Without understanding the sacred, faith can only be an illusion that can be destroyed. Therefore, we need to question and understand the concept of the sacred.
What is “sacred”?
Generally speaking, texts define the sacred as “anything divine and otherworldly that is beyond human reach.” When we examine myths from around the world, we see that the concept of the sacred also includes meanings such as inaccessibility, devotion, belonging, authority, ruler, owner, lover. Sacred means something connected to the divine creator, something from God, or anything related to God.
When we look at human history, we see that everything related to grace, blessing and transcendence has been sanctified. People have always sacralized anything and/or everything that they hoped and feared beyond their knowledge. Every belief in the sacred has created myths and rituals specific to the geography and cultural background from which it originated all over the world.
In ancient societies, sacred myths were the only truth. This is why mythology is sacred. Because it tells how divine and god-like figures brought about their creative acts at the beginning of time. Most disciplines recognize that myths are universal, that the same text is expressed in different cultures and with different heroes. Why are myths universal? These stories carry meaningful messages for humanity because they express different aspects and different reflections of the one truth. The same meaning is conveyed to new generations through different scenarios and unique rituals about the birth of the cosmos (cosmogony), the position of man in the social order and the death of the cosmos (eschatology). Thus, myth offers useful life practices while protecting morality and social order through codes. Events such as birth, death, drought, fertility, etc. are accepted as blessings and punishments of the gods and messages sent to the world from the metaphysical realm. Myths emphasize only the sacred. Considered in many parts of the world as the oldest revelation, myths have engraved the search for meaning in human consciousness and preached humanistic values, judgments and morals. The purpose of all myths is to recreate on earth the spiritual power of the first moment of creation and to awaken the higher power in the human soul.
Mircea Eliade, a devoted researcher of myths and therefore of the sacred, tells us of a reverse evolution from Homo Religious to Homo Economicus. Likewise, some psychiatrists agree that fairy tales are the common dream of all mankind and contain solutions to the psychological problems of humanity. They lift the veil by offering solutions to the drama of the human psyche because the same characters (archetypes) are present in everyone’s psyche.
According to Jung, we can tap into the collective unconscious of humanity and pull these symbols and bring them into our reality. Some of them can be symbols of virtue, others of evil. They also contain attributes and characteristics that together complete the “One and the Whole” that no one denies. The story of humanity, which began with the creation of myths, continues in countless stories, legends and tales in different parts of the world. Ultimately, all myths, beliefs and rituals arise from the human desire and passion to participate in the perfect cycle of the Creator, in unity.
Every myth, every legend and even fairy tales and superstitions all contain the sacred without exception. Although tales are not the truth itself, they carry symbolic expressions of the truth. Thus, legends and tales are gateways to truth and the sacred through symbolic narratives. For this reason, when we read them, we feel a sense of relief, love and hope.
When we look at the history of God and the creation myths from a sacred perspective, we can see the perfect harmony. If you do not have the patience for this integrative and complementary research, you may come to the misleading conclusion that the information you find in a Sumerian tablet is also found in the books of revelation and therefore assume that the holy books were copied from non-religious sources. But if you have the patience to look deeper into mythology, you can escape this illusion and see that the texts of tribes living in disparate, independent places are incredibly similar and connected to the same divine knowledge. You will see that they all stem from a single truth. Traces of the story of Adam and Eve or Noah can be found under different names and figures in Aboriginal cultures and even in African tribes. From the most primitive societies to our modern age, creation myths and rituals have always been alive and ready to share their secrets to reappear in human life.
From monotheistic religions to shamanic beliefs, every action is full of rituals. From primitive life to the present day, all life is full of sacred myths and rituals that support faith. Myth requires ritual and rit requires myth. As author Robert A. Johnson states in ‘Ecstasy’: “The purpose of ritual is not to work magic or to dominate someone or something and subjugate it to our will, but to make a divine connection, to have a momentary experience of the oneness of two worlds.”
