« PreviousContinue »
and lines of idols, worshipped by remotely ancient dwellers in the land as representatives or embodiments of their gods? It may well be so: yet the ideas with which stone-worship is carried on by different races are multifarious, and the analogy may be misleading. It is remarkable to what late times full and genuine stone-worship has survived in Europe. In certain mountain districts of Norway, up to the end of the last century, the peasants used to preserve round stones, washed them every Thursday evening (which seems to show some connection with Thor), smeared them with butter before the fire, laid them in the seat of honour on fresh straw, and at certain times of the year steeped them in ale, that they might bring luck and comfort to the house. In an account dating from 1851, the islanders of Inniskea, off Mayo, are declared to have a stone carefully wrapped in flannel, which is brought out and worshipped at certain periods, and when a storm arises it is supplicated to send a wreck on the coast. No savage ever showed more clearly by his treatment of a fetish that he considered it a personal being, than did these Norwegians and Irishmen. The ethnographic argument from the existence of stockand-stone worship among so many nations of comparatively high culture seems to me of great weight as bearing on religious development among mankind. To imagine that peoples skilled in carving wood and stone, and using these arts habitually in making idols, should have gone out of their way to invent a practice of worshipping logs and pebbles, is not a likely theory. But on the other hand, when it is considered how such a rude object serves to uncultured men as a divine image or receptacle, there is nothing strange in its being a relic of early barbarism holding its place against more artistic models through ages of advancing
Nilsson, ‘Primitive Inhabitants of Scandinavia,' p. 241. See also Meiners, vol. ii. p. 671 (speaking stones in Norway, etc.).
Earl of Roden, Progress of Reformation in Ireland,' London, 1851, p. 51. Sir J. E. Tennent in ‘Notes and Queries,' Feb. 7, 1852. See Borlase, 'Antiquities of Cornwall,' Oxford, 1754, book iii. ch. 2.
civilization, by virtue of the traditional sanctity which belongs to survival from remote antiquity.
By a scarcely perceptible transition, we pass to Idolatry. A few chips or scratches or daubs of paint suffice to convert the rude post or stone into an idol. Difficulties which complicate the study of stock-and-stone worship disappear in the worship of even the rudest of unequivocal images, which can no longer be mere altars, and if symbols must at least be symbols of a personal being. Idolatry occupies a remarkable district in the history of religion. It hardly belongs to the lowest savagery, which simply seems not to have attained to it, and it hardly belongs to the highest civilization, which has discarded it. Its place is intermediate, ranging from the higher savagery where it first clearly appears, to the middle civilization where it reaches its extreme development, and thenceforward its continuance is in dwindling survival and sometimes expanding revival. The position thus outlined is, however, very difficult to map exactly. Idolatry does not seem to come in uniformly among the higher savages; it belongs, for instance, fully to the Society Islanders, but not to the Tongans and Fijians. Among higher nations, its presence or absence does not necessarily agree with particular national affinities or levels of culture-compare the idol-worshipping Hindu with his ethnic kinsman the idol-hating Parsi, or the idolatrous Phænician with his ethnic kinsman the Israelite, among whose people the incidental relapse into the proscribed image-worship was a memory of disgrace. Moreover, its tendency to revive is ethnographically embarrassing. The ancient Vedic religion seems not to recognize idolatry, yet the modern Brahmans, professed followers of Vedic doctrine, are among the greatest idolators of the world. Early Christianity by no means abrogated the Jewish law against image-worship, yet image-worship became and still remains widely spread and deeply rooted in Christendom.
Of Idolatry, so far as its nature is symbolic or representative, I have given some account elsewhere. The old and greatest difficulty in investigating the general subject is this, that an image may be, even to two votaries kneeling side by side before it, two utterly different things; to the one it may be only a symbol, a portrait, a memento; while to the other it is an intelligent and active being, by virtue of a life or spirit dwelling in it or acting through it. In both cases Image-worship is connected with the belief in spiritual beings, and is in fact a subordinate development of animism. But it is only so far as the image approximates to the nature of a material body provided for a spirit, that Idolatry comes properly into connection with Fetishism. It is from this point of view that it is proposed to examine here its purpose and its place in history. An idol, so far as it belongs to the theory of spirit-embodiment, must combine the characters of portrait and fetish. Bearing this in mind, and noticing how far the idol is looked on as in some way itself an energetic object, or as the very receptacle enshrining a spiritual god, let us proceed to judge how far, along the course of civilization, the idea of the image itself exerting power or being actually animate has prevailed in the mind of the idolator.
As to the actual origin of idolatry, it need not be supposed that the earliest idols made by man seemed to their maker living or even active things. It is quite likely that the primary intention of the image was simply to serve as a sign or representative of some divine personage, and certainly this original character is more or less maintained in the world through the long history of image-worship. At a stage succeeding this original condition, it may be argued, the tendency to identify the symbol and the symbolized, a tendency so strong among children and the ignorant everywhere, led to the idol being treated as a living powerful being, and thence even to explicit doctrines as to the manner of its energy or animation. It is, then, in this secondary stage, where the once merely representative image is passing into the active image-fetish, that we are particularly concerned to understand it. Here it is reasonable to judge the idolator by his distinct actions and beliefs. A line of illustrative examples will carry the personality of the idol through grade after grade of civilization. Among the lower races, such thoughts are displayed by the Kurile islander throwing his idol into the sea to calm the storm ; by the negro who feeds ancestral images and brings them a share of his trade profits, but will beat an idol or fling it into the fire if it cannot give him luck or preserve him from sickness; by famous idols of Madagascar, of which one goes about of himself or guides his bearers, and another answers when spoken to—at least, they did this till they were ignominiously found out a few years ago. Among Tatar peoples of North Asia and Europe, conceptions of this class are illustrated by the Ostyak, who clothes his puppet and feeds it with broth, but if it brings him no sport will try the effect of a good thrashing on it, after which he will clothe and feed it again ; by the Lapps, who fancied their uncouth images could go about at will; or the Esths, who wondered that their idols did not bleed when Dieterich the Christian priest hewed them down. Among high Asiatic nations, what could be more anthropomorphic than the rites of modern Hinduism, the dances of the nautch-girls before the idols, the taking out of Jagannath in procession to pay visits, the spinning of tops before Krishna to amuse him ? Buddhism is a religion in its principles little favourable to idolatry. Yet, from setting up portrait-statues of Gautama and other saints, there developed itself the full worship of images, and even of images with hidden joints and cavities, which moved and spoke as in our own middle ages. In China, we read stories of worshippers abusing some idol that has failed in its duty. “How now,” they say, "you dog of a spirit; we have given you an abode in a splendid temple, we gild you and feed you and fumigate you with incense, and yet you are so ungrateful that you won't listen to our prayers !” So they drag him in the dirt, and then, if they get what they want, it is but to clean him and set him up again, with apologies and promises of a new coat of gilding. There is what appears a genuine story of a Chinaman who had paid an idol priest to cure his daughter, but she died; whereupon the swindled worshipper brought an action of law against the god, who for his fraud was banished from the province. The classic instances, again, are perfect—the dressing and anointing of statues, feeding them with delicacies and diverting them with raree-shows, summoning them as witnesses ; the story of the Arkadian youths coming back from a bad day's hunting and revenging themselves by scourging and pricking Pan's statue, with its companion tale of the image which fell upon the man who ill-treated it; the Tyrians chaining the statue of the Sun-god that he might not abandon their city ; Augustus chastising in effigy the illbehaved Neptune; Apollo's statue that moved when it would give an oracle; and the rest of the images which brandished weapons, or wept, or sweated, to prove their supernatural powers. Such ideas continued to hold their place in Christendom, as was natural, considering how directly the holy image or picture took the place of the household god or the mightier idol of the temple. The Russian boor covering up the saint's picture that it may not see him do wrong; the Mingrelian borrowing a successful neighbour's saint when his own crop fails, or when about to perjure himself, choosing for the witness of his deceitful oath a saint of mild countenance and merciful repute; the peasant of Southern Europe, alternately coaxing and trampling on his special saint-fetish, and ducking the Virgin or St. Peter for rain; the winking and weeping images that are worked, even at this day, to the greater glory of God, or rather to the greater shame of Man—these are but the extreme instances of the worshipper's endowment of the sacred image with a life and personality modelled on his own.1
| 'Early Hist. of Mankind,' chap. vi.