Lessons of Language.
WE ask to-day What can language teach us with regard to the origin of religion? We have seen that nothing can be more ancient than language. Myth is but a modification of Language. Our sacred books are language in its highest development. Our customs and traditions are often founded on decayed and misunderstood words. If therefore we can decipher the original meaning of our words if we can discover the purpose with which they were framed we shall have opened archives which by their antiquity at all events are far superior to any other evidence within our reach.
Now let us remember what I tried to explain in my last Lecture that the Aryan languages have been reduced to about 800 roots. The Semitic and Turanian languages also have been submitted process and have yielded a very similar result. But though many of the observations which we are going to make with regard to the Aryan Languages apply with equal force though mutatis mutandis to other languages also I shall in these lectures concentrate my attention chiefly on glance family of speech and only occasionally glance at other families for confirmation or modification of our results.
Roots express our acts.
Let us remember secondly that most of the Aryan roots expressed originally our own acts acts mostly performed in common continuous acts and acts the consciousness of which would by necessity produce the first conceptual stratum of thought in the human mind. Philosophers seem to imagine that concepts are something so natural that they require no explanation at all. We see white in snow milk and chalk they say and we thus form the concept of white. Yes if we once have learnt to grasp we can grasp anything—but the real question is how for the first time we come to grasp how nature without any conscious effort of our own teaches nay forces us to grasp. It was Noiré who showed us how this took place. It was the consciousness of our own repeated acts which for the first time called out our intellectual grasp and made us whether we liked it or not grasp comprehend conceive many acts as one and after a time many results of such acts as one. The consciousness of our own repeated strokes blows knocks taps slaps pushes and impulses would become without any conscious effort of our own the first germ of conceptual thought. During the early phase of thought when this is supposed to have happened when the first consciousness of our own repeated acts assumed a conceptual character will act and knowledge were as yet one and undivided and the whole of our conscious knowledge was subjective exclusively concerned with our own voluntary acts. Man could say ‘strike’ in the sense of ‘We strike’ or ‘I strike’ long before he could speak of what he struck of what struck him of the instrument with which he struck or of the place in which striking and fighting took place. Thought therefore in the true sense of the word began so far as we can see with a consciousness of voluntary acts and not as has often been supposed with consciousness of passive states much less as yet of an objective world.
Some acts conceived as states or as passive.
Many acts however which seem to us voluntary were not so or at all events were not at first conceived as such. To us ‘to hear’ for instance seems a voluntary act; to the earliest framers of our language it seemed a passive state. ‘I hear’ was to them ‘I am moved’ ‘I am struck by something.’ To see also was originally to be moved or affected by something just as to burn or to suffer pain was to be burnt by fire. It was only after a time that to see became to look.
We saw thirdly that as most of these primitive acts were accompanied by almost in voluntary utterances we could thus understand how that clamor concomitans became the natural and the intelligible sign of the acts or rather of our consciousness of the acts which had called them out. What the particular noise was depended on accident or if not an accident at all events on causes which we cannot understand.
Subjective acts predicated of other agents.
We have now to see whether we can to a certain extent at least understand the steps which led from these expressions of every possible kind of human activity with which man in an early state of society was familiar to the expression of purely objective thought or of concepts of an objective world.
It cannot be said too often that in researches of this kind we must not look for absolute certainty. All we can do is to suggest what is possible because intelligible; but we must always be prepared for other suggestions equally intelligible and therefore equally possible.
When man had arrived at expressing such acts as striking and predicating them of himself whether by demonstrative gestures or by demonstrative pronouns when he was able to say Strike-we and Strike-I he was naturally led on to say if only for the sake of a fair distribution of labour Strike-you Strike-thou. Another step would lead the early speakers to such utterances as ‘he strikes’ or ‘they strike’ utterances which though they may have required a greater effort than the mere ‘We strike’ or ‘I strike’ could hardly fail to be called forth by the simple intercourse of hunters warriors or diggers of the soil. They involved no more than the transference of our acts or states to persons in every respect like ourselves.
Subjective acts predicated of objects.
But we have now to consider a far more momenous step. Man was in possession of roots which enabled him to express the consciousness of his own acts. He might speak of himself as a striker or digger and of other beings like himself as strikers or diggers. He had learnt to think and express acts and actors but as yet nothing else. While in this state of mind let us ask what could he do when he wished to speak of animals and particularly of those who were his daily companions? He could only treat them actors as actors like himself and thus call the horse his runner the dog his watcher the cow the nurse the bull his man the mouse his thief the serpent a creeper or a throttles. It was this necessity of language and of thought which brought the animals near to him and preserved that intimacy between man and beast which has survived in the animal fables of so many countries.
But what was to be done with other objects of nature such as trees rivers mountains sky sun and moon? They too if our theory is right could only be named and conceived in the same way They had to submit to the various categories of activity for which expression had been found. To us this seems very natural but this small step from ‘He digs’ to ‘It digs’ amounted really to the creation of a new world of thought the objective as distinguished from the subjective world.
What is of the greatest importance however is this that as in the case of the first formation of concepts so here in the first formations of what we now call mythology but what was really a perfectly natural stage of thought and almost a necessity of language we should clearly see its inevitable character. At that time man knew as yet one kind of being only namely his own one kind of language only namely that which expressed his own subjective acts and his own subjective states and those of his fellow-workers. What then could he predicate of outward objects except some kind of activity like his own and what language could he apply to them except that which he had formed to express his own acts and his own states? When he saw the lightning tearing a hole in his field what could he say but that the digger bad dug a hole? When he saw the wind grinding branches together till they caught fire what could he say but that the grinder whom he might possibly call Prometheus in Sanskrit pramantha had ground out fire just as man himself ground out sparks by rubbing two fire-sticks till they spurted out flames? What we now call lightning was in that stage of thought tearing digging bursting sparkling there and then. What we now call storm or wind was with the earliest speakers and thinkers ‘smashing grinding hurling blowing there and then.’
As soon as this new mental act was performed and performed not intentionally but and this is again the important point inevitably a new world was called into existence a world of names or as we now call it the world of myth. Whatever had to be called and conceived had to be conceived as active had to be called by means of roots which expressed originally the consciousness of our own acts. There was no other way open as yet by which nature could be reached and hence a whole stratum of language was formed which I should like to call the dramatic but that I fear I might be misunderstood and which therefore I prefer to call dynamic. All that had to be expressed had to be changed into actors and hence the name dramatic would have been very appropriate. But as there was also an easy transition from actors to powers whenever the human and personal characteristics of actors were allowed to vanish or possibly had never been called out into definite prominence dynamic will be as useful a name.
In this inevitable dynamic stage of thought and language we have the true key to all those process which go by the names of Animism Anthropomorphism Personification etc.
It was the fashion to say that primitive man in a poetical mood ascribed life to all things by which he found himself surrounded and affected. This peculiar tendency was called in German beseelen. Beseelen however could mean two things; either simply animare to endow with life or mente et ratione instruere to endow with mind and reason. It is true that these two ideas often life run together and that a poet if he once ascribed llife to a tree might soon represent it also as not only feeling but likewise as thinking and reasoning. Still for philosophical purposes it would be well to distinguish between the two. Unfortunately there is the same ambiguity in the English rendering viz. animism. Animism we are told consists ‘in our endowing the phenomena of nature with personal life.’ But what is meant here by personal life? Is it simply the individual life of a bird or does it include all we mean by our own personality? We may ascribe life to a river and speak of living water without as yet ascribing perception much less thought and reason to such phenomena of nature. If to ascribe life to lifeless things is Animism then to ascribe mind to mindless things should be distinguished by some other name such as Intellectism. What is still more misleading in the name of Animism is that besides having been used long ago as a name of Stahl's theory of an Anima mundi it has recently been appropriated as a name of the belief in the existence of spirits as apart from matter and in a spiritual world generally.
If Animism could be restricted once more to the conception of inanimate beings as animate it might hold its own place by the side of Personification which would be the conception of non-personal beings as personal and Anthropomorphism which would be the conception of non-human beings as human.
But we should clearly see that all these are but names it may be useful names if only properly defined but that by themselves they explain nothing. To say that to look upon a river as animated is Animism is pure tautology. We state a fact but we do not even attempt to explain it. The dynamic theory on the contrary shows how these processes arose; nay it shows that given language such as it was during that early stage it was inevitable. When man could as yet predicate acts only the subjects of his predications became necessarily actors capable of performing the acts ascribed to them.
It is here where we perceive the importance of the discovery that nearly all roots that is to say nearly all the elements of our thought express actions. It is here where the Science of Language is recognised as the true foundation of the Science of Mythology and hereafter of Religion.
