The study of archaeological subjects is increasing in interest. Recent disclosures concerning the early condition and history of the human race have directed much attention to these subjects. Man's oral history crystallized in myths and superstitions reflects much light into a past which written history has not penetrated. Mythology is, therefore, a very important branch of anthropological science. Mythology in its broadest definition includes all pagan religious beliefs, commonly called superstitions, and cannot be confined to collections of fables and traditions, which are the folk-lore of peoples. It is the aim of this book to contribute facts to show the homogeneity of man's religious beliefs. Although the New World is the field of research in the present volume, the rudimentary forms of belief are shown to be the same there as elsewhere, and their systematic development is also the same.
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The Origin Of Primitive Superstitions
And Their Development Into The Worship Of Spirits And The Doctrine Of Spiritual Agency Among The Aborigines Of America.
Rushton M. Dorman
The Origin Of Primitive Superstitions
Chapter I. Introductory.
Chapter II. Doctrine Of Spirits.
Chapter III. Doctrine Of Spirits (Continued).
Chapter IV. Fetichistic Superstitions.
Chapter V. Rites And Ceremonies Connected With The Dead.
Chapter VI. Animal-Worship.
Chapter VII. Worship Of Trees And Plants.
Chapter VIII. Worship At Haunted Localities.
Chapter IX. Sabaism.
Chapter X. Animistic Theory Of Meteorology.
Chapter XI. Priestcraft.
The Origin Of Primitive Superstitions , R. M .Dorman
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Cover Design: © Derek R. Audette - Fotolia.com
The study of archaeological subjects is increasing in interest. Recent disclosures concerning the early condition and history of the human race have directed much attention to these subjects. Man's oral history crystallized in myths and superstitions reflects much light into a past which written history has not penetrated. Mythology is, therefore, a very important branch of anthropological science. Mythology in its broadest definition includes all pagan religious beliefs, commonly called superstitions, and cannot be confined to collections of fables and traditions, which are the folk-lore of peoples. It is the aim of this book to contribute facts to show the homogeneity of man's religious beliefs. Although the New World is the field of research in the present volume, the rudimentary forms of belief are shown to be the same there as elsewhere, and their systematic development is also the same. A striking illustration of this fact occurs to the writer, who, while among the negroes of the South, found among that uncultured people the same superstitions that prevailed in Africa, which were also the same as those found among equally uncultured peoples everywhere. The only way to account for their presence among the Southern negroes is to ascribe them to the natural outgrowth of the human mind, everywhere the same in the same stage of progress. Mythologists have studied myths without studying the superstitions which have found expression in the myths. They have exhausted resources in attempts to prove that the higher phases of belief and worship have been the most ancient and have become debased in the ruder forms. Voss endeavors to find in pagan myths a distortion of Hebrew revelations.
Dupuis, with his Sabaistic origin for cults, looks to astronomy for a solution. Abbé Banier finds in mythology " history in poetic dress." Creuzer sees nothing but symbols, and shows much erudition in his attempts to find their hidden meaning. Nearly all mythologists have fixed upon some locality where myths have originated, in the infancy of the human race, and whence they have spread, by transmission or migration, into the rest of the earth. Pococke and Sir William Jones locate their origin in the East; Rudbeck, in the North; Bryant, among the Hebrews. A new departure has been taken, however, in mythological science.
A work of the character of the present volume must necessarily be to a great extent a compilation. I have used great care to give credit to authors cited in this work, but, in order to escape quoting in full, in some cases have made abstracts of passages in such a way as to preserve their sense, without being able, however, to use quotation-marks, on account of such change. In such cases citations always occur, but it may not always be clear where the citation begins and ends. On this account I wish to acknowledge special obligations to the work of H. H. Bancroft on the Native Races of the Pacific Slope, Mr. Spencer's works on Sociology, and Mr. Tylor's Primitive Culture. I will also mention, as being specially full of information on subjects relating to the aboriginal tribes, the works of Mr. Schoolcraft, especially the large work, in six volumes, published at the expense of the United States government, but under his supervision; also the works of Messrs. Squier and Brinton; also Mr. Southey's History of Brazil.
A list of authorities cited in this work might be of some value as a bibliographical manual of the literature of the subject, but would add to the size and cost of this book, and only be superfluous when such exhaustive works as those of Messrs. Ludewig, Field, and Sabin have been published and can easily be obtained by those desiring such a work.
Chicago, February 9, 1881.
The object of this book is to reduce to a system of religious belief that multitude of superstitions that have germinated among uncultured peoples, and many of which remain as survivals in a higher culture, although they are inconsistent with the higher forms of religious belief among which they are found. We hope to trace all superstitions to a common origin. Success in tracing such superstitions to their source, connected with evidence that they have originated in error, or in ignorance of the truth, will certainly prove a benefit to man. The process of discovering these sources is, and always will be, an interesting labor to the anthropologist. The results of such research will certainly prove an interesting chapter in the history of man.
The doctrine of transmigration in the Orient, the animal worship of the Egyptians, the Sabaism of the Persians, are but stages of progress in a religious evolution. The pagoda of the Orient, the pyramid of Egypt, the temple of Greece, are but the representations in art of a superstition that finds its first expression in a more primitive form. The laws of evolution in the spiritual world can be traced with as great precision as in the material world. Much labor has been spent in the study of the laws of man's social progress, and much success has followed such effort. While a progressive movement must be recognized in all social institutions among peoples that have attained any degree of civilization, yet the tendency of all the evidence is to show that the highest development of religious culture among pagan nations has not attained to monotheism; on the contrary, the principles that control all religious thought among primitive peoples will work themselves out in polytheism among those peoples in lower stages of culture, or in pantheism among those of a higher culture.
That sublime definition, " God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth," followed by that definition of the "chief end" of man, which is " to glorify God and enjoy him forever," is the high product of Christianity, which, if maintained in its purity, has nothing to fear from religious evolution.
All primitive religious belief is polytheistic. All savage tribes are full of the terror of invisible spirits which have been liberated by death. These spirits fill all nature, animate and inanimate. They are in the air, the wind, the storm, in the rock, the hill, the vale, in the river, the waterfall. They transmigrate into human beings, animals, plants, and even into inanimate stones, idols, and heavenly bodies, which are supposed to be animate thereafter. Hence originates the worship of ancestors, and also of animals, plants, stones, idols, and the heavenly bodies. Death, the liberator, and burial, have their religious ceremonies, and the tomb becomes the temple. These spirits liberated by death, or by sleep or a comatose condition, which are its equivalents in savage life, are abroad on the earth for a time, and can avenge themselves for past or present wrongs, in disease, which is a form of transmigration. They can appear in dreams, which is a form of prophecy.
Among primitive peoples the cure of diseases was given over to sorcerers, who were supposed to have some control over the evil-disposed spirits. This sorcery developed into the priestcraft of higher cultures, where exorcism of evil spirits still survives as one of the offices of the priests. In our own day those peculiar diseases which have defied medical skill, such as insanity, hysteria, and epilepsy, are relegated in many countries for cure to the priesthood. Even the primitive fetichism survives in the use of charms and amulets, and in the heraldic devices on many national flags and the armorial bearings of many families.
In tracing the origin of superstitions among savage or barbarous peoples, we will become convinced of the error of any writer who has affirmed that this or that people has no religion or religious feeling. Many such authors have contradicted themselves unwittingly by giving a long list of these superstitions; and I have often thought that they merely meant to convey the impression that the savages knew nothing of true religion. Let me say here that in all my studies upon this subject I have not found a people, no matter how savage, who have no religion, if the word is used in its broadest sense to embrace all superstition. I wish to speak of another error found in many books on the aboriginal tribes of America, where it is intimated that the belief in a Supreme Being has existed among them from an early time. No approach to monotheism had been made before the discovery of America by Europeans, and the Great Spirit mentioned in these books is an introduction by Christianity. Among the Northern tribes the Indian word manitou expresses their highest conception of deity. " Their gods were no whit better than themselves," says Mr. Parkman, " and when the Indian borrows from Christianity the idea of a supreme spirit, his tendency is to reduce him to a local habitation and a bodily shape. The idea that the primitive Indian had an Omnipotent Spirit to which he yielded his untutored homage is a dream of poets, rhetoricians, and sentimentalists." Mr. Keating says that the ideas that the Sauks had of the Great Spirit were that he had a human form, was white, and wore a hat. Mr. Dall says, " The Thlinkeets, like all American Indians, do not believe in a Supreme Being. Their feeble polytheism presents no feature worthy the name of such a belief." Mr. Schoolcraft says, " The Dacotahs do not understand the difference between a great Good Spirit and a great Evil Spirit. They think any spirit can do good when it chooses, or evil when it chooses." The Patagonians call God Soychu, but their word for the dead is soychuhet. The word Cou, which has been used for the supreme deity of the Peruvians, originated in a blunder of the Spanish writers. It was a prefix to sacred names, and is the first syllable in Conopa, a stone idol. A close examination makes it evident that the Indians' idea of a Supreme Being was a conception no higher than might have been expected, and when they undertook to contemplate such a Being it became finite, and generally ridiculous. There is no Iroquois word that had such a primitive meaning as Great Spirit, or God. Perrot, after a life spent among the Northern Indians, ignores the idea that they had any conception of such a Being; and Allouez says the same of the tribes about Lake Superior. The tribes of California had no conception whatever of a Supreme Being. Mr. Powers says, " True, nearly all of them now speak of the Old Man Above, but they have the word and nothing more."
The American tribes afford a very favorable opportunity for such an investigation as the present. Without entering into the controversy as to the antiquity of the Red Race, I shall assume that it has occupied the territory of North and South America for a sufficient length of time to have developed its own culture in the varied stages of progress found at the time of the discovery by Columbus. Such an assumption is warranted by the best researches into their antiquity. I shall also assume that during the progress of their culture no interference from without has left any traces of itself. The best Americanists, after much study devoted to this subject, have so decided.
Without discussing the theory of the unity of the human race, I .shall assume that the Red Race, if the unity of human races is true, was separated from the rest of the human family at such an early day that their mythology is indigenous, as was also their language.
All stages of progress are faithfully represented among them, from the most savage root-digger to the most civilized Peruvian. There were tribes of hunters, tribes of fishermen, and tribes of agriculturists. Art is also represented in all its forms. When we arise from a study of their mental characteristics, we cannot help being impressed with the fact that the human mind unfolds itself in all directions with as great regularity as does our physical nature. The growth of the mind is as certain in its order of development as is the growth of the body. It is due to these laws of development that the native of Patagonia has about the same superstitions as has the native of Alaska. The similarity is not due to contact between the several tribes of America. The differences in all the tribes are due to external influences, such as climate, soil, occupation, and also to their different degrees of progress in culture.
Progress in religious culture is coextensive with all other human progress among pagan nations. Pagan religion being the product of the human mind, and emanating from no higher source, will therefore have no great tendency to elevate humanity. Hence religious progress will always be in accord with progress in other directions.
The American savages agree in their religious views with the savages of other continents more than with the civilized peoples of their own. Says Mr. J. G. Müller, "The origin of their religions is found in their human nature. They have not received them from the peoples of the Old World, neither can they be understood if we try to derive them from thence."
