Information about in all religions Fasting. What is Fasting?
Fasting is a ritual abstention from food and drink, observed by either individuals or communities for varying lengths of time. Strictly, to qualify as a fast the abstention must be total or modified only by certain concessions such as restricting the length of the fast (for example, from dawn to dusk) or merely restricting the amount of food taken rather than allowing no food. Othenvise it is simply an abstinence—that is, refraining from eating a particular type or types of food. The practice has obtained among ali peoples in ali ages.
Fasting on Important Occasions in Life. Fasting is a common element of initiation rites among such diverse peoples as the Algonkin, Ojibwa, and Thompson Indians of North America, the Guarani of Brazil, and the Mataco of the Gran Chaco, as well as on several Pacific islands. In ancient times it was imposed on those admitted to the mystery cults of Isis, Attis, and Mithra. Fasting at puberty is a widespread usage—for example, among Sioux boys and Chiriguano girls.
Fasting is common among primitive peoples as a preliminary to marriage—for example among the Teita of East Africa, the Macuai of Guyana, the Tlingit of Alaska, and the Santals of Bengal. Orthodox Jewish couples fast before the nuptial ceremony.
Fasting is almost everywhere a prescribed rite of mouming. It is so used, for instance, in the Andaman islands, Fiji, Samoa, China, and Korea, and among many African peoples. Orthodox Jews abstain from food until after the interment.
Fasting in Crisis and in Penitence. Fasts are observed on occasions of anticipated danger, as when the women of the Babar islands abstain from food while their men are at war. The Indians of Nootka Sound and Portland inlet fast when embarking on hunting or whaling expeditions. In Germany, people sometimes fasted during violent storms.
The practice is also common as a form of penitence or as a means of propitiating gods and spirits. In the Old Testament, for instance, public fasts are often proclaimed in moments of crisis in order to appease the wrath of Yahweh (Jeremiah 36:9; Joel 1:14), and the custom is likewise attested in ancient Babylonian psalms.
Religious Ascetic Practice. Physical privation plays a role in religious asceticism, where it constitutes not only a sacrificial surrender of the flesh but also a means of closer assimilation to the divine state. Prolonged fasting is characteristic of saints and holy men in ali religions—for example, the early Christian Desert Fathers, the Hindu yogis, and the early Quakers.
Fasting is used in the training of shamans and other spokesmen of the occult. It is regarded as an efficient means of emancipating them from the trammels of the senses. The Haitians, for example, regard fasting as a necessary preliminary to obtaining knowledge of the future, and both Malayans and Zulus thereby seek contact with the unseen. In ancient Greece the Pythian priestess at the Delphic oracle obtained inspiration through fasting.
Fasting also often precedes religious rites; for instance, ancient Egyptian priests abstained from food before offering sacrifices.
Before Seasonal Feasts. Fasts are usually imposed before seasonal festivals. They are accompanied, as a rule, by other forms of abstinence, such as a ban on sexual relations and on commercial and administrative activities. Thus the Jewish Day of Atonement before the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) is marked by a public fast. In ancient Greece, fasting obtained at the festival of Thesmophoria, in spring, and of Demeter Chloe, the grain mother. A fast of Ceres was observed by the Romans in October, and in the Hellenistic mystery cult of Attis, March 22 was a fast day. Similarly, the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Natchez of North America and the natives of New Guinea precede their harvest festivals by fasts.
Sometimes, however, calendar fasts assume the form of commemorations of past disasters or are later rationalized as, for example, the Jewish fasts associated with the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Here the fasts are at once acts of mourning and means of propitiating an outraged or displeased deity.
In Judaism. In Judaism, apart from the great Fast of Atonement (Yom Kippur) on the lOth of the Hebrew month of Tishri, the Old Testament (Zechariah 8:19) mentions four lesser fasts, now identifîed as those occıırring on (1) the lOth of the Hebrew month of Tebeth, when the siege of Jerusalem began; (2) the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, when the walls were breached; (3) the 9th of the Hebrew month of Ab, when the Temple was destroyed; and (4) the 3d of the Hebrew month of Tishri, when Gedaliah, governor of Judah, was assassinated (II Kings 25:25). There is also a fast of Esther (Esther 4:16), and of the firstbom on the vigil of Passover. Fasts last from sunrise until the first stars appear, except those of Yom Kippur and the 9th of Ab, which are observed “from sunset to sunset.” No fast, except Yom Kippur, can fail on the Sabbath.
