RELIGION: Origins of Ritual?

Harvey Newstrom (
Wed, 24 Jun 1998 12:55:50 -0400

Here is a pet theory of mine. I have not researched it, but will throw it out
for comments.

I think that the original superstitious or religous beliefs probably started
with the hunting of animals for meat. What if an enlightened person realized
that proper planning could make the hunt go better? This would not be
intuitively obvious, and would be hard to explain to others. How would such an
individual go about training others? Perhaps it would be explained by ritual.
A person dresses up as the animal intended to be hunted. Others are assigned
specific roles, including where to hide, when to run, how to approach, how to
attack, etc. This procedure would be repeated over and over until the hunters
had it memorized and could do it right. Eventually, the enlightened one would
declare that they were ready to hunt the real animal, and that the hunt would
probably go well. Based on the practice rituals, the enlightened one could
predict who could hunt, and who could not hunt. It might even be possible to
predict who would probably run in front of the charging animal and be trampled,
or who couldn't run fast enough to keep up, or who would probably trip while

The enlightened person might also realize that practice would make
spear-throwing aim more accurate. Such a person might request that an effigy
animal be speared over and over from a distance, until the effigy can be
"killed" often. Only when the ritual animal can be killed in ritual would
their be a good chance that the real animal would be killed in the real world.

Such a person would probably be seen as magical or as having some connection
with the nature gods that control the animals. Ritual would be seen as
important, becuase it often predicted the outcome. Those who were poor in
ritual, would be poor in the hunt. Those declared victorious in ritual, would
be declared victorious in the hunt. It may even be that the enlightened one
was injured through experience, or old with experience, such that they were
excluded from the actual hunt. Their contribution would be the ritual
preperation before the hunt.

Perhaps the war-paint or wearing of skins was also a way to better hide or
disguise the smell.

Can it be that the roots of religious and ritual come from a scientific basis,
but that those receivers of the knowledge couldn't understand it, so they
reduced it down to religious rituals and trappings? Maybe religions and
rituals are poor copies of some original method that was lost throughout the
ages. As with most religions, the followers deified and extrapolated the
original teachings, based on their limited knowledge. Eventually, such
teachings were simply "magic" and obedience was simply "commanded by the gods."

Any comments on this theory on the origins of religion? I would also postulate
a similar origin for agriculture rituals looking to the stars to dictate when
to plant, when to harvest, etc.