I have always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges

So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Saint John, Letter to Galatians 4:16

Freedom of Religion - Freedom from Religion - Freedom of Public Display of Religion and Traditions

We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief.
Ronald Reagan (Temple Hillel Speech, 1984)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chapter 1 - Intro to Phenomenology of World Religion

Chapter 1

Introduction to Phenomenology of World Religion ©

The modern world is the child of doubt and inquiry, as the ancient world was the child of fear and faith.
Clarence Darrow, 1929

Foreword: In studying the different religions as an historical investigator, one can find parallels and become entrapped in comparative theology. Historically, religion goes well into the time of prehistory – before any written account occurred.

Like Lewis Brown and several other theological historians, this became an obstacle in the objectives when in search for the origin religion. For example, if a person found prehistorical paintings on rocks or in a cave that depicted men and animals with a large buffalo in the center – Would the observer come to the conclusion that the buffalo was worshiped by the artist and his people; or, would you consider that the buffalo was an important source of food over the other animals pictured; or was the artist just recording a successful hunt emphasizing that the buffalo was included with other animals taken for food?
Humanity through the ages has held nature in awe. Things that puzzled or impressed early humans caused him to worship other humans, animals, or objects and acts of nature as a deity or actions of a deity. We can only speculate from what remains we find because the person who drew that picture or left some sort of account is not direct communication that answers the questions we may have. The communication was neither written nor spoken; therefore, the literary meaning is not present.
The origin of religion is hidden from the historical investigator because there isn’t any evidence for determining the actual start of the institution of religion, other than accounts in certain religious text and verbal history; but wherever humanity has lived, religion is found. Historians have difficulty determining religious origin because the historical time span is brief in comparison to the archaeologist dealing with prehistory or anthropologist dealing with prehistory in thousands of years, and the astronomers are dealing with billions of years. Nevertheless, there are volumes written that concern the origin and history of any given religion known to humans in respect to organized religion, as aforementioned; but the origin of the concept of religion is foggy at best.
Man has not only developed religion to explain the unknown, but has entered a personal relationship with the power he fears and with the deity or deities he worships. The basic ways that humans relate to this is through offering, prayer, and ritual acts.
The concept of an offering or gift being made to a deity for various reasons can be found in the principle that “I give so that you will give.”[1] This principle is found in basic society. The deity supposedly needs the item the person is presenting and will return the favor by giving that person something he desires or needs. This may be the primary reason, but it is a simple and shallow one. The concept generally goes deeper. An act of communion also allows the giver into an intimate relationship with the recipient of the gift. The feeling that the offering is actually a part of the giver’s soul; which becomes a pledge to the deity is more in the category of religious offerings. It professes the giver’s dedication and respect to the deity. The ancient Israelites offered minah; early Mohammedans made offerings only if their prayers were answered. Hindus gave offerings to nourish and strengthen the god so that the Brahmin could win power over him. If the gods drink the offered soma, they are obligated to the person giving. Max Weber called this coercion of the deity.
The first type of offering is the sacramental offering. Communal eating of the offering creates the same vital and spiritual substance, so that the giver will share his soul to whom the offering is being made. Hans-Joachim Schoeps organized sacramental offerings into two main categories: (1) communion meal in which the sacrificed animals are eaten with the deity, which give the person the strength of that deity; (2) the sacrificed animal transforms itself into the deity, so that the giver is actually eating the god’s substance.[2]
In Catholic mass, the priest speaks some ritualistic words and the sacramental bread and wine are symbolically transformed into flesh and blood of Christ. This rite is derived from Jesus Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples, and has become a religious symbolic rite. Most Christian religious groups or sects perform this on the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion. The Calvinist’s tradition of sacramental offering is only symbolic, and the Lutheran doctrine is somewhere between Catholic and Calvinist. The celebration of the sacramental meal is found in ancient “mystery” religions. The Serapis-Isis cult dined at the table of Lord Serapis: the Attis celebrated a holy feast once a year; the Eleusinians produced a holy drink called kykeon, which was used during rituals; and the Mithra had a feast of bread and wine that celebrated the memory of Mithra’s last meal on Earth.
The second type of offering was the primatial offering, an ancient custom. Humanity offers their first fruit of the harvest and field or the animal from the herd, or the game hunted and killed. This was common during the nomadic stage of human development. This has been thought to have been practiced in prehistorical times, as illustrated by the cave drawings discovered by archaeologists. This form of offering can be found in the Bible’s Old Testament, as when Yahweh [a] speaks to Moses, saying:
Consecrate to me all first born: whatever is first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both man and beast, is mine.[3]
Later, among the Israelites, this demand was changed to only the animal and not the children of Israel. To this day the Orthodox Jew’s first born must be redeemed in the synagogue by an offering of money placed in a poor box. You can see how religion tailors itself by changing of society and civilization. When Abraham offers of his firstborn in the biblical story after instruction to do so by God, it is considered by scholars to be the transition point from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice; however the account also portrays a test of faith by Jehovah to Abraham - the account of the event could be construed either way.
