Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/355

This page has been validated.
341
RELIGIOUS RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT.

istences which he regards as usually inaudible, intangible, invisible; and yet which he regards as operative upon him. What suggests this notion of agencies transcending perception? How do these ideas concerning the supernatural evolve out of ideas concerning the natural? The transition can not be sudden; and an account of the genesis of religion must begin by describing the steps through which the transition takes place.

The ghost-theory exhibits these steps quite clearly. We are shown that the mental differentiation of invisible and intangible beings from visible and tangible beings progresses slowly and unobtrusively. In the fact that the other-self, supposed to wander in dreams, is believed to have actually done and seen whatever was dreamed, in the fact that the other-self when going away at death, but expected presently to return, is conceived as a double equally material with the original, we see that the supernatural agent in its primitive form diverges very little from the natural agent—is simply the original man with some added powers of going about secretly and doing good or evil. And the fact that, when the double of the dead man ceases to be dreamed about by those who knew him, his non-appearance in dreams is held to imply that he is finally dead, shows that these earliest supernatural agents have but a temporary existence: the first tendencies to a permanent consciousness of the supernatural prove abortive.

In many cases no higher degree of differentiation is reached. The ghost-population, recruited by deaths on the one side, but on the other side losing its members as they cease to be recollected and dreamed about, does not increase; and no individuals included in it come to be recognized through successive generations as established supernatural powers. Thus the Unkulunkulu, or old-old one, of the Zooloos, the father of the race, is regarded as finally or completely dead, and there is propitiation only of ghosts of more recent date. But where circumstances favor the continuance of sacrifices at graves, witnessed by members of each new generation who are told about the dead and transmit the tradition, there eventually arises the conception of a permanently-existing ghost or spirit. A more marked contrast in thought between supernatural beings and natural beings is thus established. There simultaneously results a great increase in the number of these supposed supernatural beings, since the aggregate of them is now continually added to; and there is a strengthening tendency to think of them as everywhere around, and as causing all unusual occurrences.

Differences among the ascribed powers of ghosts soon arise. They naturally follow from the observed differences among the powers of the living individuals. Hence it results that while the propitiations of ordinary ghosts are made only by their descendants, it comes occasionally to be thought prudent to propitiate also the ghosts of the more dreaded individuals, even though they have no claims of blood.