Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

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

Part 6 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

were alluded to by the poets. The scholiasts and mythographi often
retain myths from lost poems and lost plays. Finally, from the
travellers and historians we occasionally glean examples of the
tales ("holy chapters," as Mr. Grote calls them) which were
narrated by priests and temple officials to the pilgrims who
visited the sacred shrines.

These "chapters" are almost invariably puerile, savage and obscene.
They bear the stamp of extreme antiquity, because they never, as a
rule, passed through the purifying medium of literature. There
were many myths too crude and archaic for the purposes of poetry
and of the drama. These were handed down from local priest to
local priest, with the inviolability of sacred and immutable
tradition. We have already given a reason for assigning a high
antiquity to the local temple myths. Just as Greeks lived in
villages before they gathered into towns, so their gods were gods
of villages or tribes before they were national deities. The local
myths are those of the archaic village state of "culture," more
ancient, more savage, than literary narrative. Very frequently the
local legends were subjected to the process of allegorical
interpretation, as men became alive to the monstrosity of their
unsophisticated meaning. Often they proved too savage for our
authorities, who merely remark, "Concerning this a certain holy
chapter is told," but decline to record the legend. In the same
way missionaries, with mistaken delicacy, often refuse to repeat
some savage legend with which they are acquainted.

The latest sort of testimony as to Greek myths must be sought in
the writings of the heathen apologists or learned Pagan defenders
of Paganism in the first centuries during Christianity, and in the
works of their opponents, the fathers of the Church. Though the
fathers certainly do not understate the abominations of Paganism,
and though the heathen apologists make free use of allegorical (and
impossible) interpretations, the evidence of both is often useful
and important. The testimony of ancient art, vases, statues,
pictures and the descriptions of these where they no longer
survive, are also of service and interest.

After this brief examination of the sources of our knowledge of
Greek myth, we may approach the Homeric legends of the origin of
things and the world's beginning. In Homer these matters are only
referred to incidentally. He more than once calls Oceanus (that
is, the fabled stream which flows all round the world, here
regarded as a PERSON) "the origin of the gods," "the origin of all
things".[1] That Ocean is considered a person, and that he is not
an allegory for water or the aqueous element, appears from the
speech of Hera to Aphrodite: "I am going to visit the limits of the
bountiful earth, and Oceanus, father of the gods, and mother
Tethys, who reared me duly and nurtured me in their halls, when
far-seeing Zeus imprisoned Cronus beneath the earth and the
unvintaged sea".[2] Homer does not appear to know Uranus as the
father of Cronus, and thus the myth of the mutilation of Uranus
necessarily does not occur in Homer. Cronus, the head of the
dynasty which preceded that of Zeus, is described[3] as the son of
Rhea, but nothing is said of his father. The passage contains the
account which Poseidon himself chose to give of the war in heaven:
"Three brethren are we, and sons of Cronus whom Rhea bare--Zeus and
myself, and Hades is the third, the ruler of the folk in the
underworld. And in three lots were all things divided, and each
drew a domain of his own." Here Zeus is the ELDEST son of Cronus.
Though lots are drawn at hazard for the property of the father
(which we know to have been customary in Homer's time), yet
throughout the Iliad Zeus constantly claims the respect and
obedience due to him by right of primogeniture.[4] We shall see
that Hesiod adopts exactly the opposite view. Zeus is the YOUNGEST
child of Cronus. His supremacy is an example of jungsten recht,
the wide-spread custom which makes the youngest child the heir in
chief.[5] But how did the sons of Cronus come to have his property
in their hands to divide? By right of successful rebellion, when
"Zeus imprisoned Cronus beneath the earth and the unvintaged sea".
With Cronus in his imprisonment are the Titans. That is all that
Homer cares to tell about the absolute beginning of things and the
first dynasty of rulers of Olympus. His interest is all in the
actual reigning family, that of the Cronidae, nor is he fond of
reporting their youthful excesses.

[1] Iliad, xiv. 201, 302, 246.

[2] In reading what Homer and Hesiod report about these matters, we
must remember that all the forces and phenomena are conceived of by
them as PERSONS. In this regard the archaic and savage view of all
things as personal and human is preserved. "I maintain," says
Grote, "moreover, fully the character of these great divine agents
as persons, which is the light in which they presented themselves
to the Homeric or Hesiodic audience. Uranus, Nyx, Hypnos and
Oneiros (heaven, night, sleep and dream) are persons just as much
as Zeus or Apollo. To resolve them into mere allegories is unsafe
and unprofitable. We then depart from the point of view of the
original hearers without acquiring any consistent or philosophical
point of view of our own." This holds good though portions of the
Hesiodic genealogies are distinctly poetic allegories cast in the
mould or the ancient personal theory of things.

[3] Iliad, xv. 187.

[4] The custom by which sons drew lots for equal shares of their
dead father's property is described in Odyssey, xiv. 199-212. Here
Odysseus, giving a false account of himself, says that he was a
Cretan, a bastard, and that his half-brothers, born in wedlock,
drew lots for their father's inheritance, and did not admit him to
the drawing, but gave him a small portion apart.

[5] See Elton, Origins of English History, pp. 185-207.

We now turn from Homer's incidental allusions to the ample and
systematic narrative of Hesiod. As Mr. Grote says, "Men habitually
took their information respecting their theogonic antiquities from
the Hesiodic poems." Hesiod was accepted as an authority both by
the pious Pausanias in the second century of our era--who protested
against any attempt to alter stories about the gods--and by moral
reformers like Plato and Xenophanes, who were revolted by the
ancient legends,[1] and, indeed, denied their truth. Yet, though
Hesiod represents Greek orthodoxy, we have observed that Homer
(whose epics are probably still more ancient) steadily ignores the
more barbarous portions of Hesiod's narrative. Thus the question
arises: Are the stories of Hesiod's invention, and later than
Homer, or does Homer's genius half-unconsciously purify materials
like those which Hesiod presents in the crudest form? Mr. Grote
says: "How far these stories are the invention of Hesiod himself it
is impossible to determine. They bring us down to a cast of fancy
more coarse and indelicate than the Homeric, and more nearly
resemble some of the holy chapters ([Greek text omitted]) of the
more recent mysteries, such, for example, as the tale of Dionysus
Zagreus. There is evidence in the Theogony itself that the author
was acquainted with local legends current both at Krete and at
Delphi, for he mentions both the mountain-cave in Krete wherein the
newly-born Zeus was hidden, and the stone near the Delphian temple--
the identical stone which Kronos had swallowed--placed by Zeus
himself as a sign and marvel to mortal men. Both these monuments,
which the poet expressly refers to, and had probably seen, imply a
whole train of accessory and explanatory local legends, current
probably among the priests of Krete and Delphi."

[1] Timaeeus, 41; Republic, 377.

All these circumstances appear to be good evidence of the great
antiquity of the legends recorded by Hesiod. In the first place,
arguing merely a priori, it is extremely improbable that in the
brief interval between the date of the comparatively pure and noble
mythology of the Iliad and the much ruder Theogony of Hesiod men
INVENTED stories like the mutilation of Uranus, and the swallowing
of his offspring by Cronus. The former legend is almost exactly
parallel, as has already been shown, to the myth of Papa and Rangi
in New Zealand. The later has its parallels among the savage
Bushmen and Australians. It is highly improbable that men in an
age so civilised as that of Homer invented myths as hideous as
those of the lowest savages. But if we take these myths to be, not
new inventions, but the sacred stories of local priesthoods, their
antiquity is probably incalculable. The sacred stories, as we know
from Pausanias, Herodotus and from all the writers who touch on the
subject of the mysteries, were myths communicated by the priests to
the initiated. Plato speaks of such myths in the Republic, 378:
"If there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a very few
might hear them in a mystery, and then let them sacrifice, not a
common pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; this would have
the effect of very greatly diminishing the number of the hearers".
This is an amusing example of a plan for veiling the horrors of
myth. The pig was the animal usually offered to Demeter, the
goddess of the Eleusinian mysteries. Plato proposes to substitute
some "unprocurable" beast, perhaps a giraffe or an elephant.

To Hesiod, then, we must turn for what is the earliest complete
literary form of the Greek cosmogonic myth. Hesiod begins, like
the New Zealanders, with "the august race of gods, by earth and
wide heaven begotten".[1] So the New Zealanders, as we have seen,
say, "The heaven which is above us, and the earth which is beneath
us, are the progenitors of men and the origin of all things".
Hesiod[2] somewhat differs from this view by making Chaos
absolutely first of all things, followed by "wide-bosomed Earth,"
Tartarus and Eros (love). Chaos unaided produced Erebus and Night;
the children of Night and Erebus are Aether and Day. Earth
produced Heaven, who then became her own lover, and to Heaven she
bore Oceanus, and the Titans, Coeeus and Crius, Hyperion and
Iapetus, Thea and Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys, "and
youngest after these was born Cronus of crooked counsel, the most
dreadful of her children, who ever detested his puissant sire,"
Heaven. There were other sons of Earth and Heaven peculiarly
hateful to their father,[3] and these Uranus used to hide from the
light in a hollow of Gaea. Both they and Gaea resented this
treatment, and the Titans, like "the children of Heaven and Earth,"
in the New Zealand poem, "sought to discern the difference between
light and darkness". Gaea (unlike Earth in the New Zealand myth,
for there she is purely passive), conspired with her children,
produced iron, and asked her sons to avenge their wrongs.[4] Fear
fell upon all of them save Cronus, who (like Tane Mahuta in the
Maori poem) determined to end the embraces of Earth and Heaven.
But while the New Zealand, like the Indo-Aryan myth,[5] conceives
of Earth and Heaven as two beings who have never previously been
sundered at all, Hesiod makes Heaven amorously approach his spouse
from a distance. This was the moment for Cronus,[6] who stretched
out his hand armed with the sickle of iron, and mutilated Uranus.
As in so many savage myths, the blood of the wounded god fallen on
the ground produced strange creatures, nymphs of the ash-tree,
giants and furies. As in the Maori myth, one of the children of
Heaven stood apart and did not consent to the deed. This was
Oceanus in Greece,[7] and in New Zealand it was Tawhiri Matea, the
wind, "who arose and followed his father, Heaven, and remained with
him in the open spaces of the sky". Uranus now predicted[8] that
there would come a day of vengeance for the evil deed of Cronus,
and so ends the dynasty of Uranus.

