Page images
PDF
EPUB

sense of the permanence of the ancient doctrine may be gained from accounts of the state of public opinion in Europe, from Greece and Italy to France, where within the last century derangement and hysteria were still popularly ascribed to possession and treated by exorcism, just as in the dark ages.1 In the year 1861, at Morzine, at the south of the Lake of Geneva, there might be seen in full fury an epidemic of diabolical possession worthy of a Red Indian settlement or a negro kingdom of West Africa, an outburst which the exorcisms of a superstitious priest had so aggravated that there were a hundred and ten raving demoniacs in that single village.' The following is from a letter written in 1862 by Mgr. Anouilh, a French missionarybishop in China. "Le croiriez-vous? dix villages se sont convertis. Le diable est furieux et fait les cent coups. Il y a eu, pendant les quinze jours que je viens de prêcher, cinq ou six possessions. Nos catéchumènes avec l'eau bénite chassent les diables, guérissent les malades. J'ai vu des choses merveilleuses. Le diable m'est d'un grand secours pour convertir les païens. Comme au temps de NotreSeigneur, quoique père du mensonge, il ne peut s'empêcher de dire la vérité. Voyez ce pauvre possédé faisant mille contorsions et disant à grands cris: 'Pourquoi prêches-tu la vraie religion? Je ne puis souffrir que tu m'enlèves mes disciples.'—' Comment t'appelles-tu?' lui demande le catéchiste. Après quelques refus : 'Je suis l'envoyé de Lucifer' —'Combien êtes-vous?'—'Nous sommes vingt-deux.' L'eau bénite et le signe de la croix ont délivré ce possédé."' To conclude the series with a modern spiritualistic instance,

vol. ii. p. 137, 355; Sprenger, 'Malleus Mnleficarum,' part ii.; Calmet, 'Dissertation,' vol. i. ch. xxiv.; Horst, 'Zaubcr-Bibliothek ;' Bastian, 'Mensch,' vol. ii. p. 557, &c.; 'Psychologie,' p. 115, etc.; Voltaire, 1 Questions sur l'Encyclopédie,' art, 'Superstition'; * Encyclopaedia Britannica,' art. 'Possession.' • 1 See Maury, 'Magie,' etc. part ii. (ch. ii.

* A. Constans, 'ReL sur une Epidémie d'Hystéro-Démonopathie, en 1MI. ' Snded. Paris, 1863. For descriptions of such outbreaks, among the North American Indians, see Le Jeune in 'Rel. des Jés. dans la Nouvelle France," 1639; Brinton, p. 275, and in Guinea, see J. L. Wilson, 'Western Africa,' p. 211.

* Gaume, 'L'Eau Bénite au Dix-Neuvième Siècle,' 3rd ed. Paris, 1866, p. 353.

one of those where the mediums feel themselves entered and acted through by a spirit other than their own soul. The Rev. Mr. West of Philadelphia describes how a certain possessed medium went through the sword exercise, and fell down senseless; when he came to himself again, the spirit within him declared itself to be the soul of a deceased ancestor of the minister's, who had fought and died in the American War.1 We in England now hardly hear of demoniacal possession except as a historical doctrine of divines. We have discarded from religious services the solemn ceremony of casting out devils from the bodies of the possessed, a rite to this day officially retained in the Rituals of the Greek and Roman Churches. Cases of diabolical influence alleged from time to time among ourselves are little noticed except by newspaper paragraphs on superstition and imposture. If, however, we desire to understand the doctrine of possession, its origin and influence in the world, we must look beyond countries where public opinion has passed into this stage, and must study the demoniac theory as it still prevails in lower and lowest levels of culture.

It has to be thoroughly understood that the changed aspect of the subject in modern opinion is not due to disappearance of the actual manifestations which early philosophy attributed to demoniacal influence. Hysteria and epilepsy, delirium and mania, and such like bodily and mental derangement, still exist. Not only do they still exist, but among the lower races, and in superstitious districts among the higher, they are still explained and treated as of old. It is not too much to assert that, the doctrine of demoniacal possession is kept up, substantially the same theory to account for substantially the same facts, by half the human race, who thus stand as consistent representatives of their forefathers back into primitive antiquity. It is in the civilized world, under the influence of the medical doctrines which have been developing since classic times, that the early animistic theory of these morbid phenomena has been

1 West in 'SpiritualTelegraph,' cited by Bastinn.

gradually superseded by views more in accordance with modern science, to the great gain of our health and happiness. The transition which has taken place in the famous insane colony of Gheel in Belgium is typical. In old days, the lunatics were carried there in crowds to be exorcised from the demons at the church of St. Dymphna; to Gheel they still go, but the physician reigns in the stead of the exorcist. Yet wherever, in times old or new, we find demoniacal influences brought forward to account for affections which scientific physicians now explain on a different principle, we must be careful not to misjudge the ancient doctrine and its place in history. As belonging to the lower culture it is a perfectly rational philosophical theory to account for certain pathological facts. But just as mechanical astronomy gradually superseded the animistic astronomy of the lower races, so biological pathology gradually supersedes animistic pathology, the immediate operation of personal spiritual beings in both cases giving place to the operation of natural processes.

We now pass to the consideration of another great branch of the lower religion of the world, a development of the same principles of spiritual operation with which we have become familial- in the study of the possession-theory. This is the doctrine of Fetishism. Centuries ago, the Portuguese in West Africa, noticing the veneration paid by the negroes to certain objects, such as trees, fish, plants, idols, pebbles, claws of beasts, sticks, and so forth, very fairly compared these objects to the amulets or talismans with which they were themselves familiar, and called them feitigo or "charm," a word derived from Latin factitius, in the sense of "magically artful." Modern French and English adopted this word from the Portuguese as fetiche, fetish, although curiously enough both languages had already possessed the word for ages in a different sense, Old French faitis, "well made, beautiful," which Old English adopted asfetys, "well made, neat." It occurs in the commonest of all quotations from Chaucer:

"And Frensch sclio ppak ful fairc unifetysly,
Aftur the scolo of Stratford atte Bowe,
For French of Parys -was to hire unknowe."

The President de Brosses, a most original thinker of the last century, struck by the descriptions of the African worship of material and terrestrial objects, introduced the word Fetichisme as a general descriptive term,1 and since then it has obtained great currency by Comte's use of it to denote a general theory of primitive religion, in which external objects are regarded as animated by a life analogous to man's. It st ems to me, however, more convenient to use the word Animism for the doctrine of spirits in general, and to confine the word Fetishism to that subordinate department which it properly belongs to, namely, the doctrine of spirits embodied in, or attached to, or conveying influence through, certain material objects. Fetishism will be taken as ineluding the worship of "stocks and stones," and thence it passes by an imperceptible gradation into Idolatry.

Any object whatsoever may be a fetish. Of course, among the endless multitude of objects, not as we should say physically active, but to which ignorant men ascribe mysterious power, we are not to apply indiscriminately the idea of their being considered vessels or vehicles or instruments of spiritual beings. They may be mere signs or tokens set up to represent ideal notions of ideal beings, as fingers or sticks are set up to represent numbers. Or they may be symbolic charms working by imagined conveyance of their special properties, as an iron ring to give firmness, or a kite's foot to give swift flight. Or they may be merely regarded in some undefined way as wondrous ornaments or curiosities. The tendency runs through all human nature to collect and admire objects remarkable in beauty, form, quality, or scarceness. The shelves of ethnological museums show heaps of the objects which the lower races treasure up

1 (C. de Brosses.) 'Du culte des dicux fetiches ou Parallele do l'aucienne Religion de l'Egypte avec la religion actuello de Nigritie.' 1760. [De Brosses supposed the word filiche connected with chose fie, fatum.1

and hang about their persons—teeth and claws, roots and berries, shells and stones, and the like. Now fetishes are in great measure selected from among such things as these, and the principle of their attraction for savage minds is clearly the same which still guides the superstitious peasant in collecting curious trifles " for luck." The principle is one which retains its force in far higher ranges of culture than the peasant's. Compare the Ostyak's veneration for any peculiar little stone he has picked up, with the Chinese love of collecting curious varieties of tortoise-shell, or an oldfashioned English conchologist's delight in a reversed shell. The turn of mind which in a Gold-Coast negro would manifest itself in a museum of monstrous and most potent fetishes, might impel an Englishman to collect scarce postage-stamps or queer walking-sticks. In the love of abnormal curiosities there shows itself a craving for the marvellous, an endeavour to get free from the tedious sense of law and uniformity in nature. As to the lower races, were evidence more plentiful as to the exact meaning they attach to objects which they treat with mysterious respect, it would very likely appear more often and more certainly than it does now, that these objects seem to them connected with the action of spirits, so as to be, in the strict sense in which the word is here used, real fetishes. But this must not be taken for granted. To class an object as a fetish, demands explicit statement that a spirit is considered as embodied in it or acting through it or communicating by it, or at least that the people it belongs to do habitually think this of such objects; or it must be shown that the object is treated as having personal consciousness and power, is talked with, worshipped, prayed to, sacrificed to, petted or ill-treated with reference to its past or future behaviour to its votaries. In the instances now selected, it will be seen that in one way or another they more or less satisfy such conditions. In investigating the exact significance of fetishes in use among men, savage or more civilized, the peculiar difficulty is to know whether the effect of the object is

VOL. II. h

« PreviousContinue »