We have the prominent monotheistic Abrahamic religions of today: Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, and many, many other faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism (the list goes on). Many of these religions got ideas from faiths that have been almost entirely snuffed out over the years, yet still there are practitioners for some of these obscure religious practices.
What if I told you that Jainism was one of the oldest religions in the world? You’d maybe say, “Never heard of it.” Or that Zoroastrianism was the first monotheistic religion in the world, influencing all of the future Abrahamic religions? You’d maybe say, “That’s cool, but what does Zorro have to do with anything?”
This isn’t a list trying to convert anyone (good luck with that), but rather a list trying to pinpoint some of the more obscure religions that still exist today; religions that give a new twist to divinity and humanity that some people might find pretty damn interesting.
Ásatrú is a Germanic neopagan religion and a contemporary revival of ancient Nordic beliefs. The religion is polytheistic in nature, believing in the literal existence of a number of deities, such as Odin, Thor, Frigg, and Freyja. Many Ásatrú practitioners believe in two sets of deities: the Æsir (the principle gods and goddesses), and the Vanir (gods associated with magic and wisdom).
Our world, known as Midgard, is one of nine realms which are linked to the cosmological world tree (or Tree of Life), known as Yggdrasil. Folklore includes elves, dwarves, trolls, wights, and other spirits. Many modern fantasy authors, such as JRR Tolkien, famously translate these entities into their stories. Ásatrú family units often live in “kindreds,” or households of five to 15 members. They observe many ancient heathen festivals, such as Yule, and our modern calendar is still named from the ancient Norse gods (Thursday = Thor’s Day, Wednesday = Woden/Odin’s Day, Friday = Frey’s Day, etc). The first revival of Germanic neopaganism began in the 19th century during the late Romantic Period.
American Paul Twitchell organized the Eckankar religion in 1965. Followers believe in an almighty spirit called Eck. The religion seeks to provide people with an individual spiritual path in order to understand the self as an eternal soul. They focus on developing a higher state of consciousness.
Eckists – as the followers are called – believe in karma and reincarnation to help explain situations in life playing out past causes. These are essential tenets in experiencing the perspective of soul beyond the limits of the body. One chief spiritual practice are the “Spiritual Exercises of ECK,” which must be done daily for 15-20 minutes. There are no taboos, dietary requirements, or enforced ascetic practices, and the religion doesn’t even require members to leave their current faith to join. Estimates on the number of Eckists worldwide range from 50,000 to 500,000 people.
Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world, formed in India over 2,500 years ago. This polytheistic faith emphasizes non-violence and self-control towards all living beings, and emphasizes equality and spiritual independence for all forms of life. They believe that gods exist alongside humans in a complex hierarchy.
The word Jainism derives from the Sanskrit verb, Jin, which means to conquer. In context, this refers to a battle with bodily passions and pleasures, and those who win the battle over passion and pleasure are termed Jina (conqueror). To them, Time has no beginning and no end, and the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. It is independent and self-sufficient. They celebrate many festivals, observe fasting and meditation, and ascetics dictate that Jaina have neither permanent homes nor possessions, wandering from place to place, without vehicles and barefoot. There are currently around 5 million Jaina practitioners worldwide, mostly in India.
Mandaeism is a gnostic religion (teaching enlightenment, salvation, and a ‘oneness with God’) with a dualistic worldview. The Mandaens revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Noah, and especially John the Baptist, but reject Abraham, Moses, and Jesus of Nazareth. Mandaens migrated to Mesopotamia in the first centuries CE, and are of pre-Arab and pre-Islamic origin. Almost all of the 60,000 to 70,000 Mandaens lived in Iraq until the 2003 Iraq War, when most of them fled to Iran because of the turmoil created by the War on Terror.
Mandaeism is quite obscure, without a basic guide to their theology. They believe in a supreme, formless Entity, the Archetypal Man who created the cosmos, and being dualistic, a cosmic Mother and Father, Light and Darkness, Right and Left, etc. The soul is an exile and captive, its originating to the supreme Entity to which the soul eventually returns. Great secrecy is enforced upon initiates. Mandaens believe that Jesus was a false messiah who perverted the great teachings of John the Baptist. Likewise, Abraham and Moses were false prophets.
Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion, practiced mainly in Brazil, originating at the beginning of the 19th century, though it traces back to the earliest days of the slave trade. It was developed in Brazil through enslaved African priests, and is an oral tradition without a holy scripture. Practitioners believe in one all-powerful god called Oludumaré, who is served by lesser deities called orishas. Every person has their own individual orisha which controls his or her destiny, and acts as a protector.
One of the more interesting things about Candomblé, is that there is no concept of good or bad. Rather, each person is required to fulfill his or her destiny to the fullest, no matter what that is. That is not to say that practitioners can do whatever they want. Candomblé teaches that any evil you do to people will return to you eventually. Music, dance, and vegetable/animal offerings are common in their rituals, where dance enables worshipers to become possessed by the orishas. There are over two million followers worldwide.