[1] Theog., 45.

[2] Ibid., 116.

[3] Ibid., 155.

[4] Ibid., 166.

[5] Muir, v. 23, quoting Aitareya Brahmana, iv. 27: "These two
worlds were once joined; subsequently they separated".

[6] Theog., 175-185.

[7] Apollod., i, 15.

[8] Theog., 209.

This story was one of the great stumbling-blocks of orthodox
Greece. It was the tale that Plato said should be told, if at all,
only to a few in a mystery, after the sacrifice of some rare and
scarcely obtainable animal. Even among the Maoris, the conduct of
the children who severed their father and mother is regarded as a
singular instance of iniquity, and is told to children as a moral
warning, an example to be condemned. In Greece, on the other hand,
unless we are to take the Euthyphro as wholly ironical, some of the
pious justified their conduct by the example of Zeus. Euthyphro
quotes this example when he is about to prosecute his own father,
for which act, he says, "Men are angry with ME; so inconsistently
do they talk when I am concerned and when the gods are concerned".[1]
But in Greek THE TALE HAS NO MEANING. It has been allegorised in
various ways, and Lafitau fancied that it was a distorted form of
the Biblical account of the origin of sin. In Maori the legend is
perfectly intelligible. Heaven and earth were conceived of (like
everything else), as beings with human parts and passions, linked in
an endless embrace which crushed and darkened their children. It
became necessary to separate them, and this feat was achieved not
without pain. "Then wailed the Heaven, and exclaimed the Earth,
'Wherefore this murder? Why this great sin? Why separate us?' But
what cared Tane? Upwards he sent one and downwards the other. He
cruelly severed the sinews which united Heaven and Earth."[2] The
Greek myth too, contemplated earth and heaven as beings corporeally
united, and heaven as a malignant power that concealed his children
in darkness.

[1] Euthyphro, 6.

[2] Taylor, New Zealand, 119.

But while the conception of heaven and earth as parents of living
things remains perfectly intelligible in one sense, the vivid
personification which regarded them as creatures with human parts
and passions had ceased to be intelligible in Greece before the
times of the earliest philosophers. The old physical conception of
the pair became a metaphor, and the account of their rending
asunder by their children lost all significance, and seemed to be
an abominable and unintelligible myth. When examined in the light
of the New Zealand story, and of the fact that early peoples do
regard all phenomena as human beings, with physical attributes like
those of men, the legend of Cronus, and Uranus, and Gaea ceases to
be a mystery. It is, at bottom, a savage explanation (as in the
Samoan story) of the separation of earth and heaven, an explanation
which could only have occurred to people in a state of mind which
civilisation has forgotten.

The next generation of Hesiodic gods (if gods we are to call the
members of this race of non-natural men) was not more fortunate
than the first in its family relations.

Cronus wedded his sister, Rhea, and begat Demeter, Hera, Hades,
Poseidon, and the youngest, Zeus. "And mighty Cronus swallowed
down each of them, each that came to their mother's knees from her
holy womb, with this intent that none other of the proud sons of
heaven should hold his kingly sway among the immortals. Heaven and
Earth had warned him that he too should fall through his children.
Wherefore he kept no vain watch, but spied and swallowed down each
of his offspring, while grief immitigable took possession of
Rhea."[1] Rhea, being about to become the mother of Zeus, took
counsel with Uranus and Gaea. By their advice she went to Crete,
where Zeus was born, and, in place of the child, she presented to
Cronus a huge stone swathed in swaddling bands. This he swallowed,
and was easy in his mind. Zeus grew up, and by some means,
suggested by Gaea, compelled Zeus to disgorge all his offspring.
"And he vomited out the stone first, as he had swallowed it
last."[2] The swallowed children emerged alive, and Zeus fixed the
stone at Pytho (Delphi), where Pausanias[3] had the privilege of
seeing it, and where, as it did not tempt the cupidity of barbarous
invaders, it probably still exists. It was not a large stone,
Pausanias says, and the Delphians used to pour oil over it, as
Jacob did[4] to the stone at Bethel, and on feast-days they covered
it with wraps of wool. The custom of smearing fetish-stones (which
Theophrastus mentions as one of the practices of the superstitious
man) is clearly a survival from the savage stage of religion. As a
rule, however, among savages, fetish-stones are daubed with red
paint (like the face of the wooden ancient Dionysi in Greece, and
of Tsui Goab among the Hottentots), not smeared with oil.[5]

[1] Theog., 460, 465.

[2] Theog., 498.

[3] x. 245.

[4] Gen. xxviii. 18.

[5] Pausanias, ii. 2, 5. "Churinga" in Australia are greased with
the natural moisture of the palm of the hand, and rubbed with red
ochre.--Spencer and Gillen. They are "sacred things," but not
exactly fetishes.

The myth of the swallowing and disgorging of his own children by
Cronus was another of the stumbling-blocks of Greek orthodoxy. The
common explanation, that Time ([Greek text omitted]) does swallow
his children, the days, is not quite satisfactory. Time brings
never the past back again, as Cronus did. Besides, the myth of the
swallowing is not confined to Cronus. Modern philology has given,
as usual, different analyses of the meaning of the name of the god.
Hermann, with Preller, derives it from [Greek text omitted], to
fulfil. The harvest-month, says Preller, was named Cronion in
Greece, and Cronia was the title of the harvest-festival. The
sickle of Cronus is thus brought into connection with the sickle of
the harvester.[1]

[1] Preller, Gr. Myth., i. 44; Hartung, ii. 48; Porphyry, Abst.,
ii. 54. Welcker will not hear of this etymology, Gr. gott., i. 145,
note 9.

The second myth, in which Cronus swallows his children, has
numerous parallels in savage legend. Bushmen tell of Kwai Hemm,
the devourer, who swallows that great god, the mantis insect, and
disgorges him alive with all the other persons and animals whom he
has engulphed in the course of a long and voracious career.[1] The
moon in Australia, while he lived on earth, was very greedy, and
swallowed the eagle-god, whom he had to disgorge. Mr. Im Thurn
found similar tales among the Indians of Guiana. The swallowing
and disgorging of Heracles by the monster that was to slay Hesione
is well known. Scotch peasants tell of the same feats, but
localise the myth on the banks of the Ken in Galloway. Basutos,
Eskimos, Zulus and European fairy tales all possess this incident,
the swallowing of many persons by a being from whose maw they
return alive and in good case.

[1] Bleek, Bushman Folk-lore, pp. 6, 8.

A mythical conception which prevails from Greenland to South
Africa, from Delphi to the Solomon Islands, from Brittany to the
shores of Lake Superior, must have some foundation in the common
elements of human nature.[1] Now it seems highly probable that
this curious idea may have been originally invented in an attempt
to explain natural phenomena by a nature-myth. It has already been
shown (chapter v.) that eclipses are interpreted, even by the
peasantry of advanced races, as the swallowing of the moon by a
beast or a monster. The Piutes account for the disappearance of
the stars in the daytime by the hypothesis that the "sun swallows
his children". In the Melanesian myth, dawn is cut out of the body
of night by Qat, armed with a knife of red obsidian. Here are
examples[2] of transparent nature-myths in which this idea occurs
for obvious explanatory purposes, and in accordance with the laws
of the savage imagination. Thus the conception of the swallowing
and disgorging being may very well have arisen out of a nature-
myth. But why is the notion attached to the legend of Cronus?

[1] The myth of Cronus and the swallowed children and the stone is
transferred to Gargantua. See Sebillot, Gargantua dans les
Traditions Populaires. But it is impossible to be certain that
this is not an example of direct borrowing by Madame De Cerny in
her Saint Suliac, p. 69.

[2] Compare Tylor, Prim. Cult., i. 338.

That is precisely the question about which mythologists differ, as
has been shown, and perhaps it is better to offer no explanation.
However stories arise--and this story probably arose from a
nature-myth--it is certain that they wander about the world, that
they change masters, and thus a legend which is told of a princess
with an impossible name in Zululand is told of the mother of
Charlemagne in France. The tale of the swallowing may have been
attributed to Cronus, as a great truculent deity, though it has no
particular elemental signification in connection with his legend.

This peculiarly savage trick of swallowing each other became an
inherited habit in the family of Cronus. When Zeus reached years
of discretion, he married Metis, and this lady, according to the
scholiast on Hesiod, had the power of transforming herself into any
shape she pleased. When she was about to be a mother, Zeus induced
her to assume the shape of a fly and instantly swallowed her.[1]
In behaving thus, Zeus acted on the advice of Uranus and Gaea. It
was feared that Metis would produce a child more powerful than his
father. Zeus avoided this peril by swallowing his wife, and
himself gave birth to Athene. The notion of swallowing a hostile
person, who has been changed by magic into a conveniently small
bulk, is very common. It occurs in the story of Taliesin.[2]
Caridwen, in the shape of a hen, swallows Gwion Bach, in the form
of a grain of wheat. In the same manner the princess in the
Arabian Nights swallowed the Geni. Here then we have in the
Hesiodic myth an old marchen pressed into the service of the higher
mythology. The apprehension which Zeus (like Herod and King
Arthur) always felt lest an unborn child should overthrow him, was
also familiar to Indra; but, instead of swallowing the mother and
concealing her in his own body, like Zeus, Indra entered the
mother's body, and himself was born instead of the dreaded
child.[3] A cow on this occasion was born along with Indra. This
adventure of the [Greek text omitted] or swallowing of Metis was
explained by the late Platonists as a Platonic allegory. Probably
the people who originated the tale were not Platonists, any more
than Pandarus was all Aristotelian.

