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elaborate initiation ceremonies of some peoples here occur in
only rudimentary or vestigial form, and as such are seen to

* Decle, Lionel, Three Years in Savage Africa, pp. 485 ff.

2 Ihid., pp. 150 ff.

' Native Races of South Africa, p. 272.


be merely social festivities. Here, again, we get the suggestion
that complex initiation rites may all, originally, have been
such social occasions arising at a period of life which would
naturally be of considerable interest to the family and the

The Hottentots had moonlight dances which are variously
described as ceremonial and as merely for pleasure.^ Stow,
also, describes at some length the moonlight dances of the
Bushmen.^ He says the brilliancy of the moonlight in those
latitudes renders the night, after the burning heat of the day,
a very natural occasion for social enjoyment and sport. The
Bushmen were passionately fond of dancing, especially during
the light nights of the month. The Bushmen dances seem to
have been of every grade, from the spontaneous overflow of
/ animal spirits to those of a clearly religious character. Stow's
account is so suggestive that it is worth quoting in some
detail. Dancing was their chief diversion, and was indulged in
upon every fitting occasion. The *' universality of the custom
was shown from the fact that in the early days, in the centre
of every village, or kraal, or near every rock shelter, and in
every great cave, were places where either the grass or ground
was beaten flat and bare from the frequent repetition of
their dances." " It was when food was abundant, after hav-
ing eaten, that they gave rein to their favorite amusement.
Feasting and festivity were ever accompanied with continu-
ous dancing and rejoicing from the close of evening to the
dawn of the returning day." "They had special seasons
when the dance was never neglected, such as the time of the
new and full moon. Dancing began with the new moon
as an expression of joy that the dark nights had ended, and

^ Cf. Theal, The Portuguese in South Africa^ and Napier, Excursions in
Souihern Africa, p. 59.
^Op. cit., pp. m ff.



was continued at the full moon, that they might avail them-
selves of the delicious coolness after the heat of the day,
and the brilliancy of the moonlight in this particular portion
of the southern hemisphere. It is probable that similar prac-
tices in a remote period gave rise, among some of the nations
of antiquity, to their feasts and festivals of the new and full
moon, which, as they emerged from the primitive barbarism of
their ancestors, became connected in their observance with a
number of religious rites and ceremonies.'' Stow apparently
possessed an acquaintance with these rapidly disappearing
people such as no one else has ever gained, and his description
of their customs, as well as his comment thereon, are the more
interesting. His remarks upon the moonlight dances are
entirely in line with the theory of primitive religion here
presented. We should say, however, that such purely playful
dancing became not merely connected with religious rites and
ceremonies, but that it itself became religious ceremonial, and
in a measure helped to develop the religious consciousness.
There were other times of interest to the Bushmen, such as
the approach of the first thunder-storm of the season, when
they were particularly joyful because it was a token of the
commencement of summer. *'In the midst of their excessive
rejoicing they tore in pieces their skin coverings, threw them
into the air, and danced for several nights in succession. Some
tribes made great outcries, accompanied with dancing and
playing upon their drums." As the season advanced, some
of the terrific storms aroused their dread, and "among some of
the tribes this culminated in fits of impotent rage, as if the war
of elements excited their indignation against the mysterious
power which they supposed was the cause of it." Here, again,
is a situation which would furnish a basis for developing some
aspect of the religious attitude. The emotions and acts
aroused by great storms would become associated in the


minds of the people with these phenomena, and eventually
s)nnbolize their human value or significance. Such spontane-
ous acts of terror could become in time the ritual by which a
storm deity would be appeased or invoked.

