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VII: Conscience

Together with a blind allegiance to social convention goes sorrow at being out of touch with the rest and a desire to be restored to the fold. Though some sins are irremediable, others admit of rites of penance which remove the pollution, sometimes as if it were a physical foulness, but also, as in the rite of confession, by identifying it with a state of the mind; while the publicity of the humiliation helps to cast down the sinner in his own eyes. At the same time, a forgiveness which goes beyond strict justice is apt to inspire the penitent to repay the debt with interest.

A DELICATE problem of animal psychology is to determine the state of mind of the dog who, having purloined a delectable chop from the larder, has been duly discovered and arrested adhuc flagranti crimine. All the outward signs of a sense of guilt are present. His mien is doleful, his tail depressed. Yet, as regards his inward response to the distressing situation, which of the two are we to infer—sorrow for a commandment broken, or the fear of a prospective licking? Every lover of animals will know that the answer depends to some extent on whether the particular dog has a good master. If accustomed to sympathetic treatment, so that it has become a pleasure to act under the direction of the superior will, then a mere sense of being out of favour will suffice to induce a sort of penitential behaviour in a highbred sensitive creature that perhaps has never actually felt the whip. Nay, even the most ravenous husky in a dog-team on the Yukon, though having a full and so-to-speak professional experience of the lash, will steal shamelessly from the tenderfoot who mishandles him, and yet will submit to rationing at the hands of a past master of the trail, repaying the harsh justice of his rule with a faithfulness that can curb, if it may never wholly dominate, the propensities of a wolfish nature.

Now a man is no dog. Though he may boast of belonging to the Wolf totem, the savage belongs to a higher order than that of the Canidae. We are therefore justified in attributing to his mental reactions a greater complexity than is displayed by those of any four-footed sinner that might make a show of repentance. In short, whatever we like to suppose about the animal, we have to credit the human being as such with the rudiments of a conscience. Now this term, though of familiar use in a religious or moral context, is on the whole avoided by the psychologist, no doubt because of a certain ambiguity in its current meaning. Thus what might be called a high-grade conscience, such as we can expect to find in the noblest type of civilized man, is hardly to be distinguished from the moral sense, which in its turn is much the same as the intuitional form of the moral reason. Thus at this level of intelligence conscience amounts to the mens sibi conscia recti, an apprehension of ethical principle or law in its universal character, that is, as applicable to all possible situations of the kind. On the other hand, it is only in a slight degree, if at all, that the savage appreciates right in and for its intrinsic reasonableness. Stevenson writes of one of his characters: ‘his affections, like ivy, were the growth of time; they implied no aptness in the object’. Much the same might be said of the primitive man’s respect for his ancestral custom; for what holds the social structure together is not the choice quality of the materials, but rather the fact that his heart-strings are entwined about it. His is therefore a sort of protopathic conscience capable only of a whole-or-none reaction to the stimulus of the familiar. It is a spirit of blind allegiance that cries, not ‘My country, right or wrong!’—for that is to suppress a doubt—but ‘My country for ever!’, as if the course of plain but strictly local duty could not alter though the heavens should fall. The only conscientious objector known to savagery is the man in the next tribe, and he objects to everything. The homebred offender against the decencies has not thought for himself, but on the contrary has simply forgotten himself. He is as a sheep that has gone astray, and can find no contentment until it rejoins the rest.

Such then, being posited as the general nature of the primitive or low-grade type of conscience, let us try to verify this conception of it by studying it more especially in its negative aspect, namely, as a conviction of sin. By so doing we may find it necessary to qualify Clifford’s well-known definition of the savage variety of conscience as ‘self-judgement in the name of the tribe’. As an attempt to do justice to its intellectual side this account may be all very well; for there is undoubtedly an exteriorization of the point of view, as if the tribesman could only think of himself in the third person and see himself as just one figure in the crowd. But there is also an emotional attitude to be reckoned with. So regarded, savage penitence would seem to amount to a homesickness—the feeling of being lost conjoined with the desire to get back into touch. It may be worth while, then, to see how far such an interpretation will fit the evidence concerning the rules and measures of penance in the uncivilized society.

