The Sacred and the Profane

Eliade's volume entitled The Sacred and the Profane had as its subtitle The Nature of Religion. In this important work, he examined the ways in which the sacred has manifested itself under the four headings of sacred space, sacred time, sacred nature and sacred cosmos.490 As a portmanteau word by which to embrace the concept of the 'act of manifestation of the sacred', Eliade proposes that we use the term hiero-phany. He likes the neatness of this neologism because it does not transcend its fundamental etymology, which is the showing of something sacred. He observes that in each hierophany

We are confronted by the same mysterious act - the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural 'profane' world'.491

Stating that 'the first possible definition of the sacred is that it is the opposite of the profane', Eliade proclaims that his aim in writing The Sacred and the Profane 'is to illustrate and define this opposition between sacred and profane'.492

Eliade analyses the attempt by homo religiosus to live within a sacred universe and tries to compare this attempt with that of 'the man without religious feeling', as Eliade puts it, whose desire is to inhabit a 'desacralized world'.493 And, while in the act of hierophany any object can be transmuted into something quite different, and yet preserve its essence or ipseity, and while 'all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality' and 'the cosmos in its entirety can become a hierophany', all this takes place in a world which has become fundamentally desacralised in modern times.494 The contrast, then, for Eliade, is between a potentially - and often actually - sacred cosmos and man's desacralistion of that cosmos into a profane arena.495 For primitive man, the sacred was 'saturated with being'.496 The sacred was 'equivalent to 'a power and, in the last analysis, to reality'.497

Eliade's three-part paradigm of sacred>power>reality498 is articulated in the context of sacred stones, but it may have a modern applicability as well, as with the Islamic concept of jihad: warfare, offensive or defensive, becomes clothed with an aura of the sacred by being undertaken 'in the path of God' (fi sabil Allah: see Q.2:i90, Q.4:84). It assumes a 'divine' power or momentum in the eyes of its proponents which can then result, in extremis, in the reality of a 9/11. The cosmos portrayed by Eliade exhibits the dual pathways of the sacralised and the desacralised,499 adumbrated under his four headings of sacred space,500 sacred time,501 sacred nature502 and sacred life.503

For Eliade, there is an overt war between the sacred and the profane, the sacralised and the desacralised. The profane result or reality may bear no relation to the initial sacred impulse. A metamorphosis comes into play. Thus we learn from the black box of one of the doomed suicide airliners on 11 September 2001 that the last cry of one of the hijackers, as his plane was about to smash into the World Trade Center, was Allahu Akbar.504 Yet the profanity of that action itself breathes a return to the sacred: Ground Zero becomes a 'sacred space'; 9/11 enters the living memory of man as 'sacred time'. It becomes a sacred indelible memory which, like the famous Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day in 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were slaughtered in Paris,505 will live on for centuries in the collective and individual recollections both of those who deplore and those who support the trauma of 9/11.

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