Magic and Religion - Andrew Lang - E-Book

Magic and Religion E-Book

Andrew Lang

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Andrew Lang FBA (31 March 1844 – 20 July 1912) was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology. He was regarded as one of the leading lights in the study of unexplained phenomena such as magic. In this book, he described the relationship which exists between superstition and religion, the theory of borrowed religions, the connection between Magic and Religion, and other exceptional subjects.

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Andrew Lang

Magic and Religion

EAN 8596547043348
DigiCat, 2022 Contact: [email protected]

Table of Contents



Recent years have brought rich additions to the materials for the study of early religion, ritual, magic, and myth. In proportion to the abundance of information has been the growth of theory and hypothesis. The first essay in this collection, 'Science and Superstition,' points out the danger of allowing too ingenious and imaginative hypotheses to lead captive our science.

As, like others, I have not long since advanced a provisional theory of my own, the second and third essays are designed to strengthen my position. The theory is that perhaps the earliest traceable form of religion was relatively high, and that it was inevitably lowered in tone during the process of social evolution. Obviously this opinion may be attacked from two sides. It may be said that the loftier religious ideas of the lowest savages are borrowed from Christianity or Islam. This I understand to be the theory of Mr. E. B. Tylor. It is with much diffidence that I venture, at present, to disagree with so eminent and sagacious an authority, while awaiting the publication of Mr. Tylor's Aberdeen Gifford Lectures. My reply to his hypothesis, so far as it has been published by him, will be found in the second essay, 'The Theory of Loan-Gods.' Secondly, my position may be attacked by disabling the evidence for the existence of the higher elements in the religion of low savages. Mr. Frazer, in the second edition of his 'Golden Bough,' has advanced an hypothesis of the origin of religion, wherein the evidence for the higher factors is not taken into account. Probably he may consider the subject in a later work, to which he alludes in his Preface. 'Should I live to complete the works for which I have collected and am collecting materials, I dare to think that they will clear me of any suspicion of treating the early history of religion from a single narrow point of view.'[1]

Meanwhile, however, Mr. Frazer has advanced a theory of the origin of religion wherein evidence which I think deserving of attention receives no recognition. I hope, therefore, that it is not premature to state the evidence, or some of it, which I do in the third essay, 'Magic and Religion.'

Fourth comes a long criticism of Mr. Frazer's many hypotheses, which are combined into his theory of the origin, or partial origin, of the belief in the divine character of Christ. This argument demands very minute, and, I fear, tedious examination. I fear still more that my labour has not, after all, been sufficiently minute and accurate. It seems to be almost impossible to understand clearly and represent fairly ideas with which one does not agree. If I have failed in these respects it is unconsciously, and I shall gratefully accept criticism enabling me to recognise and correct errors.

Fifthly, I examine, in 'The Ghastly Priest,' Mr. Frazer's theory of the Golden Bough of Virgil as connected with the fugitive slave who was 'King of the Wood' near Aricia. I offer a conjecture as to the origin of his curious position, which seems to me simpler, and not less probable, than Mr. Frazer's hypothesis that this outcast 'lived and died as an incarnation of the supreme Aryan god, whose life was in the mistletoe or golden bough.' But my conjecture is only a guess at a problem which, I think, we have not the means of solving.

There follow an essay, 'South African Religion,' and another on the old puzzle of the 'Cup and Ring' marks on rocks and cists and other objects all over the world.

Next I consider the subject of 'Taboos,' with especial reference to the theory of Mr. F. B. Jevons. An essay follows on the singular rite of the Fire Walk, with the alleged immunity of the performers. This curious topic I have treated before, but now add fresh evidence.

Of these essays the second, in part, appeared in the 'Nineteenth Century,' and most of 'The Ghastly Priest' was published in 'The Fortnightly Review,' while 'Cup and Ring' first saw the light in 'The Contemporary Review.' My thanks are due to the Editors of those periodicals for permission to republish. The essay on the 'Fire Walk' was in the 'Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research,' though the topic does not appear to be 'psychical.' All the other papers are new, and three Appendices on points of detail are added.

The design on the cover is drawn by Mr. Donnelly, the discoverer of the Dunbuie and Dumbuck sites and relics, from an Australian design, in Messrs. Spencer and Gillen's 'Native Tribes of Central Australia.'

For permission to reproduce this drawing I have to thank the kindness of Messrs. Macmillan & Co. The designs of feet, on the back of the volume (a subject found in Australia), and the 'Jew's harp' ornament (common to Scotland and Hindustan), are also by Mr. Donnelly, from Scottish rock carvings.

[1]Golden Bough, i. xvii, 1900.

Corrigenda and Addenda

Page 4, lines 24, 25, for story read storey, for stories read storeys.

Page 13, line 7, compare p. 297, the second paragraph, as to Motagon and Bishop Salvado.

Page 17, line 24, for 1871 read 1873.

Page 44. To the names of writers who support the idea of an Australian religion should be added that of Dr. John Mathew, in Eaglehawk and Crow, p. 147 (1899), 'I was once of opinion that notions about a divinity had been derived from the whites and transmitted among the blacks hither and thither, but I am now convinced that this idea was here before European occupation.' But (pp. 130, 131) Dr. Mathew gives his reasons for thinking importation from Indian mythology possible. But as they rest on his decipherment of certain marks, which may be meant for characters, in Sir George Grey's copy of an Australian wall-painting, the evidence is weak. (Grey, North-west and Western Australia, i. 201 et seq.). Supposing the characters to be Sumatran, it would be necessary to show that the people of Sumatra do represent their otiose deity as in the painting copied by Grey.

Page 58, line 6, for rights read rites.

Page 75, note 1, for Primitive Culture, i. 379, 1871, read Primitive Culture, i. 419, 1873.

Page 112, note 1. 'But so there were in 1000 A.D.' I have been informed that there was no special fear of the end of the world in 1000 A.D. M. Cumont gives good reasons for holding that the martyrdom of St. Dasius in 303 was on record between 362 and 411 (Man, May 1901, No. 53).

