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Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft

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Neil Jamieson-Williams

on 24 January 2018

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Transcript of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft

Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft
All cultures have a worldview -- is a set of integrated concepts about what the purpose and meaning of life is, what the individual's role is, and how the world came into being. A worldview can be philosophical, it can be scientific, it can be religious. A worldview can also be a mix of all three; many people in Canadian culture have a worldview that is mostly scientific and partially philosophical and religious. In other cultures, the worldview is mostly religious, with some parts that are scientific and philosophical.
A religion is a worldview that places emphasis on supernatural agencies -- divinities, demi-gods, spirits -- and metaphysical forces and entities (mana, collective forest spirits). Most religions have religious specialists (shamans, diviners, mediums, priest/esses), though a few do not. Most religions contain an attached system of magic, but some do not.

Religion is an organised system of myths, beliefs, and practices that usually perform an integrative function within a culture. Religion is a collective practice, that can be practiced alone. Strict adherance to standardised beliefs and practices is called dogma -- people who score high in religiosity, tend to follow religious dogma without question. The religiosity level of the majority of Canadians has declined strongly over the past fifty years. This doesn't mean that Canadians as a whole culture are not religious, just that they tend to score low on adhering to religious dogma.

Spirituality is a personal system of myths, beliefs, and practices that form an individual integrated religious worldview. Spirituality is an individual practice, that may also be practiced within a group. Some cultures place a greater focus on spirituality than they do on religiosity -- this is most common in hunter-gatherer cultures and in industrialised cultures, like our own. Canadians score high in spirituality and tend to have a "buffet-style" approach to religion -- they pick and choose which parts of religious dogma they will accept.
Myths are narratives, stories about how the universe came to be, why things are the way they are, what is our purpose in life, and what happens to us after we die. Myths also provide moral and ethical lessons, codes of conduct, and emphasise the norms and values of the religion and/or the culture that they are embedded in.

Anthropology treats all myths equally -- all of the sacred narratives of every religion are considered to be myths -- and no religion's mythic system is singled out as being "the Truth".

Anthropology deconstructs the myths of each and every religion; identifies their source materials, adaptive purposes, how this intersects with the social and political order of a culture, and how the myth(s) reinforce the worldview of a particular culture.
Sacred Space/Places
Many religions have sacred places, physical locations that have been deemed as holy, (e.g. Uluru, Mecca, Bodh Gaya). But all religions have sacred spaces.

Sacred space is where a building, or a hall, or even a living room are made holy by a ritual specialist (shaman, priest/ess, etc.). This also known as consecration, the act of making sacred. This can be permanent or temporary. If the building has been constructed intentionally as a religious building (church, temple, synagogue, meeting house, mosque, etc,), there may be many consecration rituals done during the various stages of construction before the final ritual that opens the building for religious services. For religious groups that don't own or use permanent religious buildings, the ritual specialist will arrive before the congregation to consecrate the hall, to sanctify it before the religious ritual.

Deconsecration has to be done, once the religious ritual is completed in the temporary space; this act restores the hall back to being ordinary and mundane. When a religious building is sold, the ritual specialists will deconsecrate the building prior to the actual property transfer.
Rituals are a major part of religious practice. From the prospective of anthropology, whether it is called a mass, or a service, or a meeting -- it is a ritual. Rituals are communal and serve to instruct and to bring together the religious community of a particular religion.

They have a general structure:

Pre-Ritual (may involve singing, a blessing, a procession, etc.)
Call to Worship
Reading of Sacred Texts/Words from Ritual Specialist
Intensification Ceremony -- optional (e.g. Communion)
End of Worship Ritual

Types of Religion
There are several types of religion identified in the field of anthropology. While these types are often presented as being mutually exclusive, usually they are not -- i.e. you can have a religion that incorporates more than one of these types.

Spiritual Monism
The central concept of Animism is that the entire universe is animated, by spirits. There is a spirit in a rock, in a tree, in a lake, in you. For some religions that practice animism, even human-made objects can have a spirit. These spirits have a specific identity, such as this dryad (tree spirit) is the spirit of just this particular tree, no others. Animist beliefs come in a variety of forms, and not every religion that includes animism will have all of these forms:

nature spirits (linked to a tree, a lake, a river)
inhabited spirits (linked to specific place -- natural or constructed)
activity spirits (linked to an action or activity -- e.g. good luck, war)
ancestral spirits (your deceased relatives)

Animatism is similar to animism but also different. Animatism does not have the concept of individual specific spiritual entities, as in animism, but that of a collective spiritual entity or that of a kind of spiritual energy. Some forms of animatism come close to that of animism, for example, if a religion believes that a specific forest has a single spirit (rather than each tree having its own unique spirit) then this is more of an animatism belief than it is animism.

Definitely when the religion identifies this spiritual essence as pervading all things and being something that individuals can manipulate, but which doesn't really have its own identity and personality, you have an animatism belief. For example: mana, manitou, the Force.

This word literally means "many deities". Polytheistic religions have at least two deities and may have hundreds of deities. Very often there were major and minor deities. Major deities have a range of roles, while minor deities have a specific role.

For example, the Roman god Mercury is major deity responsible for commerce, messages/communication (including divination), and travelers (including the guide of souls to the underworld) -- he is also the god of luck, public speaking, trickery, and thieves. But, the minor deity Felicitas, was responsible for bringing good fortune or good luck.

There can also be regional variations of a deity: Lugus-Mercury was the the deity in Roam Britain.
This term refers to a set of or sometimes a family of deities. Most polytheistic religions include a pantheon. Some have a major and minor pantheon -- this is the result of once earlier pantheon being replaced in status by a newer pantheon, that has become the major pantheon (this is usually the religious reflection of "People A" being conquered by "People B"
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