Furthermore, both Abrahamic religion and science based rationalism (which tends to be atheistic) view the world in a linear and literal way that is incompatible with the flexible and more free flow understandings of organic ethnic-spirituality (which was the native spirituality of all indigenous peoples in the world before adopting “revealed religions”).
Westerners Respect Foreign Cultures but Deride Their Own
There is no real difference, in broad terms, between Japanese Shintoism, Polynesian animism, Native American spirituality, Indian Hinduism, and indigenous European belief.
Referring to the former groups' beliefs as “primitive superstition” with mockery is no longer socially acceptable.
The situation is actually quite the opposite. Laughing at Native American spirituality in today's political climate will render one labeled a bigot.
Yet, the West was first mired in Christian theological domination which slandered European gods as “false” and local land wights as “demons,” before switching to the new religion of science, the adherents of which often openly laugh at both paganism and Christianity.
Newsflash: Europeans had Animism, Too, Dude
His interest and understanding of an animist paradigm was spot on, and he gave a lucid discussion on the importance of an animistic worldview in nurturing a healthy societal respect for nature and environment; of being at one with nature instead of at odds with it.
However, he opened his talk by asserting that we have no such concept and, thus, no such vocabulary to describe these thoughts cogently in English.
This is something that breaks my heart, because it is demonstrative of a yearning for an ancient and organic spirituality but a simultaneous complete lack of understanding that we, too, had this.
Our Ancient Beliefs Did Not Die
Returning to the first point, overcoming the hostility to paganism is only the first hurdle to understanding.
The beliefs of our ancestors cannot be understood if we are thinking literally, with a linear viewpoint that looks for rational order, and which views the world in the duality of black and white.
One point that I have long understood, but was especially driven home during my research for this piece, was the fluidity within the lexicon of indigenous European belief.
So, when we're speaking of animism, it is important to recognize that there is a stark overlap between the standard view of “animism” (i.e. all things in nature have a spirit) and ancestor veneration. In fact, overlaps and confluences in mythology and folk belief is the norm.
Organic Spirituality is Fluid, Not Linear
Under indigenous animism, irrespective of which culture you find it in, beliefs flow freely into one another.
You will find variations and divergences by region and time period, maybe even by individual person. But, there will almost always be a thread of familiarity and continuity that binds the variations together.
Fittingly, while this is true for folk beliefs in general, it is also true for the stories and tales in which they are preserved.
So, we might find slightly differing views of concepts told in a tale that itself has numerous variations.
Therefore it is crucial that one breaks their thought training in literal dogmatism if they wish to understand the rich spirituality that the European, or indeed any other culture's, folk tradition has to offer.
Animism and Ancestor Veneration in Grimms' Cinderella
This piece has been excerpted from Volume V in the European Fairy Tales Series, "Aschenputtel: Animism and Ancestor Veneration in Grimm's Cinderella."
Each volume explores some of the deeper cultural elements found within the tale followed by a re-telling of the story.
Explore the series and download Volume I for FREE here!