Animism - The Seed of Religion


Unbroken mental development along the whole organic line being admitted, let us inquire whether there be any point in the series where it can be said:  "Here the higher mammals and man show faculties in common wherein the primal elements of religion are present,"

The word "man" can here have only a vague significance, since the stage of his evolution, which is assumed, lies far behind that which yields the earliest known traces of his presence. At the back of the comparatively recent Neolithic or polished stone-using age there are the prehistoric Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age, with its relics of rudely-fashioned tools and weapons, and of primitive art in scratchings of mammoth and reindeer on bone and slate; and the vastly older Neolithic age, whose artificially chipped flints have been found in large numbers in the plateau gravel of South-East England. More remote, in a dateless past, must be placed the proto-human, perhaps represented by the calvaria or portion of skull, two molar teeth and thigh-bone, found in an Upper Pliocene deposit in Java in 1892 by Dr. Dubois, to which the name Pithecanthropus erectus, or "upright ape-man," has been given. In these fragments


experts in anthropology see " the nearest likeness yet found of the human ancestor at a stage immediately antecedent to the definitely human stage, and yet at the same time in advance of the simian or ape-like stage." 10

We are, therefore, yet an immeasurable distance from Homo sapiens, and in near touch with Homo alalus, semierect,
big-brained, deft-handed, because of his opposable thumb, communicating with other homines alali by various grunts and groans, supplemented by grimaces, gestures and postures. This is no fancy sketch; there are to this day tribes extant, like the Veddahs of Ceylon, who depend on signs, grimaces and guttural sounds which bear little or no resemblance to articulate speech.

Darwin, in citing Captain Cook's comparison of the language of the Fuegians to a man clearing his throat, says that " certainly no Englishman ever cleared his throat with so many hoarse, guttural and clicking sounds,"while he adds that the difference between such races and civilized man is" greater than that between a wild and domesticated animal." Between creatures not fully human and their nearest congeners, the mental

10 Duckworth's Anthropology and Morphology, p. 520.


resemblances must have been greater than the differences, and, therefore, the impressions made upon them by the outer world similar in character. That outer world, full of movements and sights and sounds, was the sole exciting cause of sensations among which affright had largest play.

Hobbes, whose shrewd insight anticipated much that has been written on this matter, says that "the feare of things invisible is the naturall Seed of Religion.11 If in "invisible" we include the sense of mystery investing the nature of things, the old philosopher's theory holds the field.

For in the degree that anything is unknown, it remains a source of dread, and, therefore, of evil, since from "feare of the invisible" spring the feelings of inferiority, helplessness and dependence which man's surroundings quicken, and which are the raw material of theologies and rituals.
It is a far cry from the quasi-human stage even to the remote civihzation of Mesopotamia, yet it is not inopportune to remark that among the early Chaldeans, " the spiritual, the Zi, was that which manifested life, and the test of the manifestation of life was movement.12

11 Leviathan, chap. 11, p. 1.
12 Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, p. 328.


4. Animal Man and brute alike tremble before the unusual; they fear, but know not Psychology, why, or what, they fear. As yet man has no conception of body as home of an indwelling spirit, and no conception of surroundings as natural and supernatural; therefore, no ideas of an after life, no hope of heaven, and no dread of hell. Things are not regarded as living because they are the abode of spirits, "but as living because of their own proper powers, or because they are self-power." This, to all intents and purposes, is Naturalism; or, as Professor Flint calls it, Naturalism: a stage antecedent to
Animism, or the belief in spirits everywhere, in the non-living as well as in the living.

In Naturalism man and animal meet together.
Among his many experiments, the late Mr. Romanes tells of one upon a Skye terrier, which "used to play with dry bones by tossing them in the air, throwing them to a distance, and generally giving them the appearance of animation, in order to give himself the ideal pleasure of worrying them. On one occasion I tied a long and fine thread to a dry bone and gave him the latter to play with. After he had tossed it about for a short time, I took the opportunity, when it had

Animism - The Seed of Religion

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