But what name is there for the second branch of Natural Religion which is to comprehend the history of the various attempts at discovering something infinite and divine in man or mankind beginning with the first surmises of the existence of something different from the body and culminating in a belief in the divine sonship of man the true key-note of the religion of Christ? Perhaps the proper title would have been Anthropic Religion. But I shrink from forming new words if it can be avoided. And as for the third branch of Natural Religion which deals with the true nature of the soul or the self the most intelligible name seemed to be Psychological Religion I determined to use Anthropological for the second branch only guarding against the supposition that Anthropological Religion is in any way more closely connected with what is now called Anthropology the Science of Man and Civilisation as Dr. Tylor defines it than the other branches of Natural Religion. It may be true that the languages of uncivilised races throw more light on the problems of Anthropological Religion than on those of Physical and Psychological Religion; and it is for that reason that we shall have to examine the true value of this kind of testimony more carefully now than we were called upon to do when tracing the development of the universal belief in the gods of nature. But otherwise Anthropological Religion has nothing to do with Anthropology. It is called anthropological simply and solely in order to comprehend under that name all the attempts which have been made to discover something not merely human then superhuman then divine and immortal in man. The most interesting parts of this process are the beginning and the end the first discovery of something different from the body and the final identification of that something with the Divine. To these two parts we shall have to devote most of our attention leaving the intermediate steps which are better known to the historian of religion and of philosophy.
Lecture 5. About the True Character of Ancestor-Worship.
The Name of Anthropological Religion.
IT was not easy to find a satisfactory name for that branch of Natural Religion of which I mean to treat in this course of Lectures. The discovery of the Infinite in nature traced from its first poor beginnings to its culminating point the belief in One God as manifested in the whole of nature could be called by one name only namely Physical Religion. By a proper definition this Physical Religion might easily be kept distinct from Natural Religion of which it forms one branch.
Former Opinions on the Sources of Religion.
It is unfortunate that in tracing this second development of religious thought the anthropological we shall have to defend almost every step we take against certain philosophers who have traversed the same ground but who have done so without an accurate knowledge of the facts that have to be interpreted and what is still worse with certain preconceived ideas of their own which they have applied to the interpretation of these facts—I mean more particularly Comte in France Mr. Herbert Spencer in England and Lippert Gruppe and several other scholars in Germany. The fatal mistake which according to my opinion vitiates all their researches is their not seeing or not being willing to see that religion has had many sources and that any attempt to trace all phases of religion back to one source must lead to the most forced and unnatural theories. If anything is all-embracing it is what we call religion. We might as well derive the ocean from one river as religion from one source.
The theory first broached by De Brosses and afterwards adopted by Comte that all religion arose from Fetishism need not be slain again. It broke down because it tried to make one small and very late tributary the main source of all religion.
De Brosses himself however still kept within certain bounds1. He claimed for fetishism a share in the early growth of religious ideas; he did not make it the only source of all religion. It was Bastholm who in his famous work on Anthropology published in 1805 claimed ‘everything produced by nature or art which receives divine honour including sun moon earth air fire water mountains rivers trees stones images and animals if considered as objects of divine worship as fetish.’ Of late another step has been made and Lippert2 now defines fetishism ‘as a belief in the souls of the departed coming to dwell in anything that is tangible or visible in heaven or earth.’
But while anthropologists mostly contented themselves with collecting facts more or less carefully observed and comprehended under the ill-defined name of fetishism Comte went further still and claimed fetishism as a necessary plan in the universal growth of religion. This of course was a mere theory unsupported by facts and called by a misleading name. But it took a long time before that theory was completely annihilated. The ease with which it explained everything recommended it to many who dislike the trouble of vigorous thought. If it was asked why people worshipped the sun the answer was always ready because they took the sun for a fetish. The same answer was supposed to account for tree-worship serpent-worship idol-worship stone- and shell-worship in fact for everything. I do not mean to say that the ghost of fetishism has been entirely laid but it only haunts deserted places now. Mr. Herbert Spencer himself has formally surrendered that theory and has set an excellent example in doing this. How much rubbish that now stops the way of further advance might be removed if all who have discovered a theory which they once held to be untenable would follow his excellent example and say so openly. This is what Mr. Spencer writes in his Principles of Sociology (1877) p. 343:
‘How untenable is the idea that fetishism comes first among superstitions will now be manifest. Suppose the facts reversed. Suppose that by Juángs Andamanese Fuegians Australians Tasmanians and Bushmen worship of inanimate objects was carried to the greatest extent; that among tribes a little advanced in intelligence and social state it was somewhat restricted; that it went on decreasing as knowledge and civilisation increased; and that in highly-developed societies such as those of ancient Peru and modern India it became inconspicuous. Should we not say that the statement was conclusively proved? Clearly then as the facts happen to be exactly the opposite the statement is conclusively disproved.’
