Page images
PDF
EPUB

Many they who travel thither,
Few who thence have found the home-way,
From the houses of Tuoni

From the dwellings of Manala."}] It is enough to name the familiar classic analogues of these mythic visits to Hades,—the descent of Dionysos to bring back Semele, of Orpheus to bring back his beloved Eurydike, of Herakles to fetch up the three-headed Kerberos at the command of his master Eurystheus; above all, the voyage of Odysseus to the ends of the deep-flowing Ocean, to the clouded city of Kimmerian men, where shining Helios looks not down with his rays, and deadly night stretches always over wretched mortals,-thence they passed along the banks to the entrance of the land where the shades of the departed, quickened for a while by the taste of sacrificial blood, talked with the hero and showed him the regions of their dismal home.2

The scene of the descent into Hades is in very deed enacted day by day before our eyes, as it was before the eyes of the ancient myth-maker, who watched the sun descend to the dark under-world, and return at dawn to the land of living men. These heroic legends lie in close-knit connexion with episodes of solar myth. It is by the simplest poetic adaptation of the Sun's daily life, typifying Man's life in dawning beauty, in mid-day glory, in evening death, that mythic fancy even fixed the belief in the religions of the world, that the Land of Departed Souls lies in the Far West or the World Below. How deeply the myth of the Sunset has entered into the doctrine of men concerning a Future State, how the West and the Under-World have become by mere imaginative analogy Regions of the Dead, how the quaint day-dreams of savage poets may pass into honoured dogmas of classic sages and modern divines,-all this the crowd of details here cited from the wide range of culture stand to prove.

1 Kalewala, Rune xvi.; see Schiefner's German Translation, and Castrén, Finn: Myth.' pp. 128, 134. A Slavonic myth in Hanusch, p. 412.

2 Homer. Odyss. xi. On the vivification of ghosts by sacrifice of blood, and on libations of milk and blood, see Meiners, vol. i. p. 315, vol. ii. p. 89; J. G. Müller, p. 85 ; Rochholz, ‘Deutscher Glaube und Brauch,' vol. i. p. 1, &c.

Moreover, visits from or to the dead are matters of personal experience and personal testimony. When in dream or vision the seer beholds the spirits of the departed, they give him tidings from the other world, or he may even rise and travel thither himself, and return to tell the living what he has seen among the dead. It is sometimes as if the traveller's material body went to visit a distant land, and sometimes all we are told is that the man's self went, but whether in body or in spirit is a mere detail of which the story keeps no record. Mostly, however, it is the seer's soul which goes forth, leaving his body behind in ecstasy, sleep, coma, or death. Some of these stories, as we trace them on from savage into civilized times, are no doubt given in good faith by the visionary himself, while others are imitations of these genuine accounts. Now such visions are naturally apt to reproduce the thoughts with which the seer's mind was already furnished. Every idea once lodged in the mind of a savage, a barbarian, or an enthusiast, is ready thus to be brought back to him from without. It is a vicious circle; what he believes he therefore sees, and what he sees he therefore believes. Beholding the reflexion of his own mind like a child looking at itself in a glass, he humbly receives the teaching of his second self. The Red Indian visits his happy hunting-grounds, the Tongan his shadowy island of Bolotu, the Greek enters Hades and looks on the Elysian Fields, the Christian beholds the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell.

Among the North American Indians, and especially the Algonquin tribes, accounts are not unusual of men whose spirits, travelling in dreams or in the hallucinations of extreme illness to the land of the dead, have returned to reanimate their bodies, and tell what they have seen. Their experiences have been in great measure what they were taught in early childhood to expect, the journey along the path of the dead, the monstrous strawberry at which the jebi-ug or ghosts refresh themselves, but which turns to red rock at the touch of their spoons, the bark offered them for dried meat and great puff-balls for squashes, the river of the dead with its snake-bridge or swinging log, the great dog standing on the other side, the villages of the dead beyond. The Zulus of our own day tell of men who have gone down by holes in the ground into the underworld, where mountains and rivers and all things are as here above, and where a man may find his kindred, for the dead live in their villages, and may be seen milking their cattle, which are the cattle killed on earth and come to life anew. The Zulu Umpengula, who told one of these stories to Dr. Callaway, remembered when he was a boy seeing an ugly little hairy man called Uncama, who once, chasing a porcupine that ate his mealies, followed it down a hole in the ground into the land of the dead. When he came back to his home on earth he found that he had been given up for dead himself, his wife had duly burnt and buried his mats and blankets and vessels, and the wondering people at sight of him again shouted the funeral dirge. Of this Zulu Dante it used to be continually said, “There is the man who went to the underground people. One of the most characteristic of these savage narratives is from New Zealand. This story, which has an especial interest from the reminiscence it contains of the gigantic extinct Moa, and which may be repeated at some length as an illustration of the minute detail and lifelike reality which such visionary legends assume in barbaric life, was told to Mr. Shortland by a servant of his named Te Wharewera. An aunt of this

