Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/196

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186
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE ZUÑI SOCIAL, MYTHIC, AND RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS.[1]
By F. H. CUSHING

GENTLEMEN of the National Academy of Sciences—Ladies and Gentlemen: Let me at once present my Indian friends. And now let me introduce some remarks on the mythology and religion of the people whom they represent, the Zuñi Indians of Western New Mexico, the largest of the Pueblo nations, the lingering remnants of a vast culture which gave rise to the cliff and mesa ruins of the far Southwest, by a few words designed rather to define my own position than to illustrate my subject.

The student of the natural history of mankind finds his most difficult subject in the mythology of the lower peoples. Even our own mythology, including our theisms and superstitions, is hard to understand, yet ours is, thanks to just such bodies as the one which I have the honor to address today, the simplest of all mythologies, because its range of superstition is circumscribed by that of definite knowledge, its theism simplified in proportion to the extent of material philosophy.

Perhaps first among the causes of our difficulty is the fact that all mythology deals with those forces and things in nature which are beyond our comprehension; that it ends not here, but attempts to explain the origin of things in themselves incomprehensible. In proportion, then, to the lack of definite knowledge in any people, its mythology becomes more complicated and less readily understood. To the same intellectual germ in humanity which quickens the philosophy of the nineteenth century may we look for the cause of the origin and growth of mythology. And thus it happens that we find the scientist of our own places and times and the Zuñi Indian laboring hand in hand in the same field, both trying to explain the phenomena of nature and their existence, the one by metaphysical the other by physical research; the one by building up, the other by tearing down, mythology. In order, then, to comprehend the mythology of a people, we must learn their language, acquire their confidence, assimilating ourselves to them by joining in their everyday life, their religious life, even as far as possible in their intellectual life, by remembering with intense earnestness the reasonings of our own childhood, by constantly striking every possible chord of human sympathy in our intercourse with those whose inner life we would study.

I think I have now sufficiently explained why I have entered into relation with the Zuñi Indians, and become a participator in their

  1. Lecture before the National Academy of Sciences, delivered in Washington, April 22, 1882.