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Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition
Lindsay Jones, Editor in Chief
© 2005 Thomson Gale, a part of The
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Program in Religious Studies,
University of Wisconsin—Madison
Professor, Department of Literary and
Associate Professor, Department of
Cultural Studies, Faculty of Modern
Comparative Studies, Ohio State
Professor of History of Religions,
Languages, University of Latvia
Baltic Religion and Slavic Religion
Emeritus, and Former Director of
Research Center for Black Studies,

University of California, Santa Barbara
Center for Muslim–Christian
Understanding and Liberal Studies
Neil Rudenstine Professor of Study of
Program, Georgetown University
Professor, History of Religions, Le
Latin America, Divinity School and
Art and Religion
Moyne College (Syracuse, New York)
Department of Anthropology, Harvard
Professor of Anthropology and Women’s
Professor of Religious Studies, and
Studies, George Washington University
Chair, Department of Religious
Australian Indigenous Religions
Professor of History of Religions,
Studies, Yale University
Dipartimento di Scienze
Professor Emeritus of History,
dell’Antichità, Università degli Studi
Professor and Director, The Institute
University of California, Los Angeles,
di Salerno
of Ismaili Studies, London
and Fellow, Netherlands Institute for
Advanced Studies in the Humanities
Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service
Professor, African American and
and Social Sciences
Professor of the History of Religions,
African Studies Program, University
History of Religions
University of Chicago
of California, Davis
Associate Professor in the Department
Professor of History and Religious
Professor of Hebrew and Religious
of East Asian Languages and
Studies, and Director, UMKC Center
Studies, Ohio State University
Literature and the Program in
for Religious Studies, University of
Religious Studies, University of
Missouri—Kansas City
Associate Professor, Religious Studies
Chinese Religions
Department, University of California,
Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies,
Santa Barbara
Faculty of Comparative Culture,
The Divinity School, Harvard
Sophia University
Humor and Religion
Associate Professor of Religious Studies,
Associate Professor, Department of
McDaniel College
Professor of Religion, Bucknell
Languages and Cultures of Asia and
Study of Religion
University and Co-Coordinator,

eorel_fm 3/2/05 8:36 AM Page vi
Harvard Forum on Religion and
Religion, University of Chicago
Professor of Systematic Theology,
Law and Religion
Ecology and Religion
Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary
and the Center for Theology and the
Associate Professor of Religious Studies,
Francis Lee Higginson Professor of
Natural Sciences at the Graduate
and Director, Center for Latin
English Literature and Professor of
Theological Union, Berkeley,
American Studies, Arizona State
Folklore, Harvard University
Germanic Religions
Science and Religion
South American Religions
Professor Emerita, Senior Research
Professor of the History of Religions
Professor of Religion, Bucknell
Fellow and Associate Member of the
and Buddhist Studies in the Divinity
University, Founder and Coordinator,
Institute for Advanced Studies,
School and the Department of South
University of Bristol, England, and
Asian Languages and Civilizations,
Harvard Forum on Religion and
Professorial Research Associate, Centre
Emeritus, University of Chicago
Ecology, Research Fellow, Harvard
for Gender and Religions Research,
History of Religions
Yenching Institute, Research Associate,
School of Oriental and African
Harvard Reischauer Institute of
Studies, University of London
Assistant Professor, Department of
Japanese Studies
Gender and Religion
Classics and Ancient Mediterranean
Ecology and Religion
Studies and Department of History
Duesenberg Professor of Christianity
and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania
Associate Professor, Department of
and the Arts, and
State University
Comparative Studies, Ohio State
Professor of Humanities and Art
Ancient Near Eastern Religions
History, Valparaiso University
Politics and Religion
Color Inserts and Essays
Director of Research, Religion, Health
and Healing Initiative, Center for the
Professor of the History of Religions
Professor, Department of English,
Study of World Religions, Harvard
and Women’s Studies, Loyola
University of California, Los Angeles
University, and Senior Research
University New Orleans
Celtic Religion
Associate, Center for Women’s Health
New Religious Movements
and Human Rights, Suffolk University
Healing, Medicine, and Religion
Obafemi Awolowo University
African Religions
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, University
of Toronto

Professor, Department of Theology,
Law and Religion
Professor of Comparative Religion, The
University of Notre Dame
History of Religions
University of Helsinki, Member of
Academia Scientiarum Fennica,
Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious
Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer
Studies, Lafayette College
Arctic Religions and Uralic Religions
in the Anthropology and Sociology of
Literature and Religion
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abbr. abbreviated; abbreviation
3 Bar. 3 Baruch
2 Chr. 2 Chronicles
abr. abridged; abridgment
4 Bar. 4 Baruch
Ch. Slav. Church Slavic
AD anno Domini, in the year of the
B.B. BavaD batraD
cm centimeters
(our) Lord
BBC British Broadcasting
col. column (pl., cols.)
Afrik. Afrikaans
Col. Colossians
AH anno Hegirae, in the year of the
BC before Christ
Colo. Colorado
BCE before the common era
comp. compiler (pl., comps.)
Akk. Akkadian
B.D. Bachelor of Divinity
Conn. Connecticut
Ala. Alabama
Beits. Beitsah
cont. continued
Alb. Albanian
Bekh. Bekhorot
Copt. Coptic
Am. Amos
Beng. Bengali
1 Cor. 1 Corinthians
AM ante meridiem, before noon
Ber. Berakhot
2 Cor. 2 Corinthians
amend. amended; amendment
Berb. Berber
corr. corrected
annot. annotated; annotation
Bik. Bikkurim
C.S.P. Congregatio Sancti Pauli,
Ap. Apocalypse
bk. book (pl., bks.)
Congregation of Saint Paul
Apn. Apocryphon
B.M. BavaD metsiEaD
app. appendix
BP before the present
d. died
Arab. Arabic
B.Q. BavaD qammaD
D Deuteronomic (source of the
EArakh. EArakhin
Bra¯h. Bra¯hman.a
Aram. Aramaic
Bret. Breton
Dan. Danish
Ariz. Arizona
B.T. Babylonian Talmud
D.B. Divinitatis Baccalaureus,
Ark. Arkansas
Bulg. Bulgarian
Bachelor of Divinity
Arm. Armenian
Burm. Burmese
D.C. District of Columbia
art. article (pl., arts.)
c. circa, about, approximately
D.D. Divinitatis Doctor, Doctor of
AS Anglo-Saxon
Calif. California
Asm. Mos. Assumption of Moses
Can. Canaanite
Del. Delaware
Assyr. Assyrian
Catal. Catalan
Dem. DemaDi
A.S.S.R. Autonomous Soviet Socialist
CE of the common era
dim. diminutive
Celt. Celtic
diss. dissertation
Av. Avestan
cf. confer, compare
Dn. Daniel
EA.Z. EAvodah zarah
Chald. Chaldean
D.Phil. Doctor of Philosophy
b. born
chap. chapter (pl., chaps.)
Dt. Deuteronomy
Bab. Babylonian
Chin. Chinese
Du. Dutch
Ban. Bantu
C.H.M. Community of the Holy
E Elohist (source of the Pentateuch)
1 Bar. 1 Baruch
Eccl. Ecclesiastes
2 Bar. 2 Baruch
1 Chr. 1 Chronicles
ed. editor (pl., eds.); edition; edited by

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EEduy. EEduyyot
Hung. Hungarian
Lith. Lithuanian
e.g. exempli gratia, for example
ibid. ibidem, in the same place (as the
Lk. Luke
Egyp. Egyptian
one immediately preceding)
LL Late Latin
1 En. 1 Enoch
Icel. Icelandic
LL.D. Legum Doctor, Doctor of Laws
2 En. 2 Enoch
i.e. id est, that is
Lv. Leviticus
3 En. 3 Enoch
IE Indo-European
m meters
Eng. English
Ill. Illinois
m. masculine
enl. enlarged
Ind. Indiana
M.A. Master of Arts
Eph. Ephesians
intro. introduction
Ma Eas. MaEaserot
EEruv. EEruvin
Ir. Gael. Irish Gaelic
Ma Eas. Sh. MaE aser sheni
1 Esd. 1 Esdras
Iran. Iranian
Mak. Makkot
2 Esd. 2 Esdras
Is. Isaiah
Makh. Makhshirin
3 Esd. 3 Esdras
Ital. Italian
Mal. Malachi
4 Esd. 4 Esdras
J Yahvist (source of the Pentateuch)
Mar. Marathi
esp. especially
Jas. James
Mass. Massachusetts
Est. Estonian
Jav. Javanese
1 Mc. 1 Maccabees
Est. Esther
Jb. Job
2 Mc. 2 Maccabees
et al. et alii, and others
Jdt. Judith
3 Mc. 3 Maccabees
etc. et cetera, and so forth
Jer. Jeremiah
4 Mc. 4 Maccabees
Eth. Ethiopic
Jgs. Judges
Md. Maryland
EV English version
Jl. Joel
M.D. Medicinae Doctor, Doctor of
Ex. Exodus
Jn. John
exp. expanded
1 Jn. 1 John
ME Middle English
Ez. Ezekiel
2 Jn. 2 John
Meg. Megillah
Ezr. Ezra
3 Jn. 3 John
Me Eil. MeEilah
2 Ezr. 2 Ezra
Jon. Jonah
Men. Menah.ot
4 Ezr. 4 Ezra
Jos. Joshua
MHG Middle High German
f. feminine; and following (pl., ff.)
Jpn. Japanese
mi. miles
fasc. fascicle (pl., fascs.)
JPS Jewish Publication Society trans-
Mi. Micah
fig. figure (pl., figs.)
lation (1985) of the Hebrew Bible
Mich. Michigan
Finn. Finnish
J.T. Jerusalem Talmud
Mid. Middot
fl. floruit, flourished
Jub. Jubilees
Minn. Minnesota
Fla. Florida
Kans. Kansas
Miq. MiqvaDot
Fr. French
Kel. Kelim
MIran. Middle Iranian
frag. fragment
Ker. Keritot
Miss. Mississippi
ft. feet
Ket. Ketubbot
Mk. Mark
Ga. Georgia
1 Kgs. 1 Kings
Mo. Missouri
Gal. Galatians
2 Kgs. 2 Kings
MoEed Q. MoEed qat.an
Gaul. Gaulish
Khois. Khoisan
Mont. Montana
Ger. German
Kil. Kil Dayim
MPers. Middle Persian
Git.. Git.t.in
km kilometers
MS. manuscriptum, manuscript (pl.,
Gn. Genesis
Kor. Korean
Gr. Greek
Ky. Kentucky
Mt. Matthew
. ag. H
. agigah
l. line (pl., ll.)
MT Masoretic text
. al. H
. allah
La. Louisiana
n. note
Hau. Hausa
Lam. Lamentations
Na. Nahum
Hb. Habakkuk
Lat. Latin
Nah. Nahuatl
Heb. Hebrew
Latv. Latvian
Naz. Nazir
Heb. Hebrews
L. en Th. Licencié en Théologie,
N.B. nota bene, take careful note
Hg. Haggai
Licentiate in Theology
N.C. North Carolina
Hitt. Hittite
L. ès L. Licencié ès Lettres, Licentiate
n.d. no date
Hor. Horayot
in Literature
N.Dak. North Dakota
Hos. Hosea
Let. Jer. Letter of Jeremiah
NEB New English Bible
. ul. H
. ullin
lit. literally
Nebr. Nebraska
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Ned. Nedarim
pop. population
sp. species (pl., spp.)
Neg. Nega Eim
Port. Portuguese
Span. Spanish
Neh. Nehemiah
Prv. Proverbs
sq. square
Nev. Nevada
Ps. Psalms
S.S.R. Soviet Socialist Republic
N.H. New Hampshire
Ps. 151 Psalm 151
st. stanza (pl., ss.)
Nid. Niddah
Ps. Sol. Psalms of Solomon
S.T.M. Sacrae Theologiae Magister,
N.J. New Jersey
pt. part (pl., pts.)
Master of Sacred Theology
Nm. Numbers
1Pt. 1 Peter
Suk. Sukkah
N.Mex. New Mexico
2 Pt. 2 Peter
Sum. Sumerian
no. number (pl., nos.)
Pth. Parthian
supp. supplement; supplementary
Nor. Norwegian
Q hypothetical source of the synoptic
Sus. Susanna
n.p. no place
s.v. sub verbo, under the word (pl.,
n.s. new series
Qid. Qiddushin
N.Y. New York
Qin. Qinnim
Swed. Swedish
Ob. Obadiah
r. reigned; ruled
Syr. Syriac
O.Cist. Ordo Cisterciencium, Order
Rab. Rabbah
Syr. Men. Syriac Menander
of Cîteaux (Cistercians)
rev. revised
TaE an. TaEanit
OCS Old Church Slavonic
R. ha-Sh. RoDsh ha-shanah
Tam. Tamil
OE Old English
R.I. Rhode Island
Tam. Tamid
O.F.M. Ordo Fratrum Minorum,
Rom. Romanian
Tb. Tobit
Order of Friars Minor
Rom. Romans
T.D. Taisho¯ shinshu¯ daizo¯kyo¯, edited
R.S.C.J. Societas Sacratissimi Cordis
by Takakusu Junjiro¯ et al.
OFr. Old French
Jesu, Religious of the Sacred Heart
Ohal. Ohalot
RSV Revised Standard Version of the
Tem. Temurah
OHG Old High German
Tenn. Tennessee
OIr. Old Irish
Ru. Ruth
Ter. Terumot
OIran. Old Iranian
Rus. Russian
. ev. Y. T
. evul yom
Okla. Oklahoma
Rv. Revelation
Tex. Texas
ON Old Norse
Rv. Ezr. Revelation of Ezra
Th.D. Theologicae Doctor, Doctor of
O.P. Ordo Praedicatorum, Order of
San. Sanhedrin
Preachers (Dominicans)
S.C. South Carolina
1 Thes. 1 Thessalonians
OPers. Old Persian
Scot. Gael. Scottish Gaelic
2 Thes. 2 Thessalonians
op. cit. opere citato, in the work cited
S.Dak. South Dakota
Thrac. Thracian
OPrus. Old Prussian
sec. section (pl., secs.)
Ti. Titus
Oreg. Oregon
Sem. Semitic
Tib. Tibetan
EOrl. EOrlah
ser. series
1 Tm. 1 Timothy
O.S.B. Ordo Sancti Benedicti, Order
sg. singular
2 Tm. 2 Timothy
of Saint Benedict (Benedictines)
Sg. Song of Songs
T. of 12 Testaments of the Twelve
p. page (pl., pp.)
Sg. of 3 Prayer of Azariah and the
P Priestly (source of the Pentateuch)
Song of the Three Young Men
. oh. t.ohorot
Pa. Pennsylvania
Shab. Shabbat
Tong. Tongan
Pahl. Pahlavi
Shav. ShavuEot
trans. translator, translators; translated
Par. Parah
Sheq. Sheqalim
by; translation
para. paragraph (pl., paras.)
Sib. Or. Sibylline Oracles
Turk. Turkish
Pers. Persian
Sind. Sindhi
Ukr. Ukrainian
Pes. Pesahim
Sinh. Sinhala
Upan. Upanis.ad
Ph.D. Philosophiae Doctor, Doctor
Sir. Ben Sira
U.S. United States
of Philosophy
S.J. Societas Jesu, Society of Jesus
U.S.S.R. Union of Soviet Socialist
Phil. Philippians
Phlm. Philemon
Skt. Sanskrit
Uqts. Uqtsin
Phoen. Phoenician
1 Sm. 1 Samuel
v. verse (pl., vv.)
pl. plural; plate (pl., pls.)
2 Sm. 2 Samuel
Va. Virginia
PM post meridiem, after noon
Sogd. Sogdian
var. variant; variation
Pol. Polish
Sot.. Sot.ah
Viet. Vietnamese
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viz. videlicet, namely
Yad. Yadayim
* hypothetical
vol. volume (pl., vols.)
Yev. Yevamot
? uncertain; possibly; perhaps
Vt. Vermont
Yi. Yiddish
° degrees
Wash. Washington
Yor. Yoruba
+ plus
Wel. Welsh
Zav. Zavim
Wis. Wisconsin
Zec. Zechariah
= equals; is equivalent to
Wis. Wisdom of Solomon
Zep. Zephaniah
× by; multiplied by
W.Va. West Virginia
Zev. Zevah.im
→ yields
Wyo. Wyoming
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

v o l u m e t w o
i s u a l n a r
V r
I S a
U t
A L i
N v
A e
Storytelling may be one of the most universal of human
behaviors. Representing events in a series of episodes allows
storytellers and their audiences to explain a state of affairs, to trace the historical
development of a people, to limn the portrait of a hero, or to account for the status
of a ruler, city, or natural order. Storytelling ascribes causation to events, provides
access to the past, bestows meaning on the present, and offers counter-narratives to
prevailing or rival accounts.
Images work closely with oral and written narratives, sometimes as external scaf-
folding or supportive prompts. This can involve little or even no imagery. Some
Native American winter counts are no more than abstract patterns, unlike the late
pictographic example reproduced here (a), which consists of symbolic devices that
demarcate tribal history and lore among
the Brulé Lakota. This example, pro-
duced in the early twentieth century,
replicates the notation that was tradition-
ally painted on buffalo hides, and adds
numeric dating beneath the pictographs.
An aide de memoire, the winter count
assists the narration of tribal memory
but is not a linguistic system in the
manner of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The
winter count supplements oral culture by
prompting patterns of verbal discourse,
such as song and chant, in the setting of
dance and ceremonial discourse.
Images also commonly provide less
pictographic prompts to narrative, such
as paintings and sculptures of the nine
(a) Detail from a winter count by Battiste
Good, watercolor on paper, c. 1907. [Library
of Congress]

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great events of the Buddha’s life (b). In these works, artists
do not seek to render a seamless succession of episodes,
but surround the key event of the life of the historical
Buddha—the moment of his triumph over Māra, the god
of illusion, a decisive victory symbolized by the Buddha’s
touching the earth, calling it as witness to his many lives
of karmic ascent. Nine key events are visualized in a picto-
rial shorthand, organized as a compendium of the princi-
pal episodes in the Buddha’s life, and framing the central
representation of his enlightenment. This gathering of
representations assists Buddhist teachers and students in
recounting not only the historical life of the Buddha, but
the meaning of his teaching. Narrative in this sense is not
a neutral recounting of events, but a highly interpretative
reading of the founder’s life.

Storytelling of any sort is invariably interpretative
(b) LEFT. Buddha Shakyamuni and Scenes from the Life of
, copper with traces of gilding, twelfth century, Nepal.
[Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michael
Phillips] (c) B OTTOM LEFT. Roman marble sculpture of
Laocoon and his sons, believed to be a first-century ce copy
of a first- to second-century bce Greek original. [©Araldo de
(d) B OTTOM RIGHT. Roman copy of a fifth-
century bce Greek relief of Hermes, Orpheus, and Eurydice.
[©Alinari/Art Resource, N.Y.]
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and not merely descriptive, because it consists necessarily
of a selection and weighting of particular events, as well as
their integration, into a series of episodes that culminates
in a state of affairs that offers a perspective that the viewer/
listener is presumed to accept as compelling in the sense
of being cautionary, explanatory, aesthetically pleasing, or

But images operate differently than words. Unless
they are presented on the pages of a book or scroll, or
organized as dense grids of individual events, or seen in
succession across the broad surfaces of walls or ceilings, an
image is largely unable to unfold temporally since a viewer
stands in front of it and sees all of it at once in sweeping
scans. Consequently, images often present single selections
from a narrative that focus the viewer’s attention on a par-
ticular episode that is considered by teachers or patrons or
the devout as especially significant or as emblematic of the
entire narrative (a, d, e, f, g). For example, the sculpture
of Laocoon and his sons (c) writhing in agony in the coils
(e) Kr.s.n.a steals the clothes of the gopīes in a Pahari school illus-
of a serpent sent by Athena to prevent the priest’s discov-
tration from the Bhāgavata Purān.a, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh,
ery of the Greeks hidden within the wooden horse left at
1780. [©Art Resource, N.Y.]
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(f ) Contemporary print depicting Gurū Gobind Gingh address-
Troy was probably taken from the second book of Vergil’s
ing his khālsā. [Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press
Aeneid. The sculpture does not purport to represent the
India, New Delhi. W. H. Mcleod, Popular Sikh Art]
entire narrative, but singles out a dramatic instance within
it, the heroic struggle of a man against a fate doled out by
an unsympathetic deity. In that sense, however, the image
captures a view conveyed by the fateful story of Vergil’s
epic. The nobility of humankind, registered unforget-
tably in the monumental masculinity of Laocoon’s body,
is caught up in the larger force of a destiny from which
Laocoon, priest of Apollo and son of Priam, king of Troy,
is unable to extricate himself. Not only does the narrative
image signal the story and something of its lesson, but it
offers aesthetic satisfaction as its end or purpose, combin-
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ing the two for greater effect as a conveyer of the famous
(g) Gary Kapp, That Ye May Know, oil on canvas, 1996. [©1996
Gary Kapp]

narrative. As this sculpture tells the story of human fate,
the human condition is gendered as a heroic but doomed
male struggle.

This highly selective, emblematic treatment of narra-
tive informs many different instances of narrative religious
art. In a great deal of art around the world, the practice is
often to signify a narrative by the minimal means of por-
traying no more than its principal characters. A Roman
relief (d) portraying three figures of Greek mythology—
Hermes, Orpheus, and Eurydice—is a good example of
this. Viewers learn little about the original story by look-
ing at these three figures. Indeed, if one did not know the
narrative, the image might be unidentifiable. (In fact, the
Greek names inscribed above each figure were misidenti-
fications added much later.) Orpheus has turned to look
back to see that his dead wife, Eurydice, follows him from
Hades, but in doing so he seals her fate, which is to return
to the realm of the dead, taken there by the god Hermes,
whose task it is to conduct souls to the underworld. With
this narrative in mind, the many gestures of the image
can be unfolded from the narrative’s highly encapsulated
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state—the loving touch of Orpheus, his wistfully inclined
head facing the other two, echoed visually in their oppos-
ing stances, and Hermes’s fateful grip of the woman’s

By contrast, some visual narratives enumerate virtu-
ally each moment of a textual narrative, as in the case of
the large and very elaborate sculptural programs mounted
on the exterior of many Hindu temples (h). Literally hun-
dreds of figures combine to narrate the long and intricate
stories of such important deities as Vis.n.u or Śiva. In other
cases, images may accompany printed text (f, i, j), fash-
ioning a symbiotic dependence of word and image upon
one another, even in some instances creating a synergy in
(h) LEFT. Detail of figures adorning the exterior of the Kan-
dariya Mahādeva Temple, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India, c.
1025–1050. [©Wolfgang Kaehler/Corbis] (i) BOTTOM LEFT. Illus-
tration in ink depicting the first meeting between the Incas and
the Spanish in Peru, from El primer nueva corónica y buen
by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, 1613. [The Art
Archive/Archaeological Museum Lima/Dagli Orti]

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which the resultant meaning is greater than its textual or
visual parts taken alone. An example is Felipe Guamán
Poma’s extensively illustrated chronicle of colonial Peru
(i). Guamán’s voluminous text is densely illustrated by
full-page drawings of instances like the one depicted here.
The visual narrative allowed him to describe the initial
encounter of the Spanish and Incan cultures in such detail
as the contrasting costumes and headgear of each group.
The nuanced use of gesture signals the complexity and
simultaneity of their attempts at communication and the
easy confusion and misunderstandings that ensued.

Yet the time, expense, and space required for such
narrative density of imagery can be too demanding and
limiting. More commonly, narrative imagery operates
with greater economy by relying on different forms of
evocation—on synecdoche, with a part standing for the
whole; on emblem, a highly condensed configuration of
symbols or narrative cues; or on conflation, the juxta-
position of different narrative scenes in a single pictorial
field (k). Allowing one episode from an entire narrative
to stand for the whole is evident in several of the images
reproduced here (c, d, e, f ). Evoking a narrative by the
use of emblematic signals works well in images that are
intended to convey a great deal of highly prized or even
secret information, material that is shared only among
the literate, privileged, or initiated (a, b, j, l, m). Such
(k) TOP. The Tribute Money (1427), fresco, by Masaccio in Bran-
cacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy. [©Sandro
Vannini/Corbis] (l) RIGHT. Masonic Chart, chromolithograph
1851–1864. [Courtesy American Antiquarian Society]
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imagery presupposes a distinctive literacy among viewers,
relying sometimes on elaborate codes for its proper “read-
ing” or interpretation. The narrative in these instances
need not be a story as much as a narrated set of mean-
ings, teachings, ritual moments, and states of experience.
Finally, conflation is a pictorial device for condensing
into one visual field more than a single episode. Masaccio
achieved this in his fresco titled The Tribute Money (k)
when he portrayed three different moments: the central
crowd gathered about Christ, a depiction of Peter finding
a coin in a fish (to the left), and Peter paying the tribute
to the tax collector (on the right).
Adorno, Rolena. Guamán Poma: Writing and Resistance in Colonial
Peru. 2d ed. Austin, Tex., 2000.
Brilliant, Richard. Visual Narratives: Storytelling in Etruscan and
Roman Art. Ithaca, N.Y., 1984.
Desai, Vishakha N., and Darielle Mason. Gods, Guardians, and
Lovers: Temple Sculptures from North India A.D. 700–1200.
New York and Ahmadabad, India, 1993.
Karetzky, Patricia E. Early Buddhist Narrative Art: Illustrations of
the Life of the Buddha from Central Asia to China, Korea, and
. Lanham, Md., 2000.
Kessler, Herbert L., and Marianna Shreve Simpson, eds. Pictorial
(m) Detail of libationers, from a fresco cycle in the Villa of the
Narrative in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Washington, D.C.,
Mysteries in Pompeii, Italy, c. 50 bce. [©Massimo Listri/Corbis]
and Hanover, N.H., 1985.
Maurer, Evan M. Visions of the People: A Pictorial History of Plains
Indian Life. Minneapolis, 1992.
David Morgan ()
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This entry consists of the following articles:
Postbiblical Jewish teachers sensed no incongruity in attributing to God qualities having
strong human associations; the rabbis of the Talmud and the Midrash rely on the biblical
attributes by which, as they remark, God is called in place of his name. This reliance on
biblical attributes should not be taken anachronistically to mean that God is only called
just, compassionate, and the like, but that, in reality, his true nature cannot be known,
since this kind of distinction between essence and attributes did not surface in Judaism
until the more philosophically oriented Middle Ages. God is called by his attributes be-
cause he is so described in scripture, which, as God’s revealed word, informs humans how
God is to be thought about and addressed.
The Hebrew word middah, used by the rabbis, corresponds roughly to the word attri-
bute and means quality or measure. The medieval distinction between God’s attributes
and his essence could have had no significance for the spontaneous nature of rabbinic
thinking. The term middot (pl. of middah) denotes the proper limits by means of which
each of his qualities finds its expression when required in particular circumstances. A good
part of the rabbinic thinking on divine control of the universe consists of the subtle inter-
play between God’s justice and his mercy. For God to overlook sinfulness and wickedness
would be for him to betray his quality of justice. As a rabbinic saying has it: “Whoever
declares that God is indulgent forfeits his very life” (B.T., B.Q. 50a). Yet God’s justice
is always tempered by mercy. He pardons sinners who return to him in sincere repentance
and is ever ready to be entreated to exercise his compassion. God’s mercy is extended to
human beings who show mercy to one another. A typical rabbinic doctrine is that of mea-
C LOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT CORNER. Fourteenth-century BCE terra-cotta hedgehog of Aegean Rhyton,
from Ugarit, Syria. Louvre, Paris. [©Erich Lessing/Art Resource, N.Y.]; Facsimile of prehistoric
paintings in Lascaux Cave in southwestern France. Musée des Antiquites Nationales, France.
[©Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, N.Y.]; Ancient Egyptian underworld god Anubis.
Cairo Museum. [©Roger Wood/Corbis]; Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico.
[©Charles & Josette Lenars/Corbis]; Late-nineteenth-century brass Altar of the Hand shrine from
Benin. British Museum, London. [©HIP/Scala/Art Resource, N.Y.].

sure for measure (Sot:. 1.7–10). To the extent that humans
can never be holy in the way that God is holy (Lv. Rab. 24.9).
are prepared to go beyond the letter of the law to be exces-
Humans can pursue the truth and live a life of integrity, but
sively generous and forgiving, God can, with justice, be gra-
even of Moses it is said that he failed to attain to the fiftieth
cious; the more merciful human beings are in conduct with
and highest gate of understanding, that is, of perception of
their fellows, the more will God extend to them his sympathy
the divine (B.T., Ned. 38a). Humans must be compassionate
and his pardon (B.T., R. ha-Sh. 17a).
like their maker, but their compassion must not stray beyond
its legitimate boundaries. If, for example, someone mourns
The rabbis explore the biblical record, elaborating on
beyond the period specified by the law when a relative has
the attributes found there. For the rabbis, the teaching that
died, God is said to protest: “Cease from mourning. You are
emerges from biblical statements about God is that he is om-
not more compassionate than I” (B.T., Mo Eed Q. 27b).
nipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, although these ab-
stract terms are never used by the rabbis, who prefer the con-
The change that came about in the Middle Ages, when
crete language favored by the Bible. God is present at all
a more systematic theological approach dominated the scene,
times in the universe, which he fills. Yet reservations are im-
resulted in a completely fresh examination of the whole ques-
plied about the language used when God’s presence
tion of divine attributes. In their quest for the most refined,
(shekhinah) in the universe is compared to the human soul
abstract formulation, the medieval thinkers tended to speak
filling the body it inhabits (B.T., Ber. 10a), with the clear
of God as simple, pure, a complete unity, with neither divi-
implication that the pervasiveness is spiritual, not spatial.
sion nor multiplicity. Their difficulty with the divine attri-
God knows all there is to be known, including all future
butes found in the Bible and the rabbinic literature was not
events (B.T., San. 90b), although the idea of God’s fore-
only because in these God is described in human terms. Even
knowledge receives little prominence in rabbinic thought. As
if the attributes could be explained as metaphors, there re-
in the Bible, so for the rabbis, God possesses unlimited
mained the implication that the realities the metaphors rep-
power, but here, too, the consideration of whether the doc-
resented were coexistent with God for all eternity, seeming
trine of God’s omnipotence embraces even contradiction
to suggest for many of the thinkers a belief in a plurality of
had to wait until the rise of medieval theological speculation.
divine beings. For the more thoroughgoing of the medieval
That God is one and eternal is as axiomatic for the rab-
thinkers, to ascribe attributes in any positive sense to God
bis as it is for the biblical authors upon whom they based
was to be guilty of idolatry.
their views. God is totally unaffected by the passage of time.
Not all the medieval thinkers saw reason to qualify the
Nevertheless, the Midrash (Mekhilta D, Be-shalah: 4) can say
older doctrine of attributes. H:asdai Crescas (1340–1410/11)
that God appeared to the children of Israel at the crossing
refused to accept the notion that to say God is good or wise
of the sea in the guise of a youthful warrior, whereas he ap-
is to impose limits on his nature or to set up goodness and
peared at Sinai as a venerable sage teaching the Torah to his
wisdom as rival deities. Maimonides (Mosheh ben Maimon,
disciples. In another Midrashic passage (Ex. Rab. 5.9) it is
1135/8–1204) and others, however, sensed the difficulties so
said that God’s voice at Sinai adapted itself to the tempera-
keenly that they felt themselves obliged to develop the idea
ment and disposition of the individual recipients. God spoke
of negative attributes. For Maimonides, the attributes refer-
to the young in youthful terms, to the older folk in more ma-
ring to God’s essence (his unity, wisdom, and existence) are
ture ways. Men heard the voice speaking in a form suitable
not to be understood as saying anything at all about God’s
to males, women in a form suitable to females. Implied here
true nature. All that they imply is the negation of their oppo-
is the idea, later to be developed more fully, that a distinction
sites. When God is said to exist, the meaning is that he is
is to be made between God as he is in himself and God as
not a mere fiction. When he is said to be wise, the meaning
he becomes manifest in creation. The differentiation is said
is that there is neither ignorance nor folly in him. When it
to have been only in the way in which the divine revelation
is said that he is one, the meaning is that there is neither plu-
had its effect. In God there is no trace of age or sex. God is
rality nor multiplicity in his being, although the actual na-
unchanging and unlimited.
ture of that being is beyond all human comprehension, and
The rabbis do not, however, refuse to allow all attributes
of it no human language can be used. For Maimonides, the
of the divine nature to be used. The rabbis, following literally
knowledge of God is a constant process of negation. The fi-
the biblical accounts, seemingly believe that God possesses
nite mind can never hope to grasp the divine nature, but the
the attributes of goodness, justice, wisdom, truth, and holi-
more one knows of what God is not the closer one comes
ness and that these are not simply metaphors, although God
to such perception. Secondary attributes, on the other hand,
possesses these attributes in a manner infinitely greater than
such as goodness, justice, and mercy, may be used of God
human beings can imagine; human beings can only approxi-
even in a positive sense, since these do not refer to his essence
mate these attributes in very faint measure in their conduct.
but to his activity. Maimonides gives the illustration of God’s
The divide between God and humanity is never crossed, but
care for the embryo in the womb. If such care were possible
it is the duty of humans to be godlike by trying to make the
for a human being, one would attribute it to that person’s
divine attributes their own insofar as this is possible (B.T.,
compassionate nature, and in this sense one is permitted to
Shab. 133b). A person can and should be holy, but he or she
say that God is compassionate.
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The qabbalists, in their doctrine of Ein Sof (“the limit-
the divine nature; the others, derivative from it, are what are
less,” God as he is in himself) and the sefirot (the powers by
strictly called attributes. Historically, there have been many
means of which the godhead becomes manifest), tread a mid-
candidates for the former: goodness (Christian Platonism),
dle road on the question of attributes. The qabbalists, more
being as act (Thomas Aquinas), infinity (Duns Scotus), radi-
radical here than the philosophers, do not allow even nega-
cal intellection (John of Saint Thomas), omniperfection
tive attributes to be used. But for God as he is expressed in
(nominalism), spirit as Geist (Hegel), radical liberty, love,
the realm of the sefirot, even the positive attributes of essence
and so forth.
are in order. God can be described positively as existing, as
one and as wise, provided it is realized that the reference is
The multiple formalities taken to be attributes are un-
to his manifestation in the sefirot.
derstood as characteristic of God in a way proper to himself,
that is, one that transcends all finite modes in which any per-
The question of the divine attributes receives little at-
fection is found realized in the cosmos. The formalities, as
tention in modern Jewish thought, there being a marked ten-
divine, remain unknowable in themselves. Thus, the “knowl-
dency to see the whole subject as somewhat irrelevant to liv-
edge act” on which such predication is based is always ana-
ing faith.
logical or symbolic in kind. This is clearest in the under-
standing that the many divine attributes are all really
EE ALSO Folk Religion, article on Folk Judaism; God, arti-
cles on God in the Hebrew Scriptures, God in Postbiblical
identical with divinity and so with each other, but that a for-
Judaism; Qabbalah; Shekhinah.
mal distinguishing of them is demanded by the inadequacy
of human thought in its finite mode of knowing God. Thus,
the justice of God really is his mercy in the order of his own
For the rabbinic period the best treatment is still the section “The
being, but both the formalities of justice and mercy are as-
Attributes of God,” in The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God by
cribed to him in the human finite order of knowing. The dis-
Arthur Marmorstein (1927; reprint, New York, 1968),
tinctions between the divine attributes, in other words, are
pp. 148–217. For the medieval period, the passages referred
distinctions of reason. It became customary to categorize
to in the index under “Attributes” should be consulted in A
these attributes in various ways, the most significant of which
History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy by Isaac Husik (New
distinguishes entitative attributes from operative ones. The
York, 1916).
former characterized God in his very being (goodness, eterni-
New Sources
ty, infinity, etc.); the latter characterize his necessary relation-
Dan, Joseph. “The Book of the Divine Name by Rabbi Eleazar
ship to any world he might summon into being and are
of Worms.” Frankfurter Judaistische Beiträge 22 (1995):
grasped by reason as the divine knowing and loving. These
latter are attributes only insofar as they are necessarily in
Gruenwald, Ithamar. “God the ‘Stone-Rock’: Myth, Idolatry, and
God. Thus, love is a divine attribute in that the Christian
Cultic Fetishism in Ancient Israel.” Journal of Religion 76
cannot conceive of God as nonloving, but the termination
(1996): 428–449.
of that divine activity at this or that creaturely good is not
Hoffman, Joshua, and Gary S. Rosenkrantz. The Divine Attri-
an attribute but something freely chosen by God.
butes. Oxford, 2002.
The doctrine concerning the divine attributes originated
Manekin, Charles H. “Belief, Certainty, and Divine Attributes in
the ‘Guide of the Perplexed.’” Maimonidean Studies 1
with the early Church Fathers and continued to develop,
(1990): 117–141.
with its main architectonic lines unchanged, until the En-
lightenment; it was not, for example, matter for dispute be-
Waldman, Nahum M. “Divine Names.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 25
(1997): 162–168.
tween the parties to the Reformation. Obviously, it is a theo-
logical construct rather than a direct matter of faith; that is
to say, it is the product of reflection upon what God has re-
Revised Bibliography
vealed rather than the immediate content of that revelation.
The self-revelation of God articulated in both Old and New
Testaments (i.e., the Jewish and the Christian scriptures) is
not any metaphysical account of God’s essence and its defin-
In the tradition of Christian theology, an attribute of God
ing characteristics, but a narrative of God’s saving history
is a perfection predicted of God in a formal, intrinsic, and
with first Israel, and then, through Jesus Christ, with the
necessary way as one of many defining characteristics. These
world at large. Thus, the Bible offers no doctrine of divine
perfections, first discovered as they are reflected in the creat-
attributes but rather an account of the attitudes God has free-
ed universe, are such that their objective concept can be dis-
ly chosen to adopt toward his creatures, his free decisions in
engaged from all their finite modes of realization, enabling
the events of revelation and saving grace. In this light, the
them to be attributed to God as pure perfections within God.
traditional teaching on the divine attributes assumes some-
Such perfections are numerous and logically interconnected.
thing of the character of a natural theology, in the sense that
One among them is given ontological priority as grounding
such teaching is neither revealed in a direct of formal way
all the others and is understood as the formal constituent of
nor immediately derived from what is so revealed, but rather
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

results from rational reflection upon a presupposed concept
tian,” in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by
of what constitutes God’s inmost nature. But the illation
James Hastings, vol. 6 (Edinburgh, 1913). The biblical data
from characteristic activity to underlying nature or essence
are well covered in Karl Rahner’s “Theos in the New Testa-
is a valid one logically, that is, the manner in which God free-
ment,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 1 (Baltimore, 1961).
ly chooses to relate to his creatures is disclosive of what con-
For the thought of the Church Fathers, the best available sin-
stitutes his nature and attributers. Thus, there is a natural
gle work is G. L. Prestige’s God in Patristic Thought (1936;
reprint, London, 1952). A contemporary defense of the clas-
theology operative in the doctrine on the attributes, but it
sical teaching is to be found in H. P. Owen’s Concepts of
is not one which serves as a criterion for interpreting the
Deity (New York, 1971); a more critical treatment by Rich-
Bible. Rather, the very converse is true: the New Testament
ard Swinburne is The Coherence of Theism (Oxford, 1977).
confession of God as revealed in Jesus the Christ controls any
An expanded treatment of the above article can be found in
subsequent determination of the attributes of God postulat-
chapter 6 of my Knowing the Unknown God (New York,
ed theologically.
1971). For the alternative to classical theism known as pro-
cess thought, see Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reali-
Inherent in the theism wherein the above understanding
ty (New York, 1929), part 5, chap. 2, “God and the World.”
of the attributes is developed is a strong emphasis on God’s
transcendence of the world, without any denial of his simul-
New Sources
Boff, Leonardo. Trinity and Society. Translated by Paul Burns.
taneous immanence therein. From the time of Hegel and
Maryknoll, N.Y., 1988.
Schleiermacher (in the mid-nineteenth century), emphasis
Carman, John Breasted. Majesty and Meekness. Grand Rapids,
begins to shift to the immanence of God. Classical theism
Mich., 1994.
is now confronted with a pantheistic notion of God (in
which the world is God’s unfolding of himself), or a panen-
Clark, Kelly James, ed. Our Knowledge of God. Dordrecht and
Boston, 1992.
theistic one (in which God and world, without being identi-
cal, are correlates each necessary to the other). Insofar as this
Gunton, Colin E. Act and Being. London, 2002.
movement gains momentum, it undercuts the traditional
Hughes, Gerard H. The Nature of God. New York, 1995.
doctrine on the attributes by focusing not only on what con-
Nnamani, Amuluche Gregory. The Paradox of a Suffering God.
stitutes God absolutely, but equally on what constitutes him
New York, 1995.
relatively, that is, insofar as he is determined contingently by
creatures. This approach has been adopted notably by pro-
Revised Bibliography
cess theology, which finds its inspiration in the thought of
Alfred Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. Here, “becom-
ing,” rather than “being,” is the ultimate category, and God
is only partially described in terms of absolute attributes he
The word s:ifah (“attribute”; pl., s:ifa¯t) is not found in the
cannot lack (divine nature as primordial); the full description
QurDa¯n, but the verbal noun was:f does appear there one time
includes also God’s limited but actual determination of his
(6:139) and the imperfect of the first form of the verb thir-
own nature in his action upon and reaction to the world (di-
teen times in the sense of “to ascribe or uphold a description,
vine nature as consequent). Differing from this but sharing
to attribute, with the idea of falsehood.” This meaning is as-
in some of its basic intuitions are various theologies following
sociated with Alla¯h (God) in 6:100, 23:91, 37:159, 37:180,
the modern stress upon subjectivity and self-consciousness.
and 43:82; these verses seem to indicate that every descrip-
These tend to historicize the reality of God, viewing it more
tion of God is bound to fail.
as event than as being: as the power of the future (Wolfhart
In order to avoid certain confusions, one must remem-
Pannenberg), or the promise of a new future (Jürgen Molt-
ber that the Arabic grammatical categories do not correspond
mann). Here, the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament
to those of Western languages. Arab grammarians divided
especially are translated, not into a metaphysical scheme
words (kalimah; pl., kala¯m) into three categories: the verb
taken over from Greek rationalism, but into the categories
(fi El), the ism, and the particle (h:arf). But the term ism does
of universal history. In such thought, the attributes of God
not cover the term noun in Western grammar. In fact, the
are not done away with but are relativized historically—for
word ism includes, among other things, the mas:dar (verbal
example, God is no longer characterized as eternal but as infi-
noun), the present and past participles, and the “attribute”
nitely temporal.
(al-s:ifah al-mushabbahah), which is the adjective or participle
of adjectival value—a situation that could hardly fail to pro-
EE ALSO God, articles on God in Postbiblical Christianity,
God in the New Testament.
duce a certain variation in the use of the terms “attributes”
and “divine names.” To cite only one example, E. H. Palmer,
in the introduction to his translation of the QurDa¯n (The
The most thorough coverage available is in the series of articles
Qur Da¯n Translated, Oxford, 1900, p. lxvii), writes: “His attri-
under Dieu by various authors in vol. 4 of the Dictionnaire
butes are expressed by ninety-nine epithets in the QurDa¯n,
de théologie catholique, edited by Alfred Vacant and Eugène
which are single words, generally participial forms. . . . The
Mangenot (Paris, 1911). Another extensive study can be
attributes constitute the asma¯ D al-h:usna¯, the good
found in W. T. Davison’s article “God, Biblical and Chris-
names. . . .”
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Theologians have worked hard to distinguish between
the AshEariyah with regard to the principal points of doc-
the ism and the s:ifah by saying that the ism designates God
trine. The h:ashw¯ıyah sin through excess: for them the attri-
insofar as he is qualified—for example, the Powerful or the
butes of God are like human attributes. In heaven, God will
Knowing—whereas the attribute is the entity in the essence
be seen in the same way sensory things are seen; God is “in-
of God that permits one to say that he is powerful or know-
fused” (hulul) in the throne, which is his place; the hand and
ing—the Power, the Knowledge. In the course of the devel-
the face of God are real attributes like hearing and life: the
opment of theology and following discussions among differ-
hand is an actual body part; the face is a face in human form;
ent schools, the mutakallimu¯n (scholastic theologians)
the descent of God to the nearest heaven is a real descent.
refined the notion of the attribute by attempting to distin-
The eternal QurDa¯n is the uncreated word of God, eternal,
guish the various relations between the divine essence and
unchangeable; the individual letters, the ink with which it
the attributes. We shall encounter some of these distinctions
has been written, are created.
These extreme positions are also those of Ibn H:anbal
EARLY CREEDAL STATEMENTS. The first dogmatic creeds
and his disciples. His most important Eaq¯ıdah, or creed
scarcely allude to the problem of the attributes. Historical
(translated by Henri Laoust in La profession de foi d’Ibn Bat:t:a,
conditions easily explain this absence: several years after the
Damascus, 1958, p. 88, and by Allard as cited below), num-
death of Muh:ammad, the expansion of the new religion,
bers no fewer than twelve pages. The problem of the divine
with its political and social ramifications, led the heads of the
attributes, which is to say, the ensemble of questions con-
community to express the essential traits of Islam and to con-
cerning God himself, is dealt with toward the end of the dog-
dense them into a formula of faith easy to remember. Some
matic exposition before the refutation of heretics. Briefly re-
of these formulas are found in the h:ad¯ıth collections. Their
calling the traditional cosmology, Ibn H:anbal continues:
common trait is the absence of any distinction between the
ritual obligations and man’s relationship to God. Little by
The throne of the Merciful is above the water, and God
little emerges the definition of the five pillars of Islam and
is on his throne. His feet rest upon the stool. God
knows all that exists in the seven heavens and the seven
then the formula of the Shaha¯dah (“There is no god but
earths, as well as all that exists between them. . . . He
God, and Muh:ammad is the Messenger of God”) by which
knows what is under the earth and at the bottom of the
the convert is integrated into the community. Already, in a
seas. The growth of trees and that of hair is known to
way that was not philosophical but real, the unity of God was
him, as is that of every seed and every plant; he knows
affirmed: God is one and he is unique. This was the point
the place where each leaf falls. He knows the number
of departure for what would soon become the problem of the
of words and the number of pebbles, the number of
attributes in God.
grains of sand and grains of dust. He knows the weight
of the mountains; he knows the actions of human be-
Dissensions within the nascent Muslim community
ings, their traces, their words, and their breaths; God
quickly gave rise to definite points of view, and those who
knows everything. Nothing escapes him. God is on his
did not accept them were anathematized. One of the first
throne high above the seventh heaven, behind the veils
professions of faith, the eighth-century Fiqh akbar I, does not
of lights, of shadows, of water, and of everything that
yet mention the unity of God, which is not questioned, nor
he knows better than anyone. If an innovator or heretic
for that matter does the Was:¯ıyah attributed to Abu¯ H:an¯ıfah
relies upon the words of God such as: “We are nearer
(d. 767). However, with the Fiqh akbar II, the problem of
to him than the jugular vein” (50:16); “He is with you
the attributes begins; there one finds, in fact, affirmations
wherever you are” (57:4); “Three men conspire not se-
cretly together, but he is the fourth of them, neither five
such as these: God is one; he has no associates; nothing re-
men, but he is the sixth of them, neither fewer than
sembles him; God will be seen in heaven; God is “a thing”
that, neither more, but he is with them, wherever they
(shay D), without body, without substance, without accidents;
may be” (58:7); or if he bases himself on similarly am-
God is the Creator before creating (art. 16); it is permissible
biguous verses, one must say to him: What that signifies
to use Persian to designate the attributes of God except for
is knowledge, for God is on the throne above the sev-
the hand (art. 24); the proximity and distance of God are not
enth heaven and his knowledge embraces everything.
material (art. 26); all the names of God are equal (art. 27);
God is separate from his creation, but no place escapes
the QurDa¯n is the word of God (art. 3).
his knowledge. The throne belongs to God, and the
throne is supported by those who carry it. God is on the
limitless throne. God is understanding without being
The h:ashw¯ıyah, the all-too-strict traditionalists, take literally
able to doubt, seeing without being able to hesitate,
the anthropomorphic passages of the QurDa¯n, refusing any
knowing without being able not to know, generous
interpretation and taking refuge in the mystery of God, in
without avarice, long-suffering without haste; he is
whom the apparent contradictions are resolved.
mindful without forgetting; he is alert without negli-
gence; he is near without anything escaping him; he is
In one passage of al-Juwayn¯ı (d. 1037), reported by Ibn
in movement, he speaks, he looks, he laughs, he re-
Asa¯kir (Taby¯ın, Damascus, 1928–1929, pp. 149ff.; cf. Gar-
joices, he loves and he detests, he displays ill-will and
det and Anawati, 1948, pp. 58–59), the author indicates the
kindness; he becomes angry and he forgives; he impov-
respective positions of the h:ashw¯ıyah, the MuEtazilah, and
erishes, gives or gives not. Every night he descends, in
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

the manner he wishes, to the nearest heaven. “Like him
going as far as the Jahm˜ıyah, who completely denied the at-
there is naught; he is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing”
tributes of God, they affirmed that all these attributes were
(42:11). The hearts of humankind are between two fin-
identical with the essence, that they had no real existence.
gers of the Merciful: he turns them over as he desires
Against the Dahr¯ıyah (materialists), they affirmed a personal
and engraves on them whatever he wants. He created
creator God.
Adam with his hands and in his image. On the day of
resurrection, the heavens and the earth will be in his
Likewise, if God is absolutely spiritual, he cannot be
palm; He will put his feet in the fire and he will disap-
seen by the senses; hence the negation of the “vision of God”
pear, and then he will make the people of the fire come
in the future life, the ru Dyah of the traditionalists (see
out with his hand. The people of Paradise will look at
al-Jurja¯n¯ı, Sharh: al-Mawa¯qif, Cairo, 1907, bk. 8,
his face and see it; God will honor them; he will mani-
pp. 115ff.). The absolute transcendence of God in relation
fest himself to them and give them gifts. On the day of
to the world leads them to distinguish rigorously between the
resurrection, humankind will draw near to him and he
preeternal (qad˜ım) and that which has begun to be
will be in charge of the reckoning of their actions; he
will not confide that to anyone else. The QurDa¯n is the
(muh:dath) and makes them reject energetically all notion of
word of God, that which he uttered; it is not created.
h:ulu¯l (the infusion of the divine in the created).
He who claims that the QurDa¯n is created is a Jahm¯ı and
The affirmation of a God distinct from the world poses
an infidel. He who says that the QurDa¯n is the word of
the problem of the relations of God with this world. The
God, but goes no further and does not say that it is un-
MuEtazilah ask themselves if God’s knowledge of things pre-
created, is of an opinion worse than the preceding one.
cedes them in existence or is born with them; on the whole
He who claims that our pronunciation of the QurDa¯n
and our recitation are created, whereas the QurDa¯n is the
they conclude in favor of a “contingent” or “created” divine
Word of God, is a Jahm¯ı. And he who does not treat
knowledge of free future things and of the possible in general
all of those people as infidels is like them. (Qa¯d¯ı Abu¯
(see al-AshEar¯ı, Maqa¯la¯t, p. 222 and passim, and al-Khayya¯t,
al-Husayn, T:abaqa¯t al-h:ana¯bilah, Cairo, 1952, vol. 1,
Kita¯b al-intis:a¯r, ed. Nyberg, Cairo, 1925, p. 126). They
p. 29; trans. Allard, 1965, pp. 99–100)
study the object, the limits of divine power; they analyze
man’s power over actions and affirm that he creates them by
THE MUETAZILAH. The first essential thesis of the MuEtazilah
“generation” (tawallud; on which, see Ah:mad Am¯ın, Duha,
concerns the unity of God and thus the problem of the attri-
vol. 3, p. 59; and Ibn H:azm, Fis:al, vol. 5, Cairo, 1899/1900,
butes and their relationship with the essence of God. It is the
p. 52).
most important thesis of their doctrine, for it is the source
of the others and has served to characterize the MuEtazilah
Finally, always with the same concern to suppress every
themselves: ahl al- Eadl wa-al-tawh:¯ıd (“the partisans of justice
shadow of associationism, they affirmed the created character
and unity”).
of the QurDa¯n, the word of God. In the history of the
MuEtazilah, this thesis has drawn the greatest attention be-
We have already seen that the QurDa¯n contains verses
cause of its political repercussions. The reasoning of the
describing God in an anthropomorphic manner (6:52, 7:52,
MuEtazilah was very simple: God, identical with his attri-
55:27). There are others that insist on the differences be-
butes, admits of no change; it is thus impossible that the
tween God and all that is created: “Like him there is naught”
QurDa¯n, the word of God in the sense of an attribute, is un-
(42:11, 6:103). The first generations, mostly fideists, had ac-
created, for it is essentially multiple and temporal. The
cepted both groups of verses, taking refuge, by way of recon-
MuEtazilah did not fail to find texts in the sacred book itself
ciling them, in the mystery of God and refusing to give any
to support their thesis. They concluded that the QurDa¯n is
explanations. Contrary to the “corporealists” “whose extreme
a “genre” of words, created by God; it is called “the word of
views we have seen, they were content to say that God had
God” because, contrary to our own words, the QurDa¯n was
a hand, ears, and face, but not like ours” (see al-Ba¯ju¯r¯ı,
created directly.
H:a¯shi-yah... Eala¯ Jawharat al-tawh:¯ıd, Cairo, 1934, p. 76, and
the satirical verse of Zamakhshar¯ı, the MuEtaz¯ı).
In his Lawa¯mi E al-bayyina¯t f¯ı al-asma¯D wa-al-s:ifa¯t
(Cairo, 1914, pp. 24ff.), Fakhr al-D¯ın al-Ra¯z¯ı (d. 1209) ex-
The MuEtazilah were radical: in their view, the via remo-
pounds the different groupings of the attributes in accor-
tionis, or tanz¯ıh, was to be applied in all of its rigor. The
dance with the schools. He sets forth those of the MuEtazilah
QurDa¯n itself invites us to do so: in regard to God one must
in the following manner: For Abu¯ H:ashim, the attributes are
reject all that is created. The anthropomorphic verses? They
“modes” (ah:wa¯l), intermediate entities between the existent
will be “interpreted” symbolically; if necessary, they will be
and the nonexistent. What ensures the reality of these modes
denied. Similarly, h:ad¯ıth that go the wrong way will be re-
is either (1) the divine essence, whether initially (ibtida¯ Dan)
jected. It is necessary to maintain, at whatever cost, the abso-
or by the intermediary of other modes, for in all this it is a
lute divine unity, strict monotheism. Against the anthropo-
matter of essential attributes; or else it is (2) the ma Ea¯n¯ı
morphisms of “the people of the h:ad¯ıth” and the EAlids, they
found in the divine essence, in which case it is a matter of
affirmed their agnosticism in regard to the nature of God (see
entitative attributes or of qualification (ma Enaw¯ıyah), such
their creed as reported by al-AshEar¯ı in his Maqa¯la¯t
as Ea¯lim (“knowing”) or qa¯dir (“able”). As for operative attri-
al-Isla¯m¯ıy¯ın, ed. Ritter, Istanbul, 1929, p. 155). Without
butes, they do not constitute a stable state (h:a¯lah tha¯bitah)
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

of the divine essence, nor of the ma Ea¯n¯ı, but they are made
(pp. 149ff.). The famous judge shows how his master, in the
up of the pure emanation of effects starting from God.
principal questions, has followed a middle way between the
exaggerations of the MuEtazilah and those of the h:ashw¯ıyah
AL-ASHEAR¯I. It was left to Abu¯ al-H:asan al-AshEar¯ı (d. 935),
who, in truth, were recruited among the H:anbal¯ı extremists
a deserter from the MuEtazilah, to give to it the hardest and
(see Gardet and Anawati, 1948, pp. 58–59).
one might say the most decisive blows. The doctrine he elab-
orated would become that of orthodox Islam itself.
Al-AshEar¯ı was not the only one to fight the good fight
for the triumph of traditional doctrine. One of his contem-
A native of Basra, he was for forty years the disciple and
poraries, al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı, propagated in the eastern provinces of
then the collaborator of al-Jubba¯E¯ı, the chief of the
the empire the ideas that the author of the Iba¯nah fought for
MuEtazilah in that city, until one day, suddenly made aware
in Baghdad. After epic struggles against the old conservatives
of the dangers that the MuEtazilah were bringing to Islam,
on the one hand and the MuEtazilah on the other, AshEarism
he was “converted” to the true doctrine. He broke publicly
ended up in triumph. It won its case definitively when the
with them and consecrated the rest of his life to the refuta-
famous Seljuk minister Niz:a¯m al-Mulk created chairs for the
tion of their doctrine.
new theological doctrine in the schools he founded at
But at the same time that he attacked his former com-
Nishapur and Baghdad.
panions, he took care to put himself in the good graces of
This triumph was marked by the successive develop-
the fervent traditionalists, the H:anbal¯ı zealots. Their inquisi-
ment of doctrine; three names indicate the principal stages:
torial attitude was allied—among the most exalted of them,
the qa¯d¯ı al-Ba¯qilla¯n¯ı (d. 1013), al-Juwayn¯ı (Ima¯m
the h:ashw¯ıyah—with a materialization of doctrine that did
al-H:aramayn, d. 1085), and finally al-Ghaza¯l¯ı (d. 1111).
not fail to disquiet the intelligent believers. And it was pre-
AL-BA¯QILLA¯N¯I. Among al-Ba¯qilla¯n¯ı’s numerous works, it is
cisely to fend off their misdeeds that al-AshEar¯ı, upon arriv-
in his Kita¯b al-tamh¯ıd that we find the most information on
ing in Baghdad, decided to write his Iba¯nah, or “elucidation”
the problem of the attributes and the divine names. He deals
of the principles of religion. In an apostolic captatio
with it especially in the chapter on tawh:¯ıd, written explicitly
benevolentiae, he expressed his admiration for Ibn H:anbal
against the MuEtazilah, “for they all affirm that God has no
out of a desire to show the latter’s disciples that one could
life, no knowledge, no power, no hearing, no vision” (ed.
be a good Muslim without falling into the exaggerations of
R. C. McCarthy, Beirut, 1957, p. 252).
At the beginning of his treatise, al-Ba¯qilla¯n¯ı speaks only
What was al-AshEar¯ı’s method, and on what bases did
of the active participles such as Ea¯lim (“knowing”), qa¯dir
this doctor, only yesterday a fervent MuEtaz¯ı, ardent promot-
(“able”), and h:ayy (“living”), whereas in the chapter on the
er of reasoning, construct his “defense of dogma”? First of
attributes he seems to affirm that only the substantives em-
all, regarding exegesis of the QurDa¯n, he thrust aside the
ployed in language about God designate attributes properly
much too drastic tanz¯ıh of the MuEtazilah, which led to
ta Et:¯ıl, the total stripping away of the notion of God (Iba¯nah,
In the chapter on the name and the named (al-ism wa-
Cairo, 1929/30, p. 46; Ibn H:azm, Fis:al, vol. 2,
al-musamma), a distinction is made between the names of
pp. 122–126). He had in mind to keep himself within a liter-
God, encompassing all the active participles, and the divine
al interpretation of the text and thus clearly seems to present
attributes, which are substantives characterizing the essence
himself as a faithful disciple of Ibn H:anbal. One should not
of God or his action. The attribute is of two sorts: that of
be too surprised that the creed opening the short treatise of
essence or that of action. From the divine names one deduces
the Iba¯nah explicitly refers to the severe ima¯m, covering him
logically the existence of the attributes. To what degree are
with eulogies. This is a literalism peculiar to al-AshEar¯ı, for
they really existent in God? To respond in precise fashion
the later AshEar¯ıyah were to move away noticeably from the
to this question, he distinguishes two series of terms:
rigid literalism of their founder and thereby draw upon
was:f (“description”), s:ifah (“attribute”), and maws:u¯f
themselves the fire of an Ibn H:azm and of the H:ana¯bilah
(“described”), on the one hand, and tasmiyah
themselves (Henri Laoust, Essai sur . . . Tak¯ı-d-D¯ın Ah:mad
(“nomination”), ism (“name”), and musamma¯ (“named”), on
B. Taimiya, pp. 81–82). Likewise, on the question of “the
the other. He defines the attribute (s:ifah) as “the thing found
vision of God,” on that of anthropomorphic expressions and
in the being described [maws:u¯f] or belonging to it; that
attributes (Iba¯nah, p. 45), he entertains opinions that Ibn
which makes this thing something acquired is the act of de-
H:anbal would have subscribed to without fear.
scription [was:f], which is the quality [na Et] deriving from the
That is the al-AshEar¯ı of our direct sources, but there is
attribute [s:ifah]” (p. 213). Much later he will say: “The act
another one: the figure whom his disciples have in mind. For
of describing is the speech of the person who describes God
al-Juwayn¯ı (eleventh century), who would become
or someone else as ‘being,’ ‘knowing,’ ‘living,’ ‘able,’ giving
al-Ghaza¯l¯ı’s teacher, al-AshEar¯ı is not a theologian who ral-
favor and kindness. This act of describing is speech that is
lied to the opinions of Ibn H:anbal but a reconciler of two
heard and its expression; it is different from the attribute sub-
extreme positions. We have a clear testimony in the long ex-
sisting in God and the existence of which entails that God
tract from al-Juwayn¯ı that Ibn EAsa¯kir gives us in his Taby¯ın
is knowing, able, willing” (p. 214).
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In a parallel way al-Ba¯qilla¯n¯ı gives the following precise
dence and the explicit assertions of the QurDa¯n. Al-Juwayn¯ı
details: “The doctrine of the partisans of the truth is that the
goes further: he divides the attributes into nafs¯ı (“essential”)
name [ism] is the named [musamma¯] itself, or an attribute
and ma Enaw¯ı (of quality, or “entitative” [Allard]). The “es-
tied to it, and that it is other than the fact of giving a name
sential” attribute is every positive attribute of the subject that
[tasmiyah]” (p. 227).
resides in the subject so long as it lasts and that does not
come from a cause. The qualitative attribute comes from a
Thus, to explain the realism of the divine names and at-
cause that exists in the subject (Irsha¯d, ed. and trans. Jean
tributes, al-Ba¯qilla¯n¯ı distinguishes between the plane of lan-
Dominique Luciani, Paris, 1938, pp. 17–18; trans. p. 39).
guage and that of reality. “Language affects the reality of the
Next al-Juwayn¯ı sets down the different attributes of God:
speaker, but the moment that speech [name or attribute] is
existence, eternity, subsistence, dissimilarity to all things—in
uttered, it refers only to the one spoken of” (Allard). This
particular the absence of extent, hence the obligation to in-
distinction presupposes a theory of the divine origin of
terpret allegorically those passages of the QurDa¯n that presup-
language that allows humans to enter into reality directly,
pose extent.
as it is.
Then al-Juwayn¯ı affirms that God is not a substance (ja-
In the chapter dealing with name and denomination,
whar), which implies extent, and thus he refutes the Chris-
al-Ba¯qilla¯n¯ı gives a classification of the names and attributes,
tian doctrines on the Trinity. After that he shows the unicity
which can be summarized as follows (p. 235, 5–15; Allard,
of God by the argument of “the natural obstacle”: if there
1965, p. 308):
were two gods, their wills could be discordant. Finally, the
1. Names that express the named—for example, “thing”
seventh chapter is dedicated to the qualitative attributes:
(shay D), “existent” (mawju¯d);
God is powerful; he is willing, living, and so forth.
2. Names that express that the named is different from the
Contrary to most of the mutakallimu¯n, he preserves the
rest—for example, “other” (ghayr), “different” (khila¯f);
system of the “modes” (ah:wa¯l), which in his opinion resolves
the rather delicate problem of the relations of the essence of
3. Names that express an attribute of the named, an attri-
God with the attributes, the mode being an attribute at-
bute that is the form, the composite; an attribute that
tached to an existing thing but which is qualified neither by
is an exterior aspect; an attribute that is found in the
existence nor by nonexistence (pp. 47–48/81–83).
being itself; an attribute that is an action of this being;
an attribute that is not an action.
To know the divine attributes we cannot but start with
that which is known to us: the invisible can only be known
On the question of the anthropomorphism of the QurDa¯n,
by starting with the visible. The bonds that unite the two are
al-Ba¯qilla¯n¯ı remains very close to al-AshEar¯ı: he affirms that
of four kinds: the law of cause (to be knowledgeable in the
God really has a face, and hands, that he is really on his
visible world is a result of knowledge), the law of condition
throne. He refuses to interpret these expressions either in a
(to be knowledgeable presupposes that one is alive), the law
realistic fashion (like the H:ana¯bilah) or in an allegorical fash-
of essence (the essence of the knowing person is to have
ion (like the MuEtazilah). Similarly, for the “vision of God”
knowledge), and finally the law of proof (the action of creat-
(pp. 266–279), al-Ba¯qilla¯n¯ı insists on God’s transcendence:
ing proves the existence of the Creator, p. 49/83–84).
there is no possible explanation for the way that vision will
AL-GHAZA¯L¯I. Of the works of the great theologian
take place any more than there is for the way that divine
al-Ghaza¯l¯ı, I shall confine myself here to only two: the
speech is to be understood.
Iqtis:a¯d f¯ı al-I Etiqa¯d (The just mean in belief) and Al-maqs:ad
AL-JUWAYN¯I. With al-Juwayn¯ı a distinction among the di-
al-aqs:a˜: Sharh: asma˜D Alla˜h al-h:usna˜ (The further goal: Com-
vine attributes was made with reference to the notions of the
mentary on the most beautiful names of God).
necessary, the possible, and the impossible. In his treatise
Al-irsha¯d, which became a classic of kala¯m, after an introduc-
In the first book, al-Ghaza¯l¯ı devotes the first four chap-
tion consecrated to the study of the character of reasoning
ters to establishing the nature of kala¯m, its social function,
and its nature, the author deals with tawh:¯ıd: he proves the
its method, and the category of people it addresses. Then he
existence of God, in particular by the contingency of the
divides the ensemble of the questions envisaged into four
world and a novitate mundi; then he establishes two large cat-
main parts, expressed precisely: since God is the object of
egories: (1) what exists necessarily in God—the attributes,
kala¯m, one should first of all study him in his essence (first
and (2) what is possible—in which he deals with the visibility
part), then in his attributes (second part); one then should
of God, the creation of human acts, justifica-
consider God’s action, that of his personal acts (third part)
tion and reprobation, prophetology, eschatology, and the
and those of his envoys (fourth part). The whole of the work
may be summarized as follows:
As regards the attributes, al-AshEar¯ı spoke of bi-la¯ kayf
Preliminaries. The nature of kala¯m; its importance; its
(lit., “without how”): affirmation of the existence of the attri-
butes while refusing to ask about their mode (kayf) so as to
I. The Divine Essence. (1) God exists. (2) He is eternal.
safeguard, at one and the same time, the divine transcen-
(3) He is permanent. (4) He is insubstantial. (5) He is incor-
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poreal. (6) He in nonaccidental. (7) He is undefined. (8) He
make the attribution. Insofar as they are applied to creatures,
is not localized. (9) He is visible and knowable. (10) He
they are accidents of different kinds, but, applied to God,
is one.
they should be considered properties expressing only action.
Moreover, terms that, when applied to created things, are
II. The Attributes of God. (1) The attributes in them-
positive in both their form and signification, when applied
selves: life, knowledge, power, will, hearing, sight, speech. (2)
to God have a negative sense while retaining their positive
The “status” of the attributes: (a) they are not the essence;
form. Al-Fa¯ra¯b¯ı would say of the divine attributes, for exam-
(b) they are in the essence; (c) they are eternal; (d) the divine
ple, that they fall into two groups: (1) those that designate
what belongs to God by virtue of himself and (2) those that
III. The Acts of God (what God can or cannot do). (1)
designate what has a relation to something else outside of
God can choose (is free) to impose no obligation on his crea-
him, that in fact designate an action. As examples of the lat-
tures. (2) Or he can choose to impose on them what they
ter, al-Fa¯ra¯b¯ı mentions justice (al- Eadl) and generosity
cannot do. (3) God does nothing in vain. (4) He can make
(al-ju¯d); as an example of the former, he would say that God
innocent animals suffer. (5) He can fail to reward one who
is not wise through wisdom that he would have acquired by
obeys him. (6) The obligation of knowing God comes from
knowledge of something outside his essence, but rather it is
revelation alone. (7) The sending of prophets is possible.
in his own essence that he finds this knowledge. In other
IV. The Envoys of God. (1) Muh:ammad. (2) Eschatology
words, the nonrelational predicates, such as wisdom, are af-
(and faith). (3) The caliphate. (4) The sects.
firmed of God as if belonging to him in a negative sense: the
qualities they express were not acquired from something ex-
The Maqs:ad al-aqs:is a small treatise numbering about
ternal to his essence.
a hundred pages in the Cairo edition (n. d.), on the attributes
and the divine names. A long introduction contains an analy-
In the same manner, Ibn S¯ına¯ explains that the attri-
sis of the nature of the name and its relations with the
butes are properties that reveal not the essence of God, but
named, along with its meaning in reality and in the spirit.
only his existence. Even then they only reveal it in describing
Al-Ghaza¯l¯ı distinguishes among the different categories of
the actions of God or his dissimilarity to other things. So
names—univocal, synonymous, equivocal—and shows how
much so is this the case that even when the predicates are
the pious man finds his happiness in this world in attempting
adjectives of positive form one must interpret them as signi-
to pattern his life on the “divine morality” expressed by the
fying actions or negations.
attributes and the names. In the second part, a more or less
One can understand that, under these conditions,
lengthy account is given to each of the ninety-nine names
al-Ghaza¯l¯ı had a good chance to show that the fala¯sifah (he
of God.
had in mind al-Fa¯ra¯b¯ı and Ibn S¯ına¯ above all) were practical-
(For the development of the doctrine of the divine attri-
ly denying the reality of the distinction between the essence
butes and the place it occupies in the later theological trea-
and the attributes; see his exposition of the doctrine of the
tises of al-Shahrasta¯n¯ı, al-Ra¯z¯ı, al-Bayd:a¯w¯ı, al-¯Ij¯ı, al-Jurja¯n¯ı,
fala¯sifah on this point and his criticism in Taha¯fut al-
al-Sanu¯s¯ı, and, for the contemporary period, al-Laqa¯n¯ı,
fala¯sifah (Incoherence of the Philosophers).
al-Ba¯ju¯r¯ı, and Muh:ammad EAbduh, see Gardet and Anawati,
With certain reservations, Ibn Rushd (Averroës) adopt-
1948, pp. 160–174.)
ed Ibn S¯ına¯’s position on the divine attributes and attempted
THE FALA¯SIFAH. In the wake of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic
to refute al-Ghaza¯l¯ı’s attacks in his Taha¯fut al-taha¯fut (The
philosophy, al-Fa¯ra¯b¯ı (d. 950) and Ibn S¯ına¯ (Avicenna; d.
Incoherence of [al-Ghaza¯l¯ı’s] Incoherence).
1037) elaborated a metaphysical notion of God that attempt-
ed to return to the QurDanic data. For al-Fa¯ra¯b¯ı as for Ibn
In conclusion one may say that, from early times down
S¯ına¯ God is the necessary Being as such; in him essence and
to the present, the divine attributes and names have played
existence are identical; he is without cause and the cause of
an important role in Muslim piety among the educated and
everything; he belongs to no genus nor to any species; he has
the common people alike. The faithful need to address them-
no contrary in any respect; nothing resembles him. He is the
selves to God, to a living God, and they can only reach him
Truth, the pure Good, the pure Intelligence; he is generous;
through those descriptions that the QurDa¯n has offered, pre-
he is life; he is blissful. He knows because he knows himself,
cisely in order to make him accessible to those who invoke
and so forth.
him. The Muslim prayer beads (subh:ah) serve to remind
those who hold them while reciting the “most beautiful
But what becomes of the divine attributes in this con-
names of God” that their creator is among them and that he
ception, and what degree of reality do they have outside of
is enveloping them in his protection and mercy. It is no exag-
the divine essence? In referring more or less explicitly to Aris-
geration to say that the quintessence of Muslim piety finds
totelian principles, al-Fa¯ra¯b¯ı, and after him Ibn S¯ına¯, consid-
its best sustenance in this fervent meditation on the attri-
er the attributes as properties of the essence, but expressed
butes and the divine names.
negatively. The principle is as follows: Certain terms, al-
though applied to creatures, can also be applied to God, but
SEE ALSO AshEariyah; Creeds, article on Islamic Creeds;
only by taking into account the manner in which one would
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In some Polynesian groups (e.g., Tokelau, Samoa) a
For the general development of Islamic theology, see Louis Gar-
loose distinction is made between atua (gods) and aitu (spir-
det’s and my Introduction à la théologie musulmane (1948; 2d
its). Monberg (1966, p. 58) uses the term aitu to refer to less-
ed., Paris, 1970); J. Windrow Sweetman’s Islam and Chris-
er gods, while Raymond Firth (1970, pp. 66–69) uses the
tian Theology, 2 vols. (London, 1942–1947); Harry A. Wolf-
term atua to refer to all supernatural beings. A summary of
son’s The Philosophy of the Kala¯m (Cambridge, Mass., 1976);
and A. J. Wensinck’s The Muslim Creed (1932; reprint, New
usages of the word disguises the variations found between is-
York, 1965).
land groups. However, a summary can also give the range of
There are many studies on the divine attributes in Western lan-
meanings associated with this term. Generally, the term atua
guages. In my article “Un traité des Noms divins de Fakhr
can refer to two major groups of entities: atua who have
al-D¯ın al-Ra¯z¯ı, le Lawa¯mi D al-bayyina¯t,” in Arabic and Islam-
never been human, and those who once were human.
ic Studies in Honor of H. A. R. Gibb, edited by George Mak-
First among the group who were never human are the
disi (Leiden, 1965), pp. 36–52, I discuss al-Ra¯z¯ı’s seminal
great creator gods of Polynesian origin stories. Sometimes
work on the subject. For al-AshEar¯ı’s approach to the ques-
tion of the attributes of God, Otto Pretzl’s Die frühislamische
these major atua are seen as sea gods (e.g., Tangaroa) or land
Attributenlehre (Munich, 1940) is an important study based
gods (e.g., Tane). Under them come what could be called
on al-AshEar¯ı’s Maqa¯la¯t al-isla¯m¯ıy¯ın. Other works to be con-
departmental gods—those that have control over the ele-
sulted include J. W. Redhouse’s “The Most Comely Names,”
ments, the landscape, and human interactions, such as war
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 12 (1880): 1–69; Youakim
or fertility. Both major and lesser deities can manifest benefi-
Moubarac’s “Les noms, titres et attributs de Dieu dans le
cent or maleficent characteristics, although actively unpleas-
Coran,” Le Muséon 68 (1955): 93–135; Jacques Jomier’s “Le
ant spirits are often associated with specific places on the
nom divin Dal-Rah:ma¯nD dans le Coran,” in Mélanges Louis
land. While these atua were never human, the chiefly lines
Massignon (Damascus, 1957), vol. 2, pp. 361–381; Denise
of some Polynesian island groups are believed to have de-
Masson’s Le Coran et la révélation judéo-chrétienne, 2 vols.
scended from them. There are few female atua in the Pacific
(Paris, 1958), especially chapter 21, “Les attributs de Dieu,”
pantheon—Hina, often associated with the moon, Pele of
pp. 15–82; and Michel Allard’s Le problème des attributs
divins dans la doctrine d’al-Aˇs Eari et de ses premiers grands dis-

Hawai’ian volcanoes, and the atua Fafine (female goddess)
ciples (Beirut, 1965).
of Tikopia—but the majority are male. Gender roles and re-
Abraham S. Halkin’s “The Hashwiyya,” Journal of the American
lations on earth are often reflected in the heavens.
Oriental Society 54 (1934): 1–28, is a useful introduction to
The second group, spirits that were once human, can
the doctrines of that group. For more details on the
be important dead ancestors whose significance on earth has
MuEtazilah, see Richard M. Frank’s very technical study, Be-
been recognized in the supernatural realm and who may even
ings and Their Attributes: The Teaching of the Basrian School
of the Mu Etazila in the Classical Period
(Albany, N.Y., 1978).
be seen as lesser gods. All humans were believed to have ora,
The doctrines of the fala¯sifah and al-Ghaza¯l¯ı’s criticism of
or “soul.” At death this ora goes on to become either atua
them are discussed in Harry A. Wolfson’s “Avicenna, Alga-
or aitu, a continuation of the life force in the spirit realm.
zali and Averroes on Divine Attributes,” in Homenaje a Mil-
These ancestral spirits may play no particular role in the rela-
lás-Villicrosa, vol. 2 (Barcelona, 1956), pp. 545–571, and in
tionship between the living and the dead, or they may feature
Ibn Rushd’s Taha¯fut al-taha¯fut, which has been translated by
in the rituals of their descendants, returning to collect the
Simon van den Bergh as The Incoherence of the Incoherence,
spirits of the newly dead and overseeing the welfare of the
2 vols. (Oxford, 1954). On Gnostic and mystical elabora-
family to which they once belonged.
tions of the attributes of God, see A. E. Affifi’s The Mystical
Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul EArab¯ı
(Cambridge, 1939),
Records of traditional religious beliefs in Polynesia were
index 2, and Reynold A. Nicholson’s Studies in Islamic Mysti-
often collected by the missionaries whose duty it was to extir-
cism (1921; reprint, Cambridge, 1976), pp. 77–148.
pate these beliefs. The extent of their understanding varied
in quality. Alternatively, accounts were also collected after
Translated from French by Mary Ann Danner
the conversion of the Pacific to Christianity (Firth writing
on Tikopia is an exception) and the stories of traditional gods
have sometimes been fitted into a Christian understanding
ATUA. Across Polynesia the word atua (or its cognate
of a supreme god or a trinity. The oral traditions of each is-
form) is commonly interpreted as “god,” “deity,” “supernat-
land group and their early ethnographies need to be studied
ural,” or “spirit” entity. According to Torben Monberg
carefully to discover the parameters of the term atua.
(1966, p. 36) the atua were anthropomorphic (shaped like
humans), anthroposocial (able to perceive what humans were
SEE ALSO Mana; Polynesian Religions, overview article;
doing and to communicate with them), and anthropopsychic
(relations were conducted with them as though they had
human ways of thinking). E. S. Craighill Handy (1927,
p. 88) defined atua as personified concepts that embodied
Firth, Raymond. Rank and Religion in Tikopia: A Study in Polyne-
desires, needs, hopes, and dreads, or as individualized ele-
sian Paganism and Conversion to Christianity. London, 1970.
ments and forces observed in nature.
Handy, E. S. Craighill. Polynesian Religion. Honolulu, 1927.
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Monberg, Torben. The Religion of Bellona Island: The Concepts of
in southeastern England and first archbishop of Canterbury.
the Supernaturals. Copenhagen, 1966.
Pope Gregory the Great (590–604) had conceived a mission
Williamson, Robert W. Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of Central Pol-
to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons and in 596 chose Augustine,
ynesia. Cambridge, U.K., 1933.
prior of Saint Andrew’s monastery in Rome, to lead the expe-
dition. With forty monks and letters of recommendation
from Gregory addressed to Catholic leaders across Gaul, Au-
gustine embarked. Within the year he reached the town now
ATUM was the creator god of Heliopolis, the sole progeni-
called Canterbury, which was the headquarters of the Saxon
tor and head of the ancient Egyptian pantheon according to
king Ethelbert (Æthelberht). Augustine was received with
one of the earliest Egyptian cosmogonies. Atum, “the all” or
surprising hospitality, probably because Ethelbert had mar-
“the complete one,” by spitting, vomiting, or masturbating
ried a Christian, Bertha, the daughter of the Frankish king.
produced Shu and Tefnut, “air” and “moisture,” who in turn
Ethelbert gave Augustine lodging, land on which the mission
generated Geb and Nut, “earth” and “sky.” This last chthon-
could support itself, and freedom to preach and teach. Al-
ic pair produced Osiris and Seth, rivals for the rulership of
though Augustine and his men spoke only Latin and had to
the land, together with their consorts, Isis and Nephthys.
use interpreters, their message and manner of life were evi-
Together these nine deities comprised the great Heliopolitan
dently winsome. Within a year several thousand people had
ennead, but probably the greatest function of this pantheon
requested baptism. Soon after, Augustine crossed the channel
was to provide a genealogy for the Egyptian king, who was
to Arles and was consecrated a bishop. Shortly after his re-
equated with Horus, the son of Isis. Horus had to avenge the
turn to Canterbury, he baptized Ethelbert, and this act set
slaying of his father, Osiris, by his uncle, Seth.
the stage for a wider Christian influence among the Saxons.
As early as the Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BCE) the sky
In 601, Gregory appointed Augustine archbishop and sent
god, Atum, had been assimilated to the sun god, Re. This
additional helpers with instructions for him to establish his
new solar deity, Re-Atum, gained or regained a commanding
cathedral in the old Roman trade center to the northwest,
position at the head of the Egyptian pantheon and contribut-
called Londinium (London), and to appoint twelve suffragan
ed to some weakening in the myth of divine kingship by
bishops for the area. Augustine chose Canterbury as more
clearly subordinating the king to the god by the fifth dynasty.
feasible, but he did establish a bishop in London and one in
However, the Horus-king was accommodated to the new
Duro Brevis (modern-day Rochester), twenty-four miles
solar cult by being titled also “Son of Re.” At some point the
west of Canterbury.
creator god, Atum, was subordinated to Ptah, at least by
Memphite priests who described Atum’s creation by Ptah as
Far to the west of Canterbury existed another group of
recorded on the Shabaka Stone.
Christians among the Celtic people. According to optimistic
The great temple of Heliopolis, one of the three largest
instructions from the pope, “all the bishops of Britain” were
in Egypt, has not survived, and very few finds have been
to be under Augustine’s care, a message that revealed Rome
made in its vicinity. The vast amount of religious literature
to be largely ignorant of the old Celtic church, which the
whose origin was Heliopolitan was primarily solar-oriented
Saxons had driven out of central England. Their church cal-
and had Re as principal god, but the sources are from the
endar, pastoral organization, and monastic procedures were
fifth dynasty and later. In the solar religion Atum was re-
different from those of Rome. In 604, Augustine arranged
tained as the old, setting sun, and Khepri was the young, ris-
a meeting with some of its bishops and sought to harmonize
ing sun, but Re was the bright noonday sun. It is probably
the two groups’ differences. The distinctions between the
impossible to estimate the earlier importance of Atum or of
two, however, and the Celts’ fear of the Saxons, formed a
the later revivals that may have reawakened interest in this
chasm that seemed unbridgeable. Although unable to unify
primordial god. The late Contendings of Horus and Seth pres-
the church in his day, Augustine contributed to the unity
ents Atum as one of the chief judges before whom most of
that would come sixty years later.
the other senior deities testify on behalf of Horus, while Seth
appears to have had the support of the supreme god Re.
Limited also was the extent of Augustine’s evangeliza-
tion, but he did bring to Canterbury the Italian monastic tra-
dition, as it was beginning to be modified by the rule of Ben-
The two volumes of Studien zum Gott Atum (Hildesheim, 1978–
edict of Nursia. This monastic practice of daily rounds of
1979), edited by Karol Mysliwiec as volumes 5 and 8 of the
worship, meditation, farm work, preaching, works of mercy,
“Hildesheimer ägyptologische Beiträge,” offer comprehen-
and operation of a school for the sons of the leading families
sive coverage.
of the area was to become an influential instrument in the
conversion of England. Augustine died May 26, 604 or 605
and was buried in Canterbury. He left no writings and estab-
lished only the three dioceses in the southeast, but he
laid foundations for the christianization of Anglo-Saxon
leader of the first evangelistic mission to the Saxon peoples
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evil. Manichaean stress on the evil nature of flesh had far
A history written one hundred years after Augustine is the funda-
reaching influence on Augustine. The impact of the
mental source: Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Peo-
Manichaean view of sex in his later formulation of the con-
ple, edited by Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Ox-
cept of the basic sinfulness of humankind and the weakness
ford, 1969), bk. 1, chaps. 23–33. For the times of Augustine
of the flesh has not been fully recognized.
and a critical evaluation of the man, see Henry H. Howorth’s
Saint Augustine of Canterbury (London, 1913). Good for his-
In 373, Augustine came upon Cicero’s now lost Horten-
torical context and for a reply to accusations that Augustine
sius. This work “inflamed” Augustine with a love of philoso-
was a mediocre leader is Margaret Deanesly’s Augustine of
phy that continued for a lifetime. Induced by Monica’s in-
Canterbury (London, 1964).
cessant pleading, prayers, and vivid dreams, Augustine
turned to the Christian scriptures, but was gravely disap-
pointed. In comparison to “the stately prose of Cicero,” the
Bible seemed unworthy. He found sections of Genesis crude;
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (354–430), Christian
he questioned the integrity of certain Old Testament figures.
theologian and bishop. A creative genius of mystical piety
It was philosophy that captured his intellectual curiosity. He
and great philosophical acumen, Augustine wrought a theo-
proceeded with study of Aristotle’s book on the categories.
logical-ecclesiological system in which biblical tradition and
Augustine returned to Tagaste, where he began teaching
classical philosophy coalesced. Not only was his thought
rhetoric. Patricius had died, having embraced the Catholic
seminal for the development of Western Christianity, his
Church at Monica’s insistence. Monica refused her son en-
moral values and personal piety remained norms for medi-
trance to her home because he had espoused Manichaeism.
eval and Reformation Europe.
She continued to pray and was told by a bishop, “It cannot
Augustine’s life spanned a crucial epoch in state and
be that the son of these tears should be lost” (Confessions
church. The late Roman Empire was disintegrating, and its
collapse would devastate the public sense of political stability
In 380, Augustine completed his first book, De pulchro
and continuity. The Christian church, having weathered per-
et apto (Beauty and Proportion), a work on aesthetics no lon-
secution, moved into a period of doctrinal and ecclesiastical
ger extant. At this time, he gathered about him a group of
formation. Punic Africa had no small part in these political
students who became his intimate friends. Among these were
and religious affairs, and Augustine’s self-proclaimed identity
Alypius and Nebridius, who, like Augustine himself, would
as “an African, writing for Africans. . . . living in Africa”
become priests and bishops in the African church.
(Letters 17.2) must not be overlooked. Indeed, the manner
in which Augustine united, in his works and in his person,
Bitter sorrow at the death of a childhood friend prompt-
the various currents of his time has definitely marked West-
ed Augustine’s return to Carthage. There he became interest-
ern culture.
ed in the Skeptics (the New Academy) and less enchanted
with Manichaeism. A long anticipated dialogue with the cel-
EARLY LIFE. Augustine, known also as Aurelius Augustinus,
ebrated Faustus, Manichaen bishop of Milevis, proved to be
was born in Tagaste (present-day Souk-Ahras, Algeria) to a
utterly disappointing to Augustine. Thus began his disillu-
pagan father, Patricius, and a Christian mother, Monica.
sionment with and gradual separation from the sect, which
Monica’s influence on Augustine was tremendous. He was
he increasingly detested and later acrimoniously attacked.
convinced that her prayers, piety, and relentless pursuit of
his conversion were instrumental in bringing about his life-
Unruly students in Carthage occasioned Augustine’s de-
altering encounter with God. Monica forbade Augustine’s
cision to leave for Rome, but once there illness overtook him.
receiving infant baptism, but he was given the rite of the
Upon his recovery he began teaching rhetoric. The position
cross on the forehead and cleansing salt on the lips.
of public orator opened in Milan—where the imperial court
frequently resided, and with the aid of friends and associates
After early study under local schoolmasters, Augustine
he secured this important position.
was sent, at fifteen, to Madaurus to continue his education.
There began a period of profligacy that was to continue when
In Milan, Augustine came to know the respected Am-
he went to Carthage for advanced study. In that city, he took
brose (c. 339–397), the patrician bishop of Milan. The lat-
a concubine and fathered a son, Adeodatus, meaning “gift
ter’s skill as rhetorician was legendary, and it was professional
of God,” to whom Augustine referred as “child of my sin.”
interest that drew Augustine to him initially. Ambrose’s alle-
In Carthage, Augustine’s education centered primarily on his
gorical interpretation of the Bible gave Augustine a new un-
becoming a rhetorician and lawyer—a field in which he be-
derstanding and appreciation of scripture. Stoic ethics—in
came highly proficient. In later years, according to Philip
which Ambrose was an expert—likewise had lasting effect.
Schaff, he “enriched Latin literature with a store of beautiful,
Augustine was also fascinated by the use of music—chanting
original, and pregnant proverbial sayings” (History of the
and hymns—in Ambrose’s church.
Christian Church, vol. 3, Grand Rapids, 1950, p. 998).
Augustine was soon joined by Monica, several cousins,
At this time, Augustine became enamored of Manichae-
his brother, students, and his mistress and son. Thus sur-
ism, a sect that emphasized an essential dualism of good and
rounded by a congenial African phalanstery, Augustine and
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his associates were introduced to Plato via the teachings of
country estate north of Milan. Here he engaged in leisurely
Plotinus (205–270). Ambrose was well informed on Plotinus
debate and writing. Works of this period, such as De beata
and quoted at length Plotinus’s mystical interpretation of
vita (On the Happy Life) and De ordine (On Order), show
Platonic idealism. What clearly appealed most to Augustine
Augustine’s transition from philosophy toward theology.
was the possibility of combining Platonism with Christian
In Milan at Easter of 387, along with Adeodatus and
cosmology. Augustine saw the Platonic conception of God—
Alypius, Augustine was baptized by Ambrose. The decision
the One as the absolute, the all perfect, from whom emanates
was then made to go back to Africa, and the family journeyed
the nous (intelligence)—as a key to understanding the “God
to Ostia, planning to take a ship for Carthage. At Ostia, Au-
who was in Christ.”
gustine and Monica experienced in their discussions of eter-
From this beginning Augustine delved deeper into Pla-
nal wisdom moments of towering mystical exaltation. Short-
tonism, reading Plato in Latin translations. In Plato, Augus-
ly thereafter, in Ostia, Monica died.
tine found answers to questions on the origin and meaning
Returning to Rome, Augustine immersed himself in
of evil that had first drawn him to the sect of Mani. Later
writing. His De immortalitate animae (On the Immortality
in his life, Augustine transformed Plato into a near-
of the Soul) and De quantitate animae (On the Greatness of
Christian, combining the Logos doctrine with Platonic ideal-
the Soul) clearly reveal a philosopher who is incorporating
ism, the Gospel of John with the writings of Plotinus—in
a new biblically oriented theology into his understanding of
short, reconciling Greek wisdom with Hebrew-Christian
the Christian faith.
faith. A Platonic metaphysics was the result: the absolute
Good as center of all reality, transcending thought and con-
Once more in his native Africa, Augustine established
crete being.
a lay retreat, a monastery, for philosophical contemplation,
based at his small estate at Tagaste. He and his friends aimed
Very likely in pursuit of greater wealth and higher posi-
to be servants of God. Here he composed De vera religione
tion in the society of Milan, it was decided that Augustine’s
(On True Religion), which takes the Trinity as the founda-
mistress be dismissed and a marriage with a Milanese heiress
tion for true religion, a theme central to the majority of his
arranged. This separation was painful to Augustine, but,
works, and sees in Christianity the consummation of Plato’s
nonetheless, unable to restrain his sexual desires while wait-
ing for his intended bride, he took another mistress. He was
At this time, Augustine had no thought of becoming a
deeply tormented by these conflicts between his actions and
priest and carefully avoided those towns where priests were
ideals. He had been reading the Bible regularly, listening to
needed, but a chance visit to Hippo Regius (present-day An-
Ambrose, and discussing with friends the lives of those con-
naba, Algeria) in 391 resulted in his conscription. The aging
verted by scriptures. The number who had subsequently real-
bishop Valerius probably contrived the scene wherein Augus-
ized the need for celibacy particularly struck him.
tine was ordained under popular pressure. Such conscription
Events converged during August of 386. The stern ethi-
and summary ordination were common in the African
cal demands of Ambrose’s preaching joined with Monica’s
church at that time. Immediately after ordination, Augustine
unending pleading that Augustine become a Christian.
requested a leave of absence for intensive study of scripture.
These, along with an increasing sense of the Platonic idea of
He increasingly became a man of the Bible.
personal integrity, were linked with the message of the apos-
Refreshed from his retreat, Augustine took up his duties
tle Paul.
as parish priest, using Paul as guide and ideal rationale for
A crisis was at hand. “I was frantic, overcome by violent
ministry. He found in Paul his theological mentor. Valerius
anger with myself for not accepting your will and entering
granted permission for the establishment of a monastery,
into your covenant” (Confessions 8.8). Suddenly, as he stood
which became Augustine’s seminary for the training of future
in the garden, he heard the voice of a child chanting “Tolle
priests and bishops. Valerius did more—in violation of tradi-
lege” (“Take it and read”). Taking up the Bible, he read the
tion, which stipulated that when present the bishop always
first passage to strike his eye, Romans 13:13–14: “not in rev-
preached: he requested Augustine to deliver the sermon regu-
elling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantoness, not in
larly. This practice became a lifelong responsibility, wherein
quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord,
Augustine established himself as master homiletician.
Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s
By 392, Augustine was writing to Jerome (c. 347–420)
appetites.” Augustine underwent a dramatic conversion, a
in Bethlehem, asking for Latin translations of Greek texts.
profound life-transforming experience wherein sexual, will-
After early difficulties with Greek, Augustine had made him-
ful, and spiritual wrestling resulted in complete surrender
self only somewhat proficient; he knew scant Hebrew. The
to God.
same year he composed numerous biblical commentaries; on
Psalms, on the Sermon on the Mount, and on the letters of
UGUSTINE THE CHRISTIAN. Marriage plans were dismissed,
and Augustine now aimed to become a Christian philoso-
pher. To that end he took his coterie of friends and students,
In an unprecedented move, Augustine convinced
together with Adeodatus and Monica, to Cassiciacum, a
Valerius that the Catholic Church must bestir itself against
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Manichaeans, pagans, and irreligionists of all sorts. In 393,
ministrator but as teacher, interpreter, and defender of pure
the General Council of Africa assembled in Hippo. Augus-
doctrine. A bishop was responsible for determining ortho-
tine made his address, De fide et symbolo (On Faith and the
doxy, through use of the pronouncements of councils as well
Creed), a stirring call for catholic reform and evangelism.
as scripture, and for eradicating heresy. At no point does this
This was the beginning of regular councils in the African
issue come into clearer focus than in Augustine’s protracted
church, with Augustine as perennial lecturer.
and painful conflict with the Donatists.
Valerius, fearing that he might lose his priest to a vacant
Donatism provoked a major schism, almost exclusively
see, requested that Augustine be made his coadjutor, and Au-
affecting the African church, dividing it into warring camps.
gustine was elevated to episcopacy in 395. Valerius died the
The Donatists accused the Catholics of having a blemished
following year, leaving Augustine to rule as sole bishop of
priesthood and thus no true sacraments. Against this view,
Augustine lucidly argued that the efficacy of the sacraments
does not depend upon the worthiness of the priest. “My ori-
Two years after becoming a bishop, Augustine, now
gin is Christ, my root is Christ, my head is Christ,” he
forty-three, began his Confessiones, a treatise expressing grati-
claimed. “The seed of which I was born, is the word of God
tude to God in which he employed intimate autobiographi-
. . . I believe not in the minister by whom I was baptized,
cal recollections. He wrote with complete candor, revealing
but in Christ, who alone justifies the sinner and can forgive
to the world his agonizing struggle with himself, his sexual
guilt” (Against Petilianus 1.1.7).
nature, his self-will, and his pride. In this his aim was to give
God the glory for his redemption, to create a paean of praise
Augustine repudiated Donatist insistence that if Catho-
and thanksgiving, rejoicing in the grace of a God who had
lics were to join the Donatist church they must be rebap-
stooped so low to save so fallen a sinner.
tized. It was the universal church that Augustine proclaimed,
and baptism does not profit the recipient unless the sinner
Simultaneously, the Confessions was a theological work
returns to the true fold. The esse (being) of the church is not
in which Augustine presented his positions on the Incarna-
found in the personal character of the several Christians in
tion and the Trinity. In the three concluding books he prof-
it but in the union of the whole church with Christ. The
fered a study on memory, time, and Genesis, weaving the
church is not made up of saints as the Donatists held but of
work of the Holy Spirit into the act of creation. He devel-
a mixed body of saints and more or less repentant sinners.
oped in the Confessions the theological direction in which he
Augustine insisted that weak members must be patiently
continued to move, emphasizing divine predestination, per-
borne by the church—as in the parable of the wheat and
sonal religious experience through conscious conversion, and
tares. How can there be a full separation of saints and sinners
the direct relationship of the believer to God. Augustine’s
prior to the final judgment?
opus in praise of God, drawing on his spiritual journey,
After two major colloquies in which Augustine led the
stands as a masterpiece in the world’s devotional literature.
attack, stringent imperial laws were enacted against the
THEOLOGICAL CONTROVERSIES. Immediately after taking
Donatists, banishing their clergy from the country. In 415,
up his duties as priest in Hippo, Augustine lost no time in
they were forbidden to hold religious assemblies on pain of
launching his attack on his mortal enemies, the
death. Augustine advocated and applauded the use of imperi-
Manichaeans. He denounced Manichaean cosmology, the
al force to bring such heretics under control.
view of humanity and humanity’s sin, and especially the con-
cept of God as having human attributes and anatomical fea-
In his early work De libero arbitrio (On Free Will), writ-
tures. The error that Augustine repudiated repeatedly was the
ten between 388 and 396, Augustine endeavored to explain
attribution of evil to deity. The dualistic Manichaeans
the apparent contradiction of the existence of evil in the
claimed that good and evil had their origin in two distinct
world with the goodness of an omnipotent deity. Evil, Au-
deities. For Augustine, the one true God could not be
gustine assayed, was the result of Adam’s free will. God
blamed for the existence of evil.
would not permit humans to be completely free without giv-
ing them the potentiality of doing wrong or right. From
In 392, Augustine engaged in public debate with the
Adam’s sin all later humanity inherited the inclination to-
Manichaean bishop Fortunatus. Augustine, the consummate
ward evil, thus, all humans since Adam have been sinners.
debater, so demolished Fortunatus that the Manichaean did
Only God’s grace could overcome that propensity. No num-
not appear for the third day of the contest. Augustine fol-
ber of good works chosen freely by latter-day men and
lowed up his victory with a scathing polemic, Acta contra
women could atone for so grievous a fall. God proffered sal-
Fortunatum Manichaeum (Against Fortunatus the Mani-
vation to those he deigns to give grace, knowing that many
chaean), which demonstrated his implacable attitude toward
would refuse it. For humankind, the possibility of eternal
people and causes he thought heretical. He was soon the pro-
damnation was the price of moral freedom. Divine fore-
tagonist for the Catholic position.
knowledge does not obliterate human freedom. God simply
Augustine’s advocacy of consistent teachings in the
foresees the choice that free moral agents will make.
church is exemplified by his contributions to ecclesiology.
It was the brilliant Celtic monk Pelagius (d. 418) who
He defined the status and role of the bishop not only as ad-
confronted Augustine with the fundamental issue of the na-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

ture of humankind. Shocked by the gross immorality of cul-
ture was created for perfection, and humanity is competent
ture, Pelagius called for a righteous responsibility on the part
to achieve it. Augustine repeatedly assailed this theme which,
of Christian believers. He soon had an enthusiastic follow-
for him, struck at the heart of the Christian gospel. Augus-
ing. The Pelagian view was later advocated by Julian, bishop
tine’s numerous anti-Pelagian writings testify to the unalter-
of Eclanum, who became the chief theological adversary of
able position that man cannot redeem himself; man cannot
Augustine’s later years. Against this school Augustine direct-
depend upon himself for goodness. Whatever virtue exists in
ed his anti-Pelagian writings, a corpus of some fifteen works.
human nature is a gift from God.
The controversy with Pelagianism occasioned extended de-
It is interesting to note that Pelagius and Augustine
bate on questions of human freedom, responsibility, and hu-
never met face to face. In 410 Pelagius went to Hippo, hop-
manity’s relation to God.
ing to meet Augustine. Indeed, Pelagius had written in ad-
Pelagius claimed that what one does, “either laudable or
vance, but received a cautious reply. When the visit took
blameworthy,” depends upon the individual. Human nature
place, Augustine was conveniently absent. Augustine finally
has the inherent capacity for achievement. Augustine, in De
achieved the condemnation of Pelagius and Pelagianism in
Spiritu et littera (On the Spirit and the Letter) and later in De
431 at the Council of Ephesus.
natura et gratia (On Nature and Grace), insisted that grace
The sacraments. Attendant to Augustine’s view of grace
alone enables fallen humanity to achieve anything worthy.
is his concept of the church: the earthen vessel for sacramen-
Freedom is linked with God’s grace, not humanity’s nature.
tal grace. For him, the Catholic Church represents, exclusive-
God is not, however, in any sense responsible for sin,
ly, the genuine infusion of love by the Holy Spirit. Sacra-
nor does obedience to God’s will nullify human freedom. In
ments are the work of God, and only in the Catholic Church
De gratia et libero arbitrio (On Grace and Free Will) Augus-
do the sacraments attain their appropriate function; there
tine asserts, “No man . . . when he sins, can in his heart
alone can that attesting love be found.
blame God for it, but every man must impute the fault to
Sacraments are visible signs representing invisible spiri-
himself. . . . Nor does it detract from man’s own freedom
tual reality, outward symbols by which divine matters are ex-
of will when he performs any act in accordance with the will
hibited. Communication of the invisible divine reality, of in-
of God” (part 4).
visible divine power, takes place in the sacraments. The
In De praedestinatione sanctorum (On the Predestination
outward symbol, however, has no power to convey to the in-
of the Saints) and De dono perseverantiae (On the Gift of Per-
dividual the divine reality unless that person’s inner being is
severance), Augustine presents grace as independent of
sensitive to communion with God. To that end God’s grace
human desert. It is a sacred mystery why some are chosen
will assist.
for eternal life and others for eternal death. The mystery of
Augustine’s list of sacraments holds baptism and the
faith and righteousness is hidden in God’s eternal wisdom
Lord’s Supper as preeminent; others are ordination, mar-
and purpose (a position John Calvin would elaborate in the
riage, exorcism, and the giving of salt to the catechumen.
sixteenth century).
Without the sacraments there is no salvation. “The churches
“Know,” said Augustine in Contra Julianum, “that good
of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that with-
will, that good works, without the grace of God . . . can be
out baptism and partaking of the Supper of the Lord it is im-
granted to no one.” How much of this position on grace re-
possible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God
flects Augustine’s personal experience of God’s saving power?
or to salvation and everlasting life” (De peccatorum meritis et
Augustine had attempted to save himself, through elevated
remissione; On the Wages and Remission of Sins 1.34).
wrestlings with philosophy, and found it could not be done.
Trinity and Christology. Recognized even during his
Humanity cannot save itself. Salvation is God’s doing. In
lifetime as a doctor of the Latin church, Augustine clarified
gratitude the believer lives. The mind as God’s creation is en-
numerous points of doctrine. In fact, he established doctrine,
dowed with a natural capacity for remembering, understand-
not the least of which was his interpretation of the triune
ing, and willing. When these powers are rightly directed, the
deity. “I am compelled to pick my way through a hard and
self will recognize the true order of being, its relation to God
obscure subject,” he noted as he embarked on his De Trini-
in whose image it is. In the human fallen condition, sin holds
tate (On the Trinity), an opus written over a period of twenty
this natural capacity in abeyance but can never completely
years (399–419). Primarily in answer to the Arians, Augus-
destroy it. Grace awakens the dormant power in humans to
tine sorted out points at issue that would later become key
see God’s image in themselves.
factors in discussion at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
In his discussion of grace, Augustine frequently em-
While On the Trinity is unquestionably a definitive work in
ployed the symbol of the infant—a child in constant need
Christian theology, Augustine’s basic suppositions are made
of a parental deity. Pelagius scoffed at such notions; for him,
lucid in earlier writings, including his letters and sermons.
son, warrior, and mature adult were suitable emblems of the
To Nebridius he wrote, “Whatever is done by the Trinity
person in his relationship to God. Pelagius insisted, “Since
must be regarded as being done by the Father and by the Son
perfection is possible for man, it is obligatory”; human na-
and by the Holy Spirit together” (letter 10).
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

