WE have seen in the last chapter that whatever interests primitive man, whatever makes him feel strongly, he tends to re-enact. Any one of his manifold occupations, hunting, fighting, later ploughing and sowing, provided it be of sufficient interest and importance, is material for a dromenon or rite. We have also seen that, weak as he is in individuality, it is not his private and personal emotions that tend to become ritual, but those that are public, felt and expressed officially, that is, by the whole tribe or community. It is further obvious that such dances, when they develop into actual rites, tend to be performed at fixed times. We have now to consider when and why. The element of fixity and regular repetition in rites cannot be too strongly emphasized. It is a factor of paramount importance, essential to the development from ritual to art, from dromenon to drama.
The two great interests of primitive man are food and children. As Dr. Frazer has well said, if man the individual is to live he must have food; if his race is to persist he must have children. "To live and to cause to live, to eat food and to beget children, these were the primary wants of man in the past, and they will be the primary wants of men in the future so long as the world lasts." Other things may be added to enrich and beautify human life, but, unless these wants are first satisfied, humanity itself must cease to exist. These two things, therefore, food and children, were what men chiefly sought to procure by the performance of magical rites for the regulation of the seasons. They are the very foundation-stones of that ritual from which art, if we are right, took its rise. From this need for food sprang seasonal, periodic festivals. The fact that festivals are seasonal, constantly recurrent, solidifies, makes permanent, and as already explained (p. 42), in a sense intellectualizes and abstracts the emotion that prompts them.
The seasons are indeed only of value to primitive man because they are related, as he swiftly and necessarily finds out, to his
food supply. He has, it would seem, little sensitiveness to the æsthetic impulse of the beauty of a spring morning, to the pathos of autumn. What he realizes first and foremost is, that at certain times the animals, and still more the plants, which form his food, appear, at certain others they disappear. It is these times that become the central points, the focuses of his interest, and the dates of his religious festivals. These dates will vary, of course, in different countries and in different climates. It is, therefore, idle to attempt a study of the ritual of a people without knowing the facts of their climate and surroundings. In Egypt the food supply will depend on the rise and fall of the Nile, and on this rise and fall will depend the ritual and calendar of Osiris. And yet treatises on Egyptian religion are still to be found which begin by recounting the rites and mythology of Osiris, as though these were primary, and then end with a corollary to the effect that these rites and this calendar were "associated" with the worship of Osiris, or, even worse still, "instituted by" the religion of Osiris. The Nile regulates the food supply of Egypt, the monsoon that of certain South Pacific islands;
the calendar of Egypt depends on the Nile, of the South Pacific islands on the monsoon.
In his recent Introduction to Mathematics 1 Dr. Whitehead has pointed out how the "whole life of Nature is dominated by the existence of periodic events." The rotation of the earth produces successive days; the path of the earth round the sun leads to the yearly recurrence of the seasons; the phases of the moon are recurrent, and though artificial light has made these phases pass almost unnoticed to-day, in climates where the skies are clear, human life was largely influenced by moonlight. Even our own bodily life, with its recurrent heart-beats and breathings, is essentially periodic. 2 The presupposition of periodicity is indeed fundamental to our very conception of life, and but for periodicity the very means of measuring time as a quantity would be absent.
Periodicity is fundamental to certain departments of mathematics, that is evident; it is perhaps less evident that periodicity is a factor that has gone to the making of ritual, and hence, as we shall see, of art.
[paragraph continues] And yet this is manifestly the case. All primitive calendars are ritual calendars, successions of feast-days, a patchwork of days of different quality and character recurring; pattern at least is based on periodicity. But there is another and perhaps more important way in which periodicity affects and in a sense causes ritual. We have seen already that out of the space between an impulse and a reaction there arises an idea or "presentation." A "presentation" is, indeed, it would seem, in its final analysis, only a delayed, intensified desire--a desire of which the active satisfaction is blocked, and which runs over into a "presentation." An image conceived "presented," what we call an idea is, as it were, an act prefigured.
Ritual acts, then, which depend on the periodicity of the seasons are acts necessarily delayed. The thing delayed, expected, waited for, is more and more a source of value, more and more apt to precipitate into what we call an idea, which is in reality but the projected shadow of an unaccomplished action. More beautiful it may be, but comparatively bloodless, yet capable in its turn of acting as an initial motor impulse in the
cycle of activity. It will later (p. 70) be seen that these periodic festivals are the stuff of which those faded, unaccomplished actions and desires which we call gods--Attis, Osiris, Dionysos--are made.
To primitive man, as we have seen, beast and bird and plant and himself were not sharply divided, and the periodicity of the seasons was for all. It will depend on man's social and geographical conditions whether he notices periodicity most in plants or animals. If he is nomadic he will note the recurrent births of other animals and of human children, and will connect them with the lunar year. But it is at once evident that, at least in Mediterranean lands, and probably everywhere, it is the periodicity of plants and vegetation generally which depends on moisture, that is most striking. Plants die down in the heat of summer, trees shed their leaves in autumn, all Nature sleeps or dies in winter, and awakes in spring.
Sometimes it is the dying down that attracts most attention. This is very clear in the rites of Adonis, which are, though he rises again, essentially rites of lamentation. The details
of the ritual show this clearly, and specially as already seen in the cult of Osiris. For the "gardens" of Adonis the women took baskets or pots filled with earth, and in them, as children sow cress now-a-days, they planted wheat, fennel, lettuce, and various kinds of flowers, which they watered and tended for eight days. In hot countries the seeds sprang up rapidly, but as the plants had no roots they withered quickly away. At the end of the eight days they were carried out with the images of the dead Adonis and thrown with them into the sea or into springs. The "gardens" of Adonis became the type of transient loveliness and swift decay.
"What waste would it be," says Plutarch, 1"what inconceivable waste, for God to create man, had he not an immortal soul. He would be like the women who make little gardens, not less pleasant than the gardens of Adonis in earthen pots and pans; so would our souls blossom and flourish but for a day in a soft and tender body of flesh without any firm and solid root of life, and then be blasted and put out in a moment."
Celebrated at midsummer as they were, and as the "gardens" were thrown into water, it is probable that the rites of Adonis may have been, at least in part, a rain-charm. In the long summer droughts of Palestine and Babylonia the longing for rain must often have been intense enough to provoke expression, and we remember (p. 19) that the Sumerian Tammuz was originally Dumuzi-absu, "True Son of the Waters." Water is the first need for vegetation. Gardens of Adonis are still in use in the Madras Presidency. 1 At the marriage of a Brahman "seeds of five or nine sorts are mixed and sown in earthen pots which are made specially for the purpose, and are filled with earth. Bride and bridegroom water the seeds both morning and evening for four days; and on the fifth day the seedlings are thrown, like the real gardens of Adonis, into a tank or river."
Seasonal festivals with one and the same intent--the promotion of fertility in plants, animals and man--may occur at almost any time of the year. At midsummer, as we have seen, we may have rain-charms; in autumn we shall have harvest festivals; in late autumn
and early winter among pastoral peoples we shall have festivals, like that of Martinmas, for the blessing and purification of flocks and herds when they come in from their summer pasture. In midwinter there will be a Christmas festival to promote and protect the sun's heat at the winter solstice. But in Southern Europe, to which we mainly owe our drama and our art, the festival most widely celebrated, and that of which we know most, is the Spring Festival, and to that we must turn. The spring is to the Greek of to-day the "ánoixis," "the Opening," and it was in spring and with rites of spring that both Greek and Roman originally began their year. It was this spring festival that gave to the Greek their god Dionysos and in part his drama.
In Cambridge on May Day two or three puzzled and weary little boys and girls are still to be sometimes seen dragging round a perambulator with a doll on it bedecked with ribbons and a flower or two. That is all that is left in most parts of England of the Queen of the May and Jack-in-the-Green, though here and there a maypole survives and is resuscitated by enthusiasts about folk-dances.
[paragraph continues] But in the days of "Good Queen Bess" merry England, it would seem, was lustier. The Puritan Stubbs, in his Anatomie of Abuses, 1 thus describes the festival:
"They have twentie or fortie yoke of oxen, every oxe havyng a sweete nosegaie of flowers tyed on the tippe of his hornes, and these oxen draw home this Maiepoole (this stinckying idoll rather), which is covered all over with flowers and hearbes, bound round aboute with stringes from the top to the bottome, and sometyme painted with variable colours, with two or three hundred men, women, and children, following it with great dovotion. And thus beyng reared up, with handkerchiefes and flagges streaming on the toppe, they strewe the ground about, binde greene boughs about it, set up summer haules, bowers, and arbours hard by it. And then fall they to banquet and feast, to leap and daunce aboute it, as the heathen people did at the dedication of their idolles, whereof this is a perfect patterne or rather the thyng itself."
The stern old Puritan was right, the may-pole was the perfect pattern of a heathen
[paragraph continues] "idoll, or rather the thyng itself." He would have exterminated it root and branch, but other and perhaps wiser divines took the maypole into the service of the Christian Church, and still 1 on May Day in Saffron Walden the spring song is heard with its Christian moral--
The maypole was of course at first no pole cut down and dried. The gist of it was that it should be a "sprout, well budded out." The object of carrying in the May was to bring the very spirit of life and greenery into the village. When this was forgotten, idleness or economy would prompt the villagers to use the same tree or branch year after year. In the villages of Upper Bavaria Dr. Frazer 2 tells us the maypole is renewed once every three, four, or five years. It is a fir-tree fetched from the forest, and amid all the wreaths, flags, and inscriptions with which it is bedecked, an
essential part is the bunch of dark green foliage left at the top, "as a memento that in it we have to do, not with a dead pole, but with a living tree from the greenwood."
At the ritual of May Day not only was the fresh green bough or tree carried into the village, but with it came a girl or a boy, the Queen or King of the May. Sometimes the tree itself, as in Russia, is dressed up in woman's clothes; more often a real man or maid, covered with flowers and greenery, walks with the tree or carries the bough. Thus in Thuringia, 1 as soon as the trees begin to be green in spring, the children assemble on a Sunday and go out into the woods, where they choose one of their playmates to be Little Leaf Man. They break branches from the trees and twine them about the child, till only his shoes are left peeping out. Two of the other children lead him for fear he should stumble. They take him singing and dancing from house to house, asking for gifts of food, such as eggs, cream, sausages, cakes. Finally, they sprinkle the Leaf Man with water and feast on the food. Such a Leaf Man is our English Jack-in-the-Green, a chimney-sweeper
who, as late as 1892, was seen by Dr. Rouse walking about at Cheltenham encased in a wooden framework covered with greenery.
The bringing in of the new leafage in the form of a tree or flowers is one, and perhaps the simplest, form of spring festival. It takes little notice of death and winter, uttering and emphasizing only the desire for the joy in life and spring. But in other and severer climates the emotion is fiercer and more complex; it takes the form of a struggle or contest, what the Greeks called an agon. Thus on May Day in the Isle of Man a Queen of the May was chosen, and with her twenty maids of honour, together with a troop of young men for escort. But there was not only a Queen of the May, but a Queen of Winter, a man dressed as a woman, loaded with warm clothes and wearing a woollen hood and fur tippet. Winter, too, had attendants like the Queen of the May. The two troops met and fought; and which-ever Queen was taken prisoner had to pay the expenses of the feast.
In the Isle of Man the real gist of the ceremony is quite forgotten, it has become a mere play. But among the Esquimaux 1
there is still carried on a similar rite, and its magical intent is clearly understood. In autumn, when the storms begin and the long and dismal Arctic winter is at hand, the central Esquimaux divide themselves into two parties called the Ptarmigans and the Ducks. The ptarmigans are the people born in winter, the ducks those born in summer. They stretch out a long rope of sealskin. The ducks take hold of one end, the ptarmigans of the other, then comes a tug-of-war. If the ducks win there will be fine weather through the winter; if the ptarmigans, bad. This autumn festival might, of course, with equal magical intent be performed in the spring, but probably autumn is chosen because, with the dread of the Arctic ice and snow upon them, the fear of winter is stronger than the hope of spring.
The intense emotion towards the weather, which breaks out into these magical agones, or "contests," is not very easy to realize. The weather to us now-a-days for the most part damps a day's pleasuring or raises the price of fruit and vegetables. But our main supplies come to us from other lands and other weathers, and we find it hard to think
ourselves back into the state when a bad harvest meant starvation. The intensely practical attitude of man towards the seasons, the way that many of these magical dramatic ceremonies rose straight out of the emotion towards the food-supply, would perhaps never have been fully realized but for the study of the food-producing ceremonies of the Central Australians.
The Central Australian spring is not the shift from winter to summer, from cold to heat, but from a long, arid, and barren season to a season short and often irregular in recurrence of torrential rain and sudden fertility. The dry steppes of Central Australia are the scene of a marvellous transformation. In the dry season all is hot and desolate, the ground has only patches of wiry scrub, with an occasional parched acacia tree, all is stones and sand; there is no sign of animal life save for the thousand ant-hills. Then suddenly the rainy season sets in. Torrents fill the rivers, and the sandy plain is a sheet of water. Almost as suddenly the rain ceases, the streams dry up, sucked in by the thirsty ground, and as though literally by magic a luxuriant vegetation bursts forth, the desert blossoms
as a rose. Insects, lizards, frogs, birds, chirp, frisk and chatter. No plant or animal can live unless it live quickly. The struggle for existence is keen and short.
It seems as though the change came and life was born by magic, and the primitive Australian takes care that magic should not be wanting, and magic of the most instructive kind. As soon as the season of fertility approaches he begins his rites with the avowed object of making and multiplying the plants, and chiefly the animals, by which he lives; he paints the figure of the emu on the sand with vermilion drawn from his own blood; he puts on emu feathers and gazes about him vacantly in stupid fashion like an emu bird; he makes a structure of boughs like the chrysalis of a Witchetty grub--his favourite food, and drags his body through it in pantomime, gliding and shuffling to promote its birth. Here, difficult and intricate though the ceremonies are, and uncertain in meaning as many of the details must probably always remain, the main emotional gist is clear. It is not that the Australian wonders at and admires the miracle of his spring, the bursting of the flowers and the singing of birds; it is not
that his heart goes out in gratitude to an All-Father who is the Giver of all good things; it is that, obedient to the push of life within him, his impulse is towards food. He must eat that he and his tribe may grow and multiply. It is this, his will to live, that he utters and represents.
The savage utters his will to live, his intense desire for food; but it should be noted, it is desire and will and longing, not certainty and satisfaction that he utters. In this respect it is interesting to note that his rites and ceremonies, when periodic, are of fairly long periods. Winner and summer are not the only natural periodic cycles; there is the cycle of day and night, and yet among primitive peoples but little ritual centres round day and night. The reason is simple. The cycle of day and night is so short, it recurs so frequently, that man naturally counted upon it and had no cause to be anxious. The emotional tension necessary to ritual was absent. A few peoples, e. g. the Egyptians, have practised daily incantations to bring back the sun. Probably they had at first felt a real tension of anxiety, and then--being
a people hidebound by custom--had gone on from mere conservatism. Where the sun returns at a longer interval, and is even, as among the Esquimaux, hidden for the long space of six months, ritual inevitably arises. They play at cat's-cradle to catch the ball of the sun lest it should sink and be lost for ever.
Round the moon, whose cycle is long, but not too long, ritual very early centred, but probably only when its supposed influence on vegetation was first surmised. The moon, as it were, practises magic herself; she waxes and wanes, and with her, man thinks, all the vegetable kingdom waxes and wanes too, all but the lawless onion. The moon, Plutarch 1 tells us, is fertile in its light and contains moisture, it is kindly to the young of animals and to the new shoots of plants. Even Bacon 2 held that observations of the moon with a view to planting and sowing and the grafting of trees were "not altogether frivolous." It cannot too often be remembered that primitive man has but little, if any, interest in sun and moon and heavenly bodies for their inherent beauty or wonder; he cares for them, he holds them
sacred, he performs rites in relation to them mainly when he notes that they bring the seasons, and he cares for the seasons mainly because they bring him food. A season is to him as a Hora was at first to the Greeks, the fruits of a season, what our farmers would call "a good year."
The sun, then, had no ritual till it was seen that he led in the seasons; but long before that was known, it was seen that the seasons were annual, that they went round in a ring; and because that annual ring was long in revolving, great was man's hope and fear in the winter, great his relief and joy in the spring. It was literally a matter of death and life, and it was as death and life that he sometimes represented it, as we have seen in the figures of Adonis and Osiris.
Adonis and Osiris have their modern parallels, who leave us in no doubt as to the meaning of their figures. Thus on the 1st of March in Thüringen a ceremony is performed called "Driving out the Death." The young people make up a figure of straw, dress it in old clothes, carry it out and throw it into the river. Then they come back, tell
the good news to the village, and are given eggs and food as a reward. In Bohemia the children carry out a straw puppet and burn it. While they are burning it they sing--
In other parts of Bohemia the song varies; it is not Summer that comes back but Life.
In both these cases it is interesting to note that though Death is dramatically carried out, the coming back of Life is only announced, not enacted.
Often, and it would seem quite naturally, the puppet representing Death or Winter is reviled and roughly handled, or pelted with stones, and treated in some way as a sort of scapegoat. But in not a few cases, and these are of special interest, it seems to be the seat of a sort of magical potency which can be and is transferred to the figure of Summer or Life, thus causing, as it were, a sort of Resurrection.
[paragraph continues] In Lusatia the women only carry out the Death. They are dressed in black themselves as mourners, but the puppet of straw which they dress up as the Death wears a white shirt. They carry it to the village boundary, followed by boys throwing stones, and there tear it to pieces. Then they cut down a tree and dress it in the white shirt of the Death and carry it home singing.
So at the Feast of the Ascension in Transylvania. After morning service the girls of the village dress up the Death; they tie a threshed-out sheaf of corn into a rough copy of a head and body, and stick a broomstick through the body for arms. Then they dress the figure up in the ordinary holiday clothes of a peasant girl--a red hood, silver brooches, and ribbons galore. They put the Death at an open window that all the people when they go to vespers may see it. Vespers over, two girls take the Death by the arms and walk in front; the rest follow. They sing an ordinary church hymn. Having wound through the village they go to another house, shut out the boys, strip the Death of its clothes, and throw the straw body out of the window to the boys, who fling it into a river. Then
one of the girls is dressed in the Death's discarded clothes, and the procession again winds through the village. The same hymn is sung. Thus it is clear that the girl is a sort of resuscitated Death. This resurrection aspect, this passing of the old into the new, will be seen to be of great ritual importance when we come to Dionysos and the Dithyramb.
These ceremonies of Death and Life are more complex than the simple carrying in of green boughs or even the dancing round maypoles. When we have these figures, these "impersonations," we are getting away from the merely emotional dance, from the domain of simple psychological motor discharge to something that is very like rude art, at all events to personification. On this question of personification, in which so much of art and religion has its roots, it is all-important to be clear.
In discussions on such primitive rites as "Carrying out the Death," "Bringing in Summer," we are often told that the puppet of the girl is carried round, buried, burnt; brought back, because it "personifies the Spirit of Vegetation," or it "embodies the
[paragraph continues] Spirit of Summer." The Spirit of Vegetation is "incarnate in the puppet." We are led, by this way of speaking, to suppose that the savage or the villager first forms an idea or conception of a Spirit of Vegetation and then later "embodies" it. We naturally wonder that he should perform a mental act so high and difficult as abstraction.
A very little consideration shows that he performs at first no abstraction at all; abstraction is foreign to his mental habit. He begins with a vague excited dance to relieve his emotion. That dance has, probably almost from the first, a leader; the dancers choose an actual person, and he is the root and ground of personification. There is nothing mysterious about the process; the leader does not "embody" a previously conceived idea, rather he begets it. From his personality springs the personification. The abstract idea arises from the only thing it possibly can arise from, the concrete fact. Without perception there is no conception. We noted in speaking of dances (p. 43) how the dance got generalized; how from many commemorations of actual hunts and battles there arose the hunt dance and the war dance. So, from
many actual living personal May Queens and Deaths, from many actual men and women decked with leaves, or trees dressed up as men and women, arises the Tree Spirit, the Vegetation Spirit, the Death.
At the back, then, of the fact of personification lies the fact that the emotion is felt collectively, the rite is performed by a band or chorus who dance together with a common leader. Round that leader the emotion centres. When there is an act of Carrying-out or Bringing-in he either is himself the puppet or he carries it. Emotion is of the whole band; drama doing tends to focus on the leader. This leader, this focus, is then remembered, thought of, imaged; from being perceived year by year, he is finally conceived; but his basis is always in actual fact of which he is but the reflection.
Had there been no periodic festivals, personification might long have halted. But it is easy to see that a recurrent perception helps to form a permanent abstract conception. The different actual recurrent May Kings and "Deaths," because they recur, get a sort of permanent life of their own and become beings apart. In this way a conception,
a kind of daimon, or spirit, is fashioned, who dies and lives again in a perpetual cycle. The periodic festival begets a kind of not immortal, but perennial, god.
Yet the faculty of conception is but dim and feeble in the mind even of the peasant to-day; his function is to perceive the actual fact year by year, and to feel about it. Perhaps a simple instance best makes this clear. The Greek Church does not gladly suffer images in the round, though she delights in picture-images, eikons. But at her great spring festival of Easter she makes, in the remote villages, concession to a strong, perhaps imperative, popular need; she allows an image, an actual idol, of the dead Christ to be laid in the tomb that it may rise again. A traveller in Eubœa 1 during Holy Week had been struck by the genuine grief shown at the Good Friday services. On Easter Eve there was the same general gloom and despondency, and he asked an old woman why it was. She answered: "Of course I am anxious; for if Christ does not rise to-morrow, we shall have no corn this year."
The old woman's state of mind is fairly clear. Her emotion is the old emotion, not sorrow for the Christ the Son of Mary, but fear, imminent fear for the failure of food. The Christ again is not the historical Christ of Judæa, still less the incarnation of the Godhead proceeding from the Father; he is the actual figure fashioned by his village chorus and laid by the priests, the leaders of that chorus, in the local sepulchre.
So far, then, we have seen that the vague emotional dance tends to become a periodic rite, performed at regular intervals. The periodic rite may occur at any date of importance to the food-supply of the community, in summer, in winter, at the coming of the annual rains, or the regular rising of a river. Among Mediterranean peoples, both in ancient days and at the present time, the Spring Festival arrests attention. Having learnt the general characteristics of this Spring Festival, we have now to turn to one particular case, the Spring Festival of the Greeks. This is all-important to us because, as will be seen, from the ritual of this and kindred festivals arose, we believe, a great form of Art, the Greek drama.
52:1 Chapter XII: "Periodicity in Nature."
55:1 De Ser. Num. 17.
56:1 Frazer, Adonis, Attis, and Osiris,3 p. 200.
58:1 Quoted by Dr. Frazer, The Golden Bough,2 p. 203.
59:1 E. K. Chambers, The Mediæval Stage, I, p. 169.
59:2 The Golden Bough,2 p. 205.
60:1 The Golden Bough,2 p. 213.
61:1 Resumed from Dr. Frazer, Golden Bough,2 II, p. 104.
66:1 De Is. et Os., p. 367.
66:2 De Aug. Scient., III, 4.
73:1 J. C. Lawson, Modern Greek Folk-lore and Ancient Religion, p. 573.