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

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Among other founders of the anthropological or historical school of
mythology, De Brosses should not be forgotten. In his Dieux
Fetiches (1760) he follows the path which Eusebius indicated--the
path of Spencer and Fontenelle--now the beaten road of Tylor and
M'Lennan and Mannhardt.

In anthropology, in the science of Waitz, Tylor, and M'Lennan, in
the examination of man's faith in the light of his social, legal,
and historical conditions generally, we find, with Mannhardt, some
of the keys of myth. This science "makes it manifest that the
different stages through which humanity has passed in its
intellectual evolution have still their living representatives
among various existing races. The study of these lower races is an
invaluable instrument for the interpretation of the survivals from
earlier stages, which we meet in the full civilisation of
cultivated peoples, but whose origins were in the remotest
fetichism and savagery."[1]

[1] Mannhardt op. cit. p. xxiii.

It is by following this road, and by the aid of anthropology and of
human history, that we propose to seek for a demonstrably actual
condition of the human intellect, whereof the puzzling qualities of
myth would be the natural and inevitable fruit. In all the earlier
theories which we have sketched, inquirers took it for granted that
the myth-makers were men with philosophic and moral ideas like
their own--ideas which, from some reason of religion or state, they
expressed in bizarre terms of allegory. We shall attempt, on the
other hand, to prove that the human mind has passed through a
condition quite unlike that of civilised men--a condition in which
things seemed natural and rational that now appear unnatural and
devoid of reason, and in which, therefore, if myths were evolved,
they would, if they survived into civilisation, be such as
civilised men find strange and perplexing.

Our first question will be, Is there a stage of human society and
of the human intellect in which facts that appear to us to be
monstrous and irrational--facts corresponding to the wilder
incidents of myth--are accepted as ordinary occurrences of everyday
life? In the region of romantic rather than of mythical invention
we know that there is such a state. Mr. Lane, in his preface to
the Arabian Nights, says that the Arabs have an advantage over us
as story-tellers. They can introduce such incidents as the change
of a man into a horse, or of a woman into a dog, or the intervention
of an Afreet without any more scruple than our own novelists feel in
describing a duel or the concealment of a will. Among the Arabs the
agencies of magic and of spirits are regarded as at least as
probable and common as duels and concealments of wills seem to be
thought by European novelists. It is obvious that we need look no
farther for the explanation of the supernatural events in Arab
romances. Now, let us apply this system to mythology. It is
admitted that Greeks, Romans, Aryans of India in the age of the
Sanskrit commentators, and Egyptians of the Ptolemaic and earlier
ages, were as much puzzled as we are by the mythical adventures of
their gods. But is there any known stage of the human intellect in
which similar adventures, and the metamorphoses of men into animals,
trees, stars, and all else that puzzles us in the civilised
mythologies, are regarded as possible incidents of daily human life?
Our answer is, that everything in the civilised mythologies which we
regard as irrational seems only part of the accepted and natural
order of things to contemporary savages, and in the past seemed
equally rational and natural to savages concerning whom we have
historical information.[1] Our theory is, therefore, that the
savage and senseless element in mythology is, for the most part, a
legacy from the fancy of ancestors of the civilised races who were
once in an intellectual state not higher, but probably lower, than
that of Australians, Bush-men, Red Indians, the lower races of South
America, and other worse than barbaric peoples. As the ancestors of
the Greeks, Aryans of India, Egyptians and others advanced in
civilisation, their religious thought was shocked and surprised by
myths (originally dating from the period of savagery, and natural in
that period, though even then often in contradiction to morals and
religion) which were preserved down to the time of Pausanias by
local priesthoods, or which were stereotyped in the ancient poems of
Hesiod and Homer, or in the Brahmanas and Vedas of India, or were
retained in the popular religion of Egypt. This theory recommended
itself to Lobeck. "We may believe that ancient and early tribes
framed gods like unto themselves in action and in experience, and
that the allegorical softening down of myths is the explanation
added later by descendants who had attained to purer ideas of
divinity, yet dared not reject the religion of their ancestors."[2]
The senseless element in the myths would, by this theory, be for the
most part a "survival"; and the age and condition of human thought
whence it survived would be one in which our most ordinary ideas
about the nature of things and the limits of possibility did not yet
exist, when all things were conceived of in quite other fashion; the
age, that is, of savagery.

[1] We have been asked to DEFINE a savage. He cannot be defined in
an epigram, but by way of choice of a type:--

1. In material equipment the perfect savage is he who employs
tools of stone and wood, not of metal; who is nomadic rather than
settled; who is acquainted (if at all) only with the rudest forms
of the arts of potting, weaving, fire-making, etc.; and who derives
more of his food from the chase and from wild roots and plants than
from any kind of agriculture or from the flesh of domesticated

2. In psychology the savage is he who (extending unconsciously to
the universe his own implicit consciousness of personality) regards
all natural objects as animated and intelligent beings, and,
drawing no hard and fast line between himself and the things in the
world, is readily persuaded that men may be metamorphosed into
plants, beasts and stars; that winds and clouds, sun and dawn, are
persons with human passions and parts; and that the lower animals
especially may be creatures more powerful than himself, and, in a
sense, divine and creative.

3. In religion the savage is he who (while often, in certain
moods, conscious of a far higher moral faith) believes also in
ancestral ghosts or spirits of woods and wells that were never
ancestral; prays frequently by dint of magic; and sometimes adores
inanimate objects, or even appeals to the beasts as supernatural

4. In society the savage is he who (as a rule) bases his laws on
the well-defined lines of totemism--that is, claims descent from or
other close relation to natural objects, and derives from the
sacredness of those objects the sanction of his marriage
prohibitions and blood-feuds, while he makes skill in magic a claim
to distinguished rank.

Such, for our purpose, is the savage, and we propose to explain the
more "senseless" factors in civilised mythology as "survivals" of
these ideas and customs preserved by conservatism and local
tradition, or, less probably, borrowed from races which were, or
had been, savage.

[2] Aglaoph., i. 153. Had Lobeck gone a step farther and examined
the mental condition of veteres et priscae gentes, this book would
have been, superfluous. Nor did he know that the purer ideas were
also existing among certain low savages.

It is universally admitted that "survivals" of this kind do account
for many anomalies in our institutions, in law, politics, society,
even in dress and manners. If isolated fragments of earlier ages
abide in these, it is still more probable that other fragments will
survive in anything so closely connected as is mythology with the
conservative religious sentiment and tradition. Our object, then,
is to prove that the "silly, savage, and irrational" element in the
myths of civilised peoples is, as a rule, either a survival from
the period of savagery, or has been borrowed from savage neighbours
by a cultivated people, or, lastly, is an imitation by later poets
of old savage data.[1] For example, to explain the constellations
as metamorphosed men, animals, or other objects of terrestrial life
is the habit of savages,[2]--a natural habit among people who
regard all things as on one level of personal life and intelligence.
When the stars, among civilised Greeks or Aryans of India, are also
popularly regarded as transformed and transfigured men, animals and
the like, this belief may be either a survival from the age when the
ancestors of Greeks and Indians were in the intellectual condition
of the Australian Murri; or the star-name and star-myth may have
been borrowed from savages, or from cultivated peoples once savage
or apt to copy savages; or, as in the case of the Coma Berenices, a
poet of a late age may have invented a new artificial myth on the
old lines of savage fancy.

[1] We may be asked why do savages entertain the irrational ideas
which survive in myth? One might as well ask why they eat each
other, or use stones instead of metal. Their intellectual powers
are not fully developed, and hasty analogy from their own
unreasoned consciousness is their chief guide. Myth, in Mr.
Darwin's phrase, is one of the "miserable and indirect consequences
of our highest faculties". Descent of Man, p. 69.

[2] See Custom and Myth, "Star-Myths".

This method of interpreting a certain element in mythology is, we
must repeat, no new thing, though, to judge from the protests of
several mythologists, it is new to many inquirers. We have seen
that Eusebius threw out proposals in this direction; that Spencer,
De Brosses, and Fontenelle unconsciously followed him; and we have
quoted from Lobeck a statement of a similar opinion. The whole
matter has been stated as clearly as possible by Mr. B. B. Tylor:--

"Savages have been for untold ages, and still are, living in the
myth-making stage of the human mind. It was through sheer
ignorance and neglect of this direct knowledge how and by what
manner of men myths are really made that their simple philosophy
has come to be buried under masses of commentator's rubbish. . ."[1]
Mr. Tylor goes on thus (and his words contain the gist of our
argument): "The general thesis maintained is that myth arose in
the savage condition prevalent in remote ages among the whole human
race; that it remains comparatively unchanged among the rude modern
tribes who have departed least from these primitive conditions,
while higher and later civilisations, partly by retaining its
actual principles, and partly by carrying on its inherited results
in the form of ancestral tradition, continued it not merely in
toleration, but in honour".[2] Elsewhere Mr. Tylor points out that
by this method of interpretation we may study myths in various
stages of evolution, from the rude guess of the savage at an
explanation of natural phenomena, through the systems of the higher
barbarisms, or lower civilisations (as in ancient Mexico), and the
sacerdotage of India, till myth reaches its most human form in
Greece. Yet even in Greek myth the beast is not wholly cast out,
and Hellas by no means "let the ape and tiger die". That Mr. Tylor
does not exclude the Aryan race from his general theory is plain
enough.[3] "What is the Aryan conception of the Thunder-god but a
poetic elaboration of thoughts inherited from the savage stage
through which the primitive Aryans had passed?"[4]

[1] Primitive Culture, 2nd edit., i. p. 283.

[2] Op. cit., p. 275.

[3] Primitive Culture, 2nd edit., ii. 265.

[4] Pretty much the same view seems to be taken by Mr. Max Muller
(Nineteenth Century, January, 1882) when he calls Tsui Goab (whom
the Hottentots believe to be a defunct conjuror) "a Hottentot Indra
or Zeus".

The advantages of our hypothesis (if its legitimacy be admitted)
are obvious. In the first place, we have to deal with an actual
demonstrable condition of the human intellect. The existence of
the savage state in all its various degrees, and of the common
intellectual habits and conditions which are shared by the backward
peoples, and again the survival of many of these in civilisation,
are indubitable facts. We are not obliged to fall back upon some
fanciful and unsupported theory of what "primitive man" did, and
said, and thought. Nay, more; we escape all the fallacies
connected with the terms "primitive man". We are not compelled (as
will be shown later)[1] to prove that the first men of all were
like modern savages, nor that savages represent primitive man. It
may be that the lowest extant savages are the nearest of existing
peoples to the type of the first human beings. But on this point
it is unnecessary for us to dogmatise. If we can show that,
whether men began their career as savages or not, they have at
least passed through the savage status or have borrowed the ideas
of races in the savage status, that is all we need. We escape from
all the snares of theories (incapable of historical proof) about
the really primeval and original condition of the human family.

[1] Appendix B.

