The well-known british anthropologist Edward B. Tylor defined animism in his classic 1871 book Primitive Culture as a belief in spiritual beings. He theorized that this was the ultimate basis of all of the religions of humankind. Animism derives from the Latin anima, which refers to spirit, soul, or life-force.

Animists believe that supernatural forces permeate and animate nature, including animals, plants, waters, rocks, and other environmental phenomena. Whether these forces are envisioned as personal or impersonal, they are thought to influence humans. Shamans and priests, part- and full-time ritual specialists, respectively, attempt to communicate with and thereby influence the spiritual realm.

Animism is by far the oldest religion of humanity as evidenced by Neanderthal burials and associated artifacts at Shanidar cave in northern Iraq, which archaeologists ...

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