« PreviousContinue »
Long afterwards, among the local deities which Mohammed found in Arabia, and which Dr. Sprenger thinks he even acknowledged as divine during a moment when he well nigh broke down in his career, were Manah and Lât, the one a rock, the other a stone or a stone idol; while the veneration of the black stone of the Kaaba, which Captain Burton thinks an aërolite, was undoubtedly a local rite which the Prophet transplanted into his new religion, where it flourishes to this day. The curious passage in Sanchoniathon which speaks of the Heaven-god forming the "bætyls, animated stones” (θεός Ουρανός Βαιτύλια, λίθους εμψύχους, punxavnoáuevos) perhaps refers to meteorites or supposed thunderbolts fallen from the clouds. To the old Phænician religion, which made so deep a contact with the Jewish world on the one side and the Greek and Roman on the other, there belonged the stone pillars of Baal and the wooden Ashera-cones, but how far these objects were of the character of altars, symbols, or fetishes, is a riddle. We may still say with Tacitus, describing the conical pillar which stood instead of an image to represent the Paphian Venus—" et ratio in obscuro."
There are accounts of formal Christian prohibitions of stone-worship in France and England, reaching on into the early middle ages, which show this barbaric cultus as then distinctly lingering in popular religion. Coupling this fact with the accounts of the groups of standing-stones set up to represent deities in South India, a plausible solution is suggested for an interesting problem of Prehistoric Archæology in Europe. Are the menhirs, cromlechs, etc., idols, and circles
on hhlk=smooth (stone), and also lot or portion ; a double sense probably connected with the use of smooth pebbles for casting lots.
Sprenger, ‘Mohammad,' vol. ii. p. 7, etc. Burton, El Medinah, ctc. vol. ii. p. 157.
· Euseb. Præp. Evang. i. 10. Movers, Phönizier, vol. i. pr. 105, 569, and sec index, “Säule,' etc. See De Brosses, ‘Dieux Féticles,' p. 135 (considers bætyl=beth-el, etc.).
3 Lubbock, ‘Origin of Civi' p. 225. Leslie, 'Early Races of Scotland, vol. i. p. 256.
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 anglogy 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.).
2 Earl of Roden, 'Progress of Reformation in Ireland,' London, 1851, p. 51. Sir J. E. Tennent in Notes and Queries,' Feb. 7, 1852. See Dorlase, • 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 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 Phoenician 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 representa
tive, 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
1 • Early Hist. of Mankind,' chap. vi.
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