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because they are still sacred, for
manifestly unreasonable and useless have to a large extent been broken down, there are many which nevertheless continue to exist, because they are associated with occasions and feelings, not religious indeed, but still sacred, for instance, the wearing of mourning. This reflection may serve to remind us that pure reason has no great motor power, and is only one of the factors in progress. Taboo has indeed been rationalised, but not in all cases by reason. To understand this we must return to the taboos taken up into religion.
These taboos, as we have said, when they receive the sanction of religion receive a different character; they are no longer arbitrary facts, they are rules of conduct enjoined by a divine being. In the lower forms of religion they are scarcely more rational than other savage taboos, “but the restrictions on individual licence which are due to respect for a known and friendly power allied to man, however trivial and absurd they may appear to us in their details, contain within them germinant principles of social progress and moral order . . . to restrain one's individual licence, not out of slavish fear, but from respect for a higher and beneficent power, is a moral discipline of which the value does not altogether depend on the reasonableness of the sacred restrictions; an English schoolboy is subject to many unreasonable taboos, which are not without their value in the formation of character.”1 In the higher forms of religion, however, the trivial and absurd restrictions are cast off, and those alone retained and emphasised which are essential to morality and religion. The higher forms of religion, however, are the fewer; the lower include the vast majority of mankind, and this fact suffices to show that there is nothing, even in “the respect for a known and friendly power allied to man," which makes it inevitable that religion should automatically rise from lower forms to higher and the highest, nor—to confine ourselves to the matter in hand—is there anything automatic in the growing reasonableness of the sacred restrictions of the higher religions. If one religion differs from another in the reasonableness and moral value of its restrictions, the difference is due to some
Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, 154.
difference in their conditions. If the religion of one nation differs from that of another in this way, it must be due to some difference in the two nations; the one nation is more capable than the other of distinguishing between the restrictions which are trivial and the restrictions which are of paramount importance for the progress of civilisation. But on examination it becomes apparent that it is not the mass of a nation which initiates any reform in religion, any discovery in science, any new form of art, any new teaching in morals. It is the individual reformer, artist or moral teacher, who starts the new idea, though it rests with the mass to accept his teaching. We have then two factors to take into account: the individual and the community. As regards the former, no one pretends to have discovered the law of the distribution of genius, or to explain why one age or nation should be rich in men of genius and another barren. We can only accept the fact that Greece produced more geniuses in literature and art than any other country, and that there was a remarkable series of religious teachers in Israel. There is no law to account for the one fact or the other; nor can the manifestations of genius be exhibited as the natural consequence of any general conditions. On the other hand, the behaviour of the mass or generality of the nation in face of the new teaching may be traced to the general conditions at work upon them, and the law of the direction which the new teaching took among them may perhaps be ascertained ; "and after all it is for the most part the conditions only, and not the originating causes of great spiritual movements, which admit of analysis at the hands of the historian.” 1
It seems, then, that it is individual religious reformers who have carried out the selective process by which the innumerable taboos of savage life have been reduced to the reasonable restrictions which are essential to the well-being of mankind. And the prophets and religious teachers who have selected this and rejected that restriction have usually considered themselves in so doing to be speaking, not their own words or thoughts, but those of their God. This belief has been shared by the community they addressed, otherwise
1 Rashdall, Universities of Europe, i. 32.
the common man would not have gained the courage to break an ancient taboo. Certainly no mere appeal to reason would counterbalance that inveterate terror, just as it was no mere consideration of utility or of purely human interests which supplied the religious reformer with his zeal, or that prompted the denunciations of the prophets. Their message was a supernatural message; and in the same way the process by which mischievous taboos were weeded out may be termed a process not of Natural but of Supernatural Selection.
The last three chapters, though absolutely necessary for our purpose, have been somewhat of a digression from the direct line of the argument. The occasion of the digression was the necessity of examining the subject of taboo generally, in order to acertain whether the corpse-taboo necessarily implied hostility on the part of the spirit of the dead man and consequent fear on the part of the living. Various reasons have been suggested in the course of the digression for answering this question in the negative; and if these reasons be accepted, we are free to believe that the feasts in which the dead were invited to partake were the spontaneous expressions of natural affection; and that the possibility of dealings between man and spiritual beings may thus have been suggested in the first instance. That the desire existed in man to approach the supernatural beings by which he was surrounded, will hardly be doubted, for the importance of conciliating beings with irresistible power for good and for evil was of the highest. It is clear also that the friendship or alliance which man sought to establish between himself and the spirits that he conceived to be supernatural, would be modelled on that which bound together human friends or allies, for there was no other form of alliance or friendship known to him. We have therefore to ask what was the earliest tie which bound man to man; in other words, what was the earliest form of society ?
That the nations of the world, before they settled in the countries now occupied by them, were wanderers on the face of the earth, nomads, is a matter which in the case of some
1 See above, pp. 80, 81.
peoples admits of historic proof, and is not doubted in the case of the rest. The form which society takes amongst nomads is that of tribes or clans, the members of which are akin (however they count kinship) to one another. The normal attitude of these clans to one another is that of hostility; consequently the very existence of a clan depends upon the promptitude and success with which the whole of the small community comes to the rescue of any one of its members when threatened with danger, or, if too late to save his life, inflicts punishment on the hostile clan. On the other hand, not merely the slayer but all his kin are responsible for his deed: if their clan is to exist, they must protect him as any other member with their united strength ; and hence, as the kinsmen of the slain man have the whole of the slayer's clan arrayed against them, it is immaterial to them whether they avenge themselves upon the actual slayer or not, as long as they kill some one of his clan. Thus the individual's only safety was in the help and protection of the clan to which he belonged : outside that circle he was helpless and alone. In fine, the only type of friendship known to man, in this stage of society, is that of clansmen one to another, each of whom is ready to lay down his life to protect or avenge his kinsman. But if a man--or any other being, for the matter of that—is not by birth one of your kin, how then is it possible to form any friendly relation, to enter into any engagement or compact with him ? There is only one way : if he is not by birth one of your clan, he must become one; if the same blood does not circulate in your veins, it must be introduced into them; in a word, a blood-covenant must be made between you, and then the fellowship between you becomes sacred and inviolable, for you are now kinsmen, one flesh and one blood. Examples of this proceeding are to be found all over the world; one or two may be given here. “The exchange of blood is often practised amongst the blacks of Africa, as a token of alliance
1 That the blood-feud is a world-wide and universal institution is so well known that illustrations of it are unnecessary. A good collection will be found in Post, Die Geschlechtsgenossenschaft der Urzeit, 155-174. Other instances : Dobrizhoffer, Abipones, ii. 280 ; Im Thurn, Indians of Guiana, 329 ; Journ. of Anth. Inst. xxiv. 171 ff. ; Bastian, Der Mensch, iii. 25, 26.