Three Five Seven – #216

Three, five, and seven
3 5 7
By Stan Shapiro MD, Grand Lodge Education Officer G.L. of MN

“Man … has an inborn religious sentiment that whispers of a God to his inmost soul, as a shell taken from the deep yet echoes forever the ocean’s roar”. in- Thoughts by Horace Mann

How Long Ago Did Man Believe In A Deity?

As Masons we profess a belief in a supreme architect of the universe. We worship God in each of our religious faiths and are tolerant of other religious beliefs. How long ago did man believe in one God and what are the earliest records of monotheism?

Records of deities exist from the beginning of human records of their beliefs. It is not clear when human belief in deities became the dominant view. Human burials between 30,000 and 50,000 B.C. provide evidence of human belief in an afterlife and perhaps in deities. There is evidence men worshiped deities for tens of thousands of years and humans initially believed in a single deity, later in polytheism and returned again to monotheism.(1)

Anthropologists had conjectured that religions of savage men could have developed under three main lines: (2)

· Ghost appropriation

· Appropriation of great pre-human beings

· An All-Father faith which if pursued would lead to monotheism

Both of the first two would most likely lead to polytheism. Cultures that deviated from the All-Father concept depended on animism. The more animism there is in a religion, the more the appeal to kindly spirits of men or multiple Gods.

An error of early anthropologists was their concept that savages in Australia believed in a “ghost” or “Spirit” or “Great Spirit”. More recently anthropologists discovered among the democratic primitive tribes in Australia what are believed to be one of the earliest concepts of a Supreme Being or All-Father. He was not a glorified ghost. He was conceived in their myths as an undying man and as an everlasting creator, who lived on the earth and then went to his own place in the sky where he watches over men and their conduct.

An example of an All-Father from the Kaitish tribe in the center of Australia is Atnatu. The name is said to mean “without anus” because he was believed not have to eat and therefore defecate. They believe he existed prior to the beginning of things and gave himself the name, Atnatu. If his sons did not perform the appropriate sacred services, he sent them to earth. They believe Atnatu gives man everything he needs and punishes mortals if they do not sound an animal horn at initiation ceremonies. When the All Father is on earth, he is seen as a powerful hunter and magician.

The All Father concept has also been discovered among many aboriginal tribes in southeast Australia such as the Kurnai and Yuin. Primitive tribes in other parts of Australia believe in a pre-human, powerful and magical being that lives in the sky. He can punish them and they call on him to make rain with magic.

These “primitive savages” who pray to a superhuman with magical powers are believed to be among the earliest men to have practiced monotheism.

The idea of an everlasting being in the heavens that is a benefactor of men, who are his disobedient children and who he can reward or punish, is similar to the concept of God in many current religions.


(2)Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Volume VI pages 243-247

James Hastings, Editor and Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Words To Live By: “Monotheism has been the great unifier of peoples, languages, races, and cultures. It has also been a great divider of people and the source of endless and terrible intolerance.” – from In Light of India by Octavio Paz

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