Stages of Development—The Lowest Nature-Religions
I MUST now endeavour to sketch for you the phases of the development of religion which arise out of one another. Our starting-point is the morphological classification of religions as attempted by the votaries of their comparative study. It is impossible to ignore it but we can only attach to it a relative value. Such a classification is attended with great difficulties. That it has generally been a failure that for example classifications like those of Hegel have now become quite useless was not the fault of the thinkers themselves whose genius and learning deserve our admiration but arose from the fact that the data at their command were very imperfect. And even now that new discoveries in the historic and archæological domains have succeeded and even superseded each other so rapidly during the last few decades thus greatly extending our knowledge—now that various important religions of antiquity about which nothing was formerly known beyond what classical writers mentioned incidentally have become familiar to us from the rich literature of the oriental peoples themselves from the Veda and the Avesta from texts in cuneiform character and in hieroglyphics—even now it is difficult to guard against arbitrary and fanciful conclusions. The very increase of our knowledge enables us to see clearly how many gaps still remain and how often we must content ourselves with names and with phenomena without possessing any clue to their original import and significance. All classifications of religion are thus provisional. Their boundaries cannot be sharply defined. In one religion the doctrine will be found specially developed while the ritual is backward in others the reverse will be the case. Some religions belong in successive periods of their existence to very different categories of development; and such must of course be ranked with those whose level they reached when in their prime. But it must not be forgotten that the highly civilised religions of the leading nations were not less rude and primitive in the periods of their inception than the cults of the barbarians which they despised as superstitions. What a world-wide difference between the still half-animistic Zeus of Dodona and of Arcadia and the Homeric at whose frown Olympus trembled and who invited all the powers in heaven and earth to measure themselves with him in order to show them that he was stronger than all of them put together! What a difference between the Hêra of Argos who was little more than a fetish and the goddess full of majesty worthily chosen to be the consort of the greatest of the gods to be united with him in chaste though not always peaceful marriage! What a gulf between the rude boorish religion of the ancient Romans and the worship of Jupiter O. M. Capitolinus to whose temple the noble Scipio Africanus went up every morning in order to prepare himself for his daily tasks and who for a long period beheld the whole civilised world at his feet! And on the other hand how many religions are there whose history is hidden from us which we know in their period of decline only and therefore rank as among the least developed but which perhaps once occupied a far higher level?
We must therefore be modest and cautious in our classification and avoid systematising too rigidly. It is not however impossible to discover certain types which show different degrees of development. There will at once occur to the attentive observer the two distinctly different main types alluded to in my first lecture. I mean those described by Whitney as unconsciously growing and distinguished by him from those instituted by individual founders which are not materially different from those called naturalistic and supra-naturalistic by the well-known German philosopher Ed. von Hartmann and which I prefer to characterise as the nature-religions and the ethical religions.1 Although the Master of Balliol (Professor Edward Caird formerly of the University of Glasgow) in his admirable Gifford Lectures delivered in the University of St Andrews has selected the more abstract philosophical terms “objective” and “subjective” he indicates in the main the same two categories. He adds however a third stage of development in which the objective and subjective are combined and of which he makes Christianity the sole representative. But if I understand him aright the idea which has been called too good to be true—the conception of God as the Being who is at once the source the sustaining power and the goal of our spiritual life as Him “in whom we live and move and have our being” who dwells in the ocean the sun and the air and even in the spirit of man—forms indeed the foundation of Christianity but is only now beginning to realise itself in that religion as the only one possible for the modern world. This is one of the subtle observations so suggestive so profitable for further investigation in which his book abounds. We cannot discuss it further at present but must do so afterwards. We shall then see whether in accordance with this idea there is any ground for adding a third type to the two main types into which all the historical and the existing religions are divided—a type which potentially but only latently present in Christianity forms the embryo of the religion of the future. Suffice it meanwhile to note that while making this suggestion Professor Caird does not seriously dispute the classification of the historical and still existing religions under two leading types. Nor do we feel constrained to give up our classification in favour of one proposed by Professor von Siebeck in his ‘Lehrbuch der Religionsphilosophie’ a few years ago. He tries to distinguish several religions which we class among the nature-religions and even one which certainly belongs to the category of religions founded by means of a reform or ethical religions from both of the main types and he calls them “morality-religions.” But he himself makes a number of reservations: the Deity in this class still remains in the service of the world; monotheism is intermediate because fancy is still allowed undue scope; the mythical still prevails over the ethical and the mythical development of the evil spirits impairs the dignity and power of the good. In a word as he himself describes them they are just those semi-ethical nature-religions which we deem them to be; and he admits that the whole class forms a transitional stage only (Uebergangsgebilde). In fact his classification is closely bound up with his conception of religion as “world-negation” (Weltverneinung) which is really applicable to one set of religions only and with which on the whole I cannot agree.
It is one of the most certain facts established by historical investigation that there is nowhere in the whole history of the development of religion so distinct a cleavage so sharp a demarcation as between what we have called the nature and the ethical religions. In the case of the latter we feel at once that there has been a new departure that an entirely new order of things supersedes the old. Wherever one nature-religion or one ethical religion (as we shall meanwhile continue to call them) merges in another of like kind the transition is generally gradual sometimes hardly perceptible and only noticeable in the later development or at all events it is not the result of a violent change. But the substitution of ethical religions for nature-religions is as a rule the result of a revolution or at least of an intentional reform. Yet the former have undoubtedly developed out of the latter. They have long in embryonic condition slumbered in the bosom of the nature-religions where they have gradually matured before they saw the light; but their birth comes as a surprise a catastrophe. And as soon as they come into existence they assume an attitude of opposition to the prevailing religion. They sometimes try to disguise this from themselves and from others and honestly think that they are merely restoring the ancient faith or reviving some truth once confessed but misunderstood and forgotten. This may be partly the case but in part they are new and unheard-of. Nor is the existing religion misled. She feels that her life is at stake that it is a struggle for existence that if the new religion gains the day she will have to quit the field; and she therefore obstinately opposes her rival persecutes its adherents and strives by violent measures and with the aid of the State or of the populace or of both together to strangle it in its birth. Conversely if she fails and the ethical religion has triumphed the latter in her turn becomes the persecutor; she jealously guards against any revival of the worship of the powers of nature which in her view have become evil demons; and if she cannot abolish them without losing her hold over the people or seeing her influence diminish she tries to transform the powers of darkness into angels of light. No doubt even where new tendencies show themselves within the pale of ethical religions the same strife the same bloody persecution often takes place; but this is only an after-result of the first war for the real conflict is always between the ethical and the naturalistic principles. Historical examples abound. Let me remind you how the Zarathushtrian prophets complained of being persecuted by the Daêva worshippers and then after their own triumph strove to exterminate them; how Mosaism fought against the gods of Canaan; how He who came with a message of peace was yet well aware that He brought not peace but a sword.
Most investigators therefore agree their differences being more apparent than real in recognising the two main forms of religious development if we may judge from the different names they give them; but when it comes to be a question of characterising them their opinions differ widely. As to the first form they are pretty well agreed. Whether we speak of religions as “the unconscious growth of generations” or of naturalistic or nature-religions it comes to much the same thing. But in defining the second form of religions the authorities differ considerably though not perhaps so seriously as it would appear. Von Hartmann calls them supra-naturalistic in simple contradistinction to the naturalistic and fairly enough inasmuch as the gods at this stage are really elevated above nature. But the term has long been used by theologians in a somewhat different sense and is therefore unsatisfactory as it may lead to misunderstanding. Moreover in my opinion it is not applicable to all the higher religions such as the pantheistic and akosmistic systems of India. Nor does the term “subjective” in opposition to “objective” seem to me sufficiently clear and distinctive and besides it is too abstractly philosophical. Siebeck calls the highest religions “religions of redemption.” But in the narrower sense this designation applies only to the Indian religions and to the special Pauline form of Christianity. Moreover there is a world-wide difference between the Brahmanic and Buddhistic moksha with its various synonyms which puts an end to “rebirth's circling stream” and the Pauline apolytrôsis which is a redemption from sin. If on the other hand we take the word redemption in its general sense of “release from the bonds and miseries of the finite intellectual and ethical as well as physical” this is not the aim of one class or type of religion only but is common to all. The word therefore expresses either too little or too much.
