conflict: 50’s –60’s, Social Scientists predicted decline of religious
interest in future decades.
was wrong. Even greater interest now (Assurance and Hope)
committed to understanding of religious phenomena.
Anth ( a behav. Sci.) tell us about religion?
make judgments or verify beliefs or practices
Because it is based on Faith (not subject to falsification or verification
through empirical means)
anchored on subjective experience (Internal beliefs) that are not provable
through objective, sensory experience.
purpose or goal of Anth to verify or falsify anyone’s religious beliefs
role of Anth in the study of religion? :
Focus on the external dimension of religion, that is the materials and behavior
that manifest the internal beliefs. Public behaviors that are shared and
investigative methods help reveal both the internal and external aspects of
religious belief and practice.
speaking Anth is more concerned with the interrelationships and interconnections
between peoples religious traditions and doctrines and other aspects of their
society, such as the link between religious belief/practice and the economy,
social life, politics, and art.
Anth: Enthnology Study of
contemporary cultures around the world.
(description) Typically reports on environmental setting, economic patterns,
social organization, political system, religious system and beliefs based on
& participant/observation (learning through direct observation)
informant (interviews) Records qualitative data (Field Notes –systematic
documentation of observations
concept within Anth:
system based on all the learned and shared ideas and products of a society.
group of people inventing/using culture)
shared, symbolic, integrated
& consciously/unconsciously (social interaction)
Situational learning: conditioning/ trial and error learning/ stimulus
Social learning: Observed in social context and added to the personal collection
Symbolic learning: based on linguistic capacity..our ability to create and use symbols
(arbitrary meaningful units, or models that we use to represent
reality.Conceptual devises used to communicate abstract ideas to one another.)
what the majority of human learning is based on….most
creative….forms the basis for our capacity to use culture.
is the historical accumulation of symbolic knowledge that is shared by a
is an imperfect process!
and non-material aspects of culture:
explicit standards defining good/bad, ugly/beautiful, sacred/profane, shared by
the society, and well known. Used to influence behavior
Beliefs: cultural conventions concerning true/false assumptions, specific
descriptions of the natural
universe and our place in it….more specific that values (usually)
Worldview: interrelated beliefs and assumptions about the nature of reality. I.E.
empirical. Provides a usually consistent orientation toward the physical, social
and metaphysical world. They help people interpret and understand the world
Cosmology: how humans are connected with the universe, explains existence,
origins..addresses profound questions.
Norms: (Folkways or etiquette) Societies rules of right and wrong: guide to how
it ought to be! Generally connected to values, beliefs and worldviews. Provides
us with a set of expectations and assist members of a society in predicting what
others will do in a particular circumstance. Mores are a type of norm stronger
than etiquette norms..usually carry a more stringent negative sanction if
accepted evidence comes from Neanderthal Times (100 – 60 K), burials
becomes more elaborated and wide spread through time
interpretations focus on utility: Explanation and solutions for adversity;
seeking to explain what can not be explained through objective knowledge.
Permit explanation of cause and effect relationship between the supernatural
and the human condition.
us to the question of what is the reason for existence of religion??
Scientists have often approached the subject from a functional perspective:
view has been based on explaining how it reduces anxiety and fears i.e.
stresses the societal origins of religion, i.e. Durkheim viewed it as a
manifestation of social solidarity and collective beliefs.
can, in part, explain the universality of religious behavior, but are
limited in focus, as the center on human emotions and social structure,
really explores the wide variety of cultural expression of religion. By that
I mean that where ever it has been observed it displays tremendous variety
of cognitive and phenomenal expression, that anything less that an
wide-ranging holistic approach will not allow true comparisons.
approach combines not only the psychological and sociological but
historical, semantic and evolutionary perspectives as well.
order to make general statements about pan-human religious behavior,
symbology, and ideology we must work from a common definition.
RELIGION we are going to give the broadest possible meaning9 Some societies
don’t have a category for a particular aspect of life as “religion”.
Anthropologists have formulated definitions. Here are some samples that are
useful as general guidelines. Keep in mind that we are not going to exclude
any aspect of thought or action because one of these definitions would
Robin (1960). A Definition of Religion and its Use. Journal of the Royal
Anthropological Institute, 90, 201-226.
can be looked upon as an extension of the field of people’s social
relationships beyond the confines of purely human society.”
Melford E. (1966). Religion: problems of definition and explanation. In
Michael Banton (Ed.), Anthropological approaches to the study of religion,
shall define “religion” as “an institution consisting of culturally
patterned interaction with culturally postulated super human beings.”
Clifford. (1973) The interpretation of cultures: Selected Essays. New
York: Basic Books.
religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful,
pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating
conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions
with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely
definitions vary greatly.
first two are behavioral definitions; religious actions are those which
persons act toward nonhuman entities as though they were human.
third refers to cognitive events within people: in distinguishing religion
from other systems of symbols by its effects on moods and on sense of what
major implication of defining the subject more broadly than these writers is
that we would not exclude magic.
is often distinguished from religion (see Frazer and his contemporaries) as
not involving relations with superhuman entities.
explanations often attribute events to mechanical, cause-effect
relationships, i.e. bad luck brought on by a black cat crossing one’s
practice involves the application of knowledge and the skills the magician
has acquired about these relationships. ( how to stick a pin in a doll
resembling ones’ victim)
supernatural beings are not necessarily involved, the definitions of
religion by Horton and Spiro would exclude magic.
definition might exclude magic except when it happens to be integrated into
a system of symbols that constitutes the religion of a particular society.
establish our working definition we will consider the following:
any set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to Supernatural power,
whether it be forces, gods, spirits, gods, ghosts, demons, or any other imagined
of mystical (Supernatural) significance: Ways of Knowing (Invented Truth)
any set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to Supernatural power,
whether it be forces, gods, spirits, ghosts, demons, or any other imagined
words: All behavior, thoughts, and feelings that imply mystical (supernatural)
power, whether that power is believed to reside in people, animals, inanimate
things or events, or in beings that so far as observation tells us are
explains and gives meaning it also provides cohesion, support, education,
discipline, revitalizes/euphoric, ecological…many over-lap.
Beings, Gods, Souls, Demons, Ghosts, Tricksters, Witches (innate and
unconscious) vs. Sorcery, which is a conscious and acquired skill)
element is religion.
different from material power of physical forces and from personal forces of
social interaction. (Distinction not always present in some cultures)
attributed to living persons or to supernatural entities.
appealed to explain events/actions/feelings
power as the core of religious thought was stressed in early accounts of Manna
in the cultures of the Pacific. It was erroneously described as impersonal.
Mana is a neutral force but very powerful. (concept) Like the air, it is
everywhere, though it is often concentrated in objects, or people, or even part
of a person.
may be harnessed by practitioners
- It may flow in or out of objects and people.
people are born with it, just as some objects naturally contain it.
may be drawn into objects by a practitioner who has the skills to do so.
a neutral and powerful force3 it has the potential of danger, so great care
must be taken when dealing with it.
one obtains an object with mana, it is believed to enhance ones behavior or
by persons through a Quest, Acquistion/Purchase/Ceremonies/Medicine
bundles/Gifts from Divinity/Killing another Human/Eating Human flesh
reside outside the person, in place (geographical) or in supernatural beings.
used to manipulate various supernatural forces or beings
be sued by individuals using formulas, recipes or may call upon a
(Siberian) a part-time practitioner who by training or inheritance has
special powers to deal with the unseen universe.
some features with science
magical formulas have been acquired through trail and error. (Empirical
herbs…some work some don’t…keep the ones that work most over
time.ditch the ones that don’t.
Scientific method but similar approach but attempt to explain and control
environment and the events that effect them.
is effective.it works if you do it correctly and believe in its efficacy
explains things: sickness = evil magic, cure = correct formula, worsens+
incorrect formula, diagnosis was wrong, or more powerful magic is being
sacred story taken to be true (based on believe)
body of shared, common knowledge taken in a particular social context in
accordance with a particular performance.
