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- Myth, Ritual, and Religion, Vol. 1 - 6/59 -


1610-11. He was much made of by Lord De la Warr, "could speak a pretty deal of our English, and came orderly to church every day to prayers". He gave Strachey the names of Powhattan's wives, and told him, truly or not, that Pocahontas was married, about 1610, to an Indian named Kocoum.[5] I offer the guess that Kemps and Machumps, who came and went from Pocahontas, and recited an Indian prayer which Strachey neglected to copy out, may have been among Strachey's authorities. I shall, of course, be told that Kemps picked up Ahone at church. This did not strike Strachey as being the fact; he had no opinion of the creed in which Ahone was a factor, "the misery and thraldome under which Sathan has bound these wretched miscreants". According to Strachey, the priests, far from borrowing any part of our faith, "feare and tremble lest the knowledge of God, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ be taught in these parts".

[1] Arber, cxvii. Strachey mentions that (before his arrival in Virginia) Pocahontas turned cart-wheels, naked, in Jamestown, being then under twelve, and not yet wearing the apron. Smith says she was ten in 1608, but does not mention the cart-wheels. Later, he found it convenient to put her age at twelve or thirteen in 1608. Most American scholars, such as Mr. Adams, entirely distrust the romantic later narratives of Smith.

[2] The Proeeedings, etc., by W. S. Arber, p. 151.

[3] Ibid., p. 155.

[4] Ibid., p. 157.

[5] Strachey, pp. 54, 55.

Strachey is therefore for putting down the priests, and, like Smith (indeed here borrowing from Smith), accuses them of sacrificing children. To Smith's statement that such a rite was worked at Quiyough-cohanock, Strachey adds that Sir George Percy (who was with Smith) "was at, and observed" a similar mystery at Kecoughtan. It is plain that the rite was not a sacrifice, but a Bora, or initiation, and the parallel of the Spartan flogging of boys, with the retreat of the boys and their instructors, is very close, and, of course, unnoted by classical scholars except Mr. Frazer. Strachey ends with the critical remark that we shall not know all the certainty of the religion and mysteries till we can capture some of the priests, or Quiyough-quisocks.

Students who have access to a good library of Americana may do more to elucidate Ahone. I regard him as in a line with Kiehtan and the God spoken of by Heriot, and do not believe (1) that Strachey lied; (2) that natives deceived Strachey; (3) that Ahone was borrowed from "the God of Captain Smith".

MYTH, RITUAL, AND RELIGION.

CHAPTER I.

SYSTEMS OF MYTHOLOGY.

Definitions of religion--Contradictory evidence--"Belief in spiritual beings"--Objection to Mr. Tylor's definition--Definition as regards this argument--Problem: the contradiction between religion and myth--Two human moods--Examples--Case of Greece-- Ancient mythologists--Criticism by Eusebius--Modern mythological systems--Mr. Max Muller--Mannhardt.

The word "Religion" may be, and has been, employed in many different senses, and with a perplexing width of significance. No attempt to define the word is likely to be quite satisfactory, but almost any definition may serve the purpose of an argument, if the writer who employs it states his meaning frankly and adheres to it steadily. An example of the confusions which may arise from the use of the term "religion" is familiar to students. Dr. J. D. Lang wrote concerning the native races of Australia: "They have nothing whatever of the character of religion, or of religious observances, to distinguish them from the beasts that perish". Yet in the same book Dr. Lang published evidence assigning to the natives belief in "Turramullun, the chief of demons, who is the author of disease, mischief and wisdom".[1] The belief in a superhuman author of "disease, mischief and wisdom" is certainly a religious belief not conspicuously held by "the beasts"; yet all religion was denied to the Australians by the very author who prints (in however erroneous a style) an account of part of their creed. This writer merely inherited the old missionary habit of speaking about the god of a non-Christian people as a "demon" or an "evil spirit".

[1] See Primitive Culture, second edition, i. 419.

Dr. Lang's negative opinion was contradicted in testimony published by himself, an appendix by the Rev. Mr. Ridley, containing evidence of the belief in Baiame. "Those who have learned that 'God' is the name by which we speak of the Creator, say that Baiame is God."[1]

[1] Lang's Queensland, p. 445, 1861.

