Going back to the time of early civilizations
History focus: myths and beliefs of early people
History has always been replete with myths and ancient beliefs that can be traced back into the dawn of early civilizations; these myths and beliefs being put into practice by generations of ancient people serving as medicine men, priestesses, or cult leaders. But among these beliefs and myths, nothing compares to the mystery evoked by the rituals done to commemorate death and the uncanny feeling one feels when faced with the concept of death.
Of the numerous myths and beliefs that we have known about the past civilizations, the sanctity of death and the concept of immortality are shared by almost all of these civilizations. The idea that human life would continue after death can be traced in Egyptian, Mesopotamian and South American early civilizations. In fact, some traces of this concept of immortality can be found also in the doctrines of Christianity.
It was the early Egyptians who elevated the idea of life beyond death to a higher level, as these people were far ahead, in this respect, compared to other civilizations. Indeed "the significance of the Egyptian concept of immortality is not that they were the first to believe in a life after death. All early people-indeed prehistoric man-- conceived of a dread, shadowy existence beyond the grave. To the Egyptians, however, the afterlife would be a pleasant paradise, for which confident and definite plans could be made (King, p.44)." In contrast to this, the Mesopotamians believed that "the afterlife is a terrible experience, where the dead eat dust and wear feathers as garments, wailing in the realms of the Underworld (gatewaytobabylon.com)."
When life is extinguished, the ancient Egyptians' belief is that from death a new life emerges; hence they mummified the bodies of their dead in order to preserve the spiritual forces and essences within the body into the afterlife.
This belief in the afterlife has commonality with that concept of reincarnation by the Buddhist in our contemporary times. The Aztec people also believed in reincarnation wherein they believed that there god Quetzalcoatl incarnated into a human being in order to lead them in retaking their lands conquered by the Spanish conquerors. This historical fact would be in harmony with the Christian belief that Jesus, the son of Mary, was sent by "God, the father" as a human in order to bring salvation to the sinning world.
These ancient beliefs and myths were not completely forgotten; rather, they evolved, and some were incorporated through the passage of time, into the religions and customs of contemporary times. Festivals are still held seasonally today to honor the gods for a good harvest. Tribes still do rain dances to bring forth rainwater to replenish their dry lands. Fruits and material possessions are still offered to the altar up to this day, in lieu of the sacrifice of a human body, by different denominations of religions. In fact, some people today cleanse and embalm the bodies of their dead in order to prepare them for the life beyond death. Some still put earthly possessions, such as money and food, together with the corpse, inside the coffin so that life beyond the grave for the deceased one would be carefree and uncomplicated.
What happened ages ago still evoke the same atmosphere today when these beliefs and customs are being practiced by individuals living in the present. Indeed, we are always connected with our past. Some of the ancient beliefs and myths of early civilizations are the foundations of today's religions and customs.
1) King, Harold C. (1964), A History of Civilizations.
Charles Schribner's Sons, New York