Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Curse becomes a personal being, flying through space till it can light upon some victim, or coming like a chicken home to roost. How conceptions, once definitely meaning what they literally purport, but now expressing the mode of thought of a far different state of culture, yet hold on from age to age, like the ceremonies of an old faith fossilised into the symbols of a new one, it is the business of the student of carly history to trace out. It is only by knowing when and by whom the old form of speech is used that we can distinguish what the savage means as actual matter-of-fact, from what the philosopher or the poet uses in conscious metaphor. We know well enough with what intent the Sun is said to rejoice as a strong man to run a race, or Tiber to struggle hard and toss his tawny mane; but the savage who says such things as these means a great deal more than we do. To write in a modern English book that a child is “animated by a spirit of disobedience,” is to use what a schoolmaster would call a figure of speech ; but there was a time when such words simply meant what they said, that there is a real concrete creature, a Spirit of Disobedience, who enters into the child and possesses it. And at last we may see the grand old doctrine of personality fallen to its lowest degradation in the hands of Puff in the Critic :

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Puff.-Is the Thames dressed?

[Enter THAMES with two ATTENDANTS.] Thames.-IIere I am, sir.

Putt.Very well, indeed! See, gentlemen, there's a river for you! This is blending a little of the masque with my tragedy-a new fancy, you know and very useful in my case; for as there must be a procession, I suppose Thames and all his tributary rivers to compliment Britannia with a fête in honour of the victory.

Sneer.-But pray, who are these gentlemen in green with him ?
Pulj:-Those ?--those are his banks.
Suecr.--His banks?

Put:-Yes, one crowned with alders, and the other with a villa,--you take the allusions ? But hey! what the plague! you have got both your banks on one side. IIere, sir, come round. Ever while you live, Thames, go between your banks. [Bell rings.] There, so! now for 't. Stand aside, my dear friends! Away, Thames !

[Erit Thames between his banks.

Just thus, no doubt, will our own modern philosophy one day be had out, old and blind, to make sport for the Philistines of the future.

Upwards from the simplest theory which attributes life and personality to animal, vegetable, and mineral alike-through that which gives to stone and plant and river guardian spirits which live among them and attend to their preservation, growth, and change—up to that which sees in each department of the world the protecting and fostering care of an appropriate divinity, and at last of one Supreme Being ordering and controlling the lower hierarchy—through all these gradations of opinion we may thus see fought out, in one stage after another, the long-waged contest between a theory of animation which accounts for each phenomenon of nature by giving it everywhere a life like our own, and a slowly-growing natural science which in one department after another substitutes for independent voluntary action the working out of systematic law. One phase after another of the contest is set before us in minute and abundant records. “ The whole universe,” says Schoolcraft, speaking of the North American Indians, “ is regarded indeed as animated, either in part, or symbolically. Each class of creation is believed to have its representative deities, who have eyes and ears open to everything that exists, transpires, or is uttered. Viewed in this light, winds have voices—the leaves of the trees utter a language—and even the earth is animated by a crowd of spirits who have an influence on the affairs of men.” The great powers of the forest, which the Siberian Yakuts worship with ceremonial chants, are the bears and the elves. To the latter, and especially to the great “Spirit of the Forest,” they offer horsehair, symbolic of their most valued possession. Numberless such offerings are hung upon the trees; nor is the sacred tree hung with offerings peculiar to this race. This ceremony manifests indeed one of the most universal types of savage worship, done in every quarter of the globe in direct and acknowledged reverence to the wood-spirits, or adopted into higher religions, even into Christianity, within whose pale it flourishes still. If we ask, again, what is it that makes trees grow—have they souls like animals ? the Dayak of Borneo will tell us how a human soul passes through one transformation after another till at last it enters the trunk of a tree, and may be seen there, damp and blood-like, but no longer sentient. Or, if the tree is not actually a living person, does not a spirit enter and animate it? Certainly. We may read, for instance, in Hardy's “ Manual of Budhism,” how Bodhisat was once the dewa or divine spirit who resided in a tree, and he said to a Brahman who every morning asked the protection of the tree, and made offerings to it continually: “The tree is not sentient; it hears nothing, it knows nothing; then why do you address it or ask from it assistance ?" At last, when even this entrance of a creating or preserving spirit into the inanimate object has to yield to the imperious exigencies of growing knowledge, the cold theory has still one place of abiding left. There must be a cause why rivers run, rocks stand, plants grow; and it is congenial to the theory of animation to ascribe such phenomena to personal action. If, then, the phenomenon be formed into an imaginary entity, and personified, we all know how it becomes the very cause, reason, and explanation of itself. As Bastian so aptly illustrates the principle, "even when a leaf falls from the tree it is easiest to say the gol Caducus threw it down; Edlusa makes children eat, Potina makes

a

them drink, Rumina makes them suck, Abeona takes them out, Adeona brings them home,” and so forth. From this there is but a step to what Comte called the “metaphysical” stage of thought, in which the world exists and changes by virtue of incorporeal entities, who are really but the personified abstractions of the very things they are set up to account for and to do. Nature, Fate, Law, are still thought and reasoned of in our own day as real beings whose life and position in the world is a kind of shadow of the life and place of man.

