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Post Shaktism, Matriarchal Religions, and a Quiz
Created by John Eipper on 08/02/17 4:24 AM

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Shaktism, Matriarchal Religions, and a Quiz (Enrique Torner, USA, 08/02/17 4:24 am)

The main monotheistic religion that worships a female divinity is a branch of Hinduism: Shaktism or Shaktidharma. They worship an omnipotent mother goddess Shakti, a cosmic force very active in human lives, unlike Shiva (one of the main aspects of God in mainstream Hinduism), who is regarded as transcendent but passive. Shakti appears in the oldest scripture of the Hindus, the Rig Veda, in which she speaks of herself in the first person, and she states: "I am the Empress of the Universe, the Fulfiller of all prayers." (Vide "Devi Sukta," Rig-Veda 10.125)

The Neolithic period has many religions with goddesses, but they are mostly polytheistic. The following website describes 5 matriarchal religions:


Wikipedia has a very good article on matriarchal religions:


Researching this interesting topic, I discovered a recent survey about people's knowledge of world religion that I found very interesting, though not surprising, because I had already noticed that in class: there is a lot of ignorance in this subject. Catholics are among the most ignorant of world religions, even about their own! Here is the link (you can even take the quiz):


JE comments:  We teachers love a quiz--correct, Enrique?  Your humble editor scored 14 out of 15, although I am confused about one thing:  the Pew article speaks of a 32-question quiz that I could not find.  At the 97 percentile, I can smugly go about my day, knowing I got an "A."

I've also found that Catholic students know less about world religions than their Protestant peers, especially with doctrinal issues such as transubstantiation.  Perhaps this makes sense:  Catholics are taught about the universality of their church, so the other religions simply do not count.  Protestants know that they are in a market of many choices.

Interestingly, according to the Pew findings, atheists and agnostics scored the highest on the quiz, followed closely by Jews and Mormons.  Hispanic/Latino Catholics scored the lowest.

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  • Shaktism, Hinduism, and Polytheism; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 08/04/17 3:56 AM)
    Ric Mauricio responds to Enrique Torner (August 2nd):

    I must admit, I am quite confused. Is Hinduism a monotheistic or a polytheistic religion? According to this entry in Wikipedia, there are many deities in Hinduism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_deities

    I believe that JE's original inquiry was regarding a matriarchal monotheistic religion. But I guess my being raised as a Catholic explains my ignorance in this subject. And yes, Enrique, I agree, Catholics are quite ignorant when it comes not only to other religions, but their own as well. But it is not their fault. You see, I recall being spoon-fed what we were to believe. I was shocked when I went to a Protestant camp with my Protestant friend that they all pulled out a Bible and that they were encouraged to read and study it. In fact, I went to a Catholic high school and one of my favorite Brothers (Marianist brothers were teachers in that school) told us to study the Bible and not just listen to what the Church says. Wow! Talk about blasphemy. He left the order soon after.

    By the way, I scored 100% on the religion quiz (my answer to the last question was a lucky guess). Perhaps I am more agnostic than I thought I am. Thank God (could a dyslexic biblical writer may have reversed the word god from dog?) I have thrown off most of the cloak (or is it yoke?) of my Catholic upbringing.

    Initially this post was regarding Mussolini's alleged phrase of him not believing in perpetual peace. Some attribute this to sarcasm. Others might attribute it to cynicism. But could it be that Mussolini really came to an enlightened realization that there will never be perpetual peace on this earth? In Zen, this is called Satori, a sudden awakening, and a realization of life as it really is.

    JE comments:  Congratulations on acing the quiz, Ric!  WAISer David Duggan, no slouch in the religion department, joined Yours Truly with a 14 out of 15.

    Here once again is the link:  http://www.pewforum.org/quiz/u-s-religious-knowledge/

    And what about Shaktism?  I always understood Hinduism as fully polytheistic, but Shakti is considered the "empress" goddess.  Might there be a parallel here with Catholicism and the saints?

