Who Do Rastafarians Worship?

Rastafari uses a lion to symbolize Haile Selassie I.
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Rastafari, a relatively modern faith, emerged from Jamaica in the 1930s. In that same year, the man some Rastafarians consider a god was crowned King of Ethiopia -- Haile Selassie I. The need to reclaim and rediscover African roots played a significant role in the religion's growth and three men -- Marcus Garvey, Leonard Howell and Bob Marley -- helped spread the faith.

1 Haile Selassie I

Selassie was not a Rastafarian, and didn't consider himself a god. He just happened to be crowned shortly after Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican black nationalist leader, predicted the coronation of a black king who would save the black people. Garvey encouraged black Jamaicans to reclaim their pre-slavery African heritage and create a sense of identity not based on white, Western teachings. Some of Garvey's followers looked to the Bible and in Jeremiah 8:21 found a reference suggesting God was black, which helped justify claiming Selassie as divine: "For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; as astonishment hath taken hold of me."

2 Jah Rastafari

Rastafarians trace Selassie's lineage back to King Solomon and the House of David, and thus to Jesus, who was a descendant of King David through his mother Mary. The religion takes its name from Selassie's birth name, Ras Tafari. Rastafarians refer to him as Jah Rastafari, meaning the black redeemer. Upon coronation Selassie gained other traditional titles of Ethiopia, among them "Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, " and the Rastafarians came to adopt the lion as a religious symbol. His coronation inspired Jamaican street preacher Leonard Howell to form the first Rastafari branch in 1935, while speaking of Selassie's divinity. Selassie visited Jamaica in 1966 and received a huge welcome, but died soon after he was deposed by Marxists in 1974. Rastafarians continue to worship him.

3 Black Israelites

Rastafarians believe that black people are reincarnated ancient Israelites. In keeping with this belief, they follow moral code based on the Old Testament. For example, they don't shave, cut their hair, or wear tattoos, based on Leviticus 21:5, which says, "They shall not make any baldness on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts in their flesh." The religion regards women as subordinate to men, dictates a set of rules constraining female behavior. Other parts of the code include dietary restrictions, some similar to those followed by Jews and Muslims, such as avoiding pork and shellfish. Rastafarians don't drink alcohol or caffeine, but consume marijuana -- called "herb" -- as part of worship.

4 Babylon

Rastafarians use Psalm 137, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion," to support their belief that Jamaica is Babylon, and that Ethiopia is the true home of black people. The call for repatriation to Africa is a dominant theme in Rastafari writings and in the music of its most famous devotee, Bob Marley.

Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.