II.—Naturism

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The spirit of the naturistic school is quite different.

In the first place, it is recruited in a different environ­ment. The animists are, for the most part, ethnologists or anthro­pologists. The religions which they have studied are the crudest which humanity has ever known.  Hence comes the extra­ordinary importance which they attribute to the souls of the dead, to spirits and to demons, and, in fact, to all spiritual beings of the second order : it is because these religions know hardly any of a higher order.1 On the contrary, the theories which we are now going to describe are the work of scholars who have concerned themselves especially with the great civilizations of Europe and Asia.

Ever since the work of the Grimm brothers, who pointed out the interest that there is in comparing the different mythologies of the Indo-European peoples, scholars have been struck by the remarkable similarities which these present. Mythical personages were identified who, though having different names, symbolized the same ideas and fulfilled the same functions ; even the names were frequently related, and it has been thought possible to establish the fact that they are not unconnected with one another. Such resemblances seemed to be explicable only by a common origin. Thus they were led to suppose that these conceptions, so varied in appearance, really came from one common source, of which they were only diversified forms, and which it was not impossible to discover.  By the comparative method, they believed one should be able to go back, beyond these great religions, to a much more ancient system of ideas, and to the really primitive religion, from which the others were derived.

The discovery of the Vedas aided greatly in stimulating these ambitions. In the Vedas, scholars had a written text, whose antiquity was undoubtedly exaggerated at the moment of its

discovery, but which is surely one of the most ancient which we have at our disposition in an Indo-European language. Here they were enabled to study, by the ordinary methods of philology, a literature as old as or older than Homer, and a religion which was believed more primitive than that of the ancient Germans. A document of such value was evidently destined to throw a new light upon the religious beginnings of humanity, and the science of religions could not fail to be revolutionized by it.

The conception which was thus born was so fully demanded by the state of the science and by the general march of ideas, that it appeared almost simultaneously in two different lands. In 1856, Max Miiller exposed its principles in his Oxford Essays.1 Three years later appeared the work of Adalbert Kuhn on The Origin of Fire and the Drink of the Gods,2 which was clearly inspired by the same spirit. When once set forth, the idea spread very rapidly in scientific circles. To the name of Kuhn is closely associated that of his brother-in-law Schwartz, whose work on The Origin of Mythology3 followed closely upon the preceding one. Steinthal and the whole German school of Volkerpsychologie attached themselves to the same movement. The theory was introduced into France in 1863 by M. Michel Breal.4 It met so little resistance that, according to an expression of Gruppe,5 " a time came when, aside from certain classical philologists, to whom Vedic studies were unknown, all the mythologists had adopted the principles of Max Miiller or Kuhn as their point of departure." 6 It is therefore important to see what they really are, and what they are worth.

Since no one has presented them in a more systematic form than Max Miiller, it is upon his work that we shall base the description which follows.7

But Max Miiller commences with the contrary principle. For him, it is an axiom that religion reposes upon an experience, from which it draws all its authority. " Religion," he says, " if it is to hold its place as a legitimate element of our consciousness, must, like all other knowledge, begin with sensuous experience."1 Taking up the old empirical adage, " Nihil est in intellect» quod поп ante fuerit in sensn," he applies it to religion and declares that there can be nothing in beliefs which was not first perceived. So here is a doctrine which seems to escape the grave objection whicli we raised against animism. From this point of view, it seems that religion ought to appear, not as a sort of vague and confused dreaming, but as a system of ideas and practices well founded in reality.

But which are these sensations which give birth to religious thought ? That is the question which the study of the Vedas is supposed to aid in resolving.

The names of the gods are generally either common words, still employed, or else words formerly common, whose original sense it is possible to discover. Now both designate the principal phenomena of nature. Thus Agni, the name of one of the principal divinities of India, originally signified only the material fact of fire, such as it is ordinarily perceived by the senses and without any mythological addition. Even in the Vedas, it is still employed with this meaning ; in any case, it is well shown that this significa­tion was primitive by the fact that it is conserved in other Indo-European languages : the Latin ignis, the Lithuanian ugnis, the old Slav ogny are evidently closely related to Agni. Similarly, the relationship of the Sanskrit Dyaus, the Greek Zeus, the Latin Jovis and the Zio of High German is to-day uncontested. This proves that these different words designate one single and the same divinity, whom the different Indo-European peoples recog­nized as such before their separation. Now Dyaus signifies the bright sky. These and other similar facts tend to show that among these peoples the forms and forces of nature were the first objects to which the religious sentiment attached itself: they were the first things to be deified. Going one step farther in his generalization, Max Miiller thought that he was prepared to conclude that the religious evolution of humanity in general had the same point of departure.

It is almost entirely by considerations of a psychological sort that he justifies these inferences. The varied spectacles which nature offers man seemed to him to fulfil all the conditions necessary for arousing religious ideas in the mind directly. In fact, he says, " at first sight, nothing seemed less natural than nature. Nature was the greatest surprise, a terror, a marvel, a standing miracle, and it was only on account of their permanence, constancy, and regular recurrence that certain features of that standing miracle were called natural, in the sense of foreseen, common, intelligible. ... It was that vast domain of surprise, of terror, of marvel, of miracle, the unknown, as distinguished from the known, or, as I like to express it, the infinite, as distinct from the finite, which supplied from the earliest times the impulse to religious thought and language." 1 In order to illustrate his idea, he applies it to a natural force which holds a rather large place in the Vedic religion, fire. He says, " if you can for a moment transfer yourselves to that early stage of life to which we must refer not only the origin, but likewise the early phases of Physical Religion, you can easily understand what an impression the first appearance of fire must have made on the human mind. Fire was not given as something permanent or eternal, like the sky, or the earth, or the water. In whatever way it first appeared, whether through lightning or through the friction of the branches of trees, or through the sparks of flints, it came and went, it had to be guarded, it brought destruction, but at the same time, it made life possible in winter, it served as a protection during the night, it became a weapon of defence and offence, and last, not least, it changed man from a devourer of raw flesh into an eater of cooked meat. At a later time it became the means of working metal, of making tools and weapons, it became an indispensable factor in all mechanical and artistic progress, and has remained so ever since. What should we be without fire even now ? "2 The same author says in another work that a man could not enter into relations with nature without taking account of its immensity, of its infiniteness. It surpasses him in every way. Beyond the distances which he perceives, there are others which extend without limits ; each moment of time is preceded and followed by a time to which no limit can be assigned ; the flowing river manifests an infinite force, since nothing can exhaust it.3 There is no aspect of nature which is not fitted to awaken within us this overwhelming sensation of an infinity which surrounds us and dominates us.4 It is from this sensation that religions are derived.5

However, they are there only in germ.1 Religion really commences only at the moment when these natural forces are no longer represented in the mind in an abstract form. They must be transformed into personal agents, living and thinking beings, spiritual powers or gods ; for it is to beings of this sort that the cult is generally addressed. We have seen that animism itself has been obliged to raise this question, and also how it has answered it : man seems to have a sort of native incapacity for distinguishing the animate from the inanimate and an irresistible tendency to conceive the second under the form of the first. Max Muller rejects any such solution.2 According to him it is language which has brought about this metamorphosis, by the action which it exercises upon thought.

It is easily explained how men, being perplexed by the mar­vellous forces upon which they feel that they depend, have been led to reflect upon them, and how they have asked themselves what these forces are and have made an effort to substitute for the obscure sensation which they primitively had of them, a clearer idea and a better defined concept. But as our author very justly says,3 this idea and concept are impossible without the word. Language is not merely the external covering of a thought; it also is its internal framework. It does not confine itself to expressing this thought after it has once been formed ; it also aids in making it. However, its nature is of a different sort, so its laws are not those of thought. Then since it contributes to the elaboration of this latter, it cannot fail to do it violence to some extent, and to deform it. It is a deformation of this sort which is said to have created the special characteristic of religious thought.

Thinking consists in arranging our ideas, and consequently -in classifying them. To think of fire, for example, is to put it into a certain category of things, in such a way as to be able to say that it is this or that, or this and not that. But classifying is also naming, for a general idea has no existence and reality except in and by the word which expresses it and which alone makes its individuality. Thus the language of a people always has an influence upon the manner in which new things, recently learned, are classified in the mind and are subsequently thought of; these new things are thus forced to adapt themselves to pre-existing forms. For this reason, the language which men spoke when they

undertook to construct an elaborated representation of the universe marked the system of ideas which was then born with an indelible trace.