Hence the study of comparative mythology can never have scientific value unless it is coextensive with the study of human progress in all directions. Too much effort has heretofore been directed to tracing a derivation of one system of mythological belief from another by contact or migration of myths. The growth of mythologies among all peoples has taken place according to the laws of man's spiritual being. There is therefore a great similarity of religious belief among all peoples in the same progressive stages. Even the similarity of the myths themselves is remarkable in cases where no transmission could possibly have taken place.
I shall not undertake to compare, to any extent, the superstitions of the New World with those of the Old World in this volume, as I intend to reserve that subject for another time; and I shall therefore confine my attention almost exclusively to a comparative study of the religious beliefs and traditions of the aborigines of the New World.
The primitive man fills his world with spirits, and his belief in this spirit life manifests and unfolds itself in all his varied superstitions. The places of the living are haunted with the spirits of the dead.
The Illinois, says Tonti, " fancy that the world is full of spirits, who preside over everything in nature, and that they are good or bad according to their caprice. It is upon this principle that all their foolish superstitions are grounded."
The Hurons, says Charlevoix, believe in an infinite number of subaltern spirits, both good and bad. These are objects of their worship. Everything in nature has its spirit. Lest the spirits of the victims of their torture should remain around the huts of their murderers from a thirst of vengeance, they strike every place with a staff in order to oblige them to depart.
Mr. Greenhalgh relates the same custom among the Iroquois. He says, " Att night we heard a great noise as if ye houses had all fallen, butt itt was only ye inhabitants driving away ye ghosts of ye murthered."'
The Iroquois believe the space between the sky and earth is full of spirits. In every tribe a death from time to time adds another ghost to the many that have gone before. Continually accumulating, they form a surrounding population, usually invisible, but occasionally seen.
The Ottawas all believe in ghosts. " Once," said Mr. Barron, " on approaching in the night a village of Ottawas in confusion, they were all busily engaged in raising noises of the loudest and most inharmonious kind. Upon inquiring, I found that a battle had been lately fought between the Ottawas and Kickapoos, and the object of all this noise was to prevent the ghosts of the dead combatants from entering the village."
The Choctaws also have their ghosts or wandering spirits, which can speak and are visible, but not tangible. Of the belief of the tribes about Hudson's Bay in spirits, Umfreville tells us they were so influenced by these superstitious ideas that they kept large fires burning all night, and slept only in the daytime. They often fired their guns at them. Among the tribes about Lake Superior you will frequently be awakened by the firing of guns. On inquiring for the cause, you will be told they are shooting the dead that trouble them. The Mohawks would never leave their dwellings at night, except in companies, for fear of evil spirits.
In a war expedition, if any warrior fancies that he has seen the spirits of his forefathers, or heard their voices, he can oblige the warriors to retreat. The Ohio tribes were accustomed to bore holes in the coffin over the eyes and mouth to let the spirit pass in and out.
Among the Eskimos, spirits trouble them by seating themselves near them and making faces at them. A meal is often spoiled in this way. They can generally drive them off by blowing their breath at them.
"The natives of Brazil so much dread the manes of their dead, that some of them have been struck with sudden death because of an imaginary apparition of them. They try to appease them by fastening offerings on stakes fixed in the ground for that purpose."
Among the natives of Costa Rica spirits are thought to infest everything. When anything has been lying around for some time, they beat it with sticks the day before they use it, to drive away the spirits. The spirits of the dead are supposed to remain near their bodies for a year.
The natives of the Pacific slope suppose spirits to be present everywhere. On the northwest coast of America, at Stony Point, a burial-place of the Indians was considered to be haunted by them, and no Indian ever ventured there. Their usual superstitious reverence for and fear of anything belonging to the " memelose tillicums," or dead people, prevented their going near the spot.
There was another locality near there, on the Shoal-Water Bay, the former site of an Indian village which had been deserted on account of dead people. The Indians were afraid to go back there on account of them, but if a white man went along they were willing to go, for the dead people were afraid of whites.
The idea they have of their spirits is that they are hovering in the air; yet they are puzzled to know where the spirits of the whites got their wings from. Association of ideas had not led them to this pleasing fancy of cultured minds.
Their superstition about names originates in their belief in spirits. The Indians of the Northwest Territory always change their own names when a relative dies, because they think the spirits of the dead will come if they hear the same name called that they were accustomed to hear before death. For the same reason they avoid speaking the name of the dead person.
They would not let Mr. Swan attend the burial of their dead, because, they said, the spirit of the dead person, and hosts of others hovering around, would see him and be displeased at his presence.
Among many of the tribes their contests with spirits would often appear such realities that in their defence of themselves they would be covered with blood from the bruises received in their violent gesticulations. The spirits would often vanish by turning themselves into stone with a flesh-and-blood interior.
This superstitious fear of places supposed to be haunted by spirits led to the destruction and desertion of dwelling-places, and thus served as a check to material prosperity and became an obstacle to progress.
The Ojibways pulled down the house in which any one had died, and chose another place to live in as far off as possible. Even with the death of an infant the same dread manifested itself Mr. Kohl, while among them, visited a neighbor with a sick child in the morning. When he returned in the evening the lodge had disappeared, and all its inhabitants had departed. This revealed to him the child's death.
It is quite remarkable to discover this same fear of the spirits of harmless children; but its cause is found in their superstitious ideas about disease. The Navajos would never occupy a lodge in which a person had died, but the lodge was burned.
The Seminoles immediately removed from a house where death had occurred, and where the body was buried.
A superstition is universally prevalent among the tribes of the Northwest, that when an abode has been deserted on account of a death, an evil spirit dwells there. The New England tribes would never live in a wigwam in which any person had died, but would immediately pull it down.
The Arkansas burned the lodges in which any one had died.