(Modern) ---it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observable or
testable natural mechanisms. Therefore, physics describes the atomic nucleus
with specific concepts governing energy and matter, and it tests those
descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such a quarks,
to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions
cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have
arbitrary properties, moreover---their definitions are tightly constrained,
because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics.
many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a
hierarchy of certainty…above a hypothesis but below a law. However, scientists
do not use the term that way
again, science has shown that it can provide useful answers to many questions,
detailed explanations to what were seemingly impenetrable mysteries: the nature
of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works, how the living world took
shape. According to the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific theory is
“a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can
incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” No amount of
validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization
about nature. So when a scientist talks about the theory of something
(evolution or the atomic theory), or the theory of relativity, they are not
expressing reservation about its truth.
addition to theory, one may speak of the FACT…the NAS defines Fact as
“an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical
purposes is accepted as ‘true.’”
Taboo: Rules for
Right and Wrong.
a ban or prohibition. The word comes from Polynesian language where it means
religious restriction, to break would mean an automatic punishment.
English the word has little of that meaning and little to do with religion. It
generally implies a rule which has no meaning (reason), or one that cannot be
in Tahiti noting women were not allowed to eat with men, when asked the reply
was “because it is right.” To the outsider the taboo seems irrational.
Jewish prohibition of lighting or maintaining fires, lighting or putting out
lamps on the Sabbath.
land observers in some predicament: Eating Teal to circumvent prohibition of
eating meat (Teal eat fish), or Maori hairdresser prohibited form using hands to
feed himself after cutting hair of Chief.
the last century, in European usage the word came to imply inferior mentality
due to general ignorance of the physical world. Taboos (rules) were result of
false science, leading to mistaken hygiene and faulty medicine.
bans on touching seeing, eating, speaking to avoid dangers and sickness.
it was seen as a rule to keep certain classes (categories) of people and things
apart lest misfortune befall, it was considered a theory about contagion.
It was a comparison: our hygiene protects from a real danger of contagion,
theirs from something imaginary. Not a valid comparison. Misconception
of comparing True religion and primitive
magic, and modern medicine and primitive hygiene.
mistake is to suppose our idea of dirt connotes and objectively real class from
which real dangers of health may arise, and whose control depends on valid rules
of hygiene. Dirt, like beauty, resides int eh eye of the beholder. (5 second
look at them separating this area from that, stopping x form touching y, men
from eating with women and creating elaborate scales of edibility and
inedibility among the animal and plant world……..we too are in the business
of ordering and classifying things and activities.
Taboo can ever make sense by itself. It is part of a whole system of rules. It
makes sense as a part of a classification whose meaning is so basic to those who
live by it that no piece-meal explanation can be given. It’s just the right
thing to do.
19th century scholars had such a hard time understanding Taboo
because they were working out of the separate compartments of their own taboo
system. For them, religion, magic, hygiene and medicine were as distinct as
civilized and primitive. They put it in the realm of native thought. And
therefore saw it as insoluble. Today we see it more as a problem of human
the idea that there is anything like a true, complete view of the world. Between
what the scientists tell us and what we make of their knowledge there is a
synthesis which is our own usable approximation of the rules we need to know to
operate in the physical world.
the idea that there can ever be a final and correct world view..the fullness of
reality will always evade our singular comprehension. Learning is filtering and
organizing. No 2 people will ever register the same identical patterns and faced
with a similar environment, 2 cultures will construe 2 different sets of natural
constraints and regular sequences. In other word; every culture constructs
its own universe.
culture attributes to its own world a set of powers to be harnessed and dangers
to be avoided.
Traditional culture, because of isolation has a unique world view. Modern industrial
nations share a common experience, generally share the same rules about the
powers and the dangers aroused.
humans the universe is a system of imputed rules. Using our own distinctions we
can distinguish First: physical Nature, (inorganic, organic) with rules
governing growth, lifespan, and death. Second: Human behavior, Third:
interaction between these 2 groups, and Fourth: other intelligent beings,
whether incorporeal, like gods, devils, and ghosts or mixtures of human and
divine or human and animal and Fifth: interaction between the fourth
group and the rest. Notice I have not used the word Supernatural to avoid the
distinction between the natural and supernatural.
reiterate: Taboos are understood to be rules about our behavior which restrict
the human use of things and people. To break the rules is to be subject to
consequence. Like rules of a game.
imagine what social life would be like without any classification. It would be
like playing a game without any rules. It is no exaggeration to de3scribe social
life as the process of building classification systems. Everyone is trying to
make sense of what is happening.
process of explaining, classifications are developed and more and more meanings
are successfully added to them as people are persuaded to interpret them in the
same way. Socail meaning is created.
room in an Irish farmers house used to be the room where the old couple retired
when the eldest son married and brought his wife to the farm. West meant
retirement as well as sundown.
Buddhist religion east is high status. Buddha’s statue is always placed on the
shelf on the east wall. The husband always sleeps to the east of his wife. East
means male and social superior.
right , left sun ,moon, hot, cold , all the antithesis are able to carry
meanings from social life.
who supports the social system finds him/herself impelled to support the
classification system which gets meaning from it. Anyone who challenges the
social system finds themselves up against a set of classifications which have to
why a breech of the taboo arouses such strong feeling. Not because a minor
classification is threatened but because the whole society is shaken if someone
gets away with challenging the taboo.
involves definition; definition involves reducing ambiguity; ambiguity arises in
several ways and it is misguided to think it will ever be eliminated or excluded
from our lives.
classification : Structure, Habitat, Behavior
is more like a fish than a bird (using walking flying or swimming)
Structure: Skeletal and reproduction it is more bird like, than a flying fish.
Most classification is untidy. Men behave like women, adults act like children,
even physically there are those that are born intersexed.
marriage and inheritance require clear cut categories, but there are always the
classifications are always too crude for reality
of taboos covers up this weakness. It points in advance to the defect and
insists that no one will give recognition to the inconvenient facts or behave in
such a way as to undermine the acceptability and clarity of the system as a
inject order into life:
potential for disorder is tremendous, particularly when you consider the
disorder of the mind.
help to break up the disorder into classes and rules, and so judges some
activities to be right and proper and some to be horrific
of rationality is the justification for taboos that we ourselves observe when we
say it is not acceptable to pee in the kitchen sink, wash dishes in the toilet,
or have sex on the front lawn at noon.
us to inject order into our lives. It is not arbitrary, but is derived from
system upholds a cultural system
and a culture is a pattern of values and norms; social life is impossible
without such a pattern.
taboos flow from the social boundaries and support the social structure, they
seem irrational to the outsider. And as such, beyond challenge to the person
living in the society.
Behavior that is formalized and regularly repeated.
Ritual may or may not be associated with
Often involves symbols: cross, candle,
totem, icon, or even a natural object like the sun and moon.
It may include action such as prayer,
recitation, sacrifice, dance or other physical activities.
It has been seen as reinforcing group
solidarity and cohesion as well as serving the psychological needs of
individuals and the social needs of groups
Early studies limited the understanding of
ritual to its role in the religious life of “Primitive” societies through
Function, structure and meaning (symbols)
Contemporary analysis relax the connection
between ritual and the sacred, and point out the relation between ritual, the
sacred and power. (compelling force)
Today, in is common to look at
commonalities between religious ritual and secular ritual.
Ritual and ritual symbols of varying kind
are seen as playing a key part in creating tradition, and legitimizing power
The social environment is “ritualized”
in the sense of being habitually structured by predictable patterns of human
action. (Remember, much of culture is seen in patterned behavior.) Thus ritual
is now seen not only as plying a role in formulating times, eternal order, but
rather as historically and socially constructed.
Ritual is primarily a distinct way
of doing things.
Ritual encodes, actualizes, encourages and
regulates social relationships in a powerful way.
To fully understand its power it has to be
studied from a relational framework in which the significance of its symbols,
and actions in the social and historical context in which it occurs.
Ritual has a crucial role in the
construction of reality as provided by our worldview.
Rites of Passage:
A category of ritual that has been studied
cross-culturally. Term was coined by Belgian sociologist Arnold Van Gennep.
Term use to refer to rituals associated
with the stages in the arc of life: birth, puberty, adulthood, death, and other
crucial occasions marking critical points of transition in an individuals life.