Before we examine the familiar cases of dynamic conception and naming in the Aryan world it may be well to glance at other countries and other languages in order to see whether the same process which we have traced back to the nature of our Aryan roots can be discovered elsewhere and thus confirm the theory we have propounded.
Turning first to Egypt we find that Mr. Le Page Renouf in his thoughtful Hibbert Lectures faces the problem which so few students of religion have the sense to face namely the real meaning belonging to words which we are accustomed to translate by God. In order to show you what I mean let me by anticipation give you one illustration. You know that the Latin deus god corresponds to the Sanskrit deva. I shall say nothing about the Greek θϵός for such is the conscientiousness of modern etymology that any connection between deus and θϵός is now denied because it is impossible as yet to account for a Greek θ in the place of a Sanskrit and Latin de. But anyhow the presence of deva in Sanskrit and of deus in Latin shows that this word existed before what I call the Aryan Separation the date of which lies so far back that few scholars would be so hardy not to say foolhardy as to attempt to fix it chronologically.
However the mere presence of this name; for god in Sanskrit and Latin would not teach us very much. It would be curious perhaps more than merely curious that these two languages should have the same word for god; but the question of real interest how they came to have the same word for God would remain unanswered. It is here where a study of language steps in to solve the riddle. Deus in Latin means god and nothing but god. But deva in Sanskrit means first bright and brilliant. The sun the dawn the sky the day all are deva in the sense of bright from the same root which yielded in Sanskrit Dyaus sky and Zeus in Greek. Here then we catch a glimpse of the origin of the concept of god. It was because all these beneficent and joyful phenomena bad been called deva bright that after dropping the phenomena of which it could be predicated deva itself remained with the meaning of brightness raised to the more general and higher concept which now belongs to it namely deity. Poets would address the sun the sky the morning and all the bright phenomena of nature as the bright ones the Devas and these bright ones these Devas would without any further effort become the Devas the bright ones that is what were to them their gods.
Let us now return to Egypt.
One of the words for god in Egyptian is nutar and as Mr. Renouf remarks no one can deny that nutar is rightly translated by God. But how is it possible to bring the ‘One God the self-existent the unbegotten’ (p. 89) under the same category with the innumerable deities that constitute the old Egyptian pantheon? If the one is nutar how can all the others be called likewise nutar? The confusion of thought which arises even among us by the promiscuous use of god for the Supreme Being a being without a second a being without body parts and passions and likewise for the innumerable gods of ancient and modern systems of religion is very great. This however concerns historical students of religion only. But when the predicate of god of deva deus θϵός involved the most momentous practical questions the mischief done by the promiscuous use of such words affected much more vital interests.
We shall be able to trace the various channels through which the Sanskrit deva passed from meaning bright to meaning god; and Mr. Renouf has enabled us to catch at least a glimpse of a similar process in ancient Egypt.
Nutar he tells us the Coptic nuti is closely allied with another word nutra and the original meaning of these words is found in the Coptic nomti which as an adjective means strong as a substantive power as a verb to protect. Nutar therefore would express the ideas of active strong mighty very mighty almighty divine. It would thus illustrate the very phase of thought and language which we are considering a phase during which as we saw man could lay hold of the surrounding world by active verbs only. Mr. Renouf translates nutar by power and compares it with the Hebrew el (p. 96). The Egyptian Nutar nutra the powerful power would correspond to the Hebrew El Shaddai i.e. El the strong. The Egyptian nutar however never became a proper name ‘but it was applied indifferently to each of the powers which the Egyptian imagination conceived as active in the universe and to the Power from which all powers proceed. Horus and Râ and Osiris and Set are names of individual finite powers but beside these a Power without a name and without any mythological characteristics is constantly referred to in the singular number.’
Here then in a country unconnected with India in a language of a totally different texture from that of the Aryan languages we are brought face to face with intellectual results which harmonise perfectly with our theory of a dynamic period and so far may be said to confirm it. The gods of Egyptian mythology represent the real powers of the universe and the power that was discovered behind all these powers became there from the earliest times the seed of a monotheistic faith.
Let us now turn to the Semitic world the earliest traces of which have lately been discovered in the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Babylon and Assyria. Here too I shall chiefly follow another Hibbert Lecturer Professor Sayce who in his lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as illustrated by the religion of the ancient Babylonians (1887) may be supposed to give us the last reliable results of this branch of Oriental study. It must of course be understood that all these researches whether in Egypt or in Babylon and to a certain extent in India also are constantly progressive. We can do no more than accept with certain reservations what by some of the most bard-working scholars is considered as firmly established at present. But we must always be ready to welcome new light new facts and new theories and while willing to recognise the uncertainty of much of what we believe to be certain at present be grateful for the immense progress that has been made during the age in which we live.
In Babylonia the number of so-called gods is enormous. Without attempting to find out how many of them are Pre-Semitic or Accadian and how many are purely Semitic—for I am afraid this cannot be done as yet with any real success—the decipherers of the Cuneiform Inscriptions tell us that according to Assur-natsir-pal there were 65 000 great gods of heaven and earth (Sayce p. 216). In other places we are told that while the background of this vast pantheon was filled with the obscure deities and spirits of the ancient Accadian cult whose names survived in magical charms and exorcisms the air above was occupied by the ‘300 spirits of heaven’ and the earth below by ‘the 600 spirits of the earth.’
If these beings are called gods it must be quite clear that the term is used in a sense totally different from that which it has when applied to the supreme deity or to the gods who created heaven and earth. These Babylonian gods were probably no more than the so-called Zi or supernatural powers. The Zi according to Professor Sayce (p. 327) ‘was simply that which manifests life and the test of the manifestation of life was movement. Everything that moved or seemed to move was endowed with life for only in this way could primitive man explain the fact.’
From our point of view we should say that with primitive man it was not at first a question of how to explain movement but how to call it. Anything that moved could be called in one way only namely by speaking of it by means of ancient roots which as we saw in the Aryan languages at least expressed the acts and movements of primitive men.
Professor Sayce expresses the same idea when he continues: ‘Man himself moved and acted because be had life; life therefore was the cause of movement. Hence the objects and forces of nature were all assigned a Zi or spirit. The arrow that flew through the air the stone that struck and injured the heavenly bodies that moved across the sky the fire that blazed up from the ground devouring all that fell in its way had all alike their spirits. The spirits were as innumerable as the objects and forces which surrounded the Chaldean and as mysterious and invisible as his own spirit and life.’
All this is perfectly intelligible if we apply to the Semitic mythology and religion the same key the key of language which unlocks the secrets of the earliest creations of the Aryan mind. What we know of this early Semitic phase of thought with a possible background of Accadian thought is probably the oldest stratum which the shaft of the archæologist will ever reach. But even thus it presupposes many earlier strata; and the question whether this mythological phraseology without as yet any moral element in it was contemporaneous with a religious phraseology full of moral import is one which we can never hope to solve by historical evidence. Psychologically the purely dynamic stage of language and thought might seem to be the necessary antecedent of a later religious development. One or more of these Zi or powers might seem to have been raised in time to a higher and in the end to a supreme position. But we know as a matter of fact that a belief in numberless powers or spirits may really co-exist with a belief in one Supreme Being; and we must never forget in researches of this kind that the soil from which language myth and religion spring is never a uniform soil. As it is now so it has been from the beginning. Temples have always been open to the young and to the old to the sage and to the fool and the real presence of the Divine has been taken in as different senses as it is now from the grossly material to the sublimely spiritual. Nor is it necessary that the human mind should always pass through the same stages of development in order to arrive at the same result. The eye of a child may often see what is hidden to the mind of a sage and the sudden visions of genius do not submit to chronological measurement. Yet if we want to understand the different strata of thought we have a right to proceed logically rather than chronologically and from that point of view we have a right to say that the purely dynamic stage comes first the religious and moral stage come second.
Having examined Egypt and Babylon we have now to see how far some of the Ural-altaic languages confirm or invalidate our belief in the necessity of a dynamic stratum of language and therefore of mythology.
One of the most advanced representatives of Turanianism whether in language mythology religion and literature is no doubt the Finnish; and here we have the advantage of possessing the trustworthy observations of real scholars and more particularly of Castrén.
Castrén in his lectures on Finnish Mythology gives us a full account of the so-called deities of the air the water the earth and the nether-world. These we shall have to consider hereafter. What interests us in the present stage of our inquiry and as throwing light on the dynamic period of language and thought is his account of the Haltias. I shall quote his own words but I believe that if we could alwayssubstitute the term powers for what he calls haltiœ or deities or spirits we should enter more fully into the state of mind which gave form and shape to these haltias.
