Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism

Being one of the oldest religions, Zoroastrianism was believed to have been founded over 3000 years ago in Iran by the Prophet Zoroaster and at one stage was arguably the strongest religion to exist. However, modern religions have far surpassed all ancient religions with recent reports indicating that followers of Zoroastrianism number fewer than 200,000. A sad state of affairs if you take a strong interest in the strength and survivability of ancient religions.

As with most monotheistic ancient religions, they each believe that their one true God created the world and with Zoroastrianism, the God Ahura Mazda, translating as ‘Wise Lord’, was their creator. Interestingly, the founder Zoroaster was born into a culture that worshipped polytheism (more than one god), living under a religion that was very similar to the grass root form of Hinduism. He rejected the religion he was brought up with and instead witnessed a divine vision of God during a purification rite, changing his view and opening up his eyes to a new world where only one god ruled.

These beliefs took time to take hold and at first followers were rather rare, however in time they did come. Perhaps it was due to the belief of Dualism, that good and evil existed? This was a common theme amongst ancient religions however there were some that renounced evil and swore that its existence was preposterous. Some accepted dualism, however in time there became a divide as to whether it existed in Cosmic or Moral form, Cosmic dualism being the belief of opposing forces in the universe as a whole and Moral Duality believing that good and evil only existed in the mind. Whether Duality existed or not, Zoroastrianism mainly centered around ‘good’ through thoughts, words and deeds, basing their lives on the following matra:

‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds’

Naturally their focus is on family and the community around them with nearly all worship taking place in the family home. From the age of seven, the children are given a sacred shirt and a sacred piece of cord, wrapping the cord around the shirt three times, mirroring the 3 mantras and symbolizing their journey into the Zoroastrian faith. Through adulthood, all members strive to improve their surroundings through hard work and donations to charities, pushing for educational excellence and social changes for the better – a true credit to modern society where we too often than not see destruction and social collapse.

It is thought that the religion’s success is partly due to the way in which worship and rituals are carried out, neither of which being forced on their members as to how each of these are carrried out. Traditionally, prayers are carried out throughout the day with a washing ritual occurring beforehand, however this is not mandatory, it is totally up to the individual but it is more common than not, becoming the epicenter of their praying process.

Marriage rituals hold a similar structure to traditional modern ways and beliefs, for instance upon marriage a contract is signed, much like the modern marriage certificate. A scarf is held over the couple’s hands, again this is still seen in modern ceremonies, however the Zoroastrian way of the rubbing together of crystallized sugar cones is not. Then follows feasts and celebrations which last much longer than modern beliefs, with the ancient way lasting several days.

Death rituals on the other hand do not bear as much of a likeness, with their dead being laid on a ‘Tower of Silence’ so as to be fully exposed to the sun’s rays and eaten by birds, with the now impure body able to be destroyed. This is due to their belief that the body has now been taken by Angra Mainyu, who is considered to be evil in their religion, and so contaminating the four elements is considered sacrilege. Western cultures often opt for cremation if the ancient burial method is not ideal.

Tengriism

Tengriism

History of Tengriism

Tengriism is an ancient religion that mainly stems from Central Asia and is thought to be one of the most ancient religions that has graced the planet. Incorporating elements of Animism, Shamanism, Totemism and Ancestor Worship, it was the main belief of the Turkic race, which comprised of the Hungarians, Siberians, Mongols, Huns and Xiongu.

Tengriism is a monotheistic religion in that followers in one god only, who is Tengri (also known as Tangra, Tangri, Tanri depending on whcih scripts you read and which country you reside in) who was thought to be the God of the Sky, so naturally Tengriists are known for their worship of the sky. This is backed up by a couple of points to note that Mongolians to this very day still worship Munkh Khukh Tengri which stands for “Eternal Blue Sky” and in modern day Turkey, Tengriism is known as the Gok Tanri religion, translating as Sky God religion.

One of the few passive religions still in existence, it is not widely followed across the globe and remains centred around Central Asia, still being practiced in countries such as Mongolia, Turkey and Kazakhstan. It differs from most religions in the sense that there is no existence of preaching and recruitment of followers to join the religion. Instead, Tengriists follow a more ‘laissez-faire’ approach, allowing the religion to grow and change over time and with its followers.

Modern Tengriism

There are those, however, who strongly believe that Tengriism should be followed more commonly and are looking spread the good word among local populaces, to ensure that the religion’s roots of the Turkic race are withheld. Such individuals include Krygyz politicians, notably Dastan Sarygulov who is the current Secretary of State in Kyrgyzstan and who runs an International Scientific Center of Tengriist Studies in the hope of unifying the Turkic people once more under a common belief.

Traditional Beliefs

Tengriism, as mentioned, worships the sky, however followers also have huge respect for the environment in general, for example if a member defiles water, they are immediately condemned since their belief is that water is a gift from Tengri and that they should live in harmony with the environment.

They believe that their existence is allowed and sustained by Tengri, the fertile Mother Earth, spirit Eje and the Holy Spirit of the Sky. Together they provide every need and protection a human could ever desire and by those humans respecting Tendri and their world, balance and power will remain in existence and nothing will go wrong.

The Universe

As with most religions, they differ in their belief of how the universe was created and Tengriism is no exception to this ruling, however there are two main theories that exist in Tengriism of the creation.

The first belief is that their god, Tengri, created a companion called Kishi, who had higher aspirations than Tengri. Kishi became arrogant and fell deep into the sea and called upon his creator, Tengri, for assistance. Tengri obliged by forcing great volumes of earth to rise from the sea through which the Cosmic Tree grew which allowed lesser gods and the inhabitants of the world to exist. It is thought that Yer, the Earth Spirit, existed in harmony with Tengri and together they created man, Yer granting materiality and Tengri granting the soul, but taking it away again upon death.

The other belief is that Tengri is a pure white goose that flies over and endless expanse of water, representing time. Below Tendri and beneath the water lies Ak Akna, also known as White Mother, who calls out to Tendri for him to create something and in his loneliness Tendri creates Er Kishi, a companion. Er Kishi and Tendri together create the world, however Er Kishi has bad intentions and intends to draw the darkness out of people. As a result, Tengri positions himself in heaven in an attempt to guide the people of the world by creating sacred animals that he sends down to live among them.

Deities

There are many deities, however the ones discussed below are thought to be the main ones worth mentioning…

Tengri is obviously the main deity and is married to Mother Earth. They sent their sons, the Gokturk Khans to rule there and were granted the Kut, the mighty spirit to aid in their ruling. Tengri controls the celestial sphere and is the creator of all.

Yer-Sub (Land Water) resides on the Khangan Plato (also known as the Lanshan mountain in Mongolia) and is despicted as a voluptuous and beautiful woman. Nature and all living beings are beneath her and she is highly regarded as the next important deity to Tengri. Yer-Sub had the ability to punish people for their misdemeanours through natural disasters.

Umai also obeyed Tengri and lived in the skies, radiating down to man and lived in him as a spark, providing energy and force. Once this spark depletes, so does the person, resulting in old age. She became to only be thought of as a protector of pregnant women once the Turkic states migrated. The thought is that she is present at the birth of a child to ensure that evil spirits are kept at bay and both baby and mother remain healthy.

The Earth Mother can only be controlled by Tengri, being his wife and mother to his children. She controls crops and is a force of nature, with mortals being the offspring of the combination of Earth and Tendri.

The Water Goddess is believed to be The Earth Mother’s older sister and is greatly respected, being the entrance to another realm. Without her existence, life isn’t possible and all things living depend on her.

The Sun God, Koyash is the son of Tengri and the Earth Mother. He is worshipped every morning by Tengriists, bowing to his power and vital force, his rays transmitting Tengri into infants.

