Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Concepts Of Divine Personages Part 4

( Originally Published 1910 )

Frequent reference has been made to the diversity of the interests of the primitive man which furnish the basis for his religious ideas. The development of these interests, together with the activities with which they are necessarily associated, and which, in part, have produced them, are easily explainable, as we have seen. Thus far we have desired to show how a more or less intense mental attitude of attention or interest may, in certain situations, be quite naturally aroused. This attitude of interested attention is, in most cases, as we have seen, associated in the mind of the savage with various theories of impersonal powers or of spirits. In this section we wish to take up the fact of this association and determine, if possible, its significance.

In a preceding chapter ("The Mysterious Power") it was seen that the concept of a power of some sort, personal or impersonal, may naturally arise from a situation involving strained attention or interest. First the object itself is regarded with interest, then gradually the notion grows that some things, such as dangerous or fleet-footed animals, swift rivers, have a `power' which requires of men special attention, circumspect action. There seems no reason why this vague notion of a force, or potency, should not be gradually extended as a sort of semiconscious `concept' to interpret all phenomena and things which arouse attention, and that it should account also for the well-realized values of the things of concern in daily life. The man, also, whom the savage fears, is in the same way regarded as `possessed' of some madness or `power.' We may, with Frazer, call such a person a man-god 1 if we wish, or, more simply, regard him as merely the sort of a case which helps to generate in the savage mind the semiconscious theory of a `power' to which may be attributed all the peculiarities of his environment.

This notion that there is a `power' in the interesting object is further strengthened by seeming instances of the transmission of the energy from one person or thing to another. The savage is familiar with cases where one body acts upon another with striking results. "Some qualities or characteristics of things are, in a sense, transmissible. Death as such is not infectious, but small-pox is. The touch of a pregnant woman will not impart her fertility, but her warm hand will impart warmth. But there is probably a little more in the matter than a too hasty generalization. There is the conception of a quality as something quasi-substantial."

Association of one thing with another by contiguity may further strengthen the belief in the reality of a `power' in nature, more or less separable from particular objects. Thus, when connections out of the ordinary are noted and are followed by striking events, the primitive mind is immediately suspicious of some hidden connection. Rivers reports that the family of the Toda from whom he obtained much of his in-formation soon suffered a number of misfortunes, sickness, death, and fire, coincidences inevitably impressive to the savage mind.

As we have already pointed out, the so-called universal animism of primitive races is in large measure this feeling that there is in nature a vague potency of some sort which under-lies most of its phenomena, as well as most of the things that men themselves accomplish. The fundamental theory of Shinto is this theory of the universe as sentient, beneficent, or to be dreaded, as the case may be. The theory was not that of spiritism, but simply that the world was alive, possessed of power, no attempt being made to distinguish any spirit part as such. Thus the adherent of Shinto revered buildings, provinces, trees, heaven and earth, human rulers, birds, beasts, plants, seas, mountains, and all of them directly, not necessarily some spirit part of them. They were objects which in various ways attracted his attention, deserved to be dreaded for the powers which they possessed. Such, Aston tells us, were the first Shinto deities. They were real objects of worship, and real religious rites were developed in their honor without any definite personality being attributed to them.' This he explains on the ground that the Japanese have such a feeble concept of personality.

We have in these cases and in those cited from the Todas what may, for convenience, be called an early stage in the development of the deity per se; that is, forms of worship clustering about various objects of interest, probably the direct out-growth of the practical and playful adjustments which these objects of interest originally aroused. The object of interest is felt to possess a potency of some sort, but it is not as yet associated with or conceived in terms of personality. In this same category we should class the widely prevalent ceremonies with which the new moon is greeted, of which Frazer has collected many instances, and which he explains as "intended to renew and invigorate, by means of sympathetic magic, the life of man." It seems to us much simpler to think of these ceremonies as originating in pure, spontaneous joyousness or sportiveness, similar to that described by Stow as appearing among the Bushmen on the advent of the new moon. As the idea of a `power' developed, these sports and dances would naturally be associated with the moon and would be conceived as due to some invigorating influence of its mysterious crescence. In time, the serious phase of the matter might be-come more prominent and the sport and spontaneous joyousness would then be interpreted as the means by all odds most necessary through which to secure to man the peculiar `strength' of the moon. These rites may be called magical, but to the present writer they are rudimentarily religious, i.e. social rites for obtaining `power,' with no very definite conception of the moon as a personality.

Home | More Articles | Email: