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Mythology, since it began to receive a scientific handling at all, has been treated as a subordinate branch of history or of ethnology. The “science of religion,” as we know it in the works of Burnouf, Müller, and others, is a comparison of systems of worship in their historic development. The deeper inquiry as to what in the mind of man gave birth to religion in any of its forms, what spirit breathed and is ever breathing life into these dry bones, this, the final and highest question of all, has had but passing or prejudiced attention. To its investigation this book is devoted.
The analysis of the religious sentiment I offer is an inductive one, whose outlines were furnished by a preliminary study of the religions of the native race of America, a field selected as most favorable by reason of the simplicity of many of its cults, and the absence of theories respecting them. This study was embodied in “The Myths of the New World; a Treatise on the Symbolism and Mythology of the Red Race of America” (second edition, N. Y. 1876).
The results thus obtained I have in the present work expanded by including in the survey the historic religions of the Old World, and submitted the whole for solution to the Laws of Mind, regarded as physiological elements of growth, and to the Laws of Thought, these, as formal only, being held as nowise a development of those. This latter position, which is not conceded by the reigning school of psychology, I have taken pains to explain and defend as far as consistent with the plan of this treatise; but I am well aware that to say all that can be said in proof of it, would take much more space than here allowed.