Their Origin and Meaning
The Edward Carpenter Archive
by Simon Dawson

Chapter 8 - PAGAN INITIATIONS AND THE SECOND BIRTH | Comment and Feedback

Forward to Chapter 9 - Myth of the Golden Age

We have suggested in the last chapter how the conceptions of Sin and Sacrifice coming down to us from an extremely remote past, and embodied among the various peoples of the world sometimes in crude and bloodthirsty rites, sometimes in symbols and rituals of a gentler and more gracious character, descended at last into Christianity and became a part of its creed and of the creed of the modern world. On the whole perhaps we may trace a slow amelioration in this process and may flatter ourselves that the Christian centuries exhibit a more philosophical understanding of what Sin is, and a more humane conception of what Sacrifice should be, than the centuries preceding. But I fear that any very decided statement or sweeping generalization to that effect would be - to say the least - rash. Perhaps there is a very slow amelioration; but the briefest glance at the history of the Christian churches - the horrible rancours and revenges of the clergy and the sects against each other in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., the heresy-hunting crusades at Beziers and other places and the massacres of the Albigenses in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the witch-findings and burnings of the sixteenth and seventeenth, the hideous science-urged and bishop-blessed warfare of the twentieth - horrors fully as great as any we can charge to the account of the Aztecs or the Babylonians - must give us pause. Nor must we forget that if there is by chance a substantial amelioration in our modern outlook with regard to these matters the same had begun already before the advent of Christianity and can by no means be ascribed to any miraculous influence of that religion. Abraham was prompted to slay a ram as a substitute for his son, long before the Christians were thought of; the rather savage Artemis of the old Greek rites was (according to Pausanias) (Footnote 1) honored by the yearly sacrifice of a perfect boy and girl, but later it was deemed sufficient to draw a knife across their throats as a symbol, with the result of spilling only a few drops of their blood, or to flog the boys (with the same result) upon her altar. Among the Khonds in old days many victims (meriahs) were sacrificed to the gods,

"but in time the man was replaced by a horse, the horse by a bull, the bull by a ram, the ram by a kid, the kid by fowls, and the fowls by many flowers." (Footnote 2)

At one time, according to the Yajur-Veda, there was a festival at which one hundred and twenty-five victims, men and women, boys and girls, were sacrificed;

"but reform supervened, and now the victims were bound as before to the stake, but afterwards amid litanies to the immolated (god) Narayana, the sacrificing priest brandished a knife and - severed the bonds of the captives." (Footnote 3)

At the Athenian festival of the Thargelia, to which I referred in the last chapter, it appears that the victims, in later times, instead of being slain, were tossed from a height into the sea, and after being rescued were then simply banished; while at Leucatas a similar festival the fall of the victim was graciously broken by tying feathers and even living birds to his body. (Footnote 4)

With the lapse of time and the general progress of mankind, we may, I think, perceive some such slow ameliorations in the matter of the brutality and superstition of the old religions. How far any later ameliorations were due to the direct influence of Christianity might be a difficult question; but what I think we can clearly see - and what especially interests us here - is that in respect to its main religious ideas, and the matter underlying them (exclusive of the manner of their treatment, which necessarily has varied among different peoples) Christianity is of one piece with the earlier pagan creeds and is for the most part a re-statement and renewed expression of world-wide doctrines whose first genesis is lost in the haze of the past, beyond all recorded history.

I have illustrated this view with regard to the doctrine of Sin and Sacrifice. Let us take two or three other illustrations. Let us take the doctrine of Re-birth or Regeneration. The first few verses of St. John's Gospel are occupied with the subject of salvation through rebirth or regeneration.

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." . . . "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

Our Baptismal Service begins by saying that

"forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin; and that our Saviour Christ saith, None can enter into the kingdom of God except he be regenerate and born anew of water and the Holy Ghost";

therefore it is desirable that this child should be baptized, "received into Christ's Holy Church, and be made a lively member of the same." That, is to say, there is one birth, after the flesh, but a second birth is necessary, a birth after the Spirit and into the Church of Christ. Our Confirmation Service is simply a service repeating and confirming these views, at an age (fourteen to sixteen or so) when the boy or girl is capable of understanding what is being done.

