely prohibited by the fanatically impious Hanoverians-cum-Thuringians who since the eighteenth century have constituted royalty of the "United" Kingdom.}

p. 70 immanence of spirits in ritual paraphernalia

"Certainly it was important for the mask, or the statue in the case of the Lobi, to contain the spirit or the ancestor, and spiritual beings and humans were expected to share the same space and to engage in some form of ritual communication".

p. 71 variant regards, by contrasted human cultures, of relations with praeternatural spirits

"For the British the need is for an other {i.e., a non-embodied spirit} that is intimate, that can be chatted to about everyday concerns and that is understood to listen to and care about our problems. {Do note that in praesent-day litterate urban Brazil, the need and expectation in Umbanda spirit-mediumship is likewise for spirits "that can be chatted to about everyday concerns" and who will provide usable advice to solve "our problems".} For many groups in Burkina Faso the spirits are to be rejected, feared". {This would depend on the category of spirit. Many devout Christians fear "devils" quite similarly, and as much.}

{In order to be aware of how to deal with spirits/divinities in a propre way (so as not to offend them with improprieties) it may be necessary to know at least a modicum of past historical dealings with those categories of spirits, including those spirits' past associations with long-since-abandoned historical sites and long-obsolete rituals. In Europe, with its historical written records extending many centuries into the past, this is readily-enough feasible, so that an appretiative welcome from the spirits (thus gratified by reference to historical records) can be routinely expected : that is why communications between mortals and spirits can be expectedly "intimate". Illiterate and therefore lacking written historical records, however, African mortals can be routinely expected to be rebuffed by spirits, which why "the spirits are to be rejected, feared" by them. [written Dec 2 2014]}

{If the advantages of litteracy in terms of facilitating and rectifying communications with spirits along the lines of increased congeniality therewithal, were to be patiently explained to hitherto-recalcitrant traditionalist advocates illitteracy (especially in tribal Africa), then wholesale mass-conversions (especially among traditionalist ritualists) to the programme of promoting litteracy could be readily and eathly made. As a point of practicality, though there may be very meagre local history (in the oral tradition of a given African tribe) to be published for local use in communicating with spirits in the manner and mode praeferred by spirits generally, this could be supplemented by advocated exemplar-histories [which would require being translated into the local African tribal dialect, of course] from other regions of the world, notably, i.e., from southern Bharata (India), where the desirably Nigroid populace (speaking various D.awida languages) hath a history (including of religion) extending already many centuries into the past. [written Dec 3 2014]}

p. 72 "logical space"

"The spirits of Burkina Faso and the others of the UK are not of the same kind and, I would probably suggest, do not even inhabit the same logical space within the structures of the religions." {More pertinently, different categories of "spirits" (say, "angels" and "devils") "do not even inhabit the same logical space within the structures of" even a single religion (say, Episcopalianism).}

{Whether or not spirits known to different cultures be of alike kinds, and whether or not they occupy the same "logical" (or otherwise) space, would depend on what those spirits themselves consider of their situations -- and not what mere mortals (who understand little of the ways and means of spirits) may imagine. This is the sort of quaestion which might require communication with the various categories of spirits in mediumship-sessions, in order to approach any resolution.}

p. 72 book by the author of this article (M.D.S.)

"does my solution in Contemporary Western Ethnography and the Definition of Religion (2008) provide a way forward? Is animism to be seen as ..., as I suggest in the book, the most basic and therefore the most common form of religion across all kinds of society?"


Graham Harvey (ed.) : Handbook of Contemporary Animism. Acumen Publ, Durham; ISD, Bristol, 2013.