BEEP! BEEP! IT'S ME.

"Begin at the beginning,and go on till you come to the end: then stop." (Lewis Carroll, 1832-1896)

Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked."Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat."I don't know," Alice answered."Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

"So long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

"All right," said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone. "Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; "but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!"

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I am diagonally parked in a parallel universe. Like Arthur Dent from "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy", if you do not have a Babel Fish in your ear this blog will be completely unintelligible to you and will read something like this: "boggle, google, snoggle, slurp, slurp, dingleberry to the power of 10". Fortunately, those who have had the Babel Fish inserted in their ear, will understood this blog perfectly. If you are familiar with this technology, you will know that the Babel Fish lives on brainwave radiation. It excretes energy in the form of exactly the correct brainwaves needed by its host to understand what was just said; or in this case, what was read. The Babel Fish, thanks to scientific research, reverses the problem defined by its namesake in the Tower of Babel, where a deity was supposedly inspired to confuse the human race by making them unable to understand each other.

"DIFFICILE EST SATURAM NON SCRIBERE"

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink"


"Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink" is a line from the famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In the poem, the narrator or speaker is a sailor on a ship, which is becalmed and surrounded by water that he cannot drink. By extension, this is perhaps how many atheists feel. They are surrounded by religious people and their rituals, none of which make a great deal of sense to them, nor do they feel that they should be compelled to partake in any of them.

One of these religious rituals is baptism. The words "baptize" and "baptism" are of Greek origin. They simply mean to wash or to immerse. (Greek: baptizo, wash or immerse) The word itself takes on a religious context when it is used to describe a ritual, which is specific to the given religion. A water rite is a rite or ceremonial custom in which water is used as the central religious feature, in which a person is immersed or bathed as a symbol of religious indoctrination or ritual purification. So, a baptism can be seen as a water rite or a water ritual, which has religious significance. There are other baptisms, which do not involve water as the purifying element, such as fire, earth, wind and even blood. But I am essentially discussing religious water rituals or rites in this article.

Water has played an important role in many religions and beliefs around the world. It has represented the source of life and the source of birth and rebirth. Water was used to cleanse the body and thus by extension it purified the body. This has lead water to be considered as extremely symbolic and at times sacred. Water is therefore a key symbolic element in ceremonies and religious rites.

Water was and still is in some places perceived as a god, goddess or a divine agency. Once water is assumed or inferred through religious belief to have a divine agency, it ceases to be neutral or passive. Under these circumstances it is considered to have powers and capacities of transformation, removal of sin or to transfer its divine or holy powers to the recipient through religious ceremony. In this way, water often represents the border between the natural world and another supposed supernatural or spiritual world.

The concept of purification with water, either religiously symbolic or as a literal act of cleanliness is probably older than recorded history. Pagans purified themselves with fire, incense, blood sacrifice; they even purified themselves with a winnowing fan. But the most used, most widespread tool of pagan purification was water. A pagan is basically anyone who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. So pagans were anyone who pre-existed or lived outside the religious constructs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This of course includes the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, the ancient Romans and the Greeks, and anyone else who lived in any other part of the world who wasn't one of the Abrahamic religions. Prior to the foundations of the "big 3" this word, "pagan" would have described everyone who existed in the world, or who had ever existed. (Though it wouldn't have been a term they would have used to describe themselves. They would have called themselves whatever was the appropriate term for their religious practices.) After the foundations of the "big 3", the word, "pagan" is used to describe everyone else who ISN'T a member of the "big 3."

Pagan water purification rituals were used in the ancient world and are written about in the Old Testament. Homer mentions the washing of hands before prayer, and the purification of an entire army with water (Iliad, 1.313). The Greeks even had priests, kathartai, who specialized in purification with water. After the conspiracy of Cylon in Athens in 632 BC, a fellow named Epimenides of Crete purified the entire city with water. (Diogines Laertius 1.10.3)

Those of us who live in a predominately christian nation, or who have a predominately christian worldview, find it difficult to consider these religious water rites as baptism. Yet the intention, motive and action are in many instances identical. It is only that this actions or intents were not performed invoking in the name of the Abrahamic god/gods.