The Fire God, Koyash is the grandson of Tengri and is associated with life in general, growing and warming humans, coloring the earth and acting as a healer.

 

Ancient Druidism – Is It Really What We Believe It To Be?

druid-stonehenge

Most of us picture Druids as old grey-haired men with long pointy beards, green head-to-toe cloaks with big pointy hats who seem to float around the countryside picking herbs and wild flowers, chanting and singing. How wrong we are!

History

The first known talk of Druids and Druidism seems to be born out of the time of Julius Ceasar’s reign in 50 BCE, although some believe that the ancient religion originated from Asia. Stronger beliefs claim that Druidism originated from Celtic tribes out of Ireland, particularly when humans used to live under the night, much closer to nature than they do in modern times. Although considered a religion, Druidism took a different stance in comparison to orthodox religious beliefs and for that reason was labeled as a Pagan religion.

Beliefs

It is believed that there were differing forms of Druidism, with some believing in a one-true God, others in that god existed in all things, but none believing in the concept of Heaven and Hell, most likely due to their Pagan roots. They did, however, believe in the idea that once a human passed away, their soul would be reincarnated into another form and as such were not afraid of death. Either way, Druidism has several core beliefs:

  1. Reincarnation – the thought here is that a human’s soul went to The Otherworld between bodies with the possibility of moving from human body to animal – this belief is also held by the Modern Druids.
  2. All Life is Sacred – the divinity of all life whereby humans, animals and plants are equal.
  3. Nature – it is common knowledge that Druids are close to nature, embracing its energy and power to reconnect with all things living.
  4. Healing – holistic practices are carried out by Druids to heal and cleanse the mind, body and soul.
  5. Otherworld – a place believed that we travel to after death. There are beliefs that the Otherworld can be visited when alive through meditation, hypnosis and chanting.

 

Rituals

Druids are famously known for their sacrificing of animals, however they also practiced human sacrifice, normally for the punishment of criminals but also to appease the Gods, whether it by drowning, hanging or even burning, whether the victim was a guilty party or not.

The Druid Year

Less commonly known is how the Druids divide their calendar year, much different to how we understand a normal year to be made up of seasons. The Druid year is divided into equal lunar and solar eighths, creating a balance of masculine and feminine factors. It is the solar times that we normally associate with Druids, particularly the Summer Solstice and Stonehenge. In contrast, Equinoxes see that day and night are equal and balanced, the sun not dominating any more. The Spring Equinox sees that the power of the sun is on the increase whereas the Autumnal Equinox examples the power of the sun being on the decline again in preparation for the darkness of Winter.

The Ancient Jainism Religion

Ancient Jainism temple

Photo by 4ocima

Unlike most well-known religions, the Jainism religion is a belief in the universe as a whole, rather than a God or a supreme being. Jainism holds concern for all living essences in the universe in their entirety rather than a niche selection. Through this angle, they believe they will achieve liberation and a life of bliss. The majority of Jains are believed to exist in India, some 4.2 million last being recorded.

Beliefs

One of the strongest beliefs, aside from that mentioned above is that as well as humans, plants and all animals have a living soul contained within them, all of which are considered equal with no hierarchy existing and compassion and respect should be commanded across all living things. With this in mind, Jains are extremely strict vegetarians and take great pride in prioritizing the sustainability of the earth in order to survive.

Jains class the universe as being comprised of two things and two things only, Jivas (Living Souls) and Ajivas (non-living objects). Neither Jivas nor Ajivas are ever destroyed, they merely shape and change between forms. The universe containing these two classes of entities has always existed and will never disappear (unlike those who believe that the universe may one day cease to exist when the sun explodes), nor was it created by a supreme being, yet consists of a complex structure:

  • The Supreme Abode – this is where liberated beings live forever.
  • The Upper World – this is where celestial beings live
  • The Middle World – this is where humans live
  • The Lower World – this is essentially hell, where beings are constantly tormented by demons
  • The Base – this is where the lowest forms of life live

Constitution is an important feature to the Jainism religion with the belief existing that everything falls in to one of 6 simple categories of substance:

  • Jiva (soul) – Jivas are eternal and are made up of a form of energy and do not have a physical form
  • Dharma – the medium of motion.
  • Adharma – the medium of non-motion.
  • Pudgala – the source of physical matter
  • Akasa – space, which extends beyond the known universe
  • Kala – this is the substance of time and it should be noted that not all Jains consider Kala to be a valid substance.

