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Sacred as a Need of Humanity

"Vikings Heading for the Land", Frank Dicksee (1853 - 1928), British

Much has been said about the sense of sacred - about how it develops, what it consists of and the themes it brings. Our era of human experience is unique and distinct in a sense that it is probably the first one that completely, as a collective rejects any conscious sense of sacred. We are actually obsessed with demystifying the world, uncomfortable for something to be left to the imagination, speculation and myth. So obsessed with demystification, we have come to even oppose parents who tell their children about dragons, knights, Santa Claus or any other myths that are still existent. This however, is not to be a critique of this mindset but rather an exploration to the sense of sacred and why is it a human need.


The Sense of Sacred

"Thesmophoria", Francis Davis Millet (1894 - 1897), American

Taking a look at some of the dictionaries, "sacred" is often described as "connected with God or dedicated to religious purpose", "deserving of veneration", "religious rather secular", "considered holy". Taking a look at these descriptions we can then, simply say that sacred is a sense of something holy, something that is beyond ordinary and quotidian and something to which we dedicate special attention - through rituals, rites and finally devotion. The concepts of sacred space and sacred time were written of in great detail by Mircea Eliade in his "Sacred and Profane" - the sacred space and time allowed the human to leave the chaotic world and breathe order and structure into it. However, that structure, that creation did not come simply as a result of rebellion and mindless desire for progress and expansion, but rather it was something to be in harmony with the Divine. Human organization was to imitate the cosmic organization, to imitate Divine and honor gods. Architecture, the structure of the cities was composed in such a way as to reflect this (among the currently existing, Balinese architecture still has many of those principles alive in). Holidays and festivals on the other hand were reflection of the sacred time - a specific moment in time through which human was allowed to "leave" the ordinary time and enter the cosmic time that was considered to exist beyond the linear time observable by the human mind. The sense of sacred, allowed human beings to live in a world which was "full of gods" as Thales said once - with the sense of sacred, human is not simply surrounded by other humans, by plants and animals. A human with a sense of sacred in his mind is surrounded by Buddhas, by the Neoplatonic human angels, by the gods and spirits - earth is not just earth but a place in which gods are manifest and seen. Most importantly, before the sense of sacred was taken away from the human, it was not a simple escapism into the fairyland world, but reality that a human being inhabited. Sacred, then, can be, not simply a formal, removed from its meanings religious ritual but the world human once lived in and the world that has been taken away from the humanity.


Sacred as the Need

"Prodromus Astronomia - Volume III", Johannes Hevelius (1611 - 1687), Polish

What is then, the role of the sacred in a human's life and why does it manifest itself as such a need? One could easily think that, since, human can survive, at least biologically without it, that a need it cannot be but rather a luxury. Human needs, however, go beyond the physical and biological, even emotional and psychological. Humans, although it is often denied in the world of ours, also have spiritual needs and the path towards the sacred is as part of a human as any other part of him. We, humans, in one way or another, do not like the idea that we inhabit a world that is ultimately without a meaning. Even the proponents of biological reductionism in which everything comes as a result of "just because" and randomness, still in a way imply that this randomness, this biological evolution is at least partly the answer to "why" we are here. I would dare say that much of scientific development and research was a way for a human to find meaning in a world, a kind of consolation for the sense of apathy that he often feels the world and the cosmos shows him. Even a nihilist bears a strong conviction in his "nothingness" and even he believes the conclusions of his mental constructions, something, which I believe requires faith - faith in the reason and mind. It would then seem that even our nihilist, is a rationalist or even idealist who believes in the power of the mind to be able to conceptualise or understand the truth. It appears that humans do not desire a world without truths. A sense of wonder, be it towards a flower in the garden, or the moment of religious devotion or the sense of awe that an astronomer gets finding a new star, is the echo of the world of gods and spirits that humans once inhabited. We wonder at the beauty of the world and at its mysteries even when we try to "make sense of things " and demystify it. It is an impulse within us that comes no matter how hard we deny it. Maybe this impulse is the evidence of the Neoplatonic idea - that there is something divine within a human. The sense of sacred is our need because it speaks to something that is not beastly within human but something more noble, whether we call it "angelic nature" or "rational being" who in pursuit of virtue and reason leaves behind the world of instincts. With a sense of sacred, human creates a world in which he is no longer lonely, but rather in which he is surrounded by the fingers pointing at the something greater, nobler and more beautiful. With a sense of sacred within, human remembers that he is a microcosm, that he takes part in the great dance of the spheres and that as such, his role in this world and if he believes in the next, in the next world, is to live in harmony with that. Most importantly, the sense of sacred fills the world with meaning - a place in which there was nothingness and apathy, becomes a place of hidden meanings and symbols through which something bigger than the mere form, reveals itself. With the loss of sacred, a human forgets this part of his and turns into a machine that only lives to be functional and only ever concerns itself with superficial functionality of the things. With the loss of reverence for the world around him and without looking at the world as sacred, he will justify any exploitation in the name of the personal benefit. When nothing is sacred, nothing is a sacrilege - the ego reigns free, without any restrictions. In such a world trust, love and self-sacrifice cannot be, as we turn into Hobbesian beasts who gnaw at each other. Without the sacred, human is less of a human, and he truly believes himself to be nothing more but an ape with ability of language, refusing even to look at the whole mystery of the existence of the verbal language. Without the sacred, human is aware only of a part of what he is, while the other part, the Neoplatonic heavenly art, is deeply in the subconscious. It comes out of the subconscious in many different ways that Eliade spoke of, but until a human is once again, aware of this, not much will change, and he will continue to live in a plastic, dry, apathetic world devoid of meaning.


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