The mystery religions of that period often included ablution rites of either immersion or a washing of the body for the purposes of purification or initiation. Other concepts said to have been associated with these forms of cultic baptisms included the transformation of one's life, the removal of sins, symbolic representation, the attainment of greater physical vitality, a new beginning, spiritual regeneration. It is believed that all ancient religions recognized some form of spiritual cleansing, renewal or initiation that was accomplished through a washing or immersion in water.

So why were water rituals or baptisms performed in the ancient world? Basically for the same reasons that they are performed now. They are performed because of the belief that water can be or is embued with special divine properties.

These divine or religious properties are considered to have the power to either literally or symbolically: -

  • 1. purify the individual, or the object of evil forces or sin.
  • 2. purify the individual or object in preparation for death or for an afterlife.
  • 3. symbolically represent initiation into a specific religion and its tenets.



In many cases, it is all of the above. What is the main difference is the divine power. or religion to whom the ritual is attached.

So, let's have a look at some of these water rituals/rites or baptisms.

  • 1. Hindus believe that bathing in the waters of a holy river, such as the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh and the Ganges in India, will purify one's life of past sins.
    a. Sprinkling of holy water on persons is called prokhshanam. In order to purify places and persons, consecrated water or punyaaham is sprinkled. In purificatory rites, water is sprinkled on the object to be purified.
  • 2. The ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile had regenerative powers, and was used to baptize the dead in a ritual based on the Osiris myth. Egyptian cults also developed the idea of regeneration through water.
    a. The Book of "Going Forth by Day" (Egyptian Book of the Dead) contains a treatise on the baptism of newborn children, which is performed to purify them of blemishes acquired in the womb. " He has made an end to hours, and likewise, counted them. In the morning, earth fills with light. Law and baptism. The one of us all, endures. It is our work under the sun." - from "The Egyptian Book of the Dead"
    b. Egyptians who lived by the laws of Ma'at took a sacramental drink, which conferred ritual purity. Ma'at's potion brought life after death to the peaceful and law-abiding citizen, but death to violent persons.
    Ma'at Responsible For: Justice, Law and Order, Immortality, Primordial Being
    c. Egypitan priests were initiated into their temple duties through baptism in a sacred pool. This pool was symbolic of the waters of Nu, (the Cosmic Ocean), which washed away all evil. The Purification Ritual for officiating priests is contained in a papyrus of the Berlin Museum, whose analysis and table of chapters has been published by Herr Oscar von Lemm, Das Bitualbuch des Ammonsdienstes, p. 4, et seq.
  • 3. In Buddhism, water is sometimes used in funeral ceremonies. It is poured and overflows into a bowl placed before the monks and the dead body. As it fills and pours over the edge, the monks recite ‘As the rains fill the rivers and overflow into the ocean, so likewise may what is given here reach the departed.’
    a. Water, which has been through religious ritual, purified or made sacred, is used in some Buddhist ceremonies to initiate priests and in ceremonies when a priest leaves the priesthood.
  • 4. In Zoroastrian initiation, the rite of baptism was performed through the use of either blood, urine, or water.
  • 5. In Judaism, the mikvah, which translates from Hebrew to mean a "collection of water," is a body of water where a person immerses herself or himself to become "ritually pure." The mikvah is used by some religious men before prayer, a bride before she is married, and by a person in the final stages of conversion to Judaism.
  • 6. In ancient Japan, Furo, or the Japanese hot bath, was originally part of a religious rite in which man merged with the divine through purification in the bath.
