« PreviousContinue »
were torn and bleeding; at last they came back to the assembly, whirled round again, and rushed down the path to fall panting and exhausted in the hut of one of a chief's wives, the sticks rolling to her very feet, denouncing her as the thief. She denied it, but the medicine-man answered, "The spirit has declared her guilty, the spirit never lies." However, the "muavi" or ordeal-poison was administered to a cock, as deputy for the woman; the bird threw it up, and she was acquitted.1
Fetishism in the lower civilization is thus by no means confined to the West African negro with whom we specially associate the term. Yet, what with its being in fact extremely prevalent there, and what with the attention of foreign observers have been particularly drawn to it, the accounts from West Africa are certainly the fullest and most minute on record. The late Professor Waitz's generalization of the principle involved in these is much to the purpose. He thus describes the negro's conception of his fetish. "According to his view, a spirit dwells or can dwell in every sensible object, and often a very great and mighty one in an insignificant thing. This spirit he does not consider as bound fast and unchangeably to the corporeal thing it dwells in, but it has only its usual or principal abode in it. The negro indeed in his conception not uncommonly separates the spirit from the sensible object which it inhabits, he even sometimes contrasts the one with the other, but most usually combines the two as forming a whole, and this whole is (as the Europeans call it) the "fetish," the object of his religious worship." Some further particulars will show how this principle is worked out. Fetishes (native names for them are "grigri," "juju," etc.), may be mere curious mysterious objects that strike a negro's fancy, or they may be consecrated or affected by a priest or fetish-man; the theory of their influence is that they belong to or are made effectual by a spirit or demon, yet they have to stand the test of experience, and if they 1 H. Rowley, 'Universities' Mission to Central Africa,' p. 217.
fail to bring their owner luck and safety, he discards them for some more powerful medium. The fetish can see and hear and understand and act, its possessor worships it, talks familiarly with it as a dear and faithful friend, pours libations of rum over it, and in times of danger calls loudly and earnestly on it as if to wake up its spirit and energy. To give an idea of the sort of things which are chosen as fetishes, and of the manner in which they are associated with spiritual influences, Romer's account from Guinea about a century ago may serve. In the fetish-house, he says, there hang or lie thousands of rubbishy trifles, a pot with red earth and a cock's feather stuck in it, pegs wound over with yarn, red parrots' feathers, men's hair, and so forth. The principal thing in the hut is. the stool for the fetish to sit on, and the mattress for him to rest on, the mattress being no bigger than a man's hand and the stool in proportion, and there is a little bottle of brandy always ready for him. Here the word fetish is used as it often is, to denote the spirit which dwells in this rudimentary temple, but we see that the innumerable quaint trifles which we call fetishes were associated with the deity in his house. Romer once peeped in at an open door, and found an old negro caboceer sitting amid twenty thousand fetishes in his private fetish-museum, thus performing his devotions. The old man told him he did not know the hundredth part of the use they had been to him; his ancestors and he had collected them, each had done some service. The visitor took up a stone about as big as a hen's egg, and its owner told its history. He was once going out on important business, but crossing the threshold he trod on this stone and hurt himself. Ha ha! thought he, art thou here? So he took the stone, and it helped him through his undertaking for days. In our own time, West Africa is still a world of fetishes. The traveller finds them on every path, at every ford, on every house-door, they hang as amulets round every man's neck, they guard against sickness or inflict it if neglected, they bring rain, they fill the sea with fishes willing to swim into the fisherman's net, they catch and punish thieves, they give their owner a bold heart and confound his enemies, there is nothing that the fetish cannot do or undo, if it be but the right fetish. Thus the onesided logic of the barbarian, making the most of all that fits and glossing over all that fails, has shaped a universal fetish-philosophy of the events of life. So strong is the pervading influence, that the European in Africa is apt to catch it from the negro, and himself, as the saying is, "become black." Thus even yet some traveller, watching a white companion asleep, may catch a glimpse of some claw or bone or such-like sorcerer's trash secretly fastened round his neck.1
European life, lastly, shows well-marked traces of the ancient doctrine of spirits or mysterious influences inhabiting objects. Thus a mediaeval devil might go into an old sow, a straw, a barleycorn, or a willow-tree. A spirit might be carried about in a solid receptacle for use :—
"Besides in glistering glasses fayre, or else in christall cleare, They sprightes enclose."
Modern peasant folklore knows that spirits must have some animal body or other object to dwell in, a feather, a bag, a bush, for instance. The Tyrolese object to using grass for toothpicks because of the demons that may have taken up their abode in the straws. The Bulgarians hold it a great sin not to fumigate the flour when it is brought from the mill (particularly if the mill be kept by a Turk) in order to prevent the devil from entering into it.s Amulets are still carried in the most civilized countries of the world, by the
1 Waitz, 'Anthropologie,' vol. ii. p. 174; Rumer, 'Guinea,' p. 56, etc. , J. L. Wilson, 'West Africa,' pp. 135, 211-6, 275, 338; Burton, 'Wit and Wisdom from W. Afr.' pp. 174, 455 , Stcinhauser, l. c. p. 134; Bosraau, Guinea, in Pinkerton, vol. xvi. p. 397; Jleincrs, 'Gcsch. der Kelig.'vol . i. p. 173. Sec also Ed is, 'Madagascar,' vol. i. p. 396; Flacourt, 'Madag.'p. 191.
3 Brand, 'Popular Antiquities,' vol. iii. p. 2S5, etc. Bastian, 'Psychologic,' p. 171. Wuttko, * Deutsche Volksabcrglaube,' pp. 75-95, 225, etc . St. Clair and Brophy, 'Bulgaria,' p. 46.
ignornnt and superstitious with real savage faith in their mysterious virtues, hy the more enlightened in quaint survival from the past. The mental and physical phenomena of what is now called "table-turning" helong to a class of proceedings which we have seen to be familiar to the lower races, and accounted for by them on a theory of extrahuman influence which is in the most extreme sense spiritualistic.
In giving its place in the history of mental development to the doctrine of the lower races as to embodiment in or penetration of an object by a spirit or an influence, there is no slight interest in comparing it with theories familiar to the philosophy of cultured nations. Thus Bishop Berkeley remarks on the obscure expressions of those who have described the relation of power to the objects which exert it. He cites Torricelli as likening matter to an enchanted vase of Circe serving as a receptacle of force, and declaring that power and impulse are such subtle abstracts and refined quintessences, that they cannot be enclosed in any other vessels but the inmost materiality of natural solids; also Leibnitz as comparing active primitive power to soul or substantial form. Thus, says Berkeley, must even the greatest men, when they give way to abstraction, have recourse to words having no certain signification, and indeed mere scholastic shadows.1 We may fairly add that such passages show the civilized metaphysician falling back on such primitive conceptions as still occupy the minds of the rude natives of Siberia and Guinea. To go yet farther, I will venture to assert that the scientific conceptions current in my own schoolboy days, of heat and electricity as invisible fluids passing in and out of solid bodies, are ideas which reproduce with extreme closeness the special doctrine of Fetishism.
Under the general heading of Fetishism, but for convenience sake separately, may be considered the worship of "stocks and stones." Such objects, if merely used as 1 Berkeley, 'Concerning Motion,' in ' Works,' Rol . ii. p. 88.
altars, are not of the nature of fetishes, and it is first necessary to ascertain that worship is actually addressed to them. Then arises the difficult question, are the stocks and stones set up as mere ideal representatives of deities, or are these deities considered as physically connected with them, embodied in them, hovering about them, acting through them? In other words, are they only symbols, or have they passed in the minds of their votaries into real fetishes? The conceptions of the worshippers are sometimes in this respect explicitly stated, may sometimes be fairly inferred from the circumstances, and are often doubtful.
Among the lower races of America, the Dacotas would pick up a round boulder, paint it, and then, addressing it as grandfather, make offerings to it and pray to it to deliver them from danger :1 in the West India Islands, mention is made of three stones to which the natives paid great devotion—one was profitable for the crops, another for women to be delivered without pain, the third for sunshine and rain when they were wanted;8 and we hear of Brazilian tribes setting up stakes in the ground, and making offerings before them to appease their deities or demons.3 Stoneworship held an important place in the midst of the comparatively high culture of Peru, where not only was reverence given to especial curious pebbles and the like, but stones were placed to represent the penates of households and the patron-deities of villages. It is related by Montesinos that when the worship of a certain sacred stone was given up, a parrot flew from it into another stone, to which adoration was paid: and though this author is not of good credit, he can hardly have invented a story which, as we shall see, so curiously coincides with the Polynesian idea of a bird conveying to and from an idol the spirit which embodies itself in it.4
1 Schoolcraft, 'Indian Tribes,' part ii. p. 196, part iii. p. 229 1 Herrura, 'ludias Occidentals,' dec. i. Hi. 3.
* De Laet, Novus Orbis, xv. 2.
* Garcilaso de la Vega, 'Commentaries Reales,' i. 9 ; J. G. Miiller, pp. 263, 311, 371, 387 ; Waitz, vol. iv. p. 454; see below, p. 175.
VOL. II. M