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THE HOUSE OF COMMONS. By Earl Grey
THE SPOLIATION OF INDIA. By J. Seymour Keay
DEMOCRACY AND SOCIALISM. By George C. Brodricli
APPARITIONS. By Edmund Gurney and Frederic W. H. Ayers
ΝΙ Ν Ε Τ Ε Ε Ν Τ Η
No. LXXXIII.- JANUARY 1884.
A RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT.1
UNLIKE the ordinary consciousness, the religious consciousness is concerned with that which lies beyond the sphere of sense. А brute thinks only of things which can be touched, seen, heard, tasted, etc.; and the like is true of the untaught child, the deaf-mute, and the lowest savage. But the developing man has thoughts about existences which he regards as usually intangible, inaudible, 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 cannot 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 exbibits these steps quite clearly. shown by it 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 statements concerning matters of fact in the first part of this article are based on the contents of Part I. of The Principles of Sociology. VOL. XV.-No. 83.
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 nonappearance in dreams is held to imply that he is finally dead, shows that these earliest supernatural agents are conceived as having 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 recognised through successive generations as established supernatural powers. Thus the Unkulunkulu, or old-old one of the Zulus, 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 favour 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 observed differences among the powers of living individuals. Hence it results that while the propitiations of ordinary gbosts 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. Quite early there thus begin those grades of supernatural beings which eventually become so strongly marked.
Habitual wars, which more than all other causes initiate these first differentiations, go on to initiate further and more decided ones. For with those compoundings of small societies into greater ones, and re-compounding of these into still greater, which war effects, there, of course, with the multiplying gradations of power among living men, arises the conception of multiplying gradations of power among their ghosts. Thus in course of time are formed the conceptions of the great ghosts or gods, the more numerous secondary ghosts or demi-gods, and so on downwards—a pantheon : there being still, however, no essential distinction of kind; as we see in the calling of ordinary ghosts manes-gods by the Romans and elohim by the Hebrews. Moreover, repeating as the other life in the other world does the life in this world, in its needs, occupations, and social organisation, there arises not only a differentiation of grades among supernatural beings in respect of their powers, but also in respect of their characters and kinds of activity. There come to be local gods, and gods reigning over this or that order of phenomena ; there come to be good and evil spirits of various qualities; and where there has been by conquest a superposing of societies one upon another, each having its own system of ghost-derived beliefs, there results an involved combination of such beliefs, constituting a mythology.
Of course ghosts primarily being doubles like the originals in all things; and gods (when not the living members of a conquering race) being doubles of the more powerful men; it results that they, too, are originally no less human than other ghosts in their physical characters, their passions, and their intelligences. Like the doubles of the ordinary dead, they are supposed to consume the flesh, blood, bread, wine, given to them: at first literally, and later in a more spiritual way by consuming the essences of them. They not only appear as visible and tangible persons, but they enter into conflicts with men, are wounded, suffer pain: the sole distinction being that they have miraculous powers of healing and consequent immortality. Here, indeed, there needs a qualification ; for not only do various peoples bold that the gods die a first death (as naturally happens where they are members of a conquering race, called gods because of their superiority), but, as in the case of Pan, it is supposed, even among the cultured, that there is a second and final death of a god, like that second and final death of a man supposed among existing savages. With advancing civilisation the divergence of the supernatural being from the natural being becomes more decided. There is nothing to check the gradual de-materialisation of the ghost and of the god; and this de-materialisation is insensibly furthered in the effort to reach consistent ideas of supernatural action: the god ceases to be tangible, and later he ceases to be visible or audible. Along with this differentiation of physical attributes from those of humanity, there goes on more slowly the differentiation of mental attributes. The god of the savage, represented as having intelligence scarcely, if at all, greater than that of the living man, is deluded with
Even the gods of the semi-civilised are deceived, make mistakes, repent of their plans; and only in course of time does there arise the conception of unlimited vision and universal knowledge. The emotional nature simultaneously undergoes a parallel transformation. The grosser passions, originally conspicuous and carefully ministered to by devotees, gradually fade, leaving only the passions less related to corporeal satisfactions; and eventually these, too, become partially de-humanised.
These ascribed characters of deities are continually adapted and re-adapted to the needs of the social state. During the militant phase of activity, the chief god is conceived as holding insubordination
the greatest crime, as implacable in anger, as merciless in punishment; and any alleged attributes of a milder kind occupy but small space in the social consciousness. But where militancy declines and the harsh, despotic form of government appropriate to it is gradually qualified by the form appropriate to industrialism, the foreground of the religious consciousness is increasingly filled with those ascribed traits of the divine nature which are congruous with the ethics of peace: divine love, divine forgiveness, divine mercy, are now the characteristics enlarged upon.
To perceive clearly the effects of mental progress and changing social life thus stated in the abstract, we must glance at them in the concrete. If, without foregone conclusions, we contempiate the traditions, records, and monuments of the Egyptians, we see that out of their primitive ideas of gods, brute or human, there were evolved spiritualised ideas of gods, and finally of a god; until the priesthoods of later times, repudiating the earlier ideas, described them as corruptions : being swayed by the universal tendency to regard the first state as the highest-a tendency traceable down to the theories of existing theologians and mythologists. Again, if, putting aside speculations, and not asking what historical value the Iliad may have, we take it simply as indicating the early Greek notion of Zeus, and compare this with the notion contained in the Platonic dialogues; we see that Greek civilisation had greatly modified (in the better minds, at least) the purely anthropomorphic conception of him : the lower human attributes being dropped and the higher ones transfigured. Similarly, if we contrast the Hebrew God described in primitive traditions, manlike in appearance, appetites, and emotions, with the Hebrew God as characterised by the prophets, there is shown a widening range of power along with a nature increasingly remote from that of man. And on passing to the conceptions of him which are now entertained, we are made aware of an extreme transfiguration. By a convenient obliviousness, a deity who in early times is represented as hardening men's hearts so that they may commit punishable acts, and as employing a lying spirit to deceive them, comes to be mostly thought of as an embodiment of virtues transcending the highest we can imagine.
Thus, recognising the fact that in the primitive human mind there exists neither religious idea nor religious sentiment, we find that in the course of social evolution and the evolution of intelligence accompanying it, there are generated both the ideas and sentiments which we distinguish as religious; and that through a process of causation clearly traceable, they traverse those stages which have brought them, among civilised races, to their present forms.
And now what may we infer will be the evolution of religious ideas and sentiments throughout the future? On the one hand it is