KNOWsis

a Site for Spiritual Explorers


WORLD RELIGIONS AND SACRED TEXTS

PAGAN RELIGIONS


The word "Pagan" literally means "one who lives in closeness with the land".  All humans share a common Pagan ancestry and thus Pagan spiritual traditions are the most ancient.    Paganism describes any of the many varied earth-based faiths such as Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidism, Shamanism, Hinduism, Hawaiian Religion and many indigenous religions of Europe, Africa, Asia and America.  Certain sub-genres of Paganism include Astrology, the Jewish Mystical tradition of Kaballah, numerology, Spiritualism and New Age.  These traditions evolved out of humanity's primal experiences on earth and honor the natural forces that create and sustain all of earthly life - including the stars, planets, sun and moon.  Unlike most other organized faiths, many Pagan religions are female-centered and embrace the Goddess as opposed to a male God.  Some Pagan faiths view the Divine Spirit as a balance between Male and Female and embrace the co-deities of the Lord and Lady.

All of the prominent world religions owe much of their beliefs and rites to Pagan traditions -  The concept of the Virgin and Child Savior, use of incense and lighting of candles, worshipping of an all-loving Divine Spirit, a redeemer who shall come and save the world from suffering and sin - these all have very ancient pre-Christian roots.


Isis and child,

Mary and child

Christian holiday rites such as trimming of the Christmas Tree comes from a primal Pagan tradition called "The Tree of Life". The symbol of the five-pointed star of Bethlehem originated with the Pagan Pentagram. The celebration of Christmas itself is actually a continuation of the Pagan Winter Solstice rite of welcoming the return of the Sun God to earth which takes place on December 21.  Easter eggs,   Easter bunnies are all ancient Pagan symbols of spring and fertility/life and Easter itself is named for the Pagan Saxon Godess of fertility, Oestre.  Does this mean Paganism is "bad"?  No.  Does this mean other religions that have developed from Paganism are "bad"?  No.  I think it simply means that all of the world's major religions have more in common than not.

Contrary to what has been taught for many centuries, true Paganism has nothing to do with Satan or "devil-worshipping".  For one thing, the concept of "the devil" was not invented until Judaism and was not clearly defined until the advent of Christianity.  In other words, Paganism is in no way anti-Christian.  It is, however, ANTE-Christian, meaning that its sacred traditions came long before the formation of Christianity.  Most Pagan religions stress the inter-connectedness of all life - whether human, animal, plant or non-physical (such as earth spirits, angels etc) as well as respect for our ancestors. 

There are 2 main reasons why Paganism has been equated with Demonic activity:  During the first several centuries of its existence, the Christian church vied to assert itself as the domminant world religion.  It had to create a strategy to convert the masses who were, prior to this time, primarily Pagan.  So an entire mythology was conceived which painted the ancient Pagan beliefs and traditions as "evil", "demonic" and vile.  Disinformation about Pagans ranging from baby-killing, turning into bats and wolves, riding brooms and causing plagues and famines was taught for centuries.  Thus Witches (wise men and women healers in the Pagan tradition) became synonymous with wicked, cackling old fiends with pointed caps and green faces.  Pagan imagery such as the horned God Pan were likened by the Christian church to an entity called "The Devil" as a way to condemn Pagans as God-less and "devil-loving". 

Missionaries dating back to the time of St. Paul would travel throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East seeking to convert the Pagan masses with fear of hell and the devil.  They also appropriated indigenous Pagan deities and recast them as Christian saints to assist in converting Pagan people to the new religion.  For instance in Italy, temples originally erected to the Goddess Minerva, were renamed for Mary the Blessed Virgin by Christian missionaries.  By the early medieval times, what the Christian church officials could not achieve with disinformation and fear, they achieved through genicide by burning and murdering whole villages and communties of Witches (or those percieved to be).  The Islamic religion also achieved dominance by taking such measures against Pagans.  These practices lasted well into the 17th century.

Another reason why Paganism is associated with "devil-worship" is because there are actually a small number of communities that consider themselves Pagans who call themselves "Satanists".  It is important to understand what is meant by the term "Satanist".  The word "Satan" comes from the Hebrew word for "adversary" and was originally applied to angels.  In the original Old Testament texts, Satan was indeed a "fallen angel" but he was not necessarily "evil".  He was simply automonous.  He chose to make his own decisions and thus was condemned to hell for being "disobebient".  Satan was not orignally the name of an evil being called "the devil". 