Lastly is the expiatory offering, which deals with the escape of punishment after disobeying religious commandments of the deity or deities. An animal was sometimes sacrificed in place of the person or just was the repentant replacement of that person, a representative so to speak. The spilling of blood is also symbolic and an important part of sacrifices. The Greeks and Romans made offerings to the gods of the underworld which are called ethonic deities. The head and throat of the victims were pressed into a pit so that the blood could run into the ground after the arteries were cut. Blood purifies man of all of his sins – a concept that wasn’t particular to only Christians. In Christianity, Christ was sacrificed for the redemption of the world’s sins, and marking yet another transition that denounced the need for animal sacrifice.
This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.[4]
Ancient Nordic and Israelites sprinkled blood on the walls of the temples, ritual objects, or door posts of houses.
Another form of expiatory offering was making an animal or human the recipient of all the evil surrounding a community and then killing it or the person. Ancient Israelites would lead the scapegoat around their camp on the Day of Atonement so that it would gather up all the evil/sins. The animal would then be taken out into the desert and let loose to fend for itself in the wilderness or tethered outside the community to prevent it from returning until it died. Later when the temple in Jerusalem was built, this practice was continued but in a different manner. The high priest of the temple performed an elaborate ceremony of sacrifice in the temple, confessing his own sins of the other priests, and the sins of all Israel. He then entered the Holy of Holies wearing white linen [b] and then he sprinkles the blood of sacrifice and offers incense. The ceremony ended when the scapegoat was symbolically driven to its death in the desert. After the destruction of the Temple of JerusalemYom Kippur became a solemn period of fasting, abstinence of drink and sex, and wearing of leather shoes for a period of ten days. On the eve of Yom Kippur prayers and meditation are conducted all day. [5]
The Christian form of expiatory atonement is in the form of offering which is attributed to Christ’s sacrifice as was briefly mentioned above and will be further discussed in Chapter 7. Christ’s death, although caused by a plot from the patriarchs and betrayal, was a sacrifice for humanity through his death on the Crucifix (Cross). The offering of Christ’s blood took the place of the traditional sacrificial lamb – thus the end of the need for animal sacrifice through interaction of Jesus Christ. Since that time the followers of Christianity claim that animal sacrificial ceremonies are no longer needed because of Christ’s atonement for humanity, and is the key rift between Christianity and Judaism in which the former continued Hebrew traditions from the Old Testament scriptures and some of the ritual/rite customs of the latter. [6] Expiatory offerings were similar in Babylonia and among the Greeks during the festivals of Apollo at Athens. In the case of the Greeks a criminal was thrown into the sea from the Leucadian Cliffs. [7]
In ancient Briton, before Christianity took hold, the local people – specifically those that could afford it – hired peasants to become sin eaters for the deceased member of the family. The deceased was placed on a table or stone slab in a room or tomb and surrounded with food. After a ceremony took place and everyone had paid their last respects, the family and friends left the sin eater alone with the deceased and food. The sin eater ate the food surrounding the corpse and thus ingested the man or woman’s sins to allow the deceased to enter heaven. As one would guess, sin eaters were hired from the poor peasant population whose hunger was greater than their fear of sinful damnation. The sin eater was not harmed after the feast, like the scapegoat in Israel, but he or she became an outcast in the community and was only spoken to when the time for sin eating services were required. Many peasants became professional sin eaters in successive generations until the custom disappeared.
The purity of the body was also sacrificed to a deity and performed by temple prostitutes and minions. These practices were recorded in the Old Testament as toebah meaning “abomination” in the eyes of the Eternal God. Such sacrifices were severely criticized by the Israelite prophets. This type of atonement can be found in the history of several ancient civilizations, like Rome, Greece, Egypt, Babylonia and other places other than the lands of the Israelites.
Even burnt offerings that were performed too frequently and/or with too many sacrificial animals were frowned upon –
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of the beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or lambs, or of he goats. [8]
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. [9]
Another aspect of religion that links humans with the deity is prayer. Prayer is the gist of religion and is in close association with sacrifice, which leads to ritual. The association can be found in the AkkadianPsalms, the Vedas, and in the Persian sacred texts; as well as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In “advanced” religions, [c] prayer is most important. Prayers have been recorded among Bushmen, Bataks of the Pacific, and the Cora Indians in Mexico. Prayer is an appeal to god or a deity. Prayer is used in many forms and performed in many ways. [d]
Prayer has been used as hymns of praise, as in ancient Egypt:
Splendid you rise in heaven’s lightland, O’ living Aten, creator of Life! [e]
In ancient Israel:
Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou are clothed with honour and majesty. [f]
The Maya verse of Popul Vuh:
Lo, how the sky existeth, how the Heart of the Sky existeth – for such as the name of God, as He doth name Himself. [g]
Even the ancient philosophers of Greece and Rome maintained the importance of prayer:
No sacral act can be effective without the supplication of prayer. Steady continuance in prayer nourishes the mind, enlarges the soul for the reception of the gods, opens up to men the realm of the gods, accustoms us to the splendour of the divine light, and gradually perfects in us our union with the gods, until at last it leads us the spirit of the gods; it awakens confidence, fellowship, and underlying friendship; it increases the longing for God; it inflames in us whatever is divine within the soul; it banishes all opposition from the soul, and strips away from the radiant, light-formed spirit everything that leads to generation; it creates hope and trust in the light. In brief, it gives to those who engage in it intercourse with the gods. [h]
These thoughtful words were written by Iamblichus who lived around 250 to 325 AD and was one of the greatest Neoplatonist philosophers of the late 3rd century.
