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men long after the faith that gave them birth has
been forgotten and replaced by systems which, in the
interval, may have been changed or modified many
times — customs which one moment's reflection
shows to be as absurd as they are childish. But
absurd as such actions may appear to us, there is

* Turner, /Samoa. t J. G. Frazer.



12 EELIGION AND MYTH

behind them a philosophy, and from them we learn
the processes of the human mind, as, groping after
knowledge, it proceeded on the road to the discovery
of all the facts which make up the sum of the world's
acquirements. Though at first sight the action of
the savage seems as if based on the assumption that
nature is a series of caprices, a closer study con-
vinces us that his reasonino- is based on the con-
stancy of nature, or, as we would say, the persistency
of natural laws. The savage expects the same
causes to produce the same results at all times, how-
ever inadequate the cause may actually be, and the
universality of this belief 23roves that it is no mere
local philosophy, which is false root and branch, but
a universal craving after knowledge on the basis of
a philosophy where the premisses are false, but
where, this defect apart, the conclusion is based on
sound reasoning. What we call natural law the
savage ascribes to his own powder over the forces of
the physical \\^orld.

The reason of this boundless confidence in himself
on the part of primitive man is, that at first super-
natural agents are not regarded as greatly superior
to himself, and that at any time he may become
one. These supernatural agents dwell in man, and
their presence make him divine. To him acts of
homage are paid. As the system develops, sacrifices
are offered to him, and he is worshipped as a god.
The ofiice he holds is, or tends to become, hereditary;
m any case, it is elective, and persons holding it are
always sacred, frequently divine. Thus, the nominal
King of the Monbutto is divine, a veritable man-o-od.



PRIMITIVE MAN AND THE SUPERNATURAL 13

He mav not be seen to eat by any one. What he
leaves is thrown into a pit set apart for the purpose.
Whatever he handles is sacred and may not again be
used for any purpose. A guest of even the highest
rank and honour may not light his pipe with an ember
from the fire that burns before him. To do so would
be punished by instant death.* What the results
of shaking hands with his majesty would be it is
hard to conjecture ; probably a tremor reaching to
the outermost circle of the universe.

When the Purra, or high priest of the Bulloms,
West Africa, goes to a place, all women must, on
pain of instant death, kee}) indoors or hide in the
depth of the jungle ;t they must keep up a continual
clapping of hands while he is pleased to remain, and
should any of them be known to have a peep at the
Purra, even through a chink, she would l^e executed
instanter for her presumption in gazing on divinity.
Jaggas, like many other East African peoples, regard
their king as divine,;}: and all his people do him
reverence. Before a visitor can be admitted to his
presence, he must be sprinkled with medicine by the
magician. On all occasions his person is guarded
with the most jealous care, and whatever touches
him or comes from his person is sacred and must be
treated with the utmost reverence ; § as something
diflPering from what was the king's simply, rather as
having in itself the elements of divinity from its
havino- belonofed to one who is himself a man-god.

Engai — that is, the rain-cloud — placed the father of

* Schweinfurth. t Winterbotham.

+ Krapf. § Ihid.



14 RELIGION AND MYTH

the Wakiuxii on the snow mountain, Killlmanjaro.
This first ancestor was an incarnation of Engai him-
self, and was exalted above all men. His children
^veve demi-gods and the ancestors of tlie present
ruling chiefs.* From him, or his incarnations,
radiates everything, even the bodies of his subjects,
for he is their god. This same form of king adoration
and homage exists in Shoa, Abyssinia. The Wadoe
address their king as " Lion of Heaven."! When
his majesty coughs or sneezes, all Avithin hearing
say " Muisa," which means, Lion or Lord of Heaven.
The Gingane, or high priest of certain Congo tribes,
is divine. + His person is sacred, and he is always
accompanied by a novice who, in the event of his
death, will receive or catch the divine element or
soul which belongs to him in virtue of his office,
and which, but for the novice's presence, might be
lost or stolen.

Among the Baralongs all property belongs to the
chief, as do also the bodies of his subjects. He acts
as his own chief priest ; is invariably called father,
often lord. Zulus and Galekas acknowledge the
chief as universal owner, and regard themselves as
his, body and soul. The Kings of Dahomey and
Ashantee are veritable gods, without any gilding to
conceal their glory ; as is also the Grand Lama of
Thibet. Men pronounce the King of Dahome3^'s
name with bated breath, fearing the very walls may
whisper of the great name being used profanely. §
Among South African tribes there is a marked aver-
sion to i)ronouncing the chiefs name, and it is never

* Krapf. t Jhid. J Tucker. § Kowley.



