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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Achilpa altar Apsu archaic societies assimilated baptism becomes beginning behavior birth brahmarandhra celestial Center ceremony chaos Christ Christian consecrated cosmic cosmic tree cosmogonic myth cosmogony cosmological cosmos created creation cult culture death desacralized divine dragon dwell earth Eliade equivalent eternal return example expressed festival forms gestures gious gods heaven hence hierogamy hierophany history of religions homo religiosus homologies human existence illo tempore imago imitate implies Indian initiation initiatory Karuk live man's manifested marine monster Mircea Eliade mode modern mystery mythical ancestors mythologies nature nonreligious ontological orientation origin paradigmatic model Paradise passage pillar plane possible primitive primordial profane existence profane space R. H. Charles reactualization reality regeneration religious experience religious meaning religious values repeated revealed rience rites ritual sacrality sacred space sacrifice sanctified sexual Shatapatha Brahmana spiritual structure supreme temple Tiamat tion traditional transcendent transhuman tree universe valorization waters Wilhelm Schmidt Yahweh