« PreviousContinue »
Greek religion of nature, developed by imagination, adorned by poetry, and consecrated by faith. History records for our instruction, how out of the midst of this splendid and honoured creed there were evolved the germs of the new philosophy. Led by minuter insight and stricter reason, thoughtful Greeks began the piecemeal supersession of the archaic scheme, and set in movement the transformation of animistic into physical science, which thence pervaded the whole cultured world. Such, in brief, is the history of the doctrine of nature-spirits from first to last. Let us endeavour, by classifying some of its principal special groups, to understand its place in the history of the human intellect.
What causes volcanos ? The Australians account for volcanic rocks by the tradition that the sulky underground “ingna” or demons made great fires and threw up red-hot stones. The Kamchadals say that just as they themselves warm up their winter-houses, so the “ kamuli ” or mountain-spirits heat up the mountains in which they dwell, and fling the brands out of the chimney. The Nicaraguans offered human sacrifices to Masaya or Popogatepec (Smoking-Mountain), by throwing the bodies into the crater. It seems as though it were a controlling deity, not the mountain itself, that they worshipped; for we read of the chiefs going to the crater, whence a hideous old naked woman came out and gave them counsel and oracle; at the edge were placed earthen vessels of food to please her, or to appease her when there was a storm or earthquake.3 Thus animism provided a theory of volcanos, and so it was likewise with whirlpools and rocks. In the Vei country in West Africa, there is a dangerous rock on the Mafa river, which is never passed without offering a tribute to the spirit of the flood-a leaf of tobacco, a handful of rice, or
· Oldfield, ‘Abor. of Austr.' in ‘Tr. Eth. Soc.' vol. iii. p. 232. 2 Steller, ‘Kamtschatka,' pp. 47, 265.
3 Oviedo, 'Nicaragua,' in Ternaux-Compans, part xiv. pp. 132, 160. Com. pare Catlin, ‘N. A. Ind.' vol. ii. p. 169.
•a drink of rum. An early missionary account of a rock. demon worshipped by the Huron Indians will show with what absolute personality savages can conceive such a being. In the hollow of a certain sacred rock, it is related, dwells an "oki” or spirit who can give success to travellers, wherefore they put tobacco into one of the cracks, and pray thus : “Demon who dwellest in this place, behold tobacco I present to thee; help us, keep us from shipwreck, defend us against our enemies, and vouchsafe that when we have made a good trade, we may return safe and sound to our village.” Father Marquette relates how, travelling on a river in the then little known region of Western America, he was told of a dreadful place to which the canoe was just drawing near, where dwells a demon waiting to devour such as dare to approach ; this terrific manitu proved on arrival to be some high rocks in the bend of the river, against which the current runs violently. Thus the missionary found in living belief among the savage Indians the very thought which had so long before passed into the classic tale of Skylla and Charybdis.
In those moments of the civilized man's life when he casts off hard dull science, and returns to childhood's fancy, the world-old book of animated nature is open to him anew.
Then the well-worn thoughts come back fresh to him, of the stream's life that is so like his own; once more he can see the rill leap down the hillside like a child, to wander playing among the flowers; or can follow it as, grown to a river, it rushes through a mountain gorge, henceforth in sluggish strength to carry heavy burdens across the plain. In all that water does, the poet's fancy can discern its personality of life. It gives fish to the fisher, and crops to the husbandman; it swells in fury and lays waste the land; it grips the bather with chill
1 Creswick, ‘Veys,' in • Tr. Eth. Soc.' vol. vi. p. 359. See Du Chaillu, * Ashango-land,' p. 106.
? Brebeuf in Rel. des Jes.' 1636, p. 108. Long's Exp. vol. i. p. 46. See Loskiel, “Indians of N. A.' part i. p. 45.
and cramp, and holds with inexorable grasp its drowning victim : 1
“ Tweed said to Till,
* What gars ye rin sae still?' Till said to Tweed,
• Though ye rin wi' speed,
Yet, where ye drown ae man,
What ethnography has to teach of that great element of the religion of mankind, the worship of well and lake, brook and river, is simply this—that what is poetry to us was philosophy to early man ; that to his mind water acted not by laws of force, but by life and will ; that the waterspirits of primæval mythology are as souls which cause the water's rush and rest, its kindness and its cruelty; that lastly man finds, in the beings which with such power can work him weal and woe, deities with a wider influence over his life, deities to be feared and loved, to be prayed to and praised and propitiated with sacrificial gifts.
