Animism - The Seed of Religion


But the Indian, always reasoning in the first place from what he knows of himself, remembers that as, for example, in dreams, his own spirit moves with complete activity even when his body lies motionless, so there is no reason to doubt
that the spirit within the motionless rock has the power of activity also.

He is occasionally hurt either by falling on a rock, or by the rock falling upon him, and, in either case, he attributes the
blame, by a hne of argument still not uncommon in civilized life, to the rock. In fact, he attributes any calamity which may happen to him to the intention of the immediate instrument of its infliction, and he not unnaturally sees in the action
of this instrument evidence of its possession of a spirit." 23

A well-known example is that of the chief of the Koussa Kaffirs. Having died soon after he had broken off a piece of the anchor of a stranded ship, all his subjects made a point of saluting the anchor as an injured and vindictive being. Among some Indo-Chinese tribes, the relatives of a man killed by a fall from a tree take their revenge by cutting it down and scattering the chips. The same idea is manifest in the higher culture. In the court held in ancient

23 p. 354.


times in the Prytaneum at Athens to try any object, such as an axe or a piece of wood or stone which, independent of any human agency, had caused death, the offending thing was condemned and cast in solemn form beyond the border.

Dr. Frazer cites the amusing instance of a cock which was tried at Basle in 1474 for having laid an egg, and which, being found guilty, was burnt as a sorcerer.

"The recorded pleadings in the case are said to be very voluminous." 24

And only as recently as 1846 there was abolished in England the law of deodand, whereby not only a beast that kills a man, but a cart-wheel that runs over him, or a tree that crushes him, were deo dandus, or "given to God," being forfeited and sold for the poor. The adult who, in momentary rage, kicks over the chair against which he has stumbled, is one with the child who beats the door against which he knocks his head, or who whips the "naughty" rocking-horse that throws him.

Turn where, or do what, man would, everything fell into his personifying in line of thought. The greater and lesser lights
travelled across the

24 Paiisanias, vol. ii. pp. 371, 2.


sky; the lightning flash, and the thunder clap; the clouds that rolled along majestically, or that broke into ragged clusters; the wind that moaned among the swaying branches or bending trunks; the earthquake that swallowed man and beast; the volcano belching fire; the mysterious fire itself that dissolved things into smoke and left but a handful of ashes; the tumbling, treacherous seas and the swift, engulfing rivers; these, and a thousand other sights and sounds and movements, man interpreted in terms which had their correspondence in himself.

Ignorant of the law of reflection of sound, how else could he account for the echoes flung back from the hillside?
Ignorant of the law of the interception of light, how else could he explain the advancing and retreating shadows? In some sense they must be alive; an inference supported by modem physics, which, in the words of Herbert Spencer, allows "the thought that consciousness in some rudimentary form is omnipresent."

In many phenomena man would note a certain recurrence; but the slowly emerging sense of security, begotten by the unvarying succession of day and night, and of sunrise and sunset, would be shaken by the unexpected and the un-


usual, as the fitful hurricane, the destroying flood, the fatal thunderstorm, and like baleful agencies.

Through what vast ages man remained the victim of fear and unrest can be guessed at only by the relatively very recent period in his history during which reason has controlled and disciplined feeling.

It has been truly said that " nervous instabihty must have been a normal characteristic of primitive man," and it may be added that it remains a characteristic of the vast majority of mankind to this day.

We have not altered so much as, taking too hasty glances over narrow areas, we are apt to think. In structure and inherited tendencies each of us is hundreds of thousands of years old, but the civihzed part of us is recent. The influences of a few generations, acting from without, are superficial contrasted with the heritage of chihads which explains our mental as well as our bodily rudimentary structures.

"It is," says Hobbes, "peculiar to the Nature of man to be inquisitive into the Causes of Events they see, some more, some less." 25 Inquisitiveness he shares with the animal, with the same result of

Leviathan, " Of Religion," chap. xii. pt. 1.


Animism - The Seed of Religion

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