Page 120. 'Ctesias flourished rather earlier than Berosus, who is about 200 B.C.;' for 200 read 260. Ctesias was a contemporary of Herodotus.




Table of Contents

We all know what we mean by science; science is 'organised common sense.' Her aim is the acquisition of reasoned and orderly knowledge. Presented with a collection of verified facts, it is the part of science to reduce them to order, and to account for their existence in accordance with her recognised theory of things. If the facts cannot be fitted into the theory, it must be expanded or altered; for we must admit that, if the facts are verified, there is need for change and expansion in the theory. The 'colligation' of facts demands hypotheses, and these may not, at the moment of their construction, be verifiable. The deflections of a planet from its apparently normal course may be accounted for by the hypothesis of the attraction of another heavenly body not yet discovered. The hypothesis is legitimate, for such bodies are known to exist, and to produce such effects. When the body is discovered, the hypothesis becomes a certainty. On the other hand, the hypothesis that some capricious and conscious agency pushed the planet into deflections would be illegitimate, for the existence of such a freakish agency is not demonstrated. Our hypotheses then must be consistent with our actual knowledge of nature and of human nature, and our conjectured causes must be adequate to the production of the effects. Thus, science gradually acquires and organises new regions of knowledge.

Superstition is a word of much less definite meaning. When we call a man 'superstitious,' we usually mean that evidence which satisfies him does not satisfy us. We see examples daily of the dependence of belief on bias. One man believes a story about cruelties committed by our adversaries; another, disbelieving the tale, credits a narrative about the misconduct of our own party. Probably the evidence in neither case would satisfy the historian, or be accepted by a jury. A man in a tavern tells another how the Boers, retreating from a position, buried their own wounded. 'I don't believe that,' says the other. 'Then you are a pro-Boer.'

The sceptic reasoned from his general knowledge of human nature. The believer reasoned from his own prejudiced and mythopoeic conception of people whom he disliked. If the question had been one of religion the believer might be called superstitious; the sceptic might be called scientific, if he was ready to yield his doubts to the evidence of capable observers of the alleged fact.

Superstition, like science, has her hypotheses, and, like science, she reasons from experience. But her experience is usually fantastic, unreal, or if real capable of explanation by causes other than those alleged by superstition. A man comes in at night, and says he has seen a ghost in white. That is merely his hypothesis; the existence of ghosts in white is not demonstrated. You accompany him to the scene of the experience, and prove to him that he has seen a post, not a ghost. His experience was real, but was misinterpreted by dint of an hypothesis resting on no demonstrated fact of knowledge.

The hypotheses of superstition are familiar. Thus, an event has happened: say you have lost your button-hook. You presently hear of a death in your family. Ever afterwards you go anxiously about when you have lost a button-hook. You are confusing a casual sequence of facts with a causal connection of facts. Sequence in time is mistaken for sequence of what we commonly style cause and effect. In the same way, superstition cherishes the hypothesis that like affects like. Thus, the sun is round, and a ball of clay is round. Therefore, if an Australian native wishes to delay the course of the round sun in the heavens, he fixes a round ball of clay on the bough of a tree; or so books on anthropology tell us. Acting on the hypothesis that like affects like, a man makes a clay or waxen image of an enemy, and sticks it full of pins or thorns. He expects his enemy to suffer agony in consequence, and so powerful is 'suggestion' that, if the enemy knows about the image, he sometimes falls ill and dies. This experience corroborates the superstitious hypothesis, and so the experiment with the image is of world-wide diffusion. Everything is done, or attempted, on these lines by superstition. Men imitate the killing of foes or game, and expect, as a result, to kill them in war or in the chase. They mimic the gathering of clouds and the fall of rain, and expect rain to fall in consequence. They imitate the evolution of an edible grub from the larva, and expect grubs to multiply; and so on.

All this is quite rational, if you grant the hypotheses of superstition. Her practices are magic. We are later to discuss a theory that men had magic before they had religion, and only invented gods because they found that magic did not work. Still later they invented science, which is only magic with a legitimate hypothesis, using real, not fanciful, experience. In the long run magic and religion are to die out, perhaps, and science is to have the whole field to herself.

This may be a glorious though a remote prospect. But surely it is above all things needful that our science should be scientific. She must not blink facts, merely because they do not fit into her scheme or hypothesis of the nature of things, or of religion. She really must give as much prominence to the evidence which contradicts as to that which supports her theory in each instance. Not only must she not shut her eyes to this evidence, but she must diligently search for it, must seek for what Bacon calls instantice contradictorim, since, if these exist, the theory which ignores them is useless. If she advances an hypothesis, it must not be contradictory of the whole mass of human experience. If science finds that her hypothesis contradicts experience, she must seek for an hypothesis which is in accordance with experience, and, if that cannot be found, she must wait till it is found. Again, science must not pile one unverified hypothesis upon another unverified hypothesis till her edifice rivals the Tower of Babel. She must not make a conjecture on p. 35, and on p. 210 treat the conjecture as a fact. Because, if one story in the card-castle is destroyed by being proved impossible, all the other stories will 'come tumbling after.' It seems hardly necessary, but it is not superfluous, to add that, in her castle of hypotheses, one must not contradict, and therefore destroy, another. We must not be asked to believe that an event occurred at one date, and also that it occurred at another; or that an institution was both borrowed by a people at one period, and was also possessed, unborrowed, by the same people, at an earlier period. We cannot permit science to assure us that a certain fact was well known, and that the knowledge produced important consequences; while we are no less solemnly told that the fact was wholly unknown, whence it would seem that the results alleged to spring from the knowledge could not be produced.

This kind of reasoning, with its inferring of inferences from other inferences, themselves inferred from conjectures as to the existence of facts of which no proof is adduced, must be called superstitious rather than scientific. The results may be interesting, but they are the reverse of science.

It is perhaps chiefly in the nascent science of the anthropological study of institutions, and above all of religion, that this kind of reasoning prevails. The topic attracts ingenious and curious minds. System after system has been constructed, unstinted in material, elegant in aspect, has been launched, and has been wrecked, or been drifted by the careless winds to the forlorn shore where Bryant's ark, with all its crew, divine or human, lies in decay. No mortal student believes in the arkite system of Bryant, though his ark, on the match-boxes of Messrs. Bryant and May, perhaps denotes loyalty to the ancestral idea.

The world of modern readers has watched sun myths, and dawn myths, and storm myths, and wind myths come in and go out: autant en emporte le vent. Totems and taboos succeeded, and we are bewildered by the contending theories of the origins of taboos and totems. Deities of vegetation now are all in all, and may it be far from us to say that any one from Ouranos to Pan, from the Persian King to the horses of Virbius, is not a spirit of vegetable life. Yet perhaps the deity has higher aspects and nobler functions than the pursuit of his 'vapid vegetable loves;' and these deserve occasional attention.

The result, however, of scurrying hypotheses and hasty generalisations is that the nascent science of religious origins is received with distrust. We may review the brief history of the modern science.

Some twenty years ago, when the 'Principles of Sociology,' by Mr. Herbert Spencer, was first published, the book was reviewed, in 'Mind,' by the author of 'Primitive Culture.' That work, again, was published in 1871. In 1890 appeared the 'Golden Bough,' by Mr. J. G. Frazer, and the second edition of the book, with changes and much new matter, was given to the world in 1900.

Here, then, we have a whole generation, a space of thirty years, during which English philosophers or scholars have been studying the science of the Origins of Religion. In the latest edition of the 'Golden Bough,' Mr. Frazer has even penetrated into the remote region where man neither had, nor wanted, any religion at all. We naturally ask ourselves to what point we have arrived after the labours of a generation. Twenty years ago, when reviewing Mr. Spencer, Mr. Tylor said that a time of great public excitement as to these topics was at hand. The clamour and contest aroused by Mr. Darwin's theory of the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man would be outdone by the coming war over the question of the Evolution of Religion. But there has been no general excitement; there has been little display of public interest in these questions. They have been left to 'the curious' and 'the learned,' classes not absolutely identical. Mr. Frazer, indeed, assures us that the comparative study of human beliefs and institutions is 'fitted to be much more than a means of satisfying an enlightened curiosity, and of furnishing materials for the researches of the learned.'[1]

But enlightened curiosity seems to be easily satisfied, and only very few of the learned concern themselves with these researches, which Mr. Tylor expected to be so generally exciting.

A member of the University of Oxford informed me that the study of beliefs, and of anthropology in general, is almost entirely neglected by the undergraduates, and when I asked him 'Why?' he replied 'There is no money in it.' Another said that anthropology 'had no evidence.' In the language of the economists there is no supply provided at Oxford because there is no demand. Classics, philology, history, physical science, and even literature, are studied, because 'there is money in them,' not much money indeed, but a competence, if the student is successful. For the study of the evolution of beliefs there is no demand, or very little. Yet, says Mr. Frazer, 'well handled, it may become a powerful instrument to expedite progress, if it lays bare certain weak spots in the foundations on which modern society is built.' We all desire progress (in the right direction), we all pine to lay bare weak spots, and yet we do not seem to be concerned about the services which might be done for progress by the study of the evolution of religion. 'It is indeed a melancholy and, in some respects, thankless task,' says Mr. Frazer, 'to strike at the foundations of beliefs in which, as in a strong tower, the hopes and aspirations of humanity through long ages have sought a refuge from the storm and stress of life.' 'Thankless,' indeed, these operations are. 'Yet sooner or later,' Mr. Frazer adds, 'it is inevitable that the battery of the comparative method should-breach these venerable walls, mantled over with the ivy and mosses and wild flowers of a thousand tender and sacred associations. At present we are only dragging the guns into position; they have hardly yet begun to speak.'

Mr. Frazer is too modest: he has dragged into position a work of immense learning and eloquent style in three siege guns, we may say, three volumes of the largest calibre, and they have spoken about 500,000 words. No man, to continue the metaphor, is better supplied than he with the ammunition of learning, with the knowledge of facts of every kind. Yet the venerable walls,—with their pleasing growth of ivy, mosses, wild flowers, and other mural vegetation, do not, to myself, seem in the least degree impaired by the artillery, and I try to show cause for my opinion.

Why is this, and why is the portion of the public which lives within or without the venerable walls mainly indifferent?

Several sufficient reasons might be given. In the first place many people have, or think they have, so many other grounds for disbelief, that additional grounds, provided by the comparative method, are regarded rather as a luxury than as supplying a felt want. Again, but very few persons have leisure, or inclination, or power of mind enough to follow an elaborate argument through fifteen hundred pages, not to speak of other works on the same theme. Once more, only a minute minority are capable of testing and weighing the evidence, and criticising the tangled hypotheses on which the argument rests, or in which it is involved.

But there is another and perhaps a sounder argument for indifference. The learned are aware that the evidence for all these speculations is not of the nature to which they are accustomed, either in historical or scientific studies. More and more the age insists on strictness in appreciating evidence, and on economy in conjecture. But the study of the evolution of myth and belief has always been, and still is, marked by an extraordinary use, or abuse, of conjecture. The 'perhapses,' the 'we may supposes,' the 'we must infers' are countless.

As in too much of the so-called 'Higher Criticism' hypothesis is piled, by many anthropologists, upon hypothesis, guess upon guess, while, if only one guess is wrong, the main argument falls to pieces. Moreover, it is the easiest thing, in certain cases, to explain the alleged facts by a counter hypothesis, not a complex hypothesis, but at least as plausible as the many combined conjectures of the castle architects, though perhaps as far from the truth, and as incapable of verification. Of these statements examples shall be given in the course of this book.

