Supernatural Beings Essay Example
Supernatural Beings Essay Example

Supernatural Beings Essay Example

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  • Published: May 16, 2017
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God—an individual supernatural being, with a distinctive name, personality, and control or influence of a major aspect of nature (like rain or fertility), that encompasses the life of an entire community or a major segment of the community Spirit—a supernatural being that is less powerful than a god and is usually more localized; often one of a collection of nonindividualized supernatural beings that are not given specific names and identities

Spirits include nonindividualized spirits like the leprechauns of Ireland or the jinn of the Middle East There are also spirits that are individually recognized, such as a guardian spirit, an ancestral spirit, and a shaman’s spirit helper In contrast with gods, spirits are less powerful and more focused on a particular individual, family, or group of specialists.

Summary - Angels & Demons

Whereas gods may live in remote locati


ons, like Mount Olympus (home of the Greek Gods), spirits live in the human world, interacting with humans and concerned with what humans are up to Spirits often exhibit complex personalities—they may be friendly or harmful—they provide protection, success, and luck, but are also blamed for minor mishaps One can ask for their assistance, since they’re closely connected to people and are involved in everyday human affairs Offerings, entertainment, and attention will promote the development of a beneficial relationship between people and the spirit world But ignoring the presence of, or worse yet, doing something to harm or offend them can have negative consequences, like the loss of a crop, infertility, illness, or the death of a child

Because spirits live in the human world, they often reside in various physical objects—some natural, others manmade Places of special beauty or unusual characteristics

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like a sacred grove or waterfall, are said to be inhabited by spirits Such places may also be considered dangerous They may be venerated, and people will often travel to such places to seek solutions to problems or to ask favors of the spirits Unusual natural objects—such as a remarkable or strange stone or plant—may contain a spirit, as might a human-made object like a statue or a shrine Sometimes special structures are built and spirits are enticed to take up residence in them to provide protection or good luck to the builder Examples of spirits include... Native American Guardian Spirits:

An important element in many American Indian cultures in direct contact with supernatural beings and supernatural power An example of this is the vision quest—in which a person enters into an altered state of consciousness, makes contact with the world of spirit beings, and receives a gift of supernatural power The spirit beings encountered during these visions are often referred to as guardian spirits An individual, usually male, may attempt to make contact with a guardian spirit either as part of a coming of age ritual or continually throughout his adult life, as a means of attaining protection, guidance, and identity According to their worldview, it is only through the attainment of this connection with the supernatural and the receipt of supernatural power that a person can be successful in life Jinn:

The Koran tells of God’s creation of three types of conscious beings: humans made from clay, angels made from light, and jinn made from fire without smoke Jinn are normally invisible, but they can make themselves visible, and in doing so, they often take

the form of a human or animal Once visible, they can alter their shape and features at will Jinn are born, live, and die—they marry, mate, and have families Some have great powers, others do not. Many are specifically known and named, others occur as part of an unnamed collective of spirits Like people, jinn have different personalities, some good and some bad They may lie and deceive people, they enjoy playing tricks and kidnapping people, and they often tempt humans into sexual intercourse

Sometimes a person can forge a special relationship with a jinn, and then the jinn becomes a source of special powers For example, a person can enter into an alliance with a jinn and become a powerful magician The Genie of the Aladdin story is a jinn, and the stories of the Arabian Nights are largely stories involving jinn But generally, people try to keep a distance between themselves and jinn because, more often than not, jinn are troublemakers People will frequently recite verses from the Koran or avoid situations that attract the attention of jinn This is the origin of many taboos surrounding blood, childbirth, and marriage, since these are situations very attractive to jinn The very existence of jinn causes people to be careful, yet they also provide an explanation for illness and bad luck Angels and Demons:

Angels and demons are spirit beings that appear in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam In these monotheistic systems angels act as mediators between god and human beings Angels are often represented as agents of revelation, executors of divine will, or as witnesses to divine activity Angels appear in both Greek and Jewish writings but

tend to play a limited role In the New Testament of Christianity angels are frequently mentioned However, much of the popular Christian belief about angels comes not from their Bible, but from the 6th century writings of Saint Dionysus In this work, The Celestial Hierarchy, he established a rank order of angels that included, in descending order seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels Belief in angels is widespread in modern American society

A poll conducted in 2003 found that 78% of Americans surveyed said they believed in angels Despite these numbers, there is little consensus on exactly what angels are or what they look like Descriptions range from a glowing light to a very human appearance, or perhaps the presence of the angel is felt but not seen In general, angels are said to appear to help people in need, often as workers or messengers of god On the other end of the spectrum are demons Although frequent mention is made of demons in the Christian bible, no one passage gives a full account of their creation or workings However, several Church writings have been published that clarify the Church’s teachings on he subject such as the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council from the Catholic Church in 1215—there it says that both the Devil and the demons were originally angelic creatures, created by God as good, innocent beings. They became evil by their own actions. Satan and his minions rebelled against God and, after a battle with the good angles, were cast from heaven. Satan and the demons are believed to be closely associated with human evil, including the temptation of

Eve in the Garden of Eden and their dominion over hell One common activity of demons, as described in the Christian New Testament, is demonic possession This was considered a major cause of strange behaviors by humans and much of Jesus’ healing ministry involved performing demonic exorcism

In the period roughly between the 15th and 17th centuries, Christian demonology reached its peak Beliefs about demons were elaborated and had much social influence Ornate doctrines were produced detailing the hierarchies, invocations, methods, and exorcism of demons This was the era of the infamous witchcraze (we’ll talk about that later), during which there was a particular interest in incubi and succubae—male and female demons respectively, who have sex with humans while they sleep Sex with an incubus was said to be responsible for the birth of demons, witches, and deformed children The belief in demonic possession is still common today among groups of conservative Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

For many of these groups a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible requires a belief in demons and demonic exorcism since they’re mentioned so frequently in the New Testament Gods—are, generally speaking, more powerful than spirits They possess great supernatural power and control or influence major forces of nature like the wind, rain, and fertility Gods are personalized individuals with names, origins, and specific attributes Some gods are associated with social and political unity such as clans and villages The number of gods found within a religious system varies from one to over a thousand Gods are anthropomorphic—they resemble people in their physical appearance and personalities They are born, marry, and sometimes die

