The Valhalla Covenant (The Astral Arcana Book 1)


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I was fascinated by the stories of those who had acquired metaphysical powers as a result of their devotion, and once wanted to develop what is described as the spirit of discernment: Where were my parents during all of this? They were not around. I attended boarding school in a country where religion means everything to the people. A country where people regularly quote from the scriptures to make trivial points about everyday life, engage in group prayer sessions often, and stand around in large groups arguing over the interpretation of Bible verses.

In a country where people are revered for the ability to pray, to worship and quote scripture, I was in good company. Prayer Warriors can energise and inspire those around them, much like a sales manager seeks to motivate his team each morning. Even before they begin to get into their groove, their presence is felt when they enter the room; many fall silent, sitting in awe of the spectacle that awaits.

In fundamentalist Christian circles, Prayer Warriors are well respected. Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? As I stood at the front of the Chapel watching people go forward, I was aghast at how many people declared that they had been healed. Following their departure, I recall an air of disdain from the regular attendees who had hoped to witness some modern-day miracles. And though I stopped identifying myself as a Christian at the age of 20, my real passion for it begun to wane at about One day, as I was lying on the couch, he happened to wander by and ask me what I was thinking of.

I must have been about 12 at the time. I experienced a lot at a young age, perhaps much more than I should have. As I grew older, my worldview expanded beyond the confines of boarding school and the country that influenced my development. Many things I held sacred not only diminished in value, but no longer seemed to matter. As this occurred, and as I matured, my values changed. Fortunately for me, my spiritual foundation was not built upon external factors, as I always relied on myself for research and development.

Two decades on I am still keen to know what our purpose is or whether we even have one: Are we here as an adoring audience for a deity, or are we called to something higher? And at the other end of the spectrum: Is there a final judgement and potential reward when we finally leave our Earthly existence or will our consciousness be snuffed out in an instant?

The acceptance of any dogma without examination is not just unhealthy, but dangerous. Unfortunately, such questioning is no longer encouraged, and we have been conditioned only to ask questions within a narrow bound. Anyone who goes too far beyond this is shunned for daring to step out of line. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in many mainstream and organised religions, which often prohibit and even ridicule open discussion on contentious matters. Why would God not welcome healthy debate? Unfortunately, people seldom ask the important questions and are blinded by their soft exterior. It is true that there are many worthy ideals attached to religions, which is the reason they are cherished in society.

However, there is a side that people never talk about. Do you know what your religion is hiding and what lurks in its doctrine? Though the cause may be worthy, this does not excuse the fact that there are many more questionable issues attached to religion. Fortunately, there are just as many alternatives for spiritual development that you may not even have heard of. Spiritual knowledge and development isn't limited to religion, and if you want to gain a better understanding of it, you can learn a lot from many unusual sources. Despite being relegated to the fringe, many practices and arts were often highly revered in the past.

Now is the time for these paths to be revisited. The point isn't so much about where you look, but the very fact that you are looking. Even if spirituality is not your end goal, open up your mind to new ideas beyond the stale restrictions of religion and see where it takes you. Which questions are important to you and what answers have you found so far? Or perhaps you will simply develop more questions, and start a larger process of discovery for yourself. True goals are the ones you work towards, not the ones handed to you on a silver platter. I have no desire to start a new religion, nor do I wish to start any new age movement.

My name is Femi and my simple contention is this: A god is a powerful being, and as I venture on my spiritual quest, I claim this for myself: We are all god. For those who are unaware; the book is broken down into the same Book-Chapter-Verse format as religious scriptures. Understanding Mainstream and Organised Religion — a brief description of each of the main world religions is presented, explaining their key doctrine; ii.

Questions and Contradictions — quoting directly from the scriptures, this section details the dominant themes inherent in religion. Many questions will be asked, and contradictions will be laid bare for all to see; iii. Philosophical Approaches — the focus is on the concept of God and spirituality from a philosophical perspective. The views of both contemporary and classical thinkers will be examined; iv. Classical Archetypes in Myth — we examine how myths and legends have played a part in setting the moral compass of societies; and v.

Metaphysical Alternatives — this section introduces a wide array of esoteric, alternative and metaphysical tools that can help you develop your own spiritual path outside of religion. He who has ears, let him hear. Understanding Mainstream and Organised Religion 1 Though the purpose of this book is to question mainstream and organised religion, you still need to have a good grasp of what each entails.

If you don't know the details of a belief system, how can you legitimately question it and come to understand its shortcomings?

The major religions in terms of numbers of believers worldwide are outlined below in descending order: Chinese traditional religions; vi. From here you will see both the differences and similarities within these faiths and begin your examination of them all. It's the prevailing belief system in Europe and the Americas, and many parts of Africa. It should be noted that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are very closely related in many ways due to their shared holy books and overlapping histories.

You'll find many things that are similar or even identical between these three religions. General Beliefs Christianity is, by definition, a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, which should make it fairly simple to understand. However, many aspects of Christianity still maintain the importance of the Old Testament of the Bible to varying degrees, so overall beliefs can be hard to summarise simply because they are not constant across the religion. Acceptance that Jesus was physically raised to heaven after death; iii.

Acceptance that God is the all-powerful creator, and must be worshipped and obeyed; iv. There is judgement by God after death, and possibly eternal punishment or eternal reward; v. Jesus will return to Earth before the final judgement at the end of days; vi. The Bible is the inspired word of God; and vii. The biggest split in the Christian world is between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believe that they are the one true church, as set out by Peter during the time of Jesus.

