“ligio” is latin and it means “connect” or “join” or “bind”, so “religion” is about reconnecting things. things which once was one & which have been split apart and now wont to be back together. on the one side of the equation there is the individual. you and me and every one else, alone and apart and individuated whether you like it or not and on the other side there are four things: society, nature, ultimate and self. this here will be a very brief sketchy introduction with some very little backstory on these four. i aim to be writing about them, separately and in combos, in much greater lengthiness later on.
human beings are pretty piss-poor animals. we ain’t got claws or wings or shells or teeth big enough to bring down antelopes or bison and we can’t even run very fast. some myths explain this by making us the last creatures to be made, the sweepings of the parts, the leftovers. all the good stuff was already used up. then the gods felt sorry for us and gave us big brains, or some titan or animal stole fire and gave it to the first people or somethin’ and the fire then became the center of the group and it was this grouping that allowed humans to survive. one bald, bipedal on the savannah wasn’t ever gonna last long but a group could manage to make a living. we were social animals from the beginning and so there had to be some kinda organization, some kinda process for resolving disputes and making it possible for people to get along without killing the shit out of each other the first time heads butted or somebody stepped on somebody’s ped. we have no friggin’ idea what it was, o’ coss, ‘cos our dumb, dim, dull-witted, prehistoric forebears didn’t write anything down but those slouch-shouldered, grunting meatheads managed to make it for 95% of the time that homo sapiens have been around so they had something. agriculture and the rise of settled communities led to the development of writing only five short millennia ago, so from then to now we know the rules of societies and they’re pretty much basically the same all over the world. “don’t kill each other”, “don’t steal”, that kinda common sensical shit. most cultures made up some kinda marriage arrangement to keep people from killing over fucking; some just said “fuck whoever ya want…except yer siblings, no matter how attractive they might be”. that one about fucking yr close kin, yeah, that’s pretty much all over.
that’s society. and that puts the individual in the position of having to get along with or at least tolerate a bunch of people who have their own agendas and their own wants and desires which may be at odds with those of any given individual at any given time which brings us back around to the need for structure and then furthermore for the need to make these people want to be around each other, bound together, connected. the survival of the group depends on this. and society is of the male. and this is not about genitalia – its about energies and there are/was reasons for it, some of which is/were symbolic whilst others flat-out am/be practical and that’s the way we have it. it ain’t about gender roles or relations at this point, tho’ this writer does intend to deal with those issues at another time/space.
society is of the male energy. the structure of society is given to the people by the male deity or determined/discovered by the male culture hero. religion, in general, is a social institution, tho’ it deals with all levels, and the functionaries of religion are typically guys and the rites deal more with men’s needs than with women’s. this has a lot to do with the fact that females are associated with nature and men with society which will be touched on in the section to follow and it also has somewhat to do with the fact that a buncha guys sitting around smokin’ cigars and figgerin’ out how to organize the rituals are just gonna work it that way. and then again there’s a lot we don’t know becos when anthropology was invented, ca. 1869, the first people who took it up were over-educated, unemployed second-sons from boston, ma, who went out west to annoy the red injuns and only talked to the men, assuming that the women didn’t know anything. so we missed out on some stuff there.
at any rate, the rituals of the mass, the bacchanal, the dance, the oke-kee-pa, &c, all group rituals, serve the purpose of joining the individuals together, of making them feel connected and interconnected and related and bound. go ahead, try it on: get naked with a bunch of people, chant and dance around an alter with venomous asps for a few hours, see how ya feel about those folks.
the four categories i laid out ain’t arbitrary and nor are they writ in stone. there’s some crossing over and to ‘n’ fro. the relationship of humans to nature goes back to that business about people just not being very good animals. the natural world is all big and scary and full of things that want to eat us and that don’t want to be eaten by us. and there’s flashing lights and boomy-boom in the sky and rain and snow and dark of night. and you can’t get away from it becos the earth hasn’t been pounded yet. that’s an image from a myth, but right now i don’t remember what culture or continent or anything. some tribe somewhere had that in their creation story, that the creator told the first person to “pound the earth” which means to make it fit for humans to live on. it’s a pretty common idea. at the time of creation, the earth wasn’t right for people. it was chaos, which means, for our purposes, it wasn’t right for people. it was all water or there were monsters or titans or giants. sometimes it’s a god who kills a giant and makes the world out of the pieces of the giant’s body. sometimes the animals have to dive into the abyss and bring back some mud to make land out of. sometimes the first person or people have to go around killing monsters and in the process they usually create certain landmarks. sometimes its just a matter of naming the animals. that’s all about making order out of chaos. nature is chaotic. nature is of the female.
