The goddess Isis,
 consort of Osiris,
 mother of Horus  
(ancient Egypt)

Ch. 1:  AN ENCHANTED WORLD:
THE NUMINOUS IN PRIMITIVE AND ARCHAIC RELIGIONS

Chapter Outline:
  A. Primitive Religion
      The Non-Living Numinous Forces
      Living Numinous Beings: The Spirits
      Dealing With Numinous Powers
      Primitive Religion is Called Animism
      The Culture of the Primitives
      From Primitive to Archaic Culture
  B. Archaic Religion
      The Birth of the Gods
      Great Mana
      Dealing with Gods and  Great Mana
      Polytheism: A Name for Archaic Religion
      Archaic Style Religion Today
      Archaic Culture
  Summary

Part I: The Numinous

For the sake of using a neutral term not already loaded with connotations, the word “numinous” will be used as the collective name for the various beings or forces that we might otherwise call sacred, holy, religious, or divine.


Chapter 1.  An Enchanted World

Primitive Religion And Culture

An important part of primitive life is the presence of invisible numinous causes in everyday life.  Some of these causes are nonliving, such as luck, magic, mana, and omens.  Other causes are alive -- the spirits.   Primitive belief in spirits and magic is usually called “animism.” Primitive people need to know how to cope with these beings and forces. For that matter, contemporary society still believes in these invisible causes to some extent, as in belief in magic or ghosts.   

A culture is called primitive if the people make their living by foraging – hunting and gathering. Such culture is egalitarian, living in small groups and dealing with issues among them on a face-to-face basis.  With the invention of agriculture, the basic patterns of primitive life gradually gave way.  Groups of people moved away from hunting and gathering to form stationary settlements, some of which grew into large villages and cities.  This kind of life gave rise to a new social and religious worldview known as archaic culture.  In archaic cultures chiefs or kings were needed to provide social order, and egalitarianism lost out.

Archaic Religion And Culture

In archaic society some spirits begin to take on more powerful roles, becoming what we now call “gods.”  These gods are often arranged in hierarchies that reflect the increasingly hierarchical nature of archaic society.  Though the primitive spirits could often be controlled or frightened, the powerful archaic gods require greater care.  Forms of persuasion such as sacrificial offerings and worship are used to keep the goodwill of the gods.  Belief in many powerful spirit beings we call gods is usually labeled “polytheism.”  Magic also appears now in higher or stronger forms such as the astrological power of the heavens.  Such power is beyond human ability to influence it.  So people must learn to conform to it.   Archaic culture is generally more complex than primitive culture.  Polytheism does not replace animism.  Belief in gods and great mana is added to belief in spirits and magic.

End of notes to Chapter 1

This page last changed Tuesday April 27, 2004

In The Presence of Mystery

 

 

 

 

Hopi kachinas (spirits)