Page images

strong and weak sides. On the one hand, it is generally easier to obtain accurate accounts of ceremonies by eyewitnesses, than anything like trustworthy and intelligible statements of doctrine; so that very much of our knowledge of religion in the savage and barbaric world consists in acquaintance with its ceremonies. It is also true that some religious ceremonies are marvels of permanence, holding substantially the same form and meaning through age after age, and far beyond the range of historic record. On the other hand, the signification of ceremonies is not to be rashly decided on by mere inspection. In the long and varied course in which religion has adapted itself to new intellectual and moral conditions, one of the most marked processes has affected time-honoured religious customs, whose form has been faithfully and even servilely kept up, while their nature has often undergone transformation. In the religions of the great nations, the natural difficulty of following these changes has been added to by the sacerdotal tendency to ignore and obliterate traces of the inevitable change of religion from age to age, and to convert into mysteries ancient rites whose real barbaric meaning is too far out of harmony with the spirit of a later time. The embarrassments, however, which beset the enquirer into the ceremonies of a single religion, diminish in a larger comparative study. The ethnographer who brings together examples of a ceremony from different stages of culture can often give a more rational account of it, than the priest, to whom a special signification, sometimes very unlike the original one, has become matter of orthodoxy. As a contribution to the theory of religion, with especial view to its lower phases as explanatory of the higher, I have here selected for ethnographic discussion a group of sacred rites, each in its way full of instruction, different as these ways are. All have early place and rudimentary meaning in savage culture, all belong to barbaric ages, all have their representatives within the limits of modern Christendom. They are the rites of Prayer, Sacrifice,


Fasting and other methods of Artificial Ecstasy, Orientation, Lustration. Prayer, the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unex

' pressed,' is the address of personal spirit to personal spirit. So far as it is actually addressed to disembodied or deified human souls, it is simply an extension of the daily intercourse between man and man; while the worshipper who looks up to other divine beings, spiritual after the nature of his own spirit, though of place and power in the universe far beyond his own, still has his mind in a state where prayer is a reasonable and practical act. So simple and familiar indeed is the nature of prayer, that its study does not demand that detail of fact and argument which must be given to rites in comparison practically insignificant. It has not indeed been placed everywhere on record as the necessary outcome of animistic belief, for especially at low levels of civilization there are many races who distinctly admit the existence of spirits, but are not positively known to pray to them. Beyond this lower level, however, animism and ceremonial prayer become nearly conterminous; and a view of their relation in their earlier stages may be best gained from a selection of actual prayers taken down word for word, within the limits of savage and barbaric life. These agree with an opinion that prayer appeared in the religion of the lower culture, but that in this its earlier stage it was unethical. The accomplishment of desire is asked for, but desire is as yet limited to personal advantage. It is at later and higher moral levels, that the worshipper begins to add to his entreaty for prosperity the claim for help toward virtue and against vice, and prayer becomes an instrument of morality.

In the Papuan Island of Tanna, where the gods are the spirits of departed ancestors, and preside over the growth of fruits, a prayer after the offering of first-fruits is spoken aloud by the chief who acts as high priest to the silent assembly: Compassionate father! Here is some food for you; eat it; be kind to us on account of it!' Then all shout together.1 In the Samoan Islands, when the libation of ava was poured out at the evening meal, the head of the family prayed thus :

Here is ava for you, O gods ! Look kindly towards this family : let it prosper and increase ; and let us all be kept in health. Let our plantations be productive ; let food grow; and may there be abundance of food for us, your creatures.

Here is ava for you, our war gods ! Let there be a strong and numerous people for you in this land.

'Here is ava for you, O sailing gods (gods who come in Tongan canoes and foreign vessels). Do not come on shore at this place; but be pleased to depart along the ocean to some other land.'2

Among the Indians of North America, more or less under European influence, the Sioux will say, 'Spirits of the dead, have mercy on me!' then they will add what they want, if good weather they say so, if good luck in hunting, they say so. Among the Osages, prayers used not long since to be offered at day break to Wohkonda, the Master of Life. The devotee retired a little from the camp or company, and with affected or real weeping, in loud uncouth voice of plaintive piteous tone, howled such prayers as these :'Wohkonda, pity me, I am very poor; give me what I need; give me success against mine enemies, that I may avenge the death of my friends. May I be able to take scalps, to take horses ! &c.' Such prayers might or might not have allusion to some deceased relative or friend. 4 How an Algonquin Indian undertakes a dangerous voyage, we may judge from John Tanner's account of a fleet of frail Indian bark canoes setting out at dawn one calm morning on Lake Superior. We had proceeded, he writes, about two hundred yards into the lake, when the canoes all stopped together, and the chief, in a very loud voice, addressed a prayer to the Great Spirit, entreating him to


Turner, ‘Polynesia,' p. 88; see p. 427. 2 Ibid. p. 200; see p. 174. See also Ellis, 'Polyn. Res.' vol. i. p. 343. Mariner, 'Tonga Is.' vol. ii. p. 235.

