Diversity Is at the Heart of Polytheism and Animism

Written by Dyami Millarson

When polytheism and animism are featured together, we can gain the insight that both are about multiple higher entities. The latter is about spiritual entities, the former about divine entities. Important to note is that we are talking about a multiplicity of entities. We are not talking about a single entity but always many. Animism is said to be the world’s eldest belief system. What is certain is that animism and polytheism have existed since time immemorial.

Multiplicity seems to be the fundamental or essential principle of animism and polytheism. It could not be otherwise than that the ancient system embraced a multiplicity of higher entities. Human beings are exposed to a world of multiplicity. All around mankind, multiplicity exists. Multiplicity is a part of nature as it exists in nature. It is inevitable that when man has spontaneous religious feelings, he will embrace multiplicity.

The belief in (many) ghosts spontaneously emerges and reemerges in human society. Ancient religion is usually polytheist and animist. It appears that man is inclined towards polytheism and animism. Folk religion is the spontaneous form of religion that embraces polytheism and animism. Folk religion or spontaneous religion is still prevalent in East Asia, while it also used to be prevalent in ancient Europe. Folk religion was the European norm 2000 years ago, and it had been the norm in Europe since time immemorial.

If we could go back 10,000 or 20,000 or 40,000 years with a time machine, we would find folk religion was practised all over Europe and that it was the norm. The European historical norm is, therefore, the folk religion of yore. Folk religion has not entirely died out in Europe, but it went under the radar and became harder to discern thanks to continuous efforts at repression of spontaneous religion and persecution of its open adherents.

Folk religionists have been at the receiving end of a great deal of persecution in Europe. It ought, nevertheless, to be pointed out that folk religionists have also been severely persecuted in East Asia where folk religion still thrives. The revival or recuperation of folk religion in Europe has met many challenges. One of the big challenges that requires constant effort and attention is practising folk religion in the family and passing it down to the children.

Focusing on the family is vital for revival efforts. When just a few scattered individuals practise folk religion after succesful revival, then folk religion is bound to die out. Family is the sine qua non for the successful revival of folk religion. It is not about individuals, but it is about families and their efforts to pass down their traditional knowledge to their children. The family is the basis of human society, and this cannot be ignored in revival efforts.

Polytheism and animism are featured side by side in folk religion. The existence of a great diversity of entities is accepted by folk religionists. This diversity is the essence of folk religion and so it is vitally important to any adherent. Folk religion is complex and that is why adherents rather seek to feel than understand it. It is no wonder that this complexity ought to be felt because that is what you would expect from spontaneous religion. Folk religion – as does language – belongs to the realm of immaterial human heritage. The diversity that folk religion shows within itself requires more study.

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