Animism - The Seed of Religion


discrimination as to the nature of things ; but the conception that things proceed from other things without which they would not exist, was late in his mental development. Until, with gradual perception of a constant relation between certain phenomena and their recurrence in some order, there arose inquisitiveness as to the how and the why these things could be,the emotions had well-nigh unfettered play.

And among the larger part of mankind they remain unchecked: the lower the race, the more is it the slave of unrestrained impulse and feeling. Despite advance in knowledge, which is advance in explanation of the causes of things, whereby they are stripped of the pseudo-mysterious, and confidence is begotten, "there is, "as Professor Davenport remarks in his admirable treatise on Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals," in the average man a great
slumbering mass of fear that he cannot shake off, made up of instincts and feehngs inherited from a long human and animal past."

Even the strongest of nerve among us are not entirely free from this on occasions of deep moment and under acute crises; still more is it so when contact with a crowd affects the emotions, giving rise by contagious suggestion to collective haUu-


cinations. 26 This is specially noticeable in times of "religious revivals," when the feelings of numbers (in which there is not always "safety") are screwed to the highest pitch by fanatical, if well-meaning, preachers, who know httle of the mischief done thereby to sensitive souls, with rare result of permanent change of character. Then there is the tendency
in many minds, classed as intelligent, to fly to supernatural explanations of unusual events. Pan, the terror-inspiring god, is not dead.

The "feare of things invisible," which is the "naturall Seed of Religion," has derived its germinating force from Animism. For the essence of religion is in the doctrine of spirits, beings of unknown, and, therefore, of dreaded potency, the force of which has dechned as knowledge has advanced. We are beset behind and before with the impossibility of putting ourselves in man's place at the period when, of necessity, he looked on nature with other eyes than ours.
We have weighed and measured the stars; we have captured their light in our prisms and extracted therefrom the secret of their structure;

26 For remarkable examples of these, see Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd, chap. ii. sect. 2.


we have computed how many years elapse before the light emitted, by the nearest stars reaches our system; we have displaced the earth from its old position in primitive thought as the centre of the universe; we have dethroned the sun as an orb of the first magnitude, and made some approach to knowledge of the distribution in space of his millions of fellow suns. Our telescopes have swept the skies, and found no ascending or descending angels there. But we have given to
the feeling of wonder legitimate and larger play.

To the countless generations who could not know into what heritage we, their remote descendants, should enter, all was as vague as it was vast.

Having once conceived of objects as informed by something corresponding to man's life and will, realizing therein that there was a distinction between the thing moved and the something that moved it, the idea of a twofold, a seen and unseen, must arise. And in that idea was the germ of the Supernatural, which itself had impetus in the fact borne in upon man that he was at the mercy of powers stronger than himself, that crossed his path, that thwarted his schemes, and played havoc with anything to which he clung. For so long as affairs ran


smoothly with him and his, little heed need be paid to what the spirits did; it was when he was worsted in the struggle that he felt himself in the clutches and at the mercy of powers which were other than, and above, nature.

He would of course locate them wherever he found them active; whether in animal, tree, cloud, or stone; and would seek for ways of entering into some sort of relations with them, whereby they might be squared, and he might be advantaged.

The invisible ones, long the objects of fear, as many remain to this day, became, in some cases, objects of reverence, but there persisted the sense of dependence which is expressed in the highest as in the lowest faiths. In the instinctive cry for help, there was the primitive prayer; in the magic and spell, a body of practices by which man sought to outwit, or compel to furtherance of his own ends, the dreaded powers; and in the sacrifice the bribe to appease, or the offering to
flatter them, or the attempt to enter into commensal relations with them.

Sometimes man would use physical force, as did the Guaycurus of Paraguay, who believed that unusually heavy storms were attacks on them by the evil spirits, and who sallied forth brandishing their clubs and


Animism - The Seed of Religion

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