Let us start from the well-established psychological fact that sorrow, like fear, is a kind of ‘asthenic’ emotion, having as its direct and as it were reflex effect a tendency to depress the vitality for the time being—in other words, to subdue the spirits and to paralyse action. Whereas the healthy man, at peace with himself and with the rest of the world, enjoys being fit and does his best to keep so, a morbid state of nervous prostration is wont to induce a disregard and abandonment of self, so that for the utter weakling that way lies complete demoralization and perhaps suicide. Strangely enough, however, the opposite condition of blissful exaltation provokes similar transports of recklessness, as if to cast out care could only mean that anxiety and heedfulness must be banished together. Thus these two emotional extremes have at least this much in common that they give rise to what is to all outward appearance very much the same behaviour. ‘I have heard’, writes Thoreau, ‘of Brahmins sitting exposed to four fires and looking in the face of the sun; or hanging suspended, with their heads downward, over flames; or looking at the heavens over their shoulders “until it becomes impossible for them to resume their natural position, while from the twist of the neck nothing but liquids can pass into the stomach”. Or dwelling, chained for life, at the foot of a tree; or measuring with their bodies, like caterpillars, the breadth of vast empires; or standing on one leg on the tops of pillars.’ These extravagances he sets down as ‘forms of conscious penance’, and it may well be that some such intention, whether fully explicit or not, is at the back of most of them, at any rate at the outset. But the Hindu ascetic would certainly claim that by thus tearing down the walls of the flesh he passes out into a rapturous freedom of the spirit. So, too, I have myself witnessed in the Sahara more than one of those exhibitions of self-torture in the course of which a frenzied fakir whirls about, cutting himself, chewing glass, and otherwise tormenting himself to the verge of utter physical break-down. The tourist may deem it a hoax or at most an affair of ‘devil dancing’, but to the native it is genuinely a ‘God-seeking’, the transcendent effort of an especially tough and valiant pilgrim to surmount the hardships of the true way. Science speaks airily about the ‘masochism’ of persons of the type of our European Flagellants; but no such sweeping phrase will serve to do justice to the endless gradations of emotional tone between the two poles of sorrow and gladness which occur within the religious consciousness when it probes its own wounds, whether self-inflicted or not, and makes a virtue and even a glory of mastering the pain.

Here, however, we are concerned primarily with the sorrowful side of this pivoting process, though it is undoubtedly its association with an incipient swing of the pendulum towards the joy of being restored to grace that distinguishes penitence from mere remorse, and gives it its value as a means of amendment. From a practical point of view remorse, being wholly retrospective, is a waste of time; whereas penitence is not only a prospective, but projective, seeking somehow to make good an anticipated forgiveness. Conscience in its most negative form is not like the daemon of Socrates which, according to the Apology, would from time to time hold him back, but never urged him forward. Rather it is a judgement of self-condemnation functioning as the active ally of the will to reform. It may indeed be that, so conceived, it lends itself to psychological definition less aptly than if it were taken simply as some principle of abstract thought. For morals, however, and more particularly for religion which has in view the spiritual welfare of the whole man, conscience can mean nothing less than a kind of motive, or moving reason, implying not only wisdom but guidance—words which, after all, come from the same root. Such a dynamic category is bound to part with most of its significance under the dissecting knife of an analytic psychology; whereas, if observed in its historical manifestations and according to the functional method, it can be plainly recognized for what it truly is, namely, an instrument of conversion.

First, then, what is the connexion between sorrow and sin? The question might seem superfluous to the moralist who disregards historical experience. Yet the anthropologist, when he bethinks himself of the eccentricities of any primitive system of taboos, may at first wonder how any one who, like Andrew Lang’s ‘Why-why, the First Radical’, takes the liberty to infringe them should find himself one penny—or, let us say, one cowrie—the worse. Half these savage bogeys do not bite, or at any rate do not bite us. We are therefore disposed to distinguish between real and merely ritual offences, as if the latter had no binding force if considered in themselves and apart from some accidental convention. The objection to such a view of the matter is, of course, that no one actually concerned with these observances would dream of valuing them away from their immediate context. No doubt the ingenuous savage, more especially if helped on his way by a leading question, will improvise an explanation, probably on the lines of so-called sympathetic magic, such as that if you crack a marrow-bone you will interfere with the resurrection of a sound animal, or perhaps will break your own leg. But in all cases the real sanction is that sacred custom forbids, that the thing is simply ‘not done’. The law is the law, down to the least of its injunctions. It is the holistic or wholesale conception of the moral code, such as always prevails in the static type of society.

