Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/545

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OUR INDIAN MYTHOLOGY.

posed to have had its source in dreams, the impalpable nature of whose visions suggested the presence in the dreamer of a soul distinct from the body. If the presence of a soul could explain dreams, it could equally well be made to explain such things in himself as man could not rationally comprehend. The idea of his own soul is followed by the idea of a soul in every man. From this it is but a short step to the idea of a soul or spirit in nature, to account for mysterious powers and properties. Thunder and lightning become the work of a spirit; fire, heat, and cold, the presence of others; and so on through all nature. Wherever there is something inexplainable, there is a mysterious spirit.

This is the earliest and simplest animism. Soon, however, unequal forces of nature suggest unequal spirits behind and in them, and gradually great and small spirits develop, some predominating others. Throughout, all, whether equal, great, or small, are worshiped on account of their mysterious powers. Besides the spirits in living bodies and in nature, are the souls released by death, but imagined still to wander at times about the earth, and to have some influence on living men, especially in controlling the fate of their bodily descendants. From this conception arose ancestral worship, and the many ceremonies at the grave intended to give peaceful rest beyond, that the departed spirit might thus be kindly disposed toward his offspring. A belief in a future life was necessary to a strong, active people having a tenacious love of life.

Little by little, as man becomes more self-appreciating, more confident in his superiority in the midst of surrounding nature, he gives to each great and small spirit a personality more or less like his own. Some of these will be merely exaggerated men, others a combination of man and animal. But the result of the whole will be that out of animism has grown polytheism, of which all know the congruous enormities in European mythology.

We have now gone as far as necessary in early Aryan religious growth, for a comparison of Indian religion to be made with it.

The Indian myths are a tangle of animism and polytheism, and only when we approach them with the information gained from the study of early Aryan religious worship do the hitherto senseless crudities open their hidden meanings. A few instances will show the animist or spiritual character. When the Algonquin Indian meets something he can not understand, there he fancies a manito present. This word has the several meanings of spirit, soul, and the first. The mysterious steel of the white man is manito-biwabwik, i. e., spirit-stone. The strange woven cloth is manito-wegin, spirit-skin. Among the Chippewas manitowis designates the magician. For this same idea of magic, mystery, spirit, soul, the Dakota has the word wakan. Wakan-tauka is the Great Spirit; wakan-hdi the lightning, literally the thing of spirit origin, hdi meaning come. Thus every mystery is wa-