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priests form a somewhat indefinite order which is being con-
stantly recruited from the outside, anybody who wishes being
readily admitted. Their chief function is to exorcise and
manipulate the various spirits which may happen to be of
concern to any individual or to any village. There can hardly,
in fact, be said to be a definite priesthood, but merely a some-
what chaotic group of individuals, with no recognizable organ-
ization, with simply a few trade secrets and possibly with a
little more cunning than their fellows, all of which, together
with possible neurotic tendencies, render them persons of
power within the tribes.

The Ewe-speaking people have a more highly developed
political organization than do the Tshi. Some of the tribes


are united into the kingdoms of Dahomey and Porto
Novo. Others are semi-independent. It is significant to
note that here the general nature deities are more than
names; in fact, that they are of more importance than
the tribal or local gods. The priesthood has a definite
organization, of which, in the monarchial groups, the kings
are regarded as the heads.^ Even the king, however, is
not supreme, but must pay due regard to religious custom,
meaning, it would seem, that custom is more primitive than
kingship, and that custom therefore expresses the deeper
religious values.

The social organization of the Yoruba peoples is still more
highly developed, for with them descent is counted through
both parents, and succession is in the male. The priesthood
is divided into recognized orders, and the whole is formed
into a definite secret society. Here the local, fluent spirits
are thrust entirely uito the background, and the general gods
are supreme.

The Kafirs of South Africa have no definite social structure.
Their customs are numerous enough, but scattering and chang-
ing. They have no conception of fixity in anything, not even
in the case of their gods, their legends, or their myths. All
these matters, whether of custom or belief, vary indefinitely,
having apparently no other standard than the whim of the
individual. The notion of Umkulunkulu, one of their chief di-
vinities, is worth noting in this connection. In the first place,
their idea of him is extremely hazy, and there is little agree-
ment as to who he really is. Sometimes he is called a creator,
sometimes a great-great-grandfather; in fact, all their more
remote ancestors go by this name. As the family has its
Umkulunkulu, so does the tribe, and naturally, also, the
world. In other words, there is no definite social structure

* Ellis, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast. Cf. supra, p. 91.



among the Kafirs which can unify customs and can afiford
for beliefs a fixed standard.*

The Masai, a division of the negroes of East Africa, present
the same deficiency of social organization, united with indefinite
religious beliefs and practices. Their commonest word for a
deity is used indiscriminately of various striking objects, of
natural phenomena, and of spirits. Their worship, like their
belief, is vague, and lacking in ceremonial. The customs of
the Masai, as in the case of the Kafirs, are numerous, but in-
dividualistic rather than social; that is, the social groups do
not meet to perform rites of any sort. The groups are divided
into boys, warriors, and elders. The warriors are a well-
organized body of young men who have no other desire
apparently than military glory. The elders have little or no
power, and consequently among them no state such as Uganda
has developed. The nearest approach to a central and supe-
rior authority is the medicine-man, who is scarcely a religious
functionary, since he does not stand for any religious beliefs,
but is rather a diviner, a personage strictly analogous to the
scientific man in a civilized state.^

Our preliminary thesis, namely, that a low-grade social
structure lies back of chaotic religious ideas, receives fur-
ther confirmation from certain facts regarding the primitive
religions of North America. Dr. Boas says ^ that the con-
tinuity of mythological material, " and therefore its aesthetic
quality, is least in the Arctic and in the Northwest. In the
East, Southeast, and Southwest, where political and social
organization has attained a higher perfection, and where the
ceremonial life of the people is strongly developed, the origin

^ Dudley Kidd, The Essential Kafir, London, 1904. See also Kafir
Socialism, by the same author, 1907.

' A. C. Hollis, Masai, Their Language and Folklore. See especially the
Introduction by Sir Charles Eliot,

" International Quarterly, Vol. XI, p. 341.


story IS also more fully developed . . . into it is woven the
history of the origin of those phenomena, around which cen-
tres the interest of the Indians. " Here it is evident that the
ceremonial life and the social and political life are closely
connected. In fact, we should say that they are but dif-
ferent aspects of the same thing. That the beliefs must,
on their part, be closely connected with, if not the direct
outgrowth of, the same social organization is equally mani-

From these general considerations we now turn to seek
specific illustrations of our theory of the origin of religious
practices, especially of rites and ceremonies, and their relation
to the more ordinary activities of the social group. Stated in
its most general form, the question before us is : Why do the
simpler activities arising directly out of the life-process give
rise to secondary activities, of which religious ceremonies are
types ? This question has already been answered in a general
way in a preceding chapter ^ in the discussion of ^ intermedi-
ate activities. ' It was pointed out there that many of man's
complex activities are necessary developments from practical
adjustments, due to the recurrent need of meeting new or
more complicated difficulties; that others are due to chance
variations in the original activity, and preserved by imitation
until they become customs. It was also pointed out that
many accessory acts arise through association with an end
which is insistently held in attention, when direct adjust-
ments for attaining the end are for the time being impossible.
These acts are closely akin to play, and are apt to be strongly
emotional, just because the practical outgo is, at the moment,
either purposely or necessarily held in check. Primitive cus-

* The general question of the meaning of definiteness of social organiza-
tion should here be clearly kept in mind ; vide Chap. VIII, infra.
' Vide supra, Chap. Ill, "The consciousness of value."


toms may, then, for our purposes, be conveniently classed
as either practical or as accessory.

