The Nile River spans almost 4,175 miles (6719 km), crosses nine countries throughout Africa, and is widely regarded as the longest river in the world. While all this might be considered common knowledge, the winding waters of the famous river have many intriguing facts that you might not know. Here are ten of the most fascinating ones.
By: THEODOROS KARASAVVAS
The Nile River spans almost 4,175 miles (6719 km), crosses nine countries throughout Africa, and is widely regarded as the longest river in the world. While all this might be considered common knowledge, the winding waters of the famous river have many intriguing facts that you might not know. Here are ten of the most fascinating ones.
The Nile River was considered the source of life by the ancient Egyptians and played a vital role in the country's history and rich culture. The river was also a very important factor in the socioeconomic development and success of ancient Egypt. Without the Nile River, the great ancient civilization may have never existed, since rainfall was almost non-existent in Egypt and the Nile River was the only source of moisture to sustain crops.
Some might tell you that Lake Victoria, Africa’s main lake, is the source of the Nile River. Others will say the Kagera River and its tributary the Ruvubu, having its headwaters in Burundi, is the real source. The truth is, however, that the source of the Nile River remains a mystery to this day.
The Nile River was the highway that joined the country together and was essential for trade and transportation. Up until the 19th century, travel by land was virtually unknown in the region. Ships and boats were the main means of transporting people and goods around the country.
Other than providing water, the Nile offered an excellent soil for growing food, which is the main reason why so many Egyptians lived near it. Locals used spears and nets to catch fish and trap different birds that flew close to the surface of the water.
So much of what we know about ancient Egypt comes from the plethora of written records left behind on papyrus. The Nile was responsible for providing this papyrus. It came from the reeds growing on the side of the river.
Melting snow and heavy summer rain within the Ethiopian Mountains sent a torrent of water, causing the banks on the River Nile in Egypt to overflow in this flat desert land, causing massive floods every year. The reason why it does not flood now is because of the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960’s.
Until the Aswan High Dam was built, the yearly inundation of the Nile happened between June and September, in a season the Egyptians called akhet: the inundation. This was seen by the Egyptians as a yearly coming of the deity Hapi, bringing fertility to the land. The goddess of the flood was the goddess Mehet-Weret, “The Great Flood.”
Despite Hapi being the local deity in a way, the god most closely associated historically and culturally with the Nile was Osiris, who was killed by his brother Seth on the riverbank and then became the king of the Underworld. For that reason, the Nile River was an important part of Egyptian spiritual life as well. The Egyptians believed that it was the passageway between life and death. That’s why all Egyptian tombs are built on the west side of the Nile - the west was considered the place of death since the sun god Ra set in the west each day.
Ancient Egyptians practiced a popular river sport - water jousting. Modern knowledge of this sport comes from studying ancient Egyptian tomb reliefs, thus it is limited. These depictions show that vessels held a small group of men, each one wielding a long pole. While most of the crew used theirs to maneuver the boat, a few of them would stand upright, wielding their poles to knock opponents off their respective boats.
Crocodiles have been living in the Nile Rivers’ waters for thousands of years and they don’t really like it when humans get close to them. They are known to attack humans regularly, usually people washing clothes or fishing at the shore. It’s estimated that there are 200 attacks a year from Nile crocodiles in Africa.
[Outside board of Baba Harbhajan's shrine]
According to the accounts of those who have served there, Baba still serves the Army in his Ethereal body. His shoes are polished and uniform ironed daily, they are believed to get dirty by the morning (he is on night duty), Baba rides his horse across the line of control guarding the border. Whenever soldiers sleep on their duty hours Baba is said to wake them up. Baba has had promotions from time to time.
Baba is said to have informed soldiers 3 days earlier when Chinese were approaching the borders during skirmishes, Every year Baba takes leave in the month of september, Baba is dropped to the railway station on September 11the every year, his belongings are sent to his village in the train with a seat reserved for Baba. Salary is sent to his family every month.
An interesting thing about this legend is that even the Chinese revere Baba, During flag meeting between the officials of Indian Army and Chinese Army, a separate, empty chair is kept for Baba by the Chinese authorities.
Since there is no definitive or prominent "Aboriginal Religion", the sacred stories of the Canadian aboriginals vary widely in their dialects of language and the sacred symbols or animals used to represent certain events or characters. They do, however follow similar storylines and have sacred events that would be considered characteristic of a religion based on the theme of natural wonder and animism.
