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dmattwads

Ramblings on Religion

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It's generally believed by modern anthropology that our human species has existed in its present form on earth for about 200,000 years, with "modern" civilization existing for about the last 10,000 to 5,000 years. The earliest evidence of religion and/or spirituality dates back to about 100,000 years ago with the evidence of ceremonial burial with the bodies having gifts placed in the grave and the bodies themselves covered with red ochre. The practice of burial is significant as it denotes the first time that either our species or our close ancestors thought in terms of some form of existence beyond the animation of the physical body. The gifts suggest that what ever non-physical essence of the deceased existed that it needed the assistance of the living. The red ochre has not adequately been explained yet as far as I am aware but it most likely also had a ceremonial function relating to the afterlife. This was the earliest beginnings of human spirituality and religion which we eventually came to label as Shamanism, or Animism. This was the predominate and likely only type of religion for the vast majority of our evolutionary history as a species in which we were hunter gatherers, so for approximately 95,000 to 90,000 thousand years. At this time spirituality was relatively simple and the physical world and the physical world were seen as being interconnected and as affecting each other. Typically each community of hunter gatherers had a shaman or medicine man or woman whom specialized in contacting the spirit world, but it was not only the domain of the professional as hunters would invoke the spirit world for a hunt, or the women for a birth and all sorts of things relevant to day to day life and survival. The shamans would enter altered states of consciousness either through ritual, meditation, or the taking of sacred substances in which they would access the spiritual world. From observing the spirit world they came to understand the various beings within the spirit world some higher some lower. The higher ones came to be known as the gods and goddesses and the lower a variety of names that every culture has its own version of such as elves, faeries, nagas, spirit animals and so on and so forth. Also in the spirit world of prime importance was contacting and honoring one's ancestors. This was basically the general state of most human beings on the earth for the majority of our history regardless of where they were located on the planet. 

 

    As time went by about 10,000 years ago in the fertile crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates valley the first known evidence of agriculture began with the planting of early forms of wheat. With the beginnings of agriculture came a shift in a lifestyle of nomadic hunter gathering to sedentary agriculture which gave rise to the first villages, towns and cities. This shift also brought other changes as well. With the establishment of agriculture and towns the first surpluses of food began to occur and thus the storage and protection of these surpluses from other groups of humans. The production of agriculture and the protection of agricultural surpluses gave rise to vocational specialization which had not occurred in the times of the hunter gatherers. Now there was a need not only for agricultural production which gave rise to the farmers, but the need for protection which gave rise to the rulers. Also with the increase in free time due to agricultural production and surplus the role of the shaman went from a part time position to the full time position of the priest. The priest was now the go between for humans and the spirit world but now it was an official paid position, paid for and by the ruling class. This patronage by the ruling class led to the priest class to not only interact with the spirit world but also to support the ruling class as ruling by divine right. Thus now motives other than spirit had entered into the mix, there was now additionally the factor of ego as well. This factor of ego now meant that religion had the dual role of interacting with the spirit world and supporting the ruling class that buttered the bread of the priest class. Now began the earliest divide between religion and spirituality.

 

   This divide was not the same everywhere though as some rulers had a sincere reverence and respect for the spiritual while others were more driven by ego and saw religion as more of a means of control over the people. Also in some places the priests were sincere about contacting and learning from the spirit world, and in other places they were also more concerned about their position and personal status. In places where the ruler and priests were more concerned about spiritual truth the religion of the land focused more on spiritual truth which transcended the ruler, priests, and even in some cases the gods themselves. In other places where the emphasis was more upon control and power there was a rise of commandments, rules, regulations, punishments and judgments for violating the rules and commandments. Yet even within the religions where there was more ego infused into the system underneath was still the original foundation of seeking the divine and seeking ultimate reality and truth, which is why even in the midst of these religious systems from time to time great mystics and spiritual teachers would rise up, often to be brutally opposed, but they would rise up nevertheless. Though even in the systems that did not have such ego based means of control simply due to the factors of language and culture the means of expression and explanation of the divine and of the spiritual came to be explained with various terminology understood by that culture and language. This is why two different religions may be speaking of the same thing but use different terms of expression and have on the surface various conceptual ideas, and differing methods of cultivating these things. Yet once one translates the underlying idea of what was being conveyed it can be seen that the same concept was being spoken about even if the terminology is different. This I believe is the confusion of the varying religions and yet also the unified underlying theme they share as well. This also explains how the egoic mind tends to only see the differences, but the mind that sees beyond ego sees the commonalities.  

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I'd also like to connect the dots a little bit between practices that we currently have and their original hunter-gatherer shamanistic origination.

 

One of the most obvious is singing and just as the shamanistic communities would gather around the campfire and sing we can see the most major religions these days incorporate some type of singing or chanting as a major part of their practice for connecting with the divine.

 

Another is dance and often while they were singing around the campfire they would be dancing around it as well. Often the dance steps head specific prescribed movements in order to connect with the spirit world and a time when body and spirit we're not seen as being in contrast to each other but unified. Spirit would connect to body and body would connect the spirit. We see such body movements that relate to the energetic today and such practices as Qigong and yoga and the whirling dervishes in Islam as well as other movement based practices.

 

Obviously there is the oral mythology which explained the creation of the world and the gods and the spirits and the human place and all of it which relates to the religious texts that all major religions have that attempt to explain these things.

 

Often the shaman or medicine man or woman would Interstate of trance in order to access the world of spirit or the deeper levels of them self. It's likely these were the earliest beginnings of the meditative traditions that have come out of so many of the major religions.

 

And of course there is ritual and ceremony which originally most likely simply related to survival things such as the hunt and safety but over time became more elaborate and branched out and evolves into all the various rituals and traditions that the major religions have today.

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