Superstition as a Mode of Thinking
We are too hasty when we set down our ancestors in the gross for fools, for the monstrous inconsistencies (as they seem to us) involved in their creed of witchcraft. In the relations of this visible world we find them to have been as rational, and shrewd to detect an historic anomaly, as ourselves. But when once the invisible world was supposed to be opened, and the lawless agency of bad spirits assumed, what measures of probability, of decency, of fitness, or proportion -- of that which distinguishes the likely from the palpably absurd -- could they have to guide them in the rejection or admission of any particular testimony? -- that maidens pined away, wasting inwardly as their waxen images consumed before a fire -- that corn was lodged, and cattle lamed -- that whirlwinds uptore in diabolic revelry the oaks of the forest -- or that spits and kettles only danced a fearful-innocent vagary about some rustic's kitchen when no wind was stirring -- were all equally probable when no law of agency was understood.
Charles Lamb The Essays of Elia
The problem of 'primitive thought'has long held a fascination for students of man, and numerous volumes have been written on it. Until the present century, most of these writers based their theories at best on second-hand reports of ethnographers, and at worst on the tales of travellers who brought back stories about the fantastic ideas entertained by strange and remote peoples. Of the two outstanding men in the early years of English anthropology, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor had at least travelled to the