Contemporary practises of the sacred stories of Aboriginal spirituality have been hybridised due to the settlement of the Europeans. These stories are sparsely heard of in the present day and it is important that they are heard by a wide range of communities around the world and that the utmost respect is shown to these traditional stories which are slowly being drowned out by modern society. It is important to pay attention to the traditional stories to help us form a comprehensive understanding of Canadian Aboriginal spirituality.
There are three main types of myths in the all encompassing Canadian Aboriginal religion. These categories are; creation, trickster, transformation and Institutional and Ritual myths. The myths when examined closely, have a hidden connection to each other and features of certain myths can be found in others.
The creation stories or myths, try to explain and describe the origins of the universe or the cosmos as it is commonly referred to in Canadian aboriginal texts that have been converted to English. The most famous among these stories is the Earth Diver myth. In this myth, the one which Aboriginals refer to as the great spirit or the transformer, dives down along with other animals into the primeval waters which was an endless ocean concealing all animals and nature. They dive down into the primeval waters to collect mud from its depths from which the great spirit will mould the earth we know today. He then frees all the animals from the depths of the ocean and places them on earth. In other versions of the myth, the world is created upon the shell of a turtle. This is the reason why many Aboriginal Canadians and all those in North America in general call their land Turtle island.
In other sacred creation stories, the transformer appears as a human being but harnesses supernatural powers which help fashion the world into its present form. Some dialects refer to the transformer simply as "the transformer" while others like the Algonquian, Mi' Kmaq, Maliseet and Abenaki peoples refer to the transformer as Glooscap. In particular, the Algonquian people of Ontario and Quebec have two transformers; one good and one evil. Glooscap was the good transformer, he created animals and natural wonders such as the sun, moon, fish, other animals and other humans. Malsum, the evil transformer created snakes, mountains, valleys and anything else that he thought would make a difficult task for humans to complete.
Stories of the Earth Diver
Black foot- Earth DIver
Long ago there was a time when water covered the entire world. Napi the creator wanted to know what happened below all of this water. He sent a duck, an otter, then a badger, but all came up with nothing. Finally, a muskrat dove beneath the water and was down a very long time. He returned with a ball of mud in his paws. Napi took the lump and blew on it until it dried and was transformed into the earth. He molded the hills, valley, and mountains with his hands. He created groves in the earth for rivers and lakes. The first people were molded from this earth and Napi taught men and women how to hunt and to live. Once Napi felt his work was complete, he climbed up to a mountain peak and disappeared.
The first people were the Sky People, they lived beyond the sky because there was no earth beneath. One day the chief's daughter became very ill and no one was able to provide a cure for her sickness. A wise elder was consulted and he told them to dig up a tree and lay the girl beside the hole that remained. The Sky People respected the elder and began to dig up the tree. Suddenly the tree fell down through the hole and dragged the chief's daughter with it. As the girl fell she saw that below was only an ocean of water. Two swans were alarmed by the girl falling and decided she was too beautiful to drown so they swam to catch her. They landed her on the back of the Great Turtle, and all of the animals of the earth gathered.
The Great Turtle councils that the Sky Woman is a symbol of good fortune. He orders the animals to find where the Sky World tree had landed in the ocean and to bring it back with its earth-covered roots. The swans lead the animals to the place where the tree had fallen into the ocean. First otter, then muskrat, and then beaver dove in search of the tree. Each animal came back to the surface without the tree and died from exhaustion. Many other animals tried but they also died.
An elder woman toad volunteered. She dove and remained below a long time. All of the animals thought she had been lost, when at last she surfaced and before dying managed to spit a mouthful of earth onto the back of the Great Turtle. This earth was magical and contained the power of growth. The island grew and grew until it was large enough for the Sky Woman to live on. The two swans set the woman upon the island and circled it encouraging it to grow into the world island it is today. Yet the world was dark.
Again the Great Turtle called for the animals to gather. They decided to put a great light in the sky. A little turtle volunteered and climbed up to the sky with the help of the other animals' magic. Little turtle climbed into a black cloud and crawled around the sky collecting the lightning as she went. She made a big bright ball from the lightening and threw it into the sky. Then she collected more for a smaller ball which she also threw into the sky.
