Edward Carpenter.

Pagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning online

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in calm and simple grace, was suddenly cracked across.
The new self-conscious man (not all at once but gradually)
became alienated from his tribe. He lapsed into strife
with his fellows. Ambition, vanity, greed, the love of

^ See Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness (Philadelphia, igoi), pp. ii
and 39; also W. McDougall's Social Psychology (1908), p. 146 —
where the same age is tentatively suggested.


domination, the desire for property and possessions, set in.
The influences of fellowship and solidarity grew feebler.
He became alienated from his great Mother. His instincts
were less and less sure — and that in proportion as brain-
activity and self -regarding calculation took their place.
Love and mutual help were less compelling in proportion as
the demands of self-interest grew louder and more insistent.
Ultimately the crisis came. Cain murdered his brother
and became an outcast. The Garden of Eden and the
Golden Age closed their gates behind him. He entered
upon a period of suffering — a period of labor and toil and
sorrow such as he had never before known, and such
as the animals certainly have never known. And in that
distressful state, in that doleful valley of his long pilgrimage,
he still remains to-day.

Thus has the canker of self-consciousness done its work.
It would be foolish and useless to rail against the process,
or to blame any one for it. It had to be. Through this
dismal vale of self-seeking mankind had to pass — if only in
order at last to find the True Self which was (and still
remains) its goal. The pilgrimage will not last for ever.
Indeed there are signs that the recent Great War and the
following Events mark the lowest point of descent and the
beginning of the human soul's return to sanity and ascent
towards the heavenly Kingdom. No doubt Man will
arrive again some day at the grace, composure and leisurely
beauty of life which the animals realized long ago, though
he seems a precious long time about it; and when all this
nightmare of Greed and Vanity and Self-conceit and Cruelty
and Lust of oppression and domination, which marks the
present period, is past — and it will pass — then Humanity
will come again to its Golden Age and to that Paradise of
redemption and peace which has for so long been prophesied.

But we are dealing with the origins of Religion; and what
I want the reader to see is that it was just this breaking
up of the old psychologic unity and continuity of man with


his surroundings which led to the whole panorama of the
rituals and creeds. Man, centering round himself, necessarily
became an exile from the great Whole. He committed the
sin (if it was a sin) of Separation. Anyhow Nemesis was
swift. The sense of loneliness and the sense of guilt came
on him. The realization of himself as a separate conscious
being necessarily led to his attributing a similar conscious-
ness of some kind to the great Life around him. Action
and reaction are equal and opposite. Whatever he may have
felt before, it became clear to him now that beings
more or less like himself — though doubtless vaster and
more powerful — moved behind the veil of the visible world.
From that moment the belief in Magic and Demons and
Gods arose or slowly developed itself; and in the midst of
this turmoil of perilous and conflicting powers, he perceived
himself an alien and an exile, stricken with Fear, stricken
with the sense of Sin. If before, he had experienced
fear — in the kind of automatic way of self-preservation
in which the animals feel it — he now, with fevered self-
regard and excited imagination, experienced it in double or
treble degree. And if, before, he had been aware that
fortune and chance were not always friendly and propitious
to his designs, he now perceived or thought he perceived
in every adverse happening the deliberate persecution of the
powers, and an accusation of guilt directed against
him for some neglect or deficiency in his relation to them.
Hence by a perfectly logical and natural sequence there arose
the belief in other-world or supernatural powers, whether
purely fortuitous and magical or more distinctly rational
and personal; there arose the sense of Sin, or of
offence against these powers; there arose a complex
ritual of Expiation — whether by personal sacrifice and
suffering or by the sacrifice of victims. There arose too
a whole catalogue of ceremonies — ceremonies of Initiation,
by which the novice should learn to keep within the good
grace of the Powers, and under the blessing of his Tribe


