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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 n i n e
f f i c a c i oEuFF sIC ACIOUS IMAGES
As odd or superstitious as it may appear to a scientific, secu-
lar view of nature, many religious images and objects are
capable of great efficacy and able to protect against evil or misfortune, promote
prosperity, heal illness, prompt fecundity, communicate favorably with the dead,
or secure divine blessing. In fact, it may even be that such purposes constitute the
greatest occasion for images in religious life. The reasons for attributing this kind
of power to images or sculptures are as diverse as the psychological and sociologi-
cal models for explaining their appeal. To those engaged
in the visual practices of efficacious images, the reason
is probably straightforward: properly crafted and con-
secrated, images are connected by virtue of tradition,
ritual, and likeness to the realities to which they refer.
They direct devotion, petition, and desire toward their
intended end. And when that end is not achieved, it is not
due to the failure of the image as a metaphysical device,
but to the inappropriate ritual preparation of the image
or the petitioner, or to the intervention of another will,
human or divine. Even failure affirms the cultural system
of efficacy—in the same way that a failed bridge does not
move people in an industrial society to scrap bridge-mak-
ing, but to reapply the principles of engineering and the
methods of construction to create a more reliable bridge.
The horrific appearance of the Hindu goddess Kālī
in the sculptural relief shown here (a) does not generate
fear or revulsion toward the goddess among the faithful
who bring their petitions and children before the image.
Her fearsome countenance and brutal disemboweling
of a figure actually suggest her vicious treatment of the
evil afflicting those brought to her for healing, who will
(a) A family views a sculpture of Kālī, a Hindu goddess, Kaalo
Bhairab, Kathmandu, Nepal. [©Macduff Everton/Corbis]
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receive from her the strength she expends against the
violated figure of evil upon which she stands. Likewise,
the angry intensity of a wooden figure placed on the
gable of a home in New Zealand (b) was not meant
to deter family or friends from entering the home, but
malicious spirits. Images charged with such tasks do so
by communicating their intention and function to their
human users in a routine of efficacy in which intention
performs an important role. The medium of their effi-
cacy is thought and feeling. Their very presence affirms
the cultural logic of an entire way of life as the objects
are viewed daily by their users and their neighbors.

Images are used for a great variety of purposes.
Neolithic peoples in northern Europe probably used
hand-held fertility figures like the so-called Venus of
Willendorf (c) to enhance fecundity or secure safe child-
(b) LEFT. Gable figure used to thwart malicious spirits and
protect inhabitants of the house, c. eighteenth century, carved
wood, shell, human teeth, traces of red pigment, New Zealand.
[Masco Collection; photograph by Dirk Baker] (c) BELOW. Venus of
Willendorf, a hand-held female fertility figure, c. 28,000–25,000
bce, carved limestone. Willendorf, Austria. [©Archivo Iconografico,

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birth. Ancient Egyptians had themselves buried with
small ceramic or wooden figures called shawabtis (d),
which in the afterlife provided necessary service with
food production and preparation. They were incised
with magical formulae and hieroglyphics that identified
their purpose and ownership. Some Jews and Muslims
use the emblematic figure of a hand—called hamsa in
Hebrew (e) and Arabic for “five,” often with scriptural
texts inscribed on them—to shield them from the perni-
cious gaze of the evil eye. The origin of the hamsa pre-
(d) RIGHT. Ushebti statue of Tshahorpata, chief of the
conjurors of the goddess Sekhmet, faience, c. fourth century bce.
[©Erich Lessing/Art Resource, N.Y.] (e) BELOW. Jewish hamsa amu-
lets, used as shields against evil, nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, silver, enamel, silver on
brass. [©The Jewish Museum, N.Y./Art Resource, N.Y.]
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dates both Judaism and Islam. In Hawai’i, figures were
erected in male lodges for the purpose of protection (f ).

Other images operate primarily as the means of
directing petitions to divine forces or ancestors. For
example, throughout India and among Hindus around
the world, Gan.eśa (g) is a favorite resource for overcoming
obstacles associated with any aspect of life. In a like man-
ner, practitioners of Santería create altars to the orishas, or
deities whom they worship, such as the one shown here
(h). Roman Catholics direct their petitions to Saint Jude.
Buddhists in Thailand and elsewhere apply gold leaf to
sculptures of the Buddha (i) as acts of personal devotion
and prayer that can solicit a portion of the Buddha’s merit.
Thai Buddhists hope that such a favorable karmic act will
generate a beneficial consequence in this life or higher
(f ) LEFT. Carved aumakua image, a Hawaiian deity of per-
sonal protection, found in 1917, wood, Maui. [Masco Collection;
photograph by Dirk Baker]
(g) BELOW.
Dancing Gan.eśa, Hindu
remover of obstacles, tenth century, carved stone. [©Philadelphia
Museum of Art/Corbis]

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(h) ABOVE. Santería altar in Havana, Cuba. [©Robert van der
(i) LEFT.
Buddhists apply gold leaf to statues of the
Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand. [©Nik Wheeler/Corbis]
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rebirth in the next. Tibetan Buddhists make use of prayer
wheels (j), which generate prayers at a multiplied rate as
they are spun by the faithful. In addition to these uses,
images serve as devices for directing influence (malicious
or benevolent) toward another. A Congolese charm or
spirit container (k), for example, is a receptacle invested
with items belonging to a petitioner or those of a targeted
party and charged with the task of exerting influence.

Images are often made and used to assist with burial,
memorial, and grief. Nineteenth-century American par-
ents often had postmortem photographs made of their
children. One of these is paired here with a photograph
(j) ABOVE. Buddhist pilgrims in Lhasa, Tibet, spin prayer
wheels, which generate prayers at a multiplied rate. [©Galen
(k) LEFT.
A nineteenth-century African Bakongo
sculpture of a male figure, made from wood, glass, fiber, nails,
and bone. The figure includes a spirit container (nkisí) used to
instruct or admonish spirits. [©Burstein Collection/Corbis]
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of the child taken during life (l). The image on the left is
the deceased, whose horizontal position in death has been
changed to appear vertical, as if the child has not died, but
poses peacefully asleep. Such imagery may have denied
the death for grieving parents, or may have mitigated it
to a peaceful slumber. If such images bring to mind the
carefully prepared image of the corpse and in some vitally
therapeutic manner replace the dead body and lost person
with a memory image, traditional inhabitants of the Mela-
nesian island of New Ireland used elaborate mortuary
masks (m) to remove the spiritual traces of the deceased
from his or her household. Dancers wearing such masks
(l) ABOVE. Paired photographs of a young girl who lived in the
United States during the nineteenth century. The photograph
on the left was taken shortly after her death. [Courtesy of Jay Ruby,
Center for Visual Communication] (m) RIGHT. A Murua mask
from New Ireland in Papua New Guinea, made from carved
wood, sea sponge, and snail opercula. Such mortuary masks
were used to remove traces of deceased relatives from the home.
[Masco Collection; photograph by Dirk Baker]
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appeared at the home of the deceased in order to cleanse
it of taboos by attracting any aspect of the dead away from
the home to the site where the body had been cremated.

Perhaps the most common use of imagery is among
rites of passage, when members of a society undergo
crucial transpositions from one status or age to another.
Images often serve to commemorate the event or to assist
in the metaphysics of change. In the case of Papuan
peoples, ancestors must be engaged to bless and guide the
passage, to confer the new status, and to legitimate the
change by bringing the initiate into the presence of
the extended clan, represented by the totemic figures often
included with such figures as the one reproduced here (n).
Cox, J. Halley, with William H. Davenport. Hawaiian Sculpture.
Rev. ed. Honolulu, 1988.
Fazzini, Richard A., James F. Romano, and Madeleine E. Cody.
Art For Eternity: Masterworks from Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn,
N.Y., 1999.
Huyler, Stephen P. Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion. New
Haven, 1999.
Pal, Pratapaditya. Desire and Devotion: Art from India, Nepal, and
Tibet in the John and Berthe Ford Collection. Baltimore, Md.,
Wardwell, Allen. Island Ancestors: Oceanic Art from the Masco Col-
lection. Seattle and Detroit, 1994.
David Morgan ()
(n) A carved wood figurehead, used in initiation ceremonies
by the Avelam people from East Sepik province in Papua New
Guinea. [Masco Collection; photograph by Dirk Baker]
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This entry consists of the following articles:
The New Testament description of Maria, or Mariam, includes Mary’s virginal concep-
tion of Jesus. Preeminent among the saints, the Virgin Mary later became the object of
piety and cult and, especially in the Roman Catholic church, of dogmas such as the im-
maculate conception and the assumption. Protestant treatment of her as a biblical saint
varies. She is honored in the QurDa¯n (su¯rahs 3 and 19), Sh¯ıEah speculation, and S:u¯f¯ı mys-
tical traditions (see Tavard 32–45, Pelikan 67–79). There is some Jewish interest in Mary
as a Jewish mother and link to the people of Israel (Flusser).
Traditionally, Mary has been presented by combining all the references to her in the
Gospels and Acts of the Apostles and viewing them in the light of the infancy narratives
(Mt. 1–2, Lk. 1–2), which have been taken as her memoirs revealed years later to an evan-
gelist. These accounts have then been psychologized and interpreted in light of later Mari-
an thought. Further, Revelation 12, which speaks about “a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars,” who gives birth
to a male child who in turn is caught up to God after escaping a dragon on earth, has
been regarded as a reference to Mary. Similarly, passages in the Hebrew scriptures have
been said to refer to Mary; in Genesis 3:15 she (as the Vulgate reads) “shall bruise” the
serpent’s head; in Isaiah 7:14 (Mt. 1:23) a young girl (Septuagint, “virgin”) shall give birth
to a son; in Proverbs 8 and other passages about Wisdom (personified as a woman); and
in the female figure of the daughter of Zion (e.g., Zep. 3:14–20). On Old Testament
typologies in patristic sources, see Pelikan 23–36, 41–45.
C LOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT CORNER. Mayan vase with relief depicting the head of the sun, c. seventh
to tenth century. Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. [©Giraudon/Art Resource, N.Y.];
Greek vase depicting Circe mixing a magical potion to transform the companions of
Odysseus into animals. [Photograph ©2004 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]; Late-nineteenth-
century Alaskan Eskimo mask representing the spirit of the moon as a face encompassed by
the air (board), the cosmos (hoops), and the stars (feathers). Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka,
Alaska. [©Werner Forman/Art Resource, N.Y.]; Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.
[©Christine Osborne/Corbis]; The Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, France. [©Archivo Iconografico,

Modern scholarship finds differing pictures of Mary in
The most positive synoptic portrayal of Mary comes in
each gospel. Earlier accounts can be ascertained from sources
the Gospel of Luke plus Acts (perhaps after 90 CE). In Acts
used by the gospel writers, and a “historical Mary” can be
1:14, Mary is a member of the Jerusalem church. In Luke
sought behind such sources. The concatenation of biblical
1–2, Mary is described as Joseph’s “betrothed” (Luke 2:1–20,
images, together with evolving Marian piety and influences
where, however, a virgin birth is not mentioned). More strik-
from other religions, led to post–New Testament develop-
ing are (1) the scene where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that
ments that were initially connected with Christology, then
she will bear “the Son of the Most High” and “The Holy
with ecclesiology, but by the Middle Ages and certainly since
Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High
the seventeenth century, Roman Catholic dogmatics were
will overshadow you” (God’s creative activity, Acts 1:8; Gen.
treated separately as Mariology. Pelikan treats her many titles
1), and Mary responds, “Let it be with me according to your
like “the second Eve” and “black Madonna.”
word” (Lk. 1:26–38, Mary’s faith); (2) the story of Mary’s
visit to Elizabeth (Lk. 1:39–56) and Mary’s song, the Mag-
MARY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. The Gospel of Mark (writ-
nificat (1:46–55, Mary as prophetess), in particular, the
ten about 70 CE) describes Jesus’ mother and brothers on the
words about her blessedness (esp. 1:42 and 1:48); (3) the ac-
edge of a crowd listening to him teach (Mk. 3:31–35). “His
count of Mary in the Jerusalem Temple where she comes for
own” (3:20), likely “his family” (NRSV), have come to take
purification after childbirth and where Jesus is presented to
him away because Jesus was, they thought, “out of his mind”;
the Lord (Lk. 2:21–40); and (4) the story of Jesus in the
they are like the hostile scribes who claim that he is “pos-
Temple as a twelve-year-old (Lk. 2:41–52). These accounts
sessed by Beelzebub” (3:22). In Mark 3:34–35, Jesus desig-
show Mary’s faith in God (Lk. 1:38, 1:45); tell of the virginal
nates as “my mother and my brothers” those who do the will
conception (Lk. 1:31–34, cf. 3:23) and of Mary’s status as
of God, thus contrasting his natural family, including Mary,
a “favored one” (Lk. 1:28; Vulgate, gratia plena), employing
with his “eschatological family” of disciples. The passage in
the term hail (ave); and relate Simeon’s prophecy to Mary:
Mark 6:1–6a, about the rejection of Jesus in his home syna-
“A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35; Mary,
gogue, shows Mary and Jesus’ brothers sharing the unbelief
also, must transcend the natural bonds of family and come
of those of the surrounding countryside; 6:3, “son of Mary,”
to faith in Jesus). This she does, for Jesus declares blessed not
does not indicate either virgin birth or illegitimacy (contrast
the womb that bore him but those who hear and keep God’s
Schaberg). References to another Mary, in addition to Mary
word (Lk. 11:27–28). The rejection scene at Nazareth (Lk.
Magdalene, in 15:40, 15:47, and 16:1 do not denote Jesus’
4:16–30) is presented very differently, and the saying about
mother. Hence the overall picture of Mary in Mark is a nega-
Jesus’ eschatological family (Lk. 8:19–21) lacks any contrast
tive one. (For details, see Brown et al., 1978, pp. 51–72,
with his natural family. In Luke 2:19 and 2:51, Mary
ponders over Jesus’ birth and thus grows in faith and dis-
In the Gospel of Matthew (perhaps before 90 CE), a more
positive view of Mary results, especially from the first two
The Gospel of John (c. 90) contains no reference to the
chapters about the birth and infancy of Jesus, the fruit of
virgin birth, in part because the preexistence and incarnation
meditation upon the Hebrew scriptures within the Matthean
of the Word are emphasized (Jn. 1:1–18). The scenes involv-
community. The genealogy (Mt. 1:1–17), from Abraham
ing “the mother of Jesus” (never “Mary”) during Jesus’ min-
through David to “Jesus who is called the Messiah,” men-
istry are totally different from those in the Synoptic Gospels.
tions five women, including “Mary, of whom [fem.] Jesus
In the story about a wedding feast at Cana (Jn. 2:1–11), his
was born” (1:16). This genealogy was probably designed to
mother does not yet seem to have grasped that his “hour”
emphasize how God carried out his plan to save his people
does not parallel the wishes of his natural family. Although
through Jesus the Messiah (1:21) in spite of “marital irregu-
she accompanied Jesus to Capernaum (Jn. 2:12), perhaps
larities” in each of the cases of the five women. With Mary,
this was because she was seeking to bring him home (cf. Mk.
the irregularity is that Joseph learns she is with child “from
3:20–35). The mother of Jesus appears in one other Johan-
the Holy Spirit.” But this is in accord with God’s plan (Mt.
nine scene (Jn. 19:25–27), standing at the foot of the cross
1:21–22). That the women were “threats” but “vulnerable”
with the Beloved Disciple. This stabat mater reference occurs
is stressed by Gaventa 32–46. The evangelist cites Isaiah 7:14
only in John, among all the Gospels.
(Septuagint) to verify that a virgin has conceived and that the
child will be “God with us” (Mt. 1:23).
Earlier New Testament writings, like Paul’s letters (c.
50–60, Gal. 4:4, antidocetist), make no reference to Mary,
Matthew’s portrait of Mary during the ministry of Jesus
nor does the Q source, a reconstructed collection of Jesus’
is also ameliorated by other details. In the scene of Jesus’ es-
sayings, presumed to have been used by Matthew and Luke.
chatological family (Mt. 12:46–50) no reference is made to
A pre-gospel tradition could be behind John 2:1–11, or a
Jesus’ natural family coming to take custody of him. In the
common source could be the basis of the Matthean-Lukan
synagogue scene at Nazareth (Mt. 13:53–58), Matthew
stories of Mary’s conceiving and the genealogy. More likely
drops out the Marcan reference to “his own kin” in what
these are deductions of post-Easter Christology, theologou-
Jesus says (13:57; cf. Mk. 6:4).
mena, dramatizing the divine origins of Jesus.
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Regardless of the backgrounds and symbolism of the
Marian festivals generally developed in the East and
scene in Revelation 12 that are suggested by scholarship in
then spread elsewhere. They multiplied in number. Some
the history of religions, the passage is intended to assert
had biblical roots, for example, the Annunciation on March
God’s triumph in Christ over Satan’s attacks. The woman
25 (Lk. 1:26–38) and the Purification on February 2 (Lk.
who gives birth to the Messiah is Israel and the church,
2:21–39, cf. Lv. 12). Others, like the Nativity of the Blessed
Christ’s suffering people. Marian applications to the passage
Virgin Mary (September 8) and her Presentation in the
developed only in the fourth century.
Temple (November 21), have their roots in the Protevangeli-
um of James.
The fifteenth of August became the date for the
MARIAN PIETY AND MARIOLOGY. In the second century, ref-
Dormition, or “falling asleep” of the Virgin. Later there arose
erences to Mary are rare, found chiefly in the letters of Igna-
accounts of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven, parallel-
tius of Antioch about the “mystery” of Jesus’ birth (e.g.,
ing Jesus’ exaltation. Mary was regarded as now reigning
Ephesians 19.1) and in Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho
with her Son, and thus she could be intercessor, or mediatrix,
100). Justin typologically compares Eve and Mary, a theme
with Christ and God. A legend about Theophilus, who made
developed by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.21.10). The New
a pact with the devil but obtained forgiveness through Mary,
Testament Apocrypha and gnostic documents from Nag
was an indication of her power to intervene. The Feast of the
Hammadi expand references to Mary (see Tavard 17–31).
Immaculate Conception of Mary (December 8 or 9) arose
The Protevangelium of James (an infancy gospel and life of
around the theme of her sinlessness from the time of her
Mary, written mid-second century), with its hagiographic
birth (cf. Protevangelium of James 4). However, in the West
details, was to have great influence. It said that Mary re-
there was a long debate over Mary’s sinlessness in light of the
mained a virgin while delivering her son (in partu) as well
Augustinian doctrine of original sin; the Franciscans promot-
as after Jesus’ birth (virginitas post partum). Growing Chris-
ed the feast, while the Dominicans (including Thomas Aqui-
tian emphasis on asceticism, with Mary as virgin model, and
nas) opposed it.
contacts with “mother goddesses” in other religions, especial-
ly in Asia Minor, encouraged Marian themes. But even in
Celebration of Mary had now moved from the realm of
the third century there is no trace of belief in Mary’s assump-
Christology to that of ecclesiology. Mary was Mater Ecclesiae
tion into heaven (Brown et al., 1978, pp. 241–282).
(“mother of the church”), for she had brought forth Christ,
the head of the church. One principle at work was “potuit,
Popular piety concerning Mary usually developed first
decuit, fecit”: God could do a thing, it was fitting that God
in the East, often involving icons (see Tavard 67–73) and in
should, and therefore God did it—for example, God saw to
a liturgical context, sometimes involving groups deemed he-
it that Mary was born or exalted much like her Son. Other
retical. The West was often more sober in its piety (see Ta-
principles were exhibited by Bernard of Clairvaux’s dictum
vard 65–100). The prayer in the Byzantine liturgy Sub tuum
“Everything through Mary” and the widespread medieval be-
praesidium confugimus (“Under your mercy we take refuge,
lief that one can never say too much about Mary. Reflections
O Theotokos . . .”) has been traced back to the fourth cen-
of this cascading piety can be seen in the Akathistos, a Greek
tury or earlier (for details, see O’Carroll, 1983). In the Refu-
hymn of the fifth or sixth century that has elaborate epithets
tation of All Heresies 78–79 (c. 375), Epiphanius, bishop of
for Mary, or in Western antiphons like Alma redemptoris
Cyprus, refers both to “opponents of Mary” who denied that
mater (Sweet Mother of the Redeemer), or in the Ave Maria
she was perpetually a virgin (Gr., aeiparthenos; Lat., semper
prayer (“Hail, Mary,” Luke 1:28 and 1:48, with the later ad-
virgo), and to the Collyridians, women who offered cakes
dition of “Pray for us sinners . . .”). Poetry, often outside
(kollyrides) to the Virgin as a goddess (cf. Jer. 7:18, 44:15–
the churches, e.g., by the English Romantics and pre-
28). At the Second Council of Nicaea (787) clear distinctions
Raphaelites, and literature sometimes hailed Mary (see Ta-
were made: latr(e)ia (“worship”) is for God alone; d(o)ul(e)ia
vard 153–167; Pelikan 165–175).
(“reverence”), for the saints; and huperdouleia (“more than
reverence”), for Mary.
Some of the Protestant reformers (see Pelikan 153–
163), including Ulrich Zwingli (see Tavard 104–109), grew
In the Christological controversies of the fifth century,
up under the high Mariology of the late Middle Ages and
Mary took on more and more of the status of her Son. While
its piety. Luther seems at times to have affirmed Mary’s im-
Nestorius (d. 451) was willing to call Mary christotokos (“the
maculate conception and even her bodily assumption and re-
one who bore Christ”), he boggled at the term theotokos,
tained some Marian festivals, but with a Christological em-
“God-bearer.” This term became the rallying cry of Cyril of
phasis. More revealing is Luther’s 1521 exposition of the
Alexandria (d. 444) and was proclaimed as a title for Mary
Magnificat (Works, Saint Louis, 1956, vol. 21,
at the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451). The
pp. 297–358), where Mary is “the foremost example” of
intent was to assert that he whom Mary bore was, while
God’s grace and of proper humility. The Lutheran confes-
“truly man,” also “truly God.” Use of the term theotokos also
sions simply assume the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and even
led to emphasis on Mary not simply as Dei genitrix (“she who
use stock phrases like semper virgo. But Calvin, who praised
gives birth to God”) but also as mater Dei, the “mother of
Mary as “holy virgin,” expressed misgivings about calling her
God” (see Tavard 49–64; Pelikan 55–65).
“mother of God.” Protestant reaction to the post-Tridentine
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

emphases in Roman Catholicism gave Mary less and less
proclaimed Mary as Mater Ecclesiae, and his apostolic exhor-
place (see Tavard 117–130; Dawe). Anglicanism often shares
tation in 1974, Marialis cultus, sought for renewal in devo-
in (Roman) Catholic tradition about Mary, though not in
tion to Mary and called her “our sister.” John Paul II has spo-
the papal magisterium seen in the dogmas of 1854 and 1950
ken frequently in traditional Marian terms, often
(see below; Tavard 134–152).
devotionally (Redemptoris mater, 1987, announcing a Marian
jubilee for 1987–1988, leading toward the bimillennium in
Eastern Orthodox regard for Mary has continued as liv-
2000 of Jesus’ birth). The net effect since Vatican II has gen-
ing piety, but without the emphasis on dogmatic articulation
erally been a greater restraint and balance in Roman Catholic
found in Roman Catholicism (see Nikos Nissiotis, in Con-
Mariology and in Catholic devotional life. Some statements
cilium 168, 1983, pp. 25–39, with bibliography).
have suggested that Mary provides “the model of all real fem-
“Sophiology,” Mary as created Wisdom (Sophia), developed
inine freedom” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, Behold Your Mother,
especially in nineteenth-century Russian Orthodoxy (see Ta-
1974). But for many feminists, Mariology, certainly in the
vard 78–79; O’Carroll, Theotokos 332 and 90–92 on Sergius
church writers of the early centuries, has been all too andro-
Bulgakov, 1817–1944). For Roman Catholic theology, the
centric (cf. Borrensen, Halkes, and Moltmann-Wendel, in
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought new develop-
Concilium, 168, 1983; contrast at points Tavard 49–57,
ments in spirituality having to do with Mary (for example,
221–266). In ecumenical dialogues the fullest treatment has
the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary promoted by
come in the United States “Lutherans and Catholics in Dia-
Jean Eudes, 1601–1680). In Italy, Alfonso Liguori (1696–
logue VIII,” The One Mediator, the Saints, and Mary, ed.
1787) gathered stories about the Virgin in his book The Glo-
H. George Anderson, J. Francis Stafford, and Joseph A. Bur-
ries of Mary. Emphasis on Mary was encouraged by reported
gess (Minneapolis, 1992); “saints” and prayers for and to de-
visions and appearances (Pelikan 178–187), for example, at
ceased saints proved more divisive than did Mary.
Lourdes in 1858, with the announcement, “I am the Immac-
ulate Conception,” at Fatima, Portugal in 1917, and Medju-
SEE ALSO Councils, article on Christian Councils; Cult of
gore in Bosnia-Herzegovina, beginning in 1981 (appearances
Saints; Goddess Worship; Jesus; Virgin Goddess.
have been claimed more frequently in the twentieth century
than any previous time, so Tavard 186); also by international
Marian congresses; by Marian years proclaimed by the pope;
and by pilgrimages (for example to Czestochowa in Poland,
Walter Delius, Geschichte der Marienverehrung (Munich, 1963),
Guadalupe, Mexico).
and his Texte zur Geschichte der Marienverehrung und Ma-
rienverkündigung in der alten Kirche
, rev. Hans-Udo Rosen-
Reflective of such popular piety was Pius IX’s 1854 defi-
baum (New York/Berlin, 1973) are updated in Die Religion
nition of the immaculate conception as dogma for Roman
in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th ed., vol. 5 (Tübingen,
Catholics in Ineffabilis Deus: “The most blessed Virgin Mary
2002): 800–824, by Heinrich Petri, Reinhard Thöle, and
. . . was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” In
Birgit Merz. More popular in tone are Hilda Graef’s Mary:
1950, Pius XII defined the assumption of the Blessed Virgin
A History of Doctrine and Devotion, 2 vols. (New York, 1963–
Mary as a dogma in the apostolic constitution Munificentissi-
1965); Marina Warner’s Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and
mus Deus: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin
Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York, 1976); Christa Mulack’s
Maria: Die geheime Göttin im Christentum (Stuttgart, 1985);
Mary . . . was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.”
David Flusser, Jaroslav Pelikan, and Justin Lang, Mary: Im-
Protestant reaction was negative. The Orthodox reacted
ages of the Mother of Jesus in Jewish and Christian Perspective
against the 1854 dogma because of their belief that everyone,
(Philadelphia, 1986); George H. Tavard, The Thousand Faces
Mary included, is afflicted with sin in the sense of human
of the Virgin Mary (Collegeville, Minn., 1996); and Jaroslav
infirmity, but in 1950 they reacted only against papal claims
Pelikan, Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History
of authority inherent in the proclamation (see Pelikan 189–
of Culture (New Haven, 1996). Sympathetic articles on per-
213). Some Catholics have called for ecumenical rewriting
sons, terms, and themes, with bibliography, will be found in
of these dogmas (see Tavard 200).
Michael O’Carroll’s Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of
the Blessed Virgin Mary,
rev. ed. with supplement (Wilming-
Although some Catholic “maximalists” on Mary hoped
ton, Del., 1983). For biblical materials, treated with histori-
that the Second Vatican Council would declare her coredem-
cal-critical methodology and ecumenically, see Mary in the
ptrix with Christ, the council did not make such a statement.
New Testament: A Collaborative Assessment by Protestant and
In fact, it voted in 1963 to include the material on Mary as
Roman Catholic Scholars, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Karl
chapter 8 of the Constitution on the Church, Lumen genti-
P. Donfried, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and John Reumann (Phila-
um, rather than to treat it as a separate schema. The dogmatic
delphia, 1978); Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messi-
ah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and

constitution treats her role in the economy of salvation, as
Luke (Garden City, N.Y., 1977); Jane Schaberg, The Illegiti-
Mother of God and of the Redeemer, as a model for the
macy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the In-
church, and as a sign of hope and solace for God’s people
fancy Narratives (San Francisco, 1987); Mary Margaret Paz-
in pilgrimage. There are also paragraphs on devotion to the
den, “Mary, Mother of Jesus,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary
Blessed Virgin, warning against exaggeration. However, the
(New York, 1992), vol. 4: 584–586; Ingrid Rosa Kitzberger,
speech by Paul VI in 1964, promulgating Lumen gentium,
“Maria, Mutter Jesu,” Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegen-
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

wart, 4th ed., vol. 5 (Tübingen, 2002): 798–799; Beverly
of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). The question
Roberts Gaventa, Mary, Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus (Co-
of Mary’s place in the church generated some of the most
lumbia, S.C., 1995), including literary approaches and
heated debates in Vatican II (at which no women were pres-
“story.” Mary in the Churches, edited by Hans Küng and Jür-
ent), and the council’s teachings on Mary eventually were in-
gen Moltmann, Concilium 168 (New York, 1983), surveys
corporated into Chapter 8 of the document on the church,
biblical origins and confessional attitudes today as well as
Lumen Gentium. Although Lumen Gentium emphasizes the
trends in feminist and liberation theology and depth psy-
unique dignity and privilege of Mary in her role as Mother
chology and literature. Mary’s Place in Christian Dialogue,
edited by Alberic Stacpoole (Wilton, Conn., 1982), reflects
of God, it also portrays her as the model of Christian disci-
work by the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
pleship and prayer.
which also published Donald G. Dawe, From Dysfunction to
After Vatican II, Catholic interest in Mary declined dra-
Disbelief: The Virigin Mary in Reformed Theology (Washing-
matically, and thus it is not surprising that she attracted rela-
ton, D.C., 1977). Stephen Benko’s Protestants, Catholics, and
tively little attention from early feminist theologians. Those
Mary (Valley Forge, Pa., 1978) deals also with Josephology.
Periodicals: Marian Studies; Dialog 31 (Fall 1992): 245–271.
who did write about Mary tended to follow the trend of Vati-
can II, emphasizing her biblical persona as the poor woman
JOHN REUMANN (1987 AND 2005)
of Nazareth and an exemplary disciple rather than her tran-
scendent mystical significance as the Mother of God or her
cultic role in popular devotions and feasts (Ruether, 1993).
Feminist liberationist theologians saw Mary as a source of in-
spiration for the struggles of the poor and the oppressed,
The Virgin Mary has been a central figure in Catholic and
identifying her with the words of the Magnificat attributed
Orthodox Christianity since the time of the early church. Al-
to her in Luke’s gospel (1:46–55). The Brazilian theologians
though Marian devotion often has been aligned with papal
Ivone Gebara and María Clara Bingemer (1989) proposed
power and Catholic imperialism, Mary also has been a focal
a feminist liberationist understanding of Mary that seeks to
point for popular devotional practices, legends, and folklore
reconcile her human significance as Mary of Nazareth and
in Catholic culture, including those which express women’s
her transcendent universality as the Mother of God.
concerns with childbirth, motherhood, marriage, and reli-
gious life. Mary is a complex topic for feminist analysis, since
Alongside these liberal and liberationist perspectives,
the priorities and perspectives of a Western-educated femi-
some feminist thinkers have attempted to reclaim Mary’s sig-
nist are likely to be different from those of a poor, illiterate
nificance as the unacknowledged goddess of the Christian
Catholic woman, for whom the Virgin Mary nevertheless
tradition (Baring and Cashford, 1993). From this perspec-
may be a potent source of inspiration and consolation.
tive, the early church only partially defeated the goddess reli-
FEMINIST PERSPECTIVES. The most common feminist cri-
gions of the ancient world. Those religions were subsumed
tique of the Marian tradition focuses on the association be-
and incorporated into Christianity in the status and devotion
tween Mary and Eve, which is perceived as a destructive form
accorded to the Virgin Mary while being divested of their po-
of dualism that informs Christian concepts of womanhood.
tent matriarchal significance in the context of a patriarchal
As the new Eve, Mary has been represented as the faithful,
religious culture.
obedient virgin who brought life to the human race through
This is one of the ideas explored by Marina Warner
her motherhood of Christ, whereas Eve has signified the dis-
(2000) in her feminist analysis of the development of Marian
obedient virgin, the sexual temptress who brought death to
devotion and doctrine. Warner presents the Marian tradition
the human race by eating the forbidden fruit and enticing
as historically significant but anachronistic in terms of the
Adam to eat it.
aspirations, values, and questions of contemporary secular
In parallel with the denigration of female sexuality in
society, although in more recent editions of her work she has
Eve’s association with temptation, sin, and death, Mary’s vir-
modified this stance by acknowledging the enduring capacity
ginal motherhood is seen by feminist critics as representing
of Mary to meet the religious need for a mother goddess fig-
an impossible ideal for women. The Christian understanding
ure. Others, such as Charlene Spretnak (2004), offer a more
of female virtue has been constructed to a large extent around
positive affirmation of the need to recognize Mary’s potential
the contrast between Mary’s virginal obedience, passivity,
in terms of a maternal feminine divine presence in the Cath-
and modesty before God and Eve’s disobedience, sexual in-
olic tradition. Spretnak criticizes the Second Vatican Coun-
continence, and susceptibility to temptation. This contrast
cil for divesting the Marian tradition of much of its power
has been exacerbated in the Roman Catholic tradition by the
and argues for the rediscovery of Marian devotion as an im-
valuing of celibacy over marriage; as a result women have
portant aspect of feminist spirituality.
been identified with Eve as posing the ultimate threat to the
Mary is also a significant figure in the writings of the
spiritual and moral well-being of the celibate male.
psycholinguistic theorists Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva.
For Irigaray she represents the missing feminine dimension
long tradition of women’s writings on Mary, contemporary
of the Incarnation. Irigaray (1991) argues that the fertile,
feminist interpretations must be understood in the context
corporeal, and maternal aspects of the Christian story have
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been neglected in favor of a life-denying religion based on
zilian theologians draw on the insights of feminist and libera-
the patriarchal and sacrificial relationship between a Father
tionist theologies to offer a Mariology that encompasses both
God and his crucified Son. Kristeva (1987), drawing on the
the human dimension of Mary as a woman in history and
insights of psychoanalysis, sees the cult of the Virgin Mary
the transcendent significance of Mary as a universal symbol
as contributing to the sublimation rather than the repression
of liberation and redemption.
of the maternal relationship in Catholic Christianity, includ-
Irigaray, Luce. Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche. New York,
ing its associations with the body, desire, and death.
1991. The last chapter of this book, “Epistle to the Last
Christians,” offers the author’s most sustained engagement
These theoretical insights have informed feminist Mari-
with the Marian tradition, although references to the Virgin
ology, particularly in the work of Tina Beattie (2002). A dif-
Mary are scattered widely throughout her work.
ferent critical perspective is offered by Sarah Jane Boss
Johnston, Elizabeth A. Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the
(2000). Drawing on the critical theory of the Frankfurt
Communion of Saints. London and New York, 2003. The au-
school in her reading of the Marian tradition, Boss argues
thor rejects the iconic status of Mary in order to emphasize
that the increasing trend toward the domination of nature
her humanity as a woman who struggles in solidarity with
and the female body is reflected in changing attitudes toward
other women.
the Virgin Mary in Western culture.
Kristeva, Julia. “Stabat Mater.” In Tales of Love. New York, 1987
As a visible and ubiquitous symbol of maternal feminin-
(first published in 1983). This lyrical essay, written as two
ity in the Christian tradition the Virgin Mary is a vast cultur-
sides of a dialogue, explores the relationship between the ma-
al presence and historical influence whose significance has
ternal body and Marian doctrine and devotion.
not been recognized fully by many secular feminists. The tra-
Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Sexism and God-Talk. London: 1992
ditions, theories, and practices that surround her are too di-
(first published in 1983). Chapter 6, “Mariology as Symbolic
verse and enigmatic to lend themselves to a straightforward
Ecclesiology: Repression or Liberation?” proposes a feminist
feminist analysis or theory. However, it is hard to see how
liberationist Mariology based on the identification of Mary
any feminist approach to questions of religion, history, and
with the church.
ethics in Western culture can ignore the extent to which the
Spretnak, Charlene. Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her
Marian tradition has shaped attitudes toward women in ways
Re-Emergence in the Modern Church. Basingstoke, U.K.,
that extend beyond the doctrinal beliefs and devotional prac-
2004. The author criticizes the Second Vatican Council for
tices of Catholic Christianity.
its minimalist approach to Mary and advocates a rediscovery
of Marian devotion and mysticism as a potent expression of
SEE ALSO Asceticism; Celibacy; Eve; Feminine Sacrality;
feminist spirituality.
Feminism, article on French Feminists on Religion; Femi-
Warner, Marina. Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the
nist Theology, article on Christian Feminist Theology;
Virgin Mary. London, 2000 (first published in 1976). This
Goddess Worship, overview article; Liberation Theology;
scholarly and wide-ranging evaluation of the Marian tradi-
Spirituality; Virgin Goddess; Virginity.
tion remains one of the most influential feminist critiques.
Baring, Anne, and Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess: Evolu-
tion of an Image. London and New York, 1993. In this exten-
sive study of goddess religions the authors argue that Eve and
MARY MAGDALENE. Mentioned by name in only
Mary are the repressed goddess figures of the Jewish and
Christian traditions.
fourteen verses in the New Testament, Mary Magdalene is
nevertheless one of the most important and influential fig-
Beattie, Tina. God’s Mother, Eve’s Advocate: A Marian Narrative
ures in the history of Christianity. Mary came from a pros-
of Women’s Salvation. London and New York, 2002. Beattie
engages with French psycholinguistic theory in her reading
perous town on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which in the
of the Marian tradition. By comparing the symbolic signifi-
canonical gospels is called by its Aramaic name, Magdala. In
cance of Eve and Mary in patristic theology with their repre-
Greek it is known as Tarichaeae. In antiquity the town had
sentation in recent Catholic writings, she argues for the
a reputation for exporting quality salt fish and fish oil. It is
transformation of Marian symbolism through a feminist en-
possible Mary herself was engaged in some business related
gagement with the beliefs of the early Church.
to the fishing industry. This occupation is well attested for
Boss, Sarah Jane. Empress and Handmaid: Nature and Gender in
women in early Roman Palestine, and the Herodian court
the Cult of the Virgin Mary. London and New York, 2000.
at nearby Tiberias regularly purchased goods from female
This analysis of the development of the Marian tradition
suppliers. When Mary is introduced in Luke 8:2, she is in
draws on both theology and sociology. In light of the critical
the company of Joanna, the wife of a Herodian official, sug-
theory of the Frankfurt school and its critique of domina-
gesting Mary had contact with the court.
tion, the author argues that changing attitudes toward nature
and the female body in Western culture are reflected in Mari-
Luke presents Mary Magdalene as one who followed
an doctrine and devotion.
Jesus during his ministry in the Galilee. According to the
Gebara, Ivone, and María Clara Bingemer. Mary: Mother of God,
third gospel, Jesus healed Mary of an unspecified disorder,
Mother of the Poor. Tunbridge Wells, U.K., 1989. These Bra-
which singles her out as the only close companion whom he
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

cures. Luke also records that Mary “ministered” (the Greek
though some twentieth-century commentators have inter-
verb means “to care for” or “to provide”) to Jesus and his fol-
preted it that way.
lowers “out of [her] resources.” The verse may recall Mary’s
Peter appears in the Gnostic texts consistently opposing
patronage as a well-to-do businesswoman.
Mary’s authority. As a result, some scholars suggest that the
Whenever a group of women followers is listed in the
Gnostic writings reveal a struggle within the early church be-
canonical gospels, Mary is mentioned first, an indication of
tween a faction that recognizes in Mary a model for women’s
her preeminence. The gospels also relate that Mary is present
authority and leadership, and a Petrine group that opposes
at the crucifixion in Jerusalem. Finally, she is the only person
women’s authority. Other scholars interpret Peter as repre-
to be named in all four gospels as a witness to the resurrec-
senting the emerging orthodox position, while Mary stands
tion, subsequently qualifying her to receive the accolade of
for the Gnostic view.
“APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLES.” Writing in Galatians 1:11–
17, Paul intimates that an apostle is one who receives an ap-
pearance of the risen Lord and one who is commissioned to
teenth century fragments of an extra-canonical gospel writ-
proclaim his message. In the canonical gospels Mary is re-
ten in the name of Mary Magdalene were found. The discov-
corded as fulfilling both of these conditions. Hippolytus, a
ery of an incomplete Coptic manuscript was followed in the
third-century bishop, is generally thought to be the first per-
early twentieth century by the recovery of additional portions
son to name her as an “apostle to the apostles.” Augustine
of the text in Greek. Scholars generally date its composition
of Hippo in the fourth century and John Chrysostom in the
to the second century. The gospel portrays Mary as the recip-
fifth also accord Mary this title. Some scholars argue that the
ient of a vision of Christ in which she is praised for her fideli-
appellation of apostle is honorific in Mary’s case. However,
ty. Peter appears as an adversary, attacking Mary when she
as she meets the criteria, there seems no need to assume the
explains her vision. Peter asks incredulously whether Jesus
title was anything less than recognition of her apostleship.
really did “speak with a woman without our knowledge [and]
The persistence and survival of the epithet confirm Mary’s
not openly.”
importance among early Christians.
The Gospel of Thomas, also a second-century text, de-
In the sixth century Pope Gregory I (the Great) declared
picts Peter’s attempt to discredit any authority Mary possess-
that Mary Magdalene was beloved of the savior and was the
es among the disciples, attributing to him the declaration,
leader of a group of apostles. He also proclaimed that the
“Let Mary leave us, because women are not worthy of life.”
Galilean Mary Magdalene, the Judean Mary of Bethany, and
The risen Jesus refutes Peter’s dismissal, replying, “Look, I
the other Mary were one and the same person, conflating
myself shall lead her so that I will make her male in order
three distinct women. In the West, pious myths arose based
that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males.
on the conflation. According to an eleventh-century tradi-
For every woman who makes herself male will enter the king-
tion, Mary, now identified as the sister of Martha and Laza-
dom of heaven.”
rus, introduced Christianity to France. In eastern Christiani-
A large corpus of Gnostic literature found at Nag Ham-
ty the confusion did not arise, for the distinctions among the
madi, Egypt, in 1945 was published in the 1970s. The texts
women were maintained.
include a number of extra-canonical manuscripts concerning
MARY THE PENITENT. Mary’s reputation as an apostle,
Mary Magdalene, notably the third-century Pistis Sophia, the
preacher, and leader declined as male authority increased in
Gospel of Philip, and the Dialogue of the Savior. The Sophia
orthodox Christianity. Gregory I not only conflated three
of Jesus Christ was dated to the early fourth century, although
Marys, he also made Mary Magdalene into a prostitute, de-
some scholars argue that it exhibits features suggesting an
claring her a redeemed whore in a sermon in 591. Mary was
earlier date of composition. These writings aroused new in-
stigmatized as a prostitute through an association with the
terest in Mary’s relationship with Jesus and in her authority
unnamed sinner mentioned in Luke 7:36–50, an erroneous
among early Christians. They also indicate a wide diversity
identification that endured for fourteen hundred years. In
of teaching during the formative years of the new religious
church teaching and Christian art, Mary was portrayed as a
model of repentance and was used as a propaganda tool. Her
misrepresentation served the purposes of a church promoting
Mary is depicted in the Gnostic works as having a par-
asceticism, by making her into a moral paradigm: the un-
ticularly intimate relationship with Jesus. She is praised as
faithful harlot forgiven and restored.
worthy of having received private teaching from him and she
is presented as a leader within the Christian community. Of
Scholarly consensus since the 1980s has returned Mary
particular interest, the Gospel of Philip portrays Mary as the
Magdalene to her position of authority and leadership in
one whom Jesus loved more than the other disciples and as
early Christianity. The identification of her as a prostitute
one whom he kissed frequently. The act of kissing as a greet-
has been exposed as mistaken and rejected for lack of evi-
ing and sign of affection is well attested as a common practice
dence. Study of the noncanonical literature has revealed that
among early Christians, as Paul’s epistles witness. Jesus’ kiss,
Mary’s influence endured for at least six centuries prior to
therefore, does not necessarily imply a sexual relationship,
her conflation with Mary of Bethany and the so-called other
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Mary. At the same time, the Gnostic literature has raised
of Mary Magdalene found in Gnostic literature. It concludes
questions about early Christian teachings regarding the salva-
that she is presented as a prominent, even intimate, disciple
tion of women. Mary’s canonical role as a close associate of
of Jesus, who is a role model for women in early Christian
Jesus, a faithful disciple, and a witness to the resurrection,
communities. Marjanen observes a tension, however. Al-
coupled with the noncanonical accounts of her as a preacher
though Mary Magdalene is commended, the language sub-
and missionary, have revised her memory as a role model for
versively reflects a patriarchal culture that connects the male
with the spiritual, perfect, and transcendent and the female
Christian women.
with the sensual, incomplete, and mundane.
SEE ALSO Gender and Religion, article on Gender and
Robinson, James M., ed. The Nag Hammadi Library in English.
Christianity; Gnosticism; Nag Hammadi.
Translated by members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Proj-
ect of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. San Fran-
cisco, 1977.
Boer, Esther de. Mary Magdalene: Beyond the Myth. Translated by
Schaberg, Jane. Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: The Legends,
John Bowden. Harrisburg, Pa., 1997. De Boer revisits the
Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament. New York, 2002.
tradition of Mary Magdalene as a redeemed prostitute. She
Drawing on canonical and extra-biblical literature, this femi-
examines both the canonical literature and the Gospel of
nist study approaches its subject through an analysis of leg-
Mary, placing the accounts in their historical, social, cultural,
end, archaeology, and Gnostic traditions, employing Virgin-
and theological contexts within formative Christianity. De
ia Woolf’s insights into structures of domination and
Boer’s work concludes that Mary was not a penitent whore,
but a courageous and persistent disciple.
Brock, Ann Graham. Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: The Strug-
gle for Authority. Cambridge, Mass., 2003. This revised doc-
toral dissertation argues that the Magdalene fulfills the
criteria of an apostle. Brock carefully and persuasively reex-
MASCULINE SACRALITY is the designation of
amines the canonical gospel portraits, particularly those of
some domain of the supernatural universe as masculine. It
Luke and John, before turning to the Gnostic literature. Her
is a feature of numerous religious systems in human societies
treatment of a frequently hypothesized rivalry between pro-
around the world. A comparison of such systems reveals
ponents of the Magdalene and a Petrine group is especially
three levels of expression for the masculine valuation of the
instructive. Brock provides a comprehensive bibliography of
the literature in French, German, Italian, and English.
At one level, certain natural symbols recur in religious
Haskins, Susan. Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor. London,
systems in the form of hierophanies or sacred manifestations
1993. Haskins explores how the story of the Magdalene has
of masculine higher being. These natural symbols include
been transmitted through Christian history not only by
sky, peaks and mountains, thunder, rain, and certain horned
means of biblical and early Christian texts, but also through
visual representations from the mid-third century through
beasts, as well as such creatures of flight as eagles. At a second
the last decade of the twentieth century. Haskins’s analysis
level of expression, religious systems often attribute certain
of the texts seems rudimentary compared to subsequent
cosmic functions to masculine metaphysical entities and/or
studies, but as one of the first scholarly works on Mary Mag-
specifically male supernatural beings. Thus gods as opposed
dalene, her book remains an important contribution. It is
to goddesses tend to be credited with such cosmic functions
particularly valuable for its medieval representations.
as creation of the mundane universe, establishment of the
Jansen, Katherine Ludwig. “Maria Magdalena: Apostolorum Apos-
moral code, invention of the elements of mortal subsistence,
tola.” In Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millen-
and the like. Finally, in many religious systems there is a be-
nia of Christianity, edited by Beverly Mayne Kienzle and
lief in the masculine orientation of certain sacred values.
Pamela J. Walker, pp. 57–96. Berkeley, Calif., 1998. Jansen
These commonly include order, stability, permanence, and
notes that between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries me-
essentiality. This level of religious expression may be basic
dieval preaching circulated the story of the Magdalene as
to the social ethic and organization of a community, and may
apostola. She looks at examples that draw upon pious tradi-
furnish it with a model and sanction for the pursuit of dis-
tions presenting Mary as a model missionary.
tinctive life patterns on the part of men and women.
King, Karen. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First
A masculine being or entity of a particular system may
Woman Apostle. Santa Rosa, Calif., 2003. A scholar of Gnos-
ticism, King argues the Gospel of Mary privileges inner spiri-
have reality at more than one of these levels of expression and
tual knowledge over externally acquired knowledge. She ex-
possibly at all three simultaneously. A brief illustration may
amines the Gospel’s teaching on various topics such as the
be furnished by Indra, one of the highest gods in the Vedic
body, women’s authority, and visionary experiences, point-
religion of ancient India. An atmospheric divinity, he is cred-
ing out that the writing rejects Jesus’ suffering and death as
ited with the unleashing of rain and storms, expressive of the
a path to eternal life.
masculine fecundating force. In general, Indra personifies
Marjanen, Antti. The Woman Jesus Loved: Mary Magdalene in the
cosmic vitality: he fertilizes the earth and makes rivers, sap,
Nag Hammadi Library and Related Documents. Leiden, 1996.
and blood alike to circulate; his retinue is the winds. He is
This study, a revised dissertation, evaluates the descriptions
also sagacious and deceptive, given to fooling his adversaries
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

by changing his form. Finally, the power of Indra is sover-
being, the former tends to provide precedent for the latter:
eign: he is the chief of the heavenly council of gods, and in
Eve emerges out of the body of Adam, not Adam out of Eve.
iconography he usually wears a crown.
HEIGHT. Religious systems widely associate with masculine
As a figure of the Vedic religious universe, Indra exem-
sacrality the attribute of height, as well as the corollaries of
plifies a particular set of conceptions about the masculine na-
ascendancy and transcendence. Mircea Eliade points out in
ture of the sacred. These are realized at the three levels of ex-
Patterns in Comparative Religion (1958) that belief in the
pression discussed above. At the level of natural symbols
celestiality of the divine being is nearly universal in religious
Indra is represented by lightning, his cosmic projectiles, and
systems. To this it may be no less validly appended that
by the rainbow, whereby he dispatches those projectiles. At
the highest entities and beings of religion and mythology
the level of cosmic functions, Indra is associated with fecun-
overwhelmingly tend to be masculine. Moreover, the sky is
dation and life-giving force. Finally, at the level of religious
the most fundamental of all natural symbols of masculine sa-
values, Indra has the meaning of sovereignty: he is the proto-
type of the ruler. He exemplifies the values pertaining to the
In cosmology, sky beings are preponderantly male as op-
proper relationship of ruler and ruled, for he is lauded and
posed to female. Io, meaning “raised up” or “on high,” is the
invoked more than any other deity in the oldest of Indian
supreme god of the Maori, while the Yoruba of Africa call
sacred texts, the R:gveda. As a secondary value, Indra repre-
upon a god named O:lo:run, “owner of the sky.” In mytholo-
sents a force of mystery and delusion, since he is a cosmic
gy, masculine first beings not infrequently represent sky di-
magician, able to generate new aspects and shapes at will.
vinities: Amotken, the previously mentioned first being of
From Indra’s example it should be apparent that the le-
the Flathead, is also a celestial god, living in the crown of the
vels at which masculine sacrality is expressed in religious sys-
cosmic tree.
tems frequently interrelate. It is difficult to discuss natural
In some mythologies, high gods originate elsewhere
symbols, cosmic functions, and religious values of the mascu-
than in heaven, but journey there before the onset of profane
line in isolation from one another. Nevertheless, these levels
time. This theme is particularly well attested in Australia.
of expression should be borne in mind in the following dis-
Bunjil, the god of the Wotjobaluk, for instance, lived on
cussion of the basic attributes of masculine sacred being.
earth as a Great Man but later went to the sky. Among the
PRIMORDIALITY. In religious systems, a form of higher be-
Aranda, some earthborn first beings fell slumbering to the
ing anterior to and/or prerequisite to other varieties of being
ground and reemerged into it, while others climbed sacred
tends to be masculine. Thus if differentiated forms of being
passages to the sky. The former are identified with totemic
are said to arise from some primordial undifferentiated enti-
ancestors, the latter with high divinity—the sun, moon, and
ty, the latter is frequently masculine. The Arapaho of North
America, for instance, believe in a supreme god out of whom
Because the nearly universal attribute of masculine sa-
the entire manifest world originated. Their name for him is
crality is height—often expressed symbolically in terms of
Spider, presumably because the spider weaves his web out of
celestiality—the idea of access to godhood tends to be ex-
pressed through the imagery of ascent or, occasionally, of de-
Alternatively, the being that first dwells in or emerges
scent. In the Tantric tradition of southern Asia (India,
from the undifferentiated cosmic mass tends to be masculine.
Nepal, Tibet), the sublime is taken to be masculine; integra-
In world mythologies, masculine first beings are abundant.
tion with it demands a technique of focusing and directing
The supreme god of the Flathead of North America is Amot-
upward the feminine energies of the physiological microcos-
ken (“the old one”). Similarly, the supreme god of the Yah-
mos. In popular Hinduism, on the other hand, humans are
gan of Tierra del Fuego is Watauniewa (“the old, eternal, un-
said to approach the sublime at the god’s instance, by his
changeable one”). Among the Hawaiians, the supreme male
willful descent to the mundane world on a series of occasions
divinity is the god who dwells primordially, at the dawn of
called avata¯ra. Thus a popular myth cycle portrays the high
sacred time, in Po¯, the world of obscurity or darkness. Again,
god Vis:n:u mercifully descending upon earth to be born in
for the inhabitants of the Gilbert Islands, the earliest being
a series of mortal forms: as a fish, as a boar, as King Ra¯ma,
in the primordial void is a male divinity, Na Areau the Elder.
as the rambunctious cowherd Kr:s:n:a, and so on. By contrast,
In Australian religions, during the primordial time called the
while a mother goddess occurs in popular Hinduism and at
Dreaming, over the earth roamed the first beings called Great
times manifests herself on earth, she is not specifically credit-
Men, who are fathers to the creatures of the present world.
ed with the capacity of avata¯ra, or divine descent.
In mythology, feminine being tends to be secondary to
As an attribute of masculine sacrality, height is funda-
masculine being. Thus, in the Navajo creation myth, First
mentally but not exclusively symbolized by sky and atmo-
Man is paired with First Woman; both of them emerged
sphere. Height may also find expression in the symbolism of
from the union of primordial mists, but the emergence of
entities associated with loftiness. Sacred mountains are often
First Woman follows that of First Man. In general, where
the dwelling places of gods: the mythical Mount Meru of
there occur masculine and feminine forms of primordial
India and the Greek Olympus are well-known examples, as
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are certain peaks in Japan and other parts of the world. In
times of extraordinary crisis. Many mythologies speak of the
some religious systems, height as an attribute of masculine
sky god as having once been actively engaged in cosmic busi-
sacrality finds expression in the natural symbolism of sky-
ness, but as having withdrawn from direct intervention in the
dwelling creatures. Fabulous birds, especially eagles, tend to
universe for all time.
be associated with godhood. The Bella Coola of the north-
western coast of America, for instance, believe in an axis
As deus otiosus, or retired divinity, the sky god neverthe-
mundi, or sacred pole connecting heaven and earth, that was
less often remains in touch with mundane affairs and mani-
erected by the highest god; it is topped by a seated eagle.
fests his presence indirectly. A particularly widely held belief
Elsewhere in the religions of North America, and in parts of
is that thunder is a manifestation of such a god. For instance,
Siberia as well, an important position is held by a mythical
people of the Andaman Islands believe that thunder is the
creature of eaglelike appearance, the Thunderbird. The
voice of their supreme god Puluga, and the Kansa Indians
Thunderbird’s association with the awesome and fecundat-
similarly maintain that thunder is the voice of their high god
ing masculine force of the sky is underscored by the fact that
Wakantanka, whom they have never seen. Conceived of as
he is said to cause wind and thunder by flapping his wings,
a masculine epiphany, the growling sound of thunder may
and lightning by opening and closing his eyes.
be imitated in ritual to invoke the presence of the sublime.
In Australian ritual one of the most sacred objects is the bull-
EFFULGENCE. Along with loftiness and sublimity, effulgence
roarer, a piece of wood with a string tied through a hole in
is a common attribute of masculine sacrality suggested by the
one end. When swung around, this object makes a growling
natural symbolism of the sky. Various religious systems char-
sound suggestive of a bull’s bellowing or of thunder; it is par-
acterize the supreme god as white or shining. The Khanty
ticularly used in boys’ initiation rites. Similarly, in religious
and the Mansi of the Asian Arctic, for instance, describe their
rituals, particularly male initiation ceremonies, of the North
supreme god Num-Tu¯rem as luminous, golden, and white.
American Southwest, an instrument called a bull-roarer or
One of the most powerful gods of Hinduism—dwelling, in-
whiner is used to invoke and evoke the presence of the high
cidentally, on mountains—is S´iva, the “shining one.” Devo-
tional literature sometimes refers to him as “the lord white
as jasmine.” In Hawaiian mythology, at the dawn of sacred
As a variant on the treatment of thunder as a masculine
time the first light in the universe was that of the original
epiphany, the growling force of volcanoes is occasionally re-
being and high god. Navajo mythology has it that First Man
garded as a sign of the immanence of sacred masculine being.
and First Woman arose in unparalleled radiance from the
In South America, for instance, the Puruhá tribesmen of La
primordial mists of the sky, the former in the place of sunrise
Montaña occasionally sacrificed humans to a volcanic moun-
and the latter in the place of sunset. While each burned a fire
tain inhabited by a god who made his presence felt from time
to light the firmament, the light of First Man’s fire was
to time.
Another way in which the high god, as deus otiosus,
In cultic practices, sacred objects associated with mascu-
maintains an immanent presence in the affairs of the universe
line divinities tend to be chosen for whiteness or luminosity.
is by delegating authority to lesser supernaturals. The high
This is true, for instance, of the crystal stones used in some
god is often credited with initiating creation, but not always
Australian rituals. (The supreme god Baiame of certain
with completing it. In many mythologies the completion of
southeastern Australian tribes sits on a crystal throne.) Simi-
the work is delegated to other figures of the high god’s desig-
larly, the First Man of Navajo legend burned crystal for his
nation. For instance, the supreme god Gicelamu’kaong of
fire and was accompanied at his birth by white corn.
the Delaware delegates creation to the sun, the moon, the
Fire, of course, is a common accompaniment to reli-
thunder gods, the four winds, the earth mother, and the mas-
gious ritual. In Vedic India, not only was fire itself a god,
ter of animals. It is common in mythology for the deus otiosus
but it served as the purifier and sacred conveyance of sacrifi-
to withdraw, leaving his own son behind to carry on his cos-
cial oblations to the high gods in heaven.
mic activities. One of the many instances of this is found in
PERVASIVENESS. The attribute of being immanent in the uni-
the creation myth of the Gilbert Islands, where the divine
verse is widely associated with masculine sacred being. It is
protagonist Na Areau the Younger inherits the task of cre-
not without significance that the name of the Hindu god as-
ation from his progenitor, Na Areau the Elder, the primordi-
sociated with avata¯ra or divine descent, Vis:n:u, means “per-
al being.
vader.” However, in relation to the concept of supreme god-
As son and successor to the high god, a secondary celes-
hood, the attribute of pervasiveness should be carefully
tial may acquire considerable preeminence over the original
qualified because sky gods, those quintessential exemplifica-
high divinity. This preeminence is graphically symbolized in
tions of masculine sacrality, are typically characterized as dis-
some belief systems by treating the high god’s offspring and
tant, remote, and inactive.
successor as a solar deity. Thus among the Tiv of Africa, the
Accordingly, in many religious systems no special cult
sun is the male child of the supreme being Awondo. Similar-
centers on the high being of the heavens. He may be left out
ly, among the Wiradjuri and the Kamilaroi of southeastern
of ritual and worship altogether, or be called upon only in
Australia, the sun is the creator god’s son.
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 many mythologies, a type of supernatural who medi-
Finally, regarding pervasiveness, it should be mentioned
ates between a withdrawn cosmic father figure and the mun-
that the natural symbolism of the sky overlaying and embrac-
dane sphere is called the culture hero. A culture hero is usual-
ing the supine earth powerfully suggests the immanence of
ly portrayed as being with the high god in primordial times,
the masculine sacred principle. A sexual dichotomy is com-
and his sacred activities are sometimes performed at the high
monly featured in religious systems, the sky being associated
god’s instance. As a stand-in for higher divinity, the culture
with the masculine and the earth with the feminine. Earth
hero may play a role in mythology that is more important
goddesses are not infrequently paired with sky gods. More-
than that of the high god. Culture heroes are sometimes rep-
over, earth and sky together constitute the prototype of the
resented anthropomorphically, but just as frequently the cul-
cosmic pair. A common theme in world mythologies is that
ture hero has a theriomorphic representation: as a coyote
of the primordial separation of the mutually embracing sky
among some southwestern North American peoples, and as
and earth. The creatures responsible for forcing sky and earth
a great hare on the eastern North American coast; as a wolf
apart are variously represented as culture heroes, ancestors of
or a raven in eastern Siberia; as a bat among the Paresí of Bo-
the present earth dwellers, and/or the divine offspring of sky
livia; and as a tapir in the Amazon Basin. Whatever his repre-
and earth themselves.
sentation, the culture hero invariably serves to keep terrestrial
Contact between the separated celestial and terrestrial
society in touch with godhood, and almost without excep-
realms is frequently achieved in sacred time (and, by that pre-
tion is portrayed as a male.
cedent, is renewable in present, profane time) by means of
certain sacred paraphernalia or entities of a fairly obvious sex-
The activities of the culture hero are varied. In some
ual symbolism. Apertures in rocks or clouds are commonly
mythologies he assists in the work of creation. This holds of
portrayed as sacred means of passage, as are fabulous pillars,
the earth diver, a culture hero widely revered in North Amer-
trees, ladders, mountains, and the like. In other words, Sky
ica who, at the instance of the high god, brings up the first
the father and Earth the mother are mediated by sacred holes
land from the primal waters. Another typical task of the cul-
and poles. These devices, moreover, contrast somewhat in
ture hero is to provide the elements of culture and/or the
their orientation: the sacred holes tend to be earth-directed,
basic tools of subsistence to the ancestors of modern men.
and the sacred poles sky-directed. Thus in the creation myth
Among the Northwest Coast people and in eastern Siberia,
of the Gilbert Islanders the culture hero Na Areau the Youn-
for instance, the culture hero Raven brings light and various
ger walks in sacred time upon the rocklike upper surface of
elements of culture to the mundane world in primordial
the sky, then pokes a hole down through it to apprehend the
earth. From the bowels of the earth Na Areau then enlists
Acting as he does as a kind of rival to the ethically sub-
an eel that braces himself against the earth with his tail in
lime high god, the culture hero is often portrayed as a schem-
order to lift the sky upward by his snout. Thus the once di-
er or trickster. He may assist men at the expense of higher
rect contact between earth and sky comes to be mediated by
being, as, for example, by stealing water, sun, or subsistence
the phallic force of that cosmic uplifter, the divine eel.
materials from the other world or by releasing game enclosed
The performance of rituals for reestablishing primordial
in a cave or other place inaccessible to humans. This aspect
contact between the mundane world and the sublime is fairly
of the culture hero’s character is exemplified by the fire-giver
common in religious systems. Such rituals tend to embody
Prometheus of Greek mythology.
the symbolism of ascent, and the implements used in them
are often of a phallic appearance. Thus to symbolize the axis
Culture heroes are also frequently portrayed as sacred
mundi—the sacred connector of heaven and earth—a pole,
ancestors of human descent groups. In the case of theriomor-
ladder, or tree is often used; it may be ascended by a ritual
phic culture heroes, such beliefs may find expression through
specialist, who thereby symbolically journeys to heaven on
totemistic cults like those common in Australia and North
behalf of his community. Such ascent rituals are typically
America. More generally, religious systems commonly em-
performed in Siberia and other areas of the world by sha-
body a belief that sacred substance, as an immanent compo-
mans, ritual specialists in techniques of healing and ecstasy.
nent and inheritance of human individuals, is masculine—
that is, it is derived from a high god, is transmitted by super-
ECUNDITY. Masculine sacred being is widely associated with
generative and fecundating powers. This association seems
natural males acting in sacred time as ancestors of men, and
to be based on the natural functioning of the sky, which fe-
is passed along in profane time through the male descent
cundates the receptive earth by precipitation. One ritual of
line. Thus, according to Hindu social theory and law, men
ancient India gives explicit expression to the association: the
alone pass the sacred substance of their lineage to their de-
Br:hada¯ran:yaka Upanis:ad enjoins the husband to unite with
scendants, whereas the sacred substance inherited by a
the wife after uttering the formula, “I am the heavens, thou,
woman is not immutable, being transformed to correspond
the earth.”
to that of her husband at the time of marriage. According
to Hindu doctrine, then, women transmit to their offspring
High gods and important male supernaturals tend to be
no sacred substance of their own but only that of their hus-
credited with extraordinary potency and sexual capacity.
These capabilities may be seen as independent of and addi-
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

tional to any role played by a given divinity in the creation
Thus in the Yoga and Sa¯m:khya religious philosophies
of the cosmos. In popular Hinduism, for instance, the high
of India, the universe is said to be based on a polarity of two
god S´iva shakes the cosmos by the force of his copulation.
metaphysical principles. The masculine principle, purus:a
A symbol of S´iva is the lingam, a stylized phallus usually
(which itself means “male” or “man”), is that of immanent
given concrete realization in black stone.
and essential being, whose nature is immutable. By contrast,
the feminine principle is associated with ´sakti, the energy
In natural symbology, the masculine attribute of fecun-
that activates the ever-changing material universe. In the
dity is often expressed by animals of high fertility. Bulls are
philosophical writings of the tradition, the masculine de-
a particularly common symbol. S´iva’s cosmic vehicle is a fab-
prived of its ´sakti is compared to a lifeless god, while the fem-
ulous bull, and the bull is also the form assumed by Zeus in
inine principle out of balance with the masculine is said to
the early Greek myth of Europa’s ravishment.
be rampant, capricious, and dangerous.
As a symbol of the masculine, the bull tends to be cross-
Navajo religion likewise associates dichotomies of cos-
linked with the symbolism of thunderbolts. The latter are
mic function and religious value with the sacred masculine
sometimes represented in the shape of stylized horns. Also,
and feminine. In mythology the primordial being, First
the bull’s bellowing, like thunder, is an epiphany of god-
Man, creates a son and a daughter who are respectively
hood. Thus in the ancient Near East, the god Min had the
Thought and Speech. The latter is called the outer form of
epithet Great Bull, lightning was one of his attributes, and
Thought, and the former, the inner form of Speech; both are
he was responsible for rain and for giving life. In Papua New
necessary for the creation of the inner forms of the present
Guinea, the culture hero Sosom is aurally evoked by the bull-
universe. As first boy and first girl, these entities are also said
roarer, which is his voice; his body is of stone, and he has
to have produced a daughter, a feminine deity identified with
an exaggerated penis, suggesting his sexual and fertile powers.
the earth. Her name, not insignificantly, is Changing
Indeed, Sosom is credited with fertilizing man as well as soil.
ACCULTURATION. Man’s conception of order as a sacred
Gender dichotomies expressed in Navajo mythology are
force plausibly derives from observation of the events and en-
reflected with great consistency in the cultural and social pat-
tities of the heavens. Within the sky, which is itself unchang-
terns of the community. In Language and Art in the Navajo
ing and stable, celestial bodies move about according to a
Universe (Ann Arbor, 1977), Gary Witherspoon points out
placid and unvarying rhythm. Because the sky is associated
that the Navajo associate the ritual and ceremonial domain
with the masculine, masculine sacrality comes to be seen
with thought and the masculine. Thus most ceremonial
more or less universally as the principle of permanence and
practitioners are men. The ceremonies they conduct, more-
over, are rigidly structured and must be performed without
Thus, in mythology, the establishment of things that
mistakes or modifications. Usually, Navajo ceremonies are
give permanence and stability to existence—rule, law, and
concerned with restoring prior states of being. The fact that
the structured bases of things and institutions—tends to be
such ceremonies are the domain of men bespeaks a religious
treated as a masculine function. High gods and culture he-
view that masculinity has to do with the origins of things and
roes delineate the features of the primordial landscape. They
their culmination.
separate land from water and establish landmarks in the cos-
On the other hand, Navajo women are active in produc-
mos: sacred mountains, boulders, trees, rivers, and the like.
tive and domestic matters. They head most domestic groups
Moreover, male supernaturals furnish society with the per-
and control land and sheep on behalf of those groups. This
manent institutions of culture, including law, moral code,
life pattern is consistent with the religious view of the femi-
and the forms of religious practice itself. At the same time,
nine as the domain of growth, process, and change. For the
high culture tends to be perceived in religious communities
Navajo, social and economic life concerns the generation of
as a domain proper to men. This is particularly true in regard
new conditions and new beings; it is characterized by move-
to religion. Virtually without exception, human societies ex-
ment, change, activity, and productivity. Here, then, it is ap-
clude women from the most sacred religious rites, as well as
propriate that women dominate.
from manipulation of the most sacred objects of cult.
SUMMARY. Belief in a masculine domain of the sacred uni-
Where sacred values are associated with a dichotomy of
verse is common in religious systems and tends to be associ-
gender, the usual tendency is for the masculine to be associat-
ated with recurrent natural symbols, cosmic functions, and
ed with stability and essentiality, and the feminine with
religious values. Based on the patterns discussed above, the
change and materiality. The masculine may be identified
following can be enumerated as more or less universal ten-
with being’s inner form—thought or structure—while the
dencies. (1) Primordial first beings of cult and/or mythology
feminine is identified with being’s outer forms—word or
are most often male or masculine. (2) Cosmic functions per-
substance. The masculine may be associated with the poten-
taining to creation and fecundation are usually associated
tial, inactive form of being; the feminine, with kinetic, active
with masculine—as opposed to feminine—entities, princi-
being. The masculine is one and/or integrated; the feminine
ples, and beings. (3) Elements of culture tend to be associat-
is plural and/or diffuse.
ed with or attributed to masculine—as opposed to femi-
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

nine—principles and/or supernaturals. (4) In community
tives by Susan S. Wadley and Doranne Jacobson (Columbia,
life, important differences in life patterns between the sexes
Mo., 1977) contains in Wadley’s essay one of the best con-
have sanction and justification in beliefs about gender sa-
cise treatments available of ´sakti and its relationship to the
crality. In particular, manipulation of sacred objects and cer-
Indian conception of the masculine and feminine sacred
emonies tends to be seen as the appropriate domain of men.
(5) The most exalted beings and entities of the masculine sa-
Lastly, for a general anthropological perspective on the relation-
cred universe are almost always associated with the natural
ship of gender sacrality to social ethic and male/female life
symbolism of the sky and derive their attributes accordingly.
patterns, consult Sherry Ortner’s “Is Female to Male as Na-
ture Is to Culture?” in the collection Woman, Culture, and
Society, edited by Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere
EE ALSO Ascension; Axis Mundi; Bull-Roarers; Culture
Heroes; Feminine Sacrality; Fire; Hieros Gamos; Kingship;
(Stanford, Calif., 1974).
Light and Darkness; Phallus and Vagina; Shamanism; Sky;
New Sources
Supreme Beings; Tjurungas; Transcendence and Imma-
Bodies, Lives, Voices: Gender in Theology. Kathleen O’Grady, Ann
nence; War and Warriors.
L. Gilroy and Janette Gray, editors. Sheffield, 1998.
Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender. Jose Ignacio Cabezón, editor.
Ithaca, N.Y., 1992.
There is no single reference work devoted to the topic of mascu-
Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols. Caroline
line sacrality, though many pertinent sources are available.
Walker Bynum, Stevan Harrel and Paula Richman. Boston,
Concerning male supernaturals, a worthwhile and concise,
if dated, treatment is Wilhelm Schmidt’s “The Nature, Attri-
Invented Identities: The Interplay of Gender, Religion, and Politics
butes and Worship of the Primitive High God.” It appears
in India. Julia Leslie and Mary McGee, editors. New Delhi
in a volume edited by William Lessa and Evon Vogt, Reader
and New York, 2000.
in Comparative Religion, 4th ed. (New York, 1979). The
standard reference work on comparative religions by Mircea
Shillony, Ben-Ami. Divinity and Gender: The Riddle of the Japa-
Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion (London, 1958),
nese Emperors. Oxford, 1999.
contains much useful material on masculine sacrality.
Spellberg, D. A. Politics, Gender and the Islamic Past: The Legacy
Also worth citing are a number of studies on religious systems in
of Aisha bint Abi Bakr. New York, 1996.
particular world areas. For material on Australian systems,
Suchocki, Marjorie. “The Unmale God: Reconsidering the Trini-
see Eliade’s Australian Religions (Ithaca, N.Y., 1973). Some
ty.” Quarterly Review 3 (1983): 34–49.
pertinent material on Papua New Guinea is found in Roy
Wickremeratne, Ananda. “Shifting Metaphors of Sacrality: The
Wagner’s Habu (Chicago, 1972). For a wealth of material on
Mythic Dimensions of Anurädhapura.” Journal of Developing
religious systems of the Western Hemisphere (and some ref-
Societies 2/2 (1986): 193–207.
erences to northeastern Asia), see the valuable survey by A˚ke
Hultkrantz, The Religions of the American Indians (Los Ange-
M. H. KLAIMAN (1987)
les, 1979). For Hawaiian and related Polynesian religions a
Revised Bibliography
standard source is Martha Warren Beckwith’s Hawaiian My-
(1940; Honolulu, 1970). A legend of the Gilbert Is-
landers that speaks for itself in the richness of its gender sym-
bolism is reproduced by Arthur Grimble in “A Gilbertese
MASHTOTSE, MESROP (c. 345–440), inventor of
Creation Myth,” included in the Lessa and Vogt collection
the Armenian alphabet and saint of the Armenian church.
mentioned above.
The major source for his biography is the Life of Mashtots E
On religious traditions of India and southern Asia there is a profu-
written by his pupil and associate, Koriwn. The name Mes-
sion of material related to masculine sacrality, among which
rop, the etymology of which is still unknown, does not ap-
several studies may be particularly recommended. Heinrich
pear in the works of Armenian writers until after the fifth
Zimmer provides a very accessible treatment on Indian sa-
crality in general, including much information on masculine
sacrality, in Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization,
MashtotsE was born to a peasant named Vardan in the
edited by Joseph Campbell (1946; Princeton, 1972). Zim-
village of HatsEekatsE, in the district of Taro¯n (present-day
mer’s Philosophies of India, also edited by Campbell (1951;
Mu¸s, Turkey). He was educated in Greek letters as a youth.
Princeton, 1969), offers in its chapter “Sa¯n˙khya and Yoga”
As a young man he entered military service, becoming a clerk
a penetrating discussion of the relationship of gender sacrali-
in the royal army stationed at Vagarshapat (present-day Ech-
ty to the philosophical traditions of India. As a detailed ac-
miadzin). Led to solitary life by his interest in the scriptures,
count of sexual technique and symbolism in relation to meta-
MashtotsE became an anchorite. He evidently headed a kel-
physics and philosophy within a single religious tradition, no
lion (a small group of anchorites) in the 390s. While prosely-
study supersedes Mircea Eliade’s classic Yoga: Immortality
and Freedom
, 2d ed. (Princeton, 1969). A stimulating treat-
tizing the people of the district of GoghtEn (Nakhichevan,
ment of masculinity and the sacred in Nepalese and Tibetan
Azerbaijan), he conceived the idea of inventing an alphabet
religious traditions is furnished by Robert A. Paul in The Ti-
for the Armenian language and making the scriptures avail-
betan Symbolic World: Psychoanalytic Explorations (Chicago,
able to the common people. After deliberating with Bishop
1982). The joint monograph Women in India: Two Perspec-
Sahak of Armenia and King Vr:am-shapuh of Persarmenia,
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

he learned that a certain Syriac bishop by the name of Daniel
MASKS. This article will not attempt to establish a com-
had in his possession an alphabet for Armenian, which was
prehensive inventory of masks and their various ritual uses
immediately solicited. Finding Daniel’s alphabet unsuited to
because even larger works have only been able to do this im-
the phonetic structure of Armenian, MashtotsE and his pupils
perfectly. Rather, as a general introduction to this field, it
set out for Edessa to do research, and there in 404 MashtotsE
will concentrate on some of the general concepts and theories
himself invented an alphabet consisting of thirty-six letters.
that have arisen from the study of masks. Its geographical
Returning to Armenia, MashtotsE founded schools and
focus will be Africa, Melanesia, and the Americas because
continued the task of translating the scriptures that he had
these regions provided the data on which the theories dis-
begun in Edessa. He devoted the rest of his life to literary,
cussed were based.
educational, and missionary works. At first his activities were
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW. Although the importance of de-
concentrated in the southeastern and eastern parts of histori-
scriptions by travelers, missionaries, and topographers from
cal Armenia (i.e., Armenia Magna). He preached in GoghtEn
at least as early as the sixteenth century should not be over-
and then in SiwnikE, where he founded schools and estab-
looked, it can be argued that effective study of ritual masks
lished an episcopal see. Subsequently, he went to Georgia,
began only in the nineteenth century. At this time the first
where he invented a script for Georgian and preached the
interpretations and general theories about European folk tra-
teachings of the Christian church. His concern for the Arme-
ditions emerged, following (among others) the work of the
nians on the Byzantine side of the border led him in the 420s
Grimm brothers, Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm
to Constantinople, where he met the emperor Theodosius
Grimm (1786–1859), for whom folktales revealed traces of
and the patriarch Atticus. Having received from them the
beliefs and myths connected with ancient pagan gods. Later,
necessary permission for carrying out cultural work, he re-
Wilhelm Mannhardt (1831–1880) took an interest in the
turned to Byzantine Armenia, where he established schools
folk religion of his time, in particular that of the rural com-
and introduced the new script. During his stay there he per-
munities. Collecting vast amounts of data, Mannhardt un-
secuted an obscure sect known as the Barbarianos and in-
derscored the predominance of beliefs in fertility spirits and
vented a script for Albanian.
in the existence of a connection between vegetal and human
After his return to Persarmenia, MashtotsE went to
life. Under his influence, a number of mask rituals came to
preach in Caucasian Albania (corresponding to parts of pres-
be understood as incorporating ancient beliefs dealing with
ent-day Azerbaijan and Dagestan). He then visited those dis-
fertility, and masks were interpreted as representing demons
tricts of historical Armenia that had been annexed to Georgia
of the vegetal world.
and Albania in 363. An important contribution of MashtotsE
was to unify the Armenians of these districts through linguis-
At the same time, E. B. Tylor (1832–1917) began to es-
tic bonds.
tablish anthropology as a science of human beings and their
culture. He described the evolution of civilization from the
MashtotsE spent the final two decades of his life in Ar-
first humans, who in his eyes were in large part represented
menia devoting himself to writing homilies and letters, none
by contemporary “primitive” peoples, up to the civilized
of which has survived. Some scholars identify MashtotsE with
human of his day. To this end he used a comparative method
the chorepiscopus Mastoubios of Armenia. MashtotsE died
to organize an impressive number of facts and documents in
on February 17, 440 and was buried in the village of Osha-
support of his evolutionary perspective. He also analyzed the
kan. A martyrium was built over his grave and he was vener-
process whereby elements belonging to an older stage of evo-
ated as a saint. The Armenian people consider him the father
lution survive into later stages in which they do not function
of the Armenian literary tradition and the creator of the Ar-
menian national identity. His grave is still a major site of pil-
Therefore, the various elements that formed the core of
the study of masks by folklorists as well as anthropologists
up to World War II were present as early as the last quarter
Akinian, Nerses. Der hl. Maschtotz Wardapet: Sein Leben und sein
of the nineteenth century. These elements are: (1) the evolu-
Wirken, nebst einer Biographie des hl. Sahak, mit einer deutsc-
tionist perspective, following which the history of Western
hen Zusammenfassung. Vienna, 1949.
society can be reconstructed by classifying all known societies
Koriwn. Vark E Mashtots Ei. Yerevan, 1941. Translated into English
according to the degree of civilization they have reached;
by Bedros Norehad as Koriun: The Life of Mashtots (New
from this point of view, the peoples studied by ethnology en-
York, 1964).
abled modern humans to relive, as it were, stages experienced
Marquart, Josef. Über den Ursprung des armenischen Alphabets, in
by the Western world thousands of years ago; (2) the notion
Verbindung mit der Biographie des heil. Maˇst Eoc E. Vienna,
of “survival,” used to describe those remnants of ancient cus-
toms that resisted evolution and survived beyond the period
Peeters, Paulus. “Pour l’histoire des origines de l’alphabet armé-
in which they were truly meaningful; and (3) intensive use
nien.” In Recherches d’histoire et de philologie orientales, vol.
of the comparative method—on the basis of what ethnology
1, pp. 171–207. Brussels, 1951.
reported on traditional communities of Africa, Oceania, or
the Americas, it was thought possible to reconstruct the earli-
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

er stages in the evolution of a society and to recover the origi-
ered as a mere relic: it survived because it still had a role to
nal meaning of a particular custom.
play in the society in which it was observed. From then on
studies increasingly tended to consider each custom as part
By the end of the nineteenth century, scholars were in
of a contemporary system, analysis of which would illumi-
possession of an ever-increasing amount of comparative data
nate the function of each of its components. Similarly, com-
on masks. In 1883 Adolf Bastian wrote a general study on
parison was no longer applied to isolated elements; rather,
the role of masks. In 1886 Richard Andree published an
scholars compared systems of relationships. Finally, the
overview and summary of far-ranging documents from vari-
problem of the continuity of culture and cultural traits was
ous periods. He thus made a large database on masks avail-
tackled on a new basis: the historic dimension was reintro-
able to other scholars while organizing it into categories that
duced into the analysis and replaced the notion of survival,
have been constantly taken up ever since. Finally, in 1898
which focused interest on the question of origins and, in ef-
Leo Frobenius linked masks, seen as representing spirits of
fect, canceled out history.
the dead, to secret societies. From his perspective this rela-
tionship originated as a male reaction to matriarchy and pro-
For instance, earlier authors had interpreted Carnival as
vided an explanation for the exclusion of women from prac-
either an old agrarian rite of purification and fertility aiming
tically all mask rituals. These early theories of ritual masks
at driving out the bad spirits of winter or as a survival of the
marked the anthropological and folkloric study of masks for
Roman Saturnalia. However, as Suzanne Chappaz-Wirthner
several decades.
(1995) points out, integrating history into the study of Car-
In a well-known article published in 1933, Karl Meuli
nival reveals that the imagery linked to secular and religious
formulated a general theory of “primitive” masks that he
power, as manifest in court festivals and liturgical celebra-
then applied to European traditions. According to him, there
tions, played a decisive role in the development of a reper-
is a close connection between masks and so-called matriar-
toire of carnivalesque images unique to the Christian West;
chal societies. Furthermore, the majority of primitive masks
individuals as well as social groups resort to it to play out
represent spirits, primarily spirits of the dead. Indeed, the
their conflicts and express their aspirations. Carnival there-
strange appearance of masked figures indicates that they do
fore can be considered a language with cosmic resonance en-
not belong to the human realm. Their behavior reinforces
abling a dramatization of social dynamics.
this interpretation: the masks beg while threatening, they
The traditional populations studied by ethnology were
reprimand, and they punish, after which they distribute gifts
again placed in the historical framework that general theories
and grant wishes of prosperity and then disappear. Meuli ex-
considering them as “primitive” had somewhat obscured.
plains this behavior as the result of a primitive belief that no
Thus, anthropologists and art historians as well as folklorists
death is natural, every death being the result of the malevo-
came to carry on their research within concrete historical
lence of a living person. At particular times during the transi-
frameworks. They now deal with notions of identity, creativ-
tion from an end to a beginning (the passage from one year
ity, change, exchange, power, and politics among other ele-
to the next, for example), the underworld opens up, allowing
ments that shape a particular mask ritual at a particular time.
the dead to return among the living. The masked figures rep-
PROBLEMS OF DEFINITION. Although everybody seems cer-
resent these dead, who first seek revenge. By letting them pil-
tain of what a mask is, the definition of the term poses im-
fer and chastise as they please, one gives them the opportuni-
portant problems. In the narrow and usual sense of the word,
ty to calm down, after which they again bestow benevolence.
a mask is a false face behind which one hides one’s own face
This interpretation, applicable equally to the masks de-
for purposes of disguise. In ethnology, mask also refers to
scribed by ethnology and to European folk masks, is a syn-
headpieces that do not cover the face, as well as elements of
thesis of the theories founded on evolutionism, the notion
costumes that are worn over the face (such as veils, fringes)
of survival, and the comparative method, to which it adds
and other full or partial adornments of the body or face. The
psychoanalysis. Influential both within and outside scholarly
term mask is also used to refer to any representation of a face,
circles, Meuli’s theory played an important role in the history
whether or not it is worn on the face of a dancer. Conse-
of the study of masks. It appeared, however, at a time when
quently this includes mannequins; effigies; faces painted,
anthropology itself was gradually turning away from the am-
molded, or carved on buildings and boats; and pendant
bitious theories developed at the beginning of the century to
masks as well as finger or pocket masks. Finally, the defini-
focus instead on elaborate and detailed localized research,
tion is sometimes widened to include face or body paintings
employing a more demanding method. A similar trend
and tattoos. Since scholars do not agree on the denotation
emerged somewhat later, after World War II, in the study
of the term, confusion permeates the literature on the sub-
of folk traditions.
ject. As M. C. Jedrej (1980) puts it, the word “mask” identi-
fies no coherent class of institutions of any use to social an-
Up until then, because of the survival theory, a given
culture was not studied as a coherent contemporary phenom-
enon but rather as a patchwork of various elements that
It is important to keep in mind this problem of defini-
could be analyzed somewhat independently of each other.
tion when trying to understand some of the ideas frequently
Critics noted, however, that a custom should not be consid-
advanced on the subject of masks; for example, the claim for
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universality of the mask: it is only when makeup, paintings,
sive use of masks is most frequent in the western heights of
and tattoos are included in the definition of mask that one
both North and South America. Finally, in Oceania the
can say that masks can be found in virtually all cultures. But
mask is practically absent from Polynesia. It is extremely
is such a broad definition justified? No one can say, for this
widespread in Melanesia, although it is not used among most
question has not yet been systematically investigated.
of the highland peoples of New Guinea, in the main part of
Irian Jaya and in eastern Papua New Guinea, in parts of the
It is important to note that the focus on the face that
Bismark Archipelago, in the central and Southeast Solomons
museums, art galleries, and books on masks often maintain
and the Santa Cruz group, and in the Fiji group.
gives a distorted view of the ritual mask. This interest in the
face has encouraged a tendency to relegate to the background
Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain the
the many masks that, lacking a face, are simple hoods or
gaps in the distribution of masks. According to one, peoples
fringes of fibers or beads falling in front of the face of the
without masks simply lack the wish to express themselves
wearer. Fascination with the face has also tended to minimize
plastically and use other means to formulate and express their
interest in the costume of the mask, which has often been
beliefs. Besides being an example of circular reasoning, this
hastily dismissed either as fundamentally designed to conceal
explanation runs against a number of exceptions that it can-
the wearer or as merely accompanying the mask. The mask
not explain, particularly among peoples that have a statuary
must, however, be considered from a larger perspective so as
but no masks. The absence of masks in certain regions of Af-
to include the costume, the headdress, and the possible acces-
rica has also been attributed to the influence of Islam. How-
sories, as well as immaterial factors such as the behavior, the
ever, anthropologists have demonstrated that the Islamiciza-
dance steps, and the songs or texts pertaining to the mask.
tion of a given region did not necessarily lead to the
As Eberhard Fischer (1980) points out, among the Dan of
elimination of the art of masks. On the contrary, as René
Liberia and the Ivory Coast it is the headdress, and not the
Bravmann (1977) showed, some African societies created
face, that immediately signals a mask’s type. Consequently,
new masks after the advent of Islam in order to represent the
the first step in the transformation of a mask from one cate-
jinn. Masks have also been said to be more characteristic of
gory to another is the alteration of the headdress. The Dan
agricultural peoples. This hypothesis, however, accounts
also have “night masks,” which comprise no tangible face but
only imperfectly for the presence of masks among hunters
may include feathered headdresses. In ancient Egypt the
in Asia and the Americas. The most successful general theory
priests’ masks were adorned only with animal heads. The
has been that of the historical cultural school, which ex-
priests playing the roles of anthropomorphic deities did not
plained the distribution of masks by arguing for their rela-
require masks: the headdresses and the specific emblems of
tionship with so-called matriarchal societies. An examination
the gods were enough to identify them.
of the available data has, however, discredited this hypothesis
as well. To date no global model is available to explain the
The face, therefore, is not necessarily the place where
geographic distribution of masks.
the meaning of the mask is concentrated. It follows that,
As a matter of fact, since being forced to abandon the
when faced with an ensemble that includes all the elements
broad theories of the nineteenth century and beginning of
of a mask (costume, headdress, dance), it is rather difficult
the twentieth century, scholars have no longer shown much
to decide that there is no mask simply because the face of
interest for the study of questions of this amplitude. Most
the dancer is painted rather than covered with a hood or false
have focused instead on the in-depth analysis of a particular
face. In any case, some scholars see a continuity between face
society, avoiding any far-reaching comparative evaluation
paintings and masks because of the similarities between the
they consider responsible in part for those past mistakes.
two phenomena: both are temporary adornments, both ap-
Nevertheless, some interesting localized studies have at-
pear on special occasions (initiation, marriage, death, or the
tempted to specify the status of masks within certain popula-
lifting of a prohibition), and both seem to have comparable
tions. Some try to elucidate the relationship that may exist
functions. On the other hand, the inclusion of tattoos in the
in particular societies between the mask and other religious
definition of masks creates more problems than it resolves,
and sociopolitical structures. Others look for the provenance
for it is difficult to see how masks and paintings, which are
of the masks of particular groups or even attempt to recon-
temporary, could simply be classified with tattoos, which are
struct its history. For instance, Jean Guiart (1966) showed
that, in certain parts of New Caledonia, the development of
THE GEOGRAPHY OF RITUAL MASKS. A narrower definition
the art of masks seems to have been linked to the develop-
of masks—one that takes as a fundamental criterion the exis-
ment of chieftainships in the same region. And according to
tence of one element of costume (false face, hood) worn in
William Siegmann (1980), the use or nonuse of masks to
front of the face—forces the realization that even in regions
manifest spiritual forces in West Africa seems directly related
that are traditionally considered the privileged domains of
to the dominant features of social organization in particular
masks there exist extensive zones in which masks are not
areas, and especially to the role of lineages and political struc-
used. In Africa, for instance, masks are found mostly along
tures. But still lacking is a general model that explains the
a strip that cuts across the center of the continent from west
distribution of ritual masks, an extremely important element
to east and curves toward the south. In the Americas, inten-
of this institution.
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THE DATING OF MASKS. How far back can one trace the ap-
recalls the original state of the world as it is described in
pearance of the ritual mask? Many scholars do not hesitate
mythological narratives. Among the Dan the mask of the
to go as far back as the Early Stone Age, but this raises a num-
toucan recalls the events that led God to create the earth. Al-
ber of problems. The documents on which they base their
though knowledge of Melanesian myths is only fragmentary,
conclusions are far from clear and admit of various interpre-
many masks of that part of the world seem to strive to recall
tations. A workable example is that of the well-known “Sor-
paradigmatic events. For instance, the performance of the
cerer” of Les Trois Frères cave (Ariège, France, middle Mag-
Mai masks of the middle Sepik of New Guinea is accompa-
dalenian Age; c. 12,000 BCE). It is often presented as the
nied by the recital of totemic names and mythical texts
oldest representation of a masked human, whereas paleontol-
through a bamboo megaphone. Another mask represents a
ogists now prefer to see in it the portrayal of a mythical
feminine spirit, who, along with a masculine being often rep-
mixed being (half man and half beast). Such a figure may or
resented in the form of a crocodile, is the protagonist of
may not be linked to the existence of masks; it may or may
events that accompanied the creation of the present world.
not constitute the inception or consequence of mask use. In
On the northwest coast of North America, Bill Holm
any case, one cannot be categorical about it. This is true as
(1972) has noted that the great majority of Kwakiutl masks
well for an important number of the documents that have
are worn in representations, in stylized dance form, of inci-
been interpreted as representing masked beings because they
dents from hereditary family myths. In some cases the dance
showed anthropomorphic figures with stylized or animal
dramatizes the mythical adventure of the ancestor, whereas
in others it re-creates a dance given to the ancestor by a
Ofer Bar-Yosef (1985) reports that, in a cave at Nahal
mythical being with whom he came in contact. And accord-
Hemar in the Judean Desert, archaeologists have discovered
ing to Frank G. Speck (1949), among the Iroquois, at the
fragments of several stone masks dating back to the pre-
beginning of each reunion of the False Faces, the chief recalls
pottery Neolithic B period (seventh millennium BCE). It
the confrontation between the original False Face and the
seems unlikely that these stone masks were affixed to the face
Great Spirit, in memory of which the False Faces wear masks
of a wearer during ceremonies. They might be funerary
with crooked noses. Before entering the home of sick people
masks or the facial part of effigies, or even masks that were
to minister to them, the False Faces produce weird noises.
hung from poles. Nothing allows a decision in favor of one
These nasal sounds are said to be in imitation of the utter-
or the other of these hypotheses. Nevertheless, these stone
ances the original False Face made during one episode of his
artifacts are the oldest reliable dated documents testifying to
challenge of the Great Spirit.
the existence of masks in the seventh millennium BCE. One
In the southwest United States the masked dances of the
cannot conclude from this find that there existed at the same
Zuni represent various episodes of their mythology. In the
time masks worn by living human beings during ceremonies.
Shalako ceremony, for instance, some dances consist of a mi-
The oldest document from this point of view seems to be-
metic representation of the actions of the kachinas when they
long to Egypt, where the representation of a masked figure
want to send rain to the Zuni.
appears on a fragment of a wall of the funerary temple of
King Sahoure (fifth dynasty, c. 2500
In South America the mask rituals and their symbolisms
BCE). From a general
point of view, however, it may be assumed that the plausibili-
often have an elementary character. However, careful analy-
ty of the existence of ritual masks increases with the advent
sis of the ceremonies reveals that many commemorate the
of the Late Stone Age, particularly in parts of the Middle
principal episodes of the tribal mythology. The Carajá, who
East, Africa, and Europe.
live along the middle course of the Araguaia River, have
masks that portray a pair of supernatural parrots whose de-
scent to humankind is related in myth. The Aruana, a dance
the principal regions in which ritual masks are found—
performed in the same region, bears the name of a fish whose
Africa, Melanesia, and the Americas—the majority of the fig-
form the Carajá bore before they became human beings.
ures depicted in masks are primordial beings, mythical ances-
tors, culture heroes, and gods. In fact, in most cases the mask
The use of masks may reflect the will to enact certain
is not limited to representing a particular figure: it evokes the
events as much as the desire to portray certain figures. At
events in which said figure played a role. These events are
times, masks represent no particular character at all but only
not necessarily enacted as on a theatrical stage; they can be
events. For instance, Carl Laufer (1970) reports that, among
recalled by a dance, by a song or chant, by a piece of costume,
the Mali-Baining of the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain,
or by the recital of a text that accompanies the performance
the main purpose of the Mandas festival is to represent the
of the mask. They can even be implicit: the mask intervenes
events that took place in the primordial mythic time. While
in certain circumstances, because the figure it represents was
a choir of women chants the story of creation, eighty masks
implicated in similar circumstances at the time of origins—a
enact its various phases: the birth of the sea, the appearance
fact known to the initiates at least.
of the earth, the primordial forest, the flora, the winds, the
animals and birds, and, when the stage has thus been set, the
Among the Senufo of Ivory Coast, for instance, the
appearance of the first human couple and their sons. In this
kponiougo (head or face) of the Poro, the men’s secret society,
festival the ngoaremchi masks portray whirlpools and explain
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thereby the birth of the sea, which swirled forth in all direc-
the bias of Western interpreters. First, Western interest in the
tions, and the ngavoucha masks show how the earth was sepa-
mask as an artifact highlights the finished product and un-
rated from the waters.
derestimates the ritual value involved in its making. Further,
the Western tendency is to consider the masked ceremonies
The Dogon of Mali have a mask called sirige, a term that
as theatrical performances and to think that all the prepara-
can be translated literally as “two-storied house.” This mask
tions that precede them find their meaning only in the per-
consists of a rectangular face surmounted by a high sculpted
formance itself. This is a distorted view of those ritual cycles;
mast sometimes over five meters high. Marcel Griaule (1938)
often the making of the mask is in itself a ritual that repro-
was told that the sirige was recent and profane, a mere sculp-
duces the various phases of the creation of the archetypal
ture inspired by the view of a two-storied house, and that the
mask. Therefore it is vitally important that the following
wide movements traced by its mast served only to allow the
cycle start anew at the beginning; that is, with the making
wearer to show off the power of his jaw and neck. Later,
of the mask. This is probably the reason why masks can be
French anthropologists were given a more complex idea of
destroyed or left to rot without regret at the end of a cycle.
Dogon cosmology, and it appeared that both the mask and
the house recalled the same series of mythical events.
THE MASK AND ITS WEARER. The notion of a “primitive
mentality” was prevalent among writers at the beginning of
When the masks are shown in the main square of a
the twentieth century. One of the principal characteristics of
Dogon village, the rich ensemble of things, animals, and
this mentality was the supposed inability to truly differenti-
human figures is a reproduction of the world, a catalog of
ate between the being and its appearance, the thing and its
both the live and extinct fauna of the cliffs and the plains.
image, the signifier and the signified. Influenced by this
This display recalls all of the public functions, the trades, the
view, most of the books on ritual masks spread a theory ac-
ages; it presents a host of strangers, friends, or enemies; it
cording to which the wearer of the mask not only represented
mimics a wide variety of essential activities, all in a specified
a certain figure (ancestor, culture hero, god) but actually be-
order, at least theoretically. It is truly a cosmos. When the
came this figure. For these authors, therefore, to put a mask
mask society gets under way in the public square, it dances
on was akin to undergoing a real transformation. Some
the march of the world; it dances the system of the world.
scholars took this theory even further and claimed that it
provided an explanation for the phenomenon of masking it-
In some cases the system within which a population
self. According to them, masks stemmed from the possibility
lives may be represented not by the ensemble of masks but
they gave people to liberate themselves, to repudiate their
by one particular mask that summarizes the entire system.
current personalities, to undergo metamorphosis.
Among the northern Igbo of eastern Nigeria, the mask ijele
is a lofty tableau of figures with trappings hanging from its
The conditions of ethnographic fieldwork do not always
bottom edge to conceal the performer, who carries the whole
lend themselves to an evaluation of the precise level of reality
structure on his head. According to John S. Boston (1960),
on which the presence of a mythical being is located in a
the theme of the tableau that occupies the upper section of
given ritual. But in light of available knowledge, the range
the ijele is the life of a typical Igbo community. Marie-
in which the various hypotheses mentioned above may apply
Claude Dupré (1968) also tells that, among the Bantsaya
is becoming narrower and narrower. The best studies show
group of the western Téké, the mask of the Kidumu dancer
that cultures that utilize masks are perfectly capable of distin-
is a true summary of the culture of the group.
guishing between the thing and its image.
Masks are thus closely linked to the founding events of
For instance, in 1938 Griaule wrote that the Dogon did
a society and its institutions, as well as to its values. It is
not fit the prevalent assumption about the attitude of Afri-
therefore easy to understand why among many peoples the
cans toward the images they create. Far from being fooled
mask is linked to conservative forces and plays an important
by the appearances or the material effects of the ritual, they
role in social control, assuming even a quasi-police function.
were definitely aware of the difference between the thing rep-
The few examples given above also show that the primary
resented and its image. They even had a word, bibile, to ex-
function of masks is to represent rather than to conceal.
press the concept of reproduction, image, resemblance, or
double. A photograph was the bibile of the person it repre-
Sometimes the masks lose their ritual value at the end
sented. The shadow of a living being was considered a bibile
of the ceremonies of which they have been a part. This wide-
because it reproduced the silhouette, the posture, and the
spread phenomenon has often surprised observers. For in-
movements of that person. A masked dancer was called
stance, Francis E. Williams (1940) wondered why the hevehe
imina bibile, meaning appearance or reproduction of the
masks of the Elema of New Guinea had to be killed and de-
mask. Similar findings have been made among numerous
stroyed at the end of the ritual cycle, only to be re-created
other societies of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
in the next cycle, when they might pass from one cycle into
the other as if living throughout. He was puzzled to see the
Other factors also seem to reduce the applicability of the
products of years of industry and art so readily consigned to
metamorphosis thesis. For example, masks are rarely associ-
the flames. This surprise in the face of the abandonment or
ated with possession of the wearer, although that would be
destruction of the masks once they have been used reveals
in the logic of the hypothesis. Also, the initiates in those
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communities in which masks are found constantly stress the
ports this same technique is used also to cover the wooden
fact that only the uninitiated believe they are actually in the
supports of masks. In Mesoamerica the Aztec often com-
presence of a spirit or a god. These statements are difficult
bined the techniques of remodeling and decorating the skulls
to reconcile with the metamorphosis thesis. They have from
(e.g., with turquoise).
the very first forced the proponents of that thesis to embark
However, as noted by Hans Damm (1969), the Melane-
on often complicated explanations in order to bring their
sian masks have given rise to the most speculation. In Mela-
theory into harmony with the ethnographic data.
nesia the skull is partially or entirely remodeled or molded
Similarly attempts to explain the ritual mask phenome-
over with a kind of wax; it is then painted and often adorned
non by a desire, a need, even an instinct of the wearer were
with human hair. These techniques are not, however, limited
probably influenced by theories geared to explain the persis-
to the making of masks. They are also used in the making
tence of Carnival masks in the Western world. In one exam-
of funerary effigies (for example the rambaramp of Malekula)
ple of what Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard (1965) called the
and in the remodeling of heads that are preserved in cult
“if I were a horse” type of guesswork, the feeling of liberation
houses and in dwellings. The same techniques are also used
experienced by Western mask wearers was projected onto Af-
to mold human heads on wooden supports.
rican, American, or Melanesian mask wearers. Even if such
a feeling may exist among some of these people, it cannot
Because of the radical changes these traditions have un-
be used as a general explanation of the masked-ritual phe-
dergone, many of the assumptions made and questions raised
about them may never be checked or resolved. However, an
examination of some other Melanesian masks portraying de-
Moreover, wearing a mask often carries social responsi-
ceased historical persons (as opposed to those that portray
bilities that make it a service rather than a liberation. This
the dead as a class) help define a general context in which
service is often compulsory: reprobation, a fine, or worse
the skull mask can most probably be placed.
await those who try to sidestep it. Either one particular per-
son or a category of people is compelled to perform this ser-
In the Jipae ceremony of the Asmat, for example,
vice: one or several members of the family of the deceased,
masked men represent the dangerous dead, especially chil-
all members of a brotherhood, all circumcised males, and so
dren, great warriors, and the victims of headhunters. Begin-
forth. Although wearing a mask can bring honor and pres-
ning at dusk the masqueraders dance, imitating the waddle
tige, it also burdens the wearer with various duties, such as
of the cassowary bird. At sunrise the dancers move toward
the payment of a tax to purchase the right to wear a particular
the men’s house followed by the women. Suddenly the men
mask or several months of preparation during which the
of the village attack the masks with sticks, forcing them to
mask wearers learn the dance steps, intensively rehearse com-
enter the men’s house and thus ending the ritual. In the Jipae
bined movements, and may have to memorize complicated
the mask represents a specific dead person, but several solar
texts, sometimes in a secret language.
characteristics are also ascribed to it. This ritual begins at
nightfall, when, according to the Asmat, the sun puts on its
Among the Asmat of Irian Jaya, for example, it takes
mask to descend into the land of the dead. The dancers imi-
four to five months to prepare the masks for the ritual called
tate the cassowary, which the Asmat associate with the sun.
Jipae. H. C. van Renselaar reports that, during all of that
Finally, the ritual ends at sunrise; that is, when the sun leaves
time, the mask wearers have to support the mask makers (van
the land of the dead and removes its mask.
Renselaar and Mellema, 1956). The relatives of the deceased
for whom the Jipae is celebrated must in turn give daily sup-
To understand the meaning of a ceremony of this type
plies of food to the mask wearers. Furthermore, the mask
one must keep in mind that for a large number of societies,
wearers must act as the surrogate for the dead and adopt and
in Melanesia as well as in other parts of the world, it is not
provide for the children of the deceased.
death itself but ritual that opens the way toward the next life.
This ritual fulfills several functions linked together: it pre-
THE MASK AND THE DEAD. One mask has been constantly
vents the spirit of the dead from wandering among the living;
associated with the representation of the dead: the skull
it allows deceased persons to enjoy the status due to their
mask. Some experts, such as Hans Nevermann, have consid-
rank in the hereafter; it removes the risk that—in despair
ered it the most primitive form of masking (Nevermann,
about their unresolved fate—the deceased might act against
Worms, and Petri, 1968). Those partial or complete skulls,
the living to force them to celebrate the appropriate ritual.
worn on the top of the head or in front of the face, decorated,
This ritual may also mark the end of mourning, it may be
remodeled, or covered with tight skin, have provoked a num-
the occasion of the redistribution of the land, or it may serve
ber of speculations. Frobenius considered them part of a logi-
as a framework or a background for initiations. It is mostly
cal continuum of mask making that began with the use of
during this kind of ritual that masks representing deceased
a complete skull and moved to the use of a skull mask, con-
individuals intervene.
cluding with the mask carved out of wood. Skull masks are
found in the three main mask regions. In Africa such masks
Early-twentieth-century scholars were so preoccupied
are sometimes tightly covered with skin in a manner peculiar
with the idea that the mask wearer was adopting a new per-
to the Cross River region, where Keith Nicklin (1974) re-
sonality that they overlooked one of the mask’s main pur-
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poses—which may have been to identify the dead with his
the use of masks representing spirits; (3) for masks to repre-
or her paradigm (the first dead human, a culture hero) and
sent spirits the wearer must not be recognizable; and (4) it
not just to associate the mask wearer with the spirit of the
follows that originally masks must have disguised the wear-
dead. This is nevertheless one of the important elements of
er’s entire body.
such rituals as the Malanggan of New Ireland, the Ne-leng
This theory was immensely popular, for it offered a logi-
of Malekula, the Horiomu of the Kiwai, the Jipae of the
cal and unique framework for an array of puzzling facts.
Asmat, and the Mbii-kawane of Mimika (New Guinea).
However, along the road taken by anthropology since the
This identification can take various forms that fall be-
1930s, every one of its elements was disputed and aban-
tween two extreme poles. In some cases nothing is done to
doned. Regarding secret societies, the apparent simplicity of
bring the appearance of the masked figure, as it is defined
the theory stemmed from the fact that its authors had amal-
by tradition, closer to that of the deceased. In those cases it
gamated extremely diverse institutions under the term secret
is mainly the attitude of kin that expresses this identification;
society (e.g., brotherhoods of men, age-group organizations,
they act toward the masked figure as they would toward the
initiation societies, societies based on social rank, and more
departed they are mourning. The ceremony called Mbii-
or less restricted cultic societies). Furthermore, later studies
kawane described by Jan Pouwer (1956) is close to this type.
showed that masks could very well exist independently of se-
In other cases a considerable effort is made to ensure that the
cret societies and that many secret societies had no masks,
masked person will resemble the deceased as closely as possi-
while others had only recently adopted them. Therefore the
ble. In this case the identification with the paradigmatic fig-
concept of a primary and original link between masks and
ure is made through the text, which is sung or recited, and
secret societies could no longer be taken uncritically.
through the dance steps. This seems to be the case with the
As for secrecy, it is true that, in many societies with
Horiomu of the Kiwai as reported by Gunnar Landtman
masks, the uninitiated must not speak of matters concerning
masks, or they must only speak of them in a certain manner,
The above remarks also pertain to a number of funerary
or they are supposed to remain ignorant of certain things.
masks. This term has been used to categorize various types
However, the best-documented reports from Africa, Melane-
of masks found on mortal remains, on mummies, on funer-
sia, and the Americas acknowledge that women in particular
ary urns, or among the funerary furnishings found in certain
know the true nature of masks and that a large gap often sep-
tombs. Some of these masks are realistic and seem like por-
arates that which they are supposed to know from that which
traits, and they have on occasion been molded directly onto
they actually know. Secrecy, or the pretense of it, is but one
the dead person’s face. Others, sometimes called “idealistic,”
element that helps delineate and maintain the identity of
reveal traits that obviously did not belong to the deceased.
the various groups in a given society, but it cannot be taken
In between those two categories, variations such as idealized
or stylized portraits are found. Others, finally, do not have
The theory contended that masks were meant to terror-
a real face. In some cases the mask could have been worn by
ize women. However, because in many cases women were
somebody during a burial ritual, whereas in other cases there
aware of the true nature of the masks, they could not be
is no evidence to support that interpretation.
fooled by a ritual, the purpose of which would be to deceive
Given the extensive variations that may be found from
them. Yet they display emotions, sometimes violent ones,
one tradition to the next, funerary masks seem to have two
during the performance of certain masks. If they are not
basic purposes: (1) to prevent the spirits of the dead from
fooled by appearances, then how can those feelings be ex-
wandering among the living (by offering them a new sup-
port, by luring or forcing them away from the living); and
When women express fear when confronted with the
(2) to insure that the deceased will safely reach his or her rest-
masks or when they recognize in them the deceased of their
ing place in the hereafter. The identification with a paradigm
own families and implore them with cries and tears, one is
should not be overlooked as a means to achieve this goal.
forced to wonder if such a display of emotions is not an es-
sential part of the ritual itself. There is no doubt that women
Viennese school of the “culture circles,” in a former era
are frightened in many societies. But they are afraid of the
women played a leading role in society, and in order to resist
consequences that would follow if they did not behave as tra-
their economic, social, and religious supremacy, men created
dition requires or if they breached the prohibitions sur-
secret societies. The theory postulated a quasi-organic link
rounding the masks. Depending on the situation and the so-
between secret societies and masks, the latter being the means
ciety, a fine would be levied; a sacrifice would have to be
used by men to seize power from women and secure their
made; the woman would become sick, sterile, or even die;
own domination. This link was even noted by authors who
the men might kill her; the mask wearer would die; or the
did not necessarily accept the hypothesis of matriarchy.
entire community would disappear. But this does not mean
Here, summarized in four points, is how Felix Speiser (1923)
that women act merely out of fright and that their emotions
expressed it: (1) the goal of secret societies is to terrorize the
(for instance, their grief) are not genuine. Indeed this does
uninitiated, in particular women; (2) this is achieved through
not rule out sincerity in any way, but a sincerity that is ad-
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

dressed to what is represented in the ritual and a sincerity
Bastin, Marie-Louise. Introduction aux arts d’Afrique noire. Arnou-
that cannot be understood unless one first accepts that all the
ville-lès-Gonesse, France, 1984.
participants may experience the ritual at the level of what is
Bédouin, Jean Louis. Les masques. Paris, 1967.
being represented while remaining perfectly aware of the
Biebuyck, Daniel P. Lega: Ethics and Beauty in the Heart of Africa.
means used to create the performance. The deeper meaning
Brussels, 2002.
of masked rituals can only be perceived if one acknowledges
Boston, John S. “Some Northern Ibo Masquerades.” Journal of the
that the behavior of everyone concerned is meaningful, the
Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 90
women’s as well as the men’s, both contributions being at
(1960): 54–65.
once necessary to the ritual and constitutive of it.
Bravmann, René A. “Gyinna-Gyinna: Making the Djinn Mani-
The elegant “culture circles” hypothesis presented the
fest.” African Arts 10, no. 3 (April 1977): 46–52, 87.
relationship between masks and women as one of incompati-
Chappaz-Wirthner, Suzanne. Le turc, le fol, et le dragon: Figures
bility, ignorance, and credulity. A detailed examination
du carnaval haut-valaisan. Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1995.
shows that the situation is more complex and differentiated.
Cole, Herbert M., ed. I Am Not Myself: The Art of African Mas-
Indeed the prohibitions to which women are subject some-
querade. Los Angeles, 1985.
times only cover a particular part of the mask or a special cir-
Craig, Barry, Bernie Kernot, and Christopher Anderson, eds. Art
cumstance. It is also impossible to ignore the particular posi-
and Performance in Oceania. Honolulu, 1999.
tion that certain women occupy within the masking society
Crumrine, N. Ross, and Marjorie Halpin, eds. The Power of Sym-
(among the Dogon, the Kono, or the Mende, for instance).
bols: Masks and Masquerade in the Americas. Vancouver,
In certain cases women contribute to the preparation of
masks or dancers or are entrusted with the care and preserva-
Damm, Hans. “Bemerkungen zu den Schädelmasken aus Neubri-
tion of the masks and other ritual objects otherwise prohibit-
tannien (Südsee).” Jahrbuch des Museums für Völkerkunde zu
ed to women. In addition, the wives of chiefs and the wives
Leipzig 26 (1969): 85–116.
of the heads of initiation societies are sometimes initiated
Dupré, Marie-Claude. “A propos d’un masque des Téké de l’ouest
into the secrets of masks, and, from a more general point of
(Congo-Brazzaville).” Objets et Mondes 8, no. 4 (1968): 295–
view, numerous elderly women are exceptions to the “rule”
that all women be excluded from masking rites. Last but not
Eban, Dan, Erik Cohen, and Brenda Danet, eds. Art as a Means
least, there are of course cases—attested in Africa, Melanesia,
of Communication in Pre-Literate Societies. Jerusalem, 1990.
and the Americas—when masks are worn by women, often
Ebeling, Ingelore. Masken und Maskierung: Kult, Kunst, and
during women’s initiations. Due to the anthropocentrism of
Kosmeti: Von den Naturvölkern bis zur Gegenwart. Cologne,
early scholarship, little information was available on these
Germany, 1984.
ceremonies when the theory was proposed. Fortunately,
Emigh, John. Masked Performance: The Play of Self and Other in
since the 1970s this situation has been changing rapidly (for
Ritual and Theatre. Philadelphia, 1996.
instance, see Sidney L. Kasfir and Pamela R. Franco [1998]).
Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evan. Theories of Primitive Religion. Ox-
ford, 1965.
However, even taking into consideration the numerous
Fischer, Eberhard. “Masks in a Non-Poro Area: The Dan.” Eth-
cases mentioned above, a simple statistical study will show
nologische Zeitschrift Zürich 1 (1980): 81–88.
that in most instances masks are worn by men, even though
Frobenius, Leo. Die Masken und Geheimbünde Afrikas. Halle,
women are said to have discovered and owned them to begin
Germany, 1898.
with. Thus, if the masked ritual must be viewed in the con-
Griaule, Marcel. Masques Dogons. Paris, 1938.
text of a symbolism shared by men and women, the dialectic
between the two sexes that the ritual reveals must not be ne-
Guiart, Jean. The Arts of the South Pacific. New York, 1963.
glected. It comes back to the sacredness peculiar to each sex
Guiart, Jean. Mythologie du masque en Nouvelle-Calédonie. Paris,
and to the ambivalent attitude of men toward the extraordi-
nary power of women: particularly with regard to women’s
Hartmann, Günther. Masken südamerikanischer Naturvölker. Ber-
ability to conceive and to self-regulate their uncleanness
lin, 1967.
through their menstrual cycles.
Holm, Bill. Crooked Beak of Heaven: Masks and Other Ceremonial
Art of the Northwest Coast. Seattle, 1972.
SEE ALSO Ancestors, article on Mythic Ancestors; Bodily
Inhaber, Herbert. Masks from Antiquity to the Modern Era: An An-
Marks; Carnival; Culture Heroes; Dogon Religion; Griaule,
notated Bibliography. Lanham, Md., 1997. Inhaber reviews
Marcel; Kulturkreiselehre; Paleolithic Religion.
about twelve hundred books, articles, dissertations, videos,
and other media that primarily discuss masks.The entries are
filed geographically and according to criteria such as histori-
Andree, Richard. “Die Masken in der Völkerkunde.” Archiv für
cal aspects, dramatic aspects, and philosophical and psycho-
Anthropologie 16 (1886): 477–506.
logical aspects. An index completes this extremely useful bib-
Bar-Yosef, Ofer. A Cave in the Desert: Nahal Hemar. Jerusalem,
Jedrej, M. C. “A Comparison of Some Masks from North Ameri-
Bastian, Adolf. “Masken und Maskereien.” Zeitschrift für Völkerp-
ca, Africa, and Melanesia.” Journal of Anthropological Re-
sychologie 14 (1883): 335–358.
search 36 (1980): 220–230.
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

Kaeppler, Adrienne L., Christian Kaufmann, and Douglas New-
Speck, Frank G. Midwinter Rites of the Cayuga Long House. Phila-
ton. Oceanic Art. Translated by Nora Scott and Sabine
delphia, 1949.
Bouladon. New York, 1997.
Speiser, Felix. Ethnographische Materialien aus den Neuen Hebri-
Kasfir, Sidney Littlefield, and Pamela R. Franco, guest eds.
den und den Banks-Inseln. Berlin, 1923.
“Women’s Masquerades in Africa and the Diaspora.” African
Strother, Zoë S. Inventing Masks: Agency and History in the Art of
Arts 31, no. 2 (1998): Special issue.
the Central Pende. Chicago, 1998.
Landtman, Gunnar. The Kiwai Papuans of British New Guinea: A
Sturtevant, William C., gen. ed. Handbook of North American In-
Nature-Born Instance of Rousseau’s Ideal Community. Lon-
dians. 17 vols. Washington, D.C., 1978–2001 (13 of 17
don, 1927.
vols. published as of 2001).
Laufer, Carl. “Die Mandas-Maskenfeier der Mali-Baining.” Jahr-
Van Renselaar, H. C., and R. L. Mellema. Asmat Art from South-
buch des Museums für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig 27 (1970):
west New Guinea. Amsterdam, 1956.
Lawal, Babatunde. The Gèlèdé Spectacle: Art, Gender, and Social
Washburn, Dorothy K., ed. Hopi Kachina: Spirit of Life. Seattle,
Harmony in an African Culture. Seattle, 1996.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. The Way of the Masks. Translated by Sylvia
Wherry, Joseph H. Indian Masks and Myths of the West. New
Modelski. Seattle, 1982.
York, 1974.
Lommel, Andreas. Masks: Their Meaning and Function. Translat-
Williams, Francis Edgar. Drama of Orokolo: The Social and Cere-
ed by Nadia Fowler. New York, 1981.
monial Life of the Elema. Oxford, 1940.
Lupu, François, ed. Océanie: Le masque au long cours. Rennes,
Wyatt, Gary. Spirit Faces: Contemporary Native American Masks
France, 1983.
from the Northwest. San Francisco, 1995.
Mack, John, ed. Masks and the Art of Expression. New York, 1994.
Malin, Edward. A World of Faces: Masks of the Northwest Coast In-
dians. Portland, Ore., 1978.
Mauldin, Barbara. Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance
of Life. Santa Fe, N.Mex., 1999.
MAS:LAH:AH is the Arabic term for the Islamic concept
of public interest or general welfare of the community of
Mead, Sidney M., ed. Exploring the Visual Art of Oceania: Austra-
Muslims. Consideration for the public interest (istis:la¯h:) is
lia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Honolulu, 1979.
held by Muslim legal scholars to be ancillary to the four ca-
Meuli, Karl. “Maske, Maskereien.” Handwörterbuch des Deutschen
nonical sources of Islamic law, namely the QurDa¯n; the sun-
Aberglaubens. Vol. 5, pp. 1744–1852. Berlin, 1933. Reprint-
ed in Karl Meuli. Gesammelte Schriften. Pp. 69–162. Basel,
nah, or normative behavior of the Prophet; ijma¯ E, or the his-
Switzerland, 1975.
torical consensus of the community; and qiya¯s, analogical
extension of accepted law or judgment. Although these
Nevermann, Hans, Ernest A. Worms, and Helmut Petri. Die Re-
ligionen der Südsee und Australiens. Stuttgart, 1968.
sources are meant to provide guidelines for all eventualities,
there have always been instances that seem to require aban-
Nicklin, Keith. “Nigerian Skin-Covered Masks.” African Arts 7,
doning either the specific ordinances of the QurDa¯n and sun-
no. 3 (1974): 8–15, 67–68, 92.
nah or the results of analogical reasoning, because of the
Norris, Karen, and Ralph Norris. Northwest Carving Traditions.
overriding nature of the public interest.
Atglen, Pa., 1999.
Nunley, John W., and Cara McCarty. Masks: Faces of Culture.
In positive or applied law, considerations of mas:lah:ah
New York, 1999.
in social and economic matters have usually led to the inclu-
Pernet, Henry. Ritual Masks: Deceptions and Revelations. Translat-
sion of pre-Islamic or non-Islamic local laws and customs in
ed by Laura Grillo. Columbia, S.C., 1992. This “problem-
regional local practice. Historically, the concept of mas:lah:ah
oriented” and thematic book deals in greater depth with the
has been associated more often with Ma¯lik¯ı school than with
questions raised in this article. It also provides abundant ref-
the other Sunn¯ı schools of law. This is largely due to the at-
erences, a twenty-seven-page bibliography, and an index.
tention the Ma¯lik¯ı scholars of Morocco have given it in their
Phillips, Ruth B. Representing Woman: Sande Masquerades of the
recognition of the validity of local practice ( Eamal), even
Mende of Sierra Leone. Los Angeles, 1995.
though they thereby allow institutions that strict Ma¯lik¯ı the-
Pouwer, Jan. “A Masquerade in Mimika.” Antiquity and Survival
ory would reject. But the association of mas:lah:ah with the
5 (1956): 373–386.
Ma¯lik¯ıyah should not be overemphasized; all Sunn¯ı schools
Ray, Dorothy Jean. Eskimo Masks: Art and Ceremony. Seattle,
of law have contributed to its development and utilization.
The early and medieval Muslim scholars who wrote on
Reed, Daniel B. Dan Ge Performance: Masks and Music in Contem-
mas:lah:ah defined it in various ways. Some approached it
porary Côte d’Ivoire. Bloomington, Ind., 2003.
purely from a practical point of view; others considered it a
Siegmann, William C. “Spirit Manifestation and the Poro Soci-
problem of the philosophy of law and discussed its moral and
ety.” Ethnologische Zeitschrift Zürich 1 (1980): 89–95.
ethical aspects. They all indicated, however, that the investi-
Smidt, Dirk A. M., ed. Asmat Art: Woodcarvings of Southwest New
gation of mas:lah:ah involved concern for the spirit rather than
Guinea. New York, 1993.
the letter of the law. Focusing on this feature of mas:lah:ah,
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 few twentieth-century Muslim reformers have put forward
Marcel Granet’s epoch-making work (1919) on the Book of
the idea of redefining mas:lah:ah in terms of the needs of con-
temporary society and then using istis:la¯h as a vehicle for
In 1920 Maspero was recalled to Paris and appointed
modernizing and revitalizing Islamic law. Thus far, at least,
the successor of Édouard Chavannes at the Collège de
their efforts have not been successful.
France. The only book he published in his lifetime, La Chine
(1927), is a history of China from the beginnings to
the third century BCE. The remaining years of his life were
Aghnides, Nicolas P. Muhammadan Theories of Finance. New
devoted to a thorough preparation of a second volume deal-
York, 1916. Very useful and detailed introduction to the
sources of Islamic law.
ing with Chinese history up to the Tang dynasty.
Kerr, Malcolm H. Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories
The summaries of Maspero’s courses at the Collège de
of Muhammed Abduh and Rashid Rida. Berkeley, 1966. Dis-
France (1921–1944) show that, among many other aspects
cusses the history of mas:lah:ah and some modern attempts to
of Sinology that he treated in numerous articles, he was most
utilize it for Islamic reform.
interested during this period in the emergence of the Daoist
Schacht, Joseph. An Introduction to Islamic Law. Oxford, 1964.
religion. This was virgin territory, uncharted not only by
The authoritative general introduction, with a very valuable
Western scholars but also by Chinese scholars, who tradi-
tionally had despised everything Daoist except the philoso-
phers Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. In 1926 the sole remaining
complete set of the Daoist canon was published in 1,120
Chinese-style volumes. Maspero was the first to start extract-
ing from this huge store of documents (dating from the
fourth century BCE, in the case of the early Daoist mystical
writings, to the sixteenth century CE) a chronology of texts
and a coherent history of the origins and the first five centu-
ries of the Daoist religion. He discovered that this religion,
MASPERO, HENRI (1883–1945), French Sinologist
far from being the popular hodgepodge of superstitions de-
and pioneer of Daoist studies. Son of the Egyptologist Gas-
scribed by missionaries, or the illiterate and seditious demon-
ton Maspero, Henri Maspero did his first research in 1904
worship denounced by the Chinese scholarly elite, was in fact
in Cairo on the financial system of ancient Egypt. In 1907
the native high religion of all classes of Chinese society, with
he obtained his licence en droit and his diploma in Chinese.
a literate tradition going back to the second century CE. Real-
From 1908 to 1920, he was a member of the École Française
izing the importance in Daoism of physiological longevity
d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) and was stationed in Hanoi,
techniques and of mystical techniques for gaining union with
whence he traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia
the Dao (and participating in its immortality), Maspero de-
and China. He was in Beijing during the winter of 1908–
voted a detailed study to them.
1909, at the time of the death of Emperor Tezong and the
On July 27, 1944, Maspero was expected in vain at a
Dowager Empress Cixi, and he witnessed some of the ensu-
session of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belle-Lettres, of
ing revolutionary agitation. His research and publications
which he was president at the time. He had been arrested by
covered an amazing range of subjects: the administrative ge-
the German occupation forces because of his son’s activities
ography of ancient Indochina, the beginnings of Buddhism
in the French Resistance. On August 15, 1944, he was
in China, Chinese epigraphy, history of law, architecture,
aboard the last prisoner transport to Germany before the lib-
art, and astronomy, as well as linguistics. His articles on the
eration of Paris. He succumbed to disease amid the horrors
Thai languages and on the phonetics of Annamese were the
of Buchenwald on March 17, 1945, less than one month be-
first serious studies of Southeast Asian languages. The Chi-
fore the liberation of this concentration camp by American
nese elements in Annamese led him, before Bernhard Karl-
gren, to the study of ancient Chinese phonology.
In 1914, on a study mission to China, Maspero began
SEE ALSO Granet, Marcel.
an investigation of contemporary Chinese religious life,
which he continued among Chinese expatriates in France
during World War I. This fieldwork enabled him later to de-
Maspero’s La Chine antique (Paris, 1924) has been translated as
scribe the modern Chinese folk religion in a remarkably live-
China in Antiquity (Amherst, Mass., 1979), and the majority
ly fashion.
of Maspero’s studies on Daoism have been collected in Le
daoïsme et les religions chinoises
(Paris, 1971), translated as
Maspero initiated and supervised, until 1920, the vast
Daoism and Chinese Religion (Amherst, Mass., 1981). Among
EFEO collection of Indochinese documents, a unique repos-
Maspero’s writing on Buddhism are “Le songe et l’ambassade
itory of the history of this region. Some of this material
de l’empereur Ming” and “Communautés et moines boud-
served him for comparative studies on modern Thai and an-
dhistes chinois au deuxième et troisième siècles,” both of
cient Chinese religion, studies that confirmed the results of
which appear in the Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-
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

Orient (Hanoi) 10 (1910): 95–130 and 222–232, respective-
tion that Massignon’s priesthood, which turned out to be an
ly, and “Les origines de la comunauté bouddhiste de Lo-
essential element in his spiritual life and vocation, should re-
yang,” Journal Asiatique 225 (1934): 88–107. On mythology
main secret. Even after his retirement in 1954 Massignon
and popular religion, see “Légendes mythologiques dans le
continued to take an active part in defending victims of vio-
Chou king,” Journal asiatique 204 (1924): 1–100; “The My-
lence (e.g., Palestinians and Algerians) until his death on Oc-
thology of Modern China,” in Asiatic Mythology, edited by
tober 31, 1962, in Paris.
Joseph Hackin and others (New York, 1932); and “Les
ivoires chinois et l’iconographie populaire,” in Les ivoires reli-
Massignon’s work is the accomplishment and creation
gieux et médicaux chinois d’après la collection Lucien Lion, ed-
of a mind of remarkable stature, illuminated by flashes of ge-
ited by Maspero, René Grousset, and Lucien Lion (Paris,
nius but capable of being carried away, to the verge of aberra-
tion, by ideas. A reader is confronted with the difficult task
An obituary by Paul Demiéville, including a useful bibliography,
of recognizing the particular perspectives in which Mas-
appears in Journal Asiatique 234 (1943–1945): 245–280,
signon interpreted his subject matter and correcting them ac-
and Demiéville’s summary of Maspero’s contribution to
cording to the scholarly criteria of factual interpretation and
Chinese studies, “Henri Maspero et l’avenir des études chin-
validity. If Massignon’s unique spiritual commitments made
oises,” can be found in T’oung pao 38 (1947): 16–42.
his oeuvre one of the richest in the whole field of Islamic
studies, one must recognize that it drew its strength from an
existential position unrelated to scholarship. While its origi-
nality deserves respect and admiration, the lack of scholarly
standards must also be recognized.
Massignon’s monumental study of al-H:alla¯j will proba-
bly remain his lasting contribution to the study of Islam and
religion generally. It is more than a careful historical recon-
(1883–1962), French Islami-
struction of facts and bygone spiritual worlds. It is the record
cist. Louis-Fernand-Jules Massignon grew up in Paris, where
of a spiritual encounter in which a scholar fascinated by a re-
he enrolled at the university and pursued various disciplines,
ligious truth meets a mystic of the past in whom this truth
including Arabic. He spent most of the period 1906–1910
is recognized. Were it not for Massignon, such spiritual di-
studying in Cairo and carrying out research in Iraq and Istan-
mensions might not have been revealed in al-H:alla¯j, but to
bul, and in 1912–1913 he was visiting professor at the Egyp-
what extent the spiritual al-H:alla¯j discovered by Massignon
tian (later Cairo) University. In 1922 he submitted his two
is the result of valid hermeneutics of the texts and not a spiri-
requisite doctoral theses on al-H:alla¯j and early Islamic mysti-
tual creation born of the religious needs and passions of Mas-
cism to the University of Paris; published in two volumes as
signon as a person is a question that haunts the reader. Mas-
La passion d’al-Hosayn-ibn-Mansour al’Hallâj, martyr mys-
signon’s inner experiences of May and June 1908, as a result
tique de l’Islam exécuté à Bagdad le 26 mars 922 (1922), his
of which he received a “new life” of adoration and witness-
thèse principale has since become a classic. A second, greatly
ing, welded together for him the figures of al-H:alla¯j and
enlarged edition appeared posthumously (1975). In 1926
Christ, the existence of God and the experience of divine
Massignon was elected professor of sociology and sociogra-
grace. Thereafter, al-H:alla¯j, Christ, and their witness Louis
phy of Islam at the Collège de France in Paris, and in 1933
Massignon could no longer be separated either by Massignon
he was appointed director of studies for Islam at the École
himself or by those studying his reconstruction of the Halla-
Pratique des Hautes Études, also in Paris, in the section of
jian drama.
sciences religeuses. In the same year he was elected a member
of the new Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo, where
Massignon’s second contribution is his precise technical
he spent several weeks working each winter.
investigation of the religious, particularly the mystical, vo-
cabulary in Islam. Apart from his claim that the spiritual real-
Born and raised a Roman Catholic, Massignon under-
ities to which these words allude can be rediscovered through
went a particular inner experience in 1908, which he spoke
the study of the words themselves—and that the researcher
of as his “conversion.” As a result he became once more a
at a certain moment finds himself confronted precisely with
loyal member of the Roman Catholic church, increasingly
that reality to which the mystic testifies—his technical
with a spiritual vocation with regard to Islam. In 1931 he
achievements were enormous and have inspired such scholars
became a third-order Franciscan, and in 1934 he founded
as Paul Nwyia to proceed with their researches on religious
the Badaliya sodality, the members of which were inspired
vocabulary along the same line.
by compassion and devoted themselves to “substitution” for
their Muslim brethren. (The idea of substitution involves
Massignon’s third major contribution is to have suc-
one person’s taking another’s suffering upon himself.) After
ceeded, in a period of ever-growing specialization, in retain-
joining the Greek Catholic (Uniate) church in 1949, Mas-
ing a global view of what may be called the world of Islam
signon was ordained a priest on January 28, 1950, in Cairo.
in its various material and spiritual dimensions. He could see
Even though ordination in this church is possible for a mar-
it all as forming a meaningful whole under the sign of Islam,
ried man, as Massignon was, the Vatican imposed the condi-
just as he could see Islam as meaningful in the perspective
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 al-H:alla¯j. Thus his “minor works,” collected in Opera mi-
Harpigny, Guy. “Louis Massignon: L’Hospitalité et la visitation
nora (1963), include articles on widely varying subjects.
de l’étranger.” Recherches de Science Religieuse 75, no. 1
Throughout these articles we find a complex hermeneutics
(1987): 39–64.
of texts, personalities, and ideas directed to revealing not
Mason, Herbert. Memoir of a Friend: Louis Massignon. London,
only their literary, historical, and semantic meanings but also
their spiritual intentions. In his hermeneutical research, Mas-
signon showed both an immense erudition and an extraordi-
Revised Bibliography
nary sensitivity, particularly to religious and devotional reali-
ties. His sensitivity extended to those realities that exist partly
in the realm of dreams and partly in that of fact, realities to
which the religious mind and what was once commonly
MATERIALISM. As a philosophical doctrine, material-
called the “Oriental mind” are so attuned.
ism can be given a deceptively simple definition: the view
that matter is all there is. The simplicity is deceptive because,
of course, the term matter can itself be understood in so
Massignon’s principal work is his monumental study of al-H:alla¯j,
many different ways. It is more illuminating, perhaps, to de-
the second, greatly expanded version of which appeared post-
fine materialism in terms of what it denies. It excludes the
humously in four volumes (Paris, 1975), and has been trans-
existence of entities that are radically different in kind from,
lated by Herbert Mason as The Passion of al-H:alla¯j: Mystic
and Martyr of Islam
, 4 vols. (Princeton, 1982). Another clas-
and in some sense superior to, the matter of our ordinary ex-
sic study is his Essai sur les origines du lexique technique de la
perience. It rejects, therefore, a God or gods on whom the
mystique musulmane, 3d ed. (Paris, 1968), which deals with
universe would depend for its existence or mode of opera-
the development of mystical vocabulary during the first cen-
tion; it denies the existence of angels or spirits that can affect
turies of Islam. A number of mystical texts were edited by
the material order while ultimately escaping its limitations;
Massignon in his Recueil de textes inédits concernant l’histoire
it questions the notion of a soul, if taken to be an immaterial
de la mystique en pays d’Islam (Paris, 1929). A translation of
entity separable in principle from the human body it in-
al-H:alla¯j’s poems, the Dîwân (1955; reprint, Paris, 1981),
forms. Its two main targets are, therefore, theism and dualis-
was also published by Massignon. Of Massignon’s other
tic views of human nature.
books, mention should be made of Mission en Mésopotamie,
, 2 vols. (Cairo, 1910–1912), and of the various
Materialism has, in the past, usually derived from one
editions of the important Annuaire du monde musulman that
or the other of two sources. The first is the conviction that
were compiled by Massignon (1st ed., Paris, 1922–1923; 2d
the world can be understood in terms of a single set of cate-
ed., Paris, 1926; 3d ed., Paris, 1929; 4th ed., Paris, 1954).
gories derived from our everyday physical experience, with-
(The last of these volumes was accomplished with the collab-
out having to introduce a second set of “immaterial” entities
oration of Vincent Monteil.) A collection, edited by
of an altogether different kind. The second is the criticism
Youakim Moubarac, of 205 of Massignon’s articles has been
of organized religion on the grounds of its superstitious or
published under the title Opera minora, 3 vols. (1963; re-
print, Paris, 1969); two more volumes have been announced.
politically oppressive character and a linking of religion with
belief in gods, angels, souls, miracles. The former allies mate-
Bibliographies of works by and about Massignon appear in
Youakim Moubarac’s L’œuvre de Louis Massignon (Beirut,
rialism with naturalism. The stress in both is on “natural”
1972), pp. 7–107; the book is, however, difficult both to
modes of explanation; “supernatural” forms of action are re-
find and to use, and is incomplete. A definitive bibliography
jected as unnecessary or even incoherent. Materialism also re-
with complete references has yet to be compiled. Most acces-
sembles reductionism, since both seek to reduce the diversity
sible at present is the succinct bibliography given in my
of the explanations offered for events in the world to a single
L’Islam dans le miroir de l’Occident, 3d ed. (The Hague,
category, or at least to a minimal number of categories. There
1970), pp. 351–358. These bibliographies may be supple-
are, for the same reasons, overtones in it of positivism, at least
mented by that contained in Guy Harpigny’s penetrating
to the extent that both lay stress on science as the only legiti-
study of Massignon’s work and spirituality, Islam et christian-
mate source of knowledge about the causalities of the world.
isme selon Louis Massignon (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1981),
Where classic materialism would differ from these other
pp. 295–301. To celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of
Massignon’s birth, UNESCO issued a useful brochure titled
philosophic emphases would be mainly in the specificity of
Centenaire de la naissance de Louis Massignon, 1883–1962
its objections to the category of “spirit” on which religious
(Paris, 1983).
belief is taken to rely.
New Sources
BEGINNINGS. It is to Aristotle (384–322 BCE) that we owe
Baldick, Julian. “Massignon: Man of Opposites.” Religious Studies
the first explicit articulation of a concept of “matter,” that
23, no. 1 (1987): 29–39.
is, an underlying substratum to which reference must be
Burrell, David E. “Mind and Heart at the Service of Muslim-
made in explaining physical change. Aristotle criticizes the
Christian Understanding: Louis Massignon as Trail Blazer.”
Ionian physicists, his predecessors of two centuries earlier,
Muslim World 88 (1998): 268–278.
because of their supposedly exclusive reliance on a common
Gude, Mary Louise. Louis Massignon: The Crucible of Compassion.
underlying “stuff” (water, air, fire) in explaining change in
Notre Dame, 1996.
nature. Such a stuff would retain its own identity throughout
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

all change; substantial change would, therefore, be excluded
material terms only. It was only when the “new science” of
and the apparently fundamental differences between differ-
mechanics made its appearance in the seventeenth century
ent kinds (different species of animal, for instance) would be
that the outlines of an argument became faintly visible. Gali-
reduced to mere differences in arrangement of the funda-
leo and Descartes took for granted that matter is composed
mental “stuff.” Aristotle rejected this “materialist” doctrine.
of a multitude of tiny corpuscles whose properties (“primary
But he did not believe the Ionians to be materialists. He
qualities”) are precisely those required to make them subject
notes that Thales thought all things to be “full of gods” and
to, and entirely predictable by, mechanical law. There was
to be in some sense “ensouled”; similar views are attributed
no real evidence for this, but it seemed plausible to extend
to the other major figures in the early Ionian tradition.
the realm of the new mathematicized mechanics to the very
Though these men made the first known attempt to explain
small and thus make all types of physical change explicable,
physical changes in a systematic way, they did not question
perhaps, in mechanical terms.
the traditional explanatory roles of the gods and of soul.
Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655) could now revive the an-
A century later, the founders of atomism, Leucippus
cient Epicurean atomism and present it as the best available
and Democritus, came much closer to a clear-cut materialist
(though admittedly hypothetical) scientific explanation of
doctrine. Their view that all things consist of “atoms,” im-
the sensory qualities of things. However, he did not carry his
perceptibly small, indivisible, eternal, and unchanging enti-
Epicureanism all the way to materialism; though an oppo-
ties, derived from the metaphysical arguments of Parmenides
nent of the claims to demonstrative knowledge made by
regarding the One, not from an empirical starting-point in
scholastics and Cartesians alike, he was not disaffected with
observation. Change is nothing more than the movement
religion and saw no reason to extend atomism to the soul or
and redistribution of atoms in the void. The planets, the
to use it to deny the need for a creator God. His friend
stars, and even the earth itself have come to be by the aggre-
Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) had no such scruples. A se-
gating of vortices of atoms. Since space is infinite, there will
vere critic of institutional religion, he argued that mechanical
be infinitely many worlds produced in this way. Sensation
modes of explanation must be extended not only to sensation
is to be understood in purely physical terms; the soul itself
but to thought, which is no more than the motion of materi-
consists of atoms, admittedly smaller and finer than even the
al particles in the brain. Nothing other than body can exist,
particles of fire, but still of the same general kind as other
so that God, if he exists (and Hobbes’s real views on this issue
atoms. All interaction is thus mechanical and explanation in
are very difficult to discover), must be corporeal.
terms of final causes is prohibited. Yet the atomists do not
REDUCTIVE MATERIALISM. If all material things are to be un-
appear to have excluded the gods. Though Democritus is
derstood by a single set of laws, the general laws of mechan-
critical of those who would base ethical behavior on religious
ics, it would follow that human action, too, can be reduced
sanctions, he does seem to allow that the gods may visit men.
to mechanical law. This is the conclusion Hobbes reached;
This may, of course, have been no more than a concession
Descartes avoided it only by placing within man an immate-
to the orthodoxy of the day. Yet it would seem more likely
rial mind. Reductive materialism or sharp dualism—these
that he had not yet reduced the gods, as he had done soul,
seemed to be the only options, if one decided to bring the
to matter.
entire domain of physical interaction under one science.
Most philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centu-
Epicurus (341–270 BCE) took this further step. The
ries found the alternatives unappealing, but it was not at all
gods are situated in the intervals between the innumerable
evident where a stable solution might be found. In France,
universes; they too must be composed of atoms, and they live
where reaction against royal as well as ecclesiastical authority
in a state of bliss undisturbed by the affairs of mortals. Lucre-
continued to mount, reductive materialism found favor with
tius (99–55 BCE) popularized the teachings of Epicurus in the
a number of writers, of whom the most original was Denis
Roman world through his great poem, De rerum natura,
Diderot (1713–1784), editor of the great Encyclopedia. Influ-
which was the most complete expression of materialist doc-
enced by George-Louis Buffon’s Natural History (1749), he
trine in ancient times. The gods here seem to be dismissed
speculated about the sort of developmental laws that might
entirely; insofar as there is a deity it is nature itself. Lucretius
have brought about the organic world we know from an ini-
views the state religion of Rome as a primarily political insti-
tial chaos of material particles. A number of medical writers,
tution and sees no reason for any exception to the atomist
of whom the most notable was Julien de La Mettrie (1709–
claim that all there is, is atoms and void.
1751), were at the same time developing a materialist physi-
THE RENAISSANCE. With the growth of Christianity, the at-
ology in which human action is reduced to simple mechani-
traction of Epicurean materialism diminished. During the
cal causes. Paul d’Holbach (1723–1789), on the other hand,
Middle Ages, atomism was sometimes discussed by philoso-
was much more metaphysical in his approach. His Système
phers, but the Aristotelian arguments against it seemed over-
de la nature (1770) was the most thoroughgoing materialist
whelming. There could be no serious defense of materialism
statement of the century; in it, the two sources of classic ma-
in an age when the influence of spirit, in all its forms, seemed
terialism are especially evident: a conviction that because
so palpable and when no plausible argument had been found
matter is one, only one sort of explanation is permissible, and
for the claim that all change can be explained in atomic or
a strong hostility to religion.
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

But the weaknesses of this kind of material monism
The attempt on the part of Marx and Engels to “materi-
were still evident. The claims to explain in mechanical terms
alize Hegel” led to notable internal strain (many have argued,
the operations of the human body, to reduce sensation and
incoherence) within the materialism they proposed. On the
thought to mechanical action between molecules, and to de-
one hand, there is the stress on the primacy of sense-
rive the profusion of organic species from an original undif-
experience (which is said to “reflect” the world) and conse-
ferentiated matter were still almost entirely promissory. Ma-
quently of science. On the other, the dialectical element
terialism was still, at best, a program, not an achieved
(which is crucial to Marx’s political theory) is difficult to sus-
philosophy. To become something more, a genuine material-
tain by science alone, unless it be almost emptied of content.
ist science would have to be available to serve as support. And
This tension is even more evident in Lenin’s version of dia-
one of the fundamental premises of classic materialism, its
lectical materialism, which tries to mediate between positiv-
reductionist principle, might have to be abandoned.
ism and Hegelian idealism, utilizing a rather naive realist
Major philosophers of the day were struck by the crudi-
ty, as they saw it, of the materialist doctrine. Hegel, in partic-
ular, attacked the mechanistic presuppositions of Newtonian
since the mid-nineteenth century has undercut the older re-
science, its assumption that all motion can be explained by
ductive materialism by showing that the categories of me-
the single science of mechanics. In its stead, he attempted to
chanics at any one time are never definitive and that there
construct a philosophy of nature and a theory of history in
are, besides, different levels of explanation that are probably
which spirit is the moving force. Motion involves contradic-
not reducible to one another, not in the sense in which re-
tion, since for it to occur, a body has to be “both here and
duction was supposed to be possible, at least. On the other
not here at the same time.” Thus, contradiction pervades
hand, the progress of science has also demonstrated the
both nature and society; it is out of the consequent struggle
strength of the naturalistic program of explanation. More
and opposition that advance comes.
and more, it seems possible to explain the entire order of na-
ture in a single interlinked set of categories that leave no gaps
DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM. The most influential form of
“of principle” into which a different order of causality has
nonreductive materialism is undoubtedly that of Marx and
to be interposed in order to render a coherent account of
Engels. Marx took over much of the structure of Hegel’s ac-
world process. It is hard not to be a “naturalist” in that sense.
count of society and of social change, retaining the disconti-
nuities of the Hegelian “dialectical” method, but inverting
Nonetheless, there are unsolved philosophical problems
the order of matter and mind. Mind originates from matter
about the relation of mind and body, about the reality of
(as the reductive materialists had held), but in a discontinu-
human freedom in a world scientifically fully explicable, that
ous way that makes it irreducible to the categories of matter
have led to the formulation of alternatives besides that of a
(which they had denied). Beliefs in God or in an immortal
sophisticated nonreductive materialism, alternatives that
soul are no more than the projections of those who would
would still maintain a broadly naturalist orientation. These
rationalize an unjust social order instead of trying to change
would differ from materialism in the degree of stress they
it. All knowledge of the world and of society must be based
would lay on causal categories that derive from the domain
on sense experience and ultimately on science.
of mind and freedom rather than from that of mechanical
action even if the term mechanical be construed as broadly
Marx’s “historical materialism” is restricted to human
as it could plausibly be.
history; by taking economic and industrial factors as the fun-
When naturalism/materialism is carried to the point of
damental agencies of change, Marx believed that he could
denying the possibility of a creator God or an afterlife for
give a thoroughly “materialist” (i.e., empirical, naturalistic,
man, a conflict with religious, and specifically with Chris-
scientific) account of history. Engels went on to a broader
tian, belief is unavoidable. Christian theologians, however,
focus on nature. His “dialectical materialism” (as Plekhanov
have gone to some lengths to try to show that the notions
later called it) is first and foremost a philosophy of nature
of the natural order as sufficient in its own right, or of resur-
in the Hegelian tradition. He rejects Ludwig Büchner’s claim
rection as independent of a strong dualism of soul and body,
that the sciences alone suffice; in Engels’s view (and this has
are perfectly compatible with—indeed entirely faithful to—
become a central tenet of Marxist-Leninist thought), positiv-
the Christian tradition. The grounds for the materialist ex-
ism is inadequate because the sciences have to be supple-
clusion in principle of God or of a personal afterlife are thus
mented by a unified and guiding philosophy. This philoso-
brought into question.
phy is “dialectical” because it recognizes the presence of
contradictions and of discontinuous change in nature and is
Some have gone further to argue the propriety of a
unified insofar as it proposes a scheme that can grasp things
“Christian materialism” that would draw on the positive in-
in their totality. Engels characterizes as “idealist” any philo-
sights of the materialist tradition, particularly in its Marxist
sophical view that would deny that mind and spirit must
form. Such a view would suggest that all that happens in na-
originate from matter. Thus, anyone who believes in a tran-
ture and in history is in principle explicable at its own level
scendent God or in the dualism of soul (mind) and body
without directly invoking the intervening agency of God.
would automatically qualify as “idealist” in this new sense.
“Christian materialism” would note and deplore the manner
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 which Christianity, like other religions, has often allowed
Wallace, Alan. The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science
itself to become the ideological legitimation of structures of
of Consciousness. New York, 2000.
social domination. It would oppose the “idealism” that
would make Christianity a set of doctrines to be believed
Revised Bibliography
rather than a doctrine of redemption that finds its reality first
in action and transformation.
The limits of such a view are set by the Christian doc-
trines of the dependence of nature and history on divine
grace and of the entrance of the Word of God, as man, into
the human story. There would be the reality to acknowledge
of a God whose action entirely transcends the categories of
MATHER FAMILY. Members of three successive gen-
nature. And that is something that materialism cannot do
erations of the Mather family were Puritan ministers in the
without ceasing (it would seem) to be materialism.
Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England: Richard (1596–
1669), Increase (1629–1723), and Cotton (1663–1728).
SEE ALSO Aristotle; Descartes, René; Earth; Empiricism;
Each achieved fame as a preacher and writer, and collectively
Hegel, G. W. F.; Idealism; Marx, Karl; Naturalism; New-
they exerted a formative influence on the religious life of co-
ton, Isaac; Positivism; Skeptics and Skepticism.
lonial America.
Richard Mather, who was born in Lowton, near Liver-
pool, matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1618
The most detailed general history of materialism is still Friedrich
but studied there for only a few months. He was preaching
Lange’s Geschichte des Materialismus (Marburg, 1865), trans-
at Toxteth Park when, late in 1633, he was removed from
lated by E. C. Thomas as The History of Materialism (Lon-
the pulpit. His offenses are not known, although they were
don, 1925). Many helpful essays will be found in The Ency-
doubtless ecclesiastical; he did not conform to the practices
clopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards (New York,
of the Church of England in all ways. He and his family then
1967); see, in particular, Keith Campbell’s “Materialism”;
H. B. Acton’s “Dialectical Materialism” and “Historical Ma-
immigrated to Massachusetts Bay, arriving in mid-August
terialism”; G. E. R. Lloyd’s “Leucippus and Democritus”; R.
1635. The people of Dorchester, Massachusetts, after failing
S. Peters’s “Hobbes, Thomas”; and Norman L. Torrey’s “Di-
to organize a church in April 1636, succeeded in August of
derot, Denis.” For a survey of the varied roles played by the
that year, and Mather was immediately called to the church
concept of matter in the history of philosophy and of science,
as its teacher.
see The Concept of Matter, edited by me (Notre Dame, Ind.,
In the pulpit in Dorchester, Mather served quietly and
1963), especially the essay by Nicholas Lobkowicz, “Materi-
alism and Matter in Marxism-Leninism,” pp. 430–464. For
faithfully. Although in most ways he probably resembled
further reading on Marxist versions of materialism, see
most Puritan ministers of his time in Massachusetts Bay Col-
Gustav A. Wetter’s Der dialecktische Materialismus (Vienna,
ony, in several notable accomplishments he differed. He
1952), translated by Peter Heath as Dialectical Materialism
published defenses of the “New England Way,” as the
(London, 1958). For a useful historical study of the strains
church polity of the Bay Colony was called; he helped to
within the Soviet development of materialism, see David
write the Cambridge Platform (1648) defining ecclesiastical
Joravsky’s Soviet Marxism and Natural Science, 1917–1932
polity; he contributed to the definition of Puritan baptismal
(London, 1961). In his A Matter of Hope: A Theologian’s Re-
practice in the so-called Halfway Covenant (1662); and he
flections on the Thought of Karl Marx (Notre Dame, Ind.,
served as an overseer of Harvard College.
1982), Nicholas Lash defends the view that “it is the ‘materi-
alist’ rather than the ‘idealist’ forms of Christianity which
Increase Mather, sixth son of Richard, was the outstand-
conform most closely to the demands of obedience to the
ing minister of his generation. Born in Dorchester, he en-
gospel” (p. 148).
tered Harvard College when he was twelve years of age; after
New Sources
graduation he went to Ireland, where he took an M.A. at
Carrier, James. Gifts and Commodities: Exchange and Western Cap-
Trinity College, Dublin. Preaching followed at Torrington
italism since 1700. New York, 1995.
in Devonshire, to the garrison on Guernsey, and in Glouces-
ter. However, his heterodox opinions made life in England
Gillet, Carl, and Barry Loewer, eds. Physicalism and Its Discontents.
dangerous for him after the Restoration, so in 1661 he re-
New York, 2001.
turned to New England. There he was soon asked by the Sec-
Lund, David. Perception, Mind, and Personal Identity: A Critique
ond Church in Boston (Boston North Church) to fill its
of Materialism. Lanham. Md., 1994.
Melnyk, Andrew. A Physicalist Manifesto: Thoroughly Modern Ma-
Increase Mather spent his life expounding the “New En-
terialism. New York, 2003.
gland Way.” He was not an innovator in religion; like his
Miller, Daniel, ed. Unwrapping Christmas. New York, 1993.
father he defended nonseparating Congregationalism. But
Vitzthum, Robert. Materialism: An Affirmative History and Defini-
Increase Mather was a much more imaginative man than his
tion. Amherst, N.Y., 1995.
father and a more passionate one. The Puritan vision of New
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

England as a redemptive society was one of the passions of
his life. He saw his American homeland as the one place on
The standard bibliographies of the works of the Mathers are those
earth where true church polity might be established and the
edited by Thomas J. Holmes: The Minor Mathers: A List of
Protestant Reformation completed. The defense of New En-
Their Works (Cambridge, Mass., 1940), for Richard Mather;
Increase Mather: A Bibliography of His Works, 2 vols. (Cleve-
gland carried him to England a second time shortly after the
land, 1931); and Cotton Mather: A Bibliography of His Works,
Glorious Revolution. He returned with a charter that pro-
3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1940). Useful studies of the
tected much of the colony’s—and its Congregational
Mathers include Kenneth Murlock’s Increase Mather: The
churches’—autonomy. Increase Mather’s other achieve-
Foremost American Puritan (Cambridge, Mass., 1926), my
ments were varied: he acted as president of Harvard College;
own The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals,
he wrote about science, especially astronomy; he advised gov-
1596–1728 (New York, 1971), and Kenneth Silverman’s
ernors; he helped to halt the persecution of those accused in
The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (New York, 1984).
the Salem witchcraft episode; and he preached and published
on New England Christianity.
Cotton Mather was the first of Increase Mather’s nine
children. Although he never left New England, his visible
MATRES. The matres or matrae (“mothers”), Celtic femi-
achievements outnumbered those of his father. After a bril-
nine divinities, are attested throughout the ancient continen-
liant performance at Harvard College (A.B., 1678), Cotton
tal and insular Celtic domain (with the exception of non-
Mather was ordained a minister in his father’s church in
romanized Ireland) by abundant Romano-British and Gallo-
1685; the two served there together until Increase Mather’s
Roman epigraphic and iconographic testimony. The word
death almost forty years later. In 1689, while his father was
is Latin, but it can only be the translation or adaptation of
in England securing a new charter for the colony, Cotton
a Celtic word, as the Gaulish inscription at Nimes consecrat-
Mather played an important role in the expulsion of Sir Ed-
ed to the matrevo namausikavo (“Nimesian mothers”) wit-
mund Andros, governor of Massachusetts and head of the
nesses. On the evidence, the matres as a group are very di-
Dominion of New England. He also supported the witch-
verse, and it would be difficult to propose a single
craft trials in Salem in 1692, although he was uneasy and had
explanation for them. A matre may be conceived in terms of
reservations about the proceedings.
a particular locale, a certain function, or a principle and
Most of Cotton Mather’s life was not spent in public
sphere of sovereignty. Specific instances are frequently multi-
affairs. He was a scholar of great learning and power and an
ple: the Suleviae, solar goddesses who have been unduly
immensely successful preacher. His learning extended to al-
transformed into psychopomps; the Iunones, who are multi-
most all fields of knowledge, although theology was the sub-
ple forms of the Latin goddess Juno; the simple Triviae or
ject he knew most profoundly. Cotton Mather wrote histo-
Quadruviae, who watch over crossroads (but may not be
ries, the greatest being his Magnalia Christi Americana
truly Celtic).
(London, 1702), biographies (many first appearing in ser-
Thus the term matres has come to designate several types
mon form), scientific treatises, practical guides to medicine,
of feminine divinities who are in some instances anything
prophetical works, and guides to conduct for the young, for
but mother goddesses or protectors of fecundity. At first,
sailors, and for almost every other order of society; most of
prior to the identifications and multiplications, there was
his works, however, were sermons. He preached a “practical
certainly a single feminine divinity. Described briefly by
divinity,” filled with exhortation and advice on the Christian
Caesar under the name of Minerva in his account of Gaulish
life. Many of his sermons were intended to convert his listen-
religion, she is at once mother, spouse, sister, and daughter
ers; others provided solace and nourishment to believers.
of the gods.
Much of his work remains in manuscript, including “The
This unique goddess in multiple form may be identi-
Biblia Americana,” his massive commentary on the scrip-
fied, in the context of Irish myth, with a range of feminine
deities. There is Brighid, daughter of Daghdha, but also
Like his father, Cotton Mather was obsessed with the
mother of the gods and protector of leeches, poets, and
history and the future of New England. His great hope was
smiths. There is Boann, who is wife to Elcmhaire but bears
that the second coming of Christ would take place in his life-
a son to Daghdha. Also, and preeminently, there is Édaín,
time and that New England would in reality prove to be the
sovereign and ancestor of a long line of Irish kings. Further,
site of the New Jerusalem. He never surrendered his faith in
there is Morríghan (“the great queen”), goddess of war and
the Congregationalism of his country, but he did come to
wife of Daghdha, she who washes the bloody remains of he-
preach an ecumenism embodied in his conception of a
roes who have died in combat. There is Macha (“plain” or
Christian Union, a worldwide league of believers. Cotton
“level land”), eponym of Emhain Mhacha, capital of Ulster.
Mather earned a reputation in his day as a splendid preacher
There is the gentle Fann (“swallow”), wife of the god Manan-
and scholar, but he was also widely disliked for the excesses
nán, who loves and tempts Cú Chulainn, and there is Tailtiu
of his style and expression. Despite his pride in his family and
(“earth”), foster mother of Lugh. Finally, there are the alle-
his attainments, he died feeling unappreciated and, to some
gorical personifications of Ireland and queens of the Tuatha
extent, unfulfilled.
Dé Danann: Ériu, Banbha, and Fódla.
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

who wrote that “Matthew collected the sayings of the Lord
Guyonvarc’h, Christian-J., and Françoise Le Roux. Textes
in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as
mythologiques irlandais, vol. 1. Rennes, 1980.
he was able” (Church History 3.39.16). Later church authori-
Mac Cana, Proinsias. Celtic Mythology. Rev. ed. Feltham, U.K.,
ties attribute a gospel to Matthew, agreeing that it was writ-
ten in Hebrew. Matthew is frequently said to have preached
among Hebrews. Interestingly, modern gospel criticism con-
tinues to see a pervasive Jewish or Jewish-Christian dimen-
Translated from French by Erica Meltzer
sion in Matthew’s gospel, whether in its tradition or intend-
ed audience. The statement of Papias concerning Matthew’s
collection of Jesus’ sayings has sometimes been taken to refer
to an earlier source (which can be discerned in Matthew and
Luke and is usually called Q by biblical scholars) rather than
the author of the first canonical gospel, which bears his
to the present gospel. This interpretation avoids the difficul-
name. His exact dates are unknown, but the gospel was prob-
ties of attributing the gospel to the apostle directly and helps
ably written in the last quarter of the first century, possibly
to explain why the name of a relatively obscure disciple be-
in Syrian Antioch.
came attached to the most prominent gospel, but it remains
The name Matthew appears in every list of the twelve
at best a plausible conjecture.
disciples of Jesus (Mt. 10:3, Mk. 3:18, Lk. 6:15, Acts 1:13).
Legends about Matthew grew in time. He is said to have
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus calls him from his toll booth
worked among Gentiles in remote lands toward the end of
and his role as a despised tax collector to be a disciple (9:9–
his career. He came to be revered as a martyr (although tradi-
10), and in that gospel’s list of the Twelve he is called Mat-
tion is not unanimous on this point), and he is commemo-
thew the tax collector. Otherwise, Matthew does not appear
rated in the Western church on September 21. However, we
in the gospel narratives or in the rest of the New Testament.
know nothing for certain of his career or fate. Since the sec-
Mark 2:13–14 and Luke 5:27–28 relate the calling of
ond century Matthew has been represented in Christian
a tax collector whose name is Levi, rather than Matthew (in
symbolism as a winged man, said by Irenaeus to represent
Mark 2:14 he is called the son of Alphaeus; cf. “James the
the humanity of Christ.
son of Alphaeus” in all the lists of the Twelve). Otherwise,
the stories are quite similar, and in each case the call is fol-
lowed by Jesus’ eating at table with tax collectors and sinners
Aside from the New Testament the most important primary
and saying that he has come to call not righteous people, but
source is Eusebius’s Church History, which brings together
sinners. (Tax collectors were regarded as egregious sinners,
earlier testimony of Christian writers on the origin and au-
because the government sold the right to collect taxes to pri-
thorship of the Gospels. The most convenient edition is the
vate entrepreneurs, who then realized as large a profit as pos-
two-volume “Loeb Classical Library” text and translation of
Kirsopp Lake, J. E. L. Oulton, and Hugh J. Lawlor (Cam-
sible at the expense of the public.)
bridge, Mass., 1926).
The tradition of Matthean authorship of the first gospel
The most important testimonies of patristic authors are collected
has been questioned by critical scholarship for significant rea-
in The Gospel According to St. Matthew, edited by A. H. Mc-
sons. Matthew the tax collector turned disciple would have
Neile (London, 1915), pp. xxx–xxxii. For a concise state-
been an eyewitness of the events he narrates. Yet the close
ment of the modern, critical view of Matthean authorship,
relationship between the narrative attributed to Matthew
see Werner G. Kümmel’s Introduction to the New Testament,
and that of Mark, which is generally accounted to be earlier,
rev. ed. (Nashville, 1975), pp. 119–121. Raymond E.
suggests that Mark was the principal narrative source. The
Brown, Introduction to the New Testament (New York,
fact that Mark was written in Greek (not Jesus and Mat-
1997), pp. 208–212, also rejects ascription of the Gospel of
thew’s native Aramaic) by someone who was not one of the
Matthew to the disciple of Jesus, although he does not dis-
miss Papias’s attribution of a sayings collection to Matthew.
Twelve makes it unlikely that the apostle Matthew would
The same is true of W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr.,
have relied upon it. Moreover, the gospel attributed to Mat-
The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, vol. 1 (Edinburgh,
thew seems to have been written after the destruction of Jeru-
1985)., p. 17, who think there may be a connection between
salem in the Roman War (70 CE; cf. Mt. 22:7), rather late
the collection and Matthew’s Gospel.
for an apostolic writing. Quite possibly the name Matthew
has been substituted for Levi in the call story of the first gos-
D. MOODY SMITH (1987 AND 2005)
pel, in which he is also singled out as the tax collector in the
apostolic list.
Ancient church tradition, nevertheless, unanimously as-
MA¯TUR¯ID¯I, AL- (d. AH 333/944 CE), more fully Abu¯
cribes the gospel to the apostle Matthew. The fourth-century
Mans:u¯r Muh:ammad ibn Muh:ammad ibn Mah:mu¯d
church historian Eusebius cites Papias (bishop of Hierapolis
al-Samarqand¯ı al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı, was a Muslim theologian, jurist,
in Asia Minor during the first half of the second century)
and QurDa¯n commentator. The name Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ıyah is also
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 eponym of a school of theology that represented an inter-
Al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı, like al-AshEar¯ı, was firmly grounded in the
mediate position between the H:anbal¯ı traditionalists and the
QurDanic revelation, but he also developed a rational episte-
MuEtazilah, advocates of religious rationalism in Islamic the-
mology, giving a high place to human reasoning—a sign of
ology. Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı was born in Ma¯tur¯ıd, near the Central
his strong H:anafism. He was much concerned with proofs
Asian city of Samarkand. Under the Persian Samanid rulers
for the existence of God and with the doctrine of creation,
(874–999), al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı lived in a setting of intense cultural
questions that probably reflect the intellectual climate of
and intellectual activity. He was trained by scholars of the
Samarkand and the terms of his encounter with other cur-
H:anaf¯ı school of Islamic law. Not much is known of his life
rents of religious thought. Al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı accepted the reality
except that he wrote several books on theology, jurispru-
of human freedom, as against the determinism of al-AshEar¯ı,
dence, and heresiology, as well as a commentary on the
but he also opposed the MuEtazil¯ı view of human beings as
QurDa¯n entitled Kita¯b taDwila¯t al-QurDa¯n. He is said to have
creators of their own deeds. He maintained that every act of
led a simple and ascetic life. Some sources attribute to him
humankind is at the same time the result of human capacity
miracles (kara¯ma¯t)—an obvious reference to his devout reli-
and a divine creation. Using somewhat the same language as
gious life. He died in Samarkand. Subsequent generations re-
al-AshEar¯ı and as his opponents, the MuEtazilah, he neverthe-
member him by the honorific title Ima¯m al-Hudá (leader of
less described a balance between divine omnipotence and
the right guidance).
human freedom that was distinctive.
Despite his fame in the Sunn¯ı world today, no source
Even though Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı was opposed to the general
earlier than the fourteenth century mentions a school of the-
thrust of MuEtazilism, he agreed with some views of the
ology carrying Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı’s name. The manuals speak of the
MuEtazilites. Like the MuEtazilites, he believed in the human
Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ıyah together with the AshEar¯ıyah, or followers of
ability and, in fact, obligation to know God and worship him
al-AshEar¯ı (d. 935), as the theological spokesmen of the ahl
through unaided reason even in the absence of a specific pro-
al-sunnah wa-al-jama¯ Eah (people of the prophetic norms and
phetic revelation. While rejecting some interpretations of the
the community), the majority group in the Muslim world,
MuEtazilites, Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı accepted the necessity of interpreting
commonly known as Sunn¯ıs. Al-AshEar¯ı lived in Baghdad
anthropomorphic expressions in the QurDa¯n through meta-
and was a contemporary of al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı, but there is no indi-
phors and symbols rather than understanding them literally.
cation that they were aware of each other’s work. Many simi-
On the question of the attributes of God, he took a position
larities in their theological formulations have been noted.
opposite to the MuEtazilites and considered divine names and
Al-AshEar¯ı is much better known than his H:anaf¯ı counter-
qualities described in the QurDa¯n to be eternally subsisting
part, but recent studies have shown that the latter came
in God’s essence. Like al-AshEar¯ı, he affirmed the negative
nearer to providing a bridge between traditionalism and
formula that God’s names and qualities are neither identical
philosophical theology than did the Baghdad scholar. Sub-
with the divine essence nor distinct from it. He accepted the
stantial differences between the two are few, but they are suf-
possibility of beatific vision (ru Dyat Alla¯h), that is, the idea
ficient to have created some rivalry between their respective
that human beings will be able to see God in the hereafter,
but he rejected the specification “by the eyes,” endorsing in
The Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ıyah school spread in the tenth and elev-
some ways the famous H:anbal¯ı position of “without [asking/
enth centuries mostly due to the earnest efforts of Turks,
knowing] how” (bila¯ kayf). Against al-AshEar¯ı he held that
mainly the Salju¯qids, whose historic conversion to Islam had
faith, as the act that makes a person a member of the Muslim
occurred in the preceding century. This was combined with
community, is immutable, incapable of either decrease or in-
the ardent support of the newly converted Turks for
crease. This tenet was a part of the H:anaf¯ı doctrinal heritage.
H:anafism. The famous cursing of al-AshEar¯ı and his ideas in
Furthermore, he defined faith (al-ima¯n) as “consent by the
the Turkish-controlled Khorasan region on the order of the
heart” (tas:d¯ıq bi al-qalb) and “confession by the tongue”
Salju¯qid ruler Tughrul Beg points to a period of confronta-
(iqra¯r bi al-lisa¯n). Like the H:anaf¯ıs and the MurjiEas before
tion between the Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı and AshEarite schools of kala¯m
him, Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı held that works (a Dma¯l) are not part of the
in the eleventh century. As the Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı school was identi-
doctrinal confession of faith.
fied with H:anafism and AshEarism with the Sha¯fiE¯ı school of
law, this led to some factional tensions and clashes between
the H:anafis and the Sha¯fiE¯ıs in some Salju¯qid-controlled
The most comprehensive work on Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı and his school is
areas. The Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı school gained prominence between the
Shams al-D¯ın Salaf¯ı Afgha¯ni’s al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ıyyah, 3 vols.
eleventh and fourteenth centuries. A number of attempts
(TaDif, Saudi Arabia, 1998), in which the author analyzes
were made to ease the tensions between the two schools dur-
Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı’s thought and its subsequent development. Musta-
fa Ceric provides a systematic analysis of Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı’s thought
ing the Mamlu¯k period. The AshEar¯ı Sha¯fiE¯ı jurist-theologian
in Roots of Synthetic Theology in Islam: A Study of the Theology
Ta¯j al-D¯ın al-Subk¯ı composed a poem in which he tried to
of Abu¯ Mans:u¯r al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı (Kuala Lumpur, 1995).
explain away the theological differences between the two as
Fath:allah Khulayf prepared a critical edition of Kita¯b
mostly terminological and rhetorical. This trend continued
al-tawh:¯ıd (Beirut, 1969), thus making available for the first
in later kala¯m history and reached a point where Ma¯tur¯ıdism
time the printed Arabic text of al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı’s most important
was redefined as a branch of AshEarism.
existing theological work. The editor has provided a 43-page
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

introduction in English, describing in an incomplete and
itants of every island from Hawai‘i to New Zealand and from
somewhat unsystematic way the contents of Kita¯b al-tawh:¯ıd
Mangareva to Tonga and Samoa narrate versions of his ex-
W. Montgomery Watt furnishes a brief introduction to the
ploits in separate myths or unified myth cycles. In the tradi-
H:anaf¯ı theologian in The Formative Period of Islamic
tional culture, islanders recited his spells for success in their
Thought (Edinburgh, 1973), pp. 312–314; reprint, Oxford,
mundane lives; priests converted secular, humorous myths
1998. Michel Allard provides a more detailed summary and
about Ma¯ui to their own serious purposes.
discussion of the contents of Kita¯b al-tawh:¯ıd in Le problème
des attributes divins dans la doctrine d Dal-AsDari et de ses pre-

Ma¯ui is not only the earth-fisher but also the Polynesian
miers grands disciples (Beirut, 1965), pp. 419–427. A section
sun-snarer, sky-raiser, fire-stealer, monster-slayer, seeker of
of Daniel Gimaret’s Théories de l Dacte humain en théologie
immortality, and, in fact, the hero of so many mischievous
musulmaneé (Paris, 1980), pp. 175–190, deals in a perceptive
exploits that Tuamotuans nicknamed him Maui-of-a-
and detailed way with the discussion in Kita¯b al-tawh:¯ıd con-
Thousand-Tricks and Tupuatupua (“super-superman”). To
cerning the relationship between human acts and divine sov-
Hawai‘ians he was a¯ıwa¯ıwa (“wonderful”) because he was
ereignty. Hans Daiber provides a discussion of Kita¯b
marvelously skilled, yet weird, bad, and notorious. His best-
al-tawh:¯ıd in “Zur Erstausgabe von al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı, Kita¯b
known cognomen, Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga (or cognates),
al-Tawh:¯ıd,” Der Islam 52 (1975): 299–313.
originated, the New Zealand Maori claimed, when his moth-
Muh:ammad Ibra¯him Fayyu¯m¯ı’s Ta Dr¯ıkh al-firaq al-isla¯m¯ıyah
er, Taranga, wrapped him—her last born and a miscar-
al-siya¯s¯ı wa-al-d¯ın¯ı (Cairo, 2003) contains an extensive
riage—in a topknot (tikitiki) of hair and cast him with a
chapter on Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı and his school. Another monograph on
prayer into the ocean. Ocean and sky gods rescued and
Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı’s life and thought is Balqa¯sim Gha¯l¯ı’s Abu¯ Mans:u¯r
reared him until, as a boy, he rejoined his family. His tricks
al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı: h:aya¯tuhu wa a¯ra¯ Duhu al-Daqdiyah (Tunis, Tuni-
sia, 1989). Saim Yeprem’s ˙Irade Hürriyeti ve Ima¯m Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı
finally ended when he entered the womb of the sleeping god-
in Turkish (Istanbul, 1984) is a detailed survey of Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı’s
dess Hine-nui-te-po (“great Hine of the underworld”) in
concept of free will and determinism. Kemal I¸sık’s
order to gain immortality. He intended to depart through
Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı Dnin Kelam Sisteminde ˙Iman, Allah ve Peygamberlik
her mouth, but when his bird companion laughed at the
Anlayı¸sı (Ankara, Turkey, 1980), another monograph in
sight, the goddess awoke and crushed Ma¯ui to death.
Turkish, deals with the concepts of faith, God, and prophet-
Ma¯ui was a shape-shifting trickster and, usually unin-
hood in Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı’s system.
tentionally, a culture hero. He was also the quintessential
Even though somewhat outdated, A. K. M. Ayyub Ali’s chapter
demigod, neither wholly god nor wholly man, a misfit, who
on the life, thought, and influence of al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı in A Histo-
continually tested his magic and mana against the cosmo-
ry of Muslim Philosophy, vol. 1, edited by M. M. Sharif,
gonic gods and against his father and elder brothers in his
pp. 259–274 (Weisbaden, Germany, 1963), is based on an
attempts to usurp their privileges, to humiliate them, and to
examination of Kita¯b al-tawh¯ıd, existing only in manuscript
demonstrate his superiority. He was also a bridge in time be-
at the time, and Ta Dw¯ıla¯t al-qurDa¯n, al- Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı’s multivol-
tween the ending of the era of creation and the beginning
ume commentary on the QurDa¯n. The latter, existing in sev-
eral manuscript copies, was described for the first time by
of the era of human migrations.
Manfred Götz in an article, “Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı und sein Kitab
Polynesians believed that by using his incantations and
TaDw¯ıla¯t al-QurDa¯n,” Der Islam 41 (1965): 22–70. The most
referring to his deeds they would sanctify their work and, at
extensive study of the spread of Maturidism is Wilferd Ma-
its conclusion, lift taboos on the workers. New Zealand pro-
delung’s “The Spread of Maturidism and the Turks,” in
vides the clearest examples of this. A priest of bird-catching
Actas do IV Congresso de Estudos Arabes e Islamicos Coimbra-
rituals regarded the sun as a great bird and would chant
Lisboa 1968 (Leiden, 1971), pp. 109–168. See also his two
Ma¯ui’s sun-snaring spell to ensure a good catch. To kindle
entries “al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı” and “Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ıyyah,” in the Encyclope-
dia of Islam,
2d ed., vol. 4, edited by C. E. Bosworth et al.,
sacred new fire he would recite the incantation by which
pp. 846a–847a (CD-ROM edition, Leiden, 2003). Ulrich
Ma¯ui had overpowered the fire deity and learned to make
Rudolph’s Al-Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı und die sunnitische Theologie in Sam-
fire. A priestly expert on the ceremonies accompanying the
arkand (New York, 1996) places Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı and his thought
planting and harvesting of kumara (sweet potato) would
in a historical context. There is also a short commentary on
chant Ma¯ui’s “song of plenty” over a feather-ornamented,
Abu¯ H:an¯ıfa’s Fiqh al-akba¯r attributed to Ma¯tur¯ıd¯ı.
crescent-topped digging stick. The song recalled how Ma¯ui,
in the guise of a pigeon, had perched on his father’s stick after
having sneaked after him to his underworld sweet potato gar-
den. Using Ma¯ui’s charm, fishermen would weaken a large
fish’s reluctance to leave the ocean, and hostile invaders
would recite it to unnerve people and force them to leave
MA¯UI is the most versatile, popular, and widely known su-
their homes. High priests who had been influenced by West-
pernatural hero in South Pacific mythology. Islanders as far
ern religion rejected the common version of the earth-fishing
west as the Micronesian island of Yap narrate how Ma¯ui,
story and divulged its esoteric, “real” meaning. The high god
with his enchanted fishhook, pulled up a big “fish”: an island
Io, they explained, gave Ma¯ui, his brothers, and their descen-
complete with people, villages, and gardens of new food
dants—the Maori—possession of the earth (i.e., New Zea-
plants. Ma¯ui is, however, primarily a Polynesian hero; inhab-
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Wherever Ma¯ui was known he was claimed as an ances-
with chapters on other heroes and on Polynesian narrative
tor. In the Hawai‘ian Islands the claim received royal recog-
art, puts him in a broad setting.
nition in the genealogical prayer chant, the Kumulipo
(“source in deepest darkness”), which belonged to the family
of King Kalakaua (1836–1891) and his sister Queen
Lili’uokalani (1838–1917), and which described the family’s
descent from the time of primary gods to that of deified
chiefs. Eighteen lines of the fifteenth of the sixteen chants
1872), Anglican theologian, founder of Christian Socialism.
comprising the Kumulipo cryptically list the principal events
John Frederick Denison Maurice was born near Lowestoft,
in Ma¯ui’s life. The sixteenth chant opens with the names of
Suffolk, England, the only son of a Unitarian minister, Mi-
Ma¯ui and his wife and ends with that of Lono-i-ka-makahiki.
chael Maurice, and Priscilla Hurry Maurice. Childhood
High chiefs once intoned this two-thousand-line prayer to
memories of bitter family religious dissension (his mother
consecrate an infant sacred chief; they gave him the revered
and three older sisters abandoned Unitarianism for a form
name of Lono-i-ka-makahiki and activated his mana by nam-
of Calvinism) left the young Frederick with a thirst for unity
ing his ancestors (who included spiritualized natural phe-
that was to motivate him all his life.
nomena, cosmogonic gods, demigods like Ma¯ui, and deified
chiefs). In 1778, high chiefs chanted the Kumulipo over Cap-
At Cambridge from 1823 to 1826, Maurice was influ-
tain James Cook, welcoming him as a returned god whose
enced by Coleridge. During his intense conversion experi-
name, like the sacred child’s, was Lono-i-ka-makahiki.
ence beginning in 1828, Maurice was deeply affected by the
Scottish theologians Edward Irving (1792–1834) and
Priests exploited Ma¯ui for several reasons. To Society Is-
Thomas Erskine (1788–1870). He decided to read for holy
lands priests, Ma¯ui was a submissive helper who raised the
orders as an undergraduate, this time at Oxford, and was re-
low-lying sky and regulated the time of the sun’s journey to
baptized and ordained in the Church of England in 1834.
enable his eldest brother, a priest, to build temples. In Raro-
tonga in the Cook Islands, high priests interpreted Ma¯ui as
At the core of this experience was Maurice’s desire to
a giant who, the first time he stood up, pushed up the sky
know God directly as an actual, living person, in contrast to
with his head; later Ma¯ui became the weary avenger of insults
the abstract God of the Unitarians. This was not merely a
made by other gods against Tangaroa, his foster father.
romantic reaction to Western rationalism, but the discovery
References to worship of Ma¯ui are obscure, rare, and
of a biblical, Christocentric, Pauline worldview, the great
based on unsupported hearsay. Tongans, it is said, formerly
paradox of Christian faith, in which the holy and invisible
had a shrine and priest of Ma¯ui. One Hawai‘ian priest de-
God was at the same time in the person of a man. For Mau-
clared that Hawai‘i had long ago had a Ma¯ui cult and priests;
rice, the fundamental, unchanging relationship at the heart
another informant stated that Kamehameha I had built a
of reality was that between God as revealer and man, the
temple to honor Ma¯ui. Most Polynesians usually respected
creature formed to know God. Man as the receiving image
Ma¯ui as an ancestor, despite his tricks, and they appreciated
possesses no nature or life of his own. Man’s sin is his asser-
the benefits derived from his craftiness. But rather than to
tion of independence, his striving hard not to be a receiver.
worship him, it seems that they preferred simply to enjoy the
Christ, the perfect image of the Father, is the image after
stories of how he humiliated many senior gods and earthly
which man was created. Christ is in every man, but the con-
demnation of every man is that he will not believe or act as
if this were true. Maurice found the objective structure of
this subjective faith in the articles, creeds, and liturgy of the
Lessa, William A. Tales from Ulithi Atoll: A Comparative Study in
English church. These formed a permanent witness to the
Oceanic Folklore. Berkeley, 1961. Included are previously un-
fact that God had established a spiritual and universal king-
recorded versions of the earth-fishing myth, a description of
dom on earth.
its distribution in the Pacific, and a detailed comparative
Maurice applied this worldview consistently to what he
analysis of the versions.
perceived as the basic need of his time: the rediscovery of rev-
Luomala, Katharine. Oceanic, American Indian, and African Myths
elation as the ground of faith. A divine-human struggle has
of Snaring the Sun. Honolulu, 1940. A detailed study of the
distribution and versions of sun-snaring myths in three parts
marked all human history through man’s distortion or denial
of the world.
of God’s revelation. Instead of receiving and living within the
given, divine order or constitution of the universe, man has
Luomala, Katharine. Ma¯ui-of-a-Thousand-Tricks: His Oceanic and
European Biographers. Honolulu, 1949. The most compre-
been busily creating theories, systems, and opinions of his
hensive general survey to date on Ma¯ui in Oceanic culture,
own as substitutes. These have resulted in the fragmentations
the major myth cycles that interpret his character and ex-
of religious and political sects, parties, and factions and in
ploits, and the many theories of European scholars about
philosophical attempts to bring heaven and earth within the
terms of the intellect, Hegel being the latest offender. Mau-
Luomala, Katharine. Voices on the Wind: Polynesian Myths and
rice’s method was the reverse: to be a digger, uncovering the
Chants. Honolulu, 1955. Includes a chapter on Ma¯ui and,
original purpose and intent of all institutions, in order to
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

show they were meant to be signs to the world of something
Despite such controversies, increasing recognition and
invisible and permanent, the lineaments of an actual, existing
acceptance came to Maurice in his lifetime and he is viewed
kingdom of Christ.
today as one of the most original thinkers of the Church of
In his writings, Maurice deliberately took the offensive,
England. His permanent influence remains that of a prophet
impelled by an urgent sense that a serious crisis of faith was
whose writings formed a sustained, passionate critique of the
growing among the young and that what passed for religion
religious world of his time, comparable in depth to that of
was a perversion of the Judeo-Christian faith that could not
So⁄ren Kierkegaard in the nineteenth century and of Karl
win their allegiance. His experience with young men was
Barth in the twentieth.
considerable: with medical students as chaplain of Guy’s
Hospital, London (1836–1845); as professor of English liter-
ature and history and then of theology (1840–1853) at
Works by Frederick Denison Maurice
King’s College, London; with law students as chaplain of
The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice Chiefly Told in His Own Let-
Lincoln’s Inn, London (1846–1860). His luminous personal
ters, edited by his son, Frederick Maurice (London, 1884),
qualities and passionate devotion to truth attracted a growing
is a major source for understanding Maurice’s thought. For
circle of young men who were deeply influenced by him.
a selection of the letters, see Toward the Recovery of Unity, ed-
These close contacts increased his concern about their ques-
ited by John F. Porter and William J. Wolf (New York,
tionings and doubts. They were being dosed with religion
1964). Characteristic themes appear in his early work The
about God rather than with the living God himself: “Reli-
Kingdom of Christ, or, Hints on the Principles, Ordinances, and
gion against God: this is the heresy of our age.”
Constitution of the Catholic Church in Letters to a Member of
the Society of Friends
(1838; revised, London, 1842). A new
The revolutions of 1848 and the potentially explosive
edition by Alec Vidler, based on the 1842 edition, has been
social situation in England found Maurice as spiritual leader
published in two volumes (London, 1958). The post-
of the short-lived but significant Christian Socialist move-
Reformation religious bodies—Protestant, Roman Catholic,
ment (1848–1854), together with John Malcolm Ludlow
and Anglican—have turned their true principles into sepa-
(1821–1911) and Charles Kingsley (1819–1875). Con-
rate systems and theories, thereby losing sight of that church
vinced that cooperation, not competition, was the true foun-
universal that existed before these systems and whose signs
dation of a Christian society, their practical focus became
are indicated in the book’s title. A variation of this theme is
that of cooperative associations for tailors and other trades.
applied to the history of philosophy in Moral and Metaphysi-
cal Philosophy: Philosophy of the First Six Centuries
, 2 vols., 2d
For Maurice the kingdom of Christ was the actual constitu-
ed., rev. (1854; reprint, London, 1872), begun in 1835,
tion of the universe, the “great practical existing reality which
which contrasts man’s independent search for wisdom with
is to renew the earth.” Society was not to be made anew but
that Wisdom that first sought him. A lengthy controversy
regenerated through uncovering its true functions and pur-
over Henry L. Mansel’s Bampton Lectures of 1858 resulted
pose, a view opposed to Ludlow’s aim for reorganizing soci-
in an important statement of the actual revelation of God to
ety on a socialist base. Maurice’s interest in the education of
man presented in two works: What Is Revelation? A Series of
the young was extended through his experience with work-
Sermons on the Epiphany (Cambridge, 1859) and A Sequel to
ers, resulting in the founding in London of the Working
the Inquiry, What Is Revelation? (Cambridge, 1860). Some of
Men’s College (1854) to express his conviction that the true
the flavor of Maurice’s views on Christian Socialism may be
ground of human culture was not utilitarian but theological,
gleaned from Politics for the People, weekly papers from May
through August 1848 (London), and Tracts on Christian So-
the original purpose for which the ancient universities had
cialism (London, 1850).
been founded. His concern to set high standards for the edu-
cation of governesses led to the founding of Queen’s College,
Works on Frederick Denison Maurice
London, early in 1848.
Among the works by the many distinguished twentieth-century
Anglicans interested in Maurice, Alec Vidler’s pioneering
Negative reactions to Maurice’s theological and social
study Witness to the Light: F. D. Maurice’s Message for Today
views and to his growing influence reached a climax with the
(New York, 1948), his later F. D. Maurice and Company
publication of his Theological Essays in 1853. These essays
(London, 1966), and Arthur M. Ramsey’s F. D. Maurice and
were written with the doubts and questions of the young in
the Conflicts of Modern Theology (Cambridge, 1951) are out-
mind, as an alternative to the prevailing evangelical ortho-
standing. Frank M. McClain’s Maurice: Man and Moralist
doxy, which presented only theories and systems about God,
(London, 1972) is a perceptive account of how Maurice’s
Judgment Day, the verbal inspiration of the Bible, and ever-
personal relationships shaped his outlook on those givens of
lasting punishment. This last Maurice viewed as a cosmic
the Kingdom: the self, the family, the nation, and the church
struggle between two eternal opposites: eternal life, which
as universal society. My own Frederick Denison Maurice: Re-
bellious Conformist
(Athens, Ohio, 1971) is a historical study
God presents to man, and eternal death, which man chooses
emphasizing the centrality of Maurice’s conversion from
for himself. But Christ’s gospel reveals an abyss of love below
Unitarianism to Anglicanism and assessing his stature as a
that of death. This view was interpreted by the religious press
major Victorian figure. The Danish scholar Torben Chris-
as a denial of everlasting punishment and led finally to Mau-
tensen’s The Divine Order: A Study of F. D. Maurice’s Theolo-
rice’s expulsion from King’s College in 1853 for unsettling
gy (Leiden, 1973) is a detailed analysis of Maurice’s thought
the minds of the young.
as a fusion of the message of the Bible and the Platonic idea
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 reality, in which Christianity is adjusted to Platonism. See
tween the individual and society, one of the problems faced
also his excellent critical work Origin and History of Christian
by sociology since its inception being its specific nature and
Socialism, 1848–1854 (Aarhus, 1962).
its relation to other disciplines, particularly psychology. This
debate not only pitted Durkheim against his opponents,
LIVE J. BROSE (1987)
such as Gabriel Tarde, it also divided his colleagues, as can
be seen from the initial volumes of L’Année sociologique.
Célestin Bouglé, who, like his friend Paul Lapie, was unde-
MAUSS, MARCEL (1872–1950), the father of French
cided regarding the theoretical framework proposed by
ethnography, has had a profound influence on human and
Durkheim, recognized the role of the individual and sought
social sciences and has left behind an incredibly rich intellec-
to go beyond the conflict between the individual and society,
tual legacy. He is automatically linked with his uncle and
talking of interaction, association between individuals, com-
teacher, Émile Durkheim (1858–1917). Some would say
munication of conscious awareness.
that he was “in the shadow of Durkheim” when describing
In the work of Mauss was the intention to soften the
his scholarly output, produced in direct cooperation with
dogmatic tone of Durkheim. In an essay titled “Sociologie”
[Sociology] which he co-authored with Paul Fauconnet in
Born to a family of merchants and rabbis at Épinal in
1901 for La Grande Encyclopédie, he stressed the psychologi-
1872, Mauss studied philosophy at Bordeaux under
cal aspect of social life, beliefs and communal feelings. “The
Durkheim. After gaining his agrégation (teaching exam) in
very core of social life is a collection of representations,” he
philosophy in 1895, he gave up the standard career path of
wrote. “In this sense then, it could be said that sociology is
secondary teaching, turning his attention instead to sociolo-
a kind of psychology . . .” (Mauss, 1901). He clearly means
gy of religion. During his studies at the École Pratique des
a psychology different from that of the individual. Together
Hautes Études and a trip to Holland and England, he also
with Henri Hubert, in 1904 Mauss published in L’Année so-
gained a solid grounding in philology, the history of reli-
ciologique the important “Esquisse d’une théorie générale de
gions, and ethnology. From his university days Mauss was
la magie” [Outline of a general theory of magic], demonstrat-
also politically active, supporting Dreyfus and the socialists.
ing that here the laws of collective psychology transgress the
He worked with the Mouvement socialiste and he took part
laws of individual psychology. “It is belief that creates the
in founding the new Société de librairie et d’édition with Lu-
magician,” they wrote, “and the effects he unleashes”
cien Herr and Charles Andler. Once he became a professor,
(Mauss, 1904). The use of the concept of mana, as the source
Mauss was involved in the cooperative movement and the
idea of magic, stirred up a long-lasting controversy.
Socialist Party and published numerous articles in
After the First World War, a tragedy which resulted in
L’Humanité, of which he had been one of the founders.
the death of Durkheim, his son André and several contribu-
Marcel Mauss produced his first major work together
tors to L’Année sociologique, and during which Mauss had
with his friend and colleague Henri Hubert (1872–1927),
volunteered and served as an interpreter, the latter undertook
titled “Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice” (1899)
the difficult task of replacing his uncle and he attempted to
[Essay on the nature and function of sacrifice]. The essay ap-
relaunch L’Année sociologique, but only two volumes ap-
peared in L’Année sociologique, which Durkheim had just
peared, in 1925 and 1927. He also kept up intense political
founded in 1898. In charge of the section on religious sociol-
activity, undertaking the editing of an important work on the
ogy, Mauss was one of its leading contributors. At the École
State and, after publishing his “Observations sur la violence”
Pratique des Hautes Études, where he succeeded Léon Maril-
[Observations on violence] in Vie socialiste, he planned a
lier in 1901, Mauss was responsible for teaching the history
book on Bolshevism. Then, encouraged by the current exoti-
of the religion of primitive peoples. Frequently comparative
cism, which was attracting a new public to ethnology, Mauss
and backed up with detailed evidence, the research un-
worked together with Lucien Lévi-Bruhl and Paul Rivet, and
dertaken by Mauss was set out as part of a program that had
in 1925 he set up the Institut d’ethnologie de l’université de
as its subject the ritual expressions of religious life and as its
Paris. The Institute attracted many students and research-
purpose the development of a theory of the sacred. His work
ers—Jeanne Cuisinier, Alfred Métraux, Marcel Griaule
quickly went beyond the boundaries of the sociology of reli-
(1898–1956), Georges Dumézil (1898–1986), Denise Paul-
gion to deal with the theory of knowledge, as can be seen
me, Michel Leiris, Germaine Dieterlen, Louis Dumont,
from the essay written with Durkheim, titled “Quelques for-
André-Georges Haudricourt, Jacques Soustelle, Germaine
mes primitives de classification” (1903) [Some primitive
Tillion, and others—who led many field studies, particularly
forms of classification]. Concerning sociology, the support-
in Africa, and organized the first important ethnological ex-
ers of Durkheim were quick to point out that it was a collec-
tive psychology with the purpose of studying collective repre-
A man of tremendous intellectual curiosity and excep-
tional erudition, Mauss undertook research in a large num-
The main debate in Durkheim’s first books at the end
ber of areas: from magic, to body technique via the idea of
of the nineteenth century revolved around the conflict be-
the individual, he rectified the anti-psychological attitude of
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