The first ball became the sun, the second ball became the moon. Then the Great Turtle commanded the burrowing animals to make holes in the corners of the sky so that the sun and moon could go down through one and climb up again through the other as they circled. So there was day and night. The Sky woman lived on the island on top of the Great Turtle's back. She gave birth to twins, one good called Tharonhiawagon, one evil called Tawiskaron. From the breast of Sky Woman grows three sisters corn, beans, and squash.
Other Creation Stories
Mi'kmaq - Two Creators and their Conflicts
Before the earth was new, the sun was all that existed in the great universe. The sun divided the earth into several parts separated by many great lakes. In each part he caused one man and one woman to be born. They bore children and lived for many years. Wickedness pervaded in this family, and slowly they killed one another. The sun wept and wept with grief. The tears became rain that fell from the skies until water covered the entire earth. The family had to set sail in bark canoes to save themselves from the flood. A violent wind overturned their boats. All perished in the sea, but the old man and the old woman, who were best of all people, and it was they who populated the earth.
Algonquin – Brother
Two brothers lived at the beginning of time. Gluskap represented righteousness. He made the plains, food plants, animals and humans. Malsum represented destruction. He made rocks, thickets and poisonous animals. Malsum tried to find magic to kill his brother, Gluskap. He asked Gluskap "what is your weakness, what would kill you." Unsuspecting of Malsum's evil intention, Gluskap replied "an owl feather." To this Malsum mistakenly admitted that only a fern root would kill him. One night Malsum took the feather of an owl's wing and used it in place of an arrowhead to kill his brother. Gluskap fell to his death, but he summoned his own magic and was reborn again. Believing that it was Malsum who tried to kill him, Gluskap went into the forest stream declaring that only a flowering reed would kill him. A toad heard this and hopped away. The toad searched for Malsum in the forest. When he found Malsum he asked him for the power to fly in exchange for his secret. Malsum refused, for a toad with wings is foolish. In anger and humiliation, the toad sought revenge and returned to Gluskap to warn him of the danger. Gluskap plucked a large-rooted stem. With it he struck down Malsum and his evil magic into the earth. Malsum did not have the power to be reborn like Gluskap. Instead he became a vindictive wolf. Left in peace Gloskap was able to finish creating the earth from his mother's body.
Dene - Creation of Seasons
The first people of the earth had to endure winter for the entire twelve months of the year. Most of the land was covered by massive, moving layers of ice and deep snow. No trees or bushes, or flowers could survive in the harsh gripping cold. The lakes and rivers were frozen, so no water flowed. It was a land of endless cold.
One day when the first people were out hunting they came upon a bear who had a sack around his neck. The hunters were very curious and asked the bear what was in the sack. The bear growled a reply that he had a sack filled with the abundance of summer's warmth and light. The hunters wanted the sack and offered to trade, but the bear would not part with his sack. The hunters begged the bear, but still he refused to give up his sack. When they saw that it was useless to argue any longer, they decided to return to their people and think of some plan to take away the coveted sack. The chief heard the entire story and called his people together to arrive at a plan of how to take the sack away from the reluctant bear.
They decided to lure the bear to a great feast, fill him with food, and when he slept, steal the sack. A tempting feast of moose and caribou was prepared. The hunters searched for the bear and located him. They asked the bear to attend the feast in his honour and the bear readily accepted. The bear arrived in the evening, but did not have the sack around his neck. Although disappointed the people served the feast anyway. The bear ate his fill and fell asleep.
The chief was frustrated and wanted the sack. He ordered four of the village's skilled hunters to follow the bear home and steal the sack by any means. The next morning the bear awoke and bid the chief and his people farewell.
The four hunters followed closely behind the bear for about an hour when they came upon a large cave. Peering inside, they spotted the sack laying upon the cave floor with two black bears guarding it. The hunters were very courageous and they sprang into the cave to demand the sack. A fierce fight killed three of the hunters and mortally wounded the fourth, but before he died, he grabbed the sack and unleashed the abundance of warmth and light. Instantly, the air became warm and the sky filled with bright sunlight. The snow melted into rivers and lakes. The hills and valleys were covered with trees, flowers and bushes. Strange birds flew in great numbers and built nests and streams filled with fish. Every year since that time, Summer has come to the Dene.
