Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/519

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

an embodied corn spirit. Such frank inconsistencies, which to us would seem fatal to the success of any theory, appear perfectly natural to the easy-going mind of primitive man. To him, the ghost may reasonably appear in any one of many alternative forms. He recognizes it equally in the snake that glides from under the stones of the tumulus, in the beast or bird that crosses his path after the offering of prayer to his deified ancestor, in the shadowy form that eludes his prying gaze amid the dense shades of the primeval forest, and in the vague human shape that stands beside him in his dreams, and whispers into his ear uncertain warnings or dim promises for the future. So, too, with plants. From one point of view, Attis is the corn that springs directly from the dead god's body; but from another point of view he is the pine tree that grows with waving boughs above the grassy barrow of the self-slain or self-devoted hero. Whatever comes from the dead body, whatever seems to stand in close relation to it, is regarded in the simple philosophy of these naïf worshipers as an embodiment or representative of the multiform deity. Thus, in the extant descriptions of the ceremonies of the Attis festival, we get traces or glimpses of every one in turn among these alternative conceptions. Attis is first of all envisaged as a human being—a young man who dies a violent death in a particular fashion. This death by self-mutilation seems to point to a further development of the same idea which lies at the bottom of the Kandh practice of buying the victim and paying for him with a price—namely, it implies a certain obvious element of consent and self-sacrifice—a realization of the principle that "it is expedient that one man should die for the people." So the West African victims, we are told, went gladly to their doom; and so, too, in Phœnician and Carthaginian history we often find that in great crises of the state young men of good family volunteered to devote themselves as victims to Baal on behalf of the fatherland. Once more, after his death, Attis is changed into a pine tree; and his festival is inaugurated by cutting down just such a pine tree in the woods, which is accepted as in a certain sense the embodiment and representative of the dead Attis. But still the human embodiment remains side by side to the end with the vegetable one; for the effigy of a young man is also attached to the middle of the tree, as the young man himself was no doubt attached in still earlier practice. All this is comprehensible enough when we recollect that the original corn and the original pine tree may actually have grown out of the body or barrow of the self-devoted man god in earlier times, and that the ceremonies described for us by late classical writers represent very mitigated and modified forms of extremely ancient and savage rites.

There is also an interesting transitional stage, it seems to me,