Philo Loas Mills.

Prehistoric religion : a study in pre-Christian antiquity : an examination of the religious beliefs of the Oceanic, Central African, and Amazonian primitives, the development among the later Indo-Asiatic and Totemic peoples, their interpretation by the western-Asiatic and Caucasian races of Neolithi online

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Online LibraryPhilo Loas MillsPrehistoric religion : a study in pre-Christian antiquity : an examination of the religious beliefs of the Oceanic, Central African, and Amazonian primitives, the development among the later Indo-Asiatic and Totemic peoples, their interpretation by the western-Asiatic and Caucasian races of Neolithi → online text (page 80 of 88)
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belongs to personal beings to originate if"."

It is therefore important to realise that this power differs from magic
in that it proceeds or originates from persons, it differs from primitive'
theism in that the persons operating it are possessed of a secret power by
which they control the patient by more or less occult agencies, — the essence
of telepathy. There is now an opinion among experts, that a distinction
must be made between manistic animism and impersonal magic. While
the latter appears very early, animistic or spirit-magic is comparatively
late, and both are preceded by the simple concept of personality, one which
holds its own throughout the history of man, and is here once more
brought into bold relief by the doctrine of a personal spiritual power
which is more than an mystery-force on the one hand, or a simple com-
manding divinity on the other. "What we have in the beginning", says
Father Schmidt, "is personality, not animism. Animism begins when
souls are attributed to lifeless objects"." But what is a person without a
soul? Precisely the "I blow", "I shine", "I give", of the earliest theology,
regardless of what the "I" consists of, it is simply a moral self-conscious-
ness, and nothing more. Here however the idea of soul as a telepathic
substance is elaborately worked out. It is not simply the case of "I shine",
but "I shine with Universal Life"}^

Now although mana as a technical term is confined to the Oceanic
portion of the neolithic belt, we have seen that the same idea can be traced
to the banks of the Nile and the Euphrates, and it is here quite probably
that we have its originating source. "As in Egypt, so in Babylonia, anim-
ism was the earliest shape assumed by religion, and it was through anim-
ism that the Sumerian formed his conception of the divine"."

11 H. Codrington, The Melanesians, (Oxford, 1891), pp. 119, 191. «W. Schmidt, Myth-
ologie der Austronesischen Volker, (Vienna, 1910), p. 139. i» Compare Prof. W. Wilken,
Het Animisme, Indische Gids (1884), p. 136. "The whole of nature is animated, even life-
less stones are the object of this anthropopathic concept". i*A. H. Sayce, The Religious
of ancient Egypt and Babylonia (1903), p. 276.



Principles op the Animistic Theology

It is the flowering reed, — symbolic of the tree of life — , which is here for
the first time applied in a more generic sense to the concept of life as such,
and above all things to self-conscious existence as acting through a subtle
and rare medium, a refined or ethereal substance, — the fundamental notion
of spiritism. From the beginning there are gradations in this concept.
There is the material or ghastly self, known as the ka in Egypt and the lilu
in Babylonia, — frankly an apparition — , and there is the invisible khu, the
Mesopotamian zi, which expresses the interior consciousness of man, the
imperishable, the unchangeable ego. (89, 95) . These notions are paralleled
in part by the Assyrian kabittu, {lebit), which as heart or liver expresses
the "soul" or interior of being (100), by the Iranian manah (mainyu)',
(108), and above all things by the Hebrew-Palestinian roach, which as the
"breath" of existence has no definite philosophical value, but is vaguely
indicative of subtlety, of spirituality (102). If to these be added the mana
of the far East (113) , and the manitoo of the far West, — the latter of uncer-
tain etymology, but attested in the sense of "spirit-person" at least in one
instance (116) — , it is difficult to resist the conclusion that, with so many
similarities in mythology and general culture, there is not some distant
equation of values between zi, khu, kabittu, ruach, bruwa, rawa, manah,
mana, mnnitoo, which is more than of a descriptive nature, and which
stands for- a somewhat different line of thought than that of the preced-
ing series, — bum, mulungu, altjira, inkara, kaluk, wakan, ivakanda,
orenda, etc. While the latter are taken vaguely for mysteries, personal
and impersonal forces alike, the former are initiated only by personal and
self-conscious beings, living or dead spirits ; they are personal agencies.