But our Baptismal and Confirmation ceremonies combined are clearly the exact correspondence and parallel of the old pagan ceremonies of Initiation, which are or have been observed in almost every primitive tribe over the world. Says Jane Harrison,:- (Footnote 5)

"The rite of the second birth, is widespread, universal, over half the savage world. With the savage to be twice-born is the rule. By his first birth he comes into the world; by his second he is born into his tribe. At his first birth he belongs to his mother and the women-folk; at his second he becomes a full-fledged man and passes into the society of the warriors of his tribe." . . . "These rites are very various, but they all point to one moral, that the former things are passed away and that the new-born man has entered upon a new life. Simplest of all, and most instructive, is the rite practised by the Kikuyu tribe of British East Africa, who require that every boy, just before circumcision, must be born again. The mother stands up with the boy crouching at her feet; she pretends to go through all the labour pains, and the boy on being reborn cries like a babe and is washed." (Footnote 6)

Let us pause for a moment. An Initiate is of course one who "enters in." He enters into the Tribe; he enters into the revelation of certain Mysteries; he becomes an associate of a certain Totem, a certain God; a member of a new Society, or Church - a church of Mithra, or Dionysus or Christ. To do any of these things he must be born again; be must die to the old life; he must pass through ceremonials which symbolize the change. One of these ceremonials is washing. As the new-born babe is washed, so must the new-born initiate be washed; and as by primitive man (and not without reason) blood was considered the most vital and regenerative of fluids, the very elixir of life, so in earliest times it was common to wash the initiate with blood. If the initiate had to be born anew, it would seem reasonable to suppose that he must first die. So, not unfrequently, he was wounded, or scourged, and baptized with his own blood, or, in cases, one of the candidates was really killed and his blood used as a substitute for the blood of the others. No doubt human sacrifice attended the earliest initiations. But later it was sufficient to be half-drowned in the blood of a Bull as in the Mithra cult, (Footnote 7) or 'washed in the blood of the Lamb' as in the Christian phraseology. Finally, with a growing sense of decency and aesthetic perception among the various peoples, washing with pure water came in the initiation-ceremonies to take the place of blood; and our baptismal service has reduced the ceremony to a mere sprinkling with water. (Footnote 8)

To continue the quotation from Miss Harrison:

"More often the new birth is stimulated, or imagined, as a death and a resurrection, either of the boys themselves or of some one else in their presence. Thus at initiation among some tribes of South-east Australia, when the boys are assembled an old man dressed in stringy bark-fibre lies down in a grave. He is covered up lightly with sticks and earth, and the grave is smoothed over. The buried man holds in his hand a small bush which seems to be growing from the ground, and other bushes are stuck in the ground round about. The novices are then brought to the edge of the grave and a song is sung. Gradually, as the song goes on, the bush held by the buried man begins to quiver. It moves more and more, and bit by bit the man himself starts up from the grave."

Strange in our own Baptismal Service and just before the actual christening we read these words,

"Then shall the Priest say: O merciful God, grant that old Adam in this child may be so buried that the new man may be raised up in him: grant that all carnal affections may die in him, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him!"

Can we doubt that the Australian medicine-man, standing at the graveside of the re-arisen old black-fellow, pointed the same moral to the young initiates as the priest does to-day to those assembled before him in church - for indeed we know that among savage tribes initiations have always been before all things the occasions of moral and social teaching? Can we doubt that he said, in substance if not in actual words:

"As this man has arisen from the grave, so you must also arise from your old childish life of amusement and self-gratification and, enter into the life of the tribe, the life of the Spirit of the tribe."

