Animism - The Seed of Religion


he then strikes the patient's head and body with the branch, and thus restores his soul to him." 20

Theories of the nature, shape, and, later on the destiny, of the spirit followed upon conceptions of it, and here, perhaps more than in any other department of speculation, the lower and higher culture meet together.

For the notions about spirit among the most advanced peoples are as vague as those found among the least civilized.

Wherein, asks the latter, wonder-prompted and curiosity driven, lies the difference between a waking and a sleeping man; between a living and a dead one?

The Melanesians give terse answer when they say that " the soul goes out of the body in some dreams, and if for some reason it does not come back, the man is found dead in the morning." And the thing which behaves thus comes to be conceived of as a sort of vapour, compounded of breath and shadow and reflection, "a certain soul and semblance, though substance there be none," as Achilles says when he clasps the shade of Patroclus in Hades. And in every language, from that of the barbaric Ainu to our

20 Jevons's Introduction to the History of Religion, p. 46,


English tongue, the word for "spirit" and  "breath" is the same.
In Nicaragua julio, the " breath," makes men live, and at death "goes up above"; in Dakota niya is "breath" and  "Ufe"; the Western Austrahans use the same word, wang, for "breath" and "spirit "; in Java the word
nawa means " health, life, soul "; in the Yakama tongue of Oregon wkrisha means" "mind," and wkrishuit "Hfe"; with the Aztecs ehecatl expressed "air" and "soul," and, personified in their myths, was said to have been born of the
breath of Tezcathpoca, their highest god, who himself was called Yoalliehecatl, the Wind of Night.

This identity of wind with breath, of breath with spirit, and thence of spirit with the Great Spirit of barbaric religions, has further illustration in the legends of the Quiches, in which the creative power is Hurakan, whence the word hurricane; and in the New Testament, where the advent of the Holy Ghost is described "as of a rushing mighty wind."

In the Mohawk language atonritz, "the soul," is from atonrion, "to breathe"; while " spirit " comes from spiro, "to breathe." Animus, "the mind," is cognate with anima, " air " or "breath"; and in Irish,


which belongs to the same family of speech as Latin, we have anal, "breath," and anam, "life" or "soul." In Sanskrit, an elder branch of the same Aryan root, we find an, "to blow" or "breathe," whence anila, "wind"; and in Greek anemos has the same meaning. Psyche, pneuma, and thymos, each meaning "soul" or "spirit," are also from roots expressing "wind" or " breath." In Slavonic the root du has developed the meaning of "breath " into that of "spirit," and the Gypsy dialect has duk, which is "breath" or " ghost." Ghost, the German geist, and the Dutch geest, are each derived from a root seen in Icelandic geisa, meaning "to rage," as fire or wind, whence also come gust, gas, and geyser. In the non-Aryan Finnish, far means "soul" and "breath"; the Hebrew nephesh ruach and neshamah (in Arabic ruh and nefs) pass from meaning "breath" to "spirit." The like applies to the Egyptian kneph.

These names cover the world-wide conception of spirit as ethereal. The natives of Nicaragua and neighbouring countries speak of it as air or breeze which passes in and out through the mouth and nostrils; the Tongans conceived it as the aeriform part of the body, related to it as the


perfume to the flower. The Greenlanders describe it as pale and soft, fleshless and boneless, so that he who tries to seize it grasps a phantom. The Lapps say that the ghosts are invisible to all but the shamans or wizards.

The Congo negroes leave the house of the dead unswept for a year, lest the dust should injure the dehcate substance
of the ghost; the German peasants have a saying that a door should not be slammed lest a soul gets pinched in it; while among rustics both here and in France doors or windows are opened at a death so that the soul may depart unhindered.
Dr. Tylor quotes a passage from Hampole's Ayenhite of Inwyt, i.e.: "Prick of Conscience," a poem of the fourteenth century, in which the author speaks of the more intense suffering which the soul undergoes by reason of its delicate
organization: —

The soul is more tendre and nesche (soft)
Than the bodi that hath bones and fleysche;
Thanne the soul that is so tendere of kinde.
More nedis hure penaunce hardere-y-finde,
Than eni bodi that evere on live was.

When Rossetti, in his Blessed Damozel, depicts the souls mounting up to God as "like thin flames," he may have had in mind the description


of the Holy Ghost in the Acts of the Apostles, descending cloven tongue-Uke "as of fire." The Greeks and Romans conceived of the soul as of thin, impalpable nature; and in the Arabian romance of Yokdhan, the hero, seeking the source of life and thought, discovers in one of the cavities of the heart a bluish vapour, which was the soul.
Among the Hebrews it was of shadowy nature, with echoless motion, haunting a ghostly realm:

It is a land of shadows; yea, the land
Itself is but a shadow, and the race
That dwell therein are voices, forms of forms.

That modem defenders of the theory of the soul as an entity have made no advance upon barbaric and classic psychology is shewn in a recent work by the Rev. Professor Henslow, entitled Present-day Rationalism Critically Examined, wherein he suggests that "ether is the basis of the soul." In the Occult Review of April, 1905, Mr. Andrew Lang makes a suggestion, not, however, as adopting it, that phantasms of the dead may be due to "filmy" emanations. Still more unsubstantial was the theory of a Broad Church divine, who, in answer to Mr. Frederic Harrison's question as to what he understood by the third


Person in the Trinity, said that he fancied there was" a sort of a something! 21
But even so vague and amorphous a conception of spirit must be credited with the property of extension, that is, it must have length, breadth and thickness, involving some kind of shape. Dr. Tylor says that "nothing but dreams and visions
could have ever put into men's minds such an idea as that of souls being ethereal images of bodies," and it is as a replica of the body that the semi-substantial spirit is represented to the imagination and depicted in art.

The Macusi Indians, when they point out that the small human figure has disappeared from the pupil of a dead man's eye, say that "his emmaimrri, or spirit, has gone."

In the matter of art, we need not travel outside Christendom. In a fresco on the walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa the soul is portrayed as a sexless child emerging from the mouth of a corpse, and in an elaborately sculptured monument over the tomb of Bishop Giles de Bridport, in the east transept of Salisbury Cathedral, the soul is represented as a naked figure being carried by an angel to heaven. The

** Nineteenth Century (1877), p. 833.


photographs of spirits which find place in the albums of the credulous are, of course, in human shape, but the apparent bulk of these diaphanous anaemics does not confirm the modern spiritualist's computation of the weight of the soul at
from three to four ounces!

Herein, then, are to be found the sufficing materials for belief in an entity in the body, but not of it, which can depart and return at will, and which man everywhere has more or less vaguely envisaged as his " double,"or" other self," extending this idea to every object around him.

Herein we are at the birth of all the psychologies that he has formulated; we watch his passage from dim, vague notions of impersonal powers to theories of personal indwelling spirits.
The distinction between soul and body, which explained to man his own actions, was the key to the actions of both animate and inanimate things. A personal life and will controlled them.

This was obviously brought home to him more forcibly in the actions of living things, since these so closely resembled his own that he saw no difference between themselves and him. Not in this matter alone have the intuitions of the savage found their confirmation in the discoveries of



Of the Indians of Guiana, Sir Everard im Thum says that in their view "other animals differ from men only in bodily form and in their various degrees of strength.

And they differ in spirit not at all, for just as the Indian sees in the separation which takes place at death or in dreams proof of the existence of a spirit—all other quahties being in his view much the same in men and other animals—he sees proof of the existence in each other animal of a spirit similar to that of man." 22 That they would sometimes overpower him bytheir strength oroutwit him by their cunning, confirmed his behef in their fundamental identity.

The accrediting of a spirit to animals and also to plants was extended to inanimate things, these being also the subjects of dreams, and manifesting properties common to all tangible objects. While such among these as had motion would more nearly warrant this, it would be apphed to any object which manifested power. To quote Sir Everard im Thurn once more: "It might be thought that motionlessness would prevent conception of the possession of spirits by inanimate things.

22 p. 362.

Animism - The Seed of Religion

Main Library