Page:Myth, Ritual, and Religion (Volume 1).djvu/71

This page has been validated.

animals, and the notion that "natural deaths" (as we call them) are always unnatural, that death is always caused by some hostile spirit or conjuror. From this opinion comes the myth that man is naturally not subject to death: that death was somehow introduced into the world by a mistake or misdeed is a corollary.

6. One more mental peculiarity of the savage mind remains to be considered in this brief summary. The savage, like the civilised man, is curious. The first faint impulses of the scientific spirit are at work in his brain; he is anxious to give himself an account of the world in which he finds himself. But he is not more curious than he is, on occasion, credulous. His intellect is eager to ask questions, as is the habit of children, but his intellect is also lazy, and he is content with the first answer that comes to hand. "Ils s'arrêtent aux premières notions qu'ils en ont," says Père Hierome Lalemant.[1] "Nothing," says Schoolcraft, "is too capacious (sic) for Indian belief."[2] The replies to his questions he receives from tradition, or (when a new problem arises) evolves an answer for himself in the shape of stories. Just as Socrates, in the Platonic dialogues, recalls or invents a myth in the despair of reason, so the savage has a story for answer to almost every question that he can ask himself. These stories are in a sense scientific, because they attempt a solution of the riddles of the world. They are in a sense religious, because there is usually a supernatural power, a deus ex machina, of some sort to cut the knot of the

  1. Relations de la Nouvelle France, 1648, p. 70.
  2. Algic Researches, i. 41.