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Chapter 3

THE MENTAL CONDITION OF SAVAGES--CONFUSION WITH NATURE--TOTEMISM.


Contents:

The mental condition of savages the basis of the irrational element in myth--Characteristics of that condition: (1) Confusion of all things in an equality of presumed animation and intelligence; (2) Belief in sorcery; (3) Spiritualism; (4) Curiosity; (5) Easy credulity and mental indolence--The curiosity is satisfied, thanks to the credulity, by myths in answer to all inquiries--Evidence for this--Mr. Tylor's opinion--Mr. Im Thurn--Jesuit missionaries' Relations--Examples of confusion between men, plants, beasts and other natural objects--Reports of travellers--Evidence from institution of totemism--Definition of totemism--Totemism in Australia, Africa, America, the Oceanic Islands, India, North Asia-- Conclusions: Totemism being found so widely distributed, is a proof of the existence of that savage mental condition in which no line is drawn between men and the other things in the world. This confusion is one of the characteristics of myth in all races.


We set out to discover a stage of human intellectual development which would necessarily produce the essential elements of myth. We think we have found that stage in the condition of savagery. We now proceed to array the evidence for the mental processes of savages. We intend to demonstrate the existence in practical savage life of the ideas which most surprise us when we find them in civilised sacred legends.

For the purposes of this inquiry, it is enough to select a few special peculiarities of savage thought.

1. First we have that nebulous and confused frame of mind to which all things, animate or inanimate, human, animal, vegetable, or inorganic, seem on the same level of life, passion and reason. The savage, at all events when myth-making, draws no hard and fast line between himself and the things in the world. He regards himself as literally akin to animals and plants and heavenly bodies; he attributes sex and procreative powers even to stones and rocks, and he assigns human speech and human feelings to sun and moon and stars and wind, no less than to beasts, birds and fishes.[1]

[1] "So fasst auch das Alterthum ihren Unterschied von den Menschen ganz anders als die spatere Zeit."--Grimm, quoted by Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde, p. 17.

2. The second point to note in savage opinion is the belief in magic and sorcery. The world and all the things in it being vaguely conceived of as sensible and rational, obey the commands of certain members of the tribe, chiefs, jugglers, conjurors, or what you will. Rocks open at their order, rivers dry up, animals are their servants and hold converse with them. These magicians cause or heal diseases, and can command even the weather, bringing rain or thunder or sunshine at their will.[1] There are few supernatural attributes of "cloud-compelling Zeus" or of Apollo that are not freely assigned to the tribal conjuror. By virtue, doubtless, of the community of nature between man and the things in the world, the conjuror (like Zeus or Indra) can assume at will the shape of any animal, or can metamorphose his neighbours or enemies into animal forms.

[1] See Roth in North-West Central Queensland Aborigines, chapter xii., 1897.

3. Another peculiarity of savage belief naturally connects itself with that which has just been described. The savage has very strong ideas about the persistent existence of the souls of the dead. They retain much of their old nature, but are often more malignant after death than they had been during life. They are frequently at the beck and call of the conjuror, whom they aid with their advice and with their magical power. By virtue of the close connection already spoken of between man and the animals, the souls of the dead are not rarely supposed to migrate into the bodies of beasts, or to revert to the condition of that species of creatures with which each tribe supposes itself to be related by ties of kinship or friendship. With the usual inconsistency of mythical belief, the souls of the dead are spoken of, at other times, as if they inhabited a spiritual world, sometimes a paradise of flowers, sometimes a gloomy place, which mortal men may visit, but whence no one can escape who has tasted of the food of the ghosts.

4. In connection with spirits a far-reaching savage philosophy prevails. It is not unusual to assign a ghost to all objects, animate or inanimate, and the spirit or strength of a man is frequently regarded as something separable, capable of being located in an external object, or something with a definite locality in the body. A man's strength and spirit may reside in his kidney fat, in his heart, in a lock of his hair, or may even be stored by him in some separate receptacle. Very frequently a man is held capable of detaching his soul from his body, and letting it roam about on his business, sometimes in the form of a bird or other animal.

5. Many minor savage beliefs might be named, such as the common faith in friendly or protecting animals, and the notion that "natural deaths" (as we call them) are always UNNATURAL, that death is always caused by some hostile spirit or conjuror. From this opinion comes the myth that man is naturally not subject to death: that death was somehow introduced into the world by a mistake or misdeed is a corollary. (See "Myths of the Origin of Death" in Modern Mythology.)

6. One more mental peculiarity of the savage mind remains to be considered in this brief summary. The savage, like the civilised man, is curious. The first faint impulses of the scientific spirit are at work in his brain; he is anxious to give himself an account of the world in which he finds himself. But he is not more curious than he is, on occasion, credulous. His intellect is eager to ask questions, as is the habit of children, but his intellect is also lazy, and he is content with the first answer that comes to hand. "Ils s'arretent aux premieres notions qu'ils en ont," says Pere Hierome Lalemant.[1] "Nothing," says Schoolcraft, "is too capacious (sic) for Indian belief."[2] The replies to his questions he receives from tradition or (when a new problem arises) evolves an answer for himself in the shape of STORIES. Just as Socrates, in the Platonic dialogues, recalls or invents a myth in the despair of reason, so the savage has a story for answer to almost every question that he can ask himself. These stories are in a sense scientific, because they attempt a solution of the riddles of the world. They are in a sense religious, because there is usually a supernatural power, a deus ex machina, of some sort to cut the knot of the problem. Such stories, then, are the science, and to a certain extent the religious tradition, of savages.[3]

[1] Relations de la Nouvelle France, 1648, p. 70.

[2] Algic Researches, i. 41.

[3] "The Indians (Algonkins) conveyed instruction--moral, mechanical and religious--through traditionary fictions and tales."--Schoolcraft, Algic Researches, i. 12.


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Now these tales are necessarily cast in the mould of the savage ideas of which a sketch has been given. The changes of the heavenly bodies, the processes of day and night, the existence of the stars, the invention of the arts, the origin of the world (as far as known to the savage), of the tribe, of the various animals and plants, the origin of death itself, the origin of the perplexing traditional tribal customs, are all accounted for in stories. At the same time, an actual divine Maker is sometimes postulated. The stories, again, are fashioned in accordance with the beliefs already named: the belief in human connection with and kinship with beasts and plants; the belief in magic; the belief in the perpetual possibility of metamorphosis or "shape shifting"; the belief in the permanence and power of the ghosts of the dead; the belief in the personal and animated character of all the things in the world, and so forth.

