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ANIMISM

a general philosophy of nature. Not only human beings but animals and objects are seen in dreams; and the conclusion would be that they too have souls; the same conclusion may have been reached by another line of argument; primitive psychology posited a spirit in a man to account, amongst other things, for his actions; a natural explanation of the changes in the external world would be that they are due to the operations and volitions of spirits.

Animal Souls.—But apart from considerations of this sort, it is probable that animals must, early in the history of animistic beliefs, have been regarded as possessing souls. Education has brought with it a sense of the great gulf between man and animals; but in the lower stages of culture this distinction is not adequately recognized, if indeed it is recognized at all. The savage attributes to animals the same ideas, the same mental processes as himself, and at the same time vastly greater power and cunning. The dead animal is credited with a knowledge of how its remains are treated and sometimes with a power of taking vengeance on the fortunate hunter. Powers of reasoning are not denied to animals nor even speech; the silence of the brute creation may be put down to their superior cunning. We may assume that man attributed a soul to the beasts of the field almost as soon as he claimed one for himself. It is therefore not surprising to find that many peoples on the lower planes of culture respect and even worship animals (see Totem; Animal Worship); though we need not attribute an animistic origin to all the developments, it is clear that the widespread respect paid to animals as the abode of dead ancestors, and much of the cult of dangerous animals, is traceable to this principle. With the rise of species, deities and the cult of individual animals, the path towards anthropomorphization and polytheism is opened and the respect paid to animals tends to lose its strict animistic character.

Plant Souls.—Just as human souls are assigned to animals, so primitive man often credits trees and plants with souls in both human or animal form. All over the world agricultural peoples practise elaborate ceremonies explicable, as Mannhardt has shown, on animistic principles. In Europe the corn spirit sometimes immanent in the crop, sometimes a presiding deity whose life does not depend on that of the growing corn, is conceived in some districts in the form of an ox, hare or cock, in others as an old man or woman; in the East Indies and America the rice or maize mother is a corresponding figure; in classical Europe and the East we have in Ceres and Demeter, Adonis and Dionysus, and other deities, vegetation gods whose origin we can readily trace back to the rustic corn spirit. Forest trees, no less than cereals, have their indwelling spirits; the fauns and satyrs of classical literature were goat-footed and the tree spirit of the Russian peasantry takes the form of a goat; in Bengal and the East Indies wood-cutters endeavour to propitiate the spirit of the tree which they cut down; and in many parts of the world trees are regarded as the abode of the spirits of the dead. Just as a process of syncretism has given rise to cults of animal gods, tree spirits tend to become detached from the trees, which are thenceforward only their abodes; and here again animism has begun to pass into polytheism.

Object Souls.—We distinguish between animate and inanimate nature, but this classification has no meaning for the savage. The river speeding on its course to the sea, the sun and moon, if not the stars also, on their never-ceasing daily round, the lightning, fire, the wind, the sea, all are in motion and therefore animate; but the savage does not stop short here; mountains and lakes, stones and manufactured articles, are for him alike endowed with souls like his own; he deposits in the tomb weapons and food, clothes and implements, broken, it may be, in order to set free their souls; or he attains the same result by burning them, and thus sending them to the Other World for the use of the dead man. Here again, though to a less extent than in tree cults, the theriomorphic aspect recurs; in the north of Europe, in ancient Greece, in China, the water or river spirit is horse or bull-shaped; the water monster in serpent shape is even more widely found, but it is less strictly the spirit of the water. The spirit of syncretism manifests itself in this department of animism too; the immanent spirit of the earlier period becomes the presiding genius or local god of later times, and with the rise of the doctrine of separable souls we again reach the confines of animism pure and simple.

Spirits in General.—Side by side with the doctrine of separable souls with which we have so far been concerned, exists the belief in a great host of unattached spirits; these are not immanent souls which have become detached from their abodes, but have every appearance of independent spirits. Thus, animism is in some directions little developed, so far as we can see, among the Australian aborigines; but from those who know them best we learn that they believe in innumerable spirits and bush bogies, which wander, especially at night, and can be held at bay by means of fire; with this belief may be compared the ascription in European folk belief of prophylactic properties to iron. These spirits are at first mainly malevolent; and side by side with them we find the spirits of the dead as hostile beings. At a higher stage the spirits of dead kinsmen are no longer unfriendly, nor yet all non-human spirits; as fetishes (see Fetishism), naguals (see Totem), familiars, gods or demi-gods (for which and the general question see Demonology), they enter into relations with man. On the other hand there still subsists a belief in innumerable evil spirits, which manifest themselves in the phenomena of possession (q.v.), lycanthropy (q.v.), disease, &c. The fear of evil spirits has given rise to ceremonies of expulsion of evils (see Exorcism), designed to banish them from the community.

Animism and Religion.—Animism is commonly described as the most primitive form of religion; but properly speaking it is not a religion at all, for religion implies, at any rate, some form of emotion (see Religion), and animism is in the first instance an explanation of phenomena rather than an attitude of mind toward the cause of them, a philosophy rather than a religion. The term may, however, be conveniently used to describe the early stage of religion in which man endeavours to set up relations between himself and the unseen powers, conceived as spirits, but differing in many particulars from the gods of polytheism. As an example of this stage in one of its aspects may be taken the European belief in the corn spirit, which is, however, the object of magical rather than religious rites; Dr. Frazer has thus defined the character of the animistic pantheon, “they are restricted in their operations to definite departments of nature; their names are general, not proper; their attributes are generic rather than individual; in other words, there is an indefinite number of spirits of each class, and the individuals of a class are much alike; they have no definitely marked individuality; no accepted traditions are current as to their origin, life and character.” This stage of religion is well illustrated by the Red Indian custom of offering sacrifice to certain rocks, or whirlpools, or to the indwelling spirits connected with them; the rite is only performed in the neighbourhood of the object, it is an incident of a canoe or other voyage, and is not intended to secure any benefits beyond a safe passage past the object in question; the spirit to be propitiated has a purely local sphere of influence, and powers of a very limited nature. Animistic in many of their features too are the temporary gods of fetishism (q.v.), naguals or familiars, genii and even the dead who receive a cult. With the rise of a belief in departmental gods comes the age of polytheism; the belief in elemental spirits may still persist, but they fall into the background and receive no cult.

Animism and the Origin of Religion.—Two animistic theories of the origin of religion have been put forward, the one, often termed the “ghost theory,” mainly associated with the name of Herbert Spencer, but also maintained by Grant Allen, refers the beginning of religion to the cult of dead human beings; the other, put forward by Dr. E. B. Tylor, makes the foundation of all religion animistic, but recognizes the non-human character of polytheistic gods. Although ancestor-worship, or, more broadly, the cult of the dead, has in many cases overshadowed other cults or even extinguished them, we have no warrant, even in these cases, for asserting its priority, but rather the reverse; not only so, but in the majority of cases the pantheon is made up by a multitude of spirits in human, sometimes in animal form, which bear no signs of ever having been incarnate; sun gods and moon goddesses,