The universe is thought to change and fluctuate as the substances interact and together the last 5 categories mentioned above provide the structure for the Soul (Jiva) to exist in.

Reincarnation and the Soul

The Jain belief of liberation takes shape in reincarnation, believing that the soul can live on forever in complete bliss rather than the more traditional view of birth, death and rebirth. The ideal success to achieving this is by eliminating all karma from the soul, whether good or bad. It is thought that when any individual being passes away, the soul contained moves instantly on to the next living body, whether human, animal or plant. At this very point in time, the soul’s quality of life in its new form is determined by its karma, as it is by the mental state of the being at the time of passing.

This soul will continue to pass on forever, being totally independent from any other soul that exists and taking its own responsibility for its actions. If bad actions are taken, it is the soul who lives with these choices forever, not the entity that it currently possesses.

Gods and Practice

Jainism varies from more classical religions such as Christianity since Jains do not believe in gods or spiritual beings that exist to watch over, guide or control the universe or living souls. Instead, Jainism is a self-help religion with the belief that it is up to the living soul to make its own decision and path through guidance and help from other living souls. This is aided by their ‘three jewels’ principles:

  • Right Belief
  • Right Knowledge
  • Right Conduct

They are the focus and way of life for all Jains, being backed up what is known as ‘Five Mahavratas’:

  • Non-violence
  • Non-attachment to possessions
  • Not lying
  • Not stealing
  • Sexual restraint

Despite the belief of no one-true God, the Jainism history books (Agamas) do hold a belief that the religion has been shaped by a man called Mahavira, with those who practice the religion professionally being classed as monks and nuns, operating in one of two sects:

  • Svetambara
  • Digambara

The monks and nuns live a hard life without their own possessions and no direct family, spending their day in mediation or study in small groups of five or six, eating only between sunrise and sunset, with food provided to them by the local inhabitants.

Whether a Jain is classed as a monk, nun or lay, they all believe that the only way to keep their soul pure is to protect every other soul and practice Ahimsa (non-violence). This is such a strict belief that monks and nuns whilst sweeping the streets will do so incredibly gently so as not to cause harm to bugs and insects on the ground. They also wear cloths over their mouths so as not to swallow flies or other flying objects, and drastically, they are not allowed to show self-defense if attacked, even if the result is to be death. Lay Jains do not have such a strict adherence to Ahimsa, so instead follow the belief of avoiding intentional harm. If harm is caused as part of employment, self-defense or normal domestic life and is unavoidable, then forgiveness is granted. This does mean, still, that Jains are unable to practice as butchers, anglers, wine-merchants etc and have to be vegetarian.

The Ancient Asatru Religion

norse gods

The Ancient Asatru Religion

Origins

Even though the Asatru religion has existed since before the dawn of Christianity, it isn’t one of the most known religions that exists. Thought to be born out of Northern Europe, Asatru translates strictly as ‘belief in Gods’ in the old Norse language. History books do mention other religions around the time before Christianity became prevalent; however, one of the most popular was that of Asatru. Powerful and well-inhabited Northern European Countries such as England, Germany, France and of course Scandinavia adopted the Asatru religion quite strongly some 40,000 years ago, existing prior to religions such as Islam and Buddhism as well.