They love and lust, are wise and

dull, loving and hateful, generous and miserly Some are sympathetic to human beings, others are hostile And like humans, gods can be influenced by gifts in the form of offerings and sacrifices and by praise and flattery, and sometimes they can be tricked The behavior of humans on earth reflects the orders and commandments of the gods Gods set up codes of behavior and punish people who do not observe them They may prescribe that certain ritual activities be performed and bring down misfortune when they aren’t Some gods are very concerned about the fate of human beings and will establish close relationships with them and have a great influence in human lives Within a particular religious system the gods as a collective make up a pantheon (lit. ll gods) Usually the gods within the pantheon form a hierarchy with a supreme god a the top They are related to one another in various ways, often making up a large family unit characterized by family relationships (HANDOUT? Greek & Roman Gods) The community of the gods often mirrors human society—if the society is highly hierarchical and warlike, then so is the society of their gods The gods within a pantheon have specific spheres of influence and control Sometimes there is a relatively small number of gods, each controlling a rather large slice of human activity Sometimes there are a great many gods, each highly specialized—the Romans and Greeks had lengthy lists of gods who were responsible for very specific activities. My favorite, Trivia, goddess of three-way intersections Types of Gods

Though there is a tremendous variety of gods that we could list, certain types appear over

and over when we look cross-culturally Creator gods—gods that are responsible for the creation of the physical earth and the plants and animals that live on it Creator gods can be very powerful deities and often occupy the top rung of a hierarchy of gods Creation is not necessarily the work of a single god—often various aspects of creation are divided among several gods, or, usually after the creation of the physical earth, different gods are responsible for the creation of specific types of plants and animals or the plants and animals that occupy a particular area This includes the creation of people

Otiose gods—gods who are too remote and too uninterested in human activities to participate in the activities and fate of humans These gods tend to be creator gods who create the world and then withdraw from interactions with it Rituals are seldom performed to influence and ask favors from these gods Sometimes these gods maintain interest through lesser, intermediary deities Attribute gods—are specialized deities who rule over narrowly defined realms In many ways a pantheon resembles a human society, often with a division of labor Specific gods are associated with the forces of nature, human fertility and the human life cycle, economic activities, and war see (HANDOUT? Greek & Roman Gods) for examples The relative importance of such gods depends largely on the importance of various activities within human society For example, if a society is very warlike, the war gods may occupy important positions in religious rituals Now let’s turn our attention to one type of god found cross-culturally— Goddesses

Goddesses have been important figures in many religious systems although how important they

were for the earliest religions is still being debated Some scholars believe that early human religions centered on fertility, a lunar cycle as opposed to a solar one, and the worship of a goddess This is largely speculative and based on findings of small carvings of female figures (i. e. Venus of Willendorf) with exaggerated characteristics thought to be connected with fertility Although matriarchy, rule by women, did not exist in the historic past, the role of women in these prehistoric foraging societies was almost certainly greater than that in contemporary agricultural and industrial societies

Some believe that goddess worship continued in Europe until a few thousand years before the Common Era At this time the Indo-Europeans invaded from the east and brought with them many new developments, including a belief in male gods and the exploitation of nature Some argue that goddess worship and the new god worship gradually combined to produce the polytheistic religions of the Greeks, Romans, and Celts With the development of monotheistic religions, the goddess was further suppressed, as these latter religions conceived of god in largely male terms Although all three of the monotheistic religions contained some egalitarian sentiments in their origins and texts, all have also been interpreted at one time or another in very misogynistic (characterized by a hatred of women) terms Important goddesses are Ishtar of the ancient Near East, Isis of ancient Egypt. Also important is the Virgin Mary of Catholicism, though her classification as a goddess comes entirely from an etic perspective

Ishtar—was worshipped for thousands of years in Mesopotamia Seen as both invincible in battle and a source of fertility, Ishtar was one of the

paramount national deities She was also very important to commoners and was very involved in their lives In the natural environment of Mesopotamia, winds, rain, drought, and flood were all common This contributed to a worldview in which these inconsistencies in nature were seen as being a reflection of violent conflicts among the gods; both the gods and the environment were seen as being unpredictable All events, natural and social, were a result of the activity of the gods The only way to ensure adequate food, victory in warfare, health, etc. was proper performance of rituals and sacrifices to the gods and goddesses The deities themselves are good examples of anthropomorphic attribute gods Among the gods and goddesses in the pantheon, Ishtar is supreme in her power over fate, as recounted in the Epic of Gilgamesh In the story, Ishtar made sexual advances toward King Gilgamesh, which he rejected In response, Ishtar asked the supreme god, An, to send the bull of heaven to destroy Gilgamesh and his city Uruk Ishtar threatened that if she didn’t get her way, she would release the dead from the netherworld In her role as a fertility goddess, she also promised that she would ensure that there would be enough food to eat after the bull’s destruction

Sexuality was an important aspect of Ishtar, as seen in the sacred marriage rites The rites took place between the king and an avatar (incarnation or embodiement of a god/ess in human form) of Ishtar, probably her high priestess This king was seen as a mortal who was the intermediary between the community and the gods—his relationship with Ishtar was seen as the

source of his power and the guarantee of his success The goddess was shown as dominating the situation as she selected the ruler who was privileged to cohabit with her This union was seen as explicitly sexual, although it resulted not in offspring, but in the fertility of the land and success in battle

Isis—was probably the most important deity of the Egyptian pantheon for the average Egyptian She was called the “Great Mother” and the “Queen of Heaven” and was associated with family Her most common representation was as a mother, seated, suckling her son Horus on her lap It is as the devoted wife and sister of Osiris and mother of Horus that she is best known. Here’s the myth behind their relationship: Osiris and Seth were brothers. Seth was jealous of Osiris and his power, Osiris was pharaoh of the gods so Seth tricked Osiris into getting into a box, then Seth killed him and chopped up his body and scattered the pieces so he couldn’t be brought back to life. Isis found the pieces, put him back together—invented the processes of preparing the dead for rebirth—and once she found the last piece, the phallus, attached it too, Osiris came back to life, and they conceived a child, Horus. Because Osiris was dead, he could no longer be the pharaoh, so he became the ruler of the underworld.

