Archives For Religion


Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Banarsidas”, (b. 1586—d. 1643), Jain mystic and poet (see JAINISM) who is credited with writing one of the first autobiographies in India, his Ardhakathanaka, or “Half a Tale.” It is invaluable for information on daily life in urban north India during Mughal times.

Banarsidas was born into a family of SVETAMBARA Jain merchants n Agra. As a youth he was a libertine and an author of erotic Hindi verses. At age 19 he underwent a change, eventually becoming a wealthy merchant who followed all the forms of ritual and personal conduct expected of a pious, upright Jain. At age 35 he underwent another change, this time rebelling against all outward ritual forms, which he came to see as empty of any spiritual meaning. He was drawn toward a group of layman, of a generally DIGAMBARA leaning, known as Adhyatma (“Innermost Soul”), who engaged in study and discussion of spiritual matters. This group also rejected the authority of all monks. In this context he was introduced by a Digambara lay scholar to the 9th-century Gommatasara of Nemicandra, which explained the 14-rung (GUNASTHANA) path to liberation. This allowed Banarsidas to re-accept image worship and other outward forms of ritual as lower stages on the spiritual ladder. He also encountered the Samayasara of the 2nd-3rd century Digambara mystic KUNDAKUNDA, which explains a two-truth vision of reality as perceived from the worldly (vyavahara) and absolute (niscaya) perspectives. Banarsidas wrote a Hindi version of it. He became a leader of the Adhyatma movement While the movement itself died out within a century of Banarsidas, its principles live on in the Digambara Terapantha, which is still an influential sect in north India.

The 17th-century writer Banārasīdās casts his poem ‘Navarasa’ on the waters of the river Gomati after he rediscovers the Jain beliefs of his family.

(Comeback on 3/31/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Banda Singh Bahadur”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Baltic Religion”, beliefs and practices of the Balts, ancient inhabitants of the Baltic region of eastern Europe.

The study of Baltic religion has developed as an offshoot of the study of Baltic languages, in some respects the most conservative modern Indo-European language family. Just as these languages—Old Prussian, Latvian, and Lithuanian—correlate closely with the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, so does Baltic religion exhibit many features that conform to Vedic (ancient Indian) and Iranian ideas. Thus Baltic religious concepts help in the understanding of the formation and structure of the oldest phases of Indo-European religion.

The most important divinities in Baltic religion were the sky gods—DIES (the personified sky), PERKONS (the Thunderer), SAULE (the sun [female]), and MENESS (the moon [male]). A forest divinity, common to all Baltic peoples, is called in Latvian Meza mate and in Lithuanian Medeine (“Mother of the Forest”). She again has been further differentiated into other divinities, or rather she was also given metaphorical appellations with no mythological significance, such as Krumu mate (“Mother of the Bushes”), Lazdu mate (“Mother of the Hazel”), Lapu mate (“Mother of the Leaves”), Ziedu mate (“Mother of the Blossoms”), and even Senu mate (“Mother of the Mushrooms”). Forest animals are ruled by the Lithuanian Zverine opposed to the Latvian Meza mate. The safety and welfare of buildings is cared for by the Latian Miles gars (“Spirit of the House”, Lithuanian Kaukas), the Latvian Pirts mate (“Mother of the Bathhouse”), and additionally Rijas mate (“Mother of the Threshing House”).

There are a large number of beautifully described lesser mythological beings whose functions are either very limited or completely denoted by their names. Water deities are Latian Juras mate (“Mother of the Sea”), Udens mate (“Mother of the Waters”), Upes mate (“Mother of the Rivers”), and Bangu mate (“Mother of the Waves”, Lithuanian Bangputys), while atmospheric deities are Latvian Veja mate (“Mother of the Wind”), Lithuanian Vejopatis (“Master of the Wind”), Latvian Lietus mate (“Mother of the Rain”), Miglas mate (“Mother of the Fog”), and Sniega mate (“Mother of the Snow”). Even greater is the number of beings related to human activities, whose names only are still to be found, for example Miega mate (“Mother of Sleep”) and Tirgus mate (“Mother of the Market”).

Also important was the goddess of destiny or luck, LAIMA. The real ruler of human fate, she is mentioned frequently together with Dievs  in connection with the process of creation. Although Laima determines a man’s unchangeable destiny at the moment of his birth, he can still lead his life well or badly within the limits prescribed by her. She also determines the moment of a person’s death.

The Devil, VELNS (Lithuanian Velnias), has a well-defined role. He is commonly represented as stupid, and Baltic FOLKLORE often represents the Devil as a German landlord. Another evil being is the Latvian Vilkacis, Lithuanian Vilkatas, who corresponds to the werewolf in the traditions of other peoples. The belief that the dead do not leave this world completely is the basis for both good and evil spirits. As good spirits the dead return to the living as invisible beings is the (Latvian velis, Lithuanian vele), but as evil ones they return as persecutors and misleaders (Latvian vadatajs, Lithuanian vaidulas).

The primary themes of Baltic mythology as it survives in folklore are the structure of the world and the enmity between Saule and Meness. The four-line folk songs called dainas, which resemble Vedic verses, portray the world in dualistic terms, mentioning si saule literally “this sun”‘ metaphorically ordinary everyday human life) and vina saule (literally “the other sun”; metaphorically the invisible world where the sun goes at night,, which is also the abode of the dead). The notion of a sun tree, or WORLD TREE, is one of the most important cosmic concepts. This tree grows at the edge of the path of Saule, who in setting hangs her belt on the tree in preparation for rest. It is usually considered to be an oak but is also described as a linden or other kind of tree. The tree is said to be located in the middle of the world ocean or generally to the west.

