Primal Folk Religions

Folk Religions
Formal, High, Universal Religion:
1. Universal cosmic truth
2. Describe the nature of reality
3. Concern for the purpose and destiny of the
universe, society and the self
4. Institutionalized
5. Authoritative written texts
Formal, High, Universal Religion (cont):
6. Defined theologies, and philosophies
7. Prescribed rites, rules and regulations
8. Trained, often professional, specialists
9. A celebrated great tradition
10. May take folk expression
Folk Religion:
Religion of common people
Closed systems versus universal
Very diverse
Particularistic – each clan or tribe has its
own gods, spirits, ancestors, practices,
5. An animated world of spirits
Folk Religion:
1. Concern for the meaning of this life and the
problem of death
2. The pursuit of well-being and success, and
the avoidance of misfortunes
3. The pursuit of a knowledge of the unknown
to aid one’s life in the present
4. Employ a wide variety of manipulative
strategies: shamans, rituals, amulets,
charms, offerings, medicines, magic, etc.
Other terms:
– Prior to the “universal” or formal religions
– Contains the basic features found in all religions
– Assumes an evolutionary account of the origin of
– No literary tradition
– No suggestion of evolutionary development from
a previous or earlier religion
A Perspective…
Oglala Sioux Indian, John Lame Deer through biographer Richard
What do you see here, my friend? Just an ordinary old cooking pot, black
with soot and full of dents. It is standing on the fire on top of that old word stove,
and the water bubbles and moves the lid as the white steam rises to the
ceiling. inside the pot is boiling water, chunks of meat with bone and fat, plenty of
It doesn't seem to have a message, that old pot, and I guess you don't give it
a thought... But I'm an Indian. I think about ordinary, common things like this
pot. The bubbling water comes from the rain cloud. It represents the sky. The fire
comes from the sun which warms us all - men, animals,
trees. The meat stands for the four-legged creatures, our animal brothers, who
gave of themselves so that we should live. The steam is living breath. It was
water; now it goes up to the sky, becomes a cloud again.
These things are sacred. Looking at that pot full of good soup, I am thinking
how, in this simple manner, Wakan Tanka takes care of me. We Sioux spend a lot
of time thinking about everyday things, which in our mind are mixed up with the
spiritual... We Indians live in a world of symbols and images where the spiritual
and the commonplace are one... We try to understand them not with the head but
with the heart, and we need no more than a hint to give us the meaning.
Folk Religions
What characterizes the religion and
worldview of John Lame Deer?
Folk religions are localized spiritual
expressions of a pre-scientific and pretechnological milieu with a deep link with
nature and oral tradition.
The religion of the common people.
The Formal and the Folk
Folk Islam
Chinese folk religions
Japanese folk religions
Christian folk religions
• Are smaller in scale and self-contained
• Tied to a particular geography
• Develop in close connection and
dependence with particular land and/or
• “The land shapes the people.”
• Unity of experience lacking the
fragmentation of modern cultures into
secular and sacred. The sacred or
spiritual is pervasive.
• The whole of existence is sacred.
• Interrelationships, cause/effect
between gods/spirits humans and
• No literary tradition, yet may have well
developed narrative tradition.
• Common in pre-scientific and pretechnological cultures.
• Mythological
– Stories which attempt to express ultimate divine
reality, basic truths, or inner meaning of life for
• The power of words and sounds
– Rehearsals or performances of myths
such as the original creative act.
– Prescribed celebrations for great
moments of life, such as birth, puberty,
marriage, sickness, planting, war, and
death – rites of passage
– Fertility rites
• The key spiritual figure is usually the
shaman who is the tribal healer and who
has traveled the "geography" of the
spiritual realm and of death and has
returned to guide the people.
Time not thought of in terms of linear
“distance” and inaccessibility.
A present backdrop in which the gods and
ancestors simply are and are
accessible by people and people
accessible to them.
• Animism – the natural world is alive with
• Fetishism – protection is sought by the
power of special objects,
• Taboos – prohibitions of certain behaviors
for fear of dangerous contact with spiritual
• Totemism - a tribal or personal association
with an animal or plant as a source of identity
and spiritual power.
What Happens?
What happens to primal religion when they encounter
“universal religions?”
1. They die out
2. Affirmed in some modified form
3. Appropriated to the primal religion
[Filipinos] actively appropriated Western Catholicism according to
their cultural-religious way of feeling, thinking and
behaving. What happened here is a local example of the truth of
the dictum,
“quidquid recipiturof
God has
the characteristics
, the recipientis
primal deity.
recipitur” (“Whatever is perceived is perceived according to the
are of
the perceiver.”).
In this way Christianity
part, no matter
unsystematically, of Filipino reality.
are regarded
as how
Popular religiosity confirms in its own way the real acceptance of
Christianity by the people. But there is today a continuing
discussion as to whether Filipinos had been truly Christianized, or
whatever Christianity had simply been Filipinized.
(José M. de Mesa,
What Happens?
Folk religion and Christian mission
Roman Catholic
– High religion and low religion
– Secularization
Evangelistic Approaches
• Establish relational bridge.
– Credibility - cultural
– Friendship
– Respect
• Establish a conceptual bridge.
– Build on existing ideas
• Bring the truth across.
– Be biblical
– Be aware of your own cultural framework for
understanding Christianity.
Evangelistic Approaches
Ask questions regarding the Supreme
• What is the supreme God like?
• Was there a time when He was close to
• What caused this separation?
• Why does God seem distant now?
• How do we offend Him?
Evangelistic Approaches
Ask questions regarding the Supreme
– What are the consequences of offending
– Is there any way we can divert these?
Worldview Assessment
Contrasting elements
– Primal religions have a multiple gods.
– Christianity has only one God.
– Primal religions believe that gods and
humans belong to one cosmic system,
depending on each other.
– Christianity believes that God is unique and
not dependent upon anything.
Worldview Assessment
Primal religions believe in efficacy through
sacrifice and ritual.
– In Christianity…
• God does not depend on our sacrifices
because He provided for us the “once and for
all” sacrifice of his Son.
• He is not moved or manipulated by charms and
• God’s power is not localized in any fetish object
nor does he identify himself or peoples with
special totemic symbols.
Worldview Assessment
– Primal religions believe in mixing religion and
– Christianity views magic as incompatible with
belief in the one true God.
– Primal religions have no revelation through
– Christianity is historical in that it points to
important events in which God has acted in
Evangelistic Approaches
Teach the Bible storyline
– A sovereign transcendent Personal God exists
and created the heavens and the earth.
– Man was created in some ways like God, the
creation centerpiece and therefore having
intrinsic worth.
– Man rebelled against God and corruption and
perversion are the result.
– God has taken the initiative to save humanity
through his Son.
– History is nearing God’s appointed conclusion