Seth, because he was evil and killed his brother to ursurp his throne was cast out of the land (after being hunted down by Horus) Horus, the rightful heir to the throne became pharaoh and his eye, the Eye of Horus is still a symbol of

justice. The eye can detach from Horus and go anywhere to see everything From then on, the pharaohs of Egypt were acknowledged as the god Horus on earth and the sons of Osiris and Isis Isis was often characterized by her wisdom, her insight into the mysteries of life and death Through her words she was able to resurrect Osiris, although he ultimately went to the netherworld and not to earth Although Isis was originally closely associated with the royalty, she became associated with nature as her significance grew and became diversified Her influence spread—she was present in Rome and Greece

Around 300 BCE the religion of Isis had developed into a mystery religion—a religion whose beliefs, practices, and true nature are known only to those who have been initiated into the religion One had to be initiated into the religion of Isis to gain the wisdom and salvation that the goddess could offer The influence of Isis peaked during the third century CE, when her popularity made her a serious competitor to the Christian Church The Virgin Mary—because Christianity is a monotheistic religion, it cannot be said from an emic perspective to have a goddess However, throughout Christian history, Mary has played an important role, and devotion to her has developed in different ways From an etic perspective she might be considered to be a goddess

The height of devotion to Mary occurred during the medieval and baroque periods in the modern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions Although Mary was never described as a goddess, she was held in such high esteem that she was certainly seen as more than a woman She was set above

the saints and, as the mother of God’s son, was seen as only a little lower than God She played an important role as an intermediary between people and God and Jesus This was not true of Protestant religions, which have tended to minimize the place of Mary—in fact, devotion to Mary was one of the major issues of the Protestant Reformation According to the gospel of Luke, Mary was a young virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph She was visited by the angel Gabriel, who told her she had been chosen by God to be the mother of a son conceived by the Holy Spirit This moment is celebrated in Christian liturgy as the Feast of the Annunciation, and from this time forward Mary was called by the title Virgin

All of the stories of Mary in the Bible revolve around her son The gospel of Luke tells the story of Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist As Mary approached Elizabeth, John (in the womb) “leaped for joy” and Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42) These words, the words of the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, and an additional sentence composed by the Catholic Church were later combined to form the Hail Mary, the prayer that is repeated in saying the rosary In the book of Revelation a passage that is normally interpreted as referring to Mary describes her as “a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head is a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation


This woman is also said to be stepping on a serpent, which is seen as symbolic of Mary overcoming the curse brought on humans by the first woman, Eve In the language of Revelations, Mary is the “Queen of Heaven” The importance of Mary is shown in many ways First is the celebration, not only of the Annunciation, but also of Mary’s birth and death She is shown in countless world of art, and many churches have been dedicated in her name Shrines and pilgrimage sites associated with Mary were found not only in medieval Christianity, but in modern times Examples are pilgrimage sites at Lourdes in France, Guadalupe in Mexico, and Fatima in Portugal, at each of which an apparition of Mary occurred Similarities between Mary and some of the Near Eastern pagan goddesses have also been noted For example, Isis is also referred to as “Great Mother” and Queen of Heaven” and is depicted seated holding her son Mary fits nicely into the role of these goddesses as protectors and sustainers Some researchers think that the devotion to Mary is actually derived from earlier worship of the Mother Goddess Despite the fact that technically, all Mary can do is offer intercession for the protection of God, she is often addressed directly for protection If not a goddess, Mary certainly plays an important role in the Christian understanding of God One last thing about gods before we move on to other topics... Most of the religions we’ve discussed in class and most religions that have existed in the world have been polytheistic—they recognize many deities However, most Americans are more familiar with religions that

are monotheistic—they recognize one god In particular, they’re familiar with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

These three religions share some of the same history and the concept of a single god All three also had to struggle with the philosophical issues inherent in a belief in only one god, particularly one that is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere at once), and all good These include the problem of reconciling an omniscient god with human free will and reconciling an all-good and omnipotent god with the existence of evil Judaism—the ultimate theme of Judaism is monotheism. Judaism teaches that Jews have been chosen by god to enter into a special relationship with him, much like that of child to parent However, some scholars argue that we shouldn’t assume that the earliest Jews—the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—were monotheistic

The patriarchs appear to have shared many of the religious beliefs of their pagan neighbors in Canaan There are different names in the Hebrew Bible used to refer to god—some scholars argue that they were actually the names of different gods. For example: •Abraham’s god may have been El, the high god of Canaan •Yahweh is also used and called “God of our Fathers” by Israelites, but may have been a different god from El—some suggest that Yahweh was originally a warrior god worshipped in Midian When Moses made the covenant with god on Mount Sinai, the Israelites agreed to worship Yahweh along—the covenant didn’t say that he was the only god that existed, that concept developed later Even the Ten Commandments take the existence of other gods for granted: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”

(Exodus 20:3)

Worship of a single god in a polytheistic world was an unusual step—it was thought dangerous to ignore possible sources of supernatural power The history of the Israelites, as told in the Bible, shows that they were often reluctant to make this move, despite the covenant It appears that Yahweh had been a warrior god and was very helpful in such matters, but he was not seen as a specialist in other areas, like fertility When the Israelites settled in Canaan, they turned to the cult of Baal, the Canaanite fertility god, for such matters It was also difficult for the masculine Yahweh to replace goddesses like Ishtar and Asherah, who still had a great following among the Israelites, especially women The prophets of the Bible had to keep reminding the Israelites of the covenant—they all focused on the sin of idolatry The Hebrew Bible tells that the people had become so corrupt and idolatrous that god permitted the King of Assyria to successfully invade the country Assyria took most of the Israelites to live among the gentiles in Assyria, where they lost their ethnic identity (thus, Ten Lost Tribes of Israel) Later, Jerusalem was captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were taken to exile in Babylonia There they were referred to as Jews—people from Judah This was an important turning point in Jewish history

Some believed that their religion couldn’t be practiced outside of the Promised Land because the Temple, which had been the center of worship, had been destroyed From this though, grew the idea of a more pure monotheism—the idea that Yahweh is

the only God Christianity—out of Judaism came the new religion of Christianity Jews at the time of Jesus, under Roman rule, were expecting a Messiah However, as now passionate monotheists, they expected this Messiah to be human, a descendant of King David, not divine The term son of God had been used previously in Jewish stories and expressed intimacy with God; it was not to be taken literally Although few Jews of the time accepted Jesus as the Messiah, many other people ultimately would The story of Christianity is essentially the story of Jesus

The Gospels tell of the life of Jesus and the essentially Jewish nature of his career Most of the Gospels simply relate the life of Jesus, but the Gospel of John is different—it describes Jesus as the eternal Son of God and the word of God made flesh Jesus himself never claimed to be divine, and it was only after his death that his followers seem to have come to this conclusion This did not happen immediately—it wasn’t until the 4th century CE that the doctrine that Jesus had been God in human form (the Incarnation) was established For Christians Jesus became the mediator between humans and God—they believed that the reason God had become human, in the form of Jesus, was to lead people back to God Salvation had been won for humans by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross Therefore, salvation was to be found through faith in Jesus—through this faith Christians believed they’d be cleansed of their sins, made righteous, and be sanctified and glorified by God in the life to come

The first Christians were Jews and they

had an entirely Jewish conception of God, with the exception of the divinity of Jesus, a conception that took a long time to develop Other changes soon appeared—ultimately an understanding of the Christian conception of God requires an understanding of the Trinity The Trinity begins with God, the Father, who’s the creator of heaven and earth God became immanent in Jesus, who is God the Son, the divine in human form—the Son is an incarnation of the Father, who returned after his physical death on earth to live with the Father, although he remains fully present in and to his believers Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his followers after death The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the spirit of God, guiding and sustaining the faithful

The concept of the Trinity caused many problems for the ostensibly monotheistic Christians Under pressure from a hostile Roman world to explain how Christians could worship three divine beings but still consider themselves monotheistic, Christian apologists put forward several interpretations—but in general they settled on one interpretation: A single divine substance manifested in three personas This view is expressed in the Athanasian Creed: “The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods, but one God. ” In Western Christianity, however, the three distinct personas have generally been stressed over the unifying substance Christians have struggled for centuries with the problems associated with reconciling monotheism and the Trinity Some believe that ultimately, the Trinity makes sense only as a lived spiritual experience The Eastern Orthodox Churches have a tradition of contemplating the nature of the Trinity

as a means of inspiring religious experience

Islam—the story of Islam begins with the story of Mohammed, a member of the Quraysh tribe, which in the 7th century CE had recently settled in Mecca after having previously lived as nomadic herdsmen on the Arabian steppes This act of settling in one place drastically altered their lifestyle, and new values started replacing the old Mecca was also the location of the Kabah, an ancient and massive cube-shaped shrine Most Arabs believed that the Kabah was originally dedicated to Allah, the High God of the ancient Arabian pantheon Allah was believed to be identical to the God of the Jews and Christians Although Judaism and Christianity are monotheistic, they were both seen as having strayed from the authentic monotheism of Abraham, which Islam would eed to restore Abraham lived before God had sent either the Torah or Gospel and was therefore seen as neither a Jew nor Christian In the story of Abraham he has a son, Ishmael, by his concubine Hagar When Abraham’s wife Sarah becomes pregnant with Isaac, she demands that Hagar and Ishmael leave God consoles Abraham by telling him that both his sons will be the fathers of great nations Abraham and Ishmael are said to have together build the Kabah for God in Mecca Muslims believe that the original religion was monotheism but that it has occasionally decayed into polytheism At these times, God would send prophets, including Moses and Jesus, to renew the message of monotheism Each prophet brought the message in a way that was appropriate to this particular time and place The last prophet was Mohammed, and he received messages

meant for all people and all times

Mohammed was visited by an angel, who gave him the command to recite Although Mohammed resisted, the angel insisted, and Mohammed found the first words of scripture coming from his mouth The Word of God, spoken in Arabic, was revealed to Mohammed little by little over a period of 23 years Ultimately, these words would be compiled into what is called the Koran The power of the Koran is based partly on the extraordinary beauty of the language—Muslims believe that to hear the Koran recited is to experience the divine Now, what I’d like to do now is move on to another topic entirely, one that is perhaps one of the most interesting topics in the anthropological study of religion—witchcraft We won’t have enough time today to talk all about it, but we can start today

Witchcraft To begin with, witchcraft is not a single, unified concept—when anthropologists speak of witchcraft, they generally refer to this definition: Witchcraft—the ability of a person to cause harm by means of a personal power that resides within the body of the witch A witch does not depend on ritual to achieve his/her evil ends but simply wills misfortune to occur In this sense, witchcraft is clearly different from sorcery—though there’s nothing to prevent a witch from using magic, but that would lie outside the definition of witchcraft In some cultures witchcraft can be unconscious and unintentional; one can be a witch and not even know it

Although in our culture we tend to think of witches as females, traditionally both sexes have been accused of witchcraft Witchcraft accusations reflect underlying social tensions in a

society Individuals who exhibit antisocial behavior and people in relationships characterized by conflict are likely targets Along these lines, cultures in which witches are considered primarily to be women will tend to exhibit tension between the sexes The concept of individuals with such propensities for evil is found in a wide variety of areas, including New Guinea, Southeast Asia, the Americas, and Europe However, the best developed discussions of witchcraft in the anthropological literature describing witchcraft in small-scale societies are those of witchcraft in African societies In these societies witchcraft is a very common belief and refers to the ability of the person to cause harm by means of a personal power that resides within the body of the witch

