Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 9, 1898.djvu/356

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
The "High Gods" of Australia.

the certainty that such acts would cause them to become 'thin, lazy, and stupid.'" The separation of women, and the horror of them, especially at certain times, need not be discussed. It is universal in the lower culture, nor has it wholly disappeared among the more ignorant classes of civilised nations. A close inspection might even detect it in "Leviticus, passim.^' Mr. Howitt's observations here must also be read in connection with the fourth precept. "I doubt," he says, "if there is any rule of conduct under which the novice is placed, which is not directly intended to some end beneficial to the community, or believed to be so. The rule as to keeping far from even the shadow of a woman is clearly intended to prevent, by supernatural terrors, any interference with woman, which, as 'Love laughs at locksmiths,' the old men knew well not even the dread of the spear or waddy would suffice to prevent." And he affixes this shrewd note: "An additional motive for these rules is evidently the advantage which the old men reap from them."[1]

As little, therefore, as the Australian theology do the precepts taught in the Australian mysteries, when carefully examined, yield evidence of anything higher than the state of savagery in which the natives are found. If it be doubtful how far in every case the god undertakes the superintendence of the neophyte's conduct, there is at least no doubt that what Mr. Lang calls "ethical conformity to his will "is simply conformity to existing savage institutions, and has no observable tendency to elevate the individual beyond them. The facts alleged to prove "that much of the Decalogue and a large element of Christian ethics are divinely sanctioned in savage religion" (p. 327), turn out, so far as the Blackfellows are concerned, to be misinterpreted. Neglecting the true canon of inquiry, Mr. Lang has attempted to explain the moral code of the Kurnai, not

  1. Journ. Anthr. Inst., vol. xiv., p. 321. Compare the prohibitions among the Murring and allied tribes, quoted a little above.