The Urantia Book
THE GHOST CULTS
Presented by a Brilliant Evening Star of Nebadon.
87:0.1 THE ghost cult evolved as an offset to
the hazards of bad luck; its primitive religious observances
were the outgrowth of anxiety about bad luck and of the
inordinate fear of the dead. None of these early religions had
much to do with the recognition of Deity or with reverence for
the superhuman; their rites were mostly negative, designed to
avoid, expel, or coerce ghosts. The ghost cult was nothing more
nor less than insurance against disaster; it had nothing to do
with investment for higher and future returns.
87:0.2 Man has had a long and bitter struggle
with the ghost cult. Nothing in human history is designed to
excite more pity than this picture of man's abject slavery to
ghost-spirit fear. With the birth of this very fear mankind
started on the upgrade of religious evolution. Human imagination
cast off from the shores of self and will not again find anchor
until it arrives at the concept of a true Deity, a real God.
1. GHOST FEAR
87:1.1 Death was feared because death meant
the liberation of another ghost from its physical body. The
ancients did their best to prevent death, to avoid the trouble
of having to contend with a new ghost. They were always anxious
to induce the ghost to leave the scene of death, to embark on
the journey to deadland. The ghost was feared most of all during
the supposed transition period between its emergence at the time
of death and its later departure for the ghost homeland, a vague
and primitive concept of pseudo heaven.
87:1.2 Though the savage credited ghosts with
supernatural powers, he hardly conceived of them as having
supernatural intelligence. Many tricks and stratagems were
practiced in an effort to hoodwink and deceive the ghosts;
civilized man still pins much faith on the hope that an outward
manifestation of piety will in some manner deceive even an
87:1.3 The primitives feared sickness because
they observed it was often a harbinger of death. If the tribal
medicine man failed to cure an afflicted individual, the sick
man was usually removed from the family hut, being taken to a
smaller one or left in the open air to die alone. A house in
which death had occurred was usually destroyed; if not, it was
always avoided, and this fear prevented early man from building
substantial dwellings. It also militated against the
establishment of permanent villages and cities.
87:1.4 The savages sat up all night and talked
when a member of the clan died; they feared they too would die
if they fell asleep in the vicinity of a corpse. Contagion from
the corpse substantiated the fear of the dead, and all peoples,
at one time or another, have employed elaborate purification
ceremonies designed to cleanse an individual after contact with
the dead. The ancients believed that light must be provided for
a corpse; a dead body was never permitted to remain in the dark.
In the twentieth century, candles are still burned in death
chambers, and men still sit up with the dead. So-called
civilized man has hardly yet completely eliminated the fear of
dead bodies from his philosophy of life.
87:1.5 But despite all this fear, men still
sought to trick the ghost. If the death hut was not destroyed,
the corpse was removed through a hole in the wall, never by way
of the door. These measures were taken to confuse the ghost, to
prevent its tarrying, and to insure against its return. Mourners
also returned from a funeral by a different road, lest the ghost
follow. Backtracking and scores of other tactics were practiced
to insure that the ghost would not return from the grave. The
sexes often exchanged clothes in order to deceive the ghost.
Mourning costumes were designed to disguise survivors; later on,
to show respect for the dead and thus appease the ghosts.
2. GHOST PLACATION
87:2.1 In religion the negative program of
ghost placation long preceded the positive program of spirit
coercion and supplication. The first acts of human worship were
phenomena of defense, not reverence. Modern man deems it wise to
insure against fire; so the savage thought it the better part of
wisdom to provide insurance against ghost bad luck. The effort
to secure this protection constituted the techniques and rituals
of the ghost cult.
87:2.2 It was once thought that the great
desire of a ghost was to be quickly "laid" so that it might
proceed undisturbed to deadland. Any error of commission or
omission in the acts of the living in the ritual of laying the
ghost was sure to delay its progress to ghostland. This was
believed to be displeasing to the ghost, and an angered ghost
was supposed to be a source of calamity, misfortune, and
87:2.3 The funeral service originated in man's
effort to induce the ghost soul to depart for its future home,
and the funeral sermon was originally designed to instruct the
new ghost how to get there. It was the custom to provide food
and clothes for the ghost's journey, these articles being placed
in or near the grave. The savage believed that it required from
three days to a year to "lay the ghost" -- to get it away from
the vicinity of the grave. The Eskimos still believe that the
soul stays with the body three days.
