…you take the blue pill–the story ends…you take the red pill…and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. –
Morpheus in The Matrix
(BEING CONTINUED FROM 4/01/2017)
§ 9. Conclusion.
There has thus emerged from a survey of the comparative
evolution of religions the conclusion that not only do all undergo change in spite of the special religious aversion to change, but all evolve by the same laws, their differences being invariably reducible to effects of environment. Of this the decisive proof is the fact that, under the very roof of a professed monotheism, there arose as aforesaid a secondary God-idea on the lines of a normal process of polytheism. The law of the process is everywhere an interposition of a new God, evolved by later psychosis, between the worshippers and the earlier God, so long as the God-idea remains a psychic need. Only the violent rupture with Christism, and the ensuing feud, prevented Judaism from obeying the law in the normal manner: what happened was that on the severance of the new cult from the old, the older deity was himself modified, with, for a time, somewhat grotesque results. 1 But for Christists the new God stands to the old in the convenient relation that was normal in the original environment—that of son. Even as Apollo, and Athenê, and Attis, and Herakles, and Dionysos, had to become children of Zeus, and Merodach the son of Ea, and Khonsu the son of Amun at Thebes, 2 and Mithra the son of Ahura-Mazda, the Judæo-Greek Logos had to be the son of Yahweh, the anti-Judaic animus of the Gnostics failing to oust the already formed myth. 3
Such an evolution stands in all cases alike for the simple need of the worshipper who has ceased to relate fully to the old environment, and is appealed to by a cult coming from an environment like his own, or adapts his old God to a new moral climate. In the oldest systems known to us such modifications are seen taking place. Already in the Vedas, Indra, originally a God of thunder and storm, has been “touched with emotion” till he becomes of the order of the Beloved Gods, giving and receiving the love of men; 4 and still his cult was in its own sphere largely superseded by that of Krishna, 5 who could better be made to play the part. In Egypt, again, Osiris is visibly made to meet the need for a “nearer God” by assuming new characteristics from age to age; 6 and yet, after millenniums of possession, he seems to have waned before Serapis, who in turn ceded, not without force, to Jesus. 7 All the while, indeed, inferior
deities were popular by reason of the same general need for a God “near at hand.” 1
In the so-called “Aryan” religions the process is essentially the same. Apollo had to supervene on Zeus, as Zeus had done on Kronos; and “that father lost, lost his,” in a sufficiently primitive myth. Where new culture-contacts follow each other rapidly, and the rites of one accredited Son-God fail to meet the newest psychic needs, another is given him as a brother; and so Dionysos, grouped in another triad, stands alongside of Apollo. This is accomplished in spite of the most furious resistance of kings and men who see in the new cult only evil and madness; till in time the priests of Apollo, who can have been no less resentful, give it a place in their chief temple. 2 In all such developments, the new God partially supersedes the older, 3whatever formalities be maintained; and no further explanation is needed for the fact, so fallaciously stressed in some modern propaganda, that many savages recognise a Supreme God or Creator to whom they do not sacrifice or pray. 4 The Supreme God, so to speak, has retired from business, in virtue not of any superiority of character but of the law of divine superannuation.
Nor is there any limit to the process of substitution save in the cessation of the need. All heresy, all dissent, is but a subsidiary phase of the process which in old time evolved new Gods. The early Church could live down the manifold imaginations of Gnosticism, because they were framed for the speculative minds, and such minds tended to disappear as the intellectual decadence continued; but only after long convulsions, desperate persecution, and much exhaustion, could it live down its more intimate heresies; and when Arianism and Manichæism seemed at length destroyed, it was only to rise again in new forms, philosophic on the one side, popular on the other.
And the Gods survive in the ratio of their capacity to meet either order or need—that is to say, in the ratio of the adaptive skill and economic address of their prophets and priests. Without such adaptation they are insalvable. In the orthodox Christian trinity, framed under Judaic restrictions, the Holy Spirit has been
from first to last, technically speaking, a failure, being for all practical purposes superseded by the Virgin Mother, and for all philosophic purposes merged in the Logos on the one hand and in the Father-God on the other. But just as Jesus tended to supersede Yahweh, so Mary in large measure tended to supersede Jesus, who is seen to have become more inaccessible and supernal as his Mother was made in her turn to play the part of Mediator. There are even traces in later medieval art of a tendency to make Mary’s mother, Saint Anna, take the place of the Father in a new trinity; and the similar tendency to create a secondary trinity out of the human father and mother and son, Joseph and Mary and Jesus, is not yet exhausted. 1 It depends upon the total fortunes of civilisation whether that tendency shall be realised, or be arrested by the culture-forces which are at present disintegrating all theistic thought.