By: Shipra Trivedi
Few days back, I was reading about Dussehra, a festival of Victory of Lord Ram over ten headed demon Ravana. Interestingly I read many other mythological stories why Dussehra is being celebrated. Means, victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, is not the only reason behind this celebration. Enjoy these stories and share them with your kids
Story 1 :Victory of Lord Rama over Ravana
As per our Hindu mythology, the day Lord Ram killed Ravan who abducted Ram’s wife Sita is celebrated as “Vijaya Dashami”. The term Vijaya Dashmi is made from two words Vijay and Dashmi. As per our Hindu Calendar the day when Ram defeated and killed Ravana was Ashwin ( Hindi Month) Shukla Dashami (Tenth day of month). Hence the name originated.
Many people perform "Aditya Homa" as a "Shanti Yagna" on the day of Dussehra. These Yagna performances are thought to create powerful agents in the atmosphere surrounding the house that will keep the household environment clean and healthy. These rituals are intended to rid the household of the ten bad qualities, which are represented by 10 heads of Ravana as follows:
1. Kama vasana (Lust)
2. Krodha (Anger)
3. Moha (Attraction )
4. Lobha (Greed)
5. Mada (Over Pride)
6. Matsara (Jealousy)
7. Swartha (Selfishness)
8. Anyaaya (Injustice)
9. Amanavata (Cruelty)
10. Ahankara (Ego).
Story 2: Victory of Durga Maa over Mahishasura
This is again a well known reason for celebrating Dussehra. One Asura, Mahishasur, in the form of a buffalo, grew very powerful and created havoc on the earth. Under his leadership, the Asuras defeated the Devas. To fight against Mahishasura's tyranny, the Devas joined their energies into Shakti, a single mass of incandescent energy.
A very powerful band of lightning emerged from the mouths of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and a young, beautiful female with ten hands appeared. All the Gods gave their special weapons to her. This Shakti coalesced to form the goddess Durga. Riding on a lion, who assisted her, Durga fought Mahishasur. The battle raged for nine days and nights. Finally on the tenth day of Ashvin shukla paksha, Mahishasur was defeated and killed by Durga. Hence we celebrate this day as victory over evil.
Story 3: Homecoming of Parvati
Do you know about this? I came to know about it recently when I was reading about Dussehra. Okay so Parvati was Sati in her previous birth. Sati was a great devotee of Shiva and prayed for getting Shiva as her husband. Being pleased with her worship, Shiva married her. Sati’s father was against this marriage but couldn’t prevent it. Dasksh arranged a Yagna in which he invited everyone except Shiva. Being ashamed of by his father’s act and seeing the insult of her husband by father Dasksh, she jumped in the fire of Yagna and killed herself. Lord Shiva was anguished when he came to know this. He lifted Sati's body on his shoulders and started dancing. As the supreme power was dancing with wrath, the world was on the verge of destruction.
Then Lord Vishu came forward as a savior and used his Chakra to cut Sati's body into pieces. Those pieces fell from the shoulders of the dancing Shiva and scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent. Shiva was pacified when the last piece fell from his shoulder. In her next birth, Sati was born as Parvati, the daughter of Himavat, ruler of the Himalayas. Lord Vishnu asked Shiva to forgive Daksha. Ever since, peace was restored and Parvati visits her parents of previous birth each year during the season of Sharatkal or autumn, when Durga-Puja is celebrated.
Story 4: End of Agyatawas of Pandavas
I have seen people worshiping Shami Tree. Even my mother does that. But as for its reason, this story now explained me everything. In the age of Dvapara Yuga, Pandavas lost to Kauravas in a game of dice, and spent twelve years of Vanawas, or exile to the forest, followed by one year of Agnyatawas(exile incognito). The brothers hid their weapons in a hole in a Shami tree before entering the Kingdom of Virat to complete the final year of Agnyatawas .After that year, on “Vijaya Dashami”, they recovered the weapons, declared their true identities and defeated Kauravas, who had attacked King Virat to steal his cattle. Since that day, Shami trees and weapons have been worshiped and the exchange of Shami leaves on Dussehra has been a symbol of good will and victory.
Story 5: Kautsa's Guru Dakshina
This is again a new story which I never knew. Kautsa, the young son of a Brahmin called Devdatt, lived in the city of Paithan. After completing his education with Rishi Varatantu, he insisted on his guru accepting Guru Dakshina, a present. The guru said, "Kautsa, to give dakshina in return for learning wisdom is not appropriate. Graduation of the disciple makes the guru happy, and that is the real Guru Dakshina."Kautsa was not satisfied. He still felt it was his duty to give his guru something. The guru said, "All right, if you insist on giving me dakshina, then give me 140 million gold coins, 10 million for each of the 14 sciences I have taught you."