Many of the Bushmen dances were, in a way, games, and
required of their performers considerable skill, some of which
were for women and others for men. They had competi-
tive dances of a stated character for the women, and a dance
for men who were distinguished for their manly qualities.
There was also a hunting dance with bows and arrows, and
in the case of others the participants were disguised as ani-
mals, and took the greatest delight in imitating the noises and
movements of those which were well known to them. Thus,
there was a baboon, a frog, and a bee dance. Some of these
had more or less religious or at least mythological significance,
but their merely play value is so evident that we can scarcely
avoid the belief that they grew directly out of an impulse to
imitate the drolleries or striking peculiarities of these animals.
We gradually pass from these activities, in which the sportive
element seems to predominate, to others of a more religious
character. Thus, there were dances for those who were to
^be initiated, also national, various phallic, and blood dances.
There was certainly no sharply dividing line between the
religious and the non-religious in these cases. In all, the
social and play elements were prominent. Their fondness
for this diversion as mere sport suggests that their ceremonial
dances were specializations from a perfectly spontaneous
manifestation of primitive joyousness, which still persisted
as a sort of background or matrix for their truly ceremonial
activities, and served to keep alive the spirit expressed in
them. In short, the great significance of the Bushmen in this
connection is that their dancing had not entirely lost its purely
play value, and continued to exist, on the whole, as a much


more general form of activity than can be accounted for on the
basis of religious ceremonial alone. They danced, in the first
place, because they were glad for the light, because they were
refreshed by the coolness of the nights, or because of an abun-
dance of food after times of scarcity. Among other primitive
peoples these same activities came, in many instances, to
express to their doers some sort of ultimate worthfulness.
That is, the meaning of their lives, as far as they were able to
conceive it, was in some way bound up with the moon, with
the sun, with certain natural phenomena such as storms, or
with food itself; and as a consequence, the activities, which
had gradually crystallized about these intense centres of inter-
est, since they were literally the expression of the relation of
the people to these things and were the only means by which
they could think of that relation — these activities, we repeat,
became religious ceremonials in the true sense. We insist
that only that can be considered of value which either poten-
tially or actually does excite some sort of reaction in the person
recognizing the value and that the value is, of necessity, con-
ceived in terms of this active relationship. Aside from such
relations, a value cannot be stated or even conceived. The
whole case is tersely summarized by Stow in these words : —

"From this [i.e. the preceding description] we seem to learn
something of the primitive ideas, which became more and
y^ more elaborated, until dancing was looked upon as a religious

Another excellent example of the transformation of a prac-
tical act into one having religious significance is furnished by
the Japanese and their customs relating to uncleanness. In
Shinto actual personal dirt is worse than moral guilt. To
be dirty is to be disrespectful to the gods.* It seems to the

* Aston, Shinto, the Way of the Gods.


present writer that we have here a purely social habit become
a genuinely religious act; in other words, that the habit of
cleanliness has become so thoroughly ingrained into Japanese
character that it is now conceived as a religious duty. What
the exact social conditions were that made them hold the need
of cleanliness so constantly and vividly in attention, we prob-
ably can never fully determine; but, from all we know of
primitive religion, it seems, as we have said, that it is a case of
social habit acquiring religious value, rather than a habit en-
joined by a preexisting conception of religious propriety. In
the case of this habit the practical connection with the decent
conduct of life seems quite evident, but in the case of many
religious duties (we speak generally, not of the Japanese in
particular), and especially in the case of such complicated ones
as ceremonials, the primitive relation which probably existed
between them and the ordinary activities of the group is lost.
It is easy to see how, on purely psychological grounds, that
which has lost its direct connection with life may persist ac-
cording to the law of habit. When this is the case, it is natural
to refer the practice back to whatever conceptions seem to the
people to be ultimate, that is, least susceptible of analysis.
Every individual and every people possess a more or less defi-
nite substratum of axioms or postulates beyond which they
do not attempt to go. (This is, of course, itself one of the
subtle results of what may be called our habit-forming capac-
ity and need not here be further discussed.) The North
American Indians refer many of their customs to their culture-
heroes ; the Israelites believed that all their religious rites were
instituted by Moses ; the Central Australians regard the state-
ment, 'It was so in the Alcheringa' [i.e. among their half-
human ancestors], as entirely final; the Todas, similarly,
explain, ultimately, nearly all their ceremonies and customs
by saying that they were so ordained by their chief deity,