Mr. Herbert Spencer explains very truly how this extraordinary superstition—I do not mean fetishism but a belief in fetishism as a primordial religion—arose (p. 344)
‘Made’ he writes; ‘on the strength of evidence furnished by early travellers whose contact was chiefly with races partially advanced and even semi-civilised the assertion that fetishism is primordial gained possession of men's minds; and prepossession being nine points of belief it has held its ground with scarcely a question. I had myself accepted it; though as I remember with some vague dissatisfaction probably arising from inability to see how so strange an interpretation arose. This vague dissatisfaction passed into scepticism on becoming better acquainted with the ideas of savages. Tabulated evidence presented by the lowest races changed scepticism into disbelief; and thought has made it manifest that the statement disproved à posteriori is contrary to à priori probability.’
It was indeed high time that this spurious fetishism should have been exterminated for it had almost been introduced into the very country from which it had at first been carried away by those Portuguese sailors whom De Brosses followed as his authorities. Lander as quoted by Mr. Spencer (Sociology p. 134) when narrating his voyage down the Niger says: ‘From time to time as we came to a turn in the creek the captain of the canoe—a Negro I suppose—halloed to the fetish and where an echo was returned half a glass of rum and a piece of yam and fish were thrown into the water. When asked why he said—“Did you not hear the fetish?”’
It must be clear that whatever the facts of the case may have been the form in which it is told is simply impossible. First of all the fetishes of De Brosses were never supposed to speak through the echo. Secondly the name fetish assigned by Portuguese priests to the Negro amulets and talismans is of course utterly unknown to the natives themselves. To ask a Negro as has often been done whether he believes in a fetish is much the same as to ask him whether he believes in Satan or the Devil. How is he to know what we mean by Satan or the Devil?3 We might as well ask him whether he believes in Constitutional Government or in the Law of Gravitation.
Fetishism however need not be banished altogether from the history of religious thought. On the contrary it has its place as I tried to show in my Hibbert Lectures as a very late phase of superstition during which with or without reason some peculiar charm is ascribed to the most casual objects. Our peasants still believe in the efficacy of a horse-shoe and many of us I suspect carry a halfpenny with a hole for luck. I am not ashamed to say I have myself done so for years. This is what is called a survival. The world is still full of such survivals but it does not always follow that they are the rudiments of a primordial faith. There is old rubbish but there is new rubbish also—a point which we may have to discuss more fully hereafter.
And what applies to Fetishism applies to Totemism also. Totemism is no doubt a most curious phase in the evolution of religious thought. But we want an accurate definition of it. Everything almost that is considered sacred in any religion has by some writer or other been called a totem. But why should the original and true meaning of totem be so diluted and destroyed? Totem became known to us first of all through missionaries among the Indian tribes of Canada. They tell us that in the language of the Indians it meant ‘clan mark’ or rather ‘my clan mark.’ Father Cuoq (see Academy Sept. 20 1884) states that the word is properly ote meaning ‘clan mark.’ The possessive form is otem and with the personal pronoun nind otem ‘my clan mark’ kit otem ‘thy clan mark &c.’ These clan marks still exist and an Ottawa Indian has told us that the people to whom he belonged were divided into tribes sections and families according to their clan marks or ododams. All people belonging to the same ododam or sign-post were required to dwell in their own section of the village. At the principal entrance of their enclosure there was often a sign set up. Those who had a bear for their sign were called the Bears; others the Gulls the Hawks the Finches the Hares and so on.
After a time every family had to adopt some kind of totem which became more and more important as signs of recognition in war and in migrations from one place to another. What would be more natural under these circumstances than that those who called themselves Bears should be supposed to be descended from a bear that they should feel a certain reverence for their ursine ancestor should look upon real bears as some distant relations and abstain from killing and eating the animal?
