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Pagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning online

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other festivals."- Robertson-Smith himself says: — "The
plain meaning is that the victim was devoured before
its life had left the still warm blood and flesh . . . and
that thus in the most literal way, all those who shared in
the ceremony absorbed part of the victim's life into
themselves. One sees how much more forcibly than
any ordinary meal such a rite expresses the establishment
or confirmation of a bond of common life between the
worshipers, and also, since the blood is shed upon the
altar itself, between the worshipers and their god. In this
sacrifice, then, the significant factors are two: the con-
veyance of the living blood to the godhead, and the
absorption of the living flesh and blood into the flesh and
blood of the worshippers. Each of these is effected in the
simplest and most direct manner, so that the meaning of the
ritual is perfectly transparent."

It seems strange, of course, that men should eat their
totems; and it must not by any means be supposed that
this practice is (or was) universal; but it undoubtedly

1 See his Religion of the Semites, p. 320.

2 They also recall the rites of the Passover — though in this latter
the blood was no longer drunk, nor the flesh eaten raw.


obtains in some cases. As Miss Harrison says {Themis,
p. 123), "you do not as a rule eat your relations," and as a
rule the eating of a totem is tabu and forbidden, but
(Miss Harrison continues) "at certain times and under cer-
tain restrictions a man not only may, but must, eat of
his totem, though only sparingly, as of a thing sacrosanct."
The ceremonial carried out in a communal way by the tribe
not only identifies the tribe with the totem (animal), but
is held, according to early magical ideas, and when the
animal is desired for food, to favor its manipulation.
The human tribe partakes of the mana or life-force of the
animal, and is strengthened; the animal tribe is sympatheti-
cally renewed by the ceremonial and multiplies exceedingly.
The slaughter of the sacred animal and (often) the
simultaneous outpouring of human blood seals the com-
pact and confirms the magic. This is well illustrated
by a ceremony of the 'Emu' tribe referred to by Dr.
Frazer: —

"In order to multiply Emus which are an important article
of food, the men of the Emu totem in the Arunta tribe pro-
ceed as follows: They clear a small spot of level
ground, and opening veins in their arms they let the blood
stream out until the surface of the ground for a space of about
three square yards is soaked with it. When the blood
has dried and caked, it forms a hard and fairly imper-
meable surface, on which they paint the sacred design
of the emu totem, especially the parts of the bird which
they like best to eat, namely, the fat and the eggs. Round
this painting the men sit and sing. Afterwards performers
wearing long head-dresses to represent the long neck and
small head of the emu, mimic the appearance of the bird
as it stands aimlessly peering about in all directions."^

Thus blood sacrifice comes in; and — (whether this has
ever actually happened in the case of the Central Australians

1 The Golden Bough i, 85 — with reference to Spencer and Gillen's
Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 179, 189.


I know not) — we can easilj^ imagine a member of the Emu
tribe, and disguised as an actual em.u, having been cere-
monially slaughtered as a firstfruits and promise of the ex-
pected and prayed- for emu-crop; just as the same cer-
tainly has happened in the case of men wearing beast-
masks of Bulls or Rams or Bears being sacrificed in propitia-
tion of Bull-gods, Ram-gods or Bear-gods or simply in pur-
suance of some kind of magic to favor the multiplication of
these food-animals.

"In the light of totemistic ways of thinking we see plainly
enough the relation of man to food-animals. You need or
at least desire flesh food, yet you shrink from slaughtering
'your brother the ox'; you desire his mana, yet you respect
his tabu, for in you and him alike runs the common
life-blood. On your own individual responsibility you
would never kill him; but for the common weal, on great
occasions, and in a fashion conducted with scrupulous care, it
is expedient that he die for his people, and that they feast
upon his flesh. "^

In her little book Ancient Art and Ritual"^ Jane Harrison
describes the dedication of a holy Bull, as conducted in
Greece at Elis, and at Magnesia and other cities. "There
at the annual fair year by year the stewards of the city
bought a Bull 'the finest that could be got,' and at the
new moon of the month at the beginning of seed-time
[? April] they dedicated it for the city's welfare. . . . The
Bull was led in procession at the head of which went the
chief priest and priestess of the city. With them went a
herald and sacrificer, and two bands of youths and
maidens. So holy was the Bull that nothing unlucky
might come near him. The herald pronounced aloud a
prayer for 'the safety of the city and the land, and the
citizens, and the women and children, for peace and wealth,
and for the bringing forth of grain and all other fruits,