I Some ceremonials and religious practices seem to be the
outgrowth of adjustments which to the savage are decidedly
^practical. Others seem to be more related to play, to sports
I of various kinds; and still others seem to be the outgrowth
of feasts of rejoicing before or after the harvest or hunt, or of
feasts and dances preceding the departure of a war party, or
after its return. All these types of activity are relatively sim-
ple, and it is easy to explain them on psychological grounds.
Hence, whatever practices can be shown to be outgrowths of
these elementary activities may be regarded as at least in a
measure related and clarified. Mere ' practical' adjustments
certainly do not need explanation here, whether or not we
hold to the instrumental view of consciousness. The other
types are in a measure either derivatives of the ' practical, * or
are due to the overflow of energy after or during times of re-
pression or times of emotional tension. Because these acces-
sory activities are relatively high in emotional values, they
probably furnish the basis for the largest number of religious
ceremonials. Purely practical acts, in environments which
make heavy demands upon the attention of a people, are apt
to change frequently as the necessity of new adjustments
arises, so that they do not form a good basis for the develop-
ment of valuational attitudes. When, however, such acts be-
come relatively fixed, because of the lack of change in the
stimulating environment, they may become objects of atten-
tion in themselves, and important media of social intercourse,
or at least of social expression. Under these conditions they
frequently acquire religious value.

The social assemblies of the Greenland Eskimo are good ex-
amples of * accessory ' activities, and their social and aesthetic
value is so great, and their function as an institution of social


control is so evident, that they maybe considered religious rites.
The Eskimo have, on the other hand, many habits connected
with their hunting, but these depend so clearly upon indi-
vidual skill and painstaking practice, and the conditions
under which they are called forth are so acute, that they con-
tinue almost of necessity quite definitely ' practical,' and hence

The general point, thus far, has been that some of the more
fixed activities of a primitive group may acquire a certain
religious value ; in fact, that these are the first manifestations
of religion, furnishing the objective conditions for the appear-
ance of religion as a psychic attitude. It has been further
shown that wherever we find chaotic or fluent religious con-
cepts and practices we almost always find a chaotic social
body. That this is the relation existing between a primitive
social group and its religion will, we believe, be made more
evident by the illustrations which follow. For convenience
as well as clearness we group them into activities which seem
most closely allied to primitive man's 'practical adjust-
ments, and into those which are apparently the outcome of
his * accessory' employments. In many cases the practice,
while distinctly religious, will bear marks of a more or less
definite relationship to the * practical' or 'accessory' activities
of the group, while in others the primary character will be
social or practical, although they will seem to have a decided
religious coloring. In a word, there are among primitive
peoples, and to a certain extent among the culture-races as
well, many religious activities which reveal a kinship to the
practical activities of the social body, and there are, likewise,
many social and practical functions which seem to be to a cer-
tain extent religious. Facts such as these would apparently
lead to the conclusion that the social organization and its
activities constitute the ground from which religious practices


and religious consciousness itself are the more or less complex

In general, it seems a legitimate hypothesis that the group,
as a social, economic, and political unit, is the primary postu-
late in the interpretation of every phenomenon of human life.
That is, wherever it is possible to use these phases of life as
explanations, it is not necessary to seek other and less obvious
causes. If a social group tends naturally to express itself
in various practical ways and in various social and playful
forms, then that process which is seen to consist of one or
more of these natural methods of activity does not require
the introduction of any additional explanation such as an
original religious motive. A social group is sure, in any case,
to have its practical problems, its sports, and its festive occa-
sions ; we may more easily comprehend how these phases of
action could be productive of a consciousness of higher val-
ues than that these values might have been given offhand, that
is, that they should possess no antecedents or natural his-
tory. Hence we are impelled to believe that the feasts, dances,
and all similar processes, found in such intimate connection
with practically every primitive religion, were primarily the
spontaneous expressions of primitive life under this or that
appropriate condition. It is significant to note that these
ceremonies do seem to take place at times when we should, in
any case, expect some sort of an emotional overflow. Navaho
and Moqui ceremonies occur in the winter, ostensibly because
dangerous powers are less active, but psychologically because
the more active pursuits of these peoples are, for the time be- \
ing, of necessity suspended. A people, whether primitive or '
cultural, would under such circumstances seek to divert itself
by sports, festivities, and dramatic rehearsals of stories. Sup-
posing all myths are merely the product of idle fancy, as some
of them doubtless are, the impulse would still be strong to


