A harvest Book Harcourt, Brace

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by Mircea Eliade

Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask

A Harvest Book Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. New York



CHAPTER I Sacred Space and Making the World Sacred 20

CHAPTER I1 Sacred Time and Myths 68

The Sacredness of Nature and Cosmic Religion


Human Existence and Sanctified Life

CHRONOLOGICAL SURVEY The "History of ReligWus" as a Branch of Knowledge 216





The extraordinary interest aroused all over the world by Rudolf Otto's Das Heilige (The Sacred), pub- lished in


still persists. Its success was certainly due to the author's new and original point of view. In- stead of studying the ideas of God and religion, Otto undertook to analyze the modalities of the religious, experience. Gifted with great psychological subtlety, and thoroughly prepared by his twofold training as theo-logian and historian of religions, he succeeded in de- termining the content and specific characteristics of religious experience. Passing over the rational and speculative side of religion, he concentrated chiefly on its irrational aspect. For Otto had read Luther and had understood what the "living


meant to a believer. It was not the


of the philosophers~of Erasmus,

for example; it was not an idea, an abstract notion, a mere moral allegory. It was a terrible power, manifested in the divine wrath.

In Das Heilige Otto sets himself to discover the char- acteristics of this frightening and irrational experience. He finds the feeling of terror before the sacred, before the awe-inspiring mystery (mysterium tremendum), the majesty (majestas) that emanates an overwhelming superiority of power; he finds religious fear before the fascinating mystery (mysterium fascimms) in which perfect fullness of being flowers. Otto characterizes all these experiences as numinous (from Latin numen, god), for they are induced by the revelation of an aspect of divine power. The numinous presents itself as something

64wholly other" (gam adere), something basically and






totally different. It is like nothing human or cosmic; confronted with it, man senses his profound nothing- ness, feels that he is only a creature, or, in the words in which Abraham addressed the Lord, is "but dust and ashes" (Genesis, 18, 27).


The sacred always manifests itself as a reality of a wholly different order from "natural" realities. It is true that language naively expresses the tremendurn, or the majestas, or the mysterium fascinans by terms bor- rowed from the world of nature or from man's secular mental life. But we know that this analogical terminol- ogy is due precisely to human inability to express the ganz andere; all that goes beyond man's natural expe rience, language is reduced to suggesting by terms taken from that experience.

After forty years, Otto's analyses have not lost their value; readers of this book will profit by reading and reflecting on them. But in the following pages we adopt a different perspective. We propose to present the phe- nomenon of the sacred in all its complexity, and not only in so far as it is irrational. What will concern us is not the relation between the rational and nonrational ele- ments of religion but the sacred in its entirety. The first possible definition of the sacred is that it is the opposite of the profane. The aim of the following pages is to illus- trate and define this opposition between sacred and profane.



Man becomes aware of the sacred because it

itself, shows itself, as something wholly differ- ent from the profane. To designate the act of manifes- &on of the sacred, we have proposed the term hiero- phony. It is a fitting term, because it does not imply

further; it expresses no more than is implicit in its etymological content, i.e., that something sacred shows itself to us.' It could be said that the history of religions-from the most primitive to the most highly developed-is constituted by a great number of hiero- phanies, by manifestations of sacred realities. From the most elementary hierophany-e.g., manifestation of the sacred in some ordinary object, a stone or a tree-to the supreme hierophany (which, for a Christian, is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ) there is no solution of continuity. In each case we are confronted by the same mysterious act-the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural "profane" world.

The modem Occidental experiences a certain uneasi- ness before many manifestations of the sacred. He finds it difficult to accept the fact that, for many human beings, the sacred can be manifested in stones or trees, for

'Cf. Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, New York, Sheed Ward, 1958, pp. 7 ff. Cited hereafter as Patterns.






example. But as we shall soon see, what is involved is not a veneration of the stone in itself, a cult of the tree in itself. The sacred tree, the sacred stone are not adored as stone or tree; they are worshipped precisely because they are hierophies, because they show some thing that is no longer stone or tree but the sacred, the ganz andere.

It is impossible to overemphasize the paradox repre- sented by every hierophany, even the most elementary. By manifesting the sacred, any object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself, for it continues to participate in its surrounding cosmic milieu. A sacred stone remains a stone; apparently (or, more precisely, from the profane point of view), nothing distinguishes it from all other stones. But for those to whom a stone reveals itself as sacred, its immediate reality is trans- muted into a supernatural reality. In other words, for those who have a religious experience all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality. The, cosmos in its entirety can become a hierophany.

The man of the archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred or in close proximity to con- secrated objects. The tendency is perfectly understand- able, because, for primitives as for the man of all pre modem societies, the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being. Sacred power means reality and at the same time enduringness and efficacity. The polarity sacred-

Introduction 13

profane is often expressed as an opposition between real and unreal or pseudoreal. (Naturally, we must not expect to find the archaic languages in possession of this philo- sophical terminology, real-unreal, etc.; but we find the thing.) Thus it is easy to understand that religious man deeply desires to be, to participate in reality, to be satu- rated with power.

Our chief concern in the following pages will be to elucidate this subject-to show in what ways religious man attempts to remain as long as possible in a sacred universe, and hence what his total experience of life proves to be in comparison with the experience of the man without religious feeling, of the man who lives, or wishes to live, in a desacralized world. It should be said at once that the completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit. It does not devolve upon us to show by what historical processes and as the result of what changes in spiritual attitudes and behavior modem man has desacralized his world and assumed a profane exist- ence. For our purpose it is enough to observe that desacralization pervades the entire experience of the nonreligious man of modem societies and that, in con-sequence, he finds it increasingly difficult to rediscover the existential dimensions of religious man in the archaic societies.

The Sacred






The abyss that divides the two modalities of expe- rience~sacred and profane~will be apparent when we come to describe sacred space and the ritual building of the human habitation, or the varieties of the religious experience of time, or the relations of religious man to nature and the world of tools, or the consecration of human life itself, the sacrality with which man's vital functions (food, sex, work and so on) can be charged. Simply calling to mind what the city or the house, nature, tools, or work have become for modern and nonreligious man will show with the utmost vividness all that dis- tinguishes such a man from a man belonging to any archaic society, or even from a peasant of Christian Europe. For modern consciousness, a physiological act eating, sex, and so on-is in sum only an organic phenomenon, however much it may still be encumbered by tabus (imposing, for example, particular rules for "eating properly" or forbidding some sexual behavior disapproved by social morality). But for the primitive, such an act is never simply physiological; it is, or can become, a sacrament, that is, a communion with the sacred.

The reader will very soon realize that sacred and pro-fane are two modes of being in the world, two existential situations assumed by man in the course of his history. These modes of being in the world are not of concern :


only to the history of religions or to sociology; they are not the object only of historical, sociological, or ethno- logical study. In the last analysis, the sacred and profane modes of being depend upon the different positions that man has conquered in the cosmos; hence they are of concern both to the philosopher and to anyone seeking to discover the possible dimensions of human existence.

It is for this reason that, though he is a historian of religions, the author of this book proposes not to confine himself only to the perspective of his particular science. The man of the traditional societies is admittedly a
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