Excerpt from The Open Court, Vol. 27: A Monthly Magazine; October, 1913
Mr. F. B. Jevons, in his Introduction to the History of Religion, speaks of the vicious circle with which tabu surrounds the savage. The very life Of tabu as an institution, says Mr. Jevons, depends upon ... the success with which it forbids the appeal to experience and prevents experiments from being made. The savage, as our author points out, dares not make the experiments which, if made, would enlighten him. Even if accidentally and unintentionally he is led to make such an experiment, instead Of profiting by the experiment, he dies Of fright as did the Australian slave who ate his master's dinner; or if he does not die, he is tabued, excommunicated, out lawed; and his fate in either case strengthens the original respect for tabu.
Thus tabu would appear to have been a great barrier in the way of human knowledge. Its intellectual value would so far seem to have been very small. Its true value would apparently be found, if at all, on the religious and moral side, as an education in reverence and a sort Of primitive self-discipline whereby man learned self restraint, and whereby also, as Jevons ingeniously points out, he was early led to identify his private interests with the social welfare. For since tabu was always infectious and passed from any Object to the man who touched it, the dangers Of violating a tabu were at once personal dangers and a menace to the whole social environ ment; so that thus the savage learned to think Of the interest Of others as being also his own.
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