Edward Carpenter.

Pagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning online

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even such institutions as the Saturnalia were religious in confirming
the sense of social union and leading to 'extended identity.'


more closely. Clearly, since it is a new state, and not
merely an extension of a former one, one cannot arrive at it
by argument derived from the Second state, for all con-
scious Thought such as we habitually use simply keeps
us in the Second state. No animal or quite primitive man
could possibly understand what we mean by Self-consciousness
till he had experienced it. Mere argument would not
enlighten him. And so no one in the Second state can quite
realize the Third state till he has experienced it. Still, ex-
planations may help us to perceive in what direction to look,
and to recognize in some of our experiences an approach to
the condition sought.

Evidently it is a mental condition in some respects more
similar to the first than to the second stage. The second
stage of human psychologic evolution is an aberration,
a divorce, a parenthesis. With its culmination and dismissal
the mind passes back into the simple state of union
with the Whole. (The state of Ekdgratd in the Hindu phil-
osophy: one-pointedness, singleness of mind.) And the con-
sciousness of the Whole, and of things past and things to
come and things far around — which consciousness had
been shut out by the concentration on the local self — begins
to return again. This is not to say, of course, that the
excursus in the second stage has been a loss and a defect.
On the contrary, it means that the Return is a bringing of
all that has been gained during the period of exile (all sorts
of mental and technical knowledge and skill, emotional de-
velopments, finesse and adaptability of mind) back into har-
mony with the Whole. It means ultimately a great gain.
The Man, perfected, comes back to a vastly extended
harmony. He enters again into a real understanding and
confidential relationship with his physical body and with
the body of the society in which he dwells — from both
of which he has been sadly divorced; and he takes up
again the broken thread of the Cosmic Life.

Everyone has noticed the extraordinary consent sometimes


observable among the members of an animal community —
how a flock of 500 birds (e. g. starlings) will suddenly change
its direction of flight — the light on the wings shifting in-
stantaneously, as if the impulse to veer came to all at the
same identical moment; or how bees will swarm or otherwise
act with one accord, or migrating creatures (lemmings,
deer, gossamer spiders, winged ants) the same. Whatever
explanation of these facts we favor — whether the possession
of swifter and finer means of external communication than
we can perceive, or whether a common and inner sensitivity
to the genius of the Tribe (the "Spirit of the Hive") or
to the promptings of great Nature around — in any case these
facts of animal life appear to throw light on the possibilities
of an accord and consent among the members of emaciated
humanity, such as we dream of now, and seem to bid us have
good hope for the future.

It is here, perhaps, that the ancient worship of the Lingam
comes in. The word itself is apparently connected with
our word 'link,' and has originally the same meaning.^
It is the link between the generations. Beginning with the
worship of the physical Race-life, the course of psy-
chologic evolution has been first to the worship of the Tribe
(or of the Totem which represents the tribe) ; then to the
worship of the human-formed God of the tribe — the God
who dies and rises again eternally, as the tribe passes on
eternal — though its members perpetually perish; then to
the conception of an undying Savior, and the realization
and distinct experience of some kind of Super-conscious-
ness which does certainly reside, more or less hidden, in the
deeps of the mind, and has been waiting through the
ages for its disclosure and recognition. Then again to the
recognition that in the sacrifices, the Slayer and the Slain
are one — the strange and profoundly mystic perception
that the God and the Victim are in essence the same — the
dedication of 'Himself to Himself';^ and simultaneously
^ See Sanskrit Dictionary. 2 ggg ^h. VIII, supra.


with this the interpretation of the Eucharist as meaning,
even for the individual, the participation in Eternal Life —
the continuing life of the Tribe, or ultimately of Humanity.^
The Tribal order rises to Humanity; love ascends from the
llngatn to yogam, from physical union alone to the union
with the Whole — which of course includes physical and all
other kinds of union. No wonder that the good St. Paul,
witnessing that extraordinary whirlpool of beliefs and prac-
tices, new and old, there in the first century a.d. — the un-
abashed adoration of sex side by side with the transcen-
dental devotions of the Vedic sages and the Gnostics — became
somewhat confused himself and even a little violent, scolding
his disciples (i Cor. x. 21) for their undiscriminating accep-
tance, as it seemed to him, of things utterly alien and an-
tagonistic. "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and
the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table
and the table of devils."