The Mohammedan, follower of Islam (Muslim or Moslem) squats on a prayer rug, touches his forehead to the ground, pointing in the direction of Mecca. Prayer to the Islamic is Kibla.
In India, the believer also prays in a squatting position. In ancient Christendom, the person knelt or stood with hands folded. The Jews would face Jerusalem, the Mithra cult faced toward the sun, and the early Christians faced towards Jerusalem.
The romantic poet, Novalis, wrote:
Prayer is in religion what thinking is in philosophy. [10]
Prayer in the major religions may be divided into naïvepropheticmystic, and liturgical categories of prayer.
The naïve prayer is when the individual spontaneously declares wishes to a deity and appeals for help in times of stress. The prophetic prayer represents a human’s desire to reach perfection, relating their sorrow over such things as impurity, guilt, or the inability to follow God’s will. The mystic prayer regards the deity as impersonal and to put one’s self into the deity, such as salvation. This can only be obtained with spiritual training which elevates the soul above the life on earth. In Catholic mysticism, for example, these are successive steps to be taken: (1) Via Purgativa, praying that humanity’s will or actions will coincide with God’s wishes; (2) Via Unitava, the total union with God in the sense of oneness.
The Lutheran mystic, Gehard Tersteegen, born 1897 and died in 1769, wrote several psalms for this purpose, here is one of them:
I sink myself in Thee.
I in Thee, Thou in Me …
Dearest, burn what parts us
Until we melt into oneness,
Let me vanish utterly.
See and find naught but Thee.
Liturgical prayer, last on the list, came about through prayers for public worship. Sometimes these prayers blended into magic. Examples may be found in primitive religions, as well as among the ancient Greek and Roman cults. The famous 10th century Merseburg spells/incantations is actually formulas for conjuring. The invocations are common in rituals, as was used by early Christian cults, such as Maran Atha, [i] which falls somewhere between prayers and a conjuring spell.
Then there is the oracle, a phenomena found among the ancients and has survived somewhat today in the eastern world. The Bushmen, Chinese, Taoists, Babylonians, Etruscans, Greeks, and Roman Augurs – all had oracles within their religious societies. The oracle transmits messages from the power produced in ritual prayer. As Friedrich Heiler states:
The key factor in the distinction between religion and magic is where the deity dominates the priest or the priest the deity. [11]
Another good definition or description of prayer by Friedrich Heiler:
There are three elements that determine the structure of prayer as an experience: (1) beliefs in a living, personal god; (2) belief in his real, immediate presence; (3) and the dramatic intercourse into which man enters with god … In that living intercourse the forms of human social relationships are reflected. [12]
Finally, the offering and prayer develops into public and priestly ritual. As many different religions there are, so are there rituals. In the ritual, holiness is important. Rituals are usually limited to a specific sacred place and/or time schedule, and often special objects, utensils, clothes, and so on, are used as part of it.
Religious dancing, as an example, helps achieve direct connection to the deity, which helps to free the soul from the earthly body. One particular example that can be seen, even today, is the Whirling Dervish in Turkey. This form of dancing was organized and developed in the 12th century and was an important part of religious, social, and political life in the central Islamic lands. The Dervish belongs to the sect of Sufi, which is a Moslem mystic group. Religious dancing was not uncommon in the ancient days of Judaism. [13]
Another form of ritual is called glossolalia, which means speaking with tongues or in tongues. This phenomenon has been established in many mystical religious movements in ancient and modern times. Such speech is nonsensical and can only be interpreted by those who speak tongues and/or their accomplices. This sort of thing can only be a religious experience to some, while others believe is something evil from an evil deity, the evil side of humanity’s nature and spiritual cosmos. Paul the Apostle was familiar with these experiences and thought it best to speak five words with a clear mind than 10,000 words of glossolalia. [14]
Among the rituals that can be found in the biblical religions [j] is the reading of the scriptures in which the scriptures are read aloud in a solemn ceremonial atmosphere. On the other hand, holy silence can also be a ritual as with the Quakers, the Hellenistic mystery religions, and the Chinese Cult of Heaven. It is supposed to be the mystic expression of the spiritual force.
In the history of world religion, an historical researcher can find personalities that produce religions: the founder, the prophet, the mystic, the priest, and the reformer. Sacred texts are more than religious scripture – they are historical accounts, social and ethical guidelines, and represent some civilizations that no longer exist – yet they still remain for those who wish to research it.
