THE BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY AND THE WORSHIP OF THE DEAD
J. G. FRAZER, D.C.L., LL.D., Litt.D.
Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge Professor of Social Anthropology in the University of Liverpool.
The Belief Among the Aborigines of Australia, the Torres Straits Islands, New Guinea and Melanesia
The Gifford Lectures, St. Andrews 1911-1912
MacMillan and Co., Limited St. Martin's Street, London 1913
Itaque unum illud erat insitum priscis illis, quos cascos appellat Ennius, esse in morte sensum neque excessu vitae sic deleri hominem, ut funditus interiret; idque cum multis aliis rebus; tum e pontificio jure et e caerimoniis sepulchrorum intellegi licet, quas maxumis ingeniis praediti nec tanta cura coluissent nec violatas tam inexpiabili religione sanxissent, nisi haereret in corum mentibus mortem non interitum esse omnia tollentem atque delentem, sed quandam quasi migrationem commutationemque vitae.
Cicero, Tuscul. Disput. i. 12.
TO MY OLD FRIEND
JOHN SUTHERLAND BLACK, LL.D.
I DEDICATE AFFECTIONATELY
WHICH OWES MUCH TO HIS ENCOURAGEMENT
The following lectures were delivered on Lord Gifford's Foundation before the University of St. Andrews in the early winters of 1911 and 1912. They are printed nearly as they were spoken, except that a few passages, omitted for the sake of brevity in the oral delivery, have been here restored and a few more added. Further, I have compressed the two introductory lectures into one, striking out some passages which on reflection I judged to be irrelevant or superfluous. The volume incorporates twelve lectures on "The Fear and Worship of the Dead" which I delivered in the Lent and Easter terms of 1911 at Trinity College, Cambridge, and repeated, with large additions, in my course at St. Andrews.
The theme here broached is a vast one, and I hope to pursue it hereafter by describing the belief in immortality and the worship of the dead, as these have been found among the other principal races of the world both in ancient and modern times. Of all the many forms which natural religion has assumed none probably has exerted so deep and far-reaching an influence on human life as the belief in immortality and the worship of the dead; hence an historical survey of this most momentous creed and of the practical consequences which have been deduced from it can hardly fail to be at once instructive and impressive, whether we regard the record with complacency as a noble testimony to the aspiring genius of man, who claims to outlive the sun and the stars, or whether we view it with pity as a melancholy monument of fruitless labour and barren ingenuity expended in prying into that great mystery of which fools profess their knowledge and wise men confess their ignorance.
J. G. FRAZER. Cambridge, 9th February 1913.
Table of Contents
Natural theology, three modes of handling it, the dogmatic, the philosophical, and the historical, pp. 1 sq.; the historical method followed in these lectures, 2 sq.; questions of the truth and moral value of religious beliefs irrelevant in an historical enquiry, 3 sq.; need of studying the religion of primitive man and possibility of doing so by means of the comparative method, 5 sq.; urgent need of investigating the native religion of savages before it disappears, 6 sq.; a portion of savage religion the theme of these lectures, 7 sq.; the question of a supernatural revelation dismissed, 8 sq.; theology and religion, their relations, 9; the term God defined, 9 sqq.; monotheism and polytheism, 11; a natural knowledge of God, if it exists, only possible through experience, 11 sq.; the nature of experience, 12 sq.; two kinds of experience, an inward and an outward, 13 sq.; the conception of God reached historically through both kinds of experience, 14; inward experience or inspiration, 14 sq.; deification of living men, 16 sq.; outward experience as a source of the idea of God, 17; the tendency to seek for causes, 17 sq.; the meaning of cause, 18 sq.; the savage explains natural processes by the hypothesis of spirits or gods, 19 sq.; natural processes afterwards explained by hypothetical forces and atoms instead of by hypothetical spirits and gods, 20 sq.; nature in general still commonly explained by the hypothesis of a deity, 21 sq.; God an inferential or hypothetical cause, 22 sq.; the deification of dead men, 23-25; such a deification presupposes the immortality of the human soul or rather its survival for a longer or shorter time after death, 25 sq.; the conception of human immortality suggested both by inward experience, such as dreams, and by outward experience, such as the resemblances of the living to the dead, 26-29; the lectures intended to collect evidence as to the belief in immortality among certain savage races, 29 sq.; the method to be descriptive rather than comparative or philosophical, 30.
Lecture II.—The Savage Conception of Death
The subject of the lectures the belief in immortality and the worship of the dead among certain of the lower races, p. 31; question of the nature and origin of death, 31 sq.; universal interest of the question, 32 sq.; the belief in immortality general among mankind, 33; belief of many savages that death is not natural and that they would never die if their lives were not cut prematurely short by sorcery, 33 sq.; examples of this belief among the South American Indians, 34 sqq.; death sometimes attributed to sorcery and sometimes to demons, practical consequence of this distinction, 37; belief in sorcery as the cause of death among the Indians of Guiana, 38 sq., among the Tinneh Indians of North America, 39 sq., among the aborigines of Australia, 40-47, among the natives of the Torres Straits Islands and New Guinea, 47, among the Melanesians, 48, among the Malagasy, 48 sq., and among African tribes, 49-51; effect of such beliefs in thinning the population by causing multitudes to die for the imaginary crime of sorcery, 51-53; some savages attribute certain deaths to other causes than sorcery, 53; corpse dissected to ascertain cause of death, 53 sq.; the possibility of natural death admitted by the Melanesians and the Caffres of South Africa, 54-56; the admission marks an intellectual advance, 56 sq.; the recognition of ghosts or spirits, apart from sorcery, as a cause of disease and death also marks a step in moral and social progress, 57 sq.
Lecture III.—Myths of the Origin of Death
Belief of savages in man's natural immortality, p. 59; savage stories of the origin of death, 59 sq.; four types of such stories:—
(1) The Story of the Two Messengers.—Zulu story of the chameleon and the lizard, 60 sq.; Akamba story of the chameleon and the thrush, 61 sq.; Togo story of the dog and the frog, 62 sq.; Ashantee story of the goat and the sheep, 63 sq.
(2) The Story of the Waxing and Waning Moon.—Hottentot story of the moon, the hare, and death, 65; Masai story of the moon and death, 65 sq.; Nandi story of the moon, the dog, and death, 66; Fijian story of the moon, the rat, and death, 67; Caroline, Wotjobaluk, and Cham stories of the moon, death, and resurrection, 67; death and resurrection after three days suggested by the reappearance of the new moon after three days, 67 sq.
(3) The Story of the Serpent and his Cast Skin.—New Britain and Annamite story of immortality, the serpent, and death, 69 sq.; Vuatom story of immortality, the lizard, the serpent, and death, 70; Nias story of immortality, the crab, and death, 70; Arawak and Tamanchier stories of immortality, the serpent, the lizard, the beetle, and death, 70 sq.; Melanesian story of the old woman and her cast skin, 71 sq.; Samoan story of the shellfish, two torches, and death, 72.
(4) The Story of the Banana.—Poso story of immortality, the stone, the banana, and death, 72 sq.; Mentra story of immortality, the banana, and death, 73.
Primitive philosophy in the stories of the origin of death, 73 sq.; Bahnar story of immortality, the tree, and death, 74; rivalry for the boon of immortality between men and animals that cast their skins, such as serpents and lizards, 74 sq.; stories of the origin of death told by Chingpaws, Australians, Fijians, and Admiralty Islanders, 75-77; African and American stories of the fatal bundle or the fatal box, 77 sq.; Baganda story how death originated through the imprudence of a woman, 78-81; West African story of Death and the spider, 81-83; Melanesian story of Death and the Fool, 83 sq.
Thus according to savages death is not a natural necessity, 84; similar view held by some modern biologists, as A. Weismann and A. R. Wallace, 84-86.
Lecture IV.—The Belief in Immortality among the Aborigines of Central Australia
In tracing the evolution of religious beliefs we must begin with those of the lowest savages, p. 87; the aborigines of Australia the lowest savages about whom we possess accurate information, 88; savagery a case of retarded development, 88 sq.; causes which have retarded progress in Australia, 89 sq.; the natives of Central Australia on the whole more primitive than those of the coasts, 90 sq.; little that can be called religion among them, 91 sq.; their theory that the souls of the dead survive and are reborn in their descendants, 92 sq.; places where the souls of the dead await rebirth, and the mode in which they enter into women, 93 sq.; local totem centres, 94 sq.; totemism defined, 95; traditionary origin of the local totem centres (oknanikilla) where the souls of the dead assemble, 96; sacred birth-stones or birth-sticks (churinga) which the souls of ancestors are thought to have dropped at these places, 96-102; elements of a worship of the dead, 102 sq.; marvellous powers attributed to the remote ancestors of the alcheringa or dream times, 103 sq.; the Wollunqua, a mythical water-snake, ancestor of a totemic clan of the Warramunga tribe, 104-106; religious character of the belief in the Wollunqua, 106.