[1] Hesiod, Theogonia, 886. See Scholiast and note in Aglaophamus,
i. 613. Compare Puss in Boots and the Ogre.

[2] Mabinogion, p. 473.

[3] Black Yajur Veda, quoted by Sayana.

After Homer and Hesiod, the oldest literary authorities for Greek
cosmogonic myths are the poems attributed to Orpheus. About their
probable date, as has been said, little is known. They have
reached us only in fragments, but seem to contain the first guesses
of a philosophy not yet disengaged from mythical conditions. The
poet preserves, indeed, some extremely rude touches of early
imagination, while at the same time one of the noblest and boldest
expressions of pantheistic thought is attributed to him. From the
same source are drawn ideas as pure as those of the philosophical
Vedic hymn,[1] and as wild as those of the Vedic Purusha Sukta, or
legend of the fashioning of the world out of the mangled limbs of
Purusha. The authors of the Orphic cosmogony appear to have begun
with some remarks on Time ([Greek text omitted]). "Time was when
as yet this world was not."[2] Time, regarded in the mythical
fashion as a person, generated Chaos and Aether. The Orphic poet
styles Chaos [Greek text omitted], "the monstrous gulph," or "gap".
This term curiously reminds one of Ginnunga-gap in the Scandinavian
cosmogonic legends. "Ginnunga-gap was light as windless air," and
therein the blast of heat met the cold rime, whence Ymir was
generated, the Purusha of Northern fable.[3] These ideas
correspond well with the Orphic conception of primitive space.[4]

[1] Rig-Veda, x. 90.

[2] Lobeck, Aglaophamus, i. 470. See also the quotations from

[3] Gylfi's Mocking.

[4] Aglaophamus, p. 473.

In process of time Chaos produced an egg, shining and silver white.
It is absurd to inquire, according to Lobeck, whether the poet
borrowed this widely spread notion of a cosmic egg from Phoenicia,
Babylon, Egypt (where the goose-god Seb laid the egg), or whether
the Orphic singer originated so obvious an idea. Quaerere ludicrum
est. The conception may have been borrowed, but manifestly it is
one of the earliest hypotheses that occur to the rude imagination.
We have now three primitive generations, time, chaos, the egg, and
in the fourth generation the egg gave birth to Phanes, the great
hero of the Orphic cosmogony.[1] The earliest and rudest thinkers
were puzzled, as many savage cosmogonic myths have demonstrated, to
account for the origin of life. The myths frequently hit on the
theory of a hermaphroditic being, both male and female, who
produces another being out of himself. Prajapati in the Indian
stories, and Hrimthursar in Scandinavian legend--"one of his feet
got a son on the other"--with Lox in the Algonquin tale are
examples of these double-sexed personages. In the Orphic poem,
Phanes is both male and female. This Phanes held within him "the
seed of all the gods,"[2] and his name is confused with the names
of Metis and Ericapaeus in a kind of trinity. All this part of the
Orphic doctrine is greatly obscured by the allegorical and
theosophistic interpretations of the late Platonists long after our
era, who, as usual, insisted on finding their own trinitarian
ideas, commenta frigidissima, concealed under the mythical

[1] Clemens Alexan., p. 672.

[2] Damascius, ap. Lobeck, i. 481.

[3] Aglaoph., i. 483.

Another description by Hieronymus of the first being, the Orphic
Phanes, "as a serpent with bull's and lion's heads, with a human
face in the middle and wings on the shoulders," is sufficiently
rude and senseless. But these physical attributes could easily be
explained away as types of anything the Platonist pleased.[1] The
Orphic Phanes, too, was almost as many-headed as a giant in a fairy
tale, or as Purusha in the Rig-Veda. He had a ram's head, a bull's
head, a snake's head and a lion's head, and glanced around with
four eyes, presumably human.[2] This remarkable being was also
provided with golden wings. The nature of the physical arrangements
by which Phanes became capable of originating life in the world is
described in a style so savage and crude that the reader must be
referred to Suidas for the original text.[3] The tale is worthy of
the Swift-like fancy of the Australian Narrinyeri.

[1] Damascius, 381, ap. Lobeck, i. 484.

[2] Hermias in Phaedr. ap. Lobeck, i. 493.

[3] Suidas s. v. Phanes.

Nothing can be easier or more delusive than to explain all this
wild part of the Orphic cosmogony as an allegorical veil of any
modern ideas we choose to select. But why the "allegory" should
closely imitate the rough guesses of uncivilised peoples, Ahts,
Diggers, Zunis, Cahrocs, it is less easy to explain. We can
readily imagine African or American tribes who were accustomed to
revere bulls, rams, snakes, and so forth, ascribing the heads of
all their various animal patrons to the deity of their confederation.
We can easily see how such races as practise the savage rites of
puberty should attribute to the first being the special organs of
Phanes. But on the Neo-Platonic hypothesis that Orpheus was a seer
of Neo-Platonic opinions, we do not see why he should have veiled
his ideas under so savage an allegory. This part of the Orphic
speculation is left in judicious silence by some modern commentators,
such as M. Darmesteter in Les Cosmogonies Aryennes.[1] Indeed, if we
choose to regard Apollonius Rhodius, an Alexandrine poet writing in
a highly civilised age, as the representative of Orphicism, it is
easy to mask and pass by the more stern and characteristic
fortresses of the Orphic divine. The theriomorphic Phanes is a much
less "Aryan" and agreeable object than the glorious golden-winged
Eros, the love-god of Apollonius Rhodius and Aristophanes.[2]

[1] Essais Orientaux, p. 166.

[2] Argonautica, 1-12; Aves, 693.

On the whole, the Orphic fragments appear to contain survivals of
savage myths of the origin of things blended with purer
speculations. The savage ideas are finally explained by late
philosophers as allegorical veils and vestments of philosophy; but
the interpretation is arbitrary, and varies with the taste and
fancy of each interpreter. Meanwhile the coincidence of the wilder
elements with the speculations native to races in the lowest grades
of civilisation is undeniable. This opinion is confirmed by the
Greek myths of the origin of Man. These, too, coincide with the
various absurd conjectures of savages.

In studying the various Greek local legends of the origin of Man,
we encounter the difficulty of separating them from the myths of
heroes, which it will be more convenient to treat separately. This
difficulty we have already met in our treatment of savage
traditions of the beginnings of the race. Thus we saw that among
the Melanesians, Qat, and among the Ahts, Quawteaht, were heroic
persons, who made men and most other things. But it was desirable
to keep their performances of this sort separate from their other
feats, their introduction of fire, for example, and of various
arts. In the same way it will be well, in reviewing Greek legends,
to keep Prometheus' share in the making of men apart from the other
stories of his exploits as a benefactor of the men whom he made.
In Hesiod, Prometheus is the son of the Titan Iapetus, and perhaps
his chief exploit is to play upon Zeus a trick of which we find the
parallel in various savage myths. It seems, however, from Ovid[1]
and other texts, that Hesiod somewhere spoke of Prometheus as
having made men out of clay, like Pund-jel in the Australian, Qat
in the Melanesian and Tiki in the Maori myths. The same story is
preserved in Servius's commentary on Virgil.[2] A different legend
is preserved in the Etymologicum Magnum (voc. Ikonion). According
to this story, after the deluge of Deucalion, "Zeus bade Prometheus
and Athene make images of men out of clay, and the winds blew into
them the breath of life". In confirmation of this legend,
Pausanias was shown in Phocis certain stones of the colour of clay,
and "smelling very like human flesh"; and these, according to the
Phocians, were "the remains of the clay from which the whole human
race was fashioned by Prometheus".[3]

[1] Ovid. Metam. i. 82.

[2] Eclogue, vi. 42.

[3] Pausanias, x. 4, 3.

Aristophanes, too, in the Birds (686) talks of men as [Greek text
omitted], figures kneaded of clay. Thus there are sufficient
traces in Greek tradition of the savage myth that man was made of
clay by some superior being, like Pund-jel in the quaint Australian

We saw that among various rude races other theories of the origin
of man were current. Men were thought to have come out of a hole
in the ground or a bed of reeds, and sometimes the very scene of
their first appearance was still known and pointed out to the
curious. This myth was current among races who regarded themselves
as the only people whose origin needed explanation. Other stories
represented man as the fruit of a tree, or the child of a rock or
stone, or as the descendant of one of the lower animals. Examples
of these opinions in Greek legend are now to be given. In the
first place, we have a fragment of Pindar, in which the poet
enumerates several of the centres from which different Greek tribes
believed men to have sprung. "Hard it is to find out whether
Alalkomeneus, first of men, arose on the marsh of Cephissus, or
whether the Curetes of Ida first, a stock divine, arose, or if it
was the Phrygian Corybantes that the sun earliest saw--men like
trees walking;" and Pindar mentions Egyptian and Libyan legends of
the same description.[1] The Thebans and the Arcadians held
themselves to be "earth-born". "The black earth bore Pelasgus on
the high wooded hills," says an ancient line of Asius. The
Dryopians were an example of a race of men born from ash-trees.
The myth of gens virum truncis et duro robore nata, "born of tree-
trunk and the heart of oak," had passed into a proverb even in
Homer's time.[2] Lucian mentions[3] the Athenian myth "that men
grew like cabbages out of the earth". As to Greek myths of the
descent of families from animals, these will be examined in the
discussion of the legend of Zeus.

[1] Preller, Aus. Auf., p. 158.

