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Chapter 1

Chapter 1: About Religion

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David Perley

Chapter 1: About Religion Looking Both Ways From Stonehenge: Basic Human Religion  Stonehenge – one of several ancient rock structures thought to have been constructed for ritual purposes o Outer circle is a grouping of paired stones capped by lintels and arranged in horseshoe pattern o Centre of horseshoe lays a flat stone; once thought to have served as an altar for sacrifices. Today believed that stone stood upright, marking spot to view movement of sun and stars  Erected between 3500-4000 years ago o Used as burial ground for centuries before this time  Researchers believe remains as many as 240 people, one single ruling family, interred there  Structure itself believed to been used for ceremonial purposes and orientation (points where sun rises at summer solstice) led many to think used for astronomical observatory  Behind central stone note position of rising sun in relation to ―heel stone‖ on horizon 60m away o Morning of summer solstice, sun rises in northeast (left of heel stone) o Day longest of the year and only say where sun rises to the north of heel stone  Would be occasion for some ceremony in ancient times. Community would gather at dawn to watch someone with authority (priest, local chief, ruler etc.) confirm position of sun  After solstice, sun will rise behind heel stone; will continue journey south for 6 months until winter solstice; sun will appear reverse and will travel northwards again  Romans would celebrate day as marking annual ―rebirth‖ of un o Called saturnalia  Christians would celebrate day as birth of the risen lord  Christmas was to combine the unrestrained revelry of Roman midwinter festival marked by feasting, gift-giving, and general merriment with celebration of the coming to earth of a deity incarnate Looking Back from Stonehenge  Few concepts, shared by virtually all human cultures, seem fundamental to what we call religion: o Powerful gods o Sacred places o A type of life after death o Presence of spirits in physical world that interact with humans Three Worlds  Humans imagined world to consist of three levels : sky, earth, underworld  Sky considered the home of greatest deities o Power of storms was contributing factor o Movement of the sun, stars and planets another factor  Early humans believed heavenly bodies were living entities animated by own individual spirits (gods and goddesses)  Highest level thought to be home of highest deity; referred to names such as Sky Father, Creator, or King of Heaven o Invariably male o Forerunner of the god in monotheistic religions  Under earth lived the spirits of serpents (surviving as cobras or nagas, in religions in India) or reptilian monsters (surviving in dragon lore) because associated with dark and hidden places; imagined as evil  Between sky and underworld lay earth: intermediate level where humans lived Sacred Places  Feel they are in the presence of unusual energy or power  In ancient Middle East, worship was often conducted at ritual centres known as ―high places‖ o Offered food, drink, praise, and prayer to win favour of the deities o Example: Altar area on cliff above ancient city of Petra IN Jordan  Great rivers and waterfalls regarded sacred as well o In Japan, every feature of natural landscape was believed to be animated bu its own god or spirit (Kami) Animal Spirits  Traditional hunting socities typically sought to ensure animals they kill for food are treated with proper respect o Lest other species be frightened or refuse to let themselves be caught  Body parts from most impressive animals – Bulls, bears, lions, eagles- often been used as ―power objects‖ o Make contact with spirits of these animals  Many cultures atiributed magical properties to objects such as bear claws or eagle feathers, wearing them as amulets or hanging them in doorways for Body protection from evil spirits Death and Burial  Might face with head facing east, the ―first direction‖ where the sun rises, or places in fetal position (suggesting type of rebirth into different realm)  Belief that deceased ancestors can play a role in guilding the living members of family appears widespread  Traditions such as Japanese Odon, Mexican Day of the Dead, and chistian All Saints Day and Halloween reflect belief that souls of the dead return to earth to share a ritual meal with the living Why are Humans Religious?  Fear of death, hope for a good afterlife, uncertainty surrounding natural events  Religion emerges through the experience of good and bad power that are senses in dreams, sacred places, and in certain humans and animals  Religion has many emotional dimensions: fear, awe, love and hate. Also has an intellectual dimension: curiosity about what wil happen, sense of order in universe that suggests presence of a creator. Drive to make sense of human experience Ten Waves of Religion  Around 500 BCE, several new religious traditions began to form under the leadership of a great phosphet or sage o By the first century of Common Era, concept of god born in human form was taking root in many parts of world  To understand how religion has taken root in cultures, think it as an island. Waves come in and out to shape the island taking bringing sand in and taking some away. Shoreline is always changing. Wave 1 : Shamanism  Is a type of priest, widespread among hunter-gatherer societies, who communicates with the spirit world on behalf of people Hunting Rituals  Early humans believed that spirits of the animals they hunted had to be appeased o A special ritual might be performed to mark the first goose kill in the season in hope that other geese would not be frightened away  Humans believed that the spirit – whether of an animal killed for food or of a human being – survives death and can communicate with others of its kind Coping with Unfriendly Spirits  Many cultures believed wild, uninhabited areas to be guarded by resident spirits o Taken form of monsters or mythical beasts or ―little people‖ (trolls)  Concern to those who ventured into forest as hunters or gatherers  Pain and disease of all kinds also attributed to possession by malevolent spirits or demons o Eg. In Sri Lanka, those suffering form certain illnesses advised to have a shaman sacrifice a chicken as an offering to ―graveyard demon‖ o Other method frightening demon away by threatening gestures or loud noises The Shaman  Still active in cultures today  Sometimes child of shaman will follow