Not all religions follow the same practices but there are some similarities between most, if not all, religions.
Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Religion changes across the globe. Different parts of the world have different beliefs and rules that maintain their religion. Not all religions follow the same practices but there are some similarities between most, if not all, religions. Religions have their own rituals attached to their beliefs. Some rituals across religions (like fasting) are specific to one religion while others are practiced throughout. Religions incorporate myths into how they practice, and why they practice by conveying messages about the supernatural through stories or metaphors. They are used to help express ideas and concepts as well as help the followers achieve spirituality. Religion can help people find peace of mind, give them hope, turn their life around, and change their point of view. Religion can be used to justify things and to motivate others. Rituals and ceremonies are practiced to show dedication and faith to a religion.
Origin of Religion
James Frazer’s ethnology of religion entitled The Golden Bough, published in 1890 and again in 1922, offered a thorough review of the cross cultural variation in ideas related to magic, myth and religion that were known to Europeans at the time. Taking an evolutionary approach to spirituality, he proposed that human belief progressed through three stages: primitive magic, which was displaced by religion, which in turn was replaced by science.
There are two types of known magic: imitative and contagious.
Imitative magic (also known as Similarity Magic) Is a form of magic in which an object, act, etc. that is similar to the desired goal can be used to influence an outcome(e.g. a rain dance to bring rain to dry crops). This is a religious cult practiced in the Caribbean and Southern USA (mostly by afro-americans, immigrants and descendants), combining elements of Roman Catholic rituals with traditional African magical and religious rites, and characterized by sorcery and spirit possession.. Voodoo, an example of similarity magic, has a negative connotation because of the misconception that it is associated with evil. In this practice, the Voodoo doll is used as a symbolic representation of another person. A person that practices Voodoo magic may stick pins into a doll in order to inflict harm or put a curse on another individual; it is thought that by harming the Voodoo doll, one can manipulate the physical or emotional state of the person that the doll is meant to represent.
However, the use of Voodoo is not purely negative. Voodoo is often used to heal relationships or other personal issues. An example of this is found in the book Mama Lola: A Voodoo Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown. Brown studies the priestesses daily practices, and finds that Mama Lola uses imitative magic to help people’s lives. In one instance, she helps a young women’s relationship with her husband. The husband is cheating on his wife, so Moma Lola tells her to write his name on a piece of paper, tear it up, and speak his name. By doing this, he will hear her and come back to her.
Contagious magic is often associated with witchcraft and sorcery. Witchcraft uses magic by casting spells, sometimes affiliated with spirits. Despite the stereotypes of European American witchcraft, most witchcraft is quite tame and does not involve the hurting of others. Contagious magic is still practiced today throughout the world. Many people still use puppets (much like voodoo dolls) or make symbolic offerings (images, money, candles and representations of babies or body part or a myriad of other public displays of devotion (the supplicants to the Sanctuary of Fátima or at Mecca) which are made with someone’s personal possessions in order to draw positive energy into that person’s life. The ability that a Navajo Witch has to cause you physical pain because they have a piece of your hair is an example of contagious magic.
Functions of Religion
Religion and its purpose varies depending on who you ask, but in a general sense, religions are societal groups of individuals with like-minded values and beliefs about the world. Most use religion as a way to achieve and ensure salvation in the afterlife, or to receive assurance of the purpose of their own lives. Spirituality often provides its followers with moral standards or expectations of how they should live and treat others. A religious group can bring people together, but religion also has a violent history as the driving force behind acts of genocide and oppression. For example, the Crusades were some of the most famous instances of the use of religion to justify violence, the Holocaust being another example. Both are historically significant, and while these are drastic examples, we still see prejudice today with attacks on Muslims based solely on religious ignorance. Anthropologically, religion has many purposes in society and its study can tell much about a culture that is not otherwise understood.
Concepts of Supernatural Beings
There are many different ways cultures conceptualize their spiritual beings. These include, but are not limited to: Animatism, Animism, Anthropomorphism, Dualism, Euhemerism, Totemism, and Zoomorphism.
Animatism is the belief in a supernatural power that is able to be something other than a person or animal. In this sense, it is the belief that the supernatural is all around you and could be anything. Individuals that hold these beliefs explain a powerful unseen force that can potentially be found all around us; in people, animals, plants and features of nature such as volcanoes and the ocean, for example, Mother Earth (believing in the non-living). The belief of animatism doesn’t assign a spiritual identity but instead believes in a single unified power that can manifest itself into objects or be acquired by and controlled by certain individuals. The term was coined by the British Anthropologist Robert Ranulph Marett as “a belief in a generalized, impersonal power over which people have some measure of control” Animatism is the cause of consciousness and personality to natural phenomena such as thunderstorms and earthquakes and to objects such as plants and stones. Inanimate objects, forces, and plants have personalities and wills, but not souls. These forces are inanimate and impersonal, This is not true for those beliefs relating to animism.
These forces are inanimate and impersonal, This is not true for those beliefs relating to animism. In the South Pacific Polynesian cultures, the power of animatism is commonly referred to as “Mana”. 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. Often a chief must have some with him at all times. Dangerous places, such as volcanoes, were considered to have concentrated amounts of mana. Mana is a spiritual quality considered to have supernatural origin – a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe. Therefore to have mana is to have influence and authority, and efficacy – the power to perform in a given situation. Mana, Marett states, is a concentrated form of animatistic force found within any of these objects that confer power, strength, and success. For example, the Polynesians, believe in mana as a force inherent in all objects. This essential quality of mana is not limited to persons – folks, governments, places and inanimate objects can possess mana.
Animism is one of the oldest beliefs, dating back to the Paleolithic age (a prehistoric period distinguished by the earliest known primitive tools about 2.5 million to 40,000 years ago), it is greatly associated with primitive peoples, those without a written tradition. Animism believes that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe all possess individual souls. It is derived from the Latin word anima, meaning a breath or soul. Sir Edward Burnett Tylor was one of the first Anthropologists to study animism, believing it to be a “minimum definition of religion”, he theorized that all globally recognized religions had some aspects of animism^ . Tylor posted that animism was birthed by primitive cultures mistaking their dreams for reality. It is believed that animism was first constructed out of a need to explain natural phenomena such as sleeping, dreaming, and death. In classical animism, it is said that spirits are a separate entity from the body, and cause life in humans by passing through bodies and other inanimate objects. Robert Ranulph Marett, another Anthropologist of Tylor’s time, suggested that the earliest forms of animism were created based on emotion and intuition, rather than sacred practices, and written word. He believed that the earliest animists based their religion on inanimate objects acting strangely, or uniquely giving them the illusion of life alike to humans, trees blowing in the wind for instance. Contrary to Tylor, Marett believed that animists did not separate between the body and the soul, claiming them to be a single entity living and dying as one.
In terms of practices, many animistic cultures worshiped plant life, including trees and plants, because of their beauty, strength, and life. It is thought that all beings, including plants, have a soul. This is why in many Native American cultures totem poles are a major symbolic structure, and the main focus of many rituals. Centuries ago the Coast Salish Indian Tribe was well known for its belief in spiritual transmutation between humans and animals, a trait of animistic culture. Living in Cowichan Valley, on Vancouver Island they created hundreds of totem poles in order to showcase the spirits believed to be living in the animals portrayed upon the totems, and the trees the totems themselves were made out of. Now, the remnants of these totems are on display in both museums, and in their original locations in the city of Duncan, now known as “Totem City” because of the animistic art left over by the Coast Salish Indians.
As mentioned, animism is greatly associated with more primitive cultures. However, “new animism” a more symbolic and less literal form of animism is still found in many different cultures worldwide. This form of the religion is focused on the different types of souls in different types of people from all different cultures. It is more acutely understood as the teaching of how to have respectful relationships with human beings, as well as the natural world. It is also to be understood, that not all things have a truly human soul, including humans, and part of animism is distinguishing what/who is truly human, and what/who is not. The basic idea is that showing respect for relationships is vital to survival.
Anthropomorphism is the concept of attributing human characteristics or behaviors to a non-human being. This can mean animals, plants, and almost anything else taking on the personality of a human. It can mean that any object can be given human traits by a person, such as a dog feeling guilty for stealing food, or the gurgling of a stream sounding happy. Different religions have different interpretations of anthropomorphism, but in general, it is to show their God as something or someone else. In Greek mythology anthropomorphic animals are representations of their Gods. The Greeks show that the gods are different from us by attributing them to the features of being ‘immortal and ageless.’
In the anthropology of religion, the primary use of anthropomorphism is to embody the supernatural in human form. An example that is most defined in Western culture is in Judaism and Christianity, God has given human feelings of anger and jealousy or compassion and forgiveness. All human qualities that have been given to God in human settings that surround humanity, where these feelings are all emotions that humans have observed and none that we haven’t. A functional analysis of anthropomorphism proposes that when the supernatural takes human form, it may be easier for people to relate to the concepts promoted by religion.
The term dualism was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition. A meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been more generalized in other usages to indicate a system which contains two essential parts. Bitheism/Ditheism are two forms that both involve the two gods. Bitheism implies that the gods live in peace and Ditheism implies that their in opposition. This means that a Ditheism system would have one good and one evil god or one god that listened and helped and one that ignored. A god of life and one of death is another example. An example of a Bitheism system would be something like one god is of the sky and one of the wind. It is not always easy to distinguish between the two, like a sky god who brings storms and rain and an earth god who brings fertility and tremors. In a moral sense Christianity is a dualism religion with the opposition of God and Satan.
Euhemerism is a rationalizing method of interpretation that was named after the Greek mythographer (compiler of myths) Euhemerus. Euhemerism is the idea that a real person can become a deity or a supernatural immortal being through the constant telling and re-telling of their stories that leads to the distortion of the actual story. For example, many people believe that Hercules was a real person but was deified through the stories of his life and after some time the embellished story became the accepted story. Therefore, Hercules was remembered as a deity. Euhemerism is the worship and belief in an ancestor or historical being who is thought to have supernatural power. Euhemerus believed that every Greek god was someone that actually lived long ago and was immortalized in myth through their actions in life.
Totemism is a religious practice in which a family is seen to have a close kinship with a particular spiritual being, such as an animal or plant. The entity, or totem, is thought to interact with a given kin group or an individual and to serve as their emblem or symbol. Each spirit can be associated with an animal of some kind as a symbol of power or any other type of attribute. Masks are sometimes used as well to recreate the spirit or being. Usually seen through the use of Totem poles. with Native American families in traditional societies. Though this is usually seen in Native American traditional societies, this is something that is practiced all over the world. The term totem is derived from the Ojibwa word ototeman, meaning “one’s brother-sister kin.” The grammatical root, ote, signifies a blood relationship between brothers and sisters who have the same mother and who may not marry each other.
Zoomorphism is the attribution of animal qualities or characteristics to a God. Many times it is mistaken for anthropomorphism, which attributes human characteristics or qualities to things that are not human. Zoomorphic supernaturals can be found in many religions, such as Hinduism with the deity Ganesha. Other examples include images of male deities with antlers that appeared in prehistoric art in countries as far apart as France, Australia, Canada, and China. 
An example of zoomorphism can also be found Egyptian mythology with the god Anubis. In Egyptian mythology, Anubis was the god that protected the dead and brought them to the afterlife until Osiris took over the position and then Anubis became the gatekeeper of the dead. In Egyptian Mythology Anubis has the head of a jackal with the body of a human. His head is the color black because black is the color associated with death and the rotting color of flesh and the black soil of the Nile valley. The head of a jackal is significant because in ancient times jackals would hunt at the edges of deserts near the necropolis and cemeteries and ravage the desert graves throughout Egypt. Anubis was not the only zoomorphic god of Egypt. Horus was often drawn as a falcon on the shoulder of a ruler and he is typically depicted as having the head of a falcon when drawn alone. He was often used to show a ruler’s connection to the Gods. Other examples in Egyptian mythology include Hathor, who is often depicted as a cow, and the warrior goddess Sekhmet, who is depicted as a lioness in human form.
How Beliefs Are Expressed
A myth is a commonly held but false belief; misconception, a traditional story, specifically about history of a people, often explaining a phenomenon that usually has supernatural beings or events. “Product of a man’s emotion and imagination, acted upon by his surroundings.” E. Clodd, Myths & Dreams (1885). Myths often have extraordinary characters or stories that seem impossible in the real world, but these feats and traits only seem possible because it explains some of the growth and development of civilizations. Myths are passed down stories or events within time. In turn, over periods of time myths tend to change slightly and also change within certain cultures. Myths tend to be expressed through rituals or completely through faith.