1 Themis, p. 140.

2 Home University Library, p. 87.


and of cattle.' All this longing for fertility, for food and
children, focuses round the holy Bull, whose holiness is
his strength and fruitfulness." The Bull is sacrificed.
The flesh is divided in solemn feast among those who take
part in the procession. "The holy flesh is not offered to
a god, it is eaten — to every man his portion — by each and
every citizen, that he may get his share of the strength of
the Bull, of the luck of the State." But at Athens the Bou-
phonia, as it was called, was followed by a curious ceremony,
"The hide was stuffed with straw and sewed up, and
next the stuffed animal was set on its feet and yoked to
a plough as though it were ploughing. The Death is
followed by a Resurrection. Now this is all important.
We are so accustomed to think of sacrifice as the death, the
giving up, the renouncing of something. But sacrifice
does not mean 'death' at all. It means making holy,
sanctifying: and holiness was to primitive man just special
strength and life. What they wanted from the Bull was
just that special life and strength which all the year long
they had put into him, and nourished and fostered. That
life was in his blood. They could not eat that flesh nor
drink that blood unless they killed him. So he must
die. But it was not to give him up to the gods that they killed
him, not to 'sacrifice' him in our sense, but to have him,
keep him, eat him, live by him and through him, by his

We have already had to deal with instances of the
ceremonial eating of the sacred he-Lamb or Ram, immolated
in the Spring season of the year, and partaken of in a kind
of communal feast — not without reference (at any rate in
later times) to a supposed Lamb-god. Among the Ainos
in the North of Japan, as also among the Gilyaks in
Eastern Siberia, the Bear is the great food-animal, and
is worshipped as the supreme giver of health and strength.
There also a similar ritual of sacrifice occurs. A perfect
Bear is caught and caged. He is fed up and even


pampered to the day of his death. "Fish, brandy and
other delicacies are offered to him. Some of the people
prostrate themselves before him; his coming into a house
brings a blessing, and if he sniffs at the food that brings a
blessing too." Then he is led out and slain. A great feast
takes place, the flesh is divided, cupfuls of the blood are
drunk by the men; the tribe is united and strengthened, and
the Bear-god blesses the ceremony — the ideal Bear that has
given its life for the people.^

That the eating of the flesh of an animal or a man con-
veys to you some of the qualities, the life-force, the
mana, of that animal or man, is an idea which one often
meets with among primitive folk. Hence the common
tendency to eat enemy warriors slain in battle against
your tribe By doing so you absorb some of their valor
and strength. Even the enemy scalps which an Apache
Indian might hang from his belt were something magical
to add to the Apache's power. As Gilbert Murray says,^
"you devoured the holy animal to get its mana, its swift-
ness, its strength, its great endurance, just as the savage now
will eat his enemy's brain or heart or hands to get
some particular quality residing there." Even — as he ex-
plains on the earlier page — mere contact was often con-
sidered sufficient — "we have holy pillars whose holiness con-
sists in the fact that they have been touched by the
blood of a bull." And in this connection we may note
that nearly all the Christian Churches have a great be-
lief in the virtue imparted by the mere 'laying on of hands.'

In quite a different connection — we read^ that among the
Spartans a warrior-boy would often beg for the love of the
elder warrior whom he admired (i. e. the contact with

1 See Art and Ritual, pp. 92-98; The Golden Bough, ii, 375 seq.;
Themis, pp. 140, 141 ; etc.

2 Four Stages of Greek Religion, p. 36.

3 Aelian VII, iii, 12: adrol yovv {ol iral&es) Seofrat rwv kpaaruv
fiairviiv airrols. See also E. Bethe on "Die Dorische Knabenliebe"
in the Rhernisches Museum, vol. 26, iii, 461.


his body) in order to obtain in that way a portion of the
latter's courage and prowess. That through the mediation
of the hps one's spirit may be united to the spirit of another
person is an idea not unfamiliar to the modern mind; while
the exchange of blood, clothes, locks of hair, etc., by lovers
is a custom known all over the world.^ '

To suppose that by eating another you absorb his or her
soul is somewhat na'ive certainly. Perhaps it is more na-
tive, more primitive. Yet there may be some truth even
in that idea. Certainly the food that one eats has a
psychological effect, and the flesh-eaters among the hu-
man race have a different temperament as a rule from
the fruit and vegetable eaters, while among the animals
(though other causes may come in here) the Carnivora
are decidedly more cruel and less gentle than the Herbivora.

