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CUSTOM AND MYTH


BY

ANDREW LANG, M.A.
HON. FELLOW OF MERTON COLLEGE
OXFORD


_NEW EDITION_


LONDON
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
1893


_All rights reserved_




TO
E. B. TYLOR
AUTHOR OF 'PRIMITIVE CULTURE'
THESE STUDIES OF THE OLDEST STORIES
Are Dedicated




PREFACE.


Since the first publication of _Custom and Myth_, many other works
have appeared, dealing on the same principles with matters of belief,
fable and ritual. Were the book to be re-written, numerous fresh
pieces of evidence might be adduced in support of its conclusions. In
Mr. Frazer's _Golden Bough_ (Macmillan) the student will find a
carefully conceived argument, and a large collection of testimonies,
bearing on the wide diffusion, among savages and civilised peoples, of
ancient rites and ancient ideas. The works of Mannhardt have
practically been introduced to the English reader by Mr. Frazer, with
much new matter of his own. The main topics are the worship of human
gods and the superstitions connected with vegetation. To push a theory
too far is the common temptation of mythologists, and perhaps Mr.
Frazer's cornstalk does rather threaten to overshadow the whole earth
and exclude the light of sun and sky. But the reader, whatever his
opinions, will find great pleasure and profit in Mr. Frazer's
remarkable studies, and in those of Mannhardt, which were unknown to
myself when I wrote _Custom and Myth_.

In Miss Harrison's volume on Athenian Myths the student will find the
ætiological theory (namely, that many myths were invented to explain
obscure points of ritual) applied in a number of classical instances.
A singularly ingenious study of Roman myths is presented in Mr.
Jevons's edition of Plutarch's _Romaine Questions_ (Nutt). These are
recent instances of the use of the 'anthropological' method, first
firmly established by Mr. Tylor's _Primitive Culture_, and now holding
its own as a recognised instrument in the study of the historical
development of the imagination. In Rosscher's _Ausführliches Lexikon_
of Greek and Roman mythology, the earlier method of the philologists
is usually adopted, and the work, still in course of publication, is
most useful for its recondite learning.

These notes are meant for the guidance of any reader who may care to
push his studies further than the sketches of the present volume.

On one or two points some remarks may be necessary. The author has
been not unnaturally accused of seeing Totems everywhere. He would
therefore protest that he does not regard every beast and bird which
appears in myths or in religious art as necessarily a Totem. But he
inclines to think that where Celts or Greeks claim descent from a god
who pursued his amours in animal shape, or where a tribe bears the
name of an animal, regards that animal with religious respect, and
places its effigy beside that of a god, the Totemistic hypothesis
colligates the phenomena, and deserves consideration. These and other
early features of religion occur mainly in Greece after the Homeric
age. It has been suggested, for example, by Mr. Walter Leaf, that
Homer's people, the Achæans, were free from all such ideas as
Totemism, worship of the dead, ritual of purification for homicide,
the mysteries, and so forth. These were notions held by the Pelasgi,
and revived or retained by the Ionians, an older and distinct stock of
Pelasgian origin. I am unable to convince myself in this matter, not
knowing how much of the refinement in the Homeric poems is due to the
genius of the poet, who might ignore practices with which he was
familiar. They may have been Pelasgo-Ionians, who derived Helen's
birth from the Swan, or Homer may have chosen to slur over an Achæan
legend, and so on in other cases; for example, as to the descent of
the Myrmidons from Zeus in the shape of an Ant. On another point a
word may be said. One has been accused of believing that identical
popular tales, the same incident in the same sequence of plot, might
arise simultaneously in savage imaginations in all parts of the world.
In _Custom and Myth_ it will be plain that I say nothing of the sort.
'The Far-Travelled Tale' is one instance chosen to show that such a
story must probably have drifted, somehow, round the world. On the
other hand, in 'Cupid and Psyche,' it is asserted that _the central
incident_ might be invented wherever the nuptial taboo on which it is
based was recognised. The exact sequence of incidents in the 'Cupid
and Psyche' of Apuleius, on the other hand, could probably only be
invented once for all. But we find the central incident where we do
not find the sequence of incidents which make up 'Cupid and Psyche.' A
full statement of my ideas is prefixed to Miss Roalfe Cox's
_Cinderella_ (Folklore Society). As a rule, the incidents in _Märchen_
are common to all races; an artistic combination of many of these in a
plot must probably be due to a single imagination, and the plot must
have been diffused in the ways described in _Custom and Myth_.
Independently evolved myths may closely resemble each other when they
account for some natural phenomenon, or are based on some common
custom. Wherever a sequence of such incidents is found in a distinct
and artistic plot, we may provisionally assign diffusion from an
original centre as that cause. Singular as are the coincidences of
fancy, it is unlikely that they ever produced _exactly_ the same tale
in lands which have never been in communication with each other. I am
unable to conjecture why Mr. Jacobs, M. Cosquin, and probably other
critics, regard me as maintaining that all similar tales in all
countries have been independently evolved. I have always allowed for
the possibility both of diffusion and, to a certain extent, of
coincidence, as in the Red Indian forms of 'Cupid and Psyche' and of
'The Dead Bride,' a shape of the story of Eurydice. Discussion would
be simpler, if controversialists took the trouble to understand each
other.

In the Report of the Folklore Congress of 1891 (p. 65) I find that I
said 'the suggestion that exactly the same plot, in exactly the same
shape, and with exactly the same incidents, can have been invented by
several persons independently, seems to me inconceivable,' and on p.
74 I find M. Cosquin alleging that my opinion is the very reverse,
followed by Mr. Jacobs (p. 85). I have tried to explain that I believe
in no such exact coincidences of imagination, though how far precisely
coincidence may go is a delicate question.




CONTENTS.


PAGE

INTRODUCTION 1

THE METHOD OF FOLKLORE 10

THE BULL-ROARER 29

THE MYTH OF CRONUS 45

CUPID, PSYCHE, AND THE 'SUN-FROG' 64

A FAR-TRAVELLED TALE 87

APOLLO AND THE MOUSE 103

STAR MYTHS 121

MOLY AND MANDRAGORA 143

THE 'KALEVALA' 156

THE DIVINING ROD 180

HOTTENTOT MYTHOLOGY 197

FETICHISM AND THE INFINITE 212

THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE FAMILY 245

THE ART OF SAVAGES 276

INDEX 305




CUSTOM AND MYTH.




_INTRODUCTION._


Though some of the essays in this volume have appeared in various
serials, the majority of them were written expressly for their present
purpose, and they are now arranged in a designed order. During some
years of study of Greek, Indian, and savage mythologies, I have become
more and more impressed with a sense of the inadequacy of the
prevalent method of comparative mythology. That method is based on the
belief that myths are the result of a disease of language, as the
pearl is the result of a disease of the oyster. It is argued that men
at some period, or periods, spoke in a singular style of coloured and
concrete language, and that their children retained the phrases of
this language after losing hold of the original meaning. The
consequence was the growth of myths about supposed persons, whose
names had originally been mere 'appellations.' In conformity with this
hypothesis the method of comparative mythology examines the proper
names which occur in myths. The notion is that these names contain a
key to the meaning of the story, and that, in fact, of the story the
names are the germs and the oldest surviving part.

The objections to this method are so numerous that it is difficult to
state them briefly. The attempt, however, must be made. To desert the
path opened by the most eminent scholars is in itself presumptuous;
the least that an innovator can do is to give his reasons for
advancing in a novel direction. If this were a question of scholarship
merely, it would be simply foolhardy to differ from men like Max
Müller, Adalbert Kuhn, Bréal, and many others. But a revolutionary
mythologist is encouraged by finding that these scholars frequently
differ from each other. Examples will be found chiefly in the essays
styled 'The Myth of Cronus,' 'A Far-Travelled Tale,' and 'Cupid and
Psyche.' Why, then, do distinguished scholars and mythologists reach
such different goals? Clearly because their method is so precarious.
They all analyse the names in myths;[1] but, where one scholar decides
that the name is originally Sanskrit, another holds that it is purely
Greek, and a third, perhaps, is all for an Accadian etymology, or a
Semitic derivation. Again, even when scholars agree as to the original
root from which a name springs, they differ as much as ever as to the
meaning of the name in its present place. The inference is that the
analysis of names, on which the whole edifice of philological
'comparative mythology' rests, is a foundation of shifting sand.



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