In his view of the Trinity, Augustine emphasized that
PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY. On August 24, 410, Alaric in-
there are not three Gods but one. These form a “divine unity
vaded Rome. Son of a great Visigoth family, Alaric regarded
of one and the same substance in an indivisible equality.” In
himself a defender of the empire and a faithful Christian. His
this Trinity “what is said of each is also said of all, on account
sack of Rome lasted only three days, and the city was by no
of the indivisible working of the one and same substance”
means destroyed, nor was it the end of the Western Empire.
(Trinity 1.4.7, 1.12.25). He established a metaphysical
The psychological effect, however, was horrendous. “If
ground for the Christian’s threefold experience of God. In
Rome can perish, what can be safe?” lamented Jerome. Deci-
the Father, the believer knows God as source of being; in
siveness and dependability in government were in serious
Christ, the redeemer; and in the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier.
question. It was in response to the charge that abandonment
of the ancient Roman deities and widespread acceptance of
Revelation was Augustine’s starting point. The first part
Christianity had brought about the fall that Augustine, in
of On the Trinity considers the nature of faith. Citing scrip-
413–427, produced De civitate Dei (City of God). His im-
ture (especially passages falsely interpreted by the Arians—
mediate assertion was that rather than bringing down the city
for example, John 14:28, John 10:30, Mark 13:32), he proves
the Christians had saved it from total ruin. The work pro-
the deity of the Son and his relation to the Father. Augustine
ceeds to render his brilliant critique of Greco-Roman cul-
argues at length that the Son is in no way subordinate to the
ture, drawing illustrative material from the greatest historians
Father. Previously, Tertullian and Origen had insisted on
and writers. Augustine had enormous respect for and loyalty
subordination of the Son and Holy Spirit to the Father. For
to that culture yet he believed it to be morally rotten, and
Augustine, there “is so great an equality in that Trinity that
he goes to considerable lengths to point out degradation of
not only the Father is not greater than the Son, as regards
Roman standards of conduct, life patterns, and sexual behav-
divinity, but neither are the Father and the Son greater than
ior. He pictures gross licentiousness and obscenities pertain-
the Holy Spirit” (Trinity 8). The Holy Spirit proceeds from
ing to Liber and other deities. By contrast, he depicts the
Father and Son and enjoys the same essential nature. Rela-
health, vigor, and cleanliness of the Christian life. Thus, as
tions between the persons of the Trinity are not of degree
the Pax Romana deteriorated, Augustine became spokesman
or order but of causality. The Father is “the beginning of
for a new, fresh, Christian social order.
the whole divinity. . . . He therefore who proceeds from
the Father and the Son is referred back to Him from whom
MORALITY AND ETHICS. City of God best illustrates a facet
the Son was born.” The Holy Spirit is the unifying principle
of Augustine seldom recognized: he was a moral rigorist who
in the godhead, “a certain unutterable communion of Father
permitted nothing to stand in the way of either individual
and Son.” Every theophany is thus a work of the three, even
or group righteousness. Neither personal relationships nor
though in such divine manifestations the appearance is fre-
individual aspirations should be permitted to thwart the
quently that of only one of the persons. This is because of
doing of God’s will. Sinful pleasures were intolerable. It was
the limitations of the “bodily creature” necessary for a the-
in part reaction to his profligate past that prompted the com-
ophany. One cannot repeat the words Father, Son, Holy
plete turnabout in which he became the seer of an ethical,
Spirit simultaneously and without an interval. Accordingly
morally upright deity.
“both each are in each, and all in each, and each in all, and
all in all, and all are one.”
Scrupulous observance of the ethical code was required
of Augustine’s people, especially his clergy. On one occasion,
When speaking of the Trinity, Augustine’s Latin term
certain members of Augustine’s monastery had not complied
for what the Greeks called hupostasis is persona (“person”),
with the vow of poverty and at death willed large estates to
but he frankly admits the inadequacy of any appellation. Ul-
their families. Augustine reacted swiftly and sternly, requir-
timately the key to knowing God—the Trinity—is love, for
ing that all draw up statements of their holdings prior to
love itself implies a trinity “he that loves, and that which is
being admitted to the order. In his monastery, Augustine es-
loved, and love itself” (Trinity 8.10.14). In the final analysis,
tablished a way of life that was to become the prototype for
Augustine himself, after years of contemplation, admits that
the cenobite. It is claimed that his own widowed sister, ab-
the human mind may behold the Trinity “only in an enig-
bess of the convent he established in Hippo, was never per-
ma.” Only when liberated from the restrictions of physical
mitted to converse with her brother save in the presence of
being will humans be able to comprehend completely “why
a third party. Augustine’s moralism must be seen in the con-
the Holy Spirit is not the Son, although He proceeds from
text of his ideal of blessedness. It was said of him, “Everyone
the Father” (Trinity 15.24.45).
who lives with him, lives the life described in the Acts of the
” (sermon 356).
Augustine declared that the whole of doctrine might be
summed up as service to God through faith, hope, and love.
FINAL YEARS. On September 26, 426, Augustine named his
This principle underlies his work the Enchiridion. Taking the
successor, Eraclius, and arranged for the latter to assume re-
Lord’s Prayer as starting point, he develops the theme of
sponsibility for the practical affairs of the diocese. At that
Christ as mediator and considers the Incarnation as manifes-
time Bishop Possidius agreed to write a biography of Augus-
tation of God’s saving grace. He explicates the Apostles’
tine. His biography captures the spirit of the man Augustine.
Creed and with rare sensitivity assesses the resurrection.
He tells of daily life in the monastery, stressing the simplicity
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

of the monks’ lives, and of Augustine’s concern for the poor.
Works by Augustine
Augustine the eminent theologian is barely visible.
For the serious student, the Latin works are indispensable. A com-
plete collection appears in Patrologia Latina, edited by J.-P.
May of 429 saw the army of Genseric’s Vandals cross
Migne, vols. 32–47 (Paris, 1841–1842). In spite of errors
from Spain and march through Mauritania, spreading havoc
and omissions, Migne’s edition remains an essential source,
and desolation. Roman rule in Africa collapsed. Augustine
but it should be studied along with Palémon Glorieux’s Pour
spent these concluding years comforting and reassuring his
revaloriser Migne: Tables rectificatives (Lille, 1952). Augus-
people. On the Predestination of the Saints and On the Gift
tine’s collected works can also be found in Corpus Scriptorum
of Perseverance, written 428–429, reflect the message that
Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vols. 12, 25, 28, 33–34, 36, 40–
God alone would provide faith and courage for his elect. This
44, 51–53, 57–58, 60, 63, 74, 77, and 84–85 (Vienna,
became a doctrine of survival.
1866–1876), which is the product of good critical schol-
In 426 Augustine began to correct and catalog his vast
literary output in his Retractiones. His wish, and that of his
Splendid translations into modern English, reflecting superior
contemporary scholarship, can be found in “The Library of
fellow bishops, was that whatever befell Hippo, Augustine’s
Christian Classics,” edited by John Baillie and others, vols.
library was to be preserved. Fortunately for posterity, it was.
6–8 (Philadelphia, 1953–1958); “The Fathers of the
As Vandals were besieging Hippo, Augustine was dying,
Church,” edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari, vols. 1–15, 17–18,
insisting—perhaps for the first time—that he be alone; he
and 35 (New York, 1947–1963); and “Ancient Christian
read, in these final hours, the penitential psalms hung on the
Writers,” edited by Johannes Quasten and Walter J. Burg-
walls of his room. On August 28, 430, while prayers were
hardt, vols. 2, 9, 15, 22, and 35 (Westminster, Md., 1960–).
The several texts are strengthened in their overall usefulness
being offered in the churches of Hippo, Augustine died. It
by an impressive amount of supportive background data, co-
was designated his day in the lexicon of Roman Catholic
pious explanatory notes, full bibliographies, and indexes.
Works about Augustine
Augustine’s place in Western history is not to be con-
Classic works by eminent scholars such as Prosper Alfaric, Adolf
tested. He was a man of science (in spite of his deprecation
von Harnack, and Otto Scheel continue to be mandatory
of scientific knowledge) whose power to scrutinize nature
reading for the thoughtful student. Among the most recent
was remarkable. He engaged in an unrelenting quest for
publications, Karl Adam’s Die geistige Entwicklung des heili-
knowledge that rendered him a keen observer of human na-
gen Augustinus (Augsburg, 1931) is a superb work with bibli-
ture, and he probed the deep recesses of the human soul. Au-
ographical references that are especially helpful. A Compan-
gustine set the compass for much of the Western Christian
ion to the Study of St. Augustine, edited by Roy W.
culture that followed. His interpretation of Plato dominated
Battenhouse (New York, 1955), presents a series of scholarly
most of Christian thought in the West until the rediscovery
essays, especially helpful as broad, introductory works. Ger-
of Aristotle in the thirteenth century. Humanists of the Re-
ald Bonner’s St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies
(London, 1963) provides a survey of the enormous literary
naissance relied upon Augustine. His impress on Reforma-
output of Augustine.
tion leaders is great. Luther followed his conception of grace.
A reading of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion re-
Possidius’s fifth-century Sancti Augustini vita scripta a Possidio
veals that second to the Bible, Augustine is the most fre-
episcopo (Kiel, 1832) is the original biography by one who
quently quoted source. In the eighteenth century, John Wes-
stood in awe of his subject. Filled with human interest sto-
ries, it nonetheless should not be missed. Peter Brown’s Au-
ley studied Augustine diligently, even when he came to differ
gustine of Hippo (London, 1967) is unquestionably the best
strongly with him. Indeed, even those who most heartily re-
biography available. His Religion and Society in the Age of
ject Augustine’s anthropology have found it necessary to
Saint Augustine (London, 1972) is of equally fine scholarship
come to terms with him. Pietistic, sentimental studies of Au-
and is indispensable for an understanding of the period. My
gustine during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
own Augustine: His Life and Thought (Atlanta, 1980) is a live-
are being replaced with frank appreciation not only for his
ly biography, portraying Augustine against the backdrop of
intellectual and spiritual preeminence but also for his pro-
the tumultuous age in which he lived. Frederik van der
found human qualities.
Meer’s Augustine the Bishop (London, 1961) is an interpreta-
tion of Augustine’s episcopate and the cultural milieu.
SEE ALSO Arianism; Autobiography; Donatism; Free Will
Étienne Gilson’s The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine (New
and Predestination, article on Christian Concepts; Grace;
York, 1960) is an outstanding study of the overall thought
Manichaeism; Merit, article on Christian Concepts; Neopla-
of Augustine. A wide range of scholarly articles can be found
tonism; Pelagianism; Pelagius; Plotinus; Skeptics and Skep-
in Augustine: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert
A. Markus (Garden City, N. Y., 1972). Ragnar Holte’s Béat-
itudes et sagesse: S. Augustin et le problème de la fin de l’homme

dans la philosophie ancienne (Paris, 1962) concentrates on
Listing all the worthy studies of Augustine would be difficult, if
Augustine as philosopher. John Burnaby’s Amor Dei: A Study
not impossible. The student of Augustine is apt to be over-
of the Religion of St. Augustine (London, 1938) is outstand-
come by the sheer enormity of the material available. Only
ing, especially in interpreting Augustine’s theological under-
a small selection follows.
standing of love. Pierre Courcelle’s Recherches sur les Confes-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

siones de S. Augustin (Paris, 1950) provides one of the best
into decay and built numerous new ones. He revitalized old
interpretations of the Confessions.
cult forms and priesthoods, such as the lares compitales and
Henri Irénée Marrou’s St. Augustine and His Influence through the
the Fratres Arvales, and instituted new ones, such as Pax Au-
Ages (New York, 1957), Karl Jaspers’s Plato and Augustine
gusta and the Seviri Augustales. He carefully steered public
(New York, 1962), and Eugene TeSelle’s Augustine the Theo-
approval of his person and policies into religious channels.
logian (New York, 1970) are excellent studies of various as-
Particularly in the Greek provinces of the East, he permitted
pects of Augustine’s philosophy and theology. Robert
himself to be worshiped as a god. Roman state cult celebrated
Meagher’s An Introduction to Augustine (New York, 1978)
the divine element and creative force that resided in Augus-
provides new translations of important passages that are clues
tus through the cult of the Genius Augusti. Religious reform
to fresh interpretations of Augustine’s spiritual life.
and innovation were linked to programs of social and moral
Finally, Tarsicius J. van Bavel’s Répertoire bibliographique de Saint
reform, aimed at restoring traditional Roman values of ser-
Augustin, 1950–1960 (Steenbrugis, Netherlands, 1963) is a
vice and piety toward country, family, and the gods.
useful survey of recent critical studies.
The Augustan program tapped the wellsprings of popu-
lar piety in an age of religious revival. It mobilized in its ser-
vice literary and artistic talent of enduring genius: Vergil’s
Aeneid, Horace’s Roman Odes and Carmen saeculare, Livy’s
AUGUSTUS (63 BCE–14 CE), Roman emperor. Born
history of Rome, and the iconography of the Altar of Augus-
Gaius Octavius, he was the grandnephew of Julius Caesar.
tan Peace (the Ara Pacis) at Rome all celebrated, each in its
Adopted by Caesar, and made his chief heir at nineteen, Oc-
own medium, the message that the gods themselves had
tavius built upon Caesar’s name, charisma, military success,
willed the peace-bringing and benevolent rule of Rome and
political connections, and fortune. Calculating, opportunis-
Augustus over the entire human race.
tic, an unfailingly shrewd judge of men and circumstances,
he emerged in 31 BCE from thirteen years of political chaos
and civil war triumphant over Mark Antony and sole master
The best-balanced introduction to Augustus and his achievement
of the Roman world.
is H. H. Scullard’s study From the Gracchi to Nero, 5th ed.
(London, 1983), which includes extensive bibliographical
Exhausted by the effects of civil war and seeking only
notes. Recent but somewhat superficial accounts of Roman
peace and a return of order and prosperity, Roman citizens
religion in the age of Augustus include Continuity and
and provincial subjects alike hailed Octavius as a savior sent
Change in Roman Religion, by J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz (Ox-
by divine Providence. He did not fall short of their expecta-
ford, 1979), pp. 55–100, and Religion and Statecraft among
tions. To mark the beginning of a new order, he assumed
the Romans, by Alan Wardman (London, 1982), pp. 63–79.
the name Augustus in 27 BCE. In a series of gradual steps, he
For interpretative studies of Augustus’s religious policy with-
restructured the Roman political system. While preserving
in the context of traditional Roman religion, see my Princeps
the forms of republican government, he in effect established
a Diis Electus: The Divine Election of the Emperor as a Political
a monarchy, concentrating in his own hands all real power,
Concept at Rome (Rome, 1977), pp. 121–130, 189–219, and
political, military, financial, and legal. This power was used
my following contributions to Aufstieg und Niedergang der
römischen Welt
, vol. 2.17.2, (Berlin and New York, 1981):
with great and enduring success to reform the administration
“The Cult of Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology,”
of the provinces, the finances of the Roman state, and every
pp. 56–69; “The Theology of Victory at Rome,”
aspect of military and civil life. In so doing he laid the basis
pp. 804–825; and “The Cult of Virtues and Roman Imperial
for two centuries of unparalleled peace and prosperity in
Ideology,” pp. 884–889.
western Europe and throughout the Mediterranean world.
The golden age of Rome’s empire, “the period in the history
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pp. 334–363. Berkeley, 1990.
stressed liberation from individual karma and the attainment
Radke, Gerhard. “Augustus und das göttliche.” In Antike und Un-
of supernatural powers by awakening the chakras, the spiritu-
iversalgeschichte. Festschrift Hans Erich Stier, edited by Rein-
al centers inside the body. Later, Asahara’s teaching also em-
hardt Stiehl and Gustav Adolf Lehmann, pp. 257–279.
phasized the goal of attaining those powers by yogic practice.
Münster, 1972.
Asahara opened a yoga school in Tokyo in 1983. In ei-
Speyer, Wolfgang. Das Verhältnis des Augustus zur Religion. Berlin
ther 1984 or 1986 he named his circle Aum Shinsen no Kai
and New York, 1986.
(Aum circle of immortals); it is certain that he established the
Syme, Ronald. The Roman Revolution. Oxford, 1939.
Aum Corporation in 1984. He frequently appeared in New
Whitehorne, John E. G. “The Divine Augustus as Theos Kaisar
Age magazines during this period, and he published books
and Theos Sebastos.” Analecta papyrologica 3 (1991): 19–26.
with such titles as The Secret Method to Develop Psychic Pow-
Zanker, Paul. The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. Translat-
ers (1986) and Beyond Life and Death (1986). In 1986, Asa-
ed by Alan Shapiro. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1988.
hara claimed that he had attained “ultimate enlightenment”
after meditating in the Himalayas. In 1987, Asahara re-
Revised Bibliography
named his group Aum Shinrikyo¯ and transformed his yoga
school into a religious body. At the same time he published
a book titled Initiation (1987), in which he invited people
to become members.
In 1989 the Tokyo metropolitan government recog-
nized Aum Shinrikyo¯ as a religious corporation, which gave
¯ , or “Aum Sect of Truth,” is a new
it tax-exempt status and legal protection. By this time Aum
religious movement based on Buddhism and other Eastern
was facing attacks from those who saw it as a dangerous
traditions, including Hinduism and Daoism. The movement
group that recruited minors as monks and stole money from
was founded by Asahara Sho¯ko¯, also known as Matsumoto
believers. In November 1989, with criticism mounting, Asa-
Chizuo (b. 1955), who claims to have attained ultimate en-
hara secretly ordered his disciples to kill not only the anti-
lightenment. Although Aum Shinrikyo¯ presents itself as a
Aum lawyer of families whose children were Aum members,
Buddhist sect, its main deity is S´iva. This is unusual even in
but also the lawyer’s wife and baby boy.
the eclectic and syncretic Japanese religious tradition. Com-
pared to other new religious movements in the main line, at
Asahara had a political ambition to become elected to
its height Aum was a small group, with only one thousand
the Japanese diet, and in February 1990 Asahara and twenty-
shukke (full-time members who had renounced the world)
four of his followers stood for election in the general election.
and ten thousand zaike (lay members) in Japan, and more
Their resounding political defeat was a humiliation for both
than twenty thousand members in Russia. As of early 2004,
Asahara and Aum Shinrikyo¯. Aum Shinrikyo¯ then built facil-
twelve Aum members (including Asahara) had received
ities in rural Yamanashi and Kumamoto prefectures, and in
death sentences because of the group’s criminal and terrorist
both sites the group provoked strong opposition, causing As-
activities perpetrated in the name of salvation. Aum
ahara’s antipathy toward Japanese society to intensify.
Shinrikyo¯ proved to the world how a new religious move-
Asahara began publishing books with such titles as
ment could be a real threat and danger to the contemporary
Doomsday (1989) and The Truth of the Destruction of Hu-
society. In 2001, under the leadership of Jo¯yu¯ Fumihiro (b.
manity (1991) that announced a coming armageddon caused
1962), the group changed its name to Aleph. Reeling from
by the use of weapons of mass destruction. His apocalyptic
the legal problems and poor public relations resulting from
eschatological vision intensified during these years, and his
the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the sect was
disciples worked to facilitate his prophecies. They secretly
radically reformed.
pursued research into biological weapons and constructed a
Asahara Sho¯ko¯, who suffered from severe eye problems
laboratory in Aum’s Yamanashi compound. In 1990 Aum
as a child, entered an elementary school and high school for
tried to produce poison gas in the Kumamoto compound,
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

and in 1993 Asahara secretly ordered his disciples to produce
more years. Although many intellectuals pointed out that
one thousand machine guns and conduct research on devel-
Aleph was not capable of mass murder, there was almost no
oping chemical weapons. At the same time, he complained
public objection to the extension of the surveillance over the
that Aum was being persecuted by the Japanese government
and American troops, and he claimed that they themselves
AUM PRACTICES AND WORLDVIEW. In Japan, new religious
had suffered from nerve gas attacks.
movements have developed during four distinct periods. The
first such development occurred in the waning days of the
ARIN GAS ATTACKS. In June 1994 Aum members released
sarin gas in Matsumoto, killing 7 and injuring 144. On
Tokugawa regime in the late nineteenth century; the second
March 20, 1995, Aum agents released sarin gas on several
occurred in the Taisho period of the early 1900s; and the
Tokyo subway trains, killing 12 people and injuring 3,796.
third was the period following Japan’s defeat in World War
Two days later several thousand police officers began system-
II. Aum Shinrikyo¯ and Agonshu¯ were products of the fourth
atic raids on Aum facilities. On May 16 Asahara was found
boom of new religious movements, which occurred in the
hiding in one of the Aum facilities and was arrested. More
1970s. The religious movements of the first and the third pe-
than one hundred Aum members were arrested that year.
riods stressed this-worldly merits and popular ethics in daily
The details of the criminal activities of this religious organi-
life. However, the movements that arose during the second
zation were revealed in the subsequent trials.
and the fourth periods emphasized manipulation of the spir-
its and personal asceticism for self-cultivation. After the stu-
Asahara is accused of masterminding seventeen crimes
dent revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s, young
in which at least twenty-six people were killed and more than
people experienced a spiritual void and disorientation. New
five thousand were injured. The crimes that Asahara and his
religious movement like Aum Shinrikyo¯ gave some of them
followers committed fall into the following categories: mur-
a purpose and meaning in life. The average age of Aum’s
der of its own members (thirty-three Aum members are miss-
members was around thirty, which was young compared
ing); murder of its enemies; and indiscriminate mass murder
with other new religious movements.
using nerve gas. Aum members also produced and used ille-
The worldview of Aum Shinrikyo¯ and Aleph is a mix-
gal drugs like LSD, and they manufactured machine guns.
ture of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other traditions. Accord-
On February 27, 2004, Asahara was convicted and received
ing to Aum teachings, human history is devolutionary. Peo-
a death sentence from the Tokyo District Court. His lawyers,
ple are degenerating from their true selves in maha¯nirva¯na,
who claimed Asahara’s innocence and blamed his disciples,
and they are fallen and stuck in the mud of suffering. To be
appealed to the upper court just before their resignation. It
born in this world means that one has bad karma. Every liv-
will take a number of years before the Japanese Supreme
ing being transmigrates up and down through the six worlds
Court passes the final sentence on him. Aleph announced its
of being.
deep regret to the victims and vowed to compensate them
on the occasion of Asahara’s death sentence.
Asahara espoused a kind of eschatology from the start.
In 1987 he predicted that Japan would arm itself again in
In October 1995 the Tokyo District Court ordered
1993 and that there would be a nuclear war between 1999
Aum Shinrikyo¯ to disband as a religious corporation because
and 2003 unless Aum Shinrikyo¯ built two branch offices in
of the danger it posed to the public. Members of the govern-
each country in the world. Then, in 1989, Asahara predicted
ment argued whether or not it was proper to apply existing
that the United States president and the secretary general of
antisubversive activities laws to Aum Shinrikyo¯. In January
the Soviet Union would start a war that would put an end
1997 they decided that this was not necessary because most
to the world. He warned his disciples that more than one-
of the executive members involved in the sarin incidents in
fourth of humankind would die unless Aum Shinrikyo¯ pro-
Matsumoto and Tokyo had been arrested, eliminating any
duced accomplished practitioners.
clear and present danger.
The ultimate purposes of Aum Shinrikyo¯ were the wor-
In 1999 there were major changes in Aum Shinrikyo¯.
ship of S´iva as the principal god and the saving of every living
The organization finally admitted its criminal responsibility,
being from sam:sa¯ra based on ancient yoga, original Bud-
asked for forgiveness, and promised to compensate victims
dhism, and Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism under the guidance of peo-
and bereaved families. Two new so-called Aum laws were
ple who understand and execute S´iva’s will. There are three
passed by the national diet. They restrict groups that have
kinds of salvation: to free people from disease, to bring
committed indiscriminate mass murder and allow the confis-
worldly happiness to people, and to lead people to satori and
cation of the group’s property to compensate victims.
gedatsu, that is, “self-realization” and “enlightenment,” as
At the end of 1999 Jo¯yu¯ Fumihiro was released from
Aum translated these terms into English. The first two kinds
prison. In January 2001, Aum Shinrikyo¯ changed its name
of salvation are this-worldly benefits typical of new religious
to Aleph. As the leader of Aleph, Jo¯yu¯ began trying to reform
movement in Japan. The third is an otherworldly ideal that
the organization’s structure and doctrine. The Japanese gov-
is consistent with traditional Buddhism.
ernment decided to keep Aleph under surveillance for three
Aum Shinrikyo¯ promoted a plan to transform Japan
years, but in 2003 the surveillance was extended for three
into Shambhala, a society based on truth, in which people
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

realize themselves according to the truth, understood as the
and New York, 2001), a good collection of papers and infor-
great will of Asahara and S´iva. Later, Aum Shinrikyo¯ tried
mative essays on reactions to the Aum affair; Susumu Shima-
to make the whole world into Shambhala. This means that
zono, Gendai shu¯kyo¯ no kano¯sei (Possibility of contemporary
Aum Shinrikyo¯ aimed to put the world under its rule.
religions; Tokyo, 1997), a critical study of the doctrine of sal-
vational violence in Aum Shinrikyo¯; Shimada Hiromi,
Aum’s system of practice was also a mixture of Bud-
Oumu: Naze shu¯kyo¯ wa terorizumu wo undanoka? (Aum:
dhism and Yoga philosophy. On the Buddhist side, there was
Why did a religion turn to terrorism? Tokyo, 2001), an in-
the noble eightfold path, the six perfections of wisdom
depth study of Aum and the author’s personal reflections on
(prajña¯pa¯ramita¯s), and other ideas and practices. On the
the future of religious studies; and Robert Lifton, Destroying
Yoga side, there was raja, kun:d:alin¯ı, jña¯na, Maha¯ya¯na, and
the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo¯, Apocalyptic Violence, and
astral and causal yoga. In addition to these practices based
the New Global Terrorism (New York, 1999), a psychologi-
cally informed reflection on the Aum affair, including inter-
on self-power, there were also initiations that relied on other-
views with former members, which are rare in English-
power. Initiations like shakt¯ıpat were methods to increase
language materials.
one’s spiritual ability through the guru¯’s charisma or some
other source of spiritual power.
It was believed that Aum’s superior members removed
the bad karma of inferior members by violence or ill treat-
ment. Such behavior was interpreted by Aum as an act of
AUROBINDO GHOSE (1872–1950), yogin, nation-
compassion, because it was a means of eliminating the bad
alist, poet, critic, thinker, spiritual leader of India. Born in
karma of members. This idea was taken to extremes, howev-
Calcutta (August 15, 1872), Aurobindo Ghose was educated
er, with the poa (phowa) in Aum Shinrikyo¯’s sense. The Ti-
in England from the age of seven to age twenty-one at the
betan word phowa refers to the transference of the dead soul
insistence of his father, Dr. Krishnadhan Ghose, who had
to a higher realm. However, Asahara claimed that a deliber-
been one of the first Indians educated in England. Having
ate act of murder by a superior being was also a case of poa.
grown up ignorant of Indian culture and religion, Aurobindo
To be identical with Asahara (meaning “the cloning of the
neither discovered nor appreciated Indian languages, litera-
guru¯”) was also interpreted as liberation and salvation for As-
ture, or history until he returned to India after college, in
ahara’s disciples because Asahara was considered the ultimate
1893. He served for a time as a teacher of French and English
enlightened one and the embodiment of the true self.
and as vice principal and acting principal of Baroda College.
CONCLUSION. Aum Shinrikyo¯ is an ultimate example of a
In 1906 Aurobindo joined the political movement of Indian
new religious movement that turns violent. Aum’s violent
resistance to British colonial rule and became a prominent
acts have had an impact on religion and politics around the
voice of the Nationalist party, arguing for complete indepen-
world, and they have led to legislation against dangerous
dence from Britain. Through his articles in periodicals such
groups in a number of countries, especially in Japan and
as Bande Mataram, Aurobindo nourished a revolutionary
France. For a number of secular people the Aum incident
consciousness among Indians by addressing the issues of
was a serious disappointment and caused disbelief toward re-
swara¯j and swade´si (both centered on self-rule) and boycott.
ligion in general. And it also raised people’s awareness toward
He was open to the use of armed revolt as well as nonviolent
deviant religious movements in various countries, and Japa-
means for achieving independence. In this he was flexible
nese people actually welcomed and supported the arrest of
and pragmatic: the means of social change were selected on
the founders of such groups as Life Space and Ho¯-no-hana
the basis of circumstances, not adherence to an absolute ethi-
Sanpo¯gyo¯ in 2000. Because of its use of a chemical weapon
cal principle.
(one of the weapons of mass destruction), Aum Shinrikyo¯
In 1908 Aurobindo was arrested in connection with an
also indicated that the activities of a new religious movement
unsuccessful bombing episode against a British district judge.
could be a matter of public safety. The sect created an apoca-
Although he was ultimately acquitted, he spent a year in the
lyptic connection between religion and violence (as well as
Alipore jail during the investigation and trial. During this
terrorism) that foreshadowed the tragedy of September 11,
imprisonment his interest in yoga deepened. In 1910, fol-
lowing “a sudden command from above,” Aurobindo moved
to French India. He spent the next forty years of his life in
SEE ALSO New Religious Movements, overview article, arti-
Pondicherry, formulating his vision of spiritual evolution
cle on New Religious Movements in Japan.
and integral Yoga, and refusing to pursue direct involvement
in political events.
“Spiritual evolution,” or the evolution of consciousness,
Several books can be recommended: Ian Reader, Religious Violence
in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo¯ (Rich-
is the central framework for understanding Aurobindo’s
mond, U.K., 2000), one of the most reliable and critical re-
thought. Consciousness is a rich and complex term for Auro-
views of the Aum affair; Robert J. Kisala and Mark R. Mul-
bindo. Consciousness is inherent in all things, in seemingly
lins, eds., Religion and Social Crisis in Japan: Understanding
inert matter as well as plant, animal, human, and suprahu-
Japanese Society through the Aum Affair (Houndmills, UK,
man life. It participates in the various levels of being in vari-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

ous ways. Sachchida¯nanda, literally the highest level of
1972–1976). A useful overview of Aurobindo’s major works
“being, consciousness, and bliss,” is also known as the Abso-
can be found in Six Pillars: An Introduction to the Major
lute. The Supermind mediates sachchida¯nanda to the multi-
Works of Sri Aurobindo, edited by Robert A. McDermott
plicity of the world. The Overmind serves as delegate of the
(Chambersburg, Pa., 1974). Kees W. Bolle relates Aurobin-
Supermind. Intuitive Mind is a kind of consciousness of the
do’s thought, which evidences both Western and Eastern in-
heart that discerns the truth in momentary flashes rather
fluences, to the Tantric tradition, in The Persistence of Reli-
gion: An Essay on Tantrism and Sri Aurobindo’s Philosophy

than in a comprehensive grasp. Illumined Mind communi-
(Leiden, 1965). A lucid analysis of Aurobindo’s philosophy
cates consciousness by vision, Higher Mind through concep-
of the world is found in Beatrice Bruteau’s Worthy Is the
tual thought. Mind generally integrates reality through cog-
World: The Hindu Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo (Rutherford,
nitive, intellectual, and mental perceptions rather than
N.J., 1976). My The Quest for Political and Spiritual Libera-
through direct vision, yet mind is also open to the higher le-
tion: A Study in the Thought of Sri Aurobindo Ghose (Cran-
vels of consciousness, for it is basically oriented to Super-
bury, N.J., 1976) addresses the relationship between Auro-
mind, in which it participates in a derivative way. The Psyche
bindo’s political (1905–1910) and spiritual (1910–1950)
is the conscious form of the soul that makes possible the evo-
commitments and writings.
lution from ignorance to light. Life is cosmic energy through
New Sources
which the divine is received and made manifest. Matter, the
Heehs, Peter. Sri Aurobindo, A Brief Biography. Delhi; New York,
lowest level in Aurobindo’s hierarchy of consciousness mani-
festation, is not reducible to mere material substance, but is
Kluback, William. Sri Aurobindo Ghose: The Dweller in the Lands
an expression of sachchida¯nanda in diminished form.
of Silence. New York, 2001.
The hierarchical view of consciousness or spirit must
Madhusudan Reddy, V. Seven Studies in Sri Aurobindo. Hyder-
also be seen in a process perspective in which the supreme
abad, India, 1989.
is seen as continuously being and becoming manifest in these
McLaughlin, Michael T. Knowledge, Consciousness and Religious
many levels of being. Consciousness liberates itself through
Conversion in Lonergan and Aurobindo. Rome, 2003.
an inner law that directs evolution. Spiritual evolution is also
Nandakumar, Prema. Sri Aurobindo, A Critical Untroduction.
seen as a series of ascents from material, physical existence
New Delhi, 1988.
up to supramental existence, in which we are able to reach
Umar, M. G. Sri Aurobindo, Thinker and the Yogi of the Future.
or true being and fulfillment.
Pondicherry, 2001.
Yoga is a means by which this evolutionary thrust can
Van Vrekhem, Georges. Patterns of the Present: From the Perspec-
be consciously assisted. Whereas evolution proceeds slowly
tive of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. New Delhi, 2002.
and indirectly, yoga functions more quickly and directly.
Vrinte, Joseph. The Perennial Quest for a Psychology with a Soul:
Evolution seeks the divine through nature, while yoga reach-
An Inquiry into the Relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s Metaphysical
es out for the divine as transcendent to nature.
Yoga Psychology in the Context of Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychol-
. Delhi, 2002.
Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga is so named because it seeks
to incorporate the essence and processes of the old yogas,
blending their methods and fruits into one system. It is inte-
Revised Bibliography
gral also insofar as it seeks an integral and total change of
consciousness and nature, not for the individual alone but
for all of humanity and the entire cosmos. Unlike some yogas
of the past, Integral Yoga does not seek release from the cycle
This entry consists of the following articles:
of birth and death but seeks a transformation of life and exis-
tence, by, for, and through the divine. In most yogas, ascent
to the divine is emphasized. In Integral Yoga, ascent to the
divine is but the first step; the real goal is descent of the new
consciousness that has been attained by the ascent.
Disciples, admirers, and advocates of Aurobindo’s vi-
sion of spiritual evolution and system of Integral Yoga gather
in communities throughout the world. Best known are those

who have begun construction of Auroville, a city near Pondi-
cherry designed to embody Aurobindo’s ideal for a trans-
The opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games began
formed humanity, and the ashram at Pondicherry where
at dusk on September 15, 2000, with a fanfare of charging
Aurobindo himelf lived for forty years.
Aussie stockmen, dignitaries, flags, and anthems. Then the
floor of the huge stadium was cleared.
The sound of gulls signaled sea’s edge. A golden-haired
The complete works of Aurobindo are available in the “Sri Auro-
girl in pink beach dress skipped into the stadium, placed a
bindo Birth Centenary Library,” 30 vols. (Pondicherry,
beach towel down on the sand, and laid back. The Australian
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

television commentator explained: “The opening ceremony
six hundred Indigenous nations. Over two hundred Aborigi-
tonight is designed to encapsulate the evolution of Australia
nal groups representing over 250,000 Indigenous Austra-
from its ancient Indigenous origins to a modern twenty-first
lians. This is an awakening.”
century society. A wide brown land linked inextricably to the
Indigenous peoples’ roots on the continent reach back
sea. It is now, and always has been, a land of dreams.”
at least forty to sixty thousand years and possibly longer. The
Giant marine creatures floated into the stadium. Sud-
British active colonization of the continent dates back only
denly and dramatically the “dream girl” rose, swimming her
to 1788. Though the categories and numbers stated by
way to the surface many meters above the stadium floor. Sta-
Dingo might be contested in their precise detail by a variety
dium Australia was transformed into an ocean in which a
of experts, the sentiment he expressed is important. There
deep-sea choreography was performed against the back-
is no single Indigenous religion in Australia. There are many.
ground of a rich symphonic score. The giant screen declared
There is no single Australian Indigenous experience. There
this segment of the opening ceremony to be:
are many.
“Réve des profoundeurs oceans. Deep Sea Dreaming.”
Australia is an island continent. It stretches across thirty
As the last notes of the deep-sea score were conducted,
degrees of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere. The “Top
a deep male voice addressed the audience from the dais. He
End” of Australia reaches toward Papua New Guinea and In-
addressed the world in a language incomprehensible to most.
donesia and is subject to monsoon weather patterns. In the
Clap sticks and didgeridoo accompanied his address. The
south of the continent the climate is temperate and includes
man, his body clad in loin covering and white clay, was un-
alpine regions that are snow-covered each winter. The center
ambiguously Aboriginal. Around his neck hung a clear signi-
of the continent is a vast area of arid desert subject to extreme
fier of his power as an Indigenous man. With the spotlight
heat in the summer months and freezing overnight tempera-
focusing on him the stadium was grounded once more. The
tures in the winter.
giant screen announced this segment of the four-hour open-
Although they belong to many specific cultural groups,
ing ceremony: “Awakening.”
Indigenous people in Australia are often described collective-
The young Australian girl who swam in the heights of
ly as “Aboriginal” (referring generally to Indigenous people
the stadium and dived to resurface on its sea floor was Nikki
from the mainland and the southern island of Tasmania) or
Webster, a thirteen-year-old actor and singer born and bred
“Torres Strait Islander” (referring to those Indigenous people
in Sydney. The tall Indigenous performer on the dais was
coming from the hundreds of islands between the tip of the
Djakapurra Munyarryun, born in the “remote” settlement of
mainland and Papua New Guinea). It has become customary
Yirrkala and brought up in the “Top End” region of Arnhem
to refer to Indigenous Australians associated with the main-
Land in Australia’s Northern Territory. Presented in the
land as Aboriginal people with a capital A as a mark of respect
“Awakening” segment of the Sydney 2000 opening ceremo-
for their “proper” status as a group of people. Before the
ny were many of the themes taken up in this overview article.
1970s the term Aboriginal was not accorded the status of a
They will be used to signpost the discussion.
proper noun in Australian usage. Since the mid-1990s the
referent “Indigenous Australians” has become popular.
Understanding Indigenous religions in Australia must
take relations between people, territory, and history as its
The federal, or commonwealth, government has devel-
starting point. The first major section of this article will out-
oped (since the late 1960s) an administrative definition of
line themes for a continent-wide understanding of Australian
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by reference to
Indigenous religions. The discussion will be broad, teasing
their descent, identification, and community acceptance.
out underlying themes that resonate but are not necessarily
Under this definition an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
the same in Australia’s hundreds of Indigenous religious tra-
is someone “of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
ditions. Then the article will travel west to the central region
who; identifies as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island-
of Australia via the Olympic performance of a section of the
er origin and who is; accepted as such by the community
Seven Sisters Dreaming by Central Desert women. The arti-
with which the person associates.”
cle will pause to explore a particular example of Central De-
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are a minority
sert culture: the Warlpiri people. Then the article will track
group in Australia. In the 1996 census people identifying
north, as the opening ceremony did, to the Yolngu people,
themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders comprised
whose homelands are in the north of Australia, in Arnhem
2.1 percent of the total population. Only in the Northern
Land. From there the article will go south to examine the
Territory, which arguably was the last outpost of the colonial
contested religious heritage of the Ngarrindjeri people,
frontier, did Indigenous people make up a significant pro-
whose homelands are near the capital city of South Australia,
portion of the population as a whole, 27 percent. It is in the
Northern Territory and in the more remote or “outback”
CONTINENTAL THEMES. In his introduction to the “Awak-
areas of the states of Western Australia, South Australia, and
ening” segment of the Sydney Opening Ceremony, Ernie
Queensland that “traditional” practices are understood to
Dingo continued: “Over forty thousand years of culture with
continue to underpin everyday life. In the longer-settled “fer-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

tile fringe” of the continent, around cities towns and cultivat-
As hunter-gatherers there was little need for complex
ed lands, Indigenous traditional practices are popularly un-
built structures. Their kin-based society did not give rise to
derstood to have been disrupted if not destroyed. This sets
hierarchical political structures. Australia’s Indigenous peo-
up a broad “primitivist” dichotomy in popular Australian
ple built simple shelters to sleep under. They camped behind
discourse between remote-traditional societies and settled-
natural windbreaks. Men hunted with simple but sophisti-
nontraditional Indigenous peoples and areas. In reality the
cated tools like boomerangs and spears with specialized
circumstances of all Indigenous people in Australia have been
launchers. They traveled over the water in bark canoes. They
transforming since before 1788 in a continuum of history
netted, trapped, and speared fish. Women were by and large
and experience.
gatherers, harvesting grasses, berries and fruit, small reptiles,
insects, mussels, and shellfish. Grinding stones, wooden
National statistics also give Aboriginal and Torres Strait
dishes, and digging sticks were among their key tools across
Islanders a number of dubious distinctions that reflect their
the continent. Sophisticated stone tools were keys to many
experiences of colonizing processes. Aboriginal and Torres
tasks, including the making of other specialized tools.
Strait Islander peoples as a group have worryingly low life ex-
pectancies and high levels of illness and disease. They suffer
Aboriginal people did not hoe and cultivate the land as
high levels of violence and crime. They are disproportionate-
European settlers came to do. Australia’s hunter-gatherers
ly imprisoned. They have relatively low educational and em-
moved lightly over their lands and waters. Though it is a
ployment levels. They have low income levels. And as the
matter of live debate, some scholars are of the view that in
High Court of Australia noted in the landmark Mabo native
many parts of the continent Indigenous people nurtured the
title judgment, the homelands of most Aboriginal people in
productivity of their homelands with incipient “farming”
Australia have been alienated from them “parcel by parcel.”
practices. They managed the country with selective burning
referred to as “fire stick farming,” cultivated practices to nur-
Prior to colonization there were probably, as Max Char-
ture the growth of plants for harvesting; engaged in “fish
lesworth suggests in his review of the literature on Aboriginal
farming” with the construction of eel traps and fishponds;
religion in Religious Inventions (1998), around five hundred
and used dams and weirs to increase natural productivity.
distinct Aboriginal groups in Australia using more than two
In the “Top End” of the Northern Territory, Yolngu
hundred distinguishable languages. Each of these groups had
people in Arnhem Land had long-term relations with Macas-
its own territory or “country.” Each had a specific social sys-
sans from what is now part of Indonesia, probably from the
tem and laws. Each spoke a particular language or dialects
sixteenth century forward. The situation in the Torres Strait
of a larger language group. Before European colonization
Islands was also somewhat different, their practices revealing
began in 1788, Indigenous people lived as members of hun-
extensive links with Melanesian peoples. Torres Strait Island-
dreds of different cultural and landholding groups across the
ers, by contrast with most mainland Aboriginal peoples, were
continent. At the start of the twenty-first century most of
not predominantly hunter-gatherers. They owned and culti-
Australia’s population is urban and most towns and cities can
vated gardens and harvested marine life in designated fishing
be found in the more fertile coastal fringe of the continent.
Indigenous people continue to live across the continent, but
many of their traditional homelands have been alienated, and
Indigenous life in local groups was a complex, inter-
many more Indigenous Australians live in towns and cities
twined whole. Religion could not be separated from facets
than live in the homelands of their ancestors.
of their lives like land ownership and subsistence, or their in-
teractions with others in marriage, trade, and warfare, or
It is generally accepted that prior to colonization most
their understandings of the cosmos. Each of these facets, now
Indigenous people on the mainland of Australia were hunter-
given English-language names, underpinned the rich fabric
gatherers. Small groups of relatives, often between five and
of people’s lives in ways that did not divide them from
fifty people or more in the most fertile regions of the conti-
nent, moved as extended families, hunting, gathering, and
camping in their territories. In rich ecosystems, population
Central to their existence were people’s connections to
densities were higher, and it seems that there Indigenous
specific territory. In contemporary times the English term
people were able to be more sedentary, at times moving be-
country is frequently used to refer to Indigenous territories.
tween winter and summer camps. The area now called Syd-
Countries included both land and waters (inland and sea).
ney includes such rich cultural and natural areas. In the Tor-
A pivotal idea shared by most if not all Indigenous traditions
res Strait Islands, Indigenous people were more like their
is that “country” is sacred and imbued with the powerful and
northern Melanesian neighbors and interacted with them in
immanent spirits of ancestors. “Country” was, before the dis-
their everyday lives. In arid areas, particularly the inland de-
ruptions of colonization and “settlement,” vested in groups
serts, population densities were lower, and Indigenous peo-
of varying sizes and territorial range: clans, tribes, and na-
ple moved around their territories and, with permission,
tions with their own specific understandings of the world,
crossed into those of their neighbors. They hunted with tools
practices, and ways of being.
made from resources in their local environments or traded
The Australian continent was crisscrossed by a complex
in from other groups.
web of religious, marriage, and trading relationships that
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highlighted and managed the differences between particular
digenous people live in cities, towns, and “settled regions.”
peoples, boundaries, beliefs, and practices. Some trade routes
In remote areas the lives of many so-called traditional people
moved resources, including the religious resources of myth
are now centered on remote settlements—former mission
and ritual, between disparate groups. Other trading relation-
stations, now small townships with residents from a number
ships operated in much more localized regions.
of different Indigenous groups and territories. Some of these
settlements were established early in the colonial period; oth-
Ceremonies and rituals brought people together in larg-
ers were established after World War II. The focal position
er groups when the season or time was ripe. The extended
of such settlements persists despite a constellation of home-
families that were the general basis of Indigenous hunting-
land settlements established when people moved away from
gathering life came together usually in the seasons of plenty
service-providing townships to create smaller settlements
to undertake larger affairs. These periods might bring hun-
(often called “outstations”) on their homelands in a move-
dreds of people together for periods of several weeks. Thus
ment dating from the 1970s. Indigenous settlements and
various configurations of landholding groups were usually
towns provide the basic infrastructure of government ser-
well represented at these gatherings and indeed needed to be
vices: schools, transport nodes, power, water, sewerage man-
so that the “business” being celebrated would have an
agement, water services, and in some communities, television
“owner,” “managers,” and “visitors” present to ensure its ac-
stations and museums. Indigenous Australians in longer and
curacy and efficacy. Indigenous people undertook rituals to
more intensively settled parts of Australia predominantly live
maintain the fertility of country and all the living beings it
in the suburbs of towns and cities. A minority live in “fringe
supported. They performed rites of passage that made people
camps” on the peripheries of towns and cities.
more human and gave them insights into the nature of their
world and what it is to be human. In the context of large cer-
GROUNDS OF BEING. From the spotlight on Djakapurra
emonial gatherings, marriages were arranged, disputes set-
Munyarryun addressing the audience on the stadium’s dais,
tled, and valuables traded.
attention shifted back to the stadium floor. Nikki Webster
Many Indigenous people were multilingual, under-
in her pink beach dress was again visible as a huddled group
standing as many as a score of languages. Yet no Indigenous
of white ochre-daubed dancers parted to make space for her
person understood or even knew about the many more hun-
to move. These performers were also recognizably Indige-
dreds of languages beyond that of their homeland and re-
nous. They seemed to pursue the golden-haired girl toward
gional neighbors. By the time of the 2000 Sydney Olympics
the dais. They moved beside and behind her with their heads
about a hundred Indigenous languages remained in everyday
down and torsos bent low, clasping their hands behind their
use in Australia. Of these only around twenty had a suffi-
ciently large and concentrated “community of speakers” to
Nikki Webster glanced back at her pursuers with evi-
make it possible for children to learn them as their first lan-
dent uncertainty and concern. Finally the young Australian
guages. Yolngu Matha, the language in which Djakapurra
girl climbed the stairs toward the tall Aboriginal man and
Munyarryun addressed a global audience in the Sydney
was picked up by performers and placed beside him on the
“Awakening” ceremony, is one he learned in his own “Top
dais. She knelt. Looking. Learning. The scene was punctuat-
End” homeland. It is among the diminishing number of In-
ed by a white cloud as the Aboriginal man clapped his ochre-
digenous languages that remain strong and vital.
filled hands above her. The voice of Indigenous commenta-
The composition of the “Awakening” segment points to
tor Ernie Dingo elaborated: “The deep-sea dream of young
the diversity of Indigenous religious and cultural experience
Australia is transformed by an undeniable call from an an-
in Australia. Some performers were from the long-settled fer-
cient heritage by the Dreamtime spirits of another age, but
tile northern rivers region of New South Wales (the host
a culture very much alive.”
state commonly abbreviated as NSW); others were from Syd-
ney, the host city. Others, such as women from the Central
Ernie Dingo’s statement of ancient Indigenous roots
Desert regions that cross the states of South Australia, West-
and contemporary vitality was significant. So too were refer-
ern Australia, and the Northern Territory, the Yolngu people
ences to an ancient heritage of Dreamtime spirits. In this
from Arnhem Land, and the Torres Strait Islanders continue
Dingo pointed the audience to what has become the key con-
to live everyday lives, albeit under conditions different from
cept for understanding most Australian Indigenous religious
that of their forebears, through which they maintain a strong
traditions. These concepts link the religious lives of Indige-
connection to their ancestors, their country, and their
nous people from the forty thousand and more years before
the continent’s settlement by non-Indigenous people and the
two hundred and more years since.
But such locally founded identity is not the experience
of most Indigenous people. Australian Bureau of Statistics
The idea of Dreaming, the Dreamtime, and Dreamtime
census figures suggest that in 1996 only 29.1 percent of Ab-
Spirits has wide usage, is key to understanding Australian In-
original and Torres Strait Islander people “identif[y] with [a]
digenous Religions, and the words are not restricted to Indig-
clan, tribal or language group,” and only 31 percent live in
enous or non-Indigenous speakers. Though these terms have
their “homelands/traditional country.” Most Australian In-
become general in their usage, they had their origins in the
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translation of a specific term by a specific group by research-
Deborah Bird Rose put it this way in Nourishing Ter-
ers working in the late eighteenth century.
rains (1996):
The concept of the Dreaming can be understood as that
The Australian continent is criss-crossed with the tracks
transcendent aspect of power through which all key elements
of the Dreamings: walking, slithering, crawling, flying,
of the cosmos—material and immaterial—have their origins
chasing, hunting, weeping, dying, giving birth. Per-
and remain connected. The essence of the Dreaming is in the
forming rituals, distributing the plants, making land-
Indigenous principles of formation, order, and knowledge.
forms and water, establishing things in their own places,
Most Indigenous traditions in Australia share basic ideas
and making relationships between one place and anoth-
er. Leaving parts or essences of themselves, looking back
about the place of Aboriginal people in their cultural world,
in sorrow; and still travelling, changing languages,
and it is the “business” of contemporary Indigenous people
changing songs, changing skin. They were changing
to continue these ideas in order to maintain that world.
shape from animal to human and back to animal and
Across the continent Indigenous people take as the bedrock
human again, becoming ancestral to particular animals
of their being (or believe that their ancestors did so in the
and particular humans. Through their creative actions
past) deep ideas of transcendent form and relatedness and the
they demarcated a whole world of difference and a
enduring entailments of these connections.
whole world of relationships which cross-cut difference.
(Rose, 1996, p. 35)
The terms Dreaming, or Dreamtime, mentioned in the
Olympic “Awakening” ceremony are used to refer to the “the
Dreaming stories, countries, people, and all living things are
ancient past” in which all Indigenous life was founded. For
differentiated. Although the idea of the Dreaming founds all
many it endures from its ancient formational time into the
life, particular people and particular groups of people have
present and future. The anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner,
rights and responsibilities for specific segments of stories,
in White Man Got No Dreaming (1979), called it “the every-
tracks, movements, and the sacred: dances, designs, and sa-
cred objects. A single person will generally have relationships
As Howard Morphy has suggested in “Empiricism to
and therefore responsibilities to a number of specific ances-
Metaphysics: In Defense of the Concept of the Dreamtime”
tral figures and tracks. People make those parts of the
(1995), Dreaming is part of a group of related terms that can
Dreaming for which they have responsibility manifest in the
be found in most if not all Australian Indigenous languages.
organization and performance of ritual and the realization of
Such sets of terms refer to ancestral figures, their actions and
the powers of their “everywhen” in sand, on rock, on bodies,
powers, and sacred things and doings that connect living be-
and on canvases. They sing them into power and dance their
ings to them.
presence. In doing so they continue the Dreaming and carry
out their responsibilities for its endurance.
The ideas behind such sets of terms are thoroughly
grounded in the premise that people properly belong to spe-
Living human beings keep particular segments of the
cific areas or “countries” that were created by their own an-
Dreaming alive: by keeping the rules of practice laid down
cestral spirits. Indeed “country” itself was formed long ago
by the founding beings, dancing the segments to which they
as these powerful transcendent beings moved across the land-
have rights, repeating their actions and their tracks in the
scape or stayed as forms within it. Ancestors left tracks and
landscape, “singing” the country in a language that the spirits
sometimes their own bodies in the areas through which they
of the dead can hear, dancing and re-creating the ancestors
moved. These tracks gave the land and waters a form that
and their actions, living in ways that nurture continued life,
endures in the early twenty-first century. Thus in some In-
and guarding the propriety with which others do so.
digenous traditions mountains are the shelters that ancestors
left behind as they traveled. A bend in a river may be a
Social orders were also established in the foundational
Dreaming figure’s elbow or knee or the sweep of a giant an-
“everywhen” of the Dreaming, including clans, “skins” (sub-
cestral fish. Sand dunes are the kinetic tracks of women who
sections), totems, and other groupings of identity, relation-
danced in the “Dreamtime” or the windbreaks behind which
ship, and regulation. Particular human groups are allied with
they camped. Islands are the ossified remains of ancestors or
natural species or forces and given responsibilities for their
the objects they carried. Ancestors created or were the natural
vitality and endurance. Religious action is predicated on the
species that fill the land and waters.
cooperation of different groups of people who have different
roles in performance and in many regions a critical distinc-
Dreamings in the broadest sense then are power-filled
tion is made between the “owners” of ritual and the “manag-
landforms, stories, spirits, stars and natural species as well as
ers” who must survey proceedings and ensure that things are
natural forces like rain, sun, whirlwinds, and waters. They
properly done.
initiated relationships. Contemporary human beings are the
descendents of these powerful beings with all the responsibil-
In Indigenous social orders gender is a fundamental
ities of relatedness and enduring connection. Countries are
point of differentiation as well as cooperation. Males and fe-
sacred and have particularly sacred places because of their an-
males have mutually entailed knowledge, roles, and responsi-
cestral connections. Specific natural species are kindred: to-
bilities in the world. These things were established in the
temic protectors and friends.
foundational orders of the Dreaming.
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Critical stages in human life too were established in for-
by others, to participate in action and constructions but not
mational times and events as well as the rites for human pas-
to gain rights to repeat them in any way.
sage: they included in some societies birth rituals, initiation,
Another broad feature of Indigenous traditions is an in-
and mortuary ceremonies. In some traditions human con-
sistence as ideology that things that have come from the
ception was animated as spirits entered a woman in particu-
Dreaming are unchangingly “everywhen”: that the Dream-
lar places (often those associated with water), enlivening a
ing and its consequences are not subject to innovation and
fetus within her. Such places come to be regarded as the per-
that “things have been this way for forty thousand years.” Yet
son’s “conception place.” These connections gave rise to spe-
many traditions also admit the possibility of “rediscovering”
cial relationships, rights, and responsibilities. Rituals for
things temporarily lost or the gaining of new insight or elab-
maintaining the fertility of country and species more general-
oration in the inspired dreams of living humans. The am-
ly were also given to human beings from foundational ac-
biguity of layered systems of knowledge also makes space for
tions. In this way too laws of living were established and pun-
new understandings and sometimes in turn new practices. It
ishments and rewards set down for tradition.
is also clear that new rituals, performances, and objects move
Complex processes of concealment and revelation are
between groups from time to time and probably that they
pivotal in the life of many Indigenous traditions and prac-
have long done so. And clearly the Dreaming has also found
tices. Some practices are open and public. Others are restrict-
new ways of life: in the expression of Dreaming designs in
ed. Knowledge, practice, and power in such traditions are
paintings on canvas using acrylic paints, for example, and in
frequently layered and segmented. With the pioneering work
performances like those at the Olympics, where new group-
of Phyllis Kaberry, Catherine Berndt, and Diane Bell has
ings of Aboriginal people are linked into an overarching per-
come a deeper understanding of the positions and roles of
formance message before different and radically enlarged au-
Indigenous women in their societies. Many Indigenous tra-
diences and with performances adjusted for this
ditions are organized around age and gender-based divisions
unprecedented context.
of religious cooperation, knowledge, and work. Some mat-
The “Awakening” segment of the Sydney opening cere-
ters were restricted to women, some to older women, some
mony, with its three to four billion viewers worldwide,
to women with several children. These matters and responsi-
brought together seven different Indigenous groups and per-
bilities are now often referred to as “women’s business.” Oth-
formers from all corners of the Australian continent in an in-
ers were restricted to men and are referred to as “men’s busi-
novative performance of different traditions lasting just over
ness.” Both sides of business required the complementary
eleven minutes. These different performances were linked to
participation of the other and entailed negotiations of who
create an innovative “story.”
knew what story and who could claim knowledge. The bal-
ance as to who takes the lead depends on the purpose of the
This was far from the first time Indigenous cultural pro-
ceremony and varies across the continent.
ductions went global, though clearly this was Indigenous
Australians’ largest and most widely based global audience.
Rituals, objects, and designs commonly have many
Australian Indigenous art, based in artists’ own Dreamings,
meanings in these traditions. Revelation and knowledge of
had moved out of ethnographic museums into art galleries
spiritual matters were graduated. Some sacred matters were
by the 1980s. Public institutions commission Indigenous art
more narrowly restricted within gendered knowledge. It is
to hang on walls in public view. When Australia’s new Parlia-
not uncommon, for example, for novices in initiation to have
ment House opened in 1988, it featured a commanding fore-
less-restricted knowledge about stories or the nature of prac-
court paved with a mosaic by the Western Desert artist Mi-
tices, designs, or the sacred revealed to them while the adepts
chael Nelson Tjakamarra. The same year the Asia Society in
who bring this knowledge withhold other “inside” meanings.
New York hosted the exhibition Dreamings: The Art of Ab-
As ritual experience and adeptness is gained, so too is inside
original Australia. Australian Indigenous art now sells widely
and commands high prices in global art markets. Exhibitions
But it is also crucial to recognize that knowledge has
of Indigenous art tour the world.
power in such societies. It is not given away freely. For this
Indigenous cultural performance has also gone global.
reason Eric Michaels, in “Constraints on Knowledge in an
The Bangara Dance Theatre, whose director, Stephen Page,
Economy of Oral Information” (1985), has written of such
was codirector of the “Awakening” segment of the Sydney
systems as forming an “economy of knowledge.” Founding
2000 opening ceremony, has been presenting contemporary
practices in which gender, age, ritual status, and divisions of
Indigenous dance to international and Australian audiences
esoteric knowledge were laid down also established the basis
since 1989. The Arnhem Land rock group Yonthu Yindi
of different rights and obligations in these economies of
sings Yolngu messages that are broadcast to large audiences,
knowledge: to come into and see special sacred places or to
and Yolngu elders invite influential outsiders to come and
turn one’s back and stay away, to tell and reenact specific an-
learn from them at Garma festivals held in their homelands.
cestral actions in ritual, to sing but not to dance, to dance
but not to sing, to paint bodies or to be painted, to see and
Traditional religious acts and performances, ordinarily
hear restricted knowledge, to oversee specific performances
set in the country made by Dreamings, have also gone inter-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

national. Often they are part of the opening of exhibitions
Mythological and ceremonial knowledge . . . has un-
of Indigenous art. In “Culture-Making: Performing Aborigi-
doubtedly in some sense diminished since the turn of
nality at the Asia Society Gallery” (1994), Fred Myers has
the century: yet initiation continues, dreamings are
documented the complex negotiations and performances
transmitted and enhanced, and old stories and songs
through which sandpaintings were constructed in New York
now sit side-by-side with new stories and songs about
Jesus and Mary, God and Satan, and Adam and
as part of the opening of the 1988 Dreamings exhibition.
Eve. . . . Some Western Aranda men are now very
Men from the small and remote Aboriginal community of
prominent in the Lutheran Church, but they have not
Papunya, 160 miles from Alice Springs, traced sandpaintings
thereby forsaken their countries or their dreamings or
ordinarily grounded in their remote homelands, albeit adapt-
their kinsmen. This would quite simply be unthinkable.
ed to this particular and peculiar audience and context.
(Morton 1991, p. 54)
In January 2000 Warlpiri people from the Central De-
sert presented a “One Family corroboree” at the Baptist
Nikki Webster, the young Australian star of the opening cer-
World Alliance Congress in Melbourne in which they paint-
emony, was pursued by clay-daubed “awakening spirits”
ed strong Warlpiri iconographs on their bodies for their per-
along the stadium toward the stairs of the dais from which
formance of a “Christian purlapa” (Christian public ceremo-
Dkakapurra Munyarryun spoke. She joined him on the dais.
ny). As Ivan Jordan documents in Their Way (2003), the
Ernie Dingo said: “The young Australian girl is now part of
designs they painted on their bodies and the songs and
the land’s ancient culture, for her too to share. First of all
dances they performed were “dreamed” into being in small
to understand the origins of where it all came from.”
Central Desert communities.
Dingo’s call was understood by many Australians in the
Indeed as many as 75 percent of the nation’s Indigenous
audience to address political debates from the years running
people call themselves Christian. Some might be said to have
up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The peak national Indige-
converted from the religious life of their ancestors to Chris-
nous body, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Com-
tianity. For many others Christian ideas sit side by side in
mission (disbanded by the Australian government in 2004),
a now enlarged cosmology in which the forces that founded
said of the Indigenous performance:
Indigenous countries and for which human beings have re-
sponsibilities include ancestral figures as well as God and
The Sydney Olympics will help shine a spotlight on Ab-
Jesus Christ. And understandings about the nature of the
original culture and its historical plight. The attention
human condition are told in stories about the formational
should prove uncomfortable to the Australian govern-
actions and powers of Dreaming figures as well as with those
ment. The nation has made great strides on the racial
front in recent decades, but it is showing some distress-
drawn from the Bible.
ing signs of weariness from the progress, and a resis-
The concept of the Dreaming or Dreamtime has had
tance to march onward. In recent months, the Austra-
a central place in Indigenous and popular Australian parlance
lian government has ceased cooperating with United
for many years. It has long been a central though sometimes
Nations human rights monitors looking into the status
contested concept in academic analyses of Indigenous reli-
of Aborigines and has opposed calls for an official apol-
gion. The use of these English-language terms originated
ogy for past wrongs.
from a translation of a particular term in a particular Indige-
The 1990s began with hope for acknowledgment and recon-
nous language group (the Aranda or Arrente) in the late eigh-
ciliation. A wide-ranging national inquiry of the executive
teenth century. Their contemporary use carries the danger
government (the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths
of homogenization: of concealing cultural difference be-
in Custody) listened carefully to bereaved Indigenous people
tween the hundreds of Indigenous groups in Australia. This
as well as a range of other witnesses. The inquiry found that
issue will be addressed in the following sections.
fundamental disadvantage underlay the disproportionate in-
But the strength of the English terms’ usage, as Morphy
carceration rates (and consequent high death rates) of Indige-
has shown, is that these concepts overlap semantic fields or
nous people in Australia. It recommended systemic change
sets of related terms in most if not all Aboriginal languages.
in legal and social institutions and practices. This gave some
Morphy has suggested that the term “signifies a semantic
Indigenous Australians hope for their children’s future. It
field in Aboriginal languages, the significance of which be-
suggested that “reconciliation” between Indigenous and set-
came relevant in the context of postcolonial Aboriginal dis-
tler Australians might be possible.
course. The term fitted a lexical gap in Aboriginal languages,
Indigenous hopes were raised too in 1992, when the
a lexical gap the colonial conditions made it more necessary
High Court of Australia recognized the prior ownership and
to fill. It was an anthropological term that was adopted by
native title of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait in the
Aboriginal people because of its salience to them” (Morphy,
Mabo case. The following year an act of the commonwealth
1995, p. 178).
(federal) parliament gave Indigenous claimants across the
If the term Dreaming can be traced back to early at-
country a right to have their native title claims tested and de-
tempts to understand the terms of Aranda-Arrente religious
clared by the federal court (the Native Title Act of 1993).
life, it should be kept in mind, as Morton has noted, that:
In overturning the doctrine of terra nullius (that the conti-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

nent at settlement was a land without owners and therefore
man continued to sing and address the audience in his own
open to be legally taken and colonized), the High Court of
language. Ernie Dingo explained again to television viewers:
Australia noted in its judgment that “Aborigines were dispos-
“Djakapurra, the song man, calls the visitors to listen to the
sessed of their land parcel by parcel, to make way for expand-
sounds of the earth, to meet an ancient past and awaken the
ing colonial settlement. Their dispossession underwrote the
spirits within.”
development of the nation.”
Djakapurra Munyarryun, the key Indigenous performer
The new legislation gave Indigenous people the oppor-
in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, is an Ab-
tunity to claim native title on crown land—land whose title
original man. More particularly he is a Yolngu man. Yolngu
had not been sold or transferred to others in legal contracts
is the term six thousand people in Arnhem Land use to iden-
but was still held by “the crown.” The primary questions be-
tify themselves to others as Indigenous people.
fore the courts in native title claims is whether Indigenous
claimants were owners of crown land through their own sys-
Djakapurra Munyarryun is a member of a specific Yol-
tem of custom and law (which would have to be demonstrat-
ngu clan reported to be the Wan’gurri clan. The homelands
ed) and whether they have maintained their connection with
of the Wan’gurri are Dhalinbuy, inland and roughly south-
the land they claim. The Native Title Act promised limited
west of the township of Yirrkala and the Nhulunbuy-Gove
access to native title rights and recognition across the nation.
area (the site of a large bauxite mine and its associated town-
It was the Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act of
1976 that put Australian Indigenous religions squarely on
Yolngu clans like the Wan’gurri are made up of people
the agenda of public debate in Australia. That act, which was
related to each other through their fathers. They are a group
limited in its operation to the Northern Territory, put Ab-
because they share a common ancestor (usually about five
original peoples’ religious lives at the heart of their claims to
generations distant) through their patriline (father’s line),
land. A key test in land claims turned on Aboriginal peoples’
but also because they are linked by being created on land by
spiritual affiliation with the land. According to the legisla-
a particular Dreaming ancestral figure and as part of a partic-
tion, it was “Traditional Aboriginal owners” who could make
ular story of creation. Clan members, led by elders, are custo-
claims for land. But the claimants had to constitute “a local
dians of specific tracts of country for which they have partic-
descent group of Aboriginals who have common spiritual af-
ular responsibilities. Each clan claims and looks after
filiations to a site on the land, being affiliations that place the
particular tracts of country (land in coastal areas, the sea) and
group under a primary spiritual responsibility for that site and
have a specific set of sacred objects, songs, dances, and de-
for the land, and are entitled by Aboriginal tradition to for-
signs that are underwritten by the activities of particular an-
age as of right over that land” (emphasis added).
cestral figures.
Ideas about Indigenous beliefs and traditions later un-
The Wan’gurri clan of which Djakapurra Munyarryun
derpinned the federal “safety net” heritage act, which offered
is a member belongs to the Yirritja moiety. Other Yolngu
Indigenous people a way to protect areas or objects of signifi-
clans belong to the opposite and complementary Dhuwa
cance to their tradition from destruction or desecration when
moiety. Everything in the Yolngu world is part of one moiety
all other means had been exhausted. In the Aboriginal and
or the other. Yolngu people become a member of their fa-
Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act of 1984, “Ab-
ther’s moiety at birth (and are such prior to birth in a dead-
original tradition” means the body of traditions, observances,
spirit-to-newborn continuum). In Yolngu tradition they
customs, and beliefs of Aboriginals generally or of a particu-
must marry a member of their mother’s moiety, for it would
lar community or group of Aboriginals and includes any
be incestuous to marry into the moiety they share with their
such traditions, observances, customs, or beliefs relating to
father. Many Yolngu religious obligations can be discharged
particular persons, areas, objects, or relationships. A critical
only in cooperation with people and clans of the opposite
question then becomes: Who defines tradition and according
moiety. They require particular ceremonial events to be con-
to what criteria?
ducted in the presence of members of both moieties. For ex-
Thus, Australian Indigenous religions have been made
ample, some dances and designs held by one clan are only
to count in a number of facets of Australian affairs. This has
to be used under the supervision of members of another clan
brought Australian Indigenous religions into a spotlight of
belonging to the opposite moiety. This is often described as
controversy and contestation. Indigenous people became by
the yothu-yindi (child-mother) relationship between an indi-
the mid-1990s a target of political skepticism. Some have
vidual’s own clan and his or her mother’s clan. Thus the duty
been accused of fabricating traditions and beliefs they sought
to observe and supervise the activities of another clan is akin
to have acknowledged as significant under Australian law. In
to the responsibility of a mother providing advice and guid-
this context the commentary that “the young Australian girl
ance to her child.
is now part of the land’s ancient culture, for her too to share”
When Yolngu people refer to themselves, they frequent-
had a particular salience.
ly use specific terms that identify them with a narrower
group of people, such as a specific clan group, that possesses
ster joined Djakapurr Munyarryun on the dais, the Yolngu
its own language dialect which is associated with one or more
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

homelands and that shares ancestral totems, songs, and de-
was formed in 1980. The words of a senior member of the
signs associated with and bestowed upon them by particular
council were translated and appeared as subtitles in the film
Dreaming ancestors responsible for the creation of their clan
Minymaku Way. They read:
lands. More narrowly still Yolngu clan members identify
There are many of us living across a huge area of coun-
themselves as belonging to a family or particular patriline
try [in fact the area is 350,000 square kilometers of the
(which since mission times have come to be identified by dis-
interstate desert areas]. Our country belongs to us An-
tinct surnames). Djakapurra’s second name, Munyarryun, is
angu people and we have our own ways, our own lan-
such a name.
guage and we women want to keep these ways alive, es-
In 1991 Djakapurra Munyarryun moved as a young
pecially while there is so much tragedy in our lives. That
man to Sydney to become a performer and cultural consul-
is why we formed the Women’s Council.
tant for the Bangarra Dance Theatre. He remained a full-
Minymaku Way tells the story of the council’s first twenty
time member of the company until 2002. As a member of
years. It tells of how the council was formed in 1980 during
Bangarra, Djakapurra Munyarryun embodied long-standing
the fight for land rights, a fight from which women—despite
links between the dance company and Yolngu peoples in
their business and traditions—were silenced and excluded.
Arnhem Land, where members of the company traveled,
It tells also of contemporary programs arising out of “worry
viewed dance in its ceremonial context, and held contempo-
for families,” as the non-Anangu worker Maggie Kavanagh
rary dance workshops in local venues. As the Bangarra Dance
put it. Prominent among Women’s Council programs are
Theatre web page notes: “Djakapurra contributes far more
care for the aged, disability services, domestic violence, nutri-
than dancing, singing and didjeridu playing. He is a creative
tion programs, and substance abuse (alcohol, marijuana, and
consultant, linking traditional past and contemporary pres-
petrol sniffing).
ent as he moves between his remote community, Sydney and
international tours that have taken him around the world”
Minymaku Way also tells that a major item on the agen-
da of the twenty-year anniversary general meeting of the
council held at Kanpi (about a seven-hour drive from Alice
Springs) was to decide on one song, dance, and body paint-
Spirits” dance that moved Nikki Webster to join Djakapurra
ing for their performance at the opening ceremony of the
Munyarryun on the podium finished with a puff of dry ochre
Olympic Games, a context for them to showcase their
(a dry white clay powder). As Nikki Webster knelt watching
strength and culture “for all the world to see.” The meeting
and learning beside the song man, the high pitch of many
at Kanpi celebrated the roots of the Women’s Council in the
women’s singing voices turned viewers’ attention to the other
singing of the “Land Rights Song” that appeared as subtitles
end of the stadium. Television viewers saw from overhead
on-screen as the women sang in their own language:
three hundred women proceeding in a pendulous elongated
group up the stadium. At ground level the women could be
It is our grandfathers’ and our grandmothers’ country
seen entering the stadium with their hands clasped behind
from a long time ago. Listen everybody! This is our sa-
their backs. Then, as they hastened down the stadium, they
cred land. This is a really true story. Why don’t you lis-
brought their arms to their sides, with elbows bent in a styl-
ten to us? Listen everybody! Listen everybody! This is
ized movement. The women wore only black skirts and red
our land, our beautiful land.
headbands. Their breasts were painted with lined designs of
The decision about what they would perform at the Olym-
white, yellow, and red.
pics was a difficult one. Many women from different com-
“This, inma kunga rapaba,” Ernie Dingo announced, “a
munities would perform. The audience would primarily be
dance from central Australia. Dance of the seven emu sis-
those with no ordinary right to see or hear the performance.
ters.” At about two-thirds of the way down the length the
It would include men, women, and children. Other Aborigi-
women stopped their forward movement and bunched into
nal people, including some from their own communities,
circle, their arms raised in the air, hands cupped and waving
might tune in. One Anangu woman talked about the dilem-
above them.
mas on film: “We have to make a proper choice. Making our
songs so public is unusual because normally we keep our
These women, members of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjant-
songs so private, hidden and separate. We have to consider
jatjara, and Yunkunyatjara (or NPY) Women’s Council,
and discuss which non-fun song, which serious and impor-
came to Sydney from homelands in three Australian states,
tant song we can present to the people of the world.”
South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Terri-
tory. They are members of a cultural region sometimes re-
The group narrowed their decision down to two possi-
ferred to in the ethnographic literature as the “Western De-
bilities. In the end the decision was made to perform a sec-
sert” block. Their languages, though distinct, are generally
tion of the Seven Sisters story. The other song and dance
comprehensible to each other. They call themselves by the
considered was deemed to be too restricted and sacred to per-
common term anangu (human beings).
form for the world.
The NPY Women’s Council has been an important
Maggie Kavanagh sent a message on camera to Stephen
force in local, regional, state, and national politics since it
Page, the co–artistic director of the “Awakenings” segment
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of the Olympics opening. She spoke about the negotiations
systems. Of the Seven Sisters constellation in particular, he
and decisions about which inma (song-dance-design relating
wrote, in nineteenth-century parlance:
to a segment of a Dreaming) the women would perform in
Sydney. She spoke to the camera in English:
The aborigines of the Clarence River have a story that
the Pleiades when they set with the sun go away to
They have decided on the Seven Sisters and they prac-
bring winter; and that when these stars reappear early
ticed three parts of the Seven Sisters inma. Looks like
in the evening in the eastern sky, they are ushering in
the one [localized section] they’ll agree on is the
the warm weather. They are supposed to be a family of
kanpi. . . . Kanpi means fat. It is emu fat. The Seven
young women, whose name was War-ring-garai, and
Sisters are traveling [she moved her hands up one after
who belonged to the section Wirrakan. . . . Among
the other in a flowing movement as if to grasp some-
the Ngeumba blacks, in the cold weather of mid-winter,
thing in the air, bending her elbows in a stylized way
when the Pleiades rise about three or four o’clock in the
as she did so]. You’ll see them trying to get the emu fat
morning, the old men take some glowing coals on bark
[with their hands], that’s a really prized part of the emu.
shovels, and cast them towards this constellation as
And it’s actually not far from where we are [referring
soon as it is visible. This is done to prevent the spirit
to the inma’s specific section of country or locale at
women, whom these stars represent, from making the
Kanpi]. The women liked the song, for that particular
morning too cold. The women in the camp are not per-
Seven Sisters song and also the movement. They like
mitted to look at all at the Pleiades in winter nights, be-
the movements. They think it’s really good moving-
cause such conduct would increase the severity of the
movement for what you want in Sydney.
frost. If a woman transgresses this law, her eyes will be-
come bleary, and she will suffer from uterine troubles.
The Kanpi inma of the Seven Sisters Dreaming was taped
(Mathews, 1904, pp. 279–280)
by David Page and his colleagues from Sydney as the women
performed it in song and dance in the landscape to which
It is not clear whether all stories across the continent are parts
it referred. Minymaku Way showed the women singing the
of a wide-ranging whole. It is clear, however, that such
songs relating to the designs they painted on their bodies
Dreamings crossed boundaries and connected a number of
(though taking out the black so the designs would show bet-
different groups. It is more likely that some if not most of
ter as they danced before a world audience). In the country
the Seven Sisters stories that track around the arid inland,
of the song they danced in a clearing, keeping their forefeet
in and out of Western Australia, South Australia, and the
in the sand, marking the country with the story once again
Northern Territory, are related and connecting Dreaming
and grasping for the emu fat unseen in front of them while
stories. Certainly contemporary women make the assertion
others sat beating time with bottles, shoes, and clapping
that this Dreaming connects them to many others across the
sticks. It was the sounds of their singing that day, clarified
continent. Most of the reported segments or versions in the
in a Sydney studio, that were broadcast for the Sydney per-
cross-border desert regions contain common themes. They
tell of a group of women who travel widely, camping, danc-
ing, eating, and spending much of their time trying to escape
There are many stories and many story lines about the
from the unwelcome and usually illicit advances of a lustful
Seven Sisters among Indigenous Australians. These stories
man (and sometimes more). Sometimes the main pursuer
concern the Pleiades constellation. Aboriginal people some-
has a son.
times refer to the stars of the constellation as the “many
women or sisters.” The “Seven Sisters” is a common usage.
As with other Dreamings, these women’s presence can
This constellation rises and falls in the sky seasonally. Chris-
be seen in the early twenty-first century in the sandhills they
tine Watson is the most recent scholar to canvass the travels
used as windbreaks or those they formed as tracks when they
and adventures of the Seven Sisters. Spurred by work she did
danced with their feet in the sand. Particular vegetation
on women’s art and ceremony from Balgo in northeastern
marks food they ate or with which the lustful “lover boy”
Western Australia, she describes, in Piercing the Ground
sought to tempt them. Caves point to places where they were
(2003), how those women’s Dreamings are part of a “web
raped. In some versions of the myth the women have dogs
of Seven Sisters narratives which traverse mainland Australia,
that protect them and fight off the lecherous man or men.
the Torres Strait, and Tasmania, through South Australia to
The women move between earth and sky, rising and falling
New South Wales and Victoria, parts of them belonging to
with the seasons as the Pleiades. The lustful man is still to
men’s and parts to women’s ceremonial practice among the
be seen in the sky as Orion or in other traditions the moon.
different groups holding the mythology” (Watson, 2003,
At various points this Dreaming crosses and interacts with
p. 194).
other Dreaming tracks.
In the temperate eastern states of Australia documenta-
In her Nukunu Dictionary (1992) Luise Hercus re-
tion from the nineteenth century suggests that the Seven Sis-
corded an account of the story from a South Australian
ters story was associated with winter and frosts. R. H. Ma-
Nukunu informant, Harry Bramfield. This account makes
thews recorded in 1904 that all the stars and star clusters in
clear the relationship between events in the story, the stars,
the sky are named and known in Aboriginal tradition. The
and terrestrial landmarks. In Bramfield’s account the Seven
stars, he said, are like human beings arranged into kinship
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ran from the east and they came across to Yartnamalka
“maps” on to these communities. Their accounts differ in
[in the Flinders Ranges], where the Yartnamalka lady
important ways and point up the fact that difference is im-
is, where the big chunk of clay is in the hills. They ran
portant for understanding the religious life of Indigenous
away from the east and they went west. One of them
people in Central Australia. The central part of Warrabri, as
got crook [ill] at the hill at Yartnamalka, and that is
Bell experienced it in 1976 to 1978, included a built-up area
where she stayed, so there is only six of them up there
with an airstrip, powerhouse (for generating electricity), po-
(in the sky) now. The seventh is there at Yartnamalka,
that is the landmark. And of course the three broth-
lice station, store, sports field, council offices, hospital, and
ers—they only had three brothers, they took after them
houses surround by a number of camps, each oriented to the
to find them, they traveled and traveled and they too
“country” of its traditional owners. There were also initiation
went up into the sky so there is the three brothers chas-
grounds, “Sorry” camps (for the bereaved), and a number of
ing the six sisters. (Hercus, 1992)
jilimi, or independent women’s camps. During Dussart’s
stay in Yuendumu from 1983 to 1985, that community like-
The Seven Sisters Dreaming is a context for ritual and indeed
wise included the built structures of a remote Australian
political cooperation among different groups. Arguably this
town: airstrip, powerhouse, council buildings, school, sports
Dreaming is progressively more celebrated by Aboriginal
facilities, and store as well as a hall, a video-television station
people in the contemporary context where their special
building (under construction at the time), a church, a recre-
claims have been under a variety of political threats. Whether
ation center, a clinic, a morgue, an adult education center,
such issues were at the forefront of decisions made by the
and separate men’s and women’s museums. Surrounding
women themselves and the ceremony organizers, the dancing
these “permanently” built structures were the six Aboriginal
of the Seven Sisters at the opening ceremony of the Sydney
“camps” with their men’s and women’s ritual areas. She too
2000 Olympics was in many ways a particularly apt choice,
found jilimi as well as yampirri, the quarters of unmarried
for the Seven Sisters is a Dreaming story that links Indige-
men, and yapukarra, the quarters of married couples.
nous groups across the continent and through all of Austra-
lia’s mainland states.
But these are also communities that keep their Dream-
ings alive and frequently perform ritual, as the substantial
SERT. What the Sydney Olympic organizers referred to as
ethnography from this area demonstrates. The languages of
“Central Desert” Aboriginal people and attributed to the
these complex settlements refer to the Dreaming similarly:
NPY Women’s Council includes a large number of distinct
as Jukurrpa. Each member of these communities has particu-
Indigenous groups—the Alyawarra (Alywarr), Kaytej (Kayte-
lar connections to specific Jukurrpa as stories, relationships,
tye), Pintupi, Ngaanyatjarra, Pintjantjatjara, Yankunytjat-
objects, designs, places, and actions. People sing their
jara, Warlpiri, and Warumungu. Their homelands can be
Dreamings. They dance them. They draw their designs in
found in the remote regions of three different states of Aus-
the sand. They paint the marks of the Dreaming on their bo-
tralia: Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern
dies. They recognize their marks on ritual objects. They
Territory. To complicate matters, scholars have sometimes
move about the landscape with its forces, powers, and es-
distinguished between the Central Desert and Western De-
sences always in mind and with them as guides of where to
sert cultural regions. In this schema Pintupi, Ngaanyatjarra,
go and where they must lower their eyes and turn their backs.
Pintjantjatjara, and Yunkunytjatjara are groups from the
Aboriginal people are mindful of the rules and laws set down.
“Western Desert cultural bloc,” and Alyawarra (Alywarr),
And for some decades now they have painted their Dream-
Kaytej (Kaytetye), Warlpiri, and Waramungu are from the
ings onto canvases and sung them as they did so.
so-called Central Desert bloc. In reality these “blocs” are
All the critical moments in an individual’s life are “made
crumbling somewhat. Nowadays people from these regions
manifest” in ritual. Conflicts resolved, lovers are attracted
live in settlements and small townships like Ali Kurang (for-
and repelled. Dussart tried to convey the force of ceremony:
merly Warrabri), Yendemu, Lajamanu (once known as
“In reenacting a Dreaming, ritual performers follow in the
Hooker Creek), and Balgo, now known as Wirrimanu.
footsteps (spiritually and physically) of their Jukurrpa Ances-
When Diane Bell worked at the Aboriginal community
tral Beings” (Dussart, 2000, p. 47).
of Warrabri (Ali Kurang), it comprised Kaytej, Alyawarra,
The Aboriginal groups of the Central Desert regions
Warlpiri, and Warumungu-Warlmanpa people but was lo-
have extraordinarily intricate systems for specifying member-
cated on Kaytej country, a place associated with dog Dream-
ship of a number of groups of relations and orienting one’s
ing. The community of Yuendumu began its life in 1946,
future marriage preferences. These webs of relatedness are
when the government established a “ration depot” near a
founded in connections to specific tracts of land and through
soak of that name. The depot was situated near several Warl-
them to specific Dreaming ensembles. Groups of people also
piri ceremonial sites and came to be used by mainly Warlpiri
have special relationships with natural species, which are
people but also by Pintupi and Anmatyerre.
often referred to in English as their “totems” or “Dreaming.”
Both Bell, in Daughters of the Dreaming (1983), and
Rights and responsibilities to Dreamings are shared by
Françoise Dussart, in The Politics of Ritual in an Aboriginal
groups of relatives related in specific ways to it. Kirda are
Settlement (2000), provide a sense of how Aboriginal life
those related to a particular place, “country,” or Dreaming
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on their “father’s” side, from their father and grandfather.
sites visited by the diamond dove in its trek south. The
They must dance for the country and wear the designs for
songs told of each site, of how the dove tired of travel-
the Dreamings and places in the country. Kudrungurlu are
ling, of how the dove cried out for seed. On approach-
those who are related to the same places, “countries,” or
ing the claypan known as Pawurrinji, the dove sighted
Dreaming on the “mothers’ father’s” side. As Bell notes in
the willy-wagtail, who was feasting on a small marsupial
Daughters of the Dreaming (1983), “they had to sing, paint
mouse. Women of the black and white designs of the
wagtail danced forward to meet the travelling dove peo-
the kirda, and ensure that the Law was correctly followed.”
ple; who then wove in and out of the wagtail ranks,
Members of each group must be present for ritual perfor-
flanking them before joining them in one circle. From
mances to be proper. Both must be present and sign off on
where I sat I could see that the patterns traced in the
acrylic paintings of Dreaming segments. In their action one
red desert sand by the dancer’s feet echoed those on the
to the other and in respect of the Dreamings for which they
sacred boards. (Bell, 1983, p.13)
hold complementary responsibility, kirda and kurungurlu
Bell describes how all the dancers then united in a tight circle
help each other carry out their responsibilities.
in front of the seated singers. They presented the painted
But all people who are related as kirda and kurungurlu
boards to them. With this the spirits of the birds entered the
are not the same. There are two further distinctions that are
ground. This was the climax of the performance.
essential to consider in respect of Central Desert religious
General gaiety followed. Singers were paid for their ritu-
life: gender and the restrictions that could be called those of
al work, and nonparticipants paid for having seen the cere-
mony. And singing again of the country, the women began
The Warlpiri continue to conduct male initiation cere-
the task of “rubbing down” the boards: “The designs had to
monies. Though these are “men’s business,” women play im-
be removed and the power with which they were infused
portant roles in this ritual process. Women too have ritual
during the dancing, absorbed and neutralized” (Bell, 1983,
p. 14).
In Daughters of the Dreaming, Diane Bell describes a ya-
It is kurdungurlu who introduce the country with songs.
wulyu ceremony she witnessed in 1976. On average, she said,
It is they who collect the kirda for the ceremony. Both kirda
she saw one such ceremony a week during her stay. These
and kurdungurlu dance. Both sing. But as Bell notes, “they
rituals are “women’s business” and continue to be a feature
do not sing for themselves.”
of Warlpiri life. Women gather for yawalyu in the afternoon
In Their Way (2003) Ivan Jordan describes how, follow-
and prepare ritual objects and designs. A fire is kept burning
ing attempts by missionaries to develop meaningful symbols
throughout the ceremony, and the ashes will be raked over
for their church teaching, Warlpiri Christians came to pres-
and reused in subsequent rituals.
ent Christian symbols and develop Warlpiri Christian ritu-
In Bell’s account the first stage entailed the gathering of
als. Jordan describes how boards were painted with Warlpiri
women and painting of women’s bodies and of the sacred
Christian iconographs, new songs were developed, and final-
boards they hold. While this work goes on, women sing of
ly the first “Christian purlapa” (public ceremony) was per-
the Jukurrpa ancestors who formed their country and its in-
formed. He describes how in 1977 the Lajamanu and
stitutions. When their preparations were finished, “the as-
Yuendumu churches met:
sembled group had sung for the country where the ochres
Then it happened. For many days, as daylight disap-
were quarried; they had sung for the ancestors who were to
peared into darkness “big mobs” of people gathered to
be celebrated in the dancing; they had provided ritual in-
sing this new corroboree. Often someone came to the
struction for those women who were being groomed as fu-
door to tell us they were ready to start. . . . As with
ture leaders, and they had offered brief guidance regarding
all traditional corroboree singing, each song had just a
the structure of their activities” (Bell, 1983, pp. 12–13).
few words, maybe five or six, and these words were re-
peated many times—at least thirty or forty. . . . When
As the sun was nearly setting, seven women moved some
it finally happened, the dancing was truly exciting.
distance from the group of singers. With this the singers em-
Firstly, the appropriate symbolism for the body paint-
phasized the rhythm of their songs with cupped hand clap-
ings had to be agreed on. . . . Preparation always took
ping. The song grew stronger, and women from all groups
hours. . . . Having finished the painting, the right
and “countries” were called to attend. When the broader
starting positions and dances and gestures were agreed
group had gathered, the singers recounted the travels of the
upon after a good deal of group interaction. . . . I can
ancestors depicted in the painted designs. Then, dancing in
still see those first dancers; dust flying, calloused black
a straight line from the northwest came women wearing red
feet thudding the ground in perfect timing and harmo-
and white designs on their bodies.
ny with the rising and falling chants of the singers and
the echoing clicking of the boomerangs, Japanangka
They represented the activities of the diamond dove
and Napurrula, husband and wife church leaders, were
that travelled from Kurinji country through the desert
Mary and Joseph. At the appropriate time a suitable
lands. . . . As they neared the seated singers they held
baby wrapped in a blanket and lying on a coolamon
aloft the painted boards bearing ideational maps of the
[wooden carrying dish] was produced from the
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crowd. . . . At the conclusion of the purlapa, it was
nal people whose cultural lives and traditions are generally
usual for the men to begin rubbing the decoration from
understood to have been sorely tested and disrupted by the
their bodies, the women quickly don bras, and blouses
colonial process in which their homelands were “settled” by
while Jerry Jangala [a church leader] stood and talked
non-Indigenous Australians.
briefly about the story. Jangala would then conclude by
praying. After this the people would disappear into the
The “NSW Nationskoori clans,” or “Koori clans,” as
darkness happy and excited that they had not just heard
the creative team appears more commonly to have referred
God’s story but they had actually danced and sung it.
to them in film footage, performed dances especially choreo-
They had danced and sung God’s “Business.” (Jordan,
graphed for the opening ceremony. They performed themes
2003, pp. 119–121)
that are emerging as general Indigenous religious ideas across
Jordan’s account resonates in interesting and significant ways
the nation: the complex of ideas that the land and people
with Bell’s description of Warlpiri ritual performance.
hold within them the spirit of the land to which, despite dis-
ruption, their own spirit remains tied. These are connections
they might respect and in performances like this rekindle and
COMING TO KNOW. About two-thirds of the way down the
nurture. Matthew Doyle, described as the koori clan chore-
stadium the Seven Sisters dancers ceased their forward gait
ographer, said on camera: “What we were trying to do is rep-
(which we can see, in retrospect, as signifying at some level
resent young Aboriginal people from New South Wales from
their pursuit of emu fat). They formed a circle, dancing,
quite a few different areas.” Describing his choreographic
swaying on the spot with their cupped hands in the air. The
process, he continued: “I’m just looking at a couple of differ-
Awakening spirits moved in close to surround the older de-
ent styles of dance, you know, a mixture of some traditional-
sert women. Ernie Dingo explained to viewers that the clay-
type movement and some modern and contemporary.”
daubed Awakening Spirits dancers came back from the podi-
Djakapurra Munyarryun has pointed to the cultural
um to which they had followed the young girl and encircled
“awakening” of these koori kids in The Awakenings film:
the tightly bunched performers from the center of Australia.
“When I was watching the kids during the ceremonies . . .
He announced their intent:
they were learning something. Learning something not new,
To perform, to take to the heart of Australia the ancient
but old” (Roger, 2001).
art, the ancient stories of the past and to be embraced
What was it they were learning? Michael Cohen, a par-
by the young Aboriginal culture of today and to share
ticipant-observer of the ceremony and preparations, reported
in its history and acceptance without questioning. They
that, “having taught performers the stooped torso and soft
are preparing for an awakening, a welcome, and a re-
birth in unity, so we can all be as one mob, the youth
lifting of feet involved in the ‘spirit dance,’ Page constantly
of today and the ancient culture of years gone by.
reminded the performers of the sacredness of their move-
ments: ‘Yes we’re gonna do the low [dances]. The ones that
The cameras moved from the circled Central Desert women
hurt. [You’ve] gotta stay low. [The movements] are circular
and koori kids to Djakapurra Munyarryun and Nikki Web-
to keep the spirit internal.’”
ster on the dais. Dingo continued: “The rebirth has started.”
The Awakenings shows Stephen Page directing the per-
The “Awakening” spirit dancers who “embraced” the
formers in rehearsal. He told them to move “Like spirits
desert women were young, Sydney-based Koori performers
coming through.” Page is also reported by Cohen to have
covered in white clay. “Koori” is a term now widely under-
told performers in practice, “[Awakening] Spirits, that was
stood as a collective referent for Aboriginal people in New
good—keeping your hands close to your sacred chests. But
South Wales and Victoria. Those children were learning
now just one problem: you have to try to move fast and still
about Australian Indigenous culture from this experience.
keep the spirit low. You have to try and combine these two
Their dance was choreographed. Until their participation in
energies” (Cohen, p. 166).
the Sydney Olympics, many of the koori clan performers of
As far as one can tell from the available material, the
the “Awakening” segment shared with Stephen Page a child-
Koori kids were presented with generalized Indigenous ideas
hood in which they “had no exposure to our traditional cul-
about sacredness and spirits in their dancing. They mastered
movements the choreographers presented to them with these
The Sydney Organising Committee of the Olympic
generalized ideas.
Games (SOCOG) media guide to the opening ceremony de-
In the film The Awakenings, Rhoda Roberts says:
scribed the group brought together for the occasion as the
“NSW Nationskoori clan.” The SOCOG media guide de-
I think for the North coast group it’s a very brave thing
to dance in front of traditional people [for whom] cere-
scribed this group as one hundred men and women “from
mony is an everyday part of their lives. And I think we
seventeen high schools and dance groups, [who] represent
have in some way given a spirit and a soul and about
the Sydney language groups and the East coast of NSW lan-
what culture is what they didn’t have before they started
guage groups such as Biripi, Geawegal, Wiradjuri, Bund-
this little journey for the Olympics. And I think that
jalung, Gidbal, Awagakul Dunghutti and Gumbainggir”
makes me very proud to see that they are actually proud
(SOCOG, p. 27). These Indigenous performers are Aborigi-
of their culture. (Roger, 2001)
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Cohen reports that Rhoda Roberts told the Awakening spir-
forms one edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Yolngu country
its performers that the Central Desert women “dance inma.
is rich in resources. Its coastline includes rich mangrove estu-
They dance bare-breasted. They paint each other. They’re
aries as well as sandy beaches. Inland the mighty Arnhem
sistas [sisters]. I’m asking you to pay respect. I want you to
Land escarpment juts out of the resource-rich plains and lit-
understand. Those other segments [of the opening ceremo-
toral belt. There are three main settlements of Yolngu people
ny]—they’ve got props, they’ve got gizmos. But we don’t
in northeast Arnhem Land: Milingimbi, founded in 1922;
need that cos we’ve got land. We’ve got spirit.”
Yirrkala, founded in 1935; and Elcho Island, founded in
It is unlikely that the koori kids were told much detail
1942. These settlements began their lives as mission stations.
of the Kanpi section of the Seven Sisters myth, whose dance
Before the establishment of these settlements Yolngu clans
and body paint the desert women displayed but did not fully
were dispersed throughout northeast Arnhem Land. As Mor-
reveal to the world. But it is clear that the kids learned about
phy has noted in Ancestral Connections (1991): “Although
spirits and land and their own power as Indigenous people.
the size and structure of communities varied seasonally, for
In The Awakenings, Stephen Page calls on performers ex-
much of the year people lived in bands of around thirty to
hausted by rehearsal: “Wake up now. We’re gunna go and
forty individuals” (Morphy, 1991, p. 40). By the 1970s an
meet the respected mother spirit from the Central Desert.
“outstation movement” was under way and many people
Three hundred and thirty women represent one mother
were returning to their ancestral homelands.
earth. We as young children got to respect that. Open our
Yolngu call their ancestral figures or Dreamings wan-
door. Got to welcome. We go and get them when they come.
garr. They tell of them and their formative actions in myths.
All their paint. We’re very lucky” (Roger, 2001). The Koori
As Morphy has eloquently shown, Yolngu people live
performers were asked to respect the desert women who rep-
resented “mother earth,” a concept of Indigenous relation-
in a world that includes both European and Aboriginal
ships to land that has been gaining cross-continental curren-
institutions, systems of knowledge, languages: they are
influenced by both. Yolngu clans have taken on func-
cy among Indigenous people who have been distanced from
tions and arguably a constitution that they did not have
their own local traditions.
before, and those new functions are going to affect the
But it was not their loss that seems to have been empha-
trajectory the clans have over time. The process is a two-
sized to these young performers. Rather, organizers empha-
way one, and European institutions in northern Austra-
sized what they had gained by participating and coming in
lia must sometimes take account of Aboriginal practices
contact with people from remote communities. By the end
and institutions. (Morphy, 1991, p. 4)
of their journey some of the koori performers saw the rela-
Yolngu openness to other cultures and cultural exchange is
tionship as a two-way exchange. One boy from the Northern
not new. The flag dance performed at the opening ceremony
Rivers region of NSW put it this way in The Awakenings:
relates to the annual visits of Macassans from what is now
“They’re learning. They can back up what they learned down
Suluwasi in Indonesia. They came annually to Arnhem Land
here and we what we learned here take back [to] where we
on the winds of the northwest monsoon, sailing in praus.
came from. Show the people there what we learned, people
They set up camp on Yolngu beaches, gathering and process-
we met” (Roger, 2001). If some Indigenous Dreamings re-
ing bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) until stopped by govern-
main embedded and enduring in local contexts, a new sense
ment officials in 1907. Ian Keen has noted:
of general spiritual connection that respects the sacredness
of the earth is also developing among Indigenous people in
Many Yolngu religious traditions reflected their rela-
all corners of the nation.
tions with the Macassans. . . . Ceremonies represent-
ed the practices of Macassans, including their rituals.
PARTICULARITIES: YOLNGU. The encircling of desert women
The subjects of these songs and ceremonies were not
by koori kids dominated the stadium until the spotlights
merely historical or typical figures but wangarr ances-
traced a large oblique cross on the red sands of the stadium
tors of the human Macassans. . . . Through the ex-
floor. Attention turned to colorful dancers with flags emerg-
change of personal names Macassan names entered the
ing from the four corners. They danced into center stage to
Yolngu lexicon, along with other words. Some Macas-
the sound of didgeridoo and song. Ernie Dingo elaborated
san place names [continue to have currency] . . . for
for the television audience:
the Macassans applied their own names to the land-
scape of north-east Arnhem Land and declared certain
The wonderful voice of Don Nundihirribala singing
rocks sacred, as sites for offerings to sea spirits. (Keen,
the Dhumbala which is the flag song. Flags represented
1994, pp. 23–24)
[the relationship] with the Aboriginal community of
the top end, of Arnhem Land, when the Macassan trad-
Ian McIntosh suggests that Macassans caused some turbu-
ers used to come over four thousand years ago to trade
lence in Yolngu life. Memories of interactions between Yol-
shellfish with cloth and tobacco. Representation of the
ngu and Macassans also focus on the creational being Bir-
Numbulwar, Yirrkala, Ramingining, and Maningrida
rinydji. In “Sacred Memory and Living Tradition” (2000)
people from Arnhem Land.
McIntosh suggests, “Belief in Birrindyji empowers the listen-
In the tropical “Top End” of Australia the country of the
er-viewer to transform the nature of relations between the
Yolngu juts out into the Arafura Sea, and its eastern coast
cultural groups and to regain what was deemed to have been
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