PRIMITIVE MAN AND THE SUPERNATURAL 15

done when it can l^y any possibility be avoided l^y
them.

Makusa, the spirit par cjcceUeuce of the Wagogo
and Waganda, leaves his quarters in Lake Nyanza
at intervals, and takes up his abode in a man or
woman, who becomes Lubare,* or, in other words, a
god. The Lubare is supreme, not only in matters of
faith and sacrifice, but in questions of war and
state policy. When councillors were questioned by
Mackay regarding the nature of the Lubare, or
Makusa who dwelt in the Lubare, they replied that
the Lubare is a bull — this because the Lubare repre-
sents the principle of universal life. Again, the
Lubare was described as a w^andering spirit, and
finally, as a man who becomes a Lubare. The first
is probably the more general belief regarding the
Lubare as possessed by Makusa.

When Makusa enters a man he becomes a Lubare,
and is removed, by Makusa presumably, about a
mile and a half from the margin of the lake, and
there waits the advent of the new moon before
beginning operations. When the first faint cres-
cent is discerned the king and all his subjects are
from that hour under the orders of the Lubare.
The kino- orders a flotilla of canoes to start on a
trading expedition ; the Lubare hears of it ; coun-
termands the king's instructions, and is obeyed.
Whatever the divine man orders must be done. If
he takes a fancy for a trifle of five hundred heads as
a sacrifice, the king's executioners must post them-
selves on the highways to catch wayfarers till the

* Mackay of Uganda.



i6 RELIGION AND MYTH

requisite number is made up. Or should his fancy
suggest the extermination of a Aveak neiglibouring
tribe, the warriors must be called by beat of drum,
and be on the war-path before the dawn of day.
The king, absolute, despotic, tyrannical as he is,
becomes for the time being the agent through whom
the executive is carried on by the Lubare.

The chief Lakonga, at the south end of the lake,
calls himself a god, and is treated as such by his
people * who prostrate themselves before him as
they approach, and perform such acts of worship as
are rendered to true divinity. At times, however,
there are rival claimants as being descended from
the same god ancestor long before, which is a little
confusing, and has tended to bring the office into
disrepute. Still, the fact remains that the present
ruler claims divinity, and his claim is acknowledged,
though odd sceptics may exist, especially among
those who supported the claims of rivals.

In Laongo the king is worshipjjed as a god, and
is called Sambee and Pango, words which mean
god.+ When rain falls and crops are plentiful they
load him with gifts and honours. If the seasons are
bad, so that crops fail and fish cannot be caught, he
is accused of having a bad heart and is deposed ; but
this belongs rather to the practice of killing the god,
which falls to be discussed in another connection.
Traces of the same kingly divinity can still be found
lingering among the Celtic races of Europe. The
extraordinary sanctity of the chiefs person among
Scottish Highlanders of a past generation seems to

* Mackay of Uganda. t J. G. Frazer.



PRIMITIVE MAN AND THE SUPERNATURAL 17

have been nothing else than a h'ngering survival of
divinity in the head of the clan.

From this rapid and fragmentary survey of the
position occupied in the world's earliest religious
ordinances by the king or ruler, we may safely infer
that the claims put forward to divine and super-
natural powers by great monarchs like those of
ancient Egypt, Mexico, Peru, Japan, and Chaldea,,
as in the time of Daniel, was not so much the pride-
of power and the vanity of men accustomed to ful-
some flattery and adulation, as a survival of a belief
once universal among men. The union of sacred
functions and claims to divinity with civil and
political power meets us at every turn. It goes to-
confirm the traditional account o-iven of the sacri-
ficial king at Kome and the origin of the priestly
kings in republican Greece, nor does the multi-
jDlicity of gods in classical times present the same
difficulties which might at first sight be supposed,
for among primitive men we find kings who are
regarded as divine presiding over particular depart-
ments of nature ; departmental kings, as Mr. Frazer
calls them.* At the mouth of tlie Congo resides
Namvula Ruma as " kingf of the rain and storm."
His functions do not extend beyond his own depart-
ment, but there he reigns supreme, and is regarded
as divine by mariners and agriculturists. In Abys-
sinia an office exists known as " the priesthood of
the Alfai," which is hereditary and kingly. He, too,
is a king of rain, and is suj^posed to avert drought
and produce necessaiy showers. Should he in this