To return to the rites of Dionysus, Gilbert ^Murray, speak-
ing of Orphism — a great wave of religious reform which
swept over Greece and South Italy in the sixth cen-
tury B.C. — says:" "A curious relic of primitive supersti-
tion and cruelty remained firmly imbedded in Orphism,
a doctrine irrational and unintelligible, and for that very
reason wrapped in the deepest and most sacred mystery:
a belief in the sacrifice of Dionysus himself, and the purifi-
cation of man by his blood. It seems possible that the sav-
age Thracians, in the fury of their worship on the moun-
tains, when they were possessed by the god and became
'wild beasts,' actually tore with their teeth and hands
any hares, goats, fawns or the like that they came
across. . . . The Orphic congregations of later times, in
their most holy gatherings, solemnly partook of the blood
of a bull, which was by a mystery the blood of Dionysus-
Zagreus himself, the Bull of God, slain in sacrifice for the
purification of man."*

1 See Crawley's Mystic Rose, pp. 238, 242.

2 See Notes to his translation of the Bacchce of Euripides.

3 For a description of this orgy see Theocritus, Idyll xxvi; also


Such instances of early communal feasts, which fulfilled
the double part of confirming on the one hand the solidarity
of the tribe, and on the other of bringing the tribe, by
the shedding of the blood of a divine Victim into close
relationship with the very source of its life, are plentiful
to find, "The sacramental rite," says Professor Robertson-
Smith,^ "is also an atoning rite, which brings the commu-
nity again into harmony with its alienated god — atone-
ment being simply an act of communion designed to
wipe out all memory of previous estrangement." With
this subject I shall deal more specially in cliapter vii below.
]\Ieanwhile as instances of early Eucharists v/e may mention
the following cases, remembering always that as the blood
is regarded as the Life, the drinking or partaking of, or
sprinkling with, blood is always an acknowledgment of the
common life; and that the juice of the grape being regarded
as the blood of the Vine, wine in the later ceremonials quite
easily and naturally takes the place of the blood in the early

Thus P. Andrada La Crozius, a French missionary,
and one of the first Christians who went to Nepaul and
Thibet, says in his History of India: "Their Grand Lama
celebrates a species of sacrifice with bread and wine, in which,
after taking a small quantity himself, he distributes
the rest among the Lamas present at this ceremony."^

for explanations of it, Lang's Myth, Ritual and Religion, vol. ii,
pp- 241-260, on Dionysus. The Encyclopaedia Brit., article "Orpheus,"
says: — "Orpheus, in the manner of his death, was considered to per-
sonate the god Dionysus, and was thus representative of the god
torn to pieces every year — a ceremony enacted by the Bacchae in the
earliest times with a human victim, and afterwards with a bull, to
represent the bull-formed god. A distinct feature of this ritual was
uitxo<i)ayla (eating the flesh of the victim raw), whereby the com-
municants imagined that they consumed and assimilated the god
represented by the victim, and thus became filled with the divine
ecstasy." Compare also the Hindu doctrine of Prajapati, the dis-
membered Lord of Creation.

1 Religion of the Semites, p. 302. 2 gee Doane's Bible Myths, p. 306,


"The old Egyptians celebrated the resurrection of Osiris by
a sacrament, eating the sacred cake or wafer after it
had been consecrated by the priest, and thereby becoming
veritable flesh of his flesh."^ As is well known, the eating
of bread or dough sacramentally (sometimes mixed with
blood or seed) as an emblem of community of life with the
divinity, is an extremely ancient practice or ritual. Dr.
Frazer^ says of the Aztecs, that "twice a year, in May
and December, an image of the great god Huitzilopochtli
was made of dough, then broken in pieces and solemnly
eaten by his worshipers." And Lord Kingsborough in his
Mexican Antiquities (vol. vi, p. 220) gives a record of a
"most Holy Supper" in which these people ate the flesh of
their god. It was a cake made of certain seeds, "and having
made it, they blessed it in their manner, and broke it into
pieces, which the high priest put into certain very clean
vessels, and took a thorn of maguey which resembles a
very thick needle, with which he took up with the
utmost reverence single morsels, which he put into the
mouth of each individual in the manner of a com-
munion." Acosta^ confirms this and similar accounts. The
Peruvians partook of a sacrament consisting of a pudding
of coarsely ground maize, of which a portion had been
smeared on the idol. The priest sprinkled it with the
blood of the victim before distributing it to the people."
Priest and people then all took their shares in turn,
"with great care that no particle should be allowed to
fall to the ground — this being looked upon as a great

Moving from Peru to China (instead of 'from China
to Peru') we find that "the Chinese pour wine (a very

1 From The Great Law, of religious origins: by W. Williamson
(1899), p. 177.

2 The Golden Bough, vol. ii, p. 79.

3 Natural and Moral History of the Indies. London (1604).
•* See Markham's Rites and laivs of the Incas, p. 27.


general substitute for blood) on a straw image of Confucius,
and then all present drink of it, and taste the sacrificial vic-
tim, in order to participate in the grace of Confucius."
[Here again the Corn and Wine are blended in one rite.]
And of Tartary Father Grueber thus testifies: "This only
I do affirm, that the devil so mimics the Catholic Church
there, that although no European or Christian has ever been
there, still in all essential things they agree so com-
pletely with the Roman Church, as even to celebrate the
Host with bread and wine: with my own eyes I have seen
it."^ These few instances are sufficient to show the ex-
traordinarily wide diffusion of Totem-sacraments and Eucha-
ristic rites all over the world.

1 For these two quotations see Jevons' Introduction to the History
oj Religion, pp. 148 and 219.



I HAVE wandered, in pursuit of Totems and the Eucharist,
some way from the astronomical thread of Chapters II and
III, and now it would appear that in order to understand
religious origins we must wander still farther. The chap-
ters mentioned were largely occupied with Sungods and
astronomical phenomena, but now we have to consider an
earlier period when there were no definite forms of gods,
and when none but the vaguest astronomical knowledge
existed. Sometimes in historical matters it is best and
safest to move thus backwards in Time, from the things
recent and fairly well known to things more ancient and less
known. In this way we approach more securely to some under-
standing of the dim and remote past.

It is clear that before any definite speculations on
heaven-dwelling gods or divine beings had arisen in the human
mind — or any clear theories of how the sun and moon
and stars might be connected with the changes of the
seasons on the earth — there were still certain obvious
things which appealed to everybody, learned or unlearned
alike. One of these was the return of Vegetation, bring-
ing with it the fruits or the promise of the fruits of the earth,
for human food, and also bringing with it increase of animal
life, for food in another form; and the other was the return
of Light and Warmth, making life easier in all ways. Food


delivering from the fear of starvation; Light and Warmth
delivering from the fear of danger and of cold. These were
three glorious things which returned together and brought
salvation and renewed life to man. The period of their
return was 'Spring,' and though Spring and its benefits
might fade away in time, still there was always the hope
of its return — though even so it may have been a long time
in human evolution before man discovered that it really did
always return, and (with certain allowances) at equal inter-
vals of time.

Long then before any Sun or Star gods could be called in,
the return of the Vegetation must have enthralled man's
attention, and filled him with hope and joy. Yet since
its return was somewhat variable and uncertain the ques-
tion, What could man do to assist that return? naturally be-
came a pressing one. It is now generally held that the
use of Magic — sympathetic magic — arose in this way.
Sympathetic magic seems to have been generated by a
belief that your own actions cause a similar response in
things and persons around you. Yet this belief did not
rest on any philosophy or argument, but was purely in-
stinctive and sometimes of the nature of a mere corporeal
reaction. Every schoolboy knows how in watching a com-
rade's high jump at the Sports he often finds himself
lifting a knee at the moment 'to help him over'; at foot-
ball matches quarrels sometimes arise among the spectators
by reason of an ill-placed kick coming from a too enthusi-
astic on-looker, behind one; undergraduates running on the
tow-path beside their College boat in the races will hurry
even faster than the boat in order to increase its speed;
there is in each case an automatic bodily response in-
creased by one's own desire. A person acts the part
which he desires to be successful. He thinks to transfer
his energy in that way. Again, if by chance one wit-
nesses a painful accident, a crushed foot or what-not, it
commonly happens that one feels a pain in the same


part oneself — a sympathetic pain. What more natural than
to suppose that the pain really is transferred from the one
person to the other? and how easy the inference that by tor-
menting a wretched scape-goat or crucifying a human victim
in some cases the sufferings of people may be relieved or
their sins atoned for?