Now in applying this new system to the old totem-god, it was destined
to broaden and deepen the concept of divinity by no inconsiderable
degrees. Anu (Bel-Enlil-Ea) is the god of heaven, the king of the lands,
the lord of the deep, and the lord of life (en-ti), and it is "by the life of the
gods", "by the life of heaven and earth" {zi-an-ki), that the conjuration-
formulas reach their climax (359). Similarly Atum-Ra and Osiris are
symbolised by the eye, they are "all-seeing ones", ka-ho-tep, "shining
spirit" (95), Ashur is king of heaven, "lord of our fate" (99), Jahwe-
Elohim is "life" itself (I AM), and ruach or "pure spirit" (102), Ahura-
Mazda is vohu-manah, "holy spirit", Batara is lord of the antu, Quat-
Marawa lord of the vui, Rangi supreme mana, Awona-Tirawa, father of
spirits {rawa), Kitchi Manitoo the "Great Spirit" etc.,— throughout there
is a decided tendency to read more into the term than we find in the primi-
tive folklore of humanity.



An Explicit Development op a Formerly Implicit Idea

I do not pretend that this notion of "spirit-power" is an entirely novel
one. The definition of God as the "breath" or "vs^ind" of existence goes
back to the earliest Oceanic belt, as we have seen. But while the nature of
deity other than that of "father" is left unconsciously vague, being simply
"invisible"; He is here explicitly identified with a definite philosophical
concept, He is a spiritual or ethereal essence, having analogies with the
soul of man, and indeed with all living things, but clearly marked off from
the "ghost" by His attributes of transcendence and ubiquity, however much
He may have been confused with the family ancestor in individual in-
stances. The extent of this spiritistic movement has been fully discussed
in the preceding pages. It is not sufficiently all-absorbing to compromise
the statement that none of the fairies, vampires, or hobgobblins have ever
taken the place of the King of Heaven, the Lord of the Lands, the All-seeing
One, who, however corrupted in parts, shows his benignity, power, wis-
dom, and goodness in the records that have been preserved of his action in
the realm of nature and man. This is a renaissance rather than a new,

The Idea op Creation, Though Tainted, is More Fully Developed

But the god of animism has had to shake off the fetters that bound him
too closely to the world of nature, to the lifeless universe. In nearly every
case the act of creation shows the marks of a preceding nature-worship
which is too strong to be entirely effaced, it colors the whole of the cos!-
mogony. Anu is derived from mummu, as Osiris is derived from nunu,
two suspicious parallels, if both are authentic and stand for "water-
chaos" the "mother of them all" (Creation, 161, 167). To what extent
these are personalities or personifications, it is impossible to say, but they
seem to be the survivals of an age of cosmic evolutionism and are yet
traceable in many of Brahministic, Polynesian, and Pan-American world-
systems. Apart from this the supreme divinity is a creator, he is "father of
all the gods", as in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and under the form of Bel-
Marduk in Babylon he slays the~world-typhon, from which he makes
heaven and earth, sea and land, sun, moon and stars, plants and animals,
and finally man, the latter by the cutting off of his head and mixing the
blood with the slime of the earth. This may serve as a type for many of
the cosmogonies of this period; but there are two that tower head and
shoulders above the others, the Hebrew and the Iranian. Both are free
from the weeds of naturalism, and in the former Elohim creates "by His
Word", while in the latter Ahura-Mazda creates by his "seven spirits", a
beautiful, though probably late form of theological speculation.



The Historical Aspect is Once More Recognised

Thus the idea of creation is more vivid and clear-cut than in the pre-
ceding period, where it is far more vague, in some cases absent. This is
further illustrated by the paradise-legends, in w^hich the leading actors
stand out in historical prspective, there is a definite drama of the fall
(Paradise, 228). Outlines of the ancient tradition are preserved in many
of the Western-Asiatic versions, there is a garden vs'ith a tree of life, in
some cases a serpent, with hints of a temptation and fall, — but in none
have the ancient ideas been handed with anything like moral complete-
ness save only in the Jewish-Palestinian version, in which creation, para-
dise, deluge and dispersion of humanity are singularly free from mytho-
logical accretions, and in which a Redeemer is clearly promised, an idea
which finds its deficient counterpart in the savior-gods of Babylonia (Re-
demption, 271) . "Sacrifice is the navel of the world", it is only through the
shedding of blood that the divinity can now be appeased, he requires a
steadily increasing toll of life. Reconciliation can only be effected by san-
guinary means, but once obtained, it is a passport to life eternal, it admits
the bearer to a peaceful though unpromising land of shades.