In Australia, special water-demons infest pools and watering-places. In the native theory of disease and death, no personage is more prominent than the waterspirit, which afflicts those who go into unlawful pools or bathe at unlawful times, the creature which causes women to pine and die, and whose very presence is death to the beholder, save to the native doctors, who may visit the water-spirit's subaqueous abode and return with bleared eyes and wet clothes to tell the wonders of their stay. It would seem that creatures with such attributes come naturally into the category of spiritual beings, but already among the rude natives of Australia and Van Diemen's
1 For details of the belief in water-spirits as the cause of drowning, see ante, vol. i. p. 109.
2 Oldfield in “Tr. Eth. Soc.' vol. iii. p. 328 ; Eyre, vol. ii. p. 362 ; Grey, vol. ii. p. 339; Bastian, “ Vorstellungen von Wasser und Feuer,' in ‘Zeitschrift ür Ethnologie,' vol. i. (contains a general collection of details as to waterworship).
Land, in such stories as that of the bunyip which carries off the native women to his retreat below the waters, there appears that confusion between the spiritual water-demon and the material water-monster, which runs on into the midst of European mythology in such conceptions as that of the water-kelpie and the sea-serpent. America gives cases of other principal animistic ideas concerning water. The water has its own spirits, writes Cranz, among the Greenlanders, so when they come to an untried spring, an angekok or the oldest man must drink first, to free it from a harmful spirit.? “ Who makes this river flow?” asks the Algonquin hunter in a medicine-song, and his answer is, “ The spirit, he makes this river flow.” In any great river, or lake, or cascade, there dwell such spirits, looked upon as mighty manitus. Thus Carver mentions the habit of the Red Indians, when they reached the shores of Lake Superior or the banks of the Mississippi, or any other great body of water, to present to the spirit who resides there some kind of offering; this he saw done by a Winnebago chief who went with him to the Falls of St. Anthony. Franklin saw a similar sacrifice made by an Indian, whose wife had been afflicted with sickness by the water-spirits, and who accordingly to appease them tied up in a small bundle a knife and a piece of tobacco and some other trifling articles, and committed them to the rapids. On the river-bank, the Peruvians would scoop up a handful of water and drink it, praying the river-deity to let them cross or to give them fish, and they threw maize into the stream as a propitiatory offering ; even to this day the Indians of the Cordilleras perform the ceremonial sip before they will pass a river on foot or horseback. Africa displays well the
Compare Bonwick, Tasmanians,' p. 203, and Taylor, ‘New Zealand,' p. 48, with Forbes Leslie, Brand, &c.
Cranz, .Grönland,' p. 267. 3 Tanner, ‘Narr.' p. 341 ; Carver, "Travels,' p. 383; Franklin, 'Journey to Polar Sea,' vol. ii. p. 245 ; Lubbock, Origin of Civilization, rp. 213-20 (contains details as to water-worship); see Brinton, p. 124.
* Rivero and Tschudi, Peruvian Ant. p. 161; Garcilaso de la Vega,
rites of water-worship. In the East, among the Wanika, every spring has its spirit, to which oblations are made ; in the West, in the Akra district, lakes, ponds, and rivers received worship as local deities. In the South, among the Kafirs, streams are venerated as personal beings, or the abodes of personal deities, as when a man crossing a river will ask leave of its spirit, or having crossed will throw in a stone; or when the dwellers by a stream will sacrifice a beast to it in time of drought, or, warned by illness in the tribe that their river is angry, will cast into it a few handfuls of millet or the entrails of a slaughtered ox. Not less strongly marked are such ideas among the Tatar races of the North. Thus the Ostyaks venerate the river Ob, and when fish is scanty will hang a stone about a rein-deer's neck and cast it in for a sacrifice. Among the Buraets, who are professing Buddhists, the old worship may still be seen at the picturesque little mountain lake of Ikeougoun, where they come to the wooden temple on the shore to offer sacrifices of milk and butter and the fat of the animals which they burn on the altars. So across in Northern Europe, almost every Esthonian village has its sacred sacrificial spring. The Esths could at times even see the churl with blue and yellow stockings rise from the holy brook Wöhhanda, no doubt that same spirit of the brook to whom in older days there were sacrificed beasts and little children; in newer times, when a German landowner dared to build a mill and dishonour the sacred water, there came bad seasons that lasted year after year, and the country people burned down the abominable thing. As for the water-worship prevailing among non-Aryan indigenes of British India, it
*Comm. Real.' i. 10. See also J. G. Müller, ‘Amer. Urrelig.' pr. 258, 260, 282.
1 Krapf, ‘E. Afr.' p. 198 ; Steinhauser, l. c. p. 131 ; Villault in Astley, vol. i. p. 668 ; Backhouse, ‘Afr.' p. 230 ; Callaway, .Zulu Tales, vol. i. p. 90; Bastian, I. c.
3 Castrén, Vorlesungen über die Altaischen Völker,' p. 114. 'Finn. Myth.' p. 70. Atkinson, 'Siberia,' p. 444. Boecler, 'Ehsten Abergläub. Gebräuche,' ed. Kreutzwald, p. 6.