The Church establishes the official beliefs and dogma that its followers must adhere to, and its rituals are believed to be vital for personal salvation. Its leader is known as the Pope. In approximately CE, a large group broke away to create the Protestant version, with salvation believed to be gained through Jesus directly. As the years have passed, divisions within Protestantism have led to a vast number of sects, which are known as denominations.

Whilst some may vary by only the slightest piece of dogma, others can be vastly different from more traditional forms of Christianity. Holy Text The main religious scripture for Christians is the Bible, made up of two portions: The latter was written during and after the time of Jesus, which drastically sets it apart, in time as well as intent, when compared to the much older Old Testament. The Bible was written by a large number of different people who were writing at various times in history.

Between them, they have both been translated many times to bring the manuscripts into modern-day English and to offer further interpretations of the original meanings. Today, you can find dozens of different English versions of the Bible. Some claim that the Bible is literal, without error and should be taken as the word of God himself. Others feel that it was inspired by God, but since it was written and frequently re-translated by man, it should not be accepted as literal spiritual truth.

One final distinction between Catholics and Protestants is the Bible: Some parts were taken out during the Protestant reformation those parts are now known as the Apocrypha. There is some additional text added to the books of Esther and Daniel as well. The books of the New Testaments are the same between both Catholics and Protestants. Proselytising Proselytising is a common practice with some Christian denominations, but certainly not all of them.

It is seen in Christianity far more than in other religions and some denominations are highly focused on it. Christianity is really the only one that practices proselytising on such a widespread basis. The Concept of Sin While most religions have some sort of code that outlines which behaviours are permitted and which ones are not, Christianity has a very mixed approach on prohibited behaviours, usually referred to as sins. You can also expect a different range of sins between Protestant and the varying sects and Catholic teachings.

One portion of the Bible that is considered by many to be the foundation of defining sin is the Ten Commandments, supposedly given to Moses directly by God. They are listed in the Old Testament, specifically in the books of Exodus and in Deuteronomy: You shall have no other gods before me ii. You shall not make a carved image of anything in heaven, on the earth or in the waters under the earth iii.

You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain iv. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, do no work on the seventh day. Honour your father and mother vi. You shall not murder vii. You shall not commit adultery viii. You shall not steal ix. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour x. That innate sin is supposedly still within all mankind, creating a natural state of imperfection in all people.

Unfortunately, there is no certain or clear-cut list of what counts as a sin in Christianity, and that is somewhat left up to the denomination to determine. The Afterlife For Christians, the concept of an afterlife is an important one because it represents the reward for living a Godly life or the punishment for failing to do so. As with everything already mentioned, there are some variations between Christian groups on the specifics. All of Christianity accepts that there is a final afterlife where our souls will reside after we die. If we are deemed worthy, then we spend eternity in Heaven.

If not, our souls are directed to Hell. Heaven is considered a blissful paradise, and though the traditional view of Hell is a lake of burning fire, many modern denominations play down the punishment aspect of the potential afterlife. It is the 2. Because of its roots in the Middle East and continuing dominance in the region, much of the terminology is in Arabic. General Beliefs There are Five Pillars of Islam that make up the foundation of the religion, though these are acts and practices rather than beliefs in themselves.

The shahada declaration of faith Daily prayers five times a day Giving to charity Fasting during Ramadan Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. These are fairly self-explanatory, though there are a few things to mention about the shahada. It consists of the Arabic phrase that means there is only one God and Muhammad is his messenger. This expression is part of daily prayer, and it is said to be powerful enough to convert anyone who says it to Islam. Aside from these five pillars, there are other beliefs that all Muslims hold: There is only one God Allah ii. Angels exist as messengers of Allah iii.

The Quran was a divine revelation iv. Allah has chosen several prophets to also be his messengers v. There will be a time of judgement before Allah vi. Destiny is ordained by Allah. Holy Texts In English, the holy book of Islam is also called the Koran or the Quran, given in its entirety to Muhammad in a divine revelation. He received it over the course of about 23 years from the Angel Gabriel.

Because the Quran is believed to have come directly from Allah, there are few different versions of it available. It has been translated into other languages, but the Arabic version has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Because of the belief that the Quran is divine, it does not come under scrutiny Hadith are another important text in Islam, though not of divine origin. This is text that contains the words and actions of Muhammad during his life, which then acts as additional guidance for Islamic life beyond the official Quran itself. Entries in the hadith are often preceded by a list of people who said or heard these sayings, leading back to the original statement by Muhammad.

Within this religious practice, there are two major branches: Though they share many basic beliefs and tenets, there are some differences between the two. In terms of numbers, there are about 1. The point is to inform or teach rather than to coerce a conversion. One unique concept within Islam is that you can covert to the religion simply by stating the declaration of faith described above.

Most religions require a more lengthy process of learning and ritual before you can be considered a true convert. Muslims also believe that people are naturally Muslim at birth, so any conversion is simply a return to their natural spiritual state. Concept of Sin In Islam, sins are any actions that go against the will of Allah. Not all sins are considered equal: Though the concept is similar to the seven deadly sins in Christianity, the sins themselves are notably quite different: Idolatry Witchcraft Murder of someone innocent Consuming the property of an orphan Usury borrowing money with interest Retreating in battle Falsely accusing chaste women.

