Sacred Texts  Africa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Religion and Myth, by James Macdonald, [1883], at

p. 33



To form a correct conception of African and other primitive peoples, it is necessary to have some acquaintance with the doctrine of souls, as that is understood by savage men. This throughout Africa is vague, and the results of inquiry are far from satisfactory. One hears accounts of souls, differing in all essentials, from men who observe the same forms of worship and are subject to the same system of government. The facts on which all are agreed are few and easily enumerated. All men have souls, even idiots, though some deny this, and the departure of the soul from the body is death. The soul is air, breath, wind, spirit, or it may be regarded as being all these, or having their essence. It is invisible, but in miniature an exact reproduction of the man. It is his shadow, reflection, what speaks in him. During sleep, or when a man is in a faint, his soul is absent from the body, but returns with restored animation. Should a person in a faint be removed from one place to another, as taking him out of his house into the open air, he could not recover, as the soul would return to the spot where the man fainted, and not finding him there, would go away. Again, a sleeper must not be rudely or

p. 34

hurriedly awakened, lest his soul, like Baal of old, should be on a journey, and have no time to return to re-enter the body. In that case the man might not die, but he would cease to be human, and go to wander for ever in the forest like those corpses raised by the art of witchcraft, and who are doomed to an eternal wandering in mist and rain. The spirit or soul, in the case of temporary absence, leaves the body by the natural openings, especially the nostrils, and must re-enter by the way it went; hence placing a handkerchief over the face of a sleeper would be highly reprehensible, as it might, probably would, lead to certain death. So would closing the mouth, should the soul have left by that door.

At death the soul leaves the body to return no more. Its leaving is not regarded as voluntary, as death—that is, the expulsion of the soul—is most frequently the work of wizards; but in any case it cannot re-enter that body "whose eyes shall never see the sun again." Where does the soul go when it leaves the body, either temporarily or permanently? During the absence of sleep it may "visit the sleeper's friend in a dream," or it may "flit about the roof;" in either case its return is prompt the moment the slumberer begins to move his limbs. "The soul hears even a long breath, should it be with my friend far away," said a Kaffir once to me in a moment of unwonted confidence. At death the soul hovers near the body till the latter is buried, and then takes up its abode in the great world of spirits, except in those cases in which it enters

p. 35

an animal or object to watch over the doings of men.

But souls are almost as liable to danger from external circumstances as human divinities are. They may be stolen, like a man's purse; snatched away in a whiff of whirlwind, or lost through carelessness or neglect. Should a South African native see an Incante, his soul would be snatched away and he would die on the spot. When a "river calls," he must enter it, but only to drown in its deep waters. The Hill living there demands his soul. He may be bewitched by wizards, and his soul stolen, leaving him a ghostly wanderer in fen and forest. A Zulu will not look into a dark pool, as there is a creature "behind the reflection" that will steal away his shadow, and he dies. To all mirrors and reflecting surfaces there is the same objection. In either case the soul is snatched away by the devil. So it happens that mirrors being "expressly invented by the devil for his purposes," people in civilised countries cover up theirs whenever there is a death in the house. To this day, in the Highlands of Scotland, all mirrors are carefully covered over with white cloths the moment a person expires. The same is done in Madagascar; the custom is not extinct in England.

Such beliefs regarding the nature and habits of souls linger in odd corners of Europe in a much more distinct form than the custom of covering mirrors. In Greece, when a new house is being built, they have a peculiar method of giving stability to the building. For this purpose a cock is

p. 36

killed and its blood allowed to flow on the foundation-stone. Another and a more effectual method is for the builder to entice a man, on some pretext, to enter where the builders are at work and then measure his shadow by stealth. This measure placed under the foundation-stone, gives the house absolute stability. The person whose shadow was measured "dies within a year," but that is a secondary matter with the contractor. * This is beyond doubt a survival of an ancient custom, and a belief that a man's soul and his shadow were identical, or in any case indissolubly bound to one another. I remember hearing my father tell of an old Highland tradition that those who practised the black art cast no shadow. They had sold their souls to the devil for supernatural power, and their immortal part being his by right and possession, the body cast no shadow from the sun, soul and shadow being one. Another danger of the soul was slow expulsion by sorcery, but this belongs rather to the subject of witchcraft, under which it falls to be considered.

Having thus seen the nature of the soul and a few of its dangers as these are conceived by savage men, we can the more easily proceed to the study of spiritual divinities as distinguished from, or evolved out of, incarnate gods. We shall begin with South Africa. There every man worships the spirits of his departed ancestors, especially those recently deceased. In Africa, as elsewhere, old ghosts are not of much account. The father's spirit must

p. 37

be worshipped and his wants supplied by sacrifice; the grandfather's must be honoured and his known wishes regarded, but the poor old great-grandfather may sit in his horn in the corner and no one pay any special regard to him, unless, indeed, he happened to be a noted man, as the founder of a family or sept. The clans worship in the same manner the spirits of their departed chiefs, and where all the clans composing a tribe are supposed to be descended from a common ancestor, the spirits of departed tribal chiefs are a kind of supreme, or at least superior, deities. When a tribe is composed of different clans this powerful element of union, the worship of a common ancestor, is wanting, as each clan looks to its hereditary chief as its true divinity. They have no very definite idea of the mode of existence of their deities, only they inhabit the old places and are always at hand. A man cannot perform an action unknown to the gods, though thieves disguise themselves to deceive divinity. This, however, is never effectual, as the wise men will say, "A thief is always known, though we cannot say his name."

Closely connected with the doctrine of divinity is that of other spirits than the souls of ancestors. Those most commonly met with are water or river spirits, inhabiting deep pools where there are strong eddies and under-currents. These are wicked and malevolent beings, and are never credited with any good. Whatever they possess they keep, and seize on anything which comes within their reach, especially the souls of men. Other spirits reside in forests, mountains and rocky caverns. They

p. 38

frequently leave their haunts and assume animal form, as baboon, wolf, wild dog, snake, or lizard. This is always for pure mischief, and their malevolent designs can only be averted by the use of charm s prepared by a magician, and sacrifice. Moremo, the god of the Bechuanas, was malicious and cunning. * They never hesitated to express their indignation when he disappointed them, by bitter invective and cursing. This same method was suggested to Job by his wife: "Curse God and die," said that virago. When they had good crops, Moremo got all the credit of it, and was patronised as a generous, good-natured kind of a god after all. Evidently, from the accounts that have reached us, Bechuana religion is not very profound, nor is their god very consistent.

As we move northwards we find the deities undergoing considerable modification, and along the west coast we make the acquaintance of Fetish and Fetish idols, hardly a trace of which is to be found in east and east-central Africa. These totems or sacred animals become the clan badges, and from the animals held sacred we can recognise scattered remnants of tribes separated by hundreds of miles, and having hardly any customs in common except the sacred animal as their clan badge. Throughout the whole continent we meet with customs, ritual, ceremonial acts, and other observances which have at first sight no appearance of being connected with any religious belief, but which have a religious significance. And this is consistent with savage

p. 39

thought, which always connects the most insignificant action that is unusual with what is supernatural, as a cock crowing in the evening * or a crane alighting on a house-top. Actions done by individuals may influence the whole policy of a tribe for generations either for good or evil. For example, the natives of Senjero, Abyssinia, sell only female slaves, never men or boys, and any one selling a male would bring upon himself the wrath of the gods, even if he could hope to escape a visit from the executioner. The origin of the custom is said to have been that a king long ago, when kings were divine, had ordered a man to kill his wife and bring him a piece of her flesh for the cure of an ailment from which he suffered. The man refused to comply with the king's order, and saved his wife alive. She was next sent for and told what had happened, after which she was asked to slay her husband and bring a piece of his flesh to the king. This the ungrateful woman did, and ever since then a Senjero man may sell his daughter, or even his wife, but a man never.  Human sacrifices to their divinities are common among the people of Senjero. This, so runs the legend, was introduced long ago, when the seasons got confused, summer and winter being so mixed up that no crops ripened. The priests "ordered many families to sacrifice their first-born," and the rulers of the town to raze a huge iron pillar which stood outside the gate. The base

p. 40

of the pillar, like "the stump of the roots" of the tree in Nebuchadnezzar's vision, was to be left, and it and the throne to be sprinkled with the blood of the victims. After this was done the seasons resumed their normal course; * but in memory of the event, and to prevent its recurrence, the sacrifices are observed annually, and both throne and the spot where the pillar stood sprinkled with blood. This myth, the iron pillar apart, is probably a transcript of what the historian witnessed with his own eyes. These obscure practices and legends point back to a time when the spirit of vegetation, or creative energy, was worshipped and sacrifices offered to it. The confusion of the seasons and their readjustment by sacrifice has undoubtedly a close connection with the worship of the spirit of growth. Another curious custom in Senjero is the throwing of a slave into Lake Umo by dealers in men when setting out on a raiding expedition.  The sacrifice is to the deity of the lake, in order that he may, from the victim given as a seed-corn, give a plentiful crop.

Among the Gallas the priests occupy a position distinct from the magicians or exorcists. They have the highest place in all religious ceremonies, and receive special honour and homage from their votaries. Here we find trees and vegetation occupying a prominent place in all religious observances and acts of worship. So marked is this characteristic that it is more akin to the worship and sacrifice of the Khonds of India than what we are familiar with in most parts of Africa. The

p. 41

[paragraph continues] Galla priest will sacrifice only under the woda-tree. In it, spirit, "even a higher spirit," dwells, and no man dare fell a woda-tree. If he does so, he forfeits his life. * The tree itself is sacred, and so too is the woda-mabi, or groves where it grows by the River Hawash where the great yearly festivals are held. At these gatherings the tree spirit is worshipped by offerings and sacrifice.  Nor is the worship of tree spirits peculiar to the Gallas. We meet with it in Lithuania, in Bavaria, and in Southern Europe. The Ovaons of Bengal have a festival in spring, while the sál-trees are in blossom, because they think that at that time the marriage of earth is celebrated, and sál-flowers are necessary for the ceremony. On the day appointed, the villagers, accompanied by their priest, gather the flowers in a forest where a goddess is supposed to dwell. Next day the priest visits each house carrying the flowers with him. The women as he approaches bring out water to wash his feet and do him obeisance. Then he dances with them, placing flowers in their hair, after which they drench him with water.  This ceremony is supposed to have an influence upon the course of the weather, especially the rainfall, and the spirit of the sacred sál-tree is represented by both the flowers and the priest who brings them, introducing us to the double representation of the spirit of vegetation, by a person and object, as that survives in the Grass king of Sommerberg or the May Bride of Altmark. §

p. 42

The Gallas have no idols, but revere objects and animals, serpents being specially sacred. One variety of snake they regard as having been the mother of the human family. This same belief was a prominent feature of the ancient paganism of Abyssinia. The supreme Galla deity is water; under him, or her, are two subordinate gods, a masculine, Oglie, to whom cows are sacrificed in June and July, and his consort Atetie, whose offerings are made in September, and may consist of animals or fruits. She is the goddess of fecundity, and women are her principal votaries; but as she can also make the earth "prolific," offerings are made to her for that purpose. * These divinities represent the creative and fructifying powers of nature, and this nature-worship meets us under different forms in all parts of the Continent. Even the Gold Coast moon-dance is an act of homage done to the mother of all.

Passing from the Gallas to the Waganga, the same essentials are met with in the national worship. There a cocoa-nut is hung up at the village gate while the crops are ripening. This, curiously enough, is to prevent theft, as any one touching the fruits of the earth while it is there would be visited with the vengeance of the earth goddess. A secondary object served is the protection of the crops from injury. An empty cocoa-nut shell is placed on graves, and filled now and then with tembo, for without this the spirit could not exist. Tembo to them represents the spirit or essence of the earth's fruits: the life-blood of nature.

p. 43

Of this earth divinity the visible representative is the Muansa. This is simply a log of wood, hollowed out in a particular manner, so that when rubbed it emits sounds resembling the roaring and bellowing of wild animals. * It is carried about in solemn procession at all great festivals, for in it the god resides. If at such times it were seen by women or children they would fall down dead. Should a woman, after seeing the Muansa, survive, she would become barren. So, when the god roars, women must hide in the woods till it is carried back to its house. Besides the great festivals, as that of first-fruits, the god roars when the tribe sacrifices for rain, or when men go to the forest to strangle a deformed infant, which is invariably done, as is the case also with a cross-birth or abnormal presentation. The Muansa is the centre of the religious life of the tribe, and is a survival akin to the Egbo of the West Coast. The observances connected with it leave no doubt as to the intention of the institution, that is, the deification of nature, especially corn and vegetation generally. To cut a cocoa-nut tree is equivalent to matricide: "The mother nourishes her infant; the cocoa-nut tree men. Does an infant destroy its mother? Should a man kill the spirit of the tree that is the bread of the people?" Other Waganga and Waneka religious observances will fall to be considered under oaths and ordeals.

These illustrations of the religious beliefs of East and Central Africa are sufficient for our present purpose, but before passing to the discussion of the

p. 44

divinities of the West Coast we may glance at one phase of a class of social customs extending from the Cape of Good Hope to the banks of the Nile, and which are substantially the same among all peoples over that vast area, though with infinite variety of detail in the manner of their performance. I refer to the ceremonies and usages connected with the initiation of young people into manhood and womanhood at the age of puberty. In South Africa circumcision and intonjane are universal. The details of these ceremonies vary, but the object is the same in all. The usual ritual connected with circumcision is as follows: At the season of the year when crops are beginning to ripen, all the young men of a locality are circumcised by the village doctor, and are then insolated in huts, previously prepared, at some distance from the ordinary dwellings, generally near the edge of a clump of trees. Men are appointed to watch over the neophytes, and to prevent their having intercourse of any kind whatsoever with women. They daub the young men all over with a pure white clay, which for the period of probation is their distinguishing badge. During their novitiate they are subjected to considerable privations. What butcher's meat they receive they must steal, and as every one is on the alert when "white boys" are about, stealing is by no means a simple art, nor is failure in the attempt the end of the affair. For failure they are unmercifully beaten by their tutors, while a successful foray is worthy of all praise. They are compelled to do violent bodily exercise in dancing

p. 45

and running, and are often kept awake for several consecutive nights. They are beaten with saplings and deprived of food, all of which is meant to render them hardy and indifferent to pain, and also as a privation before they receive that full license which is an essential portion of their initiation. At the close of these preliminary ceremonies the white clay is washed off their bodies; they receive new garments, and then repair to the residence of the chief, where the elders of the tribe and a great concourse of men and women have already assembled. Their bodies are now anointed with oil. Harangues by the minister of war, magician, and bards follow as to their duties to their chief in peace and war. Arms are put into their hands, and they thereby receive the privilege of manhood. A great festival follows, continued for several days and nights. The customs sanctioned by law and usage at these festivals are generally described as obscene. They are certainly such as to lead to the inference that the whole ceremony of initiation is based on the principle of doing homage to the powers of nature.

In the lake region of Central Africa, and especially among the Wayao, the "mysteries" are performed at a corresponding period of life, and there, even more than in the South, it is evident the object is to honour the budding powers of nature as a divinity. The corresponding ceremonies through which young women pass do not admit of description in a popular work; the object is clearly the same.

When we ask a native to explain the purpose of

p. 46

these ceremonial usages, he replies that without them the young folk would always remain children, and never could become men and women in the proper sense. There seems to be no distinct philosophy to explain the custom; "it was always so, and if our people neglected it we would die;'" which means, gradually decay and disappear as a people. Only when the details are carefully studied—the ill-usage and privation of the preliminary stage, the unchecked license of the festival, and manhood not being attained without both—and compared with other customs common everywhere, do we come to understand that the object is to do homage to nature; that the beatings and fastings may even be symbolical of putting the person, or at least the spirit of creative and reproductive energy, to death, to be revived, honoured, almost worshipped, during the festival which Closes the ceremonies.

These ceremonies are performed while the crops are still green but approaching maturity, by sacred persons whose office is religious. Among some tribes, as the Hottentots, circumcision must not be performed with a knife, but with a sharp bit of quartz. Blood must be encouraged to flow to a certain extent. The festival marking the close of the ceremonies must be held before harvest operations are officially commenced, and on the part of the performers there must be a display of the utmost vital energy in dancing, wrestling, and other exercises. The homage due to the goddess presiding over, or residing in, such powers is the true significance of the customs and ritual belonging

p. 47

to the period when youth emerges into manhood and womanhood. Nor does this view lack confirmation from the usages of other countries and times. Harvest festivals are, and have been, akin to the worship of Bacchus, with the rites of Venus added. Men and women who are modest, well-behaved, and in all respects reputable members of society, abandon themselves at the season of first-fruits to the gods and goddesses of nature till satiety and disgust recall them to their senses again. Such revels are not the exclusive privilege of savages, for the conduct of the Israelites regarding the Midianites whom they conquered is a case in point. So, too, under other and far different conditions, the worship of the Corinthian Venus and the practice common in Indian temples show the same honours and homage, even worship given to the powers of nature. And this is nothing else than the worship of the spirit of creative or reproductive energy in the animal world, as we have already seen in connection with the growth of trees, corn, and vegetation generally. The deity is Mother Earth; the worship, to ensure her good offices in continuing her bounteous office of reproduction.

The West Coast of Africa is the land of fetish. How this system originated it is impossible to determine, but there are indications which seem to point back to its beginnings as a separate religious system. Among many African tribes it is common to preserve bones, and especially skulls, of ancestors as relics of the dead. * These were supposed to be the

p. 48

abode, temporary or permanent, of the departed soul, and were tended and guarded with all the reverence due to an ancestral spirit itself. From reverence and filial piety the transition to worship would be natural and easy. The soul dwelling in the skull was able to give or withhold certain blessings, and when treated with the respect due to it, could be of great service to -the devout descendants who kept and tended it. In this way may have originated at once the worship of fetish, and the well-known African habit of giving the aged a help to leave the world, on the assumption that their bones and disembodied spirits would be of greater service to the living than their bodily presence, when age and infirmity had rendered them helpless. The attention bestowed on an invisible spirit residing in a well-cleaned skull, would not be more troublesome than that required by an aged grandfather, while the former in activity and power to benefit his descendants was vastly superior. At first each family would preserve and tend its own relics, but with the lapse of time their care would devolve on the priests, and with the accumulation of bones suitable receptacles would be provided, developing gradually into special houses or temples consecrated for this purpose, and sacred. From such relic-reverence and worship to fetish would be such an easy transition that no revolution in religious thought would be needed to accomplish it, and once the departed spirit could take up its abode in another object than a bone of its original owner, the growth of fetish objects would proceed apace. The magician,

p. 49

by the exercise of his own supernatural power, could impart to any object a sacred character and make it the home of the soul. For a similar reason he could impart to objects, as necklets, virtues for the protection of the wearer, this object being but a lower form of fetish through which the supernatural influence for protection came to be imparted to the possessor; only, in this case its virtues were restricted to the person on whom the magician bestowed it. Where relic-worship became common the object charmed by the magician would naturally be supposed to be the home of a guardian spirit, and if rudely carved into the image of a man the connection between it and a departed ancestor needed no demonstration. Once this principle became established there would be no limit to the multiplication of fetishes. And so it is that any object in nature may be the abode of spirits. An islet in a lake, a sharp pinnacle of rock, a stone above water in a river, a human bone, a carved image, a ram's horn, or even a man's weapons, may be fetish and have spirits dwelling in them. Fetish brings victory in war, success in fishing, hunting, or trading. It cures all ailments from insanity to sterility. * It preserves life or destroys it, according to the intention of the votary and the nature of the offering.  Its uses are as wide as are the necessities of man, and it can be adapted to every circumstance of life.

But this is not much worse than certain customs still lingering in obscure corners of England.

p. 50

[paragraph continues] One of these, known as "Toad-day," seems to carry us back to the days of the Druids, or even an earlier and pre-Aryan period. On Toad-day people resort to a "wise man," or in other words a wizard, to purchase a charm or fetish which is to protect them and theirs from injury for a year. This charm consists of a leg torn from a living toad, which the purchaser devoutly wears about his person. * In Scotland "wise women" cure rheumatism by giving the patient a potato which he must carry in his trousers pocket. While it is in his possession, and carried according to prescription, he is exempt from attack. I once heard a shrewd, long-headed farmer say: "I ha’e haen a twinge o’ rheumatics. I had a tatie I got frae a wife, but I slipped it oot o’ my pouch amang a wheen twine." The potato being lost or mislaid, his old enemy had returned.

We have seen how religion, when the king ceases to be worshipped as a man-god, tends to pass over to a deification of the powers of nature, associating with these the reproductive energy of departed priests or ancestors. These, or their spirit, may be present in any object, or they may only occupy the position of an influence, as when an African says when he escapes from danger, "The soul of my father saved me." This tends to become pantheism—a deification of all nature. Such is the root idea of Mlungu of the Zulus; the father of the race of men among the Sillocks on the Nile;  Loma of the Bongo;  heaven fire or lightning of the Mitto, § and the Lubare of the Lake region. ** This is a comparatively late

p. 51

development, and can only be elaborated after religion has passed through many phases, and man comes to regard the supernatural as distinct from and independent of his own will. The older forms may and do persist after philosophy has arrived at the pantheistic idea, but they are on the wane, and preparing to follow the systems which preceded into the land of forgetfulness. Before considering the doctrines of substitution, sacrifice and sacrificial worship, we may examine traces of nature-worship under the form of the creative or reproductive spirit, as that has survived in civilised lands in popular superstition, ceremonial acts, and national festivals.

One of the most familiar of festivals is the village May-pole, an undoubted survival from very ancient times. We may the better understand its significance if we compare the yearly merry-making on the village green with the Galla festival of Woda, or, better still, with the annual sacrifices to Tari by the Khonds of India. Our knowledge of this latter festival is full and accurate. Major MacPherson, who suppressed the custom now over forty years ago, wrote an account of it in all its details, of which what follows is a brief summary:—The sacrifices were intended to ensure good crops and avert accidents of all kinds in connection with the fertility of the soil and yield of crops, as well as fecundity and productiveness among the people. The victim, or Meriah, was acceptable to the goddess only in the event of being purchased or being born of a victim purchased at a previous time. To avoid accidents or difficulty in procuring a suitable

p. 52

[paragraph continues] Meriah at the time of the festival, a number were always kept on hand to be ready in case of emergency. Of these, many were women, and, as the victims could not be sacrificed if pregnant, many of them managed to escape their fate for years. Their children were, however, doomed as victims from infancy, as were also children of a free woman by a male Meriah. Even free people, Khonds themselves, at times sold their children as victims. To sell a son or daughter was the highest virtue, as "the child died that all the world might live." * These ghastly sacrifices were offered by tribes and sub-tribes, and were so arranged that each householder got a shred of flesh to sow in his fields about the time when the crop was laid down, or as the corn already in the earth began to sprout.

The sacrifices were performed in the following manner:—Ten days before the festival the victim's hair was cut off. Thereafter came days of feasting, dancing, and devilry. On the day preceding the sacrifice the victim was dressed in new and very fine garments, and then led from the village in grand procession, with every possible circumstance of display and honour. With music, dancing, exuberant merriment, and homage done to the victim, the procession wended its way to the sacred grove, at a distance from any dwellings, none of the trees of which might be felled or touched with an axe. Arrived at the grove, the victim was tied to a post, anointed with a mixture of oil and turmeric, and richly adorned with cut flowers. During the

p. 53

whole of that day a species of reverence equivalent to adoration was paid to the Meriah. There was a constant struggle to obtain a flower, a particle of the turmeric, even a spittle from the victim's person, and these were regarded as sovereign and absolute in all cases to secure the end sought by the worshipper. On the day of sacrifice the dance was continued till noon, when it ceased, and the assembled crowd—for young and old were present—proceeded to the final act. The victim was again anointed as before, and at times carried in triumphal procession from house to house. At this stage the Meriah might not be bound nor make any sign of resistance. It was indeed essential that there should be a voluntary surrender and sacrifice. To ensure success and perfect obedience with apparent willingness, the priests might, and often did, break the bones of both arms and legs, or, when this was not done, they gave a dose of some narcotic, as opium.

The method of putting the victim to death was strangulation, and that was performed in the following manner:—A green branch from a tree was cleft for a length of a few feet, and the victim's neck inserted into the fork thus formed, after which the officiating priest closed and secured the free ends. He then wounded the Meriah slightly with his axe, when the crowd rushed forward with knives and bill-hooks to tear the flesh from the bones in shreds and fibres, leaving the head, thorax, and abdomen intact. An alternative method was to fasten the victim to the trunk of a wooden elephant which revolved on a pivot. As it whirled round

p. 54

and round the crowd cut strips of flesh from the living Meriah. In each case the flesh was treated in the manner we shall presently see. In one district the method of death was slow roasting before a large fire. In this case a low stage was formed and on it the victim was placed. Fires were lighted and burning brands applied to make the sacrifice roll and wriggle as long as possible. The more the victim rolled, and the more tears and cries, the more plentiful would be the crop.

All this looks like a sacrifice to the goddess Tari, but when the treatment of the victim while held captive, and the homage paid before being put to death, together with the use made of the shreds of flesh is considered, it is highly probable that the intention was the sacrