Neolithic Religion

Date: Nov 23, 2018

Introduction

Neolithic Era was a time of significant ecological, technological, and sociological transition. It is traditionally the last part of the Stone Age. The term “Neolithic” means the “New Stone Age”. However, the change does not mainly refer to better stone tools. During this period humans made a shift from clan-based hunting and gathering to tribe-based farming, hunting and herding. With this change came settled villages, the wheel, pottery and more.

Farming

Archeological evidence suggests that “Neolithic Agricultural Revolution” occurred in the Middle East, when our ancestors began to sow the seeds of various wild grasses, such as primitive forms of barley and wheat, into the ground. They did it with the full understanding that they would eventually harvest the grains of the mature grasses. As farmers migrated to both ends of the earth and brought their agricultural way of life with them, they built major settlements and became engaged in long distance trade. It should be mentioned that there is one artifact, which is especially telling about this epoch. It is the statue of a woman in a long and flowing gown, exposing her breasts. She holds a snake in each hand and a small animal on her head. This image is very reminiscent of the Heracles story.

Hunting

It is worth mentioning that Neolithic hunters were an integral part of the agricultural economy and often lived close to the farmers. Both groups were reliant on each other for various resources. Farmers gave hunters their pottery and grain, while hunters provided farmers with meat. The hunters hunted and fished, made rock carvings and stone monuments such as Stonehenge.

Herding

Agriculture became vital for the development of domesticated herds and flocks. The people had a chance to harvest continuously from the animals without killing them. The most distinctive artifact left behind by herders is their large burial mounds, called kurgans.

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Neolithic religion comprised religious concepts, cults, and rituals. Earth became a multivalent symbol. Main ideas and numerous activities were associated with earth, as it became the new material, more necessary, more valuable, and more meaningful than stone. The fertility and life giving properties of the earth were associated with woman, who was able to give a life. Besides, Neolithic people continued to worship totems or images of plants and animals as their forefathers and protectors, as well as forces of nature like sun, moon and stars and believed that they had special powers. Neolithic man lived a life very close to nature so his myths and culture were deeply entwined with natural cycles and seasons and this influenced his art, culture and way of life. The religious beliefs of Neolithic people concentrate upon the cult of Mother Goddess, including the figure of Venus.

Aspects of Human Nature – Apollonian or Dionysian

Distinction between Apollonian and Dionysian is often used to identify patterns of culture. Apollonian is the classical – controlled, rational, individualistic, analytical, while Dionysian is expressive, irrational, synthetic, symbolic and group-oriented. Apollo is the god of sun, and, thus, he is associated with light, reason, truth, order, hierarchy, male, and restraint. Dionysius is the god of wine, so he is the god of earth, emotion, female, and excess. Thus, taking into account these characteristics, the Neolithic farming culture can be called Dionysian, as Earth was an important theme in the myths. To avoid exhaustion of the secret power of earth people performed symbolic rituals. Neolithic myths asserted that a man is part of the earth as rocks, trees and rivers and is closely connected to some particular place and this bond is stronger than the ties of kinship. For instance, Athenian king Erihtony was born in the holy land of Acropolis and in honor of this wonderful event the famous ancient monument was built. Human sexuality is also prominent in both artifacts and myths, identified essentially with divine power fertilizing the ground. In the period of sowing, men and women had ritual sexual intercourse. One of the major points of emphasis refers to Mother Goddess, which becomes a symbol of female heroism. Her role is to restore balance and harmony. This theme can be traced in the myths about Mesopotamian goddess Inanna and her trip to the underworld, and the myth about Demeter and her daughter Persephone.

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Neolithic herding and hunting culture can probably be related to Apollonian, as male is prominent in both artifacts. Even 80% of the graves of that time contained males. In Neolithic hunting culture the sun, which is associated with Apollo, is the main artifact. Stonehenge, built by hunters, is aligned with the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset.

Unfortunately, not all the myths of Neolithic culture can be known due to the lack of written records from those times, but it is evident that at that ancient time two types of religious behavior coexisted – Dionysian and Apollonian. The Christian tradition will call the former “paganism” and the later “orthodoxy”.

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