Among the Abipones of Paraguay, when any one's life is despaired of, the house is immediately forsaken by his fellow-inmates. The custom of destroying and deserting the houses where death has occurred has undoubtedly arisen from a superstitious fear of the spirits of the dead. The same fear impels them to thrust the dead through some aperture other than the ordinary way of exit, and carry them away to a place of burial. By closing securely the hole which is made for the exit of the dead, the spirit, it was thought, would not be able to get back again into the lodge. A very curious custom sprang up in connection with this, by which they could investigate to their satisfaction whether the spirit had made any effort to return: they sprinkled ashes along the way to the place of burial.
The Ojibways believe innumerable spirits are ever near; that the earth teems with these spirits, good and bad. Those of the forests clothe themselves with moss. During a shower of rain thousands of them find shelter in a flower. These spirits assume fairy forms, and also appear by means of transmigration in the varied forms of insect life. The Ojibway detects their tiny voices in the insect's hum. Thousands of them sport on a sunbeam.
Thus the Ojibways have a fairy mythology. Burlington Bay is a great resort for these fairies. Whenever they are cornered they disappear under ground with a rumbling noise. They are thought to have great influence on the lives of the Indians. They attack their poultry and cattle, who soon thereafter die. They throw small stones through the windows of their houses. They dance over the ground like the down of a thistle. The Indians say the fairies are enraged at white people for destroying their forests.
The manifestation of spirits in fairy-like forms is not confined to the mythology of the Ojibways. The Dacotahs have land and water fairies of a mischievous character. They say they often see them.
Among the Otoes, a mound near the mouth of White Stone River is called the mountain of Little People or Little Spirits, and they believe that it is the abode of little devils in human form, about eighteen inches high, and with remarkably large heads. They are armed with sharp arrows, with which they are very skilful, and are always on the watch to kill those who should have the hardihood to approach their residence. The tradition is that many have suffered from these little evil spirits. This has inspired all the neighboring nations with such terror that no consideration could tempt them to visit the hill.
Mr. Kane tells a legend of the Nasquallies, who believed in a dwarf people, that were destroyed by birds, who stuck their quills into them. When the quills were extracted by one of their tribe, the fairies came to life again.
Aisemid was a famous aerial spirit of the Western tribes, who carried a curious little shell, and could become visible or invisible as he chose.
All the Indians imagine they see small spirits skip about over the plains and suddenly vanish; they dance in the moonlight on the tops of cliffs.
The Shoshone legends people the mountains of Montana with little imps, called Ninumbees, two feet long, naked, and with a tail. These limbs of the evil one are accustomed to eat up any unguarded infant they find, leaving in its stead one of their own baneful race looking so much like the child that the mother will return and suckle it. If the little fiend seizes her breast she dies thereafter.
The Tinneh also people their earth, sea, and air with spirits in the shape of fairies.
In Choctaw mythology, itallaboys are genii of very diminutive stature, but of great power. From them the conjurers receive their influence. They often ride by moonlight on deer, with wands in their hands, singing magic songs. They are invisible, intangible, and invulnerable. Thus we find a fairy mythology similar to that of Europe among the native races of America, embracing even the superstition of the Changelings.
"Sleep is thought by the Algic race to be produced by fairies, the prince of whom is Weeng. The power of this Indian Morpheus is exerted in a peculiar manner and by a novel agency. Weeng seldom acts directly in inducing sleep, but he exercises dominion over hosts of gnome-like beings, who are everywhere present. These beings are invisible. Each one is armed with a tiny club, and when he observes a person sitting or reclining under circumstances favorable to sleep, he nimbly climbs upon his forehead and inflicts a blow. The first blow only creates drowsiness; the second makes the person lethargic, so that he occasionally closes his eyelids; the third produces sound sleep. It is the constant duty of these little emissaries to put every one to sleep whom they encounter, — men, women, and children. They hide themselves everywhere, and are ready to fly out and exert their sleep-compelling power, although their peculiar season of action is in the night. They are also alert during the day. While the forms of these gnomes are believed to be those of little or fairy men, the figure of Weeng himself is unknown, and it is not certain that he has ever been seen. Iagoo is said to have seen him sitting upon a branch of a tree. He was in the shape of a giant insect with many wings upon his back, which made a low, deep, murmuring sound, like distant falling water. Weeng is not only the dispenser of sleep, but it seems he is also the author of dulness. If an orator fails, he is said to be struck by Weeng. If a warrior lingers, he has ventured too near the sleepy god. If children begin to nod or yawn, the Indian mother looks up smilingly and says they have been struck by Weeng, and puts them to bed.
The Indian conception of the action of these invisible spiritual agents is aptly illustrated by an Ojibway legend of a warrior's spirit which returned from the field of battle and found his wife lamenting his death. He endeavored to talk to her, but she made no reply, except to remark to one near her that she felt a buzzing in her ears. The enraged husband, who did not realize the change from the material to the spiritual in his condition, struck her a blow on the forehead. She complained of feeling a shooting pain there. Thus the spirit was foiled in every attempt to make itself known.
The Dacotahs believe that a mother, when her dead children think of her, will feel a pain in her breast, due to the action of the invisible spiritual agent. 3
Thus the far-reaching effect of their doctrine of spiritual agency is evident.
Another form of spiritual manifestation is fire. Fire has always been regarded with more or less superstitious awe, because it is supposed to contain a mysterious spirit. Among the Hurons, a female spirit who was supposed to cause much of their sickness appeared like a flame of fire.
Of the New England Indians, Josselyn says, " They have a remarkable observation of a flame that appears before the death of an Indian, upon their wigwams, in the dead of night. Whenever this appears, there will be a death."
The Ojibways will never cut a stick that has once been on the fire. The reason of this superstition is that the fire has a spirit that has entered the wood and will get cut.
Among many of the tribes of Americano cutting instrument could be used for some time after the death of a person, lest his spirit, the exact whereabouts of which they could not determine, should get cut. Every object is supposed to be occupied by a spirit. The intelligence of these spirits is aptly illustrated by the following anecdote. A certain missionary to the Californians sent a native with some loaves of bread, and a letter, stating their number. The messenger ate a part of the bread, and his theft was consequently discovered. Another time, when he had to deliver four loaves he ate two of them, but hid the accompanying letter under a stone while he was thus engaged, believing that his conduct would not be revealed this time, as the letter had not seen him eating the loaves.
This illustrates the natural tendency of the savage to believe that everything is inhabited by a spirit.
While upon the doctrine of spirits, let us trace the belief in evil spirits, and its gradual development into demonology. Although there was no moral dualism among the American nations, whereby all evil had become personified in a Satan, yet there were many tribes who had one or more evil spirits, to whose visits they ascribed personal and tribal calamities. I shall not, however, dwell long on this branch of their mythology, as the material for the subject has been employed to a great extent in tracing their belief in a future life, and their theory of disease. The Indians thought the inhabitants of the spirit-land act very much as they did when among the living. Hence each individual could do much harm as well as good. It was also thought that the next life was a time for retribution; and this idea is the key-note to demonology in primitive times.
The Comanches stood in great dread of evil spirits, which they attempted to conciliate. Their demons withheld rain or sunshine.
All the appeals of the Mosquitoes are addressed to the evil spirits called Wulasha. These devils arc the causes of all misfortunes and contrarieties that happen. The fear of these devils prevents them from going out alone after dark.
These Wulasha are supposed to strive for the possession of the dead. They have a religious ceremony in which we have a scene very similar to those represented upon Etruscan vases. Four naked men disguise themselves in performing their burial rite so that the Wulasha will not know them, and then rush into the hut, seize the dead body, drag it away, and bury it. Thus the dead are rescued from evil spirits.
"They think that evil spirits destroy their crops and do them many grievous injuries."
Thevet mentions an isle of demons near Newfoundland where the Indians were so tormented with them that they would fall into his arms for relief
Among the Californians the most interesting feature of their religion was their belief in a body of demons. These malignant spirits have taken entire possession of the country about the Devil's Castle. In the face of divers assertions that no such thing as a devil proper has ever been found in savage mythology, Mr. Powers uses this language in reference to the belief of the Californian tribes: "Of course the thin and meagre imagination of the American savages was not equal to the creation of Milton's magnificent, imperial Satan, or of Goethe's Mephistopheles, with his subtle intellect and malignant mirth; but in so far as the Indian fiends or devils had the ability they are wholly as wicked as these. They are totally bad, but they are weak, undignified, absurd."
Says Denis of the Brazilian tribes, " They complain without ceasing of the evil spirits that torment them. Houcha was the chief of the hierarchy of devils" among the Brazilians.
Ercono is the devil of the Moxos, and their foes were the Conos tribe. The devils of the Taos were called Tupas, and their enemies were the Tupis. Chelul is the devil of the Patagons, and a tribe called Cheloagas were their enemies.
These linguistic evidences are very interesting in the study of the mythologies, and are very consistent with their animistic theories. How natural that tribal enemies should become the devils of the tribe, and their spirits attempt to revenge the injuries of their lives!
Among the more civilized peoples demonology prevailed, and a tendency existed to exalt some one demon to a primacy.
The Nicaraguans had evil spirits, and a ceremony for expelling them from new dwellings.
The Mayas of Yucatan had evil spirits who could be driven off by the sorcerers; they never came around when their fetiches were exposed. They had a ceremony for expelling evil spirits from houses about to be occupied by newly-married persons.
The Peruvians had devils who frequently put in an appearance. The Huancas have a legend that a great number of these devils once assembled and did much damage. One of their devils, called Huarivalca, is worshipped to this day, although he has disappeared and not been seen lately. There were spots which they said showed evidences of his presence. Supay was the prince of devils among them.
The Toltecs have left a curious tradition of the destruction of many of their people by a demon, who would stalk into their midst, with long bony arms, and dash many of them lifeless. He kept up his persecution, appearing from time to time, and spreading disease, fear, and destruction, until they fled from their homes and lands.
The Mexicans had an evil spirit, which often appeared in order to terrify and injure them.
The assumption of pre-eminence by one or more demons is made easy by a belief in a local demon, who sometimes assumes the office of tribal demon or god. A local demon or malevolent spirit is usually ascribed to places where accidents resulting in death have occurred. An eddy in the river where floating sticks are whirled around and engulfed is not far from the place where one of the tribe was drowned and never seen again. What more manifest, then, than that the spirit of this drowned man dwells thereabout, and pulls these things under the surface, and even in revenge perhaps seizes and drags down persons who venture near? Soon there survives the belief in a water demon haunting the place. Some tribes had a curious way of finding drowned bodies. They would float a chip of wood, watch where it turned around, and drag there for the body. The spirits of the drowned, with motives of revenge, dragged every object beneath the surface.
The primitive doctrine of souls obliges the savage to think of the spirit of the dead as close at hand. The tribes of Guiana suppose every place is haunted where any one has died. A superstitious fear soon instigates worship, and this worship, beginning at the tombs and burial-places of the dead, develops into the temple ritual of higher cultures.
