MYTH, RITUAL, AND RELIGION
By Andrew Lang
PREFACE TO NEW IMPRESSION.
PREFACE TO NEW EDITION.
CHAPTER I.—SYSTEMS OF MYTHOLOGY.
Definitions of religion—Contradictory evidence—"Belief in spiritual beings"—Objection to Mr. Tylor's definition—Definition as regards this argument—Problem: the contradiction between religion and myth—Two human moods—Examples—Case of Greece— Ancient mythologists—Criticism by Eusebius—Modern mythological systems—Mr. Max Muller—Mannhardt.
CHAPTER II.—NEW SYSTEM PROPOSED.
Chapter I. recapitulated—Proposal of a new method: Science of comparative or historical study of man—Anticipated in part by Eusebius, Fontenelle, De Brosses, Spencer (of C. C. C., Cambridge), and Mannhardt—Science of Tylor—Object of inquiry: to find condition of human intellect in which marvels of myth are parts of practical everyday belief—This is the savage state—Savages described—The wild element of myth a survival from the savage state—Advantages of this method—Partly accounts for wide DIFFUSION as well as ORIGIN of myths—Connected with general theory of evolution—Puzzling example of myth of the water- swallower—Professor Tiele's criticism of the method— Objections to method, and answer to these—See Appendix B.
CHAPTER III.—THE MENTAL CONDITION OF SAVAGES—CONFUSION WITH NATURE—TOTEMISM.
The mental condition of savages the basis of the irrational element in myth—Characteristics of that condition: (1) Confusion of all things in an equality of presumed animation and intelligence; (2) Belief in sorcery; (3) Spiritualism; (4) Curiosity; (5) Easy credulity and mental indolence—The curiosity is satisfied, thanks to the credulity, by myths in answer to all inquiries—Evidence for this—Mr. Tylor's opinion—Mr. Im Thurn—Jesuit missionaries' Relations—Examples of confusion between men, plants, beasts and other natural objects—Reports of travellers—Evidence from institution of totemism—Definition of totemism—Totemism in Australia, Africa, America, the Oceanic Islands, India, North Asia— Conclusions: Totemism being found so widely distributed, is a proof of the existence of that savage mental condition in which no line is drawn between men and the other things in the world. This confusion is one of the characteristics of myth in all races.
CHAPTER IV.—THE MENTAL CONDITION OF SAVAGES—MAGIC— METAMORPHOSIS—METAPHYSIC—PSYCHOLOGY.
Claims of sorcerers—Savage scientific speculation—Theory of causation—Credulity, except as to new religious ideas—"Post hoc, ergo propter hoc"—Fundamental ideas of magic—Examples: incantations, ghosts, spirits—Evidence of rank and other institutions in proof of confusions of mind exhibited in magical beliefs.
CHAPTER V.—NATURE MYTHS.
Savage fancy, curiosity and credulity illustrated in nature myths— In these all phenomena are explained by belief in the general animation of everything, combined with belief in metamorphosis—Sun myths, Asian, Australian, African, Melanesian, Indian, Californian, Brazilian, Maori, Samoan—Moon myths, Australian, Muysca, Mexican, Zulu, Macassar, Greenland, Piute, Malay—Thunder myths—Greek and Aryan sun and moon myths—Star myths—Myths, savage and civilised, of animals, accounting for their marks and habits—Examples of custom of claiming blood kinship with lower animals—Myths of various plants and trees—Myths of stones, and of metamorphosis into stones, Greek, Australian and American—The whole natural philosophy of savages expressed in myths, and survives in folk-lore and classical poetry; and legends of metamorphosis.
CHAPTER VI.—NON-ARYAN MYTHS OF THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD AND OF MAN.
Confusions of myth—Various origins of man and of things—Myths of Australia, Andaman Islands, Bushmen, Ovaherero, Namaquas, Zulus, Hurons, Iroquois, Diggers, Navajoes, Winnebagoes, Chaldaeans, Thlinkeets, Pacific Islanders, Maoris, Aztecs, Peruvians— Similarity of ideas pervading all those peoples in various conditions of society and culture.
CHAPTER VII.—INDO-ARYAN MYTHS—SOURCES OF EVIDENCE.
Authorities—Vedas—Brahmanas—Social condition of Vedic India— Arts—Ranks—War—Vedic fetishism—Ancestor worship—Date of Rig- Veda Hymns doubtful—Obscurity of the Hymns—Difficulty of interpreting the real character of Veda—Not primitive but sacerdotal—The moral purity not innocence but refinement.
CHAPTER VIII.—INDIAN MYTHS OF THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD AND OF MAN.
Comparison of Vedic and savage myths—The metaphysical Vedic account of the beginning of things—Opposite and savage fable of world made out of fragments of a man—Discussion of this hymn— Absurdities of Brahmanas—Prajapati, a Vedic Unkulunkulu or Qat— Evolutionary myths—Marriage of heaven and earth—Myths of Puranas, their savage parallels—Most savage myths are repeated in Brahmanas.
CHAPTER IX.—GREEK MYTHS OF THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD AND MAN.
The Greeks practically civilised when we first meet them in Homer— Their mythology, however, is full of repulsive features—The hypothesis that many of these are savage survivals—Are there other examples of such survival in Greek life and institutions?—Greek opinion was constant that the race had been savage—Illustrations of savage survival from Greek law of homicide, from magic, religion, human sacrifice, religious art, traces of totemism, and from the mysteries—Conclusion: that savage survival may also be expected in Greek myths.
CHAPTER X.—GREEK COSMOGONIC MYTHS.
Nature of the evidence—Traditions of origin of the world and man— Homeric, Hesiodic and Orphic myths—Later evidence of historians, dramatists, commentators—The Homeric story comparatively pure—The story in Hesiod, and its savage analogues—The explanations of the myth of Cronus, modern and ancient—The Orphic cosmogony—Phanes and Prajapati—Greek myths of the origin of man—Their savage analogues.
CHAPTER XI.—SAVAGE DIVINE MYTHS.
The origin of a belief in GOD beyond the ken of history and of speculation—Sketch of conjectural theories—Two elements in all beliefs, whether of backward or civilised races—The Mythical and the Religious—These may be coeval, or either may be older than the other—Difficulty of study—The current anthropological theory— Stated objections to the theory—Gods and spirits—Suggestion that savage religion is borrowed from Europeans—Reply to Mr. Tylor's arguments on this head—The morality of savages.
PREFACE TO NEW IMPRESSION.
When this book first appeared (1886), the philological school of interpretation of religion and myth, being then still powerful in England, was criticised and opposed by the author. In Science, as on the Turkish throne of old, "Amurath to Amurath succeeds"; the philological theories of religion and myth have now yielded to anthropological methods. The centre of the anthropological position was the "ghost theory" of Mr. Herbert Spencer, the "Animistic" theory of Mr. E. R. Tylor, according to whom the propitiation of ancestral and other spirits leads to polytheism, and thence to monotheism. In the second edition (1901) of this work the author argued that the belief in a "relatively supreme being," anthropomorphic was as old as, and might be even older, than animistic religion. This theory he exhibited at greater length, and with a larger collection of evidence, in his Making of Religion.
Since 1901, a great deal of fresh testimony as to what Mr. Howitt styles the "All Father" in savage and barbaric religions has accrued. As regards this being in Africa, the reader may consult the volumes of the New Series of the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, which are full of African evidence, not, as yet, discussed, to my knowledge, by any writer on the History of Religion. As late as Man, for July, 1906, No. 66, Mr. Parkinson published interesting Yoruba legends about Oleron, the maker and father of men, and Oro, the Master of the Bull Roarer.
From Australia, we have Mr. Howitt's account of the All Father in his Native Tribes of South-East Australia, with the account of the All Father of the Central Australian tribe, the Kaitish, in North Central Tribes of Australia, by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen (1904), also The Euahlayi Tribe, by Mrs. Langley Parker (1906). These masterly books are indispensable to all students of the subject, while, in Messrs. Spencer and Gillen's work cited, and in their earlier Native Tribes of Central Australia, we are introduced to savages who offer an elaborate animistic theory, and are said to show no traces of the All Father belief.
The books of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen also present much evidence as to a previously unknown form of totemism, in which the totem is not hereditary, and does not regulate marriage. This prevails among the Arunta "nation," and the Kaitish tribe. In the opinion of Mr. Spencer (Report Australian Association for Advancement of Science, 1904) and of Mr. J. G. Frazer (Fortnightly Review, September, 1905), this is the earliest surviving form of totemism, and Mr. Frazer suggests an animistic origin for the institution. I have criticised these views in The Secret of the Totem (1905), and proposed a different solution of the problem. (See also "Primitive and Advanced Totemism" in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, July, 1906.) In the works mentioned will be found references to other sources of information as to these questions, which are still sub judice. Mrs. Bates, who has been studying the hitherto almost unknown tribes of Western Australia, promises a book on their beliefs and institutions, and Mr. N. W. Thomas is engaged on a volume on Australian institutions. In this place the author can only direct attention to these novel sources, and to the promised third edition of Mr. Frazer's The Golden Bough.
PREFACE TO NEW EDITION.
