« PreviousContinue »
the object as a body. Mr. Darwin saw two Malay women in Keeling Island who held a wooden spoon dressed in clothes like a doll; this spoon had been carried to the grave of a dead man, and becoming inspired at full moon, in fact lunatic, it danced about convulsively like a table or a hat at a modern spirit-séance. Among the Salish Indians of Oregon, the conjurors bring back men's lost souls as little stones or bones or splinters, and pretend to pass them down through the tops of their heads into their hearts, but great care must be taken to remove the spirits of any dead people that may be in the lot, for the patient receiving one would die. There are indigenous Kol tribes of India who work out this idea curiously in bringing back the soul of a deceased man into the house after the funeral, apparently to be worshipped as a household spirit; while some catch the spirit re-embodied in a fowl or fish, the Binjwar of Raepore bring it home in a pot of water, and the Bunjia in a pot of flour. The Chinese hold such theories with extreme distinctness, considering one of a man's three spirits to take up its abode in the ancestral tablet, where it receives messages and worship from the survivors; while the long keeping of the dead man's gilt and lacquered coffin, and the reverence and offerings continued at the tomb, are connected with the thought of a spirit lingering about the corpse. Consistent with these quaint ideas are ceremonies in vogue in China, of bringing home in a cock (live or artificial) the spirit of a man deceased in a distant place, and of enticing into a sick man's coat the departing spirit which has already left his body, and so conveying it back.* Tatar folk-lore illustrates the idea of soul-embodiment in the quaint but intelligible story of the demon-giant who could not be slain, for he did not keep his soul in his body, but in a twelveheaded snake carried in a bag on his horse's back; the hero finds out the secret and kills the snake, and then the giant dies too. This tale is curious, as very likely indicating the original sense of a well-known group of stories in European folklore, the Scandinavian one, for instance, where the giant cannot be made an end of, because he keeps his heart not in his body, but in a duck's egg in a well far away; at last the young champion finds the egg and crushes it, and the giant bursts. Following the notion of soul-embodiment into civilized times, we learn that “ A ghost may be laid for any term less than an hundred years, and in any place or body, full or empty; as, a solid oak—the pommel of a sword
1 Darwin, Journal,' p. 458. 2 Bastian, ‘Mensch,' vol. ii p. 320. 3 Report of Jubbulpore Ethnological Committee, Nagpore, 1868, part i.
4 Doolittle, Chinese,' vol. i. pp. 151, 207, 214, vol. ii. p. 401; see Plath, • Religion der alten Chinesen,' part i. p. 59, part ii. p. 101.
-a barrel of beer, if a yeoman or simple gentleman-or a pipe of wine, if an esquire or a justice." This is from Grose's bantering description in the last century of the art of “laying " ghosts, and it is one of the many good instances of articles of serious savage belief surviving as jests among civilized men.
Thus other spiritual beings, roaming free about the world, find fetish-objects to act through, to embody themselves in, to present them visibly to their votaries. It is extremely difficult to draw a distinct line of separation between the two prevailing sets of ideas relating to spiritual action through what we call inanimate objects. Theoretically we can distinguish the notion of the object acting as it were by the will and force of its own proper soul or spirit, from the notion of some foreign spirit entering its substance or acting on it from without, and so using it as a body or instrument. But in practice these conceptions blend almost inextricably. This state of things is again a confirmation of the theory of aninism here advanced, which treats both sets of ideas as similar developments of the same original
idea, that of the human soul, so that they may well shaile imperceptibly into one another. To depend on some typical descriptions of fetishism and its allied doctrines in different grades of culture, is a safer mode of treatment than to attempt too accurate a general definition.
