History of Religion - A Sketch of Primitive Religious Beliefs and Practices, and of the Origin and Character of the Great Systems
by Allan Menzies
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A Sketch of Primitive Religious Beliefs and Practices, and of the Origin and Character of the Great Systems



Professor of Biblical Criticism in the University of St. Andrews

Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.—ACTS xv. 18.

New York Charles Scribner's Sons 597-599 Fifth Avenue 1917

FIRST EDITION . . . April 1895 SECOND EDITION . . September 1895 Reprinted . . . . March 1897 Reprinted . . . . June 1900 Reprinted . . . . January 1902 Reprinted . . . . March 1903 Reprinted . . . . October 1905 THIRD EDITION . . . January 1908 FOURTH EDITION . . September 1911 Reprinted . . . . June 1914 Reprinted . . . . October 1918


This book makes no pretence to be a guide to all the mythologies, or to all the religious practices which have prevailed in the world. It is intended to aid the student who desires to obtain a general idea of comparative religion, by exhibiting the subject as a connected and organic whole, and by indicating the leading points of view from which each of the great systems may best be understood. A certain amount of discussion is employed in order to bring clearly before the reader the great motives and ideas by which the various religions are inspired, and the movements of thought which they present. And the attempt is made to exhibit the great manifestations of human piety in their genealogical connection. The writer has ventured to deal with the religions of the Bible, each in its proper historical place, and trusts that he has not by doing so rendered any disservice either to Christian faith or to the science of religion. It is obvious that in a work claiming to be scientific, and appealing to men of every faith, all religions must be treated impartially, and that the same method must be applied to each of them.

In a field of study, every part of which is being illuminated almost every year by fresh discoveries, such a sketch as the present can be merely tentative, and must soon, in many of its parts, grow antiquated and be superseded. And where so much depends on the selection of some facts out of many which might have been employed, it will no doubt appear to readers who have some acquaintance with the subject, that here and there a better choice might have been made. The writer hopes that the great difficulty will not be overlooked with which he has had to contend, of compressing a vast subject into a compendious statement without allowing its life and interest to evaporate in the process.

For a fuller bibliography than is given in this volume the reader may consult the works of Dr. C. P. Tiele, and of Dr. Chantepie de la Saussaye. It will readily be believed that the writer of this volume has been indebted to many an author whom he has not named.

ST. ANDREWS, 1895.


Since this book first appeared twelve years ago it has been several times reprinted without change. Advantage has now been taken, however, of a call for a fresh issue, to introduce into it some alterations and additions, such as its stereotyped form allows. Some mistakes have been corrected, the names of recent books have been added to the bibliographies, and in some chapters, especially those dealing with the Semitic religions, considerable changes have been made. In going over the book for this purpose, I have seen very clearly that if it had been called for and written at this time instead of twelve years ago, some things which are in it need not have appeared, and additions might have been made which are not now possible. The last twelve years have made a great change in the study of religions; the prejudices with which it was regarded have almost passed away, powerful forces have been enlisted in its service, and admirable works have appeared dealing with various parts of the vast field. Yet I am glad to think that the attempt made in this book to furnish a simple introduction to a deeply important study, and especially to promote the understanding of the religions of the Bible by placing them in their connection with the religion of mankind at large, may still prove useful.

ST. ANDREWS, June 1907.


This book is now being reprinted in a somewhat larger type, and an opportunity is given, less restricted than the last, for making changes in it. It is impossible for me at present to re-write it; it appears substantially as it was. Some alterations and additions have been made in the earlier chapters, and the bibliographies have been brought more nearly up to date. I would take this opportunity of directing the attention of readers of this book to the published Proceedings of the Oxford Congress of the History of Religion, held in September 1908. They will there see how large this field of study has now grown, and what varied life and movement every part of it contains. I have given references only to the addresses of the Presidents of the Sections of the Congress, in which a fresh review will be found of recent progress in the study of each of the great religions.

ST. ANDREWS, July 1910.



CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION PAGE Position of the science—Unity of all religion—The growth of religion continuous—Preliminary definition of religion— Criticism of other definitions—Fuller definition—Religion and civilisation advance together . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-18


Origin of civilisation—It was from the savage state that civilisation was by degrees produced—The religion of savages—All savages have religion—It is a psychological necessity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19-28


Nature-worship—Ancestor-worship—Fetish-worship—A supreme being—Which gods were first worshipped?—Fetish-gods came first—Spirits, human or quasi-human, came first—Theories of Mr. Spencer and Mr. Tylor—Animism—The minor nature-worship came first—Theories of Mr. M. Mueller and of Ed. von Hartmann—The great nature-powers came first—Both nature-worship and the worship of spirits are sources of early religion—Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29-50


Growth of the great gods—Polytheism—Kathenotheism—The minor nature-worship—The worship of animals—Trees, wells, stones—The state after death—Growth of the great religions out of these beliefs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51-65


Sacrifice—Prayer—Sacred places, objects, persons—Magic— Character of early religion—Early religion and morality . . 66-78


Classifications of religions—Rise of national religion—It affords a new social bond—And a better God—Example—The Inca religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79-90



People and literature—Worship of spirits—Worship of animals—The great Gods—Mythology—The state religion . . . 91-105


History of China—The literature of the religion—The state religion of ancient China—Heaven—The spirits—Ancestors— Confucius—His life—His doctrine—Taoism—Buddhism in China 106-125


History and literature—1. Animal worship—Theories accounting for it—2. The great Gods—They also are local— Mythology—Dynasties of gods—Ra—Osiris—Ptah—Was the earliest religion monotheistic?—Syncretism—Pantheism— Worship—3. The doctrine of the other life—Treatment of the dead—The spirit in the under-world—The Book of the Dead— Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126-157



Home of the Semites—Character of the race—Their early religious ideas—Difference between Semitic and Aryan religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159-169


The Religion of the Canaanites—The Phenicians—Their gods— Astral deities of Phenicia—Influence of Phenician art . . . 170-178


The sacred literature—The people—Jehovah—The early ritual was simple—Contact with Canaanite religion—Danger of fusion—Religious conflict—The monarchy—Religion not centralised—The Prophets—The old religion national— Criticism of the old religion by the prophets—Appearance of Universalism—Ethical monotheism—Individualism of the prophetic teaching—The reforms—Deuteronomy—Earlier codes— The exile—The return; the reform of Ezra—Character of the later religion—Heathenish elements of Judaism—Spiritual elements—The Psalms—The Synagogue—The national hopes—The state after death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179-216


Arabia before Mahomet—The old religion—Confusion of worship—Allah—Judaism and Christianity in Arabia—Mahomet, early life—His religious impressions—The revelations—His preaching—Persecution—Trials; decides to leave Mecca— Mahomet at Medina—New religious union—Breach with Judaism and Christianity—Domestic—Conquest of Mecca—Mecca made the capital of Islam—Spread of Islam—The duties of the Moslem— The Koran—Islam a universal religion . . . . . . . . . . . . 217-242



The Aryans, their early home—Their civilisation described— Little known of their gods—Their worship was domestic . . . 243-255


The Aryans in Europe—The ancient Germans—The early German gods—The working religion—Later German religion—Iceland— The Eddas—The gods of the Eddas—The twilight of the gods . 256-273


People and land—Earliest religion; functional deities— Growth of Greek gods—Stones, animals, trees—Greek religion is local—Artistic tendency—Early Eastern influences— Homer—The Homeric gods—Worship in Homer—Omens—The state after death—Hesiod—The poets and the working religion—Rise of religious art—Festivals and games—Zeus and Apollo— Change of the Greek spirit in sixth century B.C.—New religious feeling; the mysteries—Religion and philosophy . . 274-304


