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Mythology Essay

Different societies have different beliefs that create a diversity of cultures. Elements in mythology provide explanations for common human questions of life and consequently shape the ideas and values of a people and their civilization.

With the mystery of creation comes the belief that some greater, intangible force was present at the beginning of time and exists beyond our physical world. Different creation myths and religions present a variety of superior powers with certain control over our lives on Earth. In the Christian faith, there is only one, all knowing God who is represented as the Holy Trinity and perceived as a male. In Greek mythology, there are many gods, each representing a different aspect of life. Unlike God in Christianity, they are flawed in the sense that they are essentially human beings with the capability to be jealous, greedy, and wrathful. More different still is the deity of Native American beliefs that is not portrayed as a figure, but as simply a force that inhabits and connects all things, specifically in nature. The Gnostic belief interestingly shares elements from some of the former; there are two levels of divine powers and a strong emphasis on unity. The One is perfection and an indescribable, harmonious blend of everything; quite like an abstract version of God. Beneath this force are aeons, gods who watch over the universe and can make mistakes, similar to Greek gods. Though they believed in equality between genders, Sophia is the main goddess of knowledge and wisdom; and the female forces, unlike the male God, are considered more important spiritually. The different characteristics of divine spirits that are worshipped are reflected in the cultures that they create.

Mythology contains an opposition of good and evil which affects how life is defined in a culture and creates the foundation of a people’s purpose in being. Ultimately, in their lifetimes, people strive for the ‘good’, an idea formed by their beliefs that influences their thoughts and actions. In the Genesis story of Paradise Lost, the original sin cast humans out of the Garden of Eden, and brought labour and suffering to Earth. For Christians, life is a struggle to resist the temptation of Satan and evil of sin, which causes the downfall of man. On the contrary, the Gnostic religion does not believe in sin, only errors, that even the gods are able to make. Gnostics believed that the material world was a mistake and vice lies in the physical matter that the world is made of; the human spirit that is perfect and what is significant in life. In Native American pantheism, there is no definite line of good and evil, but rather a balance of all things in life, both living and inanimate. The world as a whole is venerated and humans must live not in superiority, but in harmony with nature. In Greek mythology, the gods have total control of one’s fate; not necessarily that people cannot make choices, but that the actions of humans cannot manipulate the destiny that awaits them. People are simply the pawns of the gods and follow the paths that were predestined for them. Mythology creates different attitudes towards life that form cultures with varying views of the role humans play in their world.

The inevitability and ambiguity of death is frightening and caused people to develop a belief that there was something beyond the physical that is preserved at the end of a mortal’s life. Religion creates a multitude of ideas regarding the saving of one’s soul and life after death. In the nature oriented Native American faith, life is a cycle which death is merely a part of; because the souls of all beings share a bond, a person’s spirit never dies but rather becomes a part of all things. In Christianity, after death, a person faces judgment based on his doings in life, and his soul is either saved into heaven, or sent to be tortured in hell. In Greek mythology, a similar process occurs in the underworld, where souls are judged to be saved or condemned. In both these cases, people’s actions on Earth determine the fate of their valuable souls; life is a short and linear period of time to prove oneself for the outcome of eternity. There is judgment in the Gnostic faith as well, but not of the same finality; punishment for the soul is to be reincarnated, and reward to be free from the bounds of the material world. Unlike Christians, Gnostics do not bear the heavy weight of sin and penance to achieve salvation, but seek gnosis to be enlightened in their lives. In Homo Religiosis, an experience brings out inner knowledge and understanding that one always had but was not aware of and instantaneously transforms a boy into a man. Gnostics believed similarly that all human spirits possess knowledge within that when accessed allows the soul to return to its perfect state in freedom and harmony with The One. In our modern world where atheism is growing, distinct cultures and beliefs are perishing because they blend into a norm. Science has replaced the role of mythology in explaining then unanswerable questions and technology has become a global culture. Looking back on ancient myths, it is easy to feel a loss for the diversity of cultures that flourished and are now disappearing in our modern day culture.

Published from November 22, 2011.

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Triduum (and Happy Easter!)

Enter a hall of candlelight and incense
A gentle chant emerges from a circle crowd of bowed heads
Old melodies float through smoke-enveloped prayers

Readings stir memories with hymns that haunt the heart
Minds remember a well known story brought forth from its dusty shelf
Trembling eyes watch it unfold, in awe of history and hope

Candle flames passed from hand to hand,
a sweeping tide of flickering lights
In a sea of little orbs, illuminated faces glow,
chasing cold night’s air away
As acapella voices break the silence of darkness

After long preparations of solemn reflection in Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, we can finally say, HAPPY EASTER! The biggest celebration of Christian religion is now truly joyful and we can now indulge from our Lenten restrains (churches must also heave a sigh of relief after that marathon of services). Today, I believe in miracles.