We are all, we who work at these topics, engaged in science, the science of man, or rather we are painfully labouring to lay the foundations of that science. We are all trying I to expedite progress. But our science cannot expedite progress if our science is not scientific. We must, therefore, however pedantic our process may seem, keep insisting on the rejection of all evidence which is not valid, on the sparing use of conjecture, and on the futility of piling up hypothesis upon unproved hypothesis. To me it seems, as I have already said, that a legitimate hypothesis must 'colligate the facts,' that it must do so more successfully than any counter hypothesis, and that it must, for every link in its chain, have evidence which will stand the tests of criticism.

But the chief cause of indifference is the character of our evidence. We can find anything we want to find people say—not only 'the man in the street' but the learned say—among reports of the doings of savage and barbarous races. We find what we want, and to what we do not want we are often blind. For example, nothing in savage religion is better vouched for than the belief in a being whom narrators of every sort call 'a Creator who holds all in his power.' I take the first instance of this kind that comes to hand in opening Mr. Tylor's 'Primitive Culture.' The being is he whom the natives of Canada 'call "Andouagni," without, however, having any form or method of prayer to him.' The date of this evidence is 1558. It is obvious that Andouagni (to take one case out of a multitude) was not invented in the despair of magic. Mysticism has been called the despair of philosophy, and Mr. Frazer, as we shall see, regards religion as the despair of magic. By his theory man, originally without religion, and trusting in magic, found by experience that magic could not really control the weather and the food supply. Man therefore dreamed that 'there were other beings, like himself, but far stronger,' who, unseen, controlled what his magic could not control. 'To these mighty beings ... man now addressed himself ... beseeching them of their mercy to furnish him with all good things....'[2]

But nobody beseeched Andouagni to do anything. The Canadians had 'no method or form of prayer to him.'[3] Therefore Andouagni was not invented because magic failed, and therefore this great power was dreamed of, and his mercy was beseeched with prayers for good things. That was not the process by which Andouagni was evolved, because nobody prayed to him in 1558, nor have we reason to believe that any one ever did.

From every part of the globe, but chiefly from among very low savage and barbaric races, the existence of beings powerful as Andouagni, but, like him, not addressed in prayer, or but seldom so addressed, is reported by travellers of many ages, races, creeds, and professions. The existence of the belief in such beings, often not approached by prayer or sacrifice, is fatal to several modern theories of the origin and evolution of religion. But these facts, resting on the best evidence which anthropology can offer, and corroborated by the undesigned coincidence of testimony from every quarter, are not what most students in this science want to find. Therefore these facts have been ignored or hastily slurred over, or the beliefs are ascribed to European or Islamite influence. Yet, first, Christians or Islamites, with the god they introduced would introduce prayer to him, and prayer, in many cases, there is none. Next, in the case of Andouagni, what missionary influence could exist in Canada before 1558? Thirdly, if missionaries, amateur or professional, there were in Canada before 1558 they would be Catholics, and would introduce, not a Creator never addressed in prayer, but crosses, beads, the Madonna, the Saints, and such Catholic rites as would leave material traces.

In spite of all these obvious considerations, I am unacquainted with any book on this phase of savage religion, and scarcely know any book, except Mr. Tylor's 'Primitive Culture,' in which the facts are prominently stated.

The evidence for the facts, let me repeat, is of the best character that anthropology can supply, for it rests on testimony undesignedly coincident, given from most parts of the world by men of every kind of education, creed, and bias. Contradictory evidence, the denial of the existence of the beliefs, is also abundant: to such eternal contradictions of testimony anthropology must make up her mind. We can only test and examine, in each instance, the bias of the witness, if he has a bias, and his opportunities of acquiring knowledge. If the belief does exist, it can seldom attest itself, or never, by material objects, such as idols, altars, sacrifices, and the sound of prayers, for a being like Andouagni is not prayed to or propitiated: one proof that he is not of Christian introduction. We have thus little but the reports of Europeans intimately acquainted with the peoples, savage or barbaric, and, if possible, with their language, to serve as a proof of the existence of the savage belief in a supreme being, a maker or creator of things.

This fact warns us to be cautious, but occasionally we have such evidence as is supplied by Europeans initiated into the mysteries of savage religion. Our best proof, however, of the existence of this exalted, usually neglected belief, is the coincidence of testimony, from that of the companions of Columbus, and the earliest traders visiting America, to that of Mr. A. W. Howitt, a mystes of the Australian Eleusinia, or of the latest travellers among the Fangs, the remote Masai, and other scarcely 'contaminated' races.[4]

If we can raise, at least, a case for consideration in favour of this non-utilitarian belief in a deity not approached with prayer or sacrifice, we also raise a presumption against the theory that gods were invented, in the despair of magic, as powers out of whom something useful could be got: powers with good things in their gift, things which men were ceasing to believe that they could obtain by their own magical machinery. The strong primal gods, unvexed by prayer, were not invented as recipients of prayer.

To ignore this chapter of early religion, to dismiss it as a tissue of borrowed ideas—though its existence is attested by the first Europeans on the spot, and its originality is vouched for by the very absence of prayer, and by observers like Mr. A. W. Howitt, Miss Kingsley, and Sir A. B. Ellis, who proposed, but withdrew, a theory of 'loan-gods'—is not scientific.

