Page images

it all away, for the meat jumped off the spit into the fire, and a piece of cotton was found in the ears, which the wise man decided to be a piece of the ci-devant Turk's turban.' Such cases, however, are exceptional. Metempsychosis never became one of the great doctrines of Christendom, though not unknown in mediaeval scholasticism, and though maintained by an eccentric theologian here and there into our own times. It would be strange were it not so. It is in the very nature of the development of religion that speculations of the earlier culture should dwindle to survivals, yet be again and again revived. Doctrines transmigrate, if souls do not; and metempsychosis, wandering along the course of ages, came at last to animate the souls of Fourier and Soame Jenyns.

Thus we have traced the ancient theory of metempsychosis in stage after stage of the world's civilization, scattered among the native races of America and Africa, established in old Egypt, elaborated by the Hindu mind into its great system of ethical philosophy, reviving and failing through classic and medieval Europe, and lingering at last in the modern world as an intellectual crotchet, of little account but to the ethnographer who notes it down as an item of

St. Clair and Brophy, Bulgaria,' p. 57. Compare the tenets of the Russian sect of Dukhobortzi, in Haxthausen, Russian Empire,' vol. i. p. 288, etc.

2 Since the first publication of the above remark, M. Louis Figuier has supplied a perfect modern instance by his book, entitled 'Le Lendemain de la Mort,' translated into English as The Day after Death : Our Future Life according to Science. His attempt to revive the ancient belief, and to connect it with the evolution-theory of modern naturalists, is carried out with more than Buddhist elaborateness. Boly is the habitat of soul, which

goes out when a man dies, as one forsakes a burning house. In the course of development, a soul may migrate through bodies stage after stage, zoophyte and oyster, grasshopper and eagle, crocodile and dog, till it arrives at man, thence ascending to become one of the superhuman beings or angels who dwell in the planetary ether, and thence to a still higher state, the secret of whose nature M. Figuier does not endeavour to penetrate, “because our means of investigation fail at this point." The ultimate destiny of the more glorified being is the Sun ; the pure spirits who form its mass of burning gases, pour out germs and life to start the course of planetary existence. (Note to 2nd edition.)

evidence for his continuity of culture. What, we may well ask, was the original cause and motive of the doctrine of transmigration ? Something may be said in answer, though not at all enough for full explanation. The theory that ancestral souls return, thus imparting their own likeness of mind and body to their descendants and kindred, has been already mentioned and commended as in itself a very reasonable and philosophical hypothesis, accounting for the phenomenon of family likeness going on from generation to generation. But why should it have been imagined that men's souls could inhabit the bodies of beasts and birds ? As has been already pointed out, savages not unreasonably consider the lower animals to have souls like their own, and this state of mind makes the idea of a man's soul transmigrating into a beast's body at least seem possible. But it does not actually suggest the idea. The view stated in a previous chapter as to the origin of the conception of soul in general, may perhaps help us here. As it seems that the first conception of souls may have been that of the souls of men, this being afterwards extended by analogy to the souls of animals, plants, etc., so it may seem that the original idea of transmigration was the straightforward and reasonable one of human souls being re-born in new human bodies, where they are recognized by family likenesses in successive generations. This notion may have been afterwards extended to take in re-birth in bodies of animals, etc. There are some well-marked savage ideas which will fit with such a course of thought. The half-human features and actions and characters of animals are watched with wondering sympathy by the savage, as by the child. The beast is the very incarnation of familiar qualities of man; and such names as lion, bear, fox, owl, parrot, viper, worm, when we apply them as epithets to men, condense into a word some leading feature of a human life. Consistently with this, we see in looking over details of savage transmigration that the creatures often have an evident fitness to the character of the human beings whose souls are to pass into them, so that the savage


[ocr errors]

philosopher's fancy of transferred souls offered something like an explanation of the likeness between beast and man. This comes more clearly into view among the more civilized races who have worked out the idea of transmigration into ethical schemes of retribution, where the appropriateness of the creatures chosen is almost as manifest to the modern critic as it could have been to the ancient believer. Perhaps the most graphic restoration of the state of mind in which the theological doctrine of metempsychosis was worked out in long-past ages, may be found in the writings of a modern theologian whose spiritualism often follows to the extreme the intellectual tracks of the lower races. In the spiritual world, says Emanuel Swedenborg, such persons as have opened themselves for the admission of the devil and acquired the nature of beasts, becoming foxes in cunning, etc., appear also at a distance in the proper shape of such beasts as they represent in disposition. Lastly, one of the most notable points about the theory of transmigration is its close bearing upon a thought which lies very deep in the history of philosophy, the development-theory of organic life in successive stages.

An elevation from the vegetable to the lower animal life, and thence onward through the higher animals to man, to say nothing of superhuman beings, does not here require even a succession of distinct individuals, but is brought by the theory of metempsychosis within the compass of the successive vegetable and animal lives of a single being.

