By Abdu Rafiu
Every now and then there is talk about foreign religions. The two religions to which our minds race at the mention of foreign religions are Christianity and the Islamic faith. We read and we hear of years of resistance and wars in different lands and in different communities, in centuries past. The natives everywhere see the advent of the religions as an intrusion into their own ways of life; it was an attempt at supplanting their religions and ways of worship for those of the Whiteman. The people of old not exposed to Western education resisted them. The modern man, well educated, has reservations. Those who embraced the new religions could not understand why their towns’ men could not see what they were seeing. They became over-zealous and believed force was the answer. Come with me to Umuaro in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God.
The elders met, disturbed that the Yam Festival was going to be postponed, a period each person was to give one yam to their deity, Ulu. The influence of Christianity would also get them to abandon the worship of Python. John Jaja Good country, Catechist of St mark’s C.M.S Church Umuaro would countenance no such thing as the worship of what were regarded as sacred animals. His uncompromising position was opposed by the most important Christian in Umuaro, Moses Unachukwu who feared the possibility of incidents of martyrdom in the area. It already happened in Delta Pastorate which claimed the life of Joshua Hart. There was a petition to the Bishop of the Niger. There were skirmishes following which the Lieutenant Governor wrote a strong letter to the bishop, a White priest, to call his over-zealous boys to order. The Bishop himself, in turn, wrote a firm letter to Good country, the Catechist, and assured the community that the catechist would not interfere with the python, but prayerfully hoped that the day would not be long when the priest and all his people would turn away from the worship of snakes and idols to the true religion.
As it was with the people of Umuaro, so was it in the several parts of the world, whether in India or China. There have been writings in which the authors wonder how even highly educated people could embrace foreign religions, forsaking their own. They must be victims of brainwashing, they assert. There is a reference to the Chinese that they have held on to Confucianism, based on the teachings of Con-Fu-Tse. They also argue that Hinduism is the main religion of Indians. Why will Africans not hold on to theirs, especially as the study of Ifa corpus is said to be going places, in some parts of America and among Brazilians of Yoruba extraction? The penultimate Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade was wont to say to the world that Creation began at Ile-Ife, rekindling memories of dispersal from out of Ife, adding proudly that Remo in Ijebu was from his domain, Ile-Ife. What is called Olojo Festival is staged yearly at Ile-Ife to commemorate the story of creation. There is the Osun Oshogbo Festival which is not unrelated to the Ife beliefs.
The question to ask is: Are there, in the real sense, foreign religions? What is religion? Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines religion as “a belief in, or the worship of, a god, or gods; a particular system of belief, or worship, such as Christianity or Judaism…” It is from the Latin word religion. For the purpose of this discussion, the definition that is germane is “a particular system of belief, or worship, such as Christianity or Judaism…” To the extent that a particular system of belief and worship is not indigenous to people, it can be said that some religions are foreign. However, it cannot be said that this gives the total picture. How did belief and worship begin?
Spiritual longing is inherent in all human beings in consequence of who they are and where they came from. As I stated last week, every human being carries within him a spiritual core. He is a spirit from Spiritual Realm more commonly referred to as Paradise were as a result of the luminosity of the vicinity of the Almighty Creator, vicinity which, in terms of distance and vastness from the Throne of Grace, is inconceivable and incomprehensible to us human beings. There we lived in an unconscious state which made it impossible for us to partake of the splendor and joyful activities there, the urge arose in us to be permitted conscious existence. This urge was a petition to the Creator. It was granted and all human spirits were led through different intervening planes to a cooler region of this earth carrying earthly cloak called the physical body. The substances of the intervening planes are wrapped as finer bodies around the spirit which makes us a soul, and an earth dweller on earth with the physical body. This is why it is possible to continue living outside of this earth at the death when the physical body is discarded. The purpose of the man’s sojourn on earth is to mature, familiarize himself with the Will of God and internalize It so he can obey It and swing in It effortlessly. Our world is, therefore, is a school.
