« PreviousContinue »
seems to reach its climax among the Bodo and Dhimal of the North-East, tribes to whom the local rivers are the local deities, so that men worship according to their water-sheds, and the map is a pantheon.
Nor is such reverence strange to Aryan nations. To the modern Hindu, looking as he still does on a river as a living personal being to be adored and sworn by, the Ganges is no solitary water deity, but only the first and most familiar of the long list of sacred streams. Turn to the c'assic world, and we but find the beliefs and and rites of a lower barbaric culture holding their place, consecrated by venerable antiquity and glorified by new poetry and art. To the great Olympian assembly in the halls of cloud-compelling Zeus, came the Rivers, all save 'Ocean, and thither came the nymphs who dwell in lovely groves and at the springs of streams, and in the grassy meads; and they sate upon the polished seats :
“ Ούτε τις οδν Ποταμών απέην, νόσφ' 'Ωκεανοίο,
"Ηφαιστος ποίησεν ίδνίησι πραπίδεσσιν.” Even against Hephaistos the Fire-god, a River-god dared to stand opposed, deep-eddying Xanthos, called of men Skamandros. He rushed down to overwhelm Achilles and bury him in sand and slime, and though Hephaistos prevailed against him with his flames, and forced him, with the fish skurrying hither and thither in his boiling waves and the willows scorched upon his banks, to rush on no more but stand, yet at the word of white-armed Here, that it was not fit for mortals' sake to handle so roughly an immortal god, Hephaistos quenched his furious fire, and the returning flood sped again along his channel :
1 Hodgson, “Abor. of India,' p. 164; Hunter, •Rural Bengal,' p. 184. See also Lubbock, l. c. ; Forbes Leslie, “Early Races of Scotland,' vol. i. p. 163, vol. ii. p. 497.
? Ward, · Hindoos,' vol. ii. p. 206, etc.
«Ηφαιστε, σχέο, τέκνον αγακλέες• ου γάρ έoικεν
'Αθάνατον θεόν ώδε βροτών ένεκα στυφελίζειν.
To beings thus conceived in personal divinity, full worship was given. Odysseus invokes the river of Scheria; Skamandros had his priest and Spercheios his grove ; and sacrifice was done to the rival of Herakles, the river-god Acheloos, eldest of the three thousand river-children of old Okeanos. Through the ages of the classic world, the river-gods and the water-nymphs held their places, till within the bounds of Christendom they came to be classed with ideal beings like them in the mythology of the northern nations, the kindly sprites to whom offerings were given at springs and lakes, and the treacherous nixes who entice men to a watery death. In times of transition, the new Christian authorities made protest against the old worship, passing laws to forbid adoration and sacrifice to fountains-as when Duke Bretislav forbade the still halfpagan country folk of Bohemia to offer libations and sacrifice victims at springs, and in England Ecgbert's Poenitentiale proscribes the like rites, "if any man vow or bring his offerings to any well ” “ if one hold his vigils at any well."3 But the old veneration was too strong to be put down, and with a varnish of Christianity and sometimes the substitution of a saint's name, water-worship has held its own to our day. The Bohemians will go to pray on the river-bank where a man has been drowned, and there they will cast in an offering, a loaf of new bread and a pair of wax-candles. On Christmas Eve they will put a spoonful of each dish on a plate, and after supper throw the food into the well, with an appointed formula, somewhat thus:
1 Homer. 11. xx. xxi. See Gladstone, 'Juventus Mundi,' pp. 190, 345, etc. etc.
2 Cosmas, book iii. p. 197, “superstitiosas institutiones, quas villani adhuc seniipagani in Pentecosten tertia sive quarta feria observabant offerentes libamina super fontes mactabant victimas et dæmonibus immolabant."
3 Poenitentiale Ecgberti, ii. 22, “ gif hwilc man his ælmessan gehâte oththe bringe to hwilcon wylle ;” iv. 19, “gif hwå his wæccan æt ænigum wylle hæbbe.” Grimm, ‘D. M.' p. 549, etc. See Hyltén-Cavallius, “Wärend och Wirdarne,' part i. pp. 131, 171 (Sweden).
“ House-father gives thee greeting,
It well shows the unchanged survival of savage thought in inodern peasants' minds, to find still in Slavonic lands the very same fear of drinking a harmful spirit in the water, that has been noticed among the Esquimaux. It is a sin for a Bulgarian not to throw some water out of every bucket brought from the fountain; some elemental spirit might be floating on the surface, and if not thrown out, might take up his abode in the house, or enter into the body of some one drinking from the vessel. Elsewhere in Europe, the list of still existing water-rites may be extended. The ancient lake-offerings of the South of France seem not yet forgotten in La Lozère, the Bretons venerate as of old their sacred springs, and Scotland and Ireland can show in parish after parish the sites and even the actual survivals of such observance at the holy wells. Perhaps Welshmen no longer offer cocks and hens to St. Tecla at her sacred well and church of Llandegla, but Cornish folk still drop into the old holy-wells offerings of pins, nails, and rags, expect. ing from their waters cure for disease, and omens from their bubbles as to health and marriage.
