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- The Making of Religion - 1/68 -








I hope you will permit me to lay at the feet of the University of St. Andrews, in acknowledgment of her life-long kindnesses to her old pupil, these chapters on the early History of Religion. They may be taken as representing the Gifford Lectures delivered by me, though in fact they contain very little that was spoken from Lord Gifford's chair. I wish they were more worthy of an Alma Mater which fostered in the past the leaders of forlorn hopes that were destined to triumph; and the friends of lost causes who fought bravely against Fate--Patrick Hamilton, Cargill, and Argyll, Beaton and Montrose, and Dundee.

Believe me

Very sincerely yours,


* * * * *


By the nature of things this book falls under two divisions. The first eight chapters criticise the current anthropological theory of the origins of the belief in _spirits._ Chapters ix.-xvii., again, criticise the current anthropological theory as to how, the notion of _spirit_ once attained, man arrived at the idea of a Supreme Being. These two branches of the topic are treated in most modern works concerned with the Origins of Religion, such as Mr. Tyler's "Primitive Culture," Mr. Herbert Spencer's "Principles of Sociology," Mr. Jevons's "Introduction to the History of Religion," the late Mr. Grant Allen's "Evolution of the Idea of God," and many others. Yet I have been censured for combining, in this work, the two branches of my subject; and the second part has been regarded as but faintly connected with the first.

The reason for this criticism seems to be, that while one small set of students is interested in, and familiar with the themes examined in the first part (namely the psychological characteristics of certain mental states from which, in part, the doctrine of spirits is said to have arisen), that set of students neither knows nor cares anything about the matter handled in the second part. This group of students is busied with "Psychical Research," and the obscure human faculties implied in alleged cases of hallucination, telepathy, "double personality," human automatism, clairvoyance, and so on. Meanwhile anthropological readers are equally indifferent as to that branch of psychology which examines the conditions of hysteria, hypnotic trance, "double personality," and the like. Anthropologists have not hitherto applied to the savage mental conditions, out of which, in part, the doctrine of "spirits" arose, the recent researches of French, German, and English psychologists of the new school. As to whether these researches into abnormal psychological conditions do, or do not, indicate the existence of a transcendental region of human faculty, anthropologists appear to be unconcerned. The only English exception known to me is Mr. Tylor, and his great work, "Primitive Culture," was written thirty years ago, before the modern psychological studies of Professor William James, Dr. Romaine Newbold, M. Richet, Dr. Janet, Professor Sidgwick, Mr. Myers, Mr. Gurney, Dr. Parish, and many others had commenced.

Anthropologists have gone on discussing the trances, and visions, and so-called "demoniacal possession" of savages, as if no new researches into similar facts in the psychology of civilised mankind existed; or, if they existed, threw any glimmer of light on the abnormal psychology of savages. I have, on the other hand, thought it desirable to sketch out a study of savage psychology in the light of recent psychological research. Thanks to this daring novelty, the book has been virtually taken as two books; anthropologists have criticised the second part, and one or two Psychical Researchers have criticised the first part; each school leaving one part severely alone. Such are the natural results of a too restricted specialism.

Even to Psychical Researchers the earlier division is of scant interest, because witnesses to _successful_ abnormal or supernormal faculty in savages cannot be brought into court and cross-examined. But I do not give anecdotes of such savage successes as evidence to _facts;_ they are only illustrations, and evidence to _beliefs and methods_ (as of crystal gazing and automatic utterances of "secondary personality"), which, among the savages, correspond to the supposed facts examined by Psychical Research among the civilised. I only point out, as Bastian had already pointed out, the existence of a field that deserves closer study by anthropologists who can observe savages in their homes. We need persons trained in the psychological laboratories of Europe and America, as members of anthropological expeditions. It may be noted that, in his "Letters from the South Seas," Mr. Louis Stevenson makes some curious observations, especially on a singular form of hypnotism applied to himself with fortunate results. The method, used in native medicine, was novel; and the results were entirely inexplicable to Mr. Stevenson, who had not been amenable to European hypnotic practice. But he was not a trained expert.

Anthropology must remain incomplete while it neglects this field, whether among wild or civilised men. In the course of time this will come to be acknowledged. It will be seen that we cannot really account for the origin of the belief in spirits while we neglect the scientific study of those psychical conditions, as of hallucination and the hypnotic trance, in which that belief must probably have had some, at least, of its origins.

