Mircea Eliade


Romanian Historian of Religion, Fiction Writer, Philosopher and Professor at the University of Chicago

Author Quotes

In imitating the exemplary acts of a God or of a mythic hero, or simply by recounting their adventures, the man of an archaic society detaches himself from profane time and magically re-enters the Great Time, the sacred time.

One of the outstanding characteristics of traditional societies is the opposition that they assume between their inhabited territory and the unknown and indeterminate space that surrounds it... An unknown, foreign and unoccupied territory (which often means, "unoccupied by our people") still shares in the fluid and larval modality of chaos... By occupying it and, above all, by settling in it, man symbolically transforms it into a cosmos through a ritual repetition of the cosmogony. What is to become "our world" must first be "created," and every creation has a paradigmatic model -- the creation of the universe by the gods.

The cosmological structure of the temple gives room for a new religious valorization; as house of the gods, hence holy place above all others, the temple continually re-sanctifies the world, because it at once represents and contains it. In the last analysis, it is by virtue of the temple that the world is re-sanctified in every part. However impure it may have become, the world is continually purified by the sanctity of sanctuaries.

The outstanding reality is the sacred; for only the sacred is in an absolute fashion, acts effectively, creates things and makes them endure.

A creation implies a superabundance of reality, in other words an irruption of the sacred into the world. It follows that every construction or fabrication has the cosmogany as paradigmatic model. The creation of the world becomes the archetype of every creative human gesture, whatever its plane of reference may be.

For profane experience, space is homogenous and neutral; no break qualitatively differentiates the various parts of its mass.

In most primitive societies, the New Year is equivalent to the raising of the taboo on the new harvest, which is thus declared edible and innoxious for the whole community. Where several species of grains or fruits are cultivated, ripening successively at different seasons, we sometimes find several New Year festivals. This means the divisions of time are determined by the rituals that govern the renewal of alimentary reserves; that is, the rituals that guarantee the continuity of life of the community in its entirety.

Orientations that tend to re-confer value upon the myth of cyclical periodicity disregard not only historicism but even history as such. We believe we are justified in seeing in them, rather than a resistance to history, a revolt against historical time? it is not inadmissible to think of an epoch, and an epoch not too far distant, when humanity to ensure its survival, will find itself reduced to desisting from any further ?making? of history in the sense in which it began to make it from the creation of the first empires, will confine itself to repeating prescribed archetypal gestures, and will strive to forget, as meaningless and dangerous, any spontaneous gesture which might entail ?historical? consequences.

The creation of the world becomes an archetype of every creative human gesture, whatever its plane of reference may be.

The Persians were right, in their poetry, to compare women's hair to snakes.

A non-religious man today ignores what he considers sacred but, in the structure of his consciousness, could not be without the ideas of being and the meaningful. He may consider these purely human aspects of the structure of consciousness. What we see today is that man considers himself to have nothing sacred, no god; but still his life has a meaning, because without it he could not live; he would be in chaos. He looks for being and does not immediately call it being, but meaning or goals; he behaves in his existence as if he had a kind of center. He is going somewhere, he is doing something. We do not see anything religious here; we just see man behaving as a human being. But as a historian of religion, I am not certain that there is nothing religious here.

For religious man every world is a sacred world.

In order to obtain a better grasp of the poetic phenomenon, we should have recourse to a mass of heterogenous examples, and side by side with Homer and Dante, quote Hindu, Chinese, and Mexican poems; that is, should take into consideration not only poetics possessing a historical common denominator (Homer, Vergil, Dante) but also creations that are dependent upon other esthetics. From the point of view of literary history, such juxtapositions are to be viewed with suspicion; but they are valid if our object is to describe the poetic phenomenon as such, if we propose to show the essential difference between poetic language and the utilitarian language of everyday life.

Our primary concern is to present the specific dimensions of religious experience, to bring out the differences between it and profane experience of the world.

The dragon is the paradigmatic figure of the marine monster, of the primordial snake, symbol of the cosmic waters, of darkness, night, and death - in short, of the amorphous and virtual, of everything that has not yet acquired a "form". The dragon must be conquered and cut to pieces by the gods so that the cosmos my come to birth.

The religious man sought to live as near as possible to the "Center of the World".

A restriction of the inquiry to "primitive" mythologies risks giving the impression that there is no continuity between archaic thought and the thought of the peoples who played an important role in ancient history. Now, such a solution of continuity does not exist.

For religious man, space is not homogenous ... there is, then, a sacred space ... there are other spaces that are not sacred ... nonhomogeneity of space ... [is] homologizable to a founding of the world. ... the break effected in space allows the world to be constituted, because it reveals the fixed point, the central axis for future orientation. When the sacred manifests itself in any hierophany, there is not only a break in the homogeneity of space; there is also revelation of an absolute reality ... In the homogeneous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation can be established, the hierophany reveals an absolute fixed point, a center.

In the ?lunar perspective,? the death of the individual and the periodic death of humanity are necessary, even as three days of darkness preceding the ?rebirth? of the moon are necessary. The death of the individual and the death of humanity are alike necessary for their regeneration Any form whatever, by the mere fact that it exists as such and endures, necessarily loses vigor and becomes worn; to recover vigor, it must be reabsorbed into the formless, if only for an instant; it must be restored to the primordial unity from which it issued; it must return to ?chaos,? to ?orgy,? to ?darkness,? to ?water.?

Our world is a universe within which the sacred has already manifested itself.

The erection of a fire altar - which alone validates taking possession of a new territory - is equivalent to a cosmogony.

The ritual by which man constructs a sacred space is efficacious in the measure in which it reproduces the work of the gods.

A rock reveals itself to be sacred because its very existence is a hierophany: incompressible, invulnerable, it is that which man is not.

Habitations are not lightly changed, for it is not easy to abandon one's world. The house is not an object, a 'machine to live in'; it is the universe that man constructs for himself by imitating the paradigmatic creation of the gods, the cosmogony. Every construction and every inauguration of a new dwelling are in some measure equivalent to a new beginning, a new life.

In the primitive conception, a new year begins not only with every new reign, but also with the consummation of every marriage, the birth of every child, and so on For the cosmos and the man are regenerated ceaselessly and by all kinds of means, the past is destroyed, evils and sins are eliminated, etc. Differing in their formulas, all these instruments of regeneration tend toward the same end: to annul past time, to abolish history by a continuous return in illo tempore by the repetition of the cosmogonic act.

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Romanian Historian of Religion, Fiction Writer, Philosopher and Professor at the University of Chicago