(Universal biological phases)
They may include other rituals created to
mark the social progress of an individual during their liftime. (change of
As a person moves from one biological and
social stage to the next the persons social status and role within the group
Because of this change culturally created
rituals will always involve the members of that specific group----either the
entire culture or a segment (family, common interest group)
Members of one’s group must be able to
change they way they have previously interacted with the individual as the
For example: We interact differently with
adults than with children, and when a person dies the group must alter its
relationship with the deceased.
In small societies, everyone is effected
by the change, so involvement in the group activity prepares you for your own
viewed these types of rituals as occurring in 3 separate stages:
Separation (pre-liminal) Gk: limen:
threshold : wherein the individual is removed or separated from the
Transition (liminal): Marked by a change
in the individual, usuall the person is subject to certain rules or taboos.
Sometimes, the normal rules of the society are suspended. (Cutting of foreskin
or loss of virginity)
Reincorporation (post-liminal): The
individual is reintegrated into the group in a new status /role, altered state.
Conception: Male role
Adulthood: Circumcision/sub-incision/ FGM:
partial or complete removal of the clitoris or partial sewing together of the
Kepele burning knife shaman
M’Buti (Bamiki Bandula)
Identify 3 rites of passage in your
culture (subculture) that are identified and defined culturally rather than
Define each in terms of the three stages
proposed by Van Gennep.
Remember to use criteria such as change of
status or role.
Tungus, saman: Sanskrit, sramana ; German, der schaman.)
medicine man, medium, sprit or faith healer, priest, oracle, witch doctor.
view: Religious virtuoso who takes magical, hallucinatory flights into the
supernatural world, learns from and/or fights with spirits, ghosts or daemons,
recapturing lost souls. Primordial, prototypical religious practitioner who has
direct contact with the supernatural.
view is misrepresentative of
the shaman and shamanism
difficulty in defining shamanism by standard criteria.
is highly diverse, culturally and historically relative phenomenon that
encompasses a vast array of social behaviors and beliefs.
has been seen variously as an expression of archaic or pagan religion or the
solution to contemporary human ecological, existential and personal crisis.
used to explain Shamanism are incomplete, the human experience is more
complex and rich than our abstractions of it. Our theories only focus on a
particular segment of this diversity
is possible to point out a set of shared or perhaps core phenomena.
who is able to divine, predict, effect future outcomes
direct access to the supernatural, phantasmic realm
power by being tutored by spirits, including deceased ancestors
found in societies where there are few social distinctions available
to pinpoint the cultural origins of shamanic practice and art
throughout the entire world and all social levels
Upper/middle/lower worlds Shamans job is to help keep balance and harmony
Direct contact with spirits is universal. May inherit ability or be selected
to receive this social responsibility. Training is a life-long process,
abilities may wax and wane over time.
of Consciousness: Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) induced by plants,
alcohol, hyperventilation, meditation, rhythmic drumming. Facilitates
communication with supernatural.
Actions: Blowing, sucking, singing, massaging, spitting, smudging. Painting,
chanting, touching, fanning, seeing, sprinkling water, ashes, corn meal,
etc.. Sacramental actions are facilitation actions used for the benefit of
the individual or community, made visible for all to see. (Performance)
Discourses: Verbalizations such as singing, chanting, story telling, verbal
Observations: Systematic observations of surrounding sentient world serve as
template for ultimate conception of soul, human body, the sacred, and the
role of the supernatural in human affairs.
Duality of terminology
clouds meaning. Not all cultures/languages offer the distinction.
As with religion, belief
and acceptance has not been diminished by the spread of literacy, science and
the modern lifestyle.
Basic meaning is:
spiritual malpractice, mystical evildoing, occult practice
Whatever it is called it
is recognized world-wide.
Contains an element of
opposition in its manner of operation: controlled/uncontrolled,
internal/external, inherited/acquired, and motivation of practitioner: human
feelings such as anger, jealousy, envy, malice
Ability to cause harm,
misfortune, sickness, and death.
Part of the
socio-political process (social control/power)
Classic scapegoat figure
often seen in other parts of the world is the person of anti-social habits who
has no relative to defend them.
Movements seem to arise
when dominant values are challenged by changing circumstances and/or social
conditions are disrupted by famine, warfare, epidemics, etc..
Perception that there is a
concentrated threat of anti-social/deviance (evil) in society
Social authority need to
purge that source to legitimize and protect
established to accomplish purge
Satanic Ritual Abuse:
Repeat of historical
acceptance by those in power of a series of beliefs about secret activities of
evildoers…defines the evil and justifies their persecution.
Willingness to act on the
beliefs by setting in place procedures to apprehend, interrogate and prosecute
The idea that there is a
hidden evil among us, neighbors, and kinsmen, who could be guilty of the most
hideous antisocial crimes: incest and cannibalization of innocent babies, is
clearly a recurring cosmic nightmare.
It is clear that human
fantasies about evildoing display remarkable similarity in a core area of
Ancient themes revisited
native peoples practiced “Animistic” religions.
were static, rigid and incoherent.
E.B.Tylor: concept of spiritual entity such as a soul
be plants, animals or geographical features.
of Totmeic group think of themselves as descendants of the totem entity.
exist to protect the totem, but might be lifted once a year (necessary for
reproduction and survival of
nature as a model for society (Totems are usually plants and animals that
are part of the environment
in the natural order becomes model for diversity in the social order
of human social order is enhanced by symbolic association with and imitation of the natural order
become sacred emblems symbolizing common identity
carvings for examp0le commemorate, tell visual stories about ancestors,
animals, spirits….associated ceremonies
rites maintain oneness, community solidarity.
and plants entered 19th C accounts of traditional religions in
exaggerated emphasis on totemism as a uniform feature
of plants and animals(things) as symbols of groups, beliefs and practices
implying mystical power vary from society to society
with totemic uses go other religious roles of animals and plants where they
are associated with ideas of mystical power
role of animals has bas in spontaneous ascription of consciousness to
animals and therefore souls
societies seek to ensure a supply of game animals by encouraging
reincarnation to replace what they have killed and by showing proper respect
for the prey species and to the supernaturals who control them.
follow rules to ensure equitable distribution of the catch and readily
appeal to animals as mystical helpers
may sacrifice domestic animals a an offering to supernatural
figures…sometimes seen as way of sending a message that will be
transmitted to the god or ancestral spirit by the victim.
appear in traditional religions in some of the same ways as do animals but
plants is the ingestion of psychotropic plant material.
into 2 categories:
origins: Gods and spirits
origin: ghosts and ancestral spirits
- Gods: chief among non-human category; named
personalities, often anthropomorphic(human characteristics/appearance)
gods who either created the world or control everything that happens now. A
single major god is found in many foraging societies as well as complex
societies, especially those with active contact with other societies
have shapes of animals, celestial bodies
are believed to have created themselves, but some are seen as the creation
of other gods.
of world by gods may not been see as one act, or as result o gods at all
as remote, uninterested….may retire after act of creation….after setting
thing into motion they are uninvolved in every day affairs
creator gods may be interested only in one small segment of the world/people
( Maori God of Sea, Forest, Agriculture) Each is called upon in turn
gods were highly specialized: plow, sowing, weeding, reaping , storing
Lesser than gods in prestige and statue…closer to people. Often un-named.
Can be promoted to god status
be hobgoblin, mischief-makers…blamed for mishaps or may work evil on
behalf of people.
spirit. These spirits often stress individual achievement. Some Native
AmerInds sought personal guardian spirit. Often seen as animals but could be
in uniquely shaped rocks or landscape/natural features (Lake, mountain
appeared in a dream or vision, usually in human form at the first
meeting….conversation would reveal its true identity.
human…sprits of the dead, either the recently departed or more distant
ancestors. Emphasis is on ancestral sprits is favored by more
sedentary societies that stress kinship as the basis of social structure.
is nearly universal Universality difficult to explain but may be seen in
experience of presence of departed…evoked emotion that dead are present
(reminder by a particular scent, sound, scene or in dreams) Familiar
societies see the dead as playing an active role in daily affairs…others
in ghosts seem most prevalent in societies where there are active descent
groups as decision making units. Ghosts are seen as taking an active
interest in the fortunes of these groups and may extend this continuity to
the supernatural world.
figures said to have created in the distant past various features of the
culture. To these should be added, as partial supernaturals, individual persons
who are considered to have mystical powers
- One obvious question about
Halloween is, "What does the word itself mean?"
The name is actually a shortened version of "All Hallows'
Even," the eve of All Hallows' Day. Hallow is an Old English
word for "holy person," and All Hallows' Day is simply another
name for All Saints' Day, the day on which Catholics commemorate all the saints.
At some point, people began referring to All Hallows' Even as "Hallowe'en"
and then simply "Halloween."
- Taking from the Jewish
tradition, Christians have traditionally observed holy days from sundown on
one day until sundown on the following day. This is where we get the
practice of celebrating Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, etc. The direct
predecessor of modern-day Halloween is the festivity that began All Saints
Day, which started at sundown on October 31.
- While it takes its name from
All Saints Day, modern Halloween is actually a combination of several
different traditions. In fact, a lot of the things we do on Halloween
predate Christianity! Let’s look at the chief traditions that feed into
today's Halloween and see how they got all tangled up together in one
- Most of the traditions of
Halloween date back to Samhain (sow-en), the ancient Celtic New Year.
Samhain, which translates to "end of summer," occurred around the
end of October, when the weather started to get cold. At its heart, Samhain
was an observance of all the things that were happening during this change
- The Celtic people, who came
together as a society around 800 B.C., kept
sheep and cattle. When the weather got colder, the shepherds brought
their animals down from the hills to closer pastures. This shift changed
daily life significantly. In the winter months, everybody stayed inside or
close to home, working on handcrafts and spending time together.
- Samhain also marked the final
harvest of the year, an event that is commemorated by festivals in many
- Celtic tradition held that
turning points, times when things change from one state to another, had
magical properties. Samhain marked the biggest turning point of the year --
a change in the weather as well as a shift in everybody's lives.
- The Celts believed this
magical time opened up a sort of connection to the dead -- those souls that
had passed through the ultimate turning point, the shift from life to death.
They believed the world of the living was closest to the world of the dead
at the time of Samhain, and that the spirits of the dead traveled again
among the living.
- A lot of the activities of the
Samhain festival were connected to this belief, and many of those practices
evolved into modern day Halloween traditions.
- The Celts recorded their
history orally -- they did not write anything down, but instead passed on
beliefs and stories from person to person. For this reason, historians often
disagree about the Celts' practices and beliefs. So nobody is really sure
what the Samhain festival was like, but there are a number of accounts that
provide interesting explanations of modern day Halloween practices.
All Saints' Day
- Christians have been honoring
their virtuous dead from the earliest days of the religion. In traditional
Roman Catholicism, exceedingly virtuous men and women may be canonized as
saints in the afterlife. Since they are endowed with holiness, saints are
close to God, and may perform miracles on earth.
- Roman Catholics, and some
other Christians, honor saints, and ask them for guidance in daily life.
Many saints are commemorated on their own "saints day," often the
anniversary of their death. But with thousands of canonized saints, only a
small percentage are recognized regularly.
- In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV officially
established All Saints' Day in order to honor all the saints at one
time. History records such a sacred day before Boniface's time, but it
wasn't widely observed.
- All Saints' Day was originally
observed on May 13, but in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III moved it to
November 1. Officially, this new date was chosen to mark the papal
dedication of a church honoring the saints. But it is commonly believed that
the observance was actually moved to correspond with Samhain and other pagan
- The Catholic Church had a
long-standing policy of incorporating non-Christian traditions into its
holidays in order to bring people into the Catholic faith.
- This included moving the dates
of Christian holidays to those of established non-Christian occasions. Many
historians believe, for example, that Christmas was set on December 25 so
that it would correspond with pagan winter solstice festivals.
- In any case, when All Saints'
Day was moved to November 1, the church did begin to incorporate Samhain
traditions into the holy day's activities.
- This helped bring descendents
of the ancient Celts into Christianity, but it posed some problems for the
Church. Much of the Samhain traditions centered on the supernatural and
spirit world, ideas that don't have much of a place in Christianity.
Recognizing saints, who were by definition deceased, covered a lot of the
same ground, but the converts were still fascinated by the idea of their
familiar dead returning to the world of the living.
- Despite some unease in the
Church, many supernatural ideas persisted in All Saints' Day Eve
celebrations, making the occasion a remarkable combination of Christian and
pagan beliefs. At the end of the 10th century, the church tried to give
these traditions a little more direction by establishing All Souls' Day, an
occasion to recognize all Christian dead.
- Let’s look at how this holiday is observed, and see how
it relates to Halloween.
All Souls' Day
- All Souls' Day, observed on
November 2, is celebrated with masses and festivities in honor of the dead.
- The living pray on behalf of
Christians who are in purgatory, the state in the afterlife where souls are
purified before proceeding to heaven. Souls in purgatory, who are
members of the church just like living Christians, must suffer so that they
can be purged of their sins.
- Through prayer and good works,
living members of the church may help their departed friends and family.
After its introduction, this holiday did sate many Catholics' interest in
death and the supernatural.
- But the unchristian idea of
wandering spirits persisted in some areas, as did the festivity atmosphere
- Conceding that they could not
completely get rid of the supernatural elements of the celebrations, the
Catholic church began characterizing the spirits as evil forces associated
with the devil. This is where we get a lot of the more disturbing Halloween
imagery, such as evil witches and demons.
- All Souls' Day lives on today,
particularly in Mexico, where All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day and All
Souls' Day are collectively observed as "Los Dias de los
Muertos" (The Days of the Dead).
- First and foremost, the Days
of the Dead is a time when families fondly remember the deceased. But it is
also a time marked by festivities, including spectacular parades of
skeletons and ghouls. In one notable tradition, revelers lead a mock funeral
procession with a live person inside a coffin.
- This masquerade is closely
connected to the celebration of Halloween, as are other elements of All
Souls' Day. Let’s look at
how one early All Souls' Day ritual may have led to modern
- In medieval times, one popular
All Souls' Day practice was to make "soul cakes," simple bread
desserts with a currant topping. In a custom called "souling,"
children would go door-to-door begging for the cakes, much like modern
trick-or-treaters. For every cake a child collected, he or she would have to
say a prayer for the dead relatives of the person who gave the cake. These
prayers would help the relatives find their way out of purgatory and into
heaven. The children even sang a soul cake song along the lines of the
modern "Trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat, give me something good to
eat." One version of the song went:
A soul cake!
A soul cake!
Have mercy on all Christian souls, for
A soul cake!
- The National Sweet Tooth
Trick-or-treaters rake in a lot of candy every October 31. In fact,
according to the National Confectioners Association, Halloween is the
number-one holiday for candy sales, beating out Christmas, Easter and
Valentine's Day. The NCA estimates that Halloween candy sales will exceed
$2 billion this year, in the United States alone. Typically, more than
85 percent of U.S. households
hand out candy Halloween night.
- There is also some evidence of
trick-or-treat type activities in the original Celtic tradition.
- Historians say the Celts would
dress up in ghoulish outfits and parade out of town to lead the wandering
spirits away. Additionally, Celtic children would walk door to door to
collect firewood for a giant communal bonfire. Once the bonfire was burning,
the revelers would extinguish all the other fires in the village.
- They would then relight every
fire with a flame taken from the Samhain bonfire, as a symbol of the
people's connection to one another.
- A lot of the Samhain
celebration had to do with honoring Celtic gods, and there's evidence that
the Celts would dress as these
deities as part of the festival.
- They may have actually gone
door to door to collect food to offer to the gods. It is fairly clear that
Samhain involved an offering of food to spirits. There may have been animal
sacrifices, and some historians say the Celts even sacrificed people, but
the evidence is not conclusive.
- The Celts believed in fairies
and other mischievous creatures, and the notion of Halloween trickery may
have come from their reported activities on Samhain.
- There's also good reason to
suppose that the Celtic New Year's Eve was something like our own New Year's
Eve -- a time when people let go of their inhibitions, drank heavily and got
- The trickery tradition may
simply come from this spirit of revelry.
- Now let’s look at another
popular Halloween tradition with Celtic roots -- the Jack-o'-lantern.
- As part of the Samhain
celebration, Celts would bring home an ember from the communal bonfire at
the end of the night. They carried these embers in hollowed-out turnips,
creating a lantern resembling the modern day jack-o'-lantern.
