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

§ 4.

Putting aside as unscientific all such prejudgments, and leaving the professed religionist his personal remedy of discriminating finally between "true" and "false" religion, let us begin at the beginning by noting that "religious consciousness" can intelligibly mean only a given direction of consciousness. And if we are to make any consistent specification of the point at which consciousness begins to be religious, we shall put it impartially in simple animism—the spontaneous surmise, seen to be dimly made or makable even by animals, "that not only animals and plants, but inanimate things, may possess life." Dr. Jevons rightly points out 1 that this primary notion "neither proceeds from nor implies nor accounts for belief in the supernatural"; and he goes on to show (developing here the doctrine which he ultimately repudiates) how the latter notion would arise through man's connecting with certain agencies or "spirits" the frustrative or molestive power "which he had already found to exercise an unexpected and irresistible control over his destiny." "In this way," continues Dr. Jevons, suddenly granting much more than he need or ought, "the notion of supernatural power, which originally was purely negative and manifested itself merely in suspending or counteracting the uniformity of nature, came to have a positive content." From this point, as might have been divined, the argument becomes confused to the last degree. We have been brought to the supernatural as a primitive product of (a) the recognition of irregular and frustrative forces in nature, and (b) the identification of them as personalities or spirits like man. But immediately, in the interests of another preconception, the theorist proceeds in effect to cancel this by arguing that, when men resort to magic, the idea of the supernatural has disappeared. His proposition is that "the belief in the supernatural was prior to the belief in magic, and that the latter, whenever it sprang up, was a degradation or relapse in the evolution of religion," 2 inasmuch as it assumed man's power to control the forces of Nature by certain stratagems. And as he argues at the

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same time that "religion and magic had different origins, and were always essentially distinct from one another," it is implied that religion began in that belief in a (frustrative) supernatural which is asserted to have preceded magic. That is to say, religion began in the recognition of hostile or dangerous powers.

Now, a logically vigilant investigator would either not have said that belief in a supernatural was constituted by the recognition of hostile personal forces in Nature, or, having said it, would have granted that magic was an effort to circumvent supernatural as well as other forces. Dr. Jevons first credits the early savage with, among other things, a conception of supernatural power which excluded the idea of man's opposition, and then with the power so to transform his first notion as to see in the so-called supernatural merely forms of Nature. An intellectual process achieved in the civilised world only as a long and arduous upward evolution on scientific lines is thus supposed to have been more or less sudden'': effected as a mere matter either of ignorant downward drift or of perverse experiment by primeval man, or at least by savage man. It is not easy to be more arbitrary in the way of hypothesis.

Combating the contrary view, which makes magic prior to religion, Dr. Jevons writes:—

To read some writers, who derive the powers of priests (and even of the gods) from those of the magician, and who consider apparently that magic requires no explanation, one would imagine that the savage, surrounded by supernatural powers and a prey to supernatural terrors, one day conceived the happy idea that he too would himself exercise supernatural power—and the thing was done: sorcery was invented, and the rest of the evolution of religion follows without difficulty. 1

It is difficult to estimate the relevance of this criticism without knowing the precise expressions which provoked it; but as regards any prevailing view of evolution it is somewhat pointless. "One day" is not the formula of evolutionary conceptions. But Dr. Jevons’s own doctrine, which is to the effect that magical rites arose by way of parody of worship-rites after the latter had for ages been in undisputed possession, suggests just such a catastrophic conception as he imputes. Rejecting the obvious evolutionary hypothesis that explicit magic and explicit religion so-called arose confusedly together—that magic employs early religious machinery because it is but a contemporary expression of the state of mind in which religion rises and roots—he insists that magic cannot have been tried save by way of late "parody," in an intellectual atmosphere

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which, nevertheless, he declares to be extremely conservative, 1 and which is therefore extremely unlikely to develop such parodies. 2

Dr. Jevons’s doctrinal motive, it is pretty clear, is his wish to relieve "religion" of the discredit of "magic," even as he finally and remorsefully seeks to relieve it of the discredit of originating in "fear." Having no such axe to grind, the scientific inquirer might here offer to let "religion" mean anything Dr. Jevons likes, if he will only stick to one definition. But science must stipulate for some term to designate a series of psychological processes which originate in the same order of cognitions and conceptions, on the same plane of knowledge, and have strictly correlative results in action. And as such a term would certainly have to be applied sooner or later to much of what Dr. Jevons wants to call "religion," we may just as well thrash out the issue over that long-established name.


9:1 P. 22.

9:2 P. 25.

10:1 Pp, 35, 36.

11:1 p. 36

11:2 Dr. Jevons has latterly (Sociological Review, April, 1908) treated the problem in a very lucid essay on "The Definition of Magic," in which he discusses the positions of Dr. Frazer, MM. Hubert and Mauss, and Professor Wundt. He sums up, without dogmatism, on the side of the view of Wundt, which, as I understand it, is in harmony with that set forth in these pages, and is certainly in apparent opposition to that of Dr. Jevons as here criticised. I infer that Dr. Jevons has now modified his theory, but leave my discussion standing, for what it is worth. [Note to 2nd ed.]

Next: § 5. Dr. Frazer's Definition