Once more, our theory naturally attaches itself to the general
system of Evolution. We are enabled to examine mythology as a
thing of gradual development and of slow and manifold modifications,
corresponding in some degree to the various changes in the general
progress of society. Thus we shall watch the barbaric conditions of
thought which produce barbaric myths, while these in their turn are
retained, or perhaps purified, or perhaps explained away, by more
advanced civilisations. Further, we shall be able to detect the
survival of the savage ideas with least modification, and the
persistence of the savage myths with least change, among the classes
of a civilised population which have shared least in the general
advance. These classes are, first, the rustic peoples, dwelling far
from cities and schools, on heaths or by the sea; second, the
conservative local priesthoods, who retain the more crude and
ancient myths of the local gods and heroes after these have been
modified or rejected by the purer sense of philosophers and national
poets. Thus much of ancient myth is a woven warp and woof of three
threads: the savage donnee, the civilised and poetic modification of
the savage donnee, the version of the original fable which survives
in popular tales and in the "sacred chapters" of local priesthoods.
A critical study of these three stages in myth is in accordance with
the recognised practice of science. Indeed, the whole system is
only an application to this particular province, mythology, of the
method by which the development either of organisms or of human
institutions is traced. As the anomalies and apparently useless and
accidental features in the human or in other animal organisms may be
explained as stunted or rudimentary survivals of organs useful in a
previous stage of life, so the anomalous and irrational myths of
civilised races may be explained as survivals of stories which, in
an earlier state of thought and knowledge, seemed natural enough.
The persistence of the myths is accounted for by the well-known
conservatism of the religious sentiment--a conservatism noticed even
by Eusebius. "In later days, when they became ashamed of the
religious beliefs of their ancestors, they invented private and
respectful interpretations, each to suit himself. For no one dared
to shake the ancestral beliefs, as they honoured at a very high rate
the sacredness and antiquity of old associations, and of the
teaching they had received in childhood."[1]

[1] Praep. E., ii. 6, 19.

Thus the method which we propose to employ is in harmony both with
modern scientific procedure and with the views of a clear-sighted
Father of the Church. Consequently no system could well be less
"heretical" and "unorthodox".

The last advantage of our hypothesis which need here be mentioned
is that it helps to explain the DIFFUSION no less than the ORIGIN
of the wild and crazy element in myth. We seek for the origin of
the savage factor of myth in one aspect of the intellectual
condition of savages. We say "in one aspect" expressly; to guard
against the suggestion that the savage intellect has no aspect but
this, and no saner ideas than those of myth. The DIFFUSION of
stories practically identical in every quarter of the globe may be
(provisionally) regarded as the result of the prevalence in every
quarter, at one time or another, of similar mental habits and
ideas. This explanation must not be pressed too hard nor too far.
If we find all over the world a belief that men can change
themselves and their neighbours into beasts, that belief will
account for the appearance of metamorphosis in myth. If we find a
belief that inanimate objects are really much on a level with man,
the opinion will account for incidents of myth such as that in
which the wooden figure-head of the Argo speaks with a human voice.
Again, a widespread belief in the separability of the soul or the
life from the body will account for the incident in nursery tales
and myths of the "giant who had no heart in his body," but kept his
heart and life elsewhere. An ancient identity of mental status and
the working of similar mental forces at the attempt to explain the
same phenomena will account, without any theory of borrowing, or
transmission of myth, or of original unity of race, for the world-
wide diffusion of many mythical conceptions.

But this theory of the original similarity of the savage mind
everywhere and in all races will scarcely account for the world-
wide distribution of long and intricate mythical PLOTS, of
consecutive series of adroitly interwoven situations. In presence
of these long romances, found among so many widely severed peoples,
conjecture is, at present, almost idle. We do not know, in many
instances, whether such stories were independently developed, or
carried from a common centre, or borrowed by one race from another,
and so handed on round the world.

This chapter may conclude with an example of a tale whose DIFFUSION
may be explained in divers ways, though its ORIGIN seems
undoubtedly savage. If we turn to the Algonkins, a stock of Red
Indians, we come on a popular tradition which really does give
pause to the mythologist. Could this story, he asks himself, have
been separately invented in widely different places, or could the
Iroquois have borrowed from the Australian blacks or the Andaman
Islanders? It is a common thing in most mythologies to find
everything of value to man--fire, sun, water--in the keeping of
some hostile power. The fire, or the sun, or the water is then
stolen, or in other ways rescued from the enemy and restored to
humanity. The Huron story (as far as water is concerned) is told
by Father Paul Le Jeune, a Jesuit missionary, who lived among the
Hurons about 1636. The myth begins with the usual opposition
between two brothers, the Cain and Abel of savage legend. One of
the brothers, named Ioskeha, slew the other, and became the father
of mankind (as known to the Red Indians) and the guardian of the
Iroquois. The earth was at first arid and sterile, but Ioskeha
destroyed the gigantic frog which had swallowed all the waters, and
guided the torrents into smooth streams and lakes.[1]

[1] Relations de la Nouvelle France, 1636, p. 103 (Paris, Cramoisy,

Now where, outside of North America, do we find this frog who
swallowed all the water? We find him in Australia.

"The aborigines of Lake Tyers," remarks Mr. Brough Smyth, "say that
at one time there was no water anywhere on the face of the earth.
All the waters were contained in the body of a huge frog, and men
and women could get none of them. A council was held, and . . . it
was agreed that the frog should be made to laugh, when the waters
would run out of his mouth, and there would be plenty in all

To make a long story short, all the animals played the jester
before the gigantic solemn frog, who sat as grave as Louis XV. "I
do not like buffoons who don't make me laugh," said that majestical
monarch. At last the eel danced on the tip of his tail, and the
gravity of the prodigious Batrachian gave way. He laughed till he
literally split his sides, and the imprisoned waters came with a
rush. Indeed, many persons were drowned, though this is not the
only Australian version of the Deluge.

The Andaman Islanders dwell at a very considerable distance from
Australia and from the Iroquois, and, in the present condition of
the natives of Australia and Andaman, neither could possibly visit
the other. The frog in the Andaman version is called a toad, and
he came to swallow the waters in the following way: One day a
woodpecker was eating honey high up in the boughs of a tree. Far
below, the toad was a witness of the feast, and asked for some
honey. "Well, come up here, and you shall have some," said the
woodpecker. "But how am I to climb?" "Take hold of that creeper,
and I will draw you up," said the woodpecker; but all the while he
was bent on a practical joke. So the toad got into a bucket he
happened to possess, and fastened the bucket to the creeper. "Now,
pull!" Then the woodpecker raised the toad slowly to the level of
the bough where the honey was, and presently let him down with a
run, not only disappointing the poor toad, but shaking him
severely. The toad went away in a rage and looked about him for
revenge. A happy thought occurred to him, and he drank up all the
water of the rivers and lakes. Birds and beasts were perishing,
woodpeckers among them, of thirst. The toad, overjoyed at his
success, wished to add insult to the injury, and, very
thoughtlessly, began to dance in an irritating manner at his foes.
But then the stolen waters gushed out of his mouth in full volume,
and the drought soon ended. One of the most curious points in this
myth is the origin of the quarrel between the woodpecker and the
toad. The same beginning--the tale of an insult put on an animal
by hauling up and letting him down with a run--occurs in an African

[1] Brough Smyth, Aborigines of Victoria, i. 429, 430; Brinton,
American Hero Myths, i. 55. Cf. also Relations de la Nouvelle
France, 1636, 1640, 1671; [Sagard, Hist. du Canada, 1636, p. 451;]
Journal Anthrop. Inst., 1881.

Now this strangely diffused story of the slaying of the frog which
had swallowed all the water seems to be a savage myth of which the
more heroic conflict of Indra with Vrittra (the dragon which had
swallowed all the waters) is an epic and sublimer version.[1] "The
heavenly water, which Vrittra withholds from the world, is usually
the prize of the contest."

[1] Ludwig, Der Rig-Veda, iii. p. 337. See postea, "Divine Myths
of India".

The serpent of Vedic myth is, perhaps, rather the robber-guardian
than the swallower of the waters, but Indra is still, like the
Iroquois Ioskeha, "he who wounds the full one".[1] This example of
the wide distribution of a myth shows how the question of
diffusion, though connected with, is yet distinct from that of
origin. The advantage of our method will prove to be, that it
discovers an historical and demonstrable state of mind as the
origin of the wild element in myth. Again, the wide prevalence in
the earliest times of this mental condition will, to a certain
extent, explain the DISTRIBUTION of myth. Room must be left, of
course, for processes of borrowing and transmission, but how
Andamanese, Australians and Hurons could borrow from each other is
an unsolved problem.

[1] Gubernatis, Zoological Myth. ii. 395, note 2. "When Indra
kills the serpent he opens the torrent of the waters" (p. 393).
See also Aitareya Brahmana, translated by Haug, ii. 483.

Finally, our hypothesis is not involved in dubious theories of
race. To us, myths appear to be affected (in their origins) much
less by the race than by the stage of culture attained by the
people who cherish them. A fight for the waters between a
monstrous dragon like Vrittra and a heroic god like Indra is a
nobler affair than a quarrel for the waters between a woodpecker
and a toad. But the improvement and transfiguration, so to speak,
of a myth at bottom the same is due to the superior culture, not to
the peculiar race, of the Vedic poets, except so far as culture
itself depends on race. How far the purer culture was attained to
by the original superiority of the Aryan over the Andaman breed, it
is not necessary for our purpose to inquire. Thus, on the whole,
we may claim for our system a certain demonstrable character, which
helps to simplify the problems of mythology, and to remove them
from the realm of fanciful guesses and conflicting etymological
conjectures into that of sober science. That these pretensions are
not unacknowledged even by mythologists trained in other schools is
proved by the remarks of Dr. Tiele.[1]

[1] Rev. de l'Hist. des Rel., "Le Mythe de Cronos," January, 1886.
Dr. Tiele is not, it must be noted, a thorough adherent of our
theory. See Modern Mythology: "The Question of Allies".

Dr. Tiele writes: "If I were obliged to choose between this method"
(the system here advocated) "and that of comparative philology, it
is the former that I would adopt without the slightest hesitation.
This method alone enables us to explain the fact, which has so
often provoked amazement, that people so refined as the Greeks, . . .
or so rude, but morally pure, as the Germans, . . . managed to
attribute to their gods all manner of cowardly, cruel and
disorderly conduct. This method alone explains the why and
wherefore of all those strange metamorphoses of gods into beasts
and plants, and even stones, which scandalised philosophers, and
which the witty Ovid played on for the diversion of his
contemporaries. In short, this method teaches us to recognise in
all those strange stories the survivals of a barbaric age, long
passed away, but enduring to later times in the form of religious
traditions, of all traditions the most persistent. . . . Finally,
this method alone enables us to explain the origin of myths,
because it endeavours to study them in their rudest and most
primitive shape, thus allowing their true significance to be much
more clearly apparent than it can be in the myths (so often
touched, retouched, augmented and humanised) which are current
among races arrived at a certain degree of culture."