As "a minimum definition of religion," Mr. Tylor has suggested "the belief in spiritual beings". Against this it may be urged that, while we have no definite certainty that any race of men is destitute of belief in spiritual beings, yet certain moral and creative deities of low races do not seem to be envisaged as "spiritual" at all. They are regarded as EXISTENCES, as BEINGS, unconditioned by Time, Space, or Death, and nobody appears to have put the purely metaphysical question, "Are these beings spiritual or material?"[1] Now, if a race were discovered which believed in such beings, yet had no faith in spirits, that race could not be called irreligious, as it would have to be called in Mr. Tylor's "minimum definition". Almost certainly, no race in this stage of belief in nothing but unconditioned but not expressly spiritual beings is extant. Yet such a belief may conceivably have existed before men had developed the theory of spirits at all, and such a belief, in creative and moral unconditioned beings, not alleged to be spiritual, could not be excluded from a definition of religion.[2]

[1] See The Making of Religion, pp. 201-210.

[2] "The history of the Jews, nay, the history of our own mind, proves to demonstration that the thought of God is a far easier thought, and a far earlier, than that of a spirit." Father Tyrrell, S. J., The Month, October, 1898. As to the Jews, the question is debated. As to our own infancy, we are certainly taught about God before we are likely to be capable of the metaphysical notion of spirit. But we can scarcely reason from children in Christian houses to the infancy of the race.

For these reasons we propose (merely for the purpose of the present work) to define religion as the belief in a primal being, a Maker, undying, usually moral, without denying that the belief in spiritual beings, even if immoral, may be styled religious. Our definition is expressly framed for the purpose of the argument, because that argument endeavours to bring into view the essential conflict between religion and myth. We intend to show that this conflict between the religious and the mythical conception is present, not only (where it has been universally recognised) in the faiths of the ancient civilised peoples, as in Greece, Rome, India and Egypt, but also in the ideas of the lowest known savages.

It may, of course, be argued that the belief in Creator is itself a myth. However that may be, the attitude of awe, and of moral obedience, in face of such a supposed being, is religious in the sense of the Christian religion, whereas the fabrication of fanciful, humorous, and wildly irrational fables about that being, or others, is essentially mythical in the ordinary significance of that word, though not absent from popular Christianity.

Now, the whole crux and puzzle of mythology is, "Why, having attained (in whatever way) to a belief in an undying guardian, 'Master of Life,' did mankind set to work to evolve a chronique scandaleuse about HIM? And why is that chronique the elaborately absurd set of legends which we find in all mythologies?"

In answering, or trying to answer, these questions, we cannot go behind the beliefs of the races now most immersed in savage ignorance. About the psychology of races yet more undeveloped we can have no historical knowledge. Among the lowest known tribes we usually find, just as in ancient Greece, the belief in a deathless "Father," "Master," "Maker," and also the crowd of humorous, obscene, fanciful myths which are in flagrant contradiction with the religious character of that belief. That belief is what we call rational, and even elevated. The myths, on the other hand, are what we call irrational and debasing. We regard low savages as very irrational and debased characters, consequently the nature of their myths does not surprise us. Their religious conception, however, of a "Father" or "Master of Life" seems out of keeping with the nature of the savage mind as we understand it. Still, there the religious conception actually is, and it seems to follow that we do not wholly understand the savage mind, or its unknown antecedents. In any case, there the facts are, as shall be demonstrated. However the ancestors of Australians, or Andamanese, or Hurons arrived at their highest religious conception, they decidedly possess it.[1] The development of their mythical conceptions is accounted for by those qualities of their minds which we do understand, and shall illustrate at length. For the present, we can only say that the religious conception uprises from the human intellect in one mood, that of earnest contemplation and submission: while the mythical ideas uprise from another mood, that of playful and erratic fancy. These two moods are conspicuous even in Christianity. The former, that of earnest and submissive contemplation, declares itself in prayers, hymns, and "the dim religious light" of cathedrals. The second mood, that of playful and erratic fancy, is conspicuous in the buffoonery of Miracle Plays, in Marchen, these burlesque popular tales about our Lord and the Apostles, and in the hideous and grotesque sculptures on sacred edifices. The two moods are present, and in conflict, through the whole religious history of the human race. They stand as near each other, and as far apart, as Love and Lust.

[1] The hypothesis that the conception was borrowed from European creeds will be discussed later. See, too, "Are Savage Gods borrowed from Missionaries?" Nineteenth Century, January, 1899.


Myth, Ritual, and Religion, Vol. 1 - 6/59

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