Early Civilization: An Introduction to Anthropology

By Alexander A. Goldenweiser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
THEORIES OF EARLY MENTALITY

SPENCER'S THEORIES

Like so many others, Spencer found that the most promising approach to primitive mentality was through religion. Hence the first part of the first volume of his Sociology is devoted to this subject. The following three elements of Spencer's theory have received wide attention: fear, as the emotional root of all religion; the idea of a ghost, derived in the main from the dream image; and ancestor worship, which in Spencer's system becomes the prototype of all religious ceremonialism.

On the general background of the idea of a double- which, as will be presently shown, Spencer derives from certain other experiences -- the dream image comes upon the scene. Into the conceptual chaos of incipient animism the dream image brings order and unity. It reduces to a a common denominator the at first discordant ideas of duality and spirituality. The spiritualized double, linked to man through the medium of the dream image, becomes, after death, the ghost. This, according to Spencer, is the cornerstone of early theology. The ghost, spirit of a departed man, becomes a general principle of interpretation of all puzzles in savage experience. The breath, the shadow, the echo, epileptic and cataleptic fits, and finally death itself, are now interpreted through the operation, intrusion or departure of ghosts. The feelings of fear and awe, which early become associated with these disquieting agents, provide the emotional root of the earliest religion, the propitiation of ancestors. From this all the rest follows. By means of a great collection of highly ingenious hypotheses Spencer tries to explain how animal, plant and

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