  • 7. The ancient Greeks had various religious rites, which involved the use of water. These religions were what are described as the "Eleusinian mysteries" as they occurred in, or were originated in Eleusis. "Thus were men initiated into the mysteries of Eleusis, and he who initiated them was called "Hydranus, the Waterer'" Tertullian says that thus men were initiated into the mysteries of Isis and Mithra; and Apuleius describes purification by water as part of the ceremonial of the Isiac initiation. Those initiated into the mysteries of the Goddess Cotytto were called Baptes, from the ceremony of Baptism, which was part of the initiation; and Eupoles, rival of Aristophanes, wrote a comedy called The Baptes, ridiculing them. That was in the time of Socrates." The Reverend Mr. Reeves. The Eleusinian Mysteries
  • a. The mystery followers were bound by an oath to keep the mysteries secret. The actual initiation was preceded by numerous rites of purification such as fasting, baptism, and confession. The Christian theologian Tertullian (ca. 155-220 CE) wrote, "In certain mysteries, e.g. Isis and Mithra, it is by baptism [Latin: per lavarum] that members are initiated ..." Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-211 or 215 CE) wrote, "... in the current Mysteries among the Greeks ceremonial purifications hold the premier place."
    b. The Greater mysteries included baptism in the sea, three days of fasting, and the completion of the mysterious central rite. These acts completed the initiation, and the initiate was promised rewards in the life after death.
    Esoteric Christianity: The Greek Mystery Religions and Their Impact on Christianity
  • c. The mystery religions often included ablution rites of either immersion or a washing of the body for the purposes of purification or initiation. Other concepts said to have been associated with these forms of cultic baptisms included the transformation of one's life, the removal of sins, symbolic representation, the attainment of greater physical vitality, a new beginning, spiritual regeneration.
    d. A bath in the sanctuary of Trophonion procured for the initiate a blessed immortality even while in this world. Before entering the cave where the god Trophonios dwelled, the person would receive a bath and was anointed with olive oil. The priests then took him to water springs where the water of forgetfulness (for the loss of memory of all that was past) and the water of memory (to recall all that would be seen) were consumed.
    Baptism: A Pre-Christian History
  • 8. Isaac de Beausobre, best known for his history of "Manichaeism, Histoire Critique de Manichée et du Manichéisme" says that "The Persians carried their infants to the Temple a few days after they were born, and presented them to the priest, before the sun, and before the fire, which was his symbol. Then the priest took the child and baptized it for the purification of the soul. Sometimes he plunged it into a great vase of water, and it was in the same ceremony that the father gave a name to the child." The Manichaeans
  • 9. New members into the Mysteries of Isis / Osiris began their initiation with a sprinkling of purifying waters brought from the Nile. The result of the baptism and initiation? "a kind of voluntary death and salvation through divine grace." (Apuleius, Metamorphosis, Book 11, 21), and "..we shall have salvation" (Firmicus Maternus, The Error of Pagan Religions, 22.1).
  • 10. Pagans at Gerasa celebrated the Maioumas, rites in which women bathed and were purified in a sacred pool outside town.
  • 11. The religious ceremony to the ancient Greek Goddess Persephone, began by ritual purification in the sea.
  • 12. The act of ritual washing is the beginning of the idea of Misogi, the physical act of ritual purification in water which is the prototype of the Shinto ritual of O-harai or purification. Misogi is a Shinto practice involving purification in a waterfall or other natural running water. Misogi
  • 13. And of course there is perhaps the best known religious water ritual, that of Christian baptism.
  • 14. In Islam, purification through ablution is an obligatory component of the Islamic Prayer ritual and prayers carried out in an impure state are not valid. This means Muslims are obliged to carry out ritual ablution before each of the five daily Prayers. In addition, a more thorough ritual is required on specific occasions.



