Page images
PDF
EPUB

evidence for his continuity of culture. What, we may well ask, was the original cause and motive of the doctrine of transmigration? Something may he said in answer, though not at all enough for full explanation. The theory that ancestral souls return, thus imparting their own likeness of mind and body to their descendants and kindred, has been already mentioned and commended as in itself a very reasonable and philosophical hypothesis, accounting for the phenomenon of family likeness going on from generation to generation. But why should it have been imagined that men's souls could inhabit the bodies of beasts and birds? As has been already pointed out, savages not unreasonabh' consider the lower animals to have souls like their own, and this state of mind makes the idea of a man's soul transmigrating into a beast's body at least seem possible. But it does not actually suggest the idea. The view stated in a previous chapter as to the origin of the conception of soul in general, may perhaps help us here. As it seems that the first conception of souls may have been that of the souls of men, this being afterwards extended by analogy to the souls of animals, plants, etc., so it may seem that the original idea of transmigration was the straightforward and reasonable one of human souls being re-born in new human bodies, where they are recognized by family likenesses in successive generations. This notion may have been afterwards extended to take in re-birth in bodies of animals, etc. There are some well-marked savage ideas which will fit with such a course of thought. The half-human features and actions and characters of animals are watched with wondering sympathy by the savage, as by the child. The beast is the very incarnation of familiar qualities of man; and such names as lion, hear, fox, owl, parrot, viper, worm, when we apply them as epithets to men, condense into a word some leading feature of a human life. Consistently with this, we see in looking over details of savage transmigration that the creatures often have an evident fitness to the character of the human beings whose souls are to pass into them, so that the savage Vol. Ii. o

philosopher's fancy of transferred souls offered something like an explanation of the likeness between beast and man. This comes more clearly into view among the more civilized races who have worked out the idea of transmigration into ethical schemes of retribution, where the appropriateness of the creatures chosen is almost as manifest to the modern critic as it could have been to the ancient believer. Perhaps the most graphic restoration of the state of mind in which the theological doctrine of metempsychosis was worked out in long-past ages, may be found in the writings of a modern theologian whose spiritualism often follows to the extreme the intellectual tracks of the lower races. In the spiritual world, says Emanuel Swedenborg, such persons as have opened themselves for the admission of the devil and acquired the nature of beasts, becoming foxes in cunning, etc., appear also at a distance in the proper shape of such beasts as they represent in disposition.1 Lastly, one of the most notable points about the theory of transmigration is its close bearing upon a thought which lies very deep in the history of philosophy, the development-theory of organic life in successive stnges. An elevation from the vegetable to the lower animal life, and thence onward through the higher animals to man, to say nothing of superhuman beings, does not here require even a succession of distinct individuals, but is brought by the theory of metempsychosis within the compass of the successive vegetable and animal lives of a single being.

Here a few words may be said on a subject which cannot be left out of sight, connecting as it does the two great ( branches of the doctrine of future existence, but which it is difficult to handle in defniite terms, and much more to trace historically by comparing the views of lower and

1 Swedenborg, 'The True Christian Keligion,' 13. Compare the notion attributed to the followers of Bnsilides the Gnostir, of men whose souls aro affected by spirits or dispositions as of wolf, ape, lion, or bear, wherefore their souls bear the properties of these, and imitate their deeds (Clem. Alex. Stromat. ii. e. 20).

higher races. This is the doctrine of a bodily renewal or resurrection. To the philosophy of the lower races it is by no means necessary that the surviving soul should be provided with a new body, for it seems itself to be of a filmy or vaporous corporeal nature, capable of carrying on an independent existence like other coiporeal creatures. Savage descriptions of the next world are often such absolute copies of this, that it is scarcely possible to say whether the dead are or are not thought of as having bodies like the living; and a few pieces of evidence of this class are hardly enough to prove the lower races to hold original and distinct doctrines of corporeal resurrection.1 Again, attention must be given to the practice, so common among low and high races, of preserving relics of the dead, from mere morsels of bone up to whole mummified bodies. It is well known that the departed soul is often thought apt to revisit the remains of the body. But how far the preservation of these remains may be connected with an idea of bodily resurrection, whether among the native races of America, or in ancient Egypt, or elsewhere, is a problem for which also the evidence available does not seem sufficient.2 In discussing the closely allied doctrine of metempsychosis, I have described the theory of the soul's transmigration into a new human body as asserting in fact an earthly resurrection. From the same point of view, a bodily resurrection in Heaven or Hades is technically a transmigration of the soul. This is plain among the higher races, in whose religion these doctrines take at once clearer definition and more practical import. There are some distinct mentions of bodily resurrection in the Rig Veda: the dead is spoken of as glorified, putting on his body (tanu); and it is even promised that the pious man shall be born in

l See J. G MQller, 'Amer. Urrol.' p. 208 (Cnribs); but compare Kochcfort, p. 429. Stellcr, 'Kamtschatka,' p. 269; Castren, 'Finnischo Mythologie, p. 119.

3 See for American evidence Brinton, 'Myths of New World,' p. 254, etc. For Egyptian evidence Birch's tr. of ' Book of Dead' in Bunsen's 'Egypt.' vol. vi. ; Wilkinson, etc.

the next world with his entire body (sarvatanu). In Brahminism and Buddhism, the re-births of souls in bodies to inhabit heavens and hells are simply included as particular cases of transmigration. The question of an old Persian doctrine of resurrection, thought by some to be related to the late Jewish doctrine, is obscure.1 In early Christianity, the conception of bodily resurrection is developed with especial strength and fulness in the Pauline doctrine. For an explicit interpretation of this doctrine, such as commended itself to the minds of later theologians, it is instructive to cite the remarkable passage of Origen, where he speaks of "corporeal matter, of which matter, in whatever quality placed, the soul always has use, now indeed carnal, but afterwards indeed subtler and purer, which is called spiritual."2 Passing from these metaphysical doctrines of civilized theology, we now take up a series of beliefs higher in practical moment, and more clearly conceived in savage thought. There may well have been, and there may still be, low races destitute of any belief in a Future State. Nevertheless, prudent ethnographers must often doubt accounts of such, for this reason, that the savage who declares that the dead live no more, may merely mean to say that they are dead. "When the East African is asked what becomes of his buried ancestors, the "old people," he can reply that " they are ended," yet at the same time he fully admits that their ghosts survive.3 In an account of the religious ideas of the Zulus, taken down from a native, it is explicitly stated that Unkulunkulu the Old-Old-One said that people " were to die and never rise again," and that he allowed them " to die and rise no more." 4 Knowing so thoroughly as we now do the

1 Aryan evidence in 'Kig-Veda,' x. 14, 8; xi. 1, 8; Menu, xii. 16—22; Max Mttller, 'Todtenbestattung,' pp. xii. xiv. ; 'Chips,'vol. i. p. 47; Muir in 'Journ. As. Soc. Bengal.' vol. i. 1865, p. 306 ; Ward, 'Hindoos,' vol. ii. pp. 832, 347, 357 ; Hang, 'Parsee*,' p. 266; see Alger, 'Future Life.'

2 Origen, De. Princip. ii. 3, 2: "materia corporalis, cujus materia; anima Ugum semper habet, in qualibet quolitate posita;, nunc quidem carnali, postmoilum vero subtiliori et puriori. iju:e spiritalis appcllatur."

* Burton, 'Central Africa,' vol. ii. p. 345. 4 Callaway, 'Kel . of Amazulu,' p. 84.

theology of the Zulus, whose ghosts not only survive in the under-world, but are the very deities of the living, we can put the proper sense to these expressions. But without such information, we might have mistaken them for denials of the soul's existence after death. This objection may even apply to one of the most formal denials of a future life ever placed on record among an uncultured race, a poem of the Dinka tribe of the White Nile, concerning Dendid the Creator:

"On the day when Dendid made all things,

He made the sun;
And the sun comes forth, goes down, and comes again:

He made the moon;
And tho moon comes forth, goes down, and comes again:

He made the stars;
And the stars come forth, go down, and come again:

He made man;

And man comes forth, goes down into the ground, and comes no more."

It is to be remarked, however, that the close neighbours of these Dinka, the Bari, believe that the dead do return to live again on earth, and the question arises whether it is the doctrine of bodily resurrection, or the doctrine of the surviving ghost-soul, that the Dinka poem denies. The missionary Kaufmann says that the Dinka do not believe the immortality of the soul, that they think it but a breath, and with death all is over; Brun-Rollet s contrary authority goes to prove that they do believe in another life; both leave it an open question whether they recognize the existence of surviving ghosts.l The case is, like various others of the same kind, incomplete.

Looking at the religion of the lower races as a whole, we shall at least not be ill-advised in taking as one of its general and principal elements the doctrine of the soul's Future Life. But here it is needful to explain, to limit, and to reserve, lest modern theological ideas should lead us to misconstrue more primitive beliefs. In such enquiries the

1 Kaufmann, 'Schilderungen aus Ccntralaf rika,'p. 124; Q. Lejean in 'Rev. des Deux Mondes,' Apr. 1, I860, p. 760 ; see Brnn-Rollet, 'Nil Blane,' pp. 100. 234.

« PreviousContinue »