In the Beginning: The Early Days of Religious Beliefs
by Jaime Reyes
Westwood Books Publishing LLC

"As humans developed social and family groups for mutual protection, procreation, and survival of the species, a need for leaders arose."

Author Reyes has created a believable fantasy focusing sharply on the development of the earliest known prototypes of modern man. The story begins with a simple premise: an aging cave dweller named Og is getting too tired for hunting, but if he doesn't hunt, he won't eat. There must be a way to get a share of the meat without accompanying the tribe’s spear-wielding hunters. When a storm hits, and the people of his clan tremble, fearful of the noise and the lightning, Og has an inspiration. He uses their fears and his own sharp memory regarding the usual length and intensity of such storms to put on a show. Posing as a kind of shaman who can control natural forces, he demonstrates his power by drawing lightning to an up-turned spear. He will follow this initial chicanery with pictures, chants, and the invention of an ever-growing panoply of natural gods whom he names and whose forces only he can invoke.

Og is rewarded not only with sufficient food but also with a new bride, one as intelligent as he is. Their children and grandchildren will preserve the family’s religious lore to their advantage. But it is not only Og and his brood who gain from the new revelations and incantations; the whole clan prospers. They begin to explore their territory, trade with and enrich their neighbors, and, in the process, discover other kinds of beings similar to themselves but with different habits and more advanced weapons and skills. Women begin to play a role in the clan’s spiritual life as well as proving their prowess as hunters. Gradually, Og’s descendants will spread out over the world, carrying their beliefs and knowledge with them.

Reyes’ book is both scholarly nonfiction and enjoyable fable. In postulating the family of Og and its adventures and incremental advances in such crucial necessities as weaponry, food preservation, and construction, he intends to show how not only religion but civilization could have developed. Though he recognizes that “definitive proof or evidence may never be found” regarding this progression, there are reasonable speculations that can be made based on the facts we do have. The author includes information to underpin his narrative. For example, though different from us, early hominids were closer to humans in shape and intelligence than was once thought. Interbreeding, as described in Reye’s novelistic treatment, was an aid to further advancement. Reye’s characterization of Mina, a female descendant of Og who becomes both a warrior and a priestess, is also supported by historical findings.

Reyes would seem to be a Renaissance man. After a long career in law enforcement, he chose to spend his early retirement years pursuing a degree in journalism and offers this debut book in both English and Spanish versions. To give credence to his highly readable prehistoric fantasy, the author includes a substantial list of further resources. His story will enthrall all thoughtful readers. Importantly, the concepts behind it may comprise material for lively discussions, suggesting that the basis of religion and spirituality grew out of serendipity, active curiosity, and a simple human longing for the understanding and control of natural forces.

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