The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion
This is one of my favorite books. Renowned anthropologist and historian of religion Mircea Eliade attempts to describe how religious people experience the sacred. He also gives a fascinating explanation of primitive religions. The popular image of the religion of primitive peoples is pretty unflattering: they worship rocks, animals, and whatnot; their rituals are just attempts to extract favors from imaginary spirits; their myths are laughably bad attempts at scientific explanations, etc. Eliade shows that these are complete misunderstandings. Primitive people don't worship natural objects, but they believe that natural objects can be revelations of the sacred, and that one can worship the gods through them. Primitive men certainly do want help from their gods (who wouldn't?), but they are also driven by what Eliade calls an 'ontological nostalgia', a desire to live in the presence of the gods who are the preeminently real and the source of all being. Nor do their myths seem so silly when one understands the function they serve and the universal symbolism they employ.
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According appearance archaic assume becomes beginning behavior believed birth body born break called celestial Center ceremony chaos Christian communication complete conception concern condition constitute continuity cosmic cosmogony cosmos created creation culture death desacralized divine earth Eliade equivalent especially eternal event example existence experience expressed fact festival followed forms four gods heaven hence human idea imitate implies important Indian initiation initiatory later live longer man's manifested meaning mode mystery myth mythical mythologies nature nonreligious once opening orientation origin paradigmatic passage periodically plane possible present primitive primordial profane reactualization reality religions religious religious experience repeated represents revealed rites ritual role sacred sacred space sanctified sense short situation societies space spiritual stone structure symbolism temple tempore tion traditional transcendent tree understand universe valorization values various waters whole