his uncle. Mauss set new “Rapports réels et pratiques de psy-
chologie et de la sociologie” [Real and practical relationships
Primary Writings
of psychology and sociology], in an article which he pub-
Mauss, Marcel. “Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice”
lished in 1924 in Journal de psychologie. The following year,
(“Essay on the nature and function of sacrifice”). L’Année so-
he published in the new series of L’Année sociologique, his
ciologique (1899).
“Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les socié-
Mauss, Marcel, and Paul Fauconnet. “Sociologie”(“Sociology”).
tés archaïques” [Essay on the gift. The form and reason of
In La Grande Encyclopédie. 1901.
exchange in archaic societies].
Mauss, Marcel. “Esquisse d’une théorie générale de la magie”
(“Outline of a general theory of magic”). L’Année sociologique
Durkheim’s nephew had never before been so interested
in concerning himself with work undertaken by psycholo-
Mauss, Marcel. “Observations sur la violence” (“Observations on
gists, and he took part in the projects of the Société de psy-
violence”). Vie socialiste.
chologie, becoming its president in 1923. His friends includ-
Mauss, Marcel. “Rapports réels et pratiques de psychologie et de
ed Charles Blondel, Georges Dumas and above all Ignace
la sociologie” (“Real and practical relationships of psychology
Meyerson, the managing editor of the Journal de psychologie
and sociology”). Journal de psychologie (1924).
normale et pathologique. “Sociology, psychology, physiology,
Mauss, Marcel. “Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange
everything should be combined,” wrote Mauss. The inten-
dans les sociétés archaïques” (“Essay on the gift. The form
tion is thus to take as a subject “the entire, actual human
and reason of exchange in archaic societies”). L’Année so-
being” and to analyze “the phenomena as a whole.” In 1936
then, again in the Journal de psychologie, he published a study
Mauss, Marcel. “Les techniques du corps” (“Body techniques”).
Journal de psychologie (1935).
on the “Effet physique chez l’individu de l’idée de mort sug-
gérée par la collectivité” [“Physical effect upon the individual
Mauss, Marcel. “Une catégorie de l’esprit humain: la notion de
personne, celle de « moi », un plan de travail” (“A category
of the collectively suggested idea of death”]. Mental confu-
of the human spirit: the idea of the person, the idea of ‘self’
sion, inhibitions, delusions, and hallucinations were all phe-
a plan”). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1935).
nomena in which Mauss had a keen interest, but which, con-
Mauss, Marcel. “Effet physique chez l’individu de l’idée de mort
trary to the opinions of psychologists, he did not perceive as
suggérée par la collectivité” (“Physical effect upon the indi-
pathological symptoms.
vidual of the collectively suggested idea of death”). Journal
de psychologie
Marcel Mauss was elected to the Collège de France in
Mauss, Marcel. “Les techniques et la technologie” (“Techniques
1930 and he became head of sociology. The texts he pub-
and technology”), paper delivered to the Journée de psy-
lished at this period include “Les techniques du corps” [Body
chologie et d’histoire du travail et des techniques, 1941.
techniques] which appeared in 1935 in the Journal de psy-
Mauss, Marcel. Sociologie et anthropologie. Edited by Claude Lévi-
chologie, and “Une catégorie de l’esprit humain: la notion de
Strauss.Paris, 1950.
personne, celle de « moi », un plan de travail” [A category
Mauss, Marcel. Œuvres. Three volumes. Edited by Victor Karady.
of the human spirit: the idea of the person, the idea of ‘self’
Paris, 1969.
a plan], in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.
Mauss, Marcel. Écrits politiques. Edited by Marcel Fournier. Paris,
His last academic presentation was in 1941 and consisted of
the paper, “Les techniques et la technologie” [Techniques
Secondary Writings
and technology], delivered to the Journée de psychologie et
Allen, N. J. Categories and Classifications: Maussian Reflections on
d’histoire du travail et des techniques organized in Toulouse
the Social. New York, 2000.
in 1941 by Ignace Meyerson. Marcel Mauss died on Febru-
Cazeneuve, Jean. Sociologie de Marcel Mauss. Paris, 1968.
ary 11, 1950, aged sixty-seven.
Fimiani, Mariapaola. Marcel Mauss e il pensiero dell’origine. Na-
ples, 1984.
Mauss’s writings were first collected by Claude Lévi-
Karsenti, Bruno. L’Homme total: sociologie, anthropologie et philoso-
Strauss in 1950 in Sociologie et anthropologie, then in 1969,
phie chez Marcel Mauss. Paris, 1997.
by Victor Karady in three volumes, Œuvres. As for his exten-
Kirchmayr, Raoul. Il circolo interrotto: figure del dono in Mauss,
sive Écrits politiques—Mauss was a very active militant social-
Sartre e Lacan. Trieste, Italy, 2002.
ist—they were only collected by Marcel Fournier in 1997.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss.
The political work of Mauss consists of a large number of
Translated by Felicity Baker. London, 1987.
reflections and invaluable “reflections” where he combines
and expresses, as he recognizes himself, the fervor of the
scholar and the politician. He had no doubt at the end of
his “Essai sur le don” [Essay on the gift] concerning the
worth of ancient moral values, such as charity, and he put
MA¯WARD¯I, AL- (AH 364–450/974–1058 CE), more
forward a morality based upon solidarity and reciprocity.
fully Abu¯ al-H:asan EAl¯ı ibn Muh:ammad ibn H:ab¯ıb; Muslim
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

jurist and political theorist. Al-Ma¯ward¯ı was born in Basra
land policy. Scholars are divided as to whether the book, ei-
but spent most of his life in Baghdad. He studied Islamic law
ther as a whole or in parts, reflects actual political conditions
in both cities with eminent legists of the Sha¯fiE¯ı school of ju-
prevailing in al-Ma¯ward¯ı’s time or constitutes a program for
risprudence. Because of his reputation as a scholar, he was
establishing an ideal state or for reasserting the power of the
appointed judge in several towns, including Ustuwa¯ in Iran
caliphate in the face of threats posed by secular, military rul-
and Baghdad in Iraq. In Baghdad the caliph al-Qa¯dir (991–
ers. The prevailing view is that al-Ma¯ward¯ı was a supporter
1031) chose him to write a resumé of Sha¯fiE¯ı jurisprudence;
of al-Qa¯Dim and al-Qa¯dir in their struggle against the Buyids
al-Qa¯dir’s successor, al-Qa¯Dim (1031–1074), used al-Ma¯-
and the Seljuks. His support, never explicitly expressed as
ward¯ı for diplomatic missions to the Buyid and Seljuk rulers
such, came in the form of arguments derived from the
of Iran.
QurDa¯n, tradition (h:ad¯ıth), and jurisprudence (fiqh) for the
necessity of maintaining the caliph as executor of Islamic law
Although al-Ma¯ward¯ı is remembered primarily as the
and for the duty of the Muslim community to obey him. Ad-
author of Kita¯b al-ah:ka¯m al-sult:a¯n¯ıyah (Book of governmen-
mittedly, this dual principle seems remote from the realities
tal ordinances), he wrote other books on jurisprudence and
of al-Ma¯ward¯ı’s day, when generals exercised political power
government, as well as treatises on such varied topics as
in Islamic states. But al-Ma¯ward¯ı tried to come to terms with
QurDanic exegesis, the prophethood of Muhammad, the con-
this reality and to accommodate it within the scope of Islam-
duct of judges, proverbs and traditions, and Islamic ethics.
ic law in his chapter on the emirate by usurpation. There he
The report that he did not permit circulation of his books
argued that rule by emirs based on force was to be sanctioned
until after his death is regarded as apocryphal. While his
as long as they acknowledged the authority of the caliphs and
book on ethics, entitled Kita¯b adab al-dunya¯ wa-al-d¯ın
implemented Islamic law. In effect, such an admission con-
(Book of manners in worldly and religious affairs), is still
stituted a first step toward concession to political expediency,
read by Muslims, it is seldom taken into account in discus-
which was characteristic of the subsequent development of
sions of al-Ma¯ward¯ı’s importance in the development of Is-
medieval Islamic political thought. Be that as it may,
lamic thought; surprisingly enough, the same holds true even
al-Ma¯ward¯ı’s formulation of the character of the Islamic
for his works closely related in subject matter to Al-ah:ka¯m.
state has been regarded as authoritative by many Muslim
Accordingly, in the absence of any comprehensive study of
thinkers and Western scholars alike.
al-Ma¯ward¯ı’s complete works, estimates of his significance
must be regarded as tentative despite the fact that the place
assigned him in political thought by Western scholars is
The fullest published study of al-Ma¯ward¯ı is the long article by
firmly fixed and widely accepted.
Henri Laoust, “La penseé et l’action politiques
d’al-Ma¯ward¯ı,” Revue des études islamiques 36 (1968): 11–92.
The date of composition of Al-ah:ka¯m is not known, nor
I discuss problems that Laoust does not treat in my article
is the nature of the relationship of this book to a similar, in
“A New Look at al-ah:ka¯m al-Sult:a¯niyya,” Muslim World 64
many respects identical, book of the same title written by
(January 1974): 1–15. Al-ah:ka¯m al-sult:a¯n¯ıyah has been
al-Ma¯ward¯ı’s contemporary, the H:anbal¯ı jurist Abu¯ YaEla¯
translated into French by Edmond Fagnan as Les statuts gou-
ibn al-Farra¯D. However, scholars assume, without documen-
vernementaux (Algiers, 1915).
tation, that since al-Ma¯ward¯ı’s Al-ah:ka¯m seems to be a ma-
ture work, it must have been written toward the end of his
life; since, moreover, al-Ma¯ward¯ı was sixteen years older
than Ibn al-Farra¯D, it is believed that the latter must have bor-
rowed, without acknowledgment, from the former. Clearly
these are problems that need to be solved before
1979), popularly known as Mawla¯na¯ Mawdu¯d¯ı; Indian
al-Ma¯ward¯ı’s originality and development as a thinker can
(later Pakistani), writer, religious thinker, political figure,
be understood. In the meantime, an indication of the con-
and founder and leader of an Islamic revivalist movement.
tent of Al-ah:ka¯m and its possible connection with the au-
Mawdu¯d¯ı was born into a religious family in Aurangabad,
thor’s milieu must suffice.
British India. With the exception of a short period in a Hy-
derabad madrasah, his education was gained at home or
According to al-Ma¯ward¯ı he wrote Al-ah:ka¯m at the be-
through his own efforts. His earliest occupation was journal-
hest of a ruler, perhaps a caliph, as a convenient compendi-
ism, and in 1920 he became editor of the highly influential
um of ordinances relating to government, culled from manu-
newspaper of the JamEiyat-i EUlama¯D (the organization of In-
als of jurisprudence. This work, and Abu¯ YaEla¯’s, are rightly
dian EulamaD), where he remained for seven years. As one of
regarded as the first books of jurisprudence to be devoted ex-
the Indian Muslim leaders outraged by Gandhi’s abandon-
clusively to the principles and practice of Islamic govern-
ment of the Swara¯j movement for independence, he began
ment. The parts of Al-ah:ka¯m that have attracted most atten-
to argue that Muslim interests could not be reconciled with
tion discuss the three highest offices of the medieval Islamic
those of Hindus. Although Mawdu¯d¯ı had participated in the
state: the caliphate, the vizierate, and the emirate by usurpa-
religio-political Khila¯fat movement, he and his brother criti-
tion, even though at least two-thirds of the work is devoted
cized the Khila¯fat leaders for the fiasco of the hijrah
to lesser administrative and judicial offices, taxation, and
(“emigration”) movement from India to Afghanistan.
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In the mid-1920s, in response to Hindu attacks on
Islam resulting from the murder of a Hindu leader by a Mus-
A sympathetic discussion of the import of Mawdu¯d¯ı’s perspective
lim fanatic, Mawdu¯d¯ı wrote a series of articles in defense of
for many aspects of life is Islamic Perspectives: Studies in
Islamic beliefs, subsequently published as Al-jiha¯d f¯ıi
Honor of Mawlana Sayyid Abul A Ela¯ Mawdudi, edited by
al-Isla¯m (Religious War in Islam). He later said that this vol-
Khurshid Ahmad and Zafar Ishaq Ansari (Leicester, 1979).
Kalim Bahadur’s The Jama¯ Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı of Pakistan (New
ume, his first serious work on Islam, represented his true in-
Delhi, 1980) is informative as to the history of that organiza-
tellectual and spiritual conversion to the religion.
tion. Leonard Binder’s Religion and Politics in Pakistan
(Berkeley, 1963) gives the Pakistani background. Charles J.
Mawdu¯d¯ı left journalism in 1927 for literary and histor-
Adams’s “The Ideology of Mawlana Mawdudi,” in South
ical pursuits. In the following years he wrote a history of the
Asian Politics and Religion, edited by Donald Smith (Prince-
Seljuks and an unfinished history of the Asafi dynasty of Hy-
ton, 1966), pp. 371–397, is a balanced account; see also his
derabad. From 1932 he was associated with a Hyderabad re-
“Mawdudi and the Islamic State,” in Voices of Resurgent
ligious journal, Tarjuma¯n al-Qur Da¯n, which he edited from
Islam, edited by John Esposito (New York, 1983),
1933 until his death; this publication has been the principal
pp. 99–133.
instrument for the propagation of his views. Criticizing the
westernized class of Indian Muslims, Mawdu¯d¯ı began to call
for the mobilization of Muslims in the cause of Islam. In the
political debates of the late 1930s he rejected both the Indian
nationalism of the Congress and the Muslim nationalism of
MAWLID is an Arabic word that literally means the time
the Muslim League, calling instead for an Islamic order in
and place of a birth, but the word is used in particular for
India. His views from the period are collected in three vol-
the birth of the prophet Muh:ammad (mawlid al-nab¯ı). In
umes called Musalma¯n awr mawju¯dah siya¯s¯ı kashmakash
some Islamic countries it also refers to the festival days of
(The Muslim and the Present Political Struggle).
local saints (wal¯ıs). The actual birth date of the prophet
Muh:ammad is unknown, but the anniversary of his birth is
In 1941 Mawdu¯d¯ı founded the Jama¯Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı, an or-
celebrated on 12 Rab¯ıEah al-Awwal of the Islamic lunar cal-
ganization for the promotion of Islamic principles, and was
endar, a day prior to the anniversary of his death (in 632 CE).
elected its chief, or am¯ır, which he remained until 1972.
Muh:ammad is portrayed in the QurDa¯n as a messenger
From 1941 until the partition of Indian he devoted his time
of God who was an ordinary mortal in other respects. Only
to building the organization and to writing. In 1947, despite
in later centuries did many Muslims begin to assert a higher
his unhappiness with the Muslim League, Mawdu¯d¯ı moved
sanctity for his person. The first recorded celebrations of his
to Pakistan, where he and his group became the leading
birth occurred during the latter part of Fatimid rule in Egypt
spokesmen for an Islamic state. The Jama¯Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı sought
(909–1171). As Sh¯ıE¯ı Muslims who held descendants of the
political power, and its activities attracted the disapproval of
Prophet in particularly high esteem, the Fatimid elite similar-
government. Mawdu¯d¯ı and his principal followers were im-
ly observed the mawlids of Muh:ammad’s son-in-law EAl¯ı, his
prisoned on several occasions; he himself was condemned to
daughter Fa¯t:imah, and the reigning caliph. Palace dignitaries
death by a military court after the anti-Ah:mad¯ıyah distur-
and religious notables held daylight processions and deliv-
bances of 1953, but the sentence was never carried out. His
ered sermons, a practice briefly prohibited but later revived.
ideas and activities brought criticism from both modernist
The Sunn¯ı majority in Egypt took no part in these cere-
and conservative Muslims as well as from secularists.
Mawdu¯d¯ı’s teachings are set out in a large number of
The first popular mawlid occurred in 1207. Muz:affar
writings that include a six-volume commentary on the
al-D¯ın Kökbürü, brother-in-law of the famed S:ala¯h: al-D¯ın
QurDa¯n, Tafh¯ım al-QurDa¯n. These writings have been trans-
(Saladin), arranged for a festival in Arbala¯D, a town near
lated into numerous languages, and he is at present one of
Mosul in present-day northern Iraq. As described by the his-
the most widely read authors in the Islamic world. He be-
torian Ibn Khallika¯n (d. 1282), a native of the town, the
lieved Islam to be an ideology that offers complete guidance
mawlid became an elaborate annual event, attracting schol-
for human life, laid down by God in his holy book, the
ars, notables, preachers, and poets from throughout the re-
QurDa¯n, and through his prophet, Muh:ammad. The task of
gion. The deeds and person of Muh:ammad were celebrated
Muslims is to follow the eternal divine law by building an
in religious poetry and songs and culminated on the eve of
Islamic state, by creating an Islamic society as well as an indi-
the mawlid in a torchlight procession led by the prince. Fol-
vidual Islamic life. The paramount feature of his teaching is
lowers of S:u¯f¯ı orders were also prominent in the celebrations,
the demand for an Islamic state, which he intended to be re-
and gifts were lavishly distributed to participants.
alized in the form of the Jama¯Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı. His vision of soci-
Some aspects of early mawlids appear to have been influ-
ety was rigorous, puritanical, authoritarian, antisecular, and
enced by Middle Eastern Christian traditions of the period,
antidemocratic but was based upon a deeply held conviction
such as lavish entertainments and nighttime processions in
that people must live according to the law of God.
honor of saints. Even as mawlids also developed for saints
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 other holy persons, especially in Egypt, the Prophet’s
munity mosques. On the final night, recitations continue
mawlid continued to be the most elaborate. Mawlids quickly
until daybreak. Some families offer a feast and distribute
became highly popular occasions associated with mysticism,
food to the poor; women decorate their hands and feet with
during which S:u¯f¯ı orders congregated in public, reciting
henna and visit cemeteries. In Java, a feast is offered for the
rhythmical chants in praise of God and in some cases enter-
mawlid, which is one of the two most important calendrical
ing into trance. From Egypt, mawlids spread to many other
ceremonies in a region given over to elaborate festival cycles.
parts of the Islamic world.
A popular Javanese belief is that the giving of feasts for the
The popularity of mawlids met initial resistance from
Prophet’s birthday and the end of Ramad:a¯n distinguishes
some theologians. Ibn Taym¯ıyah (d. 1328) and others con-
Muslims from non-Muslims and humans from animals; this
demned the Prophet’s mawlid as a harmful innovation
view of the importance of the occasion is not necessarily
(bid Eah). After considerable discussion, most theologians, ex-
shared by those Javanese who have a more elaborate under-
cept those precursors of the later Wahha¯b¯ı movement, who
standing of Islamic doctrine and ritual.
espoused Islam in its most idealized and fundamental form,
The symbolism of the mawlid is especially highly devel-
tolerated the mawlid as a praiseworthy innovation (bid Eah
oped among Swahili-speaking East African Muslims. In the
h:asanah), since it inspired reverence for the Prophet. The
town and island of Lamu, located off the northern coast of
central activity of mawlids is the recital of long panegyrical
Kenya, most Muslims hold that the prophet Muh:ammad,
poems and legends commemorating Muh:ammad and his
created of dust, like all other persons, carried “light” to the
deeds, recitations so popular that they are repeated on festive
earth in this month. The discipline of fasting during the
occasions throughout the year.
month of Ramadan emphasizes the separation of nature and
The acceptance of popular practice by theologians
culture and the distance between actual human society and
shows the Islamic principle of consensus (ijma¯ E) at work. A
the Islamic ideal. Likewise, the month of Muh:ammad’s birth
key doctrinal tenet in Islam is that the community of believ-
is regarded as a joyous occasion that emphasizes life as lived
ers cannot agree upon error. The legal opinions of religious
here and now, combined with belief in the Prophet’s willing-
jurists appear to have had minimal influence in reducing the
ness to intervene on behalf of his people and to accept them
popularity of mawlids, so that most jurists were encouraged
in full recognition of their individual shortcomings. It is said
to accommodate theological doctrine to social realities.
that during this month the Prophet lives on the earth like
As with other Islamic celebrations and rites of passage,
a human being and loves and hates just as they do. The first
mawlids show considerable differences throughout the Is-
twelve days of the month are marked by processions, singing,
lamic world. In some contexts, the mawlid is minimally dis-
and the music of tambourines and flutes. Intense competi-
tinguished from other festive occasions; elsewhere, it is one
tions are held on successive evenings in the mosques and reli-
of the most important annual religious events. In nineteenth-
gious associations of the various quarters in Lamu. Each
century Cairo, mawlid celebrations started on the first day
quarter vies in enthusiasm to praise Muh:ammad’s life and
of Rab¯ıEah al-Awwal. Large tents were pitched in one of
deeds in song and prose and to show its love for the Prophet.
Cairo’s quarters and decorated with lamps and QurDanic in-
Shar¯ıfs, descendants of Muh:ammad, are especially honored
scriptions. Each night S:u¯f¯ı orders carried their banners in
in Lamu during this period.
procession to their tents, where they chanted the name of
Shar¯ıfs are invited to recite poems in praise of
God, recited poems in praise of Muh:ammad, and provided
Muh:ammad in most of the nineteen mosques of Lamu town.
refreshments to guests. In the daytime, dancers, clowns, and
In beautiful performances on successive evenings, assemblies
storytellers entertained the audience in a carnival atmo-
of young boys from mosque schools and musicians perform
sphere. Festivities climaxed on the eleventh and twelfth eve-
songs and poems that have been rehearsed for months.
nings of the month, with elaborate poems and songs in praise
Brightly colored tunics, donated by wealthy Muslims, are
of Muh:ammad that continued until morning. In recent
worn for the ceremonies. The freeborn and the ex-slaves,
times government restrictions against large public gatherings
members of two important local social categories, compete
sought to curtail these events. Nonetheless, the Prophet’s
with one another during these celebrations to express a will-
mawlid and to a lesser extent those for local saints continue
ingness to use earthly wealth—the offer of food and refresh-
to be large communal festivals attracting hundreds of thou-
ments to guests—and talent to show their love for the Proph-
sands of people in Egypt’s larger towns.
et. If not enough effort is put into the preparations for
Elsewhere in the Islamic world, religious orders play a
quarter festivities, the shar¯ıfs are said to participate with less
less central role in mawlid festivities. In Morocco, the month
enthusiasm and to attract fewer blessings for the quarter.
in which the Prophet’s birthday occurs is popularly known
Love of the Prophet is said to join together the world of na-
as mulu¯d, the local pronunciation of mawlid. Children born
ture and the world of culture. Ceremonies include the sacri-
during this month are considered especially fortunate and are
fice of cows, highly valued on the island, visits to cemeteries,
often named after it, and it is a good time to circumcise boys.
and the distribution of rose water by shar¯ıfs to symbolize
Celebrations last a week, culminating with recitations of pan-
Muh:ammad’s ability to cleanse his followers of their sins.
egyrics of Muh:ammad in decorated and illuminated com-
Until the 1970s distinctions between freeborn and ex-slave
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 shar¯ıf and commoner remained significant for many
The name Lisa among the Fon appears to be derived
East African Muslims, although in recent years such distinc-
from the nearby Yoruba people, who use the word oris:a (or
tions have been eroded under pressure from reformist
orisha) to refer to lesser deities. Lisa is an analogue for the
Yoruba oris:a O:batala and is variously described as the twin
brother, husband, or son of Mawu. This paired complemen-
tarity is not all that unusual in West Africa. Other pairs of
In his Muhammadan Festivals (New York, 1951) G. E. Von
spiritual beings include Nana-Buku of central Benin and
Grunebaum discusses the early history of the mawlid and in-
Togo, Dada-Sogbo of the Ewe, and Es:u-Legba of the Yoru-
cludes translations from original source materials. For the
ba. Their pairing need not refer to sexuality but merely to
mawlid in more recent times, see Edward W. Lane’s An Ac-
the unity of duality, however that may be defined.
count of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians,
3d ed. (1846; reprint, New York, 1973), which includes a
Mawu also creates human souls and rules their destinies.
description of the celebrations as he saw them in Cairo in
The soul is called mawuse (the Mawu within a person). At
1834. Michael Gilsenan’s Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt
first, Mawu made people out of clay, but after running short,
(Oxford, 1973) provides a brief commentary on contempo-
she began to make them out of reused bodies (hence we can
rary Egyptian practices. For Morocco, Edward A. Wester-
see resemblances in people). Mawu upholds moral law and
marck’s Ritual and Belief in Morocco, vol. 2 (1926; reprint,
also metes out rewards and punishments after death.
New Hyde Park, N. Y., 1968), remains the best-documented
ethnographic account, while Pessah Shinar’s “Traditional
The priests of Mawu wear white, and at Abomey there
and Reformist Mawlid Celebrations in the Maghrib,” in
is a rare statue of Mawu. The figure, painted red, has large
Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet, edited by Myriam Rosen-
breasts and holds a crescent moon. The cult of Mawu is not
Ayalon (Jerusalem, 1977), pp. 371–413, provides a richly
limited to West Africa. There are scattered instances of
analytic account of how mawlid practices have changed over
time throughout North Africa. In The Religion of Java (Glen-
Mawu’s cult in the New World. For example, in Yoruba
coe, Ill., 1960) Clifford Geertz mentions the mawlid only
houses in Sa˜o Luiz, Brazil, there is said to be an encantado
briefly but fully situates it in a highly elaborate ritual context.
(spirit) of Mawu. There, as in West Africa, Mawu connotes
By far the most extensive discussion of the symbolism of oc-
a generalized notion of divinity.
casion as elaborated in one local context is Abdul Hamid M.
el-Zein’s The Sacred Meadows: A Structural Analysis of Reli-
gious Symbolism in an East African Town (Evanston, Ill.,
Herskovits, Melville J. Dahomey: An Ancient West African King-
dom. 2 vols. New York, 1938. An excellent description by
one of the great ethnographers of Africa.
Pelton, Robert D. The Trickster in West Africa. Berkeley, 1980. In-
cludes a good discussion of Mawu-Lisa and the role played
MAWU-LISA is a complex deity worshiped in coastal
by Legba, the Fon trickster figure.
West Africa by the Fon and most of the Ewe. Occasionally
Mawu and Lisa are considered as separate deities; sometimes
they are seen together as a complementary sexual pair. The
issue is complicated because the Ewe peoples use the term
mawu both to refer to God in a general way or to a specific
MAXIMÓN is a trickster deity from Santiago Atitlán,
Guatemala. His origin as a Mesoamerican merchant and lin-
eage deity originates in the pre-classic Maya world (c. 500
As a specific deity, Mawu is seen as a creator, but she
BCE). His cult has spread throughout the highlands of Guate-
rarely has shrines, priests, or rituals dedicated to her. Among
mala alongside the proselytizing evangelical movement
peoples such as the Fon, Mawu is conceived of as a female
among the Maya of the highlands. His image, in various
deity associated with the moon, and it is in this manifestation
forms, can now be found throughout the republic, but this
that she is most often paired with Lisa. Among the Fon, the
essay concentrates on the deity found in Santiago Atitlán
cult of Mawu-Lisa was centered in Abomey, the capital of
while recognizing the many similarities between the various
the old kingdom of Dahomey. Mawu is depicted as an elder
Maximón cults found in different highland towns. Maximón
female figure in conjunction with Lisa, a younger male con-
is particularly important to all those people who want more
sort. Other complementary qualities are seen in them. For
out of life than simple sustenance; he specializes in giving ev-
example, whereas Mawu is associated with the moon (night)
erything that is “extra” in this world. His cult has thus grown
and is cool (gentle and forgiving), Lisa is associated with the
to satisfy the focus of material wealth that is now so impor-
sun (day) and is hot (fierce and punitive). Sometimes even
tant to the people who inhabit the towns and villages of the
their actions are complementary. In one mythic tradition,
Guatemalan highlands.
Mawu created the earth and then retired to the heavens.
When she saw that things were not going well with men, she
Maximón is a name derived from two different origins:
sent Lisa to make tools and clear the forests so that men
first, from the Catholic Simón Pedro (Ximón Pedro) the first
could farm and live a civilized life.
apostle of Christ who was given the keys to heaven and 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

power of “binding and loosing”; second, from the Tz’utujil
al practitioners carry the Year Bearer through rituals of sacri-
term meaning “Mr. Knotted,” derived from ma (mister) and
fice. The Year Bearer is a sacred being who occupies the four
ximon (to have knotted). Maximón is the trickster who waits
corners of the world in a quadripartite fashion. In Maya
at the portal of fate, where he either captures and binds his
timekeeping, each year had one of four styles, each of which
prey or loosens the knotted one from the trap of a predator.
had a Mam from one of the four world corners. As one year
Like Simon Peter, he is seen as the gatekeeper of all those
ended, the Year Bearer of that year was dismembered, puri-
souls who are out on the road, at the crossroads of life, or
fied, and then put back together as another Mam, another
in the marketplace where happenstance can change one’s
Year Bearer. In this way years are seen as human ancestors
luck. Maximón is the one who opens or closes the road to
that continuously replace one another throughout time.
opportunity, creates an accidental meeting at the crossroads,
Mam also signifies the five dangerous days of the
or finds the needed connection in the marketplace.
Uayeb’, a short, five-day month between two 360-day years,
Maximón is Lord of Merchants, similar to God L and
each of which is made up of eighteen months of twenty days.
God M of the ancient Maya. He is a tireless walker of roads
During this short five-day month of the Uayeb’, the Mam
without end; his wanderings lead him to wherever he is
was celebrated as one year ended and another began. Mam
called, as well as to all those places where he creates problems
is thus the Lord of Middle, where years end and begin, as
that he alone can solve. He is the shape-shifter who alters his
well as lord of endless generations of ancestors, or Mam, and
shape to the changing shape of the world in which he exists
their replacements, also known as Mam.
as trickster, and because of this his disguises are infinite.
Mam has many similarities with God N, or Pawahtuun,
He is versipellis, a being who changes its skin to imitate
of the classic Maya. Pawahtuun was depicted as an aged sky-
another being or an environment, a completely flexible being
bearing deity who went about dressed in a conch shell or tur-
whose way is “no way.” Maximón is ever-present in his many
tle carapace, linking him to waterways, lakes, and seas of
forms, but mostly he is known to take the form of one of
merchant people. He was an old man who loved a party,
the following: a young girl, the old man, the latina temptress,
where he would indulge himself in drunkenness as well as
the poor beggar, the wealthy plantation owner, the hum-
the affections of wild young women. As a quadripartite deity
mingbird, the blue jay, the skunk, the donkey, the wild
he was closely associated with the Chaks, or rain deities, and
mountain dahlia, the “divining tree,” a whirlwind, a night
may have been the rain deities’ earthly counterpart. Mam,
breeze, a earth tremor, a fly, a mosquito, a wafting scent of
like Chak, is a deity of the four corners; as a mountain god,
a cigar, or even a ripple across still water.
he personifies the stones or mountains that support the sky
at each of the four corners. Mam in his most beloved form
Like all tricksters he makes himself known to his follow-
is an elderly lord of the earth, thunder, and the ancestors.
ers through signs given on the road, where a heightened sense
of insecurity is always felt. All of his disguises or changes give
Tz’utujil tradition of Santiago Atitlán states that Mam
messages to those who follow his guidance to safe passage
was created by immortals known as Nawales, who were mer-
and profitable markets. He is lord of all those portals of op-
chants and in much need of a guardian who would watch
portunity where tax collectors let one pass unmolested,
over their women while they were on the road and in the
where obstacles are lifted, where government officials look
marketplaces of distant towns. As soon as Mam was brought
the other way, where traps are avoided, and where doors of
to life by the Nawales as a replication of their perfection, he
opportunity are flung wide open. He is lord of the crossroads
began doing what he had been ordered to. Pretty soon he was
where destinies accidentally come together for better or
making love to all the wives of those who had created him.
worse. He is lord of the marketplace where abundance is
Eventually, Mam was dismembered and put back together
turned into wealth and where finding a new product or per-
in such away that he could never misuse his human body
son brings about a life reversal. Maximón is guide to souls
again: his head was twisted around backwards, and his arms
in need, both in this lifetime and at death; it is he who is the
and legs were left short. This is the image that is found today
k’amal b’iey (pathfinder) who ushers us towards the direction
in the Cofradia of Santa Cruz in Santiago Atitlán. Like all
we must be taking. Sacred history tells that Maximón was
tricksters, Mam’s appetites cause his fall from prescriptive
made of the “Tz’ajtel tree” (erythrina corallodendron), a type
culture, and so teaches people how not to act in the world.
of “divining wood” used by shamans, diviners, matchmakers,
The present-day image of Maximón stands about four-
midwives, and oracles to see into the future or back into the
feet tall in a brand new pair of boots. He is adorned in many
silk scarves, which once may have been feathers. On his
Maximón is also known as Mam or Rilaj Mam, Ances-
gourd skull is a wooden mask of an old man. On the backside
tor or Great Ancestor. Mam means both “grandfather” and
of his head is another mask, giving Mam a 360-degree view.
“grandchild,” making him a deity that replaces the ancestors
Upon this head of twin masks are two modern Stetson cow-
with future ancestors in such a way that the lineage never
boy hats, signifying the duplicity inherent in this capricious
dies. Mam is also known as “Year Bearer” in a Mayan world
being. (The Stetson hats are given as gifts to Maximón by
where the sun is carried on the back of humanity through
wealthy Indian merchants, who wear them themselves to
ritual sacrifice. The Year Bearer carries the year, and the ritu-
manifest their high status in the Indian world.) His body 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

made of pieces of divining wood that are tied together with
obliged to flee because of Persian expansionism. His path
sashes of traditional cloth and string. This ritually bundled
likely took him through Crete, and probably Cyprus, to
core is adorned in traditional clothing from Santiago Atitlán
North Africa (626). It is well known that he was in Carthage
and other towns from the lake region, creating a deity
on Pentecost of 632. At the Eucratas Monastery he became
that looks much like it must have when the Nawales first
acquainted with Sophronios, another refugee, who later be-
formed it.
came patriarch of Jerusalem (634–638). Maximos was great-
ly influenced by Sophronios and later called him his forerun-
Mam, or Maximón, is a boundary crosser and a liminal
ner, father, and teacher.
character that lives at the threshold of this world of humans
and the other world of the gods. He is the go-between and
The two monks journeyed to Alexandria in an effort to
messenger that relays communication between humanity
overturn an agreement of union with the monophysites but
and their deities. In this middle ground between humans and
were unable to persuade the former patriarch, Cyrus of Alex-
gods he takes his payment in the form of offerings, including
andria (d. 641), to their cause. Because such concessions to
only flowers, incense, candles, liquor, tobacco, sweet-
monophysitism were likely to terminate in the heresy of
smelling waters, song, and prayers. He takes part of all that
monoenergism, Sophronios had turned against the agree-
once was given only to the gods, and in this way he makes
ment; Maximos continued in the struggle against the union
a good living by existing between and betwixt two worlds.
but acted in a reserved way. After Heraclius published his Ec-
(638), and a monothelite direction was given to the
SEE ALSO Mesoamerican Religions.
heresy, Maximos cut off relations with the patriarch Pyrrhus
and began his own antimonothelite activities.
Important stages of Maximos’s struggle against mono-
Carlsen, Robert S. The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland
thelitism are his dialogue with the deposed Pyrrhus in Car-
Maya Town. Austin, Tex., 1997. Analysis of cultural conti-
nuity and change in Santiago Atitlán, including considerable
thage; the convocation in North Africa of three antimono-
discussion of the Maximón cult.
thelite synods, where he explained his position; and the
continuation of his endeavors in Rome (646), which had be-
Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes This World. New York, 1998. A pro-
come the new center of antimonothelitism. Maximos’s ef-
found and creative analysis of the religious archetype of the
forts were now carried out with unmitigated zeal. He com-
trickster and his power to create and recreate this world.
posed treatises and letters to the emperor, the pope, and the
Stanzione, Vincent J. Rituals of Sacrifice: Walking the Face of the
patriarch of Constantinople. His antiheretical struggle
Earth on the Sacred Path of the Sun. Albuquerque, N.Mex.,
prompted the convocation of a synod in Rome (649) where
2003. An in-depth study of religion and ceremony in Santia-
he condemned monothelitism.
go Atitlán, this creative and exciting study by a historian of
religion focuses on the cult of Maximón and his trickster re-
Maximos’s initiatives were regarded by the imperial au-
lationship with Jesus during the rituals of sacrifice at the time
thorities as hostile to its policy of union and reconciliation.
of Lent and Easter Week in Santiago Atitlán.
Therefore, Maximos and his companions, one of whom was
Tarn, Nathaniel. Scandals in the House of Birds: Shamans and
the papal legate, were taken to Constantinople for question-
Priests on Lake Atitlán. New York, 1998. A complicated yet
ing. (This was in 655, not, as is commonly reported, during
comprehensive anthropological study of religious symbolism
the reign of Pope Martin I.) Although the charge that he had
in Santiago Atitlán.
betrayed the interests of the empire was not proved, Maxi-
mos was exiled (along with his two disciples) to Byzia in
Thrace for refusing to sign the new conciliatory declaration,
the Typus of Constans II, under Patriarch Peter (655–666).
Maximos was called back to Constantinople in 656 for an-
other investigation, but after refusing once again to sign, he
zantine theologian, Eastern Orthodox saint, ascetic writer,
was exiled and imprisoned at Perbera. Although his oppo-
and opponent of monothelitism. What is known about Max-
nents were determined, Maximos’s intransigence in matters
imos’s life largely derives from an anonymous biography.
of faith prevented him from giving in to them. Six years later,
Maximos, Pope Martin, and Sophronios were anathemized.
Born in Constantinople, Maximos received a good edu-
There followed exchanges of messages, rumors of torture
cation, which was rare for his time. Indicative of his abilities
(some say Maximos was beaten, his tongue cut out, and his
was his appointment as first secretary to the emperor Heracli-
right hand lopped off), and further exiling. Maximos was fi-
us (r. 610–641), but Maximos soon recognized his ecclesias-
nally imprisoned in the fortress of Schimaris, where after two
tical calling. He entered the Monastery of Philipikos, in
months he died, on August 13, 662.
Chrysopolis (present-day Üsküdar, Turkey), probably in
614, where he eventually became abbot. Because of attacks
Maximos composed numerous works on the interpreta-
by the Persians, Maximos and the other monks were forced
tion of scripture and on the teachings of the fathers. His doc-
to flee to the Monastery of Saint George, at Cyzicus (present-
trinal writings consist largely of short treatises against mo-
day Kapidagi, Turkey). Two years later Maximos was again
nophysitism, a more important series against monothelitism,
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 numerous other ascetical writings. He wrote commen-
supposes the habit of nature, which is movement and energy,
taries on mystical theology and on the work of Dionysius the
not stasis. The will governs this nature within the functions
Areopagite (Pseudo-Dionysius). Also extant are many letters
of the person. For example, sight and speech are capacities
by Maximos, including the letters and disputation that he
inherent in nature, but “how” one sees is dependent upon
wrote to Pyrrhus. Some other writings exist only in manu-
the person. In this way, Maximos distinguishes between the
natural origin of the will and its personal (that is, “gnomic”)
orientation. As such, will does not violate the order of nature
The teachings of Maximos developed in two directions:
but diverts its movement and, in this case, expresses the ethi-
on the one hand, in a theoretical direction, with strong meta-
cal responsibility of the person.
physical emphasis; and on the other, in an existential direc-
tion, which elaborated a spiritual way of life. In his theology
According to Maximos, Christ is recognized as God and
of the unity and trinity of God, Maximos follows the onto-
man from his divine and human qualities. Christ willed, or
logical method and the teachings of the Greek fathers. The
acted, as God and man. Maximos sees a “divine-human will”
interpretation by some Western theologians that Maximos
and a “divine-human energy” in Christ’s very nature. In dis-
agrees with the view that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the
tinction from his opponents, Maximos argues that if will is
Father and the Son cannot be demonstrated definitively. For
identical with persons (and not nature), then the Trinity,
example, Maximos sees in the Trinity the relation of three
which is a trinity of persons, and not of natures, would have
persons who participate jointly in one essence and jointly ex-
to comprise three wills. Further, if the energy were to flow
press a common divine energy: the Father, “by grace”; the
from persons, there would be three energies in the Trinity,
Son, “by self-operation”; the Holy Spirit, “by synergy.”
and Christ would be cut off from the energy of the Father
and that of the Holy Spirit.
Maximos believed that the world was created by God
so that beings could participate in his goodness. Accordingly,
The human will of Christ is, by the logic of nature, the
man holds the dominant place in creation and is the natural
same as ours, but its manifestation in Christ is directed by
link between God and creation; further, all will is united to
the person of God the Word. Hence, Christ’s will experi-
God through man. The first man, Maximos thought, was
enced everything human except sin. The famous phrase “My
created with an orientation toward God and was meant to
Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; neverthe-
bridge the distance between “image” and “likeness.” For
less, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt. 26:39) expresses the
Maximos, disobedience to the divine will constitutes deliber-
will of the human nature in Christ, that is, his resistance to
ate sin, in which man’s will is distorted and his nature cor-
death as well as his acceptance of it. This is an indication that
rupted; thus, man loses the grace of apatheia. Also, corrupt-
salvation is completed by the human will. Thus Maximos’s
ibility in human nature is inherited; therefore, there is no
intention is to defend the human will of Christ, which also
human possibility of self-regeneration or of exemption from
constitutes a defense of the freedom of man in relation to
death. However, what man has done out of negligence, the
God. Under such presuppositions, Christ healed and divi-
man Christ has corrected.
nized corruptible human nature. Christ also formulated a
new way of existence for man, free from sin and death. Fur-
Maximos’s Christology is devoted to his struggle against
thermore, it is through the work of the church, Maximos be-
monophysitism and monothelitism. For Maximos, in Christ,
lieved, that familiarization with these gifts of Christ can
human nature, which had no previous existence as such, be-
occur. Likewise, in his dogmatic teaching, Maximos de-
came substantial and received existence in the preexisting
scribes the spiritual life as a pedagogical way to salvation and
substance of God the Word (the Logos). As one being, Christ
has the same humanity as man but he also has divinity. How-
ever, as in the Trinity, in Christ’s being one essence is con-
The three factors, according to Maximos, that mold
fessed without confusing the two natures.
man are God, human nature, and the world. It is man’s will
that moves him in relation to these factors. Being refers to
The resolution of the question of whether there are one
the essence of man, well-being to the call of God to pass from
or two energies (or one or two wills) in Christ lies in the de-
the “image” to the “likeness” of God; eternal being is granted
termination of their origin, that is, whether in the nature or
to those worthy of the grace of God. The development of
in the person of Christ. For the monoenergists, Christ has
the inner life cultivates the gift of baptism, through which
only one energy because he has only one active element. For
human nature is renewed by Christ’s existence. The discov-
the monothelites, he has only one will because nature, ac-
ery of freedom and the acquisition of virtues, especially of
cording to doctrines of natural philosophy, is governed by
love, promote the social life of the person and union with
the rule of necessity.
God. Spiritual formation, which is carried out through natu-
In order to oppose monophysitism, Maximos attempts
ral and theological vision, follows. In the principles of cre-
to define the operational autonomy of the person on the
ation and in the principles of human nature, God is discov-
basis of the dynamism of nature. He argues that nature,
ered. In the divine Word we possess the unity of the Creator
which is both noetic and created, “has no necessity”
and creation, as the revelation of his person and work to the
(Patrologia Graeca 91.293). Will, as a reasonable desire, pre-
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

Spiritual formation is fulfilled in the work of the Holy
Volker, Walther. Maximus Confessor als Meister des geistlichen Le-
Spirit, which enlightens man, enabling him to understand
bens. Wiesbaden, 1965.
beings, the meaning of the scriptures, and the mysteries of
worship. At the very center of their existence Christians par-
ticipate in the divine energy and receive awareness of the
spiritual presence of God. Such a process—internal, moral,
and spiritual—makes the person capable of theo¯sis (deifica-
MA¯YA¯. is one of the key terms in Indian religious tradi-
tion), that is, exemption from the corruption of creation and
tion. Its original meaning may be “creation” or “construc-
acquisition of union with God. Finally, full communion and
tion” (from the Sanskrit ma¯, “measure” or “mete out”), but
union in the second coming of Christ is awaited as a consum-
the term can be used in several connotations, implying a
mation of our own personal lives, just as resurrection was the
power, a process, and the result of that process.
consummation of Christ’s life.
Development of the concept. In the history of Indian
Maximos’s contribution to the intellectual support of
thought the term ma¯ya¯ is used with remarkable consistency,
orthodox views, his ecclesiastical conduct, and his witness as
to express, define, and explain the enigma of life and the ma-
a confessor were recognized by the Third Council of Con-
terial world. The viewpoint expressed by S´an˙kara, admittedly
stantinople (680–681). The basic themes of his teaching,
pivotal, is often stressed too much, at the cost of other opin-
such as the distinction between nature and divine energy, the
ions conceived by intelligent minds from the time of the
principles of nature and human will, the communion and
Vedas to the modern period. For the Vedic authors, ma¯ya¯
synergy of God and man as persons, the participation of man
denoted the faculty that transforms an original concept of
in God, and theo¯sis—all of these influenced the spirituality
creative mind into concrete form, a faculty of immense profi-
and later direction of orthodox theology. For example, Maxi-
ciency and shrewdness such as is suggested by the English
mos’s authority was invoked during the hesychast dispute of
word craft.
the fourteenth century. The successful application of Aristo-
telian dialectic in theology was inaugurated by Maximos, and
In the Vedas, performances of ma¯ya¯ are mainly ascribed
his teaching has provoked interest in modern theological
to divine beings, devas (“gods”) or asuras (“countergods”).
Each god works ma¯ya¯ in his own way and for his own ends.
Thus, through ma¯ya¯ Varun:a metes out the earth and creates
order in nature (R:gveda 5.85.5 et al.), and Indra employs it
Works by Maximos
to defeat the demon Vrtra or to transform himself into an-
Maximos’s collected works are available in Patrologia Graeca, ed-
other shape (R:gveda 6.47.18: “By his powers of ma¯ya¯, Indra
ited by J.-P. Migne, vol. 4 (Paris, 1857) and vols. 90–91
goes around in many forms,” an oft-quoted phrase). The re-
(Paris, 1860). Questions to Thalassius is available in Corpus
ality of all these mayic creations, however incomprehensible
Christianorum, Series Graeca, vol. 7 (Turnhout, 1980). The
to common man, is never questioned. The Upanis:ads devel-
Ascetic Life has been translated by Polycarp Sherwood in
op a metaphysical notion of ma¯ya¯ as the emanation of the
“Ancient Christian Writers,” edited by Johannes Quasten et
al., vol. 21 (Westminster, Md., 1955).
phenomenal world by brahman, the cosmic Self. In post-
Vedic Hinduism, the term can be used to convey a meta-
Works on Maximos
physical, epistemological, mythological, or magical sense, de-
Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Kosmische Liturgie: Das Weltbild Maxi-
mus’, des Bekenners. 2d ed. Einsiedeln, 1961.
pending on the immediate context.
Garrigues, Juan Miguel. Maxime le confesseur: La charité, avenir de
METAPHYSICAL ASPECT. In Indian thought, ma¯ya¯ is the
l’homme. Paris, 1976. Includes a complete bibliography.
metaphysical principle that must be assumed in order to ac-
Karazafiris, Nicholas. H¯e peri proso¯pou didascalia Maximou tou
count for the transformation of the eternal and indivisible
Homolog¯etou. Thessaloniki, 1985.
into the temporal and differentiated. Beginning with the
Léthel, François-Marie. Théologie de l’agonie du Christ. Paris,
Upanis:ads (Cha¯ndogya Upanis:ad 6.1.4–6), empirical reality
is most often conceived as a polymorphous modification or
Matsouka, Nikos. Kosmos, anthro¯pos, koino¯nia kata ton Maximon
transformation of the Absolute, and thus maintains a “de-
ton homolog¯et¯en. Athens, 1980.
rived reality.” Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism, however, developed a
Piret, Pierre. Le Christ et la Trinité selon Maxime le confesseur.
concept of the world as a “substitution” or “delusion” con-
Paris, 1983.
jured up by ma¯ya¯ as by an act of illusionism. The world pro-
Radosavljevic, A. To musterion tes soterias kata ton hagion Maximon
cess and our experience of it are devices to hide the inexpress-
ton homologeten. Athens, 1975.
ible total void (Na¯ga¯rjuna, second century CE?), or cosmic
Riou, Alain. Le monde et l’église selon Maxime le confesseur. Paris,
consciousness. Even the Buddha’s teaching is said to belong
to this sphere of secondary reality. An attitude of nihilism
Sherwood, Polycarp. An Annotated Date-List of the Works of Maxi-
is avoided by the concept of two levels of reality developed
mus the Confessor. Rome, 1952.
by Na¯ga¯rjuna: pa¯rama¯rthika (“ultimate”) and vya¯vaha¯rika
Thunberg, Lars. Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthro-
(“practical”). It is therefore not correct to state that for these
pology of Maximus the Confessor. Lund, 1965.
thinkers the world of ma¯ya¯ is a mere illusion.
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In Hindu philosophy (especially the Veda¯nta school),
important in later Hinduism. In religious poetry, ma¯ya¯ is
the concept of ma¯ya¯ follows the Vedic tradition of a mysteri-
sometimes embodied as a tempting or fear-inspiring woman;
ous power of self-transformation. The Buddhist doctrine of
she can be the consort of the male supreme being (S´r¯ı for
an ultimate void is emphatically denied: the nonexistent can-
Vis:n:u, Ra¯dha¯ for Kr:s:n:a, Dev¯ı for S´iva) or, in S´a¯ktism, a
not be the source of creation, just as a barren woman can
manifestation of the Cosmic Mother in her own right as
never have a son, says Gaud:apa¯da (sixth century CE?). After
Ma¯ya¯dev¯ı or Bhuvane´svar¯ı (Goddess of the World).
him, S´an˙kara (c. eighth century CE) and later scions of the
Advaita (“Nondualist”) school also deny ultimate reality to
SEE ALSO Avidya¯; Veda¯nta.
the phenomenal world. But creation is not totally unreal ei-
ther, since it cannot be separated from the truth that is brah-
man (what else could be its cause?), and also because it retains
Discussions of ma¯ya¯ and its place in Indian religious and philo-
a pragmatic validity for the individual as long as the liberat-
sophical thought are dealt with in several books of more gen-
eral scope. A very scholarly, thoughtful, and dependable sur-
ing experience of all-oneness has not been reached. “Illusion”
vey by a classical Indologist can be found in Jan Gonda’s
thus implies the mysteriously different, not the nihil.
Change and Continuity in Indian Religion (The Hague,
Other Veda¯nta theorists tend to emphasize the reality
1965), pp. 164–197. Gonda’s discussion of ma¯ya¯ in this
work is a summary and restatement of two of his earlier
of the mayic transformation. According to Ra¯ma¯nuja (elev-
studies. Also very readable as an introduction is Paul D. De-
enth century CE), the world is a mode of existence of brah-
vanandan’s The Concept of Ma¯ya¯: An Essay in Historical Sur-
man, related to it as the body is to the soul. The S´aiva and
vey of the Hindu Theory of the World, with Special Reference
S´a¯kta schools of thought also held a realistic view of ma¯ya¯.
to the Veda¯nta (London, 1950; Calcutta, 1954). The author’s
In the recent period, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and others
Christian viewpoint is not stressed. Anil K. Ray Chaudhuri’s
have endeavored to restate the doctrine of ma¯ya¯ in reaction
The Doctrine of Ma¯ya¯, 2d rev. & enl. ed. (Calcutta, 1950),
to objections by other philosophical systems without deviat-
is a philosophical study with special emphasis on the episte-
ing in essentials from the tradition.
mological doctrine of nescience in the Veda¯nta. A concise
book that focuses mainly on ma¯ya¯ in twentieth-century
EPISTEMOLOGICAL ASPECT. Ma¯ya¯ deludes cosmic conscious-
Hindu philosophy is Ruth Reyna’s The Concept of Ma¯ya¯ from
ness into associating itself with individuality, sense percep-
the Vedas to the Twentieth Century (London and Bombay,
tion, and the sensory objects of phenomenal reality.
1962). My own book, Ma¯ya¯ Divine and Human (Delhi,
Gaud:apa¯da interprets this process as a misconception (vikal-
1978), is a study of Indian and Balinese sources in Sanskrit
pa) of the pure and undivided self-consciousness of the
concentrating on the magical side of the ma¯ya¯ concept. Pre-
a¯tman, just as in darkness a rope is mistakenly perceived as
dating all of these works is Heinrich Zimmer’s Maya, der in-
a snake. To dispel false perception is to attain true insight
dische Mythos (Stuttgart, 1936), which contains a wealth of
legends and personal interpretations.
into the undivided Absolute. S´an˙kara prefers the term avidya¯
(“nescience”) or ajña¯na (“ignorance”). This is not just the ab-
sence of insight but a positive entity, the cause of superimpo-
sition of external experience on the undefiled self-
consciousness. Besides, there is a metaphysical avidya¯ as-
MAYA RELIGION, like many aspects of Maya civiliza-
sumed by S´an˙kara as a necessary cause for cosmic evolution
tion, is part of a widespread and long-lasting tradition of be-
in order to vindicate the doctrine of the static unity of brah-
lief and culture shared by numerous ethnic groups in Me-
man. S´an˙kara rejects the equation of ordinary waking experi-
soamerica. Neighboring cultures with whom the Maya
ence with dream experience held by the Maha¯ya¯na theorists
interacted throughout their history, including the Mixe, Za-
and Gaud:apa¯da. In modern Hindu philosophy, the episte-
potec, and Mexica-Aztec, shared numerous aspects of this
mological aspect of ma¯ya¯ is emphasized: ma¯ya¯ does not imply
tradition, and indeed Maya religion, particularly in its pres-
the denial of the reality of the world, but refers only to the
ent-day forms among traditional communities in southern
relative validity of our experience.
Mexico and Guatemala, is difficult to distinguish as a sepa-
OTHER ASPECTS. The speculative concept described above
rate tradition within the greater framework of Mesoamerican
has often been clothed in religious myth and popular legend.
theology. These cultures shared a distinctive pantheistic
In the popular mind, the power of ma¯ya¯ often amounted to
model of belief and a specific calendar system defined by im-
feats of magic or illusionism (indraja¯la). In the epic
portant numerological and ritual cycles. Maya religion is dis-
Maha¯bha¯rata (and elsewhere), this power is said to be wield-
tinct, however, in that archaeological and textual data extend
ed by God to beguile and delude mankind. “The Lord plays
the direct evidence of its history and practice back some two
with his subjects as a child with its toys” (Maha¯bha¯rata
thousand years, thus providing a time-depth unlike that
3.31.19f.). In other contexts, the phenomenal world is lik-
available for any other Native American religious tradition.
ened to a bubble on the water, a drop trickling from a lotus
The vast majority of such ancient sources date from the so-
leaf, evanescent autumnal clouds, a colorful patch, or a circle
called Classic period (250–850 CE), when particularly ex-
of fire created by a torch. Several legends express the same
pressive religious monuments and inscriptions were wide-
view in allegorical form. Such religious imagery remains very
spread. In the post-Conquest world, Maya religion has
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adapted and transformed, adopting elements of Christian
Agriculture and the cyclical growth of human suste-
ideology while at the same time adhering to many ancient
nance, based largely on maize, have left indelible marks on
concepts and ceremonies. Today, political empowerment
cosmological beliefs and Maya religion in general. The four
and activism by Maya in Guatemala, in particular, has led
colors associated with the cardinal directions in Maya cos-
to the revitalization of native cultural identity; religious ex-
mology (red, white, black, and yellow) find replication in the
pression, often based on appropriated ancient symbols and
four principal varieties of maize. Maize, being the basic staple
idea, occupies an important place in this modern movement.
of the Maya diet throughout history, was also equated with
the human body and its substance. Robert Carlsen and Mar-
COSMOLOGY AND DEEP TIME. Numerous spatial categories
tin Prechtel note in “Flowering of the Dead” (1991) that cy-
defined the basic elements of Maya cosmology: prominent
cles of growth and harvest were and are seen as a general met-
among these are the earth’s surface (kab), the sky (chan), the
aphor for human and universal patterns of change and
sun (k’in) and moon (uh) and their recurring paths, caves
regeneration, or what the modern Tzutujil Maya call jaloj-
(ch’een), and mountains (witz). These and a few other terms
k’exoj, perhaps best translated as “change and renewal.”
were the vocabulary of space and the cyclical processes that
inhabited them. In the Classic period, the word that most
The ancient Maya made ample use of a complex calen-
closely translates as “world” or “universe” was chan ch’een,
dar system that was shared to some degree among all Me-
“sky-and-cave,” which comprised the two vertical extremes
soamerican cultures. The solar year, computed as 365 whole
of existence, above and below the earthly realm of everyday
days, was subdivided into a set of eighteen twenty-day
human experience, where various gods dwelled.
“months,” plus a remaining five-day liminal period (the
xmak’abak’inob or “days without name” among the Yukatek
Mountains, caves, and springs are of special importance
Maya) associated with renewal. The months bore names sug-
in defining Maya sacred landscapes. Among many traditional
gesting that they were originally tied to important agricultur-
communities, mountains are seen as animate beings, some-
al periods, but they also served as a basic framework for the
times as manifestations of the earth lord. Other individual
scheduling of ritual festivals throughout the solar year. Run-
mountains are seen to be localized gods or “containers” for
ning concurrently with this was a separate reckoning of days
important ancestral figures. Communication with ancestors
based on a 260-day cycle, wherein a given day was expressed
and earth lords took place through caves, which have from
as one of a set of twenty named days accompanied by a nu-
the earliest times been important settings for Maya ritual.
meral coefficient of 1–13. Today this same calendar remains
in use among conservative “day-keepers” in the highlands of
The earth and sky share a fundamental quadripartite or-
Guatemala, where it is used in rites of divination.
ganization corresponding more or less to the modern notion
of the four cardinal directions. According to some conceptu-
A separate calendar system widely known as the Long
alizations, the four points of the sun’s emergence and en-
Count operated concurrently with the 260-day and 365-day
trance on the horizon at summer and winter solstice marked
rounds described above. The Long Count was different in
the division of space into four quarters: east (elk’in), north
its structure, presenting a more linear reckoning of days by
(xaman), west (ochk’in), and south (nohol). Each direction
means of a place-notation arrangement that expressed an ac-
was associated with its own color (red, white, black, and yel-
cumulation of elapsed days from a set starting point in the
low, respectively), which corresponded to the basic color
distant past. The temporal scope of the Long Count was
variations of maize grown in Mesoamerica. Several deities
therefore much greater than the 260-day and 365-day com-
had directional aspects or manifestations and were colored
ponents of the Calendar Round. The three systems—the
accordingly, including the storm gods called chaak. Many
Long Count, the 260-day round, and the approximate solar-
temples and ceremonial plazas were built to evoke this four-
year cycle—together constituted a triumvirate of calendars
part structure of the world, and such layouts of built spaces
used throughout Maya history.
have persisted to this day. Sacred mountains were considered
to be distributed in the natural landscape according to this
The standard Long Count has five units, each standing
four-part directional model.
for a set period of time. These are, in increasing order, the
K’in (the single day), the Winal (each equaling twenty K’ins),
Maya communities both ancient and modern are spa-
the Tun (eighteen Winals, or 360 days), the K’atun (twenty
tially arranged to evoke and reproduce certain aspects of cos-
Tuns, or 7,200 days), and the Bak’tun (twenty K’atuns, or
mic organization. In pre-Columbian times the most promi-
144,000 days). In writing Long Count dates in hieroglyphic
nent architectural form was the terraced pyramid, which
form, the periods assume the opposite order, beginning with
clearly often served as an artificial ritual mountain. Buildings
the Bak’tun and descending to the K’in. It can be seen that
and architectural groups are often oriented toward important
the system reflects the basic vigesimal (base-twenty) structure
astronomical phenomena (such as the winter solstice sunrise,
of Maya numeration, with larger periods composed of twen-
for example), and roadways entering towns were sometimes
ty units of the next lower period. The exception to this viges-
radiated out toward the four cardinal directions. Town cen-
imal pattern is the Tun, which is made up of eighteen Winals
ters were nodes of ritual activity due to their importance as
(360 days), seemingly so as to approximate the solar year of
cosmological centers.
365 days. In the notation system, a numerical coefficient was
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assigned to each of these units to convey a certain amount
reestablishment of a new cosmic order, with the Triad occu-
of elapsed time from a specific starting date. A comparison
pying a central role, at least at Palenque. Significantly, no
to an automobile’s odometer is perhaps apt, for the Long
other Maya kingdoms cite the Palenque Triad as a significant
Count represented a perpetual accumulation of days.
assembly of gods, suggesting the many communities had dif-
fering narratives of creation and the supernatural beings that
In most circumstances, the standard Long Count of five
participated in it.
periods provided an adequate mechanism for the tracking of
time, yet it was structurally limited for recording and com-
Of all the primary written sources now extant, the most
puting very large numbers of days. In certain ritual or mythi-
important is the Popol Vuh, or “Community Book,” written
cal texts, however, scribes felt the need to compute greater
by a Kiche’ scribe probably during the mid-sixteenth century
time amounts—sometimes much greater—and in these re-
from an earlier pre-Columbian pictorial document. The
cords and calculations they employed time periods above the
manuscript was discovered in the early eighteenth century by
Bak’tun. The standard five-part Long Count is, in fact, a
Friar Francisco Ximénez at his parish in San Tomas Chichi-
truncated version of a larger system composed of at least
castenango, Guatemala. His meticulous copy of the lost orig-
twenty-five periods that can be called the Grand Long
inal is preserved today and is the source for several published
Count. The standard Long Count represents the last five po-
versions and translations. Other accounts of world creation
sitions in this much larger cyclical arrangement. Textual evi-
exist from other regions in the Maya area, but these are rela-
dence now points to the existence of twenty-one periods in
tively short fragments for the most part; the Popol Vuh is
the complete Grand Long Count, the highest period being
truly epic in its scope and narrative.
equivalent to 2022 Tuns (that is, 2022 times 360 days). The
Portions of the Popol Vuh clearly tell old and elemental
conception of linear and cyclical time encompassed within
stories of Maya mythology. It opens with an account of the
this system is truly vast, and of course dwarfs the age of the
“sowing and the dawning” of the world and its inhabitants,
universe as presently understood by Western science.
partly by two creator beings named Tz’aqol and B’itol, best
Ritual texts describe gods performing rituals millions of
translated as “Builder” and “Shaper,” respectively. They act
years in the past, but they also consistently refer to a
in concert with one another and with another more promi-
“change” in the cosmic order on the day 4 Ajaw
nent creator being named Uk’u’xkaj, “Heart of the Sky,” and
8 Kumk’u, corresponding to August 13, 3114 BCE. This day,
together they create earth and the animals that roam it. The
cited in numerous texts all over the Maya area, can rightly
gods demand veneration from “the deer and the birds,” but
be called the traditional creation date in the ancient sources.
the animals cannot speak their names and worship them
CREATIONS AND THE POPOL VUH. According to two related
properly. In a series of trials and failures, Builder, Shaper,
ancient sources, the creation of the present era on
and Heart of the Sky therefore attempt to create humans,
saw the “placing in order” of various gods in the dark under-
first with mud, then with wood. Before “proper” worshipful
world. Another text on Stele C from Quirigua relates that
people are made, however, the story of creation shifts focus
a group of gods placed a set of three stones in the sky, repro-
to the so-called Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
ducing the form of a domestic hearth. In many texts this par-
These brothers defeat a series of malevolent figures, includ-
ticular location is described as being at “the sky’s edge, the
ing the proud primordial sun, Seven Macaw, and ultimately
new hearth place.” The establishment of the new cosmic
through cunning, trickery, and athleticism they defeat the
order thus replicated the placement and dedication of a
lords of Xibalba, the realm of death. The twins are then res-
house, an idea that is no doubt based on the widely shared
urrected as the sun and moon. Once this celestial and moral
belief among Mesoamerican peoples that the sky is the roof
order is established, Builder and Shaper once more attempt
of a vast cosmic house, with support posts corresponding to
the creation of humanity.
the four cardinal points.
The ancient sources repeat certain elements of this story
The most detailed ancient sources for creation mytholo-
involving the Hero Twins—they are depicted in many exam-
gy are the extensive inscriptions from Palenque, Mexico. In-
ples of Maya art from a very early date—but creation narra-
scribed wall tablets in numerous temples record primordial
tives from Classic times suggest that several different ac-
myths from the time of the creation, the most important
counts coexisted among various kingdoms. Palenque’s
being the birth of three sibling gods known to Mayanists as
complex mythological narrative, for example, is not found
the Palenque Triad, who later play important roles as super-
elsewhere, and it may well be that different ancient commu-
natural patrons of the royal dynasty of Palenque. Chief
nities had different stories of sacred origin and creation.
among these gods was the first brother, known today as GI,
who seems to have associations with the rising sun and per-
good reason to believe that the Maya religion saw the “sa-
haps also to Venus as the morning star. According to one im-
cred” as a pervasive and unifying feature of their natural and
portant inscription, GI was a king in the pre- era
domestic world; the universe possessed this concept of deity
who oversaw the ritual sacrifice of a cosmological crocodile,
(k’uh), but it was manifested most clearly and powerfully in
perhaps a symbol of the earth. This act of sacrifice set the
specific places, objects, and individuals. This notion reflects
stage for the creation of a new era that saw the rebirth and
a wider pantheistic organization of religious ideas within Me-
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

soamerican philosophy. It is difficult to distinguish this
Among the major gods are several animated natural
widespread notion of “divinity” from the related notion that
forces, most prominent among them being K’inich Ajaw, the
the natural and cultural worlds possess a pervasive vital es-
sun god, who occupied a celestial throne and may have had
sence that lends Maya religion a certain “animistic” quality.
the feminine moon as his wife. Another was the maize god,
who embodied the principal staple of the human diet in Me-
The souls of humans are also expressions of this vital
soamerica and thus served as the focus of numerous cosmo-
force. Recent ethnographic work has shown that complex
logical and agricultural rituals. Chaak, the rain or storm god,
concepts surrounding the human soul operate to orient
had four aspects, each associated with one of the cardinal
human experiences and life events in a cosmological frame-
points. A more complex figure was K’awil, who is described
work. Terms for the soul vary considerably from community
as a god of agricultural fertility and sustenance at the time
to community, but there is a basic consistency to many of
of European contact, but who in the more ancient sources
the ideas, which are also reflected to some degree in ancient
from the Classic period seems to have also served as the em-
religious texts and artworks. The well-studied soul concepts
bodiment of dynastic power and royal ancestry.
among the Tzotzil Maya of Zinacantan, Chiapas, Mexico,
offer a good illustration of these ideas and how they help to
The god Itzamnah was the most prominent of deities
explain a Maya conception of the sacred. In Zinacantan, hu-
at the time of the Conquest, and is described as the patron
mans possess two basic types of souls called ch’ulel and
of learning, esoteric knowledge, and the arts. Classic period
chanul. The ch’ulel is the animating life spirit of the individu-
sources suggest that he was also a ruler of the celestial sphere,
al that inhabits the heart and blood of the person, and it con-
and he may well have been an aspect of the sun god who ex-
sists of thirteen parts. A ch’ulel soul can also inhabit nonhu-
isted in the primordial time before creation. One of his prin-
man things and materials, such as musical instruments,
cipal aspects or manifestations was the Principal Bird Deity,
a large bejeweled avian creature that perched atop the cosmic
crosses, and even salt, perhaps because these create important
tree and served as an important symbol of rulership in the
sensations (sound, emotion, and taste). The chanul is a per-
pre-Classic and early Classic periods. This bird is probably
son’s animal alter ego, sometimes perceived through dreams.
a distant ancestor of the solar deity named Seven Macaw,
In Zinacantan, the animal souls of the community are closely
who plays an important role in the Popol Vuh.
guarded by ancestors called “mothers-fathers,” who corral
them within one of the important sacred mountains near the
Human ancestors often are active and important mem-
town. Both ch’ulel and chanul souls are key to understanding
bers of Maya communities, and in ancient times certain illus-
complex social relationships within the community.
trious figures became the focal points of important ancestral
Through the chanul the ancestors exert powerful social and
“cults” heavily invested with political and cosmological sym-
moral controls. As Evon Vogt states, “the most important in-
bolism. Perhaps the best known royal ancestor from the
teraction in the universe is not between person, nor between
Classic period is the venerated king K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’
persons and objects, as we would perceive them; it is, instead,
(“Great Sun Green Quetzal Macaw”), who was the dynastic
between the ch’ulel souls possessed by these persons and ob-
founder at Copan, a major Maya kingdom in present-day
jects” (1976, p. 141). In ancient times, Maya kings derived
Honduras. He reigned at Copan in the early fifth century,
much of their authority through their possession of an espe-
when he celebrated the turn of the Bak’tun cycle (
cially powerful ch’ulel soul, through which they expressed
in 435 CE. Over the next four centuries, later Copan kings
their divine role in the community and the cosmos.
declared themselves successors of the illustrious founder, and
temples to him were continually refurbished and rebuilt over
The word ch’ulel derives from the word for god (k’uh,
his resting place in the main acropolis. Excavations of this
or its variant form ch’uh), and the term was applied to many
sacred axis mundi at Copan have revealed a series of superim-
sacred entities or objects. Ancient sources contains images
posed buildings, ornately modeled and painted with iconog-
and references to a great variety of deities that ranged from
raphy evoking the deified ancestor and his origin in distant
animate natural forces to localized patron figures and deified
time. All kings became divine ancestors upon death, and
ancestors. Indeed, in the Classic inscriptions the collective
those who were more historically significant, such as “found-
term for the multitude of supernatural figures was hun-
ers,” came to be especially venerated.
pikk’uh, literally, “the eight thousand gods.”
In the ideology of Classic Maya kingship, the category
For the Classic Maya, demons and fantastic beasts called
of historical ancestors easily melded with gods and mytho-
way were considered personifications of disease and illness,
logical characters of the very distant past. At Palenque, for
images of which often decorated ritual ceramic vessels. These
example, late Classic rulers traced their political and religious
curious entities remain poorly understood, but they seem to
authority not only to dynastic founders but also to semi-
have been important in complex ideas of witchcraft and its
mythical beings that were said to live thousands if not mil-
association with royal power. Individual dynasties and king-
lions of years in the past. For example, the king K’inich Janab
doms appear to have had their own “patron beasts” that were
Pakal (603–683 CE) linked his accession in 615 to a deity
important to the expression of supernatural prowess within
who had assumed the status of rulership more than twenty-
and among communities.
five million years in the past. Such like-in-kind juxtaposi-
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

tions of primordial time and human history were consistent-
ally erected in the open plazas before pyramids and plat-
ly featured in Classic Maya political ideology.
forms, and served to mark important stations in the Long
Count calendar or significant events of political history.
ers of religious and divinatory knowledge were named ajk’in,
Maya cities of the pre-Classic and Classic periods were
“he/she of the day(s)” or “day-keeper.” This was sometimes
dominated by large ritual structures, often in the form of im-
simply translated as “priest” in colonial era sources, but the
posing pyramids. The remains of the largest pyramids are
term was probably more specifically reserved for ritual spe-
also the earliest, found at ruins such as Nakbe and El Mira-
cialists who possessed esoteric knowledge of the days and
dor in present-day northern Guatemala, and dating from
their varied meanings and prognostications. Today among
about 200 BCE to 200 CE. These manmade mountains are
the Kiche’ Maya of highland Guatemala, for example, ajq’ij
in fact some of the largest structures ever built in pre-
refers to priest-shamans who oversee rites of curing, mar-
Columbian America. Their terraces were typically decorated
riage, death, and burial, as well as more mundane divination
with massive plaster sculptures of deities and cosmological
ceremonies. Given the complex social hierarchies of Maya
symbolism, clearly marking them as microcosmic spaces.
communities throughout history, there were no doubt differ-
Later Maya pyramids at centers such as Uaxactun and Tikal
ent categories of priests and religious officials at various times
were likewise conceived as replicas of cosmological struc-
and places.
tures, though at smaller but still impressive scales. Structures
were often dedicated to particular deities or to venerated an-
In the Classic period the ruler, or k’uhul ajaw (literally,
cestors who were buried in their centers. The temples atop
“holy lord”), occupied the most prominent and public posi-
pyramids were often adorned with interior paintings, sculpt-
tion in the religious hierarchy. Ancient Maya kings oversaw
ed stone panels, or plaster decorations. Some contained inner
the passage of important stations in the long count calendar,
shrines that held effigy figures of clay or stone, and the burn-
and were even symbolically equated with the time periods
ing of copal incense was pervasive in such sacred spaces.
themselves (all period endings in the Long Count calendar
fall on the day named Ajaw, which also means “lord” or
“king”). On these and other occasions rulers were said to
quest and conversion by Europeans began in the early six-
“conjure” (tzak) the spirits of ancestors and fertility, known
teenth century, and today, after several centuries, most Maya
generically as k’awil. This process, evidently achieved
would consider themselves devout Christians. Yet elements
through bloodletting, was among the principal royal duties,
of pre-Columbian belief and religion have persisted, often in-
and was made possible through the kings’ special ability to
terwoven and tightly integrated with old traditions of “folk
wield a force known as “creation and darkness” (ch’ab ak’ab).
Catholicism.” Today a core of basic beliefs still exerts a
This enigmatic term probably relates to the widespread no-
strong presence in Maya spirituality, and these vary widely
tion that birth and creation derive from “darkness,” which
among the communities of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico.
then came to be embodied through the procreative powers
In recent years, indigenous political movements, in Guate-
of rulers in a cosmological setting.
mala in particular, have led to more open expressions of non-
Christian ideas long hidden from view, as well as the appro-
Other rituals recorded in ancient inscriptions seem to
priation of ancient ideas and symbols. Maya religion is in-
have been anchored to political events like accession to
creasingly being portrayed as a unified and unifying
power and anniversaries. Important rites included ceremoni-
cosmovision and ideology, different in some ways from its
al bloodletting, incense burning, and dance, and in many
Classic period expression, but with roots nonetheless in the
ways these activities overlapped and occurred in combination
deep pre-Columbian past.
with one another. Formulaic prayers and orations are today
key aspects of ritual performance, as they were no doubt in
ancient times as well. The ancient texts are also replete with
Carlsen, Robert, and Martin Prechtel. “Flowering of the Dead: An
records of dedication rites for temples and other important
Interpretation of Highland Maya Culture.” Man 26 (1991):
religious monuments or spaces. The ritual activation of a
temple or house was called och k’ahk,’ or “fire-entering,” and
Friedel, David, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker. Maya Cosmos: Three
presumably involved the placement of censers and other ritu-
Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path. New York, 1993.
al fires within shrines and on interior temple floors. Such
Girard, Rafael. Los Maya Eternos. Mexico City, 1962.
rites seem to be an obvious antecedent to house dedication
Gossen, Gary H. Chamulas in the World of the Sun: Time and
ceremonies found among many Maya communities in mod-
Space in a Maya Oral Tradition. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.
ern times.
Guiteras-Holmes, Calixta. The Perils of the Soul: The Worldview
of a Tzotzil Indian. Glencoe, Ill., 1961.
produced by the ancient Maya can be considered religious
Houston, Stephen, and David Stuart. “Of Gods, Glyphs, and
or ritual art in some sense. The ubiquitous type of sculpture
Kings: Divinity and Rulership among the Classic Maya.” An-
from Classic period was the stele, an upright stone slab or
tiquity 70 (1996): 289–312.
column that typically bore hieroglyphic inscriptions and a
Lounsbury, Floyd G. “Maya Numeration, Computation, and Ca-
portrait of a ruler engaged in ritual activities. Stelae were usu-
lendrical Astronomy.” In Dictionary of Scientific Biography,
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

edited by Charles C. Gillespie, vol. 15, pp. 759–818. New
clergy, transmitted orally until it was committed to writing
York, 1978.
in the sixth century. Its translation into Arabic by Ibn al-
Stuart, David. “Kings of Stone: A Consideration of Stelae in Clas-
Muqaffa (died c. 757) now lost, served as the chief source
sic Maya Ritual and Representation.” Res: Anthropology and
for subsequent Islamic histories of Persia. These focus on the
Aesthetics 29/30 (1996): 148–171.
events of the reigns of Kava¯d and Khusrau I, including the
Taube, Karl A. The Major Gods of Ancient Yucatan. Washington,
Mazdakite revolt. They emphasize the communistic features
D.C., 1992.
of the doctrine, lingering in particular—as do the Middle
Persian passages—on sharing of women as common property
Tedlock, Barbara. Time and the Highland Maya. Albuquerque,
and its evil consequences.
Among the most important is the report by the heresio-
Tedlock, Dennis, trans. and ed. The Popol Vuh: The Definitive
grapher Sha¯hrasta¯n¯ı (died 1153) which provides us with a
Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories
glimpse of Mazdakite religious beliefs and theology. His
of Gods and Kings. New York, 1985.
source, Abu Isâ Ha¯ru¯n al-Warra¯q (died 861), a Manichaean
Vogt, Evon Z. Tortillas for the Gods: A Symbolic Analysis of Zina-
or Zoroastrian convert to Islam, seems to have had access to
canteco Ritual. Cambridge, Mass., 1976; reprint, Norman,
some genuine Mazdakite source.
Okla., 1993.
MAZDAKITE DOCTRINE. According to Sha¯hrasta¯n¯ı’s ac-
Watanabe, John. Maya Saints and Souls in a Changing World. Aus-
count, the Mazdakites believed in two primordial principles,
tin, Tex., 1992.
Light and Darkness. Light is endowed with knowledge and
feeling and acts by design and free will, whereas Darkness is
ignorant and blind and acts randomly and without direction.
The admixture of the two is the result of pure accident, as
will be their separation. From their mingling, two beings
MAZDAKISM is a socioreligious movement that flared
arose, the Manager of Good and the Manager of Evil. The
up in the reign of the Sasanian king Kava¯d (488–531 CE)
Supreme Being is seated on his throne in the world above,
under the leadership of Mazdak, son of Ba¯mda¯d. Its genesis,
as the [Sasanian] king of kings is seated in the world below;
however, seems to go back to an earlier period, possibly the
four Powers stand before him: Discernment, Understanding,
fourth century, when Zara¯dusht, a Zoroastrian priest, at-
Preservation, and Joy. There are four high-ranking officials
tempted through new interpretations of the Zoroastrian
before the king of kings, including the Chief Priest and Judge
scriptures, to purify the faith.
(Mo¯bada¯n Mo¯bad), the Chief H¯erbad (religious doctor), the
A populist and egalitarian movement, Mazdakism so-
Commander of the Army (Spa¯hbad), and the Entertainment
cially preached in its acute form what modern scholars have
Master (Ra¯mishgar). The four Powers direct the world with
called a communistic agenda, advocating an equitable distri-
the help of seven viziers (cf. the seven planets) who act within
bution of property and breaking of the barriers which placed
a circle of twelve spiritual forces (cf. the zodiac). When the
the concentration of wealth and women into the hands of
four Powers and the Seven and Twelve come together in a
the privileged classes. In terms of religious doctrine it exhibit-
human being, he becomes godly (rabba¯n¯ı) and no longer
ed some Gnostic features and apparently entertained a qab-
subject to religious observances (implying antinomianism).
balistic notion of the significance of numbers and the letters
The Supreme Being reigns by the power of the letters, of
of the alphabet. The followers of the sect called themselves
which the total sum constitutes the Supreme Name (al-Ism
Derest-de¯na¯n (of the right faith). Kava¯d favored the move-
al-a’zam). Men who come to understand something of these
ment for a while, but it was brutally suppressed by his son
letters have found the key to the Great Secret (al-sirr al-
and successor, Khusrau I (531–579 CE). It went under-
akbar). Those who are deprived will remain in blindness, ig-
ground as a result and reappeared in various sectarian forms
norance, neglect and dullness (opposites of the four Powers).
after the advent of Islam and the fall of the Sasanian Empire
From this brief but precious account the character and
in the mid–seventh century.
basic tenet of Mazdakite theology may be adduced and sum-
THE SOURCES. No work of the Mazdakites has survived.
marized as belief in:
Nearly all the information on Mazdakism derives from hos-
1. A fundamental dualism, not far from that of Zoroastri-
tile sources. These can be divided in two categories: contem-
anism or Manichaeism;
porary and post-Sasanian. The first consists of Syriac and
2. Three elements, compared to Zoroastrian four and
Greek (Byzantine) works. Chief among them are Procopius’
Manichaean five;
Persian Wars and Agathias’s Histories, both in Greek; Pseu-
3. The remoteness of the supreme deity, as evinced by the
do-Joshua the Stylite’s Chronicle and Malalas of Antioch’s,
postulation of the two demiurgical “managers”;
Chronographia in Syriac. The second comprises Middle Per-
sian, Arabic, and New Persian sources. The latter two are be-
4. A spiritual macrocosm, reflected in the mesocosm of our
lieved to have generally derived their information from
world and mirrored in the microcosm of humans;
Khwaday-na¯mag, a compendium of Iranian history, myths,
5. The symbolic power of letters, words, and numbers as
and legends, reflecting the views of the Sasanian nobles and
keys to the redemptive knowledge; 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

6. Irrelevance of religious obligations and, therefore, the
cial requirement of marriage, such as the dowry (and mar-
outward meaning of religious prescriptions, once a reve-
riage portion for the wife [ka¯bin]); and breaking of the har-
latory knowledge of the essence of the “secret” of reli-
ems and allowing intermarriage among social estates. Hostile
gion is gained.
sources have cast such prescriptions in the mold of a standard
accusation against all heretics as a juicy and scandalizing
Such beliefs, which are typical of Gnostic religions, bring
weapon against the Mazdakites. There is no evidence of pro-
Mazdakism unmistakably within the orbit of the syncretistic
miscuity among the offshoots of the Mazdakism that sprang
faiths which developed in the early Christian centuries with
up in Islamic times and from which one learns more about
an admixture of Iranian, Syro-Babylonian, and Hellenic
the Mazdakites.
thought. However, Sha¯hrasta¯n¯ı’s report probably reflects a
late phase of Mazdakism, particularly since the terms used
for the twelve spiritual forces are mostly New Persian rather
than Middle Persian of Sasanian period. (Sha¯hrasta¯n¯ı’s ac-
Selected Primary Sources
count, however, leaves us in the dark on many essential mat-
Agathias. Histories. Translated by Joseph D. Frendo. Berlin and
ters such as Mazdakite eschatology, or the nature of revela-
New York. 1975.
tion and prophethood, and the origin of the Evil principle.)
B¯ıru¯n¯ı, Abu Raiha¯n. al-Atha¯r al-ba¯qiya. Translated by Eduard
One of the fullest accounts of the social aspects of Maz-
Sachau as The Chronology of Ancient Nations. London, 1879.
dakite doctrine in Islamic sources appears in Ghurar akhbâr
Firdaus¯ı, Abulqa¯sim. Sha¯hna¯ma. 9 vols. Moscow, 1963–1971.
mulûk al-Furs:
Ibn al-Nad¯ım. al-Fihrist. Edited by Riza¯ Tajaddod. Tehran, 1971.
Translated by Bayard Dodge. 2 vols. New York, 1970.
Mazdak declared that God placed the means of subsis-
tence (arza¯q) on earth so that people divide them
Malalas of Antioch. Chronographia, in Jacques Paul Migne, ed.,
among themselves equally, in a manner that no one of
Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca XCVII. Paris,
them could have more than his share; but people
wronged one another and sought domination over one
Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite. Chronicle. Edited and translated by
another; the strong defeated the weak and took exclu-
WilliamWright. Cambridge, 1882.
sive possession of livelihood and property. It is absolute-
Shahrasta¯n¯ı, Muhammad. al-Milal wa’l-nihal. Edited by William
ly necessary that one take from the rich for giving to the
Cureton. Leiden, 1846.
poor, so that all become equal in wealth. Whoever pos-
sesses an excess of property, women or goods, he has no
al-Tabari, Muhammad b. Jar¯ır. Ta’r¯ıkh al-rusul wa’l-mulu¯k.
more right to it than another. (p. 600)
Translated as The History of al-Tabari by a number of schol-
ars; vol. 5. by C. E. Bosworth and Clifford Edmunds. New
The noted Muslim historian al-Tabari (d. 923) adds in The
York, 1999.
History of al-Tabari that Mazdak believed that such deeds
Tha’a¯lib¯ı, Abu¯ Mansu¯r. Ghurar akhba¯r mulu¯k al-Furs. Edited and
were “an act of piety that pleased God and was rewarded by
translated into French by Hermann Zotenberg. Paris, 1900.
Him with the best of rewards” (vol. 1, p. 893).
(For fuller listing of the primary sources see Yarshater and Crone,
In his verse rendering of Khwada¯y-na¯mag, Firdawsi
(d. c. 1026) provides some further detail on the moral philos-
ophy of the sect (vol. VIII, p. 46): men are turned from righ-
The first scholar to bring Greek, Syriac, and Islamic sources sys-
teousness by five demons (envy, wrath, vengeance, need [
tematically together was Th. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser
niya¯z], and greed) to prevail against these and to tread the
und Araber (Leipzig, 1879), pp. 284–291. A. Christensen de-
path of the good religion, wealth and women must be made
voted a monograph, Le règne du roi Kawa¯dh I et le commun-
common. The sources do not specify any rules or regulations
isme mazdakite (Copenhagen, 1925) to a full discussion of
that Mazdak may have prescribed for a just distribution of
the Mazdakite revolt, believing mistakenly, however, that
women and wealth; they mostly concentrate on the alleged
Mazdakism was an offshoot of Manichaeism. Gholam
community of women, the resulting promiscuity, and its
Hossein Sadighi’s Les mouvemets religieux iraniens au IIe et
confusing effect on the line of descent.
au IIIe siècle de l’hégire (Paris, 1938) is particularly useful for
its close examination of the Khorramis and some other Is-
Many modern scholars, including Mansour Shaki
lamic sectarians with Mazdakite roots. Nina Viktorovna
(1978) and Patricia Crone (1991), have taken the sharing of
Pigulevskaya, in her Les villes de l’état iranien aux époques par-
women at its face value, ignoring the impracticability of such
the et sassanide (Paris, 1963), pp. 195–230, reflects the Marx-
a provision in a large, tradition-based society as was Sasanian
ist point of view and considers the movement born of the
Iran, and where virtue depended as much on race and lineage
peasant protests against Kava¯d’s and Khusrau I’s land survey
and tax reforms. In 1957, Otakar Klima, the Czech scholar,
(gowhar, nasab) as on personal accomplishments (honar,
published in Prague his monograph Mazdak, a comprehen-
hasab). It would have gone against the grain of all the Zoroas-
sive study of the movement (in the context of Sasanian histo-
trian faithful and would have destroyed the social fabric of
ry and Middle Eastern religions), conceiving Mazdakism as
the country. What appears to be true is that Mazdak advocat-
a social movement in religious garb brought about by social
ed a number of measures, such as prohibiting accumulation
and economic conditions in Sasanian Iran. He followed later
of women or having more than one wife; reducing the finan-
with another monograph on Mazdakism, Beiträge zur Gesch-
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

ichte des Mazdakismus (Prague, 1977), where he considered
Mbona’s is a territorial cult, which may be defined as
the absence of the Mazdak’s name in contemporary sources
a cult whose constituency is a territorial group identified by
as the result of a deliberate attempt on the part of Khusrau
common occupation of a land area, so that membership, in
I to delete his name from all records and force oblivion of
the final instance, is a consequence of residence and not kin-
his memory. In 1978 Mansour Shaki published “The Social
ship or ethnic designation. The cult is supervised by local
Doctrine of Mazdak,” based on Middle Persian passages in
chiefs and headmen under the chairmanship of a high priest
the Zoroastrian encyclopedic work D¯enkard, written in the
and a chief administrator. In addition to these officials, there
ninth or tenth century but based on Sasanian materials; he
provided a new translation of these difficult and corrupted
is also a spirit medium, a man or woman who on occasion
passages, attempted earlier by Marijan Molé in 1961, empha-
claims to be possessed by Mbona and who comments on a
sizing the communistic aspects of Mazdakism and the shar-
variety of urgent political issues while possessed. Formerly,
ing of women and property by all.
the cult also maintained a spirit wife, a woman consecrated
In 1982 Heinz Gaube, pointing to the absence of Mazdak’s name
for life to Mbona’s service, who was supposed to receive reve-
in the contemporary sources and also a number of contradic-
lations from the deity in her dreams and was regularly con-
tions in the Islamic reports, doubted even the very existence
sulted by chiefs and other important people. There no longer
of Mazdak and thought it likely that the revolt had to do
is a permanent spirit wife, but on ceremonial occasions her
with the tax reforms initiated by Kava¯d and followed up by
place is taken temporarily by a local woman. Although the
Khusrau I, who later manipulated the reports and placed the
oldest known written documents on the cult date only from
blame for the upheavals on Mazdak, possibly an invention
the middle of the nineteenth century, it is much older, pre-
of him, in order to save the reputation of his father—a view
dating even the Portuguese penetration of the southeast Afri-
which has not found favorable reception (see Crone,
pp. 22–23).
can interior in the first half of the sixteenth century.
Ehsan Yarshater’s chapter on Mazdakism in the Cambridge History
According to oral tradition, Mbona was a celebrated
of Iran III/2 (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 991–1024, provides a
rainmaker who, on account of his great popularity, came into
comprehensive presentation of Mazdakite doctrine and anal-
conflict with the secular and religious authorities of the day,
ysis of the sources and discusses the Islamic sects, mostly of
who in the end had him killed. Following his death, the local
an esoteric nature, that derived from Mazdakism in the first
populace is said to have erected a shrine to his name and thus
centuries of Islam.
to have initiated the cult. The story of Mbona’s life and death
In a second article, “The Cosmogonical and Cosmological Teach-
is known in many versions, but all follow a common struc-
ings of Mazdak” (Acta Iranica XI, 1985, pp. 527–543), Shaki
ture and can be reduced to three streams or clusters depend-
tried to make sense of a number of terms reported in the
ing on whether the events of the narrative take place in a
work of Shahrasta¯n¯ı.
stateless setting, an emergent state, or a highly centralized
In 1988, Werner Sundermann, who had written an article in 1977
kingdom. The mightier the state, the more Mbona is por-
about Mazdakite uprising, “Mazdak und die mazdakititisc-
trayed as a marginal person. Mbona’s diminishing status
hen Volksaufstände,” Das Altertum 23, pp. 245–249, offered
a German translation of the very obscure and laconic passage
therefore seems to symbolize the increasing subjection of the
of Book VII of the D¯enkard, which differs somewhat from
commonalty to the aristocracy at successive stages of state
that of Shaki but still remains far from clear in all its details.
In 1991, Patricia Crone, in “Kava¯d’s Heresy and Mazdak’s Re-
As stated before, there are no known written documents
volt” (Iran 29: pp. 21–42), presented a thorough analysis of
on the cult prior to the middle of the nineteenth century;
the sources with a view of finding a solution to the existing
nevertheless, certain names and events referred to in the
contradictions in the reports about Mazdak and the historical
Mbona legends are also found in Portuguese documents per-
events related to him. She, too, considered the revolt as a re-
taining to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From a
sult of Khusrau I’s cadastral reform and the hardship it
caused the peasantry.
comparison between the legends and the historical texts it
can be inferred, among other things, that the cult underwent
major organizational and theological changes about 1600
and that, probably under Portuguese missionary influence,
Mbona was attributed certain Christ-like traits. After this
radical transformation, the cult gained its widest geographi-
cal acceptance and became one of the most influential reli-
gious organizations on the north bank of the Zambezi. In the
MBONA (sometimes also spelled MDBona or MDbona) is
twentieth century, however, its importance diminished to
the name of the patronal deity of a famous shrine near the
the extent that as of 1985 the cult had little more than local
township of Nsanje in the Republic of Malawi (southeastern
Africa). Although he is usually referred to as a rain god,
Mbona is also invoked on the occasion of locust plagues,
floods, epidemic diseases, and other acute threats to the pro-
Discussions of various aspects of the Mbona cult can be found in
ductive and reproductive capacities of the land and its popu-
essays I have contributed to several special collections.
Among them are “The History and Political Role of 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