parents footsteps but more oftern called by his/her psychic abilities (extraordinary vision or near death experience)  Candidates face rigorous apprenticeship includes vision quest o Typically acquire guiding spirit or animal  Can communicate through trance state (chanting or drumming)  According to Mircea Eliade, contact made in two ways o Soul leaves his body and travels through realm where spirits live o Shaman calls spirit into her body and possessed by it  May take over voice or personality  After regaining normal consciousness, shaman announces what he has learned about problem at hand and what should be done about it o Problem traced to anger of spirit and shaman explains reason for anger and what must be done to appease spirit  Most cases appropriate response to perform a ritual sacrifice Wave 2 : Connecting to the Cosmos  One that inspired building of structures  Motivation may have been political o Leader wanted to demonstrate power over people under his command  Main reason something to do with religion (weddings, puberty rites, funerals) Discerning the Cosmic Cycles  Important function of priests to track seasons and determine best time for seasonal activities such as planting  People of Neolithic era paid attention to phases of moon and rising positions of certain constellations o Horizon divided into segments named after plant or constellation associated with season  In ancient times, no important decision would have been made without consulting an expert in movements of sun, moon, planets and constellations o Still occurs in modern times (Ex. political leaders) Hilltop Tombs  Ancient cultures favored high places ad burial sites  Where there where no hills, artificial ones were built o Example: Pyramids and Stupas  In pyramids, shafts extended from burial chambers towards important stars (connected deceased with cosmos)  In stupas, wooden pole extended above burial mound to connect earth with heavens o Scholars refer to this link between earth and sky as axis mundi (World axis) Animals and Gods  Neolithic religion tendency was to associate certain animals with specific deities o Example: City of Catalhoyak, small sculpture of woman flanked by two large felines founds. James Mellaart (archaeologist who first excavated site) believed represented amother goddess seated on throne The Bull God  Pattern of association links the most powerful male deities with strength and virility of the bull o Greek mythology: Zeus took form of white bull when he abducted Phoenician princess Europa  Greek temples displayed bullhorns neair their altars  India: bull named Nandi is the sacred mount of the great god Shiva  Seen in Judaism o Moses returns from the mountain and finds brother Aaron has allowed people to worship an image of golden calf or bullock Wave 2: Temple Religion  Brought larger temples, more elaborate sacrificial rituals, and development of priestly class endowed with unusual power, prestige, and wealth  Played enormous role shaping traditions including Judaism, Chinese religion, and Hinduism beginning 3000 years ago Indo-European Priests  Modern term referring to language family and cultural system eventuall stretched from India to Europe  One of most important in human history  May have originated in region around Black Sea  Clear that IE peopled (by linguists) hunted, practiced metallurgy, rode horses, drove chariots and waged war o Farming not part of their culture  Where IE warriors conquered, set up social system with 4 basic divisions o Top three: Priests, warriors and middle-class commoners  In ancient times, these groups had special clothing colour (to represent class)  Fourth group all local people (servant class)  Around 2500 BCE, IE took control of territories now Afganistan, northwest India, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, Rome, central Europe and for a while Eygpt  Contributed to system of hereditary priesthood Priests and Temples Everywhere  Know when Jewish temple was built o After David was chosen as king of both northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah, captured Jebusite city now known as Jerusalem o Transformed city into proper capital, included grand palace and organized priesthood o Son Soloman built first temple in mid-tenth century BCE  Only site where sacrificial rituals could be performed  Jewish priesthood was hereditary o Those who served in temple as assistants to priests required to be Levites o Priest had to be Levites and direct descendants of Aaron (Brother of Moses; orginal high priest)  Priests became power social class in many other parts of world including Africa, Asia, and the Americas.  Some cultures they were a heredity class, in others they were recuited  Role of priest was reserved for males o Females considered impure because of menstrual cycle  The Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome who tended the sacred fires and performed rituals among very few exceptions to general rule Wave 4: Prophetic Religion  Word prophet derives from Greek and has two meanings: o 1) Referring to a person who speaks on behalf of a deity o 2) Person who foresees or predicts the future  Terms often conflated because prophets delivering messages from deity often warned of disasters to come if God‘s will was not obeyed  Temple at Delphi, Greece, where a virgin priestess under inspiration of Apollo delivered prophecies had been considered sacred for centuries, maybe millennia, before glory days of classical Greece  Natural spot for making contact with the divine and receiving sacred knowledge: high up mountainside, natural cave that resembled entrance to womb and a standing stone or omphalos representing the male energy and connection between heaven and earth  Sacred sites dates backs 3000 years ago when oracle was believed to be inspired not be Apollo but by earth goddess Gaia  Males took control of sacred site but even in classical times the virgin priestess would prepare themselves to receive Apollo‘s message by bathing in an artesian spring and breathing intoxicating fumes from a fissure in the earth  Those wishing to consult oracle had to climb mountain, make known their request, pay fee, and sacrifice black goat  Priestess would take her place over fissure and deliver Apollo‘s message which was unintelligible and had to be translated into ordinary language by male priest Abrahamic Prophetic Traditions  586 BCE people of Israel forcibly removed from homeland and exiled to Babylon o Centuries followed, defining period
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