* J. G. Frazer, Golden Bowjh.
" B



1 8 RELIGION AND MYTH

disappoint the people's expectations, he is stoned to
deatli, and a successor chosen ; no easy task when the
heavens are as brass and the ground as iron. Tlie
offices performed by the mysterious kings of fire and
water in the backwoods of Cambodia, seem to have
a close resemblance to those of the king of rain and
storm at the Congo and the priest of the Alfai in
Aljyssinia. Of the mysterious Caml^odian monarchs
not much is known, and their existence might have
passed as a myth, but for the real king exchanging
presents with them annually. No one travelled to
their domains, and the gifts were passed on from
tribe to tribe till they reached their destination,
after which the return present of a Avax candle and
two calabashes began an erratic pilgrimage to the
king who had despatched the gifts to his mvsterious
subjects and equals, or more than equals. The func-
tions of the kings of fire and water were purely
spiritual. They claimed no civil power or political
authority, and lived simply as peasants. Thev lived
apart, and gifts were brought furtively and left
where they could find them. Their offices are here-
ditary and last seven years, but owing to the hard
and solitary life many are said to die during their
term of office. Naturally the dignity is not coveted,
and like the Alfai priesthood there is difficulty in
finding suitable candidates from among those who
are eligible for office.

Did the scope of our inquiry permit, a king of
the wood and of the sea could be found amonp-
primitive men, but enough has been said to show
the general relations subsisting between man, as he



PRIMITIVE MAN AND THE SUPERNATURAL 19



first began to look out on the world and wander
hither and thither over the face of the fflobe, and
the supernatural, which to him was an utterly
unknown world. We shall no^v turn to the con-
sideration of the care man l^estowed on those who,
according to his conception of the constitution of
the universe, were its supernatural agents or
divinities.



CHAPTER II

GUARDING DIVINITY

We have seen in the preceding chapter that the
kino- or divine ruler was endowed with supernatural
jDowers, by means of which he was able to regulate
rain and sunshine, the growth of crops and the
capture of bird, beast, and fish. His power over
nature was analogous to that which he exercised
over his subjects. He had but to will in order to
have his purjoose accomplished, neither nature nor
subject having a choice in the matter. But with
strange contradiction of thought, while the course
of nature was dependent upon and subject to the
king's will, phenomena were often supposed to be
not only independent of him, but inimical to his
interests and dangerous to his life, as were also
certain objects, should he touch or even see them.
His will was supreme in regard to all conditions of
wind and weather, sunshine and shadow ; but his
body occupied the anomalous position of at once
influencing the forces of nature and being liable to
take harm from the simplest elements. His divine
organism was so finely balanced that a movement
of head or hand might disturb the equilibrium of
the universe, and if In an evil moment he gave
hidden forces a wrong impulse, it might entail such



GUARDING DIVINITY 21

wholesale destruction as the falling of the sky or
the hurling the world away into limitless space.
Even such a simple act as drinking a glass of wine
in the presence of another was so fraught with
danger that the spectator had to be put to death.
One case is on record in which the king's son, a
boy of twelve, saw his father drink accidentally.
He was seized, finely arrayed, and killed. After
that his body was quartered and sent about with
a proclamation that he had seen the king drink.*
No more was needed.

Of this class of divine rulers is the Mikado of
Japan, a descendant of Izangi, who gave birth to
the god of fire. After her death, her spouse, who
was her own brother, purified himself by bathing
in a stream of running" water. As he threw his
garments on the 1:)ank — the gods seem to have been
familiar with the modern tailor's art in those days
— fresh deities were born from each article. From
his left eye emerged the goddess of the Sun, who
was the ancestress of all the divine generations of
rulers. t The following account of the Mikado was
written about two hundred years ago : ;{;

" Even to this day j^rinces descended of this
family, more particularly those who sit on the
throne, are looked upon as persons most holy in
themselves, and as popes by birth. And in order
to preserve those advantageous notions in the minds
of their subjects they are obliged to take uncom-
mon care of their sacred persons, and to do such

* J. G. Frazer, Golden BoikjU. t Chamberlain, Things Japanese.

