People’s beliefs affect everything from political opinions and art to their clothes and the food they eat. Religious beliefs have quarreled peoples more than once and inspired people to violence; they also played an essential role in scientific discoveries.
It is not news to anyone that religion has a profound effect on society. Every civilization, from the ancient Maya to the Celts, had a kind of religious practice. In its earliest forms, religion provided humanity with a system of beliefs and values according to which it could reproduce and educate young people. It also helped explain the processes and phenomena of a beautiful and complex and sometimes frightening world.
Evidence of some rudiments of religion has been found in artifacts from the Neolithic era. Although religion has evolved dramatically compared to the primitive rites of that time, no faith dies. Some, such as the Druidic worldview, continue to live up to the present time. Others, such as the old Greek and Roman religions, live as components and some different aspects of later Christianity and Islam.
Below we have made a short overview of 10 religions. Despite their ancient origins, many of them have well-traced parallels with the main modern religions.
Zoroastrianism bases on the Persian prophet Zarathustra’s teachings, or Zoroaster, who lived between 1700 and 1500 BC. His teachings reveal to the world in the form of 17 psalms called the Gathas, which constitute the Zoroastrian scriptures known as the Zend Avesta.
A vital aspect of the Zoroastrian faith is ethical dualism, the constant struggle between good (Ahura Mazda) and evil (Angra Mainyu). Personal responsibility is of great importance to Zoroastrians, as their fate depends on their choice between these two forces. Followers believe that after death, the soul comes to the Bridge of Judgment, from where it goes either to paradise or to a place of torment, depending on which deeds prevailed during life: good or bad.
Since positive choices are not so difficult to make, Zoroastrianism generally views as an optimistic belief: Zarathustra is supposedly the only child who laughed at birth instead of crying. Currently, Zoroastrianism is one of the smallest among the major world religions, but its influence fell widely. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have all shape by his tenets.
Although other religions have had short periods of monotheism, Judaism is considered the oldest monotheistic faith in the world. Religion base on what the Bible describes as agreements between God and some of the Founding Fathers. Judaism is one of three religions, which originate from the patriarch Abraham, who lived in the 21st century BC. (The other two are Islam and Christianity.)
Five Books of Moses enter the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, forming the Torah (Pentateuch); the Jewish people are Abraham’s descendants and will one day return to their country of Israel. Therefore, the Jews are sometimes called “the chosen people.”
The religion base on the Ten Commandments, which is a sacred agreement between god and people. Along with the 613 other guidelines found in the Torah, these ten commandments define the believer’s way of life and thoughts. By following the laws, Jews show their commitment to God’s will and strengthen their religious community position.
In a rare consensus, all three major world religions recognize the ten commandments as fundamental.
Another religion was originating from India. Jainism proclaims the achievement of spiritual freedom as the primary goal. It derives from Jains’ lives and teachings, spiritual teachers who have reached the highest level of knowledge and understanding. According to the Jain instructions, the followers of a religion can achieve freedom from material existence or karma. As in Hinduism, this release from reincarnation is called Moksha.
The Jains also teach that time is eternal and consists of a series of upward or downward movements lasting for millions of years. During each of these periods, there are 24 Jainas. Only two of these teachers know in the current activity: Parsva and Mahavira, who lived in the 9th and 6th centuries BC, respectively. In the absence of any supreme gods or a creator god, the followers of Jainism worship Jain.
Unlike Buddhism, which condemns suffering, the idea of Jainism is asceticism, self-denial. The Jaina lifestyle governs by the Great Vows, which proclaims non-violence, honesty, sexual abstinence, renunciation. Although hermits strictly observe these oaths, Jains also follow them in proportion to their abilities and circumstances, aiming for self-development along the 14-stage spiritual growth path.
Ancient Egyptian Religion
To be convinced of religion’s influence on Ancient Egypt’s life, look at the thousands of pyramids located in the region. Each building symbolizes the belief of the Egyptians that a person’s life continues even after death.
The reign of the Egyptian pharaohs lasted from approximately 3100 to 323 BC. and numbered 31 separate dynasties. Pharaohs, who had divine status, used religion to maintain their power and subjugate absolutely all citizens. For example, if a pharaoh wanted to gain the favor of more tribes, all he had to do was accept their local god as his own.
While the sun god Ra was the main god and creator, the Egyptians recognized hundreds of other gods, about 450. And at least 30 of them received the status of the principal deities of the pantheon. With so many gods, the Egyptians were uncomfortable with true, consistent theology; however, they were bound by a shared belief in an afterlife, especially after the invention of mummification.
It should clarify that, technically, Hinduism is not one religion. Under this concept, many beliefs and practices from India combine.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in existence, with its roots traced back to about 3000 BC. However, some of its supporters argue that the doctrine has always existed. The scriptures of the religion collect in the Vedas, the oldest known religious writings in Indo-European languages. They were collected approximately between 1000 and 500 BC. and revered by the Hindus as eternal truth.
The overarching idea of Hinduism is the search for Moksha, belief in destiny, and reincarnation. According to the Hindu’s sentiments, people have an eternal soul, continuously reborn in different incarnations, according to their lifestyle and actions in previous lives. Karma describes the consequences of these actions, and Hinduism teaches that people can improve their destiny (karma) through prayer, sacrifice, and various other forms of spiritual, psychological, and physical discipline. Ultimately, by following the righteous paths, the Hindu can be freed from rebirth and attain Moksha.
Unlike other major religions, Hinduism does not claim any founder. There is no trace of its connection with any specific historical event. Today, nearly 900 million people worldwide identify themselves as Hindus, most of them living in India.
Something similar to the pagan belief of Wicca, Asatru is a belief in the pre-Christian gods of Northern Europe. Dates back to the beginning of the Scandinavian Bronze Age around 1000 BC, Asatru draws on much of the ancient Norse Viking beliefs. Many of Asatru’s followers continue to reproduce Viking customs and traditions, such as sword fighting.
The central values of religion are wisdom, strength, courage, joy, honor, freedom, energy, and the importance of ancestral ties with ancestors. Like Druidism, Asatru base on nature, and the whole religion tie to the changing seasons.
Asatru claims that the universe divides into nine worlds. Among them, Asgard – the kingdom of the gods and Midgard (Earth) – the home of all humankind. The union of these nine worlds is the World Tree, Yggdrasil. The main god and creator of the universe are Odin, but Thor, the god of war, the defender of Midgard, was also highly respected: it was his hammer that the Vikings depicted on their doors to drive away evil. The hammer, or Mjollnir, is worn by many Asatru supporters in the same way Christians wear the cross.
Although some aspects of Asatru may seem implausible to the uninitiated, it is becoming more widespread throughout the world. In addition to being a registered religion in Iceland and Norway, it is tax-exempt in the United States.
A purely nature-based religion, Druidry emerged from shamanic practices and witchcraft in prehistoric times. Initially, it distributes throughout Europe but then concentrated in the Celtic tribes as they moved towards the British coast. He continues to practice in small groups today.
The main idea of Druidry is that a person should perform all actions without harming anyone, even himself. There is no other sin other than breaking the Earth or others, the Druids believe. Likewise, there is no blasphemy or heresy since man is incapable of harming the gods and can defend themselves. According to the Druids’ beliefs, people are only a tiny part of the Earth, a monolithic creature populated by various gods and spirits.
Although Christians tried to suppress Druidism for its polytheistic pagan beliefs and accused its followers of performing cruel sacrifices, the Druids were peaceful people who practiced meditation, reflection, and awareness rather than sacrificial actions—only animals gift, which then eats.
Since Druidism’s entire religion build around nature, its ceremonies were associated with the solstices, equinoxes, and 13 lunar cycles.
Greek and Roman Religion
Like the Egyptians, the Greek religion was polytheism. Although the 12 Olympian deities are most widely recognized, the Greeks also had several thousand other local gods. During the Roman period of Greece, these gods adapt to Roman needs: Zeus became Jupiter, Venus became Aphrodite, and so on. Most of the Roman religion borrows from the Greeks. So much so that the two religions often refer to under the Greco-Roman religion’s general name.
The Greek and Roman gods were somewhat flawed characters. They were not alien to jealousy, anger. It explains why people had to make so many sacrifices in the hope of appeasing the gods, forcing them to refrain from causing harm instead of helping people to do good deeds.
Along with sacrificial rites, which were the primary form of Greek and Roman worship, festivities and rituals occupied a valuable place in both religions. At least 120 days a year were festive in Athens, and in Rome, not many things start without first performing religious rituals that guaranteed the gods’ approval. Special people followed the gods’ signs, observing bird chirps, weather events, or animal entrails. Ordinary citizens could also question the gods in sacred places called oracles.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Roman religion was the critical role of ritual in virtually every aspect of daily life. Not only were the practices performed before every senate meeting, festival, or other public events, but they also had to be performed flawlessly. For example, a prayer found to have been misread before a government meeting, then any decision made during that meeting could invalidate.
Buddhism had its roots in India around the 6th century BC, which is similar to Hinduism. It base on the teachings of a man known as Buddha, born as Siddhartha Gautama and raised as a Hindu. Like Hindus, Buddhists believe in reincarnation, karma, and the idea of achieving complete liberation – Nirvana.
According to Buddhist legend, Siddhartha had a somewhat closed youth and was amazed when discovering that people worldwide were experiencing grief, poverty, and disease. After meeting a group of people seeking enlightenment, Siddhartha began looking to end human suffering. He fasted and meditated for a long time and finally achieved the ability to break out of reincarnation’s eternal cycle. It was this achievement of “bodhi” or “enlightenment” that led him to become known as Buddha, or “the Enlightened One.”
Four Noble Truths: (Chatvari arya satyani), the four truths of a noble, is one of Buddhism’s basic teachings, to which all its schools adhered.
- All existence is suffering.
- Human desires cause all suffering.
- Renunciation of desires will end suffering.
- There is a way to end suffering – the Eightfold Path.
Buddhism does not pay too much attention to the deity; self-discipline, meditation, and compassion are much more critical. As a result, Buddhism is sometimes regarded more as a philosophy than a religion.
Like Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are more philosophies than religions. Both originated in China in the 5th – 6th centuries BC. both are actively practiced in China today. Taoism, based on the concept of “Tao” or “The Way,” values life very much and preaches simplicity and a relaxed approach to life. Confucianism base on love, kindness, and humanity.
The guides, called “coffin texts,” gave those who could afford the principles in funeral events a guarantee of immortality. The tombs of wealthy people often contained jewelry, furniture, weapons, and even servants to fulfill life after death.
Flirting with Monotheism
One of the first attempts to establish monotheism occurred in Ancient Egypt when Pharaoh Akhenaten came to power in 1379 BC. and declared the sun god Aten the only god. Pharaoh tried to erase all references to other gods and destroy their images. During the reign of Akhenaten, the people put up with this so-called “Atenism”; however, after his death, he was declared a criminal. His temples destroy, and his very existence deletes from the records.
While there is anecdotal evidence that humans may have practiced religion as early as 70,000 years ago, the earliest reliable evidence of an established religion dates back to around 3500 BC. By the time the Sumerians built the world’s first cities, states, and empires in Mesopotamia.
Of the thousands of clay tablets found in areas where the Sumerian civilization locate, we know that they had a whole pantheon of gods, each of which “was in charge” of his sector of phenomena and processes, that is, by the grace or anger of a particular god, people explained for themselves what they could not explain otherwise.
All the Sumerian gods had a “binding” to specific astronomical bodies; they also controlled natural forces: the sunrise and sunset were attributed to the sun god Utu’s sparkling chariot. The stars think to be the cows of Nanna, the moon deity who traveled across the sky, and the crescent moon was his boat. Other gods represented such things and concepts as the ocean, war, fertility.
Religion was a central part of Sumerian society’s life: the kings claimed to have acted at the gods’ will and thus performed both religious and political duties. Simultaneously, sacred temples and giant terraced platforms know as ziggurats were considered the gods’ dwellings.
The influence of the Sumerian religion can trace in most of the existing beliefs. The history of Gilgamesh, the earliest surviving work of ancient Sumerian literature, contains the first mention of the great flood, which also find in the Bible. And the seven-tiered Babylonian ziggurat is probably the very Tower of Babel that quarreled the descendants of Noah.