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

§ 5.

The need for an understanding becomes pressing when we compare with the conceptions of Dr. Jevons those of Dr. J. G. Frazer, as set forth in the revised edition of his great work, The Golden Bough. Having before the issue of his first edition "failed, perhaps inexcusably," he modestly avows, "to define even to myself my notion of religion," he was then "disposed to class magic loosely under it as one of its lower forms." Now he has "come to agree with Sir A. C. Lyall and Mr. F. B. Jevons in recognising a fundamental distinction and even opposition of principle between magic and religion." 3 On this view he defines religion as "a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life. In this sense," he adds, "it will readily be perceived that religion is opposed in principle both to magic and to science." 4

The first comment on such a proposition is that it all depends on what you mean by "principle." If religion means only the act of propitiation and conciliation of certain alleged powers, its principle "may be placed either in the hope that such propitiation will succeed or in the feeling that it ought to be tried. In either case, the accuracy of the proposition is far from clear. But we

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must widen the issue. It will be seen that Dr. Frazer's formal definition of religion is as inadequate as that implied in the argument of Dr. Jevons, though his practical handling of the case is finally the more scientific. On the above definition, belief is no part of religion; 1 and neither is gratitude; though fear may be held to be implied in propitiation. Further, religion has by this definition nothing to do with ethics; and even conduct shaped by way of simple obedience to a God's alleged commands is barely recognised under the head of "propitiation." Finally, a theist who has ever so reverently arrived at the idea of an All-wise Omnipotence which needs not to be propitiated or conciliated, has on Dr. Frazer's definition ceased to be religious. It will really not do.

I am not here pressing for a wider definition, as do some professed rationalists, by way of securing for my own philosophy or ethic the prestige of a highly respectable name; nor do I even endorse their claim as for themselves. I simply urge that as a matter of scientific convenience and consistency the word must be allowed to cover at least the bulk of the phenomena to which it has immemorially been applied. Where Dr. Frazer by his definition makes religion "nearly unknown" to the Australian, because the Australian (mainly for lack of the wherewithal) does not sacrifice, 2 Mr. Lang ascribes to them a higher or deeper religious feeling on that very account. 3 Such chaos of definition must be averted by a more comprehensive theory. Whether or not we oppose magic to religion, we cannot exclude from the latter term the whole process of non-propitiatory religious ethic, of thanksgiving ritual, and of cosmological doctrine. Later we shall have to deal with Dr. Jevons’s attempt to withdraw the term from theistic philosophy and from mythology; but we may provisionally insist that emotional resignation to "the divine will" is in terms of all usage whatsoever a religious phenomenon.

It remains to consider the alleged severance between religion and magic. It is interesting to find Dr. Jevons and Dr. Frazer here partially at one, as against the general opinion of anthropologists. That may be cited from a theologian, Professor T. W. Davies, in whose doctoral thesis on Magic, Divination, and Demonology—a performance both learned and judicious—it is argued that "all

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magic is a sort of religion." 1 Dr. Frazer, while agreeing with Dr. Jevons that they are "opposed," differs from him in holding that magic preceded religion; and by an odd fatality Dr. Frazer contradicts himself as explicitly as does Dr. Jevons. After avowing the belief that in the evolution of thought, magic, as representing a lower intellectual stratum, has probably everywhere preceded religion," 2 he also avows that the antagonism between the two

seems to have made its appearance comparatively late in the history of religion. At an earlier stage the functions of priest and sorcerer were often combined, or, to speak perhaps more correctly, were not yet differentiated from each other. To serve his purpose, man wooed the good-will of gods or spirits by prayer and sacrifice, while at the same time he had recourse to ceremonies and forms of words which he hoped would of themselves bring about the desired result without the help of god or devil. In short, he performed religious and magical rites simultaneously; he uttered prayers and incantations almost in the same breath, knowing or reeking little of the theoretical inconsistency of his behaviour, so long as by hook or crook he contrived to get what he wanted. 3

