It was supposed that this God could be implored by prayers and pleased by sacrifices. He was called the father of gods and men. Yet even in his highest conception he was no more than what as we saw Cardinal Newman defined God to be. ‘I mean by the Supreme Being’ he wrote ‘one who is simply self-dependent and the only being who is such. I mean that he created all things out of nothing and could destroy them as easily as he made them and that in consequence he is separated from them by an abyss and incommunicable in all his attributes2.’
Lecture 7. The Discovery of the Soul.
Physical Religion Incomplete.
PHYSICAL religion beginning with a belief in agents behind the great phenomena of nature reached its highest point when it had led the human mind to a belief in one Supreme Agent or God whatever his name might be whether Jehovah or Allah whether Jupiter Dyaus or Zeus. Homer calls Zeus the father the most glorious the greatest who rules over all mortals and immortals. Xenophanes1 goes even further: ‘There is one god’ he says ‘the greatest among gods and men neither in form nor in thought like unto mortals.’ What more could we require from Physical Religion?
This abyss separating God from man remains at the end of Physical Religion. It constitutes its inherent weakness. But this very weakness becomes in time a source of strength for from it sprang a yearning for better things. Gods like those of the Epicureans who exist indeed but never meddle with the affairs of men could not satisfy the soul of man for any length of time. Even the God of the Jews in His unapproachable majesty though He might be revered and loved by man during His life on earth could receive as it were a temporary allegiance only for ‘the dead cannot praise God neither any that go down into darkness.’
The Soul of Man.
God was immortal man was mortal; and Physical Religion such as we found it and defined it could not throw a bridge over the abyss that separated the two. Real religion however requires more than a belief in God it requires a belief in man also and in an intimate relation between God and man at all events in a life to come. There is in man an irrepressible desire for continued existence. It shows itself during life in what we may call self-defence. It shows itself at the end of life and at the approach of death in the hope of immortality.
You may remember how it was the chief object of my Lectures on Physical Religion to discover the faint vestiges of that intellectual progress which led the human mind to the formation of a name and concept of God. We saw how that progress began with the simplest perceptions of the great phenomena of nature and then advanced step by step from what was seen to what was not seen from what was finite to what was not finite till at last all that was merely phenomenal in the ancient names was dropped and there remained in the end the one infinite Agent still called by the old names but purified from all material dross.
As in treating of Physical Religion it was our chief object to watch this genesis of the name and concept of God in the various religions and languages of the ancient world we shall now have to do the same for what forms the necessary counterpart of God in every religion namely the human soul or whatever other name has been given to the infinite and therefore the immortal element in man. The name of that immortal element also was not given to lean as a gratuitous gift. It had to be gained like the name of God in the sweat of his face. Before man could say that he believed his soul to be immortal he had to discover that there was a soul in man. He had to shape its name and concept from such materials as were within his grasp till at last by a process of abstraction which we found to be inherent in language certain names became more and more freed from their material elements and more and more fitted to express something entirely immaterial invisible infinite and divine. It required as great an effort to form such a word as anima breath and to make it signify the infinite in man; as to form such a word as d e va bright and to make it signify the infinite in nature.
You may remember the arguments which I produced against admitting Animism of any kind as a primitive form of religious thought. You cannot have animism unless you first have an anima. In order to ascribe an anima a soul to anything be it a stone or a rag (Fetishism) a sign-post (Totemism) a tree or a mountain (Animism) man must first have gained the name and concept of anima. If as we are told trust in a fetish arose always from ‘the doctrine of spirits embodied in or attached to or conveying influence through certain material objects’ how can it longer be doubted that fetishism under all its forms presupposes a belief in spirits and that what has really to be accounted for is how for the first time a spirit was named conceived and believed in not how a spirit was attributed to a stone a sign-post or a tree?
The problem therefore with which we have to deal at first is not how man came to believe in the immortality of the soul but how such a thing as a soul was ever spoken of how man was supposed to be anything but what he was seen to be how here also behind the finite something not-finite or infinite was perceived or postulated and believed in.
