3 Non Traditional Religions Voodoo, Spiritualism, Cults Essay, Research Paper
Religion is primary agent of social control in our society. Due to its communally held beliefs and principles, we have a foundation on which we can rest the laws, values, and the main doctrine, of almost any society. Here in America, we have tremendous freedom in both establishing and in choosing the religion of our choice. This freedom has given birth to many non-traditional religions and practices. When discussing the topic of social control and order within a society, these non-traditional religions can be used very strongly to bring about social change within an individual then into the population. On the rise in our nation, is the emergence of voodoo practices, the belief in spiritualism, and many groups of cults. Each one of these religions has the extreme ability to influence the individual in many psychological and physical ways, drastically changing a persons behavioral patterns. While inducing these changes upon the individual, many people can and usually will, succumb explicit exploitation of themselves as well as their economic resources.
Voodoo, whose name derived from the African word for spirit (Origins of Voodoo), came to us through the European colonization of the West Indies. African tribes were forcibly shipped overseas, primarily to Haiti and other Caribbean lands, to be used as agricultural slaves. Upon the arrival in their new country, the slaves were baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. In fear of revolt, the colonists separated the many tribes of slaves and had them dispersed all across the new land. This result was a mixture of African slaves, forced to live together, naturally adapting to each other?s lifestyles, habits, and beliefs systems. The slaves were forced to attend a Catholic Mass on a regular basis, however, many of the assimilated tribes continued to practice their native religion. When the colonists found this out, the persecution of many African slaves took place. They were violently beaten and killed for worshiping their own gods, and not the one of the Catholic religion. It was through this persecution that the tribes did not separate; rather, they came together and formed together with the common bond of their religion. The religious beliefs and the rituals from many of the tribes began it integrate, ultimately creating a new religion: Voodoo.
Voodoo is based on the manifestation of the spirit world through the channel of the human being. This is achieved through the acts of rituals in highly structured Voodoo ceremonies, which are preformed by a Voodoo Priest. A male priest is referred to as a Houngan, and a female is referred to as a Mambo.
There are two types of Voodoo or ?magic?, used in Voodoo, White Magic, and Black Magic. White Magic involves the usage of candles, oils, plants, and potions, to obtain certain things in life. For example, one might attend or perform a White Magic ceremony to obtain power, love, or money. This ritual or ceremony is used in a positive manner only, it causes no harm, nor does it pose any threat upon the individual or on others. Black Magic or ?Red Voodoo?, on the other hand, involves evil and harmful acts. Black magic is preformed by a Bokor, which is one who uses evil acts of sorcery, involving death and zombie curses. A zombie curse involves a ritual where the Bokor poisons his human subject, resulting in death. After three days, the dead is revived and becomes the Bokor?s eternal slave (Haitian Voodoo Culture).
The followers of the Voodoo religion believe in one Supreme Being, named Bondye. Under Bondye, there are hundreds of minor gods and Loas. A Loas refers to the spirit of someone who has led an exceptional life. The Loas exercise control over nature, health, wealth, happiness, and all prosperity of mortals. The human followers and the Laos exercise a dependency-based relationship with one another. The Loas provide prosperity, and the humans provide food, and other material objects to the Laos as an offering. The altars that are each dedicated to one specific Loa are encompassed with candles, pictures of the Loa, and anything else referring to the Loa. A prime example of a Loa is one named Zaka. Zaka is the god or spirit of agriculture; he provides prosperity over the crops of any given land. One might want to make contact with this Loa to ensure abundance in the year?s crop. Through the ritual and the altar, one might present an offering of seeds, fruit, or a shovel. In return, the Loa will provide health, fortune, and protection of evil spirits over his followers.
In the doctrine of Voodoo, the human soul is made up of two parts: the Gros-bon-ange and the Ti-bon-age. The Ti-bon-age is the part of the soul that leaves the body during sleep and the part that can also be possessed by a Loa in a ceremony. The Gros-bon-ange is the part of the soul, which upon death, rejoins with the sprit world and can be reused. It a common belief in Voodoo, that the soul can be taken over by evil spirits when it is freed from the body.
It is through the act of rituals in ceremonies that a voodoo priest is able to make contact with the spiritual world. A Voodoo ceremony takes place in a temple called a Honfor. At the center of Honfor is a spirit pole called a Poto-Mitan. The Poto-Mitan represents the center of the universe and it is through this pole, that humans are able to connect with the spirit world. A voodoo ceremony has several key elements that make it possible to connect with the spirit world. A general voodoo ceremony would be acted out as follows:
A feast would be held before the main ceremony. This feast may include the sharing of food, and or alcohol. The ceremony will them begin with the introduction of the Veve? banners or flags. A Hounsis (A Voodoo priestess), will bring these flags out and wave them around to assist in the summoning of Loa. The flags are created by the Houngan and are made out of silk or satin material. They are decorated with sequins, beads, and seed pearls. Meanwhile, in the background there is a constant rhythm of drumbeats. The music and dancing play an important role in the ceremony. It is through the music that one is able to be put into a trance-like state and become possessed by the Loa. Within the ceremony, there are usually three particular drums used. Within the ceremony, their are generally three drum used. The Manman, which is the largest of the three, it is about three feet tall, and is beating standing up using a small wooden hammer in one hand and the other bare hand. The Segond drum, which is about two feet tall, is played by a seated drummer holding the drum between the legs. The drum is beaten using both hands. The smallest drum is named bula. It is beaten using two very long thin sticks. Dancing is performed by the Houngan and Hounsis. The Houngan focuses the dance around the spirit pole. It is through the dancing of the Houngan that intensity builds up resulting in the Hounsis becoming possessed by a loa. The Houngan also uses the aid of an Asson. An Asson is sacred rattle constructed out of a gourd that is decorated with coral and snake bones. The Houngan will also create a Veve?, which is a sand painting. The Veve’ is constructed on the floor of the Hounfor and is created around the spirit pole. The Veve’ is made out of flour or cornmeal and is dedicated to the Loa in which the ceremony is being acted out. A Voodoo ceremony may include an animal sacrifice. The Houngan may sacrifice a goat, sheep, pig, or chicken to satisfy the hunger of their Loa. The throat of the animal is slit, and the blood is collected in a special ceremonial cup, the Hounsis, or person possess, will then drink the blood. This is believed to satisfy the hunger of the Loa.
Haiti still remains the dominant country in which Voodoo is practiced’ in. Voodoo was able to bring together many people in a time of sorrow and persecution. Throughout the years, many people have suffered for their beliefs in the Voodoo religion. Voodoo still stands strong in many cultures and is a dominant force in many peoples lives. Voodoo encompasses the whole family and embraces the influence of ancestors in ones individual life. Voodoo is not only a religion, but a way of life.
The use of extravagant and clairvoyant formal ceremonies is used in many non-traditional religions to manifest the realm of the spiritual world, right here the natural. As seen, Voodoo has its own distinct ways of communicating with the spiritual realm. Many other religions also use ?spiritual? items or objects of nature, as means of transcending into the spiritual realm; which brings us to the next topic of spiritualism.
Spiritualism is a belief that the dead manifest their presence to people, usually through a clairvoyant or medium; also, it is the doctrine and practices of those people whom so believe.
Although spiritualism has been practiced in one form or another since prehistoric times, modern spiritualism is the result of 19th century occurrences and research. About 1848 in the United States, sisters Margaret and Kate Fox were exploited by their older sister as alleged child mediums and aroused sensational news stories that spurred the creation of a cult of spiritualism. It was given impetus by the writings of another medium, the American Andrew Jackson Davis, who asserted that he was capable of performing certain intellectual feats while in a trance that he could not perform normally. About this time, the British surgeon James Braid provided a scientific explanation of mesmerism and thus helped to establish the modern technique of hypnosis.
In 1872 a former British clergyman, William Stainton Moses, became editor of the spiritualist paper Light and wrote several books concerning spiritualism. The movement was publicity discredited after the appearance of a number of charlatans, whose demonstrations were recognized as simple tricks of prestidigitation. Margaret Fox herself, as a grown woman, claimed that she had used tricks to make her ?spirit rappings?. The Society for Physical Research was founded and a fund was established to examine the claims of spiritualism.
Spiritualism is a way of life. It combines philosophy, science and religion. It covers a wide field and therefore one cannot expect to understand it fully without a certain amount of study. The primary object of Spiritualism today is to prove the survival of the human personality or soul after death and that death is only the doorway to a new and wider life.
Spiritualism is in itself a religion in that it embodies that there is a life after death, immortality, and the existence of a God. The difference between Spiritualism and other religions is the ability through medium ship to prove that man survives the grave; that is to say certain people called Mediums are able to communicate with those who have passed over, thus furnishing conclusive evidence of their continued existence in another world. Very similar as the one we live in now, only more perfect.
