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6.5: How Beliefs are Expressed

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    A myth is a commonly held but false belief; misconception, a traditional story, specifically about history of a people, often explaining a phenomenon that usually has supernatural beings or events. “Product of a man’s emotion and imagination, acted upon by his surroundings.” E. Clodd, Myths & Dreams (1885). Myths often have extraordinary characters or stories that seem impossible in the real world, but these feats and traits only seem possible because it explains some of the growth and development of civilizations. Myths are passed down stories or events within time. In turn, over periods of time myths tend to change slightly and also change within certain cultures. Myths tend to be expressed through rituals or completely through faith.

    One of most well-known kinds of myths is creation myths, which describe how the world began, and often where people fit into this scheme. An example of this comes from the Haida, an indigenous nation located on the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. According to this myth, Sha-lana ruled a kingdom high in the clouds which looked down on a vast, empty sea that stretched in all directions. When Sha-lana’s chief servant, the Raven, was cast out of the kingdom, he was so distraught that he flapped his wings in despair. By doing so, he stirred up the ocean, causing rocks to grow. He then created human beings from shells and introduced the sun and fire (which he stole from heaven). [8]

    Once we understand the term myth and their reason for society we need to identify some characteristics of a myth. Not all of these characteristics are all absolute or all-encompassing.

    1. A story that is or was considered a true explanation of the natural world (and how it came to be).
    2. Characters are often non-human – e.g. gods, goddesses, supernatural beings, first people.
    3. Setting is a previous proto-world (somewhat like this one but also different).
    4. Plot may involve interplay between worlds (this world and previous or original world).
    5. Depicts events that bend or break natural laws (reflective of connection to previous world).
    6. Cosmogonic/metaphysical explanation of universe (formative of worldview).
    7. Functional: “Charter for social action” – conveys how to live: assumptions, values, core meanings of individuals, families, communities.
    8. Evokes the presence of Mystery, the Unknown (has a “sacred” tinge).
    9. Reflective and formative of basic structures (dualities: light/dark, good/bad, being/nothingness, raw/cooked, etc.) that we must reconcile. Dualities often mediated by characters in myths.
    10. Common theme: language helps order the world (cosmos); thus includes many lists, names, etc.
    11. Metaphoric, narrative consideration/explanation of “ontology” (study of being). Myths seek to answer, “Why are we here?” “Who are we?” “What is our purpose?” etc. – life’s fundamental questions.
    12. Sometimes: the narrative aspect of a significant ritual (core narrative of most important religious practices of society; fundamentally connected to belief system; sometimes the source of rituals)

    (Magoulick) [9]

    Myths will never go away within society and cultures. Myths have placed a firm foundation on how people view the world. Some myths are still being used to explain things all across the world and within certain religious beliefs. Also, myths can be used as a teaching aid for kids or young adults. For example, campfire stories about wandering in the woods alone or picking up hitchhikers. Where you should strike to be like the hero and beware of the villains. Furthermore, allowing myths to be used daily within modern society.


    Doctrine is a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group. This section focuses on religious doctrine, which is the oral and written body of teachings of a religious group that is generally accepted by that group. Doctrine not only focuses on large scale teachings, but daily moral codes as well, like appropriate dress attire, or what social networks to involved in or separated from, and acceptable communication between individuals. Many types of religious doctrine play a key part in shaping a religion and its beliefs. Some examples are Roman Catholicism, Islam and First Baptist.

    • Roman Catholic Doctrine

    The Roman Catholic doctrine states that Jesus is the Son of God and was sent to die for the sins of the world. A person is granted eternal life only by accepting God into their lives. Additionally, penance and the Eucharist or Communion are required at least once a year. There is the trinity that consists of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The Bíblia of Christian III of Denmark, the first Danish translation, is an example of a religious doctrine.
    • Islamic Doctrine

    Islam doctrine states that Allah is the one true God, and Muhammad is his prophet. People who practice the Muslim faith are also required to perform The Five Pillars of Faith. These pillars are Kalima, the testimony of faith; Salat, praying five times a day; Zakat, giving alms; Sawm, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; and Hajj, which is a pilgrimage to Mecca.

    • First Baptist Doctrine

    The First Baptist Doctrine states that God is the Father for those who accept Jesus. God directly created the heavens and earth. Faith in Jesus is the only condition of salvation. Also, Jesus will return in the Rapture for sinners.

    Doctrine Determined by Culture

    Christina Toren is a professor at the University of St. Andrews and did a study of Christianity in Fiji. She found that people had morphed the Christina doctrine to suit their cultural needs. Through participant observation, Toren concluded ritual Christian observance was a crucial sign of a person's belief in God. Belief that a person can be saved was not based on a person’s acceptance of God, but on their attendance to God, meaning a person must be seen praying or giving to the Church. Christians in Fiji are able to follow the doctrines of their religion while maintaining their cultural values.

    In contrast, Western culture views doctrine differently. Westernized Christianity believes it is the acceptance of God, not just the attendance on God, that saves or ensures a place in Heaven. While there is still an emphasis on prayer and tithing, Westernized Christianity also emphasizes the importance of doing this in private as well.

    While these are not the complete set of doctrines for each of the types, they help paint a picture of each religion and their belief system. This in return, gives more insight into the inner workings of religion, and the cultures' impression of that religion. In this way, religious doctrines give anthropologists more information for why people believe what they do and how it affects their lives, which could change their anthropological view from etc to mic.

    Sacred Spaces

    Sacred space is any place that has a special significance to a group or an individual, normally linked to religious or other cultural dogmas of an emotional nature. Knowledge concerning these special places is often passed down through generations imbued with a sense of awe and reverence and plays a significant role in the identity of a people. Sacred spaces can help connect people as they anchor them to their cultural and religious traditions by providing a focus point where the divine and the mundane intersect and interact on a ritual level.

    Sacred spaces can be public places of worship and pilgrimage as well as private spaces of ancestor veneration or personal spiritual refuges. It can be a place where something of significance has happened, a place said to be the point of origin of a group of people, their burial grounds, or even individual remains of ancestors. For example, the birth or death place of a person deemed especially blessed by a divinity can be made into a shrine and place of veneration for succeeding generations. Even areas that differ significantly from its surroundings can be viewed as sacred in the proper cultural context, such as a clearing in a dense forest, a lake, or unusual rock formations.

    It is interesting to note that in Europe, South America, and the Middle East, many churches have been built on top of places sacred to older rites. This shows that the importance of these spaces in the cultural memory supersedes the religious significance. They are then usually absorbed, often intentionally, into the new religious traditions that arrive and settle into an area.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Inside the stone circle Stonehenge

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Paulo in Brazil

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Hindu flower shrine

    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Shrine to "Mae Nak or แม่นาก / Nang Nak or นางนาก", who is a legendary woman of bankokian folklore.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): The Wailing Wall, a sacred Jewish site in Jerusalem.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Mato Paha or Bear Butte, South Dakota

    This page titled 6.5: How Beliefs are Expressed is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

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