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The Sacred and the Profane

This is one of my favorite books. Renowned anthropologist and historian of religion Mircea Eliade attempts to describe how religious people experience the sacred. He also gives a fascinating explanation of primitive religions. The popular image of the religion of primitive peoples is pretty unflattering: they worship rocks, animals, and whatnot; their rituals are just attempts to extract favors from imaginary spirits; their myths are laughably bad attempts at scientific explanations, etc. Eliade shows that these are complete misunderstandings. Primitive people don't worship natural objects, but they believe that natural objects can be revelations of the sacred, and that one can worship the gods through them. Primitive men certainly do want help from their gods (who wouldn't?), but they are also driven by what Eliade calls an 'ontological nostalgia', a desire to live in the presence of the gods who are the preeminently real and the source of all being. Nor do their myths seem so silly when one understands the function they serve and the universal symbolism they employ.
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