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

Believe me

Very sincerely yours,


* * * * *


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With regard, to all such moral, and, in certain versions, creative Beings
as Baiame, criticism has taken various lines. There is the high a priori
line that savage minds are incapable of originating the notion of a moral
Maker. I have already said that the notion, in an early form, seems to be
well within the range of any minds deserving to be called human. Next, the
facts are disputed. I can only refer readers to the authorities cited.
They speak for tribes in many quarters of the world, and the witnesses
are laymen as well as missionaries. I am accused, again, of using a
misleading rhetoric, and of thereby covertly introducing Christian or
philosophical ideas into my account of "savages guiltless of Christian
teaching." As to the latter point, I am also accused of mistaking for
native opinions the results of "Christian teaching." One or other charge
must fall to the ground. As to my rhetoric, in the use of such words as
'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_
(literally, "he lives in heaven").' This is inconsiderate in the Fangs. A
set of native cannibals have no business with a creative Father who is in

Online LibraryAndrew LangThe Making of Religion → online text (page 1 of 31)