Page images
PDF
EPUB

of painters; St. Peter, of fishmongers; St. Valentine, of lovers; St. Sebastian, of archers; St. Crispin, of cobblers; St. Hubert, who cures the bite of mad dogs; St. Vitus, who delivers madmen and sufferers from the disease which bears his name; St. Fiacre, whose name is now less known by his shrine than by the hackney-coaches called after him in the seventeenth century. Not to dwell here minutely on an often-treated topic, it will be enough to touch on two particular points. First, as to the direct historical succession of the Christian saint to the heathen deity, the following are two very perfect illustrations. It is well known that Romulus, mindful of his own adventurous infancy, became after death a Roman deity propitious to the health and safety of young children, so that nurses and mothers would carry sickly infants to present them in his little round temple at the foot of the Palatine. In after ages the temple was replaced by the church of St. Theodorus, and there Dr. Conyers Middleton, who drew public attention to its curious history, used to look in and see ten or a dozen women, each with a sick child in her lap, sitting in silent reverence before the altar of the saint. The ceremony of blessing children, especially after vaccination, may still be seen there on Thursday mornings.1 Again, Sts. Cosmas and Damianus, according to Maury, owe their recognized office to a similar curious train of events. They were martyrs who suffered under Diocletian, at JEgrese in Cilicia. Now this place was celebrated for the worship of JEsculapius, in whose temple incubation, i. e., sleeping for oracular dreams, was practised. It seems as though the idea was transferred on the spot to the two local saints, for we next hear of them as appearing in a dream to the Emperor Justinian, when he was ill at Byzantium. They cured him, he built them a temple, their cultus spread far and wide, and they frequently appeared to the sick to show them what they should do. Legend settled that Cosmaa and Damianus were physicians while they lived on earth,

'Middleton, 'Letter from liome ;' Murray's 'Handbook of Rome.'

and at any rate they are patron-saints of the profession of medicine to this day.1 Second, as to the actual state of hagiolatry in modern Europe, it is obvious on a broad view that it is declining among the educated classes. Yet modern examples may be brought forward to show ideas as extreme as those which prevailed more widely a thousand years ago. In the Church of the Jesuit College at Rome lies buried St. Aloysius Gonzaga, on whose festival it is customary especially for the college students to write letters to him, which are placed on his gaily decorated and illuminated altar, and afterwards burnt unopened. The miraculous answering of these letters is vouched for in an English book of 1870. To the same year belongs an English tract commemorating a late miraculous cure. An Italian lady afflicted with a tumour and incipient cancer of the breast was exhorted by a Jesuit priest to recommend herself to the Blessed John Berchmans, a pious Jesuit novice from Belgium, who died in 1621, and was beatified in 1865. Her adviser procured for her "three small packets of dust gathered from the coffin of this saintly innocent, a little cross made of the boards of the room the blessed youth occupied, as well as some portion of the wadding in which his venerable head was wrapped." During nine days' devotion the patient accordingly invoked the Blessed John, swallowed small portions of his dust in water, and at last pressed the cross to her breast so vehemently that she was seized with sickness, went to sleep, and awoke without a symptom of the complaint. And when Dr. Panegrossi the physician beheld the incredible cure, and heard that the patient had addressed herself to the Blessed Berchmans, he bowed his head, saying, " When such physicians interfere, we have nothing more to say!" 2 To sum up the whole

1 L. F. Alfred Maury, 'Magic, etc' p. 249; 'Acta Sanctorum,' 27 Sep.: ■Grcgor. Turon. De Gloria Martyr, i. 93.

3 J. R. Beste, 'Nowadays at Home and Abroad,' London, 1870, vol. ii. p. H; 'A New Miracle at Rome; being an Account of a Miraculous Cure, etc. etc.' London (Washbourno), 1870.

history of uianes-worshrp, it is plain that in our time the dead still receive worship from far the larger half of mankind, and it may have been much the same ever since the remote periods of primitive culture in which the religion of the manes probably took its rise.

It has now been seen that the theory of souls recognizes them as capable either of independent existence, or of inhabiting human, animal, or other bodies. On the principle here maintained, that the general theory of spirits is modelled on the theory of souls, we shall be able to account for several important branches of the lower philosophy of religion, which without such explanation may appear in great measure obscure or absurd. Like souls, other spirits are supposed able either to exist and act flitting free about the world, or to become incorporate for more or less time in solid bodies. It will be well at once to get a secure grasp of this theory of Embodiment, for without it we shall be stopped every moment by a difficulty in understanding the nature of spirits, as defined in the lower animism. The theory of embodiment serves several highly important purposes in savage and barbarian philosophy. On the one hand it provides an explanation of the phenomena of morbid exaltation and derangement, especially as connected with abnormal utterance, and this view is so far extended as to produce an almost general doctrine of disease. On the other hand, it enables the savage either to " lay " a hurtful spirit in some foreign body, and so get rid of it, or to carry about a useful spirit for his service in a material object, to set it up as a deity for worship in the body of an animal, or in a block or stone or image or other thing, which contains the spirit as a vessel contains a fluid: this is the key to strict fetishism, and in no small measure to idolatry. In briefly considering these various branches of the Embodiment-theory, there may be conveniently included certain groups of cases often impossible to distinguish apart. These cases belong theoretically rather to obsession than possession, the spirits not actually inhabiting the bodies, but hanging or hovering about them and affecting them from the outside.

As in normal conditions the man's soul, inhabiting his body, is held to give it life, to think, speak, and act through it, so an adaptation of the self-same principle explains abnormal conditions of body or mind, by considering the new symptoms as due to the operation of a second soul-like being, a strange spirit. The possessed man, tossed and shaken in fever, pained and wrenched as though some live creature were tearing or twisting him within, pining as though it were devouring his vitals day by day, rationally finds a personal spiritual cause for his sufferings. In hideous dreams he may even sometimes see the very ghost or nightmare-fiend that plagues him. Especially when the mysterious unseen power throws him helpless on the ground, jerks and writhes him in convulsions, makes him leap upon the bystanders with a giant's strength and a wild beast's ferocity, impels him, with distorted face and frantic gesture, and voice not his own nor seemingly even human, to pour forth wild incoherent raving, or with thought and eloquence beyond his sober faculties to command, to counsel, to foretell—such a one seems to those who watch him, and even to himself, to have become the mere instrument of a spirit which has seized him or entered into him, a possessing demon in whose personality the patient believes so implicitly that he often imagines a personal name for it, which it can declare when it speaks in its own voice and character through his organs of speech; at last, quitting the medium's spent and jaded body, the intruding spirit departs as it came. This is the savage theory of demoniacal possession and obsession, which has been for ages, and still remains, the dominant theory of disease and inspiration among the lower races. It is obviously based on an animistic interpretation, most genuine and rational in its proper place in man's intellectual history, of the actual symptoms of the cases. The general doctrine of disease-spirits and oraclespirits appears to have its earliest, broadest, and most consistent position within the limits of savagery. When we have gained a clear idea of it in this its original home, we shall be able to trace it along from grade to grade of civilization, breaking away piecemeal under the influence of new medical theories, yet sometimes expanding in revival, and at least in lingering survival holding its place into the midst of our modern life. The possession-theory is not merely known to us by the statements of those who describe diseases in accordance with it. Disease being accounted for by attack of spirits, it naturally follows that to get rid of these spirits is the proper means of cure. Thus the practices of the exorcist appear side by side with the doctrine of possession, from its first appearance in savagery to its survival in modern civilization, and nothing could display more vividly the conception of a disease or a mental affection as caused by a personal spiritual being than the proceedings of the exorcist who talks to it, coaxes or threatens it, makes offerings to it, entices or drives it out of the patient's body, and induces it to take up its abode in some other. That the two great effects ascribed to such spiritual influence in obsession and possession, namely, the infliction of ailments and the inspiration of oracles, are not only mixed up together but often run into absolute coincidence, accords with the view that both results are referred to one common cause. Also that the intruding or invading spirit may be either a human soul or may belong to some other class in the spiritual hierarchy, countenances the opinion that the possessiontheory is derived from, and indeed modelled on, the ordinary theory of the soul acting on the body. In illustrating the doctrine by typical examples from the enormous mass of available details, it will hardly be possible to discriminate among the operating spirits, between those which are souls and those which are demons, nor to draw an exact line between obsession by a demon outside and possession by a demon inside, nor between the condition of the deinontormented patient and the demon-actuated doctor, seer, or priest. In a word, the confusion of these conceptions in the

« PreviousContinue »