ANCESTOR WORSHIP

Ancestor worship is of course not a religion in itself but it is definitely an aspect of religion. Going further, we will notice, it may even have been the very beginning – the root – of religions. Interesting, right?

Why (and how) did something so illogical even start?
Who first could have come up with something so unnatural / weird? Worshipping a dead family member, irrespective of whether you did actually love or respect them when they were alive!

It’s interesting how the dead are appropriated these almost luminescent divine-ish powers just after they’re dead. Alive they might even have been dumb and annoying and maybe even evil, but once dead, we make them worshippable.

I said “worshippable” above. The practice is called ancestor worship usually but many greater minds suggest that it is more like “veneration” rather than actual worshipping.

 

What Does It Symbolize / When Do They Turn To It

In all the cultures practising ancestor worship, this practise is followed with a clear motive in mind – and that motive essentially is well-being of the self, that is, well being of the living family. It is not done just because they are missing the dead family member or because they truly care about their ancestors’ afterlife but because the ancestors hold power over the well being of the living family.

Ancestors, in their travel to their heavenly abode, are now believed to possess powers and affect the fortunes of their living family.

So with their worship of ancestors, the living family members want to keep the ancestors happy because they now hold the power to influence the quality of their existence. And when the ancestors are unhappy, misfortune can come upon the living family.

Some cultures believe that their ancestors actually need to be provided for by their descendants, and their practices include offerings of food and other provisions.

So, the relationship between the living family and the ancestors is clearly a relationship based on reciprocity. The living have to provide for the ancestor spirits and based on that, the ancestors bring prosperity to their living successors.

 

Similarities among Cultures Following Ancestor Worship

Cool Fact: Ancestor Worship has appeared in all human cultures so far.
That’s interesting and curious, especially because its origins go back further than 20,000 years.

So what are the similarities in all these cultures that follow this seemingly unreasonable practice?

Ancestor Worship is found to be practiced in hierarchical societies rather than egalitarian ones – societies where fathers and mothers hold a superior position, a role of authority, over their kids and these same privileges pass on to the kids when they have their children further.

Many cultures understand this as a way to honour the continuity to life that comes with parents and procreation. One receives ones physical body from ones parents, who take care of the child till he/she is on a firm footing. To respect the parents in their lifetime and after it, is therefore, natural.

Ancestor worship is seen to exist in cultures where hierarchical structures are emphasized on the father’s side, where the father-eldest son relationship carries its own certain nature, particularly inheritance, passing on of family duties etc.

It exists in societies that have strong lineages – where an identity of the family is felt to be important and is continued on for generations.

Societies practising ancestor worship have a general belief in the existence of spirits – that is, life beyond the existence of the physical body. Which is why, they believe that the dead ancestors still have a spirit and can respond to the veneration being given to them by their living family.

Ancestors are considered mediators between the living members and the divine, and thus hold influence over the fortunes of the living family. They are thus, considered guardians of the well-being of the living family, towards whom the family turns for maintenance of their fortunes, and for guidance & knowledge that comes from traveling to the after-life.

 

Origins of Ancestor Worship / Why It Could have Started

Ancestor worship has been found to be a part of almost all human cultures we know. From China to India, Africa to Polynesia, aspects from ancient Egyptian and Roman cultures, and even among the Mayan culture and the ancient Hebrews.

It first emerged in complex Upper Paleolithic societies, even among the Neandrathals.

In an attempt to answer the questions similar to the ones I raised at the beginning of this post, a few anthropologists gave forth some ideas.

My favourite one is by Edward Burnett Tylor who offered the concept of animism. Animism means a belief in a spirit essence of things that aren’t alive. So basically animism is a belief that everything has a spirit/soul which survives after death. He suggested that at some point, the ancients started believing that the spirit of the ancestor survives even when his body dies.

This could also have been a very early beginning of the concept of religions (but that’s still debated and probably will be for a long time because after all, it is anthropology).

Ancestor worship could have started to support an important social function in the evolution of humans. It is a practise that strengthens, symbolically at least, family as a strong continuous unit. It might have started to foster family loyalty, to honor the continuity of family lineage, and sacredness of one’s roots.

Another possibility is that ancestor worship may have been started by the elites of complex Upper Paleolithic societies who may have used it to establish the idea of familial continuity and thus, the continued claim on superiority and control over other people. (Vincent W. Fallio)

 

How Has Ancestor Worship Evolved Over Time

Like in any other cultural phenomena (I don’t like this word), local practices continue under the wider umbrella of one sweeping religion or practise, in this case, ancestor worship. While ancestor worship evolved from burial rites in different cultures (and therefore, probably exist in every single culture/religion).

Similarly, under the wider umbrella of ancestor worship, we notice different cultures following vastly different practices. But one thing remains common – like most things human, these practices have been driven more by fear than love.

As we know, ancestor worship definitely revolves around the basic concept that some essence of the ancestor still is alive even when his body is dead. So what does that mean?

That means, that at some point in the evolution of the human brain, we did improve our imaginary faculties to the point that it lead to things never ever seen or possible to be seen – the conception of ghosts.

Herbert Spencer calls it the “root of all religions”.

 

Forms of Worship It Takes In Different Cultures

You will notice that ancestor worship is definitely about family ancestors and in a lot of cultures and religions, they also extend to sainthoods.

It takes place in three major physical locations: domestic shrines, local temples and graveyards.

In some cultures, people visit the graves of their ancestors regularly or on a special day dedicated to this, leave flowers and pray to them in order to honor and remember them. The All Saint’s Day on November 1 (the day after Halloween) is famous among Catholic Christians for this. Interestingly, Halloween also actually has its origins in the resurrection of the dead – which is why it has its famous ghostly theme (in case you didn’t know).