Teikirzi.' For precisely the same psychological reasons one
of us may account for the evil in an act by saying that it is
prohibited by one of the Ten Commandments, or is not in
accord with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, or we may
use as our ultimate postulate the moral imperative, the Good,
or the Good-will, while, as a matter of fact, in every case, the
act, in so far as it is not the outcome of reflective morality,
had originally some definite social context in which it had
either practical value, or was related to some of the acces-
sory activities of a social group. Of course, true reflective
morality simply recognizes the social criterion as the really
ultimate one, and attempts actively to reconstruct conduct
on this basis instead of leaving it to the slow action of uncon-
scious selection.

Referring again to Shinto, it is interesting to note that it
furnishes a type of illustration analogous to that of the Bush-
men. There seem to be all gradations of Shinto festivals,
from the purely social to the clearly religious, but in all the
note of social enjoyment is quite easily detected.^ Some of
them seem to be little more than special occasions when people
call upon their friends for the exchange greetings of good-will.

Thus, Kaempfer, writing in the year 1690, says: "Perhaps
[Shinto] would not have stood its ground so long had it not been
for its close connection with civil customs, in the observation of
which this nation is exceedingly nice and scrupulous." ^ "It
is observable, in general, that their festivals and holidays are
days sacred rather to mutual compliments and civilities than
to acts of holiness and devotion. Another name for them is
visiting days, " * The same observer says of their monthly

^ W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas, p. 186.

' See E. Kaempfer, History ofJapaity 1690-1692, Glasgow, 1906, Vol. II,
and Aston, Shinto.

' Kaempfer, op. cit., p. 7.
* Ibid., p. 21. Italics ours.


and yearly festivals that they are little more than times of
social rejoicing ; that New Year's Day, the most solemn of all
their festival seasons, was then spent in visiting and compli-
menting each other. Aston says that Shinto is a reflection
of the dominant mood of a sociable, enjoyment-loving race.
So essentially is it a religion of gratitude and love that the
demons of disease and calamity are mostly obscure and name-
less. In other words, we may say that the pleasures of social
intercourse have become so much a matter of attention, and
have furnished such an all-important nucleus for habit and
custom, that it has come to be, or to express, to the Japanese
the very centre and meaning of life. As we have already
held, when this stage is reached, the habits and customs,
in terms of which alone this value can be thought, become
true religious ceremonials. An excellent illustration of a
social act transformed into a religious rite appears in the
festival of Nifu Moojin in Kii. When the procession bear-
ing offerings arrives before the shrine, the village chief calls
out in a loud voice, "According to our annual custom, let us
laugh." '

Our general point finds further exemplification in Shinto
offerings. The earliest of these were portions of the ordinary
meal set apart in grateful recognition of the source from which
it came. "The primary and most important form of offering
is food and drink." ^ Religious expression in the form of
sacrifice would seem also to be the outgrowth of the ordinary
activities of this naturally sociable people. The giving of
food and drink, or other articles, would be originally a natu-

^ Aston, op. cit., p. 6.

^ Ibid., pp. 211 flF. Aston does not believe, as far as Shinto is concerned,
that the core of worship is communion. Communion, as he says, is out of the
question when the offering is of implements or of clothing. Even in the case
of food, there is, in Shinto, no evidence of a joint participation in the living
flesh and blood of a sacred victim. Op. cit., p. 211.


ral expression of social regard and, when customs generally
became in a measure religious ceremonies, this particular
aspect of social regard would also have its place as one phase
of religious expression. The offering of food, drink, and
clothing would symbolize most vividly to them certain elements
of their appreciative attitude toward that social 'concept*
which seemed to express most fully to them the meaning of
their lives. The later forms of Shinto sacrifice, of which some
are expiatory, some rewards for services, some given to close
bargains for future benefits, and some propitiatory, are also
closely analogous to, if not the direct outcome of, acts which
would easily arise within a social group. Such offerings rest
at least upon the assumption that the spirit world is more or
less continuous with the social milieu of the worshipper, and
that it consequently requires the same sort of conduct as is
required within the visible social body. We are predisposed
to think, however, that these sacrificial acts are the actual
remnants of reactions to concrete social problems, the exact
nature of which has long been lost, although their general
character is quite evident. In that case they would directly
illustrate our point that religious ceremonies are in many
cases, if not in all, due to the persistence in the social body
of various practical and play activities which have accumu-
lated about its most absorbing objects of attention.

A social activity connected with a time of some tension
or excitement is the Kafir custom reported by McDonald.
When a thunder-storm is seen approaching, the whole village,
led by the medicine-man, will rush to the nearest hill and
yell at the hurricane to divert it from its course.* Here is the
sort of activity which might, and in all probability does, fur-
nish the starting-point for a religious ceremony in the wor-
ship of a storm-god or other natural phenomenon.

* Journal of the A nthropological Institute, Vol. XIX, p. 283.


Stow says of the Bushmen's custom of placing stones upon
the graves of the dead, that it might originally have been
adopted to prevent wild beasts from getting at the bodies, and
that it was finally regarded as demanded by the spirit of the
deceased, thus becoming an imperative duty for the passer-by
to add to the pile, as this secured to him and his family the
favor of the spirit.^ Here, again, is a custom well on the way
toward a religious rite in the worship of the dead, or, if the
dead should be forgotten, a ritual connected with a sacred
place. The development of the idea that the spirit required
this service would come quite naturally when, for any cause,
the original necessity was less keenly felt, and, even if they
remained fully conscious of its relation to wild beasts, it would
be easy for the idea to arise that the spirit demanded the rite.

A case similar to the preceding ones is that of the naming of
the chief's son among the Kayans, when the whole village is
called together for what is ostensibly a religious rite, and inci-
dentally a season of merrymaking.^

The transformation of practical acts into religious ones
through the medium of habit has no more striking illustration
than that furnished by the Todas with their dairy religion.*
What the original Toda religion was we cannot determine
with certainty. They have now somewhat vague beliefs
regarding certain deities, beliefs which were quite possibly
at some time in the past much more definite. This condition
probably existed before they came to their present country in
the Nilgiri Hills of southern India. The significance of the
changes which have probably taken place in Toda religion we
shall take up in connection with the general problem of the

^ Stow, op. cit.y p. 127.

^ Furness, The Head Hunters, p. 18.

' The great wealth of material regarding Toda religion and social organiza-
tion made available by W. H. R. Rivers's recent work, The Todas, is sufl5cient
excuse for the extended references we shall make to this unique people.


evolution of religion. It is sufficient here to note that most
of the attention of the Todas has in some way been diverted
from their older belief, and has come to be centred upon the
care of their buffaloes. It is not strange that this is the case,
since their subsistence is almost entirely gained from these
animals. They have, it is true, an annual ceremony for in-
creasing'the supply of honey and fruit, indicating that at some
period they must have been considerably dependent upon
these things. Since, however, these are not any longer im-
portant articles of food to the Todas, very little interest is
taken in the ceremony.*

Whether their religion is rudimentary, as some hold, or
rather degenerate, as Rivers thinks, there is no question that
at present they are absorbingly interested in their buffaloes.
The buffalo is a sacred animal, though not worshipped. The
most sacred places are certain of their dairies ; their most sa-
cred objects are the utensils of the sacred dairies, and particu-
larly the bells worn by the buffaloes. The dairy building is
the nearest approach to a temple, and the dairyman is practi-
cally a priest. He can enter upon his duties only after certain
ordination ceremonies, varying with the sanctity of the dairy
in which he is to minister. During the period of his service
he must observe as strict rules to maintain his ceremonial
cleanliness as does many a real priest of a higher cult. In
fact, they have few religious acts entirely divorced from their
practical interest in the care of the buffalo and the securing of
milk, i.e, they have no idols, images, no sacred objects apart
from the dairy, no dreaded supernatural beings to be appeased,
and no sacrifices beyond eating a little buffalo meat at stated
intervals, or drinking fresh milk on certain occasions. Al-
though they owe no duties to a deity, "yet," as Marshall says,^

* Rivers, p. 290.