Lecture V.—The Belief in Immortality among the Aborigines of Central Australia (continued)
Beliefs of the Central Australian aborigines concerning the reincarnation of the dead, p. 107; possibility of the development of ancestor worship, 107 sq.; ceremonies performed by the Warramunga in honour of the Wollunqua, the mythical ancestor of one of their totem clans, 108 sqq.; union of magic and religion in these ceremonies, 111 sq.; ground drawings of the Wollunqua, 112 sq.; importance of the Wollunqua in the evolution of religion and art, 113 sq.; how totemism might develop into polytheism through an intermediate stage of ancestor worship, 114 sq.; all the conspicuous features of the country associated by the Central Australians with the spirits of their ancestors, 115-118; dramatic ceremonies performed by them to commemorate the deeds of their ancestors, 118 sq.; examples of these ceremonies, 119-122; these ceremonies were probably in origin not merely commemorative or historical but magical, being intended to procure a supply of food and other necessaries, 122 sq.; magical virtue actually attributed to these dramatic ceremonies by the Warramunga, who think that by performing them they increase the food supply of the tribe, 123 sq.; hence the great importance ascribed by these savages to the due performance of the ancestral dramas, 124; general attitude of the Central Australian aborigines to their dead, and the lines on which, if left to themselves, they might have developed a regular worship of the dead, 124-126.
Lecture VI.—The Belief in Immortality among the other Aborigines of Australia
Evidence for the belief in reincarnation among the natives of other parts of Australia than the centre, p. 127; beliefs of the Queensland aborigines concerning the nature of the soul and the state of the dead, 127-131; belief of the Australian aborigines that their dead are sometimes reborn in white people, 131-133; belief of the natives of South-Eastern Australia that their dead are not born again but go away to the sky or some distant country, 133 sq.; beliefs and customs of the Narrinyeri concerning the dead, 134 sqq.; motives for the excessive grief which they display at the death of their relatives, 135 sq.; their pretence of avenging the death of their friends on the guilty sorcerer, 136 sq.; magical virtue ascribed to the hair of the dead, 137 sq.; belief that the dead go to the sky, 138 sq.; appearance of the dead to the living in dreams, 139; savage faith in dreams, 139 sq.; association of the stars with the souls of the dead, 140; creed of the South-Eastern Australians touching the dead, 141; difference of this creed from that of the Central Australians, 141; this difference probably due in the main to a general advance of culture brought about by more favourable natural conditions in South-Eastern Australia, 141 sq.; possible influence of European teaching on native beliefs, 142 sq.; vagueness and inconsistency of native beliefs as to the state of the dead, 143; custom a good test of belief, 143 sq.; burial customs of the Australian aborigines as evidence of their beliefs concerning the state of the dead, 144; their practice of supplying the dead with food, water, fire, weapons, and implements, 144-147; motives for the destruction of the property of the dead, 147 sq.; great economic loss entailed by developed systems of sacrificing to the dead, 149.
Lecture VII.—The Belief in Immortality among the Aborigines of Australia (concluded)
Huts erected on graves for the use of the ghosts, pp. 150-152; the attentions paid by the Australian aborigines to their dead probably spring from fear rather than affection, 152; precautions taken by the living against the dangerous ghosts of the dead, 152 sq.; cuttings and brandings of the flesh of the living in honour of the dead, 154-158; the custom of allowing the blood of mourners to drip on the corpse or into the grave may be intended to strengthen the dead for a new birth, 158-162; different ways of disposing of the dead according to the age, rank, manner of death, etc., of the deceased, 162 sq.; some modes of burial are intended to prevent the return of the spirit, others are designed to facilitate it, 163-165; final departure of the ghost supposed to coincide with the disappearance of the flesh from his bones, 165 sq.; hence a custom has arisen in many tribes of giving the bones a second burial or otherwise disposing of them when the flesh is quite decayed, 166; tree-burial followed by earth-burial in some Australian tribes, 166-168; general conclusion as to the belief in immortality and the worship of the dead among the Australian aborigines, 168 sq.
Lecture VIII.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of the Torres Straits Islands
Racial affinities of the Torres Straits Islanders, pp. 170 sq.; their material and social culture, 171 sq.; no developed worship of the dead among them, 172 sq.; their fear of ghosts, 173-175; home of the dead a mythical island in the west, 175 sq.; elaborate funeral ceremonies of the Torres Straits Islanders characterised by dramatic representations of the dead and by the preservation of their skulls, which were consulted as oracles, 176.
Funeral ceremonies of the Western Islanders, 177-180; part played by the brothers-in-law of the deceased at these ceremonies, 177 sq.; removal of the head and preparation of the skull for use in divination, 178 sq.; great death-dance performed by masked men who personated the deceased, 179 sq.
Funeral ceremonies of the Eastern Islanders, 180-188; soul of the dead carried away by a masked actor, 181 sq.; dramatic performance by disguised men representing ghosts, 182 sq.; blood and hair of relatives offered to the dead, 183 sq.; mummification of the corpse, 184; costume of mourners, 184; cuttings for the dead, 184 sq.; death-dance by men personating ghosts, 185-188; preservation of the mummy and afterwards of the head or a wax model of it to be used in divination, 188.
Images of the gods perhaps developed out of mummies of the dead, and a sacred or even secular drama developed out of funeral dances, 189.
Lecture IX.—The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives Of British New Guinea
The two races of New Guinea, the Papuan and the Melanesian, pp. 190 sq.; beliefs and customs of the Motu concerning the dead, 192; the Koita and their beliefs as to the human soul and the state of the dead, 193-195; alleged communications with the dead by means of mediums, 195 sq.; fear of the dead, especially of a dead wife, 196 sq.; beliefs of the Mafulu concerning the dead, 198; their burial customs, 198 sq.; their use of the skulls and bones of the dead at a great festival, 199-201; worship of the dead among the natives of the Aroma district, 201 sq.; the Hood Peninsula, 202 sq.; beliefs and customs concerning the dead among the natives of the Hood Peninsula, 203-206; seclusion of widows and widowers, 203 sq.; the ghost-seer, 204 sq.; application of the juices of the dead to the persons of the living, 205; precautions taken by manslayers against the ghosts of their victims, 205 sq.; purification for homicide originally a mode of averting the angry ghost of the slain, 206; beliefs and customs concerning the dead among the Massim of south-eastern New Guinea, 206-210; Hiyoyoa, the land of the dead, 207; purification of mourners by bathing and shaving, 207 sq.; foods forbidden to mourners, 208 sq.; fires on the grave, 209; the land of the dead, 209 sq.; names of the dead not mentioned, 210; beliefs and customs concerning the dead among the Papuans of Kiwai, 211-214; Adiri, the land of the dead, 211-213; appearance of the dead to the living in dreams, 213 sq.; offerings to the dead, 214; dreams as a source of the belief in immortality, 214.
Lecture X.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of German New Guinea
Andrew Lang, pp. 216 sq.; review of preceding lectures, 217 sq.
The Papuans of Tumleo, their material culture, 218-220; their temples, 220 sq.; their bachelors' houses containing the skulls of the dead, 221; spirits of the dead as the causes of sickness and disease, 222 sq.; burial and mourning customs, 223 sq.; fate of the human soul after death, 224; monuments to the dead, 225; disinterment of the bones, 225; propitiation of ghosts and spirits, 226; guardian-spirits in the temples, 226 sq.
The Monumbo of Potsdam Harbour, 227 sq.; their beliefs concerning the spirits of the dead, 228 sq.; their fear of ghosts, 229; their treatment of manslayers, 229 sq.
The Tamos of Astrolabe Bay, 230; their ideas as to the souls of the dead, 231 sq.; their fear of ghosts, 232 sqq.; their Secret Society and rites of initiation, 233; their preservation of the jawbones of the dead, 234 sq.; their sham fights after a death, 235 sq.; these fights perhaps intended to throw dust in the eyes of the ghost, 236 sq.
Lecture XI.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of German New Guinea (continued)
The Papuans of Cape King William, pp. 238 sq.; their ideas as to spirits and the souls of the dead, 239 sq.; their belief in sorcery as a cause of death, 240 sq.; their funeral and mourning customs, 241 sq.; the fate of the soul after death, 242.
The Yabim of Finsch Harbour, their material and artistic culture, 242 sq.; their clubhouses for men, 243; their beliefs as to the state of the dead, 244 sq.; the ghostly ferry, 244 sq.; transmigration of human souls into animals, 245; the return of the ghosts, 246; offerings to ghosts, 246; ghosts provided with fire, 246 sq.; ghosts help in the cultivation of land, 247 sq.; burial and mourning customs, 248 sq.; divination to discover the sorcerer who has caused a death, 249 sq.; bull-roarers, 250; initiation of young men, 250 sqq.; the rite of circumcision, the novices supposed to be swallowed by a monster, 251 sq.; the return of the novices, 253; the essence of the initiatory rites seems to be a simulation of death and resurrection, 253 sqq.; the new birth among the Akikuyu of British East Africa, 254.
