FROM SACRED AND PROFANE
by Phil Bartle, PhD
The number of gods is diminishing
If we look at the broad sweep of human history, and if we look at the range of societies from simple to complex, there are a few trends we can identify.
On the left side of the diagram of the six dimensions we see that most if not all time and space is divided into two categories, sacred and profane.
As we move along to the right in that diagram, we see increasing amounts of space and time that are secular, ie neither profane nor sacred.
As with change in other dimensions, belief change tends to be cumulative (adding new to old) rather than revolutionary (total replacement of old for new).
That, in turn, contributes to another generality, that social and cultural changes tend to be in the direction of simpler to more complex.
Although modern Christianity does not include the idea of reincarnation or life after death (until the coming again of Christ), many people continue to claim to be in touch with their dead relatives, and many psychics claim to be able to talk to ghosts.
Many Hollywood movies, our modern myths, build on the idea of dead people being able to communicate with live ones, and these modern myths (movies) reveal an underlying belief in the existence of ancestors and ghosts in western society.
The word “Easter” which is related to the words “oestrous” and “oyster,” is an Eastern European Springtime fertility custom.
Eggs have been used around the world in many cultures in fertility customs. When an Akan girl has her first menstrual flow, for example, her mother gives her an egg (forbidden to be eaten by children).
Today we tend to associate Christmas trees with the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ, and to associate Easter eggs with the Christian celebration of the rising of Christ from being dead.
Bringing an evergreen tree into the house for winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, December 21, and putting candles on it (to encourage the return of the sun), and putting fruits on it (to make the earth fertile again) is a pre Christian Northern European annual rebirth custom.
Martin Luther is reputed to have brought it into Christian practices, but he did not invent the custom.
Unlike deciduous trees, the evergreens were used because they remained “alive” (green) through the winter.
See my essay on the forty two day cycle created by the fusing of the Semitic seven day week with an earlier West African six day week. “Forty Days; The Akan Calendar.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Volume 48, Number 1 January 1978, pp 80-4, reproduced on my web site.
In Akan pre Christian religion, every person (and every god) remembered, was named after and celebrated his or her weekday of birth as a personal Sabbath.
Onyame, the Supreme God, was said to be born on Saturday. Kwame Nkrumah, first president of Ghana, changed his name from Kofi Nwieh to Kwame, after doing some research and discovering that many historical leaders, including Hitler, Napoleon and Alexander, were born on Saturday, the day of power.
Since children are named according to their weekday, and since they do not record year of birth, children are told to put their right hand over the top of the head to touch their left ear. If they cannot, they are too young to start school, and if they can they are deemed old enough to attend school.
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