Page images
PDF
EPUB

On the feast of the Panagia (Virgin Mary) sacrifices of lambs, kids, honey, wine, &c., are offered in order that the children of the house may enjoy good health throughout the year. A little child divines by touching one of three saints' candles to which the offering is to be dedicated; when the choice is thus made, the bystanders each drink a cup of wine, saying “ Saint So-and-so, to thee is the offering." Then they cut the throat of the lamb, or smother the bees, and in the evening the whole village assembles to eat the various sacrifices, and the men end the ceremony with the usual drunken bout. Within the borders of Russia, many and various sacrifices are still offered; such is the horse with head smeared with honey and mane decked with ribbons, cast into the river with two millstones to its neck to appease the water-spirit, the Vodyany, at his spiteful flood-time in early spring; and such is the portion of supper left out for the house-demon, the domovoy, who if not thus fed is apt to turn spirit-rapper, and knock the tables and benches about at night. In many another district of Europe, the tenacious memory of the tiller of the soil has kept up in wondrous perfection heirlooms from præ-Christian faiths. In Franconia, people will pour on the ground a libation before drinking; entering a forest they will put offerings of bread and fruit on a stone, to avert the attacks of the demon of the woods, the “ bilberry-man ;” the bakers will throw white rolls into the oven flue for luck, and say, “Here, devil, they are thine!” The Carinthian peasant will fodder the wind by setting up a dish of food in a tree before his house, and the fire by casting in lard and dripping, in order that gale and conflagration may not hurt him. At least up to the end of last century this most direct elemental sacrifice might be seen in Germany at the midsummer festival in the most perfect form; some of the porridge from the table was thrown into the fire, and some into running water, some was buried in the earth, and some smeared on leaves and put on the chimney-top for the winds.? Relics of such ancient sacrifice may be found in Scandinavia to this day; to give but one example, the old country altars, rough earth-fast stones with cup-like hollows, are still visited by mothers whose children have been smitten with sickness by the trolls, and who smear lard into the hollows and leave rag-dolls as offerings. France may be represented by the country-women's custom of beginning a meal by throwing down a spoonful of milk or bouillon ; and by the record of the custom of Andrieux in Dauphiny, where at the solstice the villagers went out upon the bridge when the sun rose, and offered him an omelet. The custom of burning alire the finest calf, to save a murrain-struck herd, had its last examples in Cornwall in the present century; the records of bealtuinn sacrifices in Scotland continue in the Highlands within a century ago; and Scotchmen still living remember the corner of a field being left untilled for the Goodman's Croft (i.l'., the Devil's), but the principle of “cheating the devil” was already in vogue, and the piece of land allotted was but a worthless scrap.* It is a remnant of old sacrificial rite, when the Swedes still bake at yule-tide a cake in the shape of a boar, representing the boar sacrificed of old to Freyr, and Oxford to this day commemorates the same ancestral ceremony, when the boar's head is carried in to the Christmas feast at Queen's College, with its appointed carol, “Caput apri detero, Reddens laudes Domino."5 With a lingering recollection of the old

i St. Clair and Brophy, ‘Bulgaria,' p. 43. Compare modern Circassian sacrifice of animal before cross, as substitute for child, in Bell, Circassia,' vol. ii.

3 Ralston, 'Songs of Russian People,' pp. 123, 153, etc.

[ocr errors]

libations, the German toper's saying still runs that heeltaps are a devil's offering.

As for sacrificial rites most fully and officially existing in modern Christendom, the presentation of ex-votos is one. The ecclesiastical opposition to the continuance of these classic thank-offerings was but temporary and partial. In the 5th century it seems to have been usual to offer silver and gold eyes, feet, &c., to saints in acknowledgment of cures they had effected. At the beginning of the 16th century, Polydore Vergil, describing the classic custom, goes on to say: “In the same manner do we now offer up in our churches sigillaria, that is, little images of wax, and oscilla. As oft as any part of the body is hurt, as the hand, foot, breast, we presently make a vow to God, and his saints, to whom upon our recovery we make an offering of that hand or foot or breast shaped in wax; which custom has so far obtained that this kind of images have passed to the other animals. Wherefore so for an ox, so for a horse, so for a sheep, we place puppets in the temples. In which thing any modestly scrupulous person may perhaps say he knows not whether we are rivalling the religion or the superstition of the ancients.”2 In modern Europe the custom prevails largely, but has perhaps somewhat subsided into low levels of society, to judge by the general use of mock silver and such like worthless materials for the dedicated effigies. In Christian as in præ-Christian temples, clouds of incense rise as of old. Above all, though the ceremony of sacrifice did not form an original part of Christian worship, its prominent place in the ritual was obtained in early centuries. In that Christianity was recruited among nations to whom the conception of sacrifice was among the deepest of religious ideas, and the ceremony of sacrifice among the sincerest efforts of worship, there arose an observance suited to supply the vacant place. This result was obtained not by new introduction, but by transmutation. The solemn eucharistic meal of the primitive Christians in time assumed the name of the sacrifice of the mass, and was adapted to a ceremonial in which an offering of food and drink is set out by a priest on an altar in a temple, and consumed by priest and worshippers. The natural conclusion of an ethnographic survey of sacrifice, is to point to the controversy between Protestants and Catholics, for centuries past one of the keenest which have divided the Christian world, on this express question whether sacrifice is or is not a Christian rite.

| Grimm, 'D. M.' p. 962.

2 Beausobre, vol. ii. p. 667. Polydorus Vergilius, De Inventoribus Reru (Basel, 1521), lib. v. 1.

The next group of rites to be considered comprises Fasting and certain other means of producing ecstasy and other morbid exaltation for religious ends. In the foregoing researches on animism, it is frequently observed or implied that the religious beliefs of the lower races are in no small measure based on the evidence of visions and dreams, regarded as actual intercourse with spiritual beings. From the earliest phases of culture upward, we find religion in close alliance with ecstatic physical conditions. These are brought on by various means of interference with the healthy action of body and mind, and it is scarcely needful to remind the reader that, according to philosophic theories antecedent to those of modern medicine, such morbid disturbances are explained as symptoms of divine visitation, or at least of superhuman spirituality. Among the strongest means of disturbing the functions of the mind so as to produce ecstatic vision, is fasting, accompanied as it so usually is with other privations, and with prolonged solitary contemplation in the desert or the forest. Among the ordinary vicissitudes of savage life, the wild hunter has many a time to try involuntarily the effects of such a life for days and weeks together, and under these circumstances he soon comes to see and talk with phantoms which are to him visible personal spirits. The secret of spiritual inter. course thus learnt, he has thenceforth but to reproduce the cause in order to renew the effects.

The rite of fasting, and the utter objective reality ascribed to what we call its morbid symptoms, are shown in striking details among the savage tribes of North America. Among the Indians (the accounts mostly refer to the Algonquin tribes), long and rigorous fasting is enjoined among boys and girls from a very early age; to be able to fast long is an enviable distinction, and they will abstain from food three to seven days, or even more, taking only a little water. During these fasts, especial attention is paid to dreams. Thus Tanner tells the story of a certain Netno-kwa, who at twelve years old fasted ten successive days, till in a dream a man came and stood before her, and after speaking of many things gave her two sticks, saying, "I give you these to walk upon, and your hair I give it to be like snow;” this assurance of extreme old age was through life a support to her in times of danger and distress. At manhood the Indian lad, retiring to a solitary place to fast and meditate and pray, receives visionary impressions which stamp his character for life, and especially he waits till there appears to him in a dream some animal or thing which will be henceforth his “medicine," the fetish-representative of his manitu or protecting genius. For instance, an aged warrior who had thus in his youth dreamed of a bat coming to him, wore the skin of a bat on the crown of his head henceforth, and was all his life invulnerable to his enemies as a bat on the wing. In after life, an Indian who wants anything will fast till he has a dream that his manitu will grant it him. While the men are away hunting, the children are sometimes made to fast, that in their dreams they may obtain omens of the chase. Hunters fasting before an expedition are informed in dreams of the haunts of the game, and the means of appeasing the wrath of the bad spirits; if the dreamer sancies he sees an Indian who has been long dead, and hears him say, “If thou wilt sacrifice to me thou shalt shoot deer at pleasure," he will prepare a sacrifice, and burn the whole or part of a deer, in honour of the apparition. Especially the “meda" or

« PreviousContinue »