Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/23

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13
RELIGION AND THE ENVIRONMENT.


swiftness from place to place, of possessing its will and consciousness independently of the body, and continuing to exist and appear after the death of the body.

This conception of the soul once formed, the abnormal facts of disease, insanity, epilepsy, and hysteria, come readily to be explained by the invasion into these bodies of other spirits than their own — celestial or demoniac, superhuman or infra-human, according to the phenomena observed. These notions, once diffused, give rise, in their turn, to a whole cycle of kindred animistic theories and religious practices — such as divination by dreams, exorcisms of demons, dervish-dancings, and other artificially produced swoons and ecstasies, and fetichistic magic of all sorts. Sneezing, hiccough, and all painful diseases, are to the savage the work of some spirit that has crept into his body. Fasting, as occasioning vivid visions, becomes a method of seeing one's tutelar deity, as among our Indians, or as the proper rite to fit the priest for initiation into his sacred office, as generally in savage tribes.

When it is evil spirits that do their work in man, they must be cast out by invoking some beneficent and more powerful god. Hence exorcism, witchcraft, medicine-men. When it is good spirits that do their work in man, we have inspired seers and priestesses — divine oracles, like those of Delphi and Dodona. Out of a belief that the spirits of the dead still maintain an interest in those they have left, and are causers of good and evil to them, come propitiation of them by gifts and prayers, and ancestor-worship — so prevalent in ancient China, Egypt, and Rome, as among many African and Polynesian tribes still — is developed.

Next, perhaps (as happens in many cases), the departed chieftain or patriarch, still looked upon as protecting his descendants and tribesmen, becomes the guardian deity of the tribe, or the ruler of the hidden land to which the ghosts of the dead must journey. As still further evolutions from this root, we find the belief in the resurrection of the body and the transmigration of souls, the custom of embalming, and the varied ideas of the nature of the future life found in different nations.

3. Next, we must notice the great influence of man's intercourse with his fellows. Under this third head I would call attention to the action of the political condition or environment, as a differentiating factor. In ancient times, the connection between religion and government was far closer than we see almost anywhere to-day. That separation between church and state, that independence of politics and faith so prevalent everywhere to-day, was unknown to antiquity. The state and the church were one. The king was high-priest by virtue of his office, and the priest as much a state or civic official as judge or warrior-chief. Not infrequently, the same individual held both what we now distinguish as secular and sacred offices. Among the ancient Aryans — as with the early Hindoos, Greeks, and Romans — religion