" Most of the worship of the natives of Guiana," says Mr. Brett, " is directed to spirits, and generally to those of a malignant nature, which are unceasingly active in inflicting miseries on mankind. Pain in their language means ' the evil spirit's arrow. "
Among almost all of the American tribes the worship of spirits that are malicious, and not of those that are good, is a characteristic that has been noticed with much astonishment and commented upon by travellers and other writers. It is certainly natural that primitive worship, which is born of fear, should be directed to those malevolent objects that inspire fear. Another cause of this distinction in their worship is undoubtedly to be found in their belief that the wicked spirits remain upon the earth, and only the good ones pass over into a heavenly land, where they have naught to do with human affairs. The Ojibways thought good spirits inhabited the upper empyrean and descended every few days to inquire after them. An invisible vine was supposed to form the connecting link, whose roots were in the earth and top in the sky. On this ladder the spirits passed up and down. All ordinary and wicked spirits, however, remained on the earth, which was called the big plate where the spirits eat. Here we can trace the germ of the belief in a difference of locality for good and evil spirits. Among the Blackfeet, demons are worshipped with much ceremony and self-torture, in which they torment themselves without flinching or appearance of pain, in order to show the demons that it is useless to try to afflict them. There are evidences of demon-worship among the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Shawnees, and many other tribes, which I will not notice. To use the language of Mr. Shea, " pure unmixed devil-worship prevails through the length and breadth of the land." The primitive conception of the spirit-land is not, except in a few cases, of a place in the sky, but of a place upon the earth and earthlike, where the ordinary avocations of life are carried on with less vicissitudes and hardship.
Let us now notice the different opinions entertained as to the occupations of the spirit-life, and their doctrine of rewards and punishments. Mr. Tylor divides the subject of the future life into two theories, the continuance theory and the retribution theory. The first is that the future life is a reflection of this. Men are to retain their earthly form and earthly conditions, have around them their earthly friends, possess their earthly property, and carry on their earthly occupations. The other theory is that the future life is a compensation for this, where men's conditions are re-allotted as the consequence, and especially as the reward or punishment, of their earthly life. The most primitive of these is the continuance theory. The shade of the Algonkin hunter hunts the spirits of the beaver and the elk with the spirits of bows and arrows, walking on the spirits of his snow-shoes over the spirit of the snow. The Brazilian forest tribes will find a forest full of calabash-trees and game, where the souls of the dead will live. Most of the tribes of North America thought that the spirits of the dead remained in form and feature as they had been in life. The belief respecting the land of souls varied greatly in different tribes. The prevalent idea was that the present life was continued with little change. The Ojibways think the soul after death enters a world where the souls injured in life haunt it. Even the phantoms of the wrecks of property destroyed during life obstruct its passage, and the animals to which, cruelty has been shown in life torment it. After death enemies are also ready to avenge their injuries. In this primitive form we can see the outline of the doctrine of future punishment.
Among the Ahts, a lofty birth or a glorious death gives the right of entering into a goodly land, where there are no storms or frost, but sunshine and warmth. The common people had to roam about the earth, in the form of some person or animal.
The Brazilian tribes think the spirits of their chiefs and sorcerers enter a world of enjoyment while others wander about the graves.
The Manacica chiefs were fed with a gum distilled from certain celestial trees in the spirit-land.
The Chibchas believed that men who died in war, and women in childbed, went directly into bliss, no matter how wicked they were.
The Natches and Tensas believed that after death the souls of their warriors went to reside in the land of the buffalo; but those who had not taken any scalps went to reside in a country inhabited by reptiles.
We find everywhere the prevalence of the idea that the courageous would be specially favored in the spirit-world. This is the primitive idea. The infliction of punishment for evil deeds soon appears, however. The Natches consigned the guilty guardian of their sacred fire, who let it go out, to one of those large mounds which are to be seen in the vicinity of the present city of Natchez. There he is doomed to languish forever, and to be eternally debarred from entering the world of spirits, unless he can make fire with two dry sticks, which he is ever rubbing together with desperate eagerness. Now and then a slight smoke issues from the sticks, the wretch rubs on with increased rapidity, and just as a bright spark begins to shoot up, the sluices of his eyes open against his will, and pour out a deluge of tears which drown the nascent fire. Thus he is condemned to a ceaseless work, and to periodical fits of hope and despair.
The Sioux are of opinion that suicide is punished in the land of spirits by the ghosts being doomed forever to drag the tree on which they hang themselves; for this reason they always suspend themselves to as small a tree as can possibly sustain their weight.
The Mayas of Yucatan believed in rewards and punishments in the future life. Living in a warm climate, their idea of happiness in the future life was to lie beneath the shade of the evergreen and umbrageous tree called yaxche. Herrera says, "The wicked were hungry and cold. They think the souls of the deceased return to the earth if they choose, and, in order that they may not lose the way to the domestic hearth, they mark the path from the hut to the tomb with chalk."
The Peruvians held the doctrine of future rewards and punishments. The greatest enjoyment of the good was rest of mind and body. The souls can wander about the earth, although their heaven and hell are above and below the earth, and therefore they have anniversaries, at which food and supplies are furnished these souls.
The Chippewyans think that bad souls stand up to their chin in water, in sight of the spirit-land, which they can never enter. Many believe, however, in transmigration for the wicked.
The New England tribes consigned their enemies to a place of misery, but they themselves had a very good time in the next world."
Some tribes thought the wicked hunted and killed, in the next world, animals that were all skin and bone.
Thus we see the universal credence of all the tribes in the reality of a spiritual life and its rewards and punishments. Not only is that world inhabited by the spirits of their dead, but also all animate and inanimate substances, or shadows of substances. Its woods, streams, and lakes were more beautiful than the earthly. The soul's progress was not stopped by them, for they were but the shadows of material forms.
" By midnight moons, o'er moistening dews,
Investments for the chase arrayed,
The hunter still the deer pursues,
The hunter and the deer a shade."