My own early readings in early religion did not bring rue acquainted with this chapter in the book of beliefs. When I first noticed an example of it, in the reports of the Benedictine Mission at Nursia, in Australia, I conceived, that some mistake had been made in 1845, by the missionary who sent in the report.[5] But later, when I began to notice the coincidence of testimony from many quarters, in many ages, then I could not conceal from myself that this chapter must be read. It is in conflict with our prevalent theories of the development of gods out of worshipped ancestral spirits: for the maker of things, not approached in prayer as a rule, is said to exist where ancestral spirits are not reported to be worshipped. But science (in other fields) specially studies exceptional cases, and contradictory instances, and all that seems out of accord with her theory. In this case science has glanced at what goes contrary to her theory, and has explained it by bias in the reporters, by error in the reporters, and by the theory of borrowing. But such coincidence in misreporting is a dangerous thing for anthropology to admit, as it damages her evidence in general. Again, the theory of borrowing seems to be contradicted by the early dates of many reports, made prior to the arrival of missionaries, and by the secrecy in which the beliefs are often veiled by the savages; as also by the absence of prayer to the most potent being.

We are all naturally apt to insist on and be pre-possessed in favour of an idea which has come to ourselves unexpectedly, and has appeared to be corroborated by wider research, and, perhaps, above all, which runs contrary to the current of scientific opinion. We make a pet of the relatively new idea; let it be the origin of mythology in 'a disease of language;' or the vast religious importance of totems; or our theory of the origin of totemism; or the tremendous part played in religion by gods of plants. We insist on the idea too exclusively; we find it where it is not—in fact, we are very human, very unscientific, very apt to become one-idea'd. It is even more natural that we should be regarded in this light by our brethren (est-il embêtant avec son Etre Suprême!), whose own systems will be imperilled if our favourite idea can be established.

I risk this interpretation when I keep maintaining—what—that the chapter of otiose or unworshipped superior beings in the 'Early History of Religion' deserves perusal. Not to cut its pages, to go on making systems as if it did not exist, is, I venture to think, less than scientific, and borders on the superstitious. For to build and defend a theory, without looking closely to whatever may imperil it, is precisely the fault of the superstitious Khond, who used to manure his field with a thumb, or a collop from the flank of a human victim, and did not try sowing a field without a collop of man's flesh, to see what the comparative crops would be. Or science of this kind is like Don Quixote, who, having cleft his helmet with one experimental sword-stroke, repaired it, but did not test it again.

Like other martyrs of science, I must expect to be thought importunate, tedious, a fellow of one idea, and that idea wrong. To resent this would show great want of humour, and a plentiful lack of knowledge of human nature. Meanwhile, I am about to permit myself to criticise some recent hypotheses in the field of religious origins, in the interests of anthropology, not of orthodoxy.

[1]Golden Bough, i. xxi., 1900.

[2]G. B. i. 77.

[3] Tylor, Prim. Cult. ii. 309, citing Thevet, Singularitez de la France Antarctique, Paris, 1558, ch. 77.

[4]Journal of Anthropological Institute, Oct.-Dec. 1900 and N.S. II., Nos. 1, 2, p. 85.

[5] Max Müller, Hibbert Lectures, p. 16.



Table of Contents

The study of the origins of religion is impeded by the impossibility of obtaining historical evidence on the subject. If we examine the religious beliefs of extant races, the lowest in material culture, the best representatives of palæolithic man, we are still a long way from the beginnings of human speculation and belief. Man must have begun to speculate about the origins of things as soon as he was a reasoning animal. If we look at the isolated and backward tribe of Central Australia, the Arunta, we have the advantage of perhaps the best and most thoroughly scientific study ever made of such a race, the book by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen.[1]

Here we watch a people so 'primitive' that they are said to be utterly ignorant of the natural results, in the way of progeny, of the union of the sexes. Yet, on the same authority, this tribe has evolved an elaborate, and, granting the premises, a scientific and adequate theory of the evolution of our species, and the nature of life. An original stock of spirits is constantly reincarnated; spiritual pedigrees are preserved by records in the shape of oval decorated stones, and it seems that a man or woman of to-day may be identified as an incarnation of a soul, whose adventures, in earlier incarnations, can be traced back to the Alcheringa, or mythical heroic age of the people. Their marriage laws are already in advance of those of their neighbours, the Urabunna, and their only magistracy, of a limited and constitutional kind, descends in the male line.

Thus the Arunta are socially in advance of the Pictish royal family in Scotland, whose crown descended in the female line, no king being succeeded by his son. Manifestly the religious or non-religious ideas of such a people, unclothed, houseless, ignorant of metals and of agriculture, and without domesticated animals though they are, must be ideas with a long history behind them. The Arunta philosophy is a peculiar philosophy, worked out by thoughtful men, and elaborated so artfully that there seems neither room for a god, nor for the idea of a future life, except the life of successive reincarnations. It is therefore impossible for us to argue that mankind in general began its speculative career with the singular and apparently godless philosophy of the Arunta. Their working science is sympathetic magic; to the Great Spirit, with a trace of belief in whom they are credited, they are not said to pray; and he seems to be either an invention of the seniors, for the purpose of keeping the juniors and women in order, or a being originally of higher character, belief in whom has died out among the adults. To him we return in another essay.

As historical information about the early or late evolution of the idea of a superior (not to say supreme) being is thus unattainable, thinkers both ancient and modern have derived the idea of God from that of ghost. The conception of a powerful spirit of a dead father, worshipped by his children, is supposed to have been gradually raised to the power of a god. Against this theory I have elsewhere urged that superior beings are found among races who do not worship ancestral spirits; and again that these superior beings are not envisaged as spirits, but rather as supernormal magnified men, of unbounded power (an idea often contradicted in savage as in Greek mythology) and of limitless duration.

The reply to me takes the form of ignoring, or disabling the evidence, or of asserting that these superior beings are 'loan-gods,' borrowed by savages from Europeans or Islamites. It is to the second theory, that these savage superior beings are disguised borrowings from missionaries, explorers, traders, or squatters, that I now address myself.[2] These beings certainly cause difficulties to the philosophy which derives gods, in the last resort, from ghosts.

It is probable that these difficulties have for some time been present to the mind of Mr. E. B. Tylor (one may drop academic titles in speaking of so celebrated a scholar). When Mr. Tylor publishes the Gifford Lectures which he delivered some years ago at Aberdeen, we shall know his mature mind about this problem. Meanwhile he has shown that the difficulty, the god where no god should be, is haunting his reflections. For example, his latest edition of his 'Primitive Culture' (1891) contains, as we shall show, interesting modifications of what he wrote in the second edition (1871).

