« PreviousContinue »
They are not quite agreed where Plu, the land of the dead, is situate; it may be above the earth or beyond the horizon. But the dominant and seemingly indigenous opinion is that it is below the earth. When the sun sets on earth, it rises in the Karen Hades, and when it sets in Hades it rises in this world. Here, again, the familiar belief of the European peasant is found ; the spirits of the dead may come up from the land of shades by night, but at daybreak must return.
Such ideas, developed by uncultured races, may be followed up in various detail, through the stage of religion represented by the Mexican and Peruvian nations, into higher ranges of culture. The Roman Orcus was in the bowels of the earth, and when the 'lapis manalis,' the stone that closed the mouth of the world below, was moved away on certain solemn days, the ghosts of the dead came up to the world above, and partook of the offerings of their friends.3 Among the Greeks, the land of Hades was in the world below, nor was the thought unknown that it was the sunsetrealm of the Western god (Tipòs eo tépov Ocoû). What Hades seemed like to the popular mind, Lucian thus describes :“ The great crowd, indeed, whom the wise call “idiots,' believing Homer and Hesiod, and the other myth-makers about these things, and setting up their poetry as a law, have supposed a certain deep place under the earth, Hades, and that it is vast, and roomy, and gloomy, and sunless, and how thought to be lighted up so as to behold every one within, I know not.”4 In the ancient Egyptian doctrine of the future life, modelled as it was on solar myth, Amenti, the western region of the departed, is an under-world or Hades; the dead passes the gate of the setting sun to traverse the roads of darkness, and behold his father Osiris ; and with a
like solar thought the Egyptian priests, representing in symbolic ceremony the scenes of the other world, carried the corpse in the sacred boat across to the burial-place, on the western side of the sacred lake. So, too, the cavernous Sheol of the Israelites, the shadowy region of departed souls, lay deep below the earth. Through the great Aryan religious systems, Brahmanism, Zarathustrism, Buddhism, and onward into the range of Islam and of Christianity, subterranean hells of purgatory or punishment make the doleful contrast to heavens of light and glory.
It is, however, a point worthy of special notice that the conception of hell as a fiery abyss, so familiar to the religions of the higher civilization, is all but unknown to savage thought, so much so that if met with, its genuineness is doubtful. Captain John Smith's 'History of Virginia,' published in 1624, contains two different accounts of the Indians' doctrine of a future life. Smith's own description is of a land beyond the mountains, toward sunset, where chiefs and medicine-men in paint and feathers shall smoke, and sing, and dance with their forefathers, while the common people have no life after death, but rot in their graves. Heriot's description is of tabernacles of the gods to which the good are taken up to perpetual happiness, while the wicked are carried to ' Popogusso,' a great pit which they think to be at the furthest parts of the world where the sun sets, and there burn continually. Now knowing so much as we do of the religion of the Algonquins, to whom these Virginians belonged, we may judge that while the first account is genuinely native, though perhaps not quite correctly understood, the second was borrowed by the Indians from the white men themselves. Yet even here the touch of solar myth is manifest, and the description of the fiery abyss in the region of sunset may be compared with one
from our own country, in the Anglo-Saxon dialogue of Saturn and Solomon. “Saga me forhwan byth seo suune read on æfen? Ic the secge, forthon heo locath on helle.
-Tell me, why is the sun red at even? I tell thee, because she looketh on hell."V To the same belief belongs another striking mythic feature. The idea of volcanos being mouths of the under-world seems not unexampled among the lower races, for we hear of certain New Zealanders casting their dead down into a crater. But in connexion with the thought of a gehenna of fire and brimstone, Vesuvius, Etna, and Hecla had spiritual as well as material terrors to the mind of Christendom, for they were believed to be places of purgatory or the very mouths of the pit where the souls of the damned were cast down. The Indians of Nicaragua used in old times to offer human sacrifices to their volcano Masaya, flinging the corpses into the crater, and in later years, after the conversion of the country, we hear of Christian confessors sending their penitents to climb the mountain, and (as a glimpse of hell) tc look down upon the molten lava.
Fourthly, in old times and new, it has come into men's minds to fix upon the sun and moon as abodes of departed souls. When we have learnt from the rude Natchez of the Mississippi and the Apalaches of Florida that the sun is the bright dwelling of departed chiefs and braves, and have traced like thoughts on into the theologies of Mexico and Peru, then we may compare these savage doctrines with Isaac Taylor's ingenious supposition in his ‘Physical Theory of Another Life,'—the sun of each planetary system is the house of the higher and ultimate spiritual corporeity, and the centre of assembly to those who have passed on the planets their preliminary era of corruptible organization, Or perhaps some may prefer the Rev. Tobias Swinden's book, published in the last century, and translated into French and German, which proved the sun to be hell, and its dark spots gatherings of damned souls. And when in South America the Saliva Indians have pointed out the moon, their paradise where no mosquitos are, and the Guaycurus have shown it as the home of chiefs and medicine-men deceased, and the Polynesians of Tokelau in J'ke manner have claimed it as the abode of departed kings and chiefs, then these pleasant fancies may be compared with that ancient theory mentioned by Plutarch, that hell is in the air and elysium in the moon,” and again with the mediæval conception of the moon as the seat of hell, a thought elaborated in profoundest bathos by Mr. M. F. Tupper:
1 Thorpe, 'Analecta Anglo-Saxonica,' p. 115. 3 Schirren, p. 151. See Taylor, ‘N. Z.' p. 525. 3 Meiners, vol. ii. p. 781 ; Maury, “Magie,' etc. p. 170. * Oviedo, 'Nicaragua,' p. 160; Brinton, p. 288.
“ I know thee well, O Moon, thou cavern'd realm,
Skin for skin, the brown savage is not ill matched in such speculative lore with the white philosopher.
Fifthly, as Paradise on the face of the earth, and Hades beneath it where the sun goes down, are regions whose existence is asserted or not denied by savage and barbaric science, so it is with Heaven. Among the examples which display for us the real course of knowledge among mankind, and the real relation which primitive bears to later culture, the belief in the existence of a firmament is one of the most instructive. It arises naturally in the minds of children still, and in accordance with the simplest childlike thought, the cosmologies of the North American Indians 1 and the South Sea Islanders ? describe their flat earth arched over by the solid vault of heaven. Like thoughts are to be traced on through such details as the Zulu idea that the blue heaven is a rock encircling the earth, inside which are the sun, moon, and stars, and outside which dwell the people of heaven; the modern negro's belief that there is a firmament stretched above like a cloth or web; the Finnish poem which tells how Ilmarinen forged the firmament of finest steel, and set in it the moon and stars. The New Zealander, with his notion of a solid firmament, through which the waters can be let down on earth through a crack or hole from the reservoir of rain above, could well explain the passage in Herodotus concerning that place in North Africa where, as the Libyans said, the sky is pierced, as well as the ancient Jewish conception of a firmament of heaven, “strong as a molten mirror," with its windows through which the rain pours down in deluge from the reservoirs above, windows which late Rabbinical literature tells us were made by taking out two stars.* In nations where the theory of the firmament prevails, accounts of bodily journeys or spiritual ascents to heaven are in general meant not as figure, but as fact. Among the lower races, the tendency to localize the region of departed souls above the sky seems less strong than that which leads them to place their world of the dead on or below the earth's surface. Yet some well-marked descriptions of a savage
1 J. G. Müller, ‘Amer. Urrel' p. 138, sce also 220 (Caribs), 402 (Peru), 605, 660 (Mexico); Brinton, Myths of New World,' p. 233; Taylor, * Physical Theory,'ch. xvi. ; Alger, 'Future Life,' p. 590 ; see also above, p. 16, note.
2 Humboldt and Bonpland, Voy.' vol. v. p. 90; Martius, 'Ethnog. Amer.' vol. i. p 233; Turner, Polynesia,' p. 531 ; Plutarch. De Facie in Orbe Lunæ ; Alger, l. c.; Bastian, Psychologie,' pr. 80, 89 (souls in stars.)