Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/535
THE GENESIS OF SUPERSTITIONS.
While gathering food on the sea-shore, he finds, protruding from a rock, a shell which, if not of the same shape as the shells he picks up, is so similar that he naturally classes it with them. But, instead of being loose, it is part of a solid block; and, on breaking it off, he finds its inside as hard as its matrix. Here, then, are two kindred forms, one of which consists of shell and flesh, and the other of shell and stone. Near at hand, in the mass of clay débris detached from the adjacent cliff, he picks up a fossile ammonite. Perhaps, like the Gryphæa just examined, it has a shelly coating with a stony inside. Perhaps, as happens with some liassic ammonites of which the shell has been dissolved away, leaving the masses of indurated clay that filled its chambers locked loosely together, it suggests a series of articulated vertebrae coiled up; or, as with other liassic ammonites of which the shell has been replaced by iron pyrites, it has a glistening appearance like that of a snake's skin. As such fossils are sometimes called "snake-stones," and are in Ireland supposed to be the serpents St. Patrick banished, we cannot wonder if the uncritical savage, classing this object with those it most resembles, thinks it a transmuted snake—once flesh and now stone. In another place, where a gully has been cut through sandstone by a stream, he observes on the surface of a slab the outline of a fish, and, looking closely, sees scales and the traces of fins; and elsewhere, similarly embedded in rock, he finds skulls and bones not unlike those of the animals he kills for food; some of them, indeed, not unlike those of men.
Still more striking are the transmutations of plants occasionally discovered. I do not refer so much to the prints of leaves in shale, and the fossil stems found in strata accompanying coal; I refer, more especially, to the silicified trees here and there met with. Retaining, not their general forms only but their minute structures, so that the annual growths are marked by rings of color such as mark them in living stems, these yield the savage clear evidence of transmutation. With all our knowledge it remains difficult to understand how silica can so replace the components of the wood as to preserve the appearance thus perfectly; and for the primitive man, knowing nothing of molecular action and unable to conceive a process of substitution, there is no possible thought but that the wood is changed into stone.
Thus, if we ignore those conceptions of physical causation which have arisen only as experiences have been slowly organized during civilization, we shall see that in their absence there would be nothing to prevent us from putting on these facts the interpretations which the primitive man puts on them. Looking at the evidence through his eyes, we find his belief, that things change from one kind of substance to another, to be the inevitable belief
And here let us not omit to note that along with the notion of transmutation is involved the notion of duality. These things have obviously two states of existence.