Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/207

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PRIMITIVE RITUALISTIC CEREMONIES

method by instruction. There is no reason to believe that it arose primarily as a ceremonial act, but that it must have been the result of homely experiment.

If we take the widest sort of view of the world there appears no good reason why primitive men should not be considered as great materialists as we fancy ourselves to be. Our anthropological museums are filled with the debris of primitive man's endless experimentation with stone, bone, shell, clay, pigment and metal. In all this one can often trace more or less clearly the successive triumphs of great inventors. Out of this boundless striving, step by step, doubtless hesitatingly and slowly, was built up the world's present store of real knowledge. For ages and ages and even yet, much of it was carried and perpetuated as a mere matter of memory. To distinguish between the essential and the inessential in a procedure is rarely easy, the great human way being to "follow the leader" in every detail, thus naïvely doing the necessary along with the irrelevant. Thus we are able to form a satisfactory theory of ritualism. It is based primarily upon empirical data, for the universal human method has always been "to try it." The experience of all mankind is, that wonders can be worked only by proceeding in certain precise ways, the real reasons for which are often utterly baffling. The person who knows the way can bring the result by merely going through with the formula. It is true even now that many who see the curious workings of these formulæ generalize and conceive of a universal method which is essentially the application of a formula. When such a conception becomes a part of folk-thought, we may expect individuals to experiment and try more or less at random formula of their own devising or, what is more likely, borrowed from another. Thus it comes to pass that many misfit formulæ in use everywhere.

The survival of true misfits in the more material affairs of life is unlikely, but when formulæ are applied to psychological and physiological phenomena, it is very difficult to decide as to their efficacy. A strong corrective influence works in one case in contrast to a weak one in the other. One scarcely need be reminded that our own scientific method developed first in strictly material problems and is but gradually extending its methods to the outlying phases of organic phenomena; and doubtless, here too many naïve and over-generalizing individuals misapply the mere empty methods of material science to the deception of themselves and others.

In short, a ritualistic ceremony in primitive life, and perhaps everywhere, is based upon a methodological ideal of accuracy in procedure or experiment and is an expression of a specific series of procedures so dressed and arranged as to hold the interest, emotions and retentive activities of men. Its primary function is to perpetuate exact knowledge and to secure precision in its application.