Category: spirituality

Koreans invented moveable type made of durable metal in the 1200s CE. The oldest existing book made from moveable metal type is the Jikji a collection of Buddhist teachings, hymns, eulogies, and poetry. It was compiled by a Korean Buddhist monk named Baegun, and printed in 1377.

Often called “Ireland’s Stonehenge,” Newgrange is a prehistoric stone monument constructed around 3200 BCE by the Neolithic inhabitants of what is now County Meath. The mound is truly monumental, covering about two acres! Under the grass-covered dome is a 62-foot tunnel which leads to a central chamber, where stone basins house cremated remains. Newgrange appears to have been used as a burial place or ritual site for about a thousand years before falling into disuse and slowly being forgotten. It was only rediscovered in 1699.

One reason why historians continue to debate Newgrange’s purpose, despite the archaeological evidence of both cremated and unburnt human remains, is the monument’s architecture. Newgrange’s prehistoric builders designed it so that every winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — the rising sun shines through a “roof box” near the entrance, filling the main passageway and the inner chamber with light.

Why build something so architecturally sophisticated if it were only entered to lay down the dead? Many archaeologists, therefore, think Newgrange was a ritual site as well as a tomb.

Emperor Akbar ruled the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605. When he came to the throne, he confronted a problem that had plagued his predecessors: how to be a Muslim ruler over a majority-Hindu nation, that also had substantial numbers of various other religions including Buddhism and Jainism. He eventually came to believe that no religion could have pre-eminence. In fact, he was not even sure that any religion was “the truth” but were all humanity’s imperfect interpretations. The logical conclusion is that all subjects of his empire should be free to practice whatever religion they wished.

Akbar began to hold conferences weekly, with wise men from all faiths (no known women, though). He would apply their wisdom to questions of state. He slowly took over spiritual leadership, even getting the Muslim clergy to pronounce a fatwa (judgement) that as emperor, Akbar could adjudicate any dispute between religious authorities – even overruling the Qur’an if necessary for the public interest.

Legally, Akbar made two big changes. He abolished the hated tax levied on the Hindu majority, the jizya, the “contribution for not being put to death”. He also created a private faith for the elite. It was not a new religion, per se. It was a kind of Sufi system for the rulers, with 10 cardinal virtues, the essence of which was promoting tolerance. Akbar combined aspects of different faiths, borrowing from all the religions of his empire, to create an ethical code that he wished his inner circle to follow. He called this the Din i-Ilahi, or “Worship of God.” While it has been accused of being a pick-and-mix religion, Akbar did not proclaim it a religion, and he remained a Muslim all his life.

The Din i-Ilahi died with Akbar in 1605, and the jizya was reintroduced by Akbar’s great-grandson Aurangzeb in 1679.

Revered from the soaring Himalayan mountains in the north to the southernmost tip of India, Devi is the force that animates all living things. Her power manifests itself in every aspect of the natural world, including trees, water, and rocks. Devi also vitalizes believers, strengthening their hearts during times of adversity.

This particular sandstone sculpture of Devi was crafted sometime around 

975 to 1000 CE. She gazes at the viewer,  who is supposed to gaze back. Thus this Devi can bestow a “darshan” — a sacred gaze exchanged with the deity during worship.

Zoroastrianism, arguably the world’s first religion to worship just one god, still exists today – mainly in India. But it barely survived an ancient blow. Specifically, the conquests of Alexander the Great.

When Alexander took Persia in the 320s BCE, large portions of the compiled works of Zarathustra were lost, in the destruction of cities and holy places. Some say it had once been over 12,000 pages. What remained was re-collected after Alexander’s death, named the Avesta, and standardized into a five-part text which is still used by believers today.

The main section, named the Gathas, is the oldest: it contains 17 hymns believed to have been written by Zarathustra during his lifetime. Other sections contain prayers, rituals, accounts of how the world was created, and Zoroastrian law.

Prayers and verses from the Qur’an have been used as amulets throughout the Islamic world for centuries. This hexagonal, silver amulet case still contains its original prayer scroll – rather a miracle.

On the scroll are written prayers in a beautiful black calligraphic hand. Names of God are in larger script, in blue and red, around the edges. The scroll was not meant to be read, however, but used as a talisman. Three small loops suggest that the case was meant to be worn as a horizontal pendant. When worn, it was believed such amulets both protected the wearer from harm, and cured them if they were already hurt.

Based on the style of the calligraphy, this amulet and scroll likely come from Iran around 1800.

In a dialogue written by Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates asks Euthyphro “Is what is morally good commanded by the gods because it is morally good, or is what is commanded by the gods morally good, because it is commanded by the gods?”

There is no agreed-upon answer, though many traditions have their own

Then God said, Let there be light! And the light came. And God saw the light, and it pleased him, and he gave it the name of Day. And when the day was gone, and the dark came back to stay for a while, he gave the dark spell the name of Night. And God did these things on the first day.

A recently rediscovered fragment of an abbot’s grave slab from North Wales may offer an unusual glimpse of a medieval personality. An archaeology analyzed the two-foot-long stone piece and found that it once lay atop the tomb of an abbot named Howel, who led an important Welsh abbey around 1300. The slab depicts Howel in realistic fashion—rare for the period—and wearing a broad smile.

Records suggest Howel was a power broker during the period and might have been seen as an important source of stability in the community.

The Qur’an wasn’t officially formed until 20 years after the death of Muhammad. When the Qur’an was first printed, the first caliph Abu Bakr gathered a committee to decide on the final form. The committee included Muslims who had memorized the entire Qur’an during the prophet’s lifetime, so they could compare what was collected with what they had memorized.