Spaces are also sanctified by manifestations of the divine. The manifestation of a hierophany (sacred object or subject) or rituals can transform an ordinary place into an Axis Mundi, the center of the world. The axis mundi is the center that connects heaven and earth, a sacred place believed to be the cosmos. Mircea Eliade states that this act is the sacralization of a site through rituals that “result in detaching it from the surrounding cosmic environment and making it qualitatively different”. ¹
The purpose of rituals is to bring order to elements that tend to lose their axis in a chaotic world. For a religious person, space is not homogeneous; he experiences interruptions in it and sees the fractures in it and realizes that some parts of it are qualitatively different from others. “Do not approach,” the Lord says to Moses (as), “take the shoes off your feet, for the ground on which you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus, 3, 5)
There must therefore be a unique sacred space, and all other spaces in which the space is the same must be unholy, and therefore no myth or sacred meaning can dedicate an orientation to an unbelieving human being who rejects the sanctity of the world and all religious assumptions. It must be made clear that in essence there is never such an unholy existence. No matter how much man may desanctify the world, no matter how much he may choose to live a non-religious life, he will never be able to completely rid himself of sacred behavior. Our daily lives are full of rituals based on myths that we perform unconsciously and instinctively. Knocking on wood when we hear something negative is a perfect example of the rituals we continue to perform unconsciously in our modern lives.
On the other hand, it is seen that people who live with their Sacred want to take part in a reality that will not paralyze them against the motives and impulses coming from the collective unconscious, and they aim to live in a world where they can act with their will instead of a world full of illusions.
Myths and rituals, which are more vivid in the collective unconscious, always guide your life, whether you believe in them or not. Let us explain how: We said that all spiritual teachings have rituals. For example, Christians still respectfully decorate Christmas trees for prosperity, which is actually a pagan symbol of immortality and holiness because pine trees do not fall. The legends of the “tree of life” or sacred tree differ in each belief system, but there is one thing in common: it is forbidden to cut down the sacred tree. According to these beliefs, the natural spirits will curse the man who cuts down one of the sacred trees forever.
The human races have had various beliefs about the sacred, also expressed as gods. Carl G. Jung of modern psychology claims that this “archetype” exists in our collective pool and will manifest in our reality whether we want it to or not. When we remove the concept of God from our conscious mind, it is not far-fetched that we may unconsciously begin to worship our spouse, lover or child, or even a musician, perhaps a soccer team, or more likely a political party or a leader. The archetype needs to manifest in our lives, so if we don’t manifest it in the right way, it determines the way it manifests.
Our ancestors believed in various myths full of mythical creatures, gods and goddesses. “Mythology” is not limited to Ancient Greek. The concept of the “Mother Goddess” is embedded in our genes, so the belief in a deity, whether mythological or apocalyptic, has always existed in all cultures around the world.
Therefore, an atheist who denies the existence of a supreme power should consider the following argument in his search for truth:
Your ancestors have transferred the record of the concept of God into your subconscious mind. It may be possible for your conscious mind to deny it. But on a superficial level this information is hidden in your subconscious mind, the mechanism that controls your impulses and thoughts without your intervention or even awareness, and you cannot erase what is there.
What does the collective unconscious bring to our lives?
We think we control our choices, but most of our decisions, perspectives, emotions and actions are controlled by the collective unconscious. We will discuss this in detail in later chapters.
Let’s go back to the topic of sacred sacrificial rituals. For example, in Islam the ritual of sacrifice is essential. Allah declares in the Qur’an that the blood of the sacrificed animal does not reach Him and that this ritual serves only human beings.
“Surely neither their flesh nor their blood reaches Allah. Only your piety will reach Him.” (Qur’an, Surah Hajj, verse 37)
Some modern-day Islamic scholars have tried to explain the purpose of this commandment by appealing to our intellectual side, claiming that it is to distribute meat to the poor and feed them. This is a very shallow and incomplete explanation. Why are we talking about slaughter when it is possible to provide plants such as vegan/vegetarian plants instead of meat for the poor? Even Hinduism praises animal sacrifice rituals. The Brahmanas (explanation of the Vedas) describe sacrifice. Why?
