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Tidbits of Inspiration: The Birth of Religion

July 14, 2011
Gobekli Tepe

Gobekli Tepe

National Geographic is, as ever, fascinating.  In this latest article, I found a piece that resonates strongly with me and with my writing.

I’m at an early stage of my writing “career”, such as it is, so I can’t really say there are any strong or recurrent themes on which I have frequently touched in the body of my work.  That said, I do feel like there is a pattern to it.  One strongly recurrent theme is the relationship between mythology and religion.  And religion is important to me, on a personal level as well. 

And so, this article was entirely fascinating to me, and is the subject of today’s Tidbits of Inspiration.  The article is about the excavation of an archeological site in Turkey called Göbleki Tepe (which I actually know how to pronounce by virtue of my visit to Istanbul).  What’s astonishing about the site: it appears to be a religious mecca – a massive temple complex – that dates back to the early Neolithic period and 7,000 years before the building of Stone Henge – a period when organized religion, according to old theories, had not yet developed.  The site suggests a profoundly different development of human civilization than anthropologists and archeologists had long thought: one in which organized religious worship was central to the development of human society from the hunter-gatherer period into the stable, agriculture-focused communities that gave rise to the long arc of human recorded history.

Give the article a read, and be sure to catch the linked photo gallery of the site.  It tells a fascinating story of the evolving understanding of human pre-history and the rise of civilization, and the confluence of climate change (with the ending of the Ice Ages), the rise of agriculture and cultivated crops, the settling of humans into permanent, the crystallizing of early human spirituality into cohesive organized religions, and the separation of people into classes and castes.

Reading the article makes me think about the world these people inhabited, the beliefs they held, and the struggles they faced.  And as I do so, I feel like a deeper understanding of the primal meaning of mythology is coming into view, nearly within my grasp.  I started to wonder about their stories, and how their stories inform our stories, and how that has continued down over the ages, until the source of those stories has long since been forgotten a thousand times over.

I have two potential take-aways from this: one is exploring the reality of this world, on the cusp of something truly and profoundly important in the dawning of civilization, directly in a fictional context.  The other is considering the implications of the ideas this story inspires me a little more indirectly, in the context of the background of the worlds I create.  Where did society first develop in those worlds?  Why?  And how do the answers to those questions affect the world as it is now?

The latter exploration might be a little abstract.  Certainly, for many stories, such a deep delving into the ancient pre-history of an imaginary world will be far beyond the scope of worldbuilding that would or should be needed to tell the story.  Or, in other words, most stories won’t need this kind of deep thinking.

But, like I said, my stories frequently return to the themes of religion and mythology.  And reading these articles give me cause to think a little more deeply about those themes, and I hope that my future works will be richer for it.

Happy writing.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 11:46 am

    Thanks for sharing! It’s always surprising how much our understanding of pre-history / beginning of civilization keeps changing. I really love articles like this one.

    • July 14, 2011 11:52 am

      I suppose it’s inevitable that our understanding change, what with pre-history being before, you know, people writing things down. But it’s a pretty fascinating part of the human story.

  2. July 14, 2011 5:30 pm

    Fascinating Stephen. I gobble this stuff up, Im a big fan of culture and history, and of course have been becoming more and more spiritual so this article I’m sure will hit the spot. Look forward to reading it.

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