and the protection of its Totem; ceremonies of Eucharistic
meals which should restore the lost sanctity of the common
life and remove the sense of guilt and isolation; ceremonies
of Marriage and rules and rites of sex-connection, fitted to
curb the terrific and demonic violence of passions which
else indeed might easily rend the community asunder.
And so on. It is easy to see that granted an early stage
of simple unreflecting nature-consciousness, and granting
this broken into and, after a time, shattered by the arrival
of je//-consciousness there would necessarily follow in
spontaneous yet logical order a whole series of religious
institutions and beliefs, which phantasmal and unreal
as they may appear to us, were by no means unreal to our
ancestors. It is easy also to see that as the psychological
process was necessarily of similar general character in every
branch of the human race and all over the world, so the
religious evolutions — the creeds and rituals — took on much
the same complexion everywhere; and, though they differed
in details according to climate and other influences, ran
on such remarkably parallel lines as we have noted.

Finally, to make the whole matter clear, let me repeat
that this event, the inbreak of Self-consciousness, took
place, or began to take place, an enormous time ago, perhaps
in the beginning of the Neolithic Age. I dwell on the word
"began" because I think it is probable that in its beginnings,
and for a long period after, this newborn consciousness
had an infantile and very innocent character, quite different
from its later and more aggressive forms — just as we see
self-consciousness in a little child has a charm and a grace
which it loses later in a boastful or grasping boyhood and
manhood. So we may understand that though self-
consciousness may have begun to appear in the human race
at this very early time (and more or less contempor-
aneously with the invention of very rude tools and unformed
language), there probably did elapse a very long period —
perhaps the whole of the Neolithic Age — before the evils


of this second stage of human evolution came to a head.
Max Miiller has pointed out that among the words which
are common to the various branches of Aryan language, and
which therefore belong to the very early period before
the separation of these branches, there are not found the words
denoting war and conflict and the weapons and instru-
ments of strife — a fact which suggests a long continuance
of peaceful habit among mankind after the first forma-
tion and use of language.

That the birth of language and the birth of self-conscious-
ness were approximately simultaneous is a probable
theory, and one favored by many thinkers;^ but the
slow beginnings of both must have been so very protracted
that it is perhaps useless to attempt any very exact deter-
mination. Late researches seem to show that language
began in what might be called tribal expressions of mood
and feeling {holo phrases like "go-hunting-kill-bear") with-
out reference to individual personalities and relationships;
and that it was only at a later stage that words like "I"
and "Thou" came into use, and the holophrases broke up
into "parts of speech" and took on a definite grammatical
structure.^ If true, these facts point clearly to a long
foreground of rude communal language, something like
though greatly superior to that of the animals, preceding
or preparing the evolution of Self -consciousness proper, in
the forms of "I" and "Thou" and the grammar of
personal actions and relations. "They show that the
plural and all other forms of number in grammar arise not by
multiplication of an original 'I,' but by selection and gradual

^ Dr. Bucke {Cosmic Consciousness) insists on their simultaneity,
but places both events excessively far back, as we should think, i.e.
200,000 or 300,000 years ago. Possibly he does not differentiate
sufficiently between the rude language of the holophrase and the
much later growth of formed and grammatical speech.

2 See A. E. Crawley's Idea of the Soul, ch. ii; Jane Harrison's
Themis, pp. 473-5; and E. J. Payne's History of the New World called
America, vol. ii, pp. 115 sq., where the beginning of self-consciousness
is associated with the break-up of the holophrase.


exclusion from an original collective 'we.' "^ According
to this view the birth of self-consciousness in the human
family, or in any particular race or section of the human
family, must have been equally slow and hesitating; and it
would be easy to imagine, as just said, that there may have
been a very long and 'golden' period at its beginning, be-
fore the new consciousness took on its maturer and harsher

All estimates of the Time involved in these evolutions of
early man are notoriously most divergent and most diffi-
cult to be sure of; but if we take 500,000 years ago for
the first appearance of veritable Man {homo primigenius) ,^
and (following Professor W. J. Sollas)^ 30,000 or 40,000 years
ago for the first tool-using men (homo sapiens) of the
Chellean Age (palaeolithic), 15,000 for the rock-paintings
and inscriptions of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian
peoples, and 5,000 years ago for the first actual his-
torical records that have come down to us, we may
perhaps get something like a proportion between the dif-
ferent periods. That is to say, half a million years for
the purely animal man in his different forms and grades of
evolution. Then somewhere towards the end of palaeolithic
or commencement of neolithic times Self-consciousness dimly
beginning and, after some 10,000 years of slow germination
and pre-historic culture, culminating in the actual historic
period and the dawn of civilization 40 or 50 centuries ago,
and to-day (we hope), reaching the climax which precedes
or foretells its abatement and transformation.