Every careful reader has noticed the confusedness of
Paul's mind and arguments. Even taking only those
Epistles (Galatians, Romans and Corinthians) which the
critics assign to his pen, the thing is observable — and some
learned Germans even speak of two Pauls.^ But also the
thing is quite natural. There can be little doubt that
Paul of Tarsus, a Jew brought up in the strictest sect of
the Pharisees, did at some time fall deeply under the influence
of Greek thought, and quite possibly became an initiate

1 There are many indications in literature — in prophetic or poetic
form — of this awareness and distinct conviction of an eternal life,
reached through love and an inner sense of union with others and
with humanity at large; indications which bear the mark of absolute
genuineness and sincerity of feeling. See, for instance, Whitman's
poem, "To the Garden the World" {Leaves of Grass, complete
edition, p. 79). But an eternal life of the third order; not, thank
heaven! an eternity of the meddling and muddling self-conscious In-
tellect !

2 "Die Mysterien-anschauungen, die bei Paulus im Hintergrunde
stehen, drangen sich in dem sogenannten Deuteropaulinismus machtig
vor" (Reitzenstein).


in the Mysteries. It would be difficult otherwise to account
for his constant use of the Mystery-language. Reitzenstein
says (p. 59): "The hellenistic religious literature must have
been read by him; he uses its terms, and is saturated with
its thoughts (see Rom. vi. 1-14)." And this conjoined with
his Jewish experience gave him creative power. *A great deal
in his sentiment and thought may have remained
Jewish, but to his Hellenism he was indebted for his love
of freedom and his firm belief in his apostleship." He adopts
adopts terms (like o-apKi/cos, i/fv^tKo's and Trvev/mxiKos) ^
which were in use among the hellenistic sects of the time;
and he writes, as in Romans vi. 4, 5, about being "buried''
with Christ or "planted" in the likeness of his death, in
words which might well have been used (with change of the
name) by a follower of Attis or Osiris after witnessing the
corresponding 'mysteries'; certainly the allusion to these
ancient deities would have been understood by every
religionist of that day. These few points are sufficient
to acentuate the two elements in Paul, the Jewish and the
Greek, and to explain (so far) the seeming confusion
in his utterances. Further it is interesting to note — as
showing the pagan influences in the N. T. writings — the
degree to which the Epistle to Philemon (ascribed to Paul)
is ^ull — short as it is — of expressions like prisoner of the
Lord, fellow soldier, captive or bondman,'^ which were so
common at the time as to be almost a cant in Mithraism and
the allied cults. In i Peter ii. 2^, we have the verse 'As
newborn babes, desire ye the sincere milk of the word, that
ye may grow thereby." And again we may say that
no one in that day could mistake the reference herein
contained to old initiation ceremonies and the new birth (as
described in Chapter VIII above), for indeed milk was

1 Remindful of our Three Stages: the Animal, the Self-conscious,
and the Cosmic.

* 5«r/itoj, ffrpaTiwrrj^, SovXos.
3 See also i Cor. iii. 2.


the well-known diet of the novice in the Isis mysteries, as
well as (in some savage tribes) of the Medicine-man when
practising his calling.

