Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/October 1879/Mythologic Philosophy I
By Major J. W. POWELL.
I.—The Genesis of Philosophy.
THE wonders of the course of nature have ever challenged attention. In savagery, in barbarism, and in civilization alike, the mind of man has sought the explanation of things. The movements of the heavenly bodies, the change of seasons, the succession of night and day, the powers of the air, majestic mountains, ever-flowing rivers, perennial springs, the flight of birds, the gliding of serpents, the growth of trees, the blooming of flowers, the forms of storm carved rocks, the mysteries of life and death, the institutions of society—many are the things to be explained. The yearning to know is universal. How and why are everlasting interrogatories profoundly instinct in humanity. In the evolution of the human mind, the instinct of cosmic interrogation follows hard upon the instinct of self-preservation.
In all the operations of nature, man's weal and woe are involved. A cold wave sweeps from the north—rivers and lakes are frozen, forests are buried under snows, and the fierce winds almost congeal the life-fluids of man himself, and indeed man's sources of supply are buried under the rocks of water. At another time the heavens are as brass, and the clouds come and go with mockery of unfulfilled promises of rain, the fierce midsummer sun pours its beams upon the sands, and scorching blasts heated in the furnace of the desert sear the vegetation, and the fruits, which in more congenial seasons are subsistence and luxury, shrivel before the eyes of famishing men. A river rages and destroys the adjacent valley with its flood. A mountain bursts forth with its rivers of fire, the land is buried and the people are swept away. Lightning shivers a tree and rends a skull. The silent, unseen powers of nature, too, are at work bringing pain or joy, health or sickness, life or death, to mankind. In like manner man's welfare is involved in all the institutions of society. How and why are the questions asked about all these things—questions springing from the deepest instinct of self-preservation.
In all stages of savage, barbaric, and civilized inquiry every question has found an answer, every how has had its thus, every why its because. The sum of the answers to the questions raised by any people constitute its philosophy; hence all peoples have had philosophies consisting of their accepted explanation of things. Such a philosophy must necessarily result from the primary instincts developed in man in the early progress of his differentiation from the beast. This I postulate; if demonstration is necessary, demonstration is at hand. Not only has every people a philosophy, but every stage of culture is characterized by its stage of philosophy. Philosophy has been unfolded with the evolution of the human understanding. The history of philosophy is the history of human opinions from the earlier to the later days—from the lower to the higher culture.
In the production of a philosophy phenomena must be discerned, discriminated, classified. Discernment, discrimination, and classification are the processes by which a philosophy is developed. In studying the philosophy of a people at any stage of culture, to understand what such a people entertain as the sum of their knowledge it is necessary that we should understand what phenomena they saw, heard, felt, discerned; what discriminations they made, and what resemblances they seized upon as a basis for the classification on which their explanations rested. A philosophy will be higher in the scale, nearer the truth, as the discernment is wider, the discrimination nicer, and the classification better.
The sense of the savage is dull compared with the sense of the civilized man. There is a myth current in civilization to the effect that the barbarian has highly developed perceptive faculties. It has no more foundation than the myth of the wisdom of the owl. A savage sees but few sights, hears but few sounds, tastes but few flavors, smells but few odors; his whole sensuous life is narrow and blunt, and his facts that are made up of the combination of sensuous impressions are few. In comparison the civilized man has his vision extended away toward the infinitesimal and away toward the infinite; his perception of sound is multiplied to the comprehension of rapturous symphonies; his perception of taste is increased to the enjoyment of delicious viands; his perception of smell is developed to the appreciation of most exquisite perfumes; and his facts that are made up of the combination of sensuous impressions are multiplied beyond enumeration. The stages of discernment from the lowest savage to the highest civilized man constitute a series the end of which is far from the beginning.
If the discernment of the savage is little, his discrimination is less. All his sensuous perceptions are confused; but the confusion is that universal habit of savagery—the confusion of the objective with the subjective, so that the savage sees, hears, tastes, smells, feels the imaginings of his own mind. Subjectively determined sensuous processes are diseases in civilization, but normal functional methods in savagery.
The savage philosopher classifies by obvious resemblances—analogic characters. The civilized philosopher classifies by essential affinities—homologic characteristics—and the progress of philosophy is marked by changes from analogic categories to homologic categories.
II.—Two Grand Stages of Philosophy.
There are two grand stages of philosophy the mythologic—and the scientific. In the first, all phenomena are explained by analogies derived from subjective human experiences; in the latter, phenomena are explained as orderly successions of events.
In sublime egotism man first interprets the cosmos as an extension of himself; he classifies the phenomena of the outer world by their analogies with subjective phenomena; his measure of distance is his own pace, his measure of time his own sleep, for he says, "It is a thousand paces to the great rock," or, "It is a hundred sleeps to the great feast." Noises are voices, powers are hands, movements are made afoot. By subjective examination discovering in himself will and design, and by inductive reason discovering will and design in his fellow men and in animals, he extends the induction to all the cosmos, and there discovers in all things will and design. All phenomena are supposed to be the acts of some one, and that some one having will and purpose. In mythologic philosophy the phenomena of the outer physical world are supposed to be the acts of living, willing, designing personages. The simple are compared with and explained by the complex. In scientific philosophy, phenomena are supposed to be children of antecedent phenomena, and so far as science goes with its explanation they are thus interpreted. Man with the subjective phenomena gathered about him is studied from an objective point of view, and the phenomena of subjective life are relegated to the categories established in the classification of the phenomena of the outer world; thus the complex is studied by resolving it into its simple constituents.
Some examples of the philosophic methods belonging to widely separated grades of culture may serve to make my statements clearer.
Wind.—The Ute philosopher discerns that men and animals breathe. He recognizes vaguely the phenomena of the wind, and discovers its resemblance to breath, and explains the winds by relegating them to the class of breathings. He declares that there is a monster beast in the north that breathes the winter winds, and another in the south, and another in the east, and another in the west. The facts relating to winds are but partially discerned; the philosopher has not yet discovered that there is an earth-surrounding atmosphere. He fails also in making the proper discriminations. His relegation of the winds to the class of breathings is analogic, but not homologic. The basis of his philosophy is personality, and hence he has four wind-gods.
The philosopher of the ancient Northland discovered that he could cool his brow with a fan, or kindle a flame, or sweep away the dust with the wafted air. The winds also cooled his brow, the winds also swept away the dust and kindled the fire into a great conflagration, and when the wind blew he said, "Somebody is fanning the waters of the fiord," or "Somebody is fanning the evergreen forests," and he relegated the winds to the class of fannings, and he said, "The god Hraesvelger, clothed with eagle-plumes, is spreading his wings for flight, and the winds rise from under them."
The early Greek philosopher discovered that air may be imprisoned in vessels or move in the ventilation of caves, and he recognized wind as something more than breath, something more than fanning, something that can be gathered up and scattered abroad, and so when the winds blew he said, "The sacks have been untied," or "The caves have been opened."
The philosopher of civilization has discovered that breath, the fan wafted breeze, the air confined in vessels, the air moving in ventilation—that these are all parts of the great body of air which surrounds the earth, all in motion, swung by the revolving earth, heated at the tropics, cooled at the poles, and thus turned into counter-currents and again deflected by a thousand geographic features, so that the winds sweep down valleys, eddy among mountain-crags, or waft the spray from the crested billows of the sea, all in obedience to cosmic laws. The facts discerned are many, the discriminations made are nice, and the classifications based on true homologies, and we have the science of meteorology, which exhibits an orderly succession of events even in the fickle winds.
Sun and Moon.—The Ute philosopher declares the sun to be a living personage, and explains his passage across the heavens along an appointed way by giving an account of a fierce personal conflict between Ta-vi, the sun-god, and Ta-wats, one of the supreme gods of his mythology.
