[This is taken from Andrew Lang's Myth, Ritual, and Religion.]
Claims of sorcerers—Savage scientific speculation—Theory of causation—Credulity, except as to new religious ideas—“Post hoc, ergo propter hoc”—Fundamental ideas of magic—Examples: incantations, ghosts, spirits—Evidence of rank and other institutions in proof of confusions of mind exhibited in magical beliefs.
The world and all the things in it being conceived of vaguely as sensible and rational, are supposed to obey the commands of certain members of each tribe, such as chiefs, jugglers, or conjurors. These conjurors, like Zeus or Indra, can affect the weather, work miracles, assume what shapes, animal, vegetable, or inorganic, they please, and can metamorphose other persons into similar shapes. It has already been shown that savage man has regarded all THINGS as PERSONS much on a level with himself. It has now to be shown WHAT KIND OF PERSON HE CONCEIVES HIMSELF TO BE. He does not look on men as civilised races regard them, that is, as beings with strict limitations. On the other hand, he thinks of certain members of his tribe as exempt from most of the limitations, and capable of working every miracle that tradition has ever attributed to prophets or gods. Nor are such miraculous powers, such practical omnipotence, supposed by savages to be at all rare among themselves. Though highly valued, miraculous attainments are not believed to be unusual. This must be kept steadily in mind. When myth-making man regards the sky or sun or wind as a person, he does not mean merely a person with the limitations recognised by modern races. He means a person with the miraculous powers of the medicine-man. The sky, sun, wind or other elemental personage can converse with the dead, and can turn himself and his neighbours into animals, stones and trees.
To understand these functions and their exercise, it is necessary to examine what may be called savage science, savage metaphysics, and the savage theory of the state of the dead. The medicine-man’s supernatural claims are rooted in the general savage view of the world, of what is possible, and of what (if anything) is impossible. The savage, even more than the civilised man, may be described as a creature “moving about in worlds not realised”. He feels, no less than civilised man, the need of making the world intelligible, and he is active in his search for causes and effects. There is much “speculation in these eyes that he doth glare withal”. This is a statement which has been denied by some persons who have lived with savages. Thus Mr. Bates, in his Naturalist on the Amazon, writes: “Their want of curiosity is extreme. . . . Vicente (an Indian companion) did not know the cause of thunder and lightning. I asked him who made the sun, the stars, the trees. He didn’t know, and had never heard the subject mentioned in his tribe.” But Mr. Bates admits that even Vicente had a theory of the configuration of the world. “The necessity of a theory of the earth and water had been felt, and a theory had been suggested.” Again, Mr. Bates says about a certain Brazilian tribe, “Their sluggish minds seem unable to conceive or feel the want of a theory of the soul”; and he thinks the cause of this indolence is the lack “of a written language or a leisured class”. Now savages, as a rule, are all in the “leisured class,” all sportsmen. Mr. Herbert Spencer, too, has expressed scepticism about the curiosity attributed to savages. The point is important, because, in our view, the medicine-man’s powers are rooted in the savage theory of things, and if the savage is too sluggish to invent or half consciously evolve a theory of things, our hypothesis is baseless. Again, we expect to find in savage myths the answer given by savages to their own questions. But this view is impossible if savages do not ask themselves, and never have asked themselves, any questions at all about the world. On this topic Mr. Spencer writes: “Along with absence of surprise there naturally goes absence of intelligent curiosity”. Yet Mr. Spencer admits that, according to some witnesses, “the Dyaks have an insatiable curiosity,” the Samoans “are usually very inquisitive,” and “the Tahitians are remarkably curious and inquisitive”. Nothing is more common than to find travellers complaining that savages, in their ardently inquiring curiosity, will not leave the European for a moment to his own undisturbed devices. Mr. Spencer’s savages, who showed no curiosity, displayed this impassiveness when Europeans were trying to make them exhibit signs of surprise. Impassivity is a point of honour with many uncivilised races, and we cannot infer that a savage has no curiosity because he does not excite himself over a mirror, or when his European visitors try to swagger with their mechanical appliances. Mr. Herbert Spencer founds, on the statements of Mr. Bates already quoted, a notion that “the savage, lacking ability to think and the accompanying desire to know, is without tendency to speculate”. He backs Mr. Bates’s experience with Mungo Park’s failure to “draw” the negroes about the causes of day and night. They had never indulged a conjecture nor formed an hypothesis on the matter. Yet Park avers that “the belief in one God is entire and universal among them”. This he “pronounces without the smallest shadow of doubt”. As to “primitive man,” according to Mr. Spencer, “the need for explanations about surrounding appearances does not occur to him”. We have disclaimed all knowledge about “primitive man,” but it is easy to show that Mr. Spencer grounds his belief in the lack of speculation among savages on a frail foundation of evidence.
