THE search for the cause of things and events exists since the appearance of man on the face of the earth. The inability to explain things reasonably and convincingly induced the thinkers of ancient times to use their imaginative faculties. The ancient explainers of natural phenomena were the poets.
The continual strife with the elements, the dreadful toils and dangers of man's life, the inclemency of nature—were all attributed to a perverse divinity or demon, who delighted to inflict pain and misery upon brief-lived mortals. Such a divinity needed worship and sacrifice to propitiate him. Humanity began to fear the devil before they imagined the god. The "earthworms" created the gods of goodness to protect themselves against the spirit of evil which they had incarnated.
With fear began superstition, which is based upon fear and ignorance. The desire to know the mysterious future has given rise to a great deal of the world's store of credulity in the supernatural. The ancient philosopher who desired to divine the future by means of geometrical figures, the pretty maiden who counts the petals of the daisy or dandelion to learn whether her lover will be constant, and the business man who allows the clairvoyant to pass on the lines of his hand—are the ordinary examples in life of the vain endeavor to raise the curtain that hides what is to be. Living beings fear death—a rational fear. In order to prolong life, the body is to be kept healthy, illnesses are to be avoided and, if disease does afflict an individual, the sickness is to be cured. This is all rational. But illnesses are almost inevitable in man's life, and diseases are not always cured or curable. Instead of combating disease logically, men of all classes drew upon their imagination and hashed various absurd means and methods of treating their ailments.
Coeval with the birth of superstition was the birth of magic. The charlatan who could unscrupulously play upon the feelings of his ignorant audience had quite a mighty following in every locality where
- Baring-Gould, "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages," p. 151.