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Volume One

By Andrew Lang





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.


Chapter I. recapitulated - Proposal of a new method: Science of
comparative or historical study of man - Anticipated in part by
Eusebius, Fontenelle, De Brosses, Spencer (of C. C. C., Cambridge),
and Mannhardt - Science of Tylor - Object of inquiry: to find
condition of human intellect in which marvels of myth are parts of
practical everyday belief - This is the savage state - Savages
described - The wild element of myth a survival from the savage
state - Advantages of this method - Partly accounts for wide
DIFFUSION as well as ORIGIN of myths - Connected with general
theory of evolution - Puzzling example of myth of the water-
swallower - Professor Tiele's criticism of the method -
Objections to method, and answer to these - See Appendix B.


The mental condition of savages the basis of the irrational element
in myth - Characteristics of that condition: (1) Confusion of all
things in an equality of presumed animation and intelligence;
(2) Belief in sorcery; (3) Spiritualism; (4) Curiosity; (5) Easy
credulity and mental indolence - The curiosity is satisfied, thanks
to the credulity, by myths in answer to all inquiries - Evidence for
this - Mr. Tylor's opinion - Mr. Im Thurn - Jesuit missionaries'
Relations - Examples of confusion between men, plants, beasts and
other natural objects - Reports of travellers - Evidence from
institution of totemism - Definition of totemism - Totemism in
Australia, Africa, America, the Oceanic Islands, India, North Asia -
Conclusions: Totemism being found so widely distributed, is a proof
of the existence of that savage mental condition in which no line
is drawn between men and the other things in the world. This
confusion is one of the characteristics of myth in all races.


Claims of sorcerers - Savage scientific speculation - Theory of
causation - Credulity, except as to new religious ideas - "Post hoc,
ergo propter hoc" - Fundamental ideas of magic - Examples:
incantations, ghosts, spirits - Evidence of rank and other
institutions in proof of confusions of mind exhibited in magical


Savage fancy, curiosity and credulity illustrated in nature myths -
In these all phenomena are explained by belief in the general
animation of everything, combined with belief in metamorphosis - Sun
myths, Asian, Australian, African, Melanesian, Indian, Californian,
Brazilian, Maori, Samoan - Moon myths, Australian, Muysca, Mexican,
Zulu, Macassar, Greenland, Piute, Malay - Thunder myths - Greek and
Aryan sun and moon myths - Star myths - Myths, savage and civilised,
of animals, accounting for their marks and habits - Examples of
custom of claiming blood kinship with lower animals - Myths of
various plants and trees - Myths of stones, and of metamorphosis
into stones, Greek, Australian and American - The whole natural
philosophy of savages expressed in myths, and survives in folk-lore
and classical poetry; and legends of metamorphosis.


Confusions of myth - Various origins of man and of things - Myths of
Australia, Andaman Islands, Bushmen, Ovaherero, Namaquas, Zulus,
Hurons, Iroquois, Diggers, Navajoes, Winnebagoes, Chaldaeans,
Thlinkeets, Pacific Islanders, Maoris, Aztecs, Peruvians -
Similarity of ideas pervading all those peoples in various
conditions of society and culture.


Authorities - Vedas - Brahmanas - Social condition of Vedic India -
Arts - Ranks - War - Vedic fetishism - Ancestor worship - Date of Rig-
Veda Hymns doubtful - Obscurity of the Hymns - Difficulty of
interpreting the real character of Veda - Not primitive but
sacerdotal - The moral purity not innocence but refinement.


Comparison of Vedic and savage myths - The metaphysical Vedic
account of the beginning of things - Opposite and savage fable of
world made out of fragments of a man - Discussion of this hymn -
Absurdities of Brahmanas - Prajapati, a Vedic Unkulunkulu or Qat -
Evolutionary myths - Marriage of heaven and earth - Myths of Puranas,
their savage parallels - Most savage myths are repeated in Brahmanas.


The Greeks practically civilised when we first meet them in Homer -
Their mythology, however, is full of repulsive features - The
hypothesis that many of these are savage survivals - Are there other
examples of such survival in Greek life and institutions? - Greek
opinion was constant that the race had been savage - Illustrations
of savage survival from Greek law of homicide, from magic,
religion, human sacrifice, religious art, traces of totemism, and
from the mysteries - Conclusion: that savage survival may also be
expected in Greek myths.


