Sunday, July 20, 2008

Charms & Animism

Charms and fetishes are possibly one of the oldest aspects of spiritualism there is. The ancient Egyptians would wear jewelry depicting the Scarab symbol of immortality for long life, even slaves and yeomen wore clothes with or drew on their skin signs of various animals to take on the properties of the animal. Netsilick Eskimo tribesmen still wear fetishes of caribou antler to grant them speed in the hunt. Leather straps made from seal skin to give them endurance against the cold are popular too.

This is all based in the concept of animism. An ancient belief that says all things, both living and inanimate, have their own spiritual counterpart. Tribes of hunters and gatherers across the world would perform rituals after successfully hunting an animal to do honor to the spirit of the animal. This was to ensure that the tribesmen would be given the animals’ strength when they ate its flesh and protection when they wore its hide. Failing to give such homage was taboo for it meant that one might anger the animals’ spirits who would prevent the animal from being reborn. Hunter and gatherer peoples feared the animals they depended on for life would go away and never return, refusing to let themselves be hunted. Agrarian societies would often make ritual sacrifices to the sun and rain so their crops would grow.

An offshoot to this idea is that to wear fetishes made from the actual animal or charms representing the animal may entice the animal’s controlling spirit into residing there. A person who has been graced by the spirit of an animal may be granted the strengths of the animal. These strengths may help the wearer to survive and provide for his family.

Remember animism also recognizes the presence of spirits in non-living things as well. Chinese alchemy and medicine paid homage to the elements; earth, wind, air, and fire. Native Americans did the same thing in song and dance forms. It was all for the purpose of recognizing and paying respects to the powers around them. We’re not that different today.

Some people may scoff at the idea. That’s somewhat hypocritical given the number of charms and fetishes people wear in everyday life. A man who wears a crucifix is in effect calling for the aid of a spiritual power. Lance Armstrong wristbands are a cultural phenomenon. Men, women, and children wear them. Each is inscribed with a different quality such as; strength, wisdom, compassion, love, etc. This is merely a more complex form of animism in which one calls directly to a concept that may have been too abstract for ancient tribesmen to comprehend, though the purpose is exactly the same.

Charm bracelets, lucky rabbits’ feet, lucky jewelry, lucky shoes, lucky underwear, the list goes on and on. They all attempt to attract good luck. Again this is an entreaty to the spirits of non-living matter to smile on them and aid them however they are able. If anything, modern human beings are greater proponents of animism than our ancient forebears were. So don’t feel embarrassed or silly for wearing a charm bracelet, ring, necklace, or keeping a good luck fetish in your pocket. We all do it to some extent, and as people still subject to the whims of nature and change, we need all the help we can get.

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