An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 51But the great measure of difference between the religions of nomadic and agricultural peoples is the compact which each makes with its gods. Adoration in the animistic stage is caused either by a sense of fear, by the indefinable feeling for the sacred, or because something is hoped for from the deity placated or worshipped. The contract between the hunter and the fetish which guides his actions with its advice or magic is of a low material type. He can scarcely have an agreement[Pg 118] with a thunder-god or any such being, but with the gods which preside over vegetable growths the husbandman makes a very definite contract. An unpropitious season brings home to him the risk attending an agricultural existence, famine staring him in the face. Remembering the manner in which he placated the deities of his nomadic existence—by sacrifice—he proceeds by a like process to placate the new deities upon whose good-will the growth of his crops depends. The earth may be weary after bearing so much grain; therefore it must be drenched with blood in order that it may recover from the strain. The clouds may be absent, so that the corn becomes scorched and withered; therefore a tithe of human life must be given to the water—in other words, victims must be drowned. The ever-present sun must be kept in good humour, for without his light and heat the grain would not germinate and human life would be destroyed; therefore the steam of blood must arise to fill his nostrils. The contract is clear though unwritten: "Continue to feed us, O gods, and we shall feed you."
Thus the strictly departmental type of deity arises. At first he is a mere corn-spirit, maize-spirit, earth-spirit, water-, thunder-, sun-spirit, or what not—sun, water, grain, or earth personified—but as generations pass his fame grows and attracts wider reverence. His attributes become numerous, his ritual more involved; and the wondrous sentiment of the sacred surrounds him with a mystic veil. Ethical ideas become attached to his worship; he is regarded as a fount of righteousness; and, from being non-moral and non-human, he comes to possess a sanctified human character as well as more than human powers. Let us examine a few 'departmental' types of godhead with the object of tracing them back to their original forms, if possible.
It will be well if we commence our inquiry with deities which are obviously of elemental origin.
One of the first to attract our attention is naturally the sun[Pg 119] himself. In all times and in most climates the great luminary has been regarded as the source of life. In nearly all the higher mythologies he occupies a distinguished place, if not the principal seat, in the pantheon. In the later stages of his godhead, also, his attributes themselves are deified; but it is in his early career as a god that we must first deal with him here.
In the earliest animistic conception of the sun he is regarded as having life and volition at least equal, if not superior, to man. His character among a primitive people may be gauged from the utterance of the Peruvian monarch who cast doubts upon his godhead and told the solar priesthood that so far from possessing the attributes of deity, the sun was compelled by some force superior to himself to make the same journey daily over a fixed path. That this had not occurred to the solar worshippers of Peru shows that they gave no scientific interest, but merely a devout observation, to the luminary, and that, without bestowing any theological thought on the matter, they had merely adopted the old animistic idea of the sun as a living thing, little more or less.