When we try to trace human thought such as we find it in early language back to its first beginnings we ought to make it quite clear to ourselves that these first beginnings are entirely beyond the reach of what we mean by history. We shall never know what primitive man or what the first man on earth may have been. When we speak nevertheless of primitive man we mean and can only mean man as he is represented to us in his earliest works.
We do not mean man while he was emerging from brutality to humanity ‘while he was losing his fur and gaining his intellect.’ We leave that to the few biologists who undeterred by the absence of facts still profess a belief in the descent of man from some known or unknown animal species3.
Nor do we mean man as known to us by skulls and skeletons only. Here no doubt we have to deal with real and most important facts. But the historian leaves these to the ethnologist not because as Socrates said of the leaves of trees they cannot teach him anything but because the lessons which they teach would only be spoiled if mixed up with the lessons which concern him more immediately. Even the earliest works of art the flints and bones and stones which display clear traces of human handiwork and therefore of human intellect are outside his special domain and are better dealt with by the anthropologist.
The documents from which we study primitive man are contained in language. Whether language was older than anything else whether the Neanderthal skull was the abode of a speechless man whether the rudest palaeolithic flints were fashioned by mute workmen we cannot tell. All we know is that in the world of intellectual beings there can be nothing older than language. With us primitive man means therefore speaking man and if speaking man then rational and intelligent man.
Materials for our Studies.
The historical materials for studying the earliest phases in the growth of man are found in one store only namely in language and yet they are enormous enormous in number and enormous in age. Remember that English alone contains 250000 words and that every one of these words is an ancient chronicle. Remember that English is but one dialect of one branch of one great stem of human speech and you will see that the students of the history of man will not lack for materials for some time to come.
But though there is nothing more ancient than the chronicles contained in every word lot us guard against the absurd idea that even words or roots can ever bring us to the beginning of human thought. All beginnings are by their very nature and by our nature beyond our ken. But when we come to a stratum of thought and language that is still intelligible to us when we are able to enter into ancient words and concepts as if we had formed them ourselves when there is nothing left in them that is irrational and unintelligible then we may speak of primitive using the word in the sense of something that whatever its chronological date may be requires no antecedents but has its own beginnings in itself.
Poor primitive man has had many things to suffer at the hands of the ethnologist the linguist the psychologist. He has been represented on one side as no better than an ape on the other as a primeval and divinely inspired prophet. We must try to look upon him and to understand him as essentially the same as ourselves only as moving in different surroundings.
If from this point of view we ask how primitive man or how man in a primitive state of life came to invent a soul came to discover that he had or that he was a soul our answer is look at his language and try to find out what he called the soul.
Names for Soul.
To us the two words ‘body and soul’ are so familiar that it seems almost childish to ask the question how man at first came to speak of body and soul. It is true also and I believe it has never been contested that even the lowest savages now living possess words for body and soul. If we take the Tasmanians a recently extinct race of savages we find that however much different observers may contradict each other as to their intellectual faculties and acquirements they all agree that they have names for soul and souls nay that they all believe in the immortality of the soul.
We saw how long it took to frame a name for God. We also saw that man could never have framed such a name unless nature had taken him by her hand and made him see something beyond what he saw in the fire in the wind in the sun and in the sky. The first steps were thus made easy for him. He spoke of the fire that warmed him of the wind that refreshed him of the sun that gave him light and of the sky that was above all things and by thus simply speaking of what they all did for him he spoke of agents behind them all and at last of an Agent behind and above all the agencies of nature.
We shall find that the process which led to the discovery of the soul and the framing of names for soul was much the same. There was no conclave of sages who tried to find out whether man had a soul and what should be its name. If we follow the vestiges of language the only true vestiges of all intellectual creations we shall find that here also man began by naming the simplest and most palpable things and that here also by simply dropping what was purely external he found himself by slow degrees in possession of names which told him of the existence of a soul.
What was meant by Soul?
But what did he mean by soul? What do we ourselves mean by soul? Here you see our difficulties begin and they are due as in nearly all philosophical questions to the indiscriminate use of our words.
