Though the greatest ability that we have is our reasoning and linguistic communication capacities, we somehow are not so comfortable with using our intellectual faculties associated with reasoning.
It is easier for us to get taught a new concept in Mathematics or science and discard our earlier concepts in place of the new learnings. But when it comes to religious or spiritually associated concepts it is not so easy for the majority of us to discard our earlier belief systems in place of new ones.
Personally speaking, this very aspect, is not so problematic for me. Others being humans like me, I thought it would be the same with them as well. But it was not going to be that way. That is what I learnt later.
I used to wonder about this a lot. But then the super human authors of my favortie guide book provided me with much inputs by which it became easier for me to digest the facts in a better way.
There is an entire Paper in this book that deals with this topic of fetishes, charms and magic. The what, why, how and when that might interest some of us are dealt in very precisely in this paper.
Let me reproduce below some of the statements from this paper which made me to think more about these:
Primitive man always wanted to make anything extraordinary into a fetish; chance therefore gave origin to many. A man is sick, something happens, and he gets well. The same thing is true of the reputation of many medicines and the chance methods of treating disease. Objects connected with dreams were likely to be converted into fetishes. Volcanoes, but not mountains, became fetishes; comets, but not stars. Early man regarded shooting stars and meteors as indicating the arrival on earth of special visiting spirits.
The first fetishes were peculiarly marked pebbles, and "sacred stones" have ever since been sought by man; a string of beads was once a collection of sacred stones, a battery of charms. Many tribes had fetish stones, but few have survived as have the Kaaba and the Stone of Scone. Fire and water were also among the early fetishes, and fire worship, together with belief in holy water, still survives.
If an animal ate human flesh, it became a fetish. In this way the dog came to be the sacred animal of the Parsees. If the fetish is an animal and the ghost is permanently resident therein, then fetishism may impinge on reincarnation. In many ways the savages envied the animals; they did not feel superior to them and were often named after their favorite beasts.
Many people looked upon geniuses as fetish personalities possessed by a wise spirit. And these talented humans soon learned to resort to fraud and trickery for the advancement of their selfish interests. A fetish man was thought to be more than human; he was divine, even infallible. Thus did chiefs, kings, priests, prophets, and church rulers eventually wield great power and exercise unbounded authority.
It was a supposed preference of ghosts to indwell some object which had belonged to them when alive in the flesh. This belief explains the efficacy of many modern relics. The ancients always revered the bones of their leaders, and the skeletal remains of saints and heroes are still regarded with superstitious awe by many. Even today, pilgrimages are made to the tombs of great men.
The hearth—fireplace—became more or less of a fetish, a sacred spot. The shrines and temples were at first fetish places because the dead were buried there. The fetish hut of the Hebrews was elevated by Moses to that place where it harbored a superfetish, the then existent concept of the law of God. But the Israelites never gave up the peculiar Canaanite belief in the stone altar: "And this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall be God's house." They truly believed that the spirit of their God dwelt in such stone altars, which were in reality fetishes.
Words eventually became fetishes, more especially those which were regarded as God's words; in this way the sacred books of many religions have become fetishistic prisons incarcerating the spiritual imagination of man. Moses' very effort against fetishes became a supreme fetish; his commandment was later used to stultify art and to retard the enjoyment and adoration of the beautiful.
In olden times the fetish word of authority was a fear-inspiring doctrine, the most terrible of all tyrants which enslave men. A doctrinal fetish will lead mortal man to betray himself into the clutches of bigotry, fanaticism, superstition, intolerance, and the most atrocious of barbarous cruelties. Modern respect for wisdom and truth is but the recent escape from the fetish-making tendency up to the higher levels of thinking and reasoning. Concerning the accumulated fetish writings which various religionists hold as sacred books, it is not only believed that what is in the book is true, but also that every truth is contained in the book. If one of these sacred books happens to speak of the earth as being flat, then, for long generations, otherwise sane men and women will refuse to accept positive evidence that the planet is round.
The practice of opening one of these sacred books to let the eye chance upon a passage, the following of which may determine important life decisions or projects, is nothing more nor less than arrant fetishism. To take an oath on a "holy book" or to swear by some object of supreme veneration is a form of refined fetishism.
The insignia of priestly and kingly office were eventually regarded as fetishes, and the fetish of the state supreme has passed through many stages of development, from clans to tribes, from suzerainty to sovereignty, from totems to flags. Fetish kings have ruled by "divine right," and many other forms of government have obtained. Men have also made a fetish of democracy, the exaltation and adoration of the common man's ideas when collectively called "public opinion." One man's opinion, when taken by itself, is not regarded as worth much, but when many men are collectively functioning as a democracy, this same mediocre judgment is held to be the arbiter of justice and the standard of righteousness.
Civilized man attacks the problems of a real environment through his science; savage man attempted to solve the real problems of an illusory ghost environment by magic. Magic was the technique of manipulating the conjectured spirit environment whose machinations endlessly explained the inexplicable; it was the art of obtaining voluntary spirit co-operation and of coercing involuntary spirit aid through the use of fetishes or other and more powerful spirits.
Magic is natural to a savage. He believes that an enemy can actually be killed by practicing sorcery on his shingled hair or fingernail trimmings. The fatality of snake bites was attributed to the magic of the sorcerer. The difficulty in combating magic arises from the fact that fear can kill. Primitive peoples so feared magic that it did actually kill, and such results were sufficient to substantiate this erroneous belief. In case of failure there was always some plausible explanation; the cure for defective magic was more magic.
Since anything connected with the body could become a fetish, the earliest magic had to do with hair and nails. Secrecy attendant upon body elimination grew up out of fear that an enemy might get possession of something derived from the body and employ it in detrimental magic; all excreta of the body were therefore carefully buried. Public spitting was refrained from because of the fear that saliva would be used in deleterious magic; spittle was always covered. Even food remnants, clothing, and ornaments could become instruments of magic. The savage never left any remnants of his meal on the table. And all this was done through fear that one's enemies might use these things in magical rites, not from any appreciation of the hygienic value of such practices.
Primitive man believed that names must be treated with respect, especially names of the gods. The name was regarded as an entity, an influence distinct from the physical personality; it was esteemed equally with the soul and the shadow. Names were pawned for loans; a man could not use his name until it had been redeemed by payment of the loan. Nowadays one signs his name to a note. An individual's name soon became important in magic. The savage had two names; the important one was regarded as too sacred to use on ordinary occasions, hence the second or everyday name—a nickname. He never told his real name to strangers. Any experience of an unusual nature caused him to change his name; sometimes it was in an effort to cure disease or to stop bad luck. The savage could get a new name by buying it from the tribal chief; men still invest in titles and degrees. But among the most primitive tribes, such as the African Bushmen, individual names do not exist.
Magic was the branch off the evolutionary religious tree which eventually bore the fruit of a scientific age. Belief in astrology led to the development of astronomy; belief in a philosopher's stone led to the mastery of metals, while belief in magic numbers founded the science of mathematics.