Page images
PDF
EPUB

of North Brazil, desiring to discover murderers, would administer such drinks to seers, in whose dreams the criminals appeared. The Darien Indians used the seeds of the Datura sanguinea to bring on in children prophetic delirium, in which they revealed hidden treasure. In Peru the priests who talked with the “huaca” or fetishes used to throw themselves into an ecstatic condition by a narcotic drink called “tonca,” made from the same plant, whence its name of "huacacacha” or fetish-herb. The Mexican priests also appear to have used an ointment or drink made with seeds of “ololiuhqui,” which produced delirium and visions. In both Americas tobacco was used for such purposes. It must be noticed that smoking is more or less used among native races to produce full intoxication, the smoke being swallowed for the purpose. By smoking tobacco, the sorcerers of Brazilian tribes raised themselves to ecstasy in their convulsive orgies, and saw spirits; no wonder tobacco came to be called the “holy herb.” 4. So North American Indians held intoxication by tobacco to be supernatural ecstasy, and the dreams of men in this state to be inspired. This idea may explain a remarkable proceeding of the Delaware Indians. At their festival in honour of the Fire-god with his twelve attendant manitus, inside the house of sacrifice a small oven-hut was set up, consisting of twelve poles tied together at the top and covered with blankets, high enough for a man to stand nearly upright within it. After the feast this oven was heated with twelve red-hot stones, and twelve men crept inside. An old man threw twelve pipefulls of tobacco on these stones, and when the patients had borne to the utmost

[ocr errors]

the heat and suffocating smoke, they were taken out, generally falling in a swoon. This practice, which was carried on in the last century, is remarkable for its coincidence with the Scythian mode of purification after a funeral, as described by Herodotus. He relates that they make their hut with three stakes sloping together at the top and covered in with woollen felts; then they cast red-hot stones into a trough placed within and throw hemp-seed on them, which sends forth fumes such as no Greek vapour-bath could exceed, and the Scyths in their sweating-hut roar with delight.

Not to dwell on the ancient Aryan deification of an intoxicating drink, the original of the divine Soma of the Hindus and the divine Haoma of the Parsis, nor on the drunken orgies of the worship of Dionysos in ancient Greece, we find more exact Old World analogues of the ecstatic medicaments used in the lower culture. Such are the decoctions of thalassægle which Pliny speaks of as drunk to produce delirium and visions; the drugs mentioned by Hesychius, whereby Hekate was evoked; the mediæval witch-ointments which brought visionary beings into the presence of the patient, transported him to the witches' sabbath, enabled him to turn into a beast. The survival of such practices is most thorough among the Persian dervishes of our own day. These mystics are not only opium-eaters, like so large a proportion of their countrymen; they are hashish-smokers, and the effect of this drug is to bring them into a state of exaltation passing into utter hallucination. To a patient in this condition, says Dr. Polak, a little stone in the road will seem a great block that he must stride over; a gutter becomes a wide stream to his eyes, and he calls for a boat to ferry him

[ocr errors]

3 Maury, · Magie,' etc. I. c. ; Plin. xxiv. 102; Hesych. 8. v. drhteipa? See also Bastian, Mensch,' vol. ii. p. 152, etc. ; Baring-Gould, 'Were. wolves,' p. 149.

across; men's voices sound like thunder in his ears; he fancies he has wings and can rise from the ground. These ecstatic effects, in which miracle is matter of hourly experience, are considered in Persia as high religious developments; the visionaries and their rites are looked on as holy, and they make converts.?

Many details of the production of ecstasy and swoon by bodily exercises, chanting and screaming, etc., have been incidentally given in describing the doctrine of demoniacal possession. I will only further cite a few typical cases to show that the practice of bringing on swoons or fits by religious exercises, in reality or pretence, is one belonging originally to savagery, whence it has been continued into higher grades of civilization. We may judge of the mental and bodily condition of the priest or sorcerer in Guyana, by his preparation for his sacred office. This consisted in the first place in fasting and flagellation of extreme severity; at the end of his fast he had to dance till he fell senseless, and was revived by a potion of tobacco-juice causing violent nausea and vomiting of blood; day after day this treatment was continued till the candidate, brought into or confirmed in the condition of a “convulsionary," was ready to pass from patient into doctor.: Again, at the Winnebago medicine-feast, members of the fraternity assemble in a long arched booth, and with them the candidates for initiation, whose preparation is a three days' fast, with severe sweating and steaming with herbs, under the direction of the old medicine-men. The initiation is performed in the assembly by a number of medicine-men. These advance in line, as many abreast as there are candidates ; holding their medicine-bags before them with both hands, they dance forward slowly at first, uttering low guttural sounds as they approach the candidates, their step and voice increasing in energy, until with a violent “ Ough!” they thrust their medicine

[ocr errors]

bags at their breasts. Instantly, as if struck with an electric
shock, the candidates fall prostrate on their faces, their
limbs extended, their muscles rigid and quivering. Blankets
are now thrown over them, and they are suffered to lie thus
a few moments; as soon as they show signs of recovering
from the shock, they are assisted to their feet and led forward.
Medicine-bags are then put in their hands, and medicine-
stones in their mouths; they are now medicine men or
women, as the case may be, in full communion and fellow-
ship; and they now go round the bower in company with
the old members, knocking others down promiscuously by
thrusting their medicine-bags at them. A feast and dance
to the music of drum and rattle carry on the festival.?
Another instance may be taken from among the Alfurus of
Celebes, inviting Empong Lembej to descend into their
midst. The priests chant, the chief priest with twitching
and trembling limbs turns his eyes towards heaven; Lembej
descends into him, and with horrible gestures he springs
upon a board, beats about with a bundle of leaves, leaps
and dances, chanting legends of an ancient deity. After
some hours another priest relieves him, and sings of another
deity. So it goes on day and night till the fifth day, and
then the chief priest's tongue is cut, he falls into a swoon
like death, and they cover him up. They fumigate with
benzoin the piece taken from his tongue, and swing a censer
over his body, calling back his soul; he revives and dances
about, lively but speechless, till they give him back the rest
of his tongue, and with it his power of speech. Thus, in
the religion of uncultured races, the phenomenon of being
“ struck” holds so recognized a position that impostors
will even counterfeit it. In its morbid nature, its genuine
cases at least plainly correspond with the fits which history
records among the convulsionnaires of St. Medard and the
enthusiasts of the Cevennes. Nor need we go even a gene-
| Schoolcraft, ‘Indian Tribes,' part iii. p. 286.

? Bastian, “Mensch,' vol. ii. p. 145. Compare 'Oestl. Asien,' vol. ii. P 247 (Aracan).

[merged small][ocr errors]

ration back to see symptoms of the same type accepted as signs of grace among ourselves. Medical descriptions of the scenes brought on by fanatical preachers at “ revivals ” in England, Ireland, and America, are full of interest to students of the history of religious rites. I will but quote a single case. A young woman is described as lying extended at full length; her eyes closed, her hands clasped and elevated, and her body curved in a spasm so violent that it appeared to rest arch-like upon her heels and the back portion of her head. In that position she lay without speech or motion for several minutes. Suddenly she uttered a terrific scream, and tore handfuls of hair from her uncovered head. Extending her open hands in a repelling attitude of the most appalling terror, she exclaimed, “Oh, that fearful pit !' During this paroxysm three strong men were hardly able to restrain her. She extended her arms on either side, clutching spasmodically at the grass, shuddering with terror, and shrinking from some fearful inward vision ; but she ultimately fell back exhausted, nerveless, and apparently insensible.”] Such descriptions carry us far back in the history of the human mind, showing modern men still in ignorant sincerity producing the very fits and swoons to which for untold ages savage tribes have given religious import. These manifestations in modern Europe indeed form part of a revival of religion, the religion of mental disease.

From this series of rites, practical with often harmful practicality, we turn to a group of ceremonies whose characteristic is picturesque symbolism. In discussing sun-myth and sun-worship, it has come into view how deeply the association in men's minds of the east with light and warmth, life and happiness and glory, of the west with darkness and chill, death and decay, has from remote ages rooted itself in religious belief. It will illustrate and confirm this view to observe how the same symbolism of east and west has taken shape in actual ceremony, giving rise to a series of practices

· D. H. Tuke in ‘Journal of Mental Science,' Oct. 1870, p. 368.

« PreviousContinue »