act them out, just as it is with our own little children, who
J can scarcely hear exciting stories without the same tendency
to dramatize them. In the cases above mentioned, there
would also at this season of the year be some anxious
thought that the next season might be fruitful, and this
very antecedent suspense would be sufficient ground, psy-
chologically, for the appearance of many activities. It
seems natural, then, that the things done at such a time
should partake of the nature both of social festivities, pure
and simple, and of what, to the imtutored mind, were prac-
tical expedients to insure success in the following season's
work. Possibly some of these doings would be not really
practical expedients, but rather overflow activities such as are
likely to occur in any somewhat prolonged period of suspense.
In general, it is a fact of social psychology that periods of
relaxation, after times in which attention has been rather fully
taken up with objective interests, also periods immediately
following the successful drawing to a close of a long series of
activities, as in the harvest or at the end of a hunt, will be
somewhat full of emotional tensions which will find expression
in various forms of social intercourse and in many activities
closely allied to play. The same is also true of times of sus-
pense before or during a hunt or conflict of any kind. Various
joyous acts would also express the relief felt at the close of
\. any dreary season, as in the springtime, after a hard winter, or
in moonlight nights, after the dark portion of the month.
The psychological reasons for such manifestations are already
fairly well established, and need not be discussed here. We
simply hold that phenomena of this sort are the spontaneous
manifestations of such a psycho-physical organism as man and
many animals possess. Now, it is a striking fact that almost
any number of religious ceremonials are directly associated
with just such periods of stress or relief as are mentioned


above. It is therefore difficult to avoid the conclusion that
the religious values of these acts have been built up on the
basis of the simpler social values which they originally pos-
sessed. In fact, all grades of practices, from the avowedly
religious to the merely social, can be found among the natural
races (and among the culture-races, too, for that matter).

The development of the religious from the ' practical ' and
from the social is seen in a general way in all such cases as
have been mentioned in which the governmental functions of
a group are regarded as religious, and where governmental
officials are also religious officials. The statement has
already been made that the political and religious in-
stitutions of the Pueblo are closely interwoven. There are
priestly societies having as their object the performance
of various tribal and social functions, such as those re-
lating to war, medicine, hunting, as well as those relating
specifically to ecclesiastical life.^ The ceremonial life
growing out of these religio-political organizations is quite
elaborate. Here we are interested to point out only that the
purely practical and economic organization of society becomes
itself the basis for a certain amount of religious consciousness
and religious practice.

The Pueblo natal ceremonies are good illustrations of acts
which have both a practical and a religious value, and it
certainly seems probable that the original character of the
acts was practical, acquiring the religious quality in the man-
ner explained in Chapter IV. At the birth of a child the
paternal grandmother brings in, among other things, a bowl
of water and a blanket, makes a yucca suds in the bowl,
bathes the child while uttering a prayer of thanks, rubs the
body with ashes, and prepares a bed of warm sand for it by
the side of the mother. She puts in the babe, covers it with a

* Spencer, F. C, The Edttcation of the Pueblo Child, pp. 29, 51.


blanket, and places at its right side an ear of corn, if it is a вАҐ
girl, or three plumules of corn, if it is a boy.^ That these [
are ostensibly religious ceremonies is indicated by their ^
definitely prescribed character, and by the various symbolic
acts, such as the placing of the corn by the child, which are
intermingled with the more useful expedients. In fact, the
clearly practical and the symbolic are so fused that we cannot
doubt that the whole forms a religious ceremony, and is not
merely a mixture of useful and religious acts. The time of
the birth of a child is apparently, among most peoples, a time
of considerable emotional suspense, as is proved by the al-
m.ost universal prevalence of some sort of natal observances.
Under such conditions, the specifically useful duties of the
attendants would acquire a special import and would be
fused with various symbolic acts into a solemn ceremonial.
There is a suggestion of the ' practical ' in the method pre-
scribed by religion by which the Wichita construct their lodges.
The rules are very definite ; one of them provides that there
be east and west doors, that the sun may look in at its rising and
setting, and a hole at the top (for smoke, but ostensibly that
the sun may also look in at noon). There is also a south door,
which is unused, but is retained that the south wind may
enter. Both the sun and the south wind are of importance
to the agricultural Wichita, and are consequently deities, or
are at least possessed of powers which make them objects of
worship. The fireplace in the lodge is also an object of rever-
ence, for here offerings are made, food is cooked, and medi-
cine is heated.^ It would seem that these and other elements

* Mrs. M. C. Stevenson, "The religious life of the Zuiii child," The
Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology; cf. Mrs. Stevenson's later
study of the Zuiii, Twenty-third Annual Report y Bureau Ethnology, especially
pp. 294-303.