These seven actions are explicitly mentioned by Muhammad as noxious things to be avoided. An additional list of 70 actions are also sometimes referred to as major sins, such as adultery, blasphemy, breaking any of the five pillars, lying, stealing, consuming pork, gambling etc. Like in the Christian Bible, there are very long lists of potential sins, and there are varying ways to interpret many of them.

The Afterlife Those who have sinned in the eyes of Allah can be punished in jahannam similar to the Christian version of a burning Hell. But because they believe that Allah is merciful, once their souls have been cleansed by fire, Muslims are permitted to move on to jannah the garden, or Heaven.

Some do believe that non-Muslims are punished in jahannam permanently but others feel that with enough time, even a non-Muslim can be worthy of entry into heaven. Even though it has just over a billion followers, the Hindu religion is still very much exclusive to India. Before we go any farther, let it be clearly stated that Hinduism is complicated. It has a very different world view from most other religions especially to people who are more familiar with monotheistic beliefs.

Deity and belief concepts are much more diverse, multi-faceted and very often imprecise. When compared to rather rigid and rule-based religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, it can appear very unusual. General Beliefs Even as a diverse religion, Hinduism does have some tenets that are common amongst all of its followers, but since people tend to forge their own paths these beliefs and practices are not universal. There are a few areas where they do agree: Acceptance of Brahman as the ultimate universal force beyond the individual gods The Vedas contain revealed spiritual truths Moral and righteous living called dharma Immortality of the soul Reincarnation Karma.

Hindus strive to gain spiritual knowledge and understanding during their lives as a way of getting closer to the divine forces they believe in. The practices of yoga and meditation are two ways that Hindus develop their own personal spiritual understandings and focus the mind. Some are considered by followers to be divinely revealed or inspired, but not all of them. There are several dozen writings but a few are more crucial and central than others. The Vedas are the oldest group of texts and are thought to have been revealed over a period of several centuries to many different writers.

They are broken down into four parts: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda. These are all fairly large books, filled with a mixture of poetry, prose and hymns. Most of their content revolves around the rituals and prayers to be used by the priesthood. Another group of texts is called the Upanishads, and they were written some time after the Vedas. The theme of the Upanishads is spiritual growth and ways in which to develop a closer relationship with the central universal force of Brahman. This is also where the concept of karma is laid out. The Upanishads are not a revealed text.

These verses were written by various scholars who studied the Vedas and wanted to further explain their meanings. Overall, the Upanishads are a more 19 The Mahabharata is a very long epic poem, filled with the legends of the time around BCE. Though the entire text is important, the final book of the Mahabharata, known as the Bhagavad Gita, stands out. This part of the text includes a narrative between Krishna and a warrior named Arjuna.

Many noble qualities are discussed in this piece and it is one of the central texts in Hinduism. Main Deities Though it is a polytheistic religion for all intents and purposes, there is a single creator force that runs the universe, known as Brahman. It is not really worshipped as a deity like the others, but the vast myriad of gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon are all considered manifestations of Brahman, though treated as completely individual beings. After Brahman, there are three principle gods: Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Together they are called the Trimurti sound familiar?

Each one has a long list of alternate names, forms and reincarnated avatars. This will make understanding them a little difficult. Brahma is considered to be the god of creation, and most images of him have four heads and four arms. His consort is Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, the arts and science. She also has four arms like her husband. The next is Vishnu who maintains and supports creations as the omnipresent manager of the universe. Because he is in control of the existing universe, Vishnu is more actively worshipped than the other gods.

His wife is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Finally, the last of the Trimurti is Shiva. To complete the natural triad with the creator and maintainer, Shiva takes the role of the destroyer. Even so, he is not looked at as a negative influence. Rather, Shiva is often worshipped as a family man and household deity. His wife is Parvati, who is associated with the general concept of feminine power as well as love. Proselytising For the most part, Hindus aside from Hare Krishnas do not proselytise. They believe that all religious and spiritual paths will eventually lead to the same place of universal deity, so no one religion is better than another.

Because of this viewpoint, they can find the concept of proselytising offensive and are generally not receptive to anyone else trying to convert them. The Concept of Sin Since Hinduism is philosophically different from Christianity, it should come as no surprise that the idea of sin is basically non-existent. In other words, everything you do influences your karma, and actions cannot be atoned for Karma has its own chapter later in this book where you can find out more. The Afterlife Hinduism has no concept of heaven or hell, and the afterlife for Hindus is simply a rebirth into this world.

The soul is immortal and lives forever, so it does not come to an end with death. The end of this cycle is called moksha, which is when all suffering that comes from a mortal life is over and your soul is returned to the force of Brahman. Buddhism has between and million adherents, making it the fourth most populous belief system in the world. Because there is no deity figure in Buddhism, some would say this is more of a lifestyle than a religion.

But since most aspects of this path are intended as a way of gaining spiritual awareness and to connect with a divine force, it is considered a religion. General Beliefs The overall aim of Buddhism is to gain spiritual awareness and to escape the suffering that comes with a mortal life. There is a strong focus on suffering and asceticism through the entire faith. Life is suffering The cause of suffering is desire Suffering can be ended The path is the end of suffering. Clearly, this is a very oblique set of ideas that will require more explanation for non-Buddhists to understand.

The general idea is that all suffering in life comes from earthly desires, and only through the Buddhist path the Eightfold Path can this cycle of suffering be ended. Since Buddhists believe in karma and reincarnation, this suffering is part of the cycle that runs from one lifetime to the next.