Practical Application

Such are the main features of the newer belief in the Great Spirit in
so far as it represents an advance upon the previous notions. It will be
interesting to see how these principles are applied in practice.


Purification with water and oil is a conspicuous feature in the earliest
Sumerian-Babylonian practice, as may be inferred from the numerous
traditions which associate these elements with a preternatural healing-
power. It is Gilgamesh who is cleansed of his leprosy in the "waters of
life", and in the Adapa-legend it is the Ocean-god who prompts the hero to
ask of Anu "clothing and oil", a more utilitarian and moreover a fatal'
request, but showing the importance of oil in the religious conscience of
the nation. But simple water seems to have been in use on all the greatest
occasions : —

"With pure sparkling water, with bright shimmering water, seven times,
and again seven times, besprinkle, cleanse, purify!" (359).

This Babylonian formula may be paralleled to some extent in Egypt
(365), in Persia (373), and in fact throughout the more recent Orient,
though not of course with verbal identity (377ff.) We cannot say how far
this "sprinkling" was also an infancy-rite, though all the evidence points
in this direction. The Jewish "circumcision", on the other hand, is clearly
the seal of a special divine pact, a unique Govenant (369) .




On the other hand the old tribal initiation has apparently disappeared
except in the wilder regions of this cultural zone. The MaA;Z«-ritual of
Babylonia represents, however., a very similar idea. It is a kind of second-
ary exorcism, an advanced initiation-rite. But instead of burning the can-
didate, it is the demons that are burned in effigy with the words : —

/ will raise the torch, I will consume your efflgies.

May the strangulating Fire-god strengthen my hands! (359).

On other occasions the sangu heals or "confirms" the patient by invok-
ing the Chaldean triad, by pouring on water and oil, and above all by
applying the tigillu, or sacred herb, distantly connected with the gesh-tin
or tree of life, which shows the essentially symbolic nature of the cere-
mony. If the magical thunder-shaman and the spirit-hunter are also well-
represented in this region, it may be put down as the result of a spiritistic
interpretation of the zi, which as the manistic worship of the lilu or
departed ancestor substituted the ghost for the invisible Spirit, and was
distinctly baneful in its mental and moral results. This growing degenera-
tion with its tendency to phallic fertilisation-magic has already been made
due allowance for. It characterises the whole of the more advanced
agrarian belt of the later neolithic age, and is accompanied by a more
bloodthirsty ritual, — firewalking, skull-cult, and human sacrifice. This
conflict between the spiritual and the spiritistic has left its footprints as
far as Oceania and South America, where we have a dignified dedication-
rite side by side with the "ghost-society", with its firebrands, its hypnotic
swoons, and its phallic secrets.


It is in the matter of sacrifice that we meet with the greatest extremes
of practice,— a surprisingly lofty "feast of the gods" on the one hand, and
the wholesale offering up of women on the funeral pyres of their husbands,
the mowing down of countless thousands by the irresistible Juggernaut
car, on the other. This reveals what is only to be expected from the gen-
eral dualistic movement of the period, the survival of many primitive
notions of innocence and unbloody propitiation of the divine, together
with the growing consciousness that the sins of man are sufficiently ter-
rible to merit an equally terrible satisfaction. As it is inconceivable that
a good God can habitually desire the destruction of man, it seems impos-
sible to trace this custom except to the growing influence of demonism,
to a perverted aspect of the divine nature. No person on earth would offer
up his daughter to be consumed in the flames unless he felt that he was
too sinful to live, that either he or his ofTspring would have to make a su-
preme atonement.



Among the unbloody alimentary rites those of Babylonia take the pre-
cedence. As early as the fourth millennium before Christ we find the
patesis pouring out libations to their patrons, generally Anu and Ishtar,
the oldest male and female members of the pantheon. Lugal-Tarsi builds
the great temple of Kish in their honor, Ur-Nina owes his name to the god-
dess, Lugal-Zaggizi is the high-priest of Anu, and offers to En-lil, the god
of Nippur an "oblation of bread" and "pure water", while Gudea attests

In this food is contained the abundance of the gods (360)

They are generally of the number of twelve, they are unleavened or fre-
quently sweetened, they are placed on the "table" of the gods, and to the
accompaniment of instrumental music and the burning of aromatic sub-
stances they are solmenly offered to the divinity with the following
words : —

Receive the banquet of all the great gods! (361)

This is the heavenly banquet as such, the supposed "impanation" of
the divine. The existence of similar offerings in Egypt and ancient Persia,
the feeding of Osiris with the corn-fruit of the lower Nile (366), the pro-
pitiation of Ahura-Mazda by the oblation of the sacred soma (374), not to
speak of the contemporary Hindoo, Polynesian and North-American "corn-
mysteries", — all are so many manifestations that the first-fruit sacrifice
has not been forgotten, it exists in a more developed, more complicated,
more ritualistic form (377-386). As illustrations take the following bene-
dictory invocations: —

Praise unto thee Osiris, thou son of heaven! (Egyptian Corn-god)

/ am Haoma the Holy, the driving death afar! (Persian Soma).