Over the years different religions have risen up using the symbolism of Satan in response to oppressive teachings imposed by the established Christian church. One such religion is the modern Church of Satanism.  As jarring as this may sound to many, the Church of Satanism is actually a legitimate religion just as Christianity and Judaism are.  It was founded in the 1960's by Anton LeVey and stresses individualism, truthfulness, education, freedom of choice and living one's life responsibly.  LeVey was inflenced by the writings of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche. For all of its irreverant and often carnal/hedonistic viewpoints and rites, the Church of Satan does not condone harming anyone for any reason but questioning authority and making intelligent personal choices.  For information about how Satanists view themselves, please visit this site:  http://www.theisticsatanism.com/varieties/FAQ-TS.html 

In the 1800's interest in ancient pagan religions began to return.  The 20th Century saw the true renaissance of Paganism in America and Europe.  Somewhere between the work and writtings of Gerald Gardner and that of Aliester Crowley lies the father of modern Paganism.  But it wasn't until the 1940's when the last of the anti-Witchcraft laws were repealed in America and Britain that accurate information about Paganism was able to be published freelly.  Paganism is now the fastest growing world religion.

The true purpose of any legitimate religion is to encourage one's focus on a higher consciousness and to be become aware of the inter-connectedness of all.  In my oppinion, those who call themselves Pagans, yet do harmful, deceitful or destructive things to others in the name of their faith are in no way Pagan.  Just as no person who does such things in the name of Yashua (Jesus), Allah or any other particular deity can be regarded as legitimately Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu etc.

IMPORTANT PAGAN HOLIDAYS: 

The Winter Solstice of Yule (December), The Spring Equinox (March), Samhain (ancient Celtic New Year commonly known as Halloween).

BOOKS ON PAGAN RELIGIONS

The Gardnerian Book of Shadows
The Book of Shadows is a Wiccan text which is maintained by the initiated in manuscript form, and contains description of rituals, spells, and other knowledge. This tradition was carried on by Gerald Gardner, who (depending on the account) either synthesized Wicca, or took it public, during the 1950s.


The White Goddess.
Robert Graves' primary contribution to modern Neopaganism is his White Goddess.

The works of Margaret Murray.
    The Witch-Cult in Western Europe
by Margaret Murray [1921]
  
The Golden Bough
by Sir James Frazer [1922]
This massive study of the mythological cycle of the Godesses' lover, the solar God who dies and is reborn, had a huge influence on Margaret Murray, Robert Graves and Gardner.

Pagan Prayers
by Marah Ellis Ryan [1913]


Victorian


Aradia, Gospel of the Witches
by Charles G. Leland [1899]

Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition
by Charles G. Leland [1893]
These books describe Stregheria, or Italian traditional witchcraft. These are considered historical source documents of the Wicca movement. Some contemporary scholars have questioned the authenticity of Lelands' scholarship. Recent publications by Raven Grimassi have also added a great deal of depth to the subject of Italian witchcraft. See www.stregheria.com [external site] for more information.

Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling
by Charles G. Leland [1891]
The above book by Leland discusses another traditional system of magic, that of the Rom, or Gypsies.

Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft
by Sir Walter Scott [1885].
This book by the 19th Century novelist covers much of the same evidence as Murry (albeit in a more popular style). Scott draws few conclusions other than that our ancestors were extremely superstitous.


The Burning Times

From the 14th to the 17th Century a hysteria spread across Europe which involved torturing and executing people based on accusations that they were witches. Whether any actual practicioners of a pre-Christian pagan tradition were persecuted as the result of a witch trial is up for debate. These books and texts are period documents which illustrate the methods, rationale (such as it was) and history of this persecution. They shouldn't be taken as illustrative of Neopaganism, but as a warning about religious tolerance and the fragile nature of justice.


The Malleus Maleficarum
[1486], translated by Montague Summers [1928]
This is the best known witch-hunt manual, a primary source of information on this chilling subject.

Dćmonology
by King James the First. [1597] With Newes from Scotland [1591]
Two texts, one an essay on demons and other denizens of the night, the second a broadside with an account of a famous witch trial from the same period.

The Witch-Persecutions
Edited by George L. Burr [1896].
A short collection of translations of historical descriptions of the witch craze.


Druids

Although little is actually known about the Druids, that didn't stop 18th and 19th century intellectuals from building a romantic mythology around them. This was closely associated with the rebirth of Celtic nationalism, as well as the Romantic and Gothic movements. This body of fact and speculation later became a central source of modern Wicca and Neo-Pagan belief and practice.

Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions
by James Bonwick [1894].
This book reflects a scholarly perspective on the Druids. It ties together many strands of mythology and anthroplogy to shed light on Irish Paganism.

The Veil of Isis or Mysteries of the Druids
By W. Winwood Reade [1861]. 277,613 bytes
This book is fairly typical of the mid-19th Century literature about Druidry, which had some romantic misconceptions about the Druids. For instance, we now know that the construction of Stonehenge preceded the historical Celts by many centuries.