The method is to this extent applauded by a most competent
authority, and it has been warmly accepted by a distinguished
French school of students, represented by M. Gaidoz. But it is
obvious that the method rests on a double hypothesis: first, that
satisfactory evidence as to the mental conditions of the lower and
backward races is obtainable; second, that the civilised races
(however they began) either passed through the savage state of
thought and practice, or borrowed very freely from people in that
condition. These hypotheses have been attacked by opponents; the
trustworthiness of our evidence, especially, has been assailed. By
way of facilitating the course of the exposition and of lessening
the disturbing element of controversy, a reply to the objections
and a defence of the evidence has been relegated to an Appendix.[1]
Meanwhile we go on to examine the peculiar characteristics of the
mental condition of savages and of peoples in the lower and upper

[1] 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.

We set out to discover a stage of human intellectual development
which would necessarily produce the essential elements of myth. We
think we have found that stage in the condition of savagery. We
now proceed to array the evidence for the mental processes of
savages. We intend to demonstrate the existence in practical
savage life of the ideas which most surprise us when we find them
in civilised sacred legends.

For the purposes of this inquiry, it is enough to select a few
special peculiarities of savage thought.

1. First we have that nebulous and confused frame of mind to which
all things, animate or inanimate, human, animal, vegetable, or
inorganic, seem on the same level of life, passion and reason. The
savage, at all events when myth-making, draws no hard and fast line
between himself and the things in the world. He regards himself as
literally akin to animals and plants and heavenly bodies; he
attributes sex and procreative powers even to stones and rocks, and
he assigns human speech and human feelings to sun and moon and
stars and wind, no less than to beasts, birds and fishes.[1]

[1] "So fasst auch das Alterthum ihren Unterschied von den Menschen
ganz anders als die spatere Zeit."--Grimm, quoted by Liebrecht, Zur
Volkskunde, p. 17.

2. The second point to note in savage opinion is the belief in
magic and sorcery. The world and all the things in it being
vaguely conceived of as sensible and rational, obey the commands of
certain members of the tribe, chiefs, jugglers, conjurors, or what
you will. Rocks open at their order, rivers dry up, animals are
their servants and hold converse with them. These magicians cause
or heal diseases, and can command even the weather, bringing rain
or thunder or sunshine at their will.[1] There are few
supernatural attributes of "cloud-compelling Zeus" or of Apollo
that are not freely assigned to the tribal conjuror. By virtue,
doubtless, of the community of nature between man and the things in
the world, the conjuror (like Zeus or Indra) can assume at will the
shape of any animal, or can metamorphose his neighbours or enemies
into animal forms.

[1] See Roth in North-West Central Queensland Aborigines, chapter
xii., 1897.

3. Another peculiarity of savage belief naturally connects itself
with that which has just been described. The savage has very
strong ideas about the persistent existence of the souls of the
dead. They retain much of their old nature, but are often more
malignant after death than they had been during life. They are
frequently at the beck and call of the conjuror, whom they aid with
their advice and with their magical power. By virtue of the close
connection already spoken of between man and the animals, the souls
of the dead are not rarely supposed to migrate into the bodies of
beasts, or to revert to the condition of that species of creatures
with which each tribe supposes itself to be related by ties of
kinship or friendship. With the usual inconsistency of mythical
belief, the souls of the dead are spoken of, at other times, as if
they inhabited a spiritual world, sometimes a paradise of flowers,
sometimes a gloomy place, which mortal men may visit, but whence no
one can escape who has tasted of the food of the ghosts.

4. In connection with spirits a far-reaching savage philosophy
prevails. It is not unusual to assign a ghost to all objects,
animate or inanimate, and the spirit or strength of a man is
frequently regarded as something separable, capable of being
located in an external object, or something with a definite
locality in the body. A man's strength and spirit may reside in
his kidney fat, in his heart, in a lock of his hair, or may even be
stored by him in some separate receptacle. Very frequently a man
is held capable of detaching his soul from his body, and letting it
roam about on his business, sometimes in the form of a bird or
other animal.

5. Many minor savage beliefs might be named, such as the common
faith in friendly or protecting animals, and the notion that
"natural deaths" (as we call them) are always UNNATURAL, that death
is always caused by some hostile spirit or conjuror. From this
opinion comes the myth that man is naturally not subject to death:
that death was somehow introduced into the world by a mistake or
misdeed is a corollary. (See "Myths of the Origin of Death" in
Modern Mythology.)

6. One more mental peculiarity of the savage mind remains to be
considered in this brief summary. The savage, like the civilised
man, is curious. The first faint impulses of the scientific spirit
are at work in his brain; he is anxious to give himself an account
of the world in which he finds himself. But he is not more curious
than he is, on occasion, credulous. His intellect is eager to ask
questions, as is the habit of children, but his intellect is also
lazy, and he is content with the first answer that comes to hand.
"Ils s'arretent aux premieres notions qu'ils en ont," says Pere
Hierome Lalemant.[1] "Nothing," says Schoolcraft, "is too
capacious (sic) for Indian belief."[2] The replies to his
questions he receives from tradition or (when a new problem arises)
evolves an answer for himself in the shape of STORIES. Just as
Socrates, in the Platonic dialogues, recalls or invents a myth in
the despair of reason, so the savage has a story for answer to
almost every question that he can ask himself. These stories are
in a sense scientific, because they attempt a solution of the
riddles of the world. They are in a sense religious, because there
is usually a supernatural power, a deus ex machina, of some sort to
cut the knot of the problem. Such stories, then, are the science,
and to a certain extent the religious tradition, of savages.[3]

[1] Relations de la Nouvelle France, 1648, p. 70.

[2] Algic Researches, i. 41.

[3] "The Indians (Algonkins) conveyed instruction--moral,
mechanical and religious--through traditionary fictions and
tales."--Schoolcraft, Algic Researches, i. 12.

Now these tales are necessarily cast in the mould of the savage
ideas of which a sketch has been given. The changes of the
heavenly bodies, the processes of day and night, the existence of
the stars, the invention of the arts, the origin of the world (as
far as known to the savage), of the tribe, of the various animals
and plants, the origin of death itself, the origin of the
perplexing traditional tribal customs, are all accounted for in
stories. At the same time, an actual divine Maker is sometimes
postulated. The stories, again, are fashioned in accordance with
the beliefs already named: the belief in human connection with and
kinship with beasts and plants; the belief in magic; the belief in
the perpetual possibility of metamorphosis or "shape shifting"; the
belief in the permanence and power of the ghosts of the dead; the
belief in the personal and animated character of all the things in
the world, and so forth.

No more need be said to explain the wild and (as it seems to us
moderns) the irrational character of savage myth. It is a jungle
of foolish fancies, a walpurgis nacht of gods and beasts and men
and stars and ghosts, all moving madly on a level of common
personality and animation, and all changing shapes at random, as
partners are changed in some fantastic witches' revel. Such is
savage mythology, and how could it be otherwise when we consider
the elements of thought and belief out of which it is mainly
composed? We shall see that part of the mythology of the Greeks or
the Aryans of India is but a similar walpurgis nacht, in which an
incestuous or amorous god may become a beast, and the object of his
pursuit, once a woman, may also become a beast, and then shift
shapes to a tree or a bird or a star. But in the civilised races
the genius of the people tends to suppress, exclude and refine away
the wild element, which, however, is never wholly eliminated. The
Erinyes soon stop the mouth of the horse of Achilles when he
begins, like the horse in Grimm's Goose Girl, to hold a sustained
conversation.[1] But the ancient, cruel, and grotesque savage
element, nearly overcome by Homer and greatly reduced by the Vedic
poets, breaks out again in Hesiod, in temple legends and Brahmanic
glosses, and finally proves so strong that it can only be subdued
by Christianity, or rather by that break between the educated
classes and the traditional past of religion which has resulted
from Christianity. Even so, myth lingers in the folk-lore of the
non-progressive classes of Europe, and, as in Roumania, invades

[1] Iliad, xix. 418.

We have now to demonstrate the existence in the savage intellect of
the various ideas and habits which we have described, and out of
which mythology springs. First, we have to show that "a nebulous
and confused state of mind, to which all things, animate or
inanimate, human, animal, vegetable or inorganic, seem on the same
level of life, passion and reason," does really exist.[1] The
existence of this condition of the intellect will be demonstrated
first on the evidence of the statements of civilised observers,
next on the evidence of the savage institutions in which it is

[1] Creuzer and Guigniaut, vol. i. p. 111.

The opinion of Mr. Tylor is naturally of great value, as it is
formed on as wide an acquaintance with the views of the lower races
as any inquirers can hope to possess. Mr. Tylor observes: "We have
to inform ourselves of the savage man's idea, which is very different
from the civilised man's, of the nature of the lower animals. . . .
The sense of an absolute psychical distinction between man and
beast, so prevalent in the civilised world, is hardly to be found
among the lower races."[1] The universal attribution of "souls" to
all things--the theory known as "Animism"--is another proof that the
savage draws no hard and fast line between man and the other things
in the world. The notion of the Italian country-people, that
cruelty to an animal does not matter because it is not a "Christian,"
has no parallel in the philosophy of the savage, to whom all objects
seem to have souls, just as men have. Mr. Im Thurn found the
absence of any sense of a difference between man and nature a
characteristic of his native companions in Guiana. "The very
phrase, 'Men and other animals,' or even, as it is often expressed,
'Men and animals,' based as it is on the superiority which civilised
man feels over other animals, expresses a dichotomy which is in no
way recognised by the Indian. . . . It is therefore most important
to realise how comparatively small really is the difference between
men in a state of savagery and other animals, and how completely
even such difference as exists escapes the notice of savage men. . .
It is not, therefore, too much to say that, according to the view
of the Indians, other animals differ from men only in bodily form
and in their various degrees of strength; in spirit they do not
differ at all."[2] The Indian's notion of the life of plants and
stones is on the same level of unreason, as we moderns reckon
reason. He believes in the spirits of rocks and stones, undeterred
by the absence of motion in these objects. "Not only many rocks,
but also many waterfalls, streams, and indeed material objects of
every sort, are supposed each to consist of a body and a spirit, as
does man."[3] It is not our business to ask here how men came by
the belief in universal animation. That belief is gradually
withdrawn, distinctions are gradually introduced, as civilisation
and knowledge advance. It is enough for us if the failure to draw a
hard and fast line between man and beasts, stones and plants, be
practically universal among savages, and if it gradually disappears
before the fuller knowledge of civilisation. The report which Mr.
Im Thurn brings from the Indians of Guiana is confirmed by what
Schoolcraft says of the Algonkin races of the northern part of the
continent. "The belief of the narrators and listeners in every wild
and improbable thing told helps wonderfully in the original stories,
in joining all parts together. The Indian believes that the whole
visible and invisible creation is animated. . . . To make the
matter worse, these tribes believe that animals of the lowest as
well as highest class in the chain of creation are alike endowed
with reasoning powers and faculties. As a natural conclusion they
endow birds, beasts and all other animals with souls."[4] As an
example of the ease with which the savage recognises consciousness
and voluntary motion even in stones, may be cited Kohl's account of
the beliefs of the Objibeways.[5] Nearly every Indian has
discovered, he says, an object in which he places special
confidence, and to which he sacrifices more zealously than to the
Great Spirit. The "hope" of Otamigan (a companion of the traveller)
was a rock, which once advanced to meet him, swayed, bowed and went
back again. Another Indian revered a Canadian larch, "because he
once heard a very remarkable rustling in its branches". It thus
appears that while the savage has a general kind of sense that
inanimate things are animated, he is a good deal impressed by their
conduct when he thinks that they actually display their animation.
In the same way a devout modern spiritualist probably regards with
more reverence a table which he has seen dancing and heard rapping
than a table at which he has only dined. Another general statement
of failure to draw the line between men and the irrational creation
is found in the old Jesuit missionary Le Jeune's Relations de la
Nouvelle France.[6] "Les sauvages se persuadent que non seulement
les hommes et les autres animaux, mais aussi que toutes les autres
choses sont animees." Again: "Ils tiennent les poissons
raisonnables, comme aussi les cerfs". In the Solomon Islands, Mr.
Romilly sailed with an old chief who used violent language to the
waves when they threatened to dash over the boat, and "old Takki's
exhortations were successful".[7] Waitz[8] discovers the same
attitude towards the animals among the negroes. Man, in their
opinion, is by no means a separate sort of person on the summit of
nature and high above the beasts; these he rather regards as dark
and enigmatic beings, whose life is full of mystery, and which he
therefore considers now as his inferiors, now as his superiors. A
collection of evidence as to the savage failure to discriminate
between human and non-human, animate and inanimate, has been brought
together by Sir John Lubbock.[9]

[1] Primitive Culture, i. 167-169.

