ABSTRACT

The nineteenth century saw in primitive religions two peculiarities which separated them as a block from the great religions of the world. One was that they were .inspired by fear, the other that they were inextricably confused with defilement and hygiene. Almost any missionary's or traveller's account of a primitive religion talks about the fear, terror or dread in which its adherents live. The source is traced to beliefs in horrible disasters which overtake those who inadvertently cross some forbidden line or develop some impure condition. And as fear inhibits reason it can be held accountable for other peculiarities in primitive thought, notably the idea of defilement. As Ricoeur sums it up:

‘La souillure elle-même est à peine une representation et celle-ci est noyée dans une peur spécifique qui bouche la réflexion; avec la souillure nous entrons au régne de la Terreur.’

(p. 31)