Thoughts on the progression of spirituality from primitive to mass society – the ‘conditions of spirituality’

Here is a thought I had:


I said that, in regard to spirituality, there were some interesting stages in the progression from primitive society to mass society.  I see six stages:

  1. Participation
  2. Devotion
  3. Achievement
  4. Thought
  5. Creations
  6. Stagnation

Here are the stages:

1. Participation

In primitive society there are people like shamans.  These could be described as “holy” people, so to speak, who actively participate in the ‘spirit world’ oftentimes.  This active participation is generally done for the sake of society or other people.  In other words, its not done for “personal development”.  It entails an active participation with the ‘spirit world’ for someone else.  Not only that, many of the customs and traditions of primitive society, which is practiced by the people, also entail participation.  They dance, sacrifice, and so on.  In this way, primitive society tends to create a spirituality-by-participation.

It’s during this stage that we get the ‘spiritual/self distinction’. This creates a point of view that spirituality requires that the self must “die” or “be forgotten” or be “absent”.  This fact dictates much of shaman and religious behavior in primitive society.  Much of the religious behavior is rooted in perceiving various forms of “sacredness”.  In this way, one could say that a trait of “sacredness” is the absence of the self.  Or, perhaps, one could say that an absence of self allows one to sense “sacredness”.  Since much of primitive life revolves around a “sacredness”, which requires a form of absence of self, it means that primitive spirituality is rooted in “sacredness” and ones association with it.  

What we see, then, is that primitive spirituality is a spirituality that requires an active participation, but without the self, in order to associate with “sacredness”.  The most tricky aspect of this is “participating without a self”.  Dealing with this situation gives many of the unique qualities of primitive religion.  Some ways this is achieved include:

  • Ceremonies and ritual
  • Sacrifices
  • Superstitions
  • Interpreting dreams
  • Divination
  • Magic and spells
  • Shamanistic “journeying” and trances

What a lot of people don’t understand is that when primitive people associate with the more “deeper aspects” of life and nature they associate with it without a self (remember, that’s how “sacredness” is felt).  As we will see later, as society progresses the self becomes more important.  Since we are from the later phases we tend to look at life as a “self-dominant” and, accordingly, think that association with the world is a self/world type of thing.  Primitive peoples tend to not use the self and this is hard for modern people to understand.

Because of the prevalence of the world we could say that “primitive society” is a society that is living with the world “in its face”.  In other words, people “rub elbows” with the world and are “naked” against it.  With the development of society the society ends up creating something like a wall between the people and the world.  As a result, people become more removed from the world, as we’ll see below.

In this way, spirituality (at least as I use it here) refers to a sense of a “connection with life” that hits deep within the person.  In fact, its so deep that it is beyond the self.  This is why there is a need for the self to be absent.  In addition, the purpose of spirituality is to associate with the “sacred” . . . to associate with “sacredness” the self must be absent.

So we see these traits:

  • There is active participation
  • The world is “in your face”
  • Spirituality requires an “absent self”
  • A “connection with life” entails a spirituality and an association with the “sacred”

2. Devotion

As society grows the shamans disappear being replaced by priests, doctors, and other people who transform the shamans role into a role of ritual or know-how.  In other words, it becomes less spiritual.  But there are still people who are spiritual-like.  As a result, there develops a new form of spirituality that is geared to this group of people.  This group of people tend to not have any shamanistic, priestly, or medicinal role but are just ‘spiritual’.  What is then created is a group of people who become devotional.  This is spirituality-by-devotion.  Here people devote their whole lives to the god without having any shamanistic, priestly, or medicinal quality.  They create monks or holy men or guru’s and such.

So we see these traits:

  • Active participation is replaced by devotional acts
  • The world is no longer “in your face”
  • A group of devotional people appear
  • A “connection with life” comes through devotional acts

3. Achievement

As society grows even further the presence of a ‘god’ fades.  That is to say, as the tribe grows and fades, so do the tribal gods.  This leaves a growing tendency of a ‘spirituality without a god’.  But some people are still ‘spiritual’.  This creates a group of ‘spiritual people without a god’.  The emphasis becomes on what they do or achieve.  There becomes a preoccupation in what one does and how one does it.  This is seen in Buddhism and other things where achievement is worshiped, such as art and some forms of work.  Because it focuses on what a person does it is a ‘spirituality-by-achievement’.

