I have spoken of magical ritual as though it were the informing life-spirit without which religion was left as an empty shell. Yet the word ritual does not, as normally used, convey to our minds this notion of intense vitalism. Rather we associate ritual with something cut and dried, a matter of prescribed form and monotonous repetition. The association is correct; ritual tends to become less and less informed by the life-impulse, more and more externalised. Dr Beck ("Die Nachahmung und ihre Bedeutung fur Psychologie und Volkerkunde", Leipzig, 1904.) in his brilliant monograph on "Imitation" has laid stress on the almost boundless influence of the imitation of one man by another in the evolution of civilisation. Imitation is one of the chief spurs to action. Imitation begets custom, custom begets sanctity. At first all custom is sacred. To the savage it is as much a religious duty to tattoo himself as to sacrifice to his gods. But certain customs naturally survive, because they are really useful; they actually have good effects, and so need no social sanction. Others are really useless; but man is too conservative and imitative to abandon them. These become ritual. Custom is cautious, but la vie est aleatoire. (Bergson, op. cit. page 143.)
Dr Beck's remarks on ritual are I think profoundly true and suggestive, but with this reservation--they are true of ritual only when uninformed by personal experience. The very elements in ritual on which Dr Beck lays such stress, imitation, repetition, uniformity and social collectivity, have been found by the experience of all time to have a twofold influence-- they inhibit the intellect, they stimulate and suggest emotion, ecstasy, trance. The Church of Rome knows what she is about when she prescribes the telling of the rosary. Mystery-cults and sacraments, the lineal descendants of magic, all contain rites charged with suggestion, with symbols, with gestures, with half-understood formularies, with all the apparatus of appeal to emotion and will--the more unintelligible they are the better they serve their purpose of inhibiting thought. Thus ritual deadens the intellect and stimulates will, desire, emotion. "Les operations magiques...sont le resultat d'une science et d'une habitude qui exaltent la volonte humaine au-dessus de ses limites habituelles." (Eliphas Levi, "Dogme et Rituel de la haute Magie", II. page 32, Paris, 1861, and "A defence of Magic", by Evelyn Underhill, "Fortnightly Review", 1907.) It is this personal EXPERIENCE, this exaltation, this sense of immediate, non-intellectual revelation, of mystical oneness with all things, that again and again rehabilitates a ritual otherwise moribund.
To resume. The outcome of our examination of ORIGINES seems to be that religious phenomena result from two delusive processes--a delusion of the non-critical intellect, a delusion of the over-confident will. Is religion then entirely a delusion? I think not. (I am deeply conscious that what I say here is a merely personal opinion or sentiment, unsupported and perhaps unsupportable by reason, and very possibly quite worthless, but for fear of misunderstanding I prefer to state it.) Every dogma religion has hitherto produced is probably false, but for all that the religious or mystical spirit may be the only way of apprehending some things and these of enormous importance. It may also be that the contents of this mystical apprehension cannot be put into language without being falsified and misstated, that they have rather to be felt and lived than uttered and intellectually analysed, and thus do not properly fall under the category of true or false, in the sense in which these words are applied to propositions; yet they may be something for which "true" is our nearest existing word and are often, if not necessary at least highly advantageous to life. That is why man through a series of more or less grossly anthropomorphic mythologies and theologies with their concomitant rituals tries to restate them. Meantime we need not despair. Serious psychology is yet young and has only just joined hands with physiology. Religious students are still hampered by mediaevalisms such as Body and Soul, and by the perhaps scarcely less mythological segregations of Intellect, Emotion, Will. But new facts (See the "Proceedings" of the Society for Psychical Research, London, passim, and especially Vols. VII.-XV. For a valuable collection of the phenomena of mysticism, see William James, "Varieties of Religious Experience", Edinburgh, 1901-2.) are accumulating, facts about the formation and flux of personality, and the relations between the conscious and the sub-conscious. Any moment some great imagination may leap out into the dark, touch the secret places of life, lay bare the cardinal mystery of the marriage of the spatial with the non-spatial. It is, I venture to think, towards the apprehension of such mysteries, not by reason only, but by man's whole personality, that the religious spirit in the course of its evolution through ancient magic and modern mysticism is ever blindly yet persistently moving.
Be this as it may, it is by thinking of religion in the light of evolution, not as a revelation given, not as a realite faite but as a process, and it is so only, I think, that we attain to a spirit of real patience and tolerance. We have ourselves perhaps learnt laboriously something of the working of natural law, something of the limitations of our human will, and we have therefore renounced the practice of magic. Yet we are bidden by those in high places to pray "Sanctify this water to the mystical washing away of sin." Mystical in this connection spells magical, and we have no place for a god-magician: the prayer is to us unmeaning, irreverent. Or again, after much toil we have ceased, or hope we have ceased, to think anthropomorphically. Yet we are invited to offer formal thanks to God for a meal of flesh whose sanctity is the last survival of that sacrifice of bulls and goats he has renounced. Such a ritual confuses our intellect and fails to stir our emotion. But to others this ritual, magical or anthropomorphic as it is, is charged with emotional impulse, and others, a still larger number, think that they act by reason when really they are hypnotised by suggestion and tradition; their fathers did this or that and at all costs they must do it. It was good that primitive man in his youth should bear the yoke of conservative custom; from each man's neck that yoke will fall, when and because he has outgrown it. Science teaches us to await that moment with her own inward and abiding patience. Such a patience, such a gentleness we may well seek to practise in the spirit and in the memory of Darwin.
XXVI. EVOLUTION AND THE SCIENCE OF LANGUAGE.
By P. GILES, M.A., LL.D. (Aberdeen), Reader in Comparative Philology in the University of Cambridge.
In no study has the historical method had a more salutary influence than in the Science of Language. Even the earliest records show that the meaning of the names of persons, places, and common objects was then, as it has always been since, a matter of interest to mankind. And in every age the common man has regarded himself as competent without special training to explain by inspection (if one may use a mathematical phrase) the meaning of any words that attracted his attention. Out of this amateur etymologising has sprung a great amount of false history, a kind of historical mythology invented to explain familiar names. A single example will illustrate the tendency. According to the local legend the ancestor of the Earl of Erroll--a husbandman who stayed the flight of his countrymen in the battle of Luncarty and won the victory over the Danes by the help of the yoke of his oxen--exhausted with the fray uttered the exclamation "Hoch heigh!" The grateful king about to ennoble the victorious ploughman at once replied:
"Hoch heigh! said ye And Hay shall ye be."