FOOD FOR THOUGHT: 'Ignorance is an outlook on life.'
YOU ARE IN DARKNESS.
by Mudarras Kadhir Gaznavi
ARE YOU SURE WHAT YOU KNOW IS RIGHT?
What is the western perception of primal religions? What do you know about these primitive societies and their beliefs? Let Spenta Mainyu give you the answers by citing those examples (The Elements of World Religions, Liz Flower) which will take us on our road to the sole God: The popular belief is that primal religions are animistic, ancestor-worshipping, sacrificial,fetishistic, ritualistic, shamanistic, superstitious, and polytheistic. But the truth is rather different.
Most of these tribal and primal societies have a very strong social structure. And much of their religion is based on that structure. Dignity in life and death is paramount. Morality is conformation to traditions. Everything has a particular reason, everything has its place. They have a surprising tolerance. Most communities recognize that their belief is theirs, and do not necessarily involve the community next door. There are differences of course. We come across a plurality of beliefs, myths, cosmologies and rituals.
The bottom line is:There is a strong social structure.. Religion is based on that structure.. Dignity is paramount.. Everything has its reason.. Everything has its place.. There is tolerance to other beliefs.. Everything sounds more natural and simpler than today.
Which is better? Today's speculation and ambiguity or their simplicity?
Although there are great differences, the primal religions worldwide have originated from a half dozen basic beliefs. Majority of the primal religions aremonotheistic. Surprised? All of them have a fundamental belief in the power of spirits. There is ancestor worship/reverence in the majority of primal religions. A kind of prayer, gifts, and sacrifice exist in most of them. There are also a medicine man and a shaman or a witch doctor. Lastly, majority of these primal religions have celebrations of a new season or a new year.
HIERARCHY : WITH THE REMOTE SUPREME BEING ON TOP
Indigenous religions have a hierarchy. At the lowest level there are rocks, earth and grass. Then come the animals among which mankind is in a superior position. Next come the more powerful spiritual people and the ancestors. Divinities come next. On the last level is the remote supreme being. Most of these primal religions have a belief in a creator god. Having created, this god is too great, very powerful and too distant to be worshipped directly; whenever there is something extraordinary he is called upon; he is believed to be all-seeing (Maybe a distant clue to one of the characteristics of the supreme being of our times?). This god is unbound by time, unbound by place and has no end. He is regarded as compassionate, but having an unpredictable nature. Man needs intermediaries, because he cannot get close to this superior being (This sounds familiar! Compassion and unpredictability brings to mind certain aspects of the Elohim and afterwards the YHVH of the Old Testament). Earthlings may communicate with lesser superior beings (So they needed a kind of a 'go between', as angels and archangels were needed in our times. So little has changed!). Most religious activity takes place around the lesser gods, around the spirits in everything, and especially around ancestors who are intercessors between the mankind on the one hand and his environment and god on the other. But ancestors are especially revered. Some of those ancestors are worshipped as gods. But their main role is mediation and facilitation. They watch over their community and warn them against the breaking of taboos.
Ancestors have a special place, but death is not welcomed. Death, except in very old age, is considered as unnatural. Here is a paradox; death is feared but death at the same time is the gateway to becoming an ancestor. Except that in Ashanti (a people living in Ghana) there is no doctrine of reincarnation and the spirits of ancestors do live in this world. They are ever-present and inhabit the living sometimes. There is an underlying relationship between the human being, society, animals, plants and the supreme beings, and care is taken to preserve this net of relationships. Many rites are directed towards the maintenance or to the reparation of relationship.
Most tribal groups have ceremonies for all the rites of passage: Birth, naming, initiation, marriage and death. Initiation takes different forms; often it means induction into adulthood.. Sometimes initiation comes up as acceptance into secret societies.
Almost all the African cultures use sacrificial offering of some sort. In those nomadic tribes often a cow - which is the most valuable asset - is offered to the only god. More advanced and richer groups replace sacrifice by gifts. But these gifts are not made always to the gods, sometimes recipients are the ancestors in acknowledgement of their powers. A great deal of ritual is given over to ancestral or funeral rites. Breaking of taboos, or even worse, acting against the community necessitates sacrifice and collective atonement.
Australians believe that the spirit in self, rock, stone, water, tree, animal is one and the same and is mutually interdependent. Some animals and plants have a special relationship with a tribe. They are identified with that tribe. So they act as guardians.
Each and every tribal group has a particular mythical ancestor. This ancestor is taken as the group's totem. Caring for the totem animal is the responsibility of those who have supposedly descended from that animal. And they have a further responsibility to ensure plentiful supplies of totem animal's meat for the community. This act reinforces the links between all lives.
What do they think about Creation? The world is considered to have been created. There is supposedly asky god but he has no part in the lives of men. The totemic ancestors walked the earth in a period known as the dream time.
DEATH : JUST A TRANSITION FROM ONE STATE TO ANOTHER
How about death? It is Just a transition from one state to another - from one kind of life to another. Spirit stays around as part of the community.
Elders andmedicine men are those who know. Know what? Of course the secret and hidden knowledge. They are all male (Well, the supreme being did create(!) man first. Didn't he? Then he decided to create a woman to alleviate the loneliness of that man).
CIRCUMCISION & BLOOD SPILLING
There are initiation rites involving circumcision. Islam borrowed circumcision from Hebrews. Hebrews are believed to have borrowed it from Egypt and adopted it as the sign of belonging to the Mosaic code. The truth is, circumcision is borrowed from the Mandaeans. Mandaean faith is Sabianism, which predates Judaism (Check the pages on the Sabian Faith and Islam). Another rite is the spilling of blood (Of course, this means sacrificial offering of animals. So, today's sacrificial rites, wherever they are, including Islam's, are originally pagan practices.