Once One of most well-known kinds of myths is creation myths, which describe how the world began, and often where people fit into this scheme. An example of this comes from the Haida, an indigenous nation located on the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. According to this myth, Sha-lana ruled a kingdom high in the clouds which looked down on a vast, empty sea that stretched in all directions. When Sha-lana’s chief servant, the Raven, was cast out of the kingdom, he was so distraught that he flapped his wings in despair. By doing so, he stirred up the ocean, causing rocks to grow. He then created human beings from shells and introduced the sun and fire (which he stole from heaven).
Once we understand the term myth and their reason for society we need to identify some characteristics of a myth. Not all of these characteristics are all absolute or all-encompassing.
1. A story that is or was considered a true explanation of the natural world (and how it came to be).
2. Characters are often non-human – e.g. gods, goddesses, supernatural beings, first people.
3. Setting is a previous proto-world (somewhat like this one but also different).
4. Plot may involve interplay between worlds (this world and previous or original world).
5. Depicts events that bend or break natural laws (reflective of connection to previous world).
6. Cosmogonic/metaphysical explanation of universe (formative of worldview).
7. Functional: “Charter for social action” – conveys how to live: assumptions, values, core meanings of individuals, families, communities. 8. Evokes the presence of Mystery, the Unknown (has a “sacred” tinge).
9. Reflective and formative of basic structures (dualities: light/dark, good/bad, being/nothingness, raw/cooked, etc.) that we must reconcile. Dualities often mediated by characters in myths.
10. Common theme: language helps order the world (cosmos); thus includes many lists, names, etc.
11. Metaphoric, narrative consideration/explanation of “ontology” (study of being). Myths seek to answer, “Why are we here?” “Who are we?” “What is our purpose?” etc. – life’s fundamental questions.
12. Sometimes: the narrative aspect of a significant ritual (core narrative of most important religious practices of society; fundamentally connected to belief system; sometimes the source of rituals)
Myths will never go away within society and cultures. Myths have placed a firm foundation on how people view the world. Some myths are still being used to explain things all across the world and within certain religious beliefs. Also, myths can be used as a teaching aid for kids or young adults. For example, campfire stories about wandering in the woods alone or picking up hitchhikers. Where you should strike to be like the hero and beware of the villains. Furthermore, allowing myths to be used daily within modern society.
Doctrine is a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group. This section focuses on religious doctrine, which is the oral and written body of teachings of a religious group that is generally accepted by that group. Doctrine not only focuses on large scale teachings, but daily moral codes as well, like appropriate dress attire, or what social networks to involved in or separated from, and acceptable communication between individuals. Many types of religious doctrine play a key part in shaping a religion and its beliefs. Some examples are Roman Catholicism, Islam and First Baptist.
Roman Catholic Doctrine
The Roman Catholic doctrine states that Jesus is the Son of God and was sent to die for the sins of the world. A person is granted eternal life only by accepting God into their lives. Additionally, penance and the Eucharist or Communion are required at least once a year. There is the trinity that consists of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Islam doctrine states that Allah is the one true God, and Muhammad is his prophet. People who practice the Muslim faith are also required to perform The Five Pillars of Faith. These pillars are Kalima, the testimony of faith; Salat, praying five times a day; Zakat, giving alms; Sawm, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; and Hajj, which is a pilgrimage to Mecca.
First Baptist Doctrine
The First Baptist Doctrine states that God is the Father for those who accept Jesus. God directly created the heavens and earth. Faith in Jesus is the only condition of salvation. Also, Jesus will return in the Rapture for sinners.
Doctrine Determined by Culture
Christina Toren is a professor at the University of St. Andrews and did a study of Christianity in Fiji. She found that people had morphed the Christina doctrine to suit their cultural needs. Through participant observation, Toren concluded ritual Christian observance was a crucial sign of a person’s belief in God. Belief that a person can be saved was not based on a person’s acceptance of God, but on their attendance to God, meaning a person must be seen praying or giving to the Church. Christians in Fiji are able to follow the doctrines of their religion while maintaining their cultural values.
In contrast, Western culture views doctrine differently. Westernized Christianity believes it is the acceptance of God, not just the attendance on God, that saves or ensures a place in Heaven. While there is still an emphasis on prayer and tithing, Westernized Christianity also emphasizes the importance of doing this in private as well.
While these are not the complete set of doctrines for each of the types, they help paint a picture of each religion and their belief system. This in return, gives more insight into the inner workings of religion, and the cultures’ impression of that religion. In this way, religious doctrines give anthropologists more information for why people believe what they do and how it affects their lives, which could change their anthropological view from etc to mic.
Sacred space is any place that has a special significance to a group or an individual, normally linked to religious or other cultural dogmas of an emotional nature. Knowledge concerning these special places is often passed down through generations imbued with a sense of awe and reverence and plays a significant role in the identity of a people. Sacred spaces can help connect people as they anchor them to their cultural and religious traditions by providing a focus point where the divine and the mundane intersect and interact on a ritual level.
Sacred spaces can be public places of worship and pilgrimage as well as private spaces of ancestor veneration or personal spiritual refuges. It can be a place where something of significance has happened, a place said to be the point of origin of a group of people, their burial grounds, or even individual remains of ancestors. For example, the birth or death place of a person deemed especially blessed by a divinity can be made into a shrine and place of veneration for succeeding generations. Even areas that differ significantly from its surroundings can be viewed as sacred in the proper cultural context, such as a clearing in a dense forest, a lake, or unusual rock formations.
It is interesting to note that in Europe, South America, and the Middle East, many churches have been built on top of places sacred to older rites. This shows that the importance of these spaces in the cultural memory supersedes the religious significance. They are then usually absorbed, often intentionally, into the new religious traditions that arrive and settle into an area.
Syncretism and Exclusivism
Syncretism is the process by which elements of one religion are assimilated into another religion, resulting in a change in the fundamental beliefs of those religions. This change does not always result in a total fusion of the religions but bits and pieces that one religion has adopted from another. In some cases, deities or influential figures are blended and called by one name but retain attributes, images, symbols and sometimes holy sites from the original religions.
An ethnographic example of syncretism is The Virgin of Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego, a Nahuati speaking man, at Tepeyac hill near Mexico City. This was the site of the temple or the Aztec mother goddess Tohantizin. Mary requested a church be built on that site. When Juan Diego visited the Bishop and told him what Mary had said, the Bishop requested a sign that Juan Diego was telling the truth. Juan Diego returned to the hill where Mary told him to collect roses and bring them to the Bishop. When he returned to the bishop with roses in his timla, he dropped the roses at the feet of the Bishop, and on the tilma appeared the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This merged the pre-Christian goddess Tohantizin with the Catholic saint the Virgin of Guadalupe, creating a way through which the local people could practice their faith through a Catholic conduit.
Exclusivism is the view that one’s own religion is inerrant and all others are in error. Exclusivism may also relate to practice, as in the way the gods, dietys, etc. are revered, rather than mere belief.
An example of exclusivism is the Ancient Greek Religion, which combined many local deities, such as nymphs and other divinities connected to nature, into the myth system of the Greek Pantheon. The Decree of Diopithes of 430BCE forbade the worship or introduction of and the belief in deities other than the Greek Pantheon and made it an offense punishable by death.
Another form of exclusivity can be seen through Christianity, by way that they do not promote syncretism, but instead contextualization. 21st Century Christians consider syncretism as a Christian exhibiting actions that do not reflect Christian beliefs, yet proclaim themselves as such. Christians discourage syncretism because Christians are supposed to live out their beliefs and lead a life that confirms their belief. Contextualization is when Christians associate with non-believers yet exhibit their beliefs, which is encouraged in place of syncretism.
In its more extreme form, religious exclusivism teaches that only the members of one religion or sect will reach Heaven, while others will be doomed to eternal damnation. In the past there was the saying in relation to the belief in God that was often used saying ‘if you don’t believe in God you will go to hell’. The opposite of religious exclusivism is universalism, the teaching that all will eventually share in the eternal blessings of God or the heavenly realm.
A shaman is a part-time religious practitioner who acts as a medium between the human and spirit world. A shaman is believed to have the power to communicate with supernatural forces to intercede on the behalf of individuals or groups. The term shaman,as defined in Schultz and Lavenda,”comes from the Tungus of eastern Siberia, where it refers to a religious specialist who has the ability to enter a trance through which he or she is believed to enter into direct contact with spiritual beings and guardian spirits for the purposes of healing, fertility, protection, and aggression, in a ritual setting .” Shamans are generally thought of as healers, and yet they may also be feared or mistrusted by their own people because of their supernatural capabilities. Although having the power to converse with spirits may make them subject to suspicion, shamans are usually considered to be powerful, influential and valuable members of their society. There are even some tales among the peoples of North America about shamans succeeding in bringing the souls of the dead back to earth.  Shamans are often prevalent among hunter-gatherer societies. A shaman must typically endure intense training which may take over a decade and involve the use of psychotropic drugs to attain an altered state of consciousness. Shamanic activity is said to take place while the shaman is in a trance. Typical methods for inducing a trance involve:
- the use of psychedelic mushrooms, peyote, cannabis, ayahuasca, salvia, tobacco
- dancing, singing or drumming to a hypnotic rhythm
- deadly nightshade
- sweat lodges
- vision quests
- incense and plants such as morning glory, sage, and sweet grass
Shamans have been an integral part of hunter-gatherer societies for thousands of years. In prehistoric North America, for example, evidence of shamanic activity has been discovered in the form of rock art. Archaeologist David Whitley explains that”shamans would often record their spiritual journeys symbolically by carving or painting rock surfaces in a sacred place. For instance, among the Numic people and in south-central California, rock art was created by shamans the morning after a vision was received, in order to preserve it for posterity. This was necessary because forgetting the details of a vision would result in the shaman’s death or serious illness .” Whitley also points out that,”there is extensive and compelling ethnohistorical evidence from throughout far western North America that the rock art in this region was made after the conclusion of ASCs (altered state of consciousness) to portray shamans’ and puberty initiates’ visions of the supernatural realm .” Shamanic art is often characterized by geometric patterns and or images of death, flight, drowning and sexual intercourse. Some researchers advocate that rock art is symbolic of the visual imagery and sensations a person experiences on hallucinogenic drugs. Shamanic activity is still practiced among North American tribes today, although it has drastically declined since European colonization (only around 500 of the 2,000 tribes remain that were present in the 17th century).
Priest and Priestess
A priest or priestess, male and female respectively, is a person within a religion that has special authority to perform religious rituals. Different religions have different rules about men or women being excluded from the priesthood or to what degree. Priests and Priestesses differ from shamans in that it is often a full-time occupation. Being a priest is an institutional result through social aspiration and belief. Priests generally hold a higher position and status in society over those they preside over. A priest’s power comes from the recognized influence of their religious organization and the hierarchy. A form of priesthood exists in many religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Shintoism, and Hinduism. For many religions being a priest or priestess is a life-long commitment and can be left only either voluntarily or by excommunication.
Priest’s main duties consist of-of guiding other believers in worship, knowledge of the religion, and spiritual guidance. They spread a word of their religious beliefs and mediate contact between individuals and their deity. These rites are carried out for the benefit of the believers such as with healing or absolution granted by the higher powers. The priests are connected to the deity of their beliefs through numerous different systems based upon the religion. Some believe there are oracles or prophets while others achieve a connection to higher forces through direct contact.
Other societies in ancient history were affiliated with priests and priestesses. Ancient Egypt was among one of the first cultures to use priests to carry out sacred rituals rather than having a shaman. Becoming a Priest was often passed down from father and son rather than being appointed like many other cultures. Duties of Egyptian priest were to care for the gods and goddesses as well as attend to the needs of them. Unlike how the priest is seen today, as only being close to the gods and having the rapport with them, the job was more like an everyday job. The duties of the priest were more than just preaching and religious practices. They taught in schools, assisted artists and their works, and guided people through their problems. Egyptian priest believed in many ritual taboos, some of these were that the priest must be circumcised. Many priests also wouldn’t wear wool or any animal products because it was seen as unclean. PRIESTS also would bath 3 to 4 times a day in sacred pools, and shave off all of their body hair.
Pastors, Ministers, and Reverends
Pastors (also known as Ministers or Reverends) are generally known as ordained leaders within the Christian church. Unlike priests, pastors do not serve the role of mediating between a person/group and God; instead, they are in charge of leading and mentoring the church towards developing and deepening a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Not only do pastors help people develop a deep relationship with Jesus, but they also help with marriage counseling and other types of counseling for everybody and anybody in the church.
If a church is already developed but does not have a pastor (or minister/reverend) yet, often the other leaders or elders of the church will determine pastoral qualifications which they feel are vital to being a good leader of the congregation. Churches may look more closely at other qualifications of the pastor, in order to find a leader who will have the same core beliefs, values, and goals that the church has already set in place.
Qualifications to be a good pastor: Love for their people, A positive attitude and approach, people skills, an intimate relationship with god, priority on teaching, leadership and focus.
