« PreviousContinue »
this, should fail to point out that this deity is no other than Azrael the angel of death, adopted under Moslem influence.' Again, in the mixed Pagan and Christian religion of the Circassians, which at least in its recently prevalent form would be reckoned polytheistic, there stand beneath the Supreme Being a number of mighty subordinate deities, of whom the principal are Iele the Thunder-god, Tleps the Fire-god, Seoseres the god of Wind and Water, Misitcha the Forest-god, and Mariam the Virgin Mary. If the monotheistic criterion be simply made to consist in the Supreme Deity being held as creator of the universe and chief of the spiritual hierarchy, then its application to savage and barbaric theology will lead to perplexing conse quences. Races of North and South America, of Africa, of Polynesia, recognizing a number of great deities, are • usually and reasonably considered polytheists, yet under this definition their acknowledgment of a Supreme Creator, of which various cases will here be shown, would entitle them at the same time to the name of monotheists. To mark off the doctrines of the lower races, closer definition is required, assigning the distinctive attributes of deity to none save the Almighty Creator. It may be declared that, in this strict sense, no savage tribe of monotheists has been ever known. Nor are any fair representatives of the lower culture in a strict sense pantheists. The doctrine which they do widely hold, and which opens to them a course tending in one or other of these directions, is polytheism culminating in the rule of one supreme divinity. High above the doctrine of souls, of divine manes, of local naturespirits, of the great deities of class and element, there are to be discerned in savage theology shadowings, quaint or majestic, of the conception of a Supreme Deity, henceforth to be traced onward in expanding power and brightening glory along the history of religion. It is no unimportant task, partial as it is, to select and group the typical data
i Castrén, Finn. Myth.' p. 155. 9 Klemm, Cultur-Gesch.' vol. vi. p. 85.
which show the nature and position of the doctrine of supremacy, as it comes into view within the lower culture.
On the threshold of the investigation, there meets us the same critical difficulty which obstructs the study of primitive dualism. Among low tribes who have been in contact with Christianity or Mohammedanism, how are we to tell to what extent, under this foreign influence, dim, uncouth ideas of divine supremacy may have been developed into more cultured forms, or wholly foreign ideas implanted ? We know how the Jesuit missionaries caught and trained into their own theology the native Canadian thought of a Great Manitu, how they took up the native Brazilian name of the divine Thunder, Tupan, and adapted its meaning to convey in Christian teaching the idea of God. Thus, again, we find most distinctly-marked African ideas of a Supreme Deity in the West, where intercourse with Moslems has actually Islamized or semi-Islamized whole negro nations, and the name of Allah is in all men's mouths. The ethnographer must be ever on the look-out for traces of such foreign influence in the definition of the Supreme Deity acknowledged by any uncultured race, a divinity whose nature and even whose name may betray his adoption from abroad. Thus the supreme Iroquois deity, Neo or Hawaneu, the pre-existent creator, has been triumphantly adduced to show the monotheism underlying the native creeds of America. But Dr. Brinton considers this divinity as derived from Christian instruction, and his very name but a corruption of Dieu, le bon Dieu. Among the list of supreme deities of the lower races who are also held to be first ancestors of man, we hear of Louquo, the uncreate first Carib, who descended from the eternal heaven, made the flat earth, and produced man from his own body. He lived long on earth anong men, died and came to life again after three days, and returned to heaven. It would be hardly reasonable to enumerate, amo ng genuine deities of native West Indian religion, a being with characteristics thus on the face of them adopted from the religion of the white men. Yet even in such extreme cases, it does not necessarily follow that the definitions of these deities, vitiated as they are for ethnographical use by foreign influence, have not to some extent a native substratum. In criticising details, moreover, it must not be forgotten how largely the similarities in the religions of different races may be of independent origin, and how closely allied are many ideas in the rude native theologies of savages to ideas holding an immemorial place in the religions of their civilized invaders. For the present purpose, however, it is well to dwell especially on such evidence as by characteristic traits or early date is farthest removed from suspicion of being borrowed from a foreign source.
1 Brinton, “Myths of New World,' p. 53. Schoolcraft, 'Iroquois,' p. 33.
De la Borde, Caraibes,' p. 524. J. G. Müller, ‘Amer. Urrel.' p. 228.
