Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
All this was recognised by the industrious Swiss historian of the American religions fifty years ago, 4 when the real unity of the human race was still obscure, in that it was affirmed on such fantastic bases as the myth of an originally created pair and the counter-hypothesis of creation "in nations"either of monkeys or men; 5 and when congenital theories of a peopling of America by the "ten lost tribes"
were much in vogue. There need then be no serious dispute over the thesis 1 that "the origin of the ancient American religions is to be sought for in the nature of their human spirit"a different thing from saying that they are autochthonous. The true proposition is neither that, as Müller says, the American peoples did not receive their religions from the peoples of the Old World, nor that they did: both formulas are misleading. Inasmuch as their ancestors were distinctly human when they first passed from Asia to America, the germs of religion and of many rites were derivative; but like all other peoples they evolved in terms of universal law. And as their migrations are likely to have occurred in different epochs, and from different stocks, we may look to find in them, scattered as they are over an entire hemisphere, hardly less variations in language, aspects, and civilisation than were to be traced in the races of the old world a few thousand years ago.
Such variation is actually seen when we seek to ascertain the connection of the different peoples of Ancient America with each other. For among these there is fully as much variation as is found among the peoples of Europe. To go no farther, the Aztecs or Mexicans differ noticeably in certain physical characteristics from the Native Americans; and these again show considerable variations of type. A decisive theory of the culture-histories of these peoples cannot yet be constructed, inasmuch as we are still very much in the dark as to the civilisations which existed in Central and South America before those of Mexico and Peru. For the title of this section, "The Religions of Ancient America," is designed only to mark off the religions flourishing so lately as four hundred years ago, and the aboriginal religions still existing, from that Christian religion which was introduced into Mexico and Peru by the Spaniards, and into North America by the English and French. The two religious systems we have chiefly to consider, the Mexican and Peruvian as they existed before the Spanish Conquest, are not very ancient in their developed form; because even the two civilisations were comparatively modern. The Aztecs and the Peruvians, as regards their then situation, professed to date back only a few centuries from the Conquest; and in both Peru and Mexico there were and still are the architectural remains of civilisations, some of which were themselves so ancient 2 as to be unintelligible to the nations found by the Spaniards. Thus, near Lake Titicaca in Peru 3 there are wonderful}
remains of structures which by their size suggested giant builders, the work of a race whom (or whose successors) the Incas overthrew; and yet further there are remains of rude circles of standing stones which belonged to a primitive civilisation far more ancient still. So, in Mexico, there are ancient ruins, such as those at Palanque, which suggest a civilisation higher, on the side of art and architecture, and at the same time much older, than that of the Aztecs. 1
All we can say with any safety is that, as it was put by Buckle, the earlier civilisations grew up in those regions where there were combined the conditions of a regular, easy, and abundant food supplynamely, heat and moisture, without an overwhelming proportion of the latter, such as occurs in Brazil. 2 Now, from the point of view of the needs of an early civilisation, the golden mean occurs, in South America, only in the territories which were covered by the empire of the Incas, and farther north, from the Isthmus of Panama to Mexico. We surmise then a long-continued movement of population southwards, one wave pushing on another before it, till some reached Patagonia. After a time, however, there might be refluxes. It is admitted that Mexican tradition points to early developments of civilisation about the Isthmus and Central America, and then waves of migration and conquest northwards. And it may have been that the people called the Toltecs, who flourished in Mexico before the Aztecs, and were in several respects more highly civilised than they, 3 represented yet again a backflow of one of these peoples from the north, according to the tradition. 4 Their alleged silent disappearance, after four centuries of national life, is the standing puzzle of Mexican history. 5 All that we know is, that Mexico remained the seat of the most flourishing empires, mainly because it could best yield an abundant and regular supply of vegetable food, as maize; and that when Cortès invaded it, the civilisation of the Aztecs, who constituted the most powerful of the several Mexican States then existing, was among the most remarkable. 6
And herein lies the instructiveness of these civilisations, with
their religions, that they supply us with a set of results practically independent of all the known history of Europe and Asia. It has been remarked that the great drawback of most of the moral or human sciences is that they do not admit of experiments as do the physical sciences. You must take the phenomena you get and try to account for them, with no aid from planned repetitions of cases. But, on the other hand, the human sciences as latterly organised have an enormous wealth of data lying ready to hand, and some collocations of data have for us the effect of new revelations in human affairs. After men became absorbed in the conception of European civilisation, with its beginnings, on the one hand in Aryan barbarism, on the other in the Eastern and Egypto-Semitic culture, they seemed to be shut up to a certain body of conclusions about human nature and its tendencies of thought and action. What was worse, the conclusions were presented ready made in terms of the reigning religion. But when we go to the records of the cultures and creeds of Mexico and Peru, records wonderfully preserved in the teeth of the fanaticism which would have destroyed them all if it could, we stand clear of the prejudices alike of Jew and Christian; we are in a measure spared the old contrast between pretended monotheism and polytheism, the eternal suggestion of the possible diffusion of revealed truth, 1 the perpetual comparison between Christendom and Paganism. We are faced by a civilisation and a religion that reached wealth and complexity by normal evolution from the stages of early savagery and barbarism without ever coming in contact with those of Europe till the moment of collision and destruction. And to study these American civilisations aright is to learn with clearness lessons in sociology, or human science in general, which otherwise could have been acquired only imperfectly and with hesitation. The culture-histories of the two hemispheres, put side by side, illuminate each other as do the facts of comparative anatomy.
346:4 J. G. Müller, pp. 7-8.
346:5 Cp. Nott and Gliddon, Types of Mankind, 1854, p. 283; Indigenous Races of the Earth, 1857, p. 648.
347:1 Müller, p. 9.
347:2 Cp. Kirk's note on Prescott, p. 1, and Dr. Tylor, Anahuac, p. 189, as to the pre-Toltec civilisation of Mexico.
347:3 Squier, Peru, 1877, ch. 20; J. G. Müller, pp. 334-5; Keane, Ethnology, p. 138 sq.
348:1 Bancroft, iv, 289-346. Cp. Keane, Man, p. 406 sq.
348:2 Introd. to the Hist. of Civilisation in England, 3-vol. ed. i, 101-8.
348:3 Clavigero, History of Mexico, Eng. tr. ed. 1807, i, 86 (B. ii, § 2); Keane, as last cited.
348:4 Compare ch. i of Prescott's Conquest of Mexico, and J. F. Kirk's notes on it (Sonnenschein's ed.) with Réville, Lect. i. But the tradition may also derive from the general movement of population southwards. Clavigero's chronology, c. 8, is to the effect that the Toltecs arrived from the north about 648, the Chichemecs in 1170, the "Acolhuans" about 1200, and the Aztecs in 1296.
348:5 Kirk's note on Prescott, p. 7.
348:6 The Acolhuan or Tezcucan civilisation, however, seems to have been more advanced than that of Mexico proper. See Prescott, B. i, c. 6, end; and below, § 5. And see Lindesay Brine, American Indians, chs. xv and xvii, as to the advanced architecture at Palanque, and at Uxmal in Yucatan. A good account, with excellent illustrations of the architectural and art remains at Mitla, is given by Edward Seler, in Bulletin 28 of the Bureau of American Ethnology, before cited, pp. 243-324.
349:1 That is, now. Lord Kingsborough wrought hard in the last generation to prove that the Biblical system was known to the Mexicans; and there was an early theory that St. Thomas, that ubiquitous missionary, had given them Christianity. Prescott, pp. 233, 641; Clavigero, B. vi, § 4.