In that long ago, the time to which all mythology refers, the sun roamed the earth at will. When he came too near with his fierce heat the people were scorched, and when he hid away in his cave for a long time, too idle to come forth, the night was long and the earth cold. Once upon a time Ta-wats, the hare-god, was sitting with his family by the camp-fire in the solemn woods, anxiously waiting for the return of Ta-vi, the wayward sun-god. Wearied with long watching, the hare-god fell asleep, and the sun-god came so near that he scorched the naked shoulder of Ta-wats. Foreseeing the vengeance which would be thus provoked, he fled back to his cave beneath the earth. Ta-wats awoke in great anger, and speedily determined to go and fight the sun-god. After a long journey of many adventures the hare-god came to the brink of the earth, and there watched long and patiently, till at last the sun-god coming out he shot an arrow at his face, but the fierce heat consumed the arrow ere it had finished its intended course; then another arrow was sped, but that also was consumed; and another, and still another, till only one remained in his quiver, but this was the magical arrow that had never failed its mark. Ta-wats, holding it in his hand, lifted the barb to his eye and baptized it in a divine tear; then the arrow was sped and struck the sun-god full in the face, and the sun was shivered into a thousand fragments, which fell to the earth, causing a general conflagration. Then Tawats, the hare-god, fled before the destruction he had wrought, and as he fled the burning earth consumed his feet, consumed his legs, consumed his body, consumed his hands and his arms—all were consumed but the head alone, which bowled across valleys and over mountains, fleeing destruction from the burning earth until at last, swollen with heat, the eyes of the god burst and the tears gushed forth in a flood which spread over the earth and extinguished the fire. The sun-god was now conquered, and he appeared before a council of the gods to await sentence. In that long council were established the days and the nights, the seasons and the years, with the length thereof, and the sun was condemned to travel across the firmament by the same trail day after clay till the end of time.
In this same philosophy we learn that in that ancient time a council of the gods was held to consider the propriety of making a moon, and at last the task was given to Whippoorwill, a god of the night, and a frog yielded himself a willing sacrifice for this purpose, and the Whippoorwill, by incantations, and other magical means, transformed the frog into the new moon. The truth of this origin of the moon is made evident to our very senses; for do we not see the frog riding the moon at night, and the moon is cold, because the frog from which it was made was cold?
The philosopher of Oraibi tells us that when the people ascended by means of the magical tree which constituted the ladder from the lower world to this, they found the firmament, the ceiling of this world, low down upon the earth—the floor of this world. Machito, one of their gods, raised the firmament on his shoulders to where it is now seen. Still the world was dark, as there was no sun, no moon, and no stars. So the people murmured because of the darkness and the cold. Machito said, "Bring me seven maidens," and they brought him seven maidens; and he said, "Bring me seven baskets of cotton-bolls," and they brought him seven baskets of cotton-bolls; and he taught the seven maidens to weave a magical fabric from the cotton, and when they had finished it he held it aloft, and the breeze carried it away toward the firmament, and in the twinkling of an eye it was transformed into a beautiful full-orbed moon, and the same breeze caught the remnants of flocculent cotton which the maidens had scattered during their work, and carried them aloft, and they were transformed into bright stars. But still it was cold, and the people murmured again, and Machito said, "Bring me seven buffalo-robes," and they brought him seven buffalo-robes, and from the densely matted hair of the robes he wove another wonderful fabric, which the storm carried away into the sky, and it was transformed into the full-orbed sun. Then Machito appointed times and seasons, and ways for the heavenly bodies, and the gods of the firmament have obeyed the injunctions of Machito from the day of their creation to the present.
The Norse philosopher tells us that Night and Day, each, has a horse and a car, and they drive successively one after the other around the world in twenty-four hours. Night rides first with her steed named Dew-hair, and every morning as he ends his course he bedews the earth with foam from his bit. The steed driven by Day is Shining-hair. All the sky and earth glisten with the light of his mane. Jarnved, the great iron-wood forest lying to the east of Midgard, is the abode of a race of witches. One monster witch is the mother of many sons in the form of wolves, two of which are Skol and Hate. Skol is the wolf that would devour the maiden Sun, and she daily flies from the maw of the terrible beast, and the moon-man flies from the wolf Hate.
The philosopher of Samos tells us that the earth is surrounded by hollow crystalline spheres set one within another, and all revolving at different rates from east to west about the earth, and that the sun is set in one of these spheres and the moon in another.
The philosopher of civilization tells us that the sun is an incandescent globe, one of the millions afloat in space. About this globe the planets revolve, and the sun and planets and moons were formed from nebulous matter by the gradual segregation of their particles controlled by the laws of gravity, motion, and affinity. The sun, traveling by an appointed way across the heavens with the never-ending succession of day and night, and the ever-recurring train of seasons, is one of the subjects of every philosophy. Among all peoples, in all times, there is an explanation of these phenomena, but in the lowest stage, way down in savagery, how few the facts discerned, how vague the discriminations made, how superficial the resemblances by which the phenomena are classified! In this stage of culture, all the daily and monthly and yearly phenomena which come as the direct result of the movements of the heavenly bodies are interpreted as the doings of some one—some god acts. In civilization the philosopher presents us the science of astronomy with all its accumulated facts of magnitude, and weights, and orbits, and distances, and velocities—with all the nice discriminations of absolute, relative, and apparent motions; and all these facts he is endeavoring to classify in homologic categories, and the evolutions and revolutions of the heavenly bodies are explained as an orderly succession of events.
Rain.—The Shoshone philosopher believes the domed firmament to be ice, and surely it is the very color of ice, and he believes further that a monster serpent-god coils his huge back to the firmament and with his scales abrades its face and causes the ice-dust to fall upon the earth. In the winter-time it falls as snow, but in the summer-time it melts and falls as rain, and the Shoshone philosopher actually sees the serpent of the storm in the rainbow of many colors.
The Oraibi philosopher who lives in a pueblo is acquainted with architecture, and so his world is seven-storied. There is a world below and five worlds above this one. Muingwa, the rain-god who lives in the world immediately above, dips his great brush made of feathers of the birds of the heavens into the lakes of the skies and sprinkles the earth with refreshing rain for the irrigation of the crops tilled by these curious Indians who live on the cliffs of Arizona. In winter, Muningwa crushes the ice of the lakes of the heavens and scatters it over the earth, and we have a snow-fall.
The Hindoo philosopher says that the lightning-bearded Indra breaks the vessels that hold the waters of the skies with his thunderbolts, and the rains descend to irrigate the earth.
The philosopher of civilization expounds to us the methods by which the waters are evaporated from the land and the surface of the sea, and carried away by the winds, and gathered into clouds to be discharged again upon the earth, keeping up for ever that wonderful circulation of water from the heavens to the earth, and from the earth to the heavens—that orderly succession of events in which the waters travel by river, by sea, and by cloud.
Rainbow.—In Shoshone, the rainbow is a beautiful serpent that abrades the firmament of ice to give us snow and rain. In Norse, the rainbow is the bridge Bifrost spanning the space between heaven and earth. In the Iliad, the rainbow is the goddess Iris, the messenger of the King of Olympus. In Hebrew, the rainbow is the witness to a covenant. In science, the rainbow is an analysis of white light into its constituent colors by the refraction of rain-drops.
Falling Stars.—In Ute, falling stars are the excrements of dirty little star-gods. In science—well, I do not know what falling stars are in science. I think they are cinders from the furnaces where the worlds are forged. You may call this mythologic or scientific, as you please.
Migration of Birds.—The Algonquin philosopher explains the migration of birds by relating the myth of the combat between Ka-bibo-no-ke and Shingapis, the prototype or progenitor of the water-hen, one of their animal gods. A fierce battle raged between Ka-bi-bo-no-ke and Shingapis, but the latter could not be conquered. All the birds were driven from the land but Shingapis; and then was it established that whenever in the future Winter-maker should come with his cold winds, fierce snows, and frozen waters, all the birds should leave for the south except Shingapis and his friends. So the birds that spend their winters north are called by the Algonquin philosophers "the friends of Shingapis."
In contrast to this explanation of the flight of birds may be placed the explanation of the modern evolutionist, who says that the birds migrate in quest of abundance of food and a genial climate, guided by an instinct of migration, which is an accumulation of inherited memories.
Diversity of Languages.—The Kaibabit philosopher accounts for the diversity of languages in this manner: Si-chom-pa Ma-so-its, the grandmother goddess of the sea, brought up mankind from beneath the waves in a sack, which she delivered to the Shi-nau-av brothers, the great wolf-gods of his mythology, and told them to carry it from the shores of the sea to the Kaibab Plateau, and then to open it; but they were by no means to open the package ere their arrival, lest some great disaster should befall. The curiosity of the younger Shi-nau-av overcame him, and he untied the sack and the people swarmed out; but the elder Shi-nau-av, the wiser god, ran back and closed the sack while yet not all the people had escaped, and they carried the sack, with its remaining contents, to the plateau, and there opened it. Those that remained in the sack found a beautiful land—a great plateau covered with mighty forests, through which elk, deer, and antelope roamed in abundance, and many mountain-sheep were found on the bordering crags; pive, the nuts of the edible pine, they found on the foot-hills, and use, the fruit of the yucca, in sunny glades—and nant, the meschal crowns, for their feasts—and chuar, the cactus-apple, from which to make their wine; reeds grew about the lakes for their arrow shafts; the rocks were full of flints for their barbs and knives, and away down in the cañon they found a pipe-stone quarry, and on the hills they found arraumpive, their tobacco. Oh, it was a beautiful land that was given to these, the favorites of the gods! The descendants of these people are the present Kaibabits of northern Arizona. Those who escaped by the way, through the wicked curiosity of the younger Shi-nau-av, scattered over the country and became Navajos, Moquis, Sioux, Comanches, Spaniards, Americans—poor, sorry fragments of people without the original language of the gods, and only able to talk in imperfect jargons.
The Hebrew philosopher tells us that on the plains of Shinar the people of the world were gathered to build a city and erect a tower the summit of which should reach above the waves of any flood Jehovah might send. But their tongues were confused as a punishment for their impiety.
The philosopher of science tells us that mankind was widely scattered over the earth anterior to the development of articulate speech, that the languages of which we are cognizant sprung from innumerable centers as each little tribe developed its own language, and that in the study of any language an orderly succession of events may be discovered in its evolution from a few simple holophrastic locutions to a complex language with a multiplicity of words and an elaborate grammatic structure, by the differentiation of the parts of speech and the integration of the sentence.
A Cough.—A man coughs. In explanation the Ute philosopher would tell us that an unupits—a pygmy spirit of evil—had entered the poor man's stomach, and he would charge the invalid with having whistled at night; for in their philosophy it is taught that if a man whistles at night, when the pygmy spirits are abroad, one is sure to go through the open door into the stomach, and the evidence of this disaster is found in the cough which the unupits causes. Then the evil spirit must be driven out, and the medicine-man stretches his patient on the ground and scarifies him with the claws of eagles from head to heel, and while performing the scarification a group of men and women stand about, forming a chorus, and medicine-man and chorus perform a fugue in gloomy ululation, for these wicked spirits will depart only by incantations and scarifications. In our folk-lore philosophy a cough is caused by a "cold," whatever that may be—a vague entity—that must be treated first according to the maxim "Feed a cold and starve a fever," and the "cold" is driven away by potations of bitter teas.
In our medical philosophy a cough may be the result of a clogging of the pores of the skin, and is relieved by clearing those flues that carry away the waste products of vital combustion.
These illustrations are perhaps sufficient to exhibit the principal characteristics of the two methods of philosophy, and, though they cover but narrow fields, it should be remembered that every philosophy deals with the whole cosmos. An explanation of all things is sought—not alone the great movements of the heavens, or the phenomena that startle even the unthinking, but every particular which is observed. Abstractly, the plane of demarkation between the two methods of philosophy can be sharply drawn, but practically we find them strangely mixed; mythologic methods prevail in savagery and barbarism, and scientific methods prevail in civilization. Mythologic philosophies antedate scientific philosophies. The thaumaturgic phases of mythology are the embryonic stages of philosophy, science being the fully developed form. Without mythology there could be no science, as without childhood there could be no manhood, or without embryonic conditions there could be no ultimate forms.
III.—Mythologic Philosophy has Four Stages.
Mythologic philosophy is the subject with which we deal. Its method, as stated in general terms, is this: All phenomena of the outer objective world are interpreted by comparison with those of the inner subjective world. Whatever happens, some one does it—that some one has a will and works as he wills. The basis of the philosophy is personality. The persons who do the things which we observe in the phenomena of the universe are the gods of mythology—the cosmos is a pantheon. Under this system, whatever may be the phenomenon observed, the philosopher asks, "Who does it?" and "Why?" and the answer comes, "A god with his design." The winds blow, and the interrogatory is answered, "Æolus frees them from the cave to speed the ship of a friend, or destroy the vessel of a foe." The actors in mythologic philosophy are gods.
In the character of these gods four stages of philosophy may be discovered. In the lowest and earliest stage everything has life, everything is endowed with personality, will, and design: animals are endowed with all the wonderful attributes of mankind; all inanimate objects are believed to be animate; trees think and speak; stones have loves and hates; hills and mountains, springs and rivers, and all the bright stars, have life—everything discovered objectively by the senses is looked upon subjectively by the philosopher and endowed with all the attributes supposed to be inherent in himself. In this stage of philosophy everything is a god. Let us call it hecastotheism.
In the second stage men no longer attribute life indiscriminately to inanimate things; but the same powers and attributes recognized by subjective vision in man are attributed to the animals by which he is surrounded. No line of demarkation is drawn between man and beast; all are great beings endowed with wonderful attributes. Let us call this stage zoötheism, when men worship beasts. All the phenomena of nature are the doings of these animal gods, all the facts of nature, all the phenomena of the known universe, all the institutions of humanity known to the philosophers of this stage, are accounted for in the mythologic history of these zoömorphic gods.
In the third stage a wide gulf is placed between man and the lower animals. The animal gods are dethroned, and the powers and phenomena of nature are personified and deified. Let us call this stage physitheism. The gods are strictly anthropomorphic, having the form as well as the mental, moral, and social attributes of men. Thus we have a god of the sun, a god of the moon, a god of the air, a god of dawn, and a deity of the night.
In the fourth stage, mental, moral, and social characteristics are personified and deified. Thus we have a god of war, a god of love, a god of revelry, a god of plenty, and like personages who preside over the institutions and occupations of mankind. Let us call this psychotheism. With the mental, moral, and social characteristics in these gods are associated the powers of nature; and they differ from nature gods chiefly in that they have more distinct psychic characteristics.
Psychotheism, by the processes of mental integration, develops in one direction into monotheism, and in the other into pantheism. When the powers of nature are held predominant in the minds of the philosophers through whose cogitations this evolution of theism is carried on, pantheism, as the highest form of psychotheism, is the final result; but when the moral qualities are held in highest regard in the minds of the men in whom this process of evolution is carried on, monotheism, or a god whose essential characteristics are moral qualities, is the final product. The monotheistic god is not nature, but presides over and operates through nature. Psychotheism has long been recognized. All of the earlier literature of mankind treats largely of these gods, for it is an interesting fact that in the history of any civilized people, the evolution of psychotheism is approximately synchronous with the invention of an alphabet. In the earliest writings of the Egyptians, the Hindoos, and the Greeks, this stage is discovered, and Osiris, Indra, and Zeus are characteristic representatives. As psychotheism and written language appear together in the evolution of culture, this stage of theism is consciously or unconsciously a part of the theme of all written history.
The paleontologist, in studying the rocks of the hill and the cliffs of the mountain, discovers, in inanimate stones, the life-forms of the ancient earth. The geologist, in the study of the structure of valleys and mountains, discovers groups of facts that lead him to a knowledge of more ancient mountains and valleys and seas, of geographic features long ago buried, and followed by a new land with new mountains and valleys, and new seas. The philologist, in studying the earliest writings of a people, not only discovers the thoughts purposely recorded in those writings, but is able to go back in the history of the people many generations, and discover with even greater certainty the thoughts of the more ancient people who made the words. Thus the writings of the Greeks, the Hindoos, and the Egyptians, that give an account of their psychic gods, also contain a description of an earlier theism unconsciously recorded by the writers themselves. Psychotheism prevailed when the sentences were coined, physitheism when the words were coined. So the philologist discovers physitheism in all ancient literature. But the verity of that stage of philosophy does not rest alone upon the evidence derived from the study of fossil philosophies through the science of philology. In the folk-lore of every civilized people having a psychotheic philosophy, an earlier philosophy with nature-gods is discovered.
The different stages of philosophy which I have attempted to characterize have never been found in purity. We always observe different methods of explanation existing side by side, and the type of a philosophy is determined by the prevailing characteristics of its explanation of phenomena. Fragments of earlier are always found side by side with the greater body of the later philosophy. Man has never clothed himself in new garments of wisdom, but has for ever been patching the old, and the old and the new are blended in the same pattern, and thus we have atavism in philosophy. So in the study of any philosophy which has reached the psychotheic age, patches of the earlier philosophy are always seen. Ancient nature-gods are found to be living and associating with the supreme psychic deities. Thus in anthropological science there are three ways by which to go back in the history of any civilized people and learn of its barbaric physitheism. But of the verity of this stage we have further evidence. When Christianity was carried north from central Europe, the champions of the new philosophy, and its consequent religion, discovered, among those who dwelt by the glaciers of the north, a barbaric philosophy which they have preserved to history in the Eddas and Sagas, and Norse literature is full of a philosophy in a transition state, from physitheism to psychotheism; and, mark! the people discovered in this transition state were inventing an alphabet—they were carving Runes. Then a pure physitheism was discovered in the Aztec barbarism of Mexico, and elsewhere on the globe many people were found in that stage of culture to which this philosophy properly belongs. Thus the existence of physitheism as a stage of philosophy is abundantly attest-ed. Comparative mythologists are agreed in recognizing these two stages. They might not agree to throw all of the higher and later philosophies into one group, as I have done, but all recognize the plane of demarkation between the higher and the lower groups as I have drawn it. Scholars, too, have come essentially to an agreement that physitheism is earlier and older than psychotheism. Perhaps there may be left a "doubting Thomas" who believes that the highest stage of psychotheism—that is, monotheism—was the original basis for the philosophy of the world, and that all other forms are degeneracies from that primitive and perfect state. If there be such a man left, to him what I have to say about philosophy is blasphemy.
Again, all students of comparative philosophy, or comparative mythology, or comparative religion, as you may please to approach this subject from different points of view, recognize that there is something else; that there are philosophies, or mythologies, or religions, not included in the two great groups. All that something else has been vaguely called fetichism. I have divided it into two parts, hecastotheism and zoötheism. The verity of zoötheism as a stage of philosophy rests on abundant evidence. In psychotheism it appears as devilism in obedience to a well-known law of comparative theology, viz., that the gods of a lower and superseded stage of culture oftentimes become the devils of a higher stage. So in the very highest stages of psychotheism we find beast-devils. In Norse mythology, we have Fenris the wolf, and Jormungandur the serpent. Dragons appear in Greek mythology, the bull is an Egyptian god, a serpent is found in the Zendavesta; and was there not a scaly fellow in the garden of Eden? So common are these beast-demons in the higher mythologies that they are used in every literature as rhetorical figures. So we find, as a figure of speech, the great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with tail that with one brush sweeps away a third of the stars of heaven. And wherever we find nature-worship we find it accompanied with beast-worship. In the study of higher philosophies, having learned that lower philosophies often exist side by side with them, we might legitimately conclude that a philosophy based upon animal gods had existed previous to the development of physitheism; and philologic research leads to the same conclusion. But we are not left to base this conclusion upon an induction only, for in the examination of savage philosophies we actually discover zoötheism in all its proportions. Many of the Indians of North America, and many of South America, and many of the tribes of Africa, are found to be zoötheists. Their supreme gods are animals—tigers, bears, wolves, serpents, birds. Having discovered this, with a vast accumulation of evidence, we are enabled to carry philosophy back one stage beyond physitheism, and we can confidently assert that all of the philosophies of civilization have come up through these three stages.
And yet, there are fragments of philosophy discovered which are not zoötheistic, physitheistic, nor psychotheistic. What are they? We find running through all three stages of higher philosophy that phenomena are sometimes explained by regarding them as the acts of persons who do not belong to any of the classes of gods found in the higher stages. We find fragments of philosophy everywhere which seem to assume that all inanimate nature is animate: that mountains and hills, and rivers and springs, that trees and grasses, that stones, and all fragments of things are endowed with life and with will, and act for a purpose. These fragments of philosophy lead to the discovery of hecastotheism. Philology also leads us back to that state when the animate and the inanimate were confounded, for the holophrastic roots into which words are finally resolved show us that all inanimate things were represented in language as actors. Such is the evidence on which we predicate the existence of hecastotheism as a veritable stage of philosophy. Unlike the three higher stages, it has no people extant on the face of the globe, known to be in this stage of culture. The philosophies of many of the lowest tribes of mankind are yet unknown, and hecastotheism may be discovered; but at the present time we are not warranted in saying that any tribe entertains this philosophy as its highest wisdom.
[To be continued.]
- An Address delivered before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Saratoga, New York, August 29, 1879, by Major J. W. Powell, Vice-President.