Page:Myth, Ritual, and Religion (Volume 1).djvu/53

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animals, trees, stars, and all else that puzzles us in the civilised mythologies, are regarded as possible incidents of daily human life? Our answer is, that everything in the civilised mythologies which we regard as irrational seems only part of the accepted and natural order of things to contemporary savages, and in the past seemed equally rational and natural to savages concerning whom we have historical information.[1] Our theory is, therefore, that the savage and senseless element in mythology is, for the most part, a legacy

  1. We have been asked to define a savage. He cannot be defined in an epigram, but by way of choice of a type:—

    I. In material equipment, the perfect savage is he who employs tools of stone and wood, not of metal; who is nomadic rather than settled; who is acquainted (if at all) only with the rudest forms of the arts of potting, weaving, fire-making, &c.; and who derives more of his food from the chase and from wild roots and plants than from any kind of agriculture or from the flesh of domesticated animals.

    2. In psychology, the savage is he who (extending unconsciously to the universe his own implicit consciousness of personality) regards all natural objects as animated and intelligent beings, and, drawing no hard and fast line between himself and the things in the world, is readily persuaded that men may be metamorphosed into plants, beasts, and stars; that winds and clouds, sun and dawn, are persons with human passions and parts; and that the lower animals especially may be creatures more powerful than himself, and, in a sense, divine and creative.

    3. In religion, the savage is he who (while probably, in certain moods, conscious of a far higher moral faith) believes chiefly in ancestral ghosts or spirits of woods and wells that were never ancestral; prays chiefly by dint of magic; adores inanimate objects, and even appeals to the beasts as supernatural protectors.

    4, In society, the savage is he who bases his laws on the well-defined lines of totemism—that is, claims descent from natural objects, and derives from the sacredness of those objects the sanction of his marriage prohibitions and blood-feuds, while he makes skill in magic a claim to distinguished rank.

    Such, for our purpose, is the savage, and we propose to explain the more "senseless" parts in mythology as "survivals" of these ideas and customs preserved by religious conservatism and local tradition, or, less probably, borrowed from races which were, or had been, savage.