The basic definition of the word “prophet” is someone who has encountered the supernatural or divine. Prophets are often regarded as someone who has a role in their society in which they are able to promote change due to their messages and/or actions. However, the word “prophet” is extremely subjective, depending on which religious context it is being used in. To some, an individual may be considered an “authentic prophet”, while to others that same individual may be considered a “false prophet”(regardless of their religious background). Some religions that include the use of prophets are Christianity, Judaism, Islam, the Sybilline and Delpich Oracles practiced in Ancient Greece, and Zoroaster.
In regards to the non-religious use of the word in the late 20th century, “prophet” refers to either people who are successful in analyzing the field of economics (the “prophets of greed”) or to those who are social commentators that suggest there may be an escalating crisis within their environment and society due to others’ lack of compassion (“prophets of doom”). In more modern times, however, the concept of “prophets” as a whole has come under scrutiny, passing off the visions that the prophets have as cases of Schizophrenia.
Prophets are heavily intertwined with Judaism. In this religion, a prophet is an individual who is selected by God to act as a representation. The prophets intend their messages to cause social changes among people, in order to conform to God’s desires for humanity. Currently, the Talmud recognizes 48 male prophets and 7 women prophets. Non-Jewish prophets have a much lower status than Jewish prophets in the eyes of those who adhere to the Jewish traditions. A few prophets that are referenced in the Jewish religion are Abraham, Job, Samuel, Miriam, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekial and Malachi. Judaism is not only about being religious and reading the Talmud, there are many cultural aspects of Judaism. For example, Jewish principles consist around G-d and how you act to benefit others as yourself. It also has to do with the arrival of the Messiah.
Islam was founded in 610 A.D and is a major world religion promulgated by the Prophet Mohammed. In Islam, Mohammed is considered the last of a series of prophets (including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Solomon, and Jesus), and his message simultaneously consummates and completes the “revelations” attributed to earlier prophets. During Prophet Mohammed’s time, polytheism reigned. His people were worshipping multiple gods. The religion taught by Mohammed to a small group of followers spread rapidly through the Middle East to Africa, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, the Malay Peninsula, and China. By the early 21st century there were more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. Although many sectarian movements have arisen within Islam, all Muslims are bound by a common faith and a sense of belonging to a single community. During one of Prophet Mohammed’s trips as a trader, he had a vision from a being he perceived to be an angel who said, “There is only one God, and His name is Allah. Worship Him.” “Islam has seven fundamental beliefs that every Muslim must accept as a part of his/her religion (the Emanul Mufassil, or Faith Listed in Detail). Every Muslim learns this formula as a part of his/her religious training.”
The term “monk” is used to describe a religious specialist who conditions the mind and body in favor of the spirit. This conditioning often includes seclusion from those who do not follow the same beliefs, abstinence, silence, and prayer. Monks were originally present solely in Christianity, but through a looser definition created by modern Westerners, the term has been applied to more religions (ex. Buddhism). The term is also often used interchangeably with the term “ascetic,” which describes a greater focus on a life of abstinence, especially from sex, alcohol, and material wealth. In Ancient Greece, “monk” referred to both men and women, as opposed to modern English, which uses the term “nun” to describe a female monk. Before becoming a monk in a monastery, nearly every monk must take some sort of vow, the most famous being the Roman Catholic vow of “poverty, chastity, and obedience.” It is also common to have a hierarchy within a monastery through which monks can rise over time with the growth of spiritual excellence. Monks are often confused with friars. Although they are very similar, the main difference between the two terms is the inclusion of friars in community development and aid to the poor.
While two of the more known types of monks are Orthodox and Roman Catholic, a recently created sect of monasteries is Anglican. Roman Catholic monks were common throughout England until King Henry VIII broke off from the Roman Catholic Church and later ordered the razing, demolishing or removal, of all monasteries. Centuries later during the 1840s, a Catholic revitalization movement began in England, prompting Anglicans to believe that a monastic life should become not only part of England again, but also part of the Anglican Church. John Henry Newman started the first Anglican monastery in Littlemore, near Oxford. Since then, Anglican monasteries have spread throughout England and have been known to lead a “mixed” existence by taking traditions from different religions and religious specialists. They daily recite the Divine Office in a choir and follow services from the Book of Common Prayer and Breviary. The also celebrate the Eucharist daily, and like Roman Catholic monks, take a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Anglican’s service to the local community, as a friar might do, sets them apart from other monks. However, during the past century and especially the past few decades, Anglican monasteries have lost support and are becoming extinct.
Saints are individuals who have died but, in Catholicism, have lead virtuous lives and have gone through the process of canonization. Canonization is the act when a Christian church declares that a person who has died was a saint, and said person is added to the list of recognized saints after an investigation of two miracles (one during the person’s life and the second after their death). Christian saints are most commonly individuals of excessive holiness who had done amazing things in their lifetime and after. Commonly have followed in the teachings of Christ, though not all were Christian. The lives and teachings of saints has been used to further the examples of the a persons faith. They are essentially experts on the ways of holiness and their lives are to be used as examples making them in a way a religious expert. Some defining characteristics of saints are as follows:
- exemplary model
- extraordinary teacher
- wonder worker or source of benevolent power
- selfless, ascetic behavior
- possessor of a special and revelatory relation to the holy.
There are currently over 10,000 saints. Many saints also have an associated item they are recognized for or something which they protect. Many saints also have a day associated for a feast in their honor. For the Catholic Church a saint is “recognized” by them, usually through the pope, as a saint and therefore is guaranteed passage into heaven. Then also Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, Sufism all have saint like figures. A saint is known for doing a task that is for the better of others. Saints wants to be a good person and want to help others, as they do so in the name of a religion.
What Are Rituals?
According to Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition; by Emily Shultz and Robert Lavenda, a ritual must fit into four categories. These four categories are:
- a repetitive social practice
- different from the routines of day to day life
- follows some sort of ritual schema
- encoded in myth
Rituals often have its roots in myth and religion, tying itself to ancient practices between the divine and humans. However, a ritual does not have to be religious in nature; graduation ceremonies and birthday parties are rituals as well. Religion can be defined as concepts or ideas and the practices associated with them. These practices hypothesize reality beyond that which is instantly available to the senses. Religion is a type of worldview, a collective picture of reality created by members of a society, and exists in many forms. As time passes and cultures change, religions evolve and change as well. In many cultures, religion is practiced through rituals.
Every society has their own rituals; an action performed as a common practice. Some of these practices can be a result of religion beliefs, or society ideas or expectations. For example, in the United States, when a person dies, family members and friends of the person attend a funeral; a ceremony in which they honor the dead person right before they are buried or cremated. Rituals can vary by geography, culture or personality and are practiced just as varied.
Ancestor Worship is defined as a religious or spiritual practice which revolves around the belief that the deceased continue to have a presence after they die, and contribute to the spiritual quality of their living relatives. Most religions have some form of ancestor worship, and consider the connection they have to their ancestors a significant component of their belief systems. This type of worship can often be confused with the worshiping of gods and deities, but it is an entirely separate practice. Many cultures see ancestor worship as non-religious; something that simply strengthens bonds with family and offers the proper respect for deceased loved ones. Others base a person’s social status on who their ancestors were and how high on the social hierarchy they were in life. Ancestor worship is mainly performed so that, by placating one’s ancestors, they may be taken care of in life and death. In return for the blessing by ancestors, worship insures that the ancestor’s spirits may be at peace. Other rituals that can sometimes accompany this type of worship include: sacrifice, elaborate burial ceremonies and the preparation of specific food dishes.
Jewish Mourning Rituals
Many different religions or cultures have varying rituals following the death of a person. Burial and mourning rituals may differ even among the same religion. The following are commonly accepted burial and mourning practices in Judaism:
After people have died, their eyes and mouths are closed. They are then placed on the floor and covered with a sheet, while a lit candle is placed by their head. The body is not to be left alone until burial, and it is seen as a good deed to sit with the body and to read psalms. Before burial the body is cleansed and clothed in a simple white shroud. The coffin is traditionally a simple cedar casket constructed without the use of metal due to the belief that people should decompose back into the earth, returning to dust after death.
The mourning process is divided into three sections, each increasing in time and lessening in intensity. The first period of mourning is called “Shiva.” This period of mourning lasts seven days starting from the day of burial. This mourning period applies to the immediate family of the decease. It involves mourners rending their clothes in an outward sign of mourning. This is often the time when friends prepare meals for the family of the deceased and sit with them to comfort them. A second period of mourning is called “Sheloshim” and takes place from the 7th day after the burial till the 30th day. During this time the immediate family of the deceased should not cut their hair, shave or attend parties. The third mourning period lasts until the anniversary of the death. During this time mourners do not attend public parties or celebrations, but can cut their hair. However, mourning may be suspended during important Jewish holidays in order to take place in the celebration and prayer.
The Components of Rites of Passage
Rites of passage are rituals in themselves. Rituals that mark a person’s transition from one social state to another. So, the following components help in the ritual of passing from one state in life to another.
The Elders, Knower’s or Guides: [that help the novice during the parts of or all throughout the liminal stages]
- The Separation: from home or community; in route to the sacred place, in which the novice experiences his or her ordeal.
- The Sacred Place: can be a recreation of the original archetype, it is the place where human and the spiritual will commune.
- Trials and Tribulations: are those hardships that the novice will endure, such as disorientation, chaos, training, deprivation, chanting and-or altered states of consciousness.
- Revelation: the revealing of inner meanings, the explanation of myths and transcendental knowing.
- Symbolic Death: the personal identity of the novice in the pre-liminal stage has been transformed, the old identity of the novice has died and no longer exists.
- Resurrection and Rebirth: the novice has been recreated, with a new identity and status.
- Reincorporation: where the novice returns home or enters into a new community, along with their new status.
- A celebration is often common to commemorate the completion of the rite. 
In the 2002 film Whale Rider, a story of modern day rite of passage in a traditional Maori village and into the Whangara culture of modern day New Zealand. In the Whangara myth, their presence on the island dates back a thousand years to one single ancestor “Paikea”, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding the back of the whale to the village shore. Since then, the chiefly leadership role has been passed down to the firstborn male of the first born male, establishing a patriarchal society. “Pai” is the film’s 12-year-old protagonist, who after the death of her twin brother, and her mother at childbirth is now in her own mind, destined to be the next Whangara chief. Pai’s father has exchanged his traditional culture for a life in Europe. In her quest to fulfill her destiny Pai faces the many challenges of this patriarchal tribe and all the elements of the rite of passage are in the plot of the film: The “elders” or “knowers”: Pai’s elders are her grandfather, her grandmother Nanny Flowers and her uncle Rawiri.
The separation: Pai’s grandfather, “Koro” who is the tribal chief, blames her for the death of the chosen one and as the personification of the curse upon the tribe whose ancestral chain has been broken. The grandfather ignores her at home and further alienates Pai by forbidding her from participating in the warrior rituals with the rest of the male initiates.
The sacred place: There are two sacred places in this film; the first one is the unfinished chief’s canoe of her father and the beach. The canoe stands above land on blocks. This is where Pai seeks refuge and calls out to her ancestors. She is visited by an elder, her grandmother, Nanny who unlike her grandfather, supports Pai’s quest. The second sacred place is the beach, where she has her sacred encounter with the whale.
Trials and tribulations: Pai sets out to seek the ways of the warrior by sneaking onto the training compound, only to be caught by her grandfather, and to be humiliated in front of her male initiates. In one very important scene, Pai is being honored at school and dedicates as a gesture, a traditional tribal performance to her grandfather. Her heart is broken when he fails to show up.
Revelation: A truth is revealed to her Uncle Rawiri one afternoon, as Pai retrieves the lost sacred artifact (the whale tooth) of her grandfather. (The “tooth” was tossed into the bay, during a training session with the aspiring young chefs.) ‘The one who gets my tooth back to me is the one” “Koro” announces (Whale Rider, 2002.)
Symbolic death: Near the end of the film, Pai has her sacred encounter with the beached whale. She climbs up onto the back of the lead whale, in an attempt to get the whale to re-enter the water. The whale responds and off she goes with the whale into deeper waters. She almost drowns and is hospitalized for a few days. This is Pai’s symbolic death. It is during this time that her family is remorseful, especially her grandfather and reconsiders his point of view on who should be chief. Resurrection and rebirth: The film fades from a lonely scene of Pai in her hospital bed to a vibrant ceremony of Pai in the finished canoe of her father. With her grandfather by her side, the fully crewed canoe is ocean bound. Pai is dressed in traditional clothing and proudly wearing her grandfather’s whale tooth necklace.
Reincorporation & Celebration: The film stops at the re-birth stage, but the last scene in the film doubles to fulfill the stage of celebration. It is safe to assume Pai will fulfill her duties as the new chief.