MDBona Cult among the MangDanja,” in The Historical Study
wrote several autobiographical books, published numerous
of African Religion, edited by T. O. Ranger and Isaria N. Ki-
pamphlets and articles, edited two periodicals, and com-
mambo (Berkeley, Calif., 1972); “The Interaction of the
posed some eighty hymns and five sacred operas. In her
MDBona Cult and Christianity, 1859–1963,” in Themes in
preaching she avoided condemnation and appeals to fear,
the Christian History of Central Africa, edited by T. O. Rang-
emphasizing instead the love and joy that religion provides.
er and John Weller (Berkeley, Calif., 1975); “Cult Idioms
and the Dialectics of a Region,” in Regional Cults, edited by
McPherson was unique in her evangelistic style. Her
R. P. Werbner (New York, 1977); “The Chisumphi and
mastery at promoting herself and her work through the
Mbona Cults in Malawi: A Comparative History,” in Guard-
media made “Sister Aimee,” or simply “Aimee,” a household
ians of the Land, edited by J. Matthew Schoffeleers (Gwelo,
name. She was a pioneer in religious broadcasting, establish-
1978); and “Oral History and the Retrieval of the Distant
ing the first church-owned radio station (KFSG) in the Unit-
Past: On the Use of Legendary Chronicles as Sources of His-
ed States in 1924. She adapted the techniques of vaudeville
torical Information,” in Theoretical Explorations in African
and the theater to evangelism, using costumes, lighting, sce-
Religion, edited by Wim van Binsbergen and J. Matthew
nery and props, orchestras and brass bands, huge choirs, and
Schoffeleers (London, 1984).
dramatizations to achieve an unforgettable emotional impact
New Sources
on her audiences. Endowed with enormous energy and opti-
Schoffeleers, J. Matthew. River of Blood: The Genesis of a Martyr
mism, a powerful, melodious voice, rare acting ability, and
Cult in Southern Malawi c. A.D. 1600. Madison, Wis.,1992.
a physical attractiveness heightened by an aura of sexuality,
Schoffeleers, J. Matthew. Religion and the Dramatisation of Life:
she was acclaimed a spellbinding platform personality by the
Spirit Beliefs and Rituals in Southern and Central Malawi.
millions to whom she preached.
Blantyre, Malawi, 1997.
Bahr, Robert. Least of All Saints: The Story of Aimee Semple Mc-
Revised Bibliography
Pherson. Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1979. A popular, fictional-
ized account that captures much of the whirlwind spirit of
McPherson’s career and temperament.
McLoughlin, William G. “Aimee Semple McPherson: Your Sister
American Pentecostal evangelist and divine healer. McPher-
in the King’s Glad Service.” Journal of Popular Culture 1
(Winter 1968): 193–217. An analysis and evaluation that
son was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy on a farm near In-
places McPherson’s life and career in their cultural context,
gersoll, Ontario, Canada. Raised in the Salvation Army, she
by an eminent historian of American religion.
was converted to Pentecostalism through the preaching of
McPherson, Aimee Semple. This Is That: Personal Experiences, Ser-
Robert James Semple, whom she married in 1908 and ac-
mons, and Writings. Los Angeles, 1923. A reconstruction of
companied to China, where they served as missionaries until
McPherson’s early years as she wanted others to see them,
Semple’s death in 1910. Two subsequent marriages ended
and a collection of sermons and tracts that reveal her public
in divorce.
In 1917, McPherson embarked upon an evangelistic
McWilliams, Carey. “Aimee Semple McPherson: ‘Sunlight in My
and divine healing career in the United States that quickly
Soul.’” In The Aspirin Age, 1919–1941, edited by Isabel
brought her national and international fame. In 1923, she
Leighton, pp. 50–80. Los Angeles, 1949. A sympathetic in-
terpretation of McPherson’s life that reveals the tragic ele-
settled in Los Angeles and built the five-thousand-seat Ange-
ment behind the radiant facade.
lus Temple, a center of welfare services, and in 1927, she in-
corporated her large network of churches as the International
Church of the Foursquare Gospel. She also founded a minis-
terial institute, later named the Lighthouse of International
Foursquare Evangelism (LIFE) Bible College.
MEAD, MARGARET (1901–1978) was America’s
best-known anthropologist of the twentieth century. She
McPherson’s turbulent personal life, involving her al-
grew up in Pennsylvania, briefly attended DePauw Universi-
leged kidnapping, rumors of romantic liaisons, dozens of
ty in Greencastle, Indiana, and moved to New York City
lawsuits, conflicts with her mother and daughter, and di-
where she received her B.A. in psychology from Barnard Col-
vorce from her third husband, brought her much notoriety.
lege. Mead completed her education with an M.A. in psy-
Nevertheless, she retained the unswerving loyalty of her fol-
chology and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia Uni-
lowers. Her denomination grew to four hundred congrega-
versity. In the mid-1920s she became a curator of
tions in the United States, two hundred mission stations
anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History
abroad, and a worldwide total of twenty-two thousand mem-
in New York, where she spent her entire professional life. In
bers at the time of her death.
a career that lasted over fifty years, Mead was an energetic
McPherson’s Foursquare Gospel was a restatement of
researcher, prolific author, sought-after public speaker, influ-
standard Pentecostal doctrine focusing on Jesus Christ as sav-
ential public thinker, and tireless champion for the young
ior, baptizer in the Holy Spirit, healer, and coming king. She
discipline of anthropology.
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Mead’s research on several cultures in the South Pacific
and in the world at large. Although her parents were atheists,
during the 1920s and 1930s, including Samoans, Manus,
at age eleven Mead asked to be baptized. Her first husband,
Balinese, and the Arapesh, Mundugumor, Tchambuli, and
Luther Cressman, was an Episcopalian minister, and early in
Iatmul of New Guinea, led to a number of popular books
their courtship Mead planned to be a minister’s wife. As she
and professional monographs. Her research focused primari-
became a professional anthropologist, her goals changed. Yet
ly on childhood, youth, and adolescence, as well as kinship
Mead continued to be a religious person, unlike most of her
and social organization. She is also known as the founder of
colleagues in anthropology. Unknown to many of her
the culture-and-personality school of cultural anthropology.
friends, she secretly maintained her Christian faith.
Although Mead is not well known for her contributions to
In the 1960s, she saw a new role for Christianity in the
the study of religion, she nevertheless wrote about religion
world community, involving issues like civil rights and
for both professional and popular audiences.
ecumenism. She was asked to be a representative for the Epis-
Mead’s research on religion in her professional work is
copal Church to the World Council of Churches, which she
reflected in her detailed monograph on Arapesh supernatu-
attended for several years. Mead was deeply involved in this
ralism (1940). It is her most comprehensive description of
project and authored Twentieth Century Faith: Hope and Sur-
an indigenous religious system, containing extensive data on
vival (1972) about religion in the age of technology. Mead
this New Guinea tribal culture’s cosmology, myths, ritual be-
also wrote a number of opinion pieces on religion for the lay
liefs, and practices. In this work, she gave special attention
public in religious magazines and for her long-running col-
to rites of passage. Mead also published articles on taboo,
umn in Redbook magazine. She discussed the spiritual di-
magic, and men’s houses in New Guinea. Based on her ex-
mensions of birth control, the right to die, women as priests,
tensive fieldwork on the island of Manus, off the coast of
the contemporary fascination with the occult, and other is-
New Guinea, she wrote about the belief in animism among
sues of the day. Mead saw no conflict between religion and
adults and children, as well as long-term religious change in
science, and she envisioned a world where the faiths of other
New Lives for Old (1956). She also described a revitalization
cultures would not be considered inferior. In her role as a
movement on Manus (1964).
public intellectual, she wrote more extensively on religion for
In Balinese Character (1942), Mead and Gregory Bate-
a popular audience than she had for her peers in anthro-
son used photographic analysis to comprehend Balinese
trance. Their documentary, Trance and Dance in Bali
(1952), is considered a classic in ethnographic film. In most
of Mead’s work on indigenous cultures, though, religion was
Freeman, Derek. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Un-
making of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge, Mass., 1983.
tangential to other topics. For example, in Coming of Age in
(1928), she briefly discussed the role of Christianity
Gordan, Joan. Margaret Mead: The Complete Bibliography, 1925–
in the lives of adolescent girls. Mead viewed Christianity as
1975. The Hague, 1975.
playing a relatively benign role in adolescent socialization
Howard, Jane. “Bishops May Not, but Anthropologists Do.” In
and was subsequently criticized by anthropologist Derek
Margaret Mead: A Life, pp. 339–354. New York, 1984.
Freeman for not fully addressing what he viewed as the harsh
Mead, Margaret. Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study
and puritanical Christian morality of the time (Freeman,
of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation. New York, 1928.
1983). Mead also wrote a chapter on the child and the super-
Mead, Margaret. The Mountain Arapesh; Vol. 2: Supernaturalism.
natural in Growing Up in New Guinea (1930) and one on
The Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of
religious institutions in The Changing Culture of an Indian
Natural History, vol. 37, pt. 3, pp. 317–541. New York,
Tribe (1932).
Although she wrote about religion based on her field-
Mead, Margaret. New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation—
work, Mead’s detailed ethnographic work on religion did not
Manus, 1928–1953. New York, 1956.
provide major contributions to theories of religion. She fa-
Mead, Margaret. “The Paliau Movement in the Admiralties.” In
vored a more scientific, psychological, and developmental
Continuities in Cultural Evolution, pp. 192–234. New
approach to religion that was superseded by more humanis-
Haven, Conn., 1964.
tic, symbolic approaches in anthropology. Mead’s pioneering
Mead, Margaret. Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. New York,
descriptions published in the 1930s and 1940s yielded to the
interpretive ideas of Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, and
Mead, Margaret. Twentieth Century Faith: Hope and Survival.
Mary Douglas in the 1960s and thereafter. And, while Mead
New York, 1972.
was a forerunner of feminist approaches to the study of cul-
ture in general, she did not offer a feminist approach to the
study of religion.
Mead wrote a good deal about religion in her role as a
public intellectual, especially in her later life. She was very
interested in religion in her own life, in the United States,
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MEDIA AND RELIGION. The media have come to
three aspects of mediatization interact in interesting ways in
play an ever more prominent role in social and cultural life
the formation of the religious-media landscape. A phenome-
since the emergence of the so-called “mass media” in the late
nology of media and religion in the twenty-first century
nineteenth century. Before that time, even though the media
would see media and religion in a number of different rela-
through which social and cultural knowledge were shared
(oral transmission, ritual performance, writing, visual repre-
RELIGION USING MEDIA. There is of course a long and deep
sentation, and printing) were vital, they were more tacit and
history of mediation of religion. Various religions have been
transparent to the processes they enabled. Today, in a range
typified by means of their relationship to various media. It
of social and cultural contexts, the media are foregrounded,
is commonplace to think of the development of the religions
even determinative.
of the modern West as having been affected in major ways
The mass media emerged as the result of interacting
by moveable-type printing. In the twentieth century, a num-
technological and social developments. Mechanized print-
ber of religions developed specific and particular relation-
ing, which developed with the industrial revolution and
ships to the mass media. In most cases, these relationships
found its way into mass-market communication in Britain
were defined by the assumption of a kind of dualism, separat-
in the 1870s, brought about major changes in production,
ing the “sacred” sphere of authentic religious history, claims,
in reception, and in the political economy of media. Mass
faith, and practice, from a “profane” sphere represented by
production allowed media to be financially supported by ad-
the media. Islam, for example, is widely thought to eschew
vertising instead of direct sales of newspapers or magazines.
mass mediation, and particularly mediated visual depiction.
The resultant economic logic saw readers as audiences and
The asceticism of Buddhism is also thought to separate it
sought to maximize their numbers. This coincided with the
from a media sphere dominated by materiality and material
increasing concentration of populations in urban settings, re-
concerns. Jewish scholarship has stressed the importance of
moved from the social and cultural supports of the village
“the book,” but has tended to think that other modes of
and town. These audiences began to be thought of as “mass”
communication and representation were less worthy.
audiences, and the content of media began to reflect more
generalized class tastes.
At the same time that Christian thought has assumed
the sacred-profane dualism, Christianity in the modern and
A debate has raged ever since over how the resulting re-
late-modern West has come to exhibit a range of responses
lationship between the mass audience and the mass media
and relationships to mass media, and the Christian relation-
is to be seen. To some observers, the media ideologically
ship has come to be in some ways definitive, due to the fact
dominate the audience. To others, the media act as a kind
that the media of the Christian West have come to dominate
of cultural canvas on which is inscribed the more or less com-
the media worldwide (a situation that has begun to change
mon themes, ideas, and discourses of the culture. To still
in small ways). Christian groups were among the earliest
others, the media are important as palliatives, replacing the
publishers in both Europe and North America. The evangeli-
lost connectedness of pre-industrial village life. For most, the
cal impulse in Christianity seems, over time, to have given
class and taste orientation of mass media necessarily has
it a particular cultural interest in publication. All Christian
meant that they are at least not the preferred communica-
groups (and most non-Christian groups and other religious
tional context for the authentic business of the culture.
movements in Europe and North America) have historically
These structural realities and social assumptions have
produced printed materials such as tracts, pamphlets, news-
come to condition the way the media function in relation to
letters, magazines, Sunday school materials, and books. Mis-
culture, and therefore, religion. The media are connected
sions programs, including Bible societies, have also been pro-
with generalized “mass” tastes. They are industrial and tech-
lific publishers.
nical and thus are seen as artificial and their abilities to au-
The nonprint media have been a less comfortable con-
thentically articulate cultural and social artifacts, symbols,
text for most religions, however. In the twentieth century,
and values are suspect. They are commercial, and thus neces-
as the establishment religions of Europe and North America
sarily traffic in commodified culture and cultural experience.
confronted the emergence of the mass media, these groups
At the same time, though, they are intrinsically articulated
began a struggle for definition and cultural ascendancy that
into the fabric of modernity in ever-deepening ways. Thus,
continues unabated. The dualist assumption brings with it
while social and cultural structures and institutions might
a suspicion of the media of the “profane” sphere. While the
wish to exist outside the boundaries of media culture, it is
medium of print has long been understood by religions to
increasingly difficult for them to do so. These realities define
be an appropriate context for the conveyance of religious
the role that media play in the evolution of modern and late-
ideas and values, the succeeding waves of non-print “new”
modern religious institutions and practices.
media have been seen differently. Probably as a result of their
The role of the media is not only social-structural, it is
association with secular entertainment and thus secular val-
also geographic and semiotic/aesthetic. And, as the scholarly
ues, film, broadcasting, television, and digital media has, in
study of the interaction between religion and media has de-
its turn, met with suspicion on the part of religion and reli-
veloped in recent years, it has become obvious that these
gious authorities.
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The most significant exception to this has been the case
increasing coverage of religion per se among European and
of Evangelical Protestantism. Beginning with the earliest
North American journalism.
days of radio, Fundamentalist and later Evangelical individu-
als and groups have seen great promise in these new technol-
media have had an independent relationship to religion and
ogies. It can even be argued that through the careful use of
religious content. There has been a tendency for these media
film, radio, and television, that what now is known as “neo-
to see the relationship in dualistic terms, evidenced by such
Evangelicalism” found its place in the religious landscape.
things as the separate best-seller lists maintained for religious
Billy Graham, for example, who became one of the most sig-
and non-religious book titles. The religious “market” for
nificant Evangelical leaders of the twentieth century, was an
commercialized religious films, magazines, and books is now
active producer of media of all kinds, and is widely regarded
a multi-million-dollar industry worldwide, but is still
as having risen to prominence in part as a “media figure.”
thought of as a separate field from the dominant, and larger,
This further suggests a central role for mass media in reli-
“secular” market.
gious evolution, as the mediation of Graham and the Evan-
gelical movement generally played a large part in establishing
In that secular market, there are important examples in
their legitimacy. The phenomenon of televangelism, which
most major media and across most of the century. Early in
emerged in the 1970s in North America and then spread, as
the century, the so-called “Biblical Epics” such as The Ten
a form, to much of the world, further contributed to the defi-
Commandments and The Robe became major breakthrough
nition of religious and political landscapes. Such use of
films, attracting large numbers of conservative Christians
media by religion is not without its dangers, however. As a
and Jews to theaters for the first time. Later in the century,
number of scholars have noted, religion has had to make
an explosion of book and magazine publishing devoted to
compromises in order to fit into the structural and other con-
spirituality, therapy, and self-help became one of the major
ditions and limitations of the media form.
trends in that industry.
MEDIA USING RELIGION. Traditionally, the media have
In entertainment television, a range of new programs
been most involved in the presentation of religion through
and series began to appear in the 1990s, featuring both ex-
journalism. The mass media era began with the development
plicitly and implicitly religious themes. Globally syndicated
of a mass press, and in addition to the development of new
U.S. programs such as Touched by an Angel, The X-Files,
audiences and new economies, it also developed new con-
Buffy: Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons, and Northern Exposure
tent. Before the mass press, most press in Europe and North
integrated a wide range of religious sensibilities, from tradi-
America were partisan in one way or another, beholden to
tional, to spiritual, to New Age, to Pagan and Wiccan. The
political, clerical, even corporate authority. The new econo-
situation became even more diverse in the digital media of
my of mass publication meant that the press could be freed
the internet.
from patronage, and that new readers and audiences would
These trends resulted from changes in both religion and
be coming to the press for a wider range of material than in
the media. For the media, rapid change in the structure and
the past. The result was the notion of newspapers and maga-
regulation of the electronic and digital media led to an expo-
zines as public records, presumably speaking from positions
nential increase in the ubiquity and number of such channels
outside the narrow perspectives of special interests. This kind
fed into homes worldwide. A simultaneous increase in the
of journalism needed to find its voice, and new models of
differentiation of printed media into smaller and smaller
journalism and new roles for journalism in public and politi-
“niche” markets meant that the media were both motivated
cal life emerged.
to seek out new content and audiences, and to become in-
In the case of North America, religion has not necessari-
creasingly able to provide material suiting specialized tastes.
At the same time, religion was also undergoing great change,
ly been part of that mix. For most of the twentieth century,
described in the case of North America as a “restructuring”
religion was seen by journalism to be a story of religious insti-
that de-emphasized the traditional religious institutions. At
tutions and their practices and prerogatives. At the same
the same time, religion increasingly became focused in the
time, these institutions were treated with deference, when
religious practices and meaning quests of individuals.
treated at all. There was much evidence that religious institu-
tions, at least, were of fading importance as the century prog-
This new, more autonomous religious individualism,
ressed, and journalism generally assumed that secularization
called “seeking” or “questing” by sociologists, naturally artic-
was moving ahead apace. It was not until late in the century
ulates with a mediated culture that can and does increasingly
that religion came to be seen as “hard” news, largely as the
provide resources related to that project. Thus, a market for
result of news events such as the Islamic Revolution in Iran
commodified religious symbols, rituals, and other resources
in 1979, the rise of traditionalist religious movements world-
arises, made possible by emerging attitudes oriented to reli-
wide, and the emergence of Evangelicalism as a political force
gious and spiritual issues, and by a media system that can
in North America. The terrorist attacks of September 11,
provide for increasingly specialized and focused tastes. The
2001, on New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania,
result is the gradual erosion of whatever bright line might
put religion much more squarely on the “news agenda,” with
have once existed between the “sacred” world of legitimate
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religious media and a “profane” world of secular media. At
the widespread impression of distance and misunderstanding
the beginning of the twenty-first century, that division is less
that was invoked. The media should be the primary means
and less obvious. It has become, for all practical purposes,
by which the developed West knows the Islamic East and
one media culture.
vice versa. That the Islamic East was self-defined in large
measure by religious identity places the media at the center
There are important antecedents to this convergence of
of whatever misunderstanding may have led to or exacerbat-
religion and media. In the case of North America, which
ed the attacks. Further, a measure of the Islamic critique of
largely led these developments, Protestantism has long toler-
Western culture is rooted in a moral reaction to the profanity
ated, even encouraged, the development of religious com-
and licentiousness found in the largely American popular
modities, religious markets, and religious spectacles. Ameri-
culture that floods the developing world. Thus the media are
can Christianity has thus long had a nascent culture of
taken to represent religious culture whether they intend to
mediated religious commodities and has cultivated in suc-
or not. Finally, the media were and are the primary context
ceeding generations tastes and interests in such approaches
for the national and global rituals of commemoration and
to faith and spirituality.
mourning around the event, thus assuming a role not unlike
RELIGION AND MEDIA INTERACT. The evolving relationship
a “civil religion” in this regard.
between media and religion, then, is best seen as an interac-
tion between them rather than an effect or influence one may
evolution in media and religion already discussed, the con-
have on the other. Increasingly, scholars of religion and
vergence and interaction between religion and media in late
media are describing this interaction in its reception and the
modernity are responsive to a number of social and cultural
experiences of individuals and groups as they encounter
trends. Three stand out. First, the convergence and interac-
media culture and work to inhabit religious lives in relation
tion are most clearly felt in the project of the self and reli-
to it. This can be seen on both radically local and radically
gious identity. As theorists of late modern social life have
global levels. On the local level, in a wide range of contexts,
suggested, the project of the self is perhaps the dominant
the interaction between media culture and religious culture
concern of the age. As social life has become more and more
comes alive in the ways individuals and groups use the vari-
complex and rationalized, the means of support available in
ous cultural resources available to them to make meaning in
the social sphere have withdrawn, leaving individuals increas-
their lives. This is seen most readily in the field context,
ingly to their own devices. This has driven individuals in-
where observers encounter evidence of negotiated relations
ward, to a quest for the self. This quest turns outward, how-
between the lived local and the mediated non-local. As an-
ever, to seek and appropriate resources relevant to its task,
thropologist Lila Abu-Lughod reflects in her essay, “The In-
and the commodities of the media sphere are among the
terpretation of Cultures after Television”:
most obvious and available such resources. To the extent that
In Writing Women’s Worlds, I suggested that we could
the project of the self is a religious project, this becomes an
write critical ethnographies that went “against the
important role for media in the formation and shaping of re-
grain” of global inequalities, even as we had to remain
ligious identity.
modest in our claims to radicalism and realistic about
the impacts of these ethnographies. Television, I be-
The second of these trends is reflexivity. Prominent the-
lieve, is particularly useful for writing against the grain
orists of late modernity recognize the role of mediation in
because it forces us to represent people in distant vil-
the encouragement of a reflexive mode of consciousness. Re-
lages as part of the same cultural worlds we inhabit—
flexivity results from the access to sources and contexts of
worlds of mass media, consumption, and dispersed
knowledge that offer individuals a self-consciousness of place
communities of the imagination. To write about televi-
that is historically unprecedented. With this reflexive knowl-
sion in Egypt, or Indonesia, or Brazil is to write about
edge comes a sense of autonomy in spheres of normative ac-
the articulation of the transnational, the national, the
tion, including self and identity. In late modernity, media-
local, and the personal. Television is not the only way
to do this, of course . . . [b]ut television makes it espe-
tion plays a major role in our knowledge of place and
cially difficult to write as if culture and cultures . . .
location, and thus is implicated in important ways in the re-
were the most powerful ways to make sense of the
flexivity that today defines much of the religious quest for
world. (Lila Abu-Lughod, 1999, pp. 110–135)
self and identity.
On the global level, media and religion interact in events
Finally, globalization and what is coming to be called
such as the national and international experience of the Sep-
“glocalization,” the blending of a global concept to a local
tember 11 attacks and their aftermath. The direct experience
application, are definitive trends. The media are major global
of the attacks was mediated, and the fact that the attacks in
and globalizing industries, of course, but their implications
New York took place in the world’s leading media center
extend well beyond their structural and economic relations.
made the images available and accessible, live and in real
To the extent that globalization is a fact, it results in large
time. Whatever national and international processes of exis-
measure from the capabilities of the media to provide global
tential reflection and ritual mourning ensued, those processes
interconnectivity, socially, culturally, and religiously. The
were largely mediated as well. Media were also implicated in
media are, after all, “consciousness industries,” and among
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their capabilities is the conveyance of cultural symbols,
ence is becoming increasingly commodified, and the media
forms, and texts related to the deepest human desires for con-
sphere plays a major role in this trend. Religion is not im-
nection and belonging. They can transcend space and time,
mune to commodification, and indeed, there is a long and
and frequently do provide, for a variety of “imagined com-
deep history of it in some traditions. In the mass media age,
munities,” a connectivity across space and time that is un-
it makes sense to think of culture as a marketplace of symbols
precedented in its depth and speed.
and ideas. Cultural commodities of all kinds, including reli-
gious ones, are valued and exchanged in that marketplace.
Increasingly, the media can be seen to be active in the
negotiative frameworks that underlie glocalization as well.
The third effect of media on religion is in the consump-
The media are no longer thought of as determinative or
tion and reception of religious symbols and discourses. The
dominant, as noted. Instead, they provide, to reflexive indi-
secular media define the terms of access for religious and spir-
viduals and communities, senses of the structured relations
itual material as it enters the public sphere. In the field of
of local, national, and global life, and symbolic and other re-
contemporary Christian music, for example, the ability of re-
sources relevant to making sense of that life. This involves
ligiously motivated musicians to “cross over” into the main-
the constructive negotiation of that consciousness, those
stream, a desire by some, is constrained by a set of expecta-
contexts and those resources. What results is an imbrication
tions established by the conditions under which the public,
of the global and the local, a reflexive consciousness of place
secular, mass media operate. The primary one is the expecta-
within those frameworks, and senses of self and group identi-
tion that to be public, such material must appeal to general
ty relevant to this awareness. Religion is a fundamental quest,
as opposed to narrower, sectarian tastes. In both popular
as well as an important dimension of these relations. Thus
music and book publishing, separate “lists” continue to be
religion and mediation interact in fundamental ways in the
ongoing development of global and glocal consciousness.
The fourth effect, then, is that in this and many other
But the globalized world is not only a place of harmony,
ways, religions can no longer control their own stories if they
it is also a place of conflict and struggle. Among the social
wish to be present in the public sphere and in public dis-
and cultural relations increasingly accessible today are those
course. The terms of reference, the language, the visual and
between conflicting worldviews. In the case of religion, the
linguistic symbols, and the conditions under which religion
media can and do offer much information about the religious
becomes public are all matters determined by media practice.
“other,” but that does not necessarily lead to increased un-
It is possible for religious groups and individuals to remain
derstanding. The Anglican Church, for example, learned
separate from this process, but they then surrender opportu-
during their struggles over gay ordination in the early part
nities to be part of the public culture. Even groups that aspire
of the twenty-first century, that a global media context made
to separation, such as the Amish, find it increasingly difficult
those deliberations accessible worldwide, increasing the
to do so.
intra-communal tension as African Anglicans could have
This relates to a fifth effect, that it is no longer possible
real-time access to the debates taking place among North-
for religions to retain zones of privacy around themselves. In-
American Anglicans. As globalization and glocalization move
creasingly, and as a result of the reflexivity of late-modern
ahead, international media will continue to place before reli-
consciousness, individuals today expect a level of openness
gion challenges to self-understanding and inter-religious un-
from public institutions. As religious groups and movements
interact with the commercial and governmental spheres, they
MEDIA EFFECTS ON RELIGION. Given this discussion, there
begin taking on the attributes of publicness and are thus seen
remain a number of ways that the media affect religious insti-
to be subject to media scrutiny, journalistic and otherwise.
tutions and practices. First, the media increasingly set the
Both the Roman Catholic Church, in its struggles over scan-
context for religion and spirituality, and help define their
dals and vocations crises, and the Anglican Communion
terms in contemporary life. The 2004 film The Passion of the
(and other Protestant bodies) as they face the question of gay
Christ, for example, both invoked a public debate about con-
rights, have found that the conversation is not and cannot
temporary religious faith and presented a new set of images
be a private one any more.
and symbols through which that aspect of the Christians’
A sixth effect is that, as was noted earlier, the media
story will be understood for years to come. The performer
bring individuals the religious and spiritual “other.” In the
Madonna, through songs and music videos, presented influ-
context of globalization/glocalization, this is felt in the in-
ential interpretations and juxtapositions of important Catho-
creasing cross-national and cross-cultural exchange of infor-
lic symbols and artifacts. Because of their position in the cul-
mation, symbols, images, and ideas, circulated through jour-
ture, the media are now the context within which the most
nalism, through popular culture, and through the personal
widely-held discourses in national and global culture take
media of the digital age. In the context of the increasing in-
place, and religion and religious discourses must find their
ternational flow of persons, both through travel and through
way within that larger context.
immigration, the media have become active in providing in-
A second effect of media on religion is in the area of
formation about the “others” who are now arriving next door
commodification. Contemporary social and cultural experi-
or in the next town. The media are now becoming the au-
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

thoritative context for interreligious contact and dialog. At
Clark, Lynn Schofield. From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media,
the same time, they can and do provide information about
and the Supernatural. New York, 2003. A fieldwork-based
some traditions that other traditions find to be scandalous.
cultural analysis of emerging religious sensibilities in youth
culture articulated by and through the media culture.
A seventh effect of media has been discussed in some de-
tail already. That is that the media are today a major source
De Vries, Hent, and Samuel Weber, eds. Religion and Media.
of religious and spiritual resources to the “seeking” and
Stanford, Calif., 2001. An influential compendium of essays
and field reports focusing on the intervention of media into
“questing” sensibilities that increasingly define religion in the
religious memory, history, and practice.
developed West. This is related to an eighth effect, that it
has been suggested that the media have the potential to sup-
Eisentstein, Elizabeth. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change.
port the development of “new” or “alternative” religions.
New York, 1974. The definitive study of printing and its re-
lationship to clerical and state authority. Contains important
This has been thought by some to be a particular potential
insights into how printing became publishing and thus the
of the new digital media. The Internet provides opportuni-
foundation of the modern mass media.
ties for interactive relations among focused networks of like-
minded people. Thus they might well be a context where
Ginsburg, Faye, Brian Larkin, and Lila Abu-Lughod, eds. Media
Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain. Berkeley, Calif., 2002.
those networks could develop into religious movements of
A significant and influential collection that has helped define
their own. This of course remains to be seen.
the development of a scholarly discourse on media within an-
Finally, an effect of media on religion is the central role
thropology. Many of the contributions deal with religion in
that the media play in national and global rituals around
specific contexts.
major public events. Beginning with the Kennedy assassina-
Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public
tion and continuing through royal weddings and funerals,
Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cam-
crises such as the Challenger, Columbia, and Columbine trag-
bridge, Mass., 1991. An influential social history of the
edies, the death of the Diana, Princess of Wales, and of
emergence of public discourse and its integration into social,
course the September 11 attacks, the media have come to ac-
political, and communicational contexts.
cept a central role in a new civil religion of commemoration
Hendershot, Heather. Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Con-
and mourning.
servative Evangelical Culture. Chicago, 2004. A comprehen-
The relationship between media and religion is a pro-
sive study of Evangelical relations to the media and popular
found, complex, and subtle one. While the media have
culture. Contains important insights into Evangelical self-
understanding and understanding of the possibilities in
grown in cultural importance over the past century, and reli-
media technologies.
gious institutions and movements have contemplated how
to respond and experimented with ways of accommodating
Hoover, Stewart M. Mass Media Religion: The Social Sources of the
to this new reality, a relationship has developed that now de-
Electronic Church. London, 1988. The first field study of reli-
gious television audiences, it established the extent to which
termines, in important ways, the prospects and prerogatives
these programs had important symbolic value in representing
of religion into the twenty-first century.
the ascendancy of Evangelicalism in the culture more
EE ALSO Religious Broadcasting.
Hoover, Stewart M., and Knut Lundby, eds. Rethinking Media,
Religion, and Culture. Newbury Park, Calif., 1998. An edited
Abu-Lughod, Lila. “The Interpretation of Culture(s) after Televi-
collection focused on the emerging scholarly field of media
sion.” In The Fate of “Culture,” edited by Sherry B. Ortner,
and religion studies. Largely social-scientific in orientation,
pp. 110–135. Berkeley, Calif., 1999. A provocative scholarly
the contributions look at media and religion in a variety of
reflection by an anthropologist on the extent to which televi-
contexts worldwide.
sion is now integrated into cultural and religious life, as a
Hoover, Stewart M., and Lynn Schofield Clark, eds. Practicing Re-
local and worldwide phenomenon.
ligion in the Age of the Media: Studies in Media, Religion, and
Appadurai, Arjun. “Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a
Culture. New York, 2002. A collection concentrating on hu-
Transnational Anthropology.” In Recapturing Anthropology:
manistic, historical, and critical analysis of the practice of re-
Working in the Present, edited by Richard G. Fox,
ligion in the media age.
pp. 191–210. Santa Fe, 1991. An influential survey that re-
veals and assesses the phenomenon of emerging global cul-
Mahan, Jeffrey, and Bruce Forbes, eds. Religion and Popular Cul-
ture in America. Berkeley, Calif., 2000. An edited volume
containing significant scholarship from the field of religious
Brasher, Brenda. Give Me That Online Religion. San Francisco,
studies focused on media culture and popular culture.
2001. A pioneering study of internet religion, which consid-
ers the possibility of the digital media coming to a central
McDannell, Colleen. Material Christianity, Religion, and Popular
place in emerging religious practice.
Culture in America. New Haven, Conn., 1998. A field-based
Bunt, Gary R. Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas,
study of major contexts of popular religious culture. Provides
and Cyber Islamic Movements. London, 2003. The first com-
an excellent introduction to the commodities and artifacts
prehensive account of Islam in the internet age. Provides evi-
that have historically defined American religion.
dence of a growing accommodation between Islam, in both
Morgan, David. Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Reli-
traditional and non-traditional forms, and the digital media.
gious Images. Berkeley, Calif., 1999. The definitive account
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 role of material culture in American Protestant piety,
technological, and social developments. There is not a single
with special attention to visual artifacts. It includes both his-
systematic theory of medical ethics. Rather, medical ethics
torical and contemporary reception analysis.
has matured into a discipline that is enriched by a plurality
Roof, Wade Clark. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the
of voices from clinical medicine, religious traditions, philoso-
Remaking of American Religion. Princeton, N.J., 1999. The
phy, literature, politics, and the social sciences.
definitive account of the individualistic “seeker” phenome-
non among baby-boom and post-boom generations in the
One of the earliest articulations of ethical guidance for
West and in the United States more specifically. Gives par-
physicians is the oath of Hippocrates, which dates from as
ticular attention to the role that cultural commodities, in-
early as the fourth century BCE. Two statements in the Hip-
cluding media commodities, play in religion and spirituality
pocratic oath—“into whatsoever house you shall enter, it
among these generations.
shall be for the good of the sick to the utmost of your power”
Schultze, Quentin J. Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtu-
and “you will exercise my art solely for the cure of pa-
ously in the Information Age. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1992. A
tients”—are the basis for the well-known principle of “above
thoughtful reflection on the implications of the digital age
all do no harm” when caring for patients (Dorman, 1995;
for religious community and religious practice. Contrasts the
Carey, 1928).
mediated digital context with religious community in tradi-
tional terms.
In contrast to the personal expression of ideal conduct
Underwood, Doug. From Yahweh to Yahoo!: The Religious Roots
embodied in the Hippocratic oath, in 1803 Thomas Percival
of the Secular Press. Urbana, Ill., 2002. An award-winning
published Medical Ethics or a Code of Institutes and Precepts
history of media and religion that looks at the institutional
(Percival, 2000). This code became the basis of the American
relations and integration of religious and non-religious
Medical Association’s first Code of Ethics adopted in 1847
(Baker, 2000). The development of a code of ethics marked
Winston, Diane. Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the
a radical transition from a personal ethic that focused primar-
Salvation Army. Cambridge, Mass., 2000. An in-depth his-
ily on elucidating the proper demeanor for physicians (Jon-
torical look at the central case of religion encountering publi-
sen, 2000) to a collective professional ethic that renewed
cation and commodification in the nineteenth and twentieth
concern for the place of values in the practice of medicine.
centuries. The Salvation Army proves to be an excellent case-
study of the costs and benefits of the interaction between reli-
By the middle of the twentieth century advances in
gion and media.
medical science radically changed the ability of physicians to
Wuthnow, Robert. After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the
diagnose and treat illness. These developments created a
1950s. Berkeley, Calif., 2000. An influential account of the
moral crisis that cried out for a rethinking of the moral obli-
relationship between individualistic religion and the contexts
gations of physicians. Notably, the condemnation of research
of faith.
without patient consent, codified as the Nuremberg Code in
1947, transformed the interaction of physician-investigators
and patients in research. In 1950 an era of organ transplanta-
tion began, eventually forcing society to reassess the defini-
tion and criteria for death (Defining Death, 1981). In 1953
the structure of DNA was discovered and set the ground-
work for the genetic revolution in the early twenty-first cen-
tury. In 1961 hemodialysis became a reality, raising ques-
tions about the allocation of scarce resources and the
appropriateness of using technology to prolong life. In 1973
the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision affirmed the
right of a woman to obtain an abortion during the first tri-
MEDICAL ETHICS. Religious beliefs are central to
mester of pregnancy. The 1970s also ushered in vigorous de-
the process of deliberation in medical ethics. An awareness
bates about who should live and who should be allowed to
of the rich diversity of perspectives both within and among
forgo lifesaving treatment. These questions were stimulated
different religious traditions is critical to the development of
by the seminal cases of Karen Quinlan (Quinlan 70 NJ,
respectful dialogue. This entry will focus on the religious tra-
335A2d, 1976) and Donald “Dax” Cowart (Kliever, 1989)
ditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Readers interest-
and continued into the 1990s with questions about the ethics
ed in Hinduism are referred to S. Cromwell Crawford’s
of euthanasia and assisted suicide (Deciding to Forgo Life-
Hindu Bioethics for the Twenty-First Century (2003) and
Sustaining Treatment, 1982; Washington et al. v. Glucksberg
those interested in Buddhism are referred to Damien
et al., 1997; and Vacco, Attorney General of New York, et al.
Keown’s Buddhism and Bioethics (1995).
v. Quill et al., 1997). More recently, greater emphasis has
OVERVIEW OF MEDICAL ETHICS. Medical ethics is the appli-
been placed on the quality of end-of-life care and how to im-
cation of principles and rules of morality to healthcare
prove it. The advent of managed care has invigorated debates
(Clouser, 1974). It is a multidisciplinary field grappling with
on resource allocation and the role of physicians as managers.
perplexing questions created by rapidly evolving scientific,
The twenty-first century heralded in an era of genetics with
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the mapping of the human genome and questions about the
Protestant medical ethics. Protestant medical ethics is
acceptability of stem cell research and cloning (Shapiro,
rooted in the teachings of Martin Luther and such Reforma-
1999; Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 2000). These ques-
tion themes as “the freedom of a Christian,” as well as bibli-
tions are part of a gradual shift in the discipline from internal
cal principles, such as love (Johnson, 1978). There are many
professional concerns to matters of public debate.
strains of Protestant theology, and so there are diverse ap-
proaches to Protestant medical ethics. It is therefore difficult
to define a uniquely Protestant approach to medical ethics,
were among the first to contribute to the modern dialogue
and most Protestants would view secular medical ethics as
of medical ethics, and they were instrumental in shaping the
compatible with their personal religious beliefs (Pauls and
emergence of the discipline (Callahan, 1990). Religious ap-
Hutchinson, 2002). Paul Ramsey and James Gustafson are
proaches to medical ethics share a common grounding of
two prominent Protestant thinkers who have developed a
ethical positions in religiously based claims (Lammers, 1998;
Protestant approach to medical ethics. Ramsey develops an
Williams, 1997). A brief discussion of the theological princi-
ethic that is rooted in the biblical concept of a covenantal
ples that guide each religion’s vision of healthcare follows.
relationship and the biblical conception of righteousness. His
Catholic medical ethics. There is a long tradition of
ethical positions are directed at meeting the needs of others
Catholic medical ethics dating from Augustine’s writings on
(Ramsey, 1950). It is therefore not surprising that he focuses
suicide and Thomas Aquinas’s doctrine of natural law to
on the obligations of physicians to patients and those of re-
modern-day directives on euthanasia and reproductive tech-
searchers to human subjects. He leaves no room for consider-
nologies (O’Rourke, 1999). The church’s ethical and reli-
ation of the common good that might diminish the priority
gious directives govern Catholic medical ethics (Ethical and
of care for individual patients. The individual’s welfare is al-
Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 2001).
ways first and foremost (Ramsey, 1970b). Ramsey also devel-
The directives are grounded in the natural law approach of
oped a phenomenological conception of Protestant natural
Catholic moral theology from which the church has derived
law and argues that natural laws are discovered “in the course
its understanding of the nature of the human person, of
of active reflection upon man in the context of moral, social,
human acts, and of the goals that shape human activity.
and legal decisions” (Ramsey, 1962, p. 216). This is consis-
tent with the historical Protestant emphasis on personal free-
Fundamental to Catholic bioethics is a belief in the
dom and has contributed to the establishment of patient au-
sanctity of life. Life is understood as a gift from God, and
tonomy as a central concept within the moral framework of
human beings are its steward (Wildes, 1997). The Catholic
medical decision-making.
belief in the resurrection of Christ and an afterlife, however,
James Gustafson has emphasized the web of human re-
influences the attitude toward life. Catholicism believes that
lationships in which individuals are situated (Gustafson,
human life and personhood begin at conception. Thus, a
1965). The starting place for his ethical reflection is ordinary
human fetus at any stage of development is a person who has
human existence rather than church doctrines or scriptural
a right to life. Central to Catholicism is a belief in a meta-
passages; nevertheless, Gustafson developed a theocentric
physical conception of human beings as both body and soul.
ethic. Although he argued that Christian ethics should begin
The presence of a living body, even if it has diminished or
with human experience, human action should be judged pri-
absent intellectual capabilities, is the defining characteristic
marily by the will of God and not by the welfare of human
of personhood. This belief has implications for ethical ques-
tions at the beginning and end of life.
Jewish medical ethics. Jewish medical ethics is rooted
As in most religions, there is a diversity of opinion with-
in the application of the scriptural texts of the Five Books
in Catholicism. Richard McCormick has articulated a teleo-
of Moses, the Talmud, codes of Jewish law, and the responsa
logical ethic in which good is judged in relation to the com-
literature to contemporary ethical questions in medicine.
mon good. He argues for a proportionalist perspective in
The Talmud is the primary sourcebook of Jewish law; it en-
which an action viewed as evil might be justifiable if it brings
tails expositions and debates by rabbis about how to apply
about a good that is proportionate to or greater than the asso-
principles to different circumstances. The responsa literature
ciated evil (McCormick, 1981b). This position is in opposi-
is a compilation of written decisions and rulings by rabbis
tion to Catholic beliefs in the absolute ontic nature of moral
in response to questions posed about Jewish law. The ques-
acts. McCormick has a dynamic understanding of Catholic
tions are usually practical, and often concern new situations
theology that emphasizes an individualized and context-
for which no provision had been made in prior codes of law.
sensitive approach to moral problems (May, 1987 and
Responsa begin to appear in the sixth century CE, and all de-
1994). According to McCormick actions should be judged
nominations within Judaism continue to formulate responsa.
based on what values they advance or denigrate within the
In recent years they have addressed many contemporary
context of an objective hierarchy of values (Rae, 1999). Mc-
questions relating to medical ethics.
Cormick connects moral values to moral rights and duties.
Thus the right to self-determination is linked to the moral
The presence of a well-defined corpus of religious legal
value of human freedom.
texts does not mean, however, that there is one authoritative
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Jewish position on questions of medical ethics. Within Or-
of the whole of mankind” (QurDa¯n 5:35; and Mishnah San-
thodox Judaism (Freedman, 1999; Waldenberg, 1963) and
hedrin 4:5). Death is considered to occur when the soul
among Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstruc-
leaves the body, but since this cannot be determined with
tionist Judaism there is a diversity of opinions on how to
certainty, physical signs are used to diagnose death. The con-
apply traditional sources to contemporary ethical problems.
cept of brain death was accepted by a majority of Islamic
For some, Jewish medical ethics is constrained by the scrip-
scholars in 1986 (Al Bar, 1995).
tural rules and precedents accumulated over thousands of
REPRODUCTION. Many religious traditions share the as-
years (Tendler, 1998; Jakobovits, 1975; Rosner, 1979). This
sumption that human life is sacred. This understanding of
approach is in tension with those who look more broadly at
life has implications for the permissibility of abortion. Ca-
the values behind Jewish law and apply them to modern-day
tholicism’s official opposition to abortion has been based on
situations (Newman, 1995; Zohar, 1997; Gordis, 1989).
two fundamental beliefs (Pope John Paul II, 1995). One is
What sources are selected and what methodological ap-
the belief that a human fetus is a person from the moment
proach is used in the interpretation of traditional Jewish texts
of conception, and thus aborting a fetus is tantamount to
will influence the ethical decision that is reached. Jewish ethi-
murder. The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) con-
cists dispute fundamental questions about how concrete ex-
demned abortion unconditionally as an “unspeakable crime”
amples discussed in the Talmud can be extrapolated to mod-
(Pope Paul VI, 1965). The second belief that underlies the
ern-day questions in medical ethics.
Catholic position on abortion, contraception, and assisted
In an effort to grapple with contemporary questions
reproduction is that sex is permitted only when it is integrat-
from a Jewish perspective, Elliott Dorff (1998) has articulat-
ed into marriage and has procreative intent. In opposition
ed several fundamental beliefs underlying Jewish medical
to the antiabortion stance of the church, some Catholic theo-
ethics. He argues that the following beliefs should inform the
logians have tried to revive a more liberal position that claims
Jewish response to modern-day questions in medical ethics:
that the male fetus acquires a soul forty days after concep-
a belief that human bodies belong to God, human worth
tion, while the female fetus only acquires a soul eighty days
flows from being created in the image of God, the human
after conception (Dombrowski, 2000). This position is based
being is an integrated whole where body and soul are judged
on the teachings of Augustine of Hippo (354–430), and it
as one, the body is morally neutral and potentially good,
is strikingly similar to Jewish understandings of the fetus, but
there is an obligation to heal, and Jews have an obligation
it was never held as a universal truth by everyone in the
to engage in action that sanctifies God’s name. Dorff thus
puts forth a methodology of Jewish medical ethics that goes
Protestant views on abortion are diverse. Conservative
beyond strict legalism. He interprets Judaism’s general rules
groups believe that life begins at conception; however, some
not as inviolable principles, but as guiding policies that need
liberal denominations are pro-choice, believing that freedom
to be applied with sensitivity to the contexts of specific medi-
of choice is an important principle. Exceptions to the duty
cal cases.
to preserve life include medical indications, pregnancy result-
Islamic medical ethics. Islamic medical ethics is based
ing from rape, or social and emotional conditions that would
not be beneficial to the mother or future child (Gustafson,
on shar¯ı Eah, Islamic law, which is founded on the QurDa¯n
and the sunnah. The QurDa¯n is the holy book of all Muslims,
and the sunnah contains aspects of Islamic law based on the
In Jewish law an embryo is considered to be mere water
prophet Muh:ammad’s teachings. As in Judaism, Muslim
until the fortieth day (Epstein, 1935–1952). This leads some
scholars of religious law are called upon to determine reli-
to argue that abortion is permissible during the first forty
gious practice and resolve questions in medical ethics. The
days of pregnancy (Responsa Seridei Esh, 1966). A fetus has
application and interpretation of Islamic law is dynamic and
the status of a potential human life, and thus Judaism per-
flexible within the confines of a sacred set of values and texts
mits abortion under certain circumstances. Where the moth-
(Van Bommel, 1999). In 1982 Abdul Rahman C. Amine,
er’s life is in jeopardy, abortion is mandatory. The Talmud
M.D., and Ahmed Elkadi, M.D., proposed an Islamic code
speaks directly to this question where it says: “if the fetus
of medical ethics that addresses many fundamental questions
threatens the life of the mother, you cut it up within her
in contemporary medical ethics (Rahman, 1982). In Islam,
body and remove it limb by limb if necessary, because its life
life is sacred and every moment has value even where the
is not as valuable as hers. But once the greater part of the
quality of life is diminished. Full human life begins after the
body has emerged, you cannot take its life to save the moth-
ensoulment of the fetus, and most Muslim scholars agree
er’s, because you cannot choose between one human life and
that this occurs at about 120 days after conception (Al Bar,
another” (Mishnah Ohalot 7:6). Thus a fetus becomes a per-
1986). A minority of scholars believes that ensoulment oc-
son when the head emerges from the womb. As with most
curs at forty days after conception (Al Bar, 1995). Saving a
questions in Judaism, there is a diversity of opinion on when
life is considered a duty informed by the guiding principle
abortion is permitted (Feldman, 1980; Lubarsky, 1984;
mentioned in both the QurDa¯n and in the Talmud, “If any-
Bleich, 1968). Some authorities permit abortion in the case
one has saved a life, it would be as if he has saved the life
of rape, and some will permit abortion in the first trimester
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if the fetus would be born with an abnormality that would
Jewish perspectives on end-of-life care are also informed
cause it to suffer. One Orthodox authority has argued that
by a belief that human life is sacred, and thus the preserva-
abortion is permissible until the end of the second trimester
tion of life surpasses almost all other commandments. Most
if the fetus has a genetic mutation that would be lethal and
would argue, however, that this belief does not translate into
would cause great suffering (Waldenberg, 1980).
a mandate to preserve all human life under all circumstances
and at all costs (Herring, 1984). Although hastening death
Islam discourages abortion, but permits it under certain
is prohibited, if something is an impediment to the natural
circumstances. Abortion has been allowed after implantation
process of death, it is permitted to withdraw that impedi-
and before ensoulment in cases where there are adequate rea-
ment. For example, if a person is certain to die, and is only
sons. However, many Sh¯ıEah and some Sunnis have prohibit-
being kept alive by a ventilator, it is permissible to withdraw
ed abortion after implantation unless the mother’s life is in
the ventilator, which is impeding the natural process of
danger (Ebrahim, 1989).
death. Judaism attempts to balance the thrust to prolong life
and the recognition that life may become unbearably diffi-
END-OF-LIFE CARE. Advances in medical technology have
cult and painful (Rosner, 1979).
made it possible to prolong life through the use of ventila-
tors, artificial organs, intravenous feeding, and ventricular as-
Islam considers the intentional hastening of death to be
sist devices. The monotheistic religions of Judaism, Chris-
the equivalent of murder and thus denounces suicide and as-
tianity, and Islam uphold a duty to protect life that is on
sisted suicide (Ebrahim, 2000). Islam does not condone the
temporary hold from God. These faiths have uniformly re-
secular concept of a right to die. Like Judaism, however,
jected suicide. Within the Catholic tradition the failure to
Islam acknowledges that when treatment becomes futile, it
use ordinary measures to preserve life is morally equivalent
ceases to be mandatory. A patient may refuse treatment when
to suicide. This does not imply, however, that there is a duty
it will not improve his condition or quality of life. Although
to prolong life in all circumstances, regardless of the patient’s
continued medical care, including the use of a ventilator may
condition. Catholic theologians have distinguished ordinary
not be required, hydration, nutrition, and pain control
and extraordinary life support, arguing that a person is obli-
should not be withheld (Khomeini, 1998).
gated to use ordinary measures but that there is room for
GENETICS. The completion of the finished sequence of the
choice with regard to the use of extraordinary measures (Cro-
Human Genome Project in 2003 marks the beginning of a
nin, 1958). The directives outline compassionate care for the
new era of genetic manipulation. The potential for disease
dying, which includes pain management but also respects in-
prevention, early detection, and improved treatment of dis-
formed and competent refusal of life-sustaining treatment.
eases for which there is an identified genetic basis, however,
McCormick argues that Catholic moral theory connects self-
is accompanied by concern about the ethical, social, legal,
determination with the duty to preserve life, but it places
and psychological implications of genetic information (An-
limits on this duty. “Life is indeed a basic and precious good,
drews et al., 1994). One of the most promising and contro-
but a good to be preserved precisely at the condition of other
versial areas of genetics is stem cell research. Stem cells are
values” (McCormick, 1981a, p. 345). He affirms the right
unique in their ability to differentiate into any cell of the
of competent patients to reject life-sustaining treatment, ar-
human body. They have been isolated from adults, aborted
guing that individual patients will be in the best position to
fetuses, and embryos shortly after conception, and many be-
determine which treatments have a reasonable benefit and
lieve stem cells are the key to developing treatments and
which treatments are accompanied by an unreasonable bur-
cures for some diseases. Others, however, argue that using
den. McCormick urges patients to make a proportionate,
these cells is the equivalent of taking a human life, and even
reasoned decision in considering the rejection of life-
if their use leads to saving lives, it is not morally permissible
sustaining treatment. This would include a consideration of
to destroy embryonic stem cells.
the value of preserving life, human freedom, and lack of pain
Embedded within religious perspectives on the use of
(McCormick, 1981a, p. 399).
stem cells and cloning are varying theological assumptions
Gustafson argues that life is not an absolute value, and
that each religion has about a human embryo, the religious
yet he is also quick to say that life is the “indispensable condi-
duty to procreate, and the relationship between human be-
ings and technology. These assumptions lead to varied con-
tion for human values and valuing” (1971, p. 140). Thus we
clusions about the permissibility of stem cell research and
should neither worship life nor should we be quick to end
life. Gustafson puts forth four religious qualifications to con-
sider about life and death: (1) Life is a gift since human be-
The Catholic Church has been unequivocal in its de-
ings are dependent creatures; (2) Only God is absolute, and
nunciation of the use of embryonic stem cells. This position
human life is of relative worth; (3) Human beings are ac-
is based on the belief that human life begins at conception
countable to God and responsible for how they treat life; (4)
and thus embryos must be respected (Donum Vitae, 1987).
Human beings are participants in life who must respond to
Because Protestant theology is pluralistic, there is not a uni-
the developments and purposes that are made possible by
fied position on the use of embryonic stem cells. The general
God (Gustafson, 1968).
synods of the United Church of Christ have regarded human
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

embryos as due great respect, but they have not regarded em-
Al Bar, M. A., ed. “Organ Transplantation: An Islamic Perspec-
bryos as the equivalent of a person (Cole-Turner, 1997).
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Other Protestant views consider the dangers of not respect-
Saudi Arabia, 1995.
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Al Bar, M. A., ed. “When Is the Soul Inspired?” In Contemporary
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Since Judaism does not consider an embryo to have sig-
G. Motulsky, eds. Social, Legal, and Ethical Implications of
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Genetic Testing: Assessing Genetic Risks. Washington, D.C.,
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1994. See pages 247–289.
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2002. A Reconstructionist perspective on medical ethics.
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Bleich, J. David. “Abortion in Halakhic Literature.” Tradition 6
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Breitowitz, Yitzchok. “Halakhic Approaches to the Resolution of
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13, 1997.
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Callahan, Daniel. “Religion and the Secularization of Bioethics.”
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sume the role of co-creator through the acquisition of
Carey, E. J. “The Formal Use of the Hippocratic Oath for Medi-
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Clouser, K. D. “What Is Medical Ethics?” Annals of Internal Medi-
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Cole-Turner, Ronald, ed. “Statement on Cloning by the United
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Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Gift of Life
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(Donum Vitae): Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its
Understood in this light, cloning may in some circumstances
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be an example of using human creative potential for good.
tions of the Day. Washington, D.C., 1987. Available at:
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MEDITATION. The terms meditation and contempla-
Ramsey, Paul. “Moral and Religious Implications of Genetic Con-
tion are applied to a variety of manifestations throughout the
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historical and cultural geography of world religions. Medita-
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tion and contemplation are used in English to translate a num-
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their application to foreign terms. Some general categories
Responsa for Today. Schecter Institute for Jewish Studies. Available
through which meditative and contemplative systems can be
at: www.responsafortoday.com/eng_index.html.
described will be introduced.
Responsa Project: The Global Jewish Database at Bar-Ilan Universi-
Confusion sometimes arises when the words meditation
ty. Available at: www.biu.ac.il/JH/Responsa. A compendium
and contemplation are used interchangeably. However, a
of classical Jewish texts.
working distinction between the two terms can be suggested.
Responsa Seridei Esh, vol. 3, no. 127. Jerusalem, 1966.
Meditation is considered preparatory and contributory to the
Rosner, Fred, and J. David Bleich, eds. Jewish Bioethics. New
achievement of contemplation. Meditation involves concen-
York, 1979.
tration, the narrowing of the focus of consciousness to a sin-
gle theme, symbol, catechism, or doctrine, yet it remains cog-
Rosner, Fred. “Jewish Attitude Toward Euthanasia.” In Jewish
Bioethics, edited by Fred Rosener and J. David Bleich,
nitive and intellectual. Meditation is usually rumination on
pp. 253–265. New York, 1979.
a particular religious subject, while contemplation is a direct
intuitive seeing, using spiritual faculties beyond discursive
Sachedina, Aziz. “Islamic Perspectives on Cloning.” Testimony
before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, March
thought and ratiocination. In the felicitous phrase of Richard
14, 1997.
of Saint-Victor, a Christian theologian of the twelfth centu-
ry, “Meditation investigates, contemplation wonders.”
Shapiro, H. T. “Ethical Dilemmas and Stem Cell Research.” Sci-
ence 285 (1999): 2065.
The English word meditate comes from the Latin medi-
Tendler, Moshe. “Testimony before the National Bioethics Advi-
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sory Commission.” March 14, 1997.
trated dwelling in thought. Contemplation is derived from
Tendler, Moshe, ed. and trans. Responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein,
the Latin cum (“with”) and templum (“a consecrated place”).
vol. 1: Care of the Critically Ill. Hoboken, N.J., 1998.
Frequently, contemplation is itself a spiritual state and serves
as the end of an ascetic quest. Particularly in the monotheis-
Van Bommel, A. “Medical Ethics from the Muslim Perspective.”
Acta Neurochir 74, supplement (1999): 17–27.
tic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, this state
is sometimes considered tantamount to the beatific vision be-
Verhey, A. “Cloning: Revisiting an Old Debate.” Kennedy Insti-
stowed upon the individual through the grace of God. This
tute of Ethics Journal 4, no. 3: (1994): 227–234.
distinction between meditation and contemplation will serve
Waldenberg, Eliezar. Tzitz Eli’ezer (Jerusalem) 7 (1963): 190.
for an examination of the following materials, but the reader
Waldenberg, Eliezar. Tzitz Eli’ezer (Jerusalem) 8 (1965):
should bear in mind the difficulty of translating these con-
cepts from one language and culture to another.
Waldenberg, Eliezar. Tzitz Eli’ezer (Jerusalem) 9 (1967):
As for the morphology of the theories and practices in-
dicated by the terms meditation and contemplation, it may be
Waldenberg, Eliezar. Tzitz Eli’ezer (Jerusalem) 15 (1980): 43.
useful to mention some categories of spiritual discipline.
Walter, Jacob. The Fetus and Fertility: Essays and Responsa. Pitts-
Meditation leading to contemplation can be apophatic. In-
burgh, Penn., 1998.
volved here is an emptying procedure, in which the individu-
Walter, Jacob, and Mose Zemer, eds. Death and Euthanasia in
al systematically removes from consciousness any content
Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa. Pittsburgh, Pa., 1995.
that is not the object of the quest. In Christian mysticism,
Wildes, Kevin, and Alan C. Mitchell, eds. Choosing Life: A Dia-
this type of path is referred to as the via negativa; it is also
logue on Evangelium Vitae. Washington, D.C., 1997.
an important technique in Buddhism.
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Other forms of meditation and contemplation may be
individual from bondage to the sensible forms and images
termed cataphatic. In this type of practice, a specific image,
that one must deal with in everyday life and that delimit the
idea, role, or deity is held in the mind’s eye. The object of
soul. Meditation is an avenue through which the soul can
the individual is to assimilate, or to participate in some way
come to apprehend more than the forms of nature. Abulafia
with, the chosen object. Apophatic forms of meditation tend
looks for a means to deautomatize the human faculties from
to be more speculative, cognitive, and intellectual, at least in
the normal preoccupation with daily events. He seizes upon
their early stages. They tend to be centered in the mind.
a system of meditation based on the Hebrew alphabet. The
Cataphatic forms of meditation and contemplation, on the
letters of the alphabet are sufficiently abstract so as not to
other hand, tend to be more emotional and devotional. They
preoccupy the mind with any specific meaning, but concrete
tend to be centered in the heart. In what follows, meditation
enough to supply an object of intense focus and concentra-
and contemplation represent a continuum, with different
tion. The letters of the alphabet are regarded by the medita-
systems and traditions illustrating shifting perspectives with-
tor as constituents of the holy name of God. The meditator
in a descriptive framework that opposes the apophatic and
is instructed to combine and recombine the letters of the al-
speculative to the cataphatic and affective.
phabet without any attempt to form words, thereby con-
WESTERN TRADITIONS. The practice of prayer has always
structing a kind of nonrepresentational mystical logic. Such
held a central place in the Western traditions of Judaism,
exercise produces interior freedom and detachment from
Christianity, and Islam. Although prayer may devolve into
natural objects and prepares the adept for the final achieve-
meditation and even into contemplation, these are more di-
ment: the pure contemplation of the divine name.
rectly the concerns of the mystical and, in many instances,
Christianity. Meditation and contemplation, particu-
the monastic dimensions of these traditions.
larly within monastic circles, reached a high degree of differ-
Judaism. Meditation and contemplation in the Jewish
entiation and sophistication in the Christian tradition. The
tradition acknowledge the centrality and authority of the
practices of the early church took form in an atmosphere in-
Hebrew scriptures. Reading and interpreting the Torah re-
fluenced by Hermetic literature and the philosophy of Neo-
quire concentration and discursive meditation. This medita-
platonism. Syncretic in nature, the Hermetic books present
tion led to the development of commentary, such as the
the theme of a mystical ascent to the knowledge of God. This
Mishnah and the Talmud, and schools came into being that
important image (found also in Jewish mysticism) becomes
fostered an experiential approach. Heavily influenced by
central to the mysticism of Christianity. The idea of an as-
gnosticism and Hellenism, this movement is referred to as
cent from the many to the One is taken over from the
heikhalot mysticism. Ascetical practices culminated in a con-
thought of the Neoplatonist Plotinus. Plotinus describes four
templative ascent of the soul through seven heavens to reach
movements in the ascent to divine knowledge: (1) purgation
its final home in a state of beatitude. The final state is viewed
in the practice of virtue; (2) the development of thought be-
as one in which the mystic stands before the throne of God
yond sense perception; (3) the transcendence of thought in
and sees and hears directly. There is no experience of mysti-
the achievement of union; and (4) the final absorption in the
cal union, and God remains “wholly other.” This tradition
One. In the Christian circles of third-century Alexandria,
remained essentially cataphatic and nonaffective, although
these non-Christian ideas came to be absorbed into the tradi-
the symbolism of the ascent and the attainment of ecstatic
tion and to exert an important influence. Two important fig-
consciousness is characteristic of Jewish contemplation.
ures of this development were Clement and Origen.
A more immanentist approach to the contemplation of
For Clement, meditation led to the apprehension of the
God developed within the Hasidic tradition. One can trace
intelligible realities and then, through gnosis as a gift of
here the influence of Philo Judaeus, a Jewish philosopher of
Christ, to hidden spiritual realities. Reflective reading of, and
the first century
meditation on, the scriptures in order to discern this hidden
CE who later was to have an important influ-
ence on Christianity. In Hasidic contemplation, the tran-
meaning was important. Within this metaphorical frame-
scendent majesty of God is preserved by making the object
work, Origen introduces the symbol of a contemplative mar-
of contemplation the shekhinah, or the spirit of the living
riage between the soul and the Logos (Christ).
God. God can be contemplated directly only at the end of
Anchoritism, or withdrawal into the desert, was a form
the world, or the Day of Yahveh. The Jewish contemplative
of spirituality in the early church that gave full rein to ascetic
almost always retains a sense of the distance between himself
and meditative practices. Disengagement from the concerns
and God. The quest ends not with mystical union but with
of ordinary life provided a favorable atmosphere for the
a sense of adhesion (or being joined) to God, which is short
awakening of the spirit to the word of God. The austere life
of an actual union.
of the desert could produce a deep, inner quiet and was con-
ducive to a life of continual meditation on the scriptures in
The qabbalistic school from the thirteenth century on-
an attempt to hear the word of God and to ascend the ladder
ward produced some major developments in the Jewish med-
of perfection through grace.
itative and contemplative tradition. A major exponent of this
school was the Spaniard Avraham ben ShemuDel Abulafia.
Within this context, as early as the third century, a life
He developed a meditative technique designed to release the
of constant prayer developed as an ideal for the anchorite.
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The beginnings of the prayer of the heart, or the Jesus Prayer,
dition of a vision of God that includes the perception of
are found here. The Jesus Prayer is an apothegm translated
as “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” The
A major figure of the French church involved in codify-
first reference to this prayer comes from the seventh century.
ing meditation was Francis of Sales (1567–1622). In his In-
The practice of the Jesus Prayer became important in Eastern
troduction to the Devout Life, he teaches a five-step medita-
Orthodox spirituality and in the development of the move-
tion. The preparatory stage of meditation involves three
ment known as hesychasm. Meditation came to be seen, in
steps: (1) placing one’s self in the presence of God, (2) pray-
a movement away from Neoplatonism, as more properly
ing for divine assistance, and (3) imagining a scene from the
centered in the heart rather than in the mind. Control of
life of Jesus. The second step builds on the first through iden-
breathing and the fixation of the gaze were important ancil-
tification with those images that most affect the practitioner.
laries to the constant repetition of the apothegm. This tradi-
In the third step feelings generated in the second are convert-
tion has survived down to the present day in its major center
ed into acts of understanding and will. The fourth step in-
on Mount Athos, in Greece.
volves thanksgiving and offering up the results of the medita-
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the Roman
tion as a sacrifice, and petition for the putting into practice
Catholic church were a period of rationalization and the sys-
of the insights gained. The fifth step is the development of
tematization of meditative and contemplative processes. This
the “spiritual nosegay” or the preparation of some content
movement looked back to a medieval interest in the method-
of the meditation to sustain one in daily affairs.
ology of meditation developed among the Franciscans. A
Islam. The prophet Muh:ammad (b. 570) considered
major figure in this movement was Bonaventure (1217–
his prophecy to be a continuation and reaffirmation of the
1274). In his De triplici via, he gives an exemplary statement
Judeo-Christian tradition. The word isla¯m means “submis-
for Western Christianity on the three processes of medita-
sion” in Arabic; thus a Muslim is one who submits. Islamic
tion: purgation, illumination, and union.
theology emphasizes the transcendent majesty and unity of
Ignatius Loyola (1495–1556), the founder of the Jesu-
God. Humanity is considered to exist face to face with this
its, wrote a treatise entitled Spiritual Exercises, in which he
transcendent majesty without intercessors. Humans are not
outlines a progression in meditative practice. His notions of
expected to try to share the secrets of God.
meditation may not be so exalted as others, but his methods
In the more orthodox forms of Islam, daily prayer (s:ala¯t)
are of interest insofar as they involve cataphatic visualization
is one of the obligatory observances. Usually this prayer is
techniques that bear some resemblance to Hindu and Bud-
conducted communally. Although it is also recommended
dhist practices. For example, Ignatius’s fourth method re-
that a Muslim perform dhikr, or remembrance of God, these
quires that the practitioner choose a specific image, such as
practices are external formalities and not necessarily related
the passion or the resurrection of Jesus, and apply each of
to contemplation and meditation in the present sense.
the five senses to that image. Thus, through seeing, hearing,
smelling, tasting, and touching, the image is vivified in the
By the eighth century, strict Muslim orthodoxy began
consciousness of the meditator.
to be challenged by Sufism, the generic term for Islamic mys-
ticism. The S:u¯f¯ı movement favored an interiorization and
Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) was a member of the Car-
esotericization of the basic institutions of Islam. The ortho-
melite order. In her Autobiography, she narrates her medita-
dox religious attitudes of fear and obedience before the tran-
tive experiences and describes a period of spiritual desicca-
scendence of God changed in Sufism to an attitude of ecstat-
tion followed by a series of ecstatic experiences. Teresa
ic love of God and hope of union with him through a
describes the latter in sexual images and draws upon the sym-
transcendence of the phenomenal self. Meditative and con-
bolism of the bride and the bridegroom, a symbolism that
templative practices became an important part of this quest,
dates back at least to the time of Origen. In the Autobiogra-
and dhikr became a constant practice of the presence of God.
phy she catalogs degrees of meditation, using the symbolism
of the husbandry of plants. She compares discursive medita-
Ecstasy is the goal of the S:u¯f¯ı path, and dhikr, in an ex-
tion to watering the garden, bucket by bucket; recollection
panded and intensified form, becomes a means to the goal.
is analogous to the use of a water wheel, and quiet, to springs
Techniques familiar in other traditions such as control of the
of water. Union is compared to a drenching rain.
breath, visualization of sacred words, and repetition of sacred
phrases were adopted as important means to this end. The
Teresa’s contemporary and fellow Carmelite, John of
goal is termed fana¯ D, or annihilation of the lower self, which
the Cross (1542–1591), modified the three ways of medita-
enables God through his grace to bestow on the mystic the
tion developed by Bonaventure. Purgation is retained but il-
rapture of union with him.
lumination is replaced, using the bridal imagery, with be-
trothal, and union with spiritual marriage. Both Teresa of
The S:u¯f¯ıs developed sacred dance as a technique for the
Ávila and John of the Cross describe a stage in contemplation
induction of ecstasy. The turning and whirling movements
referred to as the “dark night of the soul,” an experience of
of the dance accompanied by hypnotic music and chanting
alienation and isolation preparatory to illumination through
of poetry bypassed the intellectual faculties and created a
the grace of God. This theme continues a long-standing tra-
trancelike state of centeredness and concentration. The Mev-
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

levi order of S:u¯f¯ıs founded by Jala¯l al-D¯ın Ru¯m¯ı institution-
As concentration deepens, the next limb of Yoga,
alized this practice as the foundation of its worship.
pratya¯ha¯ra (withdrawal of the senses from their objects), con-
EASTERN TRADITIONS. Sophisticated psychologies and tech-
tributes to a further interiority. The next step is dharan:a, or
niques of contemplation and meditation were developed
the concentration of the mind on a single object. This is fol-
within the spiritual traditions of India and China. These tra-
lowed by dhya¯na, or the achievement of an uninterrupted
ditions, which antedate the beginning of the common era,
nonverbal current of consciousness focused on the medita-
developed independently until the introduction of Bud-
tive object. The eighth and last limb of this meditative pro-
dhism into China in the first century CE. Thereafter, India’s
gram is sama¯dhi, in which the goal of complete cessation of
techniques of meditation strongly influenced Chinese reli-
the modifications of the mind is achieved, and a transcen-
gious thought.
dent awareness of one’s ultimate identity as purus:a, or un-
conditional spirit, is attained. In this state of ecstasy, the nor-
India. A concern for meditative asceticism, which runs
mal ego sense and the experience of a dichotomy between
through Indian religious history, can be traced as far back as
subject and object is overcome. Yoga discipline in a variety
the Indus Valley civilization of the third millennium BCE. Ar-
of forms becomes an important ingredient in several Indian
tifacts recovered from this civilization can be interpreted as
spiritual traditions and religions, including Jainism, various
representing individuals or deities in meditative attitudes.
forms of Hinduism, and Buddhism.
Yoga. An early systematization of meditative technique
Hinduism. Hinduism is a generic term used to refer to
is found in the Yoga Su¯tra of Patañjali, dating from the third
a variety of religious manifestations within the Indian sub-
century BCE. Patañjali defines yoga as “the cessation of the
continent and other areas subject to Indian influence. In the
modifications of the mind.” This statement forms the basis
early history of Hinduism, a stage referred to as Brahmanism,
of much of pan-Indian spirituality. The Yoga system is one
there was a movement away from the practice of exoteric rit-
of the classical dar´sanas, or “viewpoints,” of Indian philoso-
ual and toward meditative interiority and realization. As the
phy. The object of meditation and other ascetic practices is
tradition developed, Hindus came to be divided into three
to still the mind and the emotions with which the individual
main sects: the Vais:n:ava, the S´aiva, and the S´a¯kta.
usually identifies. When this is accomplished, consciousness
can reflect the pure absolute spirit (or purus:a), which is the
Vais:n:avism. The Vais:n:avas, worshipers of the god Vis:n:u
principle of consciousness itself. Realization of the purus:a as
and his many incarnations, developed a form of active, affec-
one’s true and ultimate identity brings with it release (moks:a)
tive, and cataphatic meditation in which chanting, singing,
from the tendency to identify with temporal experience.
and dancing were used to induce transic absorption into the
deity. Perhaps the most popular incarnation of Vis:n:u is the
The mind (citta) in Yoga philosophy is considered to be
deity Kr:s:n:a, whose worship is bhakti (“devotion”). In addi-
the repository of sam:ska¯ra (the root impressions of past
tion to performances of chanting and dance, a devotee was
deeds). These impressions are stored from present and past
expected to remain ever mindful of his object of devotion.
lives in unconscious layers of the psyche and, in turn, pro-
In turn, the deity extends his grace and love to the devotee.
duce binding proclivities, good and bad habits, and all forms
In both Vais:n:ava and S´aiva forms of theistic meditation, the
of limited vision and false identification, which modify and
emotions are given a much freer rein than in the more ab-
determine a person’s life in the unenlightened state. The un-
stract classical Yoga system. Transmutation of the emotions
enlightened mind is modified by its past ignorant experience
through devotion to Vis:n:u, S´iva, and their avata¯ras became
and in turn perpetuates such modifications into the indefi-
popular and had a far-reaching effect on Indian art and liter-
nite future. (This is the pan-Indian doctrine of karman,
which becomes axiomatic for much of Indian spirituality.)
Hence the importance of causing the modifications of the
Devotional theism borrowed some of its elements from
mind to cease so that the pure unconditioned spirit may be-
Sanskrit poetics. The term bha¯va, which refers to an intense
come manifest in meditation.
personal emotion in poetic theory, was adapted by the
Vais:n:avas to refer to the meditative attitude that a devotee
A primary object of Yoga discipline is to bring the mind
assumes toward Kr:s:n:a. There are four types of contemplative
into a state of one-pointedness or intense concentration.
mood, determined by the form of relationship with the deity.
Moral and ethical abstinences and observances form the first
These range from a relationship to Kr:s:n:a as supreme deity,
two limbs of an eightfold prescription for attaining this state.
as friend, as brother, and, perhaps most importantly, as lover.
A comfortable posture (a¯sana) is recommended, especially
A devotee’s chosen bha¯va was to be cultivated through medi-
one that enables the practitioner to keep the spine correctly
tation, chanting, and dance until he experienced himself as
aligned and one that can be comfortably held for protracted
the friend or lover of Kr:s:n:a. Continual absorption into these
periods of time as the mind becomes abstracted from the
various roles enabled the adherent to experience the love and
body. Breath control (pra¯n:a¯ya¯ma) is then recommended,
the personality of the deity.
since states of breathing and states of consciousness corre-
spond closely to each other. A calming and quieting of the
S´aivism and S´aktism. The devotees of S´iva developed
breath produces a corresponding calming and quieting of the
their own forms of contemplative worship. One is the
growth of a cult dedicated to S´akti, the female consort of
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

S´iva. S´akti is the active female energy of the universe in con-
sati). This practice is basic to both ´samatha (Pali, samatha)
tradistinction to the passive contemplative energy of S´iva
and vipa´syana¯ (Pali, vipassana¯) and can be used for both
himself. S´aktism became an important part of the Tantric
calming and higher vision. The practice of mindfulness, or
manifestations of Hinduism. Tantric Hinduism developed
total awareness, takes place in four main areas: the body it-
several techniques of meditation, including the use of the
self, the sensations, thought, and mental objects. Mindful-
yantra. A yantra is a geometric diagram that represents an ab-
ness of the body begins with the observation of breathing.
stract form or manifestation of a deity. Deities are essentially
Strict attention is paid to inhalation and exhalation, note
formless in their own nature but are thought to manifest
being taken of the duration of each as the practitioner be-
themselves in a movement from the subtle to the gross, in
comes aware of this usually unconscious activity. Such con-
the forms of sound, the geometric forms of the yantra, and
centration involves narrowing of the mind’s focus. The ef-
the mu¯rti (or sculpted) image. A yantra is a series of triangles,
fects of mindfulness of breathing include a refined awareness
squares, and circles emanating from a central point, which
of the entire body and a sense of tranquillity.
serves to focus the mind of the meditating yogin.
Mindfulness of the body is next applied to a monk’s
Visualization of a sculpted or painted form of the deity
postures and movements. Every bodily action is performed
became important in Tantric meditation. The object was to
with complete awareness and consciousness. This discipline
achieve a high degree of absorption in the outward form so
brings into awareness bodily activity, which normally goes
that it could be reproduced in complex detail within the
on beyond the conscious level. As activities are performed,
mind of the meditator. When this stage was reached the out-
mindfulness tranquilizes, calms, and controls the body;
ward form could be dispensed with. The general goal of Tan-
mindfulness can then proceed with an examination of the
tric meditation is the complete unification of the body,
constituent parts of the body, external and internal, and a
speech, and mind of the Tantric yogin with the body, speech,
breakdown of the body into its primary physical elements.
and mind of his chosen divinity. Mantras, symbolic sounds
These practices break up any tendency to identify with the
or phrases for the sound form of the divinity, were used in
this practice. Mudra¯s were used in meditation also as symbol-
Mindfulness is then applied to the sensations that are
ic gestures of the hands and body representing various stages
discerned as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. In a continuing
of the unification process.
progression, from the gross to the more subtle, mindfulness
In kun:d:alin¯ıyoga, the macrocosmic Sakti is further iden-
is then applied to the mind, or thought itself, and its objects.
tified, within the microcosm of the human body, as
Attention is paid to each thought as it occurs, whether it is
kun:d:alin¯ı. Kun:d:alin¯ı literally means “coiled” and refers to
with or without such factors as passion, hatred, delusion, or
the visualization of Sakti as an energy within the body in the
freedom. The objective is detachment and a loosening of the
form of a sleeping serpent. This energy is associated with a
tendency to identify with any factors of experience. With the
meditative physiology of the subtle body of the human. The
achievement of detachment, the monk has an increased abili-
meditator visualizes six vital centers called cakras placed
ty to respond actively to the actual circumstances of life.
along the spine from its base to the crown of the head. The
Through concentrative attention, a monk sees the mo-
cakras are connected to each other by a central vein with two
mentary quality of life, and sees that a moment of experience
lesser veins, or channels, on either side. The object of the
arises based on temporary causes and conditions. The monk
meditation and physical exercises of this form of Tantric
thus can see the real nature of experience, which had previ-
yoga is to wake the latent energy of S´akti coiled at the base
ously been obscured by incorrect mental fabrications and the
of the spine and to cause it to enter the central vein. As
false projection of permanent identity on a transient stream
kun:d:alin¯ı ascends and is drawn upward through meditation,
of moments.
it energizes the six cakras until it reaches the topmost cakra,
where it is reunited with S´iva. At this point the body of the
The Buddhist ´samatha practices are associated with
yogin and the body of the cosmos are resolved into the pri-
dhya¯na, or the achievement of meditative absorption.
mal unity.
Dhya¯na practice continues the work of mindfulness into an
even greater experience of detachment, one in which contact
Buddhism. Buddhism is a tradition that seeks to pene-
with the normal content of worldly experience is gradually
trate the veil of appearances and social conditioning and,
attenuated and almost altogether eliminated. The dhya¯nas
through meditative insight, to achieve a vision of the truth
(absorptions) are as follows: four absorptions with form, four
of reality. This vision leads to liberation from the round of
absorptions without form, and finally the cessation of con-
karmic cycles and the achievement of ultimate freedom in
ception and feeling. These stages represent a gradual elimina-
nirva¯n:a. Nirva¯n:a is the goal of Buddhist ascesis subsumed
tion of the verbal, discursive, and affective contents of the
under the term bha¯vana, or meditation. Bha¯vana has two
mind. They lead a monk gradually out of the world of sense-
secondary objectives: the first is the achievement of ´samatha,
based experience to a new, detached interior dimension.
or calm; the second is vipa´syana¯, insight or higher vision.
These stages are increasingly independent of the external
As a foundation for other Buddhist meditation prac-
world and signify a developing autonomy on the part of the
tices, a monk starts with the practice of mindfulness (Pali,
monk. The monk is no longer bound by the accidental 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

chaotic sensory stimuli of the world of ordinary experience
of looking directly into himself. Real education for the Dao-
or by intellectual concerns, and begins to acquire the power
ist, in the phrase of Zhuangzu, is “sitting and forgetting.”
of turning away from the “given world” and toward the abili-
Buddhism. From the time when Buddhism entered
ty to “create” an interior world of attenuated, simplified, and
China from India and Central Asia around the first century
peaceful content. This is the meaning of ´samatha, the calm-
BCE, the Chinese were exposed to a bewildering variety of
ing of the contents of consciousness, and the attainment of
Buddhist teachings. The major Indian schools were repre-
release from subjection to external circumstances.
sented, including the Madhyamika (Sanlun) and the Yoga-
Calming, transic absorption and insight are important
cara (Faxiang). Another school that developed in China, the
features of Buddhist ascesis; they continue to be fundamental
Tiantai, promulgated an elaborate meditative regime based
in both H¯ınaya¯na and Maha¯ya¯na schools. The Vajraya¯na, or
on a variety of scriptural sources. The Huayan school devel-
Tantric form of Buddhism, also developed elaborate visual-
oped a teaching and meditative discipline that led to a vision
ization meditations in which carefully delineated images of
of the harmony of totality and the mutual interpenetration
deities, or man:d:alas, were reproduced with great exactitude
of all things.
within the mind of the meditator. The Tantric form of Bud-
Two schools of Chinese Buddhism, the Chan and the
dhist meditation became firmly established in Tibet.
Jingtu (Pure Land school), developed different understand-
China. Contemplation and meditation have held a po-
ings of meditation practice, a difference often referred to as
sition of high importance in Chinese religious traditions.
that between “self-power” and “other-power.” “Other-
This is particularly true of the indigenous Daoist tradition
power” refers to a reliance on the grace of a deity for the
and the various schools of Buddhism imported from India.
achievement of salvation, an idea characteristic of the Pure
Daoism. Daoism in its early literary form (here referred
Land school. The idea behind this emphasis is that human
to as “classical Daoism”) and its later offshoot, which is usu-
beings are not strong enough to bring themselves to nirva¯n:a
ally termed “Neo-Daoism,” are usually thought of as the pri-
through their own meditative practices. Paradoxically, an ad-
mary province of contemplation in the Chinese indigenous
herent of this school is advised to call on the name of the sav-
ing deity (Amitabha; Chin., Omituo Fo; Jpn., Amida) with
an undivided mind, thus constituting a mantralike form of
Laozi (seventh century BCE?) and Zhuangzu (365–290
apophthegmatic practice. Meditation in the “other-power”
BCE?) are the two main figures of classical Daoism. Since
schools tends toward the affective and cataphatic.
their existence as historical figures is questioned, here they
shall be referred to only by their works, now known as the
“Self-power” schools, like Chan (Jpn., Zen) Buddhism,
Laozu (or Dao de jing) and the Zhuangzi. These two books
are more austere and apophatic. The word chan is a translit-
contain the early formulation of the Daoist worldview and
eration of the Sanskrit term dhya¯na, which means “medita-
ethos. In Daoism there is a contrast between the superficiali-
tion” or “contemplation.” The Chan school emphasized
ties of conventional reality and the insight achieved by the
“self-power” and sitting in formless meditation. Because of
Daoist sage. The task of Daoist contemplation is to move
its exclusive emphasis on meditation, Chan developed an
from a partial and self-centered view of things to a holistic
iconoclastic attitude toward other forms of religious obser-
view of the cosmos and its spontaneously functioning dyna-
vance. In Chan, personal enlightenment through intense
meditation was the goal, and nothing was allowed to stand
in the way of this pursuit, not even the religious and doctri-
The Dao is the primary object of contemplation and
nal trappings of Buddhism itself.
meditation in the Daoist tradition. It is the ultimate princi-
ple beyond phenomenal manifestations and yet within which
In Chan monasteries, meditation occupied a major part
all phenomenal manifestations are brought forth and under-
of the daily routine. Formal meditation usually took place
go change. The first chapter of the Dao de jing emphasizes
in a separate building erected for the purpose and was super-
the ineffability of the true Dao:
vised by a senior monk. Attention was paid to details of tech-
nique, including posture in the lotus position, with an erect
The Dao (Way) that can be told of is not the Eternal
spine, and the achievement of comfort and relaxation there-
in. Chan meditation focuses on the process of breathing,
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
leading to a gradual withdrawal from external stimuli. A
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
monk is instructed simply to observe the thoughts, feelings,
The Named is the mother of all things. (Zhan, 1963,
and visions that may come into consciousness, and let them
p. 139)
pass away of their own accord. When a monk is successful
The Dao is the substratum that remains when all verbal and
in detaching from both external and internal stimuli, the re-
physical phenomena are discarded. Awareness of the Dao can
sult is an experience of stillness and emptiness. This breaks
be reached through apophatic contemplation and medita-
up the tendency to identify with the body and mind and pro-
tion, that is, only through direct meditative experience. In
vides a new perspective on ordinary experience, marked by
order to attain inner illumination, the Daoist sage has to fol-
detachment, equanimity, and freedom from a sense of the
low a way of unknowing, of abandoning learning in favor
ego as a reference point for experience. This is a realization
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

beyond doctrine and beyond words themselves. The semileg-
endary founder of Chan in China, Bodhidharma, is said to
have described Chan as “a special transmission outside the
In Neolithic western Europe, large stones, or megaliths (from
scriptures; no dependence on words and letters; direct point-
the Greek megas, “great,” and lithos, “stone”), were used for
ing at the mind of man; seeing into one’s own nature and
construction of tombs, temples, rings, alignments, and stelae.
the attainment of Buddhahood.”
The largest number of some fifty thousand megalithic monu-
ments are in Spain and Portugal, France, Britain, southern
SEE ALSO Alphabets; Attention; Breath and Breathing;
Sweden, and northern Germany. The terms megalithic cul-
Dhikr; Eremitism; Mantra; Mudra¯; Mystical Union in Juda-
ture and megalithic religion have been applied to the massive
ism, Christianity, and Islam; Mysticism; Nianfo; Postures
stone monuments. However, neither a separate megalithic
and Gestures; Samadhi; Via Negativa; Yantra; Yoga.
culture nor isolated megalithic religion existed. The culture
that produced megalithic monuments was a part of the west-
ern European Neolithic and Aeneolithic (a transitional peri-
Chan, Wing-tsit, trans. and ed. Instructions for Practical Living,
od between the Neolithic and Bronze ages). It consisted of
and Other Neo-Confucian Writings by Wang Wangming. New
a number of regional culture groups whose religion can be
York, 1963.
understood in the context of the gynecocentric Old Europe-
Chan, Wing-tsit, trans. and comp. A Source Book in Chinese Phi-
an (i. e., pre-Indo-European) religion inherited from Upper
losophy. Princeton, 1963.
Paleolithic times. Huge stones were used wherever they were
Chang Zhongyuan, trans. and ed. Original Teachings of Chan
readily available. Monumental architecture, motivated by re-
Buddhism. New York, 1969.
ligious ideas, emerged synchronically with the rise of a seden-
tary way of life.
Conze, Edward. Buddhist Meditation. London, 1956.
Carbon-14 dating has established that western Europe-
de Bary, Wm. Theodore, Wing-tsit Chan, and Burton Watson,
an megaliths were built over a span of at least three thousand
comps. Sources of Chinese Tradition. New York, 1960.
years, from the fifth to the second millennium BCE. They
Ernest, John, J. E. L. Oulton, and Henry Chadwick, eds. Alexan-
were constructed earlier than the Egyptian pyramids and do
drian Christianity: Selected Translations of Clement and Ori-
not descend from forms in the Near East; the majority of ar-
gen. London, 1954.
chaeologists now believe that their development was indige-
Francis of Sales. Introduction to the Devout Life. Rev. ed. Translat-
nous. If there was any diffusion of ideas, it occurred along
ed and edited by John K. Ryan. New York, 1972.
the seaboard and from the Atlantic coast toward the interior.
Kadloubovsky, Eugènie, and G. E. H. Palmer, trans. Writings from
Megalithic structures fall into four main categories. The
the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart. London, 1951.
first is the temple, found in the Mediterranean islands of
Naranjo, Claudio, and Robert E. Ornstein. On the Psychology of
Malta and Gozo. Maltese temples have solid walls of very
Meditation. New York, 1971.
large stone slabs, and their floor plan has apses that recall the
Needleman, Jacob. Los Christianity. New York, 1980.
shape of a seated or standing goddess. The second and largest
category of megalithic structures is the burial chamber,
Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli, and Charles A. Moore, eds. A Source
which is subdivided into dolmens (monuments of two or
Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton, 1957.
more upright stones supporting a horizontal slab), passage
Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill,
graves, court tombs, and gallery graves. Some passage graves
N. C., 1975.
are monumental buildings whose chambers have corbeled
Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941).
vaults; for example, Newgrange in the Boyne River valley,
New York, 1961.
Ireland, which dates from 3200 to 3000 BCE, rises twenty
feet above the ground. The third category is the single up-
Suzuki, D. T. Zen and Japanese Culture. 2d ed., rev. & enl. Prince-
ton, 1959.
right stone, or menhir (the word comes from the Welsh
maen, “a stone,” and hir, “long”). Some of the menhirs found
Tart, Charles T. States of Consciousness. New York, 1975.
in Brittany are as high as six meters. A special kind of menhir,
Tsunoda, Ryusaku, Wm. Theodore de Bary, and Donald Keene,
called a statue menhir, is sculpted to represent a divinity. The
comps. Sources of Japanese Tradition. 2 vols. New York,
fourth category consists of grouped standing stones, placed
either in rows or in elliptical rings.
Archaeologists once assumed that these megalithic mon-
uments had evolved from simple to more complex forms, but
the new chronology shows that some very elaborate buildings
predate the simple gallery graves.
This entry consists of the following articles:
Temples and tombs were built in the likeness of the
Mother of the Dead or Mother Earth’s pregnant belly or
womb; this is the key to understanding megalithic structures
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 their floor plans. The idea that caves and caverns are nat-
Silbury, Wiltshire, in southwestern England (Dames, 1976).
ural manifestations of the primordial womb of the goddess
Later excavations revealed that there were once wooden
is not Neolithic in origin; it goes back to the Paleolithic,
structures on top and beside the megalithic monuments that
when a cave’s narrow passages, oval-shaped areas, clefts, and
were just as important as the monuments. Postholes (indicat-
small cavities were marked or painted entirely in red, a color
ing the presence of structures) have been observed in low bar-
that must have symbolized the color of the mother’s genera-
rows in Brittany, Britain, and Denmark. Traces of a timber
tive organs. The rock-cut tombs and hypogea of Malta, Sici-
facade, a porch at the front end of the barrow, and palisade
ly, and Sardinia are usually uterine, egg-shaped, or roughly
enclosures have also been discovered (Madsen, 1979). The
anthropomorphic. Red soil is found under each temple of
exquisite decoration in bas-relief on stones at entrances (as
at Newgrange) implies that ceremonies took place in front
of the cairns. Settlement debris in Irish court cairns has led
In western Europe, the body of the goddess is magnifi-
some scholars to believe that chambered tombs and long bar-
cently realized as the megalithic tomb. The so-called cruci-
rows should be considered not burial places but shrines.
form and double-oval tombs, as well as Maltese temples, are
However, excavations of megalithic chambers over the past
unmistakably human in shape. Some monuments replicate
two centuries have revealed skeletons, suggesting that the
the ample contours of figurines of the pregnant goddess.
monuments served as repositories and were used collectively
The earliest form of the grandiose chamber tombs is the
by the community. Some tombs have yielded as many as 350
passage grave, which consists of a corridor and principal
disarticulated skeletons; others contain only 5 to 20 skele-
chamber. The natural cave, with its connotations of the god-
tons, discovered in compartments where they were placed
dess’s womb (vagina and uterus), was probably the inspira-
after the flesh had decayed. In a few instances, skulls were
tion for the aboveground monumental structures that were
found stacked carefully in corners.
erected later. The basic form of the passage grave—a shorter
Long cairns in Britain have yielded so-called mortuary
or longer passage and a round, corbel-roofed chamber—
houses, which were constructed of timber or stone and had
dates from the fifth millennium BCE in Portugal, Spain, and
plank floors. The rectangular mortuary houses found at
Lochhill and Slewcairn contained three pits; the central one
The interior structures of many Neolithic court tombs
had two posts while the end pits held large split tree trunks
found in Ireland are outlined in a clearly anthropomorphic
(Masters, in Renfrew, 1981, p. 103). Mortuary houses are
form. In addition to a large abdomen and head, some struc-
also known from Denmark (Becker, in Daniel and Kjaerum,
tures have legs and even eyes. The term court cairns or court
1973, pp. 75–80; Madsen, 1979). These mortuary buildings
tombs comes from the semicircular entrance, built with large
yielded deposits of charcoal, dark soil, cremated bone, an oc-
stones, that characterize these structures. In many instances,
casional child’s skull, and flint tools, indicative of rituals in-
the court and one or more chambers attached to the middle
cluding sacrifices. It seems that megalithic structures and
of the edifice are all that remain of the cairn (De Valera,
long barrows, not unlike Christian cathedrals and churches,
1960, pls. ii-xxx). However, better-preserved examples show
served as shrines and ossuaries. No doubt the large monu-
that the court marks the inner contour of the anthropomor-
ments, exquisitely built and engraved with symbols on curb-
phic figure’s open legs; the chambers or a corridorlike struc-
stones and on inner walls, such as those at Knowth and New-
ture next to it, which leads into the very center of the mound,
grange (O’Kelly, 1983), Ireland, and Gavrinis, Brittany,
represents the vagina and uterus. The same symbolism is
were sacred places where funeral, calendrical, and initiation
manifested in different areas and periods. The Sardinian
rites took place. These monuments should be called not
tombe di giganti of the third and second millennia BCE, con-
“tombs” but rather “tomb-shrines.” The egg-shaped mound
sisting of a long chamber entered through the center of a
that covers the tomb-shrine of Newgrange is sprinkled with
semicircular facade, do not differ in symbolism from the
white quartz and looks like a huge egg-shaped dome. Proba-
Irish court tombs.
bly it was meant to represent a gigantic cosmic egg, the
womb of the world.
The other type of grave is a long barrow whose shape
resembles that of a bone, a symbol of death. Like the court
It is very likely that not all rituals were connected with
tombs, this type of grave has an entrance at the front that
death of humans and of all nature; some may have been initi-
leads into an anthropomorphic or uterus-shaped chamber.
ation rites. Typically, the entrances to the tombs are narrow,
resembling vulvas. One enters the mortuary house by either
Megalithic monuments were built to be seen. Careful
crawling or crouching along a narrow passage of stone. A wall
excavations and reconstructions have shown that much at-
of large curbstones, forming a forecourt, supports the mouth
tention was paid to their outer walls and facades. For exam-
of the passage entrance on both sides. The structure may be
ple, a reconstruction of a monument at Barnenez, Brittany,
a replica of the narrow and difficult entry into the mother
dating from the fifth millennium BCE (Giot, 1980), revealed
goddess’s womb.
a concentric series of walls with the upper parts of the inter-
nal walls visible. Another great structure, dating from the
In megalithic gallery graves of France, Switzerland, and
first half of the third millennium BCE, was reconstructed at
the Funnel-necked Beaker culture in Germany, partition
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walls sometimes have round holes. Their meaning is appar-
as a metaphor for the goddess’s pregnant belly (Dames,
ent if the still-extant veneration of stones with holes is con-
1976). The entire structure forms an image of the goddess:
sidered; belief in the miraculous power of holed stones is still
the hill is her belly, the ditch forms the rest of her body in
found in Ireland, Scotland, England, France, and in many
a seated or squatting position. The circular summit of Sil-
other European countries. Trees with holes play a related
bury Hill is the goddess’s navel, or omphalos, in which her
role. By crawling through the aperture of a stone or tree, a
life-producing power is concentrated. Veneration of sacred
person is symbolically crawling into Mother Earth’s womb
hills was found in Europe until the twentieth century. Wor-
and giving oneself to her. Strengthened by the goddess’s
ship of the earth mother was celebrated on mountain sum-
powers, he or she is reborn. The crawling constitutes an initi-
mits crowned with large stones.
ation rite and is similar to sleeping in a cave, that is, “sleeping
The second deity associated with the symbolism of the
with the mother,” which means to die and to be resurrected.
megalithic monuments is the goddess of death and regenera-
Well-known sculptures of sleeping women from the Hal Saf-
tion in the guise of a bird of prey, usually an owl. Her image
lieni hypogeum in Malta, dating from approximately 3000
is engraved or modeled on statue menhirs, slabs of passage
BCE, most likely represent such an initiation rite.
and gallery graves, and on walls of subterranean tombs. She
The pregnant mother’s (or earth mother’s) generative
herself, her eyes, or her signs appear also on schist plaques,
potential is emphasized by the symbol of a mound and om-
phalanges (bones of toes or fingers), and stone cylinders laid
phalos (navel), which is found engraved or in bas-relief on
in graves.
stone slabs. For example, relief engravings completely cover
The characteristic features of the owl—round eyes and
the surface of twenty-three erect slabs within the passage
hooked beak—can be seen on the statue menhirs of southern
grave of Gavrinis, rendering an overall impression of symbol-
France and Iberia, as well as in reliefs and charcoal drawings
ic unity. This sanctuary, one of the richest megalithic monu-
in the hypogea of the Paris Basin. The face is frequently sche-
ments in Brittany, is situated on a small island in the Gulf
matized as a T shape or depicted with only eyes and brows
of Morbihan. The extensive use of wavy and concentric arc
or with a square head, surrounded by chevrons, in the center
motifs is in harmony with the monument’s aqueous environ-
of the forehead. On the slabs of gallery graves of Brittany,
ment. The dominant symbol found in this sanctuary is the
only breasts and necklaces are shown in relief as pars pro toto
concentric semicircle, interconnected with or surrounded by
of the owl goddess. The images of the owl goddess on schist
multiple wavy lines and serpentine forms. Several slabs are
plaques in the passage graves of Portugal have a prominent
decorated with concentric arcs, piled one on top of the other
nose or beak, schematized arms, three horizontal lines or
in vertical columns. The arcs in the center are larger than the
bands across the cheeks, occasional indications of a vulva,
rest and have an omphalos-like protrusion. In my opinion,
and a chevron design on the back. The goddess’s owl face
this image is a glyph of the goddess’s rising generative force.
appears on a very fine sculpture discovered at Knowth West,
Emphasis is on the anthropomorphic vulva or cervix sign in
Ireland. Her visage is immersed in a labyrinthine design
the center. (For other illustrations, see Twohig, 1981,
probably symbolic of the life source or life-giving waters; a
pp. 172–175.)
vulva is in the center. Images of the owl goddess on vases
Symbolically related to the passage grave of Gavrinis is
from Almería in Spain are at times associated with a honey-
the roughly triangular backstone of a passage grave from La
comb design—a maze of Vs, triangles, and lozenges.
Table des Marchands in Brittany. It has a vulva at its center,
The symbols associated with the owl goddess—wavy
flanked by energy signs—four rows of hooks—meant to
lines, hatched or zigzag band, net, labyrinth, meander, hon-
stimulate the life source. This symbolism is similar to that
eycomb, tri-line, hook, ax—all seem to be life-source, ener-
found on ancient Greek vases, in which the young goddess
gy, or life-stimulating signs. Their association with the owl
(Semele, Gaia) is depicted within an artificial mound sur-
goddess emphasizes regeneration as an essential component
rounded by satyrs, goatmen, and Dionysos, who stimulate
of her personality. The agony of death is nowhere perceptible
her generative powers. On other passage-grave slabs, the
in this symbolism.
symbol of an artificial mound surmounted by a knob is sur-
rounded by axes, another energy symbol, or in association
The round eyes of the owl goddess stare from bone pha-
with serpentine lines or snakes and footprints. Still other en-
langes and stone cylinders deposited in megalithic tombs in
gravings of the same image (called a “buckler” in the archaeo-
Spain and Portugal. The eyes and brows are incised in the
logical literature, where it has been seriously misunderstood)
upper part of the bone or stone cylinder and are surrounded
show wavy lines emanating from the upper part, which may
by chevrons, triangles, zigzags, and nets. Again, the symbols
signify the resurgence of plant life. The beehive-shaped
of death (bones, light-colored stone) are combined with
chamber, topped with a flat stone, found in passage graves
aquatic, life-source symbolism.
appears to be a pregnant belly and an omphalos. The so-
called buckler sign replicates the same idea in an engraving.
The goddess’s impressive, divine eyes gave rise to one
of her names, which came into use after the publication of
In his analysis of the Silbury Hill monument, Michael
The Eye Goddess by O. G. S. Crawford in 1957. The goddess
Dames shows that in Neolithic Britain the hill functioned
of the title was said to have originated in the Near East, her
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cult then diffusing across the Mediterranean to western Eu-
twelve—suggest a preoccupation with the cycles of time. The
rope. Indeed, the resemblance of figurines from the temple
involvement of the goddess in configurations of cycles of na-
of Tell Brak, eastern Syria (c. 3500 BCE), with their staring
ture and human life is certain. She must have been the over-
eyes and brows joined over the beak, to the stone idols of
seer and controller of life and moon cycles.
Spain and Portugal with their oculi motif is astonishing. The
similarity, however, most probably resulted from a universal-
Many western European tomb-shrines have been con-
ly held symbolic concept of divine eyes, from which western
structed so that the entrances align with the winter solstice.
variants developed. The western European eye goddess dates
The alignment of tomb entrances according to the moon’s
from the fifth and fourth millennia BCE (in Crawford’s day
position at the winter solstice suggests the importance of
considered to be the third and second millennia BCE). She
lunar influences on burial customs and suggests the associa-
has close parallels in southeastern Europe and certainly can-
tion with the lunar goddess, who was a cosmic regenerator.
not be an imported goddess.
These monuments were not built to serve as lunar or solar
observatories, as claimed by A. Thom (1979) and other sci-
Small stone hourglass figurines, sometimes with trian-
entists writing on the importance of megalithic astronomy.
gular heads, are frequently found in Iberian megalithic
Rather, their orientation according to lunar and solar phases
tombs of the Los Millares type, dating from the end of the
served essentially for the regeneration of life. Rebirth was in
fourth or early third millennium BCE. Hourglass figures also
the power of the goddess. In megalithic symbolic art we see
are painted on Neolithic cave walls in Spain and are engraved
the link between the time-measuring symbols and the sym-
on stones of Irish passage graves. The shape may have origi-
bols of her regenerative power, between sundials and divine
nated as a doubling of the pubic triangle (vulva) sign, con-
eyes, and between the gnomon and the cupmark, symbols
nected at the tip. In Sardinian hypogea, vulva and hourglass
of the life source and rebirth. Other associated symbols are
signs are interchanged. Engraved triangles and hourglass
expressions of regenerative aquatic or plant forces.
shapes also appear to be associated on Irish megaliths. Not
infrequently, hourglass symbols are engraved in triunes or
Ceremonial ships are engraved on inner tomb walls in
next to three encircled round holes, as on Curbstone 52 from
megalithic tombs in Brittany and Ireland. All depictions of
Newgrange. The number three may reflect the triple nature
ships are highly abstracted; some are just a row of vertical
of the goddess. In vase painting, the hourglass sign appears
lines connected by a bar at the bottom. However, frequently
in association with nets, serpentiforms, and snake meanders,
there is a zoomorphic or spiral head, probably that of a ser-
which link this symbol with the life source and water of life
pent, on the keel. Sometimes an abstracted image of the god-
symbolism. Bird feet or claws that appear attached to some
dess is shown being pulled by what may be a snake or ship.
hourglass figures on vases of the Cucuteni culture (northeast-
If the ship and serpent are interchangeable symbols (as they
ern Romania and western Ukraine) and of the Sardinian
are on Egyptian artifacts and on Scandinavian rocks from the
Ozieri culture speak for the association with the bird-of-prey
Bronze Age), then many winding serpents engraved on tomb
goddess. The hourglass shape itself may symbolize an incipi-
walls are life-renewal symbols. Perhaps it is not accidental
ent form of life in which the goddess of death and regenera-
that some of the winding snakes a and zigzags in Knowth and
tion emerges from graves or caves. This sign is related to the
Newgrange are joined to a triangle or lozenge (two triangles
butterfly, a horizontal hourglass and symbol of new life. The
joined at their bases), the special signs of the goddess of death
origins of the goddess’s image as a bird of prey are rooted
and regeneration, just as the feet of the birds of prey are at-
in the Paleolithic, as is documented by portrayals of owls in
tached to the prow of the ship on Cycladic platters dating
Upper Paleolithic caves and by the large birds and wing
from the middle of the third millennium BCE.
bones of large fowl found in Paleolithic graves.
Folk stories associate megalithic tombs with fearsome
Disarticulated skeletons and skulls in megalithic tombs
goddesses, such as the goddess Gráinne, the Old Hag of Celt-
are proof that excarnation was practiced. Corpses were of-
ic myths (Burl, 1981, p. 66). The original meaning of Gráin-
fered to the goddess, who was embodied in birds of prey.
ne is “ugliness.” Some cairns are said to be composed of
This practice is illustrated in frescoes of vulture shrines of
stones dropped from the apron of the Old Hag. At least forty
Çatal Hüyük, central Anatolia. Large birds were also buried
chambered tombs in Ireland are nicknamed “Diarmaid and
in megalithic tombs, probably as sacrifices to the goddess.
Gráinne’s Bed.” The passage grave at Knockmany, County
Excavations have uncovered a large deposit in a chambered
Tyrone, is called “Annia’s Cave,” a reference to the home of
tomb at Isbister in Orkney, Scotland. The greatest number
the hag Anu, guardian of the dead. Breast-shaped hills in
of bones came from the white-tailed eagle. Others were from
County Kerry, Ireland, are still called the “Paps of Anu.” Anu
short-eared owls, great black-backed gulls, rooks or crows,
is related to the Breton goddess Ankou (“death”) and to
and ravens (Hedges, 1983). All these birds feed on carrion.
other death goddesses with similar names (such as the Slavic
Geometric engravings on Irish megaliths—crescents,
Yaga, from *Enga; the Proto-Samoyed *Nga; the Near East-
circles, and concentric circles; serpentiforms or zigzags with
ern Anat, etc.). Thus the lunar goddess represented in
thirteen to seventeen turnings (the number of the moon’s
figurines as the White Lady, or Death, is still alive in folk
waxing days); subdivisions into four, six, or eight 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