A medium cannot call up these people, as they would a friend on a telephone- they come to us, but only when they are ready, and willing and able so to do. So, who are these Mediums? they are highly sensitive people who developed their psychic power; which each of us posses to a greater or less degree. A woman?s intuition is an example. Some people are born mediums, others may take years to develop, and there are others, who through ignorance, or lack of the opportunity of development, are unable to exercise their gifts.
The philosophy of Spiritualism is based on Seven Fundamental Principles:
I. The Fatherhood of God,
II. The Brotherhood of Man,
III. The Communication of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels,
IV. The Continuous Existence of the Human Soul,
V. Personal Responsibility,
VI. Compensation and Retribution hereafter for all the Good and Evil Deeds done on Earth,
VII. Eternal Progress Open to every Human Soul. (Spiritualism)
Spiritualists are often accused of being atheists or Anti-Christian, yet our first Principle recognizes God as our Father; but who is God?. Spiritualism is universal religion recognizing such leaders as Buddha, Mohammed, Moses as well as Jesus. It does not however, claim a monopoly of Religion. One?s religion is a personal matter and any person adopting Spiritualism is free to interpret the principles according to their own awareness. Furthermore, they do not believe in a Vindictive God. They are their own judges and they shall receive compensation or retribution for what ever they have done whether it is good or bad. Heaven and hell are not places to which we are destined to go, but states of mind of our own creation.
Among the greatest forces of Spiritualism is healing the sick either by personal contact or through the absent healing in which the patients are treated often at great distances away by the sending out healing thoughts and prayers. The so-called miracles of healing performed by Jesus and his disciples are regular performs by spiritual healers today. Many incurable diseases have been successfully treated. No healer can guarantee a cure, but at least he can alleviate suffering and ease a passing, and possibly affect a complete cure. ?Spiritual Healing is not Faith Healing?. Patients have been treated without their knowledge as by absent healing, or through being too ill or, too young to understand.
The practices of Voodoo and Spiritualism are very common in many ways. The both believe in the spiritual realm, both have formal ceremonies to come in contact with the spiritual realm, and both use particular items as a medium, or a gateway as a way to transcend into the spiritual realm. Although Voodoo is practiced here in America, many of its practices are not publicly exposed; so it lives ?underground? so to speak. Spiritualism on the other hand, is rising at an increasing rate. We can find the practices of Spiritualism openly used throughout our society. In every city, ?psychic readings?, and ?spiritual healings? are readily available to anyone who is interested. There is one other form (chosen out of very many), of a non-traditional religion, that exists within the very threads of America: It is the Cult.
The formation of cults is an issue in society that many are un-familiar with. There are thousands of cults operating in America today; exact numbers cannot be established due to the nature of cults. Many cults go unreported because they work in secrecy, giving their members a feeling of self worth only when in, and a part of a secret group in society. A cult by definition is:
1 : formal religious veneration
2 : a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
3 : a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
4 a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion.
- Webster?s Un-Abridged Dictionary 10Th Ed.
Basically, a cult is a group of people who have formulated their lives around the devotion of one or a few charismatic leaders, and an ideology pushed forth by those leaders. There are three main aspects a group has to have in order for it to be positively identified as a cult. The first is the ruling charismatic leader or leadership: These leaders will maintain total control over their follower?s lives as well as their person, trying desperately to advance the groups goals or ideas. The group focuses on the leadership, rather than on God, or a higher power. Total commitment is given to these leaders from their followers, as they are fed with false pretense or a sense of a ?mission? in their lives. This leads up to the second qualification: The use of mind control or ?brain washing? on their subjects. The cult leaders will explicitly use psychological manipulation, or brain washing on their followers to influence their will upon them. This abuse changes a normal person into another; one who will do whatever it takes to carry out any and all the commands of the leadership. Lastly is the exploitation of the subjects, mainly in sexual and economic ways. The followers of the cult are usually drained of all personal wealth as well as their own individuality. Giving all they can to better benefit the leadership, followers don?t think twice about following the orders of the leadership no matter how crude or ridiculous, leaving themselves wide open to ant form of exploitation. Other than these main three characteristics, many cults are known to have compounds or exquisite meeting places in which many live. They are usually self-supported as if they were their own community, where everyone participates in the upkeep and maintenance. Elaborate rituals, practices, and scheduled daily activities occupy most of their day. The group usually has two or more sets of codes or ethics. One set for the leadership; which typically has total freedom over the group. Another set for the existing members; of which are very rigid, another for new recruits that are very relaxed, and so on. Lastly, another popular activity of the cult is the dedication to recruiting of new members. People are the greatest resource of the cult or any group in that matter. The more people the greater the power of the leadership. Cults concentrate a mass amount of their energies to the coercing practices of getting people to join their group.
