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
nto 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.