Beliefs

Asatru is very much a spiritual religion, which makes sense if you consider the beliefs of the ancient Norse warriors, how they believed they would walk in the afterlife, drinking alcohol and almost permanently enjoying themselves by gorging on luxurious feasts. The Asatru people believe in a divine energy, which we do not understand, see or get to feel but know that it exists. It is possible that we, as humans, have the ability to affect this energy or essence, and it in turn has an impact on our lives.  Asatru differs, therefore, from many modern religions that simply believe in a one true god, whereas furthermore, the Asatru religion is centered on Gods and Goddesses being expressed as representatives of the all-important essence. The ancient myths that stem and are recorded through time from the Norse tell tales of such Gods and Goddesses existing among humans, which is where the basis of the modern Asatru religion holds its core foundation on.

Worship

Interestingly, although the Asatru followers do pray to their Gods and Goddesses, it is in a different sense as to that of Christianity or Islam, again setting themselves far different to the more popular modern religions. They do not believe themselves to be slaves, pawns or vessels of the original Gods of their religion. They do possess formal rites and rituals but carry them out in a manner that does not belittle themselves as to be inferior or of a lower standing to their leaders, although they obviously honor them and hold them in a very high standing.

Since the Asatru belief is that their Gods are their ancestors, they are incredibly honorable when worshiping, showing respect and great admiration for the ancients. However, they do not directly worship their ancestors but carry out their daily lives in their honor with the thought that their ancestors have passed down spiritual qualities. With this in mind, the Asatru people believe they should carry themselves with respect and dignity in their communities in honor of their ancestors.

Although the Asatru religion appears to be somewhat lax compared to other religions, they do have certain qualities, which they value intensely, always striving to excel in the ones they view as being positive, such as:

  • Honor
  • Freedom
  • Joy
  • Vigor
  • Realism
  • Courage
  • Loyalty
  • Revering of Ancestors

On the other hand, vices such as

  • Cowardice
  • Weakness
  • Adherence to dogma

are to be avoided at all costs and any sign of the above is seen as a weakness in itself and a direct threat to their spiritual beliefs and a let down to their ancestors.

Afterlife

As in most religious beliefs, Asatru beliefs hold a place in the afterlife (Valhalla), however to reach this glorious existence after what we believe to be reality, one must live a life full of virtue and excellence, striving and possessing the positive characteristics mentioned above. Those who have failed in this existence and who have leaned towards the vices will be removed from their kin and will be forever doomed into gloom.

Although the belief in the afterlife does exist, those who follow the Asatru religion live in the now and fulfill their lives as they currently exist rather than looking to the future and securing a happy place in the afterlife. They value their belief that if they live a virtuous life, they will pass on these qualities to their descendants, allowing them to also fulfill a life of positivity, virtue and happiness.

Further Differences to Other Religions

Asatru does not have a written book as such which documents their beliefs, teachings and history as does the Bible or the Koran, for example. They believe that such a document can’t be exactly true since the historic stories and myths are liable to be tainted and distorted through time. They do hold their own myths close to their hearts, though, for instance they do believe in the God, Thor, however they do not believe him to be a big, strong, muscular warrior as depicted by modern times. There is also a strong thought that any religions which slightly contradict each other are deceiving their followers, for example the varying religions that exist in the Middle East.

It can be said that the Asatru belief is of more than one universe, in fact two. One universe exists around us, as we know in modern times and has been created by their divine essence, being one source of holy truth. The other holy truth and other universe is the one that exists inside us which again has been passed down by ancestors, with the spiritual connection being a much more complete and robust connection to history than any written document. This does leave the question of how the universe was first created, if it has been passed down through us and exists around us. Was there a supreme being like Jesus Christ or Allah? No, this is not their belief. Instead, their belief is that the external universe is a natural creation from a combination of fire and ice, of which life was created. They do not dwell on this belief and just accept that the two universes exist, as that is how it has been passed down to them.