Hence, when Jevons finds in taboo an early form of the Categorical Imperative, he is not far off the truth, if this be taken simply to mean that particular prohibitions exert an absolute claim to obedience on the part of the primitive conscience. Another way of putting the same thing is to call attention to the automatic character of the supposed consequences of their violation. Indeed, it is on the surface so like a simple case of cause and effect that some anthropologists are chary of classing the infraction of taboo as an offence against religion. Instead they propound the ridiculously inadequate view that its import for the savage is wholly magical, in the sense that it is his apology for science, his would-be explanation of a purely natural event. But for him there is almost literally a world of difference between the sacred and the profane; and because many a taboo is incidental to the common round it does not necessarily descend to the level of the secular any more than need be the case, say, with the institution of daily prayers. Apart from the mechanization which all social discipline as such is liable to import into human behaviour—and every established religion succeeds in imposing a drill—no ritual prescription can forfeit its right to rank among recognized dealings with unseen, wonder-working powers such as in their friendly aspect may be termed divine. Thus, taken in its connexion with the rest, the barest order to abstain from this action or that justifies itself as part of some supernatural design; and of this the end is fairly plain, though the means may be altogether obscure. For a primitive society has no use for casuistry. Had it reached the stage of picking and choosing among its moral conventions, it could proceed to resolve its separate cases of conscience by experiment, so that the event might enable the social reformer to be differentiated from the sinner. But the savage stands by his custom as a whole, in obedience to a pretty clear notion that it enables him to live; and, after all, he lives not because he obeys an order to that effect, but because he enjoys living. Moreover, this custom of his, which is his moral universe, is no machine that acts automatically, but rather a Providence; though no doubt it is a Providence which is expected to justify itself by its words. Whether we admire him for it or not, primitive man does not show much disposition to submit to an overruling destiny if it manifest itself simply in a neutral capacity. Thoroughly as he believes in the devil, he is not prepared to serve him. Nay, though surrounded with seemingly implacable forces, he imposes on the unknown his own moral demands and extorts an exhibition of worthiness as the price of his worship. Circumscribed and purely tribal in his outlook, he expects no sympathy from supernatural agencies alien to his social circle; while even within it there are to be dreaded the sinister influences which black magic is reputed to set in motion. Nevertheless, there is always a heart to his system of beliefs consisting in a supreme confidence in his tribal luck and in the sacred powers therewith concerned. His is not a diffused but a localized Providence, with a favour restricted to a single communion which, in the phrase of Robertson Smith, is ‘theanthropic’—an association of the human with the divine. To belong to the chosen people is to enjoy the privilege of participating in their customary rites; for these constitute the ark of their strength, the very framework and foundation of the mercy-seat itself.

Meanwhile, the great difficulty encountered by the student who works backwards to primitive religion from the starting-point of an advanced theology is to make due allowance for the vagueness with which the savage conceives the agencies that thus control his tribal fortune. His one axiom is that they are good. Concerning their private nature, however, whether they are personal and in what degree, and so on, he imagines nothing very clearly; nor—what is more puzzling for us—does he demand any consistency from the play of his fancy. On the other hand, being perfectly definite in his mind about how to approach them in a ceremonial way, he lets them take their colour, as it were, from the ritual background of the moment. Sometimes they appear to answer to a mechanical mode of treatment, and sometimes to the way in which one man addresses another. In any case, the main business from the practical point of view is to reach and exploit the goodness which is always there. Now the only limitation to this goodness is a sort of latency out of which it has to be evoked into action. Convinced as to the fundamental benevolence, savage religion has likewise little doubt about the accompanying omnipotence, could it be energized to the full. To ‘wait patiently for the Lord’ may be beyond the scope of a primitive creed; but to cry ‘Arise, O Lord’ is almost as natural an impulse in the human being as it is for him to rebuke his own spirit and bid it take fresh courage. Thus a key to the way in which the divine power is held to be removed is provided by the way in which a man is moved or moves himself. Instead of studying the soul of the repentant savage in its blurred reflection, namely, a theology in which one might look in vain for any adequate idea of a God of mercy, one must fall back on a direct method of observing how the appropriate rites help him to acquire the dynamism that can bring about a change of heart.

