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Sacred Objects

Sacred Objects


This lesson will discuss the importance of sacred objects to different religions.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] In this tutorial, we're going to be taking a look at sacred objects, special objects, and religious traditions that are thought to help make contact with the gods or that symbolize some sort of holy purpose. Sacred objects can have many different purposes. They can be used to persuade the deity to carry out some purpose that the worshipper wants to have happen. They can symbolize the deity. They can stand in for the deity as a kind of prop that has a spiritual purpose.

They can be the center of a ritual to help focus the worshipper's mind on a spiritual purpose. They can be used to invoke protection on the person and who wears the sacred object or who uses a sacred object in a house of worship. Objects and Protestant Christianity. Protestantism famously advocated the destruction of images during the Reformations in Europe.

In Protestant Christianity, one does not worship images but they are still used in churches. So you'll still find crosses and stained glass inside of Protestant churches. Also, plates and cups used for communion, plates used to collect the offering, and so forth. So one might argue that they still have sacred objects, but they aren't considered to be worshipped.

Also, Islam has a famous prohibition on depicting the prophet, which has been gaining headlines in the last couple years. But Islam does allow for the use of geometric figures. Also, Arabic script-- writing verses of the Koran on the wall, and so forth. Hinduism perhaps has a stronger tradition of sacred objects in which the deity is thought to actually be present in the image which is called a murthi, which you might see spelled in different ways.

But the murthi, there's various different theological explanations of the murthi, subtle shades of interpretation. Sometimes the duty is believed to be etherically present. So sometimes the murthi is viewed more as a symbol, but oftentimes it is viewed to actually be the deity in the ritual.

And there's all kinds of supernatural stories about worshipers who feel that the deity has talked to them through the murthi. Or they might have even seen the murthi move or speak to them, very similar to transubstantiation in Catholicism where the host is thought to be the body and blood of Jesus. Hindus take a similar attitude towards the murthi.

We'll just take a brief look at the Pacific Northwestern totem pole, which comes from an Ojibwe word, odoodem, which means "his kinship group". So a totem stands for the life of the tribe. It might recount legends from the lineage or important events that happened in the life of the people.

The totem pole is not actually worshipped, although sometimes it will have a small box that is supposed to contain relics or human remains from people from the tribe. And oftentimes today these are made for artistic purposes, not necessarily for a purpose of worship. But they are still very significant to tribal groups in the Pacific Northwest.

We said that objects act as kind of a window into another world, and that not only is the devotee, the worshipper, looking on divine realities, but divine realities also communicate to the worshipper through the object or image. We said that some religions have prohibition against the use of images in worship such as Islam and some sects of Protestant Christianity. We also said that in Hindu worship, it is believed that the God, the deva, is present in the image, and that the deity communicates with the worshipper through the image. Hindu idols are called murthis, and they're not simply likenesses of the gods and goddesses. Rather, they're taken to be the deities themselves in physical form.

We described totem poles that are sacred objects from the Pacific coast of North America. We said that the word "totem" derives from the Ojibwe word, odoodem, and that the designs on the totem poles recount events from the sacred history of the tribe, perhaps notable events from the past or the lineage of a particular clan, or legends from the cultural history of that group. We said that some totem poles are actually mortuary structures and incorporate grave boxes, and that sometimes the poles will represent shamanic powers or provide objects of public ridicule.

Terms to Know

A Hindu statue of a deity gazed upon to gain blessing.

Sacred Object

An object which may be used by a particular religious tradition to persuade a deity to act in a certain way.

Totem Pole

A sacred object, often a monumental sculpture carved from large trees, by cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America.