Kautsa went to King Raghu. Raghuraja was an ancestor of Lord Rama, famous for his generosity. But just at that time he had spent all his money on the Brahmins, after performing the Vishvajit sacrifice. Raghuraja asked Kautsa to return in three days. Raghuraja immediately left to get the gold coins from Indra. Indra summoned Kuber, the god of wealth. Indra told Kuber, "Make rain full of gold coins, fall on the Shanu and Aapati trees around Raghuraja's city of Ayodhya."The rain of gold coins began to fall. King Raghu gave all the coins to Kautsa, and Kautsa hastened to offer the coins to Varatantu Rishi. Guru had asked only 140 millions, so he gave the rest back to Kautsa. Kautsa was not interested in money, considering honour to be more valuable than wealth. He asked the king to take the remaining gold coins back. But the king refused, as kings do not take back the daan (gift).
Finally Kautsa distributed the gold coins to the people of Ayodhya on the day of Ashvin shukla dashami. In remembrance of this event, there has been a custom of plucking the leaves of the Aapati tree, and then people present these leaves to one another as gold.
Religion is by no means an unpopular subject throughout the world.
In fact, there are about 4,200 religions on Earth. With so many religions around the world, it’s tough to keep track of them all. Here’s a list of 10 religions you may not have heard of:
Church of All Worlds
The Maya world remains shrouded in mystery, and many misconceptions about the people and their history endure. Here are some secrets of the Maya revealed.—By Michael Shapiro
By: Thomas Swan Contact Author
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Over a thousand years before the Old Testament and the Odyssey, an unknown author composed the first enduring story in the history of mankind. The Epic of Gilgamesh was written on clay tablets in the cuneiform writing style of ancient Sumer (modern Iraq) over four thousand years ago.
Two parts god and one part man, Gilgamesh is thought to have ruled over the city-state of Uruk around 2750 B.C. His story is a mixed journey of perilous endeavors and acquired wisdom, but it also includes a number of familiar myths such as the Great Flood and the original Noah.
Primarily, the epic is a window into the desires and troubles that immersed the thoughts of a semi-divine Sumerian king. More than just a tale of heroism, it is the story of Gilgamesh’s path to wisdom and maturity; the benefits of civilization over savagery, and a lesson for future kings to fulfill their sacred and mundane duties. Perhaps the most pervasive theme is Gilgamesh’s fear of death, a perennial concern that is as salient today as it was thousands of years ago.
The history of the written word
The oldest works of writing were not tales of great kings, nor were they mythological stories about the gods. During the Neolithic age of mankind (12,000 to 5,000 years ago), agriculture allowed our species to transition from hunter-gatherers to settled farmers. Temples dedicated to the gods doubled as centers of commerce and prosperity, where the surrounding land was allotted to prestigious farmers. As these settlements grew into towns and cities it became increasingly difficult for temple managers to remember the division of land and wealth. Writing developed as a means to keep records, reducing the growing number of disputes between wealthy individuals. The first literate humans were accountants!
The discovery of Gilgamesh
The age of writing is a distant descendant of the human imagination, and once poets and bards began to immortalize their work, a literary revolution followed. Verbally recounted stories grew into epic compositions, with each successive generation building on the exploits of the last.
The Epic of Gilgamesh began as a collection of poems 4,000 years ago, and grew into the standard version 1,000 years later. It was originally called “Surpassing all other kings” and later became “He who saw the Deep”, epitomizing Gilgamesh’s pursuit of wisdom. This standard version was compiled by Sin-liqe Unninni, an exorcist who’s name means “Oh Moon God, Accept My Prayer!”. Archaeologists have managed to piece together this version from 73 different sources that were discovered in Iraq and other Middle Eastern locations over the past 150 years. Many of the cuneiform clay tablets that provide us with the epic were copied by students learning the Sumerian or Akkadian languages. Those children probably never would have imagined the part they'd play in preserving the epic for such distant posterity.
Despite the continuing work of archaeologists and assyriologists, the most recent compilation of the epic only has 80% of its 3,000 lines intact. This Penguin Classics version comes with a lengthy introduction describing the history of the Sumerian civilization and the quest to recover the clay tablets from Iraq. It is best to avoid this introduction until after the story as it is quite the spoiler! Furthermore, prior to each chapter is a summary of events. It is best to ignore this completely, as it is not required to understand the text.