In Christianity. In Christianity, fasts, originally voluntary, became the subject of legislation only in the 4th century. The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between fast and abstinence. The former, obligatory on ali persons över 21, permits only one full meal in 24 hours; the latter, which binds ali över 14, forbids meat or dishes made from meat. The only obligatory fasts today are those of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The faithful are also required to observe a one-hour fast before recedving Holy Commumon. Formerly, fasting was enjoined throughout Lent (except on Sundays), on Ember Days, on vigils of the more solemn festivals, and on ali Fridays except between Christmas and Epiphany and between Easter and Ascension. According to universal church law, abstinence was prescribed for ali Sundays in Lent, St. Mark’s Day (if not in Easter Week), Rogation Days, ali Saturdays, and ali Fridays except those noted above. The universal law, however, was usually adjusted by local custom and dispensation. The older system is followed, at least nominally, by the Church of England.
The Greek Orthodox Church recognizes 266 fast days in the year. These include every Wednesday and Friday; the 40 days before Christmas and the 40 before Easter; the fast of the Apostles, between Whitsunday (Penecost) and the feast of St. Peter; and the Lent of the Virgin, from August 1 until August 15 (the feast of the Assumption, or, as it is called in the East, the Dormition). In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox never keep Saturday as a day of abstinence.
The Eastern Orthodox permit ali food except meat during the first week of Lent. Thereafter, however, fish, cheese, butter, oil, milk, and eggs are also banned, except on Saturdays and Sundays. The Copts and Nestorians add a 3-day “fast of the Ninevites” before Lent.
The reformed churches of Europe fasted during Lent only; the Scottish Presbyterians recognized only fasts with Scriptural authority.
Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist Customs. The main fast of islam, ordained by Mohammed himself (Koran 2:180), is the 30-day period of Ramadan, when no food may be eaten until sundown. Devout Muslims also observe the six days in the following month; the fast of Ashura, on the lOth day of Muharram; every Monday and Thursday; and the 13th and 14th of each month (known as “the bright days“).
Hindu Brahmins fast on the llth day after the new moon and after the full moon; devotees of Shiva also fast every Monday in November. In Buddhism, while abstemiousness is required of monks, asceticism was disdained by Buddha. Fasting is deprecated by the Zoroastrians and Jains.
The Rationale of Fasting. Religious fasting cannot be referred to any single motive. Thus, the theory of W. Robertson Smith that it was designed to prepare the body for sacramental meals overlooks the fact that abstention from food on calendar occasions is usually but one factor in a larger complex of abstinences. Similarly, the view that fasting was originally a means of preventing demons from entering the body through food ignores the cases where its purpose was expressly to induce demoniac inspiration. Nevertheless, several of the main forms of fasting may indeed be explained by a common principle of mortification—a. desire to express the temporary death or eclipse of the self. Thus, fasting at initiation or marriage would signify the demişe of a previous “personality” prior to assuming a new one; while fasts observed at seasonal festivals would mark the eclipse of corporate life at the end of each agricultural cycle. Fasting could thus be related more closely to other rites with which it is customarily associated. Such concomitant ceremonies of mourning, for instance, as silence, veiling, and seclusion are likewise expressions of “evacuated personality,” the mourners sharing temporarily in the death.
It should be observed, however, that fasting is not always a religious practice. In Ireland, for examplej it was customary in former times to “fast on a person in order to force compliance with legal claims upon him. Known as the Black (or St. Trinian’s) Fast, it consisted in observing a hunger stıike, for any fatal effects of which he was held responsible. The custom lıas its counter-part in the political hunger strikes observed, in more recent times, by the British suffragettes; Terence MacSwiney, the famous lord mayor of Cork; Mahatma Gandhi; and others.
Several cases of extraordinary fasting are on record; however, some are more legendary than authentic. The Fasting Nun of Liecester (died 1275) is said to have abstained from nutrient for seven years, except for Communion on Sundays. In 1375, a murderess named Cecelia de Ridgeway was pardoned by Edward III of England after she had survived a fast of 20 days.