So we see these traits:

  • The emphasis is on doing and achieving, doing some act
  • The world becomes distant
  • A sense of ‘god’ begins to fade
  • A “connection with life” comes through some achievement or act

4. Thought

It seems that, after awhile, achievement often tends to become empty.  As a result, mental thoughts begin to fill the void, the void that was originally held by gods, culture, and belief.  Now, the power of thoughts and ideas become critical and paramount and, in a sense, replace the gods.  Many themes of spirituality are lost here:  god, the spiritual/worldly distinction, the need for a death.  All are forsaken for what mental thoughts creates.  Here people think and philosophize.  This is ‘spirituality-by-thought’.  This tends to create an alienated spirituality that ends up not being a spirituality at all.

So we see these traits:

  • Mental acts become important
  • The world is more distant
  • A group of people who think about things appear
  • A “connection with life” comes through thought

5 Creations

Philosophizing, and its logical thinking, tends to create things . . . many things.  A whole world has been created by the effects of philosophizing, the ‘world of created things’.  But these are things that are beyond us, as people, and have no origin in our personal self.  This is ‘spirituality-by-creations’.   But once the creations take hold we lose our spirituality completely.  Since they are not of us they are not us.  As a result, a ‘displaced spirituality’ is created if it can be called a spirituality at all.

Not only that, the ‘world of created things’ start to take a dominating role in life.  In some cases, it will begin to control and dictate our life.  As a result, it has not only displaced our spirituality but us as people.

So we see these traits:

  • The emphasis is on mental creations
  • The world fades
  • A group of people who create things appear
  • A “connection with life” comes through what has been created

6. Stagnation

Once we are ‘displaced’ our spirituality stagnates and, often, disappears.  This is ‘spirituality-by-stagnation’ which is no spirituality at all.  This seems to be the stage of mass society and is where the modern world is today.  In this stagnating stage what spirituality there is consist of a ‘personal spirituality’.  But there do develop many ‘pseudo-spiritualities’ or ‘attempted spiritualities’ by some people in the society . . . they tend to fail though.

At this stage we have lost hold of things like:

  • The world
  • The tribe or society
  • A spiritual sense: the spiritual/worldly self
  • A need to grow:  to “die” and be “reborn”
  • A need for god

In so doing, spirituality fails and dies.  As a result, people begin to feel “disconnected with life”, alienated, and such.  This condition, of course, is part of the great dilemma of large civilizations and the modern world.

It seems, to me that there are two big causes for the failed spirituality that appears in this later phase:

  1. The power of philosophizing
  2. The power of creations

I do not believe that it is because they are inherently bad but because they have so much power, and are so strong, that they literally usurp any spirituality.  In this way, humanity as if becomes “dominated” by society and its creations.  Being disconnected with itself humanity then becomes alienated from its true nature, lost, shallow, and so on.


These shows a strong association between world, society, self,and creation.  Just looking at these elements, we could say the progression follows this path:

  1. World-dominant (primitive society)
  2. Society-dominant
  3. Self-dominant (thought and achievement)
  4. Creation-dominant (mass society, to the point of stagnation)

This movement from primitive society to mass society seems to show a movement away from the world.  By ‘world’ I mean that the perception that we are in it and that it is a reality we face.  As I said above, in primitive societies the world is a reality that stares you in the face.  This creates a spirituality that is also “in your face”.  As the society grows there’s a tendency for the world, as perceived this way, to fade and become something distant.  Its as if society is pushing out the world and, over time, builds a wall against it.  This shows that there is a ‘world/society association’.  What this means is that as society increases the world being “in your face” tends to decrease.  To put it another way, its as if the world and society are diametrically opposed.