To quote Miss Harrison again,

"In totemistic societies, and in the animal secret societies that seem to grow out of them, the novice is born again as the sacred animal. Thus among the Carrier Indians (Footnote 9) when a man wants to become a Lulem or 'Bear,' however cold the season he tears off his clothes, puts on a bear-skin and dashes into the woods, where he will stay for three or four days. Every night his fellow-villagers will go out in search parties to find him. They cry out Yi! Kelulem (come on, Bear), and he answers with angry growls. Usually they fail to find him, but he comes back at last himself. He is met, and conducted to the ceremonial lodge, and there in company with the rest of the Bears dances solemnly his first appearance. Disappearance and reappearance is as common a rite in initiation as stimulated killing and resurrection, and has the same object. Both are rites of transition, of passing from one to another."

In the Christian ceremonies the boy or girl puts away childish things and puts on the new man, but instead of putting on a bear-skin he puts on Christ. There is not so much difference as may appear on the surface. To be identified with your Totem is to be identified with the sacred being who watches over your tribe, who has given his life for your tribe; it is to be born again, to be washed not only with water but with the Holy Spirit of all your fellows. To be baptized into Christ ought to mean to be regenerated in the Holy Spirit of all humanity; and no doubt in cases it does mean this, but too often unfortunately it has only amounted to a pretence of religious sanction given to the meanest and bitterest quarrels of the Churches and the States.

This idea of a New Birth at initiation explains the prevalent pagan custom of subjecting the initiates to serious ordeals, often painful and even dangerous. If one is to be born again, obviously one must be ready to face death; the one thing cannot be without the other. One must be able to endure pain, like the Red Indian braves; to go long periods fasting and without food or drink, like the choupan among the Western Inoits - who, wanders for whole nights over the ice-fields under the moon, scantily clothed and braving the intense cold; to overcome the very fear of death and danger, like the Australian novices who, at first terrified by the sound of the bull- roarer and threats of fire and the knife, learn finally to cast their fears away. (Footnote 10) By so doing one puts off the old childish things, and qualifies oneself by firmness and courage to become a worthy member of the society into which one is called. (Footnote 11) The rules of social life are taught - the duty to one's tribe, and to oneself, truth-speaking, defence of women and children, the care of cattle, the meaning of sex and marriage, and even the mysteries of such religious ideas and rudimentary science as the tribe possesses. And by so doing one really enters into a new life. Things of the spiritual world begin to dawn. Julius Firmicus, in describing the mysteries of the resurrection of Osiris, (Footnote 12) says that when the worshipers had satiated themselves with lamentations over the death of the god then the priest would go round anointing them with oil and whispering,

"Be of good cheer, O Neophytes of the new- arisen God, for to us too from our pains shall come salvation." (Footnote 13)

It would seem that at some very early time in the history of tribal and priestly initiations an attempt was made to impress upon the neophytes the existence and over-shadowing presence of spiritual and ghostly beings. Perhaps the pains endured in the various ordeals, the long fastings, the silences in the depth of the forests or on the mountains or among the ice-floes, helped to rouse the visionary faculty. The developments of this faculty among the black and colored peoples - East-Indian, Burmese, African, American- Indian, etc. - are well known. Miss Alice Fletcher, who lived among the Omaha Indians for thirty years, gives a most interesting account (Footnote 14) of the general philosophy of that people and their rites of initiation.

"The Omahas regard all animate and inanimate forms, all phenomena, as pervaded by a common life, which was continuous with and similar to the will-power they were conscious of in themselves. This mysterious power in all things they called Wakonda, and through it all things were related to man and to each other. In the idea of the continuity of life a relation was maintained between the seen and the unseen, the dead and the living, and also between the fragment of anything and its entirety." (Footnote 15)

Thus an Omaha novice might at any time seek to obtain Wakonda by what was called the rite of the vision. He would go out alone, fast, chant incantations, and finally fall into a trance (much resembling what in modern times has been called cosmic consciousness) in which he would perceive the inner relations of all things and the solidarity of the least object with the rest of the universe.

Another rite in connection with initiation, and common all over the pagan world - in Greece, America, Africa, Australia, New Mexico, etc. - was the daubing of the novice all over with clay or chalk or even dung, and then after a while removing the same. (Footnote 16) The novice must have looked a sufficiently ugly and uncomfortable object in this state; but later, when he was thoroughly washed, the ceremony must have afforded a thrilling illustration of the idea of a new birth, and one which would dwell in the minds of the spectators. When the daubing was done as not infrequently happened with white clay or gypsum, and the ritual took place at night, it can easily be imagined that the figures of young men and boys moving about in the darkness would lend support to the idea that they were spirits belonging to some intermediate world - who had already passed through death and were now waiting for their second birth on earth (or into the tribe) which would be signalized by their thorough and ceremonial washing. It will be remembered that Herodotus (viii, 27) gives a circumstantial account of how the Phocians in a battle with the Thessalians smeared six hundred of their bravest warriors with white clay so that, looking like supernatural beings, and falling upon the Thessalians by night, they terrified the latter and put them to instant flight.

Such then - though only very scantily described - were some of the rites of Initiation and Second Birth celebrated in the old Pagan world. The subject is far too large for adequate treatment within the present limits; but even so we cannot but be struck by the appropriateness in many cases of the teaching thus given to the young, the concreteness of the illustrations, the effectiveness of the symbols used, the dramatic character of the rites, the strong enforcement of lessons on the nature and duties of the life into which the candidates were about to enter. Christianity followed on, and inherited these traditions, but one feels that in its ceremonies of Baptism and Confirmation, which of course correspond to the Pagan Initiations, it falls short of the latter. Its ceremonies (certainly as we have them to-day in Protestant countries) are of a very milk-and-watery character; all allusion to and teaching on the immensely important subject of Sex is omitted, the details of social and industrial morality are passed by, and instruction is limited to a few rather commonplace lessons in general morality and religion.

It may be appropriate here, before leaving the subject of the Second Birth, to inquire how it has come about that this doctrine - so remote and metaphysical as it might appear - has been taken up and embodied in their creeds and rituals by quite primitive people all over the world, to such a degree indeed that it has ultimately been adopted and built into the foundations of the latter and more intellectual religions, like Hinduism, Mithraism, and the Egyptian and Christian cults. I think the answer to this question must be found in the now-familiar fact that the earliest peoples felt themselves so much a part of Nature and the animal and vegetable world around them that (whenever they thought about these matters at all) they never for a moment doubted that the things which were happening all round them in the external world were also happening within themselves. They saw the Sun, overclouded and nigh to death in winter, come to its birth again each year; they saw the Vegetation shoot forth anew in spring - the revival of the spirit of the Earth; the endless breeding of the Animals, the strange transformations of Worms and Insects; the obviously new life taken on by boys and girls at puberty; the same at a later age when the novice was transformed into the medicine-man - the choupan into the angakok among the Esquimaux, the Dacotah youth into the wakan among the Red Indians; and they felt in their sub-conscious way the same everlasting forces of rebirth and transformation working within themselves. In some of the Greek Mysteries the newly admitted Initiates were fed for some time after on milk only "as though we were being born again." (See Sallustius, quoted by Gilbert Murray.) When sub-conscious knowledge began to glimmer into direct consciousness one of the first aspects (and no doubt one of the truest) under which people saw life was just thus: as a series of rebirths and transformations. (Footnote 17) The most modern science, I need hardly say, in biology as well as in chemistry and the field of inorganic Nature, supports that view. The savage in earliest times felt the truth of some things which we to-day are only beginning intellectually to perceive and analyze.

Christianity adopted and absorbed - as it was bound to do - this world-wide doctrine of the second birth. Passing over its physiological and biological applications, it gave to it a fine spiritual significance - or rather it insisted especially on its spiritual significance, which (as we have seen) had been widely recognized before. Only - as I suppose must happen with all local religions - it narrowed the application and outlook of the doctrine down to a special case:-

"As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive."

The Universal Spirit which can give rebirth and salvation to every child of man to whom it comes, was offered only under a very special form - that of Jesus Christ. (Footnote 18) In this respect it was no better than the religions which preceded it. In some respects - that is, where it was especially fanatical, blinkered, and hostile to other sects - it was worse. But to those who perceive that the Great Spirit may bring new birth and salvation to some under the form of Osiris, equally well as to others under the form of Jesus, or again to some under the form of a Siberian totem-Bear equally as to others under the form of Osiris, these questionings and narrowings fall away as of no importance. We in this latter day can see the main thing, namely that Christianity was and is just one phase of a world-old religion, slowly perhaps expanding its scope, but whose chief attitudes and orientations have been the same through the centuries.

Many other illustrations might be taken of the truth of this view, but I will confine myself to two or three more. There is the instance of the Eucharist and its exceedingly widespread celebration (under very various forms) among the pagans all over the world - as well as among Christians. I have already said enough on this subject, and need not delay over it. By partaking of the sacramental meal, even in its wildest and crudest shapes, as in the mysteries of Dionysus, one was identified with and united to the god; in its milder and more spiritual aspects as in the Mithraic, Egyptian, Hindu and Christian cults, one passed behind the veil of maya and this ever-changing world, and entered into the region of divine peace and power. (Footnote 19)

Or again the doctrine of the Saviour. That also is one on which I need not add much to what has been said already. The number of pagan deities (mostly virgin-born and done to death in some way or other in their efforts to save mankind) is so great (Footnote 20) as to be difficult to keep account of. The god Krishna in India, the god Indra in Nepaul and Thibet, spilt their blood for the salvation of men; Buddha said, according to Max Muller, (Footnote 21)

"Let all the sins that were in the world fall on me, that the world may be delivered";

the Chinese Tien , the Holy One -

"one with God and existing with him from all eternity"

- died to save the world; the Egyptian Osiris was called Saviour, so was Horus; so was the Persian Mithras; so was the Greek Hercules who overcame Death though his body was consumed in the burning garment of mortality, out of which he rose into heaven. So also was the Phrygian Attis called Saviour, and the Syrian Tammuz or Adonis likewise - both of whom, as we have seen, were nailed or tied to a tree, and afterwards rose again from their biers, or coffins. Prometheus, the greatest and earliest benefactor of the human race, was nailed ny the hands and feet, and with arms extended, to the rocks of Mount Caucasus. Bacchus or Dionysus, born of the virgin Semele to be the Liberator of mankind (Dionysus Eleutherios as he was called), was torn to pieces, not unlike Osiris. Even in far Mexico Quetzalcoatl, the Saviour, was born of a virgin, was tempted, and fasted forty days, was done to death, and his second coming looked for so eagerly that (as is well known) when Cortes appeared, the Mexicans, poor things, greeted HIM as the returning god! (Footnote 22) In Peru and among the American Indians, North and South of the Equator, similar legends are, or were, to be found.

Briefly sketched as all this is, it is enough to prove quite abundantly that the doctrine of the Saviour is world-wide and world-old, and that Christianity merely appropriated the same and (as the other cults did) gave it a special color. Probably the wide range of this doctrine would have been far better and more generally known, had not the Christian Church, all through, made the greatest of efforts and taken the greatest precautions to extinguish and snuff out all evidence of pagan claims on the subject. There is much to show that the early Church took this line with regard to pre-Christian saviours; (Footnote 23) and in later times the same policy is remarkably illustrated by the treatment in the sixteenth century of the writings of Sahagun the Spanish missionary - to whose work I have already referred. Sahagun was a wonderfully broad-minded and fine man who, while he did not conceal the barbarities of the Aztec religion, was truthful enough to point out redeeming traits in the manners and customs of the people and some resemblances to Christian doctrine and practice. This infuriated the bigoted Catholics of the newly formed Mexican Church. They purloined the manuscripts of Sahagun's Historia and scattered and hid them about the country, and it was only after infinite labor and an appeal to the Spanish Court that he got them together again. Finally, at the age of eighty, having translated them into Spanish (from the original Mexican) he sent them in two big volumes home to Spain for safety; but there almost immediately they disappeared, and could not be found! It was only after two centuries that they ultimately turned up (1790) in a Convent at Tolosa in Navarre. Lord Kingsborough published them in England in 1830.