There is a quaint story, dating from the time of Columbus, which shows what mysterious personality and power rude tribes could attach to lifeless matter. The cacique Hatuey, it is related, heard by his spies in Hispaniola that the Spaniards were coming to Cuba. So he called his people together, and talked to them of the Spaniards—how they persecuted the natives of the islands, and how they did such things for the sake of a great lord whom they much desired and loved. Then, taking out a basket with gold in it, he said, “ Ye see here their lord whom they serve and go after ; and, as ye have heard, they are coming hither to seek this lord. Therefore let us make him a feast, that when they come he may tell them not to do us harm." So they danced and sang from night to morning before the gold-basket, and then the cacique told them not to keep the Christian's lord anywhere, for if they kept him in their very bowels they would have to bring him out; so he bade them cast him to the bottom of the river, and this they did. If this story be thought too good to be true, at any rate it does not exaggerate authentic savage ideas. The "maraca" or ceremonial rattle, used by certain rude Brazilian tribes, was an eminent fetish. It was a calabash with a handle and a hole for a mouth, and stones inside; yet to its votaries it seemed no mere rattle, but the receptacle of a spirit that spoke from it when shaken; therefore the Indians set up their maracas, talked to them, set food and drink and burned incense before them, held annual feasts in their honour, and would even go to war with their neighbours to satisfy the rattlespirits' demand for human victims. Among the North American Indians, the fetish-theory seems involved in that remarkable and general proceeding known as getting “medicine." Each youth obtains in a vision or dream a sight of his medicine, and considering how thoroughly the idea prevails that the forms seen in visions and dreams are spirits, this of itself shows the animistic nature of the matter. The medicine thus seen may be an animal, or part of one, such as skin or claws, feather or shell, or such a thing as a plant, a stone, a knife, a pipe ; this object he must obtain, and thenceforward through life it becomes his protector. Considered as a vehicle or receptacle of a spirit, its fetish-nature is shown in many ways; its owner will do homage to it, make feasts in its honour, sacrifice horses, dogs, and other valuable objects to it or its spirit, fast to appease it if offended, have it buried with him to conduct him as a guardian-spirit to the happy hunting-grounds. Beside these special protective objects, the Indians, especially the medicine-men (the word is French, “médecin," applied to these native doctors or conjurors, and since stretched to take in all that concerns their art), use multitudes of other fetishes as means of spiritual influence. Among the Turanian tribes of Northern Asia, where Castrén describes the idea of spirits contained in material objects, to which they belong, and wherein they dwell in the same incomprehensible way as the souls in a man's body, we may notice the Ostyak's worship of objects of scarce or peculiar quality, and also the connexion of the shamans or sorcerers with fetish-objects, as where the Tatars consider the innumerable rags and tags, bells and bits of iron, that adorn the shaman's magic costume, to contain spirits helpful to their owner in his magic craft. John Bell, in his journey across Asia in 1719, relates a story which well illustrates Mongol ideas as to the action of self-moving objects. A certain : Russian merchant told him that once some pieces of damask
1 Herrera, “Hist. de las Indias Occidentales,' Dec. i. ix. 3. * Lery, Brésil, p. 249; J. G. Müller, pp. 210, 262.
were stolen out of his tent. He complained, and the Kutuchtu Lama ordered the proper steps to be taken to find out the thief. One of the Lamas took a bench with four feet, and after turning it several times in different directions, at last it pointed directly to the tent where the stolen goods lay concealed. The Lama now mounted astride the bench, and soon carried it, or, as was commonly believed, it carried him, to the very tent, where he ordered the damask to be produced. The demand was directly complied with: for it is vain in such cases to offer any excuse.
A more recent account from Central Africa may be placed as a pendant to this Asiatic account of divination by a fetishobject. The Rev. H. Rowley says of the Manganja, that they believed the medicine-men could impart a power for good or evil to objects either animate or inanimate, which objects the people feared, though they did not worship them. This missionary once saw this art employed to detect the thief who had stolen some corn. The people assembled round a large fig-tree. The magician, a wild-looking man, produced two sticks, like our broomsticks, which after mysterious manipulation and gibberish he delivered to four young men, two holding each stick. A zebra-tail and a calabash-rattle were given to a young man and a boy. The medicine-man rolled himself about in hideous fashion, and chanted an unceasing incantation; the bearers of the tail and rattle went round the stick-holders, and shook these implements over their heads. After a while the men with the sticks had spasmodic twitchings of the arms and legs, these increased nearly to convulsions, they foamed at the mouth, their eyes seemed starting from their heads, they realized to the full the idea of demoniacal possession. According to the native notion, it was the sticks which were possessed primarily, and through them the men, who could hardly hold them. The sticks whirled and dragged the men round and round like mad, through bush and thorny shrub, and over every obstacle, nothing stopped them, their bodies
· Bell in Pinkerton, vol. vii. p. 357.