Page images
PDF
EPUB

after the corpse is carried out, for an obstacle to bar the soul from coming back ;1 so Brandenburg peasants pour out a pail of water at the door after the coffin, to prevent the ghost from walking; and Pomeranian mourners returning from the churchyard leave behind the straw from the hearse, that the wandering soul may rest there, and not come back so far as home.3 In the ancient and mediaeval world, men habitually invoked supernatural aid beyond such material shifts as these, calling in the priest to lay or banish intruding ghosts, nor is this branch of the exorcist's art even yet forgotten. There is, and always has been, a prevalent feeling that disembodied souls, especially such as have suffered a violent or untimely death, are baneful and malicious beings. As Meiners suggests in his 'History of Religions,' they were driven unwillingly from their bodies, and have carried into their new existence an angry longing for revenge. No wonder that mankind should so generally agree that if the souls of the dead must linger in the world at all, their fitting abode should be not the haunts of the living but the resting-places of the dead.

Alter all, it scarcely seems to the lower animistic philosophy that the connexion between body and soul is utterly broken by death. Various wants may keep the soul from its desired rest, and among the chief of these is when its mortal remains have not had the funeral rites. Hence the deep-lying belief that the ghosts of such will walk. Among some Australian tribes the "ingna," or evil spirits, human in shape, but with long tails and long upright ears, are mostly souls of departed natives, whose bodies were left to lie unburied or whose death the avenger of blood did not expiate, and thus they have to prowl on the face of the earth, and about the place of death, with no gratification

1 Castn?n, 'Finn. Myth.' p. 120.

3 AVuttke, 'Volkgabergluube,' pp. 218—17. Other cases of taking out the dead by a gap made on purpose: Arbousset and Daumas, p. 502 (Bushmen); Magyar, p. 351 (Kimhunda); Moffat, p. 307 (Bechuauas); Waltz, vol. iii. p. l&tf (Ojibwas);—their motiye is not clear.

but to harm the living.1 In New Zealand, the ideas were to be found that the souls of the dead were apt to linger near their bodies, and that the spirits of men left unburied, or killed in battle and eaten, would wander; and the bringing such malignant souls to dwell within the sacred burialenclosure was a task for the priest to accomplish with bis charms.2 Among the Iroquois of North America the spirit also stays near the body for a time, and "unless the rites of burial were performed, it was believed that the spirits of the dead hovered for a time upon the earth, in a state of great unhappiness. Hence their extreme solicitude to procure the bodies of the slain in battle."3 Among Brazilian tribes, the wandering shadows of the dead are said to be considered unresting till burial.4 In Turanian regions of North Asia, the spirits of the dead who have no restingplace in earth are thought of as lingering above ground, especially where their dust remains.5 South Asia has such beliefs: the Karens say that the ghosts who wander on earth are not the spirits of those who go to Plu, the land of the dead, but of infants, of such as died by violence, of the wicked, and of those who by accident have not been buried or burned ;8 the Siamese fear as unkindly spirits the souls of such as died a violent death or were not buried with the proper rites, and who, desiring expiation, invisibly terrify their descendants.7 Nowhere in the world had such thoughts a stronger hold than in classic antiquity, where it was the most sacred of duties to give the body its funeral rites, that the shade should not flit moaning near the gates of Hades, nor wander in the dismal crowd along the banks

1 Oldfield in 'Tr. Eth. Soc.' vol. iii. pp. 228, 236, 245.

2 Taylor, 'New Zealand,'p. 221; Schirren, p. 91; see Turner, 'Polynesia,' p. 233.

s Morgan, 'League of Iroquois,'p. 174.

* J. G. MUller, p. 286.

• Castri5n, 'Finn. Myth.' p. 126.

6 Cross in 'Journ. Amer. Or. Soc.' vol. iv. p. 309 ; Mason in 'Jburn. As. Soc. Bengal,' 1865, part ii. p. 203. See also J. Anderson, 'Exp. to W'. Yunnan," pp. 126, 131 (Shans).

"Bastiau, 'Psyehologie,' pp. 51, 99—101.

of Acheron.1 An Australian or a Karen would have taken in the full significance of the fatal accusation against the Athenian commanders, that they abandoned the bodies of their dead in the sea-fight of Arginousai. The thought is not unknown to Slavonic folklore: "Ha! with the shriek the spirit flutters from the mouth, flies up to the tree, from tree to tree, hither and thither till the dead is burned."2 In mediaeval Europe the classic stories of ghosts that haunt the living till laid by rites of burial pass here and there into new legends, where, under a changed dispensation, the doleful wanderer now asks Christian burial in consecrated earth.3 It is needless to give here elaborate details of the world-wide thought that when the corpse is buried, exposed, burned, or otherwise disposed of after the accepted custom of the land, the ghost accompanies its relics. The soul stays near the Polynesian or the American Indian burialplace; it dwells among the twigs and listens joyfully to the singing birds in the trees where Siberian tribes suspend their dead; it lingers by the Samoyed's scaffolded coffm; it haunts the Dayak's place of burial or burning; it inhabits the little soul-hut above the Malagasy grave, or the Peruvian house of sun-dried bricks; it is deposited in the Roman tomb (animamque sepulchro condinms); it comes back for judgment into the body of the later Israelite and the Moslem; it inhabits, as a divine ancestral spirit, the palace-tombs of the old classic and new Asiatic world; it is kept down by the huge cairn raised over Antar's body lest his mighty spirit should burst forth, by the iron nails with which the Cheremiss secures the corpse in its coffin, by the stake that pins down the suicide's body at the four-cross way. And through all the changes of religious thought from first to last in the course of human history, the hovering ghosts of the dead make the midnight burial-ground a

1 Lurian. DeLuctn. See Puuly, 'Real. Encyclop.'and Smith, 'Die. of Gr. and Horn. Aut.' s.v. 'inferi.' 3Hanusch, 'Slaw. Myth.'p. 277. * Calmet, vol. ii. ch. xxxvi. ; Brand, vol. iii. p. 67.

place where msn's flesh creeps with terror. Not to discuss here the general subject of the funeral rites of mankind, of which only part of the multifarious detnils are directly relevant to the present purpose, a custom may he selected which is admirably adapted for the study of animistic religion, at once from the clear conception it gives of the bvlief in disembodied souls present among the living, and from the distinct line of ethnographic continuity in which it may be traced onward from the lower to the higher culture. This is the custom of Feasts of the Dead.

Among the funeral offerings described in the last chapter, of which the purpose more or less distinctly appears to be that the departed soul shall take them away in some ghostly or ideal manner, or that they shall by some means be conveyed to him in his distant spirit-home, there are given supplies of food and drink. But the feasts of the dead with which we are now concerned are given on a different principle; they are, so to speak, to be consumed on the premises. They are set out in some proper place, especially near the tombs or in the dwelling-houses, and there the souls of the dead come and satisfy themselves. In North America, among Algonquins who held that one of a man's two souls abides with the body after death, the provisions brought to the grave were intended for the nourishment of this soul; tribes would make offerings to ancestors of part of any dainty food, and an Indian who fell by accident into the fire would believe that the spirits of his ancestors pushed him in for neglecting to make due offerings.1 The minds of the Hurons were filled with fancies not less lifelike than this. It seemed to them that the dead man's soul, in his proper human figure, walked in front of the corpse as they carried it to the burial-ground, there to dwell till the great feast of the dead; but meanwhile it would come and walk by night in the village, and eat the remnants in the kettles, wherefore some would not eat of these, nor touch the food

[ocr errors]

at funeral foists—though some indeed would eat all.1 In Madagascar, the elegant little upper chamber in King Raduma's mausoleum was furnished with a table and two chairs, and a bottle of wine, a bottle of water, and two tumblers were placed there conformably with the ideas entertained by most of the natives, that the ghost of the departed monarch might occasionally visit the resting-place of his body, meet with the spirit of his father, and partake of what he was known to be fond of in his lifetime.2 The Wanika of East Africa set a cocoa-nut shell full of rice and tembo near the grave for the "koma" or shade, which cannot exist without food and drink.3 In West Africa the Efik cook food and leave it on the table in the little shed or "devil-house" near the grave, and thither not only the spirit of the deceased, but the spirits of the slaves sacrificed at his funeral, come to partake of it.4 Farther south, in the Congo district, the custom has been described of making a channel into the tomb to the head or mouth of the corpse, whereby to send down month by month the offerings of food and drink.5

Among rude Asiatic tribes, the Bodo of North-East India thus celebrate the last funeral rites. The friends repair to the grave, and the nearest of kin to the deceased, taking an individual's usual portion of food and drink, solemnly presents it to the dead with these words, " Take and eat, heretofore you have eaten and drunk with us, you can do so no more; you were one of us, you can be so no longer; we come no more to you, come you not to us." Thereupon each of the party breaks off a bracelet of thread put on his wrist for this purpose, and casts it on the grave, a speaking symbol of breaking the bond of fellowship, and "next the party

1 Bn-beuf in 'Bel. des Jes.' 1636, p. 104.

3 Eliis, 'Madagascar,' vol. i. pp. 253, 36i. See Taylor, 'New Zealand,' p. 220.

» Krnpf, * E. Afr.' p. 150.

* T. J. Hutchinson, p. 206.

• Cavazzi, 'Congo, etc.' book i. p. 20i. So in ancient Greece, L'ician. Charon, 22.

« PreviousContinue »