X Kaempfer, •' History of Japan," in Pinkerton's Votjaejes and Travels.



22 RELIGION AND MYTH

things which, examined according to the customs
of other nations, would be thought ridiculous and
impertinent. He thinks that it would be very pre-
judicial to his dignity and holiness to touch the
ground with his feet ; for this reason, when he
intends to go anywhere he must be carried thither
on men's shoulders. Much less will they sufier
that he should expose his sacred person to the open
air, and the sun is not thought worthy to shine on
his head. There is such a holiness ascribed to
all the parts of his l^ody that he dares to cut off
neither his hair, nor his beard, nor his nails. How-
ever, lest he should grow too dirty, they may clean
him in the night when he is asleep, because, they
say, that which is taken from his body at that
time hath been stolen from him, and that sucli a
theft does not prejudice his holiness or his dignitv.

In ancient times he was obliofed to sit on the
throne for some hours ever}^ morning with the im23e-
rial crown on his head, but to sit altoo-ether like a
statue, without stiri'ing either hands or feet, nor,
indeed, any part of his body, because by this
means it was thought that he could preserve peace
and tranquillity in his empire, for if, unfortunately,
he turned himself on one side or other, or if he
looked a good while towards any part of his
doininioiis, it was apprehended that war, famine,
fire, or some great misfortune was near at hand to
desolate the country. But it having been after-
wards discovered that the imperial crown was the
palladium which by its mobility could preserve peace
in the empire, it was thouglit expedient to deliver



GUARDING DIVINITY 23

his imperial person, consecrated only to idleness
and pleasures, from this burthensome duty, and
therefore the crown is at present placed on the
throne for some hours every morning. His victuals
must be dressed every time in new pots, and
served at table in new dishes, both very clean and
neat, but made only of common clay, that with-
out any considerable expense they may be laid
aside, or broken, after they have served once. They
are generally broken for fear they should come into
the hands of laymen ; for they believe religiously
that if a layman should presume to eat his food out
of these sacred dishes, it would swell, and inflame
his mouth and throat." So much for the Mikado's
habits of life.

But this p'uardino' of I'hi^s is not confined to an
advanced cult. Among primitive peoples we find
priestly persons and divine kings guarded with equal
jealousy and care. At Slmrk Point, West Africa,
the king lives alone in a wood. He may never leave
his house. He may not touch a woman. On no
account must he quit his royal chair, even to sleep,
for in that case the wind would die down and all
navigation would be stopped.* The supreme ruler at
Congo is such another. Regarded as a god on earth,
no subject would, on any consideration, taste the
new crop till an ofi:ering of it is made to him. When
he leaves his residence to visit other parts of his
territory, all married persons are under obligation
to observe stringent laws of continence, any violation
of which would prove immediately fatal to Chitome.

* J. G. Frazer, Golden Bough.



24 RELIGION AND MYTH

Were he to die a natural death, the world would be
annihilated.*

Illustrations mio^ht be multiplied, but whether in
Africa, Japan, or the South Sea Islands, the order
and regularity of nature is bound up with the life of
the ruler. It is evident he must be regarded by his
people as at once a source of untold blessing and
inexpressible danger to society. The care of his
person must be their first consideration in their
home and foreign policy, for any accident, through
oversight or lack of vigilance, might prove fatal to
the State. If he gives them rain, sunshine, genial
warmth, successful hunting and fishing, he can also
withhold these blessings and reverse the order of
nature. When the working of visible phenomena
is so closely bound up with his person that hui'ting his
toe might set up such a tremor as would overthrow
the foundations of the earth, the care bestowed on
his safe keeping must be infinite. For their own
safety his subjects must surround him with restric-
tions and safeguards. There must be set and ac-
curate rules for the regulation of his conduct both
public and jmvate. So it happens that his life is
valuable only in so far as he discharges the functions
for which he exists.

When he fails to order the course of nature so as
to benefit his people, his deposition is not only a
duty but a necessity. The homage and worship he
received is turned into contempt and hatred, for he
is not only useless, he is now positively hurtful.
Disgraced as a ruler, he is disgraced as a god, and

* J. G. Frazer, quoting Labat.



GUARDING DIVINITY 25

then put to an ignominious death. During his hfe,
or at least his reign, he Hves hedged in by such
restrictions and hmitations that he ceases to be
a free agent, even when his people prostrate
themselves before him, and offer to him the most
costly gifts and sacrifices, perhaps their sons or
daughters.

Of the divine King of Loango it is said that the
greater his divinitv the more restrictions or taboos
he must observe. These regulate all his actions, his
walking and his sitting, his eating and drinking, his
sleeping and waking.^ To the same restrictions the
heir is subjected from infancy, only that the number
of observances during childhood are comparatively
few, but increasing in number, till on his reaching
manhood he is lost in the swaddling-clothes of taboos.
The kings of ancient Egypt were, and in fact all rulers
now worshipped as divine are, subject to the same life
of immobility and inaction. King Egbo, West Africa,
when he went abroad was concealed in an ark as
became a divine and supernatural being. This was
carried on the shoulders of men who were set apart
for the sacred office, and were themselves sacred
persons. t The sacred bearers still remain, but when
Egbo, who has left the palace to the actual ruler,
and now lives in a sacred grove that none may
enter or explore, goes abroad, the ark contains
but a dunnny which is followed by the reigning
monarch walking on foot. The king prefers the
advantages of substantial power to the honours of
divinity, and so does homage to the ghost of his

* Bastian. t Waddell.



26 KELIGION AND MYTH

own divinity, rather than enter the sacred box him-
self, to be the toy of party poHticians.

When the office of ruler grew to be at once so
burdensome and so useless there could be but one
result. Men of action closed up the god in a box
and went on foot. Contenting themselves with the
substance of power, they left the honour and sem-
blance to some nerveless aspirant to the priesthood
who was satisfied with homage and honour in his
sacred retreat, while his rival ruled the kingdom.
This in course of time would lead to a separation
between the offices of ruler and high priest, and so
we gradually reach a farther stage in the develop-
ment of human thought and the evolution of deity
as that presented itself to primitive man. So bur-
densome did the office of king become, in the days
when kings were divine, that we find in West Africa,
when a king dies, a family council secretly held to
elect his successor. The hapless victim is seized,
bound hand and foot, and then thrown into the
fetish-house till he consents to accept the kingly
honours thus forced upon him. The Gallas of the
East elect their king once in eight years. They
are selected from five families who are royal, and
through whom the succession to the throne is care-
fully kept u}). They have a custom called Rab
whicli compels the four families out of office to
destroy all their children ; those reigning for the
time being allowed to rear theirs.* It is doubtless
from such examples being common, that facts such
as those recorded in the Book of Exodus reo-ardine"

* Krapf.



GUAKDING DIVINITY 27

the drowning of infants l3ecame ]3ossible as a politi-
cal precaution. Powerful kings like those of ancient
Egypt, or of Dahomey and Ashantee in modern
times, may succeed in combining a vigorous policy
with sacred functions and the idea of a man-god,
but the tendency is towards degeneration and ex-
tinction. When a man ceases to move from his
royal chair, to see any of his subjects except those
whose interests it is to tell him only what suits
their own purpose ; when a movement of hand or
head is dangerous to the stability of the world, and
that he must give all needed blessings while care-
fuUv wrapped uj) in the swaddling-bands of taboo,
his final disappearance cannot be long delayed. His
memory lasts, but it becomes a shadow merging into
ancestor worship, or kept in a closed ark in the
fetish-house.

There was another, and perhaps a more powerful,
reason among primitive men why those who were
men of action should decline the honours of
divinity, and that was the practice of killing the
god.^' Ancient mythology has made us familiar
with the idea of the death of the gods, and if divine
and spiritual deities were subject to decrepitude,
decay, and death, how much more the human gods
of primitive man "? It was natural that men in far-
away times should bestow the greatest care on their
divinities, and surround them with taboos and re-
strictions calculated to keep them out of harm's
way. But no care could make human gods im-
mortal, and thf. worshippers had to take account

* Frazer, Golden Bouijh.



28 RELIGION AND MYTH

of the stern fact and meet it as best they might.
If the course of nature depended on the god, what
might not old age and imbecihty bring upon the


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Online LibraryJames MacDonaldReligion and myth → online text (page 2 of 18)