Regardless of your faith, I wish you all a wonderful Easter holiday and a great weekend to spend with family and friends!
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The Chrysalids: Religion Controlling a Society and its Effects

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

The idea of a celestial and infinite force brings out a certain fear and respect out of humans, and this is translated into honouring the spirit and conceiving it as the virtuous. As mortal beings, we often feel helpless from the fates that we believe direct our paths, and during difficult situations, turn to an intangible and superior power. Applying the concept of religion for power distorts the spiritual connection as well as our grasp of the divine and good. When an aspect of religion is misrepresented by authorities, unwavering reverence can become a weakness and turn into ignorance. The theme of using faith as a source of control is found in history, literature, and more specifically, in John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

Religion has been always been a part of our history as a foundation for both culture and security. It is engrained in our knowledge that a god portrays the good and this attitude makes religion a universal answer that in a way is untouchable. For example, in the Middle Ages when the feudal system was developed, God was the highest in the hierarchy and life was so because it was what He intended it to be. When the Black Plague appeared, it was religion that would save them from the baffling spread of the evil disease. In the community of Waknuk, where a massive disaster had destroyed all history and their surrounding world was brimming with the alien and questionable, fear caused the people to resort to faith as it was the sole substance within their grasp. In the book Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, the primitive civilization too, like Waknuk, had lost much past knowledge with the exception of a song and a robe. These were showcased in a spiritual gathering that explained the people’s role in the world. In these cases, religion builds a lost culture and provides a comforting reason for the mysterious and unexplainable. Such reliance magnifies change and control that can be achieved when officials manipulate a spiritual subject.

Religion when used to create an inflexible environment leads to isolation. In a society where it is imperative to follow a certain belief, such as Waknuk, the whole population thinks in one perspective. The uniformity in opinion in essence results in thought control and also expels the possibility of accepting difference and change.

In Richard Adams’ book, Watership Down, we meet a warren of rabbits that were routinely fed and trapped by a nearby farmer. Their fear caused them to avoid the obvious and retreat into a state of denial and worship. All rabbits born in this warren were raised with a philosophy of defeated reverence to accept their deaths, and any strayed thinkers were ignored or extinguished. The statement “Beware the mutant” was a variation of a passage in the Bible but was declared so forcefully that it persuaded the Waknukians to believe it was the good. In this situation, religion was used as an outlet to prove the credibility of the mutated statement by playing on the people’s trust and loyalty. Only one way of thinking creates a static society that rejects change and the unfamiliar. A community that believes in only one judgment is easier to manage and the Holy Word once again provides a reason for obedience.

Consequently, by controlling mindsets it is possible to control actions of a population and isolation causes insecurity towards anything that is not understood. Waknuk became a society that was absolutely intolerable towards the individual and unique; the culture revolved around beliefs such as “The Devil is the Father of Deviation” and this mentality transfers to actions such as the killing of the Dakers’ tailless cat. David’s ability to generate thought shapes was incomparable to the usual physical deformations that were easily spotted. A combination of both the undeniable understanding that “Blessed is the norm” and fear of the unordinary caused a panic that revealed the isolation of such a traditional and strict society.

In conclusion, religion protects the mind from the scary and bewildering, but in a cycle its manipulation indirectly causes more fear towards the unknown. Really it is mankind’s hunger for the good and power that allows religion to be used as a tool of control.

Throwback Thursday essay written on January 10, 2011.
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Homo Religiosis: Hunting rituals and religion

In the Paleolithic age, a young boy is transformed into adulthood overnight through a terrifying process in the underground tunnels of Lascaux. Through fear, isolation, and the use of images, the experience allows him to recognize his powers and comprehend his purpose in life. He must face frightening ordeals such as traveling through a cramped tunnel in total darkness, being incarcerated and buried in the earth, and told that he would be eaten by a monster. The terror he experiences forces him to discover the inner strengths and resources that he was unaware existed within. Completely alone, he becomes conscious of his being and gains an understanding of life and death. Being stripped from everything familiar he knew above ground, he finds independence, and “is pushed into a new state of consciousness that enables him to appreciate the profound bonds that links hunter and prey in their common struggle for survival.” When the images of the cave are revealed, the boy is enlightened, both literally and spiritually; the artwork triggers timeless human emotions and thoughts that complete his initiation. The experience a young initiate undergoes gives him new knowledge, changing him into a man that is ready to hunt with sacred respect and sacrifice himself for his people.

Our religious experiences today are different because of our changing culture and needs. Our way of life has changed dramatically, and so has our society’s relationship to religion. The hunt sustained the ancient peoples, and so, to value and respect life was an essential part of their spiritual being. Today our world is sustained by money and production; our concerns no longer revolve around survival, but focus on consumerism. Our emotional response to the killing of animals and death are indifferent because we do not have understanding of those subjects on a personal level. The hunting rituals have lost their power in meaning because they are irrelevant to our cares and culture. The personal ties that the ancient peoples had in their respect for nature we now have for our technology and communication devices. An adolescent needs time to “find himself” today amongst the many choices and distractions around him, rather than “going into the tunnel” and searching for answers within. In our very busy world, personal reflection is difficult to experience and our identities are created, and our values dictated, by the technology and images around us. Primarily, religion has diminished because its importance to our being has been replaced by the many things that we can buy.

At the time, I did not realize that Homo Religiosis is a theory, not an essay, so if I find the work that this was inspired by or you happen to recognize it, please comment or link. This was written in 2011, and interestingly, after completely forgetting about it, I realize the content of a biology essay I wrote this year is very similar. My ideas have changed and developed since and I think it might be interesting to compare the two, so the other may be published in the future…

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