A flash of lightning splits the night sky. Both men cower with fear. The lightning is followed by a rumble of thunder.
“What do reckon causes that?” Ug asks Ig, once they have recovered their composure and wiped the dirt off their chunks of mastodon, having dropped them in their fright.
Ig is the cleverer of the two and has something of a weird sense of humour. He decides to have a laugh at Ug’s expense. “That’s the God getting angry.” He says before shoving a chunk of mastodon in his mouth to cover up his grin.
“What? What’s a God?”
“He’s the one who made all this.” Ig sweeps his arm around to take in the patch of savannah they are currently occupying.
“You’re’ having a laugh. If he made all this why can’t we see him?”
“Because he wants to stay hidden. He’s more mysterious that way. He wouldn’t want the likes of you and me walking up to him and asking questions all the time, like ‘why did you make wasps?’”
Another streak of lightning flashes across the sky and both men cower in fear again. The rumble of thunder is louder this time.
“So what about that noise then. Is that him as well?”
“No. That’s a different God. Sometimes they argue and that’s the result.” By now Ig is having trouble keeping a straight face and is thankful for the flickering shadows caused by the fire. He decides to keep the joke going for a while, if he can.
“Oh. That makes sense I suppose. What about that big bright thing we see during the day. Did he make that? ˊCos that would be a hard thing to make because it’s so hot.”
“Don’t be daft. That’s another God. He’s one that we can see, but he’s too far away and too hot for us to go asking him questions.”
“Oh. Do these God’s have names like us?”
“Not quite like us. They’re Gods, after all. The first one, the one that flashes across the sky, he’s called Lightning. The noisy one is called Thunder and the big bright one, he’s called … erm… Sun.”
“How do you know all this anyway.” Ug asks, starting to smell a rat, and it isn’t the one crawling around the fire trying to nick bits of burnt mastodon.
“They talk to me, don’t they. Don’t they talk to you?”
“Can’t say I’ve ever heard them if they do.”
They are joined by another hunter. “I’m starving. Is that mastodon cooked yet?”
“Hi Og. Where’ve you been?” Ug uses a stick to rake a chunk of mastodon out of the fire and passes it to the new arrival.
“Oh, you know. Here and there. Taking care of business, you might say. Wasn’t that flashing stuff scary?”
“Yeah. Here, Ig knows all about that. Ig, tell Og all about those God things.”
Ig re-tells his joke, struggling hard not to laugh. He winks at Og conspiratorially, but in the darkness Og doesn’t see it and assumes that Ig is being serious.
“Is that all true?” Og laughs. He’s a bit brighter than Ug and not so easily fooled.
“Of course it’s true.” Ug intervenes. “Ig wouldn’t make up something like that, would you Ig?” He stands up, striking an aggressive pose in the defence of his friend.
Ig is practically rolling on the floor and his sides hurt from trying to suppress his laughter. “No. No I wouldn’t.” he splutters.
“What’s the matter Ig. You seem to be in pain.” Og says.
“Sorry. Chunk of mastodon gone down the wrong way.”
“Who’d have thought it.” Og says finally, deciding that challenging the aggressive Ug would be an unwise thing to do. “Gods made all this. Well, that accounts for a lot. Why did they make wasps though?”
And thus was religion invented.
“Criminal the price we’re getting for milk these days.” Complains Sheb. “Last week I got barely four eggs per pitcher. It costs me more than that just to milk the goats.”
“I know. I blame the supermarkets.”
“What are supermarkets?”
“Shob down the road who swaps all the milk in return for eggs. He’s rigging the price. I know for a fact he gets 5 eggs in exchange for each pitcher of milk.”
“Bloody capitalist. I blame Aggie the thatcher.”
“You mean the guy who puts the roofs on our houses?”
“Yeah. Ever since he became the village head man things have never been the same.”
“We could replace him.”
“No. He’s bigger than us and he’s got four brothers. Have you seen the size of those sons of his? We wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“We could rally the rest of the village behind us. There’s more of us than there is of him.”
“The villagers wouldn’t back us. Why should they?”
“They would if the Gods told them to.”
“But the Gods wouldn’t do that.”
Shab gives Sheb as sly look. “Oh yes they would. They told me so.”
“What? You mean the Gods speak to you?”
“Of course they do. Regularly.”
“So what do they say to you?”
“Well, they tell me what the weather’s going to be like. They tell me who is good and bad in the village. They told me about Shibble having it off with any bloke that will give her a turnip.”
“Will she? …. I mean that’s shocking.” Sheb says, wondering how many turnips he can lay his hands on. “So these Gods tell you that the village should rise up and kick Aggie the thatcher out of the head man’s hut.”
“That’s right. If I tell the villagers what the Gods told me then you could be the new head man.”
