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November 9, 2011 Lecture

Course Code
Joseph Bryant

of 8
12-03-26 1:07 AM
Homosapiens c 250 000 bce cro magnons c 40 000 to 10 000
burial customs: deceased interred near their shelters or camps or in grottoes
stone slab cover ornamental shells , jewelry, stone tools, food
charred animal bones at the site signal a commemorative feast?
evidence for reburial of the bones after decomposition use of red ochre
(earth from iron ore) for coloring red as symbol of blood= the life force?
cave paintings - a rich artistic display, typically located in the deepest of
caves ( so not likely for "home decoration")
scenes: animals of the hunt, with spears and darts magical – religious?
superimposed images - to renew control, power?
a shaman? a masked figure, long beard, wearing stag antlers, bear paes,
horse tail custodian of spirit, a mediator, as “one who knows” c 13 000 BCE
fertility symbols - clay figurines
animal sacrifice: c 15 000 BCE a deer is sunk in lake having been tied to
2 fundamental forms of religiosity:
1) Attempts to control or influence events through symbolic actions, either
anticipatory i.e establish magical power over the animals to be hinted or
commemorative to win favorable future for the dead or appease them
2) efforts to gain supernatural favor or support from the spirit powers (thru
Prehistoric Religion? high mortality rates, short life spans
> group survival highly dependent upon reproductive fertility of the women
thus mother goddess/spirit prominence (exaggerated sexual features:
breasts, hips, vulva)
> hazards of the hunt need to 1) galvanize hunters energy and courage and
2) obtain consent of animals or control over animal cults?
for more than 600 000 yrs. humans were hunters and gatherers……
Aspects of primal /aboriginal religion
a synthesis: what can be inferred from prehistory (archeology, linguistics,
etc.) and the ethnographic study of contemporary preliterate societies
we find: 1) belief in supernatural powers/forces >>religions of gods and
goddesses 2) belief in souls/spirits>>ancestor cults
both are systematized and expressed in myth and ritual
societies without the State are typically organized by kinship: family lineages
or “blood line” descent from a common ancestor, in clans, tribes…
in ancestor cults or worship, the "dead remain involved with the living" as
official guardians of the social order and its moral codes – ritual specialists
appeal to the ancestors spirits to give rulings, settle disputes etc
example: the hunting and gathering Veddas of Ceylon/Sri Lanka
shamans call upon and "incarnate" the vaku or ancestors; they speak
through his guttural groans.
analysis shows that "approval/disapproval is based upon compliance with the
groups moral code (recall kritias and social order)
ancestors are believed to control fertility, the hunt and farming, weather,
health and illness etc.
misfortunes are interpreted as occurring in consequence of breaches in the
moral order
the ancestor spirits-communicating through the ritual mediums are thus
in collective rituals, the medium/shaman exhorts the people to avoid
breaking taboos that which is forbidden ex incest, adultery, theft, dishonesty
family and band harmony is regularly praised as essential for survival and
ancestor cult also provides a sense of collective solidarity, the continuity of
the group, binds the living and the future generations to the preceding –
sacralizes tradition, custom
the primitive modern debate
lucien levy-bruhl (1857 – 1939)
fonctions mentales dans les societies inferieures (1910) rejects the Tylor-
Frazer school, which divides humanity into infants and adults rater: pre-
moderns have a different mentality, where emotional needs override the
need for explanation
i) mystical orientation- perception is informed by emotion, objects are
charged with attachment –repulsion
ii lack of objectivity - dreams, visions, etc. are taken for the real
iii) participation- reality forms a interlaced nexus, ties and affinities
v) communion with the world - reality a Thou, a living animate other with
which one must establish harmony and integration