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Samsara and animism

This is another of those “old rambles from several years ago that are potentially interesting” posts.


Notes: This thought was inspired by a thread on MysticWicks NeoPagan forums. For reference, ‘samsara’ is the Sanskrit term for the idea of reincarnation found in Hinduism and Buddhism.

I was just contemplating the idea of the separation between the ‘spirit’, or soul if you will, and the physical body. It’s a core concept in all of the major world religions, and it’s prevalent in a lot of NeoPagan ones too (albeit there is less of a negative judgment passed upon the physical body).

In terms of the afterlife, that means that when your body dies, your spirit then progresses to… whatever. Personally I believe in samsara/reincarnation, so in my case, the ideology is that the body dies, and the spirit, as a separate entity, moves on to inhabit a new form.

However, what if I were to adopt a more animistic approach to it? I was thinking about this, and I believe that although animism, strictly speaking, refers only to a general transcendent dimension, without regard to Deified specifics or an afterlife, it is possible to reconcile a believe in reincarnation with that of animism.

If animism is held to be the belief that every natural object possesses a kind of “spirit”, whether that’s an individual spirit or a collective one (but in this instance, for ease of arguments’ sake, I’m saying it’s an individual spirit), then the physical body itself possesses a spirit purely because it is a natural object. That is, the spiritual component of the body is simply an integrated aspect of it.

Therefore, when the body rots in the ground (haha nice lack of euphemism there!) this spirit also “degrades”, as it is integrally a part of the physical body. However, as this is theological rather than biological, we’re not talking about molecular breakdown – instead, the spiritual component would become “absorbed” into the collective spiritual of the natural world. There, perhaps, it becomes mixed with this collective spirit, and is then manifested in the next physical carried that is created (since even humans are, generally, still a part of the cycle of biological material).

This theory also proposes that, therefore, there is no constant distinct spirit for each of us, but instead that it gets reintegrated with the collective spirit of the natural world, and therefore effectively ‘refracted’, so that in its next manifestation in a physical carrier, it is a different composition, comprised of various parts of the collective spirit. But then is that a presupposition that the individual spirits of organisms vary (and is that in turn a presupposition of a society obsessed with individuality and the need to believe in an eternal unique ‘us’?)?

Ow. My brain.

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