The founder discovers the nature of the religion and influence the development of it. Some of the religions in this category are: JudaismChristianityZoroastrianism [k], Manichaeism, Mohammedism [l] and Buddhism. Each of these religions began with a unique event ore revelation, and it is witnessed by the man who experienced it. In the Israelite religion one of these experiences is the burning bush occurrence with the prophet Moses. [15]
Most founders have become objects of religious worship, even when it was not the intention of the founder for it to be so. Confucius did not represent himself as a founder – he was a philosophic agnostic. But the wisdom of his words became scripture and it was his followers who turned it into a religion after his death. The legend of Confucius lived on and grew into a religious symbol with temples dedicated in his honor and the religion becoming a literary religion.
Legends are most often formed around the life and teachings of a founder. All three founders are about 600 years apart from each other in a timetable of history with Buddhism being the oldest and established around 600 years before Christ’s birth and Mohammad 600 years after the Christ’s death. For example, the stories concerning Buddha’s mother, Jesus Christ’s mother and the mother of Mohammed are strikingly similar in several ways. [m] There are similar accounts of temptations, gathering of disciples, miracles and mystical deaths of these founders. One can see a parallel in the farewell address of Jesus in the Gospel of John and the last words of Guatama Buddha.
There were disputes in the early Christian churches and the Islamic theological circles about Christ. Debates between Hinayanist and Mahayanist cults occurred concerning the personality of Buddha. There were disputes between the followers of Mohammad and his general concerning certain Moslem rituals and law. The result was a split off into sub-cults, which continued to occur even on into today’s theological communities.
Founders always had a spiritual mission and acted as an emissary of God, Allah, et cetera. Jesus was sent by the father [n] for a purpose; Mohammad was a rasul [o]of Allah; Tao spoke through Lao-tse; Buddha attained his enlightenment from the Eternal; and, in modern cults, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, was shown the correct way of life humans should lead and worship of God.
These personalities were different, but they all shared a common factor of inner strength of faith of what they believed to be true; they all rejected extremes and excesses and devoted their lives to the new founded theology and/or religious philosophy. They were, in effect, reformers. Mohammad was inclined to be emotionally radical, and he felt he was a part of the establishment of a new political and social order in the Arab world and theocracy was what resulted. On the same parallel, the Mormons were founded in the same manner in the 1800s. Each of these religions will be discussed in following chapters in greater detail.
Every founder was honored as the Master by his pupils, or as is better known, his disciples. Disciples had three purposes: (1) They represented humanity; (2) they were companions; (3) they continued the doctrine begun by the founder, spread the ideology, and most often embellished upon the founder’s intentions and doctrine. The relationship between the disciples and their founder had a similar sociological effect – Jesus to his disciples, Mohammad to his League of Allah and to Buddha and his followers.
The second major personality of the mystical religion is the prophet. He is the interpreter of a divine message given to him in visions or through divine voices. He is summoned by a deity, most often against his will. Some founders have also been prophets. The Greek Oracle was an interpreter of divine messages or circumstances, so in a way they were pagan prophets.
Ancient Israel, Canaan, Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, and other early civilization had their prophets who believed the spirit of the deity had entered their soul or body. The religion of Israel introduced prophets to interpret the national history and often prophesied events. Prophets were often attacked and persecuted for unpopular prophecies and then later martyred by the same society that executed them. In Mormonism, Joseph Smith was a founder and a prophet, for example, and he was even a mystic.
Zoroastrianism was a mythic religion and later it was reformulated to being philosophical as well. Zarathuštra [p] lived around the 6th century BC about the time that Buddha appeared and was a priest of the older Persian pagan religion, which had adopted many elements of the Vedic tradition of India and his reformation was mostly due to his visions experienced with Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord of whom he worshiped. Later, his Magi, a mystical form of disciples, expanded and reinterpreted the religion until it was conquered (literally) by Islam in 635 BC. Zoroastrianism then migrated to India and became what is known today as the Parsees, which mostly live in and around Bombay, India. Parsees in modern India represents the continuation of the ancient religious tradition of Zoroaster. It is interesting to note that Alexander the Great envisioned a cosmopolis, a universal city, where the philosophers and holy men could gather for intellectual discussions concerning each of their religious ideology. A form of a political and cultural utopia that Greeks and Romans became fascinated with because of what they saw in the near and far East and ancient Egypt. In various disguises, those religious traditions found their way into the Greek city-states or later in Rome itself. Both Judaism and Christianity were dependent upon interaction with the religious traditions that surrounding them. Numenius of Apamea, a Platonist of the late 2nd century AD, stated:
What is Plato, but Moses speaking in Attic Greek? [q]
All early peoples and even some of the last surviving tribes today, do not really have or have had a religion, as is defined. Most people think of religion as theology that has become organized. That is if we define religion as the worship of supernatural forces (singular or plural). Pygmy tribes of Africa in the past had no observable cult or rites. They buried their dead without ceremony, and lacked superstitious stories. But yet, their society had moral values and set standards as to the conduct of human to human.
The Eskimos were asked who made the heavens and living things on Earth. They replied, we do not know.
