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II: Eating

Amid the uncertainties of the food-quest the savage, whether a mere food-gatherer or already capable of domesticating animals and plants, has recourse to sacramental rites that symbolize his desire to be at one with the powers to which he looks for his ‘daily bread’. Typical are those rites of multiplication involving a solemn eating of the totem. This is doubtless to be interpreted as an act of communion or rather atonement, since the point of so scrupulous an eating would seem to be to express an apology for a none too scrupulous killing. Thus the natural process is debrutalized by representing it as a moral relation, namely, as a giving and a receiving of help in a great need.

The natural function of eating, understood in that wider sense which covers the procuring as well as the actual consuming of food, provides a crucial instance of the process whereby a vital activity may culminate in a sacrament—in other words, may be consecrated to a spiritual meaning and use. Between eating in Nature and eating in God stretches the entire breadth of the united provinces of body and soul. What could be more physical, and at the same time more vital, than the act of feeding? It is on a par with such a bodily necessity as breathing, and might indeed be said to be generically akin thereto. In our complete subjection to that biological control we rank with all other living creatures as members of one vast democracy. A cat may not merely look at a king, but over a saucer of milk can be his worthy boon-companion. At the other end of the scale, however, we have the supreme mystery of the Christian Mass based on an alimentary symbolism which is by no means arbitrary in design, since it is the outcome of ages of cultural evolution. In the historical background there lurks a truly savage crudeness, relieved only by the common liability of all flesh to a permanent burden of similar crudities.

Indeed at no known stage of his long career does Man show himself disposed to wallow in a contented materialism. Even the gourmand is an idealist in his hoggish way. How far, however, the growth of such refinement as the layman manifests to-day in this respect is to be placed to the credit of religion is a question on which pro and con are by no means easily balanced. Thus the butcher, whose profession so offended the taste of Mr. Ruskin that he could find no place for him in his Ideal State, remained long after the dawn of civilization the associate and very counterpart of the priest. On the other hand, we might still be eating with our fingers, if persons so sacred that they dare not transmit their own dynamic energy from hand to mouth had not taken to the use of forks as spiritual non-conductors.

Nevertheless, it is possible to discern in religion, even in its most primitive phases, a general awareness of its mission to convert mere living into good living by discovering in the natural function the suggestion of an activity that could be an end in itself. In a word, sacramental, or consecrated, eating must provide food for the soul. To the materialist this may seem to be empty metaphor, since for him the soul is empty fiction too. But, if conscious reality is to count at all, then it is worth while to concede its due degree of reality to that inner life which likewise needs its appropriate sustenance. Meanwhile, without consulting the philosopher, the old-time savage had already by sheer experience got on to the track of this moral truth. After all, it was by a miracle wrought in the wilderness that ‘man did eat angels’ food’.

If one would frame a comprehensive notion of what to anthropologists is known as the food-quest, it is above all necessary to master the simple thought that a hare is not meat until it is bagged. In these sophisticated days we give the signal, and somewhere at the other end of a long string of unseen slaves of our purse the animal, plant, or mineral is reft from its natural condition. Those who themselves take no part in this spoliating process may easily gloss over its harshness by crediting Nature with a spontaneous bounty. This is, however, by no means so evident to those who bear the brunt of an exploitation involving endless toil and danger. In short, the Nature from which food has to be extorted is for those who know it at first hand by no means identical with the Providence to whose care provisions in the human sense are ultimately due, as religion at any rate conceives the matter. The real provider is either the human spirit itself, or a like spirit of larger power and scope, capable of dominating matter and the lower forms of life so completely that it might well be held to have created them for this very purpose.

On brute Nature human sentiment is simply wasted. It is not because there happens to be such a thing as a bread-fruit tree that a man can expect his breakfast rolls to fall into his mouth. Even if he dispense with cooking, he must discover his tree; must observe its seasonal changes; must learn to distinguish its edible from its inedible, or perhaps even poisonous, products. Indeed, we may fairly say that a moral cultivation of the plant has begun with the savage long before any science of controlling its physical growth has dawned upon his mind. Even at the so-called gathering stage of economics, then, a more or less manifest indifference on the part of the object has to be overcome by the amount of active interest that the subject imports into the business. The relation is friendly only in so far as the man befriends himself, or is befriended by some influence working for him and so revealing itself as belonging to his side of the transaction.

