Josie A. Escoto
ENG 099—Advanced Reading Improvement
Ruth Foster, Instructor
Assignment: After reading Clan of the Cave Bear, contrast three different cultures.
Clan of the Cave Bears: Cultures
Growing up in mainstream America, I learned two different cultures: Mexican and American. My mother was pretty straightforward when it came down to religion, and there were no ifs, ands, or buts about what religious institution she sent us to or taught us herself. As I matured, I learned that throughout history all mankind has shown that a need for religion is part of everyone’s basic nature. This need for religion is demonstrated through my Mexican culture, the ancient Aztecs, and the Ice-Age Neanderthals in Jean Auel’s book Clan of the Cave Bear.
In my culture, religion provides us with a sense of higher power, security, and someone we can pray to. There is a heaven and a hell, and if you are a good Christian, you will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. My mom instilled in us to be practicing Catholics. We had to follow all the rules not only to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but to be loved by all and looked upon as “good girls.”
I remember, as if it was just this past Saturday, practicing my prayers for my next catechism class. I was making my First Holy Communion the following weekend. Communion is one of the six sacraments one can make as a practicing Catholic. My mom made sure we made at least five of the sacraments: Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, and Anointing the sick. The sixth sacrament is to be ordained, but because we were girls there was no way we would be ordained. She made sure that we attended catechism every Saturday morning, and that we went to church together every Sunday. I remember being taught not to worship statues, but we could ask the saints to pray for us, and we should always make the sign of the cross whenever we passed a Catholic church, either by foot or car. We also were taught to give up something we liked a lot during the lent season. For Easter, she would buy us three girls new dresses, shoes, and hats to wear to one of the biggest church going days of the year. I remember the church was always jammed packed for Easter and Christmas vigils.
Now, my husband and I have taught our children how to be practicing Catholics; they, too, need to be looked upon as “good boys,” and they need to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
The human need for religion is also seen in the culture of ancient Aztecs who had an amazingly intricate religion. The Aztecs believed not just in one god, but several gods. There were three main gods: Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca, (which was Chief God of the Aztecs in general), and Quetzalcoatl. Below these three gods were numerous other gods, including the Rain God, God of growth, and the Flayed One—a God associated with spring.
All young Aztec men the age of fifteen were sent to the “house of youth” to learn the religious and civic duties of everyday citizenship. The women were regarded as the lesser of men, and above everything else, they were required to practice abstinence and have high moral standards. For the most part, all government and religious functions were closed to women.
A shocking aspect of the Aztec religious life was the large number of human sacrifices for the gods. There had been human sacrifices practiced throughout the Mesoamerican world, but the Aztecs practiced it at a level never seen before or since. The religion involved the concept that the gods gave things to human beings, and in turn, the Aztecs would sacrifice a human to appease the gods. The Aztecs developed the notion that the gods were best nourished by living hearts of captives. The more courageous the captive was the more nourishing the sacrifice. This development led to widespread wars of conquest in search of victims to sacrifice. Some of the human sacrifices were minimal, involving the sacrifice of a slave to a minor god, and other human sacrifices were very spectacular, involving hundreds or thousands of captives. The Aztecs priests would also feed the gods by drawing their own blood by piercing their tongues, ears, extremities, and even their genitals. They would also pray, offer food, sports, and even perform stage shows.
The Aztec religion was also dominated by calculations of time, thus the Aztecs had several calendars. Each day was controlled by two gods: one did good and charitable acts, while the other was more malicious. Because each day was controlled by two gods, one could decide how to behave and what to do in order to achieve the best outcome.
Finally, religion as part of human nature is illustrated in Jean Auel’s book Clan of the Cave Bear. The religion of the Ice-Age Neanderthal’s in the book is based on spirits and totems. A totem is considered a person’s individual spirit. The Mog-ur is the holiest man of the clan and is extremely important to the clan. The Mog-ur has to meditate and carefully pick out the right totem. He is also responsible for carrying out all the ceremonies the clan may have. The Mog-ur is the only man who can call on spirits for any ceremony. The leader of the clan is the only one who can ask the Mog-ur to cast a death curse because of the evil spirits involved. If there is a death curse ordered, that person is dead to the clan immediately. No one is to look at that person or even talk to them. They are now considered a spirit of the other world.
The clan believes that if a hunter saves the life of another hunter, he keeps a piece of the spirit of the man he saved. They become siblings. When a woman becomes pregnant, the clan believes the spirit of her mate’s totem has defeated hers. The clan even considers the stars spirits. The stars are the spirits of the people who have died. And these stars look upon the clan. The whole existence of the clan is based on memories. The clan is meticulous; they do everything carefully so that they do not anger the spirits. There is no worshiping a higher power, no praying, or no sacrificing. All religion is through the Mog-ur. There are no temples or churches where they congregate. All their ceremonies and beliefs are done the same, year after year, time after time. The traditions are passed onto the next Mog-ur.
In conclusion, in my culture the need for religion was for a sense of a higher power, security, and someone we can pray to. I can be considered a “good Christian woman.” The Aztecs believed their gods were so empowered that they could produce rain, growth, food, solar energy, and everyday elements. As for The Clan of the Cave Bear, jean Auel represents them as believing in the spirits from years past, because they only rely on their memories. These spirits keep order, structure, and leadership for them. As you can see from the three different cultures, it is clear that mankind has definitely shown the need for religion.