- But the direct predecessor of
jack-o'-lanterns dates from 18th century Ireland, where ancient Celtic
traditions remained a significant part of the national culture.
- A very popular character in
Irish folk tales was Stingy Jack, a disreputable miser who, on
several occasions, avoided damnation by tricking the devil (often on All
- In one story, he convinced
Satan to climb up a tree for some apples, and then cut crosses all around
the trunk so the devil couldn't climb down. The devil promised to leave Jack
alone forever, if he would only let him out of the tree.
- When Jack eventually died, he
was turned away from Heaven, due to his life of sin. But, in keeping with
their agreement, the Devil wouldn't take Jack either. He was cursed to
travel forever as a spirit in limbo.
- As Jack left the gates of
Hell, the Devil threw him a hot ember to light the way in the dark. Jack
placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip, and wandered off into the world.
According to the Irish legend, you might see Jack's spirit on All Hallows'
Eve, still carrying his turnip lantern through the darkness.
- Traditional jack-o'-lanterns,
hollowed-out turnips with embers or candles inside, became a very popular
Halloween decoration in Ireland and Scotland a few hundred years ago.
- Folk tradition held that they
would ward off Stingy Jack and other spirits on Halloween, and they also
served as representations of the souls of the dead.
- Irish families who emigrated
to America brought the tradition with them, but they replaced the turnips
with pumpkins, which were much more plentiful in their new home. As it turns
out, pumpkins were easier to carve than turnips. People began to cut
frightening faces and other elaborate designs into their jack-o'-lanterns.
Note on Pumpkins:Frightful
Pumpkins, which are actually fruits, not
vegetables, range considerably in size. Some varieties weigh less than a pound
and giant pumpkins can grow to more than 1,000 pounds!
Pumpkins are members of the gourd family,
which also includes watermelons and zucchini. They are 90-percent water and also
contain high concentrations of potassium
and vitamin A.
Pumpkins, which grow from vines,
originated in Central America and were a popular crop among Native Americans.
Certain tribes used the seeds for food and medicine and made sleeping mats out
of dried pumpkin strips.
American colonists invented the pumpkin
pie, but their original version used the pumpkin as the crust, not the main
ingredient. They cut off pumpkin tops to make handy edible bowls, which they
filled with milk, honey and spices and then cooked over a fire or hot ashes.
- All Hallows' Eve has long been
a time to look into the future, and traditional festivities included several
- These come mostly from folk
traditions from the British Isles, and many have their roots in the ancient
- A lot of marriage divinations had to do with apples. In
Celtic tradition, the fruit was associated with female deities who
controlled the ways of love.
- This may have something to do
with the inner structure of apples. When you slice an apple in two, you can
see a pentagram shape (a star with five points) on each half, around the
- The pentagram was an important
shape for the ancient Celtics, and many other cultures. Among other things,
it was recognized as a Goddess symbol.
- One of the most popular
divinations was for young unmarried people to try to bite into an apple
floating in water or hanging from a string. This is something like the
bouquet toss that still plays a part in wedding receptions -- the first
person to bite into the apple would be the next one to marry.
- In another tradition, a young
woman would light a candle and peel an apple in front of a mirror. While she
was peeling the apple, her future husband would supposedly appear in place
of her reflection. Peeling an apple was also a way to predict your life
- If you could cut off one long peel, you would live to an
old age. If you only cut a small piece of peel, you would die young.
- Apples are still a big part of
Halloween celebrations. In addition to apple-bobbing, modern Halloween
revelers drink apple cider, make candy apples and hand out apples to
traditions of Halloween, (most of which evolved in the United States.)
- Since the 1800s, when Irish
and Scottish immigrants brought their Halloween festivities to North
America, the holiday has evolved a good deal. The celebration's connection
with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day has mostly fallen by the wayside,
and a number of new secular traditions have developed.
- For children, dressing up
and trick-or-treating door to door is still the main event. Most
households in the United States and Canada participate, and those who don't
run the risk of petty vandalism. Many adults dress up themselves, to go out
with their children or to attend costume parties and contests.
NOTE: Dressed to the Nines
Halloween continues to be extremely
popular with kids of all ages; 85 to 90 percent of U.S. children go
trick-or-treating or engage in other Halloween festivities every year, and many
adults also join in on the fun.
In a 2000 poll, the National Retail
Federation found that 65 percent of U.S. adults between 18 and 34 attended
Halloween costume parties or other celebrations.
In the United States, Halloween lags just
behind New Year's Eve and the Super Bowl in total number of parties, and it's
second only to Christmas in total consumer dollars spent.
According to the National Retail
Federation, U.S. consumers will spend an average of $44 per household in 2002 on
Halloween candy, costumes and decorations. Familes with young children plan
to spend an average of $62. The holiday should bring in about $6.9 billion in
sales in the United States.
A number of other Halloween activities fill the whole month of
October. These traditions preserve Samhain's spirit of revelry in the face of
frightening thoughts of death and the supernatural.
Americans have added scary movies, community haunted houses, ghost
stories and Ouija boards to the celebration. Greeting cards and festive
decorations are also a big part of Halloween. The holiday is second only to
Christmas in total revenue dollars for retailers.
- Another common Halloween
custom is collecting money for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF),
in lieu of or in addition to candy. This started in 1950 in Philadelphia,
when a Sunday school class had the idea of collecting money for needy
children when trick-or-treating. They sent the money they made, about $17,
to UNICEF, which was inspired by the idea and started a trick-or-treat
program in 1955.
- Although Halloween comes in
part from Christian tradition, many Christian groups want nothing to do with
the holiday because of its pagan elements.
- Prominent Halloween figures, such as witches and ghouls,
carry an uncomfortable satanic connotation to some Christians, and they do
not want to expose their children to these images. Some groups are also
disturbed by the origins of the holiday, as it is a common belief that the
Samhain festival was a celebration of a devil-like god of the dead called
- Most evidence suggests that
this is not actually the case -- the main documentation for such a god comes
from material apparently produced by the Catholic church hundreds of years
ago, as a means of converting people away from Druidism.
- Christian groups are also
disturbed by rumors that modern day Wiccans and Druids observe Halloween as
an occasion to worship Satan or other evil forces. The established
organizations of these groups completely disavow all knowledge of such
practices, though they do say that Halloween is an important day of the year
in their religion. Every year, there are some reports of satanic rituals and
even animal sacrifices, but most of these stories prove to be fabrications.
Any actual sacrifices are the practices of individuals and smaller extremist
groups, operating outside any larger organization.
- Many Wiccans, modern day
witches, get upset around Halloween because they feel that they are
misrepresented by a few Christian spokesmen and the news media. They want to
separate their religion from the popular notion of witches as evil figures
in league with the devil.
- They say that modern
witchcraft is based on ancient Wiccan and Druid beliefs that had nothing to
do with Satan or other figures from Judeo-Christian theology.
- Wiccans say that their religion is based on a connection to nature
and the universe, not to dark forces and evil spells as the popular idea of
a witch suggests.
- More generally, Halloween is
controversial because some parents think it is an inappropriate, possibly
dangerous holiday for children. In modern society, children are in some
physical danger when they go trick-or-treating because they are walking
around neighborhoods in the dark, accepting candy from strangers. The
frightening imagery surrounding Halloween is also a concern.
- Many parents fear that
monsters and ghosts are too disturbing to children, noting that younger
trick-or-treaters have a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and
reality and may be overwhelmed by people in monster costumes. In recent
years, more and more parents have steered away from trick-or-treating,
taking their children to school or church Halloween parties instead.
Why Do People Love Halloween?
- So now that we know where the
different elements of Halloween come from, the question remains: Why do we
revel in a celebration of death and supernatural forces?
- Two related questions are:
- Why do we enjoy being scared?
- Why do we enjoy dressing up as
- All of these pleasures seem to
be universal human traits, with death-related festivals and costume parades
popping up in many cultures. As human beings, we are acutely aware of our
own mortality and death in general.
- Human cultures are obsessed
with death because we cannot understand it, yet it looms over everything we
do. It is one of the most frightening mysteries we face in life. One way to
feel more comfortable with this unknown realm is to make light of it with a
festival. This brings all of the frightening ideas out in the open, where we
can face them more comfortably, enjoying ourselves with other people instead
of contemplating mortality on our own.
