Custom and Myth eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 239 pages of information about Custom and Myth.
collection of hymns), admitted its existence in the Atharvana (p. 60). {241} On p. 151, we read ’the Atharva-veda-Sanhita is a later collection, containing, besides a large number of Rig Veda verses, some curious relics of popular poetry connected with charms, imprecations, and other superstitious usages.’  The italics are mine, and are meant to emphasise this fact:—­When we leave the sages, the Rishis, and look at what is popular, look at what that class believed which of savage practice has everywhere retained so much, we are at once among the charms and the fetiches!  This is precisely what one would have expected.  If the history of religion and of mythology is to be unravelled, we must examine what the unprogressive classes in Europe have in common with Australians, and Bushmen, and Andaman Islanders.  It is the function of the people to retain in folklore these elements of religion, which it is the high duty of the sage and the poet to purify away in the fire of refining thought.  It is for this very reason that ritual has (though Mr. Max Muller curiously says that it seems not to possess) an immense scientific interest.  Ritual holds on, with the tenacity of superstition, to all that has ever been practised.  Yet, when Mr. Muller wants to know about origins, about actual ancient practice, he deliberately turns to that ’great collection of ancient poetry’ (the Rig Veda) ’which has no special reference to sacrificial acts,’ not to the Brahmanas which are full of ritual.

To sum up briefly:—­(1) Mr. Muller’s arguments against the evidence for, and the primitiveness of, fetichism seem to demonstrate the opposite of that which he intends them to prove. (2) His own evidence for primitive practice is chosen from the documents of a cultivated society. (3) His theory deprives that society of the very influences which have elsewhere helped the Tribe, the Family, Rank, and Priesthoods to grow up, and to form the backbone of social existence.


What are the original forms of the human family?  Did man begin by being monogamous or polygamous, but, in either case, the master of his own home and the assured central point of his family relations?  Or were the unions of the sexes originally shifting and precarious, so that the wisest child was not expected to know his own father, and family ties were reckoned through the mother alone?  Again (setting aside the question of what was ‘primitive’ and ’original’), did the needs and barbarous habits of early men lead to a scarcity of women, and hence to polyandry (that is, the marriage of one woman to several men), with the consequent uncertainty about male parentage?  Once more, admitting that these loose and strange relations of the sexes do prevail, or have prevailed, among savages, is there any reason to suppose that the stronger races, the Aryan and Semitic stocks, ever passed through this stage of savage customs?  These are the main questions debated between what we may call the ‘historical’ and the ‘anthropological’ students of ancient customs.

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Custom and Myth from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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