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superstition. But we know so little! The first missionaries in Greenland
supposed that there was not, there, a trace of belief in a Divine Being.
'But when they came to understand their language better, they found quite
the reverse to be true ... and not only so, but they could plainly gather
from a free dialogue they had with some perfectly wild Greenlanders (at
that time avoiding any direct application to their hearts) that their
ancestors must have believed in a Supreme Being, and did render him some
service, which their posterity neglected little by little...'[21] Mr.
Tylor does not refer to this as a trace of Christian Scandinavian
influence on the Eskimo.[22]

That line, of course, may be taken. But an Eskimo said to a missionary,
'Thou must not imagine that no Greenlander thinks about these things'
(theology). He then stated the argument from design. 'Certainly there
must be some Being who made all these things. He must be very good too...
Ah, did I but know him, how I would love and honour him.' As St. Paul
writes: 'That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath
showed it unto them ... being understood by the things which are made ...
but they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was
darkened.'[23] In fact, mythology submerged religion. St. Paul's theory of
the origin of religion is not that of an 'innate idea,' nor of a direct
revelation. People, he says, reached the belief in a God from the Argument
for Design. Science conceives herself to have annihilated teleological
ideas. But they are among the probable origins of religion, and would lead
to the belief in a Creator, whom the Greenlander thought beneficent, and
after whom he yearned. This is a very different initial step in religious
development, if initial it was, from the feeding of a corpse, or a ghost.

From all this evidence it does not appear how non-polytheistic,
non-monarchical, non-Manes-worshipping savages evolved the idea of a
relatively supreme, moral, and benevolent Creator, unborn, undying,
watching men's lives. 'He can go everywhere, and do everything.'[24]

[Footnote 1: Fitzroy, ii. 180. Darwin. _Descent of Man_, p. 67.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid. We seem to have little information about Fuegian
religion either before or after the cruise of the _Beagle_.]

[Footnote 3: _Principles of Sociology_, i. 422.]

[Footnote 4: Fitzroy, ii. 190, 191]

[Footnote 5: _Travels in West Africa_, p. 442.]

[Footnote 6: _Early Voyages to Australia_, 102-111 (Hakluyt Society).]

[Footnote 7: _Science and Hebrew Tradition_, p. 846.]

[Footnote 8: _Journal of the Anthrop. Institute_, 1884. See, for less
dignified accounts, op. cit. xxiv. xxv.]

[Footnote 9: _Journal_, xiii. 193.]

[Footnote 10: _Journal_, xiii. 296.]

[Footnote 11: Op. cit. p. 450.]

[Footnote 12: P. 453.]

[Footnote 13: P. 457.]

[Footnote 14: See Brough Smyth, _Aborigines_, i. 426; Taplin, _Native
Races of Australia_. According to Taplin, Nurrumdere was a deified black
fellow, who died on earth. This is not the case of Baiame, but is said,
rather vaguely, to be true of Daramulun. _J.A.I._, xiii. 194, xxv. 297.]

[Footnote 15: From a brief account of the Fire Ceremony, or _Engwurra_ of
certain tribes in Central Australia, it seems that religious ceremonies
connected with Totems are the most notable performances. Also 'certain
mythical ancestors,' of the '_alcheringa_, or dream-times,' were
celebrated; these real or ideal human beings appear to 'sink their
identity in that of the object with which they are associated, and from
which they are supposed to have originated.' There appear also to be
places haunted by 'spirit individuals,' in some way mixed up with Totems,
but nothing is said of sacrifice to these Manes. The brief account is by
Professor Baldwin Spencer and Mr. F.J. Gillen, _Proc. Royal Soc.
Victoria_, July 1897. This Fire Ceremony is not for lads - not a kind of
confirmation in the savage church - but is intended for adults.]

[Footnote 16: _J. Anthrop. Inst_. 1886, p. 310.]

[Footnote 17: _J. Anthrop. Inst_. 1885, p. 313.]

[Footnote 18: _J. Anthrop. Inst_. xiii. p. 459.]

[Footnote 19: _Ecclesiastical Institutions_, p. 674.]

[Footnote 20: _Prim. Cult_. ii. 450.]

[Footnote 21: Cranz, pp. 198, 199.]

[Footnote 22: _Journal Anthrop. Inst_. xiii. 348-356.]

[Footnote 23: Rom. i. 19. Cranz, i. 199.]