Think of the many meanings which are contained in our word soul as used in ordinary conversation and even in philosophical works. Our soul may mean the living soul; it may mean the sentient soul; it may mean the soul as the seat of the passions whether good or bad; it may mean the soul as the organ of thought; and lastly the immortal element in man.
It is quite clear that no name could ever have been framed to embrace all these meanings though in the end all these meanings may cluster round one and the same name.
The question therefore which we have to ask is not how man arrived at a name for soul but how he came for the first time to think and speak of something different from the body. To a question rightly put we may expect a right answer.
We saw how man was startled was made to wonder at the wonders of nature the true miracles presented to him on every side and how he was led on by the irresistible laws of his mind to look for the workers of these wonders the agents in these miracles.
The Problem of Man.
Next to nature the most startling problem for man was man himself man seen as coming into the world living his short life and then departing.
The Lessons of Death.
When we say departing we adopt already a conclusion which may be quite natural to us but which was anything but natural to early thinkers. When we speak of the departed we assume something for which there is no material evidence. What was seen was simply death cessation of life and activity a horrible corruption of the body and at last a mere handful of dust.
If anything could frighten man could force him to meditate it was surely death and we shall see how some of the most important and most permanent ingredients of the intellectual life of the world were supplied the first time by the aspect of death.
When a friend who in every respect had been exactly like themselves was suddenly seen by those who knew and loved him prostrate without motion without sight without speech the simplest process of reasoning a mere adding and subtracting of perceptions would teach the bystanders that something that was formerly there was there no longer. Something had gone.
Blood as Life.
What then was that which had departed? If a man had been killed and the blood was seen pouring away from his wound it was the most natural conclusion that the blood had left him and with it life. Hence the well-known expression ‘the blood is the life’ which we find not only in Hebrew and in the Bible (Deut. xii. 23) but in other languages also and which became the source of ever so many religious and superstitious acts. Homer uses the two expressions the blood ran down from the wound (Il. xvii. 86) and the life (ψυχή) ran down from the wound (Il. xiv. 518) almost synonymously. Kritias a Greek philosopher quoted by Aristotle (De Anima i. 2 19) declared that the soul was the blood. The Arabic expression ‘The soul flows (from his wound)’ instead of ‘he dies’ shows that the Arab also believed the blood to be the life or soul of man.
We have no time to enter on the question whether people who said the blood is the life meant also that the life is the blood so that the two words would be entirely synonymous; or whether they had formed an independent idea of life and meant simply to say that life was in the blood and depended on it. The difference is considerable but it hardly affects the superstitions which arose from that ancient belief.
The Jews were forbidden to eat or drink the blood and they gave a reason for it which is of a religious character. The blood they said was the life and the life belonged to God. Hence the blood was to be poured out upon the altar of the Lord but not to be eaten. Among savage nations on the contrary the idea is very prevalent that in drinking the blood of an enemy his life his strength and his courage were absorbed by the living.
Another widely-spread custom is the drinking of blood as the highest sanction of a promise or a treaty. Herodotus (iii. 8) alludes to this custom as existing in Arabia and how long it prevailed and how firmly it was established we may gather from the fact that Mohammed had to forbid it as one of the heavy sins—idolatry neglect of duties towards parents murder and the blood-oath4. Stanley found the old custom still prevailing in Central Africa. ‘After making marks’ he writes ‘in each other's arms and exchanging blood there was a treaty of peace as firm I thought as any treaty of peace made in Europe.’
I feel convinced however whatever anthropologists may say to the contrary that the evidence of the senses was as strong with ancient people as it is with ourselves. When they saw how after a time blood became putrid and offensive they could hardly continue to believe that what had departed at death was simply the blood.
What applies to the blood applies to a certain extent to the heart also. As the heart ceased to beat at death we find in many languages that heart is used in the sense of life and soul. The eating of the heart of an enemy5 nay even of his eyes was sometimes supposed to produce the same effect as the drinking of an enemy's blood6. Some languages7 use the same word for the beating of the heart for the pulse and for the soul. But they can distinguish perfectly well between the actual heart and heart as a name of the soul.
We must keep this distinction in mind if we wish for instance to understand the answers given by the Indians of Nicaragua to Bobadilla8. They stated that ‘when they die there comes out of their mouth something that resembles a person and is called Julio (Aztec yuli means ‘to live’). This being goes to a place where the man and the woman are. It is like a person but does not die and the body remains here.’
The following dialogue took place between a Christian and a native of Nicaragua:
Question: ‘Do those who go up on high keep the same body the same face and the same limbs as here below?’
Answer: ‘No; there is only the heart.’
Question: ‘But since they tear out their hearts (i.e. when a captive was sacrificed) what happens then?’
Answer: ‘It is not precisely the heart but that in them which makes them live and that quits the body when they die.’ And again: ‘It is not their heart that goes up above but what makes them live that is to say the breath that issues from their mouth and is called Julio.’
We can understand that the blood and the heart should have been supposed to have something to do with the living soul during life. But after death that which had lived could hardly have been sought there as little as in the flesh or in the bones.
Other nations placed the seat of life or the living soul in other organs such as the liver the kidneys or in the chest and in the diaphragm which surrounded the most important internal organs. But all these were perishable and it was difficult to believe that what had departed at death and what by its departure had produced the tremendous change from life to death could be identified with these decaying organs.
It is curious that the brain which in modern languages is so frequently used as the seat of the thinking soul should have played so insignificant a part in the intellectual nomenclature of the ancient world. It is hardly ever mentioned as a name of the soul.
We enter into quite a different stage of language and thought when we come to deal with breath as a name of soul or more correctly as a name which by a very natural development or divestment came to mean soul in its various applications. Breath vanished at death but it did not perish before the eyes of people like the blood or the heart. No doubt the actual breathing the most certain sign of life ceased at death. With the breath life was seen to have departed. To expire to breathe out (u z-a n a n) became in many languages one of the most common expressions for to die.
But in the case of breath a question arose very naturally namely what had become of the breath which was formerly in the body;—where it was and what it was. Breath did not putrefy before their eyes and nothing led to the conclusion that it had actually perished. Another great advantage was that language could distinguish between the act of breathing and that which breathed the former the life as an act the latter the soul as an agent or a living subject. This distinction was most important as we shall see in all its consequences.
Here then we may discover the first and very natural suggestion arising in men's minds that the breath which had departed at the moment of death was something different from the dead body different from the putrid blood different from the decaying heart and from the dissolving brain.
We must remember however that with the breath not only life but all that constituted the man himself his thoughts his feelings his language had departed and that therefore the conclusion was not unnatural that the breath had carried away with itself all that constituted the very being of man. When people said his breath has departed they could not help saying at the same tinge that his thoughts his feelings in fact all that belonged to the individual man had departed. We can thus understand how the words which originally meant breath real tangible breath supplied the first material that was shaped in time into words meaning soul in its widest sense.
Soul after Death.
And here we can watch at once another step. If it is true that the discovery of the soul was made not so much during life when body and soul were almost indistinguishable but at the time of death when the breath and all that was implied by that word had departed from the body the question could hardly be avoided whither that breath had gone.
To us the idea of annihilation though it is really an idea inconceivable to any human mind has become quite familiar. Not only among a certain class of philosophers but even among uneducated people the thought of man being utterly destroyed or annihilated by death is by no means uncommon. But to unsophisticated minds the thought that a man who but yesterday was like ourselves eating drinking working fighting should have utterly perished was almost impossible to grasp. It was far more natural to suppose that he continued to exist somewhere and somehow though the where and the how were unknown and had to be left to the imagination. Imagination however was more busy in ages of comparative ignorance than in our days and if the expression had once been used ‘our father's breath has fled’ that would soon grow into the expression that his spirit had fled that he himself had departed from his house and had gone where all spirits had gone before him to a world of spirits.
This is a very general outline of a process which under varying forms we can trace almost everywhere among uncivilised and among civilised people and which has led to a belief first in something in man different from his body call it breath or spirit or soul; and secondly to a belief in the existence of disembodied spirits to a belief in immortality and to a large number of acts intended to keep up the memory of the departed to secure their favour to escape their anger till in the end they were raised to an exalted position second only to that of the immortal gods.
Words for Soul.
The principal if not the only evidence which we can produce in support of the theory just propounded is naturally taken from language. But the ancient archives of language are often very difficult to decipher. It is particularly difficult to watch the growth of meaning in the ancient words for soul because most of them become known to us at a time when they had passed already through various stages and had been more or less arbitrarily restricted in their meanings. They generally convey at the same time the ideas of mere breath of vital breath and of understanding. Whether they are used by certain writers in one sense or the other is often a question of idiomatic usage only while in the end there generally arise learned discussions as to the exact meaning in which each term ought or ought not to be used.
Words for Soul in Hebrew.
Let us look at some of the words for soul in Hebrew. The distinction between the body and a something that gives life to it was familiar to the Jews from the earliest times9. Body was the flesh רׄשָּבָ bâsâr. Hence ‘all flesh’ meant everybody every living being and ‘my flesh’ was used for I myself. The flesh as active and living was opposed on one side to what is without life stones or bones; on the other side as being mortal weak and perishing it was distinguished from what is eternal and imperishable God and the soul.
The question then arises how did the Jews call that which was not the body? They called it by different names and these names had at first a very vague and undefined meaning so that they are often used one in place of the other. To attempt to define these words strictly is a mistake though at a later time the Jews themselves tried to define their old vague terms.
One of these words is תַהר rûach which means originally what moves either the wind or the breath. As thunder was called the voice of God the storm was conceived as His breath. This rûach in man is life given by God and returning to God. It is used for man's breath but not for breath only but likewise for what we mean by soul for we read of the rûach being embittered cast down and grieved or being revived and glad.
Another word חמ̞שׁ̞נְ neshâmâh has nearly the same meaning. It is used for the vital breath which every creature has received from God and likewise for the creature that breathes and lives. Thus when we read in Genesis ii. 7 that ‘the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul’ the word neshâmâh is clearly conceived as breath coming from God and as giving not only life but also what we mean by soul the latter being impossible without the former.
A third word also שׁפֶנֶ nephesh does not seem from the beginning to have had a very different meaning. But it soon came to be used for the individual soul rather than for life and spirit in general. Nephesh is the living soul the self-conscious soul. Hence it is the nephesh that loves and hates that is glad and sorrowful and ‘my nephesh’ is a very common expression for I myself. We meet with such expressions as ‘my soul lives’ ‘my soul dies’ and even the dead is still called a nephesh. But to say in every passage where nephesh occurs whether it was meant for breath or life or soul is impossible. When Elijah prayed over the dead child he said: ‘0 Lord my God I pray thee let this child's soul come into his inward parts again.’ ‘And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah and the soul of the child came unto him again and he revived.’ Here (1 Kings xvii. 21) the soul may be meant for mere breath the actual breath just as we say that a drowned person has been reanimated by breathing into his lungs. But it may also mean the soul as given by God and returning to God at the time of death.
We saw that this soul is sometimes said to be in the blood or to be the blood. And like the blood the heart also lêb is conceived as the seat of the soul or is used synonymously with soul. Not only feelings and passions but the conscience also nay reason and understanding dwell in the heart. Hence we read of a pure heart of a new heart. We read (Hos. vii. 11) of Ephraim being ‘like a silly dove without heart’ that is without understanding.
We see here the same wealth of expression which we generally meet with in ancient languages. The same thing is called by different names according to some characteristic mark that strikes the speaker. These names being at first almost synonymous become gradually differentiated by usage till the time comes when they are defined more or less arbitrarily by grammarians philosophers or theologians10.
What is important for us to observe is the fact that the original meaning of all these words was material. The idea of life was borrowed from blood from heart from breath and that idea included in time not only physical life but feeling sensuous perception and understanding nay soul itself as a self-conscious and personal if not immortal being. There are other expressions in Hebrew which start from even more material beginnings and end by meaning the soul or the self. Thus when the Psalmist (vi. 3 seq. xvi. 9) speaks of ‘my bones’ ‘my body’ he means not his bones or his body only but his soul his self and he has entirely forgotten the material meaning of the words which he is using.
