"The Sacred & the Profane" by Roger Caillois by Romain Vennekens

Namo Gorge, Langmusi, Gansu Province, China

Namo Gorge, Langmusi, Gansu Province, China

Every religious conception of the universe implies a distinction between the sacred and the profane and is opposed to the world in which the believer freely attends to his busi­ness and engages in activity heedless of his salvation. The do­main of the sacred is one in which he is paralyzed in tum by fear and by hope-a world in which, as at the edge of an abyss, the least misstep, the least movement can doom him irrevo­cably. To be sure, such a distinction is not always sufficient to define the phenomenon of religion, but at least it supplies a touchstone enabling us to recognize it with greater certainty. In effect, whatever definition is proposed for religion, it is re­markable how this opposition between the sacred and the pro­fane is involved in it, even though not coinciding with it purely and simply. For a long time now, by logical inference or direct verification, it has been observed that religious man is, above all, one for whom two complementary universes exist—one, in which he can act without anxiety or trepida­tion, but in which his actions only involve his superficial self; the other, in which a feeling of deep dependency controls, contains, and directs each of his drives, and to which he is com­mitted unreservedly. These two worlds, the sacred and the profane, are rigorously defined only in relation to each other. They are mutually exclusive and contradictory. It is useless to try eliminating this contradiction. This opposition appears to be a genuinely intuitive concept. We can describe it, ana­lyze it into its elements, and theorize about it. But it is no more within the power of abstract language to define its unique quality than to define a sensation. Thus the sacred seems like a category of feeling. In truth, that is the level on which religious attitudes exist and which gives them their special character. A feeling of special reverence imbues the believer, which fortifies his faith against critical inquiry, makes it immune to discussion, and places it outside and be­yond reason. “It is the basic idea of religion,” writes H. Hubert. “Myths and dogmas characteristically comprise its content, ritual re­flects its qualities, religious ethics derives from it, priesthoods embody it, sanctuaries, holy places and religious monuments enshrine it and enroot it. Religion is the administration of the sacred.” We couldn’t stress more forcefully the points at which the experience of the sacred animates all the various manifesta­tions of the religious way of life. This latter is, in effect, the sum total of man’s relationships with the sacred. Creeds reveal and assure permanence to these relationships. Rites are the means of proving them in practice.
— Roger Caillois, Man and the Sacred

Picture : Tibetan Buddhism

Asking. by Romain Vennekens

I wanted to…go off somewhere and find perfect solitude and look into the perfect emptiness of my mind and be completely neutral from any and all ideas. I intended to pray, too, as my only activity, pray for all living creatures; I saw it was the only decent activity left in the world
— Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Dirk Bouts, Mater Dolorosa

Dirk Bouts, Mater Dolorosa

Consuming. by Romain Vennekens

Then there is the spirit of the fire. In our Indian way, we say the fire is the sun here with us. The sun shines on the trees for days, weeks, months and years and the wood absorbs that sunlight. Then the tree is taken down and when we put a flame to it that sun is now here with us in the form of fire.”

“We also say fire came to us a long time ago so it’s our Grandfather. When that wood burns up it turns gray, like an old man, a Grandfather, and we give it the same respect we give our elders. To be a fireman in our ceremonies is a position of great honor. Non-Indians have a fireman who puts the fire out. Ours starts the fire.
— Bear Heart, The Wind is my Mother

Flowing. by Romain Vennekens

holy water
Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.
— Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
S. Boticelli, The Birth of Venus

S. Boticelli, The Birth of Venus

Picture 1: Benzhuism (religion of the Bai People, an ethnic minority of China).
Picture 2: Eastern Orthodox Church.

Alain de Botton about religious & secular life. by Romain Vennekens

human bones

"I want to look at the way religions go about things as an inspiring starting point for thinking about what secular culture is lacking and still needs."

"I think one of the most interesting things about religious belief is that clearly it comes from a place of vulnerability. [...] That pain and vulnerability does not disappear once you decide the belief is no longer true. So you're still left with this huge question.

" I think we have to remember what some of the best features of religion are, and recognize that there can be secular alternatives. Religions, for example, remind us of our common humanity, a humanity shared across races and geographical boundaries. There are hints of this within Christianity, and there are hints of this in Buddhism.

The tribalism is obviously problematic, but I think at their best what religions do is present the stranger in a new light. They offer us a kind of universality, a cosmopolitanism of the mind. This is a move that can take place outside of religion.

Churches and synagogues and mosques are seen as safe places where once you are in them, things can happen that wouldn’t happen outside of the precincts of this space. So they’ve become spaces where the stranger is welcomed, where all kinds of things that might be frowned upon outside are acceptable within, and in that sense, religion acts as a kind of host introducing humans to one another, humanizing them in each other’s eyes.

This seems to me a very valuable exercise, because secular modernity is anonymous. It’s built on the concept of anonymity and that the family is hugely important and the lover is hugely important, but beyond that other forms of association don’t really exist."

Read the full interview here.

Falling. Rising. by Romain Vennekens

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
— Luke 24:50-51
Sky Burial Site, Langmusi, Gansu Province, China

Sky Burial Site, Langmusi, Gansu Province, China

Life in a spiritual, nonmaterial form, as absolute substance, has its origins in the sky. The earth itself is impure, subject to decay, and associated with death. To transform this static polarity into the actual process of living, the male sky must fertilize the earth, infusing it with its living essence. Living then consists of the gradual shedding of the decaying earthly cloak, and the reabsorption of life into its original reservoir in the sky. [...] This sexualized cosmos implies that between the two polar opposites of sky and earth, male and female, life and death, there are two directions of dynamic movement, constituting the process of the world which we actually observe and participate in. One of these directions is that of descent from sky to earth, the fertilizing motion of the falling of the rain, whereby life takes on a material wrapping. The second, complementary motion is the ascent from earth to sky, in which fertilized matter, through the process of living (which is simply a process of the gradual burning of energy) casts off its terrestrial cloak and frees itself from its imprisonment in dead matter.

- from Robert A. Paul, The Sherpas of Nepal in the Tibetan Cultural Context

Fertilizing. by Romain Vennekens

phallic symbols menhir
And Gaia, Earth, first bare starry Uranus, Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. [...] And Heaven came, bringing on night and longing for love, and he lay about Earth spreading himself full upon her
— Hesiod, "The Theogony"

"KANAMARA MATSURI : Festival of Steel Phallus" by Luna Tan.  Read the article.

Picture 1: Muisca religion (pre-colombian civilisation)
Picture 2: Seine-Oise-Marne culture (final culture of the Neolithic and first culture of the Chalcolithic)

Definition. by Romain Vennekens

bai people china

In Latin, devotus means "devoted to, consecrated to" and devotio means "devotion, affection to someone". 

The object of devotion concerns the poor and the rich, as it can be of silver or wood, it doesn't affect its power. It is, by its very nature, linked to the life of men. 

The object is getting interesting only if used as a support for a practice. It then becomes a physical element to an immaterial belief, a visible support for something invisible. The object acts as a link between those two polarities. 

Those objects are then used to touch the sensibility of the believer. Once one believes the object to be sacred, it can protect from diseases, prevents misfortune or grant special favours.

They can be centuries old. They crystallise the technical and aesthetic choices of a culture and express a certain way to perceive the world. They are testimonies of men lives, recollections of a particular civilisation. 

The different practices of devotion, superstition and even sometimes of magical powers are still going strong today: devotion to relics, to places, to statues, objects, images, pilgrimages,...  In many ways, those practices persist and coexist even among those who are comfortable in our rational societies.