Lecture XII.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of German New Guinea (continued)
The Bukaua of Huon Gulf, their means of subsistence and men's clubhouses, pp. 256 sq.; their ideas as to the souls of the dead, 257; sickness and death caused by ghosts and sorcerers, 257 sq.; fear of the ghosts of the slain, 258; prayers to ancestral spirits on behalf of the crops, 259; first-fruits offered to the spirits of the dead, 259; burial and mourning customs, 259 sq.; initiation of young men, novices at circumcision supposed to be swallowed and afterwards disgorged by a monster, 260 sq.
The Kai, a Papuan tribe of mountaineers inland from Finsch Harbour, 262; their country, mode of agriculture, and villages, 262 sq.; observations of a German missionary on their animism, 263 sq.; the essential rationality of the savage, 264-266; the Kai theory of the two sorts of human souls, 267 sq.; death commonly thought to be caused by sorcery, 268 sq.; danger incurred by the sorcerer, 269; many hurts and maladies attributed to the action of ghosts, 269 sq.; capturing lost souls, 270 sq.; ghosts extracted from the body of a sick man or scraped from his person, 271; extravagant demonstrations of grief at the death of a sick man, 271-273; hypocritical character of these demonstrations, which are intended to deceive the ghost, 273; burial and mourning customs, preservation of the lower jawbone and one of the lower arm bones, 274; mourning costume, seclusion of widow or widower, 274 sq.; widows sometimes strangled to accompany their dead husbands, 275; house or village deserted after a death, 275.
Lecture XIII.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of German New Guinea (continued)
The Kai (continued), their offerings to the dead, p. 276; divination by means of ghosts to detect the sorcerer who has caused a death, 276-278; avenging the death on the sorcerer and his people, 278 sq.; precautions against the ghosts of the slain, 279 sq.; attempts to deceive the ghosts of the murdered, 280-282; pretence of avenging the ghost of a murdered man, 282; fear of ghosts by night, 282 sq.; services rendered by the spirits of the dead to farmers and hunters, 283-285; the journey of the soul to the spirit land, 285 sq.; life of the dead in the other world, 286 sq.; ghosts die the second death and turn into animals, 287; ghosts of famous people invoked long after their death, 287-289; possible development of ghosts into gods, 289 sq.; lads at circumcision supposed to be swallowed and disgorged by a monster, 290 sq.
The Tami Islanders of Huon Gulf, 291; their theory of a double human soul, a long one and a short one, 291 sq.; departure of the short soul for Lamboam, the nether world of the dead, 292; offerings to the dead, 292; appeasing the ghost, 292 sq.; funeral and mourning customs, dances in honour of the dead, offerings thrown into the fire, 293 sq.; bones of the dead dug up and kept in the house for a time, 294 sq.
Lecture XIV.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of German and Dutch New Guinea
The Tami Islanders of Huon Gulf (continued), their doctrine of souls and gods, pp. 296 sq.; dances of masked men representing spirits, 297; worship of ancestral spirits and offerings to them, 297 sq.; life of the souls in Lamboam, the nether world, 299 sq.; evocation of ghosts by the ghost-seer, 300; sickness caused by ghosts, 300 sq.; novices at circumcision supposed to be swallowed and disgorged by a monster, 301 sq.; meaning of the bodily mutilations inflicted on young men at puberty obscure, 302 sq. The natives of Dutch New Guinea, 303-323; the Noofoors of Geelvink Bay, their material culture and arts of life, 303-305; their fear and worship of the dead, 305-307; wooden images (korwar) of the dead kept in the houses and carried in canoes to be used as oracles, 307 sq.; the images consulted in sickness and taken with the people to war, 308-310; offerings to the images, 310 sq.; souls of those who have died away from home recalled to animate the images, 311; skulls of the dead, especially of firstborn children and of parents, inserted in the images, 312 sq.; bodies of young children hung on trees, 312 sq.; mummies of dead relatives kept in the houses, 313; seclusion of mourners and restrictions on their diet, 313 sq.; tattooing in honour of the dead, 314; teeth and hair of the dead worn by relatives, 314 sq.; rebirth of parents in their children, 315.
The natives of islands off the west coast of New Guinea, their wooden images of dead ancestors and shrines for the residence of the ancestral spirits, 315 sq.; their festivals in honour of the dead, 316; souls of ancestors supposed to reside in the images and to protect the house and household, 317.
The natives of the Macluer Gulf, their images and bowls in honour of the dead, 317 sq.
The natives of the Mimika district, their burial and mourning customs, their preservation of the skulls of the dead, and their belief in ghosts, 318.
The natives of Windessi, their burial customs, 318 sq.; divination after a death, 319; mourning customs, 319 sq.; festival of the dead, 320 sq.; wooden images of the dead, 321; doctrine of souls and of their fate after death, 321 sq.; medicine-men inspired by the souls of the dead, 322 sq.; ghosts of slain enemies driven away, 323.
Lecture XV.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of Southern Melanesia (New Caledonia)
The Melanesians in general, their material culture, p. 324; Southern Melanesia, the New Caledonians, and Father Lambert's account of them, 325; their ideas as to the spirit land and the way thither, 325 sq.; burial customs, 326; cuttings and brandings for the dead, 326 sq.; property of the dead destroyed, 327; seclusion of gravediggers and restrictions imposed on them, 327; sham fight in honour of the dead, 327 sq.; skulls of the dead preserved and worshipped on various occasions, such as sickness, fishing, and famine, 328-330; caves used as charnel-houses and sanctuaries of the dead in the Isle of Pines, 330-332; prayers and sacrifices to the ancestral spirits, 332 sq.; prayer-posts, 333 sq.; sacred stones associated with the dead and used to cause dearth or plenty, madness, a good crop of bread-fruit or yams, drought, rain, a good catch of fish, and so on, 334-338; the religion of the New Caledonians mainly a worship of the dead tinctured with magic, 338.
Evidence as to the natives of New Caledonia collected by Dr. George Turner, 339-342; material culture of the New Caledonians, 339; their burial customs, the skulls and nails of the dead preserved and used to fertilise the yam plantations, 339 sq.; worship of ancestors and prayers to the dead, 340; festivals in honour of the dead, 340 sq.; making rain by means of the skeletons of the dead, 341; execution of sorcerers, 341 sq.; white men identified with the spirits of the dead, 342.
Lecture XVI.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of Central Melanesia
Central Melanesia divided into two archipelagoes, the religion of the Western Islands (Solomon Islands) characterised by a worship of the dead, the religion of the Eastern Islands (New Hebrides, Banks' Islands, Torres Islands, Santa Cruz Islands) characterised by a worship of non-human spirits, pp. 343 sq.; Central Melanesian theory of the soul, 344 sq.; the land of the dead either in certain islands or in a subterranean region called Panoi, 345; ghosts of power and ghosts of no account, 345 sq.; supernatural power (mana) acquired through ghosts, 346 sq.
Burial customs in the Western Islands (Solomon Islands), 347 sqq.; land-burial and sea-burial, land-ghosts and sea-ghosts, 347 sq.; funeral feasts and burnt-offerings to the dead, 348 sq.; the land of the dead and the ghostly ferry, 350 sq.; ghosts die the second death and turn into the nests of white ants, 350 sq.; preservation of the skull and jawbone in order to ensure the protection of the ghost, 351 sq.; human heads sought in order to add fresh spiritual power (mana) to the ghost of a dead chief, 352.
Beliefs and customs concerning the dead in the Eastern Islands (New Hebrides, Banks' Islands, Torres Islands), 352 sqq.; Panoi, the subterranean abode of the dead, 353 sq.; ghosts die the second death, 354; different fates of the souls of the good and bad, 354 sq.; descent of the living into the world of the dead, 355; burial customs of the Banks' Islanders, 355 sqq.; dead sometimes temporarily buried in the house, 355; display of property beside the corpse and funeral oration, 355 sq.; sham burial of eminent men, 356; ghosts driven away from the village, 356-358; deceiving the ghosts of women who have died in child-bed, 358; funeral feasts, 358 sq.; funeral customs in the New Hebrides, 359 sqq.; the aged buried alive, 359 sq.; seclusion of mourners and restrictions on their diet, 360; sacrifice of pigs, 360 sq.; the journey of the ghost to the spirit land, 361 sq.; provisions made by the living for the welfare of the dead, 362.
Only ghosts of powerful men worshipped, 362 sq.; institution of the worship of a martial ghost, 363 sq.; offerings of food and drink to the dead, 364 sq.; sacrifice of pigs to ghosts in the Solomon Islands, 365 sq.
Lecture XVII.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of Central Melanesia (concluded)
Public sacrifices to ghosts in the Solomon Islands, pp. 367 sq.; offering of first-fruits to ghosts, 368 sq.; private ghosts as distinguished from public ghosts, 369 sq.; fighting ghosts kept as spiritual auxiliaries, 370; ghosts employed to make the gardens grow, 370 sq.; human sacrifices to ghosts, 371 sq.; vicarious and other sacrifices to ghosts at Saa in Malanta, 372 sq.; offerings of first-fruits to ghosts at Saa, 373 sq.; vicarious sacrifices offered for the sick to ghosts in Santa Cruz, 374; the dead represented by stocks in the houses, 374; native account of sacrifices in Santa Cruz, 374 sq.; prayers to the dead, 376 sq.; sanctuaries of ghosts in the Solomon Islands, 377-379; ghosts lodged in animals, birds, and fish, especially in sharks, 379 sq.