87:2.4 Silence or mourning was observed after
a death so that the ghost would not be attracted back home.
Self-torture -- wounds -- was a common form of mourning. Many
advanced teachers tried to stop this, but they failed. Fasting
and other forms of self-denial were thought to be pleasing to
the ghosts, who took pleasure in the discomfort of the living
during the transition period of lurking about before their
actual departure for deadland.
87:2.5 Long and frequent periods of mourning
inactivity were one of the great obstacles to civilization's
advancement. Weeks and even months of each year were literally
wasted in this nonproductive and useless mourning. The fact that
professional mourners were hired for funeral occasions indicates
that mourning was a ritual, not an evidence of sorrow. Moderns
may mourn the dead out of respect and because of bereavement,
but the ancients did this because of fear.
87:2.6 The names of the dead were never
spoken. In fact, they were often banished from the language.
These names became taboo, and in this way the languages were
constantly impoverished. This eventually produced a
multiplication of symbolic speech and figurative expression,
such as "the name or day one never mentions."
87:2.7 The ancients were so anxious to get rid
of a ghost that they offered it everything which might have been
desired during life. Ghosts wanted wives and servants; a
well-to-do savage expected that at least one slave wife would be
buried alive at his death. It later became the custom for a
widow to commit suicide on her husband's grave. When a child
died, the mother, aunt, or grandmother was often strangled in
order that an adult ghost might accompany and care for the child
ghost. And those who thus gave up their lives usually did so
willingly; indeed, had they lived in violation of custom, their
fear of ghost wrath would have denuded life of such few
pleasures as the primitives enjoyed.
87:2.8 It was customary to dispatch a large
number of subjects to accompany a dead chief; slaves were killed
when their master died that they might serve him in ghostland.
The Borneans still provide a courier companion; a slave is
speared to death to make the ghost journey with his deceased
master. Ghosts of murdered persons were believed to be delighted
to have the ghosts of their murderers as slaves; this notion
motivated men to head hunting.
87:2.9 Ghosts supposedly enjoyed the smell of
food; food offerings at funeral feasts were once universal. The
primitive method of saying grace was, before eating, to throw a
bit of food into the fire for the purpose of appeasing the
spirits, while mumbling a magic formula.
87:2.10 The dead were supposed to use the
ghosts of the tools and weapons that were theirs in life. To
break an article was to "kill it," thus releasing its ghost to
pass on for service in ghostland. Property sacrifices were also
made by burning or burying. Ancient funeral wastes were
enormous. Later races made paper models and substituted drawings
for real objects and persons in these death sacrifices. It was a
great advance in civilization when the inheritance of kin
replaced the burning and burying of property. The Iroquois
Indians made many reforms in funeral waste. And this
conservation of property enabled them to become the most
powerful of the northern red men. Modern man is not supposed to
fear ghosts, but custom is strong, and much terrestrial wealth
is still consumed on funeral rituals and death ceremonies.
3. ANCESTOR WORSHIP
87:3.1 The advancing ghost cult made ancestor
worship inevitable since it became the connecting link between
common ghosts and the higher spirits, the evolving gods. The
early gods were simply glorified departed humans.
87:3.2 Ancestor worship was originally more of
a fear than a worship, but such beliefs did definitely
contribute to the further spread of ghost fear and worship.
Devotees of the early ancestor-ghost cults even feared to yawn
lest a malignant ghost enter their bodies at such a time.
87:3.3 The custom of adopting children was to
make sure that some one would provide offerings after death for
the peace and progress of the soul. The savage lived in fear of
the ghosts of his fellows and spent his spare time planning for
the safe conduct of his own ghost after death.
87:3.4 Most tribes instituted an all-souls'
feast at least once a year. The Romans had twelve ghost feasts
and accompanying ceremonies each year. Half the days of the year
were dedicated to some sort of ceremony associated with these
ancient cults. One Roman emperor tried to reform these practices
by reducing the number of feast days to 135 a year.
87:3.5 The ghost cult was in continuous
evolution. As ghosts were envisioned as passing from the
incomplete to the higher phase of existence, so did the cult
eventually progress to the worship of spirits, and even gods.
