Griaule and Dieterlen conducted detailed investigations of the complex Dogon rituals and symbolism, and the cosmological ideas of which they are an expression.
Griaule’s two most important works are Masques Dogons (1938) and Dien d’Eau (1948). The latter work was published in English in 1965 under the title Conversations with Ogotemmeli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas. The religious beliefs of the Dogon are enormously complex and knowledge of them varies greatly within Dogon society. Dogon religion is defined primarily through the worship of the ancestors and the spirits whom they encountered as they slowly migrated from their obscure ancestral homelands to the Bandiagara cliffs.
There are three principal cults among the Dogon; the Awa, Lebe and Binu. The Awa is a cult of the dead, whose purpose is to reorder the spiritual forces disturbed by the death of Nommo, a mythological ancestor of great importance to the Dogon. Members of the Awa cult dance with ornate carved and painted masks during both funeral and death anniversary ceremonies.
There are 78 different types of ritual masks among the Dogon and their iconographic messages go beyond the aesthetic, into the realm of religion and philosophy. The primary purpose of Awa dance ceremonies is to lead souls of the deceased to their final resting place in the family altars and to consecrate their passage to the ranks of the ancestors.
In the late 1940’s, Dogon priests greatly surprised the French anthropologists Griaule and Dieterlen by telling them of secret Dogon myths about the star Sirius (8.6 light years from the earth).
The priests said that Sirius had a companion star that was invisible to the human eye.
They also stated that the star moved in a 50-year elliptical orbit around Sirius, that it was small and incredibly heavy, and that it rotated on its axis.
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