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RELIGIOUS propagation has taken its course from the East westwards into Europe. In the south, that is, with respect to the Greek-Latin branch, the stream for a time seems to have flowed in the contrary direction, but as far as concerns the peoples in whom we are immediately interested, there has been no retroactive influence.
Common to all the Indo-European races was a simple form of fireworship, which belonged to the stock before its separation. But subsequently each branch, under a distinct influence, developed in its own peculiar way its religious forms, so that Celts and Goths, when we meet them in Europe, show a broad line of demarcation, and types of belief, the individuality of which cannot be mistaken. The religious culture of the Celts may be said to have been astralian, whilst that of the Goths was tellurian and mythological. Our information on this subject is imperfect, but there is sufficient to prove that the Celtic and Gothic religions, having been separated by a wide interval, again came in contact, and interlaced, so as to be considerably indebted to each other.
The Tatár and Iberian peoples, the contact of whom with the Indo-Europeans has been already pointed out, do not appear to have influenced much the Celtic religion. Taking what is known of the Iberians on this subject, and substituting for the original Tatars of western Europe, the Finns and Lapps of the north, and the Tungusians and Ostiaks of Asia, the points of resemblance or
identity with the Celts are not numerous. The Iberian influence was most probably of a limited character, and if anything were taken up from that source, it produced no abiding effect.
We are much better circumstanced respecting the religious belief of the Goths, for though we have little information on the old German religion, except what is learned from the Latin writers, the deficiency is well supplied from the records of Scandinavian mythology. * It is even of more immediate importance that we should have directly open to us the latter source, but we must not commit the mistake of supposing everything that finds its counterpart in the traditions of the north, to be exclusively Scandinavian.
National religions modify, without supplanting, each other to a surprising degree, though the influence is not always very apparent. So much is this the case, that the complete conversion of a people is rarely, if ever, accomplished. Fragments of old rites remain, and maintain themselves for centuries after their intention and use have been forgotten. The missionary may war against them as he will, and brand them as superstitions; they give way to no dircct attack. Time alone frequently effects that in which religious zeal has failed; and under the guise of old customs they withdraw to remote nooks of the land, seeking out more primitive manners.
The phenomena of popular life called superstitions and customs, can therefore rarely be understood in connexion with the
age in which we find them. What is now an unmeaning custom, the amusement of children, was once an impressive superstition, and in a still earlier time formed part of the national worship. Thus we can only hope to explain successfully an old custom, when we are successful in tracing it to its source.
It is probable, however, that all customs cannot be considered in the light of superstitions ; many, indeed, bear the stamp of a purely social origin; and whether such were ever enforced by an authority
• The Eddas, commonly called Sämund's Edda and Suorra's Edda. The former, a collection of mythic and traditionary songs, dates its compilation from 1133; the latter, a prosaic abstract of the former, was composed in 1241, but was the first printed.
higher than that of necessity, depends on the nature of the religion with which they were connected. The whole social life of many peoples entered into the rules of their religious code, whilst others, even at a very early stage of culture, effected a separation between the religious and social laws.
It is always to be regretted when popular customs, whatever may have been their origin, are met with such direct opposition as to bring about their sudden extinction. Like the myrtle on the grave of Polydorus, they cannot be pulled up without groans and blood. The connexion between customs and popular manners needs scarcely be pointed out, and no custom survives the manners to which it is acclimatised. They vanish from amongst us rapidly enough. One change of manners strips the old rite of its religious character, and degrades it to a superstition; another change, and the superstition has become a custom, and that which was a custom has disappeared.
FIREWORSHIP, although the primitive rite of a great portion of the human family, is best known to us in connexion with the Persians, some remnants of whom have maintained their peculiar religion even to the latest times. Yet very little knowledge was obtained concerning the doctrines of the fireworshippers, until the remains of their sacred writings, under the name of the Zendavesta, were introduced into Europe in 1771. Since that time some real information on the Petsian religious system has been spread abroad, and it has been shown to be the most elaborate ever conceived by the mind of man.
The exposition of doctrine which we find in the Zendavesta, only makes known to us the Persian system subsequent to its reformation under Zoroaster and his followers. But there is no doubt the primitive religion of the stock to which the Persians belonged, contained the germs of that belief nurtured into such magnificent life by the great Magus. Among the Indians (Hindoos), as well as with the Celts, fire was not merely a means of consuming or cooking the sacrifice, but had itself a sacred character. The principle of fire is declared by the Zendavesta to form the union between Ormuzd and the First Cause, but to be of too mystic a nature for man to explain. The sacred fire of the Celts maintained itself on the extreme verge of the West, even when Druidism existed no longer.
It is principally in its Zoroastrian development that the Persian religion contrasts with that of the other branches of the stock.