In fine, Christ-making is but a form or stage of God-making, the Christs or Son-Gods being but secondary Gods. Of necessity they are evolved out of prior material—the material, it may be, of primitive cults to which men reverted in times of distress and despair of help from the Gods in nominal power; but when the reversion persists the old material is transformed, and the result is a new God who, Antæus-like, has fresh vitality through contact with the primary sources of religious emotion, but is turned to the account of new phases of emotion, moral and other. Thus in the Hellenised cult of the Thrakian Bacchus, out of the very riot of savagery, the reek of blood and of living flesh torn by the hands and teeth of wine-maddened Mœnads, there arises the dream of absorption in the God, and of utter devotion to his will, even as we meet it in the suicide-seeking transports of the early Christians. 2 And thus, on the æsthetic side of the evolution, from the rude block of the rustic Beer-God 3 there is ultimately fashioned, under the hands even of the unbelieving Euripides, the gracious form of the calm God of Joy:—
[paragraph continues]And even such a mystery as Hellenic hands wrought out of the hypostasis of the Beer-God, Hellenistic hands could shape from that of a man of sorrows, moulding from the sombre figure of the human sacrifice, slain a million times through æons of ignorance, a God of another and a more enduring cast. In the understanding of this secondary process lies the comprehension of the history of what may be conveniently termed “culture-religion” as distinguished from the “Nature religion” studied under the head of anthropology. In terms of this distinction we may say that hierology proper begins with the typically secondary Gods, where anthropology in the ordinary sense ends. 1 But it is essential to a scientific view that we remember there has been no break in the evolution, no supernatural or enigmatic interposition; and this will be sufficiently clear when we study the evolution of the secondary Gods in detail.
THE SACRIFICED SAVIOUR-GOD
§ 1. Totemism and Sacraments.
There is an arguable case for the theory that the belief in a dying and re-arising Saviour-God, seen anciently in the cults of Adonis, Attis, Herakles, Osiris, and Dionysos, originated obscurely in the totem-sacraments of savages who ate a sacred animal in order to preserve their identity of species with it. 1 There is, however, a much stronger case for the simpler theory that the belief in question originated on another line in the practice of sacrificing by way of sympathetic magic a victim who, as such, became a God, but was not supposed to rise again in his own person. 2 The first of these theories is in the nature of the case incapable of proof; 3 and it is not necessary, for a rational comparison and appreciation of the historic cults, to establish it, any more than to assume that either derivation excludes the other. We should profit little by our knowledge of the manifold God-making powers of early man if we supposed that any given Saviour-cult could originate only in such a line or lines of descent; and in point of fact the proposal to hark back to totemism seems to overlook the fact that a sacramental meal ostensibly can originate apart from totemism.
It is not plausible to suppose, for instance, that the eating of bread in a primitive eucharist implied that the partakers originally
had the corn for their special totem; 1 or (supposing the God Dionysos to have been a simple deification of the sacramental Soma or Haoma, as Agni was of the sacrificial fire) 2 to conclude that the first Soma-drinkers made their ritual beverage on the score that they were of the grape or any analogous totem. Both inductively and deductively we seem rather led to conclude that totems might or might not be sacramentally eaten; and that animals like men might be sacramentally eaten without any reference to totemism. It is apt to be forgotten that at bottom the word “sacred” (hieros) equates with “taboo”; and that an animal might be made taboo for a variety of reasons—as being too valuable to kill, or as being unwholesome, or as being for occasional killing only.
On the difficult subject of totemism, the suggestion may here be incidentally offered that the totem was in origin merely the group’s way of naming itself. 3 Such group-names were as necessary as individual names; and while a person could readily be labelled from the place of his birth or any family incident at that period, or by a physical or moral peculiarity, clans of the same stock could with difficulty be distinguished in the nomadic state save by arbitrary names, which could best be drawn from the list of natural objects. Indeed, it is hard to conceive how otherwise nomadic clans could first name themselves. What other vocables were available? 4 Spencer’s suggestion that totemism originated in misinterpretation of nicknames 5 raises the difficulty that nicknames presuppose names. Spencer fully realises this in the case of individuals, but overlooks it in the case of the group, since he apparently supposes the tribal totem-name to come through the nickname of an already-named individual. When we realise that for sheer lack of other words the
early group could hardly have any name whatever save from a natural object, and when we so recast the explanation, the objection which meets the first form of the nickname theory—that it ascribes too much latitude to verbal misunderstanding 1—falls to the ground. In the primitive state, we must presume, objects and actions were first named by onomatopœia, or else, sensations and actions being first so named, objects were metaphorically named from sensations and actions; 2 and so with attributes. A definite doctrine as to beginnings is hard to justify, and is not here essential: it suffices to realise that objects would be somehow named before individuals and groups were, whether or not individuals were named before groups. And while persons might readily be named or nicknamed Tall or Short, Straight or Crooked, Quick or Slow, tribes could only in rare instances be so distinguished; while nothing would be more easy than for one family or clan to say to another, You are the Wolves, we the Bears; you the Trees, we the Birds, and so on. 3
Some such agreement would be necessary; for the mere bestowal of names of whim or derision by groups or clans on each other—sometimes suggested as an explanation of the phenomenon—would yield a multitude of names for each group. 4 The same difficulty meets Spencer’s theory that the belief in animal descent came through a nickname, and the totem symbol from that. Spencer, I repeat, had not fully considered the special conditions of the naming of groups. His correction of common assumptions as to the naming of individuals 5 is important, though it is perhaps precarious in respect of the assumption that contemporary savage ways of naming children were primordial; but there is a clear hiatus between his doctrine of individual names and nicknames, and his suggestion as to tribal totem-names. He merely rejects other explanations without justifying his own. “Why,” he asks,” 6 did there occur so purely gratuitous an act as that of fixing on a symbol for the tribe? That by one tribe out of multitudes so strange a whim might be displayed is credible. But that by tribes unallied in type and scattered throughout the world, there should have been independently adopted so odd a practice, is incredible.” Now, the naming of groups is no more gratuitous or strange than the naming of individuals: groups needed to name themselves and each other as such, just as individuals did; and as Spencer admits animal-nicknames to be natural, 7 he
cannot well deny animal names to be natural in the case of clans or tribes. If there is anything certain about early man it is that he regarded animals as on a level with him, and all objects as possibly animate. For tribal purposes, then, these were the natural names; and a formal agreement would be required for their adoption. In no other way could groups speak with each other about each other, at least when they became numerous. And until fixed dwellings or hamlets did away with the need, the expedient would subsist for the reason for which it began.
This period, however, would be immensely long, and the memory of the genesis would infallibly be lost. Given the original circumstances, “verbal misunderstanding” was thus inevitable. 1 When, that is to say, the comparatively early savage learned that he was “a Bear,” and that his father and grandfather and forefathers were so before him, it was really impossible that, after ages in which totem names thus passed current, he should fail to assume that his folk were descended from a bear, which as a matter of course became at a later stage an Ancestor-God. 2 The belief was inevitable precisely because the totem was not a nickname, but a name antecedent to nicknames; and because descent from an animal was the easiest way of explaining or conceiving a “beginning” of men. And while some totem names might conceivably have been chosen by way of striking up a helpful alliance with an animal family, 3 the fact that the list of totems includes sand, sparrows, pigeons, bats, and so on, is hardly open to that interpretation; while the principle of simply naming from an already-named object seems to meet all cases alike.
Such a procedure has actually been noted among the contemporary natives of the island of Efati in the New Hebrides, where “the people are all divided into families or clans, each of which has a distinctive name, such as manui, the cocoa-nut,namkatu……a species of yam, naui, the yam,” etc. 4 Similarly the exogamous
[paragraph continues]”classes” of the Australian tribes are always named from animals, plants, objects, etc.; 1 and in most of the tribes of West Africa there are some men with a totem surname who with men of the same surname in other tribes claim a common descent from the original totem. 2 Livingstone noted the same usage among the Bechuanas, whole tribes being known as “they of the monkey,” 3 and so on—a state of things in which the cognomen could be carried from any one tribe into others. So among the Narrinyeri of South Australia, “every tribe has its ngaitye, that is, some animal which they regard as a sort of good genius, which takes an interest in their welfare—something like the North-American Indian totem No man or woman will kill herngaitye, except it happens to be an animal which is good for food, when they have no objection to eating them. 4Nevertheless, they will be very careful to destroy the remains,” from the usual fear of sorcery. 5 Here we have the rationale of the totem. “It appears to me,” writes the last witness, “that the ngaitye of the Narrinyeri is the same as the aitu of the Samoans, but it is not regarded with so much veneration by the former as by the latter. The names are evidently derived from one original, ngaitye being the same word as aitu, only with the addition of consonants.” 6
Now, the aitu of Samoa is simply the primary form of the Gods. “At his birth a Samoan was supposed to be taken under the care of some God, or aitu, as it was called. The help of several of these Gods was probably (sic) invoked in succession on the occasion, and the one who happened to be addressed just as the child was born was fixed on as the child’s God for life.” 7Each God was supposed to appear in “some visible incarnation”—beast, fish, bird, animal, shell-fish, or creeping thing. “A man would eat freely of what was regarded as the incarnation of the God of another man, but the incarnation of his own particular God he would consider it death to injure or eat.” “This class of genii, or tutelary deities, they call aitu fale, or Gods of the house.”
In fine, the family-name or tribe-name, plant or animal or what not, first becomes an ancestor, who re-incarnates himself, and as
such is not normally to be eaten. This is the rule in the vast majority of cases. 1 But among the ill-supplied Australians 2 he may be eaten when he is eatable, being regarded all the while as a God-ancestor, 3 whose remains must be safeguarded from sorcery; while among the well-supplied Samoans he is strictly taboo, though any man may eat another man’s ancestor-God. In neither case is there any sign of the idea of a totem-sacrament; and Livingstone’s Bechuana tribes, like the Samoans, never ate their totem, “using the term ila, hate or dread, in reference to killing it.” And it is difficult to conceive that a sacramental eating of the totem was originally a matter of course. To say nothing of the normal veto on the eating of one’s own kin, the people whose totem was the sand, or the thunder, or the evening star, or the moon, or the hot wind, for instance, must have been hard put to it to conform to the principle; and while those of the centipede might contrive to accept it, the folk of the lion-totem must have found their sacrament precarious. While, again, in virtue of the primeval logic which regarded interfusion of blood as a creation of kinship, and the eating of lion as a way of becoming brave, the belief in the totemic descent, once set up, mightat times lead to the practice of eating the totem, the eating of a lamb sacrament, on the other hand, is not plausibly to be so accounted for. There is, however, no difficulty in understanding how the totem animal might come to be at once revered and shunned, or regarded as “unlucky” when met. For instance, a Basuto of the crocodile totem, who did not often see crocodiles, might naturally feel when he met one as “civilised” people have been known to feel when they see an ancestor in a dream—he might take the meeting, that is, as a warning that trouble or death was about to overtake him. On the totem name had followed inevitably the belief in the totem ancestry, and occasionally the prohibition of the totem animal as food; and to both concepts attached all the hallucinations that early clustered around names.
When, however, we come to deal with religions as distinguished from religion, we are at a stage far removed from simple totemism, though many of the early hallucinations still remain in possession,
as in the animal-Gods of Egypt and the animal-angels of Judaism. For our purpose of comparison and comprehension, then, we may fitly take up the conception of the slain Saviour-God as it existed, on the one hand, in the ancient cults amid which Christianity arose, and as it has been found, on the other hand, elsewhere and in later times in cults of primitive cast.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
by John M. Robertson
95:1 Cp. Hershon, Genesis with a Talmudical Commentary, 1883, pp. 1, 45, 60, 98, 121, 124,
96:4 Cp. A Short History of Freethought, i, 94; Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 48 sq.); Barth, Religions of India, p. 18 (as to Varuna); Ellis, Polynesian Researches, i, 324; Mariner, Tonga Islands, ii, 105-6; and cases cited by Krasinski, Sketch of the Religious History of the Slavonic Nations, ed. 1851, p, 13, and by Büchner, Force and Matter, Eng. tr. p. 393.
97:2 Cp. Girard, Le Sentiment religieux en Grèce, pp. 396-402. K. O. Müller had previously put it (Hist. Lit. Anc. Greece, p. 289) that there was an “intense desire felt by every worshipper of Bacchus to fight, to conquer, to suffer, in common with him,” and that this led to the satyric element in the festivals. Haigh (Tragic Drama of the Greeks, 1896, p. 21) points out that the satyric chorus was anything but devotional, and that the temper in question belonged to “the orgiastic worship of Dionysos, as performed by ecstatic Mœnads at Thebes and Delphi, where the dominant note, undoubtedly, was one of agonised sympathy with the sufferings of the God.” Cp. Miss Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, ch. X.
99:1 Cp. S. Reinach, Cultes, Mythes, et Religions, i (1908) introd. and passim; and Orpheus, introd.; Durkheim, Sur le totemisme, in L’Année Sociologique, 5e Année, 1902, pp. 114, 117; F. B. Jevons. Introd. to Hist. of Relig. 1996, p. 154. A clear case of totem-sacrament was said to be lacking till the discovery of that of the Aruntas, discussed by M. Durkheim, and by Dr. Frazer in the preface to the second edition of his Golden Bough. But a case of the same order, apparently, is noted by J. G. Müller from the testimony of a traveller among the Native Americans in Arkansas. Geschichte der Amerikanischen Urreligionen, 2te Aufl., pp. 277, note.
99:3 It should be noted that the whole theory of the totemistic origin of agriculture, animal-culture, metallurgy, etc. originated by Dr. Jevons and confidently developed by M. Reinach, is rejected by Dr. Frazer in his recent monumental work onTotemism and Exogamy (4 vols. 1910). In point of fact, totems are not found to coincide with the special pursuits of totem-tribes. Work cited, iv, 19.
100:1 Dr. Jevons appears to argue (pp. 115-117) that the first agriculturists were so only in virtue of having made totems of the cereals they cultivated. He explicitly suggests that the agricultural comes later than the pastoral stage “because animal preceded plant totems.” On this view men of the bear or wolf or eagle totem could have neither crops nor herds. The interesting argument of M. Reinach (as cited above), a development of that of Dr. Jevons, raises the same set of difficulties.
100:3 In his Social Origins (1903) Mr. Andrew Lang quite independently advanced a theory of the totem which is broadly in accord with the following, put forth by me in the same year. He, however, inferred the process of naming to have begun in “sobriquets given by group to group,” showing that such ostensible sobriquets occur in France, England, and elsewhere, to this day. (Cp. his Secret of the Totem, 1905, p. 126 sq.) But, admitting his contention that a group has “far more need of names for its neighbours than of a name for itself,” I still submit that a group needed a name for itself, were it only to answer the question of a stranger or new neighbour, “who are you?” If this be recognised, there need be no trouble about reconciling the adoption by late groups or clans of “derisive” nicknames with the thesis that the early group-names were “rather honour-giving than derisive.” Need they have been either?
100:4 Mr. Mathew (Eaglehawk and Crow, 1899, p. 109) notes the very suggestive fact that Australian communities as wholes are often named from one of their own verbal negatives, as if the No” of a tribesman to the alien whom he could not understand gave the latter his ground for naming. Here we have purely alien naming. In the exogamous classes within the tribes, again, we have naming by consent, with animal names.
102:2 Dr. Frazer (Totemism, 1887, p. 95) remarks: “Sir John Lubbock also [with Spencer] thinks that totemism arose from the habit of naming persons and families after animals; but in dropping the intermediate links of ancestor-worship and verbal misunderstanding he has stripped the theory of all that lent it even an air of plausibility” (citing the Origin of Civilisation, p. 260). Those links being duly inserted, the theory, let us trust, has rather more air of plausibility” than some of Dr. Frazer’s own hypotheses in other fields. His own final theory of the totem (Totemism and Exogamy, 1910, iv, 57 sq.) is quite unsatisfactory.
102:4 Rev. D. Macdonald, Oceania: Linguistic and Anthropological, 1889, pp. 182-3. The primitiveness of the Efatese is attested by the fact that “The woman is the mother of the clan—that is, every child, male or female, belongs to the family of the mother.” Id. Totemism,” observes Mr. Lang (The Secret of the Totem, 1905, p. 142), “certainly arose in an age when, if descent was reckoned, and if names were inherited, it was on the spindle side.”
103:5 Rev. G. Taplin, The Narrinyeri, 2nd ed. p. 63. In Formosa, again, the natives observe “a kind of totemism, each tribe being supposed to under the tutelage of some bird, beast or of reptile.” W. A. Pickering, Pioneering in Formosa, 1898, p. 72.
104:2 The old disputes as to the food supplies of the Australians may here be revived. See Prof. Keane, Man, Past and Present, 1900, pp. 148-9; and cp. Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, 1899, pp. 21, 25, 37, 46, 50;Northern Tribes, 1904, pp. 36-7. Mr. Mathew (Eaglehawk and Crow, pp. 80, 89) in general denies that the aborigines are hunger-pinched, but does not show much of a case to the contrary. Even in New Zealand, where, though the natives were at a higher culture-level, there were no land animals, famines were so often set up by wars that this is suggested as the origin of their cannibalism. Rev. R. Taylor, Te Ika a Maui: or, New Zealand and its Inhabitants, 1870, pp. 9-10.