« PreviousContinue »
of the modern savage world as more or less representing the animism of remotely ancient races of mankind. Savage animism, founded on a doctrine of souls carried to an extent far beyond its limits in the cultivated world, and thence expanding to a yet wider doctrine of spiritual beings animating and controlling the universe in all its parts, becomes a theory of personal causes developed into a general philosophy of man and nature. As such, it may be reasonably accounted for as the direct product of natural religion, using this term according to the sense of its definition by Wilkins : "I call that natural religion, which men might know, and should be obliged unto, by the meer principles of reason, improved by consideration and experience, without the help of revelation."1 It will scarcely be argued by theologians familiar with the religions of savage tribes, that they are direct or nearly direct products of revelation, for the theology of our time would abolish or modify their details till scarce one was left intact. The main issue of the problem is this, whether savage animism is a primary formation belonging to the lower culture, or whether it consists, mostly or entirely, of beliefs originating in some higher culture, and conveyed by adoption or degradation into the lower. The evidence for the first alternative, though not amounting to complete demonstration, seems reasonably strong, and not met by contrary evidence approaching it in force. The animism of the lower tribes, self-contained and self-supporting, maintained in close contact with that direct evidence of the senses on which it appears to be originally based, is a system which might quite reasonably exist among mankind, had they never any
1 Cited in Johnson's Dictionary. The term "natural religion " is used in various and even incompatible senses. Thus Butler in his 'Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature," signifies by "natural religion " a primaeval system which he expressly argues to have been not reasoned out, but taught first by revelation. This system, of which the main tenets are the belief in one God, the Creator and Moral Governor of the World, and in a future state of moral retribution, differs in the extreme from the actual religions of the lower races.
where risen above the savage condition. Now it does not seem that the animism of the higher nations stands in a connexion so direct and complete with their mental state. It is by no means so closely limited to doctrines evidenced by simple contemplation of nature. The doctrines of the lower animism appear in the higher often more and more modified, to bring them into accordance with an advancing intellectual condition, to adapt them at once to the limits of stricter science and the needs of higher faith; and in the higher animism these doctrines are retained side by side with other and special beliefs, of which the religions of the lower world show scarce a germ. In tracing the course of animistic thought from stage to stage of history, instruction is to be gained alike from the immensity of change and from the intensity of permanence. Savage animism, both by what it has and by what it wants, seems to represent the earlier system in which began the age-long course of the education of the world. Especially it is to be noticed that various beliefs and practices, which in the lower animism stand firm upon their grounds as if they grew there, in the higher animism belong rather to peasants than philosophers, exist rather as ancestral relics than as products belonging to their sh are falling from full life into survival. Thus it is that savage religion can frequently explain doctrines and rites of civilized religion. The converse is far less often the case. Now this is a state of things which seems to carry a historical as well as a practical meaning. The degradation-theory would expect savages to hold beliefs and customs intelligible as broken-down relics of former higher civilization. The development-theory would expect civilized men to keep up beliefs and customs which have their reasonable meaning in less cultured states of society. So far as the study of survival enables us to judge between the two theories, it seems that what is intelligible religion in the lower culture is often meaningless superstition in the higher, and thus the development-theory has the upper hand. Moreover, this evidence fits with the teaching of prehistoric areha?olo»y. Savage life, carrying on into our own day the life of the Stone Age, may be legitimately claimed as represcntiii'i remotely ancient conditions of mankind, intellectual and moral as well as material. If so, a low but progressive state of animistic religion occupies a like ground in savage and in primitive culture.
Lastly, a few words of explanation may be offered as to the topics which this survey has included and excluded. To those who have been accustomed to find theological subjects dealt with on a dogmatic, emotional, and ethical, rather than an ethnographic scheme, the present investigation may seem misleading, because one-sided. This one-sided treatment, however, has been adopted with full consideration. Thus, though the doctrines here examined bear not only on the development but the actual truth of religious systems, I have felt neither able nor willing to enter into this great argument fully and satisfactorily, while experience has shown that to dispose of such questions by an occasional dictatorial phrase is one of the most serious of errors. The scientific value of descriptions of savage and barbarous religions, drawn up by travellers and especially by missionaries, is often lowered by their controversial tone, and by the affectation of infallibility with which their relation to the absolutely true is settled. There is something pathetic in the simplicity with which a narrow student will judge the doctrines of a foreign religion by their antagonism or conformity to his own orthodoxy, on points where utter difference of opinion exists among the most learned and enlightened scholars. The systematization of the lower religions, the reduction of their multifarious details to the few and simple ideas of primitive philosophy which form the common groundwork of them all, appeared to me an urgently needed contribution to the science of religion. This work I have carried out to the utmost of my power, and can now only leave the result in the hands of other students, whose province it is to deal with such evidence in wider schemes of argument. Again, the intellectual rather than the eniotional side of religion has here been kept in view. Even in the life of the rudest savage, religious belief is associated with intense emotion, with awful reverence, with agonizing terror, with rapt ecstasy when sense and thought utterly transcend the common level of daily life. How much the more in faiths where not only does the believer experience such enthusiasm, but where his utmost feelings of love and hope, of justice and mercy, of fortitude and tenderness and self-sacrificing devotion, of unutterable misery and dazzling happiness, twine and clasp round the fabric of religion. Language, dropping at times from such words as soul and spirit their mere philosophic meaning, can use them in full conformity with this tendency of the religious mind, as phrases to convey a mystic sense of transcendent emotion. Yet of all this religion, the religion of vision and of passion, little indeed has been said in these pages, and even that little rather in incidental touches than with purpose. Those to whom religion means above all things religious feeling, may say of my argument that I have written soullessly of the soul, and unspiritually of spiritual things. Be it so: I accept the phrase not as needing an apology, but as expressing a plan. Scientific progress is at times most furthered by working along a distinct intellectual line, without being tempted to diverge from the main object to what lies beyond, in however intimate connexion. The anatomist does well to discuss bodily structure independently of the world of happiness and misery which depends upon it. It would be thought a mere impertinence for a strategist to preface a dissertation on the science of war, by an enquiry how far it is lawful for a Christian man to bear weapons and serve in the wars. My task has been here not to discuss religion in all its bearings, but to pourtray in outline the great doctrine of Animism, as found in what I conceive to be its earliest stages among the lower races of mankind, and to show its transmission along the lines of religious thought.
The almost entire exclusion of ethical questions from this investigation has more than a mere reason of arrangement. It is due to the very nature of the subject. To some the statement may seem startling, yet the evidence seems to justify it, that the relation of morality to religion is one that only belongs in its rudiments, or not at all, to rudimentary civilization. The comparison of savage and civilized religions brings into view, by the side of deeplying resemblance in their philosophy, a deep-lying contrast in their practical action on human life. So far as savage religion can stand as representing natural religion, the popular idea that the moral government of the universe is an essential tenet of natural religion simply falls to the ground. Savage animism is almost devoid of that ethical element which to the educated modern mind is the very mainspring of practical religion. Not, as I have said, that morality is absent from the life of the lower races. Without ii code of morals, the very existence of the rudest tribe would be impossible; and indeed the moral standards of even savage races are to no small extent well-defined and praiseworthy. But these ethical laws stand on their own ground of tradition and public opinion, comparatively independent of the animistic beliefs and rites which exist beside them. The lower animism is not immoral, it is immoral. For this plain reason, it has seemed desirable to keep the discussion of animism, as far as might be, separate from that of ethics. The general problem of the relation of morality to religion is difficult, intricate, and requiring immense array of evidence, and may be perhaps more profitably discussed in connexion with the ethnography of morals. To justify their present separation, it will be enough to refer in general terms to the accounts of savage tribes whose ideas have been little affected by civilized intercourse; proper caution being used not to trust vague statements about good and evil, but to ascertain whether these are what philosophic moralists would call virtue and vice, righteousness and wickedness, or whether they are mere personal advantage and disadvantage. The essential con