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Zoroastrianism Posted on: 2004/3/20 14:50
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"Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed world-religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly and indirectly, than any other single faith." Mary Boyce.



Introduction:
Zoroastrianism is a small religion with about 140,000 members. Yet its importance to humanity is much greater than its current numbers might suggest, because:

Their theology has had a great impact on Judaism, Christianity and other later religions, in the beliefs surrounding God and Satan, the soul, heaven and hell, savior, resurrection, final judgment, etc.
It is one of the oldest religions still in existence,
It may have been the first monotheistic religion.

The religion was founded by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in Greek; Zarthosht in India and Persia). Conservative Zoroastrians assign a date of 6000 BCE to the founding of the religion; other followers estimate 600 BCE. Historians and religious scholars generally date his life sometime between 1500 and 1000 BCE on the basis of his style of writing.

He lived in Persia, modern day Iran. Legends say that his birth was predicted and that attempts were made by the forces of evil to kill him as a child. He preached a monotheism in a land which followed an aboriginal polytheistic religion. He was attacked for his teaching, but finally won the support of the king. Zoroastrianism became the state religion of various Persian empires, until the 7th Century CE.

When Arabs, followers of Islam, invaded Persia in 650 CE, a small number of Zoroastrians fled to India where most are concentrated today. Those who remained behind have survived centuries of persecution, systematic slaughter, forced conversion, heavy taxes, etc. They now number only about 18,000 and reside chiefly in Yazd, Kernan and Tehran in what is now Iran. The 1991 census counted 3,190 Zoroastrians in Canada. The actual number is believed to be much higher.



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Zorastrian Sacred Text:
The Zorastrian holy book is called the Avesta. This includes the original words of their founder Zarathushtra, preserved in a series of five hymns, called the Gathas. The latter represent the core text of the religion. The Gathas are abstract sacred poetry, directed towards the worship of the One God, understanding of righteousness and cosmic order, promotion of social justice and individual choice between good and evil. The Gathas have a general and even universal vision.

At some later date (most scholars say many centuries later), the remaining parts of the Avestas were written. These deal with laws of ritual and practice, with the traditions of the faith. The Zoroastrian community is sharply divided between those who would follow mostly (or exclusively) the teachings of the original Gathas, and those who believe that the later traditions are important and equally divinely inspired.



Zoroastrian Beliefs:
Beliefs include:

A single god Ahura Mazda who is supreme. Communication between Himself and humans is by a number of Attributes, called Amesha Spentas or Bounteous Immortals. Within the Gathas, the original Zoroastrian sacred text, these Immortals are sometimes described as concepts, and are sometimes personified.
One school of thought promotes a cosmic dualism between: An all powerful God Ahura Mazda who is the only deity worthy of being worshipped, and
An evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu, who opposes Ahura Mazda.

The resulting cosmic conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity who is required to choose which to follow. Evil, and the Spirit of Evil, will be completely destroyed at the end of time. Dualism will come to an end and Goodness will be all in all.

Another school of thought perceives the battle between Good and Evil as an ethical dualism, set within the human consciousness.
Asha is a form of righteous, all encompassing, natural law.
Legends, which are probably not those of Zarathushtra's original teachings are: After death, the urvan (soul) is allowed three days to meditate on his/her past life. The soul is then judged by a troika Mithra, Sraosha and Rashnu. If the good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad, then the soul is taken into heaven. Otherwise, the soul is led to hell.
The universe will go through three eras: creation;
the present world where good and evil are mixed. People's good works are seen as gradually transforming the world towards its heavenly ideal;
and a final state after this renovation when good and evil will be separated.

Eventually, everything will be purified. Even the occupants of hell will be released.

A Saoshyant (savior) will be born of a virgin, but of the lineage of the Prophet Zoroaster who will raise the dead and judge everyone in a final judgment.




Zoroastrian Practices:
Their worship includes prayers and symbolic ceremonies.
The rituals are conducted before a sacred fire. Some believe that they actually worship fire. This is not true. They regard fire as a symbol of their God.
Zoroastrians do not generally accept converts. One has to be born into the religion. This belief is disputed by some members.
Members are dedicated to a three-fold path, as shown in their motto: "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds"
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Druidism Posted on: 2004/3/20 14:49
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"Druidry is not a religion. It's a philosophy and you can worship a God or a Goddess, it's up to you. You can be a Christian or a Moslem or anything else and still be a Druid. "But while a Christian will say God made that tree, a Druid will say the energy of a creative force is in that tree." Kieron, a North-East UK Druid.