Roman religion was different from Greek—The earliest gods of Rome are functional beings—The worship of these beings—The great gods—Sacred persons—Roman religion legal rather than priestly—Changes introduced from without—Etruria—Greek gods in Rome—The Graeco-Roman religion—Decay and confusion 305-323


I. The Vedic Religion

Relation of Indian to Aryan religion—The Rigveda—The Vedic gods—Hymns to the gods—To what stage does this religion belong?—It is primitive—It is advanced—In spite of many gods, a tendency to Monotheism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 324-337


II. Brahmanism

The caste system: the Brahmans—The growth of the sacred literature—Sacrifice—Practical life—Philosophy— Transmigration—Later developments . . . . . . . . . . . . . 338-352


III. Buddhism

The literature—Was there a personal founder?—The story of the founder—Is Buddhism a revolt against Brahmanism?—The Buddha—The doctrine—Buddhist morality—Nirvana—No gods— The order—Buddhism made popular—Conclusion—Buddhism is not a complete religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 353-380


Sources—The contents of the Zend-Avesta are composite— Zoroaster—Primitive religion of Iran—The call of Zarathustra—The doctrine—Its inconsistencies—Man is called to judge between the gods—This religion is essentially intolerant—Growth of Mazdeism—Organisation of the heavenly beings—The attributes of Ahura—Ancient testimonies to the Persian religion—The Vendidad: laws of purity—How this doctrine entered Mazdeism—Influence of Mazdeism on Judaism and in other directions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 381-408



State of Jewish religion at the Christian era—The teaching of Jesus—His person and work—Universalism of Christianity— The Apostle Paul—What Christianity received from Judaism— And from the Greek world—The different religions of Christian nations and the common Christianity . . . . . . . . 409-425


Tribal, national, and individual religion—This the central development—Has to be studied in nations—Periods of general advance in religion—Conditions of religious progress . . . . 426-434

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 435-440



The science to which this little volume is devoted is a comparatively new one. It is scarcely half a century since the attention of Western Europe began to fix itself seriously on the great religions of the East, and the study of these ancient systems aroused reflection on the great facts that the world possesses not one religion only, but several, nay, many religions, and that these exhibit both great differences and great resemblances. The agitation of mind then awakened by the thought that other faiths might be compared with Christianity, has to a large extent passed away; and on the other hand fresh fields of knowledge have been opened to the student of the worships of mankind. By new methods of research the religions of Greece and Rome have come to be known as they never were before; and all the other religions of which we formerly knew anything have been led to tell their stories in a new way. A new study—that of the earliest human life on the earth—has brought to light many primitive beliefs and practices, which seem to explain early religious ideas; and the accounts of missionaries and others about savage tribes now existing in different parts of the world, are seen to be full of a significance which was not noticed formerly. We are thus in a very different position from our fathers for studying the religion of the world as a whole. To them their own religion was the true one and all the others were false. Calvin speaks of the "immense welter of errors" in which the whole world outside of Christianity is immersed; it is unnecessary for him to deal with these errors, he can at once proceed to set forth the true doctrine. The belief of the early fathers of the Church, that all worships but those of Judaism and Christianity were directed to demons, and that the demons bore sway in them, practically prevailed till our own day; and it could not but do so, since no other religions than these were really known. That ignorance has ceased, and we are responsible for forming a view of the subject according to the light that has been given us.

The science of religion, though of such recent origin, has already passed beyond its earliest stage, as a reference even to its earlier and its later names will show. "Comparative Religion" was the title given at first to the combined study of various religions. What had to be done, it was thought, was to compare them. The facts about them had to be collected, the systems arranged according to the best information procurable, and then laid side by side, that it might be seen what features they had in common and what each had to distinguish it from the others. Work of this kind is still abundantly necessary. The collection of materials and the specifying of the similarities and dissimilarities of the various faiths will long occupy many workers.

Unity of all Religion.—But recent works on the religions of the world regarded as a whole have been called "histories." We have the well-known History of Religion of M. Chantepie de la Saussaye, now in its third edition, and the Comparative History of the Religions of Antiquity of M. Tiele. A history of religion may be either of two things. The word history may be used as in the term Natural History, to denote a reasoned account of this department of human life, without attempting any chronological sequence; or it may be used as when we speak of the History of the Romans, an attempt being made to tell the story of religion in the world in the order of time. In either case the use of the term "history" indicates that the study now aims at something more than the accumulation of materials and the pointing out of resemblances and analogies, namely, at arranging the materials at its command so as to show them in an organic connection. This, it cannot be doubted, is the task which the science of religion is now called to attempt. What every one with any interest in the subject is striving after, is a knowledge of the religions of the world not as isolated systems which, though having many points of resemblance, may yet, for all we know, be of separate and independent growth, but as connected with each other and as forming parts of one whole. Our science, in fact, is seeking to grasp the religions of the world as manifestations of the religion of the world.[1]

[Footnote 1: The above statement is criticised by Mr. L. H. Jordan in his excellent work, Comparative Religion, p. 485, but is in the main a true account of what has taken place. Mr. Jordan strongly holds that Comparative Religion is a science by itself, and ought to be distinguished from the History of Religion, though the latter is, of course, its necessary foundation.]

In rising to this conception of its task, the science of religion is only obeying the impulse which dominates every department of study in modern times. What every science is doing is to seek to show the unity of law amid the multiplicity of the phenomena with which it has to deal, to gather up the many into one, or rather to show how the one has given rise to the many. In the study of religion, if it be really a science, this impulse of all science must surely be felt. Here also we must cherish the conviction that an order does exist amid the apparent disorder, if we could but find it. We must believe that the religious beliefs and practices of mankind are not a mere chaos, not a mere incessant outburst of unreason, consistent only in that it has appeared in every age and every country of the world, but that they form a cosmos, and may be known, if we take the right way, as a part of human life from which reason has never been absent, and in which a growing purpose has fulfilled and still fulfils itself. Some theories, it is true, from which the world formerly hoped much, are not now relied on, and the present tendency is to abstain from any general doctrine of the subject, and to be content with careful collection and arrangement of the facts in special parts of the field. Caution is no doubt most needful in the attempt to form a view of this great study as a whole. Yet something of this kind is possible, and is beyond all doubt much called for. It is the aim of this little work not only to describe the leading features of the great religions, but also to set forth some of the results which appear to have been reached regarding the relation in which these systems stand to each other.

The Growth of Religion Continuous.—We shall not pretend to set out on this enterprise without any assumptions. The first and principal assumption we make is that in religion as in other departments of human life there has been a development from the beginning, even till now, and that the growth of religion has gone on according to the ordinary laws of human progress. This is a position which, begin the study at whatever point he may, the student of this subject will find himself compelled to take up, if he is not to renounce altogether the idea of understanding it as a whole. To understand anything means, to the thought of the present day, to know how it has come to be what it is; of any historical phenomenon at least it is certain that it cannot be understood except by tracing its history up to the root. We assume, therefore, until it be disproved, that in this as in other departments of human activity, growth has been continuous from the first. In every other branch of historical study, this assumption is made. The history of institutions is traced back in a continuous line to an age before there was any family or any such thing as property. The methods by which men have earned their subsistence on the earth are known equally far back; and there is no break in the development from the hooked stick to the steam plough. And should it not be the same in religion? Here also shall we not assume, until we find it proved to be incorrect, that there has been no break in the growth of ideas and practices from the earliest days till now, and that the highest religion of the present day is organically connected with that religion which man had at first? It is, indeed, in many ways far removed from the earliest religion, but what was most essential in the earliest belief still lives in it, and what was fittest to survive of its earliest motives, still prompts its worship. Should we adopt this view, we shall find many of the difficulties disappear which have frequently stood in the way of this study. When, according to the new tendency that seems to govern all modern thought, institutions and beliefs are regarded not as fixed things, but as things growing from something that was there before, and tending towards something that is coming, they cease to arouse contempt, or jealousy, or hatred. If we can regard religions as stages in the evolution of religion, then we have no motive either to depreciate or unduly to extol any of them. The earlier stages of the development will have a peculiar interest for us, just as we look with affection on the home of our ancestors even though we should not choose to dwell there. We shall not divide religions into the true one, Christianity, and the false ones, all the rest; no religion will be to us a mere superstition, nor shall we regard any as unguided by God. Feeling that we cannot understand our own religion aright without understanding those out of which it has been built up, we shall value these others for the part they have played in the great movement, and our own most of all, without which they could not be made perfect. In the light of this principle of growth we shall find good in the lowest, and shall see that the good and true rather than the evil and false, furnish the ultimate meaning of even the poorest systems.