Nature of the evidence - Traditions of origin of the world and man -
Homeric, Hesiodic and Orphic myths - Later evidence of historians,
dramatists, commentators - The Homeric story comparatively pure - The
story in Hesiod, and its savage analogues - The explanations of the
myth of Cronus, modern and ancient - The Orphic cosmogony - Phanes
and Prajapati - Greek myths of the origin of man - Their savage


The origin of a belief in GOD beyond the ken of history and of
speculation - Sketch of conjectural theories - Two elements in all
beliefs, whether of backward or civilised races - The Mythical and
the Religious - These may be coeval, or either may be older than the
other - Difficulty of study - The current anthropological theory -
Stated objections to the theory - Gods and spirits - Suggestion that
savage religion is borrowed from Europeans - Reply to Mr. Tylor's
arguments on this head - The morality of savages.


When this book first appeared (1886), the philological school of
interpretation of religion and myth, being then still powerful in
England, was criticised and opposed by the author. In Science, as on the
Turkish throne of old, "Amurath to Amurath succeeds"; the philological
theories of religion and myth have now yielded to anthropological
methods. The centre of the anthropological position was the "ghost
theory" of Mr. Herbert Spencer, the "Animistic" theory of Mr. E. R.
Tylor, according to whom the propitiation of ancestral and other spirits
leads to polytheism, and thence to monotheism. In the second edition
(1901) of this work the author argued that the belief in a "relatively
supreme being," anthropomorphic was as old as, and might be even older,
than animistic religion. This theory he exhibited at greater length, and
with a larger collection of evidence, in his Making of Religion.

Since 1901, a great deal of fresh testimony as to what Mr. Howitt
styles the "All Father" in savage and barbaric religions has accrued. As
regards this being in Africa, the reader may consult the volumes of the
New Series of the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, which are
full of African evidence, not, as yet, discussed, to my knowledge, by
any writer on the History of Religion. As late as Man, for July, 1906,
No. 66, Mr. Parkinson published interesting Yoruba legends about Oleron,
the maker and father of men, and Oro, the Master of the Bull Roarer.

From Australia, we have Mr. Howitt's account of the All Father in his
Native Tribes of South-East Australia, with the account of the All
Father of the Central Australian tribe, the Kaitish, in North Central
Tribes of Australia, by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen (1904), also The
Euahlayi Tribe, by Mrs. Langley Parker (1906). These masterly books are
indispensable to all students of the subject, while, in Messrs. Spencer
and Gillen's work cited, and in their earlier Native Tribes of Central
Australia, we are introduced to savages who offer an elaborate animistic
theory, and are said to show no traces of the All Father belief.

The books of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen also present much evidence as
to a previously unknown form of totemism, in which the totem is not
hereditary, and does not regulate marriage. This prevails among the
Arunta "nation," and the Kaitish tribe. In the opinion of Mr. Spencer
(Report Australian Association for Advancement of Science, 1904) and
of Mr. J. G. Frazer (Fortnightly Review, September, 1905), this is
the earliest surviving form of totemism, and Mr. Frazer suggests an
animistic origin for the institution. I have criticised these views in
The Secret of the Totem (1905), and proposed a different solution of the
problem. (See also "Primitive and Advanced Totemism" in Journal of the
Anthropological Institute, July, 1906.) In the works mentioned will be
found references to other sources of information as to these questions,
which are still sub judice. Mrs. Bates, who has been studying the
hitherto almost unknown tribes of Western Australia, promises a book
on their beliefs and institutions, and Mr. N. W. Thomas is engaged on
a volume on Australian institutions. In this place the author can only
direct attention to these novel sources, and to the promised third
edition of Mr. Frazer's The Golden Bough.