No doubt many geologists and anthropologists would favor
periods greatly longer than those here mentioned; but
possibly there would be some agreement as to the ratio

1 Themis, p. 471.

2 Though Dr. Arthur Keith, Ancient Types of Man (1911), PP- 93
and 102, puts the figure at more like a million.

^ See Ancient Hunters (1915); also Hastings's Encycl. art. "Ethnol-
ogy"; and Havelock Ellis, "The Origin of War," in The Philosophy of
Conflict and other Essays.


to each other of the times concerned: that is, the said
authorities would probably allow for a very long animal-man^
period corresponding to the first stage; for a much shorter
aggressively 'self conscious' period, corresponding to the
Second Stage — perhaps lasting only one thirtieth or
fiftieth of the time of the first period; and then — if
they looked forward at all to a third stage — would be inclined
for obvious reasons to attribute to that again a very extended

However, all this is very speculative. To return to the
difficulty about Language and the consideration of those early
times when words adequate to the expression of re-
ligious or magical ideas simply did not exist, it is clear
that the only available, or at any rate the chiej means of
expression, in those times, must have consisted in gestures,
in attitudes, in ceremonial actions — in a more or less elaborate
ritual, in fact.^ Such ideas as Adoration, Thanksgiving,
confession of Guilt, placation of Wrath, Expiation, Sacrifice,
Celebration of Community, sacramental Atonement, and
a score of others could at that time be expressed by appro-
priate rites — and as a matter of fact are often so expressed
erven now — more readily and directly than by language.
'Dancing' — when that word came to be invented — did
not mean a mere flinging about of the limbs in recreation,
but any expressive movements of the body which might be
used to convey the feelings of the dancer or of the audience
whom he represented. And so the 'religious dance' became
a most important part of ritual.

So much for the second stage of Consciousness. Let us
now pass on to the Third Stage. It is evident that the
process of disruption and dissolution — disruption both of

1 I use the phrase 'animal-man' here, not with any flavor of con-
tempt or reprobation, as the dear Victorians would have used it,
but with a sense of genuine respect and admiration such as one feels
towards the animals themselves.

2 See supra, ch. ix, pp. 147, 148 and xi, pp. 165, 166.


the human mind, and of society round about it, due to the
action of the Second Stage — could not go on indefinitely.
There are hundreds of thousands of people at the present
moment who are dying of mental or bodily disease — their
nervous systems broken down by troubles connected with ex-
cessive self -consciousness — selfish fears and worries and
restlessness. Society at large is perishing both in industry
and in warfare through the domination in its organism of
the self-motives of greed and vanity and ambition. This
cannot go on for ever. Things must either continue in
the same strain, in which case it is evident that we are ap-
proaching a crisis of utter dissolution, or a new element
must enter in, a new inspiration of life, and we (as individuals)
and the society of which we form a part, must make a fresh
start. What is that new and necessary element of regenera-

It is evident that it must be a new birth — the entry
into a further stage of consciousness which must supersede
the present one. Through some such crisis as we have spoken
of, through the extreme of suffering, the mind of
Man, as at present constituted, has to die.^ Self -consciousness
has to die, and be buried, and rise again in a new form.
Probably nothing but the extreme of suffering can bring
this about.- And what is this new form in which conscious-
ness has to rearise? Obviously, since the miseries of the
world during countless centuries have dated from that
fatal attempt to make the little personal selj the centre of
effort and activity, and since that attempt has inevitably led
to disunity and discord and death, both within the mind itself
and within the body of society, there is nothing left but
the return to a Consciousness which shall have Unity as
its foundation-principle, and which shall proceed from the

1 "The mind must be restrained in the heart till it comes to an
end," says the Maitrayana-Brahmana-Upanishad.

