« PreviousContinue »
America, we find Indians believing the spirits of their dead to enter into bears, and travellers have heard of a tribe begging the life of a wrinkle-faced old she grizzly bear as the recipient of the soul of some particular grandam, whom they fancied the creature to resemble.1 So, among the Esquimaux, a traveller noticed a widow who was living for conscience' sake upon birds, and would not touch walrusmeat, which the angekok had forbidden her for a time, because her late husband had entered into a walrus.2 Among other North American tribes, we hear of the Powhatans refraining from doing harm to certain small woodbirds which received the souls of their chiefs;3 of Huron souls turning into turtle-doves after the burial of their bones at the Feast of the Dead ;* of that pathetic funeral rite of the Iroquois, the setting free a bird on the evening of burial, to carry away the soul.5 In Mexico, the Tlasealans thought that after death the souls of nobles would animate beautiful singing birds, while plebeians passed into weasels and beetles and such like vile creatures.5 So, in Brazil, the Icannas say that the souls of the brave will become beautiful birds feeding on pleasant fruits, but cowards will be turned into reptiles.7 Among the Abipones we hear of certain little ducks which fly in flocks at night, uttering a mournful hiss, and which fancy associates with the souls of the dead ;6 while in Popayan it is said that doves were not killed, as inspired by departed souls.2 Lastly, transmigration into brutes is also a received doctrine in South America, as when a missionary heard a Chiriquane woman of Buenos Ayres say of a fox, "May not that be the spirit of my dead daughter?"1
1 Schoolcraft, 'Indian Tribes,' part Hi. p. 113. 1 Hayes, 'Arctic Boat Journey,' p. 198.
* Brinton, 'Myths of New World,' p. 102. 4 Brebenf in 'Rel. des JeV 163o, p. 104.
* Morgan, 'Iroquois,' p. 174.
'Clavigero, 'Messico,' voL ii. p. 5.
? Martius, 'Ethnog. Amer.' vol. i. p. 602; Markham in *Tr. Eth. Soc.' Tol iii. p. 195.
* DobrizhofFer, 'Abipones,' vol. ii. pp. 74, 270.
* Coreal in Brinton, 1. c. Seo also J. G. Miiller, p. 139 (Natchez), 223 'Caribs1, 402 (Peru).
In Africa, again, mention is made of the Maravi thinking that the souls of bad men became jackals, and good men snakes.2 The Zulus, while admitting that a man may turn into a wasp or lizard, work out in the fullest way the idea of the dead becoming snakes, a creature whose change of skin has so often been associated with the thought of resurrection and immortality. It is especially certain green or brown harmless snakes, which come gently and fearlessly into houses, which are considered to be "amatongo" or ancestors, and therefore are treated respectfully, and have offerings of food given them. In two ways, the dead man who has become a snake can still be recognized; if the creature is one-eyed, or has a scar or some other mark, it is recognized as the "itongo " of a man who was thus marked in life; but if he had no mark, the "itongo" appears in human shape in dreams, thus revealing the personality of the snake.3 In Guinea, monkeys found near a graveyard are supposed to be animated by the spirits of the dead, and in certain localities monkeys, crocodiles, and snakes, being thought men in metempsychosis, are held sacred.* It is to be borne in mind that notions of this kind may form in barbaric psychology but a portion of the wide doctrine of the soul's future existence. For a conspicuous instance of this, let us take the system of the Gold-Coast negroes. They believe that the "kla" or "kra," the vital soul, becomes at death a "sisa" or ghost, which can remain in the house with the body, plague the living, and cause sickness, till it departs or is driven by the sorcerer to the bank of the River Wolta, where the ghosts build themselves houses and dwell. But they can and do come back from this Land of Souls. They can be born again as souls in new human bodies, and a soul who was poor before will now be rich. Many will not come back as men, but will become animals. To an African mother who has lost her child, it is a consolation to say, "He will come again."1
1 Briuton, p. 254 ; see also Martins, vol. L p. 446.
1 Waitz, vol. ii. p. 419 (Maravi).
» Callaway, 'Kel. of Amazulu,' p. 196, etc. ; Arbousset and Danmas, p. 237.
4 J. L. Wilson, 'W. Afr.' pp. 210, 218. See also Brun-Rollet, pp. 200, 234 j Meiners, vol. i. p. 211.
In higher levels of culture, the theory of re-embodiment of the soul appears in strong and varied development. Though seemingly not received by the early Aryans, the doctrine of migration was adopted and adapted by Hindu philosophy, and forms an integral part of that great system common to Brahmanism and Buddhism, wherein successive births or existences are believed to carry on the consequences of past and prepare the antecedents of future life. To the Hindu the body is but the temporaryreceptacle of the soul, which, " bound in the chains of deeds" and "eating the fruits of past actions," promotes or degrades itself along a series of embodiments in plant, beast, man, deity. Thus all creatures differ rather in degree than kind, all are nkin to man, an elephant or ape or worm may once have been human, and may become human again, a pariah or barbarian is at once low-caste among men and high-caste among brutes. Through such bodies migrate the sinful souls which desire has drawn down from primal purity into gross material being; the world where they do penance for the guilt incurred in past existences is a huge reformatory, and life is the long grievous process of developing evil into good. The rules are set forth in the book of Manu how souls endowed with the quality of goodness acquire divine nature, while souls governed by passion take up the human state, and souls sunk in darkness are degraded to brutes. Thus the range of migration stretches downward from gods and saints, through holy ascetics, Brahmans, nymphs, kings, counsellors, to actors, drunkards, birds, dancers, cheats, elephants, horses, Sudras, barbarians, wild beasts, snakes, worms, insects, and inert things. Obscure as the relation mostly is between the crime and its punishment in a new life, there may be discerned through the code of penal transmigration an attempt at appropriateness of penalty, and an intention to punish the sinner wherein he sinned. For faults committed in a previous existence men are afflicted with deformities, the stealer of food shall be dyspeptic, the scandal-monger shall have foul breath, the horse-stealer shall go lame, and in consequence of their deeds men shall be born idiots, blind, deaf and dumb, misshaped, and thus despised of good men. After expiation of their wickedness in the hells of torment, the murderer of a Brahman may pass into a wild beast or pariah; he who adu1terously dishonours his guru or spiritual father shall be a hundred times re-born as grass, a bush, a creeper, a carrion bird, a beast of prey; the cruel shall become bloodthirsty beasts; stealers of grain and meat shall turn into rats and vultures; the thief who took dyed garments, kitchen-herbs, or perfumes, shall become accordingly a red partridge, a peacock, or a musk-rat. In short, "in whatever disposition of mind a man accomplishes such and such an act, he shall reap the fruit in a body endowed with such and such a quality." * The recognition of plants as possible receptacles of the transmigrating spirit well illustrates the conception of souls of plants. The idea is one known to lower races in the district of the world which has been more or less under Hindu influence. Thus we hear among the Dayaks of Borneo of the human soii l entering the trunks of trees, where it may be seen damp and blood-like, but no longer personal and sentient;3 and the Santals of Bengal are said to fancy that uncharitable men and childless women are eaten eternally by worms and snakes, while the good enter into fruit-bearing trees.3 But it is an open question whether these and the Hindu ideas are originally independent of each other, and if not, did the Hindus adopt the ideas of the indigenes, or vice versd? A curious commentary on the Hindu working out of the conception of plantsouls is to be found in a passage in a 17th century work, which describes certain Brahmans of the Coromandel Coast as eating fruits, but being careful not to pull the plants up by the roots, lest they should dislodge a soul; but few, it is remarked, are so scrupulous as this, and the consideration has occurred to them that souls in roots and herbs are in most vile and abject bodies, so that if dislodged they may become better off by entering into the bodies of men or beasts.1 Moreover, the Brahmanic doctrine of souls transmigrating into inert things has in like manner a bearing on the savage theory of object-souls.2
1 Steinhanser in 'Mag. der Evang. Miss.' Basel, 1856, STo. 2, p. 135.
1 Manu, xi. xii. "Ward, 'Hindoos,' vol. i. p. 164, vol. ii. pp. 215, 347 -52.
a St. John, 'Far East,' vol. i. p. 181.
3 Hunter, 'Hural Bengal,' p. 210. See also Shaw in 'As. Res.' vol. iv. p. 46 (Kajmuhal tribes).
Buddhism, like the Brahmanism from which it seceded, habitually recognized transmigration between superhuman and human beings and the lower animals, and in an exceptional way recognized a degradation even into a plant or a thing. How the Buddhist mind elaborated the doctrine of metempsychosis, may be seen in the endless legends of Gautama himself undergoing his 550 births, suffering pain and misery through countless ages to gain the power of freeing sentient beings from the misery inherent in all existence. Four times he became Maha Brahma, twenty times the dewa Sekra, and many times or few he passed through such stages as a hermit, a king, a rich man, a slave, a potter, a gambler, a curer of snake bites, an ape, an elephant, a bull, a serpent, a snipe, a fish, a frog, the dewa or genius of a tree. At last, when he became the supreme Buddha, his mind, like a vessel overflowing with honey, overflowed with the ambrosia of truth, and he proclaimed his triumph over life :—
1 Abraham Roger, 'La Porte Ouverte,' Amst. 1670, p. 107.
* Minn, xii. 9: "carirajuih karmmadoshaih yati sthflvaratam narah" — "for crimes done in the lioiIy. the man goes to the inert (motionless) state ;" xii. 42, "sthftvarah krirnakitftci:ha matsyah snrpah sakachhapah-pacavafcha mrigaschaiva jaghanyil tamasl gatih"—"inert (motionless) things, worms and insects, fish, serpents, tortoises and beasts and deer also are the last dark form."