There are three ways in which friends of the current theory that gods are grown-up ghosts may attempt to escape from their quandary. (1) The low races with the high gods are degenerate, and their deity is a survival from a loftier stage of lost culture. Mr. Tylor, however, of course, knows too much to regard the Australians, in the stone age, as degenerate. (2) The evidence is bad or (Fr. Müller) is that of prejudiced missionaries. But Mr. Tylor knows that some of the evidence is excellent, and, at its best, does not repose on missionary testimony. (3) The high gods of the low races are borrowed from missionary teaching. This is the line adopted by Mr. Tylor.

I recently pointed out, in 'The Making of Religion' (1898), the many difficulties which beset the current theory. I was therefore alarmed on rinding that Mr. Tylor had mined the soil under my own hypothesis. His theory of borrowing (which would blow mine sky-high if it exploded) is expounded by Mr. Tylor in an essay, 'The Limits of Savage Religion,' published in the 'Journal of the Anthropological Institute' (vol. xxi., 1892). I propose to examine Mr. Tylor's work, and to show that his own witnesses demonstrate the unborrowed and original character of the gods in question.

Mr. Tylor first opposes the loose popular notion that all over North America the Indians believed in a being named Kitchi Manitou, or 'Great Spirit,' a notion which I do not defend. He says: 'The historical evidence is that the Great Spirit belongs, not to the untutored, but to the tutored mind of the savage, and is preserved for us in the records of the tutors themselves, the Jesuit missionaries of Canada.'[3] Now as to the word 'Manitou' spirit, Mr. Tylor quotes Le Jeune (1633): 'By this word "Manitou," I think they understand what we call an angel, or some powerful being.'[4] Again: 'The Montagnets give the name "Manitou" to everything, whether good or bad, superior to man. Therefore, when we speak of God, they sometimes call Him "The Good Manitou," while when we speak of the Devil, they call him "The Bad Manitou."'[5] When then, ninety years later, in 1724, Père Lafitau dilates on 'The Great Spirit,' 'The Great Manitou,' we are to see that in ninety years the term which the Indians used for our God—their translation of le bon dieu—has taken root, become acclimatised, and flourished. Lafitau, according to Mr. Tylor, has also raised the Huron word for spirit, oki, to Okki, with a capital O, which he calls Le Grand Esprit. The elevation is solely due to Lafitau and other Christian teachers. If all this were granted, all this is far indeed from proving that the idea of a beneficent Creator was borrowed by the Indians from the Jesuits between 1633 and 1724. Mr. Tylor's own book, 'Primitive Culture,' enables us to correct that opinion. Here he quotes Captain Smith, from an edition of the 'History of Virginia' of 1632. Smith began to colonise Virginia in 1607. He says (edition of 1632): 'Their chief god they worship is the Devil. Him they call Okee (Okki), and serve him more of fear than love.' Mr. Tylor cites this as a statement by 'a half-educated and whole-prejudiced European' about 'savage deities, which, from his point of view, seem of a wholly diabolic nature.' 'The word oki,' Mr. Tylor goes on, 'apparently means "that which is above," and was, in fact, a general name for spirit or deity.'[6]

The chief deity of the Virginians then (in 1607, before missionaries came), with his temples and images, was a being whose name apparently meant 'that which is above.' Moreover, Father Brebeuf (1636) describes an oki in the heavens who rules the seasons, is dreaded, and sanctions treaties.

Consequently Lafitau did not, in 1724, first make oki, a spirit, into Okki, a god. That had been done in Virginia before any missionaries arrived, by the natives themselves, long before 1607. For this we have, and Mr. Tylor has cited, the evidence of Smith, before Jesuits arrived. What is yet more to the purpose, William Strachey, a successor of Smith, writing in 1611-12, tells us that Okeus (as he spells the word) was only a magisterial deputy of 'the great God (the priests tell them) who governs all the world, and makes the sun to shine, creatyng the sun and moone his companions,... [him] they call Ahone. The good and peaceable God requires no such duties [as are paid to Okeus], nor needs to be sacrificed to, for he intendeth all good unto them.' He has no image.[7] Strachey remarks that the native priests vigorously resisted Christianity. They certainly borrowed neither Okeus nor Ahone, the beneficent Creator who is without sacrifice, from Jesuits who had not yet arrived.

Do we need more evidence? If so, here it is. Speaking of New England in 1622, Winslow writes about the god Kiehtan as a being of ancient credit among the natives. He 'made all the other gods; he dwells far westerly above the heavens, whither all good men go when they die.' Thus Mr. Tylor himself (loc. cit.) summarises Winslow, and quotes: 'They never saw Kiehtan, but they hold it a great charge and dutie that one age teach another. And to him they make feasts, and cry and sing for plentie, and victorie, or anything that is good.'

Thus Kiehtan, in 1622, was not only a relatively supreme god, but also a god of ancient standing. Borrowing from missionaries was therefore impossible.

But all this etymology Mr. Tylor omitted in his edition of 1891, probably no longer thinking it plausible.

He did, however, say in 1891 (ii. 342): 'Another famous native American name for the Supreme Deity is Oki.'

Not content with Okeus, capital O and all, before the arrival of missionaries; not content with Kiehtan, whose etymology (in 1871) 'apparently' means 'Great Spirit,' before the arrival of Jesuits in New England, Mr. Tylor, in 'Primitive Culture,' adds to these deities 'the Greenlanders' Torngarsuk, or Great Spirit (his name is an augmentative of "torngak," "spirit" [in 1891 "demon"]),' before the arrival of missionaries! For, says Mr. Tylor, 'he seems no figure derived from the religion of Scandinavian colonists, ancient or modern.... He so clearly held his place as supreme deity in the native mind that, as Cranz the missionary alleges, many Greenlanders, hearing of God and His Almighty power, were apt to fall on the idea that it was their Torngarsuk who was meant.'[8]

Now, in 1891, Mr. Tylor dropped out 'he seems no figure derived from the religion of Scandinavian colonists, ancient or modern;' and he added that Torngarsuk was later identified, not with our God, but with our Devil: a foible characteristic, I may say—as Mr. Tylor said concerning Captain Smith and Oki—of 'a half-educated and whole-prejudiced European.' For the Algonquin Indians Mr. Tylor cited Father Le Jeune (1633): 'When the missionary talked to them of an almighty creator of heaven and earth, they began to say to one another Atahocan, Atahocan.' But his name had fallen into contempt and a verb, Nitatahocan, meant 'I tell an old fanciful story.' In 1558 Thevet credits the Canadian Indians with belief in 'a creator' Andouagni, not approached with prayers. None of these beings can have been borrowed from Europeans. It will presently be seen that between 1871 and 1892 Mr. Tylor became sceptical as to the records of a Great Spirit in America. But he retained Oki in the sense of Supreme Deity.

Here, then, from Virginia to Greenland, Mr. Tylor presented in 1871 evidence for a being of supreme power, called bynames which, perhaps, mean 'Great Spirit.' In his essay of 1892 he does not refer to his earlier work and his evidence there for a Great Spirit, nor tell us why he has changed his mind. He now attributes the Great Spirit to missionary influence. We naturally ask in what respect he has found the early evidence on which he previously relied lacking in value. Mr. Tylor, in 'Primitive Culture,'[9] gives a yet earlier reference than the others for a Virginian Creator. He cites Heriot (an author of 1586). Again: 'They believe in one who made all things, but pay him no honour,' writes Père L'Allemant in 1626, in a region where 'il n'y ait point eu de religieux.'

In 1871 Mr. Tylor said: 'It has even been thought that the whole doctrine of the Great Spirit was borrowed by the savages from missionaries and colonists. But this view will not bear examination. After due allowance made for mis-rendering of savage answers and importation of white men's thoughts, it can hardly be judged that a divine being, whose characteristics are so unlike what European intercourse would have suggested, and who is heard of by such early explorers among such distant tribes, could be a deity of foreign origin.'[10] In 1891 'this view will not bear examination' is deleted—why?—and the deity, we are told, 'could hardly be altogether of foreign origin.' He could not be, when found by the first European discoverers, and, had the creed been borrowed, prayer to the being would have been borrowed with it.

Now, in his essay of 1892, Mr. Tylor never, I think, alludes to his own evidence of 1873, or even of 1891, in favour of a Red Indian creator, evidence earlier than the Jesuits (1558, 1586, 1612-16, 1622, and of Le Jeune, 1633). In the essay of 1892 that authentic evidence 'of such early explorers among such distant tribes' to a savage conception of the Creator is not cited. The coincidence of testimony is the strongest possible evidence to the nature and unborrowed character of the being. Such coincidence is, in fact, Mr. Tylor's own touchstone of trustworthy testimony. Yet in 1892 the Jesuits receive the whole credit of introducing the idea. It would be interesting to know why the early evidence has suddenly become untrustworthy. The essay of 1892 ought, of course, to be regarded as only a sketch. Yet we are anxious to learn the reasons which made Mr. Tylor leave his evidence out of sight, though republished by him only the year before he put forth his tractate in favour of borrowing from Jesuits. I turn to another point on which I cannot accept Mr. Tylor's arguments.

In his essay of 1892 Mr. Tylor dates the Mandan Deluge legend as not before 1700. Why? Because Catlin (in 1830-1840) found iron instruments used ritually in the native Mystery Play of the Flood. They were supposed to represent the tools employed in making the vessel wherein 'the only man' escaped drowning. But the Mandans did not get iron tools before 1700. The Indians, however, we reply, had canoes before they had iron tools, and, in modern times, might naturally employ iron instead of flint instruments (discarded) in the Mystery Play. They might do this, in spite of the marked preference for stone tools in ritual. Perhaps they had none. It must here be observed that Catlin does not use the word 'ark' (as Mr. Tylor does) for the vessel of 'the only man.' Catlin always says 'the big canoe.' Even if we admit (which we do not) that the Mandans necessarily borrowed their Deluge legend from whites, it does not follow, as Mr. Tylor argues, that because the 'Great Spirit' appears in the Deluge legend, he 'cannot claim greater antiquity' than 1700. In the first place, as, in Mr. Tylor's earlier statement, Canadians, Algonquins, Virginians, Massachusetts, and Greenlanders had a Great Spirit before Christian influences began, the Mandans may have been equally fortunate. Nor does it seem safe to argue, like Mr. Tylor, that if the Great Spirit figures in a (hypothetically) borrowed myth, therefore the conception of a Great Spirit was necessarily borrowed at the same time. That more recent myths are constantly being attached to a pre-existing god or hero is a recognised fact in mythology. Nor can mythologists argue (1) that Biblical myth is a modified survival of savage myth, and (2) that such natural and obvious savage myths as the kneading of man out of clay, the origin of death ('the Fall'), and the tradition of the Deluge are necessarily borrowed by savages from the Bible. This is, indeed, to argue in a vicious circle. Again, was the Australian and American myth of a race of wise birds, earlier than man, borrowed from the famous chorus in the 'Birds' of Aristophanes? Is the Arunta theory of evolution borrowed from Darwin, or their theory of reincarnation from Buddhism? Borrowing of ideas seems only to be in favour when savage ideas resemble more or less those of Christianity.

Mr. Tylor remarks that Prince Maximilian, who knew Mandanese better than Catlin, found among them no 'Great Manitou'—so called. But he did find a Creator whose name means 'Lord of Earth.' Was He borrowed from the whites? Finally, on this point, would savages who remained so utterly un-Christian as the Mandans, adopt from missionaries just one myth—the Deluge—and make that the central feature in their national ritual? Indeed this seems very improbable conduct! Nothing is more conservative than ritual: that is notorious.