In the ancient Egyptian culture, the mummification of the dead body was done so that dead could come and receive gifts from their living family after they had entered afterlife. Mummification was a form of preservation of the body and spirit of the dead ancestors.

In the Egyptian culture, the worst fate a dead person could suffer was to be forgotten. So this led to a few practises to keep them alive. One was of course mummification, offering gifts to the dead ancestors, and among others were hiring priests to keep performing rites of remembrance for the dead in order to sustain their spirit. Of course the priests were allowed to keep a part of the rite offerings as payment for their services.

Similarly, some tomb inscriptions requested passers-by to read the name of the dead aloud so as to keep the memory of the dead alive. They could also offer prayers, water or gifts.

Ancient Rome: In ancient Rome, the month of February was dedicated to veneration of the ancestors. It also included a nine-day festival which included purifications and veneration, and also included a practice in which the family visited the grave of the ancestors and shared cake and wine with them as a meal.

In Madagascar, they follow the practice of the famadihana, in which they exhume the remains of their dead family members, wrap the remains in fresh silk shrouds and bury them again.

In Madagascar, they also follow fady – which is to not do what the ancestor during his lifetime did not do or appreciate. Fady is more of a taboo system. By not doing what the ancestor did not like when he was alive, is a way of showing respect to the ancestor and may encourage him to bless the fortunes of his living family. Not following this, may of course, cause misfortunes to befall the family.

They also do minor everyday activities keeping their ancestors in mind. One of them is the practice of zebu, in which they throw the first capful of rum in the northeast corner of the room as an offering to their ancestors.

In China & Taiwan, many cultures understand this as a way to honour the continuity that comes with parents and procreation. One receives ones physical body from ones parents, who take care of the children till they are on a firm footing. To respect the parents in their lifetime and after it, is therefore, natural.

In Chinese and Taiwanese cultures, they have a system of elaborate gifting to the dead because they believe that the living family should try and make the life of the dead in their afterlife very comfortable. You will see things refrigerators, shoes, car and even actual money taking the form of gifts to the ancestors.

In Ireland and Scotland, they have the festival of Samhain.

In the United States and Canada, gifts to the dead often take the form of flowers, wreaths, decorations on the grave in the forms of stone structures or candles, and sometimes even small pebbles as a way to honour the dead. This is followed in Judaism too.

 

Ancestor Worship Today

Ever heard the phrase “Don’t speak ill of the dead”?
I wonder if it comes somewhere from ancestor worship.

While today you will see these practises being followed, and you may or may not follow them elaborately, do you have any pictures or mementos in your house of your dead family members? *wink wink*

 

 

Witchcraft

Why a religion?

I am writing this for people who have hardly ever given a thought to witchcraft; who think witchcraft is a thing of the past – things we read about in fairy tales like Snow White; people who think witchcraft is all about obscure magic, something to do with a long hook-nosed evil old woman, looking over some pot on a fire on which she is brewing a potion and right now just threw a live frog into it.

Hang on, people, Witchcraft is a real thing.

But it has nothing to do with an old wicked woman who eats children. (All your stories – Hensel & Gretel, Snow White and all, are misinformed and pure fantasy)
They do not fly on broomsticks.
They do not put poison in apples to kill pretty innocent girls.
They do not mate with the devil.
They do not wish anyone bad. At least, not more than any normal human like you and your neighbour’s mom!

It took me a long time to decide why I should write about Witchcraft on my blog. Can Witchcraft be called a religion?

The very existence of religion is to give some comfort to hold on to in the face of risk or fear.

We are afraid of other human beings. We are afraid of how they may harm us. We are afraid of the future. When something bad befalls us, and we can’t seem to place a reason on it, it’s ‘inexplicable’ things that other people may have done on us. They must have done something bad on us.

Most Wiccans agree that while Wicca is a religion (if you don’t know about it, no worry, I’ll write about it soon. Maybe), whereas witchcraft is only a way of life.

The reason I choose to write about it on my blog is because from every aspect of it, it does fall into a cohesive belief system, deeply individualistic though it might be, can be understood as one body. So what does witchcraft give you to hold on to when you have to face life?

It gives you, you.

So, yes, I will give it the respect of a religion.

When did it start

Witchcraft finds its origins much earlier than most religions today. It dates back around 40,000 years, to the Paleolithic period. It has obviously been growing in its form since then and today, it looks very different from what it did a thousand or five thousand years back. Obviously.

Before it was demonised in popular culture, Witchcraft was also known as ‘craft of the wise’ because it was deep, wise craft practised by the wiser ones in the society, the ones who were in alignment with nature, the ones who understood how it functions and why it’s important, the ones who had the knowledge of herbs and medicines, whom you could turn to for counsel. These were the people highly regarded as healers in the village and community.

These practitioners of witchcraft understood how nature was prime to anything else and there was more to it than we can see or feel. Human beings were only a small part of nature, the wholeness of which was more important than anything else.

Until a 1000 years ago, it was a very common thing for people to go to a witch to seek help for any medical illness or for life- & family-related problems.

What is Witchcraft

The word ‘Witch’ comes from Old English, which means ‘wise woman’.

Witchcraft believes in shaping your reality, the world around you, the way you want it. It may sound manipulative. And maybe it is. Through internal powers, the Witch shapes the external circumstances. So basically, Witchcraft can be fundamentally understood as a path that does give you a reason to complaint — because if you can create your reality, you will create it the way that is best for you. Hence, you are taking responsibility for your own self and you do not need to depend on others to do anything on which your happiness depends.

Witchcraft is power. But it’s the beautiful kind. Not the kind we see politicians manipulating the world for. Or terrorists shooting innocents for.

Because you see, dependence is a powerful tool of social control but Witchcraft disrupts it. When you know that you can shape reality through magic, you have a means of resisting any attempt to make you dependent.