All this is perfectly intelligible and it is equally intelligible that similar though not identical customs and ideas should have sprung up in many parts of the world. Nor was there any harm if at first all such customs should have been comprehended under the name of Totemism. But Anthropology has left that early stage and its best representatives are now engaged not so much in comparing as in discriminating. Comparative Philology also began with comparing; it is now almost entirely occupied with discovering what is peculiar to each family of languages to each language to each dialect. To treat all animal worship as due to totemism is a mistake. Animal worship has many different sources. Nor is totemism the only reason why people abstain from eating certain animals. Surely the Jews did not abstain from eating pork because they were totemists and believed themselves descended from a pig. It does not follow that because savage tribes in different parts of the world do the same thing they do it for the same reason. For the purposes of clear thought we must as much as possible keep one name for one thing and endeavour to prevent its definition from becoming blurred by promiscuous usage. Comparison and generalisation are interesting and useful as a first step; but real knowledge is based on discrimination.
If we once knew what is meant by fetishism what by totemism and what by worship of ancestors we can follow the course of these three independent streams of religious thought in different parts of the world and derive many useful lessons from what they share in common and what is peculiar to each. But when we are told by Long (Academy Sept. 20 1884) that totem designates the protecting animals or other worshipful objects of each sept or by School-craft that totems are the mother-class of the Algonquins or by Lippert (1. c. p. 12) that ‘a totem is the same as a fetish in which the soul of some departed ancestor has taken up its abode’ we have a right to protest and to say ‘Define what you mean by fetish by totem and by ancestral spirits and do not mix up three things which as has been shown again and again have had three distinct and totally independent beginnings.’
In many cases what are called totems are nothing of the kind. For instance the same Indians who have their totems which may well be translated by family crests have also charms in the shape of animals. But these charms have a totally different origin. For instance4 when a young man intends to become a medicine-man he fasts and prays until in a vision there is revealed to him his god in the shape of a bird or animal ‘which he seeks and carries with him as his protector and guide. Every young man must seek such a god to protect him. The representation of this god he carries at all times as a charm.…The skins of animals and birds seen in visions are stuffed and worn on the person. Sometimes deerskins and cow-hide are cut into strips and made into snakes toads and various reptiles ornamented with beads and carried about on the person or in the medicine bag.’
Now these charms are quite different from the totems. Men belonging to the same totem may each have his own charm some one of these animals or birds seen in a vision. And while there is no secret about totems these charms were often kept secret or displayed on sacred festivals only.
If a man among the Santec Indians should dream of a buffalo he takes the head of the buffalo which he has killed removes the skin restores it to its natural shape and allows it to cure. He then removes the rods from a few square feet of earth behind a lodge works the exposed earth very fine takes a new blanket or robe which must not have belonged to a woman and places it over this prepared soil which was called the Umane. The skin of the buffalo head having retained its natural shape was painted blue on one side and red on the other and then placed in the centre of the blanket. Upon the blue side tufts of white swan's down or small eagle feathers were tied to the hair and upon the red side tufts of down painted red were tied. When this part of the ceremony was completed a pipe was filled the feast-kettle hung over the fire and after presenting the pipe to the head the dreamer addressed the head as follows: ‘Grandfather Venerable Man! Your children have made this feast for you may the food thus taken cause them to live and bring them good fortune5.’
What has this to do with the idea embodied in the totems or sign-posts of Indian tribes?
Again ‘there are war-charms borne upon poles and standards and these were held to be sacred in war. Such was the faith of the Red Indians in the potency of these charms that when the standard-bearer was slain their courage departed and they were easily defeated by the enemy.’ These standards were by no means identical with totems.
Sir George Grey in his Journals of two expeditions of discovery in Western Australia (vol. ii. p. 228) was the first to point out among Australians something very like and yet as we shall see from his own description something very different from the totem of the Red Indians namely the kobong.
This is what he writes:
‘But as each family adopts some animal or vegetable as their crest or sign or kobong as they call it I imagine it more likely that these have been named after their families than that the families have been named after them. A certain mysterious connection exists between a family and its kobong so that a member of the family will never kill an animal of the species to which his kobong belongs should he find it asleep; indeed he always kills it reluctantly and never without affording it a chance of escape6.’
Here then if Sir George Grey's description is right we have the very opposite of totemism the kobong or crest derived from the name of the family not the name of the family derived from the kobong. I do not say that the explanation of Sir George Grey is right but it is surely right to distinguish kobongs and totems and not to mix them up all together under a vague name.
The custom of totems of dream-signs of standards of kobongs may each and all become sources of religious ideas. But in order to understand these various ideas we must carefully distinguish their sources and not mix them all together and then label them Totemism7.
