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( French déité ; Late Latin deitas ; Latin deue , divus , "the divine nature", "godhead", "god").

The original meaning of the word is shown in the Sanskrit dyaus , gen. divas , root div , which root appears in an adjective formation as deva , "bright", "heavenly" -- attributes of God -- hence devas , "the bright beings", or, as a noun substantive, dyaus . In its substantive form, dyaus is either masculine e.g. " heaven ", "sky" -- or feminine, as Heaven (personified). Hence, in the Avesta daeva , "evil spirit" Lith. deva , "a god"; Gael. and Irish dia , "god"; O. Teut. tiu ; A.S. Tiw (e.g. Tuesday, i.e. Tiwesday); Greek Zeus (gen. Dios Lat. Jupiter (i.e. Jov-pater). From the same root we have the Lat. names of deities: Diana, Janus, Juno, Dis , the genitive Jovis ( Diovis ), and the word dies .

The present article is confined to the non-Christian notion of the Deity. The Christian idea is set forth elsewhere under the section GOD. The data, therefore, are drawn from the new science of the history of religions. They embrace written records, customs, laws life, language. The earliest documents of history show that religion had long existed at the time of their composition. For a long time some deity had been adored, had received sacrifices, and no one could recall the beginning of these ancient rites. Many histories of religion published in recent years are made up of hypotheses pure and simple, often far removed from the facts on which they are based -- often absolutely arbitrary. The scientific spirit demands statements of facts verified beyond dispute or inductions in accord with facts. Thus viewed, the history of religions shows on the subject of the Deity:

  • as an actual fact, the mingling of polytheistic and monotheistic elements;
  • that the farther back we go in the history of religious thought, the purer becomes the notion, so that traces of a primitive monotheism are forced upon us;
  • that the ghost-theory, advanced by Spencer and other writers, to account for the origin of the Deity is narrow, partial, and unscientific.

Religion, in its most general sense, is a universal phenomenon of mankind. At times this conception appears lofty and pure, again it is comparatively crude and involved in a mass of superstitious fancy. Yet, however imperfect and childish the expression may seem, it represents the highest idea of the Deity which the mind, for the time and under the circumstances, grasped.


Religious life among savage peoples of today -- as among pagan nations before Christianity -- resembles the entangled confusion of a forest where trees, brambles, and creepers, of all ages and sizes, are to be seen interlacing, supporting and crushing each other with their earthy growths, while, above the topmost branches, is caught a glimpse of the blue sky of heaven.

The religion of paganism in general is Polytheism, which has been accounted for by theories of Animism, Fetishism, Naturism, and the concrete forms of Anthropomorphism and Idolatry. The advocates of these various theories should be classed as theorists rather than historians. Taking the theory of evolution as a common starting point they hold that man arose from mere animals and that he is an animal gradually transformed. They differ only in the cause and nature of the religious development which resulted in the notion of the Deity. Here we reject all presuppositions and deal only with the historical aspect of the problem. In the words of one scholar, the primitive man of modern anthropology is "a pure fiction, however convenient a fiction he may be."

Paganism presents not a doctrine, but a grouping of customs and teachings different and often opposed, an incoherent mass of beliefs with various origins. Close analysis enables the student to separate the doctrinal streams and trace them to their proper sources. The luminous truth presented by this study is the corruption of religious ideas on the nature of the Deity by the tangled confusion of human growth. Sir A. C. Lyall (Asiatic Studies, Ser. II, p. 234), while rejecting the theory of a primitive revelation admits that "beyond doubt we find many beliefs and traditions running downward, spreading at a level much below their source". Following are some of the causes which contributed to produce this tangled profusion in the pagan conception of the Deity.

Deification of nature and her powers and of sensible objects

Of necessity the result was an inexhaustible variety of deities. As time went on, the divine assumed thousands of fanciful and fortuitous images and forms. Deification of the powers of nature led first to the worship of the elements. One divinity of the heavens stood in contrast with one of the earth. Fire, as the warming, nourishing, consuming, and destroying power, was early worshiped as a separate deity. Hence the Vestal Virgins in Rome, the Vedic Agni, the Fire-worshippers of Mazdeism, and the sacred fire of Shintoism. So also moisture or water, not only in general, but in its concrete forms, e.g. sea, lake, river, spring, cloud; and thus was had a fourth elemental deity. In the East, Astrolatry, or Sabaeism -- i.e. the worship of the stars that illumine the earth -- developed above all the worship of the sun. Where soil and vegetation was rich, the earth was regarded as a nursing mother, and Geolatry in many forms arose. In the Vedic hymns we can trace the transition from natural phenomena into natural deities -- e.g. Agni, i.e. fire, Varuna, i.e. heaven, Indra, i.e. the rain-clouds -- but even then doubts spring up, and the poetic writers ask themselves whether, after all, there are such things as the Devas. In Homer and Hesiod the forces of nature are conceived as persons -- e.g. Uranos ( heaven ); Nyx (night); Hypnos (sleep), Oneiros (dream), Oceanos (ocean) -- the answer of Achilles to the river Scamander "in human form, confessed before his eyes" (Iliad, XXI), and his prayer to the winds Boreas and Zephyrus, that they kindle the flames on the funeral pyre of Patroclus (Iliad, XXIII). Observation of the fact that in nature two energies -- one active and generative, the other passive and feminine -- combine, led men to associate heaven and earth, sun and moon, day and night, as common primal and motherly deities cooperating in the production of being. Hence the distinction of male divinities -- e.g. heaven, ether, sun -- and of female divinities e.g. earth, air, moon. From this only a step to the deification of the generative principle and the worship of the phallus .


The powers of nature were at first worshiped without form or name, afterwards humanized and regarded as persons. Thus Gaia, of ancient Pelasgic worship, appears as Rhea in Cretan traditions, as the Cybele of Asia Anterior, as Hera in Arcadia and Samos, as the goddess of nature Aphrodite, as Demeter. In Rome the Bona Dea of mystic rite, whose proper name was not to be spoken, was later akin to, or identified with, a number of Greek or Italian deities. De la Saussaye writes of ancient Babylono-Assyrian religion: "Among the influential words which could avert or expel evil, the most prominent were the names of the great gods; but these names were considered to be secret, and therefore people appealed to the god himself to pronounce them." In Samothrace the Cabiri -- i.e. great and mighty deities, the supreme powers of nature -- were adored at first without specific names. In old Latium the pontifices concealed the names of the gods. Herodotus says the Pelasgian deities were nameless. In the Vedic hymns the sacrificial tree, to which the sacrifices were attached, is thus addressed: "Where thou knowest, O Tree, the sacred names of the gods, to that place make the offerings go." According to de la Saussaye the deities of the Rig-Veda are but slightly individualized. To the formless gods of nature succeeded the deities of Homeric imagination, in human shape and with human feelings. In the judgment of Herodotus it was Homer and Hesiod who settled the theogony of the Greeks -- in fact laid the basis of the later Hellenic religion. The Greeks lavished the rich stores of their intellectual life upon their deities, humanized and severed them from natural phenomena. Hence the whole of nature was pervaded by a family of deities descending from the elements as primal gods, the individual members of which family were of kin to one another and in mutual relations of higher and lower older and younger, male and female, stronger and weaker; so that man, feeling himself surrounded on all sides by deities, discovered in the course of nature, and in her various phenomena, their actions, histories, and manifestations of their will. The conception of these deities was anthropopathic, in their motives and passions they were more powerful and more perfect men, they had a human body and a human countenance, human thoughts and feelings, they resided in the clouds or on a high mountain; they dwelt in a heavenly palace. Such an idea is incoherent and contradictory. In reality the Deity was nature. If its inanimate forms were personified and worshiped, why not animals and plants -- e.g. tree-worship?

Human Apotheosis

Human Apotheosis is another cause and equally prolific in later pagan times. Plutarch (in his "Romulus") enters at length into the question, how the soul, when separated from the body, advances into the state of heroism, and from a hero develops into a demon and from a demon becomes a god. To Cicero the doctrine of Euhemerism is the core and fundamental principle of the mysteries (de Nat. Deor., III xxi). With the Greeks it had been a custom to honour renowned or well-deserving men as heroes after death, e.g. Herakles, Theseus; but to pay divine honours to the living never entered into their minds in early times. Heroes or saintly men were regarded

  • as sons of the gods, e.g. in Hesiod;
  • as incarnations of the great gods. The growth of popular Polytheism in modern India is due to the fact that the Brahmins, by their doctrine of divine embodiments ( avatara ), create holy men into deities actually worshiped. Thus the older gods of India, i.e. nature personifications, are in turn obscured by the swarm of earth-born deifications. Colebrooke says that the worship of deified heroes is a later phase not to be found in the Vedas, though the heroes themselves not yet deified are therein mentioned occasionally.
  • The hero was identified with one of the great gods. Thus hero-worship was strange to the early Romans. Romulus, according to Plutarch, was not worshiped as a hero properly speaking, but as a god, and that after he had been identified with the Sabine god Quirinus.
  • Hero-worship properly speaking, e.g. in the Odyssey.
  • Apotheosis. Plutarch tells us that Lysander (d. 394 B.C.) was the first man to whom the Greeks erected altars and offered sacrifices as to a god. Farnell states that one of the most fruitful offshoots of the older Hellenic system was hero-worship. And Pliny writes, "Of all ways of paying due thanks to men of great desert, the most time-honoured is to enroll them as gods". The Jaina faith, an offshoot of Buddhism, is nothing but the worship of deified men. In Egypt divine honours were paid to kings even during their lifetime. Cicero makes a formal profession of Euhemerism. "Knowest that thou art a god?" he represents the glorified Scipio addressing himself in a dream (de Rep. VI, xxiv). Men and women after death had been raised to be gods; therefore he would have his daughter Tullia exalted to the same honour, as having best deserved it, and he would dedicate a temple to her (ep. ad Att., xii). The Christian apologists, who stood face to face with Heathendom, positively declared that all the deities of Paganism were deified men. Among the Romans the worship of the genius was to men the deification of manhood, as that of Juno was to women the deification of womanhood. Pliny saw in this belief a formal self-deification, proceeding upon the theory that the genius, or Juno, was nothing else than the spiritual element of man, or woman. Not only the individual, but every place and, above all, the Roman people and Rome itself had its genius. The time-honoured worship of the latter was naturally associated with, and passed into, a worship of the emperor. Thus pre-Christian heathenism culminated in the worship of Augustus. In the Book of Wisdom the various stages in the process of human deification are clearly described ( Wisdom 14 ).
St. Augustine's Observations

St. Augustine (Civ. Dei, IV, ii) discusses the opinion of Roman writers that all the manifold gods and goddesses of the Romans were in the final analysis but one Jupiter, for these deities melt away into each other on closer inspection. Thus we have a single god who by the dissection of his nature into various aspects of his powers, and by the personifying of his individual powers, has been resolved into a multiplicity of deities. The Romans thus broke up the idea of deity by hypostasizing particular powers, modes of operation, physical functions, and properties. By this process not only events in nature and in human life, but their various phases, qualities, and circumstances were considered apart as endowed with proper personalities, and worshiped as deities. Thus in the life of a child; Vaticanus opens his mouth, Cunina guards the cradle, Educa and Potina teach him to eat and drink, Fabulinus to speak, Statalinus helps him to stand up, Adeona and Abeona watch over his first footsteps. Since every act required a god, there was scarcely any limit to the inventive work of the imagination. And St. Augustine tells us (Civ. Dei, IV viii) that the Roman farmer was in the hands of a host of deities who assisted him at each stage of ploughing, hoeing, sowing, and reaping. Under such conditions we can understand how easily the cultured Roman could embrace the pantheism of Stoic philosophy, teaching the one creative all-ruling power of Nature -- itself a personification -- and at the same time permit the ignorant to personify and worship as distinct deities the various acts and phases by which this power was manifested.

Political element

A political element enters into the multiplication of deities in the Pagan world. To make a nation several tribes must unite. Each has its god, and the nation is apt to receive them all equally in its Pantheon. Or in time of war the victorious nation was not content to impose laws and tribute upon the conquered, it must displace the conquered deities by its own. Again, where ancient nations each having its own religion and mythology, were brought by commerce into close contact, the deities who showed a certain similarity were identified, and even their names were adopted by one language from another. According to Max Müller, Durga and Siva are not natural developments, nor mere corruptions of Vedic deities, but importations or adaptations from without. A striking illustration is furnished in the history of Rome. In the earlier times the chief deities were general nature-powers or mere abstractions of the State or family. They had no real personality. Thus the Lares came from Etruria, the chief of them being the Lar Familiaris, the divine head of the family, the personification of the creative power assuring the duration of the family ; Vesta, the fire of the domestic hearth the protectress of the family, became identified later with the Greek Hestia. Afterwards, when Rome spread out into a world-power, it received into its Pantheon the deities of the nations conquered by its armies. Again, the political element becomes a more potent factor when deities are created by human enactment. Thus, in ancient Rome the pontifices had the right and care of making new deities. And in China today the Government orders posthumous honours and titles and deifications of men, gives titles and rewards to deities for supposed public service and exercises a control over Buddhist incarnations. The Emperor of China used the monopoly of deification as a constitutional prerogative, like the right of creating peers.


A final explanation can be found in language . The words employed by the mind to designate spiritual facts are all drawn from conscious individual experience. In the beginning man naturally expressed the power and attributes of the deity in different words drawn from nature and from life. According to de la Saussaye the opinion is even expressed in the Rig-Veda that the many names of the gods are only different ways of denoting a single being. Now the tendency of language is to become crystallized. Words gradually lose their etymological force, and their original meaning is forgotten. They stand out as distinct and independent facts in our mental life. What was at first a sign becomes itself an object. Thus in the Vedic religion the Sun has many names -- Surya, Savitri, Mitra, Pushan, Aditya. Each of these names grew by itself into some kind of active personality after its original meaning had been forgotten. Originally all were meant to express one and the same object viewed from different points, e.g. Surya meant the Sun as offspring of the sky; Savitri the Sun as quickener or enlivener, Mitra the bright Sun of the morn; Pushan the Sun of the shepherds; Varuna was the sky as all-embracing; Aditya the sky as boundless. In this sense the Hindu gods have no more right to substantive existence than Eos or Nyx; they are nomina , not numina , i.e. words, not deities. So also in Egypt the Sun is Horus in the morning, Ra at midday, Tum in the evening, Osiris during the night. In another manner language may lead into error, as when Bancroft remarks that in many of the American languages the same word is used for storm and god. Brinton writes, "The descent is almost imperceptible which leads to the personification of wind as god". Goldzeher states that the Baghirami in Central Africa use the same term for storm and deity. The Akra people on the Gold Coast of Africa say, "Will God come?" for "Will it rain?" Here we have the same word with two meanings. Thus the Odjis, or Ashantis, call the deity by the same word as the sky, but mean a personal god who created all things and is the giver of all good things.

All pagan religions have zoomorphic, or partially zoomorphic, idols, deities in the shape of lower animals. Especially is this true of the Egyptian deities. But it is the sphere of totem-lore or mythology to explain these strange metamorphoses, which scandalized philosophers, and which Ovid set in verse for the cultured of his time.


The human race has at all times and in various ways sought to express the notion of the deity. The history of religions, however, lays bare another truth : that the farther back we go in the history of religious thought, the purer becomes the notion of the deity. In the Rig-Veda, the most ancient of the Hindu sacred books, traces of a primitive monotheism are clearly shown. The Deity is called "the only existing being" who breathed, calmly self-contained, in the beginning before there was sky or atmosphere day or night, light or darkness. This being is not the barren philosophical entity found in the later Upanishads, for he is called "our Father", "our Creator", omniscient, who listens to prayers. Father Calmette maintains that the true God is taught in the Vedas. Again, "That which is and is one, the poets call in various ways", and it is declared to exist "in the form of the unborn being". Traces of a nature-religion are found in the Vedas. To a later date, however, must be ascribed the mythology of the Vedic hymns in which the "bright ones" (the heavens and earth, the sun and moon, with various elemental powers of storm and wind) are the only distinctly recognized deities. D' Harlez, F.C. Cook, and Phillips hold that the moral and spiritual basis is older. Pictet, A.B. Smith, Banergia, Ellingwood Wilson, Muir do not hesitate to declare that the loftier conceptions of the Vedas are unquestionably the earlier, and that they show clear traces of a primitive monotheism. The use of different divine names in the Vedas does not warrant us in concluding without other evidence that different deities are designated. On this basis we could conclude, with Tiele, that the Jews at different times worshiped three different gods, e.g. Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai. The use of the different names may be due to personification of natural forces or to crystallization of language, but such a use marks a later stage in religious thought. Why could not these names originally be employed to express the many perfections and attributes of the great God ? Thus the Vedic poet writes, "Agni, many are the names of Thee, the Immortal One", and, "The father adoring gives many names to Thee, O Agni, if thou shouldst take pleasure therein". Of the Egyptian deity Ra it is written, "His names are manifold and unknown, even the gods know them not". Farnell states that "many deities, some of whom were scarcely known outside a narrow area, were invoked as polyonyme all possible titles of power being summed up in one word". Thus, the farther back we go in the history of the Indian people the purer becomes the form of religious belief. Idolatry is shown to be a degeneration. "It is true ", says Sir A.C. Lyall, "that in India, as elsewhere, the idea of one Supreme Being, vaguely imagined, stands behind all the phantasmagoria of supernatural personages". A luminous proof of this inference is furnished by an analysis of the word Jupiter. Jupiter in Latin is Zeus pater in Greek and is Dyaus pitar in Sanskrit. The Teutonic form is Tiu . The meaning is "Heaven-Father". The designation of the Deity in all these branches of the Aryan family points to a time, 5000 years ago or earlier, when the Aryans before their dispersion, before they spoke Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, or German, united in calling on the Deity as the Heaven-Father. In the Vedas Dyauss-pitar is found, but even in these documents Dyaus is already a fading star, he is crowded out by Indra Rudra, Agni, and other purely Indian deities. In the Vedas Dyaus has two forms -- a masculine and a feminine. But the Vedic Dyu or Dyaus-pitar is first of all a masculine, while in later Sanskrit only it becomes exclusively a feminine. Hence it is not true to say that the name originally was a feminine to designate heaven, and that the nation afterwards changed it into a proper name to express the Deity.

The Gathas, the most ancient hymns of the Avesta, form the kernel about which the sacred literature of the Iranians clustered in an aftergrowth. They inculcate belief in Ahura Mazda, the self-existent omnipotent being. He is the all-powerful Lord who made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and who governs everything with wisdom. Tiele says that the sole really personal being is Ahura, and that the two spirits in antagonism are below him (Elem of the Science of Rel., Ser. I, p. 47). The opposition of Ahriman is of a later date. Pfleiderer holds that originally he was a good spirit created by Ahura (Phil. Of Rel., III, p. 84). The Amesha-Spentos of the Gathas have the nature of abstract ideas or qualities, i.e. attributes of Ahura ; afterwards they formed a kind of celestial council. L. H. Mills ( New World, March, 1895) holds that the spiritual, unique nature of Ahura is attested beyond question, and he unites with d'Harlez Darmesteter, and Tiele in teaching that the primitive form of Iranian belief was monotheistic. The Paganism of Greece and Rome with its family of deities in human shapes and with human passions bears upon its face evident marks of degradation and corruption. Thus a critical study of the Aryan beliefs convinces the student that in them we find no illustration of an evolution from a primitive, low, to a later, and higher, form. "The religion of the Indo-European race", writes Darmesteter (Contemp. Rev., Oct., 1879), "while still united, recognized a supreme God, an organizing God, almighty, omniscient, moral. The conception was a heritage of the past."

The same truth is evident from a study of the religions of Egypt and of China. In the most ancient monuments of Egypt the simplest and most precise conception of one God is expressed. He is one and alone; no other beings are with Him; He is the only being living in truth ; He is the self-existing one who made all things, and He alone has not been made. Brugsch accepts this view, but calls it Pantheism. The ethical element in the Deity, however, is adverse to this. Renouf finds a similar Pantheism, but prefers the word Henotheism. De la Saussaye admits that "one can maintain that Egyptian Monotheism and Pantheism have never been denied by any serious enquirer, though the majority do not look on them as general and original". The sublime portions of the Egyptian religion are not the comparatively late result of a process of purification from earlier and grosser forms. In the outlines of History of Religion Tiele so taught; but in a later work, Egyptian Religion, he expresses the contrary opinion. Lieblein, Ed Meyer, and Renouf admit degeneration in Egyptian religion. Thus de Rougé, Tiele, Pierret, Ellingwood, Rawlinson, Wilkinson hold that belief in one Supreme Deity, the Creator and Lawgiver of men, is a truth clearly expressed in that ancient civilization, and Polytheism is an aftergrowth and corruption. The popular religion of China rests on the worship of natural powers and of ancestral spirits. Underneath, however, is the conviction of the existence of a higher creative power, which, according to Edkins (Religions in China, p. 95), is a tradition handed down from the earliest period of their history. D' Harlez ( New World Dec., 1893) and F.M. James ( New World June, 1899) teach that the primitive Chinese worshiped Shang-Ti, the Supreme Lord, one, invisible, spiritual, the only true god. Dr. Legge (Religion of China, p. 18) asserts that Ti was the one supreme object of homage as far back as we can go, and unites with d'Harlez, Faber, Happel in declaring that 5000 years ago the Chinese were monotheists. Lenormant bases the Babylono-Assyrian religion on an original monotheism. He claims to have discovered a reliable trace of this in the word Ilu ( el in Babel ) which is said originally to mean "the only god". De la Saussaye advances as an objection that "this word is nothing else than the name for the conception of God, just like the Indian Deva and other epithets of the same sort"; yet he holds that "the goddesses of Babylono-Assyrian religion are really only one and the same thing under different names, and these again must be looked on partly as titles".

Even among the lowest and most barbarous tribes illustrations of the same truth are found. "Nothing in savage religion" writes A. Lang, "is better vouched for than the belief in a Being whom narrators of every sort call a Creator, who holds all things in His power, and who makes for righteousness." The aborigines of Canada call Him Andouagne, according to Father Le Jeune. This Being is seldom or never addressed in prayer. The fact of an otiose or unworshiped Supreme Being is fatal to some modern theories on the origin and evolution of the deity. Tylor admits that a Supreme Being is known to African natives, but ascribes it to Islam, or to Christian influence. If this were so, we should expect to find prayer and sacrifice. Fraser holds that the deity was invented in despair of magic as a power out of which something could be got. But how could the savage expect anything from a deity he did not address in prayer ? Spencer teaches that the deity was a development out of ancestral spirits. But the Maker of things, not approached in prayer as a rule, is said to exist where ancestor spirits are not reported to be worshiped. William Strachey, writing from Virginia in 1611 says that Okeus was only "a magisterial deputy of the great God who governs all the world and makes the sun to shine ... him they call Ahone. The good and peaceable god requires no such duties [as are paid to Okeus] nor needs to be sacrificed to, for He intendeth all good unto them, He has no image." Winslow writes from New England in 1622 that the god Kiehtan is a being of ancient credit among the natives. He made all the other gods. Canadians, Algonquins, Virginians, and the natives of Massachusetts had a Great Spirit before the advent of the Christian missionaries.

The Australian mystery-rites reveal a moral creative being whose home is in or above the heavens, and his name is Maker ( Baiame ), Master ( Biamban ) and Father ( Papang ). The Benedictine monks of Australia say that the natives believe in an omnipotent Being, the creator of heaven and earth, whom they call Motogon . The Australian will say, "No, not seen him [i.e. Baiamel , but I have felt him". Waitz tells us that the religious ideas of the African tribes are so high that if we do not like to call them monotheistic, we may say at least that they have come very near the boundaries of true monotheism. "However degraded these people maybe," writes Livingstone (Missionary Travels, p. 158), "there is no need telling them of the existence of God or of a future life. These two truths are universally admitted in Africa. If we speak to them of a dead man, they reply: He is gone to God." Among savage tribes, where the supreme Being is regarded as too remote and impassive, he is naturally supplied with a deputy. Thus, e.g., Ahone has Okeus, Kiehtan has Hobancok, Boyma has Grogoragally, Baiame has Tundun, or in places Daramulun, Nypukupon in West Africa has Bobowissi. Sometimes, as in Australia, these active deputies are sons of the supreme Being. In other cases -- e.g. Finnish Num, Zulu Unkulunkulu, and Algonquin Atahocan -- this being is quite neglected in favour of spirits who receive sacrifices of meat and grease. In northwest central Queensland Roth describes Mulkari as "a benevolent omnipresent supernatural being, whose home is in the skies". In Australia the supreme Being cannot have been evolved out of ghost-worship for the natives do not worship ancestral spirits. Sir A.B. Ellis has repudiated his theory of borrowing a god in the case of the Tshi-speaking races. Waitz also denies that the higher religious beliefs of the Australians were borrowed from Christianity. His position is sustained by Howitt, Palmer, Dawson, Ridley, Gunther, and Greenway, who studied the natives on the spot. The esoteric and hidden nature of the beliefs, the usual though not universal absence of prayer, show their indigenous and ancient source.

In "The Golden Bough" (2d ed.), Fraser has raised the question, whether magic has not everywhere preceded religion. Yet among the blacks of Australia, the most backward race known, we find abundant testimony of a belief speculative, moral, emotional, but not practical. These deities are not propitiated by sacrifice and very seldom by prayer, yet they are makers, friends, and judges. In the conception of them the ethical element predominates. An all-knowing Being observes and rewards the conduct of men, He is named with reverence if named at all; His abode is in the heavens; He is Maker and Lord of all things; His lessons soften the heart. Mariner says concerning the Tongan deity Ta-li-y-Tooboo: "Of his origin they had no idea, rather supposing him to be eternal ". In Guinea the natives worship "The Ancient One", "The Ancient One in Skyland", "Our Maker", "Our Father", "Our Great Father". Wilson writes that their belief in one supreme Being who made and upholds all things is universal. In America the same truth obtains. To the Indians God is "The Great Spirit". With some the idea of the Deity is very lofty; again it is found in cruder and lower expression. Darwin's description of the Patagonians as having very low religious beliefs is refuted by Giacomo Bove. The Pawnees worship A-ti-us ta-kaw-a , i.e. our Father in all places, or Ti-ra-wa , i.e. the Spirit-Father, with whom they expect to live after death. The Zunis speak of the deity as Awonawilona , i.e. the All-Father. The Indians of Missouri worship "Old Man Immortal" "the Great Spirit", "the Great Mystery ". The Tinne of British America have the term Nayeweri , i.e. "He-who-creates-by-thought". The Algonquin speaks of Kitche-Maneto who created the world 'by an act of his will". If the supreme Being in barbarous tribes is regarded as otiose and inactive, so as to become a mere name and a byword, it is due to the fact that He has been thrust into the background by the competition either of ancestral spirits -- e.g. Unkulunkulu of the Zulus -- or of friendly and helpful spirits -- as, e.g., the Australian Baiame and Mungau-ngaur. Thus in West Africa the natives believe in Motogon who created by breathing, he is long since dead and they pay him no worship. From a study of savage tribes Mr. Lang holds that first in order of evolution came belief in a supreme Being by some way only to be guessed at (to him St. Paul's explanation is the most probable); that this belief was subsequently obscured and overlaid by belief in ghosts and in a pantheon of lesser deities; that in many cases the savage creative Being has a deputy, often a demiurge, who exercises authority; that when this is the case, where ancestor worship is the working religion, the deputy easily comes to be envisaged as the first man. If to this we add the tradition, universal both among civilized -- e.g. Hindus, Greeks, Romans -- and savage nations, that formerly heaven was nearer to man than it now is, that the Creator Himself gave lessons of wisdom to human beings, but afterwards withdrew from them to heaven, where He now dwells, the line of reasoning will be even more cogent.

Therefore we can consider as conclusions well established:

  • That the farther back we go in the history of any religion, the purer becomes the conception of the deity, hence the fact of primitive purity;
  • That everywhere evident traces are found of the corruption of the primitive belief, hence the fact of degeneracy;
  • That all nations point in tradition to the time when the Deity was nearer to man, hence traces of primitive revelation.
Tylor concedes that "the degeneration theory, no doubt in some instances with fairness, may claim these beliefs as mutilated and perverted remains of a higher religion" (Primitive Culture, ed. 1871, p. 305).


The modern science of anthropology proposed an explanation of its own for the origin and existence of the Deity. It was called the anthropological theory. Its principal advocates were Tylor and Spencer. In purpose they agree, i.e. to show that the Deity has no real existence outside the mind of men; in method only they differed. With Tylor the method was biological, and we have Animism ; with Spencer it was psychological, and we have what is termed the ghost-theory. According to Spencer, primitive man derived the conception of spirit from reflections on phenomena of sleep, dreams, shadow, trance, and hallucionation. In these experiences the ghosts of the departed came to him, he grew to dread them, and so worshiped them. From the departed souls of his kindred, first worshiped, the idea was gradually extended; they then became gods; finally, one of these deities in imagmation became supreme and was regarded as the one only God.

It is a fact that ancestor-worship is found in various nations, in China, India, ancient Greece and Rome it is, or was, an organized system. Here it formed the basis of family religion and of civil law.

The Romans had their dii manes , i.e. divine ancestral spirits ("Eos leto datos divos habento" -- Laws of the Twelve Tables as cited by Cicero in "De Leg.", II, ii, 22). As lar familiaris , the first ancestor was considered the protector and genius of the house. In Greece the ancestral spirits of families became theoi patrooi i.e. paternal gods. How the ancestor watches over the race is shown in the "Antigone". In India we find the pitris , the companions of the devas, and later above the devas. In ancient Persia the fravashis helped Ahura Mazda in all his works. The songs of the Shih-King describe the ancestral festivals of China. With the Slavs was deeply rooted the belief in vampires, the souls of dead people, who suck the blood from the living. Among some savage nations the malignant character of ghosts prevails and gives rise to magic.

On these facts Spencer constructs a theory to explain the origin and development of the deity among all nations. The theory is purely materialistic and unscientific.

  • Superior or supreme beings are found among races who do not worship ancestral spirits. It was not shown, it was denied by Waitz, it was not even alleged by Spencer, that the Australians steadily propitiate or sacrifice at all to any ghosts of dead men. The Dieri of Central Australia pray for rain to the Mura Mura, a good spirit, not a set of remote ancestral spirits. Thus the Australians and Andamanese worship a relatively supreme Being and Maker, and do not worship ghosts.

    The Zulus are ancestor-worshippers; yet the recent dead parent, i.e. the father of tie family actually worshipping, is far above all others. Thus the supreme ancestral spirit changes with each generation. If, therefore, ancestors are forgotten in proportion as they recede from their living descendants, how can we on Spencer's hypothesis maintain that as they gradually recede into the past, they develop into the conception of a supreme Deity and Creator? And how can we explain that savages can forget the very names of their great grandfathers and yet remember traditional persons from generation to generation? The Aborigines of Australia will often, by peculiar devices, avoid mentioning the names of the dead, a practice hostile to the development of ancestor-worship, yet these same people have a belief in a deity and in a future state of some kind. The Wathi-Wathi call this being Tha-tha-pali ; the Ta-ta-thi call him Tulong .

    The otiose, unworshiped supreme Being, often credited with the charge of future rewards and punishments among ancestor-worshipping peoples, cannot be explained in Spencer's theory. On the contrary, it shows the corruption of Theism by Animism. "Among the negroes of Central Africa ", writes de la Saussaye "we find belief in a Highest God, the Creator of the world; but of course this God is not worshiped since as a general rule negroes worship cruel dreaded gods much more than friendly gods. Worship of ancestors is also general. In Dahomey and Ashantee huge human hecatombs are offered to deceased rulers". The Kaffirs acknowledge a deity, Molunga, but neither adore nor pray to him. The Zulu religion, now almost exclusively ancestor-worship, seems to contain a broken and almost obliterated element of belief in a high, unworshiped Deity presiding over a future life. The Zulu Unkulunkulu made things, as the Australian Baiame. Unlike them, he is subject to the competition of ancestral ghosts, the more recent the more powerful, in receipt of prayer and sacrifice. Hence he is neglected, by many believed to be dead or the mere shadow of a children's tale. Or this being exists in repose, remote from men with whom he acts through a deputy or deputies.

    Spencer, to support his theory, appealed to the crude languages of savages; he said that they were unable to say, "I dreamed that I saw", instead of "I saw". Now, in many savage speculations are found ideas as metaphysical as in Hegel. Again, the Australian languages have the noun sleep and the verb to see . They make an essential distinction between waking hallucinations and the hallucinations of sleep; anyone can have the latter, only a wizard the former. Furthermore, Spencer contradicted himself; he credited these low savages with great ingenuity and strong powers of abstract reasoning -- an admission fatal to his premises. Again Spencer held that the idea of the Deity was formed after the analogy of human rulers. But whence comes the great God in tribes which have neither chief nor king nor distinction of rank, e.g. the Fuegians, Bushmen, Australians ? The Deity cannot be a reflection from human kings where there are no kings. Furthermore, Spencer's assumption was false, viz. that deities improve morally and otherwise according to the rising grades in the evolution of culture and civilization. Usually, the reverse is the case. "In its highest aspect", writes A. Lang "that simplest theology of Australia is free from the faults of the popular theology in Greece. The God discourages sin, He does not set the example of sinning. He is almost too sacred to be named (except in mythology) and far too sacred to be represented by idols. It would scarcely be a paradox to say that the popular Zeus or Ares is degenerate from Darumulum or the Fuegian being who forbids the slaying of an enemy".

    The real difficulty in Spencer's theory was to account for the evolution from ghosts of the eternal creative moral Deity found in the belief of the lowest savages. The Bushmen, Fuegians, Australians believe in moral, practically omniscient, deities, makers of things, fathers in heaven, friends, guardians of morality, seeing what is good or bad in the hearts of men. So widely is this belief diffused that it cannot be ignored. The only recourse is to account for these deities as "loan-gods". This explanation was refuted by A. Lang. Waitz wrote, "Among branches where foreign influence is least to be suspected we discover behind their more conspicuous fetishisms and superstitions something which we cannot strictly call monotheism, but which tends in that direction." In the belief of the savages morality and religion are united. The savage, who lives in terror of the souls of the dead might worship a devil, not a deity who is moral and benevolent. The Andamanese have Pulusha , "Likefire", but invisible, never born, and so immortal, who knows the thoughts of the heart, is angered by wrongdoing, pitiful to the distressed, sometimes deigning to grant relief, the judge of souls. Huxley's contention in "Science and Hebrew Tradition", that the Australians had merely a non-moral belief in ghost-like entities, usually malignant, and that in this state theology is wholly independent of

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