- In addition to working through
uneasiness about death and supernatural mysteries, people like to feel
frightened for purely biological reasons.
- When you watch a scary movie
or take a ride on a roller coaster, your brain triggers a fear response.
Your body releases adrenaline and other hormones that provide extra energy
do deal with the situation.
- When you're actually in
danger, of course, you don't enjoy the feeling of these hormones, you simply
use them to fight, escape or take some other action.
- When the danger is simulated,
though, your mind knows you're actually safe and you enjoy the energy that
the hormones give you. Intentional, contained fear is fun because it
provides a hormone rush and helps you work through your general fears in a
- By dressing up as our fears,
we embrace them even more closely, taking control of them to some extent.
This can be particularly effective with children. They usually don't fear
mortality as much as they do sinister figures like monsters and ghosts.
- Once they've dressed
themselves up as a monster and played that character, they cut through some
of the monster's mystery, making it less ominous.
- Trick-or-treating is not all
about dressing up as frightening figures, of course. Just as often, children
dress as a favorite cartoon
character or an adult figure such as a fireman or astronaut.
- The pleasure in this is the
simple joy of play-acting -- kids look forward to Halloween because they get
to inhabit a character, whether it be a frightening figure or an idolized
superhero. Adults enjoy dressing up for similar reasons, and this is why the
masquerade plays a part in so many festivals from different cultures.
Putting on a mask lets people drop their inhibitions and step outside of
themselves for an evening. People in costumes often say and do things they
probably wouldn't say or do in their everyday life. It's very satisfying to
step into another character for a while, even (or especially) for a
- Halloween seems to serve a
valuable function for many children and adults. It continues to be so
popular because it fills our basic need to address the mysteries that
frighten us, and even celebrate them.
- It is a real testament to the
power of Halloween traditions that they have been passed down and embraced
by so many generations.
- The origins of Halloween go
back as far as 5 B.C..
- The Celtic people who occupied
Europe divided the year into four major holidays. According to their
calendar, the year began on a day that corresponds with November 1st
on our present day calendar.
- The day also marked the
beginning of winter, the time to move the cattle and sheep to a secure
pasture closer to home. It also meant the end of the harvest and a time of
- The festival was called
Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween) meaning the end of summer.
- It was believed that all the people that had died during
the year would pass to the other side on this night.
- To aid in their journey, food
was left out and bonfires were lit. To keep spirits from seeing their homes
the Celts would extinguish the home fires and wear masks while heading for
- They believed the spirits were
afraid of the fires and would pass by. During the celebration many would
also wear costumes and everyone would dance around the fire and feast on
fruits of the harvest.
- At the end of the night each
family would take a torch and light it from the bonfire to light their home
fire for added protection.
- When the missionaries came,
they labeled all the Celtic holidays as evil.
- Church holy days were
purposely set to coincide with native holy days. All Saints Day was assigned
to November 1st ,the day set aside to honor all Christian Saints.
- The Celtics still celebrated
with all Hollows Eve. The thought of the roaming dead was too strong. The
church then devised All Souls Day where the living would pray for the dead.
- The pressure of the Church
pushed followers of the old religion into hiding. Throughout the next
centuries All Hallows Eve was observed in many ways but the old Celtic
traditions never died away.
- American Halloween traditions
were influenced by the flood of immigrants during the second half of the
- These new immigrants,
especially the ones from Ireland, helped popularize the celebration of
Halloween nationally. Taking from the Irish and English traditions,
Americans began to dress in costumes and go house to house asking for food
or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick or
- In the late 1800's there was a
move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and
neighborhood "get-togethers," than about the supernatural.
- At the turn of the century,
Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to
- In the 1920's and 30's
Halloween became a secular but community centered holiday which was
celebrated with parades and town wide parties.
- By the 1950's vandalism had to
be brought under control and by this time Halloween was more of a child's
celebration. Treats were handed out in order to prevent tricks like lawn
rolling at each home.
- Those traditions have made
Halloween the country's second largest commercial holiday to the tune of
more than $2 billion spent on candy each year.
- Today, Halloween is once again
being celebrated as an adult holiday or masquerade, like Mardi Gras. Men and
women in every disguise imaginable are now participating in parades. Many
parents decorate their homes and yards, dress in costume, hand out candy at
their door or go with their children as they collect candy.
135-9 New World
Religions/ Mesoamerica & North America
- Common to all NW religious
traditions is a concern with the question of human origins and rituals
designed to ensure the reliability of agricultural based food supplies.
- Creation/Emergence Stories are
a common feature particularly among the City-state cultures.
- Often the elite linked
themselves with the deities, which solidified and justified their special
social position. (Exceptions would be the religious traditions at
Teotihaucan and Chaco Canyon.
- In some cases the elite were
able to shift from “friends of the gods” to living deities.
- The concept of sacred time
cycles and ritual is seen in the city-states.
- Groups such as the Maya and
Aztec created complex recording technologies that involved hieroglyphic
writing and calendars systems based on astronomical observations of the sun,
moon, and Venus.
- Linked with the concept of
time was the concept of human sacrifices (offerings) to ensure the
continuity of time, life and fertility.
- Temple construction: La Venta,
Tikal, Copan, Tenochtitlan, Cahokia (Man-made mountains) Linked to political
- City- state: Pop over 5k
supported by agricultural economy, Discrete territory governed by elite, and
state system of government.
oldest Mesoamerica. Civilization (People of the rubber country).
- Tenochtitlan is oldest Olmec
city (1200 – 900 BCE) in modern Mex. State of Vera Cruz
- Colossal stone heads, 3 tons,
and3 meters high.
600 BCE Tikal: pyramids, ball courts, blood offerings
125,000- 2000,000 pop. Valley of Mexico (Place of the Gods) Temples of Sun and
Moon, two levels of religion, state and household.
Several Deities, many appropriated from neighboring , conquered groups.
Like Maya religion, involved offering of blood. Related to Aztec creation story:
Lord and Lady
Duality produced 4 sons each associated with a specific color and direction….a
vegetation diety /red, a omnipotent diety /Jaguar & black, Windstorms,
rain/white, and War/blue, they create lessor gods, humans a calendar,
underworld, heavens, water, fire, earth. After
creation 5 “suns” transpire. An “age” is brought to a close by a battle
between the 4 sons, Aztec believed they were created during the 5th
sun, when a god brought back bones and ashes of people killed during the 4th
sun. Aztec are created from these remains , plus the blood of the god that
retrieved them. Humans must repay this “blood debt”
(850 –1130 CE), 13 large towns linked by 250 miles of roads in modern Arizona
Pueblo Bonita was largest (500 rooms and many smaller Kivas and a grand Kiva
(55” in diameter) Ancestors of modern Hopi/Zuni
Cultures: A fortified site in Mississippi Valley (1000- 1450 CE) Cahokia is
largest Pop est. at 50k covered 5 square
miles. Mounds created in phases over 300 years. Woodhenge observatories rebuilt
every 100 years: focused on ancestor worship and fertility, capture and rebirth
of sun, revitalization and rebirth. Natchez are modern descendents.
Rituals open to the whole community or large segments
rituals focus on a particular individual, i.e. initiation or healing;
characteristic is a focus on concerns of the whole community. For example
the food supply
most regions, the food supply may vary with the seasons, or reproductive
cycle of the food source (plant and animal)
most festivals are timed to an annual cycle; (calendrical ceremonies) though
the calendar may be based on plant/animal cycles rather than one based on
:(Many groups rely on the salmon as a source of protein and eat fish for many
months. (caught in the ocean, rivers and dried)
For most NW tribes the year was
divided into 2 parts (Bella Coola metaphor: For 9 months the canoe of the salmon
was in the Bella Coola country.) When it departed another canoe bringing the
winter ceremony arrived and remained for 4 months.
Appearance of first Salmon marked
by the First Salmon Ceremony (distinguished by addressing needs of the entire
community rather than an individual)
This ceremony was directed at
ensuring the supply of an essential food for the entire community
Ceremony based on view that the
salmon willed themselves to be caught, were potentially immortal, and must be
treated in such a manner to ensure they would cooperate in being available in
These basic elements were a
constant but particulars varied from one group to another.