And here too Democracy comes in — strangely fore-
boded from the first in all this matter.^ Not only does
the Third Stage bring illumination, intuitive understanding
of processes in Nature and Humanity, sympathy with the
animals, artistic capacity, and so forth, but it necessarily
brings a new Order of Society. A preposterous — one may
almost say a hideous — social Age is surely drawing to its end.
The debacle we are witnessing to-day all over Europe (in-
cluding the British Islands), the break-up of old institutions,
the generally materialistic outlook on life, the coming to the
surface of huge masses of diseased and fatuous populations,
the scum and dregs created by the past order, all point to
the End of a Dispensation. Protestantism and Com-
mercialism, in the two fields of religion and daily life
have, as I have indicated before, been occupied in concen-
trating the mind of each man solely on his own welfare,
the salvation of his own soul or body. These two forces
have therefore been disruptive to the last degree; they mark
the culmination of the Self-conscious Age — a culmination in
War, Greed, Materialism, and the general principle of Devil-
take-the-hindmost — and the clearing of the ground for the
new order which is to come. So there is hope for
the human race. Its evolution is not all a mere formless
craze and jumble. There is an inner necessity by which
Humanity unfolds from one degree or plane of consciousness
to another. And if there has been a great 'Fall' or Lapse
into conflict and disease and 'sin' and misery, occupying
the major part of the Historical period hitherto, we see that
this period is only brief, so to speak, in comparison
with the whole curve of growth and expansion. We see also
that, as I have said before, the belief in a state of salva-

^ See the perms of Democracy in the yoga teachins; of the Hindus,
and in the Upanishads, the Bhagavat Gita, and other books.


tion or deliverance has in the past ages never left itself quite
without a witness in the creeds and rituals and poems
and prophecies of mankind. Art, in some form or other,
as an activity or inspiration dating not from the conscious
Intellect, but from deeper regions of sub-conscious feeling
and intuition, has continually come to us as a message from
and an evidence of the Third stage or state, and as a promise
of its more complete realization under other con-

Through the long night-time where the Nations wander

From Eden past to Paradise to be,
Art's sacred flowers, like fair stars shining yonder,

Alone illumine Life's obscurity.

O gracious Artists, out of your deep hearts

'Tis some great Sun, I doubt, by men unguessed,

Whose rays come struggling thus, in slender darts.
To shadow what Is, till Time shall manifest.

With the Cosmic stage comes also necessarily the re-
habilitation of the whole of Society in one fellowship (the
true Democracy). Not the rule or domination of one
class or caste — as of the Intellectual, the Pious, the Com-
mercial or the INIilitary — but the fusion or at least consen-
taneous organization of all (as in the corresponding functions
of the human Body). Class rule has been the mark of that
second period of human evolution, and has inevitably
given birth during that period to wars and self-agrandize-
ments of classes and sections, and their consequent greeds
and tyrannies over other classes and sections. It is not
found in the primitive human tribes and societies, and
will not be found in the final forms of human association.
The liberated and emancipated Man passes unconstrained and
unconstraining through all grades and planes of human fellow-
ship, equal and undisturbed, and never leaving his true
home and abiding place in the heart of all. Equally
necessarily with the rehabilitation of Society as an entirety


will follow the rehabilitation of the entire physical body in
each member of Society. We have spoken already of Naked-
ness: its meaning and likely extent of adoption (Ch.
XII, pp. 196-7). The idea that the head and the hands
are the only seemly and presentable members of the
organism, and that the other members are unworthy
and indecent, is obviously as onesided and lopsided as
that which honors certain classes in the commonwealth
and despises others. Why should the head brag of its
ascendancy and domination, and the heart be smothered
up and hidden? It will only be a life far more in the
open air than that which we lead at present, which will re-
store the balance and ultimately bring us back to sanity and



We have dealt with the Genesis of Christianity; we now
come to the Exodus. For that Christianity can continue
to hold the field of Religion in the Western World is neither
probable nor desirable. It is true, as I have remarked already,
that there is a certain trouble about defining what we mean
by ''Christianity" similar to that about the word "Civiliza-
tion." If we select out of the great mass of doctrines and
rites favored by the various Christian Churches just those
which commend themselves to the most modern and humane
and rational human mind and choose to call that resulting
(but rather small) body of belief and practice 'Christianity'
we are, of course, entitled to do so, and to hope (as we do
hope) that this residuum will survive and go forward into
the future. But this sort of proceeding is hardly fair and
certainly not logical. It enables Christianity to pose as
an angel of light while at the same time keeping discreetly
out of sight all its own abominations and deeds of darkness.
The Church — which began its career by destroying, distorting
and denying the pagan sources from which it sprang;
whose bishops and other ecclesiastics assassinated each
other in their theological rancour "of wild beasts," which
encouraged the wicked folly of the Crusades — especially
the Children's Crusades — and the shameful murders of
the Manicheans, the Albigenses, and the Huguenots; which



burned at the stake thousands and thousands of poor
'witches' and 'heretics'; which has hardly ever spoken a
generous word in favor or defence of the animals; which
in modern times has supported vivisection as against the
latter, Capitalism and Commercialism as against the poorer
classes of mankind; and whose priests in the forms of its
various sects, Greek or Catholic, Lutheran or Protestant,
have in these last days rushed forth to urge the nations to
slaughter each other with every diabolical device of Science,
and to glorify the war-cry of Patriotism in defiance of the
principle of universal Brotherhood — such a Church can hardly
claim to have established the angelic character of its
mission among mankind! And if it be said — as it often
is said: "Oh! but you must go back to the genuine article,
and the Church's real origin and one foundation in the
person and teaching of Jesus Christ," then indeed you
come back to the point which this book, as above, en-
forces: namely, that as to the person of Jesus, there is
no certainty at all that he ever existed; and as to the teaching
credited to him, it is certain that that comes down from a
period long anterior to 'Christianity' and is part of what
may justly be called a very ancient World-religion. So, as
in the case of 'Civilization,' we are compelled to see that
it is useless to apply the word to some ideal state of affairs
or doctrine (an ideal by no means the same in all people's
minds, or in all localities and times), but that the only
reasonable thing to do is to apply it in each case to a historical
period. In the case of Christianity the historical period
has lasted nearly 2,000 years, and, as I say, we can hardly
expect or wish that it should last much longer.

The very thorough and careful investigation of religious
origins which has been made during late years by a great
number of students and observers undoubtedly tends to show
that there has been something like a great World-religion
coming down the centuries from the remotest times and
gradually expanding and branching as it has come — that


is to say that the similarity (in essence though not always
in external detail) between the creeds and rituals of widely
sundered tribes and peoples is so great as to justify the view
— advanced in the present volume — that these creeds and
rituals are the necessary outgrowths of human psychology,
slowly evolving, and that consequently they have a common
origin and in their various forms a common expression. Of
this great World-religion, so coming down, Christianity
is undoubtedly a branch, and an important branch. But
there have been important branches before; and while
it may be true that Christianity emphasizes some points
which may have been overlooked or neglected in the Vedic
teachings or in Buddhism, or in the Persian and Egyptian
and Syrian cults, or in Mahommedanism, and so forth, it
is also equally true that Christianity has itself overlooked
or neglected valuable points in these religions. It has, in
fact, the defects of its qualities. If the World-religion is
like a great tree, one cannot expect or desire that all its
branches should be directed towards the same point of
the compass.

Reinach, whose studies of religious origins are always
interesting and characterized by a certain Gallic grace
and nettete, though with a somewhat Jewish non-perception
of the mystic element in life, defines Religion as a combina-
tion of animism and scruples. This is good in a way, be-
cause it gives the two aspects of the subject: the inner,
animism, consisting of the sense of contact with more or
less intelligent beings moving in Nature; and the outer, con-
sisting in scruples or taboos. The one aspect shows
the feeling which inspires religion, the other, the checks and
limitations which define it and give birth to ritual. But
like most anthropologists he (Reinach) is a little too
patronizing towards the "poor Indian with untutored
mind." He is sorry for people so foolish as to be animistic
in their outlook, and he is always careful to point out that
the scruples and taboos were quite senseless in their origin.


though occasionally (by accident) they turned out useful.
Yet — as I have said before — Animism is a perfectly sensible,
logical and necessary attitude of the human mind. It is
a necessary attribute of man's psychical nature, by which
he projects into the great World around him the image
of his own mind. When that mind is in a very primitive,
inchoate, and fragmentary condition, the images so pro-
jected are those of fragmentary intelligences ('spirits,'
gnomes, etc. — the age of magic) ; when the mind rises
to distinct consciousness of itself the reflections of it are
anthropomorphic 'gods'; when finally it reaches the
universal or cosmic state it perceives the presence of
a universal Being behind all phenomena — which Being is in-
deed itself — "Himself to Himself." If you like you
may call the whole process by the name of Animism. It
is perfectly sensible throughout. The only proviso is
that you should also be sensible, and distinguish the different
stages in the process.