The same question was asked of the Zulu chief, and he replied:
No, we see them, but they cannot tell how they came; we suppose they came by themselves. [16]
When examining world religion, this sort of attitude is rare. A researcher will find a large variety of beliefs in supernatural deities or the worship of phenomenon in nature because most religions have a specific creation story. The source appears through the primeval emotion of fear. As Lucretius wrote:
Fear was the first mother of gods.
The major fear of humanity, since time in human history can be established, has been death. Death is unnatural to the mind of humans. For that matter, old age is unnatural as well (and scientifically unexplained). Even with humanity’s knowledge of the physiology of the body, there isn’t any reason or purpose, medically speaking, for the aging process. Therefore, humans have come to the realization that there must be a supernatural agency behind the cause of aging and death, and/or a specific purpose of unknown origin.
The fear of death, the incredible power of nature’s affect on our world, and all with the hope for help from the supernatural for good fortune, long life, and something more after death. Religion can only survive through faith and fear of retribution – either while in this life or the next.
So in the primeval era of humanity, with its many dangers, something had to be found or invented that would pacify the fears and explain the mysteries of life and death. Dreams, reproduction, the heavenly bodies – all became a part of the foundation of religion and religious beliefs that eventually became organized and written down in canonic scriptures.
Primitive man, through his fear of death, was also fearful of those that had died. Seeing one’s deceased brother in a dream, the primitive man may have thought the visitation was real. [r] That person who had the dream may have wanted to prevent any further visitations, so he devised ways to appease the dead person or spirit and keep them where they belonged in the world beyond life. He buried food and victim’s belonging with him to make him comfortable on his journey so he would have no reason to return.
These experiences must have convinced early humans that every living thing or every living animal must have a soul. Some only believed that humans were the only ones with souls. The soul was sometimes known as karma, or ka, which is an invisible spiritual force within our biological bodies that continues to exist after the body decomposes to nothing but dust. This inner spirit or life force, even in the days of ancient Egypt, represented a life force and a form of energy that could only be destroyed by a deity. If one examines the theoretical, mathematical and philosophical statements of Albert Einstein, we can find the possibility of the existence of such a force. Einstein hypothesized that energy and matter, which contains a given amount of energy, is never destroyed – it merely changes its form. For example, if someone burns a tree, the original visible form of what it was was is destroyed – but the tree has now changed into something else – ashes. So, Einstein and others have surmised that a human body dies and disintegrates, but the inner energy source, the soul, is displaced somewhere else. [s]
According to the Kirilian theory, all living things – plants and animals alike – contain an energy source that doesn’t disappear. It was found that during Kirilian experiments, that some people have a brighter, more intense aura or energy force than others. This may be a way of explaining the stories and representations on canvas of the halo effect surrounding Jesus Christ, his mother Mary, and the saints of Christianity. Their Kirilian energy may have been so great that a halo could be seen during certain light conditions. This form of energy has been given various names throughout history, as stated above, but they all have a unique phenomenon that has baffled humans since time can be remembered.
The Upanishads of ancient India had a philosophy about this life energy:
No man alone but all things have souls; the external world is not insensitive or dead, it is intensely alive … Let no one wake a man brusquely for it is difficult for the soul to find its way back to him. [17]
In this case, in discussion of dreams and being in deep sleep, it was thought that the soul makes journeys out of their bodies. There are some who have recorded doing so through will of their minds and visiting places with their spiritual force that were far from where their earthly bodies lay.
If these philosophies were not originated there would have been too many unexplainable occurrences about humanity to deal with. These explanations eased the mind and helped humans to deal with the fear of death and the unknown.
Religion preceded formal philosophy and the natural event of things preceded abstract thought; and so goes the history of human logic. To the primitive mind the mountains, rivers, and all objects found in nature were sacred. Taking a trip through America’s national parks or any scenic natural area, one can visualize this philosophy of early human thought.
To the ancient Greeks, the natural objects found in nature were each in itself, a god or some form of a deity. Ouranos, the sky; Selene, the earth; the sea was Poseidon, or rather was his domain. The ancient Germanic and Celtic Briton people believed that the forests were populated with elves, trolls, giants, dwarves, unicorns and fairies; and those folk tales remain with us today. They were all creatures that had remained from the second or first stage of Earth’s history.
Since all things were believed to have souls or hidden entities, the number of objects that were worshiped was almost endless. But, according to scholars and historians, like Will Durant, they fall into six categories: (1) celestial; (2) terrestrial; (3) sexual; (4) animal; (5) human; (6) divine. It is difficult to determine what objects were worshiped first because of lost histories of early cultures and the aspects of daily prehistoric life. But, if we view the night sky and see the magnitude of what part of the universe we can see with the naked eye, we cannot help but be in awe.
Looking at the early cultures through their archaeological remains of simple fetish statues, one can see that woman and her miracle of being able to produce life, was held in high esteem or worshiped. This made sense to early cultures because of the importance of continuing humanity’s heritage and continuing family names. The idea of a mother goddess goes back as far as archaeological records will take us in history.
