Page:Myth, Ritual, and Religion (Volume 1).djvu/245

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Tacitus), and might be regarded as safely arrived at the threshold of civilisation. Society possessed kings, though they may have been kings of small communities, like those who warred with Joshua or fought under the walls of Thebes or Troy. Poets were better paid than they seem to have been at the courts of Homer, or are at the present time. For the tribal festivals special priests were appointed, "who distinguished themselves by their comprehensive knowledge of the requisite rites and by their learning, and amongst whom a sort of rivalry is gradually developed, according as one tribe or another is supposed to have more or less prospered by its sacrifices."[1] In the family marriage is sacred, and traces of polyandry and of the levirate, surviving as late as the epic poems, were regarded as things that need to be explained away. Perhaps the most savage feature in Vedic society, the most singular relic of a distant past, is the survival, even in a modified and symbolic form, of human sacrifice.[2]

As to the religions condition of the Vedic Aryans, we must steadily remember that in the Vedas we have the views of the Rishis only, that is, of sacred poets on their way to becoming a sacred caste. Necessarily they no more represent the popular creeds than the psalmists and prophets, with their lofty monotheistic morality, represent the popular creeds of Israel. The faith of the Rishis, as will be shown later, like that of the psalmists, has a noble moral aspect. Consciousness

  1. Weber, p. 37.
  2. Wilson, Rig-Veda, i. p. 59–63; Muir, i. ii.; Wilson, Rig-Veda, i. p. xxiv., ii. 8 (ii. 90); Aitareya Brahmana, Haug's version, vol. ii. pp. 462, 469.