[2] Virgil Aen., viii. 315; Odyssey, xix. 163; Iliad, ii. xxii.
120; Juvenal, vi. 11. Cf. also Bouche Leclerq, De Origine Generis

[3] Philops. iii.



The origin of a belief in GOD beyond the ken of history and of
speculation--Sketch of conjectural theories--Two elements in all
beliefs, whether of backward or civilised races--The Mythical and
the Religious--These may be coeval, or either may be older than the
other--Difficulty of study--The current anthropological theory--
Stated objections to the theory--Gods and spirits--Suggestion that
savage religion is borrowed from Europeans--Reply to Mr. Tylor's
arguments on this head--The morality of savages.

"The question of the origin of a belief in Deity does not come
within the scope of a strictly historical inquiry. No man can
watch the idea of GOD in the making or in the beginning. We are
acquainted with no race whose beginning does not lie far back in
the unpenetrated past. Even on the hypothesis that the natives of
Australia, for example, were discovered in a state of culture more
backward than that of other known races, yet the institutions and
ideas of the Australians must have required for their development
an incalculable series of centuries. The notions of man about the
Deity, man's religious sentiments and his mythical narratives, must
be taken as we find them. There have been, and are, many theories
as to the origin of the conception of a supernatural being or
beings, concerned with the fortunes of mankind, and once active in
the making of the earth and its inhabitants. There is the
hypothesis of an original divine tradition, darkened by the smoke
of foolish mortal fancies. There is the hypothesis of an innate
and intuitive sensus numinis. There is the opinion that the notion
of Deity was introduced to man by the very nature of his knowledge
and perceptions, which compel him in all things to recognise a
finite and an infinite. There is the hypothesis that gods were
originally ghosts, the magnified shapes of ancestral spectres.
There is the doctrine that man, seeking in his early speculations
for the causes of things, and conscious of his own powers as an
active cause, projected his own shadow on the mists of the unknown,
and peopled the void with figures of magnified non-natural men, his
own parents and protectors, and the makers of many of the things in
the world.

"Since the actual truth cannot be determined by observation and
experiment, the question as to the first germs of the divine
conception must here be left unanswered. But it is possible to
disengage and examine apart the two chief elements in the earliest
as in the latest ideas of Godhead. Among the lowest and most
backward, as among the most advanced races, there coexist the
MYTHICAL and the RELIGIOUS elements in belief. The rational factor
(or what approves itself to us as the rational factor) is visible
in religion; the irrational is prominent in myth. The Australian,
the Bushman, the Solomon Islander, in hours of danger and necessity
'yearns after the gods,' and has present in his heart the idea of a
father and friend. This is the religious element. The same man,
when he comes to indulge his fancy for fiction, will degrade this
spiritual friend and father to the level of the beasts, and will
make him the hero of comic or repulsive adventures. This is the
mythical or irrational element. Religion, in its moral aspect,
always traces back to the belief in a power that is benign and
works for righteousness. Myth, even in Homer or the Rig-Veda,
perpetually falls back on the old stock of absurd and immoral
divine adventures.[1]

[1] M. Knappert here, in a note to the Dutch translation, denies
the lowest mythical element to the Hebrews, as their documents have
reached us.

"It would be rash, in the present state of knowledge, to pronounce
that the germ of the serious Homeric sense of the justice and power
of the Divinity is earlier or later than the germ of the Homeric
stories of gods disguised as animals, or imprisoned by mortals, or
kicked out of Olympus. The rational and irrational aspects of
mythology and religion may be of coeval antiquity for all that is
certainly known, or either of them, in the dark backward of mortal
experience, may have preceded the other. There is probably no
religion nor mythology which does not offer both aspects to the
student. But it is the part of advancing civilisation to adorn and
purify the rational element, and to subordinate and supersede the
irrational element, as far as religious conservatism, ritual and
priestly dogma will permit."

Such were the general remarks with which this chapter opened in the
original edition of the present work. But reading, reflection and
certain additions to the author's knowledge of facts, have made it
seem advisable to state, more fully and forcibly than before, that,
in his opinion, not only the puzzling element of myth, but the
purer element of a religious belief sanctioning morality is derived
by civilised people from a remote past of savagery. It is also
necessary to draw attention to a singular religious phenomena, a
break, or "fault," as geologists call it, in the religious strata.
While the most backward savages, in certain cases, present the
conception of a Being who sanctions ethics, and while that
conception recurs at a given stage of civilisation, it appears to
fade, or even to disappear in some conditions of barbarism. Among
some barbaric peoples, such as the Zulus, and the Red Indians of
French Canada when first observed, as among some Polynesians and
some tribes of Western and Central Africa little trace of a supreme
being is found, except a name, and that name is even occasionally a
matter of ridicule. The highest religious conception has been
reached, and is generally known, yet the Being conceived of as
creative is utterly neglected, while ghosts, or minor gods, are
served and adored. To this religious phenomenon (if correctly
observed) we must attempt to assign a cause. For this purpose it
is necessary to state again what may be called the current or
popular anthropological theory of the evolution of Gods.

That theory takes varying shapes. In the philosophy of Mr. Herbert
Spencer we find a pure Euhemerism. Gods are but ghosts of dead
men, raised to a higher and finally to the highest power. In the
somewhat analogous but not identical system of Mr. Tylor, man first
attains to the idea of spirit by reflection on various physical,
psychological and psychical experiences, such as sleep, dreams,
trances, shadows, hallucinations, breath and death, and he
gradually extends the conception of soul or ghost till all nature
is peopled with spirits. Of these spirits one is finally promoted
to supremacy, where the conception of a supreme being occurs. In
the lowest faiths there is said, on this theory, to be no
connection, or very little connection, between religion and
morality. To supply a religious sanction of morals is the work of
advancing thought.[1]

[1] Prim. Cult., ii. 381. Huxley's Science and Hebrew Tradition,
pp. 346,372.

This current hypothesis is, confessedly, "animistic," in Mr.
Tylor's phrase, or, in Mr. Spencer's terminology, it is "the ghost
theory". The human soul, says Mr. Tylor, has been the model on
which all man's ideas of spiritual beings, from "the tiniest elf"
to "the heavenly Creator and ruler of the world, the Great Spirit,"
have been framed.[1] Thus it has been necessary for Mr. Tylor and
for Mr. Spencer to discover first an origin of man's idea of his
own soul, and that supposed origin in psychological, physical and
psychical experiences is no doubt adequate. By reflection on these
facts, probably, the idea of spirit was reached, though the
psychical experiences enumerated by Mr. Tylor may contain points as
yet unexplained by Materialism. From these sources are derived all
really "animistic" gods, all that from the first partake of the
nature of hungry ghosts, placated by sacrifices of food, though in
certain cases that hunger may have been transferred, we surmise, by
worshippers to gods not ORIGINALLY animistic.

[1] Prim. Cult., ii. 109

In answer to this theory of an animistic or ghostly origin of all
gods, it must first be observed that all gods are not necessarily,
it would seem, of animistic origin. Among certain of the lowest
savages, although they believe in ghosts, the animistic conception,
the spiritual idea, is not attached to the relatively supreme being
of their faith. He is merely a powerful BEING, unborn, and not
subject to death. The purely metaphysical question "was he a
ghost?" does not seem always to have been asked. Consequently
there is no logical reason why man's idea of a Maker should not be
prior to man's idea that there are such things as souls, ghosts and
spirits. Therefore the animistic theory is not necessary as
material for the "god-idea". We cannot, of course, prove that the
"god-idea" was historically prior to the "ghost-idea," for we know
no savages who have a god and yet are ignorant of ghosts. But we
can show that the idea of God may exist, in germ, without
explicitly involving the idea of spirit. Thus gods MAY be prior in
evolution to ghosts, and therefore the animistic theory of the
origin of gods in ghosts need not necessarily be accepted.

In the first place, the original evolution of a god out of a ghost
need not be conceded, because in perhaps all known savage
theological philosophy the God, the Maker and Master, is regarded
as a being who existed before death entered the world. Everywhere,
practically speaking, death is looked on as a comparatively late
intruder. He came not only after God was active, but after men and
beasts had populated the world. Scores of myths accounting for
this invasion of death have been collected all over the world.[1]
Thus the relatively supreme being, or beings, of religion are
looked on as prior to Death, therefore, not as ghosts. They are
sometimes expressly distinguished as "original gods" from other
gods who are secondary, being souls of chiefs. Thus all Tongan
gods are Atua, but all Atua are not "original gods".[2] The word
Atua, according to Mr. White, is "A-tu-a". "A" was the name given
to the author of the universe, and signifies: "Am the unlimited in
power," "The Conception," "the Leader," "the Beyond All". "Tua"
means "Beyond that which is most distant," "Behind all matter," and
"Behind every action". Clearly these conceptions are not more
mythical (indeed A does not seem to occur in the myths), nor are
they more involved in ghosts, than the unknown absolute of Mr.
Herbert Spencer. Yet the word Atua denotes gods who are recognised
as ghosts of chiefs, no less than it denotes the supreme
existence.[3] These ideas are the metaphysical theology of a race
considerably above the lowest level. They lend no assistance to a
theory that A was, or was evolved out of, a human ghost, and he is
not found in Maori MYTHOLOGY as far as our knowledge goes. But,
among the lowest known savages, the Australians, we read that "the
Creator was a gigantic black, once on earth, now among the stars".
This is in Gippsland; the deities of the Fuegians and the Blackfoot
Indians are also Beings, anthropomorphic, unborn and undying, like
Mangarrah, the creative being of the Larrakeah tribe in Australia.
"A very good man called Mangarrah lives in the sky. . . . He made
everything" (blacks excepted). He never dies.[4] The Melanesian
Vui "never were men," were "something different," and "were NOT
ghosts". It is as a Being, not as a Spirit, that the Kurnai deity
Munganngaur (Our Father) is described.[5] In short, though
Europeans often speak of these divine beings of low savages as
"spirits," it does not appear that the natives themselves advance
here the metaphysical idea of spirit. These gods are just BEINGS,
anthropomorphic, or (in myth and fable), very often bestial,
"theriomorphic".[6] It is manifest that a divine being envisaged
thus need not have been evolved out of the theory of spirits or
ghosts, and may even have been prior to the rise of the belief in

[1] See Modern Mythology, "Myths of Origin of Death".

