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Lecture III | On the Threshold of Religion: Magic

Taboo, the traces of which at Rome we examined in the last lecture, is, as we saw, closely allied to magic, even if it be not, as Dr. Frazer thinks, magic in a negative form. We have now to see what traces are to be found of magic in the proper or usual sense of the word—active or positive magic, as we may call it. By this we are to understand the exercise of a mysterious mechanical power by an individual on man, spirit, or deity, to enforce a certain result. In magic there is no propitiation, no prayer. “He who performs a purely magical act,” says Dr. Westermarck,1 “utilises such mechanical power without making any appeal at all to the will of a supernatural being.” Religion, on the other hand, is an attitude of regard and dependence; in a religious stage man feels himself in the hands of a supernatural power with whom he desires to be in right relation.

If we accept this distinction, as I think we may (though one school of anthropologists is hardly disposed to do so), it is plain that magical practices are of a totally different kind from religious practices, as being the result of a different mental attitude towards the supernatural; they belong to a ruder and more rudimentary idea of the relation of Man to the Power manifesting itself in the universe. True, they have their origin in the same kind of human experience, in the difficulties man meets with in his struggle for existence, and his desire to overcome these; but unlike religion, magic is a wholly inadequate attempt to overcome them. This inadequacy was long ago well explained by Dr. Jevons.2 He showed that man in that early stage of his experience did not understand the true relation of cause and effect; that, “turned loose as it were among innumerable possible causes (of a given effect), with nothing to guide his choice, the chances against his making the right choice were considerable.” As a matter of fact he usually made the wrong one, and is still apt to do so. There is probably more magic going on behind the scenes even in civilised countries and more especially both in Greece and Italy, than either men of science or men of religion have any idea of. In its various forms as they are now classified,3 e.g. contagious magic, and homoeopathic magic, the exercise of the mysterious will-power, real or imaginary, is to be found all the world over, accompanied usually with a spell or incantation which is believed to enforce and increase that power—a kind of telepathy, which seems to be the psychological basis, so far as there is one, of the whole system. In these rites the virtue resides in some action, which, together with the spell or incantation, enforces the desired result by calling out the will-power, or mana, if we adopt the convenient Melanesian word lately brought into use. Whatever percentage of psychological truth may lie at the root of such performances, it is obvious that they must in the main be wholly inadequate, and must constantly tend to pass into mere quackery and become discredited; and it was the special function of the religious organisation of early society to eliminate and discredit them.

But it was a long stage in the evolution of society before man arrived at a better knowledge of his relation to the Power manifesting itself in the universe; before he reached the idea of a god or spirit realisable and name-able, and thus capable of being addressed, placated, worshipped. When this stage is reached, there supervenes almost always a strong tendency to regulate and systematise the methods of address, placation, and worship; and among some peoples, e.g. the Romans, for reasons which it is by no means easy to explain, this tendency is much) stronger than among others. Wherever it has been strong, wherever these methods of putting oneself in right relation with the Power have been systematised by a central authority or priesthood, and thus made into religious law, there as we might naturally expect, the performances and performers of magic have been most vigorously discountenanced and outlawed. The interests of religion and its officials are wholly antagonistic to those of magic and magicians. In civilised communities and in historical times magic is in the main individualistic, not social; magical ceremonies for the good of the community seem to be confined to races in a very early stage of development. The examples on which Dr. Frazer relies for his theory of the development of the public magician into a king4 are of this primitive kind, or are mere survivals of magic in a higher stage of civilisation—such survivals as there will always be among forms and ceremonies, of which it is man's nature to be tenacious. But religion, once firmly established, invariably seeks to exclude magic; and the priest does his best to discredit the magician, as claiming to exercise mysterious powers outside the pale of the legally recognised methods of propitiation and worship. As Dr. Tylor observed long ago, the more civilised the race, the more apt it is to associate magic with men of inferior civilisation.5 In the Jewish law, though magic was well known to the Jews and privately practised, there is no recognition of it; the magical books attributed to Solomon were suppressed, according to tradition, by the pious king Hezekiah.6 So too at Rome, where the outward forms of religion were also very highly systematised, magic, as it seems to me, was rigorously excluded from the State ritual, though it continued in use in private life under certain precautions taken by the State; in the few genuine examples of it in the rites belonging to the ius divinum (i.e. those used and sanctioned for the purposes of the community), it is nothing more than a survival of which the magical meaning was unknown to the writers from whom we hear of it.

A good example of such survivals is the curious ceremony of the aquaelicium without doubt a genuine case of magical “rain-making”—one of the many inadequate and blundering attempts on the part of primitive man to obtain what he needs. Probably it may be classed under the head of “sympathetic magic,” but the evidence as to what was done in the ceremony is not quite explicit enough to allow us to do this confidently.7 It was, of course, not included in the religious calendar, as it would be only occasionally called for, and could not be fixed to a day; but there is clear evidence that it was sanctioned by the State, for the pontifices took part in it, and the magistrates without the toga praetexta, and the lictors carrying the fasces reversed.8 A stone, which lay outside the walls near the Porta Capena, was brought into the city by the pontifices, so far as we can make out the details, and it has been conjectured that it was taken to an altar of Jupiter Elicius on the Aventine hard by, this cult-title of the god of the sky having possibly some relation to the technical name of the ceremony. What was done with the stone we unluckily do not know; but it has been reasonably conjectured that it was a hollow one, and that it was filled with water which was allowed to run over the edge, as a means of inducing the rain-god to suffer the heavens to overflow.9 It was called lapis manalis; and the epithet here can have nothing to do with the Manes, as in the case of another lapis manalis, of which I shall have a word to say later on, but must mean “pouring” or “overflowing.” One or two other fragments of evidence point in the same direction, and I think we may fairly conclude that the rite was originally one of sympathetic magic—that as the stone overflowed, so the sky would pour down rain. In my Roman Festivals I have pointed out a remarkable parallel to this in the collections of the Golden Bough; in a Samoan village a stone represented the god of rain, and in a drought his priests carried it in procession and dipped it in a stream. This parallel I owe to Dr. Frazer's wide knowledge of all such practices among savage peoples. But this ever helpful and friendly guide, in treating of the Jupiter Elicius concerned in this ceremony, has gone beyond the evidence, and attributed to the Romans another kind of magic of which I believe they were quite innocent. He has been led to this by his theory that kings were developed out of successful magicians. In his lectures on the early history of the Kingship10 he maintains that the Roman kings practised the magical art of bringing down lightning from heaven. “The priestly king Numa passed for an adept in the art of drawing down lightning from the sky... . Tullus Hostilius is reported to have met with the same end (as Salmoneus, king of Elis) in an attempt to draw down Jupiter in the form of lightning from the clouds.” To support these statements Dr. Frazer quotes Pliny, Livy, Ovid, Plutarch, Arnobius, Aurelius Victor, and Zonaras—truly a formidable list of authorities; but without any attempt to discover where any of these late writers found the stories. Yet he had but to read Aust's admirable article “Jupiter” in the Mythological Lexicon11 to assure himself that legends which cannot be traced farther back than the middle of the second century B.C. cannot seriously be assumed to be genuinely Roman. Pliny happens to mention Calpurnius Piso as his authority; this was the man who is well known in Roman history as the author of the first lex de repetundis of the year 149 B.C., a good statesman, but as an annalist much given to indulging a mythological fancy.12 We happen to know that he wrote with happy confidence about the life and habits of Romulus, and a story about wine-drinking which he attributes to that king is obviously transferred to him from some more historical personage. Romulus would not drink wine one day because he was going to be very busy on the next. Then they said to him, “Ifwe all did so, Romulus, wine would be cheap.” “Nay, dear,” he replied, “if every one drank as much as he wished; and that is exactly what I am doing.”13 I quote the story simply as a good example of the way in which Roman historians could deal with their kings and of the absolute necessity of acquainting oneself with their methods before building hypotheses upon their statements. I hardly need to add that another of Dr. Frazer's authorities, Arnobius, informs us that he took the story from the second book of Valerius Antias, a later writer than Piso, whose name is a byword even with the uncritical Livy for shameless exaggeration and misstatement.14

But how did these writers come by such legends, which, as Dr. Frazer shows, are to be found also in Greece and in other parts of the world? Why should they have wished to make Roman kings into magicians? Rain-making we can understand at Rome,—it had a practical end in view, the procuring of rain for the crops,—but why lightning and thunder, which were so much dreaded that every bit of damage done by a thunderstorm had to be carefully expiated by a religious process? Rome is not in the tropics, where rain and thunder so often come together, and where an attempt to produce rain by magic might naturally include thunder, as in some of Dr. Frazer's examples from tropical lands. I entirely agree with the latest and most sober investigators of Roman ritual that this kind of magic is quite foreign to Roman ideas and practice;15 there is no vestige of it in the Roman cult; these stories must have come from outside. And there is every probability that they came from Etruria, where the lore of lightning had become a pseudo-science, a waste of human ingenuity, for the origin of which we must look, as we are now beginning to understand, to Babylonia and the Eastern magic.16 The Jupiter Elicius of the Aventine had nothing to do with lightning; he took his cult-title from the rite of aquaelicium; but as soon as the Romans began to interest themselves in the Etruscan lightning-lore, of which this electrical magic was only a part,17 they perverted the meaning of the epithet to suit their new studies, and began to attribute to their legendary kings powers which properly belonged to Etruscan or Oriental magicians. The second century B.C., when Piso wrote his Annals, is exactly the period when we should naturally expect such studies to come into fashion, and with such perversions of “history” as their consequence.18

I go on to note one or two more examples of real magic in the State religion; but they are hard to find. Pliny tells that even in his day people believed that a runaway slave who had not escaped out of the city might be arrested by a spell uttered by the Vestal virgins.19 I take this to mean that any one who had lost his slave might get the Vestals to use the spell as a means of keeping the runaway within the city. The word for spell is here precatio, i.e. a prayer, not carmen, which is the usual word for a spell; and Pliny evidently thinks of it as addressed to some god. But no doubt it was originally at least a genuine spell, of the same kind as others used in private life, which we shall notice directly; and it implies a belief in some magical power inherent in the Vestals, of whom we are told that if they accidentally met a criminal being led to punishment they might secure his release.20 As the spell in this case seems to be telepathic, i.e. an exercise of will-power projected from a distance, it may perhaps be paralleled with certain mystical powers exercised by women, especially when their husbands are at war, among some savage peoples;21 but we have no information about it beyond the passage in Pliny, and further guessing would be useless.

This last is a case of genuine magic, but it is outside the ritual of the State, though exercised by a State priesthood. Within that ritual there is one other very curious case of what must be classed as a magical process, and one that has accidentally become famous. At the Lupercalia on February 15, the two young men called Luperci, or, more strictly, belonging respectively as leaders to the two collegia of Luperci, girt themselves with the skins of the slaughtered victims, which were goats, and then ran round the base of the Palatine hill striking at all the women who came near them or offered themselves to their blows, with strips of skin cut from the hides of these same victims. The object was to produce fertility; on this point our authorities are explicit.22 Thus this particular feature of the whole extraordinary ritual of the Lupercalia is unmistakably within the region of magic rather than of religion. Some potency was believed to work in the act of striking, though apparently without a spoken spell or carmen, such as usually accompanies acts of this kind; and this part of the rite, grotesque though it was, was allowed to survive by the grave religious authorities who drew up the calendar of religious festivals. It was probably a superstition too deeply rooted in the minds of the people to admit of being excluded; and, strange to say, it survived, in outward form at least, until Rome had become cosmopolitan and even Christian. The Lupercalia has always been a puzzle to students of early religion, and as each new theory is advanced, this strange festival is seized on for fresh interpretation;23 but for our present purposes it must suffice to point out that we clearly find embedded in it a piece of genuine magic, dating beyond doubt from a very primitive stage of thought.

There is one other very curious performance, occurring each year on the ides of May, which in my view is rather magical than religious, though the ancients themselves looked upon it as a kind of purification: I mean the casting into the Tiber from the pons sublicius of twenty-four or twenty-seven straw puppets by the Vestal virgins, in the presence of the magistrates and pontifices. Recently an attempt has been made by Wissowa to prove that this strange ceremony was not primitive, but simply a case of the substitution of puppets for real human victims as late as the age of the Punic wars.24 These puppets were called Argei, which word naturally suggests Greeks; and Wissowa has contrived to persuade himself not only that number of Greeks were actually put to death by drowning in an age when everything Greek was beginning to be reverenced at Rome, but (still more extraordinary to an anthropologist) that the primitive device of substitution was had in requisition at that late date in order to carry on the memory of the ghastly deed. And the world of German learning has silently followed their leader, without taking the trouble to test his conclusions by a careful and independent examination of the evidence. It happens that this fascinating puzzle of the Argei was the first curiosity that enticed me into the study of the Roman religion, and for some thirty years I have been familiar with every scrap of evidence bearing on it; and after going over that evidence once more I can emphatically state my conviction that Wissowa's theory will not hold water for a moment. I shall return to the subject in a later lecture dealing with the religious history of the second Punic war; at present I merely express a belief that, whatever be the history of the accessories of the rite,—and they are various and puzzling,—the actual immersion of the puppets is the survival of a primitive piece of sympathetic magic, the object being possibly to procure rain. It is, in my opinion, quite impossible to resist the anthropological evidence for this conclusion, though we cannot really be certain about the object; for this evidence I must refer you to my Roman Festivals, and to the references there given.25

This rite of the Argei, then, was a case of genuine magic, and exercised by a State priesthood, virgins to whom certain magical powers were supposed to be attached; it was, I think, a popular performance, like one or two others which are also outside the limit of the Fasti,26 and was embodied in a more complicated ceremonial long after that calendar had been drawn up. In the ritual authorised by the State, with public objects in view, i.e. for the benefit of society as a whole, there is hardly a trace of anything that we can call genuine magic apart from the examples I have just been explaining. There were, I need not say many survivals of magical processes of which the true magical intent had long been lost—ancient magical deposits in a social stratum of religion, which I shall notice in their proper place. This is not peculiar to the religion of the Romans; it is a phenomenon to be found in all religions, even in those of the most highly developed type, and it is one apt to cause some confusion as to the true distinction between magic and religion.27 It is easy to find magical processes even in Christian worship, if we have the will to do so; but if we steadily bear in mind that the true test of magic is not the nature of an act, but the intent or volition which accompanies it, the search will not be an easy one.

The modern French school of sociologists, which now has to be reckoned with in investigating the early history of religion, claims that magic was not originally, as we now see it, a matter of individual skill, but a sociological fact, i.e. it was used for the benefit of the community, as religion came to be in a later age. If this be true, as it very possibly is, we see at once how the dead bones of magical processes might survive, with their original meaning entirely lost, into an age in which higher and more reasonable ideas had been developed about the relation of Man to the Power manifesting itself in the universe. To take a single example from Rome, divination by the examination of a victim's entrails was originally a magical process, according to the opinion of most modern authorities;28 but it ceases to be magic when it is used simply to determine in the State ritual whether in a religious process the victim is perfect and agreeable to the deity. In fact magical formulae, magical instruments, unless they are used in the true spirit of magic, to compel, not to propitiate a deity, are no longer magic, and may be passed over here. When we come to discuss the ritual of sacrifice and prayer, of lustratio, of vows, of divination, we may find it necessary to recall what has here been said. On the whole, we may conclude that organised religious cult, from its very nature and object everywhere excluded magic in the true sense of the word; it implies prayer and propitiation, both of which are absolutely inconsistent with the object and methods of magic. Religion is the product of a higher stage of social development; it is the expression of a real advance of human thought; and in telling the story of the religious experience of the Roman people we are but indirectly concerned with those more rude and rudimentary ideas which it displaced.

But in private life, outside of the organised cult of the State and the family, magic was all through Roman history abundant, even over-abundant, and in this form I cannot pass it over entirely. Though the State authorities seem to have taken pains to exclude it rigidly from the public rites, and though there is little trace of it in the religious life of family and gens, yet there is evidence that it was deeply rooted in the nature of the people, and that they must have passed through an age in which it was an important factor in their social life. This fact, taken together with its almost complete elimination from the public religion, throws into relief the persistent efforts of the State authorities, from the framing of the old religious calendar to the time of the Augustan revival, to keep their relations with the Power clear of all that they believed to be unworthy or injurious. No better example can be found of the inherent antagonism between religion and magic.

Private magic may be divided into two kinds, according as it was used to damage another, or only to benefit oneself. In the former case the State interfered to protect the person threatened with damage, and treated this kind of magic as a crime. The commonest form of it was that of the spell, or carmen, no doubt often sung, and accompanied by some action which would bring it under the head of sympathetic magic; but the spell alone is taken cognisance of by the State. Pliny has preserved three words from the XII. Tables which tell their own tale: “qui fruges excantassit.”29 Servius, commenting on the line of Virgil's 8th Eclogue, “atque satas alio vidi traducere messes,” writes, “magicis quibusdam artibus hoc fiebat, unde est in XII. Tabb. ‘Neve alienam segetem pellexeris.’ “These last words, with the verb in the second person, are probably not quoted exactly from the ancient text,30 but they help to show us the nature of this hostile spell. There must have been a belief that the spirit, or life, or fructifying power of your neighbour's crops could be enticed away and transferred to your own. This is confirmed by a remark of St. Augustine in the de Civitate Dei;31 after quoting the same line from Virgil, he adds, “eo quod hac pestifera scelerataque doctrina fructus alieni in alias terras transferri perhibentur, nonne in XII. Tabulis, id est Romanorum antiquissimis legibus, Cicero commemorat esse conscriptum et ei qui hoc fecerit supplicium constitutum?” Given the belief, the temptation can be well understood if we reflect that the arable land of the old Romans was divided in sections of a square, and that each man's allotment would have that of a neighbour on two sides at least.32 If one man's corn were found to be more flourishing than that of his neighbours, what more likely than that he should have enticed away the spirit of their crops? The process reminds us, as it reminded Pliny, of the evocatio of the gods of foreign communities, a rite which belongs to religion and not to magic, though it doubtless had its origin in the same class of ideas as the excantatio.

In more general terms the old Roman law (i.e. originally the ius divinuni) forbade the use of evil spells, as we see in another fragment of the Tables, “qui malum carmen incantassit.” In later times this was usually taken as referring to libel and slander, but there can be no doubt that the carmina here alluded to were originally magical, and became carmina famosa in the course of legal interpretation. Cicero seems to combine the two meanings in the de Rep. (iv. 10. 2) when he says that the Tables made it a capital offence “si quis occentavisset, sive carmen condidisset quod infamiam faceret flagitiumve alteri” (to bring shame or criminal reproach on another). In the later sense these carmina have a curious history, into which I cannot enter now.33 In the earlier sense they existed and flourished without doubt, in spite of the law; or it may be that, as the words of the Tables were interpreted in the new sense, the old form of offence was tolerated in private. “We are all afraid,” says Pliny, “of being “nailed’ (defigi) by spells and curses” (diris precationibus).34 These dirae, and all the various forms of love-charms, defixiones, accompanied by the symbolic actions which are found all the world over, lie outside my present subject, and are so familiar to us all in Roman literature that I do not need to dwell on them.35

Nor of the common harmless kind of magic need I say much now. It survived, of course, alongside of the religion of the family and State, from the earliest times to the latest, as it survives at the present day in all countries civilised and uncivilised; and being harmless the State took no heed of it. Some assortment of charms and spells for the cure of diseases will be found in Cato's book on agriculture, and one or two incidentally occur in that of Varro.36 They performed the work of insurance against both fire and accident, and even such a man as Julius Caesar was not independent of such arts. Pliny tells us that after experiencing a carriage accident he used to repeat a certain spell three times as soon as he had taken his seat in a vehicle, and adds significantly, “id quod plerosque nunc facere scimus.”37 Such carmina were written on the walls of houses to insure them against fire.38 Pliny has a large collection of small magical delusions and superstitions, many of which have an interest for anthropologists, in the 28th book of his Natural History.

Another kind of harmless magic, to which the Romans, like all Italians ancient and modern, were peculiarly addicted, is the use of amulets. Here there is no spell, or obvious and expressed exercise of will-power on the part of the individual, but the potent influence, mana, or whatever we choose to call it, resides in a material object which brings good luck, like the cast horse-shoe of our own times, or protects against hostile will-power, and especially against the evil eye. This curious and widely-spread superstition was probably the raison d'etre of most of the amulets worn or carried by Romans. A modern Italian, even if he be a complete sceptic and materialist will probably be found to have some amulet about him against the evil eye, “just to be on the safe side.”39 a list of amulets, both Greek and Roman, will be found in the Dictionary of Antiquities, and in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie, s.v. “amulet,” and it is not necessary here to explain the various kinds in use in Italy; but I must dwell for a moment on one type, which had been taken up into the life of the family, and in one sense into that of the State, viz. the bulla worn by children, both boys and girls.

The bulla was a small object, enclosed in historical times in a capsule, and suspended round the child's neck. It was popularly believed to have been originally an Etruscan custom,40 and borrowed by the Romans, like so many other ornaments. It is, however, much more probable that the custom was old Italian (as indeed the “medicine-bag” is world-wide), and that the Etruscan contribution to it was merely the case or capsule, which was of gold where the family could afford it—gold itself being supposed to have some potency as a charm.41 The object within the case was, as Pliny tells us, a res turpicula as a rule,42 and this may remind us that a fascinum was carried in the car of the triumphator as medicus invidiae, to use Pliny's pregnant expression. The triumphing general needed special protection; he appeared in the guise of Jupiter himself, and was for the moment lifted above the ordinary rank of humanity. Some feeling of the same kind must have originally suggested similar means for the protection of children under the age of puberty. They also wore the toga praetexta, which, though associated by us with secular magistrates, had undoubtedly a religious origin. There are distinct signs that children were in some sense sacred, and at the same time that they needed special protection against the all-abounding evil influences to be met with in daily life.43 Thus this particular form of amulet became a recognised institution of family life, and in due time little more than a mark of childhood.

Yet another kind of charm must be mentioned here which was used at certain festivals, though apparently not at any of those belonging to the authorised calendar. At the Compitalia, Paganalia, and feriae Latinae we are told that small images of the human figure, or masks, or simply round balls (pilae), were hung up on trees or doorways, and left to swing in the wind.44 At the Compitalia the images had a special name, maniae, of which the meaning is lost; but inasmuch as the charms were hung up at cross-roads on that occasion, where the Lares compitales of the various properties had their shrine, it was not difficult to manufacture out of them a goddess, Mania, mother of the Lares.45 The common word for these figures was oscilla, and the fact of their swinging in the wind suggested a verb oscillare, which survives in our own tongue with the same meaning. Until lately it used to be believed that they were substitutes for original human sacrifices: a view for which there is not a particle of evidence, though it was originated by Roman scholars.46 Modern anthropology has found another explanation, which is by no means improbable. Dr. Frazer, in an appendix to the 2nd volume of the Golden Bough, has collected a number of examples of the practice of swinging by human beings as a magical rite; they come from many parts of the world, including ancient Athens, and even modern Calabria. He also points out that at the feriae Latinae the swingers seem to have been human beings, if we accept the evidence of Festus, s.v. “oscillantes”; thus we are left with the possibility that the oscilla were really imitations of men and women, though not of human sacrificial victims.

Dr. Frazer is obviously hard put to it to explain the original meaning and object of this curious custom. In the Paganalia, as described by Virgil in the second Georgic47 the object would seem to be the prosperity of the vinecrop.


versibus incomptis ludunt risuque soluto,

oraque corticibus sumunt horrenda cavatis,

et te Bacche vocant per carmina laeta,

tibique oscilla ex alta suspendunt mollia pinu.

bine omnis largo pubescit vinea fetu, etc.48

But here we must leave a question which is still unsolved. All we can say is that the old idea of substitutes for human sacrifice must be finally given up, and that the oscilla, whether or not they were substitutes for human swingers, were probably charms intended to ward off evil influences from the crops. I am not disposed to put any confidence in what Servius tells us, that this was a purification by means of air, just as fire and water were also purifying agents; this looks like the ingenious explanation of a later and a religious age.49

So much, then, for magical charms and spells, and the survivals of them in the fully developed Roman religion.50 It might seem hardly worth while to spend even so much time on them as I have done, and I cannot deny that I am glad now to be able to leave them. My object has simply been to show how little of this kind of practice, which meets us on the threshold of religion, was allowed to survive by the religious authorities of the State; in other words, I wished to make clear that in our inquiries into the nature of the Roman religion it is really religion and not magic that we have to do with.

It is really religion; it is desire, beginning already to be effective, to be in right relation to the Power manifesting itself in the universe. The Romans, as I hope to show in the next lecture, when we can begin to know and feel an interest in them, had not only begun to recognise this Power in various forms and functions as one that must be propitiated, because they were dependent on it for their daily needs, but to regulate and make permanent the methods of propitiation. What was the relation between this simple religion and morality—between ritual and conduct—is a very difficult question, to which I shall return later on. Dr. Westermarck has recently come to the conclusion that the religion of primitive man has no true relation to morality, that it is not apt to give a sanction to good action, or to develop the germs of a conscience. But so far as I can discern, the idea of active duty, and therefore the germ of conscience, must have been so intimately connected with the religious practice of the old Latin family that it is to me impossible to think of the one apart from the other. Surely it is in that life that the famous word “pius” must have originated, which throughout Roman history meant the sense of duty towards family, State, and gods, as every reader of the Aeneid knows. That the formalised religion of later times had become almost entirely divorced from morality there is indeed no doubt; but in the earliest times, in the old Roman family and then in the budding State, the whole life of the Roman seems to me so inextricably bound up with his religion that I cannot possibly see how that religion can have been distinguishable from his simple idea of duty and discipline.

  • 1.

    Westermarck, Origin etc. of Moral Ideas, ii. 584.

  • 2.

    Jevons, Introduction, p. 33.

  • 3.

    A useful summary of the whole subject, embodying the results and terminology of Tylor, Frazer, and other anthropologists, is Dr. Haddon's Magic and Fetishism, in Messrs. Constable's series, Religions Ancient and Modern. See also Marett, On the Threshold of Religion, passim.

  • 4.

    Lectures on the Early History of the Kingship, p. 89 foll. For an example not mentioned in the text (devotio) see below, p. 206 foll. This may have been originally practised by the Latin kings. I may here draw attention to the almost dogmatic conclusions of the modern French sociological school of research; e.g. M. Huvelin, in L'Année sociologique for 1907, begins by asserting as a fundamental law proved by MM. Hubert et Mauss, that magic is just as much a social fact as religion: “Les uns et les autres sont des produits de l'activité collective” (Magie et droit individuel, p. 1). But M. Huvelin's paper is to some extent a modification of this dogma. He seeks to explain the fact that magic is both secret and private, not public and social in historical times; and in the domain of law, with which he is specially concerned, he concludes that “a magical rite is only a religious rite twisted from its proper social end, and employed to realise the will or belief of an individual” (p. 46). This is the only form in which we shall find magic at Rome, except in so far as a few of its forms survive in the ritual of religion with their meaning changed. In early Roman law, as a quasi-religious body of rules and practices, there are a few magical survivals which will be found mentioned by M. Huvelin in this article; but they are of no importance for our present subject.

  • 5.

    Primitive Culture, vol. i. ch. iv. See also Jevons, Introduction, p. 36 foll.

  • 6.

    See Schürer, Jewish People in the Time of Christ (Eng. trans.), Division II. vol. iii. p. 151 foll.

  • 7.

    Fowler, R.F. p. 232; Wissowa, R.K. p. 106. The most careful examination of the rite and the evidence for it is that of Aust in Mythological Lexicon, s.v. “Iuppiter,” p. 656 foll. See also M. H. Morgan in vol. xxxii. of Transactions of the American Philological Association, p. 104.

  • 8.

    Tertullian, de Jejun. 16. Petronius, Sat. 44, adds that the matrons went in the procession with bare feet and streaming hair (cp. Pliny xvii. 266); but this seems rather Greek than Roman in character, and Petronius is plainly thinking of the town (colonia he calls it) in southern Italy where the scene of Trimalchio's supper is laid; probably a Greek city by origin, Croton or Cumae. A translation of this passage will be found in Dill's Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, p. 133. The most useful words in it for our purpose are “Jovem aquam exorabant”

  • 9.

    This suggestion was originally made by O. Gilbert, Röm. Topographie, ii. 184.

  • 10.

    p. 204 foll.

  • 11.

    p. 657. The story is mixed up with Greek fables, e.g. that of Proteus, as Wissowa has pointed out, R.K. p. 106, note 10.

  • 12.

    See Schanz, Gesch. der röm. Literatur, vol. i. (ed. 3) p. 270 foll.

  • 13.

    This fragment of Piso is preserved by Gellius, xi. 14. I

  • 14.

    See, e.g., Schanz, Gesch. der röm. Literatur, vol. ii. p. 106.

  • 15.

    Wissowa, i.e. Aust in Roscher's Lexicon, s.v. “Iuppiter,” p. 657.

  • 16.

    Cumont Religions Orientates dans le paganisme romain, I shall return to this subject in my second course of lectures.

  • 17.

    Müller-Deecke, Etrusker, ii. ch. vii., especially p. 176 foll.

  • 18.

    Cp. below, Lecture XV.

  • 19.

    Pliny, N.H. xxviii. 13: “Vestales nostras hodie credimus nondum egressa urbe mancipia fugitiva retinere in loco precationibus.”

  • 20.

    Plutarch, Numa, 10. Virginity would increase the power of the spell; see Fehrle, Die kultische Keuschheitim Altertum, p. 54 foll.

  • 21.

    See, e.g., Frazer, G.B. i. 360 foll

  • 22.

    See R.F. p. 320. notes 6 and 7.

  • 23.

    Within the last thirty years or so the Lupercalia has been discussed (apart from writers on classical subjects exclusively) by Mannhardt in his Mythologische Studien, p. 72 foll.; Robertson Smith, Semites, p. 459; Deubner in Archiv, 1910, p. 481 foll.; and at the moment of writing by E. S. Hartland, Primitive Paternity, i. ch. ii. R.F. p. 310 foll. See Appendix D.

  • 24.

    This view was originally stated in Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. “Argei.” I endeavoured to confute it in the Classical Review, 1902, p. 115 foll., and Wissowa replied in Gesammelte Abhandhmgen, p. 211 foll. Since then my conviction has become stronger that this great scholar is for once wrong. Ennius alluded to the Argei as an institution of Numa, i.e. as primitive (frag. 121, Vahlen, from Festus p. 355, and Varro, L.L. vii. 44), yet Ennius was a youth at the very time when Wissowa insists that the rite originated. Wissowa makes no attempt to explain this. See below, p. 321 foll.

  • 25.

    R.F. p. 111 foll.

  • 26.

    e.g. the October horse, which also occurred on the Ides; see R.F. p. 241 foll.; and the festival of Anna Perenna, also on Ides (March 15), R.F. p. 50 foll. It is just possible that all the three festivals were originally in the old calendar, and dropped out because the mark of the Ides had to be affixed to the day in the first place. See Wissowa, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, p. 164 foll.; R.F. p. 241.

  • 27.

    Thus Messrs. Hubert et Mauss (Mélanges d'histoire des religions Preface, p. xxiv.) maintain that there is no real antinomy between “les faits du systeme magique et les faits du systeme religieux.” There is in every rite, they insist, a magical as well as a religious element. Yet on the same page we find that they exclude magic from all organised cult, because it is not obligatory, and cannot (if I understand them rightly) be laid down in a code, like religious practice. I think it would have been simpler to consider the magical element in religious rites as surviving, with its original meaning lost, from an earlier stage of thought. M. van Gennep, in his interesting work Les Rites de passage, p. 17, goes so far as to call all religious remonies magical, as distinguished from the theories (e.g. animism) which constitute religion. This seems to me apt to bring confusion to the discussion; for all rites are the outward expression of thought, and it is by the thought (or, as he calls it, theories) that we must trace the sociological development of mankind, the rites being used indexes only. I cannot but think that (as indeed in these days is quite natural) this French school lays too much stress upon the outward acts, and that this tendency has led them to find real living-magic where it is present only in a fossil state.

  • 28.

    e.g. Tylor, article “Magic” in Encycl. Brit., and Primitive Culture, 1. ch. iv.; Marett, Threshold of Religion, 83. See below p. 180.

  • 29.

    Pliny, N.H. xxviii. 17 and 18. For the singing or murmuring of spells in many countries, see Jevons, Anthropology and the Classics p. 93 foll.

  • 30.

    Bruns, Fontes Iuris Romani, note on this passage.

  • 31.

    Civ. Dei, viii. 19.

  • 32.

    See, e.g., Wordsworth, Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin, p. 446, for an account of simple land measurement which will suffice to illustrate the point made here.

  • 33.

    The carmina famosa sung at a triumph by the soldiers had the same origin, but were used to avert evil from the triumphator. The best exposition of this is in H. A. J. Munro's Elucidations of Catullus, p. 76 foll.

  • 34.

    Pliny, N.H. xxviii. 19. For the technical sense of defigere, defixio, see Jevons in Anthropology and the Classics, p. 108 foll.

  • 35.

    The most familiar examples are Virgil's eighth Eclogue, 95 foll.; Ovid, Met. vii. 167, and elsewhere; Fasti, iv. 551; Horace, Epode v. 72; cp. article “Magia” in Daremberg-Saglio; Falz, De poet. Rom. dochina magica, Giessen, 1903. There is a collection of Roman magical spells in Appel's De Romanorum precationibus, p. 43 foll. Many modern Italian examples and survivals will be found in Leland's Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition, pt. ii.

  • 36.

    Cato, R.R. 160; Varro, R.R. i. 3.

  • 37.

    Pliny, N.H. xxviii. 21.

  • 38.

    Ib. xxviii. 20. The following sections of this book are the locus classicus for these popular superstitions.

  • 39.

    See, e.g., Italian Home Life, by Lina Duff Gordon, p. 230 foll.

  • 40.

    Juvenal v. 164. The idea probably arose, as a passage of Plutarch suggests (Rom. 25), from the fact that the triumphator, whose garb was no doubt of Etruscan origin, wore the bulla.

  • 41.

    Frazer, G.B. i. 345, note 2, where we learn that gold was taboo in some Greek worships, e.g. at the mysteries of Andania, which sufficiently proves that it possessed potency. Pliny, xxxiii. 84, mentions cases of such potency as medicine, and among them its application to children who have been poisoned.

  • 42.

    Pliny, N.H. xxviii. 39.

  • 43.

    See an article by the author on the original meaning of the toga praetexta in Classical Review, vol. x. (1896) p. 317.

  • 44.

    For the Compitalia, Macrob. i. 7. 34; Festus p. 238. For the Paganalia, Probus, ad Georg. ii. 385, assuming the feriae Sementinae there mentioned to be the Paganalia (see R.F. p. 294). For the feriae Latinae, Festus, s.v. “oscillantes.”

  • 45.

    Wissowa, R.K. p. 193, with whose view I entirely agree. We learn of the imaginary goddess from Varro, L.L. ix. 61. Pais, I may mark in passing, is certain that Acca Larentia was the mater Larum; see his Lectures on Ancient Legends of Roman History, p 60 foll.

  • 46.

    Wissowa, R.K. p. 354, note 5.

  • 47.

    Georg. ii. 380 foll. It is not certain that Virgil is describing the festival generally known as Paganalia, which took place early in January; but it seems probable from line 382 that he is thinking of some festival of the pagus. The oscilla may have been used at more than one.

  • 48.

    Note that Virgil writes of masks used in rude play-acting, as well as of oscilla hung on trees, and conjoins the two as though they had something in common. The evidence of an engraved onyx cup in the Louvre, of which a cut is given in the article “Oscilla” in the Dict. of Antiquities, seems to make it probable that masks worn by rustics on these occasions were afterwards hung by them on trees as oscilla. Some of these masks on the cup are adorned with horns, which may explain an interesting passage of Apuleius (Florida, i. 1): “neque enim iustius religiosam moram viatori obiecerit aut ara floribus redimita... aut quercus cornibus onerata, aut fagus pellibus coronata,” etc. See also Gromatici veteres, ii. 241.

  • 49.

    See, however, Dr. Frazer's remarks in G.B. ii. p. 454. He thinks that the air might in this way be purged of vagrant spirits or baleful ghosts, as the Malay medicine man swings in front of the patient's house in order to chase away the disease. Cp. G.B. ii. 343, where a rather different explanation is attempted of the maniae and pilae.

  • 50.

    Magic in the old forms, or many of them, has survived not only into the old Roman religion, but to the present day, in many parts of Italy. “The peasants have recourse to the priests and the saints on great occasions, but they use magic all the time for everything,” was said by a woman of the Romagna Toscana to the late C. G. Leland (Etruscan Roman Remains, Introduction, p. 9). This enterprising American's remarkable book, though dealing only with a small region of northern Italy, deserves more consideration than it has received. The author may have been uncritical, but beyond doubt he had the gift of extracting secrets from the peasantry. He claims to have proved that “la vecchia religione” contains much that has come down direct from pre-Christian times; and the appearance of Mr. Lawson's remarkable book on Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion may tempt some really qualified investigator to undertake a similar work in Italy before it is too late.