With this issue we begin a series of articles concerning the origin and nature of religious beliefs. This series is a part of a book in preparation.

Part 1


The religious experience of the possibility of a communication of the human and the divine nature in man constitutes theantropy, which can be described as a perpetual striving of man for unity with God, Who is encountered as the ultimate ground of human existence. Theantropy so understood is the ultimate foundation of religious beliefs through which man hopes to realize divinity in his life.1

Now, it is proven fact beyond any doubt, that all of the primitive peoples also believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, though not necessarily understood in a form of Personal Entity.2 Anthropological and ethnological studies show that this belief was found both in the most ancient times and that it has continued to the present day as well. Moreover, the belief in the existence of some divine reality in human nature is one of the constant ingredients and universal constituent elements of human consciousness, and it is experienced by man, without any doubt, as the most intimate and essential part of human life. On the innateness of experiencing divinity in the human consciousness, Marcus Tullius Cicero writes:

Belief in gods is universal among people; it seems to be innate and, as it were, engraved on the human soul. Men may entertain different notions as to their nature, but no one denies their existence.3

Now this universal belief in a transcendent reality, and at the same time most immanent part of human nature, can-according to Tertullian-be known both from nature and from revelation:


In his consciousness, a primitive man experiences his reality by both his natural environment, composed of the variety of living and non-living things with which he coexists in a particular place and time, and his human existential conditions which compel him to actualize himself in a unique way. In other words, in his self-reflection a primitive man experiences his beingness as double, i.e., as an entity existing in unity with the remaining visible reality which is by the same token his natural habitat, and as an incarnated being which enforces him to actualize his distinctive nature among the plurality of other fellow human beings.

To resolve the tension between the natural environment and the human existential conditions as an incarnated being, primitive man strives to minimize his doubleness by gaining the dominance over all nature, and to establish more suitable conditions for his life by transforming the natural environment into a human one, thus guaranteeing for himself a feeling of safety and security. In this way, in his attempt to dominate nature, primitive man undergoes both a unification and a diversification of his spiritual life.

However, the question arises: what is meant by the doubleness of human existence, and how is it experienced by the indigenous people? In order to answer this question, we have first to give a short account of the nature of human mentality as such.

In his consciousness man experiences the existential fragility of his beingness, and realizes that his human reality is contingent in nature and finite in character. The ontological condition of contingency and finitude of human existence invokes in man's consciousness a desire for permanency of his intrinsic and natural disposition (diathesis) toward the enduring of his 'to-be' over/against his 'not-to-be.' Now this consciousness of the possibility of 'to-be' or 'not-to-be' is the primordial fact of human existence, and as such the very origin and the main source for man's concern expressed in religious beliefs and metaphysical reflections.

The Hindu scriptures of The Rigveda describe the mystery of creation of the whole reality, as an ontic polarization between being and non-being, a polarization out of which "for the first time there arose desire, which was the primal germ of mind, within it. And sages, searching in their hearts, discovered in nothing the connecting bond of Being."6 For Taoism, this connecting bond of Reality, is Tao, but in two senses, namely, as 'invariable Being' and as 'invariable Non-Being;' in the former Tao being constituted of yin and yang is a principle of changeability, but in the latter Tao conceived in itself is a principle of unchangeability: "Tao as a thing is impalpable, incommensurable. Incommensurable, impalpable, yet latent in it are forms. Impalpable, incommensurable, yet within it are entities. Shadowy it is and dim, yet within it there is an essence. This essence is extremely pure, but nonetheless efficacious."7

Searching "in nothing the connecting bond of Being" and the essence of Tao in its purity, man discovers either its presence or its absence; in the former man uncovers a creative disposition for 'self-realization,' and in the latter a destructive disposition for 'self-negation.' In view of this twofold possibility of his existence, man can experience either a desire for 'self-completion' by rebuilding his own beingness or falling into an abyss of his nothingness. In other words, in his existential 'self-disposition,' man experiences either an ecstatic vision of Being upwards or of falling into an abyss of his human nothingness downwards.

Now, applying the onto-cognitive disparity of our human nature, the fundamental and basic feature of human mentality is based in its diathetical character, i.e., disposition of the human mind to relate one object or event to another. But, in view of the aforementioned onto-cognitive ambiguity in establishing an underlying principle of coherency of natural things in both their identity and diversity, the diathetical reasoning can be twofold, i.e., linear which gives the priority of being over becoming, and multilateral which emphasizes the primacy of becoming over being.


The unusually severe and extremely hard conditions of the natural habitat of primitive peoples shape their consciousness according to the local conditions of the surrounding environment, and create in their minds a distinct way of understanding the existing reality, both from within and from without. As a matter of fact, the primitive environment develops in the mentality of the indigenous people a specific mentality which is metaphoric in nature. In general, the metaphoric mentality consists in giving a symbolic account in explanation of natural things by pointing to their affinities and opposites, similarities and differences, i.e., diathetically codifying reality by pointing to various forms of events and objects. For the Cali?a Caribs of Guayana, the word 'father' expresses the life cycle which connects one generation with another.8

Now, the description of reality by pointing to various forms of events and objects is not, in the mentality of the primitive people, based on logical reasoning alone. As a matter of fact, although primitive people are not-according to Bronislaw Malinowski9-deprived entirely of scientific knowledge of reality, nevertheless their understanding of nature is derived neither from strictly understood inductive nor deductive reasoning. In other words, the reasoning of the mind of primitive people is non-referential, and it is based mainly on observations of natural phenomena.

The non-referential mode of reasoning is also evident from the linguistic point of view, as has been pointed out in a study by Dorothy Lee, and which she calls nonlineal.10 The nonlineal manifestation of diathetical understanding of reality does not mean, however, that the mentality of the primitive people comprehends natural things as being relative, but it is differently experienced in various cultures. Summarizing the linguistic structure of the primitive mentality, Dorothy Lee writes:

In the mentality of the primitive people, then, any linguistic expression is nonlineal, because it refers to the form of the objects or the events alone, and by the same token to beings without the process of their becoming. As a matter of fact, in the words of Dorothy Lee: "The term to be does not occur; it is used neither attributively nor existentially, since existence itself is contained; it is an ingredient of being."12 Consequently, in the mentality of the primitive peoples reality appears as a chain of beings existentially experienced.

However, in nonlineal reasoning, the form of the objects or events manifest the subjective rather than objective reality, thus reflecting the mentality of a given cultural group by various ways of codification and segmentation of the same reality according to a given situation. In other words, the nonlineal reasoning in the mentality of the primitive people does not aim at the very essence of reality, but to its significance for the life of a given society.

But, what is the specific diathetical character of the non referential reasoning of the mind of the primitive people? How does this non-referential metaphoric mentality of the primitive people experience and verbalize their existential life situation(s)?

In the view of Bronislaw Malinowski, in the mentality of the Trobriand Islanders there is no continuity in their reasoning, and they express their thoughts in a "context of situation."13 In this way the primitive people punctuate various aspects of things or events without paying too much attention to the connections of things and logical consistency of human acting. Moreover, not paying attention to the connections and consistency in expressing their activity, they do not feel the necessity to prove or argue verbally about something they are doing. But this does not mean that they do not see the preordained pattern of things or causal nexus. For example, although the primitive people realize that intercourse is a necessary condition to conception, the arrival of the spirit of some ancestor-as some believe-into the womb is an act of a different kind of pattern of activity, represented on different levels. In other words, the preordained reality of natural things overshadows the logical and causal interconnections of reasoning in the mentality of the primitive people. Referring to the social nature of human being, Malinowski points to the participative function of language among the primitive people, for which he introduces a new term-"phatic communion."14


The primitive people evaluate all existing things as doubles by the non referential diathetical reasoning with its participative function of linguistic expressions of their metaphorical mentality. Referring to "a sphere of mythical thought," Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff in his book Amazonian Cosmos writes: "Sun and Moon form a double representation, diurnal and nocturnal, of the Creator, but they are not relatives of this Creator."15 The same author, in another book The Shaman and the Jaguar, describing one of the categories of spirit-beings, i.e., veari-mahsa, gives the following cosmic account of the doubleness of all the created beings:

This "double representation" of all the natural things is universal, and their doubleness is, in the metaphoric mentality of the primitive peoples, understood on several levels of reality, i.e., divine and cosmic, non-organic and organic forms of life, personal and communal, etc. In the belief of the ancient Egyptians, the ka-which is the double of man's personality-helps him both during life and after death.17 The Zulus believe that each person has his darker 'other-self' which constantly is following him, and no one should, for instance, look into a dark pool, because he can be arrested by the in-dwelling spirit. The Chinese should be careful at the funeral ceremonies when gazing into the coffin in order not to be locked by it. The Persians are convinced that each person is accompanied during his whole life by good and evil spirits, and which are controlling his thoughts and feelings. The ancient Greek daemonology enumerates many and various daemons, and it is a dangerous omen to look into the reflection of the water, as it is a forewarning of the tragic fate told in the legend of Narcissus. Some description of the phenomenon can also be found in the Bible, e.g., Daniel (8:2): "I was in Suasa the capital, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision, and I was at the river Ulai."18

In the non-referential diathetical reasoning of their metaphoric mentality, the primitive peoples are experiencing the "double representation" of reality as a contrast between the natural and the supernatural worlds. Quoting the Caribs, who say that "if there were no spirits to cause everything to be as it is, there would be nothing," Penard and de Goeje formulate the Cali?a world view as based on a principle that:

The question arises: what is the "vital principle" through which the primitive peoples are accepting the existence of a double representation of reality? In general, the "vital principle" consists in a living communication between man and nature on the one hand, and in a mutual relationship between the natural and the supernatural world on the other hand. On this double representation of the reality in the mentality of the primitive people, Harold Turner writes: ___________________________________________________________
1. Cf., Andrew N. Woznicki, Metaphysical Animal: Divine and Human in Man. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1996.
2. On monotheism, cf. Paul Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher. New York: Dover Publications, 1957, ch. 18.
3. De natura deorum, II, 4. Cf., also Marcus Aurelius Seneca, Epist. 117: "Belief in gods is innate in the human soul, and there are no people so devoid of respect for law and morals not to admit the existence of some divinity." Plutarch, Adversus Coleten, c. 31: "If you go around the world, you may find towns without walls, without laws, without houses, without wealth, without money; in which there are neither gymnasiums nor theatres; but no one has ever seen a town without temples and divine worship; where no recourse is had to oaths and oracles; where no sacrifice is offered for the common weal; where no attempt is made to ward off evils by means of sacrifices." Tertullian, Against Marcion, I, 10: "From the beginning knowledge of God is the dowry of the soul, one and the same for Egyptians, Syrians, and the tribes of Pontus. For their souls call the God of the Jews their God."
4. Ibidem.
5. "Introduction a la historia antiqua del Peru" (Piura, 1987, unpublished manuscript), p. 221f. Here I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Estaban Puig for his generosity in sharing with me the results of his studies on the religiosity of the Peruvian Indians, and for granting me permission to use them in this work.
6. X, 129 (Kaegi edition, p. 90).
7. Arthur Waley (trans.), The Way and its Power (London: Allen & Unwin, 1934), ch. 21; quoted after Fung Yu-Lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), I, p. 179.
8. C.H. de Goeje, "Philosophy, Initiation and Myths of the Indians of Guiana and Adjacent Countries," Internationaler Archiv für Ethnographie, vol. XLIV, Leiden, 1943.
9. Cf., "Magic, Science and Religion," in: Science, Religion and Reality, ed. by Joseph A. Needham (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1955), pp. 31-40.
10. Freedom and Culture (Prentice-Hall, inc.: A Spectrum Book, 1959), p. 105: "The people of the Trobriand Islands codify, and probably apprehend reality, nonlineally in contrast to our own lineal phrasing."
11. Ibidem, p. 109. Stressing the ontic-oriented mentality of the primitive peoples, the author writes: "The Trobrianders are concerned with being, and being alone. Change and becoming are foreign to their thinking. An object or event is grasped and evaluated in terms of itself alone, that is, irrespective of other beings" (p. 89). Referring to the self-containment of being, the author observes: "In the face of this apprehension of being, concepts such as causation and purpose appear irrelevant This [sc. lacking of terms of such conceptions] does not mean that the Trobrianders are incapable of explaining a sequence in terms of cause and effect, but rather that this relationship is of no significance" (p. 94f.).
12. Ibidem, p. 116.
13. "The Problem of Meaning in Primitive languages," in The Meaning of Meaning, ed. by C.K. Ogden & I.A. Richards (San Diego-New York-London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), pp. 306ff. Cf., also Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 135.
14. Ibidem, p. 315: "There can be no doubt that we have here a new type of linguistic use - phatic communion I am tempted to call it, actuated by the demon of terminological invention-a type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words."
15. Amazonian Cosmos: The Sexual and Religious Symbolism of the Tukano Indians (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 71.
16. The Shaman and the Jaguar: A Study of Narcotic Drugs Among the Indians of Colombia (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1975), p. 191.
17. "The Deceased's Journey to the Sky," Adolf Erman, The Ancient Egyptians: A Sourcebook of their Writings (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 2, reads: "He that flieth flieth! He flieth away from you, ye men. He is no longer on earth, he is in the sky. /Thou his city-god, his ka is at thy sky(?)" Cf ., Alexander Le Roy, The Religion of the Primitives (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1922), p. 94: "The double (ka) airy projection of the body is repeatedly found in the tombs; a more completely separated substance (Bi or Bai) which they considered as the essence of human nature, flies towards the 'other-land,' like a bird, and is able at pleasure to leave the tomb or re-enter it. Another luminous principle (khou) abandons the world and joins the processions of the gods; there is also the heart that is manifested as conscience during life and a witness after death."
18. Cf "Double," in Man, Myth and Magic (New York-London-Toronto: Marshall Cavendish, 1983), vol. III, p. 672ff.
19. Quoted after Otto Zerries, "Primitive South America and the West Indies," in Precolumbian American Religions (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968), p. 267.
20. "New Religious Movements in Primal Societies," in Australian Essays in World Religions, ed. by Victor C. Hayes (AASR, 1977), p. 30. Cf., also E.E.H. Stanner, "Some Aspects of Aboriginal Religions, Colloquium (1976), p. 21.




Andrew Woznicki is Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco.

TST, Vol. 2, No. 7/1994

The Summit Times

© Copyright 1996 by Andrzej M. Salski