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American Hero-Myths A Study in the Native Religions of the Western Continent   By: (1837-1899)

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AMERICAN HERO MYTHS.

A STUDY IN THE NATIVE RELIGIONS OF THE WESTERN CONTINENT.

BY

DANIEL G. BRINTON, M.D.,

MEMBER OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY; THE AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY; THE NUMISMATIC AND ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY OF PHILA., ETC.; AUTHOR OF "THE MYTHS OF THE NEW WORLD;" "THE RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT." ETC.

1882.

TO

ELI K. PRICE, ESQ.,

PRESIDENT OF THE NUMISMATIC AND ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA, WHOSE ENLIGHTENED INTEREST HAS FOR MANY YEARS, AND IN MANY WAYS, FURTHERED THE PROGRESS OF KNOWLEDGE, THIS VOLUME IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR.

PREFACE.

This little volume is a contribution to the comparative study of religions. It is an endeavor to present in a critically correct light some of the fundamental conceptions which are found in the native beliefs of the tribes of America.

So little has heretofore been done in this field that it has yielded a very scanty harvest for purposes of general study. It has not yet even passed the stage where the distinction between myth and tradition has been recognized. Nearly all historians continue to write about some of the American hero gods as if they had been chiefs of tribes at some undetermined epoch, and the effort to trace the migrations and affiliations of nations by similarities in such stories is of almost daily occurrence. How baseless and misleading all such arguments must be, it is one of my objects to set forth.

At the same time I have endeavored to be temperate in applying the interpretations of mythologists. I am aware of the risk one runs in looking at every legend as a light or storm myth. My guiding principle has been that when the same, and that a very extraordinary, story is told by several tribes wholly apart in language and location, then the probabilities are enormous that it is not a legend but a myth, and must be explained as such. It is a spontaneous production of the mind, not a reminiscence of an historic event.

The importance of the study of myths has been abundantly shown of recent years, and the methods of analyzing them have been established with satisfactory clearness.

The time has long since passed, at least among thinking men, when the religious legends of the lower races were looked upon as trivial fables, or as the inventions of the Father of Lies. They are neither the one nor the other. They express, in image and incident, the opinions of these races on the mightiest topics of human thought, on the origin and destiny of man, his motives for duty and his grounds of hope, and the source, history and fate of all external nature. Certainly the sincere expressions on these subjects of even humble members of the human race deserve our most respectful heed, and it may be that we shall discover in their crude or coarse narrations gleams of a mental light which their proud Aryan brothers have been long in coming to, or have not yet reached.

The prejudice against all the lower faiths inspired by the claim of Christianity to a monopoly of religious truth a claim nowise set up by its founder has led to extreme injustice toward the so called heathen religions. Little effort has been made to distinguish between their good and evil tendencies, or even to understand them. I do not know of a single instance on this continent of a thorough and intelligent study of a native religion made by a Protestant missionary.

So little real work has been done in American mythology that very diverse opinions as to its interpretation prevail among writers. Too many of them apply to it facile generalizations, such as "heliolatry," "animism," "ancestral worship," "primitive philosophizing," and think that such a sesame will unloose all its mysteries. The result has been that while each satisfies himself, he convinces no one else.

I have tried to avoid any such bias, and have sought to discover the source of the myths I have selected, by close attention to two points: first, that I should obtain the precise original form of the myth by a rigid scrutiny of authorities; and, secondly, that I should bring to bear upon it modern methods of mythological and linguistic analysis... Continue reading book >>




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