Think about how our ancestors sacrificed so many precious things over the centuries, from tribal animals to innocent young, to increase fertility, appease the gods or pay for sins. They sacrificed living beings. What would happen if we abolished this deeply rooted ritual of sacrifice today?
Western psychology has an answer to this question:
“We know that when we see someone who identifies with an archetypal role, such as murderer, victim, or victimizer, an impulse or complex takes over consciousness. All other aspects of the personality feed the person’s victimhood or victimization and consciousness is ignored. The victim archetype can control us in an unconscious state because the workings and mysteries of the collective unconscious cannot be destroyed on a conscious level.” – Psychoanalyst, Liz Greene
We have already mentioned that the purpose of religions is to give meaning to human beings. According to Jung, religion is an ontological phenomenon. This phenomenon symbolically participates in the meaning world of individuals. For a person to ‘believe’ means that his/her dormant symbols (possibilities of ideas) awaken and come alive, whereas to ‘not believe’ means that his/her symbols lose their vitality. Since an archetype that has not been revived or has gradually lost its vitality cannot have a meaningful counterpart, meaning gaps are created in the contemporary mind. Religion is a set of possibilities offered to people to intuit the meaning of life. It is the task of a lifetime to ensure the integrity of the personality. The task of man is to “prepare himself for death in its deepest sense.” An existence ‘pregnant with meanings’ is unilaterally developed. The dissociated consciousness is cut off from the divine by losing contact with the soul. According to Jung, “only by calling upon the creative powers of our own spiritual depths, by giving them their due, can we restore the balance we have lost.”
The main purpose of all religions is to make existence meaningful in accordance with the purpose of human creation. Meaning in religion is God’s gift, God’s grace. Although meaning is the most fundamental value of human beings, it is not given to human beings from birth, ready-made. Man is created with a predisposition to give meaning. This is precisely the characteristic of human creation. In Islamic mysticism, the predisposition to give meaning as a characteristic and purpose of human creation is called “Istidad”. Istidad is the raw material waiting to be processed in every human being.
¹-Eliade states: In the transition from one plane to another, a sacred staircase is also created, either upwards (towards the Divine World) or downwards (towards the underworld, the world of the dead). The three cosmic levels – earth, heaven, underworld – are communicated through this ladder… This communication is sometimes expressed in the image of a universal pillar, the Axis Mundi, which simultaneously connects and supports heaven and earth. Axis mundi is closely related to the mythological concept of the omphalos (navel) of the world or cosmos. Items offered by comparative mythologists as examples of the axis mundi include plants (especially a tree, but also other types of plants such as a vine or stalk), a mountain, a pillar of smoke or fire, or a man-made product (e.g. an item of the shaman or saint) (such as a cardigan, a tower, a staircase, a pole, a cross, a cross, a belfry, a rope, a totem pole, a pillar). Its proximity to heaven can carry implications that are mainly religious (pagoda, temple mountain, minaret, church) or secular/profan (obelisk, lighthouse, rocket, skyscraper). The image appears in both religious and secular contexts. The axis mundi symbol can be found in cultures that use shamanic practices or animist belief systems, in major world religions, and even in technologically advanced “urban centers”. In Mircea Eliade’s view: “Every microcosm, every enclave, has a Center, that is, a place that is above all sacred.
Wright, M. A. (2014). Axis Mundi: Ritual Complexes in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon.
J. C. Cooper. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols. Thames and Hudson: New York, 1978. ISBN 0500271259.
Mircea Eliade (tr. Willard Trask). ‘Archetypes and Repetition’ in The Myth of the Eternal Return. Princeton, 1971. ISBN 0691017778. p.16