[Footnote 24: In Mr. Carr's work, _The Australian Race_, reports of
'godless' natives are given, for instance, in the Mary River country and
in Gippsland. These reports are usually the result of the ignorance or
contempt of white observers, cf. Tylor, i. 419. The reader is referred to
the Introduction for additional information about Australian beliefs, and
for replies to objections.]



Before going on to examine the high gods of other low savages, I must here
again insist on and develop the theory, not easily conceived by us, that
the Supreme Being of savages belongs to another branch of faith than
ghosts, or ghost-gods, or fetishes, or Totems, and need not be - probably
is not - essentially derived from these. We must try to get rid of our
theory that a powerful, moral, eternal Being was, from the first, _ex
officio_, conceived as 'spirit;' and so was necessarily derived from a

First, what was the process of development?

We have examined Mr. Tylor's theory. But, to take a practical case: Here
are the Australians, roaming in small bands, without more formal rulers
than 'headmen' at most; not ancestor worshippers; not polytheists; with
no departmental deities to select and aggrandise; not apt to speculate on
the _Anima Mundi_. How, then, did they bridge the gulf between the ghost
of a soon-forgotten fighting man, and that conception of a Father above,
'all-seeing,' moral, which, under various names, is found all over a huge
continent? I cannot see that this problem has been solved or frankly

The distinction between the Australian deity, at his highest power,
unpropitiated by sacrifice, and the ordinary, waning, easily forgotten,
cheaply propitiated ghost of a tribesman, is essential. It is not easy to
show how, in 'the dark backward' of Australian life, the notion of
Mungan-ngaur grew from the idea of the ghost of a warrior. But there is no
logical necessity for the belief in the evolution of this god out
of that ghost. These two factors in religion - ghost and god - seem to
have perfectly different sources, and it appears extraordinary that
anthropologists have not (as far as I am aware) observed this circumstance

Mr. Spencer, indeed, speaks frequently of living human beings adored as
gods. I do not know that these are found on the lowest levels of savagery,
and Mr. Jevons has pointed out that, before you can hail a man as a god,
you must have the idea of God. The murder of Captain Cook notoriously
resulted from a scientific experiment in theology. 'If he is a god, he
cannot be killed.' So they tried with a dagger, and found that the honest
captain was but a mortal British mariner - no god at all. 'There are
degrees.' Mr. Spencer's men-gods become real gods - after death.[1]

Now the Supreme Being of savage faith, as a rule, never died at all. He
belonged to a world that knew not Death.

One cause of our blindness to the point appears to be this: We have from
childhood been taught that 'God is a Spirit.' We, now, can only conceive
of an eternal being as a 'spirit.' We know that legions of savage gods are
now regarded as spirits. And therefore we have never remarked that there
is no reason why we should take it for granted that the earliest deities
of the earliest men were supposed by them to be 'spirits' at all. These
gods might most judiciously be spoken of, not as 'spirits,' but as
'undefined eternal beings.' To us, such a being is necessarily a spirit,
but he was by no means necessarily so to an early thinker, who may not
yet have reached the conception of a ghost.

A ghost is said, by anthropologists, to have developed into a god. Now,
the very idea of a ghost (apart from a wraith or fetch) implies the
previous _death_ of his proprietor. A ghost is the phantasm of a _dead_
man. But anthropologists continually tell us, with truth, that the idea
of death as a universal ordinance is unknown to the savage. Diseases and
death are things that once did not exist, and that, normally, ought not to
occur, the savage thinks. They are, in his opinion, supernormally caused
by magicians and spirits. Death came into the world by a blunder, an
accident, an error in ritual, a decision of a god who was before Death
was. Scores of myths are told everywhere on this subject.[2]

The savage Supreme Being, with added power, omniscience, and morality, is
the idealisation of the savage, as conceived of by himself, _minus_
fleshly body (as a rule), and _minus_ Death. He is not necessarily a
'spirit,' though that term may now be applied to him. He was not
originally differentiated as 'spirit' or 'not spirit.' He is a Being,
conceived of without the question of 'spirit,' or 'no spirit' being
raised; perhaps he was originally conceived of before that question could
be raised by men. When we call the Supreme Being of savages a 'spirit' we
introduce our own animistic ideas into a conception where it may not have
originally existed. If the God is 'the savage himself raised to the n^th
power' so much the less of a spirit is he. Mr. Matthew Arnold might as
well have said: 'The British Philistine has no knowledge of God. He
believes that the Creator is a magnified non-natural man, living in the
sky.' The Gippsland or Fuegian or Blackfoot Supreme Being is just a
_Being_, anthropomorphic, not a _mrart_, or 'spirit.' The Supreme Being is
a _wesen_, Being, _Vui_; we have hardly a term for an immortal existence
so undefined. If the being is an idealised first ancestor (as among the
Kurnai), he is not, on that account, either man or ghost of man. In the
original conception he is a powerful intelligence who was from the first:
who was already active long before, by a breach of his laws, an error in
the delivery of a message, a breach of ritual, or what not, death entered
the world. He was not affected by the entry of death, he still exists.