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    • Sects of Hinduism (Enrique Torner, USA 08/05/17 1:38 PM)
      In response to Ric Mauricio (August 4th), I can understand why anybody could get confused about the nature of Hinduism, whether it's polytheist, or monotheist. Hinduism is a monotheistic religion: Hindus believe in one original, creator, limitless, formless, and eternal god (Brahman) that manifests himself (or herself) in many shapes and forms, depending on the area or beliefs of a certain people. There are four main denominations: Saivism (Siva is their God), Shaktism (goddess Shakti is Supreme), Vaishnavism (who worship Lord Vishnu), and Smartism, who worship the "smart" god! Just kidding! Smartas are free to worship the god or goddess of their choice. Isn't that nice? This belief in one God, but many forms (or manifestations), is similar to the Christian belief in the trinity of God: 3 persons of the same God. Each Hindu denomination has "a multitude of guru lineages, religious leaders, priesthoods, sacred literature, monastic communities, schools, pilgrimage centers and tens of thousands of temples. These four sects hold such divergent beliefs that each is a complete and independent religion." Here is a summary of their beliefs:


      Saivite Hindus worship the Supreme God as Siva, the Compassionate One. Saivites esteem self-discipline and philosophy and follow a satguru. They worship in the temple and practice yoga, striving to be one with Siva within.


      Shaktas worship the Supreme as the Divine Mother, Shakti or Devi. She has many forms. Some are gentle, some are fierce. Shaktas use chants, real magic, holy diagrams, yoga and rituals to call forth cosmic forces and awaken the great kundalini power within the spine.


      Vaishnavites worship the Supreme as Lord Vishnu and His incarnations, especially Krishna and Rama. Vaishnavites are mainly dualistic. They are deeply devotional. Their religion is rich in saints, temples and scriptures.


      Smartas worship the Supreme in one of six forms: Ganesha, Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda. Because they accept all the major Hindu Gods, they are known as liberal or nonsectarian. They follow a philosophical, meditative path, emphasizing man's oneness with God through understanding.


      So Hinduism is a very diverse religion or way of life. The term, "spelled Hindooism, was introduced into the English language in the 18th-century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India." (Wikipedia) Hindus are very tolerant of other religions, since they believe in one God who manifests himself/herself in all kinds of forms, so they don't proselytize others.

      Regarding Ric's comment that it's not Catholics' fault that they are ignorant about their own beliefs; that it's the priests' fault, because they forbade their parishioners to read the Bible; this is the way the Catholic Church has been able to control their faithful and brainwash them. This is manipulation. The Catholic Church claims that the Bible is way too difficult for lay people to understand, and that only priests are able to interpret it correctly; this is nonsense, and just a way for them to tell you what to do. In the US, however, Catholics are currently encouraged to read their Bibles. It was not until I arrived in the US that I became curious and interested in reading the Bible, and it was mostly because I was shocked to see and hear campus preachers at Indiana University, where I was a graduate student, as well as so many people carrying a Bible under their arm. Then, when my Comparative Literature professor of Literature of Western Civilizations--a declared atheist--made us read and study the Bible, I was hooked! Who would have guessed?

      JE comments:  Very informative.  It's surprising how little we "furriners" know about Hinduism.  Is there--or was there--any correspondence between the four branches and the caste system?

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      • Hinduism and the Caste System (John Heelan, -UK 08/06/17 7:48 AM)
        The Indian caste system is very complex, with four main branches that span from the top (Brahmins) to the bottom (Dalits or Untouchables) with a myriad of sub-castes in between.

        I have just finished reading William Dalrymple's The Age of Kali, a series of essays that explores problems caused by caste differentials, political corruption based on feudalism and caste, as well as the Hindu/Muslim massacres at the time of Partition in 1947.

        It is also worth reading Arundhati's God of Small Things, about life in a Dalit family and her latest book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, about life as a member of another outcast community--the transgendered Hijra. All three books broadened my knowledge of the India sub-continent and I recommend them. (Another memory is being invited, and attending, the Hindu wedding of one of my wife's students.)

        JE comments:  It is tricky, if not impossible, to separate religion and culture, especially when a religion (Hinduism) is so closely linked to a single geographical region.  But how much of India's traditional caste system is based specifically on Hinduism?  Did/does the system exist as well among India's other religious groups (Sikhs, Muslims, Catholics)?

        John:  Tell us more about the Hijra.