In sum, the art of the megalithic monuments reveals the
L’Helgouac’h, Jean. Les sépultures mégalithiques en Armorique:
association with the two aspects of the prehistoric Great
Dolmens à couloir et allées couvertes. Alençon, 1965.
Goddess, the chthonic and the lunar. The underlying idea
MacKie, Evan. The Megalith Builders. Oxford, 1977.
of the ground plan and shape of the monuments was the be-
Madsen, Torsten. “Earthen Long Barrows and Timber Structures:
lief in the self-creating Mother Earth who was also the Moth-
Aspects of the Early Neolithic Mortuary Practice in Den-
er of the Dead. The sculptures (figurines and stelae), bas-
mark.” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 45 (December
reliefs, and engravings represent the lunar goddess in an
1979): 301–320.
anthropomorphic shape as White Lady (Old Hag) and in the
Masters, Lionel J. “The Lochhill Long Cairn.” Antiquity 47
guise of a bird of prey, usually the owl. This second aspect
(1973): 96–100.
is the other side (the side associated with necrosis, night, and
Müller-Karpe, Hermann. Handbuch der Vorgeschichte, vol. 3, Kup-
winter) of the life giver in anthropomorphic or water-bird
ferzeit. Munich, 1974.
O’Kelly, Michael J. Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend. Lon-
SEE ALSO Feminine Sacrality; Goddess Worship; Prehistoric
don, 1983.
Religions, article on Old Europe; Stones.
Renfrew, Colin, ed. The Megalithic Monuments of Western Europe.
London, 1981. A collection of essays, including “The Mega-
lithic Tombs of Iberia” by Robert W. Chapman, “The
Almagro Basch, Martín, and Antonio Arribas. El poblado y la ne-
Megaliths of France” by P. R. Giot, “Megaliths of the Funnel
crópolis megalíticos de Los Millares. Madrid, 1963.
Beaker Culture in Germany and Scandinavia” by Lili Kaelas,
d’Anna, A. Les statues-menhirs et stèles anthropomorphes du midi
“Chambered Tombs and Non-Megalithic Barrows in Brit-
méditerranéen. Paris, 1977.
ain” by Lionel J. Masters, “The Megalithic Tombs of Ire-
land” by Michael J. O’Kelly, and “Megalithic Architecture
Arnal, Jean. Les statues-menhirs: Hommes et dieux. Paris, 1976.
in Malta” by David Trump.
Brennan, Martin. The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astron-
Thom, A. Megalithic Remains in Britain and Brittany. Oxford,
omy in Ireland. London, 1983.
Burl, Aubrey. Rites of the Gods. London, 1981.
Twohig, Elizabeth Shee. The Megalithic Art of Western Europe.
Crawford, O. G. S. The Eye Goddess. London, 1957.
Oxford, 1981.
Dames, Michael. The Silbury Treasure: The Great Goddess Redis-
covered. London, 1976.
Dames, Michael. The Avebury Cycle. London, 1977.
Daniel, Glyn E. The Megalith Builders of Western Europe. London,
Daniel, Glyn E. The Prehistoric Chamber Tombs of France. Lon-
don, 1960.
Megaliths are simply monuments built of large stones. In
Daniel, Glyn E., and Poul Kjaerum, eds. Megalithic Graves and
Southeast Asia and Oceania, a variety of megaliths are found,
Ritual. Copenhagen, 1973. A collection of essays, including
some thousands of years old, others brand new. Early studies
“Problems of the Megalithic ‘Mortuary Houses’ in Den-
of these structures viewed them primarily in the context of
mark” by C. J. Becker and “The Relations between Kujavian
theories suggesting prehistoric migrations of megalith build-
Barrows in Poland and Megalithic Tombs in Northern Ger-
ers. In 1928 the eminent Austrian archaeologist Robert
many, Denmark and Western European Countries” by Kon-
Heine-Geldern wrote the first of a series of influential arti-
rad Jazdzewski.
cles, in which he argued that megaliths were created during
De Valera, Ruaidhrí. “The Court Cairns of Ireland.” Proceedings
two great waves of prehistoric migrations into Southeast
of the Royal Irish Academy 60, sec. C, 2 (1960): 9–140.
Asia. The first group, the “Older Megalithic Culture,” was
De Valera, Ruaidhrí, and Seán Ó Nualláin. Survey of the Megalith-
thought to have ushered in the Neolithic age, while the sec-
ic Tombs of Ireland, vol. 3, Counties. Dublin, 1972.
ond, the “Younger Megalithic Culture,” was credited with
Eogan, George. Excavations at Knowth. Dublin, 1984.
the introduction of metal.
Giot, P. R. Barnenez, Carn, Guennoc. Rennes, 1980.
Heine-Geldern’s view of megaliths as stepping-stones by
Giot, P. R., Jean L’Helgouac’h, and Jean-Laurent Monnier. Pré-
which archaeologists could trace prehistoric migrations dom-
histoire de la Bretagne. Rennes, 1979.
inated Southeast Asian archaeology for many years, giving
Hedges, John W. Isbister: A Chambered Tomb in Orkney. Oxford,
rise to extensive debates on the “problem of megaliths.” In
the past few decades, however, fresh waves of archaeologists,
Henshall, Audrey S. The Chambered Tombs of Scotland. 2 vols.
equipped with superior tool kits for prehistoric research,
Edinburgh, 1963–1972.
have passed over the territory first explored by Heine-
Herity, Michael. Irish Passage Graves: Neolithic Tomb-Builders in
Geldern. As the picture of prehistoric Southeast Asia became
Ireland and Britain, 2500 BC. New York, 1974.
clearer, Heine-Geldern’s theory of migratory megalith build-
Leisner, Georg, and Vera Leisner. Die Megalithgräber der iberisc-
ers had to be abandoned. Several prominent archaeologists
hen Halbinsel: Der Süden. Berlin, 1943.
subsequently issued a joint statement, for the benefit of those
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

who might not have kept up with the current state of archae-
important political events, with roots in the fundamental
ological research, that “the label ‘megalithic culture’ cannot
structure of Niasian chiefdoms. Niasian society was divided
reasonably be applied to any of the phases or levels of social
into patrilineal descent groups, and rank order within each
integration recognizable in the recent or prehistoric past of
lineage was determined by a cycle of feasts. Every adult male
South East Asia” (Smith and Watson, 1979, p. 253). In the
had to give the first six feasts in the cycle. But the “heads”
wake of the reaction against comprehensive theories linking
(ulu) of lineage branches had to give up to six additional
megaliths to prehistoric migrations, little effort has been
feasts, each more elaborate than the last. Each man would
made to sort out the historical relationships among the vari-
invite to his feasts his personal öri (“circle”)—a circle of kins-
ous builders of megaliths in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
men, friends, and allies linked by marriage ties or reciprocal
But, as we shall see, megaliths play an important role among
feasting. The supreme feast, given only by lineage heads,
many societies in the region, particularly those which share
drew together an öri of several lineages and villages, and es-
a common Austronesian cultural heritage. As Peter Bell-
tablished the boundaries of a chiefdom: a chiefdom was
wood, a leading authority on Pacific prehistory, observed re-
nothing more than the öri of a chief. This supreme feast was
cently, “The wide occurrence of megalithic monuments and
called the batu nitaru’o ba wa’ulu (“chief’s feast of the ni-
statues in Oceania suggests that their origins may go very
taru’o stone”). The larger the stone, the more people belong-
deep into the Austronesian past, possibly at least into the first
ing to the chief’s öri who participated, the greater the chief.
millennium B.C.” (Bellwood, 1978, p. 226).
Political authority was not vested automatically in a man
born as a lineage head; it had to be demonstrated through
Many types of megaliths are found in the Indo-Pacific
the feast cycle. The öri of the chief whose funeral Schröder
region, including menhirs (erect stones), dolmens (flat stones
photographed included sixteen villages.
resting on two stone pillars), stone seats, stepped stone pyra-
mids, and various types of stone tombs and sarcophagi. Ac-
In addition to the chief’s monuments, Niasians also
tive megalithic traditions exist today on several Indonesian
erected smaller megaliths for a variety of purposes related to
islands, possibly related to megalithic customs still found
their belief that stones provided temporary shrines for vari-
among hill tribes of Northeast India such as the Nagas. In
ous spirits. Each village had its batu banuwa (village stone)
Southeast Asia, the most elaborate and well-documented
celebrating the origin of the village. Childless women, espe-
megalithic traditions are found on the island of Nias, which
cially those of high rank, were considered likely to become
lies about seventy miles off the northwest coast of Sumatra.
dangerous ghosts. So they were often provided after their
In Nias, stones were put to many uses, foremost among them
deaths with small darodaro in case they should visit the vil-
being the large menhirs and dolmens erected as monuments
lage. Schröder, who spent several years exploring the island
to chiefs.
in the first decade of this century, recorded a wide variety of
megaliths in different villages. In one village, stones had been
In 1907 a Dutch colonial administrator, E. E. W. G.
placed near a bathing place “for the spirits to dry their
Schröder, photographed the erection of a dolmen as a monu-
clothes.” In another, he found stone seats with footprints
ment for a chieftain who had died the previous year. A rec-
below for childless women, because “she who dies without
tangular stone forty centimeters thick, three and one-half
children leaves no footprints on the earth.”
meters long, and two meters wide was dragged by means of
logrollers from a quarry to the summit of a hilltop village,
The advent of Christianity brought an end to most of
a distance of about two kilometers. There it was set on two
the megalithic customs of Nias in the past few decades, but
stone pillars outside the former chief’s house as a monument
on the island of Sumba three thousand kilometers to the
to his glory and as a home for his spirit, whenever the chief
southeast, megaliths even larger than those of Nias continue
might choose to visit the village. The project was organized
to be erected in honor of important chiefs. On Sumba, there
by his son and successor, who mobilized 525 kinsmen and
is no parallel to the Niasian batu nitaru’o (the stones erected
allies to transport the stone. Schröder’s dramatic photo-
by living chiefs), but the death of a chief calls for the erection
graphs show the chief’s son atop the stone as it is being
of a stone sarcophagus reminiscent of the darodaro. Like the
dragged uphill; he is wearing a warrior’s costume and waving
Niasians, the Sumbanese usually build their villages on hill-
his sword.
tops, and the center of the village is dominated by an array
of these megaliths, which may weigh as much as thirty tons.
Such megaliths, called darodaro, were personal monu-
Stones (ondi) are cut from native limestone, and placed atop
ments erected about a year after the death of a chief by his
a wooden platform (tena) which the Sumbanese liken to a
kinsmen and allies. Often the chief’s skull was placed in a
ship, complete with a figurehead in the shape of a horse’s
niche in the darodaro, along with his sword and other regalia.
head. Dragging the stone to the village may take weeks and
The larger the darodaro, and the more people who participat-
call for the efforts of several hundred men. As in Nias, a chief
ed in dragging the stone and celebrating the funeral feast, the
(rato) stands on the stone and gives directions. Stone drag-
greater the chief. The same logic also applied to a second type
ging is dangerous, and responsibility for managing things so
of megalith erected in honor of chiefs, the batu nitaru’o,
that the stone does not slip and kill or injure someone rests
which was an upright stone or menhir placed in front of a
with the chief. Every day, numbers of water buffalo and pigs
living chief’s house. The erection of such monuments were
must be slaughtered to feed the whole party.
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As in Nias, Sumbanese social organization is based on
The largest Polynesian marae were stepped stone pyra-
alliances between clans, and the strength of an alliance is
mids, of which the greatest was the marae of Mahaiatea in
demonstrated by the number of allies who arrive to partici-
Tahiti (now destroyed). Mahaiatea was a rectangular pyra-
pate in the megalithic funeral, bringing gifts of water buffalo
mid of eleven steps, with a base measuring eighty-one meters
and pigs. As many as a hundred buffalo and pigs may be
by twenty-two meters. Similar structures were once common
slaughtered for a major funeral, their horns and jawbones
in Bali, such as the village temple (Pura Desa) of the village
later tied to the chief’s house as mementos of the feast. The
of Sembiran, although in Bali such pyramids may be inter-
more such trophies, and the larger the stone slab, the greater
preted in a Hindu idiom as prasada (“cosmic mountain”).
the chief. At the conclusion of the funeral, the chief’s body
We have noted several common uses for megaliths in
is placed in the tomb and his favorite horse is killed so that
the Indo-Pacific region—as tombs and monuments to the
the horse’s spirit may lead him to the spirit world.
power of chiefs, and as temporary shrines or resting-places
A different sort of megalithic tradition is found on the
for ancestral spirits and gods. In Polynesia, we encounter also
island of Bali, a tradition nicely exemplified by a chance dis-
a different type of megalith, the importance of which is only
covery made in 1935 by the first archaeologist to work in
beginning to be recognized—navigational “sighting stones.”
Bali, William F. Stutterheim. Near a spring sacred to the
These stones, which are found on several islands, appear to
early Hindu kings of Bali, he found a stone with a weather-
have served three related purposes: as markers to align bea-
worn inscription.
cons (watch fires?) for ships sailing to neighboring islands;
None of the Balinese could decipher the old engraved
as the centers of navigational schools where students could
letters, nor were the contents of the inscription known
learn the movements of useful stars by watching star after star
to anyone. The stone stood there, as every villager of
appear at a particular point on the horizon marked by a
Manukaya knew it from childhood, wrapped in a white
stone, according to the seasons; and as timekeeping devices,
cloth and provided with regular offerings. I was told,
predicting the position of sunrise and sunset at the solstices.
however, that on the fourth moon of every year, at full
For example, on the island of Arorae, in the Kiribati (Gilbert
moon, this stone (which is also said to have fallen from
Islands), nine stones at the northernmost tip of the island
the sky) is carried to the holy waters of Tirta Mpul and
point accurately toward three neighboring islands. Each
bathed therein—much to the detriment of the stone, by
stone points about five degrees out, perhaps to allow for the
the way, which is a big slab of soft grey tufa covered as
drift caused by the equatorial current in different seasons. Al-
usual with a thin layer of cement. Deciphering the in-
though no longer in active use, these megalithic “sighting
scription, I found that it was none other than the char-
ter of Tirta Mpul’s foundation, made in the fourth
stones” may have played an important role in prehistoric Pa-
month, at full-moon day, in the year 962
cific voyaging. Much remains to be learned about the func-
A.D. Thus the
people have kept alive the connection between the stone
tions of these stones and the other megaliths of the Indo-
and the watering place for a thousand years, and have
always celebrated its anniversary on the correct day, but
of the true meaning of this connection every recollec-
tion was lost. (Stutterheim, 1935, p. 7)
There are two useful references for locating sources on particular
Bali is now famous as the last surviving Hindu-Buddhist civi-
megalithic customs. For Southeast Asia, see H. H. E. Loofs’s
lization of Indonesia. But the stone of Manukaya draws our
Elements of the Megalithic Complex in Southeast Asia: An An-
attention to deeper, pre-Hindu roots of Balinese religion. Al-
notated Bibliography (Canberra, 1967), which reflects, how-
though the Balinese worship Hindu gods, they do so in tem-
ever, an outdated theoretical perspective. For Oceania, the
ples that resemble ancient Polynesian marae much more than
literature on megaliths is surveyed in Peter Bellwood’s com-
prehensive Man’s Conquest of the Pacific (Oxford, 1978).
traditional Indian temples. Balinese temples, like Polynesian
More recent information on megaliths in Southeast Asia is
marae, are basically rectangular walled courtyards open to the
contained in R. B. Smith and William Watson’s Early South
sky, with a row of menhirlike shrines at one end. While the
East Asia (Oxford, 1979), in which Glover, Bronson, and Ba-
Balinese shrines may be much more elaborate than those typ-
yard comment on Christie’s presentation of the “Megalithic
ical of Polynesia, occasionally replacing stone with wood, the
Problem.” The megalithic traditions of Nias are described
two types of shrines perform the same function of providing
and illustrated in exemplary detail in E. E. W. G. Schröder’s
a temporary resting-place for visiting spirits of gods or ances-
Nias: Ethnographische, Geographische, en Historische Aan-
tors. Both Balinese and Polynesians believe that the gods are
tekeningen (Leiden, 1917). A brief summary in English based
not continuously present, but temporary, invisible visitors
on Schröder may be found in Edwin M. Loeb’s Sumatra: Its
who like to alight in menhirs or similar objects for brief visits.
History and People (1935; Oxford, 1972), which also con-
tains an appendix by Robert Heine-Geldern on “The Ar-
Even the details of worship are often quite similar—both Ba-
chaeology and Art of Sumatra,” summarizing his views on
linese and ancient Polynesians wrapped cloths around the
megaliths. On navigational stones in the Pacific, see Brett
stones for important festivals. Unlike the Balinese, but very
Hilder’s article in Polynesian Navigation, edited by Jack Gol-
much in the spirit of the Niasians and Sumbanese, the an-
son (Wellington, 1963), and Thomas Gladwin’s East Is a Big
cient Polynesians buried important chiefs within their tem-
Bird: Navigation and Logic on Puluwat Atoll (Cambridge,
ples, and sometimes consecrated them with human sacrifices.
Mass., 1970). Sumbanese megalithic customs are outlined 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

Christiaan Nooteboom’s Oost-Soemba, Een Volkenkundige
modestly in the West, especially in the United States, Eu-
Studie, Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological and Lin-
rope, and Australia, judging by the number of people attend-
guistic Institute, no. 3 (The Hague, 1940), and in Janet Ali-
ing gatherings devoted to Meher Baba in those countries.
son Hoskins’s “So My Name Shall Live: Stone-Dragging and
More rapid growth has taken place in India. It is difficult to
Grave-Building in Kodi, West Sumba,” Bijdragen tot de
calculate the precise number of followers around the world
Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 145 (1986): 1–16. William F.
because there is no formal membership or central authority.
Stutterheim’s Indian Influences in Old-Balinese Art (London,
Many Meher Baba devotees remain active participants in the
1935) sketches the major monuments of ancient Bali.
world’s major religious traditions. Nevertheless, a variety of
New Sources
organizations have been founded in his name in the West
Rao, S. K. “Megalithic Religion among Savara of Srikakulam Dis-
and East to spread his message of divine love and the oneness
trict, South India.” Eastern Anthropology 42, no. 3 (1989):
of all life.
Meher Baba’s followers (often called “Baba lovers”) at-
Van Tilburg, Jo Anne, and James L. Amos. “Moving the Moai:
tempt to heed his wish to found no new religion or sect by
Transporting the Megaliths of Easter Island: How Did They
Do It?” Archaeology 48, no. 1 (January–February 1995):
resisting efforts to impose any one creed or interpretation of
his writings. They feel themselves to be in an individual
lover-beloved relationship with Meher Baba, believing that
he inwardly guides them in their spiritual journey to elimi-
Revised Bibliography
nate the ego (false self) and to realize God as the “true Self.”
Many of his followers gather informally in groups to share
experiences of his love and guidance and to discuss his life
MEHER BABA (1894–1969), born Merwan Sheriar
and work.
Irani, was a spiritual master who declared himself the avatar
Among Meher Baba’s close circle of companions, Meh-
(descent of God into human form) of this age. Beginning in
era J. Irani was his chief woman disciple, a role Meher Baba
1925 he observed silence for the rest of his life, communicat-
compared to that of S¯ıta¯ for Ra¯ma and Ra¯dha¯ for Kr:s:n:a.
ing at first by pointing at letters on an alphabet board and
During Meher Baba’s lifetime, Mehera was strictly cloistered
later through hand gestures. Meher Baba (Compassionate
from the outside world. After his death, Mehera played a
Father) stated that his silence and the breaking of his silence
more public role, greeting pilgrims and sharing stories of her
would bring about a universal transformation of conscious-
life with Meher Baba. Mehera passed away on May 20, 1989,
ness through a release of divine love in the world.
and is buried next to Meher Baba at Meherabad, near Ah-
Meher Baba was born on February 25, 1894, in Pune,
mednagar, India.
India, into a Zoroastrian family of Persian descent. In 1913,
Two sites associated with Meher Baba’s life have be-
while attending Deccan College, he met the first of five “per-
come places of pilgrimage for his followers. The most impor-
fect masters” (fully enlightened or God-realized individuals),
tant is his tomb shrine at Meherabad, where tens of thou-
who made him aware of his identity as avatar. Stating that
sands of devotees gather every January 31 to commemorate
he had come “not to teach but to awaken,” Meher Baba dem-
the day Meher Baba left his physical body. Meherabad is also
onstrated the essential oneness of all life through acts of love
the site of a free school, medical clinic, hospital, and other
and service. Throughout his life he served the poor, the phys-
institutions established at Meher Baba’s directive to serve
ically and mentally ill, the “God-intoxicated” aspirants
those in need. The other place of pilgrimage is Meher Spiri-
whom he called masts, and others in need. He indicated that
tual Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Meher
his outer activities were symbolic of the inner awakening that
Baba stayed during his three visits to the United States in the
constituted his real work. Giving no importance to the divi-
1950s. This center is now a place of spiritual renewal and re-
sions of caste or creed, he drew followers from many faiths
treat for thousands of people each year.
and social classes.
SEE ALSO Indian Philosophies; New Religious Movements,
In the early days of his mission, Meher Baba forewarned
articles on New Religious Movements in Europe, New Reli-
his disciples that his “universal work” would require of him
gious Movements in the United States.
great suffering, including the shedding of his blood on Amer-
ican and Indian soil. Outwardly, the suffering took the form
of two automobile accidents, the first in the United States
Works by Meher Baba
(1952) and the second in India (1956). In one the entire left
The most comprehensive book containing Meher Baba’s guidance
side on his body was injured, and in the other the entire right
concerning spiritual life is Discourses (Myrtle Beach, S.C.,
side was severely damaged. In spite of his suffering, Meher
1987). For a detailed explanation of his cosmology, see God
Baba gave darshan (personal blessing) to thousands of people
Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose, 2d ed. (New
during the 1950s and early 1960s.
York, 1973). Both of these books were dictated by Meher
Baba on an alphabet board. Many later discourses given
Since his death (the “dropping of his body”) on January
through hand gestures are collected in The Everything and the
31, 1969, Meher Baba’s worldwide following has grown
Nothing (Myrtle Beach, S.C., 1989).
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

Works about Meher Baba
ous observance: “Rabbi MeDir used to say, ‘There is no man
The most reliable biography is C. B. Purdom’s The God-Man
in Israel who does not perform one hundred commandments
(Myrtle Beach, S.C., 1971), which also contains an interpre-
each day [and recite over them one hundred blessings]. . . .
tation of Meher Baba’s life and message. For an extensive ac-
And there is no man in Israel who is not surrounded by [re-
count of Meher Baba’s work with the God-intoxicated, ad-
minders of the] commandments: [Every person wears] phy-
vanced aspirants, sa¯dhus, and poor, consult William
lacteries on his head, phylacteries on his arm, has a mezuzah
Donkin’s The Wayfarers (San Francisco, 1969). An intimate
on his doorpost and four fringes on his garment around
look at life with Meher Baba is in Kitty L. Davy’s Love Alone
Prevails: A Story of Life with Meher Baba
(Myrtle Beach, S.C.,
him’” (Tosefta, Ber. 6.24–25). Many Midrashic teachings
and several fables are also attributed to MeDir.
SEE ALSO Tannaim.
MEDIR (second century
No systematic critical analysis has been made of the rich and ex-
CE), Palestinian tanna. According
to legend, MeDir was descended from a family of proselytes
tensive corpus of traditions associated with MeDir. Two bio-
graphical treatments of MeDir are Adolf Blumenthal’s Rabbi
that traced its line back to the Roman emperor Nero. He al-
Meir: Leben und Wirken eines jüdischen Weisen (Frankfurt,
legedly studied with both EAqivaD ben Yosef and YishmaEeDl.
1888), which is a classical treatment of rabbinic biography,
MeDir was one of the five rabbis secretly ordained by Yehudah
and Naomi G. Cohen’s “Rabbi Meir: A Descendant of Ana-
ben BavaD during the Hadrianic persecutions that followed
tolian Proselytes,” Journal of Jewish Studies 23 (Spring 1972):
the collapse of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (c. 132–135 CE), and
51-59, which critically examines the sources pertaining to
he was one of the seven disciples of EAqivaD who issued a fa-
MeDir’s lineage. Jacob N. Epstein in his Prolegomena ad Lit-
mous edict concerning the intercalation of the year that was
teras Tannaiticus (Jerusalem, 1957) discusses, in Hebrew, the
crucial to the maintenance of the Jewish festivals.
role of MeDir’s materials in the formation of the Mishnah.
Robert Goldenberg’s analysis in The Sabbath-Law of Rabbi
MeDir is associated with ElishaE ben Avuyah, a heretic
Meir (Missoula, Mont., 1978) is confined to the examination
also known as Ah:er, “the Other.” Some rabbinic sources de-
of MeDir’s contribution to the laws of a single tractate. Rabbi
pict MeDir as a sometime student of ElishaE (B.T., H:ag. 15a).
Meir: Collected Sayings (Jerusalem, 1967) is a compendium,
in Hebrew, of all the references to MeDir in rabbinic litera-
The tomb of the legendary MeDir BaEal ha-Nes in Tiberi-
ture, edited by Israel Konovitz. Avigdor Shinan in his “The
as, a famous place of pilgrimage, is identified in some ac-
Brother of Rabbi Meir,” Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Litera-
counts as the burial place of MeDir. Other Talmudic tradi-
ture 2 (1983): 7–20, analyzes a Midrashic story about MeDir.
tions suggest that MeDir died in self-imposed exile in Asia
Minor, where, at his request, he was buried beside the sea
New Sources
so that he could be near the waters that wash up on the shores
Kushelevsky, Rella. “The Image of Woman in Transition from
East to West: The Tale of R. Meir and His Friend’s Wife in
of the Land of Israel (J.T., Kil. 9.4, 32c).
the ‘Book of Comfort’ and in Manuscript Parma 2295 de
MeDir is prominently linked to the major rabbinic legis-
Rossi 563.” Aschkenas 11 (2001): 9–38.
lative and political activities of his generation. He served as
the h:akham (“sage”) of the revived Sanhedrin that met at
Revised Bibliography
Usha in the Galilee. His ability to defend both sides of op-
posing legal viewpoints was greatly extolled. Ultimately, his
opposition to the authority of the nasi D ShimEon ben Gam-
liDel was the basis for his exile from Israel.
(c. 1220–1293), known by the acronym MaHaRaM
Legal rulings ascribed to MeDir make up an important
(Morenu ha-Rav MeDir [“our teacher, Rabbi MeDir”]); Ger-
part of the earliest rabbinic compilations, the Mishnah and
man Talmudist, authority on rabbinic law, and communal
the Tosefta. The Talmud states that all anonymous rulings
leader. MeDir’s early years were spent studying under Yitsh:aq
in the Mishnah are to be attributed to MeDir. Epstein (1957)
ben Mosheh of Vienna and Yeh:iDel of Paris; he witnessed the
believes that the corpus of his teachings was one of the pri-
famous Paris disputation of 1240 and saw the Talmud
mary documents used in the redaction of the Mishnah. Since
burned publicly in 1242. Eventually he settled in Rothen-
the laws in the Mishnah form the basis for much of Talmud-
burg and with the passing years was universally recognized
ic and later rabbinic thought and practice, it is fair to say that
by contemporaries as the greatest of Ashkenazic rabbis. With
MeDir is one of the most influential classical rabbinic figures.
the increasingly precarious situation of German Jewry in the
MeDir’s dicta deal with most of the central values of rab-
latter decades of the thirteenth century, culminating in Ru-
binic Judaism; he placed extreme emphasis on the study of
dolph I’s imposition of the status of servi camerae (“servants
Torah and strongly castigated the unlettered. One tradition
of the chamber”) on all Jews and, in 1286, his confiscation
attributed to him indicates his understanding of rabbinic rit-
of the properties of Jews who left his domain, many fled.
ual as a coherent system of practice that demanded punctili-
MeDir himself was apprehended in Lombardy in an attempt
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 flee Germany and was imprisoned—possibly because of
History of the Jews, vol. 9, 2d ed. (New York, 1965),
his role as a leader of the mass exodus. He remained in prison
pp. 135–193, gives historical background.
for the rest of his life, mostly in Ensisheim Castle in Alsace.
Communal efforts to ransom the master never succeeded
and, indeed, it was not until 1307 that his body was released
for burial in exchange for a huge sum. In the sixteenth centu-
ry Shelomoh Luria cited a tradition that MeDir himself for-
bade payment of the exorbitant price, and Irving Agus has
further claimed that the crux of the matter was its nature—
was it to be ransom or tax? In these interpretations, MeDir
becomes a martyr for Jewish law and the integrity of the
community. Sources contemporary with events more soberly
MELANCHTHON, PHILIPP (1497–1560), born
indicate that MeDir died in the course of protracted negotia-
Philipp Schwartzerd; German theologian and major six-
tions for his release.
teenth-century reformer, writer of Protestantism’s first sys-
tematic theology, organizer of the Protestant public school
MeDir’s preeminence is indicated by the express state-
system, and author of two statements of Lutheran belief: the
ments of his contemporaries, the scope and quantity of his
Augsburg Confession and its apology. Although he was a
responsa, and his impact on subsequent halakhic history.
close friend of Martin Luther for twenty-eight years, his hu-
Though it is unlikely that MeDir was ever officially appointed
manism and stance on nonessentials brought charges of cor-
chief rabbi of Germany, he undoubtedly fulfilled that func-
rupting Lutheranism.
tion. Close to one thousand of his responsa have been pre-
served, a number far exceeding the combined mass of all
Born in Bretten, Germany, and orphaned at ten, Me-
other tosafist responsa. On the whole, MeDir avoids prolix dis-
lanchthon received tutoring from his grandfather John Reu-
cussions, combining care and decisiveness in his writing. Ac-
ter and the linguist John Unger. He attended the Pforzheim
knowledging fully the authority of the Talmud, he maintains
Latin School where his granduncle John Reuchlin, the He-
an independent stance in relation to his contemporaries,
braic scholar and humanist, supervised him for two years.
even when their rabbinical posture is allied with communal
For achievement in Latin and Greek, Reuchlin named his
and economic power. About one hundred of his responsa deal
nephew Melanchthon—Greek for Schwartzerd, meaning
with community governance and organization. These texts
“black earth.” He entered Heidelberg University in 1509, at
are of great significance; they provide invaluable data on the
the age of twelve, and was awarded the B.A. in 1511 but was
social history of the period and offer substantial insight into
rejected as too young to pursue the M.A. At Tübingen Uni-
MeDir’s political ideology. In general, MeDir walks a thin line
versity he received the M.A. in 1514, edited for Thomas An-
between the protection of individual rights and the need to
shelm’s press, and published translations of Plutarch, Pythag-
give the community the legal weapons necessary for its sur-
oras, and Lycidas, comedies of Terence in verse, and his
vival and well-being.
popular Rudiments of the Greek Language (1518). Called in
1518 to teach Greek at Wittenberg University, Melanchthon
In addition to his responsa, MeDir wrote and edited tosa-
became Luther’s lifelong colleague. While teaching, he stud-
fot (“additions”) to many tractates of the Talmud; during his
ied theology and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1519, his only
latter years in prison he was allowed access to some books
theological degree. Thenceforth, Melanchthon taught clas-
and could be visited by students. His habits were noted and
sics and theology. In 1530 he married Katherine Krapp, who
recorded by his students, who became the rabbinic leaders
bore him four children.
of the next generation. MeDir’s magisterial figure is promi-
In 1521 Melanchthon’s Loci communes rerum theologi-
nent in subsequent Ashkenazic rabbinic development, and
carum appeared, Protestantism’s first systematic theology,
many of the decisions and customs recorded in Mosheh
which was highly lauded by Luther. It dealt with basic Refor-
Isserles’s glosses to the Shulh:an Earukh, authoritative for Ash-
mation tenets on sin, law, and grace, and went through many
kenazic Jews, derive from his work.
enlarged editions. Besides maintaining an extensive corre-
spondence, Melanchthon produced classical treatises, trans-
SEE ALSO Judaism, article on Judaism in Northern and
lations, commentaries, theological works, and numerous
Eastern Europe to 1500; Tosafot.
textbooks. He was called Germany’s preceptor for reorganiz-
ing numerous schools and universities. The Augsburg Con-
fession (1530), Lutheranism’s basic statement of faith, was
conciliatory toward Roman Catholicism without sacrificing
Irving A. Agus’s stimulating Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, 2 vols.
(Philadelphia, 1947), is the most detailed analysis of MeDir’s
evangelical views; the Apology for the Augsburg Confession
life and achievement; Agus also provides translations of a
(1531) was boldly assertive. Melanchthon encountered criti-
large number of MeDir’s responsa. A more sober treatment is
cism when in the Variata of 1540 he changed the Augsburg
E. E. Urbach’s Ba Ealei ha-tosafot, vol. 2, 4th ed. (Jerusalem,
Confession to allow a Calvinistic interpretation of the Eu-
1980), pp. 521–570. Salo W. Baron’s A Social and Religious
charist. His ecumenical efforts brought temporary unity be-
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

tween Martin Bucer and Luther in 1536 on the real eucharis-
only the islands east of New Guinea, though without arguing
tic presence of Christ. However, his irenic agreement with
that New Guinea is culturally distinct. Others have suggested
Cardinal Contarini on justification was rejected by Luther
that Fiji, because of its links with Tonga, should be consid-
and the papacy. Fearful of antinomianism, Melanchthon,
ered part of Polynesia. Here, following the most common
with Luther’s support, insisted that good works follow faith,
usage, Melanesia will be understood to extend from New
but this view seemed too Roman Catholic for some critics.
Guinea in the west to Fiji in the east, encompassing the is-
Melanchthon’s contention that the Word, the Holy Spirit,
lands of the Torres Straits, the Bismarck archipelago, the Sol-
and the consenting human will have a part in conversion
omons, Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides), New Caledo-
evoked charges of synergism—cooperation between God and
nia, and many smaller islands.
man. Melanchthon was accused by many of being too hu-
manistic, though not by Luther.
Within the northeastern part of this region, a few is-
lands are inhabited by people whose languages and cultures
Following Luther’s death in 1546 and the Lutheran mil-
are classified as Polynesian, such as the inhabitants of
itary defeat at Mühlenberg in 1547, Melanchthon accepted
Tikopia and Bellona. Although these peoples’ homes now
some Catholic views as nonessentials, or adiaphora, in the
belong to the same political units as the Melanesian islands,
Augsburg-Leipzig Interim of 1548–1549, in order to avoid
scholars consider them part of Polynesia. Nevertheless, it is
civil war and the destruction of Wittenberg. Although Me-
difficult to draw a line between the cultures of Melanesia and
lanchthon boldly rejected the Augsburg Interim as too con-
of Polynesia to the east, Indonesia to the west, and Microne-
trary to Protestant views, he later reluctantly accepted the
sia to the north, and many continuities exist with these
Leipzig Interim after securing justification by faith, clerical
neighboring regions. Furthermore, given its small total land
marriage, and confession without enumeration of all sins,
area, Melanesia contains a much larger number of distinct
though scriptural authority was left vague. Other provi-
languages and cultures than any other part of the world. This
sions—episcopal rule, baptism as in ancient times, confirma-
diversity greatly hampers generalization about Melanesia; it
tion, extreme unction, repentance, pictures, clerical dress,
is only possible to mention features that recur with some reg-
and numerous Catholic ceremonies—he agreed to as nones-
ularity, while acknowledging that a single culture might fail
sentials. Strict Lutherans strongly objected. The Formula of
to exhibit any of them.
Concord later asserted that nothing during persecution
should be deemed nonessential. Melanchthon died in Wit-
As has happened elsewhere, an additional complication
tenberg on April 19, 1560.
was introduced by foreign missionaries bringing their own
religions and seeking to replace the indigenous ones. The
westernmost portion of the island of New Guinea was some-
Manschreck, Clyde L. Melanchthon: The Quiet Reformer. New
what influenced by Islam, coming via Indonesia, but in the
York, 1958. Good, full, biographical study of Melanchthon.
rest of Melanesia various Christian denominations have
Manschreck, Clyde L., trans. and ed. Melanchthon on Christian
greatly altered most traditional religious practices and beliefs.
Doctrine (1965). Grand Rapids, Mich., 1982. Translation of
These were further affected by encounters with other for-
Melanchthon’s late Loci communes (1555).
eigners, whose very existence and whose technology changed
Maxcey, Carl E. Bona Opera: A Study in the Development of the
traditional worldviews; colonial governments also forbade a
Doctrine in Philip Melanchthon. Neieuwkoop, Netherlands,
range of practices, such as ways of dealing with corpses, that
1980. Good study of Melanchthon’s controversial views on
often were closely tied to religion. Both missionaries and
good works.
government officers arrived in some parts of coastal Melane-
Pauck, Wilhelm, ed. Melanchthon and Bucer. Philadelphia, 1969.
sia in the nineteenth century, but did not enter the High-
Library of Christian Classics, vol. 19. Translation of Loci
lands (mountainous interior) of New Guinea until the
communes (1521).
1930s. Fifty years later there are still a few parts of this island
Rogness, Michael. Philip Melanchthon: Reformer without Honor.
not yet exposed to missionary influence. Inevitably, our ideas
Minneapolis, 1969. Short, good appraisal of Melanchthon’s
about Melanesian religion derive mainly from a small sample
of societies that were either contacted late or that, unlike
most, resisted conversion to Christianity. Most of these are
found in the interior of New Guinea and of some large is-
lands in the Solomons and Vanuatu, but the group includes
a few small islands, such as Manus (Great Admiralty Island)
This entry consists of the following articles:
and Wogeo, both north of New Guinea, whose societies were
described by anthropologists before the missionaries arrived.
As regards the rest of Melanesia, because conversion has
often been recent and not so thorough as to eradicate all tra-
ditional beliefs, it is still possible in most cases to learn much
Anthropologists have disagreed about the exact geographical
about certain aspects of indigenous religion. Theories about
boundaries of Melanesia, some using the term to designate
the magical causes of disease, sexual attraction, and bad
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

weather often persist long after orthodox Christian ideas
the dead, especially if the correct funeral rites have not been
about the destiny of the soul have been accepted. Rarely,
performed, very rarely is there any idea of punishment after
however, is any religious belief or practice of Melanesians liv-
death for those who have misbehaved in life. The land of the
ing in the twenty-first century precisely like that of their an-
dead is usually much like that of the living, though perhaps
cestors. The accelerated spread of ideas from other societies
somewhat more pleasant; in most societies all of the dead
as the result of pacification and wage labor, the introduction
share the same sort of afterlife, gardening, marrying, and be-
of modern technology, new conditions such as foreign dis-
having much like the living. Ghosts of the newly deceased
eases, and an altered worldview produce changes even in such
are thought most likely to stay around their old villages for
practices as garden magic and birth ritual. In the vast majori-
some time before really severing ties with their kin, but often
ty of cases, contemporary Melanesian religions are highly
people have contradictory ideas about the behavior of ghosts,
syncretic, and only in a handful of scattered societies is it pos-
simultaneously believing that they proceed immediately to
sible to appreciate the full complexity and emotional impact
the land of the dead and that they continue to haunt the vil-
of the original systems. Given the persistence of many ideas,
lage and its environs. In Manus the skull of a particular dead
however, it is still possible to use the present tense to describe
kinsman, in which his ghost resided, would be kept to serve
selected aspects of the religions, as will be done here.
as guardian for each adult man but was banished into a sort
THE SPIRIT WORLD. One of the few valid generalizations
of limbo when it failed to confer benefits or when its “ward”
about Melanesian religions is that they all include a belief in
died. In many other societies men summon the ghosts of
a variety of spirits, some of human origin and some not, who
dead kin to help with specific enterprises such as hunting or
interact with living human beings.
weather control; they may be aided in this endeavor by keep-
ing some relic of the corpse such as fingernails, but the
Souls. All people are assumed to have a spiritual compo-
Manus practice of harboring ghosts within the dwelling
nent or soul (and sometimes more than one). Depending on
house seems to be shared only with the people of Sarera Bay
the culture, it may derive from the descent group of one par-
in Irian Jaya. Much more often ghosts are thought to reside
ent, in which case the child is usually born with it, or it may
either in bones or in special paraphernalia kept in men’s
be inserted into the child by another supernatural being,
houses or cult houses, far from the women and children. In
often well after birth. Belief in reincarnation is found only
sporadically. In line with a widespread Melanesian tendency
a few societies, however, ghosts are summoned to join the
not to speculate about origins, many societies have no theory
living on special occasions, as at the famous harvest festival
about the source of the human soul. It is usually thought to
of the Trobriand Islands.
be only lightly attached to the body, and to wander in
Spirits of the dead always have abilities both to aid and
dreams; often it is considered dangerous to awaken a sleeper
to harm that transcend those of living human beings; but
suddenly, lest he suffer soul loss that can lead to madness or
they may be thought to take little interest in those left be-
death. The souls of babies are particularly vulnerable to at-
hind, who in turn are primarily concerned to avoid meeting
tack or capture by other spirits, whereas the souls of adults
ghosts. As those who remember them die, the names of spe-
are more likely to be captured by human sorcerers perform-
cific ghosts are forgotten, and conceptually they may be as-
ing magic over personal leavings, such as food crumbs, that
similated to spirits of the bush or sea that were never human.
are thought to contain part of the victim’s soul-stuff. Special-
In some societies, however, the long deceased are more im-
ist curers may undertake soul rescue in dreams, or sometimes
portant and influential than the recently dead, especially if
a suspected sorcerer can be persuaded to perform counter-
they were the founding ancestors of large descent groups
magic that releases the soul-stuff.
such as clans. Judging from myths, such founding ancestors
Ghosts. At death the human soul is transformed into
may have had supernatural attributes even when alive, but
a ghost that usually retains its identity but not necessarily its
in other cases they have been raised near to the status of dei-
antemortem personality. In some societies ghosts are expect-
ties by the period of time that separates them from the living
ed to be malevolent, resentful of the living, and likely to at-
or by the ceremonies carried out on their behalf. Where an-
tack or kill them; in others, they are thought generally to be
cestors are accorded great powers and are regularly appealed
benevolent, especially toward their close kin; and in others
to, it is possible to talk of ancestor cults or ancestor worship.
it is assumed that their new condition makes them capricious
The beliefs that ancestors are greatly concerned with the
or unpredictable. Sometimes the ghosts of those who die in
health, fertility, and morality of their descendants and that
particular ways, as in battle or childbirth, are feared even
they can be induced by ritual means such as sacrifice (usually
when other ghosts are considered benevolent; so may be the
of domestic or wild animals) to grant benefits to the living
ghosts of former sorcerers.
are found much less often in Melanesia than in surrounding
areas, but these beliefs form a prominent part of the religion
There is usually a traditional abode of the dead, or a se-
in many parts of eastern Melanesia and also in the Highlands
ries of abodes, often a different one for each clan. Occasion-
of New Guinea.
ally these are underground or in the sky, but usually they are
on the earth and physically close to human habitations. Al-
Masalai. Spirits that have never been human play some
though it may be difficult for the ghost to reach the land of
part in all Melanesian religions, but their nature and impor-
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

tance vary greatly from one society to another. In western
plain that they must do everything just as they were told to
Melanesia, including New Guinea and the nearby islands,
in the remote past lest disaster befall them.
one of the most important is a type known in Pidgin English
Interestingly, several Melanesian societies in which the
as masalai. Masalai live in wild places and, although they
status of women is low have male cults devoted to the wor-
may assume human form, are typically animals of abnormal
ship of female goddesses who promote male interests alone.
appearance—gigantic, brightly colored, sometimes wearing
Much more common are deities who are concerned with
human ornaments such as earrings. Often they are associated
only one activity or one aspect of life, such as fishing for bo-
with descent groups whose members they aid in distress—if,
nito, or warfare. Less powerful spirits may be invoked to aid
for instance, they are lost in the bush or drowning—but they
with other activities such as gardening.
do so only if the person has observed relevant rules concern-
ing marriage and food taboos. Offenders may be punished
Whether or not deities remain near, or accessible to,
by the masalai, who also attack outsiders who stray into their
human settlements after performing initial acts of creation,
territory. Monstrous births may be attributed to the child’s
they may be mentioned in magical spells as a sign that the
having been conceived in a masalai place (and possibly actu-
magic too derives from them. In a number of societies along
ally being its child); getting lost in the bush can result from
the north coast of New Guinea, it is reported that meticulous
being led astray by them; and sudden illness after eating wild
maintenance and performance of ritual secrets imparted by
animals or plants may be ascribed to either having ingested
these deities and culture heroes ensures success in a wide
the masalai itself, in one of its transformations, or having
range of activities. Other societies are not so conservative,
and their members try out any new rituals that seem promis-
“stolen” a food that actually belonged to the masalai. (The
ing. To the extent that deviations from morality are punished
spirit may later visit the victim in a dream to explain its ac-
in these, the actual penalties are usually carried out by men
tion.) Melanesia has few dangerous wild animals, but the un-
wearing masks and manipulating ritual noisemakers such as
inhabited bush and the deep sea teem with dangerous spirits,
flutes and bull-roarers to represent the voice of the spirits.
and many people are uneasy about moving far outside the
The men may not believe that the spirits are present, but
area of human settlement and cultivation. In some societies,
women and children are said to be deluded.
men—as hunters, fishermen, traders, and warriors—think of
the bush as peculiarly their own, free of the threat of sexual
In a few areas there exist religious cults that are dedicat-
contamination by women, while in others women are ban-
ed to a particular deity or other powerful being, or to the
ished from the village when they are in a dangerous condi-
semideified collection of ancestors. In historical times such
tion (e.g., menstruation and childbirth). Usually the village
cults, typically involving secret rituals held in special struc-
is regarded as uniquely safe from supernatural threat, at least
tures, have spread widely in the New Guinea Highlands,
during the day; after dark, spirits more easily invade the
honoring beings who promote health, strength, and fertility.
human domain. Belief in menacing beings that assume a
Elsewhere, cults center on dispelling disease and other ills,
harmless form at daybreak is widespread in Melanesia.
so that cult performances tend to be triggered by disasters.
Whatever their nature, cults, like most major religious activi-
Deities and culture heroes. Many spirit beings appear
ties in Melanesia, tend to involve only mature males.
only in mythology and play no part in contemporary society
RELIGIOUS SPECIALISTS. Officiants who intervene between
apart from being remembered when origins and migrations
deities and ancestors and the ordinary people have often been
are discussed. Some societies even lack such mythological fig-
called priests, even though they are never full-time specialists.
ures. In a relatively small number of Melanesian cultures,
Throughout Melanesia the most esteemed religious expert is
however, people believe in uniquely powerful spirits who
a man of mature age who possesses detailed knowledge of rit-
maintain an interest in the whole society rather than in spe-
ual, either through training by another expert or by attaining
cific descent groups. They are sometimes referred to in the
the higher grades of a secret society. Where he is expected
scholarly literature as “deities,” especially if they seem well
to communicate with the ancestors, he is ideally their senior
disposed toward humankind; otherwise they may be called
male descendant, but ability to learn and perform rituals may
“demons” by outside observers. The large majority of Mela-
outweigh pure seniority. By contrast with some other parts
nesian religions cannot be described as ethical; spiritual be-
of the world, ritual specialists are rarely set apart psychologi-
ings and forces rarely support the rules of society except in
cally or sexually, although they may report many direct en-
very limited spheres. Exceptions exist, especially in the east
counters with spirits in dreams or, while purportedly fully
(where influence from Polynesia may be involved in some
conscious, in waking life. They are taught what they know
cases) but also in the New Guinea Highlands. In these socie-
rather than being inspired. In a number of Melanesian socie-
ties, deities may punish misbehavior with crop failure,
ties mediums are possessed by spirits, like the Manus women
human infertility, sickness in the pig herds, or volcanic erup-
who communicate with ghosts through their own deceased
tion. If procedures exist for ascertaining the will of the deity,
young sons, and the curing shamans of the Baktaman of New
it may be possible to placate him or her, usually with offer-
Guinea, who must be possessed by a particular spirit before
ings. Otherwise people simply try to avoid or prevent behav-
assuming their roles. Such people are rarely the most es-
ior likely to evoke the wrath of the gods, and sometimes ex-
teemed experts; the mediums of the Kaluli of New Guinea
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

described by Edward L. Schieffelin (1976) are exceptional in
attacks are condemned, but in many other societies a sorcerer
this respect.
is admired so long as he does not attack members of his own
group. Usually all men know a little magic—for gardening,
That for most of Melanesia religious experts have been
hunting, fishing, and sexual attraction—but only a few spe-
described as magicians rather than as priests or shamans re-
cialists know the major types such as those dealing with
flects the most widely reported attitude toward the supernat-
weather control, warfare, sorcery, and the curing of serious
ural. Power lies in the hands of human adepts rather than
diseases. In most Melanesian societies all deaths except those
with gods or other spirits. Given sufficient knowledge, men
of the very young and the very old tend to be attributed to
can control rain, sun, and wind; they can bring success to
supernatural causes—sorcery, spirits, or the breach of a
themselves and their kin and misfortune to others—making
taboo—and so do all major accidents and serious illnesses.
gardens flourish or blighting them, luring a pig into a trap
Diviners and curers seek to ascertain the cause of sickness or
or a rival’s garden, sending a snake or crocodile to kill an
death, to help cure the sickness (possibly by identifying the
enemy or causing him to fall from a tree, or enticing a
person responsible), and to direct vengeance in the case of
woman from her husband. In some societies they accomplish
death. Magicians are often paid fees when they perform out-
their ends by manipulation of spirit beings, while in others
side their kinship group, unless their work benefits them-
the results follow automatically if ritual is performed correct-
selves along with others, as is the case with garden magicians.
ly. Particularly as regards eastern Melanesia, much has been
Usually each community contains a number of different spe-
written about the concept of an invisible supernatural power,
cialist magicians, but political leaders are likely to control
called mana (or some cognate term), which can be manipu-
more than one major form of ritual, either through their own
lated by the magician. As originally described by R. H. Co-
drington in The Melanesians (1891), mana was thought to
knowledge or by being wealthy enough to hire others. Politi-
be a power derived from “spiritual beings,” but the term
cal leadership is reinforced by religious knowledge, but only
came to be understood by some other anthropologists as des-
in a few coastal societies are there official magicians at the
ignating power that is impersonal and independent of spirits.
service of the leaders.
Certainly the term exists in both eastern Melanesia and Poly-
TABOOS AND TOTEMS. The English word taboo is derived
nesia, but there have been many debates about its exact sig-
from a Polynesian word (Tongan, tabu), and its cognates ap-
nificance, as Roger M. Keesing points out in Kwaio Religion
pear in many of those Melanesian languages that are related
to Polynesian languages. Similar concepts, called by different
terms, are found among speakers of unrelated languages.
It is generally agreed that even when terms like mana
There is debate about the range of meaning of these terms,
are used, the speakers tend to have no clearly defined and ex-
but they normally include the concept of “forbidden,” and
pressed concept of just what this supernatural power is and
often “sacred” as well. The words meaning “taboo” may be
how it operates. What interests them are results that can be
nouns, adjectives, or active verbs. The source of taboos varies
duplicated. If an act seems to be effective, it does not matter
from one society to another, and so does the kind of thing
just how the effect is produced. Typically, Melanesian magic
encompassed by them. Sometimes they can be traced to
involves the recitation of spells that must be carefully memo-
edicts by deities in mythological times, as is usually the case
rized; the use of substances thought to be potent in them-
with incest taboos. So too can special attitudes toward totem-
selves, such as ginger; ritual acts that may involve imitation
ic animals or plants. These are species associated with partic-
of the results desired; and maintenance of a state of potency
ular descent groups, perhaps because people are thought to
by the observation of taboos, as on washing and sexual inter-
be descended from similar but supernatural beings; perhaps
course. Failure to achieve the desired results is usually attri-
because they emerged from the underworld together with
buted to countermagic performed by someone else, but it
may also be blamed on failure to learn or perform correctly.
these species, as is believed in the Trobriand Islands; or per-
All magic is not this complicated; sometimes only the spell
haps because of aid given by a member of the species to a
or the act is needed. With the simpler forms, it may be diffi-
human ancestor. Whatever the reason for the connection,
cult to distinguish magic from technology, and often distinc-
members of the descent group are usually forbidden to kill
tions are made by an outsider that would seem artificial to
or eat members of their totemic species; if they break the
the local people. Trying to make a woman conceive by sim-
taboo, they may sicken or die. Those who punish such
ply putting spider eggs into her food is an example of such
breaches of taboo may be the creatures themselves, their
a borderline case.
ghosts (which may be possessed by animals and plants as well
as people), the ghostly founders of the descent groups, or
In Melanesia, intent is always involved in magic; there
some impersonal force that acts automatically. All associa-
is no equivalent of the African witch or European possessor
tions between people and natural species are not totemic;
of the evil eye who harms others involuntarily. In most cases,
sometimes members of a particular descent group simply
too, evaluation of the act depends on the relation between
claim to have first discovered a food plant, or to have particu-
the performer and those affected. In a few societies, such as
lar success in hunting certain animals. Where totems do
that of the Tangu on the northern coast of New Guinea,
occur, however, they are a significant part of the religion, but
there exists a belief in wholly malicious sorcerers all of whose
in a different category from spirits.
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

Many other taboos are tied in with aspects of the local
erything pertaining to men, including ancestral shrines, is
worldview. For example, if the soul is called by the same term
uphill from the area assigned to women.
as the reflection and shadow, as is often the case, it may be
The situation is not always so simple as it seems at first
taboo to stare at one’s own reflection or to step on someone’s
glance. In some societies, such as Wogeo, women too are
shadow, for fear of soul loss. Traditional systems of belief
thought to be endangered by the sexual secretions of men,
typically involve the observation of many taboos, some of
and menstrual blood may also be considered polluting to a
which result from revelation by spirits and some from simple
woman (who then has to take great care while eating or
deduction. An unexpected event such as an earthquake may
chewing betel nut during menstruation) as well as to a man.
be ascribed to the breach of a previously unknown taboo, the
Furthermore, it has been argued that women actually enjoy
nature of which may be revealed by a supernatural being in
and profit from the periods of seclusion associated with men-
a dream. Equally often, however, it is simply decided that
struation and childbirth, rather than feeling that they are suf-
any action out of the ordinary that immediately preceded the
fering because they are unclean. Certainly women’s labors
event actually caused it, especially if the action took place in
may be lightened if it is thought that crops planted by them
the wild. To avoid further trouble, it may be decided and an-
will not grow well and that men will sicken if they eat food
nounced, for instance, that never again should anyone put
cooked by women. Furthermore, the possibility that an
a stick down a rat hole. Since taboos acquired in this way
angry wife might put menstrual blood into the food of a hus-
rarely form a coherent system, they can seem arbitrary and
band who beats her, and so “poison” him, gives her some
almost meaningless once their origin has been forgotten, but
control over his behavior. If, however, women are thought
it may be strongly believed that the maintenance of society
to be innately malevolent, or to become malevolent because
and of human life depends on meticulous observation of
they are subject to discrimination in such matters as diet,
their ability to harm men may count against them in that
WOMEN AND RELIGION. Melanesia is famous in the anthro-
they are likely to be accused of causing deaths, and to be
pological literature for what has been called sexual antago-
killed in revenge.
nism, most often expressed in male fears of contact, which
In most of Melanesia, however, the low status accorded
can be dangerous and weakening, with women. At their
women also keeps them from being considered powerful ma-
mildest, such fears and avoidance are no greater than those
gicians. An exception is the so-called Massim region off the
found in many societies outside Melanesia. Men’s reluctance
eastern tip of New Guinea (including the Trobriand Islands),
to sleep with menstruating women, and their belief that sexu-
where female status is relatively high, and where cannibalistic
al intercourse saps the strength of a warrior and is antithetical
female witches who fly abroad seeking victims are blamed for
to the practice of religion, can be found almost everywhere.
many deaths. In most other parts of Melanesia, those deaths
More characteristically Melanesian is the frequently encoun-
not attributed to spirits are more likely to be blamed on male
tered belief that fertile women in themselves are polluting to
sorcerers. If women know magic at all, it typically deals with
men, particularly, but not exclusively, when menstruating
female fertility and childbirth, and with the growth and
and during and immediately after childbirth. While men-
health of small children. Nevertheless, women may play a
struating, they may be forbidden to cook for men or to enter
role in religious life insofar as their dreams may be taken as
gardens, and in many societies have to retire to menstrual
seriously as those of men, so that they too may have mean-
huts in the bush. If menstrual blood is feared, so too is the
ingful encounters with spirits and can act as soul rescuers,
blood shed in childbirth. Not only does a man avoid the
as well as sources of information about the world of spirits.
scene of childbirth, which also may be relegated to the bush,
The most respected female adepts are likely to be women
but he may consider both mother and baby to be polluted
past menopause, who are exempt from many of the restric-
for months after the birth. It may be considered dangerous
tions of their juniors, and who may even be identified with
for a man to touch a young baby, surrounded as it is by the
dangerous aura acquired from its mother. Later little boys
may need to be ritually cleansed of female influences before
Where women are considered unfit for the most es-
they will be able to become mature men or to participate in
teemed activities, the reason may simply be that they are
male ceremonies. Where fears of female pollution are high,
thought to be physically and mentally weaker than men.
men usually spend much of their time in men’s houses sepa-
Often, however, it is held that femininity in itself, or because
rate from the family dwellings. Such structures may be taboo
of its association with female blood and milk, is repulsive to
to women and even to little boys, who will have to undergo
spirits and to wild animals, who flee hunting and fishing
special rituals before they can begin to sleep there. In a num-
equipment if women touch it. Sometimes it is the odor of
ber of Melanesian societies, fertile women are thought to pol-
sexual intercourse rather than of women specifically that is
lute anything that they step over, such as food, firewood, or
thought to repel other beings; nevertheless, even in those so-
human beings. Men must take care never to be physically
cieties that do not practice the sorts of discrimination just
below women, nor to drink downstream from where women
described, women are usually forbidden to touch certain
bathe. In extreme cases, as among the Kwaio of Malaita in
male tools and weapons, and warriors must avoid too much
the Solomons, the whole village is built on ridges so that ev-
contact with women or risk death in battle. Usually these ef-
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

fects are automatic. If women are really feared and avoided
In a very few societies, such as the Orokaiva of New
in other contexts, boys are likely to need formal rites of sepa-
Guinea, boys and girls go through puberty ceremonies to-
ration from their mothers before they can join the men in
gether. But much more often boys are separated from all fe-
their exclusive domain.
males. In many parts of New Guinea they are subjected to
RITES OF PASSAGE. Whether changes of status during life are
rituals involving vomiting and bloodletting designed to rid
marked ritually depends on the society and on the individu-
their bodies of the pernicious effects of their former contact
al’s position within it. If there is a class system, as in many
with women. In some societies, such as the Wogeo, male
coastal areas, members of the upper class receive much more
bloodletting is equated with female menstruation: designed
ceremonial attention than do ordinary people. Elsewhere rit-
to rid the body of “bad” blood, it is practiced throughout life.
ual may be focused on the firstborn child, regardless of sex,
By contrast, in a group of societies in south central New
in the belief that some benefits will extend to younger sib-
Guinea, it is held that boys will mature only if they are “fed”
lings. Often ceremonies mark the first time that the child en-
with semen, and highly secret ceremonies involving ritual
gages in any new activity, such as going to the gardens or hav-
homosexuality form the center of the puberty rites. Where
ing his first haircut. Although rites of passage always mark
much secret knowledge is imparted at this time, puberty rites
a change of status, they need not contain a religious element.
are indistinguishable from initiation into men’s societies or
Ceremonies revolving around children or grandchildren are
cults; but usually the religious content of the rites is limited
often sponsored by older men to enhance their own prestige,
to the use of spells and practices to promote health, growth,
and the complexity and amount of display has little to do
and beauty. Various taboos are connected not only with sep-
with the significance of the event except as a marker of
aration from women but with the healing of any operations
wealth and social status. Of all the rites of passage commonly
on the penis, nose, ears, or skin that also signal the change
held in Melanesia, weddings are least likely to be religious
of status. At the end of the rituals, the boys emerge fully dec-
ceremonies, whereas funerals almost invariably are.
orated in a new social persona, but may still avoid marriage
Birth. A first pregnancy, and the birth of a first child,
for some years.
may be celebrated for the mother as marking her final shift
Men’s societies forbidden to women extend from New
of responsibility from her parents to her new status as a par-
Guinea to Vanuatu; only in this last island group are women
ent herself. Unless she experiences difficulties in childbirth,
reported to have similar societies of their own. Often the
religious rituals are not usually involved except for the obser-
male societies are basically political rather than religious, a
vation of many taboos on acts that might affect her or her
way for older men to dominate women and boys; but in
child. The husband may need to observe these as well. After
some areas much secret knowledge of rituals essential to the
birth, however, the baby is vulnerable to many inimical
maintenance of society is in the hands of the few individuals
forces, and is normally kept in seclusion until his survival
who have passed through various grades of initiation, typical-
seems likely, when his skin has darkened and the umbilical
ly with severe associated ordeals. Passing through all the
cord has dropped off. He may then be given a name and for-
grades may take a lifetime, and, in parts of Vanuatu, a for-
mally introduced to the community. Both parents continue
tune. Sometimes the actual secrets are minor, apart from the
to observe taboos on behavior that might affect him, staying
frequent revelation that purported spirits are simply human
away from spirit places and wild foods that might be associat-
impersonations; the initiates may only learn how masks are
ed with spirits. Spells are recited to promote his health and
made or how the “voices” of the spirits are produced. In these
growth, and rituals may be performed in connection with
cases it could be argued that belief in the existence and non-
such events as the appearance of teeth. Among the Siuai of
human nature of these beings is part of the religion of the
Bougainville, the young child is the object of an elaborate rit-
uninitiated but not of the initiates. A measure of deception
ual that summons spirits to help him, after which he is a full
need not, however, indicate the absence of other levels of be-
member of society; usually, though, the most complex rites
lief among the initiates. Several recent studies of rites still
are reserved for puberty.
being carried on in the interior of New Guinea reveal that
Puberty and initiation. In many parts of Melanesia it
often the older adepts really believe that they alone are able
is taken for granted that once the perils of early childhood
to keep society functioning; their activities are serious behind
are past, a child will mature naturally; supernatural aid is in-
the facade of deception and frequent revelations of trivia.
voked only for illness. In others, boys especially are thought
Overall, however, there is no necessary connection between
to need the aid of both society and the supernatural if they
the elaborateness of the ceremonies, the degree of hazing in-
are to reach healthy adulthood. Puberty rites for boys are
volved, and the care with which the secrets are guarded from
likely to be communal events occupying long periods of
noninitiates, and the actual religious content. Perhaps be-
time. A girl very often undergoes a ceremony at menarche
cause of the way they spread from one society to another,
that may involve a period of seclusion, both because of atti-
rites that look very similar on the surface may differ greatly
tudes about menstrual blood and because her emergence af-
in function.
terward is likely to mark her transition to the new status of
marriageability. Sometimes elaborate rituals surround the
Mortuary rites. Death triggers the ceremonies most
whole period of isolation.
characteristic of Melanesia, particularly of the coastal 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

lowland regions. Beginning with the funeral, these may cul-
ordinate to that of the sponsor. Throughout Melanesia lead-
minate years later in great festivals involving dances and
ers attain or ratify their positions by sponsoring ceremonies
masked performances and the dispersing of vast amounts of
in which they try to outdo each other in display and generos-
pork and other food to the participants. In most societies for-
ity. Some of the food dispensed at mortuary ceremonies may
mal funerals are held for everyone, though they may be ab-
derive from that left by the deceased, and so be taboo to some
breviated when the corpse is that of a baby or an old woman
of those who attend. Furthermore, the specific parts played
who lacks close kin. At the wake that enables mourners to
by those attending may reflect their relation to the dead as
view the body, diviners often attempt to ascertain the cause
well as to the sponsor, and if relics are displayed, those hold-
of death from the ghost, which then may be ritually dis-
ing them are likely to be close kin, who weep as they remem-
patched to the land of the dead. Although cremation is prac-
ber the dead. Unless the ghost is thought to attend, however,
ticed in a few places, in many others initial disposal of the
the religious content of such ceremonies may be confined to
body is temporary. It may be exposed on a platform or buried
magic designed to produce a successful occasion, as by pre-
for a few months until decay is complete, but thereafter some
venting rain and ensuring that the food supply is adequate.
or all of the bones may be subject to special treatment. This
The deceased may be present only in memory. It is, however,
varies according to local ideas about the relations between
common for a few final mortuary taboos to be lifted on these
body and soul, and about the symbolic significance of bones
occasions, such as those prohibiting use of the fruit trees and
and of specific parts of the body such as the head.
the house site of the deceased.
The period following initial disposal of the body is typi-
In some societies apparently similar ceremonies have the
cally one of intense mourning for the surviving kin, who ab-
deepest religious significance. Ghosts of the dead, sometimes
stain from work, keep a restricted diet, make themselves as
including those of distant ancestors, may be summoned to
physically unattractive as possible, sometimes lop off a finger
attend, and rites are directed at them in an attempt to win
joint, and often go into complete seclusion. The heaviest re-
their favor and avert their wrath. When pigs are killed, their
strictions fall on the widow, whose willingness to submit to
blood soaking into the ground or burnt portions of their bo-
them may be taken as evidence that she did not help to kill
dies are specifically intended as offerings to the ghosts. The
her husband by magical means. Only in Dobu, a matrilineal
fate of the bones of the dead varies with the sorts of continu-
society in the D’Entrecasteaux Islands, east of New Guinea,
ing relations desired between their former owners and the liv-
is mourning for the widower more arduous than for the
ing, but often they are deposited in sanctuaries such as caves,
widow. In a number of lowland societies extending as far as
or in structures that serve as temples in which the bones will
Fiji, the wife or wives of prominent men or chiefs were for-
be a focus for future rituals. If bones are reburied or deposit-
merly killed to join them in the afterlife, and in southwest
ed in village or garden sites, their presence may create contin-
New Britain all widows were killed and buried with their
uing prosperity, fertility, and safety for the descendants who
husbands, whose ghosts would linger around the settlements
use the land.
until their wives joined them. A widow cannot resume nor-
ART AND RELIGION. The spectacular art of most of lowland
mal life in other parts of Melanesia until she has been formal-
Melanesia is usually, but not invariably, connected with reli-
ly released from mourning, in ceremonies that mark her rein-
gion. In some societies, such as those of the area around Lake
tegration into the community.
Sentani in Irian Jaya and of the Massim Islands east of New
Personal possessions of the dead may be broken, trees
Guinea, almost all utilitarian objects are decorated, and in
cut down, and pigs killed either as signs of grief or so that
most cases the decorations have no religious significance.
their spiritual essence can be released to accompany the de-
The most dramatic Melanesian sculptures, paintings, and
ceased into the afterlife. It may also be considered supernatu-
constructions are, however, produced either specifically for
rally dangerous for survivors to remain in close contact with
religious ceremonies or to honor and commemorate particu-
the personal possessions, which are imbued with soul-stuff.
lar spirits. Some of the most colorful constructions, made of
Much of the remaining property, especially pigs and garden
painted barkcloth or woven fiber decorated with colored
crops, is likely to be used in feasts celebrating the lifting of
leaves and feathers, may be quite ephemeral; perhaps inhabit-
taboos from the mourners. When this is done, relics of the
ed by spirits during a ceremony, they are destroyed or dis-
dead, such as the house in which the person died, may be
mantled with the departure of the spirits for their own realm.
destroyed. But if further ceremonies are planned, some relic
The sculptures and painting that represent spirits may also
will be preserved for use in these.
be kept permanently hidden inside men’s houses or ceremo-
nial structures forbidden to noninitiates; viewing of these
Major mortuary ceremonies are not held for everyone.
pieces, and explanation of their meaning, often forms a
Men of high status are usually honored in this way by their
major part of initiation ceremonies. Women may never see
kin; but equally often, a leader or a man who aspires to that
them. The manufacture of ceremonial art, including even the
status sponsors such a ceremony primarily for the personal
gathering of leaves to conceal the bodies of maskers, is usual-
glory that he will gain. The dead person may be any type of
ly carried out in great secrecy, with women and children
kin, such as a young child or a mother-in-law; their impor-
threatened with death if they approach the area or voice any
tance as individuals in life or after death may be wholly sub-
suspicion that the supposed spirits are actually human cre-
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

ations. Spirits may indeed be summoned into the art objects
In some societies, however, the local experts are willing
after they are complete, and sometimes the actual process of
and able to discuss art objects and their relation to religious
manufacture introduces the spirit, as when eyes are painted
concepts. As with other aspects of religion, many details re-
on the masks of the Tolai of New Britain. In many societies,
main inexplicable, simply a traditional way of doing things
however, simple impersonation is involved, but magic is usu-
that is not questioned. It may also, of course, be improper
ally employed to ensure that the impersonations are success-
to discuss esoteric matters with noninitiates; but outsiders
ful, and sorcery is used to punish those who speak disrespect-
have often been admitted to discussions that are closed to fe-
fully of the ceremonies.
male or junior members of the society itself.
When carvings are made for rituals—such as those con-
SACRED AND PROFANE. In describing Melanesian societies,
nected with puberty and death—that honor specific individ-
many observers have hesitated both to use the word sacred
uals, they often include motifs associated with that person’s
and to contrast it with the profane. The reasons are several.
descent group, such as totems and masalai. True portrait
First, the discovery that often masked men impersonate su-
sculpture is rare but is found in a few areas, as in memorial
pernatural beings without feeling any religious awe empha-
carvings in parts of the Solomons and most notably in the
sizes the secular character of many ceremonies. Second, the
modeling of features over the dead person’s skull in parts of
widespread tendency to rely on magic in which impersonal
Vanuatu, New Britain, and the Sepik River region of New
forces are manipulated by individuals, and the rarity of com-
Guinea. Often memorials are destroyed when the mortuary
munal rites dealing with supernatural beings, makes it diffi-
ceremonies end, and anthropomorphic sculptures that re-
cult to apply labels derived from other religious systems.
main permanently in place usually represent more distant an-
Third, the frequent observation that Melanesian religions
cestors or deities. Such sculptures are prominently displayed
tend to be highly pragmatic, concerned with securing bene-
in many regions, forming the doorjambs and finials of houses
fits in this life rather than rewards in another world, and not
in New Caledonia, and standing outside men’s houses and
concerned with problems of good and evil, has led some to
clubhouses in parts of the Solomons, Vanuatu, and Sepik
deny that they are really religions at all. The fact that super-
River region.
natural beings are rarely all-powerful, awesome in appear-
The ritual art of other areas focuses not on ancestors but
ance, wholly incorporeal in nature, or far removed from
on supernatural beings who are only partly human in form,
human habitations, and in fact that ordinary people so often
like the shark god of parts of the Solomons or the culture
encounter them in the bush or in their dreams, makes them
hero with the body of a snake of western New Britain. Still
seem part of everyday life rather than being set apart, natural
other beings, such as those painted on the facades of Sepik
rather than supernatural.
ceremonial houses or constructed elsewhere for ceremonies
to bring fertility or drive away sickness, have little or no trace
The rituals of some societies do, however, strike some
of humanity in their appearance. Particularly in the New
observers as embodying concepts that can be labeled sacred.
Guinea Highlands, divine power may reside in objects such
Communion with ancestral spirits by priests and other spe-
as stones or boards that are painted with abstract designs of
cialists in Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomons, and Highlands New
uncertain meaning.
Guinea; first-fruits rites in New Caledonia; the invocation
of powerful nonhuman spirits along the Sepik: all these seem
Art objects collected for museums have often been arbi-
on emotional and cognitive grounds to indicate that the term
trarily identified as representing gods, ancestors, or totems,
is applicable. Sacred has also been applied to the state of reli-
without any real evidence that they were so regarded by their
gious practitioners while carrying out ritual, and of those
creators. Detailed studies of Melanesian art in its context are
who are temporarily removed from normal society during
few, and have demonstrated in some cases that people may
rites of passage. In these instances it is suggested that women,
be uncertain about the precise significance of designs that
children, and noninitiates belong to the realm of the profane,
may still be thought to form an essential part of a ritual.
and doubly so as regards women if they are regarded as in-
Some anthropologists argue that art and ritual express and
trinsically polluting to men and antithetical to religious en-
communicate messages that cannot be conveyed verbally, so
terprises. Several investigators have, however, argued that
that it is useless to expect native exegesis. The field is then
such labels and dichotomies are misleading. If men are taboo
open for the outsider to proffer his own explanations, and
when sacrificing to the ancestors and women are taboo when
many have taken advantage of the opportunity. Some ex-
menstruating, they are seen as similar rather than separate
perts, especially those trained in a German tradition of re-
(see Keesing, 1982, p. 66). Furthermore, the fact that women
constructing culture history in terms of postulated waves of
usually do interact with the spirit world and control some
migration, tend to see evidence in art of the previous exis-
magical techniques of their own invalidates the assumption
tence of earlier religious attitudes such as sun worship. An-
that they are excluded from the realm of the sacred.
thropologists have more often relied upon psychoanalytic
theory or a structuralism modeled on that of Claude Lévi-
When sacred is used today, it tends to be in two con-
Strauss to explain what is being represented at a subconscious
texts. Places consecrated to spirits, such as burial caves, ances-
level. The same types of interpretation have been applied to
tral shrines and groves, and cult houses, may be permanently
myth and ritual.
sacred, as are places inhabited by important supernatural be-
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

ings such as masalai. By contrast, people may be only tempo-
notes after the author’s death, but the most accessible ac-
rarily sacred during a religious performance; eventually they
count of the elaborate New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) graded
return to their normal state and to the everyday world. In
societies, with much information on religions.
this, the usual processes of life continue to involve them in
Fortune, Reo F. Sorcerers of Dobu (1932). Rev. ed. New York,
contact with supernatural beings and forces, so frequently
1963. Includes a general account of ritual in small islands
that it seems meaningless to characterize what is not sacred
east of New Guinea, with particular attention to the impor-
as profane.
tance of sorcery beliefs and practices.
Fortune, Reo F. Manus Religion: An Ethnological Study of the
SEE ALSO Christianity, article on Christianity in the Pacific
Manus Natives of the Admiralty Islands (1935). Reprint, Lin-
Islands; Homosexuality; Solomon Islands Religions; Taboo;
coln, Neb., 1965. A famous account of a religious system un-
common in Melanesia for its ethical content and for the role
of ancestral ghosts.
Gell, Alfred. Metamorphosis of the Cassowaries: Umeda Society,
Most of the earlier descriptions of Melanesian societies written by
Language, and Ritual. London, 1975. An innovative attempt
anthropologists and missionaries contain lengthy and rela-
to interpret a fertility ritual in a New Guinea society by ana-
tively straightforward accounts of religious beliefs and activi-
lyzing the associated language and symbols. The arguments
ties. On the theoretical side they may devote much time to
are complex.
out-of-date controversies about such matters as the nature of
totemism or the possible connections between Melanesian
Herdt, Gilbert H., ed. Rituals of Manhood: Male Initiation in
religions and those of other parts of the world. Only a few
Papua New Guinea. Berkeley, 1982. A collection noteworthy
of the better-known examples are mentioned here, but many
for the attention paid to psychological as well as social and
others exist. Later investigators more often begin with vary-
religious aspects of initiation. Contains several detailed de-
ing theories about the nature of religion and ways to study
scriptions of ceremonies in their wider context.
it, producing works that differ greatly from each other, in
Hogbin, Ian. The Island of Menstruating Men: Religion in Wogeo,
which the author’s role as interpreter is usually made explicit,
New Guinea. Scranton, Pa., 1970. Based on fieldwork car-
and in which the study tends to focus on a particular prob-
ried out in 1934, this general account, written for the non-
lem rather than attempt to cover the entire field. Many re-
specialist, pays particular attention to concepts of pollution
cent books are consequently both narrower and deeper than
and taboo, and contains some discussion of theories about
earlier ones. The earlier works are particularly useful for an
magical ritual.
overview and for descriptions of long-vanished ceremonies,
Keesing, Roger M. Kwaio Religion: The Living and the Dead in a
while the later works may be considerably more difficult to
Solomon Island Society. New York, 1982. Includes not only
read but may expose the student to a wide range of theoreti-
description of belief and rites among pagans on Malaita, but
cal problems and current controversies in the field of religion
discussion of many theoretical issues concerning concepts of
both in Melanesia and in other parts of the world where
pollution, mana and taboo, symbolism and meaning, and the
small-scale societies still exist.
social consequences of religious beliefs and practices. Ad-
Allen, Michael. Male Cults and Secret Initiations in Melanesia.
dressed to a general audience.
Melbourne, 1967. An out-of-date but useful survey of the
Lawrence, Peter, and M. J. Meggitt, eds. Gods Ghosts and Men in
nature and distribution of these institutions, which also ex-
Melanesia. Melbourne, 1965. A series of descriptive essays,
amines various theories attempting to account for them and
all but one dealing with the religions of Australian New
settles for one in which social structure is the important
Guinea (now Papua New Guinea), with an introduction in
which the authors attempt to generalize about Melanesian re-
Barth, Fredrik. Ritual and Knowledge among the Baktaman of New
ligions as a whole. A very useful survey, though authors of
Guinea. New Haven, 1975. An interesting attempt to use the
the essays have not all dealt with the same topics. But it has
author’s investigation of an elaborate initiation system as a
been rendered somewhat out of date by more recent studies.
basis for generalizing about the nature of ritual and the com-
Lewis, Gilbert. Day of Shining Red. Cambridge, 1980. An interest-
munication of knowledge in other societies.
ing and readable critical examination of the usefulness of var-
Bateson, Gregory. Naven (1938). 2d ed. Stanford, Calif., 1958.
ious theories of ritual in helping to understand the nature
A classic attempt to analyze certain rituals of a Sepik River
and meaning of puberty rites in a New Guinea village.
society with approaches this writer later made famous in such
Malinowski, Bronislaw. Magic, Science and Religion. New York,
fields as communications theory.
1948. Contains three famous essays setting forth Malinow-
Codrington, R. H. The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology
ski’s theories about the differences between magic and reli-
and Folklore (1891). Reprint, New Haven, 1957. Based
gion and the functions of these practices and of mythology,
mostly on interviews with Melanesian mission students, sup-
as well as a description of Trobriand beliefs and rituals con-
plemented by some visits to the islands of eastern Melanesia,
cerning the dead. Malinowski’s theories continue to influ-
this work is often incorrect in ethnographic detail but con-
ence a number of scholars, and are clearly explained here.
tains the classic discussions of mana and taboo, and useful
Rappaport, Roy A. Pigs for the Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of
descriptions of now-vanished rituals.
a New Guinea People (1968). Rev. ed. New Haven, 1984. A
Deacon, A. Bernard. Malekula. Edited by Camilla H. Wedgwood.
well-known and widely quoted attempt to explain ritual in
London, 1934. Incomplete, having been edited from field
adaptive terms. In the revised edition, the author answers his
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

critics and presents the results of further thinking on such
making theoretical or comparative sense of the marked diver-
topics as the importance of sanctity (“sanctified understand-
sity and remarkable intricacy of the mythology of this area.
ings”) in human societies.
Most ethnographic studies contain some references to myth,
Schieffelin, Edward L. The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning
but in general, myth tends to be merely a secondary feature
of the Dancers. New York, 1976. A short and readable ac-
of the central analytic endeavor and is explored—if at all—
count and analysis of a set of ceremonies in a New Guinea
largely to enhance the primary interests of analysis. Only re-
society, with particular attention to their emotional content.
cently has Melanesian mythology begun to attract focal ana-
Tuzin, Donald. The Voice of the Tambaran: Truth and Illusion in
lytic attention on its own.
Ilahita Arapesh Religion. Berkeley, 1980. A complex and de-
STUDIES OF MELANESIAN MYTH. The legacy of earlier
tailed examination of the meaning of the numerous rituals
studies of Melanesian myth still burdens present endeavors
associated with male initiation, which are characterized by
to summarize and to synthesize what is archivally available.
spectacular religious art in a New Guinea society. Questions
of belief and psychological reactions to the rituals are dis-
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scholars
cussed as well.
working among the myriad indigenous peoples of the Dutch,
French, English, and German Melanesian colonies compiled
Williams, Francis E. Drama of Orokolo: The Social and Ceremonial
extensive collections of mythic narratives in many forms.
Life of the Elema. Oxford, 1940. A detailed description of one
of the most elaborate and spectacular ceremonial cycles ever
These often simplistic assemblages of myths, however, were
recorded for Melanesia, and the implications of its decline
ethnographically sterile and left ample room for varied aca-
and neglect in the colonial period.
demic fancies and fantasies to supplant Melanesian mythic
realities. The collections were sometimes linguistically sus-
New Sources
pect and often unidentified by genre of oral literature and
Finnegan, Ruth, and Margaret Orbell, eds. South Pacific Oral Tra-
ditions. Bloomington, Ind., 1995.
by sociocultural group. Thus, various kinds of myths, leg-
ends, folk tales, and other conventional classes of oral litera-
Knauflt, Bruce M. From Primitive to Postcolonial in Melanesia and
ture, sometimes from different regions, would often be
Anthropology. Ann Arbor, 1999.
merged in one collection regardless of local or analytic senses
Krieger, Michael H. Conversations with the Cannibals: The End of
of genre. Compilations tended to include an emphasis on or-
the Old South Pacific. Hopewell, N.J., 1994.
igin myths, mythic charters of institutional forms, and myths
Lambek, Michael, and Andrew Strathern, eds. Bodies and Persons:
and legends of culture heroes and migrations. These early
Comparative Perspectives from Africa and Melanesia. New
collections revealed little about other important aspects of
York, 1998.
Melanesian myth—of its role in or as a sacred performance
May, John D’Arcy. Transcendence and Violence: The Encounter of
and as an assertion of ideology or belief, a map of supernatu-
Buddhist, Christian and Primal Traditions. New York, 2003.
ral landscapes, a model of personhood, a mode of ethnohi-
Sillitoe, Paul. An Introduction to the Anthropology of Melanesian
storical discourse, a social or ritual charter, and a shared but
Culture and Tradition. New York, 1998.
also contestable collective representation (in the Durkheimi-
Strathern, Andrew. Body Thoughts. Ann Arbor, 1996.
an sense). They usually ignored the significance of myth as
Trompf, G. W. Melanesian Religion. New York, 1991.
a vital, flexible, and changing but also enduring aspect of a
lived, remembered, and imagined sociocultural reality
Trompf, G. W. Payback: The Logic of Retribution in Melanesian
among those islands of the southwest Pacific that constitute
Religions. New York, 1994.
Whitehouse, Harvey. Arguments and Icons: Divergent Modes of Re-
ligiosity. New York, 2000.
The boundaries of mythology in Melanesia are some-
times obscure, for the analysis of myth as sacred narrative has
Revised Bibliography
been simplistic, uncritical, imprecise, and inconsistent and
has not encompassed the many diverse kinds of regional oral
traditions. Moreover, scant attention has been given to local
genres of narrative, such as the Daribi namu po or po page,
Kalauna neineya, Kamano kinihera, Keraki ninyi-ji, Kewa lidi
The myths of all known Melanesian peoples are subtly, intri-
or ramani, and Trobriand kukwanebu, libogwo, or liliu. In-
cately, and often tacitly bound to fundamental matters of
deed, there are few ethnographic portraits of the classificato-
worldview, ethos, and personhood in religious systems of
ry complexity exhibited in the seventeen genres of Bimin-
meaning. Yet the study of myth in Melanesia has a long,
Kuskusmin oral tradition, or analytic frameworks that could
largely unvaried tradition of being descriptively rich but ana-
accommodate such complexity. Nonetheless, the sacred
lytically impoverished. Indeed, this fascinating field of study
qualities of myth often do seem to be marked in a more or
remains a vast terra incognita in important respects and lags
less distinctive manner throughout Melanesia. Thus, myths
significantly behind the study of Melanesian ritual, in which
may be distinguished by certain modes of discourse or lan-
significant theoretical and comparative advances have been
guage (as among Bimin-Kuskusmin, Daribi, or Kwaio); em-
made. Relatively few ethnographies of Melanesian cultures
bedded formulas or linked songs or chants (as among Gende,
and societies have focused exclusively or even primarily on
Kamano, or Trobriand Islanders); tacit contextual associa-
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