But regardless of varying beliefs in more advanced spirits, all
tribes and races once believed in ghosts.
4. GOOD AND BAD SPIRIT GHOSTS
87:4.1 Ghost fear was the fountainhead of all
world religion; and for ages many tribes clung to the old belief
in one class of ghosts. They taught that man had good luck when
the ghost was pleased, bad luck when he was angered.
87:4.2 As the cult of ghost fear expanded,
there came about the recognition of higher types of spirits,
spirits not definitely identifiable with any individual human.
They were graduate or glorified ghosts who had progressed beyond
the domain of ghostland to the higher realms of spiritland.
87:4.3 The notion of two kinds of spirit
ghosts made slow but sure progress throughout the world. This
new dual spiritism did not have to spread from tribe to tribe;
it sprang up independently all over the world. In influencing
the expanding evolutionary mind, the power of an idea lies not
in its reality or reasonableness but rather in its vividness
and the universality of its ready and simple application.
87:4.4 Still later the imagination of man
envisioned the concept of both good and bad supernatural
agencies; some ghosts never evolved to the level of good
spirits. The early monospiritism of ghost fear was gradually
evolving into a dual spiritism, a new concept of the invisible
control of earthly affairs. At last good luck and bad luck were
pictured as having their respective controllers. And of the two
classes, the group that brought bad luck were believed to be the
more active and numerous.
87:4.5 When the doctrine of good and bad
spirits finally matured, it became the most widespread and
persistent of all religious beliefs. This dualism represented a
great religio-philosophic advance because it enabled man to
account for both good luck and bad luck while at the same time
believing in supermortal beings who were to some extent
consistent in their behavior. The spirits could be counted on to
be either good or bad; they were not thought of as being
completely temperamental as the early ghosts of the
monospiritism of most primitive religions had been conceived to
be. Man was at last able to conceive of supermortal forces that
were consistent in behavior, and this was one of the most
momentous discoveries of truth in the entire history of the
evolution of religion and in the expansion of human philosophy.
87:4.6 Evolutionary religion has, however,
paid a terrible price for the concept of dual spiritism. Man's
early philosophy was able to reconcile spirit constancy with the
vicissitudes of temporal fortune only by postulating two kinds
of spirits, one good and the other bad. And while this belief
did enable man to reconcile the variables of chance with a
concept of unchanging supermortal forces, this doctrine has ever
since made it difficult for religionists to conceive of cosmic
unity. The gods of evolutionary religion have generally been
opposed by the forces of darkness.
87:4.7 The tragedy of all this lies in the
fact that, when these ideas were taking root in the primitive
mind of man, there really were no bad or disharmonious spirits
in all the world. Such an unfortunate situation did not develop
until after the Caligastic rebellion and only persisted until
Pentecost. The concept of good and evil as cosmic co-ordinates
is, even in the twentieth century, very much alive in human
philosophy; most of the world's religions still carry this
cultural birthmark of the long-gone days of the emerging ghost
5. THE ADVANCING GHOST CULT
87:5.1 Primitive man viewed the spirits and
ghosts as having almost unlimited rights but no duties; the
spirits were thought to regard man as having manifold duties but
no rights. The spirits were believed to look down upon man as
constantly failing in the discharge of his spiritual duties. It
was the general belief of mankind that ghosts levied a
continuous tribute of service as the price of noninterference in
human affairs, and the least mischance was laid to ghost
activities. Early humans were so afraid they might overlook some
honor due the gods that, after they had sacrificed to all known
spirits, they did another turn to the "unknown gods," just to be
87:5.2 And now the simple ghost cult is
followed by the practices of the more advanced and relatively
complex spirit-ghost cult, the service and worship of the higher
spirits as they evolved in man's primitive imagination.
Religious ceremonial must keep pace with spirit evolution and
progress. The expanded cult was but the art of self-maintenance
practiced in relation to belief in supernatural beings,
self-adjustment to spirit environment. Industrial and military
organizations were adjustments to natural and social
environments. And as marriage arose to meet the demands of
bisexuality, so did religious organization evolve in response to
the belief in higher spirit forces and spiritual beings.