Words for Soul in Sanskrit.
It is curious that the ancient language of India which generally allows us so clear an insight into the earliest history of words should tell us so little by its names for soul or spirit.
The best known word for soul is âtman. But unfortunately its etymology is doubtful. It has been derived from AN to breathe a root which has yielded many words for wind breath soul and mind. Thus we find in Sanskrit an-ila wind also an-ala fire; in Greek ἄν-ϵμος wind; in Latin an-ima air wind breath but also life soul and even mind and animus soul and mind. But an + man would not give âtman nor should it be forgotten that in the Veda we find tman also for âtman. Others have thought of the root AV = V Â to blow and have connected it with ἀϋτμήν. The original meaning however of âtman was certainly breath. Thus the wind (vâta) is called Rv. V. 168 4 âtmâ´ devâ´nâm the breath of the gods. In Rv. X. 16 3 where the dead is addressed we read: sû´ryam kákshuh gakkhatu vâ´tam âtmâ´ let the eye go to the sun the breath to the wind.
In other places âtmâ can best be translated by life. To be separated from the âtman (âtmanâ viyukta) means to be dead. From meaning the vital principle it came to be used for what we call the essence or substance. Thus in I. 164 4 ‘Who has seen him who was born first when he who has no bones (form) bore him that has bones (form)? Where was the breath (asu) the blood (asrig) the essence (âtmâ) of the world? Who went to one who knew it to ask him?’ Here we see how âtmâ is employed with the same metaphorical meaning as asu breath and asrig blood. In another place I. 115 1 the sun is called âtmâ´ gágatah tasthúshah ka the soul of all that moves and stands. In later times âtmâ meets us as the recognised name for soul and the more abstract the conception of soul becomes the more abstract the meaning conveyed by âtmâ till at last we cannot translate it any longer by soul but must render it by self. Such has been the reaction of thought on language that âtmân has become a recognised pronoun corresponding to the Lat. ipse the Greek αὐτός. In some passages it can even be translated by body as when we read in the Katha-upanishad IV. 12 the person (purusha) of the size of a thumb stands in the midst of the âtman the body11. Having passed through all these stages âtman was at last used by philosophers as the best name for the soul of the world the Supreme Being.
While the derivation of âtman is doubtful it is clear that ana breath is derived from AN to breathe and likewise the more common prâna breath. Prâna however does not only mean the breathing in its various modifications or the life but likewise what are called the five senses viz. the nose the tongue (speech) the eye the ear and the mind (manas) with their respective functions.
Other words for soul in Sanskrit are equally uninteresting. Pudgala means beautiful then body then soul but why it has any of these meanings we cannot even guess. If we are told that ka also may be used for soul this is evidently a merely philosophical name. It means Who and was used at a very early time as a name of the deity as well as of the soul.
Words for Soul in Tamil.
Before we proceed to examine the words for soul in Greek we have still time to glance at some other languages in India I mean the Dravidian. You know that before the Âryas migrated into India the country was occupied by people speaking a totally different language a language which still lives all over the South of India as Tamil Telugu Canarese and in several local dialects.
In an able article on the study of Tamil lately published in the Madras Christian College Magazine Dec. 1890 p. 15 the Rev. G. Mackenzie Cobban informs us that u y i r is the Tamil word for life and that where in English we should use the word soul the Tamil man would use uyir. This uyir comes from a verb û-thu which means to blow or from u-yi which means to breathe and to exist. As too in Sanskrit meant to breathe though as a verb it means simply to be as-mi I am. But u-yir means more than breath and life. It means the soul. Another curious name for soul is kûttan and this means a dancer or a leaper thus recalling the Greek θύμος which originally meant shaker or shaking or commotion and the Gothic saivala soul which likewise seems to have had the original meaning of violent movement. There are other expressions for soul or for mind which simply mean what is within like the Sk. Antahkarana the working within.
Polynesian Words for Soul &c.
We have only to consult the dictionaries of any language whether spoken by civilised or uncivilised people and we shall find everywhere the same process that is to say words meaning originally blood heart chest breath becoming in time the recognised terms for life feeling thinking and soul. Mr. Edward Tregear has lately published a most excellent Comparative Dictionary of Maori and other Polynesian languages particularly Samoan Tahitian Hawaian Tongan Rarotongan Marquesan Mangarevan Paumotan and Moriori. When we look for words for mind we find for instance Manawa. This manawa means in Maori the belly the heart the lungs breath but also the seat of the affections. In Samoan mânawa means to breathe to rest; manatu a thought. In Tahitian manava is the stomach the interior man and manavanava is to think to ponder; manao thought or idea; dumanava affection of the heart. In Hawaian manawa stands for affection but likewise for spirit and even for a spirit as an apparition; mana is intelligence manao to think rnananao thought opinion.
In Tongan manava is breath life; to throb to pulsate and also to be careful of.
In Mangaian manava is mind spirit; in Marquesan menava is breath life soul; in Mangarevan soul and conscience.
Another word for bowels and heart in Maori is ngakau but it is also used for heart as the seat of the affections and of sorrow. In Tahitian the same word appears regularly as aau and means heart mind courage spirit and conscience. In Hawaian naau still signifies the small intestines of men and animals but it is likewise used for the seat of the affections and of thought for memory conscience learning and wisdom.
A third word hinengaro is used in Maori for a certain portion of the intestines but likewise for heart and affections; in Samoan for will and desire; in Tahitian for love desire will choice pleasure; in Tongan as finengalo for the mind but applied to a king only.
We have learnt so far that the discovery of the soul the first attempts at naming the soul started everywhere from the simplest observations of material facts. It was the running away of the blood the beating of the heart the breathing and more particularly the cessation of breathing at the time of death which suggested the idea that there was something different from the decaying body and at the same time supplied the first names for that something. In fact the lesson cannot be inculcated too often that the whole wealth of our most abstract and spiritual words comes from a small number of material or concrete terms.
Only we must guard against two very common mistakes.
We constantly meet with such statements as that ancient and uncivilised people used metaphorical language when they spoke of the soul as breath or as air or as a bird that at first they knew these names to be merely poetical expressions but that afterwards they forgot and mistook the simile for the reality. There is no sense in this. If metaphor means transference how can transference take place when as yet there is only a word that can be transferred but nothing it can be transferred to? This kind of poetical transference is very familiar to ourselves. A poet who knows what he means by soul may metaphorically call the soul half angel and half bird but until he has two concepts and two words he cannot transfer one to the other. When people spoke of breath they at first meant breath and it was only by what I call the process of divestment inherent in language that breath came in the end to mean something from which all the material characteristics of breath had vanished the postulated agent of breath the living soul the spirit the mind.
But it is as great a mistake to say that spirit because it originally stood for exhalation means and can never mean more than exhalation or material breath. Spirit as it became developed from age to age meant less than breath but by meaning less it also meant more. It meant less than breath because it became divested of many of the material qualities which spiritus originally implied. It meant more because by being freed from its material limitations it came to stand for something less limited and in the end for something unlimited or infinite for the immortal the eternal the divine agent within man.
This process which has hitherto been treated as a mere psychological postulate stands before us as a simple fact in the history of all the languages of the world. Take whatever dictionary you like and you will find how the words for soul if they can be analysed at all invariably point back to a material origin and invariably disclose the process by which they were freed from their material fetters.
It may sound very strange to us when we are told that the word which in Tamil is used for soul has the original meaning of dancer. Yet it is but another attempt to name and grasp that which moved within that which even the greatest philosophers could not define better than as something moving itself without being moved that is as dancing.
We are not aware how often in our own language which has grown so rich in abstract terms we still use the old material words. We say that a man's blood is up meaning half that he is flushed half that he is angry. We speak of taking things to heart knowing things by heart without thinking of the heart that actually beats within our breast. The human mind as led by human language starts from different beginnings and follows different roads in climbing up to the highest summits which it can reach. Nothing can be more instructive than to watch these patient toilers and nothing can more strongly confirm our belief that they were following a right direction than when we see them in the end arrive at the same summit at the same religious hopes nay at the same philosophical convictions.
From the book: