Page images
PDF
EPUB

history of manes-worship, it is plain that in our time the dead still receive worship from far the larger half of mankind, and it may have been much the same ever since the remote periods of primitive culture in which the religion of the manes probably took its rise.

It has now been seen that the theory of souls recognizes them as capable either of independent existence, or of inhabiting human, animal, or other bodies. On the principle here maintained, that the general theory of spirits is modelled on the theory of souls, we shall be able to account for several important branches of the lower philosophy of religion, which without such explanation may appear in great measure obscure or absurd. Like souls, other spirit are supposed able either to exist and act flitting free about the world, or to become incorporate for more or less time in solid bodies. It will be well at once to get a secure grasp of this theory of Embodiment, for without it we shall be stopped every moment by a difficulty in understanding the nature of spirits, as defined in the lower animism. The theory of embodiment serves several highly important purposes in savage and barbarian philosophy. On the one hand it provides an explanation of the phenomena of morbid exaltation and derangement, especially as connected with abnormal utterance, and this view is so far extended as to produce an almost general doctrine of disease. On the other hand, it enables the savage either to 'lay' a hurtful spirit in some foreign body, and so get rid of it, or to carry about a useful spirit for his service in a material object, to set it up as a deity for worship in the body of an animal, or in a block or stone or image or other thing, which contains the spirit as a vessel contains a fluid: this is the key to strict fetishism, and in no small measure to idolatry. In briefly considering these various branches of the Embodiment-theory, there may be conveniently included certain groups of cases often impossible to distinguish apart. These cases belong theoretically rather to obsession than possession, the spirits not actually inhabiting the bodies, but hanging or hovering about them and affecting them from the outside.

As in normal conditions the man's soul, inhabiting his body, is held to give it life, to think, speak, and act through it, so an adaptation of the self-same principle explains abnormal conditions of body or mind, by considering the new symptoms as due to the operation of a second soul-like being, a strange spirit. The possessed man, tossed and shaken in fever, pained and wrenched as though some live creature were tearing or twisting him within, pining as though it were devouring his vitals day by day, rationally finds a personal spiritual cause for his sufferings. In hideous dreams he may even sometimes see the very ghost or nightmare-fiend that plagues him. Especially when the mysterious unseen power throws him helpless on the ground, jerks and writhes him in convulsions, makes him leap upon the bystanders with a giant's strength and a wild beast's ferocity, impels him, with distorted face and frantic gesture, and voice not his own nor seemingly even human, to pour forth wild incoherent raving, or with thought and eloquence beyond his sober faculties to command, to counsel, to foretell—such a one seems to those who watch him, and even to himself, to have become the mere instrument of a spirit which has seized him or entered into him, a possessing demon in whose personality the patient believes so implicitly that he often imagines a personal name for it, which it can declare when it speaks in its own voice and character through his organs of speech; at last, quitting the medium's spent and jaded body, the intruding spirit departs as it came. This is the savage theory of dæmoniacal possession and obsession, which has been for ages, and still remains, the dominant theory of disease and inspiration among the lower races. It is obviously based on an animistic interpretation, most genuine and rational in its proper place in man's intellectual history, of the actual symptoms of the cases. The general doctrine of disease-spirits and oraclespirits appears to have its earliest, broadest, and most con

sistent position within the limits of savagery. When we have gained a clear idea of it in this its original home, we shall be able to trace it along from grade to grade of civilization, breaking away piecemeal under the influence of new medical theories, yet sometimes expanding in revival, and at least in lingering survival holding its place into the midst of our modern life. The possession-theory is not merely known to us by the statements of those who describe diseases in accordance with it. Disease being accounted for by attack of spirits, it naturally follows that to get rid of these spirits is the proper means of cure. Thus the practices of the exorcist appear side by side with the doctrine of possession, from its first appearance in savagery to its survival in modern civilization; and nothing could display more vividly the conception of a disease or a mental affection as caused by a personal spiritual being than the proceedings of the exorcist who talks to it, coaxes or threatens it, makes offerings to it, entices or drives it out of the patient's body, and induces it to take up its abode in some other. That the two great effects ascribed to such spiritual influence in obsession and possession, namely, the infliction of ailments and the inspiration of oracles, are not only mixed up together but often run into absolute coincidence, accords with the view that both results are referred to one common cause. Also that the intruding or invading spirit may be either a human soul or may belong to some other class in the spiritual hierarchy, countenances the opinion that the possessiontheory is derived from, and indeed modelled on, the ordinary theory of the soul acting on the body. In illustrating the doctrine by typical examples from the enormous mass of available details, it will hardly be possible to discriminate among the operating spirits, between those which are souls and those which are demons, nor to draw an exact line between obsession by a demon outside and possession by a demon inside, nor between the condition of the demontormented patient and the demon-actuated doctor, seer, or priest. In a word, the confusion of these conceptions in the savage mind only fairly represents their intimate connexion in the Possession-theory itself.