The travails of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh recounts a king’s struggle with his fear of death, and his foolish quest for immortality. However, as the epic makes clear, Gilgamesh will be remembered for rebuilding the city’s walls on their antediluvian foundations, and restoring the temples of the gods. This realization and how it comes about is the nucleus of the story. It encapsulates Gilgamesh’s journey from impetuous youth to wise king. He learns his place in the great scheme of things, finding wisdom through adversity.
The youthful Gilgamesh is a restless, pugnacious, and tyrannical leader. He terrorizes his people by intimidating and challenging the young men of Uruk, and letting no girl go free to her bridegroom. Gilgamesh is described as a “wild bull on the rampage”, the “tall, magnificent, and terrible”, unsleeping, charming, happy, carefree, handsome by earthly standards, and having “no equal when his weapons are brandished”. However, rather than winning trophies and prestige; he gains wisdom and sagacity. He learns “the sum of wisdom. He saw what was secret, discovered what was hidden”.
The people of Uruk complained about the restless Gilgamesh to the god Anu, who restored peace by creating a wild man to be his companion and equal. The magnificent Enkidu delights in the beasts of the wild, roaming the planes and pulling up hunter’s traps. In another rarity of ancient literature, a harlot is sent to tame him, resulting in quite a graphic sexual encounter. The tragedy of Enkidu’s loss of innocence is a unique and moving journey from savage to “civilized” being.
When Enkidu travels to Uruk, he challenges and fights Gilgamesh, spawning a mutual respect and a deep friendship. What follows are the more traditional deeds of ancient heroes. Together they slay beasts and ogres, and offend the gods before tragedy befalls them. Gilgamesh then begins his quest for the elixir of immortality, wandering the wild with anger and despair in his heart: “When may the dead see the rays of the sun?”
Contrasting more recent epics, our hero can be cruel, and he can lose his courage. When Gilgamesh’s dreams betray his optimism, Enkidu interprets them as favourable omens to give his friend courage. When the stature of his foes imbues his heart with fear, Enkidu is again on hand to boost morale.
Gilgamesh’s restless impatience follows him to the ends of the Earth, hindering his progress, and striking fear into those who may help him. Upon reaching his destination, he discloses his original intent to engage his teacher in combat to extract the secret he desires. The wise Uta-Napishti quells his anger and ends his quest with the revelations he imparts.
Summary: Rather than a tale of religious mythology, the Epic of Gilgamesh is a story of what it means to be human. As such, the aspirations and tribulations endured by the hero Gilgamesh resonate today as they did thousands of years ago. It is quite fitting that the oldest story ever written is also the most salient for our species. There is no greater preoccupation for the human mind than our fear of death, and no more captivating narrative than our quest to overcome it.
Though most religions make it a point to claim their teachings have been consistent since the dawn of time (whenever that was), spiritual traditions have appeared and disappeared throughout the ages with the same regularity as empires. And if such ancient faiths as Manichaeism, Mithraism, and Tengriism are all but gone, a few of the oldest religions and practices are still around today. Find out what they are below.
Hinduism (founded around the 15th – 5th century BCE)Hinduism may not be a unified religion per se, or organized into a distinctive belief system, but Hindus (as they have been identifying themselves for centuries, the result of opposition with other religions) roughly follow the same central traditions, understandable to all the religion’s multifarious adherents. The first and foremost of these is a belief in the Vedas – four texts compiled between the 15th and 5th centuries BCE on the Indian subcontinent, and the faith’s oldest scriptures – which make Hinduism without doubt the oldest religion in existence. It has since evolved into a diverse and flexible tradition, notable, as the scholar Wendy Doniger puts it, for its ability to ‘absorb potentially schismatic developments.’ There are close to one billion Hindus in the world today.
Zoroastrianism (10th – 5th century BCE)The ancient Indo-Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism (known to natives as Mazdayasna) – said to date back to the 2nd millennium BCE – emerged in its current version from the teachings of the reforming prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who historians contend lived at some point between the 10th and 6th centuries BCE (they disagree somewhat). Extremely influential over the development of the Abrahamic tradition, it was the state religion of various Persian empires until the Muslim conquest of the 7th century CE, and survives in parts of Iran, India, and Iraq to this day, reportedly followed by some 200,000 people.
