As far as ancient rituals are concerned, one would be amazed to find what
people had created to show their respect for nature. Regarding it as a religious
and spiritual phenomenon, men even staked their lives to appease the spirits,
which, they believed, resided in the Earth's natural elements. The wind, the
rain, the earth, the mountains and the trees with their supernatural powers
maintained the existence of life on Earth.
In old civilizations, some tribes
worshipped their kings, whom they believed represented certain forces of nature.
They were hailed as gods and revered for the powers they were believed to
possess. The Shilluk, an old African tribe, worshipped their leader believing
that the founder of the tribe, Nyaking, was reborn as the leader himself.
According to legends, Nyakang was the rain-giver. The members of
such tribes associated their prosperity and
even survival with the qualities and well-being of the king. If the king fell
ill, it was considered a bad omen to the entire community. If the king was
courageous and wise, the tribe would be blessed with a good and comfortable life
ahead. However, in order to stay in office, the king had to abide by certain
rules and regulations laid down by the tribe's ancestors. It was believed that
if he became unworthy of his position and was allowed to stay, then the force of
nature he represented would turn against the whole village.
In parts of Europe
and Asia, it is still the custom to construct a straw figure and carry it
through the village amidst the mourning and wailing of the women. The straw
figure is supposed to represent the nature spirit. Each culture has its own
unique way of worshipping the spirit. The figure can be buried, tossed into
water or carried back to the village. As the latter is an act symbolizing life,
the women rejoice while it is being carried back.
The ritual is also conducted
by dressing up the straw figure in a man's shirt and taking it to the boundary
of the neighboring village. The shirt is removed and hung on a young tree once
the figure is torn to shreds by the women. The ritual ends with much celebration
when the tree is cut down and brought back to the village. The whole process is
supposed to symbolize the rebirth of man.
There are various other forms of
nature worship which are unique to certain cultures. The more popular ones are
sword dancing and what is commonly known in England as Morris dancing. These
rituals pay tribute to the forces of nature in the hope that the village will be
blessed with a good harvest and a fertile soil. According to the natives,
they also ensure that the cycle of the seasons does not
The Morris people are found in English villages and can be
easily identified by their white pleated shirts, white trousers or skirts with
bells at the knee and flowers on their hats. They use maces or wands while
dancing. At times, lances are also used. These items
are considered symbols of fertility. During the dance, the leader of
the people is supposed to carry a sword with a piece of cake attached to the
end. The cake is divided among the Morris men and women as the dance progresses.
They are then expected to donate to the community's treasury.