Religion represents man's adjustment to his illusions of the
mystery of chance. Spirit fear and subsequent worship were
adopted as insurance against misfortune, as prosperity policies.
87:5.3 The savage visualizes the good spirits
as going about their business, requiring little from human
beings. It is the bad ghosts and spirits who must be kept in
good humor. Accordingly, primitive peoples paid more attention
to their malevolent ghosts than to their benign spirits.
87:5.4 Human prosperity was supposed to be
especially provocative of the envy of evil spirits, and their
method of retaliation was to strike back through a human agency
and by the technique of the evil eye. That phase of the
cult which had to do with spirit avoidance was much concerned
with the machinations of the evil eye. The fear of it became
almost world-wide. Pretty women were veiled to protect them from
the evil eye; subsequently many women who desired to be
considered beautiful adopted this practice. Because of this fear
of bad spirits, children were seldom allowed out after dark, and
the early prayers always included the petition, "deliver us from
the evil eye."
87:5.5 The Koran contains a whole chapter
devoted to the evil eye and magic spells, and the Jews fully
believed in them. The whole phallic cult grew up as a defense
against evil eye. The organs of reproduction were thought to be
the only fetish which could render it powerless. The evil eye
gave origin to the first superstitions respecting prenatal
marking of children, maternal impressions, and the cult was at
one time well-nigh universal.
87:5.6 Envy is a deep-seated human trait;
therefore did primitive man ascribe it to his early gods. And
since man had once practiced deception upon the ghosts, he soon
began to deceive the spirits. Said he, "If the spirits are
jealous of our beauty and prosperity, we will disfigure
ourselves and speak lightly of our success." Early humility was
not, therefore, debasement of ego but rather an attempt to foil
and deceive the envious spirits.
87:5.7 The method adopted to prevent the
spirits from becoming jealous of human prosperity was to heap
vituperation upon some lucky or much loved thing or person. The
custom of depreciating complimentary remarks regarding oneself
or family had its origin in this way, and it eventually evolved
into civilized modesty, restraint, and courtesy. In keeping with
the same motive, it became the fashion to look ugly. Beauty
aroused the envy of spirits; it betokened sinful human pride.
The savage sought for an ugly name. This feature of the cult was
a great handicap to the advancement of art, and it long kept the
world somber and ugly.
87:5.8 Under the spirit cult, life was at best
a gamble, the result of spirit control. One's future was not the
result of effort, industry, or talent except as they might be
utilized to influence the spirits. The ceremonies of spirit
propitiation constituted a heavy burden, rendering life tedious
and virtually unendurable. From age to age and from generation
to generation, race after race has sought to improve this
superghost doctrine, but no generation has ever yet dared to
wholly reject it.
87:5.9 The intention and will of the spirits
were studied by means of omens, oracles, and signs. And these
spirit messages were interpreted by divination, soothsaying,
magic, ordeals, and astrology. The whole cult was a scheme
designed to placate, satisfy, and buy off the spirits through
this disguised bribery.
87:5.10 And thus there grew up a new and
expanded world philosophy consisting in:
1. Duty -- those things which
must be done to keep the spirits favorably disposed, at least
2. Right -- the correct
conduct and ceremonies designed to win the spirits actively to
3. Truth -- the correct
understanding of, and attitude toward, spirits, and hence toward
life and death.
87:5.11 It was not merely out of curiosity
that the ancients sought to know the future; they wanted to
dodge ill luck. Divination was simply an attempt to avoid
trouble. During these times, dreams were regarded as prophetic,
while everything out of the ordinary was considered an omen. And
even today the civilized races are cursed with the belief in
signs, tokens, and other superstitious remnants of the advancing
ghost cult of old. Slow, very slow, is man to abandon those
methods whereby he so gradually and painfully ascended the
evolutionary scale of life.
6. COERCION AND EXORCISM
87:6.1 When men believed in ghosts only,
religious ritual was more personal, less organized, but the
recognition of higher spirits necessitated the employment of
"higher spiritual methods" in dealing with them. This attempt to
improve upon, and to elaborate, the technique of spirit
propitiation led directly to the creation of defenses against
the spirits. Man felt helpless indeed before the uncontrollable
forces operating in terrestrial life, and his feeling of
inferiority drove him to attempt to find some compensating
adjustment, some technique for evening the odds in the one-sided
struggle of man versus the cosmos.