Nor are we without some knowledge of this language, at least in so far as the Indo-European peoples are concerned. Howsoever distant it may be from us, souvenirs of it remain in our actual languages which permit us to imagine what it was : these are the roots. These stems, from which are derived all the words which we employ and which are found at the basis of all the Indo-European languages, are regarded by Max Miiller as so many echoes of the language which the corresponding peoples spoke before their separation, that is to say, at the very moment when this religion of nature, which is to be explained, was being formed. Now these roots present two remarkable characteristics, which, it is true, have as yet been observed only in this particular group of languages, but which our author believes to be present equally in the other linguistic families.1

In the first place, the roots are general; that is to say that they do not express particular things and individuals, but types, and even types of an extreme generality. They represent the most general themes of thought; one finds there, as though fixed and crystallized, those fundamental categories of the in­tellect which at every moment in history dominate the entire mental life, the arrangement of which philosophers have many times attempted to reconstruct.2

Secondly, the types to which they correspond are types of action, and not of objects. They translate the most general manners of acting which are to be observed among living beings and especially among men ; they are such actions as striking, pushing, rubbing, lying down, getting up, pressing, mounting, descending, walking, etc. In other words, men generalized and named their principal ways of acting before generalizing and naming the phenomena of nature.3

Owing to their extreme generality, these words could easily be extended to all sorts of objects which they did not originally include ; it is even this extreme suppleness which has permitted them to give birth to the numerous words which are derived from them. Then when men, turning towards things, undertook to name them, that they might be able to think about them, they applied these words to them, though they were in no way designed for them. But, owing to their origin, these were able to designate the forces of nature only by means of their manifestations

which seemed the nearest to human actions : a thunderbolt was called something that tears up the soil or that spreads fire ; the wind, something that sighs or whistles ; the sun, some­thing that throws golden arrows across space ; a river, something that flows, etc. But since natural phenomena were thus compared to human acts, this something to which they were attached was necessarily conceived under the form of personal agents, more or less like men. It was only a metaphor, but it was taken literally; the error was inevitable, for science, which alone could dispel the illusion, did not yet exist. In a word, since language was made of human elements, translating human states, it could not be applied to nature without transforming it.1 Even to-day, re­marks M. Breal, it forces us in a certain measure to represent things from this angle. " We do not express an idea, even one designating a simple quality, without giving it a gender, that is to say, a sex ; we cannot speak of an object, even though it be considered in a most general fashion, without determining it by an article ; every subject of a sentence is presented as an active being, every idea as an action, and every action, be it transitory or permanent, is limited in its duration by the tense in which we put the verb." 2 Our scientific training enables us to rectify the errors which language might thus suggest to us ; but the influence of the word ought to be all-powerful when it lias no check. Language thus superimposes upon the material world, such as it is revealed to our senses, a new world, composed wholly of spiritual beings which it has created out of nothing and which have been considered as the causes determining physical phe­nomena ever since.

But its action does not stop there. When words were once forged to represent these personalities which the popular imagina­tion had placed behind things, a reaction affected these words themselves : they raised all sorts of questions, and it was to resolve these problems that myths were invented. It happened that one object received a plurality of names, corresponding to the plurality of aspects under which it was presented in ex­perience ; thus there are more than twenty words in the Vedas for the sky. Since these words were different, it was believed that they corresponded to so many distinct personalities. But at the same time, it was strongly felt that these same personalities had an air of relationship. To account for that, it was imagined that they formed a single family ; genealogies, a civil condition and a history were invented for them. In other cases, different things were designated by the same term : to explain these

homonyms, it was believed that the corresponding things were transformations of each other, and new fictions were invented to make these metamorphoses intelligible.  Or again, a word which had ceased to be understood, was the origin of fables designed to give it a meaning. The creative work of language continued then, making constructions ever more and more complex, and then mythology came to endow each god with a biography, ever more and more extended and complete, the result of all of which was that the divine personalities, at first confounded with things, finally distinguished and determined themselves.

This is how the notion of the divine is said to have been con­structed. As for the religion of ancestors, it was only a reflection of this other.1 The idea of the soul is said to have been first formed for reasons somewhat analogous to those given by Tyior, except that according to Max Muller, they were designed to account for death, rather than for dreams.2 Then, under the influence of diverse, partially accidental, circumstances,3 the souls of men, being once disengaged from the body, were drawn little by little within the circle of divine beings, and were thus finally deified themselves. But this new cult was the product of only a secondary formation. This is proven by the fact that deified men have generally been imperfect gods or demi-gods, whom the people have always been able to distinguish from the genuine-deities.4