Simaetha, it will be remembered, in the second Idyll of
Theocritus, curses her faithless lover Delphis, and as she
melts his waxen image she prays that he too may melt.
All this is of the nature of Magic, and is independent of and
generally more primitive than Theology or Philosophy. Yet
it interests us because it points to a firm instinct in
early man — to which I have already alluded — the instinct
of his unity and continuity with the rest of creation, and
of a common life so close that his lightest actions may cause
a far-reaching reaction in the world outside.

Man, then, independently of any belief in gods, may assist
the arrival of Spring by magic ceremonies. If you
want the Vegetation to appear you must have rain; and the
rain-maker in almost all primitive tribes has been a most
important personage. Generally he based his rites on
quite fanciful associations, as when the rain-maker among
the Mandans wore a raven's skin on his head (bird of
the storm) or painted his shield with red zigzags of
lightning^; but partly, no doubt, he had observed actual
facts, or had had the knowledge of them transmitted to
him — as, for instance that when rain is impending loud noises
will bring about its speedy downfall, a fact we mod-
erns have had occasion to notice on battlefields. He
had observed perhaps that in a storm a specially loud
clap of thunder is generally followed by a greatly increased
downpour of rain. He had even noticed (a thing which
I have often verified in the vicinity of Sheffield) that the
copious smoke of fires will generate rain-clouds — and so
quite naturally he concluded that it was his smoking

1 See Catlin's North American Indians, Letter 19.


sacrifices which had that desirable effect. So far he was
on the track of elementary Science. And so he made "bull-
roarers" to imitate the sound of wind and the blessed
rain-bringing thunder, or clashed great bronze cymbals
together with the same object. Bull-voices and thunder-
drums and the clashing of cymbals were used in this
connection by the Greeks, and are mentioned by Aeschy-
lus^; but the bull-roarer, in the form of a rhombus of wood
whirled at the end of a string, seems to be known, or
to have been known, all over the world. It is described
with some care by Mr. Andrew Lang in his Custom and
Myth (pp. 29-44), where he says "it is found always as a
sacred instrument employed in religious mysteries, in New
Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, ancient Greece, and

Sometimes, of course, the rain-maker was successful; but
of the inner causes of rain he knew next to nothing;
he was more ignorant even than we are! His main
idea was a more specially 'magical' one — namely, that the
sound itself would appeal to the spirits of rain and thunder
and cause them to give a response. For of course the thun-
der (in Hebrew Bath-Kol, "the daughter of the Voice") was
everywhere regarded as the manifestation of a spirit.^
To make sounds like thunder would therefore naturally
call the attention of such a spirit; or he, the rain-maker,
might make sounds like rain. He made gourd-rattles
(known in ever so many parts of the world) in which he
rattled dried seeds or small pebbles with a most beguiling
and rain-like insistence; or sometimes, like the priests of
Baal in the Bible,^ he would cut himself with knives

1 Themis, p. 61.

2 See A. Lang, op. cit.: "The muttering of the thunder is said to be
his voice calling to the rain to fall and make the grass grow up green."
Such are the very words of Umbara, the minstrel of the Tribe (Aus-

3 I Kings xviii.


till the blood fell upon the ground in great drops suggestive
of an oncoming thunder-shower. "In Mexico the raingod
was propitiated with sacrifices of children. If the chil-
dren wept and shed abundant tears, they who carried
them rejoiced, being convinced that rain would also be
abundant."^ Sometimes he, the rain-maker, would whistle
for the wind, or, like the Omaha Indians, flap his blankets
for the same purpose.

In the ancient myth of Demeter and Persephone — which
has been adopted by so many peoples under so many
forms — Demeter the Earth-mother loses her daughter
Persephone (who represents of course the Vegetation),

Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 5 of 25)