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from Formosa on the north to New Zealand on the south, we shall be inclined to believe that it may well have exchanged tales with the negroes of Africa and the Mongols and Aryans of Asia, if not also with the peoples of Central America.
When, then, we find any given myth widely diffused, there are three ways in which its diffusion may be accounted for, namely, borrowing, tradition, and independent origin. Of these three the two latter are of somewhat restricted operation. The theory that a myth has originated independently in several different places is applicable mainly where the myth is a single incident or simple combination of two or three incidents; and where the incident or combination is such that it would or might easily arise in consequence of the action of causes known to exist in the supposed places of origin. Amongst the problems which savages speculate on, the cause of lunar eclipses is one; and a fairly common solution hit upon is that the moon is swallowed by some monster. To postulate borrowing or tradition to account for the fact that different peoples believe the moon's disappearance to her being gradually swallowed up, seems superfluous. Or, again, the regularity with which the sun moves along his allotted path calls for explanation, and the inference that he does so because somebody compels or has compelled him is so easy and obvious that various people may well have hit upon it independently of each other. But when the myth is even moderately complex, the theory of independent origin seems to become inapplicable.
The difficulties in the way of applying the traditiontheory are so great, that it has almost entirely been given up. A story common to several different branches of the same race may have been inherited by them from their undivided forefathers, but it may also have originated after the dispersion, and have spread by borrowing from one branch to another long after they had dispersed from the original home. There is little agreement amongst experts as to what, indeed whether any, myths can be traced back to the original home of the Indo-Europeans, for instance. As for tracking back a myth by the hypothesis of tradition, from the uncertain home of the Indo-Europeans to the cradle of the human race, the attempt is not to be made. Myths that are world-wide are either such as by their relative complexity show that they have spread by borrowing, or such as by their absolute simplicity show that they may have originated amongst any race in the earliest stage of culture discernible by palæontology. That stage was not confined to any one portion of the globe -the Stone Age gives us no clue to the place of man's origin on earth.
There remain two classes of myths to which we have not yet alluded, those about the origin of the world and of man, and flood-myths. The myths about the origin of man, so far as they have any uniformity at all, seem to be constructed on the analogy of the totemist's belief about the ancestor of his clan: the first man grew out of an animal“ belched up by a cow," say the Zulus-—or out of a tree, or out of the ground like a tree, or out of a rock or mountain. The cosmogonic myths include some which regard the universe as “the hollow of a vast cocoa-nut shell, divided into many imaginary circles, like those of mediæval speculation” these seem to be borrowed; others regard "many of the things in the world as fragments of the frame of a semisupernatural and gigantic being, human or bestial, belonging to a race which preceded the advent of man”—and these too are perhaps not above the suspicion of being borrowed ; and others, again, credit the totem-ancestor, whether in animal or human form, with having something to do with the construction of the world as known to the particular mythmaker. Of flood-myths—as of cosmogonic myths—some are not native to the peoples amongst whom they are reported as having been found, but are due to Christian influences. Others have not been derived from European settlers, and may be genuine native productions: the mythical descent of the tribe from a mountain-e.g. the Babylonian “mountain of mankind”-involves the necessity of explaining how the ancestor came to be on the mountain from which he issued, and the savage hypothesis is that he must have been compelled to go there, and compelled obviously by a flood. Others are possibly not myths at all, but traditions of a local inundation. Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, i. 194,
? Op. cit. i. 166,
Myths, then, it seems, are in their origin attempts to explain things—the phenomena of nature, the constitution of the universe, and the descent of man-which in later times form the subject matter of science and of philosophy. They are the first outcome of the speculative tendency in man, the first application of the reason and of the scientific imagination to the solution of problems which have never ceased to engage the attention of man. In a word, mythology is primitive man's science and philosophy, and is the first ancestor of the philosophy and science of the modern savant. But further, these primitive speculations on perennial problems took the shape of narratives: their common form is that so-and-so takes place or took place because somebody once did such-and-such a thing. These narratives, relating, as facts which took place, what were really only inferences, could not be and were not distinguished by primitive man from the traditions of his time which were more or less historic. In fine, mythology was largely primitive man's history as well as his science and his philosophy; and the impossibility of his distinguishing these narratives from actual traditions accounts for the fact that the early history of all peoples contains some admixture-greater or less of mythology. Further, again, some of these explanatory narratives become, as we have seen, tales told for the sake of the telling, works of the poetic imagination. Thus mythology was primitive man's romance as well as his history, his science, and his philosophy.