When concerning the issue of cults, many people ask the question of why people join cults. Little to one?s knowledge, very few people join cults of their own free will. This option is usually reserved only for the members of the leadership. The question still remains; why do people join cults? The question is not why people join cults, rather, is it how do they join cults. And the answer to this question is a long and lengthy process of psychological manipulation, brain washing or mind control, to the point of the lowering of ones self esteem, and then the loss of ones personal identity. Author Steven Hassan details this mind control process through behavior control, information control, thought control, and emotional control or the BITE Model for short. (Hassan). Controlling one?s behavior limits the individual to personal choices, limiting his/her own identity. The leaders will use tactics that include the regulation of:
1. Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates with
2. What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
3. What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
4. How much sleep the person is able to have
The member is literally stripped of his/her identity by this regulatory system designed by the leadership. Also invoked in this process is the dependency or the need of the cult. The individual perceives a reliance on the cult to provide for their basic everyday life decisions. Along with behavior control comes the control of the information or any kind of knowledge that is provided to the individual. This regulation of knowledge can be in any fashion; for example a member may not be allowed to watch TV or read a newspaper, or information about the cult?s leadership or former members may be disclosed and considered classified. Also by using cult-generated propaganda, the individual is fed with information pertaining to the goals of the leadership thus focusing only on that. Accumulated with the use of deception, lying, and the twisting of stories, the individual has no inclination to question the motives of the cult leaders. The use of thought control is the most important step in implementing the cult doctrine among its members. The need to see the cult doctrine as the absolute truth will hold the member in their proper place. Any kind of questioning about the leaders, decisions, and cult policies are highly discouraged and even disciplined with punishment in some cases. Finally with the use of emotional control, the leaders gain control of the individuals by with methods implementing guilt and fear. Using public confession of sins and demeaning acts, self-esteem is lowered in the individual and their behavior is modified according to the wills of the leaders. Fear is also used to keep the members in line. Threatening members of loosing their salvation, being outcast by the group they so much depend on, and hostile circumstances (i.e. hell, demon possession), are all used to coerce the individuals behavior. By successfully eliminating free thought, limiting information, controlling circumstantial decisions, and how their members should feel at all times; it becomes no wonder how cult members commit acts of highly irregular behavior. As shown, under the highly influential pressures of mind control, cult members have almost no control over their lives. Their decisions are not of their own, but only of the leaders of cult.
Out of the millions of people who fall victim to the persuasion of the cult way of life, very few escape this lifestyle. Those who do are exposed with long tern psychological effects, creating many problems for the individual, as they try to readjust to normal every day life. Frequently, cult survivors initially suffer from depression. The fact of no longer belonging to an elite group, or not having a sense of purpose within themselves, causes the individuals to fall into massive depressive states. Those who have been involved in the cult for quite sometime will also suffer from loneliness, as they have left their former source of family and friendship. Indecisiveness is also a major symptom; normal decisions become very complicated for this individual because everything had been previously decided for them (what to wear, what to eat, etc.). And fear of their former cult reigns inside them. At the very thought of betrayal and the coerced effects if it, leaves the individual with an underlying sense of fear and insecurity. Surviving members are highly recommended to get some sort of psychological counseling immediately after exiting the cult. Those who do receive counseling have a quicker and a greater success in merging back into society as productive individuals.
Non-traditional religions thrive on the limiting involvement of the government concerning religion. Many of these religions have highly unorthodox practices in which followers faithfully participate it. In any other circumstances excluding religion, many of these practices would be deemed abnormal or deviant behavior. Legally very little can be done about the un-ethical practices found in these non-traditional religions. As a society we have to be very careful and aware at all times, recognizing the pressures that religion can force upon an individual. We also have to be conscious, and the face the fact that we are very vulnerable; each one of us can easily fall into the sway of lifestyles of these non-traditional religions, against our own will.
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