Fields of the Lord: Animism, Christian Minorities, and State Development in Indonesia

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Sea Fans by Joseph W. Take away the technology, the language and the culture of the contemporary world, and imagine life in simpler settings and times. Make an attempt based on pure observation without contemporary perspectives to explain why things are as they are. Imagine yourself as a child or an alien seeing a chair for the first time; then imagine what the Hawaiian chiefs must have thought of it when Captain Cook first presented them with the gift of a chair. Listen for your often elusive "inner voice" to tell you and be guided by your intuition, your physical skills, your reason and your imagination to find some way to survive on an unpredictable planet.

Do this and you will come close to the experience of the first conscious humans in "primitive cultures" and also what is the foundational perspective for almost all religions and societies to this day. So-called "Western Scientific Thought" since the 17th century Age of Reason has denied the validity of intuition and imagination as ways of understanding.

A modern Western child who has night visions or nightmarish dreams of monsters under the bed is told it's just an overactive imagination making up scary ideas. Stories of appearances of abominable snowmen, dragon creatures living in lakes or monsters in the ocean, or giant ape men living in forests are discounted as stories to scare children or "whoppers" - exaggerated stories made up by the storyteller to boost his status in the community.

Sightings of aliens and spaceships from other planets are fodder for sensationalist magazines and modern fiction writers. The essential premise of animistic thought is that communication with the natural and supernatural invisible worlds is both possible and actual. The language may or may not be spoken; often intuitive or telepathic exchanges are the norm according to Carlos Castaneda's "Don Juan" series and other writers such as the Hawaiian shaman, Serge Kahili King.

Guidance may also come from "the other world" in the forms of signs or symbols. Clouds, trees and rocks may be described by an artist as ' being' an old man or a winged horse. Animism would look to the spirits that are taking on the forms to send messages and provide guidance to human worshippers. To begin to accept the concepts behind animistic thinking, it is necessary for the modern person to drop scientific skepticism temporarily Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief".

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Like watching a science fiction movie, the entrance into seeing through another culture's eyes requires a radical shift and accepting imagination. To change the frames of perception and point-of-view and remain open to the ideas of other cultures may be very difficult for the inculcated modern Western thinker with a fixed scientific perspective.

Animism conceives of the Universe as filled with spirits, some taking form and others unseen. The babbling sounds of a brook can be interpreted with a little imagination as the voice of one or more water spirits singing. Children throughout the world readily accept that even though they can only catch glimpses of them, there are indeed fairies and elves dancing in the woods on full moon nights. In many traditions, the unusual appearance or behavior of an animal is interpreted as a sign directly from Spirit with important meaning.

Wise elders in many tribal communities are consulted for their readings and interpretations of these messages. The earliest cave paintings show animals and human-like animals. It is generally thought among anthropologists that an animistic point-of-view would have developed as humans sought ways to control their success rate in obtaining their food.

Rituals and magical offerings, dances to incite warriors to frenzy in their hunting attacks, masks made of the inedible skulls became lures and ways of "getting into the minds" of their prey. Theatre designer Robert Edmond Jones imagined the development of theatre and storytelling from a hunter returning to his family and miming the scenes of the hunt in a fire lit cave.

With the dawn of agriculture and the settling of communities into tribal villages, the whole populace would have been involved in the seasonal patterns of sowing, planting, tending the fields, and harvesting.

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In years of plenty, the abundance of food would provide the occasion for communal celebrations. To request the blessings of the forces that provided for the miraculous growth of the crops is but a small step in the imagination to the development of rituals and magical practices to ensure those blessings. The "Seasonal Pattern" or "Cycle" governs all aspects of life from daily work to social behaviors.

In most cultures, evidences of animistic thought can be seen in offerings, prayers and rituals made to the weather, the elements and the directions. The Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism himself is said to travel with a "Weather Maker," a priest whose duty is to invoke, appease and honor the spirits of weather. Archaeological research of the Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian and other prehistoric and preliterate cultures on the Indian subcontinent and China, often points to examples in art and artifacts indicating early ritual practices and a broadly animistic worldview.

By the time of the literate Greeks, a pantheon of deities is actively worshipped in a variety of rites and rituals, signs and symbols have important meaning, and the channeled mystical messages of unfortunate Cassandra and the Oracle at Delphi are acknowledged as directly inspired by one divinity or another. Psychologists and anthropologists studying the cultures of isolated tribes, especially their shamanic and religious practices, note radical differences in worldviews.

What is the state of Religious Pluralism in Indonesia?

