« PreviousContinue »
which from classic times onward have rejected the belief in a future existence, appear to have come back by a new road to the very starting point which perhaps the rudest races of men never quitted. At least this seems true as regards the doctrine of future retribution, which is alike absent from the belief of classes of men at the two extremes of culture. How far the moral standard of life may have been adjusted throughout the higher races with reference to a life hereafter, is a problem difficult of solution, so largely do unbelievers in this second life share ethical principles which have been more or less shaped under its influence. Men who live for one world or for two, have high motives of virtue in common; the noble self-respect which impels them to the life they feel worthy of them; the love of goodness for its own sake and for its immediate results; and beyond this, the desire to do good that shall survive the doer, who will not indeed be in the land of the living to see his work, but who can yet discount his expectations into some measure of present satisfaction. Yet he who believes that his thread of life will be severed once and for ever by the fatal shears, well knows that he wants a purpose and a joy in life, which belong to him who looks for a life to come. Few men feel real contentment in the expectation of vanishing out of conscious existence, henceforth, like the great Buddha, to exist only in their works. To remain incarnate in the memory of friends is something. A few great spirits may enjoy in the reverence of future ages a thousand years or so of “subjective immortality ;” though as for mankind at large, the individual's personal interest hardly extends beyond those who have lived in his time, while his own memory scarce outlives the third and fourth generation. But over and above these secular motives, the belief in immortality extends its powerful influence through life, and culminates at the last hour, when, setting aside the very evidence of their senses, the mourners smile through their tears, and say it is not death but life.
Animism, expanding from the Doctrine of Souls to the wider Doctrine of
Spirits, becomes a complete Philosophy of Natural Religion-Definition
The general scheme of Animism, of which the doctrine of souls hitherto discussed forms part, thence expands to complete the full general philosophy of Natural Religion among mankind. Conformably with that early childlike philosophy in which human life seems the direct key to the understanding of nature at large, the savage theory of the universe refers its phenomena in general to the wilful action of pervading personal spirits. It was no spontaneous fancy, but the reasonable inference that effects are due to causes, which led the rude men of old days to people with such ethereal phantoms their own homes and haunts, and the vast earth and sky beyond. Spirits are simply personified causes. As men's ordinary life and actions were held to be caused by souls, so the happy or disastrous events which affect man
kind, as well as the manifold physical operations of the outer world, were accounted for as caused by soul-like beings, spirits whose essential similarity of origin is evident through all their wondrous variety of power and function. Much that the primitive animistic view thus explains, has been indeed given over by more advanced education to the “metaphysical ” and “positive” stages of thought. Yet animism is still plainly to be traced onward from the intellectual state of the lower races, along the course of the higher culture, whether its doctrines have been continued and modified into the accepted philosophy of religion, or whether they have dwindled into mere survivals in popular superstition. Though all I here undertake is to sketch in outline such features of this spiritualistic philosophy as I can see plainly enough to draw at all, scarcely attempting to clear away the haze that covers great parts of the subject, yet even so much as I venture on is a hard task, made yet harder by the responsibility attaching to it. For it appears that to follow the course of animism on from its more primitive stages, is to account for much of medieval and modern opinion whose meaning and reason could hardly be comprehended without the aid of a development-theory of culture, taking in the various processes of new formation, abolition, survival, and revival. Thus even the despised ideas of savage races become a practically important topic to the modern world, for here, as usual, whatever bears on the origin of philosophic opinion, bears also on its validity.
At this point of the investigation, we come fully into sight of the principle which has been all along implied in the use of the word Animism, in a sense beyond its narrower meaning of the doctrine of souls. By using it to express the doctrine of spirits generally, it is practically asserted that the ideas of souls, demons, deities, and any other classes of spiritual beings, are conceptions of similar nature throughout, the conceptions of souls being the original ones of the series. It was best, from this point of view, to begin with a careful study of souls, which are the spirits proper to men, animals, and things, before extending the survey of the spirit-world to its fullest range. If it be admitted that souls and other spiritual beings are conceived of as essentially similar in their nature, it may be reasonably argued that the class of conceptions based on evidence most direct and accessible to ancient men, is the earlier and fundamental class. To grant this, is in effect to agree that the doctrine of souls, founded on the natural perceptions of primitive man, gave rise to the doctrine of spirits, which extends and modifies its general theory for new purposes, but in developments less authenticated and consistent, more fanciful and far-fetched. It seems as though the conception of a human soul, when once attained to by man, served as a type or model on which he framed not only his ideas of other souls of lower grade, but also his ideas of spiritual beings in general, from the tiniest elf that sports in the long grass up to the heavenly Creator and Ruler of the world, the Great Spirit.
The doctrines of the lower races fully justify us in classing their spiritual beings in general as similar in nature to the souls of men. It will be incidentally shown here, again and again, that souls have the same qualities attributed to them as other spirits, are treated in like fashion, and pass without distinct breaks into every part of the general spiritual definition. The similar nature of soul and other spirit is, in fact, one of the commonplaces of animism, from its rudest to its most cultured stages. It ranges from the native New Zealanders' and West Indians' conceptions of the “atua” and the “cemi,” beings which require special definition to show whether they are human souls or demons or deities of some other class, and so onward to the declaration of Philo Judæus, that souls demons, and angels differ indeed in name, but are in reality one, and to the state of mind of the modern Roman Catholic priest, who is
'? See Taylor, 'New Zealand,' p. 134; J. G. Müller, ' Amerikanische Urreligionen,' p. 171.
2 Philo Jud. de Gigantibus, iv.
cautioned in the rubric concerning the examination of a possessed patient, not to believe the demon if he pretends to be the soul of some saint or deceased person, or a good angel (neque ei credatur, si dæmon simularet se esse animam alicujus Sancti, vel defuncti, vel Angelum bonum).1 Nothing can bring more broadly into view the similar nature of souls and other spiritual beings than the existence of a full transitional series of ideas. Souls of dead men are in fact considered as actually forming one of the most important classes of demons and deities.
It is quite usual for savage tribes to live in terror of the souls of the dead as harinful spirits. Thus Australians have been known to consider the ghosts of the unburied dead as becoming malignant demons. New Zealanders have supposed the souls of their dead to become so changed in nature as to be malignant to their nearest and dearest friends in life ;3 the Caribs said that, of man's various souls, some go to the seashore and capsize boats, others to the forests to be evil spirits : * among the Sioux Indians the fear of the ghost's vengeance has been found to act as a check on murder ;5 of some tribes in Central Africa it may be said that their main religious doctrine is the belief in ghosts, and that the main characteristic of these ghosts is to do harm to the living. The Patagonians lived in terror of the souls of their wizards, which become evil demons after death ;7 Turanian tribes of North Asia fear their shamans even more when dead than when alive, for they become a special class of spirits who are the hurtfullest in all nature, and who among the Mongols plague the living on