I have long been in the habit of calling the second type of religions the ethical and after having repeatedly tested the term by the facts and maturely reconsidered it I propose to adhere to it. We cannot express everything that distinguishes one group of phenomena or one step of development from others in a single word. If we attempted to do so we should have to use some lengthy and awkward periphrasis. Thus the religions in question are often characterised by a spiritualism exaggerated to one-sidedness so that they might fairly enough be called spiritualistic. With still better reason they might be named religions of revelation for although the nature-gods also reveal themselves in different ways and make their will known by word and sign the idea only attains full clearness and maturity in the ethical religions; for in these an appeal is made for the first time to a special revelation vouchsafed by the Divinity once for all communicated to man by a divine ambassador recorded in sacred writ and thus made the foundation on which the whole religion rests. Spiritual-ethical religions of revelation would thus be the complete name for this category. But their chief and most characteristic element is always the ethical. They have all sprung from an ethical awakening. A more or less lofty ethical ideal is the aim they all have in view an ideal far removed from the existing world but which will be attained in the distant future either on earth or with God in heaven as it once became flesh and lived in him who revealed it to man. And the moral laws are now no longer placed merely side by side with religion as if one could quite well be religious without them but they are inseparably bound up with it; they are the laws of God Himself obedience to which He rewards and the violation of which He punishes and from a higher point of view the neglect of which is a rupture of communion with Him because they are not arbitrarily imposed by Him but are an emanation of His very nature. Or to express the matter in more abstract philosophical form the subjective moral ideal is objectivised in or projected into the conception of God. We shall therefore continue to call this type of religions the Ethical a term which best expresses their leading characteristic.
Having thus defined the two main categories to one or other of which all the historical and the still existing religions belong we must now inquire how each of these categories may be further subdivided. It need hardly be said that among nature-religions and also among ethical religions there are always differences and sometimes great differences in their state of development. The religions of the Negroes and Redskins are just as much nature-religions as the Babylonian the Vedic and the Greek; yet what an immeasurable distance there is between the first and the last of these! The same though in less measure may be said of the ethical religions. A complete description of all the variations would be out of place here and perhaps in the present state of our study it would be rash and hazardous. We shall therefore confine ourselves to the leading examples.
The lowest Nature-Religions known to us correspond to the needs of the childhood of humanity as that period is presented to us by the latest anthropological research. If we call them animistic to use the common term it is not because we regard Animism as a religion but solely because religion like the whole life of primitive man is dominated by Animism. Animism—and I cannot speak of it without mentioning the name of the author who first threw clear light on the subject I mean Dr E. B. Tylor Professor in the University of Oxford—Animism is really a kind of childish philosophy which seeks to explain all the phenomena in and around man. Professor von Siebeck describes it accurately though rather abstractly as a primitive mythicising springing from a primitive use of the intellect which tries to discover in nature all kinds of useful causal relations; and he does not discern in this the sole source of the most elementary religious conceptions but believes that certain emotions produced by observing the phenomena of nature also contributed to their formation. In less philosophical but more intelligible form I would describe Animism as a belief that everything that lives as well as what primitive man regards as living because it moves or because he thinks that a certain power emanates from it is animated by a thinking feeling willing spirit differing from the human in degree and power only. He naturally ascribes such a spirit or soul such an anima only to objects from which he receives an impression—to the beast of prey which he fears but whose strength and agility he admires because superior to his own; to the domestic animal that serves him; to the tree whose fruit revives him whose shade refreshes him and in whose rustling foliage he hears the voices of spirits; to the rushing brook and to the immeasurable roaring menacing ocean; to the lofty mountain which arrests the beneficent rain-clouds and whose mysteries inspire him with awe; to the luminaries and all the phenomena of the heavens especially those that move in particular the moon that great enchantress who ever changes her form; most of all perhaps to the spectacle of a storm when the gale sweeps away and destroys everything before it when the voice of the thunder terrifies him and the lightning-flash threatens to kill him; and lastly even to the falling stone to the leaf shaken by the wind—to everything in short which seems to him strange and striking and which he associates with any event in his own life and especially with any danger or disaster that threatens or overtakes him. Will he worship them will he enter into relations with them like that of a servant to a master or a subject to a prince? That depends on circumstances. Only—for primitive man is as selfish as an untrained child—only when he has any interest in doing so only when he is satisfied that the object in question is more powerful than he and that he has something to hope or to fear from it. An anchor is washed up on the African coast. Such an object has never been seen there before. The natives approach it cautiously; but when it lies quiet and hurts nobody they suspend their judgment and go away. But some freethinker of the kraal has observed that it is made of iron and as he is just in want of a bit of iron he ventures to break off a fluke of the anchor. Just as he is busy forging it an accident happens to him and he dies. And now the matter is clear. In the unknown object dwells a spirit which has thus avenged the insult offered to it and henceforth the spirit is propitiated with gifts and sacrifices. So too the camel came to be regarded by a Siberian tribe as the small-pox demon because just when that animal had appeared among them for the first time with a passing caravan the small-pox broke out. And had not the beast itself two huge lumps on its back? Similarly the horse introduced into America by Europeans was regarded by the Mexicans as the image of the thunder-god because they attributed to it the deadly effect of the firearms of the Spanish horsemen. Such examples might be endlessly multiplied.
But this does not imply or even remotely suggest that religion arose out of Animism. Hazy philosophers and theologians whose zeal is only equalled by their ignorance have imputed to me the view that religion began with the worship of any chance stock or stone. We are convinced however that people never began by worshipping stocks or stones or any other visible object but invariably the spirit or being they believed to be embodied in the object. This is the more certain because if their prayers are unanswered or their sacrifices prove fruitless when their disasters continue and the supposed tutelary spirits thus show themselves powerless the idol is chastised and cast aside. Idolatry the adoration and worship of the objects themselves and not of the spirit supposed to dwell in them is never the original form of religion; the ignorant many may naturally confound the two things but this is always an error a degeneration. The question as to the origin of religion is not of a historical or archæological nature but is purely psychological and is quite distinct from the inquiry as to the oldest form of religion. If we call this form animistic we by no means imply that religion has sprung from Animism but merely that its first manifestations are dominated by Animism that being the form of thought natural to primitive man.
From Animism as the general form of thought by which all the lower nature-religions are determined I distinguish as a special manifestation a form to which the term is sometimes limited but which I prefer for the sake of clearness to call Spiritism—a belief that the spirits are not bound to a certain body but may quit it at pleasure that they may roam on earth or in the air “whether of their own motion or because bewitched by magic and therefore compelled” that they can appear to the living in ethereal-material shape and that they sometimes take up their abode for a time or permanently in some living or lifeless body other than the one they have quitted. This Spiritism is a higher form of development than Animism. It is the application according to primitive reasoning which cannot distinguish between the subjective and the objective of personal experience to the existing belief that everything has its cause in the will of an indwelling spirit just as self-conscious as the human spirit—a belief which may be called Polyzoism to distinguish it from the more developed Spiritism. In his dreams in his states of ecstasy sometimes produced by the use of intoxicants or in waking visions although his body remains in the same place the warrior has gone forth on the war-path the hunter has secured a rich booty in the happy hunting-fields the sorcerer or medicine-man has ascended up into heaven or descended into the depths of the earth. Or again his dead relations heroes of olden time higher spirits have themselves appeared and spoken to him have admonished punished comforted encouraged him. Can he doubt that all this has really happened? Between fancy and reality the primitive man knows no distinction. He can only account for these apparitions by assuming that the spirit temporarily quits the body and leads an independent existence. States of unconsciousness and of apparent death confirm his belief. The soul has then manifestly left the body although soon to resume its place. And so when death has actually occurred he invites—as the Chinese ritual expressly prescribes on the death of the emperor—the departed soul to a speedy return. He assumes that this is always possible and he therefore furnishes the tombs of his dead with all that they may find needful and comfortable. If he observes that the soul still remains absent he infers that the spirit of the deceased has entered a higher order of beings and he then accords to him an adoration perhaps less frequent but more fervently religious than he does to the higher spirits.
I have called Spiritism a higher development of Animism of which Polyzoism or what in philosophy is termed Hylozoism would then be a lower grade. And indeed the formation of such conceptions fantastic as they seen to us and as they in practice really are requires a more advanced thinking faculty than the most primitive races can be credited with. It assumes at least an awakened consciousness of the superiority of the soul to the body and of its relative independence. Animism has been in this form at least a step in advance and in its own way and within its own limits has disclosed a portion of truth to our uncivilised ancestors. Applied to their religious conceptions and observances Spiritism has in these also been conducive to progress. For by Spiritism the powers which were seen working in the phenomena of nature in man and beast which were supposed to dwell in other objects and which were worshipped as living beings were severed from their connection with fixed phenomena and thus raised above them to greater independence. Spiritism has awakened the consciousness that in the adored beings their spirit is the essential thing the permanent element throughout all their changes; and it has thus paved the way for that religious Spiritualism which culminates in the beautiful saying that “God is a spirit and whosoever worships Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” And thus though in childlike and unsophisticated form it has proclaimed a great truth.
This view of Spiritism affords a key for the explanation of the phenomenon which forms its reverse side and which has been named Fetishism. The origin of the word is well known. When the Portuguese first came in contact with the Negroes they saw them carrying about certain objects depositing or hanging them up in sacred places or collecting them in great huts; and they discovered that the natives ascribed special magic virtue to these objects and that they expected through their agency blessings of every kind protection from danger and above all the acquisition of the magic power itself. They therefore called these objects feitiço a word derived from the mediæval Latin factitius “endowed with magic power.” In this form the practice is purely Nigritian and is far from being in vogue among all the other African peoples. Among the southern races it hardly occurs at all. But the term Fetishism has been extended from this Nigritic form to a number of other more or less cognate notions and customs such as the Polynesian Taboo the American Totemism the use of amulets the worship of the images and relics of saints and in short to idolatry in general to which however it has only in part given rise. President de Brosses wrote a work in the last century called ‘Du culte des Dieux fétiches’ which achieved great success though his conception of the system rests on an inherent contradiction (contradictio in terminis) because the peculiarity of a fetish consists in the fact not that it is itself a spirit still less a god but that it is the temporary or accidental embodiment of a spirit. Professor Fritz Schultze has endeavoured to give the widest extension to the idea by including under it the whole of nature-mythology and even regarding as fetishes all the phenomena of the firmament—sun moon stars clouds even mountains lakes and rivers—and in short everything which primitive man has made an object of adoration. And while some scholars believe Fetishism to be the oldest form of religion others regard it as nothing but a sad degeneration and aberration of the human mind.
One could almost wish that a term which has given rise to so great confusion of ideas were banished for ever from our science. Let us at least try to keep it within its proper limits. I have called it the reverse side of Spiritism. Observe what I mean by this. When the spirits can choose at pleasure all kinds of objects as their dwellings it follows that the objects which they are believed to have chosen which are animated by them and endowed with their power are not only to be treated with respect but to be carefully preserved guarded and if possible even carried about on the person in order that the wearer may be sure of their protection wherever he happens to be. Man's longing to feel near his god and his god near him is common to all living religions. The primitive man however desires a tangible proof of this. In his Fetishism Totemism or other cognate system is thus disclosed according to his stage of development a longing of the religious soul which deserves our respect. It cannot of course be denied and all who know mankind will expect that this use may be attended with abuse as indeed even the most sacred things are liable to be abused and that the system has often degenerated into childish silly and even revolting superstition. Yet in itself and originally it is not a degeneration but a necessary transitional phase in the growth of religion. If on the one hand it has led to revolting idolatry there has on the other been elicited from it by poetry and the fine arts a rich symbolism which forms an important element in the language of religion and which is not even confined to that sphere. Your Union-Jack and our Tricolour are looked upon by the Negroes as sacred fetishes. And so they are in the noblest sense. They are emblems of our nationality and independence; in distant regions they are visible reminders of our country; and we are ready to defend them to the death. In short the so-called Fetishism is the reverse and as we are not yet spirits but sensuous beings the necessary corrective of Spiritism; but seeing that it was called into life by Spiritism which itself shows considerable progress in development it cannot have been any more than Spiritism the earliest form of religion.
If I am now to endeavour to characterise the lower nature-religions I shall only be able to treat of the second of the classes named. For the first belongs to a prehistoric condition which we may postulate as probable but cannot describe. All the present and past religions which have been dominated by Animism and have been brought to light by anthropological and historical research must be classed with the spiritistic-fetishistic. Those on a lower level that still sporadically survive have not been sufficiently studied to enable us to speak of them with certainty.
In this phase of religious development the conceptions or what can only yet with certain reservation be termed the religious doctrine occur in a fluid condition. This is the period of myth-formation. One myth supersedes the other; they go from mouth to mouth but still in the form of folk-narratives and proverbs gradually modified purposely or unconsciously supplemented and applied now to one now to another of the adored beings. Thus they are for the most part handed down as a family heritage from generation to generation; but means of defining this tradition and preserving it entire are lacking. Nor was any need of this felt as yet. In none of the nature-religions do we meet with anything like a doctrine to which one must cling as a revealed truth and even in the highest of them such doctrines are still in their infancy; nor can they in the least degree be expected at this stage. Nay we look in vain even for a sacred tradition with definite outlines. The only point in which these primitive peoples seem to have been a little more steadfast was the observance of the ancient customs in vogue in the family or tribe yet without much nicety or exactitude and without guarding against the introduction of new or foreign elements.
The beings worshipped are unlimited in number always liable to increase and without anything like a fixed order of precedence. Some of course are prominent above others because they represent and protect important interests of their worshippers because their power is more formidable their province more extensive or because they belong to a more eminent family or a more powerful tribe. People even had a vague idea of the unity of this higher order of beings and used some word to express that idea (as the Wong of the Negroes the Wakon or Huakan of the Americans the Num or Yum of the Ural-Altaians). But the world of spirits is still just as little organised as the primitive peoples themselves. All the spirits even the highest are but mighty magicians mighty through their magic sometimes beneficent according to their fancy or caprice but always feared. They cannot yet be called gods as their personality is still too undefined. Where this however seems to be the case as with the Finns the influence of the more developed religion of some neighbouring nation in this case the Scandinavian is traceable; or else the religion has already approached the confines of a higher period of development as in the case of the Mexicans and Peruvians.
