FINALLY, we may register--no more than that--a few of the beliefs and practices which, enduring through ages, were the direct legacy or proximate product of the animistic stage.
First, of course, is the precious discovery of the existence of soul in man, an inheritance whose value has been ever more clearly recognized as the centuries rolled by, until the supreme expression of that value was given by Jesus of Nazareth: What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? The growing perception of the soul's worth is measured in part by the development of the ideas of heaven and hell as that soul's reward or punishment. Anticipated bliss or sorrow was magnified in proportion to the enlarging estimates of the soul's worth. The Greek idea of a shadowy existence after death in a featureless place that almost voids the idea of locality could not abide with a higher (Christian) estimate of soul values. Even the Egyptians had a nobler realization of those values, though it was nourished at great loss--it cost them a really noble conception of the being and nature of the gods.
Second, this conception of the soul thus recognized involves another noteworthy bequest of animism, the notion of the continued life of the soul beyond the grave. Primitive races are quite logical in their deduction of continued existence as an attribute or quality of soul. It has incidentally been noted in the preceding pages that whatever was conceived as possessing soul was also believed to exist beyond the grave. There the hunter, note, was conceived to pursue shade of deer or whatever animal had been the gain of his bow or spear in this life. So that it was not man in himself, apart from soul, that gained immortality--or whatever proportion of immortality the primitive had acquired the power to conceive--immortality belonged to soul itself.
If practical universality of belief and of desire for the thing itself proves a doctrine, no tenet of our faith has surer basis than this in existence after death. We have already seen that the idea of continuance, which is the seed out of which the idea of real immortality germinated, is found among all primitive peoples. Moreover, all great religions but one have taken the idea into their bosoms and made it central. The exception is classic Buddhism. And the vigor and tenacity of the doctrine of conscious life beyond the grave has been too great for the later followers of even the Buddha. For later Buddhism too has its doctrine of heaven and hell in the forms of belief current for many centuries. Not even the doctrine of karma, in its most absolute form, could withstand the ardent longing of man and his invincible faith that he is more than a bundle of consequences to fall apart and cease to exist as an entity when once he had persuaded himself that such an effect was possible. Elsewhere than in Buddhism only sporadic agnostics have ventured a doubt or a denial of the doctrine. How insistent is the cry of humanity for the boon of a continued conscious endurance is evinced by this. In spite of the firm faith of Christians in immortality, the assurance of it (as it is sometimes expressed), this longing and this faith compel even them to look with desire upon results of investigations like those of the Society for Psychical Research, if perchance scientific demonstration can be made to confirm what is now the product of belief.
The third legacy of animism is belief in superhuman powers. Whether we regard this from the standpoint of anthropology or culture, or from that of ethics or of religion, it is difficult to estimate, impossible to overestimate, its importance. How vast a power of restraint this belief has exerted as an inhibition upon the lower passions of man, and how great an impulse it has ever been to the growth and unfolding of his higher nature! While it is probably true that altruism has never in the history of the race been absent in at least germinal force--remember that it is not absent in even brute creation--even yet its greatest force as a determinative factor is manifested only in the highly cultured. The impression of the existence of higher powers, of superhuman or supernal forces, was necessary during the disciplinary or elementary stages of culture to control and to direct to beneficent ends human thinking and action. Moreover, as has already been suggested, angelology and demonology are traceable in direct line to the set of conceptions we have been following in their manifestations in thought and action.
For these three greatest conceptions entertained by humanity the race has to thank the stage of culture we have been studying.
Besides the currents represented by the dominant ideas just particularized other thought channels exist in which flow streams so strong as to warrant the use of the term "instinctive." "I'm afraid. to go home in the dark," for instance, is the voicing of a dread from which few are free. Granted that in many or most cases this fear is implanted in the young by tales of bogies or spirits told by injudicious parents or other associates, the psychologist can but note how readily the idea is assimilated and how difficult it is, even for the mature scientist (if he be frank with himself), to rise superior to the fear and to banish it utterly. The reason is, probably, that the mind is in this matter super-receptive. The channel has been worn in the thinking or emotions of hundreds of ancestors, and the grooves are transmitted. Open the sluice gates to the idea, and it flows a muddy stream through life.
The savage of the stone age, cowering over his campfire, casting fearful looks into the jungle all about him, hearing in "the thousand noises of the night the movements of myriads of spirits whose existence is to him a reality," transmitted a frightful heritage of terror to his far-off descendants. Against the effects of this heritage in the clear light of day and the illumination of science and knowledge men count themselves victors. But curiously the shades of night banish self-acquired knowledge, and the unknown and unseen open the gates of emotion to unspoken and unconfessed fears. In vain does the victim appeal to his own "common sense." He knows the "superstition" is "foolish," "unscientific." But the subconscious habit of thought, prenatally transmitted, smothers his knowledge, and, given the occasion and stimulus, dominates him in spite of himself.
From the standpoint of pedagogics not yet has sufficient allowance been made for this heritage of fear. Parents, nurses, and companions, mistakenly and often innocently, sow and cultivate these weeds in a soil all too well prepared by heritage. And the result is that instead of a beautiful garden spot of trust and confidence and belief in the good, a jungle or morass of noxious fears and dreads mars for many the beauty of life.
Other residua less worthy, for the most part now happily matters of history, at least in the civilized world, have been hinted at in the preceding pages. Most of these may be classed under the head of superstitions, though we are to bear in mind that these too have, at least some of them, contributed to the advance of mankind. They include the development and practice of totemism and taboo, of magic and divination with their nobler brother prophecy, of mythology and witchcraft, and of sacrifice in the ritual sense. When we have shown the nature of animism, we have laid at least one firm platform for the treatment of these, so far at least as their objective side is concerned. Then, too, the relative order or the contemporaneity of magic and religion--that vexed question--may receive illumination in pursuit of the consequences of the fads here exhibited. But to trace these developments is another task. Whether such phenomena as those of fetishism are primary
[1. Cf. Frazer, Psyche's Task; and NSH., article "Superstition."]
or secondary may also be possible of solution in the light we have gained; and the varieties of sacrifice fall easily into order as we start from its foundation in animism as shown in the facts here passed in review.