The Religion of the Ancient Celts by J. A. MacCulloch [1911]
This is an authoritative study of ancient Celtic religion, including extensive material on what is actually known about the Druids.

The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. I [1862]
The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. II [1874]
The author of these books was one of the first to revive Druidry in the 18th century; however, it is questionable whether these texts are as old as they claim to be. These are nevertheless considered primary source material for the modern Druid revivial.

Native American Religions

The native people of North America have many spiritual traditions going back many thousands of years. The main theme that underscores Native American Spirituality is the honoring of Mother Earth and the coexistence of all of life including nature, animals, people, plants as well as the guiding spirits. As with all religions, stories and myths were important in inspiring people to focus on the Divine Spirit and its connection to all things. Rituals and ceremonies such as Dancing, drumming, chanting and Temazcal Sweat Lodge continue to play an improtant part in Native American Spirituality and have now become embraced by other cultures worldwide. 

Two main problems are involved when studying Native American faiths:  One is that these traditions were passed down verbally and through dance and song from generation to generation and not written.  The second problem is that many of these traditions were destroyed when the Natives were overtaken by European cultures. Thankfully there were some scholars and anthropologists in the 19th and early 20th century who had great respect and wisdom for the original peoples of this country.  They were instrumental in studying and transcribing the oral spiritual literature and thus preserving it for future generations.  Below are links with information on various Native American Spiritual customs and practices:

http://www.mohegan.nsn.us/

Aztecs
Californian
Inuit
Maya
Plains
Northeastern
   Iroquois
Northwestern
Southeastern
   Cherokee
Southwestern
   Navajo
   Zuńi
   Hopi
South American
   Inca

ANCIENT EGYPTIAN RELIGIONS

Ancient Egyptian civilization spanned over three thousand years and gave birth to more than 2000 gods and goddesses.  It also developed various sacred rituals and beliefs that have influenced later religions to the present.  Many stories from the Old and New Testaments have their lineage in ancient Egyptian lore including the story of creation and the birth of a Redeemer.  The nature god Osiris was murdered by the evil God Set.  Through the intercession of his wife, the fertility goddess Isis, Osiris was resurected and became the god of the heavens- which has similarities to the resurrection of Yashua (Jesus) in the New Testament.  Isis and her child Horus, the God of goodness, also have direct lineage with The Virgin Mary and Yashua (Jesus).  Horus grew up and defeated the evil god Set in a great battle and became king of the earth.  Even the concept of the Holy Trinity has its origin in ancient Egypt spiritual traditions- in this case consisting of a divine father, mother, and son.

The Ancient Egyptians had a strong faith in the afterlife and believed that one's spiritual double (called the Ka) lived on after death.  Every effort was made to mummify the dead to protect the Ka.  Ellaborate tombs containing furniture, food and personal items of the dead as well as statues depicting the dead were thought to ensure the Ka's safe journey into the next world.    Some other prominent deities of ancient Egyptian spirituality were Amon (god of reproductive forces), Hathor (goddess of the sky), Thoth, Sekket, Apis.  Ancient Egyptian religions were completely polytheistic until the great pharaoh Akhenaton formed the world's first monotheistic religion in honor of the sun god Ra- though this movement did not survive past the pharaoh's lifetime.  This rich tradition was mostly unknown until the early nineteenth century, when the Egyptian language was finally deciphered by the discovery of the Rosetta stone.


Texts

The Pyramid Texts Samuel A. B. Mercer, translator [1952].

This is the oldest sacred text in the world that we know of, dating back to 3100 B.C.E. The Pyramid Texts are funerary inscriptions from the early pyramids. This was the first translation of the Pyramid Texts into English, and this etext is the first time it has appeared on the Internet.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead E. A. Wallis Budge, translator [1895].

The best known Ancient Egyptian sacred text, which describes the journey into the afterlife.

http://www.touregypt.net/bkofdead.htm

HINDUISM

Hinduism is the world's oldest ongoing religion.  It began in the Indus Valley roughly between 4000 and 2500 BCE.  Though essentially a polytheistic similar to other Pagan faiths, Hinduism has a main deity, the Lord Krishna, and stresses the unity of everything and sacredness of all of life.  This is called Brahman.  Hinduism teaches that our purpose while here on earth is to heighten our awareness of our oneness with the Divine Spirit so that when we leave this plane of existence we can rejoin God.  Hindu's believe that we keep retuning to earth in different incarnations in order to achieve this level of enlightenment.  Progess in this regard is gauged by one's Karma.  In other words as the saying goes "What goes around, comes around".   A life spent in kindness and devotion to God will ensure a higher Karmic level in the next incarnation.  Harmful acts and thoughts will result in a lower level of existence - perhaps even being reborn as an animal or insect.

