In attempting to deal with the subject of natural religion in a second series of studies I must beware of repeating myself; although at the same time no change of outlook or of principle can well be expected of me. Natural religion will, as before, be identified with primitive; and I shall continue to use the latter term in that conveniently elastic sense which embraces alike the old and the merely-old-fashioned among the observable forms of human culture. In other words, I shall confine my attention to those rudiments of religious faith and observance which are to be imputed to that child of Nature, the so-called savage, as I have read copiously about him, as I have had glimpses of him in the flesh, and as I would infer him from those bones and other relics of his that others have frequently and I myself have occasionally had the good fortune to dig up. Ne sutor supra crepidam. My fingers are sticky with anthropological cobbler's wax, so that my every touch is bound to betray my trade; while I am in like measure addicted to the view that there is nothing like leather.
For the rest, I need not insist how the primitive is related to the natural, since it would obviously never do to insinuate to a civilized audience that somewhere below the surface of their lives they remain more or less savage still. It is well, however, to keep that threat of exposure in reserve if people are snobbish and would withhold their sympathies from their poorer relations. For, with all respect to the doctrine of evolution, I cannot discover much psychological difference between one living type of humanity and another; and, when I reflect that even the earliest cave-man known to Europe was already accustomed to bury his dead with an eye to their future welfare, I rub my eyes and wonder what sort of an overlap there may have been between his brutishness of mind and our discernment. So much, then, by way of introducing the savage as a natural participator in religion and the rest of the humanities.
Let me next proceed to justify my choice of a special theme by arguing that this same savage is capable of sacraments. Now, it may be objected at the start that one has no business to misuse an expression hallowed by, and hence reserved for, Christian usage. The crushing reply of course is that Christianity was not deterred by any such consideration from borrowing the term from Roman paganism by way of Roman law. The precise legal meaning, or rather meanings, of sacramentum are still to some extent in dispute; but we shall perhaps be not far from the truth if we assume it to stand in general for any acknowledgement of obligation depending for its sanction on what anthropologists know as a conditional curse. In other words, he who should prove unfaithful to his promise had by virtue of his formal pledge placed his life or property in forfeit at the hands of the supernatural powers that uphold justice. This technical sense, however, barely survives in the terminology of the Western Church, where the word tends to become equivalent to the Greek ‘mystery’, of which the connotation is wide and rather indefinite. It is hardly necessary here to follow up the later history of the phrase; as, for instance, by analysing the process whereby certain rites alone became entitled to rank as sacraments, while others differing less in the kind than in the degree of their importance were distinguished as sacramentals. Let it suffice, then, to have shown that a religious term with a considerable range of significance and originating outside the Christian pale cannot rightfully be demonetized as legal currency in order that it may serve as the token of some private, though august, corporation. Indeed, educated Hindus writing in English, and possibly other adherents of non-Christian faiths, are wont to claim a sacramental character eo nomine for various observances of their own. Thus the anthropologist, whose outlook on religion is bound to be as world-wide as it is non-confessional, has no reason to refrain from speaking of primitive sacraments as may be most convenient in a scientific or even in a literary way.
Indeed, the dilemma of anthropology has always been that, if it uses European words to express the thoughts of the uncivilized, they will be misunderstood; whereas, if it falls back on the native idiom, this will not be understood at all. Nevertheless, by exercising due care in regard to clearness and consistency of language, it ought to be possible to provide religious categories such as will hold generally for what is after all Man's most universal activity. Nay, his proud title of Homo sapiens might be changed to that of Homo religiosus without prejudice to his true differentia. It is only when we confuse the inner man with his outer garments of variegated fashion that we lose sight of the essential identity of all human efforts to establish friendly relations with that higher unity of spirit and matter which we speak of as the universe. Go we ever so far back in such historical retrospect as our fragmentary records allow, it is always the same picture, as at least I see it, of a creature asserting and achieving dominance, spiritual no less than material, by sole reason of a stupendous optimism.
But, if this is so, cannot we invent the words required to convey the idea of this undeviating sense of direction, this helmsman's faculty for holding to a course, which appears to be the psychological prerogative of the human species? Surely we are bound to try to state the case for religion as an historical development in terms of soul, not of shifting manners and customs; so that a single set of such terms must be devised to cope with a continuity of motive, whether we call it impulse or inspiration, which proclaims primitive to be related to advanced religion as intimately as the child is related to the man.
For anthropological purposes, then, let us define a sacrament as any rite of which the specific object is to consecrate or make sacred. More explicitly, this means any rite which by way of sanction or positive blessing invests a natural function with a supernatural authority of its own. The rest of the present lecture will be concerned with the further analysis of this general notion; while its adequacy will in the sequel be tested by the study of particular examples, covering the most diverse activities of savage life. It may be said at once that in an investigation of this kind, which is historical and therefore inductive, all definition must be provisional, and liable to amendment as fresh evidence comes to hand. It is only the deductive thinker who needs a fixed peg on which to hang his argument and, it may be, himself with it. It must thus be understood throughout that no theological value whatever will be claimed for any sense in which the word sacrament is used with an anthropological reference. Our present business is to start from hypothesis, not from dogma. So far as our initial predetermination of the scope of this inquiry works, let it by all means stand; but, the moment it breaks down, then away with it for something better suited to the facts.
Proceeding, then, to examine our definition in the light of its several terms, let us take note in the first place of the obvious fact that a sacrament is some kind of rite. Thus we find ourselves in turn obliged to define ritual; and, although we must not wander so far afield as to lose our bearings, it may be well to consider at the outset the wider implications of our task, concerned as it exclusively is with the institutional side of human religion. Now once again, in framing our working conception of ritual, we must be careful to keep its anthropological application in view, and hence to afford it latitude at all costs. Let us say tentatively, therefore, that ritual means for the science of comparative religion any organized technique, approved by the society concerned, for dealing with the incalculable element in any critical situation of life. To explicate this cautious and rather colourless formula need not delay us long.
Thus, to begin with, ritual essentially involves organization and art, being duly performed just in so far as traditional rules of concerted behaviour are obeyed; as for savages typically in a dance. In Latin the word ritus has the regular sense of a religious ceremony or custom, ritus and mos being often employed together. In Sanskrit, again, rīti means ‘usage’, the root apparently being ri, ‘flow’, so that the word would seem ultimately to stand for the way in which a thing flows or moves. With some etymological justification, then, we might think of ritual as the regulation of the flow of certain emotions. It is, as it were, the canalization of those very various impulses that well up and forth from human hearts, to meet in public worship as in some main river, some broad stream of tendency navigable for mankind in general.
Next, the rite as an instrument of religion must rank as likewise an organ of social welfare, for the sufficient reason that any given society holds its own religion to be good and salutary as such. What is not thus socially approved, and has yet to do with the exploitation of influences ranking as supernatural, though of a purely malevolent kind, can only count with respectable persons as pertaining to magic. Being thus a criminal affair, not only in intent but in actual status, the black art has no chance of developing any ritual worthy of the name, even supposing that the associations of the word allowed it to be used analogously in so dishonourable a context. Doomed from the first to a hole-and-corner existence, the outlaw must perforce live on what he pilfers, and at the most can impose on simpletons by masquerading in some patchwork of stolen trappings. In other words, whenever magic develops anything like a mock-ritual, or at any rate is rumoured to do so, as for instance in the shape of some witches’ sabbath or black mass, it can amount to no more than a travesty of the real thing. It is but a cheap and degraded imitation of genuine cult, testifying to the utter lack of creativeness inherent in negative dispositions such as hate and envy. On the other hand, no other of our universal interests can compete with religion as an originator of institutions. It constitutes, in fact, the architectonic force in all social organization, just because its ultimate appeal is always to love, the most constructive of the human faculties, and likewise one that can find work for all.
If we now turn to the remaining clause of our definition of ritual, we may be at first inclined to quarrel with the statement that the incalculable and the critical in conjunction are the conditions which provide religion with its summons to exertion. For it is easy to think of ritual as a kind of routine; whereas here it is contended that its essential function is to take charge at the point at which the comfortable certainties of the daily round fail us, and action must nevertheless be taken in a spirit of ‘never say die’. The solution of the difficulty, of course, is that we cannot help being creatures of habit; so that even the religious man is apt at times to succumb to some soulless system of vain repetitions. But just as the sentinel who is guilty of sleeping at his post is no true soldier, so it is a dereliction of duty which no weakness of the flesh can excuse if, with spiritual danger ever in the air, watching and praying cease to go together. Any active service, doubtless, involves a machinery of regular drill; but, if vigilance is not thereby increased, the very reason for such discipline is gone. To the historian, indeed, it is sufficiently manifest that an excessive conventionalism has been the chief constitutional disease of the world's religions; neglect of it having actually killed off many members of the family. The psychologist, however, may find it a little hard to distinguish at first sight between the spurious blessedness that comes of lethargy and the true blessedness that goes with devotion. But on closer inspection to procure peace of body by nodding over one's prayers bears not the slightest resemblance to finding peace of mind by concentration on some noble activity. The function of religion is not to lull the striving temper, but to compose it so as to intensify its force.
If, then, we would clearly view sacraments in their generic nature as parts of a ritual apparatus, we must never forget that they are thereby classed as the instruments of a purpose which is the polar opposite of a passive acquiescence in what we are pleased to call the natural order of things. If Nature is going to stand simply for the routine of the senses, then the very conception of natural religion involves a contradiction in terms; since it is precisely at the point at which the sense-world baffles and disappoints us that the opportunity of religion begins. Man is happily no slave of environment, like the brute which, if the instinctive reaction proves in vain, succumbs to extinction with an air of puzzled meekness. Bringing intelligence and will to bear on the conduct of his life, he sets out to reshape its conditions, so that a higher standard of living may result as the price of his hard labour.
Now experience soon teaches this active-minded being that to some extent only does future repeat past, being likewise calculable only in like proportion. Yet the further he tries to look ahead, the unknown remainder becomes inevitably an object of hope and fear, mocking the faculties that teach him to live by fixed rule with the suggestion of momentous possibilities clean beyond their range. Never for a moment is a man truly the fatalist that he may sometimes claim to be; for, even if by a positive act of self-surrender he bows to the will of an inscrutable Providence, he is unconsciously taking it for granted that the darkness will somehow be lightened for his benefit. The failure of reasonable expectation is with every courageous soul the occasion for another kind of expectation which is inspired not so much by the intellect as by the heart. A higher logic, based on assurances springing from unlimited desire rather than from controlled observation, warrants the belief in a power of goodness so incalculably good that by association with it man may himself rise superior to all the dangers of this mortal life. Of this super-rational conviction the psychological mainspring is a vital energy which snatches fresh daring out of the very shock of disaster, and, by mobilizing the last reserves of our nature, carries everything before it with an impetus that by ordinary standards seems unaccountable and even more than human. Religion, in a word, is nothing if it is not intensely dynamic. Whatever, then, may be the function of ritual, it cannot be to neutralize this wonder-working force. Rather must it act as a transformer and transmitter of the vitalizing energy, so that it may be made available wherever it is most wanted.
Now it is the more necessary to insist at the outset of an historical study of sacraments on the dynamism running in the very life-blood of religion, because it will be found on examination that it is precisely the sacrament which is the most dynamic of all ritual forms. Other parts of the established round of ceremonies can become stereotyped with greater impunity; but, when a religion uses its sacraments as a sedative, it is already dead at the heart. Though, as was said just now, the tendency to automatism is religion's besetting infirmity, there is a point up to which it is quite normal to hand over minor functions to the effortless control of habit. The psychological advantage of this is that attention is not dissipated, but is on the contrary allowed to retain its full focusing-power for supreme moments. A certain economy of effort is, indeed, the secret of all efficiency; and, without intervals of relaxation, no high tension is possible in the rhythm of healthy mental life. On the other hand, the relatively passive states have no value in themselves, being strictly subordinate to that operative side on which our progress in self-realization entirely depends. Hence to give way to them for their own sake is the mark of the religious fainéant, however much he may flatter himself with the delusion that his opium-dream is a foretaste of heaven. In sacraments, however, there is offered least excuse for ecstasy of this morbid kind, because they are invariably associated with what are by their very nature active functions, and can have no other use or meaning of their own than that of being able somehow to make those functions more effective. When some kind of activity is directly in question, it becomes perfectly plain that no one can hope to turn it into a super-activity by being slack over it.
For among our human activities a number can be distinguished as vital, either if living, or if good living, appears to be impossible without their accomplishment. It is to such tasks that rites of the sacramental type undertake to bring supernatural reinforcement; and, if proof be required of the general helpfulness of religion, here is surely the test case. Since something must be done in any case to carry out these essential duties, it should be feasible to measure the difference between unassisted nature and a mood quickened by religion as conditions severally making for success. Unassisted nature in such a context stands for moral inertia, the repressed and arrested will-power of the man who waits on impulse. There seems no doubt, however, that it is psychologically possible to overcome this inertia by what is typically experienced as a conversion—a turning round from outward impressions towards certain inward springs of action which are ready to serve the soul instead of, like sensible experience, holding it in bondage.
Further, it is fairly certain that such conversion is never brought about by pure thinking. The intellect swings round to the desired point, but the clutch of volition refuses to engage. Something more than the exercise of the reasoning powers is evidently needed in order to bring into play the latent energy of the moral personality. Indeed, it is the despair of the modern educator who trusts to secular influences how to put his finger on this actuating principle. Thus, whereas we may feel sure that in regard to physical matters our forefathers have nothing to teach us, we can with no such confidence affect to despise the old-world discipline furnished by religion for bracing the character; seeing that our present civilization verges on ruin owing chiefly to its impotence in this very respect. Not that we need to return to the subconscious methods of the savage. For our primitive predecessors wrought better than they were fully aware. They took the symbolism of their rites too literally and therefore materially, putting down the better harvest that rewarded their efforts to increased rainfall rather than to increased zest for their work. That we should forgo our analytic habits in order to recapture the naïveté of an age of simpler faith is quite unlikely, to judge by the inglorious collapse of all such attempts to put back the hands of the clock. The religion of to-day has in fact almost ceased to dispute with science over the probability of miracles that contradict the known laws of causality. On the other hand, it is making definite overtures towards social psychology, with a far better hope of being met half-way with a friendly, if none the less critical, appreciation of its evidences and claims.
To consecrate a natural function, then, as is done by means of the sacrament specifically appropriate thereto, is essentially to moralize it in the peculiar way of which religion has always possessed the secret. The activity in question is of course in a certain degree moral already, in so far as it subserves the good of the man as a living creature with a set of reactions more or less intelligently adapted to his outer world. Mere common sense, however, will never of itself enable him to put the necessary heart into this work of maintaining himself in being. Experience has a way of springing unwelcome surprises on him, to which his ordinary vitality proves unequal, unless he can somehow amass beforehand a spiritual capital whereon to draw in times of stress. By practices analogous to those of getting up his muscle he therefore rehearses for each impending task, so as thereby to accumulate such a surplus of will-power as is bound to carry him through. He has discovered that audacity pays better than any calculation; and indeed it is the audacity behind the calculation that eventually enables him to extend his control over Nature, all science being but a by-product of religion, as history testifies clearly enough. Thus to make some occupation or office sacred by means of a ritual representation of its meaning and value is, above all, to enlist the imagination from the beginning in the service of the will, so that crisis can be eventually faced with fears discounted and expectations raised.
Now to say imagination here is not to say illusion. Religious truth consists in the faithful disclosure of the full magnitude, together with the full moral grandeur, of the enterprise ahead. Religion would fail entirely in its mission if it were to flatter false hopes; though, on the other hand, it must steadily refuse to put any upper limit on the ambition to conquer and enjoy. As a matter of fact its historic methods have consistently leaned towards a certain severity, as if they would leave the importance of the service to be inferred from the pains incidental to the preliminary training. By a sort of organized discouragement the recruit must be toughened up to his maximum of efficiency. Yet his individual Humiliations somehow help in the long run to swell his corporate pride in his vocation, which thus comes as it were objectively to impose on his private will another will greater than his own. Hence that which makes him more of a man, and is thus truly part of himself, is no source of personal vainglory, because it comes to him in the guise of an authority emanating from the very nature of the business in hand. In a word, he becomes strong through the reflected strength of his solemn obligation.
With this psychological clue to guide us, we may hope, as regards sacraments, to find our way to a central meaning, despite intricacies that are never so perplexing as when rudimentary religion is studied in its external manifestations. For, although the ceremonial life is the outstanding feature of all primitive culture, it is wont to strike the civilized observer as mostly sound and fury; while even for those concerned it would appear to signify-very little that can be put into the form of ideas. It is as if they could express the faith that is in them only by means of a rich confusion of muscular metaphors. Moreover, whatever they do in this way is mostly done in a crowd; and no crowd lends itself to cross-examination. On the other side of the account, however, it must be noted that, however irrational he may deem such proceedings, a good reporter will not fail to get down their full description on paper; even if, as Sir Baldwin Spencer once found to his cost, he must be tirelessly at work for over four months before the native performers themselves are tired out.1 Thus the student who concentrates on ritual has no cause to complain of lack of material. Nay, in view of the additional difficulties imposed on him by the infinite diversity, as well as the intrinsic obscurity, of savage tongues, it is perhaps fortunate that the oral accompaniments of a rite are in the vast majority of cases wholly subordinate to movements directly accessible to the eye—one might likewise add, to the camera.
Yet this prevailing objectivity in the evidence is apt to provoke a correspondingly objective method of interpretation. In this way, for instance, we can perhaps account for that very inadequate view of the large class of rites consisting wholly or mainly in dumb show as a sort of applied physics gone wrong. No wonder that those who support this opinion are inclined to deny the religious character of this inarticulate symbolism altogether, stigmatizing it instead as magical in the sense of pseudo-scientific. It would almost seem that they had overlooked the human habit of expressing thoughts and sentiments by gesture. Moreover, having once committed themselves to this doctrine of a would-be mechanical operation, they expect the savage to recognize no other test of its efficacy except a purely mechanical result. Thereupon they easily convict him of a fallacy of malobservation, and proceed to knock the bottom from under his whole scheme of moral adjustment to the universe on the irrelevant ground that their naturalism is better than his; as if savage supernaturalism could be resolved into naturalism plus nonsense. It reminds one of the knock-out style of argument by which the Christian missionary has been known to abolish the pagan god by demolishing his image. Even if the indignant pagan were to eat the missionary by way of revenge, I should be prepared to argue that there could well be something more than a crude materialism at the back of his motive. He might in fact be paying a left-handed compliment to his spiritual brother by trying to absorb his soul.
Now this rejection of the theory that the symbolic ritual so often classified under the title of sympathetic magic is simply a misapplication of presumed laws of sequence or coexistence must not be taken to carry with it a denial that primitive religion, as I at least would call it, entertains any expectation whatever of influencing Nature by such means. So far indeed is this from being so that it would be truer to regard the savage as placing material rather than spiritual benefits in the forefront of his conscious desires. But it is by miracle, not by natural law, that he expects all such benefits alike to come. None of these pieces of good luck are possible unless there is mana for them; and mana is power of the supernatural or transcendent order. No doubt things have their common way of behaving, but mana is something extra. It makes them behave uncommonly, sometimes for worse, but sometimes, and perhaps oftener, for better; and the function of all ritual is to get into touch with the good mana, while defeating the bad mana so far as this can be done.
Further, the key to the analysis of this elusive term, whether in the local sense which it bears in the Pacific region, or as it may be generalized for comparative purposes, consists in the fact that this goodness and this badness are alike essentially of the moral type. Mana is good, not with the usefulness of an instrument, but with the helpfulness of an agent; and, similarly, instead of simply going wrong, it does wrong when it is bad. Thus, in spite of his most ingenious devices in the way of ritual, Man can never presume to work mana; he can only hope to work upon it. Indeed, if one were to venture to sum up his very various modes of ceremonial approach in one compendious formula, they might be described as methods of suggestion. There is always a felt distinction between the physically necessary and that arbitrary side of things which is as it were the voluntary in the making. The calculable nature of matter is revealed from the first in a certain inertness. Even the infant soon becomes aware of the need of dealing differently with tables and chairs on the one hand and its nurse or the cat on the other; meanwhile solving numerous ambiguities in their several types of behaviour by means of experiments on that intermediate creature, his doll. But, although the savage too has his apparent contradictions to puzzle out, and might be disposed to credit the lightning with more spontaneity than we nowadays ascribe to what we still call a ‘live’ wire, he remains broadly conscious of the difference between mechanical power and moral force; and by his actions, which are so much more eloquent than his words, assigns mana in all its manifestations to the moral side of this divide between the realms of matter and of spirit.
Yet mana is rightly described as a kind of impersonal power. It is thus, for instance, that Codrington, an excellent observer, would have us conceive it.2 Yet he goes on immediately to say that it essentially belongs to personal agents to originate it; though, having done so, they are apt, as it were, to abandon it to its own devices. For mana has a contagious quality of its own, such as is responsible for all those ambiguities already mentioned over which both the savage himself, and the man of science who tries to understand the ways of the savage mind, are so liable to stumble. Although charged with manifest spontaneity at the moment when it emanates from a personal agent, mana is bound to part with this appearance the farther it moves away from the originating centre. It is like some piece of writing that grows progressively more soiled and faded as it passes from hand to hand, until no one can read the message. Just as in such a case the authority gradually departs, though the scrap of paper is left, so mana at second or third hand clings only as an over-memory, a vague sentiment of respect. Though the saint's name is forgotten, his relic is preserved, and, if it still retains any virtue, it is by a fortunate accident.
Now this tendency to diffusion, accompanied by evaporation, of meaning which is so characteristic of mana calls for special notice in connexion with the subject of ritual, because it goes far to explain the charge of automatism which is levelled against it. Such a charge is on the whole perhaps unjust, yet holds true in proportion as ossification has set in, and the living tissue is far gone in decay. For every rite implies a collectivity—Durkheim would boldly say a church—which must have its established organization and tradition. All contributory influences, therefore, have to conform to this social need for a custom that has contagiousness in the double sense of being shareable between contemporaries and communicable to succeeding generations. Now, on the principle that every crowd has its ringleader, it is a fair presumption that rites, or the elements that meet in them by a sort of contamination, have their individual originators. Thus one knows how, among the Central tribes of Australia, the author of a ceremony, which, according to his own account, has come to him ‘in a dream’, has his initiative so well recognized and rewarded that public performances remain the sole privilege of himself and his male heirs.3 Again, in British New Guinea there has recently spread over a large tract of country a dancing epidemic, somehow believed to invigorate their staple crop, the taro; and this can be definitely fathered on a particular enthusiast.4 Though religious experience by way of vision or possession is not easily reduced, by us at least to any meaning at all, we may yet be sure that the experient himself has the best chance of knowing what he feels and is trying to express. Those who follow in his footsteps, though they do it in the most sincerely imitative and vertiginous fashion, can never recreate for themselves the first fine frenzy of the formative inspiration. The process known to the folk-lorist as survival inevitably supervenes; and at most some later prophet may seek to accommodate the old bottles to his new wine, thus starting the counter-movement which is distinguished as revival.
As an offset, however, to this degeneration in what has clearly the best claim to be regarded as religious value proper, there is a curious tendency for rites to acquire social respect by simple dint of their lastingness. What a reformer would rate as antiquated is more likely to be venerable and time-honoured in the eyes of the pious conservative; and savages belong to that party to a man. The accidental associations of an historic setting prevail over the intrinsic quality of the live experience, so that there is left no more than an after-taste which, though faint, is correspondingly mellow. So with the literary classic, when it is no longer possible to follow the author in the better part of his allusions, the late-born reader may still solace himself with the softened outlines of far-off scenes, and with the muted music of an unfamiliar language. Indeed, beauty has an agelessness which enables it to be parasitic on religion, as moss on the oak. Thus it is of the commonest occurrence in history that the solemn myth should dwindle to a pleasant tale, or the amulet sink to the status of an ornament. But religion has a character of its own, which fine art may indeed smother, but can never of itself replace. So again religion has an authority of its own, and can only weaken itself by leaning on the authority of mere prescription. Its hold upon lasting truths must depend, not on being propped up by the laudator temporis acti, but on somehow maintaining the strength of its spiritual grip.
In the sacrament, on the other hand, as our subsequent investigation may be expected to prove, religion is not passing out of itself into something alien to its real nature when it allies itself with a natural function in order to invest it with greater significance and weight. For practical activity constitutes the very essence at once of religion and of human life; religious activity being but vital activity raised by spiritual intensification to a higher power. The consecrated and the concentrated life amount to much the same thing. There must be stimulated the capacity, latent in every human mind at least in some degree, of bringing the possibilities to bear upon the actualities of existence, so that the spirit is roused to the full pitch of its potency, and can transform its promise into that ripe nature which was its birthright from the first. Creative imagination, using hope and fear as the chief vehicles of its ideal constructions, seems magically to substitute a new world for the old; though what it really does is to exhibit the same world in two phases of one development, namely, as pregnant at first, and as later on delivered of its fruit.
Matter is always no more and no less than material for spirit to inform as in the light of its own interests it may judge best. Matter in itself is sheer negation, an inertness viewed apart from the potential instrumentality. The illusion, however, of a positive obstructiveness is so persistent that, by way of counterbalance, religion as representing spirit is prone to declare war on the flesh and on matter in general. The result is an immaterialism as abstract, and therefore short of the whole truth, as the opposite fallacy. Being inwardly assured of its primacy as the ultimate source of vital and psychic energy, spirit has no need to fear the closest intimacy with the natural functions that go with life as pursued on the material plane. Taking the everyday routine of society as it finds it, religion can improve each occasion in turn, so that the common task becomes clothed with the authority and unconditional value of an element in the perfect life. The sacrament meets the world half-way, and, by importing sacredness, which might almost be translated devulgarization into some ordinary transaction, subordinates the material profit to the moral outcome. Such a transvaluation causes the soul to become doubly in earnest over its most casual affairs; and gives religion the chance of becoming positive and concrete in its interests, instead of lapsing, through bare denial, into desiccation and decay.
It remains to note briefly, since detailed illustration will make the point clearer later on, that the sacrament may variously threaten or bless by way of proclaiming the authority with which it is charged. For mana is ambivalent in more ways than one. Not only does it comprise both the good mana with which religion is exclusively concerned, and a bad mana which is downright diabolic; but the good mana in its turn has two faces, since its two essential characters of justice and mercy are not at first blush to be reconciled, at any rate from the standpoint of an imperfect being with no more than a doubtful record to his credit. However fundamental hope may be in religious experience, a dash of fear is never absent, and is indeed salutary up to the point at which it ceases to promote such repentance as issues in renewed striving. Thus sacredness, though never a bane in the absolute sense, is yet a peril to the unworthy; as in the judicial ordeal, itself a genuine sacrament, when he who is found guilty must be sacrificed before he can find atonement. The moral paradox that a man can be raised through suffering—that divine punishment is in fact a mode of divine healing—is one that is to be resolved, if at all, only in the course of a long religious education. Yet the savage, with his almost blind submission to his ancestral custom, which on the one hand is so freakishly cruel, and yet on the other hand is his sole sustainer and the source of his most intense satisfactions, can perceive, if he can by no means conceive, a roughness and a kindliness somehow acting in concert for his good. Nay, he may even come to realize that there are fewer buffets and more bounties as his training in good tribesmanship advances. For avoidances count for less, and attainments for more, as his novitiate nears completion; until, his taste grown manlier, he can even at last find enjoyment in the bitters that must ever qualify the sweets of learning to be human.
So much, then, by way of a preliminary survey of the matter in hand. We are about to watch a number of spiritual health-exercises modelled on activities to which the bodies of those who take the course are already well accustomed. It will be noted, however, that we attend in the capacity of consulting psychologists, and not as physicians who have charge of the experiment. Furnished with certain current hypotheses about the possibilities of sublimation and so on, we stand by in order to observe from the external symptoms how far the patients respond to treatment. That it answers on the whole may be inferred from statistics of attendance going a long way back. On the other hand, any kind of training may be overdone; nor do all cases require the prescribed restoratives in like form or amount, even when full allowance is made for the need of a certain standardization for working purposes. As it is, then, we can but judge, in a more or less exterior though sympathetic way, whether there is improvement or deterioration in respect to that sort of superior vitality which reveals itself in a certain notice-able and even measurable increase of vigour. Outwardly, then, it is a kind of bloom, though even by a moderate effort of introjection we can construe it as moral tone. Even as an inward experience health is health, self-justifying and an end in itself; and just as physical well-being makes final sense of the endless worry of caring for the body, so this spiritual well-being, whenever it supervenes on our intenser efforts after self-realization, proves likewise satisfying and self-justifying, only in fuller measure.
Religious psychotherapy, then, can be fairly sure that its guiding purpose is sound. But its means are experimental. Its prescribed exercises have often been changed, and no doubt may still be bettered. Hence, as civilized persons, who nevertheless retain a savage subconsciousness, we can take a practical as well as a scientific interest in the history of the sacrament, as being the method of trial and error whereby the association between religion and the good life has been chiefly promoted.