THE thoughtful student of universal history can plainly see, under the clear light afforded by modern research, that the line of continuity from the lowest savagery, to the highest civilization is unbroken; the vast interval between the two extremes being filled by "the series of advances through which the marvelous and complicated mechanism of refined societies has issued from the savage condition in which the first men long lived."
Anthropologists study closely the myths, customs, and traditions of uncivilized tribes of our own time, as they are thought to present the most reliable ideas of ancient peoples when they were in a similar stage of mental development.
This method commends itself to that large class of cultured minds, trained in the doctrine of evolution, who believe that, in examining things present, they have data from which to reason in regard to what has been; there being no necessity for imagining other causes than those now in action to account for the past in either the physical or psychical world.
The savage regards all Nature as a combination of distinct intelligent personalities. He draws no line of separation between himself and material things, but thinks every object upon which his eyes rest is endowed with life akin to his own. He even believes that the sky, wind, sun, and dawn are persons, "with human parts and passions." He looks upon the lower animals as more powerful than himself, and therefore worships many of them as divine and creative. This crude personalism has well been termed the distinctive philosophy of primitive culture.
Totem is a word introduced into our literature by an Indian interpreter of the last century, but it is only within recent years that totemism has been studied scientifically. It prevails almost universally among the aborigines of Australia at the present time. It is also found among savage tribes in North and South America, as well as among peoples in the same primitive stage of culture all over the world. The totem is never an isolated object like a fetich, but always a class, such as species of plants or animals—usually the latter—which certain stocks of men worship, and from whom they consider themselves descended. The clans take the name of their animal deity, such as Wolf, Bear, Serpent, Raven, and Fox. The stock name is generally traced through the female line, and no man is allowed to marry a woman who has descended from the same animal ancestor.
- Suggested by reading A Washington Bible Class, by Gail Hamilton.