What Are Rastafarians And What Do They Believe?

The term “Rastafarian” is a word that describes a practitioner of the Rastafari religion. However, the word “Rastafarian” is used almost exclusively by people outside of the faith as followers reject the idea of being labeled an “ian” or “ism” - they feel it it's an oppressive tool of “Babylon” and Western society. Members of the religion prefer being called Rastafari or Rastafaris, but they are also known as Rastas, Locksmen, or Dreadlocks.

The Rastafari religion is the result of a movement that developed among the impoverished masses in Jamaica during the 1930s which stemmed from a revival in African spiritual, philosophical, and cultural beliefs and rejection of European colonization. Followers of Rastafari base their ideology on an interpretation of the Bible they call “Rastalogy” and focus on the belief that part of the one true God, who they call Jah, resides in every person.

Many consider Rastafari a way of life and not a religion, though nearly all believe in reincarnation and an eternal spiritual existence. This is partly because the Rastafari religion doesn't have an organized theology, hierarchical authority, or sanctified institutions, as practitioners believe they can commune directly with the divine. Instead of formal religious ceremonies, Rastafaris take part in communal meetings known as “groundations” that incorporate music, chanting, and meditation to have group discussions and reach higher states of consciousness.

Living “naturally” is very important to Rastafari, and they follow many Old Testament Laws very literally. For instance, they follow strict, all-natural diets, sometimes forsaking meat and animal products, and they twist their hair into dreadlocks rather than groom it with shears. Rastafari also adhere to strict gender roles and generally look down on consuming intoxicants (other than cannabis, which they consider a holy sacrament), using contraception, and homosexual behavior. Some Rastafari believe that a pilgrimage or permanent return to Africa (which they call “Zion” and the Promised Land) is essential to the philosophy, while others believe it's more about a spiritual journey of returning to one's ancestral roots and respecting oneself (and every living being) as being worthy of a happy, healthy life.

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