Jane Harrison makes considerable efforts to show that Re-
ligion is primarily a reflection of the social Conscience (see
Themis, pp. 482-92) — that is, that the sense in Man
of a "Power that makes for righteousness" outside (and
also inside) him is derived from his feeling of con-
tinuity with the Tribe and his instinctive obedience to its
behests, confirmed by ages of collective habit and experience.
He cannot in fact sever the navel-string which con-
nects him with his tribal Mother, even though he
desires to do so. And no doubt this view of the origin
of Religion is perfectly correct. But it must be pointed
out that it does not by any means exclude the view that
religion derives also from an Animism by which man recognizes
in general Nature his foster-mother and feels himself
in closest touch with her. Which may have come first, the
Social affiliation or the Nature affiliation, I leave to
the professors to determine. The term Animism may,
as far as I can see, be quite well applied to the social


affiliation, for the latter is evidently only a case in which
the individual projects his own degree of consciousness
into the human group around him instead of into the
animals or the trees, but it is a case of which the justice
is so obvious that the modern man can intellectually seize
and understand it, and consequently he does not tar it with
the 'animistic' brush.

And Miss Harrison, it must be noticed, does, in other pas-
sages of the same book (see Themis, pp. 68, 69), admit
that Religion has its origin not only from unity with the
Tribe but from the sense of affiliation to Nature — the
sense of "a world of unseen power lying behind the visible
universe, a world which is the sphere, as will be seen, of
magical activity and the medium of mysticism. The
mystical element, the oneness and continuousness comes
out very clearly in the notion of Wako?ida among the Sioux
Indians. . . . The Omahas regarded all animate and in-
animate forms, all phenomena, as pervaded by a common
life, which was continuous and similar to the will-power
they were conscious of in themselves. This mysterious
power in all things they called Wakonda, and through
it all things were related to man, and to each other. In the
idea of the continuity of life, a relation was maintained be-
tween the seen and the unseen, the dead and the living, and
also between the fragment of anything and its entirety." Thus
our general position is confirmed, that Religion in
its origin has been inspired by a deep instinctive conviction
or actual sense of continuity with a being or beings in the
world around, while it has derived its form and ritual by
slow degrees from a vast number of taboos, generated in
the first instance chiefly by superstitious fears, but gradually
with the growth of reason and observation becoming
simplified and rationalized into forms of use. On the one
side there has been the positive impulse — of mere animal
Desire and the animal urge of self-expression; on the
other there has been the negative force of Fear based


on ignorance — the latter continually carving, moulding and
shaping the former. According to this an organized study and
classification of taboos might yield some interesting results;
because indeed it would throw light on the earliest forms of
both religion and science. It would be seen that some taboos,
like those of contact (say with a menstruous woman,
or a mother-in-law, or a lightning-struck tree) had an obvious
basis of observation, justifiable but very crude; while
others, like the taboo against harming an enemy who
had contracted blood-friendship with one of your own
tribe, or against giving decent burial to a murderer, were
equally rough and rude expressions or indications of the grow-
ing moral sentiment of mankind. All the same there would
be left, in any case, a large residuum of taboos which could
only be judged as senseless, and the mere rubbish of the
savage mind.

So much for the first origins of the World-religion;
and I think enough has been said in the various chapters
of this book to show that the same general process has ob-
tained throughout. Man, like the animals, began with
this deep, subconscious sense of unity with surrounding
Nature. When this became (in Man) fairly conscious, it led
to Magic and Totemism. More conscious, and it branched,
on the one hand, into figures of Gods and definite forms
of Creeds, on the other into elaborate Scientific Theories —

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Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 20 of 25)