* Dorsey, "The mythology of the Wichita," Carnegie Institution Publica-
tion, No. 21, pp. 4, 5.


of household construction and economy have in the first place
been determined by their usefulness, and that, because they
remained so fixed and were at the same time more or less con-
stantly in the field of attention in connection with the objects
{e.g. the sun and the south wind) which brought to them
success in agriculture, they become an additional means of
communication with the powers above.

The religious dances and festivals of the Iroquois ^ were
quite clearly of a social and semi-practical character. Thus,
the war and feather dances were dramatic rehearsals of the
ways real problems were in a measure met. The festivals
of the Maple, of the Planting, of the Strawberry, the Green-
corn, the Harvest, and the New Year, may be regarded as
primarily cycles of activities grouped about important eco-
nomic events in the life of the tribe, having possibly as their
object the better control of the events which they preceded or
clustered about, but they were in great measure perpetuated
because they were the outlets of strong social impulses and
emotional tensions which would at such times be aroused.

These same types of activity, occurring among peoples of
lower grades of social organization, often seem to possess little
value beyond that of play or social intercourse. Whether
their apparent lack of a religious quality is due to defective
social structure, of course cannot be fully determined, for the
interrelations are too complicated for analysis, even if we had
a perfect account of all the elements involved. But even if
we cannot make a precise correlation between the social body
and the greater or less religiosity of these activities, they are
at least of great interest as showing how, taken in and of them-
selves, a particular type of activity may possess all grades of
value, from the purely social to the highly religious. The
Thompson Indians furnish good illustrations of this type
* Lewis H. Morgan, League of the Iroquois.


of activity on what is apparently a purely social level. Their
social organization, Teit says,^ was very loose, neither band nor
village forming a permanent social unit. There was no line of
chiefs, the leaders being merely those preeminent in bravery
or influence, temporary chiefs being appointed for ceremonies,
hunts, or war parties. These had no characteristic dress or
insignia. The tribe also had no totems, except in the case of
two families who were descended from coast tribes. They
had many social customs, which seem, however, to have been
more social than religious. Thus they were especially fond of
gathering for feasts and for the attendant social intercourse.
It is not clear from Teit's account just which of their feasts
were in a degree religious. All of them, he says, apparently
held uppermost the idea of good fellowship. Many were sim-
ply social gatherings, called, for instance, by one family when
it chanced to have a large supply of food, that it might show
its liberality and good-will. Feasts were also given when one
family visited another. There were also social gatherings
called potlacheSf at which there was a general distribution of
presents by a wealthy individual or family. All of these cus-
toms were so definitely fixed that their observance was cer-
tainly a phase of tribal good form, if not of tribal morality
and religion. At any rate, they are interesting as showing a
rudimentary stage in the development of real religious feasts.
The social gatherings of the Greenlanders are of the same
character. Other phases of the Thompson Indians' religious
beliefs and practices do not particularly concern us here, and
will be discussed in another connection.

Very distinctly social festivities accompany the sacred rite
of the eating of the white buffalo among the Uncapapa, and
here, again, it is conceivable that the purely social side is pri-

* James Teit, "The Thompson Indians," Memoirs of the American Mth
sewn of Natural History, Vol. II, Anthropology, I, pp. 289 ff.


mary, while the religious element is derived from it. Among
the Wakamba, an African tribe described by Decle, there
is little social organization, the chief having only nominal
power. The tribe is scattered about in tiny villages, and has
no definite religious belief nor regular ritual. These people
ofiFer interesting illustrations, however, of practices which
are more practical and social than religious. The following
is a practical expedient in which the group joins when it
faces the crisis of a drought, and which partakes of the charac-
ter of a religious ceremony. On such an occasion the elders
hold a meeting and then take a calabash of cider and a goat
to a certain kind of tree. The goat is there killed, but not
eaten. ^ Their dances are still more deficient in definite reli-
gious quality. They occur chiefly among the young men
and women and are impromptu and sportive rather than cere-
monial in character. It is instructive to compare such groups
as these with others of a more highly socialized character,
such as the Pueblo, among whom all dances, sports, and eco-
nomic activities are undertaken in a definitely religious frame
of mind. The Matabele, another of the tribes described by
Decle, have some dances with a religious significance, as the
one before harvest, in which many villages join. Here the
political organization is definite, and centralized under an
absolute ruler.^

The Korenas, whom Stow ' describes as having no religious
rites, not even that of circumcision, had, nevertheless, the be-
ginnings or the remnants of such rites in the feast given by
the father of a boy entering manhood. In other words, the

Online LibraryIrving KingThe development of religion; a study in anthropology and social psychology → online text (page 10 of 32)