Hinduism adheres to a strict caste system.  It is believed that the caste one is born into is the result of the karma incrued from one's previous lifetime.  Only those born into the Brahman caste (the highest) can officiate at religious rituals and hold high positions with the temples.

IMPORTANT HINDU HOLIDAYS

  • Holi - festival of colors and spring (February-March)
  • Mahashivaratri (Shiva Ratri) - night sacred to Shiva (February-March)
  • Rama Navami - birthday of Lord Rama (April)
  • Krishna Jayanti - birthday of Lord Krishna (July-August)
  • Raksâbandhana - renewing bonds between brothers and sisters (July-August)
  • Kumbh Mela - pilgrimage every 12 years to four cities in India (July-August; last one 2003)
  • Ganesha-Chaturthi (Ganesha Utsava) - festival of Ganesh (August-September)
  • Dassera - victory of Rama over demon king Ravana (September-October)
  • Navaratri - festival of Shakti (in Bengal) or Rama's victory over Ravana (South India) (September-October)
  • Diwali - festival of lights and Laksmi (September-October)

Sacred Texts of Hinduism - Hindu sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.

SHINTO

Shinto is an ancient pagan religion from Japan.  It embraces many nature dieities called  "Kami". The first two deities, Izanagi and Izanami, gave birth to the Japanese islands and their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans. One of their daughters, Amaterasu (Sun Goddess), is the ancestress of the Imperial Family and is regarded as the chief deity. All the Kami are benign and serve only to sustain and protect. They are not seen as separate from humanity due to sin because humanity is "Kami's Child." Followers of Shinto desire peace and believe all human life is sacred. They revere "musuhi", the Kami's creative and harmonizing powers, and aspire to have "makoto", sincerity or true heart. Morality is based upon that which is of benefit to the group. There are "Four Affirmations" in Shinto:

  1. Tradition and family: the family is the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved.
  2. Love of nature: nature is sacred and natural objects are to be worshipped as sacred spirits.
  3. Physical cleanliness: they must take baths, wash their hands, and rinse their mouth often.
  4. "Matsuri": festival which honors the spirits.

IMPORTANT SHINTO HOLIDAYS

Oshogatsu - News Years Celebration,

Seijin-no-hi (January 15th) - Coming of Age day for 21 year old girls

Shubun-sai (March 21st) - day for remembering ancestors

Koi-no-bori (May 5) - Day for honoring the boys of the family

Akimatsuri (September/November) - Day of Thanksgiving

Sacred Texts of Shinto - Shinto sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.


ZOROASTRIANISM

Zoroastrianism is perhaps the first faith to embrace monotheism.  It was founded in Persia by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) and is based upon an aboriginal polytheistic religion. He preached about one supreme God named Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrians believe there is also an entity of violence and death called Angra Mainyu which creates dualism within humans. Zoroastrian wrote 5 abstract sacred poems called Gathas which are included in the Zoroastrian holy book, the Avesta.  The main teachings promote worship of one God, higher awareness of righteousness and cosmic order, social justice and personal choice between good and evil.  Through prayers and symbolic rituals which are performed before a sacred fire (a symbol of God), they focus on their path expressed in their motto: "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds." The faith does not generally accept converts but this is disputed by some members.

IMPORTANT ZOROASTRIAN HOLIDAYS

1. Maidhyoizaremaya  (Midspring) honoring Khshathra
2. Maidhyoishema  (Midsummer) honoring Haurvatat
3. Paitshahya (Harvest) honoring Spenta Armaity
4. Ayathrima  (Bringing in Cattle) honoring Ameratat
5. Maidhyairya  (Midwinter) honoring Vohu Mana
6. Hamaspathmaedaya (All Souls) honoring Spenta Mainyu/Muktad, Ahura Mazda 
7. NoRoz  (New Year) honoring Asha Vahista

Sacred Texts of Zoroastrianism - Zoroastrian sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.


I Ching - China Philosophical Guide

The I Ching, is known in the West as The Book of Change.  Dating back thousands of years, it is possibly the oldest book of any kind in the world. The book developed amongst the noble class in China from an even more ancient diving tool called the Tortoise Oracle.  The I Ching taps into huamities primal consciousness using images and numbers in various patterns and combinations to help one focus on basic perceptions of earthly and spiritual reality.   The book seeks to explain our present situations in terms of natural laws.  It points to the harmonious inter-connections between people, nature, and the cosmos.

With it's 64 lovely images, the I Ching provides endless joys for meditation, study and contemplation. Skilled psychic readers have been using the book as a means to foretell the future for thousands of years. Essays have been written about the book by many great philosphers including the legendary Confucius, or Kung-fu-tse. The images have been interpreted from the point of view of many of the world's religions, including Christianity, and they continue to be applied by social and political leaders to this day.