The original edition of Myth, Ritual and Religion, published in 1887, has long been out of print. In revising the book I have brought it into line with the ideas expressed in the second part of my Making of Religion (1898) and have excised certain passages which, as the book first appeared, were inconsistent with its main thesis. In some cases the original passages are retained in notes, to show the nature of the development of the author's opinions. A fragment or two of controversy has been deleted, and chapters xi. and xii., on the religion of the lowest races, have been entirely rewritten, on the strength of more recent or earlier information lately acquired. The gist of the book as it stands now and as it originally stood is contained in the following lines from the preface of 1887: "While the attempt is made to show that the wilder features of myth survive from, or were borrowed from, or were imitated from the ideas of people in the savage condition of thought, the existence—even among savages—of comparatively pure, if inarticulate, religious beliefs is insisted on throughout". To that opinion I adhere, and I trust that it is now expressed with more consistency than in the first edition. I have seen reason, more and more, to doubt the validity of the "ghost theory," or animistic hypothesis, as explanatory of the whole fabric of religion; and I present arguments against Mr. Tylor's contention that the higher conceptions of savage faith are borrowed from missionaries.(1) It is very possible, however, that Mr. Tylor has arguments more powerful than those contained in his paper of 1892. For our information is not yet adequate to a scientific theory of the Origin of Religion, and probably never will be. Behind the races whom we must regard as "nearest the beginning" are their unknown ancestors from a dateless past, men as human as ourselves, but men concerning whose psychical, mental and moral condition we can only form conjectures. Among them religion arose, in circumstances of which we are necessarily ignorant. Thus I only venture on a surmise as to the germ of a faith in a Maker (if I am not to say "Creator") and Judge of men. But, as to whether the higher religious belief, or the lower mythical stories came first, we are at least certain that the Christian conception of God, given pure, was presently entangled, by the popular fancy of Europe, in new Marchen about the Deity, the Madonna, her Son, and the Apostles. Here, beyond possibility of denial, pure belief came first, fanciful legend was attached after. I am inclined to surmise that this has always been the case, and, in the pages on the legend of Zeus, I show the processes of degeneration, of mythical accretions on a faith in a Heaven-God, in action. That "the feeling of religious devotion" attests "high faculties" in early man (such as are often denied to men who "cannot count up to seven"), and that "the same high mental faculties... would infallibly lead him, as long as his reasoning powers remained poorly developed, to various strange superstitions and customs," was the belief of Mr. Darwin.(2) That is also my view, and I note that the lowest savages are not yet guilty of the very worst practices, "sacrifice of human beings to a blood-loving God," and ordeals by poison and fire, to which Mr. Darwin alludes. "The improvement of our science" has freed us from misdeeds which are unknown to the Andamanese or the Australians. Thus there was, as regards these points in morals, degeneracy from savagery as society advanced, and I believe that there was also degeneration in religion. To say this is not to hint at a theory of supernatural revelation to the earliest men, a theory which I must, in limine disclaim.
(1) Tylor, "Limits of Savage Religion." Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. xxi.
(2) Descent of Man, p. 68, 1871.
In vol. ii. p. 19 occurs a reference, in a note, to Mr. Hartland's criticism of my ideas about Australian gods as set forth in the Making of Religion. Mr. Hartland, who kindly read the chapters on Australian religion in this book, does not consider that my note on p. 19 meets the point of his argument. As to the Australians, I mean no more than that, AMONG endless low myths, some of them possess a belief in a "maker of everything," a primal being, still in existence, watching conduct, punishing breaches of his laws, and, in some cases, rewarding the good in a future life. Of course these are the germs of a sympathetic religion, even if the being thus regarded is mixed up with immoral or humorous contradictory myths. My position is not harmed by such myths, which occur in all old religions, and, in the middle ages, new myths were attached to the sacred figures of Christianity in poetry and popular tales.
Thus, if there is nothing "sacred" in a religion because wild or wicked fables about the gods also occur, there is nothing "sacred" in almost any religion on earth.
Mr. Hartland's point, however, seems to be that, in the Making of Religion, I had selected certain Australian beliefs as especially "sacred" and to be distinguished from others, because they are inculcated at the religious Mysteries of some tribes. His aim, then, is to discover low, wild, immoral myths, inculcated at the Mysteries, and thus to destroy my line drawn between religion on one hand and myth or mere folk-lore on the other. Thus there is a being named Daramulun, of whose rites, among the Coast Murring, I condensed the account of Mr. Howitt.(1) From a statement by Mr. Greenway(2) Mr. Hartland learned that Daramulun's name is said to mean "leg on one side" or "lame". He, therefore, with fine humour, speaks of Daramulun as "a creator with a game leg," though when "Baiame" is derived by two excellent linguists, Mr. Ridley and Mr. Greenway, from Kamilaroi baia, "to make," Mr. Hartland is by no means so sure of the sense of the name. It happens to be inconvenient to him! Let the names mean what they may, Mr. Hartland finds, in an obiter dictum of Mr. Howitt (before he was initiated), that Daramulun is said to have "died," and that his spirit is now aloft. Who says so, and where, we are not informed,(3) and the question is important.
(1) J. A. I., xiii. pp. 440-459.
(2) Ibid., xxi. p. 294.
(3) Ibid., xiii. p. 194.
For the Wiraijuri, IN THEIR MYSTERIES, tell a myth of cannibal conduct of Daramulun's, and of deceit and failure of knowledge in Baiame.(1) Of this I was unaware, or neglected it, for I explicitly said that I followed Mr. Howitt's account, where no such matter is mentioned. Mr. Howitt, in fact, described the Mysteries of the Coast Murring, while the narrator of the low myths, Mr. Matthews, described those of a remote tribe, the Wiraijuri, with whom Daramulun is not the chief, but a subordinate person. How Mr. Matthews' friends can at once hold that Daramulun was "destroyed" by Baiame (their chief deity), and also that Daramulun's voice is heard at their rites, I don't know.(2) Nor do I know why Mr. Hartland takes the myth of a tribe where Daramulun is "the evil spirit who rules the night,"(3) and introduces it as an argument against the belief of a distant tribe, where, by Mr. Howitt's account, Daramulun is not an evil spirit, but "the master" of all, whose abode is above the sky, and to whom are attributed powers of omnipotence and omnipresence, or, at any rate, the power "to do anything and to go anywhere.... To his direct ordinances are attributed the social and moral laws of the community."(4) This is not "an evil spirit"! When Mr. Hartland goes for scandals to a remote tribe of a different creed that he may discredit the creed of the Coast Murring, he might as well attribute to the Free Kirk "the errors of Rome". But Mr. Hartland does it!(5) Being "cunning of fence" he may reply that I also spoke loosely of Wiraijuri and Coast Murring as, indifferently, Daramulunites. I did, and I was wrong, and my critic ought not to accept but to expose my error. The Wiraijuri Daramulun, who was annihilated, yet who is "an evil spirit that rules the night," is not the Murring guardian and founder of recognised ethics.
(1) J. A. I., xxv. p. 297.
(2) Ibid., May, 1895, p. 419.
(4) Ibid., xiii. pp. 458, 459.
(5) Folk-Lore, ix., No. iv., p. 299.
But, in the Wiraijuri mysteries, the master, Baiame, deceives the women as to the Mysteries! Shocking to US, but to deceive the women as to these arcana, is, to the Australian mind in general, necessary for the safety of the world. Moreover, we have heard of a lying spirit sent to deceive prophets in a much higher creed. Finally, in a myth of the Mystery of the Wiraijuri, Baiame is not omniscient. Indeed, even civilised races cannot keep on the level of these religious conceptions, and not to keep on that level is—mythology. Apollo, in the hymn to Hermes, sung on a sacred occasion, needs to ask an old vine-dresser for intelligence. Hyperion "sees all and hears all," but needs to be informed, by his daughters, of the slaughter of his kine. The Lord, in the Book of Job, has to ask Satan, "Whence comest thou?" Now for the sake of dramatic effect, now from pure inability to live on the level of his highest thought, man mythologises and anthropomorphises, in Greece or Israel, as in Australia.
It does not follow that there is "nothing sacred" in his religion. Mr. Hartland offers me a case in point. In Mrs. Langloh Parker's Australian Legendary Tales (pp. 11, 94), are myths of low adventures of Baiame. In her More Australian Legendary Tales (pp. 84-99), is a very poetical and charming aspect of the Baiame belief. Mr. Hartland says that I will "seek to put" the first set of stories out of court, as "a kind of joke with no sacredness about it". Not I, but the Noongahburrah tribe themselves make this essential distinction. Mrs. Langloh Parker says:(1) "The former series" (with the low Baiame myths) "were all such legends as are told to the black picaninnies; among the present are some they would not be allowed to hear, touching as they do on sacred things, taboo to the young". The blacks draw the line which I am said to seek to draw.
(1) More Legendary Tales, p. xv.
In yet another case(1) grotesque hunting adventures of Baiame are told in the mysteries, and illustrated by the sacred temporary representations in raised earth. I did not know it; I merely followed Mr. Howitt. But I do not doubt it. My reply is, that there was "something sacred" in Greek mysteries, something purifying, ennobling, consoling. For this Lobeck has collected (and disparaged) the evidence of Pindar, Sophocles, Cicero and many others, while even Aristophanes, as Prof. Campbell remarks, says: "We only have bright sun and cheerful life who have been initiated and lived piously in regard to strangers and to private citizens".(2) Security and peace of mind, in this world and for the next, were, we know not how, borne into the hearts of Pindar and Sophocles in the Mysteries. Yet, if we may at all trust the Fathers, there were scenes of debauchery, as at the Mysteries of the Fijians (Nanga) there was buffoonery ("to amuse the boys," Mr. Howitt says of some Australian rites), the story of Baubo is only one example, and, in other mysteries than the Eleusinian, we know of mummeries in which an absurd tale of Zeus is related in connection with an oak log. Yet surely there was "something sacred" in the faith of Zeus! Let us judge the Australians as we judge Greeks. The precepts as to "speaking the straightforward truth," as to unselfishness, avoidance of quarrels, of wrongs to "unprotected women," of unnatural vices, are certainly communicated in the Mysteries of some tribes, with, in another, knowledge of the name and nature of "Our Father," Munganngaur. That a Totemistic dance, or medicine-dance of Emu hunting, is also displayed(3) at certain Mysteries of a given tribe, and that Baiame is spoken of as the hero of this ballet, no more deprives the Australian moral and religious teaching (at the Mysteries) of sacred value, than the stupid indecency whereby Baubo made Demeter laugh destroys the sacredness of the Eleusinia, on which Pindar, Sophocles and Cicero eloquently dwell. If the Australian mystae, at the most solemn moment of their lives, are shown a dull or dirty divine ballet d'action, what did Sophocles see, after taking a swim with his pig? Many things far from edifying, yet the sacred element of religious hope and faith was also represented. So it is in Australia.
(1) J. A. I., xxiv. p. 416.
(2) Religion in Greek Literature, p. 259. It is to be regretted that the learned professor gives no references. The Greek Mysteries are treated later in this volume.
(3) See A picture of Australia, 1829, p. 264.
These studies ought to be comparative, otherwise they are worthless. As Mr. Hartland calls Daramulun "an eternal Creator with a game leg" who "died," he may call Zeus an "eternal father, who swallowed his wife, lay with his mother and sister, made love as a swan, and died, nay, was buried, in Crete". I do not think that Mr. Hartland would call Zeus "a ghost-god" (my own phrase), or think that he was scoring a point against me, if I spoke of the sacred and ethical characteristics of the Zeus adored by Eumaeus in the Odyssey. He would not be so humorous about Zeus, nor fall into an ignoratio elenchi. For my point never was that any Australian tribe had a pure theistic conception unsoiled and unobliterated by myth and buffoonery. My argument was that AMONG their ideas is that of a superhuman being, unceasing (if I may not say eternal), a maker (if I may not say a Creator), a guardian of certain by no means despicable ethics, which I never proclaimed as supernormally inspired! It is no reply to me to say that, in or out of Mysteries, low fables about that being are told, and buffooneries are enacted. For, though I say that certain high ideas are taught in Mysteries, I do not think I say that in Mysteries no low myths are told.
I take this opportunity, as the earliest, to apologise for an error in my Making of Religion concerning a passage in the Primitive Culture of my friend Mr. E. B. Tylor. Mr. Tylor quoted(1) a passage from Captain John Smith's History of Virginia, as given in Pinkerton, xiii. pp. 13-39, 1632. In this passage no mention occurs of a Virginian deity named Ahone but "Okee," another and more truculent god, is named. I observed that, if Mr. Tylor had used Strachey's Historie of Travaile (1612), he would have found "a slightly varying copy" of Smith's text of 1632, with Ahone as superior to Okee. I added in a note (p. 253): "There is a description of Virginia, by W. Strachey, including Smith's remarks published in 1612. Strachey interwove some of this work with his own MS. in the British Museum." Here, as presently will be shown, I erred, in company with Strachey's editor of 1849, and with the writer on Strachey in the Dictionary of National Biography. What Mr. Tylor quoted from an edition of Smith in 1632 had already appeared, in 1612, in a book (Map of Virginia, with a description of the Countrey) described on the title-page as "written by Captain Smith," though, in my opinion, Smith may have had a collaborator. There is no evidence whatever that Strachey had anything to do with this book of 1612, in which there is no mention of Ahone. Mr. Arber dates Strachey's own MS. (in which Ahone occurs) as of 1610-1615.(2) I myself, for reasons presently to be alleged, date the MS. mainly in 1611-1612. If Mr. Arber and I are right, Strachey must have had access to Smith's MS. before it was published in 1612, and we shall see how he used it. My point here is that Strachey mentioned Ahone (in MS.) before Smith's book of 1612 was published. This could not be gathered from the dedication to Bacon prefixed to Strachey's MS., for that dedication cannot be earlier that 1618.(3) I now ask leave to discuss the evidence for an early pre-Christian belief in a primal Creator, held by the Indian tribes from Plymouth, in New England, to Roanoke Island, off Southern Virginia.
(1) Prim. Cult. ii. p. 342.
(2) Arber's Smith, p. cxxxiii.
(3) Hakluyt Society, Strachey, 1849, pp. xxi., xxii.
THE GOD AHONE.
An insertion by a manifest plagiary into the work of a detected liar is not, usually, good evidence. Yet this is all the evidence, it may be urged, which we have for the existence of a belief, in early Virginia, as to a good Creator, named Ahone. The matter stands thus: In 1607-1609 the famed Captain John Smith endured and achieved in Virginia sufferings and adventures. In 1608 he sent to the Council at home a MS. map and description of the colony. In 1609 he returned to England (October). In May, 1610, William Strachey, gent., arrived in Virginia, where he was "secretary of state" to Lord De la Warr. In 1612 Strachey and Smith were both in England. In that year Barnes of Oxford published A Map of Virginia, with a description, etc., "written by Captain Smith," according to the title-page. There was annexed a compilation from various sources, edited by "W. S.," that is, NOT William Strachey, but Dr. William Symonds. In the same year, 1612, or in 1611, William Strachey wrote his Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia, at least as far as page 124 of the Hakluyt edition of 1849.(1)
(1) For proof see p. 24. third line from foot of page, where 1612 is indicated. Again, see p. 98, line 5, where "last year" is dated as "1610, about Christmas," which would put Strachey's work at this point as actually of 1611; prior, that is, to Smith's publication. Again, p. 124, "this last year, myself being at the Falls" (of the James River), "I found in an Indian house certain clawes... which I brought away and into England".
If Strachey, who went out with Lord De la Warr as secretary in 1610, returned with him (as is likely), he sailed for England on 28th March, 1611. In that case, he was in England in 1611, and the passages cited leave it dubious whether he wrote his book in 1611, 1612, or in both years.(1)
(1) Mr. Arber dates the MS. "1610-1615," and attributes to Strachey Laws for Virginia, 1612.
Strachey embodies in his work considerable pieces of Smith's Map of Virginia and Description, written in 1608, and published in 1612. He continually deserts Smith, however, adding more recent information, reflections and references to the ancient classics, with allusions to his own travels in the Levant. His glossary is much more extensive than Smith's, and he inserts a native song of triumph over the English in the original.(1) Now, when Strachey comes to the religion of the natives(2) he gives eighteen pages (much of it verbiage) to five of Smith's.(3) What Smith (1612) says of their chief god I quote, setting Strachey's version (1611-1612) beside it.
(1) Strachey, pp. 79-80. He may have got the song from Kemps or Machumps, friendly natives.
(2) Pp. 82-100.
(3) Arber, pp. 74-79.
SMITH (Published, 1612).
But their chiefe God they worship is the Diuell. Him they call Oke, and serue him more of feare than loue. They say they have conference with him, and fashion themselues as near to his shape as they can imagine. In their Temples, they have his image euile favouredly carved, and then painted, and adorned with chaines, copper, and beades; and covered with a skin, in such manner as the deformity may well suit with such a God. By him is commonly the sepulcher of their Kings.
STRACHEY (Written, 1611-12).
But their chief god they worship is no other, indeed, then the divell, whome they make presentments of, and shadow under the forme of an idoll, which they entitle Okeus, and whome they worship as the Romans did their hurtful god Vejovis, more for feare of harme then for hope of any good; they saie they have conference with him, and fashion themselves in their disguisments as neere to his shape as they can imagyn. In every territory of a weroance is a temple and a priest, peradventure two or thrie; yet happie doth that weroance accompt himself who can detayne with him a Quiyough-quisock, of the best, grave, lucky, well instructed in their misteryes, and beloved of their god; and such a one is noe lesse honoured then was Dianae's priest at Ephesus, for whome they have their more private temples, with oratories and chauneells therein, according as is the dignity and reverence of the Quiyough-quisock, which the weroance wilbe at charge to build upon purpose, sometyme twenty foote broad and a hundred in length, fashioned arbour wyse after their buylding, having comonly the dore opening into the east, and at the west end a spence or chauncell from the body of the temple, with hollow wyndings and pillers, whereon stand divers black imagies, fashioned to the shoulders, with their faces looking down the church, and where within their weroances, upon a kind of biere of reedes, lye buryed; and under them, apart, in a vault low in the ground (as a more secrett thing), vailed with a matt, sitts their Okeus, an image ill-favouredly carved, all black dressed, with chaynes of perle, the presentment and figure of that god (say the priests unto the laity, and who religiously believe what the priests saie) which doth them all the harme they suffer, be yt in their bodies or goods, within doores or abroad; and true yt is many of them are divers tymes (especyally offendors) shrewdly scratched as they walke alone in the woods, yt may well be by the subtyle spirit, the malitious enemy to mankind, whome, therefore, to pacefie and worke to doe them good (at least no harme) the priests tell them they must do these and these sacrifices unto (them) of these and these things, and thus and thus often, by which meanes not only their owne children, but straungers, are sometimes sacrificed unto him: whilst the great god (the priests tell them) who governes all the world, and makes the sun to shine, creating the moone and stars his companyons, great powers, and which dwell with him, and by whose virtues and influences the under earth is tempered, and brings forth her fruiets according to her seasons, they calling Ahone; the good and peaceable god requires no such dutyes, nor needes be sacrificed unto, for he intendeth all good unto them, and will doe noe harme, only the displeased Okeus, looking into all men's accions, and examining the same according to the severe scale of justice, punisheth them with sicknesse, beats them, and strikes their ripe corn with blastings, stormes, and thunder clapps, stirrs up warre, and makes their women falce unto them. Such is the misery and thraldome under which Sathan hath bound these wretched miscreants.
I began by calling Strachey a plagiary. The reader will now observe that he gives far more than he takes. For example, his account of the temples is much more full than that of Smith, and he adds to Smith's version the character and being of Ahone, as what "the priests tell them". I submit, therefore, that Strachey's additions, if valid for temples, are not discredited for Ahone, merely because they are inserted in the framework of Smith. As far as I understand the matter, Smith's Map of Virginia (1612) is an amended copy, with additions, by Smith or another writer of that description, which he sent home to the Council of Virginia, in November, 1608.(1) To the book of 1612 was added a portion of "Relations" by different hands, edited by W. S., namely, Dr. Symonds. Strachey's editor, in 1849, regarded W. S. as Strachey, and supposed that Strachey was the real author of Smith's Map of Virginia, so that, in his Historie of Travaile, Strachey merely took back his own. He did not take back his own; he made use of Smith's MS., not yet published, if Mr. Arber and I rightly date Strachey's MS. at 1610-15, or 1611-12. Why Strachey acted thus it is possible to conjecture. As a scholar well acquainted with Virginia, and as Secretary for the Colony, he would have access to Smith's MS. of 1608 among the papers of the Council, before its publication. Smith professes himself "no scholer".(2) On the other hand, Strachey likes to show off his Latin and Greek. He has a curious, if inaccurate, knowledge of esoteric Greek and Roman religious antiquities, and in writing of religion aims at a comparative method. Strachey, however, took the trouble to copy bits of Smith into his own larger work, which he never gave to the printers.
(1) Arber, p. 444.
(2) Arber, p. 442.
Now as to Ahone. It suits my argument to suppose that Strachey's account is no less genuine than his description of the temples (illustrated by a picture by John White, who had been in Virginia in 1589), and the account of the Great Hare of American mythology.(1) This view of a Virginian Creator, "our chief god" "who takes upon him this shape of a hare," was got, says Strachey, "last year, 1610," from a brother of the Potomac King, by a boy named Spilman, who says that Smith "sold" him to Powhattan.(2) In his own brief narrative Spelman (or Spilman) says nothing about the Cosmogonic Legend of the Great Hare. The story came up when Captain Argoll was telling Powhattan's brother the account of creation in Genesis (1610).
(1) Strachey, p. 98-100.
(2) "Spilman's Narrative," Arber, cx.-cxiv.