The Noble Eightfold Path outlines the ways you need to live in order to free yourself from worldly desires and suffering of mortal life: Besides these specific doctrines, there are other beliefs that are crucial to the understanding of Buddhism. The seeking of wisdom and knowledge is vital, as is the use of meditation to further free There are 2 main paths of Buddhism: The Vajrayana sect is popular in Tibet but is much smaller than either of the two primary groups, as such, it is not considered a major division within the faith.

One of the primary differences between the two schools is that Theravada seeks enlightenment for the individual whereas Mahayana has a larger goal of enlightenment for all living beings. The specific holy texts vary from one school to the other, though the main text of the Pali Canon is common to both more on this in the next section.

Mahayana Buddhism is more ritualistic than Theravada, and has much more elaborate temples. Overall, the Theravada school is a more simpler version of Buddhism than the Mahayana, but there are many smaller underlying differences between the two. Several writings from the time of Buddha are used as spiritual guides, and different ancient texts are used to varying degrees by the two branches. The central text is called the Pali Canon, originally an oral text, until finally being committed to writing about years after the death of Buddha.

It contains three sections, called pitakas. The Vinaya Pitaka covers the rules of conduct and behaviour for Buddhist monks and nuns. The Sutta Pitaka is a mix of content that usually covers the life of Buddha, his conversations and teachings. The last pitaka is the Abhidhamma Pitaka which is mostly unique to the Theravada school, and it contains a collection of metaphysical and philosophical teachings that are more esoteric than the rest. Within the Mahayana school, they also use another text called the Sutras or Suttas.

Proselytising Though Buddhists are usually happy to teach and share their faith, it is uncommon for them to actively seek to convert others. In this regard, there is no reason why a Buddhist would feel the need to convert anyone. Concept of Sin As a religion that embraces karma and reincarnation, Buddhism contains no real concept of sin. The closest idea might be the five Precepts, given as acts to be avoided in the Suttas. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings.

In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the fourth gift. Afterlife The idea of reincarnation that our souls travel in an endless cycle of lifetimes is a very important part of Buddhist belief.

Buddhists say that we continue in this cycle until finally freeing ourselves by following the Eightfold Path. Since life is seen as being made up of suffering, the idea of releasing it is considered the ultimate blessing. It is the collection of ethnic religious traditions that have historically comprised the predominant belief system in China and among Han Chinese ethnic groups from as far back as BCE up to the present day. It describes mythology and includes the worship of ancestors, nature deities, clan deities, demigods, cultural heroes and dragons. One of these traditions, Taoism, will be discussed below.

It is polytheistic in belief, with a multitude of cultures and locations worshipping different gods, goddesses, and demigods. The list below reflects a few of the major ones: Pangu is believed to have been the first living being and creator of both the Heavens and the Earth. He is believed to have emerged from a cosmic egg ii. Shangdi is also considered a creator god, prior to Pangu. He was the supreme deity during the Shang dynasty. Tudi Gong is said to preside over the earth, and is also the god of wealth, minerals and buried treasure.

Guanyin from Buddhism has also entered the Chinese traditional pantheon due to immense popularity throughout the Chinese mainland. Deities are believed to reside in particular places, so Temples and shrines are usually erected around certain sacred parts of the city. Although texts relating to Chinese traditional religion exist, such as Journeys to the Underworld, they are not systematized and there is no main scriptural collection to which all devotees adhere.

The same is true of rituals performed by followers, which varies from location to location. Because of its inclusiveness, these days it is not uncommon for believers of other faiths to still engage in such practices. In essence, it is a part of the culture, with public holidays such as Tomb Sweeping Day Qingming Festival taking place in the region. During this period family members pray to their ancestors, sweep their tombs and offer food and libation.

Many believe that if the spirits are not properly cared for, they will become hungry ghosts that cause trouble for the living. The Ghost Festival used to mark Ghost Month is a traditional holiday celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month. During this month, ghosts and spirits are believed to emerge from the lower world to visit the earth.

The Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival is connected with moon worship, as the ancient Chinese believed this celestial body to be connected with rejuvenation. Because of its inclusive nature, many followers also identify with other religions so exact numbers of followers can be hard to pin down.

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Due to this pluralism, various sects and belief systems exist. Laozi, a 6 century BCE philosopher of ancient China is traditionally considered the founder of philosophical Taoism. General Beliefs The main objective of the belief system is to live in harmony with Tao, which is considered the ultimate force behind everything that exists.

The focus of Taoism is the veneration of nature, with the aim of life being personal adjustment to the rhythm of the natural and supernatural world. They believe that this can be achieved by balancing yin-yang, and developing qi "life energy" or "energy flow" through meditation and selfinvestigation. The body is considered a source of this energy, which can be harnessed for various means, such as immortality.

Different branches of Taoism have differing beliefs, especially concerning deities and composition of the pantheon. There are 2 kinds of Taoism — the Tao-chia and the Tao-chiao: The first is best described as the philosophical arm, teaching practitioners how to live in the here and now. This conduct is shaped by several concepts such as Wu-Wei translated nondoing , Wu emptiness , and Fu return. The Tao-chiao "Teachings of the Way" is considered the religious and mystical branch of Taoism, with schools and disciplines that follow the ideal of longevity and immortality through meditation and liturgy.

The most well-known symbol of Taoism is the yin-yang or Taiji symbol. The circle represents Tao, with the black and white halves representing the Yin-qi feminine energies and Yang-qi masculine energies , which gives birth to the manifest world. Holy Texts There are several texts used by followers of this faith, the main one being Tao-te-Ching or Daodejing It is said to describe the path to achieving peace, the nature of life and how a ruler should lead his life. He was a philosopher that lived around 4 century BCE and is credited as writing all or part of the text.

Some believe that he wrote the first seven chapters, while his students and others wrote the rest. Concept of Sin Because of the nature of the religion, the concept of sin is generally not discussed. Chapter 67 of Tao-te-Ching lists them as: Taoists also believe that sickness is often caused by sin and bad deeds that disrupt the healthy flow of qi.

Afterlife They believe that we don't just have one soul, but several that form individual consciousness. The largest tradition, Yoruba, will be discussed below. The majority are based within the continent, with a scattering of believers in parts of the United States, South America and the Caribbean.

It was colonisation that resulted in the dissemination of this belief system across the globe; many slaves held on to their traditions which they modernised when they moved to the new world. Despite the diversity of the different forms of religion, there are certain values they all share. Perhaps surprising to some may be the fact that many of these qualities are shared with Chinese traditional religions: He is believed to have created several smaller gods who generally deal with humans on a day-to-day basis.

Upon death, people are believed to move on to the spirit world or reincarnated. During rituals, singing, dancing, beating on drums and possession is common place. On occasion, blood sacrifices are made to the gods and ancestors, depending upon the nature of the particular occasion. Various talismans are given to ward off any spells that may have been cast against the individual. More often than not there are no holy books or texts that people make reference to. As such, priests who are trained in these practices are very important when any religious ceremonies are to be conducted.

In any case, ceremonies tend to be communal, with children taking part from a very young age. Oral tradition ensures that beliefs pass down from one generation to the next through art, song, festivals, proverbs, custom and belief. Yoruba It is the most influential amongst all the African traditional religions, because of the great Yoruba people and nation which existed prior to colonisation by the Europeans.

Despite the dominance of Christianity and Islam within the country, the majority of its 15 million adherents are based in Nigeria, with practitioners also in Benin and Togo. General Beliefs There are no unified customs or set of practices that exist in the Yoruba religion.

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Practitioners are concerned with the mythology and ritual techniques that will help them in everyday life, and these vary from location to location. It is a practical religion, with ritual techniques that deal largely with the problems of the individual in this world. The word ogun refers to either magic or medicine in Yoruba, and the Babalawo engages in magical practices, to both protect, as well as benefit the follower. Unfortunately, the concept of witchcraft still plays a major part in the culture of the people. An ageold belief, it is still portrayed often in popular local media.

Witches aje are almost always women, and the onus seems to be placed on the individual to prove otherwise. Nevertheless, open accusations are infrequent, with people more likely to visit their local Babalawo in order to take preventive action against spells through rituals and talisman. Main Deities It is polytheistic in its belief, with Olodumare controller of the universe being the Supreme Being and creator of all things.

Olodumare is said to have created the Orishas or divine beings that were charged to take care of the world and interact with it. The major Orisa in a town will have shrines and a set of Babalawo with unique dress and insignia. Each has its favourite sacrificial offerings, and its followers observe a distinctive set of food taboos. Some of the more popular ones include: It is believed that he was granted the authority to create land over the water beneath the sky, and founded the first Yoruba city, Ife. Ogun is the divinity of iron, politics and hunting.

As the patron of blacksmiths, they traditionally sacrificed animals in his name for appeasement. Oshun is associated with healing, fertility and the feminine essence. Shango is the god of thunder, war, fire and lightning. He comes from royalty, having been the third king of the Oyo Kingdom prior to his posthumous deification. Veneration of this orisha. Oya is the Tempest or Guardian of the Cemetery. Esu or Elegbara is often translated by Yoruba people to describe The Devil; however, some believe this is incorrect. They say he is simply the Trickster of the Orisha pantheon, who deals a bad hand to those that do not pay homage or are deemed to be spiritual novices.

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Also regarded as the divine messenger, he is said to take prayers to Olodumare. Along the way, the Yoruba have also incorporated gods from other traditions into the Orisha pantheon, such as Nana Buku, Oshumare, Babaluaiye from Dahomean Vodou. Holy Texts This is an oral tradition with no religious text to speak of, as such the role of the priests is very important for divination.

Divination is believed to give the Babalawo unreserved access to the teachings of Orunmila, the Grand Priest, and Orisha of wisdom. Many of the divinations that these priests perform have made it into print in very recent times. The practice of witchcraft would certainly be considered a despicable act within the community. But more often than not, they seek to cast out the evil spirit that causes the person to commit such acts. Afterlife The Yoruba believe in reincarnation, but where they differ from other faiths is their belief that this occurs within the family.

For example, when a person dies, it is believed that their spirit will be reborn back into the extended family. A good example of this is the name: Babatunde, which means father has returned. For instance, if the patriarch of a family has recently passed away, it is likely that the next child born will be given this name to signify his rebirth. The same applies to the matriarch, the child will be named Yetunde, meaning mother has returned. African Diasporic Religions Due to migration, a number of religions across the globe can trace their lineage back to Yoruba.

These include the following: Trinidad Orisha Trinidad and Tobago v. With a following of just over 25 million, Sikhism is still a relatively large religion. This faith is based mainly in India though there are Sikh communities all over the world. Because they are centred in India, many confuse their faith with Islam or Hinduism, even though there are no major similarities between them. General Beliefs Sikhism is a strictly monotheistic faith which believes that there is a single god, with whom followers can develop a closer relationship through worship and meditation: In this way, the filth of lifetimes of karma shall be removed and egotistical pride shall vanish from your mind.

