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Title: History of Religion - A Sketch of Primitive Religious Beliefs and Practices, and of the Origin and Character of the Great Systems
Author: Menzies, Allan, 1845-1916
Language: English
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A Sketch of Primitive Religious Beliefs and Practices, and of the
Origin and Character of the Great Systems



Professor of Biblical Criticism in the University of St. Andrews

Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the
world.--ACTS xv. 18.

New York
Charles Scribner's Sons
597-599 Fifth Avenue

FIRST EDITION . . . _April_ 1895
SECOND EDITION  . . _September_ 1895
_Reprinted_ . . . . _March_ 1897
_Reprinted_ . . . . _June_ 1900
_Reprinted_ . . . . _January_ 1902
_Reprinted_ . . . . _March_ 1903
_Reprinted_ . . . . _October_ 1905
THIRD EDITION . . . _January_ 1908
FOURTH EDITION  . . _September_ 1911
_Reprinted_ . . . . _June_ 1914
_Reprinted_ . . . . _October_ 1918


This book makes no pretence to be a guide to all the mythologies, or
to all the religious practices which have prevailed in the world. It
is intended to aid the student who desires to obtain a general idea
of comparative religion, by exhibiting the subject as a connected and
organic whole, and by indicating the leading points of view from
which each of the great systems may best be understood. A certain
amount of discussion is employed in order to bring clearly before the
reader the great motives and ideas by which the various religions are
inspired, and the movements of thought which they present. And the
attempt is made to exhibit the great manifestations of human piety in
their genealogical connection. The writer has ventured to deal with
the religions of the Bible, each in its proper historical place, and
trusts that he has not by doing so rendered any disservice either to
Christian faith or to the science of religion. It is obvious that in
a work claiming to be scientific, and appealing to men of every
faith, all religions must be treated impartially, and that the same
method must be applied to each of them.

In a field of study, every part of which is being illuminated almost
every year by fresh discoveries, such a sketch as the present can be
merely tentative, and must soon, in many of its parts, grow
antiquated and be superseded. And where so much depends on the
selection of some facts out of many which might have been employed,
it will no doubt appear to readers who have some acquaintance with
the subject, that here and there a better choice might have been
made. The writer hopes that the great difficulty will not be
overlooked with which he has had to contend, of compressing a vast
subject into a compendious statement without allowing its life and
interest to evaporate in the process.

For a fuller bibliography than is given in this volume the reader may
consult the works of Dr. C. P. Tiele, and of Dr. Chantepie de la
Saussaye. It will readily be believed that the writer of this volume
has been indebted to many an author whom he has not named.

ST. ANDREWS, 1895.


Since this book first appeared twelve years ago it has been several
times reprinted without change. Advantage has now been taken,
however, of a call for a fresh issue, to introduce into it some
alterations and additions, such as its stereotyped form allows. Some
mistakes have been corrected, the names of recent books have been
added to the bibliographies, and in some chapters, especially those
dealing with the Semitic religions, considerable changes have been
made. In going over the book for this purpose, I have seen very
clearly that if it had been called for and written at this time
instead of twelve years ago, some things which are in it need not
have appeared, and additions might have been made which are not now
possible. The last twelve years have made a great change in the study
of religions; the prejudices with which it was regarded have almost
passed away, powerful forces have been enlisted in its service, and
admirable works have appeared dealing with various parts of the vast
field. Yet I am glad to think that the attempt made in this book to
furnish a simple introduction to a deeply important study, and
especially to promote the understanding of the religions of the Bible
by placing them in their connection with the religion of mankind at
large, may still prove useful.

ST. ANDREWS, _June_ 1907.


This book is now being reprinted in a somewhat larger type, and an
opportunity is given, less restricted than the last, for making
changes in it. It is impossible for me at present to re-write it; it
appears substantially as it was. Some alterations and additions have
been made in the earlier chapters, and the bibliographies have been
brought more nearly up to date. I would take this opportunity of
directing the attention of readers of this book to the published
Proceedings of the Oxford Congress of the History of Religion, held
in September 1908. They will there see how large this field of study
has now grown, and what varied life and movement every part of it
contains. I have given references only to the addresses of the
Presidents of the Sections of the Congress, in which a fresh review
will be found of recent progress in the study of each of the great

ST. ANDREWS, _July_ 1910.



Position of the science--Unity of all religion--The growth of
religion continuous--Preliminary definition of religion--
Criticism of other definitions--Fuller definition--Religion
and civilisation advance together . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    1-18


Origin of civilisation--It was from the savage state that
civilisation was by degrees produced--The religion of
savages--All savages have religion--It is a psychological
necessity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   19-28


Nature-worship--Ancestor-worship--Fetish-worship--A supreme
being--Which gods were first worshipped?--Fetish-gods came
first--Spirits, human or quasi-human, came first--Theories
of Mr. Spencer and Mr. Tylor--Animism--The minor
nature-worship came first--Theories of Mr. M. Müller and of
Ed. von Hartmann--The great nature-powers came first--Both
nature-worship and the worship of spirits are sources of
early religion--Conclusion  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   29-50


Growth of the great gods--Polytheism--Kathenotheism--The
minor nature-worship--The worship of animals--Trees, wells,
stones--The state after death--Growth of the great religions
out of these beliefs  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   51-65


Sacrifice--Prayer--Sacred places, objects, persons--Magic--
Character of early religion--Early religion and morality  . .   66-78


Classifications of religions--Rise of national religion--It
affords a new social bond--And a better God--Example--The
Inca religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   79-90



People and literature--Worship of spirits--Worship of
animals--The great Gods--Mythology--The state religion  . . .  91-105


History of China--The literature of the religion--The state
religion of ancient China--Heaven--The spirits--Ancestors--
Confucius--His life--His doctrine--Taoism--Buddhism in China  106-125


History and literature--1. Animal worship--Theories
accounting for it--2. The great Gods--They also are local--
Mythology--Dynasties of gods--Ra--Osiris--Ptah--Was the
earliest religion monotheistic?--Syncretism--Pantheism--
Worship--3. The doctrine of the other life--Treatment of the
dead--The spirit in the under-world--_The Book of the Dead_--
Conclusion  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126-157



Home of the Semites--Character of the race--Their early
religious ideas--Difference between Semitic and Aryan
religion  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159-169


The Religion of the Canaanites--The Phenicians--Their gods--
Astral deities of Phenicia--Influence of Phenician art  . . . 170-178


The sacred literature--The people--Jehovah--The early ritual
was simple--Contact with Canaanite religion--Danger of
fusion--Religious conflict--The monarchy--Religion not
centralised--The Prophets--The old religion national--
Criticism of the old religion by the prophets--Appearance of
Universalism--Ethical monotheism--Individualism of the
prophetic teaching--The reforms--Deuteronomy--Earlier codes--
The exile--The return; the reform of Ezra--Character of the
later religion--Heathenish elements of Judaism--Spiritual
elements--The Psalms--The Synagogue--The national hopes--The
state after death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179-216


Arabia before Mahomet--The old religion--Confusion of
worship--Allah--Judaism and Christianity in Arabia--Mahomet,
early life--His religious impressions--The revelations--His
preaching--Persecution--Trials; decides to leave Mecca--
Mahomet at Medina--New religious union--Breach with Judaism
and Christianity--Domestic--Conquest of Mecca--Mecca made the
capital of Islam--Spread of Islam--The duties of the Moslem--
The Koran--Islam a universal religion . . . . . . . . . . . . 217-242



The Aryans, their early home--Their civilisation described--
Little known of their gods--Their worship was domestic  . . . 243-255


The Aryans in Europe--The ancient Germans--The early German
gods--The working religion--Later German religion--Iceland--
The Eddas--The gods of the Eddas--The twilight of the gods  . 256-273


People and land--Earliest religion; functional deities--
Growth of Greek gods--Stones, animals, trees--Greek religion
is local--Artistic tendency--Early Eastern influences--
Homer--The Homeric gods--Worship in Homer--Omens--The state
after death--Hesiod--The poets and the working religion--Rise
of religious art--Festivals and games--Zeus and Apollo--
Change of the Greek spirit in sixth century B.C.--New
religious feeling; the mysteries--Religion and philosophy . . 274-304


Roman religion was different from Greek--The earliest gods of
Rome are functional beings--The worship of these beings--The
great gods--Sacred persons--Roman religion legal rather than
priestly--Changes introduced from without--Etruria--Greek
gods in Rome--The Graeco-Roman religion--Decay and confusion  305-323


I. _The Vedic Religion_

Relation of Indian to Aryan religion--The Rigveda--The Vedic
gods--Hymns to the gods--To what stage does this religion
belong?--It is primitive--It is advanced--In spite of many
gods, a tendency to Monotheism  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 324-337


II. _Brahmanism_

The caste system: the Brahmans--The growth of the sacred
literature--Sacrifice--Practical life--Philosophy--
Transmigration--Later developments  . . . . . . . . . . . . . 338-352


III. _Buddhism_

The literature--Was there a personal founder?--The story of
the founder--Is Buddhism a revolt against Brahmanism?--The
Buddha--The doctrine--Buddhist morality--Nirvana--No gods--
The order--Buddhism made popular--Conclusion--Buddhism is not
a complete religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 353-380


Sources--The contents of the Zend-Avesta are composite--
Zoroaster--Primitive religion of Iran--The call of
Zarathustra--The doctrine--Its inconsistencies--Man is called
to judge between the gods--This religion is essentially
intolerant--Growth of Mazdeism--Organisation of the heavenly
beings--The attributes of Ahura--Ancient testimonies to the
Persian religion--The Vendidad: laws of purity--How this
doctrine entered Mazdeism--Influence of Mazdeism on Judaism
and in other directions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 381-408



State of Jewish religion at the Christian era--The teaching
of Jesus--His person and work--Universalism of Christianity--
The Apostle Paul--What Christianity received from Judaism--
And from the Greek world--The different religions of
Christian nations and the common Christianity . . . . . . . . 409-425


Tribal, national, and individual religion--This the central
development--Has to be studied in nations--Periods of general
advance in religion--Conditions of religious progress . . . . 426-434

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 435-440



The science to which this little volume is devoted is a comparatively
new one. It is scarcely half a century since the attention of Western
Europe began to fix itself seriously on the great religions of the
East, and the study of these ancient systems aroused reflection on
the great facts that the world possesses not one religion only, but
several, nay, many religions, and that these exhibit both great
differences and great resemblances. The agitation of mind then
awakened by the thought that other faiths might be compared with
Christianity, has to a large extent passed away; and on the other
hand fresh fields of knowledge have been opened to the student of the
worships of mankind. By new methods of research the religions of
Greece and Rome have come to be known as they never were before; and
all the other religions of which we formerly knew anything have been
led to tell their stories in a new way. A new study--that of the
earliest human life on the earth--has brought to light many primitive
beliefs and practices, which seem to explain early religious ideas;
and the accounts of missionaries and others about savage tribes now
existing in different parts of the world, are seen to be full of a
significance which was not noticed formerly. We are thus in a very
different position from our fathers for studying the religion of the
world as a whole. To them their own religion was the true one and all
the others were false. Calvin speaks of the "immense welter of
errors" in which the whole world outside of Christianity is immersed;
it is unnecessary for him to deal with these errors, he can at once
proceed to set forth the true doctrine. The belief of the early
fathers of the Church, that all worships but those of Judaism and
Christianity were directed to demons, and that the demons bore sway
in them, practically prevailed till our own day; and it could not but
do so, since no other religions than these were really known. That
ignorance has ceased, and we are responsible for forming a view of
the subject according to the light that has been given us.

The science of religion, though of such recent origin, has already
passed beyond its earliest stage, as a reference even to its earlier
and its later names will show. "Comparative Religion" was the title
given at first to the combined study of various religions. What had
to be done, it was thought, was to compare them. The facts about them
had to be collected, the systems arranged according to the best
information procurable, and then laid side by side, that it might be
seen what features they had in common and what each had to
distinguish it from the others. Work of this kind is still abundantly
necessary. The collection of materials and the specifying of the
similarities and dissimilarities of the various faiths will long
occupy many workers.

Unity of all Religion.--But recent works on the religions of the
world regarded as a whole have been called "histories." We have the
well-known _History of Religion_ of M. Chantepie de la Saussaye, now
in its third edition, and the _Comparative History of the Religions
of Antiquity_ of M. Tiele. A history of religion may be either of two
things. The word history may be used as in the term Natural History,
to denote a reasoned account of this department of human life,
without attempting any chronological sequence; or it may be used as
when we speak of the History of the Romans, an attempt being made to
tell the story of religion in the world in the order of time. In
either case the use of the term "history" indicates that the study
now aims at something more than the accumulation of materials and the
pointing out of resemblances and analogies, namely, at arranging the
materials at its command so as to show them in an organic connection.
This, it cannot be doubted, is the task which the science of religion
is now called to attempt. What every one with any interest in the
subject is striving after, is a knowledge of the religions of the
world not as isolated systems which, though having many points of
resemblance, may yet, for all we know, be of separate and independent
growth, but as connected with each other and as forming parts of one
whole. Our science, in fact, is seeking to grasp the religions of the
world as manifestations of the religion of the world.[1]

[Footnote 1: The above statement is criticised by Mr. L. H. Jordan in
his excellent work, _Comparative Religion_, p. 485, but is in the
main a true account of what has taken place. Mr. Jordan strongly
holds that Comparative Religion is a science by itself, and ought to
be distinguished from the History of Religion, though the latter is,
of course, its necessary foundation.]

In rising to this conception of its task, the science of religion is
only obeying the impulse which dominates every department of study in
modern times. What every science is doing is to seek to show the
unity of law amid the multiplicity of the phenomena with which it has
to deal, to gather up the many into one, or rather to show how the
one has given rise to the many. In the study of religion, if it be
really a science, this impulse of all science must surely be felt.
Here also we must cherish the conviction that an order does exist
amid the apparent disorder, if we could but find it. We must believe
that the religious beliefs and practices of mankind are not a mere
chaos, not a mere incessant outburst of unreason, consistent only in
that it has appeared in every age and every country of the world, but
that they form a cosmos, and may be known, if we take the right way,
as a part of human life from which reason has never been absent, and
in which a growing purpose has fulfilled and still fulfils itself.
Some theories, it is true, from which the world formerly hoped much,
are not now relied on, and the present tendency is to abstain from
any general doctrine of the subject, and to be content with careful
collection and arrangement of the facts in special parts of the
field. Caution is no doubt most needful in the attempt to form a view
of this great study as a whole. Yet something of this kind is
possible, and is beyond all doubt much called for. It is the aim of
this little work not only to describe the leading features of the
great religions, but also to set forth some of the results which
appear to have been reached regarding the relation in which these
systems stand to each other.

The Growth of Religion Continuous.--We shall not pretend to set out
on this enterprise without any assumptions. The first and principal
assumption we make is that in religion as in other departments of
human life there has been a development from the beginning, even till
now, and that the growth of religion has gone on according to the
ordinary laws of human progress. This is a position which, begin the
study at whatever point he may, the student of this subject will find
himself compelled to take up, if he is not to renounce altogether the
idea of understanding it as a whole. To understand anything means, to
the thought of the present day, to know how it has come to be what it
is; of any historical phenomenon at least it is certain that it
cannot be understood except by tracing its history up to the root. We
assume, therefore, until it be disproved, that in this as in other
departments of human activity, growth has been continuous from the
first. In every other branch of historical study, this assumption is
made. The history of institutions is traced back in a continuous line
to an age before there was any family or any such thing as property.
The methods by which men have earned their subsistence on the earth
are known equally far back; and there is no break in the development
from the hooked stick to the steam plough. And should it not be the
same in religion? Here also shall we not assume, until we find it
proved to be incorrect, that there has been no break in the growth of
ideas and practices from the earliest days till now, and that the
highest religion of the present day is organically connected with
that religion which man had at first? It is, indeed, in many ways far
removed from the earliest religion, but what was most essential in
the earliest belief still lives in it, and what was fittest to
survive of its earliest motives, still prompts its worship. Should we
adopt this view, we shall find many of the difficulties disappear
which have frequently stood in the way of this study. When, according
to the new tendency that seems to govern all modern thought,
institutions and beliefs are regarded not as fixed things, but as
things growing from something that was there before, and tending
towards something that is coming, they cease to arouse contempt, or
jealousy, or hatred. If we can regard religions as stages in the
evolution of religion, then we have no motive either to depreciate or
unduly to extol any of them. The earlier stages of the development
will have a peculiar interest for us, just as we look with affection
on the home of our ancestors even though we should not choose to
dwell there. We shall not divide religions into the true one,
Christianity, and the false ones, all the rest; no religion will be
to us a mere superstition, nor shall we regard any as unguided by
God. Feeling that we cannot understand our own religion aright
without understanding those out of which it has been built up, we
shall value these others for the part they have played in the great
movement, and our own most of all, without which they could not be
made perfect. In the light of this principle of growth we shall find
good in the lowest, and shall see that the good and true rather than
the evil and false, furnish the ultimate meaning of even the poorest

We start then with the assumption that religion is a thing which has
developed from the first, as law has, or as art has; and the best
method we can follow, if it should prove practicable, will be to
follow its movement from the beginning. We must not presume to hope
that everything will be made clear, or that we shall meet with no
religious phenomena to which we cannot assign their place in the
development. We must remember that ground is often lost as well as
won in human history, and that in religions as in nations
degeneration frequently occurs as well as progress. We must not be
too sure that we shall be able to find any plain path leading through
the immeasurable forests of man's religious sentiments and practices.
Yet we may at least expect to find evidence of the direction which on
the whole the growth of religion has followed.

Preliminary Definition of Religion.--But, before we can set out on
this inquiry, we are met by the question, What is it that we suppose
to have been thus developed? In order to trace any process of
evolution it is necessary to define that which is evolved; for it
belongs to the very idea of evolution that the identity of the
subject of it is not changed on the way up, but that the germ and the
finished product are the same entity, only differing from each other
in that the one has still to grow while the other is grown. Futile
were it indeed to sketch a history of religion with the savage at one
end of it and the Christian thinker at the other, if it could be said
that in no point did the religion of the savage and that of the
Christian coincide, but that the product was a thing of entirely
different nature from the germ. It seems necessary, therefore, in the
first place, to say what that is, of which we are to attempt the
history; or in other words, to say what we mean by religion.

It must not be forgotten that an adequate definition of a thing which
is growing can only be reached when the growth is complete. During
its growth it is showing what it is, and its higher as well as its
lower manifestations are part of its nature. The world has not yet
found out completely, but is still in the course of finding out, what
religion is. Any definition propounded at this stage must, therefore,
be of an elementary and provisional character. I propose then as a
working definition of religion in the meantime, that it is "The
worship of higher powers." This appears at first sight a very meagre
account of the matter; but if we consider what it implies, we shall
find it is not so meagre. In the first place it involves an element
of belief. No one will worship higher powers unless he believes that
such powers exist. This is the intellectual factor. Not that the
intellectual is distinguished in early forms of religion from the
other factors, any more than grammar is distinguished by early man as
an element of language. But something intellectual, some creed, is
present implicitly even in the earliest worships. Should there be no
belief in higher powers, true worship cannot continue. If it be
continued in outward act, it has lost reality to the mind of the
worshipper, and the result is an apparent or a sham religion, a
worship devoid of one of the essential conditions of religion. This
is true at every stage. But in the second place, these powers which
are worshipped are "higher." Religion has respect, not to beings men
regard as on a level with themselves or even beneath themselves, but
to beings in some way above and beyond themselves, and whom they are
disposed to approach with reverence. When objects appear to be
worshipped for which the worshipper feels contempt, and which a
moment afterwards he will maltreat or throw away, there also one of
the essential conditions is absent, and such worship must be judged
to fall short of religion. There may no doubt be some religion in it;
the object he worships may appear to the savage, in whose mind there
is little continuity, at one moment to be higher than himself and the
next moment to be lower; but the result of the whole is something
less than religion. And in the third place these higher powers are
worshipped. That is to say, religion is not only belief in the higher
powers but it is a cultivating of relations with them, it is a
practical activity continuously directed to these beings. It is not
only a thinking but also a doing; this also is essential to it. When
worship is discontinued, religion ceases; a principle indeed not to
be applied too narrowly, since the apparent cessation of worship may
be merely its transition to another, possibly a higher form; but
religion is not present unless there be not only a belief in higher
powers but an effort of one kind or another to keep on good terms
with them.

Criticism of other Definitions.--What has now been said will enable
us to judge of several of the definitions of religion which have been
put before the world in recent years. Without going back to the
definitions offered by philosophers who wrote before the scientific
study of our subject had begun, and limiting ourselves to those which
have been propounded in the interests of our science, we notice that
several make religion consist in an intellectual activity.[2] Thus
Mr. Max Müller[3] says that "Religion is a mental faculty or
disposition which independent of, nay, in spite of, sense and reason,
enables man to apprehend the Infinite under different names, and
under varying disguises. Without that faculty ... no religion would
be possible." To this definition there are various strong objections.
It implies that there is only one way in which men come to believe in
higher beings; they arrive at that belief by finding something which
transcends them and which they cannot understand; _i.e._ by an
intellectual process. It may be doubted whether the sense of
disappointment with the finite is the only road, or even a common
road, to belief in gods. Mr. Müller's omission, moreover, from his
definition, of the practical side of religion, of the element of
worship, is a fatal objection to it. Belief and worship are
inseparable sides of religion, which does not come fully into
existence till both are present. In a later work[4] Mr. Müller admits
the force of this objection, urged by several scholars, to his
definition, and modifies it as follows: "Religion consists in the
perception of the infinite under such manifestations as are able to
influence the moral character of man." In this form the definition
recognises that worship, the practical activity in which man's moral
character shows itself in fear, gratitude, love, contrition, is an
essential part of religion, and that perceptions of the infinite
apart from this are only one side of it. His original definition,
however, has played too large a part in the history of our subject to
be left without careful notice. The same objection applies to Mr.
Herbert Spencer's account of the matter. Mr. Spencer finds the basis
of all religion in the inscrutableness of the Power which the
universe manifests to us. The belief common to all religions, he
holds, is the presence of something which passes comprehension. The
idea of the absolute and unconditioned he regards as accompanying all
our consciousness of things conditioned and limited, and as being not
a negative notion, not merely the denial of limits, but a positive
one. The unconditioned is that of which all our thoughts and ideas
are manifestations, but which we never can know, with regard to which
we cannot affirm anything but that it exists. This definition like
that last noticed traces religion to the defects in man's knowledge,
and rather to a negative than a positive element in his experience.
It also comes under the objection that it traces religion rather to
an intellectual than a practical motive, and omits the element of

[Footnote 2: Though Mr. Tylor defines religion as the "belief in
spiritual beings," he is not to be charged with making it too much a
matter of the intellect. He uses the word belief in a wide sense as
including the practices it involves. In the word "spiritual,"
however, Mr. Tylor brings into the definition his theory of Animism,
and thus makes it unserviceable for those who do not adopt that

[Footnote 3: _Introduction to the Science of Religion_, 1882, p. 13.
The definition was put forward in the year 1873, and in his lectures
on the Origin of Religion, 1882, Mr. Müller adhered to it as being in
the main sound (p. 23).]

[Footnote 4: _Natural Religion_, 1888, pp. 188, 193.]

Other scholars have explained religion as the action of the curiosity
of the human mind, of that impulse which prompts man to investigate
the causes of things, and specially to seek for the first cause of
all things. Here we touch what is certainly to be recognised as an
invariable feature of religion; it always professes to explain the
world, and to bring unity to man's mind by clearing up the problems
which perplex him, and affording him a commanding point of view, from
which he may see all the parts of the world and of life fall into
their places. This, however, does not tell us what religion itself
is. This curiosity, this impulse to know, are not specifically
religious; they belong rather to philosophy. Other motives than those
connected with knowledge entered from the first into man's worship.
Curiosity impelled him to seek the first cause of things; in religion
he saw something that promised to explain the world to him, and to
explain him to himself. But it was something more than curiosity that
made him regard that cause, when found, as a god, and pay it
reverence and sacrifice. What is the motive of worship? Wonder, no
doubt, is always present in it, but what is there in it beyond
wonder? No definition of religion can be regarded as complete in
which the motive of worship is left undetermined. That is of the
essence of the matter. There must be a moral as well as an
intellectual quality which is characteristic of religion. What is
religion morally? Acts of worship may be specified in which every
conceivable moral quality seeks to express itself. The most
contradictory motives, pride and anger and revenge, as well as fear
or hunger or contrition, enter into such acts. But if religion is a
matter of sentiment as well as of outward posture, these acts of
worship cannot all be equally entitled to the name, and something is
wanted to complete our definition.

Fuller Definition.--Let us add what seems to be wanting; and say that
religion is the "worship of higher powers from a sense of need"! This
will remind the reader of Schleiermacher's definition--"a sense of
infinite dependence." It was always objected to that definition, that
it made religion no more than a sentiment, a mood, but that besides
this, it is both belief and action. But the truth Schleiermacher
urged was one of essential importance to the matter. Belief in gods
and acts of worship paid to them do not constitute religion unless
the sentiment, the sense of need, be also there. These three
together, feeling, belief, and will expressing itself in action,
constitute religion both in the lowest and in the highest levels of

A belief must exist, to take a step farther, that the being
worshipped is capable of supplying what the worshipper requires. Men
do not pray nor bring offerings to beings they suppose to be
incapable of attending to them, or powerless to do them any good or
evil. It is implied in every act of worship that the being addressed
is a power who is able to do for the worshipper what he cannot do for
himself. It is his inability to help himself or to supply his own
needs that sends the worshipper to his god, who has a power he
himself has not. If he could help himself he would not need religion,
if his life were either perfectly prosperous and even, so that there
was nothing left to wish for, or perfectly miserable and
unsuccessful, so that there was no room for hope, he would not resort
to higher powers; but neither of these two being the case, his life
on the contrary being a mixed lot of good and evil, in which there
are blessings his own forces cannot secure, and dangers from which no
efforts of his own can save him, and the belief having arisen within
him, in what way we need not now inquire, that higher powers exist
who can, if they will, defend and prosper him, in this way he has
religion, he keeps up intercourse with higher powers. And thus
religion is not necessarily, even in its most primitive form, a
manifestation of mere selfishness. Though gifts are offered which are
expected to please the higher beings, and though benefits are asked
of which the worshipper is urgently in need, such transactions are
not necessarily sordid any more than similar applications between
human beings, between two friends, or between a parent and a child.
Even the savage living in entire isolation, at war with every one and
conscious of no needs but those of food and shelter, will not seek
benefits from his god without some feeling of attachment, nor without
some sense of strengthened friendship should the benefit be granted
him. When once this sense of friendship has arisen, religion is
present, the man has come to be in living relation with a higher
power, whom he conceives, no doubt, after his own likeness, but
nevertheless as greater than he is.

This then is what we conceive to be the essence of religion--the
worship of higher powers, from a sense of need; and it is of this
that we are to trace the history though only in the barest outlines.
The definition itself suggests in what way the development may be
expected to work itself out. According as the needs change their
character, of which men are conscious, so will their religion also
change. The gradual elevation and refinement of human needs, in the
growth of civilisation, is the motive force of the development of
religion. The deities themselves, their past history and their
present character, the sacrifices offered to them, and the benefits
aimed at in intercourse with them, all must grow up as man himself
grows, from rudeness to refinement and from caprice to order. At its
lowest, religion is perhaps an individual affair between the savage
and his god, and has to do with material individual needs. At a
higher stage (not always nor even commonly later in time) it is the
affair of a family, of a tribe, or of a combination of tribes, and
with each of these extensions the requests grow broader and less
personal which have to be presented to the deity; the religion
becomes a common worship for public ends. The needs of the nomad are
other than those of the settled agriculturist, and those of the
countryman differ from those of the citizen, and those of the
Laplander from those of the Negro, and these differences will be
reflected in the aspect of the deities and in the observances
celebrated in their honour. When art begins to stir within a nation,
the gods have to adapt themselves to the new taste. As society grows
more humane, cruel and sanguinary religious observances, though they
may long keep a hold of the ignorant and excitable, lose their
support in the public conscience and are sentenced to change or to
extinction. And when a new consciousness of personal human dignity
springs up, and men come to feel the infinite value and the infinite
responsibility of personal life, the old public religion is felt to
be cold and distant, and religious services of a more personal and
more intimate kind are sought for.

Thus religion and civilisation advance together; according as the
civilisation is in any people, so is its religion. It is vain,
broadly speaking, to look for the combination of primitive manners
and customs with a lofty spiritual faith. The converse it is true may
often seem to take place. Religion, or rather religious creeds and
practices, often seem to lag behind civilisation and to maintain
themselves long after the reason and the conscience of a people has
condemned them. That is because religion is what man values most in
his life, and he is loath to change observances in which his
affections are powerfully engaged. But religion must reflect the
ideals of the society in which it exists; the needs which the society
feels at the time must be the burden of its prayers; its sacrifices
must be such as the general sentiment allows; its gods, to retain the
allegiance of the community, must alter with time and prove
themselves alive and in touch with their people. And if it be the
case that civilisation has on the whole advanced upwards from the
first; if, as Mr. Tylor assures us,[5] man began with his lowest and
has, in spite of occasional declines, on the whole been improving
ever since, then of religion also the same will be true. It also will
be found to begin with its rudest forms and gradually to grow better.
Religion in fact is the inner side of civilisation, and expresses the
essential spirit of human life in various ages and nations. The
religion of a race is the truest expression of its character, and
reflects most faithfully its attitude and aims and policy. The
religion of an age shows what at that time constituted the object of
man's aspiration and endeavour, as older hopes grew pale and new
hopes rose on his sight. Thus the study of the religions of the world
is the study of the very soul of its history; it is the study of the
desires and aspirations which throughout the course of history men
have not been ashamed, nay, which they have been proud and determined
to confess. No more fascinating study could possibly engage us. It is
true that the requirements for the adequate treatment of the subject
are such as few indeed can hope to possess. He who would treat the
history of religion aright ought to know thoroughly the whole of the
history of civilisation; he should have explored the vast domain of
savage life and thought that has recently been opened up to us, and
he should be at home in every century of every nation from the
beginning of history. At a time like this, when new light is being
poured every year on every part of our subject, no statement of it
can be more than tentative and partial. The student will be directed
at each step to sources of fuller information.

[Footnote 5: _Primitive Culture_, chap. ii.]


_Outlines of the History of Religion to the Spread of the Universal
Religions_. By Dr. C. P. Tiele. Translation. In Trübner's Oriental
Series. Very condensed and in somewhat technical language; but the
work of one of the greatest masters of the subject. A full
Bibliography is appended to the various chapters.

_Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte_, von P. D. Chantepie de la
Saussaye. Freiburg, 1887. The English translation has an altered
title, viz. _Manual of the Science of Religion_, Longmans, 1891. The
Third Edition (1905) is practically a different book, and consists of
studies, each by an expert, of the various religions.

_Religious Systems of the World_ (Sonnenschein, 1892) is a full
collection of descriptions of the various religions, by persons
specially acquainted with them; of very unequal merit.

Mr. Max Müller's works cited above, also his more recent volumes of
Gifford Lectures, contain a number of general discussions.

See also the Gifford Lectures of the late Mr. Ed. Caird, and the late
Prof. Tiele.

Pfleiderer's _Philosophy of Religion_, 4 vols.

Pünjer, _Geschichte der christl. Religionsphilosophie_, 2 vols.

Rauwenhoff, _Wijsbegeerde van den Godsdienst_, 2 vols. 1887 (also in

M. Jastrow, _The Study of Religion_, 1901.

L. H. Jordan, _Comparative Religion, its Origin and Growth_, 1905.

_Revue de l'histoire des religions_, edited by M. J. Réville.

_Archiv für Religionswissenschaft_, edited by Alb. Dieterich.

Reinach, Orpheus, _Histoire Générale des Religions_, 1909.

Hastings, _Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics_, vol. i. A-Art, 1908.

_The New Schaff-Heizog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge_ has
excellent articles on the various religions.

Louis H. Jordan, _Comparative Religion_, 1905. An account of the
progress of our study, with extensive bibliography.

Galloway, _The Principles of Religious Development_, a psychological
and philosophical study, 1909.

_Proceedings of the Oxford International Congress of the History of
Religions_, 1908. 2 vols. The addresses of the Presidents of the
Sections give a record of the most recent progress in every part of
our study. Of these see, for this chapter, Count Goblet d'Alviella,
vol. ii. pp. 365 _sqq_. on the Method and Scope of the History of


Origin of Civilisation.--Every inhabited country, we are assured by
ethnologists, was once peopled by savages; the stone age everywhere
came before the age of metals. Antecedent to every civilisation that
has sprung up on the earth is this dim period, the period of the cave
dwellers and afterwards of the lake dwellers. There can be no
chronology nor any exact knowledge of these early men who lived by
hunting, with stone weapons, animals which are now extinct. How from
his earliest and most helpless state man came in various ways to help
himself; how he discovered fire, how he improved his weapons and
invented tools, how he learned to tame certain of the animals on
which he had formerly made war, and instead of wandering about the
world came to settle in one place and till the soil, and how family
life came to be instituted, and the father as well as the mother to
act as guardian to the children; all that is a vast history, which
must be read in its own place. Immense, indeed, were the labours
early man had to undergo, in wrestling his way up from a life like
that of the brutes to a life in which his own distinctive nature
could begin to display itself.

It was from the savage state that civilisation was by degrees
produced. The theory that man was originally civilised and humane,
and that it was by a fall, by a degeneration from that earliest
condition, that the state of savagery made its appearance, is now
generally abandoned. There may be instances of such degeneration
having taken place; but on the whole, the conviction now obtains that
civilisation is the result of progressive development, and was the
result man conquered for himself by his age-long struggles with his
environment. That development did not take place in all lands alike.
In some it proceeded faster than in others, and its advances were due
oftener to propagation from without, than to unaided growth from
within; as one race came in contact with another new ideas were
aroused of the possibilities of life in various directions. In some
lands the development has scarcely taken place at all. There remain
to this day races who are judged to be still in the primitive
condition. Not all savage tribes are thought to be in that condition.
The bushmen of Australia, the Andaman Islanders, and others,[1] are
found to be in such a state in point of habits and acquirements that
they must be considered as races which have fallen from a higher
position, and present instances of degeneration. But a multitude of
savage tribes remain in all quarters of the globe who do not appear
to have been thus enfeebled, and who are held to be still in that
state in which the dwellers in all parts of the earth were before
what we now call civilisation began. They are races among whom
civilisation did not spring up, as it did in China or in Peru. From
these races we may learn in a general way, though in this great
caution is required, what the ancestors of all the civilised nations
were. It confirms this conclusion that we find in every civilised
nation a number of phenomena, practices, beliefs, stories, which the
mental condition of the nation as we know it does not account for,
which manifestly are not outgrowths of the civilisation, but relics
of an older state of life, which civilisation has not entirely
obliterated; and that these practices, beliefs, and stories can be
exactly matched by those of the savage races. The inference is drawn
that civilisation has sprung from savage life, that, as Mr. Tylor
says, "the savage state represents the early condition of mankind,
out of which the higher culture has gradually been developed by
causes still in operation." To trace the history of civilisation,
therefore, it is necessary to go back to the earliest knowledge we
have of human life upon the earth, and to ask what germs and
rudiments can be discovered among savages of law, of institutions, of
arts and sciences. Such works as Maine's _Ancient Law_, Tylor's
_Primitive Culture_, Lubbock's _Origin of Civilisation_, show how
fruitful this method is, and what floods of light it pours on the
history of society.

[Footnote 1: Instances in Tylor, _Primitive Culture_, chap. ii.,
where the theory of degeneration is fully discussed.]

Now what is true of civilisation generally will be true also of
religion, which is one of its principal elements. If every country
was once inhabited by savages, then the original religion of every
country must have been a religion of savages; and in the later
religion there will be features which have been carried on from the
earlier one. This, indeed, we must in any case expect to find. No new
religion can enter on its career on a soil quite unprepared, on which
no gods have been worshipped before. (That would imply that there had
been races in the world without religion, on which we shall speak
presently.) A new faith has always to begin by adjusting itself to
that which it found in possession of the soil, and it always adopts
what it can of the old system. We should expect then that the great
religions of the world should exhibit features which do not belong to
their own structure, but which they inherited, with or against their
will, from their uncivilised predecessors. And that is the case, as
we shall see afterwards, with all the great religions. They are all
full of survivals of the savage state. The old religious associations
cling to the face of a land and refuse to be uprooted, whatever
changes take place among the gods above. Superstitious practices
continue among a race long after a truth has been preached there with
which they are entirely inconsistent. Stories are long told about the
gods, quite out of keeping with their character in the theology of
the new faith, pointing to a time when not so much was expected of a
god. In Mr. Lang's _Myth, Ritual, and Religion_, the reader will find
an admirable collection of material showing how the popular elements
of an old religion survive in a new one in which they are quite out
of place. There is none of the great religions to which this does not

Now, if it be the case that each of the great religions has been
built upon a primitive religion formerly occupying the same ground,
it might appear that we must, in order to understand any of the great
religions, study first, in each case, the savage system which it
superseded. It would be a serious prospect for the student if he had
to make a separate study of a set of savage beliefs as an approach to
each of the ten or twelve great religions. But this, as we shall see
afterwards, is not the case. There is a great family likeness in the
religions of savages, and we may even allow ourselves to speak not of
the religions but of the religion of early races. In the next chapter
an attempt will be made to describe that religion; but we may say
here that there are some features which are generally, though by no
means always found in it, and that these features may be regarded for
practical purposes as the religion of the primitive world, which
everywhere was the forerunner of the great systems. This is the
jungle, as it were, overspreading all the early world, out of which
like giant trees the great religions arose, and from which they
derived and still derive a nourishment they cannot disown. Indeed, we
may go much farther. In some of their leading doctrines, the great
religions show the most striking affinity with one another. China and
Egypt have some doctrines in common which are also found in the
religion of the Incas; the Aryan and the Semitic religions know them
too. Should these doctrines be found in the religion of savages, it
will at least be a question whether the great religions all alike
borrowed and developed them from that source, or whether any other
explanation of the case can be found. Evidently we cannot make any
progress with our subject till we have taken a general view of this
religion of savages and come to some conclusions regarding it.

A few words must be said, by way of preface to this subject, on the
mental habits of early races. We cannot hope to understand the
thoughts of those people without knowing how they came to have such
thoughts, how they were accustomed to think. Now of the savage we may
say that he is just like a child who has not yet learned to think
correctly, or to know things truly. He is making all kinds of
experiments in thought, and being led into all sorts of errors and
confusion; and if the child takes years, the savage may take
millenniums, to get free from these. He does not know the difference
between one thing and another, between himself and the lower animals,
or between an animal and a water-spout. He does not know how far
things are away from him, nor what makes them move and act as they
do; why, for example, the sun and moon go round the sky, or why the
wind blows. He cannot tell why things have this or that peculiar
appearance; why, for example, the rabbit has no tail, why the sky is
red in the morning, why some stones are like men. And he wants to
know all these things, and is for ever asking questions. But almost
any answer will do for him, the first explanation that turns up is
accepted; and while a child finds out pretty soon if he has been told
wrong, the savage is so ignorant that he cannot see the absurdest
explanation to be false, but sticks to it seriously and goes on using
it. There is no consistency in the contents of his mind, and
inconsistency does not distress him. He has no classes and orders of
things, but considers each thing by itself as it occurs, without
putting it in its place with reference to other things. He has no
idea of what is possible and what is impossible; these words in fact
would have no meaning for him, since he is not aware of any laws by
which events are governed. His imagination, accordingly, is not under
any restraint; he hits upon all kinds of grotesque theories, and,
having no critical faculty to test them, he repeats them and
seriously believes them. The stories of the nursery, in which there
are no impossibilities, in which a man may visit the sun and the
winds in their homes and find them at their broth, in which the
beasts can speak, in which the witch or the fairy knows at any
distance what is going on and can turn up just at the nick of time,
in which ghosts walk, in which anything can be changed into anything,
a hero going through half a dozen transformations to escape from so
many dangers,--these are to the savage not incredible nor foolish
tales, to him they are very real, and very serious matters. He lives,
in fact, we are told by the authorities on the subject, in the
myth-making period of the world; in the period when such incidents as
occur in the tales of fairyland and in the stories of mythology are
matter of common belief, and even, it is thought, of common
experience, so that when the story is put in a good form, it lives
and is believed as a true record of what has actually taken place.

On one feature of the savage imagination in particular we must fix
our attention. The savage regards all things as animated,--as
animated with a life like his own. Of his own life he has no very
exalted idea; he has no notion how different he really is from
anything around him; as he is himself, so he supposes other beings to
be also, not only the animals but the trees and all that moves and
even what does not move, even rocks and stones. He is living himself;
he regards all these as living too. He imagines them like himself,
and supposes them to have feelings and passions like his own, to
reason as he does, and even if he is told they speak as he does, that
is not incredible to him. Thus he lives in a world of infinite
confusion, in which there are no laws, no classes of beings, no means
of knowing what may happen, or of verifying any statement, where
every effort of fancy may be believed. The mental world of savages
has been compared to the ravings of a whole world turned lunatic. We
survey it, however, without horror, because we know that reason is
not unseated there, but striving towards her kingdom. That is the
experience that had to be gone through, these are part of the
experiments, such as every child has still to make, by which the
knowledge of the world is gradually arrived at.

Amid this apparent universal confusion a certain consistency of view
is to be observed. It might be expected that the savage habit of
thought, acting independently in different parts of the world, would
lead to an infinite number of divergent and inconsistent views of the
nature of things and of man's place in the world. But this is not
found to be the case. Mr. Lang accounts as follows for the diffusion
of the same stories all over the world: "An ancient identity of
mental status, and the working of similar mental forces at the
attempt to explain the same phenomena, will account without any
theory of borrowing, or of transmission of myth, or of original unity
of race, for the world-wide diffusion of many mythical conceptions."
Mr. Tylor says that the same imaginative processes regularly recur,
that world-wide myths show the regularity and the consistency of the
human imagination. M. Réville, in his _Religions des peuples
non-civilisés_, remarks that the character of savage religions is
everywhere the same; that only the forms vary.

Now of the things that all savages possess, certainly religion is
one. It is practically agreed that religion, the belief in and
worship of gods, is universal at the savage stage; and the accounts
which some travellers have given of tribes without religion are
either set down to misunderstanding, or are thought to be
insufficient to invalidate the assertion that religion is a universal
feature of savage life.

How did it get there? How comes it that men so near the lowest human
state, so devoid of all that has been since acquired, should yet be
found to have this mode of thought universally diffused among them?

It has been ascribed to a primitive revelation. At the beginning, it
is said, God, with the other gifts He gave to man, gave him religion;
that is to say, gave him not only a disposition for reverence and
piety, but a certain amount of religious knowledge, so that he set
out with a stock of religious ideas which were not elaborated by his
own efforts, but bestowed on him ready made. It is impossible,
however, to conceive how this could be done. If the religion given at
first was a lofty and pure one,--and no other need be thought of in
such a connection,--then it implies a condition of human life far
above the struggles and uncertainties of savage existence; and both
the civilisation and the religion must have been lost afterwards. But
how could all mankind forget a pure religion? Mankind in that case
cannot have been fit for the possession of it; it was given
prematurely. No. The history of early civilisation is the history of
a struggle in which man has everything to conquer, and in which he is
not remembering something he had lost, but advancing by new routes to
a land he never reached before. And if civilisation was won for the
first time, so was religion.

We may also put aside the theory that man had religion from the first
as an innate idea, that he found information all ready and prepared
in his mind of what it was proper to do in this direction, and how it
was to be done. There was indeed a suggestion from within; but it was
due not to any special faculty lying outside the essential structure
of human nature, but to the constitution of the human mind itself. We
cannot go into the philosophical question of the basis of religion in
the human mind.[2] It would seem to be a psychological necessity. At
all stages of his existence the world of which man is aware outside
him, and the world of feelings and desires within him are in
conflict. But the conviction lives within him that in some way they
can be brought into harmony, and that a power exists which rules in
both of these discordant realms and in which, if he can identify
himself with it, he also will escape from their discord. If this be
so, then this necessity to seek after a higher power must have begun
to operate as soon as human consciousness appeared. The savage
certainly was never unacquainted with the discrepancy between what he
wanted and what the world would give him, between the inner man so
full of desires and plans, and that outward nature which denied him
his desires and thwarted his plans, and before which he felt so
feeble and insecure. He also could not but be driven, if his life was
to go on at all on any tolerable basis, to believe in something that
had to do both with the world outside him and with the world of his
heart, in a being which both had sympathy with his desires and power
to give effect to them outwardly.

[Footnote 2: See on this subject Prof. Edward Caird's Gifford
Lectures, _The Evolution of Religion_, 1893. Galloway, _The
Principles of Religious Development_.]

The whole of the early world did entertain such a belief. This is the
first and the most important instance of uniformity of thought at a
stage through which every nation once passed; all men at that stage
believe in gods. We will not refuse the name of religion to this side
of savage life, even should the needs be low and material which send
the savage to his god, though his god be a being who in us would
excite the very opposite of reverence, and though his treatment of
his god be far from what to us seems worthy, or even though he strove
to appease a multitude of spirits which he conceived as flitting
about him, before he came to form a settled relation of confidence
with one being whom he took for his own god. Where the sense of need
has sent a human being to hold intercourse with a higher power, there
we hold religion is making its appearance. And if this is universally
the case among men at the savage stage, then religion is universal
among the ancestors of all nations; it did not need to be invented
when kings and priests appeared and wanted it as an instrument for
their own purposes; it was there before there were any kings or
priests, and is an inheritance which has come down to all mankind
from the time when human intelligence first turned to the effort to
understand the world.


_For this and the three following chapters_

J. B. Tylor, _Anthropology_, Third Edition, 1891.

J. B. Tylor, _Primitive Culture_, Fourth Edition, 1903.

Frazer, _The Golden Bough_, Third Edition, 1900. A new edition is now
appearing in parts.

A. Lang, _Myth, Ritual, and Religion_, new edition, 1899.

Th. Achelis, in De la Saussaye.

Waitz und Gerland, _Anthropologie der Naturvölker_, 1859-72.

Brinton, _Religions of Primitive Peoples_, 1897.

The reports of travellers and missionaries are, of course, important.


We must now make some attempt to set forth the principal features of
the religion of savages. It is an attempt of some difficulty; for
savage religion is an immense and bewildering jungle of all manner of
extraordinary growths. It is described in detail in large books and
if we try to sum it up in a short statement, we may be told that
essential features have been omitted. No one set of savages has
anything that can be called a system, and different sets of savages
are not alike. For the present purpose we are obliged to include
under the name, tribes who occupy various positions in the scale of
human advancement, and tribes in all sorts of geographical positions,
in hot climates and in cold, both rude savages and those who are
nobler; and these will, of course, have a variety of ideas and needs,
and in so far, different religions. After reading such a book as Mr.
Frazer's _Golden Bough_, or turning over the pages of Waitz and
Gerland's _Anthropologie der Naturvölker_, one is inclined to regard
it as a hopeless task to reduce savage religion to any compact

Mr. Tylor's orderly collections, in his great book _Primitive
Culture_, of materials bearing on different features of early
religion are a help for which the student cannot be sufficiently
thankful. After all, it is not the whole of savage religion that we
are responsible for here, but only those parts of it that grew and
survived in higher faiths. Remembering what has been said as to the
uniformity of savage thought amid its great variety of forms, and
looking for those parts of it which have proved to have life in them,
rather than for what is merely curious and grotesque, we may venture
on our task not without hope. In the present chapter we shall inquire
what beings savages worship as gods. Of these we shall find that
there are several classes; and it will be necessary to notice the
great discussions which have arisen on the question which of these
classes of deities was first worshipped by man. The objects
worshipped by men in low stages of civilisation may be arranged in
four classes, viz.--

  1. Parts of nature (_a_) great, (_b_) small.
  2. Spirits of ancestors and other spirits.
  3. Objects supposed to be haunted by spirits (fetish-worship).
  4. A Supreme Being.

1. Nature-worship.--It is not difficult to realise why early man
turned to the great elements of nature as beings who could help him,
and whom he ought, therefore, to cultivate. The farther we go back in
civilisation, the less protection has man against the weather, the
more do his subsistence and his comfort depend on the action of the
sun, the winds, the rain. If, according to the habits of early
thought, he conceived these beings as living like himself and as
guided by feelings and motives similar to his own, he could not fail
to wish to open up communication with them. That simple view, that
they were living beings with feelings like his own, was enough to go
upon. In his anxieties for food or warmth he could not fail to think
of the beings who, he had observed, had power to supply him with
these comforts, of the rain which he had noticed was able to make
food grow, of the sun whose warmth he knew. The thunderstorm was a
being who had power to put an end to a long drought; the winds could
break the trees, could dry up the wet earth, or could bring rain.
Heaven was over all, and the Earth was the supporter and fertile
producer of all; from her all life came. The moon as well as the sun
was a friendly power, nay, in some climates, more friendly. Fire was
a living being certainly, on whom much depended; and so was the great
lake or the ocean. This is what M. Réville calls the great
Nature-worship, in comparison with the minor Nature-worship to be
noticed presently.

We do not now enter on the subject of mythology; that is to say, of
the names men very early began to give to the great natural objects
of worship, the characters they ascribed to them, the stories they
told about them. That process of myth-making began very early, and is
to be found at work in every part of the world. But at first it was
simply the natural being itself, conceived as living, that was
worshipped, not a spirit or a person thought to dwell in it. Of this,
abundant evidence has survived in the great religions. Jupiter is
just the sky, the Greek god Helios is just the sun, and the goddess
Selene the moon. In China heaven itself is worshipped to this day.
The Babylonians worshipped the stars. The Vedic gods are primarily
the elements. From savage life examples of this earliest state of
matters can also be quoted, though mythology has nearly everywhere
greatly confused it. The Mincopies adore the sun as a beneficent
deity, the moon as an inferior god. To the Natchez the sun is the
supreme god; with some tribes of North America the chief god is
heaven blowing, the sky with a wind in it, what Longfellow calls the
"Great Spirit" or blowing. The Incas invoked together the Creator and
the Sun and Thunder. Thunder was one of the great gods of the
Germans. The Samoyede bows to the Sun every morning and every evening
and says. "When thou arisest I also arise; when thou settest I also
betake myself to rest." To the Ojibways Fire is a divine being, to be
well entertained, with whom no liberties must be taken. In every land
men are to be found who worship the Earth as a great deity, calling
her by her own name and serving her with suitable rites. In the
_Prometheus_ of Æschylus the hero addresses his appeal as follows to
the beings he regards as gods of old race who will sympathise with
him against the upstart Zeus:--

  Ether of Heaven and Winds untired of wing,
  Rivers whose fountains fail not, and thou Sea,
  Laughing in waves innumerable! O Earth,
  All-mother!--Yea and on the Sun I call,
  Whose orb scans all things; look on me and see
  How I, a god, am wronged by gods.
                       _Lewis Campbell_, line 85 _sq_.

The minor Nature-worship has to do with rivers and springs, with
trees and groves, with crops and fruits, with rocks and stones, and
with the lower animals. Here also we must bear in mind the habit of
mind of early man, who regarded all things as animated and as like
himself. It was not necessary for one who thought in this way to
suppose that the spring was haunted by a nymph or the oak inhabited
by a dryad, before he felt that the spring or the oak had a claim on
him, and brought offerings to secure their friendship. The Nile and
the Ganges did not become sacred by having a mythical being added to
them as their spirit; they were themselves sacred beings. Every
country is studded with names which reveal to the scholar the
primeval sanctity of the spots they belong to; the mountain, the
grove, and the individual tree, the rocky gorge, the rock, the grassy
knoll, each was once an object of reverence. Britain is full of
sacred wells, which once received prayers and offerings. There is no
animal that has not once been worshipped. A marked feature of
primitive life also is the worship of nature not in its particular
objects but in its living processes. In a multitude of curious rites,
some of which still survive in local usages, and have only recently
been explained, primitive man brought himself into relations with
nature in its growth, decay, and resurrection. He sympathised with it
and imitated it, and he thus sought to make himself sure of the
benefits which he saw bestowed by some power which he apprehended in
its processes and believed able to further him.

2. Ancestor-worship.--A set of beings of a very different kind comes
next. If man found in the world which he beheld outside him a number
of objects he could make gods, his domestic experience forced him to
consider certain beings of a different kind, of whom the outward
world could tell him nothing. The worship of the dead, of ancestors,
is diffused throughout nearly the whole of antiquity, it is practised
by most savages. Man at an early stage does not fully realise the
meaning of death. He interprets death after the analogy of dreams, in
which he judges that the spirit leaves the body and traverses distant
regions, coming back to the body again when the journey is ended. A
vision is to him an instance of the same thing. He sees a friend,
who, he afterwards learns, was far from him at the time, and he
judges that it was the spirit of his friend which visited him. Thus
there arises in his mind the conception of a human spirit which is
able to leave the body and dwell at a distance from it. It is called
by various names,--the shade, the image, the heart, as perhaps when
Elisha says his heart went with Gehazi when he went to meet Naaman
the Syrian (2 Kings v. 26), the breath, the soul. When the breath or
spirit goes away and stays away (in spite of efforts made to bring it
back) the man dies. But the spirit is not dead. It has gone away and
is staying somewhere else. The spirit resembles the body in shape,
but it is of a thin and light consistence, and is able to move about
and to pass through the smallest openings, to make unpleasant noises,
and to cause its presence to be felt in a variety of ways. In the
very earliest times, the savage regards the spirit which has left the
house as an enemy, and uses a variety of precautions to keep it from
coming back to trouble him (vampires, ghosts, _lemures_). Whether
from such fear or from more liberal motives, much is done to please
the spirits of the departed and to increase their comfort in the
abodes to which they have gone. At their burial or cremation all they
may be supposed to want where they are going, _i.e._ the things they
used on earth, are made to accompany them; food and weapons are
placed beside them; servants are killed whose spirits are to wait on
them, even a wife, voluntarily or without being asked, gives up her
earthly life to accompany her husband. Offerings of food and drink
are made to them afterwards, prayers are addressed to them, memorials
of them, of various kinds, are preserved in the houses they occupied.

It was the universal belief of the early world that the person
continued to exist after the death of the body; and this furnished
the materials for a religion which was more widely prevalent in
antiquity than the worship of any god. In some forms of it, indeed,
the spirit appears to have been treated as an enemy, and this worship
might be judged to fall short of religion, which is the cultivation,
not the avoidance, of intercourse with higher powers. The savage has
no hope from the spirit, and does not seek his intercourse. But in
most forms of the belief in the continued life of the departed, other
sentiments than fear prevail; natural affection is felt for the lost
relative; the ancestor represents the family, to which the individual
is called to subordinate and to some extent even to sacrifice
himself; the spirit of the dead is the upholder of a family tradition
which the living must hold sacred. Even in those cases in which
nothing but fear is apparent, these latter sentiments may also be to
some extent operative.

3. Fetish-worship.--The early world has still another kind of deity.
In the case of all those we have considered, the god stands in some
respect above the worshipper; man reverences the sun, spirit, or
animal, for some quality in them that is admirable or that gives them
a hold over him; they are in some ways beyond him. Among certain sets
of savages, however, notably in South Africa, this feature of
religion partially disappears, and objects are reverenced not for any
intrinsic quality in them that makes them worthy of regard, but
because of a spirit which is supposed to be connected with them.
Stones, trees, twigs, pieces of bark, roots, corn, claws of birds,
teeth, skin, feathers, articles of human manufacture, any conceivable
object, will be held in reverence by the savage and regarded as
embodying a spirit. Anything that strikes his fancy as being out of
the common he will take up and add to his museum of objects, each of
which has in it a hidden power. That power, be it repeated, is not
connected with the natural quality of the object, but is due to a
spirit which has come to reside in it, and which may very possibly
leave it again. Having chosen this deity and set it up for worship,
the man can use it as he thinks fit. He addresses prayers to it and
extols its virtues; but should his enterprise not prosper, he will
cast his deity aside as useless, and cease to worship it; he will
address it with torrents of abuse, and will even beat it, to make it
serve him better. It is a deity at his disposal, to serve in the
accomplishment of his desires; the individual keeps gods of his own
to help him in his undertakings.

The name "fetishism," by which this kind of worship is known, is of
Portuguese origin; it is derived from _feitiço_, "made," "artificial"
(compare the old English _fetys_, used by Chaucer); and this term,
used of the charms and amulets worn in the Roman Catholic religion of
the period, was applied by the Portuguese sailors of the eighteenth
century to the deities they saw worshipped by the negroes of the West
Coast of Africa. De Brosses, a French savant of last century, brought
the word fetishism into use as a term for the type of religion of the
lowest races. The word has given rise to some confusion, having been
applied by Comte and other writers to the worship of the heavenly
bodies and of the great features of nature. It is best to limit it,
as has been done above, to the worship of such natural objects as are
reverenced not for their own power or excellence but because they are
supposed to be occupied each by a spirit.

Can this be called religion? In the full sense of the term it cannot.
We should remember that it is not the casual object, but the spirit
connected with it that the savage worships; but even then we shall be
obliged to hold that the fetish worshipper is rather seeking after
religion than actually in possession of it.

4. A Supreme Being.--Is it necessary to add another class of deity to
these three, and to say that besides nature-gods and spirits early
man also worshipped a Supreme Being above all these? In most savage
religions there is a principal deity to whom the others are
subordinate. But if we carefully examine one by one the supreme gods
of these religions, we shall find reason to doubt whether they really
have a common character so as to form a class by themselves. Many of
them are nature gods who have outgrown the other deities of that
class and come to occupy an isolated position. The North American
Indians, as we saw, worship the Great Spirit, the heaven with its
breath, to whom sun and moon and other ordinances of nature act as
ministers. In many cases heaven is the highest god. In others again
the sun is supreme. Ukko the great god of the Finns is a heaven- and
rain-god. Perkunas the god of the Lithuanians is connected with
thunder. On the other hand there are instances in which the supreme
god appears to be a different being from the nature-god. The
Samoyedes worship the sun and moon and the spirits of other parts of
nature; but they also believe in a good spirit who is above all. The
Supreme Being of the islands of the Pacific bears in New Zealand the
name of Tangaroa, and is spoken of in quite metaphysical terms as the
uncreated and eternal Creator. Here we may suspect Christian
influence. With the Zulus Unkulunkulu the Old-old one might be
supposed to be a kind of first cause. But on looking nearer we find
he is distinctly a man, the first man, the common ancestor; beyond
which idea speculation does not seem to go. Among many North American
tribes it is usual to find an animal the chief deity, the hare or the
musk-rat or the coyote. It is very common to find in savage beliefs a
vague far-off god who is at the back of all the others, takes little
part in the management of things, and receives little worship. But it
is impossible to judge what that being was at an earlier time; he may
have been a nature-god or a spirit who has by degrees grown faint and
come to occupy this position. We cannot judge from the supreme beings
of savages, such as they are, that the belief in a supreme being was
generally diffused in the world[1] in the earliest times, and is not
to be derived from any of the processes from which the other gods
arose. We shall see afterwards how natural the tendency is which,
where there are several gods, brings one of them to the front while
the others lose importance. For a theory of primitive monotheism the
supreme gods of savages certainly do not furnish sufficient evidence;
they do not appear to have sprung all from the same source, but to
have advanced from very different quarters to the supreme position,
in obedience to that native instinct of man's mind which causes him,
even when he believes in many gods, to make one of them supreme.

[Footnote 1: _Cf._ A. Lang, _The Making of Religion_ (1898);
Galloway, _Studies in the Philosophy of Religion_ (1904), p. 123,

Which Gods were First Worshipped?--If then early man formed his gods
from parts of nature and from spirits of departed ancestors or
heroes, and even, should the more backward races now existing
represent a stage of human life belonging to the early world, from
spirits residing in outward objects, which of these is the original
root of all the religions of the world? The claim has been made for
each of these kinds of religion, that it came first.

1. Fetish-gods came First.--Till recently the view prevailed that all
the religion of the world has sprung out of fetishism. First the
savage took for his god some casual object, as we have described,
then he chose higher objects, trees and mountains, rivers and lakes,
and even the sun and stars. The heavens at last became his supreme
fetish, and at a higher level, when he had learned about spirits, he
would make a spirit his fetish, and so at last come to Monotheism.

This view is attractive because it places the beginning of religion
in the lowest known form of it and thus makes for the belief that the
course of the world's faith has been upward from the first. But it
presents the gravest difficulties; for why should the savage make a
god of a stick or a stone, and attribute to it supernatural powers?
Who told him about a god, that he should call a stick god, or about
supernatural powers, that he should suppose a stick to work wonders?
There is nothing in the stick to suggest such notions; that he should
make gods in this way, that the belief in wonderful powers should
originate in this way, is surely quite incredible. Much more likely
is it, surely, that he got the notion of God from some other quarter
and applied it in his own grotesque and degraded way; than that the
notion of God was taken first from such poor forms and applied
afterwards to objects better suited to it. Religion and civilisation
go hand in hand, and if civilisation can decay (and leading
anthropologists declare that the debased tribes of Australia and West
Africa show signs of a higher civilisation they have lost) then
religion also may decay. A lower race may borrow religious ideas from
a higher and adapt them to their own position, _i.e._ degrade them.
And the progress of religion may still have been upwards on the
whole, although retrograde movements have taken place in certain
races. On these and other grounds it is now held with growing
certainty that fetishism cannot be the original form of religion, and
that the higher stages of it are not to be derived from that one. The
races among whom fetishism is found exhibit a well-known feature of
the decadence of religion, namely that the great god or gods have
grown weak and faint, and smaller gods and spirits have crowded in to
fill up the blank thus caused. Worship is transferred from the great
beings who are the original gods of the tribe and whom it still
professes in a vague way to believe, to numerous smaller beings, and
from the good gods to the bad.

2. Spirits, Human or Quasi-human, came First.--Is the worship of
spirits then the original form of religions. This has been powerfully
maintained in this country by Mr. Herbert Spencer and Mr. Tylor.
According to Mr. Spencer "the rudimentary form of all religion is the
propitiation of dead ancestors." Men concluded, as soon as they were
capable of such reasoning, that the life they witnessed in plants and
animals, in sun and moon and other parts of nature, was due to their
being inhabited by the spirits of departed men. With all respect for
the splendid exposition given by Mr. Spencer[2] of the early beliefs
of mankind regarding spirits, it is impossible to think that he has
made out his case when he treats the gods of early India and of
Greece as deified ancestors. If the natural incredulity we feel at
being told that Jupiter, Indra, the sun, the sacred mountain, and the
stars all alike came to be worshipped because each of them
represented some departed human hero, is not at once decisive, we
have only to wait a little to see whether some other theory cannot
account for these gods in a simpler way.

[Footnote 2: _Sociology_, vol. i. Also _Ecclesiastical Institutions_,
p. 675; "ghost-propitiation is the origin of all religions."]

Mr. Tylor also derives all religion from the worship of spirits, but
in a different way. His is the most comprehensive system of Animism,
using that term in the narrower sense of soul-worship. Starting from
the doctrine of souls, reached by early man in the way described
above (p. 33, _sqq._), he argues that when once this notion was
reached it would be applied to other beings as well as man. Not
having learned to distinguish himself clearly from other beings, man
would judge that they had souls like his own; and so every part of
nature came to have its soul, and everything that went on in the
universe was to be explained as the activity of souls. It was in this
way, according to Mr. Tylor, that the view of the universal animation
of nature, characteristic of early thought, was reached. "As the
human body was held to live and act by virtue of its own inhabiting
spirit-soul, so the operations of the world seemed to be carried on
by other spirits." At this point the soul is an unsubstantial essence
inhabiting a body, it has its life and activity only in connection
with the body; but the step was easily taken to the further belief in
spirits like the souls, but not attached to any body. The spirits
moved about freely, like the genii, demons, fairies, and beings of
all kinds, with whom to the mind of antiquity the world was so

Three classes of spirits we have up to this point: those of
ancestors, those attached to the various parts of the life of nature,
and those existing independently. Can the higher nature-deities be
accounted for by this theory as well as the minor spirits of the
parts of nature? Mr. Tylor considers that they can; he declares that
the "higher deities of polytheism have their place in the general
animistic system of mankind." He acknowledges that, with few
exceptions, great gods have a place as well as smaller gods in every
non-civilised system of religion. But in origin and essence he holds
they are the same. "The difference is rather of rank than of nature."
As chiefs and kings are among men so are the great gods among the
lesser spirits. The sun, the heavens, the stars, are living beings,
because they have spirits as man has a soul, or as a spring has a
spirit that haunts it. Thus in the doctrine of souls is found the
origin of the whole of early religion. Mr. Tylor confesses, however,
that it is impossible to trace the process by which the doctrine of
souls gave rise to the belief in the great gods.

The weakness of this view is that it involves a denial that the great
powers of nature could be worshipped before the process of reasoning
had been completed which led to the belief that they had souls or
spirits. But how did early man regard these great powers before this?
Did they not appear to him adorable by the very impressions they made
upon his various senses? Did he really need to argue out the belief
that they had souls, before he felt drawn to wonder at them, and to
seek to enter into relations with them?

Animism.--The word Animism, it should here be noticed, is used in the
study of religions in a wider sense than that of Mr. Tylor. Many of
the great religions are known to have arisen out of a primitive
worship of spirits and to have advanced from that stage to a
worship of gods. The god differs from the spirit in having a marked
personal character, while the spirits form a vague and somewhat
undistinguishable crowd; in having a regular _clientèle_ of
worshippers, whereas the spirit is only served by those who need to
communicate with him; in having therefore a regular worship, while
the spirit is only worshipped when the occasion arises; and in being
served from feelings of attachment and trust, and not like the
spirits from fear. When gods appear, some writers hold, then and not
till then does religion begin; before that point is reached magic and
exorcism are the forms used for addressing the unseen beings, but
when it is reached we have worship; intercourse is deliberately
sought with beings who hold regular relations with man. The word
Animism is best employed to denote the worship of spirits as
distinguished from that of gods. Whether or not early man derived his
belief in the multitude of spirits by which he believed himself to be
surrounded, from his belief in the separable human soul, there is no
doubt that he did consider himself to be so surrounded. Animism in
this sense is undoubtedly the beginning of some at least of the great

3. The Minor Nature-worship came First.--M. Réville holds[3] that the
tree and the river and other such beings were the first gods, and
that the deification of the great powers of nature came afterwards as
an extension of the same principle. Mr. Max Müller seems to share
this view when he says that man was led from the worship of
semi-tangible objects, which provided him with semi-deities, to that
of intangible objects, which gave him deities proper. The Germans, as
a rule, hold the view that the great nature-worship came first, and
that the sanctity of the tree and the river came to them from above,
these objects being regarded as lesser living beings deserving to be
worshipped as well as the greater ones. The English school let the
sanctity of these objects come to them as it were from below; when
man has come to believe in spirits, he concludes that they have
spirits too, and worships the spirits he supposes to dwell in them.
It does not seem that these theories are entirely exclusive of each
other. French writers suppose that the minor nature-worship first
sprang up of itself, half-animal man respecting the animals as
rivals, the trees as fruit-bearers for his hunger, and so on, and
that spirits were added to these beings when the great animistic
movement of thought in which these writers believe took place, of
course at a very early period.[4]

[Footnote 3: Réville, _Histoire des religions des peuples
non-civilisés_, ii. 225.]

[Footnote 4: This view is the basis of M. André Lefèvre's _La
Religion_. Paris, 1892.]

4. The Great Nature-powers came First.--We come in the last place to
that class of deities which we spoke of first--the powers of nature.
By several great writers it is held that the worship of these is the
original form of all religion. We shall give two of the leading
theories on the subject, that of Mr. Max Müller and that of Ed. von

Mr. Max Müller has written very strongly against the view that
fetishism is a primary form of religion, and holds that the worship
of casual objects is not a stage of religion once universally
prevalent, but is, on the contrary, a parasitical development and of
accidental origin. He does not tell us what the original religion of
mankind was. The work in which he deals most directly with this
question[5] is concerned chiefly with the Indian faith, the early
stages of which he regards as the most typical instance of the growth
of religion generally. He does not, however, tell us definitely out
of what earlier kind of religion that of the Aryans grew, which India
best teaches us to know, or what religion they had before they
developed that of the Vedic hymns. We may infer, however, what his
view on this point is from the very interesting sketch he draws of
the psychological advance man could make, in selecting objects of
reverence, from one class of things to another (p. 179, _sqq._).
First, there are tangible objects, which, however, Mr. Max Müller
denies that mankind as a whole ever did worship; such things as
stones, shells, and bones. Then second, semi-tangible objects; such
as trees, mountains, rivers, the sea, the earth, which supply the
material for what may be called _semi-deities_. And third, intangible
objects, such as the sky, the stars, the sun, the dawn, the moon; in
these are to be seen the germs of _deities_. At each of these stages
man is seeking not for something finite but for the infinite; from
the first he has a presentiment of something far beyond; he grasps
successive objects of worship not for themselves but for what they
seem to tell of, though it is not there, and this sense of the
infinite, even in poor and inadequate beliefs, is the germ of
religion in him. When he rises after his long journey to fix his
regards on the great powers of nature, he apprehends in them
something great and transcendent. He applies to them great titles; he
calls them _devas_, shining ones; _asuras_, living ones; and, at
length, _amartas_, immortal ones. At first these were no more than
descriptive titles, applied to the great visible phenomena of nature
as a class. They expressed the admiration and wonder the young mind
of man felt itself compelled to pay to these magnificent beings. But
by giving them these names he was led instinctively to regard them as
persons; he ascribed to them human attributes and dramatic actions,
so that they became definite, transcendent, living personalities. In
these, more than in any former objects of his adoration, his craving
for the infinite was satisfied. Thus the ancient Aryan advanced,
"from the visible to the invisible, from the bright beings that could
be touched, like the river that could be seen, like the thunder that
could be heard, like the sun, to the devas that could no longer be
touched or heard or seen.... The way was traced out by nature

[Footnote 5: _Lectures on the Origin of Religion_, 1882.]

This famous theory is, when we come to examine it, rather puzzling.
It does not account for the first beginnings of religion except by
inference, and it does so in two contradictory ways; for, on the one
hand, Mr. Max Müller enumerates tangible objects first as those from
which men rose to higher objects, and on the other he denies that
fetishism is a primitive formation. He suggests that there were
earlier gods than the devas, but he tells us nothing about them,
except that they were not fully deities; they were only semi-deities,
or not deities at all. The worship of spirits he leaves entirely out
of consideration; religion did not, in his view, begin with Animism.
When he does tell us of the beginnings of religion, what is his view?
The religion of the Aryans began, and it is a type--the other
religions presumably began in the same way, _e.g._ those of China and
of Egypt--by the impression made on man from without by great natural
objects co-operating with his inner presentiment of the infinite,
which they met to a greater degree than any objects he had tried
before. Religion was due accordingly to æsthetic impressions from
without, answering an æsthetic and intellectual inner need. Those
needs, then, which led men to make gods of the great powers of earth
and heaven were not of an animal or material nature, but belonged to
the intellectual part of his constitution. Those who framed such a
religion for themselves must have been raised above the pressing
necessities and cares of savage life; they were not absorbed in the
task of making their living, but had leisure to stand and admire the
heavenly bodies, and to analyse the impressions made on them by the
waters and the thunder. Nay, they had sufficient power of abstraction
to form a class of such great beings, to bestow on them a common
title, not only one but several progressive common titles, each
expressing a deeper reflection than the last. Thus did they reflect
on the nature of the cosmic powers, taken as a class. This,
evidently, is not the beginning of religion. It is the religion of a
comparatively lofty civilisation; lower stages of civilisation, and
of religion also, must have preceded this one. Even the heavenly
bodies, it appears to many scholars, must have been worshipped by men
who regarded them not with æsthetic admiration and intellectual
satisfaction only, but in the light of more pressing and practical

We take Edward von Hartmann as the representative of those who, like
Mr. Max Müller, trace the origin of religion to the worship of the
heavenly powers, but who carry back that worship to the earliest
stage. Writers who disagree with his philosophy take grave exception
to his treatment of religion, for he regards religion, as he
considers consciousness itself, not as an original and inseparable
element of human nature, but as a thing acquired by man on his way
upwards; and he finds the original motive of religion to have lain in
egoistic eudæmonism, in the selfish desire of happiness, which at
that stage of man's life determined all his actions. The account,
however, given by Von Hartmann of the beginning of religion in the
adoration of the powers of nature is of singular freshness and power,
and we can deduct from it, after stating it, the peculiarities
arising out of his philosophical system.

The first religion that existed in the world had for its objects the
heavenly powers. The objects worshipped are known, indeed, before
religion begins; the illusions of early thought have settled on the
heavenly powers before they are worshipped; on the outward object the
mind has conferred the character of a living and acting being, which
it is henceforth to wear. This transformation, poetic fancy, not mere
logic and not merely utilitarian considerations, has brought about.
But religion only begins when man sets himself to worship these
beings, and to this he is driven by his material needs. Religion
begins in a being as yet without religion and without morality. The
need for food is the motive that brings about the change, for that
pure egoist early man has seen that the powers of nature are able to
help or hinder him in his search for a living; the sun can set his
plants growing or can burn them up, and the thunderstorm can revive
them. His happiness depends on these powers, and he seeks to set up
relations with them. He seeks to gain as an ally the heavenly power
who is so able to further or to thwart his aims; he makes known to it
his wishes by calling upon it, and he offers presents to it. He
worships the heavenly powers, and religion has begun. Worship lends
to these powers, though they were known before, a fixity and reality
they did not formerly possess. Von Hartmann is inclined to trace all
the various worships of these powers, which have prevailed in the
most different parts of the earth, to the same original centre, while
at the same time he maintains that even if all the instances of this
worship cannot be referred to any common origin, it must have arisen
in this way, wherever men of the same nature dwelt; the psychological
necessity of this development accounts for the appearance of this
same religion in different lands and among dissimilar races.

The worship of the heavenly powers, accordingly, is with this writer
the original religion. While admitting that the worship of domestic
spirits grew up in the way described by the English anthropologists,
he denies that Animism is ever a religion by itself without being
combined with higher beliefs. He denies also that fetishism could
ever be an original religious product, or that men could ever pass
from having no religion to the religion of fetishism. Wherever it
appears, it is a religion of decay. All the religion in the world has
come from the worship of nature, which, whether arising at one centre
or at several, spread over the world, and is to be recognised,
clearly or dimly, in the religions of all lands.

This view of the origin of religion is shared in the main by Otto
Pfleiderer,[6] and other German writers. It was from the impressions
made on man by the powers of nature, these scholars hold, and not
from his belief in spirits, that his religion came. But it was not
necessarily due to pure egoism, as Von Hartmann represents; the
earliest religions need not, they hold, have been a mere attempt at
bribery. The motives which first caused man to worship the heavenly
powers surely arose from other needs than that for food alone. The
intellectual craving, the desire to know the nature of the world he
lived in, and to refer himself to the highest principle of it, as far
as that could be attained; the æsthetic need, the desire to have to
do with objects which filled his imagination; the moral need, the
desire not to occupy a purely isolated position, but to place himself
under some authority, and to feel some obligation, these also, though
in the dimmest way, as matters of presentiment rather than clear
consciousness, entered into the earliest worship of the heavenly
powers. This view has the great advantage over that of Von Hartmann,
that it makes the development of religion continuous from the first,
instead of representing it as being originally a purely selfish
thing, into which the character of affection and devotion only
entered at some subsequent stage. If man's nature is essentially
religious, then all that constitutes religion must have been with him
from the first, in however unconscious and undeveloped form.

[Footnote 6: _Philosophy of Religion_, vol. iii. chap. i.]

Conclusion.--We have enumerated the different kinds of gods
worshipped by early man--fetishes, spirits, the powers of nature. We
have found a general agreement that fetishism is not an original form
of religion, but a product of the decay of higher forms in
unfavourable conditions. As to the other two kinds of deities, it is
impossible to deny that gods have been formed from the very first in
each of these two ways. The domestic worship of the early world
cannot be derived from nature-worship, but grew out of the belief
awakened in early man, by the familiar experiences mentioned above.
That the greater nature-worship, on the other hand, can be derived
from the belief in spirits is an assertion which can never be proved,
or even made probable; that it arose from the impressions produced on
early man by the great objects and forces of nature, is a thing we
can understand and believe. The minor nature-worship is also a very
intelligible thing, even without Mr. Tylor's theory of souls to
explain it. What more natural than that the savage should worship the
great oak or the waterfall, or should think himself surrounded by
invisible beings, even if he did not frame the latter on the model of
the human soul? We arrive therefore at the conclusion that with the
exception of the doctrines about death and the abode of spirits, we
must regard the worship of nature as the root of the world's

We must beware, however, of imputing to the thoughts of early men
about their gods, any such qualities as consistency or regularity.
The power of holding at one and the same time religious beliefs which
are inconsistent with each other, is one which even in the most
developed religions is by no means wanting; and how much more was
this the case among men who lived before there was any exact thought!
The savage could have a variety of gods of very different natures,
who formed in his mind quite a happy family. When he found a new god,
that did not oblige him to part with any old one; it was one god he
was seeking, but he could not settle on one god as yet, when there
were so many beings with a good claim to the position. He made his
gods not out of nothing, but out of a great variety of experiences
and impressions, and they acted and reacted on each other in an
endless variety of ways. One god came to the front here and another
there; an object was deified here from one reason and there from
another; new gods in time turned old and were less thought of while
forgotten gods of former days came back to memory and were worshipped
once more. Endless change, endless recurrences of growth and of decay
filled up those great spaces and periods, measureless and trackless
almost as the expanses of the ocean, that were covered by the
prehistoric life of mankind.


Jevons, _Introduction to the History of Religion_, 1896.

E. S. Hartland, in _Proceedings of Oxford Congress of the History of
Religion_, p. 21, _sqq._

Of the large class of books reporting the manners and beliefs of
special savage races we may specify--

D. G. Brinton, _The Myths of the New World_, 1896.

W. W. Gill, _Myths and Songs from the South Pacific_, 1876.

Kingsley, Miss, _West African Studies_, 1899.

Callaway, _The Religious System of the Amazulu_, 1863-72.

Duff Macdonald, _Africana, the Heart of Heathen Africa_, 1882.

G. Grey, _Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North-Western
and Western Australia_, 1841.

Spencer and Gilpen. _Native Tribes of Central Australia_, 1899.


We have seen from what materials early man made his gods. As the gods
differed in their origin, they differed also from the very first in
the mode of their development. The great nature-gods gave rise to one
kind of religion, and the minor nature-gods to another, the thought
of the departed members of the household to a third. But these
various religions could not develop side by side without influencing
each other. These different worships began in the very earliest times
to get mixed up together; there is none of the great religions which
we do not find to be a combination of them. It will be well to
consider them in the first place separately.

1. Growth of the Great Gods.--Taking them in the order we have
already followed, we come first to the great nature-worship, of which
heaven, the sun, the moon, the stars, dawn and sunset, and then the
phenomena of the weather, rain, storm, and thunder and lightning, are
the objects. It cannot be too clearly borne in mind that what was
worshipped was originally the natural object itself, regarded, after
the earliest habit of thought, as living. To heaven itself, to the
sun as he rose or set, to the storm itself, men addressed prayers and
made offerings; and in many quarters, both among savages and in the
great religions, the same thing occurs to this day.

But it was impossible for man to stop here, his imagination would not
allow him to do so. In some races, imagination was more active than
in others, but nowhere was it quite inoperative; and so it happened
that man was led, here to a greater there to a less extent, beyond
the direct and simple adoration of the powers of nature. When he
began to give them names, a first and a great step was taken in
advance of the original simplicity. A name is a power; if it is
anything more than a mere title or label, and all primitive names are
more than this, it brings with it associations of its own, and thus
men are led to ascribe to the object indicated by the name, a new
character and new powers. They proceed to argue about the name and
draw conclusions from it as to the nature of the being they worship,
and so come to think of their deity in quite a different manner. Even
to classify objects together and give them a common title, "the
bright ones," or "the living ones," as the early Aryans did, gives
them an independent position of their own, and tempts the imagination
to go further in describing them. Striving to find names for those
beings he worships and thinks about so much, early man gives them the
names of living creatures with whom he is familiar, and in this way
he brings them much nearer to himself, and at the same time appears
to himself to know a great deal more about them. The moon, for
example, has horns, the moon is a cow. Heaven is over all, heaven is
a father. And as he knows all about a cow, and all about a father, he
at once has these deities made much more real to him, they have an
independent existence to him. But, on the other hand, he has got
something more in his deity than there is in the natural object. It
is no longer the mere naked heaven or the mere moon he worships; but
these beings with additions made to them by his own imagination.

As time goes on the additions grow more and more. Having got living
persons for his deities, early man readily goes on to weave their
histories and their relations. If the moon is a cow, the sun is a
bull chasing her round the sky. This is an instance of a principle
which obtains in many at least of the early religions and which it is
important to remember, viz. that the powers of nature were first
identified with animals. The zoomorphic stage of the nature-gods
comes before the anthropomorphic (_cf._ the signs of the zodiac), and
in many savage tribes it still survives.

But it is when the gods begin to be thought of after the likeness of
human beings that the decisive step is made in their development. If
heaven is a father, it is easy to go on from that. Earth will be the
corresponding mother (an idea found all over the world); and all men
will be their children. If the sun is invested with a name of
masculine gender (but the sun is frequently feminine), he must do
feats becoming such a character. If the storm is a male god, he will
be a warrior or a huntsman. Thus the god acquires a personal
character and an independent movement; what is told about him has
reference, of course, to the natural object he sprang from, or the
season with which he is connected; but the deity is becoming more and
more separate from the natural object, and acquiring a character and
history of his own. The stories connected with the god vary according
to the habits and the imaginations of different peoples; in some
cases the gods remain pure and exalted beings, in others savage and
indecent myths are accumulated around them, and these primitive myths
adhere to their persons long after they themselves have felt an
upward tendency and acquired a civilised character with the moral
elevation of their peoples. We shall see in many instances how the
nature-gods were personified, made into beasts, made into men, and
surrounded with myths and legends. That is the natural history of the
nature-gods; the process through which they must pass if they grow at

Polytheism.--Another general feature of the worship of the great
natural objects has to be mentioned. Each god has a history of his
own; he has grown up separately as men concentrated their attention
upon him. But as one god grows up after another, or as the gods who
grow up in two countries are afterwards brought together, it comes to
pass that there are many of them, and none of them is necessarily
supreme. What is the worshipper to do? The least reflection will
convince us that in any act of worship man fixes his attention on one
object only. That belongs to the very nature of religion; as a child
could not treat several men at once as its father, nor a servant be
equally faithful to several masters, so man naturally tends to have
one god. He turns to the highest he knows, who is most likely to be
able to help him, and there cannot be two highests, but only one. But
man's position in the early world does not allow him to be true to
this religious instinct. As he sees one aspect of the world to-day,
and another to-morrow, he cannot, when his god is a power of nature,
always see the same god before him. But can he not worship another
god when the first one is out of sight and out of mind? Though he
worshipped heaven yesterday, can he not worship the sun to-day, or
the storm, or the great sea? And though the former generation
worshipped one of these beings in the foremost place, may not the
existing generation devote itself principally to another? That power
does not cease to be a deity which is not immediately before his
mind. It is still a deity, and in a while he will turn to it again,
and make it first. Thus it comes about by inevitable logic that when
man gets his gods from nature, he has a number of them. When he gets
a new god he does not deny the god he had before; he is not yet in a
position to conclude that there can only be one god. When he is
worshipping he feels as if there were only one; but this feeling
applies at different times to a number of different beings, and from
such inconsistency he lacks the power to free himself. The other is a
god too; all the gods he has ever worshipped he may on occasion
worship again. Nor can he refuse to recognise the gods of others; to
them no doubt they are gods, if not to him; they are beings of the
same class with his god. And thus early man is a polytheist.
Polytheism is a complex product; it is the addition to each other of
a number of cults which have grown up separately.

In Polytheism, however, very different religious positions are
possible. Men may feel that the whole set of the gods in whose
existence they believe have claims on them, and may regard themselves
as worshippers of them all, resorting, as feeling and old association
moves them, now to one and now to another, or defining the places or
occasions at which each of them is to be sought, or in some other way
adjusting their various claims; or, on the other hand, while
believing in the existence of many gods, they may confine their
worship to one. A man knows that there are many gods, but says that
he has only to do with one of them. This is a religious position very
frequently met with in antiquity. A circle of gods is believed in,
but one of them comes into prominence at a time and is worshipped as
supreme. This is called Kathenotheism: the worship of one god at a
time. The title was invented by Mr. Max Müller, who also gives the
title of Henotheism to that position in which many gods are believed
in as existing, but worship is given to only one. The following are
examples of the various positions:--

  The language of Polytheism is--"Father Zeus that rulest from Ida,
  most glorious, most great, and thou sun that seest all things, and
  ye rivers and thou earth, and ye that in the underworld punish
  whosoever sweareth falsely--be ye witnesses."--_Iliad_, iii. 280.

The Jews at the time of Josiah were accomplished polytheists, as we
may see from the catalogue of the worships suppressed at Jerusalem by
that monarch, 2 Kings xxiii. The gods of each of the surrounding
tribes appear to have been worshipped there, and the old gods of the
separate tribes and families of Israel appear to have been kept up.

Kathenotheism.--The Vedic poets, as we shall see, speak of the god
they are immediately addressing as supreme, and heap upon him all the
highest attributes, while not thinking of denying the divinity of
other gods.

  The language of Henotheism is--"Thou, O Jehovah, art far above all
  the earth; thou art exalted far above all gods" (Ps. xcvii. 9).
  "There is none like unto Thee among the gods, O Lord!... Thou art
  great, and doest wondrous things: Thou art God alone" (Ps. lxxxvi.
  8, 10). Here the other gods are recognised as existing, but only
  one is worshipped. Compare also St Paul: "There are gods many, and
  lords many, but to us there is one God" (1 Cor. viii. 5, 6).

  The language of Monotheism is--"All the gods of the peoples are
  idols: but Jehovah made the heavens" (Ps. xcvi. 5), and "Thou shalt
  have no other god before Me."

A further religious position to be noticed here is that of Dualism.
Not all dualism comes from nature-worship, but in a land where a
beneficent and a harmful natural force are in striking antagonism to
each other, this may take place. Man, when he interprets the kindly
influences of nature as the blessings of the good god, naturally
interprets the agencies which blight or ruin as being also the
manifestation of a living power, but of an evil one. Thanks to the
good god alternate, in this case, with efforts to counteract or to
appease the bad one; if the two appear to be nearly balanced, then
neither is supreme, and both overawe the mind and receive worship.
But in general we may remark that the greater nature-worship is of an
elevating tendency. It brings man into relations with powers which
are truly great, and places him even physically in the position of
looking up, not down. Where the nature-power is a harsh one, a
scorching sun, a tempestuous sea, the self-command and self-sacrifice
called out by the worship of them may be, if not carried to extremes,
a bracing discipline; but with some exceptions the nature-gods are
good, and have to do with light and with kindness.

2. The Minor Nature-worship.--The worship of the great powers of
nature has a universal character; it can be carried on anywhere;
wandering tribes carry it with them; heaven and the sun and the winds
can be addressed in every land. The minor nature-worship differs from
it in this respect: an animal is only worshipped in the country where
it occurs, and the worship of the tree, the well, the stone, is
altogether local. With this local nature-worship the world was, in
early times, thickly overspread; and manifold survivals of it are
still to be found even in lands where the primitive religion has been
longest superseded. This is the religion of local observance and
local legend, which clings to the face of a country in spite of
public changes of creed, and, when the old religion has departed, is
found to have secured a shelter for itself in the new one.

In this minor nature-worship which spreads its network over all the
early world, the character of primitive society is clearly
represented; the small communities have their small local
worships--each clan, almost each kraal, has its shrine, its god, and
limits itself to its own sacred things. Religion is a bond connecting
together the members of small groups of men, but separating them from
the members of other groups. The following are some of the more
important developments of this.

(_a_) The Worship of Animals.--Primitive man had to hold his own
against the animals by force of strength and cunning; and he was well
acquainted with them. He respected them for the qualities in which
they excelled him, the hare for his swiftness, the beaver for his
skill, the fox for his craftiness. What he worshipped, however, was
not the individuals of a species, but the species as a whole,
typified perhaps in a great hare or a great fox, the mythical first
parent of the species, and possessing its qualities in a supreme
degree. It happened apparently over the whole world, with the
exception of most branches of the Aryan family, that men at a very
early stage regarded themselves as related by the tie of descent,
some to one species of animals or of plants and some to another. From
this belief tribes took their names, each member tattooing the figure
of his animal ancestor on his person. The Bechuanas, for example, are
divided into crocodile-men, fish-, ape-, buffalo-, elephant-, and
lion-men, and so on. The hairy or scaly ancestor is the "totem" of
the tribe, and they consider that animal sacred, and will not eat the
flesh of it. All who bear the same totem regard each other as of
kindred blood, as descended from the same ancestor. The totem may
also be a vegetable, in which case no member of the stock will gather
or eat it.

Totemism is to be seen in operation at the present day in various
parts of the world. North America is, perhaps, its classic land in
modern times. It is, however, a stage of society through which all
races have at one time or another passed. According to the latest
investigations totemism is not to be regarded as itself a religion;
the totem being regarded not as a superior but as an equal. Its
influence on the early growth of religion, however, was great, and
widely ramified.[1] From this two important consequences follow which
will meet us again and again in our study of the great religions. The
first is animal-worship, a phenomenon of frequent occurrence and of
perplexing import. Mr. McLennan has shown that much at least of the
widespread worship of animals is to be traced to an early totem-stage
of society,[2] when animals were held sacred as the ancestors of men.
In the second place, totemism explains the view taken in the early
world of the nature of religious fellowship. In modern times people
regard each other as brothers in religion when they believe the same
doctrines. It is belief, an intellectual or spiritual agreement, that
binds them together. The ancient religious union was of a quite
different nature. People then regarded each other as brothers because
they were of the same blood, descended from the same ancestor. In the
Bible the Hebrews are all descended from Abraham, the Edomites from
Esau, etc. That is the necessary condition of brotherhood in early
times; only those could join in a religious rite who were of the same
blood. For men of another blood there was another worship, another
god. It is an earlier stage of this view, when men are of the same
worship because they are descended from the same animal, and when
they worship that animal.

[Footnote 1: J. G. Frazer, "Totemism," in the _Encyclopædia
Britannica_, vol. xxiii., and now his _Totemism and Exogamy_. It was
formerly held that the Semites were an exception, having never passed
through the totemistic stage. Mr. Robertson Smith, in his _Religion
of the Semites_, maintains that, though they are past that stage when
we first know them, the traces of it are apparent in their
institutions, and that their sacrifices especially are based on ideas
belonging to it. Wellhausen does not agree with him in this.]

[Footnote 2: _Fortnightly Review_, 1869-70. See also Mr. Lang's
_Myth, Ritual and Religion_ in many passages.]

(_b_) Trees, Wells, Stones.--The worship of each of these three is in
itself a great subject, and we can do no more than mention the
leading views which appear to have entered into them. Mannhardt in
his _Feld- und Waldkulte_ and Frazer in _The Golden Bough_ have
studied the survivals of tree-worship in the local customs of the
peasantry of Europe. Early man appears to have worshipped trees as
wonderful living beings; but his thought soon advanced to the
conception of a tree-spirit, of which the tree itself was either the
body or the dwelling, and which possessed various powers, such as
that of commanding rain, or that of causing fertility in plants or in
animals. From the tree-spirit, again, the tree-god was further
formed, a being who was able to quit the sacred tree or who presided
over many trees. Of these beliefs the fast-decaying usages of the
Maypole and the Harvest May still remind us.

The well, in a similar manner, may first have been worshipped in and
for itself, and then a nymph may have been added to it. The worship
of wells consisted in throwing precious articles into them, or
hanging such offerings on the surrounding trees, and asking some boon
from the deity.[3] Rivers and lakes were also held sacred. The
worship of stones, that is of stones not treated by art, but regarded
as sacred in the form in which they were found, was widely diffused
among early races; but this is a subject on which light is still
called for. The Caaba of Mecca and the stone of the temple of Diana
at Ephesus are famous isolated instances of it; but it has been
suggested that the standing stones or menhirs which are found in
every part of Europe, and in the south and west of Asia, were objects
of this worship. In Palestine these stones are not found, though they
occur in the neighbouring lands; and this is attributed by Major
Conder[4] to the zeal of the orthodox kings, who, we know from the
Bible, destroyed all the monuments of idolatry in their territory.

[Footnote 3: In Mr. G. A. Gomme's _Ethnology in Folklore_ many sacred
wells are mentioned which are still, or were lately, frequented in
England. St. Wallach's well and bath, in the parish of Glass,
Morayshire, was much resorted to within living memory.]

[Footnote 4: _Scottish Review_, 1894, vol. xvii. p. 33, "Rude Stone
Monuments in Syria."]

What is common to these cults, and cannot be disregarded, is their
local nature. This gives its colour to all the religion of early man.
The god of the sacred tree cannot be worshipped anywhere else than
where the tree stands, and he who would have his wishes granted by
the well must come to it. The deity of this kind of religion has his
abode at a certain spot, and he is a fixed, not a movable deity.
There is a story, or a set of stories, connected with his shrine, and
there are observances of one kind or another to be done there; and
this goes on from age to age. Now a deity who is fixed to one spot
will be worshipped by the people who dwell around that spot. The god
will have his own people and dwell among them, and they alone will be
his worshippers. And thus the surface of the earth comes to be
parcelled out among a number of deities, each seated, like a little
prince, at his own court among his own people. In passing from his
own home to a distant spot, a man will leave the territory of his own
god and enter on that of another, and as the god can only be
worshipped at his own shrine, the man will leave his religion when he
leaves his home, and either be compelled to serve the gods of
strangers, or to perform no religious duties at all.[5] Thus the
ideas connected with totemism meet and harmonise in many old
countries with those connected with local shrines.[6] Those dwelling
around the shrine form a kindred of one blood, of which the local god
is both the progenitor and the living head. Religion is thus both
strictly tribal and strictly local. It is for his brethren of the
tribe, for those in whose veins the blood of the same divine ancestor
runs, that a man's enthusiasm is kindled in acts of worship; it is
his duty to his clan that he then realises, the prosperity of his
clan that he desires. To those of other stems no religious bond
unites him, they are men of another blood, of another worship. His
religious duty is to love his neighbour, or fellow-tribesman, to hate
his enemy, the man of another tribe. And on the other hand, as
religion consists in approaches to a particular spot and the
performance of certain rites, it is left behind when these rites are
accomplished, and the man is away from his god. The sanctuary is
regarded with extreme veneration, often with shrinking and terror,
but distance makes a change, the religion alters with travel, and is
left behind. This religion was on the whole a more exciting and
intense thing than that of the great nature powers; and was far more
interwoven with social life; but it also presented the greatest
obstacles to progress, limiting men's affections to their own kin and
their own land, and confining them in an inveterate conservatism.

[Footnote 5: As illustrating this circle of ideas, compare the
following passages in the Bible: Genesis xxviii.; Ruth i. 16; 1 Sam.
xxvi. 19; 2 Kings v. 17; and of a later period, Psalm xlii.]

[Footnote 6: See on this whole subject Mr. Robertson Smith's
_Religion of the Semites_.]

3. The State after Death.--The belief that the human spirit was not
extinguished at the death of the body, but entered on an existence
without the body somewhere else, opened the door to a wide range of
speculation; and the ideas arrived at by early man as to the place of
spirits and the life beyond, are a principal part of that antique
religion of which the great systems are the heirs. The funeral
practices of prehistoric times, when various articles were placed in
the tomb along with the body of the departed hero or father, and
various sacrifices made to him at his burial or cremation and at
anniversary festivals afterwards, show that the spirits of the dead
were conceived as carrying on the same kind of existence as they had
led here, though an existence unsubstantial and of little power;
"strengthless heads" Homer calls them. Food and drink were of use to
them; for the finer part of it was supposed to reach them. The taste
of blood revived them; and various pleasures were possible to
them.[7] This belief, it will be seen, differs from all the modern
doctrines of a continued existence. It is not the resurrection of the
body that the savage believes in. He knows well enough that the body
does not rise; but he also knows that the spirit can exist and move
and do a number of things that were done in life, without the body.
Nor can he be said to believe in the immortality of the soul. That
term describes a free and unfettered existence after death, but to
the savage the spirit after death has but a troubled and frail
existence; it is tethered to certain spots on the earth, known to it
formerly; it cannot do much, it lives under many limitations and
constraints. Nor, again, can it be said that retribution after death
is a true designation of the early belief. That may be found here and
there in early times, but generally the other life is less under a
divine government than this one; death takes a man away from his god
as well as from his family, and the dead are left to themselves.

[Footnote 7: On this subject compare Mr. Tylor's _Primitive Culture_,
twelfth and thirteenth chapters.]

While, however, this is the general background of primitive belief
about the other life, imagination is at work on the subject very
early, and various features of that life are touched with more vivid
colours, here in one way and there in another. The place where the
departed stay, their occupations, their delights, are variously
described; the land where they dwell is modelled on a land that is
known, with the addition of ideal features; they do very much what
they did on earth, hunt or feast, make music or carry on discussions.
In some cases there is a judgment-seat before which the soul appears
for its trial, and here of course the spirit-world must be divided
into two parts or more, for the reception of those who are approved
and of those who are condemned. The detailed description of the
abodes of the blest and of the damned, by no means peculiar to
Christianity, are later developments in the early world. Hell, Mr.
Tylor says, is unknown to savage thought. The doctrine of
transmigration, however, whether into plants or into lower animals,
is of early growth.

Growth of the Great Religions out of these Beliefs.--These various
developments of thought about the gods did, as a matter of fact, take
place in primitive times, and that is almost all that can be said. In
the religion of savages the various elements we have so briefly
indicated cross and recross each other, in endless combinations; none
of them is to be found entirely by itself. There is no fetish worship
which is not accompanied by traces of an early belief in great gods;
there is no belief in great gods which is not accompanied by a belief
in lower spirits. With regard to every savage religion the student
has to ask what the constituent elements of it are, in what way the
various beliefs of the early world, beliefs arising from such
different sources, meet in it and combine with one another.

In each of the higher religions, too, the same questions have to be
asked. The beliefs which we have sketched are the materials out of
which they also arose. They did not _originate_ the belief in high
gods with power over nature, nor the belief in the lesser spirits
which busy themselves with man's affairs. They did not originate the
belief in a life after death, nor was it left to them to appoint
sacred seasons in the year, or to consecrate the spots to which
worship has always clung. All these beliefs are prehistoric, and what
remained for the great religions was not to bring them forward for
the first time, but to surround them with a new kind of authority,
and to establish as a matter of positive ordinance or revelation what
had formerly grown up without any ordinance by the unconscious work
of custom. It was not left for any of the great founders to plant
religion in the world as a new thing, but only to add to the old
religion new forms and new sanctions.

It may be said that if these are the elements of which religion as a
whole is made, then religion arose at first out of illusions. That is
no doubt true, in a sense. It was an illusion on the part of early
man to suppose that the powers of heaven were animated beings who
could be his allies and answer his appeals; it was an illusion to
think that the tree or the stone contained a spirit, and an illusion
to think that men's spirits can go and wander about the earth by
themselves, leaving their bodies untenanted. But these illusions were
after all only the outward and inadequate expression in which the
spirit of religion then clothed itself. Religion must always express
itself in terms of the knowledge which exists in the world at a
particular time; and if the knowledge is defective to which the world
has attained, religious beliefs must share in its defects. But, on
the other hand, religion is something more than knowledge; it is also
faith and communion, and these can be deep and true, even when the
knowledge which provides their forms of expression is greatly
mistaken. And when the forms of knowledge in which religion has
clothed itself are found to be mistaken, religion has power to leave
them behind and to adopt other forms, as the tree is clothed with
fresh leaves in place of those which are withered.

Yet it would be wrong to admit that even in its character as
knowledge early religion was illusion and no more. The poetic
faculty, the faculty which prompts us to find outside us what we feel
to be within us and to assert its reality, led man right and not
wrong. What he worshipped was not the bare object which met the eye
and ear, but the thing as he conceived it. He conceived that there
was without him that of which his inner consciousness bore witness,
an ideal, a being not grasped by the senses, which could help him,
with which he could hold intercourse, which had the power he himself
had not. This, not the faulty outward expressions in which the
sentiment clothed itself, was the living and growing element of his

In addition to the books cited in this chapter, we may mention--

C. Bötticher, _Der Baumkultus der Hellenen_, 1856.

J. Ferguson, _Tree and Serpent Worship_, 1868.

J. Ferguson, _Rude Stone Monuments in all Countries_, 1872.

J. G. Fraser, _Totemism and Exogamy_, 4 vols. 1910. An immense
collection of material on the subject of totemism, with fresh
conclusions as to the origin and meaning of the system.


In early religion it is important to remember that belief counted for
much less than it now does; a man's religion consisted in the
religious acts he did, and not in the beliefs or thoughts he
cherished about his god. Worship, moreover, is that element of
religion which in all ages and lands is apt to advance most slowly.
Even in times of ferment of ideas and change of belief, we often see
that the worship of a former time, be it simple or stately, goes on
in its old forms, as if it were a thing that could not change. Men
alter their beliefs more readily than their habits, especially the
habits connected with their faith. If this is the case generally, it
was much more the case in the early world than it is now. The
religion of a shrine in old times consisted of a certain story about
the god, and certain acts done before or near the object which
represented him. There was no compulsion, however, to believe the
story if a man did the acts or took part in them. As to his private
beliefs no one inquired; if he took part in the proper acts of
worship he counted as a religious man, unless he went so far as
openly to flout the current opinions of his time.

Nor were the acts which went to make up religion of an elaborate or
difficult nature. No minute ritual regulated in early times the
approaches to the deity; they were a matter of common knowledge, and
were fixed not by law, which did not yet exist in any form, but by
public custom and public opinion. The manner in which a god is to be
served is known of course to his own people who dwell around him;
others do not know it. The immigrants from Assyria had to send for a
Hebrew to teach them the ritual of the God of Palestine, as they were
on his ground and did not know the right way to worship Him (2 Kings
xvii. 24 _sqq._). It is later that the rite becomes a mystery, known
only to the professional guardian of the shrine or to the initiated

Sacrifice is an invariable feature of early religion. Wherever gods
are worshipped, gifts and offerings are made to them of one kind or
another. It is in this way that, in antiquity at least, the relation
with the deity was renewed, if it had been slackened or broken, or
strengthened and made sure. Sacrifice and worship are in the ancient
world identical terms. The nature of the offering and the mode of
presenting it are infinitely various, but there is always sacrifice
in one form or another. Different deities of course receive different
gifts; the tree has its roots watered, or trophies of battle or of
the chase are hung upon its branches; horses are thrown into the sea.
But of primitive sacrifice generally we may affirm that it consists
of such food and drink as men themselves partake of. Whether it be
the fruit of the field or the firstling of the flock that is offered
at the sacred stone, whether the offering is burnt before the god or
set down and left near him, or whether he is summoned to come down
from the sky or to travel from the far country to which he may have
gone, it is of the materials of a meal that the sacrifice consists.
In some cases it appears to be thought that the god consumes the
offering, as when Fire is worshipped with offerings which he burns
up, or when a fissure in the earth closes upon a victim; but in most
cases it is only the spirit or finer essence of the sacrifice that
the god enjoys; the rest he leaves to men. And thus sacrifice is
generally accompanied by a meal. The offering is presented to the god
whole, but the worshippers help to eat it. The god gets the savour of
it which rises into the air towards him, while the more material part
is devoured below. Every sacrifice is also a festival.[1] If this be
the case it is unnecessary to spend much time in considering a number
of theories formerly regarded with favour as to the original meaning
and intention of sacrifice. The view that it is originally simply a
bribe to the deity to induce him to afford some needed help, receives
a good deal of countenance from primitive expressions. "_Do ut des_,"
"I give to thee that thou mayest give to me." "Here is butter, give
us cows!" "By gifts are the gods persuaded, by gifts great kings."
Was early sacrifice then simply a business transaction, in which man
bringing a prayer to the deity brought a gift too, as he was
accustomed to do to the great ones of the earth, in order that the
deity might be well disposed towards him and grant his petition? Even
if this was the case, if sacrifice were offered with the direct and
almost the avowed intention of getting good value for it, yet if it
takes the form of a meal, it is lifted above the most sordid form of
bribery. There is a difference between slipping money into a man's
hand and asking him to dinner, even if the object aimed at be in both
cases the same; and when the invitations are numerous and formal,
there must be a moral, not an immoral, relation between the two
parties. Where the sacrifice is a meal, intercourse is sought for; a
certain sympathy exists between worshipper and worshipped; they stand
to each other not only in the relation of briber and bribed, buyer
and seller, but in that of patron and client, or of father and son.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Tylor (_Prim. Cult._ vol. ii. p. 397) states that
"sacrifices to deities, from the lowest to the highest levels of
culture, consist, to the extent of nine-tenths or more, of gifts of
food and sacred banquets."]

But granting that early sacrifice was for the most part a meal, an
observance, with a social element in it, between the god and the
worshipper, what was the object of this meal, what was the motive for
holding it? In some cases it looks as if the intention had been to
strengthen the god, and to make him more vigorous, so that he might
be able to do what was wanted of him. In the Vedic hymns this motive
undeniably is to be met with. The notion is by no means unknown in
early thought, that not only does man need God, but that God is also
dependent on man, and capable of being aided and encouraged. In rites
which are not strictly sacrifices, we notice men seeking to
sympathise with their gods in what the gods are doing, and to take a
share in it by doing similar things themselves. The Christmas and
Easter fires in pagan times connected with the worship of the sun,
are examples of this, and many other instances might be cited.

This, however, is not the principal motive of early sacrifice. All
the incidents of it suggest that it is not merely a thing offered to
the deity, but a thing in which man takes part; if it is a meal, it
is one of which the god and the worshippers partake in common. In
China the ancestors are invited to the family feast; their place is
set for them; their share in the feast is placed before them. In the
_Iliad_,[2] we have an account of a solemn religious act: after
prayers the victims were slaughtered, choice slices were cut from
them and cooked at the fire by the worshippers, who then ate and
drank their fill; after this "all day long they worshipped the god
with music, singing the beautiful pæan to Apollo, and his heart was
glad to hear." In the Bible we know that the blood is poured out for
the Deity, and in various sacrifices the parts He is to have are
specified, while the rest is to be eaten by the priests. In the
earlier sacrifices of the Hebrews there are no priests; those who
present the sacrifice consume it after the act of presentation, and
the occasion is one of mirth and jollity, as at a banquet (1 Sam. ix.
12, 13, and the following description; see also Exod. xxxii. 5, 6).
In fact it is a banquet. This is specially plain in the sacrifices of
the Semites, as Mr. Robertson Smith has shown. Early Semitic usage
exhibits clearly how sacrifice was an act of communion, in which the
god and his human family proclaimed and renewed their unity with each
other. The details may differ in other races, but in general it may
be said that early sacrifice was an act done not by an individual,
though plenty of individual sacrifices are also to be met with, but
by a tribe, in which all the partakers of the blood of the tribe took
part before the god who was their common ancestor, and who, as it
were, presided over and shared in their feast. In some cases of
totem-clans the totem animal is sacrificed, and all the members of
the clan eat their animal ancestor (only on such a solemn occasion
could the totem be eaten), and so renew their bond of membership and
brotherhood. A covenant is made by sacrifice, to which the deity and
all the members of his people are parties.

[Footnote 2: I. 457 _sqq._]

To these primitive conceptions others no doubt should be added. The
mood was not always the same which prevailed when the tribe renewed
its union with its god; that depended on circumstances. In general
the sacrifice of early days is a joyous thing, but to a fierce god
cruel rites belonged. When cannibalism was practised it also was such
a primitive sacrifice, and the most powerful means, no doubt, of
cementing the union of the god with the members of the tribe. When
the god was noted for suffering, a tragic tone prevailed, and the
sacrifice might have a dramatic character and represent the leading
incident in the history of the god.

If we trace the history of sacrifice in any particular people we find
two opposite tendencies at work in connection with it. On the one
hand there is a disposition to smooth matters, to drop the harsher
practices, to let an animal victim suffice where a man used to be
sacrificed, to let the man off with some slight mutilation, such as
circumcision; or to allow poor people to offer a less costly victim
than the former custom claimed--the rite, in fact, becomes civilised,
and adapts itself to the feelings of a humaner period. On the other
hand there is a tendency to add to the value of the offerings, and to
reckon the efficacy of sacrifice by its cost and painfulness. In
periods of outward distress sacrifice attains a deeper earnestness,
nothing is to be left undone, and no cost to be spared to bring the
deity back to his people; darker customs which had become obsolete
are revived again,[3] the ceremonial is made more elaborate, new
kinds of sacrifice are introduced. The old social aspect of sacrifice
grows faint; it becomes a propitiation or a trespass-offering; the
notion is entertained that sacrifice is the more efficacious the more
it has cost, or the more magnificent and awful its mode of

[Footnote 3: An instance of human sacrifice has just taken place in a
remote part of Russia.]

Prayer is the ordinary concomitant of sacrifice; the worshipper
explains the reason of the gift, and urges the deity to accept it,
and to grant the help that is needed. The prayers of the earliest
stage are offered on emergencies, and often appear to be intended to
attract the attention of the god who may be engaged in another
direction. The requests they contain are of the most primary sort.
Food is asked for, success in hunting or fishing, strength of arm,
rain, a good harvest, children, etc. The prayers have a ring of
urgency; they state the claims the worshipper has on the god, and
mention his former offerings as well as the present one; they praise
the power and the past acts of the deity, and adjure him by his whole
relationship to his people (and also to their enemies) to grant their
requests. As life grows more secure, the note of immediate urgency
fades out of prayer; being a feature not of an occasional worship
arising from some pressing need, but of a worship statedly offered at
set times, it tends to run into forms, and to become fixed and to
have the nature of a liturgy. Then it comes about that the words
themselves are regarded as sacred, and that the efficacy of the
sacrifice is supposed to be partly dependent on them. They are
incantations which the deity cannot resist,--charms which in
themselves have virtue to secure the desired result.

Sacred Places, Objects, Persons.--The early world had no temples, nor
idols, nor priests. The worship of nature does not suggest the
enclosing of a space for religious acts. The natural object itself
being the sacred thing, worship is brought to it where it stands; the
gift is carried to the tree or to the well, and if the deities are
conceived as being above the earth, then the tops of hills are the
spots where man can be nearest to them. High places are sacred in all
lands. Groves and remote spots are also sacred. When man was carrying
on his struggle with the wild beasts he would regard with terror the
places where they had their lairs and strongholds; it was in this
form that the feeling of mystery with which moderns regard places
where they are cut off from all human intercourse, first appealed to
man. After this earliest stage had passed, and the grove had come to
be regarded as the dwelling of a deity, it became a place man did not
dare to approach except with the necessary precautions. We may here
explain a notion which plays a great part in early religion, but is
not specially connected with any one institution of it, the notion,
namely, of taboo. Taboo is a Polynesian term, and indicates that
which man must not use or touch, because it belongs to a deity. The
god's land must not be trodden, the animal dedicated to the god must
not be eaten, the chief who represents the god must not be lightly
treated or spoken of. These are examples of taboo where the
inviolable object or person belongs to a good god, and where the
taboo corresponds exactly with the rule of holiness.[4] But instances
are still more numerous among savages of taboo attaching to an object
because it is connected with a malignant power. The savage is
surrounded on every side by such prohibitions; there is danger at
every step that he may touch on what is forbidden to him, and draw
down on himself unforeseen penalties. The nature of the early deities
also excludes idolatry in connection with them; there is no need for
a representation of a being who is visibly present, and can be
extolled and worshipped in his own person. It was at a later stage,
when the god came to be personified and separated in thought from his
natural basis, that the need arose to make representations of him to
aid the imagination. The stones of early religion are not idols. They
are natural, not artificial stones; they are not images of the god,
but the god himself, or at least that in which the divine spirit
dwells,[5] or with which it associates itself for the purpose of
worship. And, further, the earliest time knows no priests; there is
no special class to whom alone the celebration of sacrifice is
entrusted. It would be quite inconsistent with the whole view of
sacrifice which then prevailed, to suppose that it could be done by
proxy. It was a man's own act, by which he identified himself with
his god and with his tribe, and that could only be done by a personal
service. We often find kings and chiefs sacrificing. Agamemnon does
so, Abraham and Saul do so, though the sacrifice of the latter is
disapproved of by the priestly writer. David does so without being
rebuked for it. The king or chief does this as the natural head of
his clan; some one must take the leading part in the transaction. As
religion is the principal part of politics, and the first business of
the state is to keep itself right with the gods, the head of the
state is its most natural representative on such an occasion. The
head of a household also sacrifices for his house, not only to the
spirits of the house, but in cases like that of Job, where there is
no question of ancestor-worship. Early custom did not fix in any
uniform manner by whose hands a sacrifice was to be made.

[Footnote 4: _Religion of the Semites_, by W. R. Smith, p. 142,

[Footnote 5: _Religion of the Semites_, by W. R. Smith, p. 192.]

Magic.--In another direction, however, we see in the earliest times
the growth of a class of persons with religious functions and
attributes. While the ordinary worship of the gods does not require
the services of any special class, there is everywhere found the man
of special knowledge and gifts, to whom men resort for needs lying
outside the scope of that worship. Every savage religion contains a
certain amount of magic, of practices, that is to say, by which it is
thought possible to influence or to foretell outward events. Early
man is not limited in his views of what may happen by any accurate
knowledge of natural laws, or of the sequence of cause and effect,
and he imagines it possible to influence nature in various ways. He
imitates what he supposes to be the causes of things, judging that
the effect will also follow; or he uses such powers as he may have
over spirits, to induce or compel them to accomplish his wishes; or
he manipulates objects he believes to have a hidden virtue, in a way
he believes calculated to bring about the desired result. Magic is
thus related both to the cult of spirits and to that of casual
objects, both to animism and to fetishism. There is generally a
special person in a tribe who knows these things, and is able to work
them. It may be the chief or king,--there are many instances in which
the chief is believed to have power to bring rain,--or it may be a
separate functionary, medicine-man, sorcerer, diviner, seer, or
whatever name be given him. He has more power over spirits than other
men have, and is able to make them do what he likes. He can heal
sickness, he can foretell the future, he can change a thing into
something else, or a man into a lower animal or a tree, or anything;
he can also assume such transformations himself at will. He uses
means to bring about such results; he knows about herbs, he has
stones or other objects endowed with special virtues, he also has
recourse to rubbing, to making images of affected parts of the body,
and to various other arts. Very frequently he is regarded as
inspired. It is the spirit dwelling in him which brings about the
wonderful results; without the spirit he could not do anything. While
the details of course vary infinitely in different tribes, the figure
of the worker of magic is an essential feature of any general sketch
of early religion. He is often a person of great political
importance; being supposed to be in closer alliance than any one else
with spiritual beings, he has a power which is much dreaded, and
which even the chief cannot disregard.

Of Sacred Seasons there can be but few in the earliest human life,
when there is no fixed measure of time, nor any notion of regularity,
but all depends on the occurrence of need and of danger. As soon as
agriculture was engaged in, however, attention must have been fixed
on the recurrence of the seasons, and the measures of time afforded
by the moon must, at least, have been observed. The summer and the
winter solstice, the equinoxes, the new moons, these were to the
early cultivator epochs to be observed; and certain annual feasts are
found to have come into use in very early times, epochs of man's
simplest and earliest calendar, and occasions for tribal gatherings
and for such fixed religious observances as we have described. A
private religious emergency arising in the interval between two
feasts is dealt with by means of a vow; the help of the deity, that
is to say, is claimed at once, but the payment of the due
consideration for it on man's part is deferred till the time of
sacrifice comes round.[6]

[Footnote 6: Genesis xxviii. 20; Judges xi. 30; 2 Sam. xv. 8.]

Character of Early Religion.--We have now passed in review the
principal observances and usages of primitive religion; but before
concluding this chapter some remarks have to be made as to the
position religion held in the life of ancient times, and as to the
spirit and temper which it exhibited. In the first place, as we
remarked above, religion was in these times the most important branch
of the public service. Every uncommon occurrence had to be laid
before the god, and no important step could be taken without
consulting him; and it was a principal duty of the head of the state
to keep the god on good terms with the tribe, and to apply to him for
all the aid and protection the tribe required from him. In attending
to this, however, the chief was acting for his tribesmen; where there
was no chief these matters were not neglected, but were looked after
by common spontaneous action by the members of the tribe. The god was
their lord, their father, and they must always take him along with
them. This identification of the god with the interests of his
subjects is so close that the latter are troubled with no doubts as
to whether or not their god is with them. If they observe the
customary rules for cultivating his friendship, he must be with them;
they never imagine that he can be estranged from them. It is the
habitual attitude of early religion to take it for granted that the
god goes with his people (he generally has no other people to go
with) and helps them against their adversaries. To doubt this and to
resort to sacrifices of atonement to bring him back from his
estrangement is a later stage of religion. But if religion is in this
way a public matter, a matter of the tribe and its concerns, what
place is there in it for the individual? Individual cares and needs
may form the subject of prayers and vows, but religion on the whole
has to do with the tribe, not with the individual, or with the
individual only as a member of the tribe. It is the duty of every one
to take his part in the public approaches to the god; he must either
do so or be cut off from his tribe. For his own griefs there is
little comfort in the tribal worship; indeed, personal sorrows and
perplexities meet with but little consideration in early religion. As
the tribe is in no doubt of the goodwill of its god, and regards him
as a firm ally not easily turned away, old religion has a confident
and joyous air, strongly contrasting with the doubts and the
contrition of modern faith. The acts of worship are feasts at which
the members of the tribe rejoice and make merry before their god. To
the delights of feasting those of dance and song are added ("The
people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play"), and
frequently the merrymaking goes to the pitch of frenzy; the
worshippers dance themselves into an ecstasy; they feel the god
taking possession of them, and are hurried along by the sacred
inspiration to behaviour they would not dream of at any other time.

Early Religion and Morality.--How did this early religion bear upon
morality? In how far was it a power for righteousness? There are two
sides to this question. In the first place, the religion of the
infant world was a strong influence for the restraint of individual
excess. The god being the parent of the tribe, its customs had his
sanction, he had no higher interest than its welfare, he was
identified with all its enterprises, its battles were his battles
also. The worship of the god therefore made strongly for loyalty to
the tribe, and for the observance of its customs; it caused a man to
forget his own interest where that of the tribe was concerned, and
unhesitatingly to sacrifice himself for the public cause. But, on the
other hand, primitive religion was an intensely conservative force;
it subjected the whole life to the customs of the tribe, and
discouraged spontaneity and independence in moral action. The duties
it prescribed were of a conventional order; a man had no duties to
those beyond his tribe, and to his fellow-tribesmen religion bade him
rather walk by rule than consult his own feelings. Of the morality
which consists in discipline and subordination to the community,
early religion was an efficient school; to the higher morality, the
law of which is found written in the heart, and which aims at
rendering higher services than those of custom, it did not attain.
The worship of the higher nature-powers, the heavenly powers of light
and kindness, tending as it did to transcend the limits of place and
of nationality, was destined powerfully to foster a more generous
morality than that of the tribal worship, and this tendency was no
doubt dimly felt by early man long before it was possible for him to
follow it.


We now leave behind us the beliefs and practices of savage and
barbarous tribes, and turn to those of mighty empires. The gulf which
lies between these two parts of our subject is obviously a wide one;
and in many instances there is no bridge by which the student can
pass from one to the other. Often it is a matter of inference rather
than of direct proof that the great systems are built out of the
materials accumulated, as we have seen, in the prehistoric period.
But the inference is sufficiently strong to rest upon; in some cases
we are able to see quite clearly how the religion of the empire arose
by an uninterrupted growth out of that of the tribe; and in the cases
where this cannot be so fully made out, we yet judge that the result
came about in a similar way. We pause therefore at this point to ask
what is the nature of the transition at which we have arrived, or, in
other words, what constitutes the difference between the primitive
and the later religions? The difference is probably not one of
magnitude only; it consists not merely in the fact that the religion
of the empire is that of a much larger number of people than that of
the tribe; there is a difference in character as well as in
dimensions. With a view to the examination of this point it will be
found convenient to consider some of the proposed classifications of
religions, as most of these, though for different reasons, place the
religions of the early world in a different category from those known
to us historically.

The old-fashioned Classification of Religions was that of the true
and the false. This our principle forbids us to accept, since we
regard the various faiths of the world as stages in the development
of religion, and therefore all relatively true.

Another division which has done good service is that into natural and
revealed religion. By natural religion has generally been understood
such religion as human reason could attain to without supernatural
aid. But this description does not apply to any religious system that
ever prevailed largely in any country; the actual religions have all
been the work of custom and age-long tradition, not of the deliberate
operation of reason. Natural religion therefore is a term which is of
no use to us in classification; since none of the actual religions
which we have to study answers to that title. Nor is revealed
religion a term we can conveniently use in such a work as this. Many
religions claim to be the result of revelation, but few make it at
the outset of their career. The title tells us nothing about the
original character of a religion, but only that at some period in its
career the claim was made for it that its origin was supernatural. If
we grouped the revealed religions together we might find that the
members of the group had no similarity to each other beyond the
accidental circumstance that the claim of revelation had been made
for them. Besides, science cannot possibly take the revealed
character of any religion for granted, but must examine each such
faith to see if its growth cannot be accounted for without that

The term "natural" religion has, however, other meanings than that
just mentioned, and some of these we may find to be of more service.
It is proposed to divide religions into "natural" and "positive," or
into those which have grown up and those which have been founded. The
earlier religions were not due to the personal action of outstanding
individuals (at least if they were, as surely they must have been in
part, the individuals and their struggles are unrecorded), but were
the work of unconscious growth, and were produced by forces, which,
as they were at work in every part of the early world, may be called
natural. These religions do not appeal to the authority of any
founder, but are borne forward by custom and tradition. Some of the
later systems, on the contrary, bear the names of their founders, and
are said to have been introduced into the world at a certain time and
place. Their beginning is fixed, and they have a body of beliefs and
practices which belong to their original constitution, and possess
authority for all subsequent generations of believers.

This classification promises well at first, but it is difficult to
apply it; some religions pass imperceptibly from the stage of custom
to that of statute, and in many religions both elements are so
largely present that it is difficult to strike the balance between
them. We are led to the conclusion that the real difference between
the earlier and the later religions is a more vital one than any of
these classifications would indicate. The authority and the positive
character of the later systems is a symptom of the change which has
produced them, but the change itself lies deeper. The higher form of
religion is due to a great step which has been taken in civilisation;
it is one of the features of the advance of society to a new stage.

Rise of National Religion.--It is an immense step in human progress
when a set of barbarous tribes unite to form a nation. Under the
strong hand of some chief or under the pressure of some great
necessity, they give up the isolation which is both the weakness and
the strength of the tribal state of society, they choose some strong
place for their centre, they submit to a common government, and while
still remembering their separate tribal traditions and usages, they
learn to act as members of a greater community than the tribe. This
is the beginning of civilisation proper. Law takes the place of
custom; the state undertakes to punish crime, and private vengeance
is discouraged; the state also undertakes the protection of the weak,
so that humane sentiment appears, and a security is engendered in
which the arts and sciences can spring up and flourish.

When this takes place a new type of religion also makes its
appearance. While each of the tribes may long retain its own gods,
and its peculiar rites, some one god, perhaps the god of the
strongest tribe, assumes a higher position than the rest; his worship
becomes the central religion of the community, round which the other
worships arrange themselves by degrees, until there comes to be a
system embracing them all, but itself possessing a new character. In
this way a national religion comes into existence. The details of
this process are in every case beyond our observation. It is not
perhaps for centuries after the national religion has come into
operation, that reflection is turned towards it; not till the art of
writing has come to some perfection is it described and formulated
and made statutory; and by that time all accurate memory of its
beginnings has faded away, and its origin is explained instead by a
set of legends. But though its beginnings, like all beginnings, are
obscure, the national religion is there. It has its history; the
great man who brought the tribes together, or who first devised for
them a higher form of worship, is remembered as its founder; the
foundation is ascribed to the inspiration of the chief god himself;
its sacred forms are written down and obtain the force of divine
laws, the will of the deity is a thing clearly known and expressed in
positive terms.

It is not asserted that this description will apply to the origin of
all the national religions; the character and the circumstances of
one nation differ from those of another, and it need not be supposed
that they all reached their state worships in the same way. Some
religions have become national by conquest rather than growth; while
some which may truly be called national never attained to any
national organisation. The process we have described, however, may be
regarded as the typical one for the rise of a national out of tribal
religions, and indicates to us what we may regard as the real and
substantial difference between the stage with which we have been
occupied and that to which we are now to turn. All other differences
between the prehistoric and the historical religions may be traced to
this one. Before the religion of a nation has systematised its
doctrine and its ritual so as to merit the name of positive, before
it has provided itself with a detailed ritual or a fixed creed, or a
regular priesthood, or a set of sacred books, the momentous step has
already been taken, the new form of religious consciousness has
appeared. Men have begun to believe not only in the tribal but in the
national god or gods, and a national religion has come into

The advance from tribal to national worship is one of the most
momentous in the whole history of religion. The nature of the change
involved in it may be summed up as follows.

1. Men obtain a Greater God than they had before. Formerly a man
believed in the god of his tribe, one deity among many, as his tribe
was one among many, each having its own god; but now he comes to know
a god who is higher than the other tribal gods, as the king whom the
tribes have united to obey is greater than the tribal chiefs. The god
stands at a greater distance than before from the worshipper;
familiarity is lessened, and religion becomes capable of a deeper
reverence and adoration. Although the worship of the tribal god is
still kept up, yet if the new-born national consciousness is strong,
the national form of religion rather than the tribal will determine
the religious sentiment of the individual.

2. New Social Bond.--The nature of the social force exerted by
religion is altogether changed. In tribal religion the tie of the
worshippers both to their god and to each other is that of blood; the
god is their common lineal ancestor, whose blood is in the veins of
all the tribesmen. The social bond supplied by such a religion is
limited to the members of the tribe; a man's fellow-tribesmen are his
brothers, but all other men are his enemies; with them he is at war
as his god is. Social duty is a matter of blood relationship, and
extends only to the kindred. When a national religion is arrived at,
a social obligation of a new kind will evidently make its appearance.
The national god is related by blood to only one of the tribes
composing the nation; the bond between him and the other tribes must
be of another nature. He has conquered their gods or they have
voluntarily accepted him as their chief god; in any case it is not
the tie of blood that binds them to him, but some more ideal tie,
like that between a king and his subjects, or between a patron and
his clients. And they now have a religious connection also with men
who are not their kindred. The national worship is inconsistent with
the gross materialism of the system of kinship, and places instead of
it the belief in a god further above the world, and therefore more
spiritual, and obligations to men which, as they are not derived from
a common blood, are somewhat more purely moral.

3. A Better God.--The new god of the nation as he is higher above the
world is a being of higher and better character. He belongs to all
the tribes, and is not the mere partisan of any; like the king, he is
above tribal jealousies, and is interested in checking the violence
of all, and securing justice to all. He may be appealed to by those
who have suffered violence and who have no earthly helper; and thus
he tends to become an ideal of justice and fatherly kindness, and to
reflect in the world above the sentiments springing up in the world
below, in favour of the repression of violence and the administration
of even-handed justice.

In these directions the religion of the nation tends to rise above
that of the tribe. The tribal worships may continue almost as they
were, the tribal gods may still be worshipped, the tribal jealousies
and conflicts still be carried on in spite of the new union, and all
the superstitions of early religion may long survive; yet a new
religious force has appeared which will in time produce a complete
new system. The true principle of classification, therefore, must be
drawn from the difference between tribal and national religion, as
this is the most vital difference, and that from which all the others
which we mentioned may be derived.

The transition thus sketched took place at widely different periods
in different parts of the world; it began early and has taken place
even in modern times, while very many tribes in various parts of the
globe have not yet arrived at it. It is a transition of which it is
manifestly impossible to exhibit the detail; in most cases the detail
is not known, and it were a profitless task to trace how primitive
religions met, united or remained apart, and how their crossings in
one case led to a national religion, and in many others led to no
such result. Much, no doubt, is to be found on such points in special
works, and much still remains to be discovered. Various instances of
the formation of national religions will meet us in our subsequent

The Inca Religion.--We give, however, at this point an example of the
transition we have described, drawn from a quarter remote from the
great movements of history, and in which the facts are plain and
uncontested. Of the two great civilised communities of the New World,
discovered by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, Mexico presents
a worship compounded of many elements, which, along with high and
lofty morality and great magnificence of ritual, yet retains an
extraordinary amount of cruelty and savage horror. In Peru, however,
we find a state religion which superseded savage cults still
remembered in the country, and from the _Royal Commentaries of the
Incas_, written by the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega in the beginning of
the seventeenth century,[1] we are able to describe the religion of
Peru both before and after the Inca reformation.

[Footnote 1: Printed by the Hakluyt Society.]

"Before the Incas," this writer tells us, "each province, each
nation, and each house had its own gods, different from one another,
for they thought that a stranger's god could not attend to them but
only their own." They worshipped all manner of deities; of these are
mentioned herbs, plants, flowers, all kinds of trees, high hills,
great rocks, and the chinks in them; caves, pebbles, emeralds. They
also worshipped animals; the tiger, the lion, and the bear for their
fierceness, and the monkey for his cunning; these they did not kill,
but went down on the ground to worship them and would even suffer
themselves to be devoured by them, since they regarded these animals
as their own ancestors. All kinds of animals they treated in this
way; there was not an animal, how filthy and vile soever, so the
quaint words tell us, they did not look on as a god. Other Indians,
again, worshipped things from which they derived benefit, such as
great fountains and rivers; some worshipped the earth, and called it
mother, because it yielded their fruits; some the sea, calling it
Mamacocha; and a great number of other objects of adoration are
mentioned. They sacrificed animals and maize, but also men and women,
and these not only captives taken in war but also their own children,
smearing the idol with the blood. (In other quarters of the globe
this is a symbolic act showing that the idol and the worshippers all
partake in the same life.) Some tribes were fiercer than others, and
practised cannibalism more extensively. They were also well provided
with sorcerers and witches.

All this the Incas altered. They were a princely family, regarding
whose origin and accession to power various legends are told; the god
they worshipped was the sun, and they considered and called
themselves the children of the sun. Their father the sun, they said,
had sent their forefathers to teach the tribes various things they
very much needed to learn; to cultivate the fields, to breed flocks,
to live in peace, to respect the wives and daughters of others, and
to have no more than one wife. The Incas knew better, it was said,
than the rest how to choose a god, and they declared that men should
worship the sun, who gave light and heat and made things grow; they
should be grateful for his benefits, and he would reward them if they
were obedient. The Indians accordingly took the sun for their god
"without father or brothers"; they considered the moon to be his
sister and wife, but did not worship her. Besides this, we hear the
Incas sought a supreme god, and called him "Pachacamac," that is
"soul of the world." This being gave life to the world and supported
it, but they did not build temples to him or offer him any sacrifice;
they worshipped him in their hearts as an unknown god.

The practice of the Inca religion as described to us by several
Spanish writers falls a good deal short of this doctrine. Many beings
were worshipped besides the sun; a number of prayers were addressed
to the Creator and the sun and thunder. Many sacred objects also were
adored, such as embalmed bodies of ancestors and various idols. They
practised all kinds of magic, and, worst of all, many boys and girls
were offered in sacrifice, even before the Incas and on great public
occasions. The reformation of the Incas is evidently not complete; if
it had not been arrested by the arrival of the Spaniards it may be
that the purifying agency of the new religion would have found much
still to do. Enough, however, is seen to afford strong confirmation
of the principle that religion gains infinitely in elevation when a
national worship appears. The Incas were no doubt the heads of a
tribe which had conquered others, and imposed its religion on them.
The lesser conquered worships do not die out at once, but continue
along with the central one. But the latter expresses the national
spirit and aspirations; and, as settled life fosters the growth of
intelligence and of public spirit, the central worship must more and
more supersede the others, while itself casting off its superstitious
and backward elements and becoming reasonable and elevating.

It will be convenient to indicate at this stage the further line of
study to be followed in this volume. As it is our aim to trace,
however inadequately, the growth of the religion of the world as a
whole, it is necessary that we should confine ourselves to those
parts of religious history which lie in the line of that growth, or
which serve in a conspicuous manner to illustrate the principles
according to which it has taken place. It is by no means our purpose
to give an account of all the religions of the world, nor do we seek
to form a complete magazine of the curious phenomena with which this
vast field of study is in every part so well supplied. If we have
interposed the foregoing brief account of the religion of the Incas,
it is not because of its own intrinsic importance, but because it
supplies within so brief a compass such an apt example of that
process which occurs so often in the growth of religion, by which the
unorganised rites of a multitude of clans and families give way when
the nation comes into being, to the higher and better religion of the
state. In the same way the great religions of which we must next
speak have, no doubt, only a loose connection with the central line
of the world's religious progress. No work professing to deal ever so
cursorily with our subject could omit to deal with the religion of
China nor with that of Egypt; yet neither of these faiths perhaps has
permanently enriched the religious consciousness of mankind. The
religion of Babylonia, with which each of these is connected, was
also of isolated and independent growth, and is far away from us both
in time and in historical connection. Like great and solitary
mountains of ancient formation, each on a continent distant from
ours, these faiths attract us not because we depend on them, but
because they are interesting in themselves. It was out of the same
jungle of primitive beliefs and rites, out of which our own religion
has at length grown, that each of these lifted its head to such
heights as it attained.

After disposing of these great systems we come to the developments,
much later in point of time, which have led to the highest religion
yet attained. And here two great races or groups of peoples have to
be considered, each in its own way singularly gifted and each
contributing in a distinctive manner to the growth of religion. These
are the Semitic and the Indo-European families. Under each of these
heads we find several well-marked religions; and the nature of the
case itself points out our further procedure. Taking up first the
Semitic group,--including Islam,--since this part of the subject lies
at a greater distance from ourselves, we shall inquire whether there
is any common element in the various religions it comprises, or, in
other words, if there is a Semitic religion which may be regarded as
the origin from which the Semitic religions alike sprang, and which
gave them a common character; and we shall then proceed to discuss
the Semitic religions each by itself. We shall then discuss the
common belief of the Aryans, and go on to the religions of the more
important Aryan nations. Our last chapters will deal with
Christianity and will point out the nature of development which our
study as a whole may have taught us to recognise in the religion of


On the classification of Religions see Tiele's article on "Religion"
in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_, Ninth Edition.

Alb. Reville, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as
illustrated by the Native Religions of Mexico and Peru. _Hibbert
Lectures_, 1884.

De la Saussaye, Third Edition, pp. 5-16, gives a good conspectus of
the various classifications which have been proposed.



The religion of Babylonia, of which that of Assyria is a late form,
as the Assyrians appropriated all they could of the religion and the
literature of this southern empire which they conquered, cannot be
classed along with any other without some inconvenience. In point of
remoteness in time it takes precedence even of the religions of China
and of Egypt; like these great faiths it also is, in its earlier
stage, a growth by itself in a land and people of its own, where
apparently it grew up independently from rude beginnings. It is
undoubtedly one of the Semitic religions; but it had a character of
its own which other Semitic religions did not share, and of the
simple and early Semitic religious attitude which will be set forth
in another chapter it retained but little. It had an immense
influence. Its ideas entered the religion of the Old Testament by
several roads. Abram came to Canaan through Haran from Ur of the
Chaldees; and in Canaan the religious ideas, myths, and legends of
Babylon must have been well known. The discovery of this code of
Hammurabi has shown that many of the laws of Moses were laws of
Babylonia long before Moses. In a later period the tread of
Babylonian soldiery was heard in Palestine many a time before the
great captivity, in which Israel sat down and wept remembering Zion
by the waters of Babylon. In Greece also we find that ideas which
came from Babylon had become known, by way of Phenicia, at a very
early period. Recent discoveries, however, seems to make it
impossible to assign to the religion of Mesopotamia any other place
than the first among the great faiths of the world. The ancient
connection between Mesopotamia and Egypt, surmised till now rather
than known, is coming to light, and it appears, at least, possible
that the first of these countries may have to be regarded as the
source of all the civilisations of antiquity. The pantheon of Egypt
has striking similarities to that of Babylonia, and some of the
Egyptian temples show traces of derivation from the lands of the
Tigris and Euphrates. The similarities in the case of China are not
so marked, but they are substantial. In Babylonia, therefore, we may
be dealing not with one of three isolated religions, but with the
mother of the other two. If, as Mr. Lockyer holds,[1] Egypt borrowed
astronomy from Babylon in connection with temple-building, more than
5000 years B.C., the religion of Babylon must indeed be carried far
into the past.

[Footnote 1: _Dawn of Astronomy_, 1894.]

People and Literature.--Certain parts of Babylonian religion are much
ruder and more superstitious than the exalted star-worship which is
its central feature, and these have been ascribed to peoples who
dwelt in Babylonia before the supposed Semitic conquest, viz. the
Accadians in the north and the Sumerians to the south, peoples not
related to the Semites in blood or in language, but generally called
Turanian, and thought to be perhaps akin to the Chinese. The
cuneiform writing which remained in use for millenniums after the
Semitic immigration as the sacred literary form, was supposed to have
been the invention of these peoples, who had also made some progress
in plastic art.

There is, however, no direct evidence of the alleged early Semitic
invasion, and the Sumerian hypothesis of which it is a feature is now
regarded by some with less confidence. It is based on linguistic
phenomena. Hammurabi, 2250 B.C., reigned over a realm whose subjects
were of different tongues, and entrusted his records to two methods
of writing. The old Sumerian language, which cannot, in the opinion
of the best scholars, be shown to have affinity with any language of
the ancient world, came to be confined to matters of religion and
magic, and was superseded by the Assyro-Babylonian, which was
Semitic. But the feeble ray of the Sumerian hypothesis can be
dispensed with in the light which is shining on ancient Babylonia
from other quarters. For its information about that ancient land the
world was formerly dependent on the scanty notices of Greek and Latin
writers, but within the last half-century astonishing new sources of
information have been opened up. Explorations carried on by scholars
of many lands have made us acquainted with Babylonian and Assyrian
temples and palaces, and with many a great royal inscription. Great
libraries, made of brick tablets, have been discovered buried under
the ruins of the cities, and the gradual decipherment and arrangement
of this old literature is proceeding as fast as able and devoted
workers can overtake it. Those who know the subject best declare that
no complete history of Babylonian religion can yet be written. The
texts now in our possession embody many documents of much more remote
age, yet the information is as yet too fragmentary and often of too
doubtful interpretation, while the proportion it bears to the whole
of Babylonian life is too little known to supply a solid foundation
for history. With this caution we proceed to state the results which
are considered likely to prove well founded. As we saw, several
features remain in the religion in later times which appear to throw
light back upon its early condition, and it may be best to begin with
these before describing the noble structure presented on the whole by
this religion.

1. Worship of Spirits.--The Babylonians, like the Chinese, believed
the world to be thickly peopled with spirits of all kinds; and saw in
each movement in nature the action of a "zi" or spirit. These spirits
could be to some extent controlled; though their character was not
known, yet certain charms and incantations were believed to have
power over them, and communication with the unseen world took,
therefore, the form of magic. The earliest portions of the sacred
literature consist of spells or charms believed to possess this
virtue, and these were never displaced from the collection; on the
contrary, new spells were written even after higher spiritual beings
were known and more ethical forms of addressing them had been
devised. Especially were all pains and diseases ascribed to the
agency of spirits or of sorcerers and witches, their human allies,
and the sick person naturally sent for an exorcist to expel the
spirit which was tormenting him. Some spirits were more powerful than
others, and the stronger spirit was invoked to rebuke and drive out
the weaker. The spirit of heaven and the spirit of earth were adjured
to conjure the plague-demon, the demon who was afflicting the eye,
the heart, the head, or any other part of the body. Assertions are
not wanting in the cuneiform literature that beliefs and practices of
this kind formed no part of the true religion of Babylonia, and some
scholars regard it as a late degeneration. The analogy of similar
cases points, however, to the conclusion that magic is everywhere an
early form of religion which is only overshadowed, not killed, when a
great religion arises, and which tends to reappear. It may be said
that there is no evidence of any break in Babylonian religion; if the
Sumerians yielded to the Semites, this led to no religious
revolution; the religion is Semitic from first to last.

2. Animals.--A step above this trafficking with spirits is the
worship of animals, which Mr. Sayce considers to have been an early
form of Babylonian religion, and to afford an explanation of various
features in it. Like the gods of Egypt and those of Greece, many of
the gods of Babylon have animal emblems; this appears both in the
representations of them and in their legends. The winged bulls and
eagle-headed men of Babylonian art represent the same rise of the
gods which we know to have taken place in Egypt, from the animal to
the semi-human, and then to the fully human form. An intermediate
stage in Babylonia is that the god stands on the back of the animal
with which presumably he was formerly identified. We have an Assyrian
Dagon whose head and shoulders are covered with a fish's skin; we
have gods and goddesses who are human figures with the exception of
their wings; we have winged dragons; we have the great bulls with
human head and wings which stood as guardian deities to ward off evil
spirits at the portal of a palace. The following animals were also
connected with gods: the antelope, the serpent, which came to be the
embodiment of cunning and wickedness, the goat, the pig, the vulture.
We thus see that the rise from zoomorphism to anthropomorphism which
the Greeks afterwards carried to the highest point attainable by the
resources of art, began in Babylonia.

Like all early religions, that of Babylonia is broken up into a
multiplicity of local worships. There is no common system, but each
place has its own god or gods and its own sacred rites. In Egypt we
shall find reason to believe that this state of matters had its
origin in an early totemistic arrangement of society; whether the
same was the case in Babylonia or not, it is vain to speculate.
Babylonian religion as we see it has risen far above the direct
worship of animals. Each god comes before us in a certain local
connection and with a special character, but they tend to grow like
each other, and their worship is organised on the same plan. The gods
of Babylonia undoubtedly belonged to different towns, and though
attempts were made in later times to bring them all together in an
imperial Babylonian religion, and to settle their relations to each
other, these attempts led to no system which was finally accepted.
The number of the recognised great gods varied, and there was always
a large number of minor gods. Each god has his own early history;
here as everywhere it is the case that the individual gods are
earlier than the system which seeks to connect them together.

The Great Gods.--The great gods of Babylonia belong to the elements
and to the heavenly bodies. When we first see them, they are not,
like the gods of the western Semites, lords and masters, characters
taken from human families; they are not husbands and fathers but
creators and universal powers. Another mark about them is that they
have originally no wives. When they come to have wives, these are
simply doubles of themselves with no special character. A consort is
given to the god by adding a feminine termination to his name, thus
Bel receives Belit, Anu has Anat. Finally Babylonian religion is more
and more directed to the heavenly bodies. It is Astral religion
carried to its furthest point. This fixed the arrangement of its
temples, the occupations of its priests.

We rapidly pass in review the principal Gods. One of the oldest is Ea
of Eridu, a town which stood in old times at the head of the Persian
Gulf. He is a god of the deep, whether it was that he was considered
to have come over the water from another land, or whether he is
connected with the belief which was held in Babylonia as elsewhere,
that all things originally arose out of the abyss. In later forms of
the legend his name appears as Oannes, and he is an amphibious being,
half-fish, half-man, who rises from the deep and instructs men in
arts and sciences. Works were preserved bearing his name, for he was
an author. He continues, even when little direct worship is addressed
to him, one of the greatest of the gods. Ana the sky, is the god of
Erech on the lower Euphrates. Like the Chinese, the men of Erech
regarded the sky itself as the highest god, and the maker and ruler
of all things. In Babylonia, however, the notion became spiritualised
more than in China; at first we hear that his dwelling became the
refuge of the gods during the Deluge, but in later times he is
regarded as a being quite above heaven and all created beings, and
even all the gods. A third great god is Bel of Nippur, not the later
Bel of Babylon, but an older one, identical with the Accadian
Mullilla, the lord of the under-world. The earliest gods of this
religion are those of the sea, the earth, and the sky. As they belong
to different districts of the country, they can scarcely be called a
trinity. A better approach to a trinity is formed by Ea of Eridu,
Davkina his wife who is the earth, and the sun-god Dumuzi, their
offspring. The son of Ea, also named Miri-Dugga or Merodach (Marduk),
is identified with the Egyptian Osiris; they have the same symbol,
each is a sun-god, and each has a sister who is also his wife,
Merodach has Istar, and Osiris, Isis. In Sergul the principal deity
was the fire-god, sometimes called Savul; in Cutha they worshipped
Nergal the god of death, the "strong one" who had his throne beneath.
Cutha was a favourite place of sepulture with the Babylonians. Rimmon
was a god of wind, Matu of storms. There is a dragon Tiamat, with
whom the great gods have to contend.

The sun and the moon were worshipped everywhere; each city had its
own sun-god and its own moon-god. The preference generally shown by
nomads for the moon, since their journeys are made by night, is kept
up in early Babylonia, where the moon-god is regarded as the father
of the sun-god, and as the greater being. In Ur of the Chaldees the
moon was the principal deity. There were also towns such as Larsa and
Sippara, where the sun was the chief god; and many of the great gods
of later times were originally sun-gods. The Chaldeans, moreover,
were proverbially star-watchers, and a "zigurrath" or observatory, a
building of seven spheres corresponding to those of the planets as
they pass through the signs of the zodiac, and like them rising up to
the seat of God at the North Star, was a regular part of the later
Babylonian temple. To Babylonia is due the practice of the
orientation of temples; that is to say, the arrangement of the
building in such a way that its principal axis shall point exactly in
a desired direction. Some of the Babylonian temples were oriented so
that the sun should shine to the western end of them on the day of
the spring equinox when the inundation of the rivers began on which
the prosperity of the country so much depended. The temple was thus
an astronomical instrument of a high degree of accuracy, and the
priests who directed its building and served in it when built were
men of science and learning. A religion which is connected with the
heavenly bodies, though it does not fully supply the needs of the
lower orders and has too little energy to cope with superstition,
tends to produce a priesthood who form centres of enlightenment and
civilisation throughout the country. This was in the highest degree
the case in Babylonia. To these old astronomers the world owes the
signs of the zodiac, which were fixed not later than in the fifth
millennium B.C., and in which we see how early man beheld in the
nightly heavens the creatures which on earth he regarded as divine,
so that he worshipped them in both regions. The institution of the
Sabbath is also Babylonian; whether it was connected with the changes
of the moon, or with a week of days named after the seven planets, is
not certain. Seven is a sacred number in Babylonia, as we find in
many a connection.

Mythology.--We come lastly, in our attempt to enumerate those parts
of Babylonian religion which have entered deeply into human thought,
to the myths. The heroic legends and romances are the most
interesting and the best-known portions of the newly-recovered
literature. We have already noticed some fragments of mythology, such
as the story of the fish-god who comes up daily from the sea, the
moon being the father of the sun, and the family history of Ea and
Davkina, with the sun their child. The two latter are evidently
inconsistent with each other. But the story about the son of Ea and
Davkina has an important further development. His name is Duzu or
Dumuzu, and he is the Tammuz of whom we hear in the Bible (Ezekiel
viii. 14), who is adored by women raising lamentations for him. He is
said to be the sun-god of spring, to whom the heat of summer is
fatal, and who dies in June. It is when moisture is failing from the
ground that he is bemoaned. His home is in Eden, for Eden belongs to
Babylonian legend, which places it near Eridu. There grows the great
world-tree which the gods love; it rises from the centre of the
world, and is nourished from springs which Ea himself replenishes. It
is a cedar (Yggdrasil, the ash-tree, we shall find, occupies the same
position with the Northern Teutons); it is sometimes found in a
highly conventional form with the figure of a cherub at each side of
it, each of whom holds in his hand a fruit. In this tree scholars
recognise both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge with which
we are familiar. The knowledge of the priests in Babylonia was not
for every one, but was jealously guarded, and kept for the initiated

From Tammuz we naturally pass to Istar, one of the few goddesses of
old Babylonia, and by far the most famous of them. Istar was
originally the goddess of the earth, and both mother and sister of
the sun-god, for we are led to believe that she is at first the same
as Davkina. The great myth of the descent of Istar describes how she
goes down to the kingdom of the shades to seek the waters that shall
give life again to her bridegroom Tammuz. The poem in which the
narrative is preserved gives a description of the "house of darkness,
where they behold no light," and then tells how, at the orders of
Ninkigal or Allat, queen of Hades, Istar is deprived, successively,
in spite of her remonstrances, of all her ornaments, and how the
plague-demon Namtar is bidden to strike her with all manner of
diseases. The result of Istar's disappearance under the earth is that
all love and courtship cease both among men and the lower animals,
and Ea himself is appealed to, to bring to an end so unnatural a
state of affairs. A messenger is sent to the lower regions to cause
the release of Istar and the reascent of Tammuz. This goddess,
however, is known not only from this legend; she has many forms, and
passed through various fortunes. The Istar of Erech herself lures
Tammuz to his destruction. In early times Istar is also the evening
star, the bright companion of the moon. Her leading character,
however, seems to be that of a goddess of love. Fertility depends on
her; she goes under the earth to find her lover. In this character
she attracted in Babylonia a worship noted for impurity, which under
the name of Ashtoreth is found also in Phenicia and in Syria. There
is also, however, a warlike Istar, a strict goddess served by
Amazons, and capable of identification with the Greek Artemis, as the
Istar of love is identified with Aphrodite.

Much more primitive than the legend of Istar are some parts of the
Babylonian accounts of the creation. There are several of these
accounts, some newly discovered. In one the old god Ea peoples the
original chaos with a variety of strange monsters. In another the
birth of the gods is narrated as well as that of the world; we find
also that chaos is itself conceived as a female monster, a dragon of
evil, and the god has to do battle with this power of darkness and
evil, and to bring light and the habitable world up from its realm.
It is certainly true that the Babylonian legends of the creation are
crude and inconsistent with each other, and that the account in
Genesis belongs to a much higher order of thought. The Babylonian
account of the deluge and the ark is more closely parallel to the
Bible narrative; the two cannot possibly be independent of each
other, and there may be no impropriety in holding that the Hebrew
writers were acquainted with myths of general diffusion in the world
they lived in.

The State Religion.--The Babylonian and Assyrian religion of which we
hear in the Bible (_cf._ Isa. xl.-lxvi.) is the splendid worship of
mighty empires; it has forgotten its humble beginnings, and under the
guidance of large priestly and learned corporations has grown much in
depth and purity. Of its outward magnificence the monuments furnish
ample proof. The temple of Bel-Merodach at Babylon was a wonder of
the world. Being the god of the prevailing city of the empire,
Merodach was the greatest of all the gods, and was reverenced and
extolled as befitted the friend and patron of the greatest of
monarchs. His son Nebo was a prophet and a god of wisdom. What
Merodach was to Babylon, Assur was to Assyria; in fact, he was the
only god peculiar to Assyria. The rule that as religion grows in
outward splendour it also gains in inward strength and spirituality
is strikingly exemplified in the case before us. The gods have come
to be moral powers, who really care for men, not only for the king,
their earthly representative, but for their worshippers in general.
Merodach is praised for his mercy; he not only accompanies the king
in his wars, of which the inscriptions give us so many a wearisome
catalogue, but he heals the sick, he brings relief to him who is
mourning for his transgressions, and he brings life out of death and
receives the soul committed to his mercy to a blessed dwelling above.
Perhaps we pass here somewhat beyond the early period of the religion
and touch on its ultimate phase. The penitential hymns of the later
literature form a strong contrast to the magical incantations, which
fill so much space in the Babylonian sacred literature. The
confessions they contain are not very spiritual; the supplicant
bewails his sufferings rather than his sins. Indeed, he rather infers
from his sufferings that he has sinned, trodden, it may be, where he
ought not to have trodden, or eaten what he should not have eaten,
than confesses that he deserved to suffer for sins of which he is
aware. What is implored is outward redress or ease, not inward peace.
The removal of outward ills is taken as forgiveness. There can be no
comparison between these hymns and those of the Bible. But what they
do show is the rise in Babylonia of a religion for the individual.
The gods are sought not only officially by the state or for state
ends, but by the individual. They are believed to have regard to
individual sufferings; and the friends of a dying person believe that
the gods care for and will receive his soul.

Our knowledge of the religion of these lands is too imperfect to
admit of wide conclusions being drawn from it. We know what the
higher religion of Babylonia was; and we also see that the higher
worship never entirely prevailed in this land; the god, like Bel or
Assur, who bore the character of a human over-lord, never drove out
the old set of spirits, nor brought the service of them to an end. As
in the case of Egypt, so here the attempts made in the direction of a
pure and spiritual worship met with no ultimate success. Babylon and
Assyria never came so near to Monotheism as did Egypt three
millenniums before Christ. Nabonidos, the last king of Babylon,
collected all the gods together in his capital, and endeavoured to
organise them in a system under Merodach as their head; but this led
to religious discord rather than to peace, since the minor deities
vehemently resented the removal of their images from their accustomed
shrines, and were understood to refuse their aid to the state on the
new conditions. The religion of Babylon was too much broken up into
independent local cults to admit of such a unification. The highest
that was reached was that one great god was adored in one city,
another in another, with some depth and spirituality. To nations
which had attained a higher faith, that of Babylon appeared to be an
idolatrous worship of many gods. That is a harsh judgment. This
religion also had life in it and advanced from a lower to a higher
stage; from a timid trafficking with spirits to a service of gods who
were ideal heads of human communities, and friends of individual men.
It was not a mere system, as the world has been accustomed to think,
of astrology and of divination of other kinds. But when Babylon and
Assyria ceased to be independent powers, and became provinces of
Persia, Bel bowed down and Nebo stooped, not to rise again. The world
of that day had no need of them. It had already attained in more than
one country to a higher religion than that of these deities.


The Histories of Antiquity, viz.--

Maspéro, _Histoire ancienne des Peuples de l'Orient_.

Duncker, _The History of Antiquity_, from the German, by Evelyn

Rawlinson, _The Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World:
Chaldea, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, and Persia_.

Ed. Meyer, _Geschichte des Alterthums_, 1884. The first volume
embraces the History of the East to the foundation of the Persian

Schrader, _Die Keilinschriften und das alte Testament_, 1903.

Hilprecht, _Old Babylonian Inscriptions_ chiefly from Nippur, 1893.

_Records of the Past_, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.

Sayce's _Hibbert Lectures_, 1887.

Tiele, _Egyptische en Mesopotamische Godsdiensten_.

Jastrow, _The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria_, 1898. The most
complete account of the whole subject.

Jastrow, "Religion of Babylonia," in _Dictionary of the Bible_, vol.

Jastrow, "On the Religion of the Semites," in _Oxford Proceedings_,
vol. i. p. 225, _sqq._

F. Jeremias in De la Saussaye, pp. 246-347.

Bezold, _Niniva and Babylon_, 1903.

E. H. W. Johns, _The Oldest Code of Laws in the World_, 1903.

"On the Code of Hammurabi." E. H. W. Johns, in _Dictionary of the
Bible_, vol. v.


The Chinese have always been a world in themselves, remote from other
races of men; yet they developed a civilisation which is in many
respects worthy to be compared with that of India or of the West. The
people who made gunpowder and paper and who printed books, long
before any of these things were done in Europe, might naturally think
themselves the foremost nation of the earth. Their civilisation,
however, has exercised no influence on the world outside of China,
nor has it advanced to the higher achievements of the human mind. As
their great wall secludes them from other nations, so do their mental
habits prevent them from a free interchange of ideas with foreigners.
The Mongolian race, indeed, from which, like the Hungarians and the
Finns, they are descended, is so different from other races in many
respects that some anthropologists suppose it to have a separate
origin. Phlegmatic and matter-of-fact by nature, exact and careful in
practical matters, and to a high degree imitative and industrious,
the Chinese are singularly devoid of imagination and indisposed to
philosophy. Their monosyllabic and uninflected language, belonging to
one of the earliest strata of human speech, and ill fitted to express
abstract or poetical ideas, is an index to their whole nature. If an
awakening, as various signs appear to indicate, is now at hand for
them, no one can tell how fast it will proceed, or what the final
issue of it may be.

China has at present three religions, all recognised by the state and
represented in every part of the country--viz. Confucianism, Taoism,
and Buddhism. For our purpose the first of these is very much the
most important, as Taoism, originally a philosophy, quickly
degenerated into a system of magic, and Buddhism is imported into
China, and has to be spoken of elsewhere. Confucianism, being the
direct descendant of the old state religion of China, is the native
growth of the mind of the nation. Like the Chinese language, the
state religion belongs to a very early formation, and presents the
symptoms of a development which was rapid at first but was early

History of China.--Legend goes back to very remote antiquity and
tells in a shadowy way of the arrival of the Chinese from the West
(which scholars are agreed in regarding as a fact), and of early
potentates, patterns to all their successors, who treated the people
as their children, and invented for them the arts on which life in
China most depends. History proper begins about 2000 B.C., though the
Chinese had the art of writing a thousand years before that.
Researches, however, which are now being made by several scholars,
seem likely to lead to the conclusion that China received at least
the seeds of civilisation and some religious ideas from Mesopotamia.
That Chinese religion resembles in some respects that of Babylonia
was mentioned in the last chapter. In a work like this and in the
present state of knowledge it is necessary to deal with the religion
of China as an isolated one. When the history of the country opens,
the character, manners, and institutions of the people are already
fixed. They are already civilised and have an organised religion,
though how all this came about we cannot tell. The early kings are
men of piety, inventors of arts, and authors of fundamental maxims of
policy; but as time went on the kings grew worse and lost the
affections of their people. In the twelfth century B.C. the Chow
dynasty came into power and gave China some of its best rulers, but
it also soon fell off; the country broke up into a number of separate
feudal principalities over which the central government lost all
control, and in the sixth century Confucius is found wandering from
one independent state to another. This confusion led in the third
century B.C. to the displacement of the Chow by the Tsin dynasty.
Shi-Hoang-Ti, fourth ruler of this line, one of the strongest rulers
China ever had, assumed the title of Universal Emperor. He beat back
the enemies of China beyond the frontier, began the building of the
great wall, and broke down the power of the feudal rulers. It was
found, however, that the feudal system still lived in the affections
of the people, and as it was the religious books which mainly kept
the past in veneration, the emperor ordered their destruction and
enforced the edict with great rigour. The House of Han, however,
which replaced that of Tsin in 206 B.C., recovered the ancient
literature of the country from the hiding-places where copies of the
books had been preserved, and established in accordance with them the
very conservative constitution which has lasted to this day.

Sources.--The books thus condemned and thus recovered supply us with
our knowledge of ancient China and of its religion. They are
political rather than religious in their nature. China has no Bible,
no book guarded by the ministers of religion as the basis of the
system they conduct; the religious teachers of China, if there are
any, are the literati, the books they preserve and study are the
Classics. These are connected with the name of Confucius, who
collected or edited them, and himself wrote one of them. They are not
thought to be inspired, but are revered because of their immemorial
antiquity. No people was ever more completely under the influence of
a book, or set of books, than the Chinese. The learned class, who
constitute the only nobility of China, receive their whole education
from the books ascribed to Confucius; which, like other authoritative
literatures, contain matter of various kinds.

The Chinese collection consists of the five Classics (King) and the
four books (Shu). The former were edited by Confucius; the latter are
by the disciples of that sage or by Mencius, a distinguished teacher
in his school about a century after him. The five Classics are the
most sacred of all. They are as follows:--

I.--1. The _Yih-king_, or Book of Changes. This is a divining book;
it consists of a set of interpretations by princes of the twelfth
century B.C., of a set of lineal figures. The system is in itself of
childlike simplicity, but use and age have collected mysteries about
it. It was exempted from the proscription of Shi-Hoang-Ti.

2. The _Shu-king_, or Book of History, contains speeches and
documents of the early princes from the twenty-fourth to the eighth
century B.C.

3. The _Shi-king_, or Book of Poetry, consists of a collection of 300
songs, selected by Confucius from a mass ten times as great. Some of
these pieces are extremely old.

4. The _Le ke_, or Record of Rites. This book is said to have been
composed by the duke of Chow in the twelfth century B.C., and is the
principal source of information about the ancient state religion of
China. It contains precepts not only for religious ceremonies, but
also for social and domestic duties, and is the Chinaman's manual of
conduct to the present day.

5. _Chun Tsew_, Spring and Autumn, contains the annals of the
principality of Loo, of which Confucius was a native, from 721-480
B.C. They are extremely dry; and if we could understand the statement
of Mencius that Confucius by writing them (for they are his own work)
produced a great effect on the minds of his contemporaries, many
things about Chinese religion and manners would be clearer to us than
they unfortunately are.

To these five Classics is sometimes added, as a sixth, the
_Hsiao-king_, or Book of Filial Piety, a conversation on that subject
between Confucius and a disciple.

It is impossible to tell how much Confucius did for these old books.
Some hold that he did not change them much, nor put into them much of
his own, and that, in fact, he was himself indebted to these books
for all he is reported to have taught. On the other hand, it is
declared that he made the ancient books teach his own doctrine, and
left out all that did not suit him; and, in confirmation of this
view, the fact is pointed out that while these books as we have them
teach pure Confucianism, another religion of a different spirit was
growing up in China in Confucius's own day, which must have had some
support in the old system. It may be that Confucius did not care to
report to us all the features of the old religion, but only those of
which he approved. But the information given us about that old
religion is admittedly correct so far as it goes; and there is little
doubt that what Confucius thought best in it, and what passed through
him into the subsequent religion of China, was its most
characteristic and most important part.

II.--The Classics of the second order comprise four books:--

1. The _Lun Yu_, or Digested Conversations of the Master; or, as Dr.
Legge calls it, _The Confucian Analects_. It is from this book that
we derive our information about the sage; it was compiled probably by
the disciples of his disciples.

2. The _Ta-Heo_, or Great Learning, and

3. The _Chung Yung_, or Doctrine of the Mean, are smaller works,
giving a more literary form to the doctrine of the sage.

4. The _Mang-tsze_ contains the teachings of Mencius.

The State Religion of Ancient China.--Confucius never imagined
himself to be a reformer of the religion of his country. The religion
of China is in the main the same to this day[1] as it was before he
appeared, and what is called Confucianism is simply that old system.
That the worship of Confucius himself has been added to it does not
involve any change of its structure. It is already well developed
when we first see it, and what is very peculiar, it has already
parted with all savage and irrational elements. There is no
mythology; the universal legend of the marriage of heaven and earth
is dimly recognisable, but there is no set of primitive stories about
the gods. Of human sacrifice there is only one ancient instance;
there are no rites with anything savage or cruel about them.
Everything is proper, dignified, and well arranged. The deities are
beings worthy to be worshipped, and they exact no meaningless
services. There is nothing in any part of the religion to disturb the
propriety of the worshipper or to suggest any doubts to his mind. In
no other religion of the world do we find everything in such
excellent order.