A. L.


The original edition of Myth, Ritual and Religion, published in 1887,
has long been out of print. In revising the book I have brought it
into line with the ideas expressed in the second part of my Making of
Religion (1898) and have excised certain passages which, as the book
first appeared, were inconsistent with its main thesis. In some cases
the original passages are retained in notes, to show the nature of the
development of the author's opinions. A fragment or two of controversy
has been deleted, and chapters xi. and xii., on the religion of the
lowest races, have been entirely rewritten, on the strength of more
recent or earlier information lately acquired. The gist of the book as
it stands now and as it originally stood is contained in the following
lines from the preface of 1887: "While the attempt is made to show that
the wilder features of myth survive from, or were borrowed from, or were
imitated from the ideas of people in the savage condition of
thought, the existence - even among savages - of comparatively pure, if
inarticulate, religious beliefs is insisted on throughout". To that
opinion I adhere, and I trust that it is now expressed with more
consistency than in the first edition. I have seen reason, more
and more, to doubt the validity of the "ghost theory," or animistic
hypothesis, as explanatory of the whole fabric of religion; and I
present arguments against Mr. Tylor's contention that the higher
conceptions of savage faith are borrowed from missionaries.(1) It is
very possible, however, that Mr. Tylor has arguments more powerful than
those contained in his paper of 1892. For our information is not yet
adequate to a scientific theory of the Origin of Religion, and probably
never will be. Behind the races whom we must regard as "nearest the
beginning" are their unknown ancestors from a dateless past, men as
human as ourselves, but men concerning whose psychical, mental and moral
condition we can only form conjectures. Among them religion arose, in
circumstances of which we are necessarily ignorant. Thus I only venture
on a surmise as to the germ of a faith in a Maker (if I am not to say
"Creator") and Judge of men. But, as to whether the higher religious
belief, or the lower mythical stories came first, we are at least
certain that the Christian conception of God, given pure, was presently
entangled, by the popular fancy of Europe, in new Marchen about the
Deity, the Madonna, her Son, and the Apostles. Here, beyond possibility
of denial, pure belief came first, fanciful legend was attached after.
I am inclined to surmise that this has always been the case, and, in the
pages on the legend of Zeus, I show the processes of degeneration, of
mythical accretions on a faith in a Heaven-God, in action. That "the
feeling of religious devotion" attests "high faculties" in early man
(such as are often denied to men who "cannot count up to seven"), and
that "the same high mental faculties... would infallibly lead him,
as long as his reasoning powers remained poorly developed, to various
strange superstitions and customs," was the belief of Mr. Darwin.(2)
That is also my view, and I note that the lowest savages are not yet
guilty of the very worst practices, "sacrifice of human beings to a
blood-loving God," and ordeals by poison and fire, to which Mr. Darwin
alludes. "The improvement of our science" has freed us from misdeeds
which are unknown to the Andamanese or the Australians. Thus there was,
as regards these points in morals, degeneracy from savagery as society
advanced, and I believe that there was also degeneration in religion.
To say this is not to hint at a theory of supernatural revelation to the
earliest men, a theory which I must, in limine disclaim.

(1) Tylor, "Limits of Savage Religion." Journal of the Anthropological
Institute, vol. xxi.

(2) Descent of Man, p. 68, 1871.

In vol. ii. p. 19 occurs a reference, in a note, to Mr. Hartland's
criticism of my ideas about Australian gods as set forth in the Making
of Religion. Mr. Hartland, who kindly read the chapters on Australian
religion in this book, does not consider that my note on p. 19 meets the
point of his argument. As to the Australians, I mean no more than that,
AMONG endless low myths, some of them possess a belief in a "maker
of everything," a primal being, still in existence, watching conduct,
punishing breaches of his laws, and, in some cases, rewarding the
good in a future life. Of course these are the germs of a sympathetic
religion, even if the being thus regarded is mixed up with immoral or
humorous contradictory myths. My position is not harmed by such myths,
which occur in all old religions, and, in the middle ages, new myths
were attached to the sacred figures of Christianity in poetry and
popular tales.

Thus, if there is nothing "sacred" in a religion because wild or wicked
fables about the gods also occur, there is nothing "sacred" in almost
any religion on earth.

Mr. Hartland's point, however, seems to be that, in the Making of
Religion, I had selected certain Australian beliefs as especially
"sacred" and to be distinguished from others, because they are
inculcated at the religious Mysteries of some tribes. His aim, then, is
to discover low, wild, immoral myths, inculcated at the Mysteries, and
thus to destroy my line drawn between religion on one hand and myth or
mere folk-lore on the other. Thus there is a being named Daramulun, of
whose rites, among the Coast Murring, I condensed the account of Mr.
Howitt.(1) From a statement by Mr. Greenway(2) Mr. Hartland learned
that Daramulun's name is said to mean "leg on one side" or "lame". He,
therefore, with fine humour, speaks of Daramulun as "a creator with a
game leg," though when "Baiame" is derived by two excellent linguists,
Mr. Ridley and Mr. Greenway, from Kamilaroi baia, "to make," Mr.
Hartland is by no means so sure of the sense of the name. It happens to
be inconvenient to him! Let the names mean what they may, Mr. Hartland
finds, in an obiter dictum of Mr. Howitt (before he was initiated), that
Daramulun is said to have "died," and that his spirit is now aloft.
Who says so, and where, we are not informed,(3) and the question is

(1) J. A. I., xiii. pp. 440-459.