The term witchcraft, however, is also used to refer to other religious phenomena Witchcraft, encompassing many of the features found in African witchcraft, was found in peasant communities in Europe from medieval to early modern times Because the people in these communities believed that only God could heal, individuals who practiced healing arts and midwifery were often stigmatized and thought of as being witches When witchcraft became of interest to various Christian churches, the idea of witchcraft changed to reflect an association with Satan Finally, drawing on the healing activities of European peasant witches, Neo-Pagan and Wiccan religious systems that have developed in relatively modern times have embraced the concept of the witch—but in a positive way So, let’s start looking at examples of witchcraft Witchcraft in small-scale societies

The idea of witchcraft as an evil force bringing misfortune to members of a community is found in a great number of societies throughout the world In these

societies witchcraft is evil—there are no good witches Unlike sorcerers, who perform magic rituals to achieve their evil ends, witches simply will death and destruction And they will happen—the source of this evil is a power that lies within the body of the witch In some societies, the power of a witch is something that they are born with, in other societies, the power of witchcraft is one that is sought In either case, immoral and antisocial behavioral traits are associated with witchcraft People who seek out the power of witchcraft do whatever they must to gain the power that will eventually satisfy some emotional need For example, let’s look at witchcraft among the Navajo: The Navajo are very reluctant to discuss witchcraft—many deny its existence, although this might be because admitting to knowledge of witchcraft is seen as suspicious Navajo witches are individuals who seek to be initiated into the Witchery Way Witchcraft is generally associated with immoral and antisocial behavior such as greed, vengeance, and envy Greedy witches obtain wealth by robbing graves

Another method is to pair up with another witch—one witch causes the illness and the other witch attempts to “cure” the victim—the fee is split between the two witches Navajo witches are thought to meet in caves at night, where they practice incest and cannibalism, have intercourse with dead women, and perform rituals to kill victims Witchcraft beliefs act in many ways to enforce social norms—for ex: if you don’t care for your parents properly, they can become witches Navajo initiates often learn witchcraft form a relative—a parent, grandparent, or spouse—and a major part of the initiation is the killing of

a close relative, often a sibling Witches are both men and women, although male witches are more common Female witches tend to be old women

A common way for witches to kill is through the use of corpse powder, made form the bones and flesh of a corpse A witch will pour some of the powder into the hogan (Navajo house), infecting the inhabitants The witch might also place come corpse powder into the mouth and nose of the victim while the victim is sleeping or might blow the powder over people attending a ceremonial Most Navajo carry gall medicine, a form of antiwitchcraft medicine, made from the gallbladders of several different animals—especially when entering a crowd Navajo witches are said to be able to transform themselves into animals and can move extremely fast over land, usually at night There are many signs of the presence of a witch, such as the restless behavior of animals and the barking of dogs Sometimes the witch is actually seen at night fleeing a homestead, often appearing as an animal Frequently the witch leaves behind large animal tracks There are many ways in which a witch can be identified

The tracks left by the witch can be followed to someone’s hogan Sometimes, if the witch has been shot fleeing a homestead, a person might show up with an unexplained gunshot wound the next morning People who show suspicious behavior might be identified as witches, or witches may be found through divination When a witch is captured they will usually try to bribe the captors with money and jewelry The witch is then made to confess, because confessing often effects a

cure Sometimes the witch will be tied up and not be fed or given water until they confess If a confession is not forthcoming, the witch is killed Even if a witch is never caught, the Navajo believe that he/she will eventually be killed by lightning Witchcraft beliefs among the Navajo serve some general functions: The belief in witchcraft supplies answers to questions which would otherwise be perplexing, and therefore disturbing—it provides reasons for occurrences

Navajo witchcraft beliefs also provide for the culturally sanctioned manifestation of immoral and antisocial behavior The witch is the personification of evil and thus defines what is bad Behavioral traits like greed and envy, personality traits that contradict basic Navajo values, and such behaviors as cannibalism, incest, and nakedness are things that Navajos find horrifying People who exhibit antisocial behaviors are likely to be identified as witches and eventually eliminated from society Witchcraft beliefs also act to prevent the accumulation of wealth Navajo values stress the sharing of wealth and the responsibility of one individual to assist another The accumulation of material goods is considered to be a sign of witchcraft Periods of intense social stress are often associated with witch killings

Now that we've covered witchcraft in small-scale societies, let's look at witchcraft in more larger, more complex cultures. Euro-American Witchcraft Beliefs Although there are some similarities between Euro-American ideas about witchcraft and those of small-scale societies, there are many important differences Both cultures see witches as evildoers, but ideas of witchcraft in Europe were influenced by Christian ideas about the nature of evil Like we talked about last time, one of the challenges facing a monotheistic religion is how to

explain the existence of evil when God has been described as unique, all-powerful, and all-good One answer to this problem is the existence of an evil spirit or great power In Hebrew, this spirit was called Satan, the adversary

This was translated in Greek as diabolos, and in English as the devil Satan’s not a major figure in the Hebrew Bible, however, he did receive a great deal of attention in Judaism during the Apocalyptic period (200 BCE-150 CE), a time during which the Jews were focused on the idea of an imminent apocalypse and the coming of the messiah However, from that time on, the rabbis came to dominate Judaism, and Satan received very little attention One important event during the apocalyptic period was the origin of Christianity—the New Testament prominently features Satan The message of the New Testament is the Jesus saves us from the power of the Devil Part of the new definition of evil of witchcraft is that witches are individuals who have made a pact with the Devil Connection with Pagan Religions

Now, last time we learned that in small-scale societies the concepts of witchcraft and sorcery are quite distinct This changes with European witchcraft beliefs, in which sorcery gets bound up with witchcraft—thus our common perception of witches doing spells There were also important changes in the conception of sorcery Previously, sorcery had been seen as a largely mechanical, manipulation of the supernatural Now sorcery became associated with the invocation of spirits Although sorcery in Europe had always been an antisocial behavior and seen as a hostile act, sorcery was now defined as also being hostile to God The spirits of

sorcery were defined as demons Therefore, anyone doing sorcery, or for the most part any magic, were seen as calling upon the servants of Satan

Some have argued that this was part of the larger persecution of pagan religious practices Christians were arguing that Jesus was the Son of God, and a large part of their argument was based on the miracles that he performed Skeptics of the day were likely to counter with the argument that Jesus was merely another sorcerer, performing magic So for Christians the only legitimate magic became the magic performed by Jesus—all other magic was the work of the Devil Magic and witchcraft became not just crimes against society, but heresy—crimes against god The Christian theology of the time argued that pagan magic and religion were all the work of the Devil, part of his plan to lure people away from the truth of Christianity The pagan gods and goddesses were thus redefined by Christians as servants of Satan However, at the level of popular religion many of the pagan beliefs and gods were absorbed into the Christian religion

The nature of the Catholic Church’s response to heresy underwent dramatic changes during this time Beginning in the 12th century, laws dealing with heresy became more severe A factor in this state of affairs was the revival of Roman law—under Roman law people are seen as part of the corporation that is the state and therefore must follow its principles In the late Roman Empire several codes had declared that crimes against God were worthy of punishment by death The revival of Roman law encouraged the imposition of harsher penalties for heresy For

example, burning became the punishment of choice for relapsed heretics and was increasing in frequency Witches, as heretics, were burned as well

However from the 15th century onward, witches were treated even more harshly that other heretics Heretics were burned only in the case of relapse—witches were burned on first conviction Before the 13th century the only way for a heretic to be brought to trial was if an individual made an accusation against that person It was not long though, before bishops began holding inquisitions, or formal investigations Instead of waiting for an accusation, the authorities began to actively go looking for heretics, particularly witches By the end of the 13th century, inquisitors were assigned to most areas of continental Europe—most of the inquisitors came from the Franciscan or Dominican religious orders

At the beginning, most sentences appear to have been penances such as wearing a cross sewn to one’s clothes or going on a pilgrimage The goal of the inquisitor was to identify the guilty and get them to confess and repent in order to restore them to the fold Only a small number of cases resulted in execution—these were generally reserved for relapsed heretics or those who refused to repent In time though, the punishments, especially for witches, became more severe Inquisitions were a powerful means of enforcing sanctions against heretics and witches At first the bishops were encouraged in their efforts, but between 1227 and 1235 the papal Inquisition was established The power if the Inquisition was constantly being strengthened and expanded For example, in 1252 Innocent IV issued the papal bull Ad Extirpanda—this bull authorized the imprisonment of heretics, the seizure of

their possessions, and their imprisonment, torture, and execution All of this was done on what was usually minimal evidence

The procedures of the Inquisition were such that guilt was easy to establish and innocence was difficult to defend It should be noted that although the Inquisition was a Catholic institution, Protestants were also involved in the conviction and execution of witches during this time The Witchcraze in Europe At the end of the Middle Ages witches were believed to be individuals, both male and female, who had formally repudiated Christianity and made a pact with the Devil Witches were believed to ride by night and to have secret nocturnal meetings As with small-scale societies, witches generally represented all that is evil and antisocial—in this case they were believed to have orgies, to engage in sacrificial infanticide and cannibalism, and to desecrate Christian holy objects like the crucifix and the Eucharist (a Christian sacrament commemorating Jesus’ last supper by consecrating bread and wine)

The period known as the Witchcraze began at the end of the Middle Ages (around AD 1450) and lasted for about 200 years Many scholars start the date of the Witchcraze to the time at which the Inquisition began actively seeking out witches Although people associate this with the “Dark Ages,” it was actually a product of the Renaissance and Reformation The Witchcraze was a time in which many people were accused, convicted, and executed as witches Exact numbers are hard to come by, but estimates range from a few thousand to several million people One invention in the 1450s that particularly helped to spread these ideas was the printing press One of the most

important books published during this time was the Malleus Maleficarum, or Witch’s Hammer, first published in 1486 by the Catholic Church The Malleus spells out the Church’s beliefs about witches at this time

Witches were people who renounced the Catholic faith and devoted themselves, body and soul, to the service of evil Witches offered unbaptized children to the Devil and engaged in orgies that included having sex with the Devil himself Witches were also typically believed to shift shapes, fly through the air, and make magical ointments The Malleus also stated that witches were more likely to be women than men, something we’ll get back to in a bit The Malleus also told what to do with a witch—all witches must be arrested, convicted, and executed It is important to note that even people who spoke out against the Witchcraze did not challenge the actual existence of witches—to do so at the time would have been the same as declaring yourself an atheist (one who denies belief in the existence of god(s))

People who were accused of witchcraft were interrogated to obtain a confession The questions they were asked presumed their guilt For example: common questions included where and when they met with the Devil—not whether they had done such a thing Torture was a common means of gaining a confession—even the innocent agreed to being a witch after suffering severe tortures As the 16th century progressed, the Witchcraze only increased in intensity Religious conflict, popular movements, and wars during the Reformation exacerbated social tensions, which were then reflected in witchcraft accusations The Witchcraze didn’t decline until the late 1600s and early 1700s Witchcraze in England and

the United States

In England the Witchcraze was somewhat different from continental Europe England had no inquisition, no Roman law, and only a weak tradition of heresy There was no English translation of the Malleus Maleficarum until modern times English witchcraft remained closer to the idea of sorcery, with an emphasis on the power of witches to place hexes and curses In the 1500s English witches were not believed to fly, conduct orgies, or make pacts with the Devil Instead, they harmed livestock, caused diseases, and hurt infants and children Even then, witches were prosecuted under civil, not religious law This is why witches in England, and later in the US were hanged and not burned—burning is for heretics The European version of Witchcraze was brought into England through Scotland and King James I, who was a major proponent of the Witchcraze The height of Witchcraze in England occurred during the 1640s—the English Civil War at the time was producing even greater anxieties and insecurities American lagged even further behind—the first hanging of a witch in New England didn’t happen until 1647

