« PreviousContinue »
when wantonly cut down.1 A curious and suggestive description bearing on this point is given in Friar Roman Pane's account of the religion of the Antilles islanders, drawn up by order of Columbus. Certain trees, he declares, were believed to send for sorcerers, to whom they gave orders how to shape their trunks into idols, and these "cemi " being then installed in temple-huts, received prayer and inspired their priests with oracles.3 Africa shows as well-defined examples. The negro woodman cuts down certain trees in fear of the anger of their inhabiting demons, but he finds his way out of the difficulty by a sacrifice to his own good genius, or, when he is giving the first cuts to the great asorin-tree, and its indwelling spirit comes out to chase him, he cunningly drops palm-oil on the ground, and makes his escape while the spirit is licking it up.3 A negro was once worshipping a tree with an offering of food, when some one pointed out to him that the tree did not eat; the negro answered, "O the tree is not fetish, the fetish is R spirit and invisible, but he has descended into this tree. Certainly he cannot devour our bodily food, but he enjoys its spiritual part and leaves behind the bodily which we see."' Tree-worship is largely prevalent in Africa, and much of it may be of this fully animistic kind; as where in Whidah Bosnian says that "the trees, which are the gods of the second rank of this country, are only prayed to and presented with offerings in time of sickness, more especially fevers, in order to restore the patients to health;"5 or where in Abyssinia the Gallas made pilgrimage from all quarters to their sacred tree Wodanabe on the banks of the Hawash, worshipping it and praying to it for riches, health, life, and every blessing.6
1 Bastian, 'Der Baum in vergleichender Ethnologic,' in Lazarus and SteinthaFs 'Zeitscbrift fur Vblkerpsychologic,' etc. vol. v. 1868. ■ Chr. Colombo, ch. xix. ; and in Pinkerton, vol. xii. p. 87.
3 Burton, 'W. ftW. fr. W. Afr.' pp.205, 243.
4 Waitz, vol. ii. p. 188.
* Bosman, letter 19, and in Pinkerton, vol. xvi. p. 500. 6 Krapf, 'E. Afr.' p. 77; Prichard, 'N. H. of Man,' p. 290 ; Waitz, vol. ii. p. 518. See also Merolla, 'Congo,' in Pinkerton, vol. xvi. p. 236.
The position of tree-worship in Southern Asia in relation to Buddhism is of particular interest. To this day there are districts of this region, Buddhist or under strong Buddhist influence, where tree-worship is still displayed with absolute clearness of theory and practice. Here in legend a dryad is a being capable of marriage with a human hero, while in actual fact a tree-deity is considered human enough to be pleased with dolls set up to swing in the branches. The Talein of Birmah, before they cut down a tree, offer prayers to its "kaluk " (i.q., "kelah "), its inhabiting spirit or soul. The Siamese offer cakes and rice to the takhientree before they fell it, and believe the inhabiting nymphs or mothers of trees to pass into guardian-spirits of the boats built of their wood, so that they actually go on offering sacrifice to them in this their new condition.1 These people have indeed little to learn from any other race, however savage, of the principles of the lower animism. The question now arises, did such tree-worship belong to the local religions among which Buddhism established itself? There is strong evidence that this was the case. Philosophic Buddhism, as known to us by its theological books, does not include trees among sentient beings possessing mind, but it goes so far as to acknowledge the existence of the "dewa" or genius of a tree. Buddha, it is related, told a story of a tree crying out to the brahman carpenter who was going to cut it down, " I have a word to say, hear my word !" but then the teacher goes on to explain that it was not really the tree that spoke, but a dewa dwelling in it. Buddha himself was a tree-genius forty-three times in the course of his transmigrations. Legend says that during one such existence, a certain brahman used to pray for protection to the tree which Buddha was attached to; but the transformed teacher reproved the tree-worshipper for thus
1 Bastian, 'H Auien,' vol. ii. pp. 457, 461, vol. iii. pp. 187, 251, 289, 497. For details of tree-worship from other Asiatic districts, seo Ainsworth, 'Yezidis,' in 'Tr. Eth. Soc' vol. i. p. 23 ; Jno. Wilson, 'Parsi Religion,* p. 262.
addressing himself to a senseless thing, which hears and knows nothing.1 As for the famous Bo tree, its miraculous glories are not confined to the ancient Buddhist annals; for its surviving descendant, grown from the branch of the parent tree sent by King Asoka from India to Ceylon in the 3rd century B.C., to this day receives the worship of the pilgrims who come by thousands to do it honour, and offer prayer before it. Beyond these hints and relics of the old worship, however, Mr. Fergusson's recent investigations, published in his "Tree and Serpent Worship," have brought to light an ancient state of things which the orthodox Buddhist literature gives little idea of. It appears from the sculptures of the Sauchi tope in Central India, that in the Buddhism of about the 1st century A.d., sacred trees had no small place as objects of authorized worship. It is especially notable that the representatives of indigenous race and religion in India, the Nagas, characterized by their tutelary snakes issuing from their backs between their shoulders and curving over their heads, and other tribes actually drawn as human apes, are seen adoring the divine tree in the midst of unquestionable Buddhist surroundings.' Tree-worship, even now well marked among the indigenous tribes of India, was obviously not abolished on the Buddhist conversion. The new philosophic religion seems to have amalgamated, as new religions ever do, with older native thoughts and rites. And it is quite consistent with the habits of the Buddhist theologians and hagiologists, that when tree-worship was suppressed, they should have slurred over the fact of its former prevalence, and should even have used the recollection of it as a gibe against the hostile Brahmans.
Conceptions like those of the lower races in character, and rivalling them in vivacity, belong to the mythology of Greece and Rome. The classic thought of the tree inhabited by a deity and uttering oracles, is like that of other
1 Hardy, 'Manual of Buddhism,' pp. 100, US.
5 Fergusson, 'Tree and Serpent Worship,' pi. xxiv. xxvi. etc.
whose father, regardless of the hamadryad's entreaties, cut down her ancient trunk, and in himself and in his offspring suffered her dire vengeance.1 The ethnographic student finds a curious interest in transformation-myths like Ovid's, keeping up as they do vestiges of philosophy of archaic type—Daphne turned into the laurel that Apollo honours for her sake, the sorrowing sisters of Phaethon changing into trees, yet still dropping blood and crying for mercy when their shoots are torn.2 Such episodes mediaeval poetry could still adapt, as in the pathless infernal forest whose knotted dusk-leaved trees revealed their human animation to the Florentine when he plucked a twig,
"Allor porsi la mano un poco avante,
or the myrtle to 'which Ruggiero tied his hippogriff, who tugged at the poor trunk till it murmured and oped its mouth, and with doleful voice told that it was Astolfo, enchanted by the wicked Alcina among her other lovers,
"D' entrar o in fera o in fonto o in leg-no o in sasso." 4
If these seem to us now conceits over quaint for beauty, we need not scruple to say so. They are not of Dante and Ariosto, they are sham antiques from classic models. And if even the classic originals have become unpleasing, we need not perhaps reproach ourselves with decline of poetic taste. We have lost something, and the loss has spoiled our appreciation of many an old poetic theme, yet it is not always our sense of the beautiful that has dwindled, but the old animistic philosophy of nature that is gone from us, dissipating from such fancies their meaning, and with
1 Apollon. Rhod. Argonanticn, ii. 476. See "Welcker, 'Griech. GOtterl. vol. iii. p. 57.
2 Ovid. Mctamm. i. 452, ii. 345, xi. 67.
3 Dante, 'Divina Comniedia,' 'Inferno,' canto xiii.
4 Ariosto, 'Orlando Furioso,'canto vi.