I felt a bit sick today, so I spent the day on the couch watching programs from pbs.org. I watched this one about Stonehenge and how new technologies were shedding light on things the original excavations in the 20’s and 30’s were unable to uncover. They also found more henge sites in the area, and were able to link them together and make a new, very well educated guess as to their purpose.
It all got me thinking about ancient human experience at the end of the Neolithic stone age, as well as human experience in general. I guess all this lead to my random thought of the day today, which occurred to me while I stood in the bathroom waiting for the hot water running out of the sink tap to actually get hot.
Very early on, when humanity had no concept of science or even cause and effect really, every major discovery must have seemed like a miracle. After eons of simply existing, and maybe picking up a stick or a rock to use as simple tools, the actual discover of fire and how one could make fire must have seemed like some kind of magic or miracle or act of the gods. Couple this simple grasp on reality with a growing awareness of one’s own mortality and the search for meaning will naturally cultivate a belief in a god or many gods who control all miraculous and wondrous things such as fire.
Fire is so amazing and powerful, and it does not just occur on a whim or leap into being without a violent thunderous display from the gods. Now imagine a human discovers he can rub sticks together in a certain way, the gods approve of his ritual, and the god of fire bestows the gift of flame to his righteous altar. Perform the ritual incorrectly, and the gods are not appeased. No fire. Naturally this link between ritual and god/gods follows humanity through the ages to this very day, from the Aztecs cutting out hearts to Old Testament folks slaughtering goats to churchy types wearing robes and tall hats and swinging burning incense around.
Even though today we view these rituals as symbolic, their progenitors took these rituals so deadly seriously because they simply did not understand that god has nothing to do with fire or the seasons or if crops come in or not. Through the ages, understating the way things work has pushed back the veil of superstition and miracle, making ritual more and more symbolic than literal.
PS, things I thought about today and decided I loved – The miracle of the Internet, that it’s becoming normal to watch TV programs on the Internet, and the fact I have running water in my home and I can get hot water on demand. To people living 1000 years ago, this would all seem absolutely supernatural, just as fire might have to prehistoric man.