World Spirituality

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Native Spiritualism

Hopi artifacts

by Andrew Lang

Philosophers among the Dènè Hareskins in the extreme north of America recognize four classes of 'Shadow' or magic.  Their categories apply sufficiently closely to all savage sorcery (excluding sympathetic magic), as far as it has been observed.  We have, among the Hareskins:—

1.  Beneficent magic, used for the healing of the sick.

2.  Malevolent magic: the black art of witchcraft

3.  Conjuring, or the working of merely sportive miracles.

4.  Magic for ascertaining the truth about the future or the distant present—clairvoyance.  This is called 'The Young Man Bound and Bounding,' from the widely-spread habit of tying-up the limbs of the medium, and from his customary convulsions.

To all of these forms of magic, or spiritualism, the presence and aid of 'spirits' is believed to be necessary, with, perhaps, the exception of the sportive or conjuring class.  A spirit helps to cure and helps to kill.  The free spirit of the clairvoyant in bondage meets other spirits in its wanderings.  Anthropologists, taking it for granted that 'spirits' are a mere 'animistic hypothesis'—their appearances being counterfeited by imposture—have paid little attention to the practical magic of savages, as far as it is not merely sympathetic, and based on the doctrine that 'like cures like'.

Thus Mr. Sproat, in his excellent work, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life, frankly admits that in Vancouver Island the trickery and hocus-pocus of Aht sorcery were so repugnant to him that he could not occupy himself with the topic.  Some other travelers have been more inquisitive; unlettered sojourners among the wilder peoples have shared their superstitions, and consulted their oracles, while one or two of the old Jesuit missionaries were close and puzzled observers of their 'mediumship'.

Thus enough is known to show that savage spiritualism wonderfully resembles, even in minute details, that of modern mediums and séances, while both have the most striking parallels in the old classical thaumaturgy.

This uniformity, to a certain extent, is not surprising, for savage, classical, and modern spiritualism all repose on the primeval animistic hypothesis as their metaphysical foundation.  The origin of this hypothesis—namely, that disembodied intelligences exist and are active—is explained by anthropologists as the result of early reasonings on life, death, sleep, dreams, trances, shadows, the phenomena of epilepsy, and the illusions of starvation.  This scientific theory is, in itself, unimpeachable; normal phenomena, psychological and physical, might suggest most of the animistic beliefs.

At the same time 'veridical hallucinations,' if there are any, and clairvoyance, if there is such a thing, would do much to originate and confirm the animistic opinions.  Meanwhile, the extraordinary similarity of savage and classical spiritualistic rites, with the corresponding similarity of alleged modern phenomena, raises problems which it is more easy to state than to solve.  For example, such occurrences as 'rappings,' as the movement of untouched objects, as the lights of the séance room, are all easily feigned.  But that ignorant modern knaves should feign precisely the same raps, lights, and movements as the most remote and unsophisticated barbarians, and as the educated Platonists of the fourth century after Christ, and that many of the other phenomena should be identical in each case, is certainly noteworthy.  This kind of folklore is the most persistent, the most apt to revive, and the most uniform.  We have to decide between the theories of independent invention; of transmission, borrowing, and secular tradition; and of a substratum of actual fact.

Thus, either the rite of binding the sorcerer was invented, for no obvious reason, in a given place, and thence reached the Australian blacks, the Eskimo, the Dènè Hareskins, the Davenport Brothers, and the Neo-Platonists; or it was independently evolved in each of several remote regions; or it was found to have some actual effect—what we cannot guess—on persons entranced.  We are hampered by not knowing, in our comparatively rational state of development, what strange things it is natural for a savage to invent.  That spirits should knock and rap seems to us about as improbable an idea as could well occur to the fancy.  Were we inventing a form for a spirit's manifestations to take, we never should invent that.  But what a savage might think an appropriate invention we do not know.  Meanwhile we have the medieval and later tales of rapping, some of which, to be frank, have never been satisfactorily accounted for on any theory.  But, on the other hand, each of us might readily invent another common 'manifestation'—the wind which is said to accompany the spirit.

The very word spiritus suggests air in motion, and the very idea of abnormal power suggests the trembling and shaking of the place wherein it is present.  Yet, on the other side, the 'cold non-natural wind' of séances, of Swedenborg, and of a hundred stories, old or new, is undeniably felt by some skeptical observers, even on occasions where no professional charlatan is engaged.  As to the trembling and shaking of the house or hut, where the spirit is alleged to be, we shall examine some curious evidence, ancient and modern, savage and civilized.  So of the other phenomena.  Some seem to be of easy natural invention, others not so; and, in the latter case, independent evolution of an idea not obvious is a difficult hypothesis, while transmission from the Pole to Australia, though conceivable, is apt to give rise to doubt.

Meanwhile, one phenomenon, which is usually said to accompany others much more startling, may now be held to have won acceptance from science.  This is what the Dènè Hareskins call the Sleep of the Shadow, that is, the Magical Sleep, the hypnotic trance.  Savages are well acquainted with this abnormal condition, and with means of producing it, and it is at the bottom of all their more mysterious non-sympathetic magic.  Before Mesmer, and even till within the last thirty years, this phenomenon, too, would have been scouted; now it is a commonplace of physiology.  For such physical symptoms as introverted eyes in seers we need look no further than Martin's account of the second-sighted men, in his book on the Hebrides.  The phenomenon of anesthesia, insensibility to pain, in trance, is not unfamiliar to science, but that red-hot coals should not burn a seer or medium is, perhaps, less easily accepted; while science, naturally, does not recognize the clairvoyance, and still less the 'spiritual' attendants of the seer in the Sleep of the Shadow.  Nevertheless, classical, modern, and savage spiritualists are agreed in reporting these last and most startling phenomena of the magic slumber in certain cases.

Beginning with what may be admitted as possible, we find that the Dènè Hareskins practice a form of healing under hypnotic or mesmeric treatment.  The physician (who is to be pitied) begins by a three days' fast.  Then a 'magic lodge,' afterwards to be described, is built for him in the forest.  Here he falls into the Sleep of the Shadow; the patient is then brought before him.  In the lodge, the patient confesses his sins to his doctor, and when that ghostly friend has heard all, he sings and plays the tambour, invoking the spirit to descend on the sick man.  The singing of barbarous songs was part of classical spiritualism; the Norse witch, in The Saga of Eric the Red, insisted on the song of Warlocks being chanted, which secured the attendance of 'many powerful spirits'; and modern spiritualists enliven their dark and dismal programme by songs.  Presently the Hareskin physician blows on the patient, and bids the malady quit him.  He also makes 'passes' over the invalid till he produces trance; the spirit is supposed to assist.  Then the spirit extracts the sin which caused the suffering, and the illness is cured, after the patient has been awakened by a loud cry.  In all this affair of confession one is inclined to surmise a mixture of Catholic practice, imitated from the missionaries.  It is also not, perhaps, impossible that hypnotic treatment may occasionally have been of some real service.

Turning to British Guiana, where, as elsewhere, hysterical and epileptic people make the best mediums, or 'Peay-men,' we are fortunate in finding an educated observer who submitted to be peaied.  Mr. Im Thurn, in the interests of science, endured a savage form of cure for headache.  The remedy was much worse than the disease.  In a hammock in the dark, attended by a peay-man armed with several bunches of green boughs, Mr. Im Thurn lay, under a vow not to touch whatever might touch him.  The peay-men kept howling questions to the kenaimas, or spirits, who answered.  'It was a clever piece of ventriloquism and acting.'

'Every now and then, through the mad din, there was a sound, at first low and indistinct, and then gathering in volume, as if some big, winged thing came from far towards the house, passed through the roof, and then settled heavily on the floor; and again, after an interval, as if the same winged thing rose and passed away as it had come,' while the air was sensibly stirred.  A noise of lapping up some tobacco-water set out for the kenaimas was also audible.  The rustling of wings, and the thud, 'were imitated, as I afterwards found, by skillfully shaking the leafy boughs, and then dashing them suddenly against the ground'.  Mr. Im Thurn bit one of the boughs which came close to his face, and caught leaves in his teeth.  As a rule he lay in a condition scarcely conscious: 'It seems to me that my spirit was as nearly separated from my body as is possible in any circumstances short of death.  Thus it appears that the efforts of the peay-man were directed partly to the separation of his own spirit from his body, and partly to the separation of the spirit from the body of his patient, and that in this way spirit holds communion with spirit.'  But Mr. Im Thurn's headache was not alleviated!  The whirring noise occurs in the case of the Cock Lane Ghost (1762), in Iamblichus, in some 'haunted houses,' and is reported by a modern lady spiritualist in a book which provokes skeptical comments.  Now, had the peay tradition reached Cock Lane, or was the peay-man counterfeiting, very cleverly, some real phenomenon?