Now this influence may be itself objectified by him so that it assumes the guise of an independent helper. Moreover, in that form it may seem to work through the thing rather than through the man, though even so always for his benefit. Thus a lucky tree will be a tree with good mana; and yet the mana is never a natural attribute of the tree, but may at any moment depart from it again. Indeed, by means of the right formula it can be transferred at will to quite another tree. Though the inspiration may have seemed to spring directly out of the task of the time being, it can be switched on to the next task by the man who feels himself able to do so. Thus these experiments in the concentration and redirection of willpower are obscurely perceived all along to be concerned with a more subtle element than matter. Man, the fire-maker, has now gone on to make spirit, the more powerful reagent, and one that is even more warming to his inmost vitals. Meanwhile, our immediate purpose is to observe him as the stimulus of the food-quest, from its beginning in hard labour to its consummation in a full meal, quickens in him intuitions of larger modes of striving and enjoying, wherein the body has no longer any part, and yet there is both good hunting and good cheer for the ambitious spirit of Man.

To state our problem, then, in its simplest terms, something that we may call the food-dance develops out of the sheer desire for food, and is found by those concerned to be good medicine not only for food but for self-realization or spiritual welfare in general; and it is our present business to consider this sacramental process, or specific consecration of a natural function, and to explain it as far as a social psychology will take us. A start may be made from the familiar practice of the house-dog who at the approach of his dinner-time squats outside the kitchen door and whines. He may have a hazy notion that it pays, that somehow his piteous plaint reaches merciful ears; but primarily he is but staving off his impatience by giving vent to his feelings. In language which the psychoanalysts have made popular he is getting rid of his repressions. Such a mode, however, of easing a psychological tension is with the dog hardly more than instinctive. There is but that low-grade type of spontaneity in his action which implies little or no direction by conscious purpose. At all events, no moral end is involved, not even the negative one of fending off despair; much less the positive one of strengthening and encompassing a hope by dwelling on it beforehand.

Now the mind of a man is of a higher potential than that of a dog. Hence analogies drawn from the outward proceedings of the latter must not lead us to overlook the difference in their inward dispositions. Thus it would not be hard to find among savages what on the face of them must seem close parallels to the hungry animal's behaviour. For example, Mr. Skeat's Malays, admittedly as a grand finale to other rites of a more complicated kind, are wont to shout in monotonous chorus ‘Fruit! Fruit! Fruit!’ so that there shall be no mistake as to the nature of their need.1 The fact that they do so in chorus is not enough to differentiate them from the dog, since his habits might for the most part be traced back to that social institution, the wolf-pack. But the human beings are far more fully conscious of the virtue of such common action. As a religious community they appreciate the fact that there is ancestral precedent for the ritual custom that they so meticulously follow. Again, they cry ‘Fruit!’ no doubt mainly in order to glut a sense of wish-fulfilment. But why not? Religion at all stages of its development remains essentially a faculty of ends. Having made its desire clear, it can leave the rest to God. In other words, its fundamental attitude is one of frank dependence on some crowning mercy, some miraculous intervention from the spiritual side of the unknown. Its rites are never means in the mechanical sense that they deal with a calculable object. Being essentially means of grace, they act as predisposing motives rather than as causes, even when material results are more immediately sought. Thus their function is always to qualify the desire itself, by giving expression to its spiritual implications, in the shape of certain more abiding satisfactions to which it may lead on. At the same time, by so doing, religion doubtless helps to bring about eventual fruition, in virtue of the law that the ideal is bound to enact itself in proportion as it is made manifest to consciousness in its whole commanding nature.

In the first instance, however, the desire of the hungry savage is towards that which will fill his belly rather than his soul. Hence the mana which he seeks is likely to reveal itself in the food itself rather than in any state of his feelings. What he pictures to himself in fond imagination, and in those rites which translate his visions into gestures and words, is some miracle of the loaves and fishes. At this point anthropological interpretation is especially apt to go astray. Because food without mana is undoubtedly material, the rite which relates to food with mana is deemed no less materialistic in its function than if it were equivalent to some economic device. One might as well suppose that the hunter who lays a snare for a rabbit, and the medicine-man who sets a soul-trap for a spirit, are simply two of a trade. But, on the contrary, it could easily happen that the hunter, when his snare failed with the rabbit, would have to go to the doctor for a spell to make it work. The two contrivances are utterly different in kind, although capable of being used in conjunction, Even in primitive thought, despite its alleged confusion of categories, the distinction holds pretty clearly. Thus the Australian native, as Howitt tells us, draws a sharp line between his spear and his spear-thrower; the one needing to be sung over before it can do wonders, whereas the latter, so mysterious in its effects, is intrinsically charged with supernatural power. Or, again, his bull-roarer is similarly in its own right a mystic instrument,2 so that its physical properties become secondary, and a stone bull-roarer is held not less but perhaps even more holy for not being able to roar like its wooden prototype; just as a sacred cow-bell among the Todas is invariably found to have lost its tongue.3

Of course, as the material object can acquire a spiritual over-meaning, so it is apt to part with it again and become desacralized. The bull-roarer, for instance, perhaps the oldest of Man's religious symbols, may sink in Europe, or even in Oceania, to the level of a child's toy. But this proves nothing as to its original character. If soldiers turn a church into a stable, and melt down the vessels of its altar into crude gold and silver, it hardly amounts to a refutation of the truth for which these fabrications of stone and metal previously stood. So too, then, if occasionally a secular develops out of a religious practice, it is entirely beside the point to describe as pseudo-scientific in its primary motive the effort to supplement nature by wonder-working; as if wonder-working were conceived as but an extension of natural process, another turn of the same screw. One might as well argue that the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, when wrought for the benefit of people who were well acquainted with baking and fishing in the ordinary way, must have involved for them the belief in two separate miracles, since fishes increase by breeding and loaves do not. The truth seems to be rather that the primitive mind is all along subconsciously aware that suggestion is an instrument of the moral as opposed to the material order. What it takes a long course of experimentation to discover, however, is that the spiritual result is better if the direction of this instrument is turned inward. Soul is the single arbiter of value, and reads it into callous Nature as may best serve its own ends. Thus when eventually it is grasped that we eat to live rather than live to eat, the mana, or grace, or spiritual suggestion, contained in the food is transformed; so that henceforth gratitude rather than sensual gratification prevails in the mood engendered.

Any projection of mana, then, into an object such as food implies a moralization of that object, whether it be qualified naturally or not to assume such a character. Whatever its material vehicle, a miracle is always a manifestation of goodwill such as merely happens to take that outward shape. A test case is provided by those rites of multiplication which were studied so intensively by Spencer and Gillen in Central Australia. They are indeed the more worth noticing here because the closest analogies have been drawn between them and the most holy of Christian sacraments, as involving a like expression of the desire of communion with the divine. It should be observed, however, that the primitive ceremony treats the production rather than the consumption of the food as the pivot of its symbolism, so that the communion sought is not so much with the food itself as with the animal or plant species that supplies it. We are the better able to detach the leading principle from its accretions because every item of the tribal dietary is the concern of a particular human group; so that we are presented with a large number of parallel ceremonies, greatly differing in their details, though alike in their main motive. Now it is to be noticed that in many cases there is no eating at all, though multiplication is on the other hand always suggested in one form or another. The inference, therefore, is that the occasional reference to the taking of food is somehow intended to further the making of it. Thus, when the totemites partake of their totem, each member of the brotherhood is given only a minute portion. Again, when the witchetty-grub men have their stomachs rubbed with a stone representing the animal to the solemn words, ‘You have eaten much food’, they actually eat nothing at all.4 Clearly, then, this is no uplifting of the spirit such as is directly excited by the experience of a hearty feed. Whatever may be the religious associations of a Christmas dinner—and there probably lurks an anxious waiting for the turn of the year in its pre-Christian background—it is not here that its primitive counterpart is to be sought. The idea of plenty is duly expressed in the notion of much food, but at the same time is conveyed by the barest hint of actual feasting, as if that were a matter which it would be indelicate to stress. Hence, it looks rather as if the point of so scrupulous an eating were to express an apology for a none too scrupulous killing.

Now this fact, if fact it be, would in itself be enough to refute the superficial view that these rites of production are attempts to exercise mechanical control, as opposed to conciliation, in regard to the mysterious powers governing the food-supply. Even on the naturalistic level this would be bad policy; because every hunter knows that the game is shy, and must be humoured by manifestations of friendliness, such as indeed are pervaded by a large element of deceit. It requires, however, a slight extension of this argument for the gatherer of wild fruits to expect them to make a fair return for similar courtesies. It must be remembered, too, that the Arunta totems include water and cloud and even stone, all of which are supposed to be no less responsive to blandishment, although in such cases Nature does not of herself offer the slightest encouragement to such advances. In short, the savage, who when he likes can observe so closely, as when he is tracking, or, again, when he is representing the anatomy of an animal, as in those bark-drawings collected by Sir Baldwin Spencer in Northern Territory, has turned his back on the world of everyday facts when he looks for aid in a supernatural direction. Though he can picture it to himself only in the unspoken language of gesture, his underlying feelings all along acquaint him with the truth that the only possible ground for intercourse with the sacred is a moral relation. In short, to consecrate or make sacred is, here as always, simply to summon moral goodness to the rescue, when vital crisis calls attention to the utter indifference of the natural order.

This ethical quality implicit in the Australian rite of multiplication is more fully disclosed when it is set against a background consisting in the medley of practices and beliefs which Durkheim sums up under the name of ‘the totemic system’. Systematic, however, it certainly is not, unless we allow to the logic of imagination a right to prescribe its own laws of consistency. In itself, perhaps, totemism hardly amounts to a religion, being rather a cosmological extension of the idea of kinship, a sub-conscious philosophy which treats the social as a measure of the natural order. Yet as a philosophy it is decidedly to be considered of the pragmatic type; since it definitely establishes Man, in the shape of the community, at the centre of things, which thereupon group themselves round him according as his convenience may happen to dictate. Mankind is master, and these are his servants, who, having ways of their own, must nevertheless somehow bring them into conformity with his ways; their private doings being otherwise of no interest, since irrelevant to his supreme purposes. It is, in short, a scheme for the domestication of the universe on a grand scale; though domestication in the narrower sense of the word has not begun at all, and both Man and Nature still meet on equal terms as casual acquaintances. So far, then, the human imagination has merely staked out its claim to dominance, but has hardly started to work it. Indeed, one might almost be pardoned for calling this claim nominal; since a nomenclature would seem to constitute the very essence of that network of relations which totemism spreads over the world of material objects, with the result that they are predestined to human service from that moment forth. The animal or plant which Man hails as his brother will find out sooner or later that it has to live up to the part.

It would be a mistake, however, to regard the savage as an embodiment of ruthless selfishness and greed. On the contrary, perhaps for the very reason that he lives in a hard world, he appreciates friendship for its own sake, and would fain have more of it about him. Just because he is ringed round with enemies, peace in the home is very precious to him, and he can see clearly enough that to enlarge his home-circle would be pleasant as well as profitable. So he makes overtures to his neighbours across the border, more especially as the female stranger is desirable as a wife, even if her male relations are rough fellows; and over the negotiations incidental to exogamy, as also in other ways mostly arising out of these, there gradually deepens and spreads a spirit of kindliness, bound up with a rather strict etiquette. This ceremoniousness of behaviour exhibits itself largely in the form of various negative attitudes or restraints. Even in the home itself the severest taboos regulate life within the kin, while the avoidances practised in regard to near relations by marriage are hardly less cogent than they would be if these shared the common blood. So too the local group, that vaguer unity the tribe, and, vaguest of all, the loose confederation known as the nation, are severally held together by formalities excellently designed to curb the passions and prevent quarrelling—no easy thing to do among people accustomed to carry their weapons in their hands.

It is only reasonable, then, to wish to contract a similar alliance with the other denizens of the wild. Free and untamed as they still are, they obviously need to be treated with respect. Nay, they no less obviously deserve respect; for, apart from providing food, they prove otherwise useful to Man, as for instance by giving him warning, when an enemy is hiding in the bush, or if a change of weather is on its way. For the rest, they are rivals in strength, cunning, speed, and beauty, provoking that sincerest form of flattery, namely, imitation. No wonder, then, that imagination tends to glorify their secret lives; so that they are rumoured to have societies and languages of their own, about which wise men whisper what they have been privileged to learn. How greatly, then, does it jar on this readiness to esteem and honour the powers of Nature that they must likewise be regarded as there to be killed and eaten. Man cannot but experience a twinge of conscience. Needs must, when the devil of hunger drives; and yet something akin to the fear of God, who is always on the side of love, utters a remonstrance. Already at this early stage of his career Man is faced by the problem of evil. Economic law and moral law are in conflict. How, then, is he going to resolve the contradiction?

Looking forward in history, we can trace his method of tackling the problem, so far as regards the fate of the creatures suitable for the larder. Materialism, which stands for brutality, has had its way. We have by domestication produced animals such as the silly sheep, which are but travesties of the intelligent and agile wild-stock from which they are descended. The cow yields milk, and the hen eggs, according to methods of mass-production that have little regard for the individual welfare of the living machine. Dangerous animals, and incidentally a good many that are harmless or even useful, have been wiped out of existence. Perhaps we make up for it a little by lavishing kindness on horse, dog, and cat, but whether for their private advantage or not it is hard to say. On the whole, however, the cause of what the economist would call sentimentalism has decidedly not triumphed in this direction. In one way only do modern as compared with primitive ways of eating display what can be definitely claimed as a moral advance. Our zoophagy no longer includes anthropophagy. In plainer language, human flesh has been dropped from the bill of fare, and that not for scientific but for purely ethical reasons.

Returning to the savage, we find him more or less forced by circumstance to destroy life, even human life, in order either to protect or to support his own; yet always as it were under protest. What we may without exaggeration call his higher nature is revolted, and he must make terms with it if he is to retain his self-respect. This he does by making a mystery out of a brute necessity; whereas we are perhaps inclined rather to try to forget, by shutting our eyes to what actually goes on. The savage, on the other hand, is in much closer touch with Nature, having to do his own butchering for himself; and must grapple personally and in the concrete with the moral difficulty of living on one's friends. Hence any religious sweetness that he may be fortunate enough to gather must come forth almost literally from a carcass of his own slaying. He is brought right up against Nature and God, matter and spirit, in their confused association as one ambivalent force. Thus the task before him is to extricate the good principle, while reducing the bad to its true rank of a passive condition, hampering the good just in so far as it cannot be made to serve it.

The solution which the Australian rite of multiplication by its suggestion makes good and true for the believer is that there is at the heart of things a charity which ‘suffereth long and is kind’; so that unavoidable wrong-doing on the part of Man will be overlooked if pardon be asked in advance. That bare pretence of eating which is made by the members of the totem, those specially qualified ambassadors of the community, is part of a ceremony of intercession. It is penitential rather than joyous in tone, because it helps to bring about an atonement. The kindly animals and plants are being implored not to fail their humble friends and poor relations. May they multiply and prosper, so that just a bite will not be noticed, since their store of lives will not be sensibly diminished. In his own case the Australian will send back an unwanted child to be reborn, though not without decent regret, as we may well believe. How easy, then, for a powerful animal society to allow one of its members to undergo a like happy dispatch; more especially when Man is careful to do nothing to impede reincarnation in due course, but on the contrary does all he can to speed up the process.

In short, the hungry client of Nature is well aware of the precarious position in which his continual depredations have placed him. One who thus lives on sufferance would be a fool to boast of his own powers. Hence the theory that an overweening confidence in his ritual induces him prematurely to lord it over a world unable to resist his spells strikes an emotional note that is utterly false. No doubt, as compared with one of the crowd, a learned elder versed in all the details of the traditional procedure will place a certain reliance on the correctness of his technique; but this does not oblige him to believe that all uncertainty in the result will be thereby eliminated. On the contrary, we find that normally success is deemed to be conditional on a certain austerity of life which, however much it may be bound up with the formalism of taboo, has a moral significance for the genuine seeker after holiness; and undoubtedly he constitutes the rule, not the exception. The fact that ordinarily he abstains from killing and eating his totem gives the totemite the opportunity of coming forward as mediator for the rest, interposing his innocence between their guilt and an indignant withdrawal of future favours. Killing, by the way, is a worse offence against the proprieties than eating; for we are told that a man will kill neither his own nor his mother's totem, but abstains from eating the former only.5 In the death of the victim lies the sting of the tragedy, and the totemite feels for his friend and namesake; even though, as go-between for the tribe, he is in some sort acting as his friend's betrayer, and is in fact but offering the kiss of a Judas.

It is unnecessary to examine here in all their variety the ritual expedients whereby the different groups seek to encourage fertility in their totems, which number several scores. Suffice it to say that, however mechanical in appearance, these observances are by no means so in their real intent. After all, no communication is possible except by some kind of exteriorization of the idea exchanged, and symbols are always adaptations of an irrelevant matter, whether they take an audible, a visible, or a ponderable form. The Australian native relies on visualization and manipulation to eke out a halting vocabulary. Yet it does not in the least follow that he is not using them in order to convey a meaning; and, if we cannot catch it, so much the worse for our interpretation of his inner life. Indeed, as has been already noted, id is fairly clear that symbolization has begun when the utilitarian function is superseded, as in the case of the stone bull-roarer. From this there emanates no longer a mysterious noise, but an even more mysterious soul; which in one aspect goes forth thence to be born, while in its twin aspect it continues to abide there, as stable and unchanging as its stone habitation itself. Now is it fair to say in such a case that the heathen bows down to wood and stone because he thinks in images, as all religion must? His belief in the dual nature of the soul, at once eternal and subject to reincarnation, is a subtle piece of transcendental philosophy; and, if he gets it down in wood or stone, instead of on paper, he has even so done something to fix it.

Or, again, his drawings on the surface of the bull-roarers, or on the rocks of his sacred places, would rejoice the heart of some modern artists, so complete is the break with representationism. On the other hand, those who are initiated in the rich but involved details of each totemic myth find in these meandering traceries numberless keys to sacred story. For not only the external form of the totem, but its interior parts, its tracks, its legendary wanderings and so on are sufficiently indicated therein for those whose minds are taught to meet allegory halfway. In short, we have here a pictorial Bible, the parables of which the old men make it their first duty to expound to the younger members of each totemic congregation.

Let us remember, too, that the general effect of all such references to the legendary past is to bring the totem and his human namesake nearer together, until they lose their separate identities in a common, or rather neutral, ancestry. Thus the authority of an immemorial tradition confirms the claim that men, animals, and plants are ‘all-one-flesh’. Nor does any physiological objection arise to such a confounding of substance, since neither in the case of Man nor in that of the rest is mating associated with breeding; but both alike are held to come forth from similar, though distinct, stocks and stones, being likewise responsive to ritual invitation in exactly the same way. Thus we find ourselves in a strange world, where adaptation to a cruel environment has taken the form of an imagined sympathy between all the living things that it contains—not the misnamed sympathy of a so-called sympathetic magic alleged to disguise a purely mechanical relation, but a literal sympathy of the moral kind. Half sincerely, half in guile, the hunter professes sorrow over the fate of the game, and in his bloodguiltiness would avert future evil, even while securing present good, by making amends and calling back the dead to life. This works economically only because it works morally, by making him feel less of a beast of prey and more of a responsible man. Subconsciously, too, by reading his own feelings into creatures of another order, he has caught a glimpse, as in a dim mirror, of himself as likewise dying to live—doomed to a vicarious suffering that yet leaves his immortal part untouched.

Such then, in brief and imperfect outline, is a mystic paraphrase of the gory business of killing to eat that comes straight from the heart of the modern Stone Age. Out of the simplest materials it constructs an imagery which consecrates or debrutalizes the natural process by representing it as a moral relation, namely, as a giving and a receiving of help in a great need. That it is an authentic achievement of the primitive mind will be manifest to any one who observes the homespun character of the symbolism. As, however, the chronologically primitive is less suspect, since it could not possibly have borrowed from higher sources that did not then exist, it may be worth calling to mind the extraordinary parallelism that exists between Australia and the Upper Palaeolithic of Europe as regards ritual customs, well attested in the one case, and inferred with considerable plausibility in the other. We are therefore not likely to be wrong in assuming the sacramental purpose to have been much the same; though in face of the silent relics of a remote past we cannot but feel like ignorant and unguided visitors to a museum who gaze blankly at some case of uncouth oddments labelled ‘ceremonial objects’.

Perhaps the outstanding fact that strikes us about these practices, conducted so far away from the light of day in the recesses of some dreadful cavern, is that they must have been mysteries. Evidently they were set apart from the common business of life, including the daily search for food, and belonged to another world. Here Nature provided ready-made a palpable semblance of the spiritual region, that dark interior wherein the elect might nevertheless kindle a light and contemplate visionary shapes of their own creation. That these figures are, unlike the rock-drawings of the Australians, conceived in relatively realistic fashion can hardly be taken as a proof that the symbolism was less advanced. For it must be contended with equal truth that stylism is often akin to ritualism, a result of unintelligent repetition, and may thus stand for sheer loss, as well as for dematerialization, of meaning.

As for the underlying motive of these rites, the notion of multiplication is suggested by the coupled bisons, male with female, of the cave-sanctuary of Tuc d'Audoubert. Nay, it looks as if the physiology of procreation were better understood in ancient Europe than in modern Australia; unless indeed in the latter case the natural process is not so much unknown as ignored, the whole responsibility for birth having been taken over by religion, with its reliance on the miraculous adequacy of reincarnation. On the other hand, Europe as compared with Australia is less careful to gloss over the cruelty of killing, and the wall-paintings depicting open wounds and adhering weapons, not to speak of the clay images of Montespan where a real spear has been repeatedly thrust into the cave-bear's heart, openly proclaim a lust for slaughter, hardly compatible, one would suppose, with any desire to secure the goodwill of the victim. After all, there were killers in plenty among the beasts of those days, and, as with the human enemy, it may have been felt that the proper time to come to terms with their mana was after they had been duly dispatched. Since, however, there is no inconsistency in at once admiring and fearing, even though these attitudes dictate opposite types of reaction, there may well have prevailed some cult of the cave-bear, the presiding genius as it were of the dark sanctuaries which witnessed Man's defiant gestures. Thus, in the emotional complex excited by the mock-killing of the arch-killer, there would be a struggle between hatred and sympathy, arrogance and adulation, the desire to destroy and the desire to imitate. In any form of religious awe, however, there is always a gentler element that is bound to predominate as morality develops. In the meantime, to recognize nobility in the adversary is half-way on the road to communion with him.

From these first beginnings of the food-rite it would take us too far if we were to go on to consider the change of orientation brought about by the domestication of animals and plants, the decisive discovery to which civilization is due. Man is henceforth the aristocrat, and the other living things must serve his will; their good counting for nothing so far as it conflicts with his. Hence if he looks outwards for superhuman powers that may befriend him, he will not find them here, where the level has become definitely subhuman. For all its inventiveness, however, the human species, having steadily continued to populate up to the famine-line, has by no means abolished the necessity to pray for its daily bread. So the corn-sheaf becomes the corn-mother, a semi-humanized being who can bless the harvest-home in a real presence; and ritual must make this a sensible presence as well, for those who find it hard to believe what they cannot see.

Indeed, so far as concerns the need of ocular proofs, it may well be that the grosser type of peasant is as little able to dissociate the source of the blessing from the actual grain as is the primitive hunter to look beyond the game itself for his hunting mana. For such unreflective folk the inspiration must come from a direct contemplation of their task; though religion strives to display it in a new light by dramatizing at once its promise and the need for preliminary attention. Thus the low-caste agriculturist of India does puja to the very implements of his labour, that they may not fail him but bring him luck. So too his holomorphism, as it may be called, or incapacity to perceive religious value except under a concrete shape, leads him to treat the sensible earth and sky, not of course as causes, nor necessarily as persons, but as life-giving influences which are therefore somehow full of life in themselves. To impute soul or personality, as an indwelling principle that owns and directs the visible bodies, is a refinement marking the inception of a conceptional stage of intelligence, which might in contradistinction to the other be termed ideomorphism. This is the moment when a theology comes into existence. But ideas provide the superstructure rather than the foundations of religion. Whether as departmentalized in a polytheism, or subsumed under a universalized Providence, the old Nature-powers, that seemed to feed mankind from their very substance, become more and more independent of the material goods that they lavish; having been raised from the sense-world to an intelligible sphere in which they can reveal their true character as moral forces.

Meanwhile, as the gulf widens between gift and giver, between a self-multiplying food and the dole that a wealthy owner provides from his unlimited store, the ritual forms which grew out of the conditions of the hunter's life are strained to breaking-point. Doubtless the logic of the changed situation might be met by transferring attention from the pains of seeking to the joys of receiving. Man's part must now be to render thanks to the moral personality that confers the material blessing. Many stumbling-blocks, however, lie along this path of thought, more especially when it seeks dramatic expression in ritual. Thus, since, in order that he may be thanked, it is necessary to conceive the god as in some sense present at the feast, it is easy to fancy him an actual participator in it, like some great man who sits and dines delicately above the salt in his own hall. Nay, such an overlord, though ultimate possessor and controller of the estate, may nevertheless expect to live on the services of his retainers; whose feelings of indebtedness will to a like extent be qualified by a sense of their own deserts, leading to outbreaks of the bargaining temper. In any case gratitude is, perhaps, not among the most deep-seated of human sentiments, and implies reflection on the moral, behind the physical, benefit. In other words, the miracle of food-production must appear as a miracle of love, if it is to provoke some tribute of love by way of remembrance and return.

Now in its own fashion the ancient hunting rite of the kindly beast that dies in order to impart the blessing is essentially tragic, rousing pity and fear in the breast of the human beneficiary, slayer and eater though he be. To this self-sacrifice the munificence of the most bountiful of cattle-owners can offer no fitting parallel. To give of one's livelihood does not amount to the giving of one's life. Thus there is a terrible temptation, when once the animal has lost caste by exchanging the freedom of the forest for the servitude of the pen, to transfer to a human victim the type of the suffering friend of mankind. This is the humanization of mana with a vengeance; yet, blood for blood, the man's against the animal's, there can be no doubt which of the two is the more potent to stir and touch the horrified beholder. Moreover, in the case of the plant, which as time goes on comes more and more to outrival the animal as the provider of Man's staple diet, it is hard to apply the imagery of death and resurrection with due insistence on the pathos of such a martyrdom; since it is very difficult to believe that the ordinary vegetable has any feelings on the subject. A mandrake, indeed, may shriek when it is pulled out of the ground, but that is just because it obviously is a sort of man. So too, then, it is convenient for ritual purposes that there should be a human representation of the vegetation-god, as for instance happened in Mexico, if justice is to be done to the reversal of conditions on which the plot of the mystery hinges—to the sorrow that precedes the joy, the surrender that must pay for the release.

So much, then, in outline, for the repercussions of the hard realities of the food-quest within the religious consciousness of simple folk, who would fain do justice to such a fundamental condition of good living, by making the evil in it seem to subserve that end. In the picture-language which emotion needs for the expression of its values, the pain of the struggle between hunter and hunted, their common experience of which Man sympathetically credits his prey with a full share, is weighed against the life-giving result. Thus a justification of the ways of Providence is achieved, in so far as the pain is found to lessen as hope and courage are increased. Eating in God is not eating in pleasure. A shallow philosophy of ‘eat, drink and be merry’ is utterly foreign to the mood of one whose consecrated meal is the happy ending of what has up to that point been a passion-play. Rather he eats in fear, since fear supplies the background of his sense of sudden relief. Reviewing in imagination the ups and downs of his hand-to-mouth existence, he seeks by means of his ritual to make, not a scientific, but a moral construction out of it, and would confront life as a responsible being whose natural impulses must be forced to conform to his scheme of values.

The wolf kills ruthlessly and eats voraciously; ‘for ‘tis his nature to’. Man, on the other hand, despite a full endowment of wolfish instincts, can see far enough ahead of them to descry a better world where one kills circumspectly and even remorsefully, and eats under obligation to respect the laws and decencies of the chase. The good hunter is not merely he who can use his weapons; he must above all be one who can maintain the honour of a sacred calling. If his skill is to be crowned with luck, he must have been initiated into the mysteries. He must belong to the brotherhood of those who make solemn profession of the desire to help their helpers, and by reviving them to make atonement for such wrong as Man may inevitably have caused them to suffer. So the savage goes forth to hunt the more fearlessly because he is learning to be fearful of his own savagery. By its half-conscious efforts to become humane, his human nature attains to a heightened courage, which comes from the heart of the experience itself, and thus is truly the result of an evolution or unfolding.

  • 1.

    W. W. Skeat, Folk-lore, xiii. 161.

  • 2.

    Compare A. W. Howitt, J. Anthrop. Inst. xvi. 29 n.

  • 3.

    W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas, 424.

  • 4.

    Spencer and Gillen, op. cit. i. 147–9.

  • 5.

    Spencer and Gillen, op. cit. i. 117.