If then we can recognise neither Fetishism nor Totemism as the exclusive source of religion we are not likely to allow ourselves to be persuaded by Dr. Gruppe that the only source of religion all over the world was—hallucination. No one who has studied the annals of religion would deny that hallucination has played a very prominent part in religion and does so still. But to say that all religion is hallucination is—I say so with all respect for Professor Gruppe's great learning—not very far from hallucination itself.
We now come to Mr. Herbert Spencer's own favourite theory of the origin of religion. According to him the root of every religion is ancestor-worship. Here again who would deny that ancestor-worship is an important ingredient of ancient and modern religion? But to say that it is the root of every religion is a thoroughly one-sided view. Why should religion one of the most comprehensive terms in our language be supposed to have had one beginning only? Lest I should be suspected of misrepresenting Mr. Herbert Spencer's theory I must quote his own words (p. 440): ‘Anything’ he writes ‘which transcends the ordinary a savage thinks of as supernatural or divine: the remarkable man among the rest.’
We may admit that the savage considers what is outside the ordinary as extra-ordinary and if he has the concept of order in nature as extra-natural or supernatural. But let us reflect for a moment. How could he call it divine unless he had already elaborated the concept of divinity or divinities? We saw what labour it took before the crude metal supplied by the senses such as the fire the sky the sun could be hammered into a coin equivalent to deity. Are we to suppose that the same coin was handed to the savage out of mere charity?
But let us go on with Mr. Herbert Spencer's definition. ‘The remarkable man’ he continues ‘may be simply the remotest ancestor remembered as the founder of the tribe; he may be a chief famed for strength and bravery; he may be a medicine-man of great repute: he may be an inventor of something new; and then instead of being a member of the tribe be may be a superior stranger bringing arts and knowledge; or he may be one of a superior race gaining predominance by conquest. Being at first one or other of those regarded with awe during his life he is regarded with increased awe after his death; and the propitiation of his ghost becoming greater than the propitiation of ghosts which are less feared develops into an established worship. There is no exception then. Using the phrase ancestor-worship in its broadest sense as comprehending all worship of the dead be they of the same blood or not we conclude that ancestor-worship is the root of every religion.’
Ancestor-worship presupposes a Belief in Gods.
That ancestor-worship is more fertile in religious thought than fetishism or totemism will be denied by no one who is acquainted with any of the ancient religions of the world with those of Rome and Greece and more especially of India. But any scholar acquainted with the literature of these countries knows at the same time how in every one of these religions ancestor-worship presupposes nature-worship or more correctly a worship of the gods of nature.
We constantly hear that the Departed the Fathers the Ancestors the Heroes are admitted to the society of the gods they are often called half-gods they may at times claim even a certain equality with the gods. But the gods are always there before them and even when their individual names are forgotten there is the general concept of deity to which the ancestral spirits aspire.
Thus we read in the golden words ascribed to Pythagoras whoever their author may have been:
‘First to the immortal gods pay reverence due
Honour thy oath and give the Heroes praise
And those beneath the earth by actions just;
Reverence thy parents and thy nearest kin:
And count him friend whose virtue brightest shines
To gentle words incline and useful deeds.’
᾽Αθανάτους μὲν πρω̑τα θϵούς νόμῳ ὡς διάκϵιινται τίμα καὶ σέβου ὅρκον ἔπϵιθ᾽ ἥρωας ἀγαυούς τονς τϵ καταχθονίους σέβϵ δαίμονας ἔννομα ῤέζων τούς τϵ γονϵι̑ς τίμα τούς Τ᾽ ἄγχισΤ᾽ ἐκγϵγαω̑τας; τω̑ν δ᾽ ἄλλων ἀρϵτῃ̑ ποιϵι̑ ϕίλον ὄστις ἄριστος8.
Again when Plato speaks of the divine powers that ought to be reverenced by obeying their laws and wishes he says (Laws xi. 927): ‘But if these things are really so in the first place men should have a fear of the gods above who regard the loneliness of orphans; and in the second place of the souls of the departed who by nature incline to take an especial care of their own children; and they are friendly to those who honour them and unfriendly to those who do not.’
There are exceptions where the spirits of the departed are mentioned before the Olympian gods but they are intelligible. When Epaminondas exhorted his Greeks to fight and die for ‘their country for the graves of their fathers and for the altars of the gods.’ he placed the graves of the fathers even before the altars of the gods. But why? Because lie knew the human heart and what would most powerfully stir it for noble deeds at such a moment.
But we may appeal to the very passages quoted by Mr. Herbert Spencer himself in illustration of the worship of ancestors among civilised and uncivilised peoples in order to show that these ancestral spirits are again and again represented as admitted to the society of the gods or seated by the side of the gods. On p. 418 he tells us of a Maori chief who scornfully repudiated an earthly origin and looked forward to rejoining his ancestors the gods.
