Laiza (lore): an additional post: what exactly is belief?

I just wanted to write a very—or at least I hope so—short post about the concept of “belief” and how the original concept can not really be paralleled in the modern usage of that term. In Laiza part I, I talked about belief not being the actual foundation of what I’m describing, and I qualify that with examples of things having verifiable states and interactions that can be understood to thrive.

Belief comes from *bi- “by, with, through” and *laubô “permission, praise”. In Dutch geloof, and German Glaube, the final root is the same, but the prefix is *ga- “with”; cognate to Lat. co-. What it therefore means is: “by/through/with permission/praise”. It does not refer to what people believe in the modern term, but what is allowed or praised; and thus an external feedback loop. Piety seems the clearer direct cognate, in that pious action is what is religiously-speaking permitted and—when done—praised. It is thus a set of ideals and morals that is developed and reinforced within a given social or religious environment. Absolutely, it is possible to set down your own ideals and morals; however, it may be incredibly hard to sustain these when they are constantly being challenged or frowned upon; in other words, not allowed or praised by the society or gods/ancestors/spirits that you interact with. This is another reason why I’ve chosen to use laiza (lore) here, since at the foundation of discovering what is permitted and praised lies knowledge and a constant sense of learning.

In a Latin and Celtic context, the words for belief are linked to the root for heart, which is harder to disentangle and qualify. Not much is known about how the Celts viewed the heart; both symbolically and physically. In ancient Greece, it was already understood as an organ that pumped blood around the body, but it was also linked to consciousness. This is worth mentioning as—in a modern view, and unsupportable ethnic stereotyping—this could initially indicate that the Romans and Celts were much more about feeling than the Germans, but there’s simply no grounds for such a claim.

The term “holy” is also interesting, since it refers to *haila- “whole, sound, healthy” plus *-ga- “having the quality of”. So, something that is holy—in the original context—I would define as something that is present to create an “ideological” whole, which should not be dishonoured or violated. In short, something that is vital to connect to, or progress a state of wholeness. For example, in Middle High German the word heilig referred to a pious person, which could be interpreted as being someone who through his/her/their piety has achieved a mode of being that is inviolable. The clearest older form for this word—and one I prefer in my focus—is *wīhaz sacred in a sense of consecrated or dedicated, e.g., incense G wiihrauch, Du wierrook, from *wīharaukiz “dedicated smoke”. There’s also a noun *wīhaz or *wīham meaning sanctuary. Another related word to *hailaga-—and the origin for E worship—is *werþaskapiz, literally meaning the shaping of worth, holding the same meaning of piety; this term seems less common when considering its distribution, but it’s still valid.

Thus, combining the concepts of *bilaubô or *galaubô (religion/belief), *hailaga- (holy), and *wīhaz(consecrated), gives us a glimpse into what the foundation of religion is: namely something that determines desirable ideals and morals that devise practices towards achieving a desired wholeness. In many monotheist religions, that state of wholeness is unity with God, while in polytheism—and animism—it is—and this is purely my opinion—a way to navigate the mundane and spiritual worlds successfully.

Consider this article, about the Yukaghir hunters of Northern Siberia on how they tread the line between observing religious practices, while also ensuring the system does not become total. In this case, total refers to a state where mankind manages all resources—and within the concept of a sharing culture—the spirits of the forest are allowed to demand or take back what was theirs; thus leading to illness and death. From a modern perspective, it really does not seem pious behaviour to seduce, deceive, or steal from the spirits, but when considering this from a logical standpoint regarding survival it makes perfect sense. In a polytheist society that faces fewer challenges regarding survival, the concept of reciprocity seems a natural progression—without attributing to this an evolutionist sentiment of being superior—of the sharing culture: I give you (a relevant person, divine being, ancestor, or spirit) X in exchange for Y towards our mutual benefit. Speaking purely from my viewpoint, this is a similar relationship to the sharing culture in that it acknowledges a relationship, not necessarily one of divine superiority or literal god-fearing., but one where both worlds are connected; this is why it’s not so much an evolution as a different modality of the same. A question I posed in part I was regarding the statement: “There are no hard and fast divisions between physical and spiritual dimensions in the world, although socially defined relationships and hierarchies may be found”. This is the answer to that question, namely, both make up the whole of the environment we live in, and if we can mutually benefit each other in some way, it behoves us to interact and build relationships towards that goal.

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