Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/361

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A Study of the Basis of Idolatry.


(Read at Meeting of 29th June, 1897.)

To one like myself, who has spent a large part of his life among an idol-worshipping people, there is something extremely fascinating in attempting to discover some of the leading principles which underlie this class of beliefs. Though my subject this evening is more immediately concerned with savage ritual, it is I venture to think, as most discussions on ritual can hardly fail to be, closely connected with some of those folk-beliefs which it is the special province of this Society to investigate.

Since the publication of Dr. Robertson Smith's epoch-making book. The Religion of the Semites, the steps by which the development of the idol from the rudest beginnings up to the stage at which it attains its highest artistic beauty, as we find it in Greek art, have passed almost beyond the range of controversy.

The process begins with a theophany—the appearance of the god to some favoured worshipper at some special spot. To this place the constant presence or occasional visits of the deity to bless and protect his votaries can be secured only by fitting suit and service. Here accordingly they slay and eat the sacred totem animal of the tribe, and secure communion with the divinity by pouring the blood on a pile of rude stones, the most primitive altar, which is later on replaced by a pillar marking more distinctly the holiness of the spot. This primitive unhewn monolith, as the progress to a more anthropomorphic conception of the godhead develops, comes to be carved in the semblance of the deity, and we thus reach the stage of the rude wooden idol or ξόανον, which Pausanias saw in so many of the