By far the most famous of the witch trials in the Americas occurred in Salem in 1692 This trial is well documented and has been extensively studied The immediate cause of the trials appears to have been two girls (aged 9 and 11) who were experimenting with divination techniques in an attempt to discover who their future husbands would be In the process, they managed to scare themselves and began exhibiting nervous symptoms—they thrashed around and assumed odd postures The father of one of the girls was the local minister—he called a physician to examine

the girls but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with them It was the physician who first suggested that the girls might be victims of a witch’s spell The girls’ behavior became worse, and soon other young girls and women began to suffer from fits and convulsions The girls were questioned and named 3 women as witches: Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, and a West Indian slave named Tituba Soon more were accused The fits increased in intensity

The girls screeched, howled, reported visions, and suffered from mysterious tooth marks The trials themselves were dramatic affairs at which the girls exhibited these symptoms In all, 19 people were executed, and more than 100 were jailed Most of the commentaries on the Salem trials focus on what, from an outsider’s perspective, was really going on there Early suggestions included the girls being delusional and the whole thing being a vicious prank Perhaps they enjoyed the attention, or maybe they were overcome by the power of suggestion More recent research has suggested a possible biological component in the form of ergot poisoning—which comes from eating a particular mold found in the grain rye, and among its symptoms are hallucinations Functions of Euro-American Witchcraft Beliefs Witches define all that is wrong and immoral

People who exhibit antisocial behavior or who stand out in any way are most likely targets of witchcraft accusations In the European example, witches helped to define the boundaries of Christianity and the cohesion of the Christian community Witches were people who had turned their backs on Christianity and made a pact with the devil—they were heretics Witches also fulfill our unconscious need to blame someone for the

misfortunes we experience in our daily lives It’s more psychologically satisfying to have an identifiable individual who can be blamed and punished than to shrug and attribute it to bad luck Witches as Women Though both men and women were tried and executed as witches during the Witchcraze, the vast majority were women There are many reasons for this The Malleus says that women are more likely to be witches because women are weaker, stupider, more superstitious, and more sensual than men •Witches were believed to have intercourse with the Devil—the fact that the Devil is almost universally perceived as a male may have been a factor in labeling women as witches •16th century Europe was unusually misogynistic. Some historians have suggested that this is because of demographic changes—more men than women died from the plague and warfare. As a result, there was a demographic imbalance with more women than men. The social position of a woman living alone in a patriarchical society, in which women were defined in relation to me, would have been difficult. The weaker social position of women made them easier to accuse •Among women, midwives appear to have been a particular target.

Infant and maternal mortality rates were both high at the time and these deaths, along with any deformity or illness, were likely to be blamed on the midwife. Some researchers have also noted the connection between the persecution of midwives as witches and the rise of the profession of male doctors Wicca The Wiccan religion is the best known of the Neo-Pagan religions Neo-Paganism refers to pre-Christian religious traditions that have been revived and are practiced in contemporary times

The beginnings of the Wiccan religion can be traced to the publication of several important books —The Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921), by anthropologist Margaret Murray.

In the book she examined the Witchcraze, called by Wiccans “the Burning Times”. She focused on what she believed to be the connection of the Witchcraze to the persecution of practitioners of pre-Christian religions. She believed that there was an unbroken line between pre-Christian goddess-based religions and women who were labeled witches. The book was also released at the same time as the suffragist movement in the US, an early feminist movement—one that liked the idea of female empowerment The Wiccan movement still didn’t really take off though until the 1950s because of two more books by Gerald Gardner an amateur anthropologist —Witchcraft Today (1954) The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) Both books continued on Murray’s idea that witchcraft was a pre-Christian religion in Britain. Gardner then went on to say that he had found and joined a coven of witches whom he believed to be among the last remnants of this old religion Wiccan Beliefs and Rituals There’s actually a lot of variety in Wiccan beliefs and practices so what we’ll talk about now are the most common features Wicca is a polytheistic religion, although which gods and goddesses are named varies Gender equality—the god and the goddess (named or unnamed)—is stressed, as is nature as a manifestation of deity The religion is in many ways nature based and includes a ritual calendar One set of rituals is performed according to the lunar cycle and is associated ith the goddess There are also eight Sabbats, or solar festivals, associated

with the god The Sabbats happen seasonally and are tied to major solar events, solstices and equinoxes and divide the year into 8 periods, each period being related to what is happening in nature The rituals themselves are varied but often begin with the casting of a circle to create a sacred space After the circle is cast, invocations are recited to the four cardinal directions As part of this, or after this, the god(s) and goddess(es) are invoked to observe the ritual From this point, the ritual will vary according to its purpose Common elements include singing and chanting, the manipulation of symbols, and a ritual meal Common Wiccan symbols include: •images or candles used to represent the god and goddess the athame, or ritual knife, and wand—either of which can be used to cast the circle •cauldrons and cups are symbolic of the goddess •a broom may be used to sweep and thus purify an area •the pentacle (we talked about this earlier) The use of magic is also characteristic of Wiccan religion—both folk magic and ritual magic Contrary to common misperceptions, all magic in Wicca is to be used for good and never for evil This can be seen in the Wiccan Law of Return which states that whatever good you do will return to you, as will any evil. Wiccans also have as their most basic moral rule something called the Wiccan rede which simply states that you can do whatever you want as long as it does not harm anyone The Growing popularity—and persecution—of Wicca

Although exact numbers of adherents are difficult to come by, Wicca has expanded rapidly, primarily in

North America and Europe The religion has also recently gained important official recognition—the US Armed Forces chaplain’s handbook now contains a section on Wicca, and a Wiccan practitioner recently won a court case affirming the right to practice the religion in jail Wicca has many features that make it appealing, especially to young women These include a lack of sexist beliefs and discrimination in general and a focus on the female aspects, or the goddess A concern for nature and the environment also fits well with modern ideas Whereas for some the morality off traditional religions seems excessively restrictive, Wicca has one moral rule, the Wiccan rede The practice of Wicca is very flexible and allows for personal involvement—individuals can practice the religion alone or with a group and are free to add their own symbols as they see fit

