Introduction to the History of Religions - Handbooks on the History of Religions, Volume IV
by Crawford Howell Toy
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Late Professor of Semitic Languages in the University of Pennsylvania



Handbooks on the History of Religions







Third Impression




The object of this volume is to describe the principal customs and ideas that underlie all public religion; the details are selected from a large mass of material, which is increasing in bulk year by year. References to the higher religions are introduced for the purpose of illustrating lines of progress.

The analytic table of contents and the index are meant to supplement each other, the one giving the outline of the discussion, the other giving the more important particulars; the two together will facilitate the consultation of the book. In the selected list of works of reference the titles are arranged, as far as possible, in chronological order, so as to indicate in a general way the progress of investigation in the subjects mentioned.

My thanks are due to the publishers for the care they have taken in the printing of the volume, and to their proofreaders, particularly to the chief proofreader, for not a few helpful suggestions.

C. H. T.



(The Arabic figures in the chapter summaries refer to paragraphs)



Science and religion coeval, 1; Man's sense of dependence on mysterious Powers, 2; Early man's feeling toward them of a mixed nature, 3; mainly selfish, 4; Prominence of fear, 6; Conception of natural law, 7; Sense of an extrahuman Something, 9; Universality of religion, 10; Its development parallel to that of social organization, 12; Unitary character of human life, 14; External religion, 15; Internal religion, 16.


NATURE OF THE SOUL. Universal belief in an interior something, 18; its basis, 19; from observation of breath, 21; of shadow, 22; of blood, 23; Its form a sublimated double of the corporeal man, 24; or of an animal, 25; The seat of the soul, 26; Localization of qualities, 27; Consequences of the soul's leaving the body, 29; The hidden soul, 31.

ORIGIN OF THE SOUL. Not investigated by savages, 32; Creation of man, 33; Theories of birth, 34; Divine origin of the soul, 36; Mysteriousness of death, 38.

POLYPSYCHISM. Early views of the number and functions of souls, 39; Civilized views, 43.

FUTURE OF THE SOUL. Belief in its death, 46; This belief transient, 51-53; Dwelling-place of the surviving soul in human beings, beasts, plants, or inanimate objects, 55-59; or near its earthly abode, 60-63; or in some remote place in earth, sea, or sky, 64-66; or in an underground world, 67-69; Occupations of the dead, 70; Retribution in the Underworld, 71; Nonmoral distinctions, 72-75; Moral retribution, savage, 76-78; Civilized, 79-80; Local separation of the good from the bad, 81; Reward and punishment, Hindu, 82; Egyptian, 83; Greek, 84; Jewish and Christian, 85, 86; Purgatory, 87; Resurrection, 88-90.

POWERS OF THE SEPARATED SOUL. Prayers for the dead, 95, 96.

GENESIS OF SPIRITS. Functions of spirits (souls of nonhuman objects), 97-100.


Predominance of ceremonies in early religious life, 101, 102; They are communal, 103; and sacred, 104.

EMOTIONAL AND DRAMATIC CEREMONIES. Religious dances and plays, 106-108; Connected with the worship of gods, 109; Are means of religious culture, 110; Processions, 111; Circumambulation, 112; Magical potency, 113.

DECORATIVE AND CURATIVE CEREMONIES. Decoration of the body, 114-118; of houses, 119; of official dress, 120; Symbolism in decoration, 121.

ECONOMIC CEREMONIES. Propitiation of hunted animals, 122-125; Taboos, 126; Rules about eating, 127-128; Magical means of procuring food, 129-131; Use of blood, 132; to fertilize soil, 133; Sacrifice of first-born animals, including children, 134; Raising and housing crops, 135; Rain, 136; Survivals in civilized times, 137.

APOTROPAIC CEREMONIES. Early methods, 138-139; Expulsion of spirits, 140-141; Transference of evil, 142, 143; Expulsion by sacrifice, 144; The massing of such observances, 145.

CEREMONIES OF PUBERTY AND INITIATION. Training of the young, 146; Tests of endurance, 147; Seclusion of girls, 148; Rearrangement of taboos, 149; Supernatural machinery, 150; Mutilation of the body, 151, 152; Circumcision of males, its wide diffusion, 153; not a test of endurance, 154; nor hygienic, 155; nor to get rid of magical dangers, 156; nor to increase procreative power, 157; not religious in origin: not a form of phallic worship, 158; nor a sacrifice, 159, 160; nor a provision for reincarnation, 161; Circumcision of females, 162; Object of circumcision probably increase of sensual enjoyment, 163, 164; The symbolical interpretation, 165-168; Ceremonies of initiation to secure union with the clan, 169; Feigned resurrection of the initiate, 170; The lonely vision, 171; Instruction of youth, 172, 173; Initiation into secret societies, 174.

MARRIAGE CEREMONIES. Simple forms, 176-178; The bride hiding, 179; Prenuptial defloration, 180; Introduction of a supernatural element, 181; View that all marriage-ceremonies are essentially religious, 182.

CEREMONIES AT BIRTH. Parental care, 184; The couvade, 185; Child regarded as a reincarnation, 186; Ablutions and naming, 187; Child regarded as child of God, 188.

BURIAL CEREMONIES. Natural grief, 189; Propitiation of the dead by offerings at grave, 190; Ban of silence, 191; The dead regarded as powerful, 192; Social value of these ceremonies, 193.

CEREMONIES OF PURIFICATION AND CONSECRATION. Occasions of purification, 194-196; Methods: by water, sand, etc., 197-199; by sacrifice, 200; Purification of a whole community, 201; Consecration of private and official persons, 202, 203; Fasting, 204; its origin, 205-207; its religious effects, 208; Result of massing these ceremonies, 209.

CEREMONIES CONNECTED WITH SEASONS AND PERIODS. Calendars, 210, 211; Lunar festivals, 212-214; Solar festivals, 215; Solstitial and stellar festivals, 216; Importance of agricultural festivals, 217; Joyous, 218; Licentious, 219; Offering of first fruits, 220; Sadness, 221; The eating of sacred food, 222; Long periods, 223; Social value of these ceremonies, 224.


Savage treatment of superhuman Powers discriminating, 225-228; Charms and fetish objects, 229, 230; Life-force (mana), 231-233; not an object of worship, but enters into alliance with religion, 234, 235; Nature of sacredness, 236, 237; Luck, 238; The various objects of worship, 239, 240.

ANIMALS. Their social relations with men, 241, 242; Transformation and transmigration, 243; Two attitudes of men toward animals, 244-248; What animals are revered, 249, 250; Regarded as incarnations of gods or of spirits, 251; Those sacred to gods generally represent old beast-cults, 252, 253; Survivals of reverence for animals, 254; Beasts as creators, 255, 256; Worship rarely offered them, 257, 258; Coalescence of beast-cults with other religious observances, 259; Whether animals ever became anthropomorphic deities, 260; Historical significance of beast-cults, 261.

PLANTS. Their economic 'role', 262-264; Held to possess souls, 265; Their relations with men friendly and unfriendly, 266, 267; Sacred trees, 268, 269; Deification of soma, 270; Whether corn-spirits have been deified, 271; Sacred trees by shrines, 272; Their connection with totem posts, 273; Blood-kinship between men and trees, 274, 275; The cosmic tree, 276; Divinatory function of trees, 277; Relation of tree-spirits to gods, 278-285.

STONES AND MOUNTAINS. Stones alive and sacred, 286-288; have magical powers, 289, 290; Relation between divine stones and gods, 291-295; Magna Mater, 291; Massebas, 293; Bethels, 294; Stones cast on graves, and boundary stones, 296; Stones as altars: natural forms, 297; artificial forms, 298; High pillars by temples, 299; Images of gods, 300, 301; Folk-stories and myths connected with stones, 302; Sacred mountains, 303-305.

WATERS. Why waters are regarded as sacred, 306-308; Ritual use of water, 309; Water-spirits, 310, 311; Water-gods, 312-314; Rain-giving gods, 315; Water-myths, 316; Gods of ocean, 317.

FIRE. Its sacredness, 318, 319; Persian fire-cult, 320; Ritual use of fire, 321-323; Its symbolic significance, 334; Light as sacred, 325.

WINDS. Their relation to gods, 327.

HEAVENLY BODIES. Anthropomorphized, 328; Cosmogonic myths connected with them, 329, 330; Sex of sun and moon, 331; Whether they ever became gods, 332, 333; Thunder and lightning not worshiped, 334.

WORSHIP OF HUMAN BEINGS. Their worship widespread, with distinction between the living and the dead, 335.

THE CULT OF THE LIVING. Worship to be distinguished from reverence, 336; Worship of the living by savages, 337; by civilised peoples, 338; in Egypt, 339, 340; in Babylonia, 341; but there probably not Semitic, 342; not by Hebrews and Arabs, 343, 344; in China, 345; in Japan, 346; Whether by Greeks and Romans, 347; Not in India and Persia, 348; Cults of the living rarely important, 349.

THE CULT OF THE DEAD. Of historical persons: noncivilized, 351; civilized: in Egypt, 352; in Greece and Rome, 353; in China, 354; of the Calif Ali, 355; Greek and Roman worship of mythical ancestors, 356, 357; Dedivinization of gods, 358; Euhemerism, 359; Worship of the dead kin, 360, 361; Ghosts friendly and unfriendly, 362; Savage customs: mourning, 363; funeral feasts, 364; fear and kindly feeling, 365, 366; Definite cult of ghosts: savage, 367-370; civilised, 371-373; Greek and Roman state cults, 374; Chinese, 375; Divine functions of the venerated dead, 376-378; Ethical power of ancestor-worship, 379-383.

CULTS OF GENERATIVE POWERS. Nature's productivity, 384-386; Not all customs connected with generation are religious, 387; Cult of generative organs, 388-406; widespread, 388; Nonreligious usages, 389, 390; Phallic cults hardly to be found among the lowest peoples, 391, 392; Well developed in West Africa, 393; in modern India, 394; in Japan, 395; Most definite in some ancient civilized religions, 396; In Egypt, 397; Whether in Semitic communities, 398; Hierapolis, 399; Babylonia and Palestine, 400; Extensively practiced in Asia Minor, Ionia, and Greece, 401; Priapos, 402, 403; The Roman Mutunus Tutunus, 404; Phalli as amulets, 405; The female organ, 406; Androgynous deities, 407-418; Supposed Semitic figures: Ishtar, 408; Ashtart, 409; Tanit, 410; The Cyprian goddess, 411, 412; The Phrygian Agdistis, 413; Hermaphroditos, 415, 416; Androgynous deities not religiously important, 417; Origin of the conception, 418; Animals associated with phallic deities, 419; Christian phallic cults, 420.


The contrasted roles of the two, 431.

TOTEMISM. Social protective clan customs, 422; Control of marriage by exogamic organization, 423-428; Theories of the origin of exogamy (scarcity of women, primitive promiscuity, absence of sexual attraction between persons brought up together, patriarch's jealousy, horror of incest, migration of young men) and criticism of them, 429-435; Diffusion and function of exogamy, 436-440; Definition of totemism, 441; Customs and beliefs associated with it, 442: exogamy, 443; names and badges, 444-448; descent from the totem, 449-451; refusal to kill or eat it, 452-459; magical ceremonies for increasing supply of food, 460, 461; Stricter definition of totemism, 462-465; Geographical distribution of totemic usages, 466-513; Australia, 468-473; Torres Straits Islands, 474, 475; British New Guinea, 476; Melanesia, 477-483; Micronesia and Polynesia, 484, 485; Indonesia, 486; India, 487; North America, 488-506; Africa, 507-513; Supposed traces in civilized peoples, 514-519; The permanent element in totemism, 520, 521; Conditions favorable and unfavorable to totemistic organization, 522; economic, 523-528; individualistic institutions (secret societies, guardian spirits), 529-537; political, 538; religious, 539, 540; The lines of progress to which totemism succumbs, 541.


INDIVIDUALISTIC THEORIES. Confusion between names and things, 544; Animal or plant held to be the incarnation of a dead man, 545; Body of an animal as magical apparatus, 546; Animals as places of deposit of souls, 547; An object that influences a mother at conception, of which the child may not eat, 548; Animals and plants as incarnations of the souls of the dead, 549; Criticism, 550-552.

THEORIES BASED ON CLAN ACTION. A clan chooses an animal or plant as friend, 553, 554; The totem a clan badge, 555-557; Cooeperation of groups to supply particular foods, 558; The totem a god incarnate in every member of a clan, 559; Summing-up on origin of totemism, 560-562; Social function of totemism, 563; Whether it produced the domestication of animals and plants, 564-569; Its relation to religion, 570-580; The totem as helper, 570-575; Whether a totem is ever worshiped, 576; or ever becomes a god, 577-580.

TABOO. Its relation to ethics, 581-584; It has to do with dangerous objects and acts, 585, 586; Classes of taboo things, 587: those connected with the conception of life (parents and children), 588, 589; with death, 590, 591; with women and the relation between the sexes, 592-594; with great personages, 595-597; with industrial pursuits, 598-600; with other important social events (expulsion of spirits, sacred seasons, war, etc.), 601-604; with the moon: fear of celestial phenomena, 605; observation of lunations, 606; new moon and full moon, 607; Whether the Hebrew sabbath was originally a full-moon day, 608, 609; The seven-day week, 610; Prohibitions connected with lucky and unlucky days, 611-613; Punishment of violation of taboo, 614, 615; Removal of taboos, 616, 617; Taboo and magic, 618, 619; Modification of taboo by civil law, 620; Despotism of taboo, 621; Duration of taboo periods, 622; Diffusion of taboo customs, 623, 624; Traces in ancient civilized communities, 625; Indications of former general prevalence, 626, 627; Causes of disappearance, 628, 629; Role of taboo in the history of religion, 630-634.


How gods differ from other supernatural beings, 635, 636; Early mythical founders of culture, 637-643.

CLAN GODS (including divinized men). In lower tribes, 644-647; In civilized nations, 648-651; One class of Greek "heroes," 652, 653; Historical importance of clan gods, 654.

DEPARTMENTAL GODS. In half-civilised communities, 658-662; In Maya, Mexican, and Peruvian religions, 663-665; Among Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, 666-670; Supposed Semitic instances, 671; Tutelary deities of individuals, cities, and nations, 672, 673; Classes of departmental gods, 674: Creators, 675-679; Gods of the other world, 680-682: Good and bad Powers, 683-694; Conflict and adjustment, 684-688; Ethical dualism, 689; Man's attitude toward demons, 690-694; Gods of abstractions, 695-697: Semitic, 698-700; Egyptian, 701; Roman and Greek, 702; Aryan, 703; Absorption of specialized deities by great gods, 704-706.

NATURE GODS. Their characteristics, 707, 708; Cult of the sun, 709-713; of the moon, 714; of stars, 715-718.

THE GREAT GODS. Their genesis, 719, 720; Divine dynasties, 721-723; The supremacy of a particular god determined by social conditions, 724; Origin of composite figures, 725.

Illustrations of the growth of gods, 725 ff.:

EGYPTIANS. Horus, 726; Ra, 727; Osiris, 728; Hathor, Neith, Isis, 729.

HINDU. Varuna, 730; Indra, 731; Soma, 732; Vishnu and Civa, 733; Dyaus and Prithivi, 734; Ushas (and Caktism), 734; Yama, 735, 736.

PERSIAN. Ahura Mazda and Angro Mainyu, 737, 738; Mithra and Anahita, 739; Character of the Zoroastrian reform, 740-745.

CHINESE. Feeble theistic development, 746; Confucianism and Taoism, 747-749.

JAPANESE. No great god, 750.

Nature of Semitic theistic constructions, 751-755.

BABYLONIAN AND ASSYRIAN. Ea, 756; Enlil (Bel), 757; Marduk, 758; Ashur, 759; Female deities, 760; Bau, 761; Ishtar, 762, 763.

PHOENICIAN AND ARABIAN. Melkart, Eshmun, Dusares, Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, 764.

HEBREW. Yahweh, 765; The titles Ilu (El), Elohim, 766.

GREEK. The pantheon, 767; Zeus, 768, 769; Apollo, 770; Poseidon, 771; Hermes, 772; Pan, 773, 774; Ares, 775; Dionysus, 776-778; Hades, 779, 780; Female deities, 781: Hera, 782, 783; Demeter, 784; Maiden goddesses, 785: the Kore, 786; Hestia, 787; Artemis, 788, 789; Hekate, 790; Athene, 791, 792; Aphrodite, 793, 794; Breadth of the Greek theistic scheme, 795.

ROMAN. Nature gods, 796, 797; Jupiter, 798; Janus, 799; Mars, 800; Saturn, 801; Deities of obscure origin, 802; Female deities, 803; Juno, 804; Vesta, 805; Diana, 806; Minerva, 807; Venus, 808, 809.

Characteristics of the great ancient national religions, 810-818.


Their historical value, 819, 820; Duration of the mythopoeic age, 821; Period of origination of myths, 832; Similarity of myths throughout the world, 823-826; Classes of myths, 827:

Cosmogonic. Creation of the world, 838-831; of man, 832, 833; Man originally not mortal, 834; Macrobiotes, 835; Primeval paradise, 835; Final destruction of the world, etc., 836-838.

Ethnogonic, 839-841.

Sociogonic, 842: Arts and ceremonies, 843-845; Relation between myth and ritual, 846; Social reforms, 847; Sacred places, 848.

Astronomical, procellar, vegetation: astrological, 849, 850; Storm myths, 851; Certain heroes, 852, 853; Decay and revival of vegetation, 854, 855; Literary mythical histories, 856; Antagonism between light and darkness, 857, 858.

Mingling of myth and legend, 859, 860; Original nature of a god given in popular observances, 861; Interpretation of myths, 862; Ancient, 863; Recent, 864-879; Influence of myths on dogmas and ceremonies, 880; Fairy lore, 881.


Difference between their functions, 882.

MAGIC. Science of magic, 883-885; Its methods, 886, 887; Relation between magic and religion, 888-890; Magic a social product, 891; Magicians, 893-894; Families, 895; Women, 895, 896; Tribes, 897; Power of the magician, 898; His methods, 899, 900; Attitude of civilised religions toward magic, 901, 902; Its persistent hold on men, 903; Its historical role, 904.

DIVINATION. Its nature and organization, 905, 906; Prophetic ecstasy, 907; Relations between magician, diviner, and priest, 908.

Divinatory signs, 909, 910; Signs without human initiation: omens, 911, 912; Prodigies, 913: Astrology, 914, 915; Words and acts of men, 916; Parts of the human body, 917; Signs arranged for by men: lots, 918; Haruspication, etc., 919, 920; Oneiromancy, 921-923; Ordeals, 924-926; Oracles and necromancy, 927; Development of the office of diviner, 928-932; Sibyls and Sibylline books, 933-940; Religious and ethical influence of divination, 941, 942.


Groups into which the great religions fall, 943, 944.

POLYTHEISM. Differences between the polytheistic schemes of various peoples: Egyptian, Semitic, Indo-European, Mexican, Peruvian, 945-950; Extent of anthropomorphization of gods measured by richness of mythology: in savage and half-civilized communities, 952-954; Gradations of anthropomorphization in civilized peoples, 955-964; Religious role of polytheism, 965, 966; Dissatisfaction with its discordances, and demand for simplification of the conception of the divine government of the world, 967.

DUALISM. Belief of lower tribes in two mutually antagonistic sets of Powers, 968-972; Of the great ancient religions it is only Zoroastrianism that has constructed a dualistic system, 973-976; Whether a strictly dualistic scheme has ever existed, 977; Manichaeism, 978; Problems raised by dualism, 979.

MONOTHEISM. The general movement toward it, 980, 981; Two theories of its origin: that it is the natural primitive form of religion, that it is the result of a primitive divine revelation, 982; The facts in the case: it is not now found in low tribes, 983-985; it is not visible in the popular cults of the great nations of antiquity, 986; But tendency toward a unitary conception of the divine government of the world, 987; Disposition to ascribe absoluteness to some one deity in Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, India, 988-991; Chinese headship of Heaven, 992; Peruvian cult of the sun, 993; Hebrew monolatry, 994, 995; Demand for unity by Greek poets and philosophers, 996-1001; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 1002; Cults of Isis and Mithra—Modern reforms: Brahma-Samaj, Parsi, Babist, Shinto, 1003.

PANTHEISTIC AND NONTHEISTIC SYSTEMS. Pantheism is a revolt against the separation of God and the world, 1004; Perplexing ethical and religious questions make it unacceptable to the mass of men, 1005; Nontheistic systems attempt to secure unity by taking the world to be self-sufficient, or by regarding the gods as otiose, 1006; The Sankhya philosophy dispenses with extrahuman Powers, but recognizes the soul—Buddhism ignores both, 1007; Greek materialism, 1008.

GENERAL SURVEY OF THE THEISTIC DEVELOPMENT, 1009 ff. Intervention of gods fixed by appeal to natural law, 1010; Persistence of belief in miracles, 1011; Constitution of the deity constructed by philosophy, 1012; His moral character determined by that of his worshipers, 1013.


The external history of religion a history of social growth, 1014-1016.

EXTERNAL WORSHIP. Establishment of relations with Powers, 1017, 1018; by processes, 1019-1021; by gifts, 1022, 1023; by messengers, 1024, 1025; Blood is placatory as a gift of food, 1026; Human sacrifice, 1027-1031; Dances and processions, 1032; Preponderant importance of ordinary sacrifices—the various kinds, 1033-1035; Elaboration of the sacrificial ritual, 1036.

THEORIES OF THE ORIGIN OF SACRIFICE. Their formulation late, 1037; Bloody and unbloody offerings equal in expiatory virtue, 1038; Two groups of theories of origin, 1039: the offering as gift, 1040, 1041; as effecting union between deity and worshiper, 1042: by sharing the flesh of a sacred animal (Smith and Frazer), 1043-1047; Self-sacrifice of a god, 1048; Union through a sanctified victim (Hubert and Mauss), 1049, 1050; Union with the Infinite effected by all religious acts (Tiele), 1051, 1052; Persistence of these conceptions of sacrifice 1053, 1054.

RITUAL. Its growth in elaborateness along with the growth of social forms, 1055-1061.

PRIESTS. Regulation of the life, physical and moral, of priests and priestesses, 1062-1065; Origin of religious prostitution; secular and religious explanations, 1066; Organization and influence of the priesthood: Egyptian, 1067; Babylonian and Assyrian, 1068; Palestinian, 1069; Hindu, 1070; Persian, 1071; Greek, 1073; Roman, 1073; Chinese, 1074; Peruvian and Mexican, 1075; Influence for good and for evil, 1076-1079; No priesthood in Islam or in Judaism after 70 A.D., 1080; Its function in some Christian churches, 1080.

WORSHIP. Early places of worship, 1081-1082; Development of temples, 1083-1086; Forms of worship: offerings, hymns, music, 1087, 1088; Festivals, 1089; Vows, blessings, curses, 1090; Idols: their formal development, 1091, 1092; Conception of their personality, 1093; Religious function of idolatry, 1094.

CHURCHES. Individualism called forth voluntary associations, 1095; Savage secret societies, 1096; Greek mysteries, 1097-1099; Whether the Semites produced mysteries, 1100; Rise of the idea of the church in the Graeco-Roman world, 1101: Philosophy produced no church, 1102-1105; True churches produced by Buddhism and Jainism, 1106, 1107; not by Judaism and Mazdaism, 1108, 1109; Development of the Christian idea of the church, 1110-1112; A church called forth by the cult of Mithra, 1113; not by that of Isis or that of Sarapis, 1114; The Manichaean church, 1115; As to Islam and certain associations that have arisen within it (Mahdism, Drusism, etc.), 1116; Ecclesiastical power of the Peruvian Inca, 1117; Hindu and Persian movements, 1118-1120.

MONACHISM. Its dualistic root, 1121; India its birthplace, 1122; Trace in Egypt (the Sarapeum), 1123; Therapeutae, 1124; Essenes, 1125; Christian monachism, 1126; Religious influence of monachism, 1127.

SACRED BOOKS. Their origin and collection, 1128; Canons: Buddhist, 1129; Jewish, 1130; Christian, 1131; Mazdean, 1132; Islamic, 1133; Religious influence of sacred books, 1134-1136; General influence of churches, 1137-1140.

UNIVERSAL RELIGIONS. Actual diffusion the test of universality, 1141; As to Buddhism, 1142; Judaism, 1143; Christianity, 1144; Zoroastrianism, 1145; Islam, 1146; So tested no existing religion is universal, 1147.

CLASSIFICATION OF RELIGIONS. Their resemblances and differences, 1148; Points in common, 1149; Proposed systems of classification, and objections to them: according to grade of general culture, 1150; division into national religions and those founded each by a single person, 1151; religions of redemption, 1151; Religious unity, savage and civilized, 1152; Disadvantages of tabulated classifications of religions, 1153.


Spheres of religion, science and constructive ethics distinct, but tend to coalesce, 1154.

THE SCIENTIFIC ELEMENT. When science clashes with religion, 1155: Phases in the relation between the two: when there is no knowledge of natural law—a crude conception of unity—no place for the miraculous, 1156; Rise of highly personalized deities who stand outside the world: age of miracles, 1157; Recognition of the domination of natural law—separation between science and religion, 1158; Higher conception of the unity of God and the world, 1159; Scientific theories held to be not a part of the content of religion, 1160.

THE ETHICAL ELEMENT. Religion adopts current ethical customs and codes, 1161; Both good, 1162; and bad, 1163; Mutual influence of religion and ethics, 1164, 1165; Religion infuses nobility and tenderness into ethics, 1166; Religious personalities; martyr, saint, 1167, 1168; Evil influence of religion on ethics, 1169; Contribution of religion to the sense of obligation to do right, 1170; Answers of religion to questions concerning the existence of moral evil, 1171; concerning man's moral capacity, 1172; concerning the essential goodness or badness of the world, 1173.






1. It appears probable that primitive men endowed with their own qualities every seemingly active object in the world. Experience forced them to take note of the relations of all objects to themselves and to one another. The knowledge of the sequences of phenomena, so far as the latter are not regarded as acting intentionally on him, constitutes man's science and philosophy; so far as they are held to act on him intentionally, the knowledge of them constitutes his theory of religion, and his sense of relation with them is his religious sentiment. Science and religion are coeval in man's history, and both are independently continuous and progressive. At first science is in the background because most objects, since they are believed to be alive and active, are naturally supposed by man to affect him purposely; it grows slowly, keeping pace with observation, and constantly abstracting phenomena from the domain of religion.[1] Religion is man's attitude toward the universe regarded as a social and ethical force; it is the sense of social solidarity with objects regarded as Powers, and the institution of social relations with them.

2. These Powers are thought of in general as mysterious, and as mightier than ordinary living men.[2] Ordinarily the feeling toward them on man's part is one of dependence—he is conscious of his inferiority. In some forms of philosophic thought the man regards himself as part of the one universal personal Power, or as part of the impersonal Whole, and his attitude toward the Power or the Whole is like that of a member of a composite political body toward the whole body; such a position is possible, however, only in a period of very advanced culture.

3. There being no records of initial humanity, it is hardly possible for us to know certainly what the earliest men's feeling was toward the animate and inanimate forces around them. Not improbably it was simply fear, the result of ignorance of their nature and absence of social relations with them. But in the human communities known to us, even the lowest, the relations with extrahuman beings appear to be in general of a mixed nature, sometimes friendly, sometimes unfriendly, but neither pure love nor pure hatred. So refined a feeling as love for a deity is not found among savages. As religion springs from the human demand for safety and happiness as the gift of the extrahuman Powers, hostility to them has been generally felt to be opposed to common sense.[3] Coercion there has been, as in magical procedures, or to bring a stubborn deity to terms; and occasional antagonism (for example, toward foreign gods); but not hatred proper as a dogma, except in the great ethical religions toward evil spirits, and in certain elaborate philosophic systems—as, for example, in the Gnostic conception of an imperfect Demiurge, or in the assumption of an original blind Chance or blind Will whose products and laws are regarded as not entitled to respect and obedience.

4. Instead of complete friendliness and unfriendliness in early tribes we find more commonly between the two a middle ground of self-regarding equipoise. The savage, the half-civilized man, and the peasant often deal with superhuman Powers in a purely selfish commercial spirit, courting or neglecting them as they seem likely to be useful or not. The Central Australian (who may be credited with a dim sense of the superhuman) conducts his ceremonies, intended to insure a supply of food, apparently without the slightest emotion of any sort except the desire for gain.[4] The Italian peasant, who has vowed a wax candle to a saint in return for a favor to be shown, does not scruple to cheat the saint, after the latter has performed his part of the agreement, by offering tallow instead of wax, if he thinks he can do so with impunity. A recusant deity is sometimes neglected or even kicked by way of punishment or to force him to give the desired aid, and a god or a saint is valued and sought after in proportion to his supposed ability to be useful.

5. And this naively utilitarian point of view is by no means confined to the lowest forms of religion; in the Old Testament, for example, the appeal to Yahveh is generally based on his assumed power to bestow temporal blessings,[5] and this is a widespread attitude at the present day in religious communities, where salvation is commonly the end had in view by the worshiper. Love toward the deity simply on account of his personal moral character, without regard to the benefit (namely happiness) to be got from him, is found, if found at all, only in highly cultivated natures, and is rare in these. And, in truth, it is difficult if not impossible to justify religion except on the ground that it brings satisfaction (that is, happiness through and in perfection of nature) in the broadest and highest sense of that term, for otherwise it could not be regarded as a good thing.

6. On the other hand, fear of the superhuman Power is a common feeling, recognizable everywhere, at all times, and in all stages of social and intellectual development. By many it is regarded as the original and essential attitude of the religious mind.[6] To this view it is sometimes objected that religion could never have arisen from fear—that religion, as a cult, of necessity involves amicable relations between man and the deity. The objection, however, is based on an arbitrary and incorrect definition of religion; it is quite conceivable that man might cultivate the deity through fear of the latter's displeasure, and that an elaborate system of ceremonies and beliefs might arise from the desire to avert his anger. Such a conception—which is certainly not a lofty one—is not unnatural in the presence of a great Power whose dispositions and purposes are not well understood; numerous examples of such an attitude might be cited from various religions, savage and civilized.

7. But, on historical grounds, as in the examples given above, it seems better to say that the earliest known attitude of man toward the superhuman Power is one of interested observation and fluid emotion—the feeling is determined by experience of phenomena. The man is pleased, displeased and afraid, suspicious or careless, according as he sees things to be helpful, harmful, doubtful, or resultless. In process of time, by observation and reflection, he succeeds in tabulating phenomena, and more or less definitely fixing his emotional attitude toward their assumed cause. A tradition is gradually established, and men are trained from infancy to welcome certain things, to fear others, and to accept certain others as meaningless; from time to time strange things will appear, and these will be treated according to established principles or will remain mysterious. A germinal conception of natural law will arise from the observation of periodically occurring phenomena (such as the rising and setting of the sun, periodic rains, tides) and familiar facts of everyday life, as, for example, the habits of men and other animals. Everything outside this sphere will be ascribed to extrahuman agency—so sickness, death, and sometimes birth.[7]

8. The history of religion, which is a part of the history of thought, necessarily shows, as is observed above, a constant enlargement of the domain of natural law, and a consequent contraction of the direct action of the supernatural, though this does not always or generally lessen the conviction that the Supernatural Power, acting through natural law, controls all things. In this process, also, the conception of the attitude of the Supernatural Power is more or less definitely fixed; a formulation of signs is accomplished, whereby it is known whether the deity, at particular moments, is pleased or displeased, and whether a given deity is generally friendly or hostile. This method of determining the attitude of the deity continued into late stages of social life, and still exists even in professedly Christian communities.[8]

9. As the basis of the religious feeling we must suppose a sense and conception of an extrahuman Something, the cause of things not otherwise understood. All things were supposed to have life, and therefore to be loci of force; man's sense of social relation with this force constituted his religion. This sense was at first doubtless vague, ill-defined, or undefined, and in this form it is now found in certain tribes.[9] Gradually, as the processes of human life and of the external world become better known, and the vastness of the extrahuman control becomes evident, the Something is conceived of as great, then as indefinitely great, and finally, under the guidance of philosophic thought, as infinite. Thus the sense of the infinite may be said to be present in man's mind in germinal form at the beginning of truly human life, though it does not attain full shape, is not formulated, and is not effective, till the period of philosophic culture is reached.[10]

10. As far as our present knowledge goes, religion appears to be universal among men. There is no community of which we can say with certainty that it is without religion. There are some doubtful cases—for example, certain Australian tribes reported on by Spencer and Gillen, among whom it is difficult to discover any definite religious feeling: they offer no sacrifices or petitions, and appear to recognize no personal relations with any supernatural Power, beyond the belief that the spirits of the dead are active in their midst, causing sickness, death, and birth; nor is there any sign that they have lost earlier more definite beliefs.[11] Yet they have solemn ceremonies in which human blood plays a great part, and these may have reference to the intervention of supernatural beings, the term "supernatural" being taken as expressing any mysterious fact lying outside of the common course of things. A mysterious being called Twan is spoken of in initiation ceremonies, chiefly, it seems, to frighten or train the boys. Is there an indication that the tribal leaders have risen above the popular belief in such a being? Experience shows that it is difficult for civilized men to get at the religious ideas of savages; and it is possible, in spite of the careful investigations thus far made, that the last word on Central Australian beliefs has not yet been spoken. A similar reserve must be exercised in regard to reports of certain other tribes, whose ceremonies and institutions have appeared to some European and American observers to be without a religious element.[12]

11. There is at present no satisfactory historical evidence (whatever psychological ground there may be, or whatever deduction from the theory of evolution may seem necessary) of the existence of a subreligious stage of human life—a stage in which there is only a vague sense of some extrahuman power affecting man's interests, without definition of the power, and without attempt to enter into social relations with it.[13]

12. True, in the great mass of existing savage humanity we find social and religious customs so definite that we are forced to suppose a long preceding period of development. It has even been held that traces of religious conceptions are discernible in the first surviving records of "prehistoric" man, the contemporary of the cave bear—a period separated from the earliest clear historical records by many millenniums;[14] but, though the existence of such conceptions is by no means improbable, the alleged traces are too dim to build a theory on. The supposition of a continuous religious development from the earliest times is in accord with all that we know of human history, but, until more facts come to light, it will be prudent to reserve opinion as to the character of prehistoric religion.[15]

13. In general, religious development goes hand in hand with social organization. Those groups which, like the Rock Veddas of Ceylon (described by Sarasin) and the Yahgans of Tierra del Fuego (described by Hyades and Deniker), have scarcely any clan organization, have also scarcely any religion. In most of the lowest communities known to us we find well-constituted clans and tribes, with strict (and usually complicated) laws of relationship and marriage, and a somewhat developed form of religion.[16] Here again it is evident that we see in the world only the later stages of a long social process; the antecedent history of this process belongs to sociological science, and does not concern us here;[17] its later history is inseparably connected with the development of religion.

14. It is in this social process that science, philosophy, art, and ethics are constructed, and these, though distinct from the religious sentiment, always blend with it into a unity of life. Religion proper is simply an attitude toward a Power; the nature and activity of the Power and the mode of approaching it are constructed by man's observation and reflection. The analysis of the external world and of man's body and mind, the discovery of natural laws, the history of the internal and external careers of the human race—this is the affair of science and philosophy; rules of conduct, individual and communal, grow up through men's association with one another in society, their basis being certain primary instincts of self-assertion and sympathy; art is the product of the universal sense of beauty. All these lines of growth stand side by side and coalesce in unitary human life.

15. The external history of religion is the history of the process by which the religious sentiment has attached itself to the various conceptions formed by man's experience: ritual is the religious application of the code of social manners; the gods reflect human character; churches follow the methods of social organization; monotheism springs from the sense of the physical and moral unity of the world. Ideas concerning the nature and functions of the deity, the nature of the soul and of conscience, and future life are all products of scientific thought and might exist if religion did not exist, that is, if men did not recognize any practical relations between themselves and the deity. But, as a matter of fact, the religious sentiment, coexisting with these ideas, has always entered into alliance with them, creating nothing, but appropriating everything. Supernatural sanctions and emotional coloring are products of general experience and feeling. The intellectual and ethical content of religion varies with the intellectual and ethical culture of its adherents; we may speak properly of the philosophy and morals, not of a religion, but of the people who profess it.

16. The internal history of religion is the history of individual religious emotional experience (a phenomenon that hardly appears at all in the records of early life), and becomes especially interesting only in periods of advanced culture. It is true that this experience is based on the whole reflective life of man, whose beginnings go back to the earliest times. Aspirations and ideals, connected especially with man's religious life, spring from the long line of experiences with which men have always been struggling. The central fact of the higher religious experience is communion and union with the deity, and the roots of this conception are found in all the religious ideas and usages that have been formulated and practiced in human history. The study of such ideas and practices is thus important for the understanding of the later more refined spiritual life, as in turn this latter throws light on its crude predecessors. It is no disparagement to the higher forms of thought that they have grown from feeble beginnings, and it does not detract from the historical value of primitive life that we must decline to credit it with depth and refinement. Every phase and every stadium of human experience has its value, and the higher stages must be estimated by what they are in themselves. In the history of religion the outward and the inward elements have stood side by side in a unitary experience. But, though the deeper feeling is necessarily more or less closely connected with the external history, it is an independent fact requiring a separate treatment, and will be only occasionally referred to in the present volume.



17. The doctrine of the soul is so interwoven with the history of religious beliefs that a brief statement of its early forms will be appropriate before we enter on the consideration of religious institutions and ideas.[18]


18. The belief in an interior something in man, different from the body, appears to be practically universal in early human history; the ideas concerning the nature of the soul have changed from time to time, but no tribe of men has yet been found in which it is certain that there is no belief in its existence. The Central Australians, religiously one of the least-developed communities known, believe in ghosts, and a ghost presupposes some sort of substance different from the ordinary body. Of some tribes, as the Pygmies of Central Africa and the Fuegians, we have no exact information on this point. But in all cases in which there is information traces of a belief in a soul are found. We are not concerned here with philosophic views, like that of Buddhism and many modern psychologists, that do not admit the existence of the soul as a separate entity. The proofs of the universality of the belief in a soul are scattered through all books that deal with man's religious constitution and history.[19]

19. For the basis of a universal fact of human experience we naturally seek a universal or essential element of human thought. In this case we must assume a natural or instinctive conviction of the existence of an internal life or being—a consciousness (at first doubtless dim and vague) of something diverse and separate from the visible physical being, a sense of mental activity in thought, feeling, and will.

20. It is not surprising that we do not meet with the expression of such a consciousness among savages: partly, as is well known, they are like children, intellectually incapable of formulating their instinctive beliefs (and they have, consequently, no word to express such a formulation); partly, they are not disposed to speak frankly on subjects that they regard as sacred or mysterious. Attempts at formulation follow the lines of culture, and it is not till a comparatively late stage that they reach definite shape.

21. The interior being, whose existence was vaguely felt, was recognized by early man in many common experiences. Certain phenomena were observed that seemed to be universal accompaniments of life, and these, by a strictly scientific method of procedure, were referred to an inward living thing. It was hardly possible for early observers not to notice that when the breath ceased the life ceased; hence many peoples have regarded the breath as the life, and as the form of the interior being, and in many languages the words for 'soul' and 'spirit' are derived from the word for 'breath'.[20] The breath and therefore the soul of a dying man might be received (inhaled) by any person present; it was sometimes obligatory on a son to receive his father's last breath—he thereby acquired the father's qualities.[21]

22. Another accompaniment of the body that attracted the attention of early men was the shadow, for which the science of that day, unacquainted with optical laws, could account only on the supposition that it was a double of the man, another self, a something belonging in the same general category with the breath-soul, though usually distinguished from it.[22] The shadow was regarded as a sort of independent objective being, which might be seized and destroyed, for example, by a crocodile, as the man passed along a river bank; yet, as it was the man, its destruction involved the man's death.[23] The soul, regarded as a shadow, could not cast a shadow. Similarly one's reflection in water was regarded as a double of him.[24]

23. Blood was known by observation in very early times to be intimately connected with life, acquired the mystery and sacredness that attached to life, and has played a great part in religious ceremonies.[25] As soul is life, a close relation between blood and soul appears in the thought of lower and higher peoples, though the relation is not always the same as that described above. The blood is sometimes said to be the soul,[26] sometimes the soul is supposed to be in the blood as it is in the hair or any other part of the body. Blood could not be regarded as the soul in the same sense in which the breath, for example, was the soul—if the breath departed the man's life departed, but one could lose much blood without injury to vital power. It is not to be expected that the relation between the two should be precisely defined in the early stages of society. If Homer at one time speaks of the soul passing away through a wound and at another time of the blood so passing (death being the result),[27] this variation must not be pressed into a statement of the exact identity of blood and soul. By the Californian Maidu the soul is spoken of as a 'heart', apparently by reason of the connection of the heart with the blood and the life.[28] There is to be recognized, then, a vague identification of 'soul' and 'blood'; but in common usage the two terms are somewhat differently employed—'soul' is the vital entity, the man's personality, 'blood' is the representative of life, especially on its social side (kinsmen are of "one blood," but not of "one soul")[29] and in offerings to the deity. Early man seems, in fact, to have distinguished between life and soul.[30]

24. As the soul was conceived of as an independent being, it was natural that it should be held to have a form like that of the external body—it could not be thought of otherwise.[31] This opinion was doubtless confirmed in the savage mind by such experiences as dreams, visions, hallucinations, and illusions, and by such phenomena as shadows and reflections. The dreamer believed that he had been far away during the night, hunting or fighting, and yet the testimony of his comrades convinced him that his body had not left its place; the logical conclusion was that his inner self had been wandering, and this self, as it seemed to him, had walked, eaten, hurled the spear, done all that the ordinary corporeal man would do. In dreams he saw and conversed with his friends or his enemies, all in corporeal form, yet all of them asleep in their several places; their souls also, he concluded, were wandering. Even in his waking hours, in the gloom of evening or on some wide gleaming plain, he saw, as he thought, shadowy shapes of persons who were dead or far away, and heard mysterious voices and other sounds, which he would naturally refer to the inner self of the absent living or the dead. Reproductions of himself and others appeared on land and in water. All such experiences would go to convince him that there were doubles of himself and of others, and that these were corporeal—only dim, ethereal, with powers greater than those of the ordinary external body.

25. While the soul of the living man was most commonly conceived of as a sublimated replica of the ordinary body, it was also supposed in some cases to take the form of some animal—an opinion that may have arisen as regards any particular animal from its appearance at a time when the soul was supposed to be absent from the body,[32] and is to be referred ultimately to the belief in the identity of nature of animals and man. The souls of the dead also were sometimes supposed to take the shape of animals, or to take up their abode in animals[33] or in trees (as in Egypt): such animals (tigers, for example) were commonly dangerous, and this theory of incarnation is an expression of the widely diffused belief in the dangerous character of the souls of the dead. In later, cultivated times the bird became a favorite symbol of the soul—perhaps from its swift and easy flight through the air.[34]

26. Savage science, though it generally identified the soul with the breath, and regarded it as a separate interior form, seems not to have attempted to define its precise locus, posture, and extension within the body—the early man was content to regard it as a vague homunculus. The whole body was looked on as the seat of life, and was sometimes eaten in order to acquire its qualities, especially the quality of courage.[35] Life was supposed to reside in the bones as the solid part of the body, and these were preserved as the basis of a future life.[36] But even in early stages of culture we find a tendency to specialize—courage, for example, was assigned particularly to the head and the heart, which were accounted the most desirable parts of a dead enemy.[37] These organs were selected probably on account of their prominence—the heart also because it was the receptacle of the blood. The soul was located by the Indians of Guiana in the pupil of the eye.[38]

27. Gradually a more precise localization of qualities was made by the Semites, Greeks, Romans, and other peoples. These, for reasons not clearly known to us, assigned the principal emotional faculties to the most prominent organs of the trunk of the body. The Semites placed thought and courage in the heart and the liver, anger in the liver (the bile), love and grief in the bowels, voluntary power in the kidneys.[39] The Greeks and Romans were less definite: to the heart, the diaphragm, and the liver (the upper half of the trunk); the Greeks assigned thought, courage, emotion;[40] the Romans placed thought and courage in the heart, and the affections in the liver. Among these organs special prominence came to be given to the heart and the liver as seats of mental faculties.[41]

28. It is not clear how early the brain was supposed to be connected with the mind. Alcmaeon of Crotona (5th cent. B.C.), who, according to Diogenes Laertius, wrote chiefly on medical subjects, is credited with the view that the brain was the constructor of thought.[42] Plato suggests that the brain may be the seat of perception and then of memory and reflection, and calls the head the most divine part of man.[43] Cicero reports that some persons looked on some part of the cerebrum as the chief seat of the mind.[44] In the Semitic languages the first occurrence of a term for 'brain' is in the Arabic.[45] Some American tribes are said to regard the brain as the seat of the mind.[46] The scientific Greek view appears to have been connected with medical research, but the process by which it was reached has not been recorded. The Arabic conception of the brain was probably borrowed from the Greeks.

29. The soul as an independent personality was supposed to leave the body at times, and its departure entailed various consequences—in general the result was the withdrawal of the man's ordinary powers to a greater or less extent, according to the duration of the soul's absence. The consequences might be sleep, trance, swoon, coma, death; the precise nature of the effect was determined by the man's subsequent condition—he would wake from sleep, or return to his ordinary state from a trance, or come to himself from a swoon, or lie permanently motionless in death. When he seemed to be dead there was often doubt as to his real condition—the escaped soul might seek its old abode (as in the case of the vampire, for instance), and means were sometimes taken to prevent its return.[47]

30. The obvious difference in serious results between sleep and other cessations of the ordinary consciousness and activity led among some tribes to the supposition of a special dream-soul that could leave the body without injury to the man. It was believed by certain Greenlanders[48] that a man going on a journey might leave his soul behind. It was a not uncommon opinion that souls might be taken out for a while, with friendly intent, to guard them during a period of danger (so in Celebes when a family moves into a new house). In Greenland, according to Cranz, a damaged soul might be repaired. Or the soul might be removed with evil intent by magic art—the result would be sickness or swoon; it was then incumbent on the sufferer or his friends to discover the hostile magician and counteract his work by stronger magic, or force him to restore the soul.[49] On the other hand, the soul of a dead man might be so recalled that the man would live again, the usual agency being a god, a magician, or a prophet.

31. It has been and is a widespread opinion in low tribes that the life of a person is bound up with that of an animal or plant, or with the preservation of something closely connected with the person. This opinion springs from the conviction of the intimate vital relation between men and their surroundings. From the combination of these beliefs with the view referred to above[50] that a man's soul might dwell in a beast or a plant, the idea of the hidden soul, common in folk-lore, may have arisen[51]—the idea that one might conceal his soul in some unsuspected place and then would be free from fear of death so long as his soul remained undisturbed.[52] These folk-tales are products of the popular imagination based on materials such as those described above. From the early point of view there was no reason why the vital soul, an independent entity, should not lead a locally separate life.


32. Theories of a special origination of the soul belong only to the more advanced cults. In early stages of culture the soul is taken as a natural part of the human constitution, and though it is regarded as in a sort an independent entity, the analysis of the man is not carried so far as to raise the question of separate beginnings of the two constituents of the personality, except as this is partially involved in the hypothesis of reincarnation. The child is born into the world equipped with all the capacities of man, and further investigation as to how these capacities originally came is not made.

33. It was, however, thought necessary to account for the appearance of man (a clan or tribe) on earth, and his creation was generally ascribed to a supernatural being. Every tribe has its history of man's creation—the variety in the anthropogonic myths is endless, the diversities depending on the differences of general culture and of surroundings; but the essential point is the same in all; some god or other supernatural Power fashioned human creatures of different sex, whether with well-considered aim or by caprice is not said.

34. The first pair is thus accounted for in a simple and generally satisfactory manner. But the fact of the perpetuation of the tribe or the race appears to have offered serious difficulties to the savage mind. Some tribes are reported to be ignorant of the natural cause of birth. Some Melanesian women believe that the origin or beginning of a child is a plant (coconut or other), and that the child will be the nunu (something like an echo) of that thing or of a dead person (this is not the transition of a soul—the child takes the place of the dead person). In Mota there is a similar belief.[53] The Central Australians, it is said, think that the birth of a child is due to the entrance of a spirit into the body of a woman[54]—every child is thus the reincarnation of some ancient person (an "ancestor"), and the particular person is identified by the sacred object (stone or tree, or other object) near which the woman is when she first becomes aware of the child within her; every such object (and there are many of them near any village) represents some spirit whose name is known to the old men of the tribe, and this name is given the child.[55]

35. Similar theories of birth are found among the Eskimo[56] and the Khonds,[57] in Melanesia,[58] in West Africa,[59] and elsewhere.[60] Such views thus appear to have been widely diffused, and are in fact a natural product of early biological science. They embody the earliest known form of the doctrine of reincarnation, which is so important in the Buddhistic dogma.[61] With it must be connected the fact that among many peoples (savage, half-civilized, and civilized) birth was intimately connected with supernatural beings, whence the origin of numerous usages: the precautions taken to guard the woman before delivery, the lustrations after the birth, the couvade, the dread of menstrual and seminal discharges, and further, customs relating to the arrival of boys and girls at the age of puberty.

36. At a later stage of culture the creation of the soul was distinguished from that of the body, and was generally regarded as a special act of the deity: the Hebrews conceived that the body was fashioned out of dust, and that the breath of life was breathed into it by God, so that man became a "living soul"[62]; Plato at one time[63] thought that the soul of the world was created by God, out of certain elements, before the body, and was made prior to it in origin and excellence so that it should be its ruler, and that afterwards he placed separate souls in the various separate bodies; the immortal gods, says Cicero, have placed souls (animos) in human bodies, and the human soul has been plucked (decerptus) from the divine mind.[64]

37. In the early Christian centuries the question of how the soul came into the body was an intensely practical one—it was closely connected with the question of man's inherent sinfulness and his capacity for redemption. Tertullian's theory of the natural propagation of souls (traducianism), which involved the inheritance of a sinful nature, was succeeded on the one hand by the theory of preexistence (adopted by Origen from Plato), and on the other hand by the view that every soul was an immediate creation of God (creationism, held by Jerome and others), these both assuming the natural goodness or untainted character of the soul at the birth of the human being.

38. The mysterious character of death, the final departure of the soul from the body, called forth in savage communities feelings of awe and dread. As death, in the savage view, was due to the intervention of a supernatural agency, the dead body and everything connected with it partook of the sacredness that attached to the supernatural.[65] Hence, probably, many of the customs relating to the treatment of corpses—taboos that survived into comparatively late times.[66] The Old Testament ritual term 'unclean' is used of corpses and other things that it was unlawful to touch, things taboo, and in this sense is equivalent to 'sacred.'[67]


39. In the preceding section only the general fact of the existence of the soul is considered. We find, however, a widespread belief among savage and half-civilized peoples that every human body is inhabited by several souls (two or more).[68] Thus, the Fijians, the Algonkins, and the Karens recognize two souls; the Malagasy, the Dahomi, and the Ashanti three; the Congoans three or four, the Chinese three, the Dakotas four, the Malays (of the peninsula) seven; and this list is not exhaustive.[69] To these various souls different procedures and functions are assigned.

40. In general, as to place and function during the man's life, the following classes of souls are distinguished: the vital soul, or the principle of life, whose departure leaves the man insensible or dead (Malagasy aina, Karen kalah, Eẃe 'ghost-soul'); the dream-soul, which wanders while the man is asleep (probably a universal conception in early stages of culture); the shadow-soul, which accompanies him by day (also, probably, universal); the reflection-soul (similar to the preceding); the beast-soul, or bush-soul, incarnate in a beast (among the Congoans, the Eẃe, the Tshi, the Khonds), with which may be compared the Egyptian view that revenant souls and Underworld shadows may assume the form of animals, and the Hindu metempsychosis. A particular responsible moral soul is also reported (among the Karens),[70] but it is doubtful whether this is native; and still more doubtful are the Karen 'reason' (tsō) and the Khond beatified soul.[71]

41. In regard to procedure after the man's death, it is generally held in early stages of culture that one soul stays with the body, or at the tomb, or in the village, or becomes air, while another departs to the land of the dead (Fijians, Algonkins, and others), or is reborn (Khonds), and in some cases a soul is said to vanish.[72]

42. It is obvious that there was great flexibility and indefiniteness in early theories of the soul. The savage mind, feeling its way among its varied experiences, was disposed to imagine a separate interior substance to account for anything that seemed to be a separate and valuable manifestation of the man's personality. The number of souls varies with the number of phenomena that it was thought necessary to recognize as peculiar, and the lines of demarcation between different souls are not always strictly drawn. As to the manner of the souls' indwelling in the body, and as to their relations one to another, savages have nothing definite to say, or, at least, have said nothing. In general our information regarding savage psychical theories is meager; it is not unlikely that with fuller acquaintance the details given above would have to be modified, though the general fact of polypsychism would doubtless remain.

43. In the higher ancient religions there are only more or less obscure indications of an earlier polypsychic system. The Egyptian distinction between soul (bai), shadow (haibet), and double (ka) appears to involve such a system; but the Egyptologists of the present day are not agreed as to the precise interpretation of these terms.[73] The Semitic terms nafs and ruḥ (commonly rendered 'soul' and 'spirit' respectively) are of similar origin, both meaning 'wind,' 'breath'; in the literature they are sometimes used in the same sense, sometimes differentiated. The 'soul' is the seat of life, appetite, feeling, thought—when it leaves the body the man swoons or dies; it alone is used as a synonym of personality (a 'soul' often means simply a 'person'). 'Spirit,' while it sometimes signifies the whole nature, is also employed (like English 'spirit') to express the tone of mind, especially courage, vigor. But, so far as the conception of an interior being is concerned, the two terms are substantially identical in the Semitic languages as known to us.[74] And though, as is noted above, 'spirit' is not used for the human personality, it alone is the term in Hebrew for a class of subordinate supernatural beings standing in close relations with the deity.[75] Greek literature seems to know only one personal soul (psyche, with which pneuma is often identical in meaning); a quality of nature (as in Semitic ruḥ) is sometimes expressed by pneuma ('spirit').[76] The thymos appears in Homer to be merely a function of the psyche,[77] in any case it does not represent a separate personality alongside of the psyche, and the same thing is true of the daimon. Similarly, in Latin, animus and anima are substantially synonyms[78]—animus sometimes expressing tone of mind—and spiritus is equivalent to ruḥ and pneuma; the individual genius, with its feminine representative the juno, is a complicated and obscure figure, but it cannot be regarded as a separate soul.[79]

44. This variety of terms in the more advanced religions may point to an early polypsychic conception. The tendency was, with the progress of culture, to modify or efface this sort of conception.[80] From a belief in a number of entities in the human interior being men passed to a recognition of different sides or aspects of the inward life, and finally to the distinct conception of the oneness of the soul. The movement toward psychic unity may be compared with the movement toward monotheism by the unification of the phenomena of the external world.


45. Savage philosophy, recognizing the dual nature of man, regarded death as due to the departure of the soul from the body. The cessation of breathing at death was matter of common observation, and the obvious inference was that the breath, the vital soul, had left the body. Reflection on this fact naturally led to the question, Whither has the soul gone?