87:6.2 In the early days of the cult, man's
efforts to influence ghost action were confined to propitiation,
attempts by bribery to buy off ill luck. As the evolution of the
ghost cult progressed to the concept of good as well as bad
spirits, these ceremonies turned toward attempts of a more
positive nature, efforts to win good luck. Man's religion no
longer was completely negativistic, nor did he stop with the
effort to win good luck; he shortly began to devise schemes
whereby he could compel spirit co-operation. No longer does the
religionist stand defenseless before the unceasing demands of
the spirit phantasms of his own devising; the savage is
beginning to invent weapons wherewith he may coerce spirit
action and compel spirit assistance.
87:6.3 Man's first efforts at defense were
directed against the ghosts. As the ages passed, the living
began to devise methods of resisting the dead. Many techniques
were developed for frightening ghosts and driving them away,
among which may be cited the following:
1. Cutting off the head and tying up
the body in the grave.
2. Stoning the death house.
3. Castration or breaking the legs
of the corpse.
4. Burying under stones, one origin
of the modern tombstone.
5. Cremation, a later-day invention
to prevent ghost trouble.
6. Casting the body into the sea.
7. Exposure of the body to be eaten
by wild animals.
87:6.4 Ghosts were supposed to be disturbed
and frightened by noise; shouting, bells, and drums drove them
away from the living; and these ancient methods are still in
vogue at "wakes" for the dead. Foul-smelling concoctions were
utilized to banish unwelcome spirits. Hideous images of the
spirits were constructed so that they would flee in haste when
they beheld themselves. It was believed that dogs could detect
the approach of ghosts, and that they gave warning by howling;
that cocks would crow when they were near. The use of a cock as
a weather vane is in perpetuation of this superstition.
87:6.5 Water was regarded as the best
protection against ghosts. Holy water was superior to all other
forms, water in which the priests had washed their feet. Both
fire and water were believed to constitute impassable barriers
to ghosts. The Romans carried water three times around the
corpse; in the twentieth century the body is sprinkled with holy
water, and hand washing at the cemetery is still a Jewish
ritual. Baptism was a feature of the later water ritual;
primitive bathing was a religious ceremony. Only in recent times
has bathing become a sanitary practice.
87:6.6 But man did not stop with ghost
coercion; through religious ritual and other practices he was
soon attempting to compel spirit action. Exorcism was the
employment of one spirit to control or banish another, and these
tactics were also utilized for frightening ghosts and spirits.
The dual-spiritism concept of good and bad forces offered man
ample opportunity to attempt to pit one agency against another,
for, if a powerful man could vanquish a weaker one, then
certainly a strong spirit could dominate an inferior ghost.
Primitive cursing was a coercive practice designed to overawe
minor spirits. Later this custom expanded into the pronouncing
of curses upon enemies.
87:6.7 It was long believed that by reverting
to the usages of the more ancient mores the spirits and demigods
could be forced into desirable action. Modern man is guilty of
the same procedure. You address one another in common, everyday
language, but when you engage in prayer, you resort to the older
style of another generation, the so-called solemn style.
87:6.8 This doctrine also explains many
religious-ritual reversions of a sex nature, such as temple
prostitution. These reversions to primitive customs were
considered sure guards against many calamities. And with these
simple-minded peoples all such performances were entirely free
from what modern man would term promiscuity.
87:6.9 Next came the practice of ritual vows,
soon to be followed by religious pledges and sacred oaths. Most
of these oaths were accompanied by self-torture and
self-mutilation; later on, by fasting and prayer. Self-denial
was subsequently looked upon as being a sure coercive; this was
especially true in the matter of sex suppression. And so
primitive man early developed a decided austerity in his
religious practices, a belief in the efficacy of self-torture
and self-denial as rituals capable of coercing the unwilling
spirits to react favorably toward all such suffering and
87:6.10 Modern man no longer attempts openly
to coerce the spirits, though he still evinces a disposition to
bargain with Deity. And he still swears, knocks on wood, crosses
his fingers, and follows expectoration with some trite phrase;
once it was a magical formula.
7. NATURE OF CULTISM
87:7.1 The cult type of social organization
persisted because it provided a symbolism for the preservation
and stimulation of moral sentiments and religious loyalties. The
cult grew out of the traditions of "old families" and was
perpetuated as an established institution; all families have a
cult of some sort. Every inspiring ideal grasps for some
perpetuating symbolism -- seeks some technique for cultural
manifestation which will insure survival and augment realization
-- and the cult achieves this end by fostering and gratifying
87:7.2 From the dawn of civilization every
appealing movement in social culture or religious advancement
has developed a ritual, a symbolic ceremonial. The more this
ritual has been an unconscious growth, the stronger it has
gripped its devotees. The cult preserved sentiment and satisfied
emotion, but it has always been the greatest obstacle to social
reconstruction and spiritual progress.
87:7.3 Notwithstanding that the cult has
always retarded social progress, it is regrettable that so many
modern believers in moral standards and spiritual ideals have no
adequate symbolism -- no cult of mutual support -- nothing to
belong to. But a religious cult cannot be manufactured; it
must grow. And those of no two groups will be identical unless
their rituals are arbitrarily standardized by authority.
87:7.4 The early Christian cult was the most
effective, appealing, and enduring of any ritual ever conceived
or devised, but much of its value has been destroyed in a
scientific age by the destruction of so many of its original
underlying tenets. The Christian cult has been devitalized by
the loss of many fundamental ideas.
87:7.5 In the past, truth has grown rapidly
and expanded freely when the cult has been elastic, the
symbolism expansile. Abundant truth and an adjustable cult have
favored rapidity of social progression. A meaningless cult
vitiates religion when it attempts to supplant philosophy and to
enslave reason; a genuine cult grows.
87:7.6 Regardless of the drawbacks and
handicaps, every new revelation of truth has given rise to a new
cult, and even the restatement of the religion of Jesus must
develop a new and appropriate symbolism. Modern man must find
some adequate symbolism for his new and expanding ideas, ideals,
and loyalties. This enhanced symbol must arise out of religious
living, spiritual experience. And this higher symbolism of a
higher civilization must be predicated on the concept of the
Fatherhood of God and be pregnant with the mighty ideal of the
brotherhood of man.
87:7.7 The old cults were too egocentric; the
new must be the outgrowth of applied love. The new cult must,
like the old, foster sentiment, satisfy emotion, and promote
loyalty; but it must do more: It must facilitate spiritual
progress, enhance cosmic meanings, augment moral values,
encourage social development, and stimulate a high type of
personal religious living. The new cult must provide supreme
goals of living which are both temporal and eternal -- social
87:7.8 No cult can endure and contribute to
the progress of social civilization and individual spiritual
attainment unless it is based on the biologic, sociologic, and
religious significance of the home. A surviving cult must
symbolize that which is permanent in the presence of unceasing
change; it must glorify that which unifies the stream of
ever-changing social metamorphosis. It must recognize true
meanings, exalt beautiful relations, and glorify the good values
of real nobility.
87:7.9 But the great difficulty of finding a
new and satisfying symbolism is because modern men, as a group,
adhere to the scientific attitude, eschew superstition, and
abhor ignorance, while as individuals they all crave mystery and
venerate the unknown. No cult can survive unless it embodies
some masterful mystery and conceals some worthful unattainable.
Again, the new symbolism must not only be significant for the
group but also meaningful to the individual. The forms of any
serviceable symbolism must be those which the individual can
carry out on his own initiative, and which he can also enjoy
with his fellows. If the new cult could only be dynamic instead
of static, it might really contribute something worth while to
the progress of mankind, both temporal and spiritual.
87:7.10 But a cult -- a symbolism of rituals,
slogans, or goals -- will not function if it is too complex. And
there must be the demand for devotion, the response of loyalty.
Every effective religion unerringly develops a worthy symbolism,
and its devotees would do well to prevent the crystallization of
such a ritual into cramping, deforming, and stifling stereotyped
ceremonials which can only handicap and retard all social,
moral, and spiritual progress. No cult can survive if it retards
moral growth and fails to foster spiritual progress. The cult is
the skeletal structure around which grows the living and dynamic
body of personal spiritual experience -- true religion.
Presented by a Brilliant Evening Star of Nebadon.