As influences of the material world assail us we begin to come into an awakening through experiences. Man gets to be aware of forces around him, known as animistic beings. These were the first teachers of mankind. As loyal servants of the Creator, they were the preparer and builder of the Household of God which is at the same time His Mantle. They taught the ancestors of man what plant to eat as food and what plant to use to heal our ailing bodies. They showed them what plant was poisonous. They taught them the season to plant and the time of harvesting. Using radiations they bring plants into life and tend them. They work with unbelievable precision and harmonious beauty. Are we not seized by the meadows of the field and enthralled by gushing brook of the village or the waterfalls of Ikogosi in Ekiti, or the huge mountains or the hills of Mambilla? It only stands to reason to note that the elemental beings have forms and have consciousness. Indeed, they have human forms, even Water Sprites that have pinioned a form that makes clairvoyants and children who see them refer to them as angels. They are the governing and regulating forces, generating and preserving forms. In the words of Christopher Vasey, a Swiss naturopath who has done extensive studies on them, “they govern the chemical processes of inanimate matter and biological processes of animate entities.” And indeed, control them.
Because the early men were close to nature, and as their perceptive faculty began to unfold, they were capable of seeing them. They saw the giants among them with their heads touching the clouds. These were Gnomes that build mountains and hills. Despite their size, they are of inconceivable beauty. This made the people of ancient days believe they had seen the Creator, and they began to worship them. Similarly, their sharpened faculty and inner eyes were permitted to see Nixies more commonly called Water Sprites, and in our local parlance, Mammy Water; they are in charge of rivers and oceans. They were worshipped as well. So were the Elves—male elves in charge of trees and female elves forming and tending flowers. In recognition and appreciation of their stupendous work, Harvest Festivals are instituted in different cultures. Hence Yam Festival in the East, South- West, South-South, and North-Central. In parts of South-West, the Harvest Festival is known as Orisa Oko, or Orisa Nla and the worship of the river goddess is Yemoja. There is the god of iron (Ogun) and god of thunder (Sango). Salamanders create fire from the precipitation of the Power of the Holy Spirit flowing through Creation and Sylphs in charge of the air, winds, tornadoes, cyclones, and hurricanes. Their sizes correspond with the nature of their activities. While giant gnomes form, tend or dissolve mountains, tiny gnomes form sands of the beach.
From the foregoing, it can be seen that the knowledge of these beings exists among all peoples and in all cultures. Although the beings protest being worshipped because worship belongs only to God Almighty, human beings beheld them in wonders and amazement and would not heed the admonition and warning. In some cases, the beings had to withdraw their activities from rivers and the rivers dried up. Sylphs cause settlements to be uprooted and salamanders fire to gut forests leading to towns to relocate as a result of extensive damage. Of course, their activities are motivated and driven by love the knowledge of which is lacking among us human beings. Thunderstorms, for example, are meant to balance the extreme differences in electrical potential which has built up between the ground and higher atmospheric layers, an activity featuring electrical discharges that constitute lightning-caused between clouds and the ground. The essence is to engender and maintain a balance between polar and the tropical zones. This is why thunder and lightning are prevalent in September in our clime when the sun crosses the Equator headed for the Southern Hemisphere and March when it arrives again on the Equator crossing to the Northern Hemisphere.
The ancient Greeks with increased sharper perception even saw the lords of the gods and goddesses such as Zeus, as the god of justice, Apollo god of sincerity, Athena, the god of vigilance and Ares, the god of courage. As the modern man began to downgrade and in fact shut down the hind brain which is the spiritually receptive faculty of man, he began to close himself to the knowledge of elemental beings and dismissed them as primitive and paganic. Missionaries and clerics dismissed them as myths and unreal and got different people in the course of evangelisation believe only theirs is the way and people must embrace Christianity. While recognition of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Truth and Life is the ultimate, the ordinance of the Creator, however, is that man is to be led step by step from one level of their recognition to the other.
In their development, the Jews were the first to come to the recognition of only one supreme God through the revelation Abraham received about 1800 BC. This was reinforced and concretised with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments of God on Mount Sinai (about 1250BC). Thus, because they were the closest to truth it was to be expected they would enact such a link with the Highest Realm in accordance with the Law of Homogeneity as to permit the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ through them for the salvation of mankind. The Love of God Incarnate coming among them was not a racial issue as has been misconstrued by different races. The Jews went into slavery, they went through wars and several painful experiences so they could preserve their high recognition and refine them inwardly so they could continue to be worthy of receiving the Saviour of Mankind in their midst. Prophets arose from amongst them to remind them of their mission and to warn having become the chosen race to prepare for the great Mission. From there the Gospel was to be spread abroad and throughout the world.
Next week: Teachers of mankind and the prophets, to answer the question as to whether religions are foreign.