The region supposed to be haunted by the souls of the dead becomes wider as populations increase and scatter. Several counteracting influences have operated, however, to prevent the entire possession of the earth by these unseen powers. The most important of these influences has been the gradual separation of the spirit-world from the world of the living. Their entire separation is the last result of causes that for a time only removed it to localities proximate to the abodes of the living.
As nomadic tribes change their habitat, the spirit-land diverges from the abode of the living; and the difficulties of the road thither depend upon the nature of the hardships endured in migration. Most of the traditions agree that the spirits on their journey to the spirit-land were beset with difficulties and perils. There was generally a stream of water to cross, and only a narrow and slippery log to bridge the stream. Often they had to pass between moving rocks, which momentarily crashed together, grinding to atoms the less nimble of the pilgrims.
As populations increase, burial-places are set apart, and the world of the dead becomes distinct from that of the living. In many cases the world of the dead, still near at hand, is an adjacent mountain. The genesis of this belief is clear. The Caribs buried their chiefs on mountains; the Comanches, on the highest hill in the neighborhood; the Patagonians, on the summits of the highest hills. The Tupinambas located their heaven behind the great mountains which surrounded their country. The Mexicans also buried on their high places. Where caves are used for interments, they become the supposed places for the dead; hence develops the notion of a subterranean other world. The natives of Terra del Fuego believe that some of them after death are to return to those divine caverns where they were created and their deities reside. Many of the savages of South America have a subterranean spirit-world where the pursuits are the same as in life. The Zunis had removed their spirit, world to a comfortable distance, where they would not be troubled with them daily; but they annually assembled on the top of a lofty mesa, and spent the entire day in communication with the spirits of the departed, who were supposed on that day to revisit that locality and hold converse with their friends and relatives, who carried them presents. This superstition is very similar to the custom of Roman Catholics on All Souls' Day.
The Dacotahs think each human body has four souls. After death one wanders about the earth, the second watches the body, the third hovers over the village, whilst the fourth goes to the land of spirits.
Here we have a curious illustration of continuous survivals of more primitive beliefs. The soul which watches over the body represents the most primitive form of belief The soul which hovers over the village represents one remove from the primitive belief The soul which wanders about the earth represents another remove, and the fourth stage of progress assigns it to a distant land of spirits; but the three other beliefs are still surviving, and are the causes of their belief in this quadruplication of souls. The last forms of belief are undoubtedly due to the increasing tendency to migration as population increases.
A tribe that leaves its accustomed seat will have ever-recurring memories connected with that locality. They will desire when the spirit leaves the body to go back and visit the spirits of their ancestors and friends, whose souls are still living at their places of sepulture. An impulse is given to this belief by the superstitious fear of the dead by the living, who are very glad to get rid of them in this way.
Hence the tendency to locate the spirit-land elsewhere than in the midst of the living has been due to the migratory movements of tribes that are nomadic, or to the separation of the places of burial among populous settled peoples.
As migrations have proceeded in all directions, there must arise different beliefs about the direction of the world of spirits. In South America the Chonos and Araucanians go after death towards the west; whereas the Peruvians went east. The Central Americans went towards the east, while the Otomacks of Guiana went west. In North America the Chinooks have their paradise in the south, the Ojibways in the west, where the brave and good spend their time in pleasures, but cowards and the wicked wander about in darkness.
The New England tribes thought the souls of the dead went to the southwest, where were their forefathers' souls. The souls of murderers and thieves, however, wandered restlessly.
Among many tribes the spirit-land is far distant from the place of the living. The soul is believed to take a long journey, only after the tribe has taken a long journey away from the place where their ancestors lived and died. It is generally to see its ancestors. If the tribe has formerly lived upon an island, their heaven is upon an island, as among the Caribs, if the tribe in its migrations has crossed a stream of water, as is generally the case, then the soul has a Stygian flood to encounter. If the tribe has crossed dangerous and difficult mountains, and has barely escaped their dangers, then a Scylla and Charybdis stand in the path of the soul.
The Potawatomies think the souls of the dead cross a large stream over a log which rolls so that many slip off into the water. One of their ancestors went to the edge of the stream, but, not liking to venture on the log, he came back two days after his death. He reported that he heard the sounds of the drum on the other side of the river, to the beat of which the souls of the dead were dancing.
The Ojibways have traditions of the return of souls who have come to this stream, across which lies a serpent, according to their mythology, over whose body they must pass. A big strawberry lies by the side of the way to the spirit-land, which affords them refreshment on the journey.
The soul of the Manacicas of Brazil is carried on the back of a sorcerer to the spirit-land. Over hills and valleys, across rivers, swamps, and lakes, to the Pass Perilous they fly. Here they have to get by a god Tatusio, who, if not satisfied with the conduct of the spirit, casts it into the flood.
These sorcerers who pretend to take charge of the soul, and when they have deposited it safely in the future home return to the earth, frequently come back, and say that Tatusio took it away from them and threw it into the water. They then ask for a canoe from the relatives, that they may go back with it and fish out the soul. This artifice is successful in getting them a good canoe, which they keep.
The Chibchas had a great river that souls had to pass over on floats made of cobwebs. On this account they never killed spiders. In the future state, each family had its own location, as in this life.
The Araucanian soul is borne across the Stygian flood by a whale, which does not succeed, however, in protecting it from a mythical hag, who tears out one eye if a toll is not paid her.
The Mohaves believed that when their friends died they departed to a certain high hill in the western section of their territory; that they there pursued their avocation free from the ills and pains of their present life, if they had been good and brave. But they held that all cowardly Indians were tormented with hardships and failures, sickness and defeats. This hill, or hades, they never dared visit. It was thronged with thousands who were ready to wreak vengeance upon the mortal who dared to intrude upon this sacred ground. The souls of those cremated were wafted thither on the curling smoke.
The Blackfeet believe that the spirits of the dead have to scramble up the projecting sides of a steep mountain before they can view the land of their ancestral spirits. Those who have imbrued their hands in the blood of their tribesmen fall down this mountain-side, and can never reach the top. Women who have been guilty of infanticide never even reach this mountain, but wander about the earth with branches of the mountain pine tied to their legs. The cries of wicked spirits are often heard above the country. Those that reach the happy land can have plenty of mushrooms, which are considered a great delicacy by Blackfeet spirits. He who has destroyed his neighbor's canoe stumbles over its wreck, which he cannot pass. The spirits of animals and men injured in life haunt him. All the acts of life are deeply impressed on the green leaf of his memory.
The Chippewyan, living in the regions of almost perpetual snow, wants to find a heaven in some more genial clime, and as his spirit moves onward the ice grows thinner, the air warmer, the trees taller. Birds of gay colors plume themselves in the warm sun. The swallow and the martin skim along the level of the green vales. The trees no longer crack beneath the weight of icicles and snow, and he sees no more the spirits of the departed dancing on the skirts of the northern clouds. His spirit craves a warmer heaven. A stone canoe is ready to take him over the dividing stream. No Charon demands a fare, but onward speeds the magic craft, with no visible impelling force, and lands him on the blessed shore, if he has not slaughtered more oxen than he could eat, or speared salmon to be devoured by the brown eagle, or gathered rock-moss to rot in the rain. These great crimes, in the moral code of the Blackfeet, will sink the canoe, and its occupant will flounder about in the water black with the heads of the unhappy.
The Mosquito heaven was across a broad stream.
The future abode of Mexicans had three divisions. Their elysium was open to the souls of warriors, who were borne thither in the arms of Teoyaomique, Queen Consort of the God of War. Here awaited them the presents sent by loving friends below. These souls never tired, for they spent their days marching around the zenith as an escort to the sun. At evening they dispersed to the chase, or to the shady grove, after having delivered their precious solar charge to a new escort, composed of women who had died in childbed, who conducted it to its nightly couch of quetzal feathers, in which it reclined.
Although this is represented as the highest heaven, its joys would not appear as great to us as those of Tlalocan, where happiness reigned supreme and sorrow was unknown. To this place were assigned those killed by lightning, and the drowned, and those dying of long and incurable skin diseases. Children sacrificed to Tlaloc played about its gardens.
The Greeks assigned children to Erebus, as a penalty to prevent infanticide; but the Mexicans encouraged their sacrifice by assigning them to this place of happiness.
The third place, Mictlan, was a land of darkness and desolation, wherein were the souls of those who died of old age, or those who died in bed. There was no mercy in the Aztec Tartarus for those who died in bed among a race of warriors. The Mexican souls had to pass between two mountains that confronted each other. They were subjected to cutting winds. They had passes given them by the priest, who thrust little slips of paper in their hands. The journey ended with the passage of the "nine waters."
In the Mexican heaven there were various degrees of happiness. The high-born warrior who fell gloriously in battle did not meet on equal terms the base-born rustic who died in his bed. The ordinary avocations of life were not dispensed with, but the man took up his bow again, the woman her spindle.
The road to paradise was represented to be full of dangers. Storms, monsters, deep waters, and whirlpools met the traveller on his way, who, however, almost always succeeded in reaching his destination, after having suffered more or less maltreatment on the way.
The Northern Californians had a heaven where all met after death to enjoy a life free from want; but when the soul first escaped from the body, Omaha, an evil spirit, hovered near, ready to pounce upon it and carry it off.
Among the natives about Clear Lake there is no contest, but a coyote waits for the soul and captures it: a good spirit may redeem it by paying a price. They kept up many demonstrations about the grave for three days, to scare away coyotes. This superstition has arisen from the fact that the coyotes dig up the dead and devour them.
The Winnebagoes keep a fire on graves for four nights after burial, and keep the grass dug up, that bad spirits can have nothing to cling to.
The Eurocs burn a light on the grave, and this beacon is kept burning a longer time in the case of the wicked, because they are thought to have a longer and more difficult passage to the spirit-land. Many are compelled to return, and transmigrate into birds, beasts, and insects.
The Kailtas are carried to the spirit-land by a little bird, but if impeded by sins a hawk will certainly overtake them, and end their journey heavenward. The Cahroc path of the dead branches into two roads, one bright with flowers and leading to the great western land beyond the great waters, the , other filled with thorns and briers, and the haunt of deadly serpents.
The Maricopa paradise is at their ancient home on the banks of the Colorado. There the spirits live on the sand-hills.
The Yumas located their paradise in a pleasant valley, hidden in one of the canons of the Colorado, and they had gone so far as to separate the wheat from the chaff, for their wicked were shut up in a dark cavern, within view of their paradise, but its pleasures they could never enjoy, although within sight. The Navajo spirits had to travel far to reach their heaven. They had to cross an extensive marsh, in which many were bemired; but if they got through, they soon arrived at the home of two spirits, — one male and one female, — who sat combing their hair. After receiving a lecture on cleanliness, and obeying its injunctions, they passed on to the happy land. The Comanche spirits have not yet been confined to any locality, but want much more freedom than the circumscribed bounds of an Indian heaven can give them: so they hunt on the happy prairies of the setting sun, where the buffalo leads the hunter in the glorious chase, but at night they come back to their old homes and stay till break of day.
The souls of the Sonora Indians dwell among the cliffs of their mountains, and the echoes there are their clamoring voices. Echoes throughout the Americas are the voices of spirits. In Nayarit the natives thought that most souls went to a common resort near their living habitat, but returned in the daytime in the shape of flies, in order to get something to eat.
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