As to the second part of the book, I have argued that the first dim surmises as to a Supreme Being need not have arisen (as on the current anthropological theory) in the notion of spirits at all. (See chapter xi.) Here I have been said to draw a mere "verbal distinction" but no distinction can be more essential. If such a Supreme Being as many savages acknowledge is _not_ envisaged by them as a "spirit," then the theories and processes by which he is derived from a ghost of a dead man are invalid, and remote from the point. As to the origin of a belief in a kind of germinal Supreme Being (say the Australian Baiame), I do not, in this book, offer any opinion. I again and again decline to offer an opinion. Critics, none the less, have said that I attribute the belief to revelation! I shall therefore here indicate what I think probable in so obscure a field.

As soon as man had the idea of "making" things, he might conjecture as to a Maker of things which he himself had not made, and could not make. He would regard this unknown Maker as a "magnified non-natural man." These speculations appear to me to need less reflection than the long and complicated processes of thought by which Mr. Tylor believes, and probably believes with justice, the theory of "spirits" to have been evolved. (See chapter iii.) This conception of a magnified non-natural man, who is a Maker, being given; his Power would be recognised, and fancy would clothe one who had made such useful things with certain other moral attributes, as of Fatherhood, goodness, and regard for the ethics of his children; these ethics having been developed naturally in the evolution of social life. In all this there is nothing "mystical," nor anything, as far as I can see, beyond the limited mental powers of any beings that deserve to be called human.

But I hasten to add that another theory may be entertained. Since this book was written there appeared "The Native Tribes of Central Australia," by Professor Spencer and Mr. Gillen, a most valuable study.[1] The authors, closely scrutinising the esoteric rites of the Arunta and other tribes in Central Australia, found none of the moral precepts and attributes which (according to Mr. Howitt, to whom their work is dedicated), prevail in the mysteries of the natives of New South Wales and Victoria. (See chapter x.) What they found was a belief in 'the great spirit, _Twanyirika_,' who is believed 'by uninitiated boys and women' (but, apparently, not by adults) to preside over the cruel rites of tribal initiation.[2] No more is said, no myths about 'the great spirit' are given. He is dismissed in a brief note. Now if these ten lines contain _all_ the native lore of Twanyirika, he is a mere bugbear, not believed in (apparently) by adults, but invented by them to terrorise the women and boys. Next, granting that the information of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen is exhaustive, and granting that (as Mr. J.G. Frazer holds, in his essays in the 'Fortnightly Review,' April and May, 1899) the Arunta are the most primitive of mortals, it will seem to follow that the _moral_ attributes of Baiame and other gods of other Australian regions are later accretions round the form of an original and confessed bugbear, as among the primitive Arunta, 'a bogle of the nursery,' in the phrase repudiated by Maitland of Lethington. Though not otherwise conspicuously more civilised than the Arunta (except, perhaps, in marriage relations), Mr. Howitt's South Eastern natives will have improved the Arunta confessed 'bogle' into a beneficent and moral Father and Maker. Religion will have its origin in a tribal joke, and will have become not '_diablement_,' but '_divinement_,' '_changee en route_.' Readers of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen will see that the Arunta philosophy, primitive or not, is of a high ingenuity, and so artfully composed that it contains no room either for a Supreme Being or for the doctrine of the survival of the soul, with a future of rewards and punishments; opinions declared to be extant among other Australian tribes. There is no creator, and every soul, after death, is reincarnated in a new member of the tribe. On the other hand (granting that the brief note on Twanyirika is exhaustive), the Arunta, in their isolation, may have degenerated in religion, and may have dropped, in the case of Twanyirika, the moral attributes of Baiame. It may be noticed that, in South Eastern Australia, the Being who presides, like Twanyirika, over initiations is _not_ the supreme being, but a son or deputy of his, such as the Kurnai Tundun. We do not know whether the Arunta have, or have had and lost, or never possessed, a being superior to Twanyirika.

With regard, to all such moral, and, in certain versions, creative Beings as Baiame, criticism has taken various lines. There is the high a priori line that savage minds are incapable of originating the notion of a moral Maker. I have already said that the notion, in an early form, seems to be well within the range of any minds deserving to be called human. Next, the facts are disputed. I can only refer readers to the authorities cited. They speak for tribes in many quarters of the world, and the witnesses are laymen as well as missionaries. I am accused, again, of using a misleading rhetoric, and of thereby covertly introducing Christian or philosophical ideas into my account of "savages guiltless of Christian teaching." As to the latter point, I am also accused of mistaking for native opinions the results of "Christian teaching." One or other charge must fall to the ground. As to my rhetoric, in the use of such words as

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