But apart from considerations of this sort, it is probable that animals must, early in the history of animistic beliefs, have been regarded as possessing souls. Education has brought with it a sense of the great gulf between man and animals; but in the lower stages of culture this distinction is not adequately recognized, if indeed it is recognized at all. The savage attributes to animals the same ideas, the same mental processes as himself, and at the same time vastly greater power and cunning. The dead animal is credited with a knowledge of how its remains are treated and sometimes with a power of taking vengeance on the fortunate hunter. Powers of reasoning are not denied to animals nor even speech; the silence of the brute creation may be put down to their superior cunning. We may assume that man attributed a soul to the beasts of the field almost as soon as he claimed one for himself. It is therefore not surprising to find that many peoples on the lower planes of culture respect and even worship animals (see TOTEM; ANIMAL WORSHIP); though we need not attribute an animistic origin to all the developments, it is clear that the widespread respect paid to animals as the abode of dead ancestors, and much of the cult of dangerous animals, is traceable to this principle.
With the rise of species, deities and the cult of individual animals, the path towards anthropomorphization and polytheism is opened and the respect paid to animals tends to lose its strict animistic character.
Just as human souls are assigned to animals, so primitive man often credits trees and plants with souls in both human or animal form. All over the world agricultural peoples practise elaborate ceremonies explicable, as Mannhardt has shown, on animistic principles. In Europe the corn spirit sometimes immanent in the crop, sometimes a presiding deity whose life does not depend on that of the growing corn, is conceived in some districts in the form of an ox, hare or cock, in others as an old man or woman; in the East Indies and America the rice or maize mother is a corresponding figure; in classical Europe and the East we have in Ceres and Demeter, Adonis and Dionysus, and other deities, vegetation gods whose origin we can readily trace back to the rustic corn spirit. Forest trees, no less than cereals, have their indwelling spirits; the fauns and satyrs of classical literature were goat-footed and the tree spirit of the Russian peasantry takes the form of a goat; in Bengal and the East Indies wood-cutters endeavour to propitiate the spirit of the tree which they cut down; and in many parts of the world trees are regarded as the abode of the spirits of the dead.
Just as a process of syncretism has given rise to cults of animal gods, tree spirits tend to become detached from the trees, which are thenceforward only their abodes; and here again animism has begun to pass into polytheism.
We distinguish between animate and inanimate nature, but this classification has no meaning for the savage. The river speeding on its course to the sea, the sun and moon, if not the stars also, on their never-ceasing daily round, the lightning, fire, the wind, the sea, all are in motion and therefore animate; but the savage does not stop short here; mountains and lakes, stones and manufactured articles, are for him alike endowed with souls like his own; he deposits in the tomb weapons and food, clothes and implements, broken, it may be, in order to set free their souls; or he attains the same result by burning them, and thus sending them to the Other World for the use of the dead man. Here again, though to a less extent than in tree cults, the theriomorphic aspect recurs; in the north of Europe, in ancient Greece, in China, the water or river spirit is horse or bull-shaped; the water monster in serpent shape is even more widely found, but it is less strictly the spirit of the water. The spirit of syncretism manifests itself in this department of animism too; the immanent spirit of the earlier period becomes the presiding genius or local god of later times, and with the rise of the doctrine of separable souls we again reach the confines of animism pure and simple.