I decided to take Krista at the Daily Post up on her challenge of writing a post inspired by the word “renewal”
Renewal is an ageless, universal process that people recognize around the world. It is the beginning of the creative/living process in the cycle of life and death. The Neo-Confucian Yin-yang is a well-known symbol of this cycle. Several religions have a central figure that dies and is reborn into a renewal of spirit and/or body. Undoubtedly, this is because in prehistoric days, people recognized the cycle of life. They would see leaves fall and plants die in the autumn, only to see new leaves and plants grow in the spring. Rivers (e.g. the Nile) would periodically dry up and then flood. Then they might see one animal die, but another would be born to take its place.
Probably because of this easily recognized, universal cycle combined with people’s innate fear of death and strong desire for life, early religions and beliefs assumed the same would happen with humans. Apparently, everything dies and is reborn, why shouldn’t the same be true with humans? In a world where death was omnipresent and easy and life was a constant struggle, the idea of a human renewal in the form of rebirth after death had to have been a great solace that life was not a constant battle against enemies, rampant diseases, and starvation followed by an infinity of non-existence, which would make all one’s labors meaningless. This was probably the initial stimulus for Hindu belief in reincarnation and the Christian belief in resurrection and an afterlife (I am a Christian myself) and the development of the yin-yang and the creation of the symbol of the phoenix.
It is ironic that eventually mankind developed tales of beings that instead of being blessed and being reborn into a better, living world, were reborn into a world of death or of being cursed in one way or the other. Vampires are the primary example. Recently, the media has developed another variation on this theme in the form of zombies.
So what happens if vampires or zombies are reborn after their deaths? Do zombies become zombie-vampires? Do vampires become vampire-zombies? If a vampire becomes infected with a zombie virus after he has been sealed in his coffin with a stake through his heart, does he become a super-zombie?
Anyway, what was originally mankind’s hope for a better existence has now developed an ugly, cursed offshoot (although it is only modern-day folklore).
This long process may say something about mankind’s mentality and the tendency of the universe to balance things out (though this may be apparent only to me because I tend to have a touch of Taoism in my personal philosophy). First, mankind is surrounded my death and suffering and, seeing that his existence will ultimately end in death, develops the idea that there is rebirth and renewal after death. Now, in the high-tech modern world, where death is not as pervasive at all stages of life as it once was (this does not include third-world countries where poverty, disease, and starvation are still rampant), death is more and more made sport of while our writers and media develop nastier and nastier forms of death and of the afterlife/damnation to follow. When death is abundant and feared, people look for life, but where life is abundant and easy people become fascinated with death.
Hopefully, it will be a long time before death is so pervasive once more that it forces us to develop new religions.