Pantheon

  • Odin (Germanic Woden) – god of magic, poetry, riches and the dead; ruler of Valhalla (gave his name to Wednesday)
  • Thor - sky god who wields a hammer, controls the weather, and protects the law and the community (gave his name to Thursday)
  • Freyr - fertility god represented with a phallic statue and seen as the founder of the Swedish royal dynasty
  • Freyja - fertility goddess of love and beauty, sister of Freyr
  • Njord - father of Freyr and Freyja, god of ships, sea and lakes
  • Tyr (Germanic Tiu) – god of battle, sacrifice, and justice (gave his name to Tuesday)
  • Ullr - god of death, winter, and hunting
  • Loki - the trickster

 Nine Noble Virtues (commandments)

  1. Courage
  2. Truth
  3. Honor
  4. Fidelity
  5. Discipline
  6. Hospitality
  7. Industriousness
  8. Self-Reliance
  9. Perseverance

The Ancient Sumerian Religion

The Ancient Sumerian Religion

The Sumerian Religion holds its beliefs around Heaven and Earth, with Earth being a disc-shaped object with a space around it consisting of Heaven and a solid surface made of Tin. The Sumerians described the existence of air between Earth and Heaven, with it being called ‘lil‘. They believed that all other planets were also made of lil and the universe was surrounded by a primal sea which gave birth to the universe and created life. Their religion was vastly based around the worship of nature, e.g. wind and water with various gods having direct control over these natures.

Upon death, Sumerians believed that bodies would pass through to the nether world, ruled by Nergal and Ereshkigal, through their soles and graves with the possiblity of access being gained through special areas of their cities and following these extremely important rules:

  • No weapons to be carried
  • Clean clothes must be worn without sandals
  • No noise to be made
  • No dousing with good oil
  • Not allowed to treat family as if normal

After a soul passed into the nether world, it had to travel across a river by boat, being transported by a boatman, to face Utu who would pass judgement on their soul as good or bad. If a sole was deemed to be good, then that soul would have a lifetime of happiness.

If the above rules were not followed, the individual’s soul would be trapped in the nether world until it was released by a god, who were traditionally gods existing in human form who acted just like normal humans. The most important god was Enlil and was known as the king of heaven and earth, having designed the universe. Enlil was one of four main deities, the others being An, Enki and Ninhursag – together they were responsible for creating all the other gods in the universe. An was the head of the Pantheon, Enki developed and carried out Enlil’s plans, with Ninjursag known as the mother of all things living. Along with these 4 gods sat Nanna, Utu and Inanna who together as a group of 7 would decree the fates of all souls.

The general belief was that Sumerians would exist to serve the gods as they so wished, with sacrifice, prayer and worship taking up most of their daily lives. Sacrifices of animals and food were commonplace in their local temples, with the main temple being aligned to the patron deity and being run by a sanga, who was solely responsible for the day-to-day running of the temple, with the spiritual side of the temple being run by an ‘en’.

Greek/Roman pantheon

greek gods

When talking about Ancient Religions, there are many religions lost or overrun by the practices of modern worship, through Judaism and Christianity. The birthing place for these global monotheistic religions comes from the bed of one of the most prolific pantheons, that of the Greek/Roman pantheon of many deities. In many ways the great empire that was the Greek/Roman Empire had as much to do with the spread of the monotheistic religions as it did with the spread of its original pantheon hundreds of years earlier.

In many ways, the Greek and Roman Pantheon are the most famous worshiped religion, outside of modern religions. Due to the influence of this ancient empire there are now planets named after their gods, we see them in movies, books and other media, and sometimes even get used for their advertising power. This is something of a continued worship of these ancient gods, because even in the days of their original worship, followers would appeal to the individual gods whenever it suited them. The gods provided their favor when the proper offerings were made, and so it was not uncommon for worshipers to ‘bribe’ whichever deity met their needs. It was common to treat the gods as service providers; whether that was Aphrodite for love (or lust) Demeter for a good harvest, or Hera for punishment of a misbehaving husband. Like so many other religions, Christianity proved the downfall of this religion, like so many others, but enough of the history remains, and the figures prove so iconic that we still worship them, of a sort, even today.