Through archaeological findings we can perceive that early man was aware of the cycles of the moon, which affected the menstrual cycles. Humans used the moon to gauge a given period of time. The moon was also mysterious and its ghostly glow in the night sky produced eerie shadows over the landscape. The moon has been blamed for transformation of humans into various types of animals throughout folklore history. A well known phenomenon is lycanthropy, the belief that a human could change into a wolf because of a curse or being bitten by a cursed person or animal.
The sun, though worshiped by some people, didn’t appear to be held as mystical as the moon to early humans until he changed from the role of hunter/gatherer to farmer and husbandry – forming early civilized communities. The sun determined the seasons of sowing and reaping, and its heat was a life-giving source of energy that allowed humans to reap the harvests of the soil for survival and feeding settlements that began to grow as humanity increased its number in one given geographical location. This change also brought change in cultural and spiritual activities and ideology. The prosperous landowner could afford more time of leisure and this allowed the luxury of education and reflective thought in religion and other areas of human knowledge.
Art played an important part in religion, as you will see in forthcoming chapters, by giving a form of expression and a visual aid in the practice and instruction of theological subjects. This form of artistic expression is called iconography.
From the form of sun worship that developed in pagan faiths, the sun became a personified god.
Anaxagoras was exiled by the Greeks because he had speculated that the sun was not a god, but in fact a ball of fire in the sky. Even when he estimated the size of the sun he compared it to the size of Peloponnesus. [18]
In the modern era, the last century, the Emperor of Japan was regarded by the Japanese people as an incarnation of the sun god, much like ancient Egypt did with their pharaohs. Many superstitions of the ancients have been altered during the course of history, and the offspring of such ideology has continued on into the 21st century, despite the increase of scientific knowledge.
As the sun, moon, and stars were given a place in religion, Christianity mentions stars in their literature and legends mostly describing stars as angels. The sky itself was worshiped and often thought to be the travel area of the gods. The ancient Greeks kept track of the stars and gave them names of heroes and deities. Among the Mongols, the supreme god was Tengri, the sky, in China, it was Ti; the Greeks, Zeus; and the Persians called the sky Ahure (the azure sky). The Native American Indian viewed the sky as the hunting ground of the Great Spirit– who was father over all living things.
Trees were thought to have souls by the American Indian. He attributed their downfall because of
the white man’s nondiscriminatory destruction of the forests which held spirits that protected all red men [19]
The ancient Gauls (Celtic people in general) worshiped trees in certain forested areas and the Druid priests of ancient Celtic Briton held the mistletoe as sacred – a parasitic plant that grows on oak trees. Later Christians would use the former sacred plant in their celebration of Christmas, a holiday in remembrance of Christ’s birth. It has become a symbol of peace, love, and good luck. The trees, mountains, springs, and rivers were worshiped in the oldest religions of Asia as well. Almost everywhere, the Earth has been considered the Great Mother – where the term Mother Nature originated. This analogy exists even in the language terms of material and mater, as written by Aristotle.
This brings us to the point in which there were forms of ancient goddesses of Earth – all who represented fertility, and makes up the major portion of early pagan religions. Each succeeding civilization may have taken over the land and the people changed the governments; but either diplomatically copied the mother goddess religions from the people they conquered or just introduced to the populace their view of the same deity. This is evident in the history of Greece, Turkey, Italy and ancient Europe.
The early lands of what is now known as Turkey, and was once called Anatolia, was populated by nomadic and small scattered pockets of civilization. They were united through the worship of a mother goddess. When the Greeks spread their civilization, they adopted the mother goddess within their own religious deities. This produced a less troublesome way of adding Greek colonies and winning the people’s support of the new society. Names like Ishtar, Cybele, Demeter, Ceres, Aphrodite, Venus, Artemis, Diana, and Freya fall under the concept of the mother goddess ideology.
Just as there is poetry in the growth of a tree in nature, the conception and birth of a child has, in the eyes of humanity, been equally fabulous and mysterious. The primitive mind could not imagine or have the knowledge of ovum or sperm. Early humans only saw the results or external structures involved in reproduction and could only derive an opinion from what he could see. For, as we acknowledge today – isn’t conception the most miraculous creative power in the universe?
Nearly all ancient religions worshiped sex in some form of ritual. One can find such worship in the ancient cultures of Egypt, India, Babylonia, Assyria, Greece and Rome. It wasn’t considered obscene, as we may view pornography today. Sexual graffiti was perfectly preserved in the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. [20] The bull and the snake were considered symbols or creatures of divine power and had special reproductive qualities in pagan religion; later the serpent or snake was considered evil and affiliated with evil forces. Will Durant wrote, as well as other scholars and historians, such as Jung, that the snake appears in the story of Eden, and in other stories of early civilizations. It represents the phallic symbol and suggests that sex is the origin of evil, yet it is sex that continues the heritage of human kind.