There are five practices that are central to Sikhism, and they are known as the Five Ks simply because the words all begin with K , introduced by Guru Gobind Singh. These are not really beliefs but outward practices that Sikhs must follow as a way of creating a visible identity for themselves. Kesh — keeping hair uncut 2. Kangha — wooden comb carried to care for hair 3. Kara — steel bracelet worn to identify as a Sikh 4. Kachera — cotton undergarments 5. Kirpan — small dagger or sword Sikhism has a prominent military mindset, as Sikhs see themselves as soldiers for truth, honesty, loyalty and courage.

There are also Five Virtues, vital qualities that all Sikhs strive to live by: Holy Text There is a single spiritual text used by the Sikhs called the Guru Granth Sahib which contains hymns, prayers, descriptions of God and rules of conduct for Sikhs. Though it was written over many years by different authors including notable people from other faiths , it was gathered together as a single book by the Guru Arjun Dev the fifth Guru and then given the authority as the only sacred text to Sikhs by Guru Gobind Singh.

It is seen as the head of the religion, though the book is not worshipped in an idolatrous way. When unused, it is often wrapped in cloth and kept in a quiet area. Certain prayers are said when the book is first opened and again when it closes for the night. Parts of the Guru Granth Sahib are written in various languages but all are written in the Gurmukhi script that connects all of the words in a single continuous piece.

The text is completely written in hymn form, with various types of musical measures attributed to different sections. Overall, there are 33 sections to the book, and 18 of them are divided in terms of their musical format called ragas. Though the sections are titled, most references or quotes from the text are identified simply by page number because the layout of the book creates the same page format no matter what the printing there are 1, pages.

Proselytising Sikhs are happy to share their faith with others, but otherwise do not actively seek to convert anyone. They believe that faith must not be coerced, but needs to come from the heart. They are generally not too receptive to the practice from others for the same reasons. The Concept of Sin The idea of sin for Sikhs is primarily about any actions that would lead one away from spiritual growth, but there are a few things that are specifically prohibited within the faith.

Breaking the Five Ks listed above is one, and the Five Evils must also specifically be avoided: There is also no specific path to atone for these actions: And though it is possible to repent of sins and ask for forgiveness, the consequences will still be borne in the next life.

Since sins cannot be erased, further positive actions must be taken to improve karma. Sikhs are also prohibited from drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs. The principle behind this is that a Sikh must be ready for action at any moment particularly in the defence of others and so anything that would impede this readiness must be avoided. The Afterlife As with most religions that embrace reincarnation, there is no immediate afterlife for souls following death.

Positive and negative actions during life create karma, and this leads to the state of the next lifetime. With enough prayer, devotion and worthy behaviour, you can break the cycle of reincarnation and your soul will be reunited with God. There are only about 13 million Jews around the world, with the largest communities living in the United States and Israel. Of all the mainstream monotheistic religions, Judaism is the oldest, and forms the foundation upon which Christianity and Islam are built, and makes up the original part of the Abrahamic triad.

The prophets of Jesus and Muhammad are not recognised by Jews, who still hold the original faith laid down by Moses. General Beliefs Like its cousins, Christianity and Islam, Judaism is a staunchly monotheistic religion that worships a single God and holds that theirs is the one true faith. A great deal of Jewish practice involves following the various laws in the Torah and Talmud.

Together, these laws are known as halakhah. Jews believe that God will send a saviour to Earth in order to bring peace and harmony to mankind. Unlike Christians, Jews do not accept Jesus as the son of God, and continue to wait for this Messiah. There are 13 Principles of Faith, which were written by Maimonides, a rabbinical scholar.

These points illustrate some of the more spiritual beliefs in Judaism that are not tied to the various laws of the Torah: Belief in God as the perfect Creator 2. Belief in the unity and indivisible nature of God 3. Belief in the non-physical state of God 4. Belief that God alone should be worshipped 6. Belief in divine prophecy 7. Belief in the revelations to Moses 8.

Belief in the divine and revealed nature of the Torah 9. Belief in the immutability of the Torah Belief that God is omniscient Belief in spiritual reward and punishment Belief in the coming arrival of the Messiah Belief in the resurrection of the dead This sums up their beliefs fairly well, though the majority of Jewish life revolves around the laws of God.

Holy Texts The central text in Judaism is the Torah, which is believed to have been revealed directly from God This is very close to the same text that makes up the first five books of the Christian Bible the Old Testament , which are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Torah is often read with other texts, which are also considered important but are not revered as being directly from God. When these three texts are grouped together, they are known as the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh. Many books from the Christian Bible are found in the Tanakh, such as the books of Psalms, Chronicles, Ecclesiastes and others.

Like the Muslims, the Jews have a secondary book that complements their scriptures and offers further insight and understanding into the meaning of the Torah. It is known as the Talmud. Proselytising Different schools have different ideas towards converts, with Reform Judaism being the most open to accepting non-Jews into the faith. Even so, it is not a common practice to directly proselytise or attempt to draw people to the religion. Converting to Judaism involves a lot more ritual and effort than most other religions, and the specifics will vary depending on which school you are looking to join.

A certain level of instruction into Jewish law is usually required, as well as an immersion in a ritual bath and circumcision for males. The most likely avenue to convert people to Judaism is when there is a mixed marriage between a gentile non-Jew and a Jew.