lost at the ‘beginning of time’” (McIntosh, 2000, p. 144).
Keen notes too that, “from a Yolngu point of view . . .
When a replica of a Macassan prau returned to Yolngu shores
land was not mere dirt; land and waters consisted in part of
in 1988, hundreds of Yolngu performed the ceremonies of
the bodily substance of the wangarr ancestors.” Keen has
Birrinydji for their arrival. McIntosh also notes two kinds of
drawn out the connection between country (Wa:nga), ances-
depictions of Macassan themes: some “inside” some “out-
tors (wangarr), sacred objects (rangga, which were “placed in
side” designs. He continues:
the country by the ancestors and which were the ngaraka,
‘bones,’ of the ancestor”), and ceremonial grounds (where sa-
Depictions of praus (sailing craft), trepang-processing
cred objects are revealed to novices) (Keen, 1994,
sites, the goods obtained through trade with the visi-
tors, the mistreatment or abduction of women by Ma-
pp. 102–103).
cassans, or the slaughter of Aboriginal men by firing
All these things and beings implied links between peo-
squad, are “outside.” Images such as golden-skinned
ple, living and dead, country, ancestors, and the cere-
women working on weaving looms, the performance of
monies which followed them. The individual, group,
corroborees in honour of Allah, and an Arnhem Land
and country were all identified with the bodies and
creational being who directs Aboriginal men in the
mali’ (“image,” “spirit”) of the wangarr ancestors. In
making of iron kilns are “inside.” “Outside” art deals
ceremony a rangga sacred object which represented the
with specific historical episodes; “inside” art refers im-
transformation of a wangarr ancestor or a part of an an-
plicitly or explicitly with Birrinydji. (McIntosh, 2000,
cestor was its bone and flesh. The “bone country”
p. 144)
(ngaraka wa:nga) contained the transformed substance
The idea of “inside” and “outside”—open and restricted
as well as the powers of the ancestors. The individual
gained both his or her being and powers from the wan-
knowledge and practice—is a fundamental feature of Yolngu
garr. At a person’s death the spirit was believed to return
religious life. As Keen notes in Knowledge and Secrecy in an
to the waters on his or her country, the domain of the
Aboriginal Religion (1994), “Age, gender, group identity, and
wangarr ancestor, and/or to a land of the dead over the
kin relation to a group were important determinants of who
sea, and/or to heaven, the spirit home of [the Christian]
could impart information about elements of ceremonies, es-
“God wangarr.” But if people performed disinterment
pecially secret meanings, and to whom” (Keen, 1994,
and reburial rites the body of the dead was reincorporat-
p. 244). Yet as Annette Hamilton shows, one does not find
ed with the country and body of the ancestor in its
in Arnhem Land a context in which gender separation is as
manifestation as a hollow-log coffin. (Keen, 1994,
marked as it is in the desert regions. Rather, she says, “we
p. 103)
find a complex conundrum of arrivals and departures, pres-
Despite the apparent remoteness of their countries, Yolngu
ences and absences, in which women are fully involved. It
people were subject to alienation from their lands like Indig-
is sometimes said that women are made present by their ab-
enous people across the nation. In the 1960s the federal gov-
sences. This is a neat expression of a much more complex set
ernment of Australia granted a mining lease and property
of connections” (Hamilton, 2000, p. 71).
rights to a French aluminum company over a large part of
Keen relates:
northeast Arnhem Land. In 1963 Yolngu people from Yirr-
kala sent a petition to the federal parliament in Canberra.
Yolngu conceived of wangarr ancestors as beings with
The Yolngu petitioners demanded that their rights in land
human form, but having some of the properties of the
be recognized and protected. They sought to be consulted
beings or entities whose names they took, such as Rock
about such developments in their homelands. Significantly
or Honeybee, and as having extraordinary powers. They
the protesting Yolngu did not present their petition to the
were active long, long ago in “far off” times. They
federal parliament as a mass of signed pages, the traditional
camped, foraged, made love, quarreled and fought, and
bore children, somewhat like humans, but they were in-
form by which Australian parliaments are petitioned. In-
volved in extraordinary events and were transformed by
stead, the Yolngu petition, as Morphy notes, “was attached
them, perhaps into species such as jabirus or entities
to a bark painting bordered with designs belonging to the
such as the moon. Some wangarr engendered the ances-
clans whose lands were most immediately threatened by the
tors of human groups. These were a group’s
mining” (Morphy, p. 18). A federal inquiry and a court case
gulu’kulungu ancestors. (Keen, 1994, p. 45)
followed. Their findings were sympathetic to the Arnhem
Yolngu views of reproduction include a connection between
Landers’s plight. Morphy notes, “In the short term the Yol-
wangarr ancestors, reproductive processes (such as the ances-
ngu had completely failed, but in the process they had helped
tral spirit menstruating into waters), and the conception of
to create the political environment for granting Aboriginal
children’s spirits. In this understanding of human concep-
land rights” (Morphy, p. 31). This case laid the foundation
tion, a child’s “image” (mali) enters the woman from such
for the passage in 1974 of land rights legislation in the then
waters. The father might then “find” the spirit of his child
commonwealth-administered Northern Territory.
in a dream or strange experience (Keen, 1994, p. 106). Thus
Keen says that in Yolngu belief “the person was, in a sense,
SEVEN SISTERS STORY. Veronica Brodie, a woman of Ngar-
born of the wangarr ancestor and the waters” (Keen, 1994,
rindjeri and Kaurna descent, says in My Side of the Bridge
p. 107).
(2002): “You know there’s a beautiful Dreaming story that
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

goes with Hindmarsh Island, and that’s The Seven Sisters.”
search of two wives who had run away from him. At first a
It is in this area, Brodie says, that the Seven Sisters rise and
giant cod (pondi) traveled before him. The sweep of its tail
descend seasonally to the sky world.
widened the river in parts. Elsewhere it darted away from
him when he threw his spear to create long straight stretches
One side of Ngarrindjeri country lies where the land of
of the river. Other actions of the pair gave form to the
the lower Murray and Coorong Rivers meets the Southern
swamps, shoals, and wetlands along the way and formed the
Ocean. This coastal and lakes region forms an area with huge
great lakes at the river’s end. When the cod reached Lake Al-
horizons. The land and waters of Ngarrindjeri country fill
exandrina, Ngurunderi sought the aid of another ancestral
only the bottom of everyday vistas. On a clear night the sky,
figure, his wives’ brother Nepeli. Ngurunderi caught the cod
punctuated by stars and the soft clouds of the Milky Way,
and cut it up with a stone knife. From pieces of pondi’s body
comes down to meet the horizon. In this country it is not
came other fish: boney bream, perch, callop, and mudfish.
a great leap to imagine ancestral figures moving between sky,
Ngurunderi made camp but while he was there smelled
sea, and land.
cooking fish and knew his wives were near. He left his camp
South Australia was colonized in 1836. The lands of the
to renew his pursuit, but his huts remained as two hills, and
Ngarrindjeri people, within a hundred or so miles of Ade-
his bark canoe rose into the sky to form the Milky Way.
laide, the new colony’s capital, were settled soon after. Grad-
More forms came into being in his tracks and wake. The
ually the land was taken, parcel by parcel. Even so many
story ends with the drowning deaths of the two wives whose
Ngarrindjeri families remained in or near their homelands
bodies became islands known as the Pages. Eventually
in the mission established in 1859 at Point McLeay or in
Ngurunderi himself entered the spirit world on Kangaroo Is-
fringe camps throughout the region. Some continue to live
land. He dived into the sea and rose to become a star in the
on their country. Others have moved to major centers and
Milky Way.
live in homes that blend easily with those of their suburban
In the late 1980s, by then 150 years after settlement, the
South Australian Museum framed an exhibition of Ngar-
A century after the colonization period had begun, re-
rindjeri culture around the Ngurunderi myth. On display
searchers of Indigenous life, such as Norman Tindale and
too was a dramatization of the myth by contemporary Ngar-
more briefly Ronald Berndt, undertook work with Ngarrind-
rindjeri people. Though knowledge of the Ngurunderi myth
jeri people. They documented the endurance of significant
was no longer widespread, it had persisted in the memories
cultural knowledge a century or so after the process of settle-
of a small handful of Ngarrindjeri people. The processes of
ment had begun in earnest. Both researchers recorded myths
negotiating the exhibition and its subsequent popularity re-
about the formation of the landscape and of Ngarrindjeri
vived and revitalized existing knowledge of the myth across
law. Both documented their informants’ knowledge of Ngar-
the Ngarrindjeri nation.
rindjeri life prior to the arrival of white settlers.
The mighty Murray River winds its way through three
The action of the Murray River dominates the life of
states of Australia as it makes its way from the east to the
the area. As Ronald M. Berndt and Catherine H. Berndt put
south of the continent. At the end of its journey it spills slow-
ly into one of Australia’s great lakes, Lake Alexandrina. De-
spite barrages and irrigation, the waters of the Murray flow
The great River Murray that dominated the Narrinyeri
[Ngarrindjeri] people was significant not only because
on, channeling out of the lake and around a low-lying island
of the Ngurunderi myth which was known all over its
called Kumerangk, or Hindmarsh Island, in the Goolwa
territory. . . . [T]he River was like a lifeline, an im-
Channel. The Murray edges past the small river town of
mense artery of a living “body” consisting of the Lakes
Goolwa. At a place known as the mouth the breakers of the
and the bush hinterland that stretched across towards
Great South Ocean run onto a sandbar, where a channel or-
the Adelaide Hills and over the southern plains and un-
dinarily gives course for the ocean and the fresh water to fi-
dulating land. This “body” also included the country to
nally meet.
the east. . . . Its “legs” spread south-eastwards along
the Coorong and south-westwards along Encounter
In May 1995 a group of thirty-five or so Ngarrindjeri
Bay and beyond. The “body,” symbolic of Ngurunderi
women met with an appointee of the national minister re-
himself, embraced five different environments which
sponsible for Indigenous affairs. The developer of a marina
merged into one another: salt-water country, riverine,
complex had sought to start building a bridge between Hind-
Lakes, bush (scrub) and desert plains (on the east)—a
marsh Island and the township of Goolwa. Ngarrindjeri peo-
combination that had particular relevance to the socio-
ple sought protection of their heritage, which they said
economic life of the people. (Berndt and Berndt, 1993,
would be damaged or destroyed if the bridge work went
p. 13)
ahead. The state minister accepted that damage and destruc-
Several versions of this myth have been recorded. This is
tion was entailed in building the bridge but, in the context
thought to reflect the orientation of different clans to the
of a complex web of preexisting obligations, authorized the
story and to the section of it relating to their homelands. The
work to proceed under an act the aim of which was the pro-
myth tells of the great ancestor Ngurunderi, who traveled in
tection of Aboriginal heritage in South Australia. Ngarrind-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

jeri people petitioned the federal minister to exercise his
ports in My Side of the Bridge that the claimant women de-
powers under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heri-
clined on the first day of hearings to participate in the royal
tage Protection Act of 1984.
commission’s enquiry. Instead, they wrote to Royal Com-
The minister had been informed that in Ngarrindjeri
missioner Iris Stevens as follows:
culture the “meeting of the waters” around Kumerangk
We are deeply offended that a Government in this day
(Hindmarsh) Island was vital to the fertility and life of ngatji,
and age has the audacity to order an inquiry into our
Ngarrindjeri totems. He had also been advised that the area
secret, sacred, spiritual beliefs. Never before have any
had significance to women in Ngarrindjeri tradition but that
group of people had their spiritual beliefs scrutinized in
the nature of that significance was part of “secret-sacred” tra-
this way. It is our responsibility as custodians of this
knowledge to protect it. Not only from men, but also
from those not entitled to this knowledge. We have a
On a cold day in May 1995 women who were petition-
duty to keep Aboriginal law in this country. Women’s
ing the federal minister for the protection of their heritage
business does exist, has existed since time immemorial
formed a circle on the beach of Kumerangk at the mouth of
and will continue to exist where there are Aboriginal
the river. There with them was the woman appointed to re-
women who are able to practice their culture. (Brodie,
port to the minister. They said this place was important to
2002, p. 151)
their fertility and to the survival of their culture. Many wept.
Women hugged and held each other. Some said that though
The Stevens Hindmarsh Island Bridge Royal Commission
they had not known the significance of this place in their tra-
found in December 1995 that “the whole of the ‘women’s
dition before these meetings, they could now feel the signifi-
business’ was a fabrication” intended to prevent the con-
cance of the place and felt assured of the rightness of what
struction of a bridge between the township of Goolwa and
they were doing. Doreen Kartinyeri, a key figure in their ap-
Hindmarsh Island.
plication to the minister, looked out at the mouth and said,
In 1998 Brodie, with the support of other Ngarrindjeri
“For all the mothers that was, for all the mothers that are,
women, gave Diane Bell permission to publish (in Ngarrind-
for all the mothers that will be,” indicating why she was un-
jeri Wurruwarrin) the following limited account of her
dertaking this task.
knowledge of the Seven Sisters story and its relevance to the
Kartinyeri was later elected the group’s spokesperson,
issue of building a bridge to Hindmarsh Island:
authorized to disclose restricted knowledge that underpinned
her opposition to the building of the bridge to the minister’s
It begins with Ngurunderi’s cave which is situated . . .
[at Goolwa]. From the cave he looked across to the is-
reporter. Her disclosures did not occur without immediate
land. Ngurunderi felt it was his responsibility to look
opposition. Some Ngarrindjeri women in the group took the
after the sky, the bird life, the waters, because he made
position that Ngarrindjeri people should not disclose restrict-
the environment and the island. He was the god of the
ed knowledge to people not entitled by tradition to receive
Ngarrindjeri. His connection with the Seven Sisters was
it. Despite the difficult debate about the propriety of divulg-
that he sent a young man, Orion, after the Seven Sisters
ing restricted traditions, the group of women ultimately au-
to chase them and bring them back. They didn’t want
thorized Kartinyeri to disclose the restricted knowledge to
to be caught so they headed up to the sky, up and up
the minister’s reporter. She in turn agreed that she would do
and over the Milky Way and hid and there became the
her best to protect against its further disclosure. The minister
Seven Sisters. When they want to come back to see their
acted to ban the building of a bridge for twenty-five years:
Mum, who is still in the waters—near where the ferry
the years that would cover perhaps another generation of
crosses, just a little over towards the mouth, to the
south—there has to be a clear way, so they can return
Ngarrindjeri people.
and they’ll be returning shortly, when it gets cold, that’s
But that was not the end of the matter. The developers
when they disappear from the sky. Then they come
whose bridge and marina project was stymied by this deci-
back down and go under the water to be with their
sion sought legal review. Nearly a year later, in May 1995,
mother. Their mother belonged to the Warrior Women
another group of Ngarrindjeri women went public with
of the Island. (Bell, 1998, p. x)
claims that the knowledge had been fabricated. Most said
In 1997 the commonwealth government legislated to ex-
simply that they did not have this knowledge themselves and
clude this area from the protections offered by the Aboriginal
on that basis doubted its veracity. One said she believed she
and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act. Ngar-
was witness to an insinuation by Ngarrindjeri men that the
rindjeri claimants made appeal to the High Court of Austra-
area of the lower Murray represented “a women’s privates”
lia, arguing among other things that the Hindmarsh Island
and that this suggestion was the beginning of a process of
Bridge Act breached the Australian constitution and the
fabrication. These claims split Ngarrindjeri people and Ngar-
Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. In April
rindjeri families. They split anthropological opinion. They
1998 the High Court ruled to the contrary. The Hindmarsh
split opinion across the nation.
Island bridge was built. It opened to traffic in March 2001.
The South Australian government called a royal com-
It has become a curiosity stopover on Australian tourist
mission into the claims of fabrication. Veronica Brodie re-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Legal questions relating to the matter have now been
On the dais smoke rose from wooden vessels held high
pursued through a number of state and commonwealth
by dancers from the Bangarra Dance Theatre. With
courts in a number of separate cases. In August 2001, after
Djakapurra Munyarryun they descended the stairs to the sta-
a long-running civil suit for damages, Federal Court judge
dium floor. The ground pattern broke up. “The smoking
John Von Doussa found that he was not convinced that the
ceremony is set up to cleanse the air of all ailment; to cleanse
claims of the claimant women were fabricated.
the air of all negativity; to cleanse this meeting place in prep-
Meanwhile the phrases “secret women’s business” and
aration for rejoicement.”
“secret men’s business” have entered popular Australian
Smoke rose now from forty-four-gallon drums on the
speech. They are used to refer to gender-specific contexts, es-
stadium floor. Djakkapurra Munyarrun sang again, beating
pecially those carrying sexual overtones. Racing boats have
time with his clap sticks.
these names. Prewedding parties are referred to with these
“Once the cleansing has happened, the spirits are awak-
terms. These usages indicate how easily Indigenous religious
ened, called by the song man.”
claims that are brought to bear in Australian law or public
On high stilts, spiky headdressed “mimi spirits” loped
life can be disrespected. In the early twenty-first century the
through and above the smoke billowing from the stadium
controversy and the public skepticism of Aboriginal claims
floor. Ernie Dingo introduced the finale.
it fuels continue. So too do Ngarrindjeri people endure.
“The Bradshaw paintings depicted . . . are the helpers
FINALE. This overview of Australian Indigenous religion has
of the Wandjina, the great spirit from the Kimberlies in
traced connections, responses, contestation, and endurance
Western Australia. When the people are one, they’ll call the
to explore themes that underlie many Indigenous traditions.
spirits of creation to awaken the spirit, to lead them to a fu-
It has surveyed a range of Australian Indigenous societies and
ture they want to be.”
their contexts.
Then a huge golden fabric was raised. Outlined on it
The “Awakening” segment of the Sydney Olympic
in black was a great fringed head with big black eyes and
opening ceremony has provided touchstones for this discus-
nose, a Wandjina figure. The figure was raised to form an
sion. This article has moved between specific Dreamings
enormous backdrop. The Wandjina rippled gently in the
grounded in local places, where they are constantly enlivened
in human action, to more diffuse expressions of emerging
Pan-Australian Indigenous expressions and beliefs. But the
“The great Wandjina spirit who comes from the Kim-
finale of the Olympic journey is still to come.
berley. The eyes. The nose. And no mouth to pass judgment
will awaken the spirits around and [give] the people the
The Yolngu flag dancers moved into lines running
chance of rejoicement.”
down the stadium. Overhead cameras showed the performers
on the stadium floor forming into a colorful design: two sep-
The Indigenous performers now mixed together on the
arated lines leading like a pathway into a circle open to meet
floor waving their hands above their heads before the Wand-
jina. Stilted spirits stepped high among them. The back-
ground music rose to a crescendo. Then a barrage of fire-
A conch shell heralded the arrival of another group of
works pierced the night and shot sparks around the stadium.
performers. Drums and rattles beat out an aggressive rhythm.
The great Wandjina figure was animated in the light and
Headdressed and painted dancers in colorful grass skirts
formed a phalanx and proceeded, full of rhythmic vitality,
in a low hopping and skipping movement down the stadium
The “Awakening” segment was ending and “Fire” be-
toward the patterning presences on the floor. Ernie Dingo
ginning. Ernie Dingo explained: “The rebirthing has started.
responded to the energy of the performance: “Ah, this’ll get
The land now needs to prepare for a new life. A new life
ya’ blood boiling. To the Torres Strait. Welcoming the Tor-
comes in the form of a bush fire, controlled fire which al-
res Strait Islanders, brothers and sisters from the north of
lowed the Aboriginal people [to rid] the land of unwanted
Queensland and the admulla, the rhythm dance to celebrate
the energy of the Torres Strait Islands from far north
The Awakenings film showed Stephen Page, codirector
Queensland.” The Torres Strait Islanders moved to position
of the segment, on camera high in a control room enjoying
themselves kneeling, though still performing, as additional
the finale. “That’s what you call a ceremony!” he said. “Can’t
lines in a “pathway” to the circle.
have a ceremony without culture” (Roger, 2001).
Then a new sound was heard. Jean-clad dancers entered
the stadium covered in silver paint. They held boomerangs
Australian Bureau of Statistics. “Statistics. Statistical Profile—
out from their bodies as they danced. “The red Kangaroo
Aboriginal Women and Torres Strait Islander Women.”
dance welcoming the koori people of New South Wales, the
Available from http://abs.gov.au/websitedbs.
host nation. Welcoming them as the last to come on to the
Australian Bureau of Statistics. “Website Indigenous Statistics Ed-
site and [to] dance with the rest of the nation and prepare
ucation: Population Information—Distribution of Indige-
the unity from the ancient culture to the modern youth of
nous People across Australia.” Available from http://
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Bell, Diane. Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A World That Is, Was, and
Morton, John. “Country, People, Art: The Western Aranda
Will Be. North Melbourne, Australia, 1998.
1970–1990.” In The Heritage of Namatjira: The Watercolor-
Bell, Diane. Daughters of the Dreaming. North Melbourne, 1983;
ists of Central Australia, edited by J. Hardy, J. V. S. Megaw,
reprint, 2002.
and M. R. Megaw. Melbourne, Australia, 1991.
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Myers, Fred R. Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self: Sentiment, Place, and
ton. A World That Was: The Yaraldi of the Murray River and
Politics among Western Desert Aborigines. Washington, D.C.,
the Lakes, South Australia. Melbourne, Australia, 1993.
Brodie, Veronica. My Side of the Bridge. Kent Town, South Aus-
Myers, Fred R. “Culture Making: Performing Aboriginality at the
tralia, 2002.
Asia Society Gallery.” American Ethnologist 21, no. 4 (1994):
Charlesworth, Max, ed. Religious Business: Essays on Australian Ab-
original Spirituality. Cambridge, U.K., 1998.
Rose, Deborah Bird. Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal
Charlesworth, Max, Howard Morphy, Diane Bell, and K. Mad-
Views of Landscape and Wilderness. Canberra, Australia,
dock, eds. Religion in Aboriginal Australia: An Anthology.
Saint Lucia, Queensland, Australia, 1984.
Stanner, W. E. H. White Man Got No Dreaming: Essays, 1938–
Davis, Richard, ed. Woven Histories Dancing Lives: Torres Strait
1973. Canberra, Australia, 1979.
Islander Identity, Culture and History. Canberra, Australia,
Stanner, W. E. H. “The Dreaming.” In White Man Got No
Dreaming (pp. 23-40), Canberra, Australia, 1979.
Dussart, Françoise. The Politics of Ritual in an Aboriginal Settle-
Stanner, W. E. H. On Aboriginal Religion (1966). Oceania Mono-
ment: Kinship, Gender, and the Currency of Knowledge. Wash-
graph 36. Sydney, Australia, 1989.
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Watson, Christine. Piercing the Ground: Balgo Women’s Image
Evatt, Elizabeth. Review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Making and the Relationship to Country. Freemantle, Wash.,
Heritage Protection Act 1984. Report to the Minister for Ab-
original and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Commonwealth
of Australia, 1996.
Foley, Dennis. “The Cultural Genocide of the Sydney Olympic
2000 Games.” Available from http://www.faira.org.au/lrq/
Hamilton, Anette. “Gender, Aesthetics, Performance.” In The Ox-
ford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, edited by S.
Kleinert and M. Neale, pp. 68–75. South Melbourne, Aus-
In the positive sense myth is a charter for and a guide to ac-
tralia, 2000.
tion, though not necessarily socially approved action. Al-
though myth is not always linked directly to religious ritual,
Hercus, Luise. Nukunu Dictionary. Canberra, Australia, 1992.
the most important myths usually have a two-way, mutually
Hiatt, Lester R. Arguments about Aborigines: Australia and the Evo-
supportive relationship with ritual. A myth may stipulate, ex-
lution of Social Anthropology. Cambridge, U.K., 1996.
plain, or describe a rite or outline a sequence of events that,
Jordan, Ivan. Their Way: Towards an Indigenous Warlpiri Chris-
when translated into ritual action, emphasizes different facets
tianity. Darwin, Australia, 2003.
of its mythic counterpart.
Keen, Ian. Knowledge and Secrecy in an Aboriginal Religion: Yolngu
of North-East Arnhemland. Oxford, 1994.
As nonliterate peoples, the Aborigines relied almost en-
tirely on oral transmission. Other modes of communication
Kleinert, S., and M. Neale, eds. The Oxford Companion to Aborigi-
were supplementary and, like spoken languages and dialects,
nal Art and Culture. South Melbourne, Australia, 2000.
regionally based: hand-sign vocabularies, material represen-
McIntosh, Ian. “Sacred Memory and Living Tradition: Aboriginal
tations, body markings, ritual and ceremonial posturing and
Art of the Macassan Period in North-East Arnhem Land.”
dance, and gestures and facial expressions. These, like myth,
In The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, ed-
ited by S. Kleinert and M. Neale, pp. 144–145. South Mel-
illustrate the crisscrossing of similarity and diversity in tradi-
bourne, Australia, 2000.
tional Aboriginal culture throughout the continent, as well
as the balance between local and outward-looking orienta-
Michaels, Eric. “Constraints on Knowledge in an Economy of
Oral Information.” Current Anthropology 26, no. 4 (1985):
Mythic characters were usually associated with specific
Morphy, Howard. Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal
sites in the territories of specific groups. They mediated and
System of Knowledge. Chicago, 1991.
personalized the relationship between people and the land.
Morphy, Howard. “Empiricism to Metaphysics: In Defense of the
But most mythic beings were travelers, not confined to single
Concept of the Dreamtime.” In Prehistory to Politics: John
regions, and however much of their spiritual essence they left
Mulvaney, the Humanities and the Public Intellectual, edited
behind at sites which now commemorate them, their mythic
by Tim Bonyhady and Tom Griffiths, pp. 163–189. Mel-
tracks led outward as well as inward. Along with trade and
bourne, Australia, 1995.
gift exchanges, which connected persons and groups beyond
Morphy, Howard. Aboriginal Art. London, 1998.
the ordinary range of social interaction, the mythic beings
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

encouraged a centrifugal perspective, actualized in meetings
last words urged the people of that region to gather and eat
for religious rituals that focused on the appropriate mythic
him in his food manifestation.
characters, their sites and tracks, and their sayings, songs, and
In a Dieri myth from the Lake Eyre region, one of the
muramura used songs to make both bitter and pleasant-
Aboriginal societies were based on religion. Religious
tasting plants grow. (Howitt, 1904, p. 781). T. G. H. Stre-
rules, authority, and sanctions were dominant, permeating
hlow, in the narrative myth of Emianga in central Australia,
the whole of living and ranging from the highly concentrated
sets out details of edible seed preparation (see below).
secret-sacred dimension through the dimension of the open
Ngurunderi, the great mythic personage of the lower Murray
sacred, or public sacred, to more routine mundane affairs.
River in South Australia, took a fish—a Murray cod—
In themes and in modes of transmission, and in their ritual
caught by his wives’ brother Nepeli in a giant pondi, cut it
associations, myths in all regions reflect that span and that
into pieces, and threw the pieces into the river and into the
lakes at the river’s mouth. As he did so, he named each piece
as a different variety of fish, making the waters rich in fish
primary or secondary themes that have a practical bearing on
for the human beings who were to come.
issues of everyday life. These are sometimes regarded as too
On Cape York Peninsula, Hard Yam Woman and Ar-
mundane or too localized to be put in the same category as
rowroot Man, descending into their respective sacred sites,
more obviously sacred myths with potentially universal ap-
took on the shape of roots and uttered instructions on how
peal. Nevertheless, they are set firmly within a religious
they should be treated to render them edible (McConnel,
1957, p. 54). Beforehand, they themselves had foraged and
Essentially practical and down-to-earth, Aboriginal reli-
hunted for food, as they traveled, the woman digging for
gion put almost equal importance on human physical well-
roots and the man spearing fish. According to the story,
being and on spiritual matters or nonempirical aspirations.
Hard Yam Woman carefully prepared the roots by cooking
Many religious rites, large and small, were directed to human
them with pieces of heated ant-bed (termite mound) and re-
goals. For example, a multitude of species-renewal rites, per-
peatedly washing and rinsing them. She carried a dillybag
formed by different persons or groups at different times and
and bark container and Arrowroot Man had a spear-thrower
places, tried to ensure that people had enough of all the re-
and a tomahawk as well as spears.
sources they regarded as necessary for living in their particu-
Characters in Aboriginal myths do not often instruct
lar area. The rites were designed to achieve through religious
human beings about food and water, nor do they usually
means aims that were, in one sense, mundane. And myths
transform themselves into food; they are more commonly
were vital ingredients in this process. Mythic characters were
seen using the resources that are already available. Usually no
responsible for contributing the different “necessities for liv-
explanation of how the resources got there is given; it is
ing”; they also sanctified and sponsored locally available as-
enough, in these myths, that they are there and can be uti-
sets by simply using them themselves. Myths, then, were and
lized by the characters whose story it is in the course of their
are storehouses of practical information, rules, and precepts,
adventures and encounters. That applies to the making or
as well as a source of divine truths.
use of tools and other nonedible resources.
Some mythic characters created supplies of food or
In a song series closely related to the Wawalag myth, the
water that had not been there before. For example, the
boomerang-legged honey spirit man Wudal, or Woial, car-
Djanggawul sisters in eastern Arnhem Land urinated to pro-
ries bees in tightly plaited baskets hung from his shoulders;
vide fresh water for the local human populations. Several of
he chops out a honeycomb from a tree with his stone ax and
these waters were so powerfully sacred that access to them
gashes a paper-bark tree with his boomerang to obtain fresh
was restricted. The Djanggawul also caused trees to grow
water. (His boomerang legs are a type of bone deformity, said
from their posts, called djuda, but in western Arnhem Land
to be a result of early malnutrition.) The Wawalag them-
a high proportion of mythic characters are credited with ac-
selves have baskets and digging sticks; they build a fire and
tually “planting” a wide range of vegetation. Sometimes they
try to cook their food on it and gather paper bark for sleeping
carried vegetables or fish in long baskets and “poured them
mats and stringy bark for a hut. The stone spear blades they
out” in what seemed appropriate places. Others, such as one
carry are referred to in one of the Wudal songs: Ridarngu-
of the many mythic sister pairs who traveled throughout
speaking men who have dug out and shaped the stone sit
Arnhem Land, shaped goannas and lizards, put them among
around in a circle, wrapping the blades carefully in paper
red ants that bit them into life, then struck them on the head
bark, then packing them into baskets.
with a spear-thrower to make them move and spread across
the land. Still other characters turned into various vegetable
Metamorphosed stone objects at various sites are the
foods or into fresh and edible land creatures. An old potential
grinding stones, food containers, domestic tools, and fish
water-peanut man ended his journey (during which he plant-
traps of mythic characters. Other myths throughout the con-
ed many foods) in a billabong near the East Alligator River,
tinent tell of the making of spears and shields. In some cases,
where he gradually changed into a water peanut and with his
they say who was responsible; in others, mythic characters
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

simply use the implements. For example, the Djanggawul
At one level, the myths of different regions provide two
came on the path of the rising sun in their bark canoe (or
kinds of information. First, they contain details about ter-
raft), but we are not told who made it. Boomerangs were not
rain, vegetable and animal foods, and fresh and salt water,
used or even traded in all regions. Where they were, they
noting how these resources are utilized by mythic characters.
were not all the same: not all were returning; not all were
Secondly, the artifacts that are mentioned can be located on
used as weapons or clapping sticks for singing or as ritual def-
maps, as in the case of boomerangs and didjeridu, indicating
loration tools, or in women’s secret rites. Similarly, the did-
where and how they appear in myths—including ceremonial
jeridu (drone pipe) does not appear in inland or Western De-
gift exchanges where mythic characters meet, engage in
sert myths. On the north coast of western Arnhem Land,
trade, or carry items from one area to another. Subthemes
however, it is mostly an ordinary item of a mythic songman’s
of both kinds, with varying content, are a rich source of data
equipment. According to one didjeridu origin myth, after a
for comparison with the actualities of traditional Aboriginal
troublesome mythic character had been killed and buried,
life—corresponding, in a different dimension, to details of
people heard a strange new sound coming from under-
mythic origins and to the manufacture and use of sacred and
ground. Far from being dead, the character had put the end
secret-sacred materials. (Howitt, 1904, contains a wealth of
of his abnormally long penis in his mouth and was blowing
detail on all of these points for southeastern Australia.)
through it.
A third kind of information is inseparable from the
Some myths have characters using fire for cooking food
other two, as far as myths in this and in the secret-sacred di-
and for warmth but make no reference to its origin. The
mensions are concerned. In the charter and guide that are
Wawalag sisters, for instance, took it for granted. In other
set out explicitly or implicitly in the myths, the “what” of
myths, there are characters who are credited with introduc-
natural resources and artifacts does not stand on its own; the
ing it. Wuragag, in western Arnhem Land, brought it espe-
issue of “who” is crucial. For example, in the division of labor
cially from his origin place, somewhere beyond Bathurst and
in everyday hunting and foraging, men use spears, women
Melville islands, so that people on the mainland would not
use digging sticks, and these tools symbolize their roles.
need to eat their food raw. In other examples fire is a cause
Some food containers are specific to women (e.g., wooden
of quarrels, as in a simplified children’s story from northeast-
carrying dishes throughout the Western Desert and else-
ern Arnhem Land in which Crocodile and Frilled (Blanket)
where), whereas baskets or dillybags are used by women
Lizard, both men then, fight about fire. Crocodile threw a
slung from their foreheads, by men slung from their shoul-
fire stick at Frilled Lizard, so that he grew small and reddish,
ders, occasionally in everyday circumstances but often (as in
taking on his lizard shape; Crocodile slid into the salt water
northern Arnhem Land), when feathered and decorated, as
and stayed there.
sacred baskets holding sacred objects. This division of labor
was ordained in myth, or myths served as a model justifying
Theft of fire is a common theme and is often associated
it for human beings. Other such themes in myth specify or
with birds. In an account from the Kurnai of Victoria, a “su-
imply who is permitted to eat or to prepare or to handle
pernatural being called Bullum-baukan stole the fire of the
which foods, in what circumstances, and in what company:
early Kurnai. Narugul, the Crow, and Ngarang, the Swamp-
the range of food taboos that were a feature of all Aboriginal
hawk, having recovered it, Bullum-baukun ascended to the
societies, varying in accordance with age, sex, ritual status,
sky by climbing up a cord made of the sinews of the red wal-
and region. The penalties for breaking such taboos might be
laby.” (Howitt, 1904, p. 486). In a Western Desert myth,
imposed either by human agents on the basis of mythic in-
Old Man Gandju’s companions went hunting without him.
junctions or directly by supernatural figures who are believed
He covered up their campfires and went away with his own
to be able to cause illness or death. The same sorts of rules
fire stick. When they returned, they tried to make fire but
apply in the case of material objects; but in both cases, the
could not. They died of cold and are visible today as a heap
sanctions and the penalties in regard to religious ritual mat-
of granite stones at their old camping site. Gandju later had
ters are more conspicuous.
his fire stick stolen by two men, but he turned into a fire spir-
Mythic characters also stipulate—through actual state-
it and burned them to death. On the Daly River, in the
ments or through their own example—how people should
Northern Territory, Dog tried to twirl a fire-drill stick to
behave toward one another. They specify the rules for be-
make fire to cook roots, but the stick always broke. He tried
trothal, marriage, and kinship, as well as the obligations and
to steal a live fire stick from some women who were prepar-
rights that should apply between particular persons and
ing an oven, but twice they drove him away. Big Hawk, his
groups and in relationships involving varying degrees of con-
companion, was also unsuccessful, but Little Chicken Hawk
straints or taboos. These “social relations” themes, in some
was able to swoop down on a piece of glowing wood and fly
instances subthemes, are among the most recurrent in Ab-
off with it. In their camp, Dog had impatiently eaten all his
original myths.
yams raw. That is why dogs eat their food raw today and why
they do not talk. (See Berndt and Berndt, 1982,
REGIONAL PATTERNS. Apart from similarities in general
pp. 396–397. Some fire myths in various parts of Australia
themes, modified by regional distinctiveness in cultural de-
are discussed by Maddock, 1970).
tails, there are examples where almost the same myth, or
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

closely related myths, can be found over very great distances.
wanted to marry them, and who died of despair when they
The Kunapipi and Munga-munga, not necessarily under
could not, are now Orion’s Sword and Belt. In various parts
those names, are known in linguistically different popula-
of the Great Victoria Desert and in the Western Desert gen-
tions over wide expanses of country. The rites that go with
erally, similar myths are known to women as well as to men
these mythic complexes have helped keep them largely intact
(White, 1975, pp. 128–130; also, for one part of the story,
while adapting to various local conditions. That is true also
Berndt and Berndt, 1982, p. 250). In the eastern Kimberley,
for the Two Men myth and the myth of Malu, the Red Kan-
the Pleiades women were chased by Eaglehawk, now the
garoo Man, in their respective versions throughout the West-
Southern Cross constellation (Kaberry, 1939, p. 12). But in
ern Desert and adjacent regions, as well as for the Dingari
the north of the Western Desert, by the 1980s Nyirana-
myth ritual complex.
Yulana and the women he pursued were regarded by women
as “something for men to talk about, not for us.”
In some cases myths seem to have spread slowly,
through interactions between participants in large religious
Although the theme of a sky world, other than stars and
rituals, whether or not such myths are linked with those par-
clouds, appears in myths throughout the continent, it is
ticular rituals. A few mythic themes have been reported from
more common in the south and southeast (bearing in mind
almost every part of the continent, with no accompanying
that myth material from the southwest, like information on
references to any traveling rituals or cults—unlike, for in-
ritual and religious matters generally, is scarce because so lit-
stance, the Molonga song series of Queensland or the several
tle was recorded before the region’s traditional cultures and
Kurangara series of songs and myths ranging from the Kim-
people succumbed to outside pressures). There are more ref-
berley to the north of the Western Desert. The most notable
erences to the inhabitants of the sky world and to ropes,
in this respect is the Rainbow Snake theme.
vines, and other bridges between the sky and earth. Also, the
land of the dead is more often located in the sky. For in-
Australia’s terrain and vegetation vary a great deal—
stance, after his physical death, the great Ngurunderi of the
from arid scrub, sand hills, and rocky hills to rain forests,
lower Murray River cleansed himself in the sea before going
fresh and tidal rivers, salt lakes, coastal beaches, and man-
to the sky world to continue his nonearthly life. His canoe
grove swamps. The populations of birds, mammals, reptiles,
had earlier been metamorphosed into the Milky Way.
fishes, and insects vary accordingly. All of these factors find
a place in myth. Even in adjoining regions, however, ac-
Another common theme deals with the questions of
counts of the origins of natural phenomena can diverge wide-
why and when certain creatures—venomous snakes, sharks,
ly, as do the myths and stories about the sun, moon, and stars
and the like—are dangerous. In a related group of myths,
in southeast Australia (Howitt, 1904, pp. 427–434). There
characters appear in the shape of snakes or other such crea-
are also transcontinental differences in mythic statements
tures and are respected or feared because of their destructive
about stars. Most regions have a number of such statements,
or punitive powers. They may swallow their victims before
at least to the extent of naming a few stars, and in some cases
regurgitating them (more or less intact in form) or vomiting
a wide range of individual stars and constellations. These are
them (not intact) as parts of the landscape or as sacred relics.
not conceptualized as material entities in their own right; vir-
Although regional diffusion of mythic themes, with or
tually everywhere, with a few exceptions, the stars and con-
without ritual expressions, is significant, the intraregional
stellations were originally in human or some other terrestrial
patterning of myths and related features is perhaps even more
form, and in their stories they are involved in human situa-
important. Traditionally, no myth or ritual or song sequence
tions and show human emotions.
existed in isolation. Every such item was associated with par-
ticular social groups and people, so that there was a mosaic
There are some widespread similarities. A falling star, or
of proprietary rights, responsibilities, tasks, and rewards: a di-
meteorite, usually presages or indicates a death. Just as com-
vision of verbal and dramatic and song materials, and a divi-
mon is the theme of a group of young women, often called
sion of labor in regard to holding and safeguarding and trans-
in English the Seven Sisters, pursued by a man whose ad-
mitting them to, and through, appropriate persons.
vances they reject. They escape into the sky, where they are
Distinctions along lines of sex and age had a bearing on such
now visible as the Pleiades; their pursuer, in some versions,
transmission, and on rights to know and rights to participate
is now a star in the constellation Orion. Among the Wotjo-
and to transmit. Thus what might seem to be the same myth
baluk of northwestern Victoria (Howitt, 1904,
could actually exist in a number of versions, with levels of
pp. 429–430), Native Cat Man was always chasing the
complexity in form, content, and interpretation.
women who are now the Pleiades. “Now he is up in the sky,
still chasing them, and still behind.” Howitt also (p. 787n.)
Contrasts have been drawn by, for example, Strehlow
refers to an Arabana story in which a number of girls become
(1971) between wholly sung and wholly narrative versions
stars in the Pleiades and in the belt of Orion, while the man
of myth, especially in relation to esoteric as against public in-
who tries to follow them is now “the principal star in Scor-
terpretations. He sets out and contrasts (pp. 147–165) the
pio.” In a New South Wales example (Parker, 1974,
Northern Aranda Emianga myth in its narrative and song
pp. 105–109, 125–127), their pursuer captured two of them
versions, combining “the myth and song of Ljaua women
before they escaped into the sky; a group of boys who had
with those of the serpent ancestor (Ljaltakalbala).” (Ljaua is
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

a small plant with edible seeds; the deep pool at Emianga was
Marsupial Mole Man, in the north of the Western Desert,
the women’s origin site.)
changed into a mole after a quarrel with his two wives, who
attacked him because he had deceived them and failed to
The beginning of the narrative Emianga myth details
provide them with meat. This story, then, presents children
the women’s collection of seeds in wooden dishes and the
with several obvious themes, including the message of a hus-
processes of winnowing and grinding them, shaping them
band’s duty as a hunter, and the incidents are clearly located
into “meal cakes,” cooking, dividing, and eating them. A
at specific sites. It is one of several such stories which become
Willy Wagtail Woman who had come from the same pool
more complex as children are judged more competent to deal
later took seeds to her nephew, the huge serpent who had
with them.
also emerged from the pool; she ground them, gave him an
uncooked meal cake, and invited him to return with her for
In western Arnhem Land, a children’s story about the
some cooked ones. The rest of the long story tells of his ad-
Long-necked Tortoise Woman, Ngalmangii, tells how she
ventures: he swallowed all the people, and their belongings,
and Echidna Woman had quarreled after she had eaten
at a camp of Echidna Men who, secretly goaded by his aunt,
Echidna Woman’s baby, left in her care when they were
had been planning to kill him. He split himself open, let out
camping together. Her excuse was “I was hungry!” Echidna
their bones and their belongings, and sang his own wounds
flung at Tortoise the flat stone she always carried, and Tor-
to heal. The same thing happened at a camp of Yam Men.
toise threw the small bamboo spears she always had with her
Eventually he swallowed all the Ljaua women and vomited
at Echidna. That is how they took their present shapes. In
them out as tjurunga in the sacred cave at Emianga. Only the
northeastern Arnhem Land, children are (or were) intro-
Willy Wagtail escaped into a narrow cave. He himself now
duced to the great Djanggawul epic with a shorter account
remains forever inside the deep pool.
of the travels of the Sun Woman and her small daughter, a
story that includes such items as the colorful feathered string
Briefly, Strehlow sees Aranda prose myths as giving “a
symbolizing the rays of the sun.
coherent story of the history of a legendary totemic ancestor
(or group of ancestors),” complete with place names, mythic
In these examples there is a transition from simple to
tracks, and the rituals instituted by such characters. He dis-
less simple versions within a similar range of topics or
tinguishes these from ordinary stories in the Aranda cultural
themes. Another, more significant point is the interconnec-
area on the grounds that stories are not tied specifically to
tion between adult myths within the same region. There
sites, ritual expressions, or group ownership and are there-
have been suggestions that “a myth is best interpreted
fore, he implies, more mobile as well as less sacred.
through another myth.”
In any one regional pattern of myth, story, song, and
Fate and destiny. Mythic characters proceeding on
ritual material, every item needs to be considered in relation
their journeys are likely to encounter others whose stories
to the others and to the total context within the social frame.
lead them in divergent directions. Such meetings may in-
Children who grew up learning their own language, culture,
volve conversations and perhaps camping together for a short
and social relationships without very much intrusion by alien
time and then separating, never to see one another again.
influences were introduced to this pattern of myths through
An example of a very brief, single encounter comes in
relatively simple examples and were taught to see those exam-
a western Arnhem Land Rainbow Snake myth told to me in
ples in connection with others, as part of a pattern. The con-
1950 by Gunwinggu-speaking women at Oenpelli. The
text of myths and stories was as significant in the learning
Snake “arose far away, coming from the north, from the mid-
process as were other contextual features. Relatively simpli-
dle [of the] sea. She saw land, and came up out of the sea.
fied (but not contextualized) children’s versions of myth are
No water there! Dry land! She went underneath again, travel-
regarded by many traditionally oriented Aborigines as the
ling underground, and camp up here at Oenpelli, at this
only suitable versions for most outsiders. The more detailed
water where we drink. Then she went on to the waterfall,
and elaborate versions they themselves have learned would,
where those two Birds spoke to her.” Following the stream,
they say, not be appreciated or understood.
she eventually dug out a deep billabong, set rocks in place
to form a cave, and gave birth to an egg, which she put in
Traditional stories for children purport to answer some,
the sun to harden. The two Birds, whose spirits remain forev-
not all, of the same questions that adult myths raise. Who
er at the waterfall, are the only other Dreaming characters
are we? Where did we come from? Where did it all begin?
noted in her story until an old Dangbun-speaking man,
Why do people die? Where do people go when they die?
Manyurulbu, “came to that tabu water because he was
In parts of the Western Desert, children’s stories may
thirsty. He saw the egg, broke it, cooked it and ate it. Inside
be accompanied by fast-moving scenes drawn in the sand,
the cave she moved in her sleep, feeling something was
with sticks or leaves to represent the main characters. They
wrong; she came out, and smelt him. She was weeping, look-
are sometimes dismissed by adults as insignificant because
ing for her egg. She took him under the water, then brought
they lack portentous meanings or ritual connections. They
him up to the surface and vomited his bones.” He “went
are just-so stories about how various creatures assumed their
hard,” like rock. He became taboo and was transformed into
shapes, why they behave as they do, and so on. For example,
an eternal spirit presence, djang, at that site. The Rainbow
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Snake, in the cave above the billabong, watches over the
casual or long-term sweetheart or marital unions—or in hos-
other two eggs that she made and allowed to become hard.
tilities—but in a large proportion of these myths the Rain-
(One was stolen during the late 1940s but was returned after
bow Snake provides a common thread.
a local outcry: people were afraid the Snake might punish
them for failing to prevent the theft.) No one is allowed to
Another Rainbow Snake story from the same region
go to where the Snake is lying.
leads us to several further points. The venomous snake Bek
was once a man. In his travels he came to a mortuary plat-
This is an almost typical Rainbow Snake story. The
form, looked at the soles of the corpse’s feet to see who it
Snake’s meeting with the two Birds has numerous parallels
was, and identified it as his uncle. He was upset and angry:
in western Arnhem Land myths in general. The conversation
“They [someone] killed my uncle!” He went as a death mes-
between them is not reported, but it is unlikely, given the
senger, taking the news. The people (unspecified, but rela-
Rainbow Snake’s reputation, that the Birds told her to move
tives are implied) wept and gashed themselves in grief. He
to another site. Usually the Rainbow Snake does not meet
“stood as gungulor for them”; the bearer of a death message
animals or human characters as equals: the encounter with
takes the risk of being attacked by the mourners. He decided
the old Dangbun man is more characteristic. Although in the
to take revenge on them. “I’ll damage a Dreaming djang, and
final outcome he also becomes taboo and immortalized at
then that Mai [an oblique reference to the Snake] will come
that place, he is less taboo, and less dangerous, than the
and eat us all!” He used the term man-djang; the man- prefix
usually classifies vegetable foods and plants, but when at-
Among the rocks and caves of the western Arnhem Land
tached to other substantive forms it indicates an especially
escarpment, every large hill and even small topographical fea-
sacred or ritually important quality. He found a taboo palm
tures are locally compartmentalized, shared among a number
tree and chopped it to pieces. A great rain came and drowned
of djang. One of the exceptions is Wuragag, Tor Rock, who
all of those people at that place. But he went into a rotten
rises as a landmark above the coastal plains. Wuragag “made
tree, buried himself inside it, and spat at them all: “You turn
himself hard” without the intervention of the Rainbow
into rocks—but as for me, I become a creature!” The narra-
Snake, partly because “he was afraid. He thought some men
tor added, “Ngalyod bit their heads, ate their noses. Their
[other mythic characters] were coming to kill him.” He had
bones lie about like rocks, but Bek put himself as djang; and
been the husband of Waramurungundji, the anthropomor-
his spirit remains there, at Maganbang, in Magani.”
phic creative mother of this region, but she left him after he
Bek’s vengeful action is one of several such cases in west-
slapped her cheek for referring openly to coitus. After that,
ern Arnhem Land myths, but it is only in the realm of myth
she tried unsuccessfully to introduce the rite of circumcision
that there are any reported instances of suicide in traditional
for boys.
Aboriginal Australia. Revenge usually takes the form of direct
A similar venture in the south of the region also failed.
violence or indirect sorcery, and both of these are found
An old man, known as Stone Knife Carrier, or Penis djang,
often in myth. Also, like Wuragag, Bek made his own deci-
came traveling from beyond Dangbun territory, circumcis-
sion about his djang transformation; unlike Wuragag, he sur-
ing boys along his route. However, the first Gunwinggu boy
vives in the form of a living, mobile natural species, still an-
he tried to circumcise died instantly. Men who had gathered
tagonistic to human beings, as well as in a site-linked spirit
for the ritual turned on him angrily, declaring that the prac-
manifestation. The Rainbow Snake was not directly an agent
tice was “not for us, we who speak Gunwinggu and Gunba-
in his transmutation. The myth includes no reference to any
lang” (a language spoken farther north, toward the coast).
attempt on Bek’s part to evade being swallowed by the Rain-
Traditionally, circumcision was not practiced in western
bow Snake or to plead not to be swallowed, as some mythic
Arnhem Land. The two myths provide a reason, and the
characters do; nor is there any mention of the Snake trying
Stone Knife Carrier episode ends with a statement about lin-
to engulf him or being thwarted or defeated, as in cases from
guistic and cultural boundaries. Waramurungundji was more
coastal areas where a Snake manifestation is killed and cut
successful with girls’ puberty rites. By teaching her young
open to release the victims. However, while in one sense they
daughter at puberty, through actions and verbal advice, she
are victims, in another sense they are not.
showed what should be done at first and subsequent men-
Western Arnhem Land is unusual in the high propor-
strual periods, including the routine behavior of squatting
tion of statements about transformation and intent made by
over a heap of hot coals and ashes, frequently changed, avoid-
its mythic characters. Many mythic accounts, especially of
ing water courses (fresh or salt), and observing social and
potential djang, open with such statements; others come at
food taboos.
the conclusion. The pervasive tone of the djang myths is one
In western Arnhem Land alone, more than in a number
of destiny and of its inevitability, and the Rainbow Snake is,
of other regions, the theme of travelers meeting is built into
for most such characters, the main force through which des-
the fabric of many myths, and knowing those myths also in-
tiny is achieved. A few characters manage to delay the inevi-
volves knowing at least something about all of the characters
table end, but only temporarily: they might weep or try to
whose paths cross at or near particular sites. Some travel
escape, but they “couldn’t do anything.” If, in rare instances,
alone, in pairs, or in small family groups and join others in
they were helped by a “clever man,” an Aboriginal doctor,
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they eventually “became hard,” and their djang sites are iden-
all of this was documented in myth, supplemented by illus-
tified as such.
trations in rock art and in bark paintings. Adding to the “liv-
ing” quality of the whole region were, and are, numerous
Without spelling it out, the myths make contradiction
spirit characters such as the Mimi, whose ancient, stick-thin
here plain. On the one hand, there is the inescapable aspect
likenesses, drawn in blood, appear in paintings in the rocky
of fate: the aim of a djang character’s journey and the choice
hills and escarpment country. Other spirit beings who can
of the “right place” are predetermined, although the deter-
be either friendly or malevolent include the ghost aspects of
mining agent is not mentioned. On the other hand, the ac-
dead human beings, whose souls have gone to the land of the
tions that cause the final disaster, as it is often described, are
dead, leaving a third aspect to return to child spirit centers
mostly set in a more negative frame even when the Rainbow
to await reincarnation.
Snake is not involved. Mythic characters “go wrong” or “do
wrong”; they take a wrong turning spatially or in terms of
The Rainbow Snake, in swallowing and (among more
behavior, or someone else “makes them go wrong.” Although
inland groups) vomiting manifestations, is an important
not defined as such, this contradiction is almost like a con-
linking theme in regard to the shape of the landscape and,
trast between preordained destiny and individual will. It has
to some extent, of the seascape. The Snake connects land and
a parallel in local views on sorcery, which combine the ac-
people and the invisible, supernatural dimension in another
knowledgment that physical death is the fate of all human
way, in the sphere of religious ritual—in the Ubar, for in-
beings with the belief that it can be brought about prema-
stance, and in the Kunapipi, with their bearing on fertility
turely through human action.
and on initiation rites and their core of secret-sacred mys-
tique. Other important characters are widely known in west-
A large range of myths deal with issues of human choice
ern Arnhem Land, not only through their cross-country trav-
in regard to good and bad behavior in social relationships.
eling but also through their position in the same kind of
They appear in the content of djang myths but only as sec-
ritual context. Among them are the Nagugur, associated with
ondary themes. Except in such examples as the Bek myth,
the Kunapipi rites. In some versions of their myth, they are
they are not shown as causal or precipitating factors in at-
a father-son pair traveling with their wives; in others, a group
tracting the Rainbow Snake. The Snake is drawn more or less
of that name, sometimes said to be self-renewing or self-
automatically to the following kinds of scenes: when, for ex-
perpetuating. Associated with the Ubar rites is Yirawadbad,
ample, a goanna or an opossum sizzles and bursts while
a venomous snake man (in one ritual manifestation, a Rain-
someone is trying to cook it in a low-lying sandy place during
bow Snake); Nadulmi or Narol’mi, a kangaroo man; and
the wet season (or on a flat rock, which is likely to crack);
Ngaldjorlbu, the Ubar woman. Associated with the Maraiin
when someone mistakenly kills a daughter or son of the
rites are Lumaluma, the Whale Man, a good and bad charac-
Rainbow Snake; or when someone makes loud noises, allows
ter, and, among others, Laradjeidja of the Yiridja moiety and
children to cry, or breaks food or ritual taboos. In the myths,
Gundamara of the Dua moiety. (Dua and Yiridja are patri-
all of these are presented as potentially, but not inevitably,
lineal-classifying terms that have been spreading from north-
dangerous circumstances: the characters concerned have a
eastern Arnhem Land.)
measure of choice. Some of them, in their final moments,
say, “We went wrong, we shouldn’t have done that!”—
The paths, or tracks, of these and other characters are
whereas others, such as Bek, know exactly what they are
usually implicit in their myths, but it is the sites that receive
doing and make a deliberate choice to draw upon a supernat-
most attention. That is the general rule throughout the con-
ural force to achieve a personal objective. One sociocultural
tinent too, but within a certain territorial range people also
theme implied in the Bek story is, “If someone has an unsat-
know and identify the tracks without hesitation, partly be-
isfied grievance, watch him carefully because he may take a
cause these are paths they themselves are, or were traditional-
secret revenge.” That theme emerges more conspicuously in
ly, likely to use in their own journeys. In the Western Desert,
sorcery accounts, in myth and in everyday life, especially in
mythic tracks are especially important in respect to what used
regard to neglected obligations or a girl’s rejection of her be-
to be called “conception totemism.” The place at which a
trothed or her husband. Resolution of such conflicts is seen
woman first reported awareness of pregnancy need not be a
as a human responsibility. As a rule it is only the physical
named site. The crucial question is, On or near what track—
consequences of human action that bring the Rainbow Snake
whose track—did this happen? For instance, was it on or near
to deal with ordinary people—noise, ground movements,
a Dingari route, a Malu (Red Kangaroo) route, or a Wadi
breaches of taboo, damage to taboo sites, and the like.
Gudjara (Two Men) route? The answer has implications for
the child’s religious ritual rights and participation in later
Myth patterns in local perspective. People throughout
western Arnhem Land were traditionally acquainted, at least
in outline, with most of the djang myth themes and could
Traditionally, the myths of a region—and the sites,
identify djang sites. More significantly, they were aware that
paths, and activities they enshrined—made up a living con-
the country around them was spiritually alive with thousands
text map, pervaded and highlighted by religious rituals and
of major and minor presences, and they knew that every
full of practical information about natural, human, and su-
djang site had its story and its specific character(s) and that
pernatural resources. The verbal surface of the myths and
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songs, the visible and audible surface of the rituals, and the
myth, songs, and place names, but a unique superhuman in-
material representations that went with both of these never
carnation. The rumors were short-lived. However, the north-
contained all the information available for understanding,
central recognition of the Djanggawul’s importance is much
interpreting, and acting in relation to them. Even knowing
less marked farther south, where emphasis is on the Wawalag
them all in toto would not be enough. In an ongoing situa-
constellation, with its inland overtones, and on the longer-
tion, the social context of discussion—the “running com-
standing inland association with Kunapipi ritual.
mentary,” as Malinowski called it—is an indispensable part
Both constellations, Djanggawul and Wawalag, share a
of any myth or ritual constellation. Furthermore, to take a
common, pervasive theme of fertility of the land and of all
single myth or a single ritual sequence out of its larger con-
its living inhabitants. Within the overall theme, the Djangga-
text of myths or of rites is to ignore what can be vital clues
wul stress the human component. The two sisters, and on
to its meaning. This is not to say that one must have, or must
the eastern side they and their brother, produced the first
include in one’s scrutiny, details of every account in any
human populations in the region, locating them at specific
given region. No Aboriginal person in a traditionally ori-
named sites and telling them what languages (dialects) they
ented society could do that. But adults in such a society
should speak, along with other customary rules these new
would be aware of the extent and nature of the information
people were to follow. They provided supplies for fresh water
and of its relevance, even though some would be more
and indirectly indicated what foods they were to eat or ab-
knowledgeable by virtue of age, ritual status, interest, and
stain from. The Wawalag sisters are often referred to in con-
competence. That kind of awareness is a minimal require-
nection with fertility, but this rests mainly on their connec-
ment for students of myth.
tion with the Great Python, who swallowed them. They were
Interconnecting themes. An inside perspective on
not traditionally regarded in northeastern Arnhem Land as
myth should coincide, up to a point, with an outside per-
the very first people or as creators on a large scale, as were
spective—recognizing that in neither case can there be a sin-
the Djanggawul. (Some bark paintings on this theme in the
gle perspective. Over and above that, however, an outside ap-
Djanggawul myth show multiple birth scenes on a superhu-
proach should take into account a wider span of similarities
man numerical scale.) The Djanggawul story includes some
and differences in a larger comparative frame. Such compari-
“human” touches, such as putting newly born girls onto soft
sons should begin on a small, regional scale. This frame
grass and boys onto rougher ground. But the sisters are al-
should go beyond what people take as their own immediate
most impersonal as contrasted with the Wawalag; although
mythic and ritual and social context and include material
they are not forcibly separated from the children by the
that they may know or have heard a little about but do not
Snake, as in the Wawalag case, they continue on their jour-
explicitly or consistently bring together.
ney toward the setting sun, voluntarily leaving the children
behind to fend for themselves.
A useful example in this respect is northeastern Arnhem
Land, a fairly compact region for which a great deal of infor-
The Wawalag sisters are sometimes referred to as “the
mation on myth and ritual has been available since the
first mothers,” but no time sequence is suggested to distin-
1920s. The two most important mythic and ritual sequences
guish them from the Djanggawul in this respect. Certainly
there are the Djanggawul and the Wawalag. William Lloyd
in the Wawalag myth the sisters have a more obvious moth-
Warner, from the vantage point of his fieldwork at Mil-
ering relationship with their child(ren). (In Aboriginal Aus-
tralia a mother’s sister would also be called “mother.”) Be-
ingimbi in the 1920s, attempted a brief comparison of these
tween them the Wawalag sisters have only two children,
two great sequences. The significant point is that he made
three at the most. They care for the children as individuals
the attempt, even though it reflects some of the difficulties
and try to protect them from the Snake; detailed versions in-
inherent in the exercise. As he noted, the Djanggawul con-
clude conversations about looking after the children, and a
stellation was better known in northeastern Arnhem Land,
breast-feeding fireside scene for the new mother. The moth-
the Wawalag in the north-central area. That position contin-
er-child relationship is a focal theme in this part of the myth.
ues to apply, up to the mid-1980s, with one exception which
Also, the Wawalag sisters perform almost no miraculous
must have been relevant even in Warner’s day. The Djangga-
feats, even though they are bringing with them powerful
wul, traveling from east to west, roughly parallel to the
songs and dances from their inland place of origin. They are
course of their mother, the Sun, did not move very far from
more vulnerable than the Djanggawul and have to join with
the coast. Milingimbi, in the Crocodile Islands, was virtually
the Great Python before their ritual linkages and also the
their last port of call in eastern Arnhem Land. Extensive ver-
monsoon rains can be activated. Although there are some ob-
sions of their myth were still well known there, to both men
vious similarities as well as contrasts between the two myths,
and women, up to the 1950s, although they have been some-
a more detailed inquiry would reveal that they are even more
what attenuated in more recent years. Even in the early
obviously complementary.
1960s, rumors were circulating on the eastern side that an
incarnation of one of the Djanggawul sisters had been seen
Another important constellation in the same region, al-
at Milingimbi—not the routine type of incarnation of child
ready noted, is also complementary to the Wawalag myth
spirits, nor the routine use of personal names drawn from
but less clearly so to the Djanggawul. Like them, it belongs
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to Dua moiety clans. The central character, himself Dua, is
lit by Wudal with the bark fire stick he always carries. It is
the boomerang-legged honey spirit man, Wudal. His journey
“burning grass time.” The clouds are dark with rain—Dua
from the distant inland toward the Roper River is told in
rain and wind, the “wind of the honey and the bees,” blow-
song, not in story-type narrative. It is a riteless myth, made
ing from the sacred billabong.
up of images, place names, and short action sequences.
The songs, each seemingly inconsequential in itself,
Wudal is often described as a single male person. His body
build up into a coherent pattern with a number of pertinent
is covered with white feathered string, and he wears a head-
themes. One is the Wawalag connection. Some of the place
band of kangaroo claws; long baskets full of bees and honey
names noted in the songs also appear in the Wawalag myth.
are slung from both shoulders. He moves with a kind of skip-
One, Muruwul, was said to be the “billabong of Wudal,
ping step, partly because the sunbaked rocks are hot under
Crow, and the Wawalag.” The two djuwei posts resemble
his feet; he pauses at intervals to dance and to tap the sides
stylized Wawalag figures and have the same shredded-bark
of his baskets. However, the traveler can be female (Laglag
hair. In the Rainbow Snake’s song in the Wawalag myth, the
is one of the names more often used in that case) or, as in
sacred mound is equated with the Wawalag sisters’ hut that
other single or multiple myth examples from other regions,
the Snake is preparing to coil around before swallowing
a group of Dreaming men and women. The song sequence
them. He also sang the names of places from which the
details his journey, the creatures encountered on the way,
honey wind comes, bringing its Dua-moiety rain. There are
and his own actions. The sequence of some of the songs can
other meeting points between the two myths, some explicit,
vary according to different versions, but it should always end
others more oblique. As myths, the two are generally asserted
with a song accounting for the redness of the sunset sky.
to be separate; and the ritual associations of the Wawalag,
Other explanations for the redness are offered in several song
as well as the central role of the snake (who has no parallel
and myth series from both moieties; in one, for instance, the
in the Wudal sequence), help to keep them distinct.
color symbolizes the blood of the Wawalag sisters.
Whatever the details of similarity and difference be-
In one song (noted earlier), Yiridja men are making
tween them, however, their most salient feature is their com-
stone spear blades, which are of the Dua moiety; the flakes
plementary involvement in the seasonal cycle. The year is di-
they chip off in the process are Yiridja, and in kin relation-
vided into a succession of named seasons, each with its
ship the blades are like mothers to them. Wudal men are
characteristic combination of rainfall, temperature, vegeta-
there too. Tired of sitting down, the men stand up and prac-
tion growth or decay, availability of various foods, and the
tice throwing their spears and posture with them as if danc-
behavior of various land and sea creatures. It is not a simple
ing. Later, Dua Wudal men of various subsections (an eight-
division between wet and dry seasons. The Wawalag-
fold division into social categories, widespread through
Yulunggul contribution is responsible for the Dua-moiety
much of Aboriginal Australia) have been hunting and killing
monsoon from the west and northwest, the principal source
Yiridja-moiety kangaroos: the song notes their subsection af-
of fertilizing rains. The major contribution of the Wudal
filiations, one by one. They return to their home base, a
song sequence in toto is the gentler, less ferocious but moder-
large, freshwater billabong. Leaning their spears against the
ately strong wind and rains, also Dua, that bring relief from
stringy-bark trees there, they lean forward to look at their re-
the heat at a time when the grasses and foliage of the inland
flections in the water, then stoop down to drink, making lap-
are dry and inflammable. Lightning strikes, as well as deliber-
ping noises and spitting out some of the water. In the late
ate burning-off for hunting and regeneration in selected
afternoon they settle down to eat their kangaroo meat, which
areas, cause large, billowing smoke clouds. Perhaps just as
they like raw, with blood running. They spit as they eat, red-
significant in this seasonal context is the theme of bees and
dening the sky, causing the red cloud, or sunset.
honey. The songs that focus on the bees bring in several sing-
ing names of the stringybark: it is gongmiri (it has “hands”);
Other songs have noted the creatures Wudal sees on his
it is mareiin (“sacred”). Wild honey is a highly desirable food,
travels and at the sacred billabong: colored caterpillars, frilled
and the flowering of the eucalyptus signals the development
(blanket) lizards, several kinds of birds, and his own bees.
of other foods.
Several songs describe a sacred mound of earth that men have
prepared near the billabong. Wudal people, gathered for
Even though no formally organized rites are attached to
dancing, speak the untranslatable ritual language, gin-nga, or
this song series, the actual singing and accompanying danc-
gidjin, associated with this. On the mound they have erected
ing, though performed in a less emotionally charged atmo-
two painted djuwei posts with bark hair, representing two ad-
sphere, are equivalent to such rites. The series is in the cate-
olescent girls. In the “honey wind” part of the series, Wudal
gory of so-called clan songs, in this case belonging to Dua
is thirsty and eats honey from his baskets and from the sacred
moiety dialect units such as Djambarbingu and Riraidjingu.
trees at the billabong and kangaroo meat from a separate bas-
The singing in itself affirms and anticipates the coming of
ket. As he eats, he spits. The spray of saliva rises up, mixing
the required state of affairs in an almost timeless sequence.
with the spray from the Wudal men and with the crows and
The honey wind, then, comes between the west monsoon
the bees. It joins the clouds rising from the smoke of fires
and the southeast trade winds that bring light rain at the end
sparked by the flaking of the stone spear blades and from fires
of the cold weather.
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Wudal himself is credited with bringing the subsection
with rain and thunder), the image of spitting and spraying
system to northeastern Arnhem Land. Of inland origin, the
out moisture, as in the Wudal songs, recurs in a number of
subsection system is now an integral feature of social organi-
settings. In one song sequence, spray rising from whales in
zation all along the north coast. Boomerangs, however, are
their rare appearances offshore automatically causes clouds,
not, except in ritual settings such as the Kunapipi, they are
followed by rain. Lighting fires that send up columns of
still associated with “other” Aboriginal groups. The songs re-
smoke, another Wudal activity, is another way of making
veal Wudal as a stranger, coming north toward the coast for
clouds and rain, not necessarily in the same area as the fires.
the first time; the coming of travelers from one area to anoth-
There are clan songs about Dua fire and others about Yiridja
er is one of the commonest themes in all Australian Aborigi-
fire, just as there are distinct song series relating to clouds and
nal myths. And he is a benefactor, bringing bees and honey,
rain. Clouds, in named varieties, are either Dua or Yiridja;
taking part in stone spear blade preparation and distribution,
they come from, pass over, and go toward named places and
and strategically sending rain between the deluge of the mon-
populations. Clouds of both moieties may meet and pass
soon and the lighter falls from the southeast.
each other, just as freshwater streams and tidal rivers may
contain layers of water belonging to different moieties.
The complementary relationship between the two patri-
lineal moieties, Dua and Yiridja, is a subtheme in many
Such images are basic ingredients in the clan songs,
myths and song series. They are portrayed as different but
whether or not they are explicitly associated with mythic
interdependent. Everything and everyone of significance is
characters. They permeate the myths of this region, with
classified in those terms. Even the major mythic figures, the
their often poetic language. In varying degrees they also enter
deities, do not stand outside the system: they are either Dua
into the so-called play stories, the wogal dou, that include sto-
or Yiridja. However, while men’s offspring are in the same
ries designed mainly for children, such as a version of the
patrilineal moiety as themselves, women’s are not: Yiridja
Djanggawul myth. These range from the trivial to the por-
women have Dua offspring, and vice versa. Except for the
tentous or tragic. Wogal means “play” but carries an underly-
great Djanggawul, themselves Dua, who made children of
ing tone of seriousness or purpose; dou means “information.”
both moieties—in a situation where they were formulating,
Clouds are more prominent than stars in northeastern
not necessarily conforming with, the rules—myths and songs
Arnhem Land myths and songs. One exception is the eve-
note this almost zig-zag descent line linking mothers and
ning star, symbolically identified with the large water lily, the
their offspring. The two moieties are not identified by a sin-
lotus, and also associated in song with the death and return
gle pair of symbols, as are the famous Eaglehawk and Crow
to life of the moon. The morning star comes from Bralgu,
of southeastern Australia. They have multiple associations,
the mythical island in the Gulf of Carpentaria from which
spread across the whole field of possibilities. Thus, there is
the Djanggawul set out on their epic journey to the Austra-
a Yiridja shark species, but the large, aggressive Dua shark
lian mainland. It is also the home of souls of Dua-moiety
is more prominent in song and in clan-linked symbolism and
dead. That theme connects it with the Djanggawul, although
oratory. In shark songs, a female Dua shark must have Yiridja
the song series that goes with mortuary rites for a dead Dua
offspring: in procreation,“Yiridja comes out of Dua,” “Dua
person is separate from the principal Djanggawul myth. So
comes out of Yiridja.” The song and myth references are a
is the myth that describes what happens to the soul on its
reminder that neither moiety can do without the other and
voyage to Bralgu and when it reaches there, and that also
that patrilineal rights and obligations are not the only consid-
gives advice on what to expect from the spirit guardians there
eration: a person has certain rights also in the myths, songs,
and how to behave toward them. That myth is supplemented
and ritual affairs of his or her mother and mother’s brothers,
by the account of a Dua-moiety man, Yawalngura, said to
including rights to tell and to sing and participate.
have gone to Bralgu by canoe while he was still living and
to have returned for just long enough to report his experi-
The Wudal myth resembles the clan song style of pre-
ences (Warner, 1937, pp. 524–528).
sentation in being sung rather than told, in whole or in parts,
as a narrative. The clan songs deal predominantly in imagery
The song imagery begins with a corpse on its mortuary
and in song words specifying attributes and activities of vari-
platform, then dwells, in turn, on the creatures that move
ous creatures and other natural phenomena. Yiridja rain and
to and fro between it and Bralgu. One section of the se-
wind from the southeast are treated in this way in one song
quence focuses on the morning stars that Bralgu spirits send
sequence, where mythic characters as such play only a minor
out to specifically named sites on the mainland and islands
part. Another popular subtheme in myths and songs pur-
of northeastern Arnhem Land. This overall combination of
ports to answer a twofold question: How do clouds come
the more conventionalized Djanggawul creation myth, the
about, and what (or who) makes rain? Rainmaking rites are
corroborative report of a living human being, and the song
virtually lacking in northeastern Arnhem Land, except for
sequence on the topic of a Dua person’s final transition to
the larger seasonal fertility affairs that link the Djanggawul
the island from which the Djanggawul embarked on their
and Wawalag and other myth and ritual complexes. Aside
journey, dwells explicitly on the two dimensions of human
from outstanding figures such as the Lightning Snake, and
life—the spiritual and the physical. The decay of the body
Larrpan the Cyclone Man (whose long penis is associated
is frankly stated, in some detail, but that process is demon-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

strated to be inseparable from the continuing life of the soul
table source of rules and injunctions governing human be-
after the death of the body.
havior. This early period is portrayed in myth as an era of
Two associated myth complexes make it clear that not
development and process: the sociocultural as well as the nat-
all of the soul goes on the voyage. One of these complexes,
ural world was taking shape or, rather, being given shape not
which is not set out in narrative form but usually as an ad-
only by the major deities but also by the host of mythic char-
junct to other accounts, emphasizes the theme of reincarna-
acters who were, and continue to be, an integral part of the
tion or continuity. One part of the deceased person’s spirit
remains in its former country, to animate the fetus of a
When the lawmaking, lawgiving characters make pro-
human being in the appropriate social categories, an event
nouncements at the end of their earthly journey in the form-
revealed in a dream to the prospective father or father’s sister,
ative era, their myths have already recorded the events lead-
or other eligible relatives. A third part, the trickster spirit, is
ing up to these; they do not merely note the pronouncements
the subject of many wogal dou and other stories, some of
but tell how and why they came to be made. The mythic ex-
them highly dramatic. Together, the substance of all of these
planation, in many cases, describes the very behavior or situa-
myths and songs makes up a detailed commentary on the
tions the rules were supposed to guard against, prohibit, or
transcendental issues of human life and death: how individu-
at least discourage. Even when myths spell out the details of
al people came into being, something about their life on
such behavior, they do not always add the warning that it
earth as human beings, and what they can expect to happen
is wrong. In the ongoing traditional Aboriginal scene, the
after that. They do not, however, take up the difficult ques-
messages believed to be contained in myth did not need to
tion of relationships with close relatives and spouses of the
be stated explicitly on any one occasion of telling or singing
opposite moiety. The question is traditionally left unan-
or ritual enactment. There were other opportunities for that,
swered—or, rather, not asked. In the conventional view,
formal or otherwise; and in any case, the levels of complexity
people of the Yiridja moiety go to their own land of the dead,
in interpretation varied according to the social and ritual
an island off the north coast. The Yiridja guardians of the
context. The dynamic, continuing aspect of myth has its
dead also send items to living people on the mainland and
counterpart in human life: the events set in train by the
offshore islands. The songs tell how these things come bob-
mythic beings are still in process. To keep things going in
bing and dancing on the waves, borne by the north and
the appropriate way, this and that must be done, in religious
northeast Yiridja winds.
ritual terms and in everyday social living. Myths were not de-
A major theme in all the myths of northeastern Arnhem
signed as an intellectual exercise or for aesthetic pleasure or
Land is the relationship between people and their land.
entertainment. They were for use—for information, expla-
When the mythic characters shaped the land, they shaped the
nation, and action. Narrative myths, outside the more for-
sky, the clouds, and the seasons—the total environment that
malized ritual context, were open to audience participation
provided a background for themselves and for all the living
and questions and comment. Sometimes a narrator would
beings there.
amplify certain passages when he or she considered that some
In the Wudal myth as in the Djanggawul and Wawalag,
members of the audience needed further information on a
and in eastern Arnhem Land generally, the patterning of
cross-references is much more noticeable than in many other
In this living mythology, no myth is taken as a total
parts of Aboriginal Australia. There is a concern with small
package, the content of which is to be accepted or rejected
details, which are not left suspended or clustered loosely but
en bloc. Even where claims are made to that effect, they are
fit together in a variety of coherent shapes. The interlocking
largely ideal statements or, rather, statements of principle
of items and themes has been tentatively described as repre-
that take for granted the matters of selection and interpreta-
senting a characteristic sociocultural style which finds expres-
tion that accompany even the most rigid attempts to main-
sion in graphic art such as bark paintings and stylized body
tain verbal (and ritual) adherence to an unchanging pattern.
designs (C. H. Berndt, 1970, p. 1316). Strehlow notes the
same point in stressing the need to examine material from
Some precedents are fairly straightforward: in regard to
all of the Aranda groups in studying myths in central
food and material resources, for instance, that are fundamen-
tal in making a living. Another set of mythic themes that also
seem to have been taken very much as a given recounts the
When looking through a collection of myths that have
been gathered in any one of these groups, one feels that
shaping of human and other forms of life. In general, the po-
one is being led into a wide-spread maze, into a vast lab-
tential for change was inherent in all of the mythic charac-
yrinth with countless corridors and passages and side-
ters. The shape in which they appeared at the beginning of
walks, all of which are connected with one another in
their respective stories was not necessarily the same as that
ramifications that at times appear altogether baffling in
of their final appearance. More often than not, it was quite
their complexity and interdependence. (Strehlow,
different, but the emphasis is on the word appearance. They
1947, p. 45)
had built into them the program or plan which emphasized
PRECEDENTS AND CONTRASTS. The creative period of the
the shared quality of all life but accorded them different roles
Dreaming is traditionally regarded as the principal, indispu-
and different shapes in the “web of life” that encompassed
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

them all. However, as far as human shapes were concerned,
1939, pp. 128, 199–200). Howitt (1904, pp. 428–429) re-
myths put forward more or less common views as to what
ports the same kind of edict from southeastern Australia.
a human being should look like (as well as how he or she
Strehlow (1947, pp. 44–45) outlines a different myth
should behave).
among the northern Aranda. Near Ilkakngara, Curlew Peo-
Howitt (1904, pp. 475–476, 484ff.) provides some in-
ple emerged from the hard rock: women first, one making
teresting examples of this. Bat was lonely, because “there was
an opening in the rock with her nose, then men. The first
no difference between the sexes,” so “he altered himself and
man lit a fire, but the others were angry and pointed a magic
one other, so that he was the man and the other was the
bone against him, so that he died. After he was buried, griev-
woman”; he also made fire. In another version the great
ing women danced around his grave, and he began to work
being Bunjil “made men of clay and imparted life to them,”
his way up through the ground, head first. He had almost
and his brother Bat “brought women up out of the water to
freed his shoulders when Magpie, in a rage, thrust a heavy
be their wives.” Among the Yuin, it was the Emu-Wren who
mulga spear into his neck and stamped him down hard into
shaped incomplete creatures into men and women. On Cape
the ground, ordering him to remain there forever. If Magpie
York Peninsula a White Sand Snake Man, wanting a wife,
had not so forcibly intervened, everyone who died would
castrated and cut an opening in his younger brother to make
have come to life again, emerging successfully from the
him into a woman (McConnel, 1957, pp. 128–130); the
ground. Strehlow notes that other “legends” express the same
same action is also attributed to Moon (p. 28). In the eastern
general idea.
Kimberley an old mythic woman “tried to subincise girls and
Themes that are more open to debate or to questions
‘make them into men.’ But they developed into young
of interpretation mostly hinge on matters of social relation-
women,” and she admitted defeat (Kaberry, 1939, p. 201).
ships. One is about the nature of participation and control
The Djanggawul, in contrast, with their dominant position
in religious affairs, especially ritual affairs, as between men
in the mythic scene in northeastern Arnhem Land, adjusted
and women. The key set of questions in mythic terms is,
their own shapes to what they considered proper for human
Who first found, owned, or controlled the most sacred reli-
beings. All that was needed in their case was clitoris shorten-
gious materials? What happened? and Did that situation
ing for the sisters and penis shortening for the brother. This
change? Outside the field of myth, in the sphere of ordinary
episode has an initiatory connotation, just as in the eastern
human activities, the question is, Who has control now? with
Kimberley version of the subincision attempt. And in fact the
the corollary, Who makes decisions about participation? In
bodily operations which are part of so many initiation rituals
the great majority of myths such questions do not focus spe-
conform with the same body-shaping, body-marking princi-
cifically on male-female relations in this respect, but in a sub-
ples that are implied, if not actually enunciated, in the more
stantial minority of examples across the continent they do.
comprehensive initial efforts. So are the minor body-
marking conventions of cicatrization, nasal septum piercing,
In the Djanggawul myth, the sisters lose their monopoly
and the like. All of these, like hairstyles, rest on mythic edicts
right to ownership and control of secret-sacred materials
or suggestions.
when these are stolen from them by men. On Cape York
Peninsula, two girls find a bull-roarer and swing it, singing
A theme that is more emotionally charged is how, and
that it is forbidden; they place it in a bloodwood tree, saying
why, death is the lot of all human beings. In many myths,
“It belongs to us women, really, we have found it! But no
Moon is somehow connected with this. In one western Arn-
matter! We leave it for the men!” (McConnel, 1957,
hem Land myth, simplified as a children’s account (because
p. 119). In east Kimberley, “some of the female totemic an-
children traditionally learned, quite young, the facts of bodi-
cestors were given tjurunga” by the mythic being Djulargal,
ly death), Moon Man and Djabo, Spotted Cat Man, travel-
but “later these were stolen from them by Porcupine” (Ka-
ing together, succumbed to a sickness that was spreading
berry, 1939, p. 201). In western Arnhem Land, “the ubar rit-
across the land. Moon was a margidjbu, a healer or clever
ual belonged at first only to women”; Gandagi Kangaroo
man. He recovered and wanted to revive Djabo, but Djabo
Man drove the women away, took their sacred emblems, and
didn’t trust Moon, so he refused—and died. Because of that,
gathered a group of men to perform the same rites (Berndt
all human beings must die, and their bodies cannot be re-
and Berndt, 1982, p. 257; 1970, pp. 120–121). The Waw-
newed, but when Moon dies, he always comes back anew
alag brought Kunapipi songs and rites on their journey to
after three days. There are many variants on the same theme.
the northern Arnhem Land coast, but after being swallowed
This one carries an added message: if you are sick and a mar-
by the Great Python they taught these, and gave them, to
gidjbu offers to heal you, you must have faith in him and in
men. An interesting point here is that the Wawalag were
his treatment to survive. In east Kimberley, Moon originated
swallowed and regurgitated in much the same way as male
death and wrong marriage by trying to marry a woman he
novices are, symbolically, in initiation rites. But those male
called mother-in-law. “She and the other women with her
novices are recipients of sacred knowledge, whereas the
attacked him in fury and cut off his organs which changed
Wawalag were both teachers and donors, and the novices in
to stone.” Then he declared that after dying he would “come
that episode in their myth were adult men. To compound
back in five days,” but they would not come back (Kaberry,
this issue of “women had it first,” many ritual sequences now
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

dominated by men show a preoccupation with the idea, or
the inevitable and irreversible framework of existence” (R.
the ideal, of women, and with female physiological charac-
M. Berndt, 1970, pp. 220, 223, 244).
teristics such as pregnancy and childbirth.
A crucial issue, particularly in respect to what Strehlow
Mythic precedent and substantiation also emphasize the
has called the “amoral” behavior of many central Australian
important place of women in the creative era of the Dream-
mythic figures, is whether sanctions operate to discourage or
ing, even in cases where it is not spelled out. For example,
prevent or deflect such behavior. How far do the myths
in the Northern Aranda Curlew and Magpie death myth, it
themselves serve to deflect it, as a kind of catharsis? This is
was a Curlew woman who first broke through the hard rock
a complex issue because the myths never exist in a sociocul-
to emerge on the earth, followed by other women. Strehlow
tural vacuum.
specifies in other discussions the “majestic” and impressive
To compile a dictionary or an index of themes or motifs
bearing of mythic women in Aranda myth. Isobel M. White
in traditional Aboriginal mythology would be a formidable
(1974, 1975) has tried, inconclusively, to explain central
undertaking. But it would be only a beginning in the process
Australian myths that seem to suggest ritual subordination
of understanding and explanation. In virtually all cases, a
of women by relating them to similar attitudes and values
spoken or written myth must be heard and seen in relation
in everyday living. Others, including Diane Bell (1984), have
to the unspoken, unwritten information known to the peo-
argued that such interpretations are based on inadequate em-
ple to whose mythology it belongs, the shared understand-
pirical evidence and that closer scrutiny of both myth and
ings that are essential in learning what it is about. Discus-
its sociocultural context are needed before any definitive con-
sions and comments help to throw light on these
clusions can be reached. In the past, Aboriginal women’s per-
assumptions, but they are not enough without a more com-
spectives have rarely been taken into account except at a very
plete knowledge of the sociocultural and personal contexts.
superficial level, and in some areas their own secret-sacred
And the nature of the relevant sanctions and rules is a neces-
rites and myths continue to be unknown to outsiders. That
sary and salient aspect of that context.
aside, the larger issue of myth interpretation is still controver-
sial and difficult.
Myths do not consitute a mirror image of Aboriginal so-
cieties. They reflect those societies, in their “ought” as well
Myths from all parts of the continent contain as much
as their “is” dimensions, in a variety of ways, both negative
bad as good human behavior. The activities of a great many
and positive. What the myths in general do reflect is one of
mythic characters do not conform with what was regarded
the major strengths of Aboriginal religion. It ranges from the
as good behavior by, or for, the people who told and heard
mystical and esoteric, the secret aspects of the sacred,
their stories. Even in regions where the main deities concen-
the spectacle and exhilaration and drama of ritual events, to
trate on creation in a relatively mild way, such as the Djang-
the more mundane features of everyday living. There is a
gawul (despite their original incest, and the men’s theft of
place in religion—a significant place—for all of these and for
sacred paraphernalia), other material dwells on more emo-
all of the varied roles and circumstances throughout a per-
tionally rousing events. Among the wogal dou are accounts
son’s life. The sphere of myth illuminates that place through
of aggressive encounters, cruelty, and despair. The trickster
contrasts and challenges as well as through insistence on con-
Pomapoma (Gwingula), for example, in the course of his ad-
ventures, rapes and kills his young mother-in-law in a story
which at once deplores his reprehensible actions and presents
SEE ALSO Djan’kawu; Gadjeri; Rainbow Snake; Yulunggul
them in quasi-humorous style. In western Arnhem Land, in
a more clearly moralizing or threatening vein, Yirawadbad,
in his venomous snake form, kills both his young betrothed
wife and her mother because the girl consistently rejected
Bell, Diane. Daughters of the Dreaming. Sydney, 1983. A fairly
him; he is now dangerous to everyone but especially to girls,
wide-ranging discussion of Aboriginal women’s involvement
and he makes his reason explicit as he surveys the two
in mundane and religious affairs in central Australia; also in-
corpses. In his human form, he went on to be one of the
cludes details of social structure and social relationships.
main instigators of the important Ubar ritual; this includes
Aims at achieving a positive balance in regard to Aboriginal
ritual enactment of the scene where, as a snake in a hollow
women, to counter the negative image which has prevailed
log, he bites the hand of each woman in turn.
in the literature, in the writings of women as well as of men.
Berndt, Catherine H. “Monsoon and Honey Wind.” In Échanges
Relating such materials to their sociocultural context in-
et communications: Mélanges offerts à Claude Lévi-Strauss, ed-
volves more than simply considering how, and how far, one
ited by Jean Pouillon and Pierre Maranda, vol. 2,
dimension reflects what takes place in the other. “Mythic be-
pp. 1306–1326. The Hague, 1970. Includes comments on
ings were both good and bad, and badness was a necessary
similarities and interconnections between the Wawalag myth
corollary of goodness.” It is as if “an immoral act must occur
and the Wudal myth-song sequence.
in order to demonstrate what can be regarded as being
Berndt, Ronald M. “Traditional Morality as Expressed through
moral,” but myth and story reflect “the total life situation,
the Medium of an Australian Aboriginal Religion.” In Aus-
in which . . . there is both good and bad . . . [as] part of
tralian Aboriginal Anthropology, edited by Ronald M. Berndt,
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

pp. 216–247. Nedlands, Australia, 1970. A companion arti-
of the Tiwi of Bathurst and Melville islands, but more useful
cle is “Mythic Shapes of a Desert Culture,” in H. Petri Fest-
for its illustrations and line drawings than for the details of
schrift, edited by Kurt Tauchmann (Cologne, 1973),
its text.
pp. 3–31.
Parker, Katherine Langloh. Australian Legendary Tales: Selected by
Berndt, Ronald M., and Catherine H. Berndt. Man, Land and
Henrietta Drake-Brockman; illustrated by Elizabeth Durack.
Myth in North Australia: The Gunwinggu People. Sydney,
Sydney, 1975. The original volume, with the same title, was
1970. A general study of Gunwinggu culture and people in
first published in London in 1896; the second, More Austra-
western Arnhem Land, incorporating a large number of
lian Legendary Tales, in London in 1898; later there were two
myths, with discussion of their ritual and sociocultural
others. This section is designed mainly for children, though
it includes some discussion for adults. The editor’s discussion
and the illustrations (especially the distorted Arnhem Land
Berndt, Ronald M., and Catherine H. Berndt. The World of the
figures heading the “Seven Sisters” story, p. 105) tend to be
First Australians (1964). Rev. ed., Adelaide, 1985. Includes
examples, with discussion, of myths from several regions:
first in connection with religious rites; and later, along with
Spencer, Baldwin. Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Aus-
a number of stories, in the perspective of oral literature.
tralia (1914). Oosterhout, 1966. A “must” for any student
Many of these were told to either or both authors and trans-
of Aboriginal mythology in context. Equally so are Baldwin
lated in the course of firsthand fieldwork with men (Ronald
Spencer and F. J. Gillen’s The Northern Tribes of Central Aus-
M. Berndt) or women (Catherine H. Berndt). A longer ver-
tralia, (London, 1904) and their two-volume study The Ar-
sion and discussion of the Gandju Fire myth from the West-
unta (1927; reprint, Oosterhout, 1966), as well as their The
ern Desert appears on pp. 46–49 of my and Ronald M.
Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899; reprint, London,
Berndt’s “Aboriginal Australia: Literature in an Oral Tradi-
tion,” in Review of National Literatures: Australia, edited by
Stanner, W. E. H. “On Aboriginal Religion: IV, The Design-Plan
L. A. C. Dobrez, vol. 2. (New York, 1982), pp. 39–63.
of a Riteless Myth.” Oceania 31 (June 1961): 233–258. This
Charlesworth, Max, et al., eds. Religion in Aboriginal Australia: An
is one part of the author’s larger study “On Aboriginal Reli-
Anthology. Saint Lucia, Australia, 1984. A collection of pub-
gion,” extending through several volumes of Oceania during
lished articles on various aspects of the topic.
1959–1961 and 1963. Here he examines in detail the
Murinbata myth focusing primarily on the Rainbow Snake
Eliade, Mircea. Australian Religions: An Introduction. Ithaca, N.
Kunmanggur and on the activities of his son Tjinimin, who
Y., 1973. A useful overview of myth in the context of ritual
raped his two sisters, “mended his own bones” after being
and of religion generally.
dropped onto rocks (p. 243), and had other adventures be-
Hiatt, L. R., ed. Australian Aboriginal Mythology. Canberra, 1975.
fore killing his father. Stanner considers the myth as “ a kind
A somewhat mixed collection of myths, with examples and
of essay in self-understanding” (p. 247), and “an attempt to
analysis and including some controversial as well as some
systemize a throng of visionary shapes set up by mythopoeic
useful discussion.
thought over an unknown period, so that in any version at
any time only some of the many possibilities are used”
Howitt, A. W. The Native Tribes of South-East Australia. New
(p. 251). He pays special attention to variant versions and ex-
York, 1904. For all its obvious shortcomings, this is one of
pressed doubts, but he does not set the myth or discussion
the most useful of the compendia put together by early writ-
in a wider Australian comparative frame.
ers on the topic of Australian Aboriginal culture. It includes
a large assortment of myths and stories as well as other
Strehlow, T. G. H. Aranda Traditions. Melbourne, 1947. This
volume of Aranda myths and rites is indispensable to any stu-
dent of myth. Strehlow’s superb presentation and translation
Kaberry, Phyllis, M. Aboriginal Women, Sacred and Profane. Lon-
of myths and songs is marred only by hints of his strict Lu-
don, 1939. Contains a number of myths, and references to
theran background and his stress on male points of view,
others, based on fieldwork in the Kimberley region of West-
which (as he himself suggests here and there) does less than
ern Australia. Continues to be useful. Kaberry recognized the
justice to the viewpoints of women.
need to reshape and update the study, but her book remains
a classic—virtually the first to look at Aboriginal women’s
Strehlow, T. G. H. Songs of Central Australia. Sydney, 1971. A
viewpoints and contributions.
magnum, or maximum, opus indeed. Strehlow deliberately
included examples and discussion of literature and song from
McConnel, Ursula H. Myths of the Munkan. Melbourne, 1957.
northern Europe to demonstrate that the Aranda material,
Especially useful for its versions of Wik-Mungkan myths
his primary interest, was equal to any on the world scene. It
from Cape York Peninsula, told to McConnel during her
is detailed, emotional, and scholarly. Also, it contains more
fieldwork there, which she began in the late 1920s. She sets
positive comments on the place of women in the Aboriginal
these myths in their living context, but her general discussion
religions of central Australia than does his 1947 study.
and interpretations are less helpful.
Warner, William Lloyd. A Black Civilization: A Study of an Austra-
Maddock, Kenneth. “Myths of the Acquisition of Fire in North-
lian Tribe (1938). New York, 1958. Contains a large number
ern and Eastern Australia.” In Australian Aboriginal Anthro-
of myths and stories, set in their sociocultural and ritual con-
pology, edited by Ronald M. Berndt, pp. 174–179. Nedlands,
text, but (as Warner acknowledged) without sufficient atten-
Australia, 1970.
tion to women’s substantial role and status. His story of Yaw-
Mountford, Charles P. The Tiwi: Their Art, Myth and Ceremony.
alngura, the living man who visited the land of the dead, told
London, 1958. One of the few accounts of the art and myths
to him in the Milingimbi area in the late 1920s, is very simi-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

lar to versions told to Ronald M. Berndt and me in north-
legal system. The second is in the world of art. Aborigines
eastern Arnhem Land in 1946–1947.
use a variety of mediums that engage non-Aboriginal audi-
White, Isobel M. “Sexual Conquest and Submission in the Myths
ences and that are often market-oriented, such as artworks
of Central Australia.” In Australian Aboriginal Mythology, ed-
for sale, film, international dance performances, fiction, po-
ited by L. R. Hiatt, pp. 123–142. Canberra, 1975. Takes
etry, and biographical and autobiographical writings. The
what some consider to be a negative attitude toward Aborigi-
third is a burgeoning urban New Age movement focusing on
nal women’s role as portrayed in myth and in “real life” cir-
Aboriginal spirituality, health and healing. Publications in
cumstances, although she claims that her view is both realis-
this field seem to outnumber scholarly works on Aboriginal
tic and positive.
mythology. The increasing, if appropriative, recognition of
Aboriginal traditions is reflected in the expanding cultural
tourist industry as well as the growing popularity and rising
prices of publications on any theme related to Aborigines.
The fact that in many parts of the Australian continent
Aborigines uphold knowledge of mythic traditions that
began to evolve long before colonization does not allow us
to infer that the same paradigms and meaning structures
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the role of
continue to be relevant. As Ronald and Catherine Berndt
myths in shaping the imagination of Australian Aborigines
have noted in what may be considered the most important
had become exceedingly difficult to determine. Various ex-
compilation of myths in the second half of the twentieth cen-
ternal forces have left their mark on this theme, and these
tury, The Speaking Land (1989), there exists an “incalculable
forces have made Aborigines the subject of a project of
number” of myth-stories in the passive form of “memory cul-
mythologization that, in turn, has been appropriated by the
ture” (p.13). By itself, this tells us little about the status of
Australian state. The multimillion-dollar Aboriginal arts in-
mythic themes as an active force in the consciousness and the
dustry, for instance, has turned mythic themes visualized on
unconscious of people, or how stories relate to other symbol-
canvas into commodities and icons of national identity. Sim-
ic systems. Moreover, as John von Sturmer (2002) pointed
ilarly, the spiritualization of the Aboriginal cosmo-ontology
out, important myths are not recalled, told, or sung in fully
through marketable popularizations and simplifications—
elaborate form; they are “called on” in fragments.
whereby Ancestral sites become conflated into “My Mother
Earth,” for example—has occluded the historical foundation
It is self-evident that post-contact expressions of the
of myths. This process presents a particular historical turn
Dreaming are transformations of a worldview that knew only
in itself, and raises questions about the likelihood and forms
itself. For this reason, anthropologists emphasize the inher-
in which mythic themes may endure.
ently dynamic constitution of the Dreaming that Aborigines
consider to be the source of all forms and purposes of
Since the late 1980s anthropologists have rarely cen-
being—past, present and future. Scholars point out that the
tered their work on myths in the narrow sense of story. Fol-
structural potential for change is the very condition for the
lowing Aboriginal English usages in certain parts of the con-
resilience of the Law and is built into the clan organization
tinent, some ethnographers have replaced the term myth,
(Berndt, 1979); ways of forging totemic identities and rights
with its emphasis on narration, with the far more compre-
over country in the domains of ritual and everyday life
hensive expression, Dreaming.
(Duelke, 1998); a concept of non-biological subjectivity
(Petchkovsky et al., 2003); kinetic perceptions of features in
tion of Aboriginal cultures is dynamic and highly heteroge-
the landscape such as rocks that quiver or places that move
neous. A variety of pre-contact traditions combine with the
(Redmond, 2001); and the variety of artistic systems. For in-
uneven experience of colonization and the emergent relation-
stance, in Central Australian Warlpiri communities, designs
ships between Aborigines and the wider Australian and inter-
that totemic Ancestors give to individuals in nocturnal
national community to form locally-specific forms of sociali-
dreams can be painted on canvas for sale or, if accompanied
ty and identity. Cultural diversity persists alongside the
by song, may be incorporated into ritual (Dussart, 2000;
notion of traditional Aboriginality. Hence, the endurance of
Poirier, 1996). People in the Daly River region in northwest-
the Dreaming is not a question internal to Aboriginal socie-
ern Northern Territory conceive new songs from ghosts in
ties alone; it concerns the articulation of relationships across
dreams that become efficacious in ceremony (Marett, 2000).
cultural contexts.
Artists in Arnhem Land develop adaptive conceptual struc-
At the end of the 1990s, possibly 20,000 out of a total
tures that encode Dreamings through modifications of paint-
of over 350,000 Aboriginal people were living in so-called
ing styles (Morphy, 1991; Taylor, 1996).
remote communities in the Kimberley region, the Western
Observations about the endurance of the Dreaming fur-
Desert, Central Australia, Arnhem Land, and on Cape York
thermore need to address the profound differences in the re-
Peninsula. The ceremonial life in these regions has thrived,
ligious orientation across cultural regions as well as on the
but manifestations of the Dreaming are also present, if con-
level of local communities, especially the heterogeneity of
tested, in at least three other fields. One is the Australian
Aboriginal Christianity (Swain and Rose, 1988).
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Recognition of Aboriginal identities has become a major
Since the mid-1980s, Aborigines have increasingly held
issue in the Australian public self-understanding. One indi-
intellectual control over ritual objects, artifacts, paintings,
cation is the progressive, if contested, legal codification of In-
and audio recordings of myths together with research docu-
digenous rights over land and cultural knowledge. The polit-
ments that were collected and stored by others. Some com-
ical ramifications of establishing mythic traditions that can
munities have begun to establish their own cultural heritage
challenge existing and future forms of land tenure and use
collections, held in local museums and galleries. ADnangu
have impact on the way Aboriginal custodians handle such
(Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara speakers) in northwest
knowledge as well as on how anthropologists conceptualize
South Australia have developed an interactive digital muse-
and employ that knowledge. From a wider perspective, the
um that stores and re-creates myths, family histories, pictori-
incorporation of Aboriginal identities, cultural property, and
al material, and various historical documents. They have also
land ownership into the framework of state and federal laws
produced several thousand hours of video recordings of
creates conflict between Aborigines and others as well as be-
Inma, the ritual and song performances of Dreamings.
tween Aboriginal groups and families.
The movement toward self-representation is in part in-
The 1995 Hindmarsh Island Bridge Affair painfully il-
spired by the awareness that oral traditions expressing the
lustrated such an intragroup disagreement. Some Ngarrind-
many links between people and country are at risk of being
jeri Aboriginal women publicly accused other Ngarrindjeri
irretrievably lost for future generations.
women of having deliberately fabricated a secret women’s
Painting. One way of recording and maintaining myth-
tradition pertaining to Hindmarsh Island and the surround-
ic knowledge is to paint for an international art market.
ing lower Murray River region in South Australia. The claim
Paintings are possibly the most prolific public expression of
made by the accused was aimed at preventing the progress
mythic themes and forces. For Aboriginal artists, canvas,
of a marine development project and the building of a bridge
bark, batik, print, and sculpture present suitable mediums
on the island. The lengthy legal dispute that ensued relied
of communicating aspects of the Dreaming outside local
on anthropological expertise and fuelled a battle over the na-
contexts. The condensed and multi-dimensional symbolisms
ture of cultural traditions, secrecy, and the legitimacy of in-
that have been developed allow for the control of carefully-
novative processes. In the male-dominated courts and parlia-
guarded knowledge without diminishing the total aesthetic
ment, the provision that mythological knowledge was
effect necessary to evoke Ancestral presence or Dreaming
restricted to women was a major problem, since the gender-
restricted nature of information was also thought to prove
The function of paintings as the visual embodiment of
the authenticity of the claim. The case deeply divided Ngar-
Dreamings has solidified Aborigines’ links to country even
rindjeri society and damaged the anthropological profession.
where it is no longer possible to visit the ancestral sites. Until
Such difficulties notwithstanding, Aboriginal people
the late 1980s, men dominated the painting movement of
have felt encouraged that their role as cultural educators has
the Western and Central Deserts with magnificent pictorial
been acknowledged. Aborigines have long expressed desire
renditions of local totemic sites and the great traveling
to speak for themselves and for their country. With the open-
myths. Some of these early paintings are valued as national
ing of communication, it has become worthwhile then to
cultural heritage on the basis of a triple antiquity: the Dream-
survey the many forms in which the Dreaming is conveyed
ing, the modern painting movement, and the seniority of the
outside the context of ritual and secrecy.
painter. By the 1990s, women had become fully engaged in
making their Ancestral connections visible, often painting
bush food Dreamings.
original people from very different backgrounds consider it
their responsibility to record and often publish certain sec-
Paintings are also an important form of documenting
tions and layers of mythic traditions that have been main-
destructive interferences with the Dreaming brought about
by colonization, resource development, and tourism. Two
tained as part of the local knowledge or reclaimed from exter-
art shows about missionary and mining activities were held
nal sources. These works are directed at both their own
on Ngaanyatjarra lands that, together with the accompany-
descendants and a wider audience. Often produced in collab-
ing catalogues, Mission Times at Warburton (2002) and Trust
oration with former missionaries or anthropologists, the
(2003), are powerful examples of how local communities
works include documentations of the regional totemic land-
seek to make explicit and preserve their cultural heritage.
scape in narrative and photographic form, such as Dorothy
Tunbridge’s Flinders Ranges Dreamings (1988); compilations
of myths and legends that may draw heavily on versions re-
sons, the number of scholarly publications specifically con-
corded by non-Aboriginal researchers; art exhibition cata-
cerned with myth has diminished since the 1980s. One of
logs; and biographical and autobiographical accounts that,
these is that with the growing participation of Aboriginal
like Warlpiri Women’s Voices (1995) or Ruby Langford Gini-
people in the academic and public domain, it has become
bi’s My Bundjalung People (1994), establish identifiable links
necessary to restrict access to secret-sacred knowledge. The
with country in the context of a history of displacement.
primary example of this conflict of intellectual interests is the
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

withdrawal from the market of Charles P. Mountford’s mas-
federations.” In stark contrast to Rose’s (1994) assertion that
sive documentation of Pitjantjatjara myths, Nomads of the
in Dreaming law “there is no category of being . . . which
Australian Desert, in 1976. The Pitjantjatjara Council had
is not bodied” (p. 329), Turner recognizes as the organizing
made a successful case for an interlocutory injunction on the
principle of the religious attachment to the land an “abstract
basis of breach of confidence.
eternal jurisdiction” (p. 54). Throughout the 1980s and
1990s, most ethnographic field researchers focused on the
Between the late 1980s and mid-1990s, researchers de-
contextual, performative and political nature of the Dream-
voted much attention to the issues of Aboriginality, urban
ing, in particular its relationship to artistic forms. Exemplary
Aboriginal identity, women’s rights and rituals, land rights,
studies include Howard Morphy (1990) and Luke Taylor
mining, and racism. Howard Morphy’s (1990) brief analysis
(1996) on totemic painting traditions in Northeast Arnhem
of the constitutive links between myths and clans in Yolngu
Land and West Arnhem Land respectively; Ian Keen (1994)
society is one of few publications on Aboriginal mythology.
on the politics of secret knowledge held by Yolngu men in
With the passing of the Native Title Act 1993, however,
Northeast Arnhem Land; Françoise Dussart (2000) on Warl-
whereby the occupation of the continent prior to coloniza-
piri women’s ritual; and Fred Myers (2002) on the intersec-
tion became recognized as common law, the study of myth
tions between international and local contexts of Pintupi art-
received a renewed impetus. Partly in response to the contro-
making. Dianne Johnson’s (1998) literature-based survey of
versy in the legal arena about rights over land, and partly in
sky-related myths is significant in being the first contribution
the context of appreciating narratives of resistance, a debate
towards an Australian Aboriginal ethno-astronomy. The
developed on the relationship between myth and history. In
claim by Ngarrindjeri women over a sacred site in the waters
an attempt to re-conceptualize Aboriginal ontologies in a
around Hindmarsh Island rests on a Seven Sisters Dreaming
way that incorporates the experience of colonization,
about the Pleiades (Bell, 1998, pp. 573–89) that occurs in
Aboriginalists began to re-analyze stories they had recorded
many variations across Australia. A new generation of schol-
decades earlier. Following a conference organized by Jeremy
ars has begun to analyze the aesthetic forms themselves and
Beckett, the journal Oceania devoted almost an entire issue
how these encode meaning and relate to the structures of the
(December 1994) to the discussion of how history, human
social and mythological imagination (e.g., Biddle 2003;
agency, and the Dreaming intersect. This theme was revisit-
Eickelkamp 2003; Tamisari 1998; Watson 2003).
ed shortly thereafter at another Australian anthropological
conference and extended into a comparative framework with
Three important contributions to Aboriginal mytholo-
Papua New Guinea (Rumsey and Weiner, 2001). Basil San-
gy explore the classic ethnographies from the late nineteenth
som’s essays (e.g., 2001) on the subversive aesthetics of the
and early twentieth centuries. One is the highly contested
Dreaming are further important contributions in this field.
work by the historian of religion Sam D. Gill (1998), who
produced a textual analysis of the scholarly construction of
Anthropologists have generally adopted a holistic and
the Central Australian Arrernte and their religious traditions
dynamic approach to the meaning of mythic traditions. Deb-
by early ethnographers, including Mircea Eliade and Jona-
orah Bird Rose (1984, 1992, 1994, 2002) and David Turner
than Smith. The second is a monograph by Johanna M.
(1987) have made especially comprehensive contributions in
Blows (1995) that offers a structuralist and psychoanalytic
this field. But despite seeming conceptual affinities, their re-
exegesis of the Eagle-Crow conflict myth based on twenty-six
spective frameworks of interpretation differ profoundly.
previously recorded text versions mostly from the Darling-
Both authors seek to establish a contrast between the values
Murray River system in the southeast part of the continent.
and worldview of Aborigines on the one hand, and the West-
Third, John Morton has analyzed in a number of essays Cen-
ern Christian tradition and modern capitalist society on the
tral Australian and foremost Arrernte creation myths in a
other. Yet Rose goes further and aligns Aboriginal cultural
framework of Lacanian psychoanalysis, while also strongly
notions with extraneous environmental and feminist con-
drawing on the insights of the early psychoanalytic ethno-
cerns. This is perhaps most evident in her conceptualization
grapher Géza Róheim (e.g., Morton 1993).
of a “Dreaming ecology” (1992) or “nourishing terrains”
REFLECTIONS. Ronald and Catherine Berndt observed that
(1996, 2002), an emphasis on universal moral principles
myths are an “immense mirror” (1989, p. 4) for Aboriginal
(1984), gendered places and power, world-creating women,
people’s self-understanding, but not, according to Catherine
and the bodied existence of all forms of life (1994). Turner’s
Berndt, a mirror of their society. They left untouched the
starting point is at the opposite end. Combining anthropo-
question of how differences between these two symbolic or-
logical and comparative religious scholarship, he analyses in
ders, society and the collective self-understanding, are to be
parallel fundamental aspects of Australian Aboriginal, Cana-
dian Cree and Judeo-Christian ways of life, thinking and
symbolizing. He arrives at a classification of cultural systems
In contrast, psychoanalytic anthropologists have made
that emphasizes historically evolved differences of human so-
this a central point of investigation. For example, Morton
cial organisation. His analysis includes a structuralist inter-
(1993, pp. 333–334) identifies Ancestral creation as a pro-
pretation of myths that underscores his characterization of
cess of mirroring or self-reflection—looking to one’s own
Australian Aboriginal societies as clan-based pluralistic “con-
transformation from one species into another, being echoed
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

in a name—that is extended to human identities and the so-
Marrett, Alan. “Ghostly Voices: some Observations on Song-
cial order. Petchkovsky, San Roque, and Beskow (2003),
Creation, Ceremony and Being in NW Australia.” Oceania
having worked therapeutically with Central Australian Ab-
71 (2000): 18–29.
origines near Alice Springs, suggest that a Jungian perspec-
Mission Time in Warburton. Exhibition and catalog, compiled and
tive on the imagination may help to understand better the
edited by Vikki Plant and Albie Viegas. Warburton, Western
conditions for self-reflection and for the creation of mythic
Australia, 2002.
traditions. They also show the central importance of the ac-
Morphy, Howard. “Myth, Totemism and the Creation of Clans.”
tive imagination in myths and nocturnal dreams for the sus-
Oceania 60 (1990): 312–328.
tenance of creativity. Pointing out that the inner imagery
Morphy, Howard. Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal
process in Aboriginal mythopoesis and dreaming appears to
System of Knowledge. Chicago, 1991.
have been changing since at least the 1950s, they cautiously
Morton, John. “Sensible Beasts: Psychoanalysis, Structuralism,
observe that the vividness of dreams in conjunction with rit-
and the Analysis of Myth.” The Psychoanalytic Study of Society
ual may be deteriorating.
18 (1993): 317–343.
Mythic themes endure because people make them, but
Mountford, Charles P. Nomads of the Australian Desert. Rigby,
those themes also make the people. Through the accounting
Australia, 1976.
of myths, the Dreamings have become everlasting manifesta-
Myers, Fred R. Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal
tions that tell of their self-transformations. It may be then
High Art. Durham, N.C., 2002.
that the capacity of their human descendants to sustain a via-
Native Title Act (Queensland) 1993. Available from http://
ble image of themselves may likewise depend on the possibil-
ities for creative renewal. As the Warlpiri/Pintupi man An-
NativeTitleQA93_01_.pdf. Also see A Guide to Australian
drew Japaljari put it, “One reason why we [Aboriginal
Legislation Relevant to Native Title. Native Title Research
Unit, AIATSIS, Canberra, 2000.
people] can’t handle the grog is because we have no Grog
Dreaming” (Petchkovsky et al. 2003, p. 224).
Petchkovsky, Leon, Craig San Roque, and Manita Beskow. “Jung
and the Dreaming: Analytical Psychology’s Encounters with
Aboriginal Culture.” Transcultural Psychiatry 40, No. 2
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Bell, D. Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A World That Is, Was, and
Will Be. Melbourne, 1998.
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Personne dans le Désert Occidental Australien. Muenster,
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Trust. Exhibition and catalog edited and curated by Jan Turner.
Such movements are often generated by younger people to
Alice Springs, 2003.
challenge the established leaders of the central ritual system
Tunbridge, Dorothy. Flinders Ranges Dreaming. Canberra, 1988.
who are perceived as incompetent to deal with contemporary
Turner, David H. Life Before Genesis: A Conclusion. 2d ed. New
York, 1987.
Indigenous leaders are expected to be “strong, powerful
Vaarzon-Morel, Petronella, ed. Warlpiri Women’s Voices: Our
and dangerous . . . physically vigorous [with] forceful per-
Lives, Our History /Stories Told by Molly Nungarrayi et al.;
sonalities” (Williams, 1987, p. 44). Leaders of new cultic de-
Alice Springs, 1995.
velopments, who are generally widely traveled, may attempt
Watson, Christine. Piercing the Ground: Balgo Women’s Image
to engage with new and stronger forms of power in order to
Making and Relationship to Country. Fremantle, Western
deal with new conditions of life. They, like traditional clever
Australia, 2003.
men, attempt to appropriate strange and mysterious powers
from faraway places. In the early colonial period some cultic
leaders clearly attempted to appropriate European colonial
power-knowledge in order to achieve their goals.
OLD AND NEW TYPOLOGIES. Early colonial studies of Indig-
enous new religious movements reflect European colonial
beliefs and values. In this period it was taken for granted by
Indigenous new religious movements or cultic developments
missionaries and social scientists alike that colonized peoples
have a certain exotic appeal for theorists from state societies.
would become like them. Theorists and policy makers saw
But new religious developments in kin-based societies are not
assimilation as an appropriate goal for Indigenous peoples
dissimilar in role to new political movements in state socie-
within a colonial state. Confronted by strange religious phe-
ties. For kin-based peoples, the ancestral realm is the source
nomena that appeared to be neither Christian nor Indige-
of life, knowledge, and power. During the original cosmo-
nous, religious theorists appealed to their traditional frame-
gonic journeys, ancestral substances and energies were trans-
works of reference. They classified new religious movements
formed into landforms and water sources. At the end of their
along a pagan-Christian dimension and used descriptive
journey the ancestors grew tired and merged into the land-
terms from their own religious traditions—messianism, mille-
scape, taking the forms of hills, rocks, and trees. For their
narianism, and prophetism—in order to render the strange
human descendants, following the ancestral way ensures pro-
cults familiar. Early attempts at categorization proliferated
tection from unknown and potentially malign outside forces.
into a bewildering array of typologies, including Neopagan,
Breaking ancestral laws can lead to withdrawal of protection,
Hebraist, Sabbatarian, Ethiopian Zionist, syncretist sects, al-
revenge, and calamity. Indigenous people acted on the world
aduras, prophet healing, Apostolics, revelatory, enthusiastic
and achieved their political and economic goals through reli-
movements, spiritual churches, and separatist sects (Turner,
gious ritual and activation of ancestral power.
1976, p. 13).
The Western mind compartmentalizes human-world
Anthropologists entered this discourse in the 1930s and
enterprises into separate domains, such as economics, poli-
1940s and, using the terminology of the religious theorists,
tics, and religion. It reifies “religion” and gives it a sui generis
began to construct their theories of social change. In this co-
status, setting it above “mundane” spheres of life. But for Ab-
lonial period anthropologists saw new religious movements
original people and people of other non-Western cultures,
as prime examples of acculturation to the European way of
human-ancestral interaction is not separate from politics or
life. These strange hybrid cults, however anticolonialist in
economics or any other sphere of life.
theme, were believed to be transitional stages along the road
New religious movements in Aboriginal Australia did
to full acculturation or assimilation. Ralph Linton (1940) set
not come into being as a result of European colonization.
his analysis of new religious movements within this general
New cults were continually being generated from old reli-
framework. “Nativistic movements,” that is, “organised at-
gious forms. They were used to legitimize migration and es-
tempts to revive or perpetuate certain aspects of their native
tablishment of land claims in new areas and were widely used
cultures,” were believed to be set in motion by the impact
as alliance-forming mechanisms. For Indigenous people, the
of European culture on traditional societies. Linton classified
new is really just a discovery (or rediscovery) of something
his nativistic movements as revivalistic-magical, revivalistic-
that was there from the beginning but had become lost or
rational, perpetuative-magical, and perpetuative-rational
hidden. Sociocultural practices are “always in flux, in a per-
(Linton, 1979, pp. 497–501). This began a new spate of
petual historically sensitive state of resistance and accommo-
typology construction. Anthropologists began to speak
dation to broader processes of influence that are as much in-
of dynamic nativism, passive nativism, reformative nativ-
side as outside the local context” (Marcus and Fischer, 1986,
ism, adjustment movements, accommodative movements,
p. 78). For I. M. Lewis, new religious movements are the
transformative movements, crisis cults, denunciatory cults,
idiom in which those who aspire to positions of leadership
protest movements, vitalistic movements, and revitalization
compete for power and authority (Lewis, 1971, p. 128).
movements (Burridge, 1969, p. 102). However, these de-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

scriptive terms do not refer to types that are mutually exclu-
Kalkadoon warriors in 1884. The traveling cult that spread
sive. In the 1970s there was a movement away from syn-
into South Australia and Central Australia excited the re-
chronic typology construction stimulated by historical
search interests of Walter Roth, Baldwin Spencer, Otto Sie-
research and phenomenological studies (Fernandez, 1978,
bert, and Adolphus Elkin. Performers in this cult not only
p. 204). With a new generation of researchers, colonial
reenacted the bloody confrontation between colonists and
studies of “millenarian” and “messianic” cults developed into
Aborigines but danced out the desired end of this interac-
postcolonial studies of anticolonial movements, cultural per-
tion. Dances showed Aborigines being shot down by whites
sistence, and “discourses of resistance.”
until the “Grandmother,” a powerful ancestral being,
emerged from the sea to swallow the whites, gesturing in
The concept of the Dreaming is nonmillenarian, nonu-
every direction to show that the destruction of whites would
topian, and nonhistorical. Localized Dreaming narratives are
be complete. Leaders of the Mulunga cult exhorted adher-
unable to account for cataclysmic changes (Wild, 1987,
ents to follow the ancestral laws, especially marriage and sex-
pp. 562–563). However, local and regional Dreaming tracks
ual relations (Carey and Roberts, 2002, p. 835). Siebert saw
and story lines can be extended indefinitely as new tracks can
in the Mulunga cult millenarian and nativistic themes
be discovered, ancestral routes changed, and different routes
(Kolig, 1989, p. 79).
connected together. Erich Kolig describes a universalizing
project that occurred in the Fitzroy Valley region of the Kim-
BANDJALANG PENTECOSTALISM. Bandjalang people on the
berley in the 1970s. Walmajarri people brought the ancestors
northern coast of New South Wales were first evangelized by
of local totemic cults together to travel over vast areas along
the fundamentalist United Aborigines Mission (UAM). In
newly interconnected tracks in order to eliminate religious
1952, as a result of UAM missionary shortages, Aboriginal
particularism and unify themselves organizationally (Kolig,
UAM adherents transferred their allegiance to a Pentecostal
1981, pp. 37–43).
fellowship. The Christian God merged with the ancestral
Anticolonial movements in Australia occurred most
being Ngathunggali, the Virgin Mary with Ngathunggali’s
commonly at colonial frontiers—places of extreme violence
wife, and Jesus Christ with their son Balugan (Calley, 1964,
and dissymmetries of power (Carey and Roberts, 2002).
pp. 50–53). Beginning in the 1950s Bandjalang people de-
These politico-religious cults were precipitated by failed mil-
veloped some elaborate foundation stories from biblical and
itary resistance, massacres, and catastrophic population de-
Dreaming sources. For example, Ngathunggali-God landed
cline brought about by introduced diseases, falling birthrates,
on the north coast of New South Wales in a bark canoe. His
and high infant mortality. Through participation in religious
people, the Bandjalang, are the descendants of Jacob, who
ritual, Aboriginal people attempted to mobilize powerful an-
set out from the Holy Land in a sailing ship that was wrecked
cestral forces to engulf and destroy the colonial invaders.
off the coast of New South Wales. The crew safely reached
shore, built a bark canoe, and continued on their journey.
THE BAIAME WAGANNA, 1833–1835. The Baiame waganna
Twelve tribes of Aboriginal people developed from these
(dance ceremony) was one of the earliest anticolonial move-
“founding fathers.” The Bandjalang identified themselves as
ments recorded in Australia. This traveling cult was precipi-
one of the “lost” tribes of Israel (Calley, 1955, pt. 2,
tated by a catastrophic smallpox epidemic (1830–1831) fol-
pp. 6–7).
lowed by continuing population decimation. European men
on the colonial frontier were usurping Aboriginal men’s sex-
The Old Law was a special revelation of Ngathunggali-
ual rights to women. The Wiradjuri spirit beings, Baiame
God to the Bandjalang. God spoke to Aboriginal people
and Tharrawiirgal, were emasculated by European colonial
through the clever men. Balugan-Christ was killed by ene-
penetration into Wellington Valley. Tharrawiirgal lost his
mies (white people) at Kempsey and is buried on the Ar-
tomahawk (and sent smallpox into the valley in revenge).
akoon racecourse, from whence he will return to the Bandja-
One of Baiame’s wives was stolen by a white man, and he
lang. The white people, prosperous and powerful, crucified
was angered into retaliatory action (Carey and Roberts,
Christ and are rejected by God. The Bandjalang, humble and
2002, pp. 822–843).
poor like Christ, are the beloved of God. Aborginal people
The Baiame waganna was performed to access the
will go to heaven and white people to hell (Calley, 1964,
power of Baiame (who had defeated Tharrawiirgal in an ear-
pp. 52–53).
lier altercation), to protect Wiradjuri people against further
smallpox depredations, to enforce nasal septum piercing, and
religious developments in northern Australia have been stud-
to direct Baiame’s anger toward European men and the Ab-
ied by the scholars Ronald M. Berndt, A. Lommel, Erich
original women who consorted with them. Hilary M. Carey
Kolig, K. P. Koepping, Helmut Petri, Gisela Petri-
and David Roberts describe the Baiame waganna as a “nativ-
Odermann, Deborah Bird Rose, Tony Swain, and others.
ist” or “revitalist” movement (Carey and Roberts, 2002,
The celebrated Gunabibi traveling cult originated in the Vic-
p. 823).
toria or Roper River regions of the Northern Territory and
THE MULUNGA CULT, 1890S–1930S. Tony Swain (1993,
spread into Arnhem Land, Central Australia, and East Kim-
p. 224–233) traces the Mulunga cult to the Kalkatungu wars
berley (Berndt, 1951, p. 233; Meggitt, 1955, p. 401; Petri,
in northwest Queensland and the wholesale slaughter of the
1954, p. 265). In Central Australia and East Kimberley
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

the cult developed into the Gunabibi-Gadjeri complex
rate European colonial power-knowledge into Indigenous
with masculinist forms and ideologies (Meggitt, 1966,
cultic forms. Colonized people do more than just conform
pp. 84–86). This cult complex merged with the wandering
to or resist hegemonic forms and practices. They may cre-
Dingarri-Kuranggara song cycle of the Western Desert. Din-
atively manipulate the forces of colonization by appropriat-
garri traditions celebrate the long migrations of Dingarri an-
ing and transforming its signifiers according to their own po-
cestors through the Western Desert. These migrations ended
litical and cultural needs. Petri (1954, p. 268) regarded the
at Dingarri, a mythical location. The Kuranggara cult ema-
cult as the reaction of younger Aborigines to the increasing
nated highly dangerous life forces that originated in Anangu
incapacity of elders to rally against European encroachment.
Pitjantjatjara country.
Cult organizers were named “clerks,” “policemen,” and
“cooks.” Petri and Lommel’s descriptions of the movement
The Dingarri-Kuranggara song cycle brought the desert
contain nativistic, revivalistic, and antiwhite themes. Kolig
jarnba, spirits of the dead, into regional prominence. Visible
finds millenarian, apocalyptic, and cargoistic themes in the
only to initiates, jarnba were tall, skeleton-like spirits with
Kuranngara cult (Kolig, 1989, pp. 84–85).
menacing faces, horns, and long sexual organs. They could
see what was hidden and were able to kill at a distance using
THE WOAGAIA-JINIMIN MOVEMENT. Modes of resistance to
sacred boards as rifles that they pointed at their enemies. As
colonial incursions vary from ritual performance to overtly
the pastoral industry penetrated into the desert regions, the
political (in the Western sense) forms of struggle. From the
jarnba—with ferocious appetites and raging thirst—were
1930s Aboriginal people on remote pastoral stations orga-
sucking the land dry (Koepping, 1988, pp. 401–402; Kolig,
nized to have their working conditions improved. Most gov-
1989, p. 84; Mol, 1982, p. 67). They also acted as fearsome
ernments supported employers’ refusal to grant Aborigines
guardians of the anticolonial desert cults, exhibiting fierce
award wages, and it was not until the late 1940s that Aborigi-
aggression toward European encroachments (Petri, 1968,
nal workers attracted significant union support. In 1946, as-
p. 254).
sisted by Don McLeod, a white bore sinker, Aboriginal cat-
tlemen walked off twenty-two stations in the Pilbara. During
Within the northern pastoral industry, in a context of
this strike a number of agitators were jailed. In the mid- to
structural inequality and exploitation, Aboriginal people
late 1940s McLeod organized Aboriginal mining coopera-
continued to carry out ceremonial responsibilities for land
tives along socialist principles, and in 1949 “the Pindan
and people. Aboriginal workers conducted complex negotia-
mob” formed their own company in order to control finan-
tions with employers over generations in order to maintain
cial enterprises on their land (McGrath, 2001, p. 144).
a fragile security of land tenure. People adapted their cultural
practices to the seasonal cycle of pastoral work, holding their
Central Australian and West Kimberley people at this
large ceremonies during the wet season layoff period. How-
time were the recipients of intensive missionization. The Lu-
ever, employers failed to reciprocate in kind. They provided
theran Church established its missions with Arrernte people
meager accommodation and in the early years paid workers
of the Macdonnell Ranges, Haasts Bluff, and Simpson De-
only in clothing, kits, and rations. Even in later years they
sert in 1877. The Australian Baptist Missionary Society
paid poor wages, avoided compensation payments, and ne-
began mission work with Warlpiri people of Central Austra-
glected the health of their workers (McGrath, 1997,
lia in 1947. Walmajarri people of the northern Great Sandy
pp. 3–7).
Desert were influenced by both the United Aborigines Mis-
sion (at Fitzroy Crossing from 1952) and the Catholic
In the 1930s the Dingarri-Kuranggara cult began to en-
Church (at La Grange from 1955).
gage with new forms of power to counter the catastrophic
effects of colonization. Cultists trafficked in the deadly
In 1963 the Dingarri-Kuranggara traditions merged
power of the introduced diseases leprosy and syphilis. The
with the new Woagaia-Jinimin movement developing out of
jarnba leader had access to European forms of power-
the Gadjeri-Woagaia cult complex of Central Australia.
knowledge and lived in a white man’s house; there he grew
Woagaia is a generic term for several cults introduced into
leprosy and syphilis from poisonous weeds in his backyard.
the Kimberley by Warlpiri, Gurindji, Ngadi, and other Cen-
This toxic power was ritually transferred into ceremonial
tral Australian groups (Kolig, 1989, p. 124). On a mission
boards that were distributed throughout Northwest Australia
station in Central Australia, Jinimin, the precocious son of
by motor vehicle, steamer, and airplane (Lommel, 1950,
an old venerable ancestral being, revealed himself to Aborigi-
p. 23). The song cycle also predicted a reversal of Indigenous
nal people as Jesus Christ. This epiphany occurred during
gender relationships. At this time women were becoming
the performance of a Woagaia ceremony. Jinimin-Jesus pro-
powerful and dangerous because they associated with white
claimed himself the protector and preserver of ancestral laws
colonial forces and looked like half-castes; it was believed
(Petri and Petri-Odermann, 1988, p. 393).
they would live on after death as powerful ghosts, that they
The black-and-white-skinned Jesus favored Aborigines
would take control of cultic life, and that men would have
over whites. He proclaimed that the land from the beginning
to do the everyday work (Koepping, 1988, pp. 402–409).
had belonged to Aboriginal people and that he would help
The Dingarri-Kuranggara movement was strongly ag-
them regain their land. The Dingarri ancestors were return-
gressive and antiwhite, yet it was also an attempt to incorpo-
ing from the mythic land Dingarri in the east. By participat-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

ing in the Woagaia cult, Aboriginal people would gain the
The 1969 Pastoral Award that granted Aboriginal work-
power and strength needed to rally against the colonizers. In
ers equal wages was followed immediately by a pastoralist
order to succeed in their campaign, they must rigorously ad-
countermove to remove Aboriginal people from stations.
here to ancestral laws. If they did so, the European invaders
The pastoralists’ strategy was to evict Aboriginal people be-
would be defeated, and Holy Water would fall from heaven
fore they were forced to grant them land or fuller access
to drown all white people and turn Aboriginal skins white.
rights. The 1970s thus saw a new dispossession of pastoral
Aborigines would thus regain sovereignty over their lands by
Aborigines, with many forced to live in camps on the fringes
becoming white-skinned (Koepping, 1988, p. 404; Kolig,
of towns. The expulsion coincided with a rise in Aboriginal
1989, p. 86; Petri and Petri-Odermann, 1988, p. 393).
political consciousness (McGrath, 2001, p. 144).
In June 1966 stockmen walked off Newcastle Waters
The Woagaia-Jinimin movement combined Don Mc-
Station, followed by two hundred Gurindji workers at
Leod’s sociorevolutionary ideas, an emerging Land Rights
Vesteys Wave Hill station. Vesteys, an English cattle compa-
politic, and apocalyptic biblical themes. In ceremonial per-
ny, owned ten stations across the Northern Territory and
formance (under the protection of Jinimin-Jesus) the cultists
East Kimberley, controlling a pastoral empire almost the size
appropriated dangerous colonial powers and harnessed them
of Tasmania. One of the richest families in Britain, the
to their own cause. Apocalyptic forces were projected toward
Vesteys made more than a billion pounds in the global meat
the colonizers, while Noah’s ark provided safety and security
for Aboriginal people. Erich Kolig (1988, p. 166) sees chili-
trade, and yet their Aboriginal workers were paid a pittance
astic features in the Noah’s ark story. For Helmut Petri and
and lived in substandard conditions. The Gurindji strike that
Gisela Petri-Oderman (1988, pp. 391–394), the Woagaia-
began as a demand for equal wages and working conditions
Jinimin cult was a new nativistic-millenarian movement with
emerged as the politics of an oppressed people who had never
strong revivalist and revitalistic tendencies.
relinquished sovereignty over their land. The Gurindji
mounted a land claim over their traditional lands and the
JULURRU TRAVELING CULT. The Julurru cult that developed
right to run their community free from exploitation by the
out of the Dingarri-Kuranggara and Woagaia ceremonial
Vesteys and from “welfare” control (Jennett, 2001, p. 122).
complexes made its first appearance in the Pilbara region.
Tony Swain traces the cult to Don McLeod’s Aboriginal
By 1966 the Woagaia-Jinimin cult—proclaimed as
lieutenant, who had frustrated leadership ambitions (Swain,
“God’s Law”—had spread to the west. Walmajarri people
1993, p. 259). Malay ghosts of the sunken ship Koombana
had been migrating in a northwesterly direction from desert
visited him in dreams and revealed to him their colonial ad-
areas three hundred kilometers southeast of Fitzroy Crossing
ventures. Julurru—a dangerous Malay or Japanese ghost—
since the beginning of the twentieth century. Under Walma-
traveled through Australia by Afghan camel trains, horse
jarri direction, Dingarri ancestors were “returning” from the
teams, cars, ships, and airplanes. He united disparate Dream-
desert to their “true” country in the northwest. The Dream-
ing tracks, tracked wandering Dreamings, and brought them
time groups were marching along underground routes
to Dingarri. This fearsome warmonger was also involved in
(which were used to traverse the country of strangers) with
World War II airplane battles, ship sinkings, and bombing
camels to carry their darrugu (secret-sacred objects). Their
raids in Aboriginal country. Through the performance of his
leader and protector on this journey was Jinimin-Jesus. The
traveling cult, Julurru passed his military-technological
Woagaia-Jinimin traveling cult was used to legitimize the
power-knowledge on to Aboriginal people and asserted the
northwesterly migration of Walmajarri people and their es-
equality of Aborigines and whites in Australia (Kolig, 1989,
tablishment of land claims in new areas. It was also an at-
pp. 120–121; Swain, 1993, p. 261).
tempt by people who had been marginalized by European
In the 1960s and 1970s the cult traveled up the Fitzroy
colonization to find again “the centre of the world” (Petri
River and into southern Kimberley, where “prisoners” (cult
and Petri-Odermann, 1970, pp. 251–272).
initiates) were held in “gaol” (jail) and guarded by “police-
In the northwestern coastal areas Jinimin-Jesus was
men.” Dance sequences included soldier battles, airplane
black-skinned. Missionaries were accused of falsifying God’s
battles, spectacular fire dances, the bombing and sinking of
message to keep Aboriginal people in bondage. Apocalyptic
ships, and appearances of Adolf Hitler (Kolig, 1989, p. 122;
Swain, 1993, p. 258).
visions of an end-time deluge continued, and a new Noah
appeared at Fitzroy Crossing. This Walmajarri man had dis-
The cult reached Central Australia in the late 1970s.
covered a gold-laden ark, sent from heaven by Jinimin, that
There Julurru assumed a pastoral guise, dressing in stockman
had been hidden in the land since the Dreaming. At Myroo-
garb with a cowboy hat and pistols. He rode a white horse
dah-Looma, an Aboriginal “Bible” revealed the ark to be a
or a motorbike, consumed vast amounts of alcohol, and
refuge from the flood that would destroy all whites and the
caused vehicles to crash when drivers failed to assist Aborigi-
basis of a new Aboriginal world that would be superior to
nal people (Swain, 1993, pp. 254–255). The cult was em-
European colonial society (Kolig, 1981, p. 160, 1988,
braced by Warlpiri people at Lajamanu during a period of
p. 167, 1989, p. 119; Petri and Petri-Odermann, 1988,
political empowerment—in 1976 the Aboriginal Land
pp. 393–394).
Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 was passed, and in
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

1978 Gurindji and Warlpiri people were granted ninety-five
Aboriginal people’s expense. This particular Captain Cook
thousand square kilometers of land south of Wave Hill.
narrative locates responsibility for colonization not in the
However, the 1979 Julurru ceremony at Lajamanu was at-
spirit realm but in European law and practice and finds this
tended by a Noonkanbah contingent that resulted in in-
law immoral (Rose, 1984, p. 35, 1988, p. 371).
creased understanding of Aboriginal powerlessness in the
If Captain Cook has been a negative presence in most
face of mining interests and increased cynicism about gov-
Aboriginal colonial narratives, Ned Kelly has been given a
ernment goodwill toward Aborigines (Wild, 1981, p. 3). Ab-
different focus. In Yarralin stories Ned Kelly and his band
original people from twenty-six communities assembled at
of angels came down from the sky. Friends of Aboriginal
Noonkanbah in April 1980 to prevent the land being mined,
people, they traveled around the Northern Territory and the
engaging in direct political action and in the performance of
Kimberley, shooting the police. Kelly’s life story has been
politico-religious ceremonies.
conflated with biblical stories about God, Noah, and Jesus.
Stephen Wild sees the Julurru cult, at least in part, as
For example, Kelly created dry land after the flood and fed
an alliance-forming mechanism operating between Western
many Aboriginal people with one billy of tea and a small
Desert, Kimberley, and Central Desert Aborigines in the
damper. And in one version of the story, he was killed by
wake of land rights successes and failures. At Lajamanu the
Captain Cook, buried, and on the third day rose from the
cult was managed by relatively young Aboriginal administra-
dead, ascending to the sky to the accompaniment of a great
tors who were politically aware, skilled in negotiations with
noise and the shaking of the earth (Rose, 1988, p. 369, 1992,
Europeans, and in control of community transport and com-
pp. 182–184).
munications. The aim of cult leaders at Lajamanu was to re-
Colonial and postcolonial narratives continue to be gen-
place the old ceremonies with the new (Wild, 1981, p. 14,
erated by Aboriginal people in contemporary Australia. They
1987, p. 565).
construct histories of the world by incorporating Dreaming
Local and regional Dreaming stories were unable to ac-
stories, “the old people’s stories,” and their own life histories
count for the devastation of European colonization. Travel-
into biblical and Australian colonial frameworks (see Beck-
ing cults that trafficked in strange and mysterious life forces
ett, 1993; McDonald, 2001). They (like all human beings)
were unable to generate powers sufficiently dangerous to
appropriate stories and characters from larger explanatory
expel the colonizers. Aboriginal people appropriated narra-
narratives, reworking them to fit present needs, and inserting
tives available to them from the colonists’ repertoires. The
into these frameworks their own narratives of the self. These
Bible—a colonial document—was an excellent source of sto-
narrative sources are subject to readings, misreadings, reread-
ries about catastrophe and devastation. The Old Testament
ings, and interpretations as Aboriginal people move away
God punished wrongdoers with plagues, famines, floods,
from colonial towns and reserves to develop their own inde-
wars, exile, and slavery. Aboriginal cultists incorporated in-
pendent communities. In northern Australia:
creasingly dangerous colonial powers into their ceremonial
[Aboriginal people’s] main goal is a form of segregation
performances and, under the protection of powerful spirit
that will enable them to achieve the necessary measure
beings, unleashed apocalyptic forces onto their enemies.
of detachment from White hegemony and thus once
again give them control over their own existence . . .
More recently Aboriginal people have appropriated
a separation willed and desired by a politically powerless
“nonreligious” colonial narratives, such as Captain Cook and
group so that they may be able to live their own lives,
Ned Kelly stories, to construct discourses of resistance but
at their own pace, and realizing their own ideals. (Kolig,
have used these stories in religious-mythic ways. Aboriginal
1989, p. 33)
narratives featuring Captain Cook as the major agent of colo-
nization have been studied in northern Australia by Kolig,
SEE ALSO Christianity, article on Christianity in Australia
and New Zealand.
Rose, Chips Mackinolty, and Paddy Wainburranga. Captain
Cook, like the Dreaming beings, was a lawmaker, but he re-
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Beckett, J. “Walter Newton’s History of the World—or Austra-
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Berndt, Ronald M. “Influence of European Culture on Australian
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on the land. Sitting on the land, Aboriginal people. You got
Burridge, K. New Heaven, New Earth. Oxford, 1969.
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Calley, Malcolm John Chalmers. “Aboriginal Pentecostalism: A
Study of Changes in Religion, North Coast, NSW.” M.A.
1984, p. 34).
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and economic well-being—to “make themselves strong” at
Waganna of Wellington Valley, NSW, 1829–1840: The Ear-
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tices such as ceremonies and stories as potent reminders of
important cosmic and temporal truths. And it embraced Ab-
Mol, Hans. The Firm and the Formless. Waterloo, Ontario, 1982.
original Dreaming as a timeless guide for active engagement.
Petri, Helmut. Sterbende Welt in Nordwest-Australien. Braun-
schweig, Germany, 1954.
Out of the many Aboriginal Christian leaders involved
Petri, Helmut. “Australische eingeborenen-religionen.” In Die Re-
in the development of Aboriginal Theology, the three most
ligionen der Sudsee und Australiens, edited by H. Nevermann,
remembered by Aboriginal Christians today are Pastor Don
E. A. Worms, and H. Petri. Stuttgart, 1968.
Brady, the Rev. Charles Harris and Pastor David Kirk; these
Petri, Helmut, and Gisela Petri-Odermann. “Stability and
men are considered by Aboriginal Christians as the pioneers
Change: Present-Day Historic Aspects among Aborigines.”
of Aboriginal Theology and Church (with reference to the
In Australian Aboriginal Anthropology, edited by Ronald M.
Aborigines Inland Mission, United Aborigines Mission, and
Berndt. Perth, 1970.
the Methodist Church in Queensland). These Aboriginal
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

leaders condemned the dominant white society’s subjugation
go I heard a call, ‘Don arise, you are going to do a new
and exploitation of Aboriginal people and also raised impor-
thing’” (Brady, 1971, p. 39).
tant issues of justice and equality. Further, they condemned
white missionaries as destructive influences upon the Aborig-
Brady was the first of all the Aboriginal pastors and lead-
inal peoples and cultures. In this way they mixed deep faith
ers to combine the application of the Gospel with Aboriginal
with political commitment. The impact that these three lead-
cultural practice. There were two things for which he stood
ers had on Aboriginal Christian understanding was radical.
out: (1) he was right at the cutting edge of “Gospel and cul-
Historically, missionaries (both Catholic and Protestant) had
ture”; and (2) his emphasis on social justice issues. His minis-
determined that Aboriginal access to God only could be ob-
try demonstrated the priority of Christ for the poor—
tained through them. Now presented to the Aboriginals was
Christ’s identification with the poor. It was Brady’s particu-
a different image of access—a direct connection to God. Ab-
lar ministry in relation to these two factors that worked so
original leaders made clear for all Aboriginal Christians that
well. He tried to bring Aboriginal culture into the church,
they themselves had direct access to God, and that their rela-
which enormously affirmed Aboriginal people. Aboriginal
tionship to Jesus Christ was established a long time before
church leader, the Rev. Graham Paulson, remembers Brady’s
the white invasion of their land, through their lived experi-
influence, and states, “Brady was right at the cutting edge of
ence with God from time immemorial.
Methodist ministry with urban Aboriginal people” (Paulson,
HE REV. DON BRADY. The Rev. Don Brady was a pivotal
figure in Aboriginal religious, social and political move-
Pastor Brady saw the poverty of his people and heard
ments. Indeed, Aboriginal people recognized that his life and
their cries. He felt that God was on the side of the oppressed
ministry were pivotal to the development of Aboriginal The-
and was leading his people out of bondage. He questioned
ology. He was the first Aboriginal church leader to lead polit-
how he could minister to the spiritual needs of Aboriginal
ical marches, calling for the abolition of the racist and op-
people, when they were enslaved by Australian legislation
pressive Queensland Aborigines Act, which subjected
that oppressed them and literally denied them their human
Aboriginal people to inhumane social, economic and health
dignity and rights. Brady earned the title, “The Punching
conditions, controlling where they could live and work,
Parson,” by simply going around and picking up those of his
whom they could marry, and how far they could advance in
homeless people in the parks and other places who were vul-
school. Brady’s ministry was to influence many generations
nerable to arrest and further abuse by the system. He took
that followed.
them back to a refuge—sometimes having to “knock them
Pastor Brady was from Palm Island, the former prison
out” first, but they always thanked him the next morning.
compound in far north Queensland, which was used to con-
That sort of work, so far as the church was concerned, had
tain and control Aboriginal people. He came to the Lord
never been done before in the history of mission amongst the
there, and eventually was amongst the first of the male Ab-
Aboriginal people.
original students to receive training through the Aborigines
Inland Mission (AIM). He married fellow student Darlene
Brady was a catalyst, in the sense that he created a Black
Willis, of Cherbourg, another Aboriginal mission in south-
church, challenged the institutions, and began a Black move-
ern Queensland. They ministered together within AIM for
ment—one that was to be felt across all of Australia. He lit
a number of years.
the fire in people; he lit the spark, the will to fight, and the
need for them to struggle for justice. He instilled in people
Pastor Brady was a gifted man, who was able to see
the hope, the will to live. Brady revealed to Aboriginal Chris-
through the lack of effectiveness of mission practice, program
tians that the God of justice, who freed the Israelites from
and policy. In the early 1960s, he began a further two years
the bondage of Egyptian rule, also was with the Aboriginal
of theological training in the Methodist College at Kangaroo
people as they struggled for freedom from Western oppres-
Point. In the late 1960s, Brady worked with the Methodist
sion, racist laws and imperialism. Together with other secular
Church in Queensland in the heart of Brisbane, at Spring
Aboriginal movements (such as the Aboriginal Land Rights
Hill. He was enormously popular, particularly among his
Movement) throughout the country, Brady brought the
own Aboriginal people, because his ministry was (w)holistic.
force of his Black Church with him, led by the conviction
Brady was concerned, not only about the spiritual side, but
of equality and freedom for all. Black people began to share
also the physical and emotional sides of people. He had a way
in the hope that God was on their side, and that God would
of connecting with people—of seeing brokenness and being
send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be their strength,
able to heal it. The appeal of his ministry extended far be-
hope and courage in the face of the racism inflicted upon
yond the bounds of his own Aboriginal community, as many
them by the white Australian society. He raised the con-
non-Aboriginal people were also drawn to his charisma.
sciousness of his people—that Christ came and died for
Pastor Brady’s prophetic stance grew out of his experi-
them, and they too were free, and inheritors of the Kingdom.
ences overseas. He had won a Churchill Fellowship, and had
The pressures on Brady were enormous, because he was the
traveled to several communities in the United States and
lone voice in the Methodist Church at that time, saying
begun to sense a new direction. In his own words, “In Chica-
things that Aboriginal people had never heard before.
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Brady questioned the political system (such as the De-
programs, toward the improvement of the quality of life of
partment of Native Affairs in Brisbane), and other policies
people within Cherbourg.
in his concern for the people, and raised a number of social
In the early to mid-1960s, Kirk was asked to serve as
justice questions. In the process, the conservatives and whites
Deputy Principal at the Bible College in Singleton. His com-
in the Methodist Church began to distance themselves from
mitment to social justice was visible through his work of try-
him. He found himself more and more isolated by the system
ing to change the system from within. He did not see Aborig-
that had affirmed him from the very beginning—that is,
inal people being empowered by the system, as there were
until he began to raise questions of justice in terms of social
no Aboriginal leaders participating in the decision-making
issues. Increasingly, Brady found himself a lonely and de-
bodies of the church. They were not in positions of status,
serted leader. Also, from his conservative beginnings in AIM,
nor in positions of power; they were continuously oppressed
some of his former colleagues were sniping at him as well.
and kept down by the mission. Kirk felt that because it was
They could not understand his political leanings and were
called the Aborigines Inland Mission, those whom AIM had
trying to spiritualize away all the political, social and eco-
trained—the indigenous people themselves—should be at
nomic issues.
the forefront of running the mission. He spearheaded the
Brady’s belief in doing and bringing the Gospel through
drive for as long as he could, before finally leaving the mis-
Christ’s action led to severe repercussions. He was spiritually
sion. The confrontation was so great that the Aboriginal peo-
and emotionally shattered. The church pulled back and ‘de-
ple and the non-Aboriginal people decided to go their own
frocked’ him, and his status and the basis for his drive in the
community—that which gave him the basis for justice and
Ultimately, at a meeting of the Aboriginal people at
morality and integrity—was pulled away from him.
Cherbourg twelve to eighteen months later, the Aboriginal
Convention decided to form the Australian Aboriginal Evan-
Brady gave his life for what he believed, and in obedi-
gelical Fellowship. Unbeknownst to them, Kirk’s colleagues
ence to what God called him to do. And, even though the
had been aware of this movement and were leading their own
church turned against him and tried to silence and discredit
counter-movement amongst the United Aborigines Mission
him, the legacy of his ministry was to be continued and made
(UAM), a sister Mission of AIM in Western Australia. Both
visible in the lives and ministries of those who were to follow.
of these had worked together in the initial stages at La Pe-
Brady’s efforts were not wasted; on the contrary, his influ-
rouse, in Sydney. The Aboriginal Conference in Western
ence lives on in those who have the courage and the convic-
Australia formed the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship.
tion to carry the cross today. David Thompson, a lifelong
Within one week of each other, and without prior notice,
friend of Pastor Brady, describes him as “a man ahead of his
these two Evangelical Fellowship organizations, indepen-
time,” and “a man of strength, character and vision, who laid
dently of each other, had arrived at the same name, with al-
the foundations for the future” (Thompson, 1995).
most the same mandate—one in the east and one in the west.
PASTOR DAVID KIRK. Pastor David Kirk was another pivotal
In 1968, they began joint conferences and, finally, in 1970,
figure in the development of an Aboriginal organization-
decided to merge the groups, and formulated the national
fellowship. He grew up in Cherbourg, the mission com-
umbrella, the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship of Australia
pound in southeast Queensland. He, like others during his
time, grew up under the oppressive authority of the Queens-
Kirk sought the development of the Aboriginal Church
land Aborigines Act.
by Indigenous principles. Up until this time he could not see
the church being self-supporting, self-governing and self-
Kirk came to the Lord in Cherbourg, under the ministry
propagating. However, he began to see evangelism spread
of an Aboriginal preacher, Herbie Fisher, and entered the
within the Aboriginal community (self-propagation), and see
Bible College at Singleton, in N.S.W., in the mid-1950s. He
the beginnings of self-support. Australian Aboriginals were
worked with Howard Miles—who later became president of
and still are at the bottom of the ladder of socio-economic
AIM in the Northern Territory—and after he was married,
development, and what concerned him most, was that the
he worked at Caroona, in central New South Wales, with his
Aboriginal people had no power of decision-making. How
wife, Dawn Dates. Kirk served for many years with AIM, and
could they get out of this mess, if they could not decide for
the highlight of his ministry was the development of his work
themselves? The teaching of Roland Allen’s book, The Indig-
at Cherbourg, which he built from nothing under the previ-
enous Church, was the driving and motivating force for Kirk.
ous white missionary, to the point where the church became
He sought to employ the principles of Roland Allen within
the dominant social institution in the area. There were many
Cherbourg, but when he went back into the mission the mis-
operations and programs that had their central focus either
sionaries continued to hold onto control and would not give
in or from the church or from the Christians, and the church
up their power base.
was continuously packed. At Cherbourg, he was interested
in upgrading secular education, because Queensland’s De-
In 1978, Kirk, along with others, worked to prepare the
partment of Native Affairs policies still had not changed
property and program to become a Bible College. Kirk saw
since his youth. He worked with the community in social
that the mission’s policies and programs were not working
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

in truly liberating the Aboriginal people. It was only bringing
this radical push, Kirk suffered repercussions. Colleagues
them so far, but still keeping them in bondage within the
wrote letters to him, advising that they were cutting them-
mission system. What Kirk wanted was true autonomy. The
selves off from him because they felt he was too radical. The
mission taught that the truly Indigenous church was to be
white missionaries pulled back, accusing Kirk of racism and
self-governing, but it would not allow the Aboriginal people
separatism; they then used their influence over his Aboriginal
the opportunity to govern themselves within this system.
colleagues to do likewise. Both began to ridicule him togeth-
This caused Kirk to lead his people against the oppressive sys-
er. It was when his own people turned against him, that Kirk
tem. Kirk saw the hypocrisy of the mission, on the one hand
found nothing left for which to live. In 1986, feeling so
teaching self-government in its training program at local
abandoned, Pastor David Kirk took his own life. Kirk’s min-
church level, and on the other not letting self-government
istry was cut short due to the overwhelming heartache of
go through all of the other levels of the church’s bureaucracy.
leadership under these conditions.
The whites held on to power within the decision-making and
management processes, and marginalized the Aboriginal
HE REV. CHARLES HARRIS. The Rev. Charles Harris was
a third pivotal figure—the Founder of the Uniting Aborigi-
people. He saw their Westernizing within the context of their
nal and Islander Christian Congress, and the visionary be-
missionizing as racism—a form of racism that was very subtle
hind the 1988 March for Justice, Freedom and Hope.
and that they had systematically perpetuated against Aborigi-
nal people for 80 to 90 years, literally dominating all aspects
The Rev. Harris was born in Ingham, in north Queens-
of their lives.
land, during the Depression. He grew up on the fringes of
white towns during the time of the Queensland Aborigines Act
Further, Kirk saw the mission getting money in the
and the “White Australia Policy” (this policy excluded non-
name of Aboriginal people, and Aboriginals not being the di-
Europeans from entry into Australia on the basis of race).
rect beneficiaries of this income. It was mostly going into
Eventually, his father moved the family to the bush near Vic-
building up the mission bureaucracies in which Aboriginal
toria Station, where they lived in a small “house” with palm
people had no part. He led the charge against the mission,
tree floorboards, kerosene tin walls and roof, and hessian
and led the breakaway with the AEF.
sugar bags for partitions. The eight children, four boys and
Where he sought empowerment for the indigenous peo-
four girls, kept warm during the cold winters by wearing the
ple through the establishment of their own churches and in-
hessian bags. The family lived on what they were able to
stitutions, Kirk, however, did not see the need for the devel-
plant (yam, taro, sweet potato) or keep (fowl), and on the
opment of an Indigenous Theology. He thought that
scraps of his mother’s cane farmer boss. The children walked
through Aboriginal control, he had achieved indigenization;
two and a half miles to school each day, where they could
but, instead, what had in fact been done was the creation of
only afford to have damper with treacle (a syrup). Young
a Black bureaucracy founded upon white theology, mis-
Charles would watch the white children eat their nicely cut
siology, ideology and misogyny. The only thing indigenous
packed lunches, while he sat over in a corner where no one
about this move was the black people who controlled it.
could see his meager damper and treacle. It was at school that
What they all failed to see was they had all internalized their
Harris first realized the power of racism to create the hunger
own oppression, as they were Aboriginal people thinking,
and poverty he and his family were experiencing.
acting and speaking white. They had not seen the need to
During the 1970s and 1980s, Harris completed nearly
incorporate into this new structure, or into the churches,
four years of study in conservative, white, Western theologi-
their own identity, culture and theology. Paulson’s assess-
cal colleges (including Nungalinya, Wontulp-Bi-Buya and
ment of Kirk’s ministry was that “he was still applying West-
the College in Brisbane), where he remained unaware of the
ern theology to Aboriginal situations, rather than conceptu-
issues of justice and struggle.
alizing a new framework for theology” (Paulson, 1995). Kirk
affirmed his culture and identity, but saw these as secondary
In the 1970s, the Rev. Charles Harris followed Brady
and separate to his focus. While Kirk had not constructed
at the ministry in Brisbane, taking up the mantle of direct
a theology of liberation, he nevertheless had radicalized the
ministry with the Aboriginal people at Musgrave Park. His
mission. Kirk believed that Aboriginal people should govern
work continued the prophetic stands for justice, eventually
their own Christian lives, institutions and theological educa-
culminating in his vision of the Uniting Aboriginal and Is-
tion, be the preachers and interpreters of the Gospel message
lander Christian Congress in 1985. His subsequent writings
in their own churches, and determine the mission and evan-
reveal a true passion and “thirst” for justice.
gelism of and to their own people.
When he came to work with Pastor Don Brady in the
After the first ten years, he began to suffer isolation as
inner city suburbs of Brisbane and the centre at Paddington,
some of his colleagues questioned “where he was going” and
however, he encountered a reality that shocked and changed
“where he was leading AEF.” Coming with a more conserva-
him. While Harris was sitting with the alcoholics in Mus-
tive theology, they sought to impose their viewpoints. Kirk
grave Park, God gave him a vision of his own people
saw this imposition as detrimental to the cause of pushing
“crushed beyond hopelessness, just drinking themselves to
ahead for an Indigenous Church. Eventually, as a result of
death, having no hope for the future” (Pattel-Gray, p. 122),
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

and he felt the pain and suffering of the Aboriginal people.
ership, which led to a conservative backlash among his peers
There, he met not the imported God, but the Aboriginal
(both Aboriginal and white), his colleagues feeling threat-
God—the One that called him to a radical new vision of a
ened by such radicalism. Moves were made to oust Harris
Gospel which liberates, and one that could “break through
from his position.
any barrier and bridge any gap that existed not only in the
In the closing months of 1988, while attending a church
Aboriginal community, but also in the world” (Pattel-Gray,
conference in Taiwan, the Rev. Harris suffered a severe heart
p. 122). Harris was made aware that the Bible could address
attack. Complications led to his being ill for several years af-
current issues, those that affected his people. “Unless the
terwards, and in 1993 he passed away. In one of his last inter-
Gospel does address and can address the [current] situation
views, Harris stated, “the ultimate vision is that once again
. . . the current issues, then it’s not the Gospel to me. It’s
my people, Aboriginal people, the Aboriginal & Islander Na-
definitely not the Gospel, it’s something that man has im-
tion, will walk tall and again find their dignity that they had
posed upon his fellow man” (Pattel-Gray, p. 122).
before 1788. As they are able to do that they can make a con-
In 1980, Harris was ordained to the Christian ministry
tribution to any world community, any nation throughout
in the Uniting Church in Australia. During this period, Har-
the world, any society” (Reid, pp. 19–21).
ris had a vision of a Black, autonomous church, with its own
Brady, Kirk and Harris were pivotal in facilitating the
leadership and ministry—a place for Aboriginal people to
significant developments that were to follow. All three
gather and to share their hopes, faith and ministry. In 1985,
walked the narrow road, and all three paid a high price for
as the visionary behind this initiative and under his direction,
their radical stance on justice and their challenges to oppres-
Harris founded the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Chris-
sive racist institutions. Their vision, obedience and leader-
tian Congress (UAICC), under the umbrella of the Uniting
ship pioneered a new way of understanding Christianity,
Church in Australia (UCA). What Kirk had envisioned,
which still is evolving (alongside and in conflict with other,
Harris made a reality for Aboriginal Christians of the UCA.
more conservative ways).
Harris’ achievements included not only separate organiza-
OTHER LEADERS. Following the significant achievements of
tional structures, but also securing the economics to sustain
Brady, Kirk and Harris, Aboriginal people saw the rise of sev-
national and various state entities throughout Australia. No
eral Aboriginal Christian leaders who would also take up the
longer would Aboriginal ministry be in the hands of the
gauntlet and continue to struggle against white oppression
West; now, it would be secured firmly in the hands of Ab-
of Aboriginal communities, in the hope of securing the equal
original people—fulfilling the goal of self-determination so
rights and liberation so desired by Aboriginal people. Yet,
sought by Harris. His accomplishments became the impetus
this struggle quite often came at a high price.
behind the Aboriginal Christian movement within the
In 1975, Patrick Dodson became the first Aboriginal
church for a separate Aboriginal ecclesiastical structure, yet
person to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Like Brady
with an equal place in the life of the whole church.
and Harris, his stands for justice were far too threatening for
During his time of leadership as President of the
the hierarchical, institutionalized church, and he left both
UAICC, Harris had yet another vision: a March for Justice,
the priesthood and the church. After his departure, Dodson
Freedom and Hope, which would be a protest against the
served as Director of the Central Land Council, Commis-
white Australian bicentennial celebration. This march was to
sioner of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in
go down in history as the largest protest ever seen. On Janu-
Custody, and Chairperson of the (Federal) Council for Ab-
ary 26, 1988—Invasion Day—despite government and gen-
original Reconciliation–all positions which reflect his contin-
eral community insensitivity towards the Aboriginal call for
uing commitment to justice and equality for all peoples. His
a Year of Mourning, most of Australia marked a “year of cele-
writings include: “This Land Our Mother,” in the CCJP Oc-
brations.” For whites, this date (Australia Day) commemo-
casional Paper; and, “The Land Our Mother, the Church
rated the claiming of Australia for the “English Crown” by
Our Mother,” in the Compass Theology Review.
the first British governor of New South Wales. Nevertheless,
Others have followed these great leaders with a strong
Aboriginal people managed to draw national and interna-
theology and a passion for justice. Father Dave Passi, a Tor-
tional attention to the hypocrisy of the bicentenary with the
res Strait Islander priest of the Malo group (which is the tra-
March. On Invasion Day—and for the first time—thousands
ditional religion of the Torres Strait Islander people) is also
of Aboriginals from across the nation met in Sydney and
a fully qualified and ordained priest of the Anglican Church
marched to mourn past and present injustices against Ab-
of Australia. He was one of the original plaintiffs in the land-
original people and to celebrate the Survival of the Aborigi-
mark Native Title (Mabo) land rights case, which shattered
nal Race. As a popular song by an Aboriginal rock band said:
the white “legal fiction” that the Australian continent was
“We Have Survived!” On that day 20,000 Aborig-
terra nullius (or, uninhabited land—ready to be “worked”
inals marched for justice, and another 30,000 non-
and colonized). Passi was led by his strong theological com-
Aboriginals came to march in solidarity with them.
mitment to justice.
During and after the March, the Aboriginal and white
The Rev. Dhalanganda Garrawurra, of the Uniting
leadership turned against Harris as a result of his radical lead-
Church in Australia, was a former Assistant to the Principal
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

at Nungalinya Theological College in Darwin—this despite
Gilbert, Kevin. “God at the Campfire and That Christ Fella.” In
the fact that he was denied food rations by Christian mis-
Aboriginal Spirituality: Past, Present, and Future. Blackburn,
sionaries when he did not go to the church on the Aboriginal
Vic., 1996.
Reserve as a youth.
Harris, Rev. Charles. “Reconciliation or Whitewash.” Koori Mail
The Rev. Trevor Holmes—also of the Uniting Church
no. 15 (November 6, 1991): 15.
in Australia—has been at the forefront of the defense of a
Harris, Rev. Charles. “Indigenisation Key to Our Survival.” Koori
small parcel of Aboriginal land on the Swan River, in Perth,
Mail, no. 16 (December 18, 1991): 11.
Western Australia. His theological stand has cost him: psy-
Harris, Rev. Charles. “Thinking for Ourselves.” Koori Mail, no.
chologically (he has been smeared in the media), physically
17 (January 15, 1992): 18, 20.
(he has received death threats and, on numerous occasions,
Harris, Rev. Charles. “Western Christianity a Curse to Indigenous
he has been beaten or arrested by police), socially (he is “un-
Spirituality.” Koori Mail no. 20 (February 26, 1992): 19.
popular” in Perth), and professionally (he is shunned in some
white church circles).
Hart, Max. Story of Fire. Adelaide, Australia, 1988.
Though he probably did not consider himself to be an
McDonald, Heather. Blood, Bones, and Spirit: Aboriginal Chris-
tianity in an East Kimberley Town. Melbourne, 2001.
Aboriginal Christian theologian, Kevin Gilbert nevertheless
provides one of the most comprehensive critiques of Chris-
Passi, Dave. “From Pagan to Christian Priesthood.” In The Gospel
tian theology and Christianity itself. His works demonstrate
Is Not Western: Black Theologies from the Southwest Pacific,
vast knowledge of both the Bible and of Christianity, though
edited by Garry W. Trompf, pp. 45–48. Maryknoll, N.Y.,
he stood at the fringe of Christian hermeneutics. His sharp
insights offer a major contribution to Aboriginal theology.
“Pastor Burns and Spits on Aboriginal Act,” Courier-Mail
(1970): 1.
While “Aboriginal Theology” has been passionate about
justice and the need for liberation of their people, it never-
Pattel-Gray, Anne. Through Aboriginal Eyes: The Cry from the Wil-
theless has failed to address the particular concerns of oppres-
derness. Geneva, 1991.
sion suffered by the Aboriginal women, youth and the dis-
Reid, John. “Only the Truth Will Make Us Free.” Journey (August
abled. Indeed, all of the theologies mentioned thus far are
1988): 19–21.
weighed down by Western patriarchal structures and sexist
Uniting Church in Australia, commission for Mission. “God’s
attitudes and actions. This endeavor to develop an Aborigi-
Startling New Initiative: The Uniting Aboriginal and Island-
nal systemic theology will encompass everything from Ab-
er Christian Congress.” Mission Probe 25 (1984): 4.
original cosmogony—the timeless oral tradition of Aborigi-
nal Ancestral narratives to the modern written tradition of
critical exegetical and hermeneutical work. The goal is to
preserve the ancient wisdom of Aboriginal culture and tradi-
tion, as well as reinterpret and reformulate more recent
Western theological concepts.
The study of Australian Aboriginal religions has been the
SEE ALSO Christianity, article on Christianity in Australia
study of religions without a written record provided by their
and New Zealand.
adherents. We depend on what outsiders to Aboriginal reli-
gion have thought worthwhile to commit to writing. More-
Allen, Roland. Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? London,
over the history of contact in Australia has been a sorry one
in the main—Aborigines were dispossessed of land, regarded
Allen, Roland. Missionary Principles. London, 1913.
with contempt, and made socially and politically inferior.
The amateur anthropologist A. W. Howitt could observe in
Allen, Roland. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the
Causes Which Hinder It. London, 1927.
1880 that the frontier was often marked by a line of blood.
Indeed, between the late eighteenth century, when European
Ansara, Martha. Always Was, Always Will Be: The Sacred Grounds
of the Waugal, Kings Park, Perth, W. A. Balmain, Australia,
settlement began, and the 1920s, Aboriginal numbers fell so
1989, rev. ed., 1990.
sharply that prophecies of race extinction were neither alarm-
Brady, Rev. Don. “Sermon Quotes.” Racism in Australia: Tasks for
ist by some nor wishful thinking by others. After World War
General and Christian Education: Report of Southport Confer-
II, in keeping with a new policy of assimilating Aborigines
ence. Melbourne, 1971, p. 39.
to an ill-defined general Australian standard, there was a
Dodson, Patrick. “This Land Our Mother.” CCJP Occasional
great expansion of administrative interference with them.
Paper 9 (1973).
But a more sympathetic attitude toward tradition became
Dodson, Patrick. “The Land Our Mother, the Church Our
prevalent during the 1970s; “self-management” and “self-
Mother.” Compass Theology Review 22, no. 1–2 (autumn–
determination” entered common usage as policy slogans; and
winter, 1988): 1–3.
a few Aborigines even began to call for sovereignty. In what
Gilbert, Kevin. Living Black: Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert. Mel-
is now a highly politicized atmosphere, with laws passed or
bourne, Australia, 1978.
proposed for the grant of land rights, the protection of sacred
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

sites, and the recognition of customary law, it can be an ad-
nes had made the longest and most difficult move toward the
vantage for Aborigines to be—or to appear to be—
formation of a truly religious outlook, but that they had gone
traditional in outlook and values. It is amid such aftermaths
far beyond that first step.
and in such contexts that scholars (mostly anthropologists)
have studied Aboriginal religion.
Some of the observed particulars and some of the con-
clusions drawn from them are much the same as those from
In the course of this strained and unhappy history a re-
the turn of the century. But a good deal of the old theoretical
markable change has occurred in the appreciation of Aborigi-
baggage—concern with the order of appearance of magic, re-
nal religion. It can best be illustrated by juxtaposing two pairs
ligion, and science, for example—has gone overboard in the
of quotations. In 1828 Roger Oldfield (pseudonym of the
course of extensive remodeling of our frameworks of percep-
Reverend Ralph Mansfield) wrote that “the religion of the
tion and interpretation. That Aborigines lack certain features
Aborigines, or rather their superstition, is very absurd,” and
of the religions best known to Europeans no longer seems
in 1841 another clergyman, Lancelot Edward Threlkeld, de-
important. Thus the heat has left the debate over whether
scribed Aborigines as “deluded men” who, “like most igno-
Baiame, Daramulun, and other such All-Fathers were sup-
rant savage tribes, are remarkably superstitious.” But by the
ernaturalized headmen, Christian borrowings, or genuine
mid-twentieth century, a number of writers had discussed
high gods (as maintained, for example, by Spencer’s contem-
the status of Aboriginal religion more sympathetically. In
porary, the Lutheran missionary and amateur anthropologist
1965, the anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner referred to “the
Carl Strehlow, regarding the Aranda of central Australia)—
facts that have convinced modern anthropologists that the
indeed, it is doubtful that one can still speak of a debate on
Aborigines are a deeply religious people.”
this arcane topic. What does seem important is to see the
world and humankind in Aboriginal terms, though it be
Such a rise in estimation reflects growing knowledge of
through a glass darkly.
and deepening sympathy with Aborigines, but another im-
portant cause is the loss of confidence in the validity or use-
This new imperative has required a considerable broad-
fulness of earlier criteria for distinguishing true religion from
ening in interpretative framework. There would be general
false, or religion from superstition and magic. Assertions of
agreement with Stanner that a study may be about religion
Aboriginal religiosity (or spirituality, as it is often called) and
but will not be of it if any of the four categories of experience,
studies of aspects of Aboriginal religion have proliferated
belief, action, and purpose is neglected. Aboriginal religion,
since the 1950s—coinciding, ironically, with a growing in-
he argued, draws on a human experience of life and a creative
clusion of Aborigines in the Australian polity and an increas-
purpose in life, and the study of it cannot, as so often
ing erosion of the more tangible features of traditional cul-
thought, be equated with study of the beliefs and actions
ture. No longer as objectively “other” as they once were, the
(myths and rites) of its adherents. But a deeper insight is also
Aborigines have become subjectively “other” through being
needed. Stanner saw myths, rites, and the images of art as
credited with a religious dimension largely absent from the
“languages of the mind,” beyond which one must go to reach
secularized society which engulfs them. It would be wrong,
the “metaphysic of life” by which they are cryptically invest-
however, to imagine that an unbridgeable gulf has opened
ed. Few would disagree with him that anthropology has so
between earlier and later bodies of opinion. A degree of con-
far failed in this last and most ambitious task. There is, in-
tinuity can be seen even in the writings of Stanner, who
deed, much still to be done in mapping the languages of the
worked passionately and to great effect to dispel mispercep-
mind and in working out their interplay with one another,
tions of Aboriginal life and thought.
with the social organization of the people, and with the land-
scape in which Aboriginal lives are set.
The Aborigines, he wrote in 1953, have no gods, their
afterlife is only a shadowy replica of worldly existence, their
ethical insights are dim and coarsely textured, their concept
1965 that one of the best avenues of study of Aboriginal reli-
of goodness lacks true scruple, and their many stories about
gion was through the surviving regional cults. In fact, an-
the Dreaming (the far-off creative period when nature and
thropological attention has long tended to focus on them,
culture were formed) are plainly preposterous, lacking logic,
as can be seen by the studies that Howitt and Robert Hamil-
system, and completeness. Does this differ much from
ton Mathews (1841–1918) made of the Bora, or initiation,
Howitt, half a century earlier, who could not see that the Ab-
ceremonies in southeast Australia and that Spencer and Gil-
origines had any form of religion, and who thought that the
len made of the increase and initiation ceremonies of central
supernatural beings in whom they believed showed no trace
Australia. This tradition, as it can justly be regarded, has con-
of a divine nature (being, at most, ideal headmen living in
tinued until the most recent times. Some of the more notable
the sky instead of on earth)? Does it differ from Howitt’s
examples are Ronald M. Berndt’s monographs on the
contemporaries, Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, in whose
Kunapipi and Djanggawul of northern Australia, A. P.
monumental works such words as god, religion, and divinity
Elkin’s papers on the Maraian and Yabuduruwa, also of the
are conspicuous by their absence, though they saw a religious
north, and M. J. Meggitt’s monograph on the Gadjari of
aspect in the Intichiuma, or totemic increase ceremonies, of
central Australia, though there has also been valuable work
central Australia? Yet Stanner insisted not only that Aborigi-
of a more general nature, such as Catherine H. Berndt’s and
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Diane Bell’s studies of women’s religious beliefs and obser-
Nor should we think of express purposes as the motives for
cult performances. As musical, dramatic, and aesthetic occa-
sions, as mappings-out of landscape and social organization,
The popularity of the cult for study stems from the fact
they can be deeply satisfying for their own sake. This has
that it is in many ways a natural whole—it seems to be self-
been brought out especially in the writings of Stanner on the
bounding. Commonly it has a name (Kunapipi or Kuringal,
Murinbata of northern Australia, and of T. G. H. Strehlow
for example), includes a sequence of ritual episodes—the per-
(1908–1978), the linguist-anthropologist son of Carl Stre-
formance of which may stretch over several weeks—and usu-
hlow, on the Aranda.
ally one or more cycles of songs, and has attached to it a body
of myths and tangible symbols, such as a musical instru-
In spite of seeming to be the natural unit of study, no
ment—gong or bull-roarer, for example—which may stand
cult has yet been the subject of a truly comprehensive pub-
for a mythical founder of the cult and be known by the same
lished work. Howitt and Mathews, for example, concentrat-
name as the cult. An outsider who attends a performance
ed on the sequence of ritual episodes, with the latter also pro-
may well be reminded of European plays, operas, or ballets,
viding detailed descriptions of the shape and dimensions of
though it would be wrong to think of a cult as necessarily
ceremonial grounds, of the paths between them, and of the
an enactment of a straightforward story. Some episodes do
objects of art by which they were surrounded. Berndt’s
have a narrative quality, but others can be quite cryptic, and
Kunapipi monograph runs to 223 pages and his Djanggawul
the sequence as a whole is likely to have a variety of stories
monograph to 320, but both are stronger on myth and song
and significations woven through it. Rather similarly, the
than on ritual description. Elkin on the Maraian, like Meg-
songs that make up the accompanying cycle or cycles may
gitt on the Gadjari and Stanner on the cults performed by
be easily translatable, translatable only in fragments, or alto-
the Murinbata, neglects the songs (the Yabuduruwa lacks
gether devoid of any meaning known to the performers. The
singing). None of these scholars shows, in a really detailed
performers themselves are not self-chosen or selected at ran-
way, how the cults are anchored in landscape and social orga-
dom but occupy roles prescribed according to such criteria
nization, though all of them are aware of it. In short, even
as sex, degree of initiatory advancement, moiety (where, as
at a purely descriptive level, each of our accounts suffers pro-
is usual, a dual organization exists), totemic identity, or local-
nounced weaknesses as well as showing characteristic
ized group. All of these criteria, and perhaps others as well,
strengths. It is as though the student of a cult is defeated by
can be relevant in the course of a single cult performance.
the sheer abundance of what it offers to eye, ear, and mind.
Another typical aspect of a cult is its anchorage in the land-
But even if we had a truly comprehensive account of, say,
scape: myths and songs refer to numerous places, rites are
the Kunapipi or Yabuduruwa, we would still be far removed
symbolically or actually performed at such places, and the
from an adequate grasp of the religious life of the area con-
groups and categories of the social order in terms of which
cerned, for usually several cults coexist.
the performers are chosen stand in a variety of jurisprudential
relations to those places. A cult, then, is virtually a micro-
In southern Arnhem Land, for example, where religious
cosm of Aboriginal culture.
studies have been made by myself, following on earlier work
by Elkin, five cults were extant in the 1960s and 1970s, with
Although a performance can be seen as a many-sided
others still remembered by some older people. The five, in
symbolic display, it also achieves certain institutionalized
order of degree of secrecy or importance, were Bugabud, Lor-
purposes. The Bora ceremonies of the southeast were espe-
gon, Kunapipi and Yabuduruwa (this pair being ranked
cially concerned with the advancement of boys to manhood.
about equally), and Maraian. All men and women could ex-
They included spectacular episodes in which novices were
pect to take part in each of them—they were not the con-
first separated from, and later returned to, mundane life
cern, then, of specialized and mutually exclusive groups of
(often personified by their mothers); in the intervening peri-
votaries. The dual organization, divided into patrilineal moi-
od they suffered a visible mark of advancement in the loss
eties named Dua and Yiridja, imposed its pattern on the set
of a tooth through evulsion. In other regions circumcision
of cults: Bugabud, Lorgon, and Maraian existed in two ver-
or subincision might be substituted for or added to tooth
sions, one for each moiety; Kunapipi was classified as Dua
evulsion as the preeminent physical sign of manhood.
and Yabuduruwa as Yiridja. But in each case performers
would necessarily be drawn from both moieties by virtue of
Throughout much of central and western Australia the
a prescribed division of labor and responsibilities.
maintenance or promotion of fertility in plant and animal
nature was aimed at in cult performances. Disposal of the re-
The acquisition of competence in these cults is part of
mains of the dead can be an important purpose, as can trans-
the protracted process by which individuals rise to full adult-
formation of spirits of the dead into a state in which they can
hood. However, they also discharge purposes connected with
return to ancestral waters (or other places) and from which
the dead. Bugabud and Lorgon are mortuary cults, in the
they can (in some regions) be reincarnated. Several such pur-
sense that they are concerned with the bones of a dead per-
poses can be achieved in a single cult performance. We
son—rites of secondary disposal, as defined early this century
should not, that is to say, think of there necessarily being a
by the French comparativist Robert Hertz. Kunapipi, Ya-
one-to-one correlation of cult and institutionalized purpose.
buduruwa, and Maraian are postmortuary in the sense that,
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the mortal remains having been finally dealt with, they are
sense in which they are halves of a divided universe, just as
concerned with transforming the spirit of the dead person
the moieties are halves of a divided society. Much in the liter-
into a state in which it may enter its clan waters and later
ature suggests that such contrasts in design plan are common
be reborn. How many rites are held for a man—or whether
in Aboriginal religious complexes; there may well be equally
any at all are held—depends on such variables as his standing
fascinating patterns of opposition and permutation between
while alive, and the energy, interest, and degree of influence
cults at different levels of a hierarchy.
of his survivors. In addition, mortuary observances can be
It is also clear from the literature that important work
blocked altogether when, as has become usual, people die in
can be done in tracing chains of connection between the reli-
hospitals and are buried in municipal graveyards.
gious complexes of different areas. Some of the early writers
To write an adequate description of such a set of cults
were aware of this possibility—Howitt, for example, in dis-
would be a mammoth undertaking. But to think of portray-
tinguishing eastern and western types of initiation, was rec-
ing the religious life of southern Arnhem Land by describing
ognizing far-flung patterns of similarity and difference—and
discrete cults would be to remain in the condition of theoret-
it has been explored by later writers, including Elkin, Berndt,
ical backwardness remarked upon by Kenelm Burridge in
and Meggitt. The most ambitious effort has come from
1973. What marks recent advances in the study of religion,
Worms, who made continent-wide studies of religious vo-
he argued, is the transformation of functionalism into some
cabulary and also sought to enumerate the “essentials” of Ab-
kind of structuralism, by which he meant the abandonment
original religion and to distinguish them from “accidental ac-
of the concrete institution in favor of the search for the ele-
ments of a total semantic field. Institutions would be seen
MAIN PHASES OF STUDY. It may seem artificial to distinguish
as particular constellations of these elements, and the value
periods in the study of Aboriginal religion, as distinct from
of an element would be determined by its position in a con-
recognizing certain enduring problems posed by the materi-
stellation. Something like this view is now fairly widely held,
al, yet all but a few of the scholars likely to be taken seriously
and two anthropologists have published substantial approxi-
today belong to one of three main groupings. To a great ex-
mations of it. Stanner is one, with his perceptive and influen-
tent the ways in which they have worked their data have been
tial analyses of Murinbata religion. The other is William
conditioned, if not determined, by fashions and theories of
Lloyd Warner, whose classic study, A Black Civilization
overseas origin—Stanner, Worms, and the younger Strehlow
(New York, 1937), includes a valiant attempt to demonstrate
would be notable exceptions.
pervasive and recurring themes and symbols in the myths
and rites of the Murngin of northern Arnhem Land.
A first phase, spanning the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, is dominated by the names of Howitt,
Two examples from southern Arnhem Land may show
Spencer and Gillen, Mathews, and the elder Strehlow. Ex-
the importance of being willing to cut across the boundaries
cept for Strehlow, who concentrated his researches on the Ar-
of discrete cults. One concerns the spirits of the dead, which
anda and their Loritja neighbors, these scholars amassed in-
are transformed by the performance of postmortuary cults.
formation over very great areas indeed, although Howitt’s
In their transformed state, they are colored as the rainbow.
work mainly concerned the southeast of the continent and
So were the waters which covered the earth when time began.
Spencer and Gillen’s the Northern Territory. Some of the
The transformed spirits can be called by the same name as
descriptions of ritual dating from this period, which of
is used for real rainbows, and this is also the name for certain
course preceded the rise of professional anthropology, are as
beings of prodigious power who existed in the Dreaming and
thorough and detailed as any that have been written since,
may still exist, for example, the well-known Rainbow Snake,
if not a good deal more so. (It should be noted that the elder
here conceived to be plural. Moreover the animal-like beings
Strehlow felt constrained as a missionary not to attend cult
who acted creatively in the Dreaming and who, in many in-
performances, so his knowledge of ritual was hearsay, but in
stances, are ritually celebrated in the cults may be described
studying myths and songs he reaped the benefits of long ac-
thusly in order to distinguish them from everyday animals
quaintance with his informants and of a thorough grasp of
who take the same form but lack marvelous powers. In study-
their language.) An indication of the quantity of data collect-
ing such a pattern of thought and imagery we come to grips
ed by the workers of this phase is given by Spencer and Gil-
with Stanner’s “metaphysic of life.”
len’s first book, The Native Tribes of Central Australia (Lon-
don, 1899). It has eight chapters, totaling 338 pages, on
The second example concerns the systematic relation of
totems, ceremonies, and the like, with some material in other
complementary opposition in design plan between Kunapipi
chapters also being relevant to what we would call religion.
and Yabuduruwa, cults of equal rank but of opposite moiety.
Thus one is performed largely by night and the other mostly
A second phase, beginning in the mid-1920s and flow-
by day. One is strongly curvilinear in its imagery; the other
ering especially during the 1930s, the first decade of the jour-
has a rectilinear emphasis. One is full of singing and is noisy
nal Oceania, owed much to the initial impetus given by
and joyous; the other lacks songs altogether. There are other
A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Australia’s first professor of anthro-
contrasts as well. The point is that although each cult can,
pology. Those years saw the advent of professional anthro-
in a sense, be treated as an organized whole, there is another
pology, inspired by functionalist ideas and committed to in-
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tensive fieldwork in relatively small areas. Yet the harvest of
1973), which is based on specialized studies and theoretical
religious data was meager in comparison with what had been
arguments published before 1965. Another useful account
collected in the preceding phase. Before World War II the
taking an Australia-wide view is the contribution by Worms,
most substantial portrayal of religious life to emerge from the
with an updating by Petri, in Hans Nevermann, Ernest A.
new wave of scholars was Warner’s study of the Murngin,
Worms, and Helmut Petri’s Die Religionen der Südsee und
but the chapters of A Black Civilization devoted to the sub-
Australiens (Stuttgart, 1968). A comprehensive selection of
readings from anthropologists with field experience among
ject run to barely two hundred pages (including a good deal
Aborigines is Religion in Aboriginal Australia, edited by Max
of interpretation)—fewer than Berndt would later devote to
Charlesworth, Howard Morphy, Diane Bell, and me (Saint
the Kunapipi alone. The strong point of the writers of this
Lucia, Queensland, 1984). The wealth of detail to be found
period was their sense of the interconnectedness of the insti-
in particular cults is shown by Ronald M. Berndt in his
tutions that go to make up a culture, and besides Warner a
Kunapipi (Melbourne, 1951) and Djanggawul (London,
number of them made useful, albeit somewhat limited, con-
1952) but is most superbly demonstrated in T. G. H. Stre-
tributions to our religious knowledge. Donald F. Thomson,
hlow, Songs of Central Australia (Sydney, 1971), which in-
Ralph Piddington, Ursula H. McConnel, and Phyllis M. Ka-
cludes texts and translations of a great many songs. Classic
berry may particularly be mentioned. Except for Warner
older accounts of Aboriginal religion are in A. W. Howitt’s
they have since been greatly overshadowed by Elkin, Stanner,
The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (New York, 1904),
and Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen’s The Northern Tribes
and the younger Strehlow—scholars who were active in re-
of Central Australia (London, 1904). Two recent studies on
search before World War II, but published their best work
topical themes are Erich Kolig’s The Silent Revolution (Phila-
on religion long after it, thus overlapping the third phase,
delphia, 1981), a study of change and modernization in Ab-
which indeed they did much to stimulate.
original religion, and Diane Bell’s Daughters of the Dreaming
The third phase really got under way with the expansion
(Melbourne, 1983), which is concerned with the religious
of anthropology departments in the universities and the
roles of women. Australian Aboriginal Mythology, edited by
foundation of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies
L. R. Hiatt (Canberra, 1975), is a good example of the ap-
in the 1960s. Intellectually it owes a special debt to papers
proaches of some of the younger workers in the field; see also
The Rainbow Serpent, edited by Ira R. Buchler and me (The
published by Stanner between 1959 and 1967. Stanner’s
Hague, 1978), which contains studies of one of the most
writings, the product of intensive ratiocination and pro-
widespread Aboriginal symbols. The classic theoretical analy-
longed reflection, best fit his own prescription for study of,
sis remains Émile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the
and not merely about, religion. But much that he has to say
Religious Life (1915; reprint, New York, 1965), but it relies
is difficult, if not positively cryptic, and is best tackled by
on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century research and
readers who already enjoy a familiarity with Aboriginal
opinion. The most penetrating modern vision and analysis
thought and ritual. The store of personally gathered field
are from W. E. H. Stanner, whose On Aboriginal Religion
data on which he relies is far less plentiful than that amassed
(Sydney, 1964) and White Man Got No Dreaming: Essays
by Ronald M. Berndt and Catherine H. Berndt or by the
1938–1973 (Canberra, 1979) are essential.
younger Strehlow, writers whose work has exerted less influ-
ence on their fellows.
The third phase is less clearly distinguishable from the
second than the second from the first. The greater degree of
continuity is partly due to the shared emphasis on intensive
fieldwork by professional anthropologists, as well as to the

survival into the 1970s of scholars who had already begun
to make their mark forty years earlier and to the appearance
These “further considerations” highlight the intellectual, po-
of a few students of religion (notably the two Berndts and
litical, legal, and administrative frames of reference that have
Meggitt, all trained by Elkin) during the intervening period.
shaped the study of Aboriginal religion throughout its histo-
Apart from a vast increase in the number of persons doing
ry. Four phases—not necessarily distinct—are emphasized.
research, the main differences between the two phases consist
Early accounts of indigenous religions were framed by philo-
in an abandonment of old-style functionalism, a rise of ap-
sophical and scientific debates about race in the context of
proaches influenced in varying degree by forms of structural
colonialism and the assumption of sovereignty over subject
or symbolic anthropology, and an intense interest in the sig-
peoples. For much of the nineteenth century the study of Ab-
nificance of the landscape in which Aboriginal lives are set.
original religion went hand in hand with “protection” and
There is still little sign of philosophers or students of compar-
amelioration in the face of racial (and actual) death or a pre-
ative religion challenging the ascendancy of anthropologists.
sumption of disappearance in the face of civilization. This
approach merged with the rise of the missionary proto-
SEE ALSO Howitt, A. W.
ethnographer, whose aims of salvage, instruction, and benefit
were framed by the active pursuit of religious change.
The best general exposition of Aboriginal religion is Mircea
The development of academic anthropology in the
Eliade’s Australian Religions: An Introduction (Ithaca, N. Y.,
twentieth century was marked by the testing and application
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

of various models of explanation. Its results have had an
nal people fitted in an (evolutionary) Great Chain of Being.
abiding influence on how Aboriginal cultures are popularly
Such assessments derived from and contributed to the politi-
perceived and legally treated. The academy was never isolat-
cal positioning—racially, morally, and intellectually—of a
ed from the government policies and practices of its day,
subject people either expected to disappear or required to ac-
however. The study of Aboriginal religion should be viewed
quiesce to the advance of “civilization.”
in the context of finding (social) scientific answers to a vari-
ety of “problems” posed by Aborigines in a modernizing Aus-
Historically constituted framings of what counts as reli-
tralia. Late-twentieth-century developments in the legal rec-
gion have often been more powerful than direct observation
ognition of land rights and native title provided an
or meticulous recording. More than two centuries of elabo-
unprecedented impetus to the study of Aboriginal religion.
rated framings for the study of Aboriginal religion (whether
They are also contexts in which the history of that study has
derived from anthropology, history, theology, or missiology)
become crucial, with its record being recalled, reused, and
have not necessarily transcended such limitations. As Stanner
forensically tested in a wider range of settings than ever be-
has pointed out, studying Aboriginal religion is necessarily
fore. Old ethnographies are being read again, and the archive
distinct from its embodied practice as a fundamental orienta-
is being searched as never before either to support or to con-
tion to place, kin, and country for Aboriginal people them-
found Aboriginal claims to land and identity. It is this that
selves. As an object of study it cannot escape the frames by
has made the framing of the record—its circumstances, in-
which it is apprehended, recorded, represented, and re-
tentions, limitations, and possibilities—so important in the
presented in a range of settings and to diverse ends. Religion
late twentieth century and early twenty-first century.
remains a primary vehicle for knowing Aboriginal cultures
in Australia and therefore forms the basis for various disci-
A NEW SOVEREIGNTY. The earliest pronouncements on an
plinary, legislative, and administrative actions brought to
absence of religion among Aborigines cannot be divorced
bear on Aboriginal people. The problematic “blindness” of
from the simultaneous proclamation of sovereignty over
the earliest witnesses is not so strange and certainly not easy
what to the European colonizers were new and unfamiliar
to transcend. In it one recognizes an abiding separation of
lands. Watkin Tench, captain of the Royal Marines, provid-
purposes despite the enormous progress the history of study
ed one of the earliest accounts of Aboriginal-European rela-
has achieved in reducing the interpretive gaps.
tions in the colony of New South Wales. Despite numerous
opportunities for “detached observations,” Tench could not
MISSIONARY FIELDS. The substantive body of material on
discern the meanings of Aboriginal ceremonies. He pon-
“manners and customs” that derives from nineteenth-
dered the distance between cultures and what he saw as an
century missionary-ethnographers was framed by the con-
Aboriginal perversity (a “fickle,” “jealous,” and “wavering”
joined impulses to protection and conversion. Collins re-
disposition) that inhibited the cross-cultural relations that
ported the devastation wrought by smallpox in 1789, the
might disclose such meanings. In his A Complete Account of
sites of Aboriginal habitation around Sydney Harbour being
the Settlement at Port Jackson (1793), Tench declared that the
filled with the victims’ putrid bodies. As Tony Swain, in A
“indians [sic] of New South Wales” in fact did evidence belief
Place for Strangers (1993), points out, everything known
in spirits and a superintending deity and possessed a sense
about Aboriginal life in Southeast Australia comes from re-
of the immortality of some part of their being. In these con-
cords made after a massive population decline. By the time
clusions Tench aligned Aboriginal belief with what was rec-
missionaries and explorers began recording Aboriginal beliefs
ognizable as religion to the colonists and therefore to what
in the 1830s, it is estimated that only one-third of the quarter
was ideologically integral to the colonizing process itself. Es-
million people in New South Wales and Victoria had sur-
tablishing the media of communication and finding an ap-
vived. By 1850 the figure was down to 4 percent. It was an-
propriate framework for interpreting Aboriginal religion re-
other generation before proto-ethnographic accounts were
main abiding (and contested) concerns for its study.
compiled and then another half century before recognizably
modern records of myth, ceremony, and sites became readily
A contemporaneous and opposite pronouncement was
available in such works as Alfred William Howitt’s The Na-
provided by David Collins, the colony’s judge advocate and
tive Tribes of South-East Australia (1904) and R. H. Ma-
secretary. Despite providing a detailed record of the Eora
thew’s approximately 203 scattered journal articles. The gaps
people’s ceremonies in An Account of the English Colony in
and discrepancies represented by this necessarily piecemeal
New South Wales (1798), Collins declared that the Aborigi-
coverage have continuing implications in the early twenty-
nes of Port Jackson possessed no element of religion what-
first century for Aboriginal people who increasingly must
soever. In this he epitomized the “blindness” noted by
rely on such materials in a variety of legislative and bureau-
W. E. H. Stanner in “Religion, Totemism, and Symbolism
cratic settings.
(1962),” by virtue of which early observers genuinely could
not—regardless of knowledge, learning, or humanism—see
Although lacking in what would later be seen as system-
the “facts” that later convinced others that Aborigines were
atic and “theoretical” examination, the nineteenth century
indeed a deeply religious people. The earliest, conflicting as-
saw an explosion in the recording of Aboriginal religious
sessments of Aboriginal religion were framed by philosophi-
concepts. Once the Blue Mountains west of Sydney were
cal, theological, and scientific debates about where Aborigi-
crossed in 1813, explorers and settlers began noting the
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

“manners and customs” of the “natives” they encountered.
those of successive Sydney researchers. Outside of Sydney,
It was missionaries, however, who began living with those
Adelaide was a center of substantial and enduring work on
Aboriginal people who had survived the massive disruption
Aboriginal religion, focused in the South Australian Muse-
of their lands and kin groups and who assembled the more
um, the Royal Society of South Australia, and the University
extensive reports on language, religion, and social relations.
of Adelaide. Norman B. Tindale had a research base there
Lancelot Edward Threlkeld, for example, conducted exten-
for his continent-wide studies of tribal boundaries and my-
sive language recording among the Awabakal people “set-
thology; Charles Mountford assembled his substantial re-
tled” on the shores of Lake Macquarie in New South Wales.
cords of art, myth, and symbolism; and T. G. H. Strehlow
He was eventually dismissed by the London Missionary Soci-
produced his incomparable Songs of Central Australia (1971).
ety for spending too much time on ethnographic and linguis-
tic observations and too little on the salvation of Aboriginal
Throughout the twentieth century other universities
souls. Threlkeld initiated a small but strong contingent of
emerged or developed, offering intellectual and financial
missionary observers, including Carl Strehlow, William Rid-
nurturance to the study of Aboriginal religion. Melbourne
ley, Clamor Schürmann, George Taplin, and J. H. Sexton,
provided a base for the biologist Donald Thompson, whose
whose records remain of considerable significance. Pater
work in Cape York, Arnhem Land, and Central Australia is
Wilhelm Schmidt, though he did not work within Australia
still celebrated in books and exhibitions. The University of
himself, was nevertheless instrumental in the collection and
Western Australia was home to Ronald Berndt and Cather-
study of Australian materials.
ine Berndt, indefatigable researchers of myth, rite, and story
throughout Aboriginal Australia, with a legacy of students
The task of studying Aboriginal religious belief (a focus
and colleagues very much active in the early twenty-first cen-
that necessarily predominated over that of religious practice,
tury. Anthropology at the Australian National University,
given the circumstances) was accomplished in tandem with
Canberra has also been pivotal in training, research, publica-
the goal of translating and representing Christian belief for
tion, and debate in all areas relating to Aboriginal religion,
the edification and conversion of people still seen as reli-
including the insertion and translation of such studies into
giously deficient. Carl Strehlow and Johann Georg Reuther’s
a variety of legislative, policy, and administrative reforms.
1897 Testamenta Marra: Jesuni Christuni Ngantjani Jaura
The academic framing of Aboriginal religion has in-
Ninaia Rarithmalkana Wonti Dieri Jaurani (The New Testa-
volved principally an active, progressive, and critical engage-
ment in the Dieri language) was the first complete transla-
ment with theories and ideas coming from a range of devel-
tion into an Aboriginal language. It was both vehicle and jus-
oping disciplines. Major threads have included Durkheim’s
tification for Reuther’s towering linguistic and ethnographic
organicism and its reinterpretation via the structural func-
recording, especially of the mythic journeys and geographic
tionalism of Radcliffe-Brown; Claude Lévi-Strauss’s struc-
creations of ancestral Beings called Muramuras in the far
turalism, especially as interpreted through the works of
northeast of South Australia. This effort was subsequently re-
W. E. H. Stanner and Kenneth Maddock; and Sigmund
peated by Carl Strehlow among the Arrernte (Arunta, Aran-
Freud’s psychoanalysis, reinterpreted through the Aboriginal
da) to the north and was continued by his son Theodor
data by Géza Róheim and continued in the work of Les Hiatt
George Henry Strehlow.
and John Morton. In his chapter article “The Resurrection
The missionary recorders, more than the anthropolo-
of the Hydra,” Howard Morphy provides an excellent and
gists, were presentient of Émile Durkheim’s analytic proposi-
nuanced overview of the main ideas that oriented the aca-
tion (in Les formes élementaires de la vie réligieuse, 1914; The
demic study of Aboriginal religion throughout the twentieth
Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1915) that religion is
century. Stanner remains the pivotal mid-twentieth-century
society sanctified and that mythology was a primary vessel
figure, with his On Aboriginal Religion (1966) reissued with
of Aboriginal spiritual sentiment. It is these images of Ab-
commentaries and an “appreciation” in 1989. Stanner’s
original society and religion being coterminous and of story
movement away from structural functional interpretation to-
and songline anchoring belief, people, and place that remain
ward symbolism and ontology—highlighting the distinctive
frames of reference for contemporary analyses of Aboriginal
moral, emotional, and spatiotemporal dimensions of the
religion across Australia.
Dreaming—remains enormously influential, perhaps best re-
flected in the oeuvre of Deborah Bird Rose.
THE WORK OF THE ACADEMY. The great nineteenth-
century and early-twentieth-century recordings appeared be-
The progress of academic study has not been without
fore anthropology was a recognized academic discipline in
contestation, of course, and the resulting debates have im-
Australian universities. The first chair was established at the
pacted enormously on understandings of Aboriginal religion.
University of Sydney in 1926. The work of its first incum-
In particular, the rise of Marxist and feminist theories in the
bent, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, remains pivotal to debates on
1970s initiated controversies that resonate into the twenty-
the articulation of Aboriginal social organization with tradi-
first century. Exemplifying this period is the work un-
tional land ownership. Its was his successor, Adolphus Peter
dertaken by Annette Hamilton while a research student at
Elkin, however, who had an abiding influence on the study
the University of Sydney, and that of Diane Bell while a stu-
of myth, legend, and music both through his own works and
dent at the Australian National University. In challenging ac-
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ademic orthodoxies and overcoming the initial resistance of
and governmental forces at work on the development of aca-
the anthropology discipline, both these scholars have funda-
demic anthropology across much of the twentieth century.
mentally recalibrated the ways in which the lives of Aborigi-
nal men and women must be thought about. Hamilton’s
The anthropological study of Aboriginal life, including
religious life, cannot be separated from more practical con-
1960s research amongst the Gidjingali people of Arnhem
cerns with welfare and assimilation policy throughout this
Land challenged previous perspectives—derived from Hiatt
period. Elkin himself bridged academic and administrative
and Maddock, amongst others—on support and rivalry
worlds. As a professor from 1934 Elkin and his students
amongst cross-sex siblings, the benefits that flow to men and
forged the academic study of Aboriginal life into a proud and
women from marriage bestowal, and issues of male control
progressive tradition. As editor of the pioneering journal
and female autonomy more generally. In the late 1970s
Oceania Elkin oversaw publication of much of the research
Hamilton again challenged models of male dominance in her
that established (and still supports) the authoritative record
PhD research on the economic and religious life of Western
of Aboriginal religion. He was chairman of the Australian
Desert Aborigines. In the far northwest of South Australia
National Research Council’s Anthropology Committee be-
Hamilton documented men’s dependence on women’s
tween 1933 and 1948, overseeing the allocation of research
labor, women’s control of key productive technologies (such
funds to address Aboriginal welfare “problems.” From 1941
as grindstones), and a strong and secret female ceremonial
to 1968 he was vice president of the New South Wales Ab-
domain. Working in the Central Desert region, also in the
origines Protection Board that had the power to intervene
late 1970s, Bell provided equally challenging evidence of
directly into people’s most intimate daily lives. The academic
women’s active participation in marriage bestowal, exercised
study of Aboriginal religion developed alongside the applica-
in ritual contexts and facilitating control of their sexual
tion of anthropology to a range of practical and policy con-
choices. Like Hamilton, but with differences reflecting re-
cerns. The later decades of the twentieth century saw these
gional variation, Bell also documented a religious realm in
domains brought absolutely together.
which women worked separately to maintain the Dreaming,
enact their responsibilities to the land, and manage the
OUTSIDE THE ACADEMY. The study of Aboriginal people—
health and harmony of their kin groups. When first pub-
so problematic for the Australian state, so vulnerable to sur-
lished in 1983, Bell’s Daughters of the Dreaming prompted
veillance and recording—was never of course confined to the
unprecedented reactions to its assertion that Aboriginal
academy. A huge compendium of data on Aboriginal reli-
women hold such an encompassing ritual responsibility as
gion has been assembled outside of formal research settings
well as having strong traditions of cultural and religious au-
by literary scholars, antiquarians, clergy, local historians,
tonomy. This text remains both pivotal and controversial
poets, humanists, and government officials, such as the po-
more than two decades later. In Arguments about Aborigines
lice trooper Samuel Gason, stationed on Cooper Creek to fa-
(1996) Hiatt charts the history of these challenges and their
cilitate the arrival of pastoralists and missionaries. Out of
effects on reconfiguring academic paradigms. These debates
nine years of close engagement with Aboriginal people,
have fuelled a “re-reading” of the traditionalist literature in
learning local languages, and participating in ceremonies,
Francesca Merlan’s “Gender in Aboriginal Social Life: A Re-
Gason provided, in Manners and Customs of the Dieyerie
view,” which highlights dominant constructions of gender in
Tribe of Australian Aborigines (1874), one of the first detailed
the anthropological canon and addresses abiding issues of
accounts of traditional life in the eastern central deserts. It
theoretical bias and ethnographic adequacy. The capacity of
is a record that is still used by researchers and Aborigines
these (unresolved) debates to generate innovative accounts of
alike seeking to verify claims to ancestral lands. This pioneer-
Aboriginal religion as a gendered domain is evidenced by
ing work was not disinterested; it is not separable from its
such works as Françoise Dussart’s The Politics of Ritual in an
frame of economic, material, psychological, and spiritual
Aboriginal Settlement (2000) and Christine Watson’s Piercing
transformation being wrought on Aboriginal people by colo-
the Ground (2003).
nial expansion. Gason’s aim in publishing his data was to as-
sist the Lutheran missionaries at Lake Killalpaninna (where
But work in the academy was never completely removed
Reuther was later to make his own collections); Gason hoped
from wider historical shifts in the social, economic, and ad-
that his writings “may be of some assistance to those pious
ministrative circumstances of Aboriginal life. Elkin’s depart-
missionaries and others, who are extending so greatly inland
ment at the University of Sydney itself functioned in the do-
this vast continent, civilisation, through its gracious hand-
main of applied social research both in the Pacific and at
maiden, Christianity.”
home. It had a major role in training officers for Australia’s
own colonial possession in New Guinea and was supported
The enigmatic Daisy Bates also deserves mention. Vari-
in part by funds from the commonwealth and state govern-
ously a student of anthropology, secular missionary, and un-
ments to do this. Sir John Hubert Murray, the Australian ad-
official “protector,” she lived for decades among Aboriginal
ministrator in New Guinea and the first lieutenant governor
people in Western Australia and South Australia including,
of (the renamed) Papua from 1908, warned the new depart-
famously, sixteen years at Ooldea on the east-west railway
ment against preoccupation with mere scientific investiga-
line. Her prodigious output (something like 274 published
tion. This suggests something of the array of institutional
articles) contains much of significance to the study of reli-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

gion, such as her series on astronomy, stellar myths, and asso-
report, for example, one learns that Jurnkurakurr, site of the
ciated rituals that appeared in newspapers such as The Aus-
Tennant Creek Telegraph Station acquired by the Northern
tralasian and The Sydney Morning Herald in the 1920s and
Territory government in 1987 as a monument to white set-
1930s. Her manuscripts, letters, and diaries are scattered in
tlement in the region, is the spiritual home of Jalawala
libraries but are increasingly sourced by researchers seeking
(black-nose python), the Mungamunga women, and the
foundational data for use in a variety of heritage and native
snake Kiliriji—all primordial actors creating the broader
title contexts.
landscape. The report also details the site-specific travels and
cosmological productions of Pirrtangu (flying-fox), Milway-
Such materials have been continually repatriated to
ijarra (two snakes), Aakiy (black plum), and Warupunju
more authoritative and institutionalized processes of study
(fire) together with a host of more minor Dreamings: Nyink-
and documentation. This is exemplified by the work of Iso-
ka (grass-tailed lizard), Yarrangarna (dingo), Emu, Crow,
bel White in collating and editing a portion of Daisy Bates’s
Ngappa (rain), Kurtinja (bush turkey), Karli (boomerang),
manuscripts into The Native Tribes of Western Australia
Yukulyari (wallaby), and Mangirriji (plains goanna) among
(1985), published by the National Library of Australia and
prompting a reassessment of Bates as a serious fieldworker
and scholar rather than a popular commentator. This move-
In these reports the learned justice often reviews the an-
ment of materials accelerated in the later decades of the twen-
thropological evidence presented to the hearing from all sides
tieth century (and continues to expand in the twenty-first
(including that coming from parties opposing the claim),
century) in response to significantly changed frameworks of
testing its usefulness to the legislative framework, assessing
governance, administration, legal recognition, and cultural
its contradictions, and gauging its resonances with the longer
policy. It is to key moments in this change that this discus-
published record. In this way the history of anthropological
sion now turns.
study itself has frequently been reviewed and re-presented as
a matter of public record. The Aboriginal past and the histo-
LAND RIGHTS. Under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern
ry of its study are brought into a continuing relationship that
Territory) Act of 1976, Aborigines were able to claim title
directly influences Aboriginal futures, whatever the outcome
to land provided they could demonstrate specific relation-
of the case. In the following Justice Michael Maurice com-
ships to it. The critical test was set out in the definition of
pares what Sir Baldwin Spencer and Francis Gillen had re-
“traditional owner,” requiring a person to be a member of
corded of Warumungu burial practices with what had been
a “local descent group” and to have “primary spiritual re-
elicited from other anthropological sources and from Aborig-
sponsibility” for a site on the land. The two were interrelated:
inal witnesses during the claim hearing:
to have rights in land recognized, a person had to be a mem-
ber of a group on the basis of descent and to possess a spiritu-
The import of Sir Baldwin Spencer’s letter to Sir James
al connection to sacred sites arising from that membership.
Frazer was that many of the practices he had recorded
Not only did this represent a translation of accumulated an-
among the tribes he visited, though they involved dif-
thropological knowledge into legal statute, but it placed Ab-
ferent types of ritual and different kinds of social insti-
original religion at the center of political and administrative
tutions, and took different outward forms, expressed a
relatively invariant current of ideas . . . . It hardly
recognition of Aboriginal rights and aspirations. Evidence
need be said . . . that these ways of being and thinking,
and displays of religious attachment to land were presented
and the social relations in which they are practiced, re-
to administrative inquiries presided over by a specially ap-
main a powerful force in the lives of the Warumungu
pointed federal court judge in the form of an aboriginal land
people today. It is what makes them distinctly different
from non-Aboriginal residents of [the town of] Ten-
nant Creek. The same tradition as recorded by Spencer
The “applied” legal domain of land rights provided an
and Gillen, and by the late Professor Stanner, albeit
enormous incentive and opportunity for the detailed local
much altered, was the source of the present claims, the
“study” and documentation of Aboriginal religious practice
conceptions which informed them, and the terms in
in the late twentieth century. In the almost three decades
which they were stated. (Aboriginal Land Commission-
during which claims to land have been made under the Act,
er, 1988, p. 129)
a vast body of written and recorded materials has come into
Here, in a localized microcosm, the entire history of studying
existence, including the detailed supporting claim books pre-
Aboriginal religion is rehearsed and reassessed for the pur-
pared by anthropologists, linguists, and historians, tran-
pose of returning a parcel of land to Aboriginal people for
scripts of public portions of the hearings themselves, and ref-
what the commissioner acknowledges to be their continuing
erences in the land commissioner’s findings to the
economic, social, and political survival.
demonstration and performance of sacred knowledge. The
final reports themselves are emblematic of the insertion of
The engagement of anthropologists as “expert” transla-
Aboriginal religious knowledge into the Australian public re-
tors of Aboriginal culture in land claim processes has resulted
cord. In them the commissioner reiterates, as a matter of
in some of the most compelling and innovative accounts of
legal fact, the journeys of ancestral Beings (Dreamings)
religion as a key modality of Aborigines’ social, cosmological,
across the land in question. In the Warumungu Land Claim
political, and practical engagement with the world. Out-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

standing examples include D. B. Rose’s Dingo Makes Us
perhaps to entail judges, lawyers, and others in relationships
Human (1992), Francesca Merlan’s Caging the Rainbow
of reciprocal obligation and respect). As D. B. Rose pointed
(1998), and Elizabeth Povinelli’s Labor’s Lot (1993). Each re-
out in “Histories and Rituals: Land Claims in the Territory”
envisages the subject of Aboriginal religion as meaning, sym-
(1996), such processes themselves became a form of “cere-
bol, and action, and each brings to that study a broader his-
mony for country” that has fed back into the religious life
torical, legislative, and political context.
of communities. The interpenetration of Aboriginal and
non-Aboriginal worlds and the subsequent changes this has
Land rights highlighted the power of anthropological
wrought on negotiating public versus restricted ritual perfor-
models to frame legal understandings: the act encoded a
mance, managing gendered responsibilities for social and
model of descent through fathers (patriliny), giving rise to
cosmological action, and the seemingly more mundane ne-
rights in land as real property that were often contradicted
gotiations of kin group identity and residence are major
by Aboriginal evidence. Over time land claim hearings forced
threads of Dussart’s fine-grained ethnography of ritual as
the development of more nuanced understandings, promi-
politics among Warlpiri people at Yuendumu.
nently through recognition of the roles of “owners” and
“managers” expressing the complementary rights and ritual
The land claim process also highlighted the dynamic
responsibilities inherited through both men and women. An-
tension between revelation and concealment that is itself a
other development was the facilitation of women to give evi-
feature of Aboriginal religion. In many circumstances reli-
dence of their gender-restricted secret and sacred responsibil-
gious knowledge can only be revealed by those who have par-
ities toward land and the Dreaming. Witnessing ceremonies,
ticular rights to it, to those who have compatible rights to
visiting sites and seeing sacred objects during the course of
know it and with the consent (and often in the presence) of
a land claim hearing meant that procedures for managing
others in positions to authorize such a transfer. In recogni-
men’s restricted knowledge were in place very early, and have
tion of this, some Australian legal processes have, in places
been largely unproblematic. Some early land claims acknowl-
and for limited purposes, adapted to accommodate Aborigi-
edged that women’s ceremonies and secrets complemented
nal cultural principles. Thus whereas land claims have result-
those of men and played an equally vital role in Aboriginal
ed in unprecedented levels of detail about Aboriginal religion
religious life. For example, in his report on the Alyawarra
being made available, they have also underscored the strict
(Alywarr) and Kaititja (Kaytetye) land claim heard in 1978
limits and controls that are placed on such knowledge, with
Mr. Justice Toohey commented on the forceful display of at-
portions of the evidence and hearing transcripts in many
tachment to land he had witnessed in women’s ceremonies
cases being permanently suppressed. At the same time as
and site visits. In other hearings such as the 1988 Jasper
there is greater access to Aboriginal religion in diverse con-
Gorge and Kidman Springs land claim, however, women
texts (from legal judgments to art exhibitions to Olympic
kept their knowledge of sites, songs, dances, designs, and ob-
Games ceremonies), the very restrictions placed on that ac-
jects secret because their own Dreaming law dictated that no
cessibility have become more prominent and more problem-
man should see these things. In the Palm Valley claim of
atic. This theme is explored in papers edited by Christopher
1994 Arrernte women agreed to give evidence on the basis
Anderson as Politics of the Secret (1995), focusing on transac-
that the land commissioner was the only man present; male
tions in men’s restricted knowledge, designs, and sacred ob-
lawyers were permitted to read the transcript but not to cross
jects in central and north west Australia, including the histo-
examine the women. This has subsequently raised a number
ry and micro-politics of Aboriginal engagement with a range
of non-Aboriginal recorders, collectors and institutions.
of broader legal and procedural issues regarding the right of
a party to choose his or her own legal representative and the
The tension between revelation and concealment pro-
capacity of courts to limit that choice on the basis of gender.
vides the framework for Ian Keen’s Knowledge and Secrecy in
In the Tempe Downs land claim, also heard in 1994, women
an Aboriginal Religion (1994), a sustained ethnographic ex-
achieved some procedural parity with men by giving exten-
ploration of a specific (Yolngu) religious tradition that high-
sive evidence in restricted sessions resulting in a restricted
lights the essential ambiguity of cultural meaning and the on-
transcript that was not available to others. In “Preserving
going necessity for its negotiation. Similar themes are
Culture in Federal Court Proceedings,” Greg McIntyre and
explored in Morphy’s Ancestral Connections (1991) and Luke
Geoffrey Bagshaw survey such ongoing difficulties in recon-
Taylor’s Seeing the Inside (1996), both major monographs on
ciling Aboriginal cultural principles of gender-based religious
the expression of the Dreaming through art in northeast and
secrecy with the requirements of Australia law.
western Arnhem Land respectively.
Land claims became a principal occasion for the display
Conflicts over revelation have been played out publicly
and performance of religious knowledge, not just its record-
and acrimoniously in a series of court actions and media tri-
ing. Hearings moved out of the court and into the bush,
als focused on Aboriginal assertions of sacredness and restric-
where successive commissioners heard evidence on or near
tion, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Coronation Hill, and Junction
the land being claimed and were witnesses to performances
Waterhole in the Northern Territory; Noonkanbah station
of ritual, dance, and song that sought to convey direct, reve-
in Western Australia; and Hindmarsh Island in South Aus-
latory knowledge of Aboriginal authority (and in this way
tralia being the most prominent examples. Especially in con-
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texts where claims to restricted religious knowledge have
There is no legislative requirement to assess spiritual
come into conflict with development or the desires of the
connection to land in native title. However, this has been a
state, some sacred sites have taken on meanings (and have
principal register of inquiry, highlighting the way religion
had effects) far beyond the local and often beyond their cul-
has become embedded in the administrative imagining of
turally specific significance to Aboriginal owners. It is in such
Aboriginal people and their culture.
heightened political arenas that the meaning and peculiar
In proceedings spanning 1994 to 2002, the Miriuwung
power of sacred sites have become what Ken Gelder and Jane
and Gajerrong people sought recognition of their native title
M. Jacobs in Uncanny Australia (1998) call “promiscuous,”
rights in some three thousand square miles of east Kimberley
escaping their Aboriginal specificity and their academic or
land straddling the Western Australia and Northern Territo-
legal framing to disrupt and bring into question the wider
ry border, including the Ord River irrigation project and the
Australian population’s sense of place and identity. These
Argyle Diamond Mine. Continuing religious practice was a
complex currents of what is known and by whom—and who
key element allowing claimants to demonstrate their obser-
should control the circumstances of its revelation, even when
vance of traditional laws and customs, these being the crucial
it is contained in a published record—have themselves redi-
content for legislative recognition of native title. The judges
rected the study of Aboriginal religion. They provide the
in the case rejected physical occupation of the land as a neces-
framework for Diane Bell’s Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin
sary requirement for proof of continuing connection. In
(1998), where the voices of Ngarrindjeri women from “set-
being found to have upheld traditional laws and customs,
tled” South Australia are brought into dialogue with the re-
ceremonial practices, economic and ceremonial links with
cord of previous ethnographers, asking questions of what was
other Aboriginal communities as well as possessing knowl-
and what was not recorded about their religious traditions
edge of myths, Dreaming tracks, and sites, the claimants’ re-
and debating what can and cannot be said, even in the twen-
lationship to the land was determined to have been main-
ty-first century.
tained. The evidence elicited from Aboriginal witnesses was
tested against the historical record and the research of an-
NATIVE TITLE. The Land Rights Act returned significant
thropologists, archaeologists, and historians who had drawn
tracts of land to Aboriginal people, but it applied only to un-
together diverse written and unpublished ethnographic ma-
alienated crown land in the Northern Territory, and even
terials for the purpose of the proceedings. This work was ex-
there significant disparities existed between those who could
tensively reviewed, compared, and assessed in the court’s
and could not meet the legal test of traditional ownership.
“Reasons for Judgment.” Likewise the judges reviewed the
Elsewhere around the country (as in Northern Territory
work of Elkin and his student Phyllis Kaberry in the 1920s
towns), aspirations to land and the recognition of rights were
and 1930s, including the latter’s seminal Aboriginal Women:
largely unmet. In 1992 a long-running case brought by the
Sacred and Profane (1939). Kaberry’s field notes, diaries, and
Murray Islanders of Torres Strait resulted in the landmark
genealogies were also before the court. The claimants’ case
Mabo decision by the High Court. In a majority of six to one,
was supported by these materials, and native title was found
the court ruled that, in common law, indigenous rights to
to coexist with other interests, limited by the rights (to water
land had survived the acquisition of sovereignty by Britain,
and minerals, for example) conferred on others.
thus overturning the earlier “fiction” of terra nullius, or of
In another long-running native title case, this one in-
Australia as a land belonging to no one. The Common-
volving land in New South Wales and Victoria, the federal
wealth’s Native Title Act of 1993 sought to enact the court’s
court determined that the most credible source of informa-
decision in law and opened the way for Aboriginal people
tion about the traditional laws and customs of the Yorta
across the continent to have their surviving rights recognized.
Yorta people is in the writings of a nineteenth-century pasto-
It should be noted that in cases where an Aboriginal land
ralist who established a degree of rapport with Aboriginal
commissioner found existing traditional ownership, the rele-
people and observed their society before its “disintegration.”
vant minister could grant an exclusive Aboriginal Freehold
Yorta Yorta assertions concerning the “sacredness” of land,
Title for that land to be held by a land trust. Under the Na-
resources, sites, and contemporary cultural practices were
tive Title Act, a tribunal or court determines whether or not
dismissed in light of the historical record, but also against
native title exists in relation to a particular area of land or
those displays of spiritual attachment that Aboriginal people
waters, the nature of such rights and interests, and with
have produced in other judicial inquiries. Evidence of the
which other parties they coexist. No land is granted as a re-
role of a Christian missionary in disrupting traditional reli-
sult, and only limited rights are conferred on claimant
gious practices and suppressing indigenous language did not
groups. Achieving even that recognition has entailed the pro-
mitigate assessment of the claimants’ inadequate religious ex-
duction of unprecedented quantities of documentation (in
pression. Such are the vicissitudes of contemporary inquiries
the form of “connection reports” detailing a group or a per-
into Aboriginal belief, where the historical record may be as
son’s association with country) and a complex but decentral-
powerful and determinant as anything an Aboriginal person
ized bureaucracy of registration, assessment, mediation, and
may say or demonstrate.
determination. Several contested native title cases have pro-
CONTINUING SIGNIFICANCES. Reuther’s labyrinthine com-
ceeded to full hearings in the federal court.
pendium of myth, story, and place names from the far north-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

east of South Australia has been preserved in archives and
Bell, Diane. Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A World That Is, Was, and
made available on microfiche (as The Diari) by the Austra-
Will Be. North Melbourne, Australia,1998.
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who are required to take account of Aboriginal relations to
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people themselves to become informed of their own history,
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and Identity in a Postcolonial Nation. Melbourne, Australia,
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study—counts like never before in more forums and with
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of the world, the names of the gods, the role and origin of
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human being, that is, knowledge about the higher and great-
AUTHORITY is a constant and pervasive phenomenon
er reality that sustains the order of the primitive society in
in the history of religions. One often speaks of traditional au-
which he lives.
thority, scriptural authority, ecclesiastical authority, or impe-
rial authority based on religious claims. As legitimate power
to require and receive submission and obedience, it is found
civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China dur-
in primitive and archaic religions as well as in founded reli-
ing the third and second millennia BCE marked a significant
gions wherever the question of order is involved. At different
turning point in history. All these civilizations originated and
stages of history, a variety of religions have contributed to
unfolded along rivers. Irrigation systems had to be worked
the creation and maintenance of order by providing the nec-
out in order to control nature and produce a good harvest,
essary sources of authority. These sources are diverse, but the
and this necessity called for the formation of the efficient ad-
following may be counted among the major ones: (1) per-
ministrative organization, which was accompanied by the in-
sons, usually classified into various types of religious leader-
stitution of kingship. A system of writing was a sine qua non
ship such as kings, founders of religions, and other leaders
for this new development.
of religious communities, (2) sacred writings, (3) traditions,
Under these circumstances, the authority of the oral tra-
oral and/or written, constituting doctrinal truths and ethical
ditions, which had characterized primitive culture, tended to
precepts, (4) religious communities with a priesthood and
be replaced by that of written traditions embodied in literary
sacramental rites, and (5) personal experience. The question
texts. These texts were primarily the creation of royal courts
of the legitimacy of this or that authority has been a cause
and temples, and those who were engaged in the interpreta-
of tension and conflict in and between individual religions,
tion and transmission of the texts were scribes and priests.
for any authority recognized as legitimate must be respected
They were professional carriers of the written traditions. In
and placed in proper order, while a rejected authority must
China, for example, government officials were thought to
be combated.
possess magical charisma by virtue of their familiarity with
the Confucian classics. These officials made the study, inter-
tive peoples authority is embodied in orally transmitted tra-
pretation, and transmission of the words of the master Con-
ditions of the tribal community. Oral traditions reign su-
fucius the focal point of their efforts. Their vision was preem-
preme, imposing a binding authority on the tribal
inently political in orientation, and eventually they achieved
community in which they are preserved. Especially authori-
an extraordinarily stable social order. In India, brahmans oc-
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cupied the authoritative status in society on account of their
God was absolutely free to confer or withdraw his charisma
esoteric knowledge of the Vedas, the Brahmanas, and the
or “gift of grace” from the ruler on earth. The Chinese Son
many other sacred writings. Not only in China and India,
of Heaven obviously had nothing to do with the genealogical
but also in the ancient Near East, the scribes and priests who
concept of kingship, such as in ancient Egypt or Japan, where
served as guardians of the written traditions were the chief
the king was considered the descendant or incarnation of a
religious figures vested with authority.
certain god; he was simply the earthly representative of Heav-
en, or heavenly will.
It was the king, however, who exercised supreme au-
thority. In archaic civilizations, the state functioned as a reli-
The Chinese king was also conceived as the unique
gious community, as a cosmos, and the king was the person
man, one supremely responsible for the maintenance of the
supremely responsible for the maintenance of this cosmic
cosmic order. He maintained the cosmic order by assisting
order. Imperial authority was sustained by both the kingship
Heaven in the regulation and harmonization of the yin and
ideology, which was grounded in myths, and the celebration
yang principles, as best exemplified by his performance in the
of rituals, especially the New Year festival. The ideology used
ceremonial building, the ming-tang. This structure was an
for the legitimation of imperial authority was different from
imago mundi (“image of the universe”); it had a square plan
one region to another; that is, the nature of the king’s person
symbolizing the earth and was covered by a circular roof,
and his role in the given cosmic order was variously con-
symbolic of the sky. Other features, such as the building’s
ceived in different societies, depending on their religious out-
twelve rooms, reflected the cycle of the year. Thus the whole
look on life and the universe.
structure was a vast space-and-time diagram, a microcosm.
In ancient Egypt, for example, the king was believed to
Here the king observed the rituals of worship and sacrifice
be divine in essence. His coronation, usually celebrated at the
to Heaven and Earth and myriad spirits in order to secure
beginning of a new year, signified not an apotheosis but an
their favor for the entire universe. When he was to inaugu-
epiphany, or self-manifestation, of the god. As long as he
rate the seasons and months, he placed himself in an appro-
ruled, the king was identified with the god Horus; in fact,
priate room of the building: in the second month of the
he was Horus incarnate in his earthly existence, but upon his
spring, for example, the king took his position facing east,
death he was mystically assimilated to Osiris, the god of re-
clothed in green, the color of spring and the east, while in
birth and immortality. Egyptian kingship was also intimately
the fall he faced west, clothed in a white ceremonial dress ap-
associated with the theme of cosmogony. The dais, for exam-
propriate for the fall and the west. Thus, the king assisted
ple, on which the new king was seated symbolized the hill
Heaven in guaranteeing the ascendancy of the yang principle
of sand, the “first” land, which, according to the Egyptian
in spring, while in the fall he helped the rise of the yin princi-
cosmogonic myth, emerged out of the primeval ocean at the
ple. In essence, the Chinese king was expected to be the har-
time of beginning. Ascension to the royal throne represented
monizer of the cosmic movement.
a ritual reenactment of the emergence of a cosmos out of
chaos, the primeval waters. Thus, the king repeated the act
Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam is an innovation in the
of creation at his enthronement.
history of religions. While in primitive and archaic religions
authority is embodied in the sacred kings as well as in oral
In Mesopotamia, too, the king played a part of vital im-
or written traditions of the tribal community and state, in
portance in the well-being of the cosmic order. The Enuma
these founded religions authority is ultimately derived from
elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, was recited and reen-
the founder of a new community of faith, and/or his religious
acted during the New Year festival. The primary purpose of
experience. Consequently, the founded religion, whatever it
this recitation and ritual reenactment of the cosmogonic
is, develops its own structure of authority and authoritative
myth was the renewal and regeneration of the cosmos; the
tradition, which is distinctively different from that in primi-
king, representing the god Marduk on earth, repeated what
tive and archaic religions.
took place at the time of absolute beginning, as narrated in
the myth. However, the king in ancient Mesopotamia was
Buddhism. The Buddha’s authority was grounded in
generally not conceived as a divine being. More properly, he
his conviction that he had discovered the dharma, the univer-
was viewed as divine only while he participated in the cere-
sal law of existence, through his personal experience of en-
monies as representative of Marduk. He was essentially a
lightenment. He himself lived in accordance with it, and on
mortal being, not divine; he represented the gods on earth
his deathbed he urged his disciples to depend on it as the sole
as their “chosen servant.”
guiding principle of life.
The king in ancient China was called the “unique man”
But this truth was not self-evident; it was the truth
as well as the “Son of Heaven” (t Eien-tzu). The Son of Heav-
taught and interpreted by the Buddha that his followers ac-
en was one who received the mandate of Heaven
cepted. After his death his closest disciples assumed a new
(t Eien-ming). This notion of the mandate of Heaven implied
responsibility for the successful realization of the Buddhist
that imperial authority could not become a permanent pos-
ideal. Inevitably, important traditions emerged that were
session of the ruler, that Heaven had the complete freedom
transmitted orally until they were put into writing in the first
to confer or withdraw his mandate, just as in ancient Israel
century BCE. These authoritative oral traditions included the
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memories and interpretations of the Buddha’s own teaching
Christianity. During his public life of ministry, Jesus
concerning the dharma and the rules of conduct, the Vinaya,
of Nazareth rejected the authority of the oral Torah in Juda-
which he had established for the regulation of the sam:gha,
ism, which is often referred to in the New Testament as the
or Buddhist community.
“tradition of the fathers.” For this he substituted his own au-
thority as interpreter of the written Torah (the Mosaic Law),
However, there exists no single canon of scriptures that
namely, the authority of the one who proclaimed, in word
is universally recognized by all Buddhists. The development
and deed, God’s will as well as the imminent coming of the
of such a canon was impossible because of the decentralized
kingdom of God. Jesus thus presented himself as the ulti-
nature of the Buddhist community or the lack of a central
mate source of the new traditions, which were to become au-
ecclesiastical authority to determine orthodoxy. From the be-
thoritative for the emerging church or community of Chris-
ginning of its history, Buddhism allowed its local monastic
orders to function as autonomous, self-governing bodies in
accordance with the teachings and disciplinary rules that
After the resurrection of Jesus, his immediate disciples
they had inherited. As might be expected, the development
understood the meaning of his life, suffering, and death in
of the autonomous monastic orders, or “schools,” led to the
the light of the Hebrew scriptures: Jesus was the Messiah (the
rise of different versions of the canon without, however, in-
Christ) and the fulfillment of God’s promise. Naturally, the
validating the importance of the concept of canon or the the-
church assumed responsibility for the creation and transmis-
oretical unity of the Buddhist community as a whole.
sion of the traditions concerning the words and deeds of
Jesus Christ. For the primitive Christian community these
Underneath all this evidence for a virtual absence of the
traditions were the most appropriate and correct interpreta-
canonical and ecclesiastical authority is the Buddha’s insis-
tions of the written Torah; they were, in effect, the oral
tence on the primacy of self-knowledge, the immediacy of
Torah of Christianity. It was especially the apostles and
experience, or the personal realization of truth. The canon
Paul—eyewitnesses to the earthly life and to the resurrection
of scriptures in Buddhism was generally authoritative in con-
of Jesus Christ—who played a vital role in the interpretation
cept, but in practice it functioned meaningfully only on the
and transmission of the traditions, just as in Judaism scribes
level of particular monastic orders or schools. Moreover,
and rabbis made essential contributions to the transmission
the concept of canonicity itself was often in conflict with the
of the oral Torah. Here emerged the authoritative apostolic
Buddhist belief in the immediacy of the experience of en-
tradition, which was initially transmitted orally, then written
down in the various literary forms, and finally codified by
the church as the canon of the New Testament. This New
This general trend, away from the traditional scriptures
Testament took its place beside the canon of the Old Testa-
and toward the exploration of new insights, wisdom, and in-
ment. While Protestantism accords supreme authority to the
terpretations, is more evident in Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism,
combined Old and New Testament as the sum total of the
which arose in the first century CE, than in Therava¯da, that
apostolic tradition, distinguishing it from the postapostolic
is, Buddhism in more traditional forms, especially regarding
tradition, Catholicism asserts the ongoing tradition of the
the concepts of the Buddha and the dharma. The concept
church as having equal authority with the apostolic tradition
of the Buddha in Maha¯ya¯na has changed so much that he
embodied in the scripture. For Catholics there is no funda-
is no longer simply the person who attained enlightenment
mental opposition between scripture and tradition; they are
in the sixth century BCE, but is regarded as a self-
manifestations of one and the same thing, the apostolic tradi-
manifestation in history of the dharmaka¯ya, a cosmic princi-
ple immanent in all beings, the ground of all expressions of
the eternal Buddha nature. The Buddha preaching on the
The essence of the Roman Catholic church lies in its in-
Vulture Peak, as he does in Maha¯ya¯na scriptures, is not a
stitutional character as the objective organ of salvation,
human teacher talking to a band of his disciples but a trans-
which is embodied in tradition, sacraments (seven in num-
historical being addressing himself to representatives of the
ber), and priesthood. The church stands for the eternal pres-
whole universe. Maha¯ya¯na scriptures purport to be ever-
ence of Jesus Christ in history, and the papacy is based on
recurring revelations of the eternal universal principle
the founder’s explicit designation of Peter as the foundation
(dharmaka¯ya) and tend to be dissociated from the tradition
rock of the church. Roman Catholics claim a direct succes-
that is deeply rooted in the particular life of the historical
sion of papal authority from Peter to the present pope, and
Buddha. A scripture is considered useful insofar as it can lead
this claim to legitimacy, which under the pope’s sanction ex-
one to the same religious experience that the Buddha himself
tends to the entire Roman Catholic priesthood, is a vital ele-
had during his life. The implication is that scriptures can ul-
ment in grounding the authority of the church. Sacraments
timately be dispensed with. This implication is most evident
are the objective and tangible channels through which God’s
in Zen Buddhism, which claims to be based on a “special
grace is communicated to the faithful. The objectivism of
transmission outside the scriptures” and stresses only the im-
Roman Catholicism is best exemplified in its interpretation
mediate personal experience of kensho¯ (“seeing into one’s
of the Eucharist, namely, the theory of transubstantiation,
true nature”), or enlightenment.
officially proclaimed as doctrine in 1215. As to the teaching
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of the church, it is the magisterium (teaching authority) of
founder of the Society of Friends, also known as the Quak-
the church, the pope, who determines the legitimate inter-
ers. Fox organized a community of the faithful without
pretation of scripture and tradition. From medieval times,
priesthood or sacramental rites. He was convinced that true
membership in the Roman Catholic church has involved
religion consisted not in the church or in the creeds, but in
submission to papal authority. This is certainly a typical ex-
the personal experience of what he called illumination by the
ample of institutionalized charisma, and over the centuries
Holy Spirit; the source of final authority for him was the per-
it has proved its strength as a source of authority in the lives
sonal experience of the inner light.
of its adherents.
Islam. For Muslims the QurDa¯n is the immediate and
Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism agree that
complete revelation of God’s message to mankind through
the church possesses the divinely given infallible authority.
Muh:ammad. It is the heavenly book of revelation, the word
Eastern Orthodoxy differs from Roman Catholicism, howev-
of God par excellence. While controversies have raged
er, in that its church has no organ of infallibility; the quality
among Muslims as to the sense in which this is true, that it
of infallibility resides in the mystically conceived church it-
is true has never been questioned. The QurDa¯n for some
self, not in any fixed office like that of the Roman Catholic
Muslims is “created,” but for the majority it is not a historical
creation; just as the Torah in Judaism is of celestial origin,
The Protestant understanding of authority is inclined
deriving from the time prior to the creation, the QurDa¯n, al-
more or less toward subjectivism in contrast to the objectiv-
though composed in Arabic, reflects its heavenly archetype.
ism of medieval Christianity. The Protestant Reformation
Thus the QurDa¯n is “uncreated,” not conditioned by time
hinged upon two main principles of complementary impor-
and history. The QurDa¯n is unquestionably the supreme
tance: justification by faith and the authority of scripture.
source of authority for the ummah, or Muslim community.
The question that most preoccupied Martin Luther was
The Muslim community has also accepted the h:ad¯ıth
soteriology, that is, the question of personal salvation and its
(“tradition,” i.e., the record of the words and deeds) of the
certainty. According to Luther, man is justified before God
prophet Muh:ammad as the normative authority for its be-
by faith alone; the church with its priesthood, sacraments,
liefs and practices. While Muslims do not consider him the
and tradition can by no means guarantee man’s salvation.
savior in the Christian sense of the word, they are firmly con-
Hence Luther reduced the sacraments to two, baptism and
vinced that Muh:ammad was divinely guided in the years
the Lord’s Supper. While justification by faith is the “materi-
after receiving the revelation; he is God’s prophet and apostle
al” principle of the Reformation, scripture alone is its “for-
and the perfect man, the exemplary model and spiritual
mal” principle. For Luther, as well as for John Calvin, the
guide for humanity. For Muslims, everything Muh:ammad
Bible, not the church, is the final authority for Christian life.
said and did during his life is worthy of study and imitation.
While Calvin in his practice of interpretation seems to accept
Still another tradition, which is accepted as authoritative
particular words of the Bible as the revealed word of God,
by the orthodox Muslims (Sunn¯ıs), is the h:ad¯ıth of the first
Luther distinguishes between the words of the Bible and the
four caliphs. In his later years, when he was in Medina,
word that God speaks through them: the words of the Bible
Muh:ammad attempted to build up a socioreligious commu-
are the “cradle of Christ.” Accordingly, Luther does not sup-
nity on the basis of Islamic principles, and after his death this
port the literal interpretation of the Bible, nor does he find
ideal was carried on by his four immediate successors (ca-
the word of God equally in all its parts, but regards some as
liphs), known as the ideal rulers. The Muslim community
inferior in quality. The corollary of the two main principles
then was in need of detailed rules for ordering both its com-
of the Reformation is the theory concerning the priesthood
munal life and the life of its individual members. These rules
of all believers: each and every individual is a priest to himself
of life, called shar¯ı Eah, or Islamic law, are based on the inter-
or herself and as such is to serve God by listening to the word
pretation of the QurDa¯n and the h:ad¯ıths of Muh:ammad and
of God within the words of the Bible. This emphasis on per-
the first four caliphs who followed him.
sonal conscience constitutes a great innovation of the Refor-
mation, but it has also opened the way for uncontrolled in-
Significantly, the caliph as head of the community had
terpretations of the Bible as well as the proliferation of an
no pontifical or even priestly functions. His task was not to
ever-increasing number of Protestant denominations and
expound or to interpret the faith, but to serve as the guardian
small sects led by conscientious, “inspired” leaders.
of the public order. The task of interpreting the QurDa¯n and
h:ad¯ıths and applying them to the actual life of the communi-
Trends away from the Roman Catholic type of objectiv-
ty was carried out by the Eulama¯D. They were not priests and
ism and toward subjectivism are even more evident in many
claimed no priestly power or authority, but, on account of
sectarian Protestant communities. They insist on the impor-
their learning in the QurDa¯n and h:ad¯ıths, played an impor-
tance of Bible study, prayer, and the personal experience of
tant role quite analogous to that of the Jewish rabbinate.
salvation and its certainty; and for members of these commu-
nities the ideas of sin, salvation, and faith in Jesus Christ as-
While the Sunn¯ıs consider the h:ad¯ıth concerning the
sume an intense and vivid personal reality. One of the best
first three caliphs as one of the sources of authority for Islam,
examples of this Protestant emphasis is George Fox, the
the Sh¯ıE¯ıs have rejected it as such, because they view the three
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caliphs as illegal usurpers and recognize instead EAl¯ı,
cakravartin, a righteous, universal king. Whereas the Buddha
Muh:ammad’s cousin and son-in-law, as the first caliph, or,
was depicted as a universal king in the spiritual domain, who
more properly, the first imam. What underlies the Sh¯ıE¯ı con-
set in motion of wheel of dharma, the cakravartin, essentially
tention is the belief that Muh:ammad’s personal charisma,
political in nature, was widely expected to appear as a univer-
which he received from God, is transmitted genealogically
sal king and to turn a wheel of dharma in the secular domain.
only in his family tradition. This view is remarkably different
The Buddhist community saw in A´soka, the third emperor
from the Sunn¯ı view that Muh:ammad’s charisma is chan-
of the great Mauryan kingdom, the realization of the cakra-
neled through the office of caliph regardless of its occupant:
vartin ideal: he converted to Buddhism, supported its com-
while Sunn¯ı orthodoxy is committed to the principle of in-
munity, sent out missionaries, and governed people in accor-
stitutional charisma, the Sh¯ıE¯ıs reject it and uphold the prin-
dance with the dharma. To the eyes of the Buddhists, the two
ciple of hereditary charisma. Accordingly, the Sh¯ıE¯ıs have re-
wheels of dharma, one in the spiritual domain and the other
placed the h:ad¯ıth of the first three caliphs with the h:ad¯ıth
in the secular, should go hand in hand. This theory, a kind
of the twelve imams.
of caesaropapism, has exerted enduring influences on Asian
In sharp contrast to the caliph, who has no legal authori-
ty, the imam is authorized to interpret the h:aq¯ıqah, or inner
The Christian church in its early centuries had no ambi-
mysteries, which are hidden in the QurDa¯n and h:ad¯ıths. He
tion to stand against the Roman imperial authority. It de-
is endowed with such a spiritual gift because, through the
sired only freedom from persecution. This whole situation
chain of direct transmission, he has received from
was changed by the conversion of Constantine, in the fourth
Muh:ammad a body of gnosis, or esoteric knowledge. Conse-
century, and by the subsequent spread of Christianity as the
quently, the imam is charged with a power at once political
official religion of the Roman Empire. What emerged in the
and religious; he is one who rules the community with mercy
arena of church-state relations was caesaropapism. The By-
and justice but who also interprets Islamic law and its inner
zantine emperors transformed the church of the Eastern Em-
meanings. Naturally, the Sh¯ıE¯ıs are persuaded that the final
pire into a state church closely dependent on the imperial
authority for Islam is in the hands of the imam himself. Ac-
government; these emperors claimed the right to control the
cording to them, the last, or twelfth, imam, the so-called hid-
church and decide any disputes that arose in the ecclesiastical
den imam, did not die but entered a prolonged “conceal-
sphere, and the prelates of Constantinople accepted their
ment.” One day, so they believe, from that state of
concealment he will emerge as the Mahdi (“expected one”),
that is, the messiah. Until he comes, a group of leading law-
In the Western Empire the situation was different. All
yer-theologians, called mujta¯hids, will continue to exercise an
effective imperial power gradually declined during the early
extensive authority on matters of religion and law.
Middle Ages, and this resulted in the emergence of the popes
as temporal governors of Rome and its surroundings. More-
over, they abandoned their old allegiance to the Byzantine
While tension between religious and secular authorities may
emperors and formed a new alliance with the Frankish kings.
be present in primitive and archaic cultures, it arises in its
The climax of this Frankish-papal alliance occurred with Leo
sharpest forms only after the emergence of the founded reli-
III’s coronation of Charlemagne as emperor of the Romans
gion. Then it occurs between rival principles, each claiming
in 800; thus Leo established the precedent, followed through
universal supremacy, and only under particular cultural and
the Middle Ages, that papal coronation is essential to the
historical circumstances.
making of an emperor, and in so doing he implanted the
Islam has rarely experienced tensions analogous to those
germ of the idea that empire is a gift to be bestowed by
between church and state in medieval Western Christendom
the papacy.
because the Muslim community has been founded on the
The king’s office, however, was conceived to be as sa-
principle of theocracy, and a distinct ecclesiastical body
cred as the papacy, a view supported by Old Testament texts;
powerful enough to challenge secular authorities has never
kings were regarded as the Lord’s anointed, as ministers of
God, and were hailed as vicars of Christ. As such, they as-
Buddhism knows of no such tensions either, but for dif-
pired to supreme power, both spiritual and temporal. It soon
ferent reasons. While it succeeded in establishing a theocratic
became customary throughout Europe for kings to choose
state in Tibet, in many other Asian countries it has been
bishops; they gave them great fiefs and invested them with
placed in a defensive position vis-à-vis the indigenous institu-
the ring and pastoral staff that symbolized episcopal office.
tion of sacral kingship and its ideology; the Buddhist com-
This practice proved beneficial for the kings, but it was a rad-
munity has either been headed by the king or indirectly put
ical departure from the sacred tradition of the church. A
under control of the state. Consequently, it has been con-
measure of this imperial power can be illustrated by an inci-
stantly exposed to the temptation of soliciting favor from sec-
dent that occurred in 1046. When Henry III of Germany
ular authorities. It may be noted, in this connection, that
arrived in Rome for his imperial coronation, he found there
Buddhism developed a theory for peaceful interdependence
three rival candidates for the papal throne, each claiming to
between its own community and the state: the ideal of the
be the rightful pope. Henry settled the issue in high-handed
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

manner: he dismissed all three and installed his own choice.
The sources of authority in Islam are succinctly presented in Sir
It seemed to Henry that he had as much right to appoint a
Hamilton A. R. Gibb’s Mohammedanism, 2d rev. ed. (New
bishop for Rome as for any other diocese in his territory, and
York, 1961), which still remains the best introduction to
as vicar of God he was also very much aware of his duty to
appoint the best man available to such an important office.
The origins and development of the structure of authority in the
early Christian church has been masterfully studied by Hans
The clash between papal theocracy and imperial theoc-
von Campenhausen in Kirchliches Amt und geistliche Voll-
racy became inevitable in 1073 when Hildebrand became
macht (Tübingen, 1953), translated by J. A. Baker as Ecclesi-
Pope Gregory VII and asserted the church’s independence
astical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First
from, and indeed its domination over, the imperial power
Three Centuries (Stanford, Calif., 1969). On scriptural au-
embodied in Henry IV of Germany. Henry could not give
thority in the modern period, there is much useful material
up the right of appointing bishops without abandoning all
in J. K. S. Reid’s The Authority of Scripture: A Study of the
hope of welding Germany into a unified monarchy, and
Reformation and Post-Reformation Understanding of the Bible
Gregory could not acquiesce in the imperial claims, which
(London, 1957) and in Georges H. Tavard’s Holy Writ or
included a claim to appoint the popes themselves. The
Holy Church: The Crisis of the Protestant Reformation (Lon-
Roman pontiff maintained that as God’s vicar he possessed
don, 1959). Concerning authority in Eastern Orthodoxy, see
Georges Florovsky’s Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Or-
a direct authority—not only spiritual but also political—over
thodox View (Belmont, Mass., 1972).
all men and all their affairs in the Corpus Christianum. He
even asserted in the Dictatus Papae, issued in 1075, that the
On the manifold relations of church and state, a useful compara-
pope could depose emperors. Henry then appointed a bishop
tive and typological study has been presented by Joachim
of Milan and strengthened his position by summoning a
Wach in his Sociology of Religion (1944; Chicago, 1962),
pp. 287–330. The standard work on the confrontation be-
council of German bishops, which accused Gregory of gross
tween papal and secular authorities in the Middle Ages re-
abuse of papal authority. Gregory replied in 1076 with a de-
mains Walter Ullmann’s The Growth of Papal Government in
cree in which he declared Henry excommunicated and de-
the Middle Ages, 2d ed. (London, 1962). The primary sources
prived of his imperial authority. Rarely has the history of reli-
relating to the subject have been skillfully assembled by Brian
gions witnessed more direct clashes between religious and
Tierney in The Crisis of Church and State, 1050–1300 (En-
secular authorities.
glewood Cliffs, N.J., 1964).
SEE ALSO Buddhist Books and Texts, article on Canon and
New Sources
Canonization; Canon; Imamate; Intellectuals; Kingship;
Abraham, William. “The Offense of Divine Revelation.” Harvard
Myth; Papacy; Politics and Religion; Scripture; Sunnah;
Theological Review 95 (July 2002): 251–264.
Tradition; Truth.
Berkey, Jonathan. Popular Preaching and Religious Authority in the
Medieval Islamic Near East. Seattle, Wash., 2001.
Engler, Steven. “Religion, Consecration and the State in Bour-
There are no comprehensive presentations on the theme of au-
dieu.” Cultural Studies 17 (May 2003): 445–468.
thority in the general history of religions based on compara-
tive or typological studies. On the authority of myth in pre-
Keyes, Charles F., Laurel Kendall, and Helen Hardacre, eds. Asian
modern society, see Mircea Eliade’s Myth and Reality (New
Visions of Authority: Religion and the Modern States of East and
York, 1963). This book contains an excellent bibliography.
Southeast Asia. Honolulu, 1994.
Bronislaw Malinowski has attempted to elucidate the au-
Lincoln, Bruce. Authority: Construction and Corrosion. Chicago,
thentic nature and function of myth in primitive society on
the basis of his fieldwork among the Trobriand Islanders in
New Guinea. See his classic work Myth in Primitive Psycholo-
Siebers, Tobin, ed. Religion and the Authority of the Past. Ann
gy (New York, 1926), which has been reprinted in his Magic,
Arbor, Mich., 1993.
Science and Religion (New York, 1948), pp. 93–148.
Stout, Jeffrey. Democracy and Tradition. Princeton, 2004.
The best single book on the problem of imperial authority in the
Wills, Gregory. Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and
ancient Near East remains Henri Frankfort’s Kingship and
Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785–1900. New
the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Inte-
York, 1996.
gration of Society and Nature (Chicago, 1948). The eighth In-
ternational Congress for the History of Religions met in
Revised Bibliography
Rome in the spring of 1955 to discuss the theme of kingship.
Its proceedings have been published as The Sacral Kingship
(Leiden, 1959). On imperial authority in ancient China and
Japan, see D. Howard Smith’s “Divine Kingship in Ancient
AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Autobiography is a form of reli-
China,” Numen 4 (1957): 171–203, and my own “Concep-
tions of State and Kingship in Early Japan,” Zeitschrift für Re-
gious literature with an ancient lineage in the Christian, Is-
ligions- und Geistesgeschichte 28 (1976): 97–112. On the
lamic, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions. It became an in-
structure of authority in the Buddhist community, there is
creasingly common and significant form of discourse in
an excellent discussion in Sukumar Dutt’s The Buddha and
almost every religious tradition during the twentieth century,
Five After-Centuries (London, 1957).
and its many forms and recurring themes raise crucial reli-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

gious issues. This article first discusses Christian and Islamic
drawn-out religious change and a sudden crisis such as Au-
autobiography, then turns to examples of life writing in
gustine dramatizes in Book 8. It can be argued that the very
Asian and Native American cultures, and finally discusses the
nature of autobiography is tied to the structure of the conver-
religious significance of this literary genre.
sion narrative as the story of how the story’s protagonist be-
came the narrator of the story, the person whose present un-
The question of how to define autobiography is highly
derstanding provides the norms by which past actions are
contested. By its most precise and restricted definition, auto-
judged. Yet one must be wary about imposing this paradigm
biography is, according to Philippe Lejeune’s On Autobiogra-
on all texts, especially ones from religious traditions other
phy (1989), “a retrospective prose narrative that someone
than Christianity.
writes concerning his own existence, where the focus is the
individual life, in particular the story of his personality.”
Many of the central themes of Christian autobiography
Many scholars follow Karl Weintraub in seeing “true” auto-
are rooted in Augustine’s Confessions. A searching, self-
biography as tied to the development of the ideas of individ-
critical conscience shapes the introspective, moralizing tenor
uality and historicity, and therefore as an essentially Western
of many later Christian works. Augustine’s account of mem-
form of discourse. Yet there is a great deal of writing that in-
ory and time in Books 10–13 analyzes the deeply problemat-
tentionally reveals the author’s character in different ways
ic nature of self-knowledge and his continuing dependence
than classical Western autobiography, and these representa-
on God in the act of composition. Augustine showed the in-
tions of the author’s self will be considered here as forms of
terdependence of the writer’s life story with central philo-
religious autobiography. In the West, many examples of life
sophical and theological questions about the nature of truth,
writing do not fit all aspects of the traditional definition,
agency, textuality, faith, and ultimacy. The theme of provi-
such as memoirs of only a portion of a person’s life, accounts
dence is a crucial aspect of Augustine’s legacy, for he demon-
in poetry, and diaries and journals that reflect day-by-day in-
strated how a faithful Christian may discern God’s guidance
trospection rather than a retrospective view of an entire life.
of his life through trials, sin, and suffering.
Many non-Western texts disclose the author’s religious expe-
riences, although they are usually less concerned with distin-
Among the most important autobiographical works in
guishing the author’s uniqueness or singularity than they are
Christian tradition are the writings of medieval mystics in-
with exemplifying a collective sense of identity, a communi-
cluding Teresa of Ávila, Julian of Norwich, Ignatius of Loyo-
ty’s values, or the common human condition. One must be
la, and Margery Kempe. These works are characterized by
flexible in recognizing the diverse forms of writing about the
an intense focus on the life of prayer and vision to the relative
self in the world’s religious traditions and discern both simi-
neglect of details of ordinary social life. Abelard (1079–
larities and differences in relation to the classical Western tra-
1142) wrote The History of My Misfortunes to try to under-
dition of autobiography. What makes an autobiography reli-
stand his adversities, defend himself against false accusations,
gious is the author’s attempt to describe and evaluate his or
and model Christian virtues. In contrast to Augustine’s self-
her life from the perspective of the author’s present convic-
accusation, Abelard’s work is largely an apology, a defense
tions about what is ultimate or sacred.
of his character. Petrarch (1304–1374) composed three
imaginary dialogues with Augustine entitled the Secretum,
examining his own life’s pursuits in the light of Christian
sions, written between 397 and 401, is the fountainhead of
norms in preparation for death. The essays of Michel de
Christian autobiography. Augustine (354–430) showed later
Montaigne (1533–1592) offer a thematic rather than chro-
writers how to interpret the self in relation to the models and
nological account of the writer and a constantly changing
norms of Christian tradition, including biblical figures such
self-awareness rather than a stable and permanent sense of
as Adam, Moses, Jesus, and Paul. Augustine’s self-disclosure
identity. Montaigne is skeptical of religious certainties and
is indebted to two biblical genres: the Hebrew psalms and
understands himself in the light of classical texts rather than
Pauline letters. Confession for Augustine denotes both ac-
the Bible. There is a crucial ethical dimension in Mon-
knowledgment of sin and confession of praise to God. The
taigne’s criticisms of arrogance and presumptuousness in all
entire book is directly addressed to God, as Augustine speaks
areas of life, including matters of religious controversy. He
in the second person to the source of all being and the One
shows how religious and political theories usually neglect the
who knows him better than he knows himself. The most fa-
physical realities of human existence, pointing out that even
mous sentence in the Confessions is essentially a plot summa-
“on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting on our
ry: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Augustine
own rump.”
attempts repeatedly to place his faith in something other
than God: his career as a teacher, the Manichee religion, the
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Protestants
love of a woman, or his dear friends. Finally, after these idols
wrote prolifically in many genres: diaries, captivity narra-
have failed to satisfy his yearning, and after protracted intel-
tives, community histories, and conversion accounts. John
lectual struggle, he commits himself to God and attains the
Bunyan (1628–1688) was the most influential Protestant au-
serenity that he asserts can come only from a correct under-
tobiographer. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666)
standing and wholehearted trust in God. As a conversion
was written while Bunyan was imprisoned for preaching to
narrative, the Confessions became a model for both long-
the Baptist community of Bedford, England. Bunyan never
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

goes through a decisive conversion culminating in final se-
ning of secular autobiography haunted by spiritual anxieties.
renity, but instead undergoes a protracted pattern of doubt-
The social struggles of the self displace the religious journey
ing his salvation, searching the Bible for clues, and being re-
of a soul, and it is not movement toward God’s salvation but
assured that he is indeed one of the elect. Then the cycle
the author’s achievements and encounters in society that de-
begins again. Bunyan’s narrative shows the anxieties that
cisively shape the plot of his story. There is a crucial religious
shaped Puritan religious experience, an interest in the mun-
dimension in Rousseau’s struggle to understand the meaning
dane details of an ordinary Christian’s life, and a relentless
of his life in terms of a secular response to the problem of
Protestant focus on the Bible as the key to interpreting every
evil. He believes that his explanation of why he is persecuted
experience. Later Protestants, including Thomas Shepard,
illumines the fundamental nature of the human condition.
Cotton Mather, Mary Rowlandson, Elizabeth Ashbridge,
If Rousseau abandons the substance of Christian faith, he re-
George Fox, Jonathan Edwards, and John Woolman also
tains its metaphors and imagery and the yearning for an ulti-
sought to discern God’s will or providential design for their
mate judgment and justification of his character. This desire
lives, and they took biblical figures as models or metaphors
is continually frustrated, and The Confessions dramatically
for their experience. A period of wandering in the wilderness,
displays the increasing paranoia and self-deception that
an episode of being a prodigal son, or entrance into a prom-
marked Rousseau’s final years.
ised land became the lens for interpreting incidents in their
lives. These works are highly introspective, scrupulously
In the nineteenth century many “versions of deconver-
probing thoughts and behavior for hints of sin. Puritans and
sion,” as John D. Barbour puts it in his 1994 work of that
Quakers used their own stories didactically to instruct others
title, describe the loss of faith. This experience is often the
about their central convictions and to model the expected
result of profound religious doubt and moral reflection and
pattern of a believer’s life.
is described in terms of Christian motifs such as a central
event of crisis, analysis of the subjective experience of faith,
and a transition to a new community with a new language
PHIES. Christian values and beliefs continue to influence
for describing oneself and the world. Such writers as Thomas
many autobiographers with secular concerns. Benjamin
Carlyle, John Ruskin, Leo Tolstoy, and Edmund Gosse
Franklin (1706–1790) describes his “scheme of perfection”
wrote powerful accounts of the reasons for which they aban-
based on a theory of the virtues and his multifarious endeav-
doned a particular form of Christianity and sought meaning
ors to improve Philadelphia, largely discarding theological
elsewhere, as in aesthetic experience. At the turn of the twen-
convictions. Franklin was a Deist with little interest in doc-
ty-first century, the theme of deconversion continues to be
trine or denominational loyalties. His autobiography shows
important in autobiography as writers explore religious
how Christian moral values could be expressed in practical
doubts, assess the practices of religious communities, and
activity and a narrative of character building, as well as utili-
struggle to reconcile belief in historic Christian doctrines
tarian and pragmatic modes of thinking that were hostile to
with other intellectual and moral convictions, for instance,
an otherworldly orientation.
about scientific theory or the rights of women.
In The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–
Among the most compelling modern autobiographies
1778), Christian metaphors shape the thought of a man who
by Roman Catholics are John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro
has moved far from Augustine’s self-accusation and depen-
Vita Sua (1864); Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness (1952);
dence on God’s mercy. Rousseau imagines a scene at the Last
and the many letters, journals, and essays by Thomas Merton
Judgment when he will present his autobiography to God
(1915–1968). Influential Protestant works include medical
and receive approval for his truthfulness. It is not God, how-
missionary Albert Schweitzer’s Out of My Life and Thought
ever, but his readers and his own guilty conscience that Rous-
(1933); C. S. Lewis’s conversion narrative, Surprised by Joy
seau tries to persuade of his essential goodness. His moral
(1955); and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from
standard is not virtuous behavior but sincerity, utter truth-
Prison (1951), a posthumously published collection by a
fulness about himself: “I have displayed myself as I was, as
German theologian imprisoned and executed by the Nazis.
vile and despicable when my behavior was such, as good,
Conversion narratives continue to be a popular genre, and
generous, and noble when I was so.” Rousseau defiantly chal-
in recent decades they are often linked to the theme of recov-
lenges any reader to reveal his heart with equal candor and
ery from various forms of addiction or abuse. Christian
then say, “I was a better man than he.” When he describes
women and persons of color address the reasons that they re-
a number of rather distasteful deeds, Rousseau asserts that
main committed to a tradition that has frequently been mis-
it was always an embarrassing social situation that forced him
ogynistic and racist. They criticize oppressive aspects of
to act against his benevolent inclinations. Human nature is
Christian thought and practice and retrieve minority per-
essentially good, he argues, and the errors people make are
spectives that may offer a helpful corrective in the ongoing
not attributable to selfishness or sin but to the inhospitable
struggle for justice within Christian tradition and in the larg-
and false environment of modern society, which creates a
er society.
struggle for status that corrupts the innocent child of nature.
Although there are many prior examples of life writing with
ISLAMIC AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Autobiographical writing in Is-
a focus on nonreligious matters, Rousseau marks the begin-
lamic culture began in the ninth century and is influenced
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by even older traditions of biography such as the s¯ıra (exem-
tween Islamic culture and the modern secular world. In the
plary life story) and tarjama (biographical notice included in
twentieth century, autobiographies such as Muhammad
a larger work). Islamic works of hagiography are especially
Asad’s The Road to Mecca (1954) and The Autobiography of
concerned with the chain of transmission of authority back
Malcolm X (1965) were composed in English and European
to the Prophet. Some of the earliest autobiographies com-
languages by converts to Islam.
posed in Arabic are essentially self-authored examples of
HINDUISM. There is virtually no autobiography in Hindu
these biographical genres. Because Islamic historians valued
tradition until the twentieth century. Various explanations
eyewitness accounts so highly, autobiography was usually
have been offered for the relative lack of interest in self-
seen as a reliable and significant source of knowledge for pos-
representation: the Indian love of philosophy and general ab-
terity. In Interpreting the Self (2001), Dwight Reynolds iden-
sence of historical writing; the cyclical view of time; and the
tifies over one hundred Arabic autobiographical texts written
deemphasis on the individual in the search for universal
between the ninth and nineteenth centuries CE and translates
truth. Whatever the explanation, there are few examples of
thirteen representative works into English.
first-person life narratives in classical Hindu tradition, al-
Often a particular verse from the QurDa¯n provided reli-
though there are rich personal references and expressions in
gious justification for self-representation: “And of the bless-
the writings of sant-poets such as Kabir (fifteenth century)
ings of thy Lord, speak!” (93:11). Telling one’s story was an
and Tukaram (seventeenth century).
act of thanksgiving, gratitude, and praise for the generosity
Western literary influences and an intended Western
of Allah. Writers often referred to the example of respected
audience shape the first modern Hindu autobiographies.
figures of the past or traced the spiritual lineage of the au-
Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), the heir of the mystic Sri
thor’s teaching. Most Islamic autobiographies are highly di-
Ramakrishna, attained renown at the first World Parliament
dactic, and the purpose of moral instruction legitimates de-
of Religions in Chicago in 1893. His letters, while not a
picting the self. Muslim writers often present themselves
complete narrative of his life, reveal his distinctive personali-
explicitly as models for the reader’s emulation.
ty to his disciples in the Ramakrishna Mission and to poten-
As in other traditions, an emphasis on a particular reli-
tial supporters both Indian and Western. Autobiography of a
gious theme is often associated with a distinctive category or
Yogi (1946), by Paramahansa Yogananda, has been published
genre of autobiographical writing. Conversion narratives re-
in many editions and languages. Yogananda (1893–1952)
count how a Christian or Jew became a Muslim or how a
was a Bengali who came to the United States in 1920 and
relatively indifferent Muslim was moved to greater piety, as-
spent many years teaching yoga, lecturing, and promoting
cetic practice, or the S:u¯f¯ı path. Narratives of pilgrimage re-
his Self-Realization Fellowship. His autobiography focuses
count the life-transforming effects of the journey to Mecca.
on encounters with saints, gurus, and yogis who taught and
S:u¯f¯ı texts explore mystical states and the ascent through spir-
inspired him.
itual stations. The Mughal Empire in India yielded numer-
The outstanding example of autobiography by a Hindu
ous autobiographical texts such as the sixteenth-century
is Mohandas Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments with
Ba¯burna¯mah, or Book of Ba¯bur, written by the founder of
Truth (1927). This work was originally written in Gujarati
that empire.
and published in 1925 in weekly installments in a nationalist
The most famous classical Arabic autobiography is al-
journal. It was soon translated into English and many other
Munquidh min al-dala¯l, by al-Ghaza¯l¯ı (1058–1111 CE [450-
languages and played an important role in the political
505 AH]). This work recounts a spiritual crisis that has in-
movement for Indian independence. In the introduction,
trigued Western readers and is often compared to Augus-
Gandhi discusses his ambivalent relationship to the Western
tine’s Confessions. Literally translated as “What delivers from
idea of autobiography. He quotes a friend’s doubts about
error,” this work is rendered in a 1992 English translation
doing this kind of writing:
as The Confessions of al-Ghaza¯l¯ı. When al-Ghaza¯l¯ı experi-
enced a total breakdown that left him unable to speak, he
“Writing an autobiography is a practice peculiar to the
West. I know of nobody in the East having written one,
undertook a ten-year period of wandering and seclusion. He
except amongst those who have come under Western
found serenity in the S:u¯f¯ı emphasis on the heart and intu-
influence. And what will you write? Supposing you re-
itive knowledge rather than intellectual argument.
ject tomorrow the things you hold as principles today,
Al-Ghaza¯l¯ı correlates his account of his spiritual search with
or supposing you revise in the future your plans of
polemical arguments against other Islamic theologians and
today, is it not likely that the men who shape their con-
duct on the authority of your word, spoken or written,
may be misled?”
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Muslim au-
tobiographers were influenced by traditional forms and
Gandhi responds that it is not his purpose to write “a real
themes and were also shaped by Western literature, especially
autobiography.” Rather, “I simply want to tell the story of
the novel. After the Egyptian scholar Ta¯ha¯ H:usayn’s
my experiments with truth, and as my life consists of nothing
al-Ayya¯m (1929; An Egyptian Childhood [1932]), it was pos-
but these experiments, it is true that the story will take the
sible to explore in an author’s life the uneasy encounters be-
shape of an autobiography.” His narrative recounts the story
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of a soul’s striving for satya (truth), which was Gandhi’s “sov-
and China, where Buddhism never supplanted ancient tradi-
ereign principle,” equated with God. Gandhi orients his life
tions, Tibet became predominantly Buddhist. Salvation was
story to the truth as he understands it, yet he also presents
always a matter of individual self-transformation and was not
his life as an experiment open to revision and further clarifi-
linked to membership in a clan or group. In this context reli-
cation. The writing of a spiritual text that has “the shape of
gious power and prestige were based on individual accom-
an autobiography” requires the practice of the virtues of
plishments such as celibacy and asceticism, remembering
truthfulness, humility, courage, and discerning moral judg-
prior lives, and esoteric yogic practices and visions. Biogra-
ment. Finally, however, it is a work about satyagraha (the
phy and autobiography flourished in the competition be-
force of truth), not personal virtue: “My purpose is to de-
tween charismatic teachers vying for disciples and patronage.
scribe experiments in the science of Satyagraha, not to say
Tibetan Buddhist autobiography made possible self-assertion
how good I am.”
and cultivation of the individual characteristics of a religious
leader, even as these texts show the unstable, elusive quality
Autobiographers from Hindu tradition have often used
of the states of mind that human beings typically identify
this form of discourse as part of their effort to proselytize in
with selfhood. The paradox of representing a self that alleg-
the West. In addition, dalit literature by members of “un-
edly does not exist challenges modern Western Buddhists to
touchable” castes and conversion stories to other religious
devise new literary strategies to depict their path to awaken-
traditions voice criticisms of traditional Hindu social struc-
ing. Since everything is constantly changing and the origin
ture and raise important questions about what beliefs and
of suffering is the desire to cling to what is unstable, Bud-
practices are central to Hinduism and what may be changed.
dhist autobiography, like postmodernist thought in the
Autobiography thus plays a powerful role in contemporary
West, must depend on the idea of the self even as it shows
ethical critique and reflection on the nature of Hindu identi-
the self to be a projection, illusion, or fiction.
ty and society and their controversial relationship to the na-
tion of India.
CHINA AND JAPAN. Ancient Chinese autobiographies were
modeled after biography and focused on public historical
BUDDHISM. With one significant exception, Buddhist cul-
facts rather than intimate self-knowledge. In the Confucian
tures did not produce autobiographical literature until the
and Daoist traditions the emphasis on self-effacement and
twentieth century. The reason for this absence has been ex-
modesty discouraged revealing accounts of religious experi-
plained in various ways: the concept of the self is viewed by
ence. Chan Buddhist narratives are circumspect in their por-
Buddhists as an illusion; calling attention to oneself is seen
trayal of enlightenment. The doctrine of sudden enlighten-
as egotistical; and the ideal of sudden enlightenment pre-
ment without long years of practice may have been a factor,
cludes interest in what leads up to the moment of awakening.
as was the lack of a literary tradition providing a model for
These simplistic explanations do not probe deeply enough
the personal search for wisdom.
into the cultural contexts that inhibited Buddhist life writing
in India and China and fostered it in Tibet.
According to Pei-Yi Wu in The Confucian’s Progress
(1990), there was a significant group of Confucian autobiog-
Janet Gyatso’s Apparitions of the Self (1998) examines
raphers during the late Ming period, the sixteenth and early
the Tibetan genre of “secret autobiography” (rangnam) as
seventeenth centuries. Models for life writing were found in
composed by such visionary lamas as Jigme Lingpa (1730–
travel literature and in accounts by Buddhist disciples of their
1798). This literary tradition focuses on the way a spiritual
masters’ sermons, which sometimes described incidents in
master attained liberation through visions, yogic practices,
their lives. Writers such as the Confucian apostate and Bud-
and memories of past lives. Such texts do not record all the
dhist monk Deng Huoqu (1498–c. 1570) and the neo-
factual details that the genre of “outer” autobiography would
Confucian Gao Panlong (1562–1626) described quests for
narrate. Like spiritual autobiography in Puritan and Catholic
self-transformation using metaphors of journey and ascent.
traditions, rangnam deals with what is interior and most im-
In addition, a group of penitential texts written at about the
portant: the ways in which the subject understands ultimate
same time confess misdeeds, express self-reproach and re-
reality as a result of personal experience. In Tibet, visionaries
morse, beg forgiveness from a deity, or promise a reformed
discovered so-called Treasures revealed in previous lives that
they retrieve and transmit to disciples. The autobiographical
This flowering of introspective life writing ended with
dimension of these texts consists in the visionary’s demon-
the imposition of Manchu rule in 1644, which brought dis-
stration of his awesome powers, profound meditative experi-
approval and official censorship of the bold literary experi-
ences, and unique insights into the elusive nature of subjec-
mentation associated with the late Ming period. Thereafter,
tivity. Rangnam legitimized a lama’s authority, inspired
autobiographies took the form of annals charting the stages
confidence in disciples, and distinguished among competing
of an official career until, in the twentieth century, Western
interpretations of Buddhist thought.
practices influenced new kinds of life writing. The author’s
According to Gyatso, Buddhism nurtured autobiogra-
girlhood struggle to understand the relevance of Chinese
phy in Tibet because of particular historical factors that were
myths and “talk-stories” to life in the United States is power-
not present in India or China. Tibet’s tradition of self-
fully conveyed in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman
written life stories dates to the eleventh century. Unlike India
Warrior (1976).
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Japanese life writing dates to the Heian period (794–
Black Elk’s spiritual visions, important Lakota rituals and
1185), when diaries were written in Chinese, such as the
healing practices, and the Ghost Dance movement. In a
monk Ennin’s account of his travels to China. The native
1979 introduction to this work, Vine Deloria Jr. asserts that
kana script, often deemed suitable for women, was used to
Black Elk Speaks “has become a North American bible of all
render emotional life and spiritual musings. Japan has a rich
tribes.” Yet this text reflects the perspective of “editor” John
tradition of personal, introspective writing that presents the
G. Neihardt as much as Black Elk’s. It ends with a portrayal
author’s perceptions of the transience of the natural world
of Black Elk as a despairing and defeated man lamenting his
and human life. What modern scholars call “recluse litera-
failure to make the Lakota spiritual vision relevant to his peo-
ture” or “grass-hut literature” (so¯an bungaku) records a rural
ple at a time of crisis. The narrative does not reveal that Black
writer’s contemplations of the vicissitudes of life and the
Elk converted to Roman Catholicism in 1904 and acted for
emptiness at the heart of all existence. The most famous is
decades as a catechist and missionary on Indian reservations,
Ho¯jo¯ki (An account of my hut) by Kamo no Cho¯mei
or that Black Elk continued to believe in the value and rele-
(1156?–1216). Another genre is the official diaries kept by
vance of the Lakota worldview. (See Raymond De Mallie’s
the holders of established positions, including leaders of mo-
analysis in The Sixth Grandfather [1984] of the transcripts
nastic institutions. Since the Tokugawa period (1600–1868),
of the collaboration between Black Elk and Neihardt.) A very
neo-Confucian values have shaped autobiographies written
different form of as-told-to autobiography is created when
by the heads of families for their descendents, which describe
the white editor is an anthropologist. For instance, Paul
the duties expected of future generations.
Radin’s The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian (1920) re-
counts the life of S. B., a convert to the Peyote religion of
Chinese models influence Japanese accounts of travel to
the Native American Church, and Nancy Oestreich Lurie’s
sacred places and to sites made famous in literature. These
Mountain Wolf Woman (1961) tells the story of S. B.’s sister,
works take the author’s journey through space as a metaphor
who also had religious experiences with peyote.
for human existence and construct the self in relation to liter-
ary precedent. The poet Basho¯ (1644–1694) wrote five travel
In addition to these white-edited “Indian autobiogra-
narratives, the most famous of which has been translated as
phies” there are “autobiographies by Indians” (Arnold Kru-
The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1966). Basho¯ combined
pat’s distinction) produced by literate Native Americans.
haiku and prose narration in describing his physical and spir-
The first ones were by Christians, such as Son of the Forest
itual journey through Japan. Basho¯ studied with a Zen Bud-
(1829) by William Apess (Pequot). Important works of life
dhist priest and was also influenced by neo-Confucianism
writing were produced by George Copway (Ojibway) in
and the kami (Shinto¯) cults.
1847, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins (Paiute) in 1883,
Charles Eastman (Lakota) in 1902, and Luther Standing
Bear (Lakota) in 1928. Subsequently, Native American nov-
tobiography is not found in oral cultures such as those of Na-
elists and poets have created highly complex personal narra-
tive American tribes. Yet oral traditions of life narration have
tives, such as The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969), by N. Scott
influenced the written narratives that American Indians
Momaday (Kiowa and Cherokee); Storyteller (1981), by Les-
began to produce in great number in the nineteenth century.
lie Marmon Silko (Kowa and Cherokee); and the poetry and
In American Indian Autobiography (1988), H. David Brum-
memoirs of Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) and Joy Harjo
ble identifies “preliterate traditions” including coup tales,
(Creek). The dominant religious themes in these works are
self-examinations to account for misfortune, educational
sacred geography and the importance of a sense of place in
narratives, and stories about the acquisition of healing or vi-
human identity; a cyclical view of time as necessary for
sionary powers. The survival and vitality of oral traditions is
human well-being; respect for the wisdom of elders and oral
an important theme in other tribal cultures such as those of
traditions; and the importance of reciprocity and harmony
Australian aboriginal people. The preservation of threatened
with the natural world, in human society, and with the sa-
cultural knowledge is a significant incentive for life writing
cred. Like the members of other threatened indigenous cul-
in many indigenous cultures and also in displaced or refugee
tures (in this regard, too, Australian aboriginal peoples offer
communities such as the Hmong of Laos and other diaspora
significant parallels), many American Indian writers use au-
tobiography to explore the conflict of cultural values within
There are more than seven hundred Native American
their own lives and to protest against the racism, injustice,
autobiographical narratives. More than half of these docu-
and spiritual poverty that they see in the dominant culture.
ments are “as-told-to” stories edited by white missionaries,
SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY. In addition to defining reli-
anthropologists, and literary scholars. Many of these collabo-
gious autobiography in relationship to specific historical tra-
rative works raise controversial questions about the extent of
ditions, one can consider certain more ambiguous texts,
the white editor’s contribution. The most famous American
sometimes called spiritual autobiographies. Particularly in
Indian autobiography is Black Elk Speaks (1932). This narra-
the West, spirituality usually means the personal, experiential
tive tells the story of the life of Black Elk (1863–1950), the
aspects of religion in contrast with an organized communi-
Oglala Sioux holy man, from the age of nine until he wit-
ty’s doctrines, institutions, and rituals. Spiritual autobiogra-
nesses the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. It recounts
phies are shaped by particular religious traditions, but the
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author is usually dissatisfied or looking beyond institutional-
Holocaust memoirs, accounts of struggles in Israel, and nar-
ized forms of worship and belief. For instance, a genre of
ratives about assimilation into American society. Autobiogra-
spiritual autobiography is American nature writing by such
phy seems likely to become even more widely practiced if we
authors as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Annie Dillard,
expand our definition to include self-representations that use
Edward Abbey, and Terry Tempest Williams. Another form
technologies such as tape-recorded oral narratives, personal
of spiritual autobiography is writing by contemporary
websites, confessional radio and television programs, and
women who attempt to reconcile their apprehension of what
video and digital formats. The reasons for this prolifera-
is holy with patriarchal religious institutions, and to discrim-
tion of life narratives are many, complex, and religiously
inate within their formative tradition that which is a source
of oppression and that which is a liberating resource for
One reason for the prevalence of autobiography is anxi-
women. Spiritual autobiographies are usually ambivalent
ety about personal identity as individuals encounter the pos-
about the author’s original religious tradition, sorting out
sibility of a secular orientation, the loosening of communal
those elements that the author rejects and those that personal
loyalties, and the challenge of other faiths and worldviews in
experience helps them to appreciate. Such writers seek an in-
an increasingly mobile and interdependent global culture.
dividual path, a personal approach to what is holy, although
Autobiographers try to reconcile the ways that personal iden-
they also hope to find community.
tity is shaped by membership in communities, including
Contemporary spiritual autobiographers often criticize
those fostered by religious commitments, and the ways in
traditional dualistic contrasts between the sacred and the
which identity is singular, distinctive, or unique. Without re-
profane and try to reclaim areas of life rejected by many reli-
solving the complex issue of whether autobiography is tied
gious believers as this-worldly. They usually do not seek sal-
to the Western concept of the self, one can recognize that
vation from ordinary human existence but rather beauty,
all life writing reveals an interplay between communal norms
meaning, and love within it. Spiritual autobiographers are
for life stories and individual differentiation. In religious au-
primarily concerned to interpret personal experiences; far less
tobiographies the authors believe that both of these pres-
than their predecessors do they advocate particular beliefs,
sures—adherence to communal norms and individual
doctrines, or institutional affiliations to their readers. In con-
searching—bring them closer to what is ultimate. The reli-
trast to most classic religious texts, these writers do not pro-
gious autobiographer finds meaning not only in allegiance
pose to readers a single normative model of belief or affilia-
to tradition, but in an act of personal interpretation and self-
tion. They demonstrate far greater openness to a variety of
evaluation. Relationship to a religious community takes the
legitimate religious options than one would find in most
form of reinterpretation of one’s life story in dialogue, al-
worshiping communities or in the history of religious autobi-
though not necessarily in strict accordance with, a communi-
ography. Spiritual autobiographers tend to be open-minded
ty’s norms. The autobiographer discerns in new ways how
in this pluralistic sense, and their works are open-ended, leav-
a religious tradition’s symbolic resources and mythic narra-
ing the impression that the author’s search is not completed,
tives may illumine personal experience, as well as ways that
but a journey still in progress. Seeking has become more im-
the tradition fails to help in the task of self-understanding
portant than finding, and an author may discover meaning
or needs to be criticized in terms of other values.
even in the process of deconversion, or loss of faith. Scholars
Thus, writing an autobiography is itself a significant re-
disagree about what kinds of writing should be considered
ligious event and experience in the writer’s life. The writing
as spiritual autobiographies. Does it make sense to see a work
of autobiography raises crucial ethical issues, including the
as spiritual when the search for self replaces the desire to
author’s struggle with conscience as part of moral self-
know God, and when the goal of defining a unique personal
assessment (see John D. Barbour, The Conscience of the Auto-
identity becomes more important than otherworldly salva-
biographer [1992]) and the effect of telling one’s story on
tion, adherence to orthodox beliefs, or commitment to a
other persons (see Paul John Eakin, ed., The Ethics of Life
community? Is a book a spiritual autobiography if its author
Writing [2004]). Religious autobiography is best conceived
is more concerned with literary originality than with fidelity
of as a testing of the adequacy of a religious community’s
to a received religious tradition? Readers will differ as to
norms for a life narrative, when not only the communal
whether and how to interpret as spiritual autobiography such
norms but the testing itself—that is, the writing of one’s life
diverse texts as Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard
story—is believed to be called for by God or that which the
(1978), Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude (1982), Patri-
author believes to be worthy of ultimate loyalty and trust.
cia Hampl’s Virgin Time (1992), Kathleen Norris’s Dakota
Religious autobiography attempts to interpret the life of the
(1993), and Nancy Mairs’s Ordinary Time (1993).
writer and reorient the lives of readers in relation to what is
ditions without a strong legacy of autobiography, first-
person life writing became increasingly common and signifi-
cant during the twentieth century. An example is Judaism,
Barbour, John D. The Conscience of the Autobiographer: Ethical
which does not have an ancient tradition of autobiography
and Religious Dimensions of Autobiography. London and New
yet in the twentieth century produced many examples of
York, 1992.
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Barbour, John D. Versions of Deconversion: Autobiography and the
ure in the pan-Asian Maha¯ya¯na Buddhist pantheon. Wor-
Loss of Faith. Charlottesville, Va., 1994.
shiped and invoked in both male and female forms,
Barbour, John D. The Value of Solitude: The Ethics and Spirituality
Avalokite´svara is considered a potent savior in times of life-
of Aloneness in Autobiography. Charlottesville, Va., 2004.
threatening dangers, who watches over all beings and heeds
Brumble, David. American Indian Autobiography. Berkeley, Calif.,
their cries of suffering and distress. He responds directly to
the pleas of those in great need, while also serving in symbol-
ic manner as the embodiment of the principle of compassion,
Caldwell, Patricia. The Puritan Conversion Narrative: The Begin-
a fundamental aspect of the Buddhist way of life. In addition
nings of American Expression. Cambridge, U.K., 1983.
to his numerous pan-Asian roles, Avalokite´svara has played
Delaney, Paul. British Autobiography in the Seventeenth Century.
a significant role in distinctive local traditions throughout
New York, 1969.
Buddhist Asia.
De Mallie, Raymond J., ed. The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s
Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt. Lincoln, Neb., 1984.
The meaning of this bodhisattva’s name traditionally has
been understood in several ways, emphasizing his sovereignty
Eakin, Paul John, ed. The Ethics of Life Writing. Ithaca, N.Y.,
over the material world and his responsiveness to the calls of
suffering humanity. A principal interpretation holds that the
Fleishman, Avrom. Figures of Autobiography: The Language of Self-
name Avalokite´svara is a compound of Sanskrit avalokita and
Writing in Victorian and Modern England. Berkeley, Calif.,
¯ı´svara, translated variously as “the lord of what is seen, the
lord who is seen” or “the lord who surveys, gazing lord.” The
Gyatso, Janet. Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of
celebrated seventh-century Chinese monk-scholar Xianzang
a Tibetan Visionary. Princeton, N.J., 1998.
upheld this view, translating the bodhisattva’s name as Guan-
Jolly, Margetta, ed. Encyclopedia of Life Writing. 2 vols. Chicago
zizai (“gazing lord”).
and London, 2001. This outstanding two-volume encyclo-
pedia contains articles on specific authors, genres of autobio-
An alternate spelling of this name—Avalokitasvara—
graphical writing, particular religious traditions, and themes
also existed, as seen in some fifth-century Sanskrit manu-
including conversion, confession, repentance, and spiritual
scripts and as noted by learned Chinese exegetes such as
Chengguan (eighth century). This led to the well-known
Krupat, Arnold. For Those Who Come After: A Study of Native
Chinese translation Guanyin (“he who has perceived
American Autobiography. Madison, Wis., 1985.
sound”). The frequently seen Chinese translation Guanshiy-
in (“he who perceives the sounds of the world”) appears to
Lejeune, Philippe. On Autobiography. Edited by Paul John Eakin.
Translated by Katherine Leary. Minneapolis, 1989.
have a dubious etymological basis, but expresses well the
functional quality of the bodhisattva: a savior who hears all
Olney, James. Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography.
cries of suffering and responds with potent aid.
Princeton, N.J., 1972.
Peterson, Linda. Victorian Autobiography: The Tradition of Self-
Avalokite´svara has numerous epithets. The most com-
Interpretation. New Haven, Conn., 1986.
mon are Padmapa¯n:i (“lotus bearer”) and Loke´svara (“lord of
the world”), by which he is best known in Southeast Asia.
Reynolds, Dwight. Interpreting the Self: Autobiography and the Ar-
abic Literary Tradition. Berkeley, Calif., 2001.
Many epithets related to his specific saving functions are con-
nected to a dizzying panoply of iconographic forms.
Shea, Daniel. Spiritual Autobiography in Early America. Princeton,
N.J., 1968.
ORIGINS. It generally is agreed that the cult to Avalokite´svara
arose in the northwestern borderlands of India. Much schol-
Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A
arly energy has been devoted to determining the “origins” of
Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. Minneapolis, 2001.
the bodhisattva. Many of these efforts presuppose a diffusion-
Watkins, Owen. The Puritan Experience: Studies in Spiritual Auto-
ist model for the formation of the Maha¯ya¯na pantheon; they
biography. New York, 1972.
assume that the pantheon was in some way devised or adapt-
Weintraub, Karl. The Value of the Individual: Self and Circum-
ed from the various deities of neighboring religious move-
stance in Autobiography. Chicago, 1978.
ments. For example, Marie-Thérèse de Mallmann (1948)
Wong, Hertha Dawn. Sending My Heart Back across the Years:
suggested Iranian antecedents based on Avalokite´svara’s
Tradition and Innovation in Native American Autobiography.
name and functions. Others hold that the pantheon came
New York, 1992.
into being as the deification of early Buddhist principles or
Wu, Pei-Yu. The Confucian’s Progress: Autobiographical Writing in
of potent moments in the life of S´a¯kyamuni Buddha; for ex-
Traditional China. Princeton, N.J., 1990.
ample, Giuseppe Tucci (1948) suggested that Avalokite´svara
is the personification of the compassionate gaze of
S´a¯kyamuni. Such views are far distant from the notable in-
tensity of belief in the compassionate lifesaving powers of
this deity, as expressed among Buddhist Asians from all levels
AVALOKITES´VARA, a bodhisattva especially associat-
of society. Maha¯ya¯na scriptural traditions simply hold that
ed with the principle of compassion, is the most popular fig-
Avalokite´svara is one among many beings having human his-
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tory whose dedication and spiritual development has led to
The meditation scripture provides an extended descrip-
successful fruition as a bodhisattva.
tion of Avalokite´svara as the focus for one of the stages of
a multifaceted visualization practice. Successful accomplish-
ment of this practice leads not only to future rebirth in the
scriptural sources on Avalokite´svara, three works are especial-
Western Paradise, but also to continuous invocation of the
ly important: the Saddharmapun:d:ar¯ıka Su¯tra (Lotus scrip-
principal lords of that land, with the accompanying protec-
ture), various versions of the Sukha¯vat¯ıvyu¯ha Su¯tra (Pure
tion and inspiration they afford. Avalokite´svara is described
land scripture), and the so-called Amita¯yurdhya¯na Su¯tra
as a golden-skinned princely being of enormous stature,
(Contemplation on Amita¯yus scripture). The Lotus provides
wearing a great crown made of wondrous gems within each
much information on the bodhisattva’s lifesaving powers,
of which there stands a manifested Buddha. Many-hued rays
while the Pure Land and the meditation scripture reveal his
of light stream forth from his body in a patterned manner;
spiritual kinship to Amita¯bha Buddha and outline his func-
these rays reach into the various realms of existence and send
tions in this context. These aspects both have been essential
forth manifested Buddhas and bodhisattvas, who accomplish
features of the cult.
his works of compassion. Innumerable rays of soft light ex-
The Lotus devotes a full chapter to Avalokite´svara, and
tend from his hands, illumining all things, and he is seen to
this chapter (chapter 25 in Kuma¯raj¯ıva’s eloquent fourth-
be assisting all beings with these hands.
century Chinese translation) not uncommonly has been
PARADISE. Avalokite´svara is believed to dwell on a certain
memorized, recited, and treated as an independent scripture
mountain from which he attentively hears the rising cries of
by East Asian devotees. The chapter includes discussion of
suffering beings and extends his mystic aid. A version of the
the bodhisattva’s name, the dangers that he can dispel, and
Avatam:saka Su¯tra (Flower garland scripture) identifies this
the myriad forms in which he may appear to aid devotees.
site as Potalaka Mountain, a name that became well known
The bodhisattva’s name in this well-known version of
throughout Buddhist Asia. This mountain has been identi-
the Lotus clearly is Avalokitasvara, translated by Kuma¯raj¯ıva
fied with a number of actual geographical sites in Asia. The
as Guanshiyin, or “hearer of the sounds of the world.”
seventh-century monk-traveler Xuanzang noted that Po-
S´a¯kyamuni Buddha explains in the scripture that this name
talaka could be found on the Malaya coast, although few who
arises from the bodhisattva’s pledge to heed the call of any
sought the bodhisattva had been successful in their quest.
suffering being who cries out his name and to appear before
From at least the tenth century it was identified as an island
him in rescue.
off the coast of the southern China seaport of Ningbo, which
was named Putuo Shan (Potalaka Mountain) and remains
The list of dangers and difficulties that the bodhisattva
an important pilgrimage center to the present day. In Japan,
can counter is impressive: fire, drowning in a river, being lost
several sites have been identified as Potalaka: at the Nachi
at sea, murder, demonic attack, fierce beasts and noxious
Falls within the Kumano Shrine complex near the ocean on
snakes or insects, legal punishment, attack by bandits, falling
the Kii Peninsula, in the mountains at Nikko, and at the Ka-
from steep precipices, extremes of weather, internecine civil
suga Shrine in Nara. In Tibet, the seventeenth-century pal-
or military unrest, and others. The bodhisattva also assists
ace of the Dalai Lama, built upon a hill facing Lhasa and
those ensnared by the traditional three poisons of Buddhism:
constituting one of the world’s great architectural treasures,
lust, anger, and delusion. Avalokite´svara also grants chil-
was named the Potala. Thus, the mountain palace was physi-
dren—both male and female—in response to the pleas of
cally made manifest as the residence of the Tibetan ruler, be-
barren women. According to the Lotus, Avalokite´svara is a
lieved to be the physical embodiment of the bodhisattva.
master of skillful means (upa¯ya) who is adept at manifesting
himself in any suitable form (thirty-three are listed) to con-
vey the deliverance of any being.
Numerous forms of Avalokite´svara are seen in art and de-
scribed throughout a wide range of ritual texts, meditation
The Pure Land scriptures, of which several versions are
manuals, and scriptures. These range from the simplicity of
extant in Chinese translation, pair Avalokite´svara with a bo-
the Water-Moon form, with the princely bodhisattva seated
dhisattva named Maha¯stha¯mapra¯pta. Both are principal as-
upon Mount Potalaka gazing at the evanescent reflection of
sistants to the Buddha Amita¯bha, lord of the Western Para-
the full moon upon a still sea, to the complexity of the elev-
dise, a glorious realm free of suffering where diligent questers
en-headed, thousand-armed, thousand-eyed images, the
for enlightenment may be reborn after earthly existence.
multiplicity of features expressing the bodhisattva’s extraordi-
Among his various functions, Avalokite´svara guides devotees
nary abilities to seek out and respond to the distress of all
from earthly deathbed to rebirth in the spirit land. He acts
as emissary for the Buddha throughout the various realms of
the universe, and he is described as the eventual heir to the
Arya¯valokite´svara (“noble Avalokite´svara”), sometimes
throne of this realm. (The Karun:a¯pun:d:ar¯ıka Su¯tra, translat-
termed “great compassionate one,” is a simple form of the
ed into Chinese in the early fifth century, extends this rela-
bodhisattva bearing in his left hand a lotus flower. Often, es-
tionship by explaining that Avalokite´svara was the first son
pecially from the ninth century onward, this form wears a
of Amita¯bha in an earlier incarnation.)
crown or headpiece in which the image of his spiritual father
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Amita¯bha Buddha is depicted. Closely related to this form
the hardships and dangers of the world, who, as the Lotus
is the White-Robed (Pan:d:arava¯sin¯ı) Avalokite´svara, the
puts it, “confers the gift of fearlessness” in the midst of terror
most frequently seen East Asian type from the tenth or elev-
and trouble. Based on the records of Chinese travelers to
enth century to the present. With special emphasis on the
India, there was some worship of Avalokite´svara in the
motherly compassion of the bodhisattva, this form most
fourth century at Mathura¯, and by the seventh century the
often is depicted as a female seated in meditation or holding
cult was widespread throughout India; by this time, accord-
a lotus blossom. Can:d:¯ı, less commonly seen, is another fe-
ing to Xuanzang, images of the bodhisattva flanked the “dia-
male form, having three eyes and eighteen arms.
mond seat” of S´a¯kyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment at Bodh
Gaya¯, one of the most sacred sites in the Buddhist world.
Paintings and sculptures depict some of the specialized
abilities of the bodhisattva: as savior of those subject to life-
In all the coastal areas of Maha¯ya¯na Buddhist countries,
threatening dangers such as fire, flood, and attack; as benevo-
Avalokite´svara has been especially worshiped and invoked for
lent bestower of sons; as guide of souls, leading them in the
his lifesaving protection of seafarers. This ability, mentioned
journey from deathbed to Amita¯bha’s Western Paradise; as
in the Lotus Scripture, is attested to in numerous travel diaries
a king of healing, in one form holding both a willow branch
and miracle tales from the fourth century to the present.
(as sign of the ability to ward off disease) and a vase of amr:ta
As noted above, in East Asia Avalokite´svara has been the
(the nectar of enlightenment), or in another healing form
most popular of all Buddhist deities, most especially by vir-
seated upon a roaring lion. Other important forms include
tue of the prominence accorded him in the Lotus Scripture
Amoghapa¯´sa (“unfailing rope”), holding out a lasso to assist
traditions. The Lotus traditions of the thirty-three types of
all beings, or the fiercely protective Hayagr¯ıva, horse-headed
manifestations of the bodhisattva led in Japan to several very
with dark flames emanating from his body. Avalokite´svara
important pilgrimage circuits devoted to Kannon
is also shown paired with Maha¯stha¯mapra¯pta in attendance
(Avalokite´svara), each having thirty-three stations dedicated
on Amita¯bha, performing various functions in the Western
to the bodhisattva.
Paradise, and he is seen as one among eight or more bodhi-
in numerous types of assembly scenes throughout
Avalokite´svara (Spyan ras gzigs) is one of the key protec-
Maha¯ya¯na art. This vast array of iconographic forms, only
tive deities of Tibet, and the recitation of his six-syllable San-
touched upon here, provides a sense of Avalokite´svara’s pre-
skrit mantra, “Om: mani padme hu¯m:,” has been a wide-
eminent popularity throughout the Asian Buddhist popu-
spread practice among Tibetans. Tibetan myths hold that
Avalokite´svara was the progenitor of the Tibetan people, and
they believe that the founder of the first Tibetan dynasty,
An eleven-headed form of the bodhisattva is seen in the
Srong bstan sgam po (seventh century), was an incarnation
art of numerous Buddhist lands. These eleven heads may
of Avalokite´svara. Similarly, especially since the seventeenth
represent an elaboration of the concept of Avalokite´svara as
century, the Dalai Lamas, successive temporal rulers and
an all-seeing lord, encompassing views of the four cardinal
spiritual leaders of Tibet, have been believed to be human
and the four intermediate directions, as well as the nadir,
incarnations of Avalokite´svara.
center, and zenith. In East Asia, this form was first associated
with special confession and repentance rites undertaken by
SEE ALSO Bodhisattva Path; Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, arti-
lay and monastic practitioners. According to a text translated
cle on Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
from Sanskrit into Chinese in the sixth century, the eleven
heads are related to an elevenfold vow made by the bodhisatt-
va to aid all sentient beings, including pledges to do such
The most comprehensive Western-language study of
things as relieve beings of illness, misfortune, suffering, and
Avalokite´svara is Marie-Thérèse de Mallmann’s Introduction
worries, free them of unwholesome intentions, and turn their
à l’étude d’Avalokiteçvara (Paris, 1948), which surveys the
thoughts toward that which is wholesome. Iconographically,
myriad forms of the bodhisattva seen in Indian art. Mall-
the eleven heads should be depicted in the following manner:
mann’s diffusionist views were rejected by Giuseppe Tucci
three heads in the center with a compassionate expression—
in his “À propos Avalokite´svara,” Mélanges chinois et boudd-
suited to devotees with predominantly good karma (Skt.,
hiques 9 (1948–1951): 173–220. Another diffusionist, Alex-
ander Coburn Soper, has also made a study of the origins and
karman); three heads on the left with an angry expression—
iconography of the bodhisattva, relying on Chinese sources;
directed toward saving beings with unwholesome qualities;
see “The Triad Amita¯yus-Amita¯bha, Avalokite´svara,
three heads on the right with white tusks protruding from
Maha¯stha¯mapra¯pta,” in his Literary Evidence for Early Bud-
the tops of the mouths—to assist people with good karma
dhist Art in China (Ascona, 1959), pp. 141–167. For a valu-
to find enlightenment; a single face in back with an expres-
able study of Chinese perceptions of Avalokite´svara written
sion of violent laughter—to reform evil-doers; and a Buddha
by a learned Buddhist practitioner and devotee of the bodhi-
face on top, preaching the dharma—for those capable of fol-
sattva, see C. N. Tay’s “Guanyin: The Cult of Half Asia,”
lowing the Maha¯ya¯na path.
History of Religions 16 (November 1976): 147–177. For the
so-called Avalokite´svara Su¯tra, chapter 25 of the Lotus, see
The development of this bodhisattva’s cult is closely re-
Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, translated
lated to his function as extender of life and protector from
by Leon Hurvitz (New York, 1976). Also helpful is Henri
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Maspero’s discussion in “The Mythology of Modern China,”
been subsumed by established Hinduism under the rubric of
in Daoism and Chinese Religion, translated by Frank A. Kier-
one of Vis:n:u’s many forms. By viewing these regional deities
man, Jr. (Amherst, 1981), pp. 166–171.
as so many varying forms of one transcendent deity, Hindu-
New Sources
ism was able to accommodate itself to a great variety of local
Bdud joms, Jigs bral ye ses rdo rje, and Matthew Kapstein. “The
traditions while maintaining a certain philosophic and reli-
Royal Way to Supreme Compassion.” In Religions of Tibet
gious integrity. This process also obviated unnecessary ten-
in Practice, edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., pp. 69–76.
sion and rivalry among differing religious traditions.
Princeton, 1997.
Campany, Robert F. “The Earliest Tales of the Bodhisattva Guan-
Although the number of Vis:n:u’s avata¯ras varies at dif-
shiyin.” In Religions of China in Practice, edited by Donald
ferent periods in the Hindu tradition and in different scrip-
S. Lopez, Jr., pp. 82–96. Princeton, 1996.
tures, the tradition usually affirms ten avata¯ras. While the
Idema, Wilt L. “Guanyin’s Acolytes.” In Linked Faiths, edited by
sequence in which these avata¯ras is mentioned varies, the fol-
Jan A. M. De Meyer and Peter M. Engelfriet, pp. 205–226.
lowing order is common: fish, tortoise, boar, man-lion,
Boston, 2000.
dwarf, Ra¯ma the Ax Wielder, Ra¯ma of the Ra¯ma¯yana, Kr:s:n:a,
MacWilliams, Mark W. “Temple Myths and the Popularization
the Buddha, and Kalki. Traditionally, each avata¯ra appears
of Kannon Pilgrimage in Japan: A Case Study of Oya-ji on
in order to perform a specific cosmic duty that is necessary
the Bando Route.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 24
to maintain or restore cosmic order. Having performed that
(1997): 375–411.
task, the avata¯ra then disappears or merges back into Vis:n:u.
Obeyesekere, Gananath. “Avalokitesvara’s Aliases and Guises.”
Vis:n:u assumed the form of a great fish in order to save
History of Religions 32 (1993): 368–373.
Manu Vaivasvata, the progenitor of the human race in this
Thang Stong Rgyal Po, and Janet Gyatso. “An Avalokitesvara Sad-
present cosmic age. A great deluge occurred at the beginning
hana.” In Religions of Tibet in Practice, edited by Donald S.
Lopez, Jr., pp. 266–270. Princeton, 1997.
of the world, but Manu Vaivasvata was rescued when a giant
horned fish appeared in the midst of the waters and bade him
Yu, Chun-fang. Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalo-
tie himself to its great horn. Bearing the seeds of creation for
kitesvara. New York, 2001.
all living species (which the fish had instructed him to col-
lect), the parent of the human race was prevented from
Revised Bibliography
Vis:n:u appeared in the form of an immense boar when
AVATA¯RA. The idea of an avata¯ra, a form taken by a
the demon Hiran:ya¯ks:a took possession of the goddess
deity, is central in Hindu mythology, religion, and philoso-
Pr:thiv¯ı (Earth) and carried her away beneath the cosmic wa-
phy. Literally the term means “a descent” and suggests the
ters. Diving into the waters, Vis:n:u battled and defeated
idea of a deity coming down from heaven to earth. The literal
Hiran:ya¯ks:a. Then he placed Pr:thiv¯ı on his tusk and lifted
meaning also implies a certain diminution of the deity when
her above the waters. In both the fish and boar forms Vis:n:u
he or she assumes the form of an avata¯ra. Avata¯ras usually
involves himself dramatically in the cosmic process. He does
are understood to be only partial manifestations of the deity
so in order to preserve an element of order and life in the
who assumes them.
midst of overwhelming chaos represented by a limitless ex-
panse of water.
The avata¯ra idea in Hinduism is associated primarily
with the god Vis:n:u. One of the earliest references to the idea
Vis:n:u assumed the form of a tortoise when the gods and
is found in the Bhagavadg¯ıta¯ (c. 200 BCE), where we find a
demons combined their efforts to churn the ocean of milk
concise statement concerning Vis:n:u’s primary intention in
in order to extract from it the nectar of immortality. Having
assuming different forms:
acquired Mount Meru, the cosmic axis, as a churning stick
Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness in-
and Va¯suki, the cosmic serpent, as a churning rope, the gods
creases I send myself forth.
and demons despaired because they were unable to find a se-
In order to protect the good and punish the wicked,
cure base upon which to set the mighty churning stick. At
In order to make a firm foundation for righteousness,
that point, Vis:n:u assumed the form of a gigantic tortoise on
I come into being age after age. (4.7–8)
whose broad back the gods and demons were able to set the
Theologically an avata¯ra is a specialized form assumed by
churning stick and thus proceed with their task. In this form
Vis:n:u for the purpose of maintaining or restoring cosmic
Vis:n:u assumes the role of cosmic foundation, that upon
order. The form is suited to particular circumstances, which
which all things securely rest and without which the world
vary greatly, and therefore the different avata¯ras that Vis:n:u
would lack stability.
assumes also vary greatly. All the avata¯ras, however, perform
Vis:n:u appeared as a man-lion to uphold the devotion
positive functions vis-à-vis the cosmic order and illustrate
and righteousness of Prahla¯da, who was being persecuted by
Vis:n:u’s nature as a deity who is attentive to worldly stability.
his father, Hiran:yaka´sipu, a demon who was oppressing the
Historically the different avata¯ras of Vis:n:u often appear
world and who violently opposed his son’s devotion to
to represent regional, sectarian, or tribal deities who have
Vis:n:u. Because of a special boon that Hiranyakasipu had re-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