For example some groups emphasized
taboos to ensure the fish was not offended – any person who was
ritually “unclean” was to stay away from the ceremony.
Usually these taboos were
strengthened by myth, such as telling how Coyote, long ago established the rules
for the ceremony.
Sometime practical acts were
emphasized – hear to first salmon caught was buried to make sure dogs didn’t
desecrate it by eating it – or bones and heart were returned to the water to
encourage reincarnation – Addressing the salmon by honorific titles when
thanking it for giving its life for the people.
For some tribes this ceremony
marked the beginning of a “new Year” and was part “world Renewal”, a
common feature of many Native American groups. That is, renewing a productive
relationship with the natural world.
To that end they were built around
recall of the life of the spirits that had preceded humankind and after whom
humans had patterned their lives.
In that manner the tribal economy
was linked with the traditional cosmic view.
horticulturalist had ceremonies of similar significance – An 8 day ceremony
timed to mark the ripening of corn, fire was newly made, people took purgative
emetics, fasted, for bodily renewal, followed by feasting.
135-10 Creek cont.
Preceded by “stomp dances” and
a feast celebrating the renewal of love and friendship.
Participation was considered a
Incredible longevity and perseverance after 450 year of contact with Spanish and
Explicit function was to control
sprits responsible for weather and growing season, and therefore crop yield.
This increased public confidence in
getting a good harvest.
The festivals also involved a large
accumulation of food, which was redistributed ceremonially. (leveling mechanism)
: Held in winter, not because they relate to activities of that season, but
because they require an accumulation of food and other goods, that can be
accumulated only after a period of maximum economic productivity.
(Rayond Firth 1928) At heart of
Tikopian religion were 2 sets of calendrical ceremonies: one held in the
period of trade and the other in the period of the monsoon.
set lasted more than a month and the entire body of ceremonies were known as
“The Work of the Gods”
described the ceremonies as a formal, traditionalized means of maintaining
contact with spiritual beings and inducing them to grant the people food and
were seen as having a reciprocal relationship with certain clan and lineage
leaders and their benefits spread to the community.
spirits had to be treated cautiously and with great respect, and deference,
presentation of gifts using magic and honors not known to regular people.
main component of the Work Of the Gods ritual involved kava, a drink
prepared from a root with mild narcotic (psychotropic) properties. M
Kava ritual involved preparation by a Chief acting as a Priest, and
dispensing by an elder. Usually few actually would drink the kava as it was
pour out as an offering to the spirits.
was a means of communication between the Chief and the spirits. When the
human participants did drink the kava the altered state of consciousness was
thought to facilitate the communication.
Chief was communicating (praying) on behalf of the community and the focus
of the prayer was the work day( repair of canoes, nets, etc.) and the other
was focused on yam cultivation.
in the ceremonies would strengthen the ties and traditions that existed
among the lineages.
the ceremonies involved the accumulation and distribution of food, often in
quantities that allowed the participants to take some home.
exchange is also a common element among Polynesia/Melanseian communities as
well. Economic and Spiritual balance among neighboring communities was
Islands: Practiced yam exchange among
kinsmen using magic procedure intertwined with the practical work of every
day of garden
135-10 OCEANIA cont.
cultivation, and harvest cycle. Among the Trobrianders the yam exchange
festivals were not communal banquets, but rather a ritual giving of food for
storage. Some food was set out for consumption by the spirits, shoes
participation at the time of the harvest was crucial.
Voyages made famous by the work of Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western
Kula is an exchange system in which men from one island trade two kinds of
valued objects: shell armbands and necklaces.
they travel to neighboring islands in a clockwise direction they receive
necklaces, when they travel in a counter clockwise direction they receive
armbands. This is accomplished through a network of individual trading
partners on the different islands. The items are received as a gift and must
be eventually passed on to another partner in the appropriate direction.
kula object has a pedigree of sorts and is the object of much speculation
and a source of varying prestige.
kula voyages are also an opportunity for practical trade as well and link
distant islands in a economic network.
kula expedition may be seen as one long continuing communal ceremony. Ritual
and magic mark each stage:
the tree to make a canoe, planning the voyage, loading the canoe, the sea
voyage, on the approach there is beauty magic and magic employed to make the
kula partner generous in the exchanges, and finally safety magic to protect
the voyagers from attack by flying witches sent from other villages.
- African religions are less
dominated by economic concerns than social relations.
- Before European contact the
herding and agricultural economies may have given Africans a greater
sense of control over the source of food than the simpler
horticultural and foraging pursuits of
the other regions we have covered. (Also greater population density and
- This may have promoted more
rivalry and interpersonal frustrations that seen in smaller communities
- The Yako of eastern Nigeria:
Ceremonies organized around the calendar of food –production.
- Live in villages of 1,000 and
10,000 pop. Each with separate ceremonial life defined by the horticultural
- 3 annual periods of ceremony
in most Yako villages: one is around planting time at the beginning of the
rainy season (January) , the second is the First Fruits Ceremony (July),
and the third is in mid November – Harvest Rites.
- Yako Society is divided up
along kinship lines, prestige and status, sex (female/male), & religious
functions. Each group has a defined role in the First Fruits ceremonies, and
group participation is stressed.
- Net effect is to inculcate the
value of harmony and solidarity within the village and integrate each group
into the community organization as a whole.
- Tellensi of Ghana:
other African ceremonies stress reduction of inter-group rivalry and
hostility ( clans and lineages)
- Nayakyusa of Tanzania:
One ceremony that happens at 30 year intervals is a “coming out”
- The Nayakyusa society is
organized into Chiefdoms, each enveloping a number of villages. Each village
is divided into age segments rather than family or clan. Each has a village
headman with considerable authority, who is appointed.
- The overall Chief is
hereditary and the ceremony in
question takes place to mark a transfer in power at this level.
- The Coming Out ceremony begins
with the new chief’s ending a period of seclusion , and is marked by group
feasting and dancing and the naming of the new chief by the old one. There
are also mock food seizing raids on other villages of other tribes and the
old chief’s village.
- Conspicuous religious elements
include ritual for increasing the power of the chief.
- Trees are planted and the
health of these trees over the years is indicative of the status of the
relationship between neighboring villages.
- Old fires are extinguished and
new fire is made and distributed to each household.
- Each Chief marries two new
wives who will now be the principal wives regardless of his previous marriages.
- This is a renewal and
rebuilding ceremony in which entire villages participate.
- For many societies around the
world, festivals are major markers on the calendar.
- They are events that absorb
the attention and effort at particular periods of the year, and are prepared
for in other parts of the calendar cycle.
- They are often related to the
economic cycle – fitted in when the pressures of food getting permit,
celebrating the success of the food quest in providing security in times
ahead, and seeking support for future successes.
- They are often accompanied by
food exchange within the community which act as a leveling devise and when
other communities are involved it broadens the availability of resources.
- The sense of mystical support
for these activities strengthens the peaceful interaction both within and
without the community.
- LoDagga Funeral speech. (NW
Ghana, mixed economy of horticulture , herding, foraging)
- Illustrates many aspect of
LoDagga funerary customs, Most of which , not in concrete detail, are shared
with most societies around the world.
- Death poses 3 problems that
are more or less universal regardless of religion, but whose resolution are
related to religion:
- What to do with the body of
the deceased. Sometimes dealt with independently of religion.
- Some nomads just abandon it,
sometimes with ceremony , others not.
- For most societies mode of
disposition of the body is associated with religious practice, but may
be influenced by practical issues (burial in frozen soil), but religious
practice may be conspicuous
Deceased no longer available for customary interaction with
others. Life connections are severed. A gap is created in the life of the
Grief appears as a response in most
societies, even specific expressions are near universal. i.e.: Crying occasioned
Problem is how to work through it and
resume some normality in the face of a loss.
Some responses are to remove physical
items that were associated with deceased, move away from scene of death, no
longer speaking the deceased name
Responses are often viewed in light of
- Explaining the death: there
may be competing explanations, may dictate competing responses revenge,
prayer, improved sanitation.
Though the problem may not have been
created by religion , it is often solved by religious means.
