Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

terminable—as far as the individual is concerned-on certain contingencies, or on attaining a certain age, e.g. manhood; for, whereas some priesthoods could not commence before manhood, others could only be held before that period.

Having illustrated the want of uniformity in this feature of the priesthood, and having noted that it will require explanation, we may proceed to examine the features in which uniformity prevails. First, we will take the fact that in all religions there are certain things which priests may not do: there may be, there is, a want of agreement in details, as to the particular things, but the general principle is universal. When, however, we come to examine the details, we find that, though the particular things which are thus forbidden in antique religions vary, they all agree in certain points: they are prohibitions which have no spiritual value (e.g. the priestess of Athênê at Athens might not eat cheese), no ethical import (e.g. the prohibition of attendance at funerals 2), and no practical utility (e.g. the prohibition of seeing an army under arms 3); in fine, they constitute the “irrational element” in the conditions of priesthood, and have exactly the same value for the historian as the irrational element of myth has : they indicate that the institution has been transmitted to civilised man from ancestors who were in a less advanced stage of culture than he, and to whom, consequently, these prohibitions appeared, when they made them, perfectly reasonable. It is clear, then, that any general theory of the priesthood must account for these prohibitions; and to be a satisfactory theory must account for them all. The nature of the class of facts requiring explanation may be inferred from the summary Mr. Frazer gives * of the prohibitions or rules of life observed by the Flamen Dialis at Rome; "they were such as the following: the Flamen Dialis might not ride or even touch a horse, nor see an army under arms, nor wear a ring which was not broken, nor have a knot on any part of his garments; no fire except a sacred fire might be taken out of his house ; he might not touch wheaten flour or leavened bread; he might not touch or even name a goat, a dog, raw meat, beans, and ivy; he might not walk under a vine; the feet of his bed had to be daubed with mud; his hair could be cut only by a free man and with a bronze knife, and his hair and nails when cut had to be buried under a lucky tree; he might not touch a dead body, nor enter a place where one was burned ; he might not see work being done on holy days; he might not be uncovered in the open air ; if a man in bonds were taken into his house, he had to be unbound, and the cords had to be drawn up through a hole in the roof and so let down into the street. His wife, the Flaminica, had to observe nearly the same rules, and others of her own besides. She might not ascend more than three steps of the kind of staircase called Greek; at a certain festival she might not comb her hair ; the leather of her shoes might not be made from a beast that had died a natural death, but only from one that had been slain or sacrificed ; if she heard thunder she was tabooed till she had offered an expiatory sacrifice.” The theory that priestly taboos were symbolical of the religious qualifications required of the priest, can hardly be stretched to cover all the facts. It may explain partly why some taboos were retained in advancing civilisation; it cannot explain their original imposition. We shall have, therefore, to find another explanation of their origin. Their abolition it is which is due to the religious sentiment, not their origin; and the same selective process which gradually weeded out the irrational prohibitions permitted the survival of those which could be explained as the outward and visible symbols of higher things.

1 Strabo, ix. 395.

? Lev. x. 6, xxi. 1-5; Plato, Laws, 947 C. 3 Festus, 249, 22 for the Flamen Dialis, and Schömand, Antiquités Grecques, 11. ii. 507 for Greek priests.

* G.B. i. 117.

We now turn from the things which priests may not do, to the other feature characteristic of and common to all priests in early religions, namely, the things which they do. Here, too, in the midst of what at first sight appears to be endless variety, we find a principle of uniformity: the priest had charge of the ritual of the sanctuary in which he served. It was his business to see that the various external acts which constituted that ritual were performed in the order and manner prescribed by custom. The prescribed details might and did vary greatly in different places : thus in Sicyon a pig might not be offered to Aphroditê; in Megara she was the only deity to whom it could be offered. But uniformly the priest's office was to draw near to the god and to introduce the worshipper to him. The central feature of the priestly function, the key to his position and place in the ritual, was that by inviolable custom he and he alone could kill the victim which the worshipper brought and on the sacrifice of which the worshipper's hope depended of commending himself to the god and renewing the bond with him. The priest alone dealt (actually or formally) the first and fatal blow at the victim : hence his power of rejecting a worshipper who brought the wrong kind of victim or failed to fulfil any of the preliminary conditions (of fasting, purification, etc.) which the custom of the sanctuary exacted. It is the power and duty of dealing the first blow which is universally characteristic of the antique priesthood; and as this duty is involved with the act of sacrifice which is the centre and origin of ancient religious institutions, we may reasonably consider that in it we have an indication of the direction in which we must look for the origin of the priesthood. What was it that caused a primitive community to agree in looking upon one particular man as peculiarly qualified or privileged to strike the first blow?