1 See for example, various details in Bastian, 'Mensch,' vol. ii. pp. 369-75, &c.

II. --E

1 See vol. i. p. 481; also below, p. 52, note. Tanner's 'Narr.' p. 290 ; Schoolcraft, ‘Indian Tribes,' part iii. p. 233 ; Keating, vol. ii. p. 154 ; Loskiel, part i. p. 35 ; Smith, Virginia,' in Pinkerton, vol. xiii. p. 14. See Cranz, 'Grönland,' p. 269.

Callaway, Zulu Tales,' vol. i. pp. 316–20.

2

man died in a solitary hut near the banks of Lake Rotorua. Being a lady of rank she was left in her hut, the door and windows were made fast, and the dwelling was abandoned, as her death had made it tapu. But a day or two after, Te Wharewera with some others paddling in a canoe near the place at early morning saw a figure on the shore beckoning to them. It was the aunt come to life again, but weak and cold and famished. When sufficiently restored by their timely help, she told her story. Leaving her body, her spirit had taken flight toward the North Cape, and arrived at the entrance of Reigna. There, holding on by the stem of the creeping akeake-plant, she descended the precipice, and found herself on the sandy beach of a river. Looking round, she espied in the distance an enormous bird, taller than a man, coming towards her with rapid strides. This terrible object so frightened her, that her first thought was to try to return up the steep cliff; but seeing an old man paddling a small canoe towards her she ran to meet him, and so escaped the bird. When she had been safely ferried across she asked the old Charon, mentioning the name of her family, where the spirits of her kindred dwelt. Following the path the old man pointed out, she was surprised to find it just such a path as she had been used to on earth; the aspect of the country, the trees, shrubs, and plants were all familiar to her. She reached the village and among the crowd assembled there she found her father and many near relations; they saluted her, and welcomed her with the wailing chant which Maoris always address to people met after long absence. But when her father had asked about his living relatives, and especially about her own child, he told her she must go back to earth, for no one was left to take care of his grandchild. By his orders she refused to touch the food that the dead people offered her, and in spite of their efforts to detain her, her father got her safely into the canoe, crossed with her, and parting gave her from under his cloak two enormous sweet potatoes to plant at home for his grandchild's especial eating. But as she began to climb the precipice again, two pursuing infant spirits pulled her back, and she only escaped by flinging the roots at them, which they stopped to eat, while she scaled the rock by help of the akeake-stem, till she reached the earth and flew back to where she had left her body. On returning to life she found herself in darkness, and what had passed seemed as a dream, till she perceived that she was deserted and the door fast, and concluded that she had really died and come to life again. When morning dawned, a faint light entered by the crevices of the shut-up house, and she saw on the floor near her a calabash partly full of red ochre mixed with water; this she eagerly drained to the dregs, and then feeling a little stronger, succeeded in opening the door and crawling down to the beach, where her friends soon after found her. Those who listened to her tale firmly believed the reality of her adventures, but it was much regretted that she had not brought back at least one of the huge sweet potatoes, as evidence of her visit to the land of spirits. Races of North Asia? and West Africa 3 have in like manner their explorers of the world beyond

the grave.

Classic literature continues the series. Lucian's graphic

Shortland, Traditions of New Zealand,' p. 150; R. Taylor, ‘New Zealand,' p. 423. The idea, of which the classic representative belongs to the myth of Persephone, that the living who tastes the food of the dead may not return, and which is so clearly stated in this Maori story, appears again among the Sioux of North America. Ahak-tah ('Male Elk ') seems to die, but after two days comes down from the funeral-scaffold where his body had been laid, and tells his tale. His soul had travelled by the path of braves through the beautiful land of great trees and gay loud-singing birds, till he reached the river, and saw the homes of the spirits of his forefathers on the shore beyond. Swimming across, he entered the nearest house, where he found his uncle sitting in a corner. Very hungry, he noticed some wild rice in a bark dish. 'I asked my uncle for some rice to eat, but he did not give it to me. Had I eaten of the food for spirits, I never should have returned to earth.' Eastman, ‘Dacotah,' p. 177.

2 Castrén, ‘Finn. Myth.' p. 139, &c.

3 Bosman,' 'Guinea,' Letter 19, in Pinkerton, vol. xvi. p. 501 ; Burton, * Dahome,' vol. ii. p. 158. For modern visits to hell and heaven by Christianized negro visionaries in America, see Macrae, ‘Americans at Home,' vol. ii. p. 91.

« PreviousContinue »