Lesson 9) Magic and Religion
The professor glides into the classroom wearing a cream-coloured toga and a long blue sash. With golden leaves woven into her hair, she bows reverently to each student as they pass and makes her way to the front of the classroom.
Welcome back for our final lesson, First Years! This week, we will be touching on the topic of religion. At the end of this short lesson, you’ll be tasked to complete an essay with regards to a chosen religion of your choice, as well as your final exam! Your final will cover material up to what we have spoken about thus far, but I will be continuing today’s lesson to talk about a few different religions that we have seen influence the history of the magical world. The religions discussed for the remainder of the lesson will not be on the final exam for Year One, but this doesn’t mean you should disregard the information, as it is useful background that will be applicable to your later studies!
Throughout history, Muggles have often considered magic to be a form of power from the gods or deities. Thus, many magical beings, at some point, were considered leaders or assumed positions of higher authority amongst various cultures. Often, these displays of magic were considered supernatural processes from the gods. Most of the time, these magical events could not be explained with literal reasoning and science by Muggles. In fact, some wizards and witches of that time also considered themselves gods and goddesses for the power they possessed, believing that they could rule over others, especially the Muggles. However, what they lacked was the knowledge and intense study of magic.
Most cultures respected magical beings living in their communities and gave them the highest respect and honor as their priests, shamans, or even rulers. One such culture you have learnt about would be the Olmec people. In Lesson Three, you learned that the magical beings of the Olmec community made up the top two elite classes of their culture -- the shamans and the ruler -- thus few Muggles were nearly as well-respected.
Over time, the Muggles started to fear and condemn these practices and decided they would like to have some of the power themselves, rather than watching others rule as they had all these years. Such feelings coincided with the rise of religions like Judaism and Christianity, which took the lead in being especially well-known for contributing to a dramatic change in Muggle-wizard relations. However, these are not the only religions in the world, nor are they the only ones that have had an impact on the history of magic. In the following sections, we will look at a few small snapshots of non-magical creeds, beliefs, and religions that had ramifications (positive, negative, or both) on the magical world.
The founding principles of this worldview centered around observing everything with a logical eye. If it cannot be explained by logic, then it likely isn’t true or is some kind of twisted illusion. This mindset was endorsed by a number of Greek philosophers, but the most influential was Democritus, a skeptical philosopher and scientist who questioned the ability of humans to rely on their senses. It was this skepticism that has led to modern science as we know it today, where we attempt to observe the natural phenomena with as little human interference as possible.
Unfortunately for the magical world, this led to a very biased and judgemental outlook upon those who practiced anything close to magic. If you could not explain the magical phenomena using natural laws then it was a hoax and did not truly exist. Many rationalists of their period did not persecute witches and wizards, but they did dismiss them as irrational and sometimes accused them of blasphemy. As the popularity of the rationalistic viewpoint grew, people began to twist it and it became a threat to the wizarding communities in the 1600s.
Considered more of a way of life, or set of traditional values, Confucianism was taught by Confucius during the fifth and sixth centuries (BCE) in China, though is has experienced a few periods of revival since. Many followers of Confucianism did not condemn magic and simply considered it another path to reach enlightenment. More often than not, Confucianists claimed that magic fell into line with “li” or the ritualistic norms that could produce magic-like results from a ritual. As part of the wizarding world, we know that this is not true, as magic is an alteration of the world around us, but religion (if accepting of magic) often attempts to explain or incorporate magic, as we have noted.
With a closer look at the philosophy or religion itself, Confucius and his creed had reverence for culture, believing that it alone could harness the power to change the world. One of the values of this way of life included harmony, which we know by looking at the five constants of Confucianism ethics. The first of these ethics is “Ren” or a devotion to benevolence and humaneness. Other ethics include “Shu,” meaning reciprotivity, “De,” meaning virtue, “Zhi,” referencing a desire for knowledge, and finally “Xi,n, showing a wish for integrity among the followers.
However, Confucianism has also been subject to criticism from both magical and Muggle persons. Some claim that the compassionate and loyal view of these followers has led to a stagnant and non-conforming society. One consequence of this stagnation includes preventing women from putting aside their traditional familial roles and (and therefore also prevents men from pursuing occupations they may enjoy, but do not support the family well enough). In the magical world, some claim that the hierarchy of this religion may have led to a suppression of the magical practice in women, allowing men to flourish and expand their magical powers, thus stifling the magical community in part.
Buddhism originated in India around the fourth to sixth centuries BCE and grew in popularity until it covered much of Asia. However, religions do not always maintain their popularity, and Buddhism began to decline, shrinking back to India during the Middle Ages. However, it was not wiped out and began to rise once again during the Enlightenment.
This religion revolves around the Four Central Truths and Dukkha. Before continuing, it is imperative that you understand that Dukkha does not translate to “suffering” as many people claim. Instead, it references the unsatisfactory nature of pleasure and other worldly things. Dukkha is the first of the Four Truths, the second being Samsara, or rebirth, which refers to the idea that everything undergoes a continuous cycle.
These first two truths are tied extremely closely with one another, so closely that I would like to talk about them separately for a moment so we can get a better idea what they are like on their own. Dukkha shows us that clinging to worldly things cannot fulfill us or satisfy that need for more, but despite what this truth may tell us, as humans (yes, this includes magical folk), we are incapable of letting them go. However, this inability to be content causes us to continue in the endless cycles of life described in the second truth, Samsara. The clinging and refusal to let go of certain things impacts Karma (the third central truth) in the cycle of rebirth. If you clung to sexual desires in your past life, you may be affiliated with them in your new life. Similarly, if you caused others grief in your past life, then you may be the receiver of similar grief in the new one. However, this cycle does not continue forever and can end when a follower of Buddha reaches Nirvana, or state of pure happiness and contentedness. When a person reaches Nirvana they are said to have achieved enlightenment and completed or experienced the Four Truths of Buddhism, the last being Liberation.
In ancient times, there were stories of non-magical persons who reached Nirvana and were somehow suddenly able to tap into previously unknown magical potential. However, most scholars in magical academic circles explain this via the difficulties in parsing truth from fiction in ancient times, as well as the process of how stories change over time. It may be that these individuals were Squibs that were somehow able to access their latent magical ability through years of meditation and study, it may have just been untrained witches or wizards, or perhaps it was something else completely unexplainable. Whatever the case, these feats have not been repeated in history recent enough to be well-recorded.
Hinduism is composed of four different denominations within the one faith, but these differences only deal with who its followers consider the supreme god. Vaishnavism and Shaivism are considered monotheistic sects that believe in one supreme god. Followers of Vaishnavism believe it is Vishnu and Shaivism followers claim that it is Shiva. The other two denominations, Shaktism and Smartism, are polytheistic sects who believe in a number of different forms as their primary gods or goddesses. These are not the only denominations within the Hindu religion, but they are considered the four official denominations. I would highly encourage you to research the others if you find this topic interesting.
Similar to a number of other religions, Hinduism focuses upon a collection of four important aims for human life. Together, these are known as the Purusarthas, but individually are Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Dharma is considered to be the most important goal to attain and includes religious duties, moral rights, correct conduct, and anything virtuous that would be reflected in a perfect individual. Artha is the pursuit of wealth for healthy living and economic prosperity. It is important to realize that this ties closely in with Dharma and requires its followers to do so in virtuous ways and without breaking any religious or governmental laws. Kama refers to pleasure in many different aspects and is typically described as “the aesthetic enjoyment of life” without sacrificing any of the other four goals. Finally there is Moksha, which is related to the liberation from samsara, or the continuous cycle of rebirth, which can only be done when one reaches Samadhi, similar to Nirvana.
Hinduism is known to be very ritualistic and thus many of the spells created by ancient Hindus were put to song, some of which developed into mantras. Keep in mind this is not true of every Hindu witch and wizard, but is a generalization based upon historical record. Due to the ritualistic nature, many witches and wizards of this religion have also been known to draw mandalas to aid in focusing their mind on spellcasting outcomes. Such care in spell preparation and casting leads them to be extremely proficient in charm work, curses, conjurations, and protective enchantments. If you ever do have an opportunity to visit India, I would highly suggest going to a Hindu temple and try to immerse yourself in their culture!
I will end here for today, as I’m sure you have plenty to worry about with the upcoming final. As a reminder, the religions discussed in our lesson today will not be on your final, but this does not mean you should forget them! Good luck on your finals and I hope to see you again as Second Years, when we will be discussing magical history that hits closer to home for many of you.
Original lesson written by Professor Samuel Becker
Image credits here, here, and here
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