Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/68

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Presidential Address.

aside the question of its origin—the Aryans may, as my friend Mr. Gomme holds, have taken over and developed the ruder faith of the soil-tilling races whom they subjugated and upon whom they imposed their speech. I content myself with noting that it was the common faith of Aryan-speaking Europeans, and further, that Greeks and Celts have preserved its earliest forms, and have embodied it most largely in the completed fabric of their mythology. Let us hark back to Nash's parallel of elves and Robin Goodfellows with the fauns and satyrs of the fantastical world of Greece. The parallel is a valid and illuminating one, for the fauns and satyrs are of the train of Dionysus, and Dionysus in his oldest aspect is a divinity of growth, vegetable and animal, worshipped, placated, and strengthened for his task, upon the due performance of which depends the material welfare of mankind, by ritual sacrifice.

Dionysus was thus at first a god of much the same nature, and standing on the same plane of development, as, by assumption, the Irish Tuatha de Danann. But in his case the accounts are at once fairly early and extensive, in theirs late and scanty. I have quoted, for instance, almost the only direct piece of information we have concerning the ritual of the Irish gods; that of the Greek god, on the other hand, which survived, in a modified and attenuated form, far down into historic times, is known to us in detail. It undoubtedly consisted originally in an act of sacrifice shared in by all the members of a community, who likewise shared the flesh of the victim, which was applied to invigorate alike the indwelling spirit of vegetation and the participating worshippers, who thus entered into communion with their god. The circumstances of these sacrificial rites were originally of savage horror, and the participants were wrought up to a pitch of the wildest frenzy in which they passed beyond the ordinary limits of sense and effort.

Greek evidence not only allows us to reconstitute this ancient ritual, shared in at one time by all Aryan-speaking Europeans, it also enables us to establish a psychological