Readers familiar with the study of human thought in its lower phases will ere this have missed the familiar name of " fetishism," as denoting this very opinion “ by which man conceives of all external bodies as animated by a life analogous to his own, with differences of mere intensity ;” but the word is so utterly inappropriate and misleading that I have purposely avoided it. A fetish (Portuguese feitiço, charm, sorcery”) is an object used in witchcraft; and the mistake of applying the word to religion at all has arisen from the images and other inanimate objects used by sorcerers? being confounded with

31 idols, which we thence find commonly, but very wrongly, called fetishes. The theory which endows the phenomena of nature with personal life might perhaps be conveniently called Animism. Now, the Animist may or may not be an idolater; the Parsee fireworshipper, for instance, has the deification of the powers of nature as a prominent part of his ancient faith, but he does not use idols ; whereas the Hindu docs. To the Animist, however, in that stage of his opinion which regards plants and minerals as preserved and controlled by personal spiritual beings who from time to time may enter into them and possess them, there is a particular appropriateness in the use of an idol which such a spiritual being may enter into and animate. This, for instance, is most distinctly the Polynesian view of the nature and function of an idol. It may be that this conception has actually led up to the view which an educated Hindu, for example, will own to, that the idol is nothing but a symbol of the spiritual being in whose name it receives worship, an opinion which scarcely differs from that belonging to the use of figures and pictures as aids to the devotion of educated Greck and Roman Catholics. It may be even that the very doctrine of ideas, as their very name of idéa or visible shape so strongly suggests, may lie in the deepest connection with that early and savage opinion which sees both in waking and sleeping thought the Lucretian simulacra, the impalpable forms, shades, souls, ghosts, or phantoms, not of men and beasts alone, but of trees and

(1) I have elsewhere (Early IIistory of Mankind, chap. vi.) endeavoured to show the real nature of sorcery, and to trace it to an origin in a well-known and intelligible principle of the lower philosophy. It seems no proper part of religion, though so often mixed with it.

clouds, rocks and rivers, clothes and tools and weapons. But I must here

pass these problems by with a mere mention, limiting these remarks to those opinions of crude and carly religion which havo been sketched out.

In supporting and exemplifying the opinion that we may see in Animism an elementary religious phase, and in propounding a theory as to the origin of one of the most important of religious rites, that of sacrifice, it has not been necessary for me to assume imaginary or hypothetical states of human culture. The opinions in question being actually found in existence in a more or less perfect state, all that is hypothetical in the matter is the sequenco in which they are supposed to have arisen one out of another. Men are found expressing their belief in so many words that animals, trees, rivers, winds, rain, stars, are creatures inhabited and controlled by souls or spirits; and they emphatically recognise the personal character of these spirits by praying to them! A man does not pray to a phenomenon, or a law, or a principle, or a cause. They are also found sacrificing to the souls of their ancestors and to other spiritual beings, with the expressed purpose of sending to them the souls of the victims which, to use our expressive idiom, they dispatch. When in one district we read of prisoners of war slain to go and serve the gods, or in another of poor souls appearing to their kindred in dreams, naked and shivering, to complain that no clothes have been burnt at their burial, and so there is nothing for them to wear, we cannot deny the existence of these opinions. But the evidence for these being conceptions out of which others have grown, must rest on what we know of the general way of intellectual movement among mankind. It seems consistent with this to consider that the belief came first that sun and moon are man-like creatures walking in the sky, and that eclipses are caused by monsters swallowing and disgorging them, before men, growing wiser, rose to the higher opinion that the heavenly bodies are set mechanically to perform an appointed course, and that their eclipses are mechanical also. Both classes of opinion survive side by side in India in our own day. The Brahmans of the l'edas maintain the old mythological astronomy as matter of orthodox belief, while the native astronomers are familiar with the physical system as matter of science. No one would doubt the order of sucCession of opinion here ; nor does this case seem an unfair type of what has been the usual course of intellectual progress in these matters throughout the world. Of course new errors arise from time to time, and doctrines belonging to very low phases of knowledge hold on and even burst out into new vigour in the midst of a generally advancing education. Astrology has still its votaries in England, and the modern spiritualism, as every ethnographer may know, is pure and simple savagery both in its theory and the tricks by which it is supported. But the question is, did the stage of thought to which astrology and spirit-rapping belong arise out of the stage to which natural science belongs, or rather was it not just the contrary? Again, as to the rite of sacrifice : if we start with the more advanced view that it is merely done with the object of expressing fear or reverence, and try from this point of view to explain why a family of savages should burn an offering of food and clothes for their dead father, we are met with the very fair and pertinent demand for a sufficient motive. It is of course an open theory, that the origin of sacrifice was purely symbolic, that it was originally intended only to transmit a mere idea to the Being worshipped. But, on the other hand, the destruction of the offering that its spirit may be taken possession of by the spirit of the dead, does satisfy the question, "cui bono?“who profits by it?” and its direct and practical purpose fits it for being considered an original motive for a ceremonial observance.

It is, I think, a principle to be held fast in studying the early history of our race, that we ought always to look for practical and intelligible motives for the habits and opinions we find existing in the world. When we read the accounts written by missionaries or naturalists who have really become acquainted with a rude tribe, we may catch a glimpse of what savages have suffered at the hands of mere superficial travellers. The very assertion that their actions are motiveless, and their opinions nonsense, is itself a theory, and, I hold, a profoundly false one, invented to account for all manner of things which those who did not understand them could thus easily explain. Savages are exceedingly ignorant as regards both physical and moral knowledge; want of discipline makes their opinions crude and their action ineffective in a surprising degree; and the tyranny of tradition at every step imposes upon them thoughts and customs which have been inherited from a different stage of culture, and thus have lost a reasonableness which we may often see them to have possessed in their first origin. Judged by our ordinary modern standard of knowledge, which is at any rate a high one as compared with theirs, much of what they believe to be true, must be set down as false. But to be false, is not the same as to be motiveless. The tendency of research in this as yet little worked field is indeed to show more and more throughout the life of the lower races reasonable motives of opinion, and practical purposes of action, or at least the influence of ancestral tradition which once had itself a like intelligible basis.

EDWARD B. TYLOR.

a

a

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »