The Making of Religion
by Andrew Lang
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Next Mr. Tylor introduces an important personage. 'The theory of family Manes, carried back to tribal Gods, leads to the recognition of superior deities of the nature of Divine Ancestor, or First Man,' who sometimes ranks as Lord of the Dead. As an instance, Mr. Tylor gives the Maori Maui, who, like the Indian Yama, trod first of men the path of death. But whether Maui and Yama are the Sun, or not, both Maori and Sanskrit religion regard these heroes as much later than the Original Gods. In Kamschatka the First Man is the 'son' of the Creator, and it is about the origin of the idea of the Creator, not of the First Man, that we are inquiring. Adam is called 'the son of God' in a Biblical genealogy, but, of course, Adam was made, not begotten. The case of the Zulu belief will be analysed later. On the whole, we cannot explain away the conception of the Creator as a form of the conception of an idealised divine First Ancestor, because the conception of a Creator occurs where ancestor-worship does not occur; and again, because, supposing that the idea of a Creator came first, and that ancestor-worship later grew more popular, the popular idea of Ancestor might be transferred to the waning idea of Creator. The Creator might be recognised as the First Ancestor, apres coup.

Mr. Tylor next approaches Dualism, the idea of hostile Good and Bad Beings. We must, as he says, be careful to discount European teaching, still, he admits, the savage has this dualistic belief in a 'primitive' form. But the savage conception is not merely that of 'good = friendly to me,' 'bad = hostile to me.' Ethics, as we shall show, already come into play in his theology.

Mr. Tylor arrives, at last, at the Supreme Being of savage creeds. His words, well weighed, must be cited textually—

'To mark off the doctrines of monotheism, closer definition is required [than the bare idea of a Supreme Creator], assigning the distinctive attributes of Deity to none save the Almighty Creator. It may be declared that, in this strict sense, no savage tribe of monotheists has been ever known.[12] Nor are any fair representatives of the lower culture in a strict sense pantheists. The doctrine which they do widely hold, and which opens to them a course tending in one or other of these directions, is polytheism culminating in the rule of one supreme divinity. High above the doctrine of souls, of divine Manes, of local nature gods, of the great gods of class and element, there are to be discerned in barbaric theology, shadowings, quaint or majestic, of the conception of a Supreme Deity, henceforth to be traced onward in expanding power and brightening glory along the history of Religion. It is no unimportant task, partial as it is, to select and group the typical data which show the nature and position of the doctrine of supremacy, as it comes into view within the lower culture.[13]

We shall show that certain low savages are as monotheistic as some Christians. They have a Supreme Being, and the 'distinctive attributes of Deity' are not by them assigned to other beings, further than as Christianity assigns them to Angels, Saints, the Devil, and, strange as it appears, among savages, to mediating 'Sons.'

It is not known that, among the Andamanese and other tribes, this last notion is due to missionary influence. But, in regard to the whole chapter of savage Supreme Beings, we must, as Mr. Tylor advises, keep watching for Christian and Islamite contamination. The savage notions, as Mr. Tylor says, even when thus contaminated, may have 'to some extent, a native substratum.' We shall select such savage examples of the idea of a Supreme Being as are attested by ancient native hymns, or are inculcated in the most sacred and secret savage institutions, the religious Mysteries (manifestly the last things to be touched by missionary influence), or are found among low insular races defended from European contact by the jealous ferocity and poisonous jungles of people and soil. We also note cases in which missionaries found such native names as 'Father,' 'Ancient of Heaven,' 'Maker of All,' ready-made to their hands.

It is to be remarked that, while this branch of the inquiry is practically omitted by Mr. Spencer, Mr. Tylor can spare for it but some twenty pages out of his large work. He arranges the probable germs of the savage idea of a Supreme Being thus: A god of the polytheistic crowd is simply raised to the primacy, which, of course, cannot occur where there is no polytheism. Or the principle of Manes worship may make a Supreme Deity out of 'a primeval ancestor' say Unkulunkulu, who is so far from being supreme, that he is abject. Or, again, a great phenomenon or force in Nature-worship, say Sun, or Heaven, is raised to supremacy. Or speculative philosophy ascends from the Many to the One by trying to discern through and beyond the universe a First Cause. Animistic conceptions thus reach their utmost limit in the notion of the Anima Mundi. He may accumulate all powers of all polytheistic gods, or he may 'loom vast, shadowy, and calm ... too benevolent to need human worship ... too merely existent to concern himself with the petty race of men.'[14] But he is always animistic.

Now, in addition to the objections already noted in passing, how can we tell that the Supreme Being of low savages was, in original conception, animistic at all? How can we know that he was envisaged, originally, as Spirit? We shall show that he probably was not, that the question 'spirit or not spirit' was not raised at all, that the Maker and Father in Heaven, prior to Death, was merely regarded as a deathless Being, no question of 'spirit' being raised. If so, Animism was not needed for the earliest idea of a moral Eternal. This hypothesis will be found to lead to some very singular conclusions.

It will be more fully stated and illustrated, presently, but I find that it had already occurred to Dr. Brinton.[15] He is talking specially of a heaven-god; he says 'it came to pass that the idea of God was linked to the heavens long ere man asked himself, Are the heavens material and God spiritual?' Dr. Brinton, however, does not develop his idea, nor am I aware that it has been developed previously.

The notion of a God about whose spirituality nobody has inquired is new to us. To ourselves, and doubtless or probably to barbarians on a certain level of culture, such a Divine Being must be animistic, must be a 'spirit.' To take only one case, to which we shall return, the Banks Islanders (Melanesia) believe in ghosts, 'and in the existence of Beings who were not, and never had been, human. All alike might be called spirits,' says Dr. Codrington, but, ex hypothesi, the Beings 'who never were human' are only called 'spirits,' by us, because our habits of thought do not enable us to envisage them except as 'spirits.' They never were men, 'the natives will always maintain that he (the Vui) was something different, and deny to him the fleshly body of a man,' while resolute that he was not a ghost.[16]

This point will be amply illustrated later, as we study that strangely neglected chapter, that essential chapter, the Higher beliefs of the Lowest savages. Of the existence of a belief in a Supreme Being, not as merely 'alleged,' there is as good evidence as we possess for any fact in the ethnographic region.

It is certain that savages, when first approached by curious travellers, and missionaries, have again and again recognised our God in theirs.

The mythical details and fables about the savage God are, indeed, different; the ethical, benevolent, admonishing, rewarding, and creative aspects of the Gods are apt to be the same.[17]

'There is no necessity for beginning to tell even the most degraded of these people of the existence of God, or of a future state, 'the facts being universally admitted.'[18]

'Intelligent men among the Bakwains have scouted the idea of any of them ever having been without a tolerably clear conception of good and evil, God and the future state; Nothing we indicate as sin ever appeared to them as otherwise,' except polygamy, says Livingstone.

Now we may agree with Mr. Tylor that modern theologians, familiar with savage creeds, will scarcely argue that 'they are direct or nearly direct products of revelation' (vol. ii. p. 356). But we may argue that, considering their nascent ethics (denied or minimised by many anthropologists) and the distance which separates the high gods of savagery from the ghosts out of which they are said to have sprung; considering too, that the relatively pure and lofty element which, ex hypothesi, is most recent in evolution, is also, not the most honoured, but often just the reverse; remembering, above all, that we know nothing historically of the mental condition of the founders of religion, we may hesitate to accept the anthropological hypothesis en masse. At best it is conjectural, and the facts are such that opponents have more justification than is commonly admitted for regarding the bulk of savage religion as degenerate, or corrupted, from its own highest elements. I am by no means, as yet, arguing positively in favour of that hypothesis, but I see what its advocates mean, or ought to mean, and the strength of their position. Mr. Tylor, with his unique fairness, says 'the degeneration theory, no doubt in some instances with justice, may claim such beliefs as mutilated and perverted remains of higher religion' (vol. ii. p. 336).

I do not pretend to know how the lowest savages evolved the theory of a God who reads the heart and 'makes for righteousness,' It is as easy, almost, for me to believe that they 'were not left without a witness,' as to believe that this God of theirs was evolved out of the maleficent ghost of a dirty mischievous medicine-man.

Here one may repeat that while the 'quaint or majestic foreshadowings' of a Supreme Being, among very low savages, are only sketched lightly by Mr. Tylor; in Mr. Herbert Spencer's system they seem to be almost omitted. In his 'Principles of Sociology' and 'Ecclesiastical Institutions' one looks in vain for an adequate notice; in vain for almost any notice, of this part of his topic. The watcher of conduct, the friendly, creative being of low savage faith, whence was he evolved? The circumstance of his existence, as far as I can see; the chastity, the unselfishness, the pitifulness, the loyalty to plighted word, the prohibition of even extra-tribal homicide, enjoined in various places on his worshippers, are problems that appear somehow to have escaped Mr. Spencer's notice. We are puzzled by endless difficulties in his system: for example as to how savages can forget their great-grandfathers' very names, and yet remember 'traditional persons from generation to generation,' so that 'in time any amount of expansion and idealisation can be reached,'[19]

Again, Mr. Spencer will argue that it is a strange thing if 'primitive men had, as some think, the consciousness of a Universal Power whence they and all other things proceeded,' and yet 'spontaneously performed to that Power an act like that performed by them to the dead body of a fellow savage'—by offerings of food.[20]

Now, first, there would be nothing strange in the matter if the crude idea of 'Universal Power' came earliest, and was superseded, in part, by a later propitiation of the dead and ghosts. The new religious idea would soon refract back on, and influence by its ritual, the older conception. And, secondly, it is precisely this 'Universal Power' that is not propitiated by offerings of food, in Tonga, (despite Mr. Huxley) Australia, and Africa, for example. We cannot escape the difficulty by saying that there the old ghost of Universal Power is regarded as dead, decrepit, or as a roi-faineant not worth propitiating, for that is not true of the punisher of sin, the teacher of generosity, and the solitary sanction of faith between men and peoples.

It would appear then, on the whole, that the question of the plain man to the anthropologist, 'Having got your idea of spirit into the savage's mind, how does he develop out of it what I call God?' has not been answered. God cannot be a reflection from human kings where there have been no kings; nor a president elected out of a polytheistic society of gods where there is as yet no polytheism; nor an ideal first ancestor where men do not worship their ancestors; while, again, the spirit of a man who died, real or ideal, does not answer to a common savage conception of the Creator. All this will become much more obvious as we study in detail the highest gods of the lowest races.

Our study, of course, does not pretend to embrace the religion of all the savages in the world. We are content with typical, and, as a rule, well-observed examples. We range from the creeds of the most backward and worst-equipped nomad races, to those of peoples with an aristocracy, hereditary kings, houses and agriculture, ending with the Supreme Being of the highly civilised Incas, and with the Jehovah of the Hebrews.

[Footnote 1: Journal Anthrop. Inst. xi. 874. We shall return to this passage.]

[Footnote 2: Vol. i. p. 389, 1892.]

[Footnote 3: Payne, i. 458.]

[Footnote 4: Prim. Cult. vol. ii. p. 381; Science and Hebrew Tradition, pp. 346, 372.]

[Footnote 5: Prim. Cult. vol. ii. p. 109.]

[Footnote 6: Ibid. vol. ii. p. 110.]

[Footnote 7: Ibid. vol. ii. p. 113.]

[Footnote 8: Prim. Cult. vol. ii. pp. 115, 116, citing Callaway and others.]

[Footnote 9: The Zulu religion will be analysed later.]

[Footnote 10: Prim. Cult. vol. ii. pp. 130-144.]

[Footnote 11: Ibid. vol. ii. p. 248.]

[Footnote 12: And very few civilised populations, if any, are monotheistic in this sense.]

[Footnote 13: Prim. Cult. vol. ii. pp. 332, 333.]

[Footnote 14: Prim. Cult. vol. ii. pp. 335, 336.]

[Footnote 15: Myths of the New World, 1868, p. 47.]

[Footnote 16: I observed this point in Myth, Ritual, and Religion, while I did not see the implication, that the idea of 'spirit' was not necessarily present in the savage conception of the primal Beings, Creators, or Makers.]

[Footnote 17: See one or two cases in Prim. Cult. vol. ii. p. 340.]

[Footnote 18: Livingstone, speaking of the Bakwain, Missionary Travels, p. 168.]

[Footnote 19: Principles of Sociology, vol. i. p. 450.]

[Footnote 20: Op. cit. vol. i. p. 302.]



To avoid misconception we must repeat the necessary cautions about accepting evidence as to high gods of low races. The missionary who does not see in every alien god a devil is apt to welcome traces of an original supernatural revelation, darkened by all peoples but the Jews. We shall not, however, rely much on missionary evidence, and, when we do, we must now be equally on our guard against the anthropological bias in the missionary himself. Having read Mr. Spencer and Mr. Tylor, and finding himself among ancestor-worshippers (as he sometimes does), he is apt to think that ancestor-worship explains any traces of a belief in the Supreme Being. Against each and every bias of observers we must be watchful.

It may be needful, too, to point out once again another weak point in all reasoning about savage religion, namely that we cannot always tell what may have been borrowed from Europeans. Thus, the Fuegians, in 1830-1840, were far out of the way, but one tribe, near Magellan's Straits, worshipped an image called Cristo. Fitzroy attributes this obvious trace of Catholicism to a Captain Pelippa, who visited the district some time before his own expedition. It is less probable that Spaniards established a belief in a moral Deity in regions where they left no material traces of their faith. The Fuegians are not easily proselytised. 'When discovered by strangers, the instant impulse of a Fuegian family is to run off into the woods.' Occasionally they will emerge to barter, but 'sometimes nothing will induce a single individual of the family to appear.' Fitzroy thought they had no idea of a future state, because, among other reasons not given, 'the evil spirit torments them in this world, if they do wrong, by storms, hail, snow, &c.' Why the evil spirit should punish evil deeds is not evident. 'A great black man is supposed to be always wandering about the woods and mountains, who is certain of knowing every word and every action, who cannot be escaped and who influences the weather according to men's conduct.'[1]

There are no traces of propitiation by food, or sacrifice, or anything but conduct. To regard the Deity as 'a magnified non-natural man' is not peculiar to Fuegian theologians, and does not imply Animism, but the reverse. But the point is that this ethical judge of perhaps the lowest savages 'makes for righteousness' and searches the heart. His morality is so much above the ordinary savage standard that he regards the slaying of a stranger and an enemy, caught redhanded in robbery, as a sin. York's brother (York was a Fuegian brought to England by Fitzroy) killed a 'wild man' who was stealing his birds. 'Rain come down, snow come down, hail come down, wind blow, blow, very much blow. Very bad to kill man. Big man in woods no like it, he very angry.' Here be ethics in savage religion. The Sixth Commandment is in force. The Being also prohibits the slaying of flappers before they can fly. 'Very bad to shoot little duck, come wind, come rain, blow, very much blow.'[2]

Now this big man is not a deified chief, for the Fuegians 'have no superiority of one over another ... but the doctor-wizard of each party has much influence.' Mr. Spencer disposes of this moral 'big man' of the Fuegians as 'evidently a deceased weather-doctor.'[3] But, first, there is no evidence that the being is regarded as ever having died. Again, it is not shown that Fuegians are ancestor-worshippers. Next, Fitzroy did not think that the Fuegians believed in a future life. Lastly, when were medicine-men such notable moralists? The worst spirits among the neighbouring Patagonians are those of dead medicine-men. As a rule everywhere the ghost of a 'doctor-wizard,' shaman, or whatever he may be called, is the worst and wickedest of all ghosts. How, then, the Fuegians, who are not proved to be ancestor-worshippers, evolved out of the malignant ghost of an ancestor a being whose strong point is morality, one does not easily conceive. The adjacent Chonos 'have great faith in a good spirit, whom they call Yerri Yuppon, and consider to be the author of all good; him they invoke in distress or danger.' However starved they do not touch food till a short prayer has been muttered over each portion, 'the praying man looking upward.'[4] They have magicians, but no details are given as to spirits or ghosts. If Fuegian and Chono religion is on this level, and if this be the earliest, then the theology of many other higher savages (as of the Zulus) is decidedly degenerate. 'The Bantu gives one accustomed to the negro the impression that he once had the same set of ideas, but has forgotten half of them,' says Miss Kingsley.[5]

Of all races now extant, the Australians are probably lowest in culture, and, like the fauna of the continent, are nearest to the primitive model. They have neither metals, bows, pottery, agriculture, nor fixed habitations; and no traces of higher culture have anywhere been found above or in the soil of the continent. This is important, for in some respects their religious conceptions are so lofty that it would be natural to explain them as the result either of European influence, or as relics of a higher civilisation in the past. The former notion is discredited by the fact that their best religious ideas are imparted in connection with their ancient and secret mysteries, while for the second idea, that they are degenerate from a loftier civilisation, there is absolutely no evidence.

It has been suggested, indeed, by Mr. Spencer that the singularly complex marriage customs of the Australian blacks point to a more polite condition in their past history. Of this stage, as we said, no material traces have ever been discovered, nor can degeneration be recent. Our earliest account of the Australians is that of Dampier, who visited New Holland in the unhappy year 1688. He found the natives 'the miserablest people in the world. The Hodmadods, of Mononamatapa, though a nasty people, yet for wealth are gentlemen to these: who have no houses, sheep, poultry, and fruits of the earth.... They have no houses, but lie in the open air.' Curiously enough, Dampier attests their unselfishness: the main ethical feature in their religious teaching. 'Be it little or be it much they get, every one has his part, as well the young and tender as the old and feeble, who are not able to go abroad, as the strong and lusty.' Dampier saw no metals used, nor any bows, merely boomerangs ('wooden cutlasses'), and lances with points hardened in the fire. 'Their place of dwelling was only a fire with a few boughs before it' (the gunyeh).

This description remains accurate for most of the unsophisticated Australian tribes, but Dampier appears only to have seen ichthyophagous coast blacks.

There is one more important point. In the Bora, or Australian mysteries, at which knowledge of 'The Maker' and of his commandments is imparted, the front teeth of the initiated are still knocked out. Now, Dampier observed 'the two fore-teeth of their upper jaw are wanting in all of them, men and women, old and young.' If this is to be taken quite literally, the Bora rite, in 1688, must have included the women, at least locally. Dampier was on the north-west coast in latitude 16 degrees, longitude 122-1/4 degrees east (Dampier Land, West Australia). The natives had neither boats, canoes, nor bark logs; but it seems that they had their religious mysteries and their unselfishness, two hundred years ago.[6]

The Australians have been very carefully studied by many observers, and the results entirely overthrow Mr. Huxley's bold statement that 'in its simplest condition, such as may be met with among the Australian savages, theology is a mere belief in the existence, powers, and dispositions (usually malignant) of ghost-like entities who may be propitiated or scared away; but no cult can properly be said to exist. And in this stage theology is wholly independent of ethics.'

Remarks more crudely in defiance of known facts could not be made. The Australians, assuredly, believe in 'spirits,' often malicious, and probably in most cases regarded as ghosts of men. These aid the wizard, and occasionally inspire him. That these ghosts are worshipped does not appear, and is denied by Waitz. Again, in the matter of cult, 'there is none' in the way of sacrifice to higher gods, as there should be if these gods were hungry ghosts. The cult among the Australians is the keeping of certain 'laws,' expressed in moral teaching, supposed to be in conformity with the institutes of their God. Worship takes the form, as at Eleusis, of tribal mysteries, originally instituted, as at Eleusis, by the God. The young men are initiated with many ceremonies, some of which are cruel and farcical, but the initiation includes ethical instruction, in conformity with the supposed commands of a God who watches over conduct. As among ourselves, the ethical ideal, with its theological sanction, is probably rather above the moral standard of ordinary practice. What conclusion we should draw from these facts is uncertain, but the facts, at least, cannot be disputed, and precisely contradict the statement of Mr. Huxley. He was wholly in the wrong when he said: 'The moral code, such as is implied by public opinion, derives no sanction from theological dogmas,'[7] It reposes, for its origin and sanction, on such dogmas.

The evidence as to Australian religion is abundant, and is being added to yearly. I shall here content myself with Mr. Howitt's accounts.[8]

As regards the possible evolution of the Australian God from ancestor-worship, it must be noted that Mr. Howitt credits the groups with possessing 'headmen,' a kind of chiefs, whereas some inquirers, in Brough Smyth's collection, disbelieve in regular chiefs. Mr. Howitt writes:—

'The Supreme Spirit, who is believed in by all the tribes I refer to here [in South-Eastern Australia], either as a benevolent, or more frequently as a malevolent being, it seems to me represents the defunct headman.'

Now, the traces of 'headmanship' among the tribes are extremely faint; no such headman rules large areas of country, none is known to be worshipped after death, and the malevolence of the Supreme Spirit is not illustrated by the details of Mr. Howitt's own statement, but the reverse. Indeed, he goes on at once to remark that 'Darumulun was not, it seems to me, everywhere thought a malevolent being, but he was dreaded as one who could severely punish the trespasses committed against these tribal ordinances and customs whose first institution is ascribed to him.'

To punish transgressions of his law is not the essence of a malevolent being. Darumulun 'watched the youths from the sky, prompt to punish, by disease or death, the breach of his ordinances,' moral or ritual. His name is too sacred to be spoken except in whispers, and the anthropologist will observe that the names of the human dead are also often tabooed. But the divine name is not thus tabooed and sacred when the mere folklore about him is narrated. The informants of Mr. Howitt instinctively distinguished between the mythology and the religion of Darumulun.[9] This distinction— the secrecy about the religion, the candour about the mythology—is essential, and accounts for our ignorance about the inner religious beliefs of early races. Mr. Howitt himself knew little till he was initiated. The grandfather of Mr. Howitt's friend, before the white men came to Melbourne, took him out at night, and, pointing to a star, said: 'You will soon be a man; you see Bunjil [Supreme Being of certain tribes] up there, and he can see you, and all you do down here.' Mr. Palmer, speaking of the Mysteries of Northern Australians (mysteries under divine sanction), mentions the nature of the moral instruction. Each lad is given, 'by one of the elders, advice so kindly, fatherly, and impressive, as often to soften the heart, and draw tears from the youth.' He is to avoid adultery, not to take advantage of a woman if he finds her alone, he is not to be quarrelsome.[10]

At the Mysteries Darumulun's real name may be uttered, at other times he is 'Master' (Biamban) or 'Father' (Papang), exactly as we say 'Lord' and 'Father.'

It is known that all these things are not due to missionaries, whose instructions would certainly not be conveyed in the Bora, or tribal mysteries, which, again, are partly described by Collins as early as 1798, and must have been practised in 1688. Mr. Howitt mentions, among moral lessons divinely sanctioned, respect for old age, abstinence from lawless love, and avoidance of the sins so popular, poetic, and sanctioned by the example of Gods, in classical Greece.[11] A representation is made of the Master, Biamban; and to make such idols, except at the Mysteries, is forbidden 'under pain of death.' Those which are made are destroyed as soon as the rites are ended.[12] The future life (apparently) is then illustrated by the burial of a living elder, who rises from a grave. This may, however, symbolise the 'new life' of the Mystae, 'Worse have I fled; better have I found,' as was sung in an Athenian rite. The whole result is, by what Mr. Howitt calls 'a quasi-religious element,' to 'impress upon the mind of the youth, in an indelible manner, those rules of conduct which form the moral law of the tribe.'[13]

Many other authorities could be adduced for the religious sanction of morals in Australia. A watchful being observes and rewards the conduct or men; he is named with reverence, if named at all; his abode is the heavens; he is the Master and Lord of things; his lessons 'soften the heart,'[14]

'What wants this Knave That a God should have?'

I shall now demonstrate that the religion patronised by the Australian Supreme Being, and inculcated in his Mysteries, is actually used to counteract the immoral character which natives acquire by associating with Anglo-Saxon Christians.[15]

Mr. Howitt[16] gives an account of the Jeraeil, or Mysteries of the Kurnai. The old men deemed that through intercourse with whites 'the lads had become selfish and no longer inclined to share that which they obtained by their own exertions, or had given them, with their friends.' One need not say that selflessness is the very essence of goodness, and the central moral doctrine of Christianity. So it is in the religious Mysteries of the African Yao; a selfish man, we shall see, is spoken of as 'uninitiated.' So it is with the Australian Kurnai, whose mysteries and ethical teaching are under the sanction of their Supreme Being. So much for the anthropological dogma that early theology has no ethics.

The Kurnai began by kneading the stomachs of the lads about to be initiated (that is, if they have been associating with Christians), to expel selfishness and greed. The chief rite, later, is to blindfold every lad, with a blanket closely drawn over his head, to make whirring sounds with the tundun, or Greek rhombos, then to pluck off the blankets, and bid the initiate raise their faces to the sky. The initiator points to it, calling out, 'Look there, look there, look there!' They have seen in this solemn way the home of the Supreme Being, 'Our Father,' Mungan-ngaur (Mungan = 'Father,' ngaur = 'our'), whose doctrine is then unfolded by the old initiator ('headman') 'in an impressive manner.'[17] 'Long ago there was a great Being, Mungan-ngaur, who lived on the earth.' His son Tundun is direct ancestor of the Kurnai. Mungan initiated the rites, and destroyed earth by water when they were impiously revealed. 'Mungan left the earth, and ascended to the sky, where he still remains.'

Here Mungan-ngaur, a Being not defined as spirit, but immortal, and dwelling in heaven, is Father, or rather grandfather, not maker, of the Kurnai. This may be interpreted as ancestor-worship, but the opposite myth, of making or creating, is of frequent occurrence in many widely-severed Australian districts, and co-exists with evolutionary myths. Mungan-ngaur's precepts are:

1. To listen to and obey the old men. 2. To share everything they have with their friends. 3. To live peaceably with their friends.

4. Not to interfere with girls or married women.

5. To obey the food restrictions until they are released from them by the old men.

Mr. Howitt concludes: 'I venture to assert that it can no longer be maintained that the Australians have no belief which can be called religious, that is, in the sense of beliefs which govern tribal and individual morality under a supernatural sanction.' On this topic Mr. Hewitt's opinion became more affirmative the more deeply he was initiated.[18]

The Australians are the lowest, most primitive savages, yet no propitiation by food is made to their moral Ruler, in heaven, as if he were a ghost.

The laws of these Australian divine beings apply to ritual as well as to ethics, as might naturally be expected. But the moral element is conspicuous, the reverence is conspicuous: we have here no mere ghost, propitiated by food or sacrifice, or by purely magical rites. His very image (modelled on a large scale in earth) is no vulgar idol: to make such a thing, except on the rare sacred occasions, is a capital offence. Meanwhile the mythology of the God has often, in or out of the rites, nothing rational about it.

On the whole it is evident that Mr. Herbert Spencer, for example, underrates the nature of Australian religion. He cites a case of addressing the ghost of a man recently dead, which is asked not to bring sickness, 'or make loud noises in the night,' and says: 'Here we may recognise the essential elements of a cult.' But Mr. Spencer does not allude to the much more essentially religious elements which he might have found in the very authority whom he cites, Mr. Brough Smyth.[19] This appears, as far as my scrutiny goes, to be Mr. Spencer's solitary reference to Australia in the work on 'Ecclesiastical Institutions.' Yet the facts which he and Mr. Huxley ignore throw a light very different from theirs on what they consider 'the simplest condition of theology.'

Among the causes of confusion in thought upon religion, Mr. Tylor mentions 'the partial and one-sided application of the historical method of inquiry into theological doctrines.'[20] Here, perhaps, we have examples. In its highest aspect that 'simplest theology' of Australia is free from the faults of popular theology in Greece. The God discourages sin, though, in myth, he is far from impeccable. He is almost too revered to be named (except in mythology) and is not to be represented by idols. He is not moved by sacrifice; he has not the chance; like Death in Greece, 'he only, of all Gods, loves not gifts.' Thus the status of theology does not correspond to what we look for in very low culture. It would scarcely be a paradox to say that the popular Zeus, or Ares, is degenerate from Mungan-ngaur, or the Fuegian being who forbids the slaying of an enemy, and almost literally 'marks the sparrow's fall.'

If we knew all the mythology of Darumulun, we should probably find it (like much of the myth of Pundjel or Bunjil) on a very different level from the theology. There are two currents, the religious and the mythical, flowing together through religion. The former current, religious, even among very low savages, is pure from the magical ghost-propitiating habit. The latter current, mythological, is full of magic, mummery, and scandalous legend. Sometimes the latter stream quite pollutes the former, sometimes they flow side by side, perfectly distinguishable, as in Aztec ethical piety, compared with the bloody Aztec ritualism. Anthropology has mainly kept her eyes fixed on the impure stream, the lusts, mummeries, conjurings, and frauds of priesthoods, while relatively, or altogether, neglecting (as we have shown) what is honest and of good report.

The worse side of religion is the less sacred, and therefore the more conspicuous. Both elements are found co-existing, in almost all races, and nobody, in our total lack of historical information about the beginnings, can say which, if either, element is the earlier, or which, if either, is derived from the other. To suppose that propitiation of corpses and then of ghosts came first is agreeable, and seems logical, to some writers who are not without a bias against all religion as an unscientific superstition. But we know so little! The first missionaries in Greenland supposed that there was not, there, a trace of belief in a Divine Being. 'But when they came to understand their language better, they found quite the reverse to be true ... and not only so, but they could plainly gather from a free dialogue they had with some perfectly wild Greenlanders (at that time avoiding any direct application to their hearts) that their ancestors must have believed in a Supreme Being, and did render him some service, which their posterity neglected little by little...'[21] Mr. Tylor does not refer to this as a trace of Christian Scandinavian influence on the Eskimo.[22]

That line, of course, may be taken. But an Eskimo said to a missionary, 'Thou must not imagine that no Greenlander thinks about these things' (theology). He then stated the argument from design. 'Certainly there must be some Being who made all these things. He must be very good too... Ah, did I but know him, how I would love and honour him.' As St. Paul writes: 'That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it unto them ... being understood by the things which are made ... but they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.'[23] In fact, mythology submerged religion. St. Paul's theory of the origin of religion is not that of an 'innate idea,' nor of a direct revelation. People, he says, reached the belief in a God from the Argument for Design. Science conceives herself to have annihilated teleological ideas. But they are among the probable origins of religion, and would lead to the belief in a Creator, whom the Greenlander thought beneficent, and after whom he yearned. This is a very different initial step in religious development, if initial it was, from the feeding of a corpse, or a ghost.

From all this evidence it does not appear how non-polytheistic, non-monarchical, non-Manes-worshipping savages evolved the idea of a relatively supreme, moral, and benevolent Creator, unborn, undying, watching men's lives. 'He can go everywhere, and do everything.'[24]

[Footnote 1: Fitzroy, ii. 180. Darwin. Descent of Man, p. 67.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid. We seem to have little information about Fuegian religion either before or after the cruise of the Beagle.]

[Footnote 3: Principles of Sociology, i. 422.]

[Footnote 4: Fitzroy, ii. 190, 191]

[Footnote 5: Travels in West Africa, p. 442.]

[Footnote 6: Early Voyages to Australia, 102-111 (Hakluyt Society).]

[Footnote 7: Science and Hebrew Tradition, p. 846.]

[Footnote 8: Journal of the Anthrop. Institute, 1884. See, for less dignified accounts, op. cit. xxiv. xxv.]

[Footnote 9: Journal, xiii. 193.]

[Footnote 10: Journal, xiii. 296.]

[Footnote 11: Op. cit. p. 450.]

[Footnote 12: P. 453.]

[Footnote 13: P. 457.]

[Footnote 14: See Brough Smyth, Aborigines, i. 426; Taplin, Native Races of Australia. According to Taplin, Nurrumdere was a deified black fellow, who died on earth. This is not the case of Baiame, but is said, rather vaguely, to be true of Daramulun. J.A.I., xiii. 194, xxv. 297.]

[Footnote 15: From a brief account of the Fire Ceremony, or Engwurra of certain tribes in Central Australia, it seems that religious ceremonies connected with Totems are the most notable performances. Also 'certain mythical ancestors,' of the 'alcheringa, or dream-times,' were celebrated; these real or ideal human beings appear to 'sink their identity in that of the object with which they are associated, and from which they are supposed to have originated.' There appear also to be places haunted by 'spirit individuals,' in some way mixed up with Totems, but nothing is said of sacrifice to these Manes. The brief account is by Professor Baldwin Spencer and Mr. F.J. Gillen, Proc. Royal Soc. Victoria, July 1897. This Fire Ceremony is not for lads—not a kind of confirmation in the savage church—but is intended for adults.]

[Footnote 16: J. Anthrop. Inst. 1886, p. 310.]

[Footnote 17: J. Anthrop. Inst. 1885, p. 313.]

[Footnote 18: J. Anthrop. Inst. xiii. p. 459.]

[Footnote 19: Ecclesiastical Institutions, p. 674.]

[Footnote 20: Prim. Cult. ii. 450.]

[Footnote 21: Cranz, pp. 198, 199.]

[Footnote 22: Journal Anthrop. Inst. xiii. 348-356.]

[Footnote 23: Rom. i. 19. Cranz, i. 199.]

[Footnote 24: In Mr. Carr's work, The Australian Race, reports of 'godless' natives are given, for instance, in the Mary River country and in Gippsland. These reports are usually the result of the ignorance or contempt of white observers, cf. Tylor, i. 419. The reader is referred to the Introduction for additional information about Australian beliefs, and for replies to objections.]



Before going on to examine the high gods of other low savages, I must here again insist on and develop the theory, not easily conceived by us, that the Supreme Being of savages belongs to another branch of faith than ghosts, or ghost-gods, or fetishes, or Totems, and need not be—probably is not—essentially derived from these. We must try to get rid of our theory that a powerful, moral, eternal Being was, from the first, ex officio, conceived as 'spirit;' and so was necessarily derived from a ghost.

First, what was the process of development?

We have examined Mr. Tylor's theory. But, to take a practical case: Here are the Australians, roaming in small bands, without more formal rulers than 'headmen' at most; not ancestor worshippers; not polytheists; with no departmental deities to select and aggrandise; not apt to speculate on the Anima Mundi. How, then, did they bridge the gulf between the ghost of a soon-forgotten fighting man, and that conception of a Father above, 'all-seeing,' moral, which, under various names, is found all over a huge continent? I cannot see that this problem has been solved or frankly faced.

The distinction between the Australian deity, at his highest power, unpropitiated by sacrifice, and the ordinary, waning, easily forgotten, cheaply propitiated ghost of a tribesman, is essential. It is not easy to show how, in 'the dark backward' of Australian life, the notion of Mungan-ngaur grew from the idea of the ghost of a warrior. But there is no logical necessity for the belief in the evolution of this god out of that ghost. These two factors in religion—ghost and god—seem to have perfectly different sources, and it appears extraordinary that anthropologists have not (as far as I am aware) observed this circumstance before.

Mr. Spencer, indeed, speaks frequently of living human beings adored as gods. I do not know that these are found on the lowest levels of savagery, and Mr. Jevons has pointed out that, before you can hail a man as a god, you must have the idea of God. The murder of Captain Cook notoriously resulted from a scientific experiment in theology. 'If he is a god, he cannot be killed.' So they tried with a dagger, and found that the honest captain was but a mortal British mariner—no god at all. 'There are degrees.' Mr. Spencer's men-gods become real gods—after death.[1]

Now the Supreme Being of savage faith, as a rule, never died at all. He belonged to a world that knew not Death.

One cause of our blindness to the point appears to be this: We have from childhood been taught that 'God is a Spirit.' We, now, can only conceive of an eternal being as a 'spirit.' We know that legions of savage gods are now regarded as spirits. And therefore we have never remarked that there is no reason why we should take it for granted that the earliest deities of the earliest men were supposed by them to be 'spirits' at all. These gods might most judiciously be spoken of, not as 'spirits,' but as 'undefined eternal beings.' To us, such a being is necessarily a spirit, but he was by no means necessarily so to an early thinker, who may not yet have reached the conception of a ghost.

A ghost is said, by anthropologists, to have developed into a god. Now, the very idea of a ghost (apart from a wraith or fetch) implies the previous death of his proprietor. A ghost is the phantasm of a dead man. But anthropologists continually tell us, with truth, that the idea of death as a universal ordinance is unknown to the savage. Diseases and death are things that once did not exist, and that, normally, ought not to occur, the savage thinks. They are, in his opinion, supernormally caused by magicians and spirits. Death came into the world by a blunder, an accident, an error in ritual, a decision of a god who was before Death was. Scores of myths are told everywhere on this subject.[2]

The savage Supreme Being, with added power, omniscience, and morality, is the idealisation of the savage, as conceived of by himself, minus fleshly body (as a rule), and minus Death. He is not necessarily a 'spirit,' though that term may now be applied to him. He was not originally differentiated as 'spirit' or 'not spirit.' He is a Being, conceived of without the question of 'spirit,' or 'no spirit' being raised; perhaps he was originally conceived of before that question could be raised by men. When we call the Supreme Being of savages a 'spirit' we introduce our own animistic ideas into a conception where it may not have originally existed. If the God is 'the savage himself raised to the n^th power' so much the less of a spirit is he. Mr. Matthew Arnold might as well have said: 'The British Philistine has no knowledge of God. He believes that the Creator is a magnified non-natural man, living in the sky.' The Gippsland or Fuegian or Blackfoot Supreme Being is just a Being, anthropomorphic, not a mrart, or 'spirit.' The Supreme Being is a wesen, Being, Vui; we have hardly a term for an immortal existence so undefined. If the being is an idealised first ancestor (as among the Kurnai), he is not, on that account, either man or ghost of man. In the original conception he is a powerful intelligence who was from the first: who was already active long before, by a breach of his laws, an error in the delivery of a message, a breach of ritual, or what not, death entered the world. He was not affected by the entry of death, he still exists.

Modern minds need to become familiar with this indeterminate idea of the savage Supreme Being, which, logically, may be prior to the evolution of the notion of ghost or spirit.

But how does it apply when, as by the Kurnai, the Supreme Being is reckoned an ancestor?

It can very readily be shown that, when the Supreme Being of a savage people is thus the idealised First Ancestor, he can never have been envisaged by his worshippers as at any time a ghost; or, at least, cannot logically have been so envisaged where the nearly universal belief occurs that death came into the world by accident, or needlessly.

Adam is the mythical first ancestor of the Hebrews, but he died, [Greek: uper moron], and was not worshipped. Yama, the first of Aryan men who died, was worshipped by Vedic Aryans, but confessedly as a ghost-god. Mr. Tylor gives a list of first ancestors deified. The Ancestor of the Maudans did not die, consequently is no ghost; emigravit, he 'moved west.' Where the First Ancestor is also the Creator (Dog-rib Indians), he can hardly be, and is not, regarded as a mortal. Tamoi, of the Guaranis, was 'the ancient of heaven,' clearly no mortal man. The Maori Maui was the first who died, but he is not one of the original Maori gods. Haetsh, among the Kamchadals, precisely answers to Yama. Unkulunkulu will be described later.[3]

This is the list: Where the First Ancestor is equivalent to the Creator, and is supreme, he is—from the first—deathless and immortal. When he dies he is a confessed ghost-god.

Now, ghost-worship and dead ancestor-worship are impossible before the ancestor is dead and is a ghost. But the essential idea of Mungan-ngaur, and Baiame, and most of the high gods of Australia, and of other low races, is that they never died at all. They belong to the period before death came into the world, like Qat among the Melanesians. They arise in an age that knew not death, and had not reflected on phantasms nor evolved ghosts. They could have been conceived of, in the nature of the case, by a race of immortals who never dreamed of such a thing as a ghost. For these gods, the ghost-theory is not required, and is superfluous, even contradictory. The early thinkers who developed these beings did not need to know that men die (though, of course, they did know it in practice), still less did they need to have conceived by abstract speculation the hypothesis of ghosts. Baiame, Cagn, Bunjil, in their adorers' belief, were there; death later intruded among men, but did not affect these divine beings in any way.

The ghost-theory, therefore, by the evidence of anthropology itself, is not needed for the evolution of the high gods of savages. It is only needed for the evolution of ghost-propitiation and genuine dead-ancestor worship. Therefore, the high gods described were not necessarily once ghosts—were not idealised mortal ancestors. They were, naturally, from the beginning, from before the coming in of death, immortal Fathers, now dwelling on high. Between them and apotheosised mortal ancestors there is a great gulf fixed—the river of death.

The explicitly stated distinction that the high creative gods never were mortal men, while other gods are spirits of mortal men, is made in every quarter. 'Ancestors known to be human were not worshipped as [original] gods, and ancestors worshipped as [original] gods were not believed to have been human.'[4]

Both kinds may have a generic name, such as kalou, or wakan, but the specific distinction is universally made by low savages. On one hand, original gods; on the other, non-original gods that were once ghosts. Now, this distinction is often calmly ignored; whereas, when any race has developed (like late Scandinavians) the Euhemeristic hypothesis ('all gods were once men'), that hypothesis is accepted as an historical statement of fact by some writers.

It is part of my theory that the more popular ghost-worship of souls of people whom men have loved, invaded the possibly older religion of the Supreme Father. Mighty beings, whether originally conceived of as 'spirits' or not, came, later, under the Animistic theory, to be reckoned as spirits. They even (but not among the lowest savages) came to be propitiated by food and sacrifice. The alternative, for a Supreme Being, when once Animism prevailed, was sacrifice (as to more popular ghost deities) or neglect. We shall find examples of both alternatives. But sacrifice does not prove that a God was, in original conception, a ghost, or even a spirit. 'The common doctrine of the Old Testament is not that God is spirit, but that the spirit [ruah = 'wind,' 'living breath'] of Jehovah, going forth from him, works in the world and among men.'[5]

To resume. The high Gods of savagery—moral, all-seeing directors of things and of men—are not explicitly envisaged as spirits at all by their adorers. The notion of soul or spirit is here out of place. We can best describe Pirnmeheal, and Napi and Baiame as 'magnified non-natural men,' or undefined beings who were from the beginning and are undying. They are, like the easy Epicurean Gods, nihil indiga nostri. Not being ghosts, they crave no food from men, and receive no sacrifice, as do ghosts, or gods developed out of ghosts, or gods to whom the ghost-ritual has been transferred. For this very reason, apparently, they seem to be spoken of by Mr. Grant Allen as 'gods to talk about, not gods to adore; mythological conceptions rather than religious beings.'[6] All this is rather hard on the lowest savages. If they sacrifice to a god, then the god is a hungry ghost; if they don't, then the god is 'a god to talk about, not to adore,' Luckily, the facts of the Bora ritual and the instruction given there prove that Mungan-nganr and other names are gods to adore, by ethical conformity to their will and by solemn ceremony, not merely gods to talk about.

Thus, the highest element in the religion of the lowest savages does not appear to be derived from their theory of ghosts. As far as we can say, in the inevitable absence of historical evidence, the highest gods of savages may have been believed in, as Makers and Fathers and Lords of an indeterminate nature, before the savage had developed the idea of souls out of dreams and phantasms. It is logically conceivable that savages may have worshipped deities like Baiame and Darumulun before they had evolved the notion that Tom, Dick, or Harry has a separable soul, capable of surviving his bodily decease. Deities of the higher sort, by the very nature of savage reflections on death and on its non-original casual character, are prior, or may be prior, or cannot be shown not to be prior, to the ghost theory—the alleged origin of religion. For their evolution the ghost theory is not logically demanded; they can do without it. Yet they, and not the spirits, bogles, Mrarts, Brewin, and so forth, are the high gods, the gods who have most analogy—as makers, moral guides, rewarders, and punishers of conduct (though that duty is also occasionally assumed by ancestral spirits)—with our civilised conception of the divine. Our conception of God descends not from ghosts, but from the Supreme Beings of non-ancestor-worshipping peoples.

As it seems impossible to point out any method by which low, chiefless, non-polytheistic, non-metaphysical savages (if any such there be) evolved out of ghosts the eternal beings who made the world, and watch over morality: as the people themselves unanimously distinguish such beings from ghost-gods, I take it that such beings never were ghosts. In this case the Animistic theory seems to me to break down completely. Yet these high gods of low savages preserve from dimmest ages of the meanest culture the sketch of a God which our highest religious thought can but fill up to its ideal. Come from what germ he may, Jehovah or Allah does not come from a ghost.

It may be retorted that this makes no real difference. If savages did not invent gods in consequence of a fallacious belief in spirit and soul, still, in some other equally illogical way they came to indulge the hypothesis that they had a Judge and Father in heaven. But, if the ghost theory of the high Gods is wrong, as it is conspicuously superfluous, that does make some difference. It proves that a widely preached scientific conclusion may be as spectral as Bathybius. On other more important points, therefore, we may differ from the newest scientific opinion without too much diffident apprehensiveness.

[Footnote 1: Principles of Sociology, i. 417, 421. 'The medicine men are treated as gods.... The medicine man becomes a god after death.']

[Footnote 2: I have published a chapter on Myths on the Origin of Death in Modern Mythology.]

[Footnote 3: Prim. Cult. ii. 311-316.]

[Footnote 4: Jevons, Introduction, p. 197.]

[Footnote 5: Robertson Smith. The Prophets of Israel, p. 61.]

[Footnote 6: Evolution of the Idea of God, p. 170.]



It is among 'the lowest savages' that the Supreme Beings are most regarded as eternal, moral (as the morality of the tribe goes, or above its habitual practice), and powerful. I have elsewhere described the Bushman god Cagn, as he was portrayed to Mr. Orpen by Qing, who 'had never before seen a white man except fighting.' Mr. Orpen got the facts from Qing by inducing him to explain the natives' pictures on the walls of caves. 'Cagn made all things, and we pray to him,' thus: 'O Cagn, O Cagn, are we not thy children? Do you not see us hunger? Give us food.' As to ethics, 'At first Cagn was very good, but he got spoilt through fighting so many things.' 'How came he into the world?' 'Perhaps with those who brought the Sun: only the initiated know these things.' It appears that Qing was not yet initiated in the dance (answering to a high rite of the Australian Bora) in which the most esoteric myths were unfolded.[1]

In Mr. Spencer's 'Descriptive Sociology' the religion of the Bushmen is thus disposed of. 'Pray to an insect of the caterpillar kind for success in the chase.' That is rather meagre. They make arrow-poison out of caterpillars,[2] though Dr. Bleek, perhaps correctly, identifies Cagn with i-kaggen, the insect.

The case of the Andaman Islanders may be especially recommended to believers in the anthropological science of religion. For long these natives were the joy of emancipated inquirers as the 'godless Andamanese.' They only supply Mr. Spencer's 'Ecclesiastical Institutions' with a few instances of the ghost-belief.[3] Yet when the Andamanese are scientifically studied in situ by an educated Englishman, Mr. Man, who knows their language, has lived with them for eleven years, and presided over our benevolent efforts 'to reclaim them from their savage state,' the Andamanese turn out to be quite embarrassingly rich in the higher elements of faith. They have not only a profoundly philosophical religion, but an excessively absurd mythology, like the Australian blacks, the Greeks, and other peoples. If, on the whole, the student of the Andamanese despairs of the possibility of an ethnological theory of religion, he is hardly to be blamed.

The people are probably Negritos, and probably 'the original inhabitants, whose occupation dates from prehistoric times.'[4] They use the bow, they make pots, and are considerably above the Australian level. They have second-sighted men, who obtain status 'by relating an extraordinary dream, the details of which are declared to have been borne out subsequently by some unforeseen event, as, for instance, a sudden death or accident.' They have to produce fresh evidential dreams from time to time. They see phantasms of the dead, and coincidental hallucinations.[5] All this is as we should expect it to be.

Their religion is probably not due to missionaries, as they always shot all foreigners, and have no traditions of the presence of aliens on the islands before our recent arrival.[6] Their God, Puluga, is 'like fire,' but invisible. He was never born, and is immortal. By him were all things created, except the powers of evil. He knows even the thoughts of the heart. He is angered by yubda = sin, or wrong-doing, that is falsehood, theft, grave assault, murder, adultery, bad carving of meat, and (as a crime of witchcraft) by burning wax.[7] 'To those in pain or distress he is pitiful, and sometimes deigns to afford relief.' He is Judge of Souls, and the dread of future punishment 'to some extent is said to affect their course of action in the present life.'[8]

This Being could not be evolved out of the ordinary ghost of a second-sighted man, for I do not find that ancestral ghosts are worshipped, nor is there a trace of early missionary influence, while Mr. Man consulted elderly and, in native religion, well-instructed Andamanese for his facts.

Yet Puluga lives in a large stone house (clearly derived from ours at Port Blair), eats and drinks, foraging for himself, and is married to a green shrimp.[9] There is the usual story of a Deluge caused by the moral wrath of Puluga. The whole theology was scrupulously collected from natives unacquainted with other races.

The account of Andamanese religion does not tally with the anthropological hypothesis. Foreign influence seems to be more than usually excluded by insular conditions and the jealousy of the 'original inhabitants.' The evidence ought to make us reflect on the extreme obscurity of the whole problem.

Anthropological study of religion has hitherto almost entirely overlooked the mysteries of various races, except in so far as they confirm the entry of the young people into the ranks of the adult. Their esoteric moral and religious teaching is nearly unknown to us, save in a few instances. It is certain that the mysteries of Greece were survivals of savage ceremonies, because we know that they included specific savage rites, such as the use of the rhombos to make a whirring noise, and the custom of ritual daubing with dirt; and the sacred ballets d'action, in which, as Lucian and Qing say, mystic facts are 'danced out.'[10] But, while Greece retained these relics of savagery, there was something taught at Eleusis which filled minds like Plato's and Pindar's with a happy religious awe. Now, similar 'softening of the heart' was the result of the teaching in the Australian Bora: the Yao mysteries inculcate the victory over self; and, till we are admitted to the secrets of all other savage mysteries throughout the world, we cannot tell whether, among mummeries, frivolities, and even license, high ethical doctrines are not presented under the sanction of religion. The New Life, and perhaps the future life, are undeniably indicated in the Australian mysteries by the simulated Resurrection.

I would therefore no longer say, as in 1887, that the Hellenic genius must have added to 'an old medicine dance' all that the Eleusinian mysteries possessed of beauty, counsel, and consolation[11]. These elements, as well as the barbaric factors in the rites, may have been developed out of such savage doctrine as softens the hearts of Australians and Yaos. That this kind of doctrine receives religious sanction is certain, where we know the secret of savage mysteries. It is therefore quite incorrect, and strangely presumptuous, to deny, with almost all anthropologists, the alliance of ethics with religion among the most backward races. We must always remember their secrecy about their inner religion, their frankness about their mythological tales. These we know: the inner religion we ought to begin to recognise that we do not know.

The case of the Andamanese has taught us how vague, even now, is our knowledge, and how obscure is our problem. The example of the Melanesians enforces these lessons. It is hard to bring the Melanesians within any theory. Dr. Codrington has made them the subject of a careful study, and reports that while the European inquirer can communicate pretty freely on common subjects 'the vocabulary of ordinary life in almost useless when the region of mysteries and superstitions is approached.'[12] The Banks Islanders are most free from an Asiatic element of population on one side, and a Polynesian element on the other.

The Banks Islanders 'believe in two orders of intelligent beings different from living men.' (1) Ghosts of the dead, (2) 'Beings who were not, and never had been, human.' This, as we have shown, and will continue to show, is the usual savage doctrine. On the one hand are separable souls of men, surviving the death of the body. On the other are beings, creators, who were before men were, and before death entered the world. It is impossible, logically, to argue that these beings are only ghosts of real remote ancestors, or of ideal ancestors. These higher beings are not safely to be defined as 'spirits,' their essence is vague, and, we repeat, the idea of their existence might have been evolved before the ghost theory was attained by men. Dr. Codrington says, 'the conception can hardly be that of a purely spiritual being, yet, by whatever name the natives call them, they are such as in English must be called spirits.'

That is our point. 'God is a spirit,' these beings are Gods, therefore 'these are spirits.' But to their initial conception our idea of 'spirit' is lacking. They are beings who existed before death, and still exist.

The beings which never were human, never died, are Vui, the ghosts are Tamate. Dr. Codrington uses 'ghosts' for Tamate, 'spirits' for Vui. But as to render Vui 'spirits' is to yield the essential point, we shall call Vui 'beings,' or, simply, Vui. A Vui is not a spirit that has been a ghost; the story may represent him as if a man, 'but the native will always maintain that he was something different, and deny to him the fleshly body of a man.'[13]

This distinction, ghost on one side—original being, not a man, not a ghost of a man, on the other—is radical and nearly universal in savage religion. Anthropology, neglecting the essential distinction insisted on, in this case, by Dr. Codrington, confuses both kinds under the style of 'spirits,' and derives both from ghosts of the dead. Dr. Codrington, it should be said, does not generalise, but confines himself to the savages of whom he has made a special study. But, from the other examples of the same distinction which we have offered, and the rest which we shall offer, we think ourselves justified in regarding the distinction between a primeval, eternal, being or beings, on one hand, and ghosts or spirits exalted from ghost's estate, on the other, as common, if not universal.

There are corporeal and incorporeal Vuis, but the body of the corporeal Vui is 'not a human body.'[14] The chief is Qat, 'still at hand to help and invoked in prayers.' 'Qat, Marawa, look down upon me, smooth the sea for us two, that I may go safely over the sea!' Qat 'created men and animals,' though, in a certain district, he is claimed as an ancestor (p. 268). Two strata of belief have here been confused.

The myth of Qat is a jungle of facetiae and frolic, with one or two serious incidents, such as the beginning of Death and the coming of Night. His mother was, or became, a stone; stones playing a considerable part in the superstitions.

The incorporeal Vuis, 'with nothing like a human life, have a much higher place than Qat and his brothers in the religious system.' They have neither names, nor shapes, nor legends, they receive sacrifice, and are in some uncertain way connected with stones; these stones usually bear a fanciful resemblance to fruits or animals (p. 275). The only sacrifice, in Banks Islands, is that of shell-money. The mischievous spirits are Tamate, ghosts of men. There is a belief in mana (magical rapport). Dr. Codrington cannot determine the connection of this belief with that in spirits. Mana is the uncanny, is X, the unknown. A revived impression of sense is nunuai, as when a tired fisher, half asleep at night, feels the 'draw' of a salmon, and automatically strikes.[15] The common ghost is a bag of nunuai, as living man, in the opinion of some philosophers, is a bag of 'sensations.' Ghosts are only seen as spiritual lights, which so commonly attend hallucinations among the civilised. Except in the prayers to Qat and Marawa, prayer only invokes the dead (p. 285). 'In the western islands the offerings are made to ghosts, and consumed by fire; in the eastern (Banks) isles they are made to spirits (beings, Vui), and there is no sacrificial fire.' Now, the worship of ghosts goes, in these isles, with the higher culture, 'a more considerable advance in the arts of life;' the worship of non-ghosts, Vui, goes with the lower material culture.[16] This is rather the reverse of what we should expect, in accordance with the anthropological theory. According, however, to our theory, Animism and ghost-worship may be of later development, and belong to a higher level of culture, than worship of a being, or beings, that never were ghosts. In Leper's Isle, 'ghosts do not appear to have prayers or sacrifices offered to them,' but cause disease, and work magic.[17]

The belief in the soul, in Melanesia, does not appear to proceed 'from their dreams or visions in which deceased or absent persons are presented to them, for they do not appear to believe that the soul goes out from the dreamer, or presents itself as an object in his dreams,' nor does belief in other spirits seem to be founded on 'the appearance of life or motion in inanimate things.'[18]

To myself it rather looks as if all impressions had their nunuai, real, bodiless, persistent, after-images; that the soul is the complex of all of these nunuai; that there is in the universe a kind of magical other, called mana, possessed, in different proportions, by different men, Vui, tamate, and material objects, and that the atai or ataro of a man dead, his ghost, retains its old, and acquires new mana.[19] It is an odd kind of metaphysic to find among very backward and isolated savages. But the lesson of Melanesia teaches us how very little we really know of the religion of low races, how complex it is, how hardly it can be forced into our theories, if we take it as given in our knowledge, allow for our ignorance, and are not content to select facts which suit our hypothesis, while ignoring the rest. On a higher level of material culture than the Melanesians are the Fijians.

Fijian religion, as far as we understand, resembles the others in drawing an impassable line between ghosts and eternal gods. The word Kalou is applied to all supernal beings, and mystic or magical things alike. It seems to answer to mana in New Zealand and Melanesia, to wakan in North America, and to fee in old French, as when Perrault says, about Bluebeard's key, 'now the key was fee.' All Gods are Kalou, but all things that are Kalou are not Gods. Gods are Kalou vu; deified ghosts are Kalou yalo. The former are eternal, without beginning of days or end of years; the latter are subject to infirmity and even to death.[20]

The Supreme Being, if we can apply the term to him, is Ndengei, or Degei, 'who seems to be an impersonation of the abstract idea of eternal existence.' This idea is not easily developed out of the conception of a human soul which has died into a ghost and may die again. His myth represents him as a serpent, emblem of eternity, or a body of stone with a serpent's head. His one manifestation is given by eating. So neglected is he that a song exists about his lack of worshippers and gifts. 'We made men,' says Ndengei, 'placed them on earth, and yet they share to us only the under shell.'[21] Here is an extreme case of the self-existent creative Eternal, mythically lodged in a serpent's body, and reduced to a jest.

It is not easy to see any explanation, if we reject the hypothesis that this is an old, fallen form of faith, 'with scarcely a temple.' The other unborn immortals are mythical warriors and adulterers, like the popular deities of Greece. Yet Ndengei receives prayers through two sons of his, mediating deities. The priests are possessed, or inspired, by spirits and gods. One is not quite clear as to whether Ndengei is an inspiring god or not; but that prayers are made to him is inconsistent with the belief in his eternal inaction. A priest is represented as speaking for Ndengei, probably by inspiration. 'My own mind departs from me, and then, when it is truly gone, my god speaks by me,' is the account of this 'alternating personality' given by a priest.[22]

After informing us that Ndengei is starved, Mr. Williams next tells about offerings to him, in earlier days, of hundreds of hogs.[23] He sends rain on earth. Animals, men, stones, may all be Kalou. There is a Hades as fantastic as that in the Egyptian 'Book of the Dead,' and second sight flourishes.

The mysteries include the sham raising of the dead, and appear to be directed at propitiatory ghosts rather than at Ndengei. There are scenes of license; 'particulars of almost incredible indecency have been privately forwarded to Dr. Tylor.'[24]

Suppose a religious reformer were to arise in one of the many savage tribes who, as we shall show, possess, but neglect, an Eternal Creator. He would do what, in the secular sphere, was done by the Mikado of Japan. The Mikado was a political Dendid or Ndengei—an awful, withdrawn, impotent potentate. Power was wielded by the Tycoon. A Mikado of genius asserted himself; hence arose modern Japan. In the same way, a religious reformer like Khuen Ahten in Egypt would preach down minor gods, ghosts and sacred beasts, and proclaim the primal Maker, Ndengei, Dendid, Mtanga. 'The king shall hae his ain again.' Had it not been for the Prophets, Israel, by the time that Greece and Rome knew Israel, would have been worshipping a horde of little gods, and even beasts and ghosts, while the Eternal would have become a mere name—perhaps, like Ndengei and Atahocan and Unkulunkulu, a jest. The Old Testament is the story of the prolonged effort to keep Jehovah in His supreme place. To make and to succeed in that effort was the differentia, of Israel. Other peoples, even the lowest, had, as we prove, the germinal conception of a God—assuredly not demonstrated to be derived from the ghost theory, logically in no need of the ghost theory, everywhere explicitly contrasted with the ghost theory. 'But their foolish heart was darkened.'

It is impossible to prove, historically, which of the two main elements in belief—the idea of an Eternal Being or Beings, or the idea of surviving ghosts—came first into the minds of men. The idea of primeval Eternal Beings, as understood by savages, does not depend on, or require, the ghost theory. But, as we almost always find ghosts and a Supreme Being together, where we find either, among the lowest savages, we have no historical ground for asserting that either is prior to the other. Where we have no evidence to the belief in the Maker, we must not conclude that no such belief exists. Our knowledge is confused and scanty; often it is derived from men who do not know the native language, or the native sacred language, or have not been trusted with what the savage treasures as his secret. Moreover, if anywhere ghosts are found without gods, it is an inference from the argument that an idea familiar to very low savage tribes, like the Australians, and falling more and more into the background elsewhere, though still extant and traceable, might, in certain cases, be lost and forgotten altogether.

To take an example of half-forgotten deity. Mr. Im Thurn, a good observer, has written on 'The Animism of the Indians of British Guiana.' Mr. Im Thurn justly says: 'The man who above all others has made this study possible is Mr. Tylor.' But it is not unfair to remark that Mr. Im Thurn naturally sees most distinctly that which Mr. Tylor has taught him to see—namely, Animism. He has also been persuaded, by Mr. Dorman, that the Great Spirit of North American tribes is 'almost certainly nothing more than a figure of European origin, reflected and transmitted almost beyond recognition on the mirror of the Indian mind,' That is not my opinion: I conceive that the Red Indians had their native Eternal, like the Australians, Fijians, Andamanese, Dinkas, Yao, and so forth, as will be shown later.

Mr. Im Thurn, however, dilates on the dream origin of the ghost theory, giving examples from his own knowledge of the difficulty with which Guiana Indians discern the hallucinations of dreams from the facts of waking life. Their waking hallucinations are also so vivid as to be taken for realities.[25] Mr. Im Thurn adopts the hypothesis that, from ghosts, 'a belief has arisen, but very gradually, in higher spirits, and, eventually, in a Highest Spirit; and, keeping pace with the growth of these beliefs, a habit of reverence for and worship of spirits.' On this hypothesis, the spirit latest evolved, and most worshipful, ought, of course, to be the 'Highest Spirit.' But the reverse, as usual, is the case. The Guiana Indians believe in the continued, but not in the everlasting, existence of a man's ghost.[26] They believe in no spirits which were not once tenants of material bodies.[27]

The belief in a Supreme Spirit is only attained 'in the highest form of religion'—Andamanese, for instance—as Mr. Im Thurn uses 'spirit' where we should say 'being.' 'The Indians of Guiana know no god.'[28]

'But it is true that various words have been found in all, or nearly all, the languages of Guiana which have been supposed to be names of a Supreme Being, God, a Great Spirit, in the sense which those phrases bear in the language of the higher religions.'