tions and symbolic allusions (as among Baktaman, Bimin-
ancestors, totemic figures, local spirits, demons or ogres, for-
Kuskusmin, Fore, Gende, Gimi, Gnau, Hua, Huli, Iatmül,
est spirits, and tricksters. The notion of a supreme deity or
Jate, Kai, Kamano, Keraki, Siane, Telefolmin, Umeda, or
creator is found rarely, or remains doubtful as an interpreta-
Usurufa); entitlements to know, to explicate, and to narrate
tion of local belief, in most areas of Melanesia, with the pos-
bound to a complex sociology of sacred knowledge and relat-
sible exceptions of the hierarchical societies of eastern Mela-
ed rules of secrecy, taboo, and revelation (as among Bakta-
nesia (notably Fiji) and the northwest and northeast coasts
man, Bimin-Kuskusmin, Elema, Kera-ki, or Marind-Anim);
of Papua New Guinea. Certain renowned and omnipotent
and intricate linkages with forms of art, magic, music, and
figures sometimes also appear in Melanesian myths, such as
ritual (as among Abelam, DAréEaré, Elema, Ilahita Arapesh,
Enda Semangko (Kyaka Enga); Honabe (Huli); Maru-
Kwaio, or Sambia). Most myths are cast in the form of narra-
nogere (Kiwai); Oma Rumufa (Siane); Ora Rove Marai
tives and are sometimes interconnected in complex cycles;
(Roro); Parambik (Ngaing); Sinatu, Mubu, and Obomwe
examples of these mythic cycles are the delicate mosaics of
(Garia); and Ye (Rossel). Although creative or regulative be-
origin myths among the Nalum of the Star Mountains of
ings are known in most of the area’s mythologies (except
Irian Jaya, the narratives of the founding ancestress Afek in
among the Tangu), such spirits rarely have the elaborate
the Mountain-Ok region of Papua New Guinea, the key
Polynesian features of the Kalou-Vu and other deities of the
Massim myths of canoe voyages and kula exchange transac-
Fijian pantheon. Indeed, in eastern Melanesia at the Polyne-
tions, and the mythic culture-hero cycles that pervade the
sian frontier cosmogonic myths and their portraits of the
whole of Melanesia. Other myths, however, may also be both
generative powers and acts of mythic creators are generally
danced and sung (Waropen), embedded in linked cycles of
more intricate and are interwoven with representations of so-
songs (Kiwai), or enacted in magical or ritual dramas (Elema,
cial hierarchy. In this subregion, myths tend to place greater
Marind-Anim) to enhance their performative efficacy or elo-
emphasis on ideas of duality; totemic concepts; complex cul-
cutionary force in creating a sacred cognitive-affective ex-
ture-hero or trickster cycles (at times almost as elaborate as
those of the Polynesian Maui myths); images of regeneration,
reproduction, or reincarnation (often in serpentine form and
Despite their occasional entertainment value, the casual
less bound to ideas of garden fertility than in western Mela-
way in which they are often told, and their abstract literary
nesia); regional integration; and autochthonous origins—all
qualities, the myths of Melanesia are profoundly anchored
in support of fundamental creation in and of the cosmos. In
to the local foundations of sociocultural existence. They are
other parts of Melanesia, however, mythic creators are usual-
portraits of various phenomena of sacred significance, “char-
ly assigned less than cosmogonic tasks.
ters” (in Bronislaw Malinowski’s sense) that both elucidate
and legitimate fundamental institutional forms and prac-
MYTHS OF COSMOGONY. Myths of origin, found in almost
tices, and narrated performances that are believed to affect
every cultural repertoire of Melanesian myth, generally as-
the course of events of concern to human communities. The
sume the preexistence of the fundamental characteristics of
performance aspects of myth in Melanesia are less well un-
the cosmos. When described at all, the primeval era is often
derstood than similar features of ritual, although there have
portrayed either as a mosaic of basic elements, structures, and
been numerous studies of the place of myth vis-à-vis male
processes—earth, water, sky, astronomical bodies, the under-
initiation ritual (as among Awa, Baktaman, Bimin-
world, and the forces of wind, rain, tide, and temperature
Kuskusmin, Chambri, Gnau, Ilahita Arapesh, Mianmin,
(Huli, Iatmül, Mae Enga, Marind-Anim, Mbowamb, Ros-
Ndumba, Sambia, or Telefolmin) and noteworthy analyses
sel)—or as a period of chaos, marked by cataclysms, storms,
of myth by Jan van Baal (1966) on Marind-Anim, Catherine
fires, floods, volcanic eruptions, eclipses, comets, and earth-
H. Berndt (1955) on the Kai-nantu area (Fore, Jate, Ka-
quakes, to be eventually put in order (Bimin-Kuskusmin,
mano, Usurufa), Kenelm O. L. Burridge (1969) on Tangu,
Orokaiva, Tangu, Trans-Fly, Waropen). Indeed, this pri-
S. Hylkema (1974) on Nalum, John LeRoy (1985) on Kewa,
mordial chaos is often paralleled by the mythical moral disor-
Roy Wagner (1978) on Daribi, and Michael W. Young
der attributed by many Melanesian peoples to the fringes of
(1983) on Kalauna. A linguistically and symbolically sophis-
their known world (Bimin-Kuskusmin, Marind-Anim,
ticated approach to the ethnography of mythological dis-
course in Melanesia, however, is evident only in incipient
More often, however, such myths largely ignore cos-
and rudimentary form. Attention has been directed primarily
mogony, focusing instead on subsequent modifications or
toward more descriptive, functional, or structural character-
transformations of terrain or seascape, flora, fauna, human-
istics of portrayals of mythic personae, landscapes, origins,
kind, and culture or society brought about by important cre-
migrations, and other sacred phenomena. Analysis of these
ators, culture heroes, totemic figures, or ancestors. Some of
mythical portraits has focused on varied aspects of their sub-
these mythic characters are both creative and regulative. Re-
jects’ cultural, existential, psychological, social, or even theo-
sponsible for particular facets of cosmic order, they dwell in
logical significance in times of both stability and change.
or near human settlements and supplicants, taking an inter-
est in human affairs and often intervening in them. Other
sian myth are variously and loosely identified as deities or
mythological beings are primarily or only regulative, possess-
primordial creator spirits, culture heroes, remote or recent
ing few if any creative powers but monitoring and interven-
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 human affairs after the establishment of the essential
lated in myths focused on and perhaps embedded in fertility,
cosmic, moral, and social orders.
initiation, funerary, cannibalistic, and head-hunting rituals
(Bimin-Kuskusmin, Gimi, Hua, Keraki, Marind-Anim,
Culture heroes, on the other hand, are usually only cre-
Trobriand Islanders).
ative. Soon after completing their acts of creation, they aban-
don human society, taking no further interest in its continu-
ing affairs. But ancestral and totemic figures—through
origin in Melanesia are often concerned with the primordial
genealogical or ethnohistorical links with social groups
roles of sun, moon, stars, and other celestial phenomena and
founded on principles of descent or locality—tend to be sig-
with the fundamental separations of water and land, earth
nificantly associated with the ongoing sociocultural life of
and sky, valley and mountain, plain and river, night and day,
particular communities. They model, validate, and also regu-
and other key contours of a cosmological landscape (Bimin-
late aspects of the social, economic, moral, political, and ritu-
Kuskusmin, Kyaka Enga, Tolai). The distinctions of forest,
al orders.
garden, and hamlet, or of sea, shore, and inland village, how-
ever, are often relegated to a later time when the sense of do-
ORIGINS OF HUMANITY. In most Melanesian origin myths,
mesticated space and human community became apparent.
primordial transformations reveal little sense of an original
Separations of the realms of natural and supernatural or liv-
paradise and are attributed to various forms of hostility, to
ing and dead are more problematic in both conception and
breaches of morality, and to conflict—often incest (Bimin-
representation, for many mythic spirits are imagined to live
Kuskusmin, Huli, Marind-Anim, Waropen) but also adul-
near human settlements and to be involved with their affairs.
tery, desecration, homicide, rape, rebellion, sibling rivalry,
Indeed, these spiritual abodes are sometimes described as
suicide, treachery, and theft. The first humans are sometimes
mirror images of, or as significantly overlapping with, the so-
created through primeval acts of incest, although myths of
cial world of the living.
ancestral parthenogenesis or virgin birth are also known
(Bimin-Kuskusmin, Sambia, Trobriand Islanders). The orig-
The acquisition of fire commonly marks the inception
inal humans are depicted as emerging not only from the bo-
of humanity and community. According to many Melane-
dies of primordial humanoid forebears, but also from various
sian myths, the original fire, which is denied to beings other
sacred or mysterious cassowaries (Bimin-Kuskusmin), earth-
than the morally human, is usually brought by spirits, creat-
worms (Ndika), eggs (Rossel), stems (Kiwai), pigs (Tangu),
ed by sacred lightning, or hidden in the body of an ancestral
palms (Keraki), and ground holes (Trobriand Islanders).
being—perhaps an old woman or a totemic animal (Bimin-
Sometimes they emerge from other sources and sites—land,
Kuskusmin, Marind-Anim, Nalum, Trans-Fly). Sometimes
sea, sky, or perhaps some unknown, unmapped netherworld.
the advent of fire is linked to the origin of a major food or
Although they are occasionally completely formed, the first
of ritual plants and animals—especially taro, sweet potatoes,
humans most often are molded or hardened by hand or by
yams, sago, and valued wild flora, as well as cassowaries,
fire or sun into fully human form. They are then endowed
dogs, pigs, marsupials, pythons, fruit bats, crocodiles, du-
with sensory, sexual, reproductive, and judgmental capaci-
gongs, and sharks. Such foods and the taboos applied to
ties, as well as other attributes of personhood (Bimin-
them are mythically portrayed as key sociocultural markers
Kuskusmin, Ilahita Arapesh, Marind-Anim, Trans-Fly).
of self and person (Bimin-Kuskusmin, Hua, Manga, Ndum-
Once they are minimally human, these early beings are usu-
ba). The common mythic theme of interwoven animal,
ally further endowed not only with the essential cultural arti-
plant, and human fertility is often bound to ideas of the gen-
facts—of gardening, fishing, hunting, and other productive
erative powers of male and female substances, an-
activities—but also with such institutions as marriage, child-
thropophagic symbols, and images of human heads and acts
rearing, ritual, magic, exchange, warfare, sorcery or witch-
of headhunting (Bimin-Kuskusmin, Marind-Anim, Rossel,
craft, and other foundations of Melanesian ideas of ethics,
morality, and social order.
If the mythic bestowal of life, humanity, and sociality
sia, the beginnings of particular societies are attributed to
is complex and profound, the advent of death is usually asso-
both autochthonous origins and primordial migrations,
ciated with an apparently trivial incident that could well have
which are often revealed in different contexts and serve dis-
had a different outcome—often involving some kind of ac-
tinct functions in the domains of ritual and ethnohistory
quisition or display of improper knowledge, emotion, or be-
(Bimin-Kuskusmin, Kwermin, Lagaip Enga, Umeda). It is
havior and sometimes cast in the image of the shedding of
in the context of these migrations that the culture heroes of
skins and the apparent immortality of various lizards and
Melanesia are often found. These culture heroes—including
snakes (Bimin-Kuskusmin, Kiwai, Trobriand Islanders). Yet
figures known over wide regions, such as Qat (Banks), Sido
Melanesian ideas of immortality tend to be ambiguous, and
(Kiwai), Sosom (Marind-Anim), Souw (Daribi), Tagaro
mythic beings are often given corporeal forms and mortal
(Vanuatu), and Warohunuga (Solomons)—establish key as-
fragilities despite their recognized invisibility and supernatu-
pects of sociocultural order, test the limits of morality, insti-
ral powers. In turn, the complex symbolic relationships of
tute basic productive practices, introduce significant flora
birth, death, rebirth, and regeneration are commonly articu-
and fauna, and otherwise determine or shape the foundations
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 community. Often coming from a nearby land, the cul-
picting gender relations tend to focus on substance, power,
ture hero journeys across the known world, explores new
purity, and pollution; on the sexual division of labor; and on
frontiers, discovers new horizons, encounters strangers, ene-
cultural images of virgins, wantons, witches, and female el-
mies, or unknown women, travels to the realm of the dead,
ders. These myths develop local ideas of primordial matriar-
and shapes the world of the living. His exploits transform
chy and their ritual and political consequences (Asaro, Awa,
him profoundly and lend significance to the present condi-
Benabena, Bimin-Kuskusmin, Fore, Gadsup, Gahuku-
tion of humankind. As he embarks on his odyssey of discov-
Gama, Gimi, Hua, Jate, Kamano, Sambia, Siane, Tairora,
ery, intrusion, indiscretion, insight, and creation, he is often
Usurufa, Yagaria).
cast as one member of an elder-younger sibling or cross-
NEW FIELDS OF STUDY. Although the themes noted above
cousin set, and he marks the cultural boundaries of both
have significantly shaped the described or analyzed character
cross-generational and male-female relationships. In explor-
of Melanesian myths as they have been portrayed in more
ing the moral boundaries of a community, the culture heroes
than a half century of anthropological study, several other
exhibit some affinity with various local spirits, demons,
foci are also worthy of special note. First, there is now a quite
ogres, fools, and tricksters, such as Gabruurian and Kamdaak
considerable tradition of concern with syncretic myths,
Waneng (Bimin-Kuskusmin), Kakamora (San Cristoval),
which are subtly linked to mission Christianity or to various
Masi (Ulawa), Muu-muu (Mala), Pakasa Uru and Tulagola
millenarian or messianic cargo cults. These analyses, which
(Lakalai), Tukis (Buka), and Yevale (Yéi-nan), but these fig-
introduce the critical element of sociocultural change into
ures never have the creative capacities of Melanesian culture
the study of Melanesian mythology, extend to all major areas
of the cultural region. Second, studies conducted in the sec-
The myths of culture heroes introduce the sociological
ond half of the twentieth century on Daribi and Kewa myths
themes that are the foci of so many Melanesian narratives.
stressed the flexibility, metaphoric character, and creative po-
Matters of egalitarian and hierarchical ethos and social order
tential of Melanesian myths, which are seen as complex
pervade the mythologies of western and eastern Melanesia,
forms of communication that play on ambiguity, trope, and
respectively. Ancestor spirits are genealogically and mythical-
innovation. Third, analyses of Kalauna and Tangu mytholo-
ly marked in the descent ideologies of patrilineal, matrilineal,
gy emphasize the ways in which mythic understandings be-
and cognatic Melanesian societies in different ways, but most
come variously embedded in both personal and public senses
of these societies—except in the patrilineal Highlands of
of self, person, experience, and symbol. In these studies, the
New Guinea and hierarchical eastern Melanesia—emphasize
analysis of Melanesian mythology has finally come to the
the recently dead and largely ignore more remote ancestors.
forefront of anthropological interest, field research, and theo-
retical concern and promises to enrich this field of inquiry
Although the myths of the classic New Guinea Highlands
beyond traditional measure.
are substantially lacking in totemic figures or emblems, many
fringe Highland and other Melanesian myths do associate to-
tems with clans or moieties (Abelam, Bimin-Kuskusmin,
Dobuans, Iatmül, Lakalai, Mountain Arapesh, Ngaing,
The literature on Melanesian myths is immense and enormously
Orokaiva, South Pentecost). Such mythic totemic figures
varied, although it has remained primarily descriptive until
may have few ritual implications (Keraki, Kiwai, Yéi-nan) or
quite recently. In the earlier periods of scholarly interest in
be associated with elaborate ancestor cults (Bimin-
Melanesia, the journals Anthropos (Salzburg, 1906–), Baess-
(Berlin, 1959–), Folk-Lore (London, 1890–), Jour-
Kuskusmin, Marind-Anim).
nal de la Société des Océanistes (Paris, 1945–), Journal of the
Although Melanesian myths concerning ancestors and
Polynesian Society (Wellington, New Zealand, 1892–), Jour-
totems serve significantly as a community’s corporate prop-
nal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and
(London, 1871–), Man (London, 1901–), Oceania
erty, as charters of local or descent groups, and as the basis
(Sydney, 1930–), Zeitschrift für Morphologie und Anthropolo-
of claims on various social resources, many myths subtly de-
gie (Leipzig, 1899–), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Anthropologie,
pict a range of relations—between siblings, men and women,
Ethnologie und Urgeschichte (Braunschweig, Germany, 1870–
and generations—as a model extending from the family to
1920), and other publications printed myriad unannotated
the widest contours of social structure. Sibling relations are
texts of Melanesian myths. Despite the sterility of this early
significant in almost all Melanesian myths. Emphasis is
practice, the tradition of presenting such textual materials on
placed on either elder-younger (brother-brother, sister-sister)
mythology is being continued not only in some of the peri-
or male-female (brother-sister) configurations, with implica-
odical literature listed above, but also in the exemplary an-
tions for matters of either generation or gender in transfor-
thologies of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the Société
mations of the mythic sibling model (Bimin-Kuskusmin, Il-
d’Études Linguistiques et Anthropologiques de France, and
the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, as well as in the
ahita Arapesh, Mae Enga, Murik). Mythic portraits of
journals Bikmaus (Boroko, Papua New Guinea, 1980–) and
generational relations tend to explore themes of authority
Oral History (Boroko, Papua New Guinea, 1973–). The vital
and sexuality between parent and child and of amity in
importance of providing appropriate ethnographic context,
grandparent-grandchild relationships (Bimin-Kuskusmin,
however, is now recognized in these endeavors to establish
Mae Enga, Mountain Arapesh, Sambia). In turn, myths de-
an archive of Melanesian oral traditions.
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

There are many early but altogether excellent ethnographic studies
of insight into Canaque myth that provides inspiration from
of Melanesian cultures and societies based on the tradition
Lucien Lévy-Bruhl to Claude Lévi-Strauss in the unraveling
of field research that give detailed and significant—if not
of Melanesian mythologiques. Yet the contemporary study of
focal—attention to mythology. A fine, sensitive, but highly
New Caledonian mythology, as admirably exemplified in
descriptive presentation of numerous mythic and other texts
Alban Bensa and Jean-Claude Rivièrre’s Les chemins de
that provides a rich sense of their ethnographic contexts is
l’alliance (Paris, 1982), is far less philosophical in its theoreti-
to be found in Gunnar Landtmann’s The Folk-Tales of the
cal foundations and reflective in its methodological moorings
Kiwai Papuans (Helsinki, 1917). A somewhat similar study
and attempts to promote a more “scientific” emphasis on et-
is well represented in G. Camden Wheeler’s Mono-Alu Folk-
hnosemantic classificatory schemas and sociopolitical pat-
lore (Bougainville Strait, Western Solomon Islands) (London,
terns implicated in mythic narratives.
1926), which provides extensive annotations of many texts
The state of the art in the anthropological study of Melanesian
and thoughtful comparisons with diverse Melanesian myths,
mythology is well examined and summarized for the period
but which portrays a somewhat superficial sense of relevant
ending in the early 1960s in Gods, Ghosts and Men in Melane-
ethnographic context.
sia, edited by Peter Lawrence and M. J. Meggitt (Melbourne,
The problem-centered, theoretical analysis of Melanesian myth,
1965). This overview suggests how little progress had been
however, becomes more prominent in the era of functionalist
made in the study of the myths and religions of Melanesia
concerns, which emphasize the intricate embeddedness of
before the 1960s, which represented what might be called a
mythology in the cultural fabric of social institutions. Thus,
renaissance of academic interest in Melanesian religions.
the place of myth in a system of morality enforced and sanc-
Prior to this time, there is particularly little exploration of
tioned through oracles is splendidly illustrated in Reo F. For-
mythology in the New Guinea Highlands, with the notable
tune’s Manus Religion (Philadelphia, 1935). The intertwined
exception of the monumental study of Fore, Jate, Kamano,
cultural, social, and psychological characteristics of myth and
and Usurufa origin, kinihera, and other genres of myth in
its key functions as a charter of magical, ritual, and social in-
Catherine H. Berndt’s “Myth in Action” (Ph.D. diss., Lon-
stitutions is remarkably portrayed for Trobriand gardening
don School of Economics, 1955).
beliefs and practices in Bronislaw Malinowski’s Coral Gar-
dens and Their Magic
, 2 vols. (London, 1935), and for the
The modern era in the study of Melanesian mythology exhibits
theoretical and comparative study of myth in Malinowski’s
two particularly significant trends: (1) a comparative exami-
Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays (New York,
nation of mythological and other aspects of millenarian, na-
1948), which draws heavily on a range of Trobriand myths.
tivistic, or cargo cult movements; and (2) a new emphasis on
A sensitivity to the psychocultural nuances of Melanesian
mythology as the focus of ethnographic interest and theoreti-
mythology, however, is not generally a hallmark of the func-
cal analysis. In the first instance, mythological portraits of the
tionalist tradition and, beyond Malinowski’s work, is per-
significance of sociocultural change, of altered conceptions
haps best carried forward in John Layard’s Stone Men of
of personhood, self, society, and cosmos, and of revitalized
Malekula (London, 1942), which marvelously explores the
traditional or newly syncretic images are compared through-
cultural, psychological, and ritual character and context of
out much of Melanesia in Peter Worsley’s The Trumpet Shall
myth on the islands of Malekula and Vao in the New Hebri-
Sound (London, 1957) and in Kenelm Burridge’s New Heav-
des (now Vanuatu).
en, New Earth (New York, 1969).
The analysis of Melanesian myth moves well beyond a simplistic
In the second instance, however, the study of Melanesian myth
concern with both function and charter in the seminal but
comes fully into the mainstream of the best academic explo-
little-recognized studies of the Keraki and other Trans-Fly
rations of myth. These new and exciting analytic undertak-
groups and of the Elema, documented in Francis Edgar Wil-
ings are perhaps best represented in a limited set of exempla-
liams’s Papuans of the Trans-Fly (Oxford, 1936) and Drama
ry articles and in the monographic work of five scholars. The
of Orokolo (Oxford, 1940). A master of ethnography and no
mythic exploration of moral ambiguities and dilemmas is in-
slavish adherent of functionalist dogma, Williams challenges
sightfully examined in a Kamano text in Catherine H.
the foundations of Malinowski’s faith in mythic charters and
Berndt’s “The Ghost Husband: Society and the Individual
opens new ground by raising significant questions about the
in New Guinea Myth,” Journal of American Folklore 79
cultural embeddedness, semiotic construction, and psycho-
(1966): 244–277. Subtleties of the conceptual images and
logical importance of myths in Melanesia and elsewhere. In
internal paradoxes of Kaliai culture and society as represent-
these several regards, Williams’s central concern is to address
ed in a single myth are unraveled in Dorothy Ayers Counts’s
the subtle relationships between mythic and ritual forms—
Akro and Gagandewa: A Melanesian Myth,” Journal of the
an issue that is also richly explored in the magnificent studies
Polynesian Society 89 (1980): 33–64. These analyses show the
of the Marind-Anim portrayed in Paul Wirz’s Die Marind-
power of exploring the nuances of a single mythic narrative
Anim von Holländisch-Süd-Neu-Guinea, 2 vols. (Hamburg,
in elaborate sociocultural context. In contrast, a comparative
1922–1925), and in Jan van Baal’s Dema (The Hague,
examination of the dialectical relationship between sociocul-
tural experience, moral order, and mythic representation in
the Eastern Highlands region of Papua New Guinea is admi-
The classic study of the mythology of New Caledonia is beautiful-
rably constructed in John Finch’s “Structure and Meaning
ly represented in Maurice Leenhardt’s Do Kamo: Person and
in Papua New Guinea Highland Mythology,” Oceania 55
Myth in the Melanesian World (1947; reprint, Chicago,
(1985): 197–213.
1979). In his exploration of matters of experience, epistemol-
ogy, and personhood through myth and the nuances of the
Whether focusing within or beyond a particular sociocultural
anthropological study of myth, Leenhardt provokes a depth
community, the monographic endeavors variously attend to
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

problems of the comparative analysis of myth. The complex
MELQART, whose name means “king of the city” (milk
and subtle relations between mythology and matters of per-
qart), was the patron god of the Phoenician city of Tyre and
sonhood, self, morality, and experience in Tangu society are
one of the major gods of the Phoenician and Punic panthe-
elegantly dissected in Kenelm Burridge’s Tangu Traditions
ons. He was also known as Baal Sur (Lord of Tyre) and was
(Oxford, 1969), which delicately probes the intricate way in
identified with Herakles (Hercules) since at least the sixth
which myth is variously embedded in diverse ethnographic
century BCE. There is no longer any doubt about his link
contexts and which forcefully demonstrates how myths be-
with Tyre (the “city” of his name) since the publication in
come crystallizations of cultural themes and of both social
the 1990s and early 2000s by Pierre Bordreuil of explicit epi-
and personal experiences. Exploring a tension between the
disclosure of immoral realities and the revelation of existen-
graphical evidence, including a seal, tesserae, dedication,
tial truths, enigmatic and oracular Tangu myths unveil di-
weight, and sling balls.
lemmas of the local human condition. How such mythic
PHOENICIA AND SYRIA. The earliest epigraphical evidence on
crystallizations are constructed and manipulated creatively
Melqart appears on a statue found near Aleppo (Bredj),
and through complex understandings of cultural tropes is an-
Syria, dating from about 800 BCE. The royal Aramaic votive
alyzed admirably for Daribi mythology in Roy Wagner’s
inscription bears the name of Barhadad, who probably was
Habu (Chicago, 1972) and Lethal Speech (Ithaca, N.Y.,
1978), which also attend to broader comparative issues in as-
king of Arpad. This document is an important trace of com-
sessing the commonalities and peculiarities of Daribi myth
mercial and cultural contacts between Northern Syria and
in New Guinea and in Melanesia. The significance of varia-
Phoenicia, especially Tyre, which explains why an Aramaic
tions among versions of myths with respect to the cultural
king made such an offering to a Tyrian god. Melqart is repre-
discrimination of social differences and to the transforma-
sented on the stela, standing, striding from right to left, with
tional characteristics of a corpus of myths within a particular
a naked torso and bare feet, bearded, with a loincloth and
society is illustrated in exemplary fashion for Nalum mythol-
a dome-shaped hat, a fenestrated ax on the shoulder (a royal
ogy in S. Hylkema’s Mannen in het Draagnet (The Hague,
symbol) and carrying what may be an ankh or a lotus flower
1974). The subtle interplay between narrative compositions
in the right hand (a symbol of immortality). This is clearly
and pragmatic experiences, between intertextual resonances
a composite image, with Egyptian and Syro-Hittite affilia-
and textual references, between the surfaces and the depths
tions. The same iconography, with a standing or seated god
of constructed layers of meaning, and between the fanciful
(on a throne), is also attested in different Mediterranean con-
and the factual of cultural contradictions and social conflicts,
texts (Cyprus, Carthage, Ibiza, Sardinia), but it is not certain
is marvelously explored in the “fabricated worlds” of Kewa
that it always refers to Melqart.
lidi myths in John LeRoy’s Fabricated World (Vancouver,
1985), which is usefully complemented by a fine collection
Although the first reference to Melqart belongs to the
of the analyzed myths in Kewa Tales, edited by LeRoy (Van-
beginning of the first millennium BCE, different literary
couver, 1985). Finally, the problem of how myths—usually
sources link him with the founding of the city of Tyre, and
conceived as particular forms of collective representations (in
Herodotus (II, 44) reports that, according to the priestly tra-
the Durkheimian sense)—become articulated with personal
ditions, Melqart’s Tyrian sanctuary was as old as the city it-
symbols and subjective experience and embedded in autobio-
self. It is likely that Melqart’s cult was based on a longtime
graphical narratives is superbly examined in Michael W.
religious tradition, the cult of royal ancestors, which is well
Young’s Magicians of Manumanua (Berkeley, 1983). These
attested in Mesopotamia and Syria until the third millenni-
new studies reach well beyond the descriptive and analytic
limits of their predecessors and hold much promise for the
um BCE. However, Melqart became the poliadic god of Tyre,
future of academic understandings of the subtleties of
with this specific name, only at the beginning of the first mil-
mythological constructions in the Melanesian cultural re-
lennium BCE, when Tyre became a great commercial center
with a Mediterranean dimension. In fact, Josephus (A.J.,
VIII, 145–146; C.Ap. I, 117–119) records that Hiram I, the
New Sources
king of Tyre during the tenth century BCE, built new temples
Burridge, Kenelm. Mambu: A Melanesian Millennium (1960).
for Melqart (Herakles) and Astarte in the city and celebrated
Princeton, N.J., 1995.
for the first time the egersis, which was the resurrection ritual
Kahn, Miriam. “Stone-Faced Ancestors: The Spatial Anchoring of
of Melqart, in the month of Peritios (February–March).
Myth in Wamira, Papua NewGuinea.” Ethnology 29 (Janu-
During this annual ritual, the god “died” (perhaps in a fire)
ary 1990): 51–66.
and was awakened or resuscitated, perhaps through a sacred
marriage (hierosgamos) with the goddess Astarte. In this cele-
MacDonald, Mary N. Mararoko: A Study in Melanesian Religion.
bration, the Tyrian king probably played the role of the god,
New York, 1990.
and a priestess played the role of the goddess.
Pech, Rufus. Manub and Kilibob: Melanesian Models for Brother-
Later in Cyprus and in the Punic world, a ritual title ap-
hood Shaped by Myth, Dream and Drama. Papua New Guin-
plied to important citizens is attested, surely in connection
ea, 1991.
with Melqart’s egersis: “The one who makes the god(s) awak-
en, bridegroom of Astarte(?).” In Greek inscriptions found
Revised Bibliography
in Amman, Ramleh, and Ashkelon, this function is translat-
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

ed as “egerseites of Herakles.” On a vase, presumably from
“I am a god, I sit on a divine throne, in the heart of the seas.”
Sidon, there is a probable iconographical representation of
The Tyrian betyls (standing stones) that symbolize the city’s
the main moments of Melqart’s egersis. In addition, in Gades
power (Ez. 26:11) are probably the two stelae that Herodotus
(Spain), Hercules/Melqart’s bones were kept (Pomponius
(II, 44) describes in Melqart’s shrine and that are represented
Mela III 46). These elements seem to fit well with the known
on the city’s coinage. They were a symbol of his dominion,
Frazerian pattern of the “dying and rising god,” but this pat-
as were, later, the columns of Herakles at the end of the
tern has been critically challenged because it is an artificial
Western world (Libya, then Gibraltar). These elements prove
construction that does not reflect the great diversity of the
that an aniconic tendency, maybe the older form of the cult,
historical and “theological” backgrounds of the so-called
was still present in the worship of Melqart, especially in Tyre
dying and rising gods, a category that includes Osiris, Du-
and Gades, though anthropomorphic figures are also known.
muzi, Attis, Adonis, and others. In Melqart’s case, it appears
On the Tyrian coinage, the Heraklean symbols occur fre-
clear that the annual ritual death and resurrection means that
quently in the Hellenistic and Roman period. In the fifth
every year the natural, cosmic, sociopolitical, and religious
century BCE a sea god riding a hippocampus is depicted,
order was renewed with and through the king. It is not sim-
which could be Melqart represented as the protector of com-
ply a “naturalistic” ritual, but a way to assure fertility, order,
mercial expansion, but this is not certain.
peace, and wealth for all the people, because, as the Semitic
When Alexander the Great reached Tyre in the fourth
royal inscriptions say, the king—mythical and historical—
century BCE and began the siege, because of his Heraklean
“makes his people live.” It is also interesting to notice that
genealogy he tried to manifest his devotion to the Tyrian
Astarte seems to be the mother and paredros (companion) of
Herakles (Melqart), making several offerings in his temple
the god. According to Cicero (N.D. III, 42) and Philo of By-
(Arrian, Anab. II, 16–24). But by that time the Hellenization
blos (Eusebius, P.E., I, 10, 27, 3), the Tyrian Herakles was
of the cult was already deep, and it is difficult to distinguish
the son of Zeus Demarous (from Dmrn, the “Warrior,” pos-
the local Semitic god and its Greek interpretation; one deals
sibly an epithet of Baal) and Asteria (Astarte); he was killed
with a syncretistic figure (Melqart/Herakles) in a syncretistic
by Typho in Libya and was brought back to life by the god-
context (the Hellenistic period). The Greek iconographical
dess, who made him smell roasted quails (Eudoxus of Cni-
language completely covers the original Phoenician image,
dos, fr. 284).
which is very poorly attested.
Direct evidence. After the Aleppo inscription, Melqart
Just as the Tyrian influence expanded through the Med-
appears in two vassal Assyrian treaties. First, Melqart is men-
iterranean by way of trade and colonization, so did the cult
tioned in the treaty of 754 BCE between Matiel, king of
of Melqart. The “Lord of Tyre” was also the “sailors’ god”
Arpad (Northern Syria) and Ashurnirari V, king of Assyria.
(Diodorus XX, 14), who traveled with the population. Mel-
Here Melqart is included in the group of gods who warrant
qart thus became one of the major figures of the ancestral
the treaty; together with Eshmun (the Baal of Sidon), Mel-
religious traditions for the western Phoenicians (Punic peo-
qart is also named in the treaty of 675–670 BCE between the
ple). For example, it is known that the Tyrian founders of
kings Esarhaddon of Assyria and Baal of Tyre. This treaty
Carthage and Gades brought on their ships, together with
regulated the shipping and overland trade routes, and Mel-
their families, relics of Melqart (Justin XVIII, 4, 15; XLIV,
qart is included in the group of Tyrian gods, together with
5, 2). In these colonial contexts, the foundation of a sanctu-
Astarte and Eshmun: “May Melqart and Eshmun deliver
ary for Melqart, often extra muros, was probably one of the
your land to destruction and your people to deportation;
first concerns of the new inhabitants because the sanctuary
may they [uproot] you from your land and take away the
was a neutral and sacral space that offered an adequate con-
food from your mouth, the clothes from your body, and the
text for the first commercial and social contacts with the local
oil for your anointing” (Parpola and Watanabe, 1988, vol.
populations. Melqart’s temples probably had an important
II, p. 27).
economic function, perhaps serving as “treasuries” of com-
mercial exchanges through a system of tithe, but this aspect
Various scholars hold that the cult of Baal that King
of his cult is still hypothetical because of the lack of docu-
Ahab and his wife Jezebel, a Tyrian princess, introduced into
Israel in the ninth century BCE (1 Kgs. 16), and against which
the prophet Elijah fought on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs. 18:20–
Elsewhere in Phoenicia and Syria, Melqart is mainly at-
40), was in fact a cult of Melqart. The text that narrates the
tested in Amrith (together with Eshmun), Sarepta (if he is
challenge between Elijah and Baal’s prophets alludes to a god
the “holy god” of the inscriptions), Umm el-Awamid (under
who sleeps and travels, like Melqart, the god of the egersis and
the name of Milkashtart), Jamnia, and Ascalon.
the companion of the Tyrian expansion on the Mediterra-
BEYOND PHOENICIA AND SYRIA. From Phoenicia, Melqart’s
nean shores. But the god Baal Shamin (Lord of the Heaven)
devotion expanded in the eastern Mediterranean.
is another good possibility for the Carmel episode. In the
sixth century BCE, Ezekiel’s oracle against Tyre (Ez. 28:1–19)
Cyprus. The first step was Cyprus. There Melqart is
probably refers to the cultural background of the Tyrian
documented in several places: Kition, Amathus, Idalion, and
kingship when he places in the king’s mouth these words:
Larnaka, which were the major centers of Phoenician coloni-
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

zation since the ninth century BCE. In Kition-Bamboula,
Sicily (XX, 14). In the famous treaty between Hannibal and
Melqart’s sanctuary was near Astarte’s, while in Kition-
the Macedonian king Philippus V in 215 BCE, Herakles
Batsalos there is epigraphical evidence of a common cult to
(with the Carthaginian daimôn and Iolaus), who must surely
Melqart-Eshmun. In many Cypriot cult sites, a Heraklean
be Melqart (Polybius VII, 9, 2–3), is mentioned among the
iconography, similar to that present on the Syrian coast
Punic gods.
(Amirth) since the sixth to fifth centuries BCE, is present. It
Elsewhere in Africa, Melqart is present in Leptis Magna
may allude to Melqart, but probably also alludes to other
(as Milkashtart, together with Shadrafa), Sabrata (as Hercu-
cults, including Reshef /Apollo and some anonym Cypriot
les), El Hofra, and Lixus, where the classical authors placed
god, as if the Heraklean shape were a standard male god ico-
the Hesperian garden.
nography. Cyprus was thus a crucial place for the icono-
graphical assimilation between Melqart, the royal god, per-
Spain. In Spain, where Phoenician people founded em-
haps associated with the lion (as in the Eastern iconography
poria as early as the eighth century BCE, the main center of
of the smiting king or god), and the Greek Herakles, who
Melqart’s cult was Gades. The evidence is entirely Greek and
became the god with the leonte, the bow and the club. The
Latin, and relatively late, so it is difficult to determine what
Idalion cup (eighth century BCE) is the best illustration of
belongs to the Phoenician god and what to his later classical
this assimilation process.
brothers. It is likely that Phoenician, Greek, and Roman
cults were practiced together in a clearly syncretistic context,
Greece. Although there is little specific evidence of Mel-
where each believer was able to recognize his own god.
qart in Greece, it is probable that Samos was an important
stage on the road that brought Melqart/Herakles from Phoe-
Milkashtart, who could be a god similar to Melqart and
nicia and Syria to Greece, through Cyprus and perhaps
who was also assimilated to Herakles/Hercules, appears in
Rhodi, where an “awakener of the god” is attested, surely in
Gades in the second century BCE. His name alludes to a royal
connection with Melqart’s cult. In Samos, where Hera looks
god (Milk) of Ashtarot, a Palestinian place name, and not
much like Astarte, there is a famous pectoral (625–600 BCE)
to Ashtart/Astarte. The cult of Melqart/Herakles/Hercules
with the first Heraklean image of the hero with the leonte.
propagated in several places in southern Spain, as demon-
Otherwise, Melqart’s name never appears on Greek soil.
strated by local coinage with Heraklean symbols or images,
including Herakles’ head, bowl, and club, but the chronolo-
Herodotos reports (II, 44) that Melqart was venerated
gy of such a phenomenon is not clear. It is probable that the
in Thasos as the archegetes of the city, just as the Thasian
brief Punic dominion on Spain in the third century BCE
Herakles was venerated in Tyre, but excavations have not
under the leadership of the Barcides, a family who had a spe-
provided any evidence of this. In Crete, the Phoenician pres-
cial devotion for Melqart, reinforced the god’s presence in
ence (at least in Kommos) is well documented, but Melqart
Spain. The Barcides imitated Alexander’s coinage with the
does not appear, although the Cretan Herakles Daktylos may
Heraklean head.
have some relationship to him and to the Egyptian Bes. An-
other important site in the religious map of the Greek world
The cult of Melqart is also known through epigraphical
is Delos, where different oriental communities settled for
and iconographical evidence to have been present in Ibiza.
commercial reasons. The Tyrian group considered Melqart
Scholars are not aware of any mythological cycle of Melqart’s
as their patron god and therefore took the name of Heracle-
adventures similar to those surrounding Herakles, neither in
istes. Their decree (ID 1519) records that on the Aegean is-
Ibiza, the far West, or the East. The Western episodes of
land they regularly practiced Melqart’s cult as their archegetes
Herakles’ myth are particularly important because they con-
during the second century
stitute the antecedent of his death and apotheosis. The West,
the Sun’s house, was considered to be the end of the world,
Africa. Though the monarchy disappeared in Carthage,
a fabulous land where a person could communicate with the
Melqart, the royal god par excellence, remained popular as
netherworld. But nothing similar is known about Melqart,
a symbol of the Phoenician roots of Carthaginian people, like
and the old idea that the “city” contained in his name was
the goddess Astarte. The divine couple, Melqart and Astarte,
the city of the dead is not convincing.
already attested in Phoenicia, survived in the Punic context
Italy, Malta, and Great Britain. Melqart is found in
and was often translated in Greek and Roman sources
all Phoenician colonies, including Sardinia, Sicily, and
through the interpretatio graeca or latina: Herakles/Hercules
Malta. In Sardinia, there is little evidence of Melqart’s pres-
for Melqart, and Aphrodite/Venus or Hera/Juno, especially
ence in Tharros, the most important Phoenician colony on
but not exclusively, for Astarte. In Carthage, Melqart’s cult
the island, apart from a temple, known from an inscription.
provided one of the most important occasions to maintain
Astarte is much better documented, particularly on icono-
the relationships between Tyre and its major Punic colony.
graphical grounds, and these two gods probably formed a di-
Every year during Melqart’s feast a tithe was sent from Car-
vine couple, as they frequently did elsewhere. Melqart is also
thage to Tyre to demonstrate the people’s fidelity to the great
documented in the Sid/Sardus Pater’s sanctuary in Antas.
ancestral god and to Tyrian traditions. When the Carthagin-
ians interrupted this custom, they were badly punished by
In Sicily, the name of Melqart occurs as a theophorous
the god with war and epidemics, as reported by Diodorus of
element in the onomastics, but there is no cultural evidence.
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He was nevertheless probably venerated in different places,
security, victory, wealth, fertility, and stability. Melqart was
for example in Selinus, where the cult of Herakles is well doc-
thus the king’s prototype in historical times. His cyclical
umented, and in Mozia, where the famous statue of the
death, recorded in a special ritual that involved the king,
Young of Mozia (fifth century BCE) has been interpreted as
means that without the king’s mediation between the divine
Heraklean iconography. Melqart also appears in the place-
and the human sphere the world cannot function, fertility
name Roshmelqart (Cape of Melqart), which is documented
ceases, and fecundity disappears, as in the Ugaritic Kirta
in inscriptions and on the coinage but has not yet been defin-
myth. The annual death and resurrection (egersis) of Melqart
itively identified. In Sicily, the Heraklean presence is strong
must demonstrate what a society without a king (a cata-
and is reinforced through the interaction (often violent, in
strophic event) means and how it is important to reestablish
the form of a conquest and assimilation) with indigenous
and confirm the primary importance of the king in the bal-
ance between life and death, power and destruction, fertility
and desolation. This pattern surely includes the life of nature
In Malta, Melqart certainly had a temple, which is men-
and vegetation, but it goes far beyond.
tioned by Ptolemy as Herakles’ temple; the location was re-
visited in 2003 by Nicholas Vella. The twin stelae with dou-
SEE ALSO Dying and Rising Gods; Eshmun; Heracles.
ble bilingual inscriptions in Phoenician and Greek were
probably offered in this temple to Melqart, Baal of Tyre, and
to Herakles, archegetes of the Tyrians, that is, the founder,
Bonnet, Corinne. Melqart: Cultes et mythes de l’Héraclès tyrien en
the “leader of the foundation” (Donner and Rˇsllig, 2002).
Méditerranée. Louvain, Belgium, 1988.
These texts enabled Jean-Jacques Barthèlemy to decipher the
Bonnet, Corinne. “Melqart est-il vraiment le Baal de Tyr?”
Phoenician scripture in 1758. Astarte’s cult is also well attest-
Ugarit-Forschungen 27 (1995): 695–701.
ed in Tas Silg in Malta.
Donner, Herbert, and Wolfgang Rˇsllig, eds. KanaanSˇische und
Pyrgi is the most important site in continental Italy,
aramSˇische Inschriften, 5th ed. Wiesbaden, 2002.
which has something to do with Melqart. The evidence is
Gibson, J. C. L. Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions. Oxford,
both epigraphical and iconographical. The bilingual Phoeni-
cian and Etruscan inscription on the laminae includes a dedi-
Lipin´ski, Edward. Dieux et déesses de l’univers phénicien. Louvain,
cation to Astarte/Uni from the local king on a special occa-
Belgium, 1995. See pages 226–243.
sion: “the day of the burial of the god” (Donner and Rˇsllig,
Mettinger, Tryggve N. D. No Graven Image? Israelite Aniconism
2002). The name of this god is not explicitly mentioned, but
in its Ancient Near Eastern Context. Stockholm, 1995.
the iconographical evidence may indicate that he was Mel-
qart—in the decoration of Pyrgi’s temples (A and B), Herak-
Mettinger, Tryggve N. D. The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and
Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East. Stockholm, 2001. See
lean motifs are common, probably in connection with the
pages 83–111 for a discussion on the dying-god typology.
cults practiced there. In the Forum Boarium on the Ara Max-
ima in Rome, the local Hercules had economic and commer-
Parpola, Simo, and Kazuko Watanabe, eds. Neo-Assyrian Treaties
and Loyalty Oaths. Helsinki, 1988.
cial functions. Because of the relationships between archaic
Rome and different oriental groups (Cypriots and Phoeni-
Ribichini, Sergio. “Melqart.” In Dictionary of Deities and Demons
cians, maybe through the Etruscans), the Forum Boarium’s
in the Bible, 2d ed., edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob
Hercules could have some oriental connotations, just like he
Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, pp. 563–565. Leiden,
Netherlands, 1999.
also has deep Greek shapes, but he is surely not sic et simpli-
Xella, Paolo. “Da Baal di Ugarit agli déi fenici: Una questione di
vita o di morte.” In Quando un dio muore: Morti e assenze di-
Phoenician traders probably settled in Corstopitum in
vine nelle antiche tradizioni mediterranee, edited by Paolo
Great Britain, the cult site of both their ancestral gods, dur-
Xella, pp. 73–96. Verona, Italy, 2001.
ing the Imperial period. Melqart, translated as Herakles, and
Xella, Paolo. “Le soi-disant ‘dieu qui meurt’ en domaine phénico-
Astarte (Inscriptiones Graecae, XIV, 2253–2254) remain to-
punique.” Transeuphratène 22 (2001): 63–77.
gether, even in such a remote place.
From the rich evidence discussed above, from all the
Mediterranean shores, scholars conclude that Melqart was
one of the most important gods of the Phoenician and Punic
world. He was primarily a royal god who was linked with the
MEMORIZATION, as the act of storing information
Syro-Mesopotamian background of the cult of royal ances-
in the memory, is distinguished by the fact that it can be ei-
tors and who had some chthonic, salvific, and healing conno-
ther mechanical or deliberate. It is through practice and imi-
tations. Because of the commercial vocation of Tyre and its
tation, through the mechanical repetition of the traditional
expansion in the West, Melqart became a god of the sea, who
gestures and speech of his social group, that the individual,
took the Tyrian people to the colonial world. He was not
without actually realizing it, memorizes most of the informa-
simply a vegetation god, an example of the dying-god typolo-
tion necessary for proper social and religious behavior. Taken
gy, but rather a king who protects the population and assures
in this sense, memorization culminates in the acquisition of
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the innumerable actions, of behavior, thought, and sensibili-
lalambibi, with such enthusiasm that he was nicknamed after
ty, that define a social and cultural identity. From the classic
his hero! But others can tell six, ten, or twenty stories”
texts of Maurice Halbwachs on social memory and Marcel
(p. 159).
Mauss on bodily techniques to the more recent studies of
In certain societies, in particular among the Native Pop-
André Leroi-Gourhan on mechanical operatory chains and
ulations of North America, the knowledge and the posses-
Erwin Goffman on interaction rites, this type of memory ac-
sion of a myth or chant may be the privilege of an individual,
quisition has been the object of numerous investigations that
who alone may pronounce it. It is for this reason that a Nava-
need not be considered here. It is sufficient to emphasize
jo of New Mexico may give as a sign of his poverty the fact
that, in contrast to this kind of memorization, there exists
that he does not own a single chant. A chant thus becomes
another, deliberate form, the techniques of which become es-
a piece of “property” that concerns his own social and spiri-
pecially prominent when certain individuals are momentarily
tual identity.
separated from their usual social group in order to take part
in an initiatory ritual or to become part of an educational
Most often, however, it is because certain stories are of
institution. These extreme cases do not apply to all members
an important collective interest that they are entrusted to the
of a community, however, and those to whom they do apply
vigilant memory of one or more persons. The task of memo-
are never required to memorize everything, but only those
rization is then taken up by a specific institution, often reli-
gestures, techniques, and special narratives that are of partic-
gious. These institutions are generally controlled by an elite
ular importance, as for example certain ritual formulas, dec-
close to power. In Rwanda, the oral tradition of the Ubwiiru,
larations of faith, religious chants, prayers, and rules of reli-
in which the rites to be performed by the king were de-
gious behavior. Deliberate memorization thus appears to be
scribed, was divided into eighteen rituals that were kept
a specialization of the more natural process of acquiring
strictly secret. In an essay on this oral tradition Pierre Smith
knowledge and techniques, religious or otherwise, that un-
(1970) notes that “the individuals in charge of remembering
consciously determine a person’s membership in a particular
and repeating it word for word—errors could be punished
with death—were the most important dignitaries in the
kingdom, and the most important three among them, the
To this initial distinction, between mechanical and de-
only ones who knew the text as a whole, partook of the sacred
liberate memorization, can be added another, which does not
character of royalty” (p. 1385). Such “memory specialists”
coincide with it, but applies to each term independently: the
can be found wherever a community expresses in narrative
techniques and practices of memorization, be they mechani-
its needs to preserve its identity. In Oceania, the experts in
cal or deliberate, vary according to whether they are associat-
oral tradition, the “holders of memory,” were assembled in
ed with orality or writing. Studies by Laura Bohannan,
colleges analogous to religious confraternities. The most fa-
E. A. Havelock, and Jack Goody have established that mem-
mous among them, portrayed by Victor Ségalen in Les im-
ory is organized differently when written records and models
mémoriaux, were the harepo of Tahiti, who were the keepers
are available; without writing, memory does not function as
of the genealogies, myths, and epics.
exact reproduction, but rather as generative recollection that
These orators were given true responsibility only after
ties repetition to variation. It would be wrong to think that
a serious examination, composed of difficult tests. The
this second distinction is historical. Oral memory and mem-
least mistake in memory was enough to eliminate a can-
ory determined by writing can easily coexist in the same cul-
didate, whose preparation was the responsibility of the
ture, as the Greek, Jewish, Celtic, and Hindu examples to
priests. It is said that the harepo practiced in complete
be mentioned below will show. This is also still the case in
isolation, during long nocturnal walks. The transmis-
contemporary cultures. In the exposition that follows, which
sion of ancestral knowledge rested with them. These
must be limited to only a few examples, will be traced a line
story tellers were surrounded by a whole set of religious
that leads from the oral to the written. At each stage it is nec-
rituals. (O’Reilly and Poirer, 1956, pp. 1469–1470)
essary to respect the double contribution of mechanical
On Easter Island, the rongorongo, from noble families often
memorization and deliberate memorization.
attached to the king, used to teach chants and oral traditions
In societies without writing, riddles, proverbs, myths,
in special huts. Alfred Métraux (1941) describes how this
fables, and stories depend upon a memory that is more or
oral tradition is learned: “The student’s memory was perfect-
less shared by the entire community. In this sense, one can
ly trained. During their first years of schooling, they had to
learn certain psalms by heart, which they recited while play-
speak of “social memory” or “shared knowledge.” However,
ing cat’s cradle: each figure . . . would correspond to a chant
memorization is often an activity left to the free choice of in-
to be recited” (p. 168).
dividuals, to their tastes, affinities, and personal gifts. Henri
Junod (1936) recalls a woman among the Tsonga who could
Among the Inca, the education of the nobility was the
tell riddle after riddle until late into the night. He met story-
responsibility of the amautas, who were of aristocratic de-
tellers of every age and of both sexes: “Such a narrator might
scent. Their instruction lasted four years. The first year was
know only one story, and repeat it on every occasion, as did
devoted to the learning of the Quechua language; the second
Jim Tandane, who told the story of an ogre, Nwatlakou-
year to learning the religious traditions; and the third and
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fourth years to the handling of the famous knotted strings,
human thought itself, in some of its least known as-
the quipu.
pects. (Le savoir des anthropologues, Paris, 1982, p. 115)
Memorization, as it is practiced by such specialists, be-
As logical as these rules of transformation can be, and as apt
comes a technique that can be taught, and that has its appro-
be enlightening on the workings of the human mind, they
priate equipment. The Peruvian quipu, the kou-hau made by
are not incompatible with trivial motives. Take, for instance,
the rongorongo on Easter Island, the skeins of coconut fiber
what Edmund Leach (1954) reports of the Kachin of Burma:
adorned with knots made in the Marquesas Islands, the
Kachins recount their traditions on set occasions, to jus-
wooden tablets of the Cuna Indians in Panama, and the
tify a quarrel, to validate a social custom, to accompany
pieces of bark of the Ojibwa Indians of North America do
a religious performance. The story-telling therefore has
not, strictly speaking, constitute writing systems, but they do
a purpose; it serves to validate the status of the individu-
represent mnemotechnical means pertaining to oral memo-
al who tells the story, or rather of the individual who
ry. The same is true of certain systems of pictographic nota-
hires a bard to tell the story, for among Kachins the tell-
tion, such as the Aztec ideograms. Fernandon de Alva Ixtlilx-
ing of traditional tales is a professional occupation car-
óchitl recalls that the Aztec used to have writers for each type
ried out by priests and bards of various grades (jaiwa,
of history:
dumsa, laika). But if the status of one individual is vali-
dated, that almost always means that the status of some-
Some would work with the Annals [Xiuhamatl], putting
one else is denigrated. One might then infer almost
in order the things which took place each year, giving
from first principles that every traditional tale will occur
the day, the month, and the hour. Others were charged
in several different versions, each tending to uphold the
with the genealogies and ancestries of the kings and
claims of a different vested interest. (Leach, 1954,
lords and persons of lineage. . . . Others took care of
pp. 265–266)
the paintings of the boundaries, the limits, and the
This amounts to saying that the priestly bard adjusts his sto-
landmarks of the cities, provinces, and towns, and [re-
corded] to whom they belonged. (quoted in Léon-
ries to the requirements of the audience who hired him. The
Portilla, 1963, p. 157)
horizon of expectation, the “reception,” appears to be a con-
stitutive component of oral memory, a component that con-
These “writers” used pictographs to construct a mnemonic
ditions the very notions of fidelity and truth.
system that later historians could refer to, provided that they
also referred to the purely oral tradition of the chants (ibid.,
Oral memory does not like writing; there are numerous
p. 156), since as a system of notation it was not sufficient
examples of this. This is not simply because it knows that
in itself for the total preservation of information. It was nec-
writing can place it in contradiction with itself. It is primarily
essary in addition to have recourse to the memory that was
because the standard of truth is different for each. To under-
transmitted by word of mouth through the traditional
stand this phenomenon better, one may turn to cultures
chants. One finds a similar situation, mutatis mutandis, in
where the two types of memory coexist. First the Celts,
the early days of Islam, when to read the QurDa¯n it was neces-
where the specialists of the sacred, the druids, ran their own
sary that one already know it, since writing was still too rudi-
schools, in which the main subject was memorization. Ac-
mentary to be the sole means of transmission.
cording to an Irish judicial treatise, the ollam (the highest
ranking scholar) was considered the equal of a king; he could
In oral cultures, memorization remains closely tied to
recite 350 stories, 250 long ones, and 100 short ones. “As
the conditions of performance, despite the use of mnemonic
for the tenth-ranked oblaire, who makes do with leftovers at
techniques. Between listening and repeating, the absence of
a feast, and whose escort is small, only seven stories suffices.”
a fixed model does not allow for exact word-for-word repeti-
The druids, who were the only Celts who knew how to write,
tion. Variability is essential, even though the transformations
refused to use their skill for religious purposes. “They say,”
from one speaker to another often go unnoticed. There is no
wrote Caesar,
original version that others could reproduce, or from which
they could depart. Claude Lévi-Strauss suggests that there is
that they learn a great number of verses by heart: some
spend twenty years at their school. They believe that re-
nevertheless a logical model, which follows certain laws of
ligion forbids the use of writing for this purpose, unlike
transformation. Although reproduction is not determined by
any other purpose such as recording public or private
the ideal of fidelity to an original (a “text”), this does not
stories, for which they use the Greek alphabet. It seems
mean that it thereby becomes prey to arbitrariness. Its flexi-
to me that they established this usage for two reasons.
bility, its adaptability, respects certain formal conditions.
On the one hand, they did not want their doctrine to
“Understood in this way,” notes Dan Sperber,
spread among the people; on the other hand, they did
not want those who study to rely on writing and neglect
the facts presented by Lévi-Strauss, these peculiar cor-
their memory, since it often happens that the use of
respondances and regularities, represent the intellectual
texts has the effect of reducing efforts to memorize by
capital available for primitive thought, and more partic-
heart and weakens the memory. (Gallic Wars 6.13)
ularly . . . for storing and retrieving information in the
absence of the external memory which writing provides.
Georges Dumézil (1940) comments on this testimony as fol-
Thus the study of myths can clarify the nature of
lows: “knowledge is reincarnated in each generation, in each
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student; it is not received as a deposit; it assumes a form
thority over others. Nor was there a class of religious special-
which, even while retaining its meaning and its essential
ists, comparable to the pontifices, flamines, and other Roman
traits, rejuvenates it and in a certain measure actualizes it.”
colleges, or to the Celtic druids or Vedic brahmans. Essen-
It is this dynamic, flexible, and adaptable character of oral
tially pluralist and political, Greek religion was a religion
memory that is threatened by writing. This is apparent from
without dogmas. It obeyed customs, which varied from re-
recent testimonies as well, such as that of a native of New
gion to region, and from one sanctuary to the next. As a re-
Guinea (Humboldt Bay), who told an ethnologist, “in put-
sult, correct practice depended on diverse forms of informa-
ting down our myths and legislative rules in writing you
tion derived from a variety of sources: the family, the tribe,
just kill them.” According to Freerk C. Kamma (1975)
the town, and so on. Certain religious practices, such as those
“he meant to say: to fix or stabilize a progressing living
connected with the mysteries or with divination, were some-
reality means to cut it off from accompanying the living
times reserved for certain families or circles of initiates (for
example, the Eumolpides and the Ceryces, the Iamides, the
Trophoniades), but every Greek, regardless of social status,
In India, the brahmans who teach the Vedas are special-
was capable of addressing a prayer to the gods or performing
ists in the techniques of memory, even though the Vedas
the actions indispensable to a sacrifice. Deliberate memoriza-
have for a long time been fixed in writing. Louis Renou has
tion, and for that matter writing as well, appeared as religious
noted that
practices only in the context of such marginal devotions as
there is something fascinating in the process of memo-
Orphism and Pythagoreanism.
rizing the verses. The master stares at the student while
feeding him the verses, so to speak, with an implacable
In the Judaic tradition, memorization plays a different
regularity, while the student rocks back and forth in a
role in the study of the written Torah than it does in the
squatting position. After looking on for a few moments
study of the oral Torah. The written Torah is taught through
in such a recitation class, one better understands the
reading. The transmission of the text, teaching of the scrip-
hymn of the Rgveda (7.103) in which this monotonous
tures, and public readings, must all be done from a book.
delivery has been likened to the croaking of frogs.
Even if these activities eventually result in the memorization
(Renou, 1950, p. 36)
of the text, and in fact many rabbis do know the text by
A precise description of the techniques of memorization in
heart, it is specified that the written Torah must never be
the Vedic schools can be found in the fifteenth chapter of
copied from memory. On the other hand, the oral Torah is
the Rk Pratisakhya, an old phonetic and grammatical treatise.
taught through repetition from memory, even though writ-
ten notes may be used as a mnemotechnic device, and even
E. A. Havelock and Marcel Detienne have insisted on
though, at an early date, the Mishnah, and then the Talmud,
the coexistence of two types of memory in ancient Greece
was committed to writing. The masters of the oral Torah,
up until the time of Plato: (1) written memory and (2) social
the tannaim (“teachers”), were like living memories, capable
memory that is still dependent on oral tradition. Thus it is
of reproducing an impressive number of traditions. Their
noteworthy that, although archives were available from the
knowledge, often mechanical and lacking in reflection, was
end of the fifth century BCE, it never occured to Greek histo-
used as a reference source by the rabbis and colleges. A fa-
rians to refer to them as historical sources more reliable than
mous example is Natronai ben H:avivai (eighth century),
the tradition transmitted by the works of their predecessors
who wrote down the entire Talmud from memory after im-
(appraised according to their degree of verisimilitude) or
migrating to Spain.
transmitted by the experience of sight (autopsía) or hearing
(testimony). And yet, already from about 470 BCE, Pindar
In the Christian tradition, the role of memorization
and Aeschylus employ the metaphor that represents memory
seems to be much less important, although from the fourth
as an inscription, on the tablets of the soul, of what is fit to
century there are references to religious schools where the
be remembered. Shortly before, the poet Simonides is said
Psalms, the words of the apostles, prayers, and passages from
to have invented the art of memory, a technique built upon
the Old Testament, were learned by heart. In the Divine Of-
the metaphor of writing, which will undergo an important
fice, for instance, the use of a breviary, even though required
development, passing by way of Roman rhetoric (Quintilli-
to be recited aloud, served as a substitute for memorization.
an) to the Renaissance. At the beginning of the fourth centu-
Thus blindness could relieve a monk of the obligation of re-
ry BCE, Plato is obviously preoccupied with the negative ef-
citing the hours, save for what he knew from memory.
fects of the invention of writing on memory. And
In Islam, which is a religion of the word as much as a
Antisthenes of Athens recommends according more trust to
religion of the book, memorization was essential from the
personal memory than to the external memory of written an-
very beginning. The words of the Prophet, which repeated
the Archangel Gabriel’s reading of the archetypal book, were
Although Homer appears to have been a necessary refer-
transmitted orally by a group of the companions of the
ence point in ancient Greece, since his written text was
Prophet and by specialists in memorization before the
learned by heart in the schools and was recited by specialists
QurDa¯n was finally written down. From the time of the third
at religious festivals, there was no religious text that had au-
caliph, writing made possible the fixation of the tradition,
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

but it never did away with recourse to memory. In effect, to
The Inca
read the QurDa¯n in its primitive form, it was necessary to
M. L. Locke, The Ancient Quipu or Peruvian Knot-Record (New
know its contents. Later, writing and memorization contin-
York, 1923). Rafael Karsten, A Totalitarian State of the Past:
ued to be closely related practices. The QurDanic schools (ma-
The Civilization of Inca Empire in Ancient Peru (1949; re-
drasahs) were tied to a mosque. Children came to learn the
print, Port Washington, N. Y., 1969).
QurDa¯n by heart, even before they could read. These schools
The Aztec
also taught the h:adiths, the tradition that was guaranteed by
Miguel León-Portilla, Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the
a chain of authorities, or isnad. Before being written down
Ancient Nahuatl Mind, translated by Jack Emory (Norman,
Okla., 1963).
in such texts, such as that of al-Bukhari, this tradition was
transmitted orally. The information it gives about the acts
and words of the Prophet are used to regulate daily life down
Edmund Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of
Kachin Social Structure. (Cambridge, Mass., 1954).
to the smallest details, in profane as well as in religious mat-
ters. The tradition represents the Prophet himself, sitting in
New Guinea
the mosque and teaching the h:adiths. His words are repeated
Freerk C. Kamma, trans. and comp. Religious Texts of the Oral
Tradition from Western New-Guinea (Irian Jaya), pt. A (Lei-
three times by all present, until they are known by heart.
den, 1975).
SEE ALSO Anamnesis; Dhikr; Oral Tradition; Tila¯wah.
The Celts
Georges Dumézil, “La tradition druidique et l’écriture: Le Vivant
et le Mort,” Revue de l’histoire des religions 121 (March–June
1940): 125–133. Françoise Le Roux and Christian-J.
General Works
Guyonvarc’h, Les druides, 3d ed. (Rennes, 1982).
For a general discussion of memorization and of method, see
Maurice Halbwachs’s Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire (Paris,
Louis Renou, Sanskrit et culture (Paris, 1950). Louis Renou, Les
1925) and La mémoire collective (Paris, 1950); Marcel
écoles védiques et la formation du Véda (Paris, 1957).
Mauss’s “Les techniques du corps,” Journal de psychologie 32
Ancient Greece
(March–April 1935): 271–293, reprinted in Mauss’s Sociolo-
E. A. Havelock, Preface to Plato (Cambridge, Mass., 1963). Marcel
gie et anthropologie (Paris, pp. 365–383); André Leroi-
Detienne, L’invention de la mythologie (Paris, 1981). M. Si-
Gourhan’s Le geste et la parole, vol. 2, La mémoire et les ryth-
mondon, La mémoire et l’oubli dans la pensée grecque jusqu’à
mes (Paris, 1965); Laura Bohannan’s “A Genealogical Char-
la fin du cinquième siècle avant J.-C.: Psychologie archaïque,
ter,” Africa 22 (October 1952): 301–315; Jack Goody’s The
mythes et doctrines (Paris, 1982). Marcel Detienne (ed.), Les
Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge, 1977); Jan
savoirs de l’écriture en Grèce ancienne (Lilles, 1988).
Assmann, Das Kulturelle Gedächtnis. Schrift, Erinnerung und
politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen
( München, 1992);
Jan Vansina’s Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodol-
Birger Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and
ogy, translated by H. M. Wright (Chicago, 1965); Ruth Fin-
Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Chris-
negan’s Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance and Social Con-
tianity, translated by Eric J. Sharpe (Uppsala, 1961).
text (Cambridge, 1977); W. Kelber, “Modalities of
Communication, Cognition, and Physiology of Perception:
Theodor Klauser, “Auswendiglernen,” in Reallexikon für Antike
Orality, Rhetoric, Scribality,” Semeia 65 (1995): 193–216.
und Christentum, vol. 1 (Stuttgart, 1950).
Specific Cultures
The following works discuss the role and nature of memorization
Dale F. Eickelman, “The Art of Memory: Islamic Education and
in specific regions and religious traditions.
Its Social Reproduction,” Comparative Studies in Society and
20 (October 1978): pp. 485–516. Pierre Crapon de
Caprona, Le Coran: Aux sources de la parole oraculaire (Paris,
Henri A. Junod, Mœurs et coutumes des Bantous, vol. 2, Vie mentale
1981), pp. 147–162; Alfred-Louis de Prémare, Les fondations
(Paris, 1936). Pierre Smith, “La lance d’une jeune fille:
de l’Islam. Entre écriture et histoire, Paris, 2002.
Mythe et poésie au Rwanda,” in Échanges et communications:
Mélanges offerts à Claude Lévi-Strauss a l’occasion de son soix-

antième anniversaire, edited by Pierre Maranda and Jean
Translated from French by Marie-Claude Hays-Merlaud
Pouillon, vol. 2 (The Hague, 1970), pp. 1381–1408.
North America
Marcelle Bouteiller, “Littérature indienne d’Amérique du Nord,”
in Histoire des littératures, edited by Raymond Queneau, vol.
1 (Paris, 1956), pp. 1513–1523. Robert H. Lowie, Primitive
(New York, 1961), pp. 224–232.
Patrick O’Reilly and Jean Poirer, “Littératures océaniennes,” in
Histoire des littératures, edited by Raymond Queneau, vol. 1
(Paris, 1956), pp. 1461–1492. Alfred Métraux, L’Ile de
MENDELSSOHN, MOSES (1729–1786), German-
Pâques (Paris, 1941), pp. 165–179.
Jewish philosopher and public figure of the Enlightenment
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

period. Born in Dessau, the son of a poor Torah scribe, Men-
delssohn encouraged Christian Wilhelm von Dohm to write
delssohn received a traditional education that, rather excep-
his classic defense of the civic betterment of the Jews but de-
tionally, included the study of the philosophy of Moses Mai-
murred from Dohm’s support of limited judicial autonomy
monides. In 1743 Mendelssohn followed his teacher to
for Jews and the right of Jewry to excommunicate recalci-
Berlin to continue his Jewish studies. There he was able to
trant Jews.
acquire considerable knowledge of contemporary mathemat-
Mendelssohn’s translation of the Pentateuch into Ger-
ics, philosophy, poetry, and classical and modern languages.
man was published in 1780. It was accompanied by a com-
The German dramatist and critic G. E. Lessing encouraged
mentary (the Bi’ur) that draws on both traditional exegesis
Mendelssohn to publish his first German essays and used
and modern literary aesthetics. Often reprinted, the transla-
him as the model for the tolerant and modest Jew in his play
tion drew the ire of some traditionalist rabbis but served as
Nathan the Wise. In 1763 Mendelssohn received first prize
an important bridge to modern culture for many young Jews
from the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences for a treatise
in the nineteenth century.
on evidence in metaphysics; in the same year he was granted
the status of “protected Jew” with rights of residence in Ber-
lin. Mendelssohn supported himself successively as family
delssohn’s principal contribution to Jewish thought was the
tutor, bookkeeper, manager, and partner of a Berlin Jewish
result of yet another challenge by a Christian, this time con-
silk manufacturer; his home became a gathering place for
cerning an alleged inconsistency in his supporting the aboli-
Berlin intellectuals. In the nineteenth century members of
tion of excommunication while remaining loyal to biblical
the Mendelssohn family (most of whom converted to Chris-
law, which condones coercion. Mendelssohn’s reply, Jerusa-
tianity after Moses’ death) achieved considerable financial,
lem, oder Über religiöse Macht und Judenthum (1783), was
academic, and artistic prominence.
one of the first works in German to plead for freedom of con-
science in religious matters, separation of church and state,
and (indirectly) civil rights for the Jews. According to Men-
delssohn’s philosophical position was derived from the En-
delssohn both states and church have as their final goals the
glish philosophers John Locke (1632–1704) and Shaftesbury
promotion of human happiness. The state is permitted to en-
(1671–1713) and especially from the German rationalists
force specific actions, whereas the church’s task is to convince
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646–1716) and Christian
its followers of their religious and ethical duties through per-
Wolff (1679–1754). The publication of Mendelssohn’s Phä-
suasion alone. To the question of the continued authority of
don (1767), a work on the immortality of the soul and
Jewish law, which was adumbrated by Spinoza in the Tracta-
named after Plato’s dialogue, established his reputation
tus Theologico-Politicus, Mendelssohn replied that the cere-
among the enlightened public. Drawing on Leibnitz’s theory
monial law stemming from the Hebrew Bible is binding sole-
of monads, Mendelssohn argues that souls are primary, im-
ly on the Jewish people; Judaism is a religion of revealed
perishable elements that impose unity on the changing fea-
legislation, not of revealed beliefs. The existence and unity
tures of the body. Continued personal consciousness of the
of God, the reality of divine providence, and the immortality
soul after death is guaranteed by God, inasmuch as divine
of the soul are to be affirmed on the grounds of natural rea-
wisdom and goodness would not allow the soul to relapse
son, not miracles or supernatural revelation. Mendelssohn
into nothingness without fulfilling its natural impulse to self-
acknowledges the importance of Spinoza in the history of
perfection. Morgenstunden, oder Über das Dasein Gottes
philosophy but vigorously rejects Spinoza’s pantheism. Spi-
(Morning hours, or lectures on the existence of God, 1785),
noza’s primary concern was the noninterference by the state
the most methodical of Mendelssohn’s major works, moves
or religious authorities in the intellectual freedom of the phi-
from a discussion of epistemological issues to the impor-
losopher and scientist. Mendelssohn, while still affirming the
tance of a belief in God, providence, and immortality
continued authority of Jewish law, was concerned with free-
for man’s happiness, to a formal ontological proof of God’s
dom inside one religion as well as freedom of religion for mi-
nority communities.
delssohn collaborated in a short-lived Hebrew weekly and
Mendelssohn argued that the identification of church
published a commentary to Maimonides’ treatise on logic.
and state in biblical Israel ceased with the destruction of the
He was forced to speak out as a Jew, however, after 1769,
ancient commonwealth; laws remaining in force are personal
when he was publicly challenged to explain why he, an en-
religious duties that preserve the universal principles of Jew-
lightened man, did not convert to Christianity. In a reply to
ish faith against lapses into idolatry and polytheism. These
the Swiss pastor, Johann Kasper Lavater, Mendelssohn re-
laws will not lose their force until God arranges another in-
jected the implication that his loyalty to Judaism was incon-
dubitable supernatural revelation to the Jewish people to su-
sistent with his innermost enlightened religious convictions
persede that of Mount Sinai. Loyalty to the Jewish law, how-
and devotion to rational inquiry. In the 1770s Mendelssohn
ever, does not prevent Jews from assuming the legitimate
used his influence with liberal Christians to deflect threat-
duties of citizenship in an enlightened society.
ened anti-Jewish measures in Switzerland and Germany. In
connection with efforts to protect the Jews of Alsace, Men-
THOUGHT. Although Mendelssohn’s synthesis of philosoph-
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

ical theism and traditional religious observance was viewed
its observance has varied in character from place to place, the
as outdated by the next generation of Jewish thinkers influ-
general impetus for the phenomenon seems to have derived
enced by Kant and Hegel, Mendelssohn could be seen as
from an idea that the discipline of living solely on alms is
forebear of the conflicting trends of nineteenth-century Ger-
conducive to the attainment of spiritual goals. Early in the
man Jewry: Reform, for his openness to change; and Neo-
Vedic period, brahman mendicants had precise rules for so-
Orthodoxy, for his insistence on the binding nature of Jewish
liciting alms, and among the ancient Greeks, mendicant
ceremonial law. Mendelssohn’s disciples among the writers
priests went from place to place in quest of alms on behalf
who collaborated with him in the Bi’ur were prominent in
of their favorite deities (e.g., Isis and Artemis Opis). Among
the Jewish Enlightenment (the Haskalah) that emerged in
the Romans, certain priests who were bound by vows of tem-
Prussia in the 1770s and later spread to eastern Europe.
perance received support from public almsgiving. (According
Mendelssohn was revered by the Enlighteners (maskilim) for
to some critics, these mendicants had occasionally to be re-
having moved from the ghetto to modern society without
minded to restrain their extravagant demands; see Cicero,
abandoning the Jewish tradition or the Jewish people. In the
On the Laws 50.) Although religious mendicancy is a phe-
1880s, however, at the end of the Haskalah period, Mendels-
nomenon that still finds acceptance in varying degrees in a
sohn was assailed for having paved the way to the loss of Jew-
number of cultures, it is chiefly within the Hindu, Buddhist,
ish distinctiveness and, therefore, to assimilation. In retro-
Christian, and Islamic traditions that it has won sanction as
spect, his thought and life can be seen to have posed some
a religious practice.
of the fundamental issues of Jewish religious survival in secu-
lar, liberal society.
In the Hindu tradition, pious men with sons to carry
on the family line have long had open to them a renunciant
ideal by which they may give away their possessions to brah-
mans and go forth into homelessness, first as a hermit (vana-
The standard edition of Mendelssohn’s writings is Gesammelte
Schriften Jubiläumsausgabe, 7 vols., edited by Fritz Bamber-
prastha) and later as a mendicant (sam:nya¯sin) who begs from
ger and others and incompletely published between 1929
door to door. Individuals from different ranks of society have
and 1938; a completed edition in 20 volumes is being pre-
sometimes chosen to devote themselves to a life of poverty
pared under the editorship of Alexander Altmann (Stuttgart,
and meditation, dependent for support upon others. The
1971–). The most recent English translation of Jerusalem is
Hindu mystic’s quest for illumination, for union with ulti-
by Allan Arkush, with an introduction and commentary by
mate reality, generally promotes such an attitude of indiffer-
Alexander Altmann (Hanover, N.H., 1983). Useful is Moses
ence to worldly concerns, and, since liberation (moks:a) from
Mendelssohn: Selections from His Writings, edited and translat-
them is one of the recognized aims of a Hindu’s life, the as-
ed by Eva Jospe (New York, 1975). The magisterial biogra-
ceticism of the mendicant is perceived as a positive means
phy of Mendelssohn is Alexander Altmann’s Moses Mendels-
for achieving that goal.
sohn: A Biographical Study (University, Ala., 1973). On
Mendelssohn’s role in the intellectual history of Judaism, see
In Buddhism, the monastic enterprise instituted by
Michael A. Meyer’s The Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish
Gautama Buddha was probably derived from even more an-
Identity and European Culture in Germany, 1749–1824 (De-
cient Vedic ascetic movements. For the Buddhist, renuncia-
troit, 1967), chap. 1; Julius Guttmann’s Philosophies of Juda-
tion of the world is considered meritorious in that it allows
ism, translated by David W. Silverman (New York, 1964),
pp. 291–303; and H. I. Bach’s The German Jew: A Synthesis
the devotee to dedicate his or her energies to the task of deliv-
of Judaism and Western Civilization, 1730–1930 (Oxford,
ering people from suffering. Both laypersons and monastics
1984), pp. 44–72).
subscribe to mendicancy as a practice leading to the lessening
of attachment and, hence, ultimately to nirva¯n:a. The daily
New Sources
life of the monastic mendicants usually includes regular
Arkush, Allan. Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment. Albany,
rounds from house to house for the purpose of gathering
alms; whatever food is placed in their bowls is to be accepted
Berghahn, Cord-Friedrich. Moses Mendelssohns “Jerusalem:” ein
gratefully. Monks and nuns are exhorted to follow specific
Beitrag zur Geschichte der Menschenrechte und der pluralistisc-
hen Gesellschaft in der deutschen Aufklärung
. Tübingen, 2001.
rules (e.g., not discriminating between houses when begging,
eating solely from an alms bowl, eating only one meal per
Sorkin, David Jan. Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlighten-
day, etc.). They are instructed that no real value obtains in
ment. Berkeley, Calif., 1996.
external performances; only if alms-gathering is attended by
the desire for nirva¯n:a can this discipline be meritorious. Al-
Revised Bibliography
though the practice of begging food and alms still prevails
in most countries where Buddhist monasticism exists, meals
are also often brought to the monasteries so that the laypeo-
ple may acquire extra merit.
MENDICANCY. As a religious term, mendicancy (from
the Latin mendicare, “to beg”) denotes renunciation of all
In early Christian history, pious mendicants (Lat., soli-
worldly possessions and the practice of begging alms from
tarii, gyrovagi) wandered through city and countryside,
door to door. The custom is of ancient origin and, although
preaching and begging alms, but they usually did not meet
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

with popular acceptance. Jerome, for example, complained
At times, the result was starvation and, gradually, S:u¯f¯ıs con-
that some of these solitarii were accustomed to wandering
cluded that trust in God and seeking a livelihood were not
from house to house, often leading people astray and living
mutually exclusive. The words faq¯ır and darw¯ısh (Arabic and
a life of luxury at the expense of other Christians. Monastic
Persian for “poor”) are terms for religious mendicants who
or semimonastic communities were in existence by the be-
ask for food or money in the name of God. They profess a
ginning of the fourth century and, although their inhabitants
life of poverty and withdrawal from worldly pursuits for the
may have had to resort to begging during hard times, they
purpose of deepening their spiritual insights and communing
generally sustained themselves by their own labors. It was not
more intimately with God. Some mendicants follow their ca-
until the time of Francis of Assisi and Dominic (twelfth and
reers independently, and others (like their Christian counter-
thirteenth centuries) that mendicant orders as such arose and
parts) live communally. The doctrines of these mendicants
eventually became sanctioned by the church hierarchy. The
and their orders are derived from S:u¯f¯ı principles and beliefs,
appearance of these mendicant orders ensued as a protest
particularly those that stress dependence upon God.
against the corruption within certain established monastic
Within these four religious traditions, mendicancy has
communities (a problem with which the mendicant orders
generally connoted withdrawal from worldly possessions and
themselves had to deal at a later time, when abuses crept into
worldly pursuits for the purpose of demonstrating and expe-
their own communities).
riencing a sense of dependency upon God and/or a supreme
Four mendicant orders were approved by the Council
life principle. Wherever mendicancy has become accepted as
of Lyons (1274): Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and
a religious practice, almsgiving also has been elevated to an
Augustinians. Francis insisted that his followers own nothing
act of merit whose efficacy is rarely surpassed by other vir-
whatever, for they were to be “pilgrims and strangers in this
tues. It, too, is considered in positive terms as a way of dis-
world,” living with confidence in God’s care and subsisting
tancing oneself from society in order to transcend the materi-
on alms received from those among whom they preached and
al world.
worked. After the deaths of Francis and Dominic, however,
church authorities mitigated the orders’ rules to allow for
SEE ALSO Almsgiving; Eremitism; Religious Communities,
possession of worldly goods. From time to time, members
article on Christian Religious Orders; Sam:nya¯sa.
of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches have,
in an attempt to return to the simplicity of the message of
the Gospel, initiated reform movements that included men-
Although there are no specific monographs on mendicancy, the
dicancy. Their belief was that through ascetic practices such
following encyclopedias, dictionaries, and texts provide rele-
vant material on the topic.
as begging, Christians might rid themselves of the imperfec-
tions and sins that kept them from union with God—
Boyle, L. E. “Mendicant Orders.” In New Catholic Encyclopedia,
especially by placing one’s daily life in God’s hands (divina
vol. 9. New York, 1967.
providentia)—by complete reliance on God for subsistence
Brandon, S. G. F., ed. A Dictionary of Comparative Religion. Lon-
one might more quickly achieve that union with the divine.
don, 1970.
Toward the end of the Middle Ages, mendicancy as a reli-
Hastings, James, ed. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. 13
gious practice was prohibited by the Roman Catholic church
vols. Edinburgh, 1908–1926. See the index, s. v. Mendicant
because of various abuses that had crept into the system.
Hughes, Thomas P. A Dictionary of Islam. London, 1885.
Within Islamic tradition, there has generally been dis-
agreement as to the value of mendicancy. Some have argued
Macdonald, D. B. Religious Attitude and Life in Islam.
that, since the QurDa¯n contains injunctions against begging,
Parrinder, Geoffrey. Dictionary of Non-Christian Religions. Phila-
it is debatable whether dependence upon others for one’s sus-
delphia, 1971.
tenance is more virtuous than having independent means.
Spiro, Melford E. Buddhism and Society. New York, 1970.
Mendicancy on a broad scale came into vogue with the
Stutley, Margaret, and James Stutley. A Dictionary of Hinduism.
ninth-century S:u¯f¯ıs; these were Muslim ascetics who inter-
London, 1977.
preted zuhd (“renunciation”) in a strictly spiritual sense,
viewing it as the abandonment of all that diverts one from
New Sources
Bailey, Michael. “Religious Poverty, Mendicancy and Reform in
the Late Middle Ages.” Church History 72 (September 2003):
Many of the early S:u¯f¯ıs carried the Islamic theory of
tawakkul (“trust [in God]”) to an extreme, defining it as re-
Jotischley, Andrew. The Carmelites and Antiquity: Mendicants and
nunciation of all personal initiative and volition. Since every-
Their Pasts in the Middle Ages. New York, 2002.
thing is in God’s hands, S:u¯f¯ıs were neither to beg nor work
Lawrence, C. H. The Friars: The Impact of the Early Mendicant
for pay but to depend on what God has sent as a gift, either
Movement on Western Society. New York, 1994.
directly or through the generous alms of others. This system
Lu, Hanchao. “Becoming Urban: Mendicancy and Vagrants in
often proved ineffective, and some S:u¯f¯ıs wandered from
Modern Shanghai.” Journal of Social History 33 (Fall 1999):
place to place, trusting in God to provide their livelihood.
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

Munzer, Stephen. “Heroism, Spiritual Development and Triadic
CENTRAL TEACHINGS. Mengzi is renowned for advocating
Bonds in Jain and Christian Almsgiving.” Numen: Interna-
the theory that “human nature is good” (xing shan; 6A2,
tional Review for the History of Religions 48 (2001): 47–80.
6A6). A central claim of this theory is that heaven has en-
dowed human beings with nascent moral “sprouts” (duan),
Revised Bibliography
which are the defining features of human nature (2A6).
These innate moral tendencies are active and observable as-
pects of human nature, but they do not exhaustively describe
the nature of human beings. They are the beginnings of mo-
rality, but like all sprouts they require a period of growth,
care, and the right kind of environment in order to reach ma-
MENGZI. The name Mengzi, meaning literally “Master
turity (2A2, 6A7). The sprouts of morality are sensibilities
Meng,” is the honorific epithet of Meng Ke (391–308 BCE),
of the heart-and-mind (xin), which is also the seat of human
known in the West as “Mencius.” Mengzi defended and de-
cognition, emotion, and volition. For Mengzi, the task of
veloped Kongzi’s (Confucius’s) teachings in response to vari-
cultivating one’s nature begins with an awareness of the
ous challenges in the highly diverse and contentious intellec-
moral aspects of the heart-and-mind, and consists in mobiliz-
tual world of fourth-century BCE China. In the process, he
ing the various faculties of the xin to protect, nurture, and
expounded innovative views about heaven, human nature,
develop these nascent moral assets. Successfully cultivating
the mind, and self-cultivation that proved to be of profound
the moral sprouts, and thereby fulfilling one’s nature, is the
and enduring importance in the later Confucian tradition.
proper way to serve heaven, and in the course of this process
Mengzi was a native of Zou, a small state located at the
one comes to understand heaven’s decree (7A1).
base of the Shandong peninsula. Traditional accounts claim
Mengzi claims that four moral sprouts constitute the
that he studied under Zisi, Confucius’s grandson, but it is
core of human nature; these serve as the bases of his four car-
more likely that he was a student of one of Zisi’s disciples.
dinal virtues: benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wis-
Mengzi’s teachings bear some similarities to parts of the Li
dom (2A6). Throughout one’s life, these moral sprouts regu-
ji (Book of rites), which tradition ascribes to Zisi. One also
larly spring up—even though one often fails to notice or
finds common themes and ideas in recently excavated texts,
cultivate them. In certain contexts, in unguarded moments,
which show that Mengzi was participating in an ongoing de-
they break through accumulated bad habits and indifference
bate about the nature of the emerging Confucian tradition.
to manifest themselves in small, spontaneous moral acts.
The earliest information we have about Mengzi’s life
One of Mengzi’s main tasks as a moral teacher is to help peo-
comes from the text that bears his name. In its present form,
ple notice, appreciate, and focus attention on such “give-
the Mengzi consists of seven books, each of which is divided
away” actions.
into two parts, which are further subdivided into sections of
Giveaway actions are one of several types of evidence
varying length. The shortest sections consist of brief dicta,
Mengzi adduces for the existence of the moral sprouts. He
while the longest extend to over two thousand words. These
also supports his claim about innate moral tendencies by pos-
purportedly record the teachings of Mengzi and conversa-
ing hypothetical scenarios or thought experiments designed
tions he had with various disciples, friends, royal patrons,
to illustrate the universal presence of moral feelings in
and rivals. Some accounts claim that Mengzi himself com-
human beings. For example, he asks us to imagine what one
posed the text, others that it was compiled by his disciples
would feel if one were suddenly to see a child about to fall
with his approval and advice. In the second century CE, the
into a well (2A6, 3A5). Mengzi claims that every person fac-
Mengzi was edited and several “chapters” were discarded by
ing such a scene would feel alarm and concern for the child.
Zhao Qi, who also wrote the first extant commentary.
This spontaneous feeling of compassion shows that by nature
The Mengzi had a place, but not a distinguished posi-
we are creatures who care for one another.
tion, among Confucian writings until its remarkable ascent
Mengzi argues further that there is a heavenly endowed
toward the end of the Tang dynasty (618–907). In the fol-
structure and hierarchy to human nature (6A14–15). Each
lowing Song (960–1279), Yuan (1206–1368), and Ming
of our various parts has a natural station and function that
(1368–1644) dynasties it came to occupy a singularly impor-
determine its place within the hierarchy and its relative value.
tant place in the Confucian scriptural pantheon. The great
No one who is aware of the natural hierarchy and its different
Zhu Xi (1130–1200) wrote a highly influential commentary
functions would act against them, nor would such a person
on the Mengzi and included it, along with the Analects, Great
sacrifice a part of greater importance for one of lesser impor-
Learning, and Doctrine of the Mean, as one of the “Four
tance. The natural function of the xin is to reflect on and de-
Books”—a collection intended to serve as the gateway to
termine the relative merit of different courses of action be-
Confucian learning. In 1315 the Mongol court recognized
cause it alone has the capacity to consider, weigh, and judge
the Mengzi as a classic and secured its preeminent position
among the various alternatives we face.
within the tradition. Since that time the text has enjoyed re-
markable influence and prestige. It is one of the most highly
Mengzi never claimed that our innate moral tendencies
studied Confucian classics among contemporary scholars.
alone guarantee moral development. These are only the be-
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

ginnings of virtue; they need attention, effort, and the right
enables one to find the “Mind of the Way” (daoxin) within
kind of environment to attain their full forms. Without sus-
the “Human Mind” (renxin).
tained and concerted work, human beings will not become
moral. His central metaphors for self-cultivation are agricul-
Under the influence of this new paradigm, neo-
tural (not merely vegetative) and farming requires attention,
Confucians reappropriated Mengzi’s teachings about a heav-
persistence, and a great deal of hard work. According to
enly-conferred, morally good nature, along with its focus on
Mengzi, people are not born good; but rather are born for
the cultivation of the heart-and-mind. However, seen
goodness (6A6). Our moral sprouts must ripen, as grain
through this new lens, Mengzi’s original teachings took on
must ripen (6A19), before our true nature is revealed.
a dramatically different form. For example, while Mengzi
had advocated the sustained and gradual development of
NEO-CONFUCIAN REVIVAL. Toward the end of the Tang
moral sprouts, neo-Confucians sought to discover and bring
dynasty, Mengzi and his teachings became a rallying point
into play a fully-formed moral mind. This change generated
for a broad revival that modern scholars call neo-
a new and unprecedented belief in the inherent perfection
Confucianism. This important movement was propelled by
of all human beings and a corresponding concern with “en-
a series of political, military, economic, and social crises that
lightenment” as a religious goal. Mengzi did not employ the
together motivated many Chinese intellectuals to regard
stark contrast, common to most neo-Confucian thinkers, be-
their contemporary culture as corrupted, weak, and ineffec-
tween a pure, fundamental nature in opposition to a corrupt
tive and to seek a renewal in an older, indigenous Chinese
yet reformable physical nature. Nor did he ever envisage any-
culture. A number of influential late Tang thinkers pointedly
thing resembling the way neo-Confucians deployed these
criticized Buddhism and Daoism for eroding and undermin-
basic metaphysical notions to construct a scheme in which
ing Chinese culture. The former was especially castigated as
human nature was fundamentally united with the rest of the
a “foreign” and baleful influence on indigenous culture and
universe. Nevertheless, the major neo-Confucian thinkers all
was held responsible for a litany of social problems. Accom-
saw themselves as inheritors and defenders of Mengzi’s line
panying such criticisms were calls for a return to “traditional”
of the Confucian tradition.
Chinese culture, and the Mengzi proved to be one of the
most important texts singled out for renewed interest.
The neo-Confucian revival was a vast, complex, and ex-
ceedingly rich movement that continued for more than a
Modern scholars tend to describe this rediscovery of the
thousand years. However, many of its main themes were de-
Mengzi in strategic terms. That is to say, the Mengzi’s teach-
fined by the Lu-Wang and Cheng-Zhu schools. Both of
ings on human nature and the cultivation of the mind of-
these “schools” are loosely defined in terms of their respective
fered a version of the tradition that could effectively engage
emphases regarding the nature of the xin and the proper
the sophisticated philosophies found in Buddhist and Daoist
methods of self-cultivation. The former takes the thought of
rivals. While there is some truth in this, such an account ob-
Lu Xiangshan (1139–1193) and Wang Yangming (1472–
scures the degree to which these “rival” traditions trans-
1529) as its primary sources of inspiration, whereas the latter
formed the way all Chinese intellectuals thought about
looks to Cheng Yi (1033–1107), Cheng Hao (1032–1085),
themselves and their world. It is more accurate to say that
and Zhu Xi. Roughly speaking, members of the former
the Mengzi and other early texts favored by neo-Confucians,
school express a greater faith in the inherent purity and
such as the Doctrine of the Mean and the Great Learning, were
power of the xin. As a result, they tend to emphasize an ex-
chosen because they fit what had become a new, general par-
treme form of particularism in which every ethical decision
adigm of thought, one that owed a great deal to the influence
and action is strongly dependent upon context, and moral
of Buddhism and Daoism.
progress is primarily a matter of personal reflection and
struggle. They distrust rules, precedents, and conventions
Among the features of this new paradigm was a belief
and advocate a radical independence on the part of individu-
in a hidden, pure, fundamental nature and a manifest, de-
als. Followers of the Cheng-Zhu school have an equally
filed, physical nature. The former defines what we and other
strong faith in the existence of a fundamental nature. How-
creatures really are while the latter corrupts our “original” na-
ever, they believe that human beings are guided to this nature
ture and gives rise to everything bad. Our fundamental na-
primarily through a course of careful and dedicated study,
ture is shared with all things in the universe and unites us
practice, and reflection. They view adherents of the Lu-
not only with all other human beings but with all creatures
Wang school as self-indulgent and undisciplined and see
and things as well. Those who fully appreciate the true char-
their teachings and practices as the road to spiraling selfish-
acter of their nature understand this, and such insight allows
ness and deepening delusion.
them to “form one body” with all things. However, the un-
derstanding of most people is beclouded by the errant aspects
Later Confucian thinkers such as Yan Yuan (1635–
of their physical nature, which give rise to and are reinforced
1704) and Dai Zhen (1723–1777) sharply criticized the fol-
by “selfish desires.” The task of cultivating one’s original
lowers of both the Lu-Wang and Cheng-Zhu schools for
heavenly nature consists primarily of eliminating the obscur-
abandoning Mengzi’s original legacy. Both of these Qing
ing influence of such errant aspects. As a practical matter,
dynasty (1644–1911) critics accused earlier neo-Confucians
this entails the elimination of selfish desires, a process that
of incorporating too much Buddhism and Daoism into their
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

philosophy. They rightly pointed out that much of the meta-
themselves to the task of self-cultivation. In thinkers like
physical speculation underlying both Lu-Wang and Cheng-
Wang Yangming, these aspects of Mengzi’s teachings find
Zhu thought was alien to Mengzi and his age. Moreover,
expression as a profound faith that each and every person has
these foreign elements worked to obscure some of the most
a pure and perfect divine guide within.
profound insights of Mengzi’s original vision. Prominent
These brief remarks only sketch Mengzi’s thought and
among these is his emphasis on certain shared human reac-
offer some suggestions about its value as a source for religious
tive attitudes as the basis of the moral life. Both Yan and Dai
ethical reflection. What is beyond dispute is that his religious
insisted that our physical, embodied life, with all its feelings
vision has inspired many of the best minds throughout East
and desires, is the site of both our best and worst aspects. We
and Southeast Asia for more than two thousand years, and
must not look to obscure metaphysical theories for moral
the Mengzi continues to challenge and inspire contemporary
guidance. Heaven has endowed each of us with the means,
thinkers throughout the world.
and the Confucian tradition provides all of us with the Way.
The challenge is to understand and practice the Way in order
SEE ALSO Cheng Yi; Dai Zhen; Li; Lu Xiangshan; Mozi;
to develop the best parts of our nature to their full potential.
Ren and Yi; Wang Yangming; Zhu Xi.
ETHICS. Traditionally, religious ethics has had a difficult
time bringing together a more anthropological, descriptive
Lau, D. C., trans. Mencius. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1970. A read-
account of what is good for human beings and the prescrip-
able and reliable translation with indispensable introduction
tions of revealed religion. An echo of this tension is seen as
and appendices.
the central problem of modern philosophical ethics as well:
Legge, James, trans. The Chinese Classics; Vol. 2: The Works of
how to reconcile one’s personal interests with the demands
Mencius (1861). Reprint, Hong Kong, 1970. A classic trans-
of morality. Mengzi’s thought appears to avoid many of the
lation with Chinese text, extensive notes, and supporting
problems associated with at least the religious version of this
material. This edition includes Arthur Waley’s notes on
type of challenge. For according to Mengzi, heaven has creat-
ed us in such a way that we live the best lives possible for
Nivison, David S. “On Translating Mencius.” Philosophy East and
creatures like us only when we fully realize our heavenly en-
West 30 (1980): 93–122. A remarkable and philosophically
dowed moral nature. Moreover, part of what heaven instills
revealing review of translations of the text into English and
in us is a natural tendency and taste for morality and a natu-
other languages.
ral aversion for what is morally bad. On such a view, there
Secondary Works
is no conflict between human flourishing and what heaven
Chan, Alan K. L., ed. Mencius: Contexts and Interpretations. Ho-
commands. In fact, a life in service to heaven is the only way
nolulu, 2002. A conference volume exploring Mengzi’s
to the most satisfying and pleasant life that human beings
thought from a variety of perspectives.
can have.
Ivanhoe, Philip J. Confucian Moral Self Cultivation. 2d ed. India-
napolis, 2000. An introduction to the Confucian tradition
Such a view might lead one to ask if heaven is just an
focused on the work of seven major figures, including Meng-
honorific term used to express approval for what human be-
zi and several others discussed in this entry.
ings naturally find most satisfying. Does heaven place restric-
Ivanhoe, Philip J. Ethics in the Confucian Tradition: The Thought
tions on what constitutes the human good? One possible re-
of Mengzi and Wang Yangming. 2d ed. Indianapolis, 2002.
sponse, which incorporates early Confucian concerns about
A study comparing Mengzi’s philosophy with that of the
the importance of natural harmony, is that heaven does con-
neo-Confucian Wang Yangming.
strain conceptions of the human good by serving as the
Liu, Xiusheng, and Philip J. Ivanhoe, eds. Essays on the Moral Phi-
source of all things in the universe. Humans seek harmony
losophy of Mengzi. Indianapolis, 2002. An anthology of clas-
within the natural order but cannot fundamentally alter or
sic and contemporary works on Mengzi’s moral philosophy.
damage this order without violating heaven’s plan. While
Nivison, David S. The Ways of Confucianism: Investigations in Chi-
heaven is not a personal deity for Mengzi, it is an agent with
nese Philosophy. Edited by Bryan W. Van Norden. LaSalle,
a plan for the world, and that on occasion acts in the world
Ill., 1996. An anthology containing a number of seminal es-
to realize its will.
says on Mengzi’s thought and its later influence.
Shun, Kwong-loi. Mencius and Early Chinese Thought. Stanford,
Mengzi’s description of the religious life in terms of the
Calif., 1997. A thorough, meticulous, and carefully argued
dao and the degree to which knowledge of the Way is accessi-
study of various aspects of Mengzi’s moral philosophy with
ble to human beings are also issues of interest for religious
particular emphasis on how it has been read by traditional
ethics. Mengzi’s reverence for Confucian learning, with its
and contemporary interpreters.
legacy of sacred texts, rituals, and sagely teachers, seems to
Tu, Wei-ming. Humanity and Self-Cultivation: Essays in Confucian
privilege those within this tradition. On the other hand, he
Thought. Berkeley, 1979; reprint, Boston, 1998. A collection
insists that heaven has endowed all human beings with the
of essays on historical figures and contemporary issues from
nascent sprouts that are the basis of moral knowledge. This
the most influential spokesman for the contemporary Meng-
seems to open up the Way to all who are prepared to dedicate
zian religious vision.
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