Proceeding with his ostensible support of the thesis that magic preceded religion, Dr. Frazer, in his admirably learned way, gives us fresh illustrations of the "same confusion of magic and religion" in civilised and uncivilised peoples. 4 From Dr. Oldenberg he cites the observation that

"the ritual of the very sacrifices for which the metrical prayers were composed is described in the older Vedic texts as saturated from beginning to end with magical practices which were to be carried out by the sacrificial priests"; and that the Brahmanic rites of marriage initiation and king-anointing "are complete models of magic of every kind, and in every case the form of magic employed bears the stamp of the highest antiquity." 5

From Sir Gaston Maspero he accepts the weighty reminder that in regard to ancient Egypt

we ought not to attach to the word "magic" the degrading idea which it almost inevitably calls up in the mind of a modern. Ancient magic was the very foundation of religion. The faithful who desired to obtain some favour from a god had no chance of succeeding except by laying hands on the deity; and this arrest could only be effected by means of a certain number of rites, sacrifices, prayers, and chants, which the god himself had revealed, and which obliged him to do what was demanded of him. 6

A closely similar state of things is seen in the practice of the Maoris, who, when using coercive spells "to compel the Gods to

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yield to their wishes, added sacrifices and offerings at the same time to appease as it were their anger for being thus constrained." And the missionary who on these data represents the Maoris as rather coercing their Gods than praying to them, puts their usage on all fours with that of many French Catholics. 1

To all this, obviously, Dr. Jevons may reply that it does not prove the priority of magic to religion. 2 Neither, however, does it give any basis for Dr. Jevons’s thesis of the secondariness of magic. It simply sets forth that in the earliest available records, as in the practice of contemporary savages, magic so-called and propitiatory religion so-called co-exist and cohere. In Dr. Frazer's own words, they were not yet differentiated from each other—differentiated, that is, in the moral estimate of priest and worshipper. But in the terms of the proposition, the practice of propitiation was there; and there is nothing to show that it was a late variation on confident magic. On the other hand, the documentary evidence, so far as it goes, is in favour of the priority of magic so-called. "The magical texts formed the earliest sacred literature of Chaldæa. This fact remains unshaken." 3

What, then, becomes of the argument that magic and religion so-called are "opposed" because they are logically inconsistent with each other? Like Dr. Jevons, Dr. Frazer makes a good deal of the theoretic analogy of magic with science, both being alleged to rest upon the assumption of the "uniformity of nature" and "the operation of immutable laws acting mechanically." 4 Now, while we need not hesitate to see in magic in particular, even as in religion in general, man's early gropings towards science, we must not let ourselves be by a mere verbalism confused as to what magic is. Obviously it does not assume the uniformity of nature; inasmuch as it assumes to control nature by different devices, framing

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new procedures where the old fail. It does not even invariably assume strict uniformity in the magical processus itself; but that is the one sort of uniformity of cause and effect that the magician as approaches to conceiving. Now, this conception connects much less with that of what we may term the normal relation of man to nature than with that of his relation to the sets of forces apprehended by late thought as "spiritual," but by early thought merely as unseen. Early man, presumably, had a normal notion of the process of breaking a stone or killing a foe; and there if anywhere lay the beginnings of his science. As Adam Smith put it, "Fire burns and water refreshes, heavy bodies descend, and lighter substances fly upwards, by the necessity of their own nature; nor was the invisible hand of Jupiter ever apprehended to be employed in those matters." 1 As Comte put it, primitive man never made a god of weight. 2 But even as he thought the invisible or inferrible personalities could do many kinds of "great" things, so he thought that, by taking pains, he could; inasmuch as he never clearly differentiated them from himself in nature and capacity. Thus his magic was part of his way of thinking about what was for him the "occult" or inferred side of things, which way of thinking as a whole was his religion. To speak in terms of Dr. Jevons’s primary position, he was as magician interfering with the sequences of nature as he supposed the occult personalities did.

On yet another ground, we are disallowed from charging inconsistency on primitive or ancient religious thought in respect of divergences from later conceptions. One of the more notable of those divergences is the idea that the Gods themselves are subject to the course of Nature, or the law of Fate: it is reached by modern Native Americans, 3 as it was by some ancient Egyptians, 4 and it stands out from the religious speculation of ancient Greece. 5 In both stages it is compatible with propitiation; and yet it gives a quasi-logical basis for the resort to magic, regarded as a temporary circumvention of the law of things. So with the belief in opposed deities: even if

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none be regarded as evil, like Ahriman, there is nothing specially inconsistent in a magic that seeks to employ a power of which, in the terms of the case, no deity has a monopoly. On this basis polytheism offers an easy way out of the indictment for inconsistency. When Porphyry asked Abammon, "Does not he who says he will burst the heavens, or reveal the secrets of Isis, or expose the arcanum in the adytum, or scatter the members of Osiris to Typhon—does not he who says this, by thus threatening what he knows not and cannot do, prove himself grossly foolish?"—the sage answers with confidence that such threats are used against not any of the celestial Gods but a lower order of powers, and that the theurgist commands these "as existing superior to them in the order of the Gods," and possessing power "through a union with the Gods" in virtue of his magic. 1

That is, of course, a late and sophisticated account of the matter the earlier theologian simply did not realise that any charge of inconsistency could arise. In any case, the Old Testament abounds in cases of sympathetic magic: the sprinkling of the blood of the hallowed sacrifice upon the ears and thumbs and toes of the priests; 2 the holding up of the arms of Moses, 3 in the attitude of the Sun-God and War-God Mithra, 4 to sway the battle; the sending forth of the scape-goat; 5 the blowing of the trumpets before the walls of Jericho; 6 the raising of the widow's son by Elijah, "stretching himself upon the child three times" 7—all these are acts neither of prayer nor of propitiation, but of sympathetic magic, "which is the germ of all magic"; and the theorist may be defied to show that they stood for a "degradation or relapse in the evolution of religion." 8 If, indeed, he could show it, he would be putting a rod in pickle for his theory of the super-excellence of Hebrew monotheism, which evolved itself with these accompaniments.

The early priest, then, is to be called inconsistent in his resort to magic only on the view that he had the definite modern conception of the Omnipotence of a supernatural power; and this he simply had not. It is, then, quite beside the case to argue, as does even Dr. Frazer, 9 that "the fatal flaw of magic lies in its total misconception of the particular laws which govern" natural sequences. That is not a differentiation between magic and religion; for the "religious" conception that nature is to be affected by propitiating

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unseen powers is just as fatally wrong; and it arose in the same fashion by "association of ideas," men assuming that nature was ruled by a personality like themselves. Why, then, is the "flaw" dwelt upon? If it be to prepare for the view that at a certain stage a portion of mankind began to "abandon magic as a principle of faith and practice and to betake themselves to religion instead," 1 the answer is that on Dr. Frazer's own showing men for whole ages practised both concurrently; 2 and that in the terms of the case they are as likely to have taken to magic because prayer failed as vice versa. Dr. Frazer, indeed, only diffidently suggests that "a tardy recognition of the inherent falsehood and barrenness of magic set the more thoughtful part of mankind to cast about for a truer theory of nature and a more fruitful method of turning her resources to account." But by his own showing he has no right to this hypothesis even on an avowal of diffidence. As well might the contrary theory of Dr. Jevons be supported by the suggestion that the inherent falsehood and barrenness of the theory of prayer and propitiation set the more resourceful part of mankind on a more effectual control of nature by way of magic. 3 Had not men all along been trying both?

Equally untenable, surely, is the distinction drawn by Dr. Frazer 4 between "the haughty self-sufficiency of the magician, his arrogant demeanour towards the higher powers, and his unabashed claim to exercise a sway like theirs," and the attitude of the priest "with his awful sense of the divine majesty and his humble prostration in presence of it." Dr. Frazer can hardly mean to be ironical; but his words may very well serve to convey such a sense when applied to the attitude of the priesthoods of all ages, Brahmanical 5 or Papal, Semitic or Aryan. It would be difficult to distinguish in the matter of modesty between Moses 6 and the magicians of Pharaoh, or Samuel and the Witch of Endor, or Elijah and the priests of Baal, or an excommunicating and flag-blessing bishop and an incantating wizard.

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[paragraph continues] All the while we have Dr. Frazer's own assurance that for long ages the priest was the magician.

If, seeking to form a just judgment, we turn to actual evidence for the attitude of the primitive magician, it lies to our hand in Livingstone's account of the negro rain-doctors of Bechuanaland. Here we have a typical dialogue between the missionary and the magician. The latter complained in friendly fashion to the missionary, "You see we never get rain, while those tribes who never pray as we do [i.e., Christian fashion] obtain abundance." "This," the missionary confesses, "was a fact; and we often saw it raining on the hills ten miles off, while it would not look at us 'even with one eye.'" When the rain-doctor set to work, on the score that "the whole country needs the rain I am making," there ensues the argument:—

"M.D. [i.e., Livingstone] . So you really believe that you can command the clouds? I think that can be done by God alone.

"Rain Doctor. We both believe the very same thing. It is God that makes the rain, but I pray to him by means of these medicines, and, the rain coming, of course it is then mine......

"M.D. But we are distinctly told in the parting words of our Saviour that we can pray to God acceptably in his name alone, and not by means of medicines.

"R.D. Truly! but God told us differently. He made black men first, and did not love us as he did the white men......Other tribes place medicines about our country to prevent the rain, so that we may be dispersed by hunger and go to them and augment their power. We must dissolve their charms by our medicines. God has given us one little thing which you know nothing of. He has given us the knowledge of certain medicines by which we can make rain. We do not despise those things which you possess, though we are ignorant of them. You ought not to despise our little knowledge, though you are ignorant of it."

"This [adds Livingstone] is a brief specimen of their mode of reasoning, which is often remarkably acute. I never succeeded in convincing a single individual of the fallacy of his belief; and the usual effect of discussion is to produce the impression that you yourself are not anxious for rain." 1

Quite so. How could the missionary hope to convince the rain-needy? Delusion for delusion, which was the more "religious"? And which was the plainer "fallacy" of the two fashions of prayer? The true solution of the problem is that set forth in the essay

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[paragraph continues] Sur le totemisme of M. Durkheim, 1 who may be supposed to speak for scientific sociology if any one does. In that essay he deals incidentally with the view of Dr. Frazer that the Australian Aruntas 2 are at the stage of pure magic, not having yet reached religion. Dr. Jevons, on the contrary, would regard them as truly religious in respect of their totem sacrament. M. Durkheim, applying the inductive method, notes indeed 3 that the life of the Aruntas is "stamped with religiosity, and that this religiosity is in origin essentially totemic"; but he adds: "The territory is covered with sacred trees, and groves, and mysterious grottos, where are piously preserved the objects of the cult. None of those sacred places is approached without a religious terror." And he concludes: "What is essential is that the rites of the Aruntas are at all points comparable to those which are found in systems incontestably religious: then they proceed from the same ideas and the same sentiments; and it is arbitrary to refuse them the same title."

The final condemnation of Dr. Frazer's definition, however, is, as we shall see cause later to say of that of Dr. Jevons, that in strictness it ignores the bulk of the religious life of mankind. He himself avows that only a part of mankind has ever abandoned magic and taken to "religion instead." In his own words, magic is a "universal faith," a "truly Catholic creed"; 4 and he might, without extending his ample anthropological learning, further establish this fact by reference to current religion. If religion is to mean only the ideas of "the more thoughtful part of mankind," we shall simply be committed to a new inquiry as to who are the more thoughtful; and the agnostic will have something to say on that head.

Are they the believers in the efficacy of prayer? Insofar as such believers profess belief in an Omnipotent and Unchanging Providence, they stultify their theistic creed as vitally as ever did the magician. Prayer presupposes the changeableness of a Divine will declared to be unchangeable. Then prayer, like magic, is fundamentally opposed to belief in an omnipotent deity! Where shall we stop? Dr. Frazer 5 supposes the reader to ask, "How was it that intelligent men did not sooner detect the fallacy of magic?"; and he thoughtfully and rightly answers that before the age of science it was really not easy to detect. But he could hardly say as much of prayer, whereof the "fallacy" was detected among

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[paragraph continues] Hebrews and heathens thousands of years ago. Yet by his definition the contemporary believer in prayer is religious and the ancient worshipper of Isis was not. On such principles there can be no science of religion whatever, any more than there is a science of orthodoxy. In order to classify the very phenomena with which Dr. Frazer mainly occupies himself, we should have to create a new set of terms for nine-tenths of them, recognising "religion" only as a certain procedure that chronically obtruded itself among them. And then would come Dr. Jevons to explain that this religion was not a religion at all, inasmuch as it resulted from a process of reasoning!

Science, then, is driven to reject both apriorisms alike, and to proceed to find a definition by way of a loyal induction.


11:3 Golden Bough, 2nd ed., pref., p. xvi, and i, 63, note.

11:4 Golden Bough, 2nd ed. i, 63.

12:1 A similar criticism, I find, is passed by Mr. Lang (Magic and Religion, 1901, pp. 48. 49, etc.), who seeks to turn Dr. Frazer's oversight to the account of his own theory of an occult primeval but non-primitive monotheism. It is doubly unfortunate that Dr. Frazer's error should thus be made to seem part of the rationalist case against traditionalism.

12:2 Golden Bough, 2nd ed. i, 71.

12:3 The Making of Religion: cp. Magic and Religion, passim.

13:1 Work cited, pp, 1, 3.

13:2 Pref., p. xvii; cp. i, 70.

13:3 i. 64-65.

13:4 See his previous instances, pp. 19, 33, 45.

13:5 Oldenberg, Die Religion des Veda, pp. 59, 477. Ref. also to pp. 311, 369, 476, 522.

13:6 Maspero, Études de mythologie et d’archéologie égyptienne, i, 106. Cp. Dr. Frazer's farther citations from Erman and Wiedemann, to the same effect; and see Budge, Intr. to trans. of Book of the Dead, p cxlvii.; Davies, Magic, Divination, and Demonology, 1898, p. 2; and Hillebrandt, Ritual-literatur, 1897, p. 167 sq., there cited.

14:1 Rev. R. Taylor, Te Ika a Maui: or, New Zealand and its Inhabitants, 1870, pp. 180-1. Cp. p. 102 as to prayers and medicine.

14:2 For that thesis there is some support in the testimonies which limit the "religion" of some primitive tribes to a few forms of magic. According to Messrs. Spencer and Gillen there is hardly anything else in the mental apparatus of many tribes of Australian aborigines. Cp. A. E. Pratt, Two Years Among New Guinea Cannibals, 1906, pp. 314-7; Knud Rasmussen, The People of the Polar North, 1908, pp. 123-5. Mr. Pratt pronounces that "the most elementary ideas of religion do not seem to exist" among the Papuans, who practise a little magic; and Mr. Rasmussen says the Eskimos worship no deity, but merely dread a collective evil power, which they propitiate by observance of customs. Cp. further L. Decle, Three Years in Savage Africa, 1900, pp. 153, 343-6.

14:3 Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, p. 237. Cp. Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, 1898, pp. 253-4; O. Weber, Die Literatur der Babylonier and Assyrier, 1907, p. 151.

14:4 Dr. Frazer further writes (p. 61) that in both "the elements of caprice, of chance, and of accident are banished from the course of nature." This is a further and a gratuitous logical confusion. Magic certainly recognises "caprice" in its "nature"; and science certainly notes "chance" and "accident," which are not negations of, but aspects of, the uniformity of nature. Where could science place them, save in nature, if she recognises them; and if she does not recognise them, how can she name or banish them? As to the scientific force of the terms, cp. the author's Letters on Reasoning, vii.

15:1 Essay on the History of Astronomy, sect. iii.

15:2 Philosophie Positive, 4é ed. iv, 491.

15:3 J. C. Müller, Geschichte der Amerikanischen Urreligionen, ed. 1867, p. 149.

15:4 Prof. Erman, Handbook of Egyptian Religion, Eng. trans. 1907, pp. 91, 255.

15:5 Herodotus i, 91; Homer, Iliad, xiv, 434-442. Philemon ap Stobaei Serm. lxii. 8; Aeschylus, Prom. Vinct. 908-927; Diogenes Laërt. vii, 74 (149); ix, 6 (7); Clemens Alexand. Stromata, v, 14; Plutarch, De Exilio, xi; De Defectu Orac. xxviii-xxix; De Stoic. Repugnant. xxxiv; De Placitis Philos. i, § 7, 17; ii, 25-28; Aulus Gellius, vi, 1, 2; Seneca, De Providentia, v, 5-7; Cicero, De Diviniatione, ii, 10. A history of the discussion  seems wanting. Cp. H. N. Coleridge, Introduction to the Study of the Greek Classic Poets, Pt. i, 2nd ed. 1834, pp. 184-187: and Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, Eng. trans. i, 194-196. V. Fabricius, in his essay De Jove et Fato in p. Vergili Aeneide (1896, p. 21), sums up: "Nullo Vergili carminis loco Jovem fato subiectum esse plane ac clare dici nobis confitendum est. Sunt quidem nonnulla quibus Jovis potentia et fati vis simul dominari videntur." This coincides with the summary of H. N. Coleridge as to Homer.

16:1 Jamblichus, De Mysteriis, Ep. Porph. and vi, 5-7. It is noteworthy that according to Abammon the Chaldeans never use threats in their magic, but the Egyptians sometimes do.

16:2 Ex. xxix, 19-21.

16:3 Ex. xvii, 9-13.

16:4 Zendavesta, Mihir Yasht, xxxi.

16:5 Lev. xvi.

16:6 Josh. vi.

16:7 1 Kings xvii, 21.

16:8 Jevons, Introd. pp. 25, 35.

16:9 G. B. i, 62.

17:1 G. B. i. 75.

17:2 See for further instances in Babylonian practice, Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 316- Compare Dr. Frazer's Lectures on the Early History of the Kingship, 1905, pp. 46, 94, for instances of late combinations of "magic" with "religion"; and p. 97 for an instance among contemporary primitives.

17:3 Cp Ellis, Polynesian Researches, 2nd ed. iv, 294-5, where it is noted that the islanders try different priests and sorcerers as more civilised people try different doctors. "The sorcerers were a distinct class among the priests of the island; and their art appears to claim equal antiquity with the other parts of that cruel system of idolatry," etc. (Cp. i, iii, 36-37.) The difference is simply socio-political: the sorcerer is an independent performer who does not run a God or a temple.

17:4 G. B. i, 64. Contrast Erman, Handbk. of Eg. Rel., p. 148.

17:5 Cp. Dr. Frazer's own citations as to the Brahmans, G. B. i, 145-6.

17:6 "And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a God to Pharaoh," Exodus vii, 1. Cp. xvii, 11; xvii, 15, etc. Steinthal's theory (Essay on Prometheus, Eng. tr. by R. Martineau in vol. with Goldziher, p. 392), that from the Yahwist point of view Moses must ultimately die for playing the heathen God in bringing water from the rock, will hardly consist with such passages.

18:1 Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, ed. 1861, pp. 17, 18 (ed. 1905, p. 15).

19:1 L’Année Sociologique, 5e année, 1902.

19:2 Described by Messrs. Spencer rand Gillen (in their Native Tribes of Central Australia, 1899).

19:3 P. 87.

19:4 Id. i, 74.

19:5 Id. i, 78.

Next: § 6. The Scientific Induction