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Tag "religion"

The role of cycles and routines in culture have been explored in various aspects on this blog earlier. From early settlements to the concept of time in terms of units such as days, weeks and month.
One of the cultures that have throughout a very strong concept of repetition in the more literal sense is ancient Egypt, the culture of the Pharaohs. There is so much research on this culture out there and for Europe and especially Britain this has been a deep fascination for centuries. The British Museum is stuffed to the roof with artifacts and knowledge collected in Egypt.
What I want to look at is the “simple“ concept of the birth and death of the sun during the course of one day. Two elements in Egypt have had a fundamental impact on how the Egyptian culture has formed. This is on one hand the Nile as the life spending river that runs through the deathly desert from south to north and the sun that spends the warmth and makes the plants grow that travels from east to west. These two elements might also had a fundamental influence in how orientation and navigation was developed. (Yi-Fu Tuan (1974), Topophilia. Columbia University Press, New York) It is believed, that the Egyptian culture hated the darkness that arose together with the cold as soon as the sun has touched the horizon in the west. The dark and the cold were associated with death, just like the daily death of the sun. As an opposition to this there was the daily birth of the sun as it rose over the horizon in the east. For this miracle the Scarab beetle was responsible. The beetle was an important character that took care of the death and was associated with the Egyptian god, Khepri. He did take care of the sun and made sure, that after she died in the evening she was reborn in the morning in the east. To do so he rolled the sun just like a ball backwards along the sky, just like a Scarab beetle would roll a ball of dung. So the beetle rolled the son during the night from west to east. The Egyptian name for this important insect was ”Kheper“. The scarab beetle was also a symbol of rebirth after death. To believe in being reborn led to the mummification of the dead body, to preserve it for it’s next life. When the Egyptians mummified a body they would remove the heart and put a stone carved like the beetle in its place. Just like the sun would be reborn every day, also humans would be sent back from the death to be reborn. The idea of cycles and repetition as observed in nature was deeply embedded in the culture of ancient Egypt.

Image from labspaces.net

Some sort of visualization with a time lapse of the night sky.
Perseids from powrslave on Vimeo.

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A book by Josef H. Reichholf titled “Warum die Menschen sesshaft wurden”, translated why men started settling, explores a new theory to explain why the first settlements started forming. As generally known, the early humans were not settled at one place but rather nomadic, moving around to ensure the supply of food. The current theory to explain why they started settling down assumes, that around 15000 to 11000 years ago there has been a shortage of animals to hunt and people started farming plants and simultaneously started domesticating animals. Josef Reichholf argues this view is wrong and develops in his book a different explanation for the big change from nomads to citizens. His two main arguments are that at this time, in the area where farming first started, the ground must have been very rank and therefore it must have had plenty of food. The second argument is, that starting to farm grain from early forms of these plants would have been much too labor intensive as these early plants must have had such tiny grains. Only much later crossings of these plants grow the grain we know today. So he sets out to set up his own theory on how all this happened. His main idea is that it all started from having too much rather than not enough. He suggests that it started with the production of beer, or rather an early form of it, which is quite simple to brew from grains and water. This drink was sweet and nutritive. It was mainly consumed as part of events related to cult and religion. The buildings for rites and cult are the oldest ones known, for example Goebekli Tepe (Turkish for “Hill with a Navel”) in south Turkey. From there it has grown into permanent settlements. It wasn’t therefore hunger that lead to permanent settlements but excessive consumption and surplus of supply.

Image from GEO.de/kultur / Image from seshat.ch

This theory of how settlements started is very interesting in the context of the research work on cycles in urban environments, not so much because of the beer and how the early settlers had started farming, but more in context with the rites and events that were based on a cyclical repetition but also based at one specific location in space. In connection to this cult site a permanent settlement could have started growing, but it would still be based, through the cycle of the cult event, on a repetition. This would then suggest that the rhythm of the rite was the main driving force behind the settlement and from it must have influenced all areas of everyday activity in these early hamlets from the start.
As an example a quote about the calendar system developed for Goebekli Tepe: “The Mesopotamian year of Göbekli Tepe in southeast Anatolia, Urfa-region, north of the Syrian Harran plain, 11 600 – 9 500 BP, and the calendar of Upper Mesopotamia in later times, for example in the Halaf period, 6th millennium BC, had (I believe) a month of 30 days, a year of 12 months plus 5 additional days, while 63 continual periods of 30 days yield 1890 days and equal 64 lunation”

This would link in with the earlier post on week and calendar concepts, that also derive largely from religious rites and cults and at the same time have their spatial manifestation.
To have the event or rite as the starting point for the settlement give a very interesting dimension for the research on cycles in the current urban environment.

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There are a number of concepts to structure our lives in time. The primary structure is the day and night rhythm with the period of darkness followed by a period of light. This is only a rough guide, as the duration of these periods change over the course of one year according to seasons. Along this structure the average day of 24 hours is constructed. This fixed time span is mainly set for calculation purposes and interferes with natural rhythms quite often, e.g. daylight, tide, … from this day unit the week is extrapolated as a seven day cycle.
The structure of the week is built on work/activity days and days of rest. There has been a strong religious influence on this concept. The day to rest was loaded with religious commitments, but has since, specially in the western culture, faded in importance. The basic weekly structure although remained. Basically the week is divided in two units, the five days of work from Monday to Friday and the weekend on Saturday and Sunday.
In the Christian culture the Sunday, the Lord’s day, is the main day of worship without having to do commercial work. It is the day of rest and socializing with the community. Interestingly, other religions have a different structure. In the Jewish week the day to rest is not the Sunday, it is the Saturday. On Saturdays, the Sabbath, Jews are asked not to do any work, but only save this day for family and community. The Arabic week has the Friday, the day of assembly, as the main day of rest from work. (source wikipedia/sabbath and )
Looking at this simple weekly structure from the UrbanDiary perspective, there must be a an impact on movement dependent on religions. Looking at the three religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the London area the different patterns between Friday, Saturday and Sunday could be very interesting to observe closer.

Jewish, There are over 149,000 Jews in London, over half the Jewish population of Britain. (Illustration Chris Tate, taken from timeout.com)

Muslim, There are over 603,000 Muslims in London, two-fifths of the UK Muslim population. (Illustration Chris Tate, taken from timeout.com)

Christian, Over 58 per cent of Londoners say they are Christians (much fewer are practicing).(Illustration Chris Tate, taken from timeout.com)

Hindu, Over 29,000 Hindus live in London, more than half the Hindu population of Britain. (Illustration Chris Tate, taken from timeout.com)

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