Animals have been worshiped throughout the history of religion from the Egyptian scarab beetle to the Hindu elephant and the Eskimo whale. Large or small, every living creature is significant. The Ojibwa Indians of North America gave the name of totem to their special sacred animal to which each clan revered. [21] This developed into the term of a clan metamorphosing into totemism. [22] This type of worship is found around the world, but more common and more evident among the North American Indians. These totems were carved out of trees and painted on rocks to represent something to look at and demonstrate to their totem that they were aware of the protecting power of that particular animal. [23]The dove, the fish, and the lamb were used in the symbolistic art of early Christianity, and it is thought that they were evolved from totemic adoration by some scholars. Even the pig, an animal that is considered unclean and forbidden to eat by orthodox Jews and Moslems were totems of the prehistoric Jews/Semitic people. [24]
Although most totem animals were forbidden to be eaten, [t] at certain religious times this was allowed. This was tied into the idea of ritual eating of the deity. Sigmund Freud, the well-known psychiatrist that is considered the founder of modern psychology, believed that the totem was a transfigured symbol of the father, revered and hated for his omnipotence, rebelliously murdered, and eaten by his sons. [25] Of course, the eccentric thought of the father of psychology gives an explanation as fantastic as the religious rite itself.
One of the most interesting pieces of history on totems is about the Gallas of Abyssinia who ate in solemn ceremonies the fish which they worshiped. They wrote: We feel the spirit moving within us as we eat. The missionaries who preached and spread the Gospels to the Gallas were shocked to find among these simple people whose ritual was strangely familiar to the ceremony of the Mass. [26]
Fear again enters the picture as to the origin of the totem or totemism. Men prayed to animals because they were so powerful and dangerous. Worship of animals faded away when agriculture took over humanity’s way of life.
Most human gods were, in ancient times, idolized dead men or heroes. As stated previously, the appearance of those that were dead in dreams was enough to establish worship of the dead or what is called ancestor worship. Today we honor our dead or hold a ceremony in memory of them as a way of saying the final farewell, but the idea of a funeral ceremony is an ancient rite that goes back thousands of years. Men who had been powerful, respected, and/or feared in life were perfect candidates for ancestor worship. The ancient Greeks honored their dead heroes as the Christians honor their saints. [27] A bizarre form of this belief is that of primitive chiefs who wished to send a message to one who was dead by giving a verbal message to a slave and then cutting off his head for special delivery of the message. If the chief had something to add, another slave was killed in the same manner after being verbally given page two.
The cult of the ghost was later replaced by the worship of ancestors. This adaptation promoted social authority, social continuity, conservatism, and social order. It became popular in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It still survives today in China.
The idea of a human god was a later development, as civilization bred thinkers, philosophers and teachers of theological philosophy. It originated from spirits and ghosts, and possibly the need to relate more closely to the supernatural and spiritual divinities. The idea of god as the father image is considered an offshoot of the patriarchal family, replacing the mother goddess.
In primitive theology there isn’t any definite division between gods and humans; to the early Greeks, for example, their gods were ancestors, therefore ancestors must be gods. This became evident in the Roman Empire when heads of state or emperors became pronounced gods – later even before they died. This higher development was introduced as great civilizations were formed and the development of human intellect began. The rituals of religion could fill a volume just on that subject, so I will not get into great detail here. Every religion has rituals and this will be demonstrated in the following chapters.
The magic aspect of religion has continued throughout the centuries in the form of witchcraft. The philosopher accepts the fact that humans feel a need for supernatural help and comfort. Magic has created the foundation of the sciences: the physician, the chemist, the metallurgist and the astronomer.
The harmful side of religion has mostly been shown in priesthood. As religion became more organized, the hierarchy allowed superstition to influence society and it kept the populace misinformed by allowing only a small portion of the population the luxury of education and those that could afford the education to learn to read, write and knowledge to discuss these matters. Through ignorance and fear the populace was controlled. The state, the priesthood, and the church became a tool for power and fortune at the expense of the common people. By using the basic foundation of superstition, the priesthood built a foundation of social morality, and diverted from the founder’s original purpose.
Nietzsche, the German philosopher, wrote in The Antichrist, made a rather harsh statement:
I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground, and too petty – I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind. [28]
Another point of view written by Jacques Maritain and William Sweet in the book, Natural Law:
Christianity taught men that love is worth more than intelligence.
Religion supports morality in mainly two ways: myth and tabu, according to F. Ratzel, fear is the initial tool for the conduct of religion and its ideology in one form or another.
For man is not naturally obedient, gentle or chaste; and next to that ancient compulsion which finally generates conscience, nothing is so quietly and continually conduces to these uncongenial virtues as the fear of the gods. [29]
Governments, a necessary social entity of civilized nations, have usually realized throughout history the importance of supporting religion that unifies the populace, as well as the power of the church or organized religion that rallies the people. Governments based upon the law of religion, like in the Middle East, are a theocracy; and history shows us that theocracies are aggressive toward foreign influence and oppressive to its people. As the early Christian Church became more widespread and powerful, its theocracy caused what many deem as the Dark Age. A period of time when superstition was the answer to unexplained circumstances and science was heresy if it did not conform to the ideology of the Church. In the chapter concerning Christianity, this subject will be looked into more closely.
In the study of the history of tabu, the researcher finds the main tabu seems to be concerned with woman. She was the untouchable during times of menstruation and was generally blamed for the fall of humanity from the eyes of God.
