Primitive man viewed the spirits and ghosts as having almost unlimited rights but no duties; the spirits were thought to regard man as having manifold duties but no rights. The spirits were believed to look down upon man as constantly failing in the discharge of his spiritual duties. It was the general belief of mankind that ghosts levied a continuous tribute of service as the price of noninterference in human affairs, and the least mischance was laid to ghost activities. Early humans were so afraid they might overlook some honor due the gods that, after they had sacrificed to all known spirits, they did another turn to the “unknown gods,” just to be thoroughly safe.
And now the simple ghost cult is followed by the practices of the more advanced and relatively complex spirit-ghost cult, the service and worship of the higher spirits as they evolved in man’s primitive imagination. Religious ceremonial must keep pace with spirit evolution and progress. The expanded cult was but the art of self-maintenance practiced in relation to belief in supernatural beings, self-adjustment to spirit environment. Industrial and military organizations were adjustments to natural and social environments. And as marriage arose to meet the demands of bisexuality, so did religious organization evolve in response to the belief in higher spirit forces and spiritual beings. Religion represents man’s adjustment to his illusions of the mystery of chance. Spirit fear and subsequent worship were adopted as insurance against misfortune, as prosperity policies.
The savage visualizes the good spirits as going about their business, requiring little from human beings. It is the bad ghosts and spirits who must be kept in good humor. Accordingly, primitive peoples paid more attention to their malevolent ghosts than to their benign spirits.
Human prosperity was supposed to be especially provocative of the envy of evil spirits, and their method of retaliation was to strike back through a human agency and by the technique of the evil eye. That phase of the cult which had to do with spirit avoidance was much concerned with the machinations of the evil eye. The fear of it became almost world-wide. Pretty women were veiled to protect them from the evil eye; subsequently many women who desired to be considered beautiful adopted this practice. Because of this fear of bad spirits, children were seldom allowed out after dark, and the early prayers always included the petition, “deliver us from the evil eye.”
The Koran contains a whole chapter devoted to the evil eye and magic spells, and the Jews fully believed in them. The whole phallic cult grew up as a defense against the evil eye. The organs of reproduction were thought to be the only fetish which could render it powerless. The evil eye gave origin to the first superstitions respecting prenatal marking of children, maternal impressions, and the cult was at one time well-nigh universal.
Envy is a deep-seated human trait; therefore did primitive man ascribe it to his early gods. And since man had once practiced deception upon the ghosts, he soon began to deceive the spirits. Said he, “If the spirits are jealous of our beauty and prosperity, we will disfigure ourselves and speak lightly of our success.” Early humility was not, therefore, debasement of ego but rather an attempt to foil and deceive the envious spirits.
The method adopted to prevent the spirits from becoming jealous of human prosperity was to heap vituperation upon some lucky or much loved thing or person. The custom of depreciating complimentary remarks regarding oneself or family had its origin in this way, and it eventually evolved into civilized modesty, restraint, and courtesy. In keeping with the same motive, it became the fashion to look ugly. Beauty aroused the envy of spirits; it betokened sinful human pride. The savage sought for an ugly name. This feature of the cult was a great handicap to the advancement of art, and it long kept the world somber and ugly.
Under the spirit cult, life was at best a gamble, the result of spirit control. One’s future was not the result of effort, industry, or talent except as they might be utilized to influence the spirits. The ceremonies of spirit propitiation constituted a heavy burden, rendering life tedious and virtually unendurable. From age to age and from generation to generation, race after race has sought to improve this superghost doctrine, but no generation has ever yet dared to wholly reject it.
The intention and will of the spirits were studied by means of omens, oracles, and signs. And these spirit messages were interpreted by divination, soothsaying, magic, ordeals, and astrology. The whole cult was a scheme designed to placate, satisfy, and buy off the spirits through this disguised bribery.
And thus there grew up a new and expanded world philosophy consisting in:
1. Duty—those things which must be done to keep the spirits favorably disposed, at least neutral.
2. Right—the correct conduct and ceremonies designed to win the spirits actively to one’s interests.
3. Truth—the correct understanding of, and attitude toward, spirits, and hence toward life and death.
It was not merely out of curiosity that the ancients sought to know the future; they wanted to dodge ill luck. Divination was simply an attempt to avoid trouble. During these times, dreams were regarded as prophetic, while everything out of the ordinary was considered an omen. And even today the civilized races are cursed with the belief in signs, tokens, and other superstitious remnants of the advancing ghost cult of old. Slow, very slow, is man to abandon those methods whereby he so gradually and painfully ascended the evolutionary scale of life.