Excavations have revealed circular wooden temples, approximately 15 feet in diameter, and a statue of a god may have been erected in the center. The existence of open-air holy places or sites of worship among the Balts is confirmed by both the earliest historical documents and folklore. Such places were holy groves, called ALKA in Lithuanian. Later the word came to mean any holy place or site of worship (Lithuanian alkviete). The usual sites were little hills, where the populace gathered and sacrificed during holy festivals. Another important ritual site was the bathhouse, in which birth ceremonies and funerals were performed. Various places in the home were considered to be abodes of spirits, and each work site had its GUARDIAN SPIRIT, to whom sacrifices were offered.

Special rites evolved for the festivals of the summer solstice and the harvest and for beginning various kinds of spring wor. Such spring work included sending farm animals to pasture or horses to forage for the first time, plowing the first furrow, and starting the first spring planting. The birth of a child was especially noted. Laima was responsible for both mother and child. One birth rite, called pirtizas, was a special sacral meal in which only women took part. Marriage rites were quite extensive and corresponded closely to similar Old Indian ceremonies. Fire and bread had special importance and were taken along to the house of the newly married couple.

Culture: the Balts can be divided into three cultural groups; the Prussians (who are now extinct), the Latvians, and the Lithuanians.

(Comeback on 3/30/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Banarsidas”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Balor”, in Celtic mythology, chief of the chaotic race of FOMOIRE—the demonic race that threatened the Irish people until they were subdued in the second great battle of AG TUIRED (Moytura). When Balor was a boy, he looked into a potion being brewed by his father’s DRUIDS, and the fumes caused hi to grow a huge, poisonous eye. The ye had to be opened by attendants, and it killed anything on which it gazed. Balor was eventually killed by his grandson, the god LUGUS (Lugh), in the climactic battle between the TUATHA DE DANANN, or race of gods, and the FOMOIRE.

Balor in Magh Tuireadh by Jim Fitzpatrick

(Comeback on 3/29/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Baltic Religion”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Ball Game”, in PRE-COLUMBIAN MESO-AMERICAN cultures, ceremonial contest, not unlike modern soccer. The object of the game was to propel a gutta-percha ball through the air without touching it with the hands; if it went through a small hole in the carved stone disk, or hit that circular goal, the game was won. Tremendous exchanges of personal property resulted from such a victory—indeed, often life itself was forfeit in important contests. See TLACHTLI.

Replica Mesoamerican ball court.

(Comeback on 3/28/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Balor”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Balder”Old Norse Baldr, in Norse mythology (see GERMANIC RELIGION), the son of ODIN and FRIGG. Beautiful and just, he was the favorite of the gods. The Icelandic scholar Snorri (c. 1220) relates in his EDDA how the gods amused themselves by throwing objects at him, knowing that he was immune from harm. However, the blind god Höd deceived by the evil LOKI, killed Balder by hurling mistletoe, the only thing that could hurt him. The giantess Thökk, probably Loki in disguise, refused to weep the tears that would release Balder from Hell.

Some scholars believe that the passive suffering figure of Balder was influenced by that of Christ. The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1200), however, depicts him as a warrior engaged in a feud over the hand of a woman.

The Death of Baldur.

(Comeback on 3/27/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Ball Game”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Balarama”, in Hindu mythology, elder half-brother of KRISHNA. Sometimes Balarama is considered one of the 10 AVATARS (incarnations) of the god VISHNU, one of the “three RAMAS” alongside Parashurama (Rama with an axe) and Ramacandra (hero of the RAMAYANA epic). Other legends identify him as the incarnation in human form of the serpent Sesa, and he may originally have been and agricultural deity. As early as the 2nd-1st century BCE he is depicted holding a plowshare and a pestle with a snake canopy above his head. In this early period he seems to appear in sculpture at least as frequently as Krishna himself. In painting Balarama is always shown with fair skin, in contrast to Krishna’s blue complexion. The stories associated with him emphasize his love of wine and his enormous strength.

Hindu deities Balarama (left, with horn) and his half-brother Krishna (with flute), depicted in a painting from 1865.

(Comeback on 3/26/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Balder”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Balaam”, non-Israelite prophet described in the OLD TESTAMENT (Numbers 22-24) as a diviner who is urged by Balak, the king of Moab, to place a curse on the people of ISRAEL. Balaam states that he will utter only what his god YAHWEH inspires, but he is willing to accompany the MOABITE messengers to Balak. He is met en route by an ANGEL of Yahweh, who is recognized only by Balaam’s ass, which refuses to continue. Then Balaam’s eyes are opened, and the angel permits him to go to Balak but commands him not to curse but to bless Israel. Despite pressure from Balak, Balaam remains faithful to Yahweh and blesses the people of Israel. In later literature (the Second Letter of Peter 2:15), however, Balaam is held up as an example of one who apostasized for the sake of material gain. In RABBINIC JUDAISM, some RABBIS venerate Balaam as a prophet comparable to MOSES (Numbers Rabbah 20:1, Tanha, Balak 1, SIFRE TO DEUTERONOMY), while others remember him as evil, haughty, and proud (Avot 5:19) and cite him as the reason the HOLY SPIRIT departed from the GENTILES. There is conjecture that Balaam represents JESUS in Haggadic (see HALAKHAH AND HAGGADAH) literature.

The Prophet Balaam and the Angel

(Comeback on 3/25/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Balarama”.

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