Williams says of the Fijians that they admit very little difference between a chief of high rank and one of the second order of deities.
Bastian tells us that the king of the Benin in Africa is not only the representative of God upon earth but God himself.
Battel states that the king of Loango is respected like a deity.
In America. F. de Xeres relates that Huayana Ceapac was so feared and obeyed that they almost looked upon him as their god.
In Peru according to Acosta a dead king was immediately regarded as a god.
According to Thomson the New Zealanders believed that several high chiefs after death became deified.
I could go on quoting such passages from page after page all showing not that the gods became ancestors but that the ancestors became gods or at all events approached to the status of a second order of deities. How this deification or apotheosis could have taken place unless people had formed beforehand a name and concept of gods Mr. Herbert Spencer seems never to have asked himself. Anyhow it has never been explained by him and I am afraid it never will be.
China and Egypt.
China is the country in which ancestor-worship is most widely spread and where it may be studied in the largest number of ancient literary documents. But no ancestor in China has ever become a god. Dr. Victor von Strauss to whom we owe so many learned works on Chinese religion says9: ‘It can be proved that in China ancestor-worship has enjoyed the highest respect for four thousand years probably even for longer. It is practised most conscientiously by the emperor and by the common people. But it has been and has always remained a concern of the house or the clan only and even for them the spirit of an ancestor has never become a god.’
The same scholar when treating of Egyptian religion writes: ‘In Egypt divine honours were paid to kings even during their life-time divine qualities were ascribed to them and for many of them there existed during thousands of years sanctuaries priests and sacrificial services. But even the best and mightiest among them have never become popular deities. If in the oldest times the spirits of the departed had been changed into gods the same process would have been repeated afterwards and it would at all events remain inexplicable why these deities if their origin had been what it is pretended should ever have been metamorphosed into natural phenomena.’
Among uncivilised races of whose religion we possess only a fragmentary and often a very doubtful knowledge the worship of nature-gods may sometimes seem to be entirely absent.
How easily might it happen if a traveller were to question a Neapolitan lazzaroni about his religion that he might take him for a mere worshipper of saints if not for a fetish-worshipper.
It may happen also as in the case of Buddhism that the old nature-gods have been completely used up and if not entirely discarded are tolerated only in a subordinate capacity chiefly for the satisfaction of the populace. Buddhism has outgrown the old Devas. It maybe called adevistic though not atheistic for the place formerly occupied by the Devas of nature was not left entirely vacant. Buddha himself the man who had obtained enlightenment took that place and though he could not be called divine in the old sense he was at all events conceived as eternal at least in some of the sects of the Mahâyâna division of Buddhism or of what I call Podhism.
However granting even that there are races whose religion consists of ancestor-worship only though as at present informed I know of none would that prove that the worship of nature-gods must everywhere be traced back to ancestor-worship?
No one so far as I know has ever maintained that because there are countries where religion consists of the worship of nature-gods only therefore all ancestor-worship must be traced back to nature-worship. Why then should the worship of nature-gods nay according to Mr. H. Spencer of all religion be traced back to the worship of ancestors? The one conclusion would be as absurd as the other.
What is the result of this one-sidedness in the study of religion may best be seen in Mr. Herbert Spencer's Sociology. I always wish to speak with respect and courtesy of a man who in his own sphere is justly regarded as a very high authority. I have no doubt that Mr. Herbert Spencer's knowledge in physical science is very great. In expressing my strong difference of opinion with regard to the facts and the theories in his Principles of Sociology I can clearly see that the responsibility lies less with him than with the ‘tabulated evidence’ on which he founded his theories. Some years ago for instance when I doubted the evidence which was to prove that ‘reverence for stones is in some cases accompanied by the belief that they were once men and will eventually revive as men’ (l.c. p. 335) I did not question the good faith of the upholders of that theory. I simply doubted the facts on which they relied. And my doubts proved to be well-founded. If a pleader may tell a judge that he has been misinformed as to facts surely we may claim the same privilege without being guilty of any want of respect towards a man who in his own sphere has done such excellent work. I make no secret that I consider the results of Mr. H. Spencer's onesided explanation of the origin of religion as worthy of the strongest condemnation which a love of truth can dictate: but to show that a scholar has been led and almost driven to certain false conclusions by trusting to evidence which is untrustworthy or by attending to one kind of evidence only is no more than what every student of history is constantly doing and what every real lover of truth is bound to do. Mr. H. Spencer has always been so courteous in the criticisms which he has addressed to me that in stating that I mistrust his evidence and that I differ from his conclusions toto coelo I hope I may not say anything that could be considered as personally offensive.