‘Every object in nature’ he writes (p. 105) ‘must have a tutelary deity a haltia a genius. This Haltia was its creator and had to take care of it. These Haltias however were not tied to every single finite object but free personal beings moving by themselves and possessed of form and shape of body and life. Their existence did not depend on the existence of each single object for though in nature no object was without its Haltia their activity was by no means restricted to a single individual but extended to the whole genus or species. This mountain-ash this stone this house had its own Haltia but the same Haltias care also for other mountain-ashes other stones other houses. The single ash therefore the single stone the single house may vanish and yet their Haltias would continue for ever in the genus.
‘At an earlier period the Fins worshipped natural objects in their visible form. They paid such worship to the forest for instance either in its totality or in part but always under a personal form. Thus we read in the Kalevala Rune 7 v. 282:—
‘“Be gracious O grove; be mild O wilderness; be moved O mild Tapio.…”
Samoyedes Ostjakes and several more of the nomadic tribes of Siberia have no real concept of any personal divine being ruling over the forest but wherever they meet on their tunders a small grove of larches or firs they pay it what we are accustomed to call divine honours and erect in it their idols.…Other tribes ascribe a divine personality to the forest itself and speak of a mighty forest-god who generally like the water-god is represented as a hostile being.’
All these ideas which are generally disposed of by such names as Animism and Personification which explain absolutely nothing become perfectly intelligible nay what is far more important they become perfectly inevitable during that phase of language which I called the Dynamic. If people took any interest in these objects of nature if they wished to predicate anything at all of them they could only do it in one way namely by means of their active roots.
To say that a tree by being called a feeder became a deity is mixing up two very remote phases of thought. The ancient people themselves though they had forgotten the real origin of these active powers distinguished nevertheless between them and their gods. The Fins for instance kept the term Jumala to signify an embodied being while Haltia was to them more of a spirit-like power. No doubt it was impossible for them to conceive of spirits without some kind of shape or body (pp. 178 189 209) and hence their conceptions of Haltias varied with different poets and different teachers. Some of the Haltias became loved or dreaded some received worship others were pacified by offerings. At last when everything else had received its Haltia man also was believed to be possessed of a Haltia and thus the human activity which man had transferred to the objects of nature returned to himself in a modified form.
I shall read you a prayer from the Kalevala addressed to the Haltias of nature and then a prayer addressed to a man's own Haltia (Castrén p. 171);—
‘Rise Rise ye men of the sword
Heroes of the age of the earth
Rise from the wells ye bearers of sickles
From the rivers ye shooters with bows!
Come O Forest with thy men
Come O Thicket with thy hosts
Old man of the mountain with thy forces
Spirit of the water with thy terrors
Mother of the waters with thy crowds!
Come ye maidens of all the valleys.
Soft-bordered from all springs
Come to shield this one man’
When going on the chase the hunter would invoke his own Haltia (p. 173)
‘Rise my being from the cave
Rise thou Bright-eye from the stones
Come forth with red cheeks
Thou my spirit from yonder fir-tree!
Put on a shirt of fire!’
Hidatsas in North America.
Having traced the effects of this dynamic stage of language and thought in Egypt in Babylon and in Finland we may glance at one more language which cannot be suspected of consanguinity with any of them that of the Hidatsa or the Grosventre Indians on the Missouri. These Indians as Mr. Matthews informs us worship the ‘Great Spirit’ or the ‘Old Man Immortal’ but they have likewise raised the whole of nature into ever so many powers or spirits. Whatever is not made by human hands is conceived as having a power of its own as being something like man himself. ‘Not man alone’ we are told ‘but the sun the moon the stars all the lower animals all trees and plants rivers and lakes many boulders and other separate rocks even some hills and buttes which stand alone’ are supposed to possess a spirit or as they call it a shade.
