- Occultism, Witchcraft and Cultural Fashions
- Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions
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One of the fascinating aspects of the cultural fashion is that it does not matter whether the facts in question and their interpretation are true or not. No amount of criticism can destroy a vogue. There is something religious about this imperviousness to criticism, even if only in a narrow-minded, sectarian way.
Occultism, Witchcraft and Cultural Fashions
But even beyond this general aspect, some cultural fashions are extremely significant for the historian of religions. To give only one example: Fifty years ago, Freud thought that he had found the origin of social organization, moral restrictions, and religion in a primordial murder, namely, the first patricide.
He told the story in his book Totem and Taboo. In the beginning, the father kept all the women for himself and would drive his sons off as they became old enough to evoke his jealousy. One day, the expelled sons killed their father, ate him, and appropriated his females. The totemic banquet, writes Freud, perhaps the first feast mankind ever celebrated, was the repetition, the festival of remembrance, of this noteworthy criminal deed. This blood-guilt is atoned for by the bloody death of Christ.
In vain the ethnologists of his time, from W. Rivers and F. Boas to A. Kroeber, B. Malinowski, and W. Schmidt, demonstrated the absurdity of such a primordial totemic banquet. In vain did Wilhelm Schmidt point out that the pretotemic peoples knew nothing of cannibalism, that patricide among them would be a. Freud was not in the least troubled by such objections, and this wild gothic novel, Totem and Taboo , has since become one of the minor gospels of three generations of the Western intelligentsia. Of course, the genius of Freud and the merits of psychoanalysis ought not to be judged by the horror stories presented as objective historical fact in Totem and Taboo.
But it is highly significant that such frantic hypotheses could be acclaimed as sound scientific theory in spite of all the criticism marshaled by the major anthropologists of the century. What lay behind this victory was first the victory of psychoanalysis itself over the older psychologies and then its emergence for many other reasons as a cultural fashion.
After , then, the Freudian ideology was taken for granted in its entirety. For this reason I have said that a cultural fashion is immensely significant, no matter what its objective value may be; the success of certain ideas or ideologies reveals to us the spiritual and existential situation of all those for whom these ideas or ideologies constitute a kind of soteriology. Of course, there are fashions in other sciences, even in the discipline of history of religions, though evidently they are less glamorous than the vogue enjoyed by Totem and Taboo.
That our fathers and grandfathers were fascinated by The Golden Bough is a comprehensible, and rather honorable, fact. What is less comprehensible, and can be explained only as a fashion, is the fact that between and almost all the historians of religions were searching for mother-goddesses, corn-mothers, and vegetation demons—and of course they found them everywhere, in all the religions and folklores of the world. This search for the Mother—mother earth, tree-mother, corn-mother, and so on—and also for other demonic beings related to vegetation and agriculture is also significant for our understanding of the unconscious nostalgias of the Western intellectual at the beginning of the century.
But let me remind you of another example of the power and prestige of fashions in history of religions.
Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions
This time there is neither god nor goddess involved, neither corn-mother nor vegetation spirit, but an animal—specifically, a camel. I am referring to the famous sacrifice of a camel described by a certain Nilus who lived in the second part of the fourth century. While he was living as a monk in the monastery of Mount Sinai, the Bedouin Arabs raided the monastery. Nilus was thus able to observe at first hand the life and beliefs of the Bedouins, and he recorded many such observations in his treatise The Slaying of the Monks on Mount Sinai.
Particularly dramatic is his description of the sacrifice of a camel, offered, he says, to the Morning Star. Bound upon a rude altar of piled-up stones, the camel is cut to pieces and devoured raw by the worshipers—devoured with such haste, Nilus adds, that in the short interval between the rise of the Day Star, which marked the hour for the service to begin, and the disappearance of its rays before the rising sun, the entire camel, body and bones, skin, blood and entrails, is wholly devoured.
Wellhausen was the first to relate this sacrifice in his Reste arabischen Heidenthumes In six lucid essays collected for this volume, Eliade reveals the profound religious significance that lies at the heart of many contemporary cultural vogues. Since all of the essays except the last were originally delivered as lectures, their introductory character and lively oral style make them particularly accessible to the intelligent nonspecialist.
Trinity College Library Dublin: Stella Search -- Occultism.
Rather than a popularization, Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions is the fulfillment of Eliade's conviction that the history of religions should be read by the widest possible audience. Mircea Eliade was the Sewell L.
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