and again, this ain’t about gender. its about energies and archetypes. this writer intends to talk about gender at another time, becos it is an issue which needs some address, but for this moment the subject is the past and how things have been, so let’s just leave that other thing be for a bit, but the past stuff kind of is about gender in a way becos religion is of the male and the forms of religion, including the underlying myths, were mostly dreamed by the men so they’re slanted that way. from the male perspective, women are fuckin’ weird. they have vaginas. the vaginas bleed sometimes. blood is associated with death. but then babies come out of the vaginas too so the vaginas are obviously some powerful juju that nobody really understands or maybe the women do, but the men are off smokin’ cigars pretendin’ to be huntin’ saber-toothed rhinoceroses or something so they ain’t asking. but the vaginas are pretty scary mojo and at the same time pretty irresistible. the vaginas have power.
the women, of course, figgered out the connection betwixt fuckin’ and babies before the men did. they felt the changes in their bodies and they either let on right away or not, nobody knows and i’m totally free-stylin’ here becos nobody knows what went down at this point in prehistory. we’re talkin’ about 50,000 years b.c.e. here. god only knows. and she ain’t tellin’.
so the natural world don’t make a lick o’ sense, but we depend on it for everything. women are about the same, ergo women are nature and here we are smokin’ cigars and inventing society. and it continued to make sense all along, really, this assignment of the genders to society and nature, so it lasted. that’s a thing to be remembered about myth: it has lasted. people who are struggling to survive from one day to the next don’t spend a lot of energy on shit that has no value. they can’t afford to. and myth and religion have been around in some form or another for about 50,000 years, which is a long time, longer than homo sapiens have had the second sapiens, which means longer than we’ve existed in our current form and that’s something else we’ll get into at another time..
initiation rituals mostly have to do with turning the boys into men. something has to happen to the boys, something has to be done to them and it has to be done by the older men and it has to be a big fuckin’ deal. like being taken out into the scary, dark night and starved and beat around and kept awake for a week or two, dancing and chanting and then being circumcised with a jagged rock or, holy shit, subincised with a sharp chicken bone and having a tooth knocked out becos the first person got a tooth knocked out in a fight with a monster or something and then tattooed with a stick and so on and that’s some shit you don’t forget. you go thru that when you’re twelve and you’re a man, goddammit. none of this shit of getting to be about fifty and suddenly leaving your wife for your daughter’s roommate and growing a little ponytail, driving around in a sports car pretending you’re a kid agin, fuck no. you have been transformed into a man and you take your place in the men’s realm and there you are.
the girls don’t have to go thru all that. mostly. there are exceptions, but most of the time the girls get their menses and that’s it. off you go to the women’s hut, hon, and think about it some. girls become women automatically, from within and nothing has to be done to them. they start to bleed outta their vaginas and then they go thru the long trial of pregnancy and the bringing forth of the young’uns, which is a dangerous business and much more so back in the day so the polarity becomes something like:
women are/men do.
and that’s the nature/society split. nature is. just look around (not now, but back in the day). society has to be made. go out to the woods if you can find some and look around. its all higgledy-piggledy, chaotic and there’s no straight lines or anything. we know now that there’s a vast and complex system of mutually supporting, interdependent, harmoniousness going on, but it don’t look that way at first and if people are gonna live comfortably in it, there’s gonna have to be some changes made: knock down some trees, make a log cabin, clear a plot for corn and taters and a bit o’ terbaccy…fix it up nice. nature is, society has to be made. and what you lose in the process is the tenuous connection you had to the big scary natural world in the first place, which, scary tho’ it was, was also a connection and let’s not forget that nature is fuckin’ beautiful and our long-armed, thick-browed, stubby little ancestors musta seen that. they had big brains, after all and when ya get up to the time of the great cave paintings at lascaux or trois frères, it becomes pretty fuggin’ obvious they had a keen eye for beauty and those gorgeous bison and horses and gazelles weren’t first drafts. human hands had been crafting works of art for a good long time that just didn’t make it down thru the ages.
irresistible, beautiful, powerful, unpredictable, hostile…yeh, that’s women, alright. but women live in society, so they’ve lost the connection with nature, too. and society happens within nature. nature is bigger and older so the myths always start with the female energy. its frequently hidden, but its there, even when the mythmakers tried to have it not be: the chaos, remember? the chaos that existed before creation. that’s female energy. and sometimes you really don’t have to dig at all, its just blatant, like with the cow licking the salty hoarfrost and revealing the body of the sleeping giant, ymir, or vishnu sleeping on the belly of shesha naga, floating on the cosmic water – the cow and the water, whaddaya think they are?
so there’s nature, mother nature. and how do we relate to that reality? depends on what myths you look at, but all myth systems answer it in some way or another.
the ultimate is ultimately ultimate and therefore can’t be written about or talked about. the ultimate is transcendent of words becos any/all words or terms or turns of phrases are limit(ed/ing) and so can’t touch it. the ultimate is unknowable. at this point, someone who has been following along might say that “unknowable” is one side of a pair of opposites, being equally balanced by “knowable”, but that person would be wrong. the knowable can be divided into two categories: that which is knowable and known and that which is knowable, but not known, or “known/unknown”. the unknowable can’t be so divided. it is a whole unto itself.
within hinduism, the ultimate is called “brahman”. brahman is not a god. brahman is that of which the gods are personalizations. people like to have something to wrap their heads around, something that they can visualize and think about and its pretty dang hard to think about something which by definition can’t be thought about so there are the gods, vishnu, kali, shiva, ganash, durga, indra and indefinitely on thru the entire freakin’ cavalcade of the hindu pantheon, all and every one of them understood to be personifications of the unity of brahman. all that is and was and will be is and was and will be an aspect of brahman and can be recognized as such, but the totality of brahman can never be conceived of. that’s some heavy shit right there.
many native american peoples had and have a similar concept. this writer’s favorite of these happens to be that of the lakota: wakan tanka. “wakan” means “holy” or “sacred”. all things are “wakan”, but some things show it more clearly or have more of it and it can’t really be understood. “tanka” means “ultimate” or something very like that. so “wakan tanka” is “the ultimate sacred holy powerful mysterious thing”, which is dead-on. that’s just what it is. wakan tanka may be directly addressed in a way that brahman wouldn’t be, but the lakota know that when they do so they are addressing only an aspect of the greatest mystery, not the totality.
then you run into the monotheisms. well, really, then you run into yahweh. there may be some zoroastrians still around someplace but they’re not exactly major players on the world stage at this stage of the game. yahweh famously stated that he was and is and will be the only god and that all others are devils and somehow there are no less than three different religions that claim to be his: judaism, christianity and islam and coincidentally enough, these are the same three that have histories of bloodshed and violence. there has never been a buddhist crusade. various hindu countries have made war, but those were wars of conquest or capital gain and that’s very much a different thing. no hindu holy wars. that digression having now run its course, there is, within the context of judaism and therefore within christianity and islam, judaism’s children if you will, the idea of the “godhead”, which refers to the unknowable aspect of god as opposed to his knowable aspect which is revealed in the torah, new testament and koran and is for our purposes the same concept as brahman and wakan tanka.
now, all of this is pretty vague and this part may not even matter to a lot of people. maybe most people just want to know what they’re supposed to do to not piss god off. those people will be satisfied with the torah, new testament and koran, the sutras, upanishads and so on, the basic texts of the religions. those people will be satisfied and they will get all they need without this ultimate transcendent jibber-jabber that can’t make sense. but there are others for whom this part is quite important. so this part is touched on by the myths. it is never resolved.
we are born tabulas rasa and immediately somebody starts imprinting shit on our smooth pink little brains. this is the role of the parents or primary caregivers: to train squalling, slobbering little shitting monkeys to be socially acceptable, self-determining members of society. it’s a tough job and every parent overdoes some things and doesn’t do other things enough which leaves the individual with some self-work to do and gives therapists jobs and in the process we lose some connection to our “selves” or think we do. then we have to go on vision quests or hike across australia or ride motorcycles across america and take acid or some shit.
“who am i?” “what’s the meaning of life?” that kind of thing. myths and their religions handle these questions in various ways. if you’re a buddhist, its all moot becos there is no “self” to be known and you just have to figure out how to know that. if you’re a jew, your identity is you’re a jew. confucius set up a system of potential identities depending on birth order and whoever else happened to be in the room and that was so confusing that it took up all everybody’s brainspace to keep up with so they were distracted from the whole question. in hinduism, there is the “atman” which is about the same thing as the soul and if you happen to be of the esoteric persuasion and inclined to dwell on these things, you might spend a while thinking about the idea that “atman is brahman”, that is, the individual soul is the ultimate ultimateness. but not the other way ‘round. you are brahman, but brahman is not you, see? you are of the same unknowableness as the ultimate, but you are not ultimately it, tho that potentiality is potential. if that makes any sense and if it doesn’t its becos you haven’t done the yoga and meditation and pondering that saddhus and yogis do to attain that realization.
but that formula, atman = brahman, is the reason i ordered the four categories the way i did. i wanted to end this part on this: the realization of the self as an aspect of the ultimate, the final union of the soul with god, the dissolving of the illusion into nirvana, the rejoining of the many to the one, is the deep down nitty-gritty of what myth is about. and the reason for that is death.