A visit this week to Newgrange, a superbly-preserved 4000-year-old passage tomb in Ireland.  It got me to thinking about the nature of the ludic, the effervescent, the mysterious, in religion.

The received view of religion–of prehistoric religion at least–holds that it was infused with more mystery than religion today.  Rationalism, the media, modernity in general, all are thought to have robbed religion of its traditional power to produce awe.  Those of us who study the modern mediation of religion face the question of how authentic religion can be in an era where its materialism and commodities are so intentionally focused on creating what Birgit Meyer calls “sensational forms.”  How authentic can it be when we can “see behind the curtain” and see the sources and methods of “awe production?”

Passage tombs like Newgrange are oriented to capture the rising sun at solstice or at equinox.  The picture shows the sunrise entering Newgrange at Solstice.  Much is made of how the light–which only floods the space for 17 minutes–is golden in color and magical in its qualities.

Well, the point is that Newgrange was designed to put on this show.  Someone decided to produce wonder and awe–a “sensational form” of its time–millenia ago.