As the spirits revered are still magicians so the manner of their veneration may be described as magical although prayers gifts and sacrifices are not lacking. An attempt is often made to play off another magic power against theirs. People seek the help and alliance of one set in order to prevail over the others. By dancing music noise and shouts they strive to ward off the dreaded powers and by rich offerings to strengthen and propitiate the protecting ones. To this end they make human sacrifices to the gods of war. The more they reinforce the heavenly army the better it will be able to secure victory for their tribe and people; and on the same principle they present thank-offerings of prisoners of war just as they give some distinguished chieftain a numerous retinue of women and servants to bear him company on his journey to the world of spirits. These bloody rites must not be judged by our moral standard. They were not inspired by cruelty or blood-thirstiness though in later times they were abused. Primitive man feels the terror of death no more than a child. Dying is simply passing into another and even higher state. Between the world of spirits and that of man there is constant intercourse and the boundaries are undefined. The intercourse between them is childlike familiar and confidential reminding us of what we sometimes observe in the case of simple worthy pious people of our own days. The spiritual beings are more powerful and therefore must be revered; they are not wiser for the term is still too high but more cunning and therefore people must be cautious in dealing with them though they do not scruple on occasion to overreach them as was done by Numa Pompilius in the well-known narrative of Ovid. But of moral loftiness of holiness majesty there is as yet not a trace. People speak of them and to there as if to older and more experienced friends who are bound to advise and help provided they receive all that they can claim. They invite them to their common table spread banquets for them and prepare a good place for them in their houses; and if they do not obtain the blessings they expected such as the longed-for rain then confounding subject and object appearance and reality they fancy that by disguising themselves so as to personate the mighty spirit and by imitating his actions they will bring about the desired result.
The nature-religions which still occupy the mythopœic level may therefore best be defined as unorganised magical polydæmonisms under the domination of Animism.
I should not like to close this discussion without again at least mentioning the question whether all the higher religions have passed through this rudimentary stage of development a question about which one may have an opinion but to which history gives no answer. Hitherto anthropologists mythologists and of course advocates of the theory of evolution have pretty generally answered this question in the affirmative. They point to the numerous traces of Animism and especially of Spiritism in the mythology and cult of every one of the higher nature-religions and to ideas and usages which still survive in the ethical religions descended from the natural; and they are of opinion that these facts can only be accounted for by assuming that they originated in an earlier phase of the nature-religions. But some recent authors dispute this. They maintain that the cause of the phenomenon mentioned must be sought for in the intercourse and fusion of peoples whereby animistic fancies and observances crept into religions which had hitherto been entirely free from such superstition. Especially where a primitive and backward people has been subjected by conquest to the domination of a small minority the latter in order to enforce their authority have been obliged to make concessions to the ancient magical rites so dear to their subjects and to admit such rites to the new religion established by law. This is not impossible; but I confess it seems to me in the highest degree improbable. The survivals of magic Spiritism are much too widely diffused to be explained by absorption or assimilation. Were such the case we should surely find somewhere in the world some nation or tribe which had resisted these pernicious influences and had guarded its religion against the invasion of all foreign elements. And above all it would require to be shown how the confusion of imagination and reality of subject and object came so generally to affect people who knew perfectly well the distinction between them and how not in a particular case or by a mere coincidence but almost universally people came to adopt ideas and practices which must have seemed to them crude and senseless out of accord with their system and out of all harmony with their spiritual wants. I therefore await more cogent reasons before abandoning my opinion that the whole of mankind as well as every individual man must have passed through the stage of childhood.