No more need be said to explain the wild and (as it seems to us moderns) the irrational character of savage myth. It is a jungle of foolish fancies, a walpurgis nacht of gods and beasts and men and stars and ghosts, all moving madly on a level of common personality and animation, and all changing shapes at random, as partners are changed in some fantastic witches' revel. Such is savage mythology, and how could it be otherwise when we consider the elements of thought and belief out of which it is mainly composed? We shall see that part of the mythology of the Greeks or the Aryans of India is but a similar walpurgis nacht, in which an incestuous or amorous god may become a beast, and the object of his pursuit, once a woman, may also become a beast, and then shift shapes to a tree or a bird or a star. But in the civilised races the genius of the people tends to suppress, exclude and refine away the wild element, which, however, is never wholly eliminated. The Erinyes soon stop the mouth of the horse of Achilles when he begins, like the horse in Grimm's Goose Girl, to hold a sustained conversation.[1] But the ancient, cruel, and grotesque savage element, nearly overcome by Homer and greatly reduced by the Vedic poets, breaks out again in Hesiod, in temple legends and Brahmanic glosses, and finally proves so strong that it can only be subdued by Christianity, or rather by that break between the educated classes and the traditional past of religion which has resulted from Christianity. Even so, myth lingers in the folk-lore of the non-progressive classes of Europe, and, as in Roumania, invades religion.

[1] Iliad, xix. 418.


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We have now to demonstrate the existence in the savage intellect of the various ideas and habits which we have described, and out of which mythology springs. First, we have to show that "a nebulous and confused state of mind, to which all things, animate or inanimate, human, animal, vegetable or inorganic, seem on the same level of life, passion and reason," does really exist.[1] The existence of this condition of the intellect will be demonstrated first on the evidence of the statements of civilised observers, next on the evidence of the savage institutions in which it is embodied.

[1] Creuzer and Guigniaut, vol. i. p. 111.


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The opinion of Mr. Tylor is naturally of great value, as it is formed on as wide an acquaintance with the views of the lower races as any inquirers can hope to possess. Mr. Tylor observes: "We have to inform ourselves of the savage man's idea, which is very different from the civilised man's, of the nature of the lower animals. . . . The sense of an absolute psychical distinction between man and beast, so prevalent in the civilised world, is hardly to be found among the lower races."[1] The universal attribution of "souls" to all things--the theory known as "Animism"--is another proof that the savage draws no hard and fast line between man and the other things in the world. The notion of the Italian country-people, that cruelty to an animal does not matter because it is not a "Christian," has no parallel in the philosophy of the savage, to whom all objects seem to have souls, just as men have. Mr. Im Thurn found the absence of any sense of a difference between man and nature a characteristic of his native companions in Guiana. "The very phrase, 'Men and other animals,' or even, as it is often expressed, 'Men and animals,' based as it is on the superiority which civilised man feels over other animals, expresses a dichotomy which is in no way recognised by the Indian. . . . It is therefore most important to realise how comparatively small really is the difference between men in a state of savagery and other animals, and how completely even such difference as exists escapes the notice of savage men. . . It is not, therefore, too much to say that, according to the view of the Indians, other animals differ from men only in bodily form and in their various degrees of strength; in spirit they do not differ at all."[2] The Indian's notion of the life of plants and stones is on the same level of unreason, as we moderns reckon reason. He believes in the spirits of rocks and stones, undeterred by the absence of motion in these objects. "Not only many rocks, but also many waterfalls, streams, and indeed material objects of every sort, are supposed each to consist of a body and a spirit, as does man."[3] It is not our business to ask here how men came by the belief in universal animation. That belief is gradually withdrawn, distinctions are gradually introduced, as civilisation and knowledge advance. It is enough for us if the failure to draw a hard and fast line between man and beasts, stones and plants, be practically universal among savages, and if it gradually disappears before the fuller knowledge of civilisation. The report which Mr. Im Thurn brings from the Indians of Guiana is confirmed by what Schoolcraft says of the Algonkin races of the northern part of the continent. "The belief of the narrators and listeners in every wild and improbable thing told helps wonderfully in the original stories, in joining all parts together. The Indian believes that the whole visible and invisible creation is animated. . . . To make the matter worse, these tribes believe that animals of the lowest as well as highest class in the chain of creation are alike endowed with reasoning powers and faculties. As a natural conclusion they endow birds, beasts and all other animals with souls."[4] As an example of the ease with which the savage recognises consciousness and voluntary motion even in stones, may be cited Kohl's account of the beliefs of the Objibeways.[5] Nearly every Indian has discovered, he says, an object in which he places special confidence, and to which he sacrifices more zealously than to the Great Spirit. The "hope" of Otamigan (a companion of the traveller) was a rock, which once advanced to meet him, swayed, bowed and went back again. Another Indian revered a Canadian larch, "because he once heard a very remarkable rustling in its branches". It thus appears that while the savage has a general kind of sense that inanimate things are animated, he is a good deal impressed by their conduct when he thinks that they actually display their animation. In the same way a devout modern spiritualist probably regards with more reverence a table which he has seen dancing and heard rapping than a table at which he has only dined. Another general statement of failure to draw the line between men and the irrational creation is found in the old Jesuit missionary Le Jeune's Relations de la Nouvelle France.[6] "Les sauvages se persuadent que non seulement les hommes et les autres animaux, mais aussi que toutes les autres choses sont animees." Again: "Ils tiennent les poissons raisonnables, comme aussi les cerfs". In the Solomon Islands, Mr. Romilly sailed with an old chief who used violent language to the waves when they threatened to dash over the boat, and "old Takki's exhortations were successful".[7] Waitz[8] discovers the same attitude towards the animals among the negroes. Man, in their opinion, is by no means a separate sort of person on the summit of nature and high above the beasts; these he rather regards as dark and enigmatic beings, whose life is full of mystery, and which he therefore considers now as his inferiors, now as his superiors. A collection of evidence as to the savage failure to discriminate between human and non-human, animate and inanimate, has been brought together by Sir John Lubbock.[9]

[1] Primitive Culture, i. 167-169.

[2] Among the Indians of Guiana (1883), p. 350.

[3] Op. Cit., 355.

[4] Schoolcraft, Algic Researches, i. 41.

[5] Kohl, Wanderings Round Lake Superior, pp. 58, 59; Muller, Amerikan Urrelig., pp. 62-67.

[6] 1636, p. 109.

[7] Western Pacific, p. 84.

[8] Anthropologie der Natur-Volker, ii. 177.

[9] Origin of Civilisation, p. 33. A number of examples of this mental attitude among the Bushmen will be found in chap. v., postea.


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To a race accustomed like ourselves to arrange and classify, to people familiar from childhood and its games with "vegetable, animal and mineral," a condition of mind in which no such distinctions are drawn, any more than they are drawn in Greek or Brahmanic myths, must naturally seem like what Mr. Max Muller calls "temporary insanity". The imagination of the savage has been defined by Mr. Tylor as "midway between the conditions of a healthy, prosaic, modern citizen, and of a raving fanatic, or of a patient in a fever-ward". If any relics of such imagination survive in civilised mythology, they will very closely resemble the productions of a once universal "temporary insanity". Let it be granted, then, that "to the lower tribes of man, sun and stars, trees and rivers, winds and clouds, become personal, animate creatures, leading lives conformed to human or animal analogies, and performing their special functions in the universe with the aid of limbs like beasts, or of artificial instruments like men; or that what men's eyes behold is but the instrument to be used or the material to be shaped, while behind it there stands some prodigious but yet half-human creature, who grasps it with his hands or blows it with his breath. The basis on which such ideas as these are built is not to be narrowed down to poetic fancy and transformed metaphor. They rest upon a broad philosophy of nature; early and crude, indeed, but thoughtful, consistent, and quite really and seriously meant."[1]

[1] Primtive Culture, i. 285.


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For the sake of illustration, some minor examples must next be given of this confusion between man and other things in the world, which will presently be illustrated by the testimony of a powerful and long diffused set of institutions.

The Christian Quiches of Guatemala believe that each of them has a beast as his friend and protector, just as in the Highlands "the dog is the friend of the Maclaines". When the Finns, in their epic poem the Kalewala, have killed a bear, they implore the animal to forgive them. "Oh, Ot-so," chant the singers, "be not angry that we come near thee. The bear, the honey-footed bear, was born in lands between sun and moon, and he died, not by men's hands, but of his own will."[1] The Red Men of North America[2] have a tradition showing how it is that the bear does not die, but, like Herodotus with the sacred stories of the Egyptian priests, Mr. Schoolcraft "cannot induce himself to write it out".[3] It is a most curious fact that the natives of Australia tell a similar tale of THEIR "native bear". "He did not die" when attacked by men.[4] In parts of Australia it is a great offence to skin the native bear, just as on a part of the west coast of Ireland, where seals are superstitiously regarded, the people cannot be bribed to skin them. In New Caledonia, when a child tries to kill a lizard, the men warn him to "beware of killing his own ancestor".[5] The Zulus spare to destroy a certain species of serpents, believed to be the spirits of kinsmen, as the great snake which appeared when Aeneas did sacrifice was held to be the ghost of Anchises. Mexican women[6] believed that children born during an eclipse turn into mice. In Australia the natives believe that the wild dog has the power of speech; whoever listens to him is petrified; and a certain spot is shown where "the wild dog spoke and turned the men into stone";[7] and the blacks run for their lives as soon as the dog begins to speak. What it said was "Bones".

[1] Kalewala, in La Finlande, Leouzon Le Duc (1845), vol. ii. p. 100; cf. also the Introduction.

[2] Schoolcraft, v. 420.

[3] See similar ceremonies propitiatory of the bear in Jewett's Adventures among the Nootkas, Edinburgh, 1824.

[4] Brough Smyth, i. 449.

[5] J. J. Atkinson's MS.

[6] Sahagun, ii. viii. 250; Bancroft, iii. 111. Compare stories of women who give birth to animals in Melusine, 1886, August-November. The Batavians believe that women, when delivered of a child, are frequently delivered at the same time of a young crocodile as a twin. Hawkesworth's Voyages, iii. 756. Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde, p. 17 et seq.

[7] Brough Smyth, Aborigines of Victoria, i. 497.


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These are minor examples of a form of opinion which is so strong that it is actually the chief constituent in savage society. That society, whether in Ashantee or Australia, in North America or South Africa, or North Asia or India, or among the wilder tribes of ancient Peru, is based on an institution generally called "totemism". This very extraordinary institution, whatever its origin, cannot have arisen except among men capable of conceiving kinship and all human relationships as existing between themselves and all animate and inanimate things. It is the rule, and not the exception, that savage societies are founded upon this belief. The political and social conduct of the backward races is regulated in such matters as blood-feud and marriage by theories of the actual kindred and connection by descent, or by old friendship, which men have in common with beasts, plants, the sun and moon, the stars, and even the wind and the rain. Now, in whatever way this belief in such relations to beasts and plants may have arisen, it undoubtedly testifies to a condition of mind in which no hard and fast line was drawn between man and animate and inanimate nature. The discovery of the wide distribution of the social arrangements based on this belief is entirely due to Mr. J. F. M'Lennan, the author of Primitive Marriage. Mr. M'Lennan's essays ("The Worship of Plants and Animals," "Totems and Totemism") were published in the Fortnightly Review, 1869-71. Any follower in the footsteps of Mr. M'Lennan has it in his power to add a little evidence to that originally set forth, and perhaps to sift the somewhat uncritical authorities adduced.[1]

[1] See also Mr. Frazer's Totemism, and Golden Bough, with chapter on Totemism in Modern Mythology.


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The name "Totemism" or "Totamism" was first applied at the end of the last century by Long[1] to the Red Indian custom which acknowledges human kinship with animals. This institution had already been recognised among the Iroquois by Lafitau,[2] and by other observers. As to the word "totem," Mr. Max Muller[3] quotes an opinion that the interpreters, missionaries, Government inspectors, and others who apply the name totem to the Indian "family mark" must have been ignorant of the Indian languages, for there is in them no such word as totem. The right word, it appears, is otem; but as "totemism" has the advantage of possessing the ground, we prefer to say "totemism" rather than "otemism". The facts are the same, whatever name we give them. As Mr. Muller says himself,[4] "every warrior has his crest, which is called his totem";[5] and he goes on to describe a totem of an Indian who died about 1793. We may now return to the consideration of "otemism" or totemism. We approach it rather as a fact in the science of mythology than as a stage in the evolution of the modern family system. For us totemism is interesting because it proves the existence of that savage mental attitude which assumes kindred and alliance between man and the things in the world. As will afterwards be seen, totemism has also left its mark on the mythologies of the civilised races. We shall examine the institution first as it is found in Australia, because the Australian form of totemism shows in the highest known degree the savage habit of confusing in a community of kinship men, stars, plants, beasts, the heavenly bodies, and the forces of Nature. When this has once been elucidated, a shorter notice of other totemistic races will serve our purpose.

[1] Voyages and Travels, 1791.

[2] Moeurs des Sauvages (1724), p. 461.

[3] Academy, December 15, 1883.

[4] Selected Essays (1881), ii. 376.

[5] Compare Mr. Max Muller's Contributions to the Science of Mythology.


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The society of the Murri or black fellows of Australia is divided into local tribes, each of which possesses, or used to possess, and hunt over a considerable tract of country. These local tribes are united by contiguity, and by common local interests, but not necessarily by blood kinship. For example, the Port Mackay tribe, the Mount Gambier tribe, the Ballarat tribe, all take their names from their district. In the same way we might speak of the people of Strathclyde or of Northumbria in early English history. Now, all these local tribes contain an indefinite number of stocks of kindred, of men believing themselves to be related by the ties of blood and common descent. That descent the groups agree in tracing, not from some real or idealised human parent, but from some animal, plant, or other natural object, as the kangaroo, the emu, the iguana, the pelican, and so forth. Persons of the pelican stock in the north of Queensland regard themselves as relations of people of the same stock in the most southern parts of Australia. The creature from which each tribe claims descent is called "of the same flesh," while persons of another stock are "fresh flesh". A native may not marry a woman of "his own flesh"; it is only a woman of "fresh" or "strange" flesh he may marry. A man may not eat an animal of "his own flesh"; he may only eat "strange flesh". Only under great stress of need will an Australian eat the animal which is the flesh-and-blood cousin and protector of his stock.[1] (These rules of marriage and blood, however, do not apply among the Arunta of Central Australia, whose Totems (if Totems they should be called) have been developed on very different lines.[2]) Clearer evidence of the confusion between man and beast, of the claiming of kin between man and beast, could hardly be.

[1] Dawson, Aborigines, pp. 26, 27; Howitt and Fison, Kamilaroi and Kurnai, p. 169.

[2] Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia.


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But the Australian philosophy of the intercommunion of Nature goes still farther than this. Besides the local divisions and the kindred stocks which trace their descent from animals, there exist among many Australian tribes divisions of a kind still unexplained. For example, every man of the Mount Gambier local tribe is by birth either a Kumite or a Kroki. This classification applies to the whole of the sensible universe. Thus smoke and honeysuckle trees belong to the division Kumite, and are akin to the fishhawk stock of men. On the other hand, the kangaroo, summer, autumn, the wind and the shevak tree belong to the division Kroki, and are akin to the black cockatoo stock of men. Any human member of the Kroki division has thus for his brothers the sun, the wind, the kangaroo, and the rest; while any man of the Kumite division and the crow surname is the brother of the rain, the thunder, and the winter. This extraordinary belief is not a mere idle fancy--it influences conduct. "A man does not kill or use as food any of the animals of the same subdivision (Kroki or Kumite) with himself, excepting when hunger compels, and then they express sorrow for having to eat their wingong (friends) or tumanang (their flesh). When using the last word they touch their breasts, to indicate the close relationship, meaning almost a portion of themselves. To illustrate: One day one of the blacks killed a crow. Three or four days afterwards a Boortwa (a man of the crow surname and stock), named Larry, died. He had been ailing for some days, but the killing of his wingong (totem) hastened his death."[1] Commenting on this statement, Mr. Fison observes: "The South Australian savage looks upon the universe as the Great Tribe, to one of whose divisions he himself belongs; and all things, animate and inanimate, which belong to his class are parts of the body corporate whereof he himself is part". This account of the Australian beliefs and customs is borne out, to a certain extent, by the evidence of Sir George Grey,[2] and of the late Mr. Gideon Scott Lang.[3] These two writers take no account of the singular "dichotomous" divisions, as of Kumite and Kroki, but they draw attention to the groups of kindred which derive their surnames from animals, plants, and the like. "The origin of these family names," says Sir George Grey, "is attributed by the natives to different causes. . . . One origin frequently assigned by the natives is, that they were derived from some vegetable or animal being very common in the district which the family inhabited." We have seen from the evidence of Messrs. Fison and Howitt that a more common native explanation is based on kinship with the vegetable or plant which bestows the family surname. Sir George Gray mentions that the families use their plant or animal as a crest or kobong (totem), and he adds that natives never willingly kill animals of their kobong, holding that some one of that species is their nearest friend. The consequences of eating forbidden animals vary considerably. Sometimes the Boyl-yas (that is, ghosts) avenge the crime. Thus when Sir George Grey ate some mussels (which, after all, are not the crest of the Greys), a storm followed, and one of his black fellow improvised this stave:--


     Oh, wherefore did he eat the mussels?
     Now the Boyl-yas storms and thunders make;
     Oh, wherefore would he eat the mussels?


[1] Kamilaroi and Kurnai, p. 169.

[2] Travels, ii. 225.

[3] Lang, Lecture on Natives of Australia, p. 10.


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There are two points in the arrangements of these stocks of kindred named from plants and animals which we shall find to possess a high importance. No member of any such kindred may marry a woman of the same name and descended from the same object.[1] Thus no man of the Emu stock may marry an Emu woman; no Blacksnake may marry a Blacksnake woman, and so forth. This point is very strongly put by Mr. Dawson, who has had much experience of the blacks. "So strictly are the laws of marriage carried out, that, should any sign of courtship or affection be observed between those 'of one flesh,' the brothers or male relatives of the woman beat her severely." If the incestuous pair (though not in the least related according to our ideas) run away together, they are "half-killed"; and if the woman dies in consequence of her punishment, her partner in iniquity is beaten again. No "eric" or blood-fine of any kind is paid for her death, which carries no blood-feud. "Her punishment is legal."[2] This account fully corroborates that of Sir George Grey.[3]

[1] Taplin, The Nerrinyeri. p. 2. "Every tribe, regarded by them as a family, has its ngaitge, or tutelary genius or tribal symbol, in the shape of some bird, beast, fish, reptile, insect, or substance. Between individuals of the same tribe no marriage can take place." Among the Narrinyeri kindred is reckoned (p. 10) on the father's side. See also (p. 46) ngaitge = Samoan aitu. "No man or woman will kill their ngaitge," except with precautions, for food.

[2] Op. cit., p. 28.

[3] Ibid., ii. 220.


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Our conclusion is that the belief in "one flesh" (a kinship shared with the animals) must be a thoroughly binding idea, as the notion is sanctioned by capital punishment.

Another important feature in Australian totemism strengthens our position. The idea of the animal kinship must be an ancient one in the race, because the family surname, Emu, Bandicoot, or what not, and the crest, kobong, or protecting and kindred animal, are inherited through the mother's side in the majority of stocks. This custom, therefore, belongs to that early period of human society in which the woman is the permanent and recognised factor in the family while male parentage is uncertain.[1] One other feature of Australian totemism must be mentioned before we leave the subject. There is some evidence that in certain tribes the wingong or totem of each man is indicated by a tattooed representation of it upon his flesh. The natives are very licentious, but men would shrink from an amour with a woman who neither belonged to their own district nor spoke their language, but who, in spite of that, was of their totem. To avoid mistakes, it seems that some tribes mark the totem on the flesh with incised lines.[2] The natives frequently design figures of some kind on the trees growing near the graves of deceased warriors. Some observers have fancied that in these designs they recognised the totem of the dead men; but on this subject evidence is by no means clear. We shall see that this primitive sort of heraldry, this carving or painting of hereditary blazons, is common among the Red Men of America.[3]

[1] Cf. Bachofen, Das Mutterrecht; M'Lennan, Primitive Marriage, passim; Encycl. Brit. s. v. Family.

[2] Fison, op. cit., p. 66.

[3] Among other recent sources see Howitt in "Organisation of Australian Tribes" (Transactions of Royal Society of Victoria, 1889), and Spencer and Gillen, Natives of Central Australia. In Central Australia there is a marked difference in the form of Totemism.


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Though a large amount of evidence might be added to that already put forward, we may now sum up the inferences to be drawn from the study of totemism in Australia. It has been shown (1) that the natives think themselves actually akin to animals, plants, the sun, and the wind, and things in general; (2) that those ideas influence their conduct, and even regulate their social arrangements, because (3) men and women of the kinship of the same animal or plant may not intermarry, while men are obliged to defend, and in case of murder to avenge, persons of the stock of the family or plant from which they themselves derive their family name. Thus, on the evidence of institutions, it is plain that the Australians are (or before the influence of the Europeans became prevalent were) in a state of mind which draws no hard and fast line between man and the things in the world. If, therefore, we find that in Australian myth, men, gods, beasts, and things all shift shapes incessantly, and figure in a coroboree dance of confusion, there will be nothing to astonish us in the discovery. The myths of men in the Australian intellectual condition, of men who hold long conversations with the little "native bear," and ask him for oracles, will naturally and inevitably be grotesque and confused.[1]

[1] Brough Smyth, i. 447, on MS. authority of W. Thomas.


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It is "a far cry" from Australia to the West Coast of Africa, and it is scarcely to be supposed that the Australians have borrowed ideas and institutions from Ashantee, or that the people of Ashantee have derived their conceptions of the universe from the Murri of Australia. We find, however, on the West African Coast, just as we do in Australia, that there exist large local divisions of the natives. These divisions are spoken of by Mr. Bowditch (who visited the country on a mission in 1817) as nations, and they are much more populous and powerful (as the people are more civilised) than the local tribes of Australia. Yet, just as among the local tribes of Australia, the nations of the West African Coast are divided into stocks of kindred, each STOCK having its representatives in each NATION. Thus an Ashantee or a Fantee may belong to the same stock of kindred as a member of the Assin or Akini nation. When an Ashantee of the Annona stock of kindred meets a Warsaw man of the same stock they salute and acknowledge each other as brothers. In the same way a Ballarat man of the Kangaroo stock in Australia recognises a relative in a Mount Gambier man who is also a Kangaroo. Now, with one exception, all the names of the twelve stocks of West African kindreds, or at least all of them which Mr. Bowditch could get the native interpreters to translate, are derived from animals, plants and other natural objects, just as in Australia.[1] Thus Quonna is a buffalo, Abrootoo is a cornstalk, Abbradi a plantain. Other names are, in English, the parrot, the wild cat, red earth, panther and dog. Thus all the natives of this part of Africa are parrots, dogs, buffaloes, panthers, and so forth, just as the Australians are emus, iguanas, black cockatoos, kangaroos, and the rest. It is remarkable that there is an Incra stock, or clan of ants, in Ashantee, just as there was a race of Myrmidons, believed to be descended from or otherwise connected with ants, in ancient Greece. Though Bowditch's account of these West African family divisions is brief, the arrangement tallies closely with that of Australia. It is no great stretch of imagination to infer that the African tribes do, or once did, believe themselves to be of the kindred of the animals whose names they bear.[2] It is more or less confirmatory of this hypothesis that no family is permitted to use as food the animal from which it derives its name. We have seen that a similar rule prevails, as far as hunger and scarcity of victuals permit it to be obeyed, among the natives of Australia. The Intchwa stock in Ashantee and Fantee is particularly unlucky, because its members may not eat the dog, "much relished by native epicures, and therefore a serious privation". Equally to be pitied were the ancient Egyptians, who, if they belonged to the district of the sheep, might not eat mutton, which their neighbours, the Lycopolitae, devoured at pleasure. These restrictions appear to be connected with the almost universal dislike of cannibals to eat persons of their own kindred except as a pious duty. This law of the game in cannibalism has not yet been thoroughly examined, though we often hear of wars waged expressly for the purpose of securing food (human meat), while some South American tribes actually bred from captive women by way of securing constant supplies of permitted flesh.[3] When we find stocks, then, which derive their names from animals and decline to eat these animals, we may at least SUSPECT that they once claimed kinship with the name-giving beasts. The refusal to eat them raises a presumption of such faith. Old Bosman[4] had noticed the same practices. "One eats no mutton, another no goat's flesh, another no beef, swine's flesh, wild fowl, cocks with white feathers, and they say their ancestors did so from the beginning of the world."

[1] The evidence of native interpreters may be viewed with suspicion. It is improbable, however, that in 1817 the interpreters were acquainted with the totemistic theory of mythologists, and deliberately mistranslated the names of the stocks, so as to make them harmonise with Indian, Australian, and Red Indian totem kindreds. This, indeed, is an example where the criterion of "recurrence" or "coincidence" seems to be valuable. Bowditch's Mission to Ashantee (1873), p. 181.

[2] This view, however, does not prevail among the totemistic tribes of British Columbia, for example.

[3] Cieza de Leon (Hakluyt Society), p. 50. This amazing tale is supported by the statement that kinship went by the female side (p. 49); the father was thus not of the kin of his child by the alien woman. Cieza was with Validillo in 1538.

[4] In Pinkerton, xvi. 400.


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While in the case of the Ashantee tribes, we can only infer the existence of a belief in kinship with the animals from the presence of the other features of fully developed totemism (especially from the refusal to eat the name-giving animal), we have direct evidence for the opinion in another part of Africa, among the Bechuanas.[1] Casalis, who passed twenty-three years as a missionary in South Africa, thus describes the institution: "While the united communities usually bear the name of their chief or of the district which they inhabit" (local tribes, as in Australia), "each stock (tribu) derives its title from an animal or a vegetable. All the Bechuanas are subdivided thus into Bakuenas (crocodile-men), Batlapis (men of the fish), Banarer (of the buffalo), Banukus (porcupines), Bamoraras (wild vines), and so forth. The Bakuenas call the crocodile their father, sing about him in their feasts, swear by him, and mark the ears of their cattle with an incision which resembles the open jaws of the creature." This custom of marking the cattle with the crest, as it were, of the stock, takes among some races the shape of deforming themselves, so as the more to resemble the animal from which they claim descent. "The chief of the family which holds the chief rank in the stock is called 'The Great Man of the Crocodile'. Precisely in the same way the Duchess of Sutherland is styled in Gaelic 'The Great Lady of the Cat,'" though totemism is probably not the origin of this title.

[1] E. Casalis, Les Bassoutos, 1859.


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Casalis proceeds: "No one would dare to eat the flesh or wear the skin of the animal whose name he bears. If the animal be dangerous--the lion, for example--people only kill him after offering every apology and asking his pardon. Purification must follow such a sacrifice." Casalis was much struck with the resemblance between these practices and the similar customs of North American races. Livingstone's account[1] on the whole corroborates that of Casalis, though he says the Batau (tribe of the lion) no longer exists. "They use the word bina 'to dance,' in reference to the custom of thus naming themselves, so that when you wish to ascertain what tribe they belong to, you say, 'What do you dance?' It would seem as if this had been part of the worship of old." The mythological and religious knowledge of the Bushmen is still imparted in dances; and when a man is ignorant of some myth he will say, "I do not dance that dance," meaning that he does not belong to the guild which preserves that particular "sacred chapter".[2]

[1] Missionary Travels (1857), p. 13.

[2] Orpen, Cape Monthly Magazine, 1872.


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Casalis noticed the similarity between South African and Red Indian opinion about kinship with vegetables and beasts. The difficulty in treating the Red Indian belief is chiefly found in the abundance of the evidence. Perhaps the first person who ever used the word "totemism," or, as he spells it, "totamism," was (as we said) Mr. Long, an interpreter among the Chippeways, who published his Voyages in 1791. Long was not wholly ignorant of the languages, as it was his business to speak them, and he was an adopted Indian. The ceremony of adoption was painful, beginning with a feast of dog's flesh, followed by a Turkish bath and a prolonged process of tattooing.[1] According to Long,[2] "The totam, they conceive, assumes the form of some beast or other, and therefore they never kill, hurt, or eat the animal whose form they think this totam bears". One man was filled with religious apprehensions, and gave himself up to the gloomy belief of Bunyan and Cowper, that he had committed the unpardonable sin, because he dreamed he had killed his totem, a bear.[3] This is only one example, like the refusal of the Osages to kill the beavers, with which they count cousins,[4] that the Red Man's belief is an actual creed, and does influence his conduct.

[1] Long, pp. 46-49.

[2] Ibid., p. 86.

[3] Ibid., p. 87.

[4] Schoolcraft, i. 319.


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As in Australia, the belief in common kin with beasts is most clearly proved by the construction of Red Indian society. The "totemistic" stage of thought and manners prevails. Thus Charlevoix says,[1] "Plusieurs nations ont chacune trois familles ou tribus principales, AUSSI ANCIENNES, A CE QU'IL PAROIT, QUE LEUR ORIGINE. Chaque tribu porte le nom d'un animal, et la nation entiere a aussi le sien, dont elle prend le nom, et dont la figure est sa marque, ou, se l'on veut, ses armoiries, on ne signe point autrement les traites qu'en traceant ces figures." Among the animal totems Charlevoix notices porcupine, bear, wolf and turtle. The armoiries, the totemistic heraldry of the peoples of Virginia, greatly interested a heraldic ancestor of Gibbon the historian,[2] who settled in the colony. According to Schoolcraft,[3] the totem or family badge, of a dead warrior is drawn in a reverse position on his grave-post. In the same way the leopards of England are drawn reversed on the shield of an English king opposite the mention of his death in old monkish chronicles. As a general rule,[4] persons bearing the same totem in America cannot intermarry. "The union must be between various totems." Moreover, as in the case of the Australians, "the descent of the chief is in the female line". We thus find among the Red Men precisely the same totemistic regulations as among the Aborigines of Australia. Like the Australians, the Red Men "never" (perhaps we should read "hardly ever") eat their totems. Totemists, in short, spare the beasts that are their own kith and kin. To avoid multiplying details which all corroborate each other, it may suffice to refer to Schoolcraft for totemism among the Iowas[5] and the Pueblos;[6] for the Iroquois, to Lafitau, a missionary of the early part of the eighteenth century. Lafitau was perhaps the first writer who ever explained certain features in Greek and other ancient myths and practices as survivals from totemism. The Chimera, a composite creature, lion, goat and serpent, might represent, Lafitau thought, a league of three totem tribes, just as wolf, bear and turtle represented the Iroquois League.

[1] Histoire de la France-Nouvelle, iii. 266.

[2] Introductio ad Latinam Blasoniam, by John Gibbon, Blue Mantle, London, 1682. "The dancers, were painted some party per pale, gul and sab, some party per fesse of the same colours;" whence Gibbon concluded "that heraldry was ingrafted naturally into the sense of the humane race".

[3] Vol. i. p. 356.

[4] Schoolcraft, v. 73.

[5] Ibid., iii. 268.

[6] Ibid., iv. 86.


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The martyred Pere Rasles, again, writing in 1723,[1] says that one stock of the Outaonaks claims descent from a hare ("the great hare was a man of prodigious size"), while another stock derive their lineage from the carp, and a third descends from a bear; yet they do not scruple, after certain expiatory rites, to eat bear's flesh. Other North American examples are the Kutchin, who have always possessed the system of totems.[2]

[1] Kip's Jesuits in America i. 33.

[2] Dall's Alaska, pp. 196-198.


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It is to be noticed, as a peculiarity of Red Indian totemism which we have not observed (though it may exist) in Africa, that certain stocks claim relations with the sun. Thus Pere Le Petit, writing from New Orleans in 1730, mentions the Sun, or great chief of the Natchez Indians.[1] The totem of the privileged class among the Natchez was the sun, and in all myths the sun is regarded as a living being, who can have children, who may be beaten, who bleeds when cut, and is simply on the same footing as men and everything else in the world. Precisely similar evidence comes from South America. In this case our best authority is almost beyond suspicion. He knew the native languages well, being himself a half-caste. He was learned in the European learning of his time; and as a son of the Incas, he had access to all surviving Peruvian stores of knowledge, and could collect without difficulty the testimonies of his countrymen. It will be seen[2] that Don Garcilasso de la Vega could estimate evidence, and ridiculed the rough methods and fallacious guesses of Spanish inquirers. Garcilasso de la Vega was born about 1540, being the son of an Inca princess and of a Spanish conqueror. His book, Commentarias Reales,[3] was expressly intended to rectify the errors of such Spanish writers as Acosta. In his account of Peruvian religion, Garcilasso distinguishes between the beliefs of the tribes previous to the rise of the Inca empire and the sun-worship of the Incas. But it is plain, from Garcilasso's own account and from other evidence, that under the Incas the older faiths and fetichisms survived, in subordination to sun-worship, just as Pagan superstitions survived in custom and folk-lore after the official recognition of Christianity. Sun-worship, in Peru, and the belief in a Supreme Creator there, seem even, like Catholicism in Mexico, China and elsewhere, to have made a kind of compromise with the lower beliefs, and to have been content to allow a certain amount of bowing down in the temples of the elder faiths. According, then, to Garcilasso's account of Peruvian totemism, "An Indian was not looked upon as honourable unless he was descended from a fountain, river,[4] or lake, or even from the sea, OR FROM A WILD ANIMAL, such as a bear, lion, tiger, eagle, or the bird they call cuntur (condor), or some other bird of prey ".[5] A certain amount of worship was connected with this belief in kinship with beasts and natural objects. Men offered up to their totems "what they usually saw them eat".[6] On the seacoasts "they worshipped sardines, skates, dog-fish, and, for want of larger gods, crabs. . . . There was not an animal, how vile and filthy soever, that they did not worship as a god," including "lizards, toads and frogs." Garcilasso (who says they ate the fish they worshipped) gives his own theory of the origin of totemism. In the beginning men had only sought for badges whereby to discriminate one human stock from another. "The one desired to have a god different from the other. . . . They only thought of making one different from another." When the Inca emperors began to civilise the totemistic stocks, they pointed out that their own father, the sun, possessed "splendour and beauty" as contrasted with "the ugliness and filth of the frogs and other vermin they looked upon as gods".[7] Garcilasso, of course, does not use the North American word totem (or ote or otem) for the family badge which represented the family ancestors. He calls these things, as a general rule, pacarissa. The sun was the pacarissa of the Incas, as it was of the chief of the Natchez. The pacarissa of other stocks was the lion, bear, frog, or what not. Garcilasso accounts for the belief accorded to the Incas, when they claimed actual descent from the sun, by observing[8] that "there were tribes among their subjects who professed similar fabulous descents, though they did not comprehend how to select ancestors so well as the Incas, but adored animals and other low and earthly objects". As to the fact of the Peruvian worship of beasts, if more evidence is wanted, it is given, among others, by Cieza de Leon,[9] who contrasts the adoration of the Roman gods with that offered in Peru to brutes. "In the important temple of Pacha-camac (the spiritual deity of Peru) they worshipped a she-fox or vixen and an emerald." The devil also "appeared to them and spoke in the form of a tiger, very fierce". Other examples of totemism in South America may be studied in the tribes on the Amazon.[10] Mr. Wallace found the Pineapple stock, the Mosquitoes, Woodpeckers, Herons, and other totem kindreds. A curious example of similar ideas is discovered among the Bonis of Guiana. These people were originally West Coast Africans imported as slaves, who have won their freedom with the sword. While they retain a rough belief in Gadou (God) and Didibi (the devil), they are divided into totem stocks with animal names. The red ape, turtle and cayman are among the chief totems.[11]

[1] Kip, ii. 288.

[2] Appendix B.

[3] See translation in Hakluyt Society's Collection.

[4] Like many Greek heroes. Odyssey, iii. 489. "Orsilochus, the child begotten of Alpheus."

[5] Comm. Real., i. 75.

[6] Ibid., 53.

[7] Ibid., 102.

[8] Ibid., 83.

[9] Cieza de Leon (Hakluyt Society), p. 183.

[10] Acuna, p. 103; Wallace, Travels on Amazon (1853), pp. 481-506.

[11] Crevaux, Voyages dans l'Amerique du Sud, p. 59.


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After this hasty examination of the confused belief in kinship with animals and other natural objects which underlies institutions in Australia, West and South Africa, North and South America, we may glance at similar notions among the non-Aryan races of India. In Dalton's Ethnology of Bengal,[1] he tells us that the Garo clans are divided into maharis or motherhoods. Children belong to the mahari of the mother, just as (in general) they derive their stock name and totem from the mother's side in Australia and among the North American Indians. No man may marry (as among the Red Indians and Australians) a woman belonging to his own stock, motherhood or mahari. So far the maharis of Bengal exactly correspond to the totem kindred. But do the Maharis also take their names from plants and animals, and so forth? We know that the Killis, similar communities among the Bengal Hos and Mundos, do this.[2] "The Mundaris, like the Oraons, adopt as their tribal distinction the name of some animal, and the flesh of that animal is tabooed to them as food; for example, the eel, the tortoise." This is exactly the state of things in Ashanti. Dalton mentions also[3] a princely family in Nagpur which claims descent from "a great hooded snake". Among the Oraons he found[4] tribes which might not eat young mice (considered a dainty) or tortoises, and a stock which might not eat the oil of the tree which was their totem, nor even sit in its shade. "The family or tribal names" (within which they may not marry) "are usually those of animals or plants, and when this is the case, the flesh of some part of the animal or the fruit of the tree is tabooed to the tribe called after it."

[1] Dalton, p. 63.

[2] Ibid., p. 189.

[3] Ibid., p. 166.

[4] Ibid., p. 254.

An excellent sketch of totemism in India is given by Mr. H. H. Risley of the Bengal Civil Service:--[1]

[1] The Asiatic Quarterly, No. 3, Essay on "Primitive Marriage in Bengal."

"At the bottom of the social system, as understood by the average Hindu, stands a large body of non-Aryan castes and tribes, each of which is broken up into a number of what may be called totemistic exogamous septs. Each sept bears the name of an animal, a tree, a plant, or of some material object, natural or artificial, which the members of that sept are prohibited from killing, eating, cutting, burning, carrying, using, etc."[1]

[1] Here we may note that the origin of exogamy itself is merely part of a strict totemistic prohibition. A man may not "use" an object within the totem kin, nor a woman of the kin. Compare the Greek idiom [Greek text omitted].


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Mr. Risley finds that both Kolarians, as the Sonthals, and Dravidians, as the Oraons, are in this state of totemism, like the Hos and Mundas. It is most instructive to learn that, as one of these tribes rises in the social scale, it sloughs off its totem, and, abandoning the common name derived from bird, beast, or plant, adopts that of an eponymous ancestor. A tendency in this direction has been observed by Messrs. Fison and Howitt even in Australia. The Mahilis, Koras and Kurmis, who profess to be members of the Hindu community, still retain the totemistic organisation, with names derived from birds, beasts and plants. Even the Jagannathi Kumhars of Orissa, taking rank immediately below the writer-caste, have the totems tiger, snake, weasel, cow, frog, sparrow and tortoise. The sub-castes of the Khatlya Kumhars explain away their totem-names "as names of certain saints, who, being present at Daksha's Horse-sacrifice, transformed themselves into animals to escape the wrath of Siva," like the gods of Egypt when they fled in bestial form from the wrath of Set.

Among the non-Aryan tribes the marriage law has the totemistic sanction. No man may marry a woman of his totem kin. When the totem-name is changed for an eponym, the non-Aryan, rising in the social scale, is practically in the same position as the Brahmans, "divided into exogamous sections (gotras), the members of which profess to be descended from the mythical rishi or inspired saint whose name the gotra bears". There is thus nothing to bar the conjecture that the exogamous gotras of the whole Brahmans were once a form of totem-kindred, which (like aspiring non-Aryan stocks at the present day) dropped the totem-name and renamed the septs from some eponymous hero, medicine-man, or Rishi.

Constant repetition of the same set of facts becomes irksome, and yet is made necessary by the legitimate demand for trustworthy and abundant evidence. As the reader must already have reflected, this living mythical belief in the common confused equality of men, gods, plants, beasts, rivers, and what not, which still regulates savage society,[1] is one of the most prominent features in mythology. Porphyry remarked and exactly described it among the Egyptians--"common and akin to men and gods they believed the beasts to be."[2] The belief in such equality is alien to modern civilisation. We have shown that it is common and fundamental in savagery. For instance, in the Pacific, we might quote Turner,[3] and for Melanesia, Codrington,[4] while for New Zealand we have Taylor.[5] For the Jakuts, along the banks of the Lena in Northern Asia, we have the evidence of Strahlenberg, who writes: "Each tribe of these people look upon some particular creature as sacred, e.g., a swan, goose, raven, etc., and such is not eaten by that tribe" though the others may eat it.[6] As the majority of our witnesses were quite unaware that the facts they described were common among races of whom many of them had never even heard, their evidence may surely be accepted as valid, especially as the beliefs testified to express themselves in marriage laws, in the blood-feud, in abstinence from food, on pillars over graves, in rude heraldry, and in other obvious and palpable shapes. If we have not made out, by the evidence of institutions, that a confused credulity concerning the equality and kinship of man and the objects in nature is actually a ruling belief among savages, and even higher races, from the Lena to the Amazon, from the Gold Coast to Queensland, we may despair of ever convincing an opponent. The survival of the same beliefs and institutions among civilised races, Aryan and others, will later be demonstrated.[7] If we find that the mythology of civilised races here agrees with the actual practical belief of savages, and if we also find that civilised races retain survivals of the institutions in which the belief is expressed by savages, then we may surely infer that the activity of beasts in the myths of Greece springs from the same sources as the similar activity of beasts in the myths of Iroquois or Kaffirs. That is to say, part of the irrational element in Greek myth will be shown to be derived (whether by inheritance or borrowing) from an ascertained condition of savage fancy.

[1] See some very curious and disgusting examples of this confusion in Liebrecht's Zur Volkskunde, pp. 395, 396 (Heilbronn, 1879).

[2] De Abst., ii. 26.

[3] Nineteen Years in Polynesia, p. 238, and Samoa by the same author. Complete totemism is not asserted here, and is denied for Melanesia.

[4] Journ. Anthrop. Inst., "Religious Practices in Melanesia".

[5] New Zealand, "Animal Intermarriage with Men".

[6] Description of Asia (1783), p. 383.

[7] Professor Robertson Smith, Kinship in Arabia, attempts to show that totemism existed in the Semitic races. The topic must be left to Orientalists.


Andrew Lang

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