I have thus dwelt upon several of the main doctrines of Christianity - namely, those of Sin and Sacrifice, the Eucharist, the Saviour, the Second Birth, and Transfiguration - as showing that they are by no means unique in our religion, but were common to nearly all the religions of the ancient world. The list might be much further extended, but there is no need to delay over a subject which is now very generally understood. I will, however, devote a page or two to one instance, which I think is very remarkable, and full of deep suggestion.

There is no doctrine in Christianity which is more reverenced by the adherents of that religion, or held in higher estimation, than that God sacrificed his only Son for the salvation of the world; also that since the Son was not only of like nature but of the same nature with the Father, and equal to him as being the second Person of the Divine Trinity, the sacrifice amounted to an immolation of Himself for the good of mankind. The doctrine is so mystical, so remote, and in a sense so absurd and impossible, that it has been a favorite mark through the centuries for the ridicule of the scoffers and enemies of the Church; and here, it might easily be thought, is a belief which - whether it be considered glorious or whether contemptible - is at any rate unique, and peculiar to that Church.

And yet the extraordinary fact is that a similar belief ranges all through the ancient religions, and can be traced back to the earliest times. The word host which is used in the Catholic Mass for the bread and wine on the Altar, supposed to be the transubstantiated body and blood of Christ, is from the Latin Hostia which the dictionary interprets as "an animal slain in sacrifice, a sin-offering." It takes us far far back to the Totem stage of folk-life, when the tribe, as I have already explained, crowned a victim-bull or bear or other animal with flowers, and honoring it with every offering of food and worship, sacrificed the victim to the Totem spirit of the tribe, and consumed it in an Eucharistic feast - the medicine-man or priest who conducted the ritual wearing a skin of the same beast as a sign that he represented the Totem-divinity, taking part in the sacrifice of 'himself to himself.' It reminds us of the Khonds of Bengal sacrificing their meriahs crowned and decorated as gods and goddesses; of the Aztecs doing the same; of Quetzalcoatl pricking his elbows and fingers so as to draw blood, which he offered on his own altar; or of Odin hanging by his own desire upon a tree.

"I know I was hanged upon a tree shaken by the winds for nine long nights. I was transfixed by a spear; I was moved to Odin, myself to myself."

And so on. The instances are endless.

"I am the oblation, I am the sacrifice, I the ancestral offering."

says the Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita,:- (Footnote 24)

Says Elie Reclus,:- (Footnote 25)

"In the truly orthodox conception of sacrifice, the consecrated offering, be it man, woman or virgin, lamb or heifer, cock or dove, represents the deity himself. . . . Brahma is the 'imperishable sacrifice'; Indra, Soma, Hari and the other gods, became incarnate in animals to the sole end that they might be immolated. Perusha, the Universal Being, caused himself to be slain by the Immortals, and from his substance were born the birds of the air, wild and domestic animals, the offerings of butter and curds. The world, declared the Rishis, is a series of sacrifices disclosing other sacrifices. To stop them would be to suspend the life of Nature. The god Siva, to whom the Tipperahs of Bengal are supposed to have sacrificed as many as a thousand human victims a year, said to the Brahamins:
'It is I that am the actual offering; it is I that you butcher upon my altars.' "

It was in allusion to this doctrine that R. W. Emerson, paraphrasing the Katha-Upanishad, wrote that immortal verse of his:-

If the red slayer thinks he slays,
Or the slain thinks he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I take, and pass, and turn again.

I say it is an astonishing thing to think and realize that this profound and mystic doctrine of the eternal sacrifice of Himself, ordained by the Great Spirit for the creation and salvation of the world - a doctrine which has attracted and fascinated many of the great thinkers and nobler minds of Europe, which has also inspired the religious teachings of the Indian sages and to a less philosophical degree the writings of the Christian Saints - should have been seized in its general outline and essence by rude and primitive people before the dawn of history, and embodied in their rites and ceremonials. What is the explanation of this fact?

It is very puzzling. The whole subject is puzzling. The world-wide adoption of similar creeds and rituals (and, we may add, legends and fairy tales) among early peoples, and in far-sundered places and times is so remarkable that it has given the students of these subjects 'furiously to think' (Footnote 26) - yet for the most part without great success in the way of finding a solution. The supposition that (1) the creed, rite or legend in question has sprung up, so to speak, accidentally, in one place, and then has travelled (owing to some inherent plausibility) over the rest of the world, is of course one that commends itself readily at first; but on closer examination the practical difficulties it presents are certainly very great. These include the migrations of customs and myths in quite early ages of the earth across trackless oceans and continents, and between races and peoples absolutely incapable of understanding each other. And if to avoid these difficulties it is assumed that the present human race all proceeds from one original stock which radiating from one centre - say in South-Eastern Asia (Footnote 27) - overspread the world, carrying its rites and customs with it, why, then we are compelled to face the difficulty of supposing this radiation to have taken place at an enormous time ago (the continents being then all more or less conjoined) and at a period when it is doubtful if any religious rites and customs at all existed; not to mention the further difficulty of supposing all the four or five hundred languages now existing to be descended from one common source. The far tradition of the Island of Atlantis seems to afford a possible explanation of the community of rites and customs between the Old and New World, and this without assuming in any way that Atlantis (if it existed) was the original and sole cradle of the human race. (Footnote 28) Anyhow it is clear that these origins of human culture must be of extreme antiquity, and that it would not be wise to be put off the track of the investigation of a possible common source merely by that fact of antiquity.

A second supposition, however, is (2) that the natural psychological evolution of the human mind has in the various times and climes led folk of the most diverse surroundings and heredity - and perhaps even sprung from separate anthropoid stocks - to develop their social and religious ideas along the same general lines - and that even to the extent of exhibiting at times a remarkable similarity in minute details. This is a theory which commends itself greatly to a deeper and more philosophical consideration; but it brings us up point-blank against another most difficult question (which we have already raised), namely, how to account for extremely rude and primitive peoples in the far past, and on the very borderland of the animal life, having been susceptible to the germs of great religious ideas (such as we have mentioned) and having been instinctively - though not of course by any process of conscious reasoning - moved to express them in symbols and rites and ceremonials, and (later no doubt) in myths and legends, which satisfied their feelings and sense of fitness - though they may not have known why - and afterwards were capable of being taken up and embodied in the great philosophical religions.

This difficulty almost compels us to a view of human knowledge which has found supporters among some able thinkers - the view, namely, that a vast store of knowledge is already contained in the subconscious mind of man (and the animals) and only needs the provocation of outer experience to bring it to the surface; and that in the second stage of human psychology this process of crude and piecemeal externalization is taking place, in preparation for the final or third stage in which the knowledge will be re-absorbed and become direct and intuitional on a high and harmonious plane - something like the present intuition of the animals as we perceive it on the animal plane. However this general subject is one on which I shall touch again, and I do not propose to dwell on it at any length now.

There is a third alternative theory (3) - a combination of (1) and (2) - namely, that if one accepts (2) and the idea that at any given stage of human development there is a predisposition to certain symbols and rites belonging to that stage, then it is much more easy to accept theory (1) as an important factor in the spread of such symbols and rites; for clearly, then, the smallest germ of a custom or practice, transported from one country or people to another at the right time, would be sufficient to wake the development or growth in question and stimulate it into activity. It will be seen, therefore, that the important point towards the solution of this whole puzzling question is the discussion, of theory (2) - and to this theory, as illustrated by the world-wide myth of the Golden Age, I will now turn.


  1. vii. 19, and iii. 8, 16.Return
  2. Primitive Folk, by Elie Reclus (Contemp. Science Series), p. 330. Return
  3. Ibid.Return
  4. Muller's Dorians Book II, ch. ii, par. 10. Return
  5. Ancient Art and Ritual, p. 104.Return
  6. See also Themis, p. 21.Return
  7. See supra ch. iii. Return
  8. For the virtue supposed to reside in blood see Westermarck's Moral Ideas, Ch. 46.Return
  9. Golden Bough, Section 2, III, p. 438. Return
  10. According to accounts of the Wiradthuri tribe of Western Australia, in their initiations, the lads were frightened by a large fire being lighted near them, and hearing the awful sound of the bull-roarers, while they were told that Dhuramoolan was about to burn them; the legend being that Dhuramoolan, a powerful being, whose voice sounded like thunder, would take the boys into the bush and instruct them in all the laws, traditions and customs of the community. So he pretended that he always killed the boys, cut them up, and burnt them to ashes, after which he moulded the ashes into human shape, and restored them to life as new beings. (See R. H. Matthews, "The Wiradthuri tribes," Journal Anthrop. Inst., vol. xxv, 1896, pp. 297 sq.)Return
  11. See Catlin's North-American Indians, vol. i, for initiations and ordeals among the Mandans. Return
  12. De Errore, c. 22.
  13. qarreste, mustai tou qeou seswsmenou,
    Estai gar hmin ek ponwn swthria.
  14. Summarised in Themis pp. 68-71 Return
  15. A. C. Fletcher, The Significance of the Scalp-lock, Journal of Anthropological Studies, xxvii (1897-8), p. 436. Return
  16. See A. Lang's Myth, Ritual and Religion, i, 274 sq. Return
  17. The fervent and widespread belief in animal metamorphoses among early peoples is well known. Return
  18. The same happened with regard to another great Pagan doctrine (to which I have just alluded), the doctrine of transformations and metamorphoses; and whereas the pagans believed in these things, as the common and possible heritage of every man, the Christians only allowed themselves to entertain the idea in the special and unique instance of the Transfiguration of Christ. Return
  19. Baring Gould in his Orig. Relig. Belief, I. 401, says: - "Among the ancient Hindus Soma was a chief deity; he is called the Giver of Life and Health. . . . He became incarnate among men, was taken by them and slain, and brayed in a mortar [a god of corn and wine apparently]. But he rose in flame to heaven to be 'the Benefactor of the World' and the 'Mediator between God and Man!' Through communion with him in his sacrifice, man (who partook of this god) has an assurance of immortality, for by that sacrament he obtains union with his divinity." Return
  20. See for a considerable list Doane's Bible Myths, ch. xx. Return
  21. Hist. Sanskrit Literature, p. 80.Return
  22. See Kingsborough, Mexican Antiquities, vol. vi. Return
  23. See Tertullian's Apologia, c. 16; Ad Nationes, c. xii. Return
  24. Ch. ix, v. 16. Return
  25. Primitive Folk, ch. vi. Return
  26. See A. Lang's Myth, Ritual and Religion, vol. ii. Return
  27. See Hastings, Encycl. Religion and Ethics, art. "Ethnology." Return
  28. E. J. Payne, History of the New World called America (vol. i, p. 93) says: "It is certain that Europe and America once formed a single continent," but inroads of the sea "left a vast island or peninsula stretching from Iceland to the Azores - which gradually disappeared." Also he speaks (i. 93) of the "Miocene Bridge" between Siberia and the New World. Return

Forward to Chapter 9 | Return to Top of Page