46. Death of the soul. The general belief has always been that the soul survived the man's death.[81] There are, however, exceptions; the continued existence of the soul was not an absolutely established article in the savage creed. According to the reports of travelers, it would seem that among some tribes there was disbelief or doubt on this point. A West African native expressed his belief in the form of the general proposition, "The dead must die"; that is, apparently, the dead man must submit to the universal law to which the living are subject.[82] In another African community some held and others denied that a spirit could be killed, and one man was certain that spirits lived long, but was not certain whether they ever died.[83] Differences of opinion in regard to the fact of immortality are said to exist in Banks Islands.[84] The Eskimos are reported as holding that the soul may be destroyed, and then, however, repaired.[85]

47. It thus appears that even among low tribes there is speculation on the question of the continuance of existence after earthly death; there is admission of ignorance. We have, however, examples of a definite belief in annihilation. In some cases, when the theory of several souls is held,[86] one of these souls is supposed to become extinct at death: this is the case with the Malagasy saina, and the 'beast-soul' among the Eẃe, Tshi, and Congoans; but such a soul represents only a part of the man, and its disappearance does not signify the extinction of the man's personality.

48. Complete extinction of the soul and the personality, in the case of certain persons, is found among the Fijians: in the long and difficult way to the Underworld, bachelors (as a rule), untattooed women, false boasters, and those men who failed to overcome in combat the "slayer of souls" (the god Sama) are killed and eaten.[87] Something like this is reported of the Hervey Islands,[88] New Zealand,[89] the Hawaiians,[90] and other tribes. Among the wild tribes of India, the Khonds and the Oraons, or Dhangars, hold to annihilation of the soul in certain cases.[91] Miss Kingsley reports a specially interesting view in Congo to the effect that souls die when the family dies out.[92] The ground of this sense of the solidarity of the living and the dead is not clear; the most obvious explanation is that the latter get their sustenance from the offerings of the former, and perhaps from their prayers; such prayers, according to W. Ellis,[93] are made in Polynesia. This belief appears also in some advanced peoples: so the Egyptians,[94] and apparently the Hindus.[95]

49. In these cases no explanation is offered of how a soul can die. Earthly death is the separation of the soul from the body, and by analogy the death of a soul should involve a disruption of constituents, but the savage imagination appears to have passed lightly over this point: when a soul is eaten, it is destroyed as the human body is destroyed when it is eaten; if it is drowned or clubbed, it dies as a man does under similar treatment. The soul is conceived of as an independent personality, with a corporeal form and mental powers; the psychic body, it would seem, is endowed with power of thought.[96]

50. This vagueness of conception enables us to understand how savage logic reaches the conclusion that the soul may be mortal: all the possibilities of the earthly person are transferred to it. In regard to the occasion of its death, it is sometimes represented as punishment for violation of tribal customs (as in Fiji), sometimes as the natural fate of inferior classes of persons (as among the Tongans, who are said to believe that only chiefs live after death),[97] sometimes as a simple destruction by human agency.

51. In the popular faith of the Semitic, Egyptian, Chinese, and Indo-European peoples there is no sign of an extinction of the personality after earthly death. The Babylonian dead all go to the vast and gloomy Underworld (Aralu), where their food is dust, and whence there is no return.[98] The Old-Hebrew 'soul' (nephesh) continues to exist in Sheol. True, its life is a colorless one, without achievement, without hope, and without religious worship; yet it has the marks of personality.[99] The fortunes of the spirit (ruḥ), when it denotes not merely a quality of character but an entity, are identical with those of the 'soul.'[100] In India, belief in life after death has always been held by the masses, and philosophic systems conceive of absorption, not of extinction proper. Zoroastrianism had, and has, a well-developed doctrine of immortality, and the Egyptian conception of the future was equally elaborate. In China the cult of ancestors does not admit belief in annihilation.[101] No theory of annihilation is found in connection with the Greek and Latin 'soul' and 'spirit' (psyche, pneuma; animus, anima, spiritus); the thymos is not a separate entity, but only an expression of the 'soul';[102] and the Greek daimon and the Latin genius are too vague to come into consideration in this connection.[103]

52. Omitting the purely philosophical views of the nature and destiny of the soul (absorption into the Supreme God, or the Universal Force, is to be distinguished from annihilation), and the belief of certain Christian sects in the future annihilation of the wicked (based probably on a misunderstanding of certain Biblical passages[104]), it may be said that the role of the theory of extinction of the soul in the general development of religion has been an insignificant one. Beginning among the lowest tribes as an expression of belief in the universality of mortality, it assumed a punitive character in the higher savage creed, and was gradually abandoned by the religions of civilized peoples.

53. The belief in the continued existence of the soul, on the other hand, has maintained itself from the earliest known times to the present. The inquiry into the grounds of this survival belongs to the history of the doctrine of immortality, and will not be pursued here in detail.[105] Doubtless it has been the increasing sense of the dignity of human nature, the conviction of the close connection of human life with the divine, and the demand for a compensation for the sufferings of the present (together with the instinctive desire for continued existence) that has led men to retain faith in the continued life of the soul. Modern beliefs in ghosts and in spiritualistic phenomena testify to the persistence of this article of faith.

54. Abode of the surviving soul.[106] Opinions regarding the destiny of the surviving soul have changed from time to time in accordance with topographical conditions and with changes in intellectual and moral culture. There is no place or thing on or under or above the ground that has not been regarded, at some time and by some communities, as its abode. The selection of the particular thing or place has been determined by local conditions—by what was supposed to be observation of facts, or by what was conceived to be appropriate. The obscurity of the subject has allowed free play to savage imagination. The paucity of data makes it impossible to give a complete statement of the views that have been held, or to arrange such as are known in accurate chronological order; but the principal opinions may be mentioned, following in a general way the order of refinement.[107]

55. 1. One of the earliest (and also one of the most persistent) views of the future of souls is that they are reborn or reincarnated as human beings, or as beasts or plants or inanimate things. It was not unnatural that, when a new human being came into the world, it should be regarded as the reproduction of a former human being, especially if the physiological conditions of birth were not understood;[108] the basis of the belief may have been the general similarity between human forms, and, in some cases, the special similarity between the infant or the adult and some deceased person. An extension of the sphere of reincarnation would also naturally arise from the recognized kinship between man and other things, animate or inanimate.

56. Examples of these views are found in many parts of the world. Tylor[109] and Marillier[110] have collected instances of such beliefs among savage tribes in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania, as well as in higher religions (Brahmanism, Buddhism, Plato, Mani, the Jewish Kabbala, Swedenborg).[111] Other instances of belief in rebirth in human beings or in animals are found among the ancient Germans,[112] the people of Calabar,[113] the Torres Straits islanders,[114] the Central Australians,[115] and the Yorubans.[116]

57. There is an obvious relation between the belief in reincarnation in animal form and the worship of animals;[117] both rest on the assumption of substantial identity of nature between man and other beings, an assumption which seems to be universal in early stages of culture, and is not without support in modern philosophic thought.[118] Ancient belief included gods in this circle of kinship—a view that appears in Brahmanism and the later Buddhism.

58. The higher forms of the theory introduced a moral element into the process of reincarnation—the soul ascends or descends in the scale of being according to the moral character or illumination of its life on earth.[119] Thus it is given a practical bearing on everyday life—a result that is in accordance with all religious history, in which we find that religious faith always appropriates and utilizes the ethical ideas of its time.

59. At the present day the interest in the hypothesis of reincarnation springs from its supposed connection with the doctrine of immortality. Brahmanists and Buddhists maintain that it is the only sure basis for this doctrine; but this view appears not to have met with wide acceptance.

60. 2. An all but universal belief among lower tribes is that departed souls remain near their earthly abodes, haunting the neighborhood of the body or the grave or the village.[120] It is apparently assumed that a soul is more at home in places which it knew in its previous life, and this assumption is confirmed by sights and sounds, chiefly during the night, that are interpreted as the forms and utterances of wandering souls.

61. Generally no occupation is assigned to these ghosts, except that it is sometimes supposed that they seek food and warmth:[121] scraps of food are left on the ground for them, and persons sitting around a fire at night are afraid to venture into the dark places beyond lest they meet them.[122] For it is a common belief that such souls are dangerous, having both the power and the will to inflict injury.[123] It is easy to see why they should be supposed to possess extraordinary powers.[124] The belief in their maliciousness may have come naturally from the social conditions of the place and time: in savage communities a man who is stronger than his fellows is likely to treat them as his savage instincts prompt, to seize their property or kill them; and departed souls would naturally be credited with similar dispositions.

62. It is also true that the mysterious is often dreadful; even now in civilized lands there is a general fear of a 'ghost.' Precautions are taken by savages to drive or keep the soul away: the doors of houses are closed, and noises are made. On the other hand, ghosts, as members of the family or the clan, are often regarded as friendly.[125] Even during a man's lifetime his soul may be a sort of guide and protector—may attain, in fact, the rank of a deity;[126] and after death it may become, as ancestor, the object of a regular cult.

63. Fear of ghosts has, perhaps, suggested certain methods of disposing of the dead body, as by interring or exposing it at a distance from the village, or burning it or throwing it into the water; other considerations, however, as is suggested above,[127] may determine, in whole or in part, these methods of dealing with the body.

64. 3. It may be considered an advance in the organization of the future life when the soul is supposed to go to some distant place on the earth or in the sea or in the sky.[128] This is an attempt to separate the spheres of the living and the dead, and thus at once to define the functions of the dead and relieve the living from the fear of them. The land of the dead is sometimes vaguely spoken of as lying on earth, far off in some direction not precisely defined—east, west, north, or south—in accordance with traditions whose origin is lost in the obscurity of the past.

65. Possibly in some cases it is the traditional original home of the tribe;[129] more often, it would seem, some local or astronomical fact has given the suggestion of the place; one Egyptian view was that the western desert (a wide mysterious region) was the abode of the departed; it was a widespread belief that the dead went to where the sun disappeared beneath the horizon.[130] Tribes living near the sea or a river often place the other world beyond the sea or the river,[131] and a ferryman is sometimes imagined who sets souls over the water.[132] Mountains also are regarded as abodes of the dead.[133] It is not unnatural that the abodes of departed souls should be placed in the sky, whose height and brightness, with its crowd of luminous bodies, made it an object of wonder and awe, and caused it to be regarded as the dwelling place of the happy gods, with whom deserving men would naturally be. Sometimes the expanse of the upper air was regarded as the home of souls (as in Samoa), sometimes a heavenly body—the sun (in India), or the moon (in the Bowditch Islands), or the stars.[134] The schemes being vague, several of these conceptions may exist side by side at the same place and time.

66. The occupations of the dead in these regions are held usually to be the same as those of the living; no other view is possible in early stages of social life. Generally all the apparatus of earthly life (food, utensils, weapons) is placed on the grave or with the body, and wives and slaves are slain to be the companions of the deceased.

67. 4. A more decided separation between the living and the dead is made in the conception of the underground world as the abode of the latter. It was, however, only at a late period that this conception was carried far enough to make the separation effective. Among the Central Australians there were folk-stories of early men who traveled under the ground, but this is represented as merely an extraordinary way of getting from one place to another on the surface of the earth. Some North American tribes tell of an underground world inhabited by the ants and by beings similar to man, but those who live up on the earth are seen there only by accident, as when some hero dares the descent.[135] The conception of a real subterranean or submarine hades is found, however, among many savage and barbarous peoples, as the Samoans, the inhabitants of New Guinea, the Zulus, the Navahos, the Eskimo, the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush, and others.[136]

68. These pictures of the future world are crude, and usually stand side by side with others; they are experiments in eschatology. But the constructive imagination moved more and more toward an organized underground hades as the sole abode of the dead—the place to which all the dead go. Such a hades is found among the civilized peoples of antiquity, Egyptians, Semites, Hindus, Greeks, and Romans, and, in more recent times, among the Teutons (Scandinavians). The suggestion for this position may have come from the grave (though it does not appear that the grave was regarded as the permanent abode of the dead), and from caverns that seemed to lead down into the bowels of the earth. The descent of souls into a subterranean world offered no difficulties to early imagination: ghosts, like the Australian ancestors, could move freely where living men could not go; where there was no cavern like that by which AEneas passed below,[137] they could pass through the ground.

69. A lower region offered a wide land for the departed, with the possibility of organization of its denizens. Ghosts gradually lost their importance as a factor in everyday life; sights and sounds that had been referred to wandering souls came to be explained by natural laws. Wider geographical knowledge made it difficult to assign the ghosts a mundane home, and led to their relegation to the sub-mundane region. Further, the establishment of great nations familiarized men with the idea that every large community should have its own domain. The gods were gradually massed, first in the sky, the ocean, and hades, and then in heaven. For the dead the first organization (if that term may be allowed) was in hades; the separation into heaven and hell came later. A specific divine head of the Underworld is found in Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria, India, Greece, Rome, but not in Israel. Such a definite system of government could exist only when something approaching a pantheon had been established; the Babylonians, for example, whose pantheon was vague, had also a vague god of hades.

70. Theories of the occupations of the dead varied in the early civilized stage, before the rise of the idea of ethical retribution in the other life. In the absence of earthly relations, imagination could conceive of nothing for them to do, and hence an ardent desire for the continuance of earthly life.[138] For the Hebrews the Underworld was without pursuits; the shades sat motionless, in the dress and according to the rank of the upper world, without emotions or aims (except a sparkle of malicious satisfaction when some great man came down from earth), and without religious worship.[139] A similar view was held by the Greeks and the Romans. Certain Egyptian documents speak of mundane occupations for the dead, but these documents belong to a comparatively late stage of culture, and what the earlier view was we do not know.[140] Of Hindu ideas, also, on this point we have only relatively late notices.

71. 5. A radical transformation in the conception of the state of the dead was effected by the introduction of the idea of moral retribution into the life of the Underworld.[141] The basis of the movement was the natural conception of life as determined by ethical considerations, but the process of transformation has extended over thousands of years and has hardly yet reached its completion. In the lowest eschatological systems known to us there is no marked difference in the status of departed souls; so among the Central Australians, the tribes of New Guinea and the Torres Straits islands, the Zulus, the Malagasy, the West African peoples, and some North American tribes.[142]

72. The earliest grounds of distinction are ritualistic and social; these occur among the higher savages and survive in some civilized peoples. The Fijians assign punishment in the other world to bachelors, men unaccompanied by their wives and children, cowards, and untattooed women.[143] Where circumcision was a tribal mark, the uncircumcised, as having no social status, were consigned to inferior places in hades: so among the Hebrews.[144] The omission of proper funeral ceremonies was held in like manner to entail deprivation of privilege in hades: the shade had an undesirable place below, as among the Babylonians and the Hebrews,[145] or was unable to enter the abode of the dead, and wandered forlorn on the earth or on the border of the Underworld, as was the Greek belief.[146] Exposure of the corpse to beasts and birds, making funeral ceremonies impossible, was regarded as a terrible misfortune for the dead.[147]

73. Such of these beliefs as relate to violations of ritual appear to spring from the view that the tribal customs are sacred, and from the consequent distinction between tribesmen and foreigners. All persons without the tribal mark were shut out from the privileges of the tribe, were outlaws in this world and the next; and those whose bodies were not properly disposed of lost the support of the tribal deities or of the subterranean Powers.[148] It was also held that the body retained the form in which it went down to hades;[149] hence the widespread dread of mutilation, as among the Chinese still. On the other hand the brave were rewarded.[150]

74. Sometimes earthly rank determines future conditions—a natural corollary to what is stated above (Sec.72 f.). A distinction is made between nobles and common people in the Bowditch Islands.[151] The members of the Fijian Areoi Society are held to enjoy special privileges in the other world.[152] The belief in the Marquesas Islands is that the sky is for high gods and nobles.[153] According to John Smith, in savage Virginia only nobles and priests were supposed to survive after death.[154] The North American Mandans (of Dakota), according to one view, assign to the brave in the hereafter the delightful villages of the gods.[155] When souls are supposed to enter into animals different animals are assigned to nobles and common men.[156] Kings and nobles retain their superiority of position and are sometimes attended by their slaves and officers.[157]

75. The manner of death is sometimes significant. The Karens hold that persons killed by elephants, famine, or sword, do not enter the abode of the dead, but wander on the earth and take possession of the souls of men.[158] In Borneo it is supposed that those who are killed in war become specters.[159] The belief in the Marquesas Islands is that warriors dying in battle, women dying in childbirth, and suicides go up to the sky.[160] In regard to certain modes of death opposite opinions are held in the Ladrone (Marianne) Islands and the Hervey group: in the former those who die by violence are supposed to be tortured by demons, those who die a natural death are believed to be happy; according to the view in the latter group these last are devoured by the goddess of death, and the others are happy. In the one case violent death, it would seem, is supposed to be due to the anger of the gods, and to be a sign of something bad in the man; in the other case happiness is compensation for the misfortune of a violent death, and natural death, being the fate of ordinary people, leaves one at the mercy of the mistress of the other world.

76. The advance to the conception of moral retribution hereafter could take place only in communities in which earthly life was organized on a moral basis. The beginning of the movement is seen in certain savage tribes. Savages have their codes, which generally recognize some ethical virtues among the tribal obligations. Stealing, lying, failure in hospitality, cowardice, violation of marital rights—in general, all the acts that affect injuriously the communal life—are, as a rule, condemned by the common sense of the lowest peoples, and the moral character of the gods reflects that of their worshipers. By reason of the sense of solidarity the faults of individuals affect not only themselves but also their communities, and the gods care for communities as well as for individuals. Whenever, then, there is an inquest in the other world, these faults, it is likely, will be punished. On account of the paucity of our information, it is not possible to make a general statement on this point, but examples of future moral control occur in many savage creeds.[161] In such systems the nature of the life beyond the grave is variously conceived: sometimes as cheerless and gloomy (as in Finland), sometimes as pleasant (as in Samoa, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Bowditch Islands, some North American tribes, Brazil).[162]

77. In tracing the growth of the conception of distinctions in the other world,[163] we find first a vague opinion that those who do badly in this life are left to shift for themselves hereafter;[164] that is, there is no authority controlling the lives of men below. In the majority of cases, however, distinctions are made, but these, as is remarked above, are based on various nonmoral considerations, and have small cultural value.[165]

78. In the published reports of savage beliefs there is not always mention of a formal examination of the character of the dead, and probably nothing of the sort was imagined by the lowest tribes. It appears, however, in such relatively advanced peoples as the Fijians[166] and the Khonds.[167]

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