We start then with the assumption that religion is a thing which has developed from the first, as law has, or as art has; and the best method we can follow, if it should prove practicable, will be to follow its movement from the beginning. We must not presume to hope that everything will be made clear, or that we shall meet with no religious phenomena to which we cannot assign their place in the development. We must remember that ground is often lost as well as won in human history, and that in religions as in nations degeneration frequently occurs as well as progress. We must not be too sure that we shall be able to find any plain path leading through the immeasurable forests of man's religious sentiments and practices. Yet we may at least expect to find evidence of the direction which on the whole the growth of religion has followed.

Preliminary Definition of Religion.—But, before we can set out on this inquiry, we are met by the question, What is it that we suppose to have been thus developed? In order to trace any process of evolution it is necessary to define that which is evolved; for it belongs to the very idea of evolution that the identity of the subject of it is not changed on the way up, but that the germ and the finished product are the same entity, only differing from each other in that the one has still to grow while the other is grown. Futile were it indeed to sketch a history of religion with the savage at one end of it and the Christian thinker at the other, if it could be said that in no point did the religion of the savage and that of the Christian coincide, but that the product was a thing of entirely different nature from the germ. It seems necessary, therefore, in the first place, to say what that is, of which we are to attempt the history; or in other words, to say what we mean by religion.

It must not be forgotten that an adequate definition of a thing which is growing can only be reached when the growth is complete. During its growth it is showing what it is, and its higher as well as its lower manifestations are part of its nature. The world has not yet found out completely, but is still in the course of finding out, what religion is. Any definition propounded at this stage must, therefore, be of an elementary and provisional character. I propose then as a working definition of religion in the meantime, that it is "The worship of higher powers." This appears at first sight a very meagre account of the matter; but if we consider what it implies, we shall find it is not so meagre. In the first place it involves an element of belief. No one will worship higher powers unless he believes that such powers exist. This is the intellectual factor. Not that the intellectual is distinguished in early forms of religion from the other factors, any more than grammar is distinguished by early man as an element of language. But something intellectual, some creed, is present implicitly even in the earliest worships. Should there be no belief in higher powers, true worship cannot continue. If it be continued in outward act, it has lost reality to the mind of the worshipper, and the result is an apparent or a sham religion, a worship devoid of one of the essential conditions of religion. This is true at every stage. But in the second place, these powers which are worshipped are "higher." Religion has respect, not to beings men regard as on a level with themselves or even beneath themselves, but to beings in some way above and beyond themselves, and whom they are disposed to approach with reverence. When objects appear to be worshipped for which the worshipper feels contempt, and which a moment afterwards he will maltreat or throw away, there also one of the essential conditions is absent, and such worship must be judged to fall short of religion. There may no doubt be some religion in it; the object he worships may appear to the savage, in whose mind there is little continuity, at one moment to be higher than himself and the next moment to be lower; but the result of the whole is something less than religion. And in the third place these higher powers are worshipped. That is to say, religion is not only belief in the higher powers but it is a cultivating of relations with them, it is a practical activity continuously directed to these beings. It is not only a thinking but also a doing; this also is essential to it. When worship is discontinued, religion ceases; a principle indeed not to be applied too narrowly, since the apparent cessation of worship may be merely its transition to another, possibly a higher form; but religion is not present unless there be not only a belief in higher powers but an effort of one kind or another to keep on good terms with them.

Criticism of other Definitions.—What has now been said will enable us to judge of several of the definitions of religion which have been put before the world in recent years. Without going back to the definitions offered by philosophers who wrote before the scientific study of our subject had begun, and limiting ourselves to those which have been propounded in the interests of our science, we notice that several make religion consist in an intellectual activity.[2] Thus Mr. Max Mueller[3] says that "Religion is a mental faculty or disposition which independent of, nay, in spite of, sense and reason, enables man to apprehend the Infinite under different names, and under varying disguises. Without that faculty ... no religion would be possible." To this definition there are various strong objections. It implies that there is only one way in which men come to believe in higher beings; they arrive at that belief by finding something which transcends them and which they cannot understand; i.e. by an intellectual process. It may be doubted whether the sense of disappointment with the finite is the only road, or even a common road, to belief in gods. Mr. Mueller's omission, moreover, from his definition, of the practical side of religion, of the element of worship, is a fatal objection to it. Belief and worship are inseparable sides of religion, which does not come fully into existence till both are present. In a later work[4] Mr. Mueller admits the force of this objection, urged by several scholars, to his definition, and modifies it as follows: "Religion consists in the perception of the infinite under such manifestations as are able to influence the moral character of man." In this form the definition recognises that worship, the practical activity in which man's moral character shows itself in fear, gratitude, love, contrition, is an essential part of religion, and that perceptions of the infinite apart from this are only one side of it. His original definition, however, has played too large a part in the history of our subject to be left without careful notice. The same objection applies to Mr. Herbert Spencer's account of the matter. Mr. Spencer finds the basis of all religion in the inscrutableness of the Power which the universe manifests to us. The belief common to all religions, he holds, is the presence of something which passes comprehension. The idea of the absolute and unconditioned he regards as accompanying all our consciousness of things conditioned and limited, and as being not a negative notion, not merely the denial of limits, but a positive one. The unconditioned is that of which all our thoughts and ideas are manifestations, but which we never can know, with regard to which we cannot affirm anything but that it exists. This definition like that last noticed traces religion to the defects in man's knowledge, and rather to a negative than a positive element in his experience. It also comes under the objection that it traces religion rather to an intellectual than a practical motive, and omits the element of worship.

[Footnote 2: Though Mr. Tylor defines religion as the "belief in spiritual beings," he is not to be charged with making it too much a matter of the intellect. He uses the word belief in a wide sense as including the practices it involves. In the word "spiritual," however, Mr. Tylor brings into the definition his theory of Animism, and thus makes it unserviceable for those who do not adopt that theory.]

[Footnote 3: Introduction to the Science of Religion, 1882, p. 13. The definition was put forward in the year 1873, and in his lectures on the Origin of Religion, 1882, Mr. Mueller adhered to it as being in the main sound (p. 23).]

[Footnote 4: Natural Religion, 1888, pp. 188, 193.]

Other scholars have explained religion as the action of the curiosity of the human mind, of that impulse which prompts man to investigate the causes of things, and specially to seek for the first cause of all things. Here we touch what is certainly to be recognised as an invariable feature of religion; it always professes to explain the world, and to bring unity to man's mind by clearing up the problems which perplex him, and affording him a commanding point of view, from which he may see all the parts of the world and of life fall into their places. This, however, does not tell us what religion itself is. This curiosity, this impulse to know, are not specifically religious; they belong rather to philosophy. Other motives than those connected with knowledge entered from the first into man's worship. Curiosity impelled him to seek the first cause of things; in religion he saw something that promised to explain the world to him, and to explain him to himself. But it was something more than curiosity that made him regard that cause, when found, as a god, and pay it reverence and sacrifice. What is the motive of worship? Wonder, no doubt, is always present in it, but what is there in it beyond wonder? No definition of religion can be regarded as complete in which the motive of worship is left undetermined. That is of the essence of the matter. There must be a moral as well as an intellectual quality which is characteristic of religion. What is religion morally? Acts of worship may be specified in which every conceivable moral quality seeks to express itself. The most contradictory motives, pride and anger and revenge, as well as fear or hunger or contrition, enter into such acts. But if religion is a matter of sentiment as well as of outward posture, these acts of worship cannot all be equally entitled to the name, and something is wanted to complete our definition.

Fuller Definition.—Let us add what seems to be wanting; and say that religion is the "worship of higher powers from a sense of need"! This will remind the reader of Schleiermacher's definition—"a sense of infinite dependence." It was always objected to that definition, that it made religion no more than a sentiment, a mood, but that besides this, it is both belief and action. But the truth Schleiermacher urged was one of essential importance to the matter. Belief in gods and acts of worship paid to them do not constitute religion unless the sentiment, the sense of need, be also there. These three together, feeling, belief, and will expressing itself in action, constitute religion both in the lowest and in the highest levels of civilisation.

A belief must exist, to take a step farther, that the being worshipped is capable of supplying what the worshipper requires. Men do not pray nor bring offerings to beings they suppose to be incapable of attending to them, or powerless to do them any good or evil. It is implied in every act of worship that the being addressed is a power who is able to do for the worshipper what he cannot do for himself. It is his inability to help himself or to supply his own needs that sends the worshipper to his god, who has a power he himself has not. If he could help himself he would not need religion, if his life were either perfectly prosperous and even, so that there was nothing left to wish for, or perfectly miserable and unsuccessful, so that there was no room for hope, he would not resort to higher powers; but neither of these two being the case, his life on the contrary being a mixed lot of good and evil, in which there are blessings his own forces cannot secure, and dangers from which no efforts of his own can save him, and the belief having arisen within him, in what way we need not now inquire, that higher powers exist who can, if they will, defend and prosper him, in this way he has religion, he keeps up intercourse with higher powers. And thus religion is not necessarily, even in its most primitive form, a manifestation of mere selfishness. Though gifts are offered which are expected to please the higher beings, and though benefits are asked of which the worshipper is urgently in need, such transactions are not necessarily sordid any more than similar applications between human beings, between two friends, or between a parent and a child. Even the savage living in entire isolation, at war with every one and conscious of no needs but those of food and shelter, will not seek benefits from his god without some feeling of attachment, nor without some sense of strengthened friendship should the benefit be granted him. When once this sense of friendship has arisen, religion is present, the man has come to be in living relation with a higher power, whom he conceives, no doubt, after his own likeness, but nevertheless as greater than he is.

This then is what we conceive to be the essence of religion—the worship of higher powers, from a sense of need; and it is of this that we are to trace the history though only in the barest outlines. The definition itself suggests in what way the development may be expected to work itself out. According as the needs change their character, of which men are conscious, so will their religion also change. The gradual elevation and refinement of human needs, in the growth of civilisation, is the motive force of the development of religion. The deities themselves, their past history and their present character, the sacrifices offered to them, and the benefits aimed at in intercourse with them, all must grow up as man himself grows, from rudeness to refinement and from caprice to order. At its lowest, religion is perhaps an individual affair between the savage and his god, and has to do with material individual needs. At a higher stage (not always nor even commonly later in time) it is the affair of a family, of a tribe, or of a combination of tribes, and with each of these extensions the requests grow broader and less personal which have to be presented to the deity; the religion becomes a common worship for public ends. The needs of the nomad are other than those of the settled agriculturist, and those of the countryman differ from those of the citizen, and those of the Laplander from those of the Negro, and these differences will be reflected in the aspect of the deities and in the observances celebrated in their honour. When art begins to stir within a nation, the gods have to adapt themselves to the new taste. As society grows more humane, cruel and sanguinary religious observances, though they may long keep a hold of the ignorant and excitable, lose their support in the public conscience and are sentenced to change or to extinction. And when a new consciousness of personal human dignity springs up, and men come to feel the infinite value and the infinite responsibility of personal life, the old public religion is felt to be cold and distant, and religious services of a more personal and more intimate kind are sought for.

Thus religion and civilisation advance together; according as the civilisation is in any people, so is its religion. It is vain, broadly speaking, to look for the combination of primitive manners and customs with a lofty spiritual faith. The converse it is true may often seem to take place. Religion, or rather religious creeds and practices, often seem to lag behind civilisation and to maintain themselves long after the reason and the conscience of a people has condemned them. That is because religion is what man values most in his life, and he is loath to change observances in which his affections are powerfully engaged. But religion must reflect the ideals of the society in which it exists; the needs which the society feels at the time must be the burden of its prayers; its sacrifices must be such as the general sentiment allows; its gods, to retain the allegiance of the community, must alter with time and prove themselves alive and in touch with their people. And if it be the case that civilisation has on the whole advanced upwards from the first; if, as Mr. Tylor assures us,[5] man began with his lowest and has, in spite of occasional declines, on the whole been improving ever since, then of religion also the same will be true. It also will be found to begin with its rudest forms and gradually to grow better. Religion in fact is the inner side of civilisation, and expresses the essential spirit of human life in various ages and nations. The religion of a race is the truest expression of its character, and reflects most faithfully its attitude and aims and policy. The religion of an age shows what at that time constituted the object of man's aspiration and endeavour, as older hopes grew pale and new hopes rose on his sight. Thus the study of the religions of the world is the study of the very soul of its history; it is the study of the desires and aspirations which throughout the course of history men have not been ashamed, nay, which they have been proud and determined to confess. No more fascinating study could possibly engage us. It is true that the requirements for the adequate treatment of the subject are such as few indeed can hope to possess. He who would treat the history of religion aright ought to know thoroughly the whole of the history of civilisation; he should have explored the vast domain of savage life and thought that has recently been opened up to us, and he should be at home in every century of every nation from the beginning of history. At a time like this, when new light is being poured every year on every part of our subject, no statement of it can be more than tentative and partial. The student will be directed at each step to sources of fuller information.

[Footnote 5: Primitive Culture, chap. ii.]


Outlines of the History of Religion to the Spread of the Universal Religions. By Dr. C. P. Tiele. Translation. In Truebner's Oriental Series. Very condensed and in somewhat technical language; but the work of one of the greatest masters of the subject. A full Bibliography is appended to the various chapters.

Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte, von P. D. Chantepie de la Saussaye. Freiburg, 1887. The English translation has an altered title, viz. Manual of the Science of Religion, Longmans, 1891. The Third Edition (1905) is practically a different book, and consists of studies, each by an expert, of the various religions.

Religious Systems of the World (Sonnenschein, 1892) is a full collection of descriptions of the various religions, by persons specially acquainted with them; of very unequal merit.

Mr. Max Mueller's works cited above, also his more recent volumes of Gifford Lectures, contain a number of general discussions.

See also the Gifford Lectures of the late Mr. Ed. Caird, and the late Prof. Tiele.

Pfleiderer's Philosophy of Religion, 4 vols.

Puenjer, Geschichte der christl. Religionsphilosophie, 2 vols. 1880-83.

Rauwenhoff, Wijsbegeerde van den Godsdienst, 2 vols. 1887 (also in German).

M. Jastrow, The Study of Religion, 1901.

L. H. Jordan, Comparative Religion, its Origin and Growth, 1905.

Revue de l'histoire des religions, edited by M. J. Reville.

Archiv fuer Religionswissenschaft, edited by Alb. Dieterich.

Reinach, Orpheus, Histoire Generale des Religions, 1909.

Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. i. A-Art, 1908.

The New Schaff-Heizog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge has excellent articles on the various religions.

Louis H. Jordan, Comparative Religion, 1905. An account of the progress of our study, with extensive bibliography.

Galloway, The Principles of Religious Development, a psychological and philosophical study, 1909.

Proceedings of the Oxford International Congress of the History of Religions, 1908. 2 vols. The addresses of the Presidents of the Sections give a record of the most recent progress in every part of our study. Of these see, for this chapter, Count Goblet d'Alviella, vol. ii. pp. 365 sqq. on the Method and Scope of the History of Religion.


Origin of Civilisation.—Every inhabited country, we are assured by ethnologists, was once peopled by savages; the stone age everywhere came before the age of metals. Antecedent to every civilisation that has sprung up on the earth is this dim period, the period of the cave dwellers and afterwards of the lake dwellers. There can be no chronology nor any exact knowledge of these early men who lived by hunting, with stone weapons, animals which are now extinct. How from his earliest and most helpless state man came in various ways to help himself; how he discovered fire, how he improved his weapons and invented tools, how he learned to tame certain of the animals on which he had formerly made war, and instead of wandering about the world came to settle in one place and till the soil, and how family life came to be instituted, and the father as well as the mother to act as guardian to the children; all that is a vast history, which must be read in its own place. Immense, indeed, were the labours early man had to undergo, in wrestling his way up from a life like that of the brutes to a life in which his own distinctive nature could begin to display itself.

It was from the savage state that civilisation was by degrees produced. The theory that man was originally civilised and humane, and that it was by a fall, by a degeneration from that earliest condition, that the state of savagery made its appearance, is now generally abandoned. There may be instances of such degeneration having taken place; but on the whole, the conviction now obtains that civilisation is the result of progressive development, and was the result man conquered for himself by his age-long struggles with his environment. That development did not take place in all lands alike. In some it proceeded faster than in others, and its advances were due oftener to propagation from without, than to unaided growth from within; as one race came in contact with another new ideas were aroused of the possibilities of life in various directions. In some lands the development has scarcely taken place at all. There remain to this day races who are judged to be still in the primitive condition. Not all savage tribes are thought to be in that condition. The bushmen of Australia, the Andaman Islanders, and others,[1] are found to be in such a state in point of habits and acquirements that they must be considered as races which have fallen from a higher position, and present instances of degeneration. But a multitude of savage tribes remain in all quarters of the globe who do not appear to have been thus enfeebled, and who are held to be still in that state in which the dwellers in all parts of the earth were before what we now call civilisation began. They are races among whom civilisation did not spring up, as it did in China or in Peru. From these races we may learn in a general way, though in this great caution is required, what the ancestors of all the civilised nations were. It confirms this conclusion that we find in every civilised nation a number of phenomena, practices, beliefs, stories, which the mental condition of the nation as we know it does not account for, which manifestly are not outgrowths of the civilisation, but relics of an older state of life, which civilisation has not entirely obliterated; and that these practices, beliefs, and stories can be exactly matched by those of the savage races. The inference is drawn that civilisation has sprung from savage life, that, as Mr. Tylor says, "the savage state represents the early condition of mankind, out of which the higher culture has gradually been developed by causes still in operation." To trace the history of civilisation, therefore, it is necessary to go back to the earliest knowledge we have of human life upon the earth, and to ask what germs and rudiments can be discovered among savages of law, of institutions, of arts and sciences. Such works as Maine's Ancient Law, Tylor's Primitive Culture, Lubbock's Origin of Civilisation, show how fruitful this method is, and what floods of light it pours on the history of society.

[Footnote 1: Instances in Tylor, Primitive Culture, chap. ii., where the theory of degeneration is fully discussed.]

Now what is true of civilisation generally will be true also of religion, which is one of its principal elements. If every country was once inhabited by savages, then the original religion of every country must have been a religion of savages; and in the later religion there will be features which have been carried on from the earlier one. This, indeed, we must in any case expect to find. No new religion can enter on its career on a soil quite unprepared, on which no gods have been worshipped before. (That would imply that there had been races in the world without religion, on which we shall speak presently.) A new faith has always to begin by adjusting itself to that which it found in possession of the soil, and it always adopts what it can of the old system. We should expect then that the great religions of the world should exhibit features which do not belong to their own structure, but which they inherited, with or against their will, from their uncivilised predecessors. And that is the case, as we shall see afterwards, with all the great religions. They are all full of survivals of the savage state. The old religious associations cling to the face of a land and refuse to be uprooted, whatever changes take place among the gods above. Superstitious practices continue among a race long after a truth has been preached there with which they are entirely inconsistent. Stories are long told about the gods, quite out of keeping with their character in the theology of the new faith, pointing to a time when not so much was expected of a god. In Mr. Lang's Myth, Ritual, and Religion, the reader will find an admirable collection of material showing how the popular elements of an old religion survive in a new one in which they are quite out of place. There is none of the great religions to which this does not apply.

Now, if it be the case that each of the great religions has been built upon a primitive religion formerly occupying the same ground, it might appear that we must, in order to understand any of the great religions, study first, in each case, the savage system which it superseded. It would be a serious prospect for the student if he had to make a separate study of a set of savage beliefs as an approach to each of the ten or twelve great religions. But this, as we shall see afterwards, is not the case. There is a great family likeness in the religions of savages, and we may even allow ourselves to speak not of the religions but of the religion of early races. In the next chapter an attempt will be made to describe that religion; but we may say here that there are some features which are generally, though by no means always found in it, and that these features may be regarded for practical purposes as the religion of the primitive world, which everywhere was the forerunner of the great systems. This is the jungle, as it were, overspreading all the early world, out of which like giant trees the great religions arose, and from which they derived and still derive a nourishment they cannot disown. Indeed, we may go much farther. In some of their leading doctrines, the great religions show the most striking affinity with one another. China and Egypt have some doctrines in common which are also found in the religion of the Incas; the Aryan and the Semitic religions know them too. Should these doctrines be found in the religion of savages, it will at least be a question whether the great religions all alike borrowed and developed them from that source, or whether any other explanation of the case can be found. Evidently we cannot make any progress with our subject till we have taken a general view of this religion of savages and come to some conclusions regarding it.

