No natural religions

Blake also maintained that “There is No Natural Religion,” which I take to mean (in part) that all religious expressions are profoundly cultural. They grow out of unique revelations, in response to the particularities of geography, history, and social setting. It is demeaning both to religion and to Nature to imply otherwise. Of equal importance, in my opinion, is the realization that there is no such thing as a primitive religion, unless it be the religion of a five-year-old or a simpleton. Anthropologists know this well, but have done a poor job of communicating it to the general public. In fact, the belief systems encountered in so-called indigenous or village settings are often vastly most complex and sophisticated than the would-be universal religions.

From the Yoruba tradition, here is a praise-song for Eshu, the god of fate, translated by Ulli Beier in his wonderful book Yoruba Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 1970) and reprinted in The Penguin Book of Oral Poetry (ed. by Ruth Finnegan, 1978. Page 150).

Eshu, the god of fate

Eshu turns right into wrong, wrong into right.
When he is angry, he hits a stone until it bleeds.
When he is angry, he sits on the skin of an ant.
When he is angry, he weeps tears of blood.
Eshu slept in the house –
But the house was too small for him.
Eshu slept on the veranda –
But the veranda was too small for him.
Eshu slept in a nut –
At last he could stretch himself.
Eshu walked through the ground-nut farm.
The tuft of his head was just visible.
If it had not been for his huge size,
He would not be visible at all.
Lying down, his head hits the roof.
Standing up, he cannot look into the cooking-pot.
He throws a stone today
and hits a bird yesterday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.