What do you think about religion? Are you a ride or die kinda worshipper or does the concept of the R word tie your insides into knots? From my observation, how we feel about religion all comes down to first impressions. Early experiences go a long way in shaping our ability to embrace a system of beliefs, convincing many of a specific truth, and leaving others open to skepticism. Regardless, history proves that most humans can’t help but to look for cosmic guidance for the here & now and the hereafter. So what exactly are some of these modes of worship? Scientifically speaking, there are like a gazillion of them: Spiritual philosophies, cults – and their offshoots. For the purposes of this initial installment, we prevent a brief overview of 4 of these uncommon approaches to spiritual worship:
The Religious Society of Friends
Popularly known as Quakers, these are members of an English Christian denomination that emerged during the mid-1600’s by George Fox. Like many religions, it’s practiced in various forms across the globe.
The “Friends,” as they call one another are believe in non-violence, or pacifism, simplicity, social equality, and for many, stewardship of the planet. Beginning with the abolition movement, Quakers have long since been at the front lines fighting for equality in this nation. To this day, the Friends work to bring about social and environmental justice on a global scale.
There are a few denominations that function more like a traditional church, however, the majority of Friends worship in Meetinghouses on a weekly basis. Rather than looking to a spiritual leader for guidance, most Quakers believe that God speaks directly to each and every person. These unprogrammed meetings are held in silent reflection, the members standing up to speak only if the Holy Spirit moves him/her to do so. Quakerism may be the simplest form of Christianity out there and it lacks a formal creed or clear description. Pacific Yearly Meeting explains: “Most Quakers take the absence of a creed as an invitation and encouragement to exercise an extra measure of personal responsibility for the understanding and articulation of Quaker faith. Rather than rely on priests or professional theologians, each believer is encouraged to take seriously the personal disciplines associated with spiritual growth. Out of lives of reflection, prayer, faithfulness, and service flow the statements of belief, both in word and in deed.”
Interesting fact: There are more Quakers in Kenya than in the US.
Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion of pre-Islamic Persia (modern day Iran). Zarathustra (Zoroaster, in Greek) founded the religion in 6th century BC after he claimed to have had visions of a loving God named Ahura Mazda beginning at age 30. Due to its monotheistic nature, belief in the existence of heaven, hell, angels and demons, many theologians credit Zoroastrianism with heavily influencing Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It was at one time a widespread religion, only to be suppressed by the arrival of Islam. Now it’s thought the faith has about 200,000 followers.
Recounting his visions, Zarathustra claimed he was transported to heaven, where Ahura Mazda told him of his adversary, Aura Mainyu (the devil) and assigned him the holy task of guiding people to choose good over evil. Zarathustra’s teachings are considered highly ethical. He taught hat humans’ free will allowed them to choose between “right” and “wrong” but that these choices had a direct impact on their eternal soul. Picture the balance scales: Good outweighs evil = heaven, vice versa = hell and equal balance of deeds = purgatory.
The official text of Zoroastrianism, called the Avesta, is a series of sacred passages collected over a span of centuries. It contains hymns of praise; and spells against demons and prescriptions for purification and invocations and rituals to be used at festivals. Zoroastrians are free to worship at a temple or from home. Worship includes prayers and symbolic ceremonies which all emphasize the 3-fold path that reflects their philosophy: “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”
Interesting fact: Zoroastrians believe that a savior – the Saoshyant – will be born of a virgin (of the lineage of the Prophet Zoroaster) who will one day rise, and’ judge the quick and the dead.’
Santería is Afro-Cuban system of belief that combines the customs of the Yoruba people, elements of the Roman Catholicism and Native American traditions. Regla de Ocha or La Regla Lucumi as it’s sometimes called, promotes worship of spirits called Orishas, which is a manifestation of God they call Olodumare.
Santeríans believe that relationship between themselves and the Orishas is mutually beneficial. By carrying out specific rituals, followers seek aid from the spirits in fulfilling their destiny. Orishas existence is dependent on human worship.
Santería rituals are used to strengthen the relationship between human & Orishas and incorporate dancing, drumming and speaking to the spirits. Ceremonies sometimes take place at halls or in private homes. Animal sacrifice is an integral aspect of Santería and is performed for the purposes of major life events like healing, marriage, birth and death.
Interesting fact: Santeria has no scriptures and is passed down through oral tradition.
The crowning of Ras Tafari Makonnen as Haile Selassie I King of Ethiopia in 1930 marked the beginning of the Caribbean religion. The philosophy that claimed Selassie was a living God was developed by political activist Marcus Garvey in the early part of the century. You may hear them sometimes refer to themselves as Rastafarians, Rastas, Sufferers, Locksmen, Dreads or Dreadlocks.
Despite denying he was a deity in flesh form, many Rastas share a belief that God, a.k.a. the late King Selassie, would one day to return descendents of enslaved Africans to the Motherland. Like most religions, there are several schools of thought within Rastafarianism. One of the common themes is a belief that folks of the Diaspora are the chosen people of God who will to fulfill their sacred destiny upon returning to Africa. Many also believe in reincarnation and that birth control and abortion are a sin.
Rastas tend to meet weekly, in a casual setting such as a home, for worship. They are widely known to use ganja – or marijuana – to enhance their spiritual awareness. They often hold ceremonies filled with music, chanting and meditation to get in touch with spirit. Strict Rastafarians abstain from alcohol use, and eat a diet rich in fruit and veggies. Rastas follow the Old Testament, which includes passages that forbid its followers from cutting their hair. This is one explanation for the dreadlock style they’ve made famous. Another is that the long matted style resembles a mane, an homage to the Lion of Judah – as King Selassie is sometimes referred.
Interesting fact: Rastafari contains pretty old school rules for the women, or “Queens” of the faith. By no means are women considered equal, but not all schools of thought adhere strictly to those outdated tenants.
Any religions or spiritual philosophies you care to share, or are curious about? We’d love to hear from you.