The spirits of the tree and grove no less deserve our 1 Grohmann, ‘Aberglauben aus Böhmen and Mähren,' p. 43, etc. Hanusch, Slaw. Myth.' p. 291, etc. Ralston, 'Songs of Russian People,' p. 139, etc.
* St. Clair and Brophy, ‘Bulgaria,' p. 46. Similar ideas in Grohmann, p. 44. Eisenmenger, ‘Entd. Judenthum,' part i. p. 426.
3 Maury, Magie,' etc. p. 158. Brand, 'Pop. Avt.' vol. ii. p. 366, etc Hunt, 'Pop. Rom. 2nd Series,' p. 40, etc. Forbes Leslie, 'Early Races of Scotland,' vol. i. p. 156, etc.
study for their illustrations of man's primitive animistic theory of nature. This is remarkably displayed in that stage of thought where the individual tree is regarded as a conscious personal being, and as such receives adoration and sacrifice. Whether such a tree is looked on as inhabited, like a man, by its own proper life or soul, or as possessed, like a fetish, by some other spirit which has entered it and uses it for a body, is often hard to determine. Shelley's lines well express a doubting conception familiar to old barbaric thought
“ Whether the sensitive plant, or that
Which within its boughs like a spirit sat
But this vagueness is yet again a proof of the principle which I have confidently put forward here, that the conceptions of the inherent soul and of the embodied spirit are but modifications of one and the same deep-lying animistic thought. The Mintira of the Malay Peninsula believe in “hantu kayu," i.e. “tree-spirits," or "tree-demons," which frequent every species of tree, and afflict men with diseases; some trees are noted for the malignity of their demons. Among the Dayaks of Borneo, certain trees possessed by spirits must not be cut down; if a missionary ventured to fell one, any death that happened afterwards would naturally be set down to this crime. The belief of certain Malays of Sumatra is expressly stated, that certain venerable trees are the residence, or rather the material frame, of spirits of the woods. In the Tonga Islands, we hear of natives laying offerings at the foot of particular trees, with the idea of their being inhabited by spirits. So in America, the Ojibwa medicine-man has heard the tree utter its complaint
1 'Journ. Ind. Archip.' vol. i. p. 307.
Marsden, Sumatra,' p. 301.
when wantonly cut down. A curious and suggestive description bearing on this point is given in Friar Roman Pane's account of the religion of the Antilles islanders, drawn up by order of Columbus. Certain trees, he declares, were believed to send for sorcerers, to whom they gave orders how to shape their trunks into idols, and these “ cemi” being then installed in temple-huts, received prayer and inspired their priests with oracles. Africa shows as well-defined examples. The negro woodman cuts down certain trees in fear of the anger of their inhabiting demons, but he finds his way out of the difficulty by a sacrifice to his own good genius, or, when he is giving the first cuts to the great asorin-tree, and its indwelling spirit comes out to chase him, he cunningly drops palm-oil on the ground, and makes his escape while the spirit is licking it up. A negro was once worshipping a tree with an offering of food, when some one pointed out to him that the tree did not eat; the negro answered, “O the tree is not fetish, the fetish is a spirit and invisible, but he has descended into this tree. Certainly he cannot devour our bodily food, but he enjoys its spiritual part and leaves behind the bodily which we see.” 4 Tree-worship is largely prevalent in Africa, and much of it may be of this fully animistic kind; as where in Whidah Bosman says that “the trees, which are the gods of the second rank of this country, are only prayed to and presented with offerings in time of sickness, more especially fevers, in order to restore the patients to health ;"5 or where in Abyssinia the Gallas made pilgrimage from all quarters to their sacred tree Wodanabe on the banks of the Hawash, worshipping it and praying to it for riches, health, life, and every blessing.
Bastian, "Der Baum in vergleichender Ethnologie,' in Lazarus and Steinthal's . Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie,' etc. vol. v. 1868.
2 Chr. Colombo, ch. xix. ; and in Pinkerton, vol. xii. p. 87.
6 Krapf, ‘E. Afr.' p. 77 ; Prichard, ‘N. H. of Man,' p. 290 ; Waitz, vol. ii. p. 518. See also Merolla, 'Congo,' in Pinkerton, vol. xvi. p. 236.