2 One may remember in this connection the iapas of the Hindu
yogi, or the ordeals of initiates into the pagan Mysteries generally.


direct sense and perception of such an unity throughout
creation. The simple mind of Early Man and the Animals
was of that character — a consciousness, so to speak, con-
tinuous through nature, and though running to points of
illumination and foci of special activity in individuals, yet
at no point essentially broken or imprisoned in sep-
arate compartments. (And it is this continuity of the primitive
mind which enables us, as I have already explained, to
understand the mysterious workings of instinct and intui-
tion.) To some such unity-consciousness we have to return;
but clearly it will be — it is not — of the simple inchoate char-
acter of the First Stage, for it has been enriched,
deepened, and greatly extended by the experience of the
Second Stage. It is in fact, a new order of mentality — the
consciousness of the Third Stage.

In order to understand the operation and qualities of this
Third Consciousness, it may be of assistance just now
to consider in what more or less rudimentary way or ways
it figured in the pagan rituals and in Christianity. We have
seen the rude Siberyaks in North-Eastern Asia or
the 'Grizzly' tribes of North American Indians in the
neighborhood of Mount Shasta paying their respects and
adoration to a captive bear — at once the food-animal,
and the divinity of the Tribe. A tribesman . had slain a
bear — and, be it said, had slain it not in a public hunt with
all due ceremonies observed, but privately for his own satis-
faction. He had committed, therefore, a sin theoreti-
cally unpardonable; for had he not — to gratify his
personal desire for food — levelled a blow at the guardian
spirit of the Tribe? Had he not alienated himself from
his fellows by destroying its very symbol? There was
only one way by which he could regain the fellowship of
his companions. He must make amends by some public
sacrifice, and instead of retaining the flesh of the animal
for himself he must share it with the whole tribe (or clan)


in a common feast, while at the same time, tensest prayers
and thanks are offered to the animal for the gift of his body
for food. The Magic formula demanded nothing less than
this — else dread disaster would fall upon the man who sinned,
and upon the whole brotherhood. Here, and in a hundred
similar rites, we see the three phases of tribal psychology —
the first, in which the individual member simply remains
within the compass of the tribal mind, and only acts in
harmony with it; the second, in which the individual
steps outside and to gratify his personal self performs an
action which alienates him from his fellows; and the third,
in which, to make amends and to prove his sincerity, he
submits to some sacrifice, and by a common feast or some
such ceremony is received back again into the unity of the
fellowship. The body of the animal-divinity is consumed,
and the latter becomes, both in the spirit and in the flesh,
the Savior of the tribe.

In course of time, when the Totem or Guardian-spirit
is no longer merely an Animal, or animal-headed Genius,
but a quite human-formed Divinity, still the same general
outline of ideas is preserved — only with gathered intensity
owing to the specially human interest of the drama. The
Divinity who gives his life for his flock is no longer just
an ordinary Bull or Lamb, but Adonis or Osiris or Dionysus
or Jesus. He is betrayed by one of his own followers, and
suffers death, but rises again redeeming all with himself
in the one fellowship; and the corn and the wine and the
wild flesh which were his body, and which he gave for the
sustenance of mankind, are consumed in a holy supper
of reconciliation. It is always the return to unity which
is the ritual of Salvation, and of which the symbol is the
Eucharist — the second birth, the formation of "a new creature
when old things are passed away." For "Except a
man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God";
and "the first man is of the earth, earthly, but the second
man is the Lord from heaven." Like a strange refrain,


and from centuries before our era, comes down this belief
in a god who is imprisoned in each man, and whose libera-
tion is a new birth and the beginning of a new creature:
"Rejoice, ye initiates in the mystery of the liberated god"
— rejoice in the thought of the hero who died as a mortal
in the coffin, but rises again as Lord of all!