How, then, does the primitive sinner envisage the sin which he acknowledges and would abolish by ritual means? Bearing in mind that exteriorization to which all his thoughts about himself are subject, we may expect him to see himself as marked off from the rest by some objectionable and clinging foulness. To break a taboo is to contract an infectious disease—a leprosy; and the leper must be banned as a danger to the herd. At first sight, however, to judge by the resulting loss of social rights, the man who wilfully breaks a taboo would seem to be in hardly worse case than he who is involved in one through no fault of his own. Having alike incurred pollution, both must undergo the same isolation, on preventive grounds that take no account of motive. Any man-slayer, for instance, is a public danger as being liable to be haunted, and that whether he has slain for good reason or for bad. Nay, those who mourn the death that he has wrongfully or rightfully caused find themselves in much the same plight, since the ghost—or to put it in a non-animistic way, the contagion of death—will assuredly dog their footsteps too. Friend or foe, just or unjust, they must sit together in outer darkness until the common miasma that is upon them lifts. Or again, it does not avail a woman that she is in no way responsible for various events incidental to her duties as a mother of the race; but she must be charged with an uncleanness which in itself counts almost for a shame, even if it implies a sacredness such as may redound to her glory in other phases of her life. Not to multiply examples, it can easily be shown that it is the crux of primitive ethics how to bring its awards of praise and blame into relation with the voluntary element in conduct.

Indeed, so long as the moral judgement has regard to outward forms only, there can be no chance of dividing the sheep from the goats—the ceremonially from the morally impure—seeing that externally there is blemish in them all. There may be a certain logic in making the innocent suffer with the guilty according to the principle of collective responsibility, as in blood-revenge; for kinship at a certain level of society is frankly recognized as a partnership for weal or woe. But it is an outrage on common sense that the confused notion of the sacred should provide a common denomination for the holy recluse and the accursed criminal. As it is, however, where thought thus conspicuously fails, practice alone could mitigate an impossible situation by assigning different terms to the allotted period of excommunication. Thus, whereas it might be well understood all along that the good man would in due season emerge from his enforced retirement to an intact position in society, the bad man could be condemned to outlawry or an indefinite sentence and perhaps for life. Now something of this sort undoubtedly happens in primitive jurisprudence, and an examination of the penal consequences of homicide would disclose the fact that a large discretion is actually exercised in exacting retribution, even when the strictest requital of ‘an eye for an eye’ is laid down by the prevailing code of law and honour. There is, in fact, an extreme degree of impurity which, juridically speaking at all events, lies beyond the reach of any plenary indulgence. ‘Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled’, the doer of an unforgivable wrong either dies the death or, if allowed to escape, is cut off beyond hope of redemption.

On the other hand, it might be plausibly argued that this very insensibility of the savage to motive as the only ground of moral responsibility makes it easier for him to forgive and forget. For he is bound unconsciously to assimilate the unclean to the holy kind of sacredness, thus confounding a discreditable exile with a more or less meritorious withdrawal from worldly affairs. Thus the gracelessness of the former condition may take shelter under a quasi-positive valuation of taboo as a means of grace. Outwardly, at any rate, the one state can be changed and brought to an end as readily as the other. Because the savage wears his heart on his sleeve, a mere change of garment is enough to signify that he has put away his abominations and put on righteousness. As a piece of ritual mechanism, all that is needed is to substitute the linen for the sackcloth, and the thing is done. It is obvious, however, that such a symbolism is capable of more meanings than one, and that, as moral insight becomes clearer, it may be possible to read into it sentiments far more amenable to rational direction than the crude feelings that originally prompted the ceremonial act. Thus it would be interesting to inquire in detail how far the analogy of the mourner may not have helped to suggest that a befitting show of regret on the part of the sinner must precede any washing of his clothes and character. If Sir James Frazer is right in supposing that the wearing of mourning began as a disguise intended to deceive and so foil death with its attendant horrors, its significance as a sign of grief would be a secondary interpretation, a backstroke of the rationalizing intelligence. Of this, however, it could be proved that the humblest savages are capable, as, for instance, the Arunta widow who explained her apparel of white paint—white over black being equivalent to black over white—as meant to exhibit to her husband’s spirit the sincerity of her sorrow. Similarly, then, if purification has thus come to be associated with a deliverance from grief, the criminal admitted to purgation might get the benefit of a transferred compassion from those who beheld his trappings of woe; while, again, in his own person he would learn to regard his own lamentable condition as a reason why he should himself lament instead of hardening his heart from turning.

