Primitive secret societies - by Hutton Webster - PDF ebook

Primitive secret societies

A study in early politics and religion

Primitive secret societies

Recent years have witnessed great accretions to our knowledge of the initiation ceremonies and secret societies found among many savage and barbarous communities throughout the world. The data bearing upon these matters, collected by the patient efforts of scholarly investigators in Australia, Melanesia, Africa, and North America, are of singular interest to the student of primitive sociology and religion. 

The present work represents an effort, necessarily provisional in the light of existing information, to arrive at the significance of the materials so laboriously and so carefully collected. Starting with no preconceived notions of the subject, the author has endeavoured to shape his theories following his facts and in many in- stances by abstaining from generalization, to let his facts carry their own significance to the reader's mind. In the final chapter, which is to be regarded as an appendix, the wide diffusion of initiatory rites and secret organizations has been indicated. The bibliography supplied in this connection, though not exhaustive, probably notices nearly everything of importance so far published. 

The scope of the work precluded any attempt to supply a detailed examination of the various secret societies. Moreover, the evidence for the men's house (Chap. I) and for the age-classificatory system (Chap. VI) has been presented only in the barest outline. For additional details on these several topics, reference may be made to the valuable treatise by the late Heinrich Schurtz (Altersklassen und Manner Bunde.  Berlin, 1902). Had I learned of Dr Schurtz's book at the beginning of my studies instead of at their conclusion, I should have gained a greater profit from this first effort to summarize the evidence for the puberty institution and the secret society. But I am glad to acknowledge my indebtedness to this work as well as to the writings of Leo Frobenius and Dr J. G. Frazer, for sundry references to literature that I had overlooked, even after somewhat protracted research.

 In its original form as a thesis for the doctorate in Political Science at Harvard University, my study has enjoyed the advantage of a preliminary examination by Professor W. Z. Ripley and Professor T. N. Carver. 

To them my sincere thanks are due, as also to Professors Toy and Moore, whose reading of the manuscript a work of supererogation on their part was all the more appreciated. To Professor Roland B. Dixon of the Peabody Museum, I feel especially indebted for helpful advice and never-failing encouragement from the beginning of my task to its completion. 

Nor must I fail to acknowledge a non-academic obligation to my wife, whose unselfish devotion has lightened many burdens in the preparation of this book.

Some contents:

primitive society the separation of the sexes a widespread and fundamental practice, p. I. This separation is in part secured by the institution of the men's house, which serves a general purpose as the centre of the civil, religious, and social life of the tribe, and a special purpose as the abode of unmarried males, pp. I, 2. Examples of this institution to be found among savage and barbarous peoples in all parts of the world: in Australia, p. 3; in New Guinea, pp. 35; throughout the Melanesian area, pp. 5, 6; among the islands of Torres Straits, pp. 6, 7; in Borneo, pp. 7, 8; in the East Indian and Philippine Archipelago, pp. 8, 9; in Hindustan and Further India, pp. 9, 10; throughout the Micronesian and Polynesian area, pp. 1012; in Africa, pp. 1214; in South America, pp. 14, 1 5; in Mexico and Central America, pp. 1 5, 16; and in various regions of North America, pp. 16 19.

Sexual separation within the tribe is also secured by the grouping of the males based on age distinctions, p. 20. The passage from one age group to another is usually attended with ceremonies of a secret and initiatory character, p. 20. Such ceremonies are especially numerous and significant when the tribal youth reach the age of puberty, p. 21. Initiatory rites mark the completion of childhood and the separation of the youth from women and children, pp. 2124. Initiation into the tribal association is consequently compulsory for the males, pp. 24 - 27. 
The uninitiated enjoy no privileges or prestige, p. 27. Great im- portance must be attached to initiation as providing strong bonds of brotherhood within the tribe, pp. 27, 28. Initiatory performances form the characteristically social feature of primitive life, pp. 28 31.

The general features of the secret rites are the periodic initiation of the young men by the elders, their seclusion, their subjection to various ordeals, their instruction in tribal wisdom and obedience much the same among all primitive peoples, p. 32. An example is the rites of the Tuscarora Indians, pp. 32, 33. The initiatory ordeals provide preparation for the life of warriors and serve as tests of courage and endurance, pp. 34, 35. Puberty mutilations are often the badges or signs of initiation, pp. 35, 36. Circumcision as the typical ordeal, p. 37. Initiation rites usually include a mimic representation of the death and resurrection of the novices, pp. 3 840. Candidates also acquire a new name and an esoteric dialect, pp. 4043. At the close of their initiatory seclusion novices often allowed sexual privileges previously forbidden to them, pp. 4345. The initiatory ceremonies of girls are distinctly less impressive and important than those of the boys, pp. 45, 46. Theories of the origin and primary significance of puberty rites, pp. 46-48.

The real value of the instruction received by the novices during extended periods of seclusion, pp. 49, 50. The teaching of these tribal seminaries covers a wide range of topics, p. 50. Australian lads learn the marriage laws, the tribal customs and traditions, the native games, songs, and dances, and the prevailing moral code of the community, pp. 50, 51. Similar features characterize the initiatory preparation of candidates among other primitive peoples: in Torres Straits, p. 52; in New Guinea and New Pomerania, pp. 53, 54; among the inhabitants of Fiji, Halmahera, and Ceram, p. 54; among many African tribes, pp. 54 56; and among the aborigines of South America and North America, pp. 56 58.

the book details :
  • Author: Hutton Webster -  who was an American sociologist, economist and anthropologist. He was Lecturer Emeritus of Sociology at Stanford University
  • Publication date:1908
  • Company: New York : The Macmillan company

  • Download 11.5 MB

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