« PreviousContinue »
to climb the precipice again, two pursuing infant spirits pulled her back, and she only escaped by flinging the roots at them, which they stopped to eat, while she scaled the rock by help of the akeake-stem, till she reached the earth and flew back to where she had left her body. On returning to life she found herself in darkness, and what had passed seemed as a dream, till she perceived that she was deserted and the door fast, and concluded that she had really died and come to life again. When morning dawned, a faint light entered by the crevices of the shut-up house, and she saw on the floor near her a calabash partly full of red ochre mixed with water; this she eagerly drained to the dregs, and then feeling a little stronger, succeeded in opening the door and crawling down to the beach, where her friends soon after found her. Those who listened to her tale firmly believed the reality of her adventures, but it was much regretted that she had not brought back at least one of the huge sweet-potatoes, as evidence of her visit to the land of spirits.' Races of North Asia’ and West Africa3 have in like manner their explorers of the world beyond the
Classic literature continues the series. Lucian's graphic tales represent the belief of their age, if not of their author. His Eukrates looks down the chasm into Hades, and sees the dead reclining on the asphodel in companies of kinsfolk and friends; among them he recognizes Sokrates with his bald head and pot-belly, and also his own father, dressed in the clothes he was buried in. Then Kleodemos caps this story with his own, how when he was sick, on the seventh day when his fever was burning like a furnace, everyone left him, and the doors were shut. Then there stood before him an all-beauteous youth in a white garment, who led him through a chasm into Hades, as he knew by seeing Tantalos and Tityos and Sisyphos; and bringing him to the court of judgment, where were Aiakos and the Fates and the Erinyes, the youth set him before Pluto the King, who sat reading the names of those whose day of life was over. But Pluto was angry, and said to the guide, “ This one's thread is not run out, that he should depart, but bring me Demylos the coppersmith, for he is living beyond the spindle.” So Kleodemos came back to himself free from his fever, and announced that Demylos, who was a sick neighbour, would die ; and accordingly a little while after there was heard the cry of the mourners wailing for him." Plutarch's stories, told more seriously, are yet one in type with the mocking Lucian's. The wicked, pleasure-seeking Thespesios lies three days as dead, and revives to tell his vision of the world below. One Antyllos was sick, and seemed to the doctors to retain no trace of life; till, waking without sign of insanity, he declared that he had been indeed dead, but was ordered back to life, those who brought him being severely chidden by their lord, and sent to fetch Nikander instead, a well-known currier, who was accordingly taken with a fever, and died on the third day. Such stories, old and new, are current among the Hindus at this day. A certain man's soul, for instance, is carried to the realm of Yama by mistake for a namesake, and is sent back in haste to regain his body before it is burnt; but in the meanwhile he has a glimpse of the hideous punishinents of the wicked, and of the glorious life of those who had mortified the flesh on earth, and of suttee-widows now sitting in happiness by their husbands. Mutatis mutandis these tales reappear in Christian mythology, as when Gregory the Great records that a certain nobleman named Stephen died, who was taken to the region of Hades, and saw many things he had heard before but not believed; but when he was set before the ruler there presiding, he sent him back, saying that it was this Stephen's neighbourStephen the smith—whom he had commanded to be brought; and accordingly the one returned to life, and the other died.
1 Shortland, Traditions of New Zealand,' p. 150. The idea in this Maori story, that the living who tastes the food of the dead may not return, appears again among the Sioux of North America. Ahak-tah ('Male Elk') seems to die, but after two days comes down from the funeral-scaffold where his body bad been laid, and tells his tale. His soul had travelled by the path of braves through the beautiful land of great trees and gay loud-singing birds, till he reached the river, and saw the homes of the spirits of his forefathers on the shore beyond. Swimming across, he entered the nearest house, where he found his uncle sitting in a corner. Very hungry, he noticed some wild rice n a bark dish. “I asked my uncle for some rice to eat, but he did not give it to me. Had I eaten of the food for spirits, I never should have returned to earth.” Eastman, 'Dacotah,' p. 177. The analogy of this with the Homeric episode of the lotus-eaters may be deep.
2 Castrén, “Finn. Myth,' p. 139, etc. 3 Bosman, “Guinea,' Letter 19, in Pinkerton, vol. xvi. p. 501 ; Burton, Dahome,' vol. ii. p. 158. For modern visits to hell and heaven by Christianized negro visionaries in America, see Macrae, 'Americans at Home,' vol. ii. p. 91.
i Lucian. Philopseudes, pp. 21-5.
Plutarch. De Sera Numinis Vindicta, xxii.; and in Euseb. Præp. Evang. xi. 36.
The thought of human visitors revealing the mysteries of the world beyond the grave, which indeed took no slight hold on Christian belief, attached itself in a remarkable way to the doctrine of Christ's descent into Hades. This dogma had so strongly established itself by the end of the 4th century, that Augustine could ask, “Quis nisi infidelis negaverit fuisse apud inferos Christum ? ”S A distinct statement of the dogma was afterwards introduced into the symbol commonly called the “ Apostles' Creed :" “Descendit ad inferos," "Descendit ad inferna," "He descended into hell." 4 The Descent into Hades, which had the theological use of providing a theory of salvation applicable to the saints of the old covenant, imprisoned in the limbo of the fathers, is narrated in full in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, and is made there to rest upon a legend which belongs to the present group of human visits to the other world. It is related that two sons of Simeon, named Charinus and Leucius, rose from their tombs at the Resurrection, and went about silently and prayerfully among men, till Annas and Caiaphus brought them into the synagogue, and charged them to tell of their raising from the dead. Then, making the sign of the cross upon their tongues, the two asked for parchment and wrote their record. They had been set with all their fathers in the depths of Hades, when on a sudden there appeared the colour of the sun like gold, and a purple royal light shining on them; then the patriarchs and prophets, from Adam to Simeon and John the Baptist, rejoicing proclaimed the coming of the light and the fulfilment of the prophecies ; Satan and Hades wrangled in strife together; in vain the brazen gates were shut with their iron bars, for the summons came to open the gates that the king of glory may come in, who hath broken the gates of brass and cut the bars of iron asunder; then the mighty Lord broke the fetters and visited them who sat in darkness and the shadow of death; Adam and his righteous children were delivered from Hades, and led into the glorious grace of Paradise.
1 Ward, 'Hindoos,' vol. ii. p. 63.
* See Pearson, ‘Exposition of the Creed;' Bingham, 'Ant. Chr. Ch.' book x. ch. iii. Art. iii. of the Church of England was reduced to its present state by Archbp. Parker's revision.
Dante, elaborating in the 'Divina Commedia' the conceptions of paradise, purgatory, and hell familiar to the actual belief of his age, describes them once more in the guise of a living visitor to the land of the dead. Echoes in mediæval legend of such exploring expeditions to the world below still linger faintly in the popular belief of Europe. It has been thus with St. Patrick's Purgatory, the cavern in the island of Lough Derg, in the county Donegal, which even in the seventeenth century O'Sullevan could describe first and foremost in his Catholic History' as “the greatest of all memorable things of Ireland.” Mediæval visits to the other world were often made in the spirit. But
· Codex Apocr. N. T. Evang. Nicod. ed. Giles. "Apocryphal Gospels,' etc. tr. by A. Walker; 'Gospel of Nicodemus.' The Greek and Latin texts differ much.
The following details mostly from T. Wright, "St. Patrick's Purgatory' (an elaborate critical dissertation on the medieval legends of visits to the other world).
like Ulysses, Wainamoinen, and Dante, men could here make the journey in body, as did Sir Owain and the monk Gilbert. When the pilgrim had spent fifteen days in prayer and fasting in the church, and had been led with litanies and sprinkling of holy water to the entrance of the purgatory, and the last warnings of the monks had failed to turn him from the venture, the door was closed upon him, and if found next morning, he could tell the events of his awful journey–how he crossed the narrow bridge that spans the river of death, how he saw the hideous torments of hell, and approached the joys of paradise. Sir Owain, one of King Stephen's knights, went thither in penance for his life of violence and rapine, and this was one of the scenes he beheld in purgatory
" There come develes other mony mo,
And badde the knygth with hem to go,
ther men and wymmen also
Spare,' they cryde, 'a lytylle stounde." The develes wolde hem not spare: To hem peyne they thowgte yare.”