Mr. Spencer has admitted speculation, or at least curiosity, among New Caledonians, New Guinea people, Dyaks, Samoans and Tahitians. Even where he denies its existence, as among the Amazon tribes mentioned by Mr. Bates, we happen to be able to show that Mr. Bates was misinformed. Another traveller, the American geologist, Professor Hartt of Cornell University, lived long among the tribes of the Amazon. But Professor Hartt did not, like Mr. Bates, find them at all destitute of theories of things—theories expressed in myths, and testifying to the intellectual activity and curiosity which demands an answer to its questions. Professor Hartt, when he first became acquainted with the Indians of the Amazon, knew that they were well supplied with myths, and he set to work to collect them. But he found that neither by coaxing nor by offers of money could he persuade an Indian to relate a myth. Only by accident, “while wearily paddling up the Paranamirim of the Ituki,” did he hear the steersman telling stories to the oarsmen to keep them awake. Professor Hartt furtively noted down the tale, and he found that by “setting the ball rolling,” and narrating a story himself, he could make the natives throw off reserve and add to his stock of tales. “After one has obtained his first myth, and has learned to recite it accurately and spiritedly, the rest is easy.” The tales published by Professor Hartt are chiefly animal stories, like those current in Africa and among the Red Indians, and Hartt even believed that many of the legends had been imported by Negroes. But as the majority of the Negro myths, like those of the Australians, give a “reason why” for the existence of some phenomenon or other, the argument against early man’s curiosity and vivacity of intellect is rather injured, even if the Amazonian myths were imported from Africa. Mr. Spencer based his disbelief in the intellectual curiosity of the Amazonian tribes and of Negroes on the reports of Mr. Bates and of Mungo Park. But it turns out that both Negroes and Amazonians have stories which do satisfy an unscientific curiosity, and it is even held that the Negroes lent the Amazonians these very stories. The Kamschadals, according to Steller, “give themselves a reason why for everything, according to their own lively fancy, and do not leave the smallest matter uncriticised”. As far, then, as Mr. Spencer’s objections apply to existing savages, we may consider them overweighed by the evidence, and we may believe in a naive savage curiosity about the world and desire for explanations of the causes of things. Mr. Tylor’s opinion corroborates our own: “Man’s craving to know the causes at work in each event he witnesses, the reasons why each state of things he surveys is such as it is and no other, is no product of high civilisation, but a characteristic of his race down to its lowest stages. Among rude savages it is already an intellectual appetite, whose satisfaction claims many of the moments not engrossed by war or sport, food or sleep. Even in the Botocudo or the Australian, scientific speculation has its germ in actual experience.” It will be shown later that the food of the savage intellectual appetite is offered and consumed in the shape of explanatory myths.
But we must now observe that the “actual experience,” properly so called, of the savage is so limited and so coloured by misconception and superstition, that his knowledge of the world varies very much from the conceptions of civilised races. He seeks an explanation, a theory of things, based on his experience. But his knowledge of physical causes and of natural laws is exceedingly scanty, and he is driven to fall back upon what we may call metaphysical, or, in many cases “supernatural” explanations. The narrower the range of man’s knowledge of physical causes, the wider is the field which he has to fill up with hypothetical causes of a metaphysical or “supernatural” character. These “supernatural” causes themselves the savage believes to be matters of experience. It is to his mind a matter of experience that all nature is personal and animated; that men may change shapes with beasts; that incantations and supernatural beings can cause sunshine and storm.
A good example of this is given in Charlevoix’s work on French Canada. Charlevoix was a Jesuit father and missionary among the Hurons and other tribes of North America. He thus describes the philosophy of the Red Men: “The Hurons attribute the most ordinary effects to supernatural causes”. In the same page the good father himself attributes the welcome arrival of rainy weather and the cure of certain savage patients to the prayers of Pere Brebeuf and to the exhibition of the sacraments. Charlevoix had considerably extended the field in which natural effects are known to be produced by natural causes. He was much more scientifically minded than his savage flock, and was quite aware that an ordinary clock with a pendulum cannot bring bad luck to a whole tribe, and that a weather-cock is not a magical machine for securing unpleasant weather. The Hurons, however, knowing less of natural causes and nothing of modern machinery, were as convinced that his clock was ruining the luck of the tribe and his weather-cock spoiling the weather, as Father Charlevoix could be of the truth of his own inferences. One or two other anecdotes in the good father’s history and letters help to explain the difference between the philosophies of wild and of Christian men. The Pere Brebeuf was once summoned at the instigation of a Huron wizard or “medicine-man” before a council of the tribe. His judges told the father that nothing had gone right since he appeared among them. To this Brebeuf replied by “drawing the attention of the savages to the absurdity of their principles”. He admitted the premise that nothing had turned out well in the tribe since his arrival. “But the reason,” said he, “plainly is that God is angry with your hardness of heart.” No sooner had the good father thus demonstrated the absurdity of savage principles of reasoning, than the malignant Huron wizard fell down dead at his feet! This event naturally added to the confusion of the savages.
Coincidences of this sort have a great effect on savage minds. Catlin, the friend of the Mandan tribe, mentions a chief who consolidated his power by aid of a little arsenic, bought from the whites. The chief used to prophesy the sudden death of his opponents, which always occurred at the time indicated. The natural results of the administration of arsenic were attributed by the barbarous people to supernatural powers in the possession of the chief. Thus the philosophy of savages seeks causas cognoscere rerum, like the philosophy of civilised men, but it flies hastily to a hypothesis of “supernatural” causes which are only guessed at, and are incapable of demonstration. This frame of mind prevails still in civilised countries, as the Bishop of Nantes showed when, in 1846, he attributed the floods of the Loire to “the excesses of the press and the general disregard of Sunday”. That “supernatural” causes exist and may operate, it is not at all our intention to deny. But the habit of looking everywhere for such causes, and of assuming their interference at will, is the main characteristic of savage speculation. The peculiarity of the savage is that he thinks human agents can work supernaturally, whereas even the Bishop reserved his supernatural explanations for the Deity. On this belief in man’s power to affect events beyond the limits of natural possibility is based the whole theory of MAGIC, the whole power of sorcerers. That theory, again, finds incessant expression in myth, and therefore deserves our attention.
The theory requires for its existence an almost boundless credulity. This credulity appears to Europeans to prevail in full force among savages. Bosman is amazed by the African belief that a spider created the world. Moffat is astonished at the South African notion that the sea was accidentally created by a girl. Charlevoix says, “Les sauvages sont d’une facilite a croire ce qu’on leur dit, que les plus facheuse experiences n’ont jamais pu guerir”. But it is a curious fact that while savages are, as a rule, so credulous, they often laugh at the religious doctrines taught them by missionaries. Elsewhere they recognise certain essential doctrines as familiar forms of old. Dr. Moffat remarks, “To speak of the Creation, the Fall and the Resurrection, seemed more fabulous, extravagant and ludicrous to them than their own vain stories of lions and hyaenas.” Again, “The Gospel appeared too preposterous for the most foolish to believe”. While the Zulus declared that they used to accept their own myths without inquiry, it was a Zulu who suggested to Bishop Colenso his doubts about the historical character of the Noachian Deluge. Hearne knew a Red Man, Matorabhee, who, “though a perfect bigot with regard to the arts and tricks of the jugglers, could yet by no means be impressed with a belief of any part of OUR religion”. Lieutenant Haggard, R.N., tells the writer that during an eclipse at Lamoo he ridiculed the native notion of driving away a beast which devours the moon, and explained the real cause of the phenomenon. But his native friend protested that “he could not be expected to believe such a story”. Yet other savages aver an old agreement with the belief in a moral Creator.
We have already seen sufficient examples of credulity in savage doctrines about the equal relations of men and beasts, stars, clouds and plants. The same readiness of belief, which would be surprising in a Christian child, has been found to regulate the rudimentary political organisations of grey barbarians. Add to this credulity a philosophy which takes resemblance, or contiguity in space, or nearness in time as a sufficient reason for predicating the relations of cause and effect, and we have the basis of savage physical science. Yet the metaphysical theories of savages, as expressed in Maori, Polynesian, and Zuni hymns, often amaze us by their wealth of abstract ideas. Coincidence elsewhere stands for cause.
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, is the motto of the savage philosophy of causation. The untutored reasoner speculates on the principles of the Egyptian clergy, as described by Herodotus. “The Egyptians have discovered more omens and prodigies than any other men; for when aught prodigious occurs, they keep good watch, and write down what follows; and then, if anything like the prodigy be repeated, they expect the same events to follow as before.” This way of looking at things is the very essence of superstition.
Savages, as a rule, are not even so scientific as the Egyptians. When an untoward event occurs, they look for its cause among all the less familiar circumstances of the last few days, and select the determining cause very much at random. Thus the arrival of the French missionaries among the Hurons was coincident with certain unfortunate events; therefore it was argued that the advent of the missionaries was the cause of the misfortune. When the Bechuanas suffered from drought, they attributed the lack of rain to the arrival of Dr. Moffat, and especially to his beard, his church bell, and a bag of salt in his possession. Here there was not even the pretence of analogy between cause and effect. Some savages might have argued (it is quite in their style), that as salt causes thirst, a bag of salt causes drought; but no such case could be made out against Dr. Moffat’s bell and beard. To give an example from the beliefs of English peasants. When a cottage was buried by a little avalanche in 1772, the accident was attributed to the carelessness of the cottagers, who had allowed a light to be taken out of their dwelling in Christmas-tide. We see the same confusion between antecedence and consequence in time on one side, and cause and effect on the other, when the Red Indians aver that birds actually bring winds and storms or fair weather. They take literally the sense of the Rhodian swallow-song:--
The swallow hath come,
Bringing fair hours,
Bringing fair seasons,
On black back and white breast.
Again, in the Pacific the people of one island always attribute hurricanes to the machinations of the people of the nearest island to windward. The wind comes from them; therefore (as their medicine-men can notoriously influence the weather), they must have sent the wind. This unneighbourly act is a casus belli, and through the whole of a group of islands the banner of war, like the flag of freedom in Byron, flies against the wind. The chief principle, then, of savage science is that antecedence and consequence in time are the same as effect and cause. Again, savage science holds that LIKE AFFECTS LIKE, that you can injure a man, for example, by injuring his effigy. On these principles the savage explains the world to himself, and on these principles he tries to subdue to himself the world. Now the putting of these principles into practice is simply the exercise of art magic, an art to which nothing seems impossible. The belief that his Shamans or medicine-men practise this art is universal among savages. It seriously affects their conduct, and is reflected in their myths.
The one general rule which governs all magical reasoning is, that casual connection in thought is equivalent to causative connection in fact. Like suggests like to human thought by association of ideas; wherefore like influences like, or produces analogous effects in practice. Any object once in a man’s possession, especially his hair or his nails, is supposed to be capable of being used against him by a sorcerer. The part suggests the whole. A lock of a man’s hair was part of the man; to destroy the hair is to destroy its former owner. Again, whatever event follows another in time suggests it, and may have been caused by it. Accompanying these ideas is the belief that nature is peopled by invisible spiritual powers, over which magicians and sorcerers possess influence. The magic of the lower races chiefly turns on these two beliefs. First, “man having come to associate in thought those things which he found by experience to be connected in fact, proceeded erroneously to invert their action, and to conclude that association in thought must involve similar connection in reality. He thus attempted to discover, to foretell, and to cause events, by means of processes which we now see to have only an ideal significance.” Secondly, man endeavoured to make disembodied spirits of the dead, or any other spirits, obedient to his will. Savage philosophy presumes that the beliefs are correct, and that their practical application is successful. Examples of the first of the two chief magical ideas are as common in unscientific modern times or among unscientific modern people as in the savage world.
The physicians of the age of Charles II. were wont to give their patients “mummy powder,” that is, pulverised mummy. They argued that the mummy had lasted for a very long time, and that the patients ought to do so likewise. Pliny imagined that diamonds must be found in company with gold, because these are the most perfect substances in the world, and like should draw to like. Aurum potabile, or drinkable gold, was a favourite medical nostrum of the Middle Ages, because gold, being perfect, should produce perfect health. Among savages the belief that like is caused by like is exemplified in very many practices. The New Caledonians, when they wish their yam plots to be fertile, bury in them with mystic ceremonies certain stones which are naturally shaped like yams. The Melanesians have reduced this kind of magic to a system. Among them certain stones have a magical efficacy, which is determined in each case by the shape of the stone. “A stone in the shape of a pig, of a bread-fruit, of a yam, was a most valuable find. No garden was planted without the stones which were to increase the crop.” Stones with a rude resemblance to beasts bring the Zuni luck in the chase.