To many philosophers this intellectual phenomenon seems to be perfectly natural and to require no explanation beyond what is supplied by such names as Animism or Anthropomorphism or Personification as if these names could help us in the least. But surely such names do no more than describe the result they do not throw a ray of light on the springs which produced the result. The real question is why men should not have been satisfied with taking a tree as a tree or a river as a river. Their eyes gave them no more their mind required no more. We ourselves require neither Egyptian nutars nor Babylonian zis nor Finnish haltias nor Hidatsa spirits or shades to understand or interpret nature as our senses present it to us. We may call such views of nature poetical metaphorical philosophical: but all that does not explain why the ancient nations of the world should have indulged in such metaphors such poetry or if you like in such philosophy. What we want to know is what force there was to drive nations of such different characters into one and the same groove? Mr. Matthews seems to me to have come nearest to the truth when he ascribes this phase of thought to what he calls an individualising tendency to a wish to treat each natural object as a subject. But the Science of Language allows us a deeper insight still and shows us that what we call a tendency of the human mind was in reality a dire necessity of human speech.
Growth of Language.
These natural objects had to be named at a period in the growth of language when man possessed as yet no more than roots expressive of human actions and whatever had to be named could be named in one way only namely as participating in these human actions.
If a man had once been called a striker a lion also might be called a striker. If an enemy had been called a throttler a serpent also might be taken hold of by means of the same name.
Then followed a new step. The lightning hissed and struck the storm pushed and pounded the river ran and roared. It required no effort of imagination no animistic metaphors no anthropomorphic poetry the downright necessities of language and thought forced man to speak of lightnings storms and rivers as hissers strikers pushers pounders runners and roarers and thus to create their nutars in Egypt their zis in Babylon their haltias in Finland and in the end their so-called gods everywhere.
It is sometimes said that the category of causality which though we need not call it an innate idea is nevertheless a conditio sine quâ non of all human thought is really responsible for all these nutars zis and haltias. The human mind is so made we are told that it must think a runner behind the river a rainer behind the rain a shiner behind the sun a coverer behind the night. All this is true and it is proved by history as well as by philosophy. But we must be careful not to commit a linguistic anachronism. The very name of cause and causality is far too abstract and far too late to account for this early phase of thought which we have here to account for. Cause as a concept did not yet exist though it may be quite right for us to bring the process of giving these names to different phenomena of nature under the general head of causality. From an historical point of view however it is more correct to say that what we in our philosophical language call the category of causality manifested itself for the first time in this very transference of our own activities to the phenomena of nature. In the simple expression of I strike i.e. ‘striking from here’ is involved the first elementary consciousness of cause and effect; I or here being the cause strike the effect the two being indissolubly united in the consciousness of my own act. So again when I say ‘he strikes’ I conceive what we now call a causal connection between the agent and the act. When the ancient nations spoke of a rainer not yet of rain they produced by their language and thought whether they liked it or not an active living power a something like ourselves. We at our time of history may call this something a cause: to them it was a doer an actor a somebody who could be grasped by means of the only intellectual tools which were then forthcoming by means of active verbs.
I am not surprised that this theory which recognises in language the key to all the apparent vagaries of early thought should have met with strong opposition.
So long as the real identity of thought and language had not been grasped so long as people imagined that language is one thing and thought another it was but natural that they should fail to see the real meaning of treating mythology if not as a disease at all events as an inevitable affection of language. If the active verb were merely a grammatical and not at the same time a psychological nay an historical fact it might seem absurd to identify the active meaning of our roots with the active meaning ascribed to the phenomena of nature. But let it be once perceived that language and thought are one and indivisible and nothing will seem more natural than that what as the grammarian tells us happened in language should as the psychologist tells us have likewise happened in thought;—that the two events in fact should prove to be one and the same.
It may be said however that the product of this dynamic stage of language and thought are not yet mythological much less religious. This is perfectly true. We have accounted for such names as runner for river striker for lightning smasher for storm; we have accounted for agents but not yet for human agents. If we were satisfied with high-sounding names we should say that this further step was accounted for by anthropomorphism which really means that it was accounted for by what we have to account for. Here also language supplies the real solution. If striker meant generally a man who strikes what was more natural than to transfer all that striker meant that is to say a human body a pair of human arms human will and passions too to the storm when it had once been called a striker? Language performed the miracle only in the most natural way and when this train of thought had once been opened the tendency of analogy would soon spread it over the whole field of human experience.
