Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 154

Among savage peoples two grades of religious ideas have been identified, and classified as Naturalism and Animism. In the plane of Naturalism the belief obtains that a vague impersonal force, which may have more than one manifestation and is yet manifested in everything, controls the world and the lives of human beings. An illustration of this stage of religious consciousness is afforded by Mr. Risley, who, in dealing with the religion of the jungle dwellers of Chota Nagpur, India, says that "in most cases the indefinite something which they fear and attempt to propitiate is not a person at all in any sense of the word; if one must state the case in positive terms, I should say that the idea which lies at the root of their religion is that of a power rather than many powers".[303]

Traces of Naturalism appear to have survived in Sumeria in the belief that "the spiritual, the Zi, was that which manifested life.... The test of the manifestation of life was movement."[304] All things that moved, it was conceived in the plane of Naturalism, possessed "self power"; the river was a living thing, as was also the fountain; a stone that fell from a hill fell of its own accord; a tree groaned because the wind caused it to suffer pain. This idea that inanimate objects had conscious existence survived in the religion of the Aryo-Indians. In the Nala story of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the disconsolate wife Damayanti addresses a mountain when searching for her lost husband:

"This, the monarch of all mountains, ask I of the king of men;
O all-honoured Prince of Mountains, with thy heavenward soaring peaks ...
Hast thou seen the kingly Nala in this dark and awful wood....
Why repliest thou not, O Mountain?"

She similarly addresses the Asoka tree:

"Hast thou seen Nishadha's monarch, hast thou seen my only love?...
That I may depart ungrieving, fair Asoka, answer me...."
Many a tree she stood and gazed on....[305]

It will be recognized that when primitive men gave names to mountains, rivers, or the ocean, these possessed for them a deeper significance than they do for us at the present day. The earliest peoples of Indo-European speech who called the sky "dyeus", and those of Sumerian speech who called it "ana", regarded it not as the sky "and nothing more", but as something which had conscious existence and "self power". Our remote ancestors resembled, in this respect, those imaginative children who hold conversations with articles of furniture, and administer punishment to stones which, they believe, have tripped them up voluntarily and with desire to commit an offence.

In this early stage of development the widespread totemic beliefs appear to have had origin. Families or tribes believed that they were descended from mountains, trees, or wild animals.

Aesop's fable about the mountain which gave birth to a mouse may be a relic of Totemism; so also may be the mountain symbols on the standards of Egyptian ships which appear on pre-dynastic pottery; the black dwarfs of Teutonic mythology were earth children.[306]

Adonis sprang from a tree; his mother may have, according to primitive belief, been simply a tree; Dagda, the patriarchal Irish corn god, was an oak; indeed, the idea of a "world tree", which occurs in Sumerian, Vedic-Indian, Teutonic, and other mythologies, was probably a product of Totemism.