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        • Hinduism and the Caste System; from Dr Rick Ahuja (David Duggan, USA 08/07/17 3:09 AM)
          This is from my neighbor, Dr. Rick Ahuja, who gives his permission to republish it:

          I welcome intellectual discourse.

          Hinduism incorporated castes as designations for work roles--i.e. farmer, merchant, soldier, teacher, pundit, etc. Even the so-called untouchables were those that did menial chores. One caste was not inherently better than another.

          There was a codification and reinterpretation of the caste system by the Brahmins in a text called the "Book of Manu" that came after Hinduism had been practiced for many millennia. They corrupted the true intent of the caste system to their benefit and put themselves at the top of the food chain. This new interpretation is what the West knows at present. Just as Catholicism has significant differences from Christianity, Hinduism which is more of a way of life or philosophy rather than a religion differs from the modern Brahmanic interpretation.

          As to JE's question about the caste system in other religions of the subcontinent, it depends upon the religion and region. Sikhism was inherently designed to separate out the caste system. In my opinion, its intent is similar in many ways to the Protestant Reformation, trying to move away from the flaws of the Brahmanic interpretation of Hinduism while keeping the important features intact. The Christians in India have a complex origin, which would take a long piece to explain, but they have strangely kept the caste system in some respects, particularly if it is in their favor, coming from so-called higher castes.

          The Muslims in India are also not a uniform group, but they typically do not use the caste system.

          JE comments:  This is Dr Ahuja's second contribution to WAIS discussions.  In August 2016, David Duggan quoted from his next-door neighbor's interpretation of Hinduism as a monotheistic religion:


          Much obliged!  I am particularly intrigued by Dr Ahuja's distinction between traditional Hinduism and its later codification in the Book of Manu.  Why do bureaucrats always put themselves on top when they write up the rules?  Or is it the other way around:  those who write up the rules become the bureaucrats?

          Next up on Hinduism:  Enrique Torner.

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        • Religion, Culture, and the Indian Caste System (Enrique Torner, USA 08/07/17 7:50 AM)

          I agree with John Heelan (6 August) that the Indian caste system is very complex.

          Hinduism itself is very complex. It is so complex that even scholars in the field disagree among themselves. The terms "Hinduism" and "Hindu" are not even of Indian origin. These terms were first used by Persians in the 12th century CE to refer to the people living by the Indus river. Actually, only recently have people from India started using this term. Hindus from India don't refer to their religion as "Hinduism," but as Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, or Smartism. More commonly, they declare themselves as followers of Shiva, Shakti, or whatever god or goddess they worship. Many make this statement public by painting "Tilaks" (markings) on their foreheads that represent the god (or goddess) they follow. Each sect is so different from each other that many refer to these sects as independent religions. So it would actually be more proper to call Hinduism a family of religions.

          Regarding the caste system, our esteemed editor asked several fascinating questions. I am no expert on Hinduism, but I will try to answer his questions from everything I know, which I owe--as usual--to courses I have followed from The Great Courses (they have one on Hinduism alone, as well as courses on other main world religions). John's first question was whether there is any correspondence between the four branches and the caste system. As far as I know, there is not: each sect has members of all castes, except the "Dalits," or untouchables, of course. Outcasts are not considered Hindus; up until the coming of Gandhi, they were forbidden to enter the temples. The Indian Constitution outlawed "untouchability" when India gained independence from Great Britain. However, in practice, it remains a very real part of daily life.

          John's next question: "How much of India's traditional caste system is based specifically on Hinduism?" Given that Hinduism is not only a religion in India, but actually a way of life that infiltrates every aspect of Indian society, I would say that Hinduism has everything to do with the caste system! As a matter of fact, the first justification of a caste system is found in the Vedas. Hinduwebsite.com has an amazing array of excellent articles on Hinduism, and one of them, "Hinduism and Caste System," explains the origin of the caste system:

          "The Purusha Sukta in the 10th Mandala of the Rigveda describes how the castes came into existence, from different parts of Purusha, the Cosmic Soul, at the time of a grand sacrifice performed by the gods. The brahmins came out of his mouth, the kshatriyas from his arms, the Vaisyas from his thighs and the sudras from his feet. Many scholars believe that concepts and the imagery of Purusha Sukta 11 belong to later Vedic period rather than the Rigvedic period and so it was probably a later day interpolation."


