The premise for discussion here is to compare and contrast “my society’s” beliefs about death and afterlife with that of the Mojave. While I tend to inherently disagree with the Judeo-Christian cultural belief system, I will do my best to accurately depict its position, as it is “my society’s” generally accepted thought. The Mojave traditionally lived along the Colorado River in western Arizona.
Creation myths and cultural ideas of the afterlife exhibit similarities and variances that span a wide spectrum of cultures throughout the world. The comparison of just two cultures narrows the spectrum, but displays the differences that can separate one people from another. The perpetuation of a cultural belief that is different from another culture in contact with it is what defines an identity for its people.
The idea of a heaven and hell are at the forefront of Western religious thought. The extremes of behavior seem to define our “American” culture: good and evil, pious and decadent, the Spartan and the greedy. The evidence of the Mojave culture does not seem to suggest that such dichotomies existed, except in their perception of the malevolent shaman, the innocent victims of witchcraft, and the un-tattooed. Our differences could not be better defined.
The contrast begins with the beliefs concerning the beginning of human existence. “God” created Adam and Eve, the symbols of good that are transformed to perform bad acts that are a result of temptation by Satan. This creates “original sin” (evil). Thereafter, all men are doomed to hell (below the ground: the rat hole?), unless they accept a symbol of a “savior” (the coming Messiah, or Jesus). In Mojave culture, Matavila and Mastamho create the world where all, but a very few, pass onto sala’ahta, the land of the dead. This is the world of the Mojave, regardless of an individual’s behavior on this plane.
While resources do not allow me to know of the nature of the “rat hole”, it is somehow not the equivalent for me of the fiery inferno of brimstone and eternal pain that is suggested by “hell”. The Mojave did not go down the “rat hole” for failing to revere, invoke, or worship Matavila and Mastamho. For some fundamentalist Christians, such a failure to bestow fealty to God results in eternal damnation in that conflagration below. It is interesting to note the notion of “below” the earth (rat hole and hell) to the place where “evil” persons go. The place where “good” persons go is much different in the two cultures, however. For the Mojave, sala’ahta was just down river from the Mojave Valley. For Christians, good people go to heaven above, a place off the earth. The soul of the deceased Mojave does not live eternally, but is eventually, after many incarnations in the spirit world, returned to the earth. For the Judeo-Christians, life is eternal in heaven in the company of God.
Sala’ahta is a place of freedom from pain, sickness, and trouble; heaven is a place of eternal light and peace. The Mojave feared the mention of the deceased; Judeo-Christians celebrate feasts of revered, long dead, named saints (commemorative mourning ceremonies?). Differences or commonalities?
Does the “rat hole” continue to the center of the earth where “fire and brimstone” are the norm? Is that the hell where all evil things return? If our spirit is somehow associated with our “matter”, don’t we all return to the earth as a piece of “charcoal”? Eternal questions unanswered are always the most intriguing, and the most personal. Cultural differences and similarities seem to define who we were. Answers in the afterlife will tell us who we are.