8 world religions you never knew before travelling
Travelling the world is about much more than just checking off lines from that bucket list, tasting fine exotic foods and meeting likeminded people on the road (although that is all fantastic). It’s also about learning and encountering other cultures. Spiritual travel is now uber-popular, with more and more people packing the rucksack with the intention of seeking out the variety and diversity of the world’s religions. Here’s a look at some of the more unusual and unknown belief systems that are on the menu for spiritual travel goers, from the mysterious Voodoo rites of the Caribbean to the Buddhist come Taoist mashups of China and the tribal curiosities of the Pacific islands. Enjoy…
Forget the pin-cushion dolls of your favorite Hollywood horror flicks, because Voodoo isn’t quite the occultist evil it’s portrayed as on the silver screen. Billed as one of the world’s most misunderstood religions, this earthy fusion of Catholic traditions and African animism is the official religion of the Caribbean isle of Haiti! Based on a belief that followers can strike up intimate relationships with spirits (known as loa) from the invisible world, the faith is one steeped in mysticism and rites, while Voodoo influences can be seen far and wide, from the tribal towns of West Africa to the jazzy streets of New Orleans.
Prince Philip Movement, Vanuatu
Deep in the jungles of Tanna Island, where the looming extinct caldera of Mount Tukosmera soars high above the canopies, the Kastom tribespeople of Yaohnanen Village follow arguably one of the world’s most outlandish religions. Tentatively called the Prince Philip Movement, this one’s adherents concluded way back in the 1950s that the consort of Queen Elizabeth II was, in fact, the legendary returning mountain spirit who had left the hills and Pacific beaches of Vanuatu to marry a powerful figure in a far off land. A truly enthralling option for a bit of spiritual travel if there ever was one!
Cao Dai, Vietnam
A fusion of all the various faiths that have made their way to this corner of Southeast Asia over the centuries (and there are a lot!), Cao Dai is a relatively recent addition to the pantheon of beliefs in Vietnam. Followers adhere to Buddhist principles in their veneration of Karma, look to the rigid hierarchies of the Catholic church in their organisation, and apotheosise a whole host of worldly figures, from Jesus Christ to Joan of Arc to Julius Caesar! Expect a real medley of symbolism, colour and scripture in any Cao Dai Temple!
One of the very many religious beliefs that make up the part-Buddhist, highly-Atheist, multi-faith society of South Korea, Cheondoism is a sort of Christian anarchism come Confucianism. A heavy focus is placed on the individual, with followers arguing that the better person one becomes in themselves, the closer they come to god. The religion had its roots in the imperial days of the Korean Joseon dynasty, but members were later persecuted under Japanese rule, while today the faith boats upwards of one million adherents across the country!
Zoroastrianism, Iran and India
Barely pronounceable Zoroastrianism is actually one of the oldest monotheistic faiths in the world. Thought to date back as far as the second millennium BC, the religion is based on the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster, who taught and preached the mantras of ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds’ to the Persian peoples of the Iranian Plateau. Today, Zoroastrianism is largely practiced in India (particularly in Mumbai and Gujarat) and Iran. Curious beliefs unique to the faith include the exposure of the dead and the feasts of the six gahanbars, which celebrate the turning of the seasons throughout the year.
With a veneration for everything Odin, Thor and Freyja, you might expect the followers of this revivalist Norse religion to be bearded Viking folk with horned helmets and a penchant for raiding up and down foreign coastlines. Not so (actually, not even the original Vikings had horns on their helmets, apparently!). In fact, this fascinating polytheistic off-shoot of the wider European religious movement of Heathenry is practiced right across the northern fringes of the continent, with followers popping up everywhere from Nottinghamshire to the rugged fjords of Skagafjörður in Iceland and the rural communities of Sweden and Norway alike!
Responsible for some of the most beautiful and fascinating temple complexes in the Indian states of Gujarat, West Bengal and Rajasthan, the Jain religion counts as many as six million followers worldwide. With millennia of history and a deep affinity for the Hindu ideas of Karma and liberation from a cycle of reincarnation, the faith places heavy emphasis on asceticism and restraint. The overarching ideal is to never harm another living thing, making Jains devout vegetarians and repudiators of a great many modern luxuries.
Falun Gong, China
Driven by the dual beliefs of self-improvement and regular prescribed exercises, Falun Gong has risen to represent millions of people across China. It first emerged from the teachings of one Li Hongzhi in the early 1990s and quickly became popular thanks to its cohesive approach to living in the modern world – Buddhist ideas of meditation and enlightenment were made to fit with the pressures of a 20th-century life. Unfortunately, followers of Falun Gong have been persecuted in China since the government declared it heretical at the turn of the millennium.
Have you been on a spiritual travel adventure and have something to add? Or, are you interested in getting TEFL qualified as a way to get out there and have a spiritual travel encounter? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!