I Ching Patterns:

1 999999 Ch'ien - The Creative
2 666666 K'un - The Receptive
3 966696 Chun - Difficulty at the Beginning
4 696669 Męng - Youthful Folly
5 999696 Hsu - Waiting (Nourishment)
6 696999 Sung - Conflict
7 696666 Shih - The Army
8 666696 Pi - Holding Together [Union]
9 999699 Hsiao Ch'u - The Taming Power of the Small
10 996999 Lu - Treading [Conduct]
11 999666 T'ai - Peace
12 666999 P'i - Standstill [Stagnation]
13 969999 T'ung Jęn - Fellowship with Men
14 999969 Ta Yu - Possession in Great Measure
15 669666 Ch'ien - Modesty
16 666966 Yu - Enthusiasm
17 966996 Sui - Following
18 699669 Ku - Work on What Has Been Spoiled [Decay]
19 996666 Lin - Approach
20 666699 Kuan - Contemplation (View)
21 966969 Shih Ho - Biting Through
22 969669 Pi - Grace
23 666669 Po - Splitting Apart
24 966666 Fu - Return (The Turning Point)
25 966999 Wu Wang - Innocence (The Unexpected)
26 999669 Ta Ch'u - The Taming Power of the Great
27 966669 I - The Corners of the Mouth (Providing Nourishment)
28 699996 Ta Kuo - Preponderance of the Great
29 696696 K'an - The Abysmal (Water)
30 969969 Li - The Clinging, Fire
31 669996 Hsien - Influence (Wooing)
32 699966 Hęng - Duration
33 669999 Tun - Retreat
34 999966 Ta Chuang - The Power of the Great
35 666969 Chin - Progress
36 969666 Ming I - Darkening of the Light
37 969699 Chia Jęn - The Family [The Clan]
38 996969 K'uei - Opposition
39 669696 Chien - Obstruction
40 696966 Hsieh - Deliverance
41 996669 Sun - Decrease
42 966699 I - Increase
43 999996 Kuai - Break-through (Resoluteness)
44 699999 Kou - Coming to Meet
45 666996 Ts'ui - Gathering Together [Massing]
46 699666 Shęng - Pushing Upward
47 696996 K'un - Oppression (Exhaustion)
48 699696 Ching - The Well
49 969996 Ko - Revolution (Molting)
50 699969 Ting - The Caldron
51 966966 Chęn - The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)
52 669669 Kęn - Keeping Still, Mountain
53 669699 Chien - Development (Gradual Progress)
54 996966 Kuei Mei - The Marrying Maiden
55 969966 Fęng - Abundance [Fullness]
56 669969 Lu - The Wanderer
57 699699 Sun - The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind)
58 996996 Tui - The Joyous, Lake
59 696699 Huan - Dispersion [Dissolution]
60 996696 Chieh - Limitation
61 996699 Chung Fu - Inner Truth
62 669966 Hsiao Kuo - Preponderance of the Small
63 969696 Chi Chi - After Completion
64 696969 Wei Chi - Before Completion

JUDAISM

Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i faith all originated with a divine covenant between the God of the ancient Israelites and Abraham around 2000 BCE which itself sprung from ancient Pagan tribal origins. After Abraham, the next great leader of the Israelites, Moses, freed his people from Egyptian slavery and received the Law from God (the Ten Commandments) in the Torah. Afterwards Joshua led the people into the promised land, where Samuel established the Israelite kingdom with Saul as its first king. King David established Jerusalem and King Solomon built the first temple there. In 70 CE the temple was destroyed and the Jews were scattered throughout the world until 1948 when the state of Israel was formed.

Judaism is a monotheistic faith that worships God as the creator and ruler of the Universe.  God rewards the good and punishes the bad.   Even though Jews do not require a saviour to save them from their sins, they do believe that they are God's chosen people and that the Messiah will appear on a general day of resurrection whereupon the Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt.

IMPORTANT JEWISH HOLIDAYS

Sacred Texts of Judaism - Jewish sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.


CONFUCIANISM

Confucianism was founded by the great teacher and philosopher K'ung Fu Tzu (Confucius) who was born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu in China.  He travelled about the land teaching and writing about personal moral and ethical values, and honest/fair government policies.  These are the values he stressed:

  • Li: ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.
  • Hsiao: love among family members
  • Yi: righteousness
  • Xin: honesty and trustworthiness
  • Jen: benevolence towards others; the highest Confucian virtue
  • Chung: loyalty to the state, etc.

Confucianism is a religion incorporating ethical and moral principles into one's daily life as opposed to simply once-weekly worship.  

IMPORTANT CONFUCIAN SACRED DAYS

Births, reaching adulthood, marriages, and deaths.

