Understanding Spirit Worship & Evangelizing Animists

Christians should understand what the Bible says on these critical issues.

ANIMISM is “Spirit Worship”. It is the primary religion of over 100 million tribal people scattered throughout Africa, New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, India and Japan. Elements of basic Animism are also adhered to by some Muslims, Buddhists and nominal “Christians.”

Animism includes:

NECROLATRY (the worship of the souls of the dead): Tribal people tend to regard departed ancestors as part of the clan and fear the harm that the departed can do to the living. (Especially they fear that those who die unnaturally will come back to “haunt” them).

SPIRIT WORSHIP: Tribal religions believe in the existence of personal spirits or demons as well as impersonal spiritual forces in nature which inhabit the earth, air, fire, water, trees, mountains and animal life. Life for them is dominated by a host of taboos and rituals to placate the spirits.

WITCHDOCTORS: These shamans, priests or witchdoctors are “expert mediators” who know the proper incantations and sacrifices at times of sickness and disaster to placate “the spirits”.

MAGIC: Imitative magic seeks to bring harm to an enemy by attacking a representation of him (e.g. a voodoo doll!) Contagious Magic is the connection between a person and his hair clippings, nail parings, sweat, spit or faeces. The blood of an animal (or person) may be drunk in order to gain the strength of that animal or (in the case of cannibalism) person.

FETISHISM: Superstitious beliefs that there is some spiritual energy or force in charms, amulets or fetishes.

NATURISM: Is the personification and worship of the forces of nature – sun, moon, stars, fire, volcanos, storms, animals (e.g. the sun in Ancient Egypt, the sacred cow of the Hindus in India, the sacred mountain of Shintoism in Japan). Naturism normally leads to idolatry and polytheism (the worship of many gods). Naturism often relates to fertility – both in agriculture and human reproduction. Nature worship, rituals and sacrifices are intended to guarantee fertility. Human sacrifices are an extreme example of this.

TOTEMISM (“brother – sister – kin”) emphasises the unity of the clan with some sacred plant or animal.

4 CHARACTERISTICS OF ANIMISM

  1. The whole of life is pervaded with and governed by fear.
  2. The absence of love and hope.
  3. There are no moral absolutes (sin is seen as the violation of culture, custom and spirit forces).
  4. Fatalism and a sense of helplessness in the face of external forces.


Heathenism does not deny God as much as ignore Him by worshiping natural forces and mysterious demon powers through magical ceremonies and sacrifices.

“Do not practise divination or sorcery… Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord… Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:26-31

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practises divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 18:9-13

Demons are unclean spirits (Matthew 10:1), evil spirits (Acts 19:12), fallen angels who rebelled and are now in darkness bound for Judgement (Jude 6). Their power is limited (2 Peter 2:4). They serve the devil, the prince of darkness, the prince of this world (Matthew 12:24; John 12:31).

Occult practices honour satan rather than God. Occultism makes the enemies of God the guiding force and source of knowledge. Those who “follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” – “abandon the Faith” 1 Timothy 4:1. “Do not learn the ways of the heathen.” Jeremiah 10:2

The Bible teaches us not to fear satan or his demons, but to stand against them in the strength of the Lord. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7

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