Some schools will insist that the other person convert before they will allow the marriage to take place. This is where the different branches of Judaism come into play. Orthodox Jews will follow a greater number of laws, with the Haradi following them all. Regardless, Jews consider the Ten Commandments to be beyond question. As mentioned above, there are many other laws that are followed to varying degrees by each school of Judaism: Head coverings for married women and for men iii.

Resting on the Shabbat Saturdays iv. Males must be circumcised. The Afterlife Concepts of the afterlife in Judaism are considerably different from Christianity and Islam. Jews focus more on this life rather than the one beyond. It is also used to describe a period on Earth after the coming of the Messiah. There is also no concrete view of a punishment in the afterlife i. Hell , which always strikes nonJews as being a little odd. People often assume that the large number of rules that Jews follow in their religion will lead to punishment if they are not followed.

That is actually not the case.

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In the Apocrypha, there is a Gospel of Mary which is believed to have been written about Mary Magdalene. It was a fixed part of standard operating procedure and Blaze certainly abided by it given that Erin had only recently begun to feel like she knew him at all, despite acting as decoy for him at least a dozen times. God would intervene on Earth to save people, but also made his presence known just as much in order to punish people. However, there is a side that people never talk about. Because of its inclusive nature, many followers also identify with other religions so exact numbers of followers can be hard to pin down. They say that we demonstrate more allegiance when we blindly believe absent of physical proof. In Book Two, we examine some of these discrepancies and subject religious beliefs to rational examination.

The laws are followed as a way of honouring God rather than as a way to avoid punishment or gain a reward. An entry in the Mishnah states: No religion is perfect, they are riddled with odd concepts, inconsistencies and confusion. In Book Two, we examine some of these discrepancies and subject religious beliefs to rational examination. As Christianity and Islam are the largest of the mainstream faiths, they are the central focus of this section of the book, but others among the major religions will also be covered, as well as some of the ancient religions and faiths.

Each quote from the holy texts is given in its entirety, even when there are parts of a verse that may not apply. A complete quote simply keeps everything in context. Aside from these technical details, this section is aimed at the questionable elements of each religion, in order to get to the heart of each issue. You should never accept any faith without at least some level of scrutiny or examination. Take a good hard look at these contentious problems that plague religion today. The three main monotheistic religions all centre on a single male deity. God is seen and described as male in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

In Christianity, this is further compounded by the addition of Jesus as the son of God. The official position is that God is genderless and that the use of all-male terminology in the various holy books is just a matter of linguistic convenience. Those who follow these religions are consistently conditioned to believe that their supreme deity is male whenever the words from their holy books are quoted, as well as in visual representations, which reinforces the notion that males are superior to females. Perhaps this is the entire point. Women in Religious Authority The idea that God can only be represented by men seems to be an inevitable result of this gender bias.

The Catholic Church maintains its ban on ordaining women as priests, and there are similar restrictions in Islam and Orthodox Judaism. For Christians, the main Bible passage that excludes women from preaching can be found in 1 Corinthians, which states: They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the Law says. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. The Quran makes no specific mention of women leading prayers at all, but there are some items in the hadith that address the issue of female imams: There are other hadiths that also lean towards the banning of women from leading prayer, but they are ambiguous and subject to debate on translation.

Overall, it is not generally accepted that a woman can hold a position of authority within Islam, though some In Judaism, women are only banned from becoming rabbis within groups of Orthodox Jews, who are strict in interpreting one line of non-Talmudic Jewish law.

Polytheistic Viewpoint Religions that are polytheistic do not have the same degree of gender bias since they include entire pantheons of both male and female deities. But even in such instances, the male gods often have a role of authority over the females. Zeus was in charge of the ancient Greek pantheon as was his alter-ego Jupiter for the Romans , and the Norse gods all looked to Odin for authority.

Though Isis was a beloved goddess in ancient Egypt, the pantheon was led by a male — Osiris or later Ra. Speaking of ancient religions, they were almost all polytheistic, made up of both male and female figures. The notion of having just one god is a relatively new idea. The historical viewpoint of polytheism vs. The Chinese and African traditional religions are no different in this respect. Despite individual traditions being very distinct from one another, the dominant theme still persists, with male gods generally considered superior to the female ones.

Usually a reflection of the societies views on the role of men. Better Gender Balance for Hindus One exception to the male-dominated class of current mainstream religions is Hinduism. For the Hindu, the most encompassing form of God is known as the universal and genderless force of Brahman. But that force is manifested through many other gods and goddesses. They are Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. You could consider this another aspect of male dominance, but each of these gods has a female consort who is of equal importance.

All of the female deity elements are known together as Shakti, and are considered to be the central creative force in the universe. This is a good balance with the spirit of Brahman. A non-gendered God may seem perfectly normal and fine for those who follow these paths, but even a slight moment of analysis should make one wonder. If God is the creator of everything, and that is supposedly the case, then why are all biological beings reproduced by the joining of two sexes, with the female being the one to create new life?

With only a few exceptions, all life on Earth is born from the female after mating with the male. This natural reality seems to strongly contradict the idea of a single genderless creator being. A more reasonable position would be that our deities follow a similar form to us union of both male and female , with the female as the ultimate creator of life.