/ am the fourfold-containing womb of life! (American Mother-Corn).

Even the manna of the Jews is linguistically a mincha, a divine gift : —
This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat! (370) ,

though here the monotheistic setting of the Jahwe-worship is the distinc-
tive feature. The fact that some of the breads are invariably eaten shows
that the sacrifice is also a sacrament, a communion-rite.

The sacrificial nature of the banquet in the sense of a destruction of
the victim is more forcibly brought out in the niku or bloody sacrifice.
Here it is not only the gift {kiStu), the ox, the hog, or the lamb—, but the
pouring out of the blood {niku), that alone can appease the ofTended
divinity. This, with the partial consumption of the shew-bread would
seem to indicate that external destruction was regarded as necessary to all
sacrifice in the propitiatory as distinct from the latreutic sense. But the
whole subject of "immolation" has been amply discussed above, (see under
Sacrifice, p. 398-400).




The subjective acts on the part of tlie worshipper include a very
moderate fast, an abstinence from certain taboos, a public and sometimes
a priestly accusation of faults, and above all the practice of vocal prayer,
the recitation of "litanies" w^hich are here more prominent and prolonged
than perhaps in any preceding age. Sufficient examples have been given
to show that these are genuine exhibitions of sorrow, and in the Baby-
lonian shiptu-rites three or four distinct acts seem to be traceable:—

Has he blasphemed his God? dishonored his father? spoken a lie? —
Lord, my transgressions are many, great are my sins? (Accusation).
Come to deliver us, thou son of justice, release the ban! (Absolution).
Lord of the land, return, look down upon thy city! (Satisfaction).

It is impossible to say how far these different actions can be said to
constitute a strictly continuous moral function analogous to the sacra-
ment of penance. But we have seen that all these ceremonies are grossly
polytheistic and thaumaturgic, — the Sangu delivers his patient from charms
of sorcery, not from a personal rebellion against the God of Heaven, — it
is merely an absolution from witchcraft (363, 406) . In Palestine the whole
confession is summary, but is made directly to the great Jehovah : —

Pardon, Lord, pardon thy people, and be not angry with us for ever!

(372), but the nature of the kappora on the Day of Atonement is very
mysterious. We have noted, however, that the examination of conscience
was no trivial ordeal, whether in Palestine, Egypt, or Babylonia, and the
early Vedic and Avestic lawbooks show that the custom of self-accusation
of sin may well have been at one time universal in Western Asia (376ff.),
as it was certainly a recognised institution among the Aztecs of North
America (386).


One of the most distinctive marks of the recent period is the separation
of the offices of physical and moral healer, of the spiritual sangu from the
old medicine-man. The title of "father", once universal, is now confined
to the ruling priest-king, the head of the hierarchy. We have traced its
evolution, from the root ab as follows : — pa, papa, peng, penglima, pahan,
pat, patesi, the latter being the title of the Sumerian rulers (363) . EVen
Ab-ram is the "father of light" and Ab-raham the "father of power", the
rabbi being at least a "great-one", a father-master. The Egyptian pha-
raohs, the Persian paitish, and the Polynesian and Peruvian "popes" cor-
respond to some extent to the Babylonian patesi, who as the sanga-mahu
or High-Priest is the equivalent of the Jewish rabbi-kohen, vdth solemn
mitre and mace.

Thou art the living form on earth of thy father Atum! (368).