[2] Among the Indians of Guiana (1883), p. 350.

[3] Op. Cit., 355.

[4] Schoolcraft, Algic Researches, i. 41.

[5] Kohl, Wanderings Round Lake Superior, pp. 58, 59; Muller,
Amerikan Urrelig., pp. 62-67.

[6] 1636, p. 109.

[7] Western Pacific, p. 84.

[8] Anthropologie der Natur-Volker, ii. 177.

[9] Origin of Civilisation, p. 33. A number of examples of this
mental attitude among the Bushmen will be found in chap. v.,

To a race accustomed like ourselves to arrange and classify, to
people familiar from childhood and its games with "vegetable,
animal and mineral," a condition of mind in which no such
distinctions are drawn, any more than they are drawn in Greek or
Brahmanic myths, must naturally seem like what Mr. Max Muller calls
"temporary insanity". The imagination of the savage has been
defined by Mr. Tylor as "midway between the conditions of a
healthy, prosaic, modern citizen, and of a raving fanatic, or of a
patient in a fever-ward". If any relics of such imagination
survive in civilised mythology, they will very closely resemble the
productions of a once universal "temporary insanity". Let it be
granted, then, that "to the lower tribes of man, sun and stars,
trees and rivers, winds and clouds, become personal, animate
creatures, leading lives conformed to human or animal analogies,
and performing their special functions in the universe with the aid
of limbs like beasts, or of artificial instruments like men; or
that what men's eyes behold is but the instrument to be used or the
material to be shaped, while behind it there stands some prodigious
but yet half-human creature, who grasps it with his hands or blows
it with his breath. The basis on which such ideas as these are
built is not to be narrowed down to poetic fancy and transformed
metaphor. They rest upon a broad philosophy of nature; early and
crude, indeed, but thoughtful, consistent, and quite really and
seriously meant."[1]

[1] Primtive Culture, i. 285.

For the sake of illustration, some minor examples must next be
given of this confusion between man and other things in the world,
which will presently be illustrated by the testimony of a powerful
and long diffused set of institutions.

The Christian Quiches of Guatemala believe that each of them has a
beast as his friend and protector, just as in the Highlands "the
dog is the friend of the Maclaines". When the Finns, in their epic
poem the Kalewala, have killed a bear, they implore the animal to
forgive them. "Oh, Ot-so," chant the singers, "be not angry that
we come near thee. The bear, the honey-footed bear, was born in
lands between sun and moon, and he died, not by men's hands, but of
his own will."[1] The Red Men of North America[2] have a tradition
showing how it is that the bear does not die, but, like Herodotus
with the sacred stories of the Egyptian priests, Mr. Schoolcraft
"cannot induce himself to write it out".[3] It is a most curious
fact that the natives of Australia tell a similar tale of THEIR
"native bear". "He did not die" when attacked by men.[4] In parts
of Australia it is a great offence to skin the native bear, just as
on a part of the west coast of Ireland, where seals are
superstitiously regarded, the people cannot be bribed to skin them.
In New Caledonia, when a child tries to kill a lizard, the men warn
him to "beware of killing his own ancestor".[5] The Zulus spare to
destroy a certain species of serpents, believed to be the spirits
of kinsmen, as the great snake which appeared when Aeneas did
sacrifice was held to be the ghost of Anchises. Mexican women[6]
believed that children born during an eclipse turn into mice. In
Australia the natives believe that the wild dog has the power of
speech; whoever listens to him is petrified; and a certain spot is
shown where "the wild dog spoke and turned the men into stone";[7]
and the blacks run for their lives as soon as the dog begins to
speak. What it said was "Bones".

[1] Kalewala, in La Finlande, Leouzon Le Duc (1845), vol. ii. p.
100; cf. also the Introduction.

[2] Schoolcraft, v. 420.

[3] See similar ceremonies propitiatory of the bear in Jewett's
Adventures among the Nootkas, Edinburgh, 1824.

[4] Brough Smyth, i. 449.

[5] J. J. Atkinson's MS.

[6] Sahagun, ii. viii. 250; Bancroft, iii. 111. Compare stories of
women who give birth to animals in Melusine, 1886, August-November.
The Batavians believe that women, when delivered of a child, are
frequently delivered at the same time of a young crocodile as a
twin. Hawkesworth's Voyages, iii. 756. Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde,
p. 17 et seq.

[7] Brough Smyth, Aborigines of Victoria, i. 497.

These are minor examples of a form of opinion which is so strong
that it is actually the chief constituent in savage society. That
society, whether in Ashantee or Australia, in North America or
South Africa, or North Asia or India, or among the wilder tribes of
ancient Peru, is based on an institution generally called
"totemism". This very extraordinary institution, whatever its
origin, cannot have arisen except among men capable of conceiving
kinship and all human relationships as existing between themselves
and all animate and inanimate things. It is the rule, and not the
exception, that savage societies are founded upon this belief. The
political and social conduct of the backward races is regulated in
such matters as blood-feud and marriage by theories of the actual
kindred and connection by descent, or by old friendship, which men
have in common with beasts, plants, the sun and moon, the stars,
and even the wind and the rain. Now, in whatever way this belief
in such relations to beasts and plants may have arisen, it
undoubtedly testifies to a condition of mind in which no hard and
fast line was drawn between man and animate and inanimate nature.
The discovery of the wide distribution of the social arrangements
based on this belief is entirely due to Mr. J. F. M'Lennan, the
author of Primitive Marriage. Mr. M'Lennan's essays ("The Worship
of Plants and Animals," "Totems and Totemism") were published in
the Fortnightly Review, 1869-71. Any follower in the footsteps of
Mr. M'Lennan has it in his power to add a little evidence to that
originally set forth, and perhaps to sift the somewhat uncritical
authorities adduced.[1]

[1] See also Mr. Frazer's Totemism, and Golden Bough, with chapter
on Totemism in Modern Mythology.

The name "Totemism" or "Totamism" was first applied at the end of
the last century by Long[1] to the Red Indian custom which
acknowledges human kinship with animals. This institution had
already been recognised among the Iroquois by Lafitau,[2] and by
other observers. As to the word "totem," Mr. Max Muller[3] quotes
an opinion that the interpreters, missionaries, Government
inspectors, and others who apply the name totem to the Indian
"family mark" must have been ignorant of the Indian languages, for
there is in them no such word as totem. The right word, it
appears, is otem; but as "totemism" has the advantage of possessing
the ground, we prefer to say "totemism" rather than "otemism". The
facts are the same, whatever name we give them. As Mr. Muller says
himself,[4] "every warrior has his crest, which is called his
totem";[5] and he goes on to describe a totem of an Indian who died
about 1793. We may now return to the consideration of "otemism" or
totemism. We approach it rather as a fact in the science of
mythology than as a stage in the evolution of the modern family
system. For us totemism is interesting because it proves the
existence of that savage mental attitude which assumes kindred and
alliance between man and the things in the world. As will
afterwards be seen, totemism has also left its mark on the
mythologies of the civilised races. We shall examine the
institution first as it is found in Australia, because the
Australian form of totemism shows in the highest known degree the
savage habit of confusing in a community of kinship men, stars,
plants, beasts, the heavenly bodies, and the forces of Nature. When
this has once been elucidated, a shorter notice of other totemistic
races will serve our purpose.

[1] Voyages and Travels, 1791.

[2] Moeurs des Sauvages (1724), p. 461.

[3] Academy, December 15, 1883.

[4] Selected Essays (1881), ii. 376.

[5] Compare Mr. Max Muller's Contributions to the Science of

The society of the Murri or black fellows of Australia is divided
into local tribes, each of which possesses, or used to possess, and
hunt over a considerable tract of country. These local tribes are
united by contiguity, and by common local interests, but not
necessarily by blood kinship. For example, the Port Mackay tribe,
the Mount Gambier tribe, the Ballarat tribe, all take their names
from their district. In the same way we might speak of the people
of Strathclyde or of Northumbria in early English history. Now,
all these local tribes contain an indefinite number of stocks of
kindred, of men believing themselves to be related by the ties of
blood and common descent. That descent the groups agree in
tracing, not from some real or idealised human parent, but from
some animal, plant, or other natural object, as the kangaroo, the
emu, the iguana, the pelican, and so forth. Persons of the pelican
stock in the north of Queensland regard themselves as relations of
people of the same stock in the most southern parts of Australia.
The creature from which each tribe claims descent is called "of the
same flesh," while persons of another stock are "fresh flesh". A
native may not marry a woman of "his own flesh"; it is only a woman
of "fresh" or "strange" flesh he may marry. A man may not eat an
animal of "his own flesh"; he may only eat "strange flesh". Only
under great stress of need will an Australian eat the animal which
is the flesh-and-blood cousin and protector of his stock.[1]
(These rules of marriage and blood, however, do not apply among the
Arunta of Central Australia, whose Totems (if Totems they should be
called) have been developed on very different lines.[2]) Clearer
evidence of the confusion between man and beast, of the claiming of
kin between man and beast, could hardly be.

[1] Dawson, Aborigines, pp. 26, 27; Howitt and Fison, Kamilaroi and
Kurnai, p. 169.

[2] Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia.

But the Australian philosophy of the intercommunion of Nature goes
still farther than this. Besides the local divisions and the
kindred stocks which trace their descent from animals, there exist
among many Australian tribes divisions of a kind still unexplained.
For example, every man of the Mount Gambier local tribe is by birth
either a Kumite or a Kroki. This classification applies to the
whole of the sensible universe. Thus smoke and honeysuckle trees
belong to the division Kumite, and are akin to the fishhawk stock
of men. On the other hand, the kangaroo, summer, autumn, the wind
and the shevak tree belong to the division Kroki, and are akin to
the black cockatoo stock of men. Any human member of the Kroki
division has thus for his brothers the sun, the wind, the kangaroo,
and the rest; while any man of the Kumite division and the crow
surname is the brother of the rain, the thunder, and the winter.
This extraordinary belief is not a mere idle fancy--it influences
conduct. "A man does not kill or use as food any of the animals of
the same subdivision (Kroki or Kumite) with himself, excepting when
hunger compels, and then they express sorrow for having to eat
their wingong (friends) or tumanang (their flesh). When using the
last word they touch their breasts, to indicate the close
relationship, meaning almost a portion of themselves. To
illustrate: One day one of the blacks killed a crow. Three or four
days afterwards a Boortwa (a man of the crow surname and stock),
named Larry, died. He had been ailing for some days, but the
killing of his wingong (totem) hastened his death."[1] Commenting
on this statement, Mr. Fison observes: "The South Australian savage
looks upon the universe as the Great Tribe, to one of whose
divisions he himself belongs; and all things, animate and
inanimate, which belong to his class are parts of the body
corporate whereof he himself is part". This account of the
Australian beliefs and customs is borne out, to a certain extent,
by the evidence of Sir George Grey,[2] and of the late Mr. Gideon
Scott Lang.[3] These two writers take no account of the singular
"dichotomous" divisions, as of Kumite and Kroki, but they draw
attention to the groups of kindred which derive their surnames from
animals, plants, and the like. "The origin of these family names,"
says Sir George Grey, "is attributed by the natives to different
causes. . . . One origin frequently assigned by the natives is,
that they were derived from some vegetable or animal being very
common in the district which the family inhabited." We have seen
from the evidence of Messrs. Fison and Howitt that a more common
native explanation is based on kinship with the vegetable or plant
which bestows the family surname. Sir George Gray mentions that
the families use their plant or animal as a crest or kobong
(totem), and he adds that natives never willingly kill animals of
their kobong, holding that some one of that species is their
nearest friend. The consequences of eating forbidden animals vary
considerably. Sometimes the Boyl-yas (that is, ghosts) avenge the
crime. Thus when Sir George Grey ate some mussels (which, after
all, are not the crest of the Greys), a storm followed, and one of
his black fellow improvised this stave:--

Oh, wherefore did he eat the mussels?
Now the Boyl-yas storms and thunders make;
Oh, wherefore would he eat the mussels?

[1] Kamilaroi and Kurnai, p. 169.

[2] Travels, ii. 225.

[3] Lang, Lecture on Natives of Australia, p. 10.

There are two points in the arrangements of these stocks of kindred
named from plants and animals which we shall find to possess a high
importance. No member of any such kindred may marry a woman of the
same name and descended from the same object.[1] Thus no man of
the Emu stock may marry an Emu woman; no Blacksnake may marry a
Blacksnake woman, and so forth. This point is very strongly put by
Mr. Dawson, who has had much experience of the blacks. "So
strictly are the laws of marriage carried out, that, should any
sign of courtship or affection be observed between those 'of one
flesh,' the brothers or male relatives of the woman beat her
severely." If the incestuous pair (though not in the least related
according to our ideas) run away together, they are "half-killed";
and if the woman dies in consequence of her punishment, her partner
in iniquity is beaten again. No "eric" or blood-fine of any kind
is paid for her death, which carries no blood-feud. "Her
punishment is legal."[2] This account fully corroborates that of
Sir George Grey.[3]

[1] Taplin, The Nerrinyeri. p. 2. "Every tribe, regarded by them
as a family, has its ngaitge, or tutelary genius or tribal symbol,
in the shape of some bird, beast, fish, reptile, insect, or
substance. Between individuals of the same tribe no marriage can
take place." Among the Narrinyeri kindred is reckoned (p. 10) on
the father's side. See also (p. 46) ngaitge = Samoan aitu. "No
man or woman will kill their ngaitge," except with precautions, for

[2] Op. cit., p. 28.

[3] Ibid., ii. 220.

Our conclusion is that the belief in "one flesh" (a kinship shared
with the animals) must be a thoroughly binding idea, as the notion
is sanctioned by capital punishment.

Another important feature in Australian totemism strengthens our
position. The idea of the animal kinship must be an ancient one in
the race, because the family surname, Emu, Bandicoot, or what not,
and the crest, kobong, or protecting and kindred animal, are
inherited through the mother's side in the majority of stocks.
This custom, therefore, belongs to that early period of human
society in which the woman is the permanent and recognised factor
in the family while male parentage is uncertain.[1] One other
feature of Australian totemism must be mentioned before we leave
the subject. There is some evidence that in certain tribes the
wingong or totem of each man is indicated by a tattooed
representation of it upon his flesh. The natives are very
licentious, but men would shrink from an amour with a woman who
neither belonged to their own district nor spoke their language,
but who, in spite of that, was of their totem. To avoid mistakes,
it seems that some tribes mark the totem on the flesh with incised
lines.[2] The natives frequently design figures of some kind on
the trees growing near the graves of deceased warriors. Some
observers have fancied that in these designs they recognised the
totem of the dead men; but on this subject evidence is by no means
clear. We shall see that this primitive sort of heraldry, this
carving or painting of hereditary blazons, is common among the Red
Men of America.[3]

[1] Cf. Bachofen, Das Mutterrecht; M'Lennan, Primitive Marriage,
passim; Encycl. Brit. s. v. Family.

[2] Fison, op. cit., p. 66.

[3] Among other recent sources see Howitt in "Organisation of
Australian Tribes" (Transactions of Royal Society of Victoria,
1889), and Spencer and Gillen, Natives of Central Australia. In
Central Australia there is a marked difference in the form of

Though a large amount of evidence might be added to that already
put forward, we may now sum up the inferences to be drawn from the
study of totemism in Australia. It has been shown (1) that the
natives think themselves actually akin to animals, plants, the sun,
and the wind, and things in general; (2) that those ideas influence
their conduct, and even regulate their social arrangements, because
(3) men and women of the kinship of the same animal or plant may
not intermarry, while men are obliged to defend, and in case of
murder to avenge, persons of the stock of the family or plant from
which they themselves derive their family name. Thus, on the
evidence of institutions, it is plain that the Australians are (or
before the influence of the Europeans became prevalent were) in a
state of mind which draws no hard and fast line between man and the
things in the world. If, therefore, we find that in Australian
myth, men, gods, beasts, and things all shift shapes incessantly,
and figure in a coroboree dance of confusion, there will be nothing
to astonish us in the discovery. The myths of men in the Australian
intellectual condition, of men who hold long conversations with the
little "native bear," and ask him for oracles, will naturally and
inevitably be grotesque and confused.[1]

[1] Brough Smyth, i. 447, on MS. authority of W. Thomas.

It is "a far cry" from Australia to the West Coast of Africa, and
it is scarcely to be supposed that the Australians have borrowed
ideas and institutions from Ashantee, or that the people of
Ashantee have derived their conceptions of the universe from the
Murri of Australia. We find, however, on the West African Coast,
just as we do in Australia, that there exist large local divisions
of the natives. These divisions are spoken of by Mr. Bowditch (who
visited the country on a mission in 1817) as nations, and they are
much more populous and powerful (as the people are more civilised)
than the local tribes of Australia. Yet, just as among the local
tribes of Australia, the nations of the West African Coast are
divided into stocks of kindred, each STOCK having its representatives
in each NATION. Thus an Ashantee or a Fantee may belong to the same
stock of kindred as a member of the Assin or Akini nation. When an
Ashantee of the Annona stock of kindred meets a Warsaw man of the
same stock they salute and acknowledge each other as brothers. In
the same way a Ballarat man of the Kangaroo stock in Australia
recognises a relative in a Mount Gambier man who is also a Kangaroo.
Now, with one exception, all the names of the twelve stocks of West
African kindreds, or at least all of them which Mr. Bowditch could
get the native interpreters to translate, are derived from animals,
plants and other natural objects, just as in Australia.[1] Thus
Quonna is a buffalo, Abrootoo is a cornstalk, Abbradi a plantain.
Other names are, in English, the parrot, the wild cat, red earth,
panther and dog. Thus all the natives of this part of Africa are
parrots, dogs, buffaloes, panthers, and so forth, just as the
Australians are emus, iguanas, black cockatoos, kangaroos, and the
rest. It is remarkable that there is an Incra stock, or clan of
ants, in Ashantee, just as there was a race of Myrmidons, believed
to be descended from or otherwise connected with ants, in ancient
Greece. Though Bowditch's account of these West African family
divisions is brief, the arrangement tallies closely with that of
Australia. It is no great stretch of imagination to infer that the
African tribes do, or once did, believe themselves to be of the
kindred of the animals whose names they bear.[2] It is more or less
confirmatory of this hypothesis that no family is permitted to use
as food the animal from which it derives its name. We have seen
that a similar rule prevails, as far as hunger and scarcity of
victuals permit it to be obeyed, among the natives of Australia.
The Intchwa stock in Ashantee and Fantee is particularly unlucky,
because its members may not eat the dog, "much relished by native
epicures, and therefore a serious privation". Equally to be pitied
were the ancient Egyptians, who, if they belonged to the district of
the sheep, might not eat mutton, which their neighbours, the
Lycopolitae, devoured at pleasure. These restrictions appear to be
connected with the almost universal dislike of cannibals to eat
persons of their own kindred except as a pious duty. This law of
the game in cannibalism has not yet been thoroughly examined, though
we often hear of wars waged expressly for the purpose of securing
food (human meat), while some South American tribes actually bred
from captive women by way of securing constant supplies of permitted
flesh.[3] When we find stocks, then, which derive their names from
animals and decline to eat these animals, we may at least SUSPECT
that they once claimed kinship with the name-giving beasts. The
refusal to eat them raises a presumption of such faith. Old
Bosman[4] had noticed the same practices. "One eats no mutton,
another no goat's flesh, another no beef, swine's flesh, wild fowl,
cocks with white feathers, and they say their ancestors did so from
the beginning of the world."

[1] The evidence of native interpreters may be viewed with
suspicion. It is improbable, however, that in 1817 the
interpreters were acquainted with the totemistic theory of
mythologists, and deliberately mistranslated the names of the
stocks, so as to make them harmonise with Indian, Australian, and
Red Indian totem kindreds. This, indeed, is an example where the
criterion of "recurrence" or "coincidence" seems to be valuable.
Bowditch's Mission to Ashantee (1873), p. 181.

[2] This view, however, does not prevail among the totemistic
tribes of British Columbia, for example.

[3] Cieza de Leon (Hakluyt Society), p. 50. This amazing tale is
supported by the statement that kinship went by the female side (p.
49); the father was thus not of the kin of his child by the alien
woman. Cieza was with Validillo in 1538.

[4] In Pinkerton, xvi. 400.

While in the case of the Ashantee tribes, we can only infer the
existence of a belief in kinship with the animals from the presence
of the other features of fully developed totemism (especially from
the refusal to eat the name-giving animal), we have direct evidence
for the opinion in another part of Africa, among the Bechuanas.[1]
Casalis, who passed twenty-three years as a missionary in South
Africa, thus describes the institution: "While the united
communities usually bear the name of their chief or of the district
which they inhabit" (local tribes, as in Australia), "each stock
(tribu) derives its title from an animal or a vegetable. All the
Bechuanas are subdivided thus into Bakuenas (crocodile-men),
Batlapis (men of the fish), Banarer (of the buffalo), Banukus
(porcupines), Bamoraras (wild vines), and so forth. The Bakuenas
call the crocodile their father, sing about him in their feasts,
swear by him, and mark the ears of their cattle with an incision
which resembles the open jaws of the creature." This custom of
marking the cattle with the crest, as it were, of the stock, takes
among some races the shape of deforming themselves, so as the more
to resemble the animal from which they claim descent. "The chief
of the family which holds the chief rank in the stock is called
'The Great Man of the Crocodile'. Precisely in the same way the
Duchess of Sutherland is styled in Gaelic 'The Great Lady of the
Cat,'" though totemism is probably not the origin of this title.

[1] E. Casalis, Les Bassoutos, 1859.

Casalis proceeds: "No one would dare to eat the flesh or wear the
skin of the animal whose name he bears. If the animal be
dangerous--the lion, for example--people only kill him after
offering every apology and asking his pardon. Purification must
follow such a sacrifice." Casalis was much struck with the
resemblance between these practices and the similar customs of
North American races. Livingstone's account[1] on the whole
corroborates that of Casalis, though he says the Batau (tribe of
the lion) no longer exists. "They use the word bina 'to dance,' in
reference to the custom of thus naming themselves, so that when you
wish to ascertain what tribe they belong to, you say, 'What do you
dance?' It would seem as if this had been part of the worship of
old." The mythological and religious knowledge of the Bushmen is
still imparted in dances; and when a man is ignorant of some myth
he will say, "I do not dance that dance," meaning that he does not
belong to the guild which preserves that particular "sacred

[1] Missionary Travels (1857), p. 13.

[2] Orpen, Cape Monthly Magazine, 1872.

Casalis noticed the similarity between South African and Red Indian
opinion about kinship with vegetables and beasts. The difficulty
in treating the Red Indian belief is chiefly found in the abundance
of the evidence. Perhaps the first person who ever used the word
"totemism," or, as he spells it, "totamism," was (as we said) Mr.
Long, an interpreter among the Chippeways, who published his
Voyages in 1791. Long was not wholly ignorant of the languages, as
it was his business to speak them, and he was an adopted Indian.
The ceremony of adoption was painful, beginning with a feast of
dog's flesh, followed by a Turkish bath and a prolonged process of
tattooing.[1] According to Long,[2] "The totam, they conceive,
assumes the form of some beast or other, and therefore they never
kill, hurt, or eat the animal whose form they think this totam
bears". One man was filled with religious apprehensions, and gave
himself up to the gloomy belief of Bunyan and Cowper, that he had
committed the unpardonable sin, because he dreamed he had killed
his totem, a bear.[3] This is only one example, like the refusal
of the Osages to kill the beavers, with which they count cousins,[4]
that the Red Man's belief is an actual creed, and does influence
his conduct.

[1] Long, pp. 46-49.

[2] Ibid., p. 86.

[3] Ibid., p. 87.

[4] Schoolcraft, i. 319.

As in Australia, the belief in common kin with beasts is most
clearly proved by the construction of Red Indian society. The
"totemistic" stage of thought and manners prevails. Thus
Charlevoix says,[1] "Plusieurs nations ont chacune trois familles
ORIGINE. Chaque tribu porte le nom d'un animal, et la nation
entiere a aussi le sien, dont elle prend le nom, et dont la figure
est sa marque, ou, se l'on veut, ses armoiries, on ne signe point
autrement les traites qu'en traceant ces figures." Among the
animal totems Charlevoix notices porcupine, bear, wolf and turtle.
The armoiries, the totemistic heraldry of the peoples of Virginia,
greatly interested a heraldic ancestor of Gibbon the historian,[2]
who settled in the colony. According to Schoolcraft,[3] the totem
or family badge, of a dead warrior is drawn in a reverse position
on his grave-post. In the same way the leopards of England are
drawn reversed on the shield of an English king opposite the
mention of his death in old monkish chronicles. As a general
rule,[4] persons bearing the same totem in America cannot
intermarry. "The union must be between various totems." Moreover,
as in the case of the Australians, "the descent of the chief is in
the female line". We thus find among the Red Men precisely the
same totemistic regulations as among the Aborigines of Australia.
Like the Australians, the Red Men "never" (perhaps we should read
"hardly ever") eat their totems. Totemists, in short, spare the
beasts that are their own kith and kin. To avoid multiplying
details which all corroborate each other, it may suffice to refer
to Schoolcraft for totemism among the Iowas[5] and the Pueblos;[6]
for the Iroquois, to Lafitau, a missionary of the early part of the
eighteenth century. Lafitau was perhaps the first writer who ever
explained certain features in Greek and other ancient myths and
practices as survivals from totemism. The Chimera, a composite
creature, lion, goat and serpent, might represent, Lafitau thought,
a league of three totem tribes, just as wolf, bear and turtle
represented the Iroquois League.

[1] Histoire de la France-Nouvelle, iii. 266.

[2] Introductio ad Latinam Blasoniam, by John Gibbon, Blue Mantle,
London, 1682. "The dancers, were painted some party per pale, gul
and sab, some party per fesse of the same colours;" whence Gibbon
concluded "that heraldry was ingrafted naturally into the sense of
the humane race".

[3] Vol. i. p. 356.

[4] Schoolcraft, v. 73.

[5] Ibid., iii. 268.

[6] Ibid., iv. 86.

The martyred Pere Rasles, again, writing in 1723,[1] says that one
stock of the Outaonaks claims descent from a hare ("the great hare
was a man of prodigious size"), while another stock derive their
lineage from the carp, and a third descends from a bear; yet they
do not scruple, after certain expiatory rites, to eat bear's flesh.
Other North American examples are the Kutchin, who have always
possessed the system of totems.[2]

[1] Kip's Jesuits in America i. 33.

[2] Dall's Alaska, pp. 196-198.

It is to be noticed, as a peculiarity of Red Indian totemism which
we have not observed (though it may exist) in Africa, that certain
stocks claim relations with the sun. Thus Pere Le Petit, writing
from New Orleans in 1730, mentions the Sun, or great chief of the
Natchez Indians.[1] The totem of the privileged class among the
Natchez was the sun, and in all myths the sun is regarded as a
living being, who can have children, who may be beaten, who bleeds
when cut, and is simply on the same footing as men and everything
else in the world. Precisely similar evidence comes from South
America. In this case our best authority is almost beyond
suspicion. He knew the native languages well, being himself a
half-caste. He was learned in the European learning of his time;
and as a son of the Incas, he had access to all surviving Peruvian
stores of knowledge, and could collect without difficulty the
testimonies of his countrymen. It will be seen[2] that Don
Garcilasso de la Vega could estimate evidence, and ridiculed the
rough methods and fallacious guesses of Spanish inquirers.
Garcilasso de la Vega was born about 1540, being the son of an Inca
princess and of a Spanish conqueror. His book, Commentarias
Reales,[3] was expressly intended to rectify the errors of such
Spanish writers as Acosta. In his account of Peruvian religion,
Garcilasso distinguishes between the beliefs of the tribes previous
to the rise of the Inca empire and the sun-worship of the Incas.
But it is plain, from Garcilasso's own account and from other
evidence, that under the Incas the older faiths and fetichisms
survived, in subordination to sun-worship, just as Pagan
superstitions survived in custom and folk-lore after the official
recognition of Christianity. Sun-worship, in Peru, and the belief
in a Supreme Creator there, seem even, like Catholicism in Mexico,
China and elsewhere, to have made a kind of compromise with the
lower beliefs, and to have been content to allow a certain amount
of bowing down in the temples of the elder faiths. According,
then, to Garcilasso's account of Peruvian totemism, "An Indian was
not looked upon as honourable unless he was descended from a
fountain, river,[4] or lake, or even from the sea, OR FROM A WILD
ANIMAL, such as a bear, lion, tiger, eagle, or the bird they call
cuntur (condor), or some other bird of prey ".[5] A certain amount
of worship was connected with this belief in kinship with beasts
and natural objects. Men offered up to their totems "what they
usually saw them eat".[6] On the seacoasts "they worshipped
sardines, skates, dog-fish, and, for want of larger gods,
crabs. . . . There was not an animal, how vile and filthy soever,
that they did not worship as a god," including "lizards, toads and
frogs." Garcilasso (who says they ate the fish they worshipped)
gives his own theory of the origin of totemism. In the beginning
men had only sought for badges whereby to discriminate one human
stock from another. "The one desired to have a god different from
the other. . . . They only thought of making one different from
another." When the Inca emperors began to civilise the totemistic
stocks, they pointed out that their own father, the sun, possessed
"splendour and beauty" as contrasted with "the ugliness and filth of
the frogs and other vermin they looked upon as gods".[7] Garcilasso,
of course, does not use the North American word totem (or ote or
otem) for the family badge which represented the family ancestors.
He calls these things, as a general rule, pacarissa. The sun was the
pacarissa of the Incas, as it was of the chief of the Natchez. The
pacarissa of other stocks was the lion, bear, frog, or what not.
Garcilasso accounts for the belief accorded to the Incas, when they
claimed actual descent from the sun, by observing[8] that "there
were tribes among their subjects who professed similar fabulous
descents, though they did not comprehend how to select ancestors so
well as the Incas, but adored animals and other low and earthly
objects". As to the fact of the Peruvian worship of beasts, if more
evidence is wanted, it is given, among others, by Cieza de Leon,[9]
who contrasts the adoration of the Roman gods with that offered in
Peru to brutes. "In the important temple of Pacha-camac (the
spiritual deity of Peru) they worshipped a she-fox or vixen and an
emerald." The devil also "appeared to them and spoke in the form of
a tiger, very fierce". Other examples of totemism in South America
may be studied in the tribes on the Amazon.[10] Mr. Wallace found
the Pineapple stock, the Mosquitoes, Woodpeckers, Herons, and other
totem kindreds. A curious example of similar ideas is discovered
among the Bonis of Guiana. These people were originally West Coast
Africans imported as slaves, who have won their freedom with the
sword. While they retain a rough belief in Gadou (God) and Didibi
(the devil), they are divided into totem stocks with animal names.
The red ape, turtle and cayman are among the chief totems.[11]

[1] Kip, ii. 288.

[2] Appendix B.

[3] See translation in Hakluyt Society's Collection.

[4] Like many Greek heroes. Odyssey, iii. 489. "Orsilochus, the
child begotten of Alpheus."