Now Strachey's Great Hare is accepted by mythologists, while Ahone is regarded with suspicion. Ahone does not happen to suit anthropological ideas, the Hare suits them rather better. Moreover, and more important, there is abundant corroborative evidence for Oke and for the Hare, Michabo, who, says Dr. Brinton, "was originally the highest divinity recognised by them, powerful and beneficent beyond all others, maker of the heavens and the world," just like Ahone, in fact. And Dr. Brinton instructs us that Michabo originally meant not Great Hare, but "the spirit of light".(1) Thus, originally, the Red Men adored "The Spirit of Light, maker of the heavens and the world". Strachey claims no more than this for Ahone. Now, of course, Dr. Brinton may be right. But I have already expressed my extreme distrust of the philological processes by which he extracts "The Great Light; spirit of light," from Michabo, "beyond a doubt!" In my poor opinion, whatever claims Michabo may have as an unique creator of earth and heaven—"God is Light,"—he owes his mythical aspect as a Hare to something other than an unconscious pun. In any case, according to Dr. Brinton, Michabo, regarded as a creator, is equivalent to Strachey's Ahone. This amount of corroboration, valeat quantum, I may claim, from the Potomac Indians, for the belief in Ahone on the James River. Dr. Brinton is notoriously not a believer in American "monotheism".(2)
(1) Myths of the New World, p. 178.
(2) Myths of the New World, p. 53.
The opponents of the authenticity of Ahone, however, will certainly argue: "For Oke, or Oki, as a redoubted being or spirit, or general name for such personages, we have plentiful evidence, corroborating that of Smith. But what evidence as to Ahone corroborates that of Strachey?" I must confess that I have no explicit corroborative evidence for Ahone, but then I have no accessible library of early books on Virginia. Now it is clear that if I found and produced evidence for Ahone as late as 1625, I would be met at once with the retort that, between 1610 and 1625, Christian ideas had contaminated the native beliefs. Thus if I find Ahone, or a deity of like attributes, after a very early date, he is of no use for my purpose. Nor do I much expect to find him. But do we find Winslow's Massachusetts God, Kiehtan, named AFTER 1622 ("I only ask for information"), and if we don't, does that prevent Mr. Tylor from citing Kiehtan, with apparent reliance on the evidence?(1)
(1) Primitive Culture, ii. p. 342.
Again, Ahone, though primal and creative, is, by Strachey's account, a sleeping partner. He has no sacrifice, and no temple or idol is recorded. Therefore the belief in Ahone could only be discovered as a result of inquiry, whereas figures of Oke or Okeus, and his services, were common and conspicuous.(1) As to Oke, I cannot quite understand Mr. Tylor's attitude. Summarising Lafitau, a late writer of 1724, Mr. Tylor writes: "The whole class of spirits or demons, known to the Caribs by the name of cemi, in Algonkin as manitu, in Huron as oki, Lafitau now spells with capital letters, and converts them each into a supreme being".(2) Yet in Primitive Culture, ii., 342, 1891, Mr. Tylor had cited Smith's Okee (with a capital letter) as the "chief god" of the Virginians in 1612. How can Lafitau be said to have elevated oki into Oki, and so to have made a god out of "a class of spirits or demons," in 1724, when Mr. Tylor had already cited Smith's Okee, with a capital letter and as a "chief god," in 1612? Smith, rebuked for the same by Mr. Tylor, had even identified Okee with the devil. Lafitau certainly did not begin this erroneous view of Oki as a "chief god" among the Virginians. If I cannot to-day produce corroboration for a god named Ahone, I can at least show that, from the north of New England to the south of Virginia, there is early evidence, cited by Mr. Tylor, for a belief in a primal creative being, closely analogous to Ahone. And this evidence, I think, distinctly proves that such a being as Ahone was within the capacity of the Indians in these latitudes. Mr. Tylor must have thought in 1891 that the natives were competent to a belief in a supreme deity, for he said, "Another famous native American name for the supreme deity is Oki".(3) In the essay of 1892, however, Oki does not appear to exist as a god's name till 1724. We may now, for earlier evidence, turn to Master Thomas Heriot, "that learned mathematician" "who spoke the Indian language," and was with the company which abandoned Virginia on 18th June, 1586. They ranged 130 miles north and 130 miles north-west of Roanoke Island, which brings them into the neighbourhood of Smith's and Strachey's country. Heriot writes as to the native creeds: "They believe that there are many gods which they call Mantoac, but of different sorts and degrees. Also that there is one chiefe God that hath beene from all eternitie, who, as they say, when he purposed first to make the world, made first other gods of a principall order, to be as instruments to be used in the Creation and Government to follow, and after the Sunne, Moone and Starres as pettie gods, and the instruments of the other order more principall.... They thinke that all the gods are of humane shape," and represent them by anthropomorphic idols. An idol, or image, "Kewasa" (the plural is "Kewasowok"), is placed in the temples, "where they worship, pray and make many offerings". Good souls go to be happy with the gods, the bad burn in Popogusso, a great pit, "where the sun sets". The evidence for this theory of a future life, as usual, is that of men who died and revived again, a story found in a score of widely separated regions, down to our day, when the death, revival and revelation occurred to the founder of the Arapahoe new religion of the Ghost Dance. The belief "works for righteousness". "The common sort... have great care to avoyde torment after death, and to enjoy blesse," also they have "great respect to their Governors".
(1) Okee's image, as early as 1607, was borne into battle against Smith, who captured the god (Arber, p. 393). Ahone was not thus en evidence.
(2) Journal of Anthrop. Inst., Feb., 1892, pp. 285, 286.
(3) Prim. Cult,, ii. p. 342.
This belief in a chief god "from all eternitie" (that is, of unexplained origin), may not be convenient to some speculators, but it exactly corroborates Strachey's account of Ahone as creator with subordinates. The evidence is of 1586 (twenty-six years before Strachey), and, like Strachey, Heriot attributes the whole scheme of belief to "the priestes". "This is the sum of their religion, which I learned by having speciall familiaritie with some of their priests."(1) I see no escape from the conclusion that the Virginians believed as Heriot says they did, except the device of alleging that they promptly borrowed some of Heriot's ideas and maintained that these ideas had ever been their own. Heriot certainly did not recognise the identity. "Through conversing with us they were brought into great doubts of their owne (religion), and no small admiration of ours; of which many desired to learne more than we had the meanes for want of utterance in their language to expresse." So Heriot could not be subtle in the native tongue. Heriot did what he could to convert them: "I did my best to make His immortall glory knowne". His efforts were chiefly successful by virtue of the savage admiration of our guns, mathematical instruments, and so forth. These sources of an awakened interest in Christianity would vanish with the total destruction and discomfiture of the colony, unless a few captives, later massacred, taught our religion to the natives.(2)
(1) According to Strachey, Heriot could speak the native language.
(2) Heriot's Narrative, pp. 37-39. Quaritch, London, 1893.
I shall cite another early example of a New England deity akin to Ahone, with a deputy, a friend of sorcerers, like Okee. This account is in Smith's General History of New England, 1606-1624. We sent out a colony in 1607; "they all returned in the yeere 1608," esteeming the country "a cold, barren, mountainous rocky desart". I am apt to believe that they did not plant the fructifying seeds of grace among the natives in 1607-1608. But the missionary efforts of French traders may, of course, have been blessed; nor can I deny that a yellow-haired man, whose corpse was found in 1620 with some objects of iron, may have converted the natives to such beliefs as they possessed. We are told, however, that these tenets were of ancestral antiquity. I cite E. Winslow, as edited by Smith (1623-24):—
"Those where in this Plantation (New Plymouth) say Kiehtan(1) made all the other Gods: also one man and one woman, and with them all mankinde, but how they became so dispersed they know not. They say that at first there was no king but Kiehtan, that dwelleth far westerly above the heavens, whither all good men go when they die, and have plentie of all things. The bad go thither also and knock at the door, but ('the door is shut') he bids them go wander in endless want and misery, for they shall not stay there. They never saw Kiehtan,(2) but they hold it a great charge and dutie that one race teach another; and to him they make feasts and cry and sing for plenty and victory, or anything that is good.
(1) In 1873 Mr. Tylor regarded Dr. Brinton's etymology of Kiehtan as = Kittanitowit = "Great Living Spirit," as "plausible". In his edition of 1891 he omits this etymology. Personally I entirely distrust the philological theories of the original sense of old divine names as a general rule.
(2) "They never saw Kiehtan." So, about 1854, "The common answer of intelligent black fellows on the Barwon when asked if they know Baiame... is this: 'Kamil zaia zummi Baiame, zaia winuzgulda'; 'I have not seen Baiame, I have heard or perceived him'. If asked who made the sky, the earth, the animals and man, they always answer 'Baiame'." Daramulun, according to the same authority in Lang's Queensland, was the familiar of sorcerers, and appeared as a serpent. This answers, as I show, to Hobamock the subordinate power to Kiehtan in New England and to Okee, the familiar of sorcerers in Virginia. (Ridley, J. A. I., 1872, p. 277.)
"They have another Power they call Hobamock, which we conceive the Devill, and upon him they call to cure their wounds and diseases; when they are curable he persuades them he sent them, because they have displeased him; but, if they be mortal, then he saith, 'Kiehtan sent them'; which makes them never call on him in their sickness. They say this Hobamock appears to them sometimes like a man, a deer, or an eagle, but most commonly like a snake; not to all but to their Powahs to cure diseases, and Undeses... and these are such as conjure in Virginia, and cause the people to do what they list." Winslow (or rather Smith editing Winslow here), had already said, "They believe, as do the Virginians, of many divine powers, yet of one above all the rest, as the Southern Virginians call their chief god Kewassa (an error), and that we now inhabit Oke.... The Massachusetts call their great god Kiehtan."(1)
(1) Arber, pp. 767, 768.
Here, then, in Heriot (1586), Strachey (1611-12) and Winslow (1622), we find fairly harmonious accounts of a polydaemonism with a chief, primal, creative being above and behind it; a being unnamed, and Ahone and Kiehtan.
Is all this invention? Or was all this derived from Europeans before 1586, and, if so, from what Europeans? Mr. Tylor, in 1873, wrote, "After due allowance made for misrendering of savage answers, and importation of white men's thoughts, it can hardly be judged that a divine being, whose characteristics are often so unlike what European intercourse would have suggested, and who is heard of by such early explorers among such distant tribes, could be a deity of foreign origin". NOW, he "can HARDLY be ALTOGETHER a deity of foreign origin".(1) I agree with Mr. Tylor's earlier statement. In my opinion Ahone—Okeus, Kiehtan—Hobamock, correspond, the first pair to the usually unseen Australian Baiame (a crystal or hypnotic vision of Baiame scarcely counts), while the second pair, Okeus and Hobamock, answer to the Australian familiars of sorcerers, Koin and Brewin; the American "Powers" being those of peoples on a higher level of culture. Like Tharramulun where Baiame is supreme, Hobamock appears as a snake (Asclepius).
(1) Prim. Cult., ii. 340, 1873, 1892.
For all these reasons I am inclined to accept Strachey's Ahone as a veritable element in Virginian belief. Without temple or service, such a being was not conspicuous, like Okee and other gods which had idols and sacrifices.
As far as I see, Strachey has no theory to serve by inventing Ahone. He asks how any races "if descended from the people of the first creation, should maintain so general and gross a defection from the true knowledge of God". He is reduced to suppose that, as descendants of Ham, they inherit "the ignorance of true godliness." (p. 45). The children of Shem and Japheth alone "retained, until the coming of the Messias, the only knowledge of the eternal and never-changing Trinity". The Virginians, on the other hand, fell heir to the ignorance, and "fearful and superstitious instinct of nature" of Ham (p. 40). Ahone, therefore, is not invented by Strachey to bolster up a theory (held by Strachey), of an inherited revelation, or of a sensus numinis which could not go wrong. Unless a proof be given that Strachey had a theory, or any other purpose, to serve by inventing Ahone, I cannot at present come into the opinion that he gratuitously fabled, though he may have unconsciously exaggerated.
What were Strachey's sources? He was for nine months, if not more, in the colony: he had travelled at least 115 miles up the James River, he occasionally suggests modifications of Smith's map, he refers to Smith's adventures, and his glossary is very much larger than Smith's; its accuracy I leave to American linguists. Such a witness, despite his admitted use of Smith's text (if it is really all by Smith throughout) is not to be despised, and he is not despised in America.(1) Strachey, it is true, had not, like Smith, been captured by Indians and either treated with perfect kindness and consideration (as Smith reported at the time), or tied to a tree and threatened with arrows, and laid out to have his head knocked in with a stone; as he alleged sixteen years later! Strachey, not being captured, did not owe his release (1) to the magnanimity of Powhattan, (2) to his own ingenious lies, (3) to the intercession of Pocahontas, as Smith, and his friends for him, at various dates inconsistently declared. Smith certainly saw more of the natives at home: Strachey brought a more studious mind to what he could learn of their customs and ideas; and is not a convicted braggart. I conjecture that one of Strachey's sources was a native named Kemps. Smith had seized Kemps and Kinsock in 1609. Unknown authorities (Powell? and Todkill?) represent these two savages as "the most exact villaines in the country".(2) They were made to labour in fetters, then were set at liberty, but "little desired it".(3) Some "souldiers" ran away to the liberated Kemps, who brought them back to Smith.(4) Why Kemps and his friend are called "two of the most exact villains in the country" does not appear. Kemps died "of the surveye" (scurvey, probably) at Jamestown, in 1610-11. He was much made of by Lord De la Warr, "could speak a pretty deal of our English, and came orderly to church every day to prayers". He gave Strachey the names of Powhattan's wives, and told him, truly or not, that Pocahontas was married, about 1610, to an Indian named Kocoum.(5) I offer the guess that Kemps and Machumps, who came and went from Pocahontas, and recited an Indian prayer which Strachey neglected to copy out, may have been among Strachey's authorities. I shall, of course, be told that Kemps picked up Ahone at church. This did not strike Strachey as being the fact; he had no opinion of the creed in which Ahone was a factor, "the misery and thraldome under which Sathan has bound these wretched miscreants". According to Strachey, the priests, far from borrowing any part of our faith, "feare and tremble lest the knowledge of God, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ be taught in these parts".
(1) Arber, cxvii. Strachey mentions that (before his arrival in Virginia) Pocahontas turned cart-wheels, naked, in Jamestown, being then under twelve, and not yet wearing the apron. Smith says she was ten in 1608, but does not mention the cart-wheels. Later, he found it convenient to put her age at twelve or thirteen in 1608. Most American scholars, such as Mr. Adams, entirely distrust the romantic later narratives of Smith.
(2) The Proeeedings, etc., by W. S. Arber, p. 151.
(3) Ibid., p. 155.
(4) Ibid., p. 157.
(5) Strachey, pp. 54, 55.
Strachey is therefore for putting down the priests, and, like Smith (indeed here borrowing from Smith), accuses them of sacrificing children. To Smith's statement that such a rite was worked at Quiyough-cohanock, Strachey adds that Sir George Percy (who was with Smith) "was at, and observed" a similar mystery at Kecoughtan. It is plain that the rite was not a sacrifice, but a Bora, or initiation, and the parallel of the Spartan flogging of boys, with the retreat of the boys and their instructors, is very close, and, of course, unnoted by classical scholars except Mr. Frazer. Strachey ends with the critical remark that we shall not know all the certainty of the religion and mysteries till we can capture some of the priests, or Quiyough-quisocks.
Students who have access to a good library of Americana may do more to elucidate Ahone. I regard him as in a line with Kiehtan and the God spoken of by Heriot, and do not believe (1) that Strachey lied; (2) that natives deceived Strachey; (3) that Ahone was borrowed from "the God of Captain Smith".
MYTH, RITUAL, AND RELIGION.
CHAPTER I. SYSTEMS OF MYTHOLOGY.
Definitions of religion—Contradictory evidence—"Belief in spiritual beings"—Objection to Mr. Tylor's definition—Definition as regards this argument—Problem: the contradiction between religion and myth—Two human moods—Examples—Case of Greece—Ancient mythologists—Criticism by Eusebius—Modern mythological systems—Mr. Max Muller—Mannhardt.
The word "Religion" may be, and has been, employed in many different senses, and with a perplexing width of significance. No attempt to define the word is likely to be quite satisfactory, but almost any definition may serve the purpose of an argument, if the writer who employs it states his meaning frankly and adheres to it steadily. An example of the confusions which may arise from the use of the term "religion" is familiar to students. Dr. J. D. Lang wrote concerning the native races of Australia: "They have nothing whatever of the character of religion, or of religious observances, to distinguish them from the beasts that perish". Yet in the same book Dr. Lang published evidence assigning to the natives belief in "Turramullun, the chief of demons, who is the author of disease, mischief and wisdom".(1) The belief in a superhuman author of "disease, mischief and wisdom" is certainly a religious belief not conspicuously held by "the beasts"; yet all religion was denied to the Australians by the very author who prints (in however erroneous a style) an account of part of their creed. This writer merely inherited the old missionary habit of speaking about the god of a non-Christian people as a "demon" or an "evil spirit".
(1) See Primitive Culture, second edition, i. 419.
Dr. Lang's negative opinion was contradicted in testimony published by himself, an appendix by the Rev. Mr. Ridley, containing evidence of the belief in Baiame. "Those who have learned that 'God' is the name by which we speak of the Creator, say that Baiame is God."(1)
(1) Lang's Queensland, p. 445, 1861.
As "a minimum definition of religion," Mr. Tylor has suggested "the belief in spiritual beings". Against this it may be urged that, while we have no definite certainty that any race of men is destitute of belief in spiritual beings, yet certain moral and creative deities of low races do not seem to be envisaged as "spiritual" at all. They are regarded as EXISTENCES, as BEINGS, unconditioned by Time, Space, or Death, and nobody appears to have put the purely metaphysical question, "Are these beings spiritual or material?"(1) Now, if a race were discovered which believed in such beings, yet had no faith in spirits, that race could not be called irreligious, as it would have to be called in Mr. Tylor's "minimum definition". Almost certainly, no race in this stage of belief in nothing but unconditioned but not expressly spiritual beings is extant. Yet such a belief may conceivably have existed before men had developed the theory of spirits at all, and such a belief, in creative and moral unconditioned beings, not alleged to be spiritual, could not be excluded from a definition of religion.(2)
(1) See The Making of Religion, pp. 201-210.
(2) "The history of the Jews, nay, the history of our own mind, proves to demonstration that the thought of God is a far easier thought, and a far earlier, than that of a spirit." Father Tyrrell, S. J., The Month, October, 1898. As to the Jews, the question is debated. As to our own infancy, we are certainly taught about God before we are likely to be capable of the metaphysical notion of spirit. But we can scarcely reason from children in Christian houses to the infancy of the race.
For these reasons we propose (merely for the purpose of the present work) to define religion as the belief in a primal being, a Maker, undying, usually moral, without denying that the belief in spiritual beings, even if immoral, may be styled religious. Our definition is expressly framed for the purpose of the argument, because that argument endeavours to bring into view the essential conflict between religion and myth. We intend to show that this conflict between the religious and the mythical conception is present, not only (where it has been universally recognised) in the faiths of the ancient civilised peoples, as in Greece, Rome, India and Egypt, but also in the ideas of the lowest known savages.
It may, of course, be argued that the belief in Creator is itself a myth. However that may be, the attitude of awe, and of moral obedience, in face of such a supposed being, is religious in the sense of the Christian religion, whereas the fabrication of fanciful, humorous, and wildly irrational fables about that being, or others, is essentially mythical in the ordinary significance of that word, though not absent from popular Christianity.
Now, the whole crux and puzzle of mythology is, "Why, having attained (in whatever way) to a belief in an undying guardian, 'Master of Life,' did mankind set to work to evolve a chronique scandaleuse about HIM? And why is that chronique the elaborately absurd set of legends which we find in all mythologies?"
In answering, or trying to answer, these questions, we cannot go behind the beliefs of the races now most immersed in savage ignorance. About the psychology of races yet more undeveloped we can have no historical knowledge. Among the lowest known tribes we usually find, just as in ancient Greece, the belief in a deathless "Father," "Master," "Maker," and also the crowd of humorous, obscene, fanciful myths which are in flagrant contradiction with the religious character of that belief. That belief is what we call rational, and even elevated. The myths, on the other hand, are what we call irrational and debasing. We regard low savages as very irrational and debased characters, consequently the nature of their myths does not surprise us. Their religious conception, however, of a "Father" or "Master of Life" seems out of keeping with the nature of the savage mind as we understand it. Still, there the religious conception actually is, and it seems to follow that we do not wholly understand the savage mind, or its unknown antecedents. In any case, there the facts are, as shall be demonstrated. However the ancestors of Australians, or Andamanese, or Hurons arrived at their highest religious conception, they decidedly possess it.(1) The development of their mythical conceptions is accounted for by those qualities of their minds which we do understand, and shall illustrate at length. For the present, we can only say that the religious conception uprises from the human intellect in one mood, that of earnest contemplation and submission: while the mythical ideas uprise from another mood, that of playful and erratic fancy. These two moods are conspicuous even in Christianity. The former, that of earnest and submissive contemplation, declares itself in prayers, hymns, and "the dim religious light" of cathedrals. The second mood, that of playful and erratic fancy, is conspicuous in the buffoonery of Miracle Plays, in Marchen, these burlesque popular tales about our Lord and the Apostles, and in the hideous and grotesque sculptures on sacred edifices. The two moods are present, and in conflict, through the whole religious history of the human race. They stand as near each other, and as far apart, as Love and Lust.
(1) The hypothesis that the conception was borrowed from European creeds will be discussed later. See, too, "Are Savage Gods borrowed from Missionaries?" Nineteenth Century, January, 1899.
It will later be shown that even some of the most backward savages make a perhaps half-conscious distinction between their mythology and their religion. As to the former, they are communicative; as to the latter, they jealously guard their secret in sacred mysteries. It is improbable that reflective "black fellows" have been morally shocked by the flagrant contradictions between their religious conceptions and their mythical stories of the divine beings. But human thought could not come into explicit clearness of consciousness without producing the sense of shock and surprise at these contradictions between the Religion and the Myth of the same god. Of this we proceed to give examples.
In Greece, as early as the sixth century B. C., we are all familiar with Xenophanes' poem(1) complaining that the gods were credited with the worst crimes of mortals—in fact, with abominations only known in the orgies of Nero and Elagabalus. We hear Pindar refusing to repeat the tale which told him the blessed were cannibals.(2) In India we read the pious Brahmanic attempts to expound decently the myths which made Indra the slayer of a Brahman; the sinner, that is, of the unpardonable sin. In Egypt, too, we study the priestly or philosophic systems by which the clergy strove to strip the burden of absurdity and sacrilege from their own deities. From all these efforts of civilised and pious believers to explain away the stories about their own gods we may infer one fact—the most important to the student of mythology—the fact that myths were not evolved in times of clear civilised thought. It is when Greece is just beginning to free her thought from the bondage of too concrete language, when she is striving to coin abstract terms, that her philosophers and poets first find the myths of Greece a stumbling-block.
(1) Ritter and Preller, Hist. Philos., Gothae, 1869, p. 82.
(2) Olympic Odes, i., Myers's translation: "To me it is impossible to call one of the blessed gods a cannibal.... Meet it is for a man that concerning the gods he speak honourably, for the reproach is less. Of thee, son of Tantalus, I will speak contrariwise to them who have gone before me." In avoiding the story of the cannibal god, however, Pindar tells a tale even more offensive to our morality.
All early attempts at an interpretation of mythology are so many efforts to explain the myths on some principle which shall seem not unreasonable to men living at the time of the explanation. Therefore the pious remonstrances and the forced constructions of early thinkers like Xenophanes, of poets like Pindar, of all ancient Homeric scholars and Pagan apologists, from Theagenes of Rhegium (525 B. C.), the early Homeric commentator, to Porphyry, almost the last of the heathen philosophers, are so many proofs that to Greece, as soon as she had a reflective literature, the myths of Greece seemed impious and IRRATIONAL. The essays of the native commentators on the Veda, in the same way, are endeavours to put into myths felt to be irrational and impious a meaning which does not offend either piety or reason. We may therefore conclude that it was not men in an early stage of philosophic thought (as philosophy is now understood)—not men like Empedocles and Heraclitus, nor reasonably devout men like Eumaeus, the pious swineherd of the Odyssey—who evolved the blasphemous myths of Greece, of Egypt and of India. We must look elsewhere for an explanation. We must try to discover some actual and demonstrable and widely prevalent condition of the human mind, in which tales that even to remote and rudimentary civilisations appeared irrational and unnatural would seem natural and rational. To discover this intellectual condition has been the aim of all mythologists who did not believe that myth is a divine tradition depraved by human weakness, or a distorted version of historical events.
Before going further, it is desirable to set forth what our aim is, and to what extent we are seeking an interpretation of mythology. It is not our purpose to explain every detail of every ancient legend, either as a distorted historical fact or as the result of this or that confusion of thought caused by forgetfulness of the meanings of language, or in any other way; nay, we must constantly protest against the excursions of too venturesome ingenuity. Myth is so ancient, so complex, so full of elements, that it is vain labour to seek a cause for every phenomenon. We are chiefly occupied with the quest for an historical condition of the human intellect to which the element in myths, regarded by us as irrational, shall seem rational enough. If we can prove that such a state of mind widely exists among men, and has existed, that state of mind may be provisionally considered as the fount and ORIGIN of the myths which have always perplexed men in a reasonable modern mental condition. Again, if it can be shown that this mental stage was one through which all civilised races have passed, the universality of the mythopoeic mental condition will to some extent explain the universal DIFFUSION of the stories.
Now, in all mythologies, whether savage or civilised, and in all religions where myths intrude, there exist two factors—the factor which we now regard as rational, and that which we moderns regard as irrational. The former element needs little explanation; the latter has demanded explanation ever since human thought became comparatively instructed and abstract.
To take an example; even in the myths of savages there is much that still seems rational and transparent. If savages tell us that some wise being taught them all the simple arts of life, the use of fire, of the bow and arrow, the barbing of hooks, and so forth, we understand them at once. Nothing can be more natural than that man should believe in an original inventor of the arts, and should tell tales about the imaginary discoverers if the real heroes be forgotten. So far all is plain sailing. But when the savage goes on to say that he who taught the use of fire or who gave the first marriage laws was a rabbit or a crow, or a dog, or a beaver, or a spider, then we are at once face to face with the element in myths which seems to us IRRATIONAL. Again, among civilised peoples we read of the pure all-seeing Varuna in the Vedas, to whom sin is an offence. We read of Indra, the Lord of Thunder, borne in his chariot, the giver of victory, the giver of wealth to the pious; here once more all seems natural and plain. The notion of a deity who guides the whirlwind and directs the storm, a god of battles, a god who blesses righteousness, is familiar to us and intelligible; but when we read how Indra drank himself drunk and committed adulteries with Asura women, and got himself born from the same womb as a bull, and changed himself into a quail or a ram, and suffered from the most abject physical terror, and so forth, then we are among myths no longer readily intelligible; here, we feel, are IRRATIONAL stories, of which the original ideas, in their natural sense, can hardly have been conceived by men in a pure and rational early civilisation. Again, in the religions of even the lowest races, such myths as these are in contradiction with the ethical elements of the faith.
If we look at Greek religious tradition, we observe the coexistence of the RATIONAL and the apparently IRRATIONAL elements. The RATIONAL myths are those which represent the gods as beautiful and wise beings. The Artemis of the Odyssey "taking her pastime in the chase of boars and swift deer, while with her the wild wood-nymphs disport them, and high over them all she rears her brow, and is easily to be known where all are fair,"(1) is a perfectly RATIONAL mythic representation of a divine being. We feel, even now, that the conception of a "queen and goddess, chaste and fair," the abbess, as Paul de Saint-Victor calls her, of the woodlands, is a beautiful and natural fancy, which requires no explanation. On the other hand, the Artemis of Arcadia, who is confused with the nymph Callisto, who, again, is said to have become a she-bear, and later a star; and the Brauronian Artemis, whose maiden ministers danced a bear-dance,(2) are goddesses whose legend seems unnatural, and needs to be made intelligible. Or, again, there is nothing not explicable and natural in the conception of the Olympian Zeus as represented by the great chryselephantine statue of Zeus at Olympia, or in the Homeric conception of Zeus as a god who "turns everywhere his shining eyes, and beholds all things, and protects the righteous, and deals good or evil fortune to men." But the Zeus whose grave was shown in Crete, or the Zeus who played Demeter an obscene trick by the aid of a ram, or the Zeus who, in the shape of a swan, became the father of Castor and Pollux, or the Zeus who deceived Hera by means of a feigned marriage with an inanimate object, or the Zeus who was afraid of Attes, or the Zeus who made love to women in the shape of an ant or a cuckoo, is a being whose myth is felt to be unnatural and bewildering.(3) It is this IRRATIONAL and unnatural element, as Mr. Max Muller says, "the silly, senseless, and savage element," that makes mythology the puzzle which men have so long found it. For, observe, Greek myth does not represent merely a humorous play of fancy, dealing with things religiously sacred as if by way of relief from the strained reverential contemplation of the majesty of Zeus. Many stories of Greek mythology are such as could not cross, for the first time, the mind of a civilised Xenophanes or Theagenes, even in a dream. THIS was the real puzzle.
(1) Odyssey, vi. 102.
(2) (Greek word omitted); compare Harpokration on this word.
(3) These are the features in myth which provoke, for example, the wonder of Emeric-David. "The lizard, the wolf, the dog, the ass, the frog, and all the other brutes so common on religious monuments everywhere, do they not all imply a THOUGHT which we must divine?" He concludes that these animals, plants, and monsters of myths are so many "enigmas" and "symbols" veiling some deep, sacred idea, allegories of some esoteric religious creed. Jupiter, Paris, 1832, p. lxxvii.
We have offered examples—Savage, Indian, and Greek—of that element in mythology which, as all civilised races have felt, demands explanation.
To be still more explicit, we may draw up a brief list of the chief problems in the legendary stories attached to the old religions of the world—the problems which it is our special purpose to notice. First we have, in the myths of all races, the most grotesque conceptions of the character of gods when mythically envisaged. Beings who, in religion, leave little to be desired, and are spoken of as holy, immortal, omniscient, and kindly, are, in myth, represented as fashioned in the likeness not only of man, but of the beasts; as subject to death, as ignorant and impious.
