Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/305

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287
MYTHIC PERSONIFICATION.

only a beast that kills a man, but a cart-wheel that runs over him, or a tree that falls on him and kills him, is deodand, or given to God, i.e. forfeited and sold for the poor: as Bracton says, 'Omnia quæ movent ad mortem sunt Deodanda.' Dr. Reid comments on this law, declaring that its intention was not to punish the ox or the cart as criminal, but 'to inspire the people with a sacred regard to the life of man.'[1] But his argument rather serves to show the worthlessness of off-hand speculations on the origin of law, like his own in this matter, unaided by the indispensable evidence of history and ethnography. An example from modern folk-lore shows still at its utmost stretch this primitive fancy that inert things are alive and conscious. The pathetic custom of 'telling the bees' when the master or mistress of a house dies, is not unknown in our own country. But in Germany the idea is more fully worked out; and not only is the sad message given to every bee-hive in the garden and every beast in the stall, but every sack of corn must be touched and everything in the house shaken, that they may know the master is gone.[2]

It will be seen presently how Animism, the doctrine of spiritual beings, at once develops with and reacts upon mythic personification, in that early state of the human mind which gives consistent individual life to phenomena that our utmost stretch of fancy only avails to personify in conscious metaphor. An idea of pervading life and will in nature far outside modern limits, a belief in personal souls animating even what we call inanimate bodies, a theory of transmigration of souls as well in life as after death; a sense of crowds of spiritual beings sometimes flitting through the air, but sometimes also inhabiting trees and rocks and waterfalls, and so lending their own personality to such material objects — all these thoughts work in mythology with such manifold coincidence, as to make it hard indeed to unravel their separate action.[3]

  1. Reid, 'Essays,' vol. iii. p. 113.
  2. Wuttke, 'Volksaberglaube,' p. 210.
  3. See chap. xi.