Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 26, 1915.djvu/140

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130 Psychology and Ethnology.

yet he dare not pass a slice with his fingers unless he says, ' Excuse the fingers,' which formula is evidently intended to neutralize contagion.

" Needless to say, the European theory of bacilli does not get at the psychological root of the matter, which is that their highly-strung natures everywhere see the workings of a mysterious power called Contagion, with which the whole world is loaded as with electricity. The theory of bacilli is merely the European way of justifying these feelings."

Here perhaps one of his auditors will interpose : " As for this invisible force. Contagion, or whatever it may be called, pervading things that once were in contact, and operating at a distance, which many civilized men believe in, it is easy to point to facts of experience, light, sound, odour, epidemics, from which it may have been abstracted. But surely so refined a notion cannot lie at the foundation of Bacteriology : we must begin the explanation with some much simpler mental process, which seems to need no further explanation, such as the habit of drawing inferences from analogy. According to contagious medicine thus :

" Latent premise : To touch an infected man communi- cates disease, therefore, to touch some utensil belonging to an infected man gives disease." ^^

Our savage anthropologist has applied the methods, often the very words, of the psychological school to ourselves. We may admire his ingenuity, but we cannot assent to his conclusions. If the result is unsatisfactory, then presumably the method is also unsatisfactory when applied to savages.

As a matter of fact, savages do interpret our customs psychologically, with results most unfavourable to ourselves. Old Melaia, an experienced midwife and fond of children, once remarked to me that White Women did not love their children, for they put their babies into separate cradles that they might sleep with their husbands, whereas Fijian

i^With apologies to Mr. Carveth Read, "The Conditions of Belief in Immature Minds," British Journal of Psychology, vol. vi., pp. 314 and 315.