Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ing man; he who delivers him will be drowned himself.1 Steller's account is more extraordinary, and probably applies only to cases where the victim is actually drowning: he says that if a man fell by chance into the water, it was a great sin for him to get out, for as he had been destined to drown he did wrong in not drowning, wherefore no one would let him into his dwelling, nor speak to him, nor give him food or a wife, but he was reckoned for dead; and even when a man fell into the water while others were standing by, far from helping him out, they would drown him by force. Now these barbarians, it appears, avoided volcanoes because of the spirits who live there and cook their food; for a like reason, they held it a sin to bathe in hot springs; and they believed with fear in a fish-like spirit of the sea, whom they called Mitgk. This spiritualistic belief among the Kamchadals is, no doubt, the key to their superstition as to rescuing drowning men. There is even to be found in modern European superstition, not only the practice, but with it a lingering survival of its ancient spiritualistic significance. In Bohemia, a recent account (1864) says that the fishermen do not venture to snatch a drowning man from the waters. They fear that the Waterman’ (i.e. water-demon) would take away their luck in fishing, and drown themselves at the first opportunity. This explanation of the prejudice against saving the water-spirit's victim may be confirmed by a mass of evidence from various districts of the world. Thus, in discussing the doctrine of sacrifice, it will appear that the usual manner of making an offering to a well, river, lake, or sea, is simply to cast property, cattle, or men into the water, which personally or by its indwelling spirit takes possession of them. That the accidental drowning of a man is held to be such a seizure, savage and civilized folklore show by many examples. Among the Sioux Indians,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]





£: p:


1 Kracheninnikow, ‘Descr. du Kamchatka, Voy. en Sibérie,' vol. iii. p. 72.
2 Steller, ‘Kamtschatka,' pp. 265, 274.
3 J. V. Grohmann, 'Aberglauben und Gebräuche aus Böhmen,' p. 12.
4 Chap. XVIII.


ܕ ܐ ܂


it is Unk-tahe the water-monster that drowns his victims in flood or rapid ;' in New Zealand huge supernatural reptilemonsters, called Taniwha, live in river-bends, and those who are drowned are said to be pulled under by them ;2 the Siamese fears the Pnük or water-spirit that seizes bathers and drags them under to his dwelling;3 in Slavonic lands it is Topielec (the ducker) by whom men are always drowned ;4 when some one is drowned in Germany, people recollect the religion of their ancestors, and say, "The river-spirit claims his yearly sacrifice, or, more simply, 'The nix has taken him :'5–

Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen,

Am Ende Fischer und Kahn ;
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen

Die Lorelei gethan.'

From this point of view it is obvious that to save a sinking man is to snatch a victim from the very clutches of the water-spirit, a rash defiance of deity which would hardly pass unavenged. In the civilized world the rude old theological conception of drowning has long been superseded by physical explanation; and the prejudice against rescue from such a death may have now almost or altogether disappeared. But archaic ideas, drifted on into modern folk-lore and poetry, still bring to our view an apparent connexion between the primitive doctrine and the surviving custom.

As the social development of the world goes on, the weightiest thoughts and actions may dwindle to mere survival. Original meaning dies out gradually, each generation leaves fewer and fewer to bear it in mind, till it falls out of popular memory, and in after-days ethnography has to attempt, more or less successfully, to restore it by piecing

1 Eastman, ‘Dacotah,' pp. 118, 125.
2 R. Taylor, ‘New Zealand,' p. 48.

Bastian, 'Oestl. Asien,' vol. iii. p. 34.
+ Hanusch, ‘Wissenschaft des Slawischen Mythus,' p. 299.
5 Grimm, ' Deutsche Myth.' p. 462.


together lines of isolated or forgotten facts. Children's sports, popular sayings, absurd customs, may be practically unimportant, but are not philosophically insignificant, bearing as they do on some of the most instructive phases of early culture. Ugly and cruel superstitions may prove to be relics of primitive barbarism, for in keeping up such Man is like Shakspeare's fox,

•Who, ne'er so tame, so cherish'd, and lock'd up,
Will have a wild trick of his ancestors.'




Occult Sciences—Magical powers attributed by higher to lower races

Magical processes based on Association of Ideas—Omens-Augury, &c. -Oneiromancy -- Haruspication, Scapulimancy, Chiromancy, &c. Cartomancy, &c.--- Rhabdomancy, Dactyliomancy, Coscinomancy, &c. --Astrology-Intellectual conditions accounting for the persistence of Magic - Survival passes into Revival — Witchcraft, originating in savage culture, continues in barbaric civilization ; its decline in early mediæval Europe followed by revival ; its practices and counterpractices belong to earlier culture—Spiritualism has its source in early stages of culture, in close connexion with witchcraft—Spiritrapping and Spirit-writing-Rising in the air—Performances of tied mediums—Practical bearing of the study of Survival.

In examining the survival of opinions in the midst of conditions of society becoming gradually estranged from them, and tending at last to suppress them altogether, much may be learnt from the history of one of the most pernicious delusions that ever vexed mankind, the belief in Magic. Looking at Occult Science from this ethnographic point of view, I shall instance some of its branches as illustrating the course of intellectual culture. Its place in history is briefly this. It belongs in its main principle to the lowest known stages of civilization, and the lower races, who have not partaken largely of the education of the world, still maintain it in vigour. From this level it may be traced upward, much of the savage art holding its place substantially unchanged, and many new practices being in course of time developed, while both the older and newer developments have lasted on more or less among modern cultured nations. But during the ages in which progressive

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

races have been learning to submit their opinions to closer and closer experimental tests, occult science has been breaking down into the condition of a survival, in which state we mostly find it among ourselves.

The modern educated world, rejecting occult science as a contemptible superstition, has practically committed itself to the opinion that magic belongs to a lower level of civilization. It is very instructive to find the soundness of this judgment undesignedly confirmed by nations whose education has not advanced far enough to destroy their belief in magic itself. In any country an isolated or outlying race, the lingering survivor of an older nationality, is liable to the reputation of sorcery. It is thus with the Lavas of Burma, supposed to be the broken-down remains of an ancient cultured race, and dreaded as man-tigers; and with the Budas of Abyssinia, who are at once the smiths and potters, sorcerers and were-wolves, of their district. But the usual and suggestive state of things is that nations who believe with the sincerest terror in the reality of the magic art, at the same time cannot shut their eyes to the fact that it more essentially belongs to, and is more thoroughly at home among, races less civilized than themselves. The Malays of the Peninsula, who have adopted Mohammedan religion and civilization, have this idea of the lower tribes of the land, tribes more or less of their own race, but who have remained in their early savage condition. The Malays have enchanters of their own, but consider them inferior to the sorcerers or poyangs belonging to the rude Mintira; to these they will resort for the cure of diseases and the working of misfortune and death to their enemies. It is, in fact, the best protection the Mintira have against their stronger Malay neighbours, that these are careful not to offend them for fear of their powers of magical revenge. The Jakuns, again, are a rude and wild race, whom the Malays despise as infidels and little higher than animals, but whom at the

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

ng its yractices & · older a SS amor


[ocr errors]

1 Bastian, Oestl. Asien,' vol. i. p. 119.

2 · Life of Nath. Pearce,' ed. by J. J. Halls, vol. i. p. 286. I.-I

which pre

« PreviousContinue »