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- The Making of Religion - 2/68 -


'Creator,' 'Eternal,' and the like, I shall later qualify and explain it. For a long discussion between myself and Mr. Sidney Hartland, involving minute detail, I may refer the reader to _Folk-Lore_, the last number of 1898 and the first of 1899, and to the Introduction to the new edition of my 'Myth, Ritual, and Religion' (1899).

Where relatively high moral attributes are assigned to a Being, I have called the result 'Religion;' where the same Being acts like Zeus in Greek fable, plays silly or obscene tricks, is lustful and false, I have spoken of 'Myth.'[3] These distinctions of Myth and Religion may be, and indeed are, called arbitrary. The whole complex set of statements about the Being, good or bad, sublime or silly, are equally Myths, it may be urged. Very well; but one set, the loftier set, is fitter to survive, and does survive, in what we still commonly call Religion; while the other set, the puerile set of statements, is fairly near to extinction, and is usually called Mythology. One set has been the root of a goodly tree: the other set is being lopped off, like the parasitic mistletoe.

I am arguing that the two classes of ideas arise from two separate human moods; moods as different and distinct as lust and love. I am arguing that, as far as our information goes, the nobler set of ideas is as ancient as the lower. Personally (though we cannot have direct evidence) I find it easy to believe that the loftier notions are the earlier. If man began with the conception of a powerful and beneficent Maker or Father, then I can see how the humorous savage fancy ran away with the idea of Power, and attributed to a potent being just such tricks as a waggish and libidinous savage would like to play if he could. Moreover, I have actually traced (in 'Myth, Ritual, and Religion') some plausible processes of mythical accretion. The early mind was not only religious, in its way, but scientific, in its way. It embraced the idea of Evolution as well as the idea of Creation. To one mood a Maker seemed to exist. But the institution of Totemism (whatever its origin) suggested the idea of Evolution; for men, it was held, developed out of their Totems-animals and plants. But then, on the other hand, Zeus, or Baiame, or Mungun-ngaur, was regarded as their Father. How were these contradictions to be reconciled? Easily, thus: Zeus _was_ the Father, but, in each case, was the Father by an amour in which he wore the form of the Totem-snake, swan, bull, ant, dog, or the like. At once a degraded set of secondary erotic myths cluster around Zeus.

Again, it is notoriously the nature of man to attribute every institution to a primal inventor or legislator. Men then, find themselves performing certain rites, often of a buffooning or scandalous character; and, in origin, mainly magical, intended for the increase of game, edible plants, or, later, for the benefit of the crops. _Why_ do they perform these rites? they ask: and, looking about, as usual, for a primal initiator, they attribute what they do to a primal being, the Corn Spirit, Demeter, or to Zeus, or to Baiame, or Manabozho, or Punjel. This is man's usual way of going back to origins. Instantly, then, a new set of parasitic myths crystallises round a Being who, perhaps, was originally moral. The savage mind, in short, has not maintained itself on the high level, any more than the facetious mediaeval myths maintained themselves, say, on the original level of the conception of the character of St. Peter, the keeper of the keys of Heaven.

All this appears perfectly natural and human, and in this, and in other ways, what we call low Myth may have invaded the higher realms of Religion: a lower invaded a higher element. But reverse the hypothesis. Conceive that Zeus, or Baiame, was _originally_, not a Father and guardian, but a lewd and tricky ghost of a medicine-man, a dancer of indecent dances, a wooer of other men's wives, a shape-shifter, a burlesque droll, a more jocular bugbear, like Twanyirika. By what means did he come to be accredited later with his loftiest attributes, and with regard for the tribal ethics, which, in practice, he daily broke and despised? Students who argue for the possible priority of the lowest, or, as I call them, mythical attributes of the Being, must advance an hypothesis of the concretion of the nobler elements around the original wanton and mischievous ghost.

Then let us suppose that the Arunta Twanyirika, a confessed bugbear, discredited by adults, and only invented to keep women and children in order, was the original germ of the moral and fatherly Baiame, of South Eastern Australian tribes. How, in that case, did the adults of the tribe fall into their own trap, come to believe seriously in their invented bugbear, and credit him with the superintendence of such tribal ethics as generosity and unselfishness? What were the processes of the conversion of Twanyirika? I do not deny that this theory may be correct, but I wish to see an hypothesis of the process of elevation.

I fail to frame such an hypothesis. Grant that the adults merely chuckle over Twanyirika, whose 'voice' they themselves produce; by whirling the wooden tundun, or bull-roarer. Grant that, on initiation, the boys learn that 'the great spirit' is a mere bogle, invented to mystify the women, and keep them away from the initiatory rites. How, then, did men come to believe in _him_ as a terrible, all-seeing, all-knowing, creative, and potent moral being? For this, undeniably, is the belief of many Australian tribes, where his 'voice' (or rather that of his subordinate) is produced by whirling the tundun. That these higher beliefs are of European origin, Mr. Howitt denies. How were they evolved out of the notion of a confessed artificial bogle? I am unable to frame a theory.

From my point of view, namely, that the higher and simple ideas may well be the earlier, I have, at least, offered a theory of the processes by which the lower attributes crystallised around a conception supposed (_argumenti gratia_) to be originally high. Other processes of degradation would come in, as (on my theory) the creed and practice of Animism, or worship of human ghosts, often of low character, swamped and invaded the prior belief in a fairly moral and beneficent, but not originally spiritual, Being. My theory, at least, _is_ a theory, and, rightly or wrongly, accounts for the phenomenon, the combination of the highest divine and the lowest animal qualities in the same Being. But I have yet to learn how, if the lowest myths are the earliest, the highest attributes came in time to be conferred on the hero of the lowest myths. Why, or how, did a silly buffoon, or a confessed 'bogle' arrive at being regarded as a patron of such morality as had been evolved? An hypothesis of the processes involved must be indicated. It is not enough to reply, in general, that the rudimentary human mind is illogical and confused. That is granted; but there must have been a method in its madness. What that method was (from my point of view) I have shown, and it must be as easy for opponents to set forth what, from their point of view, the method was.

