«[…] animism in most cases affirmatively stands for the proposition that everything is alive and animated – even stones, rivers, and other allegedly “dead objects”. Nevil Drury puts it directly: “Shamanism is really applied animism, or animism in practice”. And Jonathan Horwitz clarifies: “Animism for the animist is not a belief: it is the way life is experienced. All objects do contain a life is experienced. All objects do contain a life essence of their own, and as such do also contain power” (1999: 220). Indeed, the relation is so strong that sometimes the two concepts seem to converge, as becomes obvious in Horwitx’s statement: “The word shamanism has become over-used and really very over-worked. A lot of the time when people say ‘shamanistic’, they actually mean animistic – a perception of the world as it truly is, with all things alive and in connection. ‘Animism’ is the awareness of our connection to the world that is the foundation of the practice of shamanism. These two things are inseparable” (1995: 7).
The shamanic journey is designed as a means to communicate with those layers of reality that are not accessible in normal states of consciousness. Considering all things alive, the shaman tries to learn the language of different entities, and in nonordinary reality she or he is able to talk to them in order to get advice or help. It is this communicative aspect that Joan Halifax has in mind when she says, “The sacred languages used during ceremony or evoked in various states of consciousness outside culture (if we are Westerns) can move teller, singer, and listener out of the habitual patterns of perception. Indeed, speaking in the tongues of sea and stone, bird and beast, or moving beyound language itself is a form of perceptual healing” (92).
Beginning with the 1960s, there were increased discussions concerning the sacred dimensions of nature that entailed both participation throught man’s awareness and protection through environmental efforts (for an excellent survey, see Taylor 2001a, 2001b). In this context, the adaptation of Buddhist philosophy – like that being studied in the Esalen Institude in California – was a driving force. At times, the various lines of tradition come together in single persons. One example would be Joan Halifax; another one would be the famous poet and activist Gary Snyder, who spoke of himself as “Buddhist-Animist”. Snyder also was involved in the radical environmental movement Earth First! (Devall and Sessions; Taylor 1994, 1995). Hence, the animistic attitude is by no means restricted to neoshamanic circles. Instead, it is part of a larger flow of the sacralization of nature – Naturfrömmigkeit – which spread from North America and Europe during the last two decades. From this perspective, shamanism can be addressed as a kind of ritualized way of experiencing nature. Snyder says that “the practice of shamanism in itself has at its very center a teaching from the non-human, not a teaching from na Indian medicine man, or a Buddhist master. The question of culture does not enter into it. It’s a naked experience that some people have out there in the woods” (in Grewe-Volpp: 141). On another occasion Snyder assures us that poetry and song are among “the few modes of speech… that [provide] access to that other yogic or shamanistic view (in which all is one and all is many, and many are all precious)” (13-14).
The shamanic journey can help put mystic experiences, for instance, on wilderness trips, into a ritualized form that not only conceptualizes the experience but also gives evidence and coherence to it. By means of this framing, those experiences are controllable and repeatable.»
[STUCKRAD, 2002: 779-780]
STUCKRAD, Kocku von. Reenchanting Nature: Modern Western Shamanism and Nineteenth-Century Thought. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, December 2002, Vol. 70, Nº 4, pp. 771-799.