Handbook of Contemporary Animism, 4



Animism for Tylor

Robert A. Segal


pp. 53-4 a contrast between Frazer's & Tylor's accounts of religion

p. 53

"Thenineteenth-century view is epitomized by the theories not only of Tylor, the first edition of whose Primitive Culture appeared in 1871, but also J. B. Frazer, the first edition of whose Golden Bough appeared in 1890. ... Religion is the "primitive" counterpart to either scientific theory (Tylor) or applied science (Frazer). Where Tylor focuses on religious beliefs, Frazer focuses on religious practices, or rituals. For both, religion ascribes all physical events in the world to either a decision by a god a god (Tylor) or the effect on the world of

the physical state of the god (Frazer)."

{Here, "physical state" is considered to include emotional state, which would naturally influence (as it would among mortal humans) the decisions made by the deity.}

p. 54

"Hans Kippenberg, author of Rediscovering Religious History in the Modern Age (2002) ... mantains that most of the leading modern theorists of religion ... saw religion as surviving in modernity ... as aliving aspect of culture that transcended the bounds of science."

"unlike Frazer, Tylor is most respectful of religion. For him, unlike Frazer, religion is as rational as science. Like science, religion for Tylor gives a systematic and law-like explanation of events : ... Religion arises in the same scrupulously inductive way as science, in Tylor's ... conception".

{Significant factors which both of these explications omit are (1st) that any major decisions by deities which may affect the world on a large scale are usually described in the mythologies as being decided collectively, in council (as, on mt. Olumpos, or on mt. Meru), and (2nd) that many deity-names are commonly (by the antique practitioners themselves) taken to be collective appellations of categories deities (e.g., /Pan/ for /hoi Panes/, or /Hermes/ for /hoi Hermai/). When considered in such regards, the divine goverance of the material world is understood to resemble processes of democratic government ("of the people, by the people, for the people") in the the more liberal/radical polities (in contrast to the monarchical autocracies) among ordinary mortals. There is neither chattel-slavery nor exploitation of wage-labor (such as is usual under the crude-and-cruel yoke of capitalism) in any traditional mythology nor in any other standard account of divine governance or of divine oikonomy.}

pp. 56-8 Kippenberg's improvements beyond Tylor's discussion of animism

p. 56

"Kippenberg begins by observing that Tylor allows for a variety of forms that the old can take in the new -- in Tylor's words, "progress, ... survival, revival, modification" (Tylor [1871]:I, 17). As Tylor writes of his own favourite example, spiritualism, "Sometimes old thoughts and practices will burst forth afresh, to the amazement of a world ...; here survival passes into revival, as has lately happened in so remarkable a way in the history of modern spiritualism" (ibid.: 16-17). ...

[quoted from Kippenberg 2002, p. 62 :] If we wanted to know why we toss a coin, we should study the oracle practices of primitive peoples, which teach us that

it is supernatural beings who turn coins onto the right side as they fall. ...

{To accomplish this feat, the mortal coin-tosser must be on amicable relations with a divinity who is able to perform this service.}

p. 57

[quoted from Tylor 1867:87-8 :] "The savage's notion of a ghost corresponds very nearly with

that of the English peasant in our own day --

{likewise with that of the Anglican theologian, or with that of any other Christian (or Muslim, or Hindu, or Taoist, or whatever) theologian in our own day}

it is a thin phantom ... when it does appear, but often invisible, though capable of knocking and uttering sounds" ... . ...

p. 58

Kippenberg argues that for Tylor "... the soul ... is a constant of human culture" (Kippenberg 2002:60)."

Kippenberg 2002 = Hans G. Kippenberg : Rediscovering Religious History in the Modern Age. Princeton Univ Pr.

Tylor 1867 = Edward B. Tylor : "On Traces of the Early Mental Condition ofMankind". PROC OF THE ROYAL INST OF GT BRITAIN 5:83-93.

p. 58 "savage" or "civilized"? "souls" or "gods"?

[quoted from Tylor 1871:II, 86 :] "The theory of the soul is one principal part of a system of religious philosophy which unites, in an unbroken line of mental connexion,

the savage fetish-worshipper and the civilized Christian."

{Surely, the typical Christian, insistent on fanatically venerating a man-made crucifix, is the most brutal variety of fetish-worshipper on this planet. What is so intrinsically "civilized", pray tell, about claiming that almighty God can be, and is, tortured to death by ordinary mortals?}

"Souls are initially believed to occupy all physical entities, beginning with the bodies of humans.

{Hardly! The standard understanding is that whereas souls occupy only the bodies of living beings, yet nevertheless deities are able to occupy both animate and inanimate objects.}

{1} Gods, or "spiritual beings", are souls in all things in the physical world ...

{2} humans ... themselves are not gods.

{If souls be regarded as gods, then humans, who are in essence souls, must by definition certainly be gods; but if humans cannot be gods, how can souls be gods? (Tylor's definitions are outrightly self-contradictory!)}

Undeniably, Tylor uses "animism" for religion per se ... . To quote Tylor, "Animism ... ascends, ... from the first to the last preserving an unbroken continuity, into the midst of high modern culture" (ibid.: 10). Put even more explicitly, "Animism is the doctrine of all men who believe in active spiritual beings; ... it is the religion of mankind,

from the rude savage of of the Australian bush or the Brazilian forest, up to the most enlightened Christian" (Tylor 1869:523). ...

{The rudest of all barbarians are definitely the Christians, whose tenebrous benightedness causeth them habitually rudely (and in very foul language) to imprecate all and sundry, in ways very shocking to all other denizens of this Christian-abused planet.}

p. 62, fn. 4 "closed" society or "open" society?

"religious explanations operate in what [Robin] Horton, following Karl Popper, calls a "closed" society, whereas scientific explanations operate in what Horton, again following Popper, calls an "open" society."

{Actually, materialist "science" is able to operate only within a strictly closed society, which must automatically exclude from serious consideration of all evidence accrued from trance-states, from dream-states, from extra-ordinary psychic abilities (such as astral projection), etc. etc.; whereas religious metaphysics is able freely to operate in a widely open society drawing on all those (and yet also other) multifarious sorts of evidence.}

p. 59 some grossly misleading definitions of "science" and of "metaphysics"

"There is no primitive science. ...

{Actually, all "primitive" peoples are in possession of elements of the sciences : zoology (knowledge of animals' habits), minerology (knowledge of stones), astronomy (knowledge of relative locations of various stars), etc. etc.}

Metaphysics deals with non-physical entities, of which "primitives" have no conception.

{As concerning non-physical entities, "primitives" have abundant understandings : not only of dream-entities, but also of metaphysical qualities as grammatical substantives.}

Ethics ... falls outside primitive religion.

{To the contrary, all "primitive" religions inculcate certain codes of conduct, which are richly illustrated in their mythologies and promoted in their secret societies (similar to those of Freemasons).}

Tylor rejects ... anachronistic parallels between primitive religion and modern, such as the supposed presence of monotheism among "primitives" ... ."

{In the case solely is Tyler correct, but for the wrong reason : monotheism is always a concomitant of tyranny [tyrannical "God" is contrived by political tyranny], and therefore is lacking amongst "primitives", who tolerate no tyranny among themselves (unlike cowardly "Christians").}

{Only monotheisms (which are all modern inventions, each imposed by brutally exploitative ploutokrateia) are alone out of all known systems of religion, autocratic and oppressive in their very-and-every essence -- whether Zarathustrianism, Christianity, >islam, or whatever.}

p. 59 Tyler's rude-and-crude misunderstandings, resultant in a plethora of gross self-contradictions

[quoted from Tylor 1871:II, 85] Where[as] in primitive religion souls are deemed material,

{False! In no "primitive" (nor other) religion are souls (nor mind, nor life) deemed "material". Souls are regularly seen by "primitives" either in their dreams (wherein nothing whatsoever is "material"), or in their visions (wherein likewise the visionary is immaterial).}

in modern religion they are deemed ... limited to human beings ... . ...

{In most modern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. -- having over 1/2 the world's population) are not "limited to human beings".}

The soul has given up its ethereal substance, and become an immaterial entity ... .

{Actually, aithereal substance is subtle (suks.ma), i.e., non-material (an-anna maya-kos`a).}

Its theory is becoming separated from the investigations of ... science, which now discuss ... thought, the senses and the intellect, the emotions and the will,

{Materialism is actually in denial of mind, thought, sensation, intellection, emotions, and will-power, all of which, being quite immaterial, are quite incompatible with materialist "science".}

on a ground-work of pure experience.

{Actually, the soul (atman) hath always been discussed "on a ground-work of pure experience" (namely, trance-experience, dream-experience, etc.), whereas so-called "science" is often sheer speculation far removed from actual human experience.}

There has arisen an intellectual product whose very existence is of the deepest significance, a "psychology" ... ."

{Much so-called "psychology" (e.g., Freudism) is wild sheer speculation of the absurdest sort.}

Tylor 1869 = Edward B. Tylor : "On the Survival of Savage Thought in Modern Civilization". PROC OF THE ROYAL INST OF GT BRITAIN 5:522-35.

p. 60 the propre place of morality (ethics) in religion

"Anyone who thinks that religion as morality is for Tylor as worthy as religion [pure-and-simple] should consider Tylor's tirade against those who turn myth into moral allegory (see Segal 1999:1-12)."

{Mythology cannot be constrained to mere conventional ethics, for it is involved in a more transcendent scheme including not only humans, animals, plants, etc., but also deities, who are transcendental entities occupying higher planes-of-existence, wherein the exotic teleologies (schemes of purposivity) may vary drastically from the limitedly mere human understandings.}

{The reason why morality/ethics in higher planes-of-existence must may vary drastically from the morality/ethics conventional to the material plane, is that the committees of divine entities abiding in higher (subtler) planes-of-existence must take into account effects of living beings' behaviour on distant sectors of the universe, on multifarious subplanes and connections amongst planes and amongst subplanes, on effects on distant futures and long-range plans for the future, etc. etc. Mere mortals are no more than dimly aware on such truly significant and ofttimes-overruling factors.}

p. 61 gods

[According to Tylor,] "For "primitives", even gods are material : "the lower races are apt to ascribe to spirits in general that kind of ethereal materiality which ... they attribute to souls" ([Tylor 1871:II,] 41)." {But surely the aitheric plane is, and aitheric bodies are, in the judgement of any and every observer (whether "primitive" or "civilized"), quite distinct, and very different, from any material substance!}

{Actually, by no "primitive is ever a god regarded as "material" : the phantasms known as "gods" are seen suddenly to appear (as apparitions) and suddenly to vanish, which every primitive is well-aware that no solid material object at all ever can.}

[infra, p. 102 :] Tribesfolk assert that the deities are "invisible to all" mortals except those who possess "shamanistic abilities". {This is an indication that no deity is material, for material bodies are visible to all : in gross contradiction to p. 61.}

{Tylor's fallacious allegation of "primitive" belief must entail gods' having "material" bodies is a mendacity forced quite generally on English anthropology of his aira as a fake excuse for maltreating, oppressing, and even mass-murdering indigenous populations through the nations so crudely, violently, and in violation of international law, occupied by the vicious and utterly hypocritical so-called "British Empire" -- which is actually not "British" at all, but intrusive Hanoverian and Thuringian (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha).}

p. 61 spirit-mediumship

"Back in 1969, the American historian of anthropology George Stocking discovered a diary of Tylor's in Oxford's Pitt Rivers Mueseum ... . That diary, dated ... 1872, records Tylor's ... visits to spiritualists {practitioners of spirit-mediumship} in London. Stocking published Tylor's "Notes on Spiritualism" ... (see Stocking 1971; 2001:116-46), and Kippenberg is familiar with it. In fact, he ... suggests that it was "the great modern movement of Spiritualism" that "led Tylor to grant ... the soul such a paramount place in human history" (Kippenberg 2002:63). Stocking himself comments that the "tone" of the diary is "striking different from ... [that] in Primitive Culture" (Stocking 2001:118)."

Stocking 1971 = George W. Stocking : "E. B. Tylor's Unpublished "Notes on Spiritualism". MAN (N.S.) 6:88-104.

Stocking 2001 = George W. Stocking : Delimiting Anthropology. Madison : Univ of WI Pr.


Graham Harvey (ed.) : Handbook of Contemporary Animism. Acumen Publ, Durham; ISD, Bristol, 2013.