Humes Critique of Religion: Sick Mens Dreams: 72 (The New Synthese Historical Library)

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RELIGION, REASON AND REVELATION 9

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The same sacred person, object, act, will suffice for a variety of purposes. Even where a piece of sympathetic magic appears to promise definite results, or when a departmental god is recognized, there would seem to be room left for a more or less indefinite expectancy.

Mystic potency, however, because of the very indefiniteness of its action, is a two-edged sword.

The sacred is not to be approached lightly. It will heal or blast, according as it is handled with or without due circumspection. That which is taboo, for instance, the person of the king, or woman's blood, is poison or medicine according as it is manipulated, being inherently just a potentiality for wonder-working in any direction.

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Not but what primitive thought shows a tendency to mark off a certain kind of mystic power as wholly bad by a special name, e. Australia , , at the hands of his fellows. Lang, l. These differ amongst themselves in the degree of their energy. One spell is stronger than another, one taboo more inviolable than another.

Rivers The Todas , gives an interesting analysis of the grades of sanctity apparent in Toda religion. The gods of the hill-tops come first. The sacred buffaloes, their milk, their bells, the dairies and their vessels are on a lower plane; whilst we may note that there are several grades amongst the dairies, increase of sanctity going with elaboration of dairy ritual cf. Still lower is the dairyman, who is in no way divine, yet has sanctity as one who maintains a condition of ceremonial purity. If, however, this activity originates at certain centres, it tends to spread therefrom in all directions.

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Jevons in An Introduction to the History of Religion , vii. In the former class he places supernatural beings including men with mana as well as ghosts and spirits , blood, new-born children with their mothers, and corpses; which list might be considerably extended, for instance, by the inclusion of natural portents, and animals and plants such as are strikingly odd, dangerous or useful.

Any one of these can pass on its sacred quality to other persons and objects as a corpse defiles the mourner and his clothes , nay to actions, places and times as well as a corpse will likewise cause work to be tabooed, ground to be set apart, a holy season to be observed. Such transmissibility is commonly explained by the association of ideas, that becoming sacred which as it were reminds one of the sacred; though it is important to add, firstly, that such association takes place under the influence of a selective interest generated by strong religious feeling, and, secondly, that this interest is primarily a collective product, being governed by a social tradition which causes certain possibilities of ideal combination alone to be realized, whilst it is the chief guarantee of the objectivity of what they suggest.

The Exploitation of the Sacred. Primitive religion, however, resorts to either way of approach so indifferently as to prove that there is little or no awareness of an inconsistency of attitude.

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The radical contrast between mechanical and spiritual religion, though fundamental for modern theology, is alien to the primitive point of view, and is therefore inappropriate to the purposes of anthropological description. Mystic power may be regarded as innate so far as skill, luck or queerness are signs and conditions of its presence. On the whole, however, savage society tends to regard it as something acquired, the product of acts and abstinences having a traditional character for imparting magico-religious virtue.

An external symbol in the shape of a ceremony or cult-object is of great assistance to the dim eye of primitive faith. Again, the savage universe is no preserve of man, but is an open field wherein human and non-human activities of all sorts compete on more or less equal terms, yet so that a certain measure of predominance may be secured by a judicious combination of forces. Hence the magico-religious society or individual practitioner piles ceremony on ceremony, name of power on name of power, relic on relic, to consolidate the forces within reach and assume direction thereof.

The transmissibility of the sacred ensures the fusion of powers drawn from all sources, however disparate. It is necessary, however, as it were to bring this force to a head. This would appear to be the essential significance of sacrifice, where a number of sacred operations and instruments are made to discharge their efficacy into the victim as into a vat, so that a blessing-yielding, evil-neutralizing force of highest attainable potency is obtained see H. Hubert and M. An important motif in magico-religious ritual, which may not have been without effect on the development of sacrifice, is, as Dr Frazer's main thesis in The Golden Bough asserts, the imparting of reproductive energy to animals, plants and man himself, its cessation being suggested by such phenomena as old age and the fall of the year.

To concentrate, induce and renovate are, however, but aspects of one process of acquisition by the transfusion of a transmissible energy. Hubert and Mauss show in their penetrating analysis of sacrifice that after the rite has been brought to its culminating point there follows as a pendant a ceremony of re-entry into ordinary life, the idea of which is preserved in the Christian formula Ite, missa est.

Such deposition of sacredness is but an aspect of the wider method that causes a ring-fence to be erected round the sacred to ward off casual trespassers at once in their own interest and to prevent contamination.

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We see here a natural outcome of religious awe supported by the spirit of esotericism, and by a sense of the need for an expert handling of that which is so potent for good or ill. This last consideration brings to notice the fact that throughout magico-religious practice of all kinds the human operator retains a certain control over the issue. In the numberless transitions that, whilst connecting, separate the spell and the prayer we observe as the accompaniment of every mood from extreme imperiousness to extreme humility an abiding will and desire to help the action out.

At the bottom is the vague feeling that it is man's own self-directed mysterious energy that is at work, however much it needs to be reinforced from without. Meanwhile, tradition strictly prescribes the ways and means of such reinforcement, so that religion becomes largely a matter of sacred lore; and the expert director of rites, who is likewise usually at this stage the leader of society, comes more and more to be needed as an intermediary between the lay portion of the community and the sacred powers.


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His religion is, however, anything but an abstraction to the savage, and stands rather for the whole of his concrete life so far as it is penetrated by a spirit of earnest endeavour. The end and result of primitive religion is, in a word, the consecration of life, the stimulation of the will to live and to do. To appreciate the consecrating effect of religion on primitive life we have only to look to the churinga -worship of the Central Australians as described by Spencer and Gillen in The Native Tribes of Central Australia and The Northern Tribes of Central Australia.

Or, again, we may note the earnestness and solemnity that characterize all their sacred ceremonies. The inwardness of primitive religion is, however, non-existent for those who observe it as uninitiated strangers; whilst, again, it evaporates as soon as native custom breaks down under pressure of civilization, when only fragments of meaningless superstition survive: wherefore do travesties of primitive religion abound. It remains to consider shortly the consecration of life in relation to particular categories and departments.

Almost every tribe has its initiation ceremonies, and in many tribes adult life may almost be described as a continuous initiation. The object of these rites is primarily to impart mystic virtue to the novice, such virtue, in the eyes of the primitive man, being always something more than social usefulness, amounting as it does to a share in the tribal luck by means of association with all it holds sacred.

Incidentally the candidate is trained to perform his duties as a tribesman, but religion presides over the course, demanding earnest endeavour of an impressionable age. Where society is most primitive it is most democratic, as in Australia, and magico-religious powers are possessed by the whole body of fully initiated males, age, however, conferring increase of sacred lore and consequently of authority; whilst even at this stage the experts tend to form an inner circle of rulers. The man with mana is bound to come to the top, both because his gifts give him a start and because his success is taken as a sign that he has the gift.

Only when the holy man's duty to preserve his holiness binds him hand and foot in a network of taboos does his temporal power tend to devolve on a deputy.

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In accordance with the principle of Renovation see above , the root-idea of the application of religion to economics is not the extorting of boons from an unwilling nature, but rather the stimulation of the sources of life, so that all beings alike may increase and multiply. Meanwhile, the primitive meal is always more or less of a sacrament, and there are many food-taboos, the significance of which is, however, not so much that certain foods are unclean and poisonous as that they are of special virtue and must be partaken of solemnly and with circumspection.

It is hard to say whether the unit of primitive society is the tribe or the group of kinsmen. Both are forms of union that are consolidated by means of religious usages.