Page images
PDF
EPUB

of spirit-embodiment to images or idols. How an image may be considered a receptacle for a spirit, is well shown here by the straw and rag figures of men and beasts made in Calabar at the great triennial purification, for the expelled spirits to take refuge in, whereupon they are got rid of over the border.1 As to positive idols, nothing could be more explicit than the Gold-Coast account of certain wooden figures called "amagai," which are specially treated by a "wong-man" or priest, and have a "wong" or deity in connexion with them; so close is the connexion conceived between spirit and image, that the idol is itself called "Wong.''''' So in the Ewe district, the same " edro" or deity who inspires the priest is also present in the idol, and "edro" signifies both god and idol.3 Waitz sums up the principles of West African idolatry in a distinct theory of embodiment, as follows: "The god himself is invisible, but the devotional feeling and especially the lively fancy of the negro demands a visible object to which worship may be directed, lie wishes really and sensibly to behold the god, and seeks to shape in wood or clay the conception he has formed of him. Now if the priest, whom the god himself at times inspires and takes possession of, consecrates this figure to him, the idea has only to follow that the god may in consequence be pleased to take up his abode in the figure, to which he may be specially invited by the consecration, and thus image-worship is seen to be comprehensible enough. Denham found that even to take a man's portrait was dangerous and caused mistrust, from the fear that a part of the living man's soul might be conveyed by magic into the artificial figure. The idols are not, as Bosman thinks, deputies of the gods, but merely objects in which the god loves to place himself, and which at the same time display him in sensible presence to his adorers. The

1 Hutchinson in 'Tr. Eth. Soc.' vol. i. p. 336 ; see Bastian, 'Psychologic, p. 172.

2 Steinliauser, in ' Magaz. dcr Evang. Missionen.' Basel, 1S56, No. 2, p. 131.

• Schlegel, Ewe-Sprache, p. xvi.

god is also by no means bound fast to his dwelling in the image, he goes out and in, or rather is present in it sometimes with more and sometimes with less intensity."1

Castren's wide and careful researches among the rude Turanian tribes of North Asia, led him to form a similar conception of the origin and nature of their idolatry. The idols of these people are uncouth objects, often mere stones or logs with some sort of human countenance, or sometimes more finished images, even of metal; some are large, some mere dolls; they belong to individuals, or families, or tribes; they may be kept in the yurts for private use, or set up in sacred groves or on the steppes or near the hunting and fishing places they preside over, or they may even have special temple-houses; some open-air gods are left naked, not to spoil good clothes, but others under cover are decked out with all an Ostyak's or Samoyed's wealth of scarlet cloths and costly furs, necklaces and trinkets; and lastly, to the idols are made rich offerings of food, clothes, furs, kettles, pipes, and the rest of the inventory of Siberian nomade wealth. Now these idols are not to be taken as mere symbols or portraits of deities, but the worshippers mostly imagine that the deity dwells in the image or, so to speak, is embodied in it, whereby the idol becomes a real god capable of giving health and prosperity to man. On the one hand, the deity becomes serviceable to the worshipper by being thus contained and kept for his use, and on the other hand, the god profits by receiving richer offerings, failing which it would depart from its receptacle. We even hear of numerous spirits being contained in one image, and flying off at the death of the shaman who owned it. In Buddhist Tibet, as in West Africa, the practice of conjuring into puppets the demons which molest men is a recognized rite; while in Siam the making of clay puppets to be exposed on trees or by the roadside, or set adrift with food

1 Waltz, ' Anthropologic,'voL.ii. p. 188; Denham, 'Travels,' vol. i. p. 113; ftomer, 'Guinea ;' Bosnian, 'Guinea,' in Pinkerton, yoL xvi. Soo also Livingstone, 'S. Afr.' p. 282 (Balouda.)

VOL. It. N

offerings in baskets, is a recognized manner of expelling disease-spirits.1 In the image-worship of modern India, there crop up traces of the embodiment-theory. It is possible for the intelligent Hindu to attach as little real personality to a divine image, as to the man of straw which he makes in order to celebrate the funeral rites of a relative whose body cannot be recovered. He can even protest against being treated as an idolater at all, declaring the images of his gods to be but symbols, bringing to his mind thoughts of the real deities, as a portrait reminds one of a friend no longer to be seen in the body. Yet in the popular religion of his country, what could be more in conformity with the fetish-theory than the practice of making temporary hollow clay idols by tens of thousands, which receive no veneration for themselves, and only become objects of worship when the officiating brahman has invited the deity to dwell in the image, performing the ceremony of the "adhivasa" or inhabitation, after which he puts in the eyes and the "prana," i. c, breath, life, or soul.2

Nowhere, perhaps, in the wide history of religion, can we find definitions more full and absolute of the theory of deities actually animating their images, than in those passages from early Christian writers which describe the nature and operation of the heathen idols. Arnobius introduces the heathen as declaring that it is not the bronze or gold and silver material they consider to be gods, but they worship in them those beings which sacred dedication introduces, and causes to inhabit the artificial images.3 Augustine cites as follows the opinions attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. This Egyptian, he tells us, considers some gods as made by the highest Deity, and some by men; "he asserts the visible and tangible images to be as it were bodies of

1 Cash-en, 'Finn. Myth.' p. 193, Se Bastinn, 'Psych.' p. 34, 208, 'Oestl. Asicn,' vol. iii. p. 293, 486. See 'Journ. Ind. Archip.' vol. ii. p. 350 (Chinese.)

1 Max Miiller, 'Chips,' vol. i. p. xvii. ; Ward, 'Hindoos,' vol. i. p. 198, vol. ii. p. xxxv. 164, 234, 292, 485. 3 Arnobius Adversua Gcntcs, vi. 17-19.

gods, for there are within them certain invited spirits, of some avail for doing harm, or for fulfilling certain desires of those who pay them divine honours and rites of worship. By a certain art to connect these invisible spirits with visible objects of corporeal matter, that such may be as it were animated bodies, effigies dedicate and subservient to the spirits—this is what he calls making gods, and men have received this great and wondrous power." And further, this Trismegistus is made to speak of "statues animated with sense and full of spirit, doing so great things; statues prescient of the future, and predicting it by lots, by priests, by dreams, and by many other ways."1 This idea, as accepted by the early Christians themselves, with the qualification that the spiritual beings inhabiting the idols were not beneficent deities but devils, is explicitly stated by Minucius Felix, in a passage in the 'Octavius,' which gives an instructive account of the animistic philosophy of Christianity towards the beginning of the third century: "Thus these impure spirits or demons, as shown by the magi, by the philosophers, and by Plato, are concealed by consecration in statues and images, and by their afflatus obtain the authority as of a present deity when at times they inspire priests, inhabit temples, occasionally animate the filaments of the entrails, govern the flight of birds, guide the falling of lots, give oracles enveloped in many falsehoods . . . also secretly creeping into (men's) bodies as thin spirits, they feign diseases, terrify minds, distort limbs, in order to compel men to their worship; that fattening on the steam of altars or their offered victims from the flocks, they may seem to have cured the ailments which they had constrained. And these are the madmen whom ye see rush forth into

1 Augustinus 'Do Civ. Dei,' viii. 23: "at ille visibilia et contrectabilia simulacra, vclut corpora deorum esse asscrit; inesse autcm his quosdam

spiritus invitatos, etc Hos ergo spiritus invisibles per artem

quondam visibilibus rebus corporalis materia; copularo, ut sint quasi animata corpora, illis spiritibus dicata et subdita simulacra, etc." See also Tertullianus De Spectaculis xii. : "In mortuorum autcm idolis do;nionia conassistant, etc."

public places; and the very priests without the temple thus go mad, thus rave, thus whirl about. . . . All these things most of you know, how the very demons confess of themselves, so often as they are expelled by us from the patient's bodies with torments of word and fires of prayer. Saturn himself, and Serapis, and Jupiter, and whatsoever demons ye worship, overcome by pain declare what they are ; nor surely do they lie concerning their iniquity, above all when several of you are present. Believe these witnesses, confessing the truth of themselves, that they are demons. For adjured by the true and only God, they shudder reluctant in the wretched bodies; and either they issue forth at once, or vanish gradually, according as the faith of the patient aids, or the • grace of the curer favours." 1

The strangeness with which such words now fall upon our ears is full of significance. It is one symptom of that vast quiet change which has come over animistic philosophy in the modern educated world. Whole orders of spiritual beings, worshipped in polytheistic religion, and degraded in early Christendom to real but evil demons, have since passed from objective to subjective existence, have faded from the Spiritual into the Ideal. By the operation of similar intellectual changes, the general theory of spiritembodiment, having fulfilled the great work it had for ages to do in religion and philosophy, has now dwindled within the limits of the educated world to near its vanishing-point. The doctrines of Disease-possession and Oracle-possession, once integral parts of the higher philosophy, and still maintaining a vigorous existence in the lower culture, seem to be dying out within the influence of the higher into dogmatic survival, conscious metaphor, and popular superstition. The doctrine of spirit-embodiment in objects, Fetishism, now scarcely appears outside barbaric regions,

1 Marcus Minucius Felix, Octavius, cap. xxvii. : "Isti igitur impuri spiritus, (litmoncs, ut ostensum a magis, a philosophis, ct a Platone sub statuia et imaginibus consccrati delitescunt, etc."

« PreviousContinue »