To answer this question, we must note that in civilised communities the priest as a rule only intermediates between the god and the worshipper, in the sense that by sacrificing the victim which the latter brings he puts him into communication with the former, and so enables him to make his prayer. The priest may, from his constant attendance upon the sanctuary and the zeal with which he looks after the interests of the deity, have, as Chryses in the Niad has, some personal influence with the god; but, as a rule, in civilised times the priest does not himself exercise supernatural powers. But to this rule there are exceptions, well established in civilised countries and more common amongst uncivilised peoples. For instance, a supernatural power of foreseeing the future may be exercised by the priest or priestess, who is then believed to be temporarily inspired or “possessed " by the god. Two instances must suffice for us. In Fiji, “one who intends to consult the oracle dresses and oils himself ... there is placed before the priest a dish of scented oil, with which he anoints himself ... in a few minutes he trembles ; slight distortions are seen in his face and twitching movements in his limbs. These increase to a violent muscular action, which spreads until the whole frame is strongly convulsed, and the man shivers as with a strong ague fit. . . . The priest is now possessed by his god, and all his words and actions are considered as no longer his own, but those of the deity who has entered into him. Shrill cries of 'It is I ! it is I!' fill the air, and the god is thus supposed to notify his approach. While giving the answer, the priest's eyes stand out and roll as in a frenzy ; his voice is unnatural, his face pale, his lips livid, his breathing depressed, and his entire appearance like that of a furious madman. The sweat runs from every pore, and tears start from his strained eyes ; after which the symptoms gradually disappear. The priest looks round with a vacant stare, and as the god says, “I depart, announces his actual departure by violently flinging himself down on the mat.”1 The other instance is contained in Virgil's description of the “possession ” of the Sibyl :

“ Ventum erat ad limen, cum virgo ‘Poscere fata

Tempus' ait; deus, ecce deus !' cui talia fanti
Ante fores subito non vultus, non color unus,
Non comptæ mansere comæ ; sed pectus anhelum,
Et rabie fera corda tument ; maiorque videri,
Nec mortale sonans, adflata est numine quando
Iam propiore dei ...
At Phæbi nondum patiens immanis in antro
Bacchatur vates, magnum si pectore possit
Excussisse deum ; tanto magis ille fatigat
Os rabidum fera corda domans fingitque premendo.";

But the Apollo who entered the Sibyl and prophesied through her lips could also in the same way give supernatural strength ;8 and in the orgiastic worship of Dionysus the worshippers were supposed by the Greeks to be endowed with superhuman physical power by the god on whose body they had fed. • Amongst savages even more extensive powers are believed to be exercised, not temporarily, but permanently, by human beings of whom a god has taken not temporary

1 Williams, Fiji and the Fijians, i. 224. ? Æn. vi. 45 ff., 77 ff. 3 Paus. X. xxxii, 6.

but permanent possession. Thus in the Marquesas Islands there was a class of men who "were supposed to wield a supernatural power over the elements; they could give abundant harvests or smite the ground with barrenness; and they could inflict disease or death."1 In South America, the Chibchas had a high pontiff, and “by a long and ascetic novitiate this ghostly ruler was reputed to have acquired such sanctity that the waters and the rain obeyed him and the weather depended on his will.” 2 From Africa Mr. Frazer gives a long list of kings who are consulted as oracles, and can inflict or heal sickness, withhold rain, and cause famine ; and from Cambodia he quotes the two kings of Fire and of Water, who control those elements respectively; and again,“ the Buddhist Tartars believe in a great number of living Buddhas, who officiate as Grand Lamas at the head of the most important monasteries." 3 In the semi-civilisations of the New World “ the Mexican kings at their accession took an oath that they would make the sun to shine, the clouds to give rain, the rivers to flow, and the earth to bring forth fruits in abundance,” 4 and the Incas of Peru were revered like gods. In the Old World the kings of Egypt were deified in their lifetime, and the Mikado belonged to the same class of sacred potentates, who are (or were) also to be found in Ethiopia, Southern India, Siam, Sumatra, Babylon; and of whom probable traces were to be found even in Europe.

Of these wielders of supernatural power, some, it will have been noted, are high priests, some kings, and some, like the Incas of Peru and the kings of Egypt, both kings and high priests. This creates a presumption that originally these possessors of supernatural power united in their own person the functions which afterwards came to be held by separate officials : originally there was but one supreme institution, and it was only in course of time that the priestly function and the royal were separated, and that the one institution became two. This presumption is both confirmed and explained by the taboos which attach to the institution. Not only priests but kings are subject to taboos, and the royal taboos are of the same kind as the priestly. To take a parallel which recent investigation has made possible, the Flamen Dialis, it will be

* Frazer, G. B. i. 38. ? Ibid. 44. 3 Ibid. 42. * Ibid. 49.

« ForrigeFortsæt »