Yazdânism: Interestingly enough, three particular Kurdish religious variants (practiced among the Yazidis, Goran, and Ishik Alevis), grouped together under the umbrella neologism Yazdânism (Cult of Angels), have evolved from a mix of Islam and a Hurrian precursor to the Zoroastrian faith. They reconcile the existence of Abrahamic prophets with a doctrine of reincarnation, and the belief that the world is defended from evil by seven ‘angels’. This may make these creeds as old, if not older, as Zoroastrianism.
Judaism (9th – 5th century BCE)The foundation for all other Abrahamic religions, and the oldest monotheism still around (though by no means the first – that is alleged to be a variation on ancient Egyptian faith called Atenism, which disappeared in the 14th century BCE), Judaism originated in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, which first appeared in the Levant around the 9th century BCE. The religion morphed into its current form in the 6th century BCE, evolving from the worship of a state god based in a polytheistic worldview into that of a one ‘true’ God, codified in the Bible. If it is today followed by an estimated 11–14 million people, its two successor faiths – Christianity (1st century CE) and Islam (7th century CE) – are the world’s most popular, with a combined 3.8 billion adherents.
Jainism (8th – 2nd century BCE)Once a dominant religion on the Indian subcontinent (before the rise of reform Hinduism in the 7th century CE), Jainism has fairly obscure origins. Its followers believe in the tirthankaras, omniscient preachers of the Jain path, whose defining characteristics are marked by asceticism and self-discipline. The last two tirthankaras are known historical figures: Parshvanatha (8th century BCE) and Mahavira (599 – 527 BCE). Yet archeological evidence proving the existence of Jainism only dates back to the second century BCE. Jains are said to number six to seven million worldwide.
Confucianism (6th – 5th century BCE)If, like Buddhism, Confucianism must invariably be traced to one man – in this case, the Chinese politician, teacher, and philosopher Confucius (551 – 479 BCE) – it is worth noting that he himself maintained he was part of a scholarly tradition dating back to an earlier golden age.
Though the most humanistic and least spiritual creed on this list, Confucianism does provide for a supernatural worldview (it incorporates Heaven, the Lord on High, and divination) influenced by Chinese folk tradition. Since the teachings were first compiled in the Analects a generation or two after Confucius’s death, the tradition has gone through various periods of popularity and unpopularity in China, and remains one of the leading influences on modern Chinese folk religion. Strict Confucianists are said to number about six million.
Buddhism (6th – 5th century BCE)Unlike most other religions on this list, Buddhism has a fairly clear history: it begins with one man, Siddhartha Gautama, known otherwise as Buddha. Based in the northernmost regions of the Indian subcontinent (most likely in present-day Nepal) roughly between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, he was the founder and leader of his own monastic order, one of many sects (known as Śramana) that existed across the region at the time. His teachings began to be codified shortly after his death, and continue to be followed one way or another (and with major discrepancies) by at least 400 million people to this day.
Taoism (6th – 4th century BCE)Taoism can be traced with some certainty to a work attributed to the mythical Laozi (said to have been a contemporary of Confucius), the Tao Te Ching, whose oldest recorded edition dates back to the 4th century BCE. The religion evolved from a strand of traditional Chinese folk religion, and makes mention of masters and teachings from long before it was codified, including the god-like Yellow Emperor, said to have reigned from 2697 – 2597 BCE, and the I Ching, a divination system dating back to 1150 BCE. Today, an estimated 170 million Chinese claim some affiliation with Taoism, with 12 million following it strictly.
Shintoism (3rd century BCE – 8th century CE)Though not codified until 712 CE in response to contact with mainland religions (namely, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism), Shintoism is a direct descendant of the animistic folk religion of the Yayoi, whose culture spread from the north of Kyushu to the rest of Japan from the 3rd century BCE onward. Today, the faith is a unified account of ancient Japanese mythology, marked strongly by Buddhist influences, and followed by the vast majority of the country’s population (though only a small minority identify it as an organized religion).
A note on methodology: Before getting into it, it is worth mentioning that determining a religion’s age depends entirely on how one defines what a religion is. All spiritual systems have roots in beliefs dating back millennia – meaning that the main differences between each are found elsewhere: in their codification and general uniformity, and the age of their wider precepts.