Sacred Texts of Confucianism - Confucian sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
 

TAOISM

Tao is translated as "The Path".  Taoism was founded by the great teacher and philosopher Lao-Tse in China. In 440 CE it was adopted as a state religion  Lao-Tse desired to end the warfare and other social ills of his time by preaching of the nature of life, the way to peace and the importance of honesty in all things- including government.  Taoism teaches that there is a Divine force which connects all life and is the first cause of everything. The main goal of Taoism is to raise one's consciousness and become fully aware of our connectedness to everyone and everything within this Divine Spirit or Tao. Many Taoists practice the slow movement exercise technique of Tai Chi to balance the flow of energy or "chi" within the body. The key points of Taoism are:  Virtue, Compassion, Moderation and Humility. The Concept Yin (dark side) and Yang (light side) are used to symbolize the balances within the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. Taoists believe that the true nature of life is joy and love and goodness and when one focuses on this universal truth one manifests it in one's earthly life.

Sacred Texts of Taoism - Taoist sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.

Here is the famous book by Lao-Tse:

http://www.galileolibrary.com/ebooks/as06/taoteching_toc.htm

BUDDHISM

Buddhism evolved from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BCE, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha ("enlightened" or "awakened" one). Siddhartha preached 'The Middle Way' as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of mortification of the flesh or hedonism. This involves living consciously and ethically and focusing on our Oneness with the Divine.  Long after his death, the Buddha's teachings were written down in a collection called the Tripitaka. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must go through many earthly cycles of birth, life, and death in order to perfect their spirit and achieve Nirvana.  In general, Buddhists do not believe in a detached judgmental God nor feel the need for a savior. Most Buddhists incorporate meditation and sacred ritual as way to achieve spiritual focus, though some do not necessarily embrace the importance of prayer nor believe in eternal afterlife. Over the centuries, many forms of Buddhism have developed which integrate various religious rituals, beliefs and customs.  It is the largest religion throughout Asia.  The form of Buddhism most embraced worldwide in recent decades is Tibetan Buddhism.

IMPORTANT BUDDHAST HOLIDAYS

  • Abhidhamma Day - Full moon day in October
  • Anapanasati Day - At the end of one rains retreat (vassa)
  • Asalha Puja Day (Dhamma Day) - Full moon day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar (July)
  • Avalokitesvara's Birthday (Kuan Yin) - Full moon day in March
  • Bodhi Day (Enlightenment Day)
  • Buddhist New Year
  • Kathina Ceremony (Robe offering ceremony) - Within one month of the conclusion of the Vassa Retreat
  • Losar
  • Loy Krathong (Festival of Floating Bowls) - Full moon night of the Twelfth Lunar month.
  • Magha Puja Day (Fourfold Assembly or Sangha Day) - Full moon day of the third lunar month (March)
  • Parinirvarana Day
  • Songkaran - Mid April
  • Sangha Day
  • The Elephant Festival - Third Saturday in November
  • The Festival of the Tooth - Full moon night of August
  • The Ploughing Festival - May
  • Ulambana (Ancestor Day) - Thirteenth of July (lasts for three days)
  • Uposatha (Observance Day) - Four monthly holy days
  • Wesak or Visakah Puja (Buddha Day) - First full moon day in May
Sacred Texts of Buddhism - Buddhist sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.

Also read:
http://reluctant-messenger.com/Tibetan-Book-Dead_Evans-Wentz.htm

CHRISTIANITY

Christianity is the largest religion in the world.  It began as a sect of Judaism roughly 2000 years ago. According to the New Testament, Yashua (Jesus) was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  His step father was Joseph.  Yashua was not happy with the beliefs and strictures of his native Judaism and began expressing his own views on spirituality.   With his 12 disciples, Yashua preached peace and awareness of God's love and performed miracles.   His greatest teachings include:  "love thy neighbor" and "turn the other cheek." As his views gained in popularity, the priests at the time became increasingly angered.  Eventually the authorities had him arrested, beaten, scourged and finally murdered by being nailed to a cross being run through with a spear.  According to the New Testament, Yashua rose from the dead and will return again at one point to deliver the good and punish the wicked.

As with all major religions today, Christianity and Judaism both share a direct lineage with ancient Pagan traditions.  This is evident in various rituals and beliefs - the annointing with oil, use of incense, lighting candles, a deity who will arrive and wash away all sin and save us from eternal suffering.  Christianity is unique amongst world religions for 2 reasons:  The concept of "original sin" and the concept of The Holy Trinity which includes God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. All Christians believe in heaven wherein those who live according to the teachings of the church will live eternally after death.  Belief in hell and "the devil" varies amongst Christian demonitions and individuals.

There have been cultural and dogmatic arguments amongst those who call themselves Christian as to what is truly "Christian" and what is not.   This has led to the formation of countless Christian denominations starting with the Council of Nicea in 325 CE and continuing to this day.  Some demoninations are very similar in practice to others, some are extremely different.