We do not follow Mr. Tylor into South America. If our case is proved, by his own not repudiated authorities, for North America, that suffices us. We turn to Australia.

Let us first take the typical Australian case of Baiame, Pei-a-mei, or Baiamai, at present alleged by Mr. Howitt and others to be the moral creative being of many tribes,[11] and served, without sacrifice, in their mysteries. Mr. Tylor first finds him mentioned as a creator by Mr. Horace Hale, whose book is of 1840.[12] 'Next, in 1850, Baiame was spoken of by a native to some German Moravian missionaries as a being who, according to their 'sorcerers or doctors,' made all things, but was easy to anger, and was to be appeased by dances. Thus he was accepted by the most notoriously conservative class, the class most jealous of missionary influence, the sorcerers. Omitting for the moment a later description of Baiame as seen by a black devotee in a vision, we turn to Mr. Tylor's theory of the origin of this god. Mr. Ridley (who began his missionary career in Victoria in 1854) gives a pleasing account of Baiame as a creator, with a paradise for the good. According to Mr. Ridley, 'Baiame' is discovered by Mr. Greenway to be derived from baia, 'to make,' and he concludes that 'for ages unknown' the blacks have called God 'the Maker.'[13]

Mr. Tylor now asks, 'Was Baiame,' who is, he avers, 'near 1840 so prominent a divine figure among the Australians, known to them at all a few years earlier?' He decides that before 1840 Baiame was 'unknown to well-informed (white) observers.' This, of course, would not prove that Baiame was unknown to the blacks. As for the observers, who are three in number, one, Buckley the convict, in spite of his thirty-two years with the blacks, is of no real value. We cannot trust a man who lied so freely as to say that in Australia he 'speared salmon'! and often saw the fabled monster, the Bunyip.[14] Buckley could not read, and his book was made up by a Mr. Morgan out of 'rough notes and memoranda ... and by conversation.' If, then, as Buckley says, 'they have no notion of a Supreme Being' (p. 57), we may discount that; Buckley's idea of such a being was probably too elevated. Moreover he never mentions the confessedly ancient native mysteries, in one of which among certain tribes the being is revealed.[15] Mr. Tylor's next well-informed observer before 1840, Mr. Backhouse, a Quaker, takes his facts straight from the third witness, Mr. Threlkeld; he admits it for some of them, and it is true, in this matter, of all of them.[16] Buckley being out of court, and Backhouse being a mere copy of Mr. Threlkeld, what has Mr. Threlkeld to say? What follows is curious. Mr. Threlkeld (1834-1857) does not name Baiame, but speaks of a big supernatural black man, called Koin, who carries wizards up to the sky, inspires sorcerers, walks about with a fire-stick, and so on.[17] To honour him boys' front teeth are knocked out in the initiatory stages.

Mr. Threlkeld very properly did not use the name of the fiend Koin as equivalent to 'God' in his translation of the Gospel of St. Luke into the native tongue (1831-1834). He there used for God Eloi, and no doubt did the same in his teaching; he also tried the word Jeliovaka-birun. Neither word has taken with the blacks; neither word occurs in their traditions. The word, though forced on them, has not been accepted by them. That looks ill for the theory of borrowing.

Here, then, of Mr. Tylor's three negative witnesses, who, before 1840, knew not Baiame, Mr. Threlkeld alone is of value. As Mr. Hale says, Mr. Threlkeld was (1826-1857) the first worker at the dialects of those Baiame-worshipping tribes, the Kamilaroi of the Wellington Valley, in Victoria. But whence did Mr. Hale get what Mr. Tylor cites, his knowledge in 1840 of Baiame? He, an American savant on an exploring expedition, could not well find out esoteric native secrets. I shall prove that Mr. Hale got his knowledge of Baiame from Mr. Tylor's own negative witness, Mr. Threlkeld. Mr. Hale says that 'when the missionaries first came to Wellington,' Baiame was worshipped with songs. 'There was a native famous for the composition of these songs or hymns, which, according to Mr. Threlkeld, were passed on,' &c. Mr. Hale thus declares (Mr. Tylor probably overlooked the remark) that when the missionaries first came to Wellington (where Baiame is the Creator) they found Baiame there before them![19] Then, why did Mr. Threlkeld not name Baiame? I think because Mr. Hale says that Baiame's name and sacred dance were brought in by natives from a distance, and (when he is writing) had fallen into disuse.[20] Had, then, a missionary before 1840 evolved Baiame from Kamilaroi baia, 'to make' (for that is Mr. Tylor's theory of the origin of the word 'Baiame'), and taught the name to distant natives as a word for his own God; and had these proselytising distant dancing natives brought Baiame's name and dance to Wellington? Are missionaries dancing masters? They would teach prayer and kneeling, or give rosaries; dances are no part of our religion. To demonstrate missionary influence here we must find a missionary, not Mr. Threlkeld, who was studying and working on the Kamilaroi tongue before 1840. There was no such missionary. Finally, Mr. Hale runs counter to Mr. Tylor's theory of borrowing from whites, though Mr. Tylor does not quote his remark. The ideas of Baiame may 'possibly' be derived from Europeans, 'though,' says Mr. Hale, 'the great unwillingness which the natives always evince to adopt any custom or opinion from them militates against such a supposition.' So strong is this reluctance to borrow ideas from the whites, that the blacks of the centre have not even borrowed the idea that children are a result of the intercourse of the sexes! Here, then, in part of the district studied by Mr. Threlkeld in 1826-1857, an American savant (who certainly received the facts from Mr. Threlkeld) testifies to Baiame as recently brought from a distance by natives, but as prior to the arrival of missionaries, and most unlikely to have been borrowed.