Now, explanations of all kinds inevitably take their colour and character to a large extent from the character of their author: in seeking to account for a person's conduct, the uncharitable and unchristian man finds an unchristian explanation, and imputes uncharitable motives. In astronomy even, allowance has to be made for “the personal equation," and modern histories reflect the political or personal prepossessions of the modern historian Poetry reflects or rather expresses the tone and morality-austere or sensual -- of the poet; successful poetry, of the poet's generation. Literature reveals the religion or want of religion of the age. And this brings us to the relation of mythology to religion,
The narratives in which primitive speculations were embodied were not merely intellectual exercises, nor the work of the abstract imagination: they reflect or express the mind of the author in its totality, for they are the work of a human being, not of a creature possessing reason and no morality, or imagination and no feeling. They will therefore express the morality of the author and his generation; the motives ascribed to the heroes of the narrative will be such as actuated the men by whom and for whom the narrative was designed ; they may be high or low according as the standard of the time is high or low, but they cannot be higher than the best which the author could find in his own heart. In the same way, then, as the moral tone and temper of the author and his age make themselves felt in these primitive speculations, so will the religious spirit of the time. In fine, mythology is not religion. Mythology is not the source of religion, though it is the source of science, philosophy, poetry, and history. Mythology is no more the source of religion than it is of morality; but just as the latter is expressed in a man's thoughts—in what he likes to dwell on and how he likes to imagine himself faring—in a man's actions, in a people's poetry, so mythology is one of the spheres of human activity in which religion may manifest itself, one of the departments of human reason which religion may penetrate, suffuse, and inspire. Hence we may expect that the early narratives, in which the science and poetry, the history and philosophy, of early peoples are embodied, will in different peoples differ in religious spirit. For instance, if we grant for a moment that the cosmogonies which appear with such similarity in early Hebrew and Chaldæan records, were a piece of primitive science attempting to account for the constitution of the universe, then we have in them. a striking example of the vast difference between primitive narratives which are inspired by the religious spirit and primitive narratives which are not so penetrated. The same considerations will apply to the various narratives of the Flood, or to a comparison of the Paradise of the Book of Genesis with the Babylonians' Garden of Eden or the Persians' Eran Vej. It is the differences in these early narratives, not their resemblances, which are important on
this view. The resemblances are due to the human reason, which in different places working on the same material comes to similar inferences. The difference which distinguishes the Hebrew from all other primitive narratives testifies that the religious spirit was dealt in a larger measure to the Hebrews than to other peoples.
In a previous chapter 1 we have seen that primitive man starts with a fundamental conviction that there are certain things which must not be done; and the human reason, in the endeavour to determine what are the things which must not be done, goes as far astray as it did in its primitive attempts to solve the problems of science. Primitive logic, at the mercy of the association of ideas, tended to multiply the number of things forbidden, until man's every step in life was entangled in a network of taboo. Some of these prohibitions were required in the interests of mankind, others not; and progress, in this respect, consisted in the survival of the fittest of these restraints and the rejection of the rest. The share of religion in this process consisted in what we have called the supernatural selection of the fittest of these restraints: the religious spirit rejected those which were repugnant to the religious consciousness, and retained those which were essential to the moral law and to the conception of "holiness." Now, as the human reason, by its very constitution, was impelled to interpret the fundamental feeling that there are certain things which must not be done, so it was impelled to interpret the phenomena of nature, society, and life, in order to furnish an answer to the problems which those phenomena suggested. And as the restraining and selective agency of the religious spirit was required to criticise the interpretations put forward by the reason in the one case, so it was required in the other. Thus, in the primitive pieces of science, to which reference was made in the last paragraph, the conspicuous fact is that in the Hebrew narratives there has been what we have called a supernatural selection, and a rejection of the elements which are inconsistent with monotheism and the higher religion of the Hebrews. But we can trace the action of supernatural selection even
Supra, p. 85.