Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/301

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283
SOURCES OF MYTH.

races both ancient and modern, who so faithfully represent the state of thought to which myth-development belongs, as still to keep up both the consciousness of meaning in their old myths, and the unstrained unaffected habit of creating new ones. Savages have been for untold ages, and still are, living in the myth-making stage of the human mind. It was through sheer ignorance and neglect of this direct knowledge how and by what manner of men myths are really made, that their simple philosophy has come to be buried under masses of commentators' rubbish. Though never wholly lost, the secret of mythic interpretation was all but forgotten. Its recovery has been mainly due to modern students who have with vast labour and skill searched the ancient language, poetry, and folk-lore of our own race, from the cottage tales collected by the brothers Grimm to the Rig-Veda edited by Max Müller. Aryan language and literature now open out with wonderful range and clearness a view of the early stages of mythology, displaying those primitive germs of the poetry of nature, which later ages swelled and distorted till childlike fancy sank into superstitious mystery. It is not proposed here to enquire specially into this Aryan mythology, of which so many eminent students have treated, but to compare some of the most important developments of mythology among the various races of mankind, especially in order to determine the general relation of the myths of savage tribes to the myths of civilized nations. The argument does not aim at a general discussion of the mythology of the world, numbers of important topics being left untouched which would have to be considered in a general treatise. The topics chosen are mostly such as are fitted, by the strictness of evidence and argument applying to them, to make a sound basis for the treatment of myth as bearing on the general ethnological problem of the development of civilization. The general thesis maintained is that Myth arose in the savage condition prevalent in remote ages among the whole human race, that it remains comparatively unchanged among the