Magic and the Millennium: A Sociological Study of Religious Movements of Protest among Tribal and Third-World Peoples

By Bryan R. Wilson | Go to book overview

8
Religious Responses and Military Enterprise

IT has been a usual procedure to include among the 'religions of the oppressed' or among 'nativistic movements', the religious activities occurring among native peoples at war with colonial powers and European settlers.1 This example is followed here, but there are differences between the cultural circumstances of peoples still at liberty, who, however much their warfare may be inspired by new prophetic visions, interpret their action very much as a war for their way of life against intruders; and the responses arising among natives who have already been subjected to the relatively effective government of the intruders. There is usually a role for the shaman or the magician in warfare: the war-dance and war-paint are themselves heavily endowed with magic as a mystical underwriting of military enterprise. But new magical claims, more powerful than those made in the past, become necessary if military activity against enemies with superior weapons is to be effectively encouraged.

Warfare as such is a response which is frequently predicated by the whole structure of inter-tribal relationships from the past. In itself it needs no new ideological justification. It is the odds against which it is mounted (or the scale on which it is launched) that calls for new supernatural support. The role of the ideology may, however, be secondary. Warfare may be viewed as either a relatively rational response to external threat, or as the extension of a biological response to intrusions into the territory of the in-group. Neither completely rational action nor completely instinctive action would require ideologies, of course.2 Little human action, much less social-group action,

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1
Thus, in his great pioneer work on North American Indian religious movements, Mooney prefaced his account of the Ghost Dance of 1890 with a long account of earlier prophets; James Mooney, The Ghost Dance and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890, Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, Part II ( Government Printing Office, Washington 1896). Lanternari, who indiscriminately labels very diverse movements as 'messianic', includes them: Vittorio Lanternari, The Religions of the Oppressed: A Study of Modern Messianic Cults, translated from the Italian by Lisa Sergio ( Alfred Knopf, New York 1963). They are also included by Wilhelm E. Mühlmann, Chiliasmus und Nativismus, op. cit.
2
The point was long ago made by Vilfredo Pareto in The Mind and Society, translated from the Italian by A. Livingston and A. Bongiorno ( Cape, London 1935), 4 vols., Pareto used the term 'derivations' in the sense in which the word 'ideologies' is used here.

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