Mircea Eliade


Romanian Historian of Religion, Fiction Writer, Philosopher and Professor at the University of Chicago

Author Quotes

Through their terrifying visions, the prophets but confirmed and amplified Yahweh?s ineluctable chastisement upon His people who had not kept the faith. And it is only insofar as such prophecies were ratified by catastrophes?that historical events acquired religious significance; i.e., that they clearly appeared as punishments inflicted by the Lord in return for the impiousness of Israel. Because of the prophets, who interpreted contemporary events in the light of a strict faith, these events were transformed into ?negative theophanies,? into Yahweh?s ?wrath.? Thus they not only acquired meaning?but they also revealed their hidden coherence by proving to be the concrete expression of the same single divine will. Thus, for the first time, the prophets placed a value on history, succeeded in transcending the traditional vision of the cycle?, and discovered a one-way time.

To believe that I could, at twenty-three, sacrifice history and culture for the Absolute was further proof that I had not understood India. My vocation was culture, not sainthood.

To designate the act of manifestation of the sacred, we have proposed the term hierophany ... something sacred is shown to us. ... The history of religions -- from the most primitive to the most highly developed -- is constituted by a great number of hierophanies ... from the most elementary hierophany -- e.g., manifestation of the sacred in some ordinary object, a stone or a tree -- to the supreme hierophany (which, for a Christian, is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ) there is no solution of continuity. ... The sacred tree, the sacred stone are not adored as stone or tree; they are worshipped precisely because they are hierophanies, because they show something that is no longer stone or tree but the sacred, the ganz andere [all other]. ... By manifesting the sacred, any object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself, for it continues to participate in its surrounding cosmic miieu. ... A sacred stone remains a stone ... from the profane point of view, nothing distinguishes it from all other stones. But for those to whom a stone reveals itself as sacred, its immediate reality is transmuted into a supernatural reality. ... All nature is capable of revealings itself ... the cosmos in its entirely can become a hierophany.

To have solely one thought, but it to be capable to destroy the universe.

To settle in a territory, to build a dwelling, demand a vital decision for both the whole community and the individual. For what is involved is undertaking the creation of the world that one has chosen to inhabit. Hence it is necessary to imitate the work of the gods, the cosmogony. ... Since the gods had to slay and dismember a marine monster or a primordial being in order to create the world from it, man in his turn must imitate them when he builds his world... The habitation always undergoes a process of sanctification, because it constitutes an imago mundi and the world is a divine creation. ... [Among the ways of] ritually transforming the dwelling place (whether the territory or the house) into cosmos, that is, if giving it the value of an imago mundi: (a) assimilating it to the cosmos by the projection of the four horizons from a central point (in the case of a village) or the symbolic installation of the axis mundi (in the case of a house); (b) repeating, through a ritual of construction, the paradigmatic acts of the gods by virtue of which the world came to birth from the body of a marine dragon or of a primordial giant... The first method ... is already documented in the most archaic stages of culture (cf. the kauwa-auwa pole of the Australian Achilpa), while the second method seems to have been developed in the culture of the earliest cultivators... The habitation possesses a sacred aspect by the simple fact that it reflects the world.

The sacred...founds the world in the sense that it fixes the limits and establishes the order of the world.

We have a sequence of religious conceptions and cosmological images that are inseparably connected and form a system that may be called the "system of the world" prevalent in traditional societies: (a) a sacred place constitutes a break in the homogeneity of space; (b) this break is symbolized by an opening by which passage from one cosmic region to another is made possible (from heaven to earth and vice versa; from earth to the underworld); (c) communication with heaven is expressed by one or another of certain images, all of which refer to the axis mundi: pillar (cf. the universalis columna), ladder (cf. Jacob's ladder), mountain [Meru in India, Haraberazaiti in Iran, Gerizim in Palestine], tree, vine, etc.; (d) around this cosmic axis lies the world (= our world), hence the axis is located "in the middle," at the "navel of the earth"; it is the Center of the World. ... The territory that surrounds it, and that constitutes "our world," is held to be the highest among countries.