A witch believes in nature. He/She reveres the elements of Nature such as earth, fire, air and water. Fire cleanses. Water purifies. Earth gives herbs to heal. Air is our connection to nature as we breathe it deep in – it is considered a divine blanket by the witches. Nature has always allowed self-sufficiency in humans, a reason for which witchcraft upholds it.

Witchcraft uses the energy of the world through its elements to sustain life on this planet. What’s evil about that?

Witchcraft is a path that promotes an individual’s ability to think, act and do what he decides. It supports and nurtures free thought and will and thus, requires one to be wise, considerate of the consequences and be learned. Witchcraft, by taking from nature, needs a knowledge of the earth and nature. By giving power to create reality, witchcraft is a path that teaches responsibility. We acknowledge responsibility for our own actions – we cherish the success or we suffer the consequences.

Witches have a very strict belief in the Law of Three. The law of Three is that everything we send out into the world will come back to us multiplied by three. Everything. Good deeds we do will come back three times to us in various forms. And so will bad deeds. Even bad thoughts. Therefore, witches, the real ones, would not cause harm to anybody because that would come back even worse (because three times larger).

The nature is divine for a witch. Every single entity within nature is therefore divine for a witch. It’s not just living things like you, animals and animals. For a witch, even a stone by the side of a river is not to be harmed.

Witchcraft is a way of tuning into the energies of life; it is a connection with source energy. Everything is a living thing in witchcraft because it carries a vibration. Everything deserves love, reverence, respect, and protection.

Hence, the concept of sacrifices is not supported by witched. They do not sacrifice animals or even plants.

Witchcraft, therefore, is a deeply loving religion.

It considers one’s human body as divine. And therefore, one must deeply loving one’s own self. It requires removal of all kinds of fear and fearful actions like jealousy and low self esteem. One’s thoughts, actions, emotions, and prayers create energy and vibration. The better these things are, therefore, the better will be the energy that goes out into the world and comes back from other beings to us.

Every witch I have spoken to overuses the word ‘healing’ so much so that it tells what their main obsession and purpose is: healing.

Witches believe that all living things have two parts. An oversoul and an undersoul.

The oversoul is beyond our body and this life’s experiences. It is what we are, who we are, in a forever state. This means that our oversoul has much deeper knowledge than our conscious mind realizes. It is our connection to our oversoul that allows us to have abilities like clairvoyance, psychokinesis etc.

On the other hand, our conscious experiences of this life are through our undersoul, right from our birth. Needless to say, since the undersoul adds to the overall experience of the oversoul, it is a part of the oversoul.

In many Pagan religions, the undersoul and oversoul have been portrayed as lovers -Siva and Sakti in Hinduism, Apollo and Diana in Mediterranean and Adonis and Venus.

That is why, when you connect your mind, body and spirit, miracles happen as the Universe responds to your powers.

There is no dogma or doctrine that dictates witches. They are free. Witchcraft is in fact an individualistic religion.

Modern Witches

It is quite possible for all of us to still believe that witchcraft is a thing of the past. But it’s not. In fact, followers of witchcraft and paganism are rising.

It’s a simple enough path to follow and perfectly coincides with all that we people are worried about these days. Since going to the Sunday masses has not really shown good results over the years, there are many who swear by the witchcraft.

Even today, it is a peaceful and individualistic path. For example, if you’re cash strapped, a simple affirmation or lighting a candle to the Moon Goddess is what witchcraft will suggest you to do.

In fact, every time you see a wish coming true, in witchcraft, you must do a selfless act for someone else as a gratitude offering to the Universe.

These spells or affirmations could also be self-fulfilling prophecies but so be it.

Conflicts

Dependence is a powerful tool of social control. When you want to establish yourself on fear, the first thing you do is take power from your subjects away.

This is the tool that Witchcraft disrupts. Because when you know that you can shape reality, you have a means of resisting any attempt to make you dependent.

It was not until 1000 AD that the practice of Witchcraft and witches invoked the wrath of priests, Christianity, and people. Witchcraft, seen as a religion of the ancient which worships the feminine, earthly, and masculine aspects of God, was considered as anti-Christian and a heresy.

Witchcraft may have existed thousands of years ago as a protection against the crude forces of nature, at the mercy of which we lived. But when organized religion came in to the market, they couldn’t let such a democratic religion just be. This was so empowering. Of course power has to be taken away from the people when you want to establish yourself on fear.

For sure, some witches might be evil. But so are some priests. Almost every politician. A lot of businessmen. But we still accept them and follow them and revere them.

Claims like witches have a pact with the devil was never logically based nor substantially proved. How could it be..?

In fact, all the historical evidence related to witch hunting and burning clearly suggests that most of those who suffered as witches were just generally antisocial characters who extremely unpopular in their local communities. It’s like that one old aunt that all of us have in our neighbourhood who is always scowling and shouting at kids when they play outside. If we were all living about 300 years ago, we could have said she’s a witch and got her burnt. Sounds good?

Finally

Think about it…

Aren’t superstitions also magic and witchcraft in a way?

Aren’t religions – most of which just expect you to pray & hope & donate money – witchcraft too?

Aren’t religions that hope for you to live to please someone obscure never-seen up in the sky witchy too?

Aren’t prayers & japas witchcraft too- just like witches say spells?

 

The Slavic Spring Doll – The ‘Madder’

It’s human nature to build superstition. Without making any bloated comment on the beliefs, rituals and practices of any culture or religion, let’s just look into our personal lives and those around us. Before an important exam, we re-do exactly what we did the last time we scored well, sportsmen wearing right knee pads first or carrying the same handkerchief in their pockets… you know what I am referring to.

Building superstitions is our way of creating a faith of safety around us, to avoid what we don’t like.