Sheb scratches at his beard, knowing that the head man’s hut is full of turnips that have been collected as a tithe for fixing the roofs of the villagers’ houses. “OK. You tell the villagers and I’ll go and gather up some rocks for throwing.”
And so the priest was invented, at the same time as politics and the revolution were also invented.
“There’s a place in the forest where I go to listen to the messages from the Gods.” Said Shab, throwing a stone at a mating sheep to see if he could put it off its stroke.
“Is it nice?”
“It’s not bad, but it’s not very good there when it rains. And it’s cold in winter.”
“Don’t the Gods speak to you in your own hut?”
“No. You’ve seen my hut. It’s too small. The Gods can’t find anywhere to sit down.”
“What do you intend doing about it?”
“Well, I thought that if you, as head man, were to tell the villagers to build a special hut in the woods for the Gods, it would make things more comfortable for everyone.”
“Building has been a bit difficult since we kicked out Aggie the thatcher. We’re OK with walls but roofs are a bit tricky.” A thought struck Sheb and he saw a way of stopping Shab from interfering in the running of the village “Would you live there all the time?”
“It makes more sense than commuting every day.”
“Yeah, I can see the sense in that. OK. I’ll get onto it. Could the Gods tell the villagers to build me a bigger hut as well.”
“I’m sure they could.”
And so the church (and the palace) was invented.
“You know,” Sheb said, between shovelling spoonfuls of food into his mouth, “The Gods get hungry too, you know.”
“Do they. How surprising.” Sheb struggled to keep the sarcasm from showing in his voice.
“Oh yes. You know, I think the villagers should show their gratitude to the Gods by bringing food to the church and offering it to them.”
“Will it stop you from turning up here at mealtimes?”
“I’ll probably be too busy blessing all the food and serving it to the Gods.”
“The first offerings will be outside the church tomorrow morning.”
And so the sacrificial offering was invented, as was the Sunday Lunch.
He nearly knocked Shibble over as she left the building, adjusting her clothing.
“Oh, hello Sheb.” Shibble giggled, trying to conceal the turnip that she was holding in her hand, at the same time as trying to smooth down her hair, which was unusually messy for a such a windless day. “Will I be seeing you again soon?”
“Don’t know.” He snapped, not in the mood for small talk. However, he made a mental note to discourage the villagers from including turnips in the sacrificial offerings. He found Shab putting his clothes on and told him about his worries.
“You know, you are the one chosen by the Gods.” Shab told him.
“Am I? I didn’t know that.”
“Oh yes. The Gods have been quite explicit about that. They even referred to you as King Sheb, to mark you out from other men.”
King Sheb; Sheb liked the sound of that. “Perhaps you could tell the villagers that. Maybe they will also call me King Sheb. But what about the crop failure? The villagers are blaming me for not doing anything to feed them. The goats have stopped giving milk because we haven’t got any hay on which to feed them, so I don’t have any eggs in which to dip my soldiers.”
The High Priest Shab started pacing around the church, seemingly deep in thought. “You know, it gets mighty lonely up here at night. I sometimes find it difficult to hear what the Gods are saying to me.” He was muttering. It seemed to King Sheb that High Priest Shab was talking to himself. He stopped pacing and turned to face the King. “Oh, I forgot to ask. How is that lovely daughter of yours? She must be of marriageable age by now.”
“Oh, she’s fine, but what has this got to do….. Ah, yes. I was wondering, have you thought about getting married?”
“Actually I was thinking of taking a wife." With their unspoken agreement reached Shab continued. "You know, I have had some messages from the Gods recently, about the crop failure. They’re a punishment from the Gods for the people not obeying the rules.”
“I’ll get back to you on those. In the meantime, I’ll let the people know that you are chosen by the Gods to rule over them and you organise a raid on our nearest neighbours. Oh, what is the name of that place...er...Oh, yes, Shiraq. You can invade that village and steal their food stocks.”
And so the alliance between church and state was created and economic warfare was invented at the same time. Soon to follow would be the books of rules that the people had to follow; lots and lots of rules as revealed by the Gods to High Priest Shab.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The descendants of High Priest Shab still control the lives of millions of people and influence the way their villages, or countries as we now call them, are governed. Some High Priests even try to set up new countries so that they can impose even harsher rules to control the lives of the villagers. Through the imposition of these rules people are persecuted for being different, or for worshiping the wrong God and are killed for disagreeing with the pronouncements of the High Priests.
Even in countries where they no longer kill you for not believing in The God the descendants of High Priest Shab still try to influence the rules by which the majority, the non-believers, live. In some countries if you say that you don’t believe in The God you won’t get elected to any position in government. These are called democracies.
We may no longer eat burnt mastodon, or exchange milk for eggs and turnips for sex, but otherwise not a lot has changed. We call this civilisation.
Next week Ig and Ug explore the universe and inadvertently invent astrology, the close cousin to talking to the Gods..