Animism - The Seed of Religion
which the Catholic peasant prostrates himself.
The sacred image of Diana was an unhewn block; the boundary stones of the god Terminus consecrated to Jupiter were also unshapen; and the image of the goddess Cybele, the Great Mother, which was brought from Phrygia to Rome B.C.
204, and there received with enthusiasm, was "a small black stone, rough and unhewn," to be equated in our own day with the granite boulder worshipped by the Basutos.
The Nigerian natives told a recent traveller that stones are among their chief gods: "When men are sick in the town,
we cast lots, and then give food to the stones. We also give them palm-wine or gin."
The patriarch Jacob, in anointing with oil the stone set up as a memorial of his dream, 52 has his modern representatives in the Dakotahs and natives of Southern India, who paint the sacred boulders red; while the reference to India, although not quite apposite, calls to mind Sir Alfred Lyall's story of a Hindoo officer whom he knew, a man"of great shrewdness and very fair education, who devoted several hours daily to the elaborate worship of five round pebbles which
52 Genesis xxviii. 18,
he had appointed to be his symbol of Omnipotence.
Although his general belief was in one all-pervading Divinity, he must have something symbolic to handle and address." 53
Sacred pillars, which were universal among Semitic peoples, are allied to standing stones, as objects of worship, all the world over.
To these, as art advances and the god takes the shape of a graven image, symbolical characters are given, while the
part played by the sacred stone as a hoped-for instrument of fertilization of women in the villages of India and elsewhere is well known. Not very remote from this phallic custom may be the myths of descent of mankind from stones, found among the ancient Greeks and Peruvians, and among modern savages, as the Tahitians, Zulus, and Indians of Columbia.
A Peruvian legend which tell us of some great stones which were formerly men and women who defied the Creator,
suggests the story of Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt for disobedience to the Almighty, and also the Cornish tradition that some standing stones of the cromlech type were once girls who offended God by dancing on a Sunday.
Perhaps one of the most striking examples of
^ Asiatic Studies, p. 10.
modem animism is supplied by the Malayans in their belief in a spirit in tin. 54 They say that the metal itself is alive that it can move from place to place, can reproduce itself, and that it has special likes and dislikes. In extracting it from the ore, the tin-soul has to be both deceived and propitiated. The Pawang, or sorcerer, uses his arts so that the spirit may not know that the metal is being sought. Name-avoidance superstitions come into play, the tin ore being called "grass-seed," as in out-of-the-way places in Scotland some other name is used for salmon when that fish is being caught. In his recently published Lhasa and its Mysteries, 55 Colonel Waddell says that the Tibetans are careful to leave the gold nuggets intact, under the belief that they are living, and are the parents of the spangles and gold dust, which would disappear if the lumps were removed.
Allied in animistic idea is a saying of Pythagoras that "the sound which is given by striking brass is the voice of a demon contained in the brass. Professor Flinders Petrie's recent excavations in Sinai show that 6000 B.C. the turquoise seekers in the
55 Skeats' Malay Magic, pp. 52, 259. p. 474.
sandstone mountains there propitiated Hathor, the goddess of turquoise, with offerings, to secure success.
Though we may have escaped from the superstition, we remain spellbound by the poetry of nature-worship.
In the oldest fragment of Hebrew song the fountain is addressed as a having being, and the high authority of the late Professor Robertson Smith may be cited for the statement that the Semitic peoples, to whom water, notably flowing water, was a deep object of reverence and worship, regarded it not merely as the dwelling-place of spirits, but as itself a living thing.
That seems to have been the barbaric idea about it everywhere, and through all time. And no wonder. For, as has been shown, the primitive mind associates life with motion, and if in rolling stone and waving branch it sees not merely the home and haunt of spirit, but spirit itself, how much more so in tumbling cataract, swirling rapid, and tossing sea, swallowing or rejecting alike the victim and the offering.
Birthplace of life itself, and ever life's necessity; healer and purifier, the feeling that invests it can only be refined, it can never perish.