These words express the cult of the age to the anointed son-of-heaven,




The union of the sexes is now no longer determined by a mythical
descent from certain animals or objects. The totemic crests, wherever
preserved, have become the family emblems, the royal coat-of-arms, the
symbols of leadership. The rule of exogamy is still applied, but it has lost
much of its old severity. In its place there is a growing practice of endog-
amy, a tendency to place the ruling power in the hands of a few families,
an hereditary aristocracy, sometimes with maternal, but more often with
paternal descent. Monogamy prevails, but polygamy and even polyandry
are quite frequently sanctioned, there is no uniformity in the relations of
sex. "We have noted, however, that in most cases a primitive monogamy
precedes the degenerate practices of later times, and that a clasping of
hands in presence of the priest is regarded in some instances as essential to
its validity. In the Aryan countries especially the sacerdotal union sur-

By this faith which I utter, receive ye the life of the Good Mind! (376).
This and the Roman confwrreatio points to a high regard for the bond, in
which a complete divorce does not seem to have been originally recognised.
The legal and religious equality of men and women is no less striking,
though it took some centuries to mature, and in the Vestal Virgins of Rome
we have the first premonition of better things to come, a prophetic light
amid the surrounding darkness (380). Taking it as a whole, the position
of women, though surrounded by terrible pitfalls, is decidedly better than
in the days of the buffalo-hunt. She is reasserting her primitive rights to
equality, to a mutually constant affection in the tie (409).


The doctrine of universal metempsychosis can no longer be found
except in certain isolated areas, where a contact with the totem-peoples
was a strong factor for its survival, as in parts of India, Egypt, and North
America. The conversion into wild beasts is more of the nature of a pun-
ishment than of a normal destiny for the soul, it is a prehistoric "hell"'.
But the distinctive note of the more recent eschatology is its greater hope-
fulness and more direct judgment. Even the body seems to count for
something, there is a careful tomb-burial, more rarely exposition or cre-
mation of the corpse. The soul descends to the land of shades, but there
is often a brighter vision :

Be clean as heaven, be clean as earth, shine like the innermost heaven!
(482) . / come unto thee, my God! I draw near to see thine excellences!
I am pure, I am pure! (483). Pity me. Sun! You have seen my life, you
know that I am pure! (490) . We see ourselves living with Tirawa! (490) .

We have noted, however, how far all this is removed from a Beatific
Vision in the full supernatural sense in which we understand it (500) .



The Social and Ethical Data in Their Relation to the Religious Belief

If the social and moral element be taken once more as a test, we shall
find that a twofold current of thought is, paralleled by a twofold system of
morals revealing enormous extremes, the one surprisingly edifying, the
other showing a depth and degredation almost indescribable.

Once More a Dualism

(1) As against the matriarchal systems of the late-glacial and transi-
tional period, the patriarchate is once more re-established, there is sta-
bility in the family, law and order with an historic succession in the
state. Kingship, aristocracy, and priesthoods take the place of the tribal
chief, the council of elders, the medicine-man. They become a definite
class, fixed more or less by the laws of heredity, by primogeniture. (Com-
pare the Sumerian patesis with the Polynesian and Aztec priest-kings).
Then again, we have noted the comparatively high regard for women, and
the gradual evolution of higher female rights, culminating in the idea of
virginity as an ideal state of womanhood, however defectively realised.
Tacitus says, "they would rather fall on the sword of the enemy than lose
their chastity".

(2) On the other hand, the brutality and corruption of this age are no
less conspicuous. We have only to recall the steadily increasing custom
of rape and infanticide, of child or wife-purchase, of the practice of
slavery, of the lex talionis, of the wager of battle, — we have only to picture
the corrupted temple "devotee", and above all the more and more sanguin-
ary character of religious worship, which reaches its climax in the human
sacrifice, in the offering up of innocent maidenhood to some terrible
Moloch, — a practice which seems to have been particularly strong in South
America, — and the combined impression that presents itself is far from
ideal, it reveals an intense consciousness of sin, of growing social and
moral degeneration. Such an antithesis of right and wrong, of god and
demon, is only to be expected. It is completely in harmony with the men-
tal development, which is also difficult to analyse, but which shows symp-
toms of a deep internal struggle, the desire to preserve intact the ancient
tradition, to keep the God of Heaven untarnished, and at the same time to
satisfy the demand for a more popular theology, for a multitude of
guardian-spirits, which shall be the immediate helpers of man, — in itself
a legitimate concept, but liable to abuse by "divinisation". To what extent

Online LibraryPhilo Loas MillsPrehistoric religion : a study in pre-Christian antiquity : an examination of the religious beliefs of the Oceanic, Central African, and Amazonian primitives, the development among the later Indo-Asiatic and Totemic peoples, their interpretation by the western-Asiatic and Caucasian races of Neolithi → online text (page 80 of 88)