An Introduction to Mythology

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To "score" a wizard (or witch) "aboon the breath," and thus procure some of his blood, rendered the possessors of it immune from the malice of the sorcerer. So we see that Brounger was at least no mere 'Longshoreman Billy,' earning a livelihood by terrorizing his brother salts, but ranked in some measure with the supernatural host. It is just possible, indeed, that he may possess a common origin with the Russian Perunu or Peroun, whose name also signified 'striker' or 'lightning-wielder.'


Totemism is a phase of religion frequently encountered in myth. Briefly and crudely defined (and any brief definition of it must essentially be crude), the totem is an animal, plant, or inanimate object connected traditionally with a certain social group which takes its name from the totem or uses it as a symbol. The persons composing this 'group' suppose themselves to be descended from the totem animal or plant, or to be related to it. There is a magico-religious bond between the totem animal and themselves, and the totem may not be eaten by the members of the community of which it is the patron unless in a ceremonial manner and at stated seasons.

Examples of the totem in myth are, as has been said, frequent. In the Roman myth of Jupiter and Leda, for instance, we encounter Jupiter in the form of a swan; many of the Egyptian animal-headed gods are totemic; certain swine-gods of the ancient Britons were of the same class; and we know that some of our ancestors would not eat geese, just as certain Red Indians will not eat beaver or racoon, because these animals represented, or represent, the beast-patron of their tribe.

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About the beginning of the eighteenth century certain French missionaries—among them the Jesuit Lafitau—were struck with the importance of totemism in the religious and social life of the North American Indians. Lafitau saw more clearly than any of his colleagues the nature of this peculiar socio-religious condition, and was even led to apply what he saw among the Iroquois Indians to the interpretation of the Greek Chimæra! During the first part of the nineteenth century the facts concerning totemism began to reach Great Britain from missionaries and travellers in every part of the globe. Moreover, allusions to what were undoubtedly totemic conceptions could be traced in the authors of antiquity—Diodorus, Herodotus, Pausanias, Ælian, etc. In 1869 McLennan pointed out that many totemic customs and beliefs survived in various civilizations, ancient and modern. About 1885 Frazer and Robertson Smith approached the subject with a larger body of facts. Later, Tylor, Spencer, Lubbock, Lang, Jevons, Cook, and Grant Allen threw themselves into the study of this remarkable phase of socio-religious life.


In this introduction we are dealing with the various divisions, more or less arbitrary, made by students of myth and comparative religion, and will not here attempt any description of the processes by which spirits of the animistic, fetishistic, and totemic types evolve into perfected deities. In a condition of polytheism we encounter the gods fully evolved, and often arranged in a hierarchy closely resembling the social polity of the tribe or people from whose religious imagination it has sprung.