Be this as it may it is a fact that in the animistic nature-religions all the forms of worship which recur later in the higher nature-religions as constant and permanent elements are already present in embryo. The whole mythology of polytheism however much transformed by the poets into poetical narratives (μυ̑θοι fabulae) and reduced by the sacerdotal schools to a theological system is already involved in the apparently crude but sometimes very reasonable ideas formed by primitive man regarding the powers of nature. This probably affords an explanation and in some sense a justification of much that is enigmatical in the god-lore of antiquity of much in it that has shocked philosophers and moralists the often strange attributes of some of the gods their metamorphoses their endless dissensions their marriages love-affairs and intrigues—in short everything which it is difficult to suppose really ascribed by a people on a high plane of civilisation to the gods they worshipped. And in fact when attributed to gods all these things are very strange. But as a primitive description of nature in which the powers of nature are conceived as willing and thinking beings but are not yet embodied in human form the system exactly corresponds with the degree of development attained by the framers of these nature-myths. I do not deny that a number of new myths may have sprung up mainly born of poetic fancy subsequently to the ancient period. But I believe such cases to be exceptional and that further research will prove these apparently new creations to be adaptations of older models and not original. The mythical material was woven up it was freely used by poets sages and sacerdotal schools and adapted to their higher and more anthropomorphised gods and to the requirements of a higher civilisation; but the marks of its origin could not entirely be obliterated. And the root-idea of all mythology—that the causes of everything that affects human life and welfare must be sought for in the agency of indwelling willing powers pursuing a fixed purpose untrammelled by the limitations of the finite world entirely free in their movements and endowed with great magical power—this root-idea at all events dates from the ancient period.
This applies to cult no less than to doctrine. There we find sacrifices accompanied by prayers sacred sayings and songs to which magical power is attributed and the magical observances which form the germ of all the symbolical and dramatic features of the later cult. There too we see the ever-burning fire kindled and purified in accordance with ancient fashion. There already we encounter the belief that by self-denial abstinence and mutilation and especially by the use of intoxicants one may attain to the higher life and the greater power of the spirits and that certain privileged persons had received a special qualification for this. As yet there is no priesthood but we meet with medicine-men soothsayers sorcerers experts who are consulted in their respective spheres and in fact with the whole hierarchy in primitive form. There again in the form of fetishes and shapeless images we discern the precursors of the later idols we see sacred places specially visited by spirits and soon declared inaccessible to the profanum vulgus and we even find secret societies the members of which by greater feats of self-control dedicate themselves to closer communion with the spirits and become their special favourites.
And further it is not merely the forms of worship but the ideas which animate the more developed religions that we meet with in the earliest period though as yet in childlike stammering utterances. The divine omnipotence is as yet a wonder-working power unlimited by any human incapacity; the divine holiness is unapproachableness; the divine omnipresence is as yet but the power of moving from place to place in the twinkling of an eye. The ordeal and the oath as conceived by Spiritism already involve a belief in the gods as vindicators of truth and justice and the dread of their punishment implies an awakened sense of guilt. The idea that after all there exists a certain unity in the countless multitude of spirits an idea I have already alluded to shows a glimmering of monotheism. Nor are the two fundamental thoughts of all religious doctrine the superiority of the world of the gods to that of men and the inter-relation of both by any means lacking in these primitive religious forms.
Lastly we may even discover here the rudiments of true piety. As with children so with primitive man his attitude towards the spirits shows a wavering between fear and familiarity but also hope and trust though mainly directed towards material blessings and gratitude though partly induced by the thought that he must express it in order not to forfeit the future favour of his gods. These are but the buds destined in the course of later development to burst into flower and to yield fruit. Yet even here religion possesses the feature characteristic of it wherever it is a living reality that of devotion of adoration which shrinks from no sacrifice however burdensome stanchly defends the adored object and avenges it when insulted. Let us not therefore overlook the true piety which lurks in these defective and to us often strange and repellent forms.
Shall we then conscious of the superiority of our religion be ashamed of the humble origins from which it has sprung? Shall we not rather hail this religious disposition as a proof of man's higher origin as a proof that the finite being partakes of the infinite and the eternal? We might as well be ashamed of having been once helpless children and of having all of us even the mightiest monarch and the greatest genius only gradually grown up to self-consciousness and rational thought. Nor let us forget that the beginning is not the same thing as the origin. Religion too like every human phenomenon is governed by the all-embracing law of development—from the lower to the higher from the natural to the spiritual. The tree must first be a sapling and the sapling a seed; but in that seed lurks already embosomed the majestic tree with its wealth of foliage and its treasure of fruit.