« PreviousContinue »
Higher Deities of Polytheism-Human characteristics applied to Deity-Lords
of Spiritual Hierarchy-Polytheism : its course of development in lower and higher Culture-Principles of its investigation ; classification of Deities according to central conceptions of their significance and function -Heaven-yod-Rain-god - Thunder-god--Wind-god-Earth-god-Watergod-Sea-god-- Fire-god-Sun.god - Moon.god.
SURVEYING the religions of the world and studying the descriptions of deity among race after race, we may recur to old polemical terms in order to define a dominant idea of theology at large. Man so habitually ascribes to his deities human shape, human passions, human nature, that we may declare him an Anthropomorphite, an Anthropopathite, and (to complete the series) an Anthropophysite. In this state of religious thought, prevailing as it does through so immense a range among mankind, one of the strongest confirmations may be found of the theory here advanced concerning the development of Animism. This theory that the conception of the human soul is the very “fons.et origo” of the conceptions of spirit and deity in general, has been already vouched for by the fact of human souls being held to pass into the characters of good and evil demons, and to ascend to the rank of deities. But beyond this, as we consider the nature of the great gods of the nations, in whom the vastest functions of the universe are vested, it will still be apparent that these mighty deities are modelled on human souls, that in great measure their feeling and sympathy, their character and habit, their will and action, even their material and form, display throughout
their adaptations, exaggerations and distortions, characteristics shaped upon those of the human spirit. The key to investigation of the Dii Majorum Gentium of the world is the reflex of humanity, and as we behold their figures in their proper districts of theology, memory ever brings back the Psalmist's words, “ Thou thoughtest I was altogether as thyself.”
The higher deities of Polytheism have their places in the general animistic system of mankind. Among nation after nation it is still clear how, man being the type of deity, human society and goverment became the model on which divine society and government were shaped. As chiefs and kings are among men, so are the great gods among the lesser spirits. They differ from the souls and minor spiritual beings which we have as yet chiefly considered, but the difference is rather of rank than of nature. They are personal spirits, reigning over personal spirits. Above the disembodied souls and manes, the local genii of rocks and fountains and trees, the host of good and evil demons, and the rest of the spiritual commonalty, stand these mightier deities, whose influence is less confined to local or individual interests, and who, as it pleases them, can act directly within their vast domain, or control and operate through the lower beings of their kind, their servants, agents, or mediators. The great gods of Polytheism, whose dominion thus stretches far and wide over the world, are not, any more than the lower spirits, creations of a civilized theology. In the rudest religions of the lower races, their principal types were already cast, and thenceforward, for many an age of progressing or relapsing culture, it became the work of poet and priest, legend-monger and historian, theologian and philosopher, to develop and renew, to degrade and abolish, the mighty lords of the Pantheon.
With little exception, wherever a savage or barbaric system of religion is thoroughly described, reigning deities make their appearance in the spiritual world as distinctly as chiefs in the human tribe. These beings need by no
means correspond in nature and function between tribe and tribe, yet for the most part each is a definite theological figure with a definite meaning and origin, and as such recurs in many districts, while its definition finds its proper pigeon-hole in the ethnographer's generalization. This state of things comes into view at a glance. Even among the Australians, above the swarming souls, nature-spirits, demons, there stand out mythic figures of higher divinity; Nguk-wonga, the Spirit of the Waters; Biam, who gives ceremonial songs and causes disease, and is perhaps the same as Baiame the creator; Nambajandi and Warrugura, lords of heaven and the nether world. In South America, if we look into the theology of the Manaos (whose name is well known in the famous legend of El Dorado and the golden city of Manoa), we see Mauari and Saraua, who may be called the Good and Evil Spirit, and beside the latter the two Gamainhas, Spirits of the Waters and the Forest.” In North America the description of a solemn Algonquin sacrifice introduces us to twelve dominant manitus or gods; first the Great Manitu in heaven, then the Sun, Moon, Earth, Fire, Water, the House-god, the Indian corn, and the four Windsor Cardinal Points.3 The Polynesian's crowd of manes, and the lower ranks of deities of earth, sea, and air, stand below the great gods of Peace and War, Oro and Tane the national deities of Tahiti and Huahine, Raitubu the Sky-producer, Hina who aided in the work of forming the world, her father Taaroa, the uncreate Creator who dwells in Heaven.4 Among the Land Dayaks of Borneo, the commonalty of spirits consists of the souls of the departed, and of such beings as dwell in the noble old forests on the tops of lofty hills, or such as hover about villages and devour the stores of rice; above these are Tapa, creator and preserver of man, and Iang, who taught
1 Eyre, 'Australia,' vol. ii. p. 362; Oldfield in ‘Tr. th. Soc.' vol. iii. p. 228 ; Lang, Queensland,' p. 444.
9 Martius, “Ethnog. Amer.' vol. i. p. 583.
the Dayaks their religion, Jirong, whose function is the birth and death of men, and Tenabi, who made, and still causes to flourish, the earth and all things therein save the human race. In West Africa, let us take an example from the theology of the Slave Coast, a systematic scheme of all nature as moved and quickened by spirits, kindly or hostile to mankind. These spirits dwell in field and wood, mountain and valley; they live in air and water; multitudes of them have been human souls, such ghosts hover about the graves and near the living, and have influence with the under-gods, whom they worship; among these “edrõ” are the patron-deities of men and families and tribes; through these subordinate beings works the highest god, Mawu. The missionary who describes this negro hierarchy quite simply sees in it Satan and his Angels. In Asia, the Samoyed's little spirits that are bound to his little fetishes, and the little elves of wood and stream, have greater beings above them, the Forest-Spirit, the River-Spirit, the Sun and Moon, the Evil Spirit and the Good Spirit above all.3 The countless host of the local gods of the Khonds pervade the world, rule the functions of nature, and control the life of men, and these have their chiefs; above them rank the deified souls of men who have become tutelary gods of tribes; above these are the six great gods, the Raingod, the goddess of Firstfruits, the god of Increase, the god of Hunting, the iron god of War, the god of Boundaries, with which group stands also the Judge of the Dead, and above all other gods, the Sun-god and Creator Boora Pennu, and his wife the mighty Earth-goddess, Tari Pennu." The Spanish conquerors found in Mexico a complex and systematic hierarchy of spiritual beings; numberless were the little deities who had their worship in house and lane, grove and temple, and from these the worshipper could pass to gods of flowers or of pulque, of hunters and goldsmiths, and then to the great deities of the nation and the world, the figures which the mythologist knows so well, Centeotl the Earth-goddess, Tlaloc the Water-God, Huitzilopochtli the War-god, Mictlanteuctli the Lord of Hades, Tonatiuh and Metztli the Sun and Moon. Thus, starting from the theology of savage tribes, the student arrives at the polytheistic hierarchies of the Aryan nations. In ancient Greece, the cloud-compelling Heaven-god reigns over such deities as the god of War and the goddess of Love, the Sun-god and the Moon-goddess, the Fire-god and the ruler of the Under-world, the Winds and Rivers, the nymphs of wood and well and forest. In modern India, Brahma-Vishnu-Siva reign prominent over a series of divinities, heterogeneous and often obscure in nature, but among whom stand out in clear meaning and purpose such figures as Indra of Heaven and Sûrya of the Sun, Agni of the Fire, Pavana of the Winds and Varuna of the Waters, Yama lord of the Under-world, Kâma god of Love and Kârttikeya of War, Panchânana who gives epilepsy and Manasâ who preserves from snake bites, the divine Rivers, and below these the ranks of nymphs, elves, demons, ministering spirits of heaven and earth—Gandharvas, Apsaras, Siddhas, Asuras, Bhûtas, Râkshasas.
i St. John, “Far East,' vol. i. p. 180.
? J. B Schlegel, 'Schüssel zur Ewe Sprache,' p. xii. ; compaer Bowen, * Yoruba Lang'in 'Smithsonian Contrib,' vol. i. p. xvi.
3 Samoiedia, in Pinkerton, vol. i. p. 531. 4 Macpherson, p. 84, etc.
The systematic comparison of polytheistic religions has been of late years worked with admirable results. These have been due to the adoption of comparatively exact methods, as where the ancient Aryan deities of the Veda have been brought into connexion with those of the Homeric poems, in some cases as clearly as where we Englishmen can study in the Scandinavian Edda the old gods of our own race, whose names stand in local names on the map of England, and serve as counters to reckon our days of the
i Clavigero, 'Messico,' vol. ii. ch. i. 2 Gladstone, 'Juventus Mundi,' ch. vii, etc. 3 Ward, 'Hindoos,' vol. ii.