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The Golden Bough

Chapter 16. Dianus and Diana
IN THIS CHAPTER I propose to recapitulate the conclusions to which the enquiry has
thus far led us, and drawing together the scattered rays of light, to turn them on the dark
figure of the priest of Nemi.
We have found that at an early stage of society men, ignorant of the secret processes of
nature and of the narrow limits within which it is in our power to control and direct them,
have commonly arrogated to themselves functions which in the present state of
knowledge we should deem superhuman or divine. The illusion has been fostered and
maintained by the same causes which begot it, namely, the marvellous order and
uniformity with which nature conducts her operations, the wheels of her great machine
revolving with a smoothness and precision which enable the patient observer to anticipate
in general the season, if not the very hour, when they will bring round the fulfilment of
his hopes or the accomplishment of his fears. The regularly recurring events of this great
cycle, or rather series of cycles, soon stamp themselves even on the dull mind of the
savage. He foresees them, and foreseeing them mistakes the desired recurrence for an
effect of his own will, and the dreaded recurrence for an effect of the will of his enemies.
Thus the springs which set the vast machine in motion, though they lie far beyond our
ken, shrouded in a mystery which we can never hope to penetrate, appear to ignorant man
to lie within his reach: he fancies he can touch them and so work by magic art all manner
of good to himself and evil to his foes. In time the fallacy of this belief becomes apparent
to him: he discovers that there are things he cannot do, pleasures which he is unable of
himself to procure, pains which even the most potent magician is powerless to avoid. The
unattainable good, the inevitable ill, are now ascribed by him to the action of invisible
powers, whose favour is joy and life, whose anger is misery and death. Thus magic tends
to be displaced by religion, and the sorcerer by the priest. At this stage of thought the
ultimate causes of things are conceived to be personal beings, many in number and often
discordant in character, who partake of the nature and even of the frailty of man, though
their might is greater than his, and their life far exceeds the span of his ephemeral
existence. Their sharply-marked individualities, their clear-cut outlines have not yet
begun, under the powerful solvent of philosophy, to melt and coalesce into that single
unknown substratum of phenomena which, according to the qualities with which our
imagination invests it, goes by one or other of the high-sounding names which the wit of
man has devised to hide his ignorance. Accordingly, so long as men look on their gods as
beings akin to themselves and not raised to an unapproachable height above them, they
believe it to be possible for those of their own number who surpass their fellows to attain
to the divine rank after death or even in life. Incarnate human deities of this latter sort
may be said to halt midway between the age of magic and the age of religion. If they bear
the names and display the pomp of deities, the powers which they are supposed to wield
are commonly those of their predecessor the magician. Like him, they are expected to
guard their people against hostile enchantments, to heal them in sickness, to bless them
with offspring, and to provide them with an abundant supply of food by regulating the
weather and performing the other ceremonies which are deemed necessary to ensure the
fertility of the earth and the multiplication of animals. Men who are credited with powers