The spiritual theory in some places is mixed up with the “like to like” theory, and the magical stones are found where the spirits have been heard twittering and whistling. “A large stone lying with a number of small ones under it, like a sow among her sucklings, was good for a childless woman.” It is the savage belief that stones reproduce their species, a belief consonant with the general theory of universal animation and personality. The ancient belief that diamonds gendered diamonds is a survival from these ideas. “A stone with little disks upon it was good to bring in money; any fanciful interpretation of a mark was enough to give a character to the stone and its associated Vui” or spirit in Melanesia. In Scotland, stones shaped like various parts of the human body are expected to cure the diseases with which these members may be afflicted. “These stones were called by the names of the limbs which they represented, as ‘eye-stone,’ ‘head-stone’.” The patient washed the affected part of the body, and rubbed it well with the stone corresponding.
To return from European peasant-magic to that of savages, we find that when the Bushmen want wet weather they light fires, believing that the black smoke clouds will attract black rain clouds; while the Zulus sacrifice black cattle to attract black clouds of rain. Though this magic has its origin in savage ignorance, it survives into civilisation. Thus the sacrifices of the Vedic age were imitations of the natural phenomena which the priests desired to produce. “C’etait un moyen de faire tombre la pluie en realisant, par les representations terrestres des eaux du nuage et de l’eclair, les conditions dans lesquelles celui-ci determine dans le ciel l’epanchement de celles-la.” A good example of magical science is afforded by the medical practice of the Dacotahs of North America. When any one is ill, an image of his disease, a boil or what not, is carved in wood. This little image is then placed in a bowl of water and shot at with a gun. The image of the disease being destroyed, the disease itself is expected to disappear. Compare the magic of the Philistines, who made golden images of the sores which plagued them and stowed them away in the ark. The custom of making a wax statuette of an enemy, and piercing it with pins or melting it before the fire, so that the detested person might waste as his semblance melted, was common in mediaeval Europe, was known to Plato, and is practised by Negroes. Some Australians take some of the hair of an enemy, mix it with grease and the feathers of the eagle, and burn it in the fire. This is “bar” or black magic. The boarding under the chair of a magistrate in Barbadoes was lifted not long ago, and the ground beneath was found covered with wax images of litigants stuck full of pins.
The war-magic of the Dacotahs works in a similar manner. Before a party starts on the war-trail, the chief, with various ceremonies, takes his club and stands before his tent. An old witch bowls hoops at him; each hoop represents an enemy, and for each he strikes a foeman is expected to fall. A bowl of sweetened water is also set out to entice the spirits of the enemy. The war-magic of the Aryans in India does not differ much in character from that of the Dacotahs. “If any one wishes his army to be victorious, he should go beyond the battle-line, cut a stalk of grass at the top and end, and throw it against the hostile army with the words, Prasahe kas trapasyati?--O Prasaha, who sees thee? If one who has such knowledge cuts a stalk of grass and throws the parts at the hostile army, it becomes split and dissolved, just as a daughter-in-law becomes abashed and faints when seeing her father-in-law,”— an allusion, apparently, to the widespread tabu which makes fathers-in-law, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, and mothers-in-law avoid each other.
The hunt-dances of the Red Indians and Australians are arranged like their war-magic. Effigies of the bears, deer, or kangaroos are made, or some of the hunters imitate the motions of these animals. The rest of the dancers pretend to spear them, and it is hoped that this will ensure success among the real bears and kangaroos.
Here is a singular piece of magic in which Europeans and Australian blacks agree. Boris Godunoff made his servants swear never to injure him by casting spells with the dust on which his feet or his carriage wheels had left traces. Mr. Howitt finds the same magic among the Kurnai. “Seeing a Tatungolung very lame, I asked him what was the matter. He said, ‘Some fellow has put BOTTLE in my foot’. I found he was probably suffering from acute rheumatism. He explained that some enemy must have found his foot-track and have buried in it a piece of broken bottle. The magic influence, he believed, caused it to enter his foot.” On another occasion a native told Mr. Howitt that he had seen black fellows putting poison in his foot-tracks. Bosman mentions a similar practice among the people of Guinea. In Scottish folk-lore a screw nail is fixed into the footprint of the person who is to be injured.
Just as these magical efforts to influence like by like work their way into Vedic and other religions, so they are introduced into the religion of the savage. His prayers are addresses to some sort of superior being, but the efficacy of the prayer is often eked out by a little magic, unless indeed we prefer to suppose that the words of the supplication are interpreted by gesture-speech. Sproat writes: “Set words and gestures are used according to the thing desired. For instance, in praying for salmon, the native rubs the backs of his hands, looks upwards, and mutters the words, ‘Many salmon, many salmon’. If he wishes for deer, he carefully rubs both eyes; or, if it is geese, he rubs the back of his shoulder, uttering always in a sing-song way the accustomed formula. . . . All these practices in praying no doubt have a meaning. We may see a steady hand is needed in throwing the salmon-spear, and clear eyesight in finding deer in the forest.”
In addition to these forms of symbolical magic (which might be multiplied to any extent), we find among savages the belief in the power of songs of INCANTATION. This is a feature of magic which specially deserves our attention. In myths, and still more in marchen or household tales, we shall constantly find that the most miraculous effects are caused when the hero pronounces a few lines of rhyme. In Rome, as we have all read in the Latin Delectus, it was thought that incantations could draw down the moon. In the Odyssey the kinsfolk of Odysseus sing “a song of healing” over the wound which was dealt him by the boar’s tusk. Jeanne d’Arc, wounded at Orleans, refused a similar remedy. Sophocles speaks of the folly of muttering incantations over wounds that need the surgeon’s knife. The song that salved wounds occurs in the Kalewala, the epic poem of the Finns. In many of Grimm’s marchen, miracles are wrought by the repetition of snatches of rhyme. This belief is derived from the savage state of fancy. According to Kohl, “Every sorrowful or joyful emotion that opens the Indian’s mouth is at once wrapped up in the garb of a wabanonagamowin (chanson magicale). If you ask one of them to sing you a simple innocent hymn in praise of Nature, a spring or jovial hunting stave, he never gives you anything but a form of incantation, with which he says you will be able to call to you all the birds from the sky, and all the foxes and wolves from their caves and burrows.” The giant’s daughter in the Scotch marchen, Nicht, Nought, Nothing, is thus enabled to call to her aid “all the birds of the sky”. In the same way, if you ask an Indian for a love-song, he will say that a philtre is really much more efficacious. The savage, in short, is extremely practical. His arts, music and drawing, exist not pour l’art, but for a definite purpose, as methods of getting something that the artist wants. The young lover whom Kohl knew, like the lover of Bombyca in Theocritus, believed in having an image of himself and an image of the beloved. Into the heart of the female image he thrust magic powders, and he said that this was common, lovers adding songs, “partly elegiac, partly malicious, and almost criminal forms of incantation”.