Despite the growing numbers of Wiccan practitioners and the increasing media exposure, Wicca remains a religion that is largely misunderstood Practitioners are often persecuted and the subjects of hate crimes Some of this misunderstanding comes from the Wiccan use of the term witch and symbols like the pentagram, which for most Euro-Americans have negative connotations—they see them as signs of devil worship For Wiccans, the idea of the Devil is a Christian notion, and so they have no connection with it Wiccans use the term witch because for them it has a different but important meaning and connotations For Wiccans, witch was a term that was unfairly applied to pagans, healers, and people who practiced an age-old tradition of folk magic To call themselves witches is seen as reclaiming the term and reaffirming their heritage

Now let's

switch gears and examine culture change and religion. We’re going to try to look at how the processes of change can lead to the demise of a culture or adjustments for survival In many contact situations the dominated culture reacts with the formation of new religious movements that frequently combine cultural elements from both the dominant and dominated societies —these types of revitalization movements aren’t found just among tribal peoples, but also form the basis of today’s Western religions, including many new religious movements To begin with, let’s look at how cultures adapt and change By now you’ve seen examples of how religion reinforces a society’s culture and worldview

Religious institutions provide mechanisms for dealing with the inevitable stresses that are part of living In general, religious practices tend to be very conservative—this conservatism’s derived from their sacred nature and the fact that a society’s belief system is usually considered to be ancient, that is, it was practiced in the old time by the ancestors However, change does occur—in fact, change must occur if a society is to endure The world does not exist in a steady state—changes happen in the climate, the availability of food and water, in the presence of hostile peoples on one’s borders If a society is to survive, it must adapt and change to meet the challenges brought about by the changing world

This doesn’t mean that change always happens at the right time in the just the right way Sometimes changes occur too slowly or too quickly to be effective, or change doesn’t occur at all Sometimes changes appear maladaptive But in the long run, if a society is to survive,

it must adapt to some degree to the world it exists in Mechanisms of culture change Generally speaking, societies that are technologically simple tend to be relatively isolated from outside influences and tend to change slowly over time Internal change can and does occur through two processes: •Discovery—new awareness of something that exists in the environment •Invention—coming up with a solution to a problem using the technology at hand (ex: invent a technology that gets rid of the poison in certain plants, like acorns, that makes them available as a food source)

Change can also be introduced from outside the society through relationships, friendly or otherwise, with neighboring groups The mere existence of other cultures with different technologies, social organizations, and religious practices exposes a society to new ideas and new technologies Two groups living in the same general area may have many similar problems, especially when it comes to subsistence When two groups, such as those within a culture area, face similar problems, solutions that are developed in one group through discovery and invention might be adopted by the other, a process called Diffusion—the apparent movement of cultural traits from one society to another Technological traits are more likely to diffuse than religious traits Sometimes it’s only the idea that moves from one culture to another, and stimulated by that idea, the receiving society invents a new trait—a process called stimulus diffusion (ex: tobacco)

Sometimes the influence of one culture on another is more intense Rather than sporadic contact through trade and other joint activities, one society might assume political and/or economic control over another If both societies are fairly equal politically and economically, both societies

will borrow traits from one another and, over time, the societies will become more and more similar Usually, however, one society is able to dominate the other, and the dominant culture undergoes far less change than the subordinate one The dominant society is the one that, usually because of a more developed technology and wealth, is able to establish control over the subordinate one In this case the subordinate culture experiences change as traits are accepted, often at a rate that it too rapid to properly integrate the traits into the culture This process is referred to as acculturation A society that has undergone change of this type is said to be acculturated—an anthropologist who enters a tribal village and sees pop cans, metal knives and pots, and radios knows that it is an acculturated community When the dominated society has changed to much that it ceases to have its own distinct identity, it is said to have been assimilated

Now that you know what acculturation is, we can talk about acculturation and religion The ability of one group to establish control over another is usually due to technological, economic, and political factors However, once this control has been establishes, it is possible for features of other parts of the culture, like religion, to flow from one society to the other Religion may play an especially important role because a dominated culture might look for religious explanations for what is occurring and the dominating group might use religious justifications for its actions Some societies are very receptive to new religious ideas and are able to graft them onto their own religion Why not add what appears

to be a powerful foreign god to the existing pantheon? It can’t hurt. For example, the Christian god often becomes yet another god in the pantheon, and selected elements of Christian ritual may be incorporated into traditional rituals

To those living in the Western world this incorporation of elements from one religion into another might seem strange Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are exclusionary in that members of these religions are excluded from practicing rituals of other religions When a person converts, he/she gives up all former religious beliefs However, even these religions adopted some beliefs from surrounding cultures during their development In many societies people practice rituals from different religious systems more on the basis of need than anything else For ex: in Japan, someone might travel to a Shinto shrine to ask for blessings on the family, be married in a Christian ritual, and be buried in a Buddhist ritual Small-scale societies are often able to assimilate new religious practices with a degree of ease However, Christian missionaries, for example, demand exclusion One of the most stressful aspects of the presence of missionary activity is the pressure to give up one’s former religion

The process of acculturation doesn’t always involve the complete replacement of one trait by another or the complete acceptance of a new trait There is often a reworking of the trait through a process known as Syncretism—a fusing of traits from two cultures to form something new and yet, at the same time, permit the retention of the old by subsuming it into a new form A classic example of syncretism is the case of the introduction of cricket by missionaries into the

Trobriand Islands in 1903. The purpose was to introduce British values and replace warfare and magic with competitive sports. But that’s not what happened.... Missionaries in the Trobrians faced three major problems as they saw it. 1) Trobrianders engaged in iolent ritual warfare, 2) they had a very open attitude toward sex, 3) magic played a central role in their activities The missionaries hoped to counter some of these problems, especially warfare, through the introduction of competitive sports, in which aggression could be moved to and controlled on the cricket field What actually happened was that the Trobrianders took the game, which they accepted into their culture with great enthusiasm, and shaped it to fit their culture, rather than the other way around—in other world, syncretism happened Athletic competition was reinterpreted in terms of traditional competition among chiefs and ceremonial exchanges

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