Animism is the first or original religion of all humans. It was the established method of viewing the external world that every culture on Earth used up until the last millennia, when most cultures began abandoning their animist world-views.
The term animism derives from the word animismus, coined by the German scientist, Georg Ernst Stahl in the 18th century. He used it to refer to the belief that an immaterial soul produces life. Although his doctrine was mostly limited to animals, later discoveries recognized that ancient animist beliefs included the presence of a soul in all living things beyond the human, contributing to the modern interpretation of animism today. Animism is the belief that everything manifested, both seen and unseen, is infused with a conscious lifeforce. Our pre-Christian tribal ancestors were deeply animist in their views.
Animism is approached in two different ways, impersonally as a philosophy and personally as a religion. As a philosophy, animism is understood scientifically and advocates for treating other physical beings in the world as if they were conscious beings, worthy of recognition and respect. Today you can see this in ideas such as Gaia theory, tribal heathenry, and also in the writings of Graham Harvey. These ideas manifest themselves as green living, eco-psychology, conservationsism, sustainability, and ecological activism.
As a religion, animist belief takes the spiritual and personal relationship approach and focuses on all living things as spiritual beings. The animist beliefs of native traditions are a good example, traditions such as Native American, Australian Aboriginal, and some African traditions.
In today’s world animism as a religious component has been adopted by non-indigenous people, mainly because in many cases native traditions have been wiped out. Examples of this are Germanic and Celtic reconstructionist traditions, and many other reconstructed neopagan beliefs. Traditions that do adopt some form of animism usually emphasize a personal relationship with spirits. Fairy traditions are example as well.
As a modern advocate of animist beliefs, I practice a hybrid tradition that encompasses both. I focus on relationships with the local biome, incorporating sustainability and ecology in my local environment. This extends to wherever I happen to be at the moment, so in reality it becomes a global focus on green living and the recognition and preservation of all living things, in the context nature allows.