Hinduism

gods-of-hinduism

When outside observers look at Indian culture, they often find themselves at a loss to point out how, exactly, their culture works. India as a region has been conquered and re-conquered so many times, with the invaders leaving behind remnants of their cultures, so that it is nearly impossible to find traces of ‘original’ Indian culture. This cultural amalgamation also spreads to the local religion. In some ways, Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world, in others; it is also one of the newest, and least defined ‘religions’ you can find.

There is a solid core to Hinduism though, and when you examine it, it has extensive and deep roots with a combination of Buddhism, Animism, and a polytheistic pantheon at the distant past, though some branches still survive to modern times. The common branches and few rules to Hinduism are outlined in three major texts the Vedic, Upanishad and Puranic scriptures and epics. In particular these texts cover the practice of Dharma, the types of behaviors that promote the natural order of things, the belief in Sansara, or the continual reincarnation cycle of the soul that eventually leads to Moksha, or enlightenment.

Most practitioners of Hindu also participate in some form of yoga or other physical conditioning of their body, as well as the worship of various house and nature spirits that have influence in modern life. In fact, the issues over the ‘definition’ of Hindu have become so confused that the supreme court of India had to refer to Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s general definition;
Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.

Despite the lack of definition, or perhaps because of it, Hinduism remains one of the largest, and oldest practiced religions in the world.

Mayan Beliefs

mayan calendar

The modern world went through a huge religious scare, as the so-called ‘Mayan Calendar’ ran out the clock on the world. Despite the belief of millions, the world did not end as they planned, though it says something that so many people placed their belief in a nearly extinct culture from history. It says something that this sophisticated culture has such an modern society, especially considering that most of the calendar beliefs and trust in Mayan culture came from the Mayan polytheistic religion.

Like many cultures pre-Christianity, the Mayan culture formed an organized religion around a polytheistic belief system, springing up shortly after the transition to the modern Gregorian calendar. The Mayans believed in gods that represented the different aspects of their world, and usually had both a benevolent side, as well as a malicious side. Due to their mixing of their scientific practices and religious beliefs, that means this was one of the largest organized religions at the time, with a practicing population thought over two million. Perhaps most famous about Mayan practices was the active practice of human sacrifice. The blood and heart of willing, but most often, unwilling sacrifices were supposed to nourish the gods, and keep their benevolent favor. In particular deities such as Itzamma as the creator god deserved many such sacrifices.

Like many religions, the introduction of modern Christianity spelled the downfall for the Mayan religion, as the Spanish arrived and found a civilization on decline. They were able to conquer the remaining Mayan people, and enforced their own Roman Catholic beliefs.

Egyptian Religion

egyptian-gods

When you view certain cultures, it seems like there are always one or two cultures that seem to be ‘first’ at almost everything. Archaeologists, scientists, and cultural historians always seem to point into the middle east, and the cultures there are more than happy to point to their ancestors, particularly the ones in the Nile Valley, when we talk about the ‘first’ with anything. It’s little surprise then, that when you start exploring the history of organized religion, Egypt again plays a strong part. With a complex written language, and a history thousands of years older than most other cultures in the region, the Egyptians also lay claim to one of the first widely worshipped organized religions in the world.

The actual origins of the Egyptian’s religious practices are somewhat in debate, due to the loss of a complete historical record, but their culture and their beliefs survived through their complex system of hieroglyphics. Like many cultures that existed thousands of years before the Gregorian calendar, Egyptians practiced Polytheism. Their pantheon represented all the different aspects of the world, and gave human-like figures to their creation myths and their lives. They also included a strong animistic aspect, as figures such as Horus, Ra, Bast and others combined animal natures and traits with their more traditional roles in the pantheon. They did believe that their gods contacted them through their priests, and eventually their ruler, the Pharaoh. Like so many other religious cultures, this pantheon eventually collapsed, first under the rule of the Greeks and Romans, and finally under the inexorable spread of Christianity across the region.