[Footnote 1: The working religion of the present day is fully
described by Prof. de Groot in De la Saussaye, _Lehrbuch_, Third

On the other hand, it is not a highly-developed religion. Its beliefs
are those of extremely early times, and represent a stage of thought
at which no other national religion stood still. The organisation
common to developed systems is entirely wanting; there is no idol, no
priestly class, no Bible, no theology; the most important doctrines
are left so vague and undetermined that scholars interpret them in
opposite ways. It is a religion in which, just as in the primitive
stage, outward acts are everything, the doctrine nothing, and which
is not regulated by an organised code but by custom and precedent.
All these marks point to a formation in very early times, and to a
very early arrest of growth, before the ordinary developments of
mythology and doctrine, priesthood, ritual, and sacred literature had
time to take place. They also point to the operation of some powerful
cause, which, when the religion had developed its main features, was
able to suppress older beliefs and practices, and lead the nation to
devote itself altogether to the newer faith. How this took place we
can only conjecture, but certainly it could never have been done
unless the new faith and the national character had fitted each other
perfectly. The classical religion may, as Prof. de Groot says, have
come into existence along with the classical constitution set up by
the Han dynasty 2000 years ago. But it must have been ready to enter
into this position.

The objects of worship in the Chinese religion arrange themselves in
three classes. The Chinaman of old worshipped and his descendant of
to-day worships still--

  1. Heaven.
  2. Spirits of various kinds, other than human.
  3. The spirits of dead ancestors.

1. Heaven (Thian) is the principal Chinese deity; in strictness we
must say the sole deity, for there is no family of upper gods; heaven
receives all the worship that is directed aloft. It is the clear
vault, the friendly ever-present and all-seeing blue that is meant,
not the windy nor the rainy sky, but that which is above all
agitations, and which all beings of the air or of the earth look up
to and serve. It is conceived as living. It is not a separable
spirit, not a power behind, that is worshipped, but heaven
itself,--the living heaven of that early thought, which has not yet
come to distinguish between matter and spirit,--the living heaven
which is over all, knows all, orders and governs all.

To this heaven other names are given, even in the oldest
writings--Ti, Ruler; or Shang-ti, Supreme Ruler. Did the Chinese
conceive this ruler as identical with heaven, or as a personality
dwelling in it or above it? It has been held that the two beliefs are
not the same; that the Chinese of the earliest times worshipped the
Supreme Ruler, _i.e._ the one God, Ti, and afterwards fell away from
that position of pure monotheism and declined to the worship of the
material object, heaven. The early Catholic missionaries argued that
the Chinese Shang-ti was equivalent to the Christian "God," and
signified a being other than the sky, the Supreme Power of the
universe. The Chinese, however, generally denied that they made any
such distinction,[2] and even declared that they could not understand
it. The names Heaven and Supreme Ruler are used by them
indiscriminately: one notices that Confucius does not use the
personal form, but only speaks of heaven; "heaven," he says, when
feeling distressed, "is destroying me." We have here, therefore, an
early form of nature-worship.

[Footnote 2: Dr. Legge, while admitting that the Chinese originally
worshipped the vault of heaven itself, maintains that they got past
the early mode of thought which considers every natural object as
animated, before the dawn of history, and became pure theists,
believers in a supreme spiritual being. Confucius he considers to
have held a lower religious position than his countrymen had already
attained to. He also regards the worship of spirits and of ancestors
as a later perversion and degradation of the original religion of one
god. In these positions he is followed by Professor Giles, _Oxford
Proceedings_, vol. i. p. 105, _sqq._]

The Supreme Power directs all things, and is an ever-present governor
both in the natural and in the moral sphere. These two spheres indeed
are not regarded as distinct. Nature reveals in all its changes the
mind of its ruler, and human conduct is regarded as an outward thing,
as a phenomenon on the same plane with the movements of nature; the
two are supposed to be part of one system and to act directly on each
other. As Heaven both governs the weather and looks after men's
actions, for "every day heaven witnesses our actions and is present
in the places where we are," these two aspects of providence are
closely blended and are in fact the same. Heaven makes its will known
in a natural way. It is one of the most peculiar features of Chinese
religion that it knows no revelation, no miracles, no divine
interferences. It has a belief in destiny, Ming; every one has his
Ming, but it is only known when it is accomplished. "Does Heaven
plainly declare its Ming?" Confucius is asked; and he replies, "No,
heaven speaks not; by the order of events its will is known, not
otherwise." Man learns by the external occurrences how Heaven is
disposed towards him. When there is excessive rain or long drought,
this shows that the harmony between Heaven and the earth is
disturbed. It belongs to the emperor to put this right. He alone is
entitled to offer sacrifice to Heaven; he stands in the closest
relation to Heaven, who is the ancestor of his house; and when Heaven
is seen to be displeased, the emperor must restore the harmony by
governing his subjects better or by sacrifices. In an extreme case,
when the emperor is seen to have fallen under the displeasure of
Heaven, the conclusion is drawn that he must no longer be emperor.
The people then are entitled to depose him and to set up a new ruler,
through whom the necessary transactions with Heaven can be carried
on. The belief has always been held in China, at least theoretically,
and is operative to this day, that it can be known when Heaven has
rejected a ruler, and that it belongs to the people to carry out that

2. The Spirits.--The worship "of the spirits" is a primary religious
duty for the Chinaman. The spirits, however, are an ill-defined set
of beings; they are generally spoken of in the plural number, and
sacrifice was offered to them as a body, no particular spirits being
named. The spirits are connected with natural objects, every part of
nature has its spirit. The sun, the moon, the five planets, clouds,
rain, wind, the five great mountains, but also every smaller
mountain, the rivers, each district, and a thousand other things, all
have their spirits.[3] The spirits are not flitting about
capriciously, but have been collected together and organised in a
hierarchy, and this has loosened their connection with natural
objects. They are spoken of as a set of beings who may be addressed
as a body. A prince alone may sacrifice to the spirit of the earth,
and to those of the mountains and rivers of his territory. But to the
spirits in general all may and should pray; they assist those who pay
them reverence and sacrifice to them. It will be seen that the
worship of heaven and that of the spirits are kept separate. The
former is the imperial worship; the emperor alone is competent to
attend to it. The latter is the official worship of minor states. Nor
are the two sets of deities wrought into a homogeneous system; we
hear that the spirits, while subordinate to Shang-ti, are not his
messengers. The surmise is not to be avoided that these two worships
came originally from different circles of ideas, and have not been
perfectly blended. The worship of heaven belongs to the higher
nature-worship, that of the spirits to the lower; the latter is
animistic, it is a worship of detached spirits, while the former is a
worship of the natural object itself. The spirits are all good; there
are scarcely any bad spirits in Chinese belief.

[Footnote 3: The Japanese official religion, "Shin-to" (=way of the
gods, as distinguished from Butsudo, way of Buddha, _i.e._ Japanese
Buddhism), an easy worship of numberless spirits, without sacrifices
and without any moral doctrine, is allied to this branch of the
religion of China; as also is the religion of Corea. Shin-to is not
ancestral worship, and recognises no life after death.]

3. Ancestors.--The worship of ancestors is that which is assigned to
the private individual. He does not approach Shang-ti any more than
he would address the emperor on earth; his working religion is
directed to his ancestors. The Chinese believed in the continuance of
the soul after death, and addressed solemn invitations to it to
return to the body it had forsaken. Their belief can scarcely be
described as that in personal immortality; it is the continuance of
the family rather than of the person that is thought of. The
individual does not look forward to his own future life or allow that
to influence him; there is little trace of any belief in future
rewards and punishments. China has no heaven and no hell. It is the
past, not the future, that influences the present; the departed
members of the family are believed to be still attached to it, and to
have become its tutelary spirits. In every house there is a hall of
ancestors, where worship and sacrifice is offered to them, and many
even of the details of this worship remind us strongly of the way in
which the Romans served their family heroes. Tablets belonging to the
ancestors are placed in this hall; and to these they are supposed to
come when properly invoked, so as to be present with the family. At
every important family event they are summoned to attend. This
worship has to be rendered by husband and wife jointly, so that
marriage is necessary for its performance, and an early marriage is a
religious duty.

The family sacrifice, like all sacrifices in China, is of the nature
of a banquet, at which the living members of the family, and the
spirits who have been summoned, eat and drink together. To heighten
the illusion, the grandson was sometimes dressed in the clothes of
the departed head of the house and made the principal figure of the

    The dead cannot in form be here,
    But there are those their part who bear;
    We lead them to the highest seat
    And beg that they will drink and eat:
    So shall our sires our service own,
    And deign our happiness to crown
    With blessings still more bright.[4]

[Footnote 4: _Shi-king_, II. vi. 5.]

It is not only in the family that ancestors are adored. The emperor
sacrifices in a public capacity to all the ancestors of his own line,
and also to all his predecessors on the throne; a magistrate to all
who have occupied his office before him. Ancient China possessed an
elaborate ritual, and occasions of sacrifice were frequent. Every
change of season, every portent of nature, every important step
either in public or in private life, required its consecration. It is
in accordance with the genius of the people that the sacrifices are
not of the nature of propitiation, but expressions of gratitude and
devotion merely. Asceticism has no place in this religion; everything
in it is bright and sensible. He who is to offer a sacrifice prepares
himself by prayer and retirement to do so worthily; but beyond this
reasonable measure there is no afflicting of the soul, and in the
prayers belonging to the occasion self-humiliation and confession
have no place, but only thanksgivings and petitions. The petitions
are for worldly benefits and furtherance; the sacrifices are means of
procuring these from the heavenly powers. They consist chiefly of
animal victims, but fruits are also used, and with the importance of
the occasion the variety and costliness of the offerings increase.
Elaborate music also accompanies great sacrifices, and is thought to
be very acceptable to the heavenly powers. Religion is not separated
from life in China. There is no special class to take care of it;
every one has to attend himself to those sacrifices which are
incumbent on him; this is a natural, matter-of-course part of a man's
duty. As there is no Bible, there is no religious instruction, and
the doctrine is quite vague and undefined. The ritual, however, is
fixed by tradition in every detail, and if a man attends to it he
does his duty; religion is a set of acts properly and exactly done,
the proper person sacrificing always to the proper object in the
proper way.

Confucius was not a man who tried to change the religion of his
country; indeed, he disliked to talk of religious subjects, and he
practised reverently the religion which had long prevailed in China.
His conversation was chiefly about what we should call worldly
matters, and it is hard to see why the religion of China, the same
after him as it had been before him, should be called by his name.
What led to the connection was: (1) That he taught in a clear and
simple way, as had never been done before, the theory of government
and morals which lies at the root of Chinese religion, and thus did
something, though unconsciously, to provide that religion with a
doctrine. And (2) that he collected and edited the books which are
the only literary documents the religion has, and which have formed
ever since the study of the ruling classes in China. Receiving these
books at his hands, they have naturally looked to him as the prophet
of their faith.

His Life.--Kung-fu-tsze (_i.e._ Master Kong; the name was Latinised
by the Jesuits) is better known to us than most other religious
founders. He lived to the age of seventy-three, surrounded by
admiring disciples, who remembered what they saw in him and heard
from his lips; and this tradition is preserved in the _Lun Yu_,
Digested Conversations,[5] a work compiled, as we observed, by
disciples of the second generation. The supernatural element which in
other cases gathered so quickly round a venerated figure, is here
entirely absent; in China such growths do not take place. There may
be some tendency to idealise the moral greatness of the sage, but
there are also passages in which this tendency evidently has not been
at work; both in its candour and in the homeliness of much that is
reported, the book invites confidence as a genuine record. We see the
sage as the diligence of students in the present generation enables
us to see Kant or Wordsworth; we hear his opinions on a great variety
of subjects; we see how he behaved on occasions of state and at his
meals in private, towards princes and towards common men; we laugh at
his jokes and sigh with him at his privations.

[Footnote 5: Dr. Legge, _Confucian Analects_.]

He was born in 551 B.C. in a good rank of society, but was brought up
in poverty, and owed all his success to his own merits. The bent of
his mind showed itself early; as a child he amused himself with
playing at ceremonies; at thirteen, he tells us, he bent his mind to
learning, the subject of his studies being history and poetry, the
ceremonies and the music of the empire. He early arrived at the views
he always afterwards held as to the proper way to govern a people,
and he believed with all the faith of an enthusiast that a vast
improvement of society would follow the adoption of his method. It
was to public employment that he aspired from an early period of
life; but he did not readily find it in the unquiet times in which
his lot was cast. He did enjoy office for certain brief periods, and
marvellous things are told of the reformation of manners which at
once attended his efforts as a governor. All got their due; there was
no thieving, and there was no occasion to put the penal laws in
execution, for no offenders showed themselves. What was the method
which was held to have had such results? In the counsels which he
gave to various rulers who applied to him this is set forth. He
believed the power of example to be capable of effecting all that a
ruler should desire. Punishments might be dispensed with, and
excessive pains need not be bestowed on the machinery of government,
but a prince who has "rectified" himself will soon have his people
"rectified" too. The first task of a ruler is to "rectify names";
_i.e._ there is good government when the prince is really a prince
and the minister a minister, when the father is a real father and the
son a real son. The perfect order consists of the due observance by
each rank of the duties belonging to it; there is to be a
well-regulated hierarchy in which each understands his function and
acts it out. The people are naturally good and docile, he held, and
if they are well governed they will not do wrong even though rewards
be offered for it. Thus by docile respect to tradition and authority,
which all men are willing to pay if properly guided towards it, the
pillars of the state are established.

His Doctrine.--This is the truth which Confucius preached most
earnestly. He spoke of heaven but seldom, and of the spirits he
professed no certain knowledge; he declared towards the end of his
life that he had not prayed for many years. He was a diligent
frequenter of all religious ceremonies and a strong upholder of the
old order, but his interest in these things was not speculative or
mystical, but entirely practical. He regarded himself as a teacher of
virtue, not of religious doctrine; his watchword was "propriety," the
dutiful observance of all right and customary rules of conduct. Yet
there is not wanting an ideal element in his doctrine. He enounces
the theory, of which the whole of Chinese religion is the outward
expression, that the universe in all its parts, in nature and in man,
is an order; that that order is declared to man alike in the
ordinances of outward nature, in the constitution of society with its
various ranks and classes, and in the ritual of religion; and that it
is the whole duty of man to know that order and to conform himself to
it. The theory is one in which the state is all, the individual
nothing, and in which the present is entirely crushed under the dead
hand of the past, and all originality and progress condemned even
before they appear. If religion has been delivered from all that is
unseemly and irrational, it has also, at least to Western eyes, lost
much of its interest; the enthusiasms and excitements of its early
stages have departed, and no new enthusiasm has come in their place;
no great god-wrought deliverance thrills the memory of posterity, no
local cults excite exceptional devotion, no divine historical figure
attracts to itself personal affection. Religion has cast off fear but
has not yet risen to the inspiration of love. The domestic worship
came nearest to this, for the other worships are cold and distant
indeed; but that worship was a powerful influence for the prevention
of progress. The Christian text which hallows individual daring and
innovation, by bidding a man put his convictions above his father and
mother, would be a shocking impiety to Chinese ears.

A temple was built to Confucius after his death and his worship was
added to the state religion. The attempt made by the emperor
Shi-Hoang-Ti in the third century after his death to suppress his
memory and the books connected with his name, was, though conducted
with great vigour, unsuccessful. The teaching of Mencius (371-288
B.C.), the most distinguished of his disciples, added no new element
to that of Confucius. Two movements, however, have to be noticed,
which in different ways aimed at giving something richer and deeper
than Confucianism, and to which China owes the two additional
religions of Taoism and Buddhism.

Taoism looks to Lao-tsze as its founder; but it has no personal
founder and is composed of older elements. Lao was a philosopher who
lived at the same time with Confucius, though half a century older;
Confucius met him, as we hear in the _Analects_, and spoke of him
with great respect. His work, the _Tao-te-king_, has been preserved,
and though few profess to understand it, a general idea of his
thought may be gathered from it. Lao, like Confucius, founds on the
existing system; he quotes largely from older works, and there are
sayings common to both the sages. Metaphysical thought, however,
which with Confucius was implied rather than reasoned out, here
stands in the forefront. Lao's system is a philosophy applied
practically. Tao, the ruling idea of the system, from which both it
and the religion which followed it are named, is variously rendered
Reason, Nature, the Way; the last is the nearest, though by no means
a full rendering of it. By the manifold operations attributed to it,
it reminds us of the Indian Brahma, and the riddle of Lao's obscurity
has been proposed to be solved by the supposition that he was dealing
with a doctrine imported from India which Chinese forms of speech
could but imperfectly express.[6] Tao is not personal, but something
that precedes all persons, all particular beings. It was there before
heaven was; all things are from it and return to it at last. It is
the principle at the root and the beginning of all things, by which
they move, without haste or struggle, ambition or confusion. Existing
first absolute and undeveloped, it has now been expressed; men can
know it, and the secret of all goodness, all success both for the
individual and for the state, is to know Tao and live in it. This
makes a man superior to all rules and conventions; at home with
himself he is superior to the world; he does not dissipate his
energies in learning a great number of outward things, but acts
spontaneously from an inner impulse. In this way the philosopher
looked for a return of society to simpler manners; he even imagined
that men might consent to put away the material arts of which they
thought so much, and content themselves with living according to
wisdom and being governed by the wisest.

[Footnote 6: "Lao-Tzeu et le Brahmanisme," by E. Guimet in the
_Verhandlungen_ of the Basal Conference, 1904.]

The moral precepts of Lao are often of singular beauty and show a
much deeper insight than the cold teaching of Confucius. Lao taught
the golden rule: "Recompense injury," he said, "with kindness."
Confucius, on being asked about this, did not agree with Lao, but
declared that kindness ought to be recompensed with kindness, but
injury with justice, as if private morality ought not to rise higher
than public policy. "Resent it not when you are reviled," Lao
teaches; and "He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes
himself is mighty." "He who knows when he has enough is rich." "The
weakest things in the world subjugate the strongest." The _Book of
Recompenses_, which is the practical manual of Taoists and is
universally read in China, sets up a high ideal of goodness, and
claims to be studied with devotion and earnestness. The task of
self-discipline is represented as one requiring faith and courage,
the continuous efforts of a lifetime, and unceasing watchfulness. If
we judge Taoism either by its philosophy or by its morals, we must
assign it a high rank among the efforts which have been made to guide
men in the way of wisdom. As a religion, however, it is a dismal
failure, and shows how little philosophy and morals can do without a
historical religious framework to support them. Taoism was not at
first a religion, and was not fitted to become one, as it neither
offered any sacred objects of its own for pious sentiment to cling
to, nor, like Confucianism, leant upon the state system. The religion
which looks to Lao as its chief figure is not based on his teaching;
at most it is connected with some of his less important doctrines. It
did not take a place in the world till five centuries after the
philosopher's death, and its rise was due partly to the emperor named
above, who was opposed to Confucius, and partly to teachers who
brought forward isolated doctrines of Lao's system which admitted of
a popular application. When the religion appears it is a system not
of philosophy but of magic. Lao had spoken of immortality as the
portion of those who lived according to Tao; under the Chin dynasty
(220 B.C.) Taoism is engaged in a search for the fairy islands, where
the herb of immortality is to be found; in the first century of our
era the head of Taoism is devising a pill which shall renew his
youth. When Buddhism enters China, in the same century Taoism borrows
from it the apparatus of religion, temples, monasteries, and
liturgies, and sets out on its career as a church.

It was not without reason that Buddhism was sent for, if we are truly
informed, by the rulers of China, or that it spread over the country,
in the first century of our era. Neither Confucianism nor Taoism is a
religion, in the full sense of the term, as supplying by intercourse
with higher beings an inspiration for life. The former is regulative
and no more; the latter is a mere set of devices for obtaining
benefits from mysterious powers. Buddhism, on the contrary, appeals,
as we shall see when we consider it in connection with India, to
unselfish motives, and insists on the solemn responsibilities of
individual life in such a way as to raise the value of the human
person. As it appeared in China it is richer than we shall find it in
India; it has a god, unknown to southern Buddhism, and it has a
goddess Kouan Yin, "the being who hears the cries of men," sometimes
represented with a child on her knee, just like a Western Madonna.
While still essentially monastic, it offers salvation and a way of
life to all. To faith in Buddha the merciful one is also added a
belief in the paradise in which he receives believers. Thus a popular
worship is provided, which neither of the older beliefs supplied.

It remains true that China has no religion worthy of the name. The
phenomenon may there be witnessed, which is seen with certain
differences also in Japan, that several religions exist side by side,
all of which are supported by the state and live together without
rivalry, and to all of which a man may belong at the same time. This
could not be the case if any of the three appealed strongly to
patriotic sentiment, or gave full expression to the ideals of the


In the Sacred Books of the East, vols. iii., xvi., xxvii., and
xxviii. contain translations of Chinese Classics, by Dr. Legge. The
same writer has published three convenient volumes of his own,
containing: 1. The Life and Teachings of Confucius, 2. The Life and
Works of Mencius, 3. The Shi-King.

Dr. Legge has also written a popular work, _The Religions of China_,
1880. Also _The Notions of the Chinese concerning God and Spirits_,

The best account of the old State Religion is that of J. H. Plath,
_Die Religion und der Cultus der alten Chinesen_, 1862.

Réville, _La Religion chinoise_ (1889). The third volume of his

R. K. Douglas, _Confucianism and Taoism_, 1876. S.P.C.K.

De Groot, in De la Saussaye.

De Groot, _The Religious System of China_, vols. i.-iv., 1892-1901.
Also a small book, _The Religion of the Chinese_, 1910.

Beal, _Buddhism in China_, 1884.

Murray's _Guide to Japan_.

J. Edkins' _Religion in China_, 1878, the account of a modern
missionary, may be consulted.

On Taoism, Pfizmaier, _Die Lösung der Leichname und Schwerter_, 1870;
and _Die Tao-lehre von dem wahren Menschen und den Unsterblichen_,
1870. Julius Grill, _Lao-tsze's Buch vom höchsten Wesen und vom
höchsten gut_. _Tao-te-King_, 1910. Vols. xxxix.-xl. of the _S.B.E._
give Taoist Texts.

Revon, _Le Shintoisme_, 1907.


Egypt is a land of still more ancient civilisation than China, and
its civilisation is of more interest to us, since from it the nations
of the West obtained in part the seeds of their arts and sciences.
Even to antiquity everything Egyptian appeared venerable and
mysterious, and the air of mystery is not yet removed from the
country of the Nile. We have discovered the sources of the river and
have learned to read the writing on Egyptian monuments; but the
sphinx has other riddles than these--riddles not yet solved. Who are
the Egyptians, and where did they come from? In ancient times they
were thought to have descended from the interior of Africa; now the
opinion gains ground that they were at a very early period connected
with the ancestors of the Semitic races; their language is thought to
show signs of this remote relationship. How, by whom, and when were
they formed into a nation? No one can tell; they come before us four
thousand years before Christ, a fully-formed nation, with an
elaborately organised public service, and with a civilisation both
broad and rich. And lastly, What is the religion of Egypt? What are
the earliest gods of the land, and in what relation do the various
gods which were worshipped in it stand to each other? That question
cannot at the present time be fully answered. Even should it be
proved, as it appears likely to be, that Egyptian civilisation was
derived originally from Mesopotamia, much will still be dark and
enigmatical. The foremost scholars in Egyptology confess that no
history of Egyptian religion can as yet be written. Those who have
tried to sketch it differ from each other as widely as possible, some
alleging monotheism as its starting-point, and some the worship of
animals. The religion also comes into view at the early period we
have mentioned as a fully-formed and stately public system, whose
youthful struggles, if it had any, are long past. What is most
peculiar in that religion is, that it embraces elements which appear
at first sight to have nothing whatever in common, nay, to be quite
irreconcilable with each other. We shall do well not to attempt any
construction of Egyptian religion as a whole, but to content
ourselves with examining one after another the various elements,
almost amounting to different religions, which are found in it side
by side. We shall no doubt learn something of the relations in which
they stood to each other, but it may prove that we shall find
ourselves unable to adopt any of the theological theories by which
Egyptian priests or Greek philosophers sought to combine them in one

History and Literature.--The principal thing to be remembered, in
order to understand the history of ancient Egypt, is that the country
was divided into a number of provinces or nomes, which, there is
every reason to think, were originally independent of each other. Of
these nomes there were about twenty in Upper Egypt--that is, in the
long gorge of the Nile from Elephantine in the south to Memphis in
the north; and about the same number in Lower Egypt--that is, in the
flatter country from Memphis to the sea. King Mena or Menes, founder
of the first dynasty, whose date, if he was a historical character at
all, and not a mythic founder like Minos of Crete, Manu of India, or
Mannus of Germany, cannot be later than 3200 B.C., is said to have
united for the first time the two crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt.
But though they became united under one ruler, the nomes never forgot
their independence, nor did they cease to maintain their separate
existence as states within the empire, each having its own army, its
own ruler, its own system of taxation, its own worship. The supreme
power resided now in one nome and now in another. The first two
dynasties belonged to that of Abydos; the succeeding dynasties, to
which the earliest monuments belong, so that Egypt here begins its
real history, had their seat at Memphis. The twelfth dynasty, which
is known to us, but is both preceded and followed by a gap of half a
millennium in Egyptian history, made Thebes the capital. Thebes was
also the seat of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, which came
after the foreign domination of the shepherd kings, and under which
Egypt was at the summit of its power. Ramses II. and his successors,
the Pharaohs of the book of Genesis, belong to the nineteenth

How splendid the Imperial Court of Egypt was at various periods, the
monuments tell us; these palaces, temples, and tombs are in
proportion to a power which considered itself to have the world at
its feet, and to be the manifestation of the greatest gods.
Literature is at the same high level of development with the other
arts, and writing is used for every branch of the public service.
This, the most ancient of the literatures of the world, is spread
over the immense surfaces of ancient temples and tombs, and stored up
in masses of papyrus rolls, much of which is still to be explored.
Our knowledge of ancient Egypt and its religion is still in its
infancy. The story of the decipherment of the various characters and
of the recovery of the early language of Egypt is one of the most
wonderful triumphs of scholarship. Only one remark, however, do we
now make in connection with Egyptian writing, namely, that it
illustrates in a singular manner the conservatism of the Egyptian
people, a feature of their character which is strikingly manifested
in their religion also. The ancient Egyptian did not cast away an old
usage when a new one, even a very superior one, had been introduced.
Long after metals had come into use, he still employed for various
purposes, especially those connected with religion, implements of
stone. The flint knives found in mummy-cases are connected with the
work of embalming, and show the retention of an archaic usage. The
same is true of the matter of writing. The earliest Egyptian writing
was that which is called hieroglyphic, or picture-writing. In this
system what is written down does not represent the sounds of words
the writer uses, but the ideas in his mind; it is writing without
words; a clumsy system we should say, and presenting the greatest
possible difficulties to the reader. At a very early time, however,
what is called hieratic writing was invented, in which the symbols
used represent not things but sounds, though the symbols used are
adapted from those of the earlier picture-writing. It is in this
hieratic character that the great mass of Egyptian literature is
preserved to us; but here again we find that the new system did not
banish the old one from use. Especially in religious inscriptions and
documents, the matter is given both in the newer writing and in the
older; the piece is written twice, first in hieroglyphic, the old and
sacred form, and then in hieratic, the new form, which could be
easily read. In the matter of different objects of worship, too, it
may perhaps be found that the same aversion to discard anything old
and sacred manifests itself, the same disposition rather to carry on
the old and the new together.


We begin with that element in Egyptian religion which is to our eyes
least rational. In the ages before and after the Christian era, when
a number of Greek and Latin writers tell us about Egypt, we find that
the religion of the country is described as consisting mainly in the
worship of animals. This excited the wonder of these writers in no
small degree. Herodotus asserts that the Egyptians counted all
animals sacred, and gives a list of those which were specially
worshipped. The hippopotamus, he says, is sacred at Papremis, the
crocodile at Thebes; and some animals are sacred all over the
country. He has much to tell of the manner in which the sacred
animals are fed and tended, and of the honours paid to them at their
death. Lucian says: "In Egypt the temple is a building of great size
and splendour, adorned with precious stones and decorated with gold
and with inscriptions; but if you go in and look for the god, you
find an ape or an ibis or a goat or a cat." The same statement is
made by Clement of Alexandria; and Celsus, the early Roman assailant
of Christianity, speaks to the same effect. Thus the popular religion
of Egypt, before and after the Christian era, had animals for its
principal objects. A representative of the sacred species sat or
crawled or hopped in the temple, and in that nome that animal was not
eaten. In the nome in which the cat was sacred all cats were
inviolable; any insult offered to a cat roused the whole population
to frenzy, and one who killed a cat, even though he was a stranger in
the place and unacquainted with its manners, forfeited his own life.
In the next nome the cat was not sacred but some other animal; and
these local differences of religion might occasion war between one
nome and another. Juvenal gives in his fifteenth satire an account of
a religious war of old standing between two neighbouring nomes, each
of which hated and insulted the animal which was worshipped in the
other. This may explain why it was impossible for the Israelites to
offer sacrifice to Jehovah in Egypt. They had to go out into the
wilderness, off Egyptian soil, before they could sacrifice animals
Egypt held sacred.

The worship of a sacred animal in its own nome, a member of the
species dwelling in the temple and the others enjoying respect and
protection throughout that nome, this is the normal state of affairs.
Sometimes an individual animal acquires sacredness for Egypt
generally, as the bull Apis of Memphis, the bull Mnevis of
Heliopolis, or the goat of Mendes. These, though originally local
deities, might obtain a wider reverence if the nome they belonged to
rose to greater power. Animals of every size and kind were worshipped
in Egypt. Besides the large animals we have mentioned, the ape, the
dog, the little shrew-mouse, each had its local sacredness; also
snakes, frogs, and various kinds of fishes. The beetle (_scarab_) can
by no means be left without mention; and a number of trees and shrubs
were also sacred,[1] but, very curiously, not the palm.

[Footnote 1: A very complete list of the sacred animals and trees
will be found in Wilkinson's _Ancient Egyptians_, vol. iii. p. 258,

It will be observed that our account of Egyptian animal worship is
drawn from very late sources and applies to a late period of the
religion. The religion of the earlier ages of Egypt is of quite a
different kind; the kings and priests who wrote the inscriptions of
the monuments tell us nothing about animal worship. Is that because
such worship did not flourish in their day? Not necessarily. Perhaps
they knew it well, but were not interested in it, or did not wish to
encourage it. The Egyptians certainly did not believe the worship of
animals to have been a late innovation. Manetho, an Egyptian priest
who wrote in the third century B.C., says that the worship of animals
was introduced under the second king of the second dynasty. That is
as if we should say that an old custom of which we did not know the
origin was introduced into Britain in the days of King Arthur. The
priests of Manetho's day wished animal worship to be considered a
corruption of the original religion of their country, but they could
not specify the time at which it had come in, and placed its origin
in the mythical period of history. The story of Manetho therefore
goes to prove that the origin of animal worship is anterior to
written records.

But we have other evidence to the same effect. The earliest
representations of the deities of Egypt on the monuments testify in a
way which can scarcely be mistaken that these great beings had
originally some connection with members of the animal kingdom. The
great gods of Egypt are designated on the monuments in three ways.
Their ultimate form is human, the god is a man or woman, and as the
human figures of all the deities are drawn after one conventional
male and one conventional female pattern, a symbol is added to the
head to show which god or goddess is meant. Hathor is a woman with a
cow's horns on her head, Seb has a duck on his head, and so on. But
an earlier form of the written symbols of the deities is that which
represents them partly in human and partly in animal form. Horus
appears as a man with the head of a hawk, Hathor as a woman with the
head and horns of a cow, Bast is a woman with the head of a cat,
Osiris has the head of a bull or of an ibis, Chnum of a ram, Amon has
the head now of a ram now of a hawk. Deities also occur with human
bodies and the heads of mythical animals such as the phoenix. But
along with these semi-human, semi-animal figures there are found
still simpler symbols for the deities; they are drawn as animals. It
is only about the twelfth dynasty that the change to the higher form
takes place, but even after the step was made of representing the
gods as half-human, the older pictures of them were not discarded,
but placed side by side with the new ones. Thus we find on the same
stone two representations of Horus, one of which gives him as a man
with a hawk's head, while the other makes him simply a hawk; and
similar double representations of the other gods occur. If the gods
of Egypt were thus conceived and represented in the earliest times,
then the animal worship described by the Greek and Roman writers was
not the invention of a late age of decadence, but had its roots at
least far back in the past. The early gods of Egypt were animals,
whatever else, whatever more they were. It may be that the animal
worship of the later and weaker Egyptian periods was a revival, such
as takes place in weak periods, of a style of worship which in
earlier centuries had to a large extent disappeared in favour of a
more spiritual faith.[2] Of this only an Egyptologist can judge, but
at any rate animal worship was not a new thing in Egypt, but a very
old thing.

[Footnote 2: This is held by Le Page Renouf, in his Hibbert Lectures,
_On the Origin and Growth of Religion, as Illustrated by the Religion
of Ancient Egypt_.]

Theories Accounting for Animal Worship.--What did this worship mean?
and how are we to account for it? The Egyptians themselves, and the
ancient writers who turned their attention to Egypt, accounted for it
by a variety of theories; and various theories are still held on the
subject. We can only enumerate the principal ones. (1) The beasts
were worshipped for their qualities, as is said to have been the case
in Peru before the Incas (chapter vi.); each was reverenced for that
divine excellence or virtue which appeared to be manifestly resident
in it. Thus the dog was worshipped for his watchfulness and
faithfulness; the hawk for its darting flight through the upper air,
like the flashing of the sunlight or of the sun-god himself; the cow
as a great kind mother; the beetle for that wonderful procedure in
the reproduction of his kind, in which he so strikingly brings life
out of decay. (2) The beasts are not worshipped themselves; they are
only the emblems of the deities with whom they are connected, and it
is the deity who is worshipped, not the animal. This may be quite
true of later practice, but is by no means a satisfactory explanation
of its origin; for how was it arranged, and who was it that ordained
at first, that the jackal should be the emblem of Anubis, the cat of
Bast, the crocodile of Sebak, and so on? (3) Various mythological and
quasi-historical accounts of the origin of the practice are given,
such as that men long ago chose different animals for their standards
in war, or that some early king, wishing to keep his subjects
disunited, ordered that each nome should serve a different animal. It
is also told as a story of early times that the gods when they walked
on earth assumed the forms of various animals; thus the gods are
still in the animals. The gods hid in the beasts in order to be near
men and see how they did. But men found them out and worshipped them
in the disguise they had assumed. (4) The gods cannot be present in
the world and cannot be satisfactorily worshipped unless they have
bodies to dwell in--that is involved in Egyptian psychology; and as
the gods would be too much alike if they all occupied human bodies,
they chose the bodies of different animals.

These theories of animal worship are evidently later inventions, to
account for a state of matters the real origin of which was not
known. Philosophical priests could not accommodate themselves to the
animal worship of the temples without a doctrine to justify it to
their minds. But those who resorted to such theories about animal
worship could have nothing to do with calling the system into
existence. We may be sure that a refined and cultivated people did
not take up animal worship and cling to it, in spite of its repulsive
features, with such tenacity as the Egyptians did, because of a
speculative idea of the likeness of certain beasts to certain gods,
or to express pantheistic views of the emanations of deity in animal
forms. The system, in fact, cannot have sprung up after the Egyptians
became civilised, and could not continue to exist among a civilised
people, if it was not hallowed by an immemorial antiquity. Only as a
mystery, a thing of which the origin was not known, could such a
worship continue among such a people.

A new explanation of Egyptian animal worship has been put forward in
recent times by the Anthropological school of students of
religion,[3] and is rapidly gaining ground. The religious
circumstances of Egypt as narrated by Juvenal and Diodorus have the
strongest resemblance to the totemistic state of society described
above (chapter iv.). Here, as in Peru before the Incas, or among the
North American Indians of to-day, we have a number of communities
each with its special sacred animal, which it does not eat, but
reverences and defends. Other traces of totemistic arrangements may
be suspected here and there in Egyptian observances, but even did the
analogy extend no further than to the facts just mentioned, there
would be a case for considering whether the nomes were not first
peopled by a set of totemistic clans, who, even after they were
united in one people, preserved their early separate traditions. The
sacred animals of the nomes would then be "the totems of the clans
which first settled in these localities." Later developments of
religion never displaced these venerable emblems, if this be so, of
tribal life.[4]

[Footnote 3: See A. Lang, _Myth, Ritual, and Religion_, Second
Edition. Frazer's _Totemism_. Most of the modern Egyptologists
incline to the theory that animal worship, though not the only, was
one of the chief sources of Egyptian religion. Pietschmann first took
up this ground.]

[Footnote 4: Compare the worship of animals in Babylonia, chapter


A very different set of gods are those made known to us by the
monuments and books. It is the principal problem of this religion to
explain how, along with the sacred animal, the cat or ibis or
crocodile, there was worshipped in the Egyptian temple the celestial
being, the god of heaven or of the sun, whose nature is light, who is
righteous and good, and who more and more fills the mind of the
worshipper with noble adoration, and leads him towards the high
truths of theism. These high gods of Egypt were represented, as we
have seen, from the earliest times of which we have any knowledge,
under animal forms. As far back as we can see, Hathor is a cow, and
Horus a hawk, and Anubis a jackal. Did beast worship spring by a
process of degradation from the worship of the high gods? We have
seen how difficult it is to maintain such a view. Did the higher
worship then spring by a process of development out of the lower?
That also would be hard to prove, for the high gods of Egypt are not
beasts, however magnified and spiritualised, but beings of a
different order; they are the sky, the sun, the moon, the dawn. And
as in our opening chapters we saw reason to believe that the worship
of the great powers of nature is an original thing with early man,
and explains itself without being derived from lower forms of
religion, so we must judge with regard to Egypt too. Even if some of
the great gods came from Mesopotamia, that helps us but little to
understand their history after they arrived in Egypt. In this field
also we are driven to recognise two religions, different in nature
and of independent origin, existing side by side, and seeking to come
to terms with each other; and the combination of the two is a process
in Egyptian religion which took place before the period of which we
have knowledge. It is prehistoric.

It was formerly considered that the nature-gods of Egypt had very
little mythology connected with them; only one considerable story of
their doings was known; most of them had no history beyond the few
phrases applied by primitive thought to the great natural phenomena
to qualify them to be regarded as living and active beings. But as
more inscriptions are read, more divine myths are coming to light,
and further discoveries of the same kind may be still in store for
us. These different myths, however, are formed after the same
pattern. The great gods of Egypt are simple beings and easy to
understand, and they were never formed into an organised system like
the gods of Greece, but remain in separate dynasties or families, and
are very like each other. Many of them are sun-gods, or gods of the
morning and evening, and their stories cannot differ very widely from
each other, but they belong to different districts of the country;
that is what constitutes their difference from each other, and keeps
them separate.

The Great Gods also are Local.--The nature-god as well as the
animal-god was worshipped in his own nome, where he dwelt in the
midst of his own community of worshippers; he was not recognised in
other nomes unless there were special reasons for it. But at the
earliest period of our knowledge of Egypt this simple early
arrangement has already undergone many modifications. Each nome has
its own special deity. Set is the god of Oxyrhynchus, Neith of Sais,
but more gods than one are worshipped in each nome. Generally there
are three; in many places there is an ennead, a nine of gods, but the
nine is a round number; there might be one or two less or more. The
god of a nome which had risen to a commanding position extended his
influence beyond his own nome, and came to share the temples of other
gods, so that he was at home in a number of places. Ra is said to
have fourteen persons--that is, fourteen views of his person have
been developed in so many different districts. But if one god could
thus be divided into several, the converse also took place; two or
more gods were combined, by the simple addition of their names
together, to form a new god. We have Ra-harmachis, Amon-ra,
Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, and some even more elaborately compounded deities.

Thus there was a constant tendency to the production of new deities;
even the attempts to combine existing deities only add to the number.
No attempt in the direction of a system of gods had any success;
local deities could not be suppressed; the nomes retained their
separate deities and religious establishments to the end. There never
was a religious organisation of Egypt generally; a priest could in
some cases pass from the religion of one nome to that of another, but
there was never a high priest of Egypt as a whole, however much a
king might wish to organise all the worships of the country in one
system. This local character of the Egyptian high gods was a source
of weakness in these great beings, and never ceased to check their
upward movement.

The temple of a nome had, as a rule, three gods, and these formed a
family, the chief god having his consort and the third being their
son. Of these triads we may mention some:--

    Amen-Mut-Chonsu            are the triad of Thebes.
    Ptah-Sechet-Imhotep                "        Memphis.
    Osiris-Isis-Horus                  "        Abydos (Philæ).
    Sebak-Hathor-Chonsu                "        Ombos.
    Har-hat-Hathor-Har-sem-ta          "        Edfu.

The son is the successor of his father, and it is his destiny in turn
to marry his mother and so to reproduce himself, that is his own
successor; and so though constantly dying he is ever renewed. The
mother, not being a sun-god, does not die. If we remember that the
gods have to do with the sun these things need not shock us, nor need
we wonder at the statement which is very frequently met with, that a
god is self-begotten, or that he produces his own members.

Mythology.--A few words may be said about Egyptian mythology in
general before we speak of some of the principal gods. The usual
stories of the beginning of things are not wanting, as when the
principal god is said to have been born from a primeval egg, or a
whole family of gods to be the children of Seb and Nut; Seb, the
earth, being in Egypt the male, and Nut, heaven, the female, of these
earliest parents of all things. More than one god, moreover, is held
to have been an earthly king, and to be the founder of the royal
house which now pays him homage. "The days of Ra," for example, are
spoken of as a golden age in which perfect justice and happiness
prevailed. Many stories too may be found which profess to furnish an
explanation of some feature of nature or some institution of society,
to account for the names of places or of animals, or for the presence
of the five days which were added to the twelve lunar months in Egypt
to produce a satisfactory solar year. Many old stories of the gods
have magical efficacy when told in certain situations; one is good
against poison, but must be told in a certain way to produce the
effect. After these stories of the gods' early reign of peace, come
those relating to less happy periods, when the old god grew weak and
began to have enemies, when gods and men became disobedient to him,
when a war broke out among the gods, which is not yet brought to an
end but breaks out ever afresh; or when the old god succumbed to his
enemies, and his successor had to set out to avenge him. In some of
these stories very primitive and savage traits appear, which show
that they originated in a rude state of society. But they are about
men, not about beasts, as we might have expected of Egyptian
mythology, and the men are undoubtedly solar heroes; it is the
fortunes of the daily (not the yearly) sun, his splendid and
beneficent reign, his decline, his conflict with the powers of
darkness, his decease and his resurrection, or the vengeance exacted
on his behalf by his successor, that are spoken of, in connection now
with one god and now with another.

Dynasties of Gods.--In the history of Egyptian religion one set of
such gods succeeds another as the prevailing dynasty, according as
the seat of empire in the country shifts to a new nome. These
religious changes could take place without great convulsions. It was
only the attempt to extinguish old established worships that was
fiercely resisted, not the addition of a new god, even as superior to
those already seated in the temple. In the earliest times known to us
Ra of Heliopolis is the chief god of Egypt; Osiris of Thinis (Abydos)
is also a great god, but the most characteristic development of
Osiris-worship belongs to a later period. Ptah of Memphis comes to
the front in the earliest dynasties. Much later is the rise of Amon
to the first place, which he held when the Greeks and Romans had to
do with Egypt. A very short account only can be given of the sets of
gods of which these are the heads.

Ra.--Ra means "sun"; his seat is Heliopolis or "On," where Joseph's
master Potiphera, or "Priest of Ra," lived. Heliopolis is the "house
of the obelisk," the obelisk being a representation of the sun. First
a kindly old king, he is later a warrior; he has to contend with the
serpent Apep, the dragon of darkness who appears pierced by the
shafts of Ra. But as Ra sinks in the conflict he is comforted by
Hathor, the goddess of the western sky, and avenged by Horus, the
ever young and ever victorious winged sun.[5] But Ra is a god of the
under as well as the upper world. King Pi'anchi, of the twenty-second
dynasty, entered into the great temple of Ra at Heliopolis and
penetrated to the inmost chamber of it, afterwards sealing it up
again. We are told what he saw there.[6] He looked upon "his father
Ra," and saw the two boats intended for the daily journey of the god.
Ra travels in his boat through the sky, but also at night through the
under-world, of which also he is lord. The progress of the god of
light through the world of darkness is a theme which was worked out
later in much detail in connection with Osiris; but it forms part of
the earliest known religious conceptions of the Egyptians, and Ra's
voyage through the "Am Duat" or under-world, is described in
considerable detail. Many figures accompany him in this voyage, and
many are the obstacles to be overcome during the successive hours of
night before he reaches again the gates of day. The souls of men who
have died are also led by him through those nether spaces; by a
hidden knowledge, if they have been at pains to possess themselves of
it, they are able to keep close to Ra on the perilous journey. He
gives them fields to cultivate in the plains beneath, and they are
made glad by his appearance at the appointed hour in the nights that

[Footnote 5: There are in Egyptian religion several gods called
Horus; this, the oldest one, is fused with Ra, the first sun-god, in
the double name Ra-Harmachis, a being to whom the highest attributes
are given. The symbol of this god is a recumbent lion with a man's
head, the figure in which also the kings of Egypt are represented.]

[Footnote 6: See the inscription in _Records of the Past_, ii. 98.]

Osiris, the sun-god of Abydos, is also reported to have been a human
being who was exalted to divine honours. (The god of the under-world
and judge of the dead, who bears the same name, is a different
figure; of him we shall speak afterwards.) He is the most interesting
and the best known of the gods of Egypt; his myth is found at length
in Plutarch, with the mystical interpretations proposed for it in
ancient times; he is also the god in whom the affinity of Egyptian
with Babylonian religion appears most clearly: cf. chapter vii. Born,
according to the myth we mentioned above, at one birth with four
other gods, of the venerable parents Seb and Nut (see above), he from
the first has Isis for his wife and sister, and his brother Set is
also born along with him, with whom he lives in perpetual hostility.
Neither can quite overcome the other, and many are the incidents of
their warfare. As a rule the gods of Egypt are serene and good
beings; here only dualism shows itself. Osiris is the good power both
morally and in the sphere of outward nature, while Set is the
embodiment of all that the Egyptian regards as evil,--darkness, the
desert, the hot south wind, sickness, and red hair. It is not the
case that Set was an imported god and belonged to Semitic invaders,
but these invaders found him more suited to their notions of deity
than any other god of Egypt, and sought to make him supreme, in
which, however, they could not succeed. The story of the
dismemberment of Osiris and of the search of Isis for his loved
remains, which she buried in fourteen different places where she
found them, is one which is found connected with other names in other
lands. Horus is the avenger of his father. Here we have this deity in
three stages--Horus the child in his mother's arms, Horus the
avenger, and Horus the successor of his father, the complete sun-god.

This family of gods is more human and living to us than that of Ra or
than any other set of Egyptian deities. It was also more taken up in
other lands, when the gods of older peoples began to find acceptance
in the West. We see with special clearness in this case the operation
of the principle according to which the contrast of light and
darkness when represented in the gods passes into that of moral good
and evil, so that the god of light becomes the great upholder of
righteousness and dispenser of beneficence. The good god of Egyptian
religion, moreover, is accompanied by a goddess who is somewhat more
than the pale reflection of the male god, as most Egyptian goddesses
are. The incidents of the legend also lend to the divine characters a
tragic depth in which the prosperous and happy gods of Egypt do not
generally share.

Ptah is the god of Memphis, and adjoining his temple is the chapel of
the bull Apis, who is called the "second life of Ptah." If these two
resided side by side, some theory of their relationship was needed,
and the bull became the earthly representative of the unseen deity.
Each had a worship of prehistoric antiquity, and it is vain to
theorise on their original relation to each other. As for Ptah, his
name means "he who forms," and the Greeks called him by the name of
their own Hephaistos, the artificer. In later times he came to be
identified with the sun, and was called the "honourable," "golden,"
"beautiful," and "of comely face"; but earlier he seems rather to
have to do with the hidden source of the world's heat, the elemental
warmth which is at the beginning of all life. He also is, like Ra and
Osiris, a god of the under-world to which men go after death. He is
said to open the mouth of the dead--that is to say, that he hears
them and judges them. But in the upper-world too he has to do with
justice; he is called the "Lord of the Ell," a title connecting him
with measurements and boundaries, matters of the greatest importance
in Egypt. His son is Imhotep, he who comes in peace; the Greeks
regarded this god as a physician, and called him Asclepios. The
goddess of the triad is Sechet, who was also worshipped at Bubastis
under the name of Bast, and whose symbol is a cat. Ptah, it will be
seen, is a less distinct figure than either Osiris or Ra, and he very
readily passes into combinations with other gods. Ptah-Sokari and
Ptah-Sokar-Osiris are found much more frequently than Ptah alone.

These are the chief gods of the old kingdom--that is to say, of the
first six dynasties. When we come to the great twelfth dynasty, after
the gap in the monuments which extends from 2500-2000 B.C., we find
that these gods have become faint and new gods have become supreme,
namely, the local gods of Thebes, and of the adjoining nomes. Of
these, Amon, god of Thebes, has the most distinguished history,
though Chem, the agricultural god of Coptos, and Munt of Hermonthis
were originally as important. Amon, the hidden, _i.e._ the hidden
force of nature, like Ptah, is seldom found alone; he is generally
combined with some other god, especially with Ra. The gods of
agriculture bow their heads by degrees before the sun-gods who tend
to draw to themselves all Egyptian worship; rude country
representations connected with the idea of fertility being
discredited before the religion of the royal temples which was
directed mainly to the god of light.

Was the Earliest Religion Monotheistic?--We have mentioned only some
of the chief gods of Egypt, out of a countless number. These are the
gods favoured by kings and city priesthoods, who, we cannot doubt,
desired the religious elevation of the people. The gods they praised
were of a nature to promote that end. It will be granted that the
worship of the light-gods of Egyptian religion was fitted to lead the
minds of the Egyptians to theism. In illustration of this statement
extracts may be here given from hymns, which date as we have them
from the eighteenth dynasty 1590 B.C., but which are probably much


The gods recognise the universal lord.... He judges the world
according to his will; heaven and earth are in subjection to him. He
giveth his commands to men, to the generations present, past, and
future; to Egyptians and to strangers. The circuit of the solar orb
is under his direction; the winds, the waters, the wood of the
plants, and all vegetables. A god of seeds, he giveth all herbs and
the abundance of the soil. He affordeth plentifulness, and giveth it
to all the earth. All men are in ecstasy, all hearts in sweetness,
all bosoms in joy, every one in adoration. Every one glorifieth his
goodness, his tenderness encircles our hearts, great is his love in
all bosoms.


To him is due the work of the hands, the walking of the feet, the
sight of the eyes, the hearing of the ears, the breathing of the
nostrils, the courage of the heart, the vigour of the hand, activity
in body and in mouth of all the gods and men, and of all living
animals; intelligence and speech, whatever is in the heart and
whatever is on the tongue.


O let us give glory to the god who hath raised up the sky and who
causeth his disk to float over the bosom of Nut, who hath made the
gods and men and all their generations, who hath made all lands and
countries and the great sea, in his name of "Let-the-earth-be."


Hail to thee, maker of all beings, lord of law, father of the gods;
maker of men, creator of beasts; lord of grains, making food for the
beast of the field.... The one without a second.... King alone,
single among the gods; of many names, unknown is their number.

There is a beautiful hymn addressed to the Nile, who is also
conceived as the chief deity and the ruler, nourisher, and comforter
of all creatures. From these hymns and others like them, important
conclusions have been drawn as to the nature of the earliest Egyptian
religion; namely, that those who wrote such pieces must have been
acquainted with the one true god and addressed him under these
various names, so that the true origin of Egyptian religion would be
a primitive monotheism.

There are some texts indeed which seem to point even more strongly
than those cited to the conclusion that Egyptian religion started
from the belief in one supreme deity. Mr. Le Page Renouf quotes along
with the passages above, one from a Turin papyrus, in which words are
put into the mouth of the Almighty God, the self-existent, who made
heaven and earth, the waters, the breaths of life, fire, the gods,
men, animals, cattle, reptiles, birds, etc. This being speaks as

  I am the maker of the heaven and the earth.... It is I who have
  given to all the gods the soul which is within them. When I open my
  eyes there is light, when I close them there is darkness. I am
  Chepera in the morning, Ra at noon, Tum in the evening.

M. de la Rougé maintains that Egyptian religion, monotheistic at
first, with a noble belief in the unity of the Supreme God and in His
attributes as the Creator and Law-giver of man, fell away from that
position and grew more and more polytheistic. "It is more than 5000
years since in the valley of the Nile the hymn began to the unity of
God and the immortality of the soul, and we find Egypt arrived in the
last ages at the most unbridled Polytheism."

The sublimer part of Egyptian religion is demonstrably ancient, as
Mr. Le Page Renouf says; yet we are not shut up to the conclusion
that Egyptian religion as a whole is nothing but a backsliding and a
failure. If we were obliged to regard that monotheism which Egypt had
at first but failed to maintain, as a gift conferred from above,
which human powers proved unequal to conserve, then the opening of
the history of this religion would be indeed most melancholy. But
though monotheism appeared in Egypt so early, there is no necessity
to think that it was not attained by human powers. For all we know,
it was not an early but a mature product of thought, and was reached
after a long development. It is not impossible for the human mind,
starting from the works of God, to rise by its own efforts to the
belief in His invisible power and Godhead. The beginnings of this
rise of thought may be witnessed among savages, and the Egyptians in
their secluded valley had an opportunity such as no other nation had,
to work out, as their civilisation grew up from rude beginnings to
its unequalled splendour, a noble view of the Deity whose works they
adored. The god ruling from his heaven of light over the great empire
of a monarch who knew no equal in the world, possessing for his
earthly abode a temple of unsurpassed magnificence, uniting perhaps
under his sway districts long at war and extending his influence over
remote continents as the armies of Egypt prospered, such a being drew
to himself from his worshipping retinue of priests and nobles, the
highest praise and adoration, was exalted far above all other powers
in heaven and earth, and extolled even as the Creator and Ruler of

Monotheism is thus approached in thought, but only in a prophetic and
anticipatory way; the circumstances of the country forbade its
realisation as a general belief or as a working system. Even in the
highest flights of those early thinkers, when they seem to be
speaking of a god quite universal and supreme, it is a local deity
that lies at the basis of their speculations, a being who has his
temple in a certain place, who is symbolised in a certain animal, who
has a local legend and a limited popular worship. These are the facts
that clog the wings of Egyptian monotheistic speculation and bring it
to the earth again. Pure monotheism accordingly, the belief in a god
beside whom no other god exists, it might be hard to find in Egypt at
all. The last extract given above comes nearest to it; but the last
line of that extract cannot be called monotheistic.

An attempted religious reformation at the end of the eighteenth
dynasty may be mentioned here, as it appears to have aimed at
concentrating all the worship of Egypt on a single object. The object
chosen, however, was a material one,--the sun's disk, Aten,--and
though all Egyptian gods tended to become sun-gods, some sun-gods, no
doubt, were better than others, and Aten was not the finest of them.
King Chut-en-Aten, or Glory of the Sun-disk, the royal fanatic who
made this attempt at unity, went great lengths to accomplish his
object, but the attempt was a failure, and was abandoned after his
death even by the members of his own family. What Chut-en-Aten tried
to introduce perhaps came nearer true monotheism than anything that
ever existed in Egypt. He made war on other gods and wished to
establish one only god in the land, but this exclusiveness the
Egyptians could not understand. The Egyptian believed in many gods,
and while worshipping one god with fervour, by no means denied the
existence or the power of others in other places. Even foreign
deities were in his eyes real and potent beings, each in his own
territory. It is henotheism, not monotheism, that we see in this most
religious land; the worship of one god at a time while other gods are
also believed to exist and act. The one god who is before the mind of
the worshipper is exalted above the rest, and spoken of as if no
other god required to be considered; but the worshipper does not
dream as yet of questioning the existence of other gods, or feel
himself debarred from worshipping them if he should visit their

Syncretism.--The hymns contain several other speculative positions
about the gods (chapter iv.), and we may briefly mention these.
Syncretism, as we saw, is very largely represented in Egyptian
thought, and enters, indeed, into its very bone and marrow. In the
ennead of a city the great gods may be arranged together after the
fashion of a court where one or two rule over the rest; but in
numberless passages we find the relations of gods adjusted in another
way, by making them one. Ra "comes as" Tum, the god is known here
under one name or aspect and there under another. The names of two
deities being added together, a new deity is produced; and in later
times these gods with double, treble, or multiple names are among the
most important. Raharmachis and Amonra are national gods, and have
left much evidence of themselves.

It is a little step from syncretism to pantheism. Let the gods once
lose the individual character that keeps them separate from each
other, and it is possible for one god, who grows strong and great
enough, to swallow up all the rest, till they appear only as his
forms. In the position which they occupied in Egypt the various gods
could not disappear, their local connections kept them alive; but
they were so like one another that one of them could be regarded as a
form of another, and a multitude of them as forms of one. The god who
did most in the way of swallowing up the rest was Ra, the great
sun-god of Thebes. The Litany of Ra[7] represents that god as eternal
and self-begotten, and sings in seventy-five successive verses
seventy-five forms which he assumes; they are the forms of the gods
and of all the great elements and parts of the world. The separate
gods are reduced from the rank of independent potentates to shapes of
Ra, and thus a kind of unity is set up in the populous Egyptian
Pantheon. But Ra is not strong enough to get the better of these
shapes, and to rule a sole monarch by his own right, in his own way.
He is the god, but he is not an independent god; it is pantheism, not
theism, to which he owes his exaltation. The one in Egypt cannot
govern the many; the pure exaltation of Ra as a supreme and absolute
god does not prevent the worship of a different being in each
different town. The one sole god is for the priests alone, not for
the people; and this belief in him does not even lead to attempts to
root out the worship of animals, or to concentrate the service of the
temples on him alone. And in the absence of such attempts we read the
sentence condemning a religion which produced most noble fruits of
thought, to grow worse and not better as time went on, and to pass
away without bringing any permanent contribution to the development
of the religion of the world.

[Footnote 7: _Records of the Past_, viii. 105.]

Worship.--The Egyptian temple was constructed rather to afford the
god a splendid residence among his people than to accommodate a large
congregation at an act of worship. The temple was the public place of
the community, its point of meeting (for the Egyptian town has no
market-place), and its fortress when attacked (for the town is not
fortified). But while the courts of the temple were open to the
people, there was a holy place which only the priests might enter,
where the sacred ark, the symbol of the god, remained, and where
sacrifices were offered. The images about the temple were not placed
there to be worshipped, but were votive offerings meant to provide
the god with a body which he might enter when he chose. The obelisk
is such a symbol or incorporation of the sun. On certain days the
sacred objects and animals were taken in procession through the
temple grounds, or made voyages on the lake belonging to the temple,
or were even taken through the nome among the fields and dwellings of
their people; and on these occasions representations took place
symbolising the principal events in the history of the god. It was
thus that the private individual came to know the god; it was a great
festival and an occasion of the utmost joy when the divine protectors
and benefactors of the nome, who generally remained in their splendid
retirement, came forth to mingle for a brief space with the faithful
community. The worship of the gods was in Egypt, as in every nation
of the ancient world, a matter of state, not of individual concern.
It is the chief branch of the public service; the state is under the
direct rule of the gods; never was there a more absolute theocracy.
The king is a child of the god,--a conception often treated in the
most material way,--and being thus of more than human race, becomes
himself the object of worship, and even offers sacrifice to himself.
It is one of the king's chief cares to provide a stately dwelling for
the god; the king himself offers sacrifice on the most important
occasions. The god in his sacred ark goes with his people when they
are at war and fights along with them, so that every war is a holy
war. The priests are public officials, and often exercise immense
influence. The king institutes them into their functions; they are
exempt, as we may read in Genesis, from public burdens; every
function involving learning or art is in their hands. Framed in such
institutions religion is not likely to have any free growth; the time
is far distant here when men will form voluntary associations of
their own for spiritual ends. Yet, no doubt, the lay Egyptian had a
private religion of his own as well as his share in the great public
acts he witnessed. Though the gods of Egypt are nearly all good, the
evil power Set was much worshipped, and would be approached in
private as well as in the public acts depicted on the monuments, by
all who had anything to fear from him--that is to say, by all. Every
one had to treat with kindness and respect the animal species sacred
in his nome, and other sacred animals. The belief in magic was
strong; hidden powers had to be reckoned with on manifold occasions;
sickness was imputed to the agency of evil spirits, and treated by
exorcism, by persons duly trained and learned in such arts. Lucky and
unlucky days, and days suitable or unsuitable for particular
undertakings, filled the calendar; the belief in amulets and charms
was universal. Such things we expect to find among the people, even
where religious thought has risen highest.


Most of our knowledge about ancient Egypt is drawn from the tombs. No
other nation ever bestowed so much care on the dead as the Egyptians
did, nor thought of the other world so much. The living had to
prepare for his further existence after death, and the dead claimed
from his successors on earth elaborate offices of piety. It is in
this part of the religion that there is most growth, and this part of
it in its ultimate form is best known.

1. Treatment of the Dead.--The doctrine of the other world takes its
rise with the Egyptians in the belief common to all early races,
which was described above (chapter iii.). The spirit still lives when
the body dies, and it comes back to the body, and is affected by the
treatment the body receives. To care for the dead is the first duty
of the living, and a man must marry in order to have offspring who
will pay him the necessary attention after his death. Various things
are buried with the corpse for the use of the spirit, and offerings
are made to it from time to time afterwards. This is no more than the
common primitive belief, but the Egyptians carried it out more fully
in practice than any other people. They sought to make the body
incorruptible, embalming it and restoring to it all its organs, so
that the spirit should be able to discharge every function of life.
They placed the mummy if possible in such a situation that it should
never be disturbed to the end of time; the grave they called an
eternal dwelling. They even instituted endowments to secure due
offerings to the dead in all coming time.

Cultivated as this part of religion was in Egypt, it could not fail
to assume a special character. For one thing, there is a variety of
names for what survives of man after death; we hear of his heart, his
soul, his shade, his luminosity; and in the later doctrine these are
all combined and made parts of one theory; all the different parts of
the man have to come together again after their dispersion at death
before his person is complete. The principal term, however, is the
"ka," image, or, as we say, genius, of the man, a non-substantial
double of him which has journeys and adventures to make, and to which
the offerings are addressed. The "ka" needs food, and regular gifts
are made to it of all it can require; it needs guidance and
instruction, and these can be conveyed to it by pictures and writings
on the walls of the tomb or in the mummy-case; even its amusement and
its need of society and of ministration can be to some extent met in
this way. It is not peculiar to Egypt that the advantages of wealth
and rank are continued after death, and that the rich can do much
more, or cause much more to be done for his eternal welfare, than the
poor. The king's mummy lies in a pyramid, where it will never be
moved; that of the noble in a rock-tomb or a stately edifice or
"mastaba"; the poor man has to be content with an inferior kind of
embalming, and a tomb of tiles if he gets any at all; and no priest
can be retained to pray for him.

2. The Spirit in the Under-world.--Before history opens, this common
belief and practice in regard to the dead had come to be combined in
Egypt with the worship of a solar deity; a step of immense
importance, which added immeasurably to the pathos and the moral
power of this kind of religion.

Milton says in _Lycidas_--

    So sinks the daystar in the ocean bed;
    And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
    And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
    Flames in the forehead of the morning sky;
    So Lycidas sank low, but mounted high.

But what to Milton was a poetic imagination was to the early Egyptian
a serious belief. If the sun was his god, he did not say like
Wordsworth in his early period--

    Our fate how different from thine, blest star, in this,
    That no to-morrow shall our beams restore,

but he was convinced that the history of his god, who sank under the
Western horizon, and after a period of darkness came back again to
light and triumph, was an undoubted indication of what he himself had
to look for after death. The mummy was carried across the Nile and
deposited in the west land, which is also the under-world, to share
in the repose and in the further progress of the dead. As the jackal
pervades that region, the dead is left to the care of Anubis, the
jackal-headed deity, who opens paths to him for further travel, and
leads him into the presence of the gods. The under-world is
elaborately portioned out into various parts and scenes, and manifold
are the shapes of evil and mischief with which it is peopled. On the
other hand, it contains abundance of blessings, which the departed
may secure if the proper means have been taken by himself and by his
friends surviving him. The earthly life is there repeated with all
its occupations and enjoyments, but free from fear and from decay.

The doctrine of the dead accompanying the sun-god to the under-world,
and living under his protection, is very old in Egypt; we saw it in
an early form in connection with the god Ra. It was in connection
with Osiris, however, that it attained its widest diffusion; to the
whole Egyptian people Osiris was the lord of the world below, with
whom the departed were. The identification of the departed with
Osiris was thorough and complete; he becomes Osiris, takes the name
of the deity, and is known in the inscriptions as "Osiris N. N." Isis
is his sister, Horus his defender, Anubis his herald and guide, and
having shared the god's eclipse, he is also to share his triumph and

3. The Book of the Dead, the most famous relic of Egyptian
literature, is a collection of pieces many of which are very ancient,
bearing on the passage of the soul through the under-world. The book
has also been called the _Funeral Ritual_; a better translation of
the title is, "Book of Coming out from the Day." The earthly life is
the day from which the deceased comes forth into the larger existence
of the world beyond. The book (or such parts of it as may be used in
each case) is the soul's _vade mecum_ for the under-world, and
contains the forms the soul must have at command in order to ward off
all the dangers of that region, and to secure an easy and happy
passage through it. How the person is to be reconstructed, the
different parts coming back to be built up again in one, how he is to
know the spirits he meets, how he is to get the gates opened for
him,--such are the subjects of various chapters; and the soul's
success in its passage depends on its knowledge of these. The words
they contain are not merely information, they have magic power to
smooth away obstacles and to open doors. Hence it is important for a
man to have learned them when alive, and, to assist his memory, a few
chapters are written on papyrus or linen, and the rolls placed with
the mummy in its case, or they are written on the walls of the tomb.
No other Egyptian work, in consequence, has been preserved in so many
copies, but one roll or set of inscriptions contains one set of
chapters and another another set.

Does the fate of the individual after death depend then entirely on
magic; is it a question of how many of these formulæ he is able to
remember, or how many his relatives have got written out for him? Do
no doubts intrude on his mind lest, even if he has all the requisite
knowledge at command, he himself should be found unworthy to live
with the immortals? For the most part the _Book of the Dead_ stands
on the earlier position at which man never thinks of doubting the
favour of his god, and trusts to overcome what is hostile by having
his magic ready, not by having his heart pure. But in several
chapters a deeper tone is heard. There is a form for having the stain
rubbed away from the heart of the Osiris, and if there are abundant
directions for outward purification, there are also directions for
having his sins forgiven. In the great 125th chapter the deceased
enters the Hall of the two Truths, and is separated from his sins
after he has seen the faces of the gods. Here he stands before
forty-two judges (compare the number of the nomes of Egypt) styled
Lords of Truth, each of whom is there to judge of a particular sin,
and to each he has to profess that he did not when on earth commit
that sin. I have not stolen, he has to say; I have not played the
hypocrite, I have not stolen the things of the gods, I have not made
conspiracies, I have not blasphemed, I have not clipped the skins of
the sacred beasts, I have not injured the gods, I have not
calumniated the slave to his master; and so on. The line is not yet
clearly drawn between moral and ritual or conventional offences; and
moral duty is expressed in a negative form, and appears as a shackle,
not as an inspiration. Yet the very great advance has been made here,
that divine law watches not only over specially religious matters but
over social life, and even over the thoughts of the individual heart.
The gods enjoin on a man not only to offer sacrifice and to respect
the sacred beasts, but also to do his duty as a citizen and as a
neighbour, and to keep his own lips unpolluted and his own heart
pure. It is to the same effect when we find that a man's
justification depends on the state of his heart at death. His heart
is weighed against the truth, and if it is found defective, he cannot
live again; if it turns out well, then he is justified and goes to
the fields of Aalu, the place of the blessed of Osiris.


This doctrine of the life to come, like the theistic doctrine the
Egyptians at one time attained, might have seemed destined to lead to
a pure spiritual faith, from which superstition should have
disappeared. But in neither case is that result attained. The later
history of Egyptian religion is that of the increase of magic, and of
the rise of a priestly class absorbing to itself, as the older
priests who were closely connected with the civil life of the nation
had never done, all the functions of religion. Doctrine grows more
pantheistic and more recondite, mysteries and symbols are multiplied,
all to the increase of the influence of the priesthood, and to the
infinite exercise of ingenuity in coming times. Popular religion, on
the other hand, comes to be more taken up with such matters as charms
and amulets and horoscopes; and while morals did not decline from the
high level they had gained from the reign of the gods of light, the
spirit of the nation lost vigour under the growth of religiosity at
the expense of patriotism, and healthy reform grew more and more
impossible. What of the religion of Egypt lived on in other lands
which felt her influence, it is hard to say. The religious art of
Egypt, and with it no doubt some tincture of the ideas it embodied,
undoubtedly went northwards to Phenicia; and Greece owed to Phenicia,
as we shall see, many a suggestion in religious matters. Long before
Isis and Serapis were introduced in Rome in their own persons, the
legend of Osiris had flourished in Greece under new names, and the
Greek doctrine of the life to come, taught in the mysteries, has
suggested to some scholars an Egyptian origin. To the Greeks and
Romans this religion afforded an infinity of puzzles and mysteries;
to the modern world it affords the greatest example of a religion the
early promise of which was not fulfilled, the splendid moral
aspirations of which were stifled amid the superstitions they were
too weak to conquer.


For general information Wilkinson's _Egyptians_.

E. A. W. Budge, _History of Egypt_, vols. i.-viii., 1902-03.

E. A. W. Budge, _The Mummy_; chapters on Egyptian funeral archæology,
Cambridge, 1893.

E. A. W. Budge, _The Book of the Dead_, English Translation of the
Theban Recension, 3 vols., 1910.

Flinders Petrie, _A History of Egypt_.

Flinders Petrie, in _Oxford Proceedings_, vol. i. p. 184, _sqq._

The Histories of Antiquity of Duncker, Maspero, and especially Ed.

Erman, _Life in Ancient Egypt_, 1894.

Maspero, _Manual of Egyptian Archæology_, Second Edition, 1895.

Renouf's _Hibbert Lectures_.

Tiele, _History of the Egyptian Religion_, translated by Ballingal.

Wiedemann, _Ägyptische Geschichte_, 1884-88; "Die Religion der alten
Aegyptier," 1890; also "Egyptian Religion," in Hastings' _Bible
Dictionary_, vol. v.

A. O. Lange, "Die Ägypter" in De la Saussaye. _Records of the Past_,
First Series (1873-81), vols. ii., iv., vi., viii., x., xii. Second
Series, 1888-92, vols. ii.-vi.

Benson and Gourlay, _The Temple of Mut in Asher_, 1899.

Naville, _The Old Egyptian Faith_, translated by Colin Campbell,

Colin Campbell, _Two Theban Queens_, 1909. A study of the
inscriptions in two royal tombs.



As used by the modern scholar, the term Semites or Semitic races
includes the Arabs, the Hebrews, the Canaanites and Phenicians, the
Syrians or Arameans, the Babylonians and the Assyrians. This
enumeration differs from that of the tenth chapter of Genesis, where
the children of Shem include Elam, or the dwellers in Susiana, and
Lud or the Lydians, while the tribes who dwelt in Canaan before the
Hebrews are placed in another and a lower division of the human
family. The principle of the enumeration in Genesis is probably that
of geographical neighbourhood; the modern principle is that of
linguistic affinity. The peoples mentioned above spoke, or still
speak, languages which belong to the same family of human speech. The
inference from affinity of language to affinity of blood is in this
case a strong one, so that the peoples using the Semitic tongues are
considered to be of the same race. To the question, where the cradle
of the Semitic race is to be sought, most scholars now answer that we
must seek it in Arabia. From this isolated land the Semitic
dispersion spread in every direction, till Semitic language and
customs filled the earth from the south of Arabia to the north of
Syria, and from the mountains of Iran to the Mediterranean, and far
along the northern shores of Africa; of Babylonia and Assyria, where
Semitic culture and religion assumed at the dawn of human history a
very special and peculiar form, we have already spoken. We have now
to speak of Semitic religion as found in the lands bordering on the
eastern Mediterranean in a more original form. The Semitic peoples
outside of Babylonia founded no lasting empires, and showed no great
aptitude for art or for literary style; but, in point of religion,
they communicated to the world impulses of immeasurable force, which
will act powerfully on the world as long as the Prophet is named or
Christ preached.

It is possible to define to a certain extent the typical religion of
the Semites. The Burnett lectures of the late lamented Professor
Robertson Smith[1] profess to do this; a book in which great learning
and bold speculation are remarkably combined, and which forms one of
the most important contributions to the early history, not of Semitic
religion only, but of early religion in general. The writer was
keenly interested in the study of prehistoric man and of primitive
institutions, and much of his book refers to an earlier period in the
growth of religion than that of the formation of the Semitic type. On
the question of the specific character of Semitic as distinguished
from other religions, it is one of our principal authorities.

[Footnote 1: _Lectures on the Religion of the Semites_. First Series.
The Fundamental Institutions, 1889.]

The Semitic races differ from the Indo-European, with whom alone we
need compare them, in their greater intensity of disposition and a
corresponding poverty of imagination. The Semite has a smaller range
of ideas, but he applies them more practically and more thoroughly.
He has, indeed, an intensely practical turn, and does not touch
philosophy except under an irresistible pressure of great practical
ideas; while for plastic art he has no native inclination. From this
it follows that the religious views he entertains appear to him less
as ideas than as facts, which must be reckoned with to their full
extent as other common facts of life must, and from which there is no
escape. His religious convictions, therefore, are apt to be carried
out to their utmost extent, even at the cost of great and painful
sacrifices. Religion admits with the Semite of less compromise, and
is less affected by fancy, than with the Aryan; it is, in fact, a
more practical matter. The result proves to be that the Semitic mind
brings religious ideas to bear on life and conduct with the greatest
possible force; the substance is more, the form less, than is the
case elsewhere.

When we ask for the common type of working Semitic religion, where
are we to look for it? Not in Babylonia; the characteristic
Babylonian religion is Semitic, but late Semitic; it has received the
impress of high civilisation and of empire. Nor need we look for it
in the town life of Phenicia. It is in the seclusion of the Arabian
peninsula that we find it, in the district, as we saw, now regarded
as the cradle of the Semitic race, where life continues to this day
little changed from what it was before the days of Abraham. There the
type of society still exists with which scholars like Wellhausen and
Smith consider the earliest Semitic religion to be connected. It is a
society of nomad clans, which own no allegiance to any central
authority, which have no king and do not yet form a nation. This is a
stage of social growth which in every ancient people precedes the
rise of the nation and of monarchy. The Hebrews are rising out of
this stage when we first see them. Their neighbours the Moabites and
Canaanites have already passed beyond it. But all these peoples alike
have their root in a state of society when there was no large and
orderly community, but only a multitude of small and restless tribes,
when there was no written law, but only custom, and when there was no
central authority to execute justice, but it was left to a man's
fellow-clansmen to avenge his murder.

Now the religion of the clan, the ideas of which determine the
character of later Semitic systems, may be briefly described as
follows. Each clan has its own god, perhaps he was originally an
animal, at any rate he is the father or ancestor of the clan, he is
of the same blood with them, he belongs to them and to no other clan.
So far the assertion that the Semites are naturally monotheists is
true; but the same is true of all totemistic or clannish communities.
A man is born into a community with such a divine head, and the
worship of that god is the only one possible to him. Should he be
expelled from his clan he is driven away from his god, and he cannot
obtain access into another clan except by a formal adoption as a
stranger client. The link, on the other hand between the god and his
clansmen is of the strongest. He joins in all their enterprises,
after being consulted on the subject, and having a sacrifice offered
to him, which renews the union of the clansmen to him and to each
other. Their wars are his wars; when any of them is injured or slain
he joins in their necessary acts of retaliation; it is a religious
duty for each of them to be faithful to the others, and to keep up
the tribal customs, of which the god approves.

Thus the Semites have as many gods as they have clans; and these gods
do not greatly differ from each other. As long, moreover, as the
clans are at constant feud, no single god can grow very great. It is
only when one clan conquers others, that a king-god can arise to rule
over all alike as a monarch rules over his nobles and their
provinces. But in this type of deity the genius of Semitic religion
is already expressed. The god of the Semite is not a nature-power who
bears the same aspect to all men, but a member of a particular clan,
a person to whom the clansman occupies the same position of natural
subordination as he does to his father or his chief. The god takes
his name not from a part of nature but from a human relationship. He
is "Baal," master or owner, he is "Adon," lord; in later
circumstances he is "Melech," king. "El," mighty one, hero, is a more
generic term; like our "God," it is applied to any divine being.
These deities, it will be noticed, are all masculine; but it is not
to be supposed that the Semites had no goddesses. Not to speak of the
goddesses of Babylonia, mere doubles of the gods whose names they
bore (chapter vii.), the earliest Semites are believed by several
great scholars to have had a goddess but no god. The matriarchal
state of society, in which the mother alone ruled the family, came
before the patriarchal, and so the reign of the goddess came before
that of the god. Each community has its own Al-lat, "The Lady," as
she is called in Arabia, a strict and exacting lady, not to be
confounded with the licentious goddesses of later times; and in all
Semitic lands traces of her early prevalence are found.[2] As the
male god came to the front, the female became a less definite figure,
till she was generally a mere counterpart of the male god, with
little character of her own. With gods of this type there is little
scope for mythology. The history of the god is that of the tribe; the
gods are too little independent of their human clients to form a
society by themselves, or to give rise to stories about their doings.

[Footnote 2: See Robertson Smith's _Kinship and Marriage in Early

This is one side of the natural history of the Semitic gods; but that
history has another side. The lands in which the Semites dwelt were
full from the first of sacred spots; and we have to notice that the
god of a clan is also the god of a certain piece of earth where he is
supposed to dwell, which is regarded as his property, and the
fertility of which is ascribed to his beneficence. In the Bible we
read of sacred trees, of sacred wells, of sacred stones or mounds,
and of stones or pillars which were connected with sacrifice. In
various Semitic lands there are also sacred streams and sacred caves.
The Semites in fact had their share of the inheritance the whole
world has derived from the earliest times, of prehistoric religious
sites and objects. A spirit spoke in the rustling of the branches of
the tree, counsel could be procured at the spring; wherever there
appeared to be something mysterious in nature, a spirit was believed
to dwell; and especially in woods and fertile spots, where wild
beasts originally had their lair, a spirit was thought to reside,
which was approached with fear. Many of these superstitions the
various branches of the Semites long continued to hold;[3] but the
race superseded in the main this world of spirits by a set of gods,
and the magic addressed to spirits by religious observances addressed
to gods. The genius or jinn haunting the thicket, who had no regular
worshippers, but was an object of fear to all, and had to be
propitiated or controlled by mysterious arts, gave way to the god of
a clan, who took up his residence there, and received the regular
worship of his clansmen; the stone became the symbol of a deity who
had been asked and had consented to become identified with it for the
purpose of the stated rites of the clan. In this way the clan gods
became localised as the clans tended to acquire fixed settlements,
and each sacred spot was occupied by the deity of the clan who dwelt
around it. The view was held that each god was to be found at the
spot where, on some marked occasion, he had given evidence of his
power, and he who wished to enquire of that god had to go there. It
might happen that the god manifested his power at another spot to one
of his dependents on a journey, as Jehovah did to Jacob at Bethel
(Genesis xxviii.). Then that spot also was recognised as a holy one
where communication could be had with the deity, and the apparatus of
worship was erected there so that the intercourse might be suitably
carried on, as Jacob is reported to have done. In time also it came
to be thought that each god had his land which belonged to him, on
which alone his worship was possible, and so the earth was parcelled
out among a number of deities; and Naaman, who wishes to worship
Jehovah in his Syrian home, carries off two mules' burden of
Jehovah's soil, to make in the midst of Syria a little piece of the
land of the God of Israel (2 Kings v.).

[Footnote 3: The late Professor Ives Curtius in a paper read to the
Basel Congress (1905, _Verhandlungen_, p. 154), on "Traces of Early
Semitic Religion in Syria," gives details of local sanctuaries still
resorted to in that country.]

One circumstance remains to be mentioned which constitutes a marked
difference between the Semitic and the Aryan religions. Aryan
religion has its centre in the household; the hearth is its altar,
and the gods of the domestic cult are the departed ancestors of the
family. Semitic religion is without this cult; the hearth is not an
altar; the religious community is not the family but the clan. The
worship of ancestors, if, as there is reason to believe, it had once
been practised by the Semites (the Arabs tied a camel to the grave of
the dead chief), lost at a very early period all practical
importance. While the early Semites believed in the continued
existence of the departed, they thought of them as beings quite
destitute of energy, as "shades laid in the ground," and did not
worship them. The other world occupied, therefore, a very small space
in Semitic thought. Religion confined itself to this life; after
death, it was held, even religion came to an end. A man must enjoy
the society of his god in this life; after death he could take part
in no sacrifice, and could render to his god no thanks nor service.