A pilgrimage is a journey on behalf of ritual and religious belief. Often pilgrims try to obtain salvation of their soul through this physical journey. Most times the journey is to a shrine or a sacred place of importance to a person’s faith. The institution of pilgrimage is evident in all world religions and was also important in the pagan religions of ancient Greece and Rome. Pilgrimages attract visitors from widely dispersed cultural backgrounds and physical locations, offering them the opportunity to be brought together because of the origins of their faith.
Relevant to so many different cultural contexts, there is no single definition to describe to the act of pilgrimage. However, similarities are noticeable. Pilgrimage usually requires separation from the common everyday world, and in displaying that separation pilgrims may mark their new identity by wearing special clothes or abstaining from familiar comforts. Frequently, pilgrimages link sacred place with sacred time (i.e. The hajj always occurs on the 8th, 9th, and 10th days of the last month of the Muslim year).
The location of sacred sites and shrines often represent some great miracle or divine appearance, they may also appropriate the places that are holy to older or rival faiths. A factor that unites pilgrimage locations across different religions is the sense, variously expressed, that a given place can provide privileged access to a divine or transcendent state. Some of the most visited religious pilgrimage sites in the world are The Vatican in RomeRoman Catholic Church, the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico Catholic Church, and Mecca in Saudi Arabia Islam.
The hajj is the fifth pillar of faith in the Islamic faith. It occurs on the 8th to 12th day of Dhul-Hijah, which is the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Members of the Islamic faith are encouraged to perform the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in their lifetime. However, religious law allow exclusions on grounds of hardship.  It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world. Once a person has successfully completed the pilgrimage to Mecca he/she will receive the status of Hajji. Mecca is known by Muslims as the dwelling place of Adam after his expulsion from paradise and as the birthplace of Muhammad (570–632), the prophet of Islam.  Its yearly observance is held on the holy day Eid al-adh’ha as a memorial of Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son on Divine orders.  Millions of Muslims from around the globe gather to perform practices which are must not for choice.
Pilgrims converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform the following rituals:
- They walk counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka’abaa” the black box” which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer
- They kiss the Black Stone in the corner of the Kaaba
- They run back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah
- They drink from the Zamzam Well
- They go to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil
- They throw stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil.
- They shave their heads and.
- They perform a ritual of animal sacrifice.
- They celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha. 
The Huichol’s Pilgrimage for Peyote
The Huichol are an indigenous group of maize (corn) farmers who reside in Sierra Madre of northern Mexico. Maize, along with deer and peyote-which the Huichol have linked together-are key ingredients for their way of life. Peyote is a rare cactus found in Mexico containing the chemical mescaline which induces hallucinogenic experiences if ingested properly. “In Huichol religious thought, deer, maize, and peyote fit together: Maize cannot grow without deer blood; the deer cannot be sacrificed until after the peyote hunt; the ceremony that brings the rain cannot be held without peyote; and the peyote cannot be hunted until maize has been cleaned and sanctified.”  Here, Schultz shows the connection between three of the most prominent cultural symbols for the Huichol; and of those items, peyote seems to act as the metaphorical backbone that triggers the Huichol’s religious practice. However, a pilgrimage must be first undertaken to find the peyote; beginning an approximate 350 mile trek.
The location the pilgrims of Huichol are destined to find the peyote is a representation of “Wirikuta, the original homeland where the First People, both deities and ancestors, once lived.”  After they have “captured” the peyote plant -shooting two arrows into it- a shaman places peyote buttons, a piece of the plant located in the very center of the cactus, in each pilgrims mouth. The pilgrim then chews the peyote button to ingest the mescaline. The group then begins to gather peyote for the rest of the community.
The pilgrimage for peyote is an example of a culture actively holding onto their past. Instead of allowing their traditions to fall through the cracks, the Huichol use a holistic experience to preserve their religion and culture.
Rituals of Inversion
Where the standards of everyday society are inverted and/or suspended, otherwise solid social codes are ignored. Two examples include Carnival and Halloween.
The Carnival celebration occurs as a way to let loose before the strict rules of religion are set in place for lent. Typically, during Carnival everyday customs, rules, and habits of the community are inverted. Kings become servants, servants become kings, women dress as men and vice versa. The normal rules are overturned and indulgence becomes the rule. The body is granted freedom and obscenity are expected. Work and diets are omitted as people take to the streets to eat and party the days away.  A common thing to find during Carnival are masquerade balls, where men and women can wear masks of animals, creatures, and other people and in trying to figure out who the various attendees are, a risqué behavior is to be expected.
Carnival is a festival traditionally held in Roman Catholic and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodox societies. Regardless, many people participate in the carnival tradition today. The Brazilian Carnaval is one of the best-known celebrations today, but many cities and regions worldwide celebrate with large, popular, and days-long events. Festivities are held in hundreds of different countries worldwide.
An example of Carnival in the United States is Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras occurs in February right before the season of Lent. It was first introduced by the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville to the territory of Louisiane which now includes the states Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Ever since its introduction Mardi Gras has been celebrated in that area of the United States for many years. It’s common to see people wearing minimal clothing, flashing for beaded necklaces, and partying in the streets. Much of this behavior is overlooked by police who only react when it is taken to the extreme or is in the more “family friendly” areas.
The Celtic celebration Samhain, pronounced “sow-in”, was the yearly culmination of the summer and harvest months and the beginning of the winter season marked by cold and death. This “Feast of the Sun” was a time for all Celtic clans spanning across Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France to gather comfort and support while giving thanks to their many divine beings. Traditionally, large bonfires were built and people gathered to offer food and animals as sacrifice to the many deities. The Celts, pronounced Kelts, were polytheistic and offered gifts to specific Pagan Gods throughout the year. After the celebration had ended, people would relight the hearth in their homes with fire from the communal and sacred bonfire. This fire was thought to protect the people especially on the night of October 31, when the ghosts of the dead and otherworldly spirits were believed to return to earth.
As Christianity and Roman rule began to spread through the Celtic lands, the holiday of Samhain or “Halloween” would be reinterpreted and designated as three holidays known as the Eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’ Day. All Saints’ Day, November 1, was created as a memorial for all saints and martyrs recognized by the Roman Catholic Church while All Souls’ Day, November 2, is a day to honor the dead. These church-sanctioned holidays were similarly celebrated with bonfires, parades, and costumes consisting of saints, angels, and devils. The idea of Satan is a Christian concept that did not exist in pagan beliefs. In order to believe in one idea of ultimate evil (the Devil) the Celts had to believe in one concrete idea of ultimate good (God), but they worshiped several Gods. These traditions went under further construction as further generations began to relocate away from ancestral grounds.
A sacrifice is an offering of something of value to an invisible force, and is done in many cultures and religions. To thank the invisible or cosmic forces in hopes of getting them to perform in a certain way or to gain merit in their religious group (Shultz & Lavenda, 2009) are some reasons to perform sacrifices. Sacrifices are also made out of selfless good deeds. The word “sacrifice” in Latin means “to make sacred.” Some examples of sacrifices are: Money, goods, services, animals and humans.
In pre-Columbian Mexico, the Aztecs sacrificed hundreds of humans in accordance with their ritual calendar in what is referred to as a human sacrifice. It was thought that in order for the sun to shine everyday a certain amount of human hearts had to be sacrificed. The most common sacrifice was for the sun God, Huitzilopochtli, in which a knife is used to cut under the ribs to get to the human heart, which was then forcibly removed.
During the Bronze period of ancient China, sacrifices were very common in the worship of ancestors. It was believed that when a person died their fate was decided by spirits. In order to invoke these spirits a beautiful bronze vessel was filled with wine and water as an offering. It was to be placed outside of the city during a time of need as a offering to the Heavens. This is an example of a goods sacrifice.
In the Hmong Shamanism tradition, shamans would sacrifice animals to try and retrieve lost souls from the clutches of evil spirits. This was because animal souls were thought to be linked with human souls. In their tradition, evil spirits, known as dabs, would steal a persons soul and make them ill. When this happens, a chicken, pig, goat, or cow would be sacrificed and the animal’s soul would be given to the evil spirits in exchange for the human soul, and this would make the person well again.
Altered States of Consciousness and Trance States
Altered States of Consciousness (ASC’s) is any state of awareness that deviate from ordinary waking consciousness. These hypnotic states may be induced by therapists, magicians, and/or spirit guides conducting seances, practicing meditation, or drug-induced hallucinatory experiences. This form of ritual and healing practice is typically not embraced by mainstream North American cultures as a part of typical, everyday life meaning altered states are not institutionalized.
Trance States or Behaviors are more difficult to characterize. Other than an altered state an often inward oriented states of thought, there is most times a change in body image, emotional expression, rejuvenating feelings, and increased sense of self. “There is evidence for shared physiological processes during different forms of trance as well as other ASCs… Trance states involve both amplification of certain internal cognitive processes as well as a decoupling of sensory processing.”  Trance states usually involve a journey of the soul.
Trance and Healing
All cultures have developed practices to heal the ill. In many cultures, when home remedies fail people often turn to a specialist of some sort. Many cultures including those exposed to Western medicine resort to “magico-religious” healers such as Shamans or spirit guides. Trances and various altered states of consciousness are mainly associated with shamanistic healing practices. Trance states can be induced by a variety of activities such as singing, drumming, dancing, chanting, fasting, sleep or sleep deprivation, and psychoactive drugs.After a person is in a trance state, they may collapse and have intense visual experiences and hallucinations while unconscious.
Examples in History
- Cannabis Sativa has been found in charred vessels and pouches in burial sites of Indo-European groups in the iron age such as the Dacians and the Scythians. It is believed that Cannabis Sativa and melilot(Melilotus sp.) was used for spiritual purification processes.
- In the Southern Pacific, Maori shamans or religious specialists used “Maori Kava”(Macropiper excelsum) in religion based rituals. Polynesian groups like the Hawaiians and Tongans employed “awa”(Piper methysticum) to aid in communicating with late ancestors.
- The Olmec used hallucinogens like the psychoactive venom found in the marine toad ‘’Bofus Marinus’’ parathyroid gland or used native tobacco (‘’Nicotiana rustical’’). Bones from this extremely inedible toad have been discovered in trash deposits in San Lorenzo, while the kneeling figure known as ‘Princeton Shaman’ has one of these amphibians depicted on top of his head.
Hinduism  is also called Sanatana Dharma (Eternal religion) and Vaidika Dharma (Religion of the Vedas). Overall, adherents to Hinduism make up around 15% of the global population with over a billion members, and approximately 95% of those live in India. There are two major divisions within Hinduism: Vaishnavaism and Shivaism. Hindus believe in the repetitious Transmigration of the Soul. This is the transfer of one’s soul after death into another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth through their many lifetimes that’s called Samsara. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. Hindus body of scriptures is divided into Sruti and Smriti. Hindus organize their lives around certain activities (Purusharthas). These are called the Four aims of Hinduism or “The doctrine of the fourfold end of life.” They are:
- Dharma: righteousness in their religious life. This is the most important of the three.
- Artha: success in their economic life; material prosperity.
- Kama: gratification of the senses; pleasure; sensual, sexual, and mental enjoyment.
The main goal for the “Nivritti,” those who renounce the world. is:
- Moksa: Liberation from “samsara.” This is considered the supreme goal of mankind.
Hinduism is unique due to the fact that there is no real distinction between beings divine and human. In Hinduism humans can appear divine, and gods human. Also, unlike most religions such as Christianity, there are two supreme gods Vishnu and Shiva, who are equal in power. Hinduism also has other gods such as Lakshmi and Parvati, who are wives to Vishnu and Shiva. A staple of Hinduism is greetings. Many times Hindu’s will bow their heads or raise heir hands as a sign of greeting and respect. It is this same raising of the hands which Hindu’s praise and worships their gods. In most pictorials of the deities, the divine are often showing this same way of greeting, showing that the divine must show respect.
Hinduism today is seen and argued as being polytheistic or monotheistic. In fact they would both be right. They do worship many deities, but they believe that each one is part of a whole unity. This is the panentheistic principle of Brahman: that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is one divine entity that is at one with the universe. Strictly speaking, most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic, meaning they recognize a single deity, and recognizes other gods and goddesses as facets, forms, manifestations, or aspects of that God.
Viashnavism is a tradition of Hinduism distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu or his manifestations, principally as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God. Viashnavism is seen as monotheistic, since adherents to this form of Hinduism believe in one Supreme God. They believe that the living entity (or soul) is eternal, and that the purpose of life is to be free from reincarnation through spiritual practices. Bhakti Yoga (the spiritual practice of fostering loving devotion to God) is seen as the most direct method to achieve this. Desire is seen as the root of all evil, and thus a great deal of importance is assigned to the control of the senses, mainly through meditation and yoga practice. Material nature is seen as temporary, and is said to contain 3 modes: Goodness, Passion, and Ignorance. Desire, or lust, is said to be the result of material contact with the mode of passion, which is inevitably transformed into ignorance. The Supreme Personality Of Godhead is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnibenevolent. He is male, and eternal. He is the Creator and the Destroyer. It is said that He created the material world by impregnating it with His eyes. The Material Universe is said to last 311 trillion 40 billion years and then die. At this point the devastation takes place, which means that the energy manifested by the Lord is again would up in Himself. Then Creation follows, and material energy is let loose once again. This cycle repeats infinitely… 
The monotheistic worship of Vishnu was already well developed in the period of the Itihasas. Hopkins says “Vishnuism, in a word, is the only cultivated native sectarian native religion of India. Vaishnavism is expounded in a part of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita, which contains the words of Krishna, one the avatars of Vishnu.
Vaishnavism flourished in predominantly Shaivite South India during the seventh to tenth centuries CE, and is still commonplace, especially in Tamil Nadu, as a result of the twelve Alvars, saints who spread the sect to the common people with their devotional hymns. The temples which the Alvars visited or founded are now known as Divya Desams. Their poems in praise of Vishnu and Krishna in Tamil language are collectively known as Naalayira (Divya Prabandha).
In later years Vaishnava practices increased in popularity due to the influence of sages like Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Manavala Mamunigal, Vedanta Desika, Surdas, Tulsidas, Tyagaraja, and many others.
Large Vaishnava communities now exist throughout India, and particularly in Western Indian states, such as Rajasthan and Gujarat and north eastern state Assam. Important sites of pilgrimage for Vaishnavs include: Guruvayur Temple, Sri Rangam, Vrindavan, Mathura, Ayodhya, Tirupati, Puri, Mayapur and Dwarka. Krishna murti with Radha Bhaktivedanta Manor, Watford, England
Since the 1900s Vaishnavism has spread from within India and is now practiced in many places around the globe, including America, Europe, Africa, Russia and South America. This is largely due to the growth of the ISKCON movement, founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1966.
Sikhism is a religion based in Punjab, India. It is the fifth-largest world religion. It is founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak Guru Nanak, along with ten successive Sikh Gurus. Guru Nanak founded the religion in 1469 CE. The principle belief of Sikhism is faith in Waheguru, which refers to God or Supreme Being. It means “wonderful teacher” in the Punjabi language. Sikhism promotes the idea of salvation through disciplined and personal meditation on the name and message of God. The concept of God in Sikhism is oneness with the entire universe and its spirit. Sikhs must eliminate ego to be able to find God. Sikhs do not believe in heaven or hell. “Heaven” can be attained on earth by being in tune with God while still alive. The suffering and pain caused by ego is seen as “hell” on earth. They believe that upon death, one merges back into universal nature. Sikhs view men and women as equal in the world. Women are expected to participate in the same religious life as men are. In Sikhism, every person is fully responsible for leading a moral life. Sikhs have no priestly class. Therefore, those who are educated in the ways of the religion are free to teach others about Sikhism, however, they cannot claim to have access to God. The only religious text of the Sikhs is Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, which contains hymns written by Guru Nanak and the other Gurus. Sikhs believe they have no right to impose their beliefs on others or to cajole members of other religions to convert. All individuals, regardless of race, gender, or nationality, are eligible to become Sikhs.
Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest recorded monotheistic religions. It originated from Persia and is based on the teachings of Zoroaster, a prophet of the early 5th century BCE. Many present day theologians point to Zoroastrianism as the influence for many of today’s monotheistic world religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism etc. Zoroaster preached the following of Ahura Mazda which equates to God. Ahura Mazda is the supreme being of good whose enemy is represented by “druj” which is the power of evil. Zoroastrianism asks its followers simply to do good and to go through life with good thoughts, good words, and good deeds as these are necessary to create happiness and to keep the “druj” at bay. Pre-Islam Iranian governments promoted the teaching of Zoroastrianism during that time. Zoroastrianism was extremely popular to the Iranian people and was considered a state religion until it was marginalized by other religions in the 7th century. However it is still significant due to its history, the possible influence it had on other religions, and its followers who still are around today. Currently there are approximately 200,000 Zoroastrians in the world.
Buddhism is a religion based on personal spiritual development with some atheistic characteristics formed by a man named Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly called “the Buddha” (which is actually a title that means “the Enlightened One”). He was believed to be born in Nepal around 563 BCE. Buddhism was formed after Siddhartha came to disagree with the practices and beliefs of asceticism. Born into a royal family, he became aware of suffering after taking a trip outside of the palace. Here, he encountered people suffering from disease, old age, and death. At the age of 29, having witnessed such sufferings, he decided to leave his life of comfort and become an ascetic in an attempt to find the solution to end suffering. For six years he ate only tiny handfuls of rice each day and did little besides meditating, in an attempt to free himself of bodily concerns. It is said that after those six years, he ran into a little girl by a river, who offered him a bowl of rice to feed his famished body. At this same time, a man (so the story goes) was traveling down the river playing a stringed instrument. Here Siddhartha came to a realization, which he later explained as: “Look at the lute. If its strings are too tight, they will break. If they are too loose, it cannot be played. Only by tuning them neither too tight nor too lose will the lute work.” The Buddha later called this the Middle Way, the path of neither giving in to one’s desires nor walking the line of extreme self-deprivation. After this realization, he broke away from his ascetic practices and sat under a tree (latterly called the Bo-tree, or Tree of Enlightenment), entering a deep meditation. This act is what is known as Jiriki or self-power. At the age of 35, after meditating for 49 days, he attained Enlightenment and was henceforth called “the Buddha”. After attaining enlightenment, he went on to help others reach nirvana. During his experience of enlightenment, Siddhartha came to realize the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Buddhism also splits into three subcategories, the first being Theravada Buddhism (which is found in South East Asia), Mahayana Buddhism (found throughout East Asia), and Vajrayana Buddhism (this includes many subcategories of Buddhism including Tantric Buddhism and Mantrayana). Zen is another school of Buddhist thought that developed in China during the 7th century, by an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, from a combination of Mahayana Buddhism and Daoism. Practitioners of Zen aim to see the world as it truly is, without lasting thoughts or feelings but instead as a constant stream of unconnected thoughts. Zen is predominantly practiced in China, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea but in recent years has gained popularity in the western world. It is estimated that there are currently 365 million people who practice Buddhism today. This makes the religion the fourth largest in the world.
Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Paths
The Four Noble Truths deal with the nature, origin, cessation, and path to the cessation of suffering. These four things are the core of Siddhartha’s message, and presumably expresses what he learned while meditating under the Bo-tree.
- Life leads to suffering
- Suffering is a result of a craving of worldly pleasures in any form
- Suffering ends when this desire is gone
- When one follows the path described the Buddha, one can be relieved of desire and achieve enlightenment
The Eightfold Path is part of the Fourth Noble Truth, or the path leading to the cessation of suffering. It is referred to as the Eightfold Path because of the eight categories or divisions that it is composed of, those being:1. Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
These paths are used to avoid two extremes: one extreme being the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses; the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of ascentism. It should not be thought that the categories should be followed by the numerical order above, but should instead be used more or less simultaneously, according to the capacity of each individual.
The Concept of Rebirth and Samsara
Like Hinduism, Buddhists believe in a rebirth of oneself. Rebirth is the idea that one goes through a series of lifetimes. When one dies, he or she moves to another body. However, Buddhism rejects the idea of an eternal soul such as in Christianity. It is an ever-changing process that is regulated by karma, the laws of cause and effect. Karma dictates the context of one’s rebirth. Besides the immediate effect of an action in this world, karma helps dictate the rebirth process. Possessing good karma will allow for a better realm of rebirth than bad karma. Buddhism says that the cycle of rebirth takes within one of five or six realms depending on the type of Buddhism one practices and within these realms, there are 31 planes of existence.
- Naraka Beings: those who live in one of the many hells of Buddhism
- Animals: They live among humans but are separate kind of life
- Preta: Shares place with humans but is often invisible, (hungry ghosts)
- Human beings: a realm in which Nirvana is attainable
- Asuras: demons, titans, antigods, and lowly deities and is not recognized by some schools of Buddhism
- Devas: gods, deities, spirits, and angels.
Samsara is a Buddhist concept that directly related to this cycle of rebirth. It is the world in which the human race currently resides and in which there is much pain, suffering, and sorrow. One can only leave Samsara once they have reached nirvana.
The Ten Fetters is a series of items that keep a person in Samsara.If one possesses any of these, he or she will remain in Samsara. One, according to Buddhist thought, should strive to overcome these things.
- Belief in a separate individuality or personality
- Doubt without desire for satisfaction
- Attachment to rules/rituals without a critical perspective
- Craving of sensuous things
- Wishing harm or ill will on others.
- Desire for more material items or greater material existence
- Desire for non-material existence
Pilgrimage in Buddhism
Buddhists take part in religious travels to sacred sites called pilgrimages. Similar to the travels to Mecca in Islam or the Vatican in Catholicism, Buddhists travel to four main sites in Northern India and Southern Nepal. These sites are significant places in the life of Siddartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Gautama taught that these four main sites would make his followers feel a sense of spiritual urgency, as they coincide with the life and spiritually significant experiences of the religious leader. The four significant places are as follows: Lumbini, where Siddartha Gautama was born, Bodh Gaya, where he was enlightened, Sarnath, where he gave his first teaching, and finally Kusinara, where Siddartha died.
The sacred site Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddartha Gautama is surrounded by an area called a monastic zone, or, an area in which only monasteries can be built. The site is visited by many looking to meditate and chant near the exact place of Siddartha’s birth, and the sacred Bodhi tree. The site was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Traveling on a pilgrimage is an act Buddhists believe will earn them merit for future incarnations. The farther and longer the journey, and the more humble the mind of the person traveling, the greater the merit will be. Going on a pilgrimage is also a way for Buddhists to practice becoming free from worldly attachments. They might aim to no long feel so attached to an old home, to old relationships, or too old desires. By dedicating oneself to the pursuit of a holy place in a humble mindset, one comes closer to walking the Eightfold Path. The traveling of many monks over the centuries is attributed as one of the main causes of the spread of Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally has been responsible for the governing of Tibet. However, the Chinese government established control in 1959. The Dalai Lama’s official residence before 1959 was the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. However, after his exile, the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. The then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was instrumental in granting safe refuge to the Dalai Lama and his fellow Tibetans. The Dalai Lama has since lived in exile in Dharamsala, in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government-in-exile) is also established.
The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which is the largest and most influential tradition in Tibet. The institution of the Dalai Lama is a relatively recent one. There have been only 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Buddhism, and the first and second Dalai Lamas were given the title posthumously.
According to Buddhist belief, the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past lama who decided to be reborn again to continue his important work. The Dalai Lama essentially chooses to be reborn again instead of passing onward. A person who decides to be continually reborn is known as Tulku. Buddhists believe that the first tulku in this reincarnation was Gedun Drub, who lived from 1391–1474, and the second was Gendun Gyatso. However, the name Dalai Lama meaning Ocean of Wisdom was not conferred until the third reincarnation in the form of Sonam Gyatso in 1578. The current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.
“Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity” A widely cited, but apparently spurious quotation attributed to Albert Einstein 
Commonly translated as “The Way of the Gods,” by combining the borrowed Chinese ideograms for ‘gods’ or ‘spirits’ (shin) and ‘philosophical path’ (tō).
Shinto is a form of animism that is the indigenous religion of Japan. It is a form of worship that is based upon nature. It teaches that every living or non living object in the world contains “kami”. “Kami” can be most easily explained as an inner spirit or god within that object. So any tree, rock, car, dog, cat, person, or anything else has a Kami. Kami also means ‘paper’ in Japanese, so the usage of it is a common theme in marking shrines and divine objects. In Japan, it typically is practiced alongside Japanese Buddhism. Since Buddhism focuses primarily on the afterlife, Shintoism focuses on the present. Unlike most other religions, Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body of religious law, and only a very loosely-organized priesthood. 
There are 4 affirmations to Shintoism that include 1)Tradition and family, 2)Respect of nature, 3)Physical cleanliness, 4)and the celebration of festivals (matsuri) for the various kami.
Shinto is centered on `KAMI’ (innumerable gods or spirits) of places, families, communities who interact with us. Kami are:
• Mostly associated with some particular place – a grove of impressive trees, a waterfall, a town, village, valley, etc. The kami are believed to move among their shrines and to reside in a small house-shaped box built for them at the shrine (or jinja).
• Usually beneficent, but not always. Occasionally they may be vengeful.
• Many kami are the spirits of deceased ancestors, emperors, prominent military figures, important animals (tiger, fox, etc), waterfalls, forests, distinctive rocks, rivers, etc.
• No `allpowerful god’ in Shinto – only lots of little ones. Each has limitations. But the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, is dominant however. She gave birth to the first emperor. Her main shrine is called Jingu and is located in a forest at Ise in western Japan.
