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Bloodaxe's Realm     The Medieval World  


The marvelous human ability to think made it possible for our ancient predecessors to first ponder such discomfiting questions as where do we come from, what is out past the stars, what controls the sun and the moon, what happens when we die, and so on. Religion evolved from the first attempts to provide acceptable answers to questions like these, however implausible or supernatural, because science and logic as they existed then (and today in many cases) could not. Living at a time when life was probably short and demanding, where so little was understood, and where critical events could not be predicted or controlled, it was natural to accept the existence of a guiding spirit or deity at work. It was an easy following step to believe that spirits, ancestors, or deities could be influenced or petitioned.

Early religion
The oldest evidence of these beliefs is ceremonial burials. The dead are adorned for their transformation from the living to some other place and are often buried with goods that may be of use on the other side. There is evidence that the Neanderthals employed ceremonial burials. Cave paintings, clay figurines, and carvings of animals and possible deities hint at the religious beliefs and worship of the ancient hunters and gatherers. Worship and sacrifice were intended to insure good hunting, good gathering, good fishing, good health, and long life.
Following the agricultural revolution, worshipping the sun became predominant for the new farmers. The animal spirits and Earth goddess slipped in importance because food plants were the principal food supply and it was understood that the sun was critical to crops. Astronomers learned to follow the movements of the sun so they could mark the times of planting and harvest.
Urban religion
The increasing complexity of urban life was mirrored in many cultures by an increasingly complex religion. Some cultures worshipped a host of gods, each responsible for some part of the natural world. There might be a sea god and forest god, for example. Within such a host of gods, it was common for a hierarchy to exist with one supreme god over all. Other cultures rejected the polytheism of multiple gods, believing instead that one god or spirit controlled the universe.
Religion had important functions in the first towns and cultures, beyond calming anxieties about the unknown. It helped bind the growing population of a community together with common beliefs and rituals that established an identity for everyone. It also worked together with government in establishing and enforcing rules for social behavior. The local ruler and the local priest reinforced each other when both prohibited unacceptable acts such as murder and theft within the community. These rules of behavior did not usually apply outside the community, unfortunately. Most of the war and mayhem of history was conducted on behalf of earthly rulers and heavenly gods.