Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

art in cult; they may equally explain its genesis and rise in certain ages and countries. Prayer is much more hopeful and efficacious for a worshipper who has means of bringing near to himself, and even coercing the god he worships. An image fashioned like a god, and which has this advantage over a mere stock and stone that it declares itself and reveals at a glance to what god it is sacred, must surely attract and influence the god to choose it as his home and tenement. And having the god thus at hand and imprisoned in matter, the simple-minded worshipper can punish him if his prayers are left unanswered. Dr E. B. Tylor accordingly (in his chapter on “ Idolatry ” in Primitive Culture, ii. 170), reminds us of “ the negro who feeds ancestral images and brings them a share of his trade profits, but will beat an idol or fling it into the fire if it cannot give him luck or preserve him from sickness.” So Augustus Caesar, having lost some ships in a storm, punished Neptune by forbidding his image to be carried in procession at the Circensian games (Sueton. Aug. 16).

In certain cases the wish to carry elsewhere the cult of a favourite or ancestral cult, may have dictated the manufacture of images that declare themselves and reveal at a glance whose they are. Thus a Phoenician colonist might desire to carry abroad the cult of a certain Baal or Astarte who lived in a conical stone or pillar. Pilgrims visiting Paphos, the original home and temple of Astarte, could of course be in no doubt about which of the heavenly powers inhabited the cone of stone in. which she was there held to be immanent; nor was any Semite ever ignorant as to which Baal he stood before. It was necessarily the Baal or Lord of the region. But small portrait statues must surely have been made to be carried about or used in private worship. Meanwhile the shapeless cone remained the object of public adoration and pilgrimage.

The Egyptian writer Hermes Trismegistus (c. 250), in a work called Asclepius (cited by Augustine, De civit. Dei, viii. 26), claims that his ancestors discovered the art of making gods, and since they could not create souls, they called up the souls of demons or angels and introduced them into the holy images and divine mysteries, that through these souls the idols might possess powers of doing good and harm. This was the belief of the pagans and the Christians for centuries shared it with them. Not a few Christian martyrs sought and won the palm by smashing the idols in order to dislodge the indwelling devil; occasionally their zeal was further gratified by beholding it pass away like smoke from its ruined home.

Image worship then is a sort of animism. It is a continuance by adults of their childish games with dolls. In the Roman religion, on a feast of thanksgiving for a great victory, couches were spread in the temples for the gods, whose images were taken down from their pedestals and laid on the couches, and tables set before them loaded with delicate viands. This was called a Lectisternium. So Marco Polo (i. chap. 53) relates how theTatars had each a figure of Natigay, the god of the earth, who watched over their children, cattle and crops. The image was made of felt and cloth, and similar images of his wife and children were set on his left hand and in front of him. “ And when they eat, they take the fat of the meat and grease the god's mouth withal, as well as the mouths of his wife and children.” The old Greek statues moved of themselves, shook their spears, kneeled down, spoke, walked, wept, laughed, winked, and even bled and sweated,—a mighty portent. Images of Christ, of the Virgin and saints have achieved many a similar miraculous portent. A figure of Christ has been known even to give its shoes to a poor man, and a Virgin to drop a ring off her finger to a suppliant. In Umbrian villages on Easter Sunday the images of Jesus and His Mother are carried in rival processions from their respective Chapels, and are made to bow when they meet face to face. The spectators applaud or hiss according as they make their bow well or ill. In antiquity it was a common ceremony to arrange a holy marriage between male and female images, and such unions acted on the earth as a fertility charm. Much of a priest's time was given up to the toilet of the god or goddess. Thus Isis was dressed and coiffed every day by her special attendants according to Apuleius (Met. xi. 9). Like the statue of St Agatha of Catania to-day, her image was loaded with jewels, and an inscription of Cadiz (C.I.L ii. 3386) contains an inventory of the jewels with which Isis had been endowed by Spanish devotees.

Idolatrous cults repose so largely on make-believe and credulity that the priests who administered them, perhaps oftener than we know, fell into the kind of imposture and trickery of which the legend of Bel and the dragon represents a classical example. “ Thinkest thou not,” said King Astyages, “ that Bel is a living god? Or seest thou not how much he eateth and drinketh every day? Then Daniel laughed, and said, O King, be not deceived: for this is but clay within, and brass without, and did never eat or drink anything.” In the sequel Daniel proves to the king that the priests with their wives and children came in through privy doors and consumed the viands set before the god; and the king, angered at their trickery, slew them all and gave Bel over to Daniel for destruction.

The invectives against idolatry of the early Jewish and Christian apologists, of Philo, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, Arnobius, Lactantius and others, are very good reading and throw much light on the question how an ancient pagan conceived of his idols. One capital argument of the Christians was the absurdity of a man making an idol and then being afraid of or adoring the work of his own hands. Lactantius preserves the answer of the pagans so attacked (De origine Erroris, ii.2): We do not, they said, fear the images themselves, but those beings after whose likeness they were fashioned and by whose names they were consecrated. Few such rites of consecration remain, but they must have been similar to those used in India to-day. There the Brahmin invites the god to dwell within the image, specially made hollow to contain him, “ performing the ceremony of adhivāsa or in habitation, after which he puts in the eyes and the prāna, i.e. breath, life or soul.”[1] Similarly Augustine (De civ. Dei, viii. 23) relates how., according to Hermes, the spirits entered by invitation (spiritus invitation), so that the images became bodies of the gods (corpora decorum). Thus the invisible spirits by a certain art are so joined unto the visible objects of corporeal matter that the latter become as it were animated bodies, images dedicated to those spirits and controlled by them (see Consecration). Such statues were animated with sense and full of spirit, they foresaw the future, and foretold it by lot, through their priests, in dreams and in other ways.

See E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, ed. 1903 (list of authorities and sources vol., p. 171); L. R. Farnell, The Evolution of Religion (London, 1905); Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, translation by J. S. Stallybrass.  (F. C. C.) 

IMAGINATION, in general, the power or process of producing mental pictures or ideas. The term is technically used in psychology for the process-of reviving in the mind percepts of objects formerly given in sense perception. Since this use of the term conflicts with that of ordinary language, some psychologists have preferred to describe this process as “ imaging f or “imagery ” or to speak of it as “reproductive ” as opposed to “ productive ” or “constructive ” imagination (see IMAGE and PSYCHOLOGY). The common use of the term is for the process of forming in the mind new images which have not been previously experienced, or at least only partially or in different combinations. Thus the image of a centaur is the result of combining the common percepts of man and horse: fairy tales and fiction generally are the result of this process of combination. Imagination in this sense, not being limited to the acquisition of exact knowledge by the requirements of practical necessity, is up to a certain point free from objective restraints. In various spheres, however, even imagination is in practice limited: thus a man whose imaginations do violence to the elementary laws of thought, or to the necessary principles of practical possibility, or to the reasonable probabilities of a given case is regarded as insane. The same limitations

beset imagination in the field of scientific hypothesis.

  1. Tylor, Prim. Culture, ii. 178.