[5] Comm. Real., i. 75.

[6] Ibid., 53.

[7] Ibid., 102.

[8] Ibid., 83.

[9] Cieza de Leon (Hakluyt Society), p. 183.

[10] Acuna, p. 103; Wallace, Travels on Amazon (1853), pp. 481-506.

[11] Crevaux, Voyages dans l'Amerique du Sud, p. 59.

After this hasty examination of the confused belief in kinship with
animals and other natural objects which underlies institutions in
Australia, West and South Africa, North and South America, we may
glance at similar notions among the non-Aryan races of India. In
Dalton's Ethnology of Bengal,[1] he tells us that the Garo clans
are divided into maharis or motherhoods. Children belong to the
mahari of the mother, just as (in general) they derive their stock
name and totem from the mother's side in Australia and among the
North American Indians. No man may marry (as among the Red Indians
and Australians) a woman belonging to his own stock, motherhood or
mahari. So far the maharis of Bengal exactly correspond to the
totem kindred. But do the Maharis also take their names from
plants and animals, and so forth? We know that the Killis, similar
communities among the Bengal Hos and Mundos, do this.[2] "The
Mundaris, like the Oraons, adopt as their tribal distinction the
name of some animal, and the flesh of that animal is tabooed to
them as food; for example, the eel, the tortoise." This is exactly
the state of things in Ashanti. Dalton mentions also[3] a princely
family in Nagpur which claims descent from "a great hooded snake".
Among the Oraons he found[4] tribes which might not eat young mice
(considered a dainty) or tortoises, and a stock which might not eat
the oil of the tree which was their totem, nor even sit in its
shade. "The family or tribal names" (within which they may not
marry) "are usually those of animals or plants, and when this is
the case, the flesh of some part of the animal or the fruit of the
tree is tabooed to the tribe called after it."

[1] Dalton, p. 63.

[2] Ibid., p. 189.

[3] Ibid., p. 166.

[4] Ibid., p. 254.

An excellent sketch of totemism in India is given by Mr. H. H.
Risley of the Bengal Civil Service:--[1]

[1] The Asiatic Quarterly, No. 3, Essay on "Primitive Marriage in

"At the bottom of the social system, as understood by the average
Hindu, stands a large body of non-Aryan castes and tribes, each of
which is broken up into a number of what may be called totemistic
exogamous septs. Each sept bears the name of an animal, a tree, a
plant, or of some material object, natural or artificial, which the
members of that sept are prohibited from killing, eating, cutting,
burning, carrying, using, etc."[1]

[1] Here we may note that the origin of exogamy itself is merely
part of a strict totemistic prohibition. A man may not "use" an
object within the totem kin, nor a woman of the kin. Compare the
Greek idiom [Greek text omitted].

Mr. Risley finds that both Kolarians, as the Sonthals, and
Dravidians, as the Oraons, are in this state of totemism, like the
Hos and Mundas. It is most instructive to learn that, as one of
these tribes rises in the social scale, it sloughs off its totem,
and, abandoning the common name derived from bird, beast, or plant,
adopts that of an eponymous ancestor. A tendency in this direction
has been observed by Messrs. Fison and Howitt even in Australia.
The Mahilis, Koras and Kurmis, who profess to be members of the
Hindu community, still retain the totemistic organisation, with
names derived from birds, beasts and plants. Even the Jagannathi
Kumhars of Orissa, taking rank immediately below the writer-caste,
have the totems tiger, snake, weasel, cow, frog, sparrow and
tortoise. The sub-castes of the Khatlya Kumhars explain away their
totem-names "as names of certain saints, who, being present at
Daksha's Horse-sacrifice, transformed themselves into animals to
escape the wrath of Siva," like the gods of Egypt when they fled in
bestial form from the wrath of Set.

Among the non-Aryan tribes the marriage law has the totemistic
sanction. No man may marry a woman of his totem kin. When the
totem-name is changed for an eponym, the non-Aryan, rising in the
social scale, is practically in the same position as the Brahmans,
"divided into exogamous sections (gotras), the members of which
profess to be descended from the mythical rishi or inspired saint
whose name the gotra bears". There is thus nothing to bar the
conjecture that the exogamous gotras of the whole Brahmans were
once a form of totem-kindred, which (like aspiring non-Aryan stocks
at the present day) dropped the totem-name and renamed the septs
from some eponymous hero, medicine-man, or Rishi.

Constant repetition of the same set of facts becomes irksome, and
yet is made necessary by the legitimate demand for trustworthy and
abundant evidence. As the reader must already have reflected, this
living mythical belief in the common confused equality of men,
gods, plants, beasts, rivers, and what not, which still regulates
savage society,[1] is one of the most prominent features in
mythology. Porphyry remarked and exactly described it among the
Egyptians--"common and akin to men and gods they believed the
beasts to be."[2] The belief in such equality is alien to modern
civilisation. We have shown that it is common and fundamental in
savagery. For instance, in the Pacific, we might quote Turner,[3]
and for Melanesia, Codrington,[4] while for New Zealand we have
Taylor.[5] For the Jakuts, along the banks of the Lena in Northern
Asia, we have the evidence of Strahlenberg, who writes: "Each tribe
of these people look upon some particular creature as sacred, e.g.,
a swan, goose, raven, etc., and such is not eaten by that tribe"
though the others may eat it.[6] As the majority of our witnesses
were quite unaware that the facts they described were common among
races of whom many of them had never even heard, their evidence may
surely be accepted as valid, especially as the beliefs testified to
express themselves in marriage laws, in the blood-feud, in
abstinence from food, on pillars over graves, in rude heraldry, and
in other obvious and palpable shapes. If we have not made out, by
the evidence of institutions, that a confused credulity concerning
the equality and kinship of man and the objects in nature is
actually a ruling belief among savages, and even higher races, from
the Lena to the Amazon, from the Gold Coast to Queensland, we may
despair of ever convincing an opponent. The survival of the same
beliefs and institutions among civilised races, Aryan and others,
will later be demonstrated.[7] If we find that the mythology of
civilised races here agrees with the actual practical belief of
savages, and if we also find that civilised races retain survivals
of the institutions in which the belief is expressed by savages,
then we may surely infer that the activity of beasts in the myths
of Greece springs from the same sources as the similar activity of
beasts in the myths of Iroquois or Kaffirs. That is to say, part
of the irrational element in Greek myth will be shown to be derived
(whether by inheritance or borrowing) from an ascertained condition
of savage fancy.

[1] See some very curious and disgusting examples of this confusion
in Liebrecht's Zur Volkskunde, pp. 395, 396 (Heilbronn, 1879).

[2] De Abst., ii. 26.

[3] Nineteen Years in Polynesia, p. 238, and Samoa by the same
author. Complete totemism is not asserted here, and is denied for

[4] Journ. Anthrop. Inst., "Religious Practices in Melanesia".

[5] New Zealand, "Animal Intermarriage with Men".

[6] Description of Asia (1783), p. 383.

[7] Professor Robertson Smith, Kinship in Arabia, attempts to show
that totemism existed in the Semitic races. The topic must be left
to Orientalists.



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

"I mean eftsoons to have a fling at magicians for their abominable
lies and monstrous vanities."--PLINY, ap. Phil. Holland.

"Quoy de ceux qui naturellement se changent en loups, en juments,
et puis encores en hommes?"--MONTAIGNE, Apologie pour Raymond de

The second feature in the savage intellectual condition which we
promised to investigate was the belief in magic and sorcery. The
world and all the things in it being conceived of vaguely as
sensible and rational, are supposed to obey the commands of certain
members of each tribe, such as chiefs, jugglers, or conjurors.
These conjurors, like Zeus or Indra, can affect the weather, work
miracles, assume what shapes, animal, vegetable, or inorganic, they
please, and can metamorphose other persons into similar shapes. It
has already been shown that savage man has regarded all THINGS as
PERSONS much on a level with himself. It has now to be shown WHAT
as civilised races regard them, that is, as beings with strict
limitations. On the other hand, he thinks of certain members of
his tribe as exempt from most of the limitations, and capable of
working every miracle that tradition has ever attributed to
prophets or gods. Nor are such miraculous powers, such practical
omnipotence, supposed by savages to be at all rare among
themselves. Though highly valued, miraculous attainments are not
believed to be unusual. This must be kept steadily in mind. When
myth-making man regards the sky or sun or wind as a person, he does
not mean merely a person with the limitations recognised by modern
races. He means a person with the miraculous powers of the
medicine-man. The sky, sun, wind or other elemental personage can
converse with the dead, and can turn himself and his neighbours
into animals, stones and trees.

To understand these functions and their exercise, it is necessary
to examine what may be called savage science, savage metaphysics,
and the savage theory of the state of the dead. The medicine-man's
supernatural claims are rooted in the general savage view of the
world, of what is possible, and of what (if anything) is
impossible. The savage, even more than the civilised man, may be
described as a creature "moving about in worlds not realised". He
feels, no less than civilised man, the need of making the world
intelligible, and he is active in his search for causes and
effects. There is much "speculation in these eyes that he doth
glare withal". This is a statement which has been denied by some
persons who have lived with savages. Thus Mr. Bates, in his
Naturalist on the Amazon,[1] writes: "Their want of curiosity is
extreme. . . . Vicente (an Indian companion) did not know the
cause of thunder and lightning. I asked him who made the sun, the
stars, the trees. He didn't know, and had never heard the subject
mentioned in his tribe." But Mr. Bates admits that even Vicente
had a theory of the configuration of the world. "The necessity of
a theory of the earth and water had been felt, and a theory had
been suggested." Again, Mr. Bates says about a certain Brazilian
tribe, "Their sluggish minds seem unable to conceive or feel the
want of a theory of the soul"; and he thinks the cause of this
indolence is the lack "of a written language or a leisured class".
Now savages, as a rule, are all in the "leisured class," all
sportsmen. Mr. Herbert Spencer, too, has expressed scepticism
about the curiosity attributed to savages. The point is important,
because, in our view, the medicine-man's powers are rooted in the
savage theory of things, and if the savage is too sluggish to
invent or half consciously evolve a theory of things, our
hypothesis is baseless. Again, we expect to find in savage myths
the answer given by savages to their own questions. But this view
is impossible if savages do not ask themselves, and never have
asked themselves, any questions at all about the world. On this
topic Mr. Spencer writes: "Along with absence of surprise there
naturally goes absence of intelligent curiosity".[2] Yet Mr.
Spencer admits that, according to some witnesses, "the Dyaks have
an insatiable curiosity," the Samoans "are usually very
inquisitive," and "the Tahitians are remarkably curious and
inquisitive". Nothing is more common than to find travellers
complaining that savages, in their ardently inquiring curiosity,
will not leave the European for a moment to his own undisturbed
devices. Mr. Spencer's savages, who showed no curiosity, displayed
this impassiveness when Europeans were trying to make them exhibit
signs of surprise. Impassivity is a point of honour with many
uncivilised races, and we cannot infer that a savage has no
curiosity because he does not excite himself over a mirror, or when
his European visitors try to swagger with their mechanical
appliances. Mr. Herbert Spencer founds, on the statements of Mr.
Bates already quoted, a notion that "the savage, lacking ability to
think and the accompanying desire to know, is without tendency to
speculate". He backs Mr. Bates's experience with Mungo Park's
failure to "draw" the negroes about the causes of day and night.
They had never indulged a conjecture nor formed an hypothesis on
the matter. Yet Park avers that "the belief in one God is entire
and universal among them". This he "pronounces without the
smallest shadow of doubt". As to "primitive man," according to Mr.
Spencer, "the need for explanations about surrounding appearances
does not occur to him". We have disclaimed all knowledge about
"primitive man," but it is easy to show that Mr. Spencer grounds
his belief in the lack of speculation among savages on a frail
foundation of evidence.

[1] Vol. ii. p. 162.

[2] Sociology, p. 98.

Mr. Spencer has admitted speculation, or at least curiosity, among
New Caledonians, New Guinea people, Dyaks, Samoans and Tahitians.
Even where he denies its existence, as among the Amazon tribes
mentioned by Mr. Bates, we happen to be able to show that Mr. Bates
was misinformed. Another traveller, the American geologist,
Professor Hartt of Cornell University, lived long among the tribes
of the Amazon. But Professor Hartt did not, like Mr. Bates, find
them at all destitute of theories of things--theories expressed in
myths, and testifying to the intellectual activity and curiosity
which demands an answer to its questions. Professor Hartt, when he
first became acquainted with the Indians of the Amazon, knew that
they were well supplied with myths, and he set to work to collect
them. But he found that neither by coaxing nor by offers of money
could he persuade an Indian to relate a myth. Only by accident,
"while wearily paddling up the Paranamirim of the Ituki," did he
hear the steersman telling stories to the oarsmen to keep them
awake. Professor Hartt furtively noted down the tale, and he found
that by "setting the ball rolling," and narrating a story himself,
he could make the natives throw off reserve and add to his stock of
tales. "After one has obtained his first myth, and has learned to
recite it accurately and spiritedly, the rest is easy." The tales
published by Professor Hartt are chiefly animal stories, like those
current in Africa and among the Red Indians, and Hartt even
believed that many of the legends had been imported by Negroes.
But as the majority of the Negro myths, like those of the
Australians, give a "reason why" for the existence of some
phenomenon or other, the argument against early man's curiosity and
vivacity of intellect is rather injured, even if the Amazonian
myths were imported from Africa. Mr. Spencer based his disbelief
in the intellectual curiosity of the Amazonian tribes and of
Negroes on the reports of Mr. Bates and of Mungo Park. But it
turns out that both Negroes and Amazonians have stories which do
satisfy an unscientific curiosity, and it is even held that the
Negroes lent the Amazonians these very stories.[1] The
Kamschadals, according to Steller, "give themselves a reason why
for everything, according to their own lively fancy, and do not
leave the smallest matter uncriticised".[2] As far, then, as Mr.
Spencer's objections apply to existing savages, we may consider
them overweighed by the evidence, and we may believe in a naive
savage curiosity about the world and desire for explanations of the
causes of things. Mr. Tylor's opinion corroborates our own: "Man's
craving to know the causes at work in each event he witnesses, the
reasons why each state of things he surveys is such as it is and no
other, is no product of high civilisation, but a characteristic of
his race down to its lowest stages. Among rude savages it is
already an intellectual appetite, whose satisfaction claims many of
the moments not engrossed by war or sport, food or sleep. Even in
the Botocudo or the Australian, scientific speculation has its germ
in actual experience."[3] It will be shown later that the food of
the savage intellectual appetite is offered and consumed in the
shape of explanatory myths.

[1] See Amazonian Tortoise-Myth., pp. 5, 37, 40; and compare Mr.
Harris's Preface to Nights with Uncle Remus.

[2] Steller, p. 267. Cf. Farrer's Primitive Manners, p. 274.

[3] Primitive Culture, i. 369.

But we must now observe that the "actual experience," properly so
called, of the savage is so limited and so coloured by misconception
and superstition, that his knowledge of the world varies very much
from the conceptions of civilised races. He seeks an explanation, a
theory of things, based on his experience. But his knowledge of
physical causes and of natural laws is exceedingly scanty, and he is
driven to fall back upon what we may call metaphysical, or, in many
cases "supernatural" explanations. The narrower the range of man's
knowledge of physical causes, the wider is the field which he has to
fill up with hypothetical causes of a metaphysical or "supernatural"
character. These "supernatural" causes themselves the savage
believes to be matters of experience. It is to his mind a matter of
experience that all nature is personal and animated; that men may
change shapes with beasts; that incantations and supernatural beings
can cause sunshine and storm.

A good example of this is given in Charlevoix's work on French
Canada.[1] Charlevoix was a Jesuit father and missionary among the
Hurons and other tribes of North America. He thus describes the
philosophy of the Red Men: "The Hurons attribute the most ordinary
effects to supernatural causes".[2] In the same page the good
father himself attributes the welcome arrival of rainy weather and
the cure of certain savage patients to the prayers of Pere Brebeuf
and to the exhibition of the sacraments. Charlevoix had
considerably extended the field in which natural effects are known
to be produced by natural causes. He was much more scientifically
minded than his savage flock, and was quite aware that an ordinary
clock with a pendulum cannot bring bad luck to a whole tribe, and
that a weather-cock is not a magical machine for securing
unpleasant weather. The Hurons, however, knowing less of natural
causes and nothing of modern machinery, were as convinced that his
clock was ruining the luck of the tribe and his weather-cock
spoiling the weather, as Father Charlevoix could be of the truth of
his own inferences. One or two other anecdotes in the good
father's history and letters help to explain the difference between
the philosophies of wild and of Christian men. The Pere Brebeuf
was once summoned at the instigation of a Huron wizard or
"medicine-man" before a council of the tribe. His judges told the
father that nothing had gone right since he appeared among them.
To this Brebeuf replied by "drawing the attention of the savages to
the absurdity of their principles". He admitted[3] the premise
that nothing had turned out well in the tribe since his arrival.
"But the reason," said he, "plainly is that God is angry with your
hardness of heart." No sooner had the good father thus demonstrated
the absurdity of savage principles of reasoning, than the malignant
Huron wizard fell down dead at his feet! This event naturally added
to the confusion of the savages.

[1] Histoire de la France-Nouvelle.

[2] Vol. i. p. 191.

[3] Vol. i. p. 192.

Coincidences of this sort have a great effect on savage minds.
Catlin, the friend of the Mandan tribe, mentions a chief who
consolidated his power by aid of a little arsenic, bought from the
whites. The chief used to prophesy the sudden death of his
opponents, which always occurred at the time indicated. The
natural results of the administration of arsenic were attributed by
the barbarous people to supernatural powers in the possession of
the chief.[1] Thus the philosophy of savages seeks causas
cognoscere rerum, like the philosophy of civilised men, but it
flies hastily to a hypothesis of "supernatural" causes which are
only guessed at, and are incapable of demonstration. This frame of
mind prevails still in civilised countries, as the Bishop of Nantes
showed when, in 1846, he attributed the floods of the Loire to "the
excesses of the press and the general disregard of Sunday". That
"supernatural" causes exist and may operate, it is not at all our
intention to deny. But the habit of looking everywhere for such
causes, and of assuming their interference at will, is the main
characteristic of savage speculation. The peculiarity of the
savage is that he thinks human agents can work supernaturally,
whereas even the Bishop reserved his supernatural explanations for
the Deity. On this belief in man's power to affect events beyond
the limits of natural possibility is based the whole theory of
MAGIC, the whole power of sorcerers. That theory, again, finds
incessant expression in myth, and therefore deserves our attention.

[1] Catlin, Letters, ii. 117.

The theory requires for its existence an almost boundless
credulity. This credulity appears to Europeans to prevail in full
force among savages. Bosman is amazed by the African belief that a
spider created the world. Moffat is astonished at the South
African notion that the sea was accidentally created by a girl.
Charlevoix says, "Les sauvages sont d'une facilite a croire ce
qu'on leur dit, que les plus facheuse experiences n'ont jamais pu
guerir".[1] But it is a curious fact that while savages are, as a
rule, so credulous, they often laugh at the religious doctrines
taught them by missionaries. Elsewhere they recognise certain
essential doctrines as familiar forms of old. Dr. Moffat remarks,
"To speak of the Creation, the Fall and the Resurrection, seemed
more fabulous, extravagant and ludicrous to them than their own
vain stories of lions and hyaenas." Again, "The Gospel appeared
too preposterous for the most foolish to believe".[2] While the
Zulus declared that they used to accept their own myths without
inquiry,[3] it was a Zulu who suggested to Bishop Colenso his
doubts about the historical character of the Noachian Deluge.
Hearne[4] knew a Red Man, Matorabhee, who, "though a perfect bigot
with regard to the arts and tricks of the jugglers, could yet by no
means be impressed with a belief of any part of OUR religion".
Lieutenant Haggard, R.N., tells the writer that during an eclipse
at Lamoo he ridiculed the native notion of driving away a beast
which devours the moon, and explained the real cause of the
phenomenon. But his native friend protested that "he could not be
expected to believe such a story". Yet other savages aver an old
agreement with the belief in a moral Creator.

[1] Vol. ii. p. 378.

[2] Missionary Labours, p. 245.

[3] Callaway, Religion of Amazulus, i. 35.

[4] Journey among the Indians, 1795, p. 350.

We have already seen sufficient examples of credulity in savage
doctrines about the equal relations of men and beasts, stars,
clouds and plants. The same readiness of belief, which would be
surprising in a Christian child, has been found to regulate the
rudimentary political organisations of grey barbarians. Add to
this credulity a philosophy which takes resemblance, or contiguity
in space, or nearness in time as a sufficient reason for
predicating the relations of cause and effect, and we have the
basis of savage physical science. Yet the metaphysical theories of
savages, as expressed in Maori, Polynesian, and Zuni hymns, often
amaze us by their wealth of abstract ideas. Coincidence elsewhere
stands for cause.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, is the motto of the savage philosophy
of causation. The untutored reasoner speculates on the principles
of the Egyptian clergy, as described by Herodotus.[1] "The
Egyptians have discovered more omens and prodigies than any other
men; for when aught prodigious occurs, they keep good watch, and
write down what follows; and then, if anything like the prodigy be
repeated, they expect the same events to follow as before." This
way of looking at things is the very essence of superstition.

[1] II. p. 82.

Savages, as a rule, are not even so scientific as the Egyptians.
When an untoward event occurs, they look for its cause among all
the less familiar circumstances of the last few days, and select
the determining cause very much at random. Thus the arrival of the
French missionaries among the Hurons was coincident with certain
unfortunate events; therefore it was argued that the advent of the
missionaries was the cause of the misfortune. When the Bechuanas
suffered from drought, they attributed the lack of rain to the
arrival of Dr. Moffat, and especially to his beard, his church

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