Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

religion, anthropomorphism made it possible to bring polytheism into something like a system, to bring all the gods to dwell together in one Olympus, to organise them into a society framed on the model of human society, and to establish their relations to one another by means of mythology. It is therefore of mythology that our next chapter must treat.

CHAPTER XIX

MYTHOLOGY

As long as man is on the natural basis of subsistence, as long as he lives on roots, fruits, and the produce of the chase, so long it takes him the whole of his time to scrape together enough food to live on, and progress is impossible. It is the domestication of plants and animals which enables him to produce a greater food supply in a shorter time, which gives him leisure, sets free a large part of his energies, and gives him time to meditate the further appropriation of natural powers to his own purposes, and so makes material progress possible. The consequent increase of wealth brings in its train the institution of private property. This development of material civilisation—itself due to religion-reacts upon religion. In every cult there are two tendencies or impulses, the mystic and the practical, the need of the blessings which the supernatural power can bestow and the desire for communion with the author of those blessings. The latter manifests itself from the first, as we have seen, both in the sacrificial meal and in the sacramental offerings, by means of which the worshipper seeks to unite himself with the object of his worship. But it tended to be obscured, and material progress tended to emphasise the practical object of cult, in two ways. Polytheism disintegrated the totem-god and gave birth to functional deities, thus suggesting and fostering the idea that as these deities had only one function to performand that one of material benefit to man—their only function was to perform it for man's benefit. At the same time, the conception of property was introduced into the relations between God and man in such a way that sacrifice tended to appear as a bargain in which the latter had so much the better

that he got everything and practically gave nothing. Thus the practical impulse in worship was gradually exaggerated till its absurdity became gross; and the mystic impulse had been thrust into the background until it was almost entirely lost to view. How it came to reassert itself we shall have soon to inquire, but we can now no longer delay to recognise that in religion, besides the mystic and practical tendencies, there is also the speculative tendency, and whereas the former manifest themselves in cult, the latter finds expression in mythology. It is indeed true that in early religions, while it was absolutely incumbent on a man to perform exactly and punctiliously the external acts which constituted the ritual and cult of the clan or state to which he belonged, yet “belief in a certain series of myths was neither obligatory as a part of true religion, nor was it supposed that, by believing, a man acquired religious merit and conciliated the favour of the gods."1 It is also true that there is a conspicuous absence of religious feeling from most myths. Still it is impossible for us to exclude the consideration of mythology.

Myths are not like psalms or hymns, lyrical expressions of religious emotion ; they are not like creeds or dogmas, statements of things which must be believed: they are narratives. They are not history, they are tales told about gods and heroes, and they all have two characteristics : on the one hand, they are to us obviously or demonstrably untrue and often irrational; on the other hand, they were to their first audience so reasonable as to appear truths which were self-evident. Many myths are (or in their original form were) designed to explain some name, ritual, or whatever seemed to require explanation : the name of Shotover Hill is explained to be due to the fact that Little John once shot over it. Other myths explain nothing and point no moral: they are tales told for the sake of the telling and repeated for the pleasure of hearing, like fairy-tales.

1 Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, 17.

2 The view of mythology in this chapter is that of a disciple of Mr. Andrew Lang; and the student is referred to Mr. Lang's article on Mythology in the Encyclopædia Britannica, his Myth, Ritual, and Religion, and his Custom and Myth. The most comprehensive account of the various theories which have been held on the subject of mythology is to be found in Gruppe, Die griechischen Culte und Mythen (the English reader will find a briefer account by the present writer in the article on Mythology in Chambers's Encyclopædia).

A fundamental article in the totem faith is that the human kin and the animal kind are one flesh, one blood, members of the same clan, bound by the sacred tie of blood to respect and assist each other. Then the question naturally arises, if the human and the animal members are brothers, how is it that they wear such different shapes ? and the answer obviously is that they were not always different : once upon a time they were the same, and then something occurred to make them different. Thus," the Cray-fish clan of the Choctaws were originally cray-fish and lived underground, coming up occasionally through the mud to the surface. Once a party of Choctaws smoked them out, and, treating them kindly, taught them the Choctaw language, taught them to walk on two legs, made them cut off their toe-nails and pluck the hair from their bodies, after which they adopted them into the tribe. But the rest of their kindred, the cray-fish, are still living underground.”1 In course of time, as we have seen, it comes to be believed that the totem-god is the father of his worshippers, and the question again arises, how can human beings be descended from an animal forefather ? and the answer is on the same principle as before. “Thus the Turtle clan of the Iroquois are descended from a fat turtle, which, burdened by the weight of its shell in walking, contrived by great exertions to throw it off, and thereafter gradually developed into a man.”2 Later, again, in consequence of the development of anthropomorphism, it comes to be believed that the proper and original shape of the gods is human; and then the belief that the family is descended from a god in animal form requires explanation ; and the obvious inference is that as the god's real and normal shape is human, he must have transformed himself temporarily on this occasion and for some especial purpose : thus Zeus changes himself into a swan to win Leda, into a bull to win Europa.

In art and ritual the gradual process by which the originally animal or vegetation god became eventually human in form can be clearly traced, with all the intermediate steps. 1 Frazer, Totemism, 4.

2 Ibid. 3.

The god appears occasionally on Egyptian monuments in purely animal form ; the skin of the animal totem, a branch of the god-tree, some actual ears of wheat or maize, are worshipped as very god. Then the semi-human nature of the god is expressed by clothing a human image in an animal skin, or placing a human figure (of dough, etc.) on a tree, or clothing a tree or a sheaf of ears in human dress, or a human being in a sheaf or leaves. Then, when the animal or plant origin of the god has been altogether forgotten, the god is simply “associated” in art with the plant or animal : Demeter wears a garland of wheat-ears, Chicomecoatl carries maize-stalks in her hand, Apollo stands beside a dolphin; and finally, even these symbols are dropped. The same evolution is abundantly illustrated in mythology : the Turtle of the Iroquois corresponds to the purely animal form of the Egyptian gods; Zeus, who is at one time human and at another animal, corresponds to the misch-bild, the human body with animal head, which is the most common Egyptian mode of representing the gods, or to the half-human, halfvegetable deity represented by a sheaf wrapped in human raiment. The “association” of a deity with a plant appears in the myth of the Red Maize clan of the Omahas, who say that “the first man of the clan emerged from the water with an ear of red maize in his hand.” 2 Finally, even the “association ” disappears in the inyth of the Pima Indians about the maize-spirit: “one day, as she lay asleep, a raindrop fell on her naked bosom, and she became the ancestress of the maize-growing Pueblo Indians.” 3

In course of time, the clan may forget that their animal god was their ancestor, and then a fresh reason is required to account for the alliance between the human kin and the animal kind, and so “some families in the islands Leti, Moa, and Lakor reverence the shark, and refused to eat its flesh, because a shark once helped one of their ancestors at sea.” 4 Or the clan may remember that it was descended from an animal, but—owing to the general disappearance of animalworship-forget that the animal was a god, in which case

1"Apteuus otnkev åutrexouévn dépua é Nápov, Paus. viii. c. 37.
2 Frazer, op. cit. 6.
3 Payne, New World, i. 414 note 4. 4 Frazer, op. cit. 7.

« ForrigeFortsæt »