What is Animism? - Radical

What is Animism?

As we have discussed different people groups in Vietnam, we have mentioned that many of these people are animists or practice some sort of animism. But you might be wondering, what is animism exactly?

Although animism doesn’t really fit into a neat box containing all there is to know about the religious practice, we did want to provide you with a general overview of what animists typically believe. Specifically, we want to show you what the life of an animist in Vietnam could be like so that you can know how to better pray for the peoples of Vietnam.

Take a moment to read about animism and pray for Vietnamese people who live day to day in this practice.

What is Animism?

Animism is a belief system that centers on the attribution of souls to things that are not human, such as plants, inanimate objects, nature, animals, etc. It is a belief in supernatural powers that control the material universe.

Animism is different from most organized religions in that it does not have an institution (Example: church, mosque, temple) nor does it have a specific doctrine. Typically animism is heavily influenced by geography, culture, or environment and has been woven in to other belief systems.

What Do Animists Typically Believe?

Animists believe that everything has a spirit, thus they worship everything from nature to animals to inanimate objects. They believe that the spiritual and physical world have a deep connection and that spirits are capable of helping or harming human interests.

Many animists also hold the belief that deceased loved ones watch over them from the spirit world. Ancestor worship comes from this belief as a means of honoring and communicating with ancestors.

How Do People Practice Animism?

Practicing animism varies by geographical region and people group. However, many animists perform similar rituals in order to worship and appease the spirits around them. Many animistic rituals are group activities performed outside, often led by a shaman, witch doctor, or medicine man. Sometimes these rituals include the whole village. Rituals performed inside the home include ancestor worship at the family altars.

Animists offer sacrifices and prayers. They dance or perform other rituals in hopes to receive blessings on their lives, including their crops, fertility, health, family, and more. They also worship spirits so that the spirits will not harm them or their family members.

A belief in objects to ward off evil is also prevalent in places where animism is practiced. This could be a charm around someone’s neck, material hung on doorways or strings tied around waists or wrists. These superstitious rituals vary all over the world.

Where Did Animism Come From?

There is no sole creator of animism. Most sources concur that animism sprung up in different places around the world simultaneously. British anthropologist, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, was the first person to survey animism in 1871 in his work Primitive Culture, giving us the description of animism that is still used today.

Who Practices Animism?

Animists can be found worldwide and are most heavily concentrated in certain areas of Africa and the Americas. Asia also has a large number of people practicing animism.

In many areas around the world, followers of other religions also practice some form of animism. Belief in spirits, worship of the dead, and superstitious rituals abound among followers of many types of religions. Though these people would say that they follow Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc., many also follow some form of animism.

What About Vietnamese People?

A majority of the people groups in Vietnam practice animism, especially in rural areas. With lives that revolve around agriculture, many minority people groups in Vietnam perform yearly or even monthly rituals to request blessings from the gods they believe control their planting and harvesting. Charms and other objects thought to ward off evil are also prevalent among people living in rural areas.

Perhaps the biggest sign of animism in Vietnam is that of ancestor worship. Even those Vietnamese people who follow Buddhism or other religions often worship and honor their deceased loved ones. Though Vietnamese people claim a variety of religions, the prevailing religious practice among them is ancestor worship.

How Can I Pray for Vietnamese People Who Practice Animism?

Here are a few ways you can pray:

Pray for Vietnamese people who practice ancestor worship to learn about Jesus who rose from the dead and offers them true eternal life.

Pray for Vietnamese minority peoples in rural areas to know the Creator God who made everything and is in control of their planting and harvesting.

Ask God to strengthen Vietnamese Christians as they must continually refuse to worship their ancestors in order to follow Jesus.

Pray that God will give Vietnamese Christians boldness to share the gospel in a way that those practicing animism will understand.

Harper McKay is a missionary in Malaysia who has served as a guest contributor for Radical covering missions and work among the unreached.

Less than 1% of all money given to missions goes to unreached people and places.*

That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Let's change that!