IMPORTANT CHRISTIAN HOLIDAYS

Christmas - the birth of the Savior Yashua (Jesus)

Easter - the death and resurrection of the Lord Yashua (Jesus)

SACRED TEXTS:

The Christian Biblehttp://www.tldm.org/bible/bible.htm


 

JAINISM

The Jain community was founded in East India by Vardhamana who was the lastin a line of 24 holy men called "Jina".  The Jain religion is quite similar to Hinduism and Buddhism as it embraces karma and reincarnation - but unlike these religions, Jainism believes one can only achieve true enlightenment through complete asceticism.   True to his doctrin, Vardhamana achieved enlightenment in 420 BCE, after 13 years of living in extreme deprivation.  He then fasted himself to death (the act of "salekhana").  Jains embrace non-violence and follow fruititarianism. They will kill no animal and only eat fruit that has fallen to the ground. 

IMPORTANT JAIN HOLIDAYS

Mahavira Jayanit (March/April) - the Birthday of Mahavira Vardhamana

Paryushana (August/September) - 8 days of fasting and atonement

Divali (October/November) - Celebration of Mahavira's enlightenment

Kartak Purnima - pilgrimage to sacred Jain sites

Mauna Agyaras (November/December) - Day of fasting and praying.


Sacred Texts of Jainism - Jain sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.

ISLAMIC SCRIPTURES

Islam was founded  by the prophet Muhammad in 622 CE in Mecca (or Makkah).  Islam is the youngest of the world's great religions, though Muslims believe that Muhammad had direct lineage to the  ancient prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Yashua (Jesus). Islam accepts Yashua (Jesus) as a prophet but considers it blaspehmous to view him as Divine as Muslims don't believe that he died on the cross and rose from the dead.  Muhammad's goal was to clarify and correct the alleged errors made in the Bible. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur'an, which Muslims believe was dictated to Muhammad directly by Allah (or "the one true God") and a book of sayings attributed to Muhammad called the Hadith.  Islam is a strict monotheistic religions that also teaches belief in Satan who makes people sin.  It also teaches that all non-believers will go to hell and that all Muslims who follow the required Five Pillars of Islam will go directly to heaven.  The Five pillars are:

  1. Recite the shahadah at least once.
  2. Perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day while facing the Kaaba in Makkah.
  3. Donate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy.
  4. Fast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Muhammad received the Qur'an from Allah.
  5. Make pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in life, if economically and physically possible.

MAJOR MUSLIM HOLIDAYS

Muharram
(Islamic New Year)

Mawlid al-Nabi
(Muhammad's
Birthday)
Ramadan
Month of fasting
Eid al-Fitr
End of Fasting
Eid al-Adha
(Festival of
Sacrifice)

Sacred Texts of Islam - Muslim sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.

SIKHISM

Sikhism developed from Hinduism with elements of Islam during the 1500's. Is was founded by Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the Punjab, now Pakistan. After his death, the faith was led by his 9 successive gurus until 1708.  He began preaching the way to enlightenment and God after receiving a vision.  After this time the leadership of the faith was passed to the Panth who is considered the 11th and final Guru.   The holy Sikh text, the Shri Guru Granth Sahib, was compiled by the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh. It contains hymns and writings of all of the original 10 Gurus, as well as texts from different Muslim and Hindu saints.  In 1931 Sikh scholars and theologians began codifying Sikh teachings and principles in a book called the Reht Maryada.

Sikhs believe in one God who takes countless shapes and who goes by many names. They utilize meditiation as a main way to commune with God and pray many times daily.  Similar to Hindus, Sikhs believe in reincarnation but reject idol worship and the caste system.   The faith teaches that all are equal in God's eyes. 

MAJOR SIKH HOLIDAYS

Guru Gobind Singh's Birthday - January 5, 2005

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, was born in 1666. 

Maghi - January 14, 2005

Maghi commemorates the martyrdom of the "Forty Immortals," forty followers of Guru Gobind Singh

 

Hola Maholla - March 26, 2005

Festival  in memory of Guru Gobind Singh.

Vaisakhi - April 14, 2005

Day of Thanksgiving.

Martyrdom of Guru Arjan - June 16, 2005

Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, was tortured and killed by the Mughal emperor Jahangir in 1606.

Celebration of the Guru Granth Sahib - September 1, 2005

Celebrate the completion of the Sikh holy text in 1606.

Diwali - November 1, 2005

Hindu festival of lights that was appropriated by the Sikhs to celebrate the release from prison of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru, from prison in 1619. 

Guru Nanak's Birthday - November 15, 2005

He was born in 1469 in modern-day Pakistan

Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur - November 24, 2005

Sacred Texts of Sikhism - Sikh sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.

