The Sex Worship and Symbolism of Primitive Races
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Pages (PDF): 59
Publication Date: 1916
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First published in 1916, this book is a study of 'the history of that great motive of action, the sex passion, as it appears in religion and the interpretation of its significance.' Chapters include; Simple Sex Worship, Symbolism, Sun Myths, Mysteries And Decadent Sex Worship, and Interpretations.
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PSYCHIATRY, during recent years, has found it to its advantage to turn to related sciences and allied branches of study for the explanation of a number of the peculiar symptoms of abnormal mental states. Of these related studies, none have been of greater value than those which throw light on the mental development of either the individual or the race. In primitive races we discover a number of inherent motives which are of interest from the standpoint of mental evolution. These motives are expressed in a very interesting symbolism. It is the duty of the psychiatrist to see to what extent these primitive motives operate unconsciously in abnormal mental conditions, and also to learn whether an insight into the symbolism of mental diseases may be gained, through comparison, by a study of the symbolism of primitive races. In the following discussion one particular motive with its accompanying symbolism is dealt with.
A great many of the institutions and usages of our present day civilization originated at a very early period in the history of the race. Many of these usages are carried on in modified form century after century, after they have lost the meaning which they originally possessed; it must be remembered, however, that in primitive races they were of importance, and they arose because they served a useful end. From the study of these remnants of former days, we are able to learn the trends of thought which activated and inspired the minds of primitive people. When we clearly understand these motives, we may then judge the extent of their influence on our present day thought and tendencies.
It has only been during comparatively recent times that the importance of primitive beliefs and practices, from the standpoint of mental evolution, has been appreciated. Formerly, primitive man was regarded merely as a curiosity, and not as an individual from whom anything of any value whatever was to be learned. But more recent studies have changed all this. In order to illustrate this matter of the evolution and development of the human mind we can very profitably quote from Sir J. G. Frazer: “For by comparison with civilized man the savage represents an arrested or rather a retarded state of social development, and an examination of his customs and beliefs accordingly supplies the same sort of evidence of the evolution of the human mind that an examination of the embryo supplies of the evolution of the human body. To put it otherwise, a savage is to a civilized man as a child is to an adult; and just as a gradual growth of intelligence in a child corresponds to, and in a sense recapitulates, the gradual growth of intelligence in the species, so a study of savage society at various stages of evolution enables us to follow approximately, though of course not exactly, the road by which the ancestors of the higher races must have travelled in their progress upward through barbarism to civilization. In short, savagery is the primitive condition of mankind, and if we would understand what primitive man was we must know what the savage now is.”
To properly interpret these beliefs and conduct, certain facts must be kept in mind. One is that with primitive races the group stands for the unit, and the individual has little if any personality distinct from the group. This social state gives rise to what is spoken of as collective thought, collective feeling, group action, etc. Miss J. Harrison considers this conception a very important one in primitive religious development. All that the race expresses, all that it believes, is an expression of collective feeling. As a result of this group thought, feelings and beliefs are developed which are entertained by every individual of the community. These racial feelings become a part of the race itself; they are inseparable from it, and they find expression in the loftiest of sentiments and the most earnest of religious beliefs.
Our study is not primarily concerned with religious development, but since early man’s deepest feelings found expression in what later became a religion, it is necessary to search for racial motives in primitive religions. These feelings are in no way comparable to the conscious religious beliefs of later times, which were worked out in many instances by an ingenious priesthood. The period when group feeling predominated far antedated such civilizations as those of Egypt and later Greece, for example, in which very elaborate religious systems existed.
With primitive people these deeper feelings appear to arise unconsciously rather than consciously. Moreover, probably as a result of collective thought and feeling, motives and beliefs are developed and elaborated in a way quite beyond the mental capacity of any one individual of the community. Beliefs are formulated which have a grandeur of conception and a beauty of expression well worthy of admiration. The beauty and native vigor of some of the earlier myths are examples of this. They live in the tribe as traditions. No one person seems to have written them; in fact, they are added to, changed and improved until they represent the highest expression of national feelings. Gilbert Murray has indicated this in the Rise of the Greek Epic. He emphasizes that there is found an expression of racial feelings, built up from many sources. Such Sagas are not the property of any one individual. The feelings they express are associated with the unconscious of the race, if such a term is permissible. Gilbert Murray, in interpreting this element in primitive literature states: “We have also, I suspect, a strange unanalyzed vibration below the surface, an undercurrent of desires and fears, and passions, long slumbering yet eternally familiar, which have for thousands of years lain near the root of our most intimate emotions and been wrought into the fabric of our most magical dreams. How far in the past ages this stream may reach back I dare not even surmise; but it sometimes seems as if the power of stirring it or moving with it were one of the last secrets of genius.”
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