Not all the water rituals listed here preceded the concept of christian baptism, but many of them do. What is shown is that many ancient religions recognized some form of spiritual cleansing, renewal or initiation that was accomplished through a washing or immersion in water. What they all have in common, is the belief that water, through religious ritual, can confer either literally divine properties upon people or objects, or that water can symbolically represent, through religious ritual, the initiation into a specific religion or cult. The practices have many things in common. What they DON'T have in common in most instances, is the deity or divine power, which is represented through the ritual. So when a person refers to baptism as if they invented it, they are essentially ONLY referring to the water rite associated specifically with their religion.

What has Christianity to say concerning religious water rites or ritual baptisms which preceded Christianity?

"We know of an ablution in the ritual of Eleusis; the laurel-wreath oration of Demosthenes speaks of purificatory ablutions in the mystery of Sabazius; the cult of Attis had its taurobolium, and the mystery of Isis knew a sanctifying baptismal bath, as did the mysteries of Dionysus and of Mithras. Upon mature consideration modern scholarship has rejected the ideas that such rites exerted an influence on the baptismal doctrine of the New Testament," (Hugo Rahner, The Christian Mystery and the Pagan Mysteries, section 3, in The Mysteries; Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, edited by Joseph Campbell)

Yeah right... And the person who invented the first wheel, didn't have an influence on the latest Mercedes Benz.



Religious Water Rituals Etc



Link

18 Comments:

Blogger Daniel said...

Hey, Beep, if we end up in drought bigtime because of global warming, there'll be lots of unclean Abrahamic types running around, won't there?

Will God make allowances for this? What will the Baptists do in place of dunking the saved? Can you clean your teeth with sand? Will religion dry up? Has soap got a future?

Cheers!

29/3/07 5:41 pm  
Blogger Coffee Messiah said...

How strange!

I put this on my blog this AM and wasn't aware of it until this morning:

http://water.org/index.html

Cheers from the US of A! ; )

29/3/07 11:00 pm  
Blogger Sadie Lou said...

Your link from Religious tolerance also said,
"Other faith groups teach that baptism is merely an affirmation of decisions that have been made previously. The ritual itself has no power to forgive sins or affect the individual's salvation status."

Amen to that.

Many Christians understand that you get baptized as a symbol of your faith--you go down into the water as your "old self" and you rise up "a new being in Christ".
You're making a statement to those around you. It's not a right of passage or anything because you don't have to be baptized in order to have a relationship with Christ--that would be considered a work and for Christians that cling to salvation by grace through faith, no amount of religious traditions are going to save you.
We also do not baptize our babies (children). Many Christians understand that making that statement comes with maturity and responsibility.
Some churches do "dedications". But that is a statement the parents are making before their peers that they want to be held accountable to by the fellowship, to raising their children in the faith--it's not something imparted to the child by way of salvation security.

30/3/07 3:19 am  
Blogger Krystalline Apostate said...

sadie:
You're making a statement to those around you. It's not a right of passage or anything because you don't have to be baptized in order to have a relationship with Christ--that would be considered a work and for Christians that cling to salvation by grace through faith, no amount of religious traditions are going to save you.
What about the chrism?
That has the scent of something a little more than a personal statement.

30/3/07 6:59 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

RE sadie:

The link from Reliigous Tolerance is what christians believe about other baptisms. It isn't what other faiths believe or believed about their baptisms or water rites.

If you noticed, the link was ONLY talking about christian baptism.

It's not what ancient egyptians believed about their baptismal rites and if you read the examples given in the article, you will notice this.

Also, not all christians agree with baptism, and even those who practise it, don't all agree on the supposed benefits it confers.

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
http://www.carm.org/questions/baptnec.htm

30/3/07 7:02 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

RE daniel:

Frankly, I think if the drought gets really bad, religions won't be able to fill up their communal dunking pools.

Perhaps they will have to use grey water like the rest of us.

30/3/07 7:04 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

RE coffee:

We must be pyschic. ;)

30/3/07 7:04 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

RE sadie:

Frankly, you missed the point. The point is to show that the concept of baptism is nothing new.

The basic difference is the deity or god to whom the baptism is performed.