In the Australian-Tasmanian district, disease and death are ascribed to more or less defined spiritual influences; descriptions of a demon working a sorcerer's wicked will by coming slyly behind his victim and hitting him with his club on the back of his neck, and of a dead man's ghost angered by having his name uttered, and creeping up into the utterer's body to consume his liver, are indeed peculiarly graphic details of savage animism. The theory of disease-spirits is well stated in its extreme form among the Mintira, a low race of the Malay peninsula. Their ‘hantu or spirits have among their functions that of causing ailments; thus the ‘hantu kalumbahan' causes small-pox; the ‘hantu kamang' brings on inflammation and swellings in the hands and feet; when a person is wounded, the hantu pari' fastens on the wound and sucks, and this is the cause of the blood flowing. And thus, as the describer says, 'To enumerate the remainder of the hantus would be merely to convert the name of every species of disease known to the Mintira into a proper one. If any new disease appeared, it would be ascribed to a hantu bearing the same name.' 2 It will help us to an idea of the distinct personality which the disease-demon has in the minds of the lower races, to notice the Orang Laut of this district placing thorns and brush in the paths leading to a part where small-pox had broken out, to keep the demons off; just as the Khonds of Orissa try with thorns, and ditches, and stinking oil poured on the ground, to barricade the paths to their hamlets against the goddess of small-pox, Jugah Pennu. Among the Dayaks of Borneo, 'to have been smitten by a spirit' is to be ill; sickness may be caused by invisible spirits inflicting invisible wounds with invisible spears, or entering men's bodies and driving out their souls, or lodging in their hearts and making them raving mad. In the Indian Archipelago, the personal semi-human nature of the disease-spirits is clearly acknowledged by appeasing them with feasts and dances and offerings of food set out for them away in the woods, to induce them to quit their victims, or by sending tiny proas to sea with offerings, that spirits which have taken up their abode in sick men's bowels may embark and not come back.1 The animistic theory of disease is strongly marked in Polynesia, where every sickness is ascribed to spiritual action of deities, brought on by the offerings of enemies, or by the victim's violation of the laws of tapu. Thus in New Zealand each ailment is caused by a spirit, particularly an infant or undeveloped human spirit, which sent into the patient's body gnaws and feeds inside; and the exorcist, finding the path by which such a disease-spirit came from below to feed on the vitals of a sick relative, will persuade it by a charm to get upon a flax-stalk and set off home. We hear, too, of an idea of the parts of the body-forehead, breast, stomach, feet, &c.—being apportioned each to a deity who inflicts aches and pains and ailments there. So in the Samoan group, when a man was near death, people were anxious to part on good terms with him, feeling assured that if he died with angry feelings towards any one, he would certainly return and bring calamity on that person or some one closely allied to him. This was considered a frequent source of disease and death, the spirit of a departed member of the family returning and taking up his abode in the head, chest, or stomach of a living man, and so causing sickness and death.

1 Oldfield in ‘Tr. Eth. Soc. vol. iii. p. 235 ; see Grey, 'Australia,' vol. ii. p. 337. Bonwick, ‘Tasmanians,' pp. 183, 195.

2 'Journ. Ind. Archip.' vol. i. p. 307.

3 Bastian, 'Psychologie,' p. 204; ‘Mensch,' vol. ii. p. 73, see p. 125 (Battas); Macpherson, 'India,' p. 370. See also Mason, Karens,' 1.c.

P. 201.

If a man died suddenly, it was thought that he was

1 'Journ. Ind. Archip.' vol. iii. p. 110, vol. iv. p. 194 ; St. John, “Far East,' vol. i. pp. 71, 87; Beeckman in Pinkerton, vol. ix. p. 133 ; Meiners, vol. i. p. 278. See also Doolittle, 'Chinese,' vol. i.

2 Shortland, ‘Trads. of N. Z.' pp. 97, 114, 125 ; Taylor, ‘New Zealand,' pp. 48, 137.

p. 159.

« PreviousContinue »