Here a few words may be said on a subject which cannot be left out of sight, connecting as it does the two great branches of the doctrine of future existence, but which it is difficult to handle in definite terms, and much more to trace historically by comparing the views of lower and

I Swedenborg, “The True Christian Religion,' 13. ('ompare the notion attributed to the followers of Basilides the Gnostic, of men whose souls are affected by spirits or dispositions as of wolf, ape, lion, or bear, wherefore their souls bear the properties of these, and imitate their deeds (Clem. Alex. Stroniat. ii. c. 20).

higher races. This is the doctrine of a bodily renewal or resurrection. To the philosophy of the lower races it is by no means necessary that the surviving soul should be provided with a new body, for it seems itself to be of a filmy or vaporous corporeal nature, capable of carrying on an independent existence like other corporeal creatures. Savage descriptions of the next world are often such absolute copies of this, that it is scarcely possible to say whether the dead are or are not thought of as having bodies like the living; and a few pieces of evidence of this class are hardly enough to prove the lower races to hold original and distinct doctrines of corporeal resurrection. Again, attention must be given to the practice, so common among low and high races, of preserving relics of the dead, from mere morsels of bone up to whole mummified bodies. It is well known that the departed soul is often thought apt to revisit the remains of the body. But how far the preservation of these remains may be connected with an idea of bodily resurrection, whether among the native races of America, or in ancient Egypt, or elsewhere, is a problem for which also the evidence available does not seem sufficient. In discussing the closely allied doctrine of metempsychosis, I have described the theory of the soul's transmigration into a new human body as asserting in fact an earthly resurrection. From the same point of view, a bodily resurrection in Heaven or Hades is technically a transmigration of the soul. This is plain among the higher races, in whose religion these doctrines take at once clearer definition and more practical import. There are some distinct mentions of bodily resurrection in the Rig Veda: the dead is spoken of as glorified, putting on his body (tanu); and it is even promised that the pious man shall be born in

See J. G. Müller, ‘Amer. Urrel.' p. 208 (C'aribs); but compare Rochefort, p. 429. Steller, ‘Kamtschatka,' p. 269 ; Castrén, ‘Finnische Mythologie, *

p. 119.

2 See for American evidence Brinton, Myths of New World,' p. 254, etc. For Egyptian evidence Birch's tr. of ‘ Book of Dead' in Bunsen's 'Egypt.' vol. vi. ; Wilkinson, etc.

the next world with his entire body (sarvatanu). In Brahminism and Buddhism, the re-birthis of souls in bodies to inhabit heavens and hells are simply included as particular cases of transmigration. The question of an old Persian doctrine of resurrection, thought by some to be related to the late Jewish doctrine, is obscure. In early Christianity, the conception of bodily resurrection is developed with especial strength and fulness in the Pauline doctrine. For an explicit interpretation of this doctrine, such as commended itself to the minds of later theologians, it is instructive to cite the remarkable passage of Origen, where he speaks of

corporeal matter, of which matter, in whatever quality placed, the soul always has use, now indeed carnal, but afterwards indeed subtler and purer, which is called spiritual.”

Passing from these metaphysical doctrines of civilized theology, we now take up a series of beliefs higher in practical moment, and more clearly conceived in savage thought. There may well have been, and there may still be, low races destitute of any belief in a Future State. Nevertheless, prudent ethnographers must often doubt accounts of such, for this reason, that the savage who declares that the dead live no more, may merely mean to say that they are dead. When the East African is asked what becomes of his buried ancestors, the “old people," he can reply that “they are ended,” yet at the same time he fully admits that their ghosts survive. In an account of the religious ideas of the Zulus, taken down from a native, it is explicitly stated that Unkulunkulu the Old-Old-One said that people “were to die and never rise again,” and that he allowed them “ to die and rise no more." 4 Knowing so thoroughly as we now do the

| Aryan evidence in ‘Rig Veda,' x. 14, 8; xi. 1, 8; Manu, xii, 16-22; Max Müller, “Todtenbestattung,' pp. xii. xiv. ; 'Chips,' vol. i. p. 47; Muir in 'Journ. As. Soc. Bengal,' vol. i. 1865, p. 306 ; Ward, “Hindoos,' vol. ii. pp. 332, 347, 357 ; Hang, “Parsees,' p. 266 ; see Alger, ‘Future Life.'

2 Origen, De. Princip. ii. 3, 2 : “materiæ corporalis, cujus materiæ anima usum semper habet, in qualibet qualitate positæ, nunc quidem carnali, postmodum vero subtiliori et puriori, quæ spiritalis appellatur.” 3 Burton, Central Africa,' vol. ii. p. 345.

Callaway, “Rel. of Amazulu,' p. 84.


« PreviousContinue »