Adonism is a neopagan religion founded in 1925 by the German esotericist Franz Sättler, often going by the title of Dr. Musalam. Adonism is polytheistic, believing in five principal gods: Adonis, Belus, Biltis, Dido, and Molchos. Adonis, unsurprisingly, is the most prominent, a benevolent figure equated with the Christian figure of Satan. Adonis is said to be the creator and benefactor of humanity, demonized such as Satan, while Molchos is a malevolent deity, responsible for human enslavement through monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by false prophets like Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Obviously enough, the religion has a pronounced anti-Christian bias.
The primary method of celebrating Adonistic practices is through sensual enjoyment of sexual intercourse, both heterosexual and homosexual. Sättler was a prominent proponent of sexual reform in early 19th century Germany, holding to beliefs that would eventually be legally accepted in the last decades of that century. Adonism also holds a great belief in tolerance for other human beings. Sättler stated that “To understand everything mean to pardon everything.”
4) Aetherius Society
The Aetherius Society is a New Age UFO religion. It was founded in the mid-1950s by George King, after claimed contacts with ‘extraterrestrial intelligences,’ whom he referred to as “Cosmic Masters.” The Aetherius Society combines UFO claims, yoga, and ideas from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. The religion’s goal is to prevent world destruction by improving cooperation between humanity and the alien masters, by using ‘spiritual energy’ to improve the world.
The Society believes it’s purpose is to make way for the “Next Master,” a messianic figure who will descend upon the Earth in a flying saucer, with magic more powerful than all the world’s armies. Aetherius is a being King claimed to have telepathic contact with, one of the “Cosmic Masters” from Venus (as are Buddha and Jesus). Karma and reincarnation are accepted by the religion as laws of nature, and the Aetherius Society believes in other beings that are so evolved compared to humanity, they are referred to as ‘Gods’ to distinguish them. There are thousands of Aetherius Society members worldwide.
Hermeticism is a religious tradition based upon the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice Great”), which influenced the Western esoteric tradition during the Renaissance and the Reformation. Many esteemed Christian writers believe Hermes Trismegistus to have been a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity. Hermes was given the name “Thrice Great” because he knew the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe: alchemy, astrology, and theurgy.
Hermeticism arose from its connection with the development of science from 1300 to 1600 AD. The idea of influencing or controlling nature led many scientists to look to magic and its allied arts (alchemy and astrology) to put Nature to the test by means of experiments. Isaac Newton had great faith in the concept of a pure, ancient doctrine, which he studied to aid his understanding of the physical world. Morality is important, with “good” sprouting from reason and knowledge given from God, while “evil” is from knowledge received from demons. Hermeticists also believe in black magic and divine magic, reliant upon an alliance with evil demons, or divine angels.
Zoroastrianism is an ancient Iranian religion and philosophy, and the first monotheistic religion in the world. It was once the state religion of many empires, and current estimates vary Zoroastrian followers between 145,000 and 2.6 million. The religion arose in the ancient Persian Empire, when the religious philosopher Zoroaster simplified the pantheon of Iranian gods into two opposing forces: Spenta Mainyu (Progressive Mentality) and Angra Mainyu (Destructive Mentality), under one god, Ahura Mazda (Illuminating Wisdom) in the 7th century BC.
Zoroasters ideas have influenced other religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Gnosticism. The basic tenets are: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds. In Zoroastrian eschatology, a 3,000-year struggle between good and evil will be fought, culminating by evil’s final assault. Mankind will love its reverence for religion, family, and elders, the world will fall into winter, until a final savior born from a virgin impregnated by the seed of Zoroaster will raise the dead for final judgment. Winter is Coming!
Thelema is a religion developed by the early 20th-century writer and magician Alesiter Crowley. He believed himself to be the prophet of the new age, the Aeon of Horus, based on a spiritual experience he and his wife had in Egypt in 1904. He claimed that a non-corporeal being or “praeterhuman” called Aiwass contacted him and dictated to him a text known as “The Book of the Law”. The Thelemic pantheon has a number of deities, primarily a trinity (the three speakers) from Ancient Egyptian religion called Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. The religion is founded on the idea that the 20th century marked a new beginning of the Aeon of Horus, with a new ethical code: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
Thelemites, therefore, should follow their own true path in life, called True Will, rather than their egotistical desires. Thelema ritually practiced Magick, including ideas from occultism, Yoga, mysticism, and the Qabalah. The spiritual quest of True Will is known as the Magnum Opus, or ‘Great Work.’ Magick (spelled with a ‘k’ to distinguish it from stage magic) is defined as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” Magick is used in rituals to find and manifest the True Will.