Among the Indo-Aryans the masaminik or incantations of the Red Man are known as mantras. These are usually texts from the Veda, and are chanted over the sick and in other circumstances where magic is believed to be efficacious. Among the New Zealanders the incantations are called karakias, and are employed in actual life. There is a special karakia to raise the wind. In Maori myths the hero is very handy with his karakia. Rocks split before him, as before girls who use incantations in Kaffir and Bushman tales. He assumes the shape of any animal at will, or flies in the air, all by virtue of the karakia or incantation.
Without multiplying examples in the savage belief that miracles can be wrought by virtue of physical CORRESPONDANCES, by like acting on like, by the part affecting the whole, and so forth, we may go on to the magical results produced by the aid of spirits. These may be either spirits of the dead or spiritual essences that never animated mortal men. Savage magic or science rests partly on the belief that the world is peopled by a “choir invisible,” or rather by a choir only occasionally visible to certain gifted people, sorcerers and diviners. An enormous amount of evidence to prove the existence of these tenets has been collected by Mr. Tylor, and is accessible to all in the chapters on “Animism” in his Primitive Culture. It is not our business here to account for the universality of the belief in spirits. Mr. Tylor, following Lucretius and Homer, derives the belief from the reasonings of early men on the phenomena of dreams, fainting, shadows, visions caused by narcotics, hallucinations, and other facts which suggest the hypothesis of a separable life apart from the bodily organism. It would scarcely be fair not to add that the kind of “facts” investigated by the Psychical Society—such “facts” as the appearance of men at the moment of death in places remote from the scene of their decease, with such real or delusive experiences as the noises and visions in haunted houses—are familiar to savages. Without discussing these obscure matters, it may be said that they influence the thoughts even of some scientifically trained and civilised men. It is natural, therefore, that they should strongly sway the credulous imagination of backward races, in which they originate or confirm the belief that life can exist and manifest itself after the death of the body.
Some examples of savage “ghost-stories,” precisely analogous to the “facts” of the Psychical Society’s investigations, may be adduced. The first is curious because it offers among the Kanekas an example of a belief current in Breton folklore. The story is vouched for by Mr. J. J. Atkinson, late of Noumea, New Caledonia. Mr. Atkinson, we have reason to believe, was unacquainted with the Breton parallel. To him one day a Kaneka of his acquaintance paid a visit, and seemed loth to go away. He took leave, returned, and took leave again, till Mr. Atkinson asked him the reason of his behaviour. He then explained that he was about to die, and would never see his English friend again. As he seemed in perfect health, Mr. Atkinson rallied him on his hypochondria; but the poor fellow replied that his fate was sealed. He had lately met in the wood one whom he took for the Kaneka girl of his heart; but he became aware too late that she was no mortal woman, but a wood-spirit in the guise of the beloved. The result would be his death within three days, and, as a matter of fact, he died. This is the groundwork of the old Breton ballad of Le Sieur Nan, who dies after his intrigue with the forest spectre. A tale more like a common modern ghost-story is vouched for by Mr. C. J. Du Ve, in Australia. In the year 1860, a Maneroo black fellow died in the service of Mr. Du Ve. “The day before he died, having been ill some time, he said that in the night his father, his father’s friend, and a female spirit he could not recognise, had come to him and said that he would die next day, and that they would wait for him. Mr. Du Ye adds that, though previously the Christian belief had been explained to this man, it had entirely faded, and that he had gone back to the belief of his childhood.” Mr. Fison, who prints this tale in his Kamilaroi and Kurnai, adds, “I could give many similar instances which have come within my own knowledge among the Fijians, and, strange to say, the dying man in all these cases kept his appointment with the ghosts to the very day”.
In the Cruise of the Beagle is a parallel anecdote of a Fuegian, Jimmy Button, and his father’s ghost.
Without entering into a discussion of ghosts, it is plain that the kind of evidence, whatever its value may be, which convinces many educated Europeans of the existence of “veridical” apparitions has also played its part in the philosophy of uncivilised races. On this belief in apparitions, then, is based the power of the savage sorcerers and necromants, of the men who converse with the dead and are aided by disembodied spirits. These men have greatly influenced the beginnings of mythology. Among certain Australian tribes the necromants are called Birraark. “The Kurnai tell me,” says Mr. Howitt, “that a Birraark was supposed to be initiated by the ‘Mrarts (ghosts) when they met him wandering in the bush. . . . It was from the ghosts that he obtained replies to questions concerning events passing at a distance or yet to happen, which might be of interest or moment to his tribe.” Mr. Howitt prints an account of a spiritual seance in the bush. “The fires were let go down. The Birraark uttered a cry ‘coo-ee’ at intervals. At length a distant reply was heard, and shortly afterwards the sound as of persons jumping on the ground in succession. A voice was then heard in the gloom asking in a strange intonation, ‘What is wanted?’ Questions were put by the Birraark and replies given. At the termination of the seance, the spirit-voice said, ‘We are going’. Finally, the Birraark was found in the top of an almost inaccessible tree, apparently asleep.” There was one Birraark at least to every clan. The Kurnai gave the name of “Brewin” (a powerful evil spirit) to a Birraark who was once carried away for several days by the Mrarts or spirits. It is a belief with the Australians, as, according to Bosman, it was with the people of the Gold Coast, that a very powerful wizard lives far inland, and the Negroes held that to this warlock the spirits of the dead went to be judged according to the merit of their actions in life. Here we have a doctrine answering to the Greek belief in “the wizard Minos,” Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus, and to the Egyptian idea of Osiris as judge of the departed. The pretensions of the sorcerer to converse with the dead are attested by Mr. Brough Smyth. “A sorcerer lying on his stomach spoke to the deceased, and the other sitting by his side received the precious messages which the dead man told.” As a natural result of these beliefs, the Australian necromant has great power in the tribe. Mr. Howitt mentions a case in which a group of kindred, ceasing to use their old totemistic surname, called themselves the children of a famous dead Birraark, who thus became an eponymous hero, like Ion among the Ionians. Among the Scotch Highlanders the position and practice of the seer were very like those of the Birraark. “A person,” says Scott, “was wrapped up in the skin of a newly slain bullock and deposited beside a waterfall or at the bottom of a precipice, or in some other strange, wild and unusual situation, where the scenery around him suggested nothing but objects of horror. In this situation he revolved in his mind the question proposed and whatever was impressed on him by his exalted imagination PASSED FOR THE INSPIRATION OF THE DISEMBODIED SPIRITS who haunt these desolate recesses.” A number of examples are given in Martin’s Description of the Western Islands. In the Century magazine (July, 1882) is a very full report of Thlinkeet medicine-men and metamorphoses.
The sorcerer among the Zulus is, apparently, of a naturally hysterical and nervous constitution. “He hears the spirits who speak by whistlings speaking to him.” Whistling is also the language of the ghosts in New Caledonia, where Mr. Atkinson informs us that he has occasionally put an able-bodied Kaneka to ignominious flight by whistling softly in the dusk. The ghosts in Homer make a similar sound, “and even as bats flit gibbering in the secret place of a wondrous cavern, . . . even so the souls gibbered as they fared together” (Odyssey, xxiv. 5). “The familiar spirits make him” (that Zulu sorcerer) “acquainted with what is about to happen, and then he divines for the people.” As the Birraarks learn songs and dance-music from the Mrarts, so the Zulu Inyanga or diviners learn magical couplets from the Itongo or spirits.
The evidence of institutions confirms the reports about savage belief in magic. The political power of the diviners is very great, as may be observed from the fact that a hereditary chief needs their consecration to make him a chief de jure. In fact, the qualities of the diviner are those which give his sacred authority to the chief. When he has obtained from the diviners all their medicines and information as to the mode of using the isitundu (a magical vessel), it is said that he often orders them to be killed. Now, the chief is so far a medicine-man that he is lord of the air. “The heaven is the chief’s,” say the Zulus; and when he calls out his men, “though the heaven is clear, it becomes clouded by the great wind that arises”. Other Zulus explain this as the mere hyperbole of adulation. “The word of the chief gives confidence to his troops; they say, ‘We are going; the chief has already seen all that will happen in his vessel’. Such then are chiefs; they use a vessel for divination.” The makers of rain are known in Zululand as “heaven-herds” or “sky-herds,” who herd the heaven that it may not break out and do its will on the property of the people. These men are, in fact, “cloud-gatherers,” like the Homeric Zeus, the lord of the heavens. Their name of “herds of the heavens” has a Vedic sound. “The herd that herds the lightning,” say the Zulus, “does the same as the herder of the cattle; he does as he does by whistling; he says, ‘Tshu-i-i-i. Depart and go yonder. Do not come here.’” Here let it be observed that the Zulus conceive of the thunder-clouds and lightning as actual creatures, capable of being herded like sheep. There is no metaphor or allegory about the matter, and no forgetfulness of the original meaning of words. The cloud-herd is just like the cowherd, except that not every man, but only sorcerers, and they who have eaten the “lightning-bird” (a bird shot near the place where lightning has struck the earth), can herd the clouds of heaven. The same ideas prevail among the Bushmen, where the rainmaker is asked “to milk a nice gentle female rain”; the rain-clouds are her hair. Among the Bushmen Rain is a person. Among the Red Indians no metaphor seems to be intended when it is said that “it is always birds who make the wind, except that of the east”. The Dacotahs once killed a thunderbird behind Little Crow’s village on the Missouri. It had a face like a man with a nose like an eagle’s bill.
The political and social powers which come into the hands of the sorcerers are manifest, even in the case of the Australians. Tribes and individuals can attempt few enterprises without the aid of the man who listens to the ghosts. Only he can foretell the future, and, in the case of the natural death of a member of the tribe, can direct the vengeance of the survivors against the hostile magician who has committed a murder by “bar” or magic. Among the Zulus we have seen that sorcery gives the sanction to the power of the chief. “The winds and weather are at the command” of Bosman’s “great fetisher”. Inland from the Gold Coast, the king of Loango, according to the Abbe Proyart, “has credit to make rain fall on earth”. Similar beliefs, with like political results, will be found to follow from the superstition of magic among the Red Indians of North America. The difficulty of writing about sorcerers among the Red Indians is caused by the abundance of the evidence. Charlevoix and the other early Jesuit missionaries found that the jongleurs, as Charlevoix calls the Jossakeeds or medicine-men, were their chief opponents. As among the Scotch Highlanders, the Australians and the Zulus, the Red Indian jongleur is visited by the spirits. He covers a hut with the skin of the animal which he commonly wears, retires thither, and there converses with the bodiless beings. The good missionary like Mr. Moffat in Africa, was convinced that the exercises of the Jossakeeds were verily supernatural. “Ces seducteurs ont un veritable commerce avec le pere du mensonge.” This was denied by earlier and wiser Jesuit missionaries. Their political power was naturally great. In time of war “ils avancent et retardent les marches comme il leur plait”. In our own century it was a medicine-man, Ten Squa Ta Way, who by his magical processes and superstitious rites stirred up a formidable war against the United States. According to Mr. Pond, the native name of the Dacotah medicine-men, “Wakan,” signifies “men supernaturally gifted”. Medicine-men are believed to be “wakanised” by mystic intercourse with supernatural beings. The business of the wakanised man is to discern future events, to lead and direct parties on the war-trail, “to raise the storm or calm the tempest, to converse with the lightning or thunder as with familiar friends”. The wakanised man, like the Australian Birraark and the Zulu diviner, “dictates chants and prayers”. In battle “every Dacotah warrior looks to the Wakan man as almost his only resource”. Belief in Wakan men is, Mr. Pond says, universal among the Dakotas, except where Christianity has undermined it. “Their influence is deeply felt by every individual of the tribe, and controls all their affairs.” The Wakan man’s functions are absorbed by the general or war-chief of the tribe, and in Schoolcraft (iv. 495), Captain Eastman prints copies of native scrolls showing the war-chief at work as a wizard. “The war-chief who leads the party to war is always one of these medicine-men.” In another passage the medicine-men are described as “having a voice in the sale of land”. It must be observed that the Jossakeed, or medicine-man, pure and simple, exercises a power which is not in itself hereditary. Chieftainship, when associated with inheritance of property, is hereditary; and when the chief, as among the Zulus, absorbs supernatural power, then the same man becomes diviner and chief, and is a person of great and sacred influence. The liveliest account of the performances of the Maori “tohunga” or sorcerer is to be found in Old New Zealand, by the Pakeha Maori, an English gentleman who had lived with the natives like one of themselves. The tohunga, says this author, presided over “all those services and customs which had something approaching to a religious character. They also pretended to power by means of certain familiar spirits, to foretell future events, and even in some cases to control them. . . . The spirit ‘entered into’ them, and, on being questioned, gave a response in a sort of half whistling, half-articulate voice, supposed to be the proper language of spirits.” In New South Wales, Mrs. Langlot Parker has witnessed a similar exhibition. The “spirits” told the truth in this case. The Pakeha Maori was present in a darkened village-hall when the spirit of a young man, a great friend of his own, was called up by a tohunga. “Suddenly, without the slightest warning, a voice came out of the darkness. . . . The voice all through, it is to be remembered, was not the voice of the tohunga, but a strange melancholy sound, like the sound of a wind blowing into a hollow vessel. ‘It is well with me; my place is a good place.’ The spirit gave an answer to a question which proved to be correct, and then ‘Farewell,’ cried the spirit FROM DEEP BENEATH THE GROUND. ‘Farewell,’ again, FROM HIGH IN AIR. ‘Farewell,’ once more came moaning through the distant darkness of the night.” As chiefs in New Zealand no less than tohungas can exercise the mystical and magical power of tabu, that is, of imparting to any object or person an inviolable character, and can prevent or remit the mysterious punishment for infringement of tabu, it appears probable that in New Zealand, as well as among the Zulus and Red Indians, chiefs have a tendency to absorb the sacred character and powers of the tohungas. This is natural enough, for a tohunga, if he plays his cards well, is sure to acquire property and hereditary wealth, which, in combination with magical influence, are the necessary qualifications for the office of the chieftain.
Here is the place to mention a fact which, though at first sight it may appear to have only a social interest, yet bears on the development of mythology. Property and rank seem to have been essential to each other in the making of social rank, and where one is absent among contemporary savages, there we do not find the other. As an example of this, we might take the case of two peoples who, like the Homeric Ethiopians, are the outermost of men, and dwell far apart at the ends of the world. The Eskimos and the Fuegians, at the extreme north and south of the American continent, agree in having little or no private property and no chiefs. Yet magic is providing a kind of basis of rank. The bleak plains of ice and rock are, like Attica, “the mother of men without master or lord”. Among the “house-mates” of the smaller settlements there is no head-man, and in the larger gatherings Dr. Rink says that “still less than among the house-mates was any one belonging to such a place to be considered a chief”. The songs and stories of the Eskimo contain the praises of men who have risen up and killed any usurper who tried to be a ruler over his “place-mates”. No one could possibly establish any authority on the basis of property, because “superfluous property, implements, etc., rarely existed”. If there are three boats in one household, one of the boats is “borrowed” by the community, and reverts to the general fund. If we look at the account of the Fuegians described in Admiral Fitzroy’s cruise, we find a similar absence of rank produced by similar causes. “The perfect equality among the individuals composing the tribes must for a long time retard their civilisation. . . . At present even a piece of cloth is torn in shreds and distributed, and no one individual becomes richer than another. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how a chief can arise till there is property of some sort by which he might manifest and still increase his authority.” In the same book, however, we get a glimpse of one means by which authority can be exercised. “The doctor-wizard of each party has much influence over his companions.” Among the Eskimos this element in the growth of authority also exists. A class of wizards called Angakut have power to cause fine weather, and, by the gift of second-sight and magical practices, can detect crimes, so that they necessarily become a kind of civil magistrates. These Angekkok or Angakut have familiar spirits called Torngak, a word connected with the name of their chief spiritual being, Torngarsak. The Torngak is commonly the ghost of a deceased parent of the sorcerer. “These men,” says Egede, “are held in great honour and esteem among this stupid and ignorant nation, insomuch that nobody dare ever refuse the strictest obedience when they command him in the name of Torngarsak.” The importance and actual existence of belief in magic has thus been attested by the evidence of institutions, even among Australians, Fuegians and Eskimos.
It is now necessary to pass from examples of tribes who have superstitious respect for certain individuals, but who have no property and no chiefs, to peoples who exhibit the phenomenon of superstitious reverence attached to wealthy rulers or to judges. To take the example of Ireland, as described in the Senchus Mor, we learn that the chiefs, just like the Angakut of the Eskimos, had “power to make fair or foul weather” in the literal sense of the words. In Africa, in the same way, as Bosman, the old traveller, says, “As to what difference there is between one negro and another, the richest man is the most honoured,” yet the most honoured man has the same magical power as the poor Angakuts of the Eskimos.
"In the Solomon Islands,” says Dr. Codrington, “there is nothing to prevent a common man from becoming a chief, if he can show that he has the mana (supernatural power) for it.”
Though it is anticipating a later stage of this inquiry, we must here observe that the sacredness, and even the magical virtues of barbarous chiefs seem to have descended to the early leaders of European races. The children of Odin and of Zeus were “sacred kings”. The Homeric chiefs, like those of the Zulus and the Red Men, and of the early Irish and Swedes, exercised an influence over the physical universe. Homer speaks of “a blameless king, one that fears the gods, and reigns among many men and mighty, and the black earth bears wheat and barley, and the sheep bring forth and fail not, and the sea gives store of fish, and all out of his good sovereignty”.
The attributes usually assigned by barbarous peoples to their medicine-men have not yet been exhausted. We have found that they can foresee and declare the future; that they control the weather and the sensible world; that they can converse with, visit and employ about their own business the souls of the dead. It would be easy to show at even greater length that the medicine-man has everywhere the power of metamorphosis. He can assume the shapes of all beasts, birds, fishes, insects and inorganic matters, and he can subdue other people to the same enchantment. This belief obviously rests on the lack of recognised distinction between man and the rest of the world, which we have so frequently insisted on as a characteristic of savage and barbarous thought. Examples of accredited metamorphosis are so common everywhere, and so well known, that it would be waste of space to give a long account of them. In Primitive Culture a cloud of witnesses to the belief in human tigers, hyaenas, leopards and wolves is collected. Mr. Lane found metamorphosis by wizards as accredited a working belief at Cairo as it is among Abipones, Eskimo, or the people of Ashangoland. In various parts of Scotland there is a tale of a witch who was shot at when in the guise of a hare. In this shape she was wounded, and the same wound was found on her when she resumed her human appearance. Lafitau, early in the last century, found precisely the same tale, except that the wizards took the form of birds, not of hares, among the Red Indians. The birds were wounded by the magical arrows of an old medicine-man, Shonnoh Koui Eretsi, and these bolts were found in the bodies of the human culprits. In Japan, as we learn from several stories in Mr. Mitford’s Tales of Old Japan, people chiefly metamorphose themselves into foxes and badgers. The sorcerers of Honduras “possess the power of transforming men into wild beasts, and were much feared accordingly”. Among the Cakchiquels, a cultivated people of Guatemala, the very name of the clergy, haleb, was derived from their power of assuming animal shapes, which they took on as easily as the Homeric gods. Regnard, the French dramatist, who travelled among the Lapps at the end of the seventeenth century (1681), says: “They believe witches can turn men into cats;” and again, “Under the figures of swans, crows, falcons and geese, they call up tempests and destroy ships”. Among the Bushmen “sorcerers assume the forms of beasts and jackals”. Dobrizhoffer (1717-91), a missionary in Paraguay, found that “sorcerers arrogate to themselves the power of transforming themselves into tigers”. He was present when the Abipones believed that a conversion of this sort was actually taking place: “Alas,” cried the people, “his whole body is beginning to be covered with tiger-spots; his nails are growing”. Near Loanda, Livingstone found that a “chief may metamorphose himself into a lion, kill any one he choses, and then resume his proper form”. Among the Barotse and Balonda, “while persons are still alive they may enter into lions and alligators”. Among the Mayas of Central America “sorcerers could transform themselves into dogs, pigs and other animals; their glance was death to a victim”. The Thlinkeets think that their Shamans can metamorphose themselves into animals at pleasure; and a very old raven was pointed out to Mr. C. E. S. Wood as an incarnation of the soul of a Shaman. Sir A. C. Lyall finds a similar belief in flourishing existence in India. The European superstition of the were-wolf is too well known to need description. Perhaps the most curious legend is that told by Giraldus Cambrensis about a man and his wife metamorphosed into wolves by an abbot. They retained human speech, made exemplary professions of Christian faith, and sent for priests when they found their last hours approaching. In an old Norman ballad a girl is transformed into a white doe, and hunted and slain by her brother’s hounds. The “aboriginal” peoples of India retain similar convictions. Among the Hos, an old sorcerer called Pusa was known to turn himself habitually into a tiger, and to eat his neighbour’s goats, and even their wives. Examples of the power of sorcerers to turn, as with the Gorgon’s head, their enemies into stone, are peculiarly common in America. Hearne found that the Indians believed they descended from a dog, who could turn himself into a handsome young man.
Let us recapitulate the powers attributed all over the world, by the lower people, to medicine-men. The medicine-man has all miracles at his command. He rules the sky, he flies into the air, he becomes visible or invisible at will, he can take or confer any form at pleasure, and resume his human shape. He can control spirits, can converse with the dead, and can descend to their abodes.
When we begin to examine the gods of MYTHOLOGY, savage or civilised,
as distinct from deities contemplated, in devotion, as moral and
creative guardians of ethics, we shall find that, with the general,
though not invariable addition of immortality, they possess the very
same accomplishments as the medicine-man, peay, tohunga, jossakeed,
birraark, or whatever name for sorcerer we may choose. Among the
Greeks, Zeus, mythically envisaged, enjoys in heaven all the attributes
of the medicine-man; among the Iroquois, as Pere le Jeune, the old
Jesuit missionary, observed, the medicine-man enjoys on earth all the
attributes of Zeus. Briefly, the miraculous and supernatural endowments
of the gods of MYTH, whether these gods be zoomorphic or
anthropomorphic, are exactly the magical properties with which the
medicine-man is credited by his tribe. It does not at all follow, as
Euemerus and Mr. Herbert Spencer might argue, that the god was once a
real living medicine- man. But myth-making man confers on the deities
of myth the magical powers which he claims for himself.
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