Who then was this "Christos" for whom the world
was waiting three centuries before our era (and indeed
centuries before that)? Who was this "thrice Savior"
whom the Greek Gnostics acclaimed? What was the
meaning of that "coming of the Son of Man" whom Daniel
beheld in vision among the clouds of heaven? or of the
"perfect man" who, Paul declared, should deliver us from
the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of
the children of God? What was this salvation which
time after time and times again the pagan deities promised
to their devotees, and which the Eleusinian and other
Mysteries represented in their religious dramas with such
convincing enthusiasm that even Pindar could say "Happy
is he who has seen them (the Mysteries) before he goes
beneath the hollow earth: that man knows the true end of
life and its source divine"; and concerning which Sopho-
cles and Aeschylus were equally enthusiastic?^

Can we doubt, in the light of all that we have already
said, what the answer to these questions is? As with
the first blossoming of self-consciousness in the human
mind came the dawn of an immense cycle of experience —
a cycle indeed of exile from Eden, of suffering and toil and
blind wanderings in the wilderness, yet a cycle absolutely
necessary and unavoidable — so now the redemption, the
return, the restoration has to come through another forward
step, in the same domain. Abandoning the quest and the
glorification of the separate isolated self we have to return
to the cosmic universal life. It is the blossoming indeed

1 See Famell's Cults of the Greek States, vol. iii, p. 194; also The
Mysteries, Pagan and Christian, by S. Cheetham, D.D. (London, 1897).


of this *new' life in the deeps of our minds which is salvation,
and which all the expressions which I have just cited have
indicated. It is this presence which all down the ages
has been hailed as Savior and Liberator: the daybreak of a
consciousness so much vaster, so much more glorious, than
all that has gone before that the little candle of the local self
is swallowed up in its rays. It is the return home, the
return into direct touch with Nature and Man — the libera-
tion from the long exile of separation, from the painful sense
of isolation and the odious nightmare of guilt and 'sin.' Can
we doubt that this new birth — this third stage of con-
sciousness, if we like to call it so — has to come, that it is in-
deed not merely a pious hope or a tentative theory, but a fact
testified to already by a cloud of witnesses in the past — wit-
nesses shining in their own easily recognizable and authentic
light, yet for the most part isolated from each other among
the arid and unfruitful wastes of Civilization, like glow-worms
in the dry grass of a summer night?

Since the first dim evolution of human self-consciousness
an immense period, as we have said — perhaps 30,000 years,
perhaps even more — has elapsed. Now, in the present
day this period is reaching its culmination, and though
it will not terminate immediately, its end is, so to speak,
in sight. Meanwhile, during all the historical age behind
us — say for the last 4,000 or 5,000 years — evidence has been
coming in (partly in the religious rites recorded, partly
in oracles, poems and prophetic literature) of the onset
of this further illumination — "the light which never was
on sea or land" — and the cloud of witnesses, scattered
at first, has in these later centuries become so evident and
so notable that we are tempted to believe in or to anticipate
a great and general new birth, as now not so very far off.^
[We should, however, do well to remember, in this con-

^ For an amplification of all this theme, see Dr. Bucke's remark-
able and epoch-making book, Cosmic Consciousness (first published
at Philadelphia, 1901).


nection, that many a time already in the history the Millennium
has been prophesied, and yet not arrived punctual to date,
and to take to ourselves the words of 'Peter,' who somewhat
grievously disappointed at the long-delayed second coming
of the Lord Jesus in the clouds of heaven, wrote in his second
Epistle: "There shall come in the last days scoffers,
walking after their own lusts, and saying. Where is the prom-
ise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all
things continue as they were from the beginning of the

I say that all through the historical age behind us there
has been evidence — even though scattered — of salvation
and the return of the Cosmic life. Man has never been so
completely submerged in the bitter sea of self-centredness but
what he has occasionally been able to dash the spray from
his eyes and glimpse the sun and the glorious light of
heaven. From how far back we cannot say, but from an
immense antiquity come the beautiful myths which indicate

Cinderella, the cinder-maiden, sits unbeknown in her earthly

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Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 18 of 25)