History:
Modern Druidism is one of the Neopagan family of religions, which includes Wicca and recreations of Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Roman and other ancient Pagan religions. Some present-day Druids attempt to reconstruct of the beliefs and practices of ancient Druidism. Others modern-day followers of Druidism work directly with the spirits of place, of the gods and of their ancestors to create a new Druidism.

Within ancient Druidism, there were three specialties. "A general categorisation of the three different grades accords the arts to the bards, the skills of prophecy and divination to the Ovates and philosophical, teaching, counselling and judicial tasks to the Druid." 1

The Bards were "the keepers of tradition, of the memory of the tribe - they were the custodians of the sacredness of the Word." In Ireland, they trained for 12 years learning grammar, hundreds of stories, poems, philosophy, the Ogham tree-alphabet.
The Ovates worked with the processes of death and regeneration. They were the native healers of the Celts. They specialized in divination, conversing with the ancestors, and prophesizing the future.
The Druids and Druidesses formed the professional class in Celtic society. They performed the functions of modern day priests, teachers, ambassadors, astronomers, genealogists, philosophers, musicians, theologians, scientists, poets and judges. They underwent lengthy training: some sources say 20 years. Druids led all public rituals, which were normally held within fenced groves of sacred trees. In their role as priests, "they acted not as mediators between God and man, but as directors of ritual, as shamans guiding and containing the rites." Most leaders mentioned in the surviving records were male. It is not known whether female Druids were considered equal to their male counterparts, or whether they were restricted to special responsibilities. References to women exercising religious power might have been deleted from the record by Christian monks during the Celtic Christian era.

Since ancient Druidism was an oral tradition, they did not have a set of scriptures as do Christianity and other "religions of the book. 2 "Some Druidic "teachings survived in the Bardic colleges in Wales, Ireland and Scotland which remained active until the 17th century, in medieval manuscripts, and in oral tradition, folk lore and ritual." 3

Druidism and other Neopagan religions are currently experiencing a rapid growth. Many people are attempting to rediscover their roots, their ancestral heritage. For many people in North America, their ancestors can be traced back to Celtic/Druidic countries.

Most modern Druids connect the origin of their religion to the ancient Celtic people. However, historical data is scarce. The Druids may well have been active in Britain and perhaps in northern Europe before the advent of the Celts.

Many academics believe that the ancestors of the Celts were the Proto-Indo European culture who lived near the Black Sea circa 4000 BCE. Some migrated in a South-Westerly direction to create the cultures of Thrace and Greece; others moved North-West to form the Baltic, Celtic, Germanic and Slavic cultures. Evidence of a Proto-Celtic Unetice or Urnfield culture has been found in what is now Slovakia circa 1000 BCE. This evolved into a group of loosely linked tribes which formed the Celtic culture circa 800 BCE. By 450 BCE they had expanded into Spain; by 400 BCE they were in Northern Italy, and by 270 BCE, they had migrated into Galatia (central Turkey). By 200 BCE, they had occupied the British Isles, Brittany, much of modern France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, North West Spain, and their isolated Galatia settlement in Turkey.

Although the Celts had a written language, it was rarely used. Their religious and philosophical beliefs were preserved in an oral tradition. Little of their early history remains. Most of our information comes from Greek and Roman writers, who may well have been heavily biased (the Celts invaded Rome in 390 BCE and Greece in 279 BCE). Other data comes from the codification (and modification) of Celtic myth cycles by Christian monks. The latter included the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, the Cycle of Kings, the Invasion Races Cycle from Ireland, and The Mabinogion from Wales. Unfortunately, much Celtic history and religion has been lost or distorted by an overlay of Christianity.

The Christian Church adsorbed much of Celtic religion: many Pagan Gods and Goddesses became Christian saints; sacred springs and wells were preserved and associated with saints; many Pagan temple sites became the location of cathedrals. By the 7th Century CE, Druidism itself was destroyed or continued deeply underground throughout most of the formerly Celtic lands. There is some evidence that Pagan religions did survive in isolated areas of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the 20th Century.



