Page images
PDF
EPUB

Geta?, who wept at births and laughed at funerals, embodies an idea of the relation of this life to the next which comes to the surface again and again in the history of religion, nowhere perhaps touched in with a lighter hand than in the Arabian Nights' tale where Abdallah of the Sea indignantly breaks off his friendship with Abdallah of the Land, when he hears that the dwellers on the land do not feast and sing when one of them dies, like the dwellers in the sea, but mourn and weep and tear their garments. Such thoughts lead on into the morbid asceticism that culminates in the life of the Buddhist saint, eating his food with loathing from the alms-bowl that he carries as though it held medicine, wrapping himself in grave-clothes from the cemetery, or putting on his disfigured robe as though it were a bandage to cover a sore, whose looking forward is to death for deliverance from the misery of life, whose dreamiest hope is that after an inconceivable series of successive existences he may find in utter dissolution and not-being a refuge even from heaven.

The belief in future retribution has been indeed a powerfid engine in shaping the life of nations. Powerful both for good and evil, it has been made the servant-of-all-work of many faiths. Priesthoods have used it unscrupulously for their professional ends, to gain wealth and power for their own caste, to stop intellectual and social progress beyond the barriers of their consecrated systems. On the banks of the river of death, a band of priests has stood for ages to bar the passage against all poor souls who cannot satisfy their demands for ceremonies, and formulas, and fees. This is the dark side of the picture. On the bright side, as we study the moral standards of the higher nations, and see how the hopes and fearsof the life to come have been brought to enforce their teachings, it is plain that through most widely differing religions the doctrine of future judgment has been made to further goodness and to check wickedness, according to the shifting rules by which men have divided right from wrong. The philosophic schools 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.

CHAPTER XIV.

ANIMISM (continued).

Animism, expanding from tho Doctrine of Souls to the wider Doctrine of Spirits, becomes a complete Philosophy of Natural Religion—Definition of Spirits similar to and apparently modelled on that of Souls—Transitioustngo : classes of souls passing into good and evil Demons—Manes-Worship—Doctrine of Embodiment of Spirits in human, animal, vegetable, and inert bodies—Demoniacal Possession and Obsession as causes of Disease and Oracle-inspiration—Fetishism—Disease-spirits embodied— Ghost attached to remains of Corpse— Fetish produced by a Spirit embodied in, attached to, or operating through, an Object—Analogues of Fetish-doctrine in Modern Science—Stock-and-Stone Worship—Idolatry —Survival of Animistic Phraseology in modern language —Decline of Animistic theory of nature.

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 ac tions were held to be caused by souls, so the happy or disastrous events which affect mankind, 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 mediaeval 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 "actual" and the "cemi," beings which require special definition to show whether they are human souls or demons or deities of some other class,1 and so onward to the declaration of Philo Judieus, that souls demons, and angels differ indeed in name, but are in reality one,2 and to the state of mind of the modern Roman Catholic priest, who is

1 See Taylor, 'New Zealand,' p. 134; J. G. Muller, 'Amerikanische Uneligionen,' p. 171.

Tliilo Jud. de Gigantibus, iv.

« PreviousContinue »