Modern minds need to become familiar with this indeterminate idea of the
savage Supreme Being, which, logically, may be prior to the evolution of
the notion of ghost or spirit.

But how does it apply when, as by the Kurnai, the Supreme Being is
reckoned an ancestor?

It can very readily be shown that, when the Supreme Being of a savage
people is thus the idealised First Ancestor, he can never have been
envisaged by his worshippers as at any time a _ghost_; or, at least,
cannot logically have been so envisaged where the nearly universal
belief occurs that death came into the world by accident, or needlessly.

Adam is the mythical first ancestor of the Hebrews, but he died, [Greek:
uper moron], and was not worshipped. Yama, the first of Aryan men who
died, was worshipped by Vedic Aryans, but _confessedly_ as a ghost-god.
Mr. Tylor gives a list of first ancestors deified. The Ancestor of the
Maudans did not die, consequently is no ghost; _emigravit_, he 'moved
west.' Where the First Ancestor is also the Creator (Dog-rib Indians), he
can hardly be, and is not, regarded as a mortal. Tamoi, of the Guaranis,
was 'the ancient of heaven,' clearly no mortal man. The Maori Maui was the
first who died, but he is not one of the original Maori gods. Haetsh,
among the Kamchadals, precisely answers to Yama. Unkulunkulu will be
described later.[3]

This is the list: Where the First Ancestor is equivalent to the Creator,
and is supreme, he is - from the first - deathless and immortal. When he
dies he is a confessed ghost-god.

Now, ghost-worship and dead ancestor-worship are impossible before the
ancestor is dead and is a ghost. But the essential idea of Mungan-ngaur,
and Baiame, and most of the high gods of Australia, and of other low
races, is that _they never died at all_. They belong to the period before
death came into the world, like Qat among the Melanesians. They arise in
an age that knew not death, and had not reflected on phantasms nor evolved
ghosts. They could have been conceived of, in the nature of the case, by a
race of immortals who never dreamed of such a thing as a ghost. For these
gods, the ghost-theory is not required, and is superfluous, even
contradictory. The early thinkers who developed these beings did not need
to know that men die (though, of course, they did know it in practice),
still less did they need to have conceived by abstract speculation the
hypothesis of ghosts. Baiame, Cagn, Bunjil, in their adorers' belief, were
_there_; death later intruded among men, but did not affect these divine
beings in any way.

The ghost-theory, therefore, by the evidence of anthropology itself, is
not needed for the evolution of the high gods of savages. It is only
needed for the evolution of ghost-propitiation and genuine dead-ancestor
worship. Therefore, the high gods described were not necessarily once
ghosts - were not idealised _mortal_ ancestors. They were, naturally, from
the beginning, from before the coming in of death, immortal Fathers, now
dwelling on high. Between them and apotheosised mortal ancestors there is
a great gulf fixed - the river of death.

The explicitly stated distinction that the high creative gods never were
mortal men, while other gods are spirits of mortal men, is made in every
quarter. 'Ancestors _known_ to be human were _not_ worshipped as
[original] gods, and ancestors worshipped as [original] gods were not
believed to have been human.'[4]

Both kinds may have a generic name, such as _kalou_, or _wakan_, but the
specific distinction is universally made by low savages. On one hand,
original gods; on the other, non-original gods that were once ghosts. Now,
this distinction is often calmly ignored; whereas, when any race has
developed (like late Scandinavians) the Euhemeristic hypothesis ('all gods
were once men'), that hypothesis is accepted as an historical statement of
fact by some writers.