Myths about Druids
Ritual Killing: Many historians believed that the ancient Druids performed human sacrifices. All of these references can be traced back to the writings of one individual, Julius Caesar. He may well have been prejudiced against the Celts because of their continual warfare with the Romans. In war, the enemy is routinely demonized. Some remains of executions have been found in the archeological record, but it is not obvious whether the victims were killed during religious rituals or to carry out the sentence of a court. There is one reference to human sacrifice in Celtic literature, but it appears to be a Christian forgery. The ancient Celts might have engaged in ritual killing; certainly other contemporary societies did. Modern Druids, of course, do not.
Stonehenge, Avebury, etc.: Many people believe that the Druids constructed Stonehenge, the complex of standing stones in South Central England. Stonehenge I ("Old Stonehenge"), which was composed of the 56 "Aubrey" holes, was constructed circa 3500 BCE. The current formation was completed circa 1500 BCE. This was almost a millennium before the start of Celtic civilization. The Druids may have preceded the Celts in England. Thus, either the Druids or their fore-runners might have been responsible for the finishing of Stonehenge and other monuments. There is no historical proof that they were or were not involved. Even if they did not actually construct these monuments, they may well have performed rituals there, and understood its astronomical meanings and uses.
In Ireland and Great Britain, there are many ancient "Druid" altars, beds, rings, stones, stone circles and temples. However, radio-carbon analyses assign dates such as 1380 BCE (Wilsford Shaft) to 3330 BCE (Hembury). Again, ancient Druids may have used these megalithic monuments, but did not necessarily build them

Ireland now has countless wells and springs dedicated to the Christian Saint Bridget. She was obviously descended from the Celtic Goddess Brigid/Brigit. "Finding the cult of Brigit impossible to eradicate, the Catholic church rather unwisely canonized her as a saint, calling her Bridget or Bride." 4 The sacred ownership of the various Pagan holy sites were simply translated from Goddess Brigid to St. Bridget after the area was Christianized.

Celtic God Samhain: This non-existent God is often mentioned at Halloween time. He is supposed to be the Celtic God of the Dead. No such God existed. Samhain is, in reality, the name of a Druidic fire festival. It can be loosely translated as "end of the warm season".
Monotheistic Druids: Some writers have promoted the concept that Druids were basically monotheistic, following a sort of pre-Christian belief system. There is essentially no evidence of this. Druids worshipped a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.



Beliefs and Practices:
Beliefs and practices of the ancient Celts are being pieced together by modern Druids. Because so much information has been lost, this is not an easy task. Some findings are:

Goddesses and Gods: The Celts did not form a single religious or political unity. They were organized into tribes spread across what is now several countries. As a result, of the 374 Celtic deities which have been found, over 300 occur only once in the archeological record; they are believed to be local deities. There is some evidence that their main pantheon of Gods and Goddesses might have totaled about 3 dozen - perhaps precisely 33 (a frequently occurring magical number in Celtic literature). Some of the more famous are: Arawn, Brigid, Cernunnos, Cerridwen, Danu, Herne, Lugh, Morgan, Rhiannon and Taranis. Many Celtic deities were worshipped in triune (triple aspect) form. Triple Goddesses were often sisters.
Afterlife: The dead were transported to the Otherworld by the God Bile (AKA Bel, Belenus). Life continued in this location much as it had before death. The Druids believed that the soul was immortal. After the person died in the Otherworld, their soul lives again in another human body. At every birth, the Celts mourned the death of a person in the Otherworld which made the new birth possible.
Creation Myth: No Druidic creation story appears to have survived, although there are numerous accounts of the supernatural creation of islands, mountains, etc.
Baptism: There is some evidence that the Celts had a baptism initiation ceremony similar to those found in Buddhist, Christian, Essene, Hindu, Islamic, and Jainist sacred texts. Other researchers dismiss baptism as a forgery by Christian scribes as they transferred Celtic material to written form.
Moral code: Druids do not follow the Wiccan Rede which states (in modern English) one is free to do anything, as long as it harms nobody. The closest analogy are the Celtic Virtues of honor, loyalty, hospitality, honesty, justice and courage. "Daven" briefly describes the Virtues as follows:

"Briefly stated the virtue of Honor requires one to adhere to their oaths and do the right thing, even if it will ultimately hurt others or oneself in the process. A Druid is obligated to remain true to friends, family and leaders thus exhibiting the virtue of Loyalty. Hospitality demands that a Druid be a good host when guests are under one's roof. Honesty insists that one tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth to yourself, your gods and your people. Justice desires the Druid understands everyone has an inherent worth and that an assault to that worth demands recompense in one form or another. Courage for the Druid does not always wear a public face; it is standing-strong-in-the-face-of-adversity, alone or with companions. Sometimes Courage is getting up and going about a daily routine when pain has worn one down without complaint or demur." 7
Divination: Druids used many techniques to foretell the future: meditation, study of the flight of birds, interpreting dreams, and interpreting the pattern of sticks thrown to the ground.
Awen symbol: This is a symbol drawn in the form of three pillars, in which the outer two are sloped towards the center pillar, as in /|\. Sometimes, one or three dots are added above the pillars. The symbol has been in use since the 17th century; it recalls the Druidic fascination with the number three. "Awen" means inspiration in Middle Welsh.
Triskele symbol: This is an ancient Druidic symbol consisting of three curved branches, bent legs or arms radiating from the center of the symbol. The flag of the Isle of Man contains a triskele.



Seasonal Days of Celebration:
Druids, past and present, celebrate a series of fire-festivals, on the first of each of four months. Each would start at sunset and last for three days. Great bonfires would be built on the hilltops. Cattle would be driven between two bonfires to assure their fertility; couples would jump over a bonfire or run between two bonfires as well. The festivals are:

Samhain (or Samhuinn) Literally the "end of warm season". November 1 marked the combined Feast of the Dead and New Year's Day for the Celtic calendar. It is a time when the veil between our reality and that of the Otherworld is most easily penetrated. This fire festival was later adopted by the Christians as All Soul's Eve, and later became the secular holiday Halloween.
Imbolc (or Brighid) Literally "in the belly". February 1 marked The Return of Light. This is the date when the first stirrings of life were noticeable and when the land might first be plowable. This has been secularized as Groundhog Day.
Beltaine (or Bealteinne). May 1 was the celebration of The Fires of Bel. This was the peak of blossom season, when domesticated animals bear their young. This is still celebrated today as May Day. Youths dance around the May pole in what is obviously a reconstruction of an earlier fertility ritual.
Lughnasad (or Lughnasadh, Lammas). August 1 was The Feast of Lugh, named after the God of Light. A time for celebration and the harvest.
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Hinduism Posted on: 2004/3/20 14:45
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Hinduism is the most ancient religion known to the world as Sanatana Dharma. This is the only religion in the world which is also a way of life for all to follow, specially Indian's. It is a religion that gets its guidance from theVedas Upanishads Sutras Epics Granthas and Prabhandhams. Aagama Shastra is one of them.

The Bhagavat Gita preached by Lord Krishna to Arjuna, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, suggests various parts to reach the ultimate aim that God is one. Sanathana Dharma based on the eternal Vedas, faced many upheavals for several centuries, and could withstand the onslaught only because of its innate strength. The Vedas proclaim that God is one. The Bhakthi cult preached by various Saints "Nam Smaran" (chanting God's name) is the easiest way of reaching Him. The Hindu sees God in the form the devotee likes most.

The temples were and are places where man learnt about himself, learnt various arts like music, dance, religion, etc. The temples reveal the various manifestations of the Supreme Being installed therein.

An important factor almost universally accepted is that faith in a divine power shapes the destiny of mankind. Sanathana Dharma had famous Saints who had expounded their own specific philosophy.

Sankhya is another religion-great and ancient of our land. This religion has produced more Ascetics and Gnanis than Buddhism or Jainism. But we do not find any images in honour of those ascetics and gnanis or any literature in the form of songs or stories. We find more reference to Sankhya than Buddhism or Jainism in philosophical works.

Shri. Madhavacharya expounded Dwaita philosophy where the emphasis is on Bhakthi (devotion). He insisted that one should perform one's duties as an offering to God. Shri Madhvacharya founder of Dwaita philosophy said, "God is the continuing cause of all activities of man. The purpose of creation by the Lord is to enable individual souls to work out their salvation." He prescribed Bhakthi as the supreme method to attain God. He pleaded to lead a life of purity to enable us to meditate on the Supreme Being. Devotion and duty import meaning into human life.

Adi Shankaracharya expounded Advaita philosophy. From time immemorial, Hinduism was subjected to severe tests on account of attacks by other religions. As a result, people strayed away from the path laid by the Vedas. Whenever there was religious degeneration, God saw to it, that a spiritual personality appeared amidst mankind, to revitalize Hinduism and establish Dharma. Lord Shiva Himself manifested as Adi Shankara to reinforce the declining religion. Adi Sankaracharya's Advaita philosophy propounds of only one Supreme Being, Lord Shiva - the philosophy is known as Shaivism - he stressed that spiritual knowledge, deep devotion and detachments are necessary for reaching the goal.

Vasishtadwaita was expounded by Shri Ramanujacharya which lays emphasis on the cult devoted to the worship of Lord Vishnu, signifying the cult of Vaishnavism. To propagate the cult of Vaishnavism, God deputed Alwars who established the Truth and Reality through their Hymns called "Prabandhams". There are thousands of temples - sanctified kshetras of worship - where divine power is manifested. Every temple has a Sthala Purana, through which the significance of every temple can be learnt.

Though God is the ultimate authority to grant salvation to a devotee the method of approach to attain Moksha (salvation) can be obtained by an Acharya or Guru, the intermediary, who represents Almighty, a learned intellectual, dispels the disciples spiritual ignorance. The Acharya who initiates the disciple into spiritual bliss is the link between the individual and the Cosmic Soul. Acharyas are chosen representatives of God.
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Morman Posted on: 2004/3/20 14:36
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims 11 million members throughout the world. In the U.S., there are more than 5 million Mormons. The church is headquartered in Salt Lake City.

NameMormons are officially referred to as Latter-day Saints. The name Latter-day stems from the belief that after the death of the early apostles, the Christian church fell into apostasy. The church needed to be restored in the latter days, which Mormons believe began in 1820.
History

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith, who is considered a prophet by Mormons. He began receiving visions at age 14, in 1820, in which he was told it was his mission to restore the church of Jesus Christ on earth. When Joseph Smith was killed, leadership of the church passed on to Brigham Young. Young was responsible for leading Mormon pioneers west to Salt Lake City in 1847.

Scripture

Latter-day Saints believe the Bible is sacred. They also include in their canon The Pearl of Great Price, which includes two lost books of the Bible, a translation of the Gospel of Matthew, and the 13 Articles of Faith; The Doctrine and Covenants, a group of 138 revelations from God and two other official documents; and The Book of Mormon, originally published in 1830.

Christ

Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus is the Son of God in the most literal sense. He is eldest brother of all mortals and firstborn spirit child of God. They believe that from Mary, a mortal woman, Jesus inherited the capacity to die, and from God, an exalted being, he inherited the capacity to live forever.

Salvation

Latter-day Saints believe that salvation comes through Christ's atoning sacrifice. But they don't believe in "original sin" or in human depravity. Still, Latter-day Saints believe that fallen men and women do need redemption. Works are a necessary condition, but they are insufficient for salvation.

Missionaries

More than 60,000 men and women serve the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as missionaries in more than 330 missions around the world. Missionaries are referred to as "Elders."

Dietary Restrictions

Latter-day Saints caution their members against using tobacco, consuming alcohol, tea and coffee. They interpret the misuse of drugs--illegal, legal, prescription or controlled--as a violation of the health code known as the "Word of Wisdom."


Polygamy
Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church, said the idea of "plural marriage" was revealed to him by God. Among early Mormon pioneers, 20-25% of families were polygamous. LDS president Wilford Woodruff announced an official end to the practice of polygamy in 1890. Read more about the LDS church and polygamy here.

Family Ties

Mormons operate the largest genealogical library in the world containing millions of volumes of birth, marriage, death, and other records. In addition, the Church obligates Latter-day Saints to stand as proxies for their deceased ancestors in sacred rites such as baptism and eternal marriage.
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