Even in our scientific world (medicine),
people ask “Why my family?”
- Belief in some kind of
afterlife is almost universal and poses the problems of what actions are
the living to take in relation to the surviving spirit of the deceased?
- Speech of LoDagga youth
illustrates this problem and how it is solved by that particular
culture. (1. Body is about to be buried,(2. recognition of the severing
of the friendship, ritual invitation for a new friend to take old
one’s place by taking the offerings of beer and fowl brought to the
deceased, if not he will be left in grief, (3. two explanations of the
friends death are considered, on in which he is to blame, or others. (4.
If the later is correct then the arrow may be used to avenge himself.
- Most of the speech is
concerned with the afterlife. In the end the bereaved acknowledges that
the friend may be irreplaceable and he will be left in grief.
Survival of the
Almost every society holds beliefs that
some part of the person survives beyond bodily death.
Definite statements that the belief is
absent are rare. (Hadza of Tanzania are explicit is stating when a person
dies the body just rots and that is that!; Baka of the Ituri say that
when you’re dead, you’re dead…the idea of an afterlife seems to have been
introduced by missionaries; Dinka of Sudan view death as dreadful end mitigated
only by the immortality of procreation.
Exactly what survives is thought of in
We’ll use the word SOUL but caution that
it does not thought of or defined in the
same way everywhere. In fact many languages do not have a word to express the
We’ll use it in its most general sense:
any non-bodily part ascribed to a person. (SPIRIT is a useful term.
Frequently, a single soul is considered
intrinsic to each person, it may be analogous to breath or a person’s shadow
or to the body itself (though invisible).
Many societies have a more complex view,
assigning more than one soul to a person, of which one or more survive beyond
death. DOGON of Mali: 8 souls, 4 relate to the body and 4 to sexuality
and reproduction. Only the reproduction souls
become enshrined as sprits, 2 of the sex-linked souls become ancestors
and are important to the continuation of the lineage
The RARAMURI of Mexico: One principal soul
and many smaller souls, with at least one located in each part of the body that
Lugbara of E. Africa: only males have a
soul that pertains to the continuation of the lineage.
Variations are found all over the world.
belief in Survival of the Soul:
Speculation as to the origin of such an
idea is not scientifically tested so has been abandoned.
However, one answer that has been tested
through fieldwork in a traditional society is that belief in the survival of the
soul is supported by the training of children, adolescents and even adults by
their peers and elders. (Enculturation)
In our society, Clergy, scriptures, etc.
promotes this. Polls show that vast majority of the public accept the idea of an
afterlife, suggests the power of parents and peers in implanting and sustaining
such a belief. ( A US senator once announced that Eleanor Roosevelt was unfit to
represent the country because she expressed uncertainty in a personal afterlife.
Can we find a similar process in
non-literate society? Kwoma of New Guinea: fear of dead relatives
(ghosts). Children observe this fear in adults, are threatened with action of
ghosts i.e. nocturnal sounds of animals are explained as ghosts on the prowl.
Other major kinds of major experiences
support this belief:
about a person who is dead may be taken as a contact with the deceased
itself offers impressive evidence (in a non-scientific setting) for the reality
of the soul and its independence from the body. (dream travel)
behavior may be explained by spirit possession (malevolent ghosts)
by bereaved to cues to which he/she responded to in company of deceased prior to
death may evoke a sense of the presence of the deceased as it did in the past.
will have left survivors with unfinished activities that had been planed for
and can creat in the living
a motive for fantasying the presence of the deceased for carrying out the
Character of the
No abundant evidence that the idea of
immortality of the soul is widespread among native peoples. Often the idea was
projected by westerners own ideas of life eternal.
field work indicates that the ideas pertain only to the continuity of life on
both sides of death rather than a conception of everlasting life.
Survival of the soul beyond bodily death
is no guarantee of longevity of the soul.
Isl., Soul first becomes a wanderer, then a sea slug, Zuni, Amer. SW,
Souls must die 3 deaths in the afterlife then becomes an animal for which it had
an affinity for in life, Kraho, Brazil, soul dies several times after
death and each time becomes a smaller and smaller animal, and ends as a stone, a
root, or tree stump.
Afterlife is often conceived in relation
to the personal interests and memory of the living rather than as an abstract
There does not seem to be any universality
to the character of the afterlife, though such a belief is found in every
Often based on an extension of normal
life, in hunting societies, the spirits hunt, in agricultural societies they
cultivate, they continue familiar activities and pursuits, familiar social
interactions. Often there is little gap or bride seen between the natural and
supernatural world. Not always seen in terms of punishment and reward, sometimes
seen as having temporal stages in which the character changes.
Rites/Becoming an Ancestor:
- One tendency of these rites
around the world is that they are multiple, that is, on e set of rites are
performed shortly after death, and
another set later, sometimes months or years after the first.
- Where there is this duality,
often a time delay is required in that time is needed for the body to
decompose sufficiently for the flesh to be cleaned from the bones.
- This may mirror the time
needed for the soul to undergo a cleaning phase, and for the survivors to
work through their grief and adjusting to the practical consequences of
their loss before they are ready for a final farewell to the deceased.
- The initial rites, regardless
of subsequent rites, are generally built around the disposition of the body.
- Burial is most common, but
other practices abound
- Exposure to the elements is
one, dressed and displayed
- Packed in a jar
- Treated in a manner of fear
and avoidance and disposed of with finality
- Portions eaten by relatives or
bones kept and displayed as reminders
- Treatment may be different
according to the persons age , sex , status or circumstance of death.
- Men buried on Right side/women
- In most societies, the initial
ceremony brings together the deceased persons immediate family, and perhaps
other relatives and friends. It may be one of the few occasions in which the
members of an important social group come together
- They serve to not only
recognize the diminution of social ties by death , but also to renew other
social ties and reinforce the basic social structure of society
- Emotions appropriate to the
occasion may be expressed
- Brings people together to
address a common threat, provide reassurance in the face of uncertainty, to
promote positive interaction of the group, mutual solace of grief and fear
- There may also be the
undercurrent of fear and hostility associated with blame on why the death
- The LoDagga youth speculates
on why his friend had died and speculates on the reason. Sometimes the
initial ceremony is the appropriate place for such an inquiry to be
initiated, with follow up at a later time.
- Death may be seen a polluting
the livinfg and the ceremony may focus on removing the pollution of the
- The final ceremony or series
of culminating ceremonies may be seen as a clear transition for soul, the
body of the deceased and the survivors.
- It may be timed for the most
convenient part of the economic year or cycle because the participants are
numerous, far-flung and ceremonies may be lengthy. It may be collective and
communal recognizing all the deceased from a certain period of time.
- May involve a reburial of
re-disposition of the remains from the initial deposition
- For the survivors the final
ceremony usually marks the end of mourning, taboos
may be lifted, a period of danger is over, and realistic implications
recognized, such as the disposition of property and redistribution of
privileges and responsibilities
- A standard belief in many
societies and in some, and integral part of the life cycle
Is., Spirits play a vital role in conception by entering the womb of women
of the same sub-clan and village as a spirit embryo. Aranda of Australia,
also see spirits playing a major role in procreation, however not the
spirit of a deceased person but of a mythical ancestral spirit associated
with the dwelling place other location of
where the woman is at
the time of reincarnation.
of Tanzania, picture life and death as alternating periods…death is seen
as a strengthening period for the spirits
- The belief that a person has
one or more souls that survive bodily death apparently occurs everywhere
- A number of more or less
universal experiences seem to reinforce the belief
- Concepts of the Afterlife
vary, but generally have in common the idea that they are based on the
present life of the society
- Death occasions ceremonies,
usually in sequence of 2 or more for each person, in many societies. These
are diverse in detail but have almost uniform basic functions:
- To dispose of the body of the
deceased in a manner feasible in the physical setting and appropriate to the
societies belief system.
- To help the survivors adjust
emotionally to their loss.
- To facilitate any replacement
that may be dictated by the kinship customs of the society.
- To renew commitment to the
established patterns of relation among kin, neighbors, and community.
- To recognize the new status of
the deceased person as a spirit
- To relate to the spirit in
whatever ways customs may dictate: protect from its attack, aid it on its
way in the afterlife.