Page:Myth, Ritual, and Religion (Volume 1).djvu/59

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the savage donnée, the civilised and poetic modification of the savage donnée, the version of the original fable which survives in popular tales and in the "sacred chapters" of local priesthoods. A critical study of these three stages in myth is in accordance with the recognised practice of science. Indeed, the whole system is only an application to this particular province, mythology, of the method by which the development either of organisms or of human institutions is traced. As the anomalies and apparently useless and accidental features in the human or in other animal organisms may be explained as stunted or rudimentary survivals of organs useful in a previous stage of life, so the anomalous and irrational myths of civilised races may be explained as survivals of stories which, in an earlier state of thought and knowledge, seemed natural enough. The persistence of the myths after their significance had become obsolete is accounted for by the well-known conservatism of the religious sentiment—a conservatism noticed even by Eusebius. "In later days, when they became ashamed of the religious beliefs of their ancestors, they invented private and respectful interpretations, each to suit himself. For no one dared to shake the ancestral beliefs, as they honoured at a very high rate the sacredness and antiquity of old associations, and of the teaching they had received in childhood."[1]

Thus the method which we propose to employ is in harmony both with modern scientific procedure and the views of a clear-sighted Father of the Church.

  1. Præp. E., ii. 6, 19.