Ancestral Worship as Religion According to Herbert Spencer and Bhil Tribe.

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  • Topic: Anthropology of religion, Religion, Shinto
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Ancestral Worship as Religion

The Ghost-Theory of Herbert Spencer
Brief reference may be made to Spencer's well-known theory which finds the origin of religion in the worship of ancestors appearing in the form of ghosts. The awe inspired by dead {death}, and the fear created by the dead who had passed beyond the control of the living, constitute the two factors which arouse a new sense in man; and as far back as we can go men are seen offering sacrifices to the spirits of their ancestors. This Herbert Spencer believed to be the most primitive form of religion. Animism is not original but derivative, being a generalized form of the belief in the spirits of dead ancestors reappearing as ghosts and choosing certain objects in nature as their dwelling place. The rudimentary form of all religion is the propitiation of dead ancestors, who are supposed to still exist, and to be capable of working good or evil to their descendants. As a preparation for dealing hereafter with the principles of sociology, I have, for some years past, directed much attention to the modes of thought current in the simpler human societies; and evidence of many kinds, furnished by all varieties of uncivilized men, has forced on me a conclusion harmonizing with that lately [1 January 1866, vol. 3] expressed in this Review by Prof. [T. H.] Huxley–namely, that the savage, conceiving a corpse to be deserted by the active personality who dwelt in it, conceives this active personality to still exist, and that his feelings and ideas concerning it form the basis of his superstitions. Everywhere we find expressed or implied the belief that each person is double; and that when he dies, his other self, whether remaining near at hand or gone far away, may return, and continues capable of injuring his enemies and aiding his friends. Herbert Spencer thought that the origins of religion lay in the worship of ghosts or ancestors; he extrapolated this view from the balance of evidence found among "primitives," or what he had no hesitation in describing as "the lowest races of mankind." Although primitive religions had, according to Spencer, barely evolved, he believed that marks of progress could be found in the religions of the greater civilizations, and he tended to plot Greco-Roman and Hindu polytheisms, the "cruder" monotheisms of Jews and Muslims, and the relative refinements of Catholicism and Protestantism on an ascending scale, envisaging his own agnostic, scientific position as the pinnacle in the history of religious consciousness. Apart from suggesting that history reflected progress toward more mature insights and institutional complexity, Spencer outlined the kinds of religious activity worth investigation. He isolated ceremonial institutions, for example—a category in which he placed laws of intercourse, habits and customs, mutilations, and funeral rites, as well as ecclesiastical institutions. Sociology was used by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) to explain the origin of religion. The gods were derived from early savage experiences of ghosts who were thought to be the heroic ancestors of a particular tribe or group. The hero god was thus the earliest deity to be worshiped. Spencer and his followers substantiated their theory by reference to contemporary primitive traditions and an analysis of the Hebrew Scriptures and Greek mythology. According to Spencer, man's first reaction to the experience of ghosts is one of fear, and therefore fear is the fundamental cause of all religious life. In general, this sociological theory of origin holds that Muller's second stage (ancestor worship) is actually the first stage of religion. All other forms grow out of this primary religious experience. Sir Edward Burnett Tylor in his Primitive Culture (1889) sought to enlarge Spencer's categories and establish the belief in souls as the origin of religious feeling. Once the belief in souls is achieved (largely through the experience of dreams, visions, and hallucinations),...
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