Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
There is an arguable case for the theory that the belief in a dying and re-arising Saviour-God, seen anciently in the cults of Adonis, Attis, Herakles, Osiris, and Dionysos, originated obscurely in the totem-sacraments of savages who ate a sacred animal in order to preserve their identity of species with it. 1 There is, however, a much stronger case for the simpler theory that the belief in question originated on another line in the practice of sacrificing by way of sympathetic magic a victim who, as such, became a God, but was not supposed to rise again in his own person. 2 The first of these theories is in the nature of the case incapable of proof; 3 and it is not necessary, for a rational comparison and appreciation of the historic cults, to establish it, any more than to assume that either derivation excludes the other. We should profit little by our knowledge of the manifold God-making powers of early man if we supposed that any given Saviour-cult could originate only in such a line or lines of descent; and in point of fact the proposal to hark back to totemism seems to overlook the fact that a sacramental meal ostensibly can originate apart from totemism.
It is not plausible to suppose, for instance, that the eating of bread in a primitive eucharist implied that the partakers originally
had the corn for their special totem; 1 or (supposing the God Dionysos to have been a simple deification of the sacramental Soma or Haoma, as Agni was of the sacrificial fire) 2 to conclude that the first Soma-drinkers made their ritual beverage on the score that they were of the grape or any analogous totem. Both inductively and deductively we seem rather led to conclude that totems might or might not be sacramentally eaten; and that animals like men might be sacramentally eaten without any reference to totemism. It is apt to be forgotten that at bottom the word "sacred" (hieros) equates with "taboo"; and that an animal might be made taboo for a variety of reasonsas being too valuable to kill, or as being unwholesome, or as being for occasional killing only.
On the difficult subject of totemism, the suggestion may here be incidentally offered that the totem was in origin merely the group's way of naming itself. 3 Such group-names were as necessary as individual names; and while a person could readily be labelled from the place of his birth or any family incident at that period, or by a physical or moral peculiarity, clans of the same stock could with difficulty be distinguished in the nomadic state save by arbitrary names, which could best be drawn from the list of natural objects. Indeed, it is hard to conceive how otherwise nomadic clans could first name themselves. What other vocables were available? 4 Spencer's suggestion that totemism originated in misinterpretation of nicknames 5 raises the difficulty that nicknames presuppose names. Spencer fully realises this in the case of individuals, but overlooks it in the case of the group, since he apparently supposes the tribal totem-name to come through the nickname of an already-named individual. When we realise that for sheer lack of other words the
early group could hardly have any name whatever save from a natural object, and when we so recast the explanation, the objection which meets the first form of the nickname theorythat it ascribes too much latitude to verbal misunderstanding 1falls to the ground. In the primitive state, we must presume, objects and actions were first named by onomatopia, or else, sensations and actions being first so named, objects were metaphorically named from sensations and actions; 2 and so with attributes. A definite doctrine as to beginnings is hard to justify, and is not here essential: it suffices to realise that objects would be somehow named before individuals and groups were, whether or not individuals were named before groups. And while persons might readily be named or nicknamed Tall or Short, Straight or Crooked, Quick or Slow, tribes could only in rare instances be so distinguished; while nothing would be more easy than for one family or clan to say to another, You are the Wolves, we the Bears; you the Trees, we the Birds, and so on. 3
Some such agreement would be necessary; for the mere bestowal of names of whim or derision by groups or clans on each othersometimes suggested as an explanation of the phenomenonwould yield a multitude of names for each group. 4 The same difficulty meets Spencer's theory that the belief in animal descent came through a nickname, and the totem symbol from that. Spencer, I repeat, had not fully considered the special conditions of the naming of groups. His correction of common assumptions as to the naming of individuals 5 is important, though it is perhaps precarious in respect of the assumption that contemporary savage ways of naming children were primordial; but there is a clear hiatus between his doctrine of individual names and nicknames, and his suggestion as to tribal totem-names. He merely rejects other explanations without justifying his own. "Why," he asks," 6 did there occur so purely gratuitous an act as that of fixing on a symbol for the tribe? That by one tribe out of multitudes so strange a whim might be displayed is credible. But that by tribes unallied in type and scattered throughout the world, there should have been independently adopted so odd a practice, is incredible." Now, the naming of groups is no more gratuitous or strange than the naming of individuals: groups needed to name themselves and each other as such, just as individuals did; and as Spencer admits animal-nicknames to be natural, 7 he
cannot well deny animal names to be natural in the case of clans or tribes. If there is anything certain about early man it is that he regarded animals as on a level with him, and all objects as possibly animate. For tribal purposes, then, these were the natural names; and a formal agreement would be required for their adoption. In no other way could groups speak with each other about each other, at least when they became numerous. And until fixed dwellings or hamlets did away with the need, the expedient would subsist for the reason for which it began.
This period, however, would be immensely long, and the memory of the genesis would infallibly be lost. Given the original circumstances, "verbal misunderstanding" was thus inevitable. 1 When, that is to say, the comparatively early savage learned that he was "a Bear," and that his father and grandfather and forefathers were so before him, it was really impossible that, after ages in which totem names thus passed current, he should fail to assume that his folk were descended from a bear, which as a matter of course became at a later stage an Ancestor-God. 2 The belief was inevitable precisely because the totem was not a nickname, but a name antecedent to nicknames; and because descent from an animal was the easiest way of explaining or conceiving a "beginning" of men. And while some totem names might conceivably have been chosen by way of striking up a helpful alliance with an animal family, 3 the fact that the list of totems includes sand, sparrows, pigeons, bats, and so on, is hardly open to that interpretation; while the principle of simply naming from an already-named object seems to meet all cases alike.
Such a procedure has actually been noted among the contemporary natives of the island of Efati in the New Hebrides, where "the people are all divided into families or clans, each of which has a distinctive name, such as manui, the cocoa-nut, namkatu......a species of yam, naui, the yam," etc. 4 Similarly the exogamous
[paragraph continues] "classes" of the Australian tribes are always named from animals, plants, objects, etc.; 1 and in most of the tribes of West Africa there are some men with a totem surname who with men of the same surname in other tribes claim a common descent from the original totem. 2 Livingstone noted the same usage among the Bechuanas, whole tribes being known as "they of the monkey," 3 and so ona state of things in which the cognomen could be carried from any one tribe into others. So among the Narrinyeri of South Australia, "every tribe has its ngaitye, that is, some animal which they regard as a sort of good genius, which takes an interest in their welfaresomething like the North-American Indian totem No man or woman will kill her ngaitye, except it happens to be an animal which is good for food, when they have no objection to eating them. 4 Nevertheless, they will be very careful to destroy the remains," from the usual fear of sorcery. 5 Here we have the rationale of the totem. "It appears to me," writes the last witness, "that the ngaitye of the Narrinyeri is the same as the aitu of the Samoans, but it is not regarded with so much veneration by the former as by the latter. The names are evidently derived from one original, ngaitye being the same word as aitu, only with the addition of consonants." 6
Now, the aitu of Samoa is simply the primary form of the Gods. "At his birth a Samoan was supposed to be taken under the care of some God, or aitu, as it was called. The help of several of these Gods was probably (sic) invoked in succession on the occasion, and the one who happened to be addressed just as the child was born was fixed on as the child's God for life." 7 Each God was supposed to appear in "some visible incarnation"beast, fish, bird, animal, shell-fish, or creeping thing. "A man would eat freely of what was regarded as the incarnation of the God of another man, but the incarnation of his own particular God he would consider it death to injure or eat." "This class of genii, or tutelary deities, they call aitu fale, or Gods of the house."
In fine, the family-name or tribe-name, plant or animal or what not, first becomes an ancestor, who re-incarnates himself, and as
such is not normally to be eaten. This is the rule in the vast majority of cases. 1 But among the ill-supplied Australians 2 he may be eaten when he is eatable, being regarded all the while as a God-ancestor, 3 whose remains must be safeguarded from sorcery; while among the well-supplied Samoans he is strictly taboo, though any man may eat another man's ancestor-God. In neither case is there any sign of the idea of a totem-sacrament; and Livingstone's Bechuana tribes, like the Samoans, never ate their totem, "using the term ila, hate or dread, in reference to killing it." And it is difficult to conceive that a sacramental eating of the totem was originally a matter of course. To say nothing of the normal veto on the eating of one's own kin, the people whose totem was the sand, or the thunder, or the evening star, or the moon, or the hot wind, for instance, must have been hard put to it to conform to the principle; and while those of the centipede might contrive to accept it, the folk of the lion-totem must have found their sacrament precarious. While, again, in virtue of the primeval logic which regarded interfusion of blood as a creation of kinship, and the eating of lion as a way of becoming brave, the belief in the totemic descent, once set up, might at times lead to the practice of eating the totem, the eating of a lamb sacrament, on the other hand, is not plausibly to be so accounted for. There is, however, no difficulty in understanding how the totem animal might come to be at once revered and shunned, or regarded as "unlucky" when met. For instance, a Basuto of the crocodile totem, who did not often see crocodiles, might naturally feel when he met one as "civilised" people have been known to feel when they see an ancestor in a dreamhe might take the meeting, that is, as a warning that trouble or death was about to overtake him. On the totem name had followed inevitably the belief in the totem ancestry, and occasionally the prohibition of the totem animal as food; and to both concepts attached all the hallucinations that early clustered around names.
When, however, we come to deal with religions as distinguished from religion, we are at a stage far removed from simple totemism, though many of the early hallucinations still remain in possession,
as in the animal-Gods of Egypt and the animal-angels of Judaism. For our purpose of comparison and comprehension, then, we may fitly take up the conception of the slain Saviour-God as it existed, on the one hand, in the ancient cults amid which Christianity arose, and as it has been found, on the other hand, elsewhere and in later times in cults of primitive cast.
99:1 Cp. S. Reinach, Cultes, Mythes, et Religions, i (1908) introd. and passim; and Orpheus, introd.; Durkheim, Sur le totemisme, in LAnnée Sociologique, 5e Année, 1902, pp. 114, 117; F. B. Jevons. Introd. to Hist. of Relig. 1996, p. 154. A clear case of totem-sacrament was said to be lacking till the discovery of that of the Aruntas, discussed by M. Durkheim, and by Dr. Frazer in the preface to the second edition of his Golden Bough. But a case of the same order, apparently, is noted by J. G. Müller from the testimony of a traveller among the Native Americans in Arkansas. Geschichte der Amerikanischen Urreligionen, 2te Aufl., pp. 277, note.
99:2 Cp. Frazer, Golden Bough, 2nd ed. vol. iii. ch. iii. §§ 15, 16.
99:3 It should be noted that the whole theory of the totemistic origin of agriculture, animal-culture, metallurgy, etc. originated by Dr. Jevons and confidently developed by M. Reinach, is rejected by Dr. Frazer in his recent monumental work on Totemism and Exogamy (4 vols. 1910). In point of fact, totems are not found to coincide with the special pursuits of totem-tribes. Work cited, iv, 19.
100:1 Dr. Jevons appears to argue (pp. 115-117) that the first agriculturists were so only in virtue of having made totems of the cereals they cultivated. He explicitly suggests that the agricultural comes later than the pastoral stage "because animal preceded plant totems." On this view men of the bear or wolf or eagle totem could have neither crops nor herds. The interesting argument of M. Reinach (as cited above), a development of that of Dr. Jevons, raises the same set of difficulties.
100:2 See above, p. 53.
100:3 In his Social Origins (1903) Mr. Andrew Lang quite independently advanced a theory of the totem which is broadly in accord with the following, put forth by me in the same year. He, however, inferred the process of naming to have begun in "sobriquets given by group to group," showing that such ostensible sobriquets occur in France, England, and elsewhere, to this day. (Cp. his Secret of the Totem, 1905, p. 126 sq.) But, admitting his contention that a group has "far more need of names for its neighbours than of a name for itself," I still submit that a group needed a name for itself, were it only to answer the question of a stranger or new neighbour, "who are you?" If this be recognised, there need be no trouble about reconciling the adoption by late groups or clans of "derisive" nicknames with the thesis that the early group-names were "rather honour-giving than derisive." Need they have been either?
100:4 Mr. Mathew (Eaglehawk and Crow, 1899, p. 109) notes the very suggestive fact that Australian communities as wholes are often named from one of their own verbal negatives, as if the No" of a tribesman to the alien whom he could not understand gave the latter his ground for naming. Here we have purely alien naming. In the exogamous classes within the tribes, again, we have naming by consent, with animal names.
100:5 Principles of Sociology, 3rd ed. vol. i, § 172, n. 327.
101:1 Frazer, Totemism, p. 95.
101:2 Geiger, Development of the Human Race. Eng. tr. 1880, pp. 24, 28-29.
101:3 Kangaroo and emu, eaglehawk and crow, iguana, oppossum, etc. are among the names of the Australian "classes."
101:4 This consideration does not seem to be met by Mr. Lang's "sobriquet" theory.
101:5 Vol. cited, § 170, p. 333.
101:6 Note to § 176, p. 346.
101:7 § 170, 181.
102:1 The later evolution of totemism is searchingly studied in Mr. Lang's Secret of the Totem.
102:2 Dr. Frazer (Totemism, 1887, p. 95) remarks: "Sir John Lubbock also [with Spencer] thinks that totemism arose from the habit of naming persons and families after animals; but in dropping the intermediate links of ancestor-worship and verbal misunderstanding he has stripped the theory of all that lent it even an air of plausibility" (citing the Origin of Civilisation, p. 260). Those links being duly inserted, the theory, let us trust, has rather more air of plausibility" than some of Dr. Frazer's own hypotheses in other fields. His own final theory of the totem (Totemism and Exogamy, 1910, iv, 57 sq.) is quite unsatisfactory.
102:3 So Dr. Jevons, Introd. to Hist. of Relig. pp. 101-104. "The fundamental principle of totemism," he finally asserts (p. 120),"is the alliance of a clan with an animal species."
102:4 Rev. D. Macdonald, Oceania: Linguistic and Anthropological, 1889, pp. 182-3. The primitiveness of the Efatese is attested by the fact that "The woman is the mother of the clanthat is, every child, male or female, belongs to the family of the mother." Id. Totemism," observes Mr. Lang (The Secret of the Totem, 1905, p. 142), "certainly arose in an age when, if descent was reckoned, and if names were inherited, it was on the spindle side."
103:1 J. Mathew, Eaglehawk and Crow, 1899, pp. 100, 102 sq., 108-9; Spencer and Gillen, Northern Tribes of Central Australia, 1904, App. B.
103:2 Major Mockler-Ferryman, British West Africa, 2nd ed. 1900, p. 394.
103:3 Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, 1857, p. 13; ed. 1905, p. 5.
103:4 Cp. Stewart, as cited from Fison and Howitt by Frazer, Totemism, p. 7; and Mathew, as cited, p. 110.
103:5 Rev. G. Taplin, The Narrinyeri, 2nd ed. p. 63. In Formosa, again, the natives observe "a kind of totemism, each tribe being supposed to under the tutelage of some bird, beast or of reptile." W. A. Pickering, Pioneering in Formosa, 1898, p. 72.
103:6 Taplin, p. 64; Mathew, p. 112. It is noteworthy that by the account of Thevenet the true form of the word totem was ote = family or tribe. Frazer, Totemism, p. 1.
103:7 Turner, Samoa a Hundred Years Ago, p. 17.
104:1 See Frazer on Totemism, passim.
104:2 The old disputes as to the food supplies of the Australians may here be revived. See Prof. Keane, Man, Past and Present, 1900, pp. 148-9; and cp. Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, 1899, pp. 21, 25, 37, 46, 50; Northern Tribes, 1904, pp. 36-7. Mr. Mathew (Eaglehawk and Crow, pp. 80, 89) in general denies that the aborigines are hunger-pinched, but does not show much of a case to the contrary. Even in New Zealand, where, though the natives were at a higher culture-level, there were no land animals, famines were so often set up by wars that this is suggested as the origin of their cannibalism. Rev. R. Taylor, Te Ika a Maui: or, New Zealand and its Inhabitants, 1870, pp. 9-10.
104:3 Stewart, as above cited, and the other instances given by Dr. Frazer.