3 Schoolcraft, ‘Ind. Tribes,' part iii. p. 237. 4 M'Coy, 'Baptist Indian Missions,' p. 359.


give us a good look to cross the lake. You,' said he, ‘ have made this lake, and you have made us, your children; you can now cause that the water shall remain smooth while we pass over in safety. In this manner he continued praying for five or ten minutes; he then threw into the lake a small quantity of tobacco, in which each of the canoes followed his example.1 A Nootka Indian, preparing for war, prayed thus : 'Great Quahootze, let me live, not be sick, find the enemy, not fear him, find him asleep, and kill a great many of him.'There is more pathos in these lines from the war-song of a Delaware :

O Great Spirit there above
Have pity on my children
And my wife !
Prevent that they shall mourn for me!
Let me succeed in this undertaking,
That I may slay my enemy
And bring home the tokens of victory
To my dear family and my friends
That we may rejoice together ...
Have pity on me and protect my life,

And I will bring thee an offering.' The following two prayers are among those recorded by Molina, from the memory of aged men who described to him the religion of Peru under the Incas, in whose rites they had themselves borne part. The first is addressed to the Sun, the second to the World-creator :

O Sun! Thou who hast said, let there be Cuzcos and Tampus, grant that these thy children ma onquer all other people. We beseech thee that thy children the Yncas may be the conquerors always, for this hast thou created them.'

"O conquering Uiracocha! Ever present Uiracocha ! Thou who art in the ends of the earth without equal ! Thou who gavest life and valour to men, saying “Let this be a man !" and to women, saying, “Let this be a woman !” Thou who madest them and gavest them being! Watch over them that they may live in health and peace.


[ocr errors]

1 Tanner, ‘Narrative,' p. 46. 2 Brinton, 'Myths of New World,' p. 297. 3 Heckewelder, ‘Ind. Völkerschaften,' p 354.

Thou who art in the high heavens, and among the clouds of the tempest, grant this with long life, and accept this sacrifice, 0 Uiracocha ! '1

[ocr errors]

In Africa, the Zulus, addressing the spirits of their ancestors, think it even enough to call upon them without saying what they want, taking it for granted that the spirits know, so that the mere utterance ‘People of our house !' is a prayer. When a Zulu sneezes, and is thus for the moment in close relation to the divine spirits, it is enough for him to mention what he wants ( to wish a wish,' as our own folklore has it), and thus the words 'A cow!'Children!' are prayers. Fuller forms are such as these : People of our house! Cattle !''People of our house! Good luck and health !'_People of our house! Children!' On occasions of ancestral cattle-sacrifice the prayers extend to actual harangues, as when, after the feast is over, the headman speaks thus amid dead silence : Yes, yes, our people, who did such and such noble acts, I pray to you—I pray for prosperity after having sacrificed this bullock of yours. I say, I cannot refuse to give you food, for these cattle which are here you gave me. And if you ask food of me which you have given me, is it not proper that I should give it to you? I pray for cattle, that they may fill this pen. I pray for corn, that many people may come to this village of yours, and make a noise, and glorify you. I ask also for children, that this village may have a large population, and that your name may never come to an end. So he finishes. From among the negro races near the equator, the following prayers may be cited, addressed to that Supreme Deity whose nature is, as we have seen, more or less that of the Heaven-god. The Gold Coast negro would raise his eyes to Heaven and thus address him: 'God, give me to-day rice and yams, gold and agries, give me

1 'Narratives of Rites and Laws of Yncas,'tr. and ed. by C. R. Markham, pp. 31, 33. See also Brinton, p. 298.

2 Callaway, 'Religion of Amazulu,' pp. 141, 174, 182. “Remarks Zulu Lang.' Pietermaritzburg, 1870, p. 22.


« PreviousContinue »