The belief in ghosts underlies the Melanesian conception of magic, 380 sq.; sickness commonly caused by ghosts and cured by ghost-seers, 381-384; contrast between Melanesian and European systems of medicine, 384; weather regulated by ghosts and spirits and by weather-doctors who have the ear of ghosts and spirits, 384-386; witchcraft or black magic wrought by means of ghosts, 386-388; prophets inspired by ghosts, 388 sq.; divination operating through ghosts, 389 sq.; taboos enforced by ghosts, 390 sq.; general influence which a belief in the survival of the soul after death has exercised on Melanesian life, 391 sq.
Lecture XVIII.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of Northern and Eastern Melanesia
The natives of Northern Melanesia or the Bismarck Archipelago (New Britain, New Ireland, etc.), their material culture, commercial habits, and want of regular government, pp. 393-395; their theory of the soul, 395 sq.; their fear of ghosts, 396; offerings to the dead, 396 sq.; burial customs, 397 sq.; preservation of the skulls, 398; customs and beliefs concerning the dead among the Sulka of New Britain, 398-400, among the Moanus of the Admiralty Islands, 400 sq. and among the natives of the Kaniet Islands, 401 sq.; natural deaths commonly attributed to sorcery, 402; divination to discover the sorcerer who caused the death, 402; death customs in the Duke of York Island, cursing the sorcerer, skulls preserved, feasts and dances, 403; prayers to the dead, 403 sq.; the land of the dead and the fate of the departed souls, hard lot of impecunious ghosts, 404-406.
The natives of Eastern Melanesia (Fiji), their material culture and political constitution, 406-408; means of subsistence, 408; moral character, 408 sq.; scenery of the Fijian islands, 409 sq.; the Fijian doctrine of souls, 410-412; souls of rascals caught in scarves, 412 sq.; fear of sorcery and precautions against it, 413 sq.; beneficial effect of the fear in enforcing habits of personal cleanliness, 414; fear of ghosts and custom of driving them away, 414 sq.; killing a ghost, 415 sq.; outwitting grandfather's ghost, 416; special relation of grandfather to grandchild, 416; grandfather's soul reborn in his grandchild, 417 sq.
Lecture XIX.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of Eastern Melanesia (Fiji) (continued)
Indifference of the Fijians to death, p. 419; their custom of killing the sick and aged with the consent of the victims, 419-424; their readiness to die partly an effect of their belief in immortality, 422 sq.; wives strangled or buried alive to accompany their husbands to the spirit land, 424-426; servants and dependants killed to attend their dead lords, 426; sacrifices of foreskins and fingers in honour of dead chiefs, 426 sq.; boys circumcised in order to save the lives of their fathers or fathers' brothers, 427; saturnalia attending such rites of circumcision, 427 sq.; the Nanga, or sacred enclosure of stones, dedicated to the worship of ancestors, 428 sq.; first-fruits of the yams offered to the ancestors in the Nanga, 429; initiation of young men in the Nanga, drama of death and resurrection, sacrament of food and water, 429-432; the initiation followed by a period of sexual licence, 433; the initiatory rites apparently intended to introduce the novices to the ancestral spirits and endow them with the powers of the dead, 434 sq.; the rites seem to have been imported into Fiji by immigrants from the west, 435 sq.; the licence attending these rites perhaps a reversion to primitive communism for the purpose of propitiating the ancestral spirits, 436 sq.; description of the Nanga or sacred enclosure of stones, 437 sq.; comparison with the cromlechs and other megalithic monuments of Europe, 438.
Lecture XX.—The Belief in Immortality among the Natives of Eastern Melanesia (Fiji) (concluded)
Worship of parents and other dead relations in Fiji, pp. 439 sq.; Fijian notion of divinity (kalou), 440; two classes of gods, namely, divine gods and human gods or deified men, 440 sq.; temples (bures) 441 sq.; worship at the temples, 443; priests (betes), their oracular inspiration by the gods, 443-446; human sacrifices on various occasions, such as building a house or launching a new canoe, 446 sq.; high estimation in which manslaughter was held by the Fijians, 447 sq.; consecration of manslayers and restrictions laid on them, probably from fear of the ghosts of their victims, 448 sq.; certain funeral customs based apparently on the fear of ghosts, 450 sqq.; persons who have handled a corpse forbidden to touch food with their hands, 450 sq.; seclusion of gravediggers, 451; mutilations, brandings, and fasts in honour of the dead, 451 sq.; the dead carried out of the house by a special opening to prevent the return of the ghost, 452-461; the other world and the way thither, 462 sqq.; the ghostly ferry, 462 sq.; the ghost and the pandanus tree, 463 sq.; hard fate of the unmarried dead, 464; the Killer of Souls, 464 sq.; ghosts precipitated into a lake, 465 sq.; Murimuria, an inferior sort of heaven, 466; the Fijian Elysium, 466 sq.; transmigration and annihilation, the few that are saved, 467.
Concluding observations, 467-471; strength and universality of the belief in immortality among savages, 468; the state of war among savage and civilised peoples often a direct consequence of the belief in immortality, 468 sq.; economic loss involved in sacrifices to the dead, 469; how does the savage belief in immortality bear on the truth or falsehood of that belief in general? 469; the answer depends to some extent on the view we take of human nature, 469-471; the conclusion left open, 471.
Note.—Myth of the Continuance of Death
[Sidenote: Natural theology, and the three modes of handling it, the dogmatic, the philosophical, and the historical.]
The subject of these lectures is a branch of natural theology. By natural theology I understand that reasoned knowledge of a God or gods which man may be supposed, whether rightly or wrongly, capable of attaining to by the exercise of his natural faculties alone. Thus defined, the subject may be treated in at least three different ways, namely, dogmatically, philosophically, and historically. We may simply state the dogmas of natural theology which appear to us to be true: that is the dogmatic method. Or, secondly, we may examine the validity of the grounds on which these dogmas have been or may be maintained: that is the philosophic method. Or, thirdly, we may content ourselves with describing the various views which have been held on the subject and tracing their origin and evolution in history: that is the historical method. The first of these three methods assumes the truth of natural theology, the second discusses it, and the third neither assumes nor discusses but simply ignores it: the historian as such is not concerned with the truth or falsehood of the beliefs he describes, his business is merely to record them and to track them as far as possible to their sources. Now that the subject of natural theology is ripe for a purely dogmatic treatment will hardly, I think, be maintained by any one, to whatever school of thought he may belong; accordingly that method of treatment need not occupy us further. Far otherwise is it with the philosophic method which undertakes to enquire into the truth or falsehood of the belief in a God: no method could be more appropriate at a time like the present, when the opinions of educated and thoughtful men on that profound topic are so unsettled, diverse, and conflicting. A philosophical treatment of the subject might comprise a discussion of such questions as whether a natural knowledge of God is possible to man, and, if possible, by what means and through what faculties it is attainable; what are the grounds for believing in the existence of a God; and, if this belief is justified, what may be supposed to be his essential nature and attributes, and what his relations to the world in general and to man in particular. Now I desire to confess at once that an adequate discussion of these and kindred questions would far exceed both my capacity and my knowledge; for he who would do justice to so arduous an enquiry should not only be endowed with a comprehensive and penetrating genius, but should possess a wide and accurate acquaintance with the best accredited results of philosophic speculation and scientific research. To such qualifications I can lay no claim, and accordingly I must regard myself as unfitted for a purely philosophic treatment of natural theology. To speak plainly, the question of the existence of a God is too deep for me. I dare neither affirm nor deny it. I can only humbly confess my ignorance. Accordingly, if Lord Gifford had required of his lecturers either a dogmatic or a philosophical treatment of natural theology, I could not have undertaken to deliver the lectures.
[Sidenote: The method followed in these lectures is the historical.]
But in his deed of foundation, as I understand it, Lord Gifford left his lecturers free to follow the historical rather than the dogmatic or the philosophical method of treatment. He says: "The lecturers shall be under no restraint whatever in their treatment of their theme: for example, they may freely discuss (and it may be well to do so) all questions about man's conceptions of God or the Infinite, their origin, nature, and truth." In making this provision the founder appears to have allowed and indeed encouraged the lecturers not only to discuss, if they chose to do so, the philosophical basis of a belief in God, but also to set forth the various conceptions of the divine nature which have been held by men in all ages and to trace them to their origin: in short, he permitted and encouraged the lecturers to compose a history of natural theology or of some part of it. Even when it is thus limited to its historical aspect the theme is too vast to be mastered completely by any one man: the most that a single enquirer can do is to take a general but necessarily superficial survey of the whole and to devote himself especially to the investigation of some particular branch or aspect of the subject. This I have done more or less for many years, and accordingly I think that without being presumptuous I may attempt, in compliance with Lord Gifford's wishes and directions, to lay before my hearers a portion of the history of religion to which I have paid particular attention. That the historical study of religious beliefs, quite apart from the question of their truth or falsehood, is both interesting and instructive will hardly be disputed by any intelligent and thoughtful enquirer. Whether they have been well or ill founded, these beliefs have deeply influenced the conduct of human affairs; they have furnished some of the most powerful, persistent, and far-reaching motives of action; they have transformed nations and altered the face of the globe. No one who would understand the general history of mankind can afford to ignore the annals of religion. If he does so, he will inevitably fall into the most serious misconceptions even in studying branches of human activity which might seem, on a superficial view, to be quite unaffected by religious considerations.
[Sidenote: An historical enquiry into the evolution of religion prejudices neither the question of the ethical value of religious practice nor the question of the truth or falsehood of religious belief.]
Therefore to trace theological and in general religious ideas to their sources and to follow them through all the manifold influences which they have exerted on the destinies of our race must always be an object of prime importance to the historian, whatever view he may take of their speculative truth or ethical value. Clearly we cannot estimate their ethical value until we have learned the modes in which they have actually determined human conduct for good or evil: in other words, we cannot judge of the morality of religious beliefs until we have ascertained their history: the facts must be known before judgment can be passed on them: the work of the historian must precede the work of the moralist. Even the question of the validity or truth of religious creeds cannot, perhaps, be wholly dissociated from the question of their origin. If, for example, we discover that doctrines which we had accepted with implicit faith from tradition have their close analogies in the barbarous superstitions of ignorant savages, we can hardly help suspecting that our own cherished doctrines may have originated in the similar superstitions of our rude forefathers; and the suspicion inevitably shakes the confidence with which we had hitherto regarded these articles of our faith. The doubt thus cast on our old creed is perhaps illogical, since even if we should discover that the creed did originate in mere superstition, in other words, that the grounds on which it was first adopted were false and absurd, this discovery would not really disprove the beliefs themselves, for it is perfectly possible that a belief may be true, though the reasons alleged in favour of it are false and absurd: indeed we may affirm with great probability that a multitude of human beliefs, true in themselves, have been accepted and defended by millions of people on grounds which cannot bear exact investigation for a moment. For example, if the facts of savage life which it will be my duty to submit to you should have the effect of making the belief in immortality look exceedingly foolish, those of my hearers who cherish the belief may console themselves by reflecting that, as I have just pointed out, a creed is not necessarily false because some of the reasons adduced in its favour are invalid, because it has sometimes been supported by the despicable tricks of vulgar imposture, and because the practices to which it has given rise have often been in the highest degree not only absurd but pernicious.
[Sidenote: Yet such an enquiry may shake the confidence with which traditional beliefs have been held.]
Thus an historical enquiry into the origin of religious creeds cannot, strictly speaking, invalidate, still less refute, the creeds themselves, though it may, and doubtless often does weaken the confidence with which they are held. This weakening of religious faith as a consequence of a closer scrutiny of religious origins is unquestionably a matter of great importance to the community; for society has been built and cemented to a great extent on a foundation of religion, and it is impossible to loosen the cement and shake the foundation without endangering the superstructure. The candid historian of religion will not dissemble the danger incidental to his enquiries, but nevertheless it is his duty to prosecute them unflinchingly. Come what may, he must ascertain the facts so far as it is possible to do so; having done that, he may leave to others the onerous and delicate task of adjusting the new knowledge to the practical needs of mankind. The narrow way of truth may often look dark and threatening, and the wayfarer may often be weary; yet even at the darkest and the weariest he will go forward in the trust, if not in the knowledge, that the way will lead at last to light and to rest; in plain words, that there is no ultimate incompatibility between the good and the true.
[Sidenote: To discover the origin of the idea of God we must study the beliefs of primitive man.]
Now if we are indeed to discover the origin of man's conception of God, it is not sufficient to analyse the ideas which the educated and enlightened portion of mankind entertain on the subject at the present day; for in great measure these ideas are traditional, they have been handed down with little or no independent reflection or enquiry from generation to generation; hence in order to detect them in their inception it becomes necessary to push our analysis far back into the past. Large materials for such an historical enquiry are provided for us in the literature of ancient nations which, though often sadly mutilated and imperfect, has survived to modern times and throws much precious light on the religious beliefs and practices of the peoples who created it. But the ancients themselves inherited a great part of their religion from their prehistoric ancestors, and accordingly it becomes desirable to investigate the religious notions of these remote forefathers of mankind, since in them we may hope at last to arrive at the ultimate source, the historical origin, of the whole long development.
[Sidenote: The beliefs of primitive man can only be understood through a comparative study of the various races in the lower stages of culture.]
But how can this be done? how can we investigate the ideas of peoples who, ignorant of writing, had no means of permanently recording their beliefs? At first sight the thing seems impossible; the thread of enquiry is broken off short; it has landed us on the brink of a gulf which looks impassable. But the case is not so hopeless as it appears. True, we cannot investigate the beliefs of prehistoric ages directly, but the comparative method of research may furnish us with the means of studying them indirectly; it may hold up to us a mirror in which, if we do not see the originals, we may perhaps contemplate their reflections. For a comparative study of the various races of mankind demonstrates, or at least renders it highly probable, that humanity has everywhere started at an exceedingly low level of culture, a level far beneath that of the lowest existing savages, and that from this humble beginning all the various races of men have gradually progressed upward at different rates, some faster and some slower, till they have attained the particular stage which each of them occupies at the present time.
[Sidenote: Hence the need of studying the beliefs and customs of savages, if we are to understand the evolution of culture in general.]
If this conclusion is correct, the various stages of savagery and barbarism on which many tribes and peoples now stand represent, broadly speaking, so many degrees of retarded social and intellectual development, they correspond to similar stages which the ancestors of the civilised races may be supposed to have passed through at more or less remote periods of their history. Thus when we arrange all the known peoples of the world according to the degree of their savagery or civilisation in a graduated scale of culture, we obtain not merely a comparative view of their relative positions in the scale, but also in some measure an historical record of the genetic development of culture from a very early time down to the present day. Hence a study of the savage and barbarous races of mankind is of the greatest importance for a full understanding of the beliefs and practices, whether religious, social, moral, or political, of the most civilised races, including our own, since it is practically certain that a large part of these beliefs and practices originated with our savage ancestors, and has been inherited by us from them, with more or less of modification, through a long line of intermediate generations.
[Sidenote: The need is all the more urgent because savages are rapidly disappearing or being transformed.]
That is why the study of existing savages at the present day engrosses so much of the attention of civilised peoples. We see that if we are to comprehend not only our past history but our present condition, with all its many intricate and perplexing problems, we must begin at the beginning by attempting to discover the mental state of our savage forefathers, who bequeathed to us so much of the faiths, the laws, and the institutions which we still cherish; and more and more men are coming to perceive that the only way open to us of doing this effectually is to study the mental state of savages who to this day occupy a state of culture analogous to that of our rude progenitors. Through contact with civilisation these savages are now rapidly disappearing, or at least losing the old habits and ideas which render them a document of priceless historical value for us. Hence we have every motive for prosecuting the study of savagery with ardour and diligence before it is too late, before the record is gone for ever. We are like an heir whose title-deeds must be scrutinised before he can take possession of the inheritance, but who finds the handwriting of the deeds so fading and evanescent that it threatens to disappear entirely before he can read the document to the end. With what keen attention, what eager haste, would he not scan the fast-vanishing characters? With the like attention and the like haste civilised men are now applying themselves to the investigation of the fast-vanishing savages.
[Sidenote: Savage religion is to be the subject of these lectures.]
Thus if we are to trace historically man's conception of God to its origin, it is desirable, or rather essential, that we should begin by studying the most primitive ideas on the subject which are accessible to us, and the most primitive ideas are unquestionably those of the lowest savages. Accordingly in these lectures I propose to deal with a particular side or aspect of savage religion. I shall not trench on the sphere of the higher religions, not only because my knowledge of them is for the most part very slight, but also because I believe that a searching study of the higher and more complex religions should be postponed till we have acquired an accurate knowledge of the lower and simpler. For a similar reason the study of inorganic chemistry naturally precedes the study of organic chemistry, because inorganic compounds are much simpler and therefore more easily analysed and investigated than organic compounds. So with the chemistry of the mind; we should analyse the comparatively simple phenomena of savage thought into its constituent elements before we attempt to perform a similar operation on the vastly more complex phenomena of civilised beliefs.
[Sidenote: But only a part of savage religion will be dealt with.]
But while I shall confine myself rigidly to the field of savage religion, I shall not attempt to present you with a complete survey even of that restricted area, and that for more reasons than one. In the first place the theme, even with this great limitation, is far too large to be adequately set forth in the time at my disposal; the sketch—for it could be no more than a sketch—would be necessarily superficial and probably misleading. In the second place, even a sketch of primitive religion in general ought to presuppose in the sketcher a fairly complete knowledge of the whole subject, so that all the parts may appear, not indeed in detail, but in their proper relative proportions. Now though I have given altogether a good deal of time to the study of primitive religion, I am far from having studied it in all its branches, and I could not trust myself to give an accurate general account of it even in outline; were I to attempt such a thing I should almost certainly fall, through sheer ignorance or inadvertence, into the mistake of exaggerating some features, unduly diminishing others, and omitting certain essential features altogether. Hence it seems to me better not to commit myself to so ambitious an enterprise but to confine myself in my lectures, as I have always done in my writings, to a comparatively minute investigation of certain special aspects or forms of primitive religion rather than attempt to embrace in a general view the whole of that large subject. Such a relatively detailed study of a single compartment may be less attractive and more tedious than a bird's-eye view of a wider area; but in the end it may perhaps prove a more solid contribution to knowledge.
[Sidenote: Introductory observations. The question of a supernatural revelation excluded.]
But before I come to details I wish to make a few general introductory remarks, and in particular to define some of the terms which I shall have occasion to use in the lectures. I have defined natural theology as that reasoned knowledge of a God or gods which man may be supposed, whether rightly or wrongly, capable of attaining to by the exercise of his natural faculties alone. Whether there ever has been or can be a special miraculous revelation of God to man through channels different from those through which all other human knowledge is derived, is a question which does not concern us in these lectures; indeed it is expressly excluded from their scope by the will of the founder, who directed the lecturers to treat the subject "as a strictly natural science," "without reference to or reliance upon any supposed special exceptional or so-called miraculous revelation." Accordingly, in compliance with these directions, I dismiss at the outset the question of a revelation, and shall limit myself strictly to natural theology in the sense in which I have defined it.
[Sidenote: Theology and religion, how related to each other.]
I have called natural theology a reasoned knowledge of a God or gods to distinguish it from that simple and comparatively, though I believe never absolutely, unreasoning faith in God which suffices for the practice of religion. For theology is at once more and less than religion: if on the one hand it includes a more complete acquaintance with the grounds of religious belief than is essential to religion, on the other hand it excludes the observance of those practical duties which are indispensable to any religion worthy of the name. In short, whereas theology is purely theoretical, religion is both theoretical and practical, though the theoretical part of it need not be so highly developed as in theology. But while the subject of the lectures is, strictly speaking, natural theology rather than natural religion, I think it would be not only difficult but undesirable to confine our attention to the purely theological or theoretical part of natural religion: in all religions, and not least in the undeveloped savage religions with which we shall deal, theory and practice fuse with and interact on each other too closely to be forcibly disjoined and handled apart. Hence throughout the lectures I shall not scruple to refer constantly to religious practice as well as to religious theory, without feeling that thereby I am transgressing the proper limits of my subject.
[Sidenote: The term God defined.]
As theology is not only by definition but by etymology a reasoned knowledge or theory of a God or gods, it becomes desirable, before we proceed further, to define the sense in which I understand and shall employ the word God. That sense is neither novel nor abstruse; it is simply the sense which I believe the generality of mankind attach to the term. By a God I understand a superhuman and supernatural being, of a spiritual and personal nature, who controls the world or some part of it on the whole for good, and who is endowed with intellectual faculties, moral feelings, and active powers, which we can only conceive on the analogy of human faculties, feelings, and activities, though we are bound to suppose that in the divine nature they exist in higher degrees, perhaps in infinitely higher degrees, than the corresponding faculties, feelings, and activities of man. In short, by a God I mean a beneficent supernatural spirit, the ruler of the world or of some part of it, who resembles man in nature though he excels him in knowledge, goodness, and power. This is, I think, the sense in which the ordinary man speaks of a God, and I believe that he is right in so doing. I am aware that it has been not unusual, especially perhaps of late years, to apply the name of God to very different conceptions, to empty it of all implication of personality, and to reduce it to signifying something very large and very vague, such as the Infinite or the Absolute (whatever these hard words may signify), the great First Cause, the Universal Substance, "the stream of tendency by which all things seek to fulfil the law of their being," and so forth. Now without expressing any opinion as to the truth or falsehood of the views implied by such applications of the name of God, I cannot but regard them all as illegitimate extensions of the term, in short as an abuse of language, and I venture to protest against it in the interest not only of verbal accuracy but of clear thinking, because it is apt to conceal from ourselves and others a real and very important change of thought: in particular it may lead many to imagine that the persons who use the name of God in one or other of these extended senses retain certain theological opinions which they may in fact have long abandoned. Thus the misuse of the name of God may resemble the stratagem in war of putting up dummies to make an enemy imagine that a fort is still held after it has been evacuated by the garrison. I am far from alleging or insinuating that the illegitimate extension of the divine name is deliberately employed by theologians or others for the purpose of masking a change of front; but that it may have that effect seems at least possible. And as we cannot use words in wrong senses without running a serious risk of deceiving ourselves as well as others, it appears better on all accounts to adhere strictly to the common meaning of the name of God as signifying a powerful supernatural and on the whole beneficent spirit, akin in nature to man; and if any of us have ceased to believe in such a being we should refrain from applying the old word to the new faith, and should find some other and more appropriate term to express our meaning. At all events, speaking for myself, I intend to use the name of God consistently in the familiar sense, and I would beg my hearers to bear this steadily in mind.
[Sidenote: Monotheism and polytheism.]
You will have observed that I have spoken of natural theology as a reasoned knowledge of a God or gods. There is indeed nothing in the definition of God which I have adopted to imply that he is unique, in other words, that there is only one God rather than several or many gods. It is true that modern European thinkers, bred in a monotheistic religion, commonly overlook polytheism as a crude theory unworthy the serious attention of philosophers; in short, the champions and the assailants of religion in Europe alike for the most part tacitly assume that there is either one God or none. Yet some highly civilised nations of antiquity and of modern times, such as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and the modern Chinese and Hindoos, have accepted the polytheistic explanation of the world, and as no reasonable man will deny the philosophical subtlety of the Greeks and the Hindoos, to say nothing of the rest, a theory of the universe which has commended itself to them deserves perhaps more consideration than it has commonly received from Western philosophers; certainly it cannot be ignored in an historical enquiry into the origin of religion.
[Sidenote: A natural knowledge of God can only be acquired by experience.]
If there is such a thing as natural theology, that is, a knowledge of a God or gods acquired by our natural faculties alone without the aid of a special revelation, it follows that it must be obtained by one or other of the methods by which all our natural knowledge is conveyed to us. Roughly speaking, these methods are two in number, namely, intuition and experience. Now if we ask ourselves, Do we know God intuitively in the same sense in which we know intuitively our own sensations and the simplest truths of mathematics, I think most men will acknowledge that they do not. It is true that according to Berkeley the world exists only as it is perceived, and that our perceptions of it are produced by the immediate action of God on our minds, so that everything we perceive might be described, if not as an idea in the mind of the deity, at least as a direct emanation from him. On this theory we might in a sense be said to have an immediate knowledge of God. But Berkeley's theory has found little acceptance, so far as I know, even among philosophers; and even if we regarded it as true, we should still have to admit that the knowledge of God implied by it is inferential rather than intuitive in the strict sense of the word: we infer God to be the cause of our perceptions rather than identify him with the perceptions themselves. On the whole, then, I conclude that man, or at all events the ordinary man, has, properly speaking, no immediate or intuitive knowledge of God, and that, if he obtains, without the aid of revelation, any knowledge of him at all, it can only be through the other natural channel of knowledge, that is, through experience.
[Sidenote: The nature of experience.]
In experience, as distinct from intuition, we reach our conclusions not directly through simple contemplation of the particular sensations, emotions, or ideas of which we are at the moment conscious, but indirectly by calling up before the imagination and comparing with each other our memories of a variety of sensations, emotions, or ideas of which we have been conscious in the past, and by selecting or abstracting from the mental images so compared the points in which they resemble each other. The points of resemblance thus selected or abstracted from a number of particulars compose what we call an abstract or general idea, and from a comparison of such abstract or general ideas with each other we arrive at general conclusions, which define the relations of the ideas to each other. Experience in general consists in the whole body of conclusions thus deduced from a comparison of all the particular sensations, emotions, and ideas which make up the conscious life of the individual. Hence in order to constitute experience the mind has to perform a more or less complex series of operations, which are commonly referred to certain mental faculties, such as memory, imagination, and judgment. This analysis of experience does not pretend to be philosophically complete or exact; but perhaps it is sufficiently accurate for the purpose of these lectures, the scope of which is not philosophical but historical.
[Sidenote: Two kinds of experience, the experience of our own mind and the experience of an external world.]
Now experience in the widest sense of the word may be conveniently distinguished into two sorts, the experience of our own mind and the experience of an external world. The distinction is indeed, like the others with which I am dealing at present, rather practically useful than theoretically sound; certainly it would not be granted by all philosophers, for many of them have held that we neither have nor with our present faculties can possibly attain to any immediate knowledge or perception of an external world, we merely infer its existence from our own sensations, which are as strictly a part of our mind as the ideas and emotions of our waking life or the visions of sleep. According to them, the existence of matter or of an external world is, so far as we are concerned, merely an hypothesis devised to explain the order of our sensations; it never has been perceived by any man, woman, or child who ever lived on earth; we have and can have no immediate knowledge or perception of anything but the states and operations of our own mind. On this theory what we call the world, with all its supposed infinitudes of space and time, its systems of suns and planets, its seemingly endless forms of inorganic matter and organic life, shrivels up, on a close inspection, into a fleeting, a momentary figment of thought. It is like one of those glass baubles, iridescent with a thousand varied and delicate hues, which a single touch suffices to shatter into dust. The philosopher, like the sorcerer, has but to wave his magic wand,
"And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep."
[Sidenote: The distinction rather popular and convenient than philosophically strict.]
It would be beyond my province, even if it were within my power, to discuss these airy speculations, and thereby to descend into the arena where for ages subtle dialecticians have battled with each other over the reality or unreality of an external world. For my purpose it suffices to adopt the popular and convenient distinction of mind and matter and hence to divide experience into two sorts, an inward experience of the acts and states of our own minds, and an outward experience of the acts and states of that physical universe by which we seem to be surrounded.
[Sidenote: The knowledge or conception of God has been attained both by inward and by outward experience.]
Now if a natural knowledge of God is only possible by means of experience, in other words, by a process of reasoning based on observation, it will follow that such a knowledge may conceivably be acquired either by the way of inward or of outward experience; in other words, it may be attained either by reflecting on the processes of our own minds or by observing the processes of external nature. In point of fact, if we survey the history of thought, mankind appears to have arrived at a knowledge, or at all events at a conception, of deity by both these roads. Let me say a few words as to the two roads which lead, or seem to lead, man to God.
[Sidenote: The conception of God is attained by inward experience, that is, by the observation of certain remarkable thoughts and feelings which are attributed to the inspiration of a deity. Practical dangers of the theory of inspiration.]
In the first place, then, men in many lands and many ages have experienced certain extraordinary emotions and entertained certain extraordinary ideas, which, unable to account for them by reference to the ordinary forms of experience, they have set down to the direct action of a powerful spirit or deity working on their minds and even entering into and taking possession of their bodies; and in this excited state—for violent excitement is characteristic of these manifestations—the patient believes himself to be possessed of supernatural knowledge and supernatural power. This real or supposed mode of apprehending a divine spirit and entering into communion with it, is commonly and appropriately called inspiration. The phenomenon is familiar to us from the example of the Hebrew nation, who believed that their prophets were thus inspired by the deity, and that their sacred books were regularly composed under the divine afflatus. The belief is by no means singular, indeed it appears to be world-wide; for it would be hard to point to any race of men among whom instances of such inspiration have not been reported; and the more ignorant and savage the race the more numerous, to judge by the reports, are the cases of inspiration. Volumes might be filled with examples, but through the spread of information as to the lower races in recent years the topic has become so familiar that I need not stop to illustrate it by instances. I will merely say that among savages the theory of inspiration or possession is commonly invoked to explain all abnormal mental states, particularly insanity or conditions of mind bordering on it, so that persons more or less crazed in their wits, and particularly hysterical or epileptic patients, are for that very reason thought to be peculiarly favoured by the spirits and are therefore consulted as oracles, their wild and whirling words passing for the revelations of a higher power, whether a god or a ghost, who considerately screens his too dazzling light under a thick veil of dark sayings and mysterious ejaculations. I need hardly point out the very serious dangers which menace any society where such theories are commonly held and acted upon. If the decisions of a whole community in matters of the gravest importance are left to turn on the wayward fancies, the whims and vagaries of the insane or the semi-insane, what are likely to be the consequences to the commonwealth? What, for example, can be expected to result from a war entered upon at such dictation and waged under such auspices? Are cattle-breeding, agriculture, commerce, all the arts of life on which a people depend for their subsistence, likely to thrive when they are directed by the ravings of epilepsy or the drivellings of hysteria? Defeat in battle, conquest by enemies, death by famine and widespread disease, these and a thousand other lesser evils threaten the blind people who commit themselves to such blind guides. The history of savage and barbarous tribes, could we follow it throughout, might furnish us with a thousand warning instances of the fatal effects of carrying out this crude theory of inspiration to its logical conclusions; and if we hear less than might be expected of such instances, it is probably because the tribes who consistently acted up to their beliefs have thereby wiped themselves out of existence: they have perished the victims of their folly and left no record behind. I believe that historians have not yet reckoned sufficiently with the disastrous influence which this worship of insanity,—for it is often nothing less—has exercised on the fortunes of peoples and on the development or decay of their institutions.
[Sidenote: The belief in inspiration leads to the worship of living men as gods. Outward experience as a source of the idea of God.]
To a certain extent, however, the evil has provided its own remedy. For men of strong heads and ambitious temper, perceiving the exorbitant power which a belief in inspiration places in the hands of the feeble-minded, have often feigned to be similarly afflicted, and trading on their reputation for imbecility, or rather inspiration, have acquired an authority over their fellows which, though they have often abused it for vulgar ends, they have sometimes exerted for good, as for example by giving sound advice in matters of public concern, applying salutary remedies to the sick, and detecting and punishing crime, whereby they have helped to preserve the commonwealth, to alleviate suffering, and to cement that respect for law and order which is essential to the stability of society, and without which any community must fall to pieces like a house of cards. These great services have been rendered to the cause of civilisation and progress by the class of men who in primitive society are variously known as medicine-men, magicians, sorcerers, diviners, soothsayers, and so forth. Sometimes the respect which they have gained by the exercise of their profession has won for them political as well as spiritual or ghostly authority; in short, from being simple medicine-men or sorcerers they have grown into chiefs and kings. When such men, seated on the throne of state, retain their old reputation for being the vehicles of a divine spirit, they may be worshipped in the character of gods as well as revered in the capacity of kings; and thus exerting a two-fold sway over the minds of men they possess a most potent instrument for elevating or depressing the fortunes of their worshippers and subjects. In this way the old savage notion of inspiration or possession gradually develops into the doctrine of the divinity of kings, which after a long period of florescence dwindles away into the modest theory that kings reign by divine right, a theory familiar to our ancestors not long ago, and perhaps not wholly obsolete among us even now. However, inspired men need not always blossom out into divine kings; they may, and often do, remain in the chrysalis state of simple deities revered by their simple worshippers, their brows encircled indeed with a halo of divinity but not weighted with the more solid substance of a kingly crown. Thus certain extraordinary mental states, which those who experience and those who witness them cannot account for in any other way, are often explained by the supposed interposition of a spirit or deity. This, therefore, is one of the two forms of experience by which men attain, or imagine that they attain, to a knowledge of God and a communion with him. It is what I have called the road of inward experience. Let us now glance at the other form of experience which leads, or seems to lead, to the same goal. It is what I have called the road of outward experience.
[Sidenote: Tendency of the mind to search for causes, and the necessity for their discovery.]
When we contemplate the seemingly infinite variety, the endless succession, of events that pass under our observation in what we call the external world, we are led by an irresistible tendency to trace what we call a causal connexion between them. The tendency to discover the causes of things appears indeed to be innate in the constitution of our minds and indispensable to our continued existence. It is the link that arrests and colligates into convenient bundles the mass of particulars drifting pell-mell past on the stream of sensation; it is the cement that binds into an edifice seemingly of adamant the loose sand of isolated perceptions. Deprived of the knowledge which this tendency procures for us we should be powerless to foresee the succession of phenomena and so to adapt ourselves to it. We should be bewildered by the apparent disorder and confusion of everything, we should toss on a sea without a rudder, we should wander in an endless maze without a clue, and finding no way out of it, or, in plain words, unable to avoid a single one of the dangers which menace us at every turn, we should inevitably perish. Accordingly the propensity to search for causes is characteristic of man in all ages and at all levels of culture, though without doubt it is far more highly developed in civilised than in savage communities. Among savages it is more or less unconscious and instinctive; among civilised men it is deliberately cultivated and rewarded at least by the applause of their fellows, by the dignity, if not by the more solid recompenses, of learning. Indeed as civilisation progresses the enquiry into causes tends to absorb more and more of the highest intellectual energies of a people; and an ever greater number of men, renouncing the bustle, the pleasures, and the ambitions of an active life, devote themselves exclusively to the pursuit of abstract truth; they set themselves to discover the causes of things, to trace the regularity and order that may be supposed to underlie the seemingly irregular, confused, and arbitrary sequence of phenomena. Unquestionably the progress of civilisation owes much to the sustained efforts of such men, and if of late years and within our own memory the pace of progress has sensibly quickened, we shall perhaps not err in supposing that some part at least of the acceleration may be accounted for by an increase in the number of lifelong students.
[Sidenote: The idea of cause is simply that of invariable sequence suggested by the observation of many particular cases of sequence.]
Now when we analyse the conception of a cause to the bottom, we find as the last residuum in our crucible nothing but what Hume found there long ago, and that is simply the idea of invariable sequence. Whenever we say that something is the cause of something else, all that we really mean is that the latter is invariably preceded by the former, so that whenever we find the second, which we call the effect, we may infer that the first, which we call the cause, has gone before it. All such inferences from effects to causes are based on experience; having observed a certain sequence of events a certain number of times, we conclude that the events are so conjoined that the latter cannot occur without the previous occurrence of the former. A single case of two events following each other could not of itself suggest that the one event is the cause of the other, since there is no necessary link between them in the mind; the sequence has to be repeated more or less frequently before we infer a causal connexion between the two; and this inference rests simply on that association of ideas which is established in our mind by the reiterated observation of the things. Once the ideas are by dint of repetition firmly welded together, the one by sheer force of habit calls up the other, and we say that the two things which are represented by those ideas stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect. The notion of causality is in short only one particular case of the association of ideas. Thus all reasoning as to causes implies previous observation: we reason from the observed to the unobserved, from the known to the unknown; and the wider the range of our observation and knowledge, the greater the probability that our reasoning will be correct.
[Sidenote: The savage draws his ideas of natural causation from observation of himself. Hence he explains the phenomena of nature by supposing that they are produced by beings like himself. These beings may be called spirits or gods of nature to distinguish them from living human gods.]
All this is as true of the savage as of the civilised man. He too argues, and indeed can only argue on the basis of experience from the known to the unknown, from the observed to the hypothetical. But the range of his experience is comparatively narrow, and accordingly his inferences from it often appear to civilised men, with their wider knowledge, to be palpably false and absurd. This holds good most obviously in regard to his observation of external nature. While he often knows a good deal about the natural objects, whether animals, plants, or inanimate things, on which he is immediately dependent for his subsistence, the extent of country with which he is acquainted is commonly but small, and he has little or no opportunity of correcting the conclusions which he bases on his observation of it by a comparison with other parts of the world. But if he knows little of the outer world, he is necessarily somewhat better acquainted with his own inner life, with his sensations and ideas, his emotions, appetites, and desires. Accordingly it is natural enough that when he seeks to discover the causes of events in the external world, he should, arguing from experience, imagine that they are produced by the actions of invisible beings like himself, who behind the veil of nature pull the strings that set the vast machinery in motion. For example, he knows by experience that he can make sparks fly by knocking two flints against each other; what more natural, therefore, than that he should imagine the great sparks which we call lightning to be made in the same way by somebody up aloft, and that when he finds chipped flints on the ground he should take them for thunder-stones dropped by the maker of thunder and lightning from the clouds? Thus arguing from his limited experience primitive man creates a multitude of spirits or gods in his own likeness to explain the succession of phenomena in nature of whose true causes he is ignorant; in short he personifies the phenomena as powerful anthropomorphic spirits, and believing himself to be more or less dependent on their good will he woos their favour by prayer and sacrifice. This personification of the various aspects of external nature is one of the most fruitful sources of polytheism. The spirits and gods created by this train of thought may be called spirits and gods of nature to distinguish them from the human gods, by which I mean the living men and women who are believed by their worshippers to be inspired or possessed by a divine spirit.
[Sidenote: In time men reject polytheism as an explanation of natural processes and substitute certain abstract ideas of ethers, atoms, molecules, and so on.]
But as time goes on and men learn more about nature, they commonly become dissatisfied with polytheism as an explanation of the world and gradually discard it. From one department of nature after another the gods are reluctantly or contemptuously dismissed and their provinces committed to the care of certain abstract ideas of ethers, atoms, molecules, and so forth, which, though just as imperceptible to human senses as their divine predecessors, are judged by prevailing opinion to discharge their duties with greater regularity and despatch, and are accordingly firmly installed on the vacant thrones amid the general applause of the more enlightened portion of mankind. Thus instead of being peopled with a noisy bustling crowd of full-blooded and picturesque deities, clothed in the graceful form and animated with the warm passions of humanity, the universe outside the narrow circle of our consciousness is now conceived as absolutely silent, colourless, and deserted. The cheerful sounds which we hear, the bright hues which we see, have no existence, we are told, in the external world: the voices of friends, the harmonies of music, the chime of falling waters, the solemn roll of ocean, the silver splendour of the moon, the golden glories of sunset, the verdure of summer woods, and the hectic tints of autumn—all these subsist only in our own minds, and if we imagine them to have any reality elsewhere, we deceive ourselves. In fact the whole external world as perceived by us is one great illusion: if we gave the reins to fancy we might call it a mirage, a piece of witchery, conjured up by the spells of some unknown magician to bewilder poor ignorant humanity. Outside of ourselves there stretches away on every side an infinitude of space without sound, without light, without colour, a solitude traversed only in every direction by an inconceivably complex web of silent and impersonal forces. That, if I understand it aright, is the general conception of the world which modern science has substituted for polytheism.
[Sidenote: But while they commonly discard the hypothesis of a deity as an explanation of all the particular processes of nature, they retain it as an explanation of nature in general.]
When philosophy and science by their combined efforts have ejected gods and goddesses from all the subordinate posts of nature, it might perhaps be expected that they would have no further occasion for the services of a deity, and that having relieved him of all his particular functions they would have arranged for the creation and general maintenance of the universe without him by handing over these important offices to an efficient staff of those ethers, atoms, corpuscles, and so forth, which had already proved themselves so punctual in the discharge of the minor duties entrusted to them. Nor, indeed, is this expectation altogether disappointed. A number of atheistical philosophers have courageously come forward and assured us that the hypothesis of a deity as the creator and preserver of the universe is quite superfluous, and that all things came into being or have existed from eternity without the help of any divine spirit, and that they will continue to exist without it to the end, if end indeed there is to be. But on the whole these daring speculators appear to be in a minority. The general opinion of educated people at the present day, could we ascertain it, would probably be found to incline to the conclusion that, though every department of nature is now worked by impersonal material forces alone, the universe as a whole was created and is still maintained by a great supernatural spirit whom we call God. Thus in Europe and in the countries which have borrowed their civilisation, their philosophy, and their religion from it, the central problem of natural theology has narrowed itself down to the question, Is there one God or none? It is a profound question, and I for one profess myself unable to answer it.
[Sidenote: Whether attained by inward or outward experience, the idea of God is regularly that of a cause inferred, not perceived.]
If this brief sketch of the history of natural theology is correct, man has by the exercise of his natural faculties alone, without the help of revelation, attained to a knowledge or at least to a conception of God in one of two ways, either by meditating on the operations of his own mind, or by observing the processes of external nature: inward experience and outward experience have conducted him by different roads to the same goal. By whichever of them the conception has been reached, it is regularly employed to explain the causal connexion of things, whether the things to be explained are the ideas and emotions of man himself or the changes in the physical world outside of him. In short, a God is always brought in to play the part of a cause; it is the imperious need of tracing the causes of events which has driven man to discover or invent a deity. Now causes may be arranged in two classes according as they are perceived or unperceived by the senses. For example, when we see the impact of a billiard cue on a billiard ball followed immediately by the motion of the ball, we say that the impact is the cause of the motion. In this case we perceive the cause as well as the effect. But, when we see an apple fall from a tree to the ground, we say that the cause of the fall is the force of gravitation exercised by the superior mass of the earth on the inferior mass of the apple. In this case, though we perceive the effect, we do not perceive the cause, we only infer it by a process of reasoning from experience. Causes of the latter sort may be called inferential or hypothetical causes to distinguish them from those which are perceived. Of the two classes of causes a deity belongs in general, if not universally, to the second, that is, to the inferential or hypothetical causes; for as a rule at all events his existence is not perceived by our senses but inferred by our reason. To say that he has never appeared in visible and tangible form to men would be to beg the question; it would be to make an assertion which is incapable of proof and which is contradicted by a multitude of contrary affirmations recorded in the traditions or the sacred books of many races; but without being rash we may perhaps say that such appearances, if they ever took place, belong to a past order of events and need hardly be reckoned with at the present time. For all practical purposes, therefore, God is now a purely inferential or hypothetical cause; he may be invoked to explain either our own thoughts and feelings, our impulses and emotions, or the manifold states and processes of external nature; he may be viewed either as the inspirer of the one or the creator and preserver of the other; and according as he is mainly regarded from the one point of view or the other, the conception of the divine nature tends to beget one of two very different types of piety. To the man who traces the finger of God in the workings of his own mind, the deity appears to be far closer than he seems to the man who only infers the divine existence from the marvellous order, harmony, and beauty of the external world; and we need not wonder that the faith of the former is of a more fervent temper and supplies him with more powerful incentives to a life of active devotion than the calm and rational faith of the latter. We may conjecture that the piety of most great religious reformers has belonged to the former rather than to the latter type; in other words, that they have believed in God because they felt, or imagined that they felt, him stirring in their own hearts rather than because they discerned the handiwork of a divine artificer in the wonderful mechanism of nature.