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Pagan and Christian Creeds
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14. The Meaning Of It All
The general drift and meaning of the present book must now, I think, from many
hints scattered in the course of it, be growing clear. But it will be well perhaps in
this chapter, at the risk of some repetition, to bring the whole argument together.
And the argument is that since the dawn of humanity on the earth--many
hundreds of thousands or perhaps a million years ago--there has been a slow
psychologic evolution, a gradual development or refinement of Consciousness,
which at a certain stage has spontaneously given birth in the human race to the
phenomena of religious belief and religious ritual--these phenomena (whether in
the race at large or in any branch of it) always following, step by step, a certain
order depending on the degrees of psychologic evolution concerned; and that it
is this general fact which accounts for the strange similarities of belief and ritual
which have been observed all over the world and in places far remote from each
other, and which have been briefly noted in the preceding chapters.
And the main stages of this psychologic evolution--those at any rate with which
we are here concerned--are Three: the stage of Simple Consciousness, the
stage of Self- consciousness, and a third Stage which for want of a better word
we may term the stage of Universal Consciousness. Of course these three
stages may at some future time be analyzed into lesser degrees, with useful
result-- but at present I only desire to draw attention to them in the rough, so to
speak, to show that it is from them and from their passage one into another that
there has flowed by a perfectly natural logic and concatenation the strange
panorama of humanity's religious evolution--its superstitions and magic and
sacrifices and dancings and ritual generally, and later its incantations and
prophecies, and services of speech and verse, and paintings and forms of art
and figures of the gods. A wonderful Panorama indeed, or poem of the
Centuries, or, if you like, World-symphony with three great leading motives!
And first we have the stage of Simple Consciousness. For hundreds of centuries
(we cannot doubt) Man possessed a degree of consciousness not radically
different from that of the higher Animals, though probably more quick and varied.
He saw, he heard, he felt, he noted. He acted or reacted, quickly or slowly, in
response to these impressions. But the consciousness of himSELF, as a being
separate from his impressions, as separate from his surroundings, had not yet
arisen or taken hold on him. He was an instinctive part, of Nature. And in this
respect he was very near to the Animals. Self-consciousness in the animals, in a
germinal form is there, no doubt, but EMBEDDED, so to speak, in the general
world consciousness. It is on this account that the animals have such a
marvellously acute perception and instinct, being embedded in Nature. And
primitive Man had the same. Also we must, as I have said before, allow that man
in that stage must have had the same sort of grace and perfection of form and
movement as we admire in the (wild) animals now. It would be quite