It is cute and intriguing at the same time, if you think about it. How our minds create fears and then also come up with solutions that have no actual sense in logical reality.

Instead of condemning it, we could just realize how neat this human behaviour is and how it has been forming communities around superstitions – communities that love to perform these together and in the process, the added smiles and further communal confidence strengthens the superstitions.

*

As I am adventuring in Poland right now; I was introduced to one of the old Slavic Pagan traditions of this region.

It’s called Marzanioka.

The Polish people hate winter. They hate it.

Almost everyone in Europe does. It’s understandable because the winter is very severe here.

Many traditions in Poland are associated with the end-of-winter and the welcoming-of-Spring. Just like it is in many cultures across the world.

One of these is called the tradition of the Madder. The madder has many names like Śmiercichy, Morena or Marzanioka. It is a colourful doll made by the local groups and communities, sometimes families, or friends etc. This doll symbolizes winter, illness and death.

It can look like this:

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This tradition finds its roots back in the old Slavic pagan tradition and is now largely practiced on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Putting this doll in the river, burning it, and watching it melt away symbolizes the welcoming of the Spring season.

Like this one below. This one wasn’t burnt or left in the river to avoid causing environmental damage and was pulled back by the thread you can see attached and then destroyed.

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Of course with time and with the onset of the machine-run 21st century, this tradition too, like many others, is dying and is now just a spectacle meant for kindergarten kids.

Superstitions are fun J

 

The Layered Life — Hinduism

I don’t live in an illusionary world. I don’t believe money isn’t important. But at the same time, I don’t screw my nose when I see poor kids crowding outside a restaurant or a temple hoping to get some food (which is probably going to be their only meal of the day). I don’t date men just because they are rich. I don’t befriend rich people if I see they are assholes. I am real. I know the reality. And it can be managed – meaning, you can be good, you can have ethics and principles without being a hypocrite fuckhead.

Having been born in a devout Hindu family, I saw Hindu customs followed thoroughly & sincerely and witnessed all its idiosyncrasies in its most natural form, including the caste system / caste obsession.

As I’ve grown up and read about other religions, met people living vastly different lives from the one I saw at home, it has confirmed my belief that the Hindu caste system sucks donkey’s balls.

I did think earlier, while convincing myself that the caste system was formed eventually by the people who wanted political and economic control, but I can’t fool myself because the evidences of it in the many main Hindu texts discard this possibility.

I finished reading The Mahabharata a couple of days back. While it is an overwhelming highly recommended read for everybody, I hate to admit how very-normally, in a very matter-of-but-natural way, it demeans the ‘lower caste’ people from the ‘upper caste’ people, and how one’s birth determines almost everything about a person. If you’re born low, you’ll always be low irrespective of your deeds. I’ll briefly mention two incidents from The Mahabharata below and then talk about other incidents.

Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen.

These are such serious issues that it’s difficult to believe that they exist in revered texts.

Incident 1 –

The forest of Varnavata where the 5 Pandava brothers were sent by their conniving uncle Dhritrashtra and cousins. Pandavas were supposed to live in a house built here for them. This house had been made from inflammable material. Their plan was to burn down the house at midnight when all the 5 brothers would be fast asleep in it, so that they would burn to death.

The Pandavas received warning about this and planned an escape route. However, they felt it important to leave behind 6 human bodies within the house so that when people would inspect the burnt remains of the house the morning after the massacre, they would be convinced of the death of the Pandavas and of their mother Kunti.

Now, to solve this ‘serious’ problem, Yudhishthira, the eldest brother who is so popular for his honesty, kindness and righteousness, agrees to allow a poor Nishada woman and her 5 sons in the house. They, by the way, had come to them on the eve of the massacre, begging for a resting place and food for a night, asking for their merciful godliness! (Nishadas are lower-caste people.)

Yidhishthira allows them to stay in the house, secretly planning to use them as guinea pigs for this ‘great’ plan.

That evening, when the Nishada woman and her 5 sons fell asleep in the Pandavas’ house (probably blessing the Pandavas for their charity), the 5 brothers and their mother Kunti escape from the house minutes before it is burnt down by a man hired by their cousin Duryodhana.

It is confirmed in the text that the Nishada woman and her 5 sons get burnt and die.

Nowhere, I repeat nowhere, in the text thereafter do we see the Kind and Honest Yudhisthira or his brothers or their mother sparing one single thought to the innocent Nishada family and their unnecessary victimization in a battle that wasn’t theirs.

Incident 2 –

When the 5 Pandava brothers were young and learning the art of warfare under the tutelage of Dronacharya, Arjuna (the 3rd Pandava brother) was the most superior archer of them all and was greatly loved by his teacher.

One day, while going through a forest, the brothers found a young boy firing arrows with more skill and art than our dear Arjuna. When asked who his teacher is, the boy (named, Ekalavya) says his teacher his Dronacharya. This wasn’t exactly true because the great Drona had refused to teach Ekalavya because Ekalavya was born in a lower caste and also couldn’t have paid the high fees demanded by Dronacharya. So Ekalavya just learnt archery by watching Dronacharya performing it.

Wasn’t he a genius!

Arjuna became insecure at seeing someone better than him and asked Dronacharya to stop him. Worried about his job security, Dronacharya devises a cruel method to stop Ekalavya from outshining Arjuna. By asking Ekalavya to pay his fees by cutting off his thumb!

Thus maimed, Ekalavya was out of the path to glory for Arjuna – the upper caste boy.

The Natya Shastra

The Natya Shastra is an old text that is a kind of a rule book for the art of theatre. Like everything else of theatre, it devotes considerable focus on ‘language’. It mentions how language should come off of real life too.

And thus, it very normally goes on to state the different levels of language that are to be used by different castes and classes of people, as per their caste!

For example, a Brahmin male is allowed usage of certain words that a Brahmin female and all other ‘lower’ people in the caste pyramid are not allowed to use. Similarly, a Brahmin woman can use certain words that no one below her can use.

Weird.

A Custom of Death –

There’s a Hindu custom. I have seen it practised in my family too.

When someone dies, after the 13-day mourning ritual, it is customary to purify the room where the deceased lived (and died). The last of the purification steps is to invite a beggar to the room. You just pick any random beggar off the street. And you serve him a complete lunch meal in the room of the deceased. You give him a gift too. And send him off.

Why this?

Because the beggar symbolically absorbs all the remaining negativity left by the death.

Having given the chance to have a full square meal – which is a near-impossible treat for them most of their lives – no beggar ever refuses this chance. They probably don’t even know why they are being given this royal, loving treatment.

It’s not because we give a fuck about their hunger; it’s because we don’t!

I still remember when we followed this custom on the death of my grandmother, the 18-19 year old handicapped boy (the beggar) was so happy at being given food and a gift inside a house so grand, he couldn’t have imagined before what things we keep inside houses that are beyond the pavement corners that he called a ‘house’ all his life, and by people who till now and after today would kick him away like a germ. Not exaggerating, he was shaking with happiness!

The rich, thus literally stave off the bad vibes and negativity on to a poor person.

Do you find this sickening like I do?

THE RELIGION OF OMAN — IBADISM

While most of us have heard this word, we understand its meaning, correctly so, to be a sincere prayer (ibadat). And it is mostly in reference to Islam. What I discovered some while back is that Ibadism is also a sect in Islam which is also one of the oldest ones, having founded only about 20 years after Prophet Muhammad’s death. It strives to follow Islam exactly, rigidly exactly, the way Muhammad taught and lived it.

Today, Ibadism has followers in Oman, and some parts of Zanzibar, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria.

 

The reason Ibadism came about

Changes started taking place in the early Muslim community, with different viewpoints and schools emerging soon after the Prophet died. These different viewpoints were mostly regarding subjective interpretations of what the Prophet said, what something in the Qur’an means, how the Prophet followed the supposed commands of Allah and differing stories of examples from his daily life.

The Umayyads were people who wanted pre-Islamic power to return in the region. The Muslim community started cracking up into different sects around the time of, and in opposition to the policies of, the third Caliph ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan. Affan gave Umayyads important positions in his empire. This clearly aggrieved the Muslims.

Different parties started emerging at this time, with different opinions towards these policies, and the Muslim communities started branching and shaping up as per their beliefs and reactions. This became a war-ravaged time and many people shifted bases for the sake of their beliefs. The first Ibadis shifted from Basra to Oman.

Ibadis came as a result of these struggles and to return the purity of the Islamic faith and society exactly on the lines laid by Prophet Mohammad. They are even known to disregard logic and reason against a proven traditional path followed by the Prophet. They opposed the third Caliph because they considered his policies to be against the Sunnah and thus, non-Islamic. Ibadis have always maintained their firm loyalty to the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and to their fellow Muslims but not with people who disregard the Qur’an or the Sunnah.

The Muslim community witnessed long and bloody civil wars as a result of these differing opinions and soon, the Umayyad rule became established and would not tolerate any sort of opposition. This is what prompted the early Ibadi groups to carry out their activities in secrecy (kitman).

Ibadis, initially, did not use this name for themselves as a group. Rather they used names like Muslims al-Muslimun (‘community of the Muslims’), Jama’at al-Muslimin, or ‘Ahl el-da’wah (‘people of the mission’).

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(Gold inlaid Quranic calligraphy displayed on the inner walls of the Grand Mosque in Oman’s Capital Territory.)

The name Ibadism comes from the father of Abdullah b Ibadh al-Murri al-Tamimi, who belonged to one of the main tribes of Mudar (Najd). He was one of the main leaders in the struggle against the Umayyad rule in defending Mecca because he believed the Umayyad rule to be a violation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In his attempts to find one strong leader for this group, when turned down by the leading men of the age, like Abdullah al-Zubair, Ibn Ibadh had to take up the leading position in this political struggle and this was the first time that Ibadi school started emerging with actual foundations and defined boundaries and leadership.

Ibadis and other Muslims

For a very long time, the mainstream Muslims refused to consider Ibadism as a school of Islam. It was with the efforts of Sulaiman Basha al-Baruni of Jabal Nafusah (Libya), in the early twentieth century that the interaction between Ibadis and other Islamic scholars & communities increased.

His political activities like loyalty to the Ottoman Empire and work towards the Muslim cause asserted the loyalty of Ibadis to the entire Muslim community, creating better dialogue and understanding among the Muslims that Ibadism was just a different school but was still well within Islam and loyal to Allah and Muhammad’s teachings. Sulaiman al-Baruni is also said to have started his own printing press as a medium of sharing and exchanging opinions among other Muslims and Ibadis. These efforts went a very long way into the recognition of Ibadism as a school of Islam.

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(A picture of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman)

The first Imam of the Ibadi community and also one of the main founders associated with Ibadism is Jabir b. Zaid. Jabir b Zaid advised Ibn Ibadh on most of his political activities. They, together refuted groups like Qadarites, Mu’tazilites, Shi’tes, Muji’ites, and even Kharijites. For a very long time, the Ibadis carried out their activities and literature in secrecy because of the fear of persecution. They were a moderate simple group, initially limited in numbers.

Ibadis have always followed the attitude of unity with other Muslims, even if they are non-Ibadis. Ibn Ibadh is said to have stated once, “We do not regard our Muslim opponents as idolaters, for they believe in the unity of God, the Book, and the Messenger. But they are ‘infidels-ingrate’. We hold it lawful to inherit from them, marry from them, and live among them. The faith of Islam unites them (with us).” (Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih, al-‘Iqd al-farid., I, 261: Mubarrad. Kamil., III, 1041. Ibadis have always expressed the attitude of inviting people and giving them a chance to understand the views of the Ibadis, and waiting for them to decide their attitude first. They always made it clear that they would fight their opponents only when the latter attacked them first. Practical examples of this can be seen in history (al wuquf).

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The System of Justice

As for the legal opinions, Jabir b. Zaid considered the following, in this sequence, to be the basis to make the judgements in legal cases in the Islamic community: The Qur’an, the Sunnah, opinions of other senior men, and then your own judgement.

If the answer to the problem at hand cannot be found straight away in the Qur’an, then one must turn to the Sunnah and search for any example of the situation at hand to see how the legal judgement was delivered. If so, then follow it. If not, then turn next to the opinions of other senior wise men. And lastly use your own judgement (Ra’y). If a sound opinion has been previously on a similar matter, they should follow that in the present case too, else use their judgement. The matters in which personal judgement was allowed are those which were not dealt with in the Qur’an, the Sunnah, or by previous authorities. Their aim was to keep the example set by the Prophet, his two successors and to re-establish the Mislim community on the same lines as the first Muslim community. As for the Sunnah, Ibadis recognised Ali (Shi’ah) and only, if needed, relied on the Sunnahs reported by Ali and his followers.

Al-Walayah and Al-Baraah – Love and the Not-Love

Ibadism has strong concepts of loving Allah and his teachings, his angels, the Prophet – Al Walayah. It also obligates hatred of the infidels – Al Baraah. These concepts resound the general attitude that the Ibadis are supposed to follow towards their fellow Muslims and non-Muslims.

There is also al-wuquf – reservation of any attitude until an Ibadi is sure of his fellow being’s faith. An Ibadi is not to pass any judgement unless he is sure of what his fellow being believes in and to try and understand absolutely clearly what his attitude towards faith is. After that is the Ibadi to choose the attitudes of either al walayah or al baraah.

The Stages of an Ibadi Community’s Life

Ibadi scholars established that in every Ibadi community’s life, there are 4 stages in which the laws of shari’ah are to be carried out. There are only these 4 stages and no other. These stages are the “ways of religion” (masalik al-din).

–          Manifestation (zuhur)

–          Defence (difa)

–          Sacrifice of one’s life (shira)

–          Secrecy (kitman)

Manifestation (zuhur) is when the Ibadi community is independent and free to proclaim their independence and can appoint its own Imam. The Imam is the leader who ensures the main activities necessary for the safe running of the society as per the supposed commands of Allah. Hence the punishments, the taxes, the politics, wars etc are run by the Imam who ensures that the community stays on the Guided Path laid down by the Qur’an, the sunnah, and the shari’ah. The times of Abu Bakr and the Prophet himself are said to be the zuhur times.

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(A picture of the Harat Al-Ayn (The Spring Quarter), an Ibadi mosques.)

Defence (difa) is the stage which comes when the Ibadi community is perceived to be under attack and requires military defence. An Imam is elected – Imam al-difa – who is a man of outstanding intelligence, faith to Allah, and of high military capability. Until the war is over, the Imam al-difa has the full authority of Imam al-zuhur. As soon as the war is over and the danger subsided, his Imamate is dissolved. Even if it is not a military war, and the Ibadi community is fighting against an unjust ruler, it is called the stage of difa. If in such a situation a war becomes difficult, the Ibadi community can go under the stage of secrecy (kitman) and operate secretly to ensure their safe continuation.

The sacrifice of one’s life (Shira) is said to have originated at the time of the Prophet himself, although there is no evidence or entirely plausible story that can substantiate it. The practice of shira finds reference in the sura/chapter of al-Anfal in the Qur’an. In Arabic, shira means buying or selling. In Ibadism, this word is used as the practise of shira is said to be the one of giving one’s soul to get a place in the Paradise. The first Ibadi to have followed the practice of shira is said to be Abu Bilal Mirdas Hudair against the tyrannical rule of Ubaidullah Ziyad. Ibadis believe that shira is a voluntary duty and should be done by those who impose it on themselves; a minimum of forty people should carry it out; they must not give up until they defeat the enemy or are killed; they must not give up unless only the last three of them are left (still disputed among scholars); and they must fight only those that fight them.

Secrecy (kitman) means hiding one’s beliefs from the ones who will not allow them. In such a situation, to preserve one’s beliefs, it is obligatory to hide them and follow kitman. The Ibadi movement was founded in secrecy when its founders were opposed to the Umayyad rulers. They carried all their activities in secret for many years. Ibadi scholars appropriated the following of kitman from some verses in the Qur’an which apparently suggest it and from the Prophet’s life who proclaimed Islam openly only after he had enough followers, and also his life prior to shifting to Medina was a sort of kitman. Ibadis appoint a leader from among the best among themselves who would be their Imam in this time of secrecy and who would run the major activities of the community. Ibadis are not to be of any help to the tyrants and must not hold any duties for them which would require them to harm the people. Ibadis can hold offices under tyrants only if they are in a powerful enough position to command them away from evil or if the duties assigned to them are according to the shari’ah like teaching children or calling for prayers (adhan).

Observations: How healthy is rigidity?

Late Dr Amr K Al-Nami’s book “Studies in Ibadhism” provided me my basic education on Ibadism and I must provide mention his and his book’s name, with deepest gratitude.

THE ORIGINAL RELIGION OF AUSTRALIA – THE DREAMING

Family, community, land, nature are things that make up the world that surrounds Mibo. A simple man who finds magnificence and spiritual existence in this world of his, Mibo lives close to the elements, fearlessly. And so do his people. It is their ‘Dreaming’.

 

‘The Dreaming’ and ‘The Dreamtime’

‘The Dreaming’ refers to a set of beliefs or spirituality followed by the people who believe in ‘The Dreamtime’ which is the time when all the things of this cosmos were created and it contains within it the past, present and future ‘times’. Dreamtime is the beginning of knowledge from which came the laws of existence and for survival in the cosmos, believers must observe the laws.

The Dreamtime is the beginning of all things. It is also the life and life’s influence of the ancestors, as well as the way of life and death, and the sources of power in life. It is a condition beyond time and space – it is all the things at all the times. It refers to the past, present, and future all together.

The Dreamtime experience considers that every action of ours is important. It forms the future. Similarly, the past actions created the present. All the present life, and even the personal skills and character of tribal members, are a result of the life and actions of the ancestors.

Mibo’s people believe that all the aspects of the physical world around us are part of a system of relationships that maintain the biological diversity of the world. This structure of relationships must be respected because it helps in the survival of all the species and majorly because it is a result of the ancestral spirits’ creation of the Earth.

The Dreamtime is the time which encapsulates all the times and thus, is the ultimate crux of the cosmos, it contains the eternity. Mibo’s people aspire and await their return to this Time. It is a return to the real existence. In this ultimate state, the mind and being are in their most fundamental state. Because of this ultimate return’s promise, they feel connected to all nature, to all their ancestors, and to their own personal meaning and place within the scheme of things. A part of each person’s nature is eternal. This eternal being was always around but becomes a living person by being born physically. After living his time as a human, at death, this eternal part of the being melts back into the eternal life. Death is not considered ‘the end’. Upon death, you return to your eternal true self.

 

Dreaming and Society

The Dreaming is very society/community oriented. The collectiveness of the group is very essential in it. The Dreaming establishes societal structures, rules for social behavior and societal ceremonies. People have to live according to the rules and follow the rituals like initiations, legends and stories, songs, dances, paintings etc.

The Ancestors who created the earth are revered through ceremonial performances of songs, dances, paintings etc. They are the heroes who created the world for the modern people and are very important.

Mibo’s people believe that in our dreams dead people (the Ancestors) communicate their presence to us. They also believe that while sleeping when we dream, we have actually entered the Dreamtime temporarily. We stay in touch with the Dreamtime through our dreams everyday.

Nature

The Dreaming tribes find their existence deeply rooted to their landscape. Landscape is a part of their history, religion and psychology. Since it is believed to be the creation of the Ancestral Beings/Creators and thus, is a scared externalization of the energy they aspire to share with their Creator Gods. Mibo’s people, like most other tribal people, are reliant upon the external factors for their internal/psychological strength about their identity and being. This makes them susceptible to anything which disrupts their landscape as it affects their beliefs, although they are a people, by nature of their culture, who have a stronger spiritual unity of wholeness and identity with their tribe and physical and psychic environment.

It is believed that all the events that take place at any geographical location leave behind their existence in that place, and all of it creates the ‘air’ of that place, the aura of it. It forms something like a vibrational dimension of the place and can be perceived by the wise ones, the ones who can ‘see’.

This aura, which is a result of all the ‘time’ of the place since its creation by the Ancestors, is called The Dreaming of the place and thus, every place is sacred.

 

The Dreaming Beliefs

There are many communities within The Dreamtime and some of the legends and beliefs vary from one community to the other. According to their totem or ancestral stories, these Dreamtime communities have different versions of beliefs behind the existence of various natural phenomena, flora and fauna.

While most other communities in the world still debate about the creation of the world and who created it. Those who believe in The Dreamtime believe with their hearts firmly that Ancestral Beings walked upon the Earth and created everything we have around today. All life on the earth is a part of a complex network of relationships which came into being from the great Ancestors of the Dreamtime.

Most topographical features are a result of some action of the Ancestors or they embody the Ancestors. For example, the Gagudju people of Arnhemland, believe that the sandstone escarpment of the Kakadu National Park was created when the crocodile-man Ancestral Being was burned and jumped into the water to save himself. He turned to stone and formed the escarpment. Some people similarly also believe that all the water bodies were created by the Serpent when he slithered across the earth, creating a track.

Such stories of the earth’s formation and the system of our lives are central to The Dreamtime and every member of the community must venerate it and perform them during ceremonies and rites through symbolic dances and songs.

The Dreaming raises the elegant connection that is and can be found between the souls that inhabit this earth. A veneration and respect between all seems to be all-important in it.

The Origins of the Earth and Our World

It is believed that our Earth was a dead, silent, dark and empty place at first. All forms of life lived below the surface of the land, including our Ancestor Beings. Then the Ancestor Beings broke out of the land and moved around it, changing and creating different structures. These Ancestor Beings are also called Totemic Beings and that is where The Dreamtime gets its totemic nature. These Ancestor Beings are believed to have been half human and in the other half they were forms of different animals or plants. They made all the natural elements. They created the landscape – the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the waterholes, plains, everything. They made the animals – ant, frog, turtle, grasshopper, all the birds, kangaroo, lizard etc, and all the vegetation. They made all the celestial bodies. They made the people, and thus, the believers of The Dreaming believe they are the descendants of the Ancestral Beings who created them.

It is also believed that the souls of humans, animals, and plants existed before they came into being on the Earth. It is the duty of the humans to take care of the natural world, plants and animals, around them. They lived in harmony before coming into existence and will live so now. Dreamtime refers also to this time of the creation of the world.

The Ancestral Spirits then turned themselves into different things…rocks, valleys, ponds etc. Such sites are sites for inspiration for Mibo’s people. These are sites where they are connected to their Ancestors and feel their power alive. And because these are so important for them spiritually, destroying such a site means destroying their spiritual Ancestors.

Totemic significance comes in The Dreaming from the aspect that Ancestral Beings are believed to have been half of the animal spirits (or totemic beings). Having descended from these different part-animal Ancestors, the descendants possess some of the quintessence of the animal spirits. A man from the turtle Dreaming or totem would consider turtles a part of his community and will have a special relationship with turtles. He will never hurt them and would have different ceremonies to venerate this relationship.

 

Legends and Stories

The stories that are handed down the generations in The Dreamtime are the cultural stories that cover the cultural cocoon for these people. These stories cover many themes about various things, like creation of sacred places, animals, plants, climactic phenomena, creation of the respective community and so on.

These stories are as a result a record of history, geography, religion, culture of any place or community. It is a complex network of knowledge, faith, and practices. It informs the believers’ life in every way – his physical and spiritual being and daily life practices. Everything in their lives and around them in their physical surroundings has a deep meaning and is significant.

Most of The Dreamtime believers are today found in the Aboriginal communities of Australia. There are many communities within this, each with a different dialect, name and myths. However, a lot of these myths overlap, giving significance to the stories and beliefs.

 

Some Dreamtime Legends and Fables

The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains in Australia also have a dreamtime legend. The three huge rocks formation in the Blue Mountains were once three sisters by the names of Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo. The three sisters fell in love with three brothers from another tribe, the Nepean. They could not marry them because their tribal laws forbade their marriage. The three brothers, nonetheless, did not obey the law and tried to take the sisters by force. This caused a tribal battle and to save the sisters, a witchdoctor transformed the sisters into rocks. He decided to turn them back again after the battle. Unfortunately, he was killed in the battle soon after and the three sisters’ spell could not be turned back ever by anybody. They have thus remained as the beautiful blue rock formations till today. These mountains are still present in Australia and are magnificent.

The Sun

The Sun was a beautiful woman who slept in a dark cave all alone and undisturbed. The Great Father Spirit once woke her up and asked her to light up the earth with her warmth and energy so that all life could stir on the earth. The Earth had the potencies of all life but there was darkness and cold all around. As The Sun opened her illuminant eyes, warm rays of light radiated and glazed the earth. The gentle rays from her eyes and the atmosphere lightened up. The earth looked more beautiful in the light, things shone and started to liven up.

The Sun walked across the land and wherever she went, everything that she looked at, came alive with life. The barren earth grew bountiful as the Sun’s rays travelled across its length and breadth. Soon, shrubs, plants, trees, birds, animals, insects, snakes awoke to life and populated the earth. The earth became luscious green with vegetation and breeze wafted across it, gently kissing everything.

The birds started flying, the insects started buzzing across the fields and the snakes started slithering across the muddy earth’s surface. As the snakes moved they left deep tracks behind them which soon got filled with water and formed the rivers, lakes, ponds, and thus came the aquatic life.

As the earth was now full of happy and healthy well settled life cycle, the Sun decided to create days and seasons. It travelled to the sky and soon sunk away. Darkness fell again but a few hours and a bit of rest later, the Sun shone back again. Thus, she created a measurable pattern in terms of days for activities of life on Earth.

Uluru

Uluru (popularly called Ayers Rock) are huge sandstone rock formations in central Australia. The local aboriginal people have many stories about this site, which is sacred to them.

One story behind the creation of Uluru says that two huge reptiles – a python and a lizard had a terrible fight in this region. As a result of their striking, writhing, and slithering about ferociously during the fight, cracks and bents occurred on this rock, giving it its present form.

 

Understanding Dreamtime in a Modern Context:

The reasoning explained by J.B. Priestly helps the modern man understand a belief system like The Dreamtime by explaining how rationality and rational thinking of man have developed over time, from an undifferentiated or an analogous start to the state of mind. Studies have shown that the idea of individuality was much less in ancient people than it is in the modern man. Our independent state of mind is not what the ancient people lived with. For them, their existence and “identity” lay in their community life, they existed through and with others. Their religious, social, political, private lives were not separate from each other. Their sense of identity lay in all of these with the people they knew. They did not seek to create their identity consciously through independent choices. Hence, their community was very important to them. To be banished from it, meant ceasing of the existence of the self – death. Unlike the modern man, for whom, life is a constant quest for a conscious definition of the self and individuality and an uprooted existence does not traumatize his brain.

To understand this state of mind better, one should understand its likeness to the state of a child’s mind. Nascent. Initially, all that the child lives through are his parents and home. A child is unconscious about the segregations of separateness of people’s lives. The segmentations formed by societies in terms of families, home boundaries, calendar days do not exist for a child. Same is the case with ancient people/ancient belief systems.

The visions of dreams or dream-like states of consciousness were important to the ancient people because they believed in what they saw. There was no concept or felt need for breaking down logically what they had a vision about or the state of mind in which the vision was had. Logical or consequential thinking were not developed concepts. Altering the states of consciousness to feel closer to the visions and feel the psychological existence beyond the present time was thus important and popularly followed. These visions were especially used to reach out to the spiritual sphere during the times of rites. The experience, being the one of visions of ancestors, was used in times of trouble and in times of happiness. A feeling of connection with their ancestors and being guided were achieved through these which definitely held deep spiritual meaning for them.

The sense of being that the modern man feels by insisting upon his individuality is somewhat similar to the sense of being the Dreamtime people feel by being an integral part of their history and community.

Observations: Simplicity can be quite complex. Although I would refrain from terming The Dreaming as simple or simplicity or anything else, it certainly does find its roots in very basic ideas. Most modern men would find that to understand belief systems such as this, they need to step out of their way of thinking and understanding. This makes this belief system complex in its simplicity.  A different state of mind is what this belief system came about in but, beautifully, has survived till date.

The Dreaming is about a connection of the souls – the souls of humans and animals and plants and the nature, everything. It exalts and aspires for the connection even between  the souls of the living and the dead, the soul of a river and its connection with the humans… this is what makes this belief system absolutely beautiful.