Yearley, Lee H. Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Con-
Netherlands. Late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century devel-
ceptions of Courage. Albany, N.Y., 1990. An excellent and re-
opments resulted in another increase in membership.
vealing comparison of Mengzi and Thomas Aquinas as virtue
ethicists with a focus on courage as a virtue.
The early pattern of survival through withdrawal from
society led to numerous migrations. Records indicate that
emigration from the Netherlands eastward to Hamburg and
along the coast to Danzig (present-day Gdan´sk) began as
early as 1534. Eventually large settlements developed in the
MENNONITES. The Mennonites, a Christian denomi-
Vistula delta. In 1788, migrations began from there to the
nation, were first called Menists, or Mennonites, in 1541 by
Ukraine. By 1835 some 1,600 families had settled on Rus-
Countess Anna of Friesland after the group’s primary leader,
sian lands. By 1920 this population had grown to 120,000.
Menno Simons (1496–1561). She used this name in order
But migration began again, this time from Russia beginning
to distinguish the Mennonites, as peaceful settlers whom she
in the 1870s, primarily to North America.
welcomed in her lands, from other, revolutionary, groups.
A similar pattern prevailed among the Swiss and South
Historically and theologically, Mennonites are the direct de-
German Mennonites. Many escaped Swiss persecution by
scendants of sixteenth-century Anabaptists, a radical reform
migrating to the Palatinate or to central Germany. Others
group in Europe.
immigrated to the United States and Canada, beginning in
EARLY HISTORY AND DOCTRINE. One of the most signifi-
1663. The first permanent Mennonite settlement in the
cant influences upon Mennonite history and identity has
United States was established at Germantown, six miles
been the experience of decades of persecution during the six-
north of Philadelphia, in 1683. Yet the total number of west-
teenth and seventeenth centuries. Numerous martyrologies,
ern European Mennonites coming to North America did not
including the classic Martyrs’ Mirror (1660), testify to this
exceed 8,000, which, along with the approximately 55,000
experience. The Mennonites lived in an age that was not
immigrants from Prussian, Polish, and Russian lands, con-
ready for religious or social pluralism. In their insistence
tributed to a core immigration to North America of no more
upon a church constituted of believers only, and in their em-
than 70,000 up to the mid-1980s. There have also been mi-
bodiment of the principles of voluntary church membership
grations from North America, primarily from Canada to
and the separation of church and state, they represented a
Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, and other Latin American loca-
counterculture that society could not tolerate. In their read-
tions. Thus pilgrimage has been central to Mennonite
ing of the Bible, however, they found these principles to be
self-evident, particularly in the teaching and example of Jesus
Christ. In keeping with the vision of their Anabaptist fore-
While Mennonites are non-creedal and affirm the Bible
bears, the Mennonites also shared the vision of a New Testa-
as their final authority for faith and life, they have written
ment church restored both in essence and in form.
numerous confessions throughout their history. Chief
among these are the Brotherly Union (1527) and the Dor-
A church-world dualism was implicit in the Menno-
drecht Confession of Faith (1632). In these the nature of the
nites’ theology and social view. It had been given early ex-
church as a believing, covenanting, caring, and obedient fel-
pression in the “Brotherly Union” of 1527, sometimes called
lowship is central, as would be in keeping with the vision of
the Schleitheim Confession of Faith, article four of which
restoring the New Testament church. The importance of the
new birth and the authority of the Bible are stressed. Peace,
Now there is nothing else in the world and all creation
including absolute pacifism, is considered an integral part of
than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness
the gospel and, therefore, part of the discipleship of the be-
and light, the world and those who are [come] out of
liever. This discipleship is possible within the context of an
the world, God’s temple and idols, Christ and Belial,
Arminian theology, which acknowledges free will rather than
and none will have part with the other.
Augustinian determinism. The second Adam, Christ, has
Toleration came to the Mennonites first in the Netherlands
undone the damage of the first Adam, making possible a
in the 1570s and somewhat later in other parts of Europe,
gradual transformation of the disciple’s life into the image
except in Switzerland, where severe restrictions against them
of Christ himself. Ethics is a part of the Good News. Grace
remained until the eighteenth century. Increasing freedom
is necessary for discipleship rather than being antithetical to
in the north led to rapid growth in membership, until by
it. The believer who has experienced this grace is ready to
1700 the Dutch congregations included 160,000 members.
receive baptism as a covenanting member of the “Believers’
The sectarian virtues of frugality and hard work led to con-
Church,” a term commonly used since the 1950s to refer to
siderable affluence and to urbanization. Soon Mennonites
those who are baptized as adults.
became prominent patrons of the arts in the Netherlands.
LATER DEVELOPMENTS. Partly through migration and natu-
Numerous artists, poets, and writers from among their ranks
ral increase, but particularly through twentieth-century mis-
achieved lasting fame. But the Enlightenment spirit of ratio-
sionary activities, Mennonites were scattered across the globe
nalism and secularism was also a part of these developments,
by the late twentieth century. In the early 1990s their total
and by 1837 there were only 15,300 members left in the
membership worldwide was approximately 800,000. 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

Mennonite World Conference, begun in 1925, meets every
led to organization of the Mennonite Central Committee
five or six years for fellowship and the sharing of ideas, as well
(MCC) in North America in 1920. A Dutch Mennonite re-
as for worship and celebration. It is not a delegate confer-
lief agency had been organized two hundred years earlier. In
ence, and no decisions binding upon world membership are
2003, the MCC had a cash and material aid budget in excess
of $62 million, spent on projects both abroad and in North
America. In the same year, about 1400 long-term and over
The extent to which contemporary Mennonites hold to
800 short-term workers were involved in projects in over
the doctrines of early Anabaptism varies from nation to na-
sixty countries.
tion, from group to group, and even from congregation to
congregation. Mennonites do form regional and national
These activities are a direct extension of the Mennonite
conferences, but they are basically congregational in polity.
conviction that word and deed must be one and that love
The Amish, who split off from Swiss and Alsatian Menno-
must be visible. It may, however, also be that these and relat-
nites in 1693–1697, as well as the Hutterites and some con-
ed activities serve the less altruistic function of legitimizing
servative Mennonites, do not form conferences. Historically,
the social significance and usefulness of a traditionally paci-
Pietism, more than other socioreligious movements, has in-
fist and persecuted people. Nevertheless, most Mennonites
fluenced Mennonite theology; fundamentalism has also had
are deeply concerned about the futility of war and nuclear
an impact in North America. Both movements strengthen
weapons, as well as about global poverty and the need for
the inner, personal, and experiential aspect of faith but weak-
peaceful steps toward economic and social justice. These
en social concern, pacifism, and the inherent church-world
concerns are part of the total global mission to which Men-
dualism of the sixteenth century. An enthusiastic recovery of
nonites continue to feel committed.
the Anabaptist vision, led by Harold S. Bender (1897–1962),
has modified these influences since the 1940s.
Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (Kauffman and Harder,
The standard reference work in English is The Mennonite Encyclo-
1975) provides a profile of late-twentieth-century North
pedia, 4 vols. plus index, edited by Harold S. Bender and C.
Henry Smith (Scottdale, Pa., 1955–1959). Nelson P.
American Mennonite religious attitudes and practices. In re-
Springer and A. J. Klassen have compiled a helpful bibliogra-
lation to two doctrinal orthodoxy scales established in the
phy, the Mennonite Bibliography, 1631–1961, 2 vols. (Scott-
study, 90 percent of the respondents chose the most ortho-
dale, Pa., 1977). A revised edition of An Introduction to Men-
dox response on a liberal-orthodox continuum. About 80
nonite History, edited by Cornelius J. Dyck (Scottdale, Pa.,
percent of the members could identify a specific conversion
1981), provides a basic account of the entire Anabaptist and
experience. The practice of daily personal prayer ranged from
Mennonite movement worldwide from the sixteenth century
a low of 73 percent in one conference to a high of 82 percent
to the present. J. Howard Kauffman and Leland Harder’s
in another. More than 80 percent reported regular Sunday
Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (Scottdale, Pa., 1975) is a
school participation, with teenagers having the highest rat-
statistically rich and well-interpreted study of Mennonite re-
ing. Fewer than 2 percent of the membership had experi-
ligious attitudes and practices at the time of its publication.
A particularly useful volume for a country-by-country study
enced divorce or separation. Some 85 percent considered sex-
of world Mennonitism is the Mennonite World Handbook,
ual intercourse before marriage as always wrong. The early
edited by Paul N. Kraybill (Lombard, Ill., 1978).
emphasis on church-world dualism, pacifism, not taking
oaths, and church discipline was affirmed by a range of from
New Sources
60 to 80 percent, depending upon the conference.
Driedger, Leo. Mennonites in the Global Village. Toronto, 2000.
Driedger, Leo, and Donald B. Kraybill. Mennonite Peacemaking:
This religious stance is nurtured through worship, at-
From Quietism to Activism. Scottdale, Pa., 1994.
tendance at denominational schools, devotional practices,
Jost, Lynn, and Connie Faber. Family Matters: Discovering the
small-group Bible study, and involvement in mission and
Mennonite Brethren. Hillsboro, Kans., 2002.
service projects. Church buildings are generally functional
and relatively austere. Worship services are usually sermon-
centered. Most congregations enjoy singing, often a cappella.
Revised Bibliography
The Lord’s Supper is celebrated two to four times annually.
Some congregations practice the rite of foot washing.
Numerous liberal arts colleges are maintained in North
MEN’S STUDIES IN RELIGION is part of the un-
America; they were established originally to train workers for
folding concern within religion to address the effects of gen-
church vocations. Seminaries, Bible schools, secondary
der and sexuality upon religious faith and practice. As a new
schools, and other church institutions are maintained by
field of scholarly inquiry, it reflects upon and analyzes the
Mennonites around the world as political and economic con-
complex connections between men and religion, building
ditions permit. Retirement centers, community mental
upon gender studies, feminist theory and criticism, the men’s
health centers, and medical and disaster aid services are
movement, and the increasing number of subdisciplines in
maintained particularly in North America and Europe. The
the academic study of religion. Methodologically men’s
concern for united help for needy people around the world
studies in religion is an open field; its object of inquiry is
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“men” as gendered beings in relation to religion. But the pre-
ries of men’s studies, the relationship between religion and
cise delineations of this inquiry are not yet determined. Dis-
male experiences” must be examined (Boyd, 1990, pp. 8–9).
tinctions between the academic study of men in religion, on
Generally speaking, there is a difference between the
the one hand, and affirmation of socially accepted forms of
men’s movement (secular and religious) and the academic
male religiosity, on the other, are not always drawn with suf-
study of men in religion. Whereas the former tends to favor
ficient clarity.
biological, essentialist, and archetypal models, the latter
The compelling simplification that this new field is con-
tends to see men as culturally constructed, gendered, and
stituted by “men writing about religion” is misleading be-
performing contradictory roles due to constantly changing
cause it does not recognize that the sphere of the sacred has
ideologies of masculinity. Men’s studies in religion then ana-
been traditionally male-centered and male-dominated. In
lyzes and understands “the role of religion in supporting or
many religions, religious norms and male experiences are in-
resisting unstable masculine identities” (Boyd et al., 1996,
distinguishable, making men the beneficiaries of religiously
p. 286). The following trends within the field can be ob-
sanctioned hierarchies. The task of men’s studies in religion
is to bring gender consciousness to the interpretation and
analysis of men in relation to any aspect of religion. Simply
century the mythopoetic movement and various conservative
put, the writing of a religious man is not the same as the
men’s movements have attempted to reclaim spirituality and
scholarly study of a male author’s gendered text and context.
faith-based attitudes toward male identity and toward larger
social issues, such as family values. These movements can be
Studies in this new field are, on the one hand, critical
viewed as essentialist responses to a perceived threat of
of normative models of masculinities and, on the other, also
supportive of men struggling to find their place in religion
and society. These studies may examine male religious au-
Mythopoetics is based on the archetypal theories of C.
thority, analyze societal attitudes toward men, or study reli-
G. Jung, James Hillman, and Joseph Campbell. It was made
gious practices that enforce gender norms. They may probe
popular outside Christian churches by Robert Moore and
theologies that justify patriarchal hierarchies or investigate
Douglas Gillette’s King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (1990)
men’s participation in religiously sanctified oppression. They
and remained relatively marginalized in Christian communi-
may also suggest alternative devotional and spiritual practices
ties until the writings by Robert Bly and John Gray. The
for men and reenvision men’s roles as caregivers in both the
mythopoetic movement generally assumes that biological
profane and sacred realms.
and genetic differences between men and women preordain
irreconcilable differences in gendered behavior and thought,
HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS. A trajectory can be identified
often presuming an essential masculinity that can be threat-
from secular feminism to the current concerns of men’s
ened when men become too much like women. In response
studies in religion. Feminists of the 1960s and 1970s drew
men need to be nurtured socially, religiously, and spiritually
attention to the devastating effects of patriarchy and hetero-
in ways that match their masculine nature, generally with a
sexism in Western culture. Their analyses deeply influenced
preference for male images of the divine.
women scholars of Christianity and Judaism so that by the
1980s feminist interpretations of Scripture and theology had
Evangelical Christian men’s movements arose in the
become part of the theological norm. Also in the 1980s men
nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the Western world out
outside religion began to respond to the feminist critique of
of the panic that women were moving into the sphere of the
patriarchy and to study the effects of hegemonic masculinity
sacred and were taking over religious institutions. The first
upon men themselves, drawing particularly on the fields of
such development in the first half of the nineteenth century
sociology, anthropology, and psychology.
was known as Muscular Christianity. It was followed by the
Freethought movement (1880–1920), which characterized
Within the field of religion, in response to secular femi-
Christian churches as feminized, numerically dominated by
nism, religious feminism, secular men’s studies, and the rise
women, and therefore weak, sentimental, and irrational. The
of the gay liberation movement, gay men’s issues in religion
third development, the Men and Religion Forward move-
began to be addressed in the 1980s. One of the early contro-
ment (from about World War I through to the 1950s),
versial academic works was John Boswell’s Christianity, So-
coined the slogan “More Men for Religion, More Religion
cial Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980). By 1988 gay men’s
for Men.” The fourth movement was spearheaded by the
issues in religion became a recognized group within the large,
evangelist Billy Sunday, who uttered the famous statement
North American–based organization of the American Acade-
at a sermon in Chicago in 1916: “Lord save us from off-
my of Religion (AAR). Finally, in the 1990s men’s studies
handed, flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, thin-
in religion emerged as a field in its own right at the AAR.
skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, ossified three-
Stephen Boyd’s “Domination as Punishment: Men’s Studies
karat Christianity” (“Sunday, the Fighting Saint,” Trenton
and Religion,” published in Men’s Studies Review (1990), was
Evening Times, January 6, 1916). Finally, in the 1990s two
probably the first public articulation of the need for such an
prominent movements emerged in the United States that
inquiry, arguing that “in light of recent research in and theo-
strengthened the faith of their male constituencies: the
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Promise Keepers, intended to draw men back to Christiani-
ty, and the Million Man March, organized in 1995 by the
studies in religion investigates the scriptural traditions as well
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, that mobilized Afri-
as the Christian and Jewish theological heritages. Boyd
can American men to commit themselves to religiously based
(1995) identifies six cultural barriers that prevent white
values. Both argued for man’s rightful position as head of the
Christian men from enjoying true intimacy with the multi-
plicity of God’s creation: classism, anti-Semitism, racism,
homophobia, sexism, and femiphobia. This list can be com-
pleted by adding men’s obsession with work as a source of
traditions have accumulated a wealth of spiritual journals
identity, disappointments with biological fathers (and by ex-
and autobiographies, mystical journeys, and confessional tes-
tension with monotheistic father gods), tolerance of violence,
timonies written by men. They constitute a vast source for
body unconsciousness, and emotional deadness. By accept-
examining individual as well as collective presentations of the
ing such restrictive constructions of masculinity, men inhibit
male self. Bringing a gender-conscious perspective to these
themselves from living into their potential of a creatively em-
texts yields critical insights into the male psyche and forms
bodied imago Dei.
of male embodiment, intimacy, and sexualities.
A number of writers interact critically with Christian
The literature reflecting on men’s spiritual and autobio-
thinkers such as Augustine, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bon-
graphical voices often blends scholarly analysis with a more
hoeffer, Matthew Fox, Alfred North Whitehead, Richard
personal and existential style. The borders between critical
Niebuhr, Malcolm X, Desmond Tutu, and Howard Thur-
analysis and an envisioned spiritual renewal are intentionally
man. Other writers focus more on the psychology of male
porous. Areas of concern in the Jewish and Christian tradi-
characters in the biblical Scriptures, highlighting the prob-
tions are issues of embodiment, sexual theologies, and the de-
lems of contemporary men struggling with relationship and
construction of traditional masculine roles. The male body
identity issues. Christian writers in this field generally focus
is reclaimed as a positive part of a male religious identity, so
on Jesus, Jewish writers on God and the rabbinic tradition
that the threats of impotence, disease, aging, mortality, and
when addressing such issues as boyhood and parenting,
homophobia are turned into valuable spiritual resources.
friendship and intimacy, community and accountability, and
Rather than denigrating men’s sexual nature, the sexual body
the experiential dimension of the male body, pain, and
is demystified and understood as an important source of the-
ologies of intimacy and friendship with humans and the di-
vine. These writings usually shun the privileging of hege-
Another trend in men’s studies in religion is to examine
monic masculinity in order to engage otherness in the form
how Christianity and Judaism have framed the discourse on
of race, class, and sexual orientation. Particularly they count-
masculine ideologies, especially in their formative periods of
er the crippling effects of homophobia and abusive behavior
late antiquity. Following feminist scholars, who have recon-
toward women as well as culturally or sexually marginalized
structed the complexity of religious women’s lives, new
men. Instead, new forms of masculine spirituality are located
studies show that notions of masculinity were far from stable
in relationality, shared power, the aesthetics of the male and
in the culturally diverse Hellenistic world. During the wan-
female body, creativity, ritual, and the living out of social jus-
ing of the Roman Empire and the rise of new religions (Ca-
tice through quiet service.
tholicism in the West, Orthodoxy in the East, Rabbinic Ju-
daism in the exilic communities, and eventually Islam), male
Another aspect of men’s studies in religion is to reflect
identities had become fragile and contested, even among the
critically on confessional modes of male discourses on reli-
educated upper-class men who were still the beneficiaries of
gion. Still an underutilized approach, most of this work is
male privileges. As inconsistencies grew between ancient
located within the Christian tradition, largely due to the last-
ideals and new social realities, Jewish and Christian men
ing influence of Augustine’s (354–430 CE) Confessions and
began to redefine male sexuality and manly virtues. Chris-
the thought of the French philosopher Michel Foucault
tianity succeeded in replacing the Roman ideas of vigor and
(1926–1984). In his History of Sexuality (1978) and “The
military strength with the virtues of a spiritual strength and
Battle for Chastity” (1982), Foucault mapped out an influ-
sexual constraint.
ential theory about the Christian monastic roots of the mod-
ern concern over sexual practices, desires, and politics. The
While scholars of masculinity in early Christianity and
monastic orders, especially as envisioned by John Cassian
late antiquity have stressed the rapid rise of a subordinate ide-
(360s–430s CE), created intimate male-male spaces for the
ology of manliness to dominant status, Jewish scholarship
confession of sins that developed into “very complex tech-
has described rabbinic masculinity as subjected to and colo-
niques of self-analysis” (Foucault, 1982, p. 195). A Foucaul-
nized by first the Roman then Christian supremacy. Tal-
tian framework helps analyze religious men’s desire for inti-
mudic discussions of what it means to be or to become a man
mate self-revelations; at the same time it can be used to
differed greatly from the theologies of the Christian Church
investigate both subjugated and liberating knowledge of
Fathers, not at least due to their profoundly different assess-
male sexualities as revealed in confessional, spiritual, and au-
ments of male celibacy. But both Jewish and Christian dis-
tobiographical writings.
courses converged on the issue of the male desire to be close
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 God. Positioning themselves as symbolic “woman” in rela-
ation theology and right relation), and the autobiographical
tion to a (male) God, men excluded actual women from the
(Boisvert, 2000). This typology must be expanded to include
sacred sphere. To hide the homosocial and homoerotic na-
the growing repertoire of transgressive and queer theologies
ture of this relation to the divine, they inscribed heterosexual
and spiritualities. In general gay spirituality is earthed, em-
norms by effeminizing subordinate and disloyal men. In
bodied, daily mundane, and informed by feminist and Na-
Christianity the desire for male humility was a gesture of sub-
tive American spiritualities.
missiveness toward God, not women. In Rabbinic Judaism,
Just as there are no fixed demarcations between men’s
Jewish men saw themselves figuratively in the place of
and gay men’s studies in religion, gay studies overlap in mul-
woman in the presence of God. Torah study itself became
tiple ways with queer theory. Queer theory, which made its
a highly eroticized passion from which (actual) women were
public debut in 1990, is less concerned about the same-sex
excluded. Although the feminization of Jewish men is one
orientation of men but instead focuses on sexualities in their
of the enduring anti-Semitic stereotypes in Christianity, one
multitudes. Queer theory questions any theoretical or practi-
scholar has suggested embracing “the feminized Jewish male”
cal system that claims sexuality as natural or biological cate-
as an act of resistance to dominant Christian masculinities
gories, and it moves beyond the binary restrictions of men
(Boyarin, 1997, p. xiv).
and women, of hetero- and homosexuality. Queer theory re-
The debate about male-divine relations is echoed in a
fuses hetero-normativity because it “recognizes that human
number of writings about the theological conundrum that
desire . . . is queer, excessive, not teleological or natural”
both Christianity and Judaism posit a God who is un-
(Boyarin, 1997, p. 14). Scholarship on queer theory that en-
gendered and unsexed. How do men reconcile a craving for
gages issues of religion and masculinity includes biblical
a male God when hegemonic masculinity demands that de-
studies, Jewish studies on masculinity, and queer theology
sire be felt and expressed (or denied) only between men and
(the latter defined as a political theology that questions theo-
women? The monotheistic traditions offer no clear models
logical assumptions about sexuality).
for such homosocial desire. Judaism sees penile circumcision
OUTLOOK. Men’s studies in religion as an emerging field of
as a theological and covenantal act of mature obedience,
inquiry is still heavily located within the scholarly traditions
while Christianity offers a more metaphorical interpretation:
of the West, specifically Christianity and Judaism. It has not
the circumcision of the heart. Neither religion answers the
yet sufficiently engaged other religious traditions and been
question about whether circumcision is a part of the imago
tested seriously as a topic of interreligious dialogue within an
Dei or an act of male violence toward males.
increasingly globalized community. Men’s studies in religion
has the potential to offer a sustained, gender-conscious cri-
tique of foundational religious texts and practices in order
studies have generally developed separately from men’s
to envision nonhegemonic models of masculinity and to
studies in religion despite some significant overlap. Gay
allow all men and women to participate in religious life fully
studies challenge hetero-normativity by focusing on diversi-
and equally.
ty, pride, and liberation. Some writers understand gay spiri-
tuality as a theology from the margins, defining itself by dif-
SEE ALSO Feminism, article on Feminism, Gender Studies,
ference, otherness, and intimacy. Sexuality is often conceived
and Religion; Gender and Religion, overview article, article
as an act of sacramental Eros and gay spirituality as an act
on History of Study; Gender Roles; Homosexuality; Human
of political protest. Gay men’s studies walk a fine line be-
Body, article on Human Bodies, Religion, and Gender;
tween mainstream integration and resistance to Christian
Patriachy and Matriarchy; Spirituality; Women’s Studies in
scriptural and theological heterosexism. They may focus on
mapping out gay spirituality, developing theodicies on
AIDS, or criticizing the attitudes of religious institutions to-
ward homosexual clergy and faithful laity.
Boisvert, Donald L. Out on Holy Ground: Meditations on Gay
Men’s Spirituality. Cleveland, Ohio, 2000.
The work of the British clergyman and poet Edward
Carpenter (1844–1926), a gay theologian of the early mod-
Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.
ern period, was not really built upon until after three disas-
Chicago, 1980. A study by a Yale historian of the treatment
ters hit the international gay community: the trial of Oscar
of gays and lesbians throughout the history of the church.
Consulting theological, literary, legal, and cultural sources,
Wilde (1895), the Nazi extermination of gay men in the con-
it offers a witty and unrelenting argument for tolerance and
centration camps (1940–1944), and the Stonewall riots in
New York City (1969). In the early 1980s the theologian
Boyarin, Daniel. Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and
James Nelson may have been the first nongay in the men’s
the Invention of the Jewish Man. Berkeley, Calif., 1997. A
movement to adamantly oppose double standards in sexual
Talmudic scholar interprets ancient and modern Jewish
ethics that separate straight and gay. Others have divided gay
sources with the aim of articulating an alternative rabbinic
men’s spirituality into four types: the apologetic (the rea-
model of masculinity. Rather than objecting to the image of
soned defense of homosexuality), the therapeutic (“coming-
the feminized Jewish male, the author employs queer theory
out” as a spiritual journey), the ecological (emphasizing liber-
in his intertextual readings to argue that such an image pro-
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

vides a new space for being male without submitting to the
Anthony Forster, pp. 188–197. New York, 1999. First pub-
Christian (and later European) hegemonic notions of mascu-
lished in France in 1982.
Goss, Robert E. Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus Acted Up. Cleve-
Boyd, Stephen. “Domination as Punishment: Men’s Studies and
land, Ohio, 2002.
Religion.” Men’s Studies Review (Spring 1990): pp. 1, 4–9.
Hall, Donald, ed. Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian
Boyd, Stephen B. The Men We Long to Be: Beyond Domination to
Age. Cambridge, U.K., 1994. A professor of English traces
a New Christian Understanding of Manhood. San Francisco,
the development and long-term effects of the mid-
1995. A historian of Christianity consults a range of tradi-
nineteenth-century religious and social movement known as
tional and contemporary theologians about their assump-
Muscular Christianity. The study’s emphasis is on hyper-
tions about masculinity. Rather than arriving at conclusions
masculinity as a response to spiritual and class anxieties about
that defend traditional gender roles, he uses his critique of
faith, gender, and national identity.
Christian sources to envision a Christian masculinity which
Krondorfer, Björn. “Revealing the Non-Absent Male Body: Con-
is authentic, nurturing, caring, and challenging of cultural
fessions of an African Bishop and a Jewish Ghetto Police-
man.” In Revealing Male Bodies, edited by Nancy Tuana,
Boyd, Stephen B., W. Merle Longwood, and Mark W. Muesse,
William Cowling, Maurice Hamington, Greg Johnson, and
eds. Redeeming Men: Religion and Masculinities. Louisville,
Terrance MacMullan, pp. 245–268. Bloomington, Ind.,
Ky., 1996. This collection of essays demonstrates some of the
diversity of the scholarly research on and methodological ap-
Krondorfer, Björn, ed. Men’s Bodies, Men’s Gods: Male Identities
proaches to issues of men and religion. The contributors in-
in a (Post-) Christian Culture. New York, 1996. Contributors
vestigate dominant religious and historical constructions of
to this volume reflect on the complex and often ambiguous
masculinity by taking seriously the challenges posed by the
religious forces that shape male bodies and identities in the
feminist critique.
Christian traditions and post-Christian cultures. Questions
Burrus, Virginia. Begotten Not Made: Conceiving Manhood in Late
of male spirituality are raised in view of men’s diverse cultur-
Antiquity. Stanford, Calif., 2000. This book is a study of
al and ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. Visual
manhood in late antiquity presented by a feminist cultural
and textual representations of men in contemporary religion
historian of the early church. It is a close reading of texts of
and culture are also addressed.
the Christian Church Fathers Athanasius of Alexandria,
Kuefler, Mathew. Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity,
Gregory of Nyssa, and Ambrose of Milan. All three were in-
and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity. Chicago, 2001. This
strumental in further interpreting and disseminating the Ni-
historical study explores the manly ideal of emerging Chris-
cene Trinitarian doctrine.
tianity in late antiquity. It examines how Christianity was
Claussen, Dane S. The Promise Keepers: Essays on Masculinity and
able to reformulate the virtues of manliness and convince
Christianity. Jefferson, N.C., and London, 2000.
Roman men to transfer their allegiance from the one to the
Comstock, Gary David, and Susan E. Henking, eds. Que(e)rying
other. The book also addresses Christian and pagan notions
Religion: A Critical Anthology. New York, 1997.
of eunuchs, castration, holy transvestites, and gender
Culbertson, Philip. New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality.
Minneapolis, 1992. The author employs his experience in
Lippy, Charles. “Miles to Go: Promise Keepers in Historical and
pastoral theology and biblical studies to re-examine the psy-
Cultural Context.” Soundings 80, nos. 2–3 (Summer/Fall
chology of five masculine role models in Scripture. Based on
1997): 289–304.
close textual readings, he explores a number of stumbling
Moore, Robert, and Douglas Gillette. King, Warrior, Magician,
blocks to the development of a healthy male spirituality and
Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine.
ends with a critique of Robert Bly’s mythopoetic approach.
San Francisco, 1990.
Culbertson, Philip. The Spirituality of Men: Sixteen Christians
Moore, Stephen D. God’s Beauty Parlor: And Other Queer Spaces
Write about Their Faith. Minneapolis, 2002. Scholars in
in and around the Bible. Stanford, Calif., 2001. Written from
men’s studies in religion explore in this collection of essays
the perspective of a New Testament scholar, this book brings
the gendered nature of their own journeys in Christian faith.
queer theory and masculinity studies into conversation with
Intended for both academics and Christian laity, the essays
biblical studies. It is critical commentary and cultural inter-
take a broad approach to the empirical nature of masculine
pretation of select biblical texts and theologies, addressing is-
thought and behavior among men committed to the church.
sues of sexuality, violence, homoeroticism, and ideologies of
Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard. God’s Phallus and Other Problems for
beauty and of masculinity.
Men and Monotheism. Boston, 1994. A Jewish studies scholar
Nelson, James B. Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Sexuality
explores how the concept of masculinity has been affected
and Religious Experience. New York, 1983. One of the earliest
negatively by the disappearance of God’s sexual body in the
books to examine the relationship between human sexuality
narrative corpus of ancient Judaism. Close readings of pas-
and Christian experience, the author asks what sexuality says
sages in the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, and Midrash are
about faith. He argues for the liberation of men from the
frequently informed by psychoanalytically informed styles of
gender assumptions of traditional Christianity and exposes
Christian hypocrisy in holding out conflicting standards for
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York, 1978.
heterosexual and homosexual men.
Foucault, Michel. “The Battle for Chastity.” In Religion and Cul-
Nelson, James B. The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Mascu-
ture, selected and edited by Jeremy R. Carrette, translated by
line Spirituality. Philadelphia, 1988. Seeking to promote
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

“whole men” as opposed to “real men,” Nelson discusses the
necessarily very general and may not pertain to all forms of
human need for intimacy and sensuousness. He asks why
a specific religion. Nonetheless, it is broadly the case that in
men have trouble establishing deep friendships and how
Brahmanical Hinduism, menstrual blood is considered pol-
God’s transforming love can work among men who take
luting and requires a woman to separate from her family for
risks. In particular this book is known for offering a healthy
the first three days of her period. During this time she cannot
spirituality of male genital desire.
perform religious acts of devotion and, secluded from her
family, cannot cook, look after children, brush her hair, or
wear jewelry. She must perform a purificatory bathing rite
before normal relationships and activities can resume.
Similarly, in Buddhism, menstrual pollution prevents a
MENSTRUATION. It is questionable whether late-
woman from undertaking pilgrimage or entering a temple.
modern scientific, detraditionalized Western societies can
The prohibitions differ according to context: some temples
still be said to institute a menstrual taboo. Today in western-
in northern Thailand do not allow women to circumambu-
ized cultures, menstrual blood is more likely to be considered
late the stupas, fearing the pollution of relics held at their
a bodily waste product whose disposal is more a matter of
center. However, contemporary Buddhist apologetics fre-
hygiene and social etiquette than a threat to the cultic order.
quently disown the menstrual taboo as non-Buddhist and as
However, the contemporary world is only partially and un-
originating in the older purity codes of host countries such
evenly secularized, and the role and status of women in the
as India and Japan.
world’s religions cannot be fully understood without refer-
In the QurDanic view (2:223), menstruation is polluting
ence to the negative powers generally ascribed to menstrual
and requires the Muslim woman’s seclusion from her hus-
blood. And more than that, while menstrual taboos vary in
band. The h:ad¯ıth literature prohibits a menstruant from re-
practice and intensity in the world’s religious cultures, men-
citing prayers, fasting, entering a mosque, and touching the
struation remains central to the construction of female dif-
QurDa¯n until she has finished her menses and taken a full
bath (ghusl). This purification ritual allows her to resume sex-
Where early anthropologists and historians of religion
ual relations with her husband. There are, however, some no-
claimed that menstrual taboo was universal, more recently
table variations in practice: the Kha¯raj¯ıs, for example, believe
Thomas Buckley and Alma Gottlieb (1988) have argued that
that a menstruant should continue to fast and pray.
the Western repugnance for menstrual blood and Western
In Judaism, the menstrual taboo derives from the priest-
cultural alienation from female biological processes have
ly codes of the Hebrew Bible and from rabbinic law. After
been projected onto the interpretation of indigenous men-
Judaism’s post-biblical transformation from a religion of cul-
strual practices. The power of menstrual blood may not, in
tic sacrifice to one of law, the rabbis reinforced the injunc-
fact, be universally regarded as negative, but sometimes as
tions of Leviticus 12:1–5 and 15:19–32 by ruling that a men-
positive and, if handled with due care, life-giving. Indeed,
struant is impure for the five or so days of her menses and
menstruation, and especially menarche (the onset of men-
for at least seven days afterwards. After this time has elapsed,
struation) can for North American Indians, such as the
the menstruant (niddah) visits a ritual bath (miqveh) and,
Sioux, confer honor and power on a woman rather than stig-
after immersion, physical relations with her husband can be
matize her.
resumed. However, the power of menstrual blood to defile
Nonetheless, in both historical and contemporary prac-
Jewish sacred objects and spaces is limited: the touch of a
tice, the major world religions share an overwhelmingly neg-
menstruant cannot pollute the Torah scroll, and menstruat-
ative view of menstruation as a pollutant of sacred public and
ing women are not excluded by law, though sometimes his-
domestic space, which requires some form of separation of
torically by custom, from the synagogue. Only the ultra-
the menstruant from the family or community. Menstrual
Orthodox are punctilious in observing the laws of menstrua-
blood is a contact pollutant and excludes women from reli-
tion (customarily termed “the laws of family purity”), but the
gious acts either during their menstruation or simply because
contemporary apologetic emphasis is on the laws’ alleviation
they are persons who menstruate. These exclusions owe
of sexual boredom in marriage, rather than on a superstitious
much to the symbolic and material ambivalence of menstrual
or cultic repugnance for menstrual blood as such. Conserva-
blood. On the one hand, it is a defiling natural excretion
tive Judaism has modified the laws of menstrual purity, and
whose cyclic flow is not susceptible to (masculine) cultural
Reform Judaism has abolished them as irrelevant, archaic,
control. Menstrual blood actually and metaphorically repre-
and offensive to women.
sents the loss or abortion of a potential life, yet it causes a
The Christian tradition is historically and denomina-
woman no painful threat to her life. On the other hand,
tionally diverse in its view of menstruation. In the New Tes-
menstrual blood belongs to the mysterious, quasi-divine pro-
tament, Jesus is presented as having abolished the Jewish
cesses of creation: the gestation and birth of a new life.
menstrual taboo among other distinctions between the clean
and the unclean. Most significantly, in a story found in all
complexity of religious traditions, the following remarks are
three synoptic Gospels, Jesus heals the menstrual disorder of
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a woman whose touch he experiences not as a defilement but
flect with other women on their passage through time into
as a mark of her faith. Nonetheless, Christian feminists have
greater wisdom and independence. Rejecting, then, the de-
argued that, as the church developed, a legacy of Greek
mystifying secular feminist view of menstruation as what
philosophical misogyny, ancient Mediterranean menstrual
Germaine Greer once called the “liquidification of abjec-
superstition, Gnostic asceticism, the institution of a celibate
tion,” these spiritual feminists have together produced a new
priesthood, and the authority of the Old Testament com-
menstrual praxis that celebrates the connections of menstrual
bined to reinstate the view of menstrual blood as unclean.
flow to the phases of the moon and the tides. Spiritual femi-
To this day, the Christian menstrual taboo informs the dis-
nists have reclaimed the magic-natural charge of menstrua-
qualification of women from ordination because in most
tion and put it to regenerative ends, sometimes using men-
quarters of the church (notably the Orthodox and Catholic
strual blood in rituals, and they have ritualized political
Churches) it is believed, if not always stated, that a woman’s
direct action to protest the masculine wasting or spilling of
biological presence pollutes the sanctuary.
blood in war.
By contrast, the menstrual taboo would appear to have
SEE ALSO Blood; Human Body; Purification; Rites of
fallen into disuse in the contemporary Protestant denomina-
tions. In the Anglican Church, for example, the practice of
churching (derived from Leviticus 12:2–8), where a woman
undergoes a purification ritual forty days after she has given
Buckley, Thomas, and Alma Gottlieb, eds. Blood Magic: The An-
birth to mark her return to the community, is no longer ob-
thropology of Menstruation. London, 1988. A re-reading of
served. Whether Protestantism’s apparent indifference to
native cultures’ attitudes and practices regarding menstrua-
women’s menstruality is a function of its egalitarian, word-
tion that refuses to project Western associations of menstrua-
tion and evil onto the objects of its ethnographical research.
centered, and anti-priestly ecclesiology, or whether it is ig-
nored because it is considered socially unmentionable, re-
Grahn, Judy. Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created
the World. Boston, 1993. A spiritual feminist examination of
mains a matter of debate.
the role of menstruation in the creation of human culture.
Joseph, Alison, ed. Through the Devil’s Gateway: Women, Religion,
the mid-1970s to the 1990s, a number of influential feminist
and Taboo. London, 1990. A collection of essays in which
studies of menstruation were published in which Jewish,
women from a number of different faith traditions outline
Christian, and Goddess feminists critiqued, subverted, and
their perspectives on menstruation.
reclaimed the menstrual taboo, broadly construing its vari-
Knight, Chris. Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of
ous forms as the fear, appropriation, and regulation of
Culture. London, 1991. An anthropological study of men-
women’s sacral power. Two central arguments were pro-
struation, theorizing prehistoric African women’s role in the
posed. First, it was observed that the gendering of blood un-
emergence of civilization.
derpins gendered inequalities of religio-political power. That
Laws, Sophie. Issues of Blood: The Politics of Menstruation. London,
is, whereas the cultural, controlled flow of the blood of male
1990. A secular study, rejecting supernaturalist views of
menstruation. Laws construes menstrual taboos as political
animals spilled in the Israelite Temple cult in the covenantal
instruments for maintaining gender hierarchy.
circumcision of Jewish boys—and the sacrificial passion and
crucifixion of Jesus—reunited the world and God, the natu-
O’Grady, Kathleen. “Menstruation.” In Encyclopedia of Women
and World Religion, edited by Serinity Young, vol. 2,
ral cyclic flow of female blood has separated them, leaving
pp. 649–652. New York, 1999.
female time, space, and bodies unfit for direct contact with
Raphael, Melissa. Thealogy and Embodiment: The Post-Patriarchal
the divine presence or its revelation. Second, it has been
Reconstruction of Female Sacrality. Sheffield, U.K., 1996. A
noted that if menstrual blood is, as it were, repulsive of divine
study of post-Christian feminist conceptions of female sa-
presence, then that has left women historically vulnerable to
crality, attending to the cosmological and political implica-
unjust charges of unreason and maleficence.
tions of spiritual feminism’s subversion and reclamation of
the menstrual taboo.
While some religious feminists find menstrual taboos
distasteful and irrelevant, others have interpreted the appar-
Shuttle, Penelope, and Peter Redgrove. The Wise Wound: Men-
struation and Everywoman. London, 1978; rev. ed., 1986. A
ent reverence of some of the world’s pagan traditions for
Jungian interpretation of menstruation, urging women not
menstrual blood as suggestive of a more ecological and femi-
to suppress its healing, generative power.
nist approach to religion and spirituality. The anthropology
Steinberg, Jonah. “From a ‘Pot of Filth’ to a ‘Hedge of Roses’ (and
of indigenous ritual seclusion practices has been read selec-
Back): Changing Theorizations of Menstruation in Juda-
tively to suggest ways for menstruating women to gather to-
ism.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 13 (1997): 5–26.
gether in rest and friendship to celebrate the female transfor-
This article observes how Orthodox Judaism’s discourse on
mation mysteries. In these, as in some Jewish feminist circles,
menstruation has shifted from repugnance to an emphasis on
menstruation is experienced as a time of creative energy rath-
the marital benefits of separation during women’s “impure”
er than lassitude and depression; daughters’ menarches are
celebrated as affirmatory rites of passage into womanhood,
Wansbrough, Paula, and Kathleen O’Grady. “Menstruation: A
and menopause is marked by rituals that allow women to re-
List of Sources.” Available from http://www.inform.
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

versity. Mercier gave expression to his thought in a series of
menstruation. A useful annotated bibliography compiled and
textbooks (his Course in Philosophy) that dealt with logic, psy-
regularly updated by two experts in the field.
chology, metaphysics, and the criteria for truth and certitude
(1892–1899). In addition, he founded the influential Revue
néo-scolastique de philosophie (1894), in which many of the
movement’s most important debates were carried out.
Appointed archbishop of Malines in 1906, Mercier was
created a cardinal by Pius X in 1907. Though never a leading
leading figure in Roman Catholic neoscholastic philosophy
figure in the controversy of modernism that rocked the
at the end of the nineteenth century and Cardinal Primate
Roman Catholic church at the beginning of the twentieth
of Belgium (1906–1926). Born November 21, 1851, in
century, he did issue a famous Lenten pastoral letter in 1908
Braine-l’Alleud, near Waterloo, Mercier studied philosophy
against the work of George Tyrrell (1861–1909), a promi-
and theology at Malines and earned a licentiate in theology
nent Irish modernist thinker; his letter prompted a vitriolic
at Louvain University (1877). Subsequently, he studied psy-
but brilliant rejoinder by Tyrrell in his Medievalism (1908).
chiatry in Paris.
As a pastorally concerned leader of his diocese, Mercier was
Ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1874, Mercier be-
deeply involved in the spiritual life and development of both
came a staunch supporter of Pope Leo XIII’s call for a revival
his clergy and the laity; indeed, he sought greater cooperation
of Thomistic thought in the encyclical Aeterni patris (1879).
between both groups as well as advances in social justice.
Initially a professor of philosophy at the Malines seminary
Though Mercier never became a strong political figure in
in 1877, Mercier then became the first holder of a new chair
Belgium—his attachment to French culture hindered his un-
for Thomist philosophy at Louvain University in 1882. He
derstanding of the Flemish and their problems—he did be-
soon sought papal approbation for a new institute at Lou-
come a figurehead for the Belgian people during the German
vain, and in 1889 Leo XIII approved the Institut Supérieur
occupation of World War I (1914–1918), strengthening
de Philosophie with Mercier at its head. Calling former stu-
their morale through sermons and pastoral letters. This
dents together from around the globe, he assembled an inter-
proved so effective that the Germans placed him under house
national group of disciples.
arrest, which earned him great prestige among the Belgian
people and much praise from the Allies after the war.
Working in opposition to Mill’s positivism, and above
Mercier’s final years after World War I were dedicated
all to neo-Kantian idealism, Mercier became a major figure
to more universal problems, particularly those of church re-
in the development of Roman Catholic neoscholastic
union. He founded the Institute of the Monks of Union at
thought, which sought to mediate between modern natural
Chevetogne in Belgium in order to further reunion and rec-
science and traditional Thomistic metaphysics. While
onciliation with the Eastern churches and made perhaps his
neoscholastic thought of the nineteenth century was con-
most influential and lasting effort in hosting and participat-
cerned mainly with questions of epistemology and the soul-
ing in the famous “Malines Conversations” (1921–1925).
body relationship and locked its responses to these problems
Suggested by Lord Halifax (Charles Lindley Wood, 1839–
into a rigid anti-Kantian tradition, Mercier strove to make
1934), these meetings were concerned with aiding the mutu-
Thomistic philosophy dependent upon the thought of his
al understanding and relations between the Roman Catholic
time: to see the “new” in the “old.” His main area of concen-
and Anglican churches. Mercier’s most famous moment
tration was psychology, and in 1892 he founded the first ex-
came in the fourth session when he presented his paper on
perimental laboratory at his institute in that discipline; later
“The English Church United Not Absorbed,” in which he
laboratories, emphasizing his regard for experimental meth-
proposed that the archbishopric of Canterbury be made a pa-
ods, followed in cosmology, chemistry, and physics.
triarchate, that the Roman code of canon law not be imposed
In contrast to most Roman Catholic thinkers of his
in England, that England be allowed its own liturgy, and that
time, Mercier saw philosophy as distinct from theology, and
all of the historical English sees be left in place while the
above all as an enterprise that should be free of all apologet-
newly erected Roman Catholic sees (1850) be suppressed.
ics. Without abandoning all tradition, he sought to imbue
These suggestions generated much controversy and opposi-
philosophy with the same ethic of investigation that marked
tion in Rome, and Mercier’s death on January 26, 1926, in
other university disciplines; philosophy must address the
Brussels effectively meant the end of the “Conversations.”
people, their times, and their problems. Even when dealing
with such questions as truth and certitude, Mercier appealed
to human experience. This led to his system of “illationism,”
Works by Mercier
which admitted that truth and certitude came from intellec-
Mercier’s main work, the Cours de philosophie, 4 vols. (Louvain,
tual reflection, but that the content of such abstract thought
1894–1899): vol. 1, Logique (1894); vol. 2, Métaphysique
always had its origins in concrete experience. Though this di-
générale, ou Ontologie (1894); vol. 3, La psychologie (1899);
rection produced much controversy in neoscholastic circles,
and vol. 4, Critériologie générale, ou Théorie générale de la cer-
it was unable to sustain itself as a “school” at Louvain Uni-
titude (1899), represented his sequence of philosophy courses
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

given at the Higher Institute for Philosophy at the University
later retitled Death of the Gods, a historical novel about Julian
of Louvain. Many of Mercier’s writings and public utter-
the Apostate. Attracted by pagan values of earthly happiness
ances were collected in the Œeuvres pastorales (Brussels and
and Christian ideals of personal immortality and love, and
Louvain, 1911–1929), in seven volumes. Finally, his famous
unable to choose between them, by 1896 Merezhkovskii had
exchange of letters with the commandant of the German oc-
concluded that Christianity and paganism were two halves
cupation forces during World War I appeared as La cor-
of a yet unknown higher truth.
respondance de S. E. cardinal Mercier avec le gouvernement
général allemand pendant l’occupation, 1914–1918
, edited by
Around 1900, Merezhkovskii advanced a new interpre-
Fernand Mayence (Brussels, 1919); in English translation as
tation of Christianity, designed to synthesize the “truth of
Cardinal Mercier’s Own Story (New York, 1920). The most
heaven” and the “truth of the earth,” and based on the sec-
complete bibliography of Mercier’s published writings
ond coming of Christ and on a forthcoming third testament.
should be consulted in the commemorative volume Le cardi-
Proclaiming a new religious consciousness that stressed the
nal Mercier, 1851–1926 (Brussels, 1927), pp. 341–372.
human need for faith and religious quest, he dismissed his-
Works about Mercier
torical Christianity as obsolete and rejected the asceticism,
Of the several biographies of Mercier, one may profitably consult
altruism, and humility preached by Russian Orthodox Chris-
John A. Gade’s The Life of Cardinal Mercier (New York,
tianity. Major works of this period include Tolstoy as Man
1934). A full-scale and scholarly biography of Mercier, tak-
and Artist with an Essay on Dostoevskii (1901–1902), which
ing advantage of the many particular studies that have ap-
treats these writers as exemplars of the religious principles of
peared since his death, and which would place him more ac-
the flesh and the spirit respectively; Birth of the Gods: Leonar-
curately in the troubled and multifaceted context of his time,
do da Vinci (1901); and Antichrist: Peter and Alexis (1905).
still must be written. Among the most important of these in-
Together with Julian the Apostate, the last two comprise his
vestigations are Alois Simon’s major studies, particularly Le
historical trilogy, Christ and Antichrist.
cardinal Mercier (Brussels, 1960), which provide an assess-
ment of Mercier’s contributions both to renewed scholasti-
To disseminate their views (sometimes called “God-
cism and the general philosophical conversation at the turn
seeking views”), Merezhkovskii, his wife Zinaida Gippius,
of the century in Europe. For new information concerning
and Dmitrii Filosofov founded the Religious Philosophical
Mercier’s ecumenical activities, one should consult Roger
Society of Saint Petersburg (November 1901–April 1903).
Aubert’s “Les conversations de Malines: Le cardinal Mercier
The society, which featured debates between intellectuals
et le Saint-Siège,” Bulletin de l’Academie Royale de Belgique
and clergymen on burning issues of the day, became a focal
53 (1967): 87–159; and R. J. Lahey’s “The Origins and Ap-
point of the religious renaissance. The minutes of the meet-
proval of the Malines Conversations,” Church History 43
ings were published in the Merezhkovskiis’ review, Novyi
(September 1974): 366–384.
put D (New Path, 1902–1904), founded as a showcase for the
new trends in art and thought. Permitted to reopen in 1907,
after the Revolution of 1905, branches of the society were
later founded in Moscow and in Kiev. Through these public
activities and through his writings, Merezhkovskii’s ideas
reached a wide audience, challenged traditional verities, in-
chief proselytizer of the religious renaissance in Russia in the
spired other reinterpretations of Christianity, and even stim-
early twentieth century. Scion of an eminent Saint Peters-
ulated the Bolshevik secular religion of “God-building,”
burg aristocratic family, Merezhkovskii was educated at the
which featured worship of the collective spirit of humanity
Third Classical Gymnasium and at the Historical-
instead of God.
Philological Faculty of the University of Saint Petersburg
The Revolution of 1905 led Merezhkovskii to consider
(1884–1888). Interested in metaphysical and existential is-
social and political questions. He interpreted it as the first
sues, he dissented from the positivism and materialism of his
stage of a great religious revolution that would usher in the
contemporaries and searched, all his life, for a new and all-
kingdom of God on earth. He denounced autocracy as a tool
encompassing higher ideal.
of the Antichrist, and advocated religious community,
In the 1890s, he championed mystical idealism as the
viewed as a kind of Christian anarchism, as the solution to
bridge between the atheistic intelligentsia and the believing
social conflict. Hostile to Marxist materialism and collectiv-
peasantry, campaigned against mandatory social didacticism
ism, he claimed that socialism stifles creativity and argued
in literature, introduced Russians to French symbolism and
that Jesus Christ is the supreme affirmation of the individual.
the philosophy of Nietzsche, and reintroduced them to clas-
Major works of this period are Dostoevskii: Prophet of the Rus-
sical antiquity and the Renaissance. Versatile and erudite, he
sian Revolution (1906), The Coming Ham (1906), and Not
expressed his ideas in poetry, literary criticism, essays, novels,
Peace but a Sword (1908). He opposed Russia’s entry into
and plays. Major works of this period are Symbols (1892), a
World War I, welcomed the February Revolution, but re-
book of poems; “On the Causes of the Decline of Russian
garded the Bolshevik regime as the reign of the Antichrist.
Literature and on the New Trends in Poetry” (1893), an in-
He cooperated with attempts to overthrow it, both before
fluential essay sometimes considered the manifesto of Rus-
and after his emigration in 1919, until his death in Paris, in
sian symbolism; New Verse (1896); and The Outcaste (1895),
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

gards merit. Elsewhere, the relationships are much less clear,
Most of Merezhkovskii’s important works can be found in Polnoe
and comparative questions have to be suggested much more
sobranie sochinenii, 24 vols. (Saint Petersburg, 1911–1914).
loosely insofar as they are relevant at all. The following obser-
Works in English translation include Death of the Gods (Lon-
vations should be understood as indicating the general con-
don, 1901), The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci (London,
text in which specific teachings on merit have arisen in rab-
1902), Peter and Alexis (London, 1905), The Menace of the
binic Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
Mob (New York, 1921), and an abridged version of Tolstoi
as Man and Artist
(Westminster, England, 1902). Useful sec-
INDIA AND CHINA. That religious action has practical effects
ondary literature includes my own D. S. Merezhkovsky and
in this existence and others has been widely assumed in the
the Silver Age (The Hague, 1975); Charles H. Bedford’s The
religious systems of Asia, though with many variations. In
Seeker: D. S. Merezhkovskiy (Lawrence, Kans., 1975); D. S.
the Indian context, the common assumption of post-Vedic
Merezhkovskii: Mysl D i slogo (D. S. Merezhkovskii, Thought
and word), edited by A V. Keldysh, I.V. Koretskaia, M. A.
religion is that of a series of existences, each conditioned by
Nikitina, and N. V. Koroleva (Moscow, 1999); and D. S.
the karman, or accrued causal momentum, of the previous
Mereshkovskii: pro et contra, edited by D. K. Burlak et al. (St.
existence. Since karman can be either bad or good, there is
Petersburg, 2001).
room for improvement through religious practice or moral
effort. Thus, loose analogies exist with other religious teach-
ings on reward and punishment, religious works, and spiritu-
al development. The main characteristic of Indian assump-
tions on the subject, whether Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist, is
that karmic cause and effect are in principle self-regulating,
This entry consists of the following articles:
not subject to divine decision, arbitration, or satisfaction.
In Jainism, seven “fields of merit” (pun:yaksetra) are rec-
ognized as conducive to a pleasantly advanced rebirth. These
have been presented by Padmanabh S. Jaini in The Jaina
Path of Purification
(Berkeley, 1979) as seven categories of
meritorious activity: donating an image, donating a building
The terms merit and merit making are used in connection
to house an image, having the scriptures copied, giving alms
with religious practices that have the calculated aim of im-
to monks, giving alms to nuns, assisting laymen in their reli-
proving the future spiritual welfare of oneself or others.
gious or practical needs, assisting laywomen similarly. The
However, the number of contexts in which a specific termi-
concept of karman should not in itself, however, be regarded
nology such as merit (Lat., meritum) or its older analogue,
as amounting to a doctrine of merit. This would push the
the Buddhist pun:ya (Pali, puñña) has developed are surpris-
analogy beyond its limits.
ingly few. It is probably for this reason that most well-known
systematic or phenomenological studies of religion have little
In Chinese religion, two relevant strands are discernible.
or nothing to say on the subject. Elsewhere, the use of these
First, there is the tradition of self-discipline and cultivation,
terms in writing on religion is widespread but extremely spo-
in Confucian form oriented socially and pragmatically, in
radic, occurring mainly in discussions of generally related
Daoist form linked to the achievement of supernormal pow-
subjects such as judgment, reward and punishment, grace,
ers, longevity, and even immortality. The idea of achieving
and salvation.
supernormal physical and psychical powers through strenu-
In religion west of India, the earliest specific teaching
ous self-discipline is also present in Indian religions, includ-
on merit, or merits, is found in rabbinic Judaism, although
ing Buddhism, and hence in all cultural areas influenced by
merit was not the subject of formal definitions. From the
China and India. At the same time, this motivation for reli-
third century
gious practice and achievement is not directly related to any
CE, the concept played an increasingly signifi-
cant role in Western Christianity; it reached a high point in
concept analogous to merit.
the Middle Ages, only to be drawn into the vortex of Refor-
Second, Chinese religion also knows the theme of post-
mation debate on grace and the relation between works,
mortal judgment, presided over by Yen-lo (counterpart of
faith, and man’s justification in the sight of God.
the Indian god Yama) as god of death and ruler of the hells.
Recent years have seen a smooth and indeed justifiable
Aided by his assistants, Yen-lo brings out the inexorable law
transfer of the English term merit (as well as of European
of karman, and many illustrated works depict this as a warn-
equivalents such as the German Verdienst) to that area of
ing to the living. (See, for example, the illustrated volumes
Buddhist practice and interpretation covered by the Sanskrit
Religiöse Malerei aus Taiwan: Katalog and Die Höllentexte,
term pun:ya and its equivalents. The term merit making im-
publications 1 and 2 of the Religionskundliche Sammlung
plies an observational, analytic stance not usually found in
der Philipps-Universität Marburg, 1980, 1981.) Religious
studies of merit in Christianity, which have been more doc-
imagery of this kind, though clearly related, does not entail
trinal or theological in tone. Nevertheless, interesting paral-
a distinct doctrine of merit except insofar as it is influenced
lels can be drawn between Buddhism and Christianity as re-
by Buddhism.
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EGYPT AND ANCIENT NEAR EAST. In ancient Egypt, the dif-
in Jewish tradition. These are, first, that keeping the Mosaic
fusion of the cult of Osiris as lord of the underworld who
covenant with God (i.e., observing the Torah), will lead to
had died, been judged, and risen again, provided the first
blessing and welfare and, second, that the responsibility and
common focus for postmortal expectation and concern.
benefit of this covenant are essentially corporate and pass
Elaborate funerary rites were accompanied by preparations
from generation to generation. Stated negatively, disobedi-
for judgment before Osiris assisted by assessors. The candi-
ence leads to punishment in the form of social or political
date for new life asserted his innocence of numerous moral
suffering, but this punishment can be moderated by credit
transgressions and saw his own heart weighed on scales
accumulated by previous generations. Looking forward, the
against a feather representing truth in the sense of divine
idea of caring for one’s children spiritually as well as physical-
order (maat). Gradually, efforts were made to organise the
ly was a motivating force for assiduousness in religious duty
outcome of the judgment in advance by preparing in advance
and charitable works. The justifiableness of a man, his stand-
lists of good deeds and declarations of innocence. This pro-
ing before God in these respects, is summed up in the term
cess was ritualized and commercialized through the sale of
appropriate rolls of text to be filled in with names before
As Davies points out, this line of thought is not without
death, modern scholars have named these texts collectively
variations: some rabbis taught that the dividing of the waters
The Book of Going Forth by Day. On the other hand, these
at the exodus took place on account of the merits of Abra-
phenomena may be regarded as the earliest indication of at-
ham, or the combined merits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
tempts to establish an individual’s worth—in effect to “make
while others stressed the meritorious faith of the Israelites at
merit” for him, in order to achieve a desired effect after
the time. The underlying spirit of the teaching is neatly ex-
pressed in Arthur Marmorstein’s summary of the ideas of
The idea of merit apparently did not develop in Meso-
Rabbi Yanna’i: “A man who kindles light in daytime for his
potamia, where notions of existence after death remained
friend when it is light, what benefit has he derived? When
shadowy and pessimistic. Nor did Canaanite or early He-
does he obtain any advantage from light? In case he kindles
brew views of death include a postmortal goal toward which
it in the night-time, in darkness. The affection Israel has
the individual could work. The Hebrew concept of SheDol
shown in the wilderness was kept for them from that time,
as a silent, forgotten abode beneath the earth was related at
from the days of Moses” (Marmorstein, 1920, p. 17). From
least in type to the Babylonian.
regarding the keeping of the Torah as meritorious, and bene-
ficial for future generations, it was not far to the idea that
The clearly delineated cosmological dualism of Iranian
God gave the Torah so that merit could be achieved or even
religion gave prominence to the alternatives awaiting the in-
the idea that the whole of creation was designed to this end.
dividual after death. The spiritual position of the soul was
As to life beyond death, reference to this was by no
determined in accordance with its behavior before departure
means lacking, and it was considered possible that some indi-
from the body. In principle, the thinking is analogous to the
viduals, through lack of merit, might fail to be rewarded.
Egyptian conceptions mentioned above, for there is evidence
Nevertheless, the calculation of one’s credits and debits was
of attempts to influence the judgment. Eschatologically, Ira-
always regarded as ultimately in the hands of God, so that
nian ideas strongly influenced developing Judaism, so that
while relatively good men might tremble, even the wicked
SheDol became the place of postmortal punishment, while up
might hope. In practical terms, merit was typically consid-
to seven heavens were enumerated as abodes of pleasure and
ered to accrue through “faith, charity, hospitality, the cir-
cumcision, Sabbath and festivals, the study of the Torah, re-
THEISTIC RELIGIONS. A theistic worldview in the Abrahamic
pentance, the Holy Land, the Tabernacle, Jerusalem, the
tradition does not necessarily entail a detailed doctrine of
tithe, and the observances in general” (ibid., p. 65).
merit, as may be seen in the cases of the Qumran communi-
With Islam, it was, and is, expected that realizable duties
ty, very early Christianity and, later, Islam. In both the teach-
will be fulfilled. However, God, and only God, knows what
ings of Qumran and of the New Testament, the concept of
is actually possible for each individual; moreover, he is pa-
calculable merit is entirely lacking. What is required is total,
tient of human weakness. Thus, insofar as it is possible, the
inward obedience to the law, or will, of God. The subsequent
pilgrimage to Mecca is required of Muslims. This may be re-
development of Christian teachings on merit has been vari-
garded as a negative doctrine of merit in that every Muslim
ously described and interpreted. Historical priority must be
has to assess whether or not he or she is able to make the pil-
ascribed to the rabbinic teachings on merit, or merits, which,
grimage. While Islam has always recognized that some acts
in a transposed form, underlay Paul’s interpretation of the
are not strictly required but are nevertheless praiseworthy,
death of Jesus. (This relationship has been skillfully delineat-
any assessment of human behavior for the purpose of achiev-
ed by W. D. Davies in Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 2d ed.,
ing salvation was quickly ruled out by the strong emphasis
London, 1955, pp. 227–284.)
on the preeminent knowledge and grace of God, which
The rabbinic doctrine of merit, though articulated in
amounted to predestination. A broadly similar doctrinal
detail in the first four centuries of the common era, is based
structure was to appear, in the Christian world, in Reforma-
on two fundamental ideas which reach much further back
tion theology, and in Jansenism.
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

COMPARATIVE REFLECTIONS. A simple typology of religions
anese patriarchs Ho¯nen (1133–1212) and, above all, Shinran
with respect to concepts of merit and broadly related aspects
(1173–1263). The latter argued, for example, that there was
of religiosity may be delineated in four parts.
no value in reciting the Nembutsu (calling on the name of
Amida Buddha) on behalf of the deceased because as a
First, it should be noted that much religion simply has
human work it could not benefit them in any way. All that
not included the concept of merit, especially when notions
was possible was reliance on the grace of Amida Buddha to
of the future are shadowy, when a future existence is pre-
effect rebirth in the Pure Land in the western heavens. Thus,
pared for by elaborate funerals for royalty only, or when life
the soteriological focus was internalized and the idea of merit
after death is understood in any case to be the same for every-
was transformed from within. These subjectivizing trends
body. Thus, primal religions—even, for example, the highly
within the Buddhist and Christian traditions, though influ-
developed Japanese Shinto¯—presuppose neither a radical di-
ential, have not become dominant, and, broadly speaking,
viding of the ways based on merit nor any elaborate path of
the vocabulary of merit continues to play a distinctive role
cumulative spiritual development for the individual. Such re-
in both.
ligions naturally bear powerful religious values, such as a
sense of cosmological orientation and belonging. Transac-
SEE ALSO Judgment of the Dead.
tional religiosity, however, is directed in this context towards
proximate, this-worldly, goals such as social and economic
well-being, the avoidance of disaster and sickness or, in a
Davies, W. D. Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 2d ed. London, 1955.
modern differentiated economy, personal welfare and
Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Berkeley,
Second, when clear-cut conceptions of future existence
Marmorstein, Arthur. The Doctrine of Merits in Old Rabbinical
have developed, we see an extension of transactional religiosi-
Literature. London, 1920.
ty into the future, as in Egyptian and Iranian religions, or,
Religiöse Malerei aus Taiwan: Katalog and Die Höllentexte, Publica-
in a very different way, in Indian religion. The same holds
tions 1 and 2 of the Religionskundliche Sammlung der
for Chinese religion, though not without influence from In-
Philipps-Universität Marburg, 1980, 1981.
dian Buddhism. Such transactionalism may or may not be
New Sources
morally differentiated. The key feature here is that an ele-
Brokaw, Cynthia J. The Ledgers of Merit and Demerit: Social
ment of future-directed management and even calculation is
Change and Moral Order in Late Imperial China. Princeton,
introduced to cope with an assumed judgment to come or
with implications of the present for future existences. In
Kammerer, Cornelia Ann, and Nicola Tannenbaum, eds. Merit
principle, responsibility lies with the individual, although he
and Blessing in Mainland Southeast Asia in Comparative Per-
may seek the assistance of priests, or, in the interesting varia-
spective. New Haven, 1996.
tion of rabbinic Judaism, draw on the worthy performance
Lehtonen, Tommi. Punishment, Atonement and Merit in Modern
of previous generations. Islam also belongs to this type, al-
Philosophy of Religion. Helsinki, 1999.
though in this case there is little interest in calculation and
a great reliance on God’s compassionate appraisal of what
Schopen, Gregory. “Two Problems in the History of Indian Bud-
dhism: The Layman/Monk Distinction and the Doctrines of
could realistically be expected from each individual in the
the Transfer of Merit.” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 10
circumstances of life.
(1985): 9–47.
The third type is represented above all by Buddhism
Wawrykow, Joseph P. God’s Grace and Human Action: ‘Merit’ in
and Christianity, although these emerged from quite differ-
the Theology of Thomas Aquinas. Notre Dame, 1995.
ent assumptions. Here we see that specific doctrines of merit
arose at the point of intersection between transactional religi-
Revised Bibliography
osity and soteriological concern. The natural, or primal,
community is left on one side, and the possibility of the
transfer of merit from transcendental or intermediate beings
is envisaged. Interestingly, this latter idea did not go unop-
posed in Therava¯da Buddhism, where it was criticized on
The notion of merit (Skt., pun:ya or ku´sala; Pali, puñña or
ethical grounds. At the same time, the recommendation of
kusala) is one of the central concepts of Buddhism, and the
merit-creating activities by the priesthood becomes normal.
practice of merit-making is one of the fundamental activities
Fourth, Buddhism and Christianity are similar not only
of Buddhists everywhere.
in having produced an individualized soteriology based, at
The idea of merit is intimately bound up with the theo-
times, on a doctrine of merit. They have also both seen
ry of karman, the Indian law of cause and effect. According
movements within the tradition which radically internalized
to this theory, every situation in which an individual finds
the reception of spiritual assistance or grace. For Christiani-
himself is the result of his own deeds in this or a previous
ty, this is connected with the Reformation; for Buddhism,
lifetime, and every intentional act he now performs will
such movements are associated with the teachings of the Jap-
eventually bear its own fruit—good or bad—in this or a fu-
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 lifetime. Thus present felicity, wealth, physical beauty,
er, s¯ıla may also involve the voluntary acceptance of three ad-
or social prestige may be explained as the karmic reward of
ditional precepts, sometimes counted as four, against eating
past deeds of merit, and present suffering, poverty, ugliness,
after noon, attending worldly amusements, using ornaments
or lack of prestige may be attributed to past acts of demerit.
or perfumes, and sleeping on a high bed. Monks, who by
In the same manner, present meritorious deeds may be ex-
their very status are thought to be more filled with merit than
pected to bring about rebirth in a happier station as a human
the laity, are expected to observe all the above precepts at all
being or as a deity in one of the heavens, and present demeri-
times; in addition, there is a tenth injunction for monks
torious deeds may result in more suffering and in rebirth as
against the handling of money.
an animal, a hungry ghost (Skt., preta), or a being in one of
the Buddhist hells. A mixture of meritorious and demeritor-
The most meritorious practice on this list, however, is
ious acts will bear mixed karmic results.
giving, or da¯na. In many ways, this is the Buddhist act of
merit par excellence. Monks engage in it by giving the Dhar-
This basic understanding of the workings of merit and
ma to laypersons in the form of sermons or advice, or by the
demerit can be traced back to the time of the Buddha, or the
example of their own lives. Laypersons practice it by giving
sixth to fifth centuries BCE. It received its fullest elaboration
to the monks support of a more material kind, especially
later, however, in the vast collections of ja¯takas (stories of the
food, robes, and shelter. The ideology of merit thus cements
Buddha’s previous lives), avada¯nas (legends), and a¯nisam:sas
a symbiotic relationship between the sam:gha and the laity
(tales of karmic reward), which were and continue to be very
that has long been one of the prominent features of
popular in both H¯ınaya¯na and Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism.
MERIT-MAKING ACTIVITIES. There are, according to the
Buddhists themselves, many ways of making merit. One of
Not all lay acts of da¯na make equal amounts of merit.
the most comprehensive listings of these is the noncanonical
The specific karmic efficacy of any gift may depend on what
catalog of “ten meritorious deeds” (Pali, dasa-kusalakamma),
is given (quantity and quality can be significant), how it is
which has been widely influential in South Asia. It comprises
given (i.e., whether the gift is offered with proper respect,
the following practices:
faith, and intention), when it is given (food offerings, for ex-
ample, should be made before noon), and, especially, to
1. Giving (da¯na)
whom it is given. Although da¯na may sometimes be thought
2. Observing the moral precepts (s¯ıla)
to include gifts to the poor and the needy, offerings made
to the sam:gha are seen as karmically much more effective.
3. Meditation (bha¯vana¯)
Thus, making regular food offerings to the monks, giving
4. Showing respect to one’s superiors (apaca¯yana)
them new robes and supplies, funding special ceremonies
5. Attending to their needs (veyya¯vacca)
and festivals, building a new monastery, or having a son join
the sam:gha are all typical lay acts of da¯na. These activities
6. Transferring merit (pattida¯na)
share a common focus on the monks and are consistently
7. Rejoicing at the merit of others (patta¯numodana)
ranked as more highly meritorious than other types of social
service; they are even more highly valued than observation
8. Listening to the Dharma, that is, the Buddha’s teach-
of the moral precepts.
ings (dhammasavana)
9. Preaching the Dharma (dhammadesana¯)
Metaphorically, acts of merit are seen as seeds that bear
most fruit when they are planted in good fields of merit (Skt.,
10. Having right beliefs (dit:t:hijjukamma)
pun:yaks:etra), and the most fertile field of merit today is the
It is noteworthy that most of the deeds on this list (with the
sam:gha. This obviously has had tremendous sociological and
possible exception of the ninth, which is more traditionally
economic implications. In Buddhist societies, the sam:gha
a monastic function) can be and are practiced both by Bud-
often became the recipient of the excess (and sometimes not
dhist laypersons and by monks. It is clear, then, that merit
so excessive) wealth of the laity, and thus from its roots it
making in general is a preoccupation not only of the Bud-
quickly grew into a rather richly endowed institution.
dhist laity (as is sometimes claimed) but also of members of
Traditionally, however, the best “field of merit” was the
the monastic community, the sam:gha. In this regard, it is in-
Buddha himself. The model acts of da¯na that are recounted
teresting too that meditation—a practice that is sometimes
in Buddhist popular literature often depict gifts that are
said to be an enterprise not concerned with attaining a better
made to him. Today, in addition to donations to the monks,
rebirth but aimed solely at enlightenment—is also seen as a
offerings are made to images and other symbolic representa-
merit-making activity and is engaged in as such by both
tions of the Buddha and are still thought of as highly merito-
monks and laypersons.
rious. The roots of da¯na, therefore, lie not only in a desire
Another noteworthy item on this list is s¯ıla, the obser-
to do one’s duty to the sam:gha but also to express one’s devo-
vance of the moral precepts. For the laity, this consists of fol-
tion to the faith in the Buddha. This experiential cultic side
lowing the injunctions against killing, stealing, lying, sexual
of merit-making has often been overlooked, yet it is fre-
misconduct, and intoxication. On certain occasions, howev-
quently emphasized in popular Buddhist literature.
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

AIMS OF THE MERIT MAKER. In addition to expressing indi-
as a deceased parent or teacher, the suffering spirits of the
vidual faith and devotion, the merit maker may be said to
dead, or, more generally, all sentient beings.
be interested in three things. First, an individual wants to ob-
Probably one of the motivations for such sharing of
tain karmic rewards for himself in this or the next lifetime.
merit was the desire to continue, in a Buddhist context, the
Thus, for example, he might wish, by virtue of his acts of
Brahmanical practice of ancestor worship. The transfer of
merit, to enjoy long life, good health, and enormous wealth,
merit by offerings to the sam:gha simply replaced the more
and never to fall into one of the lower realms of rebirth where
direct sacrifice of food to the spirits of the dead.
suffering runs rampant, but to be reborn as a well-to-do per-
son or a great god in heaven. Many such statements, in fact,
The literalness with which this transfer was sometimes
may be found in the inscriptions left by pious Buddhists
understood is well illustrated by the story of the ghosts of
throughout the centuries to record their meritorious deeds,
King Bimbisa¯ra’s dead relatives. They made horrible noises
and in anthropologists’ descriptions of present-day merit-
in his palace at night because they were hungry, for the king
making practices.
had neglected to dedicate to them the merit of a meal he had
served to the sam:gha. Therefore he had to make a new offer-
Second, the merit maker may also be interested in en-
ing of food to the monks and properly transfer the merit.
lightenment. It is sometimes claimed that this is not the case,
Once fed, the ghosts no longer complained.
that beyond receiving karmic rewards the merit maker has
It is worth noting in this story the crucial role played
no real ambition for nirva¯n:a. To be sure, in the oldest strata
by the field of merit—in this case the sam:gha—in successful-
of the Buddhist canon nirva¯n:a is not thought to be attainable
ly transmitting the benefits of meritorious deeds to beings
by merit-making alone, but Buddhist popular literature soon
in the other world: the monks act as effective intermediaries
tended to take a different view. In the Avada¯nas, for example,
between two worlds. They continued to enjoy this role in
even the most trivial acts of merit are accompanied by a vow
China and Japan, where their efficacy in transferring merit
(Skt., pran:idha¯na) made by the merit maker to obtain some
to the ancestors was much emphasized.
form of enlightenment in the future. This enlightenment
may be a long time in coming, but when it does it is por-
trayed as the fruit of the merit maker’s vow and act of merit,
the doctrine of the transfer of merit has its roots in the
and not as the result of any meditative endeavor.
H¯ınaya¯na, it was most fully developed in the Maha¯ya¯na.
There it became one of the basic practices of the bodhisattva
In present-day Therava¯da practice, these same vows take
(buddha-to-be), who was thought to be able freely to bestow
the form of ritual resolves to be reborn at the time of the fu-
upon others the merit accrued during a greatly extended spir-
ture Buddha Maitreya and to attain enlightenment at that
itual career.
time. Far from rejecting the possibility of nirva¯n:a, then, the
Actually, there are two stages to a bodhisattva’s meritori-
merit maker, by means of a pran:idha¯na, can link an act of
ous career. In the first, while seeking enlightenment, he
merit to that very soteriological goal.
amasses merit by good deeds toward others. In this, his ac-
THE TRANSFER OF MERIT. Third, the merit maker may also
tions are not much different from those described in the
wish to share his or her merit with others, especially with
Ja¯takas and attributed to the Buddha in his former lives. In
members of the family. By clearly indicating whom the merit
the second stage, the bodhisattva (or, in Pure Land Bud-
maker intends to benefit by a good deed, an individual can
dhism, the Buddha Amita¯bha), infinitely meritorious, dis-
transfer the merit accrued to that other person. This does not
penses merit to all beings.
mean that one thereby loses some of one’s own merit; on the
After initially awakening in himself the mind intent on
contrary, one makes even more, since the transfer of merit
enlightenment (Skt., bodhicitta), the bodhisattva begins his
is in itself a meritorious act.
career with the path of accumulation of merit
Such sharing of merit is sometimes thought to be in
(sam:bha¯rama¯rga), during which he performs great acts of
contradiction to one of the basic principles of karman, ac-
self-sacrifice over many lifetimes and begins the practice of
cording to which merit-making is an entirely individual pro-
the perfections of giving, morality, patience, energy, medita-
cess whereby one reaps only what one has sown oneself.
tion, and wisdom. In all of this, his actions are governed by
While this may be correct theoretically, and while it is true
his vow for enlightenment (pran:idha¯na). Unlike the vows of
that the transfer of merit is not mentioned explicitly in the
the Hinayanists, however, those of a bodhisattva can be quite
earliest canonical sources, the practice quickly became very
elaborate (especially in Pure Land Buddhism), and generally
common. It had always been the case, of course, that an indi-
involve his willingness to postpone individual attainment of
vidual could undertake an act of merit on behalf of a larger
final nirva¯n:a in order to be able to lead all sentient beings
social group. Thus, the housewife who gives food to a monk
to enlightenment.
on his begging round makes merit not only for herself but
As a result of such altruism, certain great bodhisattvas,
for her whole family. Buddhist inscriptions and popular liter-
such as Avalokite´svara, Mañju´sr¯ı, Ks:itigarbha, or Samantab-
ature, however, testify also to the wishes of donors to have
hadra, came to be seen as having stored up virtually inex-
their merit benefit somewhat more remote recipients, such
haustible supplies of merit, which they can now dispense to
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

sentient beings in order to allay their sufferings. The mecha-
226 (1978): 311–332. The latter is an especially suggestive
nism by which this is done is that of the transfer of merit,
article and has an English summary. For a social scientist’s
but this is now seen as a more total and compassionate act
view of the way in which merit-making combines with other
than in the H¯ınaya¯na. Not only does the bodhisattva confer
forces in defining social roles and hierarchies, see L. M.
on others the benefit of specific deeds, but he also seeks to
Hank’s “Merit and Power in the Thai Social Order,” Ameri-
share with them his entire store of merit, or, to use a different
can Anthropologist 64 (1962): 1247–1261. Finally, for a clear
discussion of the place of merit in the development of the bo-
simile, his own actual roots of merit (ku´salamu¯la). In this,
dhisattva ideal, see A. L. Basham’s “The Evolution of the
all desire for a better rebirth for himself has disappeared; the
Concept of the Bodhisattva,” in The Bodhisattva Doctrine in
only sentiment remaining is his great compassion
Buddhism (Waterloo, Ontario, 1981), edited by Leslie S.
(maha¯karun:) for all sentient beings in their many states of
New Sources
Bechert, Heinz. “Buddha-field and Transfer of Merit in a Thera-
SEE ALSO Bodhisattva Path; Karman, article on Buddhist
vada Source.” Indo-Iranian Journal 35 (1992): 95–108.
Boucher, Daniel. “Sutra on the Merit of Bathing the Buddha.” In
Buddhism in Practice, edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.,
pp. 59–68. Princeton, 1995.
Four kinds of sources are most useful in considering the practice
Cousins, Lance. “Good or Skilful? Kusala in Canon and Com-
of merit-making in Buddhism.
mentary.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 3 (1996): 136–64.
First, there are anthologies of popular Buddhist stories illustrating
Available from http://jbe.la.psu.edu.
the workings of merit and demerit. These are too vast and
Herrmann-Pfandt, A. “Verdienstübertragung im H¯ınaya¯na und
numerous to be described here, but they include the Ja¯takas
Maha¯ya¯na.” In Suhrllekha¯h:: Festgabe für Helmut Eimer, ed-
(tales of Buddha’s former lives), the Avada¯nas (legends about
ited by Michael Hahn, Jens-Uwe Hartmann and Roland St-
the lives of individual Buddhists), and innumerable stories
einer, pp. 79–98. Swisttal-Odendorf, 1996.
of karmic rewards either included in commentaries on ca-
Schopen, Gregory. “Two Problems in the History of Indian Bud-
nonical works or gathered in separate collections. For transla-
dhism: The Layman/Monk Distinction and the Doctrines of
tions of examples of each of these three types, see The Ja¯taka,
the Transfer of Merit.” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 10
6 vols. (1895–1905; London, 1973), edited by E. B. Cowell;
(1985): 9–47.
Avada¯na-çataka:: Cent légendes bouddhiques, translated by
Léon Feer (Paris, 1891); and Elucidation of the Intrinsic
OHN S. STRONG (1987)
Revised Bibliography
Meaning: The Commentary on the Peta Stories, translated by
U Ba Kyaw, edited by Peter Masefield (London, 1980).
Second, there are the descriptions and discussions of merit-
making practices in present-day Buddhist societies by an-
The term merit derives directly from the Latin meritum as
thropologists and other observers in the field. For a variety
of these works, which also present significant interpretations
used by theologians in Western Christianity beginning with
of merit making, see, for Sri Lanka, Richard F. Gombrich’s
Tertullian (160?–225?). Earlier Christian apologists had
Precept and Practice (Oxford, 1971), chapters 4–7; for Thai-
stressed the importance of postbaptismal works as a prepara-
land, Stanley J. Tambiah’s “The Ideology of Merit and the
tion for eternal life, and indeed this line of thought can be
Social Correlates of Buddhism in a Thai Village,” in Dialectic
traced back in a general way to various New Testament writ-
in Practical Religion (Cambridge, 1968), edited by Edmund
ings. The important question as to whether the third-century
Leach; and, for Burma, Melford E. Spiro’s Buddhism and So-
teaching on merit emerged naturally out of early Christianity
ciety (New York, 1970).
or whether it was a distortion, or at best a countertheme, is
Third, there are the inscriptions left by merit makers in India and
variously assessed by Catholic and Protestant theologians.
elsewhere to record their acts of merit. Various examples of
Thus, in an article on merit (1962), Günther Bornkamm
these invaluable and fascinating documents may be found in
emphasized the absence of any concept of merit in the New
Dines Chandra Sircar’s Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian
Testament, while his co-writer Erdmann Schott roundly de-
History and Civilization, vol. 1, From the Sixth Century B.C.
clared that “only the Roman Catholic church developed a
to the Sixth Century A.D., 2d ed. (Calcutta, 1965).
doctrine of merit.” However, both of these writers recognize
Finally, there are the more specialized scholarly studies of specific
the presence of those elements in early Christian writings, in-
aspects of merit-making. Only a few of these can be men-
cluding the New Testament, which writers with a Catholic
tioned here. For a fine discussion of the various connotations
viewpoint see as the basis for the development of the doc-
of the word for “merit,” see Jean Filliozat’s “Sur le domaine
trine. These elements are none other than judgment, reward,
sémantique de pun:ya,” in Indianisme et bouddhisme: Mé-
and punishment. Thus according to Anselm Forster (1965)
langes offerts à Mgr. Étienne Lamotte (Louvain, 1980). For
two very helpful studies of the transfer of merit in H¯ınaya¯na
references to such themes are so numerous that the apostolic
Buddhism, see G. P. Malalasekera’s “‘Transference of Merit’
fathers and the apologists simply brought the idea of merit
in Ceylonese Buddhism,” Philosophy East and West 17
into their proclamation of salvation as circumstances re-
(1967): 85–90, and Jean-Michel Agasse’s “Le transfert de
quired, without any need for systematic reflection at that
mérite dans le bouddhisme pa¯li classique,” Journal asiatique
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 New Testament writers certainly made much use
It may be noted in passing that the concept of merit was
of this complex of ideas, as seen for example in the vision of
never worked out in detail and did not become a matter of
judgment in Matthew 25. However, such ideas do not in
controversy in the Eastern (Orthodox) churches because the
themselves amount to or necessarily require the development
operation of divine grace and human free will were and are
of a doctrine of merit, as may be observed in parallel situa-
seen in terms of synergy. By this is meant a cooperation of
tions in the history of religions. Historically, there certainly
powers that are unequal but both essential. Although human
was no general belief in the New Testament writings that
response and action are necessary within the event of salva-
some sufficient degree of merit either should or even could
tion, the preeminent role of grace means that calculations are
be accumulated for any purpose. The main thrust of early
of no relevance. The perfect example of synergy is provided
Christian teaching was rather to overcome any calculating re-
by Mary, honored as the mother of God (theotokos).
ligiosity in favor of a trusting reliance on the promises of God
and spontaneous, uncircumscribed works of love. This holds
eval Latin Christendom an increasingly carefully defined
good both for the teaching of Jesus himself, as far as this can
doctrine of merit was current. This doctrine was, with minor
be precisely ascertained, and also for the teaching of the
variations, consistent from Peter Abelard up until the Refor-
major theological exponents, John and Paul. A doctrine of
mation. Both obligatory and nonobligatory (supererogatory)
merit as such did not clearly arise until the third century.
works were regarded as meritorious in the sense that they
PATRISTIC VIEW OF MERIT. With Tertullian, well known for
contributed, within the overall economy of divine grace, to
his legal metaphors, the doctrine of merit came into semifor-
the ensuring of salvation. Grace itself can be understood at
mal existence. He distinguished between good works as a
various levels: all-important was gratia praeveniens, but Peter
source of merit and nonobligatory good works as a source
Lombard distinguished between the self-effective gratia ope-
of extra merit, thus introducing an element of calculation.
rans and the gratia cooperans that assists in the creation of
He also taught that human sinners are required to render sat-
merit. Widespread in the Middle Ages was the distinction
isfaction to God, a satisfaction that could be fulfilled by the
between acts that ensure divine recognition and acts that
offering of merits. Other church fathers accepted Tertullian’s
merely qualify for it at divine discretion. These two types of
teaching, above all with a view to the care of postbaptismal
merit are referred to as condign merit (meritum de condigno)
life within the church.
and congruent merit (meritum de congruo) respectively.
Thus Cyprian (c. 205–258), bishop of Carthage, taught
However, the sovereignty of God was maintained by the
that sins could be purged by charitable works and by faith.
teaching, for example of Thomas Aquinas, that while merit
This did not refer to those sins contracted before baptism,
arises equally from free will and from grace, the effective sta-
for they were purged by the blood and sanctification of
tus assigned to condign merit was itself still dependent ulti-
Christ. But, Cyprian says in On Works and Charity, “sic elee-
mately on grace. The underlying idea here, not usually made
mosyne extinguet peccatum” (“as water extinguishes fire, so
explicit, is that the church in its teaching function can reli-
charitable work extinguishes sin”) and “eleemosynis atque
ably assert the positive availability of grace in such circum-
operationibus iustis” (“as the fire of Gehenna is extinguished
stances. Some discussion centered on the possibility of re-
by the water of salvation, so the flame of transgressions is as-
gaining a state of grace through merit after committing
suaged by almsgiving and just works”). He goes on to say
deadly sin, which Bonaventure considered possible and
that God is satisfied by just works and that sins are purged
Thomas impossible. Another aspect arose with John Duns
by the merits of mercifulness (misericordiae meritis). Indeed,
Scotus, who emphasized the crucial role of the divine accep-
by charitable works our prayers are made effective, our lives
tance of merit over against the value inherent in the work
saved from danger, and our souls liberated from death.
itself. This permitted the assertion that God recognizes the
merits of supernaturally assisted works within the economy
Of importance for later understanding of the doctrine
of salvation rather than of those performed by man in his
was the debate between Pelagius, Augustine, and others in
natural state simply because he so wishes. (For more details
the first part of the fifth century. Pelagius, whose teaching
on these and other aspects of the medieval doctrine of merit,
was current in Rome and North Africa, stressed the power
see Schott, 1962.)
of man through free will to choose and practice the good,
and he viewed grace conveyed by the example and stimulus
The doctrinal subtlety of many medieval theologians
of Christ as a welcome but theoretically not absolutely essen-
was clearly directed toward safeguarding the principle of the
tial extra. Augustine considered Pelagius’s teaching to pres-
prior, determinative grace of God over against any idea that
ent a faulty doctrine of man and to render Christian salvation
salvation could be ensured by calculated acts on man’s part.
all but superfluous. For the present subject the debate is of
However, not all medieval Christians had the ability, or, in
importance in that it had the effect of subordinating teaching
their often short and hard lives, the leisure, to appreciate
on merit to the doctrine of grace. Since Pelagianism was con-
these points. Since theology had a place for individual acts
demned as heretical at the councils of Milevum and Carthage
that might be meritorious, that is, of assistance in securing
(in 416 and 418), Augustine’s treatment of the subject set
salvation rather than damnation, the common assumption
the framework for later Western definitions and ultimately
was that some of these acts had better be performed. It was
for the divergence that broke out at the Reformation.
plainly believed that bad things had to be compensated 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

by good things if lengthy or eternal punishment was to be
(e.g., on “the first nine Fridays”) or through special sets of
avoided, and this meant in daily religious life: penance, good
prayers (Our Fathers, Ave Marias, etc.), leading to a reduc-
works, and the sacraments. Thus salvation became for many
tion of the number of days required to be spent in purgatory
a transaction, albeit a mysterious one. The sale of indul-
(by 500, 1,000, etc.), has continued down to the present.
gences in respect of a plenary remission of sins may be re-
Moreover such remissions can, via the communion of saints
garded as an extreme example of this and was understandably
and the work of Christ himself, be applied to the suffering
criticized at the Reformation as an abuse. That the element
of souls already in purgatory, through prayer, fasting, alms,
of weighing, or paying, had become a standard feature of
and the saying of Mass. As one popular nineteenth-century
Western Catholic tradition, was evident also, however, in the
work put it: “She [the church] appears before the tribunal
large numbers of chantries endowed for masses to be said for
of the judge, not only as a suppliant, but also as the steward-
the patron’s benefit, via a transfer of merit, after his death.
ess of the treasure of the merits of Christ and his saints, and
The Reformation saw a massive reassertion of grace and
from it offers to him the ransom for the souls in purgatory,
a straightforward rejection of reliance on works of any kind.
with full confidence that he will accept her offer and release
With Martin Luther the language of justification was central
her children from the tortures of the debtor’s prison” (F. J.
but was used paradoxically, as in Pauline literature, to refer
Shadler, The Beauties of the Catholic Church, New York,
to God’s gracious justification of man through Christ, even
1881, p. 404). One could hardly hope to find a clearer state-
though man himself is not able to stand before God in judg-
ment both of the idea of the transfer of merit and of the
ment. With this fundamental shift of emphasis, which be-
transactional manner in which merit is, or can be, under-
came increasingly critical of current religious practice, the
stood. Other presentations content themselves with a loose
doctrine of merit related to works was swept away. Yet the
statement of the need for both grace and works, thereby al-
vocabulary of merit did not immediately disappear. Indeed
lowing elaboration at the pastoral level. Thus a modern cate-
the traditional terminology of condign and congruent merit
chism declares: “We can do no good work of ourselves to-
occurs in Luther’s Dictata super Psalterium (Lectures on the
ward our salvation; we need the help of God’s grace,” but
Psalms) and serves as the basis for a gradual transposition of
also: “Faith alone will not save us without good works; we
the concept of merited salvation into that of unmerited salva-
must also have hope and charity” (Catholic Truth Society,
tion (cf. Rupp, 1953, esp. pp. 138f.). Thus the idea of the
A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, London, 1971, pp. 22f.).
insufficiency of merit or of works provided Luther at one and
The consciousness of ordinary Catholic believers may be
the same time with a polemical differentiation from the exist-
summed up in the view that while one cannot ensure
ing tradition of Western Christianity and an invitation to
one’s own salvation one is certainly expected to make a con-
faith in the saving and transforming power of grace leading
to good works as the fruit of Christian life. As far as these
In recent years theological controversy about merit in
matters were concerned, the position of other reformers, in-
the context of Christianity has lost much of its sharpness for
cluding John Calvin with his formula sola gratia (by grace
three reasons. First, the theme is subsumed, for Protestants,
alone), was essentially similar. As a result, wholesale changes
into the greater theme of faith and grace over against works.
occurred in the practical forms of religion. At the same time
From this point of view relying on merits or merit is simply
the transactional aspect was concentrated in the doctrine of
atonement through the merits of the death of Christ.
a variant form of relying on works and therefore hardly re-
quires separate consideration. Second, although the concept
MERIT IN CATHOLICISM. The positive significance of merit
of merit is retained by Catholics, it is usually made clear, at
in the context of the religious life was reaffirmed for Western
least in formal accounts, that the prior grace of God is an es-
Catholicism at the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the rele-
sential condition. Although, admittedly, this does not meet
vant definitions and thirty-three anathemas being contained
Protestant objections to all and every form of reliance on
in the sixteenth chapter of the text for the sixth session: “De
works, it does mean that from the Catholic side, too, atten-
fructu justificationis, hoc est, de merito bonorum operum,
tion is directed fundamentally toward man’s position in the
deque ipsius meriti ratione” (Denzinger, 1965). The argu-
overall economy of divine grace. Third, and this applies to
ment is tightly linked to the concept of justification, which
Protestant and Catholic theologians alike, interest is directed
is viewed as a process within the believer that leads to merito-
toward other issues such as the historical and social responsi-
rious good works. Since the merit of good works was consid-
bilities of Christianity, questions arising through the encoun-
ered to bring about specific results contributing to the in-
ter with non-Christian traditions, and philosophical reflec-
crease of grace in the present life, to eternal life itself, and
tions about the very nature of religious language. In such a
to the increase of glory, room was left for the continued pas-
perspective, while theological viewpoints regarding merit re-
toral management of religious life in terms of relative
main distinct, it is not currently considered to be a matter
achievement, within the overall context of divine grace. This
requiring intense or urgent debate.
has essentially been the basis of Catholic religiosity ever
SEE ALSO Atonement, article on Christian Concepts; Free
Thus the marketing of indulgences was abandoned, but
Will and Predestination, article on Christian Concepts;
the attainment of an indulgence through devotional practice
Grace; Justification.
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Myrddin. The majority of these are post hoc vaticinations
Bornkamm, Günther, Erdmann Schott, et al. “Verdienst.” In Die
and contemporary comments on political events attributed
Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3d ed., vol. 6,
to the famed prophet, who had acquired this role by the
pp. 1261–1271. Tübingen, 1962.
tenth century, as the poem Armes Prydein (c. 935) shows, a
Cyprian. Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums und des römischen
role he was to retain throughout the Middle Ages. There may
Katholizismus. Edited by Carl Mirbt. Tübingen, 1911. In-
also be discerned, however, a substratum of story to which
cludes the Latin text of Cyprian’s On Works and Charity.
other pre-twelfth-century poems allude and which can be re-
Denzinger, Heinrich, ed. Enchiridion Symbolorum. Freiburg,
constituted from these and other sources. Myrddin, a mem-
1965. Includes definitions formulated by the Council of
ber of the court of King Gwenddoleu, became insane at the
Trent. See especially pages 376ff.
Battle of Arfderydd (fought in 573 in modern-day Cum-
Forster, Anselm. “Verdienst (Systematisch).” In Lexikon für
bria). He fled in terror from King Rhydderch of Strathclyde
Theologie und Kirche, vol. 10, cols. 677–680. Freiburg, 1965.
to the Caledonian Forest (in the Scottish Lowlands), and
lived there the life of a wild man (his Welsh epithet is Wyllt,
Jedin, Hubert. A History of the Council of Trent, vol. 2. Translated
by Ernest Graf. London, 1960.
“wild”). He was befriended by his sister, or lover, Gwenddy-
dd, to whom he prophesied events at court. These traditions
Raemers, W. Indulgenced Prayers to Help the Holy Souls. London,
were used by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his poem Vita Mer-
lini, which is designed to correct the nontraditional elements
Rupp, E. G. The Righteousness of God: Luther Studies. London,
and to supplement the picture he had earlier given in his Hi-
storia. His two Merlins appeared to contemporaries as dis-
Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. Harmondsworth, 1963.
tinct characters named Merlinus Ambrosius (in the Historia)
New Sources
and Merlinus Silvestris (in the Vita), but it is better to regard
Hallonsten, Gösta. Meritum bei Tertullian: Überprüffung einer
the distinction as being due to Geoffrey’s imprecise knowl-
Forschungstadition II. Malmö, 1985.
edge of the genuine tradition at the time of his writing of
the Historia.
Moule, Charles Francis Digby. Forgiveness and Reconciliation and
Other New Testament Themes. London, 1998.
The northern Myrddin is found under the name
Wawrykow, Joseph P. “God’s Grace and Human Action: ‘Merit.’”
Lailoken in the twelfth-century Vita Kentigerni of Joceline of
In Theology of Thomas Aquinas. Notre Dame, Ind., 1995.
Furness, and he has an analogue in the ninth-century Irish
character Suibhne Geilt. Lailoken’s tale was relocated in
Revised Bibliography
South Wales, and, according to the claims of A. O. H. Jar-
man, the madman was given a new name derived from Caer-
. Rachel Bromwich, stressing Myrddin’s status as a
poet in Welsh bardic tradition, suggests that he was a sixth-
MERLIN. The origins of Merlin, the magician, prophet,
century historical poet, none of whose work is extant but
and guardian of the legendary British king Arthur and a cen-
who developed legendary features, as happened to Taliesin.
tral figure in medieval Arthurian romance in both French
There is little doubt that the sagas of two characters have in-
and English, are to be found in a number of early Welsh
fluenced one another, and they are linked in a pre-twelfth-
poems and related material in Latin. The name Merlin was
century dialogue poem which may have been known to
created by the twelfth-century pseudohistorian Geoffrey of
Geoffrey of Monmouth, who used the device of dialogue in
Monmouth, who described the conception of “a fatherless
the Vita. Although Welsh literature does not show the influ-
boy” by a nun who had been impregnated by an incubus in
ence of later Arthurian romance in the character of Myrddin,
the South Wales town of Caerfyrddin (modern-day Carmar-
late medieval Welsh poetry does contain allusions to his im-
then). The omniscient boy’s advice to King Vortigern sug-
prisonment and death and to erotic elements in the legend.
gests that Geoffrey modeled his Merlin on an earlier Welsh
story of the wonder-child Ambrosius. Although two later ex-
ploits, the removal of Stonehenge from Ireland to England
A good and concise account of the development of the theme of
and the disguising of Uter Pendragon as Gorlois so that he
Myrddin/Merlin is presented in The Legend of Merlin (Car-
might sleep with the latter’s wife (a ruse that results in the
diff, 1960) by A. O. H. Jarman. Consult, also, Jarman’s arti-
conception of Arthur), are not found in the earlier sources,
cle titled “A oedd Myrddin yn fardd hanesyddol,” Studia
Merlin’s major role as a political prophet in Geoffrey’s Hi-
Celtica 10/11 (1975–1976): 182–197. This article is written
storia regum Britanniae is traditional.
in response to Rachel Bromwich’s piece, “Y Cynfeirdd a’r
Traddodiad Cymraeg,” Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies
The prophet’s birth at Caerfyrddin is a sure sign that
22 (1966): 30–37. A thorough review of the important issues
he is in fact the Welsh Myrddin, whose name is variously
is found in Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, 2d ed.
spelled Merddin, Merdin, and Myrtin, which Geoffrey
(Cardiff, 1978), which was edited and translated by Brom-
changed to Merlin to avoid unfortunate associations with the
wich. For views on Merlin’s historical origins see Nikolai
French merde. There are extant a large number of medieval
Tolstoy, The Quest for Merlin (London, 1985).
Welsh poems claimed to have been composed by a fictional
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

