« PreviousContinue »
“medicine-man " receives in fasts much of his qualification for his sacred office. The Ojibwa prophetess, known in after life as Catherine Wabose, in telling the story of her early years, relates how at the age of womanhood she fasted in her secluded lodge till she went up into the heavens and saw the spirit at the entrance, the Bright Blue Sky; this was the first supernatural communication of her prophetic career. The account given to Schoolcraft by Chingwauk, an Algonquin chief deeply versed in the mystic lore and picture-writing of his people, is as follows: “ Chingwauk began by saying that the ancient Indians made a great merit of fasting. They fasted sometimes six or seven days, till both their bodies and minds became free and light, which prepared them to dream. The object of the ancient seers was to dream of the sun; as it was believed that such a dream would enable them to see everything on the earth. And by fasting long and thinking much on the subject, they generally succeeded. Fasts and dreams were at first attempted at an early age. What a young man sees and experiences during these dreams and fasts, is adopted by him as truth, and it becomes a principle to regulate his future life. He relies for success on these revelations. If he has been much favoured in his fasts, and the people believe that he has the art of looking into futurity, the path is open to the highest honours. The prophet, he continued, begins to try his power in secret, with only one assistant, whose testimony is necessary should he succeed. As he goes on, he puts down the figures of his dreams and revelations, by symbols, on bark or other material, till a whole winter is sometimes passed in pursuing the subject, and he thus has a record of his principal revelations. If what he predicts is verified, the assistant mentions it, and the record is then appealed to as proof of his prophetic power and skill. Time increases his fame. His kee-kee-wins, or records, are finally shown to the old people, who meet together and consult upon them, for the whole nation
believe in these revelations. They in the end give their approval, and declare that he is gifted as a prophet—is inspired with wisdom, and is fit to lead the opinions of the nation. Such, he concluded, was the ancient custom, and the celebrated old war-captains rose to their power in this manner.” It remains to say that among these American tribes, the "jossakeed" or soothsayer prepares himself by fasting and the use of the sweating-bath for the state of convulsive ecstasy in which he utters the dictates of his familiar spirits.
The practice of fasting is described in other districts of the uncultured world as carried on to produce similar ecstasy and supernatural converse. The account by Roman Pane in the Life of Colon describes the practice in Hayti of fasting to obtain knowledge of future events from the spirits (cemi); and a century or two later, rigorous fasting formed part of the apprentice's preparation for the craft of “boyé” or sorcerer, evoker, consulter, propitiator, and exorciser of spirits. The “ keebèt” or conjurors of the Abipones were believed by the natives to be able to inflict disease and death, cure all disorders, make known distant and future events, cause rain, hail, and tempests, call up the shades of the dead, put on the form of tigers, handle serpents unharmed, etc. These powers were imparted by diabolical assistance, and Father Dobrizhoffer thus describes the manner of obtaining them :-" Those who aspire to the office of juggler are said to sit upon an aged willow, overhanging some lake, and to abstain from food for several days, till they begin to see into futurity. It always appeared probable to me that these rogues, from long fasting, contract a weakness of brain, a giddiness, and kind
of delirium, which makes them imagine that they are gifted with superior wisdom, and give themselves out for magicians. They impose upon themselves first, and afterwards upon others.”] The Malay, to make himself in vulnerable, retires for three days to solitude and scanty food in the jungle, and if on the third day he dreams of a beautiful spirit descending to speak to him, the charm is worked.? The Zulu doctor qualifies himself for intercourse with the “amadhlozi,” or ghosts, from whom he is to obtain direction in his craft, by spare abstemious diet, want, suffering, castigation, and solitary wandering, till fainting fits or coma bring him into direct intercourse with the spirits. These native diviners fast often, and are worn out by fastings, sometimes of several days' duration, when they become partially or wholly ecstatic, and see visions. So thoroughly is the connexion between fasting and spiritual intercourse acknowledged by the Zulus, that it has become a saying among them, “The continually stuffed body cannot see secret things.” They have no faith in a fat prophet.
The effects thus looked for and attained by fasting among uncultured tribes continue into the midst of advanced civilization. No wonder that, in the Hindu tale, king Vasavadatta and his queen after a solemn penance and a three days' fast should see Siva in a dream and receive his gracious tidings; no wonder that, in the actual experience of to-day, the Hindu yogi should bring on by fasting a state in which he can with bodily eyes behold the gods. The Greek oracle-priests recognized fasting as a means of bringing on prophetic dreams and visions; the Pythia of Delphi herself fasted for inspiration; Galen remarks that fasting dreams are the clearer. Through after ages, both cause
and consequence have held their places in Christendom. Thus Michael the Archangel, with sword in right hand and scales in left, appears to a certain priest of Siponte, who during a twelvemonth's course of prayer and fasting had been asking if he would have a temple built in his honour :
“precibus jejunia longis Addiderat, totoque orans se afflixerat anno.”! Reading the narratives of the wondrous sights seen by St. Theresa and her companions, how the saint went in spirit into hell and saw the darkness and fire and unutterable despair, how she saw often by her side her good patrons Peter and Paul, how when she was raised in rapture above the grate at the nunnery where she was to take the sacrament, Sister Mary Baptist and others being present, they saw an angel by her with a golden fiery dart at the end whereof was a little fire, and he thrust it through her heart and bowels and pulled them out with it, leaving her wholly inflamed with a great love of God—the modern reader naturally looks for details of physical condition and habit of life among the sisterhood, and as naturally finds that St. Theresa was of morbid constitution and subject to trances from her childhood, in after life subduing her flesh by long watchings and religious discipline, and keeping severe fast during eight months of the year. It is needless to multiply such medieval records of fasts which have produced their natural effects in beatific vision-are they not written page after page in the huge folios of the Bollandists? So long as fasting is continued as a religious rite, so long its consequences in morbid mental exaltation will continue the old and savage doctrine that morbid phantasy is supernatural experience. Bread and meat would have robbed the ascetic of many an angel's visit; the opening of the refectory door must many a time have closed the gates of heaven to his gaze.
1 Baptist. Mantuan. Fast. ix. 350. 9. Acta Sanctorum Bolland,' S. Theresa.
It is indeed not the complete theory of fasting as a religious rite, but only an important and perhaps original part of it, that here comes into view. Abstinence from food has a principal place among acts of self-mortification or penance, a province of religious ordinance into which the present argument scarcely enters. Looking at the practice of fasting here from an animistic point of view, as a process of bringing on dreams and visions, it will be well to mention with it certain other means by which ecstatic phenomena are habitually induced.
One of these means is the use of drugs. In the West India Islands at the time of the discovery, Columbus describes the religious ceremony of placing a platter containing “cohoba" powder on the head of the idol, the worshippers then snuffing up this powder through a cane with two branches put to the nose. Pane further describes how the native priest, when brought to a sick man, would put himself in communication with the spirits by thus snuffing cohoba, “which makes him drunk, that he knows not what he does, and so says many extraordinary things, wherein they affirm that they are talking with the cemis, and that from them it is told them that the infirmity came.” On the Amazons, the Omaguas have continued to modern times the use of narcotic plants, producing an intoxication lasting twentyfour hours, during which they are subject to extraordinary visions; from one of these plants they obtain the "curupa” powder which they snuff into their nostrils with a Y-shaped reed. Here the similar names and uses of the drug plainly show historical connexion between the Omaguas and the Antilles islanders. The Californian Indians would give children narcotic potions, in order to gain from the ensuing visions information about their enemies; and thus the Mundrucus
i Colombo, Vita,'ch. Ixii. ; Roman Pane, ibid. ch. xv.; and in Pinkerton, vol. xii. Condamine, ‘Travels,' in Pinkerton, rol. xiv. p. 226 ; Martius, • Ethnog. Amer.' vol. i. pp. 441, 631 (details of snuff-powders among Omaguas, Otomacs, etc. ; native names curupá, paricá, niopo, nupa; made from seeds of Mimosa acacioides, Acacia niopo).