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World Tree

(792 words)

Author(s): Vollmer, Ulrich | Staubli, Thomas
[German Version] I. Religious Studies The notion of a world tree appears in a variety of religious traditions, with differing historical and cultural connotations. Fundamental to all is the instinctive assessment of the capacity for ceaseless periodical regeneration observed in trees and plants and its application as a concrete image of the universe. Just as it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the world tree from the related concept of the tree of life, the world tree can also combine various co…

Special Gods

(363 words)

Author(s): Vollmer, Ulrich
[German Version] In religious studies, the term special gods is sometimes used synonymously with functional gods, gods of appearance, or indigitamental gods, but it is used here in the narrower sense intended by H. Usener¶ when he introduced it. For Usener, special gods, equivalent to Varro’s di certi, represent one stage in the development of the human consciousness of God, understood as an evolutionary process (Evolution: II) characterized by continuous progress from the particular to the general. The lowest stage is represented by the “momentary gods” (Moment, God of …

Eras

(1,511 words)

Author(s): Vollmer, Ulrich | Kiehnle, Catharina
[German Version] I. History of Religion – II. Indian Religions I. History of Religion Attempts are found in all religious traditions to set history in order, and either to interpret it as a non-recurring process, or else to fit it into a succession of cycles, frequently linked to etiological and/or eschatological considerations in order to explain present conditions. First of all, eras may represent an elementary division, with the time in which mankind is living, for example, being contrasted w…

Twins

(457 words)

Author(s): Vollmer, Ulrich
[German Version] As a relatively rare and (at least in the past) unpredictable phenomenon, breaking with the natural course of pregnancy and birth, in traditional cultures twins are surrounded by an aura of the numinous. Attitudes toward them and their mothers (and occasionally their fathers) are ambivalent, a mixture of fear and fascination. The spectrum of ethnographic evidence regarding the social treatment of twins ranges from killing one or both through exposure or temporary, ritually constra…

Oracle

(1,534 words)

Author(s): Vollmer, Ulrich | Hutter, Manfred | Wandrey, Irina | Egelhaaf-Gaiser, Ulrike
[German Version] I. Religious Studies – II. History of Religion I. Religious Studies The term “oracle,” derived from the Latin noun oraculum, denotes, (1) in close connection with the original meaning of the word, the oracle site, i.e. the place at which a divine statement ( orare, “to speak”) was communicated to a person (see II, 3 below); (2) also common in ancient usage, the oracular statement itself; (3) the oracle as an institution; (4) in individual cases also a specific person involved in issuing the oracle (e.g. the medium of Nechun…

Saeculum

(268 words)

Author(s): Vollmer, Ulrich
[German Version] The word saeculum derives from the same root as the Latin verb serere, “sow”; it suggests the notion of a group of human beings sown as seed: when the last seedling of a sowing has vanished, a saeculum has reached its end and a new saeculum begins. This background helps explain the rather vague definition of saeculum by Censorinus as “the longest possible human lifetime” (XVII 2), while Varro limits it concretely to 100 years ( De lingua latina VI 11). Following the Etruscans, who divided their history into ten saecula of varying length, Rome observed periodic interval…

Umbilicus

(382 words)

Author(s): Vollmer, Ulrich
[German Version] The umbilicus or navel and umbilical cord (Gk ὀμφαλός/ omphalós, Lat. umbilicus) play only a peripheral role in the religious context of divination (the terms umbilicomancy and omphalomancy and descriptions of techniques first appear in 16th-cent. documents), and the occasionally reported use of the cord can be assigned to the broader context of contagious magic. But the navel as an obvious symbol of centrality plays a not insignificant role in various forms of meditation (Yoga, Śaivism, Tantrism, Taoism, H…