(2) Ibid., xxi. p. 294.

(3) Ibid., xiii. p. 194.

For the Wiraijuri, IN THEIR MYSTERIES, tell a myth of cannibal conduct
of Daramulun's, and of deceit and failure of knowledge in Baiame.(1)
Of this I was unaware, or neglected it, for I explicitly said that I
followed Mr. Howitt's account, where no such matter is mentioned. Mr.
Howitt, in fact, described the Mysteries of the Coast Murring, while
the narrator of the low myths, Mr. Matthews, described those of a
remote tribe, the Wiraijuri, with whom Daramulun is not the chief, but
a subordinate person. How Mr. Matthews' friends can at once hold that
Daramulun was "destroyed" by Baiame (their chief deity), and also that
Daramulun's voice is heard at their rites, I don't know.(2) Nor do I
know why Mr. Hartland takes the myth of a tribe where Daramulun is "the
evil spirit who rules the night,"(3) and introduces it as an argument
against the belief of a distant tribe, where, by Mr. Howitt's account,
Daramulun is not an evil spirit, but "the master" of all, whose abode
is above the sky, and to whom are attributed powers of omnipotence
and omnipresence, or, at any rate, the power "to do anything and to
go anywhere.... To his direct ordinances are attributed the social and
moral laws of the community."(4) This is not "an evil spirit"! When Mr.
Hartland goes for scandals to a remote tribe of a different creed
that he may discredit the creed of the Coast Murring, he might as well
attribute to the Free Kirk "the errors of Rome". But Mr. Hartland does
it!(5) Being "cunning of fence" he may reply that I also spoke loosely
of Wiraijuri and Coast Murring as, indifferently, Daramulunites. I did,
and I was wrong, and my critic ought not to accept but to expose my
error. The Wiraijuri Daramulun, who was annihilated, yet who is "an evil
spirit that rules the night," is not the Murring guardian and founder of
recognised ethics.

(1) J. A. I., xxv. p. 297.

(2) Ibid., May, 1895, p. 419.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid., xiii. pp. 458, 459.

(5) Folk-Lore, ix., No. iv., p. 299.

But, in the Wiraijuri mysteries, the master, Baiame, deceives the women
as to the Mysteries! Shocking to US, but to deceive the women as to
these arcana, is, to the Australian mind in general, necessary for the
safety of the world. Moreover, we have heard of a lying spirit sent
to deceive prophets in a much higher creed. Finally, in a myth of
the Mystery of the Wiraijuri, Baiame is not omniscient. Indeed, even
civilised races cannot keep on the level of these religious conceptions,
and not to keep on that level is - mythology. Apollo, in the hymn to
Hermes, sung on a sacred occasion, needs to ask an old vine-dresser
for intelligence. Hyperion "sees all and hears all," but needs to be
informed, by his daughters, of the slaughter of his kine. The Lord, in
the Book of Job, has to ask Satan, "Whence comest thou?" Now for the
sake of dramatic effect, now from pure inability to live on the level of
his highest thought, man mythologises and anthropomorphises, in Greece
or Israel, as in Australia.

It does not follow that there is "nothing sacred" in his religion. Mr.
Hartland offers me a case in point. In Mrs. Langloh Parker's Australian
Legendary Tales (pp. 11, 94), are myths of low adventures of Baiame. In
her More Australian Legendary Tales (pp. 84-99), is a very poetical
and charming aspect of the Baiame belief. Mr. Hartland says that I will
"seek to put" the first set of stories out of court, as "a kind of
joke with no sacredness about it". Not I, but the Noongahburrah tribe
themselves make this essential distinction. Mrs. Langloh Parker says:(1)
"The former series" (with the low Baiame myths) "were all such legends
as are told to the black picaninnies; among the present are some they
would not be allowed to hear, touching as they do on sacred things,
taboo to the young". The blacks draw the line which I am said to seek to

(1) More Legendary Tales, p. xv.

In yet another case(1) grotesque hunting adventures of Baiame are
told in the mysteries, and illustrated by the sacred temporary
representations in raised earth. I did not know it; I merely followed
Mr. Howitt. But I do not doubt it. My reply is, that there was
"something sacred" in Greek mysteries, something purifying, ennobling,
consoling. For this Lobeck has collected (and disparaged) the evidence
of Pindar, Sophocles, Cicero and many others, while even Aristophanes,
as Prof. Campbell remarks, says: "We only have bright sun and cheerful
life who have been initiated and lived piously in regard to strangers
and to private citizens".(2) Security and peace of mind, in this world
and for the next, were, we know not how, borne into the hearts of Pindar
and Sophocles in the Mysteries. Yet, if we may at all trust the Fathers,
there were scenes of debauchery, as at the Mysteries of the Fijians
(Nanga) there was buffoonery ("to amuse the boys," Mr. Howitt says of
some Australian rites), the story of Baubo is only one example, and, in
other mysteries than the Eleusinian, we know of mummeries in which an
absurd tale of Zeus is related in connection with an oak log. Yet surely
there was "something sacred" in the faith of Zeus! Let us judge the
Australians as we judge Greeks. The precepts as to "speaking the
straightforward truth," as to unselfishness, avoidance of quarrels,
of wrongs to "unprotected women," of unnatural vices, are certainly
communicated in the Mysteries of some tribes, with, in another,
knowledge of the name and nature of "Our Father," Munganngaur. That a
Totemistic dance, or medicine-dance of Emu hunting, is also displayed(3)
at certain Mysteries of a given tribe, and that Baiame is spoken of
as the hero of this ballet, no more deprives the Australian moral and
religious teaching (at the Mysteries) of sacred value, than the stupid
indecency whereby Baubo made Demeter laugh destroys the sacredness of
the Eleusinia, on which Pindar, Sophocles and Cicero eloquently dwell.
If the Australian mystae, at the most solemn moment of their lives, are
shown a dull or dirty divine ballet d'action, what did Sophocles see,
after taking a swim with his pig? Many things far from edifying, yet the
sacred element of religious hope and faith was also represented. So it
is in Australia.

(1) J. A. I., xxiv. p. 416.

(2) Religion in Greek Literature, p. 259. It is to be regretted that the
learned professor gives no references. The Greek Mysteries are treated
later in this volume.

(3) See A picture of Australia, 1829, p. 264.

These studies ought to be comparative, otherwise they are worthless. As
Mr. Hartland calls Daramulun "an eternal Creator with a game leg" who
"died," he may call Zeus an "eternal father, who swallowed his wife,
lay with his mother and sister, made love as a swan, and died, nay, was
buried, in Crete". I do not think that Mr. Hartland would call Zeus "a
ghost-god" (my own phrase), or think that he was scoring a point against
me, if I spoke of the sacred and ethical characteristics of the Zeus
adored by Eumaeus in the Odyssey. He would not be so humorous about
Zeus, nor fall into an ignoratio elenchi. For my point never was
that any Australian tribe had a pure theistic conception unsoiled and
unobliterated by myth and buffoonery. My argument was that AMONG
their ideas is that of a superhuman being, unceasing (if I may not say
eternal), a maker (if I may not say a Creator), a guardian of certain
by no means despicable ethics, which I never proclaimed as supernormally
inspired! It is no reply to me to say that, in or out of Mysteries, low
fables about that being are told, and buffooneries are enacted. For,
though I say that certain high ideas are taught in Mysteries, I do not
think I say that in Mysteries no low myths are told.

I take this opportunity, as the earliest, to apologise for an error in
my Making of Religion concerning a passage in the Primitive Culture of
my friend Mr. E. B. Tylor. Mr. Tylor quoted(1) a passage from Captain
John Smith's History of Virginia, as given in Pinkerton, xiii. pp.
13-39, 1632. In this passage no mention occurs of a Virginian deity
named Ahone but "Okee," another and more truculent god, is named. I
observed that, if Mr. Tylor had used Strachey's Historie of Travaile

Online LibraryAndrew LangMyth, Ritual and Religion — Volume 1 → online text (page 1 of 25)