Tag Archives: Hinduism

Folk Religion

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Chinese dragon, symbol of Chinese culture and ...

Chinese dragon, symbol of Chinese culture and Chinese folk religion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Folk religion consists of ethnic or regional religious customs under the umbrella of an organized religion, but outside of official doctrine and practices. Don Yoder has defined “folk religion” as “the totality of all those views and practices of religion that exist among the people apart from and alongside the strictly theological and liturgical forms of the official religion.”

The term “folk religion” is generally held to encompass two related but separate subjects. The first is the religious dimension of folk culture, or the folk-cultural dimensions of religion. The second refers to the study of syncretisms between two cultures with different stages of formal expression, such as the melange of African folk beliefs and Roman Catholicism that led to the development of Vodun and Santería, and similar mixtures of formal religions with folk cultures.

Chinese folk religion, Folk Christianity, Folk Hinduism, and Folk Islam are examples of folk religion associated with major religions. There is sometimes tension between the practice of folk religion and the formally taught doctrines and teachings of a faith. In other cases, practices that originated in folk religion are adopted as part of the official religion. The term is also used, especially by the clergy of the faiths involved, to describe the desire of people who otherwise infrequently attend religious worship, do not belong to a church or similar religious society, and who have not made a formal profession of faith in a particular creed, to have religious weddings or funerals, or (among Christians) to have their children baptised.

Aspects of many, but not all, folk religions include:

Popular theophanies, and similar phenomena like Marian apparitions, originating outside the formal liturgy and hierarchy of the faiths in question.

Magical Thinking
Protective qualities ascribed to religious objects like a particular copy of the Bible, Voodoo pouches, a crucifix, stones, crystals, eagle feathers, or any other “power” object.   belief in traditional systems of magic (hoodoo, voodoo, pow-wow, Benedicaria, Palo Monte, Anito, Santería and Catimbó)  rituals to ward off the Evil Eye, curses, demons, witchcraft, etc.

Folk Christianity
Further information: Christian mythology, Folk Catholicism, and Christianity and Neopaganism Botánicas such as this one in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts sell religious goods such as statues of saints and candles decorated with prayers alongside folk medicine and amulets.

Folk Christianity is defined differently by various scholars. Definitions include “the Christianity practiced by a conquered people;” Christianity as most people live it – a term used to “overcome the division of beliefs into Orthodox and unorthodox;” Christianity as impacted by superstition as practiced by certain geographical Christian groups; Christianity defined “in cultural terms without reference to the theologies and histories.”

Folk Islam
Further information: Islamic mythology, Druze, Alevi, and Alawi

Folk Islam is an umbrella term used to collectively describe forms of Islam that incorporate native folk beliefs and practices. Folk Islam has been described as the Islam of the “urban poor, country people, and tribes”, (Ridgeon, 2003) in contrast to orthodox or “High” Islam (Gellner, 1992; Malesevic et al., 2007). Sufism and Sufi concepts are often integrated into Folk Islam.
Various practices and beliefs have been identified with the concept of “folk Islam”. They include the following:

belief in traditional magic systems and ecstatic rituals
the use of “shrines and amulets” (Chelkowski et al., 1988)
veneration of saints
incorporation of animistic beliefs

Folk Hinduism

The case of Folk Hinduism lies slightly different from “Folk Islam” or “Folk Christianity”, as the term Hinduism itself was coined in the 19th century as an umbrella term for all folk religion practiced in India. But today, “Folk Hinduism” (also Indian Folk Religion or Popular Hinduism) may still be distinguished from “high” forms of Hindu philosophy, or mystical or ascetic forms. Folk Hinduism is emphatically polytheistic.

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The Goddess movement

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A simple black-and-white version of the Spiral...

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The Goddess movement is an overall trend in religious or spiritual beliefs or practices which emerged out of second-wave feminism, predominantly in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s. Spurred by centuries of male dominated organized religion (or a supreme deity referred to by masculine pronouns i.e. “he”), some women embraced the idea of a female deity that was more in keeping with feminist beliefs and the inherent value of women. A unifying theme of the movement was that the gender of deity characterizes the political gender-bias of the religion, so a Goddess Worshipping religion is held to be matriarchal and a “God” worshipping religion is held to be patriarchal.

