"Primitive religion is a name given to the religious beliefs and practices of those traditional, often isolated, preliterate cultures which have not developed urban and technologically sophisticated forms of society." (Long, 1) The term is deceptive in suggesting that the religions of those peoples are somehow less complex than the religions of "advanced", "civilized", or "modern" society.
The term primitive religion unjustly represents a great deal of beliefs and customs that simply cannot be shrink wrapped into one basic category. There is a diverse multiplicity of myths, rituals, and beliefs among the various "primitive" religions throughout the world. However, most primitive religions share some interesting characteristics.
"The sense of a living power underlying all forms of life, referred to as either mana or animism by European scholars" (Winckel, 13) is a belief shared by most primitive religions. "Mana is a sacred force that permeates existence. It is within persons and things, as well as in the universe. It is a supernatural power that possesses magnetic force." (Winckel, 13) The term most often used within primitive cultures for this force usually translates to "Great Spirit."
A great deal of significance is placed on the soul as a central force to many primitive religions. Peter Paul of the Maliseet tribe in New Brunswich reinforces this, "An Indian, as far as religion goes, he lived his religion. He didn't have to go to church to be told just how to live. Everyday life was his religion." (Winckel, 19) An Eskimo known as Ikinilik adds, "The only thing of value in a man is the soul. That is why it is given everlasting life, either in the land of the sky or in the underworld. The soul is man's greatest power; it is the soul that makes us human, but how it does so we do not know. Our flesh and blood, our body, is nothing but an envelope about our vital power." (Winckel, 19) The soul was often thought as a vital force present in all living organisms that can literally exit the body and is capable of independent existence in its own mode.
Also the worship of many gods is a common characteristic shared by primal religions. Gods are usually known through the mode of their appearance. Creator gods are usually deities of the sky. "The sky as a primordial expression of transcendence is one of the exemplary forms of sacred power." (Long, 1) Deities of the sky such as the sun, moon, and stars are often considered to possess an ultimate power and must be honored and respected to avoid chaos.
Rituals are also a common characteristic shared by primitive religions (and by all religions). Rituals are a way of communicating with the Great Spirit or gods in a direct manner. The forms and functions of rituals are diverse. They may be performed to ensure the favor of the god(s), to ward off evil, or to mark a change in cultural...