BLTC Press Titles

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Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Outlines of primitive belief among the Indo-European races

by Charles Francis Keary



There are two roads along which students are now travelling towards (we may reasonably hope) the same goal of fuller knowledge touching Prehistoric Belief. One way is that of Comparative Mythology, which has become so favourite a pursuit with the present generation. In this method the myth is taken for the centre-point of the enquiry, and—just as a specimen in natural history may be—it is traced through all the varieties and sub-species that are to be discovered in various lands. The other method, which is an historical rather than a scientific one, may be called the study of the History of Belief. In it our eyes are for the time being fixed upon a single race of men; and it is the relationship of these people to the world by which they are surrounded that we seek to know. The following outlines of early Aryan belief belong to the class of studies, which are distinctly historical in character. They are not designed to establish any hew theory of the origin of belief among mankind; nor are they meant to deal with theories which relate to creeds other than the IndoEuropean. They are essentially a record of facts; for the facts of. early Aryan belief are of a kind as surely ascertainable as the laws of marriage or of primitive society among the Aryan races. That the pictures which are here held up are blurred and imperfect I am well aware. But some indulgence may be claimed for what are, owing . to the necessities of the case and to the incompleteness of our present knowledge, mosaics and not paintings.

The active discussion which has of late arisen over some of the secondary questions of Indo-European mythology has tended to obscure our actual attainments in this field of enquiry. This must necessarily have been the case with the general reader, who cannot be expected to keep the science constantly in view nor to register its slow advance. By such a reader a whole system of mythological interpretation is supposed to stand or fall upon the question whether certain stories can be proved to have sprung out of ' sun myths,' or certain other tales to have been called into existence through an ' abuse of language.' But still more has this discussion tended to throw into the background the historical method of enquiry into the early history of belief, and to hide altogether the results which it has reached. To this field of research some matters of high importance in comparative mythology are only of secondary consequence, and therefore some difficulties which have stood in the way of the one study do not impede the other. One of the subjects, for instance, which has been most eagerly debated among mytho


logists is the question as to what are and where we are to look for the originals, the actual first forms of those tales which go to make up any system of mythology ; and it is upon the answer which should be given to that question that schools are at present most divided. The difficulty does not press with the same insistence upon him who seeks merely to get a clear notion of belief in some of its particular phases. He can find out who are the beings that people the myth system upon which he is engaged, and what are the stories related of them, without troubling himself to discover whether the same stories were once told concerning beings of another order. It is with the members of the Aryan pantheon as it is with such half-mythic beings as the Charles of the Carlovingian or the Arthur of the Arthurian romance. The tales told of the two may have wonderful points of resemblance, but we can distinguish between the legend of the Frankish emperor and the legend of the British king. Or, again, that which is recounted of Charles and Arthur may with variations have been told of Eed Indian heroes or of Zulu gods ; but this does not affect the fact that for the particular times and places under consideration the stories attach to Charles and his paladins or to Arthur and his knights. We are not compelled to trace the myths to their remotest origin to understand the nature of the two legends.

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