Animism pre-dates organised religion, but it is not a religion. It is as old as mankind. An ancient part of our souls. Many who seek to walk a spiritual path or have a closer connection to nature are re-discovering its timeless wisdom. Animism and folk magic are a set of beliefs and ritualistic practices that have roots in the heart of the past but are viable in the modern world. It can be informed by a variety of sources, including archaeology, anthropology, mythology, history, and folklore. It is not reconstructionism or dogmatic. For me, it is a way of being to live in harmony with this world and the great otherworld.
At its heart is the belief that everything has a spirit/soul and is therefore sacred. As such, the spirits of a place are thought of as the actual soul of the land or sometimes as guardian spirits who protect a specific place. Some ancient religions incorporated this belief and worshipped sacred wells, hills, trees, or places in nature in addition to worshipping numerous deities. This then became the worship of saints. In that respect, animism can be seen as the ancient seed of modern religion.
The belief in life after death, reincarnation, and ancestral veneration is also core to the practice. Within this, kin and clan are important, especially the elders and celebration of the sacred days. Animists believe in the supernatural, an otherworld full of spirits, and in the existence of magic. That both the dead and living can cause harm if they desire. This might take the form of the evil eye, a curse, so people were careful not to offend. Mostly they didn't view spirits as benevolent, so they appeased them with rituals to prevent harm. They sometimes wore, charms or talismans to protect themselves from ghosts, demons, the Aos Sith, and witches who used magic for their own benefit. They protected their property, land, and beasts.
Animism is a ritualistic practice. This can take the form of creating shrines, making offerings, saying prayers, or calling on the ancestors for healing and protection. Again, there will be cultural differences, but most animistic cultures will perform rituals and make offerings before they ask the spirits for blessings. This would be done before they undertook something important. They might also ask for a blessing for the seemingly mundane things in life and sing or say prayers, or charms. If the outcome is favourable, they might also give an offering of thanks. This often took the form of food, milk, or alcohol. In some cultures, animal sacrifice was common.
In ancient Caledonia, there were cults of wells, trees, stones, and animals. There were over six hundred healing wells in Scotland at one time. Many trees were sacred, and my namesake was said to be a potent protection charm. There were many magical herbs including St. John's Wort that were used to prevent someone from being taken by the people of peace. Stone circles, such as Callanish and Stennis were important ritualistic sites, and some stones were credited with healing and fertility powers. Specific animals were revered, sometimes to a cult status. Amongst the magical animals of Scotland were the serpent, the salmon, and the bull. By building a relationship with the sacred, it becomes a familiar or spirit helper.
These are not just a set of beliefs or practices, it is a way of life. A relationship of deep respect for nature, and a value for all things seen and unseen. A way of being in 'right relationship' was important to the ancestors because their survival depended upon knowing the land, plants, and animals. As such they were a living breathing part of the landscape.
Scotland is culturally rich in documented folk customs and beliefs, with our own magical traditions of seers, healers, keeners, charmers, cunning folk, witches, and wise women all of whom had different roles they performed for their community. The seasonal fire festivals and other important days had many associated rites. It is some of these old Scottish traditions that are at the core of my own spiritual practice and teachings. I often hold small gatherings to mark the dark and light halves of the year, for those who are interested in an authentic magical practice that is still relevant for today.
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