Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Position Paper #1 Mircea Eliade


Rituals and Archetypes

“It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless.
You spend your life working, laboring, and what do you have to show for it?
Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same”

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

The King Solomon who has been known as most wise one began his Book ‘Ecclesiastes’ with this verse above. It is really true. And it is one of the reasons why I study History. History repeats itself. There has been some patterns therefore we can get something helpful for us to live our time from the past.

According to the view of Cyclical history proposed by Mircea Eliade things recur over and over again which means that there is nothing new in our world. And under this condition, there has been imitation and repetition of something that a divine model or an archetype had shown.

I partially agree on the views of Eliade except for the concept of Samsa-ra, transmigration of soul and the other concept now prevalent in Buddhism and Hinduism. Since the world began, there has always been famine, war, conflict, hopelessness, happiness, and satisfaction that people normally feel and experience. Those fundamental feelings or experiences have never been vanished on the Earth. Although the appearances of those things were always different according to the characteristics or aspects of different societies and periods, they have always been existed. What I mean here is that there are some patterns in our world which is not changed.

This fact urged people to find something meaningful, special and unique. They had realized that things happening around them are actually useless and meaningless. Because of the condition that something meaningful, special and unique is not found among themselves, people began to find something meaningful from archetype and myth. Mircea Eliade stated in his book "Cosmos and History(1954)" that “EVERY RITUAL has a divine model, an archetype; this fact is well enough known for us to confine ourselves to recalling a few examples. "We must do what the gods did in the beginning" (Satapatha Brahma^a, VII, 2, 1,4). "Thus the gods did; thus men do" (Taittirlya Brahmana, l y 5, 9, 4)”. It clearly tells us that every ritual in every aspect of human life is imitating and repeating an archetype. Desires of people to experience something unique lead them to imitate an archetype.

And this is also associated to their religious belief. According to John Calvin, in his book “Institutes of the Christian Religion(1559)”, every human being has been given desire toward divine being. It is proved by the fact that only human beings build a church. Monkeys do not build a church. People already knew that something meaningful was with a divine being.

Therefore, it is really true that people make rituals and practice them based on what their divine model and an archetype showed. And this tendency of people came from the awareness of that there is nothing new, and meaningful in their world(which is the cyclical conception) and belief that they would find it from an archetype, a divine model, a myth etc and their desire(or religiousness) to experience something an archetype had done.


Cyclical or Linear History?

A matter of a conception toward History is really important for Historians because how we interpret or analyze Historical events is based on our conception of History. There may be various interpretations on one specific event according to different conceptions of History.

Mircea Eliade in his book “Cosmos and History” discussed two important conceptions in History- the Cyclical and Linear conception. The main point of Cyclical conception is that History repeats itself and has particular patterns in its progression which means that one thing that is happening now is something that has happened before. The Linear conception says that human society, culture, and any other aspect of human life has been developing and each event happening is different from before so every event and part of History is unique and special. It has been an issue among Historians that which conception we must take toward History.

In my opinion, both conceptions should be taken to understand History properly. In my own view on History, History can be divided into two (History is actually one but this division is to help our understanding); History of God and History of Human.

I would like to talk about History of Human first. For History of Human, I take cyclical conception as what I have mentioned above. I do not deny the fact that each aspects of human life is developing and progressing as time goes but the fundamental factors that constitute human life have never been changed. More civilized people nowadays feel and experience the same as primitive people did in old time. Although modern people and primitive people contact different material and non-material culture, what they fundamentally think, experience, feel and act are the same. Those things are happiness, sadness, peace, war, greed etc which have always existed in human life. It is not hard to find something existing in both present time and old time.

An apple tree does not bear an orange. It bears an apple. There is no tree which bears two kinds of fruits. This is the reason why I consider History of Human as cyclical. Human being bears what they can possibly bear. They cannot produce something that they do not have. And things they have are limited. We have to admit the fact that we are a limited being. Because of this condition, Human History is repeating itself. So it is not a surprise that Human History is going with particular patterns and its events could not always be new and unique. That is why we have something to learn from past events. The appearance of output of human being can possibly different from time to time according to different background but essence of output is not changed. Therefore, History will go with some patterns and recur over and over again unless it is from human being.

However, there are questions left unanswered such as “why something unpredictable and we cannot control is happening around our lives?” Natural disasters such as typhoon, and earthquake or something unbelievable in human’s understanding have been happening in our History and even in present time. Those are not made by Human. My answer to this question is that God has been working on the world since He created it. Basically, the History of Human is cyclical but we have to see that God (some of people would name Him ‘Superpower’) is working on limited and cyclical History of Human to accomplish His will toward Human being and His work and History is linear because everything He does is new, unique and special.

It seems that History is made and managed by a human being but it is God who manages and superintends History not a human being. God has been working on the world with his omniscience and omnipotence. So even if we do not know, the world goes as God’s wants and will.

Therefore, I conclude that History is cyclical in human’s view but in God’s view it is linear. History is a work of God not human being. I am a beginner in studying of History, but if someone ask me to have my own philosophy of History, I will first make it sure that God is the owner and maker of History.

I would like to end this paper with two verses in the Bible that establish my philosophy. I hope we can see God’s work that is beautiful, unique, new and special even once in this meaningless world and our cyclical events and time.

“What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the whole world.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already---you can see it now!…

Isaiah 43:19


Mircea Eliade (1954). Cosmos and History New York: Harper Torchbooks

John Calvin (1559). Institute of the Christian Religion (Vol. I,II) Philadelphia: the Westminster Ecclesiates.

Good Newes Bible Today's English Version New York: American Bible Society

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