' Marshall, A Phrenologist among the Todas, 1873, p. 129.


''they hold to certain practices and habits in daily life, which
are to them in the place of religion, being performed with all
the strictness and certainty which should be bestowed on
sacred observances." These practices are intimately allied
with the care and distribution of that divine fluid, milk. As
Rivers says, "In the Toda rites and ceremonies is little else
than the arrangements which a pastoral and communistic
people have made for the provision and care of an article of
food." '

In general, then, it seems that we have in the Todas a
unique illustration of how the habits of a group of people,
habits which have originated in some practical interest, may
become of such great importance that they are true religious
ceremonies. Moreover, if our principles of interpretation
are true, these very habits have served to enhance the value,
the sanctity, of the object about which they have gathered,
if they have not actually produced it. We believe the Todas
illustrate these points, even though there are some of their
buffaloes which are not sacred, or rather some of the dairies
are not sacred (for the sanctity of the buffalo seems to depend
at present upon its being connected with a sacred dairy), and
even though there are all degrees of sanctity in these various
things. The initial causes of these valuations we may never
be able to determine, but at least we do know that sanctity,
as far as it is recognized by them at all, is definitely related to
their dominant economic pursuit.

If we were to analyze the development of the present reli-
gious ideas of the Todas and the relation of these ideas to
their everyday life, we believe that the following hypotheses
would be fully in accord with the facts as at present observed.
In the first place, it is evident that their current religious system
is not their original one, for they have vague beliefs in a body

^ Ibid., pp. 130, 186.


of deities which have probably come down to them from a time
when their life was quite different from what it now is. These
gods seem to be becoming less and less important; they are
stranded, as it were, in a new social order. ^ The only deity
who has retained any considerable importance is Teikirzi,
the one to whom they trace most of their dairy ceremonials.
Some of the other deities are supposed to have lived upon the
earth and to have been dairymen. That is, the Todas' most
definite ideas regarding their gods are those concerning their
relationship to the social order under which the people now
live. In so far as they have been able to throw the old gods
into relation with their new conditions of life, they have kept
them fairly definite, but even thus, they seem to be little more
than intellectual concepts, or postulates, certainly not objects
of worship. The real object of the Todas' valuational con-
sciousness is the milk and the dairy. It is uncertain whether
the milk or the buffalo was the original object of their sacred
regard, but that is not here a matter of great importance, since
we wish simply to show how one of their objects of reverential
regard assumed its present importance. If the buffalo were
first regarded as sacred, it is natural that the fluid given by
the buffalo would acquire by association a like value. But its
sacredness would be greatly enhanced if it came to be the
chief source of their livelihood. This would make it an object
of solicitous attention, and every act connected with the pro-
curing and care of it would likewise become an object of in-
terest. If, for any other reason, the killing of the female buffalo
had been tabooed, their hesitation at doing such a thing would
now be much increased by the fact of their dependence upon

* " I think there can be little doubt that most of the individual gods of the
Todas are becoming very unreal beings to those who talk of them. The stories
of the earlier gods are now forgotten, and the ideas of the Todas about them
are very vague." Rivers, op. cit., pp. 451 f.


the buffalo's milk. Granted, then, that the milk becomes a
matter of great moment to them because of its economic im-

Online LibraryIrving KingThe development of religion; a study in anthropology and social psychology → online text (page 11 of 32)