11.2 The Old Man in Religion¶
Certain very fundamental things there may have been in men’s minds long before the coming of speech. Chief among these must have been fear of the Old Man of the tribe. The young of the primitive squatting-place grew up under that fear. Objects associated with him were probably forbidden. Every one was forbidden to touch his spear or to sit in his place, just as today little boys must not touch father’s pipe or sit in his chair. He was probably the master of all the women. The youths of the little community had to remember that. The idea of something forbidden, the idea of things being, as it is called, tabu, not to be touched, not to be looked at, may thus have got well into the human mind at a very early stage indeed. J. J. Atkinson, in his Primal Law, an ingenious analysis of these primitive tabus which are found among savage peoples all over the world, the tabus that separate brother and sister, the tabus that make a man run and hide from his step-mother traces them to such a fundamental cause as this. Only by respecting this primal law could the young male hope to escape the Old Man’s wrath. And the Old Man must have been an actor in many a primordial nightmare. A disposition to propitiate him even after he was dead is quite understandable. One was not sure that he was dead. He might only be asleep or shamming. Long after an Old Man was dead, when there was nothing to present him but a mound and a megalith, the women would convey to their children how awful and wonderful he was. And being still a terror to his own little tribe, it was easy to go on to hoping that he would be a terror to other and hostile people. In his life he had fought for his tribe, even if he had bullied it. Why not when he was dead? One sees that the Old Man idea was an idea very natural to the primitive mind and capable of great development. And opposed to the Old Man, more human and kindlier, was the Mother, who helped and sheltered and advised. The psycho-analysis of Freud and Jung has done much to help us to realize how great a part Father fear and Mother love still play in the adaptation of the human mind to social needs. They have made an exhaustive study of childish and youthful dreams and imaginations, a study which has done much to help in the imaginative reconstruction of the soul of primitive man. It was, as it were, the soul of a powerful child. He saw the universe in terms of the family herd. His fear of, his abjection before, the Old Man mingled with his fear of the dangerous animals about him. But the women goddesses were kindlier and more subtle. They helped, they protected, they gratified and consoled. Yet at the same time there was something about them less comprehensible than the direct brutality of the Old Man, a greater mystery. So that the Woman also had her vestiture of fear for him.