A few words must be said, by way of preface to this subject, on the mental habits of early races. We cannot hope to understand the thoughts of those people without knowing how they came to have such thoughts, how they were accustomed to think. Now of the savage we may say that he is just like a child who has not yet learned to think correctly, or to know things truly. He is making all kinds of experiments in thought, and being led into all sorts of errors and confusion; and if the child takes years, the savage may take millenniums, to get free from these. He does not know the difference between one thing and another, between himself and the lower animals, or between an animal and a water-spout. He does not know how far things are away from him, nor what makes them move and act as they do; why, for example, the sun and moon go round the sky, or why the wind blows. He cannot tell why things have this or that peculiar appearance; why, for example, the rabbit has no tail, why the sky is red in the morning, why some stones are like men. And he wants to know all these things, and is for ever asking questions. But almost any answer will do for him, the first explanation that turns up is accepted; and while a child finds out pretty soon if he has been told wrong, the savage is so ignorant that he cannot see the absurdest explanation to be false, but sticks to it seriously and goes on using it. There is no consistency in the contents of his mind, and inconsistency does not distress him. He has no classes and orders of things, but considers each thing by itself as it occurs, without putting it in its place with reference to other things. He has no idea of what is possible and what is impossible; these words in fact would have no meaning for him, since he is not aware of any laws by which events are governed. His imagination, accordingly, is not under any restraint; he hits upon all kinds of grotesque theories, and, having no critical faculty to test them, he repeats them and seriously believes them. The stories of the nursery, in which there are no impossibilities, in which a man may visit the sun and the winds in their homes and find them at their broth, in which the beasts can speak, in which the witch or the fairy knows at any distance what is going on and can turn up just at the nick of time, in which ghosts walk, in which anything can be changed into anything, a hero going through half a dozen transformations to escape from so many dangers,—these are to the savage not incredible nor foolish tales, to him they are very real, and very serious matters. He lives, in fact, we are told by the authorities on the subject, in the myth-making period of the world; in the period when such incidents as occur in the tales of fairyland and in the stories of mythology are matter of common belief, and even, it is thought, of common experience, so that when the story is put in a good form, it lives and is believed as a true record of what has actually taken place.

On one feature of the savage imagination in particular we must fix our attention. The savage regards all things as animated,—as animated with a life like his own. Of his own life he has no very exalted idea; he has no notion how different he really is from anything around him; as he is himself, so he supposes other beings to be also, not only the animals but the trees and all that moves and even what does not move, even rocks and stones. He is living himself; he regards all these as living too. He imagines them like himself, and supposes them to have feelings and passions like his own, to reason as he does, and even if he is told they speak as he does, that is not incredible to him. Thus he lives in a world of infinite confusion, in which there are no laws, no classes of beings, no means of knowing what may happen, or of verifying any statement, where every effort of fancy may be believed. The mental world of savages has been compared to the ravings of a whole world turned lunatic. We survey it, however, without horror, because we know that reason is not unseated there, but striving towards her kingdom. That is the experience that had to be gone through, these are part of the experiments, such as every child has still to make, by which the knowledge of the world is gradually arrived at.

Amid this apparent universal confusion a certain consistency of view is to be observed. It might be expected that the savage habit of thought, acting independently in different parts of the world, would lead to an infinite number of divergent and inconsistent views of the nature of things and of man's place in the world. But this is not found to be the case. Mr. Lang accounts as follows for the diffusion of the same stories all over the world: "An ancient identity of mental status, and the working of similar mental forces at the attempt to explain the same phenomena, will account without any theory of borrowing, or of transmission of myth, or of original unity of race, for the world-wide diffusion of many mythical conceptions." Mr. Tylor says that the same imaginative processes regularly recur, that world-wide myths show the regularity and the consistency of the human imagination. M. Reville, in his Religions des peuples non-civilises, remarks that the character of savage religions is everywhere the same; that only the forms vary.

Now of the things that all savages possess, certainly religion is one. It is practically agreed that religion, the belief in and worship of gods, is universal at the savage stage; and the accounts which some travellers have given of tribes without religion are either set down to misunderstanding, or are thought to be insufficient to invalidate the assertion that religion is a universal feature of savage life.

How did it get there? How comes it that men so near the lowest human state, so devoid of all that has been since acquired, should yet be found to have this mode of thought universally diffused among them?

It has been ascribed to a primitive revelation. At the beginning, it is said, God, with the other gifts He gave to man, gave him religion; that is to say, gave him not only a disposition for reverence and piety, but a certain amount of religious knowledge, so that he set out with a stock of religious ideas which were not elaborated by his own efforts, but bestowed on him ready made. It is impossible, however, to conceive how this could be done. If the religion given at first was a lofty and pure one,—and no other need be thought of in such a connection,—then it implies a condition of human life far above the struggles and uncertainties of savage existence; and both the civilisation and the religion must have been lost afterwards. But how could all mankind forget a pure religion? Mankind in that case cannot have been fit for the possession of it; it was given prematurely. No. The history of early civilisation is the history of a struggle in which man has everything to conquer, and in which he is not remembering something he had lost, but advancing by new routes to a land he never reached before. And if civilisation was won for the first time, so was religion.

We may also put aside the theory that man had religion from the first as an innate idea, that he found information all ready and prepared in his mind of what it was proper to do in this direction, and how it was to be done. There was indeed a suggestion from within; but it was due not to any special faculty lying outside the essential structure of human nature, but to the constitution of the human mind itself. We cannot go into the philosophical question of the basis of religion in the human mind.[2] It would seem to be a psychological necessity. At all stages of his existence the world of which man is aware outside him, and the world of feelings and desires within him are in conflict. But the conviction lives within him that in some way they can be brought into harmony, and that a power exists which rules in both of these discordant realms and in which, if he can identify himself with it, he also will escape from their discord. If this be so, then this necessity to seek after a higher power must have begun to operate as soon as human consciousness appeared. The savage certainly was never unacquainted with the discrepancy between what he wanted and what the world would give him, between the inner man so full of desires and plans, and that outward nature which denied him his desires and thwarted his plans, and before which he felt so feeble and insecure. He also could not but be driven, if his life was to go on at all on any tolerable basis, to believe in something that had to do both with the world outside him and with the world of his heart, in a being which both had sympathy with his desires and power to give effect to them outwardly.

[Footnote 2: See on this subject Prof. Edward Caird's Gifford Lectures, The Evolution of Religion, 1893. Galloway, The Principles of Religious Development.]

The whole of the early world did entertain such a belief. This is the first and the most important instance of uniformity of thought at a stage through which every nation once passed; all men at that stage believe in gods. We will not refuse the name of religion to this side of savage life, even should the needs be low and material which send the savage to his god, though his god be a being who in us would excite the very opposite of reverence, and though his treatment of his god be far from what to us seems worthy, or even though he strove to appease a multitude of spirits which he conceived as flitting about him, before he came to form a settled relation of confidence with one being whom he took for his own god. Where the sense of need has sent a human being to hold intercourse with a higher power, there we hold religion is making its appearance. And if this is universally the case among men at the savage stage, then religion is universal among the ancestors of all nations; it did not need to be invented when kings and priests appeared and wanted it as an instrument for their own purposes; it was there before there were any kings or priests, and is an inheritance which has come down to all mankind from the time when human intelligence first turned to the effort to understand the world.


For this and the three following chapters

J. B. Tylor, Anthropology, Third Edition, 1891.

J. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, Fourth Edition, 1903.

Frazer, The Golden Bough, Third Edition, 1900. A new edition is now appearing in parts.

A. Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, new edition, 1899.

Th. Achelis, in De la Saussaye.

Waitz und Gerland, Anthropologie der Naturvoelker, 1859-72.

Brinton, Religions of Primitive Peoples, 1897.

The reports of travellers and missionaries are, of course, important.


We must now make some attempt to set forth the principal features of the religion of savages. It is an attempt of some difficulty; for savage religion is an immense and bewildering jungle of all manner of extraordinary growths. It is described in detail in large books and if we try to sum it up in a short statement, we may be told that essential features have been omitted. No one set of savages has anything that can be called a system, and different sets of savages are not alike. For the present purpose we are obliged to include under the name, tribes who occupy various positions in the scale of human advancement, and tribes in all sorts of geographical positions, in hot climates and in cold, both rude savages and those who are nobler; and these will, of course, have a variety of ideas and needs, and in so far, different religions. After reading such a book as Mr. Frazer's Golden Bough, or turning over the pages of Waitz and Gerland's Anthropologie der Naturvoelker, one is inclined to regard it as a hopeless task to reduce savage religion to any compact statement.

Mr. Tylor's orderly collections, in his great book Primitive Culture, of materials bearing on different features of early religion are a help for which the student cannot be sufficiently thankful. After all, it is not the whole of savage religion that we are responsible for here, but only those parts of it that grew and survived in higher faiths. Remembering what has been said as to the uniformity of savage thought amid its great variety of forms, and looking for those parts of it which have proved to have life in them, rather than for what is merely curious and grotesque, we may venture on our task not without hope. In the present chapter we shall inquire what beings savages worship as gods. Of these we shall find that there are several classes; and it will be necessary to notice the great discussions which have arisen on the question which of these classes of deities was first worshipped by man. The objects worshipped by men in low stages of civilisation may be arranged in four classes, viz.—

1. Parts of nature (a) great, (b) small. 2. Spirits of ancestors and other spirits. 3. Objects supposed to be haunted by spirits (fetish-worship). 4. A Supreme Being.

1. Nature-worship.—It is not difficult to realise why early man turned to the great elements of nature as beings who could help him, and whom he ought, therefore, to cultivate. The farther we go back in civilisation, the less protection has man against the weather, the more do his subsistence and his comfort depend on the action of the sun, the winds, the rain. If, according to the habits of early thought, he conceived these beings as living like himself and as guided by feelings and motives similar to his own, he could not fail to wish to open up communication with them. That simple view, that they were living beings with feelings like his own, was enough to go upon. In his anxieties for food or warmth he could not fail to think of the beings who, he had observed, had power to supply him with these comforts, of the rain which he had noticed was able to make food grow, of the sun whose warmth he knew. The thunderstorm was a being who had power to put an end to a long drought; the winds could break the trees, could dry up the wet earth, or could bring rain. Heaven was over all, and the Earth was the supporter and fertile producer of all; from her all life came. The moon as well as the sun was a friendly power, nay, in some climates, more friendly. Fire was a living being certainly, on whom much depended; and so was the great lake or the ocean. This is what M. Reville calls the great Nature-worship, in comparison with the minor Nature-worship to be noticed presently.

We do not now enter on the subject of mythology; that is to say, of the names men very early began to give to the great natural objects of worship, the characters they ascribed to them, the stories they told about them. That process of myth-making began very early, and is to be found at work in every part of the world. But at first it was simply the natural being itself, conceived as living, that was worshipped, not a spirit or a person thought to dwell in it. Of this, abundant evidence has survived in the great religions. Jupiter is just the sky, the Greek god Helios is just the sun, and the goddess Selene the moon. In China heaven itself is worshipped to this day. The Babylonians worshipped the stars. The Vedic gods are primarily the elements. From savage life examples of this earliest state of matters can also be quoted, though mythology has nearly everywhere greatly confused it. The Mincopies adore the sun as a beneficent deity, the moon as an inferior god. To the Natchez the sun is the supreme god; with some tribes of North America the chief god is heaven blowing, the sky with a wind in it, what Longfellow calls the "Great Spirit" or blowing. The Incas invoked together the Creator and the Sun and Thunder. Thunder was one of the great gods of the Germans. The Samoyede bows to the Sun every morning and every evening and says. "When thou arisest I also arise; when thou settest I also betake myself to rest." To the Ojibways Fire is a divine being, to be well entertained, with whom no liberties must be taken. In every land men are to be found who worship the Earth as a great deity, calling her by her own name and serving her with suitable rites. In the Prometheus of Aeschylus the hero addresses his appeal as follows to the beings he regards as gods of old race who will sympathise with him against the upstart Zeus:—

Ether of Heaven and Winds untired of wing, Rivers whose fountains fail not, and thou Sea, Laughing in waves innumerable! O Earth, All-mother!—Yea and on the Sun I call, Whose orb scans all things; look on me and see How I, a god, am wronged by gods. Lewis Campbell, line 85 sq.

The minor Nature-worship has to do with rivers and springs, with trees and groves, with crops and fruits, with rocks and stones, and with the lower animals. Here also we must bear in mind the habit of mind of early man, who regarded all things as animated and as like himself. It was not necessary for one who thought in this way to suppose that the spring was haunted by a nymph or the oak inhabited by a dryad, before he felt that the spring or the oak had a claim on him, and brought offerings to secure their friendship. The Nile and the Ganges did not become sacred by having a mythical being added to them as their spirit; they were themselves sacred beings. Every country is studded with names which reveal to the scholar the primeval sanctity of the spots they belong to; the mountain, the grove, and the individual tree, the rocky gorge, the rock, the grassy knoll, each was once an object of reverence. Britain is full of sacred wells, which once received prayers and offerings. There is no animal that has not once been worshipped. A marked feature of primitive life also is the worship of nature not in its particular objects but in its living processes. In a multitude of curious rites, some of which still survive in local usages, and have only recently been explained, primitive man brought himself into relations with nature in its growth, decay, and resurrection. He sympathised with it and imitated it, and he thus sought to make himself sure of the benefits which he saw bestowed by some power which he apprehended in its processes and believed able to further him.

2. Ancestor-worship.—A set of beings of a very different kind comes next. If man found in the world which he beheld outside him a number of objects he could make gods, his domestic experience forced him to consider certain beings of a different kind, of whom the outward world could tell him nothing. The worship of the dead, of ancestors, is diffused throughout nearly the whole of antiquity, it is practised by most savages. Man at an early stage does not fully realise the meaning of death. He interprets death after the analogy of dreams, in which he judges that the spirit leaves the body and traverses distant regions, coming back to the body again when the journey is ended. A vision is to him an instance of the same thing. He sees a friend, who, he afterwards learns, was far from him at the time, and he judges that it was the spirit of his friend which visited him. Thus there arises in his mind the conception of a human spirit which is able to leave the body and dwell at a distance from it. It is called by various names,—the shade, the image, the heart, as perhaps when Elisha says his heart went with Gehazi when he went to meet Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings v. 26), the breath, the soul. When the breath or spirit goes away and stays away (in spite of efforts made to bring it back) the man dies. But the spirit is not dead. It has gone away and is staying somewhere else. The spirit resembles the body in shape, but it is of a thin and light consistence, and is able to move about and to pass through the smallest openings, to make unpleasant noises, and to cause its presence to be felt in a variety of ways. In the very earliest times, the savage regards the spirit which has left the house as an enemy, and uses a variety of precautions to keep it from coming back to trouble him (vampires, ghosts, lemures). Whether from such fear or from more liberal motives, much is done to please the spirits of the departed and to increase their comfort in the abodes to which they have gone. At their burial or cremation all they may be supposed to want where they are going, i.e. the things they used on earth, are made to accompany them; food and weapons are placed beside them; servants are killed whose spirits are to wait on them, even a wife, voluntarily or without being asked, gives up her earthly life to accompany her husband. Offerings of food and drink are made to them afterwards, prayers are addressed to them, memorials of them, of various kinds, are preserved in the houses they occupied.

It was the universal belief of the early world that the person continued to exist after the death of the body; and this furnished the materials for a religion which was more widely prevalent in antiquity than the worship of any god. In some forms of it, indeed, the spirit appears to have been treated as an enemy, and this worship might be judged to fall short of religion, which is the cultivation, not the avoidance, of intercourse with higher powers. The savage has no hope from the spirit, and does not seek his intercourse. But in most forms of the belief in the continued life of the departed, other sentiments than fear prevail; natural affection is felt for the lost relative; the ancestor represents the family, to which the individual is called to subordinate and to some extent even to sacrifice himself; the spirit of the dead is the upholder of a family tradition which the living must hold sacred. Even in those cases in which nothing but fear is apparent, these latter sentiments may also be to some extent operative.

3. Fetish-worship.—The early world has still another kind of deity. In the case of all those we have considered, the god stands in some respect above the worshipper; man reverences the sun, spirit, or animal, for some quality in them that is admirable or that gives them a hold over him; they are in some ways beyond him. Among certain sets of savages, however, notably in South Africa, this feature of religion partially disappears, and objects are reverenced not for any intrinsic quality in them that makes them worthy of regard, but because of a spirit which is supposed to be connected with them. Stones, trees, twigs, pieces of bark, roots, corn, claws of birds, teeth, skin, feathers, articles of human manufacture, any conceivable object, will be held in reverence by the savage and regarded as embodying a spirit. Anything that strikes his fancy as being out of the common he will take up and add to his museum of objects, each of which has in it a hidden power. That power, be it repeated, is not connected with the natural quality of the object, but is due to a spirit which has come to reside in it, and which may very possibly leave it again. Having chosen this deity and set it up for worship, the man can use it as he thinks fit. He addresses prayers to it and extols its virtues; but should his enterprise not prosper, he will cast his deity aside as useless, and cease to worship it; he will address it with torrents of abuse, and will even beat it, to make it serve him better. It is a deity at his disposal, to serve in the accomplishment of his desires; the individual keeps gods of his own to help him in his undertakings.

The name "fetishism," by which this kind of worship is known, is of Portuguese origin; it is derived from feitico, "made," "artificial" (compare the old English fetys, used by Chaucer); and this term, used of the charms and amulets worn in the Roman Catholic religion of the period, was applied by the Portuguese sailors of the eighteenth century to the deities they saw worshipped by the negroes of the West Coast of Africa. De Brosses, a French savant of last century, brought the word fetishism into use as a term for the type of religion of the lowest races. The word has given rise to some confusion, having been applied by Comte and other writers to the worship of the heavenly bodies and of the great features of nature. It is best to limit it, as has been done above, to the worship of such natural objects as are reverenced not for their own power or excellence but because they are supposed to be occupied each by a spirit.

Can this be called religion? In the full sense of the term it cannot. We should remember that it is not the casual object, but the spirit connected with it that the savage worships; but even then we shall be obliged to hold that the fetish worshipper is rather seeking after religion than actually in possession of it.

4. A Supreme Being.—Is it necessary to add another class of deity to these three, and to say that besides nature-gods and spirits early man also worshipped a Supreme Being above all these? In most savage religions there is a principal deity to whom the others are subordinate. But if we carefully examine one by one the supreme gods of these religions, we shall find reason to doubt whether they really have a common character so as to form a class by themselves. Many of them are nature gods who have outgrown the other deities of that class and come to occupy an isolated position. The North American Indians, as we saw, worship the Great Spirit, the heaven with its breath, to whom sun and moon and other ordinances of nature act as ministers. In many cases heaven is the highest god. In others again the sun is supreme. Ukko the great god of the Finns is a heaven- and rain-god. Perkunas the god of the Lithuanians is connected with thunder. On the other hand there are instances in which the supreme god appears to be a different being from the nature-god. The Samoyedes worship the sun and moon and the spirits of other parts of nature; but they also believe in a good spirit who is above all. The Supreme Being of the islands of the Pacific bears in New Zealand the name of Tangaroa, and is spoken of in quite metaphysical terms as the uncreated and eternal Creator. Here we may suspect Christian influence. With the Zulus Unkulunkulu the Old-old one might be supposed to be a kind of first cause. But on looking nearer we find he is distinctly a man, the first man, the common ancestor; beyond which idea speculation does not seem to go. Among many North American tribes it is usual to find an animal the chief deity, the hare or the musk-rat or the coyote. It is very common to find in savage beliefs a vague far-off god who is at the back of all the others, takes little part in the management of things, and receives little worship. But it is impossible to judge what that being was at an earlier time; he may have been a nature-god or a spirit who has by degrees grown faint and come to occupy this position. We cannot judge from the supreme beings of savages, such as they are, that the belief in a supreme being was generally diffused in the world[1] in the earliest times, and is not to be derived from any of the processes from which the other gods arose. We shall see afterwards how natural the tendency is which, where there are several gods, brings one of them to the front while the others lose importance. For a theory of primitive monotheism the supreme gods of savages certainly do not furnish sufficient evidence; they do not appear to have sprung all from the same source, but to have advanced from very different quarters to the supreme position, in obedience to that native instinct of man's mind which causes him, even when he believes in many gods, to make one of them supreme.

[Footnote 1: Cf. A. Lang, The Making of Religion (1898); Galloway, Studies in the Philosophy of Religion (1904), p. 123, sqq.]

Which Gods were First Worshipped?—If then early man formed his gods from parts of nature and from spirits of departed ancestors or heroes, and even, should the more backward races now existing represent a stage of human life belonging to the early world, from spirits residing in outward objects, which of these is the original root of all the religions of the world? The claim has been made for each of these kinds of religion, that it came first.

1. Fetish-gods came First.—Till recently the view prevailed that all the religion of the world has sprung out of fetishism. First the savage took for his god some casual object, as we have described, then he chose higher objects, trees and mountains, rivers and lakes, and even the sun and stars. The heavens at last became his supreme fetish, and at a higher level, when he had learned about spirits, he would make a spirit his fetish, and so at last come to Monotheism.

This view is attractive because it places the beginning of religion in the lowest known form of it and thus makes for the belief that the course of the world's faith has been upward from the first. But it presents the gravest difficulties; for why should the savage make a god of a stick or a stone, and attribute to it supernatural powers? Who told him about a god, that he should call a stick god, or about supernatural powers, that he should suppose a stick to work wonders? There is nothing in the stick to suggest such notions; that he should make gods in this way, that the belief in wonderful powers should originate in this way, is surely quite incredible. Much more likely is it, surely, that he got the notion of God from some other quarter and applied it in his own grotesque and degraded way; than that the notion of God was taken first from such poor forms and applied afterwards to objects better suited to it. Religion and civilisation go hand in hand, and if civilisation can decay (and leading anthropologists declare that the debased tribes of Australia and West Africa show signs of a higher civilisation they have lost) then religion also may decay. A lower race may borrow religious ideas from a higher and adapt them to their own position, i.e. degrade them. And the progress of religion may still have been upwards on the whole, although retrograde movements have taken place in certain races. On these and other grounds it is now held with growing certainty that fetishism cannot be the original form of religion, and that the higher stages of it are not to be derived from that one. The races among whom fetishism is found exhibit a well-known feature of the decadence of religion, namely that the great god or gods have grown weak and faint, and smaller gods and spirits have crowded in to fill up the blank thus caused. Worship is transferred from the great beings who are the original gods of the tribe and whom it still professes in a vague way to believe, to numerous smaller beings, and from the good gods to the bad.

2. Spirits, Human or Quasi-human, came First.—Is the worship of spirits then the original form of religions. This has been powerfully maintained in this country by Mr. Herbert Spencer and Mr. Tylor. According to Mr. Spencer "the rudimentary form of all religion is the propitiation of dead ancestors." Men concluded, as soon as they were capable of such reasoning, that the life they witnessed in plants and animals, in sun and moon and other parts of nature, was due to their being inhabited by the spirits of departed men. With all respect for the splendid exposition given by Mr. Spencer[2] of the early beliefs of mankind regarding spirits, it is impossible to think that he has made out his case when he treats the gods of early India and of Greece as deified ancestors. If the natural incredulity we feel at being told that Jupiter, Indra, the sun, the sacred mountain, and the stars all alike came to be worshipped because each of them represented some departed human hero, is not at once decisive, we have only to wait a little to see whether some other theory cannot account for these gods in a simpler way.

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