Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Origin of religions

Religion and magic are as old as man. They are inseparable. Religious elements cannot be preserved like fossil throughout time and hence we cannot arrive at correct statements regarding their exact origins. Things connected with religion like graves, temples, cult objects, statues, engravings, paintings are all products of later civilizations and not of the early man. We may be never able to say that the early primitive people practiced these ceremonies or performed such and such magical rites. 

We cannot precisely know where and how the various religious beliefs and magical performances emerged.  But there is no reason to believe that the earliest man received his religious notions through  a primary revelation from any god.  Primitive man’s religion is pervaded with animistic, magical and mythological beliefs. 
Manism, the cult of the dead contributed largely to the growth of religious practices.   The worship of the dead chiefs and tribal ancestors is found sporadically in all parts of the world. Scholars like H. Spencer even claimed manism to be true origin of religions. Spirits could take possession of living things. The primitives thought that their innumerable ills were caused by spirits. They devised a  number of ways- always magical in nature- to get assistance from these spirits. Ordinary needs of today were extraordinary for the prehistoric man and they applied extra-ordinary means for fulfilling them. Magic and religion of one kind or another is undoubtedly present among all the primitive communities of the pre-historic time. Belief in superpowers is almost universal among them.

The primitive man was also taken up by surprise by the persons and things they experienced in dreams and temporary hallucinations. The absence of vitality in a dead person and dreams of the dead  resulted in the beliefs of spirits and after life. Later on even inanimate objects were thought as having spirits.It was Edward B. Taylor who pointed out that the prehistoric people believed in  animism(a belief in intangible or non-material beings which can be souls, ghost, spirits or monsters). Thus began the cult of the dead man. Temporary survival of the ghost souls of the recently deceased are almost universally believed. There are endless varieties of beliefs regarding the sojourn of the departed souls.

At the earliest stages of man’s descent from the mammals, there was neither religious concepts nor magical rites. As powers of reflection, memory and insight gradually developed, man began to seek causes for the happenings around him.   Terrible nature phenomenon like thunder and lightening, earthquakes, flood and storms dismayed him.  As they were incomprehensible, beyond the reach of man, they were deified and early man tried to please them for favours and appease them to ward off dangers. This eventually created thousands of gods, some of them assuming  supremacy. Just like powerful emperors started ruling kings and the lords, more powerful deities emerged and later an all-powerful god was conceived much later.  

In an attempt to control the mysterious forces of nature man resorted to a number of ways inadequate to that end and these are termed magic. Every religion is pervaded with  a lot of magical practices. Every religion is an elaborate, complex, many faceted culture interwoven with magical ceremonies and meaningless rituals. 

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