It is part of my theory that the more popular ghost-worship of souls of
people whom men have loved, invaded the possibly older religion of the
Supreme Father. Mighty beings, whether originally conceived of as
'spirits' or not, came, later, under the Animistic theory, to be reckoned
as spirits. They even (but not among the lowest savages) came to be
propitiated by food and sacrifice. The alternative, for a Supreme Being,
when once Animism prevailed, was sacrifice (as to more popular ghost
deities) or neglect. We shall find examples of both alternatives. But
sacrifice does not prove that a God was, in original conception, a ghost,
or even a spirit. 'The common doctrine of the Old Testament is not that
God is spirit, but that the spirit [_rúah_ = 'wind,' 'living breath'] of
Jehovah, going forth from him, works in the world and among men.'[5]

To resume. The high Gods of savagery - moral, all-seeing directors of
things and of men - are not explicitly envisaged as spirits at all by their
adorers. The notion of soul or spirit is here out of place. We can best
describe Pirnmeheal, and Nápi and Baiame as 'magnified non-natural men,'
or undefined beings who were from the beginning and are undying. They are,
like the easy Epicurean Gods, _nihil indiga nostri_. Not being ghosts,
they crave no food from men, and receive no sacrifice, as do ghosts, or
gods developed out of ghosts, or gods to whom the ghost-ritual has been
transferred. For this very reason, apparently, they seem to be spoken of
by Mr. Grant Allen as 'gods to talk about, not gods to adore; mythological
conceptions rather than religious beings.'[6] All this is rather hard on
the lowest savages. If they sacrifice to a god, then the god is a hungry
ghost; if they don't, then the god is 'a god to talk about, not to adore,'
Luckily, the facts of the Bora ritual and the instruction given there
prove that Mungan-nganr and other names _are_ gods to adore, by ethical
conformity to their will and by solemn ceremony, not merely gods to talk

Thus, the highest element in the religion of the lowest savages does not
appear to be derived from their theory of ghosts. As far as we can say, in
the inevitable absence of historical evidence, the highest gods of savages
may have been believed in, as Makers and Fathers and Lords of an
indeterminate nature, before the savage had developed the idea of souls
out of dreams and phantasms. It is logically conceivable that savages may
have worshipped deities like Baiame and Darumulun before they had evolved
the notion that Tom, Dick, or Harry has a separable soul, capable of
surviving his bodily decease. Deities of the higher sort, by the very
nature of savage reflections on death and on its non-original casual
character, are prior, or may be prior, or cannot be shown not to be prior,
to the ghost theory - the alleged origin of religion. For their evolution
the ghost theory is not logically demanded; they can do without it. Yet
_they_, and not the spirits, bogles, Mrarts, _Brewin_, and so forth, are
the high gods, the gods who have most analogy - as makers, moral guides,
rewarders, and punishers of conduct (though that duty is also occasionally
assumed by ancestral spirits) - with our civilised conception of the
divine. Our conception of God descends not from ghosts, but from the
Supreme Beings of non-ancestor-worshipping peoples.

As it seems impossible to point out any method by which low, chiefless,
non-polytheistic, non-metaphysical savages (if any such there be) evolved
out of ghosts the eternal beings who made the world, and watch over
morality: as the people themselves unanimously distinguish such beings
from ghost-gods, I take it that such beings never were ghosts. In this
case the Animistic theory seems to me to break down completely. Yet these
high gods of low savages preserve from dimmest ages of the meanest culture
the sketch of a God which our highest religious thought can but fill up to
its ideal. Come from what germ he may, Jehovah or Allah does not come from
a ghost.

It may be retorted that this makes no real difference. If savages did not
invent gods in consequence of a fallacious belief in spirit and soul,
still, in some other equally illogical way they came to indulge the
hypothesis that they had a Judge and Father in heaven. But, if the ghost
theory of the high Gods is wrong, as it is conspicuously superfluous, that
_does_ make some difference. It proves that a widely preached scientific
conclusion may be as spectral as Bathybius. On other more important
points, therefore, we may differ from the newest scientific opinion
without too much diffident apprehensiveness.

[Footnote 1: _Principles of Sociology_, i. 417, 421. 'The medicine men
are treated as gods.... The medicine man becomes a god after death.']

[Footnote 2: I have published a chapter on Myths on the Origin of Death in
_Modern Mythology_.]

[Footnote 3: _Prim. Cult_. ii. 311-316.]

[Footnote 4: Jevons, _Introduction_, p. 197.]

[Footnote 5: Robertson Smith. _The Prophets of Israel_, p. 61.]

[Footnote 6: _Evolution of the Idea of God_, p. 170.]