MERTON, THOMAS (1915–1968), Roman Catholic
effects of technology. This protest caused him difficulty at
monk, author, and poet. Merton pursued a career that may
times with readers who favored a pietistic style of writing,
be divided into three distinct phases: secular, monastic, and
with church superiors, and with members of his monastic
public. The secular career encompasses the first twenty-six
community. He persevered in putting his views forward,
years of his life and culminates with his entrance into the
however, believing that mystics owed their contemporaries
abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, in 1941. The basic ele-
the value of their own unique witness.
ments that influenced his later life were set in place during
In the final years of his life, Merton was committed to
this period. Merton was born on 31 January 1915 in Prades,
Hindu and Buddhist spiritual wisdom without diminishing
France, the first child of artist Ruth Jenkins Merton of
his attachment to Catholic Christianity. Zen Buddhism,
Zanesville, Ohio, and artist Owen Merton of Christchurch,
most especially, appealed to Merton because of its emphasis
New Zealand. The family moved to New York City the next
on experience rather than doctrine. Merton searched for God
year to escape World War I. The loss of his mother while
through participation in the ancient spiritualities of Asia on
still a child, his father at age sixteen, and a younger brother
a long journey to the East that was his personal pilgrimage
in World War II, contributed to Merton’s sense of the tragic
and a metaphor of his life. He died of accidental electrocu-
contingency of human life and, possibly, to his decision to
tion in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968.
enter monastic life. The influence from two parents who
were artists and instinctive pacifists bore fruit in their son’s
pursuits as writer, poet, and prophet of nonviolence.
The authorized biography of Thomas Merton, Michael Mott’s
Merton attended school in the United States, Bermuda,
The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (Boston, 1984), is
France, and England before commencing higher education.
an exhaustively researched and yet readable study. It may suf-
fer from lack of a central interpretive theme but sets a stan-
He entered Clare College of Cambridge University on schol-
dard for subsequent work on Merton. Merton: A Biography
arship and completed his undergraduate education at Co-
by Monica Furlong (New York, 1980) is a reliable account,
lumbia University in New York. His friendships with Profes-
although little attention is given to Merton’s monastic voca-
sor Mark Van Doren, the Pulitzer Prize poet, and fellow
tion or his involvement with Asian spirituality. Thomas Mer-
student Robert Lax, the future poet, helped to develop his
ton: Monk and Poet, by George Woodcock (New York,
already existing interests in mysticism, poetry, and monasti-
1978), is a perceptive analysis of the creative dynamics in
cism. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1938, com-
Merton’s literary work. The author, himself a poet and nov-
pleted an M.A. in literature from Columbia in 1939, and en-
elist, is sensitive to the religious dimension of Merton’s life.
tered the abbey of Gethsemani in 1941 while working on a
My own book, The Human Journey: Thomas Merton, Symbol
never-completed Ph.D. thesis on Gerard Manley Hopkins
of a Century (New York, 1982), draws out the correlations
and teaching English at Saint Bonaventure University in
between Merton’s personal life and the tensions and aspira-
tions of the twentieth century. It traces the appeal of Merton
New York State.
to his capacity to assimilate the problems and promise of his
The second phase of Merton’s career is his life as a monk
own time.
of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. The rigor
of this life is characterized by perpetual silence, a lifelong veg-
etarian diet, and many hours of daily prayer starting at 2:00
AM. The purpose of this regimen is the development of a con-
templative life. Many of those who knew Merton well believe
he became a mystic during these years. The last three years
This entry consists of the following articles:
of his life were also lived as a hermit, removed from the com-
munal life of the monastery.
The third phase of Merton’s life, the public career, is
somewhat coincident with the second and is marked by an
intense involvement in writing, social protest, and Asian spir-
ituality. The most famous of his sixty books is Seven Storey
Mountain, an autobiography about a personal search that
brings him from unfocused activism to contemplation and
from a life of self-indulgence to self-discipline. The writings
of Merton include eight volumes of poetry and some six hun-
Through several millennia and up to the present, complex
dred articles.
forms of indigenous belief and ritual have developed in Me-
If a career in writing was unconventional, Merton’s in-
soamerica, the area between North America proper and the
volvement in social protest was even less part of the monastic
southern portion of isthmic Central America. The term Me-
model. He objected vehemently to the United States’ in-
soamerica, whose connotation is at once geographical and
volvement in the Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race, viola-
cultural, is used to designate the area where these distinctive
tions of the rights of black Americans, and the dehumanizing
forms of high culture existed. There, through a long process
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 cultural transformation, periods of rise, fall, and recovery
7. Recorded texts show the existence of a similar world-
occurred. On the eve of the Spanish invasion (1519), Me-
view, which included the sequence of several cosmic
soamerica embraced what are now the central and southern
ages and spatial symbols such as cosmic trees, birds, col-
parts of Mexico, as well as the nations of Guatemala, Belize,
ors, and deities.
El Salvador, and some portions of Honduras, Nicaragua, and
Costa Rica.
evidence, scholarship does not extend back to the religious
Distinctive forms of social organization began to devel-
concerns of the earliest inhabitants of Mesoamerica
op in this area from, at the latest, the end of the second mil-
(c. 25,000 BCE). Nevertheless, some archaeological findings
lennium BCE. Parallel to these social and economic struc-
show that the early hunter-gatherers had at least some meta-
tures, various forms of religion also flourished. Most
physical or religious preoccupations. Reference can be made
contemporary researchers agree that Mesoamerican religion,
to their rock art: paintings and petroglyphs, some of which
and the Mesoamerican high cultures in general, developed
date to about 10,000 BCE, several of which suggest religious
without any significant influence from the civilizations of
or magical forms of propitiation through hunting, fishing,
Asia, Europe, and Africa. But whereas it is generally accepted
and gathering.
that the various forms of high culture that appeared in Me-
Objects that are more obviously religious in function
soamerica shared the same indigenous origin, a divergence
date only from 2500 to 1500 BCE, when the earliest village-
of opinions exists regarding the question of how the various
type settlements appeared in Mesoamerica. By that time,
religious manifestations are ultimately interrelated.
after a slow process of plant domestication that probably
According to some scholars (e.g., Bernal, 1969; Caso,
began around 6000 BCE, new forms of society began to devel-
1971; Joralemon, 1971, 1976; Léon-Portilla, 1968; Nichol-
op. It had taken several millennia for the hunter-gatherers
son, 1972, 1976), there was only one religious substratum,
to become settled in the first small Mesoamerican villages.
which came to realize itself in what are the distinct varieties
In the evolution of Mesoamerican culture, what has come to
of beliefs and cults of peoples such as the Maya, the builders
be known as the Early Formative period had commenced.
of Teotihuacan, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, the Toltec, the
Those living during this period employed an ensemble
Aztec, and others. A different opinion (maintained by,
of objects indicative of their beliefs about the afterlife, and
among others, George Kubler [1967, 1970]) postulates the
of their need to make offerings to their deities. At different
existence of various religious traditions in ancient Me-
sites throughout Mesoamerica (especially in the Central
soamerica. Those adhering to this view nonetheless admit to
Highlands, the Oaxaca area, and the Yucatán Peninsula),
reciprocal forms of influence and even to various kinds of in-
many female clay figurines have been found in what were the
digenous religious syncretism.
agricultural fields. Scholars hypothesize that these figurines
This essay on pre-Columbian religions postulates the
were placed in the fields to propitiate the gods and ensure
existence of what is essentially a single religious tradition in
the fertility of crops. Burials in places close to the villages (as
Mesoamerica, without, however, minimizing the regional
in Asia, Africa, and Europe) also appear, with a large propor-
differences or any changes that have altered the continuity
tion of the human remains belonging to children or young
of various elements of what can be labeled “Mesoamerican
people. These burial places are accompanied by offerings
religion” (Carrasco, 1990).
such as vestiges of food and pieces of ceramics.
The assertion about the existence of a single religious
OLMEC HIGH CULTURE. Villages of agriculturists and pot-
tradition rests on various kinds of evidence:
ters, who evidently were already concerned with the afterlife
1. All over Mesoamerica there were identical calendrical
and with “sacred” fertility, became gradually more numerous
systems which guided the functioning of religious rituals
in Mesoamerica, with the villages established in hospitable
in function of which religious rituals were performed.
environments experiencing significant population growth.
2. The Mesoamerican pantheon included a number of dei-
Among these, the communities in the area near the Gulf of
ties that were universally worshiped, including the su-
Mexico in the southern part of the Mexican state of Veracruz
preme Dual God, Our Father our Mother; an Old God
and neighboring Tabasco underwent extraordinary changes
known also as God of Fire; a Rain god; a Young God
around 1200 BCE. Archaeological findings in the centers now
of Maize; Quetzalcoatl, Kukulcan, god and priest; a
called Tres Zapotes, La Venta, and San Lorenzo reveal that
Monster of the Earth; and others. The gods also had ca-
a high culture was already developing and, with it, a strong
lendrical names.
religious tradition.
3. Rituals performed included various kinds of offerings
Olman (land of rubber), the abode of the Olmec, with
such as animals, flowers, food and human sacrifices.
its large buildings mainly serving religious purposes, stands
out as the first high culture in Mesoamerica. The center of
4. Self-sacrifice also played an important role.
La Venta, with its mud-plastered pyramids, its semicylindri-
5. There was a complex priestly hierarchy.
cal and circular mounds, carved stone altars, tombs, stelae,
6. The temples were built in a basically similar architectur-
and many sculptures, anticipates the more complex ensem-
al pattern, truncated pyramids with sanctuaries on top.
bles of religious structures that proliferated centuries later in
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Mesoamerica. The central part of La Venta, built on a small
of the central highlands and those of Oaxaca, can also be
island in a swampy area sixteen kilometers from the point
identified in the Olmec pantheon. Among these are the
where the Tonala River empties into the Gulf of Mexico, was
Maize God, the One Who Rules in the Heavens, the Old
no doubt sacred space to the Olmec. The agriculturist villag-
Lord (protector of the sacred domestic hearth), and the Ser-
ers who had settled in the vicinity of La Venta were already
pent, who has birdlike attributes and is a prototype of the
developing new economic, social, political, and religious in-
Feathered Serpent.
stitutions. Although many villagers continued their subsis-
Other researchers have recognized that, in additon to
tence activities—especially agriculture and fishing—others
emphasizing the appearance of the omnipresent Olmec god
specialized in various crafts and arts, commercial endeavors,
as a kind of a dragon with a jaguar’s face, it must also be iden-
the defense of the group, and—of particular significance—-
tified by its equally visible serpentine traits. Román Piña
the cult of the gods. Government at this point was most like-
Chan summarizes such an interpretation:
ly left to those who knew how to worship the gods.
Olmec religious iconography. Olmec religious repre-
We can say that during the period of maximum Olmec
development they gave birth to new religious concepts:
sentations have been described as “biologically impossible”
[. . .] rattle snake representations, or bird-serpents,
(Joralemon, 1976, p. 33). Human and animal features are
that began to symbolize the god of rain or celestial
combined in these representations in a great variety of forms.
water. (Piña Chan, 1982, p. 194)
Early researchers pointed out the omnipresence of a jaguar-
like god, who seemingly had the highest rank in the Olmec
Chan and others have recognized that the god with serpen-
pantheon. One early hypothesis stated that the main traits
tine traits is the antecedent of Tlaloc, the rain god of the cen-
of what later became the prominent Mesoamerican rain god
tral plateau, known also as Chac among the Maya, and as
derived from these jaguarlike representations.
Cocijo among the Zapotec of Oaxaca. It can be asserted that
iconographic studies support this view.
A more ample and precise approach to Olmec iconogra-
phy has led Peter D. Joralemon (1971, 1976) and Michael
The Olmec thought of their gods as endowed with in-
D. Coe (1972, 1973) to express the opinion that the variety
terchangeable traits and attributes. Thus, a kind of continu-
of presentations of the jaguarlike god portray distinct,
um existed in the sphere of the divine, as if the ensemble of
though closely associated, divine beings. A number of divine
all the godlike forms was essentially a mere manifestation of
identities integrate various animal and human attributes.
the same supreme reality. This distinctive character of the di-
The animal features most frequently used in combination
vine—represented through ensembles of symbols, often
with the basically human-shaped face are a jaguar’s nose,
shifting from one godlike countenance to another—
spots, and mighty forearms, as well as a bird’s wings, a ser-
perdured, as will be seen, in the religious tradition of Me-
pent’s body, and a caiman’s teeth. Thus, one finds beings
soamerica. That continuity, subject to variations of time and
that might be described as a human-jaguar, a jaguar-bird, a
space, did, however, undergo innovations and other kinds of
bird-jaguar-caiman, a bird-jaguar-serpent, a jaguar-caiman-
change. One important change derived from the relationship
fish, a human-bird-serpent, a bird-caiman-serpent, and a
that was to develop between the perception of the universe
bird-mammal-caiman (Joralemon, 1976, pp. 33–37).
of the divine and the art and science of measuring periods
of time (i.e., the development of calendrical computations).
Iconographic comparisons between representations of
these kinds and other religious Mesoamerican effigies from
Origins of the calendar. The earliest evidence of calen-
the Classic (c. 250–900 CE) and the Postclassic periods
drical computations—inscriptions discovered in places influ-
(c. 900–1519 CE) reveal that the nucleus of the Mesoameri-
enced by Olmec culture—also conveys other related infor-
can pantheon was already developing in the Olmec epoch.
mation. Of prime importance is the indication that the
One god is sometimes represented as a kind of dragon, fre-
political and social order was not only closely linked to the
quently featuring a jaguar’s face, a pug nose, a caiman’s teeth,
universe of the divine, but was also conceived in terms of
and a snarling, open, cavernous mouth with fangs projecting
the measurement of time—all of whose moments are bearers
from the upper jaw, a flaming eyebrow, various serpentine
of destiny. In the Stelae of the Dancers (a stele [pl. stelae]
attributes, and at times a hand/paw/wing linked to the occip-
is an engraved upright stone slab), at Monte Albán I (epoch
ital region. Other, more abstract, motifs include crossed-
I) in Oaxaca (c. 600 BCE), where Olmec influence is present,
band designs in the eyes, crossed bands and a dotted bracket,
the human figures, described “as an expression of political
four dots and a bar, and the symbols for raindrops and maize.
and ritual power” (Marcus, 1976, p. 127), are accompanied
by hieroglyphs denoting names of persons (probably both
This god, probably the supreme Olmec deity, was wor-
human and divine), place names, and dates.
shiped in his many guises, as the power related to fertility,
rain, lightning, earth, fire, and water. In him, various forms
The calendar was doubtless the result of assiduous astro-
of duality—an essential feature in the Classic and Postclassic
nomical observation. Its early diffusion throughout various
Mesoamerican universe in both its divine and human as-
parts of Mesoamerica implies an old origin (probably 1000–
pects—can be anticipated. Prototypes of other gods that
900 BCE) for this calendar that later came to determine all
were later worshiped among the Maya, as well as the peoples
divine and human activities. Humans are represented in sev-
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

eral Olmec monuments, such as the Basalt Altar 4 in La
to the year 36 CE. Maya culture—one of the variants of Me-
Venta, as emerging from the mouth or cave of the supreme
soamerican civilization—was about to be born.
“dragon” deity, signifying humankind’s birth into a universe
Stele 5 of Izapa in Chiapas is particularly remarkable;
where time moves in sacred rhythms. The recurring Olmec
in it a vertical image of the world is represented. One sees
symbols—quadruple and quintuple patternings (indicative
in it the cosmic tree of the center, and at its sides, the figures
of the four corners and the center of the earth), stylized maize
of Our Father and Our Mother, as they appear on pages 75
plants, and other motifs—seem to reveal that a prototype of
to 76 of the Maya Codex Tro-Cortesiano. In the stele, two
what became the classic Mesoamerican image of sacred space
feathered serpents surround the scene, which at its bottom
had been developed as far back as Olmec times.
shows the terrestrial waters and at its top the celestial ones.
MAYA RELIGION. Olmec civilization acted as a ferment of
This stele, as well as others from the same center and from
many cultural transformations. Archaeological research has
nearby sites, provides a glimpse at the beginnings of what was
identified the traces of its ample diffusion. In addition to the
to become the vision of the world and of the supreme deity
numerous sites excavated in the Olmec heartland of Vera-
in Maya culture.
cruz-Tabasco, many villages of the Early Formative type in
Chronology and sources. A Classic period (c. 250–
the Central Plateau—in the western region along the Pacific
900 CE) and a Postclassic period (c. 900–1519 CE) have been
coast in Oaxaca—and in the land of the Maya, show evi-
distinguished in the cultural development of the Maya. The
dence of having undergone processes of rapid change. (The
most magnificent of their religious and urban centers flour-
Maya territories include the Yucatán Peninsula and parts of
ished during the Classic period: Tikal, Uaxactún, and Pie-
the present-day Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas, as
dras Negras in Guatemala; Copán and Quiriquá in Hondu-
well as Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Honduras and El Sal-
ras; Nakum in Belize; Yaxchilán, Palenque, and Bonampak’
in what is now the Mexican state of Chiapas; and Dzibilil-
Antecedents of cultural grandeur. Some notable find-
chaltún, Cobá, Kabáh, Labná, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Río
ings have highlighted the processes that culminated in the
Bec, and others in the Yucatán Peninsula. At these sites, so-
grandeur of Maya high culture. These findings reveal that a
phisticated forms of spiritual development emerged. Even
preoccupation with the sacred cycles of time resulted in ex-
Diego de Landa, the Spanish friar who in the sixteenth cen-
traordinary achievements as early as several decades
tury set fire to many of the written records of the Maya,
BCE. One
of the findings is Stele 2 of Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico, where
could not refrain from remarking on “the number, the gran-
a date corresponding to December 9, 36
deur, and the beauty of their buildings” (Landa, trans. Toz-
BCE is expressed in
what modern researchers describe as the calendar’s Long
zer, 1941, p. 170), especially those devoted to the cult of
Count (see below). Two other inscriptions, registered in the
their gods. Besides Maya architecture—which included
same Long Count, have been found in places closer to the
among its techniques the corbel vault—also deserving of spe-
ancient Olmec heartland, one on Stele C at Tres Zapotes,
cial mention is their sculpture, mural painting, and bas-relief
Veracruz (31
carving on stone stelae, stairways, lintels, panels, and plaques
BCE), and the other on the Tuxtla (Veracruz)
Statuette (162
of jade. On them, thousands of hieroglyphic inscriptions
CE). The deeply rooted Mesoamerican tradi-
tion of measuring the flow of time, a tradition whose oldest
have been found, some related to the universe of the gods
vestiges appear in Monte Albán I, Oaxaca (c. 600
and others having more mundane historical content. These
BCE), be-
came more sophisticated around 200 to 100
inscriptions at times accompany carved images of gods as
BCE with the
complexities and extreme precision of the Long Count. To
well as of rulers and other dignitaries.
understand its functioning and multiple religious connota-
To compensate for the obscurities that still surround the
tions, one needs to be familiar with two basic systems—the
spiritual achievements of the Classic period, one has to look
365-day solar calendar and the 260-day count—described
for whatever is indicative of a cultural continuity in the Post-
later in this article.
classic. From the latter period, three pre-Columbian
books—or codices—survive; and, even more significantly, a
Other vestiges that have been unearthed point to cultur-
considerable number of indigenous testimonies, in Yucatec-
al changes that were taking place during this period, called
Maya, Quiché-Maya, and other linguistic variants, have
the Late Formative. In the Pacific plains of the southernmost
come down to us in early transcriptions done by Maya priests
Mexican state of Chiapas and in adjacent parts of Guatemala,
or sages who survived the Spanish conquest and learned to
several centers boasted impressive religious buildings, tem-
use the Roman alphabet. Among these testimonies, the Popol
ples, altars, stelae with bas-reliefs, and a few calendrical in-
Vuh (The Book of counsel) of the Quiché-Maya, the several
scriptions. Archaeologists rightly consider these centers to be
Chilam Balam books of the Yucatec-Maya, and the Book of
the immediate antecedents of Maya culture. The centers of
Songs of Dzitbalche (from the Yucatán) stand out as conveyers
Izapa, Abaj Takalik, and El Baúl contain monuments that
of the religious wisdom of this remarkable people.
are outstanding. Stele 2 at Abaj Takalik contains a carved
image of a celestial god and an inscription of a date, which,
The Maya image of the world. To approach the core
though partly illegible, is expressed in the system of the Long
of the religious worldview of the Classic Maya, one has to
Count. In El Baúl, other calendrical instriptions correspond
analyze an ensemble of elements—some with antecedents 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 Olmec culture, yet enriched and often transformed. The
course, humans. As in the case of the Olmec nuclear deity,
most significant of these elements include the Mayan image
traits of caiman, bird, serpent, and jaguar can be perceived
of the earth and universe, their calendrical concerns and ideas
at times in the god’s iconography.
about time, and the ultimate meaning of the divine and of
The quadruple patterning expressed in certain Olmec
humans within their spatial and temporal universe.
monuments proliferated in Maya religious representations.
In several Classic monuments, as well as in Postclassic
The divine duality, “begetting and conceiving” children, de-
books and other representations, the surface of the earth is
velops a quadruple being—the various ensembles of gods
conceived as being the back of a huge caiman with saurian,
that have to do with the four quadrants of the universe. The
ophidian, and feline attributes that sometimes resemble
Red Itzamná appears in the East, the White in the North,
those of the so-called Olmec Dragon. The monstrous crea-
the Black in the West, and the Yellow in the South. Other
ture is surrounded by vast waters. In Palenque, in the Tablet
quadruple sets are the four Bacabs, supporters of the sky at
of the Cross and the Tablet of the Foliated Cross, cosmic
the four corners of the world; the four Chacs, gods of rain;
trees rise from the earth monster. In some representations,
the four Pahuatuns, deities of wind; the four Chicchans
one sees a double-headed serpent in the sky. The creature
(Owners of Thunder), godlike giant snakes; and the four
also appears with other attributes of the Olmec Dragon, such
Balams (Tigers), protectors of the cultivated fields.
as crossed bands and various celestial symbols. The double-
Divine reality also permeates the upperworld and un-
headed serpent covers and embraces the earth. It was this ce-
derworld levels. Itzamná is at once a celestial, a terrestrial,
lestial serpent that, dividing the terrestrial monster into two
and an underworld god. The Oxlahum-ti-ku (thirteen gods)
parts, activated this universe and introduced life on earth.
rule in the thirteen heavens, and the Bolom-ti-ku (nine gods)
Thus, a primeval duality presides over and gives rise to the
preside over the nine inferior levels.
Prominent in the Maya pantheon is Kin, the sun god,
The surface of the earth, as in the case of the Olmec pro-
who, wandering above, creates the day and the cycles of time.
totype, is distributed into four quadrants that converge at a
When he reaches his home in the West, he enters the fangs
central point: the navel of the world. One finds in Classic
of the earth monster and journeys through the obscure re-
inscriptions and Postclassic codices hieroglyphs for each of
gions of the underworld to reappear in the East, from the
the world quadrants and their associated colors. Cosmic trees
same monster’s fangs. Although the sun god himself cannot
and deities reside in the “red east,” “white north,” “black
be considered the supreme deity of the Maya, his frequent
west,” “yellow south,” and “green central point.” Above and
association with the worlds above and below, with the four
below the surface of the earth are thirteen heavens and nine
quadrants of the world, and with all the calendar’s periods
underworld levels, where thirteen celestial gods and nine
makes him a multifaceted god with innumerable religious
“lords of the night” have their respective abodes.
connotations. He is often related to Itzamná as a celestial
MAYA DEITIES. The comparative study of religious iconogra-
deity, and also to Yum Kimil (Lord of Death) who abides
phy, the contents of the three extant Pre-Columbian Maya
in the netherworld, the region visited at night by the sun god
codices, and the relatively numerous texts of diverse origin
disguised as a jaguar. The abode of Yum Kimil is also the
within this culture allow us to surmise that the idea of a di-
place to which most of the dead go. Only a few dead—
vine duality was deeply rooted in Mesoamerican thought
chosen by the Chacs, the gods of rain—attain a sort of para-
since at least the Classic period, if not since the Olmec. The
dise, a place of pleasure situated in one of the heavens. It is
Dual God resides in the uppermost of the celestial levels. In
not clear whether those who go to the abode of the lord of
the Popol Vuh of the Quiché-Maya, he-she is addressed both
death are to remain there forever, are eventually reduced to
as E Quahalom (Begetter of Children) and as E Alom (Con-
nothing, or if, after a period of purification, they are trans-
ceiver of Children). In the first of the Songs of Dzitbalche ap-
ferred to the celestial paradise.
pears the following reference to the father-mother god:
Other gods worshiped by the Maya include the moon
The little yellowbird, and also the cuckoo, and there is
goddess Ixchel (another title of the mother goddess, often de-
the mockingbird, they all delight the heart, the crea-
scribed as wife of the sun god). The “great star” (Venus),
tures of the Father, god, so likewise the Mother, such
whose heliacal risings and conjunctions were of great interest
as the little turtle dove. . . (Edmonson, 1982, p. 176)
to Maya skywatchers, received at times the calendrical name
Our Father Our Mother has other names as well. There is
1 Ahau (1 Lord), but it was also associated with five other
evidence to identify him-her with the Postclassic Itzamná
celestial gods, whose identification implies the assimilation
(Lizard House), the name probably referring to the primeval
of cultural elements in the Postclassic from the Central Pla-
celestial and terrestrial being of monstrous countenance,
teau of Mexico. There also appear to have been patron gods
whose house is the universe. This supreme creator-god is in-
of specific occupational groups, such as merchants, hunters,
voked at times with the feminine prefix Ix-, as in Ix Hun
fishermen, cacao growers, medicine men, ball players, poets,
Itzam Na. To him-her—that is, to the “begetter-conceiver
and musicians.
of children”—the Maya ultimately attributed the creation of
With regard to the “feathered serpent god,” a distinc-
the earth, heavens, sun, moon, plants, animals, and, of
tion has to be made. On the one hand, serpent representa-
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

tions—in association with bird’s elements such as plumage,
plants or plant and animal products (copal, flowers, cacao,
or with traits belonging to other animals such as the caiman
rubber, honey) were also frequent.
or jaguar—had been extremely frequent since the early Clas-
Human sacrifice was performed following various ritu-
sic period. As previously mentioned, these complex figures—
als. The most frequent form required opening the breast of
sometimes described as celestial dragons, earth monsters,
the victim to offer his or her heart to the god. Other kinds
cosmic lizards, and so forth—are representations of gods like
of human sacrifice included shooting arrows at a victim tied
the Chicchan serpents, deities of rain, or of the multifaceted
to a frame of wood, beheading, and throwing the victim—
Itzamná. On the other hand, the idea of a particular god and
usually a young girl or child—into a cenote (Maya, dz’onot,
culture hero, Kukulcan, corresponding to central Mexico’s
a natural deposit of water in places where the limestone sur-
Quetzalcoatl (Quetzal-Feathered Serpent), was borrowed
face has caved in) or into a lake, as in certain sites in Guate-
from that subarea in the Postclassic.
mala. Human sacrifices—never so numerous among the
Priests and forms of worship. The existence of a priest-
Maya as they became among the Aztec—were performed
hood, and of the many sacred sites and monuments reserved
during the sacred feasts to repay the gods with the most pre-
for the various kinds of cult, imposed a canon to be observed
cious offering: the life-giving blood.
in the communication with the universe of the divine. The
A considerable number of prayers in the Maya languages
chiefs, halach uinicoob (true men), could perform some reli-
have been preserved. Among them one can distinguish sacred
gious ceremonies; but for the most part, the cult of the gods
hymns (hymns of intercession, praise, or thanks) from those
was the duty of the priests. Above them was a class of high
accompanying a sacrifice and from those to be chanted in a
priests, who in Postclassic texts were named “rattlesnake-
domestic ceremony.
tobacco lords” and “rattlesnake-deer lords.” These priests
Religion and the calendar. The calendar provided the
were in custody of the ancient religious wisdom, the books
Maya with a frame of mathematical precision, a basis for un-
and the calendrical computations. They were considered
derstanding and predicting events in the universe. Thus, all
prophets and acted in the most important ceremonies. Of a
the sacred duties of the priests—the ceremonies, sacrifices,
lower rank were the ah kinoob, the priests whose title can be
and invocations—were not performed at random but fol-
translated as “those of the sun.” Their duty was to interpret
lowed established cycles. Observation of the celestial bodies
the calendrical signs, to direct the feast-day celebrations, and
and of whatever is born and grows on the earth demonstrated
to “read” the destinies of humans. To some of the ah kinoob
that beings undergo cyclical changes. The Maya believed that
fell the performance of offerings and sacrifices, including
if humans succeeded in discovering and measuring the cycli-
human sacrifices.
cal rhythms of the universe, they would adapt themselves to
Bearers of the rain god’s name were the chac priests, as-
favorable situations and escape adverse ones. The belief that
sistants in the sacrifices and other ceremonies. The lowest
the gods and their sacred forces are essentially related to the
rank was occupied by the ah men (performers, prayer mak-
cyclical appearances and intervals of the celestial bodies—
ers), who were concerned mostly with the local forms of cult.
which are their manifestations—led the sages to conclude
Women who lived close to the sacred buildings assisted the
that the realm of the divine was ruled by a complex variety
priests in their duties.
of cycles.
The Maya saw the manifestations or arrivals of the gods
Obviously, great differences existed between the cere-
in these cycles; all the deities were thought of as being en-
monies performed in the important religious centers and
dowed with calendrical presences, and so the gods were given
those that took place at a more modest level in a village or
their respective calendrical names. As for humans, the divine
at home. Most ceremonies were preceded by different forms
presences along the counts of time could not be meaningless:
of fasting and continence. Thus, the gods would be appeased
they brought fate, favorable or adverse, and all dates had
by their acceptance of what people were expected to offer as
therefore to be scrutinized to discover the destinies they car-
payment for what they had received from the gods. A recur-
ried. This probably explains why calendrical and religious
rent belief—not only among the Maya but also in other Me-
concerns became so inseparable for the Maya.
soamerican subareas—was that, in a primeval time, “when
there was still night,” the gods entered into an agreement
The calendar systems they employed were not a Maya
with humans: humans could not subsist without the cons-
invention (although they added new forms of precision to
tant support of the gods; but the gods themselves needed to
these systems). Two forms of count were at the base of the
be worshiped and to receive offerings.
complexities of all Mesoamerican calendars. One count is
that of the solar year, computed for practical purposes as hav-
The Maya practiced autosacrifice in various forms, as
ing 365 days and subject to various forms of adjustment or
can be observed in multiple representations of both Classic
correction. The other count, specifically Mesoamerican, is
and Postclassic monuments. Most often, blood was offered
the cycle of 260 days. In it a sequence of numbers from 1
by passing a cord or a blade of grass through the tongue, the
to 13 is employed. A series of 20 day names, each expressed
penis, or some other part of the body. Offerings of animals
by its respective hieroglyph, is the other essential element of
(quail, parrots, iguanas, opossums, turtles) and of all sorts of
the calendar.
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The solar-year count and the 260-day count meshed to
Thus, if the day 13 Ahau (13 Lord) is repeated within
make it possible to give a date not only within a year, but
a 365-day solar count, one can distinguish two different
also within a 52-year cycle, as well as in the so-called Long
dates by noting the day to which it corresponds in the series
Count. To represent the calendar’s internal structures and
of the 18 months. For example, 13 Ahau, 18 Tzec (the day
forms of correlation is to represent the precise mechanism
13 Ahau is related to the 18th day of the month of Tzec) is
that provided the norm for the order of feasts, rites, and sac-
different from 13 Ahau, 18 Cumhu (the day 13 Ahau is relat-
rifices; astrological wisdom; economic, agricultural, and
ed to the 18th day of the month of Cumhu).
commercial enterprises; and social and political obligations.
This mechanism was also the key to understanding a universe
The number of possible different interlockings of the
in which divine forces—the gods themselves and the desti-
two counts comprises 18,980 expressions of the day name,
nies they wrought—became manifest cycle after cycle.
number, and position within the month. Such a number of
differently named days integrates a Calendar Round, a cycle
The 260-day count places the numbers 1 to 13 on a se-
of 52 years. Each of these 18,890 calendric combinations was
ries of 20 day names, whose meanings in the Maya languages
designated as the bearer of a distinct divine presence and des-
are related to various deities and other sacred realities. The
tiny, obviously not of that many different gods, but of a com-
20 days have the following names and associations: Imix (the
plex diversification of their influences—favorable or ad-
earth monster); Ik (“Wind” or “Life,” associated with the
verse—successively oriented towards one of the four
rain god); Akbal (“Darkness,” associated with the jaguar-
quadrants of the world.
faced nocturnal sun god); Kan (“Ripeness,” the sign of the
god of young maize); Chicchan (the celestial serpent); Cimi
The Long Count System. But the Maya, like some of
(“Death,” associated with the god of the underworld); Manik
their predecessors who were exposed to Olmec influence,
(“Hand,” the day name of the god of hunting); Lamat (day
could also compute any date in terms of the Long Count,
name of the lord of the “great star,” Venus); Muluc (symbol-
in which a fixed date, corresponding to a day in the year
ized by jade and water, evokes the Chacs, gods of rain); Oc
3133 BCE (probably representing the beginning of the pres-
(represented by a dog’s head, which guides the sun through
ent cosmic age), was taken as the point of departure. The end
the underworld); Chuen (the monkey god, the patron of
of the Long Count’s cycle will occur on a date equivalent to
knowledge and the arts); Eb (represented by a face with a
December 24, 2011. The Long Count was conceived to ex-
prominent jaw; related to the god who sends drizzles and
press dates in terms of elapsed time, or kin (a word that has
mists); Ben (“Descending,” the day name of the god who fos-
cognates throughout the Maya family of languages and that
ters the growth of the maize stalk); Ix (a variant of the jaguar-
means “sun, sun god, day, time, cosmic age”). Periods within
like sun god); Men (associated with the aged moon goddess);
the Long Count were reckoned in accordance with Me-
Cib (related to the four Bacabs, supporters of the sky); Caban
soamerican counting systems, which employed base 20.
(“Earthquake,” associated with the god/goddess of the earth);
These periods, each of which had its presiding deity, were
Etz’nab (“Obsidian Blade,” linked to human sacrifice);
registered in columns of hieroglyphs, beginning with the
Cauac (day name of the celestial dragon deities); and Ahau
largest cycle, as follows:
(“Lord,” the radiant presence of the sun god).
Baktun (7,200 days x 20 = 144,000 days) Katun (360
During the first 13-day “week” of the 260-day cycle, the
days x 20 = 7,200 days) Tun (20 days x 18 = 360 days)
numbers 1 through 13 are prefixed to the first 13 day names.
Uinal (20 days) Kin (1 day)
At this point, the series of numbers begins again at 1, so that,
for example, Ik, whose number is 2 during the first week, has
By means of their dot, bar, and shell— numerical signs for
the number 9 prefixed to it during the second week, 3 during
1, 5, and 0, respectively—the Maya indicated how many
the third week, and so on. The cycle begins to repeat itself
baktuns, katuns, tuns, uinals, and kins had, at a given mo-
after 260 (20 x 13) days. In this 260-day count, one also dis-
ment, elapsed since the beginning of the present cosmic age.
tinguishes 4 groups of 65 days, each of which is broken into
The date was finally correlated with the meshed system of
5 “weeks” of 13 days (each presided over by a particular god).
the 365-day solar calendar and the 260-day count, which
thus became adjusted to the astronomical year.
The solar count of the haab, or year, is divided into 18
groups—uinals, or “months”—of 20 days each (18 x 20 =
Besides these precise forms of calendar, the Maya devel-
360), to which 5 uayebs (ominous days) are added at the end
oped other systems devised to measure different celestial cy-
of the cycle. These 18 “months” of 20 days and the 5 final
cles, such as those of the “great star” and of the moon. The
days are the span of time along which the 260-day count de-
inscriptions on Maya stelae allow us to understand some of
velops. The intermeshing of the two counts implies that in
the main reasons for their astronomical and calendrical en-
each solar year there will be a repetition in the 260-day com-
deavors. To the Maya, dates conveyed not only the presence
bination of numbers and day names in 105 instances (365
of one god on any given day, but also the sum total of the
- 260 = 105). As the number and the day name together form
divine forces “becoming” and acting in the universe. The dei-
the basic element to express a date, the way to distinguish
ties of the numbers, of the day names, of the periods within
between such repetitions is by specifying the position of the
the 260-day count, of the uinals (or months of the year), and
days in the different 18 months of 20 days of the solar count.
of the divisions within a 52-year cycle—as well as of 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

many other cycles within the Long Count system—
Following Knorosov’s steps, a growing number of May-
converged at any given moment and exerted their influences,
ists, including American, Mexican, and European scholars,
intrinsically coloring and affecting human and earthly
have advanced in deciphering a writing that for centuries re-
mained a mystery. As a result, readings of many inscriptions
have been achieved that provide a better understanding of
Through color symbolism and indications like those of
the religion and history of the Maya. Whereas in the past it
the “directional hieroglyphs of the years,” one can identify
was thought that most of the inscriptions were of calendrical
the cosmic regions (quadrants of horizontal space and also
and astronomical nature, today it is recognized that they pro-
celestial and inferior levels) to which specific cycles and gods
vide first-hand information on the dynasties of the rulers and
address their influence. For the Maya, space separated from
their deeds, and on their relations with the gods and the
the cycles of time would have been meaningless. When the
realm of the beyond.
cycles are finally completed, the consequence will be the end
of life on earth, the death of the sun, the absence of the gods,
Linda Schele, Mary Ellen Miller, and David Freidel
and an ominous return to primeval darkness.
have made substantial contributions in this respect. Their
books, The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art
The priests known as ah kinoob (those of the sun and
(1986), and A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient
of the destinies) whose duty was to recognize and anticipate
Maya (1990), offer readings that have unveiled the dynastic
the divine presences, as well as their beneficial or dangerous
sequences of those who ruled in a good number of Maya cen-
influences, were consulted by rich and poor alike. Thanks to
ters. With respect to the religion, these authors have revealed
special rites and sacrifices, favorable destinies could be dis-
the various ways in which the Maya conceived of the rela-
covered that would neutralize the influence of adverse fates.
tionship of their Ahauob (lords or rulers), and the people in
In this way one escaped fatalism, and a door was opened to
general, with the universe of the gods and ultimate realities.
reflection and righteous behavior. The wisdom of the calen-
dar was indeed the key to penetrating the mysterious
The readings of hundreds of inscriptions and the icono-
rhythms of what exists and becomes. This probably explains
graphic approaches to the inscriptions’ accompanying imag-
why the priests were also interested in the computation of
ery carved into panels, lintels, stelae, and other monuments
dates in the distant past. On Stele F of Quirigua is inscribed
and objects—as well as the unveiling of the architectural
a date, 1 Ahau, 18 Yaxkin, that corresponds to a day
planning of the temples, palaces, and ballcourts situated close
91,683,930 years in the past!
to great plazas—has led to a better understand of how the
Maya maintained the relationship between the rulers and the
In the Postclassic period, the Long Count fell into obliv-
universe of the gods.
ion and the simplified system of the Count of the Katuns (13
Cerros, an important Maya center near the mouth of a
periods of 20 years) was introduced. The destinies of the ka-
river that empties into the Bay of Chetumal in the southern
tuns remained an object of concern and a source of prophetic
part of the Yucatán Peninsula, appears as one of the earlier
announcements. In spite of the Spanish Conquest, the burn-
sites where, kinship having been formally established, new
ing of the ancient books, and the efforts of Christian mis-
religious symbols and rites were introduced. Pyramids were
sionaries, elements of the ancient worldview and religion
erected on broad platforms; a stairway was built to reach the
have survived among the contemporary Maya, as has been
summit of the temple; and below, in the open space of the
documented by the ethnographer Alfonso Villa Rojas (León-
great plaza, the people would attend the rituals performed
Portilla, 1973, pp. 113–159).
on top of the pyramid. There, the ahau, or high ruler, would
Epigraphy and religion. For a long time, the reading
proceed towards the front door of the temple—he was about
of the Maya inscriptions in monuments, codices, and other
to leave earthly space to penetrate the realm of the divine.
objects was limited (for the most part) to the calendar’s regis-
A ritual represented in several monuments, that of self-
trations and the names of some gods and feasts. In the 1950s
bloodletting was practiced by the ahau. The imagery and in-
the Russian Yuri Knorosov made a basic contribution that
scriptions carved in dintel 25 from a temple of Yaxchilan in
opened the entrance into the realm of Maya inscriptions. In
Chiapas illustrate the performance and meaning of such ritu-
opposition to the opinion of well-known scholars such as
al. One sees there a kneeling noblewoman, Lady Xoc. She
Günter Zimermann and J. Eric S. Thompson, who insisted
holds in her hands obsidean lancets, a spine, and bloodied
upon the ideographic nature of Maya writing, Knorosov as-
paper. She is looking upwards, contemplating the vision of
serted its basically phonetic character.
a great serpent; she is having a revelation. Lady Xoc is re-
Knorosov’s Rosetta Stone was found in Friar Diego de
called in the lintel in commemoration of the accession to the
Landa’s Relación de Yucatán, where a supposed Maya alpha-
throne of Yaxchilan of the Lord Shield Jaguar.
bet was included. Knorosov carefully analyzed de Landa’s
Scenes like this one of self-bloodletting are not rare in
work and reached the conclusion that, far from dealing with
several Maya centers. These scenes represent the ritual by
an alphabet, he was confronted with a syllabary. Further re-
which nobles would pay the gods for their creation and acces-
search led him to identify a large number of syllables as well
sion to a throne from which they were destined to rule in
as glyphic markers of morphological relations (Coe, 1992).
permanent communion with the 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

Among other forms of representation of the relation of
Zapotec writing (since its early beginnings in Monte
the ahauob with the gods, there is one in which a perdurable
Albán 1, c. 600 BCE) appears to be the source of the forms
life for the rulers is asserted and parallels are established be-
of script later developed by the Mixtec and transmitted to
tween the rulers and the deities. This is the case with a carved
the groups of central Mexico. The study of Zapotec writing
panel from temple 14 of Palenque. Its imagery includes the
reveals their calendrical concern.
effigy of Chan Bahlum dancing after his victory over the
Zapotec pottery urns, used mostly as containers of
Lords of Xibalbá (the underworld). His mother, Lady Ahpo-
water, were placed near the dead in the tombs. Most of the
Hell, welcomes him, lifting an image of the god Ah Bolon
urns include the molded representation of a god—often the
Tzacab, a primordial deity that has been described as the
rain god Cocijo. The headdress of the god conveys his em-
Maya equivalent to the Nahua god Tezcatlipoca.
blem, in which the combined traits of serpent, jaguar, and
The inscription on the left side of the panel registers the
bird are often visible.
date in which the tablet was erected: a day 9 Ik and the
It is known that the Zapotec of the Classic period be-
month 10 Mol, corresponding to November 6, 705 CE. Lord
lieved in a supreme dual god. They also worshiped several
Chan Bahlum had died three years before. On the right side,
deities revered in other Mesoamerican areas. The Zapotec
the inscription correlates the event represented with happen-
were so much concerned with death that they placed their
ings that took place in a previous cosmic age, more than nine
dignitaries’ remains in sumptuous tombs close to their tem-
hundred thousand years before. The mother of Chan
ples. The Zapotec also knew about time computations.
Bahlum, also represented in the tablet, “is likened to Moon
Mixtec religion. The Mixtec founded new towns, and
Goddess” (Schele and Miller, 1986, p. 272).
they conquered and rebuilt places (c. 1000 CE) in which the
Those who rule—the ahauob—are likened to the gods,
Zapotec had ruled. The Mixtec were great artists, excelling
and it is on them that the people depend. The ahauob are
in the production of metal objects, many of which bear reli-
in communion with the Otherworld, and this is why their
gious connotations. Several Mixtec books of religious and
memory shall be kept. Rulership and royal dynasties were
historical content have survived. These books constitute one
thus forever linked to the ritual and beliefs of the Maya.
of the most precious sources of the cultural history of a Me-
soamerican subarea.
ranges that encompass several valleys, as well as the slopes
In the Mixtec books known as Codex Selden and Codex
that lead to the Pacific plains in the Mexican state of Oaxaca,
Gómez de Orozco, an image of the Mixtec worldview is of-
have been the ancestral abode of the Zapotec, Mixtec, and
fered. It is a worldview that closely corresponds to that of the
other indigenous peoples. The Zapotec reached their cultural
Maya: the earth is represented by the monstrous animal with
zenith in the Classic period, whereas the Mixtec achieved he-
traits of caiman, serpent, and jaguar; below it is the under-
gemony during the Postclassic period. Although linguistical-
world; while above the earth nine levels of the upperworld
ly different, the Zapotec and the Mixtec were culturally akin.
(not thirteen as in the Maya worldview) are represented. The
Olmec culture had influenced the Zapotec since the Middle
sun and the moon and the stars are there. The dual god, with
Formative period.
the symbols of time and of his-her day names, resides on the
Zapotec religion. From 200 to 800 CE, the Zapotec de-
uppermost level.
veloped forms of urban life and built magnificent religious
According to other traditions, this dual god caused the
buildings in their towns (Monte Albán, Yagul, Zaachila).
earth to rise out of the waters. Later he-she built a beautiful
Their sacred spaces included large plazas around which the
place on the top of a large rock. The children he-she engen-
temple-pyramids, altars, ball courts, and other religious
dered and conceived are the gods of the various quadrants
monuments were raised.
of the world—the gods of rain and wind, gods of maize, and
Mainly through what has been discovered in subterra-
so on. According to Mixtec belief, the earth and the sun had
nean tombs near the temples, reliable information can be of-
been destroyed several times; the Mixtec believed the gods
fered about Zapotec gods and other beliefs. In paintings pre-
waged combat in a celestial ball court. (This is represented
served on the walls of the tombs, prominent members of the
in a gold pectoral found with other religious objects in Tomb
Zapotec pantheon appear, accompanied at times by inscrip-
7 within the sacred space of Monte Albán, the site that had
tions. Pottery—urns in particular—also tell about the attri-
been built by the Zapotec but that was later conquered by
butes of the Zapotec gods and their ideas of the afterlife.
the Mixtec).
As in the case of the Maya, a supreme dual god, Pitao
Another extraordinary Mixtec book, known as Codex
Cozaana-Pitao Cochaana, presided over all realities, divine
Vindobonensis, conveys the beliefs of this people about their
and human. Addressed as a single god, he-she was Pije-Tao
origins in the present cosmic age. They had come from a
(Lord of Time), principle of all that exists. Godly beings
place called Yuta Tnoho (River of the Lineages). There they
often appear with the symbolic attributes of the serpent, bird,
were born from a cosmic tree. The Mixtec calendar systems
caiman, and jaguar—motifs also familiar to the Olmec and
corresponded to the 260-day count and the 365-day solar
Maya. Cocijo, the rain god, also had a quadruple form of
year computed by the Zapotec and the Maya. (Caso, 1965,
presence in the world. Pitao Cozobi was the god of maize.
pp. 948–961).
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TEOTIHUACAN. As in the Maya and Oaxaca areas, some
were also aspects of the divine duality; and Yacatecuhtli, the
Early Formative–type villages in the Central Plateau experi-
god of merchants (Caso, 1966; Séjourné, 1966).
enced important changes. Places like El Arbolillo, Zacatenco,
In addition to these gods, a large number of other sym-
Tlatilco, Cuicuilco, and others received the ferment of
bols and a few hieroglyphs identified in the mural paintings,
Olmec influence. Special areas began to be reserved for reli-
sculptures, and ceramics persisted in the corresponding Tol-
gious purposes; temple pyramids and round platforms were
tec and Aztec ensemble of religious expressions.
built. Clay images of the fire god Huehueteotl (Old God),
who much later was also worshiped by the Aztec, have been
Although some researchers have dismissed the validity
dated to the Late Formative period (c. 500 BCE).
of comparing iconographic symbols of one culture with
those of another culture from a subsequent epoch, the evi-
In Tlapacoya, not far from where Teotihuacan was to
dence supporting a common Mesoamerican religious tradi-
be established, another important Late Formative center
tion, and the fact that one is not dealing with isolated cases
flourished (c. 300–100 BCE). Here, temple pyramids, tombs,
of iconographic similarity but rather with ensembles of sym-
and mural paintings anticipate, in many respects, what was
bols, seem valid reasons for rejecting the skepticism of those
to be the grandeur of Teotihuacan.
who deny this cultural interrelation. Archaeological finds
have shown that Teotihuacan actually influenced Toltec and
Teotihuacan (“the place where one becomes deified”)
Aztec cultures, which the religious iconographic similarities
marks the Classic period’s climax in the Central Plateau. Ar-
are obvious.
chaeological research has revealed that it was here that what-
ever is implied by the idea of a city became a reality. It took
It is reasonable to assert that the arrangement of sacred
several centuries (100–500 CE) for generations of priests and
space at Teotihuacan, and the gods worshiped there, was
sages to conceive, realize, modify, enlarge, and enrich the
prototypical for the future religious development of central
city, which probably was planned to last forever. Beside the
Mexico. In part because of the relative abundance of the
two great pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the Temple
Postclassic historical testimonies of Toltec and Aztec cul-
of the Feathered Serpent, and the Palace of the Quetzalpapa-
tures, scholars now have a better understanding of Teotihua-
lotl (quetzal butterflies), many other enclosures, palaces,
can symbols.
schools, markets, and other buildings have been unearthed.
Aztec consciousness of Teotihuacan as the ultimate
Large suburbs, where members of the Teotihuacan commu-
source of their own culture led Aztec to see the sacred space
nity had their homes, surrounded the religious and adminis-
of the Place Where One Becomes Deified as a kind of pri-
trative center. The pyramids and palaces were decorated with
mordial site, where, in illo tempore, the Fifth Sun (the present
murals. Gods in the forms of human beings, fantastic ser-
cosmic age) had its beginning. An Aztec text that describes
pents, birds, caimans, lizards, and jaguars, as well as flowers,
the four previous Suns, or cosmic ages, and their successive
plants, priests, and even complex scenes—such as a depiction
violent destructions says about the fifth and new age, “This
of Tlalocan, the paradise of the rain god—were represented
Sun, its day name is 4-Movement. This is our Sun, the one
in the paintings.
in which we now live. And here is its sign, how the Sun fell
Teotihuacan was the capital of a large state—perhaps an
into the fire, into the divine hearth, there at Teotihuacan”
empire—the vestiges of whose cultural influence have been
(from Annals of Cuauhtitlan, trans. Léon-Portilla, folio 77).
found in Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the Guatemalan highlands.
The Aztec myth about the beginning of the Fifth Sun
According to annals preserved by the Aztec, “In Teotihuacan
at Teotihuacan tells how the gods met there to discuss the
orders were given, and the chiefdom was established. Those
remaking of the sun and moon, and of human beings and
who were the chiefs were the sages, the ones who knew secret
their sustenance. “When there was still night,” the text re-
things, who preserved old traditions” (from Codex Matriten-
lates, the gods gathered for four days around the divine
se, trans. Léon-Portilla, folio 192r).
hearth at Teotihuacan to determine which god would cast
himself into the fire and thus become transformed into the
The inhabitants of Teotihuacan worshiped several dei-
sun. There were two candidates, the arrogant Tecuciztecatl
ties whose iconography is similar to that of gods later revered
(Lord of the Conch Shells) and the modest Nanahuatzin
by other groups in central Mexico: the Toltec (900–1050
(The Pimply One). Tecuciztecatl made four attempts to
CE), the Acolhua, and the Aztec (1200–1519 CE). The Aztec
throw himself into the flames, but each time he backed away
called these gods by the following names: Tlaloc and Chal-
in fear. Then it was Nanahuatzin’s turn to try. Closing his
chiuhtlicue, god and goddess of the waters, who together
eyes, he courageously hurled himself into the fire, was con-
constitute one aspect of divine duality; Quetzalcoatl (Quet-
sumed, and finally appeared transformed as the sun. Tecuciz-
zal-Feathered Serpent); Xiuhtecuhtli, the fire god; Xochipilli
tecatl, fearful and too late, was only able to achieve transfor-
(The One of the Flowery Lineage); Xipe Totec (Our Lord
mation into the lesser celestial body, the moon.
the Flayed One); Itztlacoliuhqui (Stone Knife), whose traits
resemble those of the Toltec and Aztec god Tezcatlipoca
To the surprise of the other gods, the sun and moon did
(Smoking Mirror); Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the god of the
not move. The way to solve this problem was through sacri-
morning star, and Xolotl, the god of the evening star, who
fice. To give the sun energy, the gods sacrificed themselves,
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

offering their blood, a primeval act that had to be reenacted
symbolizing wisdom), and, at the same time, as the one who
by humans—for it is only through the bloody sacrifice that
gives stability to the earth. Thus the priest taught the Toltec
the sun and life exist; only through the sacrifice of human
how to draw near to Ometeotl-Quetzalcoatl, the god who
blood could existence be prolonged. With their own blood,
dwells in the uppermost heaven:
human beings had to repay the divine sacrifice that had pre-
The Toltec were solicitous of the things of God; they
vented the cataclysms that put an end to previous suns. Here
had but one God; they held him to be their only God;
was the seed that later flowered as the Aztec rituals of human
they invoked him; they made supplications to him; his
name was Quetzalcoatl. The guardian of their God,
their priest, his name was also Quetzalcoatl. And they
otihuacan came to a sudden, and still unexplained, end
were so respectful of the things of God that everything
around 650 CE. Its collapse, however, did not mean the death
that the priest Quetzalcoatl told them they did, and
of high culture in Mesoamerica. From among those cultures
they did not depart from it. He persuaded them; he
that inherited numerous cultural elements from the Classic
taught them: This one God, Quetzalcoatl is his name.
He demands nothing except serpents, except butterflies,
glory of Teotihuacan, the city of Tula stands out. Tula is
which you must offer to him, which you must sacrifice
about eighty kilometers north of Mexico City. Its name,
to him. (from Codex Matritense, trans. Léon-Portilla,
Tula, means “large town, metropolis,” which is what the
folio 179r.)
Toltec, following the advice of their high priest Quetzalcoatl,
actually built.
The Toltec understood the doctrine of Quetzalcoatl. Under
his guidance they were able to relate the idea of the dual god
Quetzalcoatl, a legendary figure, was believed to have
with the ancient image of the world and the destiny of man
been a king who derived his name from that of the “feathered
on earth. Codex Matritense is clear on this point:
serpent god,” in whose representations two of the pan-
Mesoamerican iconographic elements—the serpent and the
The Toltec knew that the heavens are many; they said
plumage of the quetzal—became integrated. It is said that
that there are thirteen divisions, one upon the other.
Quetzalcoatl, while still young, retired to Huapalcalco, a vil-
There abides, there lives the True God and his Consort.
lage not far from Teotihuacan, to devote himself to medita-
The Heavenly God is called the Lord of Duality, and
tion. He was taken there by the Toltec to serve as their ruler
his Consort is called Lady of Duality, Heavenly Lady.
Which means: He is king, he is lord over the thirteen
and high priest.
heavens. Thence we receive our life, we men. Thence
Native books attribute to him whatever is good and
falls our destiny when the child is conceived, when he
great. He induced his people to worship benevolent supreme
is placed in the womb. His fate comes to him there. It
dual god, Ometeotl. This same god was also invoked as the
is sent by the God of Duality. (From Codex Matritense,
Precious Feathered Serpent or Precious Feathered Twins.
trans. Léon-Portilla, folio 175v)
Both meanings are actually implied by the term Quetzalcoatl,
The golden age of the Toltec produced all sorts of achieve-
at once the name of the god and that of his priest. The origi-
ments: palaces and temples were built; many towns and peo-
nal Toltec text says,
ples accepted the rule of Quetzalcoatl. Only some enemies—
And it is told, it is said,
most likely religious adversaries—attempted to bring about
That Quetzalcoatl invoked, took as his God,
the downfall of that age. Some texts speak of the appearance
The One in the uppermost heaven:
of one named Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, a god who
She of the starry skirt,
came to Tula to force Quetzalcoatl to abandon his city and
He whose radiance envelops things;
his followers. According to these accounts, the departure of
Lady of Our Flesh,
the wise priest precipitated the ruin of Tula. Other texts
Lord of Our Flesh;
speak of two different critical moments. The first was that
She who is clothed in black,
of the flight of Quetzalcoatl. Although tragic, it did not bring
He who is clothed in red;
about the complete downfall of Tula. The second crisis took
She who endows the earth with solidity,
place several decades later. Huemac was the king ruling at
He who covers it with cotton.
that time. His forced departure and death, around 1150,
And thus it was known
marked the total collapse of Tula. The ruin of the Toltec also
That toward the heavens was his plea directed,
meant a diffusion of their culture and religious ideas among
Toward the place of duality,
various peoples, some distant from Tula. The existence of the
Above the nine levels of Heaven. (from Annals of
Toltec is recorded in annals such as those of the Mixtec of
Cuauhtitlan, trans. Léon-Portilla, folio 4, 1995)
Oaxaca and the Maya of Yucatán and Guatemala.
The dual god Ometeotl—who in the night covers his-her
Henry B. Nicholson has written an excellent volume on
feminine aspect with a skirt of stars, but who during the day
Quetzalcoatl. Originally written as a Ph.D. dissertation and
reveals himself as the sun, the greatest of the light-giving
presented at Harvard University in 1957, this work has re-
stars—-appears also as the Lord and Lady of Our Flesh, as
tained its value as “the most thoroungh and insightful analy-
he-she who vests himself-herself in black and red (colors
sis of a large part of Mesoamerican ensemble of primary
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

sources ever done in a single volume” (Carrasco and Matos
dred years before the beginning of the common era. Other
Moctezuma, 2001, VI). It was revised by Nicholson and
beliefs and practices were probably derived from the cultures
published in 2001 as Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. The Once and
that had flourished along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico,
Future Lord of the Toltecs.
such as the veneration of Xipe Totec (“Our lord the flayed
one”), a god of fertility.
Nicholson analyzes a large number of primary sources
from Central Mexico (Nahuatl and non-Nahuatl); from Oa-
Some deities, such as Tlaloc, Chac, or Cocijo (different
xaca (Mixtec and Zapotec); and from Chiapas and Guatema-
names of the rain god, whose presence in Mesoamerica since
la, Tabasco-Campeche, as well as the Yucatán (Maya); and
the Classic period is amply manifested in the archaeological
he elaborates on interpretations of the data presented. One
evidence), also became members of the Aztec pantheon. So
can assert that his book, although by now several decades old,
did the two Toltec gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. Be-
remains a fresh and relevant approach to the complexities
sides individual gods and ensembles of gods, Aztec culture
surrounding the figure of Quetzalcoatl, a subject that in
incorporated the old Mesoamerican spatial image of the
many forms permeates Mesoamerican religion and ethnohi-
world, with its four quadrants, central point, and upperworld
and underworld levels (as well as the symbolic meanings at-
While Quetzalcoatl is an extremely important figure in
tached to these divisions), and it integrated the solar calen-
the history of Mesoamerica, he has been the subject of several
dar, the 260-day count, and the Mesoamerican system of
divergent interpretations (see Nicholson 2000 and Carrasco
To this heritage, the Aztec’s own beliefs must be added.
On the one hand, attending to the meaning of his name,
Among these are the Aztec patron gods Huitzilopochtli
“Feathered Serpent,” it can be inferred that he was wor-
(Hummingbird of the South, or Hummingbird of the Left)
shipped in Teotihuacan since the Classic period. There, at
and Coatlicue (She of the Skirt of Serpents).
the so-called Temple of Quetzalcoatl, one can see heads of
Consciousness of divine destiny. Aztec accounts speak
serpents with quetzal feathers.
of the place in the north from which they had come, Aztlán
Quetzalcoatl was also the name of a prominent priest
Chicomoztoc (The Place of the Herons, or The Place of the
and sage, portentously conceived by his mother, who lived
Seven Caves). There they had been oppressed by a dominant
in Tula-Xicocotitlan in the ninth century. A legendary fig-
people. One day, the “portentous god,” Tezcatlipoca, spoke
ure, he had taken his name from that of the “feathered-
to the Aztec high priest, Huitzilopochtli. Tezcatlipoca of-
serpent god” and became the ruler and guide of the Toltec.
fered to liberate the Aztec from their rulers. He would lead
THE AZTEC RELIGIOUS VARIANT. By the end of the thir-
them to a place where they could enjoy freedom and from
teenth century CE, new chiefdoms existed in central Mexico.
which they would extend themselves as conquerors into the
Some were the result of a renaissance in towns of Toltec or
four quadrants of the world. This he would do if the Aztec
Teotihuacan origin. Others were new entities made up of the
promised to be his vassals and to have him as their tutelary
cultures of semibarbarian groups from the north (the so-
god. The Aztec then began their march to their promised
called Chichimecs) and the remnants of Toltec civilization.
land. On the way, Huitzilopochtli died, but the spirit and
power of Tezcatlipoca entered into Huitzilopochtli’s bones,
At the same time, other peoples made themselves pres-
and from that moment on the god and the priest were one
ent in the Central Plateau. Their language was Nahuatl, the
person. When the Aztec, in their search for their predestined
same that the Toltec had spoken. The various Nahuatlan
land, arrived at Coatepec (Mountain of the Serpent), they
groups—among them the Aztec, or Mexica—had been living
learned that the mother goddess Coatlicue was present there
in northern outposts, on the frontier of Mesoamerica. In the
and that their own god Huitzilopochtli was to be miracu-
Nahuatlan texts they repeat, “Now we are coming back from
lously reborn as Coatlicue’s son. Huitzilopochtli’s birth oc-
the north. . .” The Aztec return (or, as it is often described,
curred at the precise moment when another goddess,
their “pilgrimage”) was a difficult enterprise. They had to
Coyolxauhqui (She of the Face Painted with Rattles), was
overcome many hardships until finally they were settled
about to kill Coatlicue because of the offense Coatlicue had
(c. 1325 CE) on the island of Tenochtitlan (in the lake that
caused her and her four hundred brothers, the Warriors of
then covered a large part of the Valley of Mexico). It took
the South, when it became known that Coatlicue was inex-
the Aztec a century to initiate the period of their greatness
plicably pregnant. As Coyolxauhqui and her four hundred
in Mesoamerica.
brothers were climbing Coatepec, Huitzilopochtli was born
Cultural and religious heritages. The Aztec’s world-
to Coatlicue, and he immediately used his weapon, the Fire
view, beliefs, and cultural forms, which by the time of Aztec
Snake, to hurt Coyolxauqui and to cut off her head. He then
hegemony were already fully integrated as elements of their
pursued the Warriors of the South, driving them off the top
own culture, had diverse origins. The Aztec preserved an-
of the mountain and destroying them. Huitzilopochtli
cient traditions that were the common inheritance of many
stripped the four hundred brothers of their belongings and
peoples of Mesoamerica, such as the worship of the “Old
made them part of his own destiny. Later, when the Aztec
God,” Huehueteotl, who had been revered since several hun-
had established themselves on the island of México-
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Tenochtitlan, they constructed their main temple (the so-
Divine duality. Paintings and ideograms in some of the
called Templo Mayor) to Huitzilopochtli in the form of the
native books corroborate what is proclaimed in the songs of
mountain Coatepec, and there they ritually reenacted Huitz-
the Aztec warriors. Again, binary forms of expression—
ilopochtli’s portentous birth. A representation of the goddess
captains’ headdresses in the forms of eagles and ocelots, the
Coatlicue stood near Huitzilopochtli’s shrine on top of this
hieroglyphs for fire and water coupled, and so on—appear
“pyramid mountain,” as did representations of the beheaded
consistently related to the universe of the gods, who are es-
goddess Coyolxauhqui, the Fire Snake, and the four hundred
sentially dual entities.
Warriors of the South. The gods’ primeval confrontation was
reenacted on the feast of Panquetzaliztli (When the Flags are
Below, in the abode of the dead, reign Mictlantecuhtli
Raised). Objects found during the excavations of the Templo
and Mictlancihuatl, the god and goddess of that region. On
Mayor (Great Temple), undertaken from 1979 through
the surface of the earth is Our Father-Our Mother, who is
1990, have corroborated the native texts: all of the symbols
at once the Old Lord, He-She of the Yellow Face, and Cre-
of the Mountain of the Serpent and the story of Huitz-
ator of Fire. And above, in the various celestial levels, other
ilopochtli’s birth have been recovered from the temple site.
dual divine manifestations exist: Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue
(god and goddess of rain and of the terrestrial waters); the
Tributary wars and the reenactment of the sacrifice
precious twins Quetzalcoatl and Cihuacoatl (the feathered
at Teotihuacan. The Aztec knew the story of the sacrifice
serpent and the female serpent); Tezcatlipoca and Tezca-
at Teotihuacan, where the gods gave their blood and lives to
tlanextia (the mirror that obscures things and the mirror that
strengthen the “Giver of Life” (the sun) whose movement
makes them brilliant); and, above all other deities, the dual
was enabled by the sacrifice. The Aztec, believing they had
god Ometeotl, a supreme being endowed with both male
to imitate the gods, took on the mission of continuing to
and female countenances.
provide the sun with vital energy. They deemed themselves
called to offer the sun that same precious liquid that the gods
In both Aztec and Maya religion, the Dual God, in an
had shed, and they obtained it from human sacrifice.
unfolding of his-her own being, gave birth to four sons, who
As if hypnotized by the mystery of blood, the Aztec pro-
are primordial divine forces. In Aztec thought these are
claimed themselves the chosen People of the Sun. Ceremoni-
known as the four Tezcatlipocas—White, Black, Red, and
al warfare—the principal manner of obtaining victims for the
Blue—who presided over the successive cosmic ages. Their
sacrifice—became the dominant activity in the Aztec’s social,
actions connoted confrontations between opposing forces as
religious, and national life. Thus, they developed what can
well as diverse kinds of alteration and becoming. Tezcatlipo-
be described as a mystical imperialism: they devoted them-
ca sometimes appears as the adversary of Tlaloc, at other
selves to conquest in their effort to maintain the life of the
times of Quetzalcoatl. Tezcatlipoca also often becomes iden-
sun and to keep the age of 4 Movement alive. The theme
tified with other deities—as in the story related above of
of war in Aztec visual art and in Aztec literature is everywhere
Huitzilopochtli’s transformation.
linked to that of national greatness. In the primeval myth of
An iconographic analysis of the Aztec gods confirms
Teotihuacan, mention is also made of the eagle and the oce-
that they shared the attribute of “divine becoming”—that is,
lot (or jaguar), who were present at the divine hearth into
of procession through a series of transformations. There are
which the gods had hurled themselves. Eagles and ocelots
representations in which this “divine becoming” is evident,
therefore became the symbols of warriors.
where, for example, Tlaloc, the rain god, is portrayed as if
Fire, which had blazed in the hearth at Teotihuacan,
he were Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the god of the morning star;
and water, without which nothing green grows on earth,
Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death; or Xochipilli, the god of
were strangely linked in the minds of the priests. Jointly, fire
dance and song. This “becoming” of the gods was linked to
and water conveyed the idea of the mystical warfare that
the Aztec canon of religious celebrations. Abundant informa-
makes the life of the universe possible. Atl/tlachinolli (water/
tion about the feasts along the 365-day calendar can be
fire), quauhtli/ocelotl (eagle/ocelot), mitl/chimalli (arrow/
found in several of the indigenous texts: the Borbonicus,
shield), yaoxochitl/xochiaoctli (flowery wars/flowery liquor),
Matritense, Florentine, Magliabecchianus, Tudela, Ixtlilx-
quauhtli/nochtli (eagle/prickly pear, or the sun/the red heart):
ochitl, Telleriano-Remensis, and Vaticanus A codices.
these are some of the binary forms of symbolic expression
that recur in Aztec hymns, chants, and discourses and echo
SACRIFICE AND OTHER RITES. Penance, abstinence, and the
the Aztec’s official worldview:
offering of a variety of animals and vegetables were frequent
in Aztec celebrations. Intonation of sacred hymns was ac-
From where the eagles rest, From where the ocelots are
companied by music and dances. More than any other Me-
exalted, The Sun is invoked. Like a shield that descends,
soamerican people, the Aztec practiced human sacrifice dur-
So does the Sun set. In Mexico night is falling, War
rages on all sides. O Giver of Life! War draws near,
ing their celebrations. A sort of perpetual drama developed
Proud of ifself Is the city of México-Tenochtitlan. Here
in which the primeval events were reenacted, with the vic-
no one fears to die in war. This is our glory. This your
tims playing the roles of the gods who in illo tempore offered
command, O Giver of Life! (Cantares Mexicanos, trans.
their blood to make life on earth possible. The forms of
by León-Portilla, fol. 19 v.)
human sacrifice were similar to those that had been practiced
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

by the Maya. The largest number of sacrifices took place at
It can be asserted that the Templo Mayor was conceived
the Templo Mayor at the center of México-Tenochtitlan.
as a plastic representation of the Coatepetl or “Mountain of
Afterlife. Some manners of dying promised glorious
the Serpent,” situated near Tula—the ancient Toltec me-
destinies: death in battle, death while trying to take captives,
tropolis—where the Aztec patron god Huitzilopochtli was
the death of a sacrificial victim, and the death of a woman
born. His shrine was built on top of the pyramid. Close to
in childbirth (while bearing a future warrior). To die in any
it, a sculpture of Huitzilopochtli’s mother, the goddess
of these ways meant that one would travel, after death, to the
Coatlicue, was placed. At the botton of the same pyramid
House of the Sun, to be his-her companion in the heavens.
the Aztec placed the effigy of Coyolxauhqui, the rebel sister
Persons chosen by the rain god for a special kind of death
of Huitzilopochtli. She appeared beheaded and dismem-
(by drowning, being struck by lightning, or through a serious
bered by her brother who, once born, resisted her attack and
disease such as dropsy) were destined to enjoy Tlalocan, the
killed her with his invincible weapon, the Xiuhcoatl (Fire
rain god’s paradise. Others of the dead were said to go to
Serpent). A stone sculpture of the Xiuhcoatl stood near the
Mictlan (the place of the dead), which was also known as Xi-
shrine of Huitzilopochtli. This complex of symbols, repeated
moayan (the place of the fleshless) and Tocempopolihuiyan
in each enlargement of the temple, corresponds to what is
(our common destination, where we lose ourselves).
proclaimed in a Nahuatl hymn that recalls the birth of
Doubt and skepticism. In contrast to the officially ac-
cepted beliefs, there are some indigenous texts from the Aztec
The Aztec reenacted Huitzilopochtli’s portentous birth
epoch in which doubts are expressed. A conviction that the
on the feast of Panquetzaliztli (Raising of Banners). A young
mystery that surrounds human existence will never be com-
warrior representing Huitzilopochtli carried his image, and
pletely unveiled appears again and again in these composi-
he would have to fight in front of the temple against Coyolx-
tions. These beautiful poems, written by the sages (tlama-
auhqui and her allies. The young warrior’s victory symbol-
tinime, “those who know something”), at times convey
ized the triumph of the Sun against the forces of the night.
pessimism and even a sort of natural skepticism. Their core
A shrine dedicated to Tlaloc, the rain god, was placed
question seems to be whether or not it is possible to say true
on top of the twin pyramid close to that of Huitzilopochtli
words about the beyond, the universe of the gods, or one’s
(both pyramids were built on a common platform to symbol-
survival of death. The following example is eloquent:
ize divine dualism). Tlaloc, although called by various
Even if we offer the Giver of Life Jade and precious
names, was a universally worshiped god in Mesoamerica. By
ointments, If with offering of necklaces You are in-
placing his adoratory side by side with that of Huitz-
voked, With the strength of the eagle and the jaguar,
ilopochtli, the Aztec were proclaiming at once their venera-
With the force of the warriors, It may be that on earth
tion to their own tutelary god and also to the one omnipres-
No one speaks of truth. (from Cantares Mexicanos,
ent in Mesoamerica, known as Tlaloc in central Mexico.
trans. by Léon-Portilla, folio 13r)
The sources that describe the rituals performed in the
The contrast between the official religious militarism of the
temple along the eighteen groups, or “months,” of twenty
Aztec and the questionings of these sages seems to reflect the
days demonstrate that Aztec religious beliefs and practices
vitality of the spiritual world of Mesoamerica.
somehow centered upon two temporal axes. One was that
The Templo Mayor. Testimonies that encompass the
of Tonalco, “the time of the heat and the Sun”; the other was
history of a single monument are seldom found in the avail-
Xopan, “the time of verdor,” when water abounds. In both
able Mesoamerican sources. In the case of the Aztec Templo
periods, however, Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc were present,
Mayor, a good number of testimonies permit the interpreta-
intertwined with several gods and goddesses with which they
tion of the many symbols incorporated into it during its suc-
were associated. During Tonalco, the dry and hot season,
cessive enlargements. The testimonies include pictorial
Tlaloc and Chalchuihtlicue (the goddess of the terrestrial wa-
manuscripts of indigenous provenance, some of them pro-
ters), as well as their servants, the Tlaloques, and the gods
duced a few decades after the destruction of the temple as
related to maize, were asked to protect the people against
a consequence of the Spanish Conquest. There are, as well,
eventual famines. Sacrifices, including those of adults and
texts in Nahuatl derived from the native orality and put in
babies, were performed in the main temple.
written form by means of the Latin alphabet by Nahua
When the feast of Tlaxochimaco (“flowers are given”)
scribes. To this, one has to add descriptions in Spanish done
took place in the ninth “month,” people went to the fields
by several friars and others interested in the subject.
looking for flowers to celebrate the god Huitzilopochtli. Ban-
Among the testimonies thus produced are descriptions
quets, music, and dances were held in his honor. Tlaxochi-
of the Templo Mayor; of its various buildings; of the sacri-
maco marked the beginning of the second half the year. In
fices and ceremonies held therein; of the sacred hymns that
the following months—and already in the rainy season—
were entoned and the prayers that were recited; and, in sum,
once again Huitzilopochli, Tlaloc, and the gods of maize,
copious references about what the temple was and how it
salt, and fire, as well as Tonantzin (Our Mother), invoked
functioned as the most important precinct dedicated to the
under various names, entered the temporal and spatial scene
cult of the Aztec gods.
of the Templo Mayor. Then and there the Aztec asked 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

abundant harvests and would practice the sacrifices that
In this corpus of Mesoamerican sacred literature one
could propitiate them.
finds testimonies on the pre-Columbian religious beliefs and
practices (feasts, sacrifices, and offerings); on the relationship
The great temple of Mexico, Tenochtitlan had become
of the gods and rituals with the calendrical computations;
not only an extraordinary architectural monument and pre-
and on prophetic ennunciations, incantations, moral pre-
cinct, as its surviving vestiges indicate; it was also a living
cepts, prayers, hymns, and a variety of songs and poetry.
stage where a sort of perpetual drama was played out by the
Aztec. These were a people who thought of themselves as
AFTER THE CONQUEST. The Spanish Conquest, which, in
“chosen” by the primordial sacrifice of the gods and who,
the case of the Aztec, was completed in 1521, brought with
therefore, had to repay them in a similar form to foster the
it the burning of native libraries, the demolition of temples,
existence of their present cosmic era.
and the annihilation of whatever appeared to the conquista-
dors to be “idolatrous.” Nevertheless, neither the Conquest
InThe Aztec Templo Mayor, a Visualization (2001), An-
nor the zealous activity of some Christian missionaries who
tonio Serrato-Combe presents computer-generated, three-
followed in its wake succeeded in completely erasing all of
dimensional color imagery of Tenochititlan, conceived to ex-
the ancient traditions. It is extraordinary to discover that
plore the architectural configuration of the main temple and
contemporary Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, Nahuatl, and other
its whole precinct. The author describes his method in the
groups keep remembrances of the old mythic traditions as
book as a “digital modeling process,” and the book adds in-
part of their lore.
teresting contributions to what is known about the largest
and most important sacred monument in Aztec Meso-
Studies of contemporary Mesoamericans’ worldviews
and religious attitudes reveals that Christianity and indige-
nous Mesoamerican traditions have combined to form sever-
al kinds of syncretistic systems. Whereas in some cases a
made of the available archaelogical and documentary sources
Christianized paganism has developed, in others one can see
for the study of Mesoamerican religion. One must also take
that new forms of Christianity, embedded in an indigenous
into consideration the material that is properly labeled “Me-
Mesoamerican world of symbols, have been born.
soamerican sacred literature.” Notwithstanding the many de-
structions and consequences of the Conquest, indigenous
Syncretism is present among contemporary Indians and
texts do exist that can be considered part of a corpus of Me-
other peoples in Mexico who reinterpret the Christian
soamerican sacred literature.
dogma of the Holy Trinity partially through indigenous con-
ceptions. For instance, instead of speaking of the Trinity or
A clear distinction can be made pertaining to these texts
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, people refer to Our
that allow the corpus to be divided into two eras: (1) those
Father Jesus and Our Mother, the Virgin of Guadalupe, in
works of a pre-Spanish provenance; and (2) those texts pro-
an implicit reference to the dual supreme god, Our Father,
duced after the Conquest, either as transcriptions of older
Our Mother. Another example of syncretism in religious
testimonies or as surviving documentary manifestations of
practices is provided by contemporary acts of self-sacrifice
native religiosity.
that follow the admonition “to pay” for what the gods have
The works clearly of a pre-Spanish provenance include
done for us in the creation of various forms of life. Today
inscriptions in monuments excavated by archaeologists,
such practices of self-sacrifice or repayment to the gods are
mainly from the Maya area, and some of the fifteen extant
performed in pilgrimages to sanctuaries such as those of
codices or “books” (i.e., those of religious content, such as
Chalma, Talpa, Tepeyac and others, as well as in determined
codices from Central Mexico known as Borgia, Vaticanus B,
Christian feasts.
Cospi, Fejérváry-Máyer, and Laud; those from the Maya
known as Dresden, Tro-Cortesiano, Paris; and those from the
SEE ALSO Aztec Religion; Calendars, article on Mesoameri-
Mixtec of Oaxaca, such asVindobonensis.
can Calendars; Human Sacrifice, article on Aztec Rites;
Maya Religion; Olmec Religion; Quetzalcoatl.
Transcriptions from older documents or from the oral
tradition, produced after the conquest, include the Quiché
Popol Vuh, or Book of Council; the Maya Books of the Chilam
Annals of Cuauhtitlan. In Codice Chimalpopoca, edited by Primo
Balamob; the Nahua Huehuehtlahtolli, or Testimonies of the
Feliciano Velázquez. Mexico City, 1995. Nahuatl text and
Ancient Word (the conveyors of the moral discourses, as well
Spanish translation. A basic source of Mesoamerican indige-
as the expression of the wisdom of the elders); and the collec-
nous tradition; includes important references to religious be-
tions of Mexican Songs, manuscripts preserved at the Nation-
liefs and practices.
al Library of Mexico and the Nettie Lee Benson Latin Ameri-
Bernal, Ignacio. The Olmec World. Berkeley, Calif., 1969. A read-
can Collection of the University of Texas at Austin. The
able account of the archaeological findings in the Olmec
surviving documentary manifestations of native religiosity
encompass texts like those collected in the seventeenth cen-
Broda, Johanna, Davíd Carrasco, and Eduardo Matos Moctezu-
tury by Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón in what is today the State
ma. The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan: Center and Periphery
of Guerrero.
in the Aztec World. Berkeley, Calif., 1987.
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

Cantares Mexicanos (Collection of Mexican Songs). A sixteenth-
Glass, John B. “A Survey of Native American Pictorial Manu-
century manuscript that includes a large number of composi-
scripts.” In Handbook of Middle American Indians, edited by
tions, in Nahuatl, of pre-Columbian origin. It is preserved
Robert Wauchope et al., vol. 14. Austin, Tex., 1975. A com-
at the Biblioteca Nacional de México in Mexico City. Trans-
prehensive guide to these primary sources for the study of
lations of some of these songs appear in Pre-Columbian Liter-
Mesoamerican cultures.
atures of Mexico, edited by Miguel Léon-Portilla. Norman,
Joralemon, Peter D. A Study of Olmec Iconography. Washington,
Okla., 1969.
D.C., 1971. A pioneer interpretation of the religious iconog-
Carrasco Davíd, Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Cere-
raphy of the Olmec.
monial Centers, San Francisco, Calif., 1990. A lucid discus-
Joralemon, Peter D. “The Olmec Dragon: A Study in Pre-
sion of the core aspects of religion in Mesoamerica.
Columbian Iconography.” In Origins of Religious Art and Ico-
Carrasco Davíd. Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire: Myths and
nography in Preclassic Mesoamerica, edited by Henry B. Nich-
Proprecies in the Aztec Tradicion. Rev. ed. Norman, Okla.,
olson. Los Angeles, 1976.
Kubler, George. The Iconography of the Art of Teotihuacan. Wash-
Carrasco, Pedro. “Pagan Rituals and Beliefs among the Chontal
ington, D.C., 1967. Objects to the idea of a single Me-
Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico.” Anthropological Records 20
soamerican “cotradition.”
(1960): 87–117. Discusses Christian and pagan elements in
Kubler, George. “Period, Style, and Meaning in Ancient Ameri-
contemporary religious ceremonies of this indigenous group.
can Art.” New Literary History 1 (1970): 127–144. Adds ar-
Caso, Alfonso. “Zapotec Writing and Calendar.” In Handbook of
guments in support of the point of view expressed in the pre-
Middle American Indians, edited by Robert Wauchope et al.,
viously listed paper.
vol. 3. Austin, Tex., 1965. A concise, well-documented pre-
Landa, Diego de. Landa’s Relación de las Cosas de Yucatan. Trans.
sentation of religious inscriptions of the Zapotec.
and ed., with notes, by A. M. Tozzer. Cambridge, Mass.,
Caso, Alfonso. “Mixtec Writing and Calendar.” In Handbook of
1941. The best critical edition of this sixteenth-century clas-
Middle American Indians, edited by Robert Wauchope et al.,
sic study of Maya culture and religion.
vol. 3. Austin, Tex., 1965. A valuable complement to the
Léon-Portilla, Miguel. Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the
previously listed article.
Ancient Nahuatl Mind. Norman, Okla., 1963. A study of the
Caso, Alfonso. “Dioses y signos Teotihuacanos.” In Teotihuacan
Aztec worldview about ultimate reality; includes numerous
onceava mesa redonda, vol. 1. Mexico City, 1966. Well-
Nahuatl texts from the indigenous pre-Columbian tradition.
researched study on the gods worshiped at Teotihuacan.
Léon-Portilla, Miguel. “The Ethnohistorical Records for the Huey
Caso, Alfonso. “Religión o religiones mesoamericanos?” In Ver-
Teocalli of Tenochtitlan.” In The Aztec Templo Mayor, ed-
handlungen des XXXVIII Amerikanistenkongresses, vol. 3. Ex-
ited by Elizabeth Hill Boone, Washington, D.C., 1983. Reg-
cellent synthesis of the evidence that supports the existence
isters the main sources for the study of the symbolism em-
of one religious tradition common to the various Mesoameri-
bedded in the Templo Mayor.
can groups.
Léon-Portilla, Miguel. Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico. Nor-
Codex Maggliabecchianus, XIII: Manuscrit mexicain post-Colombien
man, Okla., 1969. An introduction to the extant texts of the
de la Bibilothèque Nationale de Florence (1904). Graz, Aus-
Aztec, Maya, Mixtec, Otomí, and other Mesoamerican
tria, 1970. Contains summaries in English and Spanish.
Codex Matritense. 3 vols. Madrid, Spain, 1905–1907. Na-
huatl texts of the Indian informants of Fray Bernardo de
Léon-Portilla, Miguel. Time and Reality in the Thought of the
Sahagún (sixteenth century). A classic collection of texts of
Maya. Boston, 1973. An ethnohistorical approach to Maya
the indigenous tradition, extremely rich in religious materi-
religion and worldview with an emphasis on the Mayan con-
als, including sacred hymns, speeches, and descriptions of
cern for time.
feasts and sacrifices.
Léon-Portilla, Miguel, ed. Native Mesoamerican Spirituality: An-
Coe, Michael D. America’s First Civilization. New York, 1968.
cient Myths, Discourses, Stories, Doctrines, Hymns, Poems from
Excellent introduction to the study of Olmec culture.
the Aztec, Yucatec Quiche-Maya, and Other Sacred Traditions.
Coe, Michael D. “The Iconology of Olmec Art.” In The Iconogra-
New York, 1980. An annotated anthology, with commen-
phy of Middle American Sculpture (an anthology of confer-
tary of texts from the pre-Columbian traditions.
ence papers, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). New
Nicholson, Henry B. “Religion in Pre-Hispanic Central Mexico.”
York, 1973. Summary and lucid discussion of the meaning
In Handbook of Middle American Indians, edited by Robert
of Olmec religious art.
Wauchope et al., vol. 10. Austin, Tex., 1971. A classification
Coe, Michael D. Breaking the Maya Code. New York, 1992. The
of the principal cult themes and deity complexes.
story of the deciphering of Maya writing.
Nicholson, Henry B. Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future
Edmonson, Munro S., ed. and trans. The Book of Counsel: The
Lord of the Toltecs. Boulder, Colo., 2001. Comprehensive de-
Popol Vuh of the Quiché Maya of Guatemala. New Orleans,
scriptions of the sources on Quetzalcoatl and an interpreta-
La., 1971. An excellent introduction and English version of
tion of them.
this classic of sacred Mesoamerican literature.
Norman, V. Garth Izapa Sculpture, part 2. Provo, Utah, 1976. In-
Edmonson, Munro S. “The Songs of Dzitbalché: A Literary Com-
cludes a careful description of Stele 5. Piña Chán, Román.
mentary.” In Tlalocan: A Journal of Source Materials on the
Los Olmecas antiguos. Mexico, 1982. A comprehensive ap-
Native Cultures of Mexico 9 (1982): 173–208. A new transla-
proach to Olmec culture by a distinguished archaeologist.
tion of, and commentary, on these sacred Maya com-
Sahagún, (Fray) Bernardino de. Historia de los cosas de la Nueva
España (compiled 1569–1582; first published 1820). Trans-
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

lated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble as
tural fertility. Other figurines show two heads on one body
Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain,
or heads with three eyes and two noses, believed to perhaps
13 vols. Santa Fe, N. Mex., 1950–1982. Vivid descriptions
represent diviner-healers. In general the Tlatilco figurines,
of temples, rituals, paraphernalia, and mythology can be
which include both Olmec and local styles, are thought to
found in several of this work’s volumes, especially volumes
be merely grave offerings without explicit religious function.
2 and 3.
Olmec influence in the Basin was only marginal; its impact
Schele, Linda, and Mary Ellen Miller. Blood of Kings: Dynasty and
was stronger in the states of Morelos, Puebla, and Guerrero.
Ritual in Maya Art. New York, 1985. This and the following
book offer readings of a large number of inscriptions.
In the Middle Preclassic new hamlets appeared around
Schele, Linda, and Davin Freidel. A Forest of Kings: The Untold
the system of lakes in the Basin of Mexico (which have now
Story of the Ancient Maya. New York, 1990.
virtually disappeared). At Zacatenco and Ticomán, figurines
abound but are cruder. As they were no longer placed in
Serrato-Combe, Antonio, The Aztec Templo Mayor: A Vizualiza-
tion. Salt Lake, Utah, 2001.
graves but appeared in refuse middens, it is assumed that
they served as fetishes in household cults. There are no repre-
Thompson, J. Eric S. Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: An Introduction.
sentations of gods or goddesses that can be recognized as
Norman, Okla., 1960. A basic work for the study of Maya
such with reference to the iconographic system prevalent in
symbols and inscriptions.
the Classic and Postclassic periods (250–1521 CE). Nor is
Thompson, J. Eric S. Maya History and Religion. Norman, Okla.,
there definite evidence of civic-ceremonial architecture. It
1970. An ethnohistorical approach in which a large number
has been argued that a society capable of supporting potters
of sources are analyzed by a great scholar who devoted his life
not engaged in full-time food production should also be able
to research on the Maya.
to maintain religious practitioners, such as shamans. Certain
Valliant, George C., ed. A Sacred Almanac of the Aztecs. New York,
figurines depicting masked dancers in peculiar costumes have
1940. Translation of Codex Borbonicus: Manuscrit mexicaine
been identified as magicians (shamans) and ballplayers but
de la bibilothèque du Palais Bourbon, edited by Jules Theo-
they are part of the Olmec component, as are the pottery
dore Ernest Hamy (Paris, 1899).
masks (Coe, 1965). Concrete evidence of shamanism, amply
demonstrated for North and South America, is lacking for
Preclassic Mesoamerica.
In the Late Preclassic, pyramidal mounds of modest
proportions occur at some sites in the southern part of the
Basin of Mexico and indicate the beginning of ceremonial
Religious practices during Mesoamerica’s Preclassic, or
activities outside the immediate household clusters. This pe-
Formative, period (1500 BCE–250 CE) can only be inferred
riod is notable for a veritable population explosion. Cuicuil-
from the archaeological remains. One of the most thorough-
co became the dominant political center, with five to ten
ly investigated regions is the lacustrine Basin of Mexico in
thousand inhabitants, while Ticomán remained only a minor
the central highlands, where remains of pottery and figurines
village. At Cuicuilco several small pyramids were located in
provide a yardstick for determining the cultural sequence
the residential zone and may have served the local populace.
within the Basin and adjacent regions. Throughout the Pre-
By 400 BCE a large, oval, truncated pyramid of adobe bricks
classic this region witnessed a steady population increase and
with rough stone facing was built in tiers or stages, each of
a locally diverse progression from small farming communi-
which contains an altarlike structure. Access was by a ramp
ties with developing social stratification to large towns with
facing east, toward the sunrise. The town and the lower parts
complex political hierarchies. The period is divided in four
of the pyramid were covered by a lava flow that, according
major phases. Different time spans for the major phases, as
to latest estimates, occurred around 400 CE, when Cuicuilco
well as local subphases, have been proposed by various re-
had long ceased to be a dominant center (Heizer and Benny-
searchers. These are consolidated in the following chronolo-
hoff, 1972). However, earlier eruptions from the nearby
gy: Early Preclassic, 1500–800 BCE; Middle Pre-classic, 800–
Xitle volcano, with spectacular displays of fire, smoke, and
500 BCE; Late Preclassic, 500–150 BCE; Terminal Preclassic,
molten lava, led to the creation of the first deity in Me-
150 BCE–250 CE. (Piña Chan, 1972; Sanders et al., 1979).
soamerica, the “old fire god.” He is portrayed in clay and
BASIN OF MEXICO. During the Early Preclassic, the Ixtapalu-
later exclusively in stone sculpture as an old, toothless male
ca subphase (1400–800 BCE) in the southern part of the
with a wrinkled face who bears on his head a large basin for
Basin of Mexico contains pottery strongly related to the
the burning of incense. Known by his Nahuatl (Aztec) name
Olmec style of San Lorenzo on the Gulf Coast. The Olmec
Huehueteotl (“old god”), he became one of the major deities
tradition is also evident in figurines of great refinement,
of the Teotihuacán pantheon and, after the Toltec interlude,
found in large numbers in the Tlatilco cemeteries, which
reappeared in the Aztec pantheon in different guise as Xiuh-
have since been engulfed by present-day Mexico City. Most
tecuhtli (“turquoise lord” or “lord of the year”). The burning
of these figurines are female. Some indicate advanced preg-
of incense as an offering for petitioning the gods became gen-
nancy, suggestive of a concern with human as well as agricul-
eral practice throughout Mesoamerica, both in household
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 elaborate temple rituals. This is indicated by the great
expressive, approaching portraitlike countenances. They re-
variety and number of ceramic incense burners that have
flect the customs, dress, and ornaments of the ancient inhab-
been excavated.
itants (von Winning, 1974).
Between 150 and 1 BCE, Teotihuacán occupied an area
Funeral processions and mourning scenes modeled in
of about six square kilometers and was a highly stratified
clay depict rites preceding interment. They show the mourn-
agrarian community. It developed into an urban center of
ers in orderly arrangement following a catafalque being car-
twenty-five to thirty thousand people in the Tzacualli phase
ried to a house, or groups of mourners surrounding a corpse.
(1–150 CE), when the grid system of the town was laid out
Other kinds of grave offerings include complex scenes of vil-
with a main north-south axis, known as the Street of the
lagers and their huts, family gatherings, ball-court scenes,
Dead (so named by the Spanish, who thought the place a ne-
bloodletting and cheek-perforation rituals, and dancers with
cropolis). On either side of the axis were erected numerous
musicians, all consisting of small, crudely modeled figurines
complexes, each with three temple-pyramid and a central
attached to clay slabs. The variety of ceramic house models
courtyard. The monumental Pyramid of the Sun (sixty-three
of one or two stories, some of them multichambered, is inter-
meters high) and the substructure of the Pyramid of the
esting inasmuch as no masonry architecture existed in this
Moon were completed in this phase during a single fifty-year
area. They replicate constructions of wattle daubed with