Nevertheless, despite these possibilities of reinter-pretation, a ritual which consists in the removal of a foulness of the outer man, such as dust and ashes, or the stain of blood, or defiled garments, is not suited to express the travail that must accompany the workings of conscience, because as a means of grace it seems altogether too easy—a mere affair of ridding the surface of an offensive incrustation. It is true that some savages, though by no means all, take no pleasure in washing themselves in the ordinary way; nor is the sweat-bath in its primitive form an entirely agreeable way of subjecting the body to strong and remedial medicine. Also there are uncomfortable scarifications and singeings that may qualify the tender mercies of a savage lustration. Yet for the most part the stress is laid on the efficacy of the detergent process rather than on the spiritual effort required of the subject. The Aleut, too near the Arctic to be a lover of cleanliness, places grass against his person that it may absorb his sins, and then consigns the grass to the fire. The Ancient Peruvians during a purificatory ceremony would stand at their doors shaking imaginary dust from their clothes that it might be blown away into the surrounding air. Or, again, all over the world it is a well-known device to bathe in running water that the evil may be carried off and out to sea. Thus, in general, one may perhaps say that among savages the use of holy water is wanting in inward reference, no doubt because they are relatively sense-bound, and incapable of raising a mechanical symbolism to the level of a spiritual metaphor. It is not so hard for a simple mind to picture clean hands as a clean heart. True, the Mexican priest in baptizing a child said not only ‘may that water wash away all that is evil’ but also ‘may it whiten thy heart’. But after all he was half civilized and correspondingly may be said to halt half-way between an exterior and an inward-seeking view of the virtue of his act. A cruder imagery is needed to convey to the savage that his sin has truly been expelled from within him.

Now in many a primitive psychology heart and stomach stand for very much the same thing, namely, as the seat of the affections, such as are by no means entirely carnal. Nay, what we call the mind may in turn be brought under the same inclusive category; and, after all, the observable effect on the mind of eating and drinking, indirect though the process may be, is not small. Now, as is well known, the savage is religiously particular about what he eats, so that his list of forbidden foods is apt to run to astonishing lengths. Moreover, he is well acquainted with fasting as a mode of humbling and chastening the soul. Naturally a gormandizer, as any one might be who was none too certain about the source or the quality of his next meal, he nevertheless can rigidly control his appetite in response to a ritual obligation, and learns to measure his spiritual welfare in terms of his power over the flesh. No wonder, then, that with him a strong heart becomes synonymous with an empty stomach. It follows that, in order to be void of offence, he must painfully scour his internal parts. Without going into unpleasant details, one may note that a catharsis in the physical sense is a common accompaniment of ceremonies of purification, such as notably those that precede a rite of renewal such as a feast of first fruits. Thus old Adair notes how certain American Indians of his day would before harvest, or, again, before starting on a campaign, purge themselves with button-snake root; and goes on to translate the native name for the custom as ‘the expiation of sin’. Such a method of cleansing the inner man provides a method of throwing off impurity of all kinds; for we hear of medicine societies among the Pueblo Indians whose members, before a celebration of the mysteries, must undergo not only strict continence but an emetic each morning for four days in order to remove the taint of their previous conjugal relations. Materialistic, then, though the ritual remains in the form of its expression, it has got one step nearer to a representation of the inwardness of a true, that is, heartfelt, repentance.

The next step is from emptying the stomach to emptying the soul; and here we begin to come within sight of conscience as a mental function, even if to think of mind as a receptacle that can be emptied and filled involves us in spatial metaphor of a rather crude order. Meanwhile, to the Akikuyu who use one and the same word for the ritual use of an emetic and for the confession of sins that accompanies it there is probably no discernible difference between the two processes, since both alike relate to some central organ on which his health and happiness seem to depend. In Ancient Mexico the sinner confessed his iniquities, in the presence of a priest, to a goddess known as ‘Eater of impurities’—as if the most irritating matter must yield to a divine digestion. Indeed, from native America comes the evidence of a widespread practice of confession not only as customary throughout the Andean civilizations but as also extending northwards to hunting tribes such as the Plains Indians, the Iroquois, and the still more backward Athapascans. Closely associated as this rite always is with acts suggestive of the removal of some filthy or disgusting substance, it must be set to its credit as a medium of religious self-education and self-discipline that it enables sins to be faced under their true names and thus to some extent in their true nature as it is for thought. Though in the mass they may be rated as a kind of impurity or dirt, yet if murder or adultery or even some purely ceremonial offence is confessed eo nomine, the moral consciousness can no longer be said to be working in the dark. No doubt words count more or less as things for the savage, and it is the very naming of his misdeeds that make it possible to get a purchase on them and lift them like a weight from off his chest. But words likewise afford fixed points on which feelings and ideas gradually form up in an increasingly coherent order. It may be that in religious experience precision of meaning is no final test of value; yet certain it is that religion enters on a new phase, marked by an intellectual grasp of principle unknown before, when a mechanical type of ritual, amounting to no more than a kind of gesture language, gives way to one in which oral forms have come to prevail. Moreover, as the other institutions of society, political, legal, economic, and so on, invariably pursue a similar course of development, religion could hardly refuse to follow suit, unless at the risk of losing its historic right to preside over all the practical disciplines and keep them true to a single and sublime purpose.

Meanwhile, in view of the many-sided nature of conscience, confession needs to be considered in relation not only to thought but also to the will. For to acknowledge one’s fault in public is to conjoin self-knowledge with self-surrender, the harder thing of the two. For the savage especially, who beholds himself chiefly as others behold him, thus to humiliate himself in the sight of all is an experience almost more bitter than death; though on the other hand he is inclined for the same reason to give way to drama and, like the mourner, to make a gazing-stock of his very afflictions. In any case he stands up before all to take his medicine, so that his conscience may be void of offence. The criminal has given himself up and thrown himself on the mercy of the court. He is not as the rebel against society who in the stubbornness of an evil heart puts up a fight and, if overtaken, dies defiantly like some Red Indian warrior at the stake. Such is indeed, according to primitive morals, the proper attitude of a man in his relation to the rest of the world, his natural foes. But towards his own communion even the excommunicated man should feel, like Socrates in prison, that he has no right to violate his side of the contract. Whatever taboo he may have broken, and however much he may deserve to be exorcized and expelled like an unclean spirit, yet he is no stranger but an exile, with a home-sickness, and hence with at least a potential loyalty, ever ready to stir the depths of his heart. No doubt, by encouraging the culprit to confess, the court has of its own accord hinted that its favour is not finally withdrawn, but that on the contrary a contrite behaviour may earn a mitigation of the sentence. Even so, a certain spontaneity is required of the prisoner at the bar if he is to meet the concession in the spirit in which it was made. He must make a clean breast of it freely and even gratefully. He must be forward to grasp the extended hand, must not merely accept but seek the proffered pardon.

Justice, then, even divine justice, is conceived by the savage as tempered with mercy towards the offender who ‘repents to the acknowledging of the truth’. In saying so, however, let us not fail to make due allowance for that scenic quality which a mind working chiefly at the sensitive level imports into all its proceedings, and more especially into those that take place in public. In order to make a scene of it the primitive actor invariably overplays the part; or so at least it would strike the civilized observer, the man in the stalls. Even in enlightened Athens emotional displays occurred such as no modern court would tolerate; and to move the pity of the jurors regular tragedies were staged with choruses of weeping women and so forth. Now under stone-age conditions one may well suppose that the feelings are even more under the sway of the excitement of the moment. This very fact, however, makes for a kind of forgiveness which is really more like a forgetting of injuries. The mind passes from one emotional context to another without noticing the transition, just as a crying child can be solaced with a toy. Thus when Australian black-fellows have thrown their spears and boomerangs to their hearts’ content at the accused party, who dodges the missiles passively according to the custom known to anthropologists as that of the expiatory exposure, they let him off if still unscathed, no doubt mainly because they have worked off their wrath, and are ready for the next thing on the programme, as for instance a meal. This comes out very clearly in their alternative custom of allowing accuser and accused to batter each other on the head with clubs, with the sportsmanlike proviso that the accused shall have the first blow. When each has had enough, then in their own language their hearts have become ‘cool’. Thus they hardly need to switch off a passion that has burnt itself out. So, then, any penitential rite among savages is apt to display a marked exhibitionism. Because of their groanings will it repent the divine powers. Some of these, indeed, are implacable, like the Furies, the avengers of kindred blood. But there may be remission of lesser sins, such as slaying outside the clan, a matter for which the law allows composition. Even so, however, a righteous indignation must be propitiated by crying loudly and abjectly for mercy. The Indian brave, who would never demean himself by whining to a human foe, yet howls ‘O Wakanda, pity me!’ in the extremity of his self-humiliation. Further, whereas the pains that he inflicts on his body may be a source of secret pride since they testify to his endurance, an open confession of his transgressions cannot but cut him to the heart, being utterly contradictory to that spirit of self-esteem which causes him to boast of his achievements and rejoice in any sort of public ovation. In short, his tribulation is not merely symbolic and affected, but real. He has descended to the depths, and from the depths comes his plea for pity. He may have no clear idea of the Being whom or which he is trying to move. Sometimes there is a clear implication of personality, as when an anthropomorphic deity or the body of tribal ancestors is being appeased; and sometimes it is as if an impersonal curse were being automatically lifted. In either case, however, before any alleviation of the situation becomes possible, the asthenic effects of a great sorrow must have been experienced to the utmost. The sinner must first be cast down in his own eyes no less than in the sight of all.

It remains to inquire how this weakness can be turned into a renewed strength. Looking at the question more especially from the side of the emotions, one can assume it to be true of any passion that, the further it retires, the further it is likely to leap. The excited man is like the fever-patient who swings across normal-point without knowing it and can only feel either too cold or too hot. Thus there is always a danger lest old sinner should imagine himself new saint without coming any nearer to that state of quiet and reasonable assurance which, like a steady pulse, is an index of moral health and balance. If religion is to further and consummate the work of conscience, it must so contrive that, having rescued his feet from the depths and turned his face towards the heights, it should recall the wayfarer to his immediate duty which is to climb as before. M. van Gennep in his brilliant book Les Rites de Passage has shown how many types of primitive ritual conform more or less to a triple movement in which, first, a severance from the world is represented, then a communion with the divine, and, lastly, a return to the world, though on a new and higher plane of it. Without attempting here to force the facts about primitive modes of penance into such a rigid framework one may note how, in helping a man to wipe out his past and regain his forfeited position in society, they likewise bring him, at the supreme moment of the oscillation from misery and shame to happiness and restored honour, into touch with a mystery, a miracle, mana, so that his life can never afterwards be quite the same. Whereas justice is a cold principle, implying a calculable correlation of rights with duties, there is a magic in forgiveness—an unreason which is a super-reason in that it works wonders. Here conscience finds its true dynamic, namely, in an emotional tendency of the unstable character to give itself the benefit of the doubt when met half-way by a like spirit in others. Instead of reciprocity there is offered an unmerited love, an unmeasured rejoicing over a lost but very average sheep; and, by a mystical contagion of warmth, a responsive generosity is kindled in the recipient of the bounty. As the phrase goes, he takes heart of grace. The prodigal has been feasted on mana at the tribal expense; and, as on the north-west coast of America one potlatch calls for another—that is, an extravagant distribution of goods must be matched by the receivers of presents with even more extravagant distributions in return if they would not ‘lose face’—so the freely imparted mana is a debt of honour that must be paid with interest. Whether the ardency of this resolve to make good and even transcendently good can be maintained on the return to the day’s work remains to be seen. But to have suffered is to learn. Conscience may be educated so as to bear a fuller witness. Thus it may be that the pardoned deserter will be found in the forefront of the next battle; for conscience can make heroic cowards of us all. For the rest, religion with its organized ritual of penance, pardon, and rehabilitation imposes on society as a whole a view of life which tends to class all its evils under the head of moral evil for which the other ills are chastisements. It then pronounces moral evil to be remediable by grace if not by merit—that is, by experiencing and in turn willing the something more that exalts love above interest, goodness infinite above such goodness as men apportion to each other by rule and measure.

It turns out, then, that the savage is not as the dog who slinks away when in disgrace, or at most submits cringingly to the whip. Thanks to an altogether higher endowment of will-power, the man consents to his whipping and might almost be said sometimes to whip himself. His various rites of atonement do not merely reflect a futile self-pity. He makes a virtue of a painful necessity by learning to value endurance, humility, meekness for themselves as better than the vainglory of one who cannot own himself in the wrong. For a savage who in his fiercer moments prides himself on behaving like a wolf, it is no small step towards self-mastery and self-direction to have acquired tenderness of conscience even in this degree. So touchy about his honour as he is, he lets himself be shamed when he has sinned and the mana is withdrawn from him, and knows that there is nothing for him but to go through with it until he is forgiven. Only when he is taken back to the bosom of the tribe will his mana return. Then, the spell upon him broken by a stronger medicine, the warrior can go back to the fighting line.