• No concrete visual representation. No paintings, sculptures, masks, etc. of the kami themselves. Only Buddhist temples use physical representations (in painting and sculpture) of the Buddha and the Boddhisatvas.
• Religious ceremonies are attempts to please and entertain the kami. For example, sumo wrestling matches and the many local festivals, called matsuri, began as means of entertaining local kami.
Judaism is the first monotheistic religion and is a product of Abraham’s covenant with God. Judaism is based on the laws and principles of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym for Torah (“Teachings”), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”). Within the Tanakh there are a total of twenty-four books. According to Judaism, God created a covenant with the Israelites when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai. Judaism’s values stand on three things: Torah and the commandments, the study and doing of good deeds (mitzvah). Their Holy land is Israel, but their perceived right to the land is great source of controversy between the Jews and their Muslim neighbors.
Because of their banishment from the land of Israel in ancient times, Jews now live all over the world. There are approximately 14 million practicing and secular Jews today. The United States is home to around 5,602,000 Jews, New York alone has some 1,654,000 Jews, and Israel has about 4,390,000 Jews. Since 250 AD, Jews have been kicked out of 109 countries total. Throughout history, many Christians have blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. During the high Middle Ages, Jews were expelled, massacred, and forced to convert to Christianity. In the mid-14th century, as the Black Death devastated Europe, rumors spread that the Jews had caused the disease by poisoning the wells. In Strasbourg, a city that hadn’t yet been affected by the plague, 900 Jews were burnt alive. After much more persecution throughout the next few centuries, such as the Holocaust that lead to the death 6 million Jews and the displacement of most of Europe’s Jews. After such a tragedy, the Jews saw to the formation of a recognized Jewish State known as Israel in 1948.
Sects/Branches of Judaism
There are three main sects in Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. Jewish men and women wear special clothing during times of prayer and other religious practices. While praying, eating, reciting blessings, or studying Jewish religious texts, a round brimless (for the most part) skull cap called a kippah or yarmulke is worn. The tzitzit are special knotted tassels that are worn on the four corners of a prayer shawl; different Jewish customs explain when these should be worn. Tefillin are two square leather boxes that contain bible verses and are worn during the weekday morning prayers. A kittel is a white knee-length overgarment that is worn by prayer leaders on the high holidays and the head of the household wears this at the Passover seder. The tallit is similar to the kittel and is worn in similar situations as well as by boys and girls becoming bar/bat mitzvahs when they turn 13 and become adults in the eyes of the Jewish community.
Orthodox Jews traditionally pray three times a day, and on holidays a fourth prayer is added. Prayers are typically recited throughout the day upon waking, and before and after eating a meal. Although most prayers can be recited in solidarity, communal prayer is often preferred. In many reform temples, musical accompaniment such as organs and choirs are used. Further, a fifth prayer service, Ne’ilah (“closing”), is recited only on Yom Kippur.
The Jewish religion can be categorized into six major branches in America. They are the Reform, the Conservative, the Modern Orthodox, the Re-constructionist and the Ultra Orthodox or Haredim, which breaks into two separate groups called the Hasidim and the Mitnaggedim. Reform is the largest branch in America and is the most liberal. Between 1885-1930, immigrating Jews decided that Jewish law is a personal idea and not a requirement. These changes were made in an attempt to keep Jewish people Jewish as there was no longer a pressure to remain Jewish once people assimilated to American culture. The Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox and Re-constructionist function as denominations or different branches of the same religion. The Haredim are a community based group and culturally connected. These are those who life in strict adherence to the Halacha.
One of five major world religions, Christianity is a monotheistic religion made up of roughly 2 billion people, and is considered one of the Abrahamic religions, which originally began as a movement from Judaism. Where Christianity and Judaism depart from one another is in the Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth (Christ or simply Jesus) was divine and was literally the “Son of God.” Christians believe that God sent His “one and only son” to Earth to die as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity, in order to “pay” the price of sin and death. Jesus mainly taught about God’s love and mercy, but also taught about forgiveness, charity, and treating yourself well. Jesus was crucified on a cross by the Romans in His act of sacrifice. Christians also believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and when He did, He allowed the Holy Spirit to “enter” into anyone who chose to believe in Him so that they may have eternal life with God in Heaven after their physical bodies die on earth. There are many branches of Christianity that are not the same. Christians believe in one God and one God only, it is just how they express their love and grace for him. This ranges differently from the vast amount of Christian groups.
The Ten Commandments, which are found in the Old Testament, Exodus Chapter 20 are the basis for the Christian faith, but when Jesus Christ came to earth as a man. He came not to destroy those laws (Ten Commandments), but to fulfill those laws as stated in Matthew 5:17-48. He fulfilled those laws by showing perfect love through dying on the cross, which was the ultimate sacrifice, and abiding by those laws. Therefore, fulfilling the law is Jesus Christ living out the laws perfectly, so that his followers will also be able to do the same.
The Ten Commandments are as follows: “And God spoke all these words, saying: ‘I am the LORD your God… ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’ ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’ ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’ ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ‘You shall not murder.’ ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ ‘You shall not steal.’ ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’ ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.’
Christians use the bible as a tool to communicate to God. The bible is where Christians get all of their wisdom on how to live their life for God. Another name for the bible is the “Word of God”. Another way Christians practice their faith is by going to church. The church is somewhere Christians can go to worship and dive deeper into God’s word. The church can also be a safe place for people to go if they are feeling any sort of pain. The main way Christians practice their faith and live for God is to show everyone God’s love.
One way of connecting to God is though the ritual of holy communion where participants consume symbolic representations of the body and blood of Christ. This is an example of unity of consciousness in which the consumption of the body (bread) and blood (wine) brings the participant and God closer together by letting God become one with them.
Catholicism, made up of about 1.2 billion members is a form of Christianity that focuses on understanding and commitment to tradition; the believers live a Christian lifestyle but obtain a catholic perspective. Catholics believe that people are good but corrupted by a sin nature and the only way to redeem people from that sin is divine grace from the sacraments. However, unlike non-Catholic Christianity, some Catholic sects do not believe that salvation is obtained solely through accepting Jesus Christ as ones Savior, but believe that good works are required to obtain salvation and are a visible manifestation of faith in Christ.
Catholic Churches are unified under the Pope in Rome. Under him are Cardinals, Arch bishops, Bishops, and Priests. Priests preside over individual churches also known as parishes. Catholicism entails that God created everything, nothing is outside of God’s jurisdiction and that includes the believers’ thoughts, word, and deed all of the time. Although there is very important aspect of Christianity that believes in Free Will. The term free will implies that although God rules all things, he wants humans to make their own choices, we can choose to sin or to turn away from sin. Unlike Non denominational Christians, Catholics are involved in using the Sacraments. Sacraments of the Catholic belief consists of: Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Anointing of the sick, and also Holy Orders.
The Vatican is located in the Vatican City, a sovereign country of which the Pope is the sovereign leader. The history of the Catholic Church starts from apostolic times making it the worlds oldest and largest institution covering nearly 2,000 years.
The Pope is recognized by Catholics of the world as the successor to Saint Peter who was an early leader of the Christian church and had a large part in writing the New Testament. Peter was the first official Bishop of Rome, making all of his successors superior to any other worldly Bishop. The current pope is Pope Benedict XVI, making him the current leader of the Catholic Church. He was elected April 19, 2005, and took office April 24th 2005. He succeeded Pope John Paul II.
Protestantism began in Europe during the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation, which began as an attempt to reform the Catholic Church. The name Protestant comes from those who “protested” against the Catholic Church and therefore were named Protestant by the church. It is believed that the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther when he published his Ninety-Five Theses against the Catholic Church. This religion then moved to the Americas during colonization by the English. The religion originated out of the belief that the covenant was broken by Adam and Eve and was then recovered by Jesus. So they believe that they owe God their obedience do to the recovery of the covenant. When things in their lives are going well it shows Protestants that they are fulfilling the covenant with God. It is the opposite when things in their life begin to go wrong, they must not be fulfilling the covenant. Basic beliefs consist of the Bible holding all truths and that God has a set hierarchy; God, King, fathers/husbands, wives, children, and lastly animals. Another basic belief is that the individual must subject themselves for the good of the whole, because even though there is a set hierarchy each individual needs each other for the strength as one. This being said everyone in their society has set responsibilities and everyone is then dependent upon one another. Further more Protestants see themselves as God’s chosen people and at the time of colonization it was their duty to God to pass on his word to Native Americans and those who did not know God.
Anglicanism started with the Church of England created by King Henry VIII during the Protestant Reformation. It is referred to as the Episcopal Church in the United States which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is considered one of the main traditions of Christianity. King Henry VIII created the Church of England because the Pope refused to divorce him and his wife; this act severed the relationship between Roman Catholicism and the United Kingdom, and was one of the causes of the later war between Ireland and Great Britain. The Church of England’s values are relatively similar to that of Catholicism, with the exception of divorce and a few other minor differences that imply that the Church is slightly more lenient than the Romans. While Anglicanism and Protestantism are separate, the Church of England was created with many Protestant ideals. Centuries later, Anglicanism was spread around the world with many countries creating their own autonomous organizations of Anglicanism, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Anglican Church of Canada. The church has been sought out by many diverse groups due to its reputation of acceptance to homosexual couples and ordination of female leaders. Anglicans are most concentrated in the United Kingdom, with a few members found in the United States and Canada.
Islam is considered a monotheistic religion originating from the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. [30 ]Muhammad was a 7th century Arab religious and political figure. The definition of Islam is ‘submission,’ which symbolizes the complete submission required to praise God. Practitioners are referred to as Muslims (literally, ‘those who submit’). There are approximately 1-1.8 billion Muslims in the world. This makes Islam the second largest religion in the world, right behind Christianity. Indonesia has the highest percentage of Muslims anywhere, at approximately 88% of the population. Nearly all Muslims belong in one of the two major denominations, Sunni and Shi’a. The Sunni’s comprise of 85% while the Shi’a compose 15% of religious followers.
Muslim faith places Muhammad as a prophet who received the Qur’an directly from the angel Gabriel. Muhammad is considered the final prophet of God, and his words and deeds are fundamental sources of Islam. Muslims however do not consider Muhammad the founder of Islam. Instead, they believe Muhammad restored the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Islamic tradition holds that Jewish and Christian based faiths are distorted versions of Islam.
Muslims are required to adhere to the Five Pillars and the Six Articles of Faith, which serve to unite the Islamic followers in a community. In addition, Islamic followers obey Sharia, or Islamic law. Sharia is a compilation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the recorded words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad). These traditions and rulings have touched upon all aspects of life. In some cases, however, it is necessary for Muslims to turn to taqlid, the judiciary interpretations of respected scholars.
As a ritual, Islamic men and women also wear special head and body coverings in order to reflect their overall modesty, both in actions and in appearance. Men often wear turbans which are like hats and only cover the top of the head, whereas women wear veils which cover the whole head, hair, and sometimes the lower half of the face. In public or in a man’s presence, women also wear cloak-like garments which are intended to cover the shapes of their bodies as well as their actual skin. In general, men are to wear clothing that covers from the waist to the knees, but men usually wear garments which cover them from the neck to the ankles. Women are also not expected to wear flashy jewelry because this may defeat the purpose of presenting oneself in a modest fashion. Still, the way in which Muslims is more important in revealing their modesty than is their style of dress.
The Qur’an ( Arabic : القرآن ) is the most important religious text of Islam. Unlike the Bible, Muslims believe that the words of the Qur’an came directly from God through the prophet Muhammad by the angel Jibril. Often referred to as the “book of guidance” it serves as a guideline regarding how to live life for Muslims. Its contents include conflict resolution, early forms of a legal system, praises to God and addresses domestic affairs.
The word ‘qur’an’ appears in the Qur’an several times throughout the reading, representing various meanings at different points. Though there is not one particular definition for the word, many Muslim authorities believe the origin to come from qara’a, meaning ‘he read’ or ‘he recited’. Many Muslims see this as a very important lesson: to recite the message. They take this to be a vital meaning of the word.
The Five Pillars of Faith
Islam includes many religious practices but the core lies within the Five Pillars. These five pillars are the framework of the Muslim life. They are the testimony of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
- Shahada: to become a Muslim one must go through a Testimony of Faith where they say, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah.”
- Salat: prayer is to be done five times a day towards the direction of Mecca.
- Zakat: annual almsgiving by giving one-fortieth of their income to the needy. Muslims are also encouraged to undertake personal, non-ritualized Zakat throughout the year.
- Sawm: During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. This develops self-control, devotion to God through the denial of wordly distractions, and identification with the needy.
- Hajj: Each Muslim is supposed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if it is possible to do so. 
The Six Articles of Faith
The main doctrines of Islam are the Articles of Faith, traditionally numbered at six.
- Belief in one God,Allah, Supreme and Eternal, Creator and Provider. God has no mother or father, no sons or daughters. God has no equals. He is God of all humankind, not of a special tribe, race, or group of people. He is the God of all races and colors, of believers and unbelievers alike.
- Angels are a part of human life. They have different purposes and messages from God. Everyone has two angels: one for good deeds and one for bad deeds.
- There are four pieces of scripture that the Muslims follow. The Torah, the Psalms of David, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the most important to the Islamic faith.
- Muslims follow the messages of the six most significant prophets, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Muhammad is the last and most important of Allah’s messengers.
- On Judgment Day those that follow Allah and Muhammad will go to Islamic heaven while those who do not will go to hell.
- Divine Creed  Belief that Almighty God has knowledge of, and control over, everything that exists in all time and space.
The Sunni are a religious denomination that branch off of the religion of Islam. The Sunni make up around 90% of Islamic believers. The Sunni put far more importance on the pilgrimage to Mecca to achieve Hajji status. There are few theologies and traditions that set the Sunni apart from all the others. A few of these include:
- The Theology of Ash’ari
- The School of Maturidiyya
- The School of Athariyya
Theology of Ash’ari
The theology of Ash’ari was founded by Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari. The Ash’ari theology emphasizes many different ideas but the most pronounced is this: divine revelation over human reason. Human reason cannot develop ethics as read in the Qur’an and that it is solely derived from God’s commands. This theology also describes that divine omnipotence is over human free will. It is believed within the Ash’ari that the Qur’an is eternal and uncreated. Basically, the theology of Ash’ari teaches that what the Qur’an says about God should be directly understood as being true, even though some statements can’t be fully conceptualized.
School of Maturidiyya
The school of Maturidiyya, along with Athariyya, form the basis for the understanding of the Sunni. Maturidiyya was incorporated into the Sunni-Islamic religion through Turkish adherents of Central Asia. The Turkish people eventually traveled to different areas of the Middle East taking the tradition of Maturidiyya along with them, thus allowing other believers to be exposed to new theories and ideas. The theory behind Maturidiyya argues that the knowledge of God’s existence can be derived through human reason alone. This, in combination with aspects from the theory of Ash’ari, provide the very basic background and understanding of the Sunni denomination.
School of Athariyya
The school of Athariyya, unlike the school of Ash’ariyyah, teaches instead that the attributes and names given to God by the Qur’an can be taken in a literal sense. For instance, in the Qur’an it describes God as having a “yad” (hands) and a “wajh” (face). So according to the teachings of Athariyya, God has a face and some hands. It is also mentioned that God does not resemble his creation in any way. So the faces and hands of God do not resemble that of his creation but in a way that is only befitting to him. The teachings of Athariyya only convey the idea that God exactly describes himself only suiting to his majesty in literal form.
Sunni Islam is a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion that is adhered to by those of the Muslim culture. The word Islam in Arabic literally means “submission.” The word Muslim in Arabic means “one who submits to God.” It is believed in the Muslim culture that God delivered the Qur’an to them through an angel by the name of Gabriel who sought out the prophet named Muhammad. The Qur’an and Sunnah (words divinely spoken by the prophet Muhammad) are the foundation of which Islam was based upon. It is believed that Muhammad simply restored the religion of Islam rather than creating it, and that other religions such as Judaism and Christianity distorted the true meaning and constructed a false interpretation. Muslims are found throughout various parts of the world, all the way from the West coast of Africa to some parts of China. Most Muslim cultures are found within the Middle East. The Muslim culture practice a very strict type of ritual, which can also be seen as a religious duty, in which they pray five times a day. People are considered to be a Muslim after publicly reciting the Shahadah.
Men: must avoid wearing tight clothing and cover the area between the knees and the navel. This is normally done by wearing a loose gown and usually a turban. Men must also grow a beard, as long as is possible.
Women: more conservative followers of Islam require women to wear loose-fitting clothes and to be covered from their ankles to their wrists. A veil is to be worn on the head, and too much makeup and perfume should be avoided. However many more modern Muslims especially residing in North America and Europe practice their faith without covering themselves up to such an extent. Today there are many Muslims, mostly the younger generation, who believe that there is much more to having faith in Islam and following the word of God than focusing on what one wears. 
Shi’a Islam is the world’s second largest Islamic denomination behind the Sunni denomination. Shi’a Muslims make up the majority of the population in Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Bahrain. The distinguishing characteristic of Shi’a Islam is that it believes that after the Prophet Muhammad died, political and spiritual leadership of the Muslim community should have gone to his family and descendents, mainly his cousin and son-in-law Ali. They believe that only god can appoint the successor to the Prophet and that before his death, Muhammad appointed Ali as his successor. Shi’as call the political and spiritual leaders Imams. They believe that there have been twelve Imams, starting with Ali. The last Imam, Mahdi, is believed not to have died, and is a messianic figure who will return with Christ. According to Shi’a doctrine, he has been living in the Occultation and once returned will re-establish the rightful governance of Islam and replete the earth with justice and peace.
One of the most important Shi’a practices is the annual commemoration of the Battle of Karbala. This battle involves the death of Husayn, Muhammad’s grandson, at the hands of Yazid, son of Mu’awiya.
After Muhammad’s death in 632, rule of the Muslim community was passed to Abu Bakr, then to Umar, then to Uthman, then finally to Ali. Mu’awiya claimed that Ali was unfit for various reasons to inherit the throne and led an uprising against him. After Ali’s death, Mu’awiya instated himself as Caliph and appointed his son, Yazid, as his successor.
Ali’s sons, Hassan and Husayn, rebelled against Yazid’s undertaking of the Caliphate. Hassan was quickly poisoned. Husayn led his followers against Yazid, but was overwhelmed and killed. These events are recounted in annual reenactments. The deaths of Hassan and Husayn are considered tragic, and the reenactments are very emotional. They are considered by Shi’as yet another way the rightful leadership of the Muslim community has been denied by usurpers—first with Ali’s death, then with the death of his sons.
African traditional and diasporic: 100 million. (Diaspora: A dispersion of a people from their original homeland.)
This is not a single organized religion, but it includes several traditional African beliefs and philosophies such as those of the Yoruba, Ewe (Vodun), and the Bakongo. These three religious traditions (especially that of the Yoruba) have been very influential to the diasporic beliefs of the Americas such as Candomblé, Santería and Voodoo. Voodoo is a religious cult practiced in the Caribbean and southern USA, combing elements of Roman Catholic rituals with traditional African magical and religious rites, and characterized by sorcery and spirit possession.
In the Yorùbá religion, all humans have Ayanmo (manifest destiny) to become one in spirit with Olódùmarè, or Olòrún, the divine creator and source of all energy. Each being in Ayé, the physical realm, uses energy to impact the community of all other living things to move towards destiny. In other words, one’s destiny is in one’s own hands. To attain transcendence and destiny in Òrún-Réré, the spiritual realm of those who do good things, one’s Orí-Inu (spiritual consciousness in the physical realm) must be elevated to unify with one’s Iponri (Orí Òrún). Those who stop improving are destined for Òrún-Apadi, the spiritual realm of the forsaken. Life and death are physical cycles that alternate while one’s spirit evolves toward transcendence. The religious capital of the Yoruba religion is at Ile Ife.
Ewe religion is organized around a creator deity named Mawu. Mawu is the Supreme Being, separate from daily affairs. “Se” is a word for law, order and harmony; Se is the maker and keeper of human souls; in an abstract sense, Se is destiny.
The Bakongo or the Kongo people, also called the Congolese, are an ethnic group living along the Atlantic coast of Africa. Traditional Kongo religion believed heavily on the concept of the dead, and that most of their supernaturals or deities are thought to have once lived on Earth. Only Nzambi Mpungu, the name for the high god, existed outside the world and created it from outside. Other categories of the dead include bakulu, or ancestors, the souls of the recently departed, and in some cases, more powerful beings believed to be the souls of the long departed. There are also supernatural beings who are guardians of particular places and territories, sometimes considered to be the soul of the founder, and there are those who inhabit and are captured in minkisi (singular nkisi), or charms, whose operation is the closest to our modern idea of magic. The value of these supernatural operations is generally seen as a reflection of the intentions of the worker, instead of the worker being intrinsically good or bad.
Vodou, or Voodoo, Voodoo is a religious cult practiced in the Caribbean and southern USA, combing elements of Roman Catholic rituals with traditional African magical and religious rites, and characterized by sorcery and spirit possession. Though relatively small in comparison to other world religions in practice, Vodou can be encompassed under the Catholic religion as many practitioners of Vodou consider themselves devout Catholics. Vodou is the Haitian spelling for Vodun, which is an amalgamation of West African traditional religion with Catholicism. Consisting of veneration for Catholic saints, Vodou also consists of veneration of ancestral spirits that can be evoked to posses a host through Catholic hymns and ritual dance and sometimes through animal sacrifice, most commonly of chickens. These ritual parties are normally induced at a spirit’s birthday or another important celebration, at which gatherers give the host food or money for the visiting spirit that is used for the party and salutations for the spirit guest. Vodou communities are tightly knit, and are sparing on outsiders as they are surrounded by poverty and are misunderstood by most onlookers that stereotype Vodou to be a form of black-magic practice by using voodoo as a derogatory term and; therefore, looked down upon by outsiders. Like Catholicism in the act of personal saints, those who practice Vodou often have their own spirits to look after them. Maintaining these spirits’ happiness is very important to the health and protection of those who practice Vodou. In Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn there are often times when the priestess Mama Lola’s spirit, Ezili Freda, will not come to her if she has not showered. Ezili Freda admires and requires cleanliness. If her expectations are not met she will simply leave. 
5 Basic Rastafarian Beliefs
- Haile Selassie is seen as the Messiah; The chosen one.
- They are part of the tribe of Israel, who, at the hand of the White person, has been exiled in Jamaica.
- Everyone is Rasta in terms of being children and servants of God.
- The Jamaican situation is a hopeless hell; Ethiopia is heaven.
- -Because of the Nazarite Vow which Jesus, Moses and Samson took, no instrument shall touch the hair or beard unless it is an atonement.
The Rastafari movement was developed in the slums of Jamaica during the 1920’s and 30’s. During the 1930’s Jamaica was experiencing a severe depression, and the people were subject to racism and class discrimination. This set the stage for the poor and rural Jamaicans to embrace a new religion and ideology. This movement began with the teachings of Marcus Garvey. Garvey believed Africans were the original Israelites, who had been exiled to Africa as divine punishment. Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement encouraged black pride in the people and helped to reverse the mindset of black inferiority.
On November 2, 1930 Ras Tafari Makonnen became emperor of Ethiopia, and took the name Haile Selassie. Followers of Marcus Garvey believed Selassie was the messiah that had been predicted, and that the return to Africa would begin. Jamaicans named this movement Ras Tafari. This movement became visible in the 1930’s when peaceful communities in the Kingston Slums began to grow.
Bob Marley, (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981), was a famous reggae musician and arguably the most famous rastafarian. He is credited with taking reggae and expanding to a worldwide audience. He wore dreadlocks and preached the use of cannabis in his lyrics. Most of his music, lyrics and album covers contained nyabinghi and Rastafarian chanting. He was baptized by the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church in Kingston, Jamaica, on November 4, 1980.
“The Lion of Judah”
Rastafarian tradition believes the famous King Haile Selassie I was a direct descendant of a lineage from King David and Solomon, of the historic faiths. The Rastafarian religious figures were from then on known for their bloodline which gave them the name Lion of Judah, which has been a symbol on the Rastafarian flag since the birth of Rastafarianism. This concept is one of the most important aspects of the Rastafarian way of life, and culture. The symbol is synonymous with other religions, which give it a multicultural connection to many other traditions.
Ganja: Religious Sacrament
Rastafarians have unique practices that are recognized worldwide. The most well known practice is the use of marijuana, which grows plentiful in Jamaica. Rastas know it as ganja, cannabis, dank-dank, reefer, pot, the holy herb, or Callie, and they believe it was given by God. It is used as a part of a religious ritual and as a means of getting closer to their inner spiritual self. The verse Psalm 104:14 is used to validate their explanation as it states “He causeth the grass for the cattle and herb for the service of man.” Before Rastafarianism began, marijuana was used for medicinal purposes by herbalists in Jamaica as a medical remedy.
Ganja, or marijuana is used among the Rastafarians as a religious ritual. At first it was smoked or used in teas as a way to rebel against the system, “Babylon.” The Babylon system came to symbolize Western society in general. However, Ganja is also used for several other reasons. Those reasons include gaining a sense of unity, attaining higher meditation, and calming the mind during fearful times. Thus Ganja has become a very dominant symbol in Rastafarian culture. (Barrett pg.128-9)
Marijuana is used at all times, but especially during the most celebrated rituals: reasonings and nyabingi. Reasoning is a meeting in the form of a ceremony that usually takes place out in the woods or in secluded areas. Rastas get together to discuss and debate issues such as ideologies, philosophy and theology. Marijuana is used during this time with the intention of opening up and becoming more open-minded for discussion. Nyabingi is a dance held on special occasions and holidays. Hundreds of Rastafarians come from around Jamaica and gather for this celebration, which can last for days at a time. The Rastas dance and sing all night until the morning. In the day time, they “rest and Reason”.
There are many Jamaican holidays, most of which are focused on events in the life of Emperor Haile Selassie. The most important ones are:
- January 6 – Ceremonial birthday of Selassie
- February 6 – Bob Marley’s birthday
- April 21 – Selassie’s visit to Jamaica
- July 23 – Selassie’s personal birthday
- August 1 – Emancipation from slavery
- August 17 – Marcus Garvey’s birthday
- November 2 – The coronation of Selassie
Rastafarians have transformed the word “dread” from unkempt, dangerous, and dirty, to instead be a symbol of power, freedom and defiance. The way to form natural dreadlocks is to allow hair to grow in its natural pattern, without cutting, combing or brushing, but simply to wash it with pure water. The way dreads are worn, how long they are, and the newness of them means a lot. If one does not have dreadlocks but is a Rastafarian, they are called a “cleanface.” People who have short newly started dreads are called “nubbies,” and this can sometimes determine the respect that one is given. Rastas maintain that dreadlocks are supported by Leviticus 21:5 (“They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.”)
Rastas do not eat much meat. They eat small fish such as herring, but the foods they eat the most are vegetables. Most call the food I-tal which means, “The essence of things, things that are in their natural states.” This translates to using nothing artificial and certainly no salt. They drink no alcohol, caffeine, or milk, but will drink anything made with natural herbs from the earth.
Red, Gold, Green, and Black – Jamaica’s Colors
- Red: The triumphant church of the Rastas as well as the blood shed of the martyrs in the black struggle for liberation.
- Gold: The wealth of their African homeland, the color of Jamaica and hope to end oppression
- Green: Ethiopia’s beauty and lush vegetation as well as the riches that were stolen from the Jamaicans
- Black: The color of the people that make up most of the Jamaican population
The Bahá’í Faith is one of the youngest of the world’s religions. Its founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817–1892), is regarded by the Bahá’ís as the most recent messenger from God. The line of messengers goes back before recorded time and includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad.
The central theme of Bahá’u’lláh’s message is that humanity is one single race and that the time has come for unity. “God”, Bahá’u’lláh said, “has set in motion historical forces that are breaking down traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation and that will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact of their oneness and to assist the processes of unification”.
One of the purposes of the Bahá’í Faith is to help make the unification of mankind possible. There are around five million Bahá’ís worldwide, representing most of the world’s nations, races, and cultures on earth. The Bahá’í World Centre, the spiritual and administrative heart of the Bahá’í community, is located in the twin cities of ‘Akká and Haifa in northern Israel.
The Bahá’í writings describe a single, personal, inaccessible, omniscient, omnipresent, imperishable, and almighty God who is the creator of all things in the universe. The existence of God and the universe is thought to be eternal, without a beginning or end.
Atheists holds a lack of belief in any god, making up about 2.3% of the world population. Certain countries such as Japan (65%) and Sweden (85%) have higher populations of Atheists. Atheists are often considered ‘strong atheists’ or ‘weak atheists’ depending on the context and certainty of their beliefs or lack thereof.
Some atheists strongly oppose creationism or intelligent design being taught in place of biological evolution in schools in the U.S. In 2005, after a Kansas State Board of Education decision, which allowed intelligent design to be taught in place of evolution, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was created by a group in response to the decision. The flying spaghetti monster is a sarcastic theory that pastafarians argue has as much scientific backing as the theory of intelligent design. Within the original letter that was sent to the Kansas School Board, Henderson showed that correlation does not imply causation by linking the increase in global warming to the decrease in pirate population. This exampled mocked the belief of some religious groups that the world was going though hardships, such as war and famine, because praise was not being given to a deity. This adds to atheists having a strong sense of boundary for church and state, keeping the sacrosanct state separate from religious interference. However, this strong belief in a boundary between church and state is not only limited to atheists and pastafarians. Many people simply do not think that organized religion is a benefit to society. Not only is it not taxed, but it indulges in what can be considered brainwashing of children, i.e. the repetitious statement of a known untruth to an impressionable child for years on end. Some argue that if those children had not been thus mislead he would at least look at the bible critically. In many instances of actions by organized religious groups throughout history resulted not only in the death of millions of people but has been a block in many cases to the abandonment of human rights. Atheism is often mistaken as a belief that there is no God, however this is not the case; An Atheist can also be an Agnostic. The two terms answer different questions. Atheism answers the question of what you believe, the lack of a belief in a God. And Agnosticism answers what you know, how confident you are in your belief. By this definition, a person can be an Agnostic-Atheist or a Gnostic-Atheist. We can also describe people as Agnostic-Christians or Gnostic-Christians. An Agnostic being someone that acknowledges that their belief is not a guaranteed truth, and a Gnostic being someone that claims they are positive in their belief, or lack there of.
Agnostics do not have a conviction as to whether there is or is not a god, often due to the difficulty in proving or disproving such an entity. It does not deny the existence of a supernatural being; however, it does not fully understand or accept there is a god or supernatural being. It is often seen as the middle ground between theist and atheism. Sometimes when asked what their religion is, many of those who are unsure of the existence of a God will reply “Agnostic”.  The terms Agnostic and Agnosticism were created in the 19th century (many sources are different about the exact date)  by Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist who was an advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution. There is often prejudice against Agnostics to be unbound by moral code because of their lack of religion. Though recently the definition of an Agnostic has changed, for there are several definitions now. The two most predominant are Weak Agnostic and Strong Agnostic. A Weak Agnostic is someone who believes that God is unknown, meaning that God may be known, and some people may possibly know God. The second, a Strong Agnostic, is someone who believes that God is unknowable or cannot be known. However there are many different degrees to Agnosticism. Some examples are “empirical Agnostics” who believe that a God may exist, but nothing is or can be known about him/her/it. Also, there are “Agnostic Humanists” who are undecided about whether or not God exists, but they question the importance of the question. 
Satanism is the term for a number of belief systems that all feature the symbolism of Satan or other figures. Originally, Satan was the symbol for all those who challenged the Hebrew Bible. Proceeding this, the Abrahamic religions have described Lucifer as a fallen angel or a mislead demon that tempts people to sin. However, contrary to this, non religious or satanists see the Biblical Satan as a satire for individualism, freewill and enlightenment.
In modern times there are two types of Satanists:
Theistic: Satanists that believe Satan to be a deity and supernatural being. Theistic Satanism may include the use of meditation and self expansion or often includes the use of magic through rituals.
– One group that falls under the definition of Theistic Satanists are Reverse Christians. Reverse Christians follow Satan but in the context of the Christian version and biblical definition of him.
Atheistic: Satanists that regard Satan as a symbol of their freewill and of certain human traits. Some use Satan as a symbol to annoy religious people.
- LaVeyan Satanism: A religion founded in 1966 by Anton Szandor LaVey. Its teachings are based on individualism, self-indulgence, and “eye for an eye” morality. LaVeyan Satanists are atheists and agnostics who regard Satan as a symbol of humanity’s inherent nature.
- Temple of Set: Established in 1975 by Michael A. Aquino and other members of the bitchen priesthood of the Church of Satan, who left because of administrative and philosophical disagreements. The philosophy of the Temple of Set may be summed up as “enlightened individualism” – enhancement and improvement of oneself by personal education, experiment, and initiation. This process must be different for each individual as each is enlightened in different ways.
- Symbolic Satanism: (sometimes called Modern Satanism) is the observance and practice of Satanic religious beliefs, philosophies and customs. In this interpretation of Satanism, the Satanist does not worship Satan in the theistic sense, but is an adversary to all, spiritual creeds, espousing hedonism, materialism, rational egoism, individualism and anti-theism.
The Pentagram is a five-sided star shown upside down in the Satanic religion. This star has a couple of meanings, most commonly being Lucifer or vesper, the star of morning and evening, and it also represents Satan as a goat of the sabbath (which when a goat’s head is placed inside the inverted star, the horns point up, the sides are the ears, and the bottom point is the beard of the goat). The star also symbolizes rules and ideology within its affiliated religion, with each point representing an aspect of the Satanic belief. Satanist are supposed to follow each point and build off of it to have a better life. The five points of the pentagram are similar to the Ten Commandments they explain how to live your life and to be a Satanist you must follow these rules.
The First Point represents the social responsibility to respect others and treat them as you would like to be treated. Members strive to be law-abiding, tax-paying, honest and responsible Satanists.
The Second Point represents the power of magic as well as the power of will. Satanists believe that with strong will, their magic can become more powerful. This magic is used in Satanic practices and it is encouraged that Satanists experiment with the different types of magical paths or styles that they feel drawn to.
The Third Point represents the importance of enchanting one’s life and living it to the fullest while staying in control and being responsible. This point states the Satanic rule, “do whatever you wish, but in doing so, harm no one deserving it.” This leaves a lot of open space for Satanists to live their life and have fun. Addictions and breaking the law, however, are frowned upon and viewed as qualities of the weak.
The Fourth Point represents the “Wolf Pack,” which is a respect for your family and friends. Any person that is close to a Satanist and fullfils their life is to be included in the ‘wolf pack’.
The Fifth point represents the idea that man creates his own gods, is free to live as if they are the king or queen, and is able to believe in themselves. This point states that you can do the best you can and try your hardest throughout life. This is the most valued point of the star and it concludes that one should worship what they want and do what makes them happy.
The Pentagram as a non-satanic symbol The image of a Pentagram is not purely linked to the practice of Satanism. Many cultures have utilized the pentagram as a symbol. For instance, various Neo-paganism beliefs such as Wicca or Neo-druidism, take a version of the pentagram and infuse it with their own ideas and imagery. In Wicca, the pentagram is not inverted as it is in Satanism, but rather is upright. The pentagram can even be found in older history Christianity where it was held as a symbol of health or as a representation of the five wounds of Christ. Further uses can be found in the Bahá’í faith where it is one of the major identifying symbols, and in Taoism where it represents the five elements of Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood.
Cults are social groups with radical yet common belief in a goal, religion, idea, on any other unverifiable thing that can be taken to the extreme. its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader. There are, however many meanings to what cults are and these are split into groups of positive, neutral, and negative connotations. Negatively connotative cults usually get the most media attention and these cults tend to negatively attack or veiw others outside of their social group for being different. Positive cults tend to still follow a idolized person or idea, but with no effect to outside discrimination, this can be like a Nudist colony because their ideal is based on positivist towards the earth.
Doomsday Cults : The term ‘Doomsday Cult’, coined by anthropologist John Lofland in 1966, encapsulates groups who make predictions about an apocalypse, and those who attempt to bring one about. 
Some modern examples of Doomsday Cults :
• The Church of Bible Understanding : a communal organization, teaching a form of evangelical Christianity.
• The People’s Temple : In the 1950’s Jim Jones started The People’s Temple. 1971 the church was started being accused of fraud, and abuse against its members. Jones was increasingly paranoid because of this, as well as the fact that he was abusing prescription drugs. He decided to relocate to Guyana and build a ‘socialist utopia’ he called Jonestown. Many people followed him and began a new life at this camp. Former members of the church became worried for some friends who went to Jonestown, and talked a congressman into investigating the camp. When the congressman as well as a news crew arrived at the camp all seemed fine and well. However before they left members of the church asked for help getting back to America. Jones took this as an act of defiance and panicked. He ordered a firing squad to kill the people investigating the town. He then gathered everyone together in the center of the town and had them all ‘drink the kool aid’ which was mixed with cyanide. As a result over nine hundred Americans died.
• The Manson Family : a quasi-commune that arose in California in the late 1960s.
• Aum Shinrikyo : a Japanese doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984.
• Restoration of the 10 Commandments : A Christian doomsday cult in Uganda
• Raëlism : a UFO religion that was founded in 1974 by Claude Vorilhon
• The Church of Scientology :a multinational network and hierarchy of numerous ostensibly independent but interconnected corporate entities and other organizations
• The Order of the Solar Temple : a secret society that claims to be based upon the ideals of the Knights Templar.
• Heaven’s Gate– American UFO Cult based in San Diego, California, founded in 1970 and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles. The group preached that followers would be able to leave their bodies to attain a higher form of physical existence. In accordance with that, the group made headlines in 1997 when 39 members were found dead in a San Diego suburb.
• Branch Davidians : a religious group that originated in 1955 from a schism in the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists
• The Unification Church : a new religious movement founded in South Korea in 1954
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