The nature of primal religions • Generally the tradition of non-literate people • Primarily an oral tradition • Mostly rural or tribal Oya: Spirit of the Wind
4 Primal Traditions: Australian Aborigine African Yoruba The Aztecs Native American LAKOTA
The Australian Aborigines Then at a certain time in the mythic past, supernatural beings called the Ancestors emerged and roamed the earth. • The foundation of Aboriginal religion is the concept of the DREAMING. • According to aboriginal belief, the world was originally formless.
The mythic period of the Ancestors is called the DREAMING Tjilbruke For aborigines, this period lives on for the spiritual essence of the ancestors remains in the various symbols they left behind. These sites have a sacred power. Only certain individuals are allowed to visit these sites, and must follow the same path the Ancestors took.
The spiritual essence of the Ancestors is also believed to reside within each individual.
The Ancestors • An unborn child becomes animated by a particular Ancestor when the mother or another relative makes some form of contact with a sacred site. • Each aborigine is a living representation of an Ancestor.
Totems • This relationship between Ancestor and Aborigine is symbolized by a Totem. • A totem is the natural form the Ancestor appeared in during the Dreaming. • A totem may be an animal, a rock formation or other natural landscape.
Rituals are performed so that the Ancestors continue to nourish the natural world. Behind every ritual lies a myth that tells of certain actions of the Ancestors during the Dreaming.
It is only through ritual that the sacred power of the Dreaming can be accessed and experienced. Aborigines believe that the rituals themselves were taught to the first humans by the Ancestors in the Dreaming.
Aboriginal religious life seeks to maintain balance between these three aspects of reality: The supernatural, the human world and the world of nature.
Initiation: Symbolic Death, Spiritual Rebirth i.e., The Dieri Tribe: teeth knocked out, circumcision with a stone knife and scarring.
Aboriginal myth creates a reality that is unique to the Aborigines. However, the power of myth, and the performance of ritual to re-enact myth, are basic features of all primal traditions.
An African Tradition:The Religion of the Yoruba Oshunis an Orisha who reigns over love, intimacy, beauty, wealth and diplomacy.
Yoruba Tradition: • 10 million believers • Centered in urban areas rather than rural • Endured for more than a thousand years • Share a common language and culture Iamanja: Goddess of the Sea. She is the ocean, the essence of motherhood, and a protector of children.
Heaven is the invisible home of the gods and ancestors. Earth is the world of normal experience, the home of humans who are descended from the gods. Yoruba cosmology depicts reality as being divided into two separate worlds: heaven and earth.
Yorubans believe in both a supreme god and less powerful deities. Olorun: primary source of power in the universe; seen as distant and remote. He is seldom worshiped, except in prayer. Orishas: mediators between humans and Olorun god of the divine hunt
Olorun A.K.A. Olofin-Orun (Lord of Heaven) Oba-Orun (King of the Sky) Olodumare (Almighty)
Where: Nigeria, Benin and Togo. Cities of Ife, Oyo and Ijebu. • Ife has always been the center of Yoruba religion • It was there that the god Orisa-nla first began to create the world
Rituals • Heavenly ancestors are deceased humans who have acquired supernatural status. • Like orishas, the ancestors possess sacred power that can help or harm the living.
Ritual practitioners mediate between the gods and ancestors in heaven. Priests practice the art of Divination: a ritual where one’s future can be learned.
Additional Yoruban rituals • Festivals: A ritual specialist mediates between the ancestors and the living. Wearing an elaborate ceremonial mask and costume, this specialist becomes a living representation of an ancestor by dancing at festivals. • Funerals: The ritual specialist imitates the deceased person and conveys comforting messages from the deceased to the living.
Ritual as MEDIATION • The prevalence of these rituals clearly illustrates the importance of mediating, and thereby maintaining balance, between heaven and earth. • Most primal religions share the understanding that the boundaries between the human and the supernatural realms are very thin, and can easily be crossed over.
The Lakota: Western Sioux • Sioux: Actually a pejorative nickname give the Lakota from an enemy tribe. • Sioux: means “snake” • One of the larger tribes in the “North American Plains Indians” group consisting of over 30 tribes.
Wakan Tanka • AKA Great Spirit or Great Mysterious • “Most Sacred” • Refers to 16 separate deities (4 is the most sacred number in Plains religion) • 4 compass directions
Inktomi • Mediates between the supernatural and human worlds • Taught the first humans their ways and customs • Trickster Figure: Don’t do as Inktomi did!
Human Destiny: The Afterlife • The Lakota believe that four souls depart from a person at death: • Travels along the “spirit path” of the Milky Way • Meets an old woman who judges whether the soul will continue to the Ancestors or return to earth as a ghost. • Parts of the other souls enter unborn children and are reborn in new bodies.
The Vision Quest • Common ritual in many tribal religions • Means for a person to gain access to spiritual power that will ensure greater success in hunting, warfare and curing the ill.
Supervised by medicine man or woman • Prepares the visioner and interprets their visions
Steps of a Vision Quest • Ritual of purification in a sweat lodge • Leads to both physical and spiritual purification • Then goes off alone, usually to a hilltop • Endures the elements for days without food or water
A vision comes to the quester eventually, usually in the form of an animal or object and influences the person the rest of their lives.
Vision Quest Ritual Religious Experience
Sun Dance: Focuses on the tribe and is for the benefit of all • Occurs at the beginning of summer • Celebrates the new year and prepares the tribe for the great annual buffalo hunt • Sacred leader (man or woman) presides
Major Task #1: construct the lodge where the ceremony is held. • A cottonwood tree is chosen and taken to the chosen sight • Tree becomes the AXIS MUNDI (the center of the universe) • Tree also represents the Supreme Being
The finished lodge represents the universe with its four compass directions. • The lodge is constructed of 28 poles representing the 28 days of the lunar calendar and placed in a circle around the tree.
The Sun Dance features long periods of dancing while facing the sun, which is venerated for its life-giving powers.
Body Mutilation • Some dancers skewer the flesh of their chests and attach themselves to the tree with leather thongs. • They pull back from the tree as they continue dancing, until eventually their flesh tears