An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 44

"To hope, till hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates"?

I differ from him in many points toto cœlo; but is not endeavour the most precious thing in a new science? May we not say in mythology as in literature, Fax mentis incendium gloria? The very circumstance that a man carries such a torch as is borne by Sir James entitles him to our highest esteem, even if, as in my own case, we only partially agree with his notions, or almost wholly dissent from them, as Mr Farnell seems to do.

[30] English translation by Elizabeth Frost, London, 1912.

[31] This deals an effective blow to more than one Teutonic claim to priority in this field.

[32] We have shown above that the conservatism of the savage, like that of the child, would not permit this.

[33] It must of course be clear to the 'meanest intelligence' that it is quite possible for myths to be created to explain ritual, but such myths must, almost of necessity; be late in origin and can only arise when the original myth which gave rise to the ritualistic practice has been lost. For what reason, it may be asked, is ritual invented and originated? Surely it presupposes a divine being, and if it does, it creates a myth; unless, of course, ritual was originally a magical act, an attempt to use some occult force, such as mana. One can understand that in the latter circumstances a myth may ultimately arise from ritual, otherwise I am unable to comprehend the contention, so often made in works dealing with mythology, that ritual is prior to myth. Nor do I consider magical ritual 'religious' but pseudo-scientific in nature, as magic is invariably pseudo-scientific and not religious at all.

[Pg 102]



The evolution of the idea of godhead in the mind of man is in its later stages inalienably associated with the conception of spirit.[1]

As we have seen (pp. 58-59), Tylor considers that man first attained the idea of spirit by reflection on experiences such as sleep, dreams, trances, shadows, hallucinations, breath, and death, and by degrees extended this conception of soul or ghost until he peopled all nature with spirits, from among which one supreme being was finally raised above all.

An outline of the animistic conception has been provided in the introductory chapter. Here it is only necessary to apply it to the evolution of deity. The opinion of Marett, that in an early stage of human development pre-animistic 'powers' exist which do not partake of the nature of spirit, does not require to be restated, as it has but little bearing upon the question directly before us; and we will advance to that stage in human mental development when spirit has become fully recognized. The conception of simple personalization could not have lasted long at any epoch, as it would sooner or later be brought into contact with the idea of the separable soul. Thus if gods were regarded as 'magnified non-natural men' (the very phrase[Pg 103] 'non-natural' is against the personalization idea), or physical objects or natural phenomena were worshipped or placated because of their peculiarities, the idea of spirit would undoubtedly infuse and alter these beliefs at a very early stage in their career. Thus no deity could well escape becoming spiritualized. Why should this be so? Why should spiritualization be necessary to deity? The point is important. If we admit that certain physical objects were worshipped because of their peculiarities, if we believe that the earth and sky, for example, were personalized and conceived as without spiritual attributes in the beginning, that only what was seen was worshipped, how comes it that among the most primitive races the god, as apart from his idol, is invisible—that is, spiritual? The idol may, of course, be a relic of the period when only what was beheld was worshipped, but that period must indeed have been brief, when one takes into consideration the probable early junction of the ideas of spirit and deity.


The conception of spirit must have been an early idea, contemporary, one would imagine, with the dawn of reason. Man, claiming for himself the possession of spirit, could scarcely deny it to a superior power, and if the fear of godhead agitated him when beheld in the convulsions of nature, as in the thunder-storm or earthquake, how much more would the half-heard mutterings of the unseen agencies dwelling in the whistling winds and darkling woods cause terror in his breast? Regarding the physical agencies he knew the worst, and could learn how to avoid or mitigate their terrors, but what chance had he against those agencies he could not perceive, and how much greater must have been his fear of them? Thus was born that dread of the invisible, the unseen, which even to-day chills the human heart and plays havoc with human imagination.