The temple constitutes an opening in the upward direction and ensures communicating with the world of the gods.

We must not suppose that human work is in question here [in the establishment of a sacred space], that it is through his own efforts that man can consecrate a space. In reality the ritual by which he constructs a sacred space is efficacious in the measure in which it reproduces the work of the gods.

The three cosmic levels -- earth, heaven, underworld -- have been put in communication ... through the image of a universal pillar, axis mundi, which at once connects and supports heaven and earth and whose base is fixed in the world below.

We must return to these theories [of cosmic cycles], for it is here that two distinct orientations first define themselves: the one traditional adumbrated in all primitive cultures, that of cyclical time, periodically regenerating itself ad infinitum; the other modern, that of finite time, a fragment between two atemporal eternities.

The threshold has its guardians - gods and spirits who forbid entrance both to human enemies and to demons and the powers of pestilence.

What is essential in mythic behavior--the exemplary pattern, the repetition, the break with profane duration and integration into primordial time--the first two at least are consubstantial with every human condition.

The transcendent models of temples enjoy a spiritual, incorruptible celestial existence.

When one approaches an exotic spirituality, one understands principally what one is predestined to understand by one's own vocation, by one's own cultural orientation and that of the historical moment to which one belongs.

The transformation of the dead person into an ?ancestor? corresponds to the fusion of the individual into an archetypal category. In numerous traditions? the souls of the common dead no longer possess a ?memory,? that is, they lose what may be called their historical individuality. ?only heroes preserve their personality?since [their]acts were impersonal [and exemplary.]

Whether religion is man-made is a question for philosophers or theologians. But the forms are man-made. They are a human response to something. As a historian of religions, I am interested in those expressions.

The work of the gods, the universe, is repeated and imitated by men on their own scale.

Within the sacred precincts the profane is transcended. On the most archaic levels of culture this possibility of transcendence is expressed by various "images of an opening"; here, in the sacred enclosure, communication with gods is made possible; hence there must be a door to the world above, by which the gods can descend to earth and man can symbolically ascend to heaven.

The world that surrounds us, then, the world in which the presence and the work of man are felt ? the mountains that he climbs, populated and cultivated regions, navigate rivers, cities, sanctuaries ? all these have an extraterrestrial archetype, be it conceived as a plan, as a form, or purely and simply as a ?double? existing on a higher cosmic level. But everything in the world that surrounds us does not have a prototype of this kind. For example, desert regions inhabited by monsters, uncultivated lands, unknown seas? They correspond to a mythical model, but of another nature: all these wild, uncultivated regions and the like are assimilated to chaos

Yoga, as a science of achieving this transformation of finite man into the infinite One, has to be recognized as something intrinsically Indian or, as 'a specific dimension of the Indian mind. Yoga constitutes a characteristic dimension of the Indian mind, to such a point that whatever Indian religion and culture have made their way, we also find a more or less pure form of Yoga. In India, Yoga was adopted and valorized by all religious movements, whether Hinduist or 'heretical. The various Christian or syncretistic Yogas of modern India constitutes another proof that Indian religious experience finds the yogic methods of 'meditation' and 'concentration' a necessity.

There are differences in religious experience explained by differences in economy, culture, and social organization -- in short, by history. Nevertheless, between the nomadic hunters and the sedentary cultivators there is a similarity in behavior that seems to us infinitely more important than their differences: both live in a sacralized cosmos. ... We need only compare their existential institutions with that of a man of the modern societies, living in a desacralized cosmos, and we shall immediately be aware of all that separates him from them. At the same time we realize the validity of comparisons between religious facts pertaining to different cultures; all these facts arise from a single type of behavior, that of homo religiosus.

There are no illnesses but only ill people.

This eternal return reveals an ontology uncontaminated by time and becoming. No event is irreversible and no transformation is final? events repeat themselves because they imitate an archetype.

A rock reveals itself to be sacred because its very existence is a hierophany: incompressible, invulnerable, it is that which man is not.

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Romanian Historian of Religion, Fiction Writer, Philosopher and Professor at the University of Chicago