This striking passage, remarkable enough in itself, becomes all the more important when we remember who are the gods to whom such prayers are offered and such thanksgivings due. They are, as Mr. Macdonald himself informs us, the deified relatives of the chief. "The chief of a village," says this acute observer, "has another title to the priesthood. It is his relatives that are the village gods. Every one that lives in the village recognizes these gods; but if any one remove to a new village, he changes his gods. He recognizes now the gods of his new chief. One wishing to pray to the god (or gods) of any village, naturally desires to have his prayers presented through the village chief, because the latter is nearly related to the village god, and may be expected to be better listened to than a stranger."
Almost equally explicit as to the true nature of primitive ghosts and primitive tree worship is Sir William Hunter. "A Bengal village," he says, "has usually its local god, which it adores either in the form of a rude unhewn stone or a stump, or a tree marked with red lead." [Probably a substitute for the blood of human victims with which it was once watered.] "Sometimes a lump of clay placed under a tree does duty for a deity; and the attendant priest, when there is one, generally belongs to one of the half-Hinduized low castes. The rude stone represents the non-Aryan fetich; and the tree seems to owe its sanctity to the non-Aryan belief that it forms the abode of the ghosts or gods of the village."
Omitting the mere guess-work about the fetich (whatever that may mean), and the gratuitous supposition, hazarded out of deference to the dying or defunct creed of Max-Müllerism, that ancestor worship must necessarily be a "non-Aryan" feature, this lucid account shows us the cult of the sacred tree in a very simple and early form as mere ordinary worship of the ancestral ghosts in the place where they are believed to make their home, without complications of any sort.
From these naïve and primitive types of sacred tree to the dark groves of cedar or cypress that surrounded the fetich-stone shrines of civilized Hellas is not surely a very far cry. We are already well on the track of the groves of Artemis, well within sight of the "opaca silvis redimita loca deæ," where Phrygian votaries worshiped with awful rites the mysterious goddess who rules over Dindima's height. Existing savages or low-caste Orientals thus give us the keynote that enables us to understand these dark places of antique usage and antique superstition.
Even in the midst of our own struggling civilization we shall not look in vain for obvious traces of this earliest and crudest
- Africana, vol. i, p. 64.
- Imperial Gazetteer of India, article "India," s. v. "Religion."