Living Religiously

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Living Religiously

Living Religiously


"Primitive religion is a name given to the religious beliefs and practices of those traditional, often isolated, preliterate cultures which have not developed urban and technologically sophisticated forms of society." The term is deceptive in suggesting that the religions of those peoples are somehow less complex than the religions of "advanced", "civilized", or "modern" society. (Bachofen & Jakob 2005)

The term primitive religion unjustly represents a great deal of beliefs and customs that simply cannot be shrink wrapped into one basic category. (Cunningham & Kelsay 2010) There is a diverse multiplicity of myths, rituals, and beliefs among the various "primitive" religions throughout the world. However, most primitive religions share some interesting characteristics.

"The sense of a living power underlying all forms of life, referred to as either mana or animism by European scholars" is a belief shared by most primitive religions. (Fagan 2006) "Mana is a sacred force that permeates existence. It is within persons and things, as well as in the universe. It is a supernatural power that possesses magnetic force." The term most often used within primitive cultures for this force usually translates to "Great Spirit."

Elements of Religion

One of the hallmarks of religion is a belief in supernatural beings and forces. 


A belief in a supernatural power not part of supernatural beings is referred to as animatism.  For those who hold this belief, the power is usually impersonal, unseen, and potentially everywhere. (Cunningham & Kelsay 2010)  It is neither good nor evil, but it is powerful and dangerous if misused.  It is something like electricity or "the force" in the Star Wars movies. (Bachofen & Jakob 2005) For them it is a force that is inherent in all objects, plants, and animals (including people) to different degrees.  Some things or people have more of it than others and are, therefore, potentially dangerous. 


A belief that natural objects are animated by spirits is animism.  The term comes from the Latin word for soul (anima).  This belief can take diverse forms.  Things in nature may all have within them different spirits--each rock, tree, and cloud may have its own unique spirit.  Alternatively, all things in nature may be thought of as having the same spirit.  This latter version of animism was characteristic of many Native American cultures.  In both forms of animism, the spirits are thought of as having identifiable personalities and other characteristics such as gender.  A belief in a powerful, mature, protective "mother nature" is an example.  The spirits may be benevolent, malevolent, or neutral.  They can be lovable, terrifying, or even mischievous.  They can interact with humans and can be pleased or irritated by human actions. (Cunningham & Kelsay 2010) Therefore, people must be concerned about them and will try to avoid displeasing them.

Initially, animatism and animism may seem to be the same thing.  In fact both beliefs are often found in the same culture.  The difference, however, is that the "power" of animatism does not have a personality--it is an impersonal "it" rather than a "he" ...
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