Want of space prevents me from remarking at length upon Mr. Tylor's admirable treatment of the phenomena of oracular inspiration. Attention should be called, however, to the brilliant explanation of the importance accorded by all religions to the rite of fasting. Prolonged abstinence from food tends to bring on a mental state which is favourable to visions. The savage priest or medicine-man qualifies himself for the performance of his duties by fasting, and where this is not sufficient, often uses intoxicating drugs; whence the sacredness of the hasheesh, as also of the Vedic soma-juice. The practice of fasting among civilized peoples is an instance of survival.
To pursue this line of inquiry through the countless nymphs and dryads and nixies of the higher nature-worship up to the Olympian divinities of classic polytheism, would be to enter upon the history of religious belief, and in so doing to lose sight of our present purpose, which has merely been to show by what mental process the myth-maker can speak of natural objects in language which implies that they are animated persons. Brief as our account of this process has been, I believe that enough has been said, not only to reveal the inadequacy of purely philological solutions (like those contained in Max Muller's famous Essay) to explain the growth of myths, but also to exhibit the vast importance for this purpose of the kind of psychological inquiry into the mental habits of savages which Mr. Tylor has so ably conducted. Indeed, however lacking we may still be in points of detail, I think we have already reached a very satisfactory explanation of the genesis of mythology. Since the essential characteristic of a myth is that it is an attempt to explain some natural phenomenon by endowing with human feelings and capacities the senseless factors in the phenomenon, and since it has here been shown how uncultured man, by the best use he can make of his rude common sense, must inevitably come, and has invariably come, to regard all objects as endowed with souls, and all nature as peopled with supra-human entities shaped after the general pattern of the human soul, I am inclined to suspect that we have got very near to the root of the whole matter. We can certainly find no difficulty in seeing why a water-spout should be described in the "Arabian Nights" as a living demon: "The sea became troubled before them, and there arose from it a black pillar, ascending towards the sky, and approaching the meadow,.... and behold it was a Jinni, of gigantic stature." We can see why the Moslem camel-driver should find it most natural to regard the whirling simoom as a malignant Jinni; we may understand how it is that the Persian sees in bodily shape the scarlet fever as "a blushing maid with locks of flame and cheeks all rosy red"; and we need not consider it strange that the primeval Aryan should have regarded the sun as a voyager, a climber, or an archer, and the clouds as cows driven by the wind-god Hermes to their milking. The identification of William Tell with the sun becomes thoroughly intelligible; nor can we be longer surprised at the conception of the howling night-wind as a ravenous wolf. When pots and kettles are thought to have souls that live hereafter, there is no difficulty in understanding how the blue sky can have been regarded as the sire of gods and men. And thus, as the elves and bogarts of popular lore are in many cases descended from ancient divinities of Olympos and Valhalla, so these in turn must acknowledge their ancestors in the shadowy denizens of the primeval ghost-world.
THE following are some of the modern works most likely to be of use to the reader who is interested in the legend of William Tell.
HISELY, J. J. Dissertatio historiea inauguralis de Oulielmo Tellio, etc. Groningae, 1824.
IDELER, J. L. Die Sage von dem Schuss des Tell. Berlin, 1836.
HAUSSER, L. Die Sage von Tell aufs Neue kritisch untersucht. Heidelberg, 1840.
HISELY, J. J. Recherches critiques sur l'histoire de Guillaume Tell. Lausanne, 1843.
LIEBENAU, H. Die Tell-Sage zu dem Jahre 1230 historisoh nach neuesten Quellen. Aarau, 1864.