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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 6.

As thus. In terms of many observations, and of some of Dr. Jevons’s admissions, we are led to realise that the idea of what we term "the supernatural" not only does not mean for primitive man a consistent distinction: it does not mean it for civilised man. Yet the logical burden of Dr. Jevons’s as of Dr. Frazer's indictment against magic is simply that it is inconsistent 1 with the admission of the "superiority"—the "super"-ness—of the "divine" to the human. For the purpose of his plea, he necessarily ignores the salient historical fact made clear by Dr. Frazer, that men have abundantly practised magic towards the very Gods to whom they prayed, and whose "supernaturalness" they not only avowed but believed in to the extent of holding them "immortal." Assyrian, Egyptian, and Indian religious literatures alike are full of cases of such practice. It may be argued that that is still an imperfect conception of "the supernatural": that the consistent conception requires the ascription of eternity, of omnipotence, of uncreatedness, of never-having-begun. But then men have also humbly prayed, without thought of magic, to Gods to whom they were grateful and whom they believed to be suffering sons of older Gods; and these attitudes of mind Dr. Jevons has fully certificated as "religious." But, again, men have similarly prayed to mere "saints." What degree, then, of recognition of superiority is to be regarded as Constituting recognition of "the" supernatural? One is moved to ask.

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[paragraph continues] What is the theorist's own conception of "the supernatural"? and, What does he mean by the term when he speaks of "supernatural terrors"?

When the critic is himself so far from a clear definition, it is very obviously a mere rhetorical device to say that for the magic-monger the conception of the supernatural "by definition" is inconsistent with his practice. He had never given any definition; 1 neither had the "religious man" who is alleged to have preceded him; and it was simply impossible that they should. The à priori argument against him is thus irrelevant from the start, no less than the à posteriori; and both are further negligible as being inferribly motived by a non-scientific purpose. The right view is to be reached on another line.

Proceeding on the clear lines of human psychology, we can be absolutely certain of this, that a savage may alternately seek to propitiate and seek to coerce or circumvent a human enemy whom he regards as normally stronger than himself. As Dr. Jevons notes, savage hunters on killing a bear will use a ritual to propitiate the bear clan. As he is well aware, Brahmans and other priests have taught that an ascetic or a ritualist can by his practices gain power to coerce or command the highest Gods, 2 to whom ordinary men can but pray. Such a notion, he argues, is a negation of a supernatural in that it assumes the Gods to be subject to an order of causation which man can control. But, once more, is it not equally a negation of a supernatural to assume, as the highest religions have done and do, that man can persuade the God by prayer, or propitiate him by confession and sacrifices, or keep him friendly by professing esteem and gratitude? Is not every one of these acts an assumption that the God's moral and mental processes are on a par with those of men, and that he is merely stronger than they? So considered, in what sense is he supernatural? And is not the inconsistency gross when men at once practise prayer and ascribe to their deity fore-ordination of all things? It is not too much to say that the procedure by which Dr. Jevons classifies magic as anti-religious must logically end in so classing every historic religion, and

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leaving the title to the name vested solely in professed Agnostics and Atheists. Some reasoners have actually so allotted the term; but that conclusion will scarcely suit Dr. Jevons’s book, so to speak.

In view of the whole facts, the terms "belief in the supernatural" must be recognised as signifying for practical purposes merely belief in a personal power that is superhuman, or rather extra-human, yet quasi-human. And such powers are the Gods alike of the earliest savage and the contemporary Christian, the humble offerer of prayer and the practiser of magic. The offerer of prayer, it is true, remains substantially the original type, loyally prostrate before power; civilisation having developed the original docility of the cowed savage through the deadly discipline of great despotisms. On the other hand, the magician of the past has either succumbed to that discipline or developed into the man of science—a function which he finds the worshipper of power often sharing with him. But just as they can so coincide now in practice, they coincided at the start in psychology. This view of the case finally follows from another of Dr. Jevons’s most definite positions; for he repeatedly describes the primitive "sacramental meal" as truly religious, in that it is a "higher" form of sacrifice than the mere gift-sacrifice, being a means of communion with the God, who actually joined in the meal. He does not deny it the title of "religion" even when it involves the conception that in the sacramental meal the God is actually eaten. 1 In each of these cases the worshipper certainly believed he had acquired a force not previously his own, even as does the practiser of magic; while the eating of the God is the reductio ad absurdum of his "superiority." Here, then, is even a more complete stultification of the logical idea of the supernatural than is committed by the magician, and it is actually made to validate the "religion" of the sacrificer as against the anti-religion of the magic-monger.


20:1 Dr. Jevons distinguishes between "sympathetic magic" (exemplified in "killing the God" and other devices to produce fertility, rain, etc.) and "art magic." The former, he says, "does not involve in itself the idea of the supernatural, but was simply the applied science of the savage." Art magic, he says, is the exercise by man of powers which are supernatural—i.e., of powers which by their definition it is beyond man to exercise. Thus the very conception of magic is one which is essentially inconsistent with itself" (p. 35).

21:1 In the Egyptian system, magic was normally operated through a God or Goddess (usually Isis) who "delivers the sick and suffering from the gods and goddesses who afflict them" (Renouf, Hibbert Lectures, 2nd ed. p. 212). It was thus on the same moral plane with not only the religion of the Homeric Greeks but that of Catholic Christianity, in which the saints are separately invoked and the will of Mary is practically omnipotent. So with the virtue of the words of Thoth, and of the names of the Gods (Budge, Introd. pp. cxlviii-ix, clxv): similar beliefs were held by the Jews and by the Christian Father Origen.

21:2 See Rhys David's Buddhism, 10th ed., p. 34 and American Lectures on Buddhism, p. 103; Frazer, as cited above; Granger, The Worship of the Romans, 1895, pp. 290-1; Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, p. 335.

22:1 Pp. 224, 295.

Next: § 7. Dr. Jevons’ Series of Self-Contradictions