Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
the skin of a victim, and so, as it were, envelop himself in its sanctity. To rude nations dress is not merely a physical comfort, but a fixed part of social religion, a thing by which a man constantly bears on his body the token of his religion, and which is itself a charm and a means of divine protection. . . . When the dress of sacrificial skin, which at once declared a man's religion and his sacred kindred, ceased to be used in ordinary life, it was still retained in holy and especially in piacular functions ; . . . examples are afforded by the Dionysiac mysteries and other Greek rites, and by almost every rude religion ; while in later cults the old rite survives at least in the religious use of animal masks." * 37
If we accept the animal-worship and sacrificial communion theory, many a Christmas custom will carry us back in thought to a stage of religion far earlier than the Greek and Roman classics or the Celtic and Teutonic mythology of the conversion period : we shall be taken back to a time before men had come to have anthropomorphic gods, when they were not conscious of their superiority to the beasts of the field, but regarded these beings, mysterious in their actions, extraordinary in their powers, as incarnations of potent spirits. At this stage of thought, it would seem, there were as yet no definite divinities with personal names and characters, but the world was full of spirits immanent in animal or plant or chosen human being, and able to pass from one incarnation to another. Or indeed it may be that animal sacrifice originated at a stage of religion before the idea of definite "spirits" had arisen, when man was conscious rather of a vague force like the Melanesian mana, in himself and in almost every­thing, and " constantly trembling on the verge of personality." 38 " Mana " better than " god " or " spirit " may express that with which the partaker in the communal feast originally sought contact. "When you sacrifice," to quote some words of Miss Jane Harrison, " you build as it were a bridge between your mana, your will, your desire, which is weak and impotent, and
* Accounts of such maskings are to be found in innumerable books of travel. In Folk-Lore, June 30, 1911, Professor Edward Westermarck gives a particularly full and interesting description of Moroccan customs of this sort. He describes at length various masquerades in the skins and heads of beasts, accompanied often by the dressing-up of men as women and by gross obscenities.
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