In surveying the peoples of the world, the ethnographer finds some who are not shown to have any definite conception of a supreme deity; and even where such a conception is placed on record, it is sometimes so vaguely asserted, or on such questionable authority, that he can but take note of it and pass on. In numerous cases, however, illustrated by the following collection from different regions, certain leading ideas, singly or blended, may be traced. There are many savage and barbaric religions which solve their highest problem by the simple process of raising to divine primacy one of the gods of polytheism itself. Even the system of the manes-worshipper has been stretched to reach the limit of supreme deity, in the person of the primæval ancestor. More frequently, it is the nature-worshipper's principle which has prevailed, giving to one of the great nature-deities the precedence of the rest. Here, by no recondite speculation, but by the plain teaching of nature, the choice has for the most part lain between two mighty visible divinities, the all-animating Sun and the all-encompassing Heaven. In the study of such schemes, we are on intellectual terra firma. There is among the religions of the lower races another notable group of systems, seemingly
in close connection with the first. These display to us a heavenly pantheon arranged on the model of an earthly political constitution, where the commonalty are crowds of human souls and other tribes of world-pervading spirits, the aristocracy are great polytheistic gods, and the King is the Supreme Deity. To this comparatively intelligible side of the subject, a more perplexed and obscure side stands contrasted. Among men whose theory of the soul animating the body has already led them to suppose a divine spirit animating the huge mass of earth or sky, this idea needs but a last expansion to become a doctrine of the universe as animated by one greatest, all-pervading divinity, the World-Spirit. Moreover, where speculative philosophy, savage or cultured, grapples with the vast fundamental world-problem, the solution is attained by ascending from the Many to the One, by striving to discern through and beyond the Universe a First Cause. Let the basis of such reasoning be laid in theological ground, then the First Cause is realised as the Supreme Deity. In such ways, the result of carrying to their utmost limits the animistic conceptions which pervade the philosophy of religion, alike among low races and high, is to reach an idea of as it were a soul of the world, a shaper, animator, ruler of the universe, a Great Spirit. In no small measure, such definition answers to that of the highest deity adored by the lower races of mankind. As we enter these regions of transcendental theology, however, we are not to wonder that the comparative distinctness belonging to conceptions of lower spiritual beings here fades away. Human souls, subordinate nature-spirits, and huge polytheistic naturegods, carry with the defined special functions they perform some defined character and figure, but beyond such limiis form and function blend into the infinite and universal in the thought of supreme divinity. To realize this vast idea, two especial ways are open, and both are trodden even by uncultured men. The first way is to fuse the attributes of the great polytheistic powers into more or less of common personality, thus conceiving that, after all, it is the same Highest Being who holds up.the heavens, shines in the sun, smites his foes in the thunder, stands first in the human pedigree as the divine ancestor. The second way is to remove the limit of theologic speculation into the region of the indefinite and the inane. An unshaped divine entity looming vast, shadowy, and calm beyond and over the material world, too benevolent or too exalted to need human worship, too huge, too remote, too indifferent, too supine, too merely existent, to concern himself with the petty race of men,—this is a mystic form or formlessness in which savage and barbaric tribes have not seldom pictured the Supreme.
Thus, then, it appears that the theology of the lower races already reaches its climax in conceptions of Supreme Deity, and that these conceptions in the savage and barbaric world are no copies stamped from one common type, but outlines widely varying among mankind. The degeneration-theory, in some instances no doubt with justice, may claim such beliefs as mutilated and perverted remnants of higher religions. Yet for the most part, the developmenttheory is competent to account for them without seeking their origin in grades of culture higher than those in which they are found existing. Looked upon as products of natural religion, such doctrines of divine supremacy seem in no way to transcend the powers of the low-cultured mind to reason out, nor of the low-cultured imagination to deck with mythic fancy. There have existed in times past, and do still exist, many savage or barbaric people who hold such views of a highest god as they may have attained to of themselves, without the aid of more cultured nations. Among these races, Animism has its distinct and consistent outcome, and Polytheism its distinct and consistent completion, in the doctrine of a Supreme Deity.
The native religions of South America and the West Indies display a well-marked series of types. The primacy of the Sun was long ago well stated by the Moluches when, a Jesuit missionary preached to them, and they replied,