In all our archeological efforts to uncover the mysteries of our past, it would seem to me that one subject is often neglected, which is the belief systems of the Ancients.
We have put forth extensive study into every known religion, and it has earned a field of study all of its own called "Theology". However, as a race, we seem to forgotten our own origin story. We tend to dismiss the faith of the ancients, and do not spend the time necessary to understand the mindset of our predecessors. The beliefs of the Mesopotamians, Mesoamericans, and all the ancient cultures seem to be completely ignored, and little to no research has been performed in understanding why they believed in what they did.
What these ancient people believed is a fundamental reason why they built the ancient monoliths that we explore today. How they believed, what they prayed too, and how they functioned as a society is the primary reason ancient humans had the ability to build these structures to begin with. To say the Ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramids in adoration of Man-Gods is an empty reasoning. There is no validity behind the statement. Christians, with a higher education and technology did not enslave millions of people over the course of a thousand years to build anything even close to the ancient monoliths. While they did enslave entire races, the purpose was capitalistic in nature. Obviously, there are considerations that are often left open ended and lack cohesive reasoning.
Religion has been explored, in depth, by theologians for centuries. Why we feel the need to pray to higher power or to prostate ourselves in adulation is often a reflection of education and knowledge levels of any given society. What hasn't been explored is the belief in magic, while magic continues to play a role in all major religions, the average modern thinker hardly gives it a thought. It is more of a side note. However, I can think of over a dozen instances in daily Christian prayer that is dependent upon concepts of miracles and magic.
Do we, as a population believe in magic? I don't mean the black hat witch transforming a prince into frog fantasy magic, but a form of belief that has been with us since the dawn of mankind type of magic - that through prayer and adulation we can affect circumstances for a favorable result? Absolutely. We just don't call it "magic" anymore. Now we call it "faith".
When an Angel visits a sick child and cures them of an illness, is that not "magic" for all intents and purposes? When an unexplained apparition appears in a church, is that not indeed a form of "magic"?
Magic is a term used to define the unexplainable. We use the word "science" for things we can explain. Faith is used for things that we can attribute to a God interfering. However, in truth, all three words and concepts use each other to substantiate the other. I am reminded of a scripture that states "Light then pierced the darkness...". One must logically admit that without darkness, light would be unnoticed. Same in religion, magic and science. While all three argue with one another, and people tend to take one stance or another, they are a triad of concepts that would not exist without the others. And in this sense, they compliment each other.
But how many times has it been stated that all three are integral to what is known as the Human Condition? That all three are abstract concepts, and only the fact that we have the capability to wonder does any of them actually exist in our conscious? Almost never. I have seen and watched over the course of my five decades in this form, everyone get on their particular soapbox depending on their view, yet not once, ever, recognize that the only reason one view point or the other exists at all is because of a unity of all three?
A professor at Oxford University, Chris Gosden, took on this particular challenge in his Book, Magic: A History: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present. It is an analytical study of human belief from the Dawn of Man until now. Yes, it touches upon what we could consider traditional "Pagan" witchcraft, but from an archeological view, and not a practical view.
The magic of the medieval ages were glorified through a population of ignorance and propagated by church with political agendas'. It is highly unlikely that magic of that type exists... deals with the devil, alchemy, transformation, mixing of elixers... however, as humans we have tried to influence circumstances for favorable conditions since... well since we started walking upright.
And isn't that the entire point of Science? Or Religion?
We study science so that we better understand the physical world in which we live, which leads to more reliable machinery and technology, thus improving the circumstances in which we perform daily actions? Is not the advent of the automobile much more reliable and cheaper than a horse that has to be fed, and can get sick or break a leg? "The better mouse trap", so to speak? Do we not pray to God to favor us in our endeavors? To ask his almighty blessing upon those we care about, and in turn receive a favorable blessing ourselves? Is it not all about increasing our odds for a favorable outcome?
And where did we get this idea that we can influence circumstances to begin with?
It is the same exact wishful thinking that our shamanistic ancestors practiced, only with some knowledge we have gained over time thrown in.
The practice of science is just as much of a faith in religion or magic. Unless one is indoctrinated in the concepts of theory, is it not "faith" in those who are? And for those who are very familiar with the basics of scientific theory, what is most often ignored and forgotten is the fact that outside of a few geometric proof's, nothing has been proven 100%. It is all an educated guess... just like Priest's of old "knew", without a doubt, that God had given us specific information, and that was the way of the world, period, with no questions asked. It would seem to me that society has shifted its belief system from Earth, to God, to our fellow humans. But in the end, it is all an extension of the same abstract thought. And there are always those who claim to be more correct than others, and that their version of truth is more truthful than any other.
In my mind, it is a reflection of the ultimate arrogance that all humans display. The assumptions we make concerning our existence is ultimately as narrow minded and foolish as modern society views our beliefs of the past. Who is to say who is correct or isn't. It isn't like humans got an instruction manual when we started walking and talking.
And if we did, it is likely some power monger at some point or another grabbed it up and held it as a secret in order to have power over others.
It is noted that when we first started as rational. abstract thinking creatures that could work together, we first became nomadic tribes, and with a universal form of belief concerning our existence and place on this earth.
Before civilization, before Mesopotamia, which is the first known civilization, all humans were nomadic with sporadic attempts at farming and animal breeding. It would seem some animals were perfect for herding, such as horses and wild cattle, while others took a long time and educated breeding practices to develop from wild animals. Mesopotamia, arguably began some 10,000 years ago, roughly 8,000 B.C.. It was at that time the advent of "Gods" appeared in our archeological record. Before then, and some cultures held on to the older concepts of faith for thousands of years afterwards, humans put more faith in the world around them.
In general, it is what is known, or called, a "Shamanistic" belief system. While the terminology does not do the practice justice, it ranged in practice and belief from tribe to tribe, and its practice, while in specific areas ranged wildly, all had a common thread of belief.
One main point is the belief and prayer to an individual's ancestors. This idea did carry over into Mesopotamia. Some sites have been discovered with generations of bodies that were buried on top of one another, in actual residences that were occupied for centuries. It was a belief that one could commune with the spirits of the deceased, but they had to be related to the inquirer. This practice seemed to be common place across the globe, as it has been found everywhere.
Another main focus point of the Ancients was a belief that one could commune with natural entities such as deer, wolves, and other animals, predatory and prey alike. It is thought, that through a connection with the Earth, that the ancients believed that they could transform into these other creatures for a purpose, whether being a good hunt or wisdom or a hundred other purposes. It was represented by headdresses and natural herbs, but the ancient shamans believed it was beneficial to put oneself in the mind-set of an animal, thus "transforming" themselves into that animal. And through this mind set, they could find answers that they seek.
They would share successful hunts with these spirits, but not in the mainstream manner of thought. We think of the Vikings slashing an animal in ragged bloody hunks and tossing it to a totem. Well before the Vikings, or organized societies at all, we would carefully cook the rear haunch of a prey animal, skin the animal in a mystic and specific manner, flavor it with herbs and spices , and wrap the offering in said skin. Then we would return it to nature, and place it in a manner to assure consumption by other animals, thus expressing our gratitude by returning a portion of it to the cycle of life.
Does all of that sound fanciful and pointless? How about the ritual of Sharing the Blood of Christ via Communion? Sounds equally "magical" in my ears. In terms of science, how about keeping human interaction away from any experiment performed in a lab to prevent the "human interference" theory? That the presence of a person can change the outcome of any experiment? Sounds kinda like "knocking on wood" to me.
To leave pennies and/or money, flowers and gifts at the feet of statues, to me, seems completely pointless. Returning to the earth a portion of the bounty it gave me? That makes much more sense. That way I don't consume everything it gave me in gluttany, but rather spark a little symbiont circle of life for future harvesting.
Which is a sin? Keeping everything for myself, sacrificing resources to a carved rock, (wasting them) or recycling unused resources to ensure resources for another day?
What is more foolish? Praying to a God whom no-one has ever seen or met, or praying to the spirits of your parents and grandparents whom you actually knew and would help you if they could? As a Veteran, I am not sure where I stand with God, but I know for a fact my Dad and Grandparents would give me favorable conditions, if that is possible. So it would seem to me that if I am trying to "hedge my bets", so to speak, I would stick with what I would know to be my best odds.
Many people in modern society are trying to return to the old ways. It is difficult in an industrialized world to return to our roots, but humans are amazingly adaptable and can change to meet circumstances. I am sure the modern version will find a way.
SO why is faith important? Well, before civilization, we were happy and in-tune with our surroundings. We had no need to shape the earth to our will in order to support larger populations. But at some point, about 8,000 B.C., a radical shift in human perception changed the way we have treated ourselves, this planet and every resource we could get our hands on, forever.
In the course of a couple centuries, humans in the middle east went from nomadic occasional farmers to a fully industrialized society with art, culture, music, mathematics, (based on system of 60, versus our decimal system based on 10), agriculture, construction, land irrigation, engineering, astronomy, indoor plumbing, metallurgy, a written language, economics, politics and religion. We suddenly knew how to brew alcohol, culture cheese, had a form of medical "science", and understood the entire cycle of human life.
In that effort, ancient man reigned in the marshes and rivers in the middle east to include the Nile, introduced flood mitigation and irrigation control. We rounded up all the animals we could and started a concentrated breeding program to breed more easily controlled animals to help us in our endeavors, as well as to feed ourselves. We suddenly had domestic grains which we could plant and harvest, reliably, season after season.
In a book called Ishmael written by Daniel Quinn, in a fascinating twist of story telling, Quinn relates a story of a three hundred year old talking gorilla that is attempting to reach one human at a time about the sins of the human race. The story revolves around one such human. In it, it is a major point of the story that at some point in our ancient past, human beings decided to wage war against nature. We decided that it was better to force and change our surrounding circumstances to be more favorable for ourselves, versus the symbiotic circle of our existence on this planet.
This is exactly what happened with the advent of Mesopotamia. In a evolutionary blink of an eye, we turned our backs on Mother Earth, and decided to take her gifts in selfishness and force her to do our bidding. We began to sacrifice our own children in the name of these Gods. Thus began a war against nature, and against ourselves, that rages on today. We deep mine her for oil and metals, we plow fields for grains and vegetables, we mow down her forests so that we may wipe our collective butts, and we have harnessed her animals to provide clothing and food, callously, and without mind.
God told the Christian world to "Go forth and procreate". There is no going back from that one simple concept. The more people, the more resources must be gathered, and thus requiring nature to sacrifice more for our needs. Once those resources are gone, they are gone for good.
This is an example of why faith plays such a large role in our development. We existed as nomadic people for many thousands of years longer than we were civilized. But once the mind-set changed, in any given general population, in this case a shift from spiritual belief to a belief in a higher being, or God(s), it spurred a boom in technology and knowledge unlike anything ever seen on this planet before, and can only be compared to the super fast evolution of agricultural America to Industrialized America.
What motivated American growth? A separation of State from the Church, ironically enough, and a faith in the human capacity for innovation and capitalism. Again, social evolution leading to a major change in technology and standards of living. The mind-set of a major population directly affecting major changes in the human condition on this planet.
Thus why it is important to understand the socio development of any given society when trying to understand it. For generations "Manifest Destiney" led the European expansion all over the world, enslaved millions and eventually saw the development of the Nuclear Bomb. But it also led to the colonization of America.
So when I read reports from various sources concerning unlocking the mysteries of our past, one of the points I will always look at is, "Did they consider 'why' people would do this", and often times faith is never considered, thus leaving huge holes in concept, theory, and valid explanation.
According the the Department of History of Egypt, (which I disagree with on almost every point), King Kufu managed to solidify some sort of belief in the people of the middle east so much so, that they designed and built the largest, longest lasting structure in the world within one lifetime. Somehow, he managed, either by force or collusion, to get everyone in the known world at the time, from Mt. Arafat to the Sinai Peninsula, to the Nile Delta, to all pitch in their resources, commit themselves to what essentially boiled down to slave labor, and build the largest complex mankind has ever seen, in under 90 years.
Did you know that the concrete in the center of the Hoover Dam is still wet? 90 years is simply unbelievable for the task of building the Giza Complex.
It was such a massive undertaking that it has been argued that the man power required to pull off such a feat was well beyond the population capacity possible for that region of the world. Much less the question of such precision in their construction methods on one of the oldest known structures on earth.
But... WHY? Why on Earth would human beings, whom descended from sapiens, would put forth such an effort? Just to honor a man-God? I believe that, left to our devices and methods of worship, we would leave a half a stag in reverence and call it a day. But to build an entire complex that would challenge our modern capability? Untold hundreds of thousands of death's in the process? Soaking up every resource in the known world?
In my mind, this exemplifies that the understanding of socio-development is crucial when divulging into the mysteries of the past, and looking forward into our potential as a race. Many would argue faith alone isn't enough to explain our past actions, and I would agree. Forgive the term, but even today, the average human being tends to be "basic".
Which translates into what my third grade English teacher told us, which is that everyone is "basically" lazy. There is truth in that statement - while there are some who simply can't sit still, if they worked hard enough long enough, all they will eventually want to do is eat and sleep. That can be said for all of us. If it is feasible to make things simple, we will. The old engineering acronym of Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS), applies to this point.
Something made us diverge from our original path. Today, we see society falling back into the patterns of old. We now tend to put more faith in the concepts of science, which is a man-made form of understanding. We went from having faith in the world around us and the spirits of humans, to worshipping God(s), back to having more faith in humankind's understanding. We have come full circle when it comes to faith, and in social-evolutionary terms, very very quickly.
And in those terms, we have come back to our fundamental belief system of magic. Because all magic ever was, was a utilization of knowledge gleaned from our limited perceptions and trying to use that knowledge to gain favorable circumstance.
To me, this proves a very valid point: that it against human nature, or the human condition, to place our faith in something we cannot see or relate too. That the religions of Gods and God were a diversion from our natural social evolution.