ceived, namely, that he would be invulnerable to man and
The avata¯ra idea also came to be applied to other Hindu
beast, Vis:n:u assumed the form of the man-lion, which was
deities. S´iva and Durga, for example, are said in some later
neither man nor beast, and defeated him.
scriptures to assume appropriate forms in order to preserve
Vis:n:u assumed the form of a dwarf in order to restore
the world or to bless their devotees. Especially in devotional
the world to the gods. The world had been taken over by
contexts, avata¯ras no longer function primarily to restore
Bali, a powerful yet virtuous member of the ordinarily un-
cosmic order. Rather, their raison d’être is to bless devotees
righteous race of the asuras. Appearing as a dwarf, Vis:n:u
with the presence of the divine, to rescue devotees from peril,
asked Bali for a favor, which Bali piously granted. Vis:n:u
or to reward them for heroic devotion or service.
asked for the territory he could encompass in three strides,
SEE ALSO Kr:s:n:a; Ra¯ma; Vis:n:u.
and Bali gladly agreed. Then Vis:n:u assumed his cosmic form
and traversed the entire universe. He thereby restored the
cosmos to the gods.
A convenient summary of the principal Sanskrit texts in which the
avata¯ra myths are told is found in Classical Hindu Mythology:
As Para´su Ra¯ma (Ra¯ma the Ax Wielder) Vis:n:u chas-
A Reader in the Sanskrit Pura¯n:as, edited and translated by
tened the ks:atriyas, the warrior class, for the haughty, pre-
Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen (Philadelphia,
sumptuous, and overbearing attitudes with which they had
1978), pp. 59–146. An abbreviated account of the avata¯ra
oppressed the brahmans. In several bloody campaigns,
myths may be found in John Dowson’s A Classical Dictionary
Para´su Ra¯ma humbled the ks:atriyas and asserted the priority
of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History, and Lit-
of the brahmans in the social and theological systems.
erature (London, 1878), pp. 33–38. Jan Gonda’s Aspects of
Early Vis
:n:uism (Utrecht, 1954) discusses some of the
As Ra¯ma, the hero of the Ra¯ma¯yana (one of the two
avata¯ras in historical context and shows how the develop-
great Indian epics), Vis:n:u defeated the demon Ra¯van:a, who
ment of the avata¯ra theology developed in the Hindu tra-
had brought the world under his sway. After a long exile and
a heroic battle Ra¯ma defeated Ra¯van:a and became ruler of
New Sources
India. He then instituted a reign of virtue, order, and pros-
Gupta, Shakti M. Vishnu and His Incarnations. Bombay, 1993.
perity that has come to assume in the Hindu tradition the
Krishna, Nanditha. The Book of Vishnu. New Delhi; New York,
place of a golden age. In this avata¯ra Vis:n:u descended to the
world to set forth a model of ideal kingship that might serve
Miranda, Prashant. Avatar and Incarnation: A Comparative Analy-
as an inspiration for all rulers at all times.
sis, from Dr. S. Radhakrishnan’s Viewpoint. New Delhi, 1990.
As Kr:s:n:a, Vis:n:u descended to the world in order to de-
Parrinder, Edward Geoffrey. Avatar and Incarnation: The Divine
feat the demon Kam:sa, who was oppressing the earth with
in Human Form in the World’s Religions. Oxford; Rockford,
his wickedness, and to ensure the victory of the Pandava
Mass., 1997.
brothers in their war against their cousins, the Kauravas. The
story of this battle is related in the other great Hindu epic,
Revised Bibliography
the Maha¯bha¯rata.
As the Buddha, Vis:n:u acted to delude those who already
deserved punishment for their bad deeds. Deceived by the
Buddha’s false teachings, these individuals renounced the
Vedas and traditional Hinduism, thus earning punishment
in hell or in inferior births. In a number of later texts, Vis:n:u’s
Buddha avata¯ra is interpreted positively. He is said to have
assumed this form in order to teach nonviolence and gentle-
AVESTA. Only a small part of the Avesta (MPers.,
ness to the world.
Abasta¯g; the name probably means “the Injunction [of
Kalki is the form that Vis:n:u will assume at the end of
Zarathushtra]”), the collection of sacred books of Zoroastri-
this cosmic age. As Kalki he will appear in human form rid-
anism, has come down to us: about three-quarters of the
ing a white horse; he will bring the world to an end, reward
original texts, whose codification dates to the Sasanid period
the virtuous, and punish the wicked.
(third to seventh centuries CE), have been lost. The oldest ex-
So popular did the avata¯ras Ra¯ma and Kr:s:n:a become
tant manuscript is from the thirteenth century.
in medieval Hindu devotion that they assumed for their re-
The oral tradition that has permitted the transmission
spective devotees the position of supreme deity. For Kr:s:n:a
of the texts is therefore very long, especially since significant
devotees, Kr:s:n:a is the highest expression of the divine and
portions of the Avesta go as far back as the first years of the
as such is understood not as an avata¯ra himself but rather
first millennium BCE. This fact, together with the problems
as the source of all avata¯ras. In this context, Vis:n:u is under-
connected with the writing system employed (derived from
stood to be a lesser manifestation of Kr:s:n:a. Similarly, devo-
the Pahlavi alphabet, of Aramaic origin) and with the manu-
tees of Ra¯ma regard him as the highest expression of the
script tradition, means that the study of the Avesta is philo-
logically among the most difficult and complex.
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

The selection of texts that has survived—first published
star Sirius (8); to Mithra (10); to the fravashis (13); to
by their discoverer, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil du Perron,
Verethraghna (14); to Va¯yu (15); and to Khvarenah (19).
in 1771—was apparently primarily determined by liturgical
The Vendidad (v¯ı-da¯evo-da¯ta, “the law abjuring
interests. For the most part, these are the texts that were used
daivas”), the only section that may be an addition to the text,
for religious services during the period in which the manu-
contains, along with mythological parts like the second chap-
script tradition arose, and they are accompanied by Pahlavi
ter dedicated to Yima, the king of the golden age, a detailed
versions. It should be remembered that their language
body of rules for achieving purity. The Hadho¯kht Nask and
(which, being impossible to locate geographically within the
the Aogemada¯echa¯ are texts dealing with events after death
Iranian world beyond a general characterization as eastern
and funeral rites. The other parts are primarily invocations
Iranian, is simply called Avestan) was no longer understood.
and prayers for the various forms, articulations, and require-
Pahlavi versions were, consequently, necessary for an under-
ments of worship services.
standing of the text, which was thus strongly influenced by
a relatively late exegetical tradition (in any case, not earlier
than the Sasanid period). The compilation must have had to
Editions and Translations of the Avesta or of Its Sections
meet the requirements of the new Zoroastrian state church
Bartholomae, C. Die Gathas des Avesta: Zarathustra’s Verspredig-
to provide—as did the contemporary and rival religions
ten. Strassburg, 1905. Translated by J. H. Moulton in Early
Christianity, Judaism, and Manichaeism—scriptures that
Zoroastrianism (1913; reprint, London, 1972),
would promote the establishment of a solid and rigid ortho-
pp. 343–390.
doxy. Indeed, the process of selection of the scriptures is
Darmesteter, James. The Zend-Avesta, pt. 2, The Sirozahs, Yashts
mentioned explicitly in the Pahlavi literature.
and Nyayesh. Sacred Books of the East, vol. 23. Oxford,
1883; reprint, Delhi, 1965.
The surviving texts are highly varied, both in content
and in language. Several parts of the Yasna are written in a
Darmesteter, James. The Zend-Avesta, pt. 1, The Vend¯ıda¯d. 2d ed.
Sacred Books of the East, vol. 4. Oxford, 1895; reprint,
dialect known as Gathic: the Ga¯tha¯s, the five compositions
Delhi, 1965.
in verse attributed to Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) himself,
which constitute chapters 28–34, 43–46, 47–50, 51, and 53;
Duchesne-Guillemin, Jacques. Zoroastre: Étude critique avec une
traduction commentée des Gâthâ. Paris, 1948. Translated by
the Yasna Haptanha¯iti, or Yasna of the Seven Chapters (35–
Maria Henning as The Hymns of Zarathushtra (London,
41); the three fundamental prayers of Zoroastrianism, Yenhe¯
Ha¯tam, Ashem Vohu, and Yatha Ahu¯ Vairyo¯ (chap. 27); and
Humbach, Helmut. Die Gathas des Zarathustra. 2 vols. Heidel-
the prayer Airyema Ishyo¯ (chap. 55). The other parts of the
berg, 1959.
Avesta are written in a linguistically later Avestan, more or
Humbach, Helmut. The Ga¯tha¯s and the Other Old Avestan Texts.
less archaic and also more or less correct. They include the
2 vols. Wiesbaden, 1991.
rest of the Yasna and the Nya¯yishn, the Ga¯h, the Yashts,
S¯ıro¯za, A¯fr¯ınaga¯n, Vendidad, N¯ırangista¯n, Hadho¯kht Nask,

Insler, Stanley. The Gathas of Zarathushtra. Acta Iranica, 3d ser.,
vol. 1. Leiden, 1975.
Kellens, Jean, and Eric Pirart. Les textes vieil-avestiques. 3 vols.
The Yasna is the most important section, and not just
Wiesbaden, 1988–1991.
because the Ga¯tha¯s are inserted in it: these are the seventy-
Lommel, Herman. Die Yäˇst’s des Awesta. Göttingen, 1927.
two chapters recited by the priest during the ceremony of the
Lommel, Herman. Die Gathas des Zarathustra. Edited by Bern-
same name (Yasna, “sacrifice”). Among these is found the
fried Schlerath. Basel, 1971.
Ho¯m Yasht, the hymn to Haoma (chap. 9–11); the Fravara¯n¯e
Mills, L. H. The Zend-Avesta, pt. 3, The Yasna, Visparad, Afrina-
(“I profess”), a confession of faith (chap. 12); and the so-
gan, Gahs and Miscellaneous Fragments. Sacred Books of the
called Baga¯n Yasht, a commentary on the three fundamental
East, vol. 31. Oxford, 1887; reprint, Delhi, 1965.
prayers (chaps. 19–21). But without doubt the most impor-
Smith, Maria W. Studies in the Syntax of the Gathas of
tant part of the Yasna, and the most beautiful part of the
Zarathushtra, Together with Text, Translation and Notes.
whole Avesta, is the Ga¯tha¯s (“songs”) of Zarathushtra. Diffi-
Philadelphia, 1929; reprint, Millwood, N.Y., 1966.
culties of interpretation do not diminish their value: they are
Taraporevala, Irach J. S. The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra. Bom-
the primary source for a knowledge of the doctrines of the
bay, 1951.
prophet. In their literary genre, they are close to the Vedic
hymns and testify to the presence in Iran, as elsewhere, of
Editions and Translations of the Pahlavi Version
Anklesaria, Behramgore Tahmuras, trans. Pahlavi Vendida¯d. Ed-
a tradition of Indo-European sacred poetry.
ited by Dinshah D. Kapadia. Bombay, 1949.
Among the other sections, the Yashts (hymns to various
Dhabhar, Bamanji Nasarvanji, ed. Zand-i Khu¯rtak Avista¯k. Bom-
divinities) deserve special mention. Several of these hymns
bay, 1927.
or prayers are particularly significant in the history of reli-
Dhabhar, Bamanji Nasarvanji, ed. Pahlavi Yasna and Vispered.
gions, as they are the most direct evidence of the new faith’s
Bombay, 1949.
adaptation of the older religious tradition. Especially note-
Jamasp, Hoshang, ed. Vendidâd. Bombay, 1907. Avestan text
worthy are those dedicated to Ana¯hita¯ (5); to Tishtrya, the
with Pahlavi translation, commentary, and glossary.
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Kanga, Ervad Maneck F., ed. Pahlavi Version of Yaˇsts. Bombay,
purus:a, misidentify themselves with vr:ttis, or the wavering
flux of forms and properties of materiality, through a convo-
Studies of the Transmission, Transliteration, and Oral
luted mix of three ontological aspects (gun:as): the lightness
(sattva), motion (rajas), and denseness (tamas) of matter.
Altheim, Franz. Awestische Textgeschichte. Halle, 1949.
Thus arise certain incongruent life-worlds (self, other, and
Bailey, H. W. Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-Century Books
spheres) with their related domains of being, causality, time-
(1943). Reprint, Oxford, 1971.
space, motion, mind, askesis, passions, and ends. Avidya¯,
Henning, W. B. “The Disintegration of the Avestic Studies.”
then, is the epistemic foreclosure of access to true conscious-
Transactions of the Philological Society (1942): 40–56.
ness. Yoga attempts to erase this subreptitious affliction
Morgenstierne, G. “Orthography and Sound System in the Aves-
through rigorous ascetic, contemplative, and meditative
ta.” Norsk tidsskrift for sprogvidenskap 12 (1942): 38–82.
praxis, freeing purus:a from avidya¯’s ontological concealment;
set free, the spirit shines in its own effulgence.
Widengren, Geo. “The Problem of the Sassanid Avesta.” In Holy
Book and Holy Tradition, pp. 36–53. Manchester, 1968.
Veda¯nta, on the other hand, proffers a more stringent
General Studies
metaphysical account derived from its fundamental presup-
Christensen, Arthur. Études sur le zoroastrisme de la Perse antique.
position that brahman, the unitary principle underwriting
Copenhagen, 1928.
the universe, is without any trace of distinction and differen-
Gershevitch, Ilya. “Old Iranian Literature.” In Iranistik-Literatur.
tiation. The challenge is then to account for the heteroge-
Leiden, 1968.
neous recognition of differences among selves and entities.
Hoffmann, Karl. “Das Avesta in der Persis.” In Prolegomena to the
At the cosmic level the explanation is given in terms of ma¯ya¯
Sources on the History of Pre-Islamic Central Asia, edited by
(illusion-making); at the phenomenal level it turns on the
J. Harmatta, pp. 89–93. Budapest, 1979.
facticity of conscious experiences. A¯tman (the innermost es-
Hoffmann, Karl, and Johanna Narten. Der sasanidische Arche-
sence of the individual) is one with brahman, and is in its
typus. Wiesbaden, 1989.
essence pure, impersonal consciousness. But our everyday ex-
Kellens, Jean. Zoroastre et l’Avesta ancien. Paris, 1991.
periences in waking, sleep, dream, and deep-sleep states belie
this fact. This can be explained by the assertion that pure
Kellens, Jean. Essays on Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism. Translated
consciousness remains veiled by various adjuncts (upa¯dhis)
and edited by Prods Oktor Skjærvo⁄. Costa Mesa, Calif.,
and conditionings. For S´an˙kara (788–820 CE), a philosopher
of the Hindu (advaita or non-dualist school) the process itself
Meillet, Antoine. Trois conférences sur les Gâthâ de l’Avesta. Paris,
is more formal (efficient, nimitta) than it is material (as in
Sa¯m:khya-Yoga); it is the function of adhya¯sa (superimposi-
Schlerath, Bernfried. Avesta-Wörterbuch. 2 vols. Wiesbaden, 1968.
tion or transference). The “subject,” revealed as the content
Schmidt, Rüdiger, comp. Indogermanische Dichtersprache. Darm-
of the “I-notion” (asmatpratyayagocara), and the “object,” re-
stadt, 1968.
vealed as the content of “you” (yus:mat-) or “that,” are as radi-
Stausbert, Michael. Die Religion Zarathustras. Geschichte-Gegen-
cally opposed to each other in nature as darkness is to light,
wart-Rituale, vol. 1. Stuttgart, 2002.
so that neither they nor their attributes can ever be identified
Wesendonk, O. G. von. Die religionsgeschichtliche Bedeutung des
with or transformed into each other.
Yasna Haptanha¯ti. Bonn, 1931.
In regular veridical cognition (jña¯na), perceptual error
occurs when the mind, in confusion, projects a residual
Translated from Italian by Roger DeGaris
memory of, say, silver, onto an oblique object, such as a sea-
shell, and thinks it to be mother-of-pearl. This epistemic de-
ception and aligned ignorance (ajña¯na) about the other are
analogically extended to the metaphysical context to account
for the more pervasive and fundamental illusion inherent in
our existential condition. Hence, owing to the superimposi-
tion of spurious concepts upon pure consciousness, the “I-
AVIDYA¯. Avidya¯ is the conceptual starting point of classi-
awareness” tends toward differentiation and identifies itself
cal Indian thinking about the nature of existence. The San-
with “nonconscious entities”; thus: “I am a princess”; “I
skrit term connotes “ignorance,” “false understanding,” or
adorn jeweled mangalsutras”; “I wear a hat.” S´an˙kara frames
“nescience.” There are, broadly, two schools of thought on
this contradiction in terms of the “real” and “unreal,” respec-
its nature: Sa¯m:khya-Yoga and Veda¯nta. Sa¯m:khya locates
tively. The phenomenological result of this projective trans-
avidya¯’s genesis in the proximate association of purus:a (spirit)
ference afflicts all empirical experiences and is described as
with prakr:ti (nature), which results in a sequential evolution
avidya¯. The Vedanta philosopher and theologian Ra¯ma¯nuja
of qualities and substances, from intelligence, embodiment,
(1017–1137) synthesizes S´an˙kara’s clinical purism with
and senses to elemental traces of matter. The ensuing multi-
Sa¯m:khya monadology and Yoga’s pragmatism. He makes a
plicity of “I”-consciousnesses, forgetting the true identity of
distinction between substantive consciousness (dharm-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

¯ıbhu¯tijña¯na) and qualia-consciousness (dharmabhu¯ta-
the palm branch), H:ibbur harshaDot (A manual on the laws
jña¯na). The false predication of the latter on the former is
of agency), and Perush yadayim, is the Ba Ealei ha-nefesh, a
removed through love, devotion, and surrender (with a
careful presentation of the laws of uncleanness and purity.
touch of alchemy); the individual attains higher stages of self-
The last chapter of his Sha Ear ha-qedushah (Gate of holiness)
realization, and ultimately union in Vis:n:u as ma¯ya¯-embodied
is an ethical-homiletical disquisition that formulates and an-
alyzes the moral norms and religious attitudes that enable
Later Veda¯nta scholastics pondered the ontological sta-
one to achieve self-control in sexual matters and attain purity
tus of avidya¯: on the one hand, if it were “real” then it would
of heart and action.
compete with the primeval Word (S´abdabrahman), which is
Avraham ben David is referred to as the ba Eal hassagot
prior even to manifest consciousness, thereby compromising
(“author of the glosses”) because of the critical scholia and
a¯tman/brahman’s singular uniqueness; on the other hand, if
animadversions that he composed toward the end of his life
it were “unreal” it would lack any efficiency and would stand
on the Halakhot of Yitsh:aq ben YaEaqov Alfasi, the Sefer ha-
to be conceptually sublated. This dilemma was resolved by
ma Dor of Zerah:yah ha-Levi, and especially the Mishneh Torah
the argument that a higher, second-order witness-
of Maimonides. These glosses combine criticism and com-
consciousness (´saks:in-dharm¯ıbhu¯ta-cit) persists in and
mentary; they are not exclusively polemical, and their polem-
through all levels of experience, unblemished by avidya¯.
ical emphasis varies in intensity and acuity. Hassagot, a wide-
Hence, avidya¯ is described as anirvacan¯ıya, the inexplicable
ranging form of writing based on a firm premise and finely
remainder of that which is “neither real nor unreal.” Avidya¯
honed polemical skill, are refined by Avraham ben David
then becomes a sui generis ontological category, like that of
and his Provençal contemporaries into an expressive genre
the “Sublime,” as the unexceptional precondition for all phe-
of pointed, precise, and persuasive critique. This genre
nomenal experience.
played an important role in the preservation of the spirit
of criticism and intellectual freedom so central to rabbinic
SEE ALSO Ma¯ya¯; Prakr:ti; Ra¯ma¯nuja; S´an˙kara; Veda¯nta.
Beyond his literary creations, Avraham ben David con-
Arapura, J. G. “Ma¯ya¯ and the Discourse about Brahman.” In The
tributed significantly to the development of a critical-
Problem of Two Truths in Buddhism and Veda¯nta, edited by
conceptual approach to Talmudic literature that sought to
Mervyn Sprung, pp. 109–121. Dordrecht, Netherlands,
define with rigor and precision complex concepts discussed
fragmentarily in numerous, unrelated sections of the Tal-
Ra¯ma¯nuja. S´r¯ıbha¯s:ya. Translated by M. Rangacharya et al. Delhi,
mud. Many of his interpretations and innovations were en-
dorsed and transmitted by subsequent generations of Tal-
Rao, Srinivasa. Perceptual Error: The Indian Theories. Honolulu,
mudists and incorporated into standard works of Jewish law.
During the lifetime of Avraham ben David the centers
S´an˙kara. Brahmasu¯trabha¯s:ya, vol. 1. Rev. ed. Madras, India, 1981.
of rabbinic learning in southern France provided a home for
Sarasvati, Madhusu¯dana. Advaitasiddhi. Edited by D. Srinivasa-
the transplanted philosophic-scientific-ethical literature of
char and G. Venkatanaraimha Sastri. Mysore, 1933.
Spanish Jews. At this time, an undercurrent of mystical spec-
ulation began to emerge that was to find its expression in me-
dieval qabbalistic literature. Avraham ben David was in-
volved in both these developments. He encouraged and
benefited from this newly translated philosophical literature,
and his own writing reflects some traces of philosophy and
(c. 1125–1198), known by the acronym RaDABaD (Rabbi
philology in the use of terms, phrases, and concepts from this
Avraham ben David). Avraham ben David is best known for
new literary phenomenon. He is described by later qabbalists
his original and versatile contributions to the literature of
(e.g., Yitsh:aq of Acre, Shem T:ov ben GaDon, and Menah:em
halakhah. He composed commentaries on various types of
Recanati, and others from the school of Moses Nahmanides
Talmudic literature: on the Mishnah (e.g., EEduyyot and
and Shelomoh ben Avraham Adret) as one of the fathers of
Qinnim); on the Talmud (e.g., EAvodah Zarah and BavaD
qabbalistic literature. This is supported by references in the
Qamma D); and on halakhic midrashim (e.g., SifraD). Further
writings of RaDabad’s son, Yitsh:aq the Blind, and Yitsh:aq’s
works include responsa (Heb., teshuvot, decisions concerning
nephew, Asher. They depicted him as a mystic who was wor-
the interpretation of application of the law), which reveal his
thy of receiving special revelations and who actually did re-
character and method; homiletic discourses (e.g., Derashah
ceive them. In the absence of explicitly qabbalistic statements
le-Ro Dsh ha-Shanah); codes of rabbinic law; and critical anno-
in Avraham ben David’s own works, our knowledge of his
tations or glosses (hassagot) on standard works of rabbinic
use of doctrines and symbolism of Qabbalah depends on pas-
sages quoted by others in his name. These deal with mystical
The most important and influential of Avraham ben
meditations during prayer (kavvanot) and the doctrine of the
David’s codes, which include Hilkhot lulav (Laws concerning
ten sefirot, and they reveal an acquaintance with early
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Heikhalot terminology and its fusion with contemporary
firmed the existence of the Russian church schism, which was
philosophic vocabulary.
to have a decisive influence on the ordering of Russian soci-
ety over the centuries to come. Avvakum was sent to the arc-
tic outpost of Pustozersk from which he and his companions
Abramson, Sheraga. “Sifrei halakhot shel ha-RaDabad.” Tarbiz 36
issued tracts and letters. More important than these was Av-
(December 1966): 158–179.
vakum’s apologetic autobiography composed in 1672 to
Gross, H. “R. Abraham b. David aus Posquières.” Monatsschrift
1673. It is a masterpiece of Russian literature and one of Eu-
für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums 22 (1873):
rope’s great confessional texts.
337–344, 398–407, 446–459; 23 (1874): 19–29, 76–85,
The accession of a new patriarch of Moscow (Joachim)
164–182, 275–276.
was probably a decisive factor in taking the state’s campaign
Twersky, Isadore. Rabad of Posquières: A Twelfth-Century Talmud-
against the Old Believers a stage further, and Avvakum, to-
ist. Rev. ed. Philadelphia, 1980. Includes a complete bibliog-
gether with his three companions, was sent to the stake in
April 1682. Avvakum had persuasively presented himself as
New Sources
confessor and prophet in defense of the sacred Orthodox her-
Mutius, Hans-Georg von. “Eine nichtmasoretische Vokalisierung
itage delivered to Moscow, the “third Rome,” and he is re-
im masoretischen Konsonantentext von Jeremia 9,18 bei
membered as a martyr of the old faith.
Abraham Ben David von Posquières (12. Jrh.).” Biblische
100 (1999): 22–26.
Soloveitchik, Haym. “History of Halakhah—Methodological Is-
Avvakum’s autobiography has been reedited from the manuscript
sues: A Review Essay of I. Twersky’s ‘Rabad of Posquières’
by Andrei N. Robinson, Zhizneopisaniia Avvakuma i Epi-
[1962, rev. ed. 1980].” Jewish History 5 (1991): 75–124.
faniia (Moscow, 1963). The most scholarly edition and
Trigano, Shmuel L. “Intention d’amour—les Maîtres de l’âme, de
translation of the text in a Western European language is by
Rabbi Abraham ben David: un guide matrimonial en Lan-
Pierre Pascal, La vie de l’archiprêtre Avvakum écrite par lui-
guedoc au XIIe siècle.” Pardes 1 (1985): 149–172.
même, 2d ed. (Paris, 1960). Even so, Robinson utters words
of caution about the redaction on which the translation is
Revised Bibliography
based. It was also Pascal who provided a magnificent treat-
ment of Avvakum and his times in Avvakum et les débuts du
: La crise religieuse au dix-septième siècle en Russie, 2d
ed. (Paris, 1963).
AVVAKUM (1620/1–1682), Russian Orthodox arch-
priest; founding father of the Old Believers; martyr. Av-
vakum was ordained to the priesthood at the age of twenty-
two, serving in the area of Nizhni Novgorod; eight years later
he was promoted to be archpriest. By then he had amply
AXIS MUNDI, the “hub” or “axis” of the universe, is
demonstrated his zeal as a reformer. Following in the wake
a technical term used in the study of the history of religions.
of the Muscovite “God-seekers,” an influential group of
It comprises at least three levels of reference: the images
scholarly zealots, he sought to revive liturgical life and public
themselves, their function and meaning, and the experiences
morality. The resentment which this provoked led to his dis-
associated with them.
placement and his first visit to Moscow (1652). There he was
Vivid images of the axis of the universe vary widely,
welcomed by the leading God-seekers and introduced to the
since they depend on the particular worldview entertained
by a specific culture. Foremost among the images designated
The election of Nikon as patriarch of Moscow later that
by the term axis mundi is the cosmic mountain, a sacred
year promised to confirm and revitalize the God-seekers’ re-
place deemed to be the highest point of the universe and per-
forms. However, Nikon proceeded arbitrarily to reform li-
haps identified with the center of the world and the place
turgical phraseology and practice, particularly concerning
where creation first began. Well-known examples of the cos-
the sign of the cross. Avvakum vociferously objected to these
mic mountain are Mount Meru of South Asian cosmology,
reforms, which he saw as a challenge to the true faith. For
Haraberazaiti of Iranian tradition, and Himinbjörg of Scan-
if even minor rituals were to change, the whole edifice of re-
dinavian mythology.
lated doctrine would be undermined. He was arrested and
The cosmic tree, at whose top abides the celestial divini-
exiled to Siberia (1653). After many tribulations he was per-
ty, is another frequent image standing for the axis of the
mitted to return to Moscow (1664), but his insistence on the
world. The roots of such a tree may sink into the under-
validity and importance of the pre-Nikonian liturgical norms
worlds, while its branches traverse the multiple world planes.
led to renewed exile.
At the center of the classical Maya vision of the world stood
Avvakum and his companions were brought back to
Yaxche, the “first tree,” the “green tree,” whose place marked
Moscow and anathematized at a church council of 1666–
the center of all meaningful directions and colors of the uni-
1667; he in turn anathematized the council. Thus was con-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

A cosmic pillar may also serve as an axis mundi. Such
SEE ALSO Architecture; Mountains; Trees.
is the case with the Delaware (Lenape) Indians and other
Eastern Woodland peoples of North America. The center
post of their ceremonial cult house supports the sky and pass-
For a wide-ranging discussion of the general concept of axis
es into the very hand of the celestial deity. The Milky Way
mundi, see Mircea Eliade’s Patterns in Comparative Religion
is often viewed as another form of cosmic pillar that supports
(New York, 1958), pp. 367–387, which concern the “center
the heavens and connects them with earth.
of the world,” and pp. 265–303, which treat the question of
the axis mundi manifest as cosmic tree. See also Eliade’s The
Many other images fall under the designation axis
Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York,
mundi because they share in the symbolic meaning represent-
1959), pp. 20–67, and Images and Symbols: Studies in Reli-
ed by a cosmic mountain, tree, or pillar that joins heaven,
gious Symbolism (New York, 1961), pp. 27–56, which pro-
earth, and underworld. This category includes cities, espe-
vide bibliographies tracing the history of this concept in
cially imperial capitals deemed “heavenly” sites by virtue of
scholarly study of religion.
proximity to the divine realm; palaces or temples that contin-
For contemporary studies representing investigations of specific
ue the imagery of the cosmic mountain (e.g., the Babylonian
aspects of axis mundi, the following may serve as illustrations:
ziggurat); vines or ropes that pass from heaven to earth; and
for the image of mountain, I. W. Mabbett’s “The Symbolism
sacred ladders such as the seven-rung ladder, described by
of Mount Meru,” History of Religions 23 (August 1983): 64–
Origen, that brings the candidate in the cult of Mithra
83; for cosmic tree, Y. T. Hosoi’s “The Sacred Tree in Japa-
through the seven heavens.
nese Prehistory,” History of Religions 16 (November 1976):
95–119; as a city, Werner Müller’s Die heilige Stadt (Stutt-
None of these images has a static function. They are all
gart, 1961) and Paul Wheatley’s The Pivot of the Four Quar-
places of active passage and transition. As places of dynamic
ters: A Preliminary Enquiry into the Origins and Character of
union where beings of quite different natures come together
the Ancient Chinese City (Chicago, 1971), esp. pp. 411–476.
or pass into one another, the images of axis mundi may be
For an examination of the temple as place of union of beings
associated with the coincidence of opposites—that is, the res-
and manifestation of sacred presence, see David Dean Shul-
olution of contradictions by their progress onto a more spiri-
man’s Tamil Temple Myths (Princeton, 1980).
tual plane.
For a consideration of the liturgical function of sacred geography
and spatial images when seen as expressions of being, see
Because the axis mundi serves as the locus where cosmic
Kees W. Bolle’s “Speaking of a Place,” in Myths and Symbols,
regions intersect and where the universe of being is accessible
edited by Joseph M. Kitagawa and Charles H. Long (Chica-
in all its dimensions, the hub of the universe is held to be
go, 1969), pp. 127–140.
a place sacred above all others. It defines reality, for it marks
New Sources
the place where being is most fully manifest. This connection
Feuerstein, Georg, Subhash Kak, and David Frawley. In Search of
of the axis mundi with the full manifestation of being is often
the Cradle of Civilization. Wheaton, Ill., 1995.
expressed as an association with the supreme being to whom
the axis provides access. This axis mundi is often traversed
Michell, John, and Christine Rhone. Twelve-Tribe Nations and the
Science of Enchanting the Landscape. Grand Rapids, Mich.,
and its heights attained in a state of ecstasy brought about
by spiritual techniques. Hence the term axis mundi implies
an intersection of planes through which transcendence to
Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. New York, 1995.
other kinds of being may be achieved.
Revised Bibliography
There is a tendency to replicate the image of the axis
mundi in multiple forms. Such is the case with the cross—the
cosmic tree of Christianity. Re-creating the image of the axis
in the form of village sites, house plans, ritual furnish-
A¯YURVEDA. The traditional Hindu system of medicine
ings, personal ornaments, and even kitchen items tends to
widely practiced in India, A¯yurveda is based on authoritative
identify the universe as a whole with the fullness of being
treatises written in Sanskrit over approximately the past two
characteristic of action at that sacred place. It ensures that
millennia. Three major classical medical systems have flour-
contact with the fullness of reality is everywhere possible. As
ished on the Indian subcontinent: A¯yurveda among Hindus,
a result, the meaning and function of the axis mundi rest not
Yuna¯n¯ı among Muslims, and Siddha among Tamils in
in abstract and geometrical concepts alone but in everyday
South India. Their reliance on elaborate textual traditions
gestures that can effect the same transcendence.
distinguish these three systems from the assorted medical
All these symbols imply a particular quality of experi-
practices offered by astrologers, exorcists, priests, snakebite
ence. The symbols of axis mundi are ambivalent: on the one
specialists, and kindred healers in the context of diverse folk
hand, they connect realms of being but on the other hand
traditions. In general, folk practices are associated with a
they emphasize the distance between such realms. In short,
magico-religious understanding of illness, whereas A¯yurveda
they point to the need for a rupture of planes of existence,
is associated with an understanding of illness that refers to
for experience of an order quite different from that of the or-
the balance of three physiological principles suggestive of, yet
dinary world.
distinct from, the Galenic humors. Such boundaries delimit-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

ing classical and folk traditions are not absolute, however,
injuries, poisons, and supernatural agencies. Some early
and humoral concepts pervade many folk practices just as
Ayurvedic passages employ references to these supernatural
magico-religious considerations have at times played a signif-
agencies as technical terms in order to develop meaningful
icant role in the practice of A¯yurveda.
diagnostic concepts while explicitly denying a supernatural
conceptual frame of reference (see, for example, Caraka
TEXTS. Major traditions evolving in the context of Hindu-
Sam:hita¯ 2.7.19–23). Other passages refer to demonic posses-
ism frequently trace their roots to one of the four Vedic
sion as it is more popularly understood. Specific classes of
Sam:hita¯s, the earliest canonical texts, and A¯yurveda is associ-
demons and deities, generically referred to as bhu¯tas, serve
ated with the Atharvaveda. While all four Vedas demonstrate
as paradigms for a range of character types and categories of
at least a peripheral concern for medical issues, they do so
mental disorder based on the well-known traits of devas,
in the context of a decidedly supernatural worldview. At this
gandharvas, ra¯ks:asas, pi´sa¯cas, and others.
early stage one finds barely a hint of the later humoral physi-
ology among the charms, prayers, and propitiatory rites sug-
Therapy according to Ayurvedic principles is based on
gested for the relief of specified ailments frequently attribut-
the premise that a humoral imbalance must be corrected by
ed to demons.
either pacifying or eliminating the excited humor. This is ac-
complished with preparations of herbs, animal products, and
The tradition of A¯yurveda holds that the medical doc-
heavy metals; decoctions in clarified butter (gh¯ı); dietary ad-
trine was revealed through a series of deities and sages to
justments; or by other means. One type of treatment de-
human physicians who in turn composed the basic texts. Ac-
scribed in the early texts that became especially popular in
cording to the Su´sruta Sam:hita¯, the doctrine passed from
South India is pañcakarma; it involves emesis, purgation,
Indra, chief among the gods, to Dhanvantari, who has come
sternutation, medicinal enema, and phlebotomy. Surgery is
to be regarded as the Hindu god of medicine, and then to
emphasized in the Su´sruta Sam:hita¯. The texts also specify rit-
Su´sruta himself, who composed this treatise. The Caraka
ual offerings, the recitation of sacred formulas (mantras), and
Sam:hita¯s states that the doctrine passed to the sage A¯treya
other ritual procedures.
Punarvasu, who trained a disciple named Agnive´sa, author
of the Agnive´sa Tantra (an Ayurvedic, not a Tantric, text).
theory of tridos:a appears to have remained dominant
When this text subsequently fell into disrepair, it was partial-
throughout the course of development of the Ayurvedic tra-
ly restored first by Caraka and later by Dr:d:habala. Both the
dition. In contrast, perhaps due in part to the growing influ-
Caraka Sam:hita¯, as revised by Caraka, and the Su´sruta
ence of Tantra—the ritualization of otherwise socially unac-
Sam:hita¯ are believed to have been written during the first
ceptable practices—in the culture at large from the middle
three hundred years CE, and the redaction by Dr:d:habala is
of the first millennium
thought to have been made in approximately 500
CE, later Ayurvedic texts pay in-
CE. It is
creased attention to magico-religious concepts and interven-
widely accepted that these texts are based on a medical doc-
tions that resonated with strains not only of Tantric litera-
trine that was followed for at least several centuries before it
ture but of the mystical aspects of Vedic literature as well.
was committed to writing, and some scholars claim that the
The number of classes of supernatural beings (bhu¯tas) associ-
tradition extends back several millennia, although this asser-
ated with insanity steadily grew from eight in Caraka and
tion is disputed by many Indologists. Other major texts in-
Su´sruta to twenty in the thirteenth-century text S´a¯rn˙gadhara
clude the As:t:a¯n˙gahr:daya Sam:hita¯ of Vagbhata from approxi-
Sam:hita¯ (1.7.38–39).
mately 600 CE, Ma¯dhavanida¯na of Ma¯dhava from
approximately 700 CE, and Bhela Sam:hita¯, which may have
To the extent that this conceptual shift from a secular
been contemporaneous with the Agnive´sa Tantra and hence
humoral theory toward a supernatural orientation is manifest
is the oldest surviving text. The most often cited of these
in the later Ayurvedic compositions, it signifies a reaffirma-
treatises are Caraka, Su´sruta, and Va¯gbhat:a, collectively
tion of certain aspects of the distinctly different worldview
known as “the great three” (br:hat tray¯ı).
of the Atharvaveda, with which the mechanistic physiological
theory of tridos:a had made a definite break at an early stage
in the development of A¯yurveda. In the twentieth century,
A¯yurveda, most sickness results from an imbalance of one or
competition with Western-styled cosmopolitan medicine
more of three humors (tridos:a): wind (va¯ta), bile (pitta), and
may have led some advocates of A¯yurveda to ignore magico-
phlegm (kapha). A patient’s illness is determined by the char-
religious aspects persisting in the tradition in favor of the sys-
acter of the particular disease (vya¯dhi), which is dependent
tematic principles of the tridos:a doctrine, and at the same
on both the deranged humor and the body substance (dha¯tu,
time to focus on the issue of clinical efficacy of Ayurvedic
e.g., blood, flesh, fat, bone, etc.) or anatomical part that is
therapies rather than the validity of the underlying humoral
affected. Such factors as dietary imbalance, physical and
theory of other theoretical premises.
emotional stresses, suppression of natural urges, or the effects
of deeds in a previous life (karmavipa¯ka) are said to cause the
Hybrid ideologies that have emerged in the medically
deranged humoral balance in a particular disease or subtype.
pluralistic setting of India presently complicate any analysis
Although this tridos:a theory has been emphasized, a number
of the relationship between A¯yurveda and other therapeutic
of independent external factors are also recognized, including
options, both Western-styled and indigenous, since each sys-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

tem exerts some influence on the evolving conceptualizations
Secondary Sources
of the others. Historically, A¯yurveda has also stood in a com-
The classic survey by Julius Jolly, Medicin (Strassburg, 1901), has
plex relationship with coexisting traditions in its cultural
been translated by C. G. Kashikar as Indian Medicine, 2d ed.
context. However, it may be stated generally that healing is
(Delhi, 1977), and it remains a useful source for access to a
emphasized in A¯yurveda, whereas other Hindu traditions
range of texts on a given topic. The Ayurvedic tradition with
reference to its context in the Vedic literature and its rela-
such as Tantra, Yoga, and Indian alchemy (rasavidya¯), which
tionship to Greek medicine has been analyzed by Jean Fil-
are primarily concerned with spiritual attainments, have
liozat in La doctrine classique de la médecine indienne: Ses ori-
overlapping objectives. Anatomical and physiological princi-
gines et ses parallèles grecs (Paris, 1949), translated by Dev Raj
ples provide a framework in A¯yurveda for understanding
Chanana as The Classical Doctrine of Indian Medicine: Its Or-
sickness and health in the physical body, but in Tantra and
igins and Its Greek Parallels (Delhi, 1964). Asian Medical Sys-
Yoga provide a framework for understanding the mystical
tems: A Comparative Study, edited by Charles Leslie (Berke-
path leading to the attainment of spiritual objectives. Simi-
ley, 1976), contains several noteworthy articles on various
larly, although Indian alchemy was concerned with the use
aspects of the Ayurvedic tradition, including A. L. Bash-am’s
of preparations of mercury, other heavy metals, and herbs to
survey of the social history of medicine during the classical
restore youth and promote health, such motives were sec-
period, “The Practice of Medicine in Ancient and Medieval
ondary to the primary goal of liberation of the spirit.
India,” pp. 18–43, and Charles Leslie’s essay on the modern-
ization of Ayurvedic institutions through the nineteenth and
A number of philosophical concepts are specified in the
twentieth centuries, “Ambiguities of Revivalism in Modern
Ayurvedic texts, referring to ideas more fully developed in
India,” pp. 356–367. Yoga, Tantra, and Indian alchemy are
the orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy, mainly
discussed in contrast to the objectives of “utilitarian medi-
Sa¯m:khya, but also Nya¯ya-Vai´ses:ika and the rest. Social and
cine” in Mircea Eliade’s Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, 2d
ethical issues are also considered. Medical students are in-
ed. (Princeton, 1969). A comprehensive study of Indian
structed to pledge diligence and purity, in accordance with
chemistry and its roots in alchemy, tracing its development
from pre-Harappan times through Vedic, Ayurvedic, and
the traditional values guiding students of the Veda, as they
Tantric epochs, can be found in History of Chemistry in An-
commence training under a guru after a prescribed initiation
cient and Medieval India, edited by Priyadaranjan Ray (Cal-
ceremony. Professional standards for physicians are advocat-
cutta, 1956).
ed not only in medical treatises but in other Sanskrit treatises
as well, especially in the N¯ıti´sa¯stra and Dharma´sa¯stra texts
New Sources
on polity and Hindu law.
Fields, Gregory P. Religious Therapeutics: Body and Health in Yoga,
Ayurveda, and Tantra. Albany, 2001.
SEE ALSO Healing and Medicine, article on Healing and
Kulkarni, P. H. Ayurveda Therapeutics. Delhi, 2001.
Medicine in A¯yurveda and South Asia.
Zysk, Jenneth G. Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India: Medi-
cine in the Buddhist Monastery. New York, 1991.
Primary Sources
Revised Bibliography
Translations of several Ayurvedic classics are available. The Caraka
Sam:hita, 6 vols., prepared by the Shree Gulabkunverba
Ayurvedic Society (Jamnagar, 1949), contains the Sanskrit
text, translations into English, Hindi, and Gujarati, and an
AZTEC RELIGION developed in the capital city of
introductory volume. Caraka-Sam:hita¯: Agnive´sa’s Treatise
Tenochtitlán in the Valley of Mexico between the fourteenth
Refined and Annotated by Caraka and Redacted by Dr:d:habala,
and sixteenth centuries CE. The Aztec religious tradition
2 vols. (Varanasi, 1981–1983), is a critical edition and trans-
combined and transformed a number of ritual, mythic, and
lation prepared by R. K. Sharma to facilitate further study
cosmic elements from the heterogeneous cultural groups
of the text and its commentaries. The Sushruta Samhita,
who inhabited the central plateau of Mesoamerica. Seldom
translated by Kaviraj Kunjalal Bishagratna (Calcutta, 1907–
has a capital city fit the category of “center of the world”
1916) has been reprinted (Varanasi, 1963), but it appears to
more completely than Tenochtitlán: the high plateau of
be based on a Sanskrit text that varies somewhat from current
Mexico is roughly the center of Mesoamerica; the Valley of
printed editions. While only the first five chapters of
Va¯gbhat:a’s As:t:a¯n˙gahr:dayasam:hita¯ have been translated into
Mexico is the heart of that plateau; interconnected lakes
English from the Tibetan version by Claus Vogel (Weisba-
formed the center of the valley; and Tenochtitlán was con-
den, 1965), printed with the Tibetan and Sanskrit text, there
structed near the center of the lakes.
is a complete translation in German by Luise Hilgenberg and
Mexico’s central highlands had been the dominant cul-
Willibald Kirfel: Va¯gbhat:a’s As:t:a¯n˙gahr:dayasam:hita¯: Ein al-
tural region of central Mesoamerica since the beginning of
tindisches Lehrbuch der Heilkunde (Leiden, 1941). The work
by G. J. Meulenbeld, The Ma¯dhavanida¯na and Its Chief
the common era, when the great imperial capital of Teoti-
Commentary: Chapters 1–10 (Leiden, 1974), is the only En-
huacán (“abode of the gods”) had been established thirty
glish translation to provide both an Ayurvedic text and com-
miles north of where Tenochtitlán would later rise. Like Te-
mentary, and it also contains useful appendices. Sanskrit edi-
nochtitlán, Teotihuacán was organized into four great quar-
tions of all the major texts are available.
ters around a massive ceremonial center. Scholars and ar-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

chaeologists have theorized that the four-quartered city was
combination of these sources that the complex character of
a massive spatial symbol for the major cosmological concep-
Aztec religion can be discerned.
tions of Aztec religion. In many respects, the cultural and re-
COSMOGONY AND COSMOLOGY. The general attitude to-
ligious patterns of Teotihuacán laid the groundwork for all
ward the Aztec position in the cosmos is made clear in a poet-
later developments in and around the Valley of Mexico. The
ic fragment about the capital that states:
mythologies of successive cultures—the Toltec and the Aztec
most prominent among them—looked back to Teotihuacán
Proud of Itself Is the city of México-Tenochtitlán Here
no one fears to die in war This is our glory This is your
as their symbolic place of origin and as the source for the le-
Command Oh Giver of Life Have this in mind, oh
gitimacy of their political authority.
princes Who would conquer Tenochtitlán? Who could
Between 1300 and 1521 all roads of central Mesoameri-
shake the foundation of heaven? (Miguel León-Portilla,
ca led into the lake region of the valley from which the mag-
Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico, 1968, p. 87)
nificent capital of the Aztec arose. When the Aztec’s precur-
The image of the capital city as the foundation of heaven,
sors, the Chichimec (“dog lineage”; lit., “dog rope”)
which the Aztec conceived of as a vertical column of thirteen
migrated into the region in the thirteenth century, the valley
layers extending above the earth, points to the cosmological
was held by warring city-states constantly competing for land
conviction underpinning Aztec religion that there existed a
and tribute. This fragmented world was partly the result of
profound correspondence between the sacred forces in the
the twelfth-century collapse of the northern Toltec empire
universe and the social world of the Aztec empire. This corre-
centered at the illustrious capital of Tollan (“place of reeds”).
spondence between the cosmic structure and the political
The Toltec collapse brought waves of Chichimec and Toltec
state was anchored in the capital of Tenochtitlán.
remnants into the Valley of Mexico, where they interacted
In his important summary of religion in pre-Hispanic
with different city-states and religious traditions.
central Mexico, H. B. Nicholson (1971) outlines the “basic
The basic settlement of central Mexico from Teotihua-
cosmological sequential pattern” of the Aztec cosmogony
cán times was the tlatocayotl, or city-state, which consisted
found in the myths and historical accounts associated with
of a capital city surrounded by dependent communities that
the Méxica. A summary view reveals that Aztec life unfolded
worked the agricultural lands, paid tribute, and performed
in a cosmic setting that was dynamic, unstable, and finally
services for the elite classes in the capital according to various
destructive. Even though the cosmic order fluctuated be-
ritual calendars and cosmological patterns. Occasionally one
tween periods of stability and periods of chaos, the emphasis
city-state would grow to large proportions and establish
in many myths and historical accounts is on the destructive
widespread territorial control and integration into some
forces which repeatedly overcame the ages of the universe,
form of tributary empire. Around 1325, a Chichimec group
divine society, and the cities of the past.
who called themselves Méxica settled Tenochtitlán and with-
This dynamic universe appears in the sixteenth-century
in a hundred years had organized a political unit with the
prose accounts Historia de los Mexicanos por sus pinturas and
power to dominate an expanding number of cities and towns
the Leyenda de los soles. In the former, the universe is arranged
in the central valley.
in a rapid, orderly fashion after the dual creative divinity,
One of the major problems in the study of Aztec reli-
Ometeotl, dwelling in Omeyocan (“place of duality”) at the
gion is the fragmentary nature of the pictorial, written, and
thirteenth level of heaven, generates four children, the Red
archaeological sources associated with Tenochtitlán. The
Tezcatlipoca (“smoking mirror”), the Black Tezcatlipoca,
Spanish military conquest of Mexico was accompanied by a
Quetzalcoatl (“plumed serpent”), and Huitzilopochtli
sustained campaign to eliminate Aztec symbols, images, scr-
(“hummingbird on the left”). They all exist without move-
eenfolds, and ceremonial buildings, as well as members of the
ment for six hundred years, whereupon the four children as-
military and priestly elites. Surprisingly, a counter attitude
semble “to arrange what was to be done and to establish the
developed among certain Spanish officials and priests, who
law to be followed.” Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli ar-
collected indigenous documents and organized their repro-
range the universe and create fire, half of the sun (“not fully
duction in order to enhance missionary work and inform
lighted but a little”), the human race, and the calendar.
Spanish officials about native religion and life. The result is
Then, the four brothers create water and its divine beings.
a spectrum of sources including art and architecture; pre-
Following this rapid and full arrangement, the sources
Columbian screenfolds depicting the ritual, divinitory, his-
focus on a series of mythic events that constitute a sacred his-
torical, and genealogical traditions of different cities; post-
tory. Throughout this sacred history, the dynamic instability
Conquest codices sometimes accompanied by Spanish com-
of the Aztec universe is revealed. The universe passes through
mentary; prose sources dependent on indigenous pictorial
four eras, called “Suns.” Each age was presided over by one
and oral traditions; histories written by descendants of Aztec
of the great gods, and each was named for the day (day num-
royalty; Spanish eyewitness accounts; and large histories and
ber and day name) within the calendrical cycle on which the
ritual descriptions by Spanish priests such as Diego Durán,
age began (which is also the name of the force that destroys
Toribio Motolinía, and Bernardino de Sahagún, who vigor-
that Sun). The first four Suns were called, respectively, 4 Jag-
ously researched Aztec religion. It is only through a skillful
uar, 4 Wind, 4 Rain (or 4 Rain of Fire), and 4 Water. The
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

name of the fifth (and last) cosmic age, 4 Movement, au-
(“navel of the earth”), stood Tenochtitlán, from which ex-
gured the earthquakes that would inevitably destroy the
tended the four quadrants called nauchampa, meaning “the
four directions of the wind.” The waters surrounding the in-
habited land were called ilhuicatl, the celestial water that ex-
The creation of this final age, the one in which the Aztec
tended upward to merge with the lowest levels of the thirteen
lived, took place around a divine fire in the darkness on the
heavens. Below the earth were nine levels of the underworld,
mythical plain of Teotihuacán (to be distinguished from the
conceived of as “hazard stations” for the souls of the dead,
actual city of that same name). According to the version of
who, aided by magical charms buried with the bodies, were
this story reported in Fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s Historia
assisted in their quests for eternal peace at the lowest level,
general de las cosas de la Nueva España (compiled 1569–1582;
called Mictlan, the land of the dead.
also known as the Florentine Codex), an assembly of gods
chose two of their group, Nanahuatzin and Tecuciztecatl, to
The Mesoamerican pattern of quadrapartition around
cast themselves into the fire in order to create the new cosmic
a center was a pervasive organizing principle of Aztec reli-
age. Following their self-sacrifice, dawn appears in all direc-
gion. It was used in the Aztec conceptions of temporal order
tions, but the Sun does not rise above the horizon. In confu-
as depicted in the famous Calendar Stone, where the four
sion, different deities face in various directions in expectation
past ages of the universe are arranged in orderly fashion
of the sunrise. Quetzalcoatl faces east and from there the Sun
around the fifth or central age. Recent research has shown
blazes forth but sways from side to side without climbing in
that this same spatial model was used to organize the celestial
the sky. In this cosmic crisis, it is decided that all the gods
order of numerous deity clusters, the architectural design of
must die at the sacrificial hand of Ecatl, who dispatches them
palatial structures, the collection of economic tribute in the
by cutting their throats. Even this massive sacrifice does not
empire, and the ordering of major ceremonial precincts.
move the Sun until the wind god literally blows it into mo-
tion. These combined cosmogonic episodes demonstrate the
THE PANTHEON. One of the most striking characteristics of
fundamental Aztec conviction that the world is unstable and
the surviving screenfolds, which present ritual and divinatory
that it draws its energy from massive sacrifices by the gods.
information, is the incredible array of deities who animated
Large-scale sacrifice became a basic pattern in Aztec religion,
the ancient Mesoamerican world. Likewise, the remaining
a ritual means of imposing or maintaining social and cosmo-
sculpture and the sixteenth-century prose accounts of Aztec
logical order.
Mexico present us with a pantheon so crowded that H. B.
Nicholson’s authoritative study of Aztec religion includes a
With the creation of the Fifth Sun, the focus of the sa-
list of more than sixty distinct and interrelated names. Schol-
cred history shifts from heaven to earth, where agriculture
arly analysis of these many deities suggests that virtually all
is discovered and human sacrifice is established as the proper
aspects of existence were considered inherently sacred and
ritual response to the requirements of the gods. In one ac-
that these deities were expressions of a numinous quality that
count, Quetzalcoatl, as a black ant, travels to Sustenance
permeated the “real” world. Aztec references to numinous
Mountain with a red ant where they acquire maize for
forces, expressed in the Nahuatl word teotl, were always
human beings. Other accounts reveal the divine origins of
translated by the Spanish as “god,” “saint,” or “demon.” But
cotton, sweet potatoes, different types of corn, and the intox-
the Aztec teotl signified a sacred power manifested in natural
icating drink called pulque. In still others, we learn that war-
forms (a rainstorm, a tree, a mountain), in persons of high
fare was established so that human beings could be captured
distinction (a king, an ancestor, a warrior), or in mysterious
and sacrificed to nourish the Sun on its heavenly and noctur-
and chaotic places. What the Spanish translated as “god”
nal journey. Typically, a god like Mixcoatl creates four hun-
really referred to a broad spectrum of hierophanies that ani-
dred human beings to fight among themselves in order for
mated the world. While it does not appear that the Aztec
captives to be sacrificed in ceremonial centers to provide the
pantheon or pattern of hierophanies was organized as a
divine food, blood, for the gods who ensure cosmic life.
whole, it is possible to identify clusters of deities organized
Finally, a number of accounts of the cosmic history cul-
around the major cult themes of cosmogonic creativity, fer-
minate with the establishment of the magnificent kingdom
tility and regeneration, and war and sacrificial nourishment
of Tollan where Quetzalcoatl the god and Topiltzin Quetzal-
of the Sun.
coatl the priest-king organize a ceremonial capital divided
Aztec deities were represented pictorially as anthropo-
into five parts with four pyramids and four sacred mountains
morphic beings. Even in cases where the deity took an ani-
surrounding the central temple. This city, Tollan, serves as
mal form, as in the case of Xolotl, the divine dog, or the form
the heart of an empire. Aztec tradition states that “from
of a ritual object, as in the case of Itztli, the knife god, he
Quetzalcoatl flowed all art and knowledge,” representing the
was disguised with human features like arms, torso, legs, face,
paradigmatic importance of the Toltec kingdom and its reli-
and so on. Aztec deities dwelt in the different levels of the
gious founder.
thirteen-layered celestial sphere or the nine-layered under-
The spatial paradigm of the Aztec cosmos was embodied
world. The general structuring principle for the pantheon,
in the term cemanahuac, meaning the “land surrounded by
derived from the cosmic pattern of a center and four quar-
water.” At the center of this terrestrial space, called tlalxico
ters, resulted in the quadruple or quintuple ordering of gods.
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

For instance in the Codex Borgia’s representation of the
foundation of all things. In some sources he/she appears to
Tlaloques (rain gods), the rain god, Tlaloc, inhabits the cen-
merge with a number of his/her offspring, a sign of his/her
tral region of heaven while four other Tlaloques inhabit the
pervasive power. Ometeotl’s male aspects (Ometecuhtli and
four regions of the sky, each dispensing a different kind of
Tonacatecuhtli) and female aspects (Omecihuatl and Tona-
rain. While deities were invisible to the human eye, the Aztec
cacihuatl) in turn merged with a series of lesser deities associ-
saw them in dreams, visions, and in the “deity imperson-
ated with generative and destructive male and female quali-
ators” (teixiptla) who appeared at the major ceremonies.
ties. The male aspect was associated with fire and the solar
These costumed impersonators, sometimes human, some-
and maize gods. The female aspect merged with earth fertili-
times effigies of stone, wood, or dough, were elaborately dec-
ty goddesses and especially corn goddesses. Ometeotl inhab-
orated with identifying insignia such as conch shells, masks,
ited the thirteenth and highest heaven in the cosmos, which
weapons, jewelry, mantas, feathers, and a myriad of other
was the place from which the souls of infants descended to
be born on earth. Ometeotl was more “being” than “action.”
Most of the creative effort to organize the universe was acom-
As we have seen, Aztec religion was formed by migrating
plished by the divine couple’s four offspring: Tezcatlipoca,
Chichimec who entered the Valley of Mexico and established
Quetzalcoatl, Xiuhtecuhtli, and Tlaloc.
important political and cultural centers there. This process
of migration and urbanization informed and was informed
Tezcatlipoca (“smoking mirror”) was the supreme active
by their concept of deity. An outstanding feature of Aztec
creative force of the pantheon. This powerful, virile numen
religion was the tutelary-patron relations that specific deities
had many appellations and was partially identified with the
had with the particular social groups whom they guided dur-
supreme numinosity of Ometeotl. Tezcatlipoca was also
ing their peregrinations. These patron deities (or abogados,
identified with Itztli, the knife and calendar god, and with
as the Spanish chroniclers called them) were represented in
Tepeyolotl, the jaguar-earth god known as the Heart of the
the tlaquimilolli, or sacred bundles, that the teomamas
Hill, and he was often pictured as the divine antagonist of
(“godbearers,” or shaman-priests) carried on their backs dur-
Quetzalcoatl. On the social level, Tezcatlipoca was the arch-
ing the long journeys. The teomama passed on to the com-
sorcerer whose smoking obsidian mirror revealed the powers
munity the divine commandments communicated to him in
of ultimate transformation associated with darkness, night,
visions and dreams. These sacred specialists were considered
jaguars, and shamanic magic.
hombre-dioses (Span., “man-gods”), whose extraordinary
powers of spiritual transformation, derived from their close-
Another tremendous creative power was Xiuhtecuhtli,
ness with these numinous forces, enabled them to guide,
the ancient fire god, who influenced every level of society and
govern, and organize the tribe during migrations and the set-
cosmology. Xiuhtecuhtli was represented by the perpetual
tlement of new communities. A familiar pattern in the sacred
“fires of existence” that were kept lighted at certain temples
histories of Mesoamerican tribal groups is the erection of a
in the ceremonial center at all times. He was manifested in
shrine to the patron deity as the first act of settlement in a
the drilling of new fires that dedicated new ceremonial build-
new region. This act of founding a settlement around the
ings and ritual stones. Most importantly, Xiuhtecuhtli was
tribal shrine represented the intimate tie between the deity,
the generative force at the New Fire ceremony, also called
the hombre-dios, and the integrity of the people. In reverse
the Binding of the Years, held every fifty-two years on the
fashion, conquest of a community was achieved when the pa-
Hill of the Star outside of Tenochtitlán. At midnight on the
tron deity’s shrine was burned and the tlaquimilolli was car-
day that a fifty-two-year calendar cycle was exhausted, at the
ried off as a captive.
moment when the star cluster we call the Pleiades passed
through the zenith, a heart sacrifice of a war captive took
This pattern of migration, foundation, and conquest as-
place. A new fire was started in the cavity of the victim’s
sociated with the power of a patron diety is clearly exempli-
chest, symbolizing the rebirth of Xiuhtecuhtli. The new fire
fied by the case of Huitzilopochtli, patron of the wandering
was carried to every city, town, and home in the empire, sig-
Méxica. According to Aztec tradition, Huitzilopochtli in-
nalling the regeneration of the universe. On the domestic
spired the Méxica teomama to guide the tribe into the Valley
level, Xiuhtecuhtli inhabited the hearth, structuring the daily
of Mexico, where he appeared to them as an eagle on a cactus
rituals associated with food, nurturance, and thanksgiving.
in the lake. There they constructed a shrine to Huitz-
FERTILITY AND REGENERATION. A pervasive theme in Aztec
ilopochtli and built their city around the shrine. This shrine
religion was fertility and the regeneration of agriculture.
became the Aztec Great Temple, the supreme political and
Aztec society depended on a massive agricultural system of
symbolic center of the Aztec empire. It was destroyed in
chinampas (“floating gardens”) that constituted large sections
1521 by the Spanish, who blew up the temple with cannons
of the city’s geographical space. Also, surrounding city-states
and carried the great image of Huitzilopochtli away. This co-
were required to pay sizable amounts of agricultural goods
lossal image of the Aztec god has never been found.
in tribute to the capital. While many female deities inspired
CREATOR GODS. The Aztec high god, Ometeotl (“lord of
the ritual regeneration of agriculture, the most ancient and
duality”) was the celestial, androgynous, primordial creator
widespread fertility-rain god was Tlaloc, who dwelt on the
of the universe, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent
prominent mountain peaks, where rain clouds were thought
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

to emerge from caves to fertilize the land through rain, rivers,
tive warriors were sacrificed in front of the shrine of Huitz-
pools, and storms. The Aztec held Mount Tlaloc to be the
ilopochtli atop the Templo Mayor. Their bodies tumbled
original source of the waters and of vegetation. Tlaloc’s su-
down the steps to rest at the bottom with the colossal stone
preme importance is reflected in the location of his shrine
figure of Coyolxauhqui, Huitzilopochtli’s dismembered sis-
alongside that of Huitzilopochtli in the Templo Mayor. Sur-
ter, symbolically reenacting the legendary slaughter of the
prisingly, the great majority of buried offerings excavated at
four hundred siblings at Huitzilopochtli’s birth.
the temple were dedicated to Tlaloc rather than Huitz-
Cosmology, pantheon, and ritual sacrifice were united
and came alive in the exuberant and well-ordered ceremonies
Two other major gods intimately associated with Tlaloc
carried out in the more than eighty buildings situated in the
were Chalchiuhtlicue, the goddess of water, and Ehécatl, the
sacred precinct of the capital and in the hundreds of ceremo-
wind god, an aspect of Quetzalcoatl. Ehécatl was known as
nial centers throughout the Aztec world. Guided by detailed
in tlachpancauh in tlaloques (“road sweeper of the rain gods”),
ritual calendars, Aztec ceremonies varied from town to town
meaning that Ehécatl’s forceful presence announced the
but typically involved three stages: days of ritual preparation,
coming of the fertilizing rains. Other prominent fertility dei-
death sacrifice, and nourishing the gods. The days of ritual
ties included Centeotl, goddess of maize; Xilonen, goddess
preparation included fasting; offerings of food, flowers, and
of the young maize; Ometochtli, goddess of maguy; and
paper; use of incense and purification techniques; embower-
Mayahuel, whose four hundred breasts insured an abundant
ing; songs; and processions of deity-impersonators to various
supply of pulque for ritual drinking.
temples in ceremonial precincts.
The most powerful group of female fertility deities were
Following these elaborate preparations, blood sacrifices
the teteoinnan, a rich array of earth-mother goddesses, who
were carried out by priestly orders specially trained to dis-
were representatives of the usually distinct but sometimes
patch the victims swiftly. The victims were usually captive
combined qualities of terror and beauty, regeneration and
warriors or purchased slaves. Though a variety of methods
destruction. These deities were worshiped in cults concerned
of ritual killing were used, including decapitation, burning,
with the abundant powers of the earth, women, and fertility.
hurling from great heights, strangulation, and arrow sacri-
Among the most prominent were Tlazolteotl, Xochiquetzal,
fice, the typical ritual involved the dramatic heart sacrifice
and Coatlicue. Tlazolteotl was concerned with sexual powers
and the placing of the heart in a ceremonial vessel (cuauhx-
and passions and the pardoning of sexual transgressions.
icalli) in order to nourish the gods. Amid the music of
Xochiquetzal was the goddess of love and sexual desire and
drums, conch shell trumpets, rattles, and other musical in-
was pictured as a nubile maiden associated with flowers,
struments, which created an atmosphere of dramatic intensi-
feasting, and pleasure. A ferocious goddess, Coatlicue
ty, blood was smeared on the face of the deity’s image and
(“serpent skirt”) represented the cosmic mountain that con-
the head of the victim was placed on the giant skull rack
ceived all stellar beings and devoured all beings into her re-
(tzompantli) that held thousands of such trophies.
pulsive, lethal, and fascinating form. Her statue is studded
All of these ceremonies were carried out in relation to
with sacrificed hearts, skulls, hands, ferocious claws, and
two ritual calendars, the 365-day calendar or tonalpohualli
giant snake heads.
(“count of day”) consisting of eighteen twenty-day months
A prominent deity who linked agricultural renewal with
plus a five-day intercalary period and the 260-day calendar
warfare was Xipe Totec, whose gladiatorial sacrifice renewed
consisting of thirteen twenty-day months. More than one-
vegetation in the spring and celebrated success on the battle-
third of these ceremonies were dedicated to Tlaloc and earth
field. Part of his ceremony, called the Feast of the Flaying
fertility goddesses. Beside ceremonies relating to the two cal-
of Men, included the flaying of the sacrificial victim and the
endars, a third type of ceremony related to the many life cycle
ceremonial wearing of the skin by the sacred specialist. Xipe
stages of the individual. In some cases, the entire community
Totec’s insignia, including the pointed cap and rattle staff,
was involved in bloodletting.
was the war costume of the Méxica emperor.
Aztec religion, as we have seen, was formed during the
CEREMONY AND SACRIFICE. Another important facet of
rise to empire of a minority population who inherited urban
Aztec religious practice was human sacrifice, usually carried
traditions and sociopolitical conflicts of great prestige and in-
out for the purpose of nourishing or renewing the Sun or
tensity. This remarkable tradition came to an abrupt end
other deity (or to otherwise appease it), thus ensuring the sta-
during the military conquest of Tenochtitlán by the Spanish
bility of the universe. The mythic model for mass human sac-
and the subsequent destruction of ceremonial life. But it is
rifice was the story of the creation of the fifth age, in which
important to note that one of the last images we have of the
the gods themselves were sacrificed in order to empower the
Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlán before it was blown apart by
Sun. Tonatiuh, the personification of that Sun (whose visage
Spanish cannon is the image of Aztec warriors sacrificing
appears in the center of the Calendar Stone), depended on
captive Spanish soldiers in front of the shrine to Huitz-
continued nourishment from human hearts.
Some of the large-scale sacrificial ceremonies re-created
SEE ALSO Coatlicue; Huitzilopochtli; Human Sacrifice;
other sacred stories. For example, women and masses of cap-
Quetzalcoatl; Tezcatlipoca; Tlaloc.
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

ligious significance. Excellent prose accompanied by magnif-
Broda, Johanna. “El tributo en trajes guerreros y la estructura del
icent photographs.
sistema tributario Mexica.” In Economia, política e ideología
Townsend, Richard. State and Cosmos in the Art of Tenochtitlán.
en el México prehispanico, edited by Pedro Carrasco and Jo-
Washington, D.C., 1979. A concise, brilliant interpretation
hanna Broda. Mexico City, 1978. A valuable study of the
of the monumental art of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán
pattern and structure of tributary payments to Tenochtitlán
in the light of a good understanding of religious realities.
during the height of its dominance.
Brundage, Burr C. The Fifth Sun: Aztec Gods, Aztec World. Austin,
New Sources
Tex., 1979. The best English-language monograph introduc-
Almere Read, Kay. Time and Sacrifice in the Aztec Cosmos. Bloom-
tion to Aztec religion; provides an insightful understanding
ington, Ind., 1998.
of the Aztec pantheon and human sacrifice.
Anaya, Rudolfo A., and Francisco A. Lomelí, eds. Aztlán: Essays
Carrasco, David. Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire; Myths and
on the Chicano Homeland. Albuquerque, 1989.
Prophecies in Aztec Tradition. Chicago, 1982. Utilizing the
history of religions approach, the author focuses on the
Bierhorst, John. History and Mythology of the Aztecs: The Codex
Quetzalcoatl paradigm to study the history of Mesoamerican
Chimalpopoca. Tucson, 1992.
Carrasco, David. Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Cere-
López Austin, Alfredo. Hombre-Dios: Religión y política en el
monial Centers. San Francisco, 1990.
mundo Nahuatl. Mexico City, 1973. The best Spanish-
Markman, Robert H., and Peter T. Markman. Flayed God: The
language account of the interweaving of myth, history, poli-
Mesoamerican Mythological Tradition: Sacred Texts and Im-
tics, and religious authority in Mesoamerican history.
ages From Pre-Columbian Mexico and Central America. San
Matox Moctezuma, Eduardo. Una visita al Templo Mayor de Te-
Francisco, 1992.
nochtitlán. Mexico City, 1981. The chief excavator of the
Aztec Great Temple describes the fascinating treasures found
McKeever-Furst, Leslie. Natural History of the Soul in Ancient
at the heart of the Aztec empire.
Mexico. New Haven, 1995.
Nicholson, H. B. “Religion in Pre-Hispanic Central Mexico.” In
Miller, Mary Ellen, and Karl Taube. The Gods and Symbols of An-
Handbook of Middle American Indians, edited by Robert
cient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Me-
Wauchope, vol 10. Austin, Tex., 1971. The classic descrip-
soamerican Religion. London, 1993.
tion of Mesoamerican religion in the central plateau of Mexi-
co during the decades prior to the Conquest.
Pérez Guerrero, Juan Carlos. Religión azteca. Madrid, 2000.
Pasztory, Esther. Aztec Art. New York, 1983. The finest single-
volume description and interpretation of Aztec art and its re-
Revised Bibliography
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

BAAL. The name Baal (b El) is a common Semitic appellative meaning “lord” that is
used as a proper name for the West Semitic storm god in ancient Near Eastern texts dating
from the late third millennium BCE through the Roman period. Identified as the warrior
Hadd (or Hadad) in the Late Bronze Age texts from Ugarit, Baal is a popular deity in
Syro-Palestinian or “Canaanite” religious traditions as a god of storms and fertility. Asso-
ciated with kingship and oaths, his name appears as a divine witness to international trea-
ties and as a common element in theophoric names. Baal was venerated in West Semitic
religious traditions as a powerful god and patron of humanity for over two thousand years.
The character of Baal is most fully described in the Late Bronze Age archives of the
ancient Syrian city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), where he is the patron of the royal
house and protector of the city. Archaeologists have recovered hundreds of mythological,
epic, and ritual texts written in an alphabetic cuneiform script from this coastal site since
its rediscovery in 1929. The Baal revealed in these texts is an aggressive and powerful war-
rior who vies for kingship among the gods. Frequent epithets for Baal in the Ugaritic texts
include “Almighty Baal” (aliyn b El), “the mightiest of warriors” (aliy qrdm), “the rider of
the clouds” (rkb Erpt), and “the Prince, lord of the earth” (zbl b El ars:). He is the son of
the grain god Dagan and the brother of the violent Maiden Anat. Baal dwells on Mount
Saphon (spn), identified with Jebel el-Aqra (Mons Casius in classical sources), the highest
peak in Syria. From here he also controls the winds and storms at sea and acts as the pro-
tector of mariners.
As a god of the storm, Baal is depicted as both a divine warrior and the provider
of natural fertility in the form of dew and rains. His presence in the heavens is manifested
by dark clouds, roaring winds, peals of thunder, and bolts of lightning. Ugaritic myths
depict Baal as victorious in battle against the primordial forces of Sea (Yamm) and Death
(Mot). He is praised for his defeat of dragons or sea monsters called Litan the Fleeing
Serpent, Tunnan, and the seven-headed Twisting Serpent. Baal’s distinctive iconography
portrays him as a bearded god, wearing a conical hat with two horns, brandishing a mace
or battle-ax in his right hand and grasping lightning and thunderbolts in the left. As king
(mlk) of the gods, Baal rules the cosmos under the authority of El, the grey-bearded patri-
C LOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT CORNER. Eleventh-century black basalt relief depicting the birth of Kr:s:n:a.
Indian Museum, Calcutta. [©Giraudon/Art Resource, N.Y.]; Female temple figure. Bali,
Indonesia. [©Wolfgang Kaehler/Corbis]; The Great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan. [©Edifice/
; Buddha sculpture and stupas at Borobudur in Java, Indonesia. [©Owen Franken/
; A mid-nineteenth-century nahen (a house partition screen) depicting a squatting bear,
from Tlingit, Alaska. Denver Art Museum. [©Werner Forman/Art Resource, N.Y.] .