[2] Mariner, ii. 127.

[3] White, Ancient History of the Maoris, vol. i. p. 4; other views
in Gill's Myths of the Pacific. I am not committed to Mr. White's

[4] Journal Anthrop. Inst., Nov., 1894, p. 191.

[5] Ibid., 1886, p. 313.

[6] See Making of Religion, pp. 201-210, for a more copious

Again, these powerful, or omnipotent divine beings are looked on as
guardians of morality, punishers of sin, rewarders of
righteousness, both in this world and in a future life, in places
where ghosts, though believed in, ARE NOT WORSHIPPED, NOR IN
RECEIPT OF SACRIFICE, and where, great grandfathers being
forgotten, ancestral ghosts can scarcely swell into gods. This
occurs among Andamanese, Fuegians and Australians, therefore, among
non-ghost-worshipping races, ghosts cannot have developed into
deities who are not even necessarily spirits. These gods, again,
do not receive sacrifice, and thus lack the note of descent from
hungry food-craving ghosts. In Australia, indeed, while ghosts are
not known to receive any offerings, "the recent custom of providing
food for it"--the dead body of a friend--"is derided by the
intelligent old aborigines as 'white fellow's gammon'".[1]

[1] Dawson, Australian Aborigines, p. 51, 1881.

The Australians possess no chiefs like "Vich Ian Vohr or
Chingachgook" whose ghosts might be said to swell into supreme
moral deities. "Headmen" they have, leaders of various degrees of
authority, but no Vich Ian Vohr, no semi-sacred representative of
the tribe.[1] Nor are the ghosts of the Headmen known to receive
any particular posthumous attention or worship. Thus it really
seems impossible to show proof that Australian gods grew out of
Australian ghosts, a subject to which we shall return.

[1] Howitt, Organisation of Australian Tribes, pp. 101-113.
"Transactions of Royal Society of Victoria," 1889.

Some supporters of the current theory therefore fall back on the
hypothesis that the Australians are sadly degenerate.[1] Chiefs,
it is argued, or kings, they once had, and the gods are surviving
ghosts of these wholly forgotten potentates. To this we reply that
we know not the very faintest trace of Australian degeneration.
Sir John Lubbock and Mr. Tylor have correctly argued that the soil
of Australia has not yet yielded so much as a fragment of native
pottery, nor any trace of native metal work, not a vestige of stone
buildings occurs, nor of any work beyond the present native level
of culture, unless we reckon weirs for fish-catching. "The
Australian boomerang," writes Mr. Tylor, "has been claimed as
derived from some hypothetical high culture, whereas the
transition-stages through which it is connected with the club are
to be observed in its own country, while no civilised race
possesses the weapon."[2]

[1] See Prof. Menzie's History of Religion, pp. 16, 17, where a
singular inconsistency has escaped the author.

[2] Prim. Cult., i. 57, 67.

Therefore the Australian, with his boomerang, represents no
degeneration but advance on his ancestors, who had not yet
developed the boomerang out of the club. If the excessively
complex nature of Australian rules of prohibited degrees be
appealed to as proof of degeneration from the stage in which they
were evolved, we reply that civilisation everywhere tends not to
complicate but to simplify such rules, as it also notoriously
simplifies the forms of language.

The Australian people, when discovered, were only emerging from
palaeolithic culture, while the neighbouring Tasmanians were
frankly palaeolithic.[1] Far from degenerating, the Australians
show advance when they supersede their beast or other totem by an
eponymous human hero.[2] The eponymous hero, however, changed with
each generation, so that no one name was fixed as that of tribal
father, later perhaps to become a tribal god. We find several
tribes in which the children now follow the FATHER'S class, and
thus paternal kin takes the place of the usual early savage method
of reckoning kinship by the mother's side, elsewhere prevalent in
Australia. In one of these tribes, dwelling between the Glenelg
and Mount Napier, headmanship is hereditary, but nothing is said of
any worship of the ghosts of chiefs. All this social improvement
denotes advance on the usual Australian standard.[3] Of
degeneration (except when produced recently by European vices and
diseases) I know no trace in Australia. Their highest religious
conceptions, therefore, are not to be disposed of as survivals of a
religion of the ghosts of such chiefs as the Australians are not
shown ever to have recognised. The "God idea" in Australia, or
among the Andamanese, must have some other source than the Ghost-
Theory. This is all the more obvious because not only are ghosts
not worshipped by the Australians, but also the divine beings who
are alleged to form links between the ghost and the moral god are
absent. There are no departmental gods, as of war, peace, the
chase, love, and so forth. Sun, sky and earth are equally
unworshipped. There is nothing in religion between a Being, on one
hand (with a son or sons), and vague mischievous spirits, boilyas
or mrarts, and ghosts (who are not worshipped), on the other hand.
The friends of the idea that the God is an ancient evolution from
the ghost of such a chief as is not proved to have existed, must
apparently believe that the intermediate stages in religious
evolution, departmental gods, nature gods and gods of polytheism in
general once existed in Australia, and have all been swept away in
a deluge of degeneration. That deluge left in religion a moral,
potently active Father and Judge. Now that conception is
considerably above the obsolescent belief in an otiose god which is
usually found among barbaric races of the type from which the
Australians are said to have degenerated. There is no proof of
degeneracy, and, if degeneration has occurred, why has it left just
the kind of deity who, in the higher barbaric culture, is not
commonly found? Clearly this attempt to explain the highest aspect
of Australian religion by an undemonstrated degeneration is an
effort of despair.

[1] Tylor, preface to Ling Roth's Aborigines of Tasmania, pp. v.-

[2] Kamilaroi and Kurnai, p. 231.

[3] Kamilaroi and Kurnai, pp. 277, 278.

While the current theory thus appears to break down over the
deities of certain Australian tribes and of other low savages to be
more particularly described later, it is not more successful in
dealing with what we have called the "fault" or break in the
religious strata of higher races. The nature of that "fault" may
thus be described: While the deities of several low savage peoples
are religiously regarded as guardians and judges of conduct both in
this life and in the next, among higher barbarians they are often
little, or not at all, interested in conduct. Again, while among
Australians, and Andamanese, and Fuegians, there is hardly a
verifiable trace, if any trace there be, of sacrifice to any divine
being, among barbarians the gods beneath the very highest are in
receipt even of human sacrifice. Even among barbarians the highest
deity is very rarely worshipped with sacrifice. Through various
degrees he is found to lose all claim on worship, and even to
become a mere name, and finally a jest and a mockery. Meanwhile
ancestral ghosts, and gods framed on the same lines as ghosts,
receive sacrifice of food and of human victims. Once more, the
high gods of low savages are not localised, not confined to any
temple or region. But the gods of higher barbarians (the gods
beneath the highest), are localised in this way, as occasionally
even the highest god also is.

All this shows that, among advancing barbarians, the gods, if they
started from the estate of gods among savages on the lowest level,
become demoralised, limited, conditioned, relegated to an otiose
condition, and finally deposed, till progressive civilisation, as
in Greece, reinstates or invents purer and more philosophic
conceptions, without being able to abolish popular and priestly
myth and ritual.

Here, then, is a flaw or break in the strata of religion. What was
the cause of this flaw? We answer, the evolution, through ghosts,
of "animistic" gods who retained the hunger and selfishness of
these ancestral spirits whom the lowest savages are not known to

The moral divine beings of these lowest races, beings (when
religiously regarded) unconditioned, in need of no gift that man
can give, are not to be won by offerings of food and blood. Of
such offerings ghosts, and gods modelled on ghosts, are notoriously
in need. Strengthened and propitiated by blood and sacrifice (not
offered to the gods of low savages), the animistic deities will
become partisans of their adorers, and will either pay no regard to
the morals of their worshippers, or will be easily bribed to
forgive sins. Here then is, ethically speaking, a flaw in the
strata of religion, a flaw found in the creeds of ghost-worshipping
barbarians, but not of non-ghost-worshipping savages. A crowd of
venal, easy-going, serviceable deities has now been evolved out of
ghosts, and Animism is on its way to supplant or overlay a rude
early form of theism. Granting the facts, we fail to see how they
are explained by the current theory which makes the highest god the
latest in evolution from a ghost. That theory wrecks itself again
on the circumstance that, whereas the tribal or national highest
divine being, as latest in evolution, ought to be the most potent,
he is, in fact, among barbaric races, usually the most disregarded.
A new idea, of course, is not necessarily a powerful or fashionable
idea. It may be regarded as a "fad," or a heresy, or a low form of
dissent. But, when universally known to and accepted by a tribe or
people, then it must be deemed likely to possess great influence.
But that is not the case; and among barbaric tribes the most
advanced conception of deity is the least regarded, the most

An excellent instance of the difference between the theory here
advocated, and that generally held by anthropologists, may be found
in Mr. Abercromby's valuable work, Pre- and Proto-Historic Finns,
i. 150-154. The gods, and other early ideas, says Mr. Abercromby,
"could in no sense be considered as supernatural". We shall give
examples of gods among the races "nearest the beginning," whose
attributes of power and knowledge can not, by us at least, be
considered other than "supernatural". "The gods" (in this
hypothesis) "were so human that they could be forced to act in
accordance with the wishes of their worshippers, and could likewise
be punished." These ideas, to an Australian black, or an
Andamanese, would seem dangerously blasphemous. These older gods
"resided chiefly in trees, wells, rivers and animals". But many
gods of our lowest known savages live "beyond the sky". Mr.
Abercromby supposes the sky god to be of later evolution, and to be
worshipped after man had exhausted "the helpers that seemed nearest
at hand . . . in the trees and waters at his very door". Now the
Australian black has not a door, nor has he gods of any service to
him in the "trees and waters," though sprites may lurk in such
places for mischief. But in Mr. Abercromby's view, some men turned
at last to the sky-god, "who in time would gain a large circle of
worshippers". He would come to be thought omnipotent, omniscient,
the Creator. This notion, says Mr. Abercromby, "must, if this view
is correct, be of late origin". But the view is not correct. The
far-seeing powerful Maker beyond the sky is found among the very
backward races who have not developed helpers nearer man, dwelling
round what would be his door, if door he was civilised enough to
possess. Such near neighbouring gods, of human needs, capable of
being bullied, or propitiated by sacrifice, are found in races
higher than the lowest, who, for their easily procurable aid, have
allowed the Maker to sink into an otiose god, or a mere name. Mr.
Abercromby unconsciously proves our case by quoting the example of
a Samoyede. This man knew a Sky-god, Num; that conception was
familiar to him. He also knew a familiar spirit. On Mr.
Abercromby's theory he should have resorted for help to the Sky-
god, not to the sprite. But he did the reverse: he said, "I cannot
approach Num, he is too far away; if I could reach him I should not
beseech thee (the familiar spirit), but should go myself; but I
cannot". For this precise reason, people who have developed the
belief in accessible affable spirits go to them, with a spell to
constrain, or a gift to bribe, and neglect, in some cases almost
forget, their Maker. But He is worshipped by low savages, who do
not propitiate ghosts and who have no gods in wells and trees,
close at hand. It seems an obvious inference that the greater God
is the earlier evolved.

These are among the difficulties of the current anthropological
theory. There is, however, a solution by which the weakness of the
divine conception, its neglected, disused aspect among barbaric
races, might be explained by anthropologists, without regarding it
as an obsolescent form of a very early idea. This solution is
therefore in common use. It is applied to the deity revealed in
the ancient mysteries of the Australians, and it is employed in
American and African instances.

The custom is to say that the highest divine being of American or
African native peoples has been borrowed from Europeans, and is,
especially, a savage refraction from the God of missionaries. If
this can be proved, the shadowy, practically powerless "Master of
Life" of certain barbaric peoples, will have degenerated from the
Christian conception, because of that conception he will be only a
faint unsuccessful refraction. He has been introduced by
Europeans, it is argued, but is not in harmony with his new
environment, and so is "half-remembered and half forgot".

The hypothesis of borrowing admits of only one answer, but that
answer should be conclusive. If we can discover, say in North
America, a single instance in which the supreme being occurs, while
yet he cannot possibly be accounted for by any traceable or
verifiable foreign influence, then the burden of proof, in other
cases, falls on the opponent. When he urges that other North
American supreme beings were borrowed, we can reply that our
crucial example shows that this need not be the fact. To prove
that it is the fact, in his instances, is then his business. It is
obvious that for information on this subject we must go to the
reports of the earliest travellers who knew the Red Indians well.
We must try to get at gods behind any known missionary efforts.
Mr. Tylor offers us the testimony of Heriot, about 1586, that the
natives of Virginia believed in many gods, also in one chief god,
"who first made other principal gods, and then the sun, moon and
stars as petty gods".[1] Whence could the natives of Virginia have
borrowed this notion of a Creator before 1586? If it is replied,
in the usual way, that they developed him upwards out of sun, moon
and star gods, other principal gods, and finally reached the idea
of the Creator, we answer that the idea of the Maker is found where
these alleged intermediate stages are NOT found, as in Australia.
In Virginia then, as in Victoria, a Creator may have been evolved
in some other way than that of gradual ascent from ghosts, and may
have been, as in Australia and elsewhere, prior to verifiable
ghost-worship. Again, in Virginia at our first settlement, the
native priests strenuously resisted the introduction of Christianity.
They were content with their deity, Ahone, "the great God who
governs all the world, and makes the sun to shine, creating the moon
and stars his companions. . . . The good and peaceable God . . .
needs not to be sacrificed unto, for he intendeth all good unto
them." This good Creator, without sacrifice, among a settled
agricultural barbaric race sacrificing to other gods and ghosts,
manifestly cannot be borrowed from the newly arrived religion of
Christianity, which his priests, according to the observer,
vigorously resisted. Ahone had a subordinate deity, magisterial in
functions, "looking into all men's actions" and punishing the same,
when evil. To THIS god sacrifices WERE made, and if his name,
Okeus, is derived from Oki = "spirit," he was, of course, an
animistic ghost-evolved deity. Anthropological writers, by an
oversight, have dwelt on Oki, but have not mentioned Ahone.[2]
Manifestly it is not possible to insist that these Virginian high
deities were borrowed, without saying whence and when they were
borrowed by a barbaric race which was, at the same time, rejecting
Christian teaching.

[1] Prim. Cult., ii. 341.

[2] History of Travaile into Virginia, by William Strachey, 1612.

Mr. Tylor writes, with his habitual perspicacity: "It is the
widespread belief in the Great Spirit, whatever his precise nature
and origin, that has long and deservedly drawn the attention of
European thinkers to the native religions of the North American
tribes". Now while, in recent times, Christian ideas may
undeniably have crystallised round "the Great Spirit," it has come
to be thought "that THE WHOLE DOCTRINE of the Great Spirit was
borrowed by the savages from missionaries and colonists. But this
view will not bear examination," says Mr. Tylor.[1]

[1] Prim. Cult, ii. pp. 339, 340 (1873). For some reason, Mr.
Tylor modifies this passage in 1891.

Mr. Tylor proceeds to prove this by examples from Greenland, and
the Algonkins. He instances the Massachusett God, Kiehtan, who
created the other gods, and receives the just into heaven. This
was recorded in 1622, but the belief, says Winslow, our authority,
goes back into the unknown past. "They never saw Kiehtan, but THEY
could a deity thus rooted in a traditional past be borrowed from
recent English settlers?

In these cases the hypothesis of borrowing breaks down, and still
more does it break down over the Algonkin deity Atahocan.

Father Le Jeune, S.J., went first among the Algonkins, a missionary
pioneer, in 1633, and suffered unspeakable things in his courageous
endeavour to win souls in a most recalcitrant flock. He writes
(1633): "As this savage has given me occasion to speak of their
god, I will remark that it is a great error to think that the
savages have no knowledge of any deity. I was surprised to hear
this in France. I do not know their secrets, but, from the little
which I am about to tell, it will be seen that they have such

"They say that one exists whom they call Atahocan, who made the
whole. Speaking of God in a wigwam one day, they asked me 'what is
God?' I told them that it was He who made all things, Heaven and
Earth. They then began to cry out to each other, 'Atahocan!
Atahocan! it is Atahocan!'"

There could be no better evidence that Atahocan was NOT (as is
often said) "borrowed from the Jesuits". The Jesuits had only just

Later (1634) Le Jeune interrogated an old man and a partly
Europeanised sorcerer. They replied that nothing was certain; that
Atahocan was only spoken of as "of a thing so remote," that
assurance was impossible. "In fact, their word Nitatohokan means,
'I fable, I tell an old story'."

Thus Atahocan, though at once recognised as identical with the
Creator of the missionary, was so far from being the latest thing
in religious evolution that he had passed into a proverb for the
ancient and the fabulous. This, of course, is inconsistent with
RECENT borrowing. He was neglected for Khichikouai, spirits which
inspire seers, and are of some practical use, receiving rewards in
offerings of grease, says Le Jeune.[1]

[1] Relations, 1633, 1634.

The obsolescent Atahocan seems to have had no moral activity. But,
in America, this indolence of God is not universal. Mr. Parkman
indeed writes: "In the primitive Indian's conception of a God, the
idea of moral good has no part".[1] But this is definitely
contradicted by Heriot, Strachey, Winslow, already cited, and by
Pere Le Jeune. The good attributes of Kiehtan and Ahone were not
borrowed from Christianity, were matter of Indian belief before the
English arrived. Mr. Parkman writes: "The moment the Indians began
to contemplate the object of his faith, and sought to clothe it
with attributes, it became finite, and commonly ridiculous". It
did so, as usual, in MYTHOLOGY, but not in RELIGION. There is
nothing ridiculous in what is known of Ahone and Kiehtan. If they
had a mythology, and if we knew the myths, doubtless they would be
ridiculous enough. The savage mind, turned from belief and awe
into the spinning of yarns, instantly yields to humorous fancy. As
we know, mediaeval popular Christianity, in imagery, marchen or
tales, and art, copiously illustrates the same mental phenomenon.
Saints, God, our Lord, and the Virgin, all play ludicrous and
immoral parts in Christian folk-tales. This is Mythology, and here
is, beyond all cavil, a late corruption of Religion. Here, where
we know the history of a creed, Religion is early, and these myths
are late. Other examples of American divine ideas might be given,
such as the extraordinary hymns in which the Zunis address the
Eternal, Ahonawilona. But as the Zuni religion has only been
studied in recent years, the hymns would be dismissed as
"borrowed," though there is nothing Catholic or Christian about
them. We have preferred to select examples where borrowing from
Christianity is out of the question. The current anthropological
theory is thus confronted with American examples of ideas of the
divine which cannot have been borrowed, while, if the gods are said
to have been evolved out of ghosts, we reply that, in some cases,
they receive no sacrifice, sacrifice being usually a note of
ghostly descent. Again, similar gods, as we show, exist where
ghosts of chiefs are not worshipped, and as far as evidence goes
never were worshipped, because there is no evidence of the
existence at any time of such chiefs. The American highest gods
may then be equally free from the taint of ghostly descent.

[1] Parkman, The Jesuits in North America. p. lxxviii.

There is another more or less moral North American deity whose
evolution is rather questionable. Pere Brebeuf (1636), speaking of
the Hurons, says that "they have recourse to Heaven in almost all
their necessities, . . . and I may say that it is, in fact, God
whom they blindly adore, for they imagine that there is an Oki,
that is, a demon, in heaven, who regulates the seasons, bridles the
winds and the waves of the sea, and helps them in every need. They
dread his wrath, and appeal to him as witness to the inviolability
of their faith, when they make a promise or treaty of peace with
enemies. 'Heaven hear us to-day' is their form of adjuration."[1]

[1] Relations, 1636, pp. 106, 107.

A spiritual being, whose home is heaven, who rides on the winds,
whose wrath is dreaded, who sanctions the oath, is only called "a
demon" by the prejudice of the worthy father who, at the same time,
admits that the savages have a conception of God--and that God, so
conceived, is this demon!

The debatable question is, was the "demon," or the actual expanse
of sky, first in evolution? That cannot precisely be settled, but
in the analogous Chinese case of China we find heaven (Tien) and
"Shang-ti, the personal ruling Deity," corresponding to the Huron
"demon". Shang-ti, the personal deity, occurs most in the oldest,
pre-Confucian sacred documents, and, so far, appears to be the
earlier conception. The "demon" in Huron faith may also be earlier
than the religious regard paid to his home, the sky.[1] The
unborrowed antiquity of a belief in a divine being, creative and
sometimes moral, in North America, is thus demonstrated. So far I
had written when I accidentally fell in with Mr. Tylor's essay on
"The Limits of Savage Religion".[2] In that essay, rather to my
surprise, Mr. Tylor argues for the borrowing of "The Great Spirit,"
"The Great Manitou," from the Jesuits. Now, as to the phrase,
"Great Spirit," the Jesuits doubtless caused its promulgation, and,
where their teaching penetrated, shreds of their doctrine may have
adhered to the Indian conception of that divine being. But Mr.
Tylor in his essay does not allude to the early evidence, his own,
for Oki, Atahocan, Kiehtan, and Torngursak, all undeniably prior to
Jesuit influence, and found where Jesuits, later, did not go. As
Mr. Tylor offers no reason for disregarding evidence in 1892 which
he had republished in a new edition of Primitive Culture in 1891,
it is impossible to argue against him in this place. He went on,
in the essay cited (1892) to contend that the Australian god of the
Kamilaroi of Victoria, Baiame, is, in name and attributes, of
missionary introduction. Happily this hypothesis can be refuted,
as we show in the following chapter on Australian gods.

[1] See Tylor, Prim. Cult., ii. 362, and Making of Religion, p.
318; also Menzies, History of Religion, pp. 108,109, and Dr.
Legge's Chinese Classics, in Sacred Books of the East, vols. iii.,
xxvii., xxviii.

[2] Journ. of Anthrop. Inst., vol. xxi., 1892.

It would be easy enough to meet the hypothesis of borrowing in the
case of the many African tribes who possess something approaching
to a rude monotheistic conception. Among these are the Dinkas of
the Upper Nile, with their neighbours, whose creed Russegger
compares to that of modern Deists in Europe. The Dinka god,
Dendid, is omnipotent, but so benevolent that he is not addressed
in prayer, nor propitiated by sacrifice. Compare the supreme being
of the Caribs, beneficent, otiose, unadored.[1] A similar deity,
veiled in the instruction of the as yet unpenetrated Mysteries,
exists among the Yao of Central Africa.[2] Of the negro race,
Waitz says, "even if we do not call them monotheists, we may still
think of them as standing on the boundary of monotheism despite
their innumerable rude superstitions".[3] The Tshi speaking people
of the Gold Coast have their unworshipped Nyankupon, a now otiose
unadored being, with a magisterial deputy, worshipped with many
sacrifices. The case is almost an exact parallel to that of Ahone
and Oki in America. THESE were not borrowed, and the author has
argued at length against Major Ellis's theory of the borrowing from
Christians of Nyankupon.[4]

[1] Rochefort, Les Isles Antilles, p. 415. Tylor, ii. 337.

[2] Macdonald, Africana, 1, 71, 72, 130, 279-301. Scott,
Dictionary of the Manganja Language, Making of Religion, pp. 230-
238. A contradictory view in Spencer, Ecclesiastical Institutions,
p. 681.

[3] Anthropologie, ii. 167.

[4] Making of Religion, pp. 243-250.

To conclude this chapter, the study of savage and barbaric
religions seems to yield the following facts:--

1. Low savages. No regular chiefs. Great beings, not in receipt
of sacrifice, sanctioning morality. Ghosts are not worshipped,
though believed in. Polytheism, departmental gods and gods of
heaven, earth, sky and so forth, have not been developed or are not

2. Barbaric races. Aristocratic or monarchic. Ghosts are
worshipped and receive sacrifice. Polytheistic gods are in renown
and receive sacrifice. There is usually a supreme Maker who is, in
some cases, moral, in others otiose. In only one or two known
cases (as in that of the Polynesian Taaroa) is he in receipt of

3. Barbaric races. (Zulus, monarchic with Unkulunkulu; some
Algonquins (feebly aristocratic) with Atahocan). Religion is
mainly ancestor worship or vague spirit worship; ghosts are
propitiated with food. There are traces of an original divine
being whose name is becoming obsolescent and a matter of jest.

4. Early civilisations. Monarchic or aristocratic. (Greece,
Egypt, India, Peru, Mexico.) Polytheism. One god tends to be
supreme. Religiously regarded, gods are moral; in myth are the
reverse. Gods are in receipt of sacrifice. Heavenly society is
modelled on that of men, monarchic or aristocratic. Philosophic
thought tends towards belief in one pure god, who may be named
Zeus, in Greece.

5. The religion of Israel. Probably a revival and purification of
the old conception of a moral, beneficent creator, whose creed had
been involved in sacrifice and anthropomorphic myth.

In all the stages thus roughly sketched, myths of the lowest sort
prevail, except in the records of the last stage, where the
documents have been edited by earnest monotheists.

If this theory be approximately correct, man's earliest religious
ideas may very well have consisted, in a sense, of dependence on a
supreme moral being who, when attempts were made by savages to
describe the modus of his working, became involved in the fancies
of mythology. How this belief in such a being arose we have no
evidence to prove. We make no hint at a sensus numinis, or direct

While offering no hypothesis of the origin of belief in a moral
creator we may present a suggestion. Mr. Darwin says about early
man: "The same high mental faculties which first led man to believe
in unseen spiritual agencies, then in fetichism, polytheism and
ultimately monotheism, would infallibly lead him, so long as his
reasoning powers remained poorly developed, to various strange
superstitions and customs".[1] Now, accepting Mr. Darwin's theory
that early man had "high mental faculties," the conception of a
Maker of things does not seem beyond his grasp. Man himself made
plenty of things, and could probably conceive of a being who made
the world and the objects in it. "Certainly there must be some
Being who made all these things. He must be very good too," said
an Eskimo to a missionary.[2] The goodness is inferred by the
Eskimo from his own contentment with "the things which are made".[3]

[1] Darwin, Descent of Man, i. p. 66.

[2] Cranz, i. 199.

[3] Romans, i. 19.

Another example of barbaric man "seeking after God" may be adduced.

What the Greenlander said is corroborated by what a Kaffir said.
Kaffir religion is mainly animistic, ancestral spirits receive food
and sacrifice--there is but an evanescent tradition of a "Lord in
Heaven". Thus a very respectable Kaffir said to M. Arbrousset,
"your tidings (Christianity) are what I want; and I was seeking
before I knew you. . . . I asked myself sorrowful questions. 'Who
has touched the stars with his hands? . . . Who makes the waters
flow? . . . Who can have given earth the wisdom and power to
produce corn?' Then I buried my face in my hands."

"This," says Sir John Lubbock, "was, however, an exceptional case.
As a general rule savages do not set themselves to think out such

[1] Origin of Civilisation, p. 201.

As a common fact, if savages never ask the question, at all events,
somehow, they have the answer ready made. "Mangarrah, or Baiame,
Puluga, or Dendid, or Ahone, or Ahonawilona, or Atahocan, or
Taaroa, or Tui Laga, was the maker." Therefore savages who know
that leave the question alone, or add mythical accretions. But
their ancestors must have asked the question, like the "very
respectable Kaffir" before they answered it.

Having reached the idea of a Creator, it was not difficult to add
that he was "good," or beneficent, and was deathless.

A notion of a good powerful Maker, not subject to death because
necessarily prior to Death (who only invaded the world late), seems
easier of attainment than the notion of Spirit which, ex hypothesi,
demands much delicate psychological study and hard thought. The
idea of a Good Maker, once reached, becomes, perhaps, the germ of
future theism, but, as Mr. Darwin says, the human mind was
"infallibly led to various strange superstitions". As St. Paul
says, in perfect agreement with Mr. Darwin on this point, "they
became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was

Among other imaginations (right or wrong) was the belief in
spirits, with all that followed in the way of instituting
sacrifices, even of human beings, and of dropping morality, about
which the ghost of a deceased medicine-man was not likely to be
much interested. The supposed nearness to man, and the venal and
partial character of worshipped gods and ghost-gods, would
inevitably win for them more service and attention than would be
paid to a Maker remote, unbought and impartial. Hence the
conception of such a Being would tend to obsolescence, as we see
that it does, and would be most obscured where ghosts were most
propitiated, as among the Zulus. Later philosophy would attach the
spiritual conception to the revived or newly discovered idea of the
supreme God.

In all this speculation there is nothing mystical; no supernatural
or supernormal interference is postulated. Supernormal experiences
may have helped to originate or support the belief in spirits,
that, however, is another question. But this hypothesis of the
origin of belief in a good unceasing Maker of things is, of course,
confessedly a conjecture, for which historical evidence cannot be
given, in the nature of the case. All our attempts to discover
origins far behind history must be conjectural. Their value must
be estimated by the extent to which this or that hypothesis
colligates the facts. Now our hypothesis does colligate the facts.
It shows how belief in a moral supreme being might arise before
ghosts were worshipped, and it accounts for the flaw in the
religious strata, for the mythical accretions, for the otiose
Creator in the background of many barbaric religions, and for the
almost universal absence of sacrifice to the God relatively
supreme. He was, from his earliest conception, in no need of gifts
from men.

On this matter of otiose supreme gods, Professor Menzies writes,
"It is very common to find in savage beliefs a vague far-off god,
who is at the back of all the others, takes little part in the
management of things, and receives little worship. But it is
impossible to judge what that being was at an earlier time; he may
have been a nature god, or a spirit who has by degrees grown faint,
and come to occupy this position."

Now the position which he occupies is usually, if not universally,
that of the Creator. He could not arrive at this rank by "becoming
faint," nor could "a nature-god" be the Maker of Nature. The only
way by which we can discover "what that being was at an earlier
time" is to see what he IS at an earlier time, that is to say, what
the conception of him is, among men in an earlier state of culture.
Among them, as we show, he is very much more near, potent and
moral, than among races more advanced in social evolution and
material culture. We can form no opinion as to the nature of such
"vague, far-off gods, at the back of all the others," till we
collect and compare examples, and endeavour to ascertain what
points they have in common, and in what points they differ from
each other. It then becomes plain that they are least far away,
and most potent, where there is least ghostly and polytheistic
competition, that is, among the most backward races. The more
animism the less theism, is the general rule. Manifestly the
current hypothesis--that all religion is animistic in origin--does
not account for these facts, and is obliged to fly to an
undemonstrated theory of degradation, or to an undemonstrated
theory of borrowing. That our theory is inconsistent with the
general doctrine of evolution we cannot admit, if we are allowed to
agree with Mr. Darwin's statement about the high mental faculties
which first led man to sympathetic, and then to wild beliefs. We
do not pretend to be more Darwinian than Mr. Darwin, who compares
"these miserable and indirect results of our higher faculties" to
"the occasional mistakes of the instincts of the lower animals".

The opinion here maintained, namely, that a germ of pure belief may
be detected amidst the confusion of low savage faith, and that in a
still earlier stage it may have been less overlaid with fable, is
in direct contradiction to current theories. It is also in
contradiction with the opinions entertained by myself before I made
an independent examination of the evidence. Like others, I was
inclined to regard reports of a moral Creator, who observes
conduct, and judges it even in the next life, as rumours due either
to Christian influence, or to mistake. I well know, however, and
could, and did, discount the sources of error. I was on my guard
against the twin fallacies of describing all savage religion as
"devil worship," and of expecting to find a primitive "divine
tradition". I was also on my guard against the modern bias derived
from the "ghost-theory," and Mr. Spencer's works, and I kept an eye
on opportunities of "borrowing".[1] I had, in fact, classified all
known idola in the first edition of this work, such as the fallacy
of leading questions and the chance of deliberate deception. I
sought the earliest evidence, prior to any missionary teaching, and
the evidence of what the first missionaries found, in the way of
belief, on their arrival. I preferred the testimony of the best
educated observers, and of those most familiar with native
languages. I sought for evidence in native hymns (Maori, Zuni,
Dinka, Red Indian) and in native ceremonial and mystery, as these
sources were least likely to be contaminated.

[1] Making of Religion, p. 187.

On the other side, I found a vast body of testimony that savages
had no religion at all. But that testimony, en masse, was refuted
by Roskoff, and also, in places, by Tylor. When three witnesses
were brought to swear that they saw the Irishman commit a crime, he
offered to bring a dozen witnesses who did NOT see him. Negative
evidence of squatters, sailors and colonists, who did NOT see any
religion among this or that race, is not worth much against
evidence of trained observers and linguists who DID find what the
others missed, and who found more the more they knew the tribe in
question. Again, like others, I thought savages incapable of such
relatively pure ideas as I now believe some of them to possess.
But I could not resist the evidence, and I abandoned my a priori
notions. The evidence forcibly attests gradations in the central
belief. It is found in various shades, from relative potency down
to a vanishing trace, and it is found in significant proportion to
the prevalence of animistic ideas, being weakest where they are
most developed, strongest where they are least developed. There
must be a reason for these phenomena, and that reason, as it seems
to me, is the overlaying and supersession of a rudely Theistic by an
animistic creed. That one cause would explain, and does colligate,
all the facts.

There remains a point on which misconception proves to be possible.
It will be shown, contrary to the current hypothesis, that the
religion of the lowest races, in its highest form, sanctions
morality. That morality, again, in certain instances, demands
unselfishness. Of course we are not claiming for that doctrine any
supernatural origin. Religion, if it sanctions ethics at all, will
sanction those which the conscience accepts, and those ethics, in
one way or other, must have been evolved. That the "cosmical" law
is "the weakest must go to the wall" is generally conceded. Man,
however, is found trying to reverse the law, by equal and friendly
dealing (at least within what is vaguely called "the tribe"). His
religion, as in Australia, will be shown to insist on this
unselfishness. How did he evolve his ethics?

"Be it little or be it much they get," says Dampier about the
Australians in 1688, "every one has his part, as well the young and
tender as the old and feeble, who are not able to get abroad as the
strong and lusty." This conduct reverses the cosmical process, and
notoriously civilised society, Christian society, does not act on
these principles. Neither do the savages, who knock the old and
feeble on the head, or deliberately leave them to starve, act on
these principles, sanctioned by Australian religion, but (according
to Mr. Dawson) NOT carried out in Australian practice. "When old
people become infirm . . . it is lawful and customary to kill

[1] Australian Aborigines, p. 62.

As to the point of unselfishness, evolutionists are apt to account
for it by common interest. A tribe in which the strongest
monopolise what is best will not survive so well as an unselfish
tribe in the struggle for existence. But precisely the opposite is
true, aristocracy marks the more successful barbaric races, and an
aristocratic slave-holding tribe could have swept Australia as the
Zulus swept South Africa. That aristocracy and acquisition of
separate property are steps in advance on communistic savagery all
history declares. Therefore a tribe which in Australia developed
private property, and reduced its neighbours to slavery, would have
been better fitted to survive than such a tribe as Dampier

This is so evident that probably, or possibly, the Dampier state of
society was not developed in obedience to a recognised tribal
interest, but in obedience to an affectionate instinct. "Ils
s'entr' aiment les une les autres," says Brebeuf of the Hurons.[1]
"I never heard the women complain of being left out of feasts, or
that the men ate the best portions . . . every one does his
business sweetly, peaceably, without dispute. You never see
disputes, quarrels, hatred, or reproach among them." Brebeuf then
tells how a young Indian stranger, in a time of want, stole the
best part of a moose. "They did not rage or curse, they only
bantered him, and yet to take our meat was almost to take our
lives." Brebeuf wanted to lecture the lad; his Indian host bade
him hold his peace, and the stranger was given hospitality, with
his wife and children. "They are very generous, and make it a
point not to attach themselves to the goods of this world." "Their
greatest reproach is 'that man wants everything, he is greedy'.
They support, with never a murmur, widows, orphans and old men, yet
they kill hopeless or troublesome invalids, and their whole conduct
to Europeans was the reverse of their domestic behaviour."

[1] Relations, 1634, p. 29.

Another example of savage unselfish ethics may be found in Mr.
Mann's account of the Andaman Islanders, a nomad race, very low in
culture. "It is a noteworthy trait, and one which deserves high
commendation, that every care and consideration are paid by all
classes to the very young, the weak, the aged, and the helpless,
and these being made special objects of interest and attention,
invariably fare better in regard to the comforts and necessaries of
daily life than any of the otherwise more fortunate members of the

[1] J. A. I., xii. p. 93.

Mr. Huxley, in his celebrated Romanes Lecture on "Evolution and
Morality," laid stress on man's contravention of the cosmic law,
"the weakest must go to the wall". He did not explain the
evolution of man's opposition to this law. The ordinary
evolutionist hypothesis, that the tribe would prosper most whose
members were least self-seeking, is contradicted by all history.
The overbearing, "grabbing," aristocratic, individualistic,
unscrupulous races beat the others out of the field. Mr. Huxley,
indeed, alleged that the "influence of the cosmic process in the
evolution of society is the greater the more rudimentary its
civilisation. Social progress means a checking of the cosmic
process at every step and the substitution for it of another, which
may be called the ethical process. . . . As civilisation has
advanced, so has the extent of this interference increased. . . ."[1]
But where, in Europe, is the interference so marked as among
the Andamanese? We have still to face the problem of the
generosity of low savages.

[1] Ethics of Evolution, pp. 81-84.

It is conceivable that the higher ethics of low savages rather
reflect their emotional instincts than arise from tribal
legislation which is supposed to enable a "tribe" to prosper in the
struggle for existence. As Brebeuf and Dampier, among others,
prove, savages often set a good example to Christians, and their
ethics are, in certain cases, as among the Andamanese and Fuegians,
and, probably among the Yao, sanctioned by their religion. But, as
Mr. Tylor says, "the better savage social life seems but in
unstable equilibrium, liable to be easily upset by a touch of
distress, temptation, or violence".[1] Still, religion does its
best, in certain cases, to lend equilibrium; though all the world
over, religion often fails in practice.

[1] Prim. Cult., i. 51.

Book of the day: