This article discusses the challenges facing scholars exploring the nature of belief in ancient Greek religion. While recent scholarship has raised questions about individual religious activities, and work on ritual, the body, and the senses has broadened our methodological palette, the nature and dynamics of generally held “low intensity” beliefs still tend to be described simply as “unquestioned” or “embedded” in society. But examining scholarship on divine personifications suggests that ancient beliefs were — and our perceptions of them are — more complex. This article first explores the example of Tyche (“Chance”), in order to highlight some of the problems that surround the use of the term “belief.” It then turns to the theories of “ideology” of Slavoj Žižek and Robert Pfaller and argues that these can offer provocative insights into the nature and dynamics of ritual and belief in ancient Greek culture.
Religious Prejudice and Bacchantic Worship in Greek Literature
Ancient Greek descriptions of ecstatic and mystic rituals, here broadly labeled as Bacchantic worship, regularly include elements of moral corruption and dissolution of social unity. Suspicions were mostly directed against unofficial cult groups that exploited Dionysiac experiences in secluded settings. As the introduction of copious new cults attests, Greek religion was receptive to external influences. This basic openness, however, was not synonymous with tolerance, and pious respect for all deities did not automatically include their worshippers. This article reconsiders the current view of ancient religious intolerance by regarding these negative stereotypes as expressions of prejudice and by investigating the social dynamics behind them. Prejudices against private Bacchantic groups are regarded as part of the process of buttressing the religious authority of certain elite quarters in situations where they perceive that their position is being threatened by rival claims. It is suggested that both the accentuation and alleviation of prejudice is best understood in relation to the relative stability of the elite and the religious control it exerted.
A View from Nagoya through Hosono Yōsai’s Kankyō manpitsu
Hosono Yōsai 細 野 要 斎 (1811–1878), an Owari domain official, left a voluminous diary titled Kankyō manpitsu 感興漫筆 (Random Jottings Composed at Leisure), containing accounts from 1836 to 1878. Entries addressing the late months of 1867 describe the ee ja nai ka ええじゃないか phenomenon that developed in Nagoya. Yōsai’s portrayals of the ee ja nai ka contradict its received image as a rowdy pandemonium in which the populace expressed their resentment against the Tokugawa regime. Rather, what we see is a series of localized religious activities commemorating talismans (ofuda お札) that reportedly fell from the sky, many of them representing deities particularly popular in Nagoya. Based on an examination of Kankyō manpitsu, this article argues that the relationship between the ee ja nai ka and the Meiji Restoration must be evaluated on a region-specific basis and that the narrative of the Meiji Restoration is not directly relevant to understanding the nature of the ee ja nai ka in Nagoya.
This article discusses the purpose, content and reception of the healing and spirit-possession methods of Honda Chikaatsu 本田親徳 (1822–1890) and his followers. It investigates what the methods were intended for, how they were practiced, and how they were received by the government, the common people and the elite. These methods were for all intents and purposes meant to benefit and glorify the new Imperial Japan under the Meiji government that Honda venerated and adored. Although the modernizing Meiji government outlawed such magico-religious practices, spirit-possession methods—and healing methods in particular—were in high demand among the faithful at shrines such as those where Honda’s disciples served as priests. At the same time, some very prominent individuals were intrigued by Honda’s spirit-possession methods and the strategic benefits they promised.