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Origins of Religion

Tracing the origins of human thought

It seems probable, despite theological cavils, that Petronius was right in his signal saying, Fear first made the Gods. In the words of a recent hierologist, "we may be sure that primitive man took to himself the credit of his successful attempts to work the mechanism of nature for his own advantage, but when the machinery did not work he ascribed the fault to some over-ruling supernatural power..... It was the violation of [previously exploited] sequences, and the frustration of his expectations, by which the belief in supernatural power was, not created, but first called forth." John M. Robertson

John is fairly close to the mark, and I shall discuss this presently, but first let's remember he was writing about 100 years ago and since then the improvements in technology and the discoveries in archaeology along with the recovery of many ancient texts clearly show the evolution of modern Christianity and Islam as coming from Zoroastrianism and its predecessor, Vedanta which gave rise to modern-day Hinduism and Buddhism seems to contain elements of both faiths.

As to what came before Vedanta and Zoroastrianism, no one is entirely sure. But it seems reasonably clear that given both of these ideologies originated in the same area of Central Asia that they both have the same root but they are different.

As more evidence comes available, it seems clear that Zoroastrianism is an element of Vedanta which was a philosophical basis for understanding life across the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent as early as 5000 BC. There are contradictions artefacts found in Germany carbon dated to 30,000 EC that because these are too difficult to fit in the puzzle right now, we must leave them out.

There are two key differences between Vedanta and Zoroastrianism. Vedanta provides a description of the nature of existence and how to experientially perceive whereas Zoroastrianism and its offshoot Judaism are belief systems with the spiritual domain governed or restricted by a priesthood.

The development of religion.

We know again from the archaeological evidence that human like beings have inhabited parts of Africa for some 7 million years and that they lived in social groups. Of course, we know not much about these people but there is some evidence that some of these groups were engaging in some ritualistic practice. Science of course tells us that modern people like ourselves have only been in existence for some 200,000 years, however here I am not so concerned with our physical revolution, I am more interested in the evolution of our spiritual views.

Leaving ourselves aside for a moment, please consider that animals adapt themselves to seasonal changes to either migrate or hibernate depending on their situation. Animals also react to environmental phenomenon and many have the intelligence to seek or even to create shelter.

Our distant ancestors would have behaved in a similar way by taking shelter in caves and perhaps migrating with the herds of animals that were the most important food source. We must of course assume that our ancestors were not stupid, we know they sheltered in caves, we know they were successful hunters and gatherers and over time they learned how to create shelters, improve their hunting and gathering technology and eventually developing agricultural methods.

John M. Robertson asserts that fear is the origin of all religion, I would agree but also add the element of desire, after all, we pray for protection from what we fear and we pray to have what we desire. Primitive man of course was subject to the whims of nature, they had to flee when the flood came, find shelter in the storm and no doubt they witnessed many natural events that they feared like thunder and lightning. As we know ourselves, there are things we fear, and we hope or pray that these fears are not realised.

I have no doubt that from the very beginning of human like society, that the value of giving was appreciated. This seems to be a core element, which stems from the fact that we give to our children so that they may become strong so that the children will be kind and supportive towards their ageing and less strong parents who still have value within the community.

At some point the wish or desire to be saved from disaster, and the desires for those elemental things like good hunting and a full belly, a strong capable spouse resulted in fervent prayer and offerings. Of course living close to nature, observing the seasons, the movements of the moon and tides, and perhaps the correlation between the full moon and the female reproductive cycle must have come into the People's awareness at some time. The fact that the moon seemed to have power over other things, and that in the animal kingdom the strongest rules over the weak would have impressed early mankind.

In this scenario, wishes and desires became prayers and from prayers the offering of a gift evolved as an exchange between man and the elements. During different periods of history, offerings became sacrifices with the notion that I will give up what I treasure in order that perhaps the lightning will spare a life or provide good hunting etc. And the practice of offering and sacrifice remains alive and well in modern religions.

From the earliest beginnings mankind has been seeking some stability and control over nature and in that sense, little has changed in millions of years, however, over this time mankind has been learning about the forces of nature and the relationships between all life forms. Over time hunting technologies improved, the use of herbs as medicine evolved and eventually the practice of agriculture was invented and developed which gave rise to the development of permanent settlements and a rapid increase in population.

No doubt as tribal culture developed, individuals would be assigned different roles in the community depending on their level of skill and aptitude like the strongest hunter, and it seems most probable that by some fate certain individuals would have more of a capacity for leading prayer rituals, or knowing where to find the best game, or knowing what herbs to use to remedy different illnesses or injuries and the culture of the Shaman was born.

cath-hindAs larger communities developed the Shaman and or those with the interest began putting their heads together in order to understand and more accurately and consistently influence events of nature as well as improve their knowledge of the human condition and ways of easing suffering. During this period some 10 to 20,000 years ago, we see the development of trade and the sharing of ideas as well as continuing growth of the human population.

Another element to be remembered is the origin of writing  which began some 3000 years ago.  Before writing, religion was more ephemeral, like language and understanding, it was an evolving live tradition.  With writing, ideas and beliefs once written down became unchangeable and eventually religious law, and religion began to die, divorced from the life of the people.

We know that Zoroastrianism and Vedanta were founded some time before the 600BCE, and I suspect that the development of these two faiths emerged out of the culmination of the Shamanistic knowledge which had developed up until this time.

All religions are one and are derived from Vedic Sanatana Dharma. Historian P.N. Oak claimed that the word Vatican originally came from the Sanskrit word "Vatika", that "Christianity" came from the Sanskrit words "Krishna-neeti", (the way of Krishna), and that "Abraham" came from the Sanskrit word "Brahma". He further claims that both Christianity and Islam originated as distortions of Vedic beliefs. Compare the two pictures and see a striking similarity between the shapes of a shiva linga and the Vatican church compound.The word 'Vatican' itself is derived from the Sanskrit word Vatika, which means Vedic cultural or religious centres, such as Yagna-Vatika. Such words and discoveries prove that the Vatican was a Hindu (Vedic) religious center before its incumbent was forced to accept Christianity from 1st century AD. Also, according to some reports, a Shiva linga was found during the excavation and is kept for display at a Museum in Rome.

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Similarities in spiritual symbolism across the world

As to some over-ruling supernatural power, from all my own research and understanding, there is no absolute over-ruling supernatural power unless there are sufficient people to believe, and when sufficient people believe, some supernatural power may manifest for them for a short time. The only power, (and power here is really the wrong word) is to be found in the strength and scope of being human. And for all the priests and prophets, only Jesus and Buddha asked the people to do as they did and determined in their own hearts and minds the validity of their teachings.

There are of course many who believe that our physical, mental and spiritual development has been influenced by extraterrestrials forces, however at this time there is insufficient proof, although one should not entirely dismiss the possibility.

Footnote:
From what I can tell, while the whole out of Africa theory for the origin of man is on shaky ground, what we think of as civilisation got a kickstart from that north-west India/Indus region. There seems to be little doubt that there was a substantial population and consequently widespread travel and trade. Ideas about Atlantis and Lemuria are too far out of the picture to really be considered as part of this discussion, but that statue that turned up in Germany dated to 35-40,000 years certainly puts a spanner in many evolutionary theories, but it supports the idea that India was central to all civilised development.

If we take the story of Shiva as being the first yogi as told by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and the date of 13,000 BC, it makes good sense that yogis more enlightened than the general population would have helped to format Sanatana Dharma which rooted most successfully within the Indian subcontinent.

It's my opinion that the Persians didn't get Sanatana Dharma in its fullness and instead they came up with the idea referred to as Zoroastrianism. There is some speculation that the Jews were a Hindu tribe who for some reason migrated to coastal Mesopotamia and being disconnected, they too forgot the important facts of life and even perhaps imitated the Persians in creating beliefs. Then we have the Pharaoh Aknaten taking on the idea of the one God and the act of Moses by destroying the golden calf imposing patriarchy and the final separation of humanity from divinity.

The whole idea of Dharma, the development of religion as well is the spread of languages and ideas must be looked at holistically in terms of the state of the planet-ice ages and the 26,000 year yuga cycle. Until such time as the Indus Valley scripts can be read, the most accurate history we have is within Vedanta.

External References
John M. Robertson
wikipedia timeline of human evolution
wikipedia human evolution
wikipedia Zoroastrianism
Dalai Lama Photo credit

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3 comments to Origins of Religion

  • Kiesha Thornbrugh

    Humanity’s closest living relatives are common chimpanzees and bonobos. These primates share a common ancestor with humans who lived between six and eight million years ago. It is for this reason that chimpanzees and bonobos are viewed as the best available surrogate for this common ancestor. Barbara King argues that while non-human primates are not religious, they do exhibit some traits that would have been necessary for the evolution of religion. These traits include high intelligence, a capacity for symbolic communication, a sense of social norms, realization of “self” and a concept of continuity. There is inconclusive evidence that Homo neanderthalensis may have buried their dead which is evidence of the use of ritual. The use of burial rituals is thought to be evidence of religious activity, and there is no other evidence that religion existed in human culture before humans reached behavioral modernity.

    Elephants actually demonstrate rituals around their deceased, which includes long periods of silence and mourning at the point of death and a process of returning to grave sites and caressing the remains. Some evidence suggests that many species grieve death and loss. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_origin_of_religions

  • William Sharick

    Hi, nice information to ponder over but to my mind religion began with due to some to be compounded by Christianity and Islam. I like your other post about the ridiculousness of beliefs, keep up the good work

  • Serina

    Hi, a great post and I think people should be discussing a lot more of this

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