The Homeric Hymns A New Prose translation and Essays, Literary and Mythological
Page: 13But such anecdotes are either not common, or are not frequently reported, in the faiths of the most archaic of known races. Much more frequently we find the totemistic conception. All the kindreds with animal names p. 47(why adopted we do not know) are apt to explain these designations by descent from the animals selected, or by metamorphosis of the primal beasts into men. This collides with the other notions of descent from, or creation or manufacture out of clay, by the primal Being, “Father Ours.” Such contradictions are nothing to the savage theologian, who is no reconciler or apologist. But when reconciliation and apology are later found to be desirable, as in Greece, it is easy to explain that we are descended both from Our Father, and from a swan, cow, ant, serpent, dog, wolf, or what you will. That beast was Our Father, say Father Zeus, in animal disguise. Thus Greek legends of bestial amours of a God are probably, in origin, not primitive, but scandals produced in the effort to reconcile contradictory myths. The result is a worse scandal, an accretion of more low myths about a conception of the primal Being which was, relatively, lofty and pure.
Again, as aristocracies arose, the chief families desired to be sons of the Father in a p. 48special sense: not as common men are. Her Majesty’s lineage may thus be traced to Woden! Now each such descent required a separate divine amour, and a new scandalous story of Zeus or Apollo, though Zeus may originally have been as celibate as the Australian Baiame or Noorele are, in some legends. Once more, syncretism came in as a mythopœic influence. Say that several Australian nations, becoming more polite, amalgamated into a settled people. Then we should have several Gods, the chief Beings of various tribes, say Noorele, Bunjil, Mungan-ngaur, Baiame, Daramulun, Mangarrah, Mulkari, Pinmeheal. The most imposing God of the dominant tribe might be elevated to the sovereignty of Zeus. But, in the new administration, places must be found for the other old tribal Gods. They are, therefore, set over various departments: Love, War, Agriculture, Medicine, Poetry, Commerce, while one or more of the sons take the places of Apollo and Hermes. There appears to be a very early example of syncretism in p. 49Australia. Daramulun (Papang, Our Father) is “Master of All,” on the coast, near Shoalhaven River. Baiame is “Master of All,” far north, on the Barwan. But the locally intermediate tribe of the Wiraijuri, or Wiradthuri, have adopted Baiame, and reduced Daramulun to an exploded bugbear, a merely nominal superintendent of the Mysteries; and the southern Coast Murring have rejected Baiame altogether, or never knew him, while making Daramulun supreme.
One obvious method of reconciling various tribal Gods in a syncretic Olympus, is the genealogical. All are children of Zeus, for example, or grandchildren, or brothers and sisters. Fancy then provides an amour to account for each relationship. Zeus loved Leto, Leda, Europa, and so forth. Thus a God, originally innocent and even moral, becomes a perfect pattern of vice; and the eternal contradiction vexes the souls of Xenophanes, Plato, and St. Augustine. Sacrifices, even human sacrifices, wholly unknown to the most archaic faiths, were made to ghosts of p. 50men: and especially of kings, in the case of human sacrifice. Thence they were transferred to Gods, and behold a new scandal, when men began to reflect under more civilised conditions. Thus all these legends of divine amours and sins, or most of them, including the wanton legend of Aphrodite, and all the human sacrifices which survived to the disgrace of Greek religion, are really degrading accessories to the most archaic beliefs. They are products, not of the most rudimentary savage existence, but of the evolution through the lower and higher barbarism. The worst features of savage ritual are different—taking the lines of sorcery, of cruel initiations, and, perhaps, of revival of the licence of promiscuity, or of Group Marriage. Of these things the traces are not absent from Greek faith, but they are comparatively inconspicuous.