A man much addicted to the heinous sin of drunkenness, in coming home late one winter's night, had to cross Stepney church-yard; where, close to the foot path, a deep grave had been opened the day before. He, being very drunk, staggered in... Read more of The Milkman And Church-yard Ghost at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational

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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds


The materials are now fairly complete for understanding the rise
and development of animism. The untrained primitive intellect
was stirred by vague intuitions--stimulated by contact with an
external world constituted of essentially the same "stuff" as
itself--and struggled to find concrete expression for its
experiences. The root idea round which all else grouped itself
was that of the agency of indwelling powers like unto man's, but
endowed with wider activities, and unhampered by many
human limitations. The forms of expression adopted often
appear to us to be almost gratuitously absurd; but when we put
ourselves as nearly as may be at the primitive point of view, we
realise that they were not even illogical. The marvel is that out
of the seething chaos of sensations and emotions there could
arise the solid structure of even the simplest kinds of
conceptual, ordered knowledge.

There are few critics, however, who are not now prepared to put
themselves into sympathetic touch with the primitive thinker;
but there are still many who hesitate, or refuse, to allow any
value to the products of his thinking. These products are too
frequently dismissed as the fancies and babblings of ages in
which real knowledge was not as yet a practicable achievement.
Such an estimate is as unfair as it is unphilosophical. It
disregards the part played by intuition, and it is blind to the
germs of truth which were destined to ripen into noble fruit.
Mother Earth, with air and sunshine, and starry heaven above,
nurtured men's thoughts and souls as well as their bodies.

There is more than an analogy between the childhood of the
race and the childhood of the individual. And just as the child
plunges us at times, by questions, into problems of the deepest
import, so is it with unexpected flashes of insight preserved for
us in the records, written or unwritten, of the earliest workings
of the human mind. "The soul of man" (says Caird), "even at its
worst, is a wonderful instrument for the world to play on; and in
the vicissitudes of life, it cannot avoid having its highest chords
at times touched, and an occasional note of perfect music drawn
from it, as by a wandering hand on the strings."

It is remarkable how, in spite of the enormous advances made
by civilised thought, our concepts and hypotheses, not
excepting those deemed most fundamental, are being constantly
modified. How much more would change prevail in ages when
structured knowledge had hardly come into existence. But
whether the pace of change be slow or rapid, the same impelling
cause is at work--man's determination to find fuller expression
for his intuitional experience. Animism developed into
mythology, mythology into gnomic philosophy, and this again
became differentiated into science, art, philosophy, and
theology. In the earlier stages, the instability of men's
imaginings and conceptions was kaleidoscopic; but it was no
more governed by wanton fickleness and caprice than is the
course of modern thought. The human spirit was striving then,
as now, to realise worlds vaguely experienced and dimly
surmised. The more imperfect expression was continuously
yielding place to the less imperfect--the lower concept
continuously yielding place to the higher. And at the base of the
whole great movement upwards was sensation, as the simplest
mode of intuition--sensation being, in its various forms and
developments, the outcome of man's intercourse with an
external world that, in its essence, is spiritual like himself.

The main error of animism was its failure to draw distinctions.
It tended to look upon nature as equally and fully human in all
its parts. It translated its intuitions of kinship into terms of
undifferentiated similarity, and thereby entangled itself in
hopeless confusions. But by degrees the stubborn facts of
existence made their impression, and compelled men to realise
that life on the human plane is one thing, and quite another on
the plane of external nature. The attempt to absorb the larger
truth thus sighted was only partially successful, and gave birth
to the wondrous world of mythology. Its chief characteristic
was that the will which was at first conceived to be within, or
identical with, the object, was separated from the object and
accorded a personal, or quasi-personal existence. In other
words, the non-human character of external nature was
acknowledged, while at the same time the human type of will
was preserved. The river, for example, was at first regarded as
itself an animated being; then the will it manifests was
separated from the material phenomena, and by personification
became a river-god who rules the phenomena. So the sun gave
rise to the conception of Apollo; and, by a double remove, the
lightning became a weapon in the hand of Zeus. There was thus
added to man's world of things a second world of spiritual
beings who animated and swayed the things. The change was
momentous; but it held fast to the original root idea of nature as
a manifestation of spiritual powers.

It was inevitable that the mythological system should collapse
when once the spontaneous play of imaginative thought gave
place to self-conscious, systematising reflection. The mass of
incoherent, and often contradictory myths, in which the true was
so strangely blended with the false, the beautiful with the ugly
or revolting, fell almost by its own weight. The more solid
materials it contained were first transmuted into allegories, and
then expressed in the language of science and philosophy. The
original intuitions, which had been encumbered with degrading
superstitions and deadening ceremonies, again declared their
power and their persistence, though sometimes under disguises
which rendered them hard to recognise.

And very instructive and arresting it is to note how haltingly
conscious reflection assimilated the rich store of ideas which
spontaneous intuition had seized upon whole ages previously.
For instance, Anaxagoras taught that since the world presents
itself as an ordered and purposeful whole, the forming force or
agency must also be purposeful. Following up this line of
thought, and guided by the analogy of human activities, he
declared this agency to be Nous, or reason--or, better still,
"reason-stuff." This conclusion was rightly deemed to be of
profound importance. And yet, when we analyse it, it seems at
first sight difficult to see wherein consists its originality. For
what else but this had been taught by the age-old animism that
had preceded it? And yet all who were fitted to judge hailed the
teaching as something radically new. It stirred far-reaching
currents in the deep ocean of Greek philosophic thought! How
can we explain the apparent anomaly? The fact is we have here
a typical instance of the transition from intuition to reflective
thought. There is a conscious grasp of promptings dimly felt--a
grasp that rendered possible the advance from mythology to
science and philosophy. The gain was enormous, and bore
abundant fruit; but it should not be allowed to obscure the merit,
nor the value, of the primitive intuition on which it was based.

It must be evident that similar examples might be multiplied
indefinitely, and certain of them will be adduced when typical
nature-myths are under more detailed consideration. It is
because of these germ truths enshrined in the ancient myths that
so many bygone modes of thought and expression last on into
the new order. Ruskin, in genuine mythological style, often
used the term "gods," and explains his meaning thus: "By gods,
in the plural, I mean the totality of spiritual powers delegated by
the Lord of the universe to do in their several heights, or offices,
parts of His will respecting man, or the world that man is
imprisoned in; not as myself knowing, or in security believing,
that there are such, but in meekness accepting the testimony and
belief of all ages . . . myself knowing for indisputable fact, that
no true happiness exists, nor is any good work ever done by
human creatures, but in the sense or imagination of such

The nature-mystic need not be ashamed of mythology. Sympathetically
studied, it affords abundant proof of the working of intuition
and mystic insight. It enabled multitudes of men, long
before science and philosophy became conscious aims, to
enter into some of the deepest truths of existence, and
to live as members of a vast spiritual hierarchy embracing earth
and heaven.

Next: Poetry And Nature Mysticism

Previous: Will And Consciousness In Nature

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