Still we must not allow ourselves to be misled by language. People might speak of the moon as a measurer or of the river as a roarer but we must not suppose that they saw no difference therefore between a man who measured a field or a woman who roared in the forest and the moon when they called it Mâs the measurer and the river when they called her Nadî a roarer as a feminine. They used words which might mean human beings performing these acts but which might also be placed in a different focus so that a portion only of their possible meaning was lighted up while the rest remained dim and dark. The important lesson which the Science of Language teaches us is that everything that was named was at first named as active then as personal and almost human. When even a stone was a cutter a tooth a grinder a gimlet a borer the difficulty was not how to personify but how to dispersonify. Masculine nouns came first then feminine; last of all neuters.
And here we must guard against another very common mistake. Those who are unable to appropriate all that follows from the identity of language and thought have nevertheless been ready to admit that the gender of nouns has been a powerful element in the production of mythology. It has even been admitted that languages which do not distinguish grammatical gender produce a very scanty growth of mythology. This is perfectly true with regard to the later phases of mythology. But at the point which our inquiry has reached at present what we have to explain is the origin not the later influence of gender and this may in itself be called a mythological process. We must remember that even in sex-denoting languages there was a period when this denotation of sex did not yet exist. In the Aryan languages for instance some of the oldest words are without gender. Pater is not a masculine nor mater a feminine in the grammatical sense of the word. Pater and mater expressed activities but they gave no outward indication of sex. The distinction began not with masculines but with the setting apart of certain derivative suffixes for females. When bona was introduced bonus became masculine and not vice versa. When puella was used for girl puer which formerly meant both boy and girl became restricted to the meaning of boy. At a still later time certain forms were set apart for things that were to be neither male nor female so-called neuters but these bad their distinguishing forms generally in the nominative only.
In languages which had adopted this outward distinction of gender there can be no doubt that gender was productive of new mythology or at all events that it modified the character of mythology. In German where the moon has remained masculine and the sun feminine poets who deal in mythological subjects often complain of the fetters of language. But in the early stages of language during which mythology first arose the powers of nature were conceived as active and therefore as powerful agents and when the question of sex arose as masculine. That masculine character however became prominent and outspoken only when agents distinctly female were placed by their side. Whenever that happens whenever we have a female representative of a natural phenomenon by the side of a male representative the male may almost always be taken as the earlier form.
Dyaus as a masculine.
To give an instance. Professor Gruppe (p. 79) to whom the identity of Zeus Jovis O. H. G. Ziu (gen. Ziwes) with the Vedic Dyaús is evidently a great stumbling-block as proving a common belief in a supreme deity before the Aryan Separation tries to minimise the consequences which follow from this equation by suggesting that in Sanskrit this name was originally a feminine and meant heaven and that each nation might afterwards have changed the appellative word for heaven into a proper name and the name of a god. He evidently did not observe that in the Veda dyu is first of all a masculine while in later Sanskrit only it becomes exclusively a feminine. In the Rig-veda forms derived from the base dyu are always masculine forms derived from the base div are masculine in the singular in the plural feminine while forms derived from base dyo or dyav may be masculine and feminine. If however we examine the passages in which dyauh is feminine in the singular we shall find that in all of them dyauh means the real sky mentioned either alone (VI. 17 9) or together with the earth (I. 22 3 57 5; V. 54 9; VIII. 40 4); or together with earth and sky (X. 60 7). Wherever Dyaus occurs not as the visible sky but as a power as active or personal he is always masculine he is pitâ. the father by the side of the earth as mother; he is the father of the Dawn of Agni of the two Asvin (day and night) he is in fact Zeus and Jupiter. The sky was conceived as active and as masculine before it sank down to a mere name of the sky which then by the analogy of the names for earth dwindled down to a feminine. The facts therefore are the very opposite of what Prof. Gruppe supposes or wishes them to be.
The mere naming of the sky as an active power or even as a masculine might be called a matter of language only not yet of mythology. But you will see how facile the descensus is from such a word to an incipient myth nay even to religious ideas. We have watched the origin of Zeus in the Veda where Dyaus the same word is clearly the bright the warming the cheering the enlivening sky and where Dyaush pitâ Heaven-father shows us one of the first steps in Aryan mythology. Remember that this Dyaush pitar is the same as the Greek Ζϵὺς πατήρ and the Latin Jupiter and you will see how this one word shows us the easy the natural the almost inevitable transition from the conception of the active sky as a purely physical fact to the Father Sky with all his mythological accidents and lastly to that Father in heaven whom Aeschylus meant when he burst out in his majestic prayer to ‘Zeus whosoever he is.’