archal leader of the divine assembly. Baal “reigns over the
and resurrection are cultically reenacted within a seasonal
gods,” “issues orders to gods and humans,” and “satisfies the
calendar. Certain West Semitic texts also hint at Baal’s role
multitudes of the earth” with his fertilizing rains in Ugaritic
in the revivification of the dead in a netherworld existence.
poetry. The absence of Baal from the world results in “no
Indeed, some scholars identify Baal as the leader of the Re-
dew, no downpour, no swirling of the deeps, no welcome
phaim, the underworld shades of deceased kings, but no con-
voice of Baal” to break the sweltering heat, according to the
sensus exists among scholars on this issue. The Ugaritic myth
Aqhat epic. Baal is also associated with the fertility of the
of the voracious “Devourers” also narrates Baal’s defeat and
herd, as is mythologically represented in two Ugaritic texts
seven-year absence from the earth. The fragmentary charac-
that describe his sexual intercourse with a cow, who then
ter of the relevant episodes in the Baal Cycle precludes any
bears a son as his heir.
definite conclusion, but perhaps Baal is most accurately de-
scribed as a “disappearing god,” similar to certain Hittite tra-
The myth of Baal’s rise to sovereignty over the gods is
ditions. There is no compelling evidence for the ritual reen-
narrated in the six tablets of the Ugaritic Baal Cycle, which
actment of Baal’s annual death and resurrection in any
encompasses three main sections. The elderly god El presides
ancient Syro-Palestinian source. Mot’s absence for seven
over the divine assembly, while a younger god is enthroned
years in the Baal Cycle further argues against the alleged sea-
as the active king of the cosmos. As the son of Dagan, Baal
sonal pattern of the conflict between Baal’s fructifying rains
has a conflicted relationship with El, who resists Baal’s rise
and Mot’s sterile rule during the heat of summer. Yet the sea-
to power in preference for his own sons’ claims to divine
sonal aspects of the drama between the rain god and Mot
kingship. In the cycle’s first episode, Baal contends with
cannot be denied. With their emphasis on fertility, death,
Yamm (Sea) for dominion among the gods. After defeating
and the politics of divine kingship, the myths of Baal repre-
Yamm with the help of magic war clubs crafted by Kothar-
sent the precarious balance of powerful forces at play in the
wa-Hasis, Baal seeks permission from El to build a palace as
natural, divine, and human realms. In many ways, Baal him-
a symbol of his divine kingship. Kothar, Anat, and El’s own
self symbolizes the fragility of life, fertility, and political sta-
consort, Athirat, eventually support Baal in the political in-
bility in a hostile cosmos.
trigue, and his palace is constructed in the second section of
the Baal Cycle.
In the Hebrew Bible, the Phoenician Baal appears as the
most prominent divine rival to the Israelite god, Yahweh. In-
The third section of the Baal Cycle describes Baal’s con-
deed, the two gods share many of the same qualities and epi-
flict with divine Mot (Death), who challenges Baal’s king-
thets. Like Baal, Yahweh is depicted as a god of the storm
ship. Mot demands that the storm god “enter the maw of
who sounds his voice in thunder and sends lightning
Death” and descend into the underworld. Baal immediately
(Ps.18:10–16). Yahweh is the rider of the clouds (Isa.19:1;
submits to Mot’s authority, but the fragmentary text ob-
Ps. 68:5), who dominates the sea (ym) and vanquishes pri-
scures the sequence of events at this point. It remains unclear
mordial dragons or sea monsters, including Tannin and Le-
if Baal actually dies and enters the dreary land of the dead.
viathan the Twisting Serpent (Ps. 74:13–14; Isa. 27:1; 51:9–
Regardless, the heavenly gods believe that Baal has died. Anat
10; Job 26:12–13). Yahweh is also responsible for human and
discovers a corpse “in the pleasant field of Death’s Realm”
natural fertility, including the “dew of the heavens and the
(ysmt ˇsd ˇsh:lmmt). There is a burial, copious ritual mourning,
fat of the earth, the abundance of new grain and wine”
and funerary offerings by El and Anat in honor of the fallen
(Gen. 27:28).
Baal. After these events, El and the divine council unsuccess-
fully seek a replacement for Baal as the king of the gods.
SEE ALSO Dying and Rising Gods.
Meanwhile, Anat approaches Mot with a pitiful request to
release her brother. When her pleas go unheeded for months,
Anat violently attacks Mot, chops his body into pieces, and
Parker, Simon B., ed. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. Atlanta, 1997. Ex-
scatters his remains upon the fields for the birds to consume.
cellent and accessible English translations of the Ugaritic
After more broken text, El has an oracular dream of Baal’s
mythological texts.
return to the earth in which “the heavens rain oil and the
Schwemer, Daniel. Die Wettergottgestalten Mesopotamiens und
wadis run with honey” to relieve the parched furrows of the
Nordsyriens im Zeitalter der Keilschriftkulturen. Weisbaden,
fields. Baal then returns to the divine assembly, defeats his
2001. See pp. 443–588.
enemies, and is again seated upon “the throne of his domin-
Smith, Mark S. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, I. Leiden, 1994. The first
ion.” Later, “in the seventh year,” Mot returns to challenge
volume of a projected three-volume commentary on the Baal
Baal’s sovereignty, but the sun goddess Shapsh mediates be-
tween the rival gods and resolves their dispute in favor of
Baal. The Baal Cycle concludes with the establishment of
Smith, Mark S. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other
Deities in Ancient Israel. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich., 2002.
Baal’s kingship over the heavenly gods, the earth, and hu-
An excellent introduction with comprehensive bibliographic
references to recent work.
Scholars continue to debate whether Baal is appropriate-
Van der Toorn, Karel, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst,
ly described as a “dying and rising god” whose annual death
eds. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. 2d ed. Lei-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

den, 1999. See the entries by W. Hermann on “Baal,”
interrelations within the context of the analysis of a specific
pp. 132–139, and J. C. Greenfield on “Hadad,”
culture, religion, or mythology. After this, more general de-
pp. 377–382.
scriptions of processes of symbolization are pointed out by
NEAL H. WALLS (2005)
different kinds of classifications. He characterizes the relation
between the subject and the symbols he uses as being asym-
metrical. The subject is unique and timeless, but the symbols
are temporary and infinitely numerous. Moreover, van Baal
BAAL, JAN VAN. Jan van Baal (1909–1992), a Dutch
holds that systems of symbols do not spring from the interac-
anthropologist of religion, studied Indonesian culture, law,
tion between individuals and their surroundings, but first of
and languages at Leiden University and was influenced by
all from the individual.
J. P. B. de Josselin de Jong’s structural ethnology. Van Baal’s
Ph.D. thesis (1934) about the Marind-anim of New Guinea
The basic model of gift exchange and reciprocity de-
was based on ethnographic material collected by the Swiss
scribed by Marcel Mauss is given great emphasis in van Baal’s
ethnologist Paul Wirtz. Van Baal later became a civil servant
line of thought. But among the distinctive features of offer-
in the Dutch East Indies (1934–1949), a prisoner in Japa-
ing and sacrifice he does not include their sacred nature. For
nese concentration camps (1942–1945), an advisor on native
him, both sacrifice and offering have one characteristic in
affairs to the government of Dutch New Guinea (1946–
common, that of being gifts. The dialectics of the human
1953), and the governor of Dutch New Guinea (1953–
condition make communication an urgent necessity, and the
1958). Van Baal served as professor of cultural anthropology
gift is an attractive and persuasive form for establishing con-
at the University of Utrecht from 1959 to 1973, and he acted
tacts and ameliorating relations. Giving is a symbolic act of
until 1969 as director of the Royal Tropical Institute in Am-
communication; it is the symbol that counts, and the notion
sterdam. He published Dema, a thousand-page volume on
that offering and sacrifice are sacral acts hardly plays a role.
the Marind-anim of New Guinea in 1966, and a number of
Van Baal objects to a reification of the symbolic content by
articles and books, of which Symbols for Communication
interpreting it as a magical act; he also objects to the use of
(1971), Reciprocity and the Position of Women (1975), and
the term sacrifice for rituals in which every element of the gift
Man’s Quest for Partnership (1981) are the most important.
or of atonement is absent. For him, giving is participating,
Van Baal was admired by many anthropologists, Margaret
and it is essential for a meaningful existence. All communica-
Mead and Claude Lévi-Strauss among them.
tion begins with giving.
Van Baal’s theory is based on the view that religion is
Van Baal’s description of religion comes down to the ac-
a system of symbols by which humans communicate with
ceptance of a non-empirical reality that influences the reality
their universe. These symbols enable individuals to overcome
of people’s daily life. Opposing the classical comparative
their inner solitude, which is the inescapable result of their
method in cultural anthropology, he uses a monographic
inability to solve the existential problem of being subjects op-
method that compares only a few religions after a systematic
posed to and separated from their universe, as well as being
description of each separate religion. In doing so, van Baal
part of that same universe and at the same time functioning
wants to exclude ethnocentrism and a priori arguments. He
in it. Religion enables humans to cope with the contradic-
does not make this “overall approach” absolute, and invari-
tions related to human existence itself. The several contradic-
ably asks himself what is the measure of integration between
tions inherent in the phenomenon of religion must be con-
the elements of a religious system, how far does it link up
nected with contradictions in human existence. These
with other social or cultural institutions, and whether or not
contradictions are the result of the idea of being opposed to
its relation with them is strained. When it comes to the ques-
the world one lives in. People express their detachment, as
tion what individual motives underlie the development of re-
well as their feelings of being part of their world, in symbolic
ligious ideas, van Baal thinks that craving for “communion”
activities. The dialectics of “subject to” and “part of” contain
is the fundamental motive. A successful ritual makes the par-
the uncertainty of individuals. The ambition of self-
ticipant feel at ease with his world. In his view, being part
realization can bring the individual into conflict with the
of a community implies the acceptance of authority, which
universe, and it creates a dualism because one’s fellow human
reduces individual freedom.
beings and one’s surroundings are used as instruments for
In van Baal’s work there is no connection between the
self-realization. But, at the same time, the individual wants
development of religions and social stratification, religious
to be recognized and treated as a partner. Problems of doubt
specialists and charismatic leaders, and there is little analysis
and loneliness, which are the result of this dualism, can only
of the dynamics of religion and its social components, as can
be solved, according to van Baal, when humans manage to
be found in the work of Max Weber. Van Baal’s approach
remain subject to, as well as part of, the community.
is ahistorical and structuralistic, and he is highly critical of
Symbols play a crucial role here, since they can save peo-
phenomenologists like Gerardus van der Leeuw and Mircea
ple from existential solitude, and their analysis is therefore
Eliade. Van Baal is interested in the conscious ordering, in
important in van Baal’s work. In his Marind-anim ethnogra-
the role of the participants in the processes of symbolization.
phy he decodes the meanings of specific symbols and their
Unlike Lévi-Strauss, Baal is not concerned with the analysis
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

of the results of human thought or the discovery of the gram-
Born in the small town of Okopy in the southern
mar in them. Instead, he is primarily interested in and look-
Ukraine, YisraDel ben EliEezer is said to have begun preaching
ing for the motives in human thought, and he is searching
around 1738, after a long period of seclusion in the Carpa-
for its message and meaning.
thian Mountains with his wife. According to other accounts,
he served throughout his life as a popular healer, writer of
amulets, and exorcist of demons from houses and bodies,
Selected Works of van Baal
which were the traditional roles of a ba Eal shem (master of
Over Wegen en Drijfveren der Religie. Amsterdam, 1947.
the name) or ba Eal shem tov (master of the good name)—in
De magie als godsdienstig verschijnsel. Amsterdam 1960.
other words, the master of the name that empowered him
to perform what he wished.
Dema: A Description and Analysis of Marind-anim Culture. The
Hague, 1966.
In his wandering around many Jewish communities, the
“The Political Impact of Prophetic Movements.” In International
Besht came into contact with various circles of pietists. In
Yearbook for the Sociology of Religion 5 (1969): 68–88.
some cases he was criticized by the rabbis, but his powers as
Symbols for Communication: An Introduction to the Anthropological
a preacher and magician attracted disciples, including mas-
Study of Religion. Assen, Netherlands, 1971; 2d ed., 1985.
ters of Jewish law and Qabbalah such as YaEaqov Yosef of
De Boodschap der Drie Illusies: Overdenkingen over religie, kunst en
Polonnoye (d. 1782) and Dov Ber of Mezhirich (1704–
spel. Assen, Netherlands, 1972.
1772). As Gershom Scholem has suggested, the Besht should
Reciprocity and the Position of Women: Anthropological Papers.
be regarded as the founder of the great eastern European Ha-
Assen, Netherlands, 1975.
sidic movement, even though our knowledge of his organiza-
tional work is scanty, and even though the first Hasidic cen-
“Offering, Sacrifice, and Gift.” Numen 23 (1976): 161–178.
ter was established only after his death by Dov Ber, who
“The Role of Truth and Meaning in Changing Religious Sys-
became the leader of the movement.
tems.” In Official and Popular Religion: Analysis of a Theme
for Religious Studies
, edited by Pieter Vrijhof and Jacques
Although he was not a scholar in Jewish law, the Besht
Waardenburg, pp. 607–628. The Hague, 1979.
was well versed in Qabbalah and in popular Jewish ethical
Man’s Quest for Partnership: The Anthropological Foundations of
tradition, on which he relied when delivering his sermons
Ethics and Religion. Assen, Netherlands, 1981.
and formulating his theories. He saw the supreme goal of re-
“The Language of Symbols.” In L’ethnologie dans le dialogue inter-
ligious life as devequt (cleaving), or spiritual communion
cultural (Ethnologie im dialog, vol. 5), edited by Gerhard
with God; this state can be achieved not only during prayers
Baer and Pierre Centlivres. Freiburg, Germany, 1980.
but also in the course of everyday activities. In his view, there
“The Dialectics of Sex in Marind-anim Culture.” In Ritualized
is no barrier between the holy and the profane, and worship
Homosexuality in Melanesia, edited by Gilbert H. Herdt,
of God can be the inner content of any deed, even the most
pp. 128–166. Berkeley, 1984.
mundane one. Indeed, the Besht did not insist on following
the complicated qabbalistic system of kavvanot (intentions)
About van Baal’s Work
Droogers, A. F. Boodschap uit het Mysterie: Reacties op de visie van
in prayers and in the performance of the Jewish religious
Jan van Baal. Baarn, Netherlands, 1996.
commandments, but substituted instead the mystical devo-
Kuiper, Y. B. “Religion, Symbols, and the Human Condition: An
tion of devequt as the primary means of uplifting the soul to
Analysis of the Basic Ideas of Jan van Baal.” In On Symbolic
the divine world. His teachings also included the theory that
Representation of Religion: Groninger Contributions to Theories
evil can be transformed into goodness by a mystical process
of Symbols, edited by Hubertus G. Hubbeling and Hans G.
of returning it to its original source in the divine world and
Kippenberg, pp. 57–69. Berlin and New York, 1986.
redirecting it into good spiritual power; this idea was further
Kuiper, Y. B., and A. de Ruijter. De Menselijke Conditie: Speur-
developed by his followers.
tocht naar Partnerschap. Groningen, Netherlands, 1982.
The Besht believed that he was in constant contact with
W. HOFSTEE (2005)
the divine powers and saw his mission as that of correcting
and leading his generation. In a letter preserved by YaEaqov
Yosef (whose voluminous works contain the most important
material we have concerning the Besht’s teachings), the Besht
(master of the good name), popu-
indicates that he practiced Ealiyyat neshamah, or the uplifting
lar designation for YisraDel ben EliEezer (c. 1700–1760), the
of the soul. In this way, he explained, he communicated with
founder of the Hasidic movement in eastern Europe, who
celestial powers who revealed their secrets to him. According
is also known by the acronym BeSHT (commonly written
to the document, these included the Messiah, who told him
“Besht”). There are few historically authentic sources that de-
that redemption would come when his teachings were spread
scribe the life of the Besht; most information must be
all over the world (which the Besht interpreted as “in a long,
gleaned from nineteenth-century hagiography, especially the
long time”).
collection of more than three hundred stories about him,
known as Shivhei ha-Besht (In Praise of the Besht; first printed
The Besht was convinced that his prayer carried special
in 1815), and the works of later Hasidic writers.
weight in the celestial realm and that it could open heavenly
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

gates for the prayers of the people as a whole. His insistence
or stretched from one end of the hut to the other. The fence
that there are righteous people in every generation who, like
around her hut is made of human bones and is topped with
himself, carry special mystical responsibilities for their com-
human skulls, with eyes intact. The gate is fastened with
munities laid the foundations for the later Hasidic theory of
human legs and arms instead of bolts, and a mouth with
the function of the tsaddiq, or leader, a theory that created
sharp teeth serves as a lock. The hut, which is supported on
a new type of charismatic leadership in the Jewish communi-
bird’s legs and which can turn around on its axis like a spin-
ties of eastern Europe.
dle, is, in fact, Baba Yaga herself.
Linguistic analysis of Baba Yaga’s compound name re-
SEE ALSO Hasidism, overview article.
veals prehistoric characteristics. Yaga, from Proto-Slavic
*(y)ega, means “disease,” “fright,” and “wrath” in Old Rus-
sian, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovene, respectively, and is relat-
Dan Ben-Amos and Jerome R. Mintz have translated and edited
ed to the Lithuanian verb engti (“strangle, press, torture”).
Shivhei ha-Besht as In Praise of the Ba Eal Shem Tov: The Earli-
The early form may be related to Proto-Samoyed *nga,
est Collection of Legends about the Founder of Hasidism
meaning “god,” or “god or goddess of death.” The Slavic ety-
(Bloomington, Ind., 1970). Gershom Scholem has discussed
the Besht in Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 3d rev. ed.
mon baba means “grandmother,” “woman,” “cloud woman”
(New York, 1961), pp. 330–334, 348–349. Three papers
(a mythic being who produces rain), and “pelican.” The last
concerning the Besht and Hasidism are included in
points to Baba Yaga’s avian nature, comparable to that of the
Scholem’s The Messianic Idea in Judaism (New York, 1972),
archetypal vulture and owl goddess of European prehistory,
pp. 176–250. Additional bibliographic references accompa-
who represents death and regeneration. In Russian tales,
ny his article “Israel ben Eliezer BaEal Shem Tov” in Encyclo-
Baba Yaga eats humans by pecking like a bird.
paedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971).
In East Slavic areas, Baba Yaga has a male counterpart,
Several monographs dealing with the Besht and the beginnings of
Koshchei Bessmertnyi, “Koshchei the Immortal.” His name,
Hasidism were published in the 1990s, some of them con-
from kost’ (“bone”), bears the notion of a dying and rising
centrated around the historical figure and others on his the-
god, that is, a deity who cyclically dies and is reborn. In tales
ology and religious message. Rachel Elior emphasizes the
Besht’s mystical theology of divine immanence and omni-
in which Koshchei appears, Baba Yaga is either his mother
presence in her Herut Eal Ha-luhot (Tel Aviv, 1999), whereas
or his aunt. Another male equivalent of Baba Yaga is Moroz-
Moshe Idel’s Hasidism between Ecstasy and Magic (Albany,
ko (“frost”). Baba Yaga is also the “mother of winds,” analo-
N.Y., 1995) tries to integrate the Besht and his teachings
gous to the German Frau Holle. Other relatives in current
with medieval mystical-magical models; Immanuel Etkas, in
folklore are the Lithuanian goddess Ragana and the Basque
his historical analysis Ba Eal Hashem: The Besht—Magic, Mys-
vulture goddess, the “Lady of Amboto.”
ticism, Leadership (Jerusalem, 2000, in Hebrew), emphasizes
the Besht’s social message and minimizes the magical one.
Moshe Rosman’s Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Histor-
Shapiro, Michael. “Baba-Jaga: A Search for Mythopoeic Origins
ical Ba Eal Shem Tov (Berkeley, Calif., 1996) presents a criti-
and Affinities.” International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and
cal analysis of the historical sources and a detailed study of
Poetics 27 (1983).
contemporary Polish documents.
Toporov, V. N. “Khettskaia SALSU: GI i slavianskaia Baba-Iaga.”
JOSEPH DAN (1987 AND 2005)
Kratkie soobshcheniia Instituta slavianovedeniia (Moscow) 38
(1963): 28–37.
New Sources
Hubbs, Joanna. Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Cul-
known in Russian folklore as a witch and
ture. Bloomington, Ind., 1988.
an ogress, is the ancient goddess of death and regeneration
of Slavic mythology, with roots in the pre-Indo-European
matrilinear pantheon. In Slavic folk tales (mainly Russian),
Revised Bibliography
Baba Yaga lives in nocturnal darkness, deep in the woods,
far from the world of men. She is variously depicted as an
evil old hag who eats humans, especially children, and as a
BA¯B¯IS. Ba¯b¯ıs are the followers of the teaching of Sayyid
wise, prophetic old woman. In appearance, she is tall, bony-
EAl¯ı Muh:ammad, known as the “Ba¯b.” Immediately after the
legged, and pestle-headed, with a long nose and disheveled
Ba¯b’s demise, the name Ba¯b¯ıs was applied to these people
hair. At times she appears as a young woman, at other times
for some years; since the 1860s those Ba¯b¯ıs who followed
as two sisters, one young and one old. Her primary therio-
Baha¯D Alla¯h, became known as the “people of Baha¯” or as
morphic image is that of a bird or a snake, but she can turn
Baha¯D¯ı. A minority group that follows S:ubh:-i Azal as a suc-
instantly into a frog, a toad, a turtle, a mouse, a crab, a vixen,
cessor of the Ba¯b is known as Azal¯ıs.
a bee, a mare, a goat, or an inanimate object.
SAYYID EAL¯I MUH:AMMAD, THE BA¯B. Born in Shiraz on Oc-
Baba Yaga never walks; she either flies in a fiery mortar
tober 20, 1819, EAl¯ı Muh:ammad was orphaned as a young
or lies in her hut on top of the oven, on a bench, on the floor,
boy and subsequently raised by a maternal uncle who, as is
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

indicated by the title Sayyid, is believed to have been a de-
The leading Ba¯b¯ıs met in July in Badasht, close to the
scendant of Muh:ammad. EAl¯ı Muh:ammad earned his early
Caspian Sea. The meeting was intended to discuss the conse-
living as a merchant, traveling in Iran and Iraq for his busi-
quences of the Ba¯b’s declaration to be the returned ima¯m and
ness. In 1840–1841 he visited the famous Sh¯ıEah shrines at
to make plans to free him from prison. Qurrat al-EAyn, well
Karbala, Iraq, where he came in contact with Sayyid Ka¯z:im
versed in Sh¯ıE¯ı and Shaykh¯ı thinking and a leader of the
Rast¯ı, the leader of the Shaykh¯ı movement. This movement
meeting, fostered a radical position regarding a total and so-
originated with Shaykh Ah:mad al-Ahsa¯D¯ı (d. 1826), whose
cial break with Islam. In addition to unveiling her own posi-
mystical and philosophical interpretation of Islam was based
tion, she also motivated her fellow believers to separate from
on the theosophical philosophy of Mulla¯ S:adra¯ Sh¯ıra¯z¯ı and
Muslims, if necessary by force. After the death of
other Muslim Gnostics, but which was also a dissent from
Muh:ammad Sha¯h in September 1848, some radical Ba¯b¯ıs
the orthodoxy of the Eulama¯D. After studying Shaykh¯ı doc-
hoped for the opportunity to establish a “sacred Ba¯b¯ı state,”
trines for about eight months, EAl¯ı Muh:ammad returned to
leading to Ba¯b¯ı uprisings and a “Ba¯b¯ı jiha¯d” for the next five
Shiraz. In 1842 he married, and he had one son who died
years. The Ba¯b remained in prison, and in 1850 he was given
as an infant. EAl¯ı Muh:ammad’s relationship with the
a death sentence. He was executed on July 9, 1850.
Shaykh¯ıs during the next two years is not entirely clear, but
FROM THE BA¯B¯IS TO THE BAHA¯D¯IS. The first years after the
he was inclined to some of the Shaykh¯ı teachings and also
Ba¯b’s death can be seen as a period of persecution. The Ba¯b¯ıs
to chiliastic expectations in connection with the hidden
were responsible for some revolts against the Qaja¯r govern-
(twelfth) ima¯m of Sh¯ıE¯ı Islam.
ment that led to an attempt to assassinate Na¯s:ir al-D¯ın Sha¯h
in 1852. As a consequence severe persecution of the Ba¯b¯ıs
After Sayyid Ka¯z:im Rast¯ı’s death in December 1843,
was renewed, and all the H:uru¯f al-H:ayy were put to death,
some of the Shaykh’s disciples were looking for the expected
including Qurrat al-EAyn in 1853. The main centers of these
Mahdi, whose appearance had been predicted for the near
Ba¯b¯ı revolts and Muslim persecutions were Mazandaran,
future. One of these disciples, Mulla¯ H:usayn of Bushru¯yah,
Nayriz, and Zanjan. Based on the Ba¯b’s interpretation of
met with Sayyid EAl¯ı Muh:ammad in Shiraz on May 22,
jiha¯d, Ba¯b¯ıs displayed great heroism, but they were forced
1844. In this encounter Sayyid EAl¯ı Muh:ammad presented
to surrender to the Qaja¯r troops.
himself as the Ba¯b, the “gate” to the hidden ima¯m. Mulla¯
H:usayn accepted this claim and thus was the first to recog-
The Ba¯b¯ı community was then led by M¯ırza¯ Yah:ya¯
nize the Ba¯b as his new spiritual leader. That same night the
Nu¯r¯ı, called S:ubh:-i Azal (Morning of Eternity), the half
Ba¯b started composing his first major literary work, a long
brother of M¯ırza¯ H:usayn EAl¯ı Nu¯r¯ı, called Baha¯D Alla¯h
commentary in Arabic language on the su¯rah of Yu¯suf in the
(BaháDuDlláh according to Baha¯D¯ı orthography). Because
QurDa¯n (Su¯rah 12), the Qayyu¯m al-asma E. Both Ba¯b¯ıs and
S:ubh:-i Azal had stayed at Nur at the time of the attack on
Baha¯D¯ıs consider this commentary the first revealed work of
Na¯s:ir al-D¯ın Sha¯h, he escaped imprisonment, whereas his
the Ba¯b, making it the starting point of a new era. Some of
half brother Baha¯D Alla¯h was jailed in Tehran in the summer
the Shaykh¯ıs and Sh¯ıE¯ı Muslims soon made up an increasing
of 1852. After some months Baha¯D Alla¯h was exiled to Bagh-
number of disciples of the Ba¯b, and he designated the fore-
dad, at that time part of the Ottoman Empire, rather than
most eighteen of them as S:uru¯f al S:ayy (letter of the living),
Qaja¯r, arriving there on April 8, 1853. Some months earlier
among them Mulla¯ H:usayn and Qurrat al-EAyn.
S:ubh:-i Azal had also settled there. During the early period
in Baghdad, in the vicinity of Sh¯ıE¯ı and Shaykh¯ı centers like
In September 1844 the Ba¯b began a pilgrimage to
Nadjaf and Karbala, the Ba¯b¯ıs looked to S:ubh:-i Azal as the
Mecca, and he returned to Shiraz in late spring of the follow-
leader of the community, but tensions between him and his
ing year. During his pilgrimage journey he maintained the
half brother could not be hidden any longer. The main rea-
conviction that other Muslims might join his “reforming”
son for these tensions might have been the quite different
view of Sh¯ıE¯ı Islam, a conviction reflected both in some
characters of the men. S:ubh:-i Azal seemed only partly aware
khut:bah read during his pilgrimage journey and also in letters
of the needs of his community to survive, whereas Baha¯D
to Muh:ammad Sha¯h. Judging from references in the Baya¯n,
Alla¯h reorganized the community and strengthened it in the
the Ba¯b’s central book, the pilgrimage was not a positive ex-
late 1860s. From a sociological point of view, therefore,
perience because he learned that the majority of Muslims did
S:ubh:-i Azal lost his influence on the Ba¯b¯ıs more and more,
not agree with his views. Back in Shiraz, he was imprisoned
whereas Baha¯D Alla¯h gained importance as a community
for four months. After his release he moved to Esfahan, but
leader. Since 1861 the Ottoman government had pressured
in early 1847 he again was put in jail, first at the fortress of
the Ba¯b¯ı movement, which ended with the exiles of Baha¯D
Ma¯khu¯ in Azerbaijan, from where he was transferred to the
Alla¯h and S:ubh:-i Azal via Istanbul to Edirne. Before leaving
castle of Chir¯ıq in April 1848. Shortly before this move to
Baghdad, Baha¯D Alla¯h, in the presence of some close follow-
Chir¯ıq, the Ba¯b sent a letter to Mulla¯ Shaykh EAl¯ı Tursh¯ız¯ı,
ers, proclaimed himself a new prophet made manifest by
presenting himself as the long-awaited twelfth Sh¯ıE¯ı ima¯m.
God, thus theologically ending, according to the Baha¯D¯ı in-
For Ba¯b’s followers, foremost among them the H:uru¯f
terpretation, the Ba¯b¯ı movement as an independent religion.
al-H:ayy, this letter marked the clear decision to dissent from
Even though S:ubh:-i Azal might have known about this, he
the shar¯ı Eah.
was only informed about Baha¯D Alla¯h’s claim to be “the one
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

whom God shall manifest” in the so-called sura¯t al-amr sent
between the Ba¯b¯ıs and the Baha¯D¯ıs to uphold Ba¯b¯ı doctrine
by Baha¯D Alla¯h to his half brother on March 10, 1866. This
as a religious system of its own, thus focusing on eschatology
date marks the definitive break between the Ba¯b¯ı and Baha¯D¯ı
and the question of the future divine prophet.
SEE ALSO Baha¯D¯ıs.
While the majority sided with Baha¯D¯ı Alla¯h, a minority
followed S:ubh:-i Azal, joining him at his exile in Cyprus,
where he had been since 1868. On April 20, 1912, S:ubh:-i
Azal died on the island, and he was buried in Famagusta, ac-
Primary Sources
cording to Muslim practice. Thus it is safe to conclude that
EAbduDl-Baha¯. A Traveller’s Narrative Written to Illustrate the Epi-
the Ba¯b¯ı community on Cyprus could not prosper any lon-
sode of the Ba¯b. Translated by Edward G. Browne. Cam-
ger, whereas some followers of the Ba¯b still live in Iran as so-
bridge, U.K., 1891; reprint, Amsterdam, 1975.
called Ba¯b¯ı-Azal¯ıs. During the twentieth century they
Ba¯b, EAl¯ı Muh:ammad Sh¯ıra¯z¯ı. Le Béyân Arabe. Translated by Al-
showed neither further theological development nor large-
phonse L. M. Nicolas. Paris, 1905.
scale organization, but instead turned into a more static com-
Ba¯b, EAl¯ı Muh:ammad Sh¯ıra¯z¯ı. Le Béyân Persan. Translated by Al-
munity, preserving the writings of the Ba¯b and S:ubh:-i Azal.
phonse L. M. Nicolas. 4 vols. Paris, 1911–1914.
Thus they mainly live as a hidden minority, passing on the
Ba¯b, EAl¯ı Muh:ammad. Selections from the Writings of the Ba¯b.
religious heritage through family lines, often not distinguish-
Translated by Habib Taherzadeh. Haifa, Israel, 1976.
able amid their Muslim surroundings. Most probably there
are not more than one or two thousand Ba¯b¯ı-Azal¯ıs residing
Husain, Hamada¯n¯ı. The Ta¯rihk-i-Jad¯ıd; or, New History of M¯ırza
in Iran.
Ali Muhammad, the Ba¯b. Translated by Edward G. Browne.
Cambridge, U.K., 1893; reprint, Amsterdam, 1975.
BA¯B¯I DOCTRINES. The main source for Ba¯b¯ı doctrine is the
Baya¯n (Declaration), the holy book of this religion, written
Nab¯ıl-i-AEzam. The Dawn-Breakers: Nab¯ıl’s Narrative of the Early
by the Ba¯b in Persian and Arabic during his imprisonment.
Days of the Baha¯ D¯ı Revelation. Edited and translated by Effen-
di Shoghi. Wilmette, Ill., 1999.
Though based on monotheism like Islam, the eschatological
thought is changed, as “the day to come” is no more a day
in the far future. Rather, anyone who lives with God can
Amanat, Abbas. Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi
enjoy the joy of paradise in a spiritual way even in the pres-
Movement in Iran, 1844–1850. Ithaca, N.Y., and London,
ent. The universal eschatology will start with “the one whom
1989. Study of the historical and sociological background of
God will manifest.” According to Ba¯b¯ı teaching, no precise
the early Ba¯b¯ı period.
date is given for this eschatological event, whereas Baha¯D¯ıs
Balyuzi, Hasan M. The Ba¯b. Oxford, 1973. Comprehensive biog-
take it for granted that the Ba¯b indicated that this would
raphy of the Ba¯b.
happen in the near future after his demise. On the other
Hutter, Manfred. “Prozesse der Identitätsfindung in der Früh-
hand, Ba¯b¯ı doctrines maintain their traditional bond to
geschichte der Baha¯D¯ı-Religion: Zwischen kontinuierlichem
Sh¯ıE¯ı Islam, as is the case with taq¯ıya, the possibility of hid-
Bewahren und deutlicher Abgrenzung.” In Kontinuität und
ing one’s religious thoughts or convictions in times of crisis
Brüche in der Religionsgeschichte, edited by Michael
or danger. The idea of martyrdom and warlike jiha¯d as a
Stausberg, pp. 424–435. Berlin, 2001. Study of the split be-
means to reach salvation also remain central in Ba¯b¯ı thought.
tween the Ba¯b¯ı and the Muslim communities in 1848 and
between the Ba¯b¯ı and the Baha¯D¯ı communities in 1863–
The Baya¯n also is the foundation of Ba¯b¯ı religious law,
1866 from the pattern of “identity.”
thus abrogating Islamic shar¯ı Eah. Some of the famous reli-
MacEoin, Denis. “The Babi Concept of Holy War.” Religion 12
gious laws concern the new direction of the qiblah, no longer
(1982): 93–129.
the KaEbah in Mecca but the Ba¯b’s house in Shiraz. Another
change in religious ritual law is in connection with the cultic
MacEoin, Denis. The Sources for Early Ba¯bi Doctrine and History:
A Survey. Leiden, Netherlands, 1992. Important study of
calendar, which divides the solar year into nineteen months
partly unpublished manuscripts for Ba¯b¯ı history.
with nineteen days each, and four additional days. According
to the Iranian solar year, the Ba¯b¯ı year also begins at the
Stümpel, Isabel. “T:a¯hira Qurrat al-EAin.” In Iran im 19. Jahrhun-
spring solstice. Within the new calendar, the month of fast-
dert und die Entstehung der Baha¯ D¯ı Religion, edited by Johann
ing became fixed at the last month of the Ba¯b¯ı year in March.
Christoph Bürgel and Isabel Schayani, pp. 127–143. Hildes-
heim, Germany, 1998. Study of the history and personality
Generally speaking, these doctrines and practices have
of Qurrat al-EAyn, focusing on her role in the shaping of the
been fixed in the various writings of the Ba¯b and, to a minor
Ba¯b¯ı community.
degree, also in the writings of S:ubh:-i Azal, whose
“MuDtammim-i Baya¯n” features as the conclusion of the
Baya¯n, thus focusing on S:ubh:-i Azal’s claim (against Baha¯D
Alla¯h) that he is the real successor of the Ba¯b. Further writ-
ings by S:ubh:-i Azal can be seen as interpretations and elabo-
rations of the Ba¯b’s teachings, mainly written after the split
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

cially while visiting Roman archaeological museums and an-
cient tombs, he found inspiration for his works on prehistor-
ic, oriental, and pre- or early Roman Italy, and he came to
understand the importance of funerary evidence (the Gräber-
) for the study of antiquity. Other archaeological trips
BACHOFEN, J. J. (1815–1887) was a Swiss scholar of
reinforced this direct approach to the ancient world: Greece
mythology and Roman law and history. Through his most
(1851–1852); the British Museum in London (1847 and
famous books, Gräbersymbolik (1859) and Mutterrecht
1852); the Louvre in Paris (1852, 1860, 1864, and 1865);
(Mother right, 1861), Bachofen had a great influence on
and Spain and southern France (1861).
twentieth-century culture, even in fields not closely related
to the history of religions.
After leaving behind his studies on Roman law, which
had made him a respected scholar, Bachofen abandoned
LIFE. Johann Jakob Bachofen was born to a patrician family
mainstream classical philology, first in his Geschichte der
in Basel, Switzerland, on December 22, 1815. His father, Jo-
Römer (1851), in which he led a direct attack on the princi-
hann Jacob Bachofen, owned a highly successful silk ribbon
ples of the eminent scholars Barthold Niebuhr and Theodor
business that had belonged to the family since 1720. The
Mommsen, then in the Gräbersymbolik and the Mutterrecht.
wealth accumulated by the Bachofens was visible in their im-
The latter two books, which are inextricably linked, were the
mense real-estate holdings, as well as in their rich art collec-
result of seventeen years of collecting and organizing a huge
tion. Bachofen’s mother, Valeria Merian, came from one of
amount of literary and archaeological data, most of which re-
Basel’s most distinguished families of important business-
mains unpublished.
men, politicians, and university professors.
Bachofen was brought up to be a pious churchgoing
By the late 1860s Bachofen had started studying the
member of the French reformed Christian community. In
writings of the most important ethnologists and anthropolo-
1831 he became a student at the Pädagogium, the preparato-
gists of his time: John Ferguson McLennan, Werner Munz-
ry college of Basel University, which he entered in 1834.
inger, John Lubbock, Edward Burnett Tylor, Adolf Bastian,
Here his most important teacher was Franz Dorotheus Ger-
and Lewis Henry Morgan, among others (he read altogether
lach in Latin, and the two became lifelong friends. From
more than six hundred different authors). In these years he
1835 to 1837 Bachofen studied at Berlin University, attend-
planned a revised edition of the Mutterrecht, which would
ing lectures of the outstanding representative of the historical
have taken into account “the remains of the maternal system
school of law, Friedrich Karl von Savigny (who influenced
surviving in all the peoples of the world,” as he stated in a
him deeply); the romantic geographer Karl Ritter, whose les-
letter to Heinrich Meyer-Ochsner (November 10, 1870). He
sons on ancient geography were to be of great importance
never managed to fulfill this task, but published these exten-
for Bachofen’s conception of matriarchy; the philologists Au-
sive ethnological data in the Antiquarische Briefe (1880 and
gust Böckh and Karl Wilhelm Lachmann; and the historian
1886). Bachofen died on November 25, 1887; he was sur-
Leopold von Ranke. In order to deepen his knowledge of
vived by his wife, Louise Elisabeth Burckhardt, whom he had
Roman law, Bachofen spent the winter semester of 1837–
married in 1865, and their twenty-one-year-old son.
1838 at the University of Göttingen, where he took courses
OEUVRE. Bachofen’s dissertation on Roman law was written
with Gustav Hugo (the founder of the historical school of
in Latin: De romanorum iudiciis, de legis actionibus, de for-
law and a friend of Savigny) and the classicist Karl Otfried
mulis et de condicione (1840). His inaugural lecture, “Das
Müller. In 1838, after having achieved his doctoral degree
Naturrecht und das geschichtliche Recht in ihren Gegensät-
in Basel with a study on Roman law, Bachofen spent a year
zen,” held on the occasion of his appointment to a professor-
in Paris taking courses at the École de Droit and the Collège
ship at Basel University on May 7, 1841, is important for
de France under Pellegrino Rossi, as well as one year in Lon-
understanding his Savigny-influenced view of Roman law.
don and Cambridge. By 1840 he had returned to Basel,
Other major works on this topic are Die lex Voconia und die
where he became ordinary professor of Roman law in 1841,
mit ihr zusammenhängenden Rechtsinstitute (1843) and Das
appellate judge at the criminal court in 1842 (a post he filled
römische Pfandrecht (1847). Bachofen’s main treatises on
for twenty-five years), and a member of the Basel Senate in
Roman history are the Politische Betrachtungen über das
1844. He resigned his university position in 1844 because
Staatsleben des römischen Volkes (published posthumously in
of a political campaign directed against him by the local
1848) and Die Geschichte der Römer, edited with Gerlach
press, and in 1845 he gave up his seat in the Senate. He also
served briefly on the university governing board (1855–
Bachofen’s eventual rejection of scholarly philology and
1858), but resigned because of conflict with a colleague.
his conversion to a symbolic approach to antiquity is most
Thereafter Bachofen withdrew completely from academic
evident in a letter to Savigny dated September 24–27, 1854
(published as “Eine Selbstbiographie” in Zeitschrift für ver-
The turning point in Bachofen’s life came during his
gleichende Rechtswissenschaft 34, 1916, pp. 337–380). In this
first journey to Italy in 1842 (a journey followed by others
context the strong impression exercised on Bachofen by the
in 1848–1849, 1851–1852, 1863, and 1865). Here, espe-
ancient sites of Italy and Greece is of utmost importance (see
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Griechische Reise, written in 1851 and edited 1927 by Georg
This second stage, gynecocracy, was thus characterized by
Schmidt). Other major writings leading to his works on fu-
the nonviolent power of the materfamilias, who endorsed
nerary symbolism and gynecocracy are the unpublished Das
piety, communal peacefulness, and the prosperity of the peo-
alte Italien (especially the incomplete manuscript 104, writ-
ple and life. This new stage took place within an agricultural
ten in 1855) and the lecture “Über das Weiberrecht” given
milieu, where the worship of chthonic and lunar deities pre-
in Stuttgart on September 9, 1856 (Verhandlungen der 16,
vailed over that of heavenly and solar ones. The most impor-
Versammlung deutscher Philologen, Schulmänner und Orien-
tant divinity was the mother goddess Demeter, who was
talisten, 1857, pp. 40–64). Bachofen’s two chief books are
closely linked to the fertility of earth and women. Towards
Versuch über die Gräbersymbolik der Alten (1859) and Das
its end however, this stage degenerated into amazonism, that
Mutterrecht: Eine Untersuchung über die Gynaikokratie der
is, the military predominance of women over men. The reac-
Alten Welt nach ihrer religiösen und rechtlichen Natur (1861),
tion to the female principle was fulfilled by Dionysian reli-
the latter of which he dedicated to his mother, Valeria
gion, which determined the decline of gynecocracy and gave
way to the third and last Kulturstufe, that of patriarchy.
Strongly inspired by Georg Friedrich Creuzer’s Sym-
In patriarchy, the Dionysian principle was soon re-
bolik und Mythologie der alten Völker (1819–1822),
placed by the Apollonian, then by Roman law, and finally
Bachofen’s Gräbersymbolik conceives myth as “the exegesis
by Christianity. Humankind organized society in patrilinear
of the symbol” (Gesammelte Werke, 1943–1967, vol. 4,
families, grouped in cities, kingdoms, and empires. In
p. 61). Myth narrates through a series of connected actions
Bachofen’s view, the patriarchal order represented the victory
what the symbol embodies and unifies. Similar to a discur-
of spirit over matter, of culture over nature, of reason over
sive philosophical treatise, myth unfolds the profound, im-
instinct, but also of arbitrary power over freedom, of social
penetrable muteness of the symbol, though respecting and
hierarchy over communal unity, of violence over peace. Be-
not violating its intrinsic mystery: “to expound the mystery
neath Apollo, the main divinity of this stage was Zeus, father
doctrine in words would be a sacrilege against the supreme
and king of the Olympian gods, who embodied the spiritual,
law; it can only be represented in the terms of myth” (Gesam-
uranic, and male principle.
melte Werke, 1943–1967, vol. 4, p. 61). The symbols of fu-
nerary art (Bachofen takes into account Greek, Roman,
The assumption of a gynecocratic, oriental root for
Egyptian, and Microasiatic evidence) are thus capable of re-
Roman history inspired the main work of Bachofen’s maturi-
vealing the true essence of antiquity, as well as of religion
ty, Die Sage von Tanaquil: Eine Untersuchung über den Orien-
throughout. In the Gräbersymbolik, the most significant sym-
talismus in Rom und Italien (1870), a book juxtaposed with
bols analyzed are those of the three mysteric eggs and of the
Theodor Mommen’s popular Römische Geschichte (1854–
rope-weaver Ocnus. The myths arising from them explain
1856). The Antiquarische Briefe vornehmlich zur Kenntnis der
the relationships between the cosmic powers of life and
ältesten Verwandtschaftsbegriffe (1880/1886), which are dedi-
death, light and obscurity, spirit and matter, masculine and
cated to Morgan, shed light on the great influence the Ameri-
feminine, and right and left, as well as the duality of Roman
can scholar had on Bachofen starting from 1874 onwards,
power as exemplified by Romulus and Remus (and consul
inspiring his vast studies on the institution of the avunculate
and magistrate).
in matrilinear societies (still partly unpublished). The post-
humously edited Römische Grablampen (1890) shows how in
The symbolic context of the Gräbersymbolik also occurs
the last weeks of his life Bachofen had returned to study fu-
in Bachofen’s best-known work, the Mutterrecht. Here he
nerary symbolism.
presents his theory of the evolution of human society from
its beginning to modernity as it develops through three stages
RECEPTION AND INFLUENCE. During Bachofen’s lifetime
of civilization (Kulturstufen). According to this scheme, be-
only his writings on Roman law were appreciated. His works
fore the stage of patriarchal society, which extends from Ho-
on Roman history and on mythology were criticized or even
meric antiquity to the present, in prehistoric times there were
ignored by most of the scholars of his time. The only special-
two earlier and universal stages. The first was that of haeter-
ists who admired Bachofen’s work were Meyer-Ochsner, a
ism (or aphroditism), a stage of sexual promiscuity and social
wealthy private scholar like himself, and Alexis Giraud-
anarchy very close to the original state of nature. During this
Teulon, a French honorary professor at the University of Ge-
stage, humans lived in swamps without any legal and ethical
neva; Bachofen corresponded with both of them for years.
obligation, and women suffered complete domination by
Giraud-Teulon was profoundly influenced by the Mutter-
every male component of the horde. Since descent could be
recht, whose theories he reformulated in La mère chez certains
reckoned only through the mother, women rebelled against
peuples de l’antiquité (1867) and Les origines du mariage et de
this condition of disorderly life and instituted the mother
la famille (1884). These works presented Bachofen’s ethno-
right, at once a juridical system, a social order, and a religious
sociological conceptions from a scholarly though simplified
view founded on the principle of matrilinearity (in
point of view, making them accessible to anthropologists,
Bachofen’s view this matrilinear aspect is particularly evident
ethnologists, and sociologists of the time. Lubbock (The Ori-
within the ancient Lycians: see his Das lykische Volk und seine
gin of Civilization, 1870) and McLennan (Studies in Ancient
Bedeutung für die Entwicklung des Alterthums, 1862).
History, 1876) took great interest in Giraud-Teulon’s inter-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

pretations of Bachofen’s ideas; Morgan even considered the
lying in the Basel University archive are thoroughly described
Swiss scholar to be the predecessor of his own theories (An-
by Johannes Dörmann in his Archiv J. J. Bachofen auf der
cient Society, 1877). From the end of the nineteenth century
Grundlage des Nachlasses J. J. Bachofen (Basel, 1987; appen-
until the late 1920s, Bachofen was considered a forerunner
dix to the Gesammelte Werke, vol. 5). Further insight into the
of family-evolutionism; most discussed were his conceptions
Bachofen-Archiv is supplied by Emanuel Kienzle, “Nach-
of haeterism and matrilinear gynecocracy. Although these
wort,” in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 6, pp. 459–477 (1951);
Ernst Howald, “Nachwort,” in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 4,
topics were progressively abandoned by scholars, Bachofen’s
pp. 507–560 (1954); and Philippe Borgeaud, La mythologie
theory of the Kulturstufen, closely related to that of the Kul-
du matriarcat: L’atelier de J. J. Bachofen (Geneva, 1999). A
turkreise, survived within the ethnology and sociology of the
selection of Bachofen’s major work in English translation,
first half of the twentieth century (e.g., that of Leo Frobeni-
with notes, glossary, and bibliography, is Myth, Religion, and
us, Oswald Spengler, Adolf Ellegard Jensen, and Wilhelm
Mother Right: Selected Writings of J. J. Bachofen, translated by
Ralph Mannheim with a preface by George Boas and an in-
troduction by Joseph Campbell (Princeton, 1967; 2d ed.,
Morgan’s works and Giraud-Teulon’s Bachofen-
influenced idea of an original communism influenced Karl
Marx (see The Ethnological Notebooks, edited by Lawrence
The most complete sketch of Bachofen’s life and work until 1861
Krader, 1972) and Friedrich Engels (Der Ursprung der Fami-
is Karl Meuli’s “Nachwort,” in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 3,
lie, des Privateigenthums und des Staates, 1884; in the fourth
pp. 1011–1128 (1948). The years leading to the Sage von
are covered by Emanuel Kienzle, “Nachwort,” in
edition of this book in 1891 Bachofen’s influence is even
Gesammelte Werke, vol. 6, pp. 447–451 (1951), whereas the
stronger). Later this topic was studied also by Paul Lafargue,
period after 1870 is examined by Johannes Dörmann’s
Heinrich Cunow, Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Max
“Bachofens ‘Antiquarische Briefe’ und die zweite Bearbei-
Horkheimer, and Ernst Bloch.
tung des Mutterrechts,” in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 8,
The work of Bachofen reached its greatest popularity
pp. 523–602 (1966). The peculiarity of Bachofen’s personal-
during the 1920s, when it was rediscovered by the Münchner
ity within German scholarship has been outlined by Jona-
than D. Fishbane, Mother-right, Myth, and Renewal: The
Kosmiker Karl Wolfskehl, Alfred Schuler, and Ludwig
Thought of J. J. Bachofen and Its Relationship to the Perception
Klages. Klages’s Vom Kosmogonischen Eros (1922) introduced
of Cultural Decadence in the Nineteenth Century (Ann Arbor,
a true Bachofen-Renaissance, which expanded in a variety of
Mich., 1982), and Lionel Gossman, Basel in the Age of Burck-
fields, reaching from mythical symbolism (Carl Albrecht
hardt (Chicago and London, 2000), pp. 111–200, the latter
Bernoulli, J. J. Bachofen und das Natursymbol [1924] and
focusing on Bachofen’s relationship to Mommsen (“Orpheus
J. J. Bachofen als Religionsforscher [1924]; Alfred Bäumler,
Philologus: Bachofen versus Mommsen on the Study of An-
“Bachofen, der Mythologe der Romantik,” an introduction
tiquity,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 73
to the renowned anthology of Bachofen’s work, Der Mythus
[1983]: 1–89). Bachofen’s studies in the history of Roman
von Orient und Occident, edited by Bäumler and Manfred
law have been examined by Roy Garré, Fra diritto romano e
Schröter [1926]; and Karl Kerényi, Bachofen und die Zukunft
giustizia popolare: Il ruolo dell’attività giudiziaria nella vita e
des Humanismus [1945]), to psychology (Carl Gustav Jung,
nell’opera di J. J. Bachofen (Frankfurt am Main, 1999), and
Annamaria Rufino, Diritto e storia: J. J. Bachofen e la cultura
who suggested translating Bachofen’s work into English in
giuridica romantica, 2d ed. (Naples, 2002). His conception
1967, and Erich Neumann), to literature (Hugo von Hof-
of history was examined by Georg Schmidt, J. J. Bachofens
mannsthal, Gerhard Hauptmann, Walter Benjamin, and
Geschichtsphilosophie (Munich, 1929); Johannes Dörmann,
Thomas Mann), to ancient history (George Thomson), to
“War J. J. Bachofen Evolutionist?” Anthropos 60 (1695):
city planning (Lewis Mumford), and to feminism (August
1–48; and Andreas Cesana, J. J. Bachofens Geschichtsdeutung
Bebel, Robert Briffault, Ernest Bornemann, Evelyn Reed,
(Basel, 1983); his relationship to politics by Max Burckhardt,
Ida Magli, Marie Louise Janssen-Jurreit, Richard Fester, and
J. J. Bachofen und die Politik (Basel, 1942).
Heide Göttner-Abendroth).
In Germany, Bachofen’s success in the second half of the twenti-
eth century owes much to Marxism and feminism (see Uwe
SEE ALSO Creuzer, G. F.; Evola, Julius; Family; Feminine
Wesel, Der Mythos vom Matriarchat [Frankfurt am Main,
Sacrality; Feminist Theology, overview article; Frobenius,
1980] and Hartmut Zinser, Der Mythos des Mutterrechts
Leo; Goddess Worship, overview article; Gynocentrism;
[Frankfurt am Main, 1981]); to literature (Walter Muschg,
Kulturkreiselehre; Patriarchy and Matriarchy.
Bachofen als Schriftsteller [Basel, 1949]); and to psychology
(Adrien Turel, Bachofen-Freud: Zur Emanzipation des Man-
nes vom Reich der Mütter [Bern, 1939]). A comprehensive re-
A detailed bibliography of Bachofen’s printed writings and the lit-
construction of the Bachofen-Renaissance can be found in Das
erature on his life and works is available in Hans-Jürgen
Mutterrecht von J. J. Bachofen in der Diskussion, edited by
Hildebrandt, J. J. Bachofen: A Bibliography of the Primary and
Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs, 2d ed. (Frankfurt am Main, 1987).
Secondary Literature (in English and German; Aachen, Ger-
Other collections include J. J. Bachofen (1815–1887): Eine
many, 1988). Most of Bachofen’s published and previously
Begleitpublikation zur Ausstellung im Historischen Museum
unpublished work has been collected in his Gesammelte
Basel, edited by Barbara Huber-Greub (Basel, 1987) and
Werke, 8 vols., edited by Karl Meuli and others (Basel, 1943–
Matriarchatstheorien der Altertumswissenschaft, edited by
1967). The remaining (10,000) unedited handwritten pages
Beate Wagner-Hasel (Darmstadt, Germany, 1992).
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

In France, where the Mutterrecht had been translated already in
Learning (1605); book 1 of this work contains a defense of
1903 by the Group of Feminist Studies in Paris (a new trans-
learning, and book 2 a catalog of the branches of knowledge,
lation by Étienne Barilier appeared 1996 in Lausanne), the
with a commentary showing where each is deficient. An ex-
strong criticism of Émile Durkheim prevented Bachofen’s
panded version, in Latin, was published in 1623 as De aug-
work from having any influence within the École So-
mentis scientarum. Bacon thought of this version as the first
ciologique. In Italy, on the contrary, where most of
section of his “great instauration” of the sciences, of which
Bachofen’s works have been translated (starting with the an-
thology Le madri e la virilità olimpica, edited by Julius Evola
the second part, Novum organum (The new organon), had
[Milan, 1949]), many scholars have produced important
already appeared (1620). Posthumously published, though
writings on various aspects of the Swiss mythologist (Arnaldo
written in 1610, was New Atlantis; here, in the guise of a
Momigliano, Giampiera Arrigoni, Giulio Schiavoni, Eva
traveler’s tale, Bacon depicts his ideal scientific community.
Cantarella, and Giampiero Moretti). International confer-
The science he proposed was to be both experimental and
ences on Bachofen took place in 1987 and 1988 (Pisa:
systematic: “The men of experiment are like the ant, they
“Seminario su J. J. Bachofen,” Annali della Scuola Normale
only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who
di Pisa 18 [1988]: 599–887; Rome: “J. J. Bachofen e la dis-
make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes
cussione sull’origine dello Stato,” Quaderni di Storia 28
a middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of
[1988]: 7–139).
the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by
a power of its own” (Novum organum 95). Similarly, adher-
ence to proper principles of induction would yield scientific
knowledge from experimental findings.
BACON, FRANCIS (1561–1626), Lord Verulam, Vis-
Bacon’s methodology of science has been criticized for
count St. Albans; English statesman, essayist, and philoso-
its rejection of those speculative hypotheses that contribute
pher of science. A major political figure in early Stuart En-
essentially to progress; he is also faulted for his dismissal of
gland, Bacon drew a visionary picture of the role and
the use of mathematics in science. But these criticisms are
practices of the science of the future. This science was to be
made with hindsight: when, in 1662, the Royal Society was
experimental, and Bacon advocated setting up public institu-
founded along Baconian lines, its early members, including
tions for its pursuit. Written in the conviction that science,
speculative natural philosophers like Robert Boyle, were lav-
properly conducted, would lead to the improvement of the
ish in their praise of him.
material conditions of life, his major works are at the same
In his lifetime, however, the works most widely read
time philosophical discourses and recommendations for pub-
were De sapientia veterum (Of the wisdom of the ancients,
lic policy.
1610), which puts forward rational reinterpretations of clas-
Bacon was born of distinguished parents. His father was
sical fables and mythology, and his Essays. The essays, appear-
lord keeper of the great seal to Elizabeth I, and his mother
ing in several editions between 1597 and 1625, are aphoristic
was the niece of Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s lord treasurer. In
in style and worldly in content; like Machiavelli, whom he
1573 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, and two years
admired, Bacon sought to describe the political world as it
later was enrolled briefly as a law student at Gray’s Inn. His
is rather than as it should be. He described the essays as “rec-
father’s death in 1579 left Francis, the youngest son, compar-
reations of my other studies,” but they may also be regarded
atively poor, and he embarked on a career in law and politics.
as supplying material for “civil knowledge,” a branch of
In 1584 he became a member of the House of Commons,
“human philosophy” in Bacon’s scheme.
where he sat until his elevation to the House of Lords in
Bacon’s views on religion are problematic. Although the
1618. Despite wide knowledge, great ability, and influential
first edition of the Essays included his Meditationes sacrae (Sa-
friends, Bacon never achieved high office under Elizabeth,
cred meditations), in the essays themselves religion is viewed
but after the accession of James I in 1603 he became succes-
merely as a useful social cement, contributing to the stability
sively king’s counsel, solicitor general, attorney general, lord
of the state. And, along with Aristotelian philosophy, Bacon
keeper, and lord chancellor. Then, in 1620, he was found
rejected the scholastic tradition within theology. Repeatedly
guilty of taking a bribe and was removed from public office.
he emphasized the necessity of a divorce between the study
He spent the remainder of his life working on a vast project:
of science and of religion: the truths of science are revealed
to provide both a new foundation for knowledge and a pro-
in God’s works, the truths of morality and religion by God’s
gram for its acquisition.
word, that is, in sacred scripture. Fact and value become ap-
This project had occupied him since he first entered
parently dissociated. But those commentators who claim that
Parliament. An essay written in 1584 has not survived, but
Bacon’s frequent protestations of faith were either politic or
from 1594 we have Discourse in Praise of Knowledge, a contri-
ironical must deal with the recurrence of theological ele-
bution to an entertainment devised for Elizabeth. Its themes,
ments within his thought. For example, his inductive system
the sterility of traditional Aristotelian philosophy on the one
rests on a belief that the surface of nature can be made trans-
hand and the lack of progress in empirical endeavors like al-
parent to us, provided we rid ourselves of the misconceptions
chemy on the other, reappeared in The Advancement of
(“idols,” Bacon calls them) that are the product of our fallen
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

state; proper inductive procedures will, at least partially, re-
Bacon’s intellectual universe was peopled with heroes
store the “commerce between the mind of man and the na-
and villains. Aristotle was a particularly great ancient hero,
ture of things” to its original condition, that is, to its condi-
while among the few contemporaries admitted to the pan-
tion before the Fall. Again, Bacon’s New Atlantis is suffused
theon were Robert Grosseteste and Adam Marsh. Grosseteste
with a mystical Christianity, which, it has been persuasively
(whom Bacon may not have known personally) had been a
argued, owes much to the Rosicrucian movement. Of course,
lecturer to the Franciscans at Oxford, and Marsh was a Fran-
such religious elements are open to reinterpretation, as
ciscan himself. These men must have been very important
Bacon’s own reinterpretation of the myths of antiquity
in influencing Bacon’s somewhat surprising decision to join
shows. And although certain eighteenth-century religious
the Franciscan order, for he was no model of simple humili-
ideas, like the “argument from design” for God’s existence,
ty. Indeed Bacon could be almost as rude about fellow Fran-
are prefigured in Bacon’s writings, it was his insistence on
ciscan intellectuals as about rival Dominicans, such as Alber-
the autonomy of science, as well as his systematic ordering
tus Magnus. His relations with his superiors were probably
of its various components, that earned him the admiration
never easy, and it seems certain that he was at least once put
of Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire and d’Alembert.
under some form of confinement, although the reasons re-
They rightly saw him as among those who made the Enlight-
main obscure. It has been suggested, notably by Stewart C.
enment possible. For good or ill, he was also a herald, not
Easton, that one of the principal reasons for strained rela-
only of the technological age that succeeded it, but also of
tions was his sympathy for the spirituals, the more austere
the compartmentalization of experience characteristic of our
wing of the order, but this view has not been universally ac-
Both before and after becoming a Franciscan Bacon de-
The standard edition of Bacon’s Works (London, 1857–1874) was
veloped his new approach to philosophy, and in the 1260s
edited by James Spedding, R. L. Ellis, and D. D. Heath; vol-
his big chance came. His schemes were brought to the atten-
umes 1–7 contain the works, together with translations of all
tion of Cardinal Guy de Foulques, who in 1265 became
the major Latin works into English; volumes 8–14 contain
Pope Clement IV. Bacon was ordered to produce his writ-
a life, letters, and miscellanea. All important works appear in
ings, but unfortunately there were as yet none fit for dis-
English in Philosophical Works, edited by J. M. Robertson
patch. Bacon, therefore, began to write in a flurry; the results
(London, 1905). Noteworthy among editions of individual
were not only the famous Opus majus but also the Opus
works is a scrupulously annotated edition of The Advance-
ment of Learning
and New Atlantis, 3d ed., edited by Arthur
minus and Opus tertium, both of which supplemented and
Johnston (Oxford, 1974). Three interesting and previously
summarized the Opus majus. Some if not all of these works
untranslated minor works appear in Benjamin Farrington’s
reached Rome, but there is no evidence of their having pro-
The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Liverpool, 1964), together
voked any reaction there, and Clement died in 1268. For the
with a valuable monograph on Bacon’s thought. A useful, al-
rest of his intellectual life Bacon may not unfairly be de-
beit adulatory, account of Bacon’s philosophy is Fulton H.
scribed as rewriting the same major work, often with great
Anderson’s The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (1948; reprint,
vehemence at what he saw as the increasing ignorance and
Chicago, 1971); more critical is Anthony Quinton’s Francis
corruption of his times. Although he never completed a new
Bacon (Oxford, 1980). Paulo Rossi’s Francis Bacon: From
grand synthesis, he was still at work in 1292. Tradition places
Magic to Science (Chicago, 1968) offers an intriguing study
his death in the same year.
linking Bacon’s thought with the hermetic tradition. Other
aspects of Bacon scholarship are covered in Essential Articles
A cornerstone of Bacon’s mature thought is the postu-
for the Study of Francis Bacon, edited by Brian Vickers (Ham-
late that all wisdom is included in the scriptures but is in
den, Conn., 1968).
need of explication by means of canon law and philosophy.
R. I. G. HUGHES (1987)
Thus, while subordinating philosophy to theology Bacon
also accorded it immense importance. Moreover, he did not
conceive philosophy narrowly but included in its domain—
BACON, ROGER (c. 1214–c. 1292), philosopher and
besides its crowning glory, moral philosophy—the study of
Franciscan friar. Born in the west of England of a wealthy
languages, mathematics, geography, astrology, optics, and al-
family, for most of his life Bacon alternated between England
chemy. His emphasis was often empirical, and this, together
and France. His first, if not his only, university education
with the fact that one part of the Opus majus is devoted to
was at Oxford, and soon thereafter he pioneered in lecturing
“experimental science,” has led many to portray Bacon as a
on Aristotle’s metaphysics and on natural philosophy at
harbinger of modern experimental science. There is some
Paris. Several Artistotelian commentaries survive from this
truth in this, but it is a view that can all too easily lead to
period, but Bacon was soon to undergo a profound intellec-
anachronism. For instance, it must be remembered that
tual reorientation, inspired at least partly by another work
Bacon emphasized that experience was accessible through
that he believed to be by Aristotle, the Secretum secretorum,
both external senses and interior illumination, and that reve-
a long letter of advice on kingship supposedly written to Al-
lation was necessary even for philosophical knowledge. In-
exander the Great.
deed, in his view the plenitude of philosophy had first been
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

revealed to the ancient patriarchs and prophets. It was then
Bacon, and La synthèse doctrinale de Roger Bacon (all, Paris,
transmitted to posterity, with an inevitable decline in quality
1924). Roger Bacon: Essays, edited by Andrew G. Little
accompanying the process, the decline only occasionally
(1914; reprint, New York, 1972), remains of considerable
being arrested by special illuminations to such men as Py-
value. A good, up-to-date account of Bacon and his attitude
thagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Among other means
to non-Christians is provided in E. R. Daniel’s The Francis-
of reversing the decline, according to Bacon, was the study
can Concept of Mission in the High Middle Ages (Lexington,
Ky., 1975).
of languages, which would allow ancient texts to be read in
the orignal.
Bacon believed that there were six (although at times he
appears to allow seven) principal religions, which were astro-
logically linked to six of the seven planets. The rise and de-
BA¯DARA¯YAN:A, reputed author of the Veda¯nta Su¯tra
cline of the religions were also correlated with the heavenly
(Brahma Su¯tra), the source text for all subsequent philosoph-
motions, so that, for instance, astrology could indicate that
ical Veda¯nta. No biographical information is available; the
the time of the last religion, that of the antichrist, was near
name may be a convenient surrogate for the process of redac-
at hand. Christianity was one of the principal religions, but
tion that eventuated in the present text. Indeed, a recent tra-
was unique in that philosophy could provide conviction of
dition identifies Ba¯dara¯yan:a with Vya¯sa, the eponymous
its truth.
“compiler” of much late Vedic and epic material, including
Bacon saw preaching to the unconverted as a bounden,
the Maha¯bha¯rata.
but in fact neglected, duty of Christians, and he strongly dis-
The name Ba¯dara¯yan:a occurs in the M¯ıma¯ms:a¯ Su¯tra
approved of the Crusades, which, he held, shed Christian
(1.5) of Jaimini, there referring to a r:s:i to whose opinion on
blood unnecessarily while actually hindering the conversion
an important point Jaimini seems to defer. If the Veda¯nta
of Muslims. But even with effective preaching there would
Su¯tra is indeed Ba¯dara¯yan:a’s, then he also refers to himself
still be those who obstinately resisted conversion and would
in the context of other teachers whose disputations evidently
need to be physically repulsed. Here again philosophy came
formed the beginnings of early Veda¯nta speculation (Veda¯nta
into play, for Bacon was a firm advocate of what in modern
Su¯tra 4.4.5–7).
terms would be called the application of technology in war-
Modern discussion of Ba¯dara¯yan:a is focused chiefly on
fare. Among his proposals was the use of huge burning mir-
the date of the su¯tra text, on Ba¯dara¯yan:a’s “relations” to
rors to destroy enemy encampments and the use of “fascina-
other post-Upanis:adic teachers, notably Jaimini, and on the
tion” (psychic influence), a phenomenon Bacon believed
question of which of his many commentators has been most
could be explained naturalistically. The antichrist would be
faithful to his thought. Paul Deussen in general prefers
well armed with such weapons, and so it was imperative that
S´an˙kara’s monistic version, the oldest extant commentary,
Christendom defend itself in similar fashion.
but others (George Thibaut, Vinayaka S. Ghate, and Louis
Bacon could often seem suspiciously close to advocating
Renou) have suggested important reservations in this view
the use of magic. He was very conscious of this, and made
and have often concluded that Ra¯ma¯nuja’s bheda¯bheda
strenuous efforts to distinguish philosophy sharply from
(“difference within unity”) more accurately reflects
magic and its appeals to demons. Nevertheless, although
Ba¯dara¯yan:a’s original thesis. The discussion is made extreme-
some of his “pure scientific” writings had considerable influ-
ly difficult by the fact, universally admitted, that
ence (notably those on optics), it is not surprising that he
Ba¯dara¯yan:a’s su¯tras, of an extreme brevity and terseness, are
went down to posterity as part of the magical tradition. By
often unintelligible without an explanatory commentary.
the learned he was cited as a defender of what in the Renais-
Ba¯dara¯yan:a’s relation to the r:s:i of the other (Pu¯rva)
sance was called natural magic, but to the public at large he
M¯ıma¯m:sa¯, Jaimini, is again not easy to decipher. The names
was himself a full-blooded magician who had no compunc-
appear in the collections attributed to the other teacher,
tion about trafficking with spirits. Later this image was trans-
which has led many to suspect that the two may have been
formed into that of a hero of experimental science born cen-
close contemporaries. But the doctrines that they espouse in
turies before his time; more recent critical scholarship, in its
these stray passages do not seem clearly related to the perhaps
urge to demythologize, has often unjustly muted the individ-
later massive schism implied by the existence of the separate
uality and originality of this intellectually turbulent figure.
text collections to which their names were attached. What
is clear is that they were preeminent among the many teach-
ers whose names alone survive. The date of Ba¯dara¯yan:a is
The best general introduction to Bacon is Stewart C. Easton’s
also closely tied to that of Jaimini but, like all such early Indi-
Roger Bacon and His Search for a Universal Science (New
York, 1952), although Easton perhaps exaggerates Bacon’s
an dating, is highly speculative and often circularly argued.
sympathies for the teachings of Joachim of Fiore. A very use-
If, as Renou concludes, Ba¯dara¯yan:a does directly confront
ful trilogy for probing the basic structure of Bacon’s thought
the Buddhist Maha¯ya¯na in several su¯tras (see 2.2.28–32),
is by Raoul Carton: L’expérience physique chez Roger Bacon,
then his date cannot be much earlier than the third century
L’expérience mystique de l’illumination intérieure chez Roger
of our era. But Jaimini’s date is sometimes put back as far
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

as the third century BCE (see, e.g., Jacobi, 1911).
Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a leading
Ba¯dara¯yan:a’s name had of course become associated with the
institution of Liberal Judaism. Baeck then held pulpits in
su¯tra text by the time of S´an˙kara (early eighth century).
Oppeln (Silesia) and Düsseldorf, and in 1912 he was called
The text itself is composed of 555 su¯tras, grouped in
to Berlin where, with the exception of a stint as chaplain dur-
four major chapters (adhya¯yas), each with four subdivisions
ing World War I, he remained until his deportation to a con-
(pa¯das). Commentators have further identified various “top-
centration camp by the Nazis. During his years in Berlin,
ics” within each pa¯da, but the number and boundaries of
Baeck assumed a number of increasingly influential posi-
these differ markedly from one commentator to another. In
tions. In 1913 he joined the faculty of the Hochschule as a
general, the first chapter is fundamental, treating brahman
docent of Midrash and homiletics. In 1922 he became chair-
as the one source of the world. It argues that the various
man of the national association of German rabbis, and in
Upanis:adic teachings concerning brahman present one doc-
1925 he assumed the presidency of the BDnai BDrith, a frater-
trine. Much of the discussion in the fourth pa¯da appears di-
nal network, in Germany.
rected against the Sa¯m:khya. The second chapter refutes spec-
When Hitler ascended to the German chancellorship,
ulative objections to the Veda¯nta theses from the Sa¯m:khya,
it was Baeck who had the prescience to declare that “the
Nya¯ya, and Bauddha schools and discusses certain problems
thousand-year” history of German Jewry had come to an
of “realism,” notably whether the world is “caused” or not.
end. Baeck was instrumental in founding the Reichsvertre-
The third chapter treats the individual soul (j¯ıva) and how
tung der deutschen Juden, an organization that made the
it “knows” brahman. The final chapter, on “fruits,” discusses
most successful attempt in German-Jewish history to unify
meditation and the condition of the liberated soul before and
Jewish defense, welfare, and cultural activities on a nation-
after death.
wide scale. As president of this body, he devoted himself to
defending the rights of Jews in Germany, facilitating their
SEE ALSO M¯ıma¯m:sa¯; Veda¯nta.
emigration, and raising the morale of those still left in Hit-
ler’s Reich. A noteworthy example of the last effort was a spe-
cial prayer composed by Baeck for public recitation on the
The Veda¯nta Su¯tra has been translated by George Thibaut as The
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in 1935, which included
Veda¯nta Su¯tras of Ba¯dara¯yan:a in “Sacred Books of the East,”
a defiant rejection of Nazi slanders: “In indignation and ab-
vols. 34, 38, and 48 (Oxford, 1890–1904). Thibaut’s work
horrence, we express our contempt for the lies concerning
contains an extensive introduction to the text. Important sec-
us and the defamation of our religion and its testimonies”
ondary sources include Paul Deussen’s Das System des
(Out of the Whirlwind: A Reader of Holocaust Literature, ed.
Veda¯nta (Leipzig, 1883), translated by Charles Johnston as
Albert Friedlander, New York, 1968, p. 132). Arrested re-
The System of the Veda¯nta (Chicago, 1912); Hermann Jaco-
bi’s Zur Frühgeschichte der indischen Philosophie (Berlin,
peatedly by the Nazis for his outspokenness, Baeck persisted
1911); Vinayaka S. Ghate’s Le Veda¯nta: Études sur les
in his refusal to flee Germany until every Jew had been res-
Brahma-Su¯tras et leurs cinq commentaires (Paris, 1918); and
cued. He continued to head the national body of German
Louis Renou and Jean Filliozat’s L’Inde classique, vol. 2
Jews after it was forcibly reorganized by the government into
(Hanoi, 1953).
a council that was accountable to the Nazis. In January 1943
New Sources
Baeck was deported along with other elderly German Jews
Adams, George C. The Structure and Meaning of Badarayana’s
to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt. In that “model
Brahma Sutras: A Translation and Analysis of Adhyaya. Delhi,
camp” he served as honorary president of the ruling Jewish
council and devoted his time to comforting and teaching his
Badarayana. The Vedantasutras of Badarayana: Wth the Commen-
fellow inmates. When the camp was liberated, he still refused
tary of Baladeva Translated by Srisa Chandra Vasu. New
to leave his flock until he had been assured of their safety.
Delhi, 2002.
Baeck immigrated to London after the war. His last
years were devoted to work on behalf of the World Union
Revised Bibliography
for Progressive Judaism, teaching at the Hebrew Union Col-
lege (the Reform rabbinical school in Cincinnati), and orga-
nizing the surviving remnants of German Jewry. In England,
he served as president of the Council of Jews from Germany.
BAECK, LEO (1873–1956), rabbi and theologian, rep-
And shortly before his death, Baeck helped found an interna-
resentative spokesman of German Jewry during the Nazi era.
tional research institute for the study of central European
Born in Lissa, Posen (at that time part of Prussian Germany),
Jewry that bears his name (the Leo Baeck Institute).
a son of the local rabbi, Baeck first pursued his higher educa-
tion at the university in Breslau and the moderately liberal
Baeck’s writings reflect his lifelong efforts to defend his
Jewish Theological Seminary. In order to study with the dis-
people and faith. He achieved early fame by rebutting the
tinguished scholar of religion Wilhelm Dilthey, Baeck trans-
anti-Jewish claims of Adolf von Harnack, a liberal Protestant
ferred to the university in Berlin, where he earned a doctorate
theologian who denigrated Judaism in his book Das Wesen
in 1895. Two years later, he was ordained as a rabbi at the
des Christentums (The Essence of Christianity). Baeck’s first
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

book, a polemical work entitled Vorlesungen über das Wesen
the shar¯ı Eah but did not share her other radical views. Dur-
des Judentums (Lectures on the Essence of Judaism; 1905),
ing the following year S:ubh:-i Azal was designated as the lead-
continued this defense and boldly proclaimed Judaism supe-
er of the Ba¯b¯ıs because the Ba¯b appreciated his knowledge
rior to Christianity, a claim that won Baeck considerable at-
and thought him an able leader to succeed him. During the
tention as a champion of German Jewry. Employing the ap-
persecution of the Ba¯b¯ıs following the attempt to assassinate
proach to religion developed by his mentor, Dilthey, Baeck
Na¯s:ir al-D¯ın Sha¯h in 1852, Baha¯D Alla¯h was imprisoned in
attempted to penetrate the underlying psychology of Juda-
Tehran in a jail known as Siya¯h Cha¯l, the “Black Hole.”
ism and understand the Jewish religion in its totality
There for the first time Baha¯D Alla¯h became aware of his fu-
ture mission as a divine messenger. In 1853 Baha¯D Alla¯h was
In subsequent essays and reworkings of his first book,
exiled to Baghdad, where other Ba¯b¯ıs, including S:ubh:-i Azal,
Baeck sharpened the contrast between Judaism and Chris-
already resided.
tianity: the latter, he claimed, was a “romantic religion” that
Although Baha¯D Alla¯h accepted the leading position of
exalted feeling, self-indulgence, dogma, and passivity; Juda-
his half brother, in Baghdad the first tensions between the
ism, by contrast, was a “classical religion” imbued with ethi-
two became evident, partly fostered by differences in inter-
cal concerns. In Judaism, Baeck saw a religion in which
preting the baya¯n, which Baha¯D Alla¯h saw in a more mystical
God’s mystery and commandment exist as polarities. Dieses
or ethical light. As a result he left Baghdad on April 10, 1854,
Volk (This People Israel), a book written in Nazi Berlin and
to live as a dervish in Kurdistan near Sulayma¯n¯ıyah for two
the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, explores the
years. After his return to Baghdad, his influence on the Ba¯b¯ı
meaning of Jewish existence. Written during the bleakest era
exiles increased. Famous works authored by Baha¯D Alla¯h in
of Jewish history, it is a work of optimism that expresses Leo
those years include mystical books, like the Seven Valleys, the
Baeck’s belief in the eternity of the Jewish people and their
Four Valleys, and the Hidden Words (1858). Theological ar-
ongoing mission. In defiant rejection of Nazi barbarism,
guments that the Ba¯b saw himself as a prophet announced
Baeck affirmed the messianic role of the people Israel to heed
in the QurDa¯n are the main contents of the Book of Certitude
God’s ethical command.
(1862; Kita¯b-i ¯Iqa¯n). These writings foreshadowed Baha¯D
Alla¯h as the divine messenger whom the Ba¯b had foretold.
Two of Baeck’s most important books have been translated into
Shortly before the Ottoman authorities removed him
English: The Essence of Judaism, rev. ed. (New York, 1961),
from Baghdad to Istanbul, Baha¯D Alla¯h declared himself to
and This People Israel: The Meaning of Jewish Existence, trans-
be this promised figure on April 8, 1863, in a garden called
lated by Albert H. Friedlander (New York, 1965). Several of
Ba¯gh-i Riz:va¯n (Garden of Paradise) in the precincts of Bagh-
his major essays appear in Judaism and Christianity: Essays by
dad. After some months in Istanbul, Baha¯D Alla¯h and the
Leo Baeck, translated by Walter Kaufmann (Philadelphia,
other exiles were sent to Edirne, where they stayed for about
1958). There are two book-length studies of Leo Baeck:
five years. In the Sura¯t al-Amr, Baha¯D Alla¯h informed his half
Friedlander’s Leo Baeck: Teacher of Theresienstadt (New York,
brother officially about his claim to be “the one whom God
1968) primarily analyzes Baeck’s writings; Leonard Baker’s
shall manifest” (man yuz:h:iruhu Alla¯h). The writings of Baha¯D
Days of Sorrow and Pain: Leo Baeck and the Berlin Jews (New
York, 1978), a more popular account, describes, on the basis
Alla¯h that originated from the time spent in Edirne make it
of extensive interviews, Baeck’s communal and wartime ac-
clear that he was the promised prophet. One of the impor-
tant writings is the Kita¯b-i Bad¯ı D (Wondrous book), but he
also wrote letters (alwa¯h:, tablets) to political leaders during
these years. Conflicts arose among the Ba¯b¯ıs, who had to de-
cide whether to side with him or with S:ubh:-i Azal. Therefore
the Ottoman authorities banished the Baha¯D¯ıs, as the follow-
BAHA¯D¯IS follow the teaching of the Ba¯b and M¯ırza¯
ers of Baha¯D Alla¯h were called, to Acre in Palestine, whereas
H:usayn EAl¯ı Nu¯r¯ı, later known as Baha¯D Alla¯h (BaháDuDlláh,
the followers of S:ubh:-i Azal, the Azal¯ıs, were banished to
according to Baha¯D¯ı orthography), the Ba¯b’s successor and
“the one whom God shall manifest” (man yuz:hiruhu Alla¯h).
In August 1868 Baha¯D Alla¯h and his family arrived at
The religion spread from Iran and the Middle East all over
Acre, where Baha¯D Alla¯h was imprisoned for the next nine
the world starting at the end of the nineteenth century.
years before he was allowed to move to a country house at
M¯IRZA¯ H:USAYN EAL¯I NU¯R¯I, BAHA¯D ALLA¯H. Born into a noble
MazraEah. In 1880 he moved to Bahj¯ı near Haifa. During
Tehran family, M¯ırza¯ H:usayn EAl¯ı Nu¯r¯ı (1817–1892) and
more than two decades in Palestine, Baha¯D Alla¯h was revered
his younger half brother M¯ırza¯ Yah:ya¯ Nu¯r¯ı (1830–1912),
by his followers, who came from as far away as Persia to catch
known as S:ubh:-i Azal, came in touch with the Ba¯b soon after
sight of him for a moment. He finished the most holy text
his revelation in 1844. But during the first years neither
of the Baha¯D¯ıs, the Kita¯b-i Aqdas, in 1873. This book primar-
brother took a dominant position among the Ba¯b¯ıs. At the
ily relates to sacred and civil laws for the Baha¯D¯ıs, thus abro-
meeting at Badasht in the summer of 1848, Baha¯D Alla¯h sup-
gating the Ba¯b’s baya¯n for the legal aspects of the religion.
ported Qurrat al-EAyn’s position regarding the abrogation of
The Arabic texts of the Kita¯b-i Aqdas are meant to be stylisti-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

cally close to the classical style of the QurDa¯n. Further letters
continued to send tablets to America after his departure. The
to individual Baha¯D¯ıs and political leaders as well as other
Baha¯D¯ı faith had started in the United States in 1894, when
writings also originated in these years. Close to the end of
Ibrahim George Kheiralla (1849–1929), a native of Leba-
his life, Baha¯D Alla¯h wrote Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
non, converted the first Americans to the faith. Several
(Lawh:-i Ibn DhiDb), which reflects the main topics of Baha¯D¯ı
American converts spread the religion during the first decade
teachings and aspects of its history once more. The Kita¯b-i
of the twentieth century, helping establish the communities
EAhd, Baha¯D Alla¯h’s will, set out that his son Abbas Effendi,
in India, Burma, and Tehran and introducing the religion
better known as EAbd al-Baha¯D (Servant of the Glory [of
to Paris and London. Therefore EAbd al-Baha¯D was impressed
God]), would be his only legitimate successor and the infalli-
by the efforts of the still small American community during
ble interpreter of his father’s books. On May 29, 1892, Baha¯D
his visit. In his “Tablets of the Divine Plan” (1914–1916),
Alla¯h died at Bahj¯ı.
he advised the American community regarding how to
spread the new religion throughout America. EAbd al-Baha¯D
admonished the American Baha¯D¯ıs to arrange interracial or
Baha¯D¯ı tradition, EAbd al-Baha¯D (EAbduDl-Baha¯ according to
multiethnic marriages as an expression of the Baha¯D¯ı doctrine
Baha¯D¯ı orthography) was born in the same night when Say-
of the unity of humans.
yed EAl¯ı Muh:ammad declared himself in Shiraz to be the Ba¯b
to the hidden Ima¯m on May 23, 1844. He was close to his
The Baha¯D¯ı religion broadened and developed on a so-
father from the days of his childhood, and at least since the
cial level, which led to the humanitarian involvement of EAbd
period of Baha¯D Alla¯h’s imprisonment in Acre, he was the
al-Baha¯D and other Baha¯D¯ıs during World War I. In apprecia-
person who maintained contact between Baha¯D Alla¯h and
tion EAbd al-Baha¯D was knighted by the British government
the community. In the Kita¯b-i EAhd he was bestowed the
in 1920. EAbd al-Baha¯D died on November 28, 1921, in
title markaz-i Eahd (the center of the covenant), thus mark-
Haifa and is buried in the Ba¯b’s shrine.
ing his elevated position within the Baha¯D¯ı faith. But EAbd
al-Baha¯D never was considered a prophet, only the interpreter
Abd al-Baha¯D was succeeded by his grandson Shoghi Ef-
of Baha¯D Alla¯h’s revelation. During the first years of EAbd
fendi Rabbani, born in 1897. Under Shoghi Effendi’s leader-
al-Baha¯D’s leadership, the Baha¯D¯ıs faced another crisis as an-
ship Baha¯D¯ı communities existed in about twenty-two coun-
other son of Baha¯D Alla¯h, Muh:ammad EAl¯ı, contested EAbd
tries, from the Middle East to Europe, the United States,
al-Baha¯D’s position. It took about one decade to settle this
India, and Burma. Shoghi Effendi was educated at Oxford
University, and in 1936 he married Mary Maxwell, also
known as Ru¯h¯ıyah Kha¯num (d. 2000). Shoghi Effendi is the
During these years EAbd al-Baha¯D’s activities to further
infallible interpreter of Baha¯D Alla¯h’s and EAbd al-Baha¯D’s
the religion were restricted to the area of Acre. But Baha¯D¯ıs
writings and the “guardian of the cause of God” (wal¯ı-yi amr
from the Middle Eastern countries went to Acre, thus
Alla¯h). His main achievements included establishing the ad-
strengthening the bonds between the “center of the cove-
ministrative and institutional structure of the Baha¯D¯ı reli-
nant” and his followers. In 1898 the first American Baha¯D¯ı
gion. Whereas most of the Baha¯D¯ı organizations are only in-
pilgrims arrived in Acre; the Baha¯D¯ı faith had been known
dicated in short and general terms in Baha¯D Alla¯h’s Kita¯b-i
in the United States since 1894. EAbd al-Baha¯D was impris-
Aqdas, Shoghi Effendi laid out the details. During his period
oned for participating in the revolt of the Young Turks
as guardian, the number of National Spiritual Assemblies in-
against the Ottoman government, but with his formal release
creased, thus creating a firm and uniform basis for the Baha¯D¯ı
from prison in 1908, the situation changed. In 1909 the
communities in different countries. These assemblies, later
Ba¯b’s corpse was buried in his shrine on Mount Carmel, thus
renamed National Houses of Justice, are headed by the Uni-
making this shrine, in addition to Baha¯D Alla¯h’s grave at
versal House of Justice, the governing body of all the Baha¯D¯ıs
Bahj¯ı, a center for Baha¯D¯ı pilgrimage. In 1910 EAbd al-Baha¯D
worldwide, which was planned by Shoghi Effendi. The Uni-
set out for his first missionary journey to Egypt. During the
versal House of Justice is a body of nine men elected to five-
following year he visited Europe, and in 1912–1913 he trav-
year terms by representatives from the National Spiritual As-
eled on missions to Europe and the United States. In 1912
semblies. No elections took place during Shoghi Effendi’s
the foundation stone for the “house of worship,” the first
lifetime. In 1951 he named the first twelve Baha¯D¯ıs to the
building of its kind in the West, was laid at Wilmette,
Hand of the Cause, assigning them special tasks in teaching
and missionary activities. Until his untimely death on No-
vember 4, 1957, Shoghi Effendi appointed further “Hands,”
With these missionary journeys, the Baha¯D¯ı faith be-
raising the total number to twenty-seven.
came an international religion, and EAbd al-Baha¯D’s encoun-
ters with Westerners also brought new topics into his writ-
As Shoghi Effendi did not leave any will at his death,
ings interpreting the revelations of his father. At least in his
the Hands of the Cause assumed management of the religion
speeches delivered in the West, EAbd al-Baha¯D increased refer-
and arranged the first election of the Universal House of Jus-
ences to Christianity and reduced references to Islam. EAbd
tice during the Riz:va¯n festival in April 1963, one hundred
al-Baha¯D’s presence in the United States stimulated the first
years after Baha¯D Alla¯h proclaimed himself the man
wave of growth of the American Baha¯D¯ı community, and he
yuz:h:iruhu Alla¯h in the Riz:va¯n garden in Baghdad. The Uni-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

versal House of Justice has subsequently led the religion with
As the one God is unchangeable but society changes, di-
both legislative and executive powers and also with the task
vine messengers appear, but they are also thought to be one
of commenting on the writings of the Ba¯b, Baha¯D Alla¯h, EAbd
at a spiritual level. They “seal” the period of every earlier reli-
al-Baha¯D, and Shoghi Effendi. However, the Universal House
gion, thus keeping up the Muslim idea of Muh:ammad as
of Justice does not interpret Baha¯D Alla¯h’s scripture because
“seal of the prophets” (kha¯tam al-nab¯ıy¯ın) but reducing it
EAbd al-Baha¯D and Shoghi Effendi were the definitive inter-
only to the period of Islam as religion in its worldly (or social
preters of those writings. Therefore, the Universal House of
or materialistic) form. An absolute “seal” exists for every kind
Justice’s infallibility is restricted to the juridical level and
of revelation that brings (the unchangeable) divine knowl-
does not include the theological level, where only the writ-
edge anew.
ings from the Ba¯b to Shoghi Effendi are definitive.
The third aspect of “oneness” relates to humankind. All
In the early twenty-first century the Baha¯D¯ıs number
people, men and women as well as different races, are consid-
close to six million in more than two hundred countries all
ered one. Therefore Baha¯D¯ıs not only proclaim their religion
over the world. The number of adherents rose significantly
but also take actions to reduce differences among societies
in the late twentieth century from a little more than one mil-
or disadvantages among people based on their race or sex.
lion at the end of the 1960s to six million by end of the cen-
The Baha¯D¯ı the theological idea of the unity of humankind
tury. But the growth of the religion is not equally distributed.
encourages social engagement to improve living conditions,
In Europe and North America the number is relatively stag-
for example, in less-developed countries or to give equal
nant, whereas in India, South America, and sub-Saharan Af-
chances for education both to women and men, and they
rica the Baha¯D¯ıs attract large numbers of new converts. In
participate in projects for global peace or global ethics. Such
Iran the situation of the Baha¯D¯ıs has been critical through the
attempts to reach unity among humans by preserving cultur-
ages, as they have faced increasing persecutions. Baha¯D¯ıs
al values and differences as a kind of “unity within pluralism”
sometimes face persecution in other Muslim countries as
make the Baha¯D¯ı religion attractive to a growing number of
well, as the Ba¯b’s and Baha¯D Alla¯h’s claims to bring revelation
even after the prophet Muh:ammad are considered apostasy
by Muslims.
For the individual believer, the prophet is the appointed
The number of Baha¯D¯ıs in the United States in the early
representative of God in the created world. Whoever knows
twenty-first century is about 142,000 members with about
this has obtained all good in the world, as is stated at the be-
1,200 Local Spiritual Assemblies. About fifteen thousand
ginning of the Kita¯b-i Aqdas. Thus living as a Baha¯D¯ı is a con-
Baha¯D¯ıs live in Canada. A rough estimate is about one-third
tinuous journey toward God, and heaven and hell are sym-
of these members were raised as Baha¯D¯ıs, whereas approxi-
bols for coming close to God or being separated from him.
mately half of them may have been raised in a Christian con-
As already indicated by the Ba¯b’s teachings and taken up by
fession or denomination. The Baha¯D¯ı faith experienced a
Baha¯D Alla¯h, eschatology is no longer something of the fu-
major influx between 1969 and 1972, when about fifteen
ture, but with the appearance of God’s new prophet on earth,
thousand rural African Americans joined the religion, moti-
eschatology, as predicted in earlier religions, has been real-
vated by the Baha¯D¯ı doctrine of racial equality. Also several
ized. To behave according to this eschatological closeness to
hundred Native Americans in the Lakota and Navajo reser-
God, in ethical as well as cultic terms, is one of the main tasks
vations embraced the faith in the late twentieth century.
for each Baha¯D¯ı.
BELIEFS AND PRACTICES. The central focus of Baha¯D¯ı theolo-
Though elaborate rituals are not known within the
gy is the idea of a threefold unity—there is only one God,
Baha¯D¯ı community, some religious practices are noteworthy.
all the divine messengers are one, and humankind is one.
Every believer is obliged to pray daily and to take part in the
The strict monotheism of the Baha¯D¯ıs brings them in line
Nineteen-Day Feast that marks the beginning of every
with older Jewish and Christian monotheism but most close-
Baha¯D¯ı month according to the cultic calendar, made up of
ly to Islam. This monotheistic trait clearly reflects the idea
nineteen months with nineteen days each and four intercal-
that there is only one religion, which develops according to
culary days, a practice adopted from the Ba¯b¯ıs. The main fes-
human evolution. Therefore it is necessary that divine mes-
tivals, the nine holy days of the Baha¯D¯ı faith, commemorate
sengers and prophets appear in the course of time, but every
central events of the history of the religion: the Riz:va¯n festi-
prophet or divine manifestation brings the eternal religion,
val (April 21 to May 2), the day of the Ba¯b’s declaration
clothed in new garb. This evolutionary idea within Baha¯D¯ı
(May 22), the birthdays of the Ba¯b (October 20) and Baha¯D
faith is not totally new, as Manichaeism in Iran and Muslim
Alla¯h (November 12) and the days of their deaths (July 9 and
groups have held similar views. But Baha¯D Alla¯h’s contribu-
May 29, respectively), the New Year festival (March 21) at
tion lies in the concept that the Baha¯D¯ı religion is part of this
the spring equinox according to the solar calendar, the Day
cyclical evolution. Thus for Baha¯D¯ıs in the future, but accord-
of the Covenant (November 26), and the day of EAbd
ing to the Kita¯b-i Aqdas not before “a thousand years,” a new
al-Baha¯D’s death (November 28). The Houses of Worship are
divine manifestation will appear to bring new knowledge
buildings dedicated only for devotions and readings from the
from the one God, revealed in a way that is more suitable
Baha¯D¯ı Scripture. The month of fasting (EAla) in March and
for the spiritual state of development of humankind then.
the qiblah, the direction during individual prayer to Baha¯D
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Alla¯h’s shrine in Bahj¯ı, retain phenomenologically some
Schaefer, Udo. Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a
links to practices in Sh¯ıE¯ı Islam. But on the whole the Baha¯D¯ı
New Paradigm. Prague, Czech Republic, 1995. Survey of
faith, though evolving with the Ba¯b¯ıs from a Muslim back-
Baha¯D¯ı relations to other religions and an outline of Baha¯D¯ı
ground, clearly defined its own doctrines and practices.
Smith, Peter. A Short History of the Baha¯ D¯ı Faith. Oxford, 1996.
SEE ALSO Ba¯b¯ıs.
Well-balanced introduction to history and doctrine.
Smith, Peter, and Moojan Momen. “The Baha¯D¯ı Faith 1957–
1988: A Survey of Contemporary Developments.” Religion
Primary Sources
19 (1989): 63–91. Detailed study of the growth of the
EAbd al-Baha¯D. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Ill., 1982.
Baha¯D¯ı religion from a sociological perspective.
EAbd al-Baha¯D. Paris Talks. London, 1995.
Baha¯D Alla¯h. Kita¯b-i-¯Iqa¯n (The book of certitude). Wilmette, Ill.,
Baha¯D Alla¯h. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha¯ DuDlla¯h. Translated
by Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Ill., 1951.
BAH:YE IBN PAQUDA (second half of the eleventh
Baha¯D Alla¯h. The Hidden Words of Baha¯ DuDlla¯h. Wilmette, Ill.,
century), also known as Bah:ya; Jewish moral philosopher.
Virtually nothing is known of Bah:ye’s life, except that he
Baha¯D Alla¯h. The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys. Wilmette, Ill.,
probably lived in Saragossa and served as a dayyan, a judge
of a Jewish court. His Hebrew poems, only a few examples
Baha¯D Alla¯h. Tablets of Baha¯uDlla¯h, Revealed after the
of which are extant, were highly regarded by at least one me-
Kita¯b-i-Aqdas. Wilmette, Ill., 1988.
dieval critic. All are on religious themes, and most were com-
Baha¯D Alla¯h. The Kita¯b-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Haifa, Israel,
posed to serve in the liturgy. His two best-known poems, in-
tended for private devotion, are both appended to his
Shoghi Effendi. God Passes By. Wilmette, Ill., 1944.
magnum opus, a treatise on the inner life of religion written
Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Baha¯ DuDlláh: Selected Letters.
in Arabic and titled Al-hida¯yah ila fara¯ Did al-qulu¯b (Right
Wilmette, Ill., 1991.
guidance to the precepts of the hearts). Composed sometime
between 1050 and 1090, this work, in the Hebrew transla-
Secondary Sources
A˚kerdahl, Per-Olof. Baha¯ D¯ı Identity and the Concept of Martyrdom.
tion by Yehudah ibn Tibbon titled H:ovot ha-levavot (The
Uppsala, Sweden, 2002. A Study on the shaping of Baha¯D¯ı
duties of the hearts, 1161), became one of the most influen-
identity and theology.
tial religious treatises in Judaism.
Balyuzi, Hasan M. Baha¯ DuDlla¯h: The King of Glory. Oxford, 1980.
Bah:ye was heir to a Judeo-Arabic religious tradition in
Biography of Baha¯D Alla¯h that is partly hagiographical.
which the rabbinic Judaism of the Talmud and the Geonim
Buck, Christopher. Symbol and Secret: Qur Dan Commentary in
had been synthesized with Islamic rationalistic theology
Baha¯ DuDlla¯h’s Kita¯b-i ¯Iqa¯n. Los Angeles, 1995. Excellent
(kala¯m). This synthesis had received its definitive formula-
study in the Kita¯b-i ¯Iqa¯n.
tion in the writings of SaEadyah Gaon (882–942), which had
Bushrui, Suheil. The Style of the Kita¯b-i-Aqdas: Aspects of the Sub-
become authoritative for the educated elite class of Jews in
lime. Bethesda, Md., 1995. Excellent study of the literacy
Arabic-speaking countries such as Spain. To this synthesis,
and theology of the central book of the Baha¯D¯ıs.
Bah:ye contributed a new element: the traditions of Islamic
Cole, Juan R. I. Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the
asceticism and mysticism. His work is replete with sayings,
Baha Di Faith in the Nineteenth-Century Middle East. New
exempla, and technical terminology derived from the writ-
York, 1998. Analysis of the historical situation leading to the
ings of earlier Muslim mystics, ascetics, and moralizers; the
rise of the Baha¯D¯ı religion.
very structure of his book has Islamic antecedents. Some of
Hollinger, Richard, ed. Community Histories. Los Angeles, 1994.
his materials have been traced to specific Islamic authors such
Collection of articles on the history of the religion in
as al-Muh:a¯sib¯ı, and parallels to passages in his work are
found in the writings of Abu¯ H:a¯mid al-Ghaza¯l¯ı (d. 1111).
Hutter, Manfred. Die Baha¯ D¯ı: Geschichte und Lehre einer nachis-
Although Bah:ye cites many passages from the Bible, rabbinic
lamischen Weltreligion. Marburg, Germany, 1994. Concise
literature, and the writings of the Geonim in support of the
presentation of the history and doctrine.
thesis that the true function of religious practice is to enable
McMullen, Michael, The Baha¯ D¯ı: The Religious Construction of a
humanity to develop its inner life toward spiritual perfection
Global Identity. New Brunswick, N.J., 2000. Focuses on the
and love of God, he was the first Jewish writer to develop
Baha¯D¯ı community of Atlanta in relation to the general situa-
these principles into a complete spiritual program.
tion of the Baha¯D¯ı faith in the United States.
Momen, Moojan, ed. Scripture and Revelation. Oxford, 1997.
Bah:ye’s treatise begins with an introduction in which
Collection of essays on Baha¯D¯ı literature.
he defines and explains the distinction between “duties of the
Saiedi, Nader. Logos and Civilization: Spirit, History, and Order in
limbs” and “duties of the heart,” between outward (z:a¯hir)
the Writings of Baha¯ DuDlla¯h. Bethesda, Md., 2000. In-depth
and inward (ba¯t:in) piety, derived ultimately from the disci-
study of the theology of the main writings of Baha¯D Alla¯h.
ples of the early Muslim mystic H:asan al-Bas:r¯ı (d. 728). The
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

body of the book consists of ten chapters, each on a different
abnegation and mortification, and it has no intrinsic value.
inward virtue. Reason, the Torah, and the rabbinic tradition
The closest to “the moderation of the law” are those who are
all teach that the true worship of God is through the inten-
not outwardly distinguishable from others.
tion that accompanies the observances dictated by religious
Finally, there is no conception in Bah:ye’s thought of
law. Yet most people feel secure that they fulfill God’s will
mystical union with God. The love of God results from the
through formal obedience to religious law, while neglecting
soul’s natural yearning to rejoin its source, but while the soul
the spiritual development that is the purpose of the system.
can perfect and purify itself, it cannot fulfill its desire while
Thus, most Jews believe that they fulfill the obligation
attached to the body. The “lover” keeps a respectful distance
to acknowledge God’s existence and unity by passive assent
from the “beloved.” Bah:ye’s mysticism is thus fully compati-
and by ritual recitation of the ShemaE in their daily prayers.
ble with rabbinic Judaism.
This sort of formal compliance with a religious duty (taql¯ıd)
is, in Bah:ye’s opinion, adequate only for children, the uned-
SEE ALSO Jewish Thought and Philosophy, article on Pre-
ucated, and the feebleminded. An adult of normal intellectu-
modern Philosophy.
al capacity is obliged, first, to grasp the meaning of God’s
unity in its logical and philosophical essence, as far as the
human mind is able to grasp it. Accordingly, Bah:ye devotes
Bah:ya ben Yosef ibn Pakuda. The Book of Direction to the Duties
of the Heart. Edited and translated by Menahem Mansoor
his first chapter to a restatement of the definitions and proofs
with Sara Arenson and Shoshana Dannhauser. London,
of God’s existence and unity that had been advanced by
SaEadyah and other kala¯m writers.
Goldrich, Amos. “Hameqorot haDarviim haDefshariim shel hahav-
Second, one must grasp the meaning God’s existence
hana bein h:ovot haeivarim vehovot halevavot.” Teuda 6
and unity has for one’s relations both to God and to one’s
(1987–1988): 179–208.
fellow humans. Since God is not accessible to direct observa-
Safran, Bezalel. “Bah:ya ibn Paquda’s Attitude toward the Courtier
tion, humanity can learn about God’s relationship to the
Class.” In Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature,
world only by studying nature, in which God’s actions are
edited by Isadore Twersky, pp. 154–197. Cambridge, Mass.,
evident, and by studying humans, the microcosm. The study
of nature makes humans aware of God’s work in the world
Sifroni, A. Sefer h:ovot ha-levavot be-targumo shel R. Yehudah ibn
and brings them closer to knowledge of God. It further has
Tibbon. Jerusalem, 1927–1928.
the effect of instilling in individuals a profound gratitude, the
Vajda, Georges. La théologie ascétique de Bah:ya ibn Paquda. Paris,
attitude that makes for the perfect fulfillment of the duties
of the heart.
Yahuda, A. S., ed. Al-hida¯ya Eila faraDid al-qulu¯b des Bachja ibn
The constituent elements of humans are the body and
Jo¯s¯ef ibn Paqu¯da, aus Andalusien. Leiden, 1912.
the soul; as taught by the Neoplatonists, the soul is foreign
to the body, being celestial in origin. It was placed in the
body by God’s will, both as a trial for it and to help the body.
For all its yearning to return to its source, the soul is in cons-
tant danger of being diverted from its mission because of love
BAKHTIN, M. M. Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin
of pleasure and love of power. With the help of reason and
(1895–1975) was a literary critic, philosopher, and leading
revelation, however, the soul can purify itself and, after the
Russian humanist. He was banished in 1929 to Kazakhstan,
death of a body, complete its journey.
but his work was rediscovered after World War II and intro-
duced to Europeans by Julia Kristeva and others. To Bakh-
In order to achieve the soul’s desired end, it is necessary
tin, perhaps more than anyone, is owed the current attention
to practice certain virtues, to each of which Bah:ye devotes
to intertextuality, the otherness of others’ voices, insistence
a chapter: worship, trust, sincerity, humility, repentance,
on the moral and epistemological significance of differences,
self-examination, asceticism, and love of God. These virtues
and “dialogism.”
flow spontaneously from the gratitude to the creator felt by
the thoughtful believer. While the organization of these vir-
A classically trained linguist, Bakhtin challenged Rus-
tues as a series of degrees of perfection is derived from the
sian formalist followers of Ferdinand de Saussure, insisting
writings of such Muslim mystics as Abu¯ T:a¯lib al-Makk¯ı
that basic speech units are not phonemes or words but specif-
(d. 996), Bah:ye does not accept their concept of progressive
ic, often “double-voiced,” utterances instantiating historical
mystic ascension toward illumination. In fact, Bah:ye’s de-
matrices. Apprised of developments in the arts, sciences, and
mands and expectations are quite moderate. Thus, “trust”
philosophy by fellow members of “the Bakhtin circle,” he an-
does not mean that people should neglect their work and ex-
ticipated Ludwig Wittgenstein on “private language,” dis-
pect God to provide them a living, but that they should pur-
missed as “monological” all religious and secular ideological
sue their livelihood modestly and conscientiously, knowing
systems, and rejected formulaic dialectics.
that it is not their work that provides their living but God’s
Bakhtin made his name with a 1929 study of Fyodor
will. Likewise, “asceticism” does not mean extreme self-
Dostoevsky. According to Bakhtin, Dostoevsky, unlike Leo
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Tolstoy, did not direct readers to a single moralizing conclu-
Most Christian commentators agree that Bakhtin’s
sion but initiated open-ended conversations among his char-
sense of overlapping meanings and contrasting, simultaneous
acters concerning bourgeois crises of faith, love, crime, and
perspectives was influenced by Orthodox iconography based
punishment. Dostoevsky’s journalistic/Christian authorial
on a kenotic two-natures Christology and paradoxical space–
voice allowed them their conflicting (often inner) voices, giv-
time conceptions of quantum physicists. Not logocentric,
ing his novels a “polyphonic” form, avoiding psychologism
Bakhtin insisted that the world is in our words and words
and capturing the rich realism of everyday discourse.
are of the world. Living languages are “unfinalizable” philos-
ophies of life. Because human operative judgments realize
Adapting Henri Bergson on organic temporal processes
some freedom in weighing alternatives, people are without
and Hermann Cohen’s neo-Kantian ethico-aesthetic holistic
alibi for their lives, answerable to themselves, others, and
judgments, Bakhtin found the same dialogical imagination
their environment, which address them on many levels.
exercised in age-old folkloric critiques of establishment pre-
Bakhtinian answerability is a richer notion than Heideggeri-
tensions in Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare,
an authenticity, affirming both individual responsibility and
Charles Dickens, and Dostoevsky. Unconstrained by classi-
corporate accountability.
cal literary canons, Bakhtin believed that the prose of mod-
ern novelists, not poetry, best communicates orientational
Despite his circumstances, Bakhtin de-emphasized the
dark side of human nature. He agreed with Thomas Mann
that hell is lack of being heard. Wisely, he generally let Dos-
According to Bakhtin, François Rabelais first textualized
toevsky and Rabelais speak for him on Christianity, denying
oral satirical traditions, embodying Renaissance resistance to
that individuals own ideas. In all discourse, Bakhtin came to
the hegemony of medieval Christendom. Rabelais used ac-
regard God as the “Super-Addressee,” the basis for the
cepted, grotesque medieval tropes and bawdy carnivalesque
human drive for perfect understanding, a third or fourth
humor to ridicule inquisitors who pretended to eternal veri-
voice on the dialogical edge of consciousness, impersonally
ties while pursuing mundane goals. His countercultural
called “the voice of conscience” but not just a regulative idea.
apocalypticism undermined homogenizing dogmatism. Ra-
Bakhtin dismissed talk of absolute values and “the collective
belais worked prototypically, honoring the specifics of his
unconscious” as abstractions. Actual consummating re-
historical locale (his “chronotope”), working through nation-
sponses must be concretely personal. He remarked that Lud-
al and international conflicts to a global conception of lib-
wig Feuerbach misread the double-voiced import of incarna-
erating truth.
tion, while the church drained the blood out of history.
Bakhtin’s study covertly critiqued Stalinism, expecting
Ethico-aesthetically, in the artistry of making a life, what I
the dissonance of social injustices and insights prompted by
must be for the other, God (however named) is for me.
multilingual encounters to foster public, not just private, re-
Bakhtinian dialogism is opposed to any dichotomizing
forms. Gods and tyrants are dethroned by laughter.
between the sciences and the humanities in the study of reli-
In his earliest, more phenomenological studies, Bakhtin
gion and to treating religion in isolation from the texture of,
examined the complexity of authorial artistry and asymme-
or reducing it to, either its ideal or its material aspects.
tries of self–other relations. People theorize about their back-
SEE ALSO Literature, articles on Critical Theory and Reli-
ground, but they never see it, nor others theirs. Recognizing
gious Studies, Literature and Religion.
“transgredience” (not transcendence) in one’s experience
breaks with both classical and modern single-consciousness
models of knowing (God’s or the individual ego’s) and
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Russian, 1929,
mind–body dualism. No theories are final, all boundaries in
1963). Edited and translated by Caryl Emerson. Minneapo-
“threshold” situations are permeable. Inside–outside dichot-
lis, 1984.
omies miss the “outsideness” of every thought, and one’s dia-
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World (Russian, 1940). Trans-
logical dependence on others for true wholes. Actual texts
lated by Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington, Ind., 1984.
embody simultaneously many contexts. Both sciences and
humanities interweave descriptions and evaluations. Neither
Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Edited
by Michael Holquist; translated by Caryl Emerson and Mi-
authorial intention nor reader responses alone determine dia-
chael Holquist. Austin, Tex., 1981.
logically realized meanings.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Edited by
Such conclusions, reworked in many notes on form,
Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist; translated by Vern W.
content, material, style, genre, and representational dis-
McGee. Austin, Tex., 1986.
course, constitute an independent Russian contribution to
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays.
postmodernism. Bakhtin’s influence on religious studies re-
Edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov; translated
mains mostly indirect. In the 1970s Robert Polzin pioneered
by Vadim Liapunov. Austin, Tex., 1990.
in applying Bakhtinian ideas to the Deuteronomic histories,
Bakhtin, Mikhail (and/or Voloshinov, V. N.). Marxism and the
and later Gavin Flood followed Bakhtin “beyond phenome-
Philosophy of Language. Translated by Ladislav Matejka and
I. R. Titunik. London, 1986. Influential 1929 book by a
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

member of the Bakhtin circle, sometimes attributed to Bakh-
could not be wed to a mortal, took her to the world of
tin, but more Marxist than his other writings.
Brahma¯ to seek advice. Brahma¯ advised the king that
Coates, Ruth. Christianity in Bakhtin: God and the Exiled Author.
Balara¯ma was the most suitable bridegroom for her. The visit
Cambridge, UK, 1998. Discusses Bakhtin’s relation to
with Brahma¯ took many aeons, and by the time they re-
turned, mankind had grown smaller. Balara¯ma found Revati
Felch, Susan M., and Paul J. Contino, eds. Bakhtin and Religion:
so tall that he shortened her with his plowshare before marry-
A Feeling for Faith. Evanston, Ill., 2001. Mostly theological.
ing her.
Gardiner, Michael, ed. Mikhail Bakhtin. 4 vols. London, 2003.
Balara¯ma was an expert of three weapons: the plow, the
To date, four volumes of many important articles have been
mace, and the club. He taught the use of the mace to Dur-
published on Bakhtin’s context and relation to such authors
yodhana. Balara¯ma disapproved of Kr:s:n:a’s role in the
as Cassirer and Buber.
Maha¯bha¯rata war and wanted the cousins, the Kauravas and
Green, Barbara. Mikhail Bakhtin and Biblical Scholarship: An In-
the Pan:d:avas, to make peace. When the cousins were fight-
troduction. Atlanta, 2000. Includes a bibliography.
ing, Balara¯ma refused to take sides and went on a pilgrimage.
Haynes, Deborah J. Bakhtin and the Visual Arts. Cambridge,
He was indignant when in the final mace battle Bh¯ıma hit
U.K., 1995. Gives Russian nuances.
Duryodhana on his thighs, against all propriety. Balara¯ma
vowed to kill Bh¯ıma and could only be pacified by Kr:s:n:a.
Although addicted to liquor himself, Balara¯ma prohibit-
ed intoxicants in the holy city of Dva¯raka¯. After the battle
of Kuruks:etra the Ya¯davas of Dva¯raka¯ were involved in a
drunken brawl and killed each other. Balara¯ma sat in deep
meditation and the serpent S´es:a, of whom Balara¯ma was an
incarnation, came from his mouth and entered the ocean.
BALARA¯MA is a Hindu god, the elder brother of the god
Kr:s:n:a. He is sometimes considered as the third of the three
According to the Jain Harivam´sa Pura¯n:a, Balara¯ma
Ra¯mas, and thus the eighth avata¯ra of Vis:n:u; at other times
watched over Kr:s:n:a, and also helped his brother, who was
he appears as an incarnation of the serpent S´es:a or Ananta.
raised by Ya´soda:, to visit his real mother, Devak¯ı. When
He is also known by the names Baladeva, Balabhadra, Bala,
Devak¯ı saw Kr:s:n:a, her breasts spontaneously flowed with
and Hala¯yudha. Legends of Balara¯ma are found in the Brah-
milk. In order to protect her identity, Balara¯ma poured a jar
manical and Jain literature. He is mentioned along with
of milk over her.
Kr:s:n:a in the Maha¯bha¯rata, especially in its sequel
SEE ALSO Avata¯ra; Kr:s:n:a.
Harivam´sa, in the Bha¯gavata Pura¯n:a, and other Vais:nava
The birth of Balara¯ma was extraordinary. When a dis-
Further information on Balara¯ma can be found in Srimad Bha-
embodied voice predicted that the demon Kamsa would be
gavatam, 2 vols., translated by N. Raghunathan (Madras,
killed by the eighth child of his sister Devak¯ı, Kamsa vowed
to kill her male children. Balara¯ma was conceived as the sev-
New Sources
enth child of Devak¯ı and was saved from Kamsa when he
Bigger, Andreas. Balarama im Mahabharata: seine Darstellung im
was transferred to Rohin:¯ı’s womb by the yogama¯ya¯ (magical
Rahmen des Textes und seiner Entwicklung Beiträge zur Indolo-
gie Bd. 30.
Wiesbaden, 1998.
power) of Vis:n:u. Balara¯ma was thus born of Rohin:¯ı. Anoth-
er story narrated in the Maha¯bha¯rata accounts for his white
color. Vis:n:u, extracted one of his white hairs and sent it to
Revised Bibliography
Devak¯ı’s womb; the hair then was born as Balara¯ma.
Balara¯ma and Kr:s:n:a are always together and are in per-
BALDR is an important god in Scandinavian mythology.
fect contrast with each other: Balara¯ma is white, whereas
Evidence for the worship of Baldr is limited to a few place-
Kr:s:n:a is black; Balara¯ma is the all-masculine figure with the
names; the name was not used as a personal name during the
powerful plowshare as his weapon, whereas Kr:s:n:a’s beauty
Middle Ages. Baldr’s story has several parts: his death; an at-
is described as graceful and feminine, dark in color, and at-
tempt to reverse his death; his funeral; vengeance for his
tractive to women.
death; and his return after Ragnaro˛k (the final battle between
Once, while intoxicated, Balara¯ma called the river
the gods and the giants). Of these, only the funeral is re-
Yamuna¯ (personified as a goddess) to come to him so that
counted in skaldic poetry, although a detail of the vengeance
he could bathe. When she did not comply with his wish, he
occurs there. In Eddic poetry, Snorri Sturluson’s Edda, and
plunged his plowshare into the river, pulling the waters until
the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus the full story
Yamuna¯ surrended.
emerges, often with quite varying forms.
Balara¯ma married the daughter of King Raivata. The
From the Húsdrápa of Úlfr Uggason, a skaldic ekphrasis
king, who thought that his daughter was so beautiful that she
of carvings inside a building in western Iceland from circa
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

985, five stanzas survive dealing with Baldr’s funeral. A stan-
of a series of battles, Ho⁄therus finally kills Balderus with an
za of Kormákr O
˛ gmundarson (Icelandic, tenth century) says
ordinary weapon. Othinus learns through prophecy that he
that Óðinn used magic on Rindr, a reference to his siring of
can sire an avenger with Rinda, a Rostaphian princess. After
the avenger Váli.
failing to win the girl in various guises, he returns dressed
In Eddic poetry, Baldrs draumar (Baldr’s dreams) is
as a woman, and when she falls ill he is to treat her. He binds
wholly about the Baldr story, and the story is important in
her to her bed and rapes her. The avenger, Bous, kills
the Codex Regius version of the poem Vo˛luspá, although it is
Ho⁄therus and himself dies a day later. For his shameful acts
lacking in the Hauksbók version of the poem. Two stanzas
the gods exile Othinus from Byzantium for almost ten years.
of Lokasenna (Loki’s quarrel) also refer to the story: Loki, a
giant who often helped the gods, takes credit for Baldr’s ab-
All the sources stress that Baldr is Óðinn’s son, that he
dies, and that he is avenged. Baldr’s return is found only in
Vo˛luspá and Snorri’s Edda. These facts subvert the older in-
Baldrs draumar is set in motion by Baldr’s bad dreams.
terpretations, such as those of James Frazer or Gustav Neck-
Óðinn rides Sleipnir to the realm of Hel and poses four ques-
el, of Baldr as a dying god like Baal or Tammuz, one whose
tions to a dead seeress: Who is to die? Answer: Baldr. Who
regular resurrection is associated with annual cycles of fertili-
will kill him? Answer: Ho˛ðr. Who will avenge him? Answer:
ty. The emphasis on vengeance makes it clear that Baldr is
Óðinn will sire an avenger. The name is missing in the
far more than a Nordic adaptation of Christ (Bugge), and
manuscript, but the alliteration requires one in initial V-,
it also weakens Georges Dumézil’s proposed parallel from
presumably Váli. The fourth question is obscure. The seeress
the Maha¯bha¯rata, the circumstances surrounding the war be-
does not answer it but states that she now knows her interloc-
tween the Pan:d:ava and Duryodhana. Jan de Vries argued
utor to be Óðinn. He in turn says that she is the mother of
that the story has to do with initiation into the cult of Óðinn,
seven monsters.
and he was certainly correct in locating the myth in the realm
The Codex Regius version of Vo˛luspá tells of Baldr’s “hid-
of Óðinn, although his reading does not take into account
den fate,” and of the deadly weapon, mistletoe (a motif that
all the aspects of the myth. Nor does Margaret Clunies Ross
has never been satisfactorily explained). Ho˛ðr kills Baldr and
do so in her emphasis on the issue of dynastic succession.
an avenger is soon born. Further stanzas discuss vengeance
taken on a figure much like Loki. Much later in the poem,
In Vo˛luspá and Snorri’s Edda, the death of Baldr leads
in the description of the aftermath of Ragnaro˛k, Baldr and
directly to Ragnaro˛k, and even in Saxo there is a sea battle
Ho˛ðr return.
in which Ho⁄therus defeats all the gods, although it occurs
Snorri Sturluson knew Vo˛luspá, and his version of the
before Baldr’s death. Given the emphasis in Vo˛luspá’s de-
story, though much fuller, also agrees with the bare outline
scription of Ragnaro˛k as a time when brother kills brother,
as set forth in Baldrs draumar. Baldr’s bad dreams lead Frigg,
murderers are about, and oaths are broken, Baldr’s death can
his mother and Óðinn’s consort, to extract oaths from all
easily be read in that poem as the beginning of Ragnaro˛k.
creatures and matter not to harm him. Thereafter, the gods
Baldr’s is the first death of a god, and since the cosmos was
honor Baldr by casting weapons at his invulnerable body.
created with the body of a murdered giant, this killing upsets
Loki cannot bearthis, and disguised as a woman he learns
the usual order of the mythology. The hierarchical superiori-
from Frigg that mistletoe has not sworn the oath. Loki makes
ty of the gods over the giants ends, and the two groups de-
a dart out of mistletoe and helps Ho˛ðr, here presented as
stroy each other. The ensuing world order brings peace, and
Baldr’s blind brother, to throw it at Baldr. Baldr falls dead,
Baldr and Ho˛ðr are reunited.
and the gods are struck silent. Frigg thereafter dispatches
Hermóðr, another son of Óðinn, to Hel to try to get Baldr
In the Scandinavian context, the accounts that make
back. The funeral is held. Hermóðr returns from Hel with-
Baldr and Ho˛ðr brothers indicate a flaw in the system of
out Baldr, but with gifts and with a deal: if everything will
blood feud (Lindow, 1997), for when Óðinn sires an aveng-
weep for Baldr, Hel will release him. Everything does weep,
er, the vengeance he takes still leaves Óðinn with an una-
except an old giantess in a cave, thought to be Loki. Baldr
venged son, now Ho˛ðr. A killing within a family poses an
stays dead until after Ragnaro˛k. Loki flees to a mountaintop
insurmountable problem in such a system, and since the gods
fastness, where he invents the fishing net. This he burns
created the cosmos by killing a maternal relative, this prob-
when he sees the gods approaching, for his plan is to change
lem was present from the beginning. The gods’ solution was
himself into a salmon. Kvasir recognizes the form of the net
to deny maternal kinship relations, but that denial ultimately
in the ashes, and the gods make one and capture Loki. They
fails. So too does Óðinn’s attempt to counter Loki’s giant
bind him in a cave, where he will remain bound until
patrimony by swearing blood brotherhood with him. Only
myth can resolve this problem, and it does so by reuniting
Saxo’s version is set in Danish prehistory. Ho⁄therus and
Baldr and Ho˛ðr in a new world order after Ragnaro˛k.
Balderus, son of Odin and a demigod, vie to rule Denmark
and to marry Nanna, the foster-sister of Ho⁄therus. In the last
SEE ALSO Eddas; Germanic Religion; Loki.
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

the complaints of the first European ambassadors to Bali,
Bugge, Sophus. Studien über die Entstehung der nordischen Götter-
who frequently could not even obtain an audience with a Ba-
und Heldensagen. Translated by Oscar Brenner. Munich,
linese prince—the Balinese were simply too preoccupied
1889. Argues influence of the Christ story.
with their own affairs!
Clunies Ross, Margaret. Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Me-
dieval Icelandic Society, vol. 1, The Myths. Odense, Denmark,
OURCES OF BALINESE RELIGION. Evidence for the nature
1994. Discusses the problem of the slaying within a family;
of prehistoric Balinese religion comes from three sources: ar-
the dynastic implications.
chaeology, historical linguistics, and comparative ethnogra-
phy. Linguistically, Balinese belongs to the Malayo-
Dumézil, Georges. Gods of the Ancient Northmen. Berkeley,
Polynesian language family, itself derived from Proto-
Calif.,1973. Adduces Indo-European analogues.
Austronesian, which is thought to have been spoken by
Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and
Southeast Asian peoples around six thousand years ago.
Religion, part 7, Balder the Beautiful. 2 vols. 3d ed. New
Proto-Austronesian-speakers on Bali had words for many re-
York, 1990. Famous study seeking association with annual
ligious concepts: nature gods, such as a sky god; ancestral
rituals of invigoration.
spirits (who were probably thought to inhabit mountain-
Lindow, John. Murder and Vengeance among the Gods: Baldr in
tops); a human soul, or perhaps multiple souls; and shaman-
Scandinavian Mythology. Helsinki, 1997. Analyzes the prob-
istic trance. Such beliefs and practices remain widespread in
lem of slaying within a family in the context of a society that
Indonesia, reflecting the influence of Malayo-Polynesian cul-
uses blood feud to resolve disputes.
ture. The vocabulary of Proto-Austronesian reflects a Neo-
Neckel, Gustav. Die Überlieferungen vom Gotte Balder. Dort-
lithic culture; the advent of the Metal Age in Bali is marked
mund, Germany, 1920. Argues connection with the Middle
by a magnificent bronze kettledrum, the “Moon of Pejeng.”
Eastern dying gods.
Stylistically related to similar “Dong-son” drums found over
Vries, Jan de. “Der Mythos von Balders Tod.” Arkiv för nordisk
much of eastern Indonesia and Vietnam, the Balinese drum
filologi 70 (1955): 41–60. Argues a ritual association with the
is distinguished by its large size (186 x 150 cm) and splendid
cult of Óðinn and a mythological association with the intro-
ornamentation. The discovery of a casting mold used to
duction of death.
make the drum in a nearby village proved that the drum was
created by indigenous Balinese metalsmiths, some time be-
tween the second century BCE and the second century CE.
Fifty-three stone sarcophagi, tentatively dated to the
BALINESE RELIGION. Eight degrees south of the
same era as the “Moon of Pejeng,” provide additional evi-
equator, toward the middle of the belt of islands that form
dence for a sophisticated Metal Age culture in Bali with well-
the southern arc of the Indonesian archipelago, lies the island
developed social ranking and elaborate funerary rituals.
of Bali, home of the last surviving Hindu-Buddhist civiliza-
Hewn from stone with bronze tools and ornamented with
tion of Indonesia. A few kilometers to the west of Bali is the
protruding knobs decorated with stylized human heads, they
island of Java, where major Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms
contain human skeletons of both sexes along with bronze
flourished from the time of Borobudur (eighth century) until
arm and foot rings, carnelian beads, and miniature socketed
the end of the sixteenth century, when the last Javanese
bronze shovels. Even more impressive are the stepped stone
Hindu kingdom fell to Islam. Just to the east of Bali is the
pyramids of this era, reminiscent of Polynesian marae, which
Wallace Line, a deep ocean channel marking the biogeo-
apparently served as temples to the ancestors and nature
graphical frontier between Asia and the Pacific. The Wallace
gods, and perhaps also as monuments for important chiefs.
Line is also a cultural frontier: journeying eastward from Bali,
Thus, by the first millennium CE Balinese society was orga-
one leaves the zone of historical Asian civilizations and enters
nized into sedentary villages ruled by chiefs. The major eco-
a region of tribal peoples. Bali is the last stepping-stone from
nomic occupation was wet-rice agriculture, supported by
Asia to the Pacific.
small-scale irrigation. The economy supported craft special-
ists, such as metalworkers and builders of megaliths.
The preservation of Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms on Bali
centuries after their disappearance elsewhere in the region is
Sometime in the early first millennium of the common
largely the result of geography. The island is not only remote
era, Bali came into contact with Indian civilization and thus
but quite small—172 kilometers east-west by 102 kilometers
with the Hindu and Buddhist religions. The nature of this
north-south. The fertile valleys that form the heartland of
contact and the ensuing process of “indianization” has long
Balinese civilization face southward, toward a largely untrav-
been a subject of scholarly debate. At one extreme, J. C. van
eled sea. Behind them lies an arc of steep jungle-covered
Leur maintained that “hinduization” was wholly initiated by
mountains, a natural barrier to Java and the busy seas to the
Southeast Asian rulers who summoned Indian brahmans to
north. Balinese kingdoms nestled along the south coast, each
their courts, creating merely a “thin and flaking glaze” of
of them so tiny that a man could easily ride across an entire
Indic culture among the elite (van Leur, 1955). At the other
“kingdom” in half a day on horseback. The Balinese attitude
extreme, R. C. Majumdar postulated wholesale colonization
toward the world beyond their shores is nicely illustrated by
of Southeast Asia by Indian exiles. Between these two poles,
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

nearly every conceivable intermediate position has been
CE, a royal inscription describes the population as divided
staked out, and there is as yet no consensus as to which is
into the four castes of the Indian varn:a system (bra¯hman:a,
most likely, although there is no persuasive evidence for
ks:atriya, vai´sya, and ´su¯dra). The inscription is significant not
large-scale colonization by Indian exiles (Majumdar, 1963).
as proof that the Balinese had managed to magically recreate
the Hindu caste system, but as evidence of the ruler’s desire
In Bali, the first clear indication of “indianization” is en-
to impose the Indian ideal of caste on his kingdom.
tirely of a religious nature, consisting of several sorts of physi-
cal evidence: stone sculptures, clay seals and ritual apparatus,
In time, the Balinese came to identify their own sacred
and a series of stone and copperplate inscriptions. The sculp-
mountain, Gunung Agung, with the mythical Mount Meru,
tures closely resemble Central Javanese sculptures of the
center of the “Middle World” of Indic cosmology. The old
same era (both Hindu and Buddhist), while the clay seals
Balinese nature gods were perhaps not so much nudged aside
contain Maha¯ya¯na formulas duplicated in the eighth-century
as reincorporated intothe new Indic pantheon. The great
Javanese temple Candi Kalasan. However, it is important to
earth serpent Anantaboga was symbolically buried in the Ba-
note that these objects show no evidence of Javanese influ-
linese earth, his head beneath the crater lake of Batur near
ence (whether conceptual or stylistic); they are obviously In-
the island’s center, his tail just touching the sea at Keramas.
dian and seem to have appeared in both Java and Bali at
But the old gods were not entirely eclipsed. The most popu-
about the same time.
lar character of contemporary Balinese epics, and star of the
shadow play (wayang), is the ancient buffoon Twalen, who
The first inscriptions appear in the ninth century CE and
usually plays the servant of the Hindu gods. Like the Balinese
are the earliest written texts discovered in Bali. They were
themselves, he is pleased to serve the splendid Hindu gods.
written by court scribes in two languages, Sanskrit and Old
But in reality, as everyone knows, Twalen is older and more
Balinese, using an Indian alphabet. Inscriptions in Sanskrit
powerful than all the Hindu gods. From time to time in the
proclaim the military triumphs of Balinese rulers, and were
stories, when the gods have gone too far astray, he ceases to
addressed to the (Indic) world at large. They are not unique
play the aging buffoon and reveals his true powers as “elder
to Bali, for similar inscriptions are found throughout the
brother” to Siwa (Skt., S´iva), the supreme Hindu god.
western archipelago—monuments intended to validate the
authority of rulers in the idiom of Indian theories of king-
IVING TRADITIONS. At some time between the fourteenth
and nineteenth centuries, the monastic tradition of Bali came
ship. Such validation was essential because of the cosmologi-
to an end, and the various competing sects of Hinduism and
cal significance of kings, according to the Hindu and Bud-
Buddhism fused into what is now perceived as a single reli-
dhist medieval traditions. Inscriptions in Old Balinese, by
gion, called Bali Hindu or, more accurately, A¯gama T¯ırtha,
contrast, were addressed very specifically to particular villages
the Religion of Holy Water. The vast majority of the Bali-
or monasteries, and they document the interest of the rulers
nese adhere to this religion. Bali Hindu is officially sanc-
in supporting a variety of Hindu and Buddhist sects. To ex-
tioned by the Indonesian government, which insists that all
plain the process of indianization in Bali, it is tempting to
of its citizens belong to some recognized religion. Conse-
postulate the conversion of a powerful Balinese chief to some
quently, in recent years there has been some attempt to in-
Hindu or Buddhist sect, who then zealously promoted the
clude tribal religions from other islands such as Sulawesi (Ce-
new faith among his subjects—except that the inscriptions
lebes) under the Bali-Hindu umbrella.
clearly reveal patronage for a multitude of sects. No single
group was given precedence; all were encouraged, suggesting
The ultimate source of religious knowledge for the Bali-
that a ruler’s enthusiasm for Indian ideas went deeper than
nese remains ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts, some still
the doctrinal differences that divide sect from sect. The texts
written in Sanskrit, the majority in Kawi (Old Javanese) and
specifically mention Tantric and Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism, the
Balinese. As in India, high priests are invariably brahmans
major schools of S´aiva Siddha¯nta and Vais:n:ava Hinduism,
who have studied this literature extensively. Various types of
and the cults of Su¯rya and Gan:e´sa. Early sculptures include
lesser priests are also recognized, belonging to the other
Buddhas, Padmapa¯n:i (Avalokite´svara) and
castes, most of whom have made at least some study of the
Amoghapa¯´sa, Vis:n:u on Garud:a, Vis:n:u as Narasim:ha, and
written sources for their religion. Some priests and healers
S´iva in many forms including Ardhana¯ri, quadruplicated as
do not go through a course of study but are instead “chosen
the catuh:ka¯yas, and accompanied by Durga¯, Gan:e´sa, and
by the gods” directly in trance rituals. Even these priests re-
vere the palm leaf lontar manuscripts. All books, and the
written word itself, are consecrated to the goddess of wis-
Most of the 250 known inscriptions, which date from
dom, Sarasvat¯ı. She alone among the gods has no special
the ninth through the fourteenth century, direct the inhabi-
shrines. Instead, on her festival day all books and libraries are
tants of particular villages to provide various kinds of assis-
given offerings for her, because they are her temples.
tance to the monks and monasteries, including taxes, hospi-
tality, labor, and military defense against sea raiders.
No one knows, as yet, how many manuscripts exist in
Through the inscriptions we can trace the development of
Balinese libraries, but the number is certainly in the thou-
an intricate web of ties linking indianized courts and Hindu
sands. The entire literature of Classical Javanese, which even-
and Buddhist monasteries to the villages. As early as 1073
tually boasted over two hundred distinct metrical patterns
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

and which flourished for a millennium, would have been lost
gation” or “water temples.” Each link in an irrigation system,
to the world but for the painstaking efforts of generations of
from the small canal feeding one farmer’s fields to the head-
Balinese literati, who had to recopy the entire corpus onto
waters of a river, has a shrine or temple. The festivals held
fragile palm-leaf manuscripts about once each century. West-
in these temples determine the schedule of “water openings”
ern scholars have only begun to examine this vast and rich
(flooding of the fields) for fields downstream. Later festivals
literary tradition.
mark the major events of the farmer’s calendar: planting,
transplanting, appearance of the milky grain (panicle), pest
In considering the significance of these texts for Balinese
control, and so forth. The rituals of water temples synchro-
religion, it is important to pay attention to the ways in which
nize farming activities for farmers using the same irrigation
they are read and used. The Balinese approach to the activity
canals, and perhaps more important, allow higher-level tem-
of reading, and the “life of texts in the world,” is quite differ-
ples to stagger cropping cycles to maximize production and
ent from that of the modern West. Balinese “reading groups”
minimize pest damage.
(sekehe bebaosan), for example, gather to read the ancient
texts, either informally or to “embellish” a worthy gathering
In similar ways, the Balinese version of a Hindu caste
of people preparing for a ritual or temple festival. A reader
system was organized through temple networks—to belong
intones a line from the text in its original language; if he
to a caste translated into participating in the festivals of “caste
strays from the correct metrical pattern, the line may have
temples,” from the family shrine for the ancestors, through
to be repeated. Then another reader will propose a spontane-
regional caste “branch temples,” to the “origin temples” for
ous translation into modern colloquial Balinese. He pauses,
whole castes or subcastes. Each Balinese temple has a specific
in case anyone cares to suggest a better translation or a differ-
purpose—it is part of an institutional system—and draws its
ent interpretation. Once the meaning has been agreed upon,
membership exclusively from members of that institution. A
the first reader will recite the next line. The Balinese words
Balinese worships only in the temples of the institutions he
for these “readings” are perhaps best rendered into English
belongs to, which usually amount to half a dozen or more,
as “sounding” the texts, in both senses of turning letters into
including village temples, kinship or caste temples, water
sounds, and searching for their meaning. “Sounding the
temples, and perhaps others as well.
texts” brings written order into the world, displaying the
Logos that lies behind mundane reality. Words themselves
Physically, Balinese temples consist of open rectangular
may have intrinsic power, as is hinted in the poem that be-
walled courtyards with a row of shrines at one end. This ar-
gins “Homage to the god . . . who is the essence of written
chitectural plan owes more to ancient Malayo-Polynesian
letters . . . concealed in the dust of the poet’s pencil.”
megalithic shrines than to Indian temple design, and within
the temple, space is ordered along a continuum, also Malayo-
ITUAL LIFE. It is possible to participate fully in Balinese re-
ligion all one’s life without reading a single line from a lontar
Polynesian in origin.
manuscript. Moreover, one is never called upon to make a
The gods are not believed to be continuously present in
public declaration of faith, either in a particular god or the
the temples but to arrive for only a few days each year as in-
efficacy of a particular ritual. Religion, for the Balinese, con-
vited guests to temple festivities.
sists in the performance of five related ritual cycles, called
yajña. Broadly speaking, the five yajña are sacrifices, and thus
Members of the congregation prepare the temple and
founded on ancient brahmanic theology. However, the de-
bring offerings for the gods, “not merely a fruit and a flower,”
tails of the yajña are unique to Bali. The five yajña are
as Margaret Mead observed, “but hundreds of finely wrought
and elaborately conceived offerings made of palm leaf and
1. déwa yajña (sacrifices to the gods)
flowers, twisted, folded, stitched, embroidered, brocaded
2. bu¯ta yajña (sacrifices to the chthonic powers or “ele-
into myriad traditional forms and fancies” (Belo, 1970,
p. 335). Priests invite the gods to descend into their shrines
with incense, bells, and prayers in Sanskrit. Worshipers kneel
3. manus:ia yajña (rites of passage)
and pray for a few seconds, flicking flower petals toward the
4. pitr: yajña (offerings to the dead)
shrines of the gods, and are rewarded with a blessing of holy
water from a temple priest. The remainder of the festival,
5. r:s:i yajña (consecration of priests)
which may last for days, is occupied with artistic perfor-
Déwa yajña. Offerings to the gods (déwa yajña) are
mances for the amusement both of the gods and the human
made in temples. The importance of these temples goes far
congregation. It was these performances that led Noël Cow-
beyond what we usually think of as religion, for temples pro-
ard to complain that “It seems that each Balinese native /
vide the basic framework of Balinese economic and social or-
From the womb to the tomb is creative.” Temple festivals
ganization. Classical Bali was a civilization without cities, in
adhere to rigid schedules, based on the extremely complex
which important institutions such as irrigation networks,
Balinese permutational calendar. The gods must appear on
kinship groups, or periodic markets were organized by spe-
a particular day, and at a given moment they must depart.
cialized temple networks. Most of these temple networks
Since the gods partake only of the essence of their offerings,
continue to function today. For example, consider the “irri-
the end of a temple festival is the beginning of a feast, for
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

each family retrieves its offerings and shares the edible por-
or more generations. The rituals of preparing the corpse, pre-
tions with friends and clients.
liminary burial, cremation, and purification of the soul en-
sure that the spirits of one’s parents are freed from earthly
Bu¯ta yajña. Bu¯ta, usually translated into English as
attachments, are able to enter heaven, and eventually are able
“demon,” actually is the Balinese version of the Sanskrit
to seek rebirth. Cremation is regarded as a major responsibil-
word for “element of nature” (bhu¯ta). It is therefore an over-
ity, costly and emotionally charged since the cremation bier
simplification to describe the rituals of bu¯ta yajña as “demon
proclaims both the wealth and the caste status of the family
offerings.” Every important ritual, such as a temple festival,
of the deceased. After these rituals are completed, the souls
begins with bu¯ta yajña offerings as a purification or cleans-
of the departed are believed to begin to visit their family
ing. Usually, these offerings require some form of blood sac-
shrines, where they must receive regular offerings, so the pitr:
rifice to satisfy the raw appetites of the elemental powers. All
yajña ritual cycle is never really finished.
Balinese “demons” may take form either in the outer worlds
(buana agung) or the inner world of the self (buana alit). A
R:s:i yajña. While the other four yajña involve everyone,
strong Tantric element in Balinese religion suggests that de-
the ceremonies of the consecration of priests (r:s:i yajña) are
mons are essentially psychological projections but differs
the exclusive and esoteric provenance of the various priest-
from Western psychology in insisting that “demonic” forces
hoods. In general, each “caste” has its own priests, although
are part of the intrinsic constitution of both inner and outer
“high priests” (pedanda) are invariably brahmans. Buddhist
traditions are kept alive by a special sect of high priests called
pedanda bodha. The greatest of the r:s:i yajña is the ceremony
Demons (bu¯ta) are the raw elements from which the
of consecration for a new pedanda, during which he must
higher realities of consciousness and the world are created.
symbolically undergo his own funeral as a human being, to
If their energy is not contained, they quickly become de-
reemerge as a very special kind of being, a Balinese high
structive. The purpose of bu¯ta yajña may be made clearer by
considering the supreme bu¯ta yajña ceremony, called Eka
Dasa Rudra, last held in 1979. The year 1979 marked the
SEE ALSO Megalithic Religion, article on Historical Cul-
beginning of a new century acccording to the Balinese Icaka
tures; Music, article on Music and Religion in Southeast
calendar. In order for the new century to begin auspiciously,
Asia; Southeast Asian Religions, article on Insular Cultures.
it was felt necessary to complete all unfinished bu¯ta rituals,
such as cremations, and then hold a gigantic ceremony at
Bali’s supreme temple, Besakih, to transform all of the accu-
The most influential modern scholar of Balinese religion is Clif-
mulated demonic energies of the prior century into divine
ford Geertz. Several of his important essays are collected in
energies, to begin a new cycle of civilization in a phase of
The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973), and his
growth rather than decline. Nearly all Balinese participated
analysis of cosmology and kingship is presented in Negara:
in the yearlong preparations for Eka Dasa Rudra, which cli-
The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton,
maxed at the moment the old century ended, in a ceremony
1980). Translations of Balinese texts on religions are provid-
at Besakih temple involving over 100,000 people.
ed in the many publications of Christiaan Hooykaas, includ-
ing Cosmogony and Creation in Balinese Tradition (The
Manus:ia yajña. Manus:ia yajña are rites of passage, fit-
Hague, 1974) and Surya-Sevana: The Way to God of a Bali-
ted to the Balinese belief in reincarnation. Twelve days after
nese Siva Priest (Amsterdam, 1966). Many important essays
birth, an infant is given a name, and offerings are made to
from the 1930s by scholars such as Margaret Mead and
the four birth spirits (kanda empat) who have accompanied
Gregory Bateson are collected in Traditional Balinese Cul-
him. After three 35-day months, the child and his spirits are
ture, edited by Jane Belo (New York, 1970). Belo also pro-
given new names, and the child’s feet are allowed to touch
vides excellent descriptive accounts in Bali: Temple Festival
(Locust Valley, N.Y., 1953) and Trance in Bali (New York,
the earth for the first time, since before this time he is consid-
1960). Opposing theories on the “indianization” of Bali are
ered still too close to the world of the gods. More offerings
presented in J. C. van Leur’s Indonesian Trade and Society:
are made for the child’s 210-day “birthday,” at puberty, and
Essays in Asian Social and Economic History (The Hague,
finally in the climactic ceremony of tooth filing, which pre-
1955) and in R. C. Majumdar’s Ancient Indian Colonization
pares the child for adulthood. The six upper canine teeth and
in South-East Asia (Calcutta, 1963). Rites of passage are nice-
incisors are filed slightly to make them more even, symboli-
ly evoked in Katherine Edson Mershon’s Seven Plus Seven:
cally reducing the six human vices of lust (ka¯ma), anger
Mysterious Life-Rituals in Bali (New York, 1971). Many im-
(krodha), greed (lobha), error (moha), intoxication (mada),
portant articles by Dutch scholars of the colonial era have
and jealousy (matsarya). The manus:ia yajña cycle ends with
been translated into English in Bali: Studies in Life, Thought,
the performance of the marriage ceremony.
and Ritual (The Hague, 1960) and a second volume entitled
Bali: Further Studies in Life, Thought, and Ritual (The
Pitr: yajña. These rituals are the inverse of manus:ia
Hague, 1969), both edited by J. L. Swellengrebel.
yajña: they are the rituals of death and return to the world
One of the most delightful books describing the relationship of
of the gods, performed by children for their parents. The Ba-
the performing arts to religion is Beryl de Zoete and Walter
linese believe that people are usually reincarnated into their
Spies’s Dance and Drama in Bali (1938; reprint, Oxford,
own families—in effect, as their own descendants—after five
1973). A worthy successor is I. M. Bandem and Frederick
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

De Boer’s Kaja and Kelod: Balinese Dance in Transition (Ox-
tions in popularity, to regionally specific and other develop-
ford, 1981). Urs Ramseyer’s survey of The Art and Culture
ments, and to the particular socio-political and religious
of Bali (Oxford, 1977) is a beautifully illustrated encyclope-
context and significance attributed to the game. Regional
dia of Balinese religious art by a Swiss anthropologist. My
distinctions may also, in some cases, have had some relation-
Three Worlds of Bali (New York, 1983) provides an introduc-
ship with ethnicity and identity. Scholars generally concur
tion to the role of religion and art in shaping the evolution
(with differences in interpretation on the specific points) that
of Balinese society.
from their inception, which occurred at least as early as the
New Sources
Early Formative period (1200–900 BCE), all forms of the Me-
Barth, Fredrik. Balinese Worlds. Chicago, 1993.
soamerican ballgame shared fundamental ideological associa-
Hauser-Schäublin, Brigitta. Traces of Gods and Men: Temples and
tions with creation mythology and with beliefs about the cy-
Rituals as Landmarks of Social Events and Processes in a South
cles of life and death, rain and fertility, and the cosmos.
Bali Village. Berlin, 1997.
Of all known Mesoamerican ballgames, the historic, ar-
Howe, Leo. Hinduism & Hierarchy in Bali. Oxford, 2001.
tistic, and archaeological record has provided the most de-
Lansing, J. Stephen. Priests and Programmers: Technologies of
tailed information about the hipball game, and it is thus this
Power in the Engineered Landscape of Bali. Princeton, 1991.
form of the game that is most popularly thought of as “the”
Ottino, Arlette. The Universe Within: A Balinese Village through
Mesoamerican ballgame. However, the hipball game also
Its Ritual Practices. Paris, 2000
had numerous forms, dependent upon period, cultural and
Rubinstein, Raechelle. Beyond the Realm of the Senses: The Balinese
architectural context, costuming, equipment, and modes of
Ritual of Kakawin Composition. Leiden, 2000.
play, across time and space in Mesoamerica. The hipball
game was fully developed by the Early Formative period in
Stuart-Fox, David. Pura Besakih: Temple, Religion and Society in
Bali. Leiden, 2002.
the Socomusco region (the southern coastal plain and pied-
mont of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and northern Guate-
Suryani, Luh Ketut and Gordon D. Jensen. Trance and Possession
mala, respectively), and the Veracruz-Tabasco Gulf Coast re-
in Bali: A Window on Western Multiple Personality, Possession
gion associated with the Olmec civilization. In Nahuatl, the
Disorder, and Suicide. New York, 1993.
language of the Mexica (Aztec) people of the later Postclassic
period (thirteenth to early sixteenth centuries CE), the hipball
Revised Bibliography
game was known as ollama or ullama (from olli, the word for
rubber, which is related to the term ollin, meaning “move-
ment”). The hipball game is still played today in Sinaloa
state, in northwestern Mexico, although without the protec-
This entry consists of the following articles:
tive equipment of antiquity, and in an open field, rather than
a court. Of the other relatively well-known forms of ball-
game, the stick-ball game is particularly associated with the
Teotihuacan culture of Central Mexico, and the handball
game is best known at the site of Dainzu, Oaxaca state,
Scholars employ the phrase “Mesoamerican ballgame” to
refer to a diverse number of sport or ritual activities involving
EQUIPMENT. Different forms of the ballgame employed dif-
the use of a ball. All Mesoamerican peoples practiced “the
ferent types of paraphernalia. Common to all pre-
ballgame” in one form or another. The three best-known
Columbian hipball games was the use of padding around the
forms of the game are the hipball, handball, and stickball
waist and hips. This padding was used to propel the ball with
greater force than was possible with an unpadded hip, while
offering protection to the body during the course of this
ethnically, linguistically, and geographically varied region
physically intensive game. Hip and waist protectors were
that is identifiable by shared cultural traits and religious be-
probably made of padded cotton, leather, wicker, or wood.
liefs which date to the pre-Columbian era (i.e., prior to the
The only surviving pre-Columbian hip pads are the well-
sixteenth century, which brought European contact). This
known, often elaborately carved, stone “yokes” (misnamed
culturally distinctive area encompasses the contemporary po-
because of their physical appearance). These are particularly
litical boundaries of Mexico (excluding the northern, desert
associated with the cultures of the Gulf Coast of Veracruz
region), Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Me-
and Tabasco states, from the Formative through the Termi-
soamerican ballgames reflect the diversity of the cultural and
nal Classic periods (c. 900 BCE to c. 900 CE), although exam-
geographic environment in which they originated. The Me-
ples are known elsewhere in Mesoamerica. Some stone yokes
soamerican ballgame also had strong ties with the ballgames
were functional, but a larger number were evidently ceremo-
of peoples of the North American Southwest and Caribbean.
nial and symbolic.
Mesoamerican ballgames varied both temporally and re-
Other stone hipball game paraphernalia survive from
gionally. Temporal variations appear to be related to fluctua-
the Gulf Coast region. Carved stone hachas, so called because
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

of the axe-like shape of many of these objects, were inserted
dals. Such full-body covering suggests a particularly energetic
into the yokes as chest protectors, or to project the ball. John
and perhaps dangerous form of ballgame. The contemporary
Scott has suggested that those carved with twisted human
Mixtec ballgame (Juego de Pelota Mixteca), known principal-
faces were worn by victorious players of ritual games to repre-
ly in Oaxaca, may descend from the Dainzu handball game.
sent the severed heads of players they had defeated. The stone
palmas (referring to their palm-frond shape) were also carved
ALLS. The hipball game used a rubber ball that was as much
as a foot or more in diameter and which may have weighed
with elaborate iconography related to religious or ritual com-
seven or more pounds when solid. However, proportionately
ponents of the game, including references to the supernatural
much larger balls are represented in Maya art of the Classic
world and human sacrifice. Palmas were also inserted into
period (300 to 900
the hip-pad for the same purposes as hachas. Mary Ellen Mil-
CE). The Terminal Classic (c. 800 to
ler and Karl Taube also suggest that palmas were displayed
CE) carved stone panels lining the Great Ballcourt at
Chichén Itza depict very large balls with skulls at the center.
in ballcourts as architectural decoration. Stone manoplas
Some scholars propose that both sets of images might be
(handstones), often referred to in the literature as “knuck-
taken literally: overly large, hollow-core balls might have
ledusters,” are more generally found throughout Mesoameri-
been used in some Maya hipball games, whereas the skulls
ca. These were employed to project the ball in some forms
of sacrificed individuals may have been used to form ball
of the hipball game, might have also been used in a ritual
cores in ritual games (although no known examples survive).
variant of the handball game and, according to Karl Taube
The earliest known surviving rubber balls were excavated
and other researchers, were evidently employed as actual
from the offerings of El Manati, Veracruz, at a spring site sa-
knuckledusters (“brass knuckles”) in ritualized one-on-one
cred to the Formative Olmec civilization of the Gulf Coast.
boxing combats. Hipball players also wore loin coverings and
The largest and most spherical of these are ten inches in di-
knee pads on one knee, to protect their bodies when they slid
ameter, and have been dated by the excavators to around
onto their upper thighs or when they dropped to one knee
to check the ball during the course of the game.
Stickball and handball games probably used small, solid
Ritualized versions of the hipball game are are distinc-
rubber balls. However, some researchers have suggested that
tive in their use of ceremonial costuming, including elaborate
for ritualized handball games, the rubber balls may have been
headdresses, jewelry, and ornate forms of equipment. Cere-
replaced with stone spheroids. The rubber used to make the
monial costuming often referenced the underlying beliefs as-
various balls came from any of the several rubber-producing
sociated with the ballgame; however, it is important to note
plants and trees found throughout Mesoamerica and the
that these are very specific and not recoverable though gener-
North American Southwest. In Mesoamerica, rubber was
alizations. For example, Classic Maya nobles, at sites such as
used not only for the ballgame, but in offerings, particularly
Yaxchilan, Chiapas state, Mexico, are shown in some ritual
to rain deities, and for medicinal purposes.
games sporting the net kilt and other costume elements asso-
ciated with the Maya Maize God, whose actions were emu-
BALLCOURTS. Ballgame courts, fields, and the structures on
lated by Maya rulers to retain and underscore their socio-
which ritual ballgames were enacted, reflect some of the di-
political and spiritual success.
versity of Mesoamerican ballgames, although these features
tend to share general characteristics.
Stickball games were also known in Mesoamerica. Play-
ers are depicted with bat-like or field hockey-like sticks, strik-
The best-known form of Mesoamerican ballcourt is the
ing a soft-ball-sized ball in a defined, open field. Stickball
masonry court designed for hipball games. The earliest ver-
players are represented in pre-Columbian art wearing loin
sions of these structures date to approximately 1400 BCE and
cloths, head coverings, bands around the knees, and—in
are found in the Socomusco and Gulf Coast regions, al-
elaborated forms of the game—with fancy dress elements.
though there may be examples dating as early as the fifth cen-
Although the stickball game was particular to Central Mexi-
tury BCE. Early Soconusco and Gulf Coast Olmec heartland
co, especially the great city and culture of Teotihuacan, The-
courts were formed by two parallel earthen mounds flanking
odore Stern has documented this ballgame variant elsewhere
and delineating a central playing court.
in Mesoamerican and the Caribbean. A modern form of the
stickball game is played in Michoacán state, Mexico, using
In general, Late Formative and Classic period hipball
simple wooden bats. This game is played at night, with the
courts have playing alleys and end zones laid out in a shape
ball set on fire at the beginning of the game as a symbolic
similar to the capital letter “I.” The court’s boundaries are
reference to the sun.
defined by two parallel platform mound structures. The alley
walls are sloped and typically have benches along the sides.
Handball games are known throughout Mesoamerica
Three markers are commonly located down the axial center
from the Formative through the Classic periods. At the Late
of the alley. Specialized superstructures containing steam-
Formative site (c. 200 BCE to c. 200 CE) of Dainzu, in Oaxa-
baths and other preparatory facilities were built atop the plat-
ca, carved stone slabs represent handball players wearing
form mounds. In most cases, spectators were probably seated
grilled helmets, gauntlet-like gloves, padded clothing over
along platforms and structures located around, and outside
the torso and legs, thick knee pads on both knees, and san-
of, each end zone. Postclassic (c. 900 to 1521 CE) ballcourts
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

generally have perpendicular side walls with stone ring
provides a metaphor for the life cycle of birth, death, and re-
generation as it is dramatically experienced by agrarian socie-
ties in this geographic region, with its distinctive rainy and
Mary Ellen Miller and Stephen Houston, and others in-
dry seasons. Certain ballgames were thus directly associated
cluding David Friedel, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker, have
with rain deities, and with the coming of the rains and subse-
identified symbolic courts used for ritualized ballgames.
quent fertility of the earth.
These ritual courts comprise temple stairways such as that
of the war monument Temple 33, at the Maya site of Yaxchi-
Very early on, Mesoamerican ballgames were linked to
lan, and patios such as the Classic period East and West
political authority and the fundamental role of rulers as pro-
Courts of Copan, Honduras. They may also include the
viders for their communities. If there were natural disasters
Formative period sunken court of Teopantecuanitlan, Guer-
such as drought and famine, or political and military defeats,
rero state, Mexico.
the legitimacy of an individual’s rule could seriously be called
into question. At such times, some ballgames came to serve
Stickball and handball games employed defined, open
as public spectacles, full of courtly pomp and circumstance,
playing fields. Eric Taladoire has suggested that one form of
for the ritual reenactment of warfare and success on the bat-
formal court may have been used for the handball game as
tlefield. Captives were made to play staged, fixed, “games”
played in Oaxaca during the Formative period.
that were essentially mock combats with predetermined out-
THE RULES. The rules of Mesoamerican ballgames were spe-
comes. The end result of these events was the sacrifice and,
cific to each particular game, and, although broadly under-
frequently, decapitation and dismemberment of defeated
stood by researchers, have not been recovered in detail. Most
players. In some cases, severed heads, taken as trophies in
ballgames were played with two competing teams facing each
these ritualized ballgames, were displayed on nearby skull
other at either end of the playing field or court. In hipball,
racks, known by the Nahuatl term tzompantlis.
points were scored by hitting the ball toward the alley mark-
Since the earliest scholarship in Mesoamerica, research-
ers, the end zones, or the rings on the alley walls. The ball
ers have noticed that, in certain ballgames, the movement of
typically was hit with the thighs, buttocks, and upper arms.
the ball was associated with the movement of cosmic bodies,
Bare hands or manoplas were employed only to set the ball
particularly the sun. It is clear, however, that these associa-
into motion, since the use of the hands to strike the ball was
tions were very particular and were framed in specific cultur-
not permitted, except in the case of handball games. Athletic
al ways, dependent upon the time and location of the game.
vigor, physical intensity, and a high degree of competition
Popularized misconceptions of the Mesoamerican Ball-
seem to characterize all Mesoamerican ballgames. In addi-
game suggest that the winners of ritualized games were the
tion, it is evident that both men and women played the ball-
ones to be sacrificed. No substantiated or credible academic
evidence supports this belief, nor does the idea conform in
any way to the scholarly and indigenous understanding of
soamerican ballgames were generally conducted within one
pre-Columbian cultures in Mesoamerica.
of two broad contexts: sport and ritual. As pure sport, pre-
The Mesoamerican ballgame was a central component
Columbian ballgames were not unlike football, soccer, and
of Mesoamerican society and culture. Indeed, ballcourts,
baseball as they are known today. Outstanding athletes were
which could be strategically located on community bounda-
highly regarded, and could even achieve star-like status.
ries or on the periphery of major centers, often functioned
Communities competed with one another through their
as the loci for ritual and interaction between social and politi-
teams. Betting on the games is known to have been popular
cal entities, including alliance building, trade, and exchange.
at the time of Spanish contact, with desirable items, such as
fine cotton shirts, being wagered on favorite teams or players.
SEE ALSO Sports and Religion.
pre-Columbian ballgames are distinctive from contemporary
occidental ball sports, however, in the complexity of mean-
ing attached to them, and their symbolic connection to the
Bernal, Ignacio, and Andy Seuffert. The Ball Players of Dainzú.
events of creation and universal cycles.
Graz, Austria 1979.
Borhegyi, Stephan F. de. The Pre-Columbian Ballgames: A Pan-
Surviving Mesoamerican creation stories tell of primor-
Mesoamerican Tradition. Contributions in Anthropology
dial beings playing life-and-death ballgames in mythical
and History, vol. 1. Milwaukee, 1980.
time. For example, the sixteenth-century Quiché Maya com-
Coe, Michael. “The Hero Twins: Myth and Image.” In The Maya
munity book, The Popol Vuh, and Classic period Maya hiero-
Vase Book, edited by Justin Kerr. New York, 1990.
glyphic texts, recount how the legendary Hero Twins were
Filloy, Laura. “Rubber and Rubber Balls in Mesoamerica.” In The
summoned to the Underworld to play a deadly ballgame
Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican Ballgame, edited
with the Underworld deities. The Twins survived several tri-
by E. Michael Whittington. New York, 2001.
als, defeated the Underworld gods, and resurrected their fa-
Friedel, David, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker. Maya Cosmos: Three
ther, the Maize God, in the ballcourt, which is named as the
Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path. New York, 1993.
place of sacrifice (and the locus of rebirth or renewal). This
Leyenaar, Ted, and Lee Parsons. Ulama: The Ballgame of the
tradition explains how corn was brought into the world and
Mayas and Aztecs, 2000 B.C.–A.D. 2000. Leiden, 1988.
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Miller, Mary Ellen, and Stephen D. Houston. “Stairways and Bal-
members themselves may not isolate and identify particular
lcourt Glyphs: New Perspectives on the Classic Maya Ball-
activities as “religious,” it is necessary to assert here that cer-
game.” Res 14 (1987): 47–66.
tain of the “games” discussed in this article should be under-
Miller, Mary Ellen, and Karl Taube. The Gods and Symbols of An-
stood as “religious,” based upon commonly held definitions
cient Mexico and the Maya. London and New York, 1993.
in the academic study of religion. Thus supernatural beings
Orr, Heather. “Stone Balls and Masked Men: Ballgame as Com-
or “other-than-human persons,” to use A. Irving Hallowell’s
bat Ritual, Dainzu, Oaxaca.” Ancient America 5 (2003):
term (1975) can be explicitly honored or referenced by the
playing of certain games as well as beseeched for assistance
Scarborough, Vernon L., and David R. Wilcox, eds. The Me-
in preparation for and during the contests (Hallowell, 1975,
soamerican Ballgame. Tucson, 1991.
p. 145). Religious and medicinal specialists can be employed
to prepare teams and influence the outcome, while certain
Scott, John. “Dressed to Kill: Stone Regalia of the Mesoamerican
games themselves are said to be ceremonial activities or
Ballgame.” In The Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican
, edited by E. Michael Whittington. New York,
Stern, Theodore. The Rubber-Ball Game of the Americas. New
there are a variety of ballgames, mention will be made here
York, 1949.
only of those that contain some religious referent. Shinny is
a team game in which a ball is raked or propelled toward a
Taladoire, Eric. “Could We Speak of the Super Bowl at Flushing
goal with a stick not unlike that used in hockey. Although
Meadows? La Pelota Mixteca: A Third Prehispanic Ballgame
and Its Possible Architectural Context.” Ancient Mesoamerica
the hands may not be used, the ball may be kicked. Accord-
14, no. 2 (July 2003): 319–342.
ing to Stewart Culin, author of the encyclopedic Games of
the North American Indians
(1975), the game was the most
Taube, Karl. “American Gladiators.” Paper presented at the 8th
widespread of the ballgames and “frequently referred to in
Annual Maya Weekend, U.C.L.A., 2001.
the myths” yet was “commonly played without any particu-
Tedlock, Dennis, trans. and comm. Popul Vuh: The Definitive
lar ceremony” (Culin, 1975, pp. 562, 617). Culin recorded
Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories
the names of more than fifty groups that once played the
of Gods and Kings. New York, 1996.
game. Though most often played by women, it also has been
Uriarte, Maria Teresa. “Unity in Duality: The Practice and Sym-
played by men as well as by men and women together and
bols of the Mesoamerican Ballgame.” In The Sport of Life and
against one another.
Death: The Mesoamerican Ballgame, edited by E. Michael
Whittington. New York, 2001.
Shinny is known as tabegasi in the Ponca language, the
root word tabe, or ball, being the same in the Osage and
Omaha languages (Howard, 1971, pp. 10, 14). According
to an account from the early 1970s, the Ponca version pitting
teams of men against one another still retained some amount
of ceremony having to do with the balls and the choosing
of teams. The keeper of the game was an individual from the
Throughout what is now the United States and Canada,
Nikapashna clan, members of which also supervised hunting
First Nations historically have engaged in a variety of games
and warfare activities at one time (Fletcher and La Flesche
that incorporate a ball. Such activities often appear in narra-
in Howard, 1971, p. 14). In some instances, for example,
tive traditions, and many communities continue such games
among California peoples such as the Yurok, Hupa, Karuk,
in the early twenty-first century. These include shinny, rack-
and Tolowa, this game is said to have been played by the first
et or lacrosse-type games, double ball, and ball racing and
beings on earth and taught to humans (Gendar, 1995,
feature both single-gender and mixed-gender participation.
pp. 19–20).
Given that for many people the term game carries with
The Lakota ballgame tapa wankayeyapi (“throwing the
it associations with frivolity and leisure—both “not work”
ball upward”) was one of the Wicoh’an Wakan Sˇakowin
and “not serious”—the nature of these activities must be
(Seven Sacred Rites) given to the people by Ptehincalaskawin
stressed. Native American games can be quite serious endeav-
(White Buffalo Calf Woman). A young girl tossed a ball to
ors, in certain cases requiring a great deal of preparation, and
participants standing at the four directions, with the ball
the outcomes can have economic, political, and social ramifi-
symbolizing knowledge and the attempts of the participants
cations beyond the playing field. Games can provide oppor-
symbolizing the struggle against ignorance (Powers, 1977,
tunities for expressions of cultural values and ideals and may
p. 103; St. Pierre and Long Soldier, 1995, p. 28). It is not
incorporate other traditional activities, and thus they can
currently performed.
radiate potent symbolic meanings for participants and
Ball races were run by communities in the present-day
southwestern United States and in adjacent areas of Califor-
Because the activities of many cultures do not fit easily
nia and Mexico. Groups such as the Keres people of the
within the rubric of “religion” and because community
Acoma community, the Zunis, and the Hopi people engaged
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

in spring kick-ball or kick-stick races to secure rain (Culin,
(Creek) Confederacy. The rackets used in this game are usu-
1975, p. 668). These races pitted two individuals or teams
ally two to three feet long and are formed from single pieces
against one another; the first to kick a ball or stick around
of wood bent and dried to form oval shapes at one end,
a course and return to the starting point was the winner.
which are then webbed with rawhide or other materials to
RACKET GAMES. In North America ballgames that employ
form pockets. Despite individual particularities, broad re-
a racket and ball are the most prevalent of those that refer-
gional similarities historically have resulted in ballgames be-
ence supernatural beings, employ religious and medicinal
tween First Nations, such as those between Cherokee and
specialists, are part of ceremonies, are linked to other ritual
Muskogee (Creek) communities or between confederated
activities, or are self-contained rituals. Many communities
nations, for example, the Mohawk and Seneca (Mooney,
along the eastern seaboard of North America, across the in-
1890, p. 107; Culin, 1975, p. 591).
land southeast, in the Great Lakes region, and to the imme-
In both the single- and the double-racket versions, the
diate west in what is now the United States once played the
object of the game is to score goals, which can be achieved
game along with certain communities in present-day Califor-
by players crossing a threshold while in possession of the ball.
nia, Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest region of North
This can be a goal line between two posts, some other goal
America. Generally speaking, racket games are considered
marking, or a single goal post that must be circled complete-
the precursors of the sport of lacrosse; versions played by peo-
ly. The rules of a particular contest dictate what actions are
ples in the present-day northeastern United States and in
allowable; in some cases goals can be scored by throwing the
southeastern Canada are routinely cited as the specific fore-
ball over the goal line.
runners of that sport.
In all versions the rackets must be used to propel the
Historically, lacrosse-type activities commonly termed
ball, and players cannot pick the ball up off the ground with
“ballgames” have been integral cultural elements for many
their hands; in certain versions, players can use their hands
Native American peoples, though they have functioned dif-
to carry or throw the ball once they have retrieved it. Games
ferently from community to community. Rituals in and of
can feature rough play, including wrestling and body block-
themselves for some groups, a part of religious festivals for
ing. In the games between teams of men, players usually wear
others, and at the center of ceremonial complexes in still
little or no protective equipment, and often, especially in the
other communities, the ballgames almost always have been
Southeast, players wear only short pants—no shirts or shoes.
major social events. In some cases they have been instru-
A distinguishing aspect of many versions of this contest, both
ments of healing, and in other cases they have been primarily
single- and double-racket, is that the object is to bring the
social events.
ball back to one’s own goal, not penetrate the goal of the
There are two major categories of lacrosse-type activity:
opponent, as is the case in other goal-oriented physical
single- and double-racket games. These categories corre-
spond broadly to regional areas, with the single-racket game
While for the most part this is a male activity, in some
being played throughout what is now the northeastern Unit-
communities women’s teams compete against each other. Se-
ed States and to an area west of the Great Lakes. Nations in
lected versions of the game, such as those on Cherokee Na-
the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy continue to play
tion dance grounds in Oklahoma, are played around a cen-
the single-racket version, as do surrounding nations such as
tral pole, the object being to hit a target at the top to score
the Huron and Passamaquody. The racket used is typically
points. Single-pole contests routinely feature teams of men
over a yard in length and is crooked at one end; webbing is
wielding rackets against women who are allowed to use their
fitted from here to the straight portion of the stick to form
a large triangular pocket. It is the model for the stick used
in the popularized sport of field lacrosse. Groups in the Great
Wagering on the men’s games once was widespread. In
Lakes region, such as the Ojibwas, Santee Dakotas, Menomi-
the nineteenth century and early twentieth century religious
nees, Potowatomis, and Winnebagos (among others), also
and governmental authorities discouraged certain Southeast-
used one racket; however these were shorter, straight pieces
ern communities’ ballgames (particularly those of the Chero-
of wood curved at the end to form a small circle, which was
kees and Choctaws). They objected to the wagering, the in-
webbed to create a pocket. Though information is somewhat
herent violence of the contests, and the unruly crowd
limited on the Dakota version of the game, there are several
behavior that became more frequent with the influx of spec-
accounts of Yankton and Santee games as well as paintings
tators from outside the participating communities. Wagering
and drawings of players that support the conclusion that the
has been eliminated or much reduced in most contemporary
game was a regular feature of life at least throughout the
nineteenth century.
Single-racket games. In 1636 the Jesuit father Jean de
The double-racket game was and is prevalent in what
Brébeuf wrote about the Huron game in the area then
is now the southeastern United States. It has long been stan-
known as New France. This account of a ballgame is the ear-
dard among nations such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chicka-
liest written by a European yet located and appears in the Re-
saw, Yuchi, and Seminole and among those of the Muskogee
lations of the Jesuit fathers. Brébeuf noted that a Huron med-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

ico-religious specialist (“sorcerer”) might prescribe a game of
it is considered a “rite sacred to the Thunders” and is said
“crosse” for the benefit of the entire nation or for a sick indi-
to have been played for Hayewat-ha, “to console him for the
vidual, and that sometimes a person would dream that a
loss of his children” during the founding of the confederacy
game was necessary for their recovery (Brébeuf in Culin,
(“Lacrosse: An Iroquois Tradition”). The Mohawks consider
1975, p. 589).
it pleasing to the Creator, a means of thanksgiving, and a way
“to call the Creator’s attention to the efforts of the medicine
The Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Con-
people” (North American Indian Travelling College in Fish-
federacy have maintained their specific ballgame traditions
er, 2002, p. 23).
while participating in other forms of the game. Scholars gen-
erally agree that the sport of lacrosse derived from their
According to one source from the early twentieth centu-
games, and many of the early stick makers were members of
ry, the Menominee ballgame and warfare are related activities
confederacy nations. Haudenosaunee teams in the early
that came from the thunders; thus the “game was supposed
twenty-first century participate both in field and box lacrosse
to resemble a battle” (Densmore, 1932, p. 35). Traditional
as well as in the classic version.
narratives detail the origin of the game and the implements,
including the racket, which is shaped like a war club (Dens-
The Onondaga term for the single-racket lacrosse-type
more, 1932, pp. 36–37). A 1925 account reported that a
ballgame is dehuntshigwa’es, meaning “they (men) hit a
Menominee man who dreamed of the thunders held a la-
rounded object” (Vennum, 1994, p. 72). Onondaga games
crosse game to receive help promised by them, a process
between clan groupings or teams of older and younger play-
termed “playing out a dream”; such dreams promised health
ers last until a predetermined number of goals have been won
or success, and medicinal specialists could prescribe games
and feature uneven teams; the number of players determines
(Densmore, 1932, p. 27). In these games, one of which Fran-
the length of the field (Vennum, 1994, pp. 6–7). They have
ces Densmore witnessed in 1925, the dreamer did not play
been employed to heal sickness and comfort the sick and
and the outcome did not affect the dreamer’s chances of
dying. This was the case in 1815, when Onondaga people
achieving what he sought. One source noted that to “cure
held a ballgame for the dying Seneca prophet Handsome
illness, the Menominee still play the game in the spring, be-
Lake, and accounts from the late twentieth century suggest
fore the first thunder” (Vennum, 1994, p. 33). There also
the same use (Vennum, 1994, pp. 6–7, 222; Oxendine,
are accounts of Ojibwe and Potawatami games played to
1988, p. 10). The game is played in the afterworld, and play-
achieve similar results (Vennum, 1994, p. 33; Oxendine,
ers make arrangements to bring sticks with them for those
1988, p. 8).
future contests (Vennum, 1994, p. 7).
Double-racket games. The Cherokee double-racket
A mid-twentieth-century account stated that the ball-
ballgame anetso (a:ne:tso) is known also as “da·na·wah?
game called gatci·´’kwae (“beating the mush”) was the central
u·sdi´” (as rendered by the anthropologist Raymond D. Fo-
element of the Cayuga Nation’s Thunder Rite, a one-day
gelson), or “little war” (Fogelson, 1962, p. 2). There is a sim-
ceremony in the middle of the summer (Speck, 1949,
ilar term for the game among towns of the Muskogee or
p. 117). Games were played to honor the Seven Thunders,
Creek Confederacy, rendered by the anthropologist Mary R.
called “Grandfathers,” for “continuation of the service which
Haas as “hółłi icósi” (“younger brother to war”) (Haas, 1940,
they render mankind as agents of the Great Spirit,” and
p. 483). In the Cherokee language, the phrase “to play a ball
which team won or lost was not important (Speck, 1949,
game” has a figurative meaning of engaging in battle (Moo-
pp. 117, 118). At the conclusion of the game players sang
ney, [1900] 1982, p. 384)
the War Dance or Thunder Song and went into the long-
house, where they gave thanks to the Seven Thunders and
Anetso once was the occasion for a great deal of wager-
other forces in the universe in a manner similar to the way
ing, and the community at large participated in pregame ac-
in which the Thanksgiving Address was made during the
tivities, such as night dances. Currently members of the East-
Midwinter Ceremony (Speck, 1949, pp. 117, 118). Accord-
ern Band of Cherokee Indians continue their ballgame
ing to one 1960s source, the players “personify the seven
tradition with a series of annual games during the Cherokee
thunder gods”; on rare occasions when a sick person had
Fall Fair. The Cherokee games match townships against one
dreamed of the game, Cayuga teams played it during the
another or are scrimmage exhibitions between squads from
Midwinter Ceremony (Eyman, 1964, pp. 18–19).
the same township. The ballgame is a rough contest, with
frequent wrestling and body blocking. The games are to
Writing at the turn of the twentieth century, the anthro-
twelve points, and teams usually consist of ten to twelve play-
pologist Lewis Henry Morgan rendered the name of the sin-
ers who have undergone several weeks of training and prepa-
gle-racket game as O-tä-dä-jish´-quä-äge and recounted a tra-
ration for the week’s series of games.
dition stating that the war that resulted in the Eries being
expelled from New York around 1654 originated in “a
In addition to a rigorous practice schedule, the training
breach of faith or treachery” during a ballgame against the
regimen typically includes amó:hi atsv?:sdi (“going to water,”
Senecas (Morgan, 1901, pp. 280, 282). Other terms used by
ritual bathing or laving) and interaction with a medico-
individual members of the Six Nations include Ga-lahs
religious specialist. Though not always employed, the follow-
(Oneida) and Tewaarathon (Mohawk). Among the Oneidas
ing actions can and have been performed: scarification, in-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

gestion or application of medicinal substances, dancing, fast-
ing, avoidance of certain foods, and for men, avoidance of
Blanchard, Kendall. The Mississippi Choctaws at Play: The Serious
contact with women and children for specified periods of
Side of Leisure. Urbana, Ill., 1981.
time. Movements to and from the field are ritualized as well.
Culin, Stewart. Games of the North American Indians. New York,
Finally, medico-religious specialists can perform a variety of
1975. Originally published as part of the Twenty-Fourth An-
activities, including some of a divinatory nature, before and
nual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902–1903,
during the match.
Washington, D.C., 1907.
Densmore, Frances. Menominee Music. Smithsonian Institution
Teams of women have begun competing during the
Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 102. Washington,
Cherokee Fair, and there are differing opinions as to whether
D.C., 1932.
this is a new innovation or a revival of a custom as old, or
Eyman, Frances. “Lacrosse and the Cayuga Thunder Rite.” Expe-
possibly even older, than the men’s contest. The women’s
dition 6, no. 4 (1964): 15–19.
games follow the same rules as the men’s; only their ward-
Fisher, Donald M. Lacrosse: A History of the Game. Baltimore and
robe differs, as they wear shirts. Many other communities
London, 2002.
have reinvigorated the men’s ballgame as well; for example,
Fogelson, Raymond D. “The Cherokee Ball Game: A Study in
members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians play
Southeastern Ethnology.” Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsyl-
their version of the game, kapucha toli, during annual fairs.
vania, Philadelphia, 1962.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS. Some commentators have sug-
Gendar, Jeannine. Grass Games and Moon Races: California Indian
gested that there once was a formal link between ballgames
Games and Toys. Berkeley, Calif., 1995.
and warfare for both southeastern and northeastern nations,
Haas, Mary R. “Creek Inter-Town Relations.” American Anthro-
and as noted above, there are several accounts of intertribal
pologist 42, no. 3 (July–September 1940): 479–489.
matches in both oral traditions and historical texts. While
Hallowell, A. Irving. “Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World
some evidence suggests that ballgames have been used to set-
View.” In Teachings from the American Earth: Indian Religion
tle disputes, there is no definitive evidence to support the
and Philosophy, edited by Dennis Tedlock and Barbara
conclusion that such games once were surrogates for war.
Tedlock, pp. 141–178. New York, 1975. First published in
There is evidence that these activities once were training for
Culture in History: Essays in Honor of Paul Radin, edited by
warfare, and there are historical accounts of games being used
Stanley Diamond (New York, 1960).
to lure an enemy into a trap. One well-known example is a
Howard, James H. “The Ponca Shinny Game.” Indian Historian
1763 game of bagga’adowe between Ojibwa and Ottawa vil-
4, no. 3 (Fall 1971): 10–15.
lages outside the British Fort Michilimackinac in present-day
Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team website. Available from http://
Michigan. The soldiers guarding the fort were drawn outside
to view the contest, when suddenly the Ojibwa players at-
“Lacrosse: An Iroquois Tradition.” Available from www.oneida-
tacked and captured the fort. On the whole, research suggests
that ballgames have expressed a range of social, political, reli-
Mooney, James. “The Cherokee Ball Play.” American Anthropolo-
gious, and economic meanings dependent on cultural and
gist o.s. 3 (1890): 105–132.
historical contexts.
Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the
There are many Native American cultural narratives fea-
Cherokees. Nashville, Tenn., 1982. “Myths of the Cherokee”
turing games of ball between nonhuman beings and humans
was originally published as the Nineteenth Annual Report of
the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1897–1898,
pp. 3–576,
or in some cases between nonhuman beings in a time before
Washington, D.C., 1900; “Sacred Formulas of the Chero-
humans inhabited the earth. For example, in the Cherokee
kees” was originally published in the Seventh Annual Report
narrative tradition there are accounts of ballgames played by
of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1885–1886,
supernatural beings (the Sons of Thunder) and games be-
pp. 301–397, Washington, D.C., 1891.
tween teams of birds and four-legged animals as well as fa-
Morgan, Lewis Henry. League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois,
mous games between Cherokee teams and teams from other
vol. 1. Edited by Herbert M. Lloyd. Rev. and enlarged ed.
nations. There also are Choctaw, Muskogee, Seminole, Mo-
New York, 1901.
hawk, and Onondaga narratives of similar games between
North American Indian Travelling College. Tewaarathon (La
birds and animals. In all of them the pivotal character, the
Crosse) Akwesasne’s Story of Our National Game. Cornwall Is-
bat, was rejected by one or both of the teams before being
land, Ontario, 1978.
allowed to play. The narratives differ regarding such details
Oxendine, Joseph B. American Indian Sports Heritage. Cham-
as which team finally accepted the bat and why, but the team
paign, Ill., 1988; reprint, with a new afterword by the au-
that did so always won in the end.
thor, Lincoln, Neb., 1995.
Though not as widespread as they once were, ballgames
Powers, William K. Oglala Religion. Lincoln, Neb., 1977; reprint,
continue to be viable cultural traditions in many First Na-
tions communities and are undergoing some amount of revi-
Salter, Michael A. “Meteorological Play-Forms of the Eastern
talization in others.
Woodlands.” In Studies in the Anthropology of Play: Papers in
Memory of B. Allan Tindall,
edited by Phillips Stevens Jr.,
SEE ALSO Sports and Religion.
pp. 6–28. Cornwall, N.Y., 1978.
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

Salter, Michael A. “Play in Ritual: An Ethnohistorical Overview
were especially interested in the Vedic language and litera-
of Native North America.” In Play and Culture, 1978 Pro-
ture of ancient India. In their attempt to build a bridge to
ceedings of the Association for the Anthropological Study of
the living European languages, they discovered that the clos-
Play, edited by Helen B. Schwartzman, pp. 70–91. West
est European affinity to the Vedic language—both etymo-
Point, N.Y., 1980.
logically and, to some extent, lexically—existed with the Bal-
Speck, Frank G., in collaboration with Alexander General (De-
tic language group, especially Lithuanian. (Comparative
skáheh). Midwinter Rites of the Cayuga Long House. Philadel-
linguists of the twentieth century, such as Alois Walde, Julius
phia, 1949; reprint, with an introduction by William N.
Pokorny, Antoine Meillet, and Hans Krahe, have devoted
Fenton, Lincoln, Neb., and London, 1995.
particular attention to Baltic languages.) Interest in the lan-
St. Pierre, Mark, and Tilda Long Soldier. Walking in the Sacred
guages generated interest in the ethnogenesis of the Baltic
Manner: Healers, Dreamers, and Pipe Carriers: Medicine
peoples. This subject fascinated scholars as late as the nine-
Women of the Plains Indians. New York, 1995.
teenth century. It became apparent that the geographic isola-
Vennum, Thomas, Jr. American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of
tion of these peoples had not only allowed, but had fur-
War. Washington, D.C., 1994.
thered, an unhindered and uninterrupted development free
from external influence. But their rather late appearance in
the European arena and their previous isolation have fostered
a great deal of guesswork about their linguistic and ethnic
origins and kinships. Until recent times there has been great
This entry consists of the following articles:
confusion on this subject. The Baltic languages were often
erroneously classified as Slavic, although linguists (e.g., Ja¯nis
Endzel¯ıns, Wolfgang Schmid, and Vladimir Toporov) had
long known that they are no more closely related to the Slav-
ic language group than to the Germanic or any other Indo-
European language group originating from their common
Indo-European base, whereas the Estonian language belongs
Latvians, Lithuanians, and Old Prussians constitute the Bal-
to the Finno-Ugrian language group and has a completely
tic language and cultural unit. The Old Prussians, who lived
different history behind it.
in the territory of the present-day Kaliningrad district and
eastern Germany, were conquered during the period of east-
Any investigation of the Baltic religion must touch
ward German expansionism from the ninth to the fourteenth
upon the central problem of sources, of which there are three
century. They were assimilated progressively and disappeared
types: archaeological evidence, folklore, and historical docu-
completely in the seventeenth century. Latvians and Lithua-
ments. The archaeological evidence can easily be surveyed
nians have preserved their national identities to this day. At
since these peoples have always lived in the same region. Ex-
one time or another since the Crusades of the eleventh centu-
cavations have unearthed artifacts from the second millenni-
ry, all these peoples have been subject to German, Polish,
um BCE that present a clear picture of material culture,
Russian, and Swedish colonization. This fact is of special sig-
though not of religious life. (On the territory of Latvia, ar-
nificance since it has affected our understanding of the ele-
chaeologists Ja¯nis Graudonis, E¯valda Mugure¯vicˇs, Juris
ments of the ancient religious systems that have been pre-
Urta¯ns, Raisa Den¸isova, Ilga Zagorska, Eg¯ıls Sˇn¸ore, and
served. As colonies, the three national groups were subject
Anna Zarin¸a discovered important artifacts during the
to extensive political and economic exploitation. Although
1990s). There is no evidence of gods and their cults. The
formally Christianized, they continued their traditional ways
burial rites and belief systems connected with these rites have
of religious life despite colonial restrictions.
been carefully researched by such scholars as Marija Gim-
The Baltic peoples have inhabited their present territory
butas and Francis Balodis, but evidence from historical docu-
from the middle of the second millennium
ments is meager. The earliest documents are from the tenth
BCE. At that time,
however, their territory extended farther east, to Moscow,
century, when Germans and Danes attacked the eastern
and southwest, across the banks of the Vistula. Living on the
shore of the Baltic Sea. There is mention of contact with the
fringe of eastern Europe, they were virtually unknown to the
Balts but little further information. The situation remained
West, and thus were able to remain relatively untouched by
almost unchanged up to the beginning of the seventeenth
the influence of Christianity up to the seventeenth century.
century, when more elaborate descriptions were written by
As early as the first millennium BCE, these isolated peoples,
leading clergymen, including, for example, Paul Einhorn and
untouched by foreign developments, had developed from a
certain Jesuit priests.
hunting and fishing culture to an agrarian one. The structure
Despite the dearth of archaeological evidence and his-
of agrarian society and its routine determined the develop-
torical documentation, the folklore materials of these peoples
ment of the belief system and the structure of cultic life.
is one of the richest in all of Europe. Songs (dainas), stories,
The Baltic peoples came to the attention of European
tales, proverbs, and beliefs have been recorded. The diversity
linguists at the end of the eighteenth century. These linguists
of these sources has, however, proved to be a stumbling
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

block, because each type of source has required a particular
is clad in a silver overcoat, gray jacket, and hat; he is girded
investigatory method. As a result, objective investigation of
with a decorated belt and wears mittens; and in certain situa-
Baltic religion was slow to come. At first, there was a tenden-
tions he also has a sword, though this is probably a later de-
cy to approach the topic ideologically, from both Christian
velopment. His dress resembles that of a prosperous farmer.
and Marxist points of view. Then, during the period of na-
That Dievs has his abode in the heavens is self-evident
tional awakening in the latter half of the nineteenth century,
from his name. The heavens resemble a mountain, and this
came a tendency to create pseudo-gods and figments of
mountain is his farm. Herein lies one of the peculiarities of
imagination, as well as an attempt to raise the national con-
Baltic religion. The gods are closely associated with horses,
sciousness of the former colonial nations by finding “prece-
and horses have a special significance in the activities of
dents” in the primary ethnic tradition. Scholarship since the
Dievs: he appears as a horseman and often rides in a chariot
1960s (e.g., that of Jonas Balys, Marija Gimbutas, Lena Neu-
down the mountain. It appears that in this association with
land, and Haralds Biezais) has become more scientifically ac-
horses the motifs of very ancient Indo-European myths have
been preserved.
SKY GODS. Of all the Baltic gods in heaven, the most promi-
nent is Dievs. Linguists agree that etymologically the Latvian
The homestead of Dievs consists of several buildings. In
name Dievs (Lithuanian, Dievas; Old Prussian, Deivas) has
addition to the house there are stalls and barns for horses and
common origin with the names of such gods as the ancient
cows, a threshing barn for drying grain, a storage room, and
Indian Dyaus and the Greek Zeus, which are in turn derived
a sauna. The sources make no mention of castles, which are
from the Indo-European root *dyeu- and its derivatives. The
very common in other religions. From the configuration of
meaning of words derived from this root is “the heavens.”
the homestead one can conclude that Dievs oversees a large
Older scholarship sought to establish a semantic connection
farmstead: the buildings are encircled by large fields, mead-
between this root and the daytime sky or light, but this con-
ows, and forests. Dievs needs the help of the members of his
tention lacks proof, and one must therefore assume that the
own family, especially his sons, the number of whom varies,
meaning “the heavens” is more precise, as Grace Hopkins
to work this farm, but others participate in the labors as well,
(1932) has argued. The original identity of Dievs then be-
plowing, harrowing, planting, and reaping the grain and hay.
comes clearer from his name. The nature of, and the psycho-
Special attention is devoted to the cultivation of hops and
logical motives behind, the god’s development from a phe-
barley, from which beer is brewed. (Beer, the “drink of the
nomenon of nature to a personification and, later, to a
gods,” is the traditional drink of Baltic sacral feasts.) The in-
personal god is, however, a source of contention. Despite
habitants of the heavenly mountain not only work together,
these uncertainties, it is clear that Dievs is closely connected
they celebrate feasts together, especially marriages, and they
with the heavens.
gather together in the sauna.
The first written evidence of the Baltic gods comes from
Indo-European creator gods are usually so mighty and
“Germania” by the Roman historian Tacitus (55–120
distant that they retreat to a realm removed from humans
where he mentions that “aists” (Balts) worship the Mother
and turn into a type of god referred to as deus otiosus (god
of gods (mater deorum). In “Rhymed Chronicles” (Liv-
at leisure). Other gods, whose function is to monitor the
laendische Reimchronik, 1290) the god of thunder Perkun
daily lives of humans, take their place. This is not, however,
is mentioned as being of highest authority.
the case in the religion of the Balts. Instead, the Baltic gods
follow an agricultural way of life that corresponds to that of
Cardinal Valenti in his chronicles written in 1604 and
the Baltic farmer. This is not only a formal analogy. Dievs,
based greatly on “Statuta provincialia consilii Rigensis”
who dwells in heaven, is a neighbor of the farmer on earth.
(1428) provided the evidence that the Balts worshiped a god
At times of the most important decisions, the farmer meets
of heaven: “Credono un Dio Supremo, che chiamano Tebo
and consults with Dievs, just as farmers meet and consult
Deves” (“They believe in a high god, called Tebo Deves”).
among themselves. Dievs rides down on a horse or, more fre-
Tebo Deves is a corrupted form of debess dievs (“sky god”).
quently, in his chariot. These visitations coincide with key
That same year the Jesuit Janis Stribins, in his discussion of
events in the agricultural calendar and represent cyclic time
ancient Latvian religion, noted that the Balts claim “Habe-
mus Deum q[ui] habetet [sic] curam coeli” (“We have a god,
Dievs usually appears in the spring, at the beginning of
who in the sky takes care”). The pantheon of ancient Baltic
the agricultural year. His participation in planting is de-
gods is also described by Einhorn in his “History of Latvia”
scribed in beautiful myths. He accompanies the farmer and
(Historia Lettica, 1649). Though these documents offer only
advises him so that the field will be evenly sown. When the
fragmentary evidence, they do show that the Balts worshiped
horses are led out to the first night watch, he accompanies
a god of heaven (Dievs). Folklore materials, which allow one
the farmer, accepts his due in the sacral feast, and spends the
to delve deeper into the essence, function, and attributes of
entire night with the farmer, tending the fire and protecting
this god, support the claim.
the horses. In many of the planting myths, Dievs leaves the
The anthropomorphic character of Dievs has been care-
night watchers after sunrise but forgets his mittens. Dievs has
fully described and compared to that of other divinities. He
an even more significant role in the fall, after the harvest and
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

threshing. Once again a sacral meal is shared and Dievs par-
Descriptions of Saule’s appearance are incomplete. A
ticipates in ecstatic song and dance. At these times the
white shawl and one or more silver brooches, which secure
boundary between the transcendental god and the earth-
the shawl, are mentioned in the sources. Occasionally she
bound farmer becomes blurred.
wears a wreath. Otherwise she appears in peasant dress. If the
texts are vague about Saule’s appearance, they do provide in-
From time to time, Indo-European gods display univer-
sight into her life both on the mount of heaven and in the
sal qualities, which are revealed in creation stories and in
midst of the farmers during their labors and festivals. She is
myths describing the establishment of the world order, in-
the personification of gaiety, especially at the betrothal of her
cluding individual and societal norms of morality. The role
daughters, when all the gods of heaven join in her rejoicing.
of Dievs as creator is expressed in the words laist (to give
But there are also times of discord. Conflicts with the farmer
birth to), likt (to determine fate), and dot (to provide for),
arise as a result of harm done by the Dieva de¯li (sons of god)
all of which are words that describe his function. Everything
to the Saules meitas (daughters of the sun) during play. The
is the creation of Dievs and corresponds to this threefold ac-
most frequent cause of this discord is the destruction of the
tivity. The act of creation is final and unalterable, and the
latter’s playthings. More serious conflicts arise between Saule
same is true of the world order. Human beings are subject
and Dievs when the Dieva de¯li remove the rings of the Saules
to the laws of nature as they were ordained in the act of cre-
meitas. This is part of an ancient betrothal tradition, during
ation. Dievs, therefore, in his function as creator, is almighty.
which the girl is abducted. Then for three days Saule and
Humans are subject to fate, especially in the realm of morali-
Dievs accuse one another of wrongdoing. Saule also has con-
ty, but this does not lead to resignation and quietism, al-
flicts with other gods of heaven, especially Pe¯rkons (thun-
though such moods exist as undeniable undercurrents in Bal-
der). She lives the life of an ordinary landlady and oversees
tic religion. Humans accept the moral laws of the universe
her daughters’ spinning and weaving, but after her linen has
as set down by Dievs as a framework for his life. Within this
been put in the sun to dry, Pe¯rkons comes and ruins the
framework, however, human beings are free to determine
work with rain, and so Saule has good reason to be angry.
and order their lives in concordance with their moral outlook
Apart from these minor conflicts, harmony reigns on the
and practical needs; therefore, they experience freedom of
mount of heaven. Saule provides sunlight and brightness for
choice and assume responsibility for their actions. Human
the others. The gods’ harmony in the common labors, in
morality is practically determined: human beings must do all
love, and in gaiety can easily be compared to that of the
to further their well-being, and “the good” is whatever aids
Olympian gods.
them in achieving this goal.
Saule and Dievs are neighbors, and both oversee their
The cult of Dievs is not so formalized as are the cults
farmsteads. Saule also has her own horses; in this she is simi-
of gods of heaven in other religions. As we have seen, Dievs
lar to Apollo, who is depicted in frescoes with his chariot and
actively participates at the most important junctures in the
four horses. Sometimes she rides across the sky in her chariot;
life of the farmer. He even shares in the sacrificial feasts, but
she also crosses the sea in a boat. The steersman and oarsmen
there is no evidence that goods were sacrificed to him in
are her servants. Saule begins her ride at dawn and finishes
order to ensure his benevolence. That can be concluded only
at sundown, when the oars are thrown into the boat and the
indirectly. One can best describe the nature and function of
passengers disembark. At times, however, Saule begins her
Dievs metaphorically: he is the neighbor of the farmer, the
boat ride in the evening, and rides in the night unseen. This
grand farmer living on the mount of heaven.
latter myth gives rise to the question of the Baltic conception
of the form of the universe. As we have seen, the heavens
A second important god of heaven is Saule, the personi-
have the form of a mountain. They are subject to the same
fication of the sun. This name is also derived from an Indo-
laws of nature as the earth is, but only gods may dwell there.
European root (sauel-, and variants). Unlike personifications
The belief that Saule travels by boat as well as by chariot indi-
of the sun in other traditions, Saule is a female deity. Saule
cates some kind of connection between the sea and the
is close to Su¯rya of the Vedic tradition, where Su¯rya is the
feminine counterpart to the masculine sun god, although
proof for this contention is not conclusive. There could be
The Balts do not appear to be overly concerned about
other explanations for the feminine gender of Saule, such as
the composition of the world, or at least no trustworthy re-
the fact that the sun is usually a female deity for people living
cord of such speculation has been found. The universe, how-
in the north, where the climate is mild and nourishing, while
ever, is assigned two levels: the heavens and the earth. This
further to the south, where the climate is more harsh, the sun
becomes evident when one looks closely at several word
god takes on a neutral gender (as in Russian), and becomes
forms. The word for “world” is pasaule (Latvian), a com-
masculine even farther south. In Latvian tradition Saule
pound form consisting of pa and saule. Saule, the substantive,
dwells with the moon god Me¯ness, who is masculine and
means “the sun”; with the prefix pa it means “below the sun.”
who requires a feminine counterpart. In certain situations
Thus pasaule means “everything that is under the sun.” The
Saule is also referred to as Saules ma¯te (mother sun) and as
adjectival form is pasaul¯ıgs, meaning “profane” or “not sa-
Saules meita (daughter of the sun).
cred.” A synonym for pasaule is ˇs¯ısaule, a compound that is
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

formed with the demonstrative pronoun ˇs¯ı and means “all
The authors of Christian chronicles were especially critical
that can be seen in sunlight.” The antithesis of ˇs¯ısaule is
of it, accusing celebrants of sexual excesses. Indeed, promis-
vin¸asaule, a compound that is formed with the demonstrative
cuity is allowed during the festival and at times even encour-
pronoun vin¸a and implies all that is still in the realm of the
aged. A sexual act performed in a field was believed to im-
sun but cannot be seen.
prove the field’s fertility.
This dualistic worldview is at the base of Baltic religion.
Me¯ness, the moon god, is also among the gods of heav-
The tradition concerning Saule’s traveling developed further
en. The Latvian word for “moon,” m¯eness (Lithuanian,
and is crucial to the Baltic understanding of death. Saule
menulis; Old Prussian, menins), derives from the Indo-
travels by chariot or by boat in the visible world during the
European root *me-, meaning “a measure of time.” The mea-
day, but in the invisible one at night. Similarly, the dead con-
sure of time was an apt designation for Me¯ness, who periodi-
tinue to live a life in the invisible world, just as the sun does
cally disappears from the sky and then reappears in it once
at night. The land of the dead is located just beyond the hori-
again. No substantial evidence in Baltic sources proves that
zon, in the place where the sun sets.
Me¯ness was originally a feminine deity. As a full-standing
member of the mount of heaven, he, too, has his own farm-
In addition to the concepts of the mountain of heaven
stead there, along with his family, sons, servants, and horses.
and the dualistic cosmos there is in the Baltic myths a saules
His horses are represented by the morning and evening stars.
koks (tree of the sun). It grows on the mount of heaven and
Like Saule, Me¯ness travels through the sky by boat, and at
is often referred to as an oak, a linden, or an apple tree. The
times he even accompanies her. He has close ties to Saule:
difference between this tree and common trees on earth is
he is her untiring suitor.
symbolized by its gold or silver color. No mortal has ever
seen this tree, although many youths have set out to search
In other religions the moon has a special connection
for it, only to return unsuccessfully in old age. A magical
with water and fertility, but this is not true in Baltic religion.
round object, often compared to a pea or an apple, rolls
Instead, Me¯ness is the god of war, and the stars are his troops,
down its branches. The saules koks on the mount of heaven
which, like a true general, he counts and leads. These meta-
is one of the oldest elements of Baltic religion. It seems that
phors reveal Me¯ness’s true function: he is worshiped before
this tree is the “center of the world,” as Mircea Eliade has
battle, and his symbol appears in insignia of war. Although
pointed out, but it is also the “tree of life.” Whether the latter
Me¯ness is frequently mentioned in the sources, his cult, like
idea developed under the influence of Christianity is hard to
that of the other gods, is not fully described. Only sparse evi-
determine. It certainly could stem from an older tradition in
dence of it remains, and none proves that offerings were
which Saule is the mother and source of life.
made to him. The cult disappeared completely during the
period of Christianization.
A cult surrounding Saule is not fully described in the
sources. A few strands of tradition suggest her begetting and
The two groups identified in Latvian as Dieva de¯li (sons
nurturing role. Similar to Dievs, she too comes down from
of god) and Saules meitas (daughters of the sun) are among
the mountain to aid the farmer: she raises her skirt and in-
the most interesting of the Baltic gods of heaven. As early
spects his fields. This tradition has caused some scholars to
as 1875, Wilhelm Mannhardt observed:
speculate about the existence of a belief that the baring of
Already Welcker and Preller have pointed to the close
sexual organs improved fertility. The texts, however, provide
similarity between the Greek Dioscuri and the Indian
inconclusive evidence. Saule could also have raised her skirt
A´svins. The analogy is even closer with the Latvian
to avoid breaking or flattening the stalks. She does, at any
Dieva D¯eli found in the sun songs. The A´svins are sons
rate, promote fertility. The result of her walk across the field
of Dyaus, heaven, divo na¯pata. . .One can easily con-
is wholesome grain and a plentiful harvest.
clude from the Vedic texts that they are personifications
of the morning and evening stars, which never appear
The most significant element of the cult of Saule is the
at the same time. (Mannhardt, 1875; trans. Biezais)
celebration of the summer solstice, in which everyone on the
farmstead takes part. After the setting of the sun a fire is lit
Although this contention was based on scanty evidence in
in a bucket and raised on top of a pole. A feast and dancing
Mannhardt’s time, additional evidence has since been gath-
around the fire follow, and special songs of praise are sung.
ered and analyzed. As a result, it can be shown that the Vedic
The major components of the feast are cheese and newly
Divo Napa¯ta (i.e., the A´svins), the Greek Dioskouroi (i.e.,
brewed beer. At this time shepherds become the center of at-
the Dioscuri), and the Baltic Dieva de¯li are not only typolog-
tention. This has led August Bielenstein, a prominent lin-
ically parallel but are also historically connected. They differ
guist and ethnologist, to conclude that the summer solstice
only inasmuch as they developed in different cultural
festival began as a celebration commemorating the breeding
of livestock. The origin of this festival is obscure, but today
A closer comparison reveals some more unusual paral-
it is a celebration of the sun. The feast continues through the
lels. Although the discussion about the nature and function
entire night, lasting until dawn. Those who retire early are
of the Vedic and Greek “sons of god” continues, the Baltic
believed to be subject to evils and to encounter failure in the
materials provide a clear answer: the Dieva de¯li are the morn-
next year. This celebration of the sun is a fertility rite of sorts.
ing and evening stars. Whereas the Vedic and Greek gods
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

represent hypostases of the differentiated functions or traits
antee her benevolence at the time of birthing. After the visit
of the primary gods, this is not true of the Baltic gods. Rath-
to the sauna, members of the farmstead left a whisk and a
er, their social background is stressed, and their functions are
vessel with clean water so that Pirts ma¯te could also bathe.
expressed in terms of family relationships. Like the A´svins,
the Baltic “sons of god” or “sons of heaven,” the Dieva de¯li
The gods of heaven described above correspond roughly
are the suitors of the Saules meitas, and they are their active
to other Indo-European gods. They are especially similar to
marriage partners. There is no evidence, however, to prove
the Vedic and Greek gods, but they also have some unique
that the Dieva de¯li are twins, as are the A´svins.
qualities and functions that developed in the Baltic social
structure. The primitive world of Baltic farmers is reflected
Just as the function of Dievs is transferred to his sons,
in the conceptions and functions of their gods.
so is the function of Saule transferred to her daughters. The
Vedic Divo Duhita¯ (daughter of heaven), Su¯ryasya Duhita¯
an analysis of the essence and function of the Baltic gods, it
(daughter of the sun), and the goddess Su¯rya (the feminine
is clear that they were an integral part of the daily life cycle.
aspect of the sun), like the Greek Helen (a daughter of Zeus),
This is especially true of a particular group of gods whose
and Phoebe and Hilaeria (the Leucippides, daughters of Leu-
special function was to protect and guarantee the welfare of
cippus), correspond to the Baltic Saules meitas, although
humans. These gods can be subdivided into two groups: fer-
scholars disagree about their original connection. The desig-
tility gods and determiners of fate. The most prominent of
nation Saules meitas is not original, since meita is a rather late
the second group is Laima, whose name means “fortune.”
loanword from German. The most ancient designation,
She occupies a central place among the Baltic gods, but un-
meaning “daughter of heaven,” has been preserved in Lithua-
like the gods of heaven, she is not removed from the realm
nian, dieva dukryte. This designation might refer to dawn,
of human activity; she lives on earth and is involved in the
as do the names of the Vedic goddess Uˇsas and the Greek
minutest details of everyday life. Ka¯rta, another goddess of
goddess E¯o¯s.
fate, fulfills similar functions and has evolved into an inde-
Heavenly nuptials are central to Baltic myths about
pendent hypostasis. Her name, derived from the verb ka¯rt
heaven. Dievs, Me¯ness, or Pe¯rkons may be the bridegroom,
(to hang), is proof of this. Laima’s most basic function is to
and Saule is the bride. For linguistic reasons, in some con-
determine and fix the birth of a child, which involved hang-
texts it is hard to determine who participates in the marriage,
ing a cradle, as ethnographic traditions show. From this
Saule or her daughter, for Saule is regarded as a maiden and
function developed an independent goddess, Ka¯rta, and with
is sometimes referred to as Saules meita. However, this cir-
her an entire cult. Under the influence of the Christian
cumstance does not alter the marriage procedure. A peculiar-
church her function was assumed by Saint Thecla (Latvian,
ity of the event is that all the gods take part, each performing
his or her specific role, which can be traced to ancient Baltic
marriage traditions. The abduction and auctioning of the
The major fertility goddess is Zeme (Lithuanian,
bride is an integral part of the ritual. The ceremony con-
Zˇemy´na), a very different type of goddess. Her name means
cludes with a feast of song and dance on the mount of heav-
“earth,” and she is commonly referred to as Zemes ma¯te
en. Scholars have observed that these elements establish a
(earth mother, mother of the earth). She plays a variety of
connection with an old stratum of Indo-European marriage
roles that, over time, have developed into independent hy-
postases; tradition has it that she has seventy sisters. Some
of them have very special functions, indicated by their de-
The most unusual part of the marriage ceremony is the
scriptive names: Da¯rzu ma¯te (mother of the garden), Lauku
gathering of the gods in the sauna, which, as mentioned
ma¯te (mother of the fields), Mezˇa ma¯te (mother of the for-
above, is a part of the heavenly farmstead. (Baltic ethno-
est), and Linu ma¯te (mother of flax). These descriptive
graphic traditions reveal that the sauna was a place not only
names point to a specific place or plant that is under each
for washing but also for birthing and for sacral feasting. The
mother’s protection. The same is true of Lazdu ma¯te (mother
Baltic sauna had the same status as a holy place or precinct,