I wish I could have followed the example of other scholars who pass his theory by in silence. But would that have been more respectful? Thus Erwin Rohde who has just published a learned work Psyche Seelencult und Unsterblichkeitsglaube 1890 and whose very object is to prove the existence of this cult of souls in Greece writes: ‘I have taken no notice of the attempts to derive the whole of Greek religion from ancestor-worship which at first existed alone—attempts made not only by De Coulanges but by several savants in England and Germany’ (p. 157). And yet this writer is on many points a follower of Mr. Herbert Spencer and cannot be suspected of any prejudice against him. But in England these theories cannot be simply ignored and I only hope that I may succeed in criticising them without seeming discourteous to their author.
The Euhemeristic Explanation of Zeus.
As I am addressing those who are familiar with Greek and Latin literature I shall confine my remarks to some of the explanations which Mr. Herbert Spencer has given us of classical deities; and first of all of Jupiter or Zeus.
We are told (1. c. p. 230) that Rajah Brooke in describing a prolonged contest with a mountain-chief in Borneo shows us what would be likely to happen when a stronghold was in possession of a superior race. His antagonist had fortified an almost inaccessible crag on the top of Sadok—a mountain about 5000 feet high surrounded by lower mountains. Described by Rajah Brooke as ‘grim and grand’ it figures in Dayak legends and songs as ‘the grand Mount towards which no enemy dare venture.’ The first attempt to take this fastness failed utterly; the second in which a small mortar was used also failed; and only by the help of a howitzer dragged up by the joint strength of a hundred yelling Dayaks did the third attempt succeed. Their chieftain driven out only by the appliance of a civilised race was naturally held in dread by surrounding tribes.
‘Grandfather Rentap’ as he was commonly called was dangerously violent; occasionally killed his own men; was regardless of established customs; and among other feats took a second wife from a people averse to the match carried her off to his eyrie and discarding the old one made the young one Ranee of Sadok. With his followers and subordinate chiefs Layang Nanang and Loyish holding secondary forts serving as outposts he was unconquerable by any of the native powers. Already there were superstitions about him: Snakes were supposed to possess some mysterious connection with Rentap's forefathers or the souls of the latter resided in these loathsome creatures.’
‘Now if instead of a native ruler thus living up in the clouds (which hindered the last attack) occasionally coming down to fulfil a threat of vengeance keeping the country around in fear and giving origin to stories already growing into superstitions we suppose a ruler belonging to an invading race which bringing knowledge skill arts and implements un-known to the nations were regarded as beings of superior kind just as civilised men now are by savages; we shall see that there Would inevitably arise legends concerning this superior race seated in the sky. Considering that among the very Dyaks divine beings are conceived as differing so little from men that the supreme god and creator Tapa is supposed to dwell “in a house like that of a Malay…himself being clothed like a Dyak” we shall see that the ascription of a divine character to a conqueror thus placed would be certain. And if the country was one in which droughts had fostered the faith in rain-makers and “heaven-herds”—if as among the Zulus there was a belief in weather-doctors able to “contend with the lightning and bail” and to “send the lightning to another doctor to try him;” this ruler living on a peak round which the clouds formed and whence the storms came would without hesitation be regarded as the causer of these changes—as a thunderer holding the lightnings in his hand. Joined with which ascribed powers there would nevertheless be stories of his descents from this place up in the heavens appearances among men and amours with their daughters. Grant but a little time for such legends and interpretations to be exaggerated and idealized—let the facts be magnified as was the feat of Samson with the ass's jawbone or the prowess of Achilles making “the earth flow with blood” or the triumphant achievement of Ramses II in slaying 100000 foes single-handed;—and we reach the idea that heaven is the abode of superhuman beings commanding the powers of nature and punishing men.’
