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Aboriginal Religion. Sacred and Profane Among aboriginals, we find the distinction between the sacred and the profane. Sacred = holy, totally other, separated.

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Presentation on theme: "Aboriginal Religion. Sacred and Profane Among aboriginals, we find the distinction between the sacred and the profane. Sacred = holy, totally other, separated."— Presentation transcript:

1 Aboriginal Religion

2 Sacred and Profane Among aboriginals, we find the distinction between the sacred and the profane. Sacred = holy, totally other, separated. Profane = everyday, ordinary, mundane.

3 Ordinary Life – cycles of the seasons, generations, birth and death, etc.

4 The Dreaming A realm outside of chronological time/Sacred Time Ordinary Life (the profane)

5 Legendary figures (human like) Ancestors These ancestors molded life’s essential structures (i.e., male, female, human, bird, fish, etc.) as well as its essential activities (i.e., hunting, war, gathering, love-making) The Dreamtime (Not subject to the cycles of time) Everywhen (Not only at the beginning of time)

6 The Dreaming An eternal realm/Sacred Ordinary Life (the profane) Deities (ancestors) The Dreaming Deities (ancestors)

7 The Dreaming in Australian Aboriginals Ancestors arose out of the land, created or gave birth to people, plant life and animal life, and connected particular groups of people with particular regions and languages. The Dreaming beings (ancestors) continue to control the natural world, but their willingness to release the powers of fertility depends upon people continuing to perform certain rituals.

8 Ritual When aboriginal man performs ritual, he will emulate the behaviour of an ancestor or deity as depicted in their myths. In doing this, it is believed that sacred time (dreamtime) is made contemporary with profane time, and thus profane time is renewed. When the Arunta go hunting, they do more than mime the exploits of the first and archetypal hunter,

9 Rather, they fit so completely into the mold of their ancestral archetypes that each becomes the First Hunter. So too with other activities, i.e., basket weaving, cooking, fishing, etc.

10 Ritual Aboriginal man would never hunt “outside of” ritual. A hunt was always preceded by ritual acts. Hunting, and every other activity, is a religious act, a participation in the life of the ancestor or deity. Pygmy Hunting Ritual Before sunrise, clear and smooth a space on top of a hill. This space represents the world (microcosm), with its four corners (north, south, east, west). On cleared ground and in the center, one would draw a three foot- long antelope, while all recited a ritual formula. Wait in silence for sunrise. Sun would rise, rays of the sun would fall on the drawing, women would cry out and raise their hands to the sun, one of the men shot an arrow into the neck of the drawing.

11 Women continue to cry out (petition), men would head out into the bushes. Ritual That afternoon, hunters would return with antelope with an arrow through its jugular vein. Next morning, returned to the hilltop with tufts of antelope hair and blood. The hair would be used as brushes, and the blood would be smeared on the drawing, remove arrow, erase drawing

12 Ritual and the Axis Mundi The sun symbolizes the sky-father whose union with the earth-mother produces life (sun beam or rays join with the earth at sunrise). Union produces life, and they saw that they needed permission from these two before life could be taken. The sun beam meets the center of the cleared ground, which represents the center of the world (the cosmic axis, or axis mundi). This axis connects heaven (dreamtime), earth (profane), and the underworld. It is a sacred place, often represented by a tree, or a mountain, or a pole—or the sunbeam. Blood symbolizes the sacred life of the animal. This is returned to the Earth, from which it came. This is a sacrificial act, an act of thanksgiving.

13 Intitiation Ritual To make a man out of a boy To introduce them into the sacred (culture)

14 Initiation Ritual 3 Parts 1.Rites of Separation 2.Rites of Transition 3.Rites of Incorporation

15 “Selection of sacred ground”, the site where initiate will be isolated for the liminal period (liminal: intermediate, on the threshhold). A ceremonial house is built. This is an imago mundi, a model of the world (microcosm) 1: Rite of separation: boys are separated from their mothers. Symbolizes: end of childhood. (Boys are terrorized, mothers think child will be killed. Told that they will be devoured by divine beings. Men are masked, bullroarers are whirled (representing the sound of the gods). Purpose: to fill them with the foreboding of death. Child is placed on cleared ground and covered with twigs and branches, symbolizing death.

16 2: Rite of transition or liminal period Boys are taught the tribes sacred myths. Skills and knowledge they need are explained as gifts of the gods (divine learning). Skills such as hunting, food gathering, the tribe’s understanding of the meaning of death. Operations are performed on the initiate. Boys might be circumcised, or a tooth knocked out, or tattooed, scarred. The mark of their initiation. Identity: adult male of the tribe.

17 3: Rite of Incorporation: They are incorporated into the tribe as men. Faces painted white to resemble ghosts—symbolizing resurrection from the dead. Final act: sharing of a meal: incorporation. One life shared. The tribe is renewed by this, made larger. Uninitiated are not people, but the initiated are human beings.

18 Aboriginal man has an acute sense of the deeply personal character of the natural world. They see nature as a kind of vast network of sacrificial offerings to them. In their myths, it is clear that foods, such as beans, melons, yams, etc., are often understood to have originated from the body of a murdered deity. These foods exist ‘for us’, and there is a deep sense of gratitude to the ancestors for these gifts. Animals too offer their lives for us, allowing themselves to be killed so that we might live. The aborigines see the generosity of the ancestors in the world of nature.

19 Even though regarded as ancestors of the people, such deities may not appear in a human form, but may be a plant or animal, for example. In Aboriginal religious belief, a person’s spirit may return in human, animal or plant form after death. So an Ancestral Being may have the appearance of a plant or animal, but have done deeds similar to a human in the past.

20 Totemic ancestors These represent the original form of an animal, plant or other object (totem), as it was in the Creation Period. Aboriginal people see themselves as being derived from the different Totemic Beings. Every individual has come from at least one Totemic Being, and these help define a person’s origins and connections with the world, their relationships with the past, present and future.

21 For example: A person connected with a yam (native potato) totem might believe that some yams are his relatives, and that a particularly prominent rock feature in his clan estate represents the embodiment of his yam ancestor. This, or another area nearby, might also be a sacred “center” (an axis mundi) where rituals are performed to ensure the maintenance of this food supply. Each clan will have several totems, so this person will have a close human relative living on the same clan estate who is not of the yam totem. That person might belong to the kangaroo totem and similarly be related to kangaroos and have another feature of the landscape representing their kangaroo totem.

22 Aboriginal Religion: Not about worship. It is about participation in the life of the ancestors. It is about participating—through ritual– in the realm of the sacred, the dreamtime.

23 Oral Tradition In order to keep their heritage alive in the collective memory and revered by the tribe, they speak, they rehearse, they tell the stories of the ancestors. First Nations Myths Iroquois (Earth Diver)Earth Diver Blackfoot (Earth Diver)Earth Diver Igluik (World Parent)World Parent Huron (World Parent)World Parent Cree (World Parent)World Parent Siouian (Emergence)Emergence Haida (Conflict and Robbery)Conflict and Robbery Tsimshian (Rebirth of a Corpse)Rebirth of a Corpse Mi'kmaq (Two Creators and their Conflicts)Two Creators and their Conflicts Algonquin (Brother)Brother Dene (Creation of Seasons)Creation of Seasons

24 Place The importance of place

25 Landscape features may be the symbolic embodiment of an ancestor itself, such as a particular rock representing a specific figure, or they may be the result of something the deity did or that happened to the deity in the Creation Period, such as a river having formed when the Rainbow Serpent (Australian myth) passed through the area in the Creation Period, or a depression in a rock or in the ground representing the footprint or sitting place of an Ancestral Being.

26 Aboriginal people do not believe in animism. This is the belief that all natural objects possess a soul. They do not believe that a rock possesses a soul, but they might believe that a particular rock outcrop was created by a particular deity in the creation period, or that it represents a deity from the Creation Period. They believe that many animals and plants are interchangeable with human life through re-incarnation of the spirit or soul, and that this relates back to the Creation Period when these animals and plants were once people.

27 Each place triggers the memory of legendary events that they were a part of. These places become a source of empowerment, because it is through sacred places that one has access to the realm of the sacred, the realm of the gods or ancestors. The importance of place

28 Time The Dreaming Eternal Time Primal or sacred time is not linear, nor cyclical It is atemporal – now

29 Past: signifies closer proximity to the originating source of things. Source = ancestors who gave the world viable structure and order, the golden age. Before creation suffered ravages of time and mismanagement, the world was as it should be. Time and Value A certain enfeeblement has occurred which requires that steps be taken to restore the world to its original condition. I.e., rites of renewal – the annual sun dance is the dance for world and life renewal.

30 Proximity to the divine source tends to be a badge of worth. Thus, animals are frequently venerated for having been created before humans. I.e., Otter is relatively stupid. Hence, the Winnebagos infer it was created last. Pioneers are more celebrated than their descendants. Hence, they have deep respect for their elders. The idea that the most recent is the most advanced is rejected.

31 The Tribe The Tribe: No identity outside the tribe. Individualism = death. One’s identity is discovered in community with the tribe. Separation = death – both physically and psychologically.

32 "hierophanies" (hieros=sacred) For Aboriginal man, the entire cosmos is a book that speaks to us of God. Nothing could be further from the truth than to imagine that the Aborigines adore rocks, pieces of wood, the sun as a star, the moon as a planet, etc. If an inhabitant of Mars arriving on earth one day enters a Catholic church, would not his first impression be that people are adoring statues of stone, a piece of bread, a cup of wine? There is in reality among the people of all religions a far more mysterious idea of God than we in the modern world imagine. The visible signs are to be considered not as ends of adoration, but as manifestations of the mystery, as hierophanies.

33 Here are some examples of hierophanies The divine magnitude, which inspires awe. The permanence of God.

34 The starry sky, in all religions, appears as the expression of the permanence of God in the regularity of its movement, as opposed to the atmosphere which surrounds the earth, which is characterized by its perpetual changeableness. Notice how we have retained the expression "heaven" to designate the divine places. We have borrowed it from this hierophanic symbolism. When we say that after death we shall go to heaven, it does not mean, except for the Pythagoreans, that we are going to the stars.

35 The storm shows forth the power of God

36 The pagans had a more profound sense of things than many of our contemporary atheists. Thus the Africans have often kept this elementary sense of the sacred which confers on them a certain facility for resisting our lay, profane, totally secularized spirit. In point of fact, there is in the thunderstorm something which expresses the irresistible power of God. This appears also in the Bible. The thunderstorm there is eminently hierophanic. Yahweh shows Himself on Sinai in thunder and fire, which signify His brilliant and irresistible power.

37 The rock has theophanic value, first of all, because of its permanence. Men pass away, the rock remains. And then, too, because of its resistance: everything breaks on the rock. And finally, because of its solidity: one can lean on it and it will not give way nor will it yield. "Rock" is one of the names of Yahweh in the Old Testament, and we find it again in the New Testament to express the solidity of Christ Himself.

38 The cosmic religions are essentially the discovery of God through His manifestation in the hierophanies of the universe. This is why they are basically, in their roots, religions of nature. The rhythm of natural life constitutes their fundamental source.


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