Goddess beliefs can take many forms; some people in the Goddess movement recognize multiple goddesses. Some also include gods. While others honor what they refer to as “the Goddess”, which is not necessarily seen as monotheistic, but is often understood to be an inclusive, encompassing term incorporating many goddesses in many different cultures. The term “the Goddess” may also be understood to include a multiplicity of ways to view deity personified as female, or as a metaphor, or as a process. (Christ 1997, 2003)

Capitalization of terms such as “Goddess” and “Goddesses” usually vary with author or with the style guides of publications or publishers. Within the Goddess community, members generally consider it proper to capitalize the word “Goddess”, but not necessary when generic references are made, as in the word “goddesses”.

Goddesses refers to a local or specific deities linked clearly to a particular culture and often to particular aspects, attributes and powers (for example: the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar; Athena; or Hindu goddesses like Sarasvati, the goddess of learning, poetry, music, inspiration and wisdom; and Lakshmi goddess of wealth and sovereignty).

One can regard a goddess (in this sense) as an aspect of the Great Goddess as well as a specific goddess with a particular role within a pantheon. The Hindu goddess, Durga, is a case in point. The name Durga can refer to a specific aspect of the Goddess but in the Shakti forms of Hinduism generally refers to the Great Goddess as AdyaShakti: the primoridal Shakti who incorporates all aspects. Anthropologists in their studies of goddesses have noted that adherents of goddesses often view their own goddess as a personal guardian or teacher.

The Goddess or the Great Goddess is a female deity that is regarded as primary. Such a religious system existed historically in many cultures, though not under the same names and not necessarily with the same traits. If there is a male god, his powers may be seen as deriving from her. (Gottner-Abendroth 1987). These terms are not usually understood to refer a single deity that is identical across cultures but rather a concept common in many ancient cultures, which those in the Goddess movement want to restore. (Christ 1997). When Goddess is spoken of as a personal guardian, as in ‘my Goddess’ it means ‘my worldview in Goddess spirituality.’

Goddess Spirituality is sometimes used as a synonym for Goddess Movement and sometimes as the spiritual practice that is part of the Goddess movement. Goddessing is a recent contribution to Goddess vocabulary, possibly derived from the British journal of the same name, following from Mary Daly’s linguistically suspect suggestion that deity is too dynamic, too much in process and changing continually, to be a noun, and should better be spoken as a verb (Daly 1973). Goddessing may also mean Goddess culture, Goddess way of life, Goddess practice, or ‘my goddessing’ as in my individual interpretation and experience of Goddess.

Priestess refers to women who dedicate themselves to one or more goddesses. It may or may not include leadership of a group, and it may or may not include legal ordination. The analogous term for men is “priest.” However, not everyone who dedicates themselves to the Goddess or goddesses calls themselves a priestess (or priest).Thealogy is a term whose first use in the context of feminist analysis of religion and discussion of Goddess is usually credited to Naomi Goldenberg, who used the term in her book Changing of the Gods, published in 1979. It substitutes the Greek feminine prefix “thea-” for the supposedly generic use of the Greek masculine prefix “theo-“. Frequently used to mean analysis of Goddess thought and mysticism, it can also be used more liberally to mean any kind of divine, not just deity divine, as in meditation, ethics, ritual pragmatics.

In the 19th century, some first-wave feminists such as Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published their ideas describing a female Deity, whilst anthropologists such as Johann Jakob Bachofen examined the ideas of prehistoric matriarchal Goddess cultures. However these ideas were largely ignored in the North America and much of Europe until second-wave feminism. In addition to Bachofen, second-wave feminists who became interested in the history of religion also refer to the work of Helen Diner (1965) and M. Esther Harding (1935) Elizabeth Gould Davis (1971) and Merlin Stone (1976).

Since the 1970s Goddess Spirituality has emerged as a recognizable international cultural movement. From 1974 to 1984, WomanSpirit, a journal edited in Oregon by Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove, published articles, poetry, and rituals by women, exploring ideas and feelings about female deity. needed] The journal The Beltane Papers, which started publication at about the same time, has been publishing continuously for more than 30 years, making it the longest still-published Goddess publication in the U.S. In 1983, Jade River and Lynnie Levy founded the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess, International(RCG-I) in Madison, Wisconsin, RCG-I continues today with groups called “Circles” in many U. S. localities, as well as an educational program, priestess training, and ordination. The Goddess movement has found voice in various films and self-published media, such as the Women and Spirituality trilogy made by Donna Read for the National Film Board of Canada.