Many older religions adopt this natural world-view, just not the modern monotheistic ones. There is one mysterious Bible quote that seems to hint at this: Perhaps God had a partner or partners in creation after all refer to the Gospel of Judas. The Divine Female Now, to be fair, there are several elements of divine femininity in some of the mainstream religions, though they all come secondary to God himself. In Christianity, the role of Mary has added a female element, though her status within the religion is somewhat ambiguous.

There were actually two Marys who have continued to be viewed as divine figures in Christianity: Each has her own role within modern religious views. Mary who was the mother of Jesus is held in very high regard, often referred to as the Virgin Mary or the Madonna. For those who consider Jesus to be God that also makes Mary the mother of God himself. She holds a unique role within various branches of the Catholic Church, but is not worshipped in the same sense within Protestant denominations. She conceived him as a virgin, and was herself conceived without original sin.

This means she was born with a unique level of grace, not that her mother was a virgin as many people believe. Beyond that, she was also taken bodily to heaven after her death the Assumption of Mary. Population exploded to well beyond a hundred million and such accelerating pressures ushered in more of both the chaotic and the spectacular.

Everywhere, young women and men knew they could be torn away at any moment from a normal life and freedom, but in the southern land, as the Chinese so tersely called it, there was a qualitative difference of attitude. Cell coverage was still weak. Storm or no storm, fear or no fear, she either had to get a connection or make it through to the latest rendezvous more quickly than now seemed possible.

More immediate considerations took over then in the shape of several curious sets of eyes, and sensing them, she lifted her own eyes cautiously towards the street. Already the crowds were thinning, albeit for brief moments. It might be possible, even advisable to make a dash for it given that the greatest danger would come after the intense afternoon rush began to melt away.

A glance at the opposite sidewalk up that way revealed a significant further thinning of the crowd. As the pedestrian light turned green she pressed forwards, but before she could set foot on the street, shrieking tyres and the soft growl of a powerful motor sparked sudden uproar. Erin cursed wildly, struggling to back away, but was held tight as those ahead retreated from the aggressive approach of a low-slung street racer — a black Audi coupe.

Hidden to her though the driver was, the poison dart of his clear intent made her freeze, but a wave of relief followed — relief in the realization that she was not at the front of the crowd. She took a deep breath and refocused, curling her fingers as she did so around the reassuring composite pistol in her pocket. Long seconds later, the coupe moved again and sped off with a soft growl of almost vocal frustration — its driver apparently unable to locate what he had felt so sure was there. Erin knew all too well that they had little regard for anyone or anything but themselves.

As angry dregs of an increasingly machine like culture, they indulged in only the most immediate forms of physical gratification and, when on the hunt, struck without hesitation or mercy.

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The desire for freedom from a routinely oppressive daily life and indulgence in what they saw only as a new benchmark of male liberation demonstrated a staggering degree of degradation in social values. Even now, numerous lairs in various sectors of the city were prisons of daily hell for many who fell on the wrong side of that benchmark.

Yet few of the psychopaths that ruled literally with a whip hand over such dens ever openly contravened city regulations, and they guarded their own freedom with fanatical zeal. Erin crossed with the crowd, sharply drawing breath again after holding it too long, and began to make her way up the other side. Sprinting now and then where possible, she slipped her way through the less dense confluences of the crowd with the studied impassivity of the hardened city dweller. There would be security at the door in the form of two armed guards, but that was as it should be.

As she approached, the guards, heavy like so many, met her with indifferent eyes. She halted for a moment and smiled despite their wooden reserve, as the doors slid aside. Glittering luxury shone before her. White marble, glass, timber, leather and silk stroked the senses. It was an impressive oasis of wealth — the proud asset of a substantial syndicate — and suddenly quiet; quieter than any place had a right to be in the fetid rambling chaos of this once beautiful city. Erin cast an eye around at the people within and took note of the young woman — no, she was but a girl — at the desk.

In support of that observation, her bearing seemed at least initially to discourage approach. Several customers browsed close by but they too appeared absorbed in the moment. Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary. Perhaps management had arranged for this girl to be here at this time, precisely because of her lack of experience. After all, this firm did support the Institute, and was party to their covert arrangements for channelling funds.

A young and inexperienced girl might not be expected to provide the most detailed descriptions from memory and since violence was unheard of in these dealings, safety was not an issue. Excited on a different level now, she thrust back her feelings almost before becoming aware of them — fully aware that in the operational context they introduced an unacceptable extra element of risk. It was a fixed part of standard operating procedure and Blaze certainly abided by it given that Erin had only recently begun to feel like she knew him at all, despite acting as decoy for him at least a dozen times.

As a rule, things went well while he was around. With him, she felt more secure. If she had any doubts at all, it was only because she knew that the smooth execution of plans in this business could never be considered a foregone conclusion. She turned her attention back to the place and the people around her, focusing again, eventually, on the girl behind the desk. All the same, her blue eyes softened into a smile as Erin approached.

It's a very good book. Honestly a great story line! I read it until one in the morning A really good read. The author spun a web that engaged me from the start. However, I feel like a hypocrite because I dislike cliche but wanted a happy ending. I want Samatha story now please thanks. Excellent plot and the wrong styles really puts me in a pirate like mental state which makes it awesome when reading! I like hos the author has made 3 chapters feel lIke 10 wIth lots of detaIls and character development. The tension is very high.

Overall the story was great but there were some problems. There were some plot holes throughout that made it not flow like it could have and then grammar was also an issue. The story just needs to be edited and it would be alot better. I recommend this story to people and I hope the author edits I love this story. Can't wait to start reading the 2nd.