LIFE FORCE : A GIFT FROM THE GODS & THE ESSENCE OF EVERYTHING
Maoris share some features of the Polynesian belief systems. Such as myths of Mother Earth and Father Sky creator gods. These two were separated by their sons. These sons in turn have become immortals, created the earth and the human race. The 'life force' is the essence of everything and is a gift from the gods.
MAORIUNIVERSE AND THEIR GOD
Maori universe has three levels. The sky +The world of light + The world of the dead. (Typically familiar! Is it not?) Their supreme god isIo. He is the source of power. But unfortunately known to only a few initiates (Again a familiar theme of our era. Today's supreme being is still in that position, cannot be seen, cannot be heard, only experienced by his deeds which means that general public can only know him by the results of his actions. And only a limited number of 'initiates' are able to know(!), see(!) and hear(!) him.
Land issacred. Universe is sacred. Man has to have land. Without it he is nothing. Care must be taken in order to hold it in trust for the generations to come. There are no temples but certain places are dedicated to certain gods. Sacrifice is not usual, except occasionally offering of food in order to placate a god.
EAT THE HEART OF YOUR ENEMY
The first enemy killed is dedicated to the god of war. Eating the heart of the enemy killed is a must. This is believed to confer the enemy's strength. (This theme is found frequently in some of the primal religions).
DEATH, TAPUS, ABLUTION
Most important rites are related to birth and death. There is no initiation because birth confers membership of community. Death rituals are long and elaborate. They aim to placate the spirit of the departed and to speed him on his way, and to return the family to normal life after being involved with the tapu(taboo) of death. Tapus are necessary for the preserving of morality, breaking of which have dangerous effects and can only be neutralized by purification in running water (In other words, ablution. It comes from the taboo and totem days.)
For some Melanesian cultures it is impossible to separate the sacred from thesecular. Rites are everywhere in everyday life: before hunting, planting, marriage. In other words religion exists within the totality of life. Religion is recognized as an enduring relationship and communion between man and nature, man and spirit, man and environment.
'IN THE BEGINNING'
A concept of'in the beginning' exists in some cultures, from which everything have fallen. Many beliefs and ceremonies are an eternal attempt to return to that beginning when everything was perfect.
Relationship between the living and their ancestor-spirits is the most important element. Ancestor-spirits have access to supernatural powers and have the ability to maintain the life and prosperity of the living or to cause them trouble. These spirits are closer to the earth and living than to gods.
WHO CREATED THE WORLD ?
There is little curiosity about the origins of the world. But it is assumed that some gods have created the world and provided man with the means to live. But the world they live in is important and naturally there is more communication between man and his ancestors than with the gods. Most rites are directed at keeping these links intact.
Rituals vary from those that deal with everyday life, hunting, fishing, etc. to those of birth, initiation and funerals.
Sorcerers are everywhere. They do symphatetic magic, healing,divination, protection from evil. Sorcerer holds a very important place and plays an important part in the community. There are elaborate initiation rites for the young men. Ancestors are called on for their help through these initiation rites.
40.000 YEARS OLD
It is said that the origins of some of the primal religions of North America are at least 40.000 years old. There are several creation myths, many tribes and peoples believed in one great creator spirit along with the Earth mother. Nature's powers and the ideal of the sacred have a mutual dependency (a metaphysics of nature). 'Holy Mother Earth, trees, and all nature, are witnesses of your thoughts and deeds' (A Winnebago wise saying). Sacred areas and sacred symbols such as stones or trees are not for worship they are for understanding the thread that runs between the occult and the manifest, the link between the sacred and the secular.
North American Indian had a comprehension of nature and the earth and of his place within it. He had a responsibility to care for it and knew that all life is sacred, not just at times of worship. North American Indian was concerned with living here and now, with the continuity of existence and the cycles of seasons.
Relationship with man and animal was very particular because tribes were nomadic and depended on hunting. Success at hunting was often dependent upon a good relationship with the spirit that owned each animal, and rites were conducted to ensure that the spirit was favourable. These spirits were hierarchical, reflecting the hierarchy of the tribe and were bound under one great ruling spirit('One great ruling spirit'! Could this be the earliest concept of monotheism?) Interrelation between the worlds of mass and spirit, of animal and vegetable, is sacred and must be preserved at all times. 'The great spirit' was at the centre of a circle and the concept of the circle was vital in every area of life. It was seen not only in the sun, moon and stars, but in the never-ending round of the seasons, in worship, in art, in living. It was also referred to as the 'sacred hoop of the nation.' Man was commanded to work towards perfection. Perfection was generally sought in this life, through the understanding of natural and sacred patterns. The idea was to become indivisible, both personally and communally, with the world around them (They had it then: The universal consciousness. We are still trying to realize it). Man is also at the centre of the circle, which is divided into four equal parts, the symbol of wholeness, each part mutually interdependent. Four is the sacred number among many tribes. It stands for the four quarters of the earth. The four seasons. The elements (earth, water, wind, fire). Divisions of time (day, night, moon, year). The four stages of life (babyhood, childhood, adulthood, old age). It expresses a total harmony and unity. The concept of partnership between man, life, nature and spirit. Today the Navajo Indian understands that man is a whole: that everything is interrelated within and without. He is macrocosm and microcosm. Contains the seeds of all things within him and represents all things.