BAHA'I

The Bahá'í Faith developed from the teachings of Baha'u'llah in the 19th century.  The religion is an off shoot of Islam and is now considered a worldwide faith. Baha'i teaches that God has revealed his Divine Word to humanity through  nine great prophets which resulted in the major world religions. Each religion is believed to be good as each serves the needs of the specific people in a specific time and place.  Baha'i's embrace gender and ethnic equality, freedom of expression and assembly and world peace.  They believe that at some point there will be a single world government led by Bahai's.  The faith also embraces science as as way of ensuring a more enlightened future on earth.  The major teaching of Baha'i is that all are one with a Divine Spirit that death is merely as releasing of the immortal soul which goes on to travel in the spirit world eternally.

MAJOR BAHA'I HOLIDAYS

The Bahá'í holidays and special days are as follows:

  • March 2-21 - Nineteen Day Fast
  • March 21 - Bahá'í New Year
  • April 21 - First Day of the Ridván Festival
  • April 29 - Ninth Day of the Ridván Festival
  • May 2 - Twelfth Day of the Ridván Festival
  • May 23 - Declaration of the Báb
  • May 29 - Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh
  • July 9 - Martyrdom of the Báb
  • October 20 - Birth of the Báb
  • November 12 - Birth of Bahá'u'lláh
  • November 26 - Day of the Covenant 
  • November 28 - Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá 

Sacred Texts of Bahá'í - Bahá'í sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
www.bahaifaith.com - Gateway to the official sites of the Bahá'í Faith.

 

ATHEISM

 

To understand the concept of Atheism it is important to understand the concept of religion.  Here is one definition:

"Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, and a worldview."

Atheism is not a concise religion or faith the way that Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc are. Atheism does not necessarily provide an exact guideline for living as do most religions. However, Atheists frequently derive their own ethics and philosophy of life and worldview using their Atheism as a starting point. They are generally derived from secular considerations, and not from any "revealed" religious text. Fjor instance , many Atheists now celebrate the Winter Solstice.

Some Atheists, when asked what their religion is, will answer, simply, "Atheist." Others will say that they have no religion, they are an Atheist.

Note that:

bullet Atheism relates to a belief in the existence or non-existence of a deity, or whether the person associates any meaning to the terms "God" or "deity."
bullet Atheism can involve the positive assertion that there is no deity; this is sometimes referred to as "strong Atheism." It is the most common dictionary definition for the term "Atheist," and is probably the definition used by most theists.
bullet Atheism can be the absence of a belief that there is a deity. This is the belief promoted by the American Atheists group and many individual Atheists.
bullet Atheism often promote the belief that all Gods and Goddesses (as well as angels, demons, ghosts, etc.) are nonexistent entities created by human minds.

In one way, most people in North America are Atheists. Christians will generally deny the existence of the Mayan, Hindu, Ancient Roman, Ancient Greek, Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Sumerian, Sikh, and many hundreds of other Gods and Goddesses, even as they assert their belief in the Christian Trinity. Thus, the difference between a typical Christian and a typical Atheist is numerically small: The strong Atheist believes that none of the many thousands of Gods and Goddesses exist; the Christian believes that one God exists in a certain structure -- a Trinity -- whereas all of the other thousands of deities are nonexistent, artificial creations by humans. Although the numerical difference is much less that 0.1%, the philosophical difference is immense.

The main issue that Atheists may have regarding God is the word "God" itself.  Many Atheists do acknowledge the existence of infinity, eternity - in other words the concept of "Everythingness" that all people and things are one with - however Atheists are opposed to the traditional religious concept of "God" as a powerful man who sits in judgement of all humanity in a far away place called "heaven" who also stresses that we are all sinful and that we must obey a rigid code of behavior otherwise he'll send us to a place called "hell" where we will be VERY miserable for a VERY long time.

There exists massive discrimination against Atheists in the U.S.

bullet Part of this may be based on the historical linkage between Communism and Atheism. Most Communists are Atheists. But many people do not realize that most Atheists in North America are not Communists.  Not that Communism is automatically synonymous with evil . That is simply what was taught by the dominent religions and governments for decades in order to maintain their control over the citizenry.
bullet Another reason for this discrimination is the common belief that a person cannot be motivated to lead a moral life unless they hope for the reward of heaven, and fear the punishment of Hell. In the past, this belief had been codified into law. Conscientious objectors opposed to participating in warfare were thrown in jail if their opposition to killing other humans was not based on belief in God.
bullet Still another cause of discrimination is a widespread linkage between theism -- the belief in the existence of God -- American citizenship, and Christianity.  Throughout history, conformity  to societal norms and beliefs has always been stressed and encouraged.  To express any ideas or behaviors that are in anyway deemed to be in opposition to these established norms has met with great fear and condemnation.

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http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/intro.html

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