It is among 'the lowest savages' that the Supreme Beings are most regarded
as eternal, moral (as the morality of the tribe goes, or above its
habitual practice), and _powerful_. I have elsewhere described the Bushman
god Cagn, as he was portrayed to Mr. Orpen by Qing, who 'had never
before seen a white man except fighting.' Mr. Orpen got the facts from
Qing by inducing him to explain the natives' pictures on the walls of
caves. 'Cagn made all things, and we pray to him,' thus: 'O Cagn, O Cagn,
are we not thy children? Do you not see us hunger? Give us food.' As to
ethics, 'At first Cagn was very good, but he got spoilt through fighting
so many things.' 'How came he into the world?' 'Perhaps with those who
brought the Sun: only the initiated know these things.' It appears that
Qing was not yet initiated in the dance (answering to a high rite of the
Australian _Bora_) in which the most esoteric myths were unfolded.[1]

In Mr. Spencer's 'Descriptive Sociology' the religion of the Bushmen is
thus disposed of. 'Pray to an insect of the caterpillar kind for success
in the chase.' That is rather meagre. They make arrow-poison out of
caterpillars,[2] though Dr. Bleek, perhaps correctly, identifies Cagn
with i-kaggen, the insect.

The case of the Andaman Islanders may be especially recommended to
believers in the anthropological science of religion. For long these
natives were the joy of emancipated inquirers as the 'godless Andamanese.'
They only supply Mr. Spencer's 'Ecclesiastical Institutions' with
a few instances of the ghost-belief.[3] Yet when the Andamanese are
scientifically studied _in situ_ by an educated Englishman, Mr. Man, who
knows their language, has lived with them for eleven years, and presided
over our benevolent efforts 'to reclaim them from their savage state,'
the Andamanese turn out to be quite embarrassingly rich in the higher
elements of faith. They have not only a profoundly philosophical
_religion_, but an excessively absurd _mythology_, like the Australian
blacks, the Greeks, and other peoples. If, on the whole, the student of
the Andamanese despairs of the possibility of an ethnological theory of
religion, he is hardly to be blamed.

The people are probably Negritos, and probably 'the original inhabitants,
whose occupation dates from prehistoric times.'[4] They use the bow, they
make pots, and are considerably above the Australian level. They have
second-sighted men, who obtain status 'by relating an extraordinary dream,
the details of which are declared to have been borne out subsequently by
some unforeseen event, as, for instance, a sudden death or accident.' They
have to produce fresh evidential dreams from time to time. They see
phantasms of the dead, and coincidental hallucinations.[5] All this is as
we should expect it to be.

Their religion is probably not due to missionaries, as they always shot
all foreigners, and have no traditions of the presence of aliens on the
islands before our recent arrival.[6] Their God, Puluga, is 'like fire,'
but invisible. He was never born, and is immortal. By him were all things
created, except the powers of evil. He knows even the thoughts of the
heart. He is angered by _yubda_ = sin, or wrong-doing, that is falsehood,
theft, grave assault, murder, adultery, bad carving of meat, and (as a
crime of witchcraft) by burning wax.[7] 'To those in pain or distress he
is pitiful, and sometimes deigns to afford relief.' He is Judge of Souls,
and the dread of future punishment 'to _some_ extent is said to affect
their course of action in the present life.'[8]

This Being could not be evolved out of the ordinary ghost of a
second-sighted man, for I do not find that ancestral ghosts are
worshipped, nor is there a trace of early missionary influence, while
Mr. Man consulted elderly and, in native religion, well-instructed
Andamanese for his facts.

Yet Puluga lives in a large stone house (clearly derived from ours at Port
Blair), eats and drinks, foraging for himself, and is married to a green
shrimp.[9] There is the usual story of a Deluge caused by the moral wrath
of Puluga. The whole theology was scrupulously collected from natives
unacquainted with other races.

The account of Andamanese religion does not tally with the anthropological
hypothesis. Foreign influence seems to be more than usually excluded by
insular conditions and the jealousy of the 'original inhabitants.' The
evidence ought to make us reflect on the extreme obscurity of the whole

Anthropological study of religion has hitherto almost entirely overlooked
the mysteries of various races, except in so far as they confirm the entry
of the young people into the ranks of the adult. Their esoteric moral and
religious teaching is nearly unknown to us, save in a few instances. It is
certain that the mysteries of Greece were survivals of savage ceremonies,
because we know that they included specific savage rites, such as the use
of the _rhombos_ to make a whirring noise, and the custom of ritual
daubing with dirt; and the sacred _ballets d'action_, in which, as Lucian
and Qing say, mystic facts are 'danced out.'[10] But, while Greece
retained these relics of savagery, there was something taught at Eleusis
which filled minds like Plato's and Pindar's with a happy religious awe.

Online LibraryAndrew LangThe Making of Religion → online text (page 17 of 31)