          I strongly recommend you to read this essay, which is very extensive and includes the evolution of the concept of castes, among many other related concepts. It will answer in detail John's question.

          John's last question: "Did/does the system exist as well among India's other religious groups (Sikhs, Muslims, Catholics?" In a sense, yes, because non-Hindus are considered "outcasts" or "untouchables"; this means that Hindus from the 3 upper castes are not allowed to have friendship or relationships with them. Of course, this is the "official" rule; there are many people who befriend people from other religions; they just don't get too close, or, if they do, they hide it.

          In conclusion, I find Hinduism and India to have lots of paradoxes. On one hand, they pride themselves in having the world's largest democracy (one billion people); on the other hand, they defend the caste system. India is officially a secular nation, yet Hinduism is pervasive all over their society and its rules affect everybody! In contrast, Nepal is the only nation whose official religion is Hinduism, with 18,000,000 people. There are aspects of the Indian caste system that I also find in Spain and Latin America; however, in Spain, a crime is punished the same, no matter the social class of the criminal, while in India, a Brahmin could literally get away with murder with just a reprimand or something of the sort, while a member of their lowest caste would be tortured or put to death for the same crime. Now, that I find absolutely outrageous! And they call themselves a democracy?

          JE comments:  Cynics might say that if you're rich and powerful enough, you can get away with murder in the West, too.  Doesn't India officially prohibit differential treatment according to caste?  Of course, practice is another thing altogether.

          Regarding India's death penalty, sources report 26 executions since 1991, although the sentence is handed out with regularity.  The US executed 20 prisoners in 2016 alone.

          Thank you, Enrique, for this excellent overview of Hinduism.  Or should we say Hinduisms?

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          • Religious Sects and Divisions are Universal; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 08/20/17 9:42 AM)
            Ric Mauricio writes:

            Enrique Torner (August 7) stated that Hinduism is "so complex that even scholars in the field disagree among themselves." Ah, thank you, now I don't feel that I am in a lower caste when it comes to understanding Hinduism. But does anyone see the larger issue here? Doesn't that statement apply to all religions? All religions, from paganism to Judaism to Islam to Christianity to Buddhism have different sects that interpret the teachings differently, in some cases, very differently.

            In the one religion I was brought up in, Christianity, there is Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and what I call Other (Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.). Even in my current non-denominational gathering, there are some "very fine people" who tender some very unchristian (imho) thoughts. And I often get into trouble asking questions, especially questioning the logic.

            In Islam, there are the Sunnis and the Shiites. Talking about the Jihadists, I am very happy that my fellow WAISer, Jordi Molins, is OK after the Barcelona attack.  But check out the Jihadists. They are very religious, some more religious than most. They pray to Allah at the appointed times, yes, religiously. Would we call them "very fine people?"

            What I find interesting is that the teachings of Siddhartha (Buddhism) and Lao Tzu (Zen) have been turned into religions. They have even created a mythical fat being depicted as the Buddha. If I read Buddhism correctly, the Buddha is our own enlightenment. It is not a other-worldly being. Ditto for Zen. In fact, I often wonder whether Jesus meant for his teachings to be turned into a religion. He was always butting heads with the religionists of his day, the Pharisees.

            So what is my point? My point is that we have created all these gods (I actually like the Mighty Thor and Hercules; very creative) and stories, then we fight over these gods and stories. If one were to follow the logic of religions, one would come to the conclusion that there is no logic in religions. That's why people fall into despondency over questions like, "if God created a perfect world, why does he (or she) allow such bad things to happen?"

            By the way, as to the question of what the United States (or any other country, for that matter) worships, it is the Golden Calf.

            I have yet to read Tor Guimaraes's book, but I suspect that he may be closer to the truth than most of us can imagine.

            JE comments:  Ric Mauricio refers to Tor Guimaraes's God for Atheists and Scientists.  As for all religions having schisms and sects, does this apply as well to Baha'i?  I know of only one "universal" Baha'i belief/institution.  I hope Vincent Littrell will respond.

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