I had to give you the whole of this long passage in order to enable you to form an independent judgment of Mr. H. Spencer's theory of the origin of religion. The story which you have just heard is meant to account for the genesis of Zeus the gatherer of the clouds (νϵϕϵληγϵρέτα) the wielder of the thunderbolt (τϵρψικέραυνος) the ruler of gods and men (ἄναξ πάντων τϵ θϵω̑ν πÿντων τ᾽ἀνθρώπων) and at the same time no doubt the lover of Leto and other heroines. This Zeus and let it not be forgotten this Dyaus also in India was according to Mr. Herbert Spencer originally no more than a ‘Grandfather Rentap.’ How a divine character could have been ascribed to this Grandfather Rentap by people who had as yet no knowledge of divine beings has never been explained. Who was Tapa whom the Dayaks considered the supreme god and creator? Whence did he come? Mr. H. Spencer seems to think that he also was originally a robber and why?—because he was supposed to dwell in a house like that of a Malay and to be clothed like a Dayak. How else I ask could he have been housed or clothed? How was Zeus himself housed or clothed by the imagination of the early Greek poets? But granting all this granting that Tapa the supreme god and creator was originally a mere Dayak—where is this retrogression to end and whence came the first god to Whom these deified men could be assimilated?
All I can say at present is that if Mr. H. Spencer can find a single classical scholar to accept this view of the origin of Zeus in Greece and of Dyaus in Sanskrit I shall not write another word on mythology or religion.
The Euhemeristic Explanation of other Gods.
Other gods share the same fate as Jupiter when arraigned before Mr. Herbert Spencer. He thinks he has proved that savage tribes often ascribe ordinary and extraordinary events to ghosts and these ghosts he maintains were always originally the ghosts of dead people. I doubt whether he has proved the latter point. For instance when Major Harris tells (l.c. p. 237) us that no whirlwind ever sweeps across the path without being pursued by a dozen savages with drawn creeses who stab into the centre of the dusty column in order to drive away the evil spirit that is believed to be riding in the blast how does this prove that the Danâkils believed they were stabbing the ghosts of their own ancestors or of any ancestors at all? When certain tribes shoot their arrows into the sky to bring down rain we have no reason to suppose that they were trying to kill their deceased ancestors once more.
Again (p. 238) it may be quite true that ‘if an eddy in the river where floating sticks are whirled round and engulfed is not far from the place where one of the tribe was drowned and never seen again’ there should be stories told that ‘the double of this drowned man malicious as the unburied ever are dwells thereabouts and pulls these things under the surface nay in revenge seizes and drags down persons who venture near.’ But are we to suppose that all over the world whenever we hear of watersprites or Naiads or Nickers some person must have been drowned before people could speak of streams and torrents as doing mischief or of springs and rivulets as conferring blessings?
Expressions such as ‘possessed by a spirit’ particularly by an unclean spirit or again filled by a good spirit or by the spirit of prophecy occur in many parts of the world and in languages quite unrelated to each other. But where is the evidence that in all these cases the spirits meant were as Mr. Herbert Spencer asserts originally the ancestral spirits? It is well known that the spirits of the departed were dreaded because they had power to return and to cause disease and death in other members of the family. Many of the funeral ceremonies were intended to prevent the return of the dead and to pacify their anger. In special cases the spirits of the departed particularly of a father or a mother may seem to call for vengeance and may be believed to drive a criminal into madness. It is quite true also as Mr. H. Spencer says that sneezing yawning and even hiccup are often ascribed to a devil who has entered the body of the afflicted. But nowhere do I remember that sneezing yawning and hiccup were ascribed to the spirits of a father grandfather or great-grandfather.
Even the idea of Death as an agent or as a power that cannot be resisted or what Mr. Herbert Spencer called ‘personalised Death’ is supposed by him to have begun everywhere in the tradition of some unusually ferocious foe whose directly seen acts of vengeance were multitudinous and to whom afterwards unseen acts of vengeance were more and more ascribed.
It is the disregard of the simplest facts of language which makes Mr. H. Spencer look here as elsewhere for what must seem to all students of language an almost incredible solution of self-made difficulty. If death was to be named at all it could only be named like hunger thirst illness sleep and all the rest as an agent. The Sanskrit mrityu death comes from the root mri or mar to grind down to destroy and means originally no more than the agent of destruction. Who that agent was the early speakers and thinkers knew as little as they knew the agents of rain and sunshine of cold and heat when they formed these names. But having once framed a name for death and having called him the destroyer or killer there was nothing to prevent them from imagining him as something like a human agent and picturing him according to the flights of their poetical fancy whether as a skeleton or as a reaper or even as a kind friend. The process was in fact the very opposite of what Mr. H. Spencer would wish it to have been. When they saw an unusually ferocious foe approaching they might say that it was Death himself. But they would not wait till they saw an unusually ferocious foe before they conceived and named the extinction of life which they witnessed every day and ascribed not to a known but to an unknown agent.
If therefore Mr. Herbert Spencer (p. 239) sees in the gods who ward off death from Hector in Minerva who assists Menelaos in Venus who saves Paris in Vulcan who snatches away Idaeus as well as in the Jew's ministering angel and in the Catholic's patron saint the ghosts of the dead changed into supernatural agents I can only say once more let him get a single classical scholar to second his bill and I shall vote for it myself.
But though I differ from Mr. Herbert Spencer when he thinks that ancestor-worship is the only source of all religion I readily acknowledge the useful service he has rendered in showing how important an influence a belief in worship of ancestors has exercised on the development of religious thought.
And here I must call attention once more to a strange misapprehension under which Mr. Herbert Spencer seems still to labour.
Did Ancestor-worship exist among the Aryan Nations?
Mr. H. Spencer who has been so diligent a collector of every kind of information from the most distant parts of the world on the worship of the departed and of ancestors seems to think that some serious doubt has been entertained as to the existence of that worship in Greece and in Italy. On p. 313 of his Principles of Sociology he writes: ‘It is said that ancestor-worship is peculiar to inferior races. I have seen it implied I have heard it in conversation and I have now before me in print the statement that “no Indo-European or Semitic nation so far as we know seems to have made a religion of worship of the dead.” And the intended conclusion appears to be that these superior races who in their earliest recorded times had higher forms of worship were not even in their earlier times ancestor-worshippers.’
Mr. H. Spencer returns once more to the same subject. In his Appendix p. 1 he writes: ‘The more I have looked into the evidence the more I have marvelled at those who in the interests of the mythological theory assert that the Aryans have been distinguished from inferior races by not being ancestor-worshippers and who ascribe such ancestor-worship as cannot be overlooked to imitation of inferior races.’
Nay he appeals to Mr. A. C. Lyall as one who had unusual opportunities of studying Aryan superstitions as even now being generated and who says in a letter: ‘I do not know who may be the author of the statement which you quote at p. 313 that “No Indo-European nation seems to have made a religion of the worship of the dead;” but it is a generalisation entirely untenable. Here in Rajputâna among the purest Aryan tribes the worship of famous ancestors is most prevalent; and all their heroes are more or less deified.’
Considering the importance ascribed to this statement that ‘No Indo-European or Semitic nation seems to have made a religion of the worship of the dead’ what reason could there have been for withholding the name of its author? I do not doubt that Mr. H. Spencer saw it implied heard it in conversation and at last had it before him in print—for what is more patient than paper? But why withhold the name? Nay I should say why quote it at all? For either the author of that statement was simply not acquainted with Latin Greek and Sanskrit or he may possibly have laid down so narrow a definition of religion that the worship of the dead would have fallen with him under the head of superstition rather than of religion. Would any one quote a statement by whomsoever it might have been made that no Indo-European nation ever made a religion of the worship of the powers of nature? We might as well say that we had seen it implied heard it in conversation and seen it in print that there was no such place as Rome in Italy or Benares in India and then invoke high authority to say that these two towns did really exist.
Whoever has only read the Antigone knows how deep roots reverence for the departed had struck in the Greek heart. In Rome we can see the three stages of that worship in full detail while in India it may be studied more fully even than in Rome and Greece. The facts which Mr. now Sir Charles Lyall mentions from Rajputâna belong to quite a different phase to the very last period I should say of religious development. First of all the unmixed Aryan blood in the Rajputâna of the nineteenth century is more or less problematical. Secondly the unmixed Aryan thought of that country centuries after Greek Mongolian and Mohammedan and English conquests is very problematical. But granting all this it is not the worship of some famous ancestors or of some more or less deified heroes that forms our problem but the worship of ancestors and afterwards of All Souls and All Saints and this worship not as a curious psychological phenomenon by itself but as the supposed source of all religion. Does Sir Charles Lyall really think that his experience in Rajputâna will support such a theory?
So far from admitting that ancestor-worship is peculiar to inferior races it will be the chief object of this course of Lectures to show you from authentic sources how a belief in the existence of departed spirits and a worship of ancestors arose among the Aryan nations how it was combined with the ancient belief in gods and how it pervaded not only their religious cult but the whole of their social civil and political life. What I protest against is the attempt to make ancestor-worship the only source of all religion. It is one source of religious sentiment—nay it is a very important source but it is second in importance and second in origin as compared with the worship of the powers of nature. It is only as following after Physical Religion that what I call Anthropological Religion or the discovery of something divine in man and more particularly in the departed or in our ancestors can be properly treated and rightly understood.
From the book: