Religion and Myth, by James Macdonald, , at sacred-texts.com
The office of magician is to primitive man what that of prophet is to a more advanced people. He is the teacher of the ignorant; he delivers to men the oracles of the gods; he foretells events, and explains what is mysterious. The term magician, as that is ordinarily understood, does not cover the idea savage man has regarding his religious teachers. His conception is that of one possessed of supernatural knowledge, wisdom, and power; power which he has in virtue of his office, and which he can exercise in the discharge of it. He is in reality what the prophets of Israel were to the Jews; so I adopt the terms prophet and prophecy rather than magician and magic.
Under witchcraft frequent reference was made to magicians and recognised diviners. These magicians, or prophets as we shall call them, are among primitive men a distinct class, who, dating their origin from the very beginnings of society, developed into guilds or colleges with the growth of thought and early human institutions. As man's conceptions of deity and the physical facts around him expanded, the necessity of special insight into the spiritual sphere was felt. The king was no longer the only god; he had ceased to be god at all; his father, and the
fathers of countless thousands, passed in long array before the worshipper's imagination as objects of worship; true divinities, whom he was bound to honour and obey on pain of dire physical calamity. But while under the necessity of doing homage to departed ancestors, he knew nothing of their condition, could hold no converse with them, nor ascertain their wants and wishes. The more he longed for a glimpse beyond the portals of this mortal life, the denser the darkness closed around him. The king, content with temporal power and a more secure tenure of office than in former days, left such matters to those who might find it more easy to quit the upper air, should the gods call. In any case, it was more convenient for him that they should enter the home of the gods, than that he himself should be compelled to change substantial and tangible honours, even if necessarily temporary, for those shadowy if permanent glories of which he knew little and understood less.
The circumstances demanded men of boldness of conception and clearness of vision. The necessities of the case were urgent, and could not be met by half measures or halting compromises. Men must know something of the unseen, and if their just aspirations were to be met, a new departure was the only alternative to the collapse of all institutions and the overthrow of the physical universe. This being the condition of society in those far-away times of transition, there is no doubt but the earlier prophets were simply men who could see farther than their fellows, and who, piecing together the meagre
philosophies of the past, boldly struck out a new system, and appealed to men as the interpreters of all that was essential and permanent in the past. The temporary and passing they abolished, as they understood it, while they retained what was truth and permanent. At first their efforts would be wholly devoted to giving an explanation of the facts of life and natural phenomena as these from time to time presented themselves. An attempt would be made to reconcile man's original conception of deity and providence with the changed conditions and more advanced thought. For a time this would be sufficient, and the religious teachers would flatter themselves, as has so often been done in the history of the church, that they had arrived at a complete and final solution of all questions regarding both gods and men. But this could not be. Fresh complications would arise, and each, as it pressed on men's minds, necessitated fresh explanations. The successive oracles needed to be consistent with fact and with one another, which, as they accumulated, they were not. The prophets themselves needed to be interpreted as well as the facts they sought to explain.
Besides, new claimants would arise, outbidding the old for popular favour and official recognition. The office, at first hereditary, or at least confined to a close guild or college, would become vulgarised as dishonest or ignorant men found their way into office. Apart from this, daring and speculative spirits among the community would not be permanently silenced. Sooner or later their conclusions would reach the multitude, and the new thoughts,
struggling for recognition, would compel the prophets to adjust their system to that which men had discovered independently of their order. Should the oracles delivered by two persons claiming the prophetic gift differ, the bolder or less scrupulous of the two would naturally assert that he had held communication with the gods, and that his oracle must be accepted as final. But this would establish a dangerous precedent, and the next time a difficulty arose his rival would be prepared with a revelation at the initial stage. Here we have two elements which would of necessity lead to a vast extension of the order in point of numbers, and a great widening of the scope of prophecy itself, tending to convert what began as a philosophy into an occult art. This in process of time would lead to a subdivision of function; one would become the prophet or doctor of war; another of rain; a third of witchcraft; a fourth of lightning. The multiplication of offices and prophets to fill them would be regulated by man's necessities on the one hand, and his ability to support such an army of ghostly councillors on the other; these being periodically thinned out, when, as in the case of the King of Babylon's vision, it was made abundantly plain that the whole college was a huge imposition and fraud.
If this is a correct or even probable explanation of the origin and development of the office, it would be natural to infer a steady and sustained deterioration or degradation of the order both in character and influence. And this is what we do find. For while among those tribes farthest removed from civilisation
the prophet is sacred, and his every word received as the oracle of heaven, among those who have advanced in their philosophy a chief has been known to sacrifice his whole college in one holocaust. The King of Moreo, referred to in an earlier chapter, is a case in point. Nebuchadnezzar would have been another but for the timely intervention of Daniel; while we have recent examples in Zululand and in the country of Moselekatse of the same thing.
Nor is the explanation offered inconsistent with the history of the Jewish prophetic order as given in the sacred books of the Hebrews themselves. The older prophets are giants, men both before and above their time, and who left the impress of their own character on the life and institutions of their country. The later prophets, like the later judges, mark a fatal deterioration. Whole schools of them fell from their own standard of office, and sought to bear the name of prophet when everything but the name had perished. Those the sacred writers describe uniformly as "false prophets." They were men who sought office not because they had a message for men, but because they could calculate on the ignorance and credulity of the people for gain. To such prophets it is said: "Will ye pollute Me among My people for handfuls of barley and pieces of bread?" * Not content with such imposition as false prophecy, as understood in their own day, they fell back on older superstitions, and appealed to lingering beliefs which had long passed away. They revived the primitive doctrines regarding human souls and the power of divine or sacred
persons over these; for it is made clear that, like their ancestors in the primeval jungle, they professed to catch and retain souls. "Woe to the women that sew pillows to all armholes, and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature to hunt souls. Will ye hunt the souls of My people, and will ye save the souls alive that come unto you?" * Compare this with the following account of a common custom in the South Seas; "Two young wizards were passing a house where a chief lay very sick; they saw a company of gods from the mountains sitting in the doorway. They were handing from one to another the soul of the dying chief. It was wrapped in a leaf; and had been passed from the gods inside the house to those at the doorway. One of the gods handed the soul to one of the wizards, taking him for a god in the dark, for it was night. Then all the gods rose up and went away; but the wizard kept the chief's soul. In the morning some women went with a present of very fine mats to fetch a famous physician. The wizards were sitting on the shore as the women passed, and they said to the women; 'Give us the mats, and we will heal him.' So they went to the chief's house. He was very ill; his jaw hung down and his end seemed very near. But the wizards undid the leaf, and let the soul into him again, and forthwith he brightened up again and lived."
The false Hebrew prophets thus carry us back to a practice which existed in early daysfor wizards could steal as well as restorewhen souls were
hunted and caught; a clear proof that the office had fallen so low that its original conception was lost or forgotten. Of this we shall see farther illustration when considering the duties of prophets among primitive men, and how these were performed at various stages of culture during the world's progress.
Every prophet claims to hold converse with the world of spirits, and to act in discharge of his sacred functions only in obedience to the will of the gods. Does he carry the soul of a sick person back to the invalid's bedside? * It is because the gods reveal to him that the sick is to recover. Does he offer sacrifice for rain? He does it to appease the wrath of the offended ancestors, or because they are hungry and are crying out for food. When he, by his arts, secures places and persons against the thunderbolt, after being struck by lightning, he assuages the anger of the gods, who have visited their children with affliction because of some neglect of filial duty. Should the prophet be called upon to discover a witch or wizard, he "smells them out"; but it is the gods who reveal to him who they are, a knowledge which they deny to all others.
The subject of prophecy and magic is too wide for full discussion in a single chapter, and can be best illustrated by selecting one or two particulars, as the treatment of the sick and the methods adopted to detect crime. We have already seen the methods by which wizards are detected when considering the subject of witchcraft. Other criminals are
discovered by means of a magic horn. * This may be the horn of a domestic sheep or that of an antelope, and the prophet, by looking into it and examining its contents, can discover a thief or murderer. By the same means he is supposed to know the whereabouts of the stolen property, if not removed beyond the tribal boundariesa necessary qualification in this branch of the profession. Readers of Highland traditions will recognise in this the well-known "second sight" of Celtic legend. Those possessing this gift could foretell events, especially deaths and calamity, and in doing so used the shoulder-blade of a sheep, through which they looked, and saw the future in panorama before them. I once met, at Paible, North Uist, a man who was said to "see things." The old man, who derived his living, partly at least, from propitiatory gifts, had quite a reputation for prophecy, and if he suggested to any one by a dark hint that he had seen a shroud, that family was plunged into grief, knowing that he referred to one of their number, though no name was mentioned.
The prophet, among savage men, explains the cause of drought and floods, and must devise a remedy for these visitations. Among the Zulu tribes, if the spring rains are late, a black ox is sent to the doctor, who being warned of the approaching visit, sits in his hut covered with a thick layer of mud. If there are no indications of rain, he may direct them to come after the lapse of a few days; but if things are propitious, he at once orders a muster of the tribe. There is much feasting and dancing, mystic ceremonies are performed, sacrifices
are offered, and then the prophet announces that before a given day rain will fall. Should the prediction prove correct, well; if not, the prophet must account for his failure. This he does by charging some one high in authority, as the chief's principal wife, with working against him, and raising a dry wind which drives the clouds away. This she does by exposing her posterior to the skies.
In time of war the prophet has to perform rites to ensure victory. Among the Waganda, when the case is urgent, a child is flayed and placed on the path, and the warriors made to step over it, * or a child and a fowl are placed on a grating over a pot with water in it. Another pot, inverted, is used as a cover, and a fire kindled to heat the water. After a given time the contents are examined, and if found dead the war must be delayed as the omen is against the expedition.
But the prophet's services are not confined to the living; they extend to the dead. In Akra when a young person dies the body is placed on a bier. This is raised on two men's heads, and carried to a place indicated by the prophet, who accompanies the procession. Arrived at the spot, he takes his stand in front of the corpse. He holds in his hand a magic reed, which he shakes over the body, and at the same time asks the question, "Was your death caused by age and infirmities?" If this is answered in the affirmative by the body impelling the bearers forward, no more is said, and the funeral proceeds; if not, the prophet continues: "Was it caused by your bad actions?" Corpse answers
[paragraph continues] "No" by remaining perfectly still. "By whose witch was it caused, so and so, or so and so?" naming the head men of the district. * When the right name is mentioned the dead impels the bearers forward. It is the duty of the head man indicated, or rather his magicians, to discover the culprit by the approved methods.
The dangers to the dead are not over when the soul has left the body, and the Angoni prophet must see to it that the devil, to use a Highland phrase, is cheated of his own. Did evil spirits know a man's grave in that unhappy land, they would undoubtedly steal his soul to be educated in their own evil college. So every precaution must be taken for the repose of the departed. Till burial the soul of an Angoni hovers near the body, seeking an opportunity to re-enter its former abode. A soul does not at first know death. To it death is sleep. "Death and sleep," said a Kaffir once to me, "are one word." This being the case, a lay figure is made before the funeral. At the hour announced this figure is carried out, followed by a great concourse of people, who weep and wail, mourning for the dead. As soon as the cortége leaves the house drums are beat, horns blown, and guns fired to drive away evil spirits. These, kept back by the noise, hover about the outskirts of the crowd, lured on by the signs of mourning, till the grave is reached. There the figure is buried with all the respect and honour due to the departed, and as the crowd disperse the devils swoop down upon the grave to snatch away the soul, but only to find they have been outwitted and betrayed.
[paragraph continues] Meantime the corpse has been quietly and expeditiously buried without beat of drum or sound of horn. * By using such precautions the prophets outwit the devil, and do an important service to the dead and the ancestral spirits, who wait the arrival of their brother spirit with much anxiety.
When a Wahunga chief dies, his prime minister is killed and buried with him, to be his councillor in the dangers of the passage. All his wives are also killed except one. For her a pit is dug in the ground, just large enough to hold her. In this she is placed and covered over with earth, a small breathing aperture being left. A spear is passed down this hole, which she holds in her hand; if at the end of the second day she is alive and holds the spear, she is taken out and allowed to live. If her fingers are too nerveless to grasp the spear, no farther ceremony is needed; she is buried already.
The Congo natives keep the bodies of their chiefs for years, wrapping them in successive layers of cloth till the mass is so heavy as to be hardly portable. The same was done in the case of the queen-mother of Uganda, for whom Mackay made the famous copper coffin, and with whom, within and around her three coffins, £1500 worth of cloth and copper was buried; a fact which proves that the Waganda do not wish royal personages to be restricted in the matter of apparel in ghostland.
When King Eyambo (Congo) died, the prophets ordered thirty of his wives to be burned the first day, and before the funeral rites were over several
hundreds were sent to accompany him. Should he have gone without a respectable following, or with only a few, the spirits would ask, "What poor slave is this who is coming alone?" and on the discovery that it was a king, his people would be visited with every form of calamity for having allowed their monarch to go from them like an unknown waif.
Prophets regulate functions of government, and in some cases determine the succession to the throne. In Uganda three chiefs or councillors, who are magicians or semi-divine, elect the new king from among the late monarch's sons, and generally select a young sonif an infant so much the betterfor the regency is theirs, and the younger the king the longer will be their term of office. The elder sons are kept in confinement till the heir is of age, and then burned, except two or three reserved with the view of keeping up the succession should the young king die without issue. * This, though in theory an excellent system to prevent disputes, was apt to lead to awkward consequences for the three who held the regency. A son, when his father fell sick, might retire to another tribe, and, returning suddenly seize supreme power and send the regents to join their late master. This was done by the Batetwa chief Dingiswayo, who fled to the Cape Colony, to return in a few years to claim his rights with direst results to his rival's patrons.
Prophets experiencing such vengeance now and then, sought to secure their order against untimely accidents by organising guilds or colleges, the
members of which were regarded as sacred in virtue of their office. Under such a system a king might be slain by a rival, but the magicians were sacred, and their divinity would be respected. The rules of their order permitted them to be the supporters of the de facto king, apart from oaths of allegiance to one who might be a fugitive. Thus the Bulloms have an institution binding its members to keep the sacred mysteries secret for ever, and to yield prompt and unquestioning obedience to the superior of the order; * rules which raise a doubt as to whether Loyola's conceptions were marked with that degree of originality which is generally attributed to them. New members are admitted after a long novitiate, during which the most severe tests are put upon their loyalty and resolution. Even then they cannot be admitted till friends of theirs, already members, bind themselves by an oath to put the novice to death instanter, should he make known any forbidden secret. The manner of execution is as secret as it is expeditious and effective. There is no escaping the ordeal of the guild. Similar institutions, with local modifications, exist among the Soosoms, Timmanes, Basutos, and many other tribes. Among the Timmanes a woman prophetess is general of the order, and a kind of inquisition or confessional exists among them. To the care of this hag fathers and husbands confide their daughters and wives, and the methods pursued by her and her college is highly characteristic. When a penitent appears she is smeared with white clay, and asked
to confess, on pain of death. If her confession is deemed satisfactory she is dismissed with an admonition, and injunctions to perform certain acts, unless her sin is witchcraft, in which case she is sold into slavery. If any one refuse to confess, nothing more is heard of her. Should the confession be unsatisfactory in itself, a decoction is given to force a fuller statement from the penitent. This, if the confession was not full, causes intolerable pains which can only be relieved by the priestess. If pains follow, she proceeds to discover the concealed crime by means of divination. The penitent is then charged with it, and asked to plead. If she deny the crime, she is sold; if she refuse to plead, she is poisoned. *
These guilds exist wherever religion has developed into a system. The chief priest assumes functions to himself which belong to royalty, and so reduces the kingly office to a shadow. This is the case with the Egbo of Calabar, the Lubare of Uganda, and the Moro of the Waneka. § The same abnormal development of the power of the priestly office took place in Europe during the Middle Ages. The temptation and danger of all religious systems is to claim power and authority over men's lives and actions outside its own proper sphere. The result in such cases has always been a degrading of the sacred office, and ultimate disaster to the system itself.
But there is another permanent function of prophecy, important in itself, and universal among savage men, which has been touched upon only
incidentally, and that is foretelling the future. When a tribe goes to war a great many details cannot be arranged by the chief and his councillors; they must be determined by augury. Such details seem to us to be of the very essence of practical affairs, to be decided by generals, but to savage men the case presents itself in an entirely different aspect. The prophet must decide the strength of the expedition, the clans who are to send their contingents, the sacred place where the army is to be charmed, and the route that is to be taken. Nor can a general go into action, even against a handful, should the oracles be unfavourable. In 1879, during a period of disturbance in South Africa, a chief, Umhlonhlo, was marching leisurely across country with his whole army. The day was hot, and not a cloud could be seen. Presently the magicians, ever on the alert for omens, noticed a peculiarly shaped cloud on the horizon. It rose rapidly in one mass, and was observed "to roll upon itself." Its progress was intently watched till it reached the zenith and passed over the sun. This was an evil omen. The spirits were offended, and had passed in shadow over the chief and his army. Their backs were turned upon their children. There was, however, no immediate danger, for their scouts had reported that no soldiers were within many miles of their line of march, and they could retire to some sacred spot to have their warriors re-charmed. While they were discussing which place to resort to, the van of a small column of cavalry appeared unexpectedly over a rising ground. Dismay was
written on every countenance; black fear was in every heart. The war minister, one of the bravest of men, urged the troops to form into order of battle. No one answered his summons. A fatal paralysis had crept over chief and people. He did his best to organise an orderly retreat, but in vain; not a blow was struck; every man took to his heels, and the army never reassembled.
On another occasion a chief, Oba, led an army against. some people of the Fingoe tribe. He knew their place of encampment, and sent a trusted spy to find out all he could and report. This man crept up close to their camp fires, and there saw a diviner pronouncing an incantation against Oba and his army. This was reported to the chief who paid no regard to it. But on the following morning two ospreys flew over the army uttering piercing cries. This the prophets declared to be an evil omen which boded defeat, but Oba was not to be frightened by Fingoe curses or the screams of birds, and advanced boldly. From the crest of a hill they saw the Fingoe camp, and a number of cattle grazing between. Six men tended the herd, and these advanced shouting "Basolieve," meaning "they are cursed." Qwarana was ordered to advance, which he did at the head of his men. When quite near the Fingoes fired a volley, shooting Qwarana through the body. This was enough; the army turned and fled. Oba did his best to stay the panic; he begged his soldiers to act like men, he called them cowards and women. It was in vain. They had been warned by the ospreys, and now a
body of nearly two thousand warriors fled in panic before six cowherds.
But the future cannot be left to such accidents as a midday shadow, or the flight of eagles. Methods that can be resorted to at any time must be found. These differ among most tribes, but the following may be taken as illustrative. The Bongo consult the oracle thus:A stool of a particular wood is made, the surface of which is rubbed perfectly smooth, a block of the same wood is then prepared to lie flat on the stool. When a response is wanted a few drops of water are placed between the stool and the block, the latter is then moved backwards and forwards. If it moves easily, and begins to glide without friction, the oracle is favourable; if not, the undertaking proposed cannot prosper. Or an oily fluid from the bengeye-tree is given to a hen. If the bird dies there will be misfortune; if not, success. * Another method, which the same observer records, is to dip a cock again and again in water till it is senseless. It is then left in the sun, and should it revive the augury is favourable. By such means men determine war and peace, as well as the guilt or innocence of accused persons.
The Bullom tribes determine the future by "casting the sand." This may be to discover if a sick person is to recover or not. The diviner takes a goatskin on which he carefully spreads a layer of fine dry sand; he then shuts his eyes, and with the three first fingers of his right hand makes lines and dots in the sand. According to the position of these, the
patient will live or die. The same result may be obtained by taking a number of palm nuts, and arranging them in groups with the eyes closed. Gallas divine from the appearance of the entrails of slaughtered animals, * while almost every action a Basuto or Baralong performs is determined by the fall of dice. So it happens, that when a man goes to commit a crime, he lays aside his fetish, and does not consult the oracle, as he could not in that case obtain a favourable response. He covers his god with a cloth, that he may not know what the worshipper is doing. The Wayao determine the future by a flour cone. When a man has determined on an undertaking, as a journey, his magician takes a quantity of flour, and lets it fall in a steady stream at the head of his bed. If it forms a perfect cone as it falls, the omen is good; if not, that is an end of the matter by the flour-cone test. Should the cone be perfect, it is covered by an inverted pot and left for the night. In the morning, when the pot is removed, the cone is examined, and if found perfect, there is nothing further needed beyond offering the customary sacrifice. But if there has been a falling down of the flour, even a small slip, it is a sign not to be disregarded. An equally effective method is to pour out beer on the ground, which if it sinks at one spot is a good omen, but if it runs along the ground, bad. Three bits of stick may be laid on the ground, two parallel and one across. If found, after an interval of some hours, in position as left, the oracle has granted the worshipper's prayer.
When prophecy descended to such trivialities as those represented by the auguries and observances referred to, it was doomed as a system. While it contented itself with exposition, purgation of demons, expanding philosophic conceptions and the enunciation of principles in an abstruse form, it commanded men's respect, and the prophet was regarded as a divinely commissioned messenger. But when it descended to the petty details of village life, it could not escape the fate of any great institution which is hopelessly vulgarised. When the prophet became little better than the court fool he could only receive a fool's treatment. When a man who hurt his toe against a stump could command the services of the expounders of the supernatural to explain the fact, it was not surprising that other men, despising at once tree stumps and prophets, should introduce a new and more vigorous, if less reverent, form of government.
As men's conception of divinity expanded from the crude unformed idea of a divine king to local deities, reaching gradually towards one supreme god, the world needed a philosophy to correspond with the new-born faith. This, prophecy did not as a system supply. Instead of advancing with the growth of thought to a higher and truer conception of life, it pursued a course which could only lead to deterioration and final extinction. But though prophecy as a system became moribund, and so continues among savage men, it was from it the new philosophy took its rise. This philosophy springing out of what was once a system in advance of current
thought, led to the development of the great religious systems which at different periods became world wide. While the old-world prophet "cast the sand," or fumbled among the entrails of an expiring cock, there were men among his disciples who conceived bolder notions, and only waited for a favourable opportunity to give practical effect to their thoughts. They had to wait many weary years, generations, centuries, but their opportunity came at last. Such men in the early days could do little beyond raising a protest against the most glaring abuses among their own order and in society. Even in this they would meet with treatment similar to that experienced by the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, and many of them would share the fate of all bold reformersthe gallows or the fire. One after another would quietly disappear as unworthy of their office and subverters of the faith of men. But the ashes of such men do more to fertilise the soil of human thought than their wisdom while they live. Like the dragon's teeth, they produce a fresh and ever-increasing number of souls with like thoughts and aspirations. The words of such men are treasured by a few. They are pondered, digested, made fruitful of new thoughts. As the years pass, and the angry passions raised by the heretic's teaching die away, men first view him as one who meant well, next as a true prophet, and finally as a sacred being whose memory is cherished as a divine heritage. Posterity places him among the gods. He was incarnate.
No sooner is the popular mind led to regard such
men as saints and martyrs, than a web of romance is woven round their lives, and the philosophy they taught becomes a new religion. Those of their successors who cherish their memories and keep their teaching alive, seize the opportunity, and boldly claim divine sanction for their doctrine. This is one way. There is another. All such reformers do not share the martyr's fate. A powerful king, weary of the inanities taught and practised by his college of magicians; weary too of the endless sacrifices and the ever-deepening stream of human blood; blood it may be, as in the case of a king of Ashantee, in which to float the royal canoe, * throws the protection of his strong arm over the reformer, as the king of Babylon did to Daniel, and so encourages the movement. Or, it may be, the reformer, finding the current too strong, retires to a lonely place where he lives a life of meditation and privation. Such a man, especially after the invention of writing, formulates doctrines into aphorisms. These, brief, wise, practical, as they must be in his circumstances, he communicates to the few faithful disciples admitted to his sanctuary and confidence. They carry them from hamlet to hamlet, thence from house to house, where they pass into the current language of the people. These, when received with favour, the popular imagination connect with a direct revelation from the gods; ultimately it deifies the man who utters them.
Such a life as this would lead a man to introspection and a comparison between himself, with his
half-uttered wisdom, and the folly of popular beliefs. There was nothing more natural than for him to conclude that he was god-possessed, and that his words and actions were those of the god. When this was asserted and boldly proclaimed, men in a primitive age, when the old order and the worship of ancestral spirits was discredited, and the new still unsettled and fluctuating, would readily seize upon the idea as giving a clue to the solution of the perplexities with which they were surrounded. The very multiplicity of ancestral gods complicated the situation. The presence of demons, as powerful and more subtle than the gods themselves, made matters worse. The great, or one god, was too shadowy and remote to be approached, and his existence, if he did exist, gave no relief to the pious. Thus the incarnation of divinity, in the person of a prophet, would be hailed as giving a hope that the mysteries of the spirit world would at length be solved.
But we are now approaching a stage of development which carries its beyond the bounds of our inquiry. In Africa there has been no great incarnation of deity as in Brahmanism and in Buddhism. An examination of these, however brief, would lead to the discussion of Vedic religion, which is foreign to my present purpose. The fact to be noted is, that earlier forms led to the incarnation of the founders of the respective systems, and that myth surrounded them with a halo which makes it impossible to distinguish the true from the false, so as to get at the man and the philosophy he taught in its simplicity
and truth. For it is the truth which those systems contained that has given them vitality to exist through so many thousands of years.
Thus, from the rude conception of a divine king who ruled nature, thought advanced to a doctrine of souls, thence to separate and personal divinities, slowly gravitating towards the idea of one supreme god, unknown and unknowable. Pursuing its inquiries, never resting for a moment, the human mind reached the conception of the one god becoming incarnate in time. And here it is curious to note, that those in whom deity became incarnate, so far as we can discover, put forward comparatively modest claims, and that these were expanded by their disciples into a cumbrous mass of doctrinal teaching which, in some cases, fell to pieces by the very weight of its ritual and ordinances. Men could not bear the burden.
In Africa, always excepting ancient Egypt and the countries bordering upon it, there is nothing which corresponds with the Asiatic development of religion. The art of writing being unknown would, apart from other causes, have made that impossible. But our inquiries have, so far, tended in the direction of a development not unlike that through which the great systems of the east must have passed. Tradition does not preserve the words of wise men, as is done where there is a literature. The words may be said to remain, or a faint echo of them, but tradition gives them a local setting and myth adapts them to local circumstances. Still, the position occupied by the God of the Wayao, as the God of the original
inhabitants, and his reputation as a beneficent and powerful deity, points to a deification of a prophet whose soul was developed into a principal god. Mlungu is doubtless such another. A great man whose memory has waxed dim, and whose words cannot be recalled as those of Brahma may. Myth itself has almost died away in the course of ages, yet Mlungu lives as a faded memory though the traditions of his life have perished.
The sketch attempted of the growth and decay of the prophetic order is consistent with what we are familiar with. In a highly developed state of society the prophetic function ceases to be exercised as we meet with it in primitive times. But it is still present. The wise men of a nation are its prophets. Its poets, philosophers, preachers, reformers, scientists, and discoverers, are as truly the guides of men's thoughts and actions as were the magicians of Ancient Egypt or Chaldea. They are the descendants of humble ancestors who determined" the fate of individuals and nations by casting the sand, or by the spots found on the entrails of a decapitated cock. Men may imagine themselves independent of all external circumstances, but we are the creatures of our surroundings as were those who sacrificed their god that his spirit might enter his successor. We may make it our boast that we have freed ourselves from the thraldom of superstition, but there are still curious survivals among us. And of these, one of the most remarkable is the suspicion with which religious teachers are regarded in popular imagination.
There is a deeply rooted prejudice against religious teachers among the peasantry of Europe, and not unfrequently those who are most devout in the discharge of their own religious duties, have the most pronounced superstitions regarding clergymen. Fishermen will not go to sea with a minister on board, as in that case no success would attend their labours; they will not even have one enter their boats, if possible, as that is apt to take the boat's luck away. Skippers fear to have them as passengers, and voyagers expect contrary winds if a priest should happen to be among their fellow voyagers. I remember one, Rob MacLauchlin, the owner of a smack that plied between Oban and Morven, having on one occasion a very boisterous passage, to the intense alarm of his passengers. On his arrival one of the villagers remarked on the state of the weather and how suddenly the storm had sprung up. Rob, who had had a sail carried away and was in no good humour, replied, garnishing his sentences with expletives which I shall omit, "How could we escape wind with three ministers on board." These worthies were on their way to a local meeting of Presbytery. One of them, ignorant of seamen and their ways, offered a remonstrance, and tried to enlighten the skipper, but had to beat a hasty retreat. Rob knew all about it by long experience, and all his predecessors, from the days of Jonah at least, had been conversant of the fact. That was final and admitted of no appeal, and the villagers to a man sympathised with the skipper who was compelled to carry such cargo.
Nor is this fear confined to traditions of the sea. The minister is feared because he can bless or ban, and village children regard him as a being to be avoided when that is possible. When at play, if he happens to pass, there is a hurried and fearful whisper of "There's the minister," and play ceases till he is well out of reach. If they must present themselves before this august presence, they cease to be children as by instinct, and a word or movement becoming the age of five or six meets with the awful maternal reproof, "Do ye no ken that's the minister?" Clergymen themselves are, perhaps, largely to blame. The Church has played so many parts on the stage of European politics and social life that much of the present suspicion may be owing to her arrogance and avarice. But this is not all. Like our harvest customs, this superstitious reverence and fear, is doubtless a survival from primitive times, when the magician was a being to be at once feared and honoured. The primitive man who offended one of those powerful beings who directed all his life's actions, might expect to be the next victim when a case of witchcraft had to be disposed of, or, if no case cropped up the gods might require his presence among them, and so demand him as a sacrifice. And so it is that in spite of respectability, unblemished reputation, great services to mankind, honour, place and influence, religious teachers have never been able to free themselves from the suspicion and fear with which their humble ancestors, the priests of the jungle, were regarded in popular imagination.
This is perhaps an extreme instance of the persistency of early beliefs, but it goes to show how slowly the human mind parts with ideas once universal, and the vast intervals that must elapse before a complete revolution in thought is possible under the most favourable circumstances. There could be no condition more likely to obliterate the past than that created by Christianity, and yet these customs, myths, and superstitious fears have lived through millenniums of literature and careful oral teaching. The process has been slow, and is not yet completed. And what has taken Europe from the dawn of history to accomplish, with the aid of literature, philosophy and Christianity, could not be done by the African groping his way through oral tradition and universal usage through many thousands of years. The customs which we study to-day, and which at first sight appear to be local or tribal, carry us back in their original form to a period long anterior to the first dawn of traditional history in the East. They bring us into contact with the condition of the world before the families of men began to scatter themselves hither and thither over the face of the earth. They are our only record of the condition of the world when it was young, and of man in his first struggles with the problems with which he found himself surrounded as he began to look out upon the works of nature as these could be seen in his immediate locality.
150:* Ezek. xiii. 19.
151:* Ezek. xiii.
151: J. G. Frazer, quoting G. Turner: Samoa.
152:* Gill: Myths and Songs of the South Pacific.
152: Hon. C. Brownlee, MS. Notes.
156:* Dr. Elmslie, MS. notes.
156: J. Thomson, Through Masai Land.
157: G. M. Theal, Boers and Bantu.
163: Duff Macdonald.