When long isolated tribal peoples come in contact with contemporary Western culture - even through the presence of a single field researcher - there is an essential shift in their understanding of the universe. He returned some years later and showed the films to the now older group. His description of their reactions implies that they believed the pictures were truly magic in action - a kind of "time collapse" - at any rate, a traumatic experience for the group.

Illiteracy is prevalent in many parts of the world: for someone who has never seen a map or read a book, the news that men have walked on the moon and that there is a space station in the sky now clearly must come as a shock or simply beyond belief. Sir James Frazer in his massive collection of myths and legends, The Golden Bough, defines magic as the performance of certain acts to effect change or ensure continuance of the season cycles.

Seasonal rituals, such as the sacrifice of a human especially a king or animals at the spring planting, are performed for the efficacious purposes of ensuring food crops will grow and gods or spirits will be propitiated. These "superstitions" or magic-making rituals flow from a conception that humans must interact with spirits to keep the world order moving along safely. If the rites are not performed in a timely, accurate manner, many cultures believe - and can offer empirical proof within their own lifetimes - that the security of the community will be jeopardized.

Native American and African myths tell of the appearances of birds, spiders, turtles and other creatures that shape the earthly environment and make it suitable for human life. A Chinese story tells of Pan Ku, the first god, who was born out of the world egg. Myths explain the connection between individual human life and the universe surrounding the individual and their community. The environment is the way it is because of a specific divine purpose, which gives meaning and underlies the culture.

It is an important task of each community to figure out the best ways to work with the seen and unseen forces that shape their lives - the creation myths especially offer keys as to how to do that.

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They describe the uses of power in specific ways and offer patterns of behavior that will elicit more power for humans to control their realities. Nothing less than the energy of the Universal Life Forces is at stake. By working with nature and the unseen guiding divine forces, power will be granted to humans: "mana" to the Hawaiian shamans, "prana" the breath of life and "shakti" for Hindu yogis, "chi" in Chinese traditions, "ki" in Japanese arts.

This power is spiritual in its essence and energy in its manifest presence on the earthly plane. Much has been written about the meaning for Christians and Jews of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for their "sin" of eating the apple of forbidden knowledge.


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In many Christian teachings, humans are inevitably sinners and will be tempted throughout their lives by satanic forces that they must resist. Human life, then following the story pattern, is shaped by the avoidance of seemingly innocent tempters like the snake - danger or "evil" in disguise.

Temptation and loss are strong themes as is the search for the regaining of paradise.

What is the state of Religious Pluralism in Indonesia? | Southeast Asia Program

These are just some among many familiar animistic images at the root of Christian thinking: the lion with Daniel in the den, the lamb who lay down with the lion to create the peaceable kingdom, the medieval and Renaissance tales of the Crusades and the legend of King Arthur of Britain are just a few examples. The New Testament Jesus, as the Christ, is described repeatedly as having magical powers: "miraculously" transforming water into wine, curing the ill and raising the dead, making a few fishes and loaves feed thousands.

Shrines and statues of the Virgin Mary throughout the world today are centers for thousands of pilgrims seeking miraculous cures. Some interpret the New Testament and certain Old Testament texts including "The Song of Solomon" as similar to the Hindu Vedas and other sacred texts as direct teachings of how humans can learn to perform miracles. There they gather for a procession down the mountain lit by flaming tree boughs. They play gagaku music, eerie sounds echo through the forest, as a litter containing a small box is lifted on several priests' shoulders. Slowly they proceed down to a large field where several bonfires are lit on their arrival.

Throughout the night, figures dressed in white don masks of animals and mythical creatures and perform stately dances.

Prayers, chants, and music continue till dawn. Often in Japan, Westerners are mildly scolded for asking "Why? Would Japan cease to be if the priests stopped the rituals? On the island of Bali in Indonesia, women rise at dawn every day to pick fresh flowers and cut bamboo for offering baskets to be placed throughout their home. Rice and spices are favorites of certain benevolent deities that live in sunny spots; other foods please the more malevolent spirits that reside in inauspicious places such as certain doors and dark places. On festival days, women are expected to make as many as offerings, which ornament their homes, temples, streets and fields of the village.

In Tibet, North India, Nepal and Bhutan, and in many cities around the world since the exodus of the Dalai Lama from Tibet in , Tibetan priests daily offer prayers for the welfare of the world, especially all sentient beings. MDS classes with significant recommendations overlap, excluding ones under the same top-level class.

Melvil Dewey invented his Dewey Decimal System in , and early versions of his system are in the public domain. Home Groups Talk Zeitgeist. I Agree This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and if not signed in for advertising. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms. Melvil Decimal System: Works under MDS Aragon God's miracles;: Indonesian church growth by Ebbie C.