Sacred trees and rituals by... Chimps?
In a new study recently published in Nature's Scientific Reports, scientists discovered that chimpanzees perform what seems to be 'sacred rituals' at chosen 'sacred trees.' One of the scientists published a blog post with footage of the chimps' strange behavior and some of her own speculations. She wrote:
We found the first evidence of chimpanzees creating a kind of shrine that could indicate sacred trees. Indigenous West African people have stone collections at “sacred” trees and such man-made stone collections are commonly observed across the world and look eerily similar to what we have discovered here.
Quoted in the Daily Mail, renowned primatologist Jane Goodall said:
If the chimpanzee could share his feelings and questions with others, might these wild elemental displays become ritualised into some form of animistic religion? Would they worship the falls, the deluge from the sky, the thunder and lightning—the gods of the elements?
Many other instances of ritualistic behavior in chimpanzees have been cited in a more cautious New Scientist article on this new finding.
The jury is still out, but the observations are extremely suggestive and intriguing. As discussed in my new book More Than Allegory: On religious myth, truth and belief, the symbolic mind is far older and deeper-rooted than the intellect, anchored in natural realities that transcend our linear logic. Religious myths are the natural expression of this primordial umbilical chord our contemporary culture fears and represses, not a wish-fulfillment maneuver. There are truths about ourselves we are deeply afraid to confront. To many, even the belief in final oblivion—death according to materialism—is preferable to the vertigo of eternity.