Buddhism

buddhist-thought

Very few religions survived into the modern age with little transformation from its practitioners. Even religions that developed before the advent of the monotheistic policies of Judaism and Christianity were influenced by these religions as they spread across the globe. Untouched religions with histories of thousands of years or more are rare. Some do still exist, especially in cultures with history recorded from before the advent of the modern calendar and the spread of such religions. One such major religion still in practice, with most of its core tenants and beliefs intact, is the widespread religion of Buddhism.

Modern Buddhism spread across India, China, Tibet, and Japan, and as it went it transformed with changes in oral teachings and traditions, but all of these sects come from a central origin in Nepal. Siddhārtha Gautama is he historic founder of Buddhism. Born around 623 BC, Gautama practiced a strict form of asceticism and meditation developed his practice of “The Middle Way” as a path towards escaping the spiritual rebirth path of Dharma, and developing a way towards enlightenment. Gautama is also the first Buddha, and he asked his followers to teach his path exactly. Unfortunately, since his teachings passed through spoken tradition, and were later written down in Chinese, Sanskrit, and multiple other languages, a true transcription of his writing no longer exists. Buddhism as a religion remains commonly practiced in large portions of Asia, as it often mixed with other religions, such as Shintoism. Despite the merging and changes of this religion, it remains one of the oldest practiced belief systems, and with the Chinese population of billions, it may also be one of the most practiced.

Ancient Religion

anicent religion

Let’s talk about religion for a bit. No, no the modern incarnation of religion that is prevalent through most of the world, namely monotheistic religions containing variations of the same basic scriptures and history. Let’s examine the origins of modern religions, and some of the forerunners that eventually became large, organized religions, well before the rise of the Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the longer-lived eastern and middle-eastern religions.

Most people consider writing one of the fundamental pieces of newer religions, or at least some kind of iconography so that those religions can be easily and meaningfully transplanted from one place to another. Before the advent of religious texts and any kind of writing, there is evidence of some kind of belief system or another. The actual ‘origin’ of religion is obviously a point of debate. Archaeologists and scientists found burial chambers and mounds as old as several hundred thousand years before the modern calendar. Less in debate as to religious symbols show up as early as thirty-thousand years before the modern calendar. Archaeologists found symbols of religion and spiritual belief in the form of figurines, cave paintings, and burial rituals. The debate continues though over whether these symbols point to any kind of organized religion, or whether these cultures practiced various forms of multi-deism, animism or other cultural fetishes to represent the world around them. Debate thus continues on the ‘true’ origins of religion, especially in places where there is no documentation or written record.

Religion does start to show up more prominently once humans began settling down and forming agriculture based communities. With such permanence, it became easier to collect religious beliefs in an organized fashion, and communicate them to others. Early religions were of the vast majority polytheistic. In some of the earliest religions where archaeologists can find any kind of evidence, namely in China, Japan, Egypt, and South America; religious icons almost invariably showed an entire collection of deities. These early religions based their icons on the various spiritual and natural phenomena that surrounded the lives of their worshipers.

Different parts of the world featured different religions more prominently then others. In the Americas, the Natives had as many religions as they had tribes, but most of them had an animist and shamanic bent. South of them, the Mayans had a thriving polytheistic culture based around a pantheon of nature gods. Across the ocean, Egypt of course had their own Pantheon neighboring the Greek and Roman gods living on their home on Mount Olympus. Some of these early religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, which originated in India, as well as Taoism and Confucianism in China exist in some form or another to the modern day, despite the spread of the current crop of monotheistic religions to the majority of the world’s population. It’s only in the modern age, a relatively small portion of overall religious existence where a good percentage of people share the same, or even similar beliefs, though there is a growing population that believe in nothing organized at all.