Recasting Animism

Homelands’ Ruxandra Guidi’s latest essay, “The Spirit of the Rillito,” has been published in the May issue of High Country News magazine, the 50-year old publication covering the American West.

The piece came out of conversations and scholarly discussions held at the Religion and Environment Story Project, a fellowship out of Boston University that trains journalists, editors and public-facing scholars interested in the intersection of the environment and religion.

“Animism, from the Latin word anima, or soul, (is) a concept as difficult to decipher as dreams, death or apparitions, and it has a problematic history,” Guidi writes. “The founder of cultural anthropology, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, first introduced the word in his 1871 book Primitive Culture, which argued that culture progressed from primitive to modern expressions. Today, Burnett Tylor’s theories, which denigrate Indigenous worldviews as childish and backward, are considered beyond anachronistic.

“But before colonization and the human-centered organized religions that accompanied it, animistic worldviews taught us to listen to the natural world, to move to its beat. For many people, these songs never stopped playing. Others are learning to listen to them anew.”

Photo by Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News.