The molders of the world’s myths were unsuccessful husbands, for they agreed that woman was the root of all evil. [30]
Turning once again to the eccentric philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, he writes in his book, The Antichrist:
God created woman. And boredom did indeed cause from that moment – but many other things ceased as well. Woman was God’s second mistake.
From the conception of religion on into the early 20th century, it was a man’s world. Today, the doctrine of the Church has changed and the very foundation of theocracies fears for its existence with the advent of civil rights in respect to women. In the pagan world, woman was viewed in awe and reverence for the miracle of reproduction, while the philosophy religions were contradictory to the concept of the mother goddess, except in respect with the founder’s relationship with his mother, such as Jesus of Nazareth and the Prophet Mohammad. This will be examined separately later in this book.
The philosophy religions of the modern world have all conformed to modern thought and the need for personal freedom – even Islam has splintered over time into sects that separate from the principles set forth by the founders. These philosophy religions are found all over the world and there are five: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Confucianism. In the case of Islamic fascism, it has become a violent transcending movement with the advent of what is known as terrorism; and splintering the world in danger of a modern version Crusade of holy wars.
Throughout history tension was developed between religion and state, society and state, and the Church versus intellectual growth. Knowledge, like science, has clashed with theological thought and the movements of society to liberate itself from religious authority have resulted in moral conduct of society that has spawned a generation of disillusioned ideals and confused priorities. But this book is not intended to be a sermon concerning those lines of thought, just a historical look at religious concept throughout human history.
Will Durant states so well in his Story of Civilization:
Conduct, deprived of its religious supports, deteriorates into epicurean chaos; and life itself, shorn of consoling faith, becomes a burden alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. [31]

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End-notes to Chapter 1

[a] God or Allah.

[b] This is allowed only during the Day of Atonement, which is called Yom Kippur by the Jews.
[c] Pertaining to those religions that are based upon a philosophy and usually founded by a prophet or holy man that was chosen to reform and/or teach.
[d] Gospel of Matthew, 21:22And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
[e] Akhenaten's Great Hymn to the AtenSacred Texts of the World; p. 12
[f] Psalms 104Bible, King James Version.
[g] Sacred Texts of the World, p. 10.
[h] Iamblichus on Prayer: On the MysteriesSacred Texts of the World, p. 20.
[i] Lord, Come Soon!
[j] Judaism, Christianity and Islamic.
[k] Zarathustra, ancient Persia, modern Iran until Islam took over in 635 AD.
[l] Islam.
[m] All founders held their mothers in reverence and had great influence upon them in their development towards what they had become.
[n] God, the Almighty Father.
[o] Literal meaning: messenger.
[p] Zarathustra in ancient Iranian language.
[q] Sacred Texts of the World, NY, 1986; p. 2.
[r] Not saying, of course, that the spiritual encounter could not have been reality.
[s] Science does not disprove the monotheistic/philosophy religions; but often have reinforced it, explaining in terms of scientific theory and calculations.
[t] Thus the term tabu (taboo) came into usage.


[1] Religions of Mankind, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, p. 30
[2] Religions of Mankind, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, p. 37
[3] Bible, King James version, Exodus 13:2
[4] Bible, King James version, Matthew 26:28
[5] Evolution of the Idea of God, Grant Allen; p. 237
[6] Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 12, p. 849; Volume 22, p. 449
[7] Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 1, p. 680
[8] Bible, King James version, Isaiah 1:11
[9] Bible, King James version, Hosea 6:6
[10] Religion of Mankind, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, p. 38.
[11] Religions of Mankind, Friedrich Heiler; p. 38.
[12] Religions of Mankind, F. Heiler, p. 38.
[13] Bible, King James Version; Psalms 149:3Psalm 150:4II Samuel 6:16; and II Samuel 6:14.
[14] Bible, King James Version; I Corinthians 14:18-19.
[15] Bible, King James Version, Exodus 3.
[16] Evolution of the Idea of God, Grant Allen, p. 30.
[17] The Philosophy of the Upanishads, Paul Deussen, p. 302.
[18] Story of Civilization, Will Durant, Volume I, p. 60.
[19] Psychology of the Unconsciousness, C. G. Jung; p. 173.
[20] The Art and Life of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Michael Grant; p. 8.
[21] The Lake of the Painted Cave, article by Brian L. Molyneaux; Archaeology, volume 40, #4, Jul/Aug.
[22] Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 26, section 1, p. 582.
[23] The Story of Civilization, Will Durant, volume I, p. 62.
[24] Evolution of the Idea of God, Grant Allen, p. 30.
[25] Evolution of Culture, J. Lippert, p. 103.
[26] Evolution of the Idea of God, Grant Allen, p. 38.
[27] Orpheus, Reinich, p. 23.
[28] Book of Quotations, Pocket Books, NY, 1952, p. 36.
[29] History of Mankind, F. Ratzel, p. 133.
[30] The Story of Civilization, Will Durant, pp. 70-71.
[31] The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, Will Durant, p. 70.

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