30/3/07 9:43 am  
Anonymous ted said...

Sadie:
The way I see it, baptism is a christian ritual: Mat 3:13 "Then Jesus came to Jordan to be baptised by John."

The ritual requires water: Mat 3:16 "As soon as Jesus was baptised he went up out of the water..."

That also makes it a water ritual, which as Beep has pointed out in her excellent article and her comments besides, was nothing new to religion. Nearly all religion the world over, by the look of things...

30/3/07 1:57 pm  
Blogger Sadie Lou said...

KA said...
What about the chrism?
That has the scent of something a little more than a personal statement.

I don't know why you're asking me that question. Can you show me the connection between what I said and what you asked? Sorry for being dense.

Beep said...If you noticed, the link was ONLY talking about christian baptism.

Yes? I think I was only talking about Christian baptism too. I wanted to just elaborate on what the link was suggesting.

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? 
http://www.carm.org/questions/baptnec.htm

And the answer is no. It would be a "work" and we are not saved through works.
Jesus is our example and he got baptized, yes, so we should carefully consider why he did that and perhaps emulate his example but it is not a requirement for salvation.

Is it okay that I wanted to clarify baptism a little bit from my perspective, in your comments section? Or would you rather I only talk about *the point* since I seemed to have *missed it*?

31/3/07 1:13 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

It seemed to me that you wanted to suggest that according to your religion, baptism, when required, was the only "true baptism." I realize that people of all faiths have already made that decision, regardless of which faith it is they ascribe to, So I wanted to make sure that you got the point of the article. The point being that water rituals and baptisms preceded christianity.

31/3/07 6:36 am  
Blogger Krystalline Apostate said...

sadie:
I don't know why you're asking me that question.
I wasn't specific enough. The RC has a specific purpose, as in the Anointing of the Sick.
"anointing of the sick, sacrament of the Orthodox Eastern Church and the Roman Catholic Church, formerly known as extreme unction. In it a sick or dying person is anointed on eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, feet, and sometimes, in the case of men, the loins, by a priest while he recites absolutions for sins committed. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that through the sacrament the sick and dying receive remission of sins, health of soul, and, if God wills, health of body."
That sounds a great deal more than a personal statement to me.
If you're not Catholic...hmmm.
& if it's a personal statement, why baptize a baby?

31/3/07 6:58 am  
Blogger Sadie Lou said...

KA--
I'm not Catholic.
I can't even tell you what I ascribe to other than the Bible and the teachings of Christ. I'm non denominational--maybe somewhere in between Protestant and Evangelical? Missional?
Our church does annoint with oil but it really just goes along with asking God for healing:

James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

I have no idea why Catholics do the ceremony you described or where they find the example of such in the Bible.

It seemed to me that you wanted to suggest that according to your religion, baptism, when required, was the only "true baptism."

And I said it's not required. Which was misrepresented a little in your post.

31/3/07 10:07 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

"And I said it's not required."

And of course, to those christians who see it as a requirement, you are a heretic.

31/3/07 10:35 am  
Blogger Dikkii said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/4/07 12:58 am  
Blogger Neil said...

"In Zoroastrian initiation, the rite of baptism was performed through the use of either blood, urine, or water."

Uh, I'll take the water option, please.

1/4/07 1:30 am  
Blogger Sadie Lou said...

And of course, to those christians who see it as a requirement, you are a heretic.

Doesn't bother me.
:)

1/4/07 2:05 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

Neil:

Yeah, I will be in it when they use chocolate. I had the old fashioned baptism years ago, I think it could be improved with liberal application of chocolate to the inside of the stomach.

sadie:

And it shouldn't. Until the time that one particular religious group becomes politically more powerful than the rest and decides that not being baptised is a sin and should be punished. Then, people like me will be supporting your right to not be baptised, even if I think baptism, or the lack of it, is a crock of mouldy potatoes.

1/4/07 10:09 am  

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