As a result of the increase in the growth of society (and the decreasing of the world) the sense of “me” becomes more dominant.  This causes a big change in the perception of things.  In other words, the growth in society causes a change from a ‘world-based’ perspective to a ‘me-based’ perspective.  As a result, things become more person-centered.  This shows a ‘world/me association’.  Because of this, as the world fades, there is more emphasis on what one, as a person, does.  This makes it so that things like achievement, what we think, and what we create become important, which is what we see in the later phases.

And so the spiritual progression from primitive to mass society seems to begin with an intense world-focused spirituality but ends with a failed me-spirituality.   Perhaps you could say that spirituality went off the tracks as society progresses.  This shows a ‘world/spirituality association’.  In other words, the closer we are to the world the more spiritual we are . . . the closer we are to “me” the less spiritual we are.

All this shows some interesting facts:

  • Spirituality is rooted in the world being “in your face”
  • Society undermines spirituality
  • The “me” undermines spirituality
  • Thoughts undermines spirituality
  • Creations undermines spirituality

What does this show?  It shows some common phenomena’s seen in spirituality all over the world:

  • Of seeking to live more “in nature”
  • Of an absence of society
  • Of an absence of “me”
  • Of an absence of thought
  • Of seeking simplicity

Perhaps we could call these the ‘conditions of spirituality’?  I find that quite fascinating.  What is shows is that historical progression and growth of society and civilization inherently moves us away from spirituality and its “connection with life”.  Its because of this I have sayings such as these:

“Humanity alienates!”

“Too much human is death!”

Because of the loss of a “connection with life” there develops, for some people, a need for spirituality in the later phases of progression.  This is not the same as the spirituality of the earlier phases.  In fact, they are very much different.  Perhaps we could say that there are two forms of spirituality:

  1. The world-oriented spirituality.  This is the spirituality of the early phases, which are more based in the world.
  2. The stagnation-oriented spirituality.  This is the spirituality of the later phases, which are more reflective of a stagnating spirituality.

This later form is what is generally known as “spirituality” in this society.  This is because this society is of the later phases.  In stagnation-oriented spirituality we are motivated by the fact that we are “disconnected” and are now trying to “reconnect” with the earlier phases.  As a result, we try to “recreate” the ‘conditions of spirituality’ described above.  But, since we have progressed to the later phases we are “exposed” to all the earlier phases.  In this way, stagnation-oriented spirituality is a combination of all the phases but with the intent to “recreate” the ‘conditions of spirituality’ of the early phases as if the later phases didn’t exist.  Because of this, thought, achievement, etc. are all somehow affecting the stagnation-oriented spirituality whether you want it to or not.  The fact is that once you have progressed to the later stages your are affected by all the stages that have affected you.  This dramatically affects spirituality.  The spirituality of primitive peoples, for example, are not affected by the effects of the later phases, such as stagnation or creations.  In this way, they are not feeling “disconnected” and their spirituality is not motivated to “reconnect”.  Because of this, the spirituality of primitive people is more “casual” and truths are just “there” . . . there’s no feeling of loss or a desire to search for something lost.  In the later phases the spirituality is usually motivated by a sense of loss.  As a result, stagnation-oriented spirituality has a quality of loss, need, desperation, and searching which is lacking in world-oriented spirituality.  This makes it more of a “deliberate search”.  One interesting effect of this is that it makes a spirituality that is “deeper” and often more meaningful to the person than in the earlier world-oriented spirituality.

But one thing it points out is that spirituality is a reflection of the conditions we live in.  To put it another way, spirituality is a reaction to our surroundings and how we live.  Its because of this, that a big part of maintaining a spirituality is creating these things:

  • Proper conditions
  • The correct way of life
  • Proper surroundings

This makes it so that spirituality isn’t just “us”, and what we do, but everything about us . . . it is holistic, encompassing the entirety of our life.  This, to me, seems to be one of the great powers of a spirituality.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Contemplation, monastacism, shamanism, spirituality, prayer, and such, Dehumanization and alienation, Historical stuff, Mass hysteria, mass society, and the mob, Modern life and society, Primitive society and people, Religion and religious stuff, Tribal society, tribalism, and the tribal sense and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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