Most pre-Christian religions had their "zoomorphic" or partially zoomorphic idols, gods in the shape of the lower animals, or with the heads and necks of the lower animals. In the same way all mythologies represent the gods as fond of appearing in animal forms. Under these disguises they conduct many amours, even with the daughters of men, and Greek houses were proud of their descent from Zeus in the shape of an eagle or ant, a serpent or a swan; while Cronus and the Vedic Tvashtri and Poseidon made love as horses, and Apollo as a dog. Not less wild are the legends about the births of gods from the thigh, or the head, or feet, or armpits of some parent; while tales describing and pictures representing unspeakable divine obscenities were frequent in the mythology and in the temples of Greece. Once more, the gods were said to possess and exercise the power of turning men and women into birds, beasts, fishes, trees, and stones, so that there was scarcely a familiar natural object in the Greek world which had not once (according to legend) been a man or a woman. The myths of the origin of the world and man, again, were in the last degree childish and disgusting. The Bushmen and Australians have, perhaps, no story of the origin of species quite so barbarous in style as the anecdotes about Phanes and Prajapati which are preserved in the Orphic hymns and in the Brahmanas. The conduct of the earlier dynasties of classical gods towards each other was as notoriously cruel and loathsome as their behaviour towards mortals was tricksy and capricious. The classical gods, with all their immortal might, are, by a mythical contradiction of the religious conception, regarded as capable of fear and pain, and are led into scrapes as ludicrous as those of Brer Wolf or Brer Terrapin in the tales of the Negroes of the Southern States of America. The stars, again, in mythology, are mixed up with beasts, planets and men in the same embroglio of fantastic opinion. The dead and the living, men, beasts and gods, trees and stars, and rivers, and sun, and moon, dance through the region of myths in a burlesque ballet of Priapus, where everything may be anything, where nature has no laws and imagination no limits.
Such are the irrational characteristics of myths, classic or Indian, European or American, African or Asiatic, Australian or Maori. Such is one element we find all the world over among civilised and savage people, quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus. It is no wonder that pious and reflective men have, in so many ages and in so many ways, tried to account to themselves for their possession of beliefs closely connected with religion which yet seemed ruinous to religion and morality.
The explanations which men have given of their own sacred stories, the apologies for their own gods which they have been constrained to offer to themselves, were the earliest babblings of a science of mythology. That science was, in its dim beginnings, intended to satisfy a moral need. Man found that his gods, when mythically envisaged, were not made in his own moral image at its best, but in the image sometimes of the beasts, sometimes of his own moral nature at its very worst: in the likeness of robbers, wizards, sorcerers, and adulterers. Now, it is impossible here to examine minutely all systems of mythological interpretation. Every key has been tried in this difficult lock; every cause of confusion has been taken up and tested, deemed adequate, and finally rejected or assigned a subordinate place. Probably the first attempts to shake off the burden of religious horror at mythical impiety were made by way of silent omission. Thus most of the foulest myths of early India are absent, and presumably were left out, in the Rig-Veda. "The religious sentiment of the hymns, already so elevated, has discarded most of the tales which offended it, but has not succeeded in discarding them all."(1) Just as the poets of the Rig-Veda prefer to avoid the more offensive traditions about Indra and Tvashtri, so Homer succeeds in avoiding the more grotesque and puerile tales about his own gods.(2) The period of actual apology comes later. Pindar declines, as we have seen, to accuse a god of cannibalism. The Satapatha Brahmana invents a new story about the slaying of Visvarupa. Not Indra, but Trita, says the Brahmana apologetically, slew the three-headed son of Tvashtri. "Indra assuredly was free from that sin, for he is a god," says the Indian apologist.(3) Yet sins which to us appear far more monstrous than the peccadillo of killing a three-headed Brahman are attributed freely to Indra.
(1) Les Religions de l'Inde, Barth, p. 14. See also postea, "Indian Myths".
(2) The reasons for Homer's reticence are probably different in different passages. Perhaps in some cases he had heard a purer version of myth than what reached Hesiod; perhaps he sometimes purposely (like Pindar) purified a myth; usually he must have selected, in conformity with the noble humanity and purity of his taste, the tales that best conformed to his ideal. He makes his deities reluctant to drag out in dispute old scandals of their early unheroic adventures, some of which, however, he gives, as the kicking of Hephaestus out of heaven, and the imprisonment of Ares in a vessel of bronze. Compare Professor Jebb's Homer, p. 83: "whatever the instinct of the great artist has tolerated, at least it has purged these things away." that is, divine amours in bestial form.
(3) Satapatha Brahmana, Oxford, 1882, vol. i. p. 47.
While poets could but omit a blasphemous tale or sketch an apology in passing, it became the business of philosophers and of antiquarian writers deliberately to "whitewash" the gods of popular religion. Systematic explanations of the sacred stories, whether as preserved in poetry or as told by priests, had to be provided. India had her etymological and her legendary school of mythology.(1) Thus, while the hymn SEEMED to tell how the Maruts were gods, "born together with the spotted deer," the etymological interpreters explained that the word for deer only meant the many-coloured lines of clouds.(2) In the armoury of apologetics etymology has been the most serviceable weapon. It is easy to see that by aid of etymology the most repulsive legend may be compelled to yield a pure or harmless sense, and may be explained as an innocent blunder, caused by mere verbal misunderstanding. Brahmans, Greeks, and Germans have equally found comfort in this hypothesis. In the Cratylus of Plato, Socrates speaks of the notion of explaining myths by etymological guesses at the meaning of divine names as "a philosophy which came to him all in an instant". Thus we find Socrates shocked by the irreverence which styled Zeus the son of Cronus, "who is a proverb for stupidity". But on examining philologically the name Kronos, Socrates decides that it must really mean Koros, "not in the sense of a youth, but signifying the pure and garnished mind". Therefore, when people first called Zeus the son of Cronus, they meant nothing irreverent, but only that Zeus is the child of the pure mind or pure reason. Not only is this etymological system most pious and consolatory, but it is, as Socrates adds, of universal application. "For now I bethink me of a very new and ingenious notion,... that we may put in and pull out letters at pleasure, and alter the accents."(3)
(1) Rig-Veda Sanhita. Max Muller, p. 59.
(2) Postea, "Indian Divine Myths".
(3) Jowett's Plato, vol. i. pp. 632, 670.
Socrates, of course, speaks more than half in irony, but there is a certain truth in his account of etymological analysis and its dependence on individual tastes and preconceived theory.
The ancient classical schools of mythological interpretation, though unscientific and unsuccessful, are not without interest. We find philosophers and grammarians looking, just as we ourselves are looking, for some condition of the human intellect out of which the absurd element in myths might conceivably have sprung. Very naturally the philosophers supposed that the human beings in whose brain and speech myths had their origin must have been philosophers like themselves—intelligent, educated persons. But such persons, they argued, could never have meant to tell stories about the gods so full of nonsense and blasphemy.
Therefore the nonsense and blasphemy must originally have had some harmless, or even praiseworthy, sense. What could that sense have been? This question each ancient mythologist answered in accordance with his own taste and prejudices, and above all, and like all other and later speculators, in harmony with the general tendency of his own studies. If he lived when physical speculation was coming into fashion, as in the age of Empedocles, he thought that the Homeric poems must contain a veiled account of physical philosophy. This was the opinion of Theagenes of Rhegium, who wrote at a period when a crude physicism was disengaging itself from the earlier religious and mythical cosmogonic systems of Greece. Theagenes was shocked by the Homeric description of the battle in which the gods fought as allies of the Achaeans and Trojans. He therefore explained away the affair as a veiled account of the strife of the elements. Such "strife" was familiar to readers of the physical speculations of Empedocles and of Heraclitus, who blamed Homer for his prayer against Strife.(1)
(1) Is. et Osir., 48.
It did not occur to Theagenes to ask whether any evidence existed to show that the pre-Homeric Greeks were Empedoclean or Heraclitean philosophers. He readily proved to himself that Apollo, Helios, and Hephaestus were allegorical representations, like what such philosophers would feign,—of fire, that Hera was air, Poseidon water, Artemis the moon, and the rest he disposed of in the same fashion.(1)
(1) Scholia on Iliad, xx. 67. Dindorf (1877), vol. iv. p. 231. "This manner of apologetics is as old as Theagenes of Rhegium. Homer offers theological doctrine in the guise of physical allegory."
Metrodorus, again, turned not only the gods, but the Homeric heroes into "elemental combinations and physical agencies"; for there is nothing new in the mythological philosophy recently popular, which saw the sun, and the cloud, and the wind in Achilles, Athene, and Hermes.(1)
(1) Grote, Hist, of Greece, ed. 1869, i. p. 404.
In the Bacchae (291-297), Euripides puts another of the mythological systems of his own time into the mouth of Cadmus, the Theban king, who advances a philological explanation of the story that Dionysus was sewn up in the thigh of Zeus. The most famous of the later theories was that of Euhemerus (316 B.C.). In a kind of philosophical romance, Euhemerus declared that he had sailed to some No-man's-land, Panchaea, where he found the verity about mythical times engraved on pillars of bronze. This truth he published in the Sacra Historia, where he rationalised the fables, averring that the gods had been men, and that the myths were exaggerated and distorted records of facts. (See Eusebius, Praep. E., ii 55.) The Abbe Banier (La Mythologie expliquee par l'Histoire, Paris, 1738, vol. ii. p. 218) attempts the defence of Euhemerus, whom most of the ancients regarded as an atheist. There was an element of truth in his romantic hypothesis.(1)
(1) See Block, Euhemere et sa Doctrine, Mons, 1876.
Sometimes the old stories were said to conceal a moral, sometimes a physical, sometimes a mystical or Neo-platonic sort of meaning. As every apologist interpreted the legends in his own fashion, the interpretations usually disagreed and killed each other. Just as one modern mythologist sees the wind in Aeetes and the dawn in Medea, while another of the same school believes, on equally good evidence, that both Aeetes and Medea are the moon, so writers like Porphyry (270 A. D.) and Plutarch (60 A. D.) made the ancient deities types of their own favourite doctrines, whatever these might happen to be.
When Christianity became powerful, the Christian writers naturally attacked heathen religion where it was most vulnerable, on the side of the myths, and of the mysteries which were dramatic representations of the myths. "Pretty gods you worship," said the Fathers, in effect, "homicides, adulterers, bulls, bears, mice, ants, and what not." The heathen apologists for the old religion were thus driven in the early ages of Christianity to various methods of explaining away the myths of their discredited religion.
The early Christian writers very easily, and with considerable argumentative power, disposed of the apologies for the myths advanced by Porphyry and Plutarch. Thus Eusebius in the Praeparatio Evangelica first attacks the Egyptian interpretations of their own bestial or semi-bestial gods. He shows that the various interpretations destroy each other, and goes on to point out that Greek myth is in essence only a veneered and varnished version of the faith of Egypt. He ridicules, with a good deal of humour, the old theories which resolved so many mythical heroes into the sun; he shows that while one system is contented to regard Zeus as mere fire and air, another system recognises in him the higher reason, while Heracles, Dionysus, Apollo, and Asclepius, father and child, are all indifferently the sun.
Granting that the myth-makers were only constructing physical allegories, why did they wrap them up, asks Eusebius, in what WE consider abominable fictions? In what state were the people who could not look at the pure processes of Nature without being reminded of the most hideous and unnatural offences? Once more: "The physical interpreters do not even agree in their physical interpretations". All these are equally facile, equally plausible, and equally incapable of proof. Again, Eusebius argues, the interpreters take for granted in the makers of the myths an amount of physical knowledge which they certainly did not possess. For example, if Leto were only another name for Hera, the character of Zeus would be cleared as far as his amour with Leto is concerned. Now, the ancient believers in the "physical phenomena theory" of myths made out that Hera, the wife of Zeus, was really the same person under another name as Leto, his mistress. "For Hera is the earth" (they said at other times that Hera was the air), "and Leto is the night; but night is only the shadow of the earth, and therefore Leto is only the shadow of Hera." It was easy, however, to prove that this scientific view of night as the shadow of earth was not likely to be known to myth-makers, who regarded "swift Night" as an actual person. Plutarch, too, had an abstruse theory to explain the legend about the dummy wife,—a log of oak-wood, which Zeus pretended to marry when at variance with Hera.(1)
(1) Pausanias, ix. 31.
This quarrel, he said, was merely the confusion and strife of elements. Zeus was heat, Hera was cold (she had already been explained as earth and air), the dummy wife of oak-wood was a tree that emerged after a flood, and so forth. Of course, there was no evidence that mythopoeic men held Plutarchian theories of heat and cold and the conflict of the elements; besides, as Eusebius pointed out, Hera had already been defined once as an allegory of wedded life, and once as the earth, and again as the air, and it was rather too late to assert that she was also the cold and watery element in the world. As for his own explanation of the myths, Eusebius holds that they descend from a period when men in their lawless barbarism knew no better than to tell such tales. "Ancient folk, in the exceeding savagery of their lives, made no account of God, the universal Creator (here Eusebius is probably wrong)... but betook them to all manner of abominations. For the laws of decent existence were not yet established, nor was any settled and peaceful state ordained among men, but only a loose and savage fashion of wandering life, while, as beasts irrational, they cared for no more than to fill their bellies, being in a manner without God in the world." Growing a little more civilised, men, according to Eusebius, sought after something divine, which they found in the heavenly bodies. Later, they fell to worshipping living persons, especially "medicine men" and conjurors, and continued to worship them even after their decease, so that Greek temples are really tombs of the dead.(1) Finally, the civilised ancients, with a conservative reluctance to abandon their old myths (Greek text omitted), invented for them moral or physical explanations, like those of Plutarch and others, earlier and later.(2)
(1) Praep. E., ii. 5.
(2) Ibid., 6,19.
As Eusebius, like Clemens of Alexandria, Arnobius, and the other early Christian disputants, had no prejudice in favour of Hellenic mythology, and no sentimental reason for wishing to suppose that the origin of its impurities was pure, he found his way almost to the theory of the irrational element in mythology which we propose to offer.
Even to sketch the history of mythological hypothesis in modern times would require a book to itself. It must suffice here to indicate the various lines which speculation as to mythology has pursued.
All interpretations of myth have been formed in accordance with the ideas prevalent in the time of the interpreters. The early Greek physicists thought that mythopoeic men had been physicists. Aristotle hints that they were (like himself) political philosophers.(1) Neo-platonists sought in the myths for Neo-platonism; most Christians (unlike Eusebius) either sided with Euhemerus, or found in myth the inventions of devils, or a tarnished and distorted memory of the Biblical revelation.
(1) Met., xi. 8,19.
This was the theory, for example, of good old Jacob Bryant, who saw everywhere memories of the Noachian deluge and proofs of the correctness of Old Testament ethnology.(1)
(1) Bryant, A New System, wherein an Attempt is made to Divest Tradition of Fable, 1774.
Much the same attempt to find the Biblical truth at the bottom of savage and ancient fable has been recently made by the late M. Lenormant, a Catholic scholar.(1)
(1) Les Origines de l'Histoire d'apres le Bible, 1880-1884.
In the beginning of the present century Germany turned her attention to mythology. As usual, men's ideas were biassed by the general nature of their opinions. In a pious kind of spirit, Friedrich Creuzer sought to find SYMBOLS of some pure, early, and Oriental theosophy in the myths and mysteries of Greece. Certainly the Greeks of the philosophical period explained their own myths as symbols of higher things, but the explanation was an after-thought.(1) The great Lobeck, in his Aglaophamus (1829), brought back common sense, and made it the guide of his vast, his unequalled learning. In a gentler and more genial spirit, C. Otfried Muller laid the foundation of a truly scientific and historical mythology.(2) Neither of these writers had, like Alfred Maury,(3) much knowledge of the myths and faiths of the lower races, but they often seem on the point of anticipating the ethnological method.
(1) Creuzer, Symbolik und Mythologie, 2d edit., Leipzig, 1836-43.
(2) Introduction to a Scientific System of Mythology, English trans., London, 1844.
(3) Histoire des Religions de la Grece Antique, Paris, 1857.
When philological science in our own century came to maturity, in philology, as of old in physics and later in symbols, was sought the key of myths. While physical allegory, religious and esoteric symbolism, verbal confusion, historical legend, and an original divine tradition, perverted in ages of darkness, have been the most popular keys in other ages, the scientific nineteenth century has had a philological key of its own. The methods of Kuhn, Breal, Max Muller, and generally the philological method, cannot be examined here at full length.(1) Briefly speaking, the modern philological method is intended for a scientific application of the old etymological interpretations. Cadmus in the Bacchae of Euripides, Socrates in the Cratylus of Plato, dismiss unpalatable myths as the results of verbal confusion. People had originally said something quite sensible—so the hypothesis runs—but when their descendants forgot the meaning of their remarks, a new and absurd meaning followed from a series of unconscious puns.(2) This view was supported in ancient times by purely conjectural and impossible etymologies. Thus the myth that Dionysus was sewn up in the THIGH of Zeus (Greek text omitted) was explained by Euripides as the result of a confusion of words. People had originally said that Zeus gave a pledge (Greek text omitted) to Hera. The modern philological school relies for explanations of untoward and other myths on similar confusions. Thus Daphne is said to have been originally not a girl of romance, but the dawn (Sanskirt, dahana: ahana) pursued by the rising sun. But as the original Aryan sense of Dahana or Ahana was lost, and as Daphne came to mean the laurel—the wood which burns easily—the fable arose that the tree had been a girl called Daphne.(3)
(1) See Mythology in Encyclop. Brit. and in La Mythologie (A. L.), Paris, 1886, where Mr. Max Muller's system is criticised. See also Custom and Myth and Modern Mythology.
(2) That a considerable number of myths, chiefly myths of place names, arise from popular etymologies is certain: what is objected to is the vast proportion given to this element in myths.
(3) Max Muller, Nineteenth Century, December, 1885; "Solar Myths," January, 1886; Myths and Mythologists (A. L). Whitney, Mannhardt, Bergaigne, and others dispute the etymology. Or. and Ling. Studies, 1874, p. 160; Mannhardt, Antike Wald und Feld Kultus (Berlin, 1877), p. xx.; Bergaigne, La Religion Vedique, iii. 293; nor does Curtius like it much, Principles of Greek Etymology, English trans., ii. 92, 93; Modern Mythology (A. L.), 1897.
This system chiefly rests on comparison between the Sanskrit names in the Rig-Veda and the mythic names in Greek, German, Slavonic, and other Aryan legends. The attempt is made to prove that, in the common speech of the undivided Aryan race, many words for splendid or glowing natural phenomena existed, and that natural processes were described in a figurative style. As the various Aryan families separated, the sense of the old words and names became dim, the nomina developed into numina, the names into gods, the descriptions of elemental processes into myths. As this system has already been criticised by us elsewhere with minute attention, a reference to these reviews must suffice in this place. Briefly, it may be stated that the various masters of the school—Kuhn, Max Muller, Roth, Schwartz, and the rest—rarely agree where agreement is essential, that is, in the philological foundations of their building. They differ in very many of the etymological analyses of mythical names. They also differ in the interpretations they put on the names, Kuhn almost invariably seeing fire, storm, cloud, or lightning where Mr. Max Muller sees the chaste Dawn. Thus Mannhardt, after having been a disciple, is obliged to say that comparative Indo-Germanic mythology has not borne the fruit expected, and that "the CERTAIN gains of the system reduce themselves to the scantiest list of parallels, such as Dyaus = Zeus = Tius, Parjanya = Perkunas, Bhaga = Bog, Varuna = Uranos" (a position much disputed), etc. Mannhardt adds his belief that a number of other "equations"—such as Sarameya = Hermeias, Saranyus = Demeter Erinnys, Kentauros = Gandharva, and many others—will not stand criticism, and he fears that these ingenious guesses will prove mere jeux d'esprit rather than actual facts.(1) Many examples of the precarious and contradictory character of the results of philological mythology, many instances of "dubious etymologies," false logic, leaps at foregone conclusions, and attempts to make what is peculiarly Indian in thought into matter of universal application, will meet us in the chapters on Indian and Greek divine legends.(2) "The method in its practical working shows a fundamental lack of the historical sense," says Mannhardt. Examples are torn from their contexts, he observes; historical evolution is neglected; passages of the Veda, themselves totally obscure, are dragged forward to account for obscure Greek mythical phenomena. Such are the accusations brought by the regretted Mannhardt against the school to which he originally belonged, and which was popular and all-powerful even in the maturity of his own more clear-sighted genius. Proofs of the correctness of his criticism will be offered abundantly in the course of this work. It will become evident that, great as are the acquisitions of Philology, her least certain discoveries have been too hastily applied in alien "matter," that is, in the region of myth. Not that philology is wholly without place or part in the investigation of myth, when there is agreement among philologists as to the meaning of a divine name. In that case a certain amount of light is thrown on the legend of the bearer of the name, and on its origin and first home, Aryan, Greek, Semitic, or the like. But how rare is agreement among philologists!