We are here concerned with what, since the time of the earliest Greek philosophers, has been the _crux_ of mythology: why are infamous myths told about 'the Father of gods and men'? We can easily explain the nature of the myths. They are the natural flowers of savage fancy and humour. But wherefore do they crystallise round Zeus? I have, at least, shown some probable processes in the evolution.

Where criticism has not disputed the facts of the moral attributes, now attached to, say, an Australian Being, it has accounted for them by a supposed process of borrowing from missionaries and other Europeans. In this book I deal with that hypothesis as urged by Sir A.B. Ellis, in West Africa (chapter xiii.). I need not have taken the trouble, as this distinguished writer had already, in a work which I overlooked, formally withdrawn, as regards Africa, his theory of 'loan-gods.' Miss Kingsley, too, is no believer in the borrowing hypothesis for West Africa, in regard, that is, to the highest divine conception. I was, when I wrote, unaware that, especially as concerns America and Australia, Mr. Tylor had recently advocated the theory of borrowing ('Journal of Anthrop. Institute,' vol. xxi.). To Mr. Tylor's arguments, when I read them, I replied in the 'Nineteenth Century,' January 1899: 'Are Savage Gods Borrowed from Missionaries?' I do not here repeat my arguments, but await the publication of Mr. Tylor's 'Gifford Lectures,' in which his hypothesis may be reinforced, and may win my adhesion.

It may here be said, however, that if the Australian higher religious ideas are of recent and missionary origin, they would necessarily be known to the native women, from whom, in fact, they are absolutely concealed by the men, under penalty of death. Again, if the Son, or Sons, of Australian chief Beings resemble part of the Christian dogma, they much more closely resemble the Apollo and Hermes of Greece.[4] But nobody will say that the Australians borrowed them from Greek mythology!

In chapter xiv., owing to a bibliographical error of my own, I have done injustice to Mr. Tylor, by supposing him to have overlooked Strachey's account of the Virginian god Ahone. He did not overlook Ahone, but mistrusted Strachey. In an excursus on Ahone, in the new edition of 'Myth, Ritual, and Religion,' I have tried my best to elucidate the bibliography and other aspects of Strachey's account, which I cannot regard as baseless. Mr. Tylor's opinion is, doubtless, different, and may prove more persuasive. As to Australia, Mr. Howitt, our best authority, continues to disbelieve in the theory of borrowing.

I have to withdraw in chapters x. xi. the statement that 'Darumulun never died at all.' Mr. Hartland has corrected me, and pointed out that, among the Wiraijuri, a myth represents him as having been destroyed, for his offences, by Baiame. In that tribe, however, Darumulun is not the highest, but a subordinate Being. Mr. Hartland has also collected a few myths in which Australian Supreme Beings _do_ (contrary to my statement) 'set the example of sinning.' Nothing can surprise me less, and I only wonder that, in so savage a race, the examples, hitherto collected, are so rare, and so easily to be accounted for on the theory of processes of crystallisation of myths already suggested.

As to a remark in Appendix B, Mr. Podmore takes a distinction. I quote his remark, 'the phenomena described are quite inexplicable by ordinary mechanical means,' and I contrast this, as illogical, with his opinion that a girl 'may have been directly responsible for all that took place.' Mr. Podmore replies that what was 'described' is not necessarily identical with what _occurred_. Strictly speaking, he is right; but the evidence was copious, was given by many witnesses, and (as offered by me) was in part _contemporary_ (being derived from the local newspapers), so that here Mr. Podmore's theory of illusions of memory on a large scale, developed in the five weeks which elapsed before he examined the spectators, is out of court. The evidence was of contemporary published record.

The handling of fire by Home is accounted for by Mr. Podmore, in the same chapter, as the result of Home's use of a 'non-conducting substance.' Asked, 'what substance?' he answered, 'asbestos.' Sir William Crookes, again repeating his account of the performance which he witnessed, says, 'Home took up a lump of red-hot charcoal about twice the size of an egg into his hand, on which certainly no asbestos was visible. He blew into his hands, and the flames could be seen coming out between his fingers, and he carried the charcoal round the room.'[5] Sir W. Crookes stood close beside Home. The light was that of the fire and of two candles. Probably Sir William could see a piece of asbestos, if it was covering Home's hands, which he was watching.

What I had to say, by way of withdrawal, qualification, explanation, or otherwise, I inserted (in order to seize the earliest opportunity) in the Introduction to the recent edition of my 'Myth, Ritual, and Religion' (1899). The reader will perhaps make his own kind deductions from my rhetoric when I talk, for example, about a Creator in the creed of low savages. They have no business, anthropologists declare, to entertain so large an idea. But in 'The Journal of the Anthropological Institute,' N.S. II., Nos. 1, 2, p. 85, Dr. Bennett gives an account of the religion of the cannibal Fangs of the Congo, first described by Du Chaillu. 'These anthropophagi have some idea of a God, a superior being, their _Tata_ ("Father"), _a bo mam merere_ ("he made all things"), Anyambi is their _Tata_ (Father), and ranks above all other Fang gods, because _a'ne yap_


The Making of Religion - 2/68

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