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Myth, Ritual, and Religion, Vol. 1 by Andrew Lang

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by Andrew Lang

Volume One





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 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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

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.

A. L.


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

[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.

[3] Ibid.

[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

[1] Prim. Cult. ii. p. 342.

[2] Arber's Smith, p. cxxxiii.

[3] Hakluyt Society, Strachey, 1849, pp. xxi., xxii.


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

[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 haue
conference with him, and fashion themselues as neare 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 couered 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

[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

[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

[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

[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 is 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

[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".




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

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

[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

[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

[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

[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

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

[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

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!

[1] Baum und Feld Kultus, p. xvii. Kuhn's "epoch-making" book is
Die Herabkunft des Feuers, Berlin, 1859. By way of example of the
disputes as to the original meaning of a name like Prometheus,
compare Memoires de la Societe de Linguistique de Paris, t. iv. p.

[2] See especially Mannhardt's note on Kuhn's theories of Poseidon
and Hermes, B. u. F. K., pp. xviii., xix., note 1.

"The philological method," says Professor Tiele,[1] "is inadequate
and misleading, when it is a question of discovering the ORIGIN of
a myth, or the physical explanation of the oldest myths, or of
accounting for the rude and obscene element in the divine legends
of civilised races. But these are not the only problems of
mythology. There is, for example, the question of the GENEALOGICAL
relations of myths, where we have to determine whether the myths of
peoples whose speech is of the same family are special modifications
of a mythology once common to the race whence these peoples have
sprung. The philological method alone can answer here." But this
will seem a very limited province when we find that almost all
races, however remote and unconnected in speech, have practically
much the same myths.

[1] Rev. de l'Hist. des Rel., xii. 3, 260, Nov., Dec., 1885.



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.

The past systems of mythological interpretation have been briefly
sketched. It has been shown that the practical need for a
reconciliation between RELIGION and MORALITY on one side, and the
MYTHS about the gods on the other, produced the hypotheses of
Theagenes and Metrodorus, of Socrates and Euemerus, of Aristotle
and Plutarch. It has been shown that in each case the reconcilers
argued on the basis of their own ideas and of the philosophies of
their time. The early physicist thought that myth concealed a
physical philosophy; the early etymologist saw in it a confusion of
language; the early political speculator supposed that myth was an
invention of legislators; the literary Euhemerus found the secret
of myths in the course of an imaginary voyage to a fabled island.
Then came the moment of the Christian attacks, and Pagan
philosophers, touched with Oriental pantheism, recognised in myths
certain pantheistic symbols and a cryptic revelation of their own
Neo-platonism. When the gods were dead and their altars fallen,
then antiquaries brought their curiosity to the problem of
explaining myth. Christians recognised in it a depraved version of
the Jewish sacred writings, and found the ark on every mountain-top
of Greece. The critical nineteenth century brought in, with
Otfried Muller and Lobeck, a closer analysis; and finally, in the
sudden rise of comparative philology, it chanced that philologists
annexed the domain of myths. Each of these systems had its own
amount of truth, but each certainly failed to unravel the whole web
of tradition and of foolish faith.

Meantime a new science has come into existence, the science which
studies man in the sum of all his works and thoughts, as evolved
through the whole process of his development. This science,
Comparative Anthropology, examines the development of law out of
custom; the development of weapons from the stick or stone to the
latest repeating rifle; the development of society from the horde
to the nation. It is a study which does not despise the most
backward nor degraded tribe, nor neglect the most civilised, and it
frequently finds in Australians or Nootkas the germ of ideas and
institutions which Greeks or Romans brought to perfection, or
retained, little altered from their early rudeness, in the midst of

It is inevitable that this science should also try its hand on
mythology. Our purpose is to employ the anthropological method--
the study of the evolution of ideas, from the savage to the
barbarous, and thence to the civilised stage--in the province of
myth, ritual, and religion. It has been shown that the light of
this method had dawned on Eusebius in his polemic with the heathen
apologists. Spencer, the head of Corpus, Cambridge (1630-93), had
really no other scheme in his mind in his erudite work on Hebrew
Ritual.[1] Spencer was a student of man's religions generally, and
he came to the conclusion that Hebrew ritual was but an expurgated,
and, so to speak, divinely "licensed" adaptation of heathen customs
at large. We do but follow his guidance on less perilous ground
when we seek for the original forms of classical rite and myth in
the parallel usages and legends of the most backward races.

[1] De Legibus Hebraeorum Ritualibus, Tubingae, 1782.

Fontenelle in the last century, stated, with all the clearness of
the French intellect, the system which is partially worked out in
this essay--the system which explains the irrational element in
myth as inherited from savagery. Fontenelle's paper (Sur l'Origine
des Fables) is brief, sensible, and witty, and requires little but
copious evidence to make it adequate. But he merely threw out the
idea, and left it to be neglected.[1]

[1] See Appendix A., Fontenelle's Origine des Fables.

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