From what has been said the character of sacrifice among the Semites
is readily understood. Sacrifice is not domestic but takes place at
the spot where the god is thought to reside, or where the symbol
stands which represents him. Usually this was an upright monolith,
such as is found in every part of the world, and the central act of
the sacrifice consisted in applying the blood of the new-slain victim
to this stone. The blood was thus brought near to the god, the
clansmen also may have touched the blood at the same time; and the
act meant that the god and the tribesmen, all coming into contact
with the blood, which originally perhaps was that of the animal totem
of the clan, declared that they were of the same blood, and renewed
the bond which connected them with each other. A further feature of
early Semitic sacrifice is also that the slaughter and the blood
ceremony are succeeded by a banquet, at which the god is thought to
sit at table with his clients, his share being exposed for him on the
stone or altar. When he came to be believed to dwell aloft, his share
was burned with fire so that the smell or finer essence of it might
ascend to him. Many examples may be collected in the early historical
books of the Old Testament of sacrifices which are at the same time
social and festive occasions; in fact, in early Israel every act of
slaughter was a sacrifice, and every sacrifice a banquet. The people
dance and make merry before their god, of whose favour they have just
become assured once more by the act of communion they have observed.
The undertaking they have on hand is hallowed by his approval, so
that they can boldly advance to it; the corporate spirit of the tribe
is quickened by renewed contact with its head; all thoughts of care
are far away; the religious act makes the worshippers simply and
unaffectedly happy, if it does not even fill them with an orgiastic

This careless happiness, in connection with religious acts, is found
also in Babylonian sacrifice. It is not, however, peculiar to the
Semites, but is characteristic of the religion of the early world in
general. Nor is it peculiar to this race that religion does not
address the individual as such, but only as a member of his tribe,
and that it provides small comfort for private sorrows or longings.
The sad face is out of place in the presence of the god. Religion is
essentially a happy thing; sin is not yet thought of, and if things
go wrong, the tribe never entertains any doubt but that with proper
sacrifices and promises the god will show them his favour again and
renew their prosperity. All this is not specially Semitic, but simply
early religion. What is specially Semitic is, to repeat that with
which we set out, that gods are worshipped whose relations to their
worshippers are borrowed from existing forms of society. The god is
the father or the master or the champion, of the circle of
worshippers; he is of their kindred, he is their greatest and
strongest clansman, he belongs to them and to none but them. This,
whether it is derived--as Professor Robertson Smith thinks--from the
ideas of totemism or not, leads to a religion which is exclusive and
intense, and cannot be trifled with. The god who is a man's master,
and the head of his clan, stands in a more imperative position
towards him than the god of the sky, or than a departed ancestor. He
does not change with the seasons or the weather, nor is there any
doubt as to his intentions and demands. Semitic religion, even at
this stage, is a very real thing, and may easily, in favouring
circumstances, become a force of overmastering energy.


Hommel, _Die Semitischen Völker und Sprachen_.

"Semites," by McCurdy, in Hastings' _Bible Dictionary_, vol. v.

Cumont, _Les Religions orientales dans la Paganisme Romain_, 1907.


When the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan and settled in
Palestine, they found that country inhabited by a race of men who
spoke the same language as themselves, and who were much further
advanced than they in civilisation. The letters of El-Amarna which
belong to this period show Syria to have been full of small
theocratic states, all pervaded, though now under the power of Egypt,
by Babylonian culture, each with a god and a settled worship of its
own. The Israelites of a later time regarded the Canaanites with such
disdain that they reckoned them (Genesis x. 6, 15) as belonging to an
inferior race; but the two peoples belonged to the same race, and had
many common ideas and practices. In religion they resembled each
other, or Israel could never have been tempted so strongly, and for
so long a period, to adopt the rites of the people they conquered.

The Israelites were not the only people who invaded the land of the
Canaanites and stayed in it. Three such invasions took place: those
of the Phenicians, of the Philistines, and of the Hebrews--the first
and third being Semitic peoples, and perhaps the second also. The
Philistines, settling on the south-eastern corner of the
Mediterranean, had a Semitic religion, of which the fish-god Dagon,
the Fly-Baal of Ekron, and the Ashtoreth, probably of Ascalon, are
known figures. The Philistines, however, lost ultimately their
separate character, and ceased to exist as an independent people. It
will not be necessary for us to mention them again. The Phenicians,
settling on the northern sea-board of Syria, where great trade routes
to East and West converged, and where good harbours could be made,
became a nation of merchants, and kept up active communication with
the great kingdoms of the East, with Egypt, and with the islands and
the distant shores of Western Europe. The carriers of the ancient
world, they transmitted to Europe not only the spices and the fabrics
but also the ideas and the practices of Asia, and rendered to the
world the inestimable service of awaking the slumbering energies of
the Aryan peoples to new life.

A short chapter may be devoted to the religion of the Canaanites and
to that of the Phenicians, not because these were important in
themselves, for in neither was there anything original or anything
destined to survive, but because of the light they throw on other
religions which were to have a great career. It was in conflict with
the Canaanite religion that the faith of Israel first realised its
true nature and was led to organise itself in a manner befitting its
character. And from Phenicia both Israel and Greece accepted many a
suggestion, both in external matters connected with worship and in
matters of a deeper nature.

The religion of the Canaanites is well known to us from the Old
Testament. It is such a system as we found that of the Semites to be,
with certain peculiar developments, of which we have already seen
something in our chapter on Babylonia. A local community recognises
an invisible head, with whom it meets at the sacred spot, whom it
regards as overlord or master, of whose favour it is in no doubt, and
whom it serves with sacrifices and with lively manifestations of joy
at certain fixed periods. The god is called Baal. This, however, is
not a proper name but a title; it means lord, master, and the Baal
may have a name of his own in addition: we hear of Baal Peor, the
lord of Peor, and of many another. Baals are spoken of in the plural;
we read in Judges ii. 11 and in other passages that the Israelites
followed the Baals, that is the gods of the Canaanites. Each place
has its own Baal, who is worshipped at the local sanctuary. The
sanctuary is at an elevated spot outside the town or village, either
on a natural eminence or on a mound artificially made for the
purpose; these are the "high places" of the Old Testament; originally
Canaanite places of worship, they drew to themselves also the worship
of Israel. The apparatus of worship at these shrines is of a very
simple nature. An upright stone represents the god; it is not a
statue of him, being unhewn and having no resemblance to the human
figure. He was supposed to come to the stone when meeting with his
worshippers; and in the earliest times of Semitic religion this stone
served the purpose of an altar: the gifts, which were not originally
burned, were laid upon it, or the blood of the victim was applied to
it. But besides the altar and the upright stone or _massebah_ the
Canaanite shrine had another piece of furniture. A massive
tree-trunk, fixed in the ground and with some of its branches perhaps
still remaining, represented the female deity who is the invariable
companion of the Baal. This is the Ashera of Canaan, a word which in
the Authorised Version is translated "grove," after an error of the
Vulgate, but which in the Revised Version is rightly left
untranslated. (Judges iii. 7, vi. 25; 2 Kings xxiii. 6, there is one
in the Temple at Jerusalem; etc.) The word Ashera is in such passages
the designation of the tree which stood to represent the goddess;
whether it is ever the proper name of the goddess herself is
doubtful. At any rate Ashera, like Baal, is not the name of one
historic deity, but a name applied to the goddess of each place all
over the country.

The character of Canaanite religion is clearly revealed in its
apparatus of worship. We saw that the Babylonians added to many of
the gods of their country a female counterpart, turning the name of
the god into a feminine form (chapter vii., also chapter x.). In
Canaan we find that Semitic worship is addressed to pairs of deities;
there is a god and a goddess at each shrine. While it would be wrong
to regard this as the general type of Semitic religion,--our chapter
on that subject points to a different conclusion, and the great gods
of Phenicia, of Moab, and of Israel are solitary beings,--we must
recognise that the worship of god and goddess was widespread in
Semitic peoples. In Canaan it is not difficult to understand it. We
have here the worship of an agricultural community; and as the Baal
is the lord of the soil and the author of its fertility, who is
entitled to receive the first-fruits, so the Ashera is the fertile
matron who represents the principle of increase. The Old Testament
leaves us in no doubt as to the kind of worship which was carried on
at these shrines. The festivals were those of the farmer's calendar;
the Baal is presented with the first-fruits of corn and wine and oil,
in the midst of general feasting and boisterous merry-making. His
consort, on the other hand, is served with rites applying in the most
direct manner the principle she represents. The shrine has a staff of
female attendants for this part of the service of religion. The
rustic worship of Palestine thus shows us a side of the religion of
Western Asia which we know from other sources to have been widely
diffused. A female deity like the Babylonian Ishtar (chapter vii.),
is served with impure rites in great cities as well as in country
districts, and her worship spread westwards with other Eastern
products. She is found as Baalit, as Mylitta,[1] as Astarte; the
Greeks call her Aphrodite, and her horrid worship found entrance in
various Greek cities.

[Footnote 1: Herod. i. 199.]

To the Israelites the worship of Canaan proved a great temptation
(Numbers xxv.), but they gradually rose above it. The Phenicians also
came to have gods of a much higher character, and of these also we
must speak. The Phenicians were not original in their religion any
more than in their art; their religion began with the ordinary
Semitic notions as these had been applied by the older population in
Syria, and they improved it by borrowing from various parts of the
world with which they trafficked. So various were their borrowings
that it is impossible to draw up a consistent system of their gods.
One town has one set of gods, another town another, and the same
deity wears different and even opposite characters in different
places. All that can be done is to single out a few features which we
can see to have been on the whole characteristic of Phenician
religion, and to have enabled it to influence the worship of other

The Phenicians were very much in earnest about the maintenance of
state and of religion. In their successive city-states of Sidon,
Tyre, and Carthage, we see them exhibiting an intense devotion to the
commonwealth, and very much under the influence of their priesthood.
Semitic religion tends to grow more sombre and intense as it
develops; and the Phenicians, while still holding the principle of a
god and goddess, concentrate their worship more and more on a single
divine figure, and come to regard that figure from a greater distance
and with greater awe. The liberal and easy-going Baals and Asheras of
agricultural life are not suited to the temple of a great commercial
city; a figure of more dignity is wanted. And thus above the crowd of
Baals there appears the Moloch or king, a much greater being and
requiring a much statelier service. Moloch also is not originally a
proper name; there are various Molochs or king-gods who rise above
the Baals, and the individuals have special designations, as
Melcarth, "king of the city." This type of deity occurs not with the
Phenicians only, but with several other Syrian peoples about the same
time. The Moloch of Sidon and Tyre is a being of the same character
as the chief gods of Moab, Ammon, and Israel. He has to do not only
with the blessings of agricultural life, but with state and
government. He is the founder of a state; he is the inventor of
navigation and of purple; he is the first king; when a colony is sent
out, it goes with his approval, and he himself leads the expedition;
he is the dread ruler whom none must disobey; the majesty, the power,
and the enterprise of the state are all embodied in him. And as the
king-god is far above the landlord-god in power, he is infinitely
removed from him in character also. The chief gods of Sidon and Tyre
have nothing luxurious or effeminate about them. They are strict and
awful beings, and must not be incautiously approached. They retain
their primitive character as sources of life, but they are destroyers
of life as well. Pure and holy themselves, they require purity and
holiness in all who draw near to them. Their priests are celibates,
their priestesses virgins. They require sacrifices of a very
different nature from those of the Baals, more costly and more
dreadful. Human sacrifices appear to have been a regular feature of
their worship: when the Israelites turn to the worship of Phenician
gods, or when they copy Phenician practices, we hear of their "making
their children pass through the fire"--that is, offering them up as
burnt-sacrifices. The Moloch requires what is most costly as a
sacrifice, or what will cause the strongest thrill of terror in his
worship. Even the first-born child is not to be kept back from him (2
Kings xxiii. 10, Jerem. vii. 31, cf. Micah vi. 7).

So far the origin of the Phenician gods is simple. They are purely
Semitic deities, formed on the pattern of human rulers and deriving
their attributes from that character. When a state becomes highly
organised before it is quite civilised in other respects, its
religion is apt to be stern and cruel; of this various instances may
be found in the history of religion, and the present is one of them.
The Phenician gods were of such a character as to favour the survival
of savage practices; the Semite, as we saw, is extremely
matter-of-fact and practical in his religion, and a god who was a
king would receive the same kind of offerings as the king of Sidon or
of Tyre was accustomed to. A strict and dreadful religion thus
survives beyond the savage state; pleasure is taken in trampling on
natural feelings and in setting forth shocking spectacles at the
bidding of the deity.

Astral Deities of Phenicia.--It is not possible to arrange in a
system the remaining phenomena of Phenician religion. In the
historical period the gods have another character besides that of
being heads and rulers of communities. They are connected with the
heavenly bodies. The chief god, whatever name he bears, El, Baal,
Moloch, Rimmon, or Adonis, is always the sun. A sun-god may have come
from Egypt or Babylon, but there is no reason why the Phenicians may
not have had a sun-god from the first, whose character spread to
their other deities. And in accordance with the tendency above spoken
of, the sun-god has a consort. Sometimes his consort is the earth;
and then we have a sensuous and immoral worship such as that of the
Canaanites. Sometimes it is the moon; her name is Astarte or
Ashtoreth, and she is a very different being from the Ashera of
Canaan; the names are not the same, and the characters are opposite.
Ashtoreth, like the primitive Semitic goddess (chapter x.), is a
chaste matron; she is represented robed and in stately attitude, and
is a fit companion for the strict Moloch of the cities. Her worship
is described to us by Jeremiah, in whose time the matrons of
Jerusalem made cakes for her and poured out drink-offerings and
burned incense to her as the "queen of heaven"; all this was done
with the knowledge and co-operation of their husbands, so that the
worship had nothing immoral about it. This strict goddess is not to
be identified with Istar of Babylonia, although the names are alike.
Istar is not a moon-goddess like Ashtoreth; in Babylonia, in fact,
the moon is masculine, and the characters of the two goddesses are
opposite. The Sidonian Astarte and the Canaanite Ashera represent two
opposing types of female deity, both of which may possibly have their
reflections in Greece--the latter in the lower forms of the worship
of Aphrodite, and the former in the figures of such strict maiden
goddesses as Artemis and Athene.

Another worship which prevailed in Phenicia should not be left
unnoticed--that of the Cabiri. There were temples of the Cabiri in
several of the towns; their worship, however, was secret, and little
was known of it even in antiquity. We know at all events that the
Cabiri were seven in number, and the number is thought to be
connected, not with the seven planets, but with the seven heavenly
spheres of early astronomy. They have a head called Eshmun, who is
the god of the eighth or highest sphere. The Cabiri are beings of a
moral character; they are not only mighty ones and creators, but they
are the children of Sydyk--that is, of Righteousness; and they give
counsel. It is here that the tendency to speculative exaltation of
the deity appears in Phenicia; but there is little of it, and neither
in this direction nor in that of morals was the religion destined to
have any remarkable growth. The service of the gods was so closely
identified with the service of the state,--for either the priest and
the king were one, as in Israel after the exile, or nothing could be
done without the priesthood,--that no independent religious
development was possible. In a theocracy religion cannot grow, at
least it cannot be openly acknowledged to do so; and the prophet and
reformer finds every influence arrayed against him.

How greatly Israel was indebted to Phenician art is known to all. It
was by artificers from Tyre that Solomon's royal buildings were
planned and executed, when he had married a daughter of Egypt and was
compelled to aim at some magnificence. A royal temple formed part of
these buildings, and was necessarily erected according to the ideas
which prevailed in the more advanced neighbouring kingdoms. It was
from the same source that the Greeks a century or two later drew
suggestions for their sacred architecture; and thus we find that the
ground-plan of Solomon's temple and that of the Greek temple are
closely similar. Both are to be traced ultimately to the model
derived by the Phenicians from Egypt. And those who borrowed from
Phenicia the form of their temple, borrowed many other things too. In
the porch of Solomon's temple stood two great pillars of bronze,
which were called Jachin and Boaz; they were simply the symbols which
stood at the entrance to every Phenician temple of the sun-god
worshipped there. The priests of Israel were dressed like those of
Tyre and Sidon; they offered the same animals as sacrifices, they
received the same dues for their maintenance. When so much apparatus
was borrowed, it is no wonder that the gods of Phenicia were at times
worshipped at Jerusalem. We see from this whole chapter that the
religion of Israel was not so much apart from that of the other
Syrian peoples as we have been wont to imagine. Even in his religion
Israel owed something to his neighbours; his religion came to be
better than theirs, but it was the result of a movement in which they
also had taken part.


The Histories of Antiquity. E. Meyer, Duncker (see p. 101).

Tiele's _Egyptische en Mesopotamische Godsdiensten_. Book II.:
Phenicia and Israel.

The Histories of Israel, especially Kuenen, _The Religion of Israel_.

F. Jeremias, in De la Saussaye, vol. i. pp. 348-383.

E. Meyer, "Phenicia," in _Encyclopædia Biblica_.


It is a circumstance of the greatest value for the science of
religion that the Old Testament is so well known. That book is the
most valuable literary storehouse we possess of the facts and ideas
connected with the early religion of mankind; it is the best
text-book of the earlier portion of our subject. In our chapters on
primitive worship, as well as in that on the Semites, we have drawn
largely from this source, and for the earlier stages of the religion
of Israel we may refer to these chapters. We have now, however, to
deal specially with the religion of the Old Testament, and to
endeavour to show, as has been done in other cases, what was its
specific character, and how its character determined its history. The
story to be told in this chapter is, even apart from our special
interest in it, as fascinating as any in this volume; it was through
a mental movement of unparalleled grandeur, as well as through an
outward history of tragic and entrancing interest, that the Jews came
to possess the religion which was the desire of all nations, and the
chief preparation for Christianity.

We have to begin, however, with repeating in this case what has been
and will be the burden of our opening paragraphs in many chapters of
this book, namely that the traditional ideas about the nature of this
religion require to be corrected, and that its sacred books as they
now stand do not accurately represent its history. The Old Testament
literature has suffered in a high degree what seems to be the
predestined fate of every set of sacred books. Old materials and new
are mixed up together in it; many works have been revised by later
editors, and so much changed, that laborious critical processes are
necessary before they can be used by the historian. In forming his
first impressions as to the relations the books bear to each other,
and as to the purport of the whole, the reader is naturally guided by
the order in which he finds them; but the order in which the sacred
books of the Jews stand in the Old Testament was fixed from a
peculiar point of view at a late age in Jewish history, and is in
many respects quite unnatural and misleading. To come to particulars;
the Old Testament as it stands suggests that the Law was the earliest
product of Jewish literature, and that all the details of ritual, as
well as of moral and social duty, were fixed for the Jews at the very
outset of their history; and it suggests that the books of the
prophets were written last. This, till quite recently, was generally
believed to be the case, but by the labours of a series of
illustrious scholars of the Old Testament the conclusion has been
reached, which is now less and less disputed, that the earlier
prophetic books come first in chronological order, and that the law,
which is not all of one piece, but contains a number of codes of
different periods, together with a collection of legends and
traditions drawn from various quarters and subjected to editorial
treatment, did not assume the form in which we have it till after the
exile. The historical books, in which no doubt various ancient pieces
are embodied, were written under the inspiration of prophetic ideas;
and the latest books of all are those which stand in the centre of
the Old Testament in the English Bible; the Psalter, which had been
growing during a long period before it came to contain its present
number of pieces, the books of morals and philosophy, and the book of
Job. Daniel belongs to the period of the Maccabees. The historian,
therefore, starts from the age of the prophets of the eighth century
B.C. The writings of these great men afford a graphic picture of
their time, and an entirely trustworthy account of the mental
furniture Israel then possessed. From this fixed point the student is
able to infer what happened to Israel in earlier times, and to judge
of the spirit in which the early history of the people was afterwards
written and edited. The history of Israel which the student arrives
at after these critical processes differs, it is true, in very
important respects from that which appears at first sight on the face
of the Bible. But the same thing has occurred in the case of other
nations. The sacred books of Persia also have to be turned outside in
before they furnish the historian with an account he can accept. Even
of the speeches of Mohammed the same is true. Those who undertake the
task of codifying sacred literatures have to consider the purpose to
which the books are to be put in the community, and to arrange them
so as best to serve that purpose; they do not ask, How must they be
arranged so as to exhibit the true sequence of the history?--that
interest only arises much later--but, How will they best serve the
needs of the community? The order of books in sacred collections is,
therefore, fixed by practical considerations, now of one kind and now
of another, and not according to the requirements of the student of
history. We now proceed to give the outline of the history of the
religion of Israel as it appears in the light of recent critical

Israel consisted originally of a group of tribes, bound together by
the memory of a great deliverance they had experienced in common, and
of battles in which they had fought side by side. Accustomed to the
free life of shepherds, they had been enslaved in Egypt and held to
intolerable tasks; but they had made their escape in a wonderful
manner under a leader who had known how to kindle them to heroic
efforts by reminding them of their religious traditions. Under his
leadership they had visited the Sinaitic peninsula after leaving
Egypt, and had wandered in the regions to the north of Sinai, till at
last they conquered territory to the east of Jordan, on which some of
them settled, while others crossed the Jordan, and took up their
abodes among the Canaanite tribes whom they found there.

The nation and the religion came into the world at the same time.
Although the tribes retained their separate gods and religious
observances, and families among them also had their own family cults,
the bond by which they had been formed into a people and made capable
of common action was stronger than these earlier ties; the God whom
Moses proclaimed as their head inspired in them an enthusiasm and
vigour unknown before. His name was Yahweh, and is said to have a
metaphysical meaning, and to designate the god as more really
existing than any other. This is doubted; what is certain is that
Moses declared that Yahweh promised to be with the tribes, and that
they took him for their God. Jehovah, to use the more familiar form
of the name, was perhaps the God of the most powerful of the tribes;
he was probably a nature-god, and connected with storms and thunder,
and he had his seat at Mount Sinai. Thither the tribes repaired to
hold a solemn meeting with him; from there he was afterwards
represented as coming forth when about to do any mighty act for his
people. He is thought of as a being who cannot be seen, since he
dwells in clouds and darkness. He utters his voice in thunder and
storm; he is possessed of irresistible energy which he unfolds in
battle, and in which he causes his people to share when he goes
before them to war. But he is also a god of counsel, and takes the
greatest interest in the moral and social life of his people. His
human representatives, aided by his spirit, settle disputes which are
laid before them, and pronounce authoritative counsels on difficult
matters. This kind of guidance is constantly going on, so that
Jehovah is felt to be watching over the conduct of his people, and to
be an effective helper and guide in their domestic concerns, which
not every god attends to, as well as in their meetings with their

The Early Ritual was Simple.--In all this we have a very apt example
of the advance which, as we saw in a former chapter, religion makes
when it becomes national instead of merely tribal; when the great god
of the nation takes his place above the gods of the tribes. In
Israel, however, it is not the case that the national religion, when
it appears, at once develops a higher style of worship, and draws
attention to itself by greater pomp and deeper solemnity of form. The
priestly legislation of Exodus and Leviticus, indeed, represents this
as having been the case. Here the tribes have scarcely adopted the
service of Jehovah, when an army of thousands of priests is called
into being, for whose maintenance elaborate provision is made, and a
splendid and highly-organised worship is arranged. This directory of
worship, however, most scholars are agreed, never was in operation
till after the exile: we see in it the worship which Ezra and his
fellow-scribes aimed at introducing in the second temple at
Jerusalem. The worship of the wilderness and of the early period of
Israel in Canaan was of a very different nature. The leading features
and principles of it differed little from what we have described in
former parts of this book (chapter v., chapter x.). It was conducted
according to custom rather than statute, and its leading
characteristic was that it was a common meal at which the god was
present along with his worshippers, and assurances were given that
the good understanding still continued which bound the tribesmen to
their god and each other. It was by the person of his god rather than
by a more elaborate worship, or a more numerous priesthood, that
Israel was distinguished from Moab and Ammon.

Contact with Canaanite Religion.--After being delivered out of Egypt
by the power of Jehovah, and entering Canaan, Israel was placed in a
position in which it is wonderful, indeed, that the national
character and the national religion were not merged in those of the
surrounding population. Bringing with them the few ideas and the
scanty appliances of the wilderness, they found themselves dwelling
amid a people whose civilisation was fully formed, and who possessed
a comparatively elaborate worship. The tribes of Canaan spoke the
same language, and were of the same race with themselves, but had
advanced to the higher life of agriculture and of cities. Their
worship was the same in principle as that of Israel, but it had a
higher organisation. The land was studded with sacred places, the
sanctity of which Israel could not deny, and which formed centres of
pilgrimage and worship. The worship of the Canaanites was described
in last chapter (chapter xi.); the reader will remember the upright
stone (masseba) representing the Baal, and the tree-trunk (ashera),
if there was no living tree, representing the goddess. If all this or
most of it was new to the Israelites, so was the sacred year which
fixed the seasons of worship in Canaan. Minor festivals were fixed by
the appearance of the new moon, or by the regular return of the
seventh day (it is doubtful if the Sabbath was observed in the
wilderness, it is connected with agriculture, and is scarcely
compatible with pastoral life); greater ones by the epochs of the
year, such as harvest and vintage. The worship connected with
agriculture in the early world is of a noisy and frantic order; and
where gods are worshipped who are connected with fertility, it is
apt, as we saw, to be marked by sexual features.

Danger of Fusion.--The Israelites were naturally prompted to adopt
what they could of the religion of the Canaanites. The old sacred
places of the land, whether connected with their own ancestral
traditions or not, they could not help adopting; it would have been
strange, indeed, if, when they became agriculturists, they had not
adopted the agricultural festivals; and if, as was natural, they
regarded the Baal of the Canaanite as the lord of the land and the
giver of its fertility, their thanks for the harvest would be
addressed to him (Hosea ii. 8). Their worship of Jehovah could not be
left poorer than that which their neighbours addressed to Baal; for
it also they erected asheras and made use of standing stones, and of
Jehovah also they had images. One of these, which was destroyed by
Hezekiah, was in the form of a serpent: in other places Jehovah was
worshipped under the form of a bull. Where an image of him was kept,
he could be consulted by means of lots or in other ways. The ark or
chest which was kept at one of the more important shrines,
represented him most fully; it was carried into battle, and he was
thought to go with it.

Religious Conflict.--But the more developed worship thus paid to
Jehovah after the settlement in Canaan, as it had not grown out of
the religion of Jehovah, did not truly express its spirit, and was
felt by those who believed most thoroughly in the national god, to be
a wrong way of serving him. If, moreover, the Israelites, who lived
scattered and far apart from each other among the older inhabitants,
went so far in adopting Canaanite practices, there was a danger that
Israel would forget the faith which had made him a nation, and thus
part entirely with his character and nationality. A contest thus
arose, which continued during the whole of Israelite history down to
the exile, between the few who cared for Jehovah only, and desired to
see the principles of his religion carried out purely and without
reserve, and the many who, while also professing to follow Jehovah,
saw no harm in worshipping him as other gods were worshipped, or even
in addressing other gods as well as him. This struggle is represented
in the histories as if Israel had from time to time become entirely
apostate from its own faith. But it is clear that Israel never forgot
Jehovah so far as to be incapable of being called back to him. The
call was generally a call to war. The people, having forgotten the
true source of their strength, and so lost spirit and became a prey
to their enemies, were summoned by one in whom the spirit of Jehovah
was burning freshly, to follow him to battle against their enemies.
The spirit of Jehovah, thus applied anew to the hearts of his people,
did not fail of its effect. The wave of courage and of martial ardour
spread from place to place, from tribe to tribe, and soon an army
stood in the field which struck with the old vigour, and soon shook
off the yoke of the oppressor. Jehovah thus proved himself to be
Jehovah Sebaoth, _i.e._, in the most probable rendering of the
phrase, the God of the armies of his people. A religion which proved
itself in this way could never cease to be a power in the heart of
the nation; even if the tribes, dispersing again after a victory,
soon seemed to lose touch of each other, and to be sinking deeper
than ever in the surrounding tide of Canaanite life, yet the faith,
which was associated with all the highest moments of their past
history, and was the secret of all their victories, could not die.

The Monarchy.--It was a great advance, however, in the history of the
religion of Israel, when the judges or heroes who appeared, at
distant intervals of time and in different parts of the country, to
summon Israel to fight for freedom in the name of Jehovah, were
succeeded by the monarchy. This was a step which those most zealous
for the national faith warmly approved, and, indeed, themselves
brought about; the monarchy was founded, in the case of the first two
kings, on religious enthusiasm. The religion of Jehovah at once
became the state religion, and a more satisfactory worship was formed
at the court. The permanent union of the tribes under the monarchy
soon showed Israel to be possessed of much greater force than could
have been imagined, and within a century the people of Jehovah formed
a considerable power, which was heard of in all ends of the earth.
Instead of a set of scattered tribes they were now a homogeneous
people, conscious of a great past and looking forward to a still
greater future. As they passed rapidly from barbarism to
civilisation, Jehovah shared their rise. His energy had always been
undoubted, but he now put on in addition all the settled attributes
of kingly power--he was a great god, and a great king, a just judge,
a liberal friend--all his doings were wonderful. He had chosen Israel
for his people, and by a series of mighty acts had guided and
preserved them, and made them great. His people stood in a peculiar
position in the world; with such a god they must rise higher still,
there could be no limit to what he could do for them.

Religion not Centralised.--We must not, however, suppose that the
rise of Jehovah to a great position, and the institution of his
worship at the court, made any great or sudden change in the
religious arrangements of the people at large. While the worship of
the monarch went on at Gibeon or at Jerusalem, the great shrines at
Bethel, at Dan, and at Beersheba were still frequented, and the
sacred places throughout the land remained in honour. Stories indeed
were told to show that they had been founded by the patriarchs for
the worship of their god, so that there need be no scruple in
frequenting them. The worship of Baal and that of Jehovah went on at
these places side by side, and neither could fail to be influenced by
the other. Sacrifice was guided by more than one principle: on the
one hand it was a common meal with the deity; and as Jehovah was
thought to have his dwelling in Heaven, his part of the banquet was
burned, so that it might ascend to him in the column of smoke. The
sacrifice of agriculturists, however, naturally turns to the idea of
presenting to the god, with joy and thankfulness, a part of the
gifts, or the first or best part of the gifts, which, as lord of the
soil, he has bestowed. The idea of propitiation or atonement does not
enter into the ordinary sacrifices at this time. Jehovah in his
sterner moods may demand more awful offerings. As we see from the
story of Abraham offering up Isaac, it was thought that Jehovah might
demand human sacrifice, and instances of such sacrifice actually
occur in the records. Jephthah dedicates his daughter; after a war
the best of the booty is offered to Jehovah, and Samuel hews Agag in
pieces before him. But such occurrences lie quite apart from ordinary
worship, which is of a joyful character and is accompanied by
merry-making of various kinds. No fixed ritual prevailed throughout
the country; the attempt to introduce uniformity came much later.
Every one knew how to sacrifice, as the stories of Manoah and of
Gideon show; it was by no means necessary that a priest should be
present. The functions of the priest indeed were often connected with
other matters than sacrifice, and might be of a humble description.
Eli with a few attendants was the guardian of the ark which was the
symbol of the presence of Jehovah. A young priest was engaged by
Micah for ten pieces of silver yearly to take charge of his
collection of idols. But the most important duty of the priesthood,
and that on which their influence mainly depended, was that of
consulting Jehovah and ascertaining his will. This was done by some
sacred object in the charge of the priest, and various objects are
named (Ephod and Teraphim are images of deities; Urim and Thummim are
the lots used on such occasions) which possessed this virtue. The
priest also acted as a judge in matters brought to him for decision,
and thus was in a position to form the unwritten law of the people,
and to set up principles of conduct which came in course of time to
be regarded as sacred. The priests' "torah" or law is the beginning
of the Jewish legislation, and we see from the humane and kindly
provisions of the earliest codes that this important function was
discharged in no unworthy way. It was thus that Jehovah acted as the
living lawgiver of his people, long before any written law existed.
With his character as a warrior, a mighty lord, and a giver of rich
gifts, he combines from the first that of one who watches over the
conduct of his people, checks their excesses, and is willing and able
to lead them on to better living. This fact will be of much
importance when the mind of the people expands and seeks to
understand more clearly his being and character.

The Prophets.--Israel, like other nations of antiquity, had, in
addition to the priests who were professionally connected with
religion, a class of men who were organs of the deity not on account
of their position but by a special personal gift. The inspiration of
Jehovah appeared in early times in somewhat crude forms. Bands of
fervid devotees were seen, who produced in themselves by dance and
song an ecstatic enthusiasm, in which they were thought to become the
organs of the deity. These men lived in societies or guilds, which
were found in Israel for several centuries. There were such prophets
of Baal as well as of Jehovah, so that the phenomenon is not
specifically Israelite. What we hear of them does not always give us
a lofty idea of their character. They are found practising magical
tricks, and when they prophesy they all say the same thing; sometimes
they are willing to prophesy what a king wishes to hear.

The greater prophecy of Israel arose out of such beginnings as these.
Israel was accustomed to expect to hear the will of Jehovah declared
by a speaker of whom the spirit had laid hold, and among those who
came forward to meet this expectation there appeared from time to
time men of commanding insight and of great intensity of character.
The name "seer" indicates the nature of this kind of prophecy. The
seer is one to whom Jehovah communicates his intentions personally,
perhaps without any steps having been taken on his part to place
himself in the way of the god. He sees visions while awake and in his
ordinary frame of mind, he also hears what others do not hear; and
the vision and the message have reference to the future. Things are
intimated which are shortly to come to pass, and they are things
concerning the state or the monarchy: the fate of Israel is the
burden of the prophet's intimation. Samuel's seeing led him to
institute the monarchy under Saul. The prophet Abijah declared for
the division of the kingdom into two; and his prophecy was not vain.
Elijah foretold the downfall of the house of Omri, and Elisha saw to
the accomplishment of that prediction. The prophets we see were a
great power in public affairs, and were able in important crises to
determine the course of the nation's history. Often the prophet
stands quite alone, and in opposition to the court and apparently to
the nation, and yet his words have a tendency to get themselves
fulfilled; Jehovah's word does not return to him void. At other times
the prophet seems to have many sympathisers among the nation, and to
speak as the mouthpiece of the most earnest section of the community,
the section most devoted to Jehovah; and in these cases it is less
wonderful that his words come true. When, however, we speak of the
prophets as a whole, the expression is a loose one; the prophets are
not a party that always acts together, nor a school in which the
leader is always sure of a following. A great voice sounds, perhaps
once in a century or a half-century; and these voices represent the
true tradition of Israelite religion, and develop it further. In the
time of Elijah we notice that there is a puritan movement in Israel;
a number of men are agreed together in detestation of the foreign
worships which are practised at court, and are heartily agreed in
wishing to bring back the good old ways and the pure worship of
Jehovah only. And when Elijah speaks, he gives voice to this
tendency; he claims that everything should be determined by religion;
no considerations of state should for a moment stand in the way of
the pure faith of Jehovah, by which everything should be decided; and
whatever stands in the way of this policy is dedicated to
destruction. This, broadly speaking, is the keynote of Hebrew

When we come to the canonical prophets, however, we feel that there
is a great deal more in their teaching than the bare demand that
everything must give way to the requirements of religion. A great
change has taken place in their world of thought. It is no less than
that a new god and a new religion have announced themselves in the
thinking of these men. They do not say so; they are not aware of it,
and yet it is so.

The Old Religion National.--The religion of Israel during the
monarchy is, in the full sense of the term, a national one. From a
cluster of tribes Israel has become a nation, and has begun to think
of itself as a unity. It has its national history, its national
rulers, as other nations have. In their nationality it cannot be
denied that the Israelites had much to be proud of; nor did their
rapid growth in wealth and power, which gave them several centuries
of prosperity, tend to lesson that pride. Now as they have their own
king, they have also their own god. Jehovah is the god of Israel;
Israel is the people of Jehovah, on this they were all agreed. That
Jehovah was their god did not prevent them from believing in the
existence of other gods: Chemosh was the god of Moab, a being not
very unlike Jehovah, the Baals were the old gods of Canaan. Jehovah,
of course, was the greatest and strongest, and an Israelite should
worship him, in Canaan at least; but there was no great harm if he
worshipped other gods too, when it came in his way to do so. He might
join in the worship of Baal in country places; and the king might,
without doing any harm, set up the images of the gods of his wives
beside the images of Jehovah in the capital, and if many of his
subjects joined in these other worships, it was but natural. In this
way a great variety of gods was in some reigns brought together from
different countries.

Jehovah, however, was the special god of Israel, there could be no
doubt of that; Israel was specially pledged to him; and he on his
side was pledged to Israel, who was entitled to look to him for help
in every emergency. Jehovah had no other people; he was entirely
bound up with Israel, he must, if only for his own honour, come to
the aid of his own people when they needed him. He never could permit
Israel to suffer any fatal injury, such as deportation to a foreign
country. Religious faith forbade the thought that such a thing was
possible; if Israel was destroyed, where would Israel's religion be?
It was utter impiety, therefore, to doubt that Israel was safe, that
Jehovah watched over his own land and his own people, or that he
would guard them from any fatal harm. If, on the other hand, as was
too often the case, Israel had to submit to injury and insult from
other peoples, there could be no doubt that Jehovah took notice of
the fact, and that in due time he would set things right. It might be
some time before his attention was sufficiently directed to the case;
he might be waiting till more of the same kind of occurrences took
place before he finally interposed; but the time would come, the "Day
of the Lord" would arrive in due season, when the spoilers and
insulters of Israel would be dealt with according to their deserts,
and Israel set on high in full deliverance and peace.

Criticism of the Old Religion by the Prophets.--The prophets,
impressed more deeply than the people by the moral character of
Jehovah, and under the pressure of great national dangers and
calamities, attained to views of God and of his ways so different
from those current at the time as to appear, when first produced,
most unpatriotic and even impious. In their character of seers they
foresaw with clearness the terrible catastrophes which were about to
burst upon their people. Amos prophesies that Israel will be carried
away captive out of his land; Isaiah announces the same thing in the
southern kingdom, and declares that only a remnant shall return.
These men are in no doubt as to the impending political annihilation
of Israel, and they set themselves to find some reason for an
occurrence so portentous, so impossible to harmonise with ordinary
religious faith. They account for it by a view of the nature of
Jehovah far exalted above that of their people. He is punishing them
for their iniquities, they say, he is so righteous that he must
punish sin, and he must punish the sin of Israel his beloved people
not less strictly, but more strictly than that of other peoples. As a
husband whose wife has gone astray must subject her to discipline
before he can receive her again to his favour, so Hosea, made a
prophet by such a domestic affliction, contends that Jehovah cannot
but deal strictly with Israel. This theory of the meaning of the
impending calamities is supported by the prophets by those
denunciations of the national sins which give so gloomy a complexion
to their works. Among the national delinquencies the disorganisation
and apparent wilfulness shown in worship have a prominent place.
Worship is not what the service of Jehovah ought to be. Other beings
than he are sought after; heathenish festivals are kept, the indecent
practices of heathen worship are introduced into that of Jehovah:
there is no seriousness, no dignity, no worthy order, in the acts of
worship that are done. Any place does for them, and many of the
places used are quite unfit, from their associations, for the service
of Jehovah. They are celebrated more as wild orgies than as solemn
approaches to the deity.

The interests of the prophets, however, do not centre in ritual. The
worship of other gods than Jehovah, or the service of Jehovah in
unfitting ways, they could not but denounce, but they have no
positive instructions to give about worship. When the people have
apparently given up the wrong worships, and are applying themselves
with zeal to that of Jehovah, seeking his favour by austerities, or
by costly offerings, the prophets are no less severe on this line of
conduct. Every one is familiar with the passages in which they
apparently denounce sacrifice altogether as a thing God has never
asked, and by which Israel cannot hope to win his favour. These
passages do not prove that the prophets desired the entire
discontinuance of sacrifice; they merely compare sacrifice with
another line of duty which is said to be vastly more important. Not
sacrifice but mercy, not sacrifice but to do justly, and love mercy,
and walk humbly with God,--is the burden of these utterances. Even
more than by the irregularities of worship, the prophets are shocked
by the more directly moral shortcomings of their people. The people
are accused of all the acts that are forbidden in the decalogue of
Exodus xx., and of many offences not there named. Especially are the
prophets indignant at the hardheartedness of the rich towards the
poor, and at the frequent disregard of faith and truth; oppression
and bribery, gluttony and other luxurious excesses, are frequently
their mark. These most of all are the sins which have called down the
divine judgments; these are the transgressions which make it
impossible for Jehovah to turn away the punishment of Israel and of
Judah. He is, above all things, a righteous god, who loves judgment
and mercy, and a people which so manifestly fails to practice justice
and mercy cannot continue to be his people; he must destroy them.

The prophets therefore declare that Jehovah has decided on the
rejection of his people. This shows that they have advanced to a new
conception of what Jehovah is. To them he is something more than the
mere national deity indissolubly linked to the fortunes of his
people, pledged to advance them in the world, and doomed when they
fall to fall himself along with them. He is first of all a moral
ruler; the maintenance and promotion of righteousness is far more to
him than the prosperity of any single people, even of Israel. He
loves Israel it is true; Israel is his son, whom he loves, the wife
of his youth, the people of his covenant. But that makes it the more
and not the less necessary that Israel should not be allowed to go on
in iniquity. Jehovah can be no partisan of a people that does not
walk according to his laws. Thus the prophets have arrived at a new
conception of Jehovah's character, which necessarily unfits him,
though they do not yet see this, for the _rôle_ of a national god.
They have identified him with the ideal of righteousness and mercy,
and in so doing they have made the great step, at least in principle,
from national to universal religion, from the religion that is bound
up with the history of one particular people, and cannot pass beyond
them, to the religion which is capable of being understood by all
men, and fit to be preached to all men of whatever race.

Appearance of Universalism.--To the deeper view which they have
gained of the character of Jehovah the prophets add a wider and
higher view of his relation to the world, and to the various nations
in it. They frankly state that Jehovah has relations to other nations
than Israel. He might if he had chosen have taken some other race to
be his people; they were all at his disposal and he regarded none of
them as hostile. He is not dependent on Israel, and the inference is
clear, that if he could have done without Israel at first, he could
do without Israel still, were he driven to that. Israel is not
indispensable to the continuance of the true religion. Jehovah indeed
has a position far above that which Israelite national thought
ascribed to him. He is lord not of one nation only, but of all the
nations. He can use any of them as his instrument when and as he
chooses. It is he who has brought each of them to its present seat,
it is he who is directing their movements now. And for what end does
he wield this mighty rule? He is governing the world not in the
interests of one nation only, but in the interests of righteousness.
He is guiding the destinies of nations so as to bring about an end
which he has fixed, namely the establishment of a world-wide kingdom
of truth. The day is indeed coming as the Israelites believed when he
would hold a judgment over the world, only let Israel beware lest
that day should be darkness and not light to them; it will bring
about the punishment of sinners of whatever race. An end is to be
made of sin both in Israel and in other nations, that a new world may
begin. The position thus given to Jehovah is clearly one which lifts
him high above the rank of a national deity. The prophets understand
with growing clearness that Jehovah is the creator of the world, and
the author of all the glories, both of the celestial and of the
terrestrial frame. The Maker of the ends of the earth, and the
Governor of all the nations, though he has chosen to reveal himself
to one particular race, cannot be limited to them. The position of
Monotheism has been attained. The earlier prophets speak of the gods
of other nations as if they really existed, though for Israel Jehovah
is the only god, but by degrees the advance is made to the position
that these beings do not exist at all, and are simply "vanities" or
"nothings." Instead of saying that Jehovah is the greatest among the
gods, and that there is none like him, these preachers say that
Jehovah alone is god, and that he is the author of all that exists
and of all that takes place in the universe. A god has been unveiled
whom all beings exist to glorify, and whom all the nations of the
earth can confidently be summoned to praise.

Ethical Monotheism.--These results were reached gradually: there is a
great difference between the teaching of Amos and that of Jeremiah.
And it must be remembered that they were attained not as other
monotheisms have been, by philosophical speculation, but by purely
moral ways. It is because Jehovah is supremely just and holy, that he
grows so great. The justice and holiness which are seen in him are
the strongest of all; the world exists for nothing else but to
realise them, and everything that stands opposed to them, whether in
Israel or in any other nation, must go down before them. It is in
this way that the conclusion is reached that Jehovah is the only God.
The moral ideal must be one. The whole of the religion of the
prophets is governed by moral considerations. God asks from man
nothing but goodness; the true sacrifices are those of the heart and
conduct. Man's intercourse with God is to be kept up as that of an
affectionate human relationship, into which no motives either of
force or of commerce enter. Although God is so just and holy, he is
perfectly placable, and ready to greet the approaches which are made
to him. It is absurd to spend so much money and toil on sacrifice,
when the happiest relations with God can be attained so much more
simply. God forgives without any sacrifice; his love and his desire
to meet with love surpass all that human relationships can show; his
constancy is like that of the returning seasons, or of the stars. He
yearns over Israel as a father over a wayward son, and will leave
nothing undone that he can do to bring his son back to him. He will
alter all his former plans to bring about that result. He will change
man's nature, and give him a new heart, if nothing short of that will
suffice; or he will change his own procedure entirely, and deal with
man not by way of commandments, but by way of inspiration, placing
his law in man's inward part, writing it in his heart, so that the
great union of God and man may be attained, which he desires.

Individualism of the Prophetic Teaching.--Here we must pause to
notice another great advance which the prophets have been led to make
in religious knowledge. Their view of Jehovah as a purely moral
being, and of man's relation to him as a moral relation, like that
between two human beings who have to live together, such as a husband
and wife or a father and son, makes religion less a matter for the
people as a body, more a matter for the individual. When religion is
carried on by public sacrifices and stately festivals and ceremonies,
then it is the people as a whole that transacts with God, and the
individual need feel no great weight of responsibility in the matter.
But if God asks for love, if he says he does not care for sacrifice,
but insists on love and devotion, and rather than not have it will
work a miracle on man's nature, then the individual is addressed.
Every one who has any love to offer feels himself appealed to. Only
in his own heart can any one know whether or not God's desire is met;
every one, therefore, who understands the appeal becomes personally
responsible for the answer, and religion becomes a matter, not only
between God and the people, but between God and the individual as
well. Personal religion, therefore, makes its appearance among the
Jews at this time. Jeremiah carries on dialogues with God; prayer is
met with, as the outpouring, not of public needs alone, but of
private feeling; the soul has learned that it is called to a life of
its own with God, and not merely to a share in the life of the nation
with him.

We have dwelt at some length on the ideas of the prophets; not at
such length, indeed, as to satisfy any of those who love their
writings, for we have thrown together in one view what belongs
historically to different centuries, while to the personalities of
the prophets, to their sublime certainty and their stupendous
courage, we have given no attention. We have stated the outlines also
of the great movement of thought in which advances of such
transcendent importance were made in religion. They are advances
which have not been lost, but which we still enjoy. If it is the gift
of the Semitic race to bring the thought of God to bear on life with
such direct practical force as Aryan religion never by itself
exerted, we must look with profound veneration on those Semitic
thinkers who applied this great force in the service of a God, who
has no other nature and property but that of justice and love.
Religion thus became to them and to all they influenced an engine for
the direct promotion of justice and love among men; and we do not
think the less of the prophets that the harvest of which they sowed
the seed could not be reaped in their day.

Prophecy leads to no Immediate Reform.--The message of the prophets
seems at first sight to have been delivered long before the world was
ready for it. Even the practical measures which can be traced to
their influence are far from being in accordance with their ideas.
The causes of this we have already to some extent seen. The prophets
were not practical reformers. The amendment they called for was one
to be realised in individual lives rather than in public policy, and
they do not bring forward schemes of reform which they urge the
people as a whole to adopt; they rather fling great ideas upon the
mind of their nation, and leave it to others to find out how
practical effect may be given to their teaching. To the very end of
the Jewish state the prophets and their sympathisers appear to be in
a small minority of their nation. The people as a whole is
unconverted, the worship of idols goes on, and so does the worship of
other gods, even in the temple at Jerusalem. It has seemed to some
great scholars that Israel, as a whole, was a heathen people up to
the time of the exile, and still needed to be converted to the
religion of Jehovah. Kuenen shows[1] in a convincing way that this is
an exaggeration, and that people and prophets alike held the religion
of Jehovah to be the true religion of Israel; but up to the exile
that religion was not reformed in the way the prophets desired.

[Footnote 1: _Hibbert Lectures_, ii.]

The Reforms.--Yet the word of Jehovah had not returned to him void
even during this period. A considerable series of reforms are
narrated in the histories, and attested by successive codes of law
now embodied in the Pentateuch. These show that the prophetic ideas
had gained for themselves a strong party among the people, and that
in several reigns the court was under their influence. These reforms
show progress in two directions. There is a growing desire to make
the worship of Jehovah correspond to the exalted new conceptions of
his character as a being of incomparable majesty and holiness; and
there is, on the other hand, a rapid growth of moral sentiment;
justice and kindness to others are placed more and more in the
forefront of the divine requirements. We can do little more than name
the passages where the details of these matters may be found. The
reforms of Hezekiah (1 Kings xviii.) did not last long. He destroyed
a celebrated image of Jehovah, a fate which other images may have
shared, and he remodelled the worship of the holy places throughout
Judah, so as to remove its more heathenish features, and concentrate
it on Jehovah alone. Manasseh, Hezekiah's successor, pursued the
opposite policy. In his reign a large collection of strange cults,
some of them perhaps those of the individual tribes, were brought
back into use; even the barbarous rite of human sacrifice was
established at Jerusalem, and the worship of Jehovah became more
intense and darker. The shadow of the Assyrian is upon Israel, and as
generally happens in times of public anxiety, rites long disused are
imagined to have a specially national character and a peculiar
potency, and are fetched back from oblivion. The reform of Josiah (2
Kings xxii., xxiii.) was more thorough-going than that of Hezekiah.
He made an end of all the unseemly worships his predecessor had
encouraged at Jerusalem, so that nothing but the direct worship of
Jehovah was left. The strongest step he took, however, was that he
attempted to put an end altogether to the shrines at which local
worship had hitherto been conducted, thus making a clean sweep of the
idolatry of the rural districts. All this was done, we are told, in
accordance with a law-book which had been found in the temple by
certain high officials, and which, after duly consulting a prophetess
about the matter, Josiah brought into operation, and solemnly pledged
himself and his people to observe. We are in no doubt as to the
nature of this book. The book of Deuteronomy prescribes just such
reforms as Josiah carried out, and is generally allowed to have been
the written law which was promulgated on this occasion. Now
Deuteronomy, while incorporating no doubt many old laws, is in spirit
and effect a work of the prophetic school. Its moral teaching and its
exhortations to love Jehovah, and to be true to him alone, are quite
in the manner of Jeremiah, who was living in the reign of Josiah. And
the principal reform of Josiah, namely, the suppression of the local
worships, and the concentration of all worship at the temple of
Jerusalem alone, stands in the forefront of the special laws in
Deuteronomy. Those who aimed at the reform of religion, according to
the ideas of the prophets, had thought this out. The worship of the
one supreme God should take place, they had concluded, at one place
only, and should be national in its character; the whole people
should worship the one God at its capital. Provision was made that
this should not imply the deprivation of the dwellers in country
districts of the use of flesh meat. Formerly, every act of slaughter
was a sacrifice, and it was only in connection with a sacrifice that
this food could be enjoyed. But in future, animals may be slaughtered
at a distance from Jerusalem for food only, apart from any connection
with sacrifice. The promulgation of Deuteronomy is an important epoch
in the religion of Israel. That work is the first sacred book of
Israel; from this time forward Israel knows the will of Jehovah, not
only from the prophet's living voice, but from a book which is
regarded as having divine authority. This principle once introduced
could not fail to develop; to Deuteronomy other books were afterwards
added as part of the same law, though in reality they superseded it,
and it thus proved the nucleus of the whole Jewish canon.

Earlier Codes.--Deuteronomy was not the earliest law drawn up under
prophetic influence. Leviticus xvii.-xxvi. is recognised as being a
code by itself, and is an earlier attempt in the same direction as
Deuteronomy. The decalogue contained in Deuteronomy v., identical in
the main with that of Exodus xx., is of earlier origin than
Deuteronomy itself, but is also a prophetical work. It deals with
ritual only to the extent of removing certain obstacles to a right
worship of God, and places the chief weight of his requirements in
the fulfilment of the natural duties. An earlier decalogue which
deals principally with ritual, and which contains an early prophetic
attempt to free the worship of Jehovah from heathen abuses, is found
in Exodus xxxiv. 10-26. The oldest legislation of all is the code
found in Exodus xx. 22 to xxiii. 33, which goes by the name of the
Book of the Covenant. It is true that in form and in many of its
precepts it is identical with the Code of Hammurabi (2250 B.C.), and
so bears strong testimony to Babylonian influence. It is, however,
much more humane than that old code, and in many particulars is
independent of it. As it appears in Exodus it belongs to the times of
the early canonical prophets, and as it scarcely deals with ritual at
all, it shows the just and humane spirit cultivated by the religion
of Jehovah in an agricultural community.

The Exile.--The reformation of Josiah was quickly undone by his
successor on the throne, and there was no further opportunity for a
reform while the people remained in Palestine. But the exile did not
cause the friends of reform to abandon their ideas. The prophets had
foretold the exile, and had maintained that the religion of Israel
would not be destroyed but rather would be saved by it, and the event
proved that they were right in this point also. The exile cured the
people definitely of idolatry, and gave them a strong grasp of the
idea that they were a peculiar people, called to a work which no
other people could accomplish or indeed understand, namely to hold
aloft in the world, and for the benefit of the world, the true
religion. This conviction forms the burden of the prophecy of the
Unknown prophet of the exile (Isaiah xl.-lxvi.). He exalts still more
highly than his predecessors the name and power of Jehovah. He is the
Creator of the ends of the earth, to whom the nations, including even
that great Babylon, are as a drop of the bucket, to be flung whither
one will; it is he who has chosen Israel for his people and who now
comforts Israel for the sorrows of the exile. In the great drama he
is unfolding in the earth Israel has a principal part to play. Israel
is called to make known to the nations who do not know him, the true
God. It had been prophesied before that the heathen nations would
come to Mount Zion to ask counsel of the God of Judah, and that
Jehovah should become law-giver and judge over them. The Unknown
enlarges on this theme with splendid imagery, and strives to persuade
the people to make this cause their own, and to rise to the
responsibility it involves. Israel is to be a prince, a leader and
commander, of the peoples. The Gentiles are to come from far bringing
their treasures and doing homage to the people of the true faith. If
Israel as a whole is not fit as yet to discharge this duty for the
world, yet there is an inner Israel, a faithful elect of the people
who sympathise entirely with Jehovah's purposes and are entirely
devoted to his will. This "Servant of Jehovah," at least, has risen
to the height of his calling; Jehovah's spirit is in him. He will not
fail nor be discouraged till the true religion is established in the
earth. At another part of the prophecy the fate of the Servant is
seen in darker colours. He is subject to ill-treatment and
misrepresentation of all sorts; even when he is suffering for the
sake of others he is derided and despised; nay, more,--he is called
to suffer martyrdom, and die for sins not his own. But even so, the
Servant will conquer in the end. He will know that his sufferings
have not been in vain; he will be the means of leading many to
righteousness and will be the instrument of Jehovah to bring in the
true religion.

The Return. The Reform of Ezra.--Such utterances could not fail of
effect on the nation to whom they were addressed, and when the Jews
came back to Palestine they were undoubtedly inspired with a new
sense of their peculiar national mission. They at once proceeded to
show that they were to be a people apart from others, by separating
themselves rigorously and even cruelly from entanglements with the
surrounding population. They also at once set up the worship of
Jehovah as the sole God who had his one shrine at Jerusalem. Their
early experiences in Palestine were not encouraging. For a century
they remained a struggling and poor community, and it might seem
doubtful if they would prove strong enough to maintain their separate
position, and to hold up their special testimony to the world. But at
that time the Jews who had remained in Babylon came to their aid.
These men had never ceased to labour along with their brethren in
Palestine for the advancement of their nation; and in particular they
had laboured earnestly at the problem of worship, and the result of
their labours was a religious constitution so rigid in its ideas, so
logically worked out in detail, and so skilfully incorporating and
appropriating to itself all the past traditions and usages of the
race, that it might almost be said to be strong enough to stand by
itself, and would certainly afford to the people, if they adopted it,
the support and the discipline they needed. This constitution was
introduced by Ezra, the priest and scribe, in the year 444 B.C.,[2]
when he read in the ears of the people at Jerusalem (Nehemiah viii.,
ix.) the new law he had brought with him from Babylon fourteen years
before, and had waited all that time to promulgate. The new law of
this period was what is called the Priestly Code; it occupies the
latter part of Exodus and a large part of Leviticus and Numbers; and
the older writings are skilfully interwoven with it, but in general
it may easily be distinguished by its tone from the work of earlier
periods. Deuteronomy, the earliest law-book, is simply tacked on to
it as if it were a part of the same code, though in reality it is
often inconsistent with the latter law. The result is the Torah or
law, or, as we call it, the Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses
(Moses being regarded by a convenient fiction as the source of all
Jewish laws). This was thenceforward the law of the Jews.

[Footnote 2: This date and many features of the story of Ezra and the
return have of late been much questioned. See "Ezra" in _Encyclopædia
Biblica_. The account given above follows Wellhausen.]

The Jewish religion, of which this is the code, is generally
distinguished from the religion of Israel which prevailed down to the
exile; and several important new principles undoubtedly make their
appearance at this point. This chapter may fittingly conclude with an
enumeration first of the features of Jewish religious life connected
with the law or the priestly system, and then of those features of it
which lie outside that system.

1. The priestly religion is founded on a sentiment which forms but
little part of the faith of early peoples, namely the sense of sin.
The prophetic denunciations of Israel's backslidings have at last
found entrance, and the people is found submitting to a system which
implies that the whole of its past history was sinful and mistaken,
and that there is a constant need for supplicating forgiveness. Every
prayer begins with a long confession of national sin, in which the
present generation also shares. "We have sinned with our fathers,"
they say. This view is spread over the historical books in the
sweeping judgments passed on individual monarchs, on periods of the
national life, and especially on the whole of the Northern Kingdom
(cf. Nehemiah ix.). The old confidence in the presence of Jehovah
with his people has now departed. The earlier Israelites never
doubted that Jehovah was in the midst of them; that could be taken
for granted except when events proved the contrary. But now Jehovah
has grown greater and more awful, while the people have become
painfully aware of their deficiencies and cannot assume that he is
with them, but must take steps to secure his presence. This is no
doubt connected with the growing sense of an individual position and
responsibility in religion. To the nation or the tribe it is natural
to feel that its cause is just and that its God is with it; but the
individual, thrown upon his own inner world for his alliances, is
less apt to feel that confidence. Now the religion preached by the
prophets is essentially one for the individual. Ezekiel especially
felt himself responsible for the fate of individuals, and laboured to
awaken his fellow-countrymen one by one to a sense of their danger
and responsibility; he taught that each man had to see to his own
salvation, that each man would receive the fruit of his own acts. All
this tends to a deeper feeling and a more anxious mood in religion,
and helps to explain how the sense of sin, on which religious
progress at its higher stages depends so much, was fixed so strongly
in the Jewish mind. That the Jews underwent a radical change in their
disposition is proved by the fact that they submitted to the yoke of
the law: for it may be questioned if any people ever sacrificed their
natural liberty for the sake of their religion to such an extent as
this people did.

2. The divine will is now received by the people in the shape of a
sacred book. They cease to look for the living voice of prophecy, and
come to think that God has given them in the Torah a perfect and
complete revelation. The book takes the place of the prophet, and in
time also to some extent of conscience. A man ceases to think for
himself what is right and good, and only asks, What does the law say?
It is true that a great part of the book is taken up with ritual,
with which the ordinary individual has not much to do, but he also
believes that the whole of his own duty is to be found there in it,
as is no doubt the case. We see from the 119th Psalm how beautiful a
form religion may assume even under these terms, when the book in
question is felt to be a spiritual treasure, and to speak the words
of a living God; but the system of a book-religion has in it the
germs of very different fruits. The sacred book is believed to be an
exhaustive directory of conduct; but to make it apply to the various
cases that arise in practical life it has to be interpreted, and
deductions have to be drawn from it. It thus comes to give many a
direction which does not appear on the surface. The secondary law, or
"tradition," is thus founded, a system which calls for the services
of a special class of students. The scribes, who interpret the law
and apply it to life, obtain great influence and become the virtual
rulers of the nation. While no doubt guided in the main by the noble
spirit of their religion, they are led by their system into many
absurdities, and their casuistry even becomes at times immoral. They
afford the classical example of the results which flow from the
doctrine of verbal inspiration, thoroughly worked out; and the life
of the Jews under them becomes highly unnatural and artificial, and
tends to occupy itself with the husk instead of the kernel of

3. The principal part of the divine will, as expressed in the law, is
that connected with sacrifice. Sacrifice occupies the central place
in the book, and in the history it records. In this book the temple
service, thinly disguised as the service of the tabernacle in the
wilderness, is set forth as the great end and aim for which God
created the world, settled the nations in it, and called Israel to be
a people. The ritual which was observed from the exile to the
destruction of Jerusalem may be studied in Exodus and Leviticus. We
read of orders and companies of priests who offer daily and other
sacrifices according to a rule in which the smallest details are
carefully arranged, sacrifices in which little of the old cheerful
common meal now lingers, but which are mostly of a purificatory or
piacular character. The ritual of sacrifice would not appear to an
outward observer to differ very much from that in use among the
Greeks or Romans; the Jews certainly conducted it on a larger scale.
What end precisely was aimed at in it, the Jew would have found it
perhaps hard to say. It was done, he would say, because the law so
ordered it, and the law must be obeyed even if one did not quite
understand what was enjoined. The daily sacrifice removed the
impurity of the temple staff, and enabled the people to be sure that
the favour of the deity continued with them. Many sacrifices aimed at
the removal of particular sins; thankfulness also was expressed in
them, and other feelings may also have ascended with the smoke from
the altar. To Jews living at a distance the sacrifice, which could be
offered nowhere but at Jerusalem, was the chief symbol, the great
mystery, of their faith.

4. The notion of holiness is closely connected with worship. Things
and persons are holy which belong to Jehovah, and are withdrawn from
common use. These it is dangerous to touch unwarily. Jehovah is an
unapproachable being; the high priest may come into the innermost
part of the temple, but only once a year, and no one else may come
there; the priests may enter the Holy Place, but not the people. To
speak lightly of the temple was a crime the Jews could not forgive.
The Sabbath was the Lord's day; man must not attend on it to his own
worldly concerns. The deity is surrounded with dread to an
unparalleled extent; all that belongs to him is to be regarded with
awe. Connected with the notion of holiness is that of purity. In the
later Persian religion the distinction has always to be anxiously
remembered by the believer between what belongs to the good spirit
and what has fallen under the power of the evil spirit. The Jew,
also, who is called to be holy and separate from other men, lives in
constant dread lest he should touch something unclean, and so forfeit
his own purity. There are clean animals, and unclean ones which he
must not eat; various washings of the hands and of domestic utensils
are needed in order to keep up the state of purity; many trades
involve contact with substances which make purity almost impossible.
Above all, it is defiling to eat what a heathen has cooked, or to sit
at the same table with heathens. Thus the Jew was confirmed in the
belief of his own superiority to men of other races; and was
prevented by many barriers from mingling with them, or even regarding
them as brethren. His circumcision, his Sabbath, his laws of purity,
his peculiarities of diet, the absolute impossibility of his eating
along with Gentiles, kept him separate, and helped to nourish in him
the spirit of haughtiness and exclusiveness. The accepted worshipper
of Jehovah is, with the early prophets, the man who is morally sound,
who has curbed his passions and his selfish impulses; with the later
Jew that may still be the case, but there are also a number of
indispensable preliminaries of which the prophets certainly did not
dream. The man who would go up to the hill of Jehovah must be one who
has not eaten shell-fish or pork, nor opened his shop on the Sabbath,
nor touched a dead body, nor used a spoon handed to him by a Gentile
without washing it. How all this unfitted the Jewish people to be a
missionary of the pure religion, and how adverse the whole Levitical
system was to the earnest apprehension of that religion no less than
to its diffusion, the New Testament amply shows. But it kept the
people separate from the world and constant to their faith amid even
the greatest temptations and the severest persecutions, and so
enabled them to preserve the precious treasure committed to them till
the time should come when the world was to receive it from their

Heathenish Elements of Judaism.--In the system we have sketched, in
which the prophetic teaching was hardened into a ritual and a law,
there are various elements which do not belong to an advanced stage
of religious progress. While the sacrificial ritual, not outwardly
exalted above heathenism, is to some extent redeemed by the motives
which enter into it, the great system of clean and unclean rests on
no rational basis, and resembles the set of taboos, which no one can
explain, of a savage tribe; and the reduction of daily life under a
set of minute and troublesome rules, shows the devotion more than the
enlightenment of those who submitted to it. There was a necessity
that the vessel should be so narrow and so hard which was to keep the
wine of Jewish religion from being mixed with other liquids, but the
vessel itself belongs to the rude and early world. In the Jewish
religion of this time there are far different elements, which point
forward and not backward, and in which the future course of religious
progress is clearly anticipated. If his temple ritual was crude, and
if his law pursued him into every one of his actions, the thoughts of
the Jew were free; the truths which were unfolding their riches in
his mind were sufficient compensation for much outward restraint, and
the fair world of imagination was open to him in which the past
clothed itself with legend and the future with splendid hopes.

Spiritual Elements.--The period after the exile is that of the
composition of the Psalms. Many of these poems may have been written
earlier; many were undoubtedly written at this time, and the belief
gains ground that the Psalmist came after the prophet, and adopted
for popular use the prophet's ideas. In the Psalter we hear the
thrill of joy and triumph as the great truths of theism come to be
grasped as certainties. The congregation now utters in song what,
when the prophet first announced it, so few had courage to believe,
that Jehovah is king, that he rules over the nations, that he is far
above all the gods, nay, that there is no other God than he. The joy
of having embraced this thought, of having escaped from all confusion
with regard to the powers that rule the world, and of seeing all
things in this splendid light, finds manifold expression. The
believers delight themselves anew in the worship of Jehovah, and see
fresh beauties in his courts, and in the service of him there; they
delight in his word in connection with every part of their
experience. They understand the world as they never did before, since
it is his work, and praise the Creator as they follow the whole
process of creation. New lights open to them on the history of their
race, new solutions occur to them of the moral difficulties they have
felt, as they saw the wicked prosper and the good cast down. There is
very little about ritual in the Psalms; it is regarded chiefly as an
offering of thanks and praise to Jehovah for his wonderful works, and
for his mercies; and it is viewed ideally as an act of homage in
which not only the immediate worshippers, but all nations on the
earth may be conceived as taking part. On the other hand, the
observance of Jehovah's moral requirements, and implicit trust in him
while one seeks to do his will, is insisted on again and again, as
the true method to please him, and to obtain his protection against
all dangers. There are few moods of the religious life that are not
represented in the Psalms: penitence, intellectual perplexity,
domestic sorrow, feebleness, loneliness, the approach of death, the
excitement of great events, the agony of persecution, quiet
contemplation of nature, each has its word. The imprecations of some
of the Psalms show a trait of the national character without which
the picture would be incomplete. It may be in part extenuated by the
consideration that in these Psalms it is the community that speaks,
and that the enemy of the good cause deserves less forbearance than
the private adversary. Whether the Psalms in general are to be
conceived as uttered by the community rather than as private
outpourings, is a question not yet decided. In either sense the
Psalms have been used and are still used as the hymn-book of
Christendom, as well as of the Jews; and it will always be a
wonderful feature in the religion of Israel, that so soon after the
truth of the one God was discovered by the prophets, it received a
form of expression which has proved fitted for the use of every
nation in the world.

The Jews after the exile are in possession of a new form of religious
association which belongs to a high stage of growth. The temple
worship is one in which the ordinary layman has no part, or only an
occasional part to play. The priest does everything in it; even the
singing of Psalms is done by choirs of priests. And the dweller in
the country might rarely be a witness of these great solemnities. But
we know that in the Maccabean period the country was covered with
synagogues: with buildings, that is to say, where the surrounding
population met on the Sabbath, and perhaps on other days as well, to
join in common prayer, and to hear lessons of Scripture and
exhortations. Some local religious meeting was necessary; an earnest
people could not do without it, and the local sacrifices were now of
the past. But the synagogue service marks a great advance in the
religious position of the Jews. They can now meet without any act or
sacrament which they have to do in common, to engage in purely
intellectual religious exercises. The same advance, as we shall see,
took place in Greece about the same time; what moral or religious
furtherance they wanted, the earnest there began to seek from the
lectures of philosophers. The synagogue, however, was a territorial
institution; all the Jews in the neighbourhood came to its services.
It kept them acquainted with the law which otherwise they might have
forgotten, and also with the writings of the prophets, which were
regularly read, and thus strengthened the bonds which held all Jews
together, in the past history and in the growing hopes of their race.

The National Hopes.--Judaism becomes more and more, as befits a faith
of which prophets are the principal exponents, a religion of hope.
Debarred by their subjection under successive heathen powers from
political activity, and keenly aware of their outward humiliation,
the Jews turn to an ideal world in which they are free. The prophets
had spoken of a judgment in which Jehovah would judge the whole
world, of a happy time when Israel would be at peace from all his
enemies, and God and people would dwell together in full communion;
and when the land of Israel would become the religious capital of the
world. They had added to their picture features even more ideal, and
had declared that the conflicts of external nature would cease, the
wild animals would grow tame and friendly, all physical as well as
all moral evil would disappear. It was in this world, not in a remote
region or in the land beyond death, that all this was to be realised.
Jerusalem is the centre of the picture and the Jewish nation stands
in the foreground of it as the chosen people of the God of all the
world. Now these predictions, which with the prophets are vague and
idealised, were taken by the Jews always more seriously and worked
out in detail. After the prophet comes the apocalyptic writer, such
as Daniel (the Apocalypse of the New Testament belongs to the same
class of literature), who is able to give the exact course of the
history which is to lead up to the final judgment, to fix its precise
date, and to give many details of the ultimate state of affairs.
These "revelations," which were written generally to comfort the Jews
in their trials and to encourage them to steadfastness in
persecution, were very popular. It is true that they nourished the
national pride, and enabled the Jew to feel himself superior to a
world in which he occupied outwardly no great position; but on the
other hand the hopes they fed were not necessarily unspiritual; at
the Christian era we find it to be a mark of the most genuine piety
that one should be "waiting for the redemption of Israel." At this
period the national hope was occupied with the figure of a Messiah, a
God-sent Deliverer, whose coming was to be the prelude to the
establishment of the divine kingdom. We learn from the Gospels what
various ideas were entertained by the Jews of the first century about
this "coming one," and how little Jesus Christ was felt to answer to
the common expectation.

A few words must be said of Jewish beliefs concerning the other
world. While there are traces of an old ancestor-worship in the
earlier parts of Jewish history, no belief of the kind had much
importance in Israel. The Jews shared the general belief of the early
world that the dead continued in a shadowy existence without any
power for action. They have an under-world, Sheol, where the dead
are; Isaiah has a magnificent description of the dead kings sitting
on thrones together in Sheol and rising up to greet a newcomer who
was a great potentate on earth, with the words "Art thou also become
weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?" The dead are conceived as
continuing in a weak and unsubstantial reflection of their former
selves. They can be fetched up to the earth by magic arts to tell the
future, but this was strictly forbidden at a very early time. The
Psalms and other later books contain many plain denials that man has
any continuance to look for after death. The religion of the Old
Testament, as has often been said, is for this life. God's rewards
are to be looked for before death; once gone to the grave one can no
more enjoy God's bounty or give him thanks. God's kingdom of the
future is also a kingdom of this world; Jerusalem is its capital, and
nature is to be transformed for it. In the later period of Jewish
history, however, the hope of the future which has been so entirely
abandoned, which Job, for example, in an early chapter puts so
peremptorily away from him, creates itself afresh in a new form. In
the time of Christ the Jews believe, as a matter of course, that men
will rise again. It has been contended that the Jews derived their
later doctrine of a future life from their contact with Persia, but
it is not necessary to account for it in this way. It arose naturally
among the Jews in more ways than one. The individual believer like
Job, entirely sure of his own innocence, and feeling that he was
doomed to die of his disease without any vindication in this life,
claimed that an opportunity should be found beyond the grave to
pronounce the sentence which a just God could not omit to give. In
Daniel xii. it is foretold that men of conspicuous virtue and men of
conspicuous wickedness will have a resurrection--the former to share
the glories of the kingdom from which as teachers and martyrs they
could not be wanting, the latter to receive their punishment. And as
prophets who have been long dead are expected to return to the earth,
the gate of death is not so firmly closed as formerly and the belief
in a future life easily became current.

Thus Judaism comes to be a religion full of contradictions, and could
not as a whole pass to other nations. The temple and the synagogue
represent opposite principles of worship. The Jew feels himself to be
entrusted with a world-religion, and yet shuts himself up in such
exclusiveness as to draw upon himself the hatred of all peoples, and
to be charged in turn with hatred of the human race. A religion of
faith and love consorts with a religion of rules and limitations. If
the faith of Israel was to fulfil its mission to the world it was
necessary that some one should come who could purge this
threshing-floor, burning the chaff and gathering up the wheat to be
the seed of the progress of mankind.


The Books of the Old Testament, including the Apocrypha, in the
Revised Version.

The Histories of Israel; Ewald, Kuenen, Wellhausen, Stade.

Robertson Smith's _The Old Testament in the Jewish Church_, and
articles in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_.

Smend's _Alttestamentliche Religionsgeschichte_.

Stade, _Biblische Theologie des Alten Testaments_, 1905.

For a criticism of the critical historians the reader may consult
_The Early Religion of Israel_, by Prof. James Robertson.

Prof. Valeton, _Die Israeliten_, in De la Saussaye.

Schürer, _History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ_,

Kantzsch, "Religion of Israel," in _Dictionary of the Bible_, vol. v.

E. J. Foakes-Jackson, _The Biblical History of the Hebrews_, Second


In chronological order Islam stands last of all the great religions;
it appeared six centuries after Christianity, and Christian ideas
enter into it. It is, however, so essentially Semitic that it can
only be understood aright if studied in connection with the group now
occupying our attention. In Islam Semitic religion opens its arms to
embrace mankind, and accomplishes, in a fashion, the destiny to which
Judaism was invited, but which Judaism failed to realise till it was
transformed in Christianity. In Islam Semitic religion is not
transformed, but enters in its own stern and uncompromising character
into the position of a universal faith.

This religion sprang up and entered on its career of conquest with
startling suddenness and even, some scholars hold, without any
natural preparation for its coming in the country of its birth. The
Arabs called the period before Islam the "time of ignorance"; in that
period they considered their race had no history; the new religion,
when it arose, had made a clean sweep of all that had gone before,
and had caused a new world to begin. The labours of Arabic scholars
have, however, done something to dispel the mists which hung over
early Arabia, and it is possible both to give a much more
satisfactory sketch than formerly of the earlier religion of the
Arabs, and to discern to some extent the processes which had
unconsciously been preparing for the advent of a higher and stronger

Arabia before Mahomet.--The Arabs of the central peninsula in the
times before Mahomet were not a nation but a set of tribes--mostly
nomadic, but some of them settled in cities, who, while united by
language, custom, and traditions, had no central government or
organisation. The desert which they inhabited, as it admitted no
cultivation, kept human life uniform and unprogressive; external
influences penetrated slowly into this corner of the world, and
society was still arranged as it had been for thousands of years. The
strongest tie was that of blood. A man's fellow-tribesmen were bound
to avenge his murder; and so one slaughter led to another, and from
generation to generation the land was filled with a perpetual series
of blood-feuds. Twice a year, however, a cessation of these feuds
took place; a month came round in which there was a universal truce.
Men who were enemies then made the same pilgrimage to a distant
shrine; at such a time trade caravans could set out and travel in
safety; and the great markets or festivals then took place, which,
while based at first on religious ideas, had in most part ceased to
have any religious character. Some of these markets were, at the time
of Mahomet, national occasions: men of every tribe met and came to
know each other there; the poetry which had been composed during the
preceding months was publicly recited, so that the rise of a new poet
was known to all Arabia; the news of all the tribes circulated, and
foreign ideas and doctrines were also to be heard. In proportion as
the face of nature was hard and forbidding, social life was bright
and gay; wine, women, wit, and war provided the themes of poets and
the ordinary aims of life.

The Old Religion.--It has generally been said that the Arabs before
Islam were irreligious. They themselves contrasted the sternness of
the new period with the gaiety of the old one. The truth is, as
Wellhausen has admirably shown,[1] that the working religion of the
country had become before the period of Islam entirely effete. Arab
religion was based on the ideas and usages which have been described
in chap. x. of this book; it is mainly from Arabia, indeed, that the
original character of Semitic religion is known to us. Each tribe had
its god, whom it regarded as a magnified master or ruler, and with
whom it held communion by sacrifice, the blood being brought in
contact with the god and the victim devoured by the tribesmen. The
god is represented sometimes by a tree, generally by a stone; a piece
of fertile land belongs to him, within which the plants and animals
are sacred; the religious meeting can be held in no other spot. Hence
the Arabs are said to be stone worshippers; but the phrase is an
awkward one: what they worshipped was not the stone but a god
connected with it. And the early gods of Arabia are a motley company;
it is only in their relations to their worshippers and in the order
of the worship paid them that they have some uniformity. The greatest
and oldest deity of the Arabs is Allat or Alilat, "the Lady." Like
the female deity found in all primitive Semitic religions, she is a
stately and commanding lady. She is not the wife of a god, nor are
unseemly ideas connected with her. She belongs to the early world in
which motherhood was synonymous with rule, since the family had no
male head; she has a character but no history: mythology has not
gathered round her. Arabia has also certain nature-gods. The stellar
deities are mostly female; there is a male sun-god Dusares. Heaven is
worshipped by some, not the blue but the rainy heaven, which is a
source of blessings. There are no gods belonging to the region under
the earth. The serpent is the only animal that receives worship.

[Footnote 1: _Reste Arabischen Heidenthums_, p. 188.]

But the gods of Arabia belong mostly to another class than that of
nature-gods; or at least if they ever were connected with nature,
they have parted with such associations. They are uncouth figures,
with vague legends and miscellaneous attributes. One set of them is
said to have been worshipped by the contemporaries of Noah; they are
big men, and it is their property to drink milk. Hubal was the chief
god of Mecca. It was his property to bring rain. Vadd was a great
man, with two garments, and a sword and spear, bow and quiver.
Jaghuth, "the Helper," was a portable god, not a stone probably,
since he was carried into battle by his tribe, as the ark was by the
Israelites. Another god is called "the Burner," no doubt from the
sacrifices offered to him. Each tribe has its god or set of gods, and
certain sacred objects connected with its gods. One god is found by
those who kiss or rub a certain black stone, another in connection
with a white stone, another with a tree. And of many of them there
are images; the stone has some work done on it, or there is a wooden
block roughly hewn. The "Caaba" is originally a black stone which is
kissed or rubbed at Mecca. The name was given, however, to the
cube-shaped building, in one of the walls of which the black stone
had been fixed. In this building there stood in old days images of
Abraham and Ishmael, each with divining arrows in his hand. Of such
idols a large number existed in Mahomet's time, and were destroyed by
him. In some cases the image had a house, and a person was needed to
guard it; this functionary also kept some simple apparatus for
casting lots or otherwise obtaining counsel from the deity, and oaths
and vows were made before him, to which the deity became a witness.

To these beliefs of early Arabia must be added a lively belief in
jinns, spirits who are not gods, since the gods are above the earth,
but the jinn is compelled to haunt some part of the earth's surface.
The jinns can assume any form they choose, and are often met with in
the shape of serpents. Wellhausen surmises that the seraphs of the
Jews are to be traced to some such origin. They infest desert places,
and are nocturnal in their habits. What they do is often not observed
till afterwards. They spy upon the gods, and may bring information
from above to men whom they haunt or with whom they are in league. Of
the magic of Arabia, the signs and omens drawn from birds, from
dreams, and other occurrences, it is not necessary to speak; and we
need only say, in concluding this rough sketch of the ideas of the
early Arabs, that the belief in a life beyond was very faint; they
set out food for the dead, whom they professed to think of as still
existing, but the belief, if they entertained it, was perfunctory and
had no influence.

Confusion of Worship.--At the period of Islam the worship of Arabia
had fallen into great confusion. The gods were stationary, but the
tribes wandered; and the consequence was that the wandering tribe
left its shrine behind it to be cared for by its successors in that
piece of country, and itself also, when it gained a new seat,
succeeded to the guardianship of a new god. Thus, on the one hand,
the worship of each shrine was constantly gathering new associations,
as each tribe which had been there left behind it some new legend or
practice; and on the other hand, pilgrimage became universal, since
each tribe had to pay periodical visits to its gods whom it had left
behind. At Mecca we read of hundreds of idols; a hundred tribes have
left there something of their own. Thus Mecca became a sacred place
for tribes far and near, and rose into national importance; and the
same was the case to a less degree in other places also. But as this
process went on, it inevitably led to the weakening of religion. The
tie of blood, which was felt always, was a far stronger thing than
the tie of a common worship for which the tribe had to go to another
part of the country, and to come in contact with a multitude of other
cults. Worship therefore became more and more a superstition: a
thing, that is to say, whose real sacredness was in the past, and
which was only kept up from pious habit; it did not supply the
inspiration of ordinary life nor guide the more active minds among
the people.

We have not yet spoken of Allah, who is understood to be the god _par
excellence_ of Arabia. But for this there is a good reason. Allah is
not, like the other beings we have spoken of, a historical god, with
a legend, a shrine, a tribe all to himself. He is not a historical
personage, but an idea consolidated, no doubt at an early period,
into a god. Wellhausen traces the rise of Allah for us in a most
interesting way. The name, he shows, is not a proper name that
belonged to one particular figure in the pantheon of Arabia; it is
the title which the Arab conferred on his god, whatever the proper
name of that being might be. Whatever god he worshipped, he called
him Allah, Lord; and thus every Arabic god was Allah, as every head
of a household has the name of "father" and every monarch that of
"king." And as every tribal god was Allah, the thought arose, no
doubt in very early times, of one god who was common to the tribes.
Language paved the way for thought; while the tribal gods were still
believed in and adored, this figure rose above them--a being who has
no special worship of his own, who does not ask for it nor need it,
but who yet fills, as none of the lesser beings does, the character
of deity. Allah was the god of all the tribes; and as his figure grew
in the mind of the country, it was inevitable that the worship of the
historical gods should still further lose its importance, till only
the women and children really cared for it. A monotheism of a grave
and earnest kind thus made its way beside the old belief in many
gods. Mahomet found that his fellow-countrymen did not really believe
in the minor gods; when they were in danger or in urgent need of any
blessing, it was to Allah that they called. The fall of the idols,
when it came about, took place very easily; they were no longer
needed. The Arabs had come to believe in a god who dwelt in heaven
and was the creator of the world, who ordained man's life with an
irreversible decree, by whom the bitter and the sweet, both the
hitting of the mark and the missing it, were alike fixed. The moral
character of Allah was not markedly in advance of that of his people.
What a man gains by robbery he calls the gift of Allah, while what is
gained by industry is called by another name. Yet Allah is also felt
by some to keep them back from robbery; he powerfully upholds the
moral standards which have been reached. He is the defender of
strangers, the avenger of treason. His moral influence is negative,
however, rather than positive. He does not inspire with ideals of
goodness; but he holds back from evil. He is not a being who is ever
likely to enter, like the God of the Jews, into intimate and
affectionate relations with men; he is too abstract and has too
little history to be capable of such unbending; his religion, when it
comes to be fully formed, will be one of puritans and fanatics rather
than of the meek and lowly. He is the one great instance of a god
without any natural basis who has come to exercise rule. He is a god
of whom reason can thoroughly approve--no absurd legends cling to
him; he is from the first great, mighty, and moral; and he rules the
world in righteousness by inflexible standards. This religion is
coming to the surface even in the "time of ignorance."

Judaism and Christianity in Arabia.--The question has been much
discussed whether the new religion of Arabia was due to contact with
Judaism or with Christianity. Both of these faiths were known in
Arabia before the time of the Prophet. There was a large Jewish
population at Medina, and synagogues existed in many other places;
and there were Christians in Arabia, though their Christianity was
that only of small sects and of lonely ascetics, and had failed to
convert the country as a whole. To the Arabs the Jews were "the
people of the Book," the book in the traditions of which they also
had some share. Ignorant themselves for the most part of the arts of
reading and writing, and divided among a multitude of petty worships
which they were ceasing to respect, they looked up with envy to those
whose faith had been fixed for so many ages in a literary standard.
But while the Jews were respected in Arabia, they were far from
popular. The qualities which have drawn down on them the bitter
hatred of modern peoples among whom they dwell, acted there in the
same way; their pride and exclusiveness, their keenness in business,
their profession as money-lenders, made them detested in Arabia as in
modern Germany. On the other hand, the ascetic view of life which the
Christians represented had attractions even for some of the higher
minds among the Arabs. A set of men called "Hanyfs" were well known
in Mahomet's time, who were seeking for a better religion than the
Arab worships afforded, and a better life than that of eternal feud.
The meaning of the name is controverted; those to whom it was applied
had not attached themselves to Judaism nor to Christianity; they were
people in earnest about religion who had not reached any definite
position. Even where, as with Mahomet himself, the facts of Judaism
and of Christianity were most inaccurately known, the view of God
held in these religions and the moral standard they set up could not
fail to exercise much influence. If in Arab thought itself a god like
Allah was rising to definite personal character and to a position of
great superiority over the old gods, then the inner movement was in
the same direction as the influence of older religions from without,
and the time was ripe for a new faith. It was not to be expected that
a people like the Arabs should accept a religion which had its origin
in another country, or which threatened like Christianity to bring to
an end the old tribal system; a new growth from within was needed,
and this was ready to appear.

The beginnings of most religions are wrapt in obscurity; but the rise
of Islam is known to us with perfect certainty and in considerable
detail. The only difficulties in the way of understanding it are of a
psychological nature; we have to account for the foundation of a
religion which spread with lightning speed over many lands, and which
still continues to spread, by one whose character was in some
respects far from noble, and who was capable of stooping to
compromise and to the darkest treachery in order to gain his ends.
How a religion fitted for many races and many generations of men
could be founded by a barbarian and by the aid of barbarous
means--that is the problem of this religion. The materials for
solving it lie open before us. The Koran is undoubtedly the authentic
work of Mahomet himself: the suras or chapters are arranged in a
wrong order, and if they are read as they stand do not tell any
intelligible story; but when placed, as has now been done by
scholars,[2] in the true historical order, they show the history of
Mahomet's mind with great clearness. After the Koran came the
traditions. From the immense volume of these the industry of the
scholars of Islam as well as others has succeeded in sifting out what
is most to be relied on. In no other case is the separation of the
mythical from the historical element in the early traditions so
easily made, and the religion comes into view in the full light of

[Footnote 2: S. Lane-Poole, _The Speeches of Mohammad_, 1882; the
most important parts of the Koran chronologically arranged with a
very useful introduction.]

Mahomet. Early Life.--Mahomet was born about 570 A.D., of a family
belonging to the Mecca branch of the Coreish, a powerful tribe, who
carried on a large caravan trade with Syria, and who were the
guardians of the sanctuary which was the central point of Arabian
religion. He entered therefore from his birth into the centre of the
faith of his country. He was early left an orphan, and was brought up
by relatives, who were kind to him but who were very poor. He had to
make his living at an early age by herding sheep, an occupation which
conduced in his case, as it has done in others, to contemplation and
thought. In early manhood he entered the service of Khadija, a rich
widow; and he made journeys in her affairs to Syria and Palestine,
where he may have seen places famous in Jewish history and may also
have come in contact with Christianity. At the age of twenty-five he
married Khadija, who was fifteen years older than himself; the
marriage was a happy one, and there were several children. He is
described as a man of middle height, with a fair skin, a pleasant
countenance, and pleasing manners; and he had proved his ability in
business. Some years after his marriage he began to think deeply
about religious subjects. He came into connection apparently with
some of those Hanyfs or penitents, mentioned above, who, without
being formed into a sect, were at one in seeking for a more
satisfactory religious position. The religion to which they were
feeling their way was a monotheism, a service of the one God of
Abraham, but not that of Judaism with its exaltation of the Jewish
race, nor that of Christianity, in which God had a Son for his
companion. Submission to the one God was to them the essence of
religion. "Islam" means submission, and the "Moslem" is the person
who thus submits himself to the one sole God, whether he be Jew or
Christian or neither. The Hanyfs also held the belief of the
Christians in a coming judgment; and the effect of their beliefs on
their lives was that they practised austerities and often retired
from the world.

His Religious Impressions.--Mahomet at this part of his life began
also to withdraw himself, and to go apart to lonely spots for
meditation. What he meditated we see from his sayings and doings
afterwards. The contrast between the pure religion of Allah, as held
by the Hanyfs, and the popular religion of Mecca with which his birth
connected him, with its trade associations, its idols, its
unintelligible rites, was certainly a tremendous one; and if a
judgment was impending over all but the believers in Allah, it was a
terrible prospect. For many years, however, Mahomet was simply a
Hanyf. He was one who had surrendered himself, with a tender and
impressionable soul, to the divine will and guidance, and was filled
with the sense of Allah's presence and power, and of his own
accountability to him in the great and tremendous realities of life.
In addition to this, however, we have to mention a circumstance which
is generally thought to have had a determining influence in Mahomet's
production of Islam. He had a peculiar temperament; mental excitement
led in him to inner catastrophes which, whether they are classed
under epilepsy or hysteria, caused him to see visions and to believe
that certain words had been addressed to him by heavenly visitants.
The new religious movement in Arabia had secured an adherent in whom
its teachings would be felt with tremendous intensity, and would
possibly break forth with irresistible force.

The Revelations.--Mahomet was forty years of age when the thoughts
which had long been working within him burst into open expression.
This took place by means of a vision. An angel appeared to him as he
slept on Mount Hira on one of his nightly wanderings, and held a
scroll before him which he bade him read. He had not learned to read,
but the angel insisted, and so he read; and what he read was the
earliest revealed piece of the Koran (sura 96):--

  Read,[3] in the name of thy Lord who created, created man from a
  drop. Read, for thy Lord is the Most High, who hath taught by the
  pen, hath taught to man what he knew not. Nay, truly man walketh in
  delusion when he deemeth that he sufficeth for himself; to thy Lord
  they must all return.

All men, _i.e._, however they may think, as the Arabs were given
to think, that they need no help but that of their own right arm,
must come before Allah's judgment and render an account to him:
this is the doctrine by which Mahomet first appealed to his
fellow-countrymen. It is a revelation. Allah teaches it by sending
down a copy of what is written in the Book in heaven, the "mother of
the Book" from which all revelations, Jewish, Christian, or Mahomet's
own, are alike derived. Mahomet has thus begun to prophesy. The first
outburst of revelation threw him into great agitation; he thought he
was possessed by a jinn; and it tended to his further distress that
an interval of two or three years elapsed before another vision took
place. Then the vision came again. "Rise up and warn!" it said to
him; "and thy Lord magnify, and thy garments purify, and abomination
shun, and grant not favours to gain increase; and wait for thy Lord."
The revelations now began to come in rapid succession, and Mahomet
now believed in his own inspiration. In this conviction he never
wavered afterwards; and there can be no doubt that the earlier
revelations were felt by him as if they came from without and were
dictated by a power he could not resist. His fellow-countrymen
naturally took another view; like other prophets, Mahomet was said to
be mad and to be possessed by a spirit; and these accusations stung
him, because he himself had at first apprehended something of the
kind. The later pieces were of a different character; he had the
power afterwards of producing a revelation to suit any situation
which arose; but the contents of the earlier ones were not unworthy
of being revelations, and such he felt them to be.

[Footnote 3: Or, Preach!--loud reading or repetition being the mode
of claiming attention for the divine word.]

His Preaching.--He preached the new truth at first to those with whom
he was intimate. It was not new but old; it was the religion of
Abraham that he preached, that of the Book of which both Jews and
Christians had counterparts; he did not think of founding a new
religion. He called his own household and his relatives to submit
themselves to Allah, the supreme Lord and the righteous Judge, before
whose judgment they must soon stand. They were to put away heathen
vices and to practise the duty of regular prayer, of giving alms
without hoping for any advantage from it, and of temperance. After a
time he is encouraged by new suras to preach publicly, and does so.
The Meccans, however, do not listen to him. The prophet's preaching
acquires by this opposition a sternness it did not possess at first,
and he proceeds to attack the popular worship in a way fitted to stir
up against him the bitterest hostility. The Meccans hear from him
that the religion to which all Arabia flocks together, and without
which they would do little trade, is not only a vanity but a thing
abhorrent to Allah, and undoubtedly drawing down damnation on all who
partake in it; and that their forefathers are unquestionably in hell.
Such preaching could not be tolerated; Mahomet's friends are appealed
to to stop his mouth, but in vain, and his fellow-tribesmen, though
they do not believe in him, yet protect him, as the laws of kindred

Persecution.--Mahomet suffers as other prophets have done; he is
ridiculed, misjudged, threatened. On the other hand he has his
consolations; when depressed he receives encouraging messages from
above. His enemies will perish; his cause will succeed; the day will
come when men will flock to his doctrine in crowds. Persecution,
however, is not without effect on him: on one occasion he attempted
to compromise matters with idolatry; in a sura recited at the Caaba
he allowed himself to use certain complimentary expressions about the
three daughters of Allah, in whom the Meccans put their trust. The
Meccans were much pleased with this, but Mahomet had to suffer the
reproaches of the angel Gabriel after he went home, and the
concession was erelong withdrawn. If, as appears likely, the
compromise had been deliberately planned, a strange light is thrown
on the nature of the revelations at a time not long after they had
begun to flow. But there is no approach to compromise after this. The
position of the prophet naturally grew worse after this display of
weakness, and the persecution of the townsmen more embittered; for
two years Mahomet and his followers were rigorously cut off from
intercourse with their fellow-citizens. On the other hand the
prophet's tone became harder and more sombre as he saw that no
turning back was possible. Never were the terrors of hell preached
with more intensity; it makes one's blood run cold to read the
denunciations of the Mecca unbelievers, men personally known to the
prophet, and to hear him forecast the words with which they will be
bidden to take their place for ever in the fire. Personal irritation
gives edge to the denunciations of fanaticism. Examples are sought in
Jewish history of those who rejected prophets, Moses or Noah, and
suffered a prompt and terrible judgment for so doing. The Meccans
were little moved by such threats; they had no real belief in a
future life, and scoffed at the idea of a resurrection of the body;
and for this scepticism also parallels are found by the prophet in
history, which show what fate the doubters may expect.

From reading the Koran we should judge Mahomet to have been a
disagreeable fanatic; but he also possessed very different qualities.
Those who knew him best were most devoted to him. His followers
adhered to him with a faith which was proof against all persecutions;
we find him even ordaining that slaves who are converts may dissemble
their connection with him in order to avoid the cruel treatment it
drew down on them. Such attachment could only have been inspired by a
noble nature; his followers felt him to be indeed a teacher sent by
Allah, and were enthusiastically convinced of the truth of his

Trials. He decides to leave Mecca.--In spite of this his position was
a precarious and trying one. His wife Khadija, to whom he had been
most faithful, died; so did his most powerful protector. The cause,
moreover, was not advancing at Mecca, and was not likely to do so;
and Mahomet began to consider the propriety of transferring it to new
ground. The first attempt to do so was not successful; at Taif, where
he asked to be received and to be allowed to preach, he was rudely
repulsed, so that he came back to Mecca in deep dejection. The new
opening which he sought was, however, about to present itself in
another quarter. Among the visitors to one of the feasts he met a
company of pilgrims from Medina, who both addressed him with respect
and showed that they understood his doctrines. Medina was well
acquainted with Jewish ideas, and presented a more favourable soil
for the prophet to work on; it is even suggested that the Arabs of
Medina, having heard of the Jewish expectation of a Messiah,
considered that it would be an advantage for them if the Messiah
should be of their own race, and that Mahomet might possibly be He.
The transference of the cause to Medina was, however, brought about
with great deliberation. Those who wished Mahomet to come preached
his doctrine at Medina for a year, and with encouraging success.
Pledges were given and repeated by his friends there, that they would
have no god but Allah, that they would withhold their hands from what
was not their own, that they would flee fornication, that they would
not kill new-born infants, that they would shun slander, and that
they would obey God's messenger as far as was reasonable:--these are
the practical reforms which Islam at this time demanded. The result
of these proceedings was that Mahomet advised his followers to go to
Medina. He himself waited till nearly all had gone, and did not set
out till a plot had been laid by his enemies the Coreish to
assassinate him. The Hegira or flight took place on 16th June 622
A.D. The flight, not the birth of the prophet, forms the era of
Mohammedan chronology, since it was from the moment of the flight
that Islam entered on its victorious career.

Mahomet at Medina.--From this point onwards the prophet is seen in a
different position and a different character. At Mecca he is a
persecuted, struggling, and unsuccessful preacher, but at Medina he
rapidly becomes the most powerful person in the commonwealth. He
organises the service of religion, but he also gives new life to the
community in other ways, terminating its feuds, uniting all its
forces in the service of Allah, and by his decisions in the cases
which are brought to him laying the foundation of a new
jurisprudence. A pure theocracy was set up at Medina, and he as the
prophet was its sole organ and administrator. In this capacity he
displayed consummate ability. Alike in religious and in civil matters
he showed the most perfect comprehension of his countrymen. He
resorted freely to compromise in order to make his religion and
policy suitable to the masses of his people and to secure their
adhesion. In this way he soon secured for himself an absolute

The new religion thus became the cement by which a strong
commonwealth was formed out of elements formerly at variance.
Mahomet's first care on reaching Medina was to organise the service
of the faith. A place was built where the congregation could meet for
prayer and exhortation; the prophet's house beside it, or rather the
apartments of his wives, for he now had two, and was soon to have
more. The mosque, which all over the world is the local habitation of
Islam, may have been derived from the synagogue or the Christian
church. The service which takes place in it is not a sacrifice, but
consists of intellectual exercises which nourish in the hearers the
spirit of the religion. In the Mosque of Medina Mahomet taught his
converts the practices and duties which were required of them. He
taught this with great precision, and himself set an example how each
exercise was to be done; so that, as Wellhausen says, the mosque
became the exercise ground where the people were drilled in the
requirements of the new faith. "There the Moslems acquired the
_esprit de corps_ and the rigid discipline which distinguish their

New Religious Union.--A new bond of union thus took the place of the
old tie of blood, which had been by far the strongest in Arabia.
Every Moslem regarded every other Moslem as his brother, even though
belonging to a different tribe. The claims of religion came to
supersede all others; all natural tastes, all family affections, were
taught to yield to them. Within a few years of his coming to Medina
Mahomet had forbidden the use of wine and the pursuit of art, and had
imposed on all women who adhered to him the use of the veil. In every
way the community was taught to regard itself as separated from the
former life of the country and from all who did not share the new
faith. It was represented as the duty of believers to fight against
all unbelievers: in this way the universal prevalence of the religion
was to be brought about. The courage of the faithful was stimulated
by the promise of rich booty and by the assurance that those who fell
in battle would go straight to the joys of Paradise; and the wars
they waged acquired in consequence a relentless character which was
new in Arabia. They were allowed to fight in the sacred month, in
which ancient custom ordained a universal truce. They fought with a
gloomy determination, and used their victories with a relentless
cruelty, which excited the consternation and horror of all witnesses.
They did not scruple, as other Arabs did, to fight against their
kinsmen. "Islam has rent all bonds asunder, Islam has blotted out all
treaties," they said, when reproached with their disregard of old
understandings. The prophet himself was foremost in this unrelenting
policy. Captives taken in battle were slaughtered; a whole tribe was
massacred which had joined the enemy, and had surrendered after a
siege in the hope of merciful treatment.

Breach with Judaism and Christianity.--As Mahomet thus freed himself,
in spreading the faith of "the most merciful God," from all
considerations of mercy and of honour, he also shook off, as his
position grew strong, relations which might have proved embarrassing
with other religions. In his earlier teaching he speaks of his own
religion as being substantially the same as Judaism and Christianity.
All three have "the Book"; the Koran is a continuation and supplement
of the Jewish and Christian revelations, and he is only the last
figure in the great line of prophets who had appeared in these
religions. Like other founders, he did not at first intend to found a
new religion, but only to bring to light again and restore to
authority the original truths of these faiths, which had become
obscured. His attitude at first, therefore, was friendly to both Jews
and Christians, and his friendly feelings for the former were likely
to be strengthened by the circumstances of his coming to Medina. Not
long after his arrival, however, his attitude towards the Jews was
changed. His followers had at first prayed with their faces turned in
the direction of Jerusalem; but the prophet ordained that this should
be altered, and that they should pray with their faces turned not
towards Jerusalem but towards Mecca. This setting of a new "kiblah"
as it is called, declared that Islam was a different religion from
Judaism, and had an Arab not a Jewish centre. The hostility to the
Jews, of which this was a symptom, grew more intense; quarrels were
sought with them which ended in the utter annihilation of the Jewish
power at Medina. From Christianity also Mahomet was careful to
distinguish his religion. The Christians of Arabia were less
tenacious of their faith than were the Jews, and easily accepted
Islam, so that the hostility was not in this case so intense. The
doctrines of the Trinity and of the Incarnation were of course
denounced as intolerable blasphemies against the sole deity of Allah.

Domestic.--The history of Mahomet during the Medina period is taken
up to some extent with the various marriages into which he entered,
and with the scandals of his household. On several occasions he
produced revelations to warrant a step in this connection which he
felt to require justification, and the modern reader is forced to
wonder how his credit survived some of those proceedings. While it is
undoubtedly the case that he did much to improve the position of
women in Arabia, the absence of any high ideal in this matter is very

Conquest of Mecca.--In giving his followers a new kiblah and bidding
them turn their faces towards Mecca at their prayers, Mahomet
declared that city to be the religious capital of Arabia. Though he
had left Mecca in anger, he could not forget or ignore the city which
held this place in his eyes. At first his thoughts of Mecca were
those of vengeance; he had a score to settle with the Coreish, who
had scorned and persecuted him, and had driven him forth. For several
years there was war between Medina and the Coreish; the Moslems
plundered the rich caravans of Mecca; in the great battle of Bedr
(A.D. 623) Mahomet defeated his enemies and compelled them to respect
and fear him; and they afterwards attacked and besieged him at
Medina, with no decisive result. The next step was that Mahomet made
use of the sacred month to attempt a pilgrimage to Mecca, from which
he had been absent for six years (628); and though he was prevented
from performing his devotions at the Caaba on this occasion, the
Coreish found it good to make a treaty with him, thus recognising him
as a potentate, and to promise that he should be allowed to make the
pilgrimage on a future occasion. That pilgrimage took place; and so
quickly was Mahomet's power increasing in the rest of Arabia that the
Meccans began to feel that they could not long resist him. In the
year 630 he moved against Mecca with a large army, and met with but
faint opposition. Mecca fell into his hands. He used his victory
nobly: only four persons were put to death. It was at once shown that
no injury was to be done to the city. The old worship and its various
ceremonies were preserved. All idols, of course, were destroyed, both
those about the Caaba, of which there are said to have been one for
each day in the year, and those in private houses.

Mecca made the Capital of Islam.--In fact Mecca gained new importance
from this conquest. It was constituted by the irresistible power of
Mahomet the central sanctuary of the true religion. A year after the
victory Mahomet again visited Mecca, and performed the pilgrimage
with all its rites in his own person, setting the correct pattern in
every detail, which all pilgrims were to observe in all time coming.
Those who wish to know what the rites of Mecca are, will find them
graphically and minutely described in Captain Burton's _Pilgrimage to
El-Medinah and Mecca_; that gallant officer was one of the three
Europeans who, during the nineteenth century, assumed the disguise of
pilgrims and took part in the observances. The kissing of the sacred
black stone in the wall of the Caaba, the sevenfold circuit of the
building, the drinking of the water of the well Zem-zem, the race
from one hill-top to another in the neighbourhood of Mecca, the
throwing of seven stones at a certain spot, and the sacrifice of an
animal in a certain valley--these form a collection of rites each of
which had probably a separate origin, and of some of which the
original meaning can scarcely be made out.[4] This "block of
heathenism" Mahomet made part of his religion. He could not have
abolished it, and by adopting it in an improved form as a part of his
own system he served himself heir to the national religious
traditions, and acquired for his own religion the authority of a
national faith. "This day have I appointed your religion unto you,"
are his words after fixing the forms of the pilgrimage, "and applied
Islam for you to be your religion." Islam adopts the Mecca rites, and
thereby becomes the national religion of Arabia. Hubal, the chief god
of the Caaba, disappears; Allah becomes the sole god of the shrine.
The legend that Abraham founded it is put in circulation, and it is
thus connected with the supposed earliest Arabian religion, the
religion before idolatry, the Islam before Islam. As Paul appeals to
the faith of Abraham as being a Christianity before Christ, so
Mahomet claims the Caaba for the pure worship of Allah in primeval
times. It is sacred henceforth to him alone. The rule was set up that
no idolater should be admitted to the pilgrimage, and it thus lost
its character as a heathen, and became instead a Moslem, institution.

[Footnote 4: See for this Wellhausen's _Reste arabischen
Heidenthums_, pp. 64-98.]

Spread of Islam.--Mecca once converted, the rest of Arabia could not
long remain outside. There was reluctance in various places to make
the change which Mahomet now required of all his countrymen. But the
penalty of refusing it was the prophet's wrath, with its terrible
attendants, war and rapine, and none of the Arabs cared enough for
their old gods to brave such terrors for their sake. The inhabitants
of Taif endeavoured to make terms, so that the change might be less
abrupt. Their ambassadors urged that fornication, usury, and the use
of wine might be allowed them, but this could not be granted; the
Taifites must accept the deprivations to which all the Moslems had
agreed. Then they asked that their Rabba, their goddess, might be
spared to them for three years, and as this was refused, for two
years, a year, a month. But the only concession they could obtain was
that they should not be obliged to destroy their goddess with their
own hands. The ancient paganism, it will be seen, fell easily and
without any tragedy.

Mahomet did not long survive the national acceptance of his religion;
he died on 8th June 632. But he did not die without having opened up
to his followers very wide views for the future of his cause, and
started them on a career of religious war and conquest which was not
soon to be arrested. From a comparatively early period of his career
he had considered that Islam was destined to prevail not only in
Arabia but in other lands. Starting with the idea that his revelation
was only a later stage of that which had taken place in Judaism and
Christianity, he had advanced to the position that these were false
religions, and his own the only true one. Wherever he looked in the
world he could see no true religion but his own; it must therefore
take the place of all others. Accordingly he sent embassies from
Medina to Heraclius the emperor of the East, to the king of Persia,
to the governor of Egypt, and to other potentates, announcing himself
to be the "Prophet of God," and calling upon them to give up their
idolatrous worships and return to the religion of the one true God.
These embassies had small effect; but Mahomet was prepared to take
much more forcible measures in order to spread the faith. War against
infidels being one of the standing duties of the faithful, various
regulations were laid down for the treatment of captives and the
disposal of booty in such wars. God, who is said in every verse to be
forgiving and merciful, encourages the faithful in such passages to
slay and rob, and to make concubines of women taken in sacred wars.
At the moment of his death an expedition, not the first, was ready to
start against the Greek power. It is in this guise that Islam assumes
the _rôle_ of a universal religion.

The Duties of the Moslem.--The missionary of Islam requires of his
converts nothing very difficult either in the way of belief or in the
way of action. His demands are brief and precise. They consist of the
following five points:--1. The profession of belief in the unity of
God and the mission of Mahomet. The formula runs: "There is no God
but Allah, and Mahomet is the prophet of Allah." 2. Prayer. This
consists of the repetition of a certain form of words at five
separate times each day, the worshipper standing up with his face
towards Mecca. The mosques are always open for prayer, and there is a
special service on Friday, the day of the week chosen by Mahomet in
contradistinction to the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday. 3.
Almsgiving. This is done on a fixed scale, and the contributions
were, in Mahomet's time, devoted to the support of war against
infidels. 4. Fasting. This takes place during the month of Ramadan,
and the fast is very strictly observed. 5. The Hagg or pilgrimage to

The Koran is the sacred book of Islam. The name means "reading"; see
above in this chapter. Like other sacred books, the Koran is arranged
in such an order that he who reads it as it stands finds it very
confused, and fails to grasp its historical meaning. The claim to
divine inspiration is made in every chapter and every line of it; God
himself is the speaker. But the divine oracles refer to very various
matters. All sorts of legal decisions, military orders, injunctions
about religious affairs, legends and speculations, have a place in
it. Of prediction of the future, indeed, there is but one instance;
the prophet disclaimed the power to work miracles, and held that no
wonders beyond those of the splendid order of the universe are
necessary to faith; and similarly he does not pose as a foreteller,
but as an organ of the divine will for the present. As the ruler of a
theocracy, the leader of armies, the judge in many a civil case, the
guardian of the manners of the people, the officiating minister in
public worship, and, let it also be mentioned, the head of a very
peculiar domestic establishment, he has a hundred matters of
immediate concern to attend to; and when he has formed his decision
on any of these matters, it takes its place in the Koran. The book
thus produced is far from being an attractive one; even in the
translation of Professor Palmer[5] it can afford pleasure to no
reader. The translation, it is true, loses the poetry and music of
the original, which are highly spoken of; but the main obstacle to
reading the Koran is its want of arrangement. The earliest suras
(chapters; literally courses of bricks) stand mostly towards the end
of the collection; the long ones in the beginning and middle are
later, and many of them are composite: two or several chapters have
been joined into one. When read in their historical order, the suras
can be read with pleasure by the student as showing the growth of the
prophet's ideas and of his cause. The earliest ones are short,
poetical, and intense. These are the suras which threw the prophet
into such excitement and distress that his hair turned white. They
are full of the wonders of God in nature and in history, of fiery
denunciation of idolatry, and of fearful threatenings. In later
pieces we come to long legends taken chiefly from the Jewish Haggadah
and the Christian Apocrypha, in which the prophet displays much
ignorance of the commonest facts of the Bible history; and as his
power increases and his functions multiply, we come to the
miscellaneous matters spoken of above. The style, at first poetic and
exalted, becomes afterwards prosaic and diffuse; it is not the
inspired seer who speaks, but the statesman or the judge; and the
placing of these later utterances in the mouth of God could not
deceive the original hearers. The Koran, like the Vedas and the
Gathas and the Jewish Scriptures, was exalted in later stages of the
religion to the highest conceivable honours; and one of the greatest
controversies of Islam raged round the question whether it had
existed from eternity and was uncreated.

[Footnote 5: _Sacred Books of the East_, vols. vi. and xi.]

Islam a Universal Religion.--What is most remarkable about Islam is
the rapidity of its growth. Mahomet begins life a poor and lowly
herdsman, and at his death bequeaths to his successors a kingdom
which he has formed, and which is shortly to prevail over all its
neighbours. In the same way his doctrine, confined at first to a
small circle and bitterly opposed, becomes within half a century the
faith of his nation, and not only of his nation, but of many other
lands. Within that brief space it has entered on the career of a
national religion, and has also passed beyond the national into the
universal stage, at which only two other religions have arrived at
all. The progress which Christianity took centuries to accomplish,
Islam accomplished in so many decades. The title of a universal
religion cannot be denied to it. The truth which it declared--the
doctrine of the unity and the omnipotence of God, and of the
responsibility of every human being to his Creator and Judge--is one
which does not belong to any particular race of men, but to all men.
The attitude of soul which is called Islam--that of implicit
surrender to the great God, of entire acquiescence in his decrees and
entire obedience to his will--is good for all. All should be called
to take an earnest view of their life and to realise their deep
responsibilities; and the idea expressed by the title given to God on
every page of the Koran, "The Merciful and Compassionate," that God
sympathises with the aspirations and efforts of his servants, and
that they may look up to him with love as well as fear, is one which
all can understand and feel helpful. Especially at the stage when the
world is given up to idolatry, Islam may well rank as a universal
religion; when each place has its idol, each nation its greater
idols, religion divides instead of uniting, and the frivolous and
senseless service of such petty deities prevents men from realising
their solemn obligations to the great God before whom they are all
alike, since he is the Governor and Judge of all. Islam is an
admirable corrective of heathenism; it brings the scattered and
bewildered worshippers of idols together in one lofty faith and one
simple rule.

The weakness of Islam is that it is not progressive. Its ideas are
bald and poor; it grew too fast; its doctrines and forms were
stereotyped at the very outset of its career, and do not admit of
change. Its morality is that of the stage at which men emerge from
idolatry, and does not advance beyond that stage, so that it
perpetuates institutions and customs which are a drag on
civilisation. Mahomet's Paradise, in which the warrior is to be
ministered to by beauteous houris (the number of whom is not
mentioned), may not have been an immoral conception in his day; but
it is so now, and apparently cannot be left behind. An admirable
instrument for the discipline of populations at a low stage of
culture, and well fitted to teach them a certain measure of
self-restraint and piety, Islam cannot carry them on to the higher
development of human life and thought. It is repressive of freedom,
and the reason is that its doctrine is after all no more than
negative. Allah is but a negation of other gods; there is no store of
positive riches in his character, he does not sympathise with the
manifold growth of human activity; the inspiration he affords is a
negative inspiration, an impulse of hostility to what is over against
him, not an impulse to strive after high and fair ideals. He remains
eternally apart upon a frosty throne; his voice is heard, but he
cannot condescend. He does not enter into humanity, and therefore
cannot render to humanity the highest services.


_The Life of Mahomet_, by Sir W. Muir, 1858.

_Mohammed_, by Wellhausen, and "The Koran," by Nöldeke, in
_Encyclopædia Britannica_, vol. xvi.

The Preliminary Discourse prefixed to Sale's _Koran_; and Professor
Palmer's Introduction in _S. B. E._, vol. vi.

_Islam_, by J. W. H. Stobart, in the "Non-Christian Religious
Systems" Series of the S.P.C.K.

_Der Islam_, by Houtsma, in De la Saussaye.

Hughes, _A Dictionary of Islam_ (1885, 1896).

Sell, _The Faith of Islam_, Second Edition, 1896.

Stanley Lane-Poole, _The Speeches and Table-talk of Mohammad_, 1882;
the most important parts of the Koran, chronologically arranged, with
a very useful introduction.

Margoliouth. _Mohammed and the Rise of Islam_, 1905.



The science of language has placed it beyond dispute that the
languages of the leading European peoples are genealogically related
to each other, and that the languages of India and of Persia also
belong to the same family of speech. The Indo-European languages,
those, namely, of the higher race in India, and of the Persians, and
those of the Greeks, Italians, Celts, Germans, Slavs, Letts, and
Albanians, approach each other always more nearly as they are traced
upwards. Sanscrit is not the source of these tongues but an older
sister of the group; the mother language, which the facts prove to
have at one time existed, was a highly-inflected speech, and is
perhaps more nearly represented by Lettic than by Sanscrit; but it
can now be known only by a study of the common features of its
surviving children.

The fact that the peoples named above are related to each other in
point of language led at once, when it was discovered, to the
conclusion that they were also of the same race, and must have come
originally from the same quarter of the world. Where, then, was the
early home of the undivided Aryan[1] race, from which the swarms
first issued which were to conquer and rule the various lands? At
first it was found in the East; the fact that Indian civilisation was
much earlier in time than that of any other Aryan people, naturally
suggested this. Professor Max Müller described in a very poetical way
how the European as well as the Indian must find in the East the
cradle of his race. From the high tableland of Asia, it was held, the
superior races came who were to rule nearly the whole of Europe,
while another migration descended towards Persia and the plains of

[Footnote 1: "Aryan" was the name of the conquering race of India.
The title "Indo-European" tells us that the race now dwells in India
and in Europe. "Indo-Germanic" describes the group by its Eastern,
and what is supposed to be its principal Western, member.]

The theory, however, which placed the home of the Aryans on the
inhospitable steppes, the "high Pamere," of Asia, did not long
command assent; and attempts were made to place that home elsewhere,
in the valley of the Danube, on the south shores of the Baltic, or
even in the Scandinavian peninsula. The conquest, it is argued,
cannot have come from the East; it is much more probable that Aryan
speech and custom originated in the West, where it has the larger
number of representatives, and that it spread eastward. The more
extreme step has also been taken of denying that the Aryans are
related to each other at all in point of race. Unity of language, it
is argued, is no proof of unity of race--a glance over the British
Empire or even the British Islands is enough to show this. It is
maintained, therefore, that the relationship of the Aryan peoples is
not one of race but only of language and of culture; the word Aryan
denotes no more than a certain type of speech, and of accompanying
civilisation, which spread over all the peoples in question at a very
early time. Aryan language and civilisation laid hold of a number of
races not otherwise related to each other.

The view, however, still prevails that the various lands where Aryan
speech and culture prevail were settled from one centre. When society
was in the nomadic stage, it may naturally be presumed that a
superior civilisation which had established itself in any one quarter
of the world would be carried by wandering hordes in various
directions, and that the bearers of the new civilisation would become
the conquerors and masters of the countries to which their wanderings
led them. And there is now some agreement on the part of leading
authorities as to the quarter of the world from which the migrations
of the Aryans proceeded. In the Southern Steppes of Russia, in the
great plains north of the Black Sea, the Caspian, and the Sea of
Aral, there dwelt, we are told, in times far before the dawn of
history, hordes rather than tribes of men, who, though they had
originally spoken the same language, were coming to differ from each
other in speech and culture. These hordes were peoples in the process
of formation. It was natural to them to wander, and as each wandered
farther from the centre, it came to differ more markedly from the
common type. Some of these went southwards and eastwards to Persia
and India; others went westward, to conquer and possess the countries
of Europe.[2]

[Footnote 2: _Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples_; Schrader
and Jevons (Griffin, 1890). This is the English of Schrader's
_Sprachvergleichung und Urgeschichte_. Compare Dr. E. Meyer's
_History of Antiquity_, vol. i. book vi. Dr. Isaac Taylor's _Origin
of the Aryans_ gives a compendious account of the question,
concluding against the unity of the Aryans in point of race.]

The Aryan question lies at the threshold of the history of each of
the Aryan peoples, and has to be met in the study of each of the
religions. It must be confessed that the world now knows less on this
point than it thought it did a generation ago. The difference between
the Semitic and the Aryan spirit is real and substantial, as will
appear from the study of the Aryan religions, but it is more
important as well as more possible to know these well in their
individual character than to have a correct theory of their
historical relation to each other. The student ought, however, to be
informed as to the course of a deeply interesting enquiry.

The civilisation of the Aryans was primitive enough. The following is
from Dr. Taylor:--

  The undivided Aryans were a pastoral people, who wandered with
  their herds as the Hebrew patriarchs wandered in Canaan. Dogs,
  cattle, and sheep had been domesticated, but not the pig, the
  horse, the goat, or the ass; and domestic poultry were unknown. The
  fibres of certain plants were plaited into mats, but wool was not
  woven, and the skins of beasts were scraped with stone knives, and
  sewed together into garments with sinews by the aid of needles of
  bone, wood, or stone.

  Their food consisted of flesh and milk, which was not yet made into
  cheese or butter. Mead, prepared from the honey of wild bees, was
  the only intoxicating drink, both beer and wine being unknown. Salt
  was unknown to the Asiatic branch of the Aryans, but its use had
  spread rapidly among the European branches of the race. In winter
  they lived in pits dug in the earth and roofed over with poles
  covered with turf, or plastered with cow dung. In summer they lived
  in rude waggons or in huts made of the branches of trees. Of
  metals, native copper may have been beaten into ornaments, but
  tools and weapons were mostly of stone. Bows were made of the wood
  of the yew, ... trees were hollowed out for canoes by stone axes,
  aided by the use of fire.

  According to Hehn, the old or sick were killed, wives were obtained
  by purchase or capture, infants were exposed or killed. After a
  time, with tillage, came the possession of property, and
  established custom grew slowly into law. Their religious ideas were
  based on magic and superstitious terrors, the powers of nature had
  as yet assumed no anthropomorphic forms, the great name of Dyaus,
  which afterwards came to mean God, signified only the bright sky.
  They counted on their fingers, but they had not attained to the
  idea of any number higher than one hundred.[3]

[Footnote 3: _Origin of the Aryans_, p. 188.]

These sketches of the early Aryan certainly attest more vigour than
refinement; and it takes some effort to realise that those who lived
in this way had already made much progress, and that these early arts
and institutions were full of promise. Savage as the early Aryan is,
he is better than his neighbours, and has made a good start in the
way of civilisation. His family arrangements, especially, are fitted
to survive and to develop. The early domestic architecture of the
Aryan countries, while it belongs to a much later period, yet gives
good evidence that the patriarchal ideal of the family was part of
the common inheritance. In every country they conquered the Aryans
lived in large patriarchal households. The sons, with their wives and
children, remained under their father's roof, the father being judge
and priest of this domestic community. We can specify other features
of the society connected with this type of household. As the family
increases and becomes too large to dwell under one roof, another
house is built, in which son or grandson, with his wife, founds a new
family. Thus a group of families arises, all related to each other by
blood, and in a position of equality, but looking to the original
house as their centre. This type of society must have been carried to
India by the Aryan invaders, who there set up patriarchal
establishments in houses which are similar in arrangement to those of
North Holland, of Iceland, or of early England. The men who lived in
this way were not agriculturists, they were shepherds and huntsmen,
and when they settled in a district they were wont to force the
former dwellers in it to till the land for them as their

[Footnote 4: See two recent works by Mr. G. L. Gomme, _The Village
Community_ and _Ethnology in Folklore_; also Hearn's _Aryan

It is this type of civilisation which overspread the lands in early
times, and by its coming created in most instances a new world. Some
of the Aryan peoples made more rapid progress than others. They
passed early into the age of metals, and appear before us at the dawn
of history with fully-formed institutions, which bear the impress of
patriarchal ideas. Others remained longer in the stone age, and only
in historic times received the impulse which caused them to advance
to the rank of nations. The arts and inventions which are found in
many or in all of them are not necessarily a common inheritance from
the undivided Aryan age. Many of them may have come into being in
each of the lands independently, or one Aryan people may have
borrowed them from another at a later time. Starting from the common
stock of civilisation, the various races worked it out each in a way
of its own, and often, as we shall see, with wonderful similarities.

Is it possible to give any description of the religion the Aryans had
in common before they developed it in different ways in their various
lands? We can no longer, following Mr. Max Müller, look to India to
tell us what was the common Aryan religion. Indian religion, when we
first become acquainted with it, has already grown into an elaborate
priestly system, and is evidently at a much later stage of Aryan
development than the rustic cults, with which we have a good deal of
acquaintance, in various European lands. If, however, we cannot
follow the great German scholar in this, we gladly use his words on
another aspect of the subject, when he is showing the etymological
identity of the chief god of the Aryan peoples.

In his _Lectures on the Science of Language_, vol. ii. p. 468, he
tells us that "Zeus, the most sacred name in Greek mythology, is the
same word as Dyaus in Sanscrit, Jovis or Ju in Jupiter in Latin, Tiw
in Anglo-Saxon, preserved in Tiwsdæg, Tuesday, the day of the Eddic
god Tyr; Zio in old High-German.

"This word was framed," he says, "once and once only; it was not
borrowed by the Greeks from the Hindus, nor by the Romans and Germans
from the Greeks. It must have existed before the ancestors of those
primeval races became separate in language and religion; before they
left their common pastures to migrate to the right hand and to the
left.... Here, then, in this venerable word, we may look for some of
the earliest religious thoughts of our race."[5]

[Footnote 5: See also Mr. Müller's _Hibbert Lectures_, and his
_Biographies of Words_.]

In this instance etymology admittedly points out one of the principal
features of the common Aryan religions. But if we hope that etymology
will reveal to us many further instances of the same kind, and
introduce us to the whole Pantheon of the Aryans, we shall be
disappointed. There are one or two more cases of etymological
agreement between the gods of India and those of Europe,[6] but the
agreement is in some of these cases no more than etymological. The
Tiw or Tyr of the Teutonic mythology does not correspond in office or
character with Zeus or Jupiter, though the names are etymologically
akin. The agreement does not extend to all the religions in question,
nor does it extend in any two religions to all their gods; most of
the gods of Europe have no parallels in India. The evidence of
etymology, therefore, tells us but little of that early religion of
which we are in search. But if we consider the views and habits of
the barbarous shepherd-huntsman, who is now seen to be the typical
figure of common Aryanism, we need not seek long before we find
something that was common to all the Aryan faiths. The patriarchal
household has a religion which belongs to itself, and which is the
working bond of union of its members. The hearth is its altar,
because the forefathers of the house lie buried under it, or for
another reason. These forefathers certainly are its gods. This
hearth-cult has for its priest the father of the family; he in his
turn will be gathered to his fathers if he has a legitimate son to do
the last rites for him. No one but members of the family can partake
in the domestic worship, all unconnected with the family by blood
must be kept at a distance from these rites. This is not a religion
in which the individual counts anything for his own sake, any more
than totemistic religion is; in both it is the community alone that
serves the deity, in the one case, those acknowledging the same
totem, in the second, those united by blood in the same family. In
totemism the individual sacrifices himself to the tribe; here he is
nothing apart from his family. Aryan piety is family religion pure
and simple. It fosters sentiments which have been the strength of
Aryan society in all lands. It makes family life a sacred thing,
lends to all domestic ties the highest sanction, and causes the mere
mention of "hearth and home" to be the strongest incentive to valour
and self-denial. Even in the wild-beast ferocity with which early
men defend their homes against the intrusion of strangers, the
germs of lofty domestic and patriotic virtues may be seen. Thus
ancestor-worship, which is a part of the very beginnings of human
religion, is a more effective force among the Aryans than anywhere
else. In Egypt and China that worship is a highly artificial thing,
and has lost much of its original force. In Egypt it is the fortunes
of the dead that are most thought of; in China the cult has been
smoothed down and deprived, according to the character of the people,
of its intenser motives. Among the Aryans it combines actively with
strong family feeling, causing them to cling with an extreme tenacity
to their own gods and their own worship.[7]

[Footnote 6: The principal are the following:--

  1. Dyaus, god of the sky, see above.

  2. Sans. Ushas, goddess of dawn; Gr. [Greek: hêôs]; Lat. aurora;
  Lith. auszra; A.-S. eostra.

  3. Sans. Agni, fire, god of fire; Lat. ignis; Lith. ugnis; O.-S.

  4. Sans. Surya, sun; Lat. sol; Gr. [Greek: helios], also [Greek:
  Seirios]; Cymr. seul.

  5. Sans. Mâs, moon; Gr. [Greek: mênê]; Lat. mena; Lith. menu.

  Mars=Maruts, Manu=Minos=Mannus, Varuna=Ouranos, and other equations
  formerly brought forward, are not now relied on by etymologists.]

[Footnote 7: The comparative absence of ancestor-worship among the
Greeks leads Dr. Schrader to doubt whether their religion is Aryan.
The Semites and the Greeks occupy the same position in this respect
(see chapter x., chapter xvi.).]

But those of whom we are speaking worshipped other gods besides those
of the household. The second great characteristic of Aryan religion
is its adoration of gods who are neither local nor tribal, but
universal. Dyaus, the sky, the heaven-god, can be worshipped
anywhere; so can the earth, so can the heavenly twins, who were
objects of early Aryan religion, so can the sun and moon. Not that
the Aryans always remembered that these beings were not local or
tribal. The god of heaven could be the god of a particular place too,
having a special name there; or he could be appropriated by a tribe
who gave him a title as their own particular patron. Each family
could have its own heaven-god as well as its own hearth-god. Nor are
we to think that when they worshipped beings who could be found in
every place, the Aryans overlooked the sacred places, and the sacred
objects worshipped formerly. They had themselves risen out of
savagery, and still held many of the ideas of savages. Though they
had a few great gods they could still believe in a large number of
smaller ones. The tree, the stream, still had its spirit for them,
the cave or the dark fissure its bad demon. And many a piece of magic
did they practise, such as the rain-charm which would cause even the
highest god to send what was needed. The world was well peopled with
gods, and to keep on good terms with them all was, no doubt, a matter
that required much attention and skill.

Other features which have been stated to be characteristic of Aryan
religion are its non-priestly character, and the fact that its gods
are generally arranged in a monarchical pantheon. But neither of
these constitutes a specific difference of the kind we are in search
of. All primitive religions are non-priestly; a religion becomes
priestly at a certain stage of its growth, when it is organised
separately from the state. The monarchical pantheon, too, such as
that of Homer and of the Eddas, is an indication, not of the genius
of a religion, but of its having reached the systematising stage, and
of the political ideas according to which the system is drawn up. The
Aryan religions, it is true, arrange their gods when the time comes
to do so, after the pattern of an Aryan patriarchal establishment,
the father at the head, his sons and daughters near him, the servants
in attendance, the unorganised host of spirits, nymphs and elves,
outside. But to know the original character of the religion it is
less important to ask how the pantheon is arranged, than what gods
are worshipped, and how they are related to man. And the point which
stands out clearly is that while Semitic religion is purely tribal
and local, there is an element in Aryan religion which naturally
transcends these limits. On Semitic ground the body with whom the god
transacts is the tribe, the link is that of blood which connects all
the members of the tribe with their divine head or ancestor. In Aryan
religion also blood counts for much. The family altar is the seat of
worship, and he who has been cast out of his own family cannot
worship anywhere. The family gods are most thought of, no doubt, and
exercise immense power in the ways we have mentioned. But the worship
of which blood is the tie is not to the Aryan, as to the Semite, the
whole of religion. There are beings aloft as well as beings on the
earth and under the earth, and the worship of these beings is wider
than the family. The family may address Heaven by a special private
name, or at a particular spot, but Heaven itself was above all these
titles and places. The spirits of the household made, as all the
Semitic gods do, for separation, but the gods above made for union,
and as any community grew, the upper gods, who were worshipped by all
its members alike, became more lofty and more important. Thus we may
agree with Mr. Gomme when he speaks (_Ethnology of Folklore_, p. 68)
of the emancipation of the Aryans from the principle of local
worship, and says that the rise of the conception of gods who could
and did accompany the tribes wheresoever they travelled, was "the
greatest triumph of the Aryan race."

Farther than this it may be dangerous to go in a field so full of
uncertainty. In all Aryan worships there are sacrifices of various
kinds and degrees of importance. The horse sacrifice appears in
several of the nations as one of distinction, but human sacrifice was
most important of all, though in each of the Aryan lands commutations
are made for it at a very early stage. The strife of Aryan with
non-Aryan religions gave rise to many superstitions; after the
conquest the gods of the latter often became the bad gods or demons
of the former, the ministers of the defeated cult were regarded as
sorcerers or witches, the dethroned gods made many an attempt to come
back to their seats, and to revive disused practices. But a religion
based, as we have seen the Aryan to be, in the family affections is
destined to rise as civilisation advances. It will be found that the
Aryan draws a less absolute distinction than the Semite between the
human and the divine. To the Semite God is, broadly speaking, a
master, or Lord, whose word is a command, in regard to whom man is a
subject, a slave. To the Aryan the relation is a freer one. His god
is more human, and art and imagination can do more in his service.


E. Siecke, _Die religion d. Indogermanen_, 1897.

C. F. Keary, _Outlines of Primitive Belief among the Indo-European
Races_, 1882.


The Aryans in Europe.--There is more than one European people which
before it was touched by Roman civilisation had remained for an
indefinite period--a period to be measured probably rather by
millenniums than by centuries--in the state of society described in
last chapter (see above) as occurring when the Aryans dwelt among
those whom they had conquered. In various lands alike we meet with
the combination of the patriarchal household with the village, the
combination of agricultural with pastoral life, to which the Aryans
early settled down among non-Aryan populations. This type of society,
which is the basis of feudalism, is recognised alike in India and in
Germany. It stretches far back into the past, and may even be
recognised in some quarters at the present day.

As with civilisation so with religion. The early faith of the Slavs,
the Celts, and the Teutons is now generally regarded as best
representing that of the Aryans. It was a religion in which rite and
belief were indefinite and variable compared with those of the later
Aryan faiths of India and of Southern Europe, there being neither a
regular priesthood nor the use of writing to impart fixity to
religious forms. The river, the fountain, and the aged oak, each had
its legend and its observance of unknown antiquity. The pre-Aryan and
the Aryan elements of religion acted and reacted on each other, the
Aryan, no doubt, being the element of progress, but blending with the
other in indistinguishable mixture. The spirits of ancestors lived in
the belief and the practice of posterity; a thousand unseen agents in
the sky, and in the earth, and under the earth were believed in and
treated according to tradition, fed or flouted, bribed or exorcised,
as occasion suggested. New gods appeared, or old ones were combined
into new, or a god migrated from one province to another. Here also
myths and rituals were formed by various processes. But a more
constant growth of belief took place in connection with some gods as
larger social organisms came into existence, village communities
combining into tribes, tribes into nations. The great gods of heaven,
whatever the history of their early growth, proved specially fitted
to unite together clans and peoples. These beings received different
names in different countries. Their early history, no doubt, was not
the same in all, yet in each mythology there were figures and stories
which occurred also in others, whether in consequence of parallel
growth out of similar circumstances in each land, or from a process
of borrowing at a later time, or from both, we need not try to

We give a short account of the religion of the Germans. That of the
Celts, which may be studied in the Hibbert Lectures of Professor
Rhys,[1] or that of the Slavs (of which there is an excellent short
summary by Mr. W. R. Morfill in _Religious Systems of the World_),
would have equally well served the purpose of exhibiting an Aryan
religion at a low stage of development, and held by a people not
thoroughly compacted into a nation. The religion of the Teutons has
the advantage for our study over these others, that it remained
longer unsuppressed by Christianity, and in its Scandinavian branch
put forth a vigorous original growth in comparatively recent times.
The latest paganism which flourished in Europe, it is also the
religion of our ancestors, on which the Christianity of the Northern
lands was grafted, and many a survival of which may still be
recognised in our own land. It therefore possesses for us even in
itself considerable interest.

[Footnote 1: _Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as
illustrated by Celtic Heathendom_, 1886.]

Of the ancient Germans, of the dwellers in the basins of the Rhine
and the Danube, we have accounts by Cæsar and by Tacitus.[2] After
this there is a dearth of information; the Christian missionaries to
the Germans thought it their duty to cover the former beliefs and
rites of their converts in oblivion, and abstained from giving
information about them. What we know is drawn from Church writers.
The Eddas belong to a much more developed stage of Teutonic life;
they tell their own tale, which will be noticed in its turn.

[Footnote 2: Cæsar, _B. Gall._ vi. 21. Tacitus, _Germania_.]

The early Germans dwelt in scattered settlements surrounded by the
great forests and marshes which then covered Central Europe. Every
one has read the description of the brave and warlike people of whom
the Romans justly stood so much in awe, and knows about their fierce
blue eyes and their fair hair, their tall stature, their battle-cries
and charges, their hardy habits and strict morals. As the Roman
writers describe them, they are by no means savages. They do not live
in towns, but migrate from one spot to another, the community
cultivating the land it takes possession of, on a system of common
ownership with rotation of occupants. The women did the hard work,
Tacitus says; the men spent their time in the chase and in fighting.
They had an organisation beyond that of the village, being arranged
in what we may call hundreds and shires, each district having to
furnish so many men for war, electing its own heads and holding
meetings for various purposes. Amidst these local and tribal
divisions they did not forget that they were a nation different from
other nations, and invasion found them a united people. The religious
expression of this is to be found in the legend which represents the
three great divisions of the nation as descended alike from the god
Mannus, son of the earth-born Tuisco; hymns were sung to the latter
as the father of the German race. It was by hymns that this people
remembered things which were important.

The Early German Gods.--There is a national god, then; and other gods
of whom Tacitus tells us are national too, not local or tribal. The
tribes to the south of the Baltic worship Herthus, which, Tacitus
says, is their name for Terra Mater, Mother Earth. The other gods he
mentions are called by Roman names. They worship Mercury, he says, as
their principal god; on certain days they worship him with human
sacrifices. They also worship Mars and Hercules with animal victims;
and a particular tribe, the Suevi, worship Isis. Cæsar says the
Germans worship the sun, and Vulcan, and the moon. Tacitus mentions
other German gods; the two statements are both true. Tacitus gives
the German gods Roman names according to a common practice of
antiquity, which has been the source of much confusion; we shall see
afterwards how the Romans identified the gods of Greece also with
those of Rome.

The equation which Tacitus gives of the German gods with Latin ones
is still in daily use in the names of the days of the week. The
Romans applied the names of the planets, which were the names of
their own gods, to the days of the week as early as the first
Christian century; and in Germany the days were called after the
German gods supposed to answer to the Roman gods in question. Half
Europe to this day calls the days of the week after the Roman, and
the other half after the German gods. We give the Latin names with
the modern French and over against them the English, in which the
names of the German gods appear more clearly than in modern German:--

  Dies Solis, the Sun's day=Sunday. (The French _Dimanche_ is from
  _Dominicus_, the Lord's Day.)

  Dies Lunæ (Lundi)=Monday or Moon's day.

  Dies Martis (Mardi)=Tuesday, the day of Tiw or Ziu.

  Dies Mercurii (Mercredi)=Wednesday, the day of Wodan.

  Dies Jovis (Jeudi)=Thursday, the day of Thor. In German this is
  _Donnerstag_, the day of Donar=Thor.

  Dies Veneris (Vendredi)=Friday, the day of Freya.

  Dies Saturni retains the Latin god's name in our Saturday. (The
  French _Samedi_ is derived from Sabbath.)

These Teutonic names for the days of the week are common to all the
branches of Teutonic speech, and must have a high antiquity. They
tell us what gods the Germans had in early times, and to what Roman
gods these were believed to correspond; but it would be a vain
endeavour to attempt to deduce from this, or indeed from any early
information we possess on the subject, the origin and nature of these
gods. From Grimm's laborious study of the question (_German
Mythology_, vol. i.) we gather that it is a matter mainly of
speculation what it was in Wodan that led the Romans to identify him
with their Mercury. Thor, who is identified with Jupiter, was
probably a sky-god, while Tiw or Ziu (whom etymology identifies with
Zeus, not Mars) was a god of war, and Freya, like Venus, had to do
with female beauty. We come to know more of these gods when we find
them in the Eddas, but it is scarcely legitimate to fill in the South
German gods of the first century from the North German gods of the
same names of the eleventh or twelfth. We reserve, therefore, our
description of the German gods till we come to the Northern

The Roman writers do not furnish any accurate idea of the working
religion of the Germans of their day. Cæsar says they were not so
much under the guidance of priests as the Gauls were, and that they
were not greatly addicted to sacrifice; neither statement can be
received without scrutiny. Tacitus idealises the untutored savage as
Rousseau does, in order to rebuke the vices of a luxurious
civilisation; but his statements of actual facts may be trusted.
Knowledge recently acquired of early forest-cults disposes us to
trust him when he speaks, as he does more than once, of the peculiar
sacredness the Germans attached to woods and groves. He is idealising
when he says, "They did not confine their gods in walls nor represent
them under the likeness of men, being led thereto by considering the
greatness of the heavenly beings." A few centuries later at least we
find Christian bishops busy destroying temples of German heathenism
and burning images found in them. Undoubtedly, however, the great
sanctuary of a district was frequently, as he represents, in the
recesses of a wood. Under a mighty tree a tribe would hold its
meetings and sit in judgment and in council; and there were sacred
groves in which no human foot might stray, where the god was supposed
to dwell, where great sacrifices both of animal and of human victims
took place, where the boughs were hung with the bones of former
sacrifices which in war were carried forth at the head of the tribe
as its sacred standards. This was done by the priests, who
accompanied the host to battle, and were charged at such a time with
the infliction of all necessary punishments, since they represented
the god who was supposed to be personally present as commander. The
priests had to work the auguries when consulted on matters of state;
on private matters the paterfamilias might do this himself. The
priests also had charge of the sacred white horses, by whose neighing
the will of the deity became known. Several women are also mentioned
as having enjoyed the reputation of sacred personages; and "even in
their wives they considered that there was a certain holiness and

To judge from Tacitus and from other writers of the first Christian
centuries, there was little system in the religion of Germany in
those days; the gods were not organised in a divine family, the
priests were not a caste like the Druids of France and Britain, and
religious practice was loose and variable. It must also be remembered
that what foreign writers reported on the subject was connected
rather with national and official cults than with popular local
observances. Of the latter there was an abundant growth; a
distinguished foreign writer might not know about it, but the
evidence of it survives in various forms which are only now being
seriously studied. To know the practical religion of early Germany we
have to consult the village festival and legend (as has been done by
Mannhardt in his _Wald- und Feld-kulte_ and Mr. Frazer in _The Golden
Bough_, and many a student of folklore), which, though now apparently
meaningless, were once the serious religious observance and doctrine
of the peasantry. The peasant carried his wishes and prayers to the
familiar wishing-well, and presented offerings to the spirit of the
well by throwing them into the water or hanging them on the
surrounding trees. The fairy rather than far-off Wodan was looked to
for good fortune; the rite of the fabulous village hero, with its
quaint immemorial usages, roused more enthusiasm than the stately
public ceremonial. Another side of the mind of early Germany is to be
gathered from the heroic legends and the fairy tales, many of the
elements of which, we are assured, were even then in existence. Were
these legends formed by a process of degradation; did they begin with
telling about the gods, and were they afterwards applied to heroes
and princes and common men? Or was the process in the opposite
direction from this; were the stories, first of all, those of human
warriors, their wars and loves, and did they then become mixed up
with solar and celestial ideas? Were the fairy tales originally
stories of the gods, and did they by popular and familiar treatment
fall below the dignity of their original themes till they came to be
a debased and broken-down mythology? or were they at first stories
about beasts and about clever tricks, such as savages love to tell,
and did they rise to something more dignified, till in some of them
we may trace the stories of the gods? It is not necessary that we
should answer these questions, which carry us back to an earlier time
than that with which we are concerned; but any one who knows the
tales, and will try to realise the state of mind of those who
received them not as fancy but as serious fact, will know something
of the religion of early Germany; of the strange beings, fairies,
dwarfs, magicians, talking animals, animated sun and moon and winds,
by which the German believed himself to be surrounded.

Later German Religion.--In Southern Germany the introduction of
Christianity early put an end to any development of Teutonic religion
which might have taken place there. The old faith, however, still
maintained itself in more Northern latitudes. It was brought to
Britain by the German invaders, continued there till the seventh
century, and was brought in again in a more Northern form by the
Norsemen, who in their turn "gradually deserted Thor and Odin for the
white Christ."[3] Bede tells hardly anything of the paganism which
had been the religion of England a century before he wrote; in this
he is like other Christian teachers who might have told but did not.
But though it came to an end in England, Teutonic religion continued
to prevail in the countries from which the invaders had come. In
Frisia in the eighth century we hear of a goddess Hulda, a kind
goddess, as her name implies, who sends increase to plants and is a
patroness of fishing. A god called Fosete, or Forsete (Forseti in
modern Icelandic=chairman), identified both with Odin and with
Balder, was worshipped in Heligoland; he had a sacred well there,
from which water had to be drawn in silence. There are temples, often
in the middle of a wood, with priestly incumbents, and rich
endowments, both of lands and treasure; and human sacrifice in
various forms is said to have been in use. Idols are mentioned, even
(at Upsala in Sweden) a trinity of idols; but this is what Church
writers would naturally impute to heathens, and the statement is
discredited. No Teutonic idol has survived; the loss to art may not
be great, but such a relic would have settled the controversy.

[Footnote 3: Kingsley's _Hereward the Wake_.]

Iceland.--Teutonic paganism reached its highest development in
Iceland. Of this branch of it alone is there a literature, for many
of the sagas are the fruit of a literary movement in Iceland anterior
to the establishment of Christianity; and the historian Ari, who
wrote within a century after that event, gives careful information of
the earlier state of affairs. The reader of _Burnt Njal_ sees that
among the Icelanders life was short and precarious. With the spirit
of adventure, which led them to be constantly setting out on warlike
and piratical expeditions, they combined a strong tendency to local
quarrels, which filled up their life at home with a constant series
of blood-feuds. These latter are gone about in a methodical and
business-like way; custom sanctions them, the meetings of the popular
assembly do not seek to suppress or punish them if only they are
conducted according to the rules. No public authority had as yet
arisen to carry out the law between one household and another; the
avenger has his recognised place and duty. Society is patriarchal as
in other Aryan communities; each family is a community of
blood-kindred for mutual defence and also for worship. The leading
cult of Icelandic religion was the domestic worship of ancestors,
conducted by the head of the household. The dead were buried in
knolls or burrows near the dwelling, and their spirits were thought
to inhabit these places; they are said to "die into the hill." Altars
are erected and sacrifices offered there; the blood of the victim
poured out upon the ground is supposed to be enjoyed by them. These
knolls became the sacred places of their district, and many a belief
existed about these quiet neighbours and the help they afforded to
the living. "Elves" they were called, and they were thought of as a
cleanly and kindly race. The spirits of bad men, on the contrary,
lived an uneasy life, as demons, and were the workers of mischief.

Along with this belief in the spirits of the dead as inhabiting the
burial hill of the household, there is another conception, namely,
that the dead go to a distant region of the unseen world. In Homer
also these two conceptions are combined. The Icelandic burial rites
are founded on the latter view. The "departed" is going on a long
journey, and his friends escort him as far as they can; shoes are
bound on his feet, the Hel-shoes, for Hel is the name of the region
of the dead. Gifts are given to him; horses, male and female
attendants, hawks and hounds, are burned with him on the pyre, and
his wife voluntarily accompanies him; all these he is to have with
him in the country beyond.

In addition to the domestic cult we have that of local objects; holy
wells, waterfalls, groves, stones are worshipped. Mother Earth is
called on, so is Thunder, so is Heaven. But besides these minor
worships there is the public one, connected with a large tribe or
with a king's court. A temple on the same plan as a large
dwelling-house forms a place of meeting and of sacrifice, an asylum,
and a place of oaths and covenants. On a table in front of the high
seat stands the bowl which, filled with blood and along with certain
sticks, forms a means of divination. A gold ring also lies there,
which a man puts on when he is about to swear an oath, and which the
priest puts on at meetings.

The priest has the duty of keeping up the building and property of
the temple and of maintaining the sacrifices. At the latter various
rites are done with the blood of victims, and those present feast on
the flesh and drink toasts. The first cup is for Wodan, various other
gods are celebrated, and there is a cup of remembrance for the
departed. Sacrifices are offered for the crops, for victory, for any
great object on which the community is bent. In this ritual there is
no evidence of any idols. Though the Icelanders are not without art,
the great gods have not yet perhaps assumed to their minds such
definite figures as to be thus set forth: no Homer has placed them
clear before the inward eye. The rites are bloody, the altar has ever
anew to be made to shine with the blood of victims. Human sacrifices
are only resorted to in times of great common danger, as a terrible
last resort; the god to whom the human victim is devoted is moved by
the bloodshed to avert his anger, or to make greater exertions for
his people. Bloodshed forms the strongest of all bonds. To link
themselves together in an indissoluble brotherhood, two friends
mingle their blood on the ground and then each of them treads on it.
The shedding of human blood at the launching of a ship or at the
laying of the foundation of a building is also known. Savage and
cruel as this religion is, there are signs that it is softening, and
that some of its darker rites are beginning to admit of commutation.
When Christianity approaches, the Icelanders feel that it must make a
great change, and that some of the cruelties which they regard as the
good old customs, will have to be laid aside. We hear of the
stipulation being made that if they receive baptism they shall not be
required to give up the removal of unpromising children nor the
eating of horseflesh.

The Eddas, in which Scandinavian mythology reaches its ultimate form,
seem to belong to a higher plane of human life than the religion we
have described, and it has appeared to many scholars of late years
that they cannot be regarded as a pure product of paganism, but are
in great part influenced by Christianity both in matter and in
sentiment. The older Edda, written in verse, is said to have been
collected by Sæmund Sigfusson the learned, one of the early Christian
priests of Iceland, who lived about the eleventh century. The other
Edda is in prose; it is a collection made about two centuries later.
The form given to the myths in these collections is due to the
Skalds, who flourished in Iceland in the early Middle Ages; but the
legends themselves are older. Nothing is known precisely about their
origin or early diffusion.

The Eddas may be compared in many respects with the Homeric poems. As
in the latter, the gods form a family, the members of which come
together to a certain place for meetings, while individually they
have their own adventures, their loves, their jealousies, their
jokes, their tricks. In the Eddas too we find that the gods are not,
strictly speaking, eternal; they succeeded an older race of gods, and
their turn too may come to pass away. They are called Æsir, which is
the plural of As. The etymology of this is uncertain; compare the
Sanscrit Asura, said to mean the living or breathing one. The Æsir
are spoken of in later times, not in the Eddas, as if they had been a
race of warriors; they are said to have come in to Scandinavia and
got the better of those who lived there before, because they
worshipped a superior set of gods.[4] An historic reminiscence may
lurk here. Before the Æsir there were giants, and the earth with all
its parts is made of the body of one of these giants,[5] whom the new
race superseded as governors of the world. But the giants are still
there and their spirit is unchanged; there is a danger of their
interfering to subvert the rule of their successors.

[Footnote 4: See a similar statement about the Incas, chapter vi.]

[Footnote 5: Compare "Purusha" in the _Rigveda_.]

There are other cosmogonic myths besides that of the division of the
giant Ymir. One is on this wise. Ere this world began, there was on
one side Niflheim, the land of mist and cold, on the other side
Muspelheim, the region of fire; between these two lay Ginnungagap,
the north side of it frozen, the south side glowing hot, and life
originated by the meeting, in one way or another, of the heat and
cold. There are very primitive myths of the shaping of man out of two
pieces of wood, of Night and Day as drivers of chariots and horses,
of the sun and moon fleeing from wolves, and so on. A more poetic
conception is the division of the world into Asgard, the garden of
the Æsir; Midgard, the world of man; and Utgard, the world outside.
In the first Odin has his seat Hlidskjalf; when he sits in it he can
see and understand whatever is happening in any part of the broad
world (is he the sun, then?). The third region is generally called
Jötunheim, the home of the giants, an icy region at the extreme part
of the habitable world. A bridge exists from the dwelling of men to
that of the gods; it is called Bifröst, and is the rainbow.

The gods have various places of meeting; but their principal seat is
under a great tree, the ash. Yggdrasil[6] is a tree worthy of the
gods; it is a world-tree; its roots extend to all the worlds; its
branches spread even over heaven. Under it is the fountain Mimir,
spring of wisdom, from which Odin drinks daily. Near it is the
dwelling of the Norns, fates or weird sisters, who establish laws and
uphold them by their judgments, and allot to every man his span of
life. They are named Urd the past, Verdandi the present, and Skuld
the future. Daily do they water the ash from the spring to keep its
leaves fresh, and help it to contend with its numerous foes, for a
great serpent is continually gnawing at its root, and it has also
other troubles. This myth of Yggdrasil is the apotheosis of Teutonic
tree-worship, and is richly suggestive.[7]

[Footnote 6: Yggdrasil=Odin's horse=the gallows. Is it the cross?]

[Footnote 7: Carlyle in his _Heroes_, p. 18, draws out the spiritual
significance of it and of Norse mythology generally.]

The Gods of the Eddas.--We now come to the gods of the system. Odin
is in the Eddas the founder of the world as now constituted. He has
displaced the old formless race of gods, and is the leader of a new
and vigorous race now ruling in their stead. The old scholars
rationalised Odin into a chief who had led a migration from Asia to
Norway in early times. He is the inventor of the art of writing by
runes and the founder of poetry; thus he has the aspect of a
culture-hero; that is to say, of a man of advanced views who, for the
benefits he conferred on his people, was exalted first to a hero and
then to a god. But the worship of Odin or Wodan is one of the
earliest things we know about the German race. He is the god of the
South-Germans from the very first. His earliest character is that of
a storm-god. Whether his name is connected with the German _wüthen_,
rage (Scot. _wud_) or with the Vedic Vata, who is a god of storm, he
is from the first an impetuous being. The early myth of him is
scarcely dead at this day; the peasant hears him rushing through the
woods at night. That is the "wild hunt of Wodan," he says; the god is
out with his followers, and woe to him who gets in his way! The early
Germans thought of him as a kind being who fulfilled the wishes of
men, and it was probably this side of his character that caused him
to be identified with Mercury. In the Eddic theology he is a patron
of war, as becomes the chief god of a warlike people. He arranges
battle and dispenses victory; the heroes who fall in battle he
receives into his heavenly army; they live with him in Valhalla or
Valhöll, the hall of choice. Odin chooses those who are to go there;
he is assisted in this by the Valkyries or choice-maidens. Life in
Valhalla is a constant round of fighting, the wounds of which are
healed at once, and feasting, the materials for which are ever
renewed. Odin, like other great gods, bears traces of low
surroundings, as if he had once lived among savages. He can turn
himself into an eagle or other animal to gain his object, and he has
engaged in disreputable adventures. But he tends to improve, and the
Eddas show him at his best. Here he is called the All-father, the
Ruler of all, who gave man a soul that shall never perish; and we
hear that he needs no food and takes no share himself in the feasts
of the heroes. All the righteous shall be with him in Vingolf (the
same as Valhalla), but the wicked shall go to Hel, the kingdom of Hel
or Hela, the goddess of the under-world.

Thor or Donar, Thunder, is said to be the mightiest of the gods; he
is identified, as we saw, with Jove, but he is a rougher and more
primitive deity. He drives in a chariot drawn by two goats, and is
possessed of three things which have wonderful properties. The first
is the hammer Mjölnir, which the Frost- and Mountain-giants cannot
resist when he throws it; the second is the belt of strength, which
makes him twice as strong when he puts it on; and the third a pair of
gauntlets with which he grasps his mallet. Many stories are told of
his prowess, of his conflicts with the giants, who, however, give him
a good deal of trouble with their cunning; and of his catching the
Midgard serpent which surrounds the world at the bottom of the sea.
Being a god of storm, he forms a connection with agriculture, and
thus gains a more sedate aspect; he has also to do with marriage, and
a hammer is used symbolically at Icelandic weddings. Thor is only
half-brother to the other sons of Odin; his mother was Fiörgyn, the
earth; the worships of Odin and Thor, originally distinct, seem to
have been united at an early period.

The god Tyr, son of Odin by a giantess, is the Eddic figure of the
German Tiw or Ziu, etymologically equivalent to Zeus or Jupiter, but
identified by the Romans with Mars. His greatness belongs to early
times; he was then a sword-god, and had an extensive worship in
various parts of Europe. In the Eddas he has scarcely any character,
and seldom takes a prominent part in the legend. Loki, by etymology a
fire-god (Germ. _Löhe_, Scot. _Lowe_),[8] is in one account the
brother of Odin, in another his son by a giantess. His character is
fitful; sometimes he acts a brotherly part by the gods and helps them
out of their difficulties by clever devices, and sometimes he
provides entertainment for them; but for the most part he is an
embodiment of cunning and mischief; his course is downwards, he tends
to become a being purely evil, setting himself heartlessly against
the wishes of the other gods, and acting so as to imperil them and
their world till they are obliged to cast him out of heaven. He is
thus a kind of Lucifer or Satan, and like the Christian devil, his
ultimate fate is to be bound till the end of the world shall arrive.
Baldur, the son of Odin and Frigga, is the best and brightest of the
gods. Like Apollo, he has to do with light, and no pollution can come
near him; he has also to do with the administration of justice, and
pronounces sentences which can never be reversed. Heimdall also is a
light and gracious god; he is the warder of the Æsir, and stays near
the bridge Bifröst. Of him it is told that he wants less sleep than a
bird, sees a hundred miles off by night or day, and hears the grass
grow on the ground and the wool on the sheep's back. Bragi is the god
of poetry and eloquence, the best of all skalds.

[Footnote 8: The etymology is not perhaps correct, but it suggested
itself and influenced the view taken of this god, in very early

Of the goddesses, Frigga, wife of Odin, stands first, an august
matron of mysterious knowledge, whom even gods consult, and by whom
men swear; she has also to do with marriage, and the childless appeal
to her. Etymologically she is scarcely to be distinguished from
Freya, wife of Odur, who, however, is lighter in character, and is
rather a goddess of love. The goddesses in the Eddas are more shadowy
figures than the gods; there are others, and an attempt is made to
reckon up twelve of them to answer to the twelve chief gods, but
their names are taken from the qualities they represent, and they
have little reality.

The story of the death of Baldur, brought about by the evil mind of
Loki in defiance of the whole divine family, sounds the note of
tragedy in the divine family of the Eddas. The gods themselves
suffer, and are unable to retrieve the misfortune which has come upon
them. With one accord they try to get Baldur brought back from the
under-world, but they are foiled by the same agency of evil which
carried him off. With the death of Baldur the gods feel that their
rule, which, we saw, had a beginning, and with it the world they
govern, for the two are inseparably bound up with each other, is
coming to an end. The gods perish in the ruin of the world; and this
is well, for sin cleaves to them and to their house, and they are not
fit to endure. Ragnarök, the twilight of the gods, comes on; the
universe is burnt up in a mighty conflagration, and while there are
abodes of bliss and abodes of misery where some survive, the universe
as a whole is entirely changed, and a milder race of gods will rule
over a better world.

If this mythology were found to be of native Scandinavian growth, it
would prove that Teutonic religion was capable of lofty development,
and would throw back an interesting light upon its previous history.
Here, it has been maintained, we see the Teutonic faith rising to
monotheism. Odin has among his other titles that of All-father; he is
rising above the other gods to a position of supremacy, which will
fit him, if the process were allowed, as it was not, to advance
somewhat further, to represent pure deity and to attract to himself
an undivided reverence. Here also we find a religion which was
formerly a rude intercourse between barbarous men and savage gods,
clothing itself with an ideal element. As the Greeks found religion
in beauty and the Romans in utility, so did the Germans find it at
last in pathos. They attain to the conception of suffering deity; in
Baldur a god falls victim to malice and wickedness, and the sorrow of
his fall takes possession of the whole of heaven. Thus pain and
sacrifice are hallowed, for man by the history of the gods, and his
intercourse with them leads him into heights and depths unknown

But the conviction is now establishing itself that this phase of
Teutonic religion is borrowed from Christianity, which was then
seriously menacing the existence of the old faith, and that it is the
shadow of their approaching extinction by the new religion, which
occasions among the Northern gods this feeling of sadness. They feel
themselves falling from their position; they are to be gods no
longer, but are to yield to the world-order, based on a deeper law
than theirs, which called them into being and now is preparing their
dismissal. Distinctly Christian ideas enter the old world of gods;
the ideas of sin, of sacrifice, of a final judgment, of a good god
who dies, of an evil spirit who, after prevailing for a time, is
chained up to await his doom. That a sense of guilt rests on the gods
shows that they are abandoning their rule, and they acknowledge that
their successors will be better than they have been.


Grimm's _German Mythology_, translated by Stallybrass, 4 vols.

Grimm's _Fairy Tales_. Mr. Lang writes an Introduction to the English
translation in Bell's edition.

Mannhardt, _Germanische Mythen_, 1858, and _Wald- und Feld-kulte_,
1875, 77.

For the later Northern section, Vigfusson and Powell's _Corpus
Poeticum Boreale_, especially the Excursus on Religion, i. 401.

Dasent, _Burnt Njal; or Life in Iceland at the end of the tenth

Mallet's _Northern Antiquities_.

Thorpe, _Northern Mythology_.

De la Saussaye, _The Religion of the Teutons_, 1902, the most
comprehensive statement of the whole subject.

Ralston, _Songs of Russian People_, and _Russian Folk Tales_.

Simrock, _Handb. der deutschen Mythologie_.

R. M. Meyer, _Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte_, 1910.

Sir John Rhys, _Oxford Proceedings_, p. 201, _sqq._


The history of Europe begins in Greece. It is there that the Aryans
in Europe first feel the touch of the arts and civilisation of the
East, and are stirred up to new activities; and the life thus
quickened in Greece transmitted its spark to Italy, and so to the
whole of Europe.

People and Land.--There is no direct evidence that the Greeks came to
their country from elsewhere; and the theory of a Græco-Italic
period, in which the future inhabitants of Greece and Italy lived
together somewhere to the north of both these countries and made
common advances in civilisation, is now abandoned. There are,
however, faint indications that the Greeks spread over their country
from the north southwards. What people dwelt in it before them it is
impossible to say; the Pelasgi and Leleges, whom they themselves
conceived to have preceded them, left behind them no other trace than
that belief. When first we descry this land in the faint dawn of
history, it is tenanted by the people whose name it bears, touched
only by the Thracians to the north, and the Illyrians to the west,
these also being Aryan races. Though the Greeks are on both sides of
the Egean, which seems from the earliest times to have connected
rather than divided them, their centre of gravity is in the mainland
of Hellas, including the Peloponnesus. In this country many a
migration no doubt took place before the people was finally arranged
in it; and some of these migrations are faintly known to history.
When once the settlement had been accomplished, the nature of the
country did much to fix the institutions of the people and the mutual
relations of their various communities. Large tribes coming into the
narrow valleys and sequestered coasts of Greece necessarily broke up
into small cantons, each of which, though not cut off from
intercourse with its neighbours, was free to develop by itself. The
country is said by travellers to be the most beautiful in the world.
The branch of the Aryans which settled in it may have brought scanty
acquirements with them, but they brought great capacities. The Greeks
had an unrivalled talent for doing what they saw others do, in a much
better way, and so making it their own. They had an inborn
disposition to what is reasonable. That they had a deep-seated
inclination to what is harmonious and beautiful is proved by their
first great work of art, their language. Of that language there were
several dialects in the earliest times; the principal ones being the
broad Doric of the peninsula and the colonies, and the softer Ionic
of which the classical language is a branch. But the Greeks of all
dialects could understand each other, and regarded as barbarians
those without who spoke other tongues. Thus from the first this
people was much divided, but was also held together by strong bonds.

Earliest Religion--Functional Deities.--The religion the Greeks
brought with them to their country was undoubtedly that which we have
discussed in our chapter on the Aryans. The primitive elements of
Aryan religion all reappear in Greece; the combination of many small
household worships with the supra-family worship of a great god or
gods, the few great gods who are surrounded by a multitude of
spirits, some of these also growing into gods, the recognition of
spiritual presences in many a natural object, living or dead. All
this we find in early Greece. The whole nation believes in Zeus; to
all he is the Lord of heaven, the giver of rain, the fertiliser of
mother earth, the supreme ruler in earth as well as in heaven, the
father of the gods as well as of men. This is the first bond of unity
in Greek religion. But every family, every village, every town has
its own peculiar worship which is to be found nowhere else. That
worship may be addressed to Zeus with a local title; each circle of
men has its own particular Zeus, who is their protector and ruler;
and thus Zeus has many forms and names. In each community there is
also the worship of the goddess of the hearth (Hestia); each
household has its own Hestia, and carries on the worship which in
other Aryan peoples is connected with the memory of departed
ancestors. But the family or the township has also other objects of
worship. There are other gods besides Zeus who are connected with
heaven, such as Apollo and Heracles. There are gods connected with
each activity of the people. Artemis is goddess of hunting, Aphrodite
of the peaceful life of nature and of gardens, and also of love.
Poseidon, the sea-god, was also worshipped inland, and was perhaps
originally a god of horses and oxen; Hephæstus was the god of workers
in metal, Ares the god of battle. These are in their origin what are
called functional deities, that is to say, gods who are present in
the function with which they are associated, and of which they
constitute the ideal or sacred side, and who have no existence apart
from it.

The gods of Greece in fact had their origin in that view of nature as
animated in every part, which the Greeks shared with other branches
of the Aryans, and with early man generally. Like the Latins, the
Greeks at first saw a mystery, a spirit, in every part of life; each
fountain had its nymph, each forest glade its dryad; and they felt
the gods to be returning to fresh life when spring came with its
flowers. Each of their own activities also had its unseen genius.
Each enclosure for flocks had its Apollo, "him of the sheepfold," who
protected the flock and the shepherd; and each boundary stone its
Hermes, "him of the boundary," who also watched over flocks and took
charge of marches and of paths.

Growth of Greek Gods.--Such beings, however, are something less than
gods; and the Greeks, long before we know them, had made the step
which the Romans scarcely made at all, from the spirit to the god,
from the vague unseen power behind an object or an act, to the free
being conceived with human attributes and feelings, who can be the
patron of a community, and afford help in all its concerns. Not all
the spirits rise into gods; it depends on circumstances which of them
are selected for that advance; but the choice once made, their rise
was rapid. As the gods grew into personality and definite character,
though the function out of which they first sprang was not forgotten,
other functions were added to them; and as a god grew in power and
consideration, his worship was set up in new places, where other
titles and attributes awaited him. The local god might be identified
with the great god from a distance. The god of a powerful community,
as Athene ("she of Athens"), might be adopted wherever the influence
of that community extended; thus new gods arose and old ones took
local form. When a change took place in the habits of the people, it
was followed by a corresponding change in the character of their
gods. When agriculture comes in, the gods have to take notice of it,
the pastoral god turns agricultural, and even the huntress Artemis
becomes an encourager of fertility. When navigation rises in
importance, a number of the gods, Poseidon at their head, become

Stones, Animals, Trees.--In Greece the worship of the gods soon
superseded that of objects not possessing any human character. Traces
of such lower worships survive, it is true, in the later religion in
great abundance, but they have no influence in its development; they
only tell their story of the otherwise forgotten past. Stones were
worshipped in early Greece. Not to speak of the cromlechs and
dolmens, which are found there as in all parts of Asia and Europe,
and the meaning of which is so little understood, stones were
preserved as sacred objects in various places, even to late times,
and had no doubt originally been worshipped. The god Hermes was
represented in every period by a slab of stone set upright, a human
head and other human features being indicated on it. Even in later
Greece, boards or blocks of wood were in some places exhibited on
rare occasions, which were the oldest images of the Artemis or the
Aphrodite there adored. Though for the public eye splendid statues
had taken the place of the goddess, the original image was still
thought to have a sanctity all its own. We also notice that the gods
of Greece are associated with animals. Zeus is a bull in Crete; he
has also other transformations: Pan is a goat; Artemis is a bear in
some provinces, elsewhere a doe. The Athene of the Acropolis is a
serpent. Apollo is sometimes connected with the mouse. Along with
these identifications of the gods with animals we may mention the
animal emblems with which they are generally represented. The eagle
is the bird of Zeus, the owl of Athene, the peacock of Hera, the dove
of Aphrodite. In this connection we cannot help thinking of the
sacred animals of the Egyptian nomes; and the question may be asked
whether such animals must be taken to be in Greece also the signs of
a primitive totemism?

Of the tree-worship of Greece much has been written of late. The oak
was the sacred tree of Zeus; he must have been conceived as living in
it; he gave oracles at Dodona by the rustling of the branches of the
tree. Athene has the olive, Apollo the palm, and also the laurel.
After the introduction of agriculture rustic cults arose, in which
the inhabitants of a village followed in sympathetic rites the
fortunes of the gods who live in the life of the plants in summer and
die with them in autumn. The god of the Semites is generally a
changeless being, who himself conducts and orders the changes of the
seasons, but in Greece we find gods whom man can accompany in the
tragedy of their fall and the triumph of their rise. We shall see
afterwards that the rustic worships of Demeter and Proserpine were
brought forward at a critical period in Greek religion, to supply an
element which was much required in it. These worships, similar, as
Mr. Frazer suggests,[1] to those still kept up by our own peasantry,
were doubtless of immemorial antiquity in Greece, though in the
earlier period they are little heard of.

[Footnote 1: _Golden Bough_, vol. i. p. 356.]

Thus the Greek gods grew up in the period before Greece was awakened
to new thoughts by contact with foreign peoples. Many harsh and cruel
rites were no doubt practised; human sacrifice, heard of even in
later times in remote parts of the country, was not unknown, and
practices were connected with the service of stern gods and goddesses
which, though literature is silent about them, left their mark on
custom. Zeus and one or two other gods are essentially moral, and
some duties were strongly encouraged by religion, such as those of
hospitality and strict regard for boundaries, of faithfulness to
pledge, of respect for strangers. But many of the gods are too
closely interwoven with external nature to be very decidedly moral
powers; they are like the plants and animals, neither good nor bad
but natural.

Greek Religion is Local.--What strikes us most strongly about this
early Greek religion is its entire want of system and its local and
disintegrated character. Every town, every family, has its own
religion. There is no central authority. New gods are constantly
springing up; the old ones are constantly receiving new titles and
forming new unions with each other or with newer gods. The god of one
place is in another only a hero; the same god is represented in
different places in entirely different ways, and entirely different
legends are attached to his name. Thus the Greeks have from the first
a mythology singularly extensive and inconsistent, and their worship
also varies in each place. There is no general religion, but only a
multitude of local ones. In story and in rite old and new are mixed
up together,--what is local and what is imported, what is savage in
its nature and origin, and what is on the side of progress. This is a
state of matters which lies in every land before the beginning of
organised religion. Rites and legends are everywhere of local growth,
and the attempt to frame the various rites and legends into a
consistent ritual and a systematic account of the gods, comes later.
In Greece, as Mr. Robertson Smith observes, the earlier state of
matters continued longer and influenced the national faith more
deeply than elsewhere. As the Greeks never succeeded in forming a
central political system, so they never attained to unity in worship.
No national temple arose, the priesthood of which had power to frame
the national religion, to lay down rules for sacrifice, or to edit
sacred texts. The Greeks were less than any other people under the
sway of religious authority. While local practice was fixed, and
custom and tradition declared plainly enough what was to be regarded
as religious duty, belief was quite free to grow as circumstances or
the growth of culture dictated. A religion in such a position, and
among a people of lively imagination and specially gifted in the
direction of art, must necessarily receive its forms rather from the
artist than the priest.

Artistic Tendency.--Thus we can discern from the first the direction
which Greek religion must take. The Greeks shaped their gods earlier
and more freely than other peoples, and went on shaping them till no
further advance could be made in that way. Long before Homer they had
been making their gods such as free men, and men endowed with a sense
of beauty, could worship. They were not content to worship lifeless
objects, but must have living beings. They were not content to
worship beings without reason, they must worship reasonable beings.
They were not inclined to regard the natural objects they worshipped
with terror or self-prostration, but rather in a spirit of genial
friendliness and sympathy as being something like themselves. And so
they turned their gods into men. The anthropomorphising tendency,
present as we have seen in other lands and at much earlier periods,
present indeed wherever religion is a growing power, had freer play
with them than with any other people. Thus the spirits of the
fountain and the tree, and of every part of nature that was
worshipped, took human form. At first, no doubt, the nymph was in the
fountain, the dryad in the oak, but as time went on the human maiden
cast off her mosses and her bark and leaves, and stood forth to
imagination a being wholly human, dwelling beside the fountain or the
tree. In the same way heaven becomes a great human father, the sea an
earth-shaking potentate drawn by dolphins over the waves, the sun a
mighty archer, fire a lame craftsman (from the flickering of flame?)
whose smithy is underground where the volcanoes are. And the figures
once arrived at, it was no hard task to spin out their stories and
their relations with each other, and to connect with them older
tales, as taste or fancy suggested.

The thorough humanisation of the gods, the clothing of the gods in
the highest types connected with free human society, is the first
great contribution made by this gifted race to the progress of
religion. Receiving from the earlier world the same kind of gods as
other nations did, Greece proceeded to treat them in a way of her
own, idealised and refined the parts of nature held divine, and
ascribed to them not only, as all early races do, human motives and
human passions, but also human beauty and wisdom and goodness.
Whatever rude materials she received to work on, either from the
earlier dwellers on Greek soil or from foreign lands, she made them
her own by transfiguring them into ideal men and women. Thus the
Greeks reached the position, which they taught the world first in
immortal poetry and then in immortal plastic art, that man should not
bow down to anything that is beneath him, and that nature can only
become fit to be worshipped by being idealised and made human. An end
was made to the dark imagination which was so apt to creep over all
early religion, that deity and humanity may be different and
opposite; that an object devoid of reason, an object or an animal
admired not for its goodness but for something about it which man
cannot understand, may be his god and have a claim to his allegiance.
God and man are of the same nature, the Greeks found; to arrive at a
true idea of a god we have to form, on the basis of the natural
object where he is supposed to dwell, the image of an ideal man or
woman. This was a great step, but in this conception of deity the
Greeks also laid up for themselves, as we shall see, many

Early Eastern Influences.--Our positive knowledge of Greek history
begins about the middle of the second millennium B.C.; we have
information of this period in the ruins of Mycenæ and Tiryns and
other places. These remains attest a political condition widely
different from that of the patriarchal settlements of the period when
the Greeks were emerging from Aryan barbarism; very different also
from the free city life which came afterwards. The recent excavations
have brought to light the palaces of kings, built, it is evident,
according to an Eastern type, and with arrangements for the burial
and worship of dead potentates, not unlike those of the pyramids. The
art is rude, but shows large forces to have been at the command of
those who directed it. We have here, therefore, a state of matters
such as that described in the Homeric poems, in which petty kings
rule in many of the Greek towns, some of them being personages of
great rank and power. The movement in civilisation attested by these
remains is admitted to be due to an impulse from the East; but
whether this impulse was imparted by the voyages of Phenician
discoverers and merchants, or whether it came by land along the trade
routes of Asia Minor and across the Egean, is uncertain. It is in any
case traceable to North Syria, where in the early part of the second
millennium B.C. Babylonian and Egyptian influences met and gave rise
to some rude civilisation. Greece was not conquered from the East,
but stirred to new life by the communication of Eastern ideas.

Greek religion was not much assisted, or indeed much modified in any
way, by this movement. The worship of ancestors which went on in the
palaces was not contrary to Greek sentiment, perhaps not even much
more elaborate than that sentiment required. But this part of
religion was not a growing thing in Greece; and the royal practices
did not prevent it from dying gradually away in later times. That any
god was imported into Greece at this time, is not proved. Where
Greeks and Phenicians met, as in some of the islands, a Greek and an
Eastern god might be identified; the worship of Aphrodite and that of
Astarte were fused in this way in Cyprus, and Aphrodite may thus have
acquired some new characteristics even in Greece. This is not
certain. Perhaps the most important thing to notice in this
connection is that the new type of society at the royal courts may
have furnished a model for the arrangement of the heavenly family
when that arrangement came to be made. The Eastern influence came to
an end in time, and the pressure being removed, the monarchies
crumbled away, the court worships were discontinued, and Greece was
left free, after this awaking to fuller life, to pursue her own
thoughts in her own fashion.

Homer was regarded by the Greeks who lived after him as the founder
of their religion. Herodotus considers (ii. 53) that Homer and Hesiod
lived four hundred years before his time, and that it was they who
framed a theogony for the Greeks, gave names to the gods, assigned to
them honours and arts, and declared their several forms. These
writers accordingly formed a standard of religious belief; we know
that their works were the basis of the education of the Greek, and
they thus provided an early bond of national unity.

The Homeric poems are the outcome, whether we regard them as the work
of one singer or of two, or of a whole school, of long processes of
growth. The poetic art which makes them the delight of all mankind is
not a first experiment, but the ripe result of an elaborate method.
The stories and the wisdom they contain are brought together from
many quarters by long accumulation. And in the same way the accounts
they give of the gods individually and of their relations to each
other are not thrown together at haphazard, but are the result of a
work of unconscious art which must have been carried on for centuries
before it issued in this form. Homer does not by any means repeat all
the stories he knows about the gods. He passes over many local myths,
especially those of the more repulsive order, which were known for
centuries after, and undoubtedly existed in his day; only what is
"worthy of a pious bard" does he reproduce. A pious bard, however,
had considerable latitude; and the phrase does not represent all that
Homer was. He was an entertainer of the public at royal courts, where
a feast was incomplete without him (_Odyssey_ viii.); he had to
produce his songs at banquets or in the open air at festivals; what
he gave had to be entertaining. This could not but influence his
choice of materials even when the gods were his theme. He could not
deal in what was most terrible about the gods, nor could he enter
into speculations or mysteries, nor could he make use of a legend
which, though it had point for the locality it belonged to, was not
generally interesting. What was powerful and dramatic, what all men
could understand, what was curious and piquant, what met the general
sentiment, that he would be led to adopt and to work up into a
telling form; he naturally sought after broad pictures, amusing
conversations, simple and true emotions, curious incidents connected
with well-known characters. Religion, it is plain, could not gain in
depth and intensity from the treatment of such poets; many of the
thoughts men had about the gods could not find expression in their
lines. But, on the other hand, we have the fact that the Greeks
accepted the Homeric representation of their religion as the standard
one; not till it had existed for centuries were voices raised against
it. And this is not strange. Homer took away nothing from the
religion of any Greek; no local worship was in any way infringed upon
by him; and on the other side he gave to the Greek world, whose
belief consisted formerly in a multitude of disconnected or even
inconsistent legends, a united system of gods, in which there was at
that stage rest for the mind, and for the imagination an
inexhaustible spring of ideal beauty.

The Homeric Gods.--What, then, is the religion of Homer? The gods are
a set of beings not very unlike men; they present a curious
combination of human frailty with superhuman powers and virtues. To
speak first of the physical side of their nature, the gods are far
stronger than men, their frame is huger, their eye keener, their
voice louder; like the sorcerer of savage times, they can assume
other shapes to gain their ends, they can become invisible, or they
can travel very swiftly through the air. Yet, on the other hand, they
can be wounded when they strive even with men; accidents happen to
them, they require to eat and drink. They eat, it is true, ambrosia,
and drink nectar, which give immortality; and they have in their
veins not human blood but divine ichor. It is the fact of their
immortality that makes them different from men; it has happened that
a man obtained immortality and became thereby a god. The line between
gods and men may be crossed; in former times it was crossed more
frequently. The gods entered into relations with mortals; many of the
heroes are of divine extraction, and the gods are still interested in
the royal houses they thus founded. But such unions do not take place
in the poet's time. The world is growing less divine.

Homer, however, looks further back than this, and we find in him the
belief, found also in India and in Iceland, that an older and more
savage race of gods once ruled, whom the present dynasty conquered
and dethroned. Of that older set was Kronos, the father of Zeus, and
the Titans, who are now cast down to Tartarus, the nethermost region
of all. The world known to men was apportioned at the beginning of
the present age to the three sons of Kronos, Zeus obtaining the upper
world, including heaven, which is at the top of Mount Olympus in
Thessaly; Poseidon the sea, and Hades the under-world, above
Tartarus, to which men go after death.

Zeus rules in Olympus. He presides there over those gods who are at
present in power. He summons them to council, he sits at meals with
them. They are a very human set of beings. They are moved by ordinary
human motives; love and revenge, jealousy and anger, rule in their
breasts. They do not act from eternal principles, but as men do, from
sudden impulses or from the desire of temporary advantages for
themselves or for their favourites. They even indulge in loose
amours, and are brought into ridiculous situations. They laugh at
each other; the stronger god hurls the weaker out of Olympus to the
earth. Taking them together, we do not find the Olympians an
impressive set of beings. Taking them, however, one by one, we judge
of them quite differently. The individual gods represent lofty ideals
and are not unworthy of worship. Whatever they were once, powers of
nature, fetishes or men, whatever village legends they have brought
with them from their native place, or whatever traits of savage life
still cleave to them, to the poet they are the embodiments of various
moral excellences. Zeus, father of gods and men, combines in his
character the attributes of righteousness and of kindness; he is the
founder of social order and the defender of suppliants, he possesses
all wisdom. Hera is the matron of fully unfolded beauty and matchless
dignity; Apollo is the faithful son who carries out his father's
counsel; Athene is the warrior-maiden skilled in battle but equipped
with every kind of skill, best counsellor and guide for the mortal
whom she favours; Aphrodite is the goddess of love, in whose girdle
are contained all charms; Ares is the impetuous warrior, Hermes the
trusty messenger, of the heavenly circle; Hephæstus, the lame and
awkward smith, is the artificer for the gods of all manner of cunning
work in metal. Around and under the Olympians are many other deities;
such as Hebe, the budding girl, and Ganymede, the youth born of human
race but taken up to heaven for his beauty to minister to the gods at
their banquets. Aphrodite is attended by the graces, Apollo by the
Muses, and the world is not stripped by Homer of its local deities,
although the chief deities now dwell aloft; mountains, rivers, caves
and isles of ocean, all have their immortal occupants.

Worship in Homer.--The gods being of such a nature, what relations
does man keep up with them, and how do they affect his life? Worship
follows the simple practice of the early world. It is not priestly.
There are priests, and they offer sacrifices regularly at the shrines
of which they have charge, but the king can sacrifice, or the head of
the house; and while one or two temples are mentioned in the _Iliad_,
sacrifice may be offered anywhere. Temples first appear in Greece
merely as shelters for images, but in the _Iliad_ the god is
generally worshipped not by means of an image but as himself directly
present; the need of temples has not yet arisen. In the _Odyssey_
temples of the gods are spoken of as buildings no town could be
without, but this is less primitive. Sacrifice is a feast in which
the god's portion of the viands is first offered to him, and the
worshippers then eat and drink to their hearts' content. There is a
detailed description of the proceedings in _Iliad_ i. 456 _sqq._ Here
after the feast there is music; "All day long worshipped they the god
with music, singing the beautiful pæan to the Fardarter (Apollo); and
his heart was glad to hear." "The gods appear manifest amongst us,"
we read in the seventh book of the _Odyssey_, "whensoever we offer
glorious hecatombs, and they feast by our side, sitting at the same
board." There is nothing of the nature of an expiation about such a
sacrifice; it is simply the renewal of the bond between the god and
those who look for his aid, when a new enterprise is about to be
undertaken or a solemn engagement is entered on. Prayers are very
simple. Thus prays the wounded Diomede to Athene (_Iliad_ v. 115):
"Hear me, daughter of ægis-bearing Zeus, unwearied maiden! If ever in
kindly mood thou stoodest by my father in the heat of battle, even so
be thou kind to me, Athene! Grant me to slay this man, and bring
within my spear-cast him that took advantage to shoot me, and
boasteth over me!"

As there are no bad gods, good and evil are considered to be sent by
the same beings. Thus there is a great deal of uncertainty in men's
relations to the gods. "All men need the gods," we read; the Homeric
hero regards the companionship of a god as proper and necessary for
his enterprises. But some trouble must be taken in order to secure
their favour. They must not be neglected; their signs must be
attended to; above all, a man must be reverent and must studiously
practise moderation in his conduct and in his ways of thinking; else
the gods may easily be offended or made jealous, and withdraw their
countenance. And if they are to a certain extent capricious, there is
another consideration which impairs confidence in them. They are not
all-powerful. There is a point beyond which they cannot give a man
any help. Each man has a fate or destiny, which the gods did not fix
and with which they cannot interfere. When his hour comes, they must
leave him to his doom; indeed they may even deceive him, and lead him
into folly so that his fate shall overtake him. The punishment of
crime, both in this world and afterwards, is committed to a special
set of beings, the Erinnyes. The gods who are most worshipped do not
exercise that function; they are not immovably identified with the
moral order of the world, but frequently deviate from it themselves.
In the _Odyssey_, it is true, we meet with a deeper feeling. Here
Zeus is a kind of providence, in whom a man may trust when he does
right, and to all whose dispensations it behoves him humbly to
submit. A root of monotheism is present here, as in all the Aryan
religions from the first, and in Greece it is destined to have a
stately growth. The Homeric pantheon, however, as a whole, shows
religion at a stage in which it is rather an external ornament to
life than an inner inspiration. Perhaps there was never a set of real
men who thought of the gods and addressed them according to the
fashion of Homer. If such a religion ever actually existed, it was
not a strong one. These gods, with their caprices and infirmities and
their limited power, could never exercise any strong moral influence
or rouse any passion in their worshippers. They are fair-weather
gods; the religion is one of children, in whom conscience is not yet
awake and the deeper spiritual needs have not yet appeared. What the
mind of the Greek has done up to this stage is to discover that
nature is not above him; the powers of nature are human to him; they
are divine not because they are essentially different from himself,
but because they are matchless ideals of his own qualities. It is a
religion of free men. But the Greek has not yet discovered how
different he himself is from all that is around him; that element of
himself which is above nature will when he discovers it make such a
religion as the Homeric for ever impossible to him.

Omens.--As the godhead is never far away from the Homeric Greek, and
is an active being who takes an interest in human affairs, signs of
his presence are not infrequent. The air is the scene of them; in the
flight of birds, in sudden noises, the gods send messages; lightning
is a sign from Zeus of approaching rain or hail, it may be of
approaching war. There are rules for the interpretation of signs,
which, however, are in many cases of doubtful significance. Dreams
also are a favourite channel for divine communications, but they also
may be interpreted wrongly. There are persons who have a special gift
for knowing the divine will; the seer ([Greek: mantis]) is
enlightened by the deity not by an outward sign but inwardly; he
hears the god's voice, and can declare the divine will directly. This
gift may reside in a certain family, and may be attached to a certain
spot, where a regular oracle is open for consultation. At Dodona we
read that the Selloi or Helloi, a band or family of priests of
ascetic habits, interpret the rustling of the sacred oak, and
Agamemnon consults the Pythia, the Delphic priestess, before the
Trojan war.

The State after Death.--With regard to the state after death, belief
is not uniform in Homer. There are elaborate funeral rites which
point to the assumption that the spirit of the hero is living
somewhere and needs various things. But the life of the departed was
not mapped out in Greece as it was in Egypt. The ritual of Mycenæ had
little influence, for the funeral celebrations in Homer are very
similar to those of other early Aryan peoples, and undoubtedly were
not imported. What then is thought of the present existence of the
hero? He has ceased to exist. The body is the man, the spirit when it
has left the body has but a shadow-life, without any strength or
hope; at the most it may revive a little at the taste of blood. But
while the worship of the departed is seen from Homer to be decaying
among the Greeks, imagination is seen to be occupied in more than one
direction with the regions where they are, and to be asserting for
them a more real and active existence than the old beliefs allowed.
The subterranean kingdom of Hades (the "Invisible") is acquiring
clearer shape. The punishments are described which certain great
transgressors, such as Tantalus and Ixion, are there undergoing; and
other details are also known. Of a different spirit is the conception
of the Elysian plains in the far west, whither the hero is taken by
the gods when he dies, and where there is no snow nor storm nor rain.

Homer was not the only poet who furnished the Greeks with a system of
their gods; nor was his system everywhere accepted without demur.
Hesiod, writing in the latter half of the eighth century B.C., gives
a "theogony" or birth of the gods, which is also a genesis or origin
of the world, for to the Greek mind the gods and the world came into
existence together. He complains of those who on this subject have
taught fictions which resemble truths, referring perhaps to Homer.
His own system of the world is not a light and airy fabric but a
laborious work, due no doubt to professional or priestly industry, in
which the attempt is made to treat all the divine figures or
half-figured spirits the Greeks knew, genealogically, and to give a
complete enumeration of them. Myths are given, some of them of a
horrible character, which do not occur in Homer. The battle of the
gods with the Titans occupies a large part of the poem, and it
concludes with a collection of stories showing the descent of heroes
from alliances between gods and mortals. This work, as we saw, was
considered, along with the Homeric poems, as a standard authority on
the subject of the gods, and was appealed to even in the early
Christian centuries as showing what the Greeks believed.

The Poets and the Working Religion.--The work of these poets proves
that the Greeks in their days were anxious to arrive at clear and
harmonious conceptions about the gods. The movement on which Homer
and Hesiod set their seal, of fixing the characters and attributes of
the various deities, must have been long going on; and it led, as we
see, to different results in different places. That labour when
accomplished endowed Greece with a new religion. The local rite still
went on, which acknowledged no central authority and presented the
spectacle of an infinite diversity. Each city carried on in grave and
solemn fashion the traditional worship of its own gods, on whose
favour its prosperity depended. The other gods of the Pantheon the
city did not need to worship; and moreover local worship was
addressed to a large extent to the Chthonian or earth-gods, as
Demeter and Dionysus, of whom the epic poems know but little. The
poets were of little assistance therefore to the working religion;
but on the other hand the happy and beautiful deities of Homer found
entrance wherever poetry was loved. This was a religion for all
Greece; these gods were national; though some of them belonged
originally to Æolia, they had become national by being enshrined in
poetry which the whole nation regarded as its own. The Homeric
conception of deity acted therefore on the whole Greek mind; all gods
rose in rank by the example, a subject was set before the mind of the
people, which the closely succeeding development of religious art
shows to have been studied in the noblest way.

Rise of Religious Art.--The seventh century B.C. was a period of
rapid development and of great prosperity in Greece. It was the age
of colonisation; manufacture and trade were active, and though the
Phenicians were not now in the Egean, Greeks sailed to the East and
brought home with them many ideas. It was a time like the sixteenth
century in Europe, when the world of geography was quickly opening
out, and views and sentiments were also widening. Worship could not
fail to share in the upward movement of such a period, and it is here
that we find the appearance of the ideas in religious art which have
made Greece the envy of the world. Architecture received a new
impulse from Egypt and Babylon; dwellings were built, not for human
rulers, as in the Mycenæan period, but for the gods. In country
districts or small towns the wooden shed might still suffice to
shelter the rude image, but in large towns, where the higher
conception of the gods and the artistic impulse were both present in
many minds, temples of more durable material were built. This came to
be a universal practice; among the first tasks of a new colony was
always that of erecting on a commanding site in the rising town,
splendid temples to the gods of the mother city. The Greek temple is
not a place to accommodate a large body of worshippers, but a
dwelling for the god. It is of oblong shape, and is placed on a
raised platform which is ascended by steps. It is generally
surrounded by pillars, is roofed, and has a low gable at each end.
The most important chamber in it is that containing the image of the
god. From his dim chamber the god looks out to the east through the
doorway facing him, which opens on the pillared portico in front.
Here the worshipper stands when praying, his face turned westward to
the god. As it was essential that the smoke of the sacrifice should
ascend freely to heaven, the god's real dwelling, the altar stood
outside. In some cases the roof was partly open, and the altar could
stand under the sky in the _cella_ of the god.

In the building and adornment of the temples Greek art found its
highest exercise. The architecture of those specimens which can still
be seen or described is of a dignity and beauty never before
attained; the beings must have been lofty and reverend indeed for
whom such dwellings were formed. The gable spaces and the flat
surfaces between the tops of the pillars and the roof gave
opportunity for sculpture; and the archæologist traces on these
metopes (spaces between the beam-ends under the roof) and friezes,
the progress of Greek sculpture from a rude stage to that in which
the sculptor has gained complete mastery over his material, and can
give an imposing representation of a myth, or place on the marble a
complete religious procession of brave men and fair women. The images
of the gods to be placed in the temples called forth the artist's
highest skill; even when the rude old god was retained, a fine work
of art could also find place. It is the ideal gods of poetry that are
coming to be worshipped; the conception of the poet is expressed in
marble. Sculpture, however, came to its highest point in Greece
somewhat later than architecture. And offerings were made to the
temples of just such rare and costly things as men loved then and
love still to store up in their houses,--bowls and cups wrought
curiously in precious metals, statues and tapestries and all kinds of

Festivals and Games.--The temple for which so much was done, formed
the centre of the city where it stood. In it the town deposited its
treasure and its documents; there oaths and agreements were ratified.
There also at certain times, such as the annual festival of the god
or the anniversary of some happy event in the history of the
town,--and as time went on such occasions tended to multiply,--the
town kept holiday. Women escaped from their monotonous confinement
and joined the procession to the holy place, perhaps carrying a new
dress for the deity. A sacrifice was offered, the god received his
share of the victim or victims, and the worshippers feasted on what
remained. But before this part of the proceedings arrived there was a
pause, which was filled up with various exercises all connected with
the act of worship, but tending also in a high degree to the delight
of those taking part in it. Dancing formed a part of every rite,
accompanied of course with music, and consisting not of a careless
exercise of the limbs, but of a measured and carefully trained set of
movements expressive of the emotions connected with the occasion.
This part of the religious act is obviously capable of great
expansion. We find the art of poetry also making its contributions to
religious art; poems are recited bearing on the history of the god.
The sacrifice is followed by contests of various kinds; the singers
compete for a prize, and athletic sports also take place, the
competitors for which have long been in training for them. The
winners are crowned with a wreath or branch of the plant sacred to
the god. The games of Greece, which thus arose out of acts of
worship, and some of which became so famous and attracted competitors
from every Greek-speaking land, are a notable sign of the spirit of
Greek piety. There is no asceticism in Greek religion; the god is
represented as a beautiful human person, and his worshippers appear
before him naked, in the fulness of their youthful beauty and of
their well-trained vigour, and offer him their strength and skill in
highest exercise;--the whole city, or a crowd much larger than the
city, rejoicing in the spectacle.

Thus does Greek religion enlist in its service all the arts, and
increase as they increase. At this period irrational manifestations
of piety tend to disappear, human sacrifice and the worship of
animals are heard of afterwards only in remote quarters. The religion
which now prevails is a bright and happy self-identification with a
being conceived as a type of human beauty and excellence, by being as
far as possible beautiful oneself, creating beautiful objects,
composing beautiful verse, training the body to its highest pitch of
strength and agility, and displaying its powers in manly contests.
This conception of religion, for a short time realised in Greece,
still haunts the mind as a vision which once seen can never be
forgotten. No one whose eyes have opened to that vision can regard
any religious acts in which the effort after harmony and beauty forms
no part, as other than degraded and unworthy.

Zeus and Apollo.--It is impossible here to enter specially on the
worship of the individual gods. Two of the gods, however, the same
who even in Homer stand above the level of the rest, still maintain
that superiority. Zeus draws to himself more and more all the
attributes of pure deity; his name comes more and more to stand
simply for "God," as if there were no other. He is the father of gods
and men; goodness and love are natural to him. He is the supreme
Ruler and Disposer, whose word is fate and whose ways pious thought
feels called to justify; but he is also the Saviour, to whom every
one may appeal. He is the source of all wisdom; all revelations come
from him. The other god who occupies a marked position is Apollo, the
god of light and the prophet of his father Zeus. His oracle at Delphi
was the most important in Greece; it was held to be the centre of the
earth, and was a meeting-place for Greeks from every quarter. His
priests exercised through the oracle a great influence on Greek life,
and as their god required strict purity and truthfulness and was the
inspirer of every kind of art and of none but noble purposes, the
worship of Apollo is one of the highest forms of Greek religion.

Change of the Greek Spirit in the Sixth Century B.C.--But the time
was at hand when the worship of the gods of the poets was to prove,
in spite of all that art had done for it, inadequate to meet the
spiritual needs of Greece. Civilisation advances in the sixth century
B.C. with immense rapidity; the Greeks, no longer prompted by any
foreign influence, quickly learn to exercise their own powers, and to
apply them in new directions. Life grows richer and deeper, new modes
of sentiment appear, the nation grows more conscious of its unity,
and at the same time the individual learns to value himself more
highly and to assert himself more strongly. On one side thought
awakes to an independent career and traditional beliefs are subjected
to criticism; on the other spiritual needs are felt which the old
worship does not satisfy, and for which religion has to find new

It is far beyond our scope to deal with the religious movements of a
people thus passing into the self-conscious stage, and unfolding with
unparalleled freshness and power all the various activities of the
human mind. We can only point out a few of the lines of development
which become prominent at this period. And firstly we notice the rise
of _rationalism_, that is of the impulse to criticise belief and to
ask for that element in it which approves itself to the reflecting
mind. Reason asserts its right to judge of tradition; the doubter
suggests emendations in the legend; the piously inclined turn their
attention to those parts only which are capable of lofty treatment.
This tendency is fatal to polytheism. As reason knows not gods but
only God, the gods can only hold their place on condition that they
are what God must be, and so they all tend to become alike in their
character; attention is turned most of all to Zeus, the highest god,
and when others are worshipped, it is as his prophets or delegates.
The poets of the fifth century reflect the conviction which all the
higher minds of their country were now coming to hold, that the world
is under the rule of one god. From this they are led to take up the
questions of theodicy or of the principles of the divine government.
Æschylus and Sophocles, writing perhaps about the same time as the
author of the Book of Job, are full of problems of this nature. Why
is Prometheus, though the noblest benefactor of the human race,
doomed to undergo such sufferings? Why does a curse cleave to a
certain house, evil producing evil from generation to generation?
What is the relation between the divine laws which are written in the
hearts of all men, and human laws which sometimes contradict these
older ones? Thus to the educated Greeks of the fifth century the old
religion had in its essence passed away. With unexampled rapidity had
the journey here been traced which India made more slowly, which
Egypt made at a very early period, but was not able to maintain, and
which every people starting from polytheism must make if their
religion is to prosper.

New Religious Feeling; the Mysteries.--But the conscience as well as
the mind of Greece awakes at this period, and Greek religion becomes
inspired with a deeper feeling. The simple objectivity of the Homeric
spirit is gone in which man could frankly worship beings like himself
and not very far above himself. God at this time is growing greater
and more awful, and man, less certain of himself, is beginning to
feel a new sense of mystery and of shortcoming. Whether it was due to
the anxiety and depression felt in Greece during the century before
the Persian wars, or to foreign influences, or mainly to the natural
growth of the Greek mind itself, religious phenomena of a new kind
now appear. Sacrifices are heard of, which are not merely social
reunions with the deity, but are intended to expiate some guilt or to
remove some pollution. The sense of sin has arisen, which the Homeric
world knows not, and gives a new colour to man's converse with the
deity. Another new feature is the rise into prominence of cults in
which man feels himself taken possession of and inspired by his god.
Some of these belonged to Asia Minor, the great centre of worships
accompanied with ecstasy and frenzy, but some were of native growth.
In these the common man found a satisfaction which the stately
ceremonial of the temples did not afford. The official religion had
grown cold and distant; but in the worship of Demeter or Dionysus, as
afterwards of the Phrygian Cybele, the "Great Mother" whom the Romans
imported, the least educated could feel the joy of enthusiasm and of
self-forgetting under the influence of the god, and could be closely
identified with the object of worship by performing acts in which the
experience of the god was symbolically repeated.

The rapid rise of the worships of Demeter and Dionysus thus furnishes
an instance of the law that a religion of intellect and of art is apt
to be confronted, even when it appears to have overcome all
obstacles, by a religion of feeling, in which all the fair progress
that was made appears to be entirely set at naught. When the worship
of Zeus, Apollo, and Athene was coming to its highest splendour,
these cults began to spread rapidly. They were originally peasant
rites of unknown antiquity in Attica and Boeotia, in which, after the
manner of rustic festivals, the coming of spring or the dying of the
year were celebrated amid jest and song, and with certain prescribed
actions in which the fortune of the god, corresponding to the season,
was dramatically set forth. In spring Demeter, the mother goddess,
received her daughter Persephone, who had left her for the winter; or
in autumn Dionysus, the god of vegetation, was defeated by his
enemies and driven away or torn in pieces. These worships, when
developed and forming a prominent part of Greek religion, were called
"mysteries," not because the knowledge of them was confined to few,
but because some parts of them were transacted in deep silence, and
were the objects of such awe and reverence that they were not spoken
of. No one, moreover, could assist at these rites without being
solemnly initiated after a period of probation and purification. Of
the Eleusinian mysteries at least, which were the most widely
diffused and which formed part of the state religion of Athens,
ancient writers agree in their report that the course of training
before admission was powerfully elevating and solemnising, so that
the period of initiation was the highest point of the religious life.
It was a condition that the candidate should be pure in heart and not
conscious of any crime. There was apparently no doctrinal
instruction; everything was to be inferred from the spectacle. The
mind was kept in a state of intense and devout expectation, knowledge
and insight growing, it was held, as the time of admission came near.
Before the final act there came a period of fasting, then a march
from Athens to Eleusis along the sacred way, which was studded with
shrines; then a search for the lost goddess in the dark of a moonless
night on the plains of Eleusis, and then at last admission to the
brightly-lighted building. Here all the arts were enlisted to furnish
a spectacle of unparalleled magnificence, during which the candidate
was allowed to touch and kiss certain sacred objects of a simple
nature, and repeated a solemn formula at his admission.

By partaking in these rites a man was believed to part with his
former sins, to form a special union with the deity, in whose nature
he was made to partake, and to be started on a career in which he
could not fail to grow morally better. It is easy to see the immense
superiority of this worship to the official rites of the temples. The
great point is that a new principle of religious association is here
introduced. The tie which binds the worshipper to his god and to his
fellow-worshippers is no longer that of blood or of common political
interests, but the higher one of a common spiritual experience. All
Greeks were eligible for initiation at Eleusis. A man was not born
into this circle, but entered it of his own free will and by means of
voluntary effort and self-denial. A community of a higher order thus
makes its appearance in Greek history, in which the limits of race
and of locality are overstepped, and each is connected with the rest,
because all have turned of their own voluntary motion to the same
ideal centre. The analogies between the community formed on the
mysteries and the Christian Church are too obvious to need to be
insisted on. The adversaries of Christianity asserted that in the
mysteries all the truths and the whole morality of that religion were
to be found.

Religion and Philosophy.--But while the mysteries met to some extent
the craving for a closer union with deity, another need which had
long been growing in the Greek mind was to be satisfied in a very
different manner. The Greek religion we have described had very
little to offer in the way of doctrine. There are no sacred books in
it, there is no theology, there is no religious instruction. When the
mind of Greece awoke to intellectual life, and the demand was made
for an explanation of the world, and for a view of the origin of
things which should explain man to himself, the Greek religion was
manifestly little fitted to meet such a demand. But man has
everywhere looked to religion to do him this service, and a religion
which is incapable of rendering it, or which like Buddhism explicitly
refuses to take up the task, stands in a perilous position. If the
shrine has no doctrine enabling man to understand the origin and the
connection of things, he will seek such a doctrine elsewhere, and
religion will have no control over it. Another alternative is that of
Buddhism where in default of such a doctrine man is condemned to
subside into intellectual apathy.

This, however, could never be the case with the Greeks, and their
fate in this respect proved different from that of any other people.
After their intellectual awakening took place, and when they had
begun to seek in every direction for a first principle of all things,
never doubting that the world was a system of reason, but trying one
key after another to unlock its secret, we find that religion itself
became aware of the need of the times, and that the attempt was made,
late in the day but with deep earnestness and great ability, to
construct out of the myths a reasoned account of the origin of
things. This was the aim of the Orphic poets. Orpheus, the mythical
singer of Thrace, who charmed men and beasts with his songs on earth,
had descended into Hades to fetch back his wife, who had been taken
from him, and had beheld the secrets of the under-world. The school
which was named after him dealt with the deepest problems, and sought
to explain both the nature of the gods and the destiny of the human
soul. It insisted strongly on the power and sole headship of Zeus, in
whom Greek religion had possessed from Homer downwards a figure
fitted for a monotheistic position. "Zeus is the head, Zeus the
middle, from Zeus are all things made. He is male and female, he is
the foundation of the earth and of the starry heaven, the breath in
all, the strength of fire, the root of the sea, sun, and moon. Zeus
is the king, the progenitor of all things." The god Dionysus also is
placed by the Orphic writers at the head of the whole process of
creation. The myth of his dismemberment and of the scattering of his
ashes over the whole world is made to symbolise the great thought of
the connection of all things with the same source of life.
Descriptions were also given, answering to the growing sense of
personal responsibility, of the abodes of Hades and of the fate of
souls there, and of the metempsychoses through which the soul must
pass. This teaching had an influence which it is difficult to
measure; it acted on the tragedians in their magnificent attempts to
reform the beliefs of their country by making them moral; it is to be
traced in Plato, it also found expression in the mysteries. In its
own development it gave rise to a new phenomenon in Greek religion,
that of itinerant preachers who went about appealing to individuals
to take thought for the salvation of their souls, and also, strange
to say, offering private charms and spells to put them on the right
way of salvation.

But Greek religion was not thus to be reformed. It was not from the
priests that the growth of the higher faith of Greece was to proceed,
but from the philosophers. While much of the teaching of the
philosophers was apparently negative and destructive of faith,--for
Greece had her religious sceptics who turned the shafts of ridicule
on existing beliefs, her Agnostics who considered that nothing
certain could be affirmed about the gods, and even her secularists
who held religion to be a mere invention of priests and rulers for
their own purposes,--the course of Greek philosophy was, on the
whole, constructive, even in matters of faith, and laboured to
provide religion with a stable foundation in thought. In this great
movement of the human mind the thinkers of Greece--Socrates, Plato,
Aristotle, to name no more--were working at the same problem which
occupied the prophets of Israel, and building up the rule of one God,
a Being supremely wise and good, source of all beauty, and the worker
of all that is wrought in the universe, in place of the many fickle
and weak deities who formerly bore sway. In many ways the schools of
Greece were the forerunners of Christianity. As the Jews, carried far
from their temple, form a new principle of religious association and
learn to meet for the service of God, without any sacrifice, in pious
mental exercises, so the Greeks, for whom their temples could do so
little, form little communities of earnest seekers after truth under
some teacher. The philosopher's discourse is held by students of the
early Christianity of the West to be the model on which the Christian
sermon was formed. Some of the schools even developed a true pastoral
activity, exercising an oversight of their members, and seeking to
mould their moral life and habits according to the dictates of true

Thus there arose on Greek soil, after the temples had grown cold,
what may truly be called a second Greek religion. It took possession
of the Roman world, and was, when Christianity appeared, the
prevailing form of religion among the more educated. Both in its
outward forms of association, in its doctrine of God, which went
through later developments very similar to those of Judaism, and in
its concentration of thought on ethical problems and on the moral
life of the individual, it powerfully prepared for Christianity. It
was not a religion, for it had neither any historical root nor any
belief and practice definite enough for the guidance of the common
people. Yet Christianity could not have conquered the world without


E. Meyer, _Geschichte des Alterthums_, vol. ii., contains the first
attempt to deal with Greek religion in the manner now required.

The Histories of Greece of Grote, Curtius, Abbott, and Holm.

Roscher, _Lexikon der griechischen, a Rômischen Mythologie_.

Dyer, _The Gods of Greece_.

Gardner and Jevons, _Manual of Greek Antiquities_, 1895.

L. R. Farnell, _The Cults of the Greek States_, 1896-1907.

Nägelsbach, _die Homerische Theologie_.

Williamowitz, _Homerische Untersuchungen_.

G. Anrich, _das Antike Mysterienwesen_.

Rohde, _Psyche_, 1891.

L. Campbell's Gifford Lectures on _Religion in Greek Literature_,

E. Caird, _The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers_,

Holwerda, in De la Saussaye, Third Edition.

Ramsay on "Religion of Greece and Asia Minor" in Hastings' _Bible

S. Reinach, in _Oxford Proceedings_, vol. ii. p. 117, _sqq._


The Romans themselves at a certain period in their history identified
their own gods with those of Greece, and borrowed largely both from
Greek ritual and Greek mythology, so that they came to the conclusion
that the Roman and the Greek religions were essentially the same. To
the early Christian writers the religions of Greece and Rome form one
system; and the world has retained the impression that there was one
old pagan religion which assumed certain local differences in the two
countries, but was substantially the same in both.

Roman Religion was different from Greek.--Now the fact is that while
Greek religion conquered Rome, Italy had an older religion of its
own, which was not annihilated by the more brilliant newcomer, but
remained beside it and never entered into entire fusion with it. The
Romans were not a thinking so much as an organising race; in politics
they were far ahead of the rest of the world, but in thought and
imagination they were children; and so it happened that they borrowed
ideas and usages from neighbours on this side and on that, and
organised the whole into a system they could use, the organism being
their own, but only little of the contents.

We must therefore inquire, in the first place, as to the religion the
Romans had before they came under the influence of Greek ideas. Their
earliest religion is to be traced in the calendar of their sacred
year, in the lists of gods preserved for us in the writings of the
fathers, and in numberless usages and institutions descended from
early times.

The sacred year of early Rome is that of an agricultural community.
The festivals have to do with sowing and reaping and storing corn,
with vintage, with flocks and herds, with wolves, with spirits of the
woods, with boundaries, with fountains, with changes of the sun and
of the moon. There are festivals of domestic life, of the household
fire, and of the spirits of the storeroom, of the spirits of the
departed, and of the household ghosts. There are also festivals
connected with warlike matters, some connected with the river and the
harbour at its mouth, and some having to do with the arts of a simple
population. The calendar, taken by itself, would create the
impression that the community using it began with agriculture and
added to it afterwards various other activities; there is nothing in
it to contradict the supposition that Roman religion had its
beginnings in the fields and in the woods.

The earliest gods of Rome also agree with this. They are, however, a
very peculiar set of gods. Leaving the great gods in the meantime, we
notice two of the agricultural deities; there is a Saturnus, god of
sowing, and a Terminus, god of boundaries. These are what are called
functional deities, such as we met with in Greece, see chapter xvi.;
they take their name from the act or province over which they
preside. Saturnus means one who has to do with sowing; Terminus is a
boundary pure and simple. The god then, in these examples, is not a
great being who has come to have these functions placed under him as
well as others. He and the particular function belong together; he
owes all his deity to it. Now these are only examples; the same is
found to be the case with all or nearly all the distinctively Roman
gods; they are, broadly speaking, all functional beings. Each bears
the name of an object or a process; and on the other hand there is no
object and no act which has not its god. It is astounding to observe
how far the principle of the division of labour is carried among
these beings. Silvanus is the god of the wood, Lympha of the stream,
each wood and each stream having its own Silvanus or Lympha. Seia has
to do with the corn before it sprouts, Segetia with corn when shot
up, Tutilina with corn stored in the granary, Nodotus has for his
care the knots in the straw. There is a god Door, a goddess Hinge, a
god Threshold. Each act in opening infancy has its god or goddess.
The child has Cunina when lying in the cradle, Statina when he
stands, Edula when he eats, Locutius when he begins to speak, Adeona
when he makes for his mother, Abeona when he leaves her; forty-three
such gods of childhood have been counted. Pilumnus, god of the
pestle, and Diverra, goddess of the broom, may close our small sample
of the limitless crowd.

It is usually said about these multitudinous petty deities that the
Roman was very religious, and saw in every act and everything for
which he had a name, something mysterious and supernatural. The
Greek, it is said, sees things on his own level, and adds to them a
god who is human; it is by the human spirit that he interprets them.
The Roman, on the contrary, sees things as mysteries and fills them
with gods who are not human. That is true; but the question to be
asked about these Roman gods is, to what stage of religious
development do they belong: do they prove a primitive or an advanced
stage of religious thought? It has been observed that these names of
gods are all epithets, or adjectives; and it has been supposed that
there was originally a noun belonging to them, that they were all
epithets of one great deity, or, as some are masculine and some
feminine, of a great male and a great female deity. The noun fell out
of use, it is supposed, but was still present to the mind of the
Roman, and thus his regiments of divine names are not really
designations of different persons, but titles of the same person,
supposed to be present alike in all these numberless manifestations.
But it is not easy to conceive how, if primitive Italy had reached
the conception of the unity of deity, that deity became so remarkably
subdivided, nor how his own proper name and character were lost. It
is much more natural to suppose that the petty gods of Rome were all
the deities the early Latins had, and were worshipped for their own
sake. They represent the stage of thought called Animism (see chapter
iii.) when every part of nature is thought to have its spirit, and
the number of invisible beings is liable to be multiplied
indefinitely. While other Aryan races had passed beyond this stage
when we first know them, and advanced to the belief in great gods
ruling great provinces of nature, the Latins, whose mind was
organising rather than productive, made this advance more slowly, and
instead of making it organised the spiritual world of animism with a
thoroughness nowhere else equalled.[1] They had, therefore, no gods
properly so called, but only a host of spirits. Even the beings they
possessed, who afterwards became great gods, were at first no more
than functional spirits. Janus, afterwards one of the chief deities
of Rome, is originally the "spirit of opening"; an abstraction
capable of great multiplication; a Janus could be invoked for each
act of that kind. Vesta is the spirit of the hearth; each household
had its Vesta, both in early and in later times. Juno is not one but
many: as each man had his genius, a spiritual self accompanying or
guarding him, so each woman had--not her genius, but her Juno. There
were many Vestas, many Junos; and it is only later that the great
goddess arises, who may be looked to from every quarter. Others of
the great gods of later Rome have a similar early history. Mars was
at first the spirit which made the corn grow; Diana was a
tree-spirit, Jovis or Diovis himself, though his name connects him
with the Greek Zeus and the Sanscrit Dyaus, and though he is
afterwards, like these, the god of the sky, was originally in Latin a
spirit of wine, and was worshipped, the Jovis of each village or each
farm, at the wine-feast in April when the first cask was broached.
Thus the gods of the Latins are not beings who have an independent
existence and features of their own; they are limited each to the
particular object or process from which he derives his character, and
have no realm beyond it. And the same is true of the family and
house-gods, whose worship formed perhaps the principal part of the
working religion of the Roman. The Lares represent the departed
ancestors of the family; they dwell near the spot in the house where
they were buried, and still preside over the household as they did in
life. They are worshipped daily with prayers and offerings of food
and drink; the family adore in them not so much the dead individuals,
though their masks hang on the wall, as the abstraction of its own
family continuity. The Penates or spirits of the store-chamber are
worshipped along with the Lares, they represent the continuity of the
family fortune. A more general name for the departed is the Manes,
the kind ones; they are thought of as living below the earth; it is
not individuals who are worshipped at their festivals, but the dead
in the abstract, the former upholders of the family or of the people.

[Footnote 1: See on this Mr. Jevons's preface to Plutarch's _Romane
Questions_ (Nutt, 1892); which deserves to be published in a more
accessible form.]

The character of Roman worship is determined by the nature of its
objects. As each of the gods has his basis in a material object or
action, there can be no need of any images of them; where the object
or the act is, there is the god, his character is expressed in it and
not to be expressed otherwise. Nor could such gods require any
temples. And what need of priests for them, when every one who knew
their names (a great deal depended on that) could place himself in
contact with them as soon as he saw the object or took in hand the
action behind which they stood? Nor can many stories be told about
gods like these,--the Romans have no mythology. The beings they
worship are not persons but abstractions. They have just enough
character to be male or female, but they cannot move about or act
independently of their natural basis; they cannot marry, nor breed
scandal, nor make war. Nor can there be any motive for identifying
with such beings a great man who has died; where there are no true
gods, there cannot be any demi-gods or heroes. Only a very limited
power can possibly be put forth by such beings; all they can do is to
give or to withhold prosperity, each in the narrow section of affairs
he has to do with.

The aim of worship where such a set of beings is concerned, is to get
hold of the spirit or god connected with the act one has in view, and
so to deal with him as to avert his disfavour, which the Roman always
apprehended, and gain his concurrence. The house-gods are beings
possessing a stated cult, but outside the house-cult the worshipper
has to face the question at each emergency which god he ought to
address. He might choose the wrong one, which would make his act of
worship vain. If he names the god correctly he will have a hold on
him; in a case of uncertainty, therefore, he names a number of gods,
in the hope that one of them will be the right one; or he invokes
them all. "Whether thou be god or goddess" he will further say, if he
is in doubt on that point, "or by whatever name thou desirest to be
called." Each god has his proper style and title, and it is vain to
approach him without these; lists of the various gods and of their
correct styles were therefore drawn up in very early times to serve
as guides to the subject. The Latin word "indigito," to point out,
from "digitus," a finger, is the term used of addressing a god; the
lists of deities with their proper appellations were called
"indigitamenta"; and the gods named in them "Dii indigetes." The act
of worship is grave and formal; it has to be done with precision and
in strict accordance with the rules; silence is commanded; the
sacrificer repeats the prayer proper for the occasion after some one
who knows it by rote; the worshippers veil their heads. In this the
Roman ritual is markedly different from the Greek. Mommsen says the
Greek prayed bareheaded, because his prayer was contemplation,
looking at and to the gods; and the Roman with head covered, because
his prayer was an exercise of thought; and in this he sees a
characteristic indication of the difference between the two
religions. A more modern interpretation of the Roman practice is that
it arose from the fear that the worshipper might see the god whom he
has just summoned by name, which would be dangerous. If any mistake
is made in worship, the act is vain and has to be done over again.

The Great Gods.--The foregoing is the logic of the system on which
the Roman religion, as distinguished from the foreign elements
afterwards added to it, was based; the religion, however, does not
come into view historically till it has begun to rise above such a
worship of abstractions or of petty spirits, towards a worship of
gods. It was apparently by the growth of larger social organisms that
the Latin tribes advanced to the worship of greater gods. While the
family religions continued to the end, the tribe had, as in the case
of other early peoples, a larger religion than the family, and a
union of tribes produced a religion on a still greater scale. The
history of early Rome consists of a succession of such fusions of
tribes into a larger political whole. When history opens, "Rome is a
fully-formed and united city"; but Rome is made up of several tribes,
which maintain many separate institutions. The religion of after
times bears witness to these successive unions. "Deus Fidius," the
god of good faith, is the sacred impersonation of an alliance. Mars
and Quirinus are precisely similar to each other, and each has a
flamen, or blower of the sacrificial flame, and a staff of twelve
salii or dancers. Mars is the Roman, Quirinus the Sabine deity; and
we see that the two tribes had, before they were united, very similar
worships, which were both kept up after the union. The feriae
Latinae, or Latin festival, celebrated on Mons Albanus, is common to
the Latin tribes and commemorates their union. Jovis rises into
importance with the growth of city life; he comes to be called father
Jovis, Jupiter; there are many Jupiters, but the Jupiter of the city
of Rome is the greatest and best of all; he bears the title of
Optimus Maximus. He rises above Mars, in earlier times the first
Roman god, after whom the first month of the year was called, before
the month of Janus and the month of Februus, the purifier, were added
to it. Janus, the great state-god of opening, was the only one of
whom there was a representation; Mars was represented symbolically by
a spear, but Janus was figured as a man with two faces. Vesta, the
hearth-goddess of the state, was of course a great deity with a very
important worship.

Here we must mention a side of Roman religion which no doubt has its
roots far back in prehistoric darkness, but which could scarcely be
organised as we find it till the greater gods had risen to some
degree of power. It was believed that the gods were constantly making
signs to men, especially in occurrences which take place in the air,
such as thunder and lightning, and the flight of birds, but also in
many other ways. Some of the signs were simple, so that any one could
tell if they were lucky or the reverse, but some were not to be
interpreted except by men possessing a special knowledge of the
subject. And such men might be asked by an individual or by the state
when about to enter on any undertaking, to seek a sign from heaven
concerning that business. This became with the Romans a great and
important act, and those who had it in their hands exercised great

Sacred Persons.--The priest in the earliest times was, in the
domestic religion, the paterfamilias, in that of the tribe, which was
but an extended household, the head of the leading family, and in the
city, which was constituted after the same model, the king. Religion
was the principal part of the service of the state; the king as such
had to offer sacrifice, to cause the gods to be consulted, to
prosecute and judge and punish those who had violated the laws and
came under the anger of the gods. But as the state grew larger,
various offices were set up to relieve the king of part of these
duties; when new worships were added to the old ones, the care of
them was in some cases committed to a special person or college; and
these priesthoods and sacred guilds of early Rome maintained their
place in the constitution for many centuries, and carried on this
part of the public service long after the words they spoke and the
acts they did had become meaningless. Beginning with the sacred
persons attached to special cults, we have, first, three flamens, one
of Mars, one of Quirinus, and one of Jovis (fl. Martialis,
Quirinalis, Dialis). Mars and Quirinus have their dancers, as we
mentioned above. Other flamens of lower rank were afterwards
instituted for the separate worships of the tribes. Very old are the
"fratres arvales," field-brothers, who served the creative goddess
(Dea Dia) in the country in the month of May, with a view to a good
growing summer, dancing to her and addressing hymns to her which may
be read now but cannot be understood, and were unintelligible to the
Romans themselves. The Luperci (wolf-men) held a shepherd's festival
in the month of February, sacrificing goats and dogs to some rustic
deity, and running naked through the streets afterwards, striking
those they met with thongs cut from the hides of the victims. The six
vestal virgins are well known, who had charge of keeping up the fire
of Vesta, the house-fire of the state. They devoted their whole lives
to this office, and enjoyed great respect. These priesthoods and
corporations, instituted to secure the continuance of special cults,
are not of a nature to bring the whole of life under the influence of
the priests and so to foster a priestly type of religion. Nor were
those other religious offices of a nature to do so, which were not
attached to special cults but served the more general purpose of
assisting and advising the state in matters connected with religion.
First among these comes the office of pontifex, a word which is
variously interpreted, either as "bridge-maker,"--that being a very
important and solemn proceeding,--or as leader in a religious
procession. There were originally five pontifices, and the number was
afterwards raised to fifteen. They exercised a great variety of
functions, and had a general oversight of all religious matters, both
public and domestic. They were experts in ritual and in canon law;
they advised the state as to the proper sacrifices to be offered for
the public, and, when consulted, would also direct the private
individual. Funerals, marriages, and other domestic occurrences into
which religious considerations entered, were under their charge; and
on the occurrence of portents and omens it was their duty to indicate
the steps to be taken in order to find out what the gods wished to
signify. They had charge of the calendar, and had to fix what days
were proper for carrying on the business of the courts (_dies
fasti_), and they were the authorities on the forms of legal process.
The chief pontiff is called the "judge and arbiter of things divine
and human," and the college had manifestly a very strong position.
The same is true of the _augurs_ or experts in signs and omens.
Though they did not consult the gods about public undertakings until
the magistrate or the general asked them to do so, they had power to
stop proceedings of which they disapproved; and this at certain
periods of Roman history they very frequently did. In Cicero's
treatise on Divination a great deal of interesting matter may be
found on this subject. Another sacred college of somewhat later date
is that of the men, at first three in number, afterwards fifteen, who
acted as expounders of the sacred Sibylline books, which King Tarquin
purchased from the old woman or Sibyl, of Cumae.

Roman Religion Legal rather than Priestly.--While some of these
priestly colleges exercised large powers, these powers were always
regarded not as inherent but deputed. The sacred offices were not
hereditary but elective; no course of training was necessary to
qualify for them; men were chosen for them by the state as for any
other public office, and those who became priests did not cease to be
citizens but continued to sit in the Senate, and, as it might happen,
to hold other offices at the same time. The growth of a priestly
caste was thus effectively prevented; religion was precluded from
having any free development of its own, and kept in the position of
an instrument for the furtherance of ends of state. There is no great
religion in which ritual is so much, doctrine and enthusiasm so
little. All these priests and colleges exist for no end but to carry
out with strict exactitude the ritual usage which is deemed necessary
to keep on good terms with the gods. They have no doctrine to teach,
no fervour to communicate, they do not even tell any stories.
Punctiliousness and anxiety attend all their proceedings. To the
Roman, Ihne says, "religion turns out to be the fear lest the gods
should punish them for neglect; any unusual occurrence may be a sign
that the gods are withdrawing their co-operation from the state, and
this must be looked into, and the due expiations used if judged
necessary." Ritual must always be carried out with the utmost
precision; it is not the goodwill of the worshipper but his
exactitude that counts. He may even cheat the gods of their due if he
is formally correct in his observance. For example, if the auspices
(the signs derived from birds) were unfavourable, they could be
repeated till a better result was obtained.

What we have described is the religion of Rome in its original form,
before it accepted foreign modifications. Its gods are spirits of the
woods and fields, of the market, of the foray, of the treaty, of all
the aspects, in fact, which life had borne to the tribes of Central
Italy, especially to the Latins and the Sabines who combined to form
the state of Rome. These gods form no family and have no history,
they do not, like the gods of Greece, lay hold of the imagination,
nor, like those of Germany, of the affections. They are only dimly
known; but they are powerful, and it is necessary to reckon with
them; and the only relations which can be kept up with such beings
are those of business and of law. It follows that this religion is
one of constraint and not of inspiration. In this it agrees with the
Roman character, which is much more inclined to order than to
freedom, to law than to art. The word religion has here its origin;
its primary meaning is restraint or check, since the chief feeling
with which the Roman regarded his gods was that of anxiety. Not that
the gods were bad; Vediovis, the bad counterpart of Jovis, is a
vanishing figure,--but they were ill-known, and might have cause to
be angry. Worship, therefore, the practical cultivation of the
friendship of the gods, swallows up here the other elements of
religion as a whole. Religion does not free the forces of human
nature to realise themselves in spontaneous activity, but enchains
them to the punctilious service of a nonhuman authority. Everything
exciting is kept at a distance, and men are trained in obedience and
scrupulousness and self-denial. They produce no beautiful works of
art, and have hardly any stories to delight in; but they are reverent
and conscientious; private feeling is sacrificed with an austere
satisfaction to the public interest, and they accordingly build up a
great power. Living in an atmosphere of magic, where unseen dangers
lurk on every side, and there is virtue in words and forms correctly
used to avert these dangers, the Roman develops to perfection one
side of religion. To its inspirations and enthusiasms and hidden
consolation he is a stranger; but he knows it better than others as a
conservative and regulating force, which checks passion, calls for
wary and orderly conduct, and causes the individual to subordinate
himself to the community.

Changes introduced from without.--The Roman religion had, properly
speaking, no development. What it might have become had it been left
to unfold itself without interference from without, we can only
guess; but it was early brought under the influence of more highly
developed religions, and it proved to have so little power of
resisting innovations that it speedily parted with much of its own
native character. The Romans were not unconscious that their religion
was an imperfect one; they never claimed, when they were conquering
the world, that their religion was the only true one, or had any
mission to prevail over others. They were tolerant from the first of
the religions of other peoples. The gods of other peoples they always
believed to be real beings, with whom it was well for them also to be
on good terms. If everything in the world had its spirit, these gods
also were the spirits of their own countries and nations; the very
notion of deity which the Romans entertained prevented them from
having any exclusive belief in their own gods or from denying the
right of the gods of others.[2] When therefore they came in contact
with foreign religions, they were not protected by any profound
conviction of the truth of their own, and were exposed to the full
force of the new ideas. The new religions came to them along with the
culture of peoples much further advanced in art and in thought than
they were themselves; at each such contact, therefore, they felt the
foreigner to be superior to themselves in intellectual matters; and
wherever this happens, the less highly gifted race is likely to
change in its religion as well as in other things. We have to note
the changes which were produced by such external influences.

[Footnote 2: Cf. Celsus in Origen, _Contra Celsum_, vii. 68.]

In the first place, Rome borrowed from Etruria. Etruscan religion was
both more developed and more savage than that of Rome. Human
sacrifice was an acknowledged feature of it; divination was carried
to absurd lengths, one great branch of it consisting in the
prediction of the future from the appearance of the entrails of
slaughtered animals. Etruria had a hell with regular torments for the
departed; in Rome the belief in a future life was much less definite.
On the other hand, Etruria had deities who were something more than
abstractions; there was a circle of twelve gods, who held meetings on
high, and regulated the affairs of the world. Above them was a power,
little defined, to which the gods were subject, a kind of fate. Greek
influence, so notably apparent in Etruscan art, is present, too, we
see, in Etruscan religion; it is through this somewhat dark passage
that Greek religious ideas first came to Rome. Under this influence
various innovations took place at Rome. Before the end of the
monarchy the Romans had begun to build houses for their gods, after
being for 170 years, we are told, without any such arrangement. The
Roman "templum" was not originally a building, but a space marked
off, according to the rules of augury, for the observation of signs.
A part of the sky was also marked off for such "observation" and
"contemplation." On such a holy site, on the Capitoline hill, there
was founded by the earlier Tarquin the temple of Jupiter which always
continued to be the principal site of Roman religion. Its
architecture was Tuscan; and it contained not only a cella or holy
place for the image of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, but also a cella for
Juno and one for Minerva. The latter was both an Etruscan and a Roman
deity, the goddess of memory. Art was thus enlisted in the service of
the gods; the divine figures acquired a reality and distinctness
quite wanting to the earlier divine abstractions; and a new notion of
deity was presented to the Roman mind. Other temples followed, to
Jupiter under other names than that which he had in the Capitol, and
to other deities. That of Faith was a very early one. It was a rule
in temple-building that the image in the cella faced the west, so
that the worshipper, praying towards it, faced the east. Here also
the Roman custom is a departure from the Greek; for in Greek temples
it is the rule that the image faces the east, and the worshipper the
west. The Roman orientation of sacred buildings has passed into the
practice of the Christian Church. From Etruria the Romans also
derived a great addition to the rules of divination; but the more
childish parts of Etruscan divination were regarded at Rome as
superstitious, though private persons might frequently resort to

Greek Gods in Rome.--While Greek ideas thus came indirectly from the
north, the south of the peninsula was becoming more and more Greek,
and the gods and temples of Hellas, established first at the
sea-ports and colonies, gradually came to Rome. This movement is
connected with the Sibylline books which were acquired by the last of
the kings. These books were brought to Rome from the Greek town of
Cumae; they were written in Greek, and contained oracles which were
ascribed to an old Greek prophetess. They were consulted in grave
emergencies of state through the officials who had charge of them,
and what they generally prescribed was that a god should be sent for
from Greece, and his worship set up in Rome. Many foreign worships
were thus imported. First came Apollo, disguised under the Latin name
of Aperta, "opener," for the books contained many of his oracles; he
was received and worshipped as a god of purification, since the state
was in need of that process at the time, as well as of prophecy. In
the year 496 B.C. came in the same way Demeter, Persephone, and
Dionysus, identified with the old Latin Ceres, Libera, and Liber;
and, a century later, Heracles, identified with the Latin Hercules.
In the year 291, on the occurrence of a plague, Asclepios, in Latin
Aesculapius, was brought from Epidauros; and when the crisis of the
contest with Hannibal was at hand (204 B.C.) Cybele, the great mother
of the gods, was fetched from Pessinus in Phrygia. The people of that
town generously handed over to the Roman ambassadors the field-stone
which was their image of the goddess, and her journey to Rome had the
desired effect, in the expulsion of Hannibal from Italy. The Venus of
Mount Eryx in Sicily arrived in Rome about the same time; a goddess
combining the characters of Aphrodite and Astarte, and quite
different from the simple old Roman Venus, who was a goddess of
Spring, and presided over gardens.

The process of which these are the outward landmarks went on during
the whole period of the Republic, and resulted in the substitution of
what may be called with Mommsen the Græco-Roman, for the old Roman
religion. The change was a very profound one. Not only were some new
gods added to the old ones, not only did Greek art come to be
employed in Roman temples, not only were new rites introduced, such
as the _lectisternium_, in which couches were arranged, each with the
image of a god and that of a goddess, and tables spread to regale the
recumbent deities. The very notion of deity was changed; the Greek
god, represented by an image in human form and moving freely in the
upper world, was substituted for the Latin god who was the unseen
side of an act or process or quality, from which he had his name,
and apart from which he was not. The following is a list of the
principal Roman gods and of the Greek ones with whom they were
identified:--Jupiter (Zeus), Juno (Hera), Neptunus (Poseidon),
Minerva (Athene), Mars (Ares), Venus (Aphrodite), Diana (Artemis),
Vulcanus (Hephaestus), Vesta (Hestia), Mercurius (Hermes), Ceres
(Demeter). The identifications are by no means accurate; Jupiter and
Vesta, as we have seen, are the only two Roman gods who are really
identical with Greek gods, the other equations are founded on
accidental resemblances, and are more arbitrary than real. The result
of them was, however, that the Romans forgot to a large extent their
own gods, and got Greek ones instead. With the divine figures they
took over the mythology of Greece, and thus the gods came to be well
known with all their weaknesses, instead of as before surrounded with
mystery and awe. The worship founded on the earlier conception of the
deity, and kept up with unwavering regularity, was inapplicable to
these new gods, and inevitably lost all its reality. This is not the
only cause, but it is one of the chief causes which prepared for the
fearful spectacle presented by Roman religion at the end of the
Republic, when men of learning and distinction officiated as the
heads of a religion in which they had no belief, and which they
scoffed at in their writings.

Among the worships which came to Rome from the East there were
several which are not of Greek, but of Oriental origin. The worship
of Cybele belongs to Asia Minor, though it had spread over Greece;
that of Dionysus also came to Greece from Asia. The practice of both
these cults was accompanied by excitement and self-abandonment on the
part of the worshippers; and they formed a great contrast to the
staid and formal worship of the Romans, the only admissible passion
in which was a calm passion for correctness. The worship of Cybele
was carried on by eunuchs, it had noisy processions, and depended on
begging for its support. When the Romans brought it to their city,
they ordained that Roman citizens should not fill leading offices in
it; but it flourished so strongly, among the numerous foreigners in
the capital and among the poor, as to show that it met a great want
there. The worship of Bacchus had to be suppressed by the state; it
was carried on at nocturnal meetings, which even citizens attended,
and it led to all kinds of irregularities. As the subject of this
chapter is not the religions of Rome, but the Roman religion, we do
not here review the numerous foreign worships which were brought to
the capital from every part of the Empire, and made Rome, towards the
close of the Republic, the residence of the gods of every nation. The
Romans as we saw were not led by any convictions of their own to deny
the truth of foreign religions; and their policy as rulers also
inclined them to tolerate all worships which did not offend against
civil order. In the provinces it was the rule not to interfere with
local religion; at Rome the authorities recognised not the imported
religion itself, of which the state did not feel called to judge, but
the association practising it, which received permission to do so.
The worship was then protected by the state--it became a _religio
licita_. Amid the meeting of all the gods and the clashing of all the
creeds which were thus brought about at Rome, the Roman religion
itself maintained its place, not as a doctrine which any one
believed, for the very priests and augurs laughed at the rites and
ceremonies they carried on, but as a ritual which was bound up with
the whole past history of Rome, and believed to be necessary for the
welfare of the state as well as for the satisfaction of the common
people. In the atmosphere of discussion and of far-reaching
scepticism which then prevailed it was not to be expected that faith
could again find any strong support in the historical religion of
Rome. The Emperor Augustus made a serious attempt to reform and
revive religion. He selected the domestic worship of the Lares as the
most living part of the old system, and ordained that the two Lares
should be worshipped along with the genius of the Emperor, and that
Rome should be divided into districts, each with its temple of this
strange trinity; while in the provinces each district was to support
a worship of Rome and of the Emperor in addition to its existing
cults. Temples were rebuilt at Rome, new ones were raised, sacred
offices were filled which had been vacant, religious games were
instituted to carry the Roman mind back to the sacred past. Livy and
Virgil treated the past from a religious point of view, showing the
sacred mission of the Roman race, and exhibiting the valour and piety
of the founders of the state. If the Roman religion could be revived
these were the proper means to do it. But the religion of the future
was not to be prepared in this way.


The sections on religion in Mommsen's _History of Rome_.

Ramsay's _Roman Antiquities_.

Wissowa, _Religion und Cultur der Römer_.

Holwerda, in De la Saussaye.

For the period of the Empire, Boissier's _La Religion Romaine_.

See also the work of Cumont, cited at the end of chapter x.


I. _The Vedic Religion_

No contrast could well be greater than that between the German
religion and that of India. In the one case we have a people full of
vigour, but not yet civilised; in the other a people of high
organisation and culture, but deficient in vigour; the former
religion is one of action, the latter one of speculation. From the
original Aryan faith, to which that of the Teutons most closely
approximates, Indian religion is removed by two great steps. First we
have as a variety of Aryan faith the Indo-Iranian religion, that of
the undivided ancestors of Persians and Indians alike, in the dim
period antecedent to the Aryan settlement of India. Of this religion,
the common mother of those of Persia and of India, we shall give some
sketch after we have made acquaintance with the gods of India, at the
beginning of our Persian chapter. Indian religion is a variety of
Indo-Iranian, which is a variety of the Aryan type. Neither its
genealogy nor its character entitles it to be taken as a typical
example of the Aryan religions. In literary chronology it is the
earliest of them, inasmuch as its books are the oldest sacred
literature of Aryan faith; but in point of development it is not an
early but an advanced product. The absorbing interest it offers to
the student of our science is due to the fact that it presents in an
unbroken sequence a growth of religious thought, which, beginning
with simple conceptions and advancing to a great priestly ritual, can
be seen to pass into mysticism and asceticism, and thence to the
rejection of all gods and rites, and a system of salvation by
individual good conduct. Nowhere else can the progress of religion
through what we might call its seven ages of life be seen so clearly,
nor the logical connection of these ages with each other be
recognised so unmistakably. The present chapter deals with the
infancy and lusty youth of the religion as seen in Vedism; the later
stages of Brahmanism and Buddhism will be spoken of in subsequent

The Rigveda.--The Vedic religion takes its name from the Rigveda, the
oldest portion of Indian literature, and the earliest literary
document of Aryan religion. Of four vedas or collections of hymns,
the Rigveda is the oldest and most interesting. It contains a set of
hymns which, with much more of their early religious literature, the
Hindus ascribed to direct divine revelation, but which we know to
have been written by men who claimed no special inspiration. Most of
them date from the time when the Aryans, having made good their entry
in India, but without by any means altogether subduing the former
inhabitants, were dwelling in the Punjaub. The religion of the hymns
is a strongly national one. The Aryans appeal to their gods to help
them against the races, afterwards driven to the south and to the sea
coasts, who differ from themselves in colour, in physiognomy, in
language, in manners, and in religion. Nor are these conquerors by
any means an uncultivated people; they had long been using metals;
they built houses,--a number together in a village; they lived
principally by keeping cattle, but also by tillage, and by hunting.
They drank Sura, a kind of brandy, and Soma, a kind of strong ale, of
which we shall hear more. They were, as a rule, monogamous, the wife
occupying a high position in the household, and assisting her husband
in offering the domestic sacrifice. At the head of each state was a
king, as among the Greeks of Homer; he was not, however, an absolute
monarch; his people met in council and controlled him. The king
himself offered sacrifice for his tribe in his own house,--there were
no temples,--but he was frequently assisted by a man or several men
of special learning in such rites.

The hymns of the Rigveda were written for use at sacrifices. The
sacrifice consists of food and drink of which the god who is
addressed is invited to come and partake, or which are conveyed to
the gods seated on their heavenly thrones, by means of fire. Soma,
the intoxicating juice of the soma plant, is an invariable feature of
the banquets in these hymns; the solid part consists of butter, milk,
rice or cakes; but animals were also killed, and the horse-sacrifice
was a specially important one. The hymn also is an essential part of
the rite; the sacrifice would have no virtue without it. It consists
of praise and prayer. The deity is extolled for the exploits he has
done, for his strength, for his beauty, for his wisdom or his
goodness, he is invoked again and again to partake of what has been
provided for him, and in return he is asked to send the worshipper
food or cows, guidance or protection, or whatever the latter is in
want of.

The Vedic Gods.--And who are the gods who receive this worship? They
are parts of nature or celestial phenomena, more or less personified.
Worship is directed now to one divine being, now to another; each has
a story which is dwelt on and a number of functions belonging to him,
for the sake of which he is extolled and sought after; each god, that
is to say, has his myth. In this set of gods the myths are so clear
that we can identify with perfect confidence each of the gods with
that part of Nature from which he arose.

M. Barth classifies the Vedic gods according to the degree in which
they have become detached from their natural basis. There are two
which are not so detached at all. Agni, who is one of the chief
deities of the Rigveda, is fire, and Soma, the deity to whom all the
hymns of the ninth book are addressed, is simply the juice of the
soma plant, the liquid part of every sacrifice. Agni is not any
particular fire, but fire as a cosmic principle, born in heaven, born
also daily at the sacrifice by the rubbing together of two pieces of
wood, his parents whom he consumes. He is a priest carrying the
offerings of men up to the gods, but he was a priest at the first
sacrifice, the primeval heavenly sacrifice, before he had come down
to men. He is also the guest and household friend of man, a kindly
and familiar being. But he pervades all nature, and all growth and
energy are due to him. Soma, also inseparably connected with all
sacrifice, who strengthens the gods and makes them immortal, is
likewise a universal principle; he too came at first from heaven, and
he too is at work all through the world. There are stories of his
first production among the gods, and of the first effects of his
appearance; he is the nourisher of plants, he gives inspiration to
the poet and fervour to prayer. Along with Agni he kindled the sun
and the stars.

In other gods there is a nearer approach to a human figure, and the
physical side is not so obtrusive. Indra is most frequently invoked
of all the gods, and may be called the national god of this period.
He is described as a chieftain standing in a chariot drawn by two
horses. He waged a great battle, but still wages it constantly,
against the monsters of heat and drought, Vrittra, the coverer, and
Ahi the dragon, for the deliverance of the cows, the heavenly waters,
kept by them in captivity. The contest between the god and the demon
goes on for ever. Indra is also the giver of good things of every
kind, he keeps the heavenly bodies in their places, he is the author
and preserver of all life, the inspirer of all noble thoughts and the
answerer of pious prayers, the rewarder of all who trust in him, and
the forgiver of the penitent. It is good to sacrifice to him and to
offer him soma in abundance; for it strengthens him to take up afresh
his conflicts and labours as the champion of man. Indra is surrounded
by the Maruts, the storm-gods, who are separately invoked in many
hymns. They drive through the sky with splendour and with mighty
music, and bring rain to the parched earth. Their father is Rudra,
also a god of storms, the handsomest of all the gods, and, in spite
of his thunderbolts, a helpful and kindly being. Wherever he sees
evil done, he hurls his spear to smite the evildoer, but he is also a
healer of both physical and moral evils, and the best of all
physicians. Of the same order of deities are Vata or Vayu, the wind,
and Parjanya, the rain-storm. But the loftiest of all the Vedic gods
is Varuna, the great serene luminous heaven. The hymns addressed to
him are comparatively few, but among them are those which rise to the
highest moral and religious level. In language recalling that of the
psalmists and prophets of the Bible, they exalt Varuna as the creator
of the world and of heaven and the stars, as the omniscient defender
of the good and avenger of all evil, as just and holy, and yet full
of compassion, so that the conscience-stricken suppliant is
encouraged to turn to him.

We here give a few extracts from hymns addressed to some of the gods
we have spoken of. The versions are those of the late Dr. John Muir.
A metrical version can scarcely represent the hymns with the accuracy
the scholar would desire, but, on the other hand, a literal
translation, such as that of Professor Max Müller in vol. xxxii. of
the Sacred Books of the East, gives a less true idea of the spirit of
the pieces, and is less fitted at least for a work like this.


  Thou, Indra, oft of old hast quaffed
  With keen delight, our Soma draught.
  All gods delicious Soma love;
  But thou, all other gods above.
  Thy mother knew how well this juice
  Was fitted for her infant's use,
  Into a cup she crushed the sap
  Which thou didst sip upon her lap;
  Yes, Indra, on thy natal morn,
  The very hour that thou wast born,
  Thou didst those jovial tastes display,
  Which still survive in strength to-day.
  And once, thou prince of genial souls,
  Men say thou drained'st thirty bowls.
  To thee the Soma draughts proceed,
  As streamlets to the lake they feed,
  Or rivers to the ocean speed.
  Our cup is foaming to the brim
  With Soma pressed to sound of hymn.
  Come, drink, thy utmost craving slake,
  Like thirsty stag in forest lake,
  Or bull that roams in arid waste,
  And burns the cooling brook to taste.
  Indulge thy taste, and quaff at will;
  Drink, drink again, profusely swill!


  And thou dost view with special grace,
  The fair complexioned Aryan race,
  Who own the gods, their laws obey,
  And pious homage duly pay.
  Thou giv'st us horses, cattle, gold,
  As thou didst give our sires of old.
  Thou sweep'st away the dark-skinned brood,
  Inhuman, lawless, senseless, rude,
  Who know not Indra, hate his friends,
  And spoil the race which he defends.
  Chase far away, the robbers, chase,
  Slay those barbarians black and base.
  And save us, Indra, from the spite
  Of sprites that haunt us in the night,
  Our rites disturb by contact vile,
  Our hallowed offerings defile.
  Preserve us, friend, dispel our fears,
  And let us live a hundred years.
  And when our earthly course we've run,
  And gained the region of the Sun,
  Then let us live in ceaseless glee,
  Sweet Soma quaffing there with thee.


  Great Agni, though thine essence be but one,
  Thy forms are three; as fire thou blazest here,
  As lightning flashest in the atmosphere,
  In heaven thou flamest as the golden sun.

  It was in heaven thou hadst thy primal birth,
  But thence of yore a holy sage benign,
  Conveyed thee down on human hearths to shine,
  And thou abid'st a denizen of earth.

  Sprung from the mystic pair by priestly hands,
  In wedlock joined, forth flashes Agni bright;
  But--O ye heaven and earth I tell you right--
  The unnatural child devours the parent brands.


  The mighty lord on high our deeds, as if at hand, espies;
  The gods know all men do, though men would fain their acts disguise.
  Whoever stands, whoever moves, or steals from place to place,
  Or hides him in his secret cell,--the gods his movements trace.
  Wherever two together plot, and deem they are alone
  King Varuna is there, a third, and all their schemes are known.
  This earth is his, to him belong those vast and boundless skies;
  Both seas within him rest, and yet in that small pool he lies.
  Whoever far beyond the sky should think his way to wing,
  He could not there elude the grasp of Varuna the king.
  His spies, descending from the skies, glide all this world around,
  Their thousand eyes all-scanning sweep to earth's remotest bound.
  Whate'er exists in heaven and earth, whate'er beyond the skies,
  Before the eyes of Varuna, the king, unfolded lies.
  The ceaseless winkings all he counts of every mortal's eyes,
  He wields this universal frame as gamester throws his dice.
  Those knotted nooses which thou fling'st, O God, the bad to snare,
  All liars let them overtake, but all the truthful spare.

Varuna, the all-embracing sky, is also in many hymns a solar deity.
There are also other solar deities; Mitra who is frequently invoked
along with Varuna; Surya, Savitri, Vishnu, and Pushan, are all gods
of this class. Each of these has some attributes or some story of his
own. Surya keeps his eye on men and reports their failings to Varuna
and Mitra. Savitri, the quickener, raises all things from sleep in
the morning with his long arms of gold, and covers them with sleep in
the evening. Vishnu, the active, traverses the universe with three
strides. Pushan is a shepherd who loses none of his flock; a guide
also, both in the journeys of this world and in the last journey. A
number of the principal gods have the common title of Adityas or
children of Aditi, immensity, a being too vast and undetermined to be
clearly represented. We should also mention Ushas, the dawn, a
goddess whom the sun-god is daily chasing; the Asvins or two heavenly
charioteers, who daily make the circuit of the heavens; Tvashtri, the
smith who made the thunderbolt of Indra; the Ribhus, artificers who
were once men and have been admitted to the society of the gods. Yama
is the god of the dead, he first traversed the road to the country
beyond, and now he rules over it, and comforts with substantial joys
the spirits guided there by Agni (this points to cremation which was
frequent but not universal) or by Pushan. There the Pitris or fathers
sit at the same tables with the gods, and are eternally happy.
Brahmanaspati, lord of prayer, is a god of another type, a
personification of the act of ritual, and his presence in the Vedas,
beside the elemental deities, shows how early speculation had begun.

To what Stage does this Religion belong?--Our sketch of this system
is necessarily brief; we have now to inquire as to the place it
occupies in the religious growth of India. It is held, on the one
hand, that it is a primitive religious product, that it shows us some
of the very first efforts men made to have a religion; while on the
other hand it is held that the Vedic hymns and the Vedic system are
sacerdotal, and are due to an advanced organisation of worship and to
a special set of men who were much in advance of their age.

1. It is Primitive.--Mr. Max Müller[1] says that "the sacred books of
India offer the same advantages ... for the study of the origin and
growth of religion ... which Sanscrit has offered for the study of
the origin and growth of human speech." Dr. Muir[2] claims that the
Vedic hymns illustrate the natural workings of the human mind in the
period of its infancy. In the Vedas, these writers consider, we are
able to watch the process by which the earliest men rose to the
belief in gods, and the naïve and simple methods by which man's first
intercourse with gods was carried on. The undoubted antiquity of
these pieces favours this view; the Rigveda is admitted on all hands
to be the earliest part of Indian literature, and many of the hymns
were written about 1500 B.C.[3] The pure and simple nature of the
Vedic religion may also appear to favour this view. It is a religion
singularly free from the lower elements of man's early faith. Savage
legends and especially immoral stories of the gods are markedly
absent from the hymns; they are also free from the element of magic
and fetishism; the gods are great beings, and religion consists in
intercourse with these great beings. Now the later religious
literature of India, the brahmanas or commentaries on the Rigveda and
the other later Vedas, contain a variety of legends and a religion by
no means free from magic. It may be maintained therefore that the
pure religion of the Aryans afterwards became contaminated by contact
with the lower religion of the tribes the Aryans had conquered. It
was from the Dravidian and Kolarian aborigines, we are told, that
Indian religion took its later corruptions. The Vedic religion has no
idols, it has no dark descriptions of hell, the caste system on which
later Brahmanism was based is absent from it, it has no demons to be
guarded against, and no bad deities. The doctrine of metempsychosis
is not found here, except perhaps in germ. The immolation of the
widow on the funeral pile of her husband is not sanctioned by the
Vedas, and of ancestor-worship only a few traces are found. All
these, it may be held, are later corruptions. The Vedic religion is a
bright and happy system, and the primitive beliefs of mankind, less
changed by the Indians than they were elsewhere, are here to be seen;
the hymns show the kind of faith to which a strong and happy race of
men naturally came, as their minds began to open to the wonders of
the world they lived in, the faith of "primitive shepherds praising
their gods as they lead their flocks to the pasture." The Indians had
preserved, longer than other peoples, the gift of recognising deity
in nature; and the primitive beliefs of mankind survive here in
something like their first integrity, while elsewhere they were
broken up and confused.

[Footnote 1: _Origin of Religion_, p. 135.]

[Footnote 2: _Sanscrit Texts_, vol. v. p. 4.]

[Footnote 3: According to Mr. Max Müller the Mantra or hymn period is
to be placed 1000-800 B.C.; but other scholars place it earlier.]

2. It is Advanced.--On the other hand, it is urged that the society
in which the hymns arose was not a primitive one, but one
considerably advanced both in arts and institutions. The Rishis
(seers), who composed them, belonged to families who cultivated such
an art; and the hymns were no artless outpourings of childlike
emotion, but were written on an elaborate metrical system for a
definite purpose, namely, to form part of great acts of worship. As
for the absence from them of savage myths and of immoral stories of
the gods, this fact does not prove that such things were not known to
the people at the time, but only that the poets did not put them in
their hymns. Mr. Lang has collected the savage myths, similar to
those of other peoples in various parts of the world, which are found
in Indian literature of a later date, and has also shown that the
hymns themselves were not quite ignorant of some of them. The Indians
knew the myth of the marriage of heaven and earth, with the
consequent birth of the gods. They had the story of the deluge. They
had the still more primitive story of the raising up of the earth
from the bottom of the sea. They had various myths of old conflicts
of the gods, and of the production of the earth and all the men in it
from the dissection of an immense prototypal human monster. Men were
of different castes, they held, because they came from different
portions of Purusha's body when it was cut up. Many stories are to be
found in Indian literature which when found elsewhere are judged to
be products of savage imagination, and the fact that the Rigveda
ignores some of them and refines others, simply shows that the
authors of that collection were on a higher level than their people
in point of cultivation and of piety, as the psalmists and the
prophets of Israel were in advance of theirs. We are led,
accordingly, towards the conclusion that during the period when the
hymns were written those who took charge of the development of
worship in India were seeking to draw away attention from the more
superstitious and childish elements of religion, and to bring to the
front the pure and lofty intercourse man could have with the good
gods. Bad gods are not cultivated; if there are foolish stories about
the gods, they are not repeated, everything dark and terrible, as
well as everything irrational, is removed from the working religion.
Ancestor-worship is not encouraged; family rites continued, but the
worship was wider than the family, and was not restricted to
particular places. The ideas connected with sacrifice are not indeed
very lofty. Sacrifice is, in the first place, barter. Gifts are
provided for the gods, that they may give in their turn. In the
second place it is a social function in which the god and the
worshipper both take part. The food, and especially the soma,
strengthens the god, and man and god are thereby drawn into close
sympathy. But in the third place sacrifice was a piece of magic. The
mere accurate performance of the rite had a mystic efficacy. It was
believed to help to uphold the order of the world; without it the
gods would grow weak, the ordinances of nature would fail, and man
would relapse to the state of savagery. The gods themselves first
sacrificed; from sacrifice they themselves were born, so that
sacrifice is an essential principle of the universe, was so in the
beginning, and must always be so. The Vedic leaders of religion,
therefore, were not merely champions of enlightenment in religion;
they were also ritualists, the rite was to them an end in itself; the
proper performance of sacrifice was their principal object. This side
of their work had, as we shall see, grave consequences. But the
Rigveda did a great work for India in cultivating gods who were
moral, and to whom man was drawn by higher than selfish motives. Gods
who are just and who watch man's conduct, and do not fail to reward
him according to his deeds, must quicken the conscience of those who
believe in them, and gods who are able to help the weak and to
forgive the penitent must make their people also merciful. In all the
aberrations of Indian religion the high moral standard set by the
Vedic gods is never lost sight of.

Where a plurality of gods is believed in, these gods must stand in
some relation to each other; and it is of importance to notice how
the gods of the Veda are arranged. We can see here very clearly how
unstable a thing polytheism is. The position of the gods is
constantly changing with reference to each other. We find Agni
addressed as if he were undoubtedly supreme; he dwells in the highest
heavens, he generates the gods, he ordains the order of the universe;
but then we find Indra spoken of in the same way, and Varuna, and
Mitra, and others. Then we find pairs of gods addressed together.
Indra and Agni are frequently so treated; so are Varuna and Mitra.
There is no supreme god, or rather, each god is supreme in turn; the
poet wants a god capable of being exalted in every way, and does so
exalt the god he has before him. In this way a Monotheism is reached;
the mind recognises a god to whom unlimited adoration can be paid.
But it is a monotheism, as M. Barth well puts it, the titular god of
which is always changing; and Mr. Max Müller gives to this partial
monotheism the name of Kathenotheism; that is, the worship of one god
at a time without any denial that other gods exist and are worthy of
adoration. Now this form of religion, in which several gods are
worshipped, each of whom in turn is regarded as supreme, is not
peculiar to India; we have met with it already, we shall meet with it
again. But in India a peculiar way was found out of the difficulty.
The Indian gods were too little defined, too little personal, too
much alike, to maintain their separate personalities with great
tenacity; nor did they lend themselves to a monarchical form of
pantheon; no one of them was sufficiently marked out from the rest or
above the rest, to rule permanently over them. Yet the sense of unity
in Indian religion is very strong; from the first the Indian mind is
seeking a way to adjust the claims of the various gods, and view them
all as one. An early idea which makes in this direction is that of
Rita, the order, not specially connected with any one god, which
rules both in the physical and the moral world, and with which all
beings have to reckon. Philosophy is busy from the first with the
Vedic gods; the impulse to good conduct and that to mysticism are
equally innate in this religion. We can see, even in the Rigveda,
that India is to solve the problem of its many gods not in the way of
Monotheism, by making one god rule over the others, but in the way of
Pantheism, by making all the gods modes or manifestations of one
being. "Agni is all the Gods" we read here. And a religion which
arranges its objects of worship in this way will not be a religion of
action, but of speculation and of resignation.


_S. B. E._ vol. xxxii. Vedic Hymns. xlvi. Hymns to Agni.

Muir's _Sanscrit Texts_.

M. Müller's _Hibbert Lectures_.

Monier Williams, _Indian Wisdom; Hinduism_ in "Non-Christian
Religious Systems" (S.P.C.K.).

Kaegi, _The Rigveda, the oldest literature of the Indians_, 1886.

Barth, _The Religions of India_, in Trübner's Oriental Series.

Herrmann Oldenberg, _Die Religion der Veda_, 1894.

Bergaigne, _La Religion Védique_, 3 vols., 1878-83.

E. Hardy, _Die Vedisch Brahmanische Periode der Religion des alten

Lehmann, in De la Saussaye.

Rhys Davids, _Oxford Proceedings_, vol. i. p. 1, _sqq._


II. _Brahmanism_

The period in which the songs were collected by the Aryans dwelling
in the Punjaub was succeeded by a period of wars and troubles, after
which the successful race is found to have spread further towards the
East, and to have settled on the Ganges and its tributaries. Along
with this change of position a great change has also taken place in
the spirit of the people, a change which is strikingly seen in their
religion. The priesthood has come to occupy the position of a
separate class to an extent not formerly the case, and all the
phenomena are apparent which are generally found associated with a
hierocracy or rule of priests. The early religious writings have been
formed into a sacred canon: there is an active production of new
works which explain the old ones; the sacrifices grow more elaborate
and new virtues are attributed to them; and along with this hardening
and formalising of the outward parts of religion there is a religious
speculation of great volume and of great freedom of character.

The Caste System: The Brahmans.--The key to the whole movement is to
be found in the new position of the priesthood, or in the
establishment at this period of the system of caste. Though this
system is only once mentioned in the Rigveda, and that in a hymn of
late date, scholars find traces of it in the arrangement of the
hymns, and as it is found in Persia, the Indians probably had it
before they entered India. It may even, it is judged, be traceable to
the division of ranks among the primitive Aryan families. Teutonic as
well as Indian legends are found explaining how mankind were divided
from the first into different classes.[1] But the primitive
differences of rank must have had a great development before they
took shape in the rigid caste system of India. This system appears to
be organised with a view expressly to the exaltation of the
priesthood, and must have been the result of a struggle between the
priests and the warrior or ruling classes. The priests have made
themselves indispensable in nearly all religious acts. Their very
title shows this. While _Brahman_, as the name of a god, means
primarily growth, and later, devotion or prayer, _brahmana_ (neut.)
signifies the ritual texts according to which worship is performed,
and _brahman_ (mas.) is the name of those who use such texts, and
comes to stand for the highest caste of Indian society. Without the
brahman there can be no satisfactory worship, because there can be no
security that any rite is performed correctly; and a rite which is
not performed correctly has no efficacy. Religion, therefore, is in
the hands of this caste, whose sacredness is hereditary, and cannot
be acquired in any other way than by birth. The members of that caste
and they alone are qualified to superintend religious observances,
and without them the intercourse between man and the gods cannot be
kept up. From his birth the brahman is a being of superior holiness;
he is destined for higher ends than other men, and the distinction
between him and them must be manifested in all his acts and habits
throughout his life. He is the natural lord of all the classes.

[Footnote 1: Compare Hans Sachs, _Die Ungleichen Kinder Eva's_.]

If the highest caste is strictly defined, so also are the others. The
second caste is that of the Kshatriyas, warriors or rulers, the third
that of the Vaisyas or farmers. These three have rank, they are the
twice-born classes (their second birth answers to confirmation, and
takes place when a young man is invested with the sacred thread). The
Sudras are the fourth and lowest class; no duty is assigned to them
in the law books but that of serving meekly the other castes. It has
been thought that the Sudras represent the conquered aborigines, the
three classes of rank belonging to the Aryan invaders, but this is
open to question.

The student of religion has to fix his attention on the Brahmans, who
have secured themselves in the position of the leading caste. We
speak first of the literary movement in which they were concerned,
then of the sacrifices they conducted, and of their gods. We shall
then say something of the practical operation of their religion as a
rule of life, and lastly we shall come to the speculative work of
their period, which is not, however, to be set down to them alone.

1. The Growth of the Sacred Literature.--The Vedas rose in sacredness
after the age which produced them passed away. A few centuries after
they were written they were not generally intelligible; they needed
interpretation, but at the same time the doctrine of their
inspiration rose higher and higher. The brahmans had both to
interpret the words of the old hymns and to explain how, when used at
the sacrifice, they produced the effect ascribed to them. This led to
the production of the earliest Indian prose, the brahmanas or ritual
treatises. Primarily intended to be directories of worship for the
priests, these works were enriched with all sorts of ideas about the
sacrifices, their origin, and their effects; points in the ritual are
explained in them by mythological stories which we should not
otherwise know, and we see from them that many superstitions, to
which the Vedas gave no encouragement, yet lived among the people.
Each Samhita, or collection of hymns, had its Brahmana, and some of
the collections had several. These works, though transcending in
dreariness most directories of worship, are yet of great value for
the light they throw on the history of Indian manners and ideas, as
well as on that of mythology. And as it happened among the Jews in
their later period so it happened here;--the sanctity of the text was
extended to the commentary, the brahmana also was held to be
god-given and inspired, and by some was even more highly esteemed
than the hymns themselves. A third class of inspired writings
consists of the Upanishads, or speculative treatises, of which we
shall speak later. The "Veda" in the larger sense is made up of these
three bodies of compositions, mantras, brahmanas, and upanishads.
These three belong to revelation or "S'ruti," _i.e._ hearing; what is
contained in these is to be regarded as having been heard by inspired
men from a higher source. The counterpart of S'ruti is "smriti,"
_i.e._ recollection, tradition. This embraces the Sutras or works
dealing with ceremonial in the way of short rules gathered from the
older literature, with the exposition of the Vedas, with domestic
rites and conventional usages. The law books, the epics, and the
Puranas, or ancient legendary histories, also belong to this class.

The doctrine of the Vedas, of their sacredness and of their virtues,
played a great part in Indian thought. They were revered not as a
written word, for they were not written but handed down by
memory,--the Brahman still knows his sacred literature by heart,--but
as hymns possessing supernatural powers and of far higher than human
origin. They were raised to the rank of a divinity, they were said to
have had to do with the creation of the world, or to have been among
the first created beings. The value of the study of them was not to
be exaggerated; he who engages in it, we hear, offers a complete
sacrifice, obtains for himself the world which does not pass away,
and becomes united with Brahma. The class of men who had installed
themselves as the authorised interpreters of the hymns, had evidently
taken up a very strong position.

2. Sacrifice.--Indian ritual is an immense subject. In the Vedic
period there were several orders of sacrifice--the hymns of the
Rigveda have to do with the Soma-sacrifice alone--and several kinds
of priests, and it stands to reason that an elaborate ritual derived
from a distant age and cherished by a priestly caste which was
growing in power, could not quickly change. In spite of the
considerable amount of materials accessible in the Brahmanas and
Sutras, a history of Indian sacrifice as a whole has still to be

It is characteristic of early Indian sacrifice that it is not
confined to a temple or to any sacred spot, and that it does not
require any image of the deity. Instructions are always given for
choosing and preparing a place for the rite, and for erecting an
altar; a place had to be prepared on each occasion. The gods were
asked to come, or were thought to be seated in heaven looking on; the
sacrifice is in the open air. While the celebration proceeded
according to a certain ritual, it lay with the worshippers to fix to
what god or gods the sacrifice should be addressed. There was not one
ritual for Agni and another for Indra, but the same would serve for
either or for both. The sacrifices of which we hear in the Brahmanas
are domestic rites; they are offered by the heads of the household,
who invite ancestors also to be present. A Brahman is present to
direct those who sacrifice and the inferior priests who assist them,
and the benefits of the act extend to all the dependants of the
household. The time was determined by natural seasons or by household
events. Some sacrifices were greater than others, the more elaborate
ones requiring several days, months, or even years for their
celebration. Among the kinds of offerings which might be made we find
that of man enumerated; human sacrifice, however, if it had prevailed
in earlier times, had now grown obsolete.

The rise of the Brahmans into a caste changed the character of the
sacrifice by making its due celebration depend more on special
knowledge, and by increasing its elaborate mystery. Once the hymn was
recognised as an essential element of such an act, the person who
could interpret the hymn and explain its effects acquired great
importance. And when the explanation of all the various features of
the sacrifice was once begun, a wide door was opened to minute
ingenuity. It is astonishing to what trifles these priestly
directories descend, what explanations are brought from every part of
earth and heaven of the most trivial circumstances, and what
sacredness is found in the very blades of grass around the altar. Now
the effect of such a treatment of ritual is inevitably that the rite
itself, the outward mechanical performance, comes to be regarded as
important, and that the ethical and religious end which was
originally aimed at, is lost sight of. The priest and those he acts
for are so intent on the minutiæ of their celebration that they
forget about the god it is intended for. And as they are quite
convinced that the sacrifice, if offered with perfect correctness and
with nothing left out, must produce its effect, the sacrifice itself
comes to appear as the agent of the desired blessing; the god grows
less but the sacrifice grows more. This process, which may be
observed wherever ritualism exists, was carried in the period of
Brahmanism to its utmost length. In this period the old gods lost the
strong hold they had before over the people's mind; men ceased to
look for their gods to the sky or to the tempest, and began to look
instead to the long ceremonies of the priest or to the hymn he
chanted at the altar, or to the austerities he practised. Gods of a
new type now make their appearance. As in the Vedic period we saw
that Brahmanaspati, lord of prayer, had a place beside Indra and
Varuna, so now we see that the supreme deity is named Brahma. The
prayer connected with the sacrifice has given its name to the ruler
of the universe. Other names for the supreme are also found to be
making their way to general use, as the old historical and
mythological gods fall into the background, and an abstract divine
unity is sought after. Prajapati, lord of creatures, who is little
heard of in the hymns, is frequently invoked as the head of all the
gods, and a triad of gods is heard of, consisting of Agni, Vayu,
Surya, fire, the air, the sun, and summing up the divine energies.
The attributes of the gods are personified, and a set of pale
abstractions is thus added to the Pantheon; and spirits and goblins
not heard of in the hymns, though not therefore necessarily unknown
in the former period, make their appearance. These are, perhaps, the
gods of the aborigines, who thus revenge themselves, as the religion
of the invaders which at first suppressed them loses its earlier
vigour. The strong gods retire and weak gods, many and shadowy, and
bad as well as good, are worshipped. The Asuras were formerly the
gods generally, now they are evil beings with whom the good gods have
to contend.

3. Practical Life.--We possess very complete pictures of Indian life
and manners in the period of Brahmanism. Of the codes of ancient
sages by which Hindu society was supposed to be governed many are
extant to us; and in Mr. Max Müller's _Sacred Books of the East_ the
English reader may make himself acquainted with several of these. The
most famous and the longest, is the laws of Manu, a mythical
progenitor of mankind. In the form in which we have it this work
dates probably from the second century A.D., but the body of the work
is much older. Originally a local collection of rules, it extended
its authority gradually over the entire Hindu population of India.
With other collections, also of local origin, it represents to us the
condition of Indian society after the caste system became fixed; but
much of the law thus handed down to us must have had its origin in
prehistoric times.

The law of Manu hinges on the superiority of the Brahman over the
other castes. The Brahmans form the centre of the state and really
control everything; but their life, in turn, is framed in strict
rules, and their whole history and actions are laid down for them to
the last detail from the moment of their birth. The life of the
Brahman is divided into four periods. For a quarter of his life he is
a student living with a teacher and learning from him the sacred
knowledge of the Vedas. Every act of study begins with the so-called
Savitri-verse, "Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the divine
Vivifier. May he enlighten our understandings." This prayer, with the
mystic syllable, Om (thought to have to do with the three gods of a
triad, but probably the original meaning is Yes, an abstract
all-embracing yes, in which nothing but pure being is affirmed), is
repeated at every return to study, and also with great frequency at
other times. The teacher is more to the student than his father, and
is to be treated with the greatest deference and courtesy; these
years are a training in gentle and seemly conduct as well as in law.
His student days completed, the Brahman offers his first sacrifice,
marries, and becomes a householder. Little is said of earning a
living; the Brahman is not to be worldly, but he is to be independent
if he can. He is, however, allowed to beg if in want. But more stress
is laid on the continued pursuit of knowledge, and on the domestic
sacrifices to gods and manes which are to be his daily care. After he
has brought up a son to take charge of his house and goods, the third
stage of his life is reached; he may retire from the world and become
a recluse, giving himself to contemplation and austerities. The
fourth stage is that of the ascetic, _bhikku_ or _sannyasin_, the
aged man who having given up all possessions, all human society, and
the practice of all rites, and subsisting only on alms, seeks to
purge his heart of all desire and to become united by deep meditation
with the supreme soul, thus attaining union with Brahma and final
liberation. In this section of the laws of Manu an ideal of moral
perfection is set forth, which is not demanded at the earlier stages
of life.

"_Let him not desire to die; let him not desire to live; let him wait
for his time as a servant for the payment of his wages._

"_Let him patiently bear hard words, let him not insult any one, nor
become any one's enemy for the sake of this perishable body. Against
an angry man let him not in return show anger; let him bless when he
is cursed._"

He is to be sedulously careful not to injure any living creature, he
is to meditate on the supreme soul which is present in all organisms,
both the highest and the lowest. He is to give up all attachments,
and in this way, as his body decays, he enters even here into a state
of perfect freedom and repose and union with the great spirit.

Such ideas prove that the mind of Brahmanism was not occupied with
sacrifices alone. Manu speaks of the superintendence of sacrifices as
only one of several careers which the Brahman might choose; and if he
might with equal right devote himself to study or to self-discipline,
we see that another side of religion than that directing itself to
external gods or occupying itself with outward acts, was pressing
itself forward. The inner world of the mind is growing larger as the
outward gods grow shadowy; it is being found that salvation may be
reached by inwards efforts as well as by outward rites, that the
search for wisdom and the work of self-conquest, and a union with the
deity which is quite apart from any offering or from any form of
worship, also lead to salvation. It is objected to the ethics of Manu
that the ideal they set up is not an active but a suffering one; the
ascetic is placed on a higher platform than the householder, men are
encouraged to withdraw from the performance of their duties in the
family and in society, and to devote themselves to an aim which,
however lofty, is personal and, so far, selfish. It is certainly a
weakness in the religion that it has no higher aim than this to set
before its most eager minds. Apart from this, life is regulated in a
way we cannot but admire. Amid the mass of trivialities and
formalities in which every action is involved there breathes a grave
humane and gentle spirit, and a sound practical morality, and the
ordinary household of the Brahman may have been a scene of activity
and cheerfulness. The Sudra, however, is spoken of everywhere as a
being whose degradation can never be removed, and to touch whom is to
be defiled. Those who belonged to no caste were in a still worse
plight and lived in the greatest misery.

4. Philosophy.--We have seen how both in the ritual system they
administered and in the ideal they formed of the highest good, the
Brahmans were led forward from the old ground of the Vedic
nature-worship to a more inward and subjective religious attitude.
The exaltation of Brahma, the power of prayer, to be the supreme god,
was an advance from an external deity to a deity both external and
present in man's own experience; and the appearance of a new way of
salvation, though only permitted at first to the world-weary ascetic,
in which inner contemplation and absorption could lead to the highest
consummation of life, also showed that a new form of religion was at
hand. In the philosophy of the Brahmanic period, the transition is
made from the service of gods external to man, by the mechanism of
rites, to the acknowledgment of a divine being with whom man feels
himself to be inwardly akin and to whom he draws near by his own
spiritual effort. In this movement, to which we learn that members of
the lay aristocracy and even women of intellectual distinction made
important contributions, and which may have appeared in its
beginnings as a sceptical revolt against their own system, the
Brahmans yet took part, and the works in which the record of it is
contained became a part of revelation. The "Upanishads" or
"communicated doctrines," form the third branch of the sacred
knowledge, and much of this literature belongs to the period before
Buddhism. These books are read still by the educated Hindu as part of
scripture, and the philosophy of them is a part of his religion. We
can only point out the principal terms and notions of that

Seeking to escape from the confusion of many gods the Indian mind is
looking out even from the Vedic period for some means to conceive of
them all as one. In the earliest period each reigned in turn as the
supreme; a god is supreme not because he is essentially the greatest
of the gods, but because circumstances have brought him to the front.
This is Henotheism. Then we have attempts to sum them all up in one
expression. Prajapati, lord of creatures, Visvakarman, maker of all
things, represent such attempts. Then we have as the supreme, Brahma,
the power of prayer,[2] a being of a different character from all his
predecessors. Brahma is an intellectual deity. He is a thinker, a
knower, he is the "Mahan Atma" or great spirit, which sits in
unbroken calm above the change and distraction of the universe. In
rendering Mahan Atma by great spirit, however, we are anticipating.
Atma, originally breath or life, comes, afterwards, to mean the
person, the self when all that is accidental is removed from it, the
essential, innermost self. Now Brahma is the great self, the inmost
essence of all things, which was before them, and is unaffected by
their changes. But man also has an atma, a self; it may be very small
and lodge in a part of the body where it cannot be detected, but it
is there, and the small atma is the same as the great one. By what
physiological doctrines this is upheld, cannot here be traced; but
the notion of the atma, the great form of which in Brahma is
identical with its small form in man, lies at the basis of Brahmanic

[Footnote 2: On the etymology of Brahma see Mr. Max Müller's _Hibbert
Lectures_, p. 366.]

In Brahma one god has been reached, but he has been reached by
thinking away from him everything concrete. All predicates are
unsuitable to him, as any predicate implies a limitation; he can only
be described in negatives, or in questionable metaphors. He is meant
to satisfy the religious craving for a being quite free from any
imperfection and entirely supreme--and it is the penalty of this that
he has no clear outline or character. And how indeed is he to be
related to the world? This world of change and decay, of
disappointment and sorrow, what has the perfect being to do with
that? Did he make it, and is he responsible for it? The answer to
this in Hindu thought is that the world is due to Maya, illusion. It
was due to an aberration in Brahma, which is represented in various
ways, that the transition was made from the one to the many, and this
error has been productive of all that has been suffered on the earth.
Or else it is held that it was not Brahma who became subject to
illusion, but that the illusion resides in man's views and thoughts
about the world; and if a man could free himself from the meshes of
Maya by recognising that the world is an illusion, and that nothing
exists but Brahma only, then he would have done something for his own
emancipation, the Brahma in him would be free from illusion, and he
would also have done something, though little, for the salvation of
the world from its great error.

That the whole world-process is nothing but an illusion, a confused
and troubled dream passing over the mind of Brahma, who himself alone
is real, this is the cardinal doctrine of Brahmanism, from which
Buddhism also, as we shall see, sets out. The world is really nothing
but an apparent world; and the true wisdom, the only salvation
consists in knowing this, and in living a life in accordance with
that knowledge. The wise man should regard a world which he knows to
be illusion, with complete indifference; it can do nothing to him, he
can do nothing for it; it affects him only with an ineradicable
regret that it exists at all, and with a longing for its
disappearance. The practical outcome of the state of matters which he
recognises is firstly negative, that he must not allow the world to
influence him at all, and, secondly, positive, that he must strive to
be united with Brahma. The negative task is performed by withdrawing
the mind from all particular things, and letting it be filled with
the general, the absolute alone; and similarly by forbidding the
desires to fasten on any worldly objects, by extinguishing desire and
ceasing to be affected in any way by worldly things. The positive
task is performed by means of a mental process which we cannot here
describe, but by which the mind returns to the self that is within
and realises it as it is, cleared from all particular thoughts and
affections. These exercises cannot be called moral; where all is
illusion morality disappears. There is no good, no evil, no effort to
promote the good and lessen the evil. It is not because the world is
bad that it is condemned, but because it exists. The energy which in
other faiths is devoted to a moral struggle, is here poured into the
ascetic discipline by which the individual looks to escape altogether
from the world as it is. There are no good works, what is good is to
abstain from all works; there is no benevolence further than that the
mind must be kept clear of all that confuses or degrades; the
salvation of the individual alone is sought after; there is no desire
to spread the light and save others, since few are capable of that
knowledge of the illusive nature of all things by which alone
salvation is possible.

This, it is plain, could never be a popular religion. Brahma, the
abstract one, does not appeal to the imagination; he could not drive
out the popular nature-gods with their definite myths and attributes.
Nor could a religion spread among the people, which regarded the
social and the domestic state as inferior, and could only be
practised by one who had left his home and family. The hermits and
ascetics and begging monks may form the religious aristocracy; but a
teaching of a different nature was necessary for the people. And we
find, in fact, two religions prevailing in India in the period of
Brahmanism; that which we have described for the enlightened, who
escapes in it from all law, all creed, all ritual, whose whole
religion more than any other which ever flourished in the world is
within the mind;[3] and on the other hand, a religion in which
outward gods are worshipped, an outward law enforced which is counted
sacred because a god or gods inspired it, and in which superstitions
gathered from all quarters find shelter. The higher religion by no
means killed the lower one, as we see in India to this day. On the
contrary, the withdrawal of the higher religion of the country to a
region whither the people could not follow, left the religion of the
people to sink into a degradation unknown before. One doctrine must
here be noticed. The belief in transmigration which Buddhism received
from the religion it found existing in India, does not belong to the
higher thought of Brahmanism described in this section; the atman or
self, which is identical with the supreme self, belongs to quite a
different order of thought from the soul which was formerly in some
one else, is now in me, and may yet come to be in many another being.
The doctrine is thought to have been an importation into India about
the time we are speaking of. It admits of being made a powerful
deterrent from vice and incentive to virtue. If my present sufferings
are due not to my acts, but to the acts of the person in whom my soul
dwelt before, it is possible for me so to act that my soul's future
existence may be better and not worse than this one, and that it
shall not sink but rise in the order of beings, and draw nearer to
its final deliverance. Of this we shall hear more in connection with

[Footnote 3: "From the standpoint of unity with Brahma, the gods are
no-gods, the Vedas no-Vedas."]

The further development of Indian religion, apart from Buddhism, is
in two directions. There is a philosophical movement, in which the
Brahmanic ideas on God, the world, the soul and its changes, are
further worked out, and which leads to the six schools of Hindu
philosophy. On the other hand, the gods have their history. Brahma
remains the great god, but as his character is so undefined he is
little worshipped. Indra, the old national god, yields to Vishnu, the
old sun-god of the three steps (heaven, the air, the earth), who
becomes the favourite deity. The stern and destructive S'iva is a new
figure, and seems to be partly an adaptation of a god of the savage
aborigines: his worship is the most fanatical. These three, the
Creator, the Upholder, and the Destroyer, form the Trimurti, or
divine trinity of India,--a trinity arrived at not by unfolding the
riches of the one great god, but by compounding the claims of three
gods who were rivals. The doctrine of incarnation is also found here.
Vishnu has ten avatars or incarnations in human form; he comes down
to the earth when there is a special reason for his interference. In
these avatars, especially in Krishna, the dark god, whose exploits as
a hero are told in the great epic the Mahabharata, the need is to
some extent met, of which both Buddhism and Christianity lay hold, of
a divine figure who is not too far away from man, and who can be
regarded with personal affection.


Most of the books mentioned at the end of last chapter deal also with

Of the Brahmanic literature given in the Sacred Books of the East,
the following may be mentioned:--

  Vols. i. and xv. Upanishads.

  Vols. ii. and xiv. Sacred Laws of the Aryas.

  Vol. vii. The Institutes of Vishnu.

  Vols. xii., xxvi., and xli. The Satapatha-Brahmana (Sacrificial

  Vol. xxv. Manu.

  Vols. xxix., and xxx. Grihya-Sutras (Domestic Ceremonies).

  Vol. xxxiv. Vedic Hymns. xlvi. Hymns to Agni.

  Vols. xlii.-xliv. Hymns of the Atharva-Veda.

  Vols. xxxiv., xxxviii., xlviii. Vedanta Sutras.

Muir's _Sanscrit Texts_.

Weber, _Indische Skizzen_.

Haug, _Aitareya Brahmana_.


III. _Buddhism_

In Buddhism the great movement of Indian religion works itself out to
its ultimate conclusion and reaches a stage beyond which there can be
no advance. Here we have a religion, if such it may be called,
without a god, without prayer, without priesthood or worship; a
religion which owes its great success, not to its theology, nor to
its ritual, since it has neither, but to its moral sentiment and to
its external organisation. Originating in the centre of India, and
giving practical form to Indian ideas, it spread rapidly and widely
both in the country of its birth and in neighbouring lands. It is now
extinct in India, yet it numbers more adherents than any other
religion. It has been divided since the Christian era into two great
branches. Southern Buddhism is the religion of Ceylon, of Burmah, and
of Siam; while Northern Buddhism extends over Tibet, China, and
Japan, and the islands of Java and Sumatra.

The Literature.--These two branches of Buddhism have different
literary traditions, though some works are common to both; and these
literatures, differing from each other in language, also differ
widely in contents and in spirit. The southern tradition, composed in
Pali, the literary language of Ceylon, has recently been opened up to
scholars, and has greatly changed their views of the origin and the
true nature of this religion. The Canon of Southern Buddhism, which
we might call the Pali Bible, is a literature about twice as large as
the Bible of Europe, although if the repetitions in it were removed,
it would be somewhat smaller than the Bible. It consists of three
Pitakas, baskets or collections. The first is the Vinaya Pitaka,
dealing with discipline, but including the Mahavagga, a history of
the first beginnings of the order as the founder gathered it around
him. The second is the Sutta Pitaka or collection of teachings. It
contains the earliest account of the later life of the founder, books
of meditation and devotion, collections of sayings by the Master,
poems, fairy tales, and fables, stories about Buddhist saints, and so
on. The third collection, the Abidhamma, contains speculations and
discussions on various subjects. Much of these materials is not
peculiar to Buddhism, there is much pre-Buddhistic speculation, and
there are many stories which are not peculiar even to India. Along
with all this, however, the books give us the earliest accounts of
the life and of the death of the founder, and contain a
representation written a century after his death, of what he was
considered to have taught. The founder himself wrote nothing; but the
work of composing books about him and his doctrine began early, and
much of the canon is considered, especially by English scholars, to
have been in existence during the first Buddhist century.[1] For many
centuries they were preserved by memory alone.

[Footnote 1: The Buddhist literature given in the _Sacred Books of
the East_ is as follows:

  Vol. x. The Dhammapada, containing the quintessence of Buddhist
  morality, and the Sutta-nipata, giving teachings of Buddha on

  Vol. xi. Buddhist Suttas. Religious, moral, and philosophical
  discourses. Vol. xlix. Buddhist Mahayana Sutras.

  Vol. xiii. Vinaya Texts. The Patimokha or order of discipline, and
  the beginning of the Mahavagga, containing an account of the
  opening of the ministry of the founder.

  Vol. xvii. Vinaya Texts ii. Mahavagga continued. Kullavagga or
  discipline as established by the Master.

  Vol. xx. Kullavagga continued.

  Vols. xxii., xlv. contain Suttas of the religion of the Jainas.

  Vols. xxxv., xxxvi. Questions of King Milinda.]

Was there a Personal Founder?--Senart in his _Essai sur la légende du
Buddha_, and Kern in his _Het Buddhisme in Indie_, both hold that we
have here to do with a sun-myth, and interpret the various features
of the legend in a very ingenious way in accordance with that theory.
This view has made few converts. Many incidents in the story are
natural, and appear to be due to a real tradition; there is literary
evidence of the early existence of the books, and the religion can be
best understood if regarded as the work of a real personality of
commanding greatness.[2]

[Footnote 2: Recent archæological discoveries, of which an account is
given by Mr. Rhys Davids in the _Century Magazine_, April 1902, place
it beyond doubt that the Buddha really existed, and that pious
offices were paid to his ashes after his cremation by the members of
his own clan as well as by others. Inscriptions brought to light in
1898 show that the Sakhya clan, of which he was a member, dwelt at
the time of his death in what is now a frontier district of Nepal.
Three years before that event they were driven from their old capital
Kapilavastu; but they formed a new one fifteen miles further south,
just beyond the present frontier of Nepal, and there they erected a
_stupa_ or massive stone cairn, to guard the portion of the ashes of
the Buddha which was committed to their keeping.]

Scholars, however, are agreed as to the difficulty of drawing the
line between what is history and what is legend. Even in the early
Pali accounts the hero has become a religious figure, he wears titles
which lift him above mankind, and he has supernatural powers at his
command. A laborious critical process must be undertaken, comparing
the various narratives with each other and testing them in other
ways, before the real history can be regarded as made out beyond
question. The slight sketch of the story which we give does not aim
at such critical correctness; we merely indicate the outline of a
narrative which is one of the principal sources of the strength of
the religion.

The Story of the Founder.--The founder's family name was Gautama, and
by that name he was commonly known during his lifetime. The personal
name given him as a child was Siddartha. Those who wished after his
death to speak of him with reverence called him Sakya-Muni, the Sage
of the Sakyas. These were a tribe who dwelt, at the period of the
story, _i.e._ half a millennium before Christ, in the country to the
north of the sacred Ganges, a few days' journey from the city of
Benares. Gautama's father, Suddhodana, was rajah (chief) of the
Sakyas; his residence was Kapilavastu, near Oude. The future sage
thus belonged to the Kshatriya class, and was accustomed to a
position of rank and ease. We hear little of his youth; he had been
married ten years, and his wife, whom he loved, had just brought him
a son, when, at the age of twenty-nine, he suddenly and secretly left
his home to devote himself to the religious life. He was led to this
step by witnessing various painful sights which caused him vividly to
realise the suffering which accompanies all existence, and made him
scorn a life of luxury. It was a time when many were seeking a better
way, and when a superior mind naturally turned to that retirement and
absorption in which it was believed that the key to life's pains and
mysteries was to be found. In the "Great Renunciation," as this act
is called, there is nothing we cannot understand. This lofty act,
however, was followed by a temptation; Mara, the spirit of evil,
urged him, but urged him in vain, to give up the purpose he had
formed. He then attached himself to Brahmanic ascetics, from whom he
learned their philosophy; and after this he devoted himself for six
years to a life of fasting and penance, the Brahmanic method for
drawing nearer the goal of the religious life. After this period he
gave up his fasting, not having profited by it as he had expected,
and returned to an ordinary diet. This change cost him the adhesion
of five disciples who had become attached to him, and had been filled
with wonder at his mortifications. But the loss was a small one
compared with the gain which was at hand. After a second great
spiritual struggle and a renewal of the temptation, he at last
reached that which he had long been seeking. Seated under a _ficus
religiosa_, the tree afterwards called the tree of knowledge, or the
Bo-tree, he rose in contemplation above all his temptations and
doubts till he beheld at length the true nature of things. From this
moment he was Buddha, Enlightened; he had the key of truth, and for
himself he was assured that sorrow and evil had lost all hold on him.
His doctrine had dawned in his mind. He had discovered the cause of
the sorrow which is so closely intertwined in man's life, and had
divined the way in which sorrow might be overcome. The method had
been found by which one could escape from the unending succession of
new lives, all painful, to which, according to the general belief of
the time, men were condemned. The words placed in the mouth of the
founder when he attained to Buddhahood tell their own tale. "Looking
for the Maker of this tabernacle, I have to run through a course of
many births so long as I do not find him; and painful is birth again
and again. But now, Maker of the tabernacle, thou hast been seen;
thou shalt not make up this tabernacle again. All thy rafters are
broken; thy ridge-pole is sundered; the mind, approaching the
eternal, has attained to the extinction of all desires."[3]

[Footnote 3: Dhammapada, _S. B. E._ x. 42.]

The great discovery being made, and duly pondered and realised, the
question arose, What was to be done with it? The Buddha shrinks from
the work of preaching it to others. Brahma himself is brought into
the story to encourage him to make his secret known to others, and to
assure him that many will receive it with great joy. The Blessed One
consents, and thus replies: "Wide open is the gate of the Immortal to
all who have ears to hear; let them send forth faith to meet it. The
teaching is sweet and good; because I despaired of the task, I spake
not to men before."[4] He turns his steps, guided by his own
supernatural knowledge, to the city of Benares, to seek the five
monks who had formerly abandoned him. On his way thither he meets a
naked ascetic who asks the reason of his cheerful mien; he answers
that he has overcome all foes, has reached emancipation by the
destruction of desire, and has obtained Nirvana. "To found the
kingdom of Truth I go to the city of the Kasis (Benares); I will beat
the drum of the Immortal in the darkness of this world." The account
which follows of the opening of the "kingdom of righteousness"
presents many analogies to the early stages of other spiritual
movements. The founder, immovably sure of himself and of his
doctrines, goes from place to place, spending the rainy season in
town, and preaching everywhere. It is at Benares that the "wheel of
the law" is first set in motion; there the first sermon was preached.
The circumstances are also narrated under which other sermons were
delivered, details being given as to time, place, the persons who
heard them, the incidents which occasioned them. His converts at
first are few and their names are recorded, but by degrees they
become more numerous. The more devoted of them become members of his
order, Bhikkus (for Bhikshus), mendicants; they forsake domestic
life, shave their heads, adopt the yellow dress and the alms-bowl.
They also are sent out to preach. "Go ye, O Bhikkus, and wander, for
the welfare of many, out of compassion for the world, for the gain
and for the welfare of gods and men. Let not two of you go the same
way. Preach, O Bhikkus, the doctrine which is glorious in the
beginning, glorious in the middle, glorious in the end, in the
spirit, and in the letter; proclaim a consummate, perfect, and pure
life of holiness. There are beings whose mental eyes are covered with
scarcely any dust, but if the doctrine is not preached to them they
cannot attain salvation." The incidents narrated in this part of the
story are mostly connected with persons seeking admission to the
order, or persons requiring to be convinced; the doctrine and its
spread are everything. That spread takes place, as it is desired by
the Buddha, chiefly among the higher classes of society; a great
triumph is reached when Bimbisara, king of Magadha, becomes a patron
of the order, and some accounts tell of the conversion of the
Buddha's own father and mother. The work of the mission is of a
peaceful nature; the Buddha lives on good terms with the Brahmans and
with other teachers and their pupils. The only formidable opposition
he had to meet arose within the order. His cousin Dewadatta, who had
become a monk, wished to found a new order with much stricter rules
than those of the original one. The Buddha refused to attach
importance, as was proposed, to matters of clothes and food, or
living in the open air; to do so would have made his movement
narrower and less universal than he desired.

[Footnote 4: Mahavagga, _S. B. E._ xiii. 88.]

The beginning of the ministry is told in some detail, but of a long
period of the life only a few scattered incidents are given. There is
a detailed account of the three last months of the life. The Buddha
is now eighty years of age, and in the Maha-paranibbana Sutta[5] the
tale of his migrations and preachings is carried on according to the
same scheme as in the accounts of his early days. During the rainy
season, however, when he has reached the age of eighty, he has an
illness, and sees he cannot live long. This he tells his monks,
exhorting them with urgency to be true to the teaching and the order,
and to shed the light abroad. His end is hastened by a meal of pork
set before him by a goldsmith, a man of low caste, who hospitably
entertained him. After this his face shines with a heavenly radiance,
and as the end approaches many heavenly signs appear. The Buddha is
fully conscious that he is about to leave the world, and that his
death is an event of supreme interest to the heavenly powers, whom he
believes to be thronging around to watch his last hours. He is
solicitous, however, to soothe the grief of his friends, large
numbers of whom also are around him, and to give them such counsels
and such incentives to a faithful upholding of the cause as he yet
may. They ask about his obsequies, and he claims that the remains of
such an one as he is, of a Tathagata, "one who has attained
perfection," should be treated as men treat the remains of a king of
kings. He recognises the kindness of Ananda, his most intimate
disciple, and tries to comfort him by encouraging him to be earnest
in effort, so that he too may soon be free from evils. He directs his
disciples generally not to mourn too much at his removal as if they
were being deserted. The truths which he has set forth, and the rules
of the order he has laid down for them, are to be their teacher after
he is gone. He asks if any of them has any doubt or misgiving as to
the Buddha, or the truth, or the faith, or the way. If so, they are
to inquire freely, so that they may not reproach themselves
afterwards for not having consulted him while still among them. The
brethren, however, are silent, though addressed again and again in
the same way. In the whole assembly there is not one who has any
doubt or misgiving. Even the most backward of these brethren has
become converted (lit. "entered into the current"); he is no longer
liable to be born to a state of suffering, but is assured of eternal

[Footnote 5: _S. B. E._ vol. xl.]

"Then the Blessed One addressed the brethren and said, 'Behold now,
brethren, I exhort you,' saying, 'Decay is inherent in all things
that have come into being. Work out your salvation with diligence!'

"This was the last word of the Tathagata!"

His death or Nirvana forms the era of Buddhist chronology, and the
date has now been approximately fixed with some certainty; it took
place somewhere in the decade 482-472 B.C.

Is Buddhism a Revolt against Brahmanism?--Before proceeding to
discuss the religion to which this somewhat monkish narrative forms
the preface, it is necessary to say a few words on the relation which
that religion is now supposed to hold to the general history of
Indian piety. It was customary, till recently, to regard Buddha as a
great reformer, and his religion as a great revolt against that which
it found prevailing in India. He is credited with having preached
atheism as a reaction against the burdensome worship of too many
gods, with having instituted a great social movement consisting in
the abolition of caste, with having openly denied the authority of
the Vedas, till then unchallenged, and with having rebuked the pride
of Brahmanism by making his order of mendicants the representatives
of his religion. None of these assertions can now be upheld. Instead
of having been a tremendous reaction against Brahmanism it is seen
that Buddhism was the natural outgrowth of that system. The closer
knowledge of both, gained by the opening up of the sacred books of
India, tends to show that much that was formerly thought distinctive
of Buddhism was in reality inherited from Brahmanism. We saw in
dealing with the earlier form of Indian religion that a form of piety
had been struck out in it which made the ascetic independent of
sacrifice, priesthood, even of the gods, all save the one God who is
in all things. In that phase of Indian religion the authority of the
Vedas had already been impugned, an inner discipline had taken the
place of outward worship, the saint had learned to forsake the world.
This turn of religious thought produced all the phenomena of Buddhism
before the period of Gautama. The sannyasin (_vide sup._, chapter
xix.) of Brahmanism is also called bhikku, mendicant; the rules of
the older ascetics are closely similar to those of the Buddhist monk;
their very outfit, their cloak and alms-bowl, are the same.

A circumstance which shows very clearly how far Buddhism was from
bearing the character of a revolt, is the occurrence at the same time
and in the same district of India of another movement of a very
similar nature. Jainism is an Indian religion so like Buddhism as to
have been considered by many to be a sect of the latter. It also has
an order of monks with robes and with a rule like those of the
Buddhist fraternity. It also has a human founder on whom many of the
same titles are conferred as on Gautama, and who is afterwards
deified and worshipped. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, is, like
Gautama, the son of a royal house; and the Jainist and the Buddhist
legend have many features in common. Was the legend of Mahavira,
then, a sectarian version of the legend of Gautama, did no such
person exist, at least as the founder of a religious body? So it was
formerly considered; but it has now been discovered that the Buddhist
scriptures themselves bear witness to the actual existence of
Mahavira in the lifetime of Gautama, who once had an encounter with
him and confuted him. It appears then that two similar movements were
going on close together at the same time. They were independent of
each other; the two rules differ in important particulars. Jainism
carries to a much greater length than Buddhism the "ahimsa," or
prohibition of the destruction of life; the Jainists practise
austerities which Buddhism discards, and in the philosophies of the
two systems there are far-reaching discrepancies. On the other hand,
both Buddhism and Jainism borrow from Brahmanism most of their
practices and institutions; both are developments of the way of
salvation struck out not by Brahmans alone, but by men of other
castes and other views, when faith in the old national gods was
growing dim.

We now proceed to discuss the Buddhist system, taking it as it
appears in the early books, which tell us at least what was believed
in the fourth century B.C. to have been the ideas and intentions of
the founder. The following is the formula in which the convert
expressed his desire to be admitted to the order: "I take shelter in
the Buddha, I take shelter in the Dhamma (doctrine), I take shelter
in the Samgha (order)."

1. The Buddha.--This confession of faith is directed to a triad of
which the Buddha is the first member. Now the title Buddha was not
invented by Buddhism, but belongs to earlier Indian thought, which
held that from time to time, in a specially favoured age, an
Enlightened One and Enlightener, an omniscient and perfect teacher,
visited the world. Of these there had been in former ages
twenty-four, and the followers of Gautama held him to be the
twenty-fifth, but not the last. The application to Gautama of this
title removed him, to the believer, from the ranks of ordinary men,
and was the signal for a constantly increasing exaltation of his
person. In adhering to the Buddha, therefore, the convert is not
bowing to a mere man, but to one in whom a new type of deity is on
the way to be realised. He is a man; there is a record of his human
life, in which he made a great renunciation, abandoning, out of
compassion for men's sufferings, a position of lordly ease for that
of the mendicant. In this way he is a saviour not too exalted for the
pious heart to love and follow. Having found out in his own
experience the way of peace, and opened up that way for others, he is
a pattern and an encouragement as well as a lawgiver to the earnest
soul; and the personal relation which may thus be enjoyed with the
founder is one great secret of the success of the religion. On the
other hand, he is more than a man. The belief grew up very early that
he was not born in the ordinary way, but that his birth had been his
own voluntary act, and that his great renunciation consisted in his
choosing, out of compassion for men, to enter human life and to bear
the burden of its sufferings. In this way a religion which originally
had no gods and no worship began to supply itself with these. Some
scholars hold that it was among the lay community, among men not
thoroughly initiated into Buddhist thought, and failing to find in
the new faith what their former religions had afforded, that the
deification of the Buddha and the worship of him began; it may
certainly be doubted whether the religion could have lived long or
spread far if these deficiencies had not been early supplied.

2. The Doctrine.--The life of the founder gives us the key to his
doctrine. We see at once that that doctrine was not negative but
positive and constructive. Neither was it socially of a revolutionary
character, nor did it deny any part of the existing religion. We
never read that Gautama's teaching was assailed by the Brahmans as
unsound; it was centuries after his death that antagonism broke out
between the order and the upholders of other systems. Nor again did
the teaching put forward a new philosophy. On certain points which we
shall notice there is a development of thought in it; but this was
not obtruded.

In fact the doctrine is not a speculation at all, but a way of
salvation which is preached for its own sake, and carefully guarded
from being mixed up with speculative or religious controversy. The
Buddha is one who has found out a new way to be saved, and he comes
forward to preach what he has discovered, and that alone. Other
matters he leaves as they are. "All his discourses savour of
redemption as all the sea is salt." Other men may draw inferences as
to the relation his doctrine bears to the position of the Brahmans,
or to the sacrifices, or to existing beliefs; he does not draw these
inferences, he feels no need to do so.

The doctrine professes to be an answer to a definite problem--the
problem of pain. It is the most characteristic thing about both the
founder and the doctrine, that they start from the universal
existence of pain, to seek a remedy for it; they are inspired
therefore from the first by a dark view of human life, and by the
sentiment of compassion. It was the impression made on the young
prince, of the general prevalence of suffering, that drove him forth
from the palace to be a sannyasin or devotee. In a striking sermon he
uses the figure of fire to indicate how universal is the rule of pain
in all parts of nature and of human life. "All is burning; the eye is
burning, and all it looks on and all it remembers of what it has
seen"; so it is with each of the senses, so also with the mind. The
fire is that of passion, of malice, of illusion, of birth, of age, of
death, of pain, despondency, and despair. But the nature of the
complaint from which man suffers, and also the remedy for it, are
described most clearly in the "Four Noble Truths" set forth in the
opening sermon at Benares. In these memorable utterances the teacher
expresses himself according to the rules of the medical art, first
setting forth the nature of the disease, then its cause, then how it
takes end, and lastly, the means to be adopted in order that it may
do so.

1. The Noble Truth of _Suffering_. Birth is suffering, decay is
suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering. Presence of
objects we hate is suffering, separation from objects we love is
suffering, not to obtain what we desire is suffering. Briefly, the
fivefold clinging to existence is suffering.

2. The Noble Truth of the _Cause of Suffering_. Thirst that leads to
rebirth, accompanied by pleasure and lust, finding its delight here
and there. This thirst is threefold, namely, thirst for pleasure,
thirst for existence, thirst for prosperity.

3. The Noble Truth of the _Cessation of Suffering_. It ceases with
the complete cessation of this thirst, a cessation which consists in
the absence of every passion, with the abandoning of this thirst,
with the deliverance from it, with the destruction of desire.

4. The Noble Truth of the _Path which leads to the Cessation of
Suffering_. The holy eightfold Path; that is to say, Right Belief,
Right Aspiration, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Means of
Livelihood, Right Endeavour, Right Memory, Right Meditation.

In these statements there are some things which we can readily
understand, but also some things which are not so easy. It is a
thought with which Christians are familiar, that desire is the parent
of all sorts of pain and disappointment, that the assertion of the
self, the putting forward of personal wishes and claims, involves
suffering. And we read in the Gospels that the way to escape from
such suffering is to cease from desire, no longer to be anxious about
what this world can give us or take from us, and not to lay up
treasures. Buddhist doctrine has its moral basis in the perception of
the vanity of all human effort and desire, and in the conviction that
the true riches for man cannot consist in any of those goods to which
the heart naturally clings. Where that perception does not exist,
where the first of the Noble Truths is not accepted as beyond all
question, Buddhism can have no hold. So far the doctrine is easy to
follow. But in the second of the Truths we find that the cause of
suffering is sought in the history of the human person as Indian
thought conceives it. Man suffers because he has been born again, has
suffered a rebirth, and the cause of his rebirth is the thirst which
has been felt or even nourished in a previous existence. The thought
that suffering is due to desire is not presented simply, as it is in
our Gospels, but in connection with a doctrine of man's life and of
the connection of one generation with another, which is quite strange
to us, but apart from which primitive Buddhism held that its doctrine
of suffering could not be understood. The Buddha, after discovering
the doctrine, is at first in doubt whether or not he will preach it;
and the cause of his doubt is that he is not sure if men will be able
to understand the law of causality and the chain of existence, on
which he himself meditated a whole night after his enlightenment, and
his discovery of which he regards as a great part of his achievement.
This chain of causation is stated in a long series of asserted
processes, in which the connection between one generation and
another, and the transmission from life to life of the melancholy
heritage of desire and sorrow, is obscurely and enigmatically traced.
The beginning of all is ignorance (of the four truths); from
ignorance proceed the "samkharas" or forms of production, from these
in turn consciousness, the senses, contact, sensation, thirst, and so
on to birth and the miseries of life. Suffering is destroyed by
tracing this sequence over again in a negative way, so that, the
first member of it being destroyed, each subsequent member is
destroyed in turn.

It is no wonder that the founder doubted whether this doctrine of
causation would be generally understood; for it is in fact an attempt
to reconcile two opposite views of the nature of the human person. In
the first place we find in early Buddhism the thought that there is
no such thing as a self in the human being; a man is made up of
various bundles of attributes and sensations called _skandhas_, but
he himself is none of these. There is no persistent substratum of a
self under these activities and forms, any more than there is a
carriage in addition to the wheels, shafts, nails, etc., of which a
carriage is composed. The Buddhist is called on to give up the belief
in a permanent ego; only where the various parts come together is the
man there. This is the well-known denial of the soul in this
religion; the soul is nothing but the "name and form" of a chance
collocation of elements. It is hard to know where this doctrine came
from; Kern says it is derived from the science of dissection, others
compare it with the doctrine of Heraclitus, taught about the same
time in Greece, that all things are in constant flux, nothing
permanent. The last words of the Master assert that decay is
universal; and the doctrine of the skandhas is a corollary from that
principle; if all the elements of which the human person is made up
are in process of decay, then the self cannot be a substantial and
persistent thing. That doctrine, however, does not go well together
with the belief in the universality and inexorableness of suffering.
If there is no self, must not consciousness come to an end when the
elements fall asunder which chance has brought together, and must not
the hour of death be also the hour of complete emancipation? This,
however, it was impossible to hold in India at the time of Gautama;
the belief in transmigration was too firmly fixed, he never thought
of disputing it. That belief indeed is what chiefly makes the
suffering of the world so lamentable. To Indian eyes the pain
actually in the world was magnified a hundred-fold by the dark
imagination of its connection with the past and with the future. What
a man suffered was the result of acts done in many former lives, all
spent in the vain misery of desire; and the sad prospect was extended
before him that death would not end his pains, but that he would be
born again and again to suffer ever anew so long as desire continued.
But if this is the case, then the soul would seem to be a durable and
persistent thing which is able to go through many lives and much
suffering without being brought to an end. On the theory of
transmigration the soul is not a mere shadow-name of an aggregation
of qualities, but the one durable thing which survives when all that
is accidental and temporary falls away from it. The doctrine of the
Skandhas and that of transmigration are thus opposed, and the
doctrine of the _nidanas_ or the chain of causation is the bridge
which satisfied Gautama's own mind, but which he was doubtful about
presenting to others, to bring them into harmony. He aimed at showing
by his catalogue of these obscure processes how the actions done in a
life set up a tendency to a corresponding existence in another life
which begins after the former one ends. Though there is no soul to be
transmitted, the moral effects of former lives are transmitted to
their successors.

The essential doctrine of the Buddha, however, is determined by the
belief in transmigration. His cry of triumph at the time of his
enlightenment is to the effect that the long series of suffering
existences through which he has passed has now come to an end, and
that he will not be born again. And what he preaches with constant
iteration is the misery of this awful succession of births to renewal
of suffering, and the infinite blessedness of escaping from this
cycle. The disciple, when converted, is to be able to say: "Hell is
destroyed for me, and rebirth as an animal or a ghost or in any place
of woe. I am converted, I am no longer liable to be reborn in a state
of suffering, and am assured of eternal salvation."

Now it rests with a man's own acts to end his sufferings. The chain
of causation which ends with suffering begins with ignorance. The
ignorance which is meant is that of the four noble truths, of the way
of salvation. Let a man cease from ignorance, let him accept the
Noble Truths and the insight they convey into the cause of suffering,
then by ceasing to thirst, or to burn, or in our own language by
turning his mind away from all desire, believing that what he does
will be effective for his salvation, he sets up a chain of causation
in an opposite direction, and having destroyed ignorance he may rest
assured that he has destroyed suffering too and is in the right way.
The burden he has inherited he will not need to carry any farther,
but will, when he dies, lay down for ever.

When we look at the fourth Noble Truth, which tells what a man has to
do in order to obtain this salvation, we are at first surprised.
After the deep earnestness with which the nature of the disease and
the cause and cure of the disease have been stated, we expect that
stronger practical measures will be asked for than these eight forms
of moderation. Christianity speaks of cutting off the right hand,
plucking out the right eye, in order to cut off desire: and the
Brahmanic method of union with the Deity was, as we have seen, that
of the most extreme self-mortification united with contemplation.
This Brahmanic method, the _yoga_ by which the devotee sought to
escape from all the accidents of being and to make himself one with
the great Self, the Buddha had tried for six years; but he had given
it up for a year when the hour of his enlightenment struck, and he
explicitly condemns for others the path he had found unprofitable for
himself. It is one of two extremes, both to be avoided, "The one
extreme is a life devoted to pleasures and lusts; this is degrading,
sensual, vulgar, profitless; the other is a life given to
mortifications; this is painful, ignoble, and profitless. By avoiding
these two extremes the Tathagata has gained the knowledge of the
Middle Path, which leads to insight, wisdom, calm, to Nirvana." The
way, therefore, to escape from the Karma, the moral retribution which
works inexorably in one life the result stored up in previous lives,
is that of a careful and unintermitted self-discipline, which does
not run to extremes, but practices, with perfectly clear purpose and
self-possession, the needful virtues mentioned in the fourth of the
Noble Truths. What are these? There is to be--

  1. Right belief, without superstition or delusion.

  2. Right aspiration, after such things as the thoughtful and
     earnest man sets store by.

  3. Right speech, speech that is friendly and sincere.

  4. Right conduct, conduct that is peaceable, honourable, and pure.

  5. Right means of livelihood, _i.e._ a pursuit which does not
     involve the taking or injuring of life.

  6. Right endeavour, _i.e._ self-restraint and watchfulness.

  7. Right memory, _i.e._ presence of mind, not forgetting at any
     time what one ought to remember; and

  8. Right meditation, _i.e._ earnest occupation with the riddles of

This is the path; there are four stages of it--

  1. The stage of him who has entered the path.

  2. The stage of him who has yet to return once to life.

  3. The stage of him who returns not again, but may be born again as
     a superior being; and

  4. The stage of the worthy, holy one, the _Arahat_, who is free
     from desire for existence, and also from pride and
     self-righteousness, and who is saved and has obtained holiness,
     even in this life.

An Arahat is not equal to a Buddha; the former is himself saved, but
the perfect Buddha is able by his perfect knowledge to save others.
Of Buddhas, however, there are not many. One becomes an Arahat by a
life of strenuous and untiring discipline. Ten fetters are to be
broken by which a man is kept from freedom; self-deception is one of
them, trust in sacrifice another, and the list embraces both sensual
and intellectual weaknesses. One must watch and be sober; every act,
however trivial, is to be done with full self-consciousness and
earnestness. One must remember that he is engaged in a great and a
hard work, and must resolutely "swim upstream," estimating at its
proper value every affection and temptation that would hold him back.
The body is to be contemned, and all natural ties; emotion is to be
uprooted from the heart so that the proper state of entire calm and
undisturbedness may be maintained. Then one is an Arahat, a true
Brahman. This manner of life requires withdrawal from the world; the
true salvation can only be attained by him who has left his home for
the houseless life. But Buddhism has also a general moral code for
those who have not taken this step; the keeping of it will not save
them directly; from the life they are now leading that is impossible,
but it is a beginning; it will make it easier for them to become
Arahats and attain salvation in some future existence. For all it is
good to be free from desire; as all desire contains in itself a germ
of death, there is no approach to salvation except in this direction.

Buddhist Morality.--Towards fellow-men Buddhist morality is based on
the notion of the equality of all; respect is to be paid to all
living beings. The five rules of righteousness which are binding on
all followers of the Buddha are:

  1. Not to kill any living being.

  2. Not to take that which is not given.

  3. To refrain from adultery.

  4. To speak no untruth.

  5. To abstain from all intoxicating liquors.

To these are added five more for members of the order, who are also
required to refrain from all sexual intercourse, viz.:

  1. Not to eat after mid-day.

  2. Not to be present at dancing, singing, music, or plays.

  3. Not to use wreaths, scents, ointments, or personal ornaments.

  4. Not to use a high or a broad bed.

  5. To possess no silver or gold.

These commandments, like those of the Decalogue, are negative in
form; but in the Buddhist scriptures a positive moral ideal is
inculcated on all, which is grave and attractive in its character,
and is sustained by a strong though quiet enthusiasm. We find here a
delicate conscientiousness as to the relations to be cultivated with
one's fellow-men; the widest toleration is enjoined, a toleration
extending to all beings, to all opinions. Hatred is to be repaid by
love, life is to be filled with kindness and compassion. The
Dhammapada and the Sutta-nipata deserve to be read by all who care
for the unseen riches of the soul. By their simple earnestness, their
quaint use of parable and metaphor, and their mingling of the
homeliest things with the highest truths, these books take rank among
the most impressive of the religious books of the world. We give only
a few jewels from this treasury.

From the Dhammapada.--Earnestness is the path of immortality
(Nirvana), thoughtlessness the path of death. Those who are in
earnest do not die, those who are thoughtless are as if dead already.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded
on what we have thought, it is made up of what we have thought. If a
man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a
shadow that never leaves him.

By oneself evil is done, by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is
left undone, by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity belong
to oneself; no one can purify another.

From the Sutta-nipata.--To live in a suitable country, to have done
good deeds in a former existence, and a thorough study of oneself,
this is the highest blessing.

As a mother at the risk of her life watches over her own child, her
only child, so also let every one cultivate a boundless friendly mind
towards all beings.

A Bhikku who has turned away from desire and attachment, and is
possessed of understanding in this world, has already gone to the
immortal place, the unchangeable state of Nirvana.

Nirvana.--Our account of the doctrine would appear incomplete if we
did not attempt to answer the question, What is Nirvana? It is, as
the last extract shows, the state of salvation in Buddhism. As we
have seen, it is the condition of the man who has escaped from the
series of rebirths, and will never be born again. It is attained even
in this life by the Arahat, in whom all desire and restlessness have
come to an end. On the other hand, it is said of such an one that he
enters Nirvana when he dies, as if it were a state not of this life,
but of the period beyond. Thus it has been much debated whether the
Buddhist (or rather Indian, for the notion is not peculiar to
Buddhism) Nirvana is extinction, annihilation, of which the quenching
of desire in this life is the prelude, or if it is a state of
negative or quiescent blessedness, on which the saint can enter here
and now, but which is only made perfect when he dies. But there are
two Nirvanas;--that of entire passionlessness attained in this life,
and the consummate Nirvana entered at death. The saint does not need
to wait for death for his redemption, nor must he hasten his death in
order to enjoy it fully; Buddha, by example and by precept, forbids
any such anticipation. Death seals that which was already won, there
is no return from the Nirvana of death to any further life. This,
however, does not amount to an assertion that the dead Arahat has no
life or knowledge in the beyond; he is freed from desire, but whether
his consciousness is altogether extinguished, Buddhism does not
decide, and regards as a vain speculation.

No Gods.--We shall speak afterwards of this view of redemption, which
is the key to the nature of the Buddhist religion. We remark here
that it is a redemption man achieves by his own efforts, without any
outward prop or aid. In this system there is no occasion for any
priests or sacrifices, for any prayers, or for any gods. There is no
ritual, because there is no object of worship, there is no sin in the
sense of offending a higher being. The gods are denied not because of
any speculative doubt of their existence, but because in that inner
world of moral effort which man has come to feel so supremely real
and important, they have no part to play. As all the gods faded away
in Indian speculation before Brahma, so Brahma's own turn has come to
fade away. The Buddhist speaks of the gods as if they existed, and he
makes no attack on the sacrifices; but no living god fills his heart.
The Buddha is greater than all the gods; his teaching is for the
benefit of gods as well as men. But the Buddha is not an object of
worship. If the Buddhist can be said to worship any higher power, it
is the moral order which never fails to reward men according to the
deeds done in this or former existences. That is for him a real and
tremendous, though impersonal power, and in contemplating it he may
be said to worship after a fashion. But he has no aid to look for
from any power in heaven or earth in working out his salvation.
Buddhism is the most autosoteric of all religions; it declares more
uncompromisingly than any other, that man must save himself by his
own efforts, and that no one can possibly stand in his place or
relieve him of any part of his great task. All that any one, even the
Buddha, can do for another, is to enlighten him, to open his eyes to
the true knowledge, and show him the narrow path on which he must
thenceforth walk.

3. The Order.--There were monks before Buddhism. That religion made
its appearance when Indian thought was at the stage of growth at
which monastic communities may be expected to arise. When religion
has ceased to be regarded as the affair of the nation or the tribe,
and is cherished as the affair of the individual, when the mind turns
from the sacrifices and ritual of public religion to cultivate
relations with a power known chiefly in the heart and soul, and when
religious duty has thus come to be recognised as a boundless and
all-embracing thing, not a service the hands and feet can discharge,
but the effort, never ending, still beginning, to make the whole
personality with all its acts and aims conform to the ideal, then it
is that men who are living for religion seek for such aid as they can
give each other, and find it in an order and a discipline. The rules
of the Buddhist Samgha or order are extant, and so are the rules of
the contemporary Jainist fraternity. The Samgha resembled the
Franciscan more than the other great Christian orders. The Bhikku on
joining it abandoned his family and property, assumed the yellow robe
and other scanty properties of the character, and lived thenceforth
by begging, and in strict subjection to the rules, in which every
detail of his food, his clothing, his residence, and his daily walk
and conversation, were laid down. The two great objects of the
society were mutual help in the religious life and the preaching of
the doctrine. Under the first head come the frequent meetings of
monks and the confessions they make to each other according to a
fixed form. There is no vow of obedience; the monk obeys the law, not
the human authority. In preaching they are to go one by one, and they
are to preach to all. To all who would hear it was the gate open to
this salvation. Here the Buddhist neglect of caste comes in. Buddhism
makes no general or formal declaration of the equality of all men,
nor is there any attack on the Brahman caste or any exaltation of the
lower castes. The order drew its recruits at first from the ranks of
the Brahmans. But the impelling motive of the new religion was
compassion, and genuine compassion is not to be restrained in
artificial limits. The salvation preached was fitted for all men. The
disease to be cured was one from which all suffer, and the cure was
one which all could at least begin to lay hold of. Thus Buddhism was
fitted to break through the barriers of caste, and to gather into one
religious community men of all castes alike. In the community, it was
held, these distinctions disappeared. Not birth but conduct there
made the true Brahman. The universalist tendency of the religion also
fitted it to spread to other lands. It was not limited by anything in
its teaching to the soil of India, nor to the territory of any
particular set of gods. So wide indeed is its toleration, that a man
may embrace it without giving up the faith in which he lived before.
One can add it without incongruity to one's former beliefs and
practices. The believer in Shang-ti can be a Buddhist as well as the
believer in Brahma.[6] The absence of any hierarchy or centralised
organisation enabled it to spread freely, and the very meagreness of
its doctrine, and its freedom from ritual, were also in its favour.

[Footnote 6: Millions of Buddhists in China and Japan are also
adherents of the other religions of these countries.]

Buddhism made Popular.--Buddhism proved able to spread over many
lands because it was so simple, and in its essence so moral and so
broadly human. But, like other faiths which have spread to many
lands, it assumed very different forms in different countries, and
the later form is often very different from the early simplicity.
Even at the outset it was not free from a strong infusion of magic;
the Arahat, like the Brahmanic ascetic before him, was believed to
obtain influence over the gods by his virtues, and thus a claim to
supernatural power is brought in, which agrees but ill with the
ethical doctrine. The religion, which at first ignored the gods and
bade each man trust to his own efforts for his highest good, became,
ere long, what a popular religion at the stage of progress prevailing
at that time necessarily was, namely, a worship of superior beings
and a method of obtaining benefits from them. The national gods were
discarded, but the deification of the founder early furnished a being
who could be worshipped. Legend grew luxuriantly round his birth and
early career; and he obtained the rank of the greatest of all the
gods. Former Buddhas who had lived in former ages still lived as
gods; and the divine family, being once founded, admitted of various
additions; even a popular deity, such as Indra, could be joined to
the growing circle. The chief scenes of the life of the founder
became holy places and objects of pilgrimage, where relics were
exposed for adoration. The growth of legend and of magic proceeded
more rapidly, and went to greater lengths, in Northern than in
Southern Buddhism; but in the land of its birth, too, Buddhism proved
unable to serve as a working religion without additions and
modifications entirely foreign to its true character. The profession
of Buddhism was combined even with the savage worship of the
non-Aryan tribes; Siva was identified with Buddha and then worshipped
instead of him, as also was Vishnu, and the perversion and
degradation of the religion prepared for its expulsion from the
country of its birth. That expulsion was probably brought about more
immediately by the advance of Mohammedanism in India, and took place
in the period of the early Middle Ages. We cannot speak here of the
strange guise Buddhism has assumed in the north of India, notably in
Tibet. The Lamaism of that country, with its perpetual living
incarnation of the divine Buddha in a succession of human
representatives, its hierarchical church strongly resembling in many
of its features the Church of Rome, and the prayer-flags and wheels
for the mechanical discharge of religious acts, have long been the
wonder of the world.

Conclusion.--It is not from what Buddhism is now in any of the
countries where it flourishes, and where it has votaries who profess
other religions also, that we can judge of what it really is, or
estimate its value as a product of the human mind. It is to early
Buddhism that we must look for this. What are we to judge of this
religion without gods, and based on the assertion that all life is
suffering, and that the chief good is altogether to escape from life?
It is not true to characterise it as a religion in which there is no
joy, and which deliberately refuses to have anything to do with joy.
The Arahat, in whom desire is vanquished, and who has no further
birth to anticipate, is filled with a deep joy and triumph as of a
victor who has conquered every foe; and those who are less advanced
in the path yet have their share in this enthusiasm, and are inspired
by it to continue the struggle. Still Buddhism is a sad religion. It
arrives in India when the Deity there believed in has deserted the
world, and tells man he is alone in it. There is no one to help him,
no one to assure him that the good cause in a wider sense--a cause
extending beyond his own personal life--is destined to succeed; there
is no upholder of any moral order beyond that which works itself out
in each individual experience. The result is that the believer does
not trouble himself about the world, but only about his own personal
salvation. This religion is not a social force, it aims not at a
Kingdom of God to be built up by the united efforts of multitudes of
the faithful, but only at saving individual souls, which in the act
of being saved are removed beyond all activity and all contact with
the world. Buddhism, therefore, is not a power which makes actively
for civilisation. It is a powerful agent for the taming of passion
and the prevention of vagrant and lawless desires, it tends,
therefore, towards peace. But it offers no stimulus to the
realisation of the riches which are given to man in his own nature:
it checks rather than fosters enterprise, it favours a dull
conformity to rule rather than the free cultivation of various gifts.
Its ideal is to empty life of everything active and positive, rather
than to concentrate energy on a strong purpose. It does not train the
affections to virtuous and harmonious action, but denies to them all
action and consigns them to extinction. This condemnation it has
incurred by parting with that highest stimulus to human virtue and
endeavour, which lies in the belief in a living God. By so doing it
ceased to fulfil the office of a religion for men, and though, for
historical purposes, we may class it among the religions of the
world, a system which leaves its adherents free not to worship at
all, or to find satisfaction for their spiritual instincts in the
worship of beings whom it regards with indifference, comes short of
the notion of religion, and is not properly entitled to that name.


Monier Williams, _Buddhism, in its connection with Brahmanism and
Hinduism, and in its contrast with Christianity_, 1889.

Rhys Davids, _Buddhism_ (S.P.C.K.).

Oldenberg's, _Buddha, his Life, his Doctrine and his Order_, 1882
(out of print). (Third German Edition, 1897.)

Spence Hardy, _Manual of Buddhism_, 1860.

E. Hardy, _Der Buddhismus_.


The Aryans who entered India to become its dominant race came from
Central Asia, and left behind them there other tribes of Aryan
culture. These tribes remained in what is called Iran, in the lands,
that is to say, between the Indus, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea,
and the Persian Gulf. It is from this region, a part of which bore in
ancient times the name of Ariana, that the word "Aryan" is derived.
The languages of this territory are akin to Sanscrit; and there is
ample evidence that before the Indian invasion the progenitors of the
Indians and those of the Iranians dwelt together there, and enjoyed a
common civilisation. If the civilisation was the same the religion
also was the same. How the Indo-Iranian religion was developed in
India, we have seen. At first a worship of active and militant
deities, it became by degrees a religion of a passive type, in which
a suffering, acquiescent, and brooding humanity presented to heaven
its needs and problems, and received a corresponding answer. The
Aryans who remained in Iran retained their active and practical
disposition. While by no means wanting in sensitiveness and
flexibility of mind, they were less given to speculation and more to
a robust morality than their Indian kinsmen. It has to be noted that
while the religion of India has not influenced Europe in any manifest
degree until the present century, that of Persia has contributed in a
marked way to form the world of thought in which we dwell.

Sources.--The views generally current about the ancient religion of
Persia are derived from late Greek writers, whose accounts will be
noticed at the end of this chapter. A truer knowledge is now
possible, since the sacred books of the religion are now open to the
world. They were only obtained from the Parsis, who keep up their
ancient religion on the soil of India, during last century, and the
study of them has been very laborious and difficult, and has given
rise to great controversies which are not yet settled. These ancient
books are furnished with Eastern translations and commentaries. Is
the Western scholar to place himself under the guidance of these,
which no doubt are part of the historical tradition of the religion,
or may he claim that he is himself in as good a position as the
Oriental commentator for understanding the original meaning of the
texts; and will he best interpret them by comparing them with the
Vedas? What is their age; in which of the lands of Iran were they
written; was any part of them written by Zoroaster, or is Zoroaster
to be regarded as an historical personage at all? On all these
questions and on many others, scholars are not yet agreed; and while
so much is uncertain about the books, there must also be great
uncertainty about the history and the very nature of the religion. In
what follows we are guided mainly by the scholars who have taken
charge of the volumes connected with Persia in the _Sacred Books of
the East_.[1] In the last of these volumes (xxxi.) a new clue is
given to the subject, of which we shall gladly avail ourselves.

[Footnote 1: Zend-Avesta, _S. B. E._, vols. iv., xxiii., xxxi.]

The sacred books of Persia are known by the name of "Zend-Avesta,"
which is an incorrect expression; we ought to say Avesta and Zend.
"Avesta," like the kindred word "Veda," signifies knowledge, and the
word "Zend" denotes here not the language of that name, but the
"commentary" afterwards added to the original knowledge or text. The
commentary is not written in the Zend language, but in Pahlavi or
Persian. The Avesta, which is written in the older Zend, the sacred
language of Persia, is, like other Bibles, a collection of books
written in different ages, and even, it may be, in different lands.
The books were brought together into one only at some period after
the Christian era. The later legends as to the supernatural
communication to Zoroaster of the earlier books need not detain us;
we must notice, however, that the preserved books of Persian religion
are held to be no more than the scanty ruins of an extensive
literature. The Avesta consisted originally of 21 Nosks or books, and
most of these were destroyed by Alexander when he invaded the East;
only one Nosk was preserved entire. As we have it, the Avesta is a
liturgical work, it contains some legends and some ancient hymns, as
well as a good deal of law, but its prevailing character is that of a
service-book, and it is to this that its partial preservation both at
the invasion of Alexander, and at that of the Mohammedans in a later
century, is probably due. It consists of three parts. The oldest is
the Yasna, a collection of liturgies, which admit and indeed invite
comparison with those of early Christianity: along with these are
found the Gathas or hymns, the only part of the Avesta composed in
verse, and written in an older dialect. The Visperad is a collection
of litanies for the sacrifice; and the Vendidad is a code of early
law, but contains also various religious legends. Besides these
works, which constitute the Avesta proper, there is the Khorda (or
small) Avesta containing devotions for various times of the day, for
the days of the month, and for the religious year; these are for the
use not of the priests alone but of all the faithful, and many of
them are still so used.

The Contents of the Zend-Avesta are Composite.--In these works the
student soon observes that he has before him not one religious system
only but several. In one place we find a worship of one god, as if
there were no others to be considered; some of the litanies on the
other hand contain lengthy and elaborate lists of objects of worship.
In some parts the religion is personal and immediate; in others it is
priestly. Parsism is often called fire-worship, and the elements of
earth and water also obtain extreme sanctity in it, but of this also
there is in the oldest books little trace. The variety in the
literature no doubt reflects a variety in the religion of Iran. Iran
in fact had not one religion but several, and thus the problem is to
trace how these successively entered into contact with Mazdeism or
Zoroastrianism, which is the religion most native to Iran, and were
embodied in it. The different religions belonged to a certain extent
to different provinces. We know that Persia, the conqueror of Media,
was conquered in turn by the Median religion; we also know that the
religion of the Persian kings as read in their inscriptions[2] does
not correspond to any of the religious positions held in the Avesta.
The Magi, from whom also the religion as a whole derives one of its
names, belonged to Media and passed from there to greater power in
Iran as a whole. From the Scythians on the north and from Babylonia
on the south, ideas and practices were imported; and in these and
other ways, forms of religion arose as different from the faith of
Zoroaster as later forms of Christianity from the simplicity of
Christ, yet looking to him as their founder and the giver of their

[Footnote 2: _Records of the Past_, i. 107.]

Zoroaster.--We begin with the teaching of Zoroaster. Dr. E. Meyer in
his _Geschichte des Alterthums_, vol. i., and Mr. Darmesteter in his
admirable introduction to the Avesta (_S. B. E._ vol. iv.) both treat
Zoroaster as a mythical personage, a figure-head of the official
class of the religion, who give currency to their edicts under his
name. Weighty authorities may, however, be quoted for the historical
reality of Zoroaster, and what appears to us most important of all,
the editor of the Gathas, in the _S. B. E._ vol. xxxi., departing
from his collaborateur, Mr. Darmesteter, has treated these hymns,
which give an account of the founder's acts and experiences when
first proclaiming the true doctrine, in such a way as to produce on
the mind of the reader the strongest impression of the historical
reality of the prophet and of his mission. They introduce us to a
religious movement actually in progress in the poet's time, a
movement in which a pure and lofty faith is struggling to establish
itself against prevailing superstitions. The doctrine placed in the
mouth of the reformer is that which is most central in Persian
religion; and only by such deep earnestness and devotion as is here
ascribed to him, could it have attained that position. We start,
then, with Zoroaster and his work; and first of all we ask what was
his date, where did he live, and what kind of religion did he find
existing in his country?

The date of Zoroaster or Zarathustra--the former is the Greek, the
latter the old Iranian form of the name, contracted in Persian to
Zardusht--can only be fixed very approximately. He stands at the very
beginning of the Avesta literature, and the developments in religion
to which that literature testifies must have occupied a long period.
On the other hand no one proposes to place Zarathustra before the
departure of the Indian Aryans from the Indo-Iranian stock. From such
vague data he may be assigned perhaps to somewhere about 1400 B.C. As
to his province, there is considerable agreement among scholars that
his doctrine spread from the east of Iran westwards; and though
tradition gives him a birthplace in Media, his mission lay nearer to
India, in Bactria.

Primitive Religion of Iran.--He did not preach to men unacquainted
with religion. Many of the religious ideas and figures of the Vedas
occur also in Persia, and by the study of these it is possible to
form certain inferences as to the mental history of Persia before
Zarathustra. Mithra the sun-god belongs to Persia as well as India.
The heaven-god known in India as Varuna grew into the principal deity
of Persia. A fire-god, wind- and rain-gods, and the serpent hostile
to man, on whom these made war, are common to both countries. The
institution of sacrifice, in which the deities are served with
offerings and with hymns, is markedly alike in both countries. In
both alike sacrifice is at first the affair not of a priesthood but
of laymen, especially of princes, and is not confined to temples but
is performed in the open air, on a spot judged to be suitable. The
most imposing sacrifice is that of the horse, and an offering of
constant occurrence is that of the intoxicating liquor, in India
Soma, in Persia by a recognised transliteration Homa, which is itself
viewed as a cosmic principle of life, and addressed as a deity. And
in both countries alike the view of sacrifice prevails in early
times, that the gods come to it to take their part in a banquet which
their worshippers share with them, and that they are strengthened and
encouraged by it.

These similarities, and others which might be mentioned, show that
the religion of India and that of Persia started from a common stock
of ideas and usages. A further circumstance of great importance shows
not only the original identity of the two systems, but also perhaps
how they came to diverge from each other. Two generic titles for
deities occur in India. The first of these--_deva_, is said to
signify the bright or shining one, the second--_asura_, the living
one. Now these titles are also found in Persia; but the use of the
terms is different in the two countries. In India both are at first
titles for deity, but by degrees, while "deva" continues to denote
the gods who are worshipped, "asura" assumes a less favourable
meaning, until at length it comes to stand for a second order of
beings, inferior to the devas, and including such powers as are
malignant and hostile. In Persia the fortunes of the two words are
reversed. _Ahura_ becomes the god _par excellence_, the supreme god;
while "deva," the title which in India remained in honour, is in the
Avesta that of evil gods who are not to be worshipped. In this some
scholars consider that we may hear the watchwords of the conflict
which led to the separation of the two religions; there was a schism
between the followers of the Ahuras and those of the Devas, which led
to the entire separation of the two parties. This is the latest form
of the old view which makes Zoroastrianism the outcome of a religious
conflict, of a reaction against the gods afterwards worshipped in
India. There is no direct evidence of such a conflict, and the
difference we have described may be due to the natural development of
the Indo-Iranian religion in different sets of circumstances and
among different peoples. Zarathustra in the Gathas finds the
antithesis fully formed between the good and the evil deities; he
appeals to his countrymen on that matter as one which he does not
need to teach them, but with which they have long been familiar. In
speaking of his date this has to be remembered.

We proceed now to describe from the Gathas the work and teaching of
Zarathustra. The Gathas are poems written in metres which occur also
in the Vedas, and intended, like the Indian hymns, to be used in
worship. The account which they furnish of the mission and the
teaching of the sage are thus clothed in a poetical dress, and do not
narrate bare facts as they occurred, but the facts as interpreted and
treated for religious use. They are in the mouth of Zarathustra
himself; he writes them for use at sacrifice, and remembering how
they are to be rendered, he sometimes puts in the mouth of the
celebrants the words, "Zarathustra and we." These words do not prove
that the hymns are not by him. As explained by Dr. Mills, the hymns
are seen to be very fully charged with meaning and with sentiment.
Uncouth and inartistic in expression, and demanding an immense amount
of patience and ingenuity to trace their connection of thought, they
surprise the reader when once he seizes their meaning, by the depth
and spirituality of their contents, and force him to acknowledge that
they are a worthy document of the birth of a great religion.

The Call of Zarathustra.--The hymns give a vivid picture of that
early world in which the prophet lived. It was a world distracted
with conflict. On one side there is an agricultural community bent on
industry, and, like the Hindus, even at this day, valuing as most
sacred the cattle which form their chief substance. On the other
hand, there are men who dwell on the outskirts between the tilled
land and the wilderness, who are constantly making raids on the
farms, driving off and killing the cattle for sacrifice and for food,
and ruining the fields by destroying the irrigating works on which
their fertility depends. And there is a religious difference as well
as a difference in culture between these two sets of people. The
agriculturists are worshippers of Ahura; the contemners of the cattle
worship beings called in the Gathas "daevas." This schism was not of
Zarathustra's making, he found it going on, and being a priest was
entitled to come forward and seek to guide others with regard to it.
Such is the situation which the hymns present to us. We will try to
state the substance of some of those hymns. The naked words of them,
even when we are sure of the correctness of the translation, are
barely intelligible without lengthy commentary; and on the other
hand, no short statement in modern terms can convey the force and
solemnity of these struggling utterances. As we are dealing with the
original revelation of Zarathustra, the source of the Persian
religion, we shall give the story with some degree of detail.

The first hymn in the arrangement presented to us in _S. B. E._ deals
with what we may term the call of Zarathustra. It sums up in a poetic
and dramatic form the religious result of the movement which led him
to come forward.

The "Soul of the Kine" first speaks; it is the impersonation of the
agricultural community, to whom their cattle are most sacred. She
raises a complaint to Ahura and Asha (the righteousness which is an
attribute of Ahura, and like his other attributes often appears as an
independent person) of the insolence and highhanded devastation and
robbery she has to suffer. "For whom did ye fashion me," she says;
"wherefore was I made?" She appeals to the Immortals for instruction
in tillage with a view to security and welfare.

Ahura then speaks and asks Asha what guardian has been appointed for
the kine to lead and to defend her; and Asha answers that no one,
himself free from passion and violence, could be found who was
capable of being an adequate guardian. The causes of these evils lie
at the roots of the constitution of things, and therefore those
seeking success in any enterprise must approach Ahura himself and not
any subordinate being.

Zarathustra speaks, and confirms the utterances of Asha; it is in
Ahura himself that he and the kine place their confidence; to his
will they submit themselves; the doubts and questions arising from
their outward insecurity, they refer to him.

Ahura speaks and answers his own question. It is true that no lord of
the kine is to be found, who in himself is quite equal to that
position, but he appoints Zarathustra as head to the agricultural

A chorus speaks, consisting of a company of the faithful supposed to
be present, or of the Ameshospends, the personified attributes of
Ahura, and praise the Lord for his bounty and for the wisdom he makes
known; but asks whom he has endowed with the Good Mind, or, as we
might say, the Holy Spirit, to make known to mortals his doctrine.
The call of Zarathustra, intimated in the foregoing verse, is
overlooked, as if it were impossible that such a one as he could
undertake the office. Ahura replies, repeating his commission to
Zarathustra, here called also by his family name of Spitama, and
promising to establish him and make him successful in his work.

The Soul of the Kine speaks, lamenting still that no adequate lord
has been assigned her. Zarathustra is a feeble and pusillanimous man,
not one of royal state who is able to bring his purpose to effect.
The Ameshospends join in the cry for the true lord to appear.

Zarathustra then speaks, accepting the mission in an address to
Ahura, whom he entreats to send his blessings of peace and happiness,
since none but he can give them, and to set up in the minds of the
disciples of the cause that joy and that kingdom which, though it
first comes inwardly, yet brings with it also all outward blessings.
For himself also he prays that the Good Mind and the Sovereign Power
(another of the attributes) of the Lord may hasten to come to him and
strengthen him for his mission.

This poetical rendering of the call of Zarathustra is free both from
miraculous embellishment and from undue exaltation of the person of
the prophet, and forms a great contrast to later statements in the
Avesta, where the prophet is placed in secret conclave with Ahura,
asking him questions and receiving detailed replies which at once
rank as revelation. In the Gathas, allowing for the theological and
poetic form, everything is human and natural. We are strongly
reminded of the accounts of the calls of prophets in the Old
Testament--there is the same choice by the deity of an apparently
weak instrument to accomplish a work urgently called for by the
times, the same sense of insufficiency on the part of the prophet,
but the same absolute confidence on his part in the power of the
deity, and hence the same absolute assurance, once the mission is
accepted, that the cause which he has been called to carry forward
must succeed. In many of the following Gathas the same parallel is
strongly impressed on the mind of the reader. The sense of weakness
is expressed again and again--the prophet has no victorious career,
but is exposed to much gainsaying, which he feels acutely. Yet he
never doubts that his god is with him, and is working for him. To him
he commits his doubts and fears, of his goodness he is joyfully
assured, and his aid he expects with confidence. He is entirely
devoted to Ahura and his cause, and offers himself up with his whole
powers to work out the divine will. He will teach, he says, as long
as he is able, till he has brought all the living to believe. He is
conscious of a divine power working in him. Nothing in himself, he is
strong by the divine grace which Ahura sends him: his words have
efficacy to keep the fiends at a distance, and to advance in men's
minds the divine kingdom; like St. Paul he feels his message to be to
some a savour of life unto life, to others a savour of death unto

The Doctrine.--And what is the message he proclaims? It is a
philosophy of the origin of the world, but a philosophy the
acceptance of which involves immediate and strenuous action. The
distracted condition of the world before him requires to be
explained, so that a remedy for it may be found; and Zarathustra
prays, when he is about to bring forward his doctrine, that Ahura
would help him to explain how the material world arose. The
explanation when it appears is not quite new, it has been shaping
itself already in the mind of his people, but he sets it forth as a
dogma, and draws from it at once all its practical consequences. In
the third hymn of the first Gatha he solemnly brings forward his
doctrine before the people, and appeals to them, not as a people, but
as individuals, each for himself, with a full sense of his
responsibility, to consider it, and adopt it, and act upon it. It is
the doctrine of dualism, not in the fully developed later form in
which two personal potentates divide the universe between them from
the first, but as yet in a form more speculative and vague. There are
two primeval principles, spirits, things, as is well known--the
expression is indefinite--the counterparts of each other, independent
in their action, a better and a worse, and Zarathustra calls on his
audience to choose between them, and not to choose as do the
evildoers. The world, as it is, was made by the joint action of the
two principles, and they also fixed the alternative fates of men, for
the wicked, Hell--the worst life; and for the holy, Heaven--the best
mental state. After the creation was accomplished, the two principles
drew off from each other, the evil one making choice of evil and of
evil works, and the bounteous spirit choosing righteousness, making
his strong seat in heaven, and taking for his own those who do good
and who believe in him. The Daevas and their followers are incapable
of making a just choice between the good and the evil; they have
surrendered themselves from the outset to the "Worst Mind," the demon
of fury, and to all evil works. (There are vague suggestions here of
a temptation and a fall, but only of the evil spirits and their
followers.) From this point onwards the world is filled with a great
struggle. On the one side is Ahura, the only god worshipped by name
in the Gathas. Ahura is a heaven-god, he is, in fact, the bright
heaven, and then the good and beneficent being who dwells in
brightness. In the hymns he is losing his definite character and
becoming an abstraction, a god of dogmatics rather than of history.
He is the good principle personified, and as becomes a god of such
transcendent character, he does not act directly, but through his
satellites. His attributes personified, do his bidding, aid the
saints in spiritual ways, and prepare for the better order of things.
On the other hand are the Daevas with the demon of wrath, who
propagate everywhere lies and mischief, and heap up vengeance for
themselves against the final judgment. For the good there is nothing
better than to aid,--for they can aid, in bringing on the renovation,
dwelling with Ahura even now, and by his attributes which work in
them as well as in him, reinforcing the righteous order, and
preparing themselves to dwell where wisdom has her home. In the end
the Demon of the Lie will be rendered harmless and delivered up to
Righteousness as a captive.

Inconsistencies.--As it happens in every such reform, the new
teaching is not quite consistent with itself; old views are taken up
into the new teaching, although they do not harmonise with it; the
spiritual way of looking at things alternates with a more worldly
way. The following are some examples of this:--The great doctrine of
Heaven and Hell as inner states, as being simply the best and the
worst state of mind, is clearly announced; but the traditional view
of future abodes of happiness and misery also appears. The
Kinvat-bridge is mentioned several times in the Gathas, over which
Iran conceived that the individual had to pass after death. If he was
righteous the bridge bore him safely over to the sacred mountain,
where the good lived again; if he was wicked, he fell off the bridge
and found himself in the place of torment. It is another
inconsistency that Zarathustra expects, on the one hand, to convert
the world by his preaching, while on the other hand his sense of the
antagonism between the good and the evil spirits and their followers
often hurries him into violent methods. One hymn concludes with a
summons to his adherents to fall on the unbelievers with the halberd,
and he is constantly predicting their sudden overthrow. Along with
this, we may mention that he sought to ally himself with powerful
families for the sake of the support they would bring the cause. The
name of Vishtaspa, king we know not of what realm, is always
associated with the prophet as that of his royal patron; other
influential friends are also mentioned. Another point, in which we
notice accommodation to existing usage, is that of sacrifice. The
Gathas have several noble passages describing the true sacrifice man
has to offer to God for his goodness, as consisting simply in the
offering of self, in the devotion to the deity of all a man is, and
all he can do. At the same time Zarathustra has not a word to say in
disparagement of the sacrifice of victims. He prays for guidance in
this part of religious duty; he desires to have everything connected
with sacrifice done in the best way and with the most effective
hymns. Thus the spiritual life is not left to stand alone. There is a
personal walk with God, our piety is said to be God's daughter in us,
his righteousness is working in us and moulding us for his purposes;
both will and deed of the good man are attributed to him, and the
processes are described with true insight by which the soul is
sanctified and wedded to her task and her true destiny; but at the
same time there is an intent looking to that sacred Fire which is an
outward representative of deity; there is the offering of victims,
even of horses, when the prophet's mind is bent on war (the
Homa-offering does not occur, and we may suppose the prophet rejected
this service of the deity by intoxication); there is the smiting of
the demons with prayer, and imprecations, similar to those in the
Psalms, against adversaries of the cause.

It is no proof of unspirituality that the welfare of the Kine, with
whose wail the call of the prophet began, is steadily kept in view
during his mission. The agriculturists are on the side of the
righteous being, good and ever-better tillage is a means of pleasing
him; it is his will that the kine should be freed from alarms and
should prosper; and he may be appealed to to give lessons with a view
to that end. The doctrine passes far beyond its first occasion; yet
the occasion which called for it is never lost sight of.

The Gathas, taken alone, tell us hardly anything of the religion in
which Zarathustra's fellow-countrymen believed. They believed
undoubtedly in many gods; in those parts of the Avesta which come
next to the hymns in time, polytheism is in full force. That
Zarathustra only speaks of one god, Ahura (though he also speaks of
"the Immortals" generally), may be due to the limited extent and
special purpose of the hymns, but it may also be taken as an
indication that the prophet did not needlessly interfere with the
beliefs of his people: content to preach the doctrine with which he
was charged, and which was to him the sum and substance of all
religion, he, like several other religious founders, stirred up no
strife he could avoid. The doctrine he preached was not unprepared
for in the mind of his country, and continued to be the leading
feature of Persian religion in subsequent periods.

It is a momentous step in religious progress, which the prophet of
Iran calls on his countrymen to take. We notice the main features of
the advance.

1. Man is Called to Judge between the Gods.--Zarathustra, like
Elijah, puts before his people the choice between two worships.
Various distinctions between the two cases might be drawn. In the
Scripture case Baal is not a bad god, but simply the wrong god for
Israel to worship. In the case of our reformer the difference between
the two worships is a deeper one. The individual is to choose his
god, he is to declare of his own motion that one god is better than
others, and that no worship whatever is to be paid to these others.
This was a new departure in antiquity; the early world loved to think
of many gods, all alike divine and worshipful, each race or clan
having its god whom it naturally served, or each part of the earth
being portioned out to a divine lord of its own. Neither Greece nor
Rome ever thought of making the individual man the arbiter among the
unseen beings whom he knew, and requiring him to decide which of them
he should consider divine, and which he should disown. In the case
before us, moreover, the choice is to be made on moral grounds. Men
are called to judge of the character of the beings who are called
gods, they are told that there is no necessity to acknowledge those
of whom they disapprove, they are emancipated from the fear of
hurtful and evil beings. There is war in heaven, and men are
encouraged to take part in that war, and to cast off allegiance to
such powers as do not make for righteousness. How there came to be
such strife among the gods, and how it became necessary that men
should judge of it, we have no clear information; we only know that
the momentous step was called for and was taken.

The belief, however, remains even after the decision that there are
unseen evil beings, who had influence in forming the constitution of
things, and who have influence still over the government of the
world. The position taken up is not monotheism. The good god is not
sole creator or sole governor of the world, he is a limited being;
from the outset he has only in part got his own way, and he has
adversaries in the very constitution of things, whom he cannot get
rid of. Persian thought is dualistic; the conception of an Evil
Creator and Governor co-ordinate with the good one differentiates it
from the thought of India, which always tends to a principle of

2. In the second place, this religion is essentially intolerant and
persecuting. Having chosen his side in the great war which divides
the universe, man can only prosecute that war with all his force; he
must regard the Daevas and their followers as his enemies, and try to
weaken and extinguish them. The general feeling of the ancient world
about differences in religion was that all religions were equally
legitimate, each on its own soil. The Jews, we know, shocked the
Greeks and Romans greatly by denying this, and maintaining that there
was only one true religion, namely, their own, and that all the
others were worships of gods false and vain. But the Persians came
before the Jews in this; the Gathas preach persecution, and the
insults offered by Persian kings in later times to the religions of
Egypt and Greece were no doubt justified by their convictions. In
Persia, as in Israel, religion had come to entertain the notion of
false gods. And a religion which entertains that notion must be
exclusive. Those who have refused to worship beings hitherto deemed
gods, on the ground that they ought not to be worshipped and are not
truly gods, cannot but desire to bring the worship of such beings
entirely to an end, and to make the worship of the true God prevail
instead, by rude or by gentle means, as the stage of civilisation may
in each case suggest.

Growth of Mazdeism.--After the Gathas proper we have other hymns
written in the Gathic dialect, from which the history of the religion
after its foundation may be to some extent inferred.[3] These show
that the Zarathustrian religion was regarded, after the departure of
the founder, as a great divine institution, and was worked out on the
lines he had laid down. The forms of it became of course more fixed.
The god it serves is now called "Ahura Mazda," the "All-Knowing Lord"
(the name is afterwards contracted into the Greek Oromazdes, the
Persian Hormazd; and the religion is called from it Mazdeism); he is
still implored for spiritual blessings both for this and for the
future life, and for furtherance in agriculture. There is, however, a
tendency to address prayer not only to Ahura himself but to beings
connected with him. As if the mind wearied of dwelling on the one
supreme, the Bountiful Immortals are associated with him, the parts
of his holy creation are invoked, the fire which is most closely
identified with him, the stars which are his body, the waters, the
earth, all good animals and plants. The kine's soul receives
sacrifice, and not only the kine's soul which we have met before, but
the souls of "just men and holy women," the Fravashis or spirits not
only of the departed but of the living also, the service of which
continues and increases henceforward in Persian religion. These are
invented deities and have a shadowy character; but gods of more
substance, and more historical reality also came into view at this
point. Zarathustra becomes a god, the hymns themselves are adored;
the Homa-offering reappears, Mithra is often coupled with Ahura,
other old gods creep back and are mentioned along with the moral
abstractions, which also increase in number; in one passage there are
said to be thirty-three objects of worship, a number which also
occurs in India.

[Footnote 3: Yasna Haptanghaiti, _S. B. E._ xxxi. p. 218, _sqq._, and
others following.]

Organisation of the Heavenly Beings.--With all this multiplication
there is, as we shall see, no compromise of the supreme claims of
Ahura. In some of the hymns, all beings, all attributes, all places,
and all times of a sacred nature are heaped indiscriminately
together, in interminable catalogues. But this apparent confusion is
corrected by a remarkable tendency to organisation. The Persian
religion ultimately came to have a very simple and very striking
theology; and that theology was made up by transforming the
abstractions in which the founder dealt, into persons, and arranging
them after the pattern of Oriental society. In the later Yasnas
(liturgies) a figure rises into view which the Gathas do not mention;
that of Angra Mainyu, later Ahriman, the Bad Spirit. In this
counterpart of Spenta Mainyu, the Good Spirit (who is not at first
identified with Ahura, but proceeds from him), the demons obtain a
personal head, and the dualism which appears in all nature and all
human society is thus brought to a personal expression. Ahura and
Ahriman confront each other as the good power and the evil. Both
alike had part in making the world what it is. In every part of the
world, and in all that is felt and done they are at strife. Ahura, to
quote Mr. Darmesteter, is all light, truth, goodness, and knowledge;
Angra Mainyu is all darkness, falsehood, wickedness, and ignorance.
Whatever the good spirit makes, the evil spirit mars; he opposes
every creation of Ahura's with a plague of his own, it is he who
mixed poison with plants, smoke with fire, sin with man, and death
with life.

The Attributes of Ahura.--Each of these beings has his retinue. That
of Ahura was formed first; it consists of his attributes. Even in the
hymns the attributes are regarded as persons, inseparable companions
of Ahura; appeals are made to one or another of them, according as
the worshipper seeks help from one side or the other of the divine
being. By a process which frequently occurs in religious thought,
they afterwards come to be more formally arranged and defined; there
are six of them, and each is charged with a province of the divine
economy. They are as follows:

  Vohu Mano (Bahman) Good Mind; he is the head and the guardian of
  the living creation of Ahura.

  Asha Vahista (Ardibehesht), Excellent Holiness; he is the genius of

  Kshathra Vairya (Shahrevar), Perfect Sovereignty; he is the lord of

  Spenta Armaiti (Spendarmat) divine piety, conceived as female, the
  goddess of the earth.

  Haurvatat (Khordat) health.

  Ameretat (Amerdat) immortality.

The last two are a pair, and have charge conjointly of waters and of

Ahura is himself one of these spirits; thus there are seven supreme

Retinue of Ahriman.--Angra Mainyu on his part comes to have a
corresponding retinue of six daevas, each being the evil counterpart
of one of the good spirits. Evil Mind, Sickness, and Decay are the
names of some of them. The whole spiritual world is ranged on the
side of the good or of the evil deity. The Izatas (Izeds) or angels
consist of gods of immemorial worship in Iran, some of whom are the
same as gods worshipped in India; but the title also applies to gods,
heavenly and earthly, of later creation, so that the class is a very
wide and elastic one. It comprises some beings who have been reduced
by the operation of the new ideas from the first to the second rank
of deities, such as Verethragna, who corresponds to the Vedic Indra,
and Mithra, the sun-god. These now appear in the same rank as gods of
the newer style, such as Sraosha, Obedience, and survivals of early
superstition, such as the "Curse of the wise," a very powerful Ized.
Zarathustra himself belongs to this class of deities, a miscellaneous
one indeed. Another class of sacred beings of world-wide extent is
that of the Fravashis spoken of above. If the good spirits are many
and various, so are the evil. Of these are the great demon-serpent
Azhi who plays a great part in Persian mythology, as Vrittra does in
Indian. Aeshma, later Asmodeus, may be named; he is one of the
Drvants, or storm-fiends. Gahi, an unfaithful goddess, has fallen to
a demon of unchastity; the Pairikas (Peris) are female tempters; the
Yatu are demons connected with sorcery.

The firm organisation of these hosts of spiritual beings, and the
sense of a great conflict in which they are all engaged from the
greatest to the least of them, preserve Mazdeism from the weakness
and absurdity which are apt to creep over religion when the
population of the upper and the nether regions is unduly multiplied.
The faithful never forget Ahura in favour of the minor deities, nor
do they forget that morals and industry are the chief ends of
religion, and that in cultivating these they hasten the coming of the
kingdom. The following is the formula, the "Praise of Holiness," with
which every act of worship begins in the Yasts[4] (liturgies of the

  May Ahura Mazda be rejoiced!

  Holiness is the best of all good!

  I confess myself a worshipper of Mazda, a follower of Zarathustra,
  one who hates the daevas and obeys the laws of Ahura.

[Footnote 4: _S. B. E._ vol. xxiii.]

Ancient Testimonies to the Persian Religion.--It is at this stage,
while it is still in a state of vigour, that we hear of the Persian
religion from various quarters in ancient records. The chapters in
the latter half of Isaiah, which so vigorously denounce idolatry,
hail the approach of Cyrus towards Babylon, and claim unity of
religion between him and the Jews (Isaiah xliv. 28 _sq._). He is the
shepherd who is to lead Jehovah's people back to their own land, and
to cause their temple to be rebuilt. And this claim that the Jewish
and the Persian religions were the same, that the Jews and the
Persians were alike worshippers of the one true God, while all the
surrounding nations were polytheists and idolaters, was admitted on
the side of Persia. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus at once
permitted the exiles to return to their own land. The Persian
monarchs of the following century, Darius and Artaxerxes, continued
to take a friendly interest in the worship of Jehovah, whom they
apparently regarded as a form of their own god, "the God of heaven,"
Hormazd (Ezra vii. 21). They accordingly took measures for the
rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem, and for the introduction there
of the new religious constitution which had been prepared at Babylon.
This could not have happened if the religion of the Persian kings had
not been a pure service of one god,[5] and the other information we
have on the subject shows that the Mazdeism of Persia at this period
was a very elevated form of the religion. The inscriptions of Darius
do not mention the spread of the worships of Mitra and Anahita,
which, however, make their appearance in the later inscriptions of
Artaxerxes; in none of them is Ahriman spoken of. This, of course,
does not prove that he was not believed in; when the Jewish prophet
proclaims that Jehovah makes both light and darkness, that he both
wounds and heals, there may be a reference to Persian dualism. Yet
Mazdeism was capable of appearing, and did appear to the foreigner,
as a lofty worship of a god of light and goodness. The same
impression is produced by the descriptions of the Greek writers.
Herodotus (i. 131, 132) writes as follows; he is a contemporary of
Ezra: "The following statements as to the customs of the Persians is
to be relied on. They do not fashion images of the gods, nor build
temples, nor altars--they consider it wrong to do so, and count it a
proof of folly; their reason for this being, as I think, that they do
not believe the gods to be beings of the same nature with men as the
Greeks do. They are accustomed to offer sacrifices to Zeus on the
summits of mountains; they call the whole circle of heaven Zeus. They
sacrifice also to the sun, and the moon, and the earth, and to fire,
and to water, and to the winds. These are the ancient parts of their
ritual, but they have added the worship of the Queen of heaven,
Aphrodite; it was from the Assyrians and the Arabs that they acquired
this. The Assyrian name for Aphrodite is Mylitta, the Arabs call her
Alilat, the Persians, Anahita.[6] Such being their gods the Persians
sacrifice to them on this wise. They have no altar, and do not use
fire in sacrifice, nor do they have libations nor flutes, nor wreaths
nor barley. He who wishes to sacrifice takes his victim to a clean
spot and there calls on the deity, his turban wreathed, as a rule,
with myrtle. He does not think of praying for benefits for himself
individually in connection with his sacrifice; he prays for the
welfare of the Persian people and king; he himself is one of the
Persian people. He then cuts up the victim, boils the pieces and
spreads them out on the softest grass he can find--if possible, on
clover. This done, one of the Magians who has come to assist, sings a
theogony,[7] as they call the accompanying hymn; no sacrifice is
allowed to be offered without one of the Magi being present. After a
short pause the sacrificer takes up the pieces of flesh and does with
them whatever he likes."

[Footnote 5: These two religions, Kuenen says, were more like each
other than any other two religions of antiquity.--_Religion of
Israel_, iii. 33.]

[Footnote 6: Herodotus says Mitra; but this is a mistake, whether of
the father of history or of a transcriber.]

[Footnote 7: One of the Yashts in praise of the particular deity.]

In other passages Herodotus tells us of the extreme sanctity
attributed by the Persians to waters, to fire, and to the sun. He
also tells us that they regarded lying as the worst possible offence,
and next to it falling into debt, since the debtor is tempted to tell

Plutarch writes as follows, quoting from an earlier Greek writer of
the third century B.C.: "Zoroaster the Magician,[8] who was 5000
years before the war of Troy, named the good god Oromazes and the
other Arimonius ... Oromazes is engendered of the clearest and purest
light, Arimonius of deep darkness; and they war one upon another. The
former of these created six other gods (here follow the Amshaspands),
but the latter produceth as many other in number, of adverse
operation to the former.... There will come a time when this
Arimonius, who brings into the world plague and famine, shall of
necessity be rooted out and utterly destroyed for ever ... then shall
men be all in happy estate, they shall need no more food, nor cast
any shadow from them; and that god who hath effected all this shall
repose himself for a time, and rest in quiet."

[Footnote 8: Holland's translation.]

The Vendidad: Laws of Parity.--These extracts show the growth of
certain ideas which we have not noticed before. The dualism is being
worked out more in detail, other gods are coming in, and the doctrine
of the sanctity of the elements has made its appearance. That
doctrine is the basis of a new set of ideas and practices which we
have now to consider, those namely which are contained in the
Vendidad, one of the later works of the Persian canon. To pass from
the Gathas to the Vendidad is like passing from Isaiah to Leviticus,
and the laws of purity of Persian religion bear a strong analogy to
those of Judaism. The Vendidad[9] is composed principally of laws and
rules designed to direct the faithful in the great task of
maintaining their ritual purity. The whole of life is dominated in
this work by the ideas of purity and defilement; the great business
of life is to avoid impurity, and when it is contracted to remove it
in the correct manner as quickly as possible. Purity here is not
primarily sanitary or even moral; though such considerations were no
doubt indirectly present. Impure is what belongs to the bad spirit,
whether because he created it, as he did certain noxious animals, or
because he has established a hold on it as he does on men at death. A
man is impure, not because he has exposed himself to the infection of
disease, not because he has contracted a stain on his conscience, but
because he has touched something of which a Daeva has possession, and
so has come under the influence of that Daeva. Purification,
therefore, and the act of healing consist of exorcisms of various
kinds. This notion of purity plays a great part in other old
religions also; it is here that we see its original meaning most
clearly. Another great feature of the doctrine of purity in the
Vendidad is that the elements, fire, earth, and water, are holy, and
to defile them in any way is the most grievous of sins. As everything
which leaves the body is unclean, a man must not blow up a fire with
his breath, and bathing with a view to cleanliness is not to be
thought of. The disposal of the dead was a matter of immense
difficulty, since corpses, being unclean, could be committed neither
to Fire nor to the Earth. They are ordered to be exposed naked on a
building constructed for that purpose on high ground, so that birds
of prey may devour them; and a great part of the Vendidad is taken up
with directions for purification, after a death has taken place, of
the persons who were in the house, of the house itself, of those who
carried the corpse, and of the road they travelled, etc.

[Footnote 9: _S. B. E._ vol. iv.]

How this Doctrine Entered Mazdeism.--This system was not in force in
the time of Darius and Artaxerxes (when the dead were buried or, as
in the case of Croesus, burned) though the ideas were appearing at
that period on which it is founded; and it is plain that it has no
necessary or vital connection with the religion of Zarathustra. But
in later Mazdeism there are many such importations. This religion, in
its course from east to west, came in contact with beliefs and usages
with which, though foreign to its own nature, it yet came to terms.
Mazdeism is not originally a markedly priestly religion; it is
thought that it became so when planted in Media. No doubt there were
germs in the early Iranian religion of a priestly system. Zarathustra
himself was a priest and was favourable to due religious observances.
But it is quite contrary to his spirit that life should be governed
entirely by ritual law. It was in Media that this came to be the
case. The name of Magi, originally perhaps that of a tribe, became in
Media the name of the priesthood, and so furnished an additional
title for Mazdeism. It is to this stage of the religion that the
priestly legislation of the Vendidad, with all its puritanical
regulation of life, is to be ascribed. (The practice of exposing the
bodies of the dead to be devoured by birds of prey is probably of
Scythian origin.) In this period also, remote from the origin of the
religion, we find a new view of Zarathustra himself and of his
revelation. In the earlier sources Zarathustra composes his hymns in
a natural manner; he is not an absolute lawgiver, but depends on
princes for the carrying out of his views. In the later works the
revelation takes place in a series of private interviews between
Ahura and Zarathustra; the prophet puts questions to the god, and the
god dictates in reply sentences which are at once promulgated as
sacred laws. Mazdeism, like other religions, has its wooden age, its
verbal inspiration, and its priestly code.

To trace the lines by which the influence of the religion of Persia
asserted itself in the wider world would be a large enterprise: only
a few indications can be given here. One great service which that
religion did to the world was undoubtedly that it had sympathy with
the Jews, and enabled Jewish monotheism to take a fresh start on its
way to become a religion for mankind. Mazdeism itself had a tinge of
universalism; Zarathustra expected his religion to spread beyond his
own land, and it did spread over all the provinces of Iran. It never
became a world-religion, but it might have done so had it not become
swathed and choked in Magism or had any new movement arisen in it to
assert the supremacy of its purely human over its artificial
elements. But Ahura himself, perhaps, was too abstract and
philosophic a god to inspire missionary ardour; it needed a being
more firmly rooted in history, a god who had done more to prove the
energy and intensity of his nature, and, further, a god more
undoubtedly omnipotent than Ahura, to establish a universal rule.

The interesting inquiry remains, how far the Jewish religion was
modified by its contact with the Persian. The laws of purity in the
Jewish priestly code find a close parallel in the Vendidad; but with
the Israelites the notion of religious purity existed, and was worked
out in considerable detail, as we see from Deuteronomy, before the
exile, and therefore long before the period of the Vendidad. The
belief in the resurrection, found among the Jews after the exile, and
not before it, has been maintained by many to be a loan from Persia,
where the belief in future reward and punishment was a settled thing
from the time of Zarathustra. But the Jews do not appear to have
grasped this belief all at once or fully formed. They arrived at it
gradually, many Old Testament scholars affirm, and by spiritual
inferences timidly put forth at first, from their own religious
consciousness. A belief which the Jewish religion was capable of
producing of itself need not, without clearer evidence than we
possess, be regarded as borrowed. We are not on much surer ground
when we come to ask whether the angels and demons of Judaism are
connected with those of Persia. This belief also arises naturally in
Judaism, where God came to be thought of as very high and very
inaccessible, and intermediate beings were therefore needed. Some of
the figures of the Jewish spirit-world are, no doubt, due to Persia;
the Ashmodeus of the book of Tobit is a Persian figure. Later Judaism
is like Parsism in arranging the heavenly beings in a hierarchy, and
assigning to the chief angels special functions in the administration
of God's kingdom, and still more so when the upper hierarchy is
confronted by a lower one with a great adversary and father of lies
at its head. But this takes place long after the Persian contact.

The Persian deities had, as a rule, too little legend to enable them
to be received in other countries. Ahura does not travel. Anaitis is
thought to have passed into Greece, changing her name to Aphrodite,
but also to the severer Artemis; but she is perhaps not original in
Persia. The Persian god best known in other lands was Mithra, the
sun-god and god of wisdom. He was a favourite with the Roman armies
in the early empire, and representations of him as a hero in the act
of slaying a bull in a cave have been found in many lands. There were
also mysteries connected with him, in which the candidates had to
pass through a great series of trials and hardships. Persia
influenced Europe and the west of Asia at the same period in another
way. Manicheism, a system which was one of the three great universal
religions of that time, and had a worship and a priesthood and a
sacred literature of its own, was founded by a native of Persia. He
laboured at a distance from his own country, and the doctrines he
propounded came more from Chaldea than from Persia, and consisted of
great histories, like those of the Gnostics, of the doings and
sufferings of cosmic and other persons; a great struggle between the
powers of light and those of darkness was one of its principal
features. The worship of this church was spiritual; its morals were
in theory of the purest and most ascetic kind, being founded on a
principle of dualism in the material world, and requiring much
self-denial and long fasts. The higher virtue of the system was not,
however, required of the ordinary member. Later Parsism, both in Iran
and in India, has shown a disposition to cast off dualism, and to
become, both philosophically and practically, a monistic system.


_S. B. E._ vols. iv., xxiii. (Darmesteter); xxxi. (Mills). _The
Zendavesta_, vols. v., xviii., xxiv., xxxvii., xlvii. Pahlavi Texts
(E. W. West).

_The Histories of Antiquity_ of Duncker, Maspero, and Ed. Meyer.

Haug's _Essays on the Sacred Language, Writings, and Religion of the
Parsis_. Second Edition, 1878,

F. Windischmann, _Zoroastr. Studien_, 1863.

Geldner, "Zoroaster," in _Encyclopædia Britannica_; "Zoroastrianism,"
in _Encyclopædia Bibl._

Mills, _A Study of the Five Zarathustrian Gathas_, 1892-94.

Lehmann, in De la Saussaye.

Dadhabai Naoroji, _The Parsee Religion_.

On Mithraism, _Dieterich Eine Mithras-liturgie._

Cumont, _The Mysteries of Mithra_, 1903.



The writer is aware that in offering a chapter on Christianity at the
conclusion of this work, he attempts a difficult task. If treated at
all, Christianity must be dealt with in the same way as the other
religions, and no assumptions must be made for it which were not made
for them. And a view of our own religion written, not from the
standpoint of the faith and love we feel towards it but of scientific
accuracy, must appear to many pious Christians to be cold and meagre.
But, on the other hand, Christianity is the key of the arch we have
been building, the consummating member of the development we have
sought to trace, and to withhold any estimate of its character would
be to leave our work most imperfect. It seems better, therefore, that
some hints at least should be offered on this part of the subject.
Christianity cannot indeed be dealt with in the same proportion as
the other religions; that would far exceed our space. But some views
are offered regarding its essential nature, which the writer believes
to be so firmly founded in fact that even those who are not
Christians cannot deny them, and thus to afford a valid criterion for
the comparison of Christianity with other faiths.

In the chapter on the religion of Israel we saw how the prophets
before and during the exile began to cherish the idea of a new
relation between God and man, which would not depend on sacrifice nor
be confined to Israel. God, they declared, was preparing a new age,
in which he would receive man to more intimate communion than before;
and man would be guided in the right path, not by covenants and laws,
but by the constant inspiration of a present deity. The new religion
would be one which all nations could share. Jerusalem, the seat of
the true faith, would attract all eyes; all would turn to her because
of the Lord her God.

But, alas, instead of growing broader to realise its universal
destiny, the religion of Israel grew narrower after the exile, and
seemed to forget the prospects thus opened up to it. Judaism, though
immeasurably enriched in its inner consciousness by the teaching of
the prophets, maintained its earlier semi-heathenish forms of
worship, only surrounding them with new stateliness and new
significance; and clothed itself in a hard shell of public ritual and
personal observance. The Jews separated themselves rigorously from
the world, and cultivated an exclusive pride; as if their religion
had been given them for themselves alone, and not for mankind. Under
the Maccabees they displayed the most heroic courage and tenacity,
maintaining their own beliefs and rites amid the flood of Hellenism
which at one time almost swept them away. That they carried their
nationality unimpaired through this period is one of the most
wonderful achievements of the Jewish race. In the succeeding period,
however, many signs appeared showing that their religion was losing
energy. The rule of the priests and scribes extended more and more
over the whole of life, tradition and observance grew more and more
extensive, but the moral judgment lost its elasticity. The sense of
the divine presence grew faint, and multitudes of spirits filled the
air instead, oppressing human life with a sense of vague anxiety. As
political independence was lost, the people became less happy and
more easily excited. But while formalism held increasing sway over
their actions, imagination was free, and surrounded both the past
history of Israel and its future triumphs with manifold

In such a condition was the religion of the Jews when Jesus appeared
in Palestine and created a new order of things. Christianity was at
first a movement within Judaism. Like all the religions which trace
their history to personal founders, it grew from very small
beginnings; but its doctrine was of such a nature, that if
circumstances favoured, it could not fail to spread beyond Judaism,
to men of other lands and other tongues.

The doctrine consisted primarily in a declaration that that great
religious consummation, the kingdom of God, which the prophets had
foretold, which was regarded by the fellow-countrymen of Jesus as a
far-off hope, and which had just been heralded by John the Baptist as
being immediately at hand, had actually taken place. The perfect
state was announced to have arrived, and to be a thing not of the
future but of the present. The long-expected intercourse of God and
man on new terms of perfect agreement and sympathy, had come into
operation; any one who chose could assure himself of the fact. The
title by which Jesus described the intimate relationship of man and
God which he announced, sufficiently shows its character. God is the
Father in heaven; men are his children, and all that men have to do
is to realise that this is so, to enter the circle and begin to live
with God on such terms. The great God seeks to have every one living
with him as his child; and religion is no more, no less, than this
communion. Father and child dwell together in perfect love and
confidence; no outward regulations are needed for their intercourse,
no bargains, no traditions, no ritual, no pilgrimage, no sacrifice.
The intercourse can be carried on by any one, anywhere. It is not a
matter of apparatus, but a purely moral affair, an affair of love.
The Father knows all about the child, is able to give him all he
needs, even before he asks it; is willing to forgive his sins when he
repents of them; is anxious above all to reinforce his efforts after
goodness. The child knows that the Father is always near him, carries
every need and wish to him in prayer, even though knowing that he is
aware of them beforehand; regards all that happens, either good or
ill, as sent by him for the best ends, and seeks in every case to
know his will and to submit to it sweetly, and execute it faithfully.

Nothing could be simpler, or deeper, or broader. Religion is here
presented free from all local or accidental or obscuring elements;
religion itself is here revealed. Accepted in this form, it does for
man all that it can. The relation between God and man is made purely
moral; the link is not that of race, nor does it consist in anything
external. The individual--every individual who will pause to hear--is
assured that there exists between God and him a natural sympathy, and
is urged to allow that sympathy to have its way. It is easy to see
what effect such a belief must have. The individual, bidden to seek
the principle of union with God not in any external circumstance or
arrangement, but in his own heart, becomes conscious of an inner
freedom from all artificial restraints. He finds in his own heart the
secret of happiness, and is raised above all fears and irritations;
and hence the forces of his nature are encouraged to unfold
themselves freely. He sees clearly what as a human person he is
called to be and to do, and feels a new energy to realise his ideals.
As God has come down to him, he is lifted up to God; a divine power
has entered his life, which is able to do all things in him and for

It may be said that what we have described are the effects of
religious inspiration generally, and may take place in connection
with any faith. But the divine impulse communicated to mankind in
Christianity differs from that of any other religion in two important
respects. In the first place, the God who here enters into union with
man possesses full reality and a character of the utmost energy. It
is Jehovah with whom we have to do here, changed, indeed, but still
the same; a God of real and irresistible power, on whom speculation
has not laid its weakening hand. The union of man with God is not
secured by making God abstract and vague, nor is his infinite
kindness and forgivingness purchased at the expense of his intensity
and awfulness. With Jesus, God is still the power who has actual
control over everything that goes on, and who is able to do even what
appears to be most impossible. He is a God of strict justice and
holiness; though he is so kind, his judgments have not ceased, but
are still impending over guilty men and a guilty people. It is he who
can cast both soul and body into hell. It is a God of such energy,
such zeal, who yet offers himself as the willing benefactor and
defender, and the loving guide and helper of the humblest of his
human creatures. In the second place, the terms of the union here
formed between God and man are such as can be found nowhere else. The
deity inspires man not to any particular kind of acts, not to
sacrifices, nor to withdrawal from the world, but inspires him simply
to realise himself. Man is assured of the sympathy of this great God,
and is then left in freedom as to the mode in which he should serve
him. No rules are prescribed; human life is not pressed into an
artificial mould, as is the case in so many great religions; no
preference is accorded to any one pursuit over others. This religion
is not a yoke to coerce men and to make them less, but an inspiration
capable of entering into every kind of life, and of making men
greater and better in whatever occupation. Even religious duties are
left to form themselves naturally; all that is insisted on is that
the child shall have living and real intercourse with the Father.
Prayer is necessary, and so is the practice of good works; the child
must keep in sympathy with the Father by doing as he does. Further
than this, the forms of the religious life are not prescribed. With
regard to morals, it is the same. The moral life is to build itself
up freely from within; goodness is not to be a matter of rule, but
the spontaneous and happy development of a principle which lives and
speaks deep in the centre of the heart. Jesus is not a lawgiver, save
in a metaphorical sense: the law which he sets up is nothing more
than that which every man, when he turns away from all that is
artificial, can find in his own breast.

It is one feature of the spontaneity and spirituality of the religion
of Jesus, that it has no constitution. Jesus regarded himself as the
founder not of a new religion, but only of an inner circle of more
devoted believers inside the old religion of his country; he did not
therefore feel called to draw up rules for a new faith, and the
result of this is that the mechanism of the religion is of later
growth. The authority of the founder can be appealed to for a direct
and constant intercourse with God as of a child with his father, and
for the conduct of men towards each other, which such intercourse
with God necessarily implies, but for hardly anything more. Here, as
in no other historical religion, man is free.

The religion of Jesus, therefore, is one of love alone. The divine
nature consists in love, and the impulse which religion communicates,
is simply that which proceeds from being loved and loving. And a
religion of love finds the way, as no other can, to make man free, to
unseal his energies, and to lead him upwards to the best life. The
appearance of such a religion forms the most momentous epoch of human
history. He who brought it forward must occupy a unique position in
the estimation of mankind. It can never be superseded.

It is no doubt the case that the doctrine of Jesus was not in all
respects new. The ideas of the prophets live again in him; his
followers have always found many of the Jewish Psalms to be perfectly
suited to their experience. Jesus lived in the faith of Israel, and
considered that he had come only to make that faith better
understood, and to free it from improper accretions. What was new was
his own person. His great work was that he embodied his teaching in a
life which expressed it perfectly. It is far short of the truth to
say that there was no inconsistency between what he taught and his
own conduct. His life is a demonstration, in every detail, of the
effects of his religion; all flows with the utmost simplicity, and
even as a matter of necessity, out of the truth he taught. What he
preached was, in fact, himself; he was himself living in the kingdom
of God, to which he called others to come; he knew in his own
experience what it was to live as a child with the Father in heaven,
and to view all persons, all things, all duties, in the light of that
intercourse. All his acts and words flowed from the same spring in
his own inner experience. In no other way could his life shape itself
than as it did, and he saw with perfect clearness what men must be,
and on what terms they must live together when God and they were as
Father and children to each other. What he thus knew he lived, as if
no laws but those of the kingdom of heaven had any authority for him,
and so he presented to the world that living embodiment of the true
religion, which has been the main strength of Christianity. Jesus
announces a new union of God with man, a union in which he himself is
the first to rejoice, but which all may share along with him; and
hence his person counts for more in his religion than that of any
other religious founder in his, and necessarily becomes an object of
faith to all who enter the communion. The doctrine does not produce
its specific effect apart from the person of Jesus. Because in him
alone they know the truth which brings them peace, his followers
regard him, in a way which has no parallel in any other religion, as
their Saviour.

But this name is given to him by his followers, as it is claimed by
himself, for another reason also. Jesus was more than a teacher. He
felt a power to be present in him which was able to supply all needs
and to comfort all sorrows; he did not shrink from summoning all who
were weary and heavy laden to come to him, nor from undertaking to
give them rest. Keenly alive to the sufferings of others, and able to
perceive even those sufferings of which they were not themselves
conscious, he felt it to be his mission to deal with the sadder side
of human life; he was a physician sent to the sick, a shepherd
seeking the lost sheep. It was among the poor and the sick, and even
among the outcasts of society, in whom the sense of need was
strongest, that he felt himself most at home and most able to fulfil
his calling. Thus the motive of compassion enters strongly into all
he said and did: but the compassion is not hopeless in this case as
in the similar case of Gautama (see chapter xx.), nor is the cure
recommended for the ills of humanity that of withdrawal from mankind
or of forgetfulness. Here there is a belief in God. The compassion
from which the religion flows is not as in the case of Gautama, that
of a preacher who has ceased to trust in any heavenly power; it is
announced as existing first of all in the heart of God Himself. God
can do all things, and in his yearning pity for his children has sent
his representative to assure them of his sympathy and to comfort them
in their sorrows. With Jesus therefore no evil is so great as not to
admit of a positive cure; he feels the remedy of all human ills to be
present in his own heart, and so he appears as the Messiah, not such
a Messiah as his countrymen looked for, but as the true Messiah, in
whom all human wants are met, and all human hopes fulfilled. The cure
which he announces for all ills consists in devotion to the will of
the Father in heaven. To give oneself unreservedly to the labour of
realising the purposes of the heavenly Father in one's own heart and
in the world, is to rise above all cares and sorrows; enthusiasm in
the Father's service is the sovereign remedy. To one who believes in
the Father, and seeks to live as his child, no despair is possible.
To be engaged in his business is at all times the highest happiness,
and his kingdom is assuredly coming, though man has still the
privilege of working for it,--the kingdom in which all darkness and
evil will be put away.

We have indicated the chief points which in a scientific comparison
of Christianity with other religions appear to constitute its
distinctive character; and we have sought to make our statement such
as the reasonable adherent of other religions will feel to be
warranted. The points are these. Christianity is a religion of
freedom, it is a system of inner inspiration more than of external
law or system, it is embodied in the living person of its founder, in
which alone it can be truly seen; and the founder is one who is
living himself in the relation to God to which he calls men to come,
and feels himself called and sent to be the Saviour of men.

It is impossible in this work to treat Christianity on the same scale
as the other religions; but the question of its universalism must
necessarily receive attention. Jesus himself did not expressly say
that his religion was for all men. It was his immediate aim to bring
about the renewal of the faith of his countrymen, and to give it a
more spiritual character; and some of his followers considered that
he had aimed at nothing more than this. But he formed a circle of
disciples and adherents, which afterwards came to be the Christian
Church, and he attached no ritual condition whatever to membership in
that community. Nay, more; by his repudiation of the Jewish system of
tradition he showed that the Jewish laws of ritual purity were not
binding upon his disciples, and the further inference could readily
be drawn, that one could enter the Kingdom without being a Jew at
all. The strong missionary impulse of the infant religion brought it
very early in contact with Gentile life, and the question soon arose,
whether those who refused to become Jews could yet claim a share in
the Messiah. It was the task of the Apostle Paul to work out the
theory of the universalism of Christianity, and after some conflict
the principle was recognised that in the Church all racial
differences disappear; "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek."
This controversy once settled--and a few years sufficed to settle
it--the new religion was free to spread in all directions. It spread
rapidly; the gospel was very simple and imposed no burdensome
conditions, and it soon proved itself to be capable of striking root
in any country. The Apostle Paul was the first great theologian of
the Church; but his doctrine, as will happen in such a case, does not
in all points spring out of the nature of the religion itself. The
Pauline theology is an attempt to reconcile the facts of Christianity
and especially that great stumbling-block to the Jews, the death of
the Messiah, with the requirements of Jewish thought. Instead of
seeing in the death of Christ, as the older apostles at first did, a
perplexing enigma, St. Paul saw in it the principal manifestation of
the compassion of the Saviour, and the great purpose for which he had
come into the world. He concentrated attention on Christ's death and
made the cross rather than the doctrine of the Messiah the burden of
his teaching. To understand Paul we must distinguish between his
religion and his theology. His religious position is essentially the
same as that of Jesus himself; with him, too, the new religion is
that of father and child, and of the consequences which inevitably
flow from such a union. But the movement of thought which began at
the moment of the crucifixion, the concentration of Christian faith
and love on the person of the Saviour, was now complete. The figure
of the Crucified with its powerful tragic attraction, and with its
deep lessons of conquest by self-surrender, of life by dying,
remained from St. Paul onwards, in the centre of the faith.

The world of the early centuries was in great need of a religion, and
Christianity supplied the place which was vacant. Brought in contact,
in the great ocean of the Roman Empire where all currents met, with
religions and philosophies of every kind, it proved best suited to
the task of supplying an inspiration for life, uniting together
different classes of men and schools of thought. But in the wide
arena of the Empire it received as well as gave, and in its
encounters with strange rites and doctrines it also put on many a
strange aspect. It became the heir of the thoughts and aspirations of
a hundred empires; all the pious sentiments that flowed together from
every quarter of the world helped to enrich its doctrine, and to make
it the great reservoir it is of all the tendencies and views, even
those most contrary to each other, which are connected with religion.
Its institutions are of diverse origin. From the Jews it received its
earliest Bible, for the Christians had at first no sacred books but
those of the old covenant, and its weekly festival, though the day
was changed. Its God was the God of the Old Testament, and its
Saviour was the Messiah of Jewish prophecy, so that it was a
continuation of the Jewish religion, and the attempts which were made
by early Gnostics to dissolve this tie were soon forgotten.

From Greece it received much. The world it had to conquer was Greek,
and the conquest could only take place by an accommodation to Greek
thought and to Greek ways. In the end of chapter xvi. we spoke of the
second Greek religion which arose under the influence of philosophy,
and found its way wherever Greek culture spread. In this great
movement, Christianity found a preparation for its coming in the
Greek world, without which its spread must have been much more
doubtful. In the Graeco-Roman religion the advances which appear in
Christianity are already prefigured. Thought has been busy in
building up a great doctrine of God, such a God as human reason can
arrive at, a Being infinitely wise and good, who is the first cause
and the hidden ground of all things, the sum of all wisdom, beauty,
and goodness, and in whom all men alike may trust. Greek thought also
found much occupation in the attempt to reach a true account of man's
moral nature and destiny. Both in theory and in practice many an
attempt was made to build up the ideal life of man, and thus many
minds were prepared for a religion which places the riches of the
inner life above all others. The Greek philosopher's school was a
semi-religious union, the central point of which was, as is the case
with Christianity also, not outward sacrifice but mental activity. It
is not wonderful therefore if Christian institutions were assimilated
to some extent to the Greek schools. It has recently been shown that
the celebration of the Eucharist came very early to bear a close
resemblance to that of a Greek mystery, and that there is an unbroken
line of connection between the discourse of the Greek philosopher and
the Christian sermon. In some of the Greek schools pastoral
visitation was practised, and the preacher kept up an oversight of
the moral conduct of his adherents. While Christianity certainly had
vigour enough to shape its own institutions, and may even be seen to
be doing so in some of the books of the New Testament, the agreement
between Greek and Christian practices amounts to something more than

It was towards the end of the second century that the alliance
between Christianity and the Greek world was finally ratified. Till
then belief and practice were determined mainly by custom and
tradition; but now these were to give way to definite laws and
settled institutions. There came to full development, about the
period we have mentioned, a highly-organised system of church
government, a canon of sacred books of Christian origin, and a creed
in which the beliefs of Christians were drawn together in one
statement. It cannot be denied that the elaborate external forms with
which the religion of Jesus was thus invested went far to change its
spirit also. But this happens to every religion which reaches the
stage of organising itself in order to continue in the world and to
rule permanently in human thought and in human society. No external
forms can adequately express living religious ideas; and yet there
must be external forms in order that religious ideas may be
perpetuated. The ministers of the new truth inevitably rise in
dignity till they grow into a hierarchy. That truth inevitably seeks
to establish itself as scientifically true, and with the aid of the
ruling philosophical tendency of the day clothes itself in a view of
the universe and in a creed. Thus the essence of Christianity came to
consist not in loving the Master and following him in faith and love,
but in upholding the authority of the Church, receiving her
sacraments, and believing various metaphysical and transcendental
statements. Here also a hard shell is formed round the spiritual
kernel of the religion which, if it is fitted to preserve the latter
in rude and stormy times, is also fitted to confuse and also apt to
conceal it.

In each of the countries to which it came, Christianity adopted what
it could of the religion formerly existing there. The old religions
of these lands were not all alike, and hence it came to pass that as
the language of Rome was transformed in various ways, and passed into
the different yet cognate tongues of the Romance nations, so the
religion of the Empire, combining with various forms of heathenism,
passed into several national religions, the differences of which are
at least as conspicuous as their similarity. In Italy Christianity
appears to be a system of local deities, each village worshipping its
own Madonna or saint. In Holland worship consists almost entirely of
preaching. In other countries the ritual and the intellectual
elements of religion are blended in varying proportions; and the
former heathenism of each land is also to be traced in many a popular
observance and belief. So great is the variety of the religions of
Europe, not to mention that of the negroes or the Shakers of America,
that many have doubted whether they ought all to be considered as
branches of one faith, or whether they would not more fitly be
regarded as so many national religions which have all alike connected
themselves with Christianity. Against this there is to be urged in
the first place that as a matter of history they are all undoubtedly
offshoots of the religion of Jesus. It may also be urged that
wherever the name of Jesus is named, his ideas must to some extent be
present, however much they are obscured and prevented from operating
by lower modes of view. The Christianity of no country ought to be
judged by the attitude of its most ignorant or even of its average
adherents; and in every land where Christianity prevails, an
influence connected with religion is at work, which makes for the
emancipation and elevation of the human person, and for the awakening
of the manifold energies of human nature. This, as we saw, is the
immediate and native tendency of the religion of Jesus; it opens the
prison doors to them that are bound; it communicates by its inner
encouragement an energy which makes the infirm forget their
weaknesses, it fills the heart with hope and opens up new views of
what man can do and can become. It is this that makes it the one
truly universal religion. Islam, it is true, has also proved its
power to live in many lands, and Buddhism has spread over half of
Asia. But Buddhism is not a full religion, it does not tend to action
but to passivity, and affords no help to progress. Islam, on the
other hand, is a yoke rather than an inspiration; it is inwardly
hostile to freedom, and is incapable of aiding in higher moral
development. Christianity has a message to which men become always
more willing to respond as they rise in the scale of civilisation; it
has proved its power to enter into the lives of various nations, and
to adapt itself to their circumstances and guide their aspirations
without humiliating them. A religion which identifies itself, as
Christianity does, with the cause of freedom in every land, and tends
to unite all men in one great brotherhood under the loving God who is
the Father of all alike, is surely the desire of all nations, and is
destined to be the faith of all mankind.

A bibliography of the recent study of Christianity would be far too
extensive for this book. An excellent statement on the subject will
be found at the hands of Professor Sanday in the _Oxford
Proceedings_, vol. ii. p. 263, _sqq._


It will not be expected that the result of the great movement traced
in the chapters of this work can be summed up in a few words. We set
out with a definition of our subject which we said could only be
fully verified after religion had accomplished its growth and had
fully unfolded its nature. We also set out with the assumption that
all the religion of the world is one, and that it exhibits a
development which is in the main continuous, from the most elementary
to the highest stages. We shall not now attempt to justify by
argument that definition or that assumption. The history which we
have sought to place before the reader must itself be the proof of
them. All that can be done in bringing this work to a close is to
point out one great line of development, which may be recognised more
or less distinctly in the growth of each religion, and may therefore
be held to be characteristic of religion as a whole. No doubt the
growth of religion, as of other human activities, has many sides and
aspects, but perhaps it may be possible to specify the central line
of growth in which the explanation of all the subsidiary and parallel
forward movements is to be found.

It was stated in our first chapter that religion is the expression of
human needs with reference to higher beings who are supposed to be
capable of fulfilling men's desires, and it was also stated as an
inference from this, that the growth of human needs is the cause of
religious change and progress. If this is true, then the key to the
progress of religion is to be found in the successive emergence in
human experience of higher and still higher needs. If we can discover
the order in which higher aspirations successively emerge in the
growth of humanity, then we shall possess the chief clue to the
course of religious advance. Now while there is infinite variety in
the needs and desires of men, every land and each nation having
ideals all its own, we can yet discern, on a broad view of human
progress, an advance from lower to higher needs which is common to
the human race, and manifests itself in the history of each nation.
Three successive conditions of human life stand out before us as
markedly distinct, and as occurring wherever civilisation continues
to advance. The first is that in which material needs are
all-absorbing; the second that in which freedom from material needs
has been to some extent attained, and the highest aspirations are
directed to the safety and advancement of the nation in which men
find themselves united and secure; and the third is that in which the
individual realises his own value apart from the state, and develops
a personal ideal which is thenceforward his chief end. To these three
stages of human existence three types of religion correspond, and the
growth of religion consists in the main in its passage from the lower
to the higher of these stages.

The religion of the tribe belongs to that stage of man's existence in
which his energies are entirely occupied in the struggle against
nature and against other tribes. The conditions of his life do not
allow his higher faculties to grow, and while he is not without many
glimpses and anticipations of higher things, his religion, as a
whole, is a mass of childish fancies, and of fixed traditions which
he cannot explain, but does not venture to criticise or change. His
gods are petty and capricious beings, and his modes of influencing
them, though used with zeal and fervour, have little to do with
reason or with taste or with morality. It is in this kind of religion
that magic of all sorts is at home.

The advance from the religion of the tribe to that of the nation was
briefly described above (chapter vi.). The leading classes of the
state at least having gained some measure of security and leisure,
ideas of a nobler order spring up in their minds. The service of the
great gods of the state is organised with befitting dignity and
splendour; the best minds contribute to it all they can in the way of
art, of poetry, of purified legend, of stately ceremonial. Patriotism
and religion are one, the offices of worship are upheld by the whole
power of the state, and the gods speak with new authority to the
spirit of the worshipper. Now it is that great religious systems
arise, so powerful, so highly organised, so splendidly adorned, and
surrounded with such venerable traditions, that they seem to be
destined for eternity. The priesthood becomes a very powerful class,
and acquires a personal holiness which marks out its members as
different from other men; the sacrifices acquire the character of
divine mysteries, every detail of which, even the most trivial, has a
sacred meaning; religious books are compiled or written, which by and
by are regarded as inspired, and as possessing absolute authority. It
is to be observed that the older style of religion is not at once
driven out by the growth of the new, but continues to flourish beside
it and under its shadow. The tribes of whom the nation is composed
still cherish and adore their own special deities. That older worship
is often thought to bring blessings which the new worship of the
state does not command, and many a piece of ancient magic, many a
practice which has no connection with the state religion, still goes
on, especially among those who are not cultivated enough to
appreciate the nobler faith which has arisen.

This, however, does not keep the national faith from growing in
riches and consistency; and religion appears, as this growth
proceeds, to have attained the highest degree of power and authority
at which it can possibly arrive. Commanding as it does all the
resources of the nation, enriched by all that can be brought to it of
material or intellectual riches, placed in a position of absolute
exaltation and inviolableness, to what further conquests can it still
look forward? Yet when a national religion appears to be most firmly
established, the forces are most certainly at work which must ere
long lead to a far-reaching change. While the national worship has
been growing up to its highest splendours, the lives of the citizens
have also been growing richer and deeper, and the individual soul has
become aware of wants and longings which cannot be satisfied in the
national temple. The further progress of religion is apt to appear as
a revolt against the system which has grown so strong. The individual
sets out to seek a consistent intellectual view, and so figures as a
sceptic. He aims at a higher moral law than that of the priestly
system, and is accused of undermining public morality. He feels a new
call to personal goodness, a new need for personal atonement with the
ideal holiness which he has learned to apprehend; and as the public
ritual does not meet these needs, he seeks for new religious
associations and perhaps appears to preach a doctrine contrary to
patriotism, as it is subversive of the established religion of his
country, and to be wilfully destroying what his countrymen revere,
and wilfully breaking through old ties and obligations. Thus the
individualist stage of religion succeeds the national. But the
individualist stage is also, in part at least, the universal stage.
What the thinking mind and the pious heart seeks and cannot find in
the national worship, is a religion free as the seeker himself has
become free, from all that is unreasonable and artificial, a religion
therefore in which every thinking mind and every pious heart can have
a share. What is gained by individuals in this direction is capable,
therefore, if circumstances favour, of proving an acquisition not
only for the individual reformer or his nation, but for all men. But
as the rise of national religion does not bring to an end the ruder
worships of the tribes, which still go on beside it, so neither does
the rise of individualism, even in its purest form, bring to an end
the national worship. In the long run this may follow, but it does
not take place at once. All three forms of religion go on together;
the religion of magic, that of stately public sacrifices and
ceremonials, and that of intellectual effort and pious meditation and
prayer. Each no doubt influences to some extent the others, and is
influenced by them in turn.

The movement thus indicated from tribal to national, and from
national to individual and to universal religion, is the central
development of religion, and all the minor developments which might
be traced, as that of sacrifice from rude to spiritual forms, of the
functions of the sacred class, of the morality dictated by religion
at its various stages, or of the literature connected with piety, may
be explained by reference to this one. This movement has taken place
in every nation; we have seen something of it in each of our
chapters. In some nations it has been early arrested, so that no
important contribution has there been brought to the general religion
of mankind, in others it has run its full course, and like a great
river has arrived at the ocean at last, to mingle its waters with
those of other mighty streams.

The story of the growth of the world's religion has therefore to be
told in a number of parallel narratives, each dealing with the
experience of a separate nation. There can scarcely be any general
history of the religion of the world, in addition to those special
histories. Some epochs, it is true, stand out as having witnessed
simultaneous religious movements in many lands, as if the mind of the
whole human race had then been passing through the same crisis of
thought. The sixth century B.C. is the age of Confucius and of
Laotsze in China, of Gautama in India, of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the
Unknown Prophet of the Exile, of Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and
Xenophanes, and also of the rise into prominence of the Greek
mysteries. Widely different as the movements are which thus took
place contemporaneously in these lands, we may discern in all of them
alike the tendency to plant religion in the mind and heart, and to
create a deeper union than the old external one, a union based on
common intellectual effort and spiritual sympathy. The period
immediately before and after the Christian era might also appear to
be one in which the mind of the world as a whole made a great step
forward. The union of many nations under the sway of Rome, and the
universal diffusion of the Greek language as a means of general
communication, made men conscious at this time as they had never been
before, of the unity of mankind in spite of all differences of race
and speech. A philosophy also was popular at this time which was
cosmopolitan in its character, and occupied itself with the great
problems, which are the same for all, of man's relation to the gods
and of his moral duty. If we add to this the combination which took
place at Rome and wherever different races met, of various rites and
creeds, we see that the age was one singularly disposed to the
breaking down of artificial barriers between men, and singularly
fitted to promote the growth of a belief in which men of all nations
might unite and feel themselves to be brethren.

In these two periods we may recognise important steps in that great
Education of the Human Race which the Apostle Paul refers to in a
bold philosophy of history (Galat. iv.), and which later thinkers
have striven to set forth in detail. After the long servitude of
mankind to irrational practices and to gods who were no gods, there
comes first the period when men recognise that the true God is to be
found not merely outside them but within their hearts and minds, and
then the period when they find that the true God is the same to all
men, that they are all children of the same Father. But while these
general movements of the human mind may be acknowledged, the
education of the human race proceeds for the most part in nations. As
each nation has to elaborate its own art, its own literature, its own
system of law, so each nation has to perfect its own religion. Even
after a universal faith has appeared, religion does not cease to be a
national thing. Each people moulds the universal religion which it
has adopted into a special form, continues by means of it the rites
and traditions of the past, and expresses through it its own national
character and aspirations. Each nation as well as each individual
must necessarily have a faith specially its own, arising out of its
own character and experience and in great part incommunicable to
others. No two nations could possibly exchange religions.

But on the other hand every nation contains within itself forms of
religion which differ from each other as widely as those of two
separate nations. It has been said that no religious belief or usage
which has once lived can ever be destroyed; and the proof of this may
be witnessed in every nation. Even after that religion has come which
has its main seat in the heart and soul, the ruder forms of piety
live on, and even at times aggressively assert themselves. If there
are classes for whom the struggle against material hardships still
continues, no lofty religion can be attained by them any more than by
savage tribes. As the conditions of their life forbid the growth of
their higher faculties, their religion cannot be one of thought or of
refinement, but must be one which promises palpable benefits or an
escape from immediate dangers. At a somewhat higher stage is the
class of those who, while partly escaped from the struggle against
want, have not yet fully realised themselves as thinking and
spiritual beings, and to whom the benefits of religion still lie
outside, rather than in the inner life. When the benefits of religion
are thus conceived, its processes must be of a mechanical nature.
Hence the various systems of apparatus for connecting the worshipper
with a source of good distant from him in time or space, and for
fetching as it were from another region, with certainty and accuracy,
needed supplies of grace.

The further development of religion in a community so mixed must
depend on the progressive education and elevation of the people. As
more and more of them are freed first from distracting wants and
cares, and then from sordid and materialistic views, their spiritual
nature will expand. The need for God himself rather than for his
gifts, will arise and increase in their hearts, and they will grow
capable of that highest religion which is the life of the soul with
God; they will feel its beauty and will drink of the deep springs
which it contains, of strength and peace.

To attain this true religion the human race has had to travel far and
to make many experiments. Many temples were built and fell to ruin
before the true temple of the soul was reached in which, as each
finds what he as an individual requires, there is also room for all
mankind. Even after this highest religion has been made known to men,
it has often been obscured and lost, and many a struggle has been
needed to vindicate its claims and help it to retain its rightful
place. But with growing experience the world becomes more assured
that the simplest and broadest religion ever preached upon this earth
is also the best and the truest, and that in maintaining Christianity
as at first preached, and applying it in every needed direction, lies
the hope of the future of mankind. To those who agree in this
conclusion the history of the religion of the world, full of errors
and of grievous failures as it has been seen to be, cannot appear to
have been a vain and purposeless excursion in a land of shadows. Not
without a divine call, and not without divine guidance did man set
out so early, and persevere so constantly in spite of all his
disappointments, in the search for God.


Aesir, 267

Ahura Mazda, 387, 391, 397, 398, 405

Allah, 222

Allat, "The Lady," 165, 173, 219

Amartas, 44

Anaitis, 407

  primitive, 33, 40
  China, 115
  Aryan, 250
  India, 338

Angels and demons, Persia, 400, 407

Animals, worship of, 29, 57
  in Peru, 86
  in Babylonia, 96
  in Egypt, 130
  how accounted for, 133
  in Arabia, 219
  in Greece, 277

Animation of Nature in savage thought, 24

  meaning of, 40, 96, 308
  in Roman religion, 308

Anthropomorphism, 53
  Babylonia, 96
  Egypt, 132
  Greece, 281

Apocalypse, 213

  before Mahomet, 218
  gods of, 219
  Judaism and Christianity in, 223

  Phenician, 174
  Egyptian, 132
  Greece, 280, 292

Aryans, the, 245
  description of, 248
  in Europe, 256
  religion, 250
  etymology of names of gods, 250

Ascetics, Brahmanic, 350

Ashera, Canaanite goddess, 172

Ashtoreth, 176

Association, forms of religious,
  Totem-Clan, 70
  nation, 84
  Greek mysteries, 298
  Greek schools, 303
  new form in Israel, 212
  new form in Islam, 233

Asuras, 44

Baal, Canaanite god, 171, 189

Babylon and Assyria,
  religion of, 93
  connection with Egypt, 94, 96, 97
  connection with China, 93, 98
  mythology of, 100

  an essential part of religion, 9, 13
  less important than rite in primitive religion, 66

Brahman, etymology of, 339

Brahmanism, 338

Buddhism, 353, _sqq._
  in China, 123

_Burnt Njal_, 264

Burton, Captain, _Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Mecca_, 236

Caaba, 220, 236

Cabiri, 177

Canaanites, 170
  religion of, 171, 191

Caste, 338

Celts, 257

China, 106
  connection with Babylonia, 107
  state religion of, 111

Christianity, 411, _sqq._

Civilisation and religion advance together, 15
  origin of, 19

Classification of religions, 80

Confucius, 107, 117, _sqq._

Continuity of growth in religion, 6

Curiosity, an element of religion, 12

Daniel, 213

Decalogues, 202

Definition of religion,
  preliminary, 8
  fuller, 13

Degeneration in civilisation, 19
  in religion, 38

Deuteronomy, 201

Devas, 44, 396

Development of religion, 8, 51, _sqq._, 430, _sqq._

Domestic worship,
  origin of, 33
  China, 115
  Aryans, 251
  Iceland, 264
  Greece, 275
  Rome, 311
  Brahmanic, 342

Dualism, 56

Eddas, 266

Egypt, religion of, 126, _sqq._

Elijah and Elisha, 190

Elves, 265

Ephod, 188

Etruria, religion of, 318

Exile of Israel, 202

Ezra, 204

Fairy Tales (German), 262

Fate, 289

Festivals, Greek, 294

Fetish-worship, 35

Fetishism, 38

Fire, 31

Frazer, Mr., 58, 59; _Golden Bough_, 28, 279

Frisia, religion in, 263

Functional deities,
  Greece, 275
  Rome, 308

Funeral practices, 62
  Egypt, 149
  Icelandic, 264
  Greece, 282, 290
  India, 332
  Persian, 405

Games, Greek, 294

Gautama Buddha, 356
  his death, 361

Germans, the ancient, 258
  their gods, 259
  their gods identified with Roman, 260
  working religion of, 260
  later religion, 263

Ghosts, 34

Gods, the great,
  in Babylonia, 98
  in Egypt, 137
  of the Aryans, 252
  German, 259
  Icelandic, 266
  of Homer, 285
  Roman, 311
  Indian, 326

Gomme, _Ethnology in Folklore_, 60, 249, 254

Greece, 274

Grimm, German Mythology, 260

Hades, 291

Hammurabi, 93, 95, 202

Hanyfs, 224

Hartmann, Edward von, 46

Heaven, 52
  an object of primitive worship, 31, 53
  Babylonia, 93
  China, 112
  Arabia, 219
  India, 318, 326, 333

Hegira, 231

Hell, 229, 265, 392

Henotheism, 56

Heroic legends,
  Babylonian, 100
  German, 262

Hesiod, 291

Homer, 283
  worship in, 287

Homeric gods, 285

  Babylonian, 101
  Egyptian, 144
  Vedic, 328
  Persian, 383. See Psalms

Iceland, 264
  decay of old religion of, 272

  none in primitive religion, 73
  Arabia, 219, 220
  German? 264

  China, 115
  Egypt, 152

Incas, the religion of, 85-88

India, 324

Individual, the, not considered in primitive religion, 76

Individual religion,
  Babylonia, 104
  Israel, 205
  Greece, 300
  India, 346
  a high stage of religion, 429
  the porch to universalism, 430
  See Buddhism

Indo-Europeans. See Aryans

Isaiah xli.-lxvi., 203

Islam, 217. See Mahomet
  meaning of, 226
  spread of, 237
  a universal religion, 240
  weakness of, 241

Israel, 179

Israel and Canaanites, 184
  Prophets, 189
  reforms of religion, 200
  exile, 202
  the return, 204

Istar, 101

Jainism, 362

Japan, 115

Jehovah, 182

Jesus Christ, 413, _sqq._

Jewish religion, 205
  spiritual elements of, 209
  heathenish elements of, 210
  Persian influence on? 215

Jinns, 220

Job, 215

Judaism, 205 _sqq._
  Hellenistic period of, 412
  at time of Christ, 413

Kathenotheism, 55, 336

Koran, 225, 227, 239

Lang, Andrew, 25, 59; _Myth, Ritual, and Religion_, 22

Legge, Dr., 110, 113

Literatures, sacred, 179
  Babylonia, 93, 100
  Buddhist, 353
  China, 108
  Eddas, 266
  Egypt, 127, 154
  Koran, 225, 227, 239
  Israel, 179, 207
  Sibylline books, 319
  Vendidad, 406
  Zend-Avesta, 382

Local nature of early religion, 60

Local observances,
  Aryan, 253
  old German, 262
  Icelandic, 264

Lockyer, _Dawn of Astronomy_, 94

Magi, 405

Magic, 74
  Babylonia, 95
  Egypt, 155

Mahomet, 225, _sqq._
  preaching, 228
  leaves Mecca, 231
  at Medina, 232
  breach with Judaism and Christianity, 234
  domestic, 235

Manicheism, 408

Mannhardt, _Feld- und Waldkulte_, 59, 262

Manu, law of, 344

Massebah, 172

Maya, 349

McLennan, 59

Mecca, 220
  becomes capital of Islam, 235

Meyer, E., 247

Mithra, 407

Moloch, 174

Monarchical Pantheon of the Aryans, 253

  not primitive, 37, 56
  in Egypt? 144
  emergence of, in Israel, 196
  in India, 348

  in primitive religion, 77
  Egyptian religion, 155
  Greece, 279
  Vedic religion, 335
  Brahmanism, 345
  of Buddhism, 372

  meaning of, 226
  duties of the, 238

Müller, Mr. Max, 10, 42, 246, 250, 332
  his theory of the origin of religion, 43

Mycenæ, 282

Mysteries, the Greek, 298

  origin of, 51
  Babylonia, 100
  Egypt, 138
  Greece, 280
  Icelandic, 267
  Indian, 333

National religion,
  how different from earlier form, 81, 428
  Israel, 191

Natural religion, 80

Nature gods, growth of, 51

  the greater, 30, 43
  the minor, 32, 42, 57

Nirvana, 361, 373

Omens, 290
  Roman, 312

Orientation, of temples, 100

Origin of religion,
  (1) Primitive revelation, 26
  (2) Innate idea, 26
  (3) Psychological necessity, 27

Orphism, 302

Other World, the
  in Egypt, 151
  with the Semites, 167
  Jewish beliefs about, 214
  Arabia, 220
  Iceland, 265, 266
  Homer, 283

  in Egypt, 148
  India, 336, 348

Patriarchal society and religion of Aryans, 248

Perkunas, 36

Persia, 381
  primitive religion, 385
  contact of Jews with, 401, 406

Pfleiderer, Otto, 47

Phenicians, 170
  religion of, 176
  influence on Greece, 282

Philistines, 170

  Greek, 301
  Indian, 347

  origin of, 53
  Indian, 335

  primitive, 71
  Israel, 198, 212
  Indian, 339
  Persian, 382, 394

Priestly code, 202, 403

  none in the earliest religion, 72
  not necessary in early Israel, 187
  Roman, 313
  Brahmans, 338

Primitive religion, the, 21
  difference between it and later forms, 79

Prophets, in Israel, 189
  their criticism of the old religion of Israel, 192

Psalms, 210. See Hymns

Purity, laws of,
  Israel, 209
  Persia, 404

  Greece, 297
  India, 350

  of Israelite religion, 200
  of Augustus, 322

Renouf, Le Page, 145

Revealed religion, 80

Réville, M., 25, 31, 42

Resurrection, 214

Retribution, after death,
  in Egypt, 155
  Mahomet, 229
  Israel, 214

Rig-veda, the, 325

  Brahmanic, 343
  Roman, 314
  Persian, 403
  Jewish, 204, 208

Rome, 305, _sqq._

Rougé, M. de la, 145

Sacred places, 59
  Semitic, 165
  Canaanite, 184, 200
  Arabia, 219
  Germany, 261

Sacred seasons, 75

  primitive, generally a meal, 67
  in China, 114
  Semitic, 164
  human (Phenician), 175
  human (Israel), 187
  human (Icelandic), 265
  early Israelite, 183
  denounced by O. T. prophets, 193
  Jewish, 207
  Icelandic, 264
  Homeric, 287
  Persia, 394

Saussaye, P. D. Chantepie de la, 17

Savage elements in all the great religions, 21

  their religion falls short of the definition, 8
  represent the original state of mankind, 19
  mental habits of, 23
  all have religion, 25
  the religion of, described, 29, _sqq._
  their beliefs furnish the elements of the great religions, 63

Schrader (Aryans), 247, 252

Semites, 161
  religion of, 162
  gods of, 164, 173
  goddess of, 99, 165, 219

Seraph, 220

Shin-to, 115

  Babylon, 103
  Israel, 205

Slavs, 256

Smith, Robertson, 61; _Religion of the Semites_, 58, 70, 162

Spencer, Mr. H., 11, 39

Spirit, the great, 36

  of dead persons, 33
  worship of, the origin of all religion? 38
  in Babylonia, 95
  in China, 114
  in Arabia, 220
  in Greece, 275
  in Persia, 398

Standing stones, 60

Sun, 30

  Babylonia, 99
  Egypt, 140, 148
  Phenician, 176
  Arabian, 219

Supreme Being, an object of primitive worship? 36

Survival of savage state in the great religions, 21

Synagogue, 212

Syncretism, of gods in Egypt, 148

Taboo, 72

Taoism, 121

Taylor, Dr. I., 247, 248

  not primitive, 72
  Babylonia, 99
  Egyptian, 128, 130, 136
  Phenician and Jewish, 178
  Greek, 292
  Roman, 318, 323

Teraphim, 188

Teutons, 256. See Germans

Thunder, 30, 265, 270

Tiele, Dr. C. P., 15

Totemism, 58, 135, 277

Transmigration, 302, 351, 368

  primitive, 32, 59, 278
  Babylonia, 101
  Canaanites, 172
  Arabia, 219
  Greece, 278

Tribal religion, 57, 77, 427

Tylor, Mr., _Primitive Culture_, 10, 20, 25, 29, 39, 62, 63, 68

Under-world, the,
  Babylonia, 100, 102
  Egypt, 140, 142, 152

Unity of all religion, 4

Universal deities of the Aryans, 252

  in O. T. prophets, 195
  in Islam, 240
  in Christianity, 419

Urim and Thummim, 188

Vedic hymns, 328

Vedic religion, 324, _sqq._
  its gods, 326
  is it early or late? 331

Vow, original meaning of, 75

Waitz and Gerland's _Anthropologie der Naturvölker_, 29

Wellhausen, J., 163, 218

Wells, sacred, 32, 57, 59

  an essential element of religion, 9
  primitive, 66
  Chinese, 112
  Egyptian, 147
  Canaanite, 173
  Israelite, 187
  Jewish, 207
  Roman, 309
  See Sacrifice

Zeus, etymology of, 250, 286, 296

Zoomorphism, 53

Zoroaster, 384
  his call, 388
  his doctrine, 391


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