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Pagan and Christian Creeds

5. Food And Vegetation Magic
I have wandered, in pursuit of Totems and the Eucharist, some way from the
astronomical thread of Chapters II and III, and now it would appear that in order
to understand religious origins we must wander still farther. The chapters
mentioned were largely occupied with Sungods and astronomical phenomena,
but now we have to consider an earlier period when there were no definite forms
of gods, and when none but the vaguest astronomical knowledge existed.
Sometimes in historical matters it is best and safest to move thus backwards in
Time, from the things recent and fairly well known to things more ancient and
less known. In this way we approach more securely to some understanding of
the dim and remote past.
It is clear that before any definite speculations on heaven-dwelling gods or divine
beings had arisen in the human mind--or any clear theories of how the sun and
moon and stars might be connected with the changes of the seasons on the
earth--there were still certain obvious things which appealed to everybody,
learned or unlearned alike. One of these was the return of Vegetation, bringing
with it the fruits or the promise of the fruits of the earth, for human food, and also
bringing with it increase of animal life, for food in another form; and the other was
the return of Light and Warmth, making life easier in all ways. Food delivering
from the fear of starvation; Light and Warmth delivering from the fear of danger
and of cold. These were three glorious things which returned together and
brought salvation and renewed life to man. The period of their return was
'Spring,' and though Spring and its benefits might fade away in time, still there
was always the HOPE of its return--though even so it may have been a long time
in human evolution before man discovered that it really did always return, and
(with certain allowances) at equal intervals of time.
Long then before any Sun or Star gods could be called in, the return of the
Vegetation must have enthralled man's attention, and filled him with hope and
joy. Yet since its return was somewhat variable and uncertain the question, What
could man do to assist that return? naturally became a pressing one. It is now
generally held that the use of Magic--sympathetic magic--arose in this way.
Sympathetic magic seems to have been generated by a belief that your own
actions cause a similar response in things and persons around you. Yet this
belief did not rest on any philosophy or argument, but was purely instinctive and
sometimes of the nature of a mere corporeal reaction. Every schoolboy knows
how in watching a comrade's high jump at the Sports he often finds himself lifting
a knee at the moment 'to help him over'; at football matches quarrels sometimes
arise among the spectators by reason of an ill-placed kick coming from a too
enthusiastic on-looker, behind one; undergraduates running on the tow-path
beside their College boat in the races will hurry even faster than the boat in order
to increase its speed; there is in each case an automatic bodily response