We may next examine cases in which, the savage medium being entranced, spirits come to him and answer questions.  Australia is so remote, and it is so unlikely that European or American spiritualists suggested their ideas to the older blacks (for mediumship seems to be nearly extinct since the settling of the country), that any transmission of such notions to the Black Fellows must be very ancient.  Our authorities are Mr. Brough Smyth, in Aborigines of Victoria (i. 472), and Messrs. Fison and Howitt, in Kamilaroi and Kurnai, who tell just the same tale.  The spirits in Victoria are called Mrarts, and are understood to be the souls of Black Fellows dead and gone, not demons unattached.  The mediums, now very scarce, are Birraarks.  They were consulted as to things present and future.  The Birraark leaves the camp, the fire is kept low, and some one 'cooees' at intervals.  'Then a noise is heard.  The narrator here struck a book against the table several times to describe it.'  This, of course, is 'spirit-rapping'.  The knocks have a home among the least cultivated savages, as well as in medieval and modern Europe.  Then whistles are heard, a phenomenon lavishly illustrated in certain séances held at Rio de Janeiro  where children were mediums.  The spiritual whistle is familiar to Glanvil and to Homer.  Mr. Wesley, at Epworth (1716), noted it among all the other phenomena.  The Mrarts are next heard 'jumping down,' like the kenaimas.  Questions are put to them, and they answer.  They decline, very naturally, to approach a bright fire.  The medium (Birraark) is found entranced, either on the ground where the Mrarts have been talking, or at the top of a tree, very difficult to climb, 'and up which there are no marks of any one having climbed'.  The blacks, of course, are peculiarly skilled in detecting such marks.  In maleficent magic, as among the Dènè Hareskins, the Australian sorcerer has 'his head, body, and limbs wound round with stringy bark cords'.  The enchantment is believed to drag the victim, in a trance, towards the sorcerer.  This binding is customary among the Eskimo, and, as Mr. Myers has noted, was used in the rites described by the Oracles in 'trance utterances,' which Porphyry collected in the fourth century.  Whether the binding was thought to restrain the convulsions of the mediums, or whether it was, originally, a 'test condition,' to prevent the medium from cheating (as in modern experiments), we cannot discover.  It does not appear to be in use among the Maoris, whose specialty is 'trance utterance'.

A very picturesque description of a Maori séance is given in Old New Zealand.  The story loses greatly by being condensed.  A popular and accomplished young chief had died in battle, and his friends asked the Tohunga, or medium, to call him back.  The chief was able to read and write; he had kept a journal of remarkable events, and that journal, though 'unceasingly searched for,' had disappeared.  This was exactly a case for a test, and that which was given would have been good enough for spiritualists, though not for more reasonable human beings.  In the village hall, in flickering firelight, the friends, with the English observer, the 'Pakeha Maori,' were collected.  The medium, by way of a 'cabinet,' selected the darkest corner.  The fire burned down to a red glow.  Suddenly the spirit spoke, 'Salutation to my tribe,' and the chief's sister, a beautiful girl, rushed, with open arms, into the darkness; she was seized and held by her friends.  The gloom, the tears, the sorrow, nearly overcame the incredulity of the Englishman, as the Voice came, 'a strange, melancholy sound, like the sound of a wind blowing into a hollow vessel'.  'It is well with me,' it said; 'my place is a good place.'  They asked of their dead friends; the hollow answers replied, and the Englishman 'felt a strange swelling of the chest'.  The Voice spoke again: 'Give my large pig to the priest,' and the skeptic was disenchanted.  He now thought of the test.  '“We cannot find your book,” I said; “where have you concealed it?”  The answer immediately came: “Between the Tahuhu of my house and the thatch, straight over you as you go into the door”.'  Here the brother rushed out.  'In five minutes he came back, with the book in his hand.'  After one or two more remarks the Voice came, '“Farewell!” from deep beneath the ground.  “Farewell!” again from high in air.  “Farewell!” once more came moaning through the distant darkness of the night.  The deception was perfect.  “A ventriloquist,” said I, “or—or, perhaps the devil.”'  The séance had an ill end: the chief's sister shot herself.

This was decidedly a well-got-up affair for a colonial place.  The Maori oracles are precisely like those of Delphi.  In one case a chief was absent, was inquired for, and the Voice came, 'He will return, yet not return'.  Six months later the chiefs friends went to implore him to come home.  They brought him back a corpse; they had found him dying, and carried away the body.  In another case, when the Maori oracle was consulted as to the issue of a proposed war, it said: 'A desolate country, a desolate country, a desolate country!'  The chiefs, of course, thought the other country was meant, but they were deceived, as Crsus was by Delphi, when he was told that he 'would ruin a great empire'.  In yet another case, the Maoris were anxious for the spirits to bring back a European ship, on which a girl had fled with the captain.  The Pakeha Maori was present at this séance, and heard the 'hollow, mysterious whistling Voice, “The ship's nose I will batter out on the great sea"'.  Even the priest was puzzled, this, he said, was clearly a deceitful spirit, or atua, like those of which Porphyry complains, like most of them in fact.  But, ten days later, the ship came back to port; she had met a gale, and sprung a leak in the bow, called, in Maori, 'the nose' (ihu).  It is hardly surprising that some Europeans used to consult the oracle.

Possibly some spiritualists may take comfort in these anecdotes, and allege that the Maori mediums were 'very powerful'.  This is said to have been the view taken by some American believers, in a very curious case, reported by Kohl, but the tale, as he tells it, cannot possibly be accurate.  However, it illustrates and strangely coincides with some stories related by the Jesuit, Père Lejeune, in the Canadian Mission, about 1637.  The instances bear both on clairvoyance and on the force which is said to shake houses as well as to lift tables, in the legends of the modern thaumaturgists.  We shall take Kohl's tale before those of the old Jesuit.  Kohl first describes the 'Medicine Lodge,' already alluded to in the account of Dènè Hareskin magic.

The 'lodge' answers to what spiritualists call 'the cabinet,' usually a place curtained off in modern practice.  Behind this the medium now gets up his 'materializations,' and other cheap mysteries.  The classical performers of the fourth century also knew the advantage of a close place, 'where the power would not be scattered'.  This idea is very natural, granting the 'power'.  The modern Ojibwa 'close place,' or lodge, like those seen by old Jesuit fathers, 'is composed of stout posts, connected with basket-work, and covered with birch bark.  It is tall and narrow, and resembles a chimney.  It is very firmly built, and two men, even if exerting their utmost strength, would be unable to move, shake, or bend it.'  On this topic Kohl received information from a gentleman who 'knew the Indians well, and was even related to them through his wife'.  He, and many other white people thirty years before, saw a Jossakeed, or medium, crawl into such a lodge as Kohl describes, beating his tambour.  'The entire case began gradually trembling, shaking, and oscillating slowly amidst great noise. . . .  It bent back and forwards, up and down, like the mast of a vessel in a storm.  I could not understand how those movements could be produced by a man inside, as we could not have caused them from the exterior.'  Two voices, 'both entirely different,' were then heard within.  'Some spiritualists' (here is the weakest part of the story) 'who were present explained it through modern spiritualism.'  Now this was not before 1859, when Kohl's book appeared in English, and modern spiritualism, as a sect of philosophy, was not born till 1848, so that, thirty years before 1859, in 1829, there were no modern spiritualists.  This, then, is absurd.  However, the tale goes on, and Kohl's informant says that he knew the Jossakeed, or medium, who had become a Christian.  On his deathbed the white man asked him how it was done: 'now is the time to confess all truthfully'.  The converted one admitted the premises—he was dying, a Christian man—but, 'Believe me, I did not deceive you at that time.  I did not move the lodge.  It was shaken by the power of the spirits.  I could see a great distance round me, and believed I could recognize the most distant objects.'  This 'with an expression of simple truth'.  It is interesting, but the interval of thirty years is a naked impossibility.  In 1829 there were queer doings in America.  Joe Smith's Mormons 'spoke with tongues,' like Irving's congregation at the same time, but there were no modern spiritualists.  Kohl's informant should have said 'ten years ago,' if he wanted his anecdote to be credited, and it is curious that Kohl did not notice this circumstance.

We now come to the certainly honest evidence of the Père Lejeune, the Jesuit missionary.  In the Relations de la Nouvelle France (1634), Lejeune discusses the sorcerers, who, as rival priests, gave him great trouble.  He describes the Medicine Lodge just as Kohl does.  The fire is put out, of course, the sorcerer enters, the lodge shakes, voices are heard in Montagnais and Algonquin, and the Father thought it all a clumsy imposture.  The sorcerer, in a very sportsmanlike way, asked him to go in himself and try what he could make of it.  'You'll find that your body remains below and your soul mounts aloft.'  The cautious Father, reflecting that there were no white witnesses, declined to make the experiment.  This lodge was larger than those which Kohl saw, and would have held half a dozen men.  This was in 1634; by 1637 Père Lejeune began to doubt whether his theory that the lodge was shaken by the juggler would hold water.  Two Indians—one of them a sorcerer, Pigarouich, 'me descouvrant avec grande sincerité toutes ses malices'—'making a clean breast of his tricks'—vowed that they did not shake the lodge—that a great wind entered fort promptement et rudement, and they added that the 'tabernacle' (as Lejeune very injudiciously calls the Medicine Lodge), 'is sometimes so strong that a single man can hardly stir it.'  The sorcerer was a small weak man.  Lejeune himself noted the strength of the structure, and saw it move with a violence which he did not think a man could have communicated to it, especially not for such a length of time.  He was assured by many (Indian) witnesses that the tabernacle was sometimes laid level with the ground, and again that the sorcerer's arm and legs might be seen projecting outside, while the lodge staggered about—nay, more, the lodge would rock and sway after the juggler had left it.  As usual, there was a savage, Auiskuouaskousit, who had seen a juggler rise in air out of the structure, while others, looking in, saw that he was absent.  St. Theresa had done equal marvels, but this does not occur to the good Father.

The savage with the long name was a Christian catechumen, and yet he stood to it that he had seen a sorcerer disappear before his very eyes, like the second-sighted Highlander in Kirk's Secret Commonwealth (1691).  'His neibours often perceaved this man to disappear at a certane place, and about one hour after to become visible.'  It would be more satisfactory if the Father had seen these things himself, like Mrs. Newton Crosland, who informs the world that, when with Robert Chambers and other persons of sanity, she felt a whole house violently shaken, trembling, and thrilling in the presence of a medium—not a professional, but a young lady amateur.  Here, of course, we greatly desire the evidence of Robert Chambers.  Spirits came to Swedenborg with a wind, but it was only strong enough to flutter papers; 'the cause of which,' as he remarks with naïveté, 'I do not yet understand'.  If Swedenborg had gone into a Medicine Lodge, no doubt, in that 'close place,' the phenomena would have been very much more remarkable.  In 1853 Père Arnaud visited the Nasquapees, and describes a séance.  'The conjurers shut themselves up in a little lodge, and remain for a few minutes in a pensive attitude, cross-legged.  Soon the lodge begins to move like a table turning, and replies by bounds and jumps to the questions which are put to the conjurer.'  The experiment might be tried with a modern medium.

Father Lejeune, in 1637, gives a case which reminds us of Home.  According to Home, and to Mrs. S. C. Hall, and other witnesses, when 'in power' he could not only handle live coals without being burned, but he actually placed a large glowing coal, about the size of a cricket-ball, on the pate of Mr. S. C. Hall, where it shone redly through Mr. Hall's white locks, but did him no manner of harm.  Now Father Pijart was present, tesmoin oculaire, when a Huron medicine-man heated a stone red hot, put it in his mouth, and ran round the cabin with it, without receiving any harm.  Father Brébeuf, afterwards a most heroic martyr, sent the stone to Father Lejeune; it bore the marks of the medicine-man's teeth, though Father Pijart, examining the man, found that lips and tongue had no trace of burn or blister.  He reasonably concluded that these things could not be done ' sans l'opêration de quelque Démon'.  That an excited patient should not feel fire is, perhaps, admissible, but that it should not scorch either Mr. Hall, or Home, or the Huron, is a large demand on our credulity.  Still, the evidence in this case (that of Mr. Crookes and Lord Crawford) is much better than usual.

It would be strange if practices analogous to modern 'table-turning' did not exist among savage and barbaric races.  Thus Mr. Tylor, in Primitive Culture, quotes a Kutuchtu Lama who mounted a bench, and rode it, as it were, to a tent where the stolen goods were concealed.  The bench was believed, by the credulous Mongols, to carry the Lama!  Among the Manyanja of Africa thefts are detected by young men holding sticks in their hands.  After a sufficient amount of incantation, dancing, and convulsions, the sticks became possessed, the men 'can hardly hold them,' and are dragged after them in the required directions.  These examples are analogous to the use of the Divining Rod, which is probably moved unconsciously by honest 'dowsers'; 'sometimes they believe that they can hardly hold it'.  These are cases of movement of objects in contact with human muscles, and are therefore not at all mysterious in origin.  A regular case of movement without contact was reported from Tibet, by M. Tschérépanoff, in 1855.  The modern epidemic of table-turning had set in, when M. Tschérépanoff wrote thus to the Abeille Russe: 'The Lama can find stolen objects by following a table which flies before him'.  But the Lama, after being asked to trace an object, requires an interval of some days, before he sets about finding it.  When he is ready he sits on the ground, reading a Tibetan book, in front of a small square table, on which he rests his hands.  At the end of half an hour he rises and lifts his hands from the surface of the table: presently the table also rises from the ground, and follows the direction of his hand.  The Lama elevates his hand above his head, the table reaches the level of his eyes: the Lama walks, the table rushes before him in the air, so rapidly that he can scarcely keep up with its flight.  The table then spins round, and falls on the earth, the direction in which it falls, indicates that in which the stolen object is to be sought.  M. Tschérépanoff says that he saw the table fly about forty feet, and fall.  The stolen object was not immediately discovered, but a Russian peasant, seeing the line which the table took, committed suicide, and the object was found in his hut.  The date was 1831.  M. Tschérépanoff could not believe his eyes, and searched in vain for an iron wire, or other mechanism, but could find nothing of the sort.  This anecdote, if it does not prove a miracle, illustrates a custom.

As to clairvoyance among savages, the subject is comparatively familiar.  Montezuma's priests predicted the arrival of the Spaniards long before the event.  On this point, in itself well vouched for, Acosta tells a story which illustrates the identity of the 'astral body,' or double, with the ordinary body.  In the witch stories of Increase Mather and others, where the possessed sees the phantasm of the witch, and strikes it, the actual witch proves to be injured.  Story leads to story, and Mr. Thomas Hardy somewhere tells one to this effect.  A farmer's wife, a woman of some education, fell asleep in the afternoon, and dreamed that a neighbor of hers, a woman, was sitting on her chest.  She caught at the figure's arm in her dream, and woke.  Later in the day she met her neighbor, who complained of a pain in the arm, just where the farmer's wife seized it in her dream.  The place mortified and the poor lady died.  To return to Montezuma.  An honest laborer was brought before him, who made this very tough statement.  He had been carried by an eagle into a cave, where he saw a man in splendid dress sleeping heavily.  Beside him stood a burning stick of incense such as the Aztecs used.  A voice announced that this sleeper was Montezuma, prophesied his doom, and bade the laborer burn the slumberer's face with the flaming incense stick.  The laborer reluctantly applied the flame to the royal nose, 'but he moved not, nor showed any feeling'.  On this anecdote being related to Montezuma, he looked on his own face in a mirror, and 'found that he was burned, the which he had not felt till then'.

On the Coppermine River the medicine-man, according to Hearne, prophesies of travelers, like the Highland second-sighted man, ere they appear.  The Finns and Lapps boast of similar powers.  Scheffer is copious on the clairvoyant feats of Lapps in trance.  The Eskimo Angakut, when bound with their heads between their legs, cause luminous apparitions, just as was done by Mr. Stainton Moses, and by the mediums known to Porphyry and Iamblichus; the Angakut also send their souls on voyages, and behold distant lands.  One of the oddest Angekok stories in Rink's Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo tells how some children played at magic, making 'a dark cabinet,' by hanging jackets over the door, to exclude the light.  'The slabs of the floor were lifted and rushed after them:' a case of 'movement of objects without physical contact'.  This phenomenon in future attended the young medium's possessions, even when he was away from home.  This particular kind of manifestation, so very common in trials for witchcraft, and in modern spiritualistic literature, does not appear to prevail much among savages.  Persons otherwise credible and sane tell the authorities of the Psychical Society that, with only three amateurs present, things are thrown about, and objects are brought from places many miles distant, and tossed on the table.  These are technically termed apports.  The writer knows a case in which this was attested by a witness of the most unimpeachable character.  But savages hardly go so far.  Bishop Callaway has an instance in which 'spirits' tossed objects into the midst of a Zulu circle, but such things are not usual.  Savages also set out food for the dead, but they scarcely attain to the credulity, or are granted the experience, of a writer in the Medium.   This astonishing person knew a familiar spirit.  At dinner, one day, an empty chair began to move, 'and in answer to the question whether it would have some dinner, said “Yes"'.  It chose croquets de pomme de terre, which were placed on the chair in a spoon, lest the spirit, whose manners were rustic, should break a plate.  'In a few seconds I was told that it was eaten, and looking, found the half of it gone, with the marks showing the teeth.'  Perhaps few savages would have told such a tale to a journal which ought to have a large circulation—among believers.

The examples of savage spiritualism which have been adduced might probably receive many additions; those are but gleanings from a large field carelessly harvested.  The phenomena have been but casually studied; the civilized mind is apt to see, in savage séances, nothing but noisy buffoonery.  We have shown that there is a more serious belief involved, and we have adduced cases in which white men were not unconscious of the barbarian spell.  It also appears that the now recognized phenomena of hypnotism are the basis of the more serious savage magic.  The production of hypnotic trances, perhaps of hypnotic hallucinations, is a piece of knowledge which savages possessed (as they were acquainted with quinine), while European physicians and philosophers ignored or laughed at it.  Tobacco and quinine were more acceptable gifts from the barbarian.  His magic has now and then been examined by a competent anthropologist, like Mr. Im Thurn, and Castren closely observed the proceedings of the bound and bounding Shamans among the Samoyeds.  But we need the evidence both of anthropologists and of adepts in conjuring.  They might detect some of the tricks, though Mr. Kellar, a professional conjurer and exposer of spiritualistic imposture, has been fairly baffled (he says) by Zulus and Hindus, while educated Americans are puzzled by the Pawnees.  Mr. Kellar's plan of displaying a few of his own tricks was excellent: the dusky professionals were stimulated to show theirs, which, as described, were miracles.  The Pakeha Maori, already quoted, saw a Maori Tohunga perform 'a very good miracle as times go,' but he does not give any particulars.  The late Mr. Davey, who started as a Spiritualist catechumen, managed, by conjuring, to produce answers to questions on a locked slate, which is as near a miracle as anything.  But Mr. Davey is dead, though we know his secret, while it is improbable that Mr. Maskelyne will enrich his répertoire by traveling among Zulus, Hindus, and Pawnees.  As savages cease to be savages, our opportunities of learning their mystic lore must decrease.

To one point in this research the notice of students in folklore may be specially directed.  In the attempt to account for the diffusion of popular tales, such as Cinderella, we are told to observe that the countries most closely adjacent to each other have the most closely similar variants of the story.  This is true, as a rule, but it is also true that, while Scandinavian regions have a form of Cinderella with certain peculiarities not shared by Southern Europe, those crop up sporadically, far away, among Kaffirs and the Indian 'aboriginal' tribe of Santhals.  The same phenomenon of diffusion occurs when we find savage mediums tied up in their trances, all over the North, among Canadian Hareskins, among Samoyed and Eskimo, while the practice ceases at a given point in Labrador, and gives place to Medicine Lodges.  The binding then reappears if not in Australia, certainly in the ancient Greek ceremonial.  The writer is not acquainted with 'the bound and bounding young man' in the intervening regions and it would be very interesting to find connecting cases, stepping-stones, as it were, by which the rite passed from the Levant to the frozen North.

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See also: Native American Religious and Spiritual Beliefs

 


 

 

 

Of interest . . .