Being interpreted, these Guiana names mean—

The Ancient One, The Ancient One in Sky-land, Our Maker, Our Father, Our Great Father.

'None of those in any way involves the attributes of a god.'

The Ancient of Days, Our Father in Sky-land, Our Maker, do rather convoy the sense of God to a European mind. Mr. Im Thurn, however, decides that the beings thus designated were supposed ancestors who came into Guiana from some other country, 'sometimes said to have been that entirely natural country (?) which is separated from Guiana by the ocean of the air.'[29]

Mr. Im Thurn casually observed (having said nothing about morals in alliance with Animism):

'The fear of unwittingly offending the countless visible and invisible beings ... kept the Indians very strictly within their own rights and from offending against the rights of others.'

This remark dropped out at a discussion of Mr. Im Thurn's paper, and clearly demonstrated that even a very low creed 'makes for righteousness.'[30]

Probably few who have followed the facts given here will agree with Mr. Im Thurn's theory that 'Our Maker,' 'Our Father,' 'The Ancient One of the Heaven,' is merely an idealised human ancestor. He falls naturally into his place with the other high gods of low savages. But we need much more information on the subject than Mr. Im Thurn was able to give.

His evidence is all the better, because he is a loyal follower of Mr. Tylor. And Mr. Tylor says: 'Savage Animism is almost devoid of that ethical element which to the educated modern mind is the very mainspring of practical religion.'[31] 'Yet it keeps the Indians very strictly within their own rights and from offending the rights of others.' Our own religion is rarely so successful.[32]

In the Indians of Guiana we have an alleged case of a people still deep in the animistic or ghost-worshipping case, who, by the hypothesis, have not yet evolved the idea of a god at all.

When the familiar names for God, such as Maker, Father, Ancient of Days, occur in the Indian language, Mr. Im Thurn explains the neglected Being who bears these titles as a remote deified ancestor. Of course, when a Being with similar titles occurs where ancestors are not worshipped, as in Australia and the Andaman Islands, the explanation suggested by Mr. Im Thurn for the problem of religion in Guiana, will not fit the facts.

It is plain that, a priori, another explanation is conceivable. If a people like the Andamanese, or the Australian tribes whom we have studied, had such a conception as that of Puluga, or Baiame, or Mungan-ngaur and then, later, developed ancestor-worship with its propitiatory sacrifices and ceremonies, ancestor-worship, as the newest evolved and infinitely the most practical form of cult, would gradually thrust the belief in a Puluga, or Mungan-ngaur, or Cagn into the shade. The ancestral spirit, to speak quite plainly, can be 'squared' by the people in whom he takes a special interest for family reasons. The equal Father of all men cannot be 'squared,' and declines (till corrupted by the bad example of ancestral ghosts) to make himself useful to one man rather than to another. For these very intelligible, simple, and practical reasons, if the belief in a Mungan-ngaur came first in evolution, and the belief in a practicable bribable family ghost came second, the ghost-cult would inevitably crowd out the God-cult.[33] The name of the Father and Maker would become a mere survival, nominis umbra, worship and sacrifice going to the ancestral ghost. That explanation would fit the state of religion which Mr. Im Thurn has found, rightly or wrongly, in British Guiana.

But, if the idea of a universal Father and Maker came last in evolution, as a refinement, then, of course, it ought to be the newest, and therefore the most fashionable and potent of Guianese cults. Precisely the reverse is said to be the case. Nor can the belief indicated in such names as Father and Maker be satisfactorily explained as a refinement of ancestor-worship, because, we repeat, it occurs where ancestors are not worshipped.

These considerations, however unpleasant to the devotees of Animism, or the ghost theory, are not, in themselves, illogical, nor contradictory of the theory of evolution, which, on the other hand, fits them perfectly well. That god thrives best who is most suited to his environment. Whether an easy-going, hungry ghost-god with a liking for his family, or a moral Creator not to be bribed, is better suited to an environment of not especially scrupulous savages, any man can decide. Whether a set of not particularly scrupulous savages will readily evolve a moral unbribable Creator, when they have a serviceable family ghost-god eager to oblige, is a question as easily resolved.

Beyond all doubt, savages who find themselves under the watchful eye of a moral deity whom they cannot 'square' will desert him as soon as they have evolved a practicable ghost-god, useful for family purposes, whom they can square. No less manifestly, savages, who already possess a throng of serviceable ghost-gods, will not enthusiastically evolve a moral Being who despises gifts, and only cares for obedience. 'There is a great deal of human nature in man,' and, if Mr. Im Thurn's description of the Guianese be correct, everything we know of human nature, and of evolution, assures us that the Father, or Maker, or Ancient of Days came first; the ghost-gods, last. What has here been said about the Indians of Guiana (namely, that they are now more ghost and spirit worshippers, with only a name surviving to attest a knowledge of a Father and Maker in Heaven) applies equally well to the Zulus. The Zulus are the great standing type of an animistic or ghost-worshipping race without a God. But, had they a God (on the Australian pattern) whom they have forgotten, or have they not yet evolved a God out of Animism?

The evidence, collected by Dr. Callaway, is honest, but confused. One native, among others, put forward the very theory here proposed by us as an alternative to that of Mr. Im Thurn. 'Unkulunkulu' (the idealised but despised First Ancestor) 'was not worshipped [by men]. For it is not worship when people see things, as rain, or food, or corn, and say, "Yes, these things were made by Unkulunkulu.... Afterwards they [men] had power to change those things, that they might become the Amatongos" [might belong to the ancestral spirits]. They took them away from Unkulunkulu.'[34]

Animism supplanted Theism. Nothing could be more explicit. But, though we have found an authentic Zulu text to suit our provisional theory, the most eminent philosophical example must not reduce us into supposing that this text settles the question. Dr. Callaway collected great masses of Zulu answers to his inquiries, and it is plain that a respondent, like the native theologian whom we have cited, may have adapted his reply to what he had learned of Christian doctrine. Having now the Christian notion of a Divine Creator, and knowing, too, that the unworshipped Unkulunkulu is said to have 'made things,' while only ancestral spirits, are worshipped, the native may have inferred that worship (by Christians given to the Creator) was at some time transferred by the Zulus from Unkulunkulu to the Amatongo. The truth is that both the anthropological theory (spirits first, Gods last), and our theory (Supreme Being first, spirits next) can find warrant in Dr. Callaway's valuable collections. For that reason, the problem must be solved after a survey of the whole field of savage and barbaric religion; it cannot be settled by the ambiguous case of the Zulus alone.

Unkulunkulu is represented as 'the First Man, who broke off in the beginning.' 'They are ancestor-worshippers,' says Dr. Callaway, 'and believe that their first ancestor, the First Man, was the Creator.'[35] But they may, like many other peoples, have had a different original tradition, and have altered it, just because they are now such fervent ancestor-worshippers. Unkulunkulu was prior to Death, which came among men in the usual mythical way.[36] Whether Unkulunkulu still exists, is rather a moot question: Dr. Callaway thinks that he does not.[37] If not, he is an exception to the rule in Australia, Andaman, among the Bushmen, the Fuegians, and savages in general, who are less advanced in culture than the Zulus. The idea, then, of a Maker of things who has ceased to exist occurs, if at all, not in a relatively primitive, but in a relatively late religion. On the analogy of pottery, agriculture, the use of iron, villages, hereditary kings, and so on, the notion of a dead Maker is late, not early. It occurs where men have iron, cattle, agriculture, kings, houses, a disciplined army, not where men have none of these things. The Zulu godless ancestor-worship, then, by parity of reasoning, is, like their material culture, not an early but a late development. The Zulus 'hear of a King which is above'—'the heavenly King.'[38] 'We did not hear of him first from white men.... But he is not like Unkulunkulu, who, we say, made all things.'

Here may be dimly descried the ideas of a God, and a subordinate demiurge. 'The King is above, Unkulunkulu is beneath.' The King above punishes sin, striking the sinner by lightning. Nor do the Zulus know how they have sinned. 'There remained only that word about the heaven,' 'which,' says Dr. Callaway, 'implies that there might have been other words which are now lost.' There is great confusion of thought. Unkulunkulu made the heaven, where the unknown King reigns, a hard task for a First Man.[39]

'In process of time we have come to worship the Amadhlozi (spirits) only, because we know not what to say about Unkulunkulu.'[40] 'It is on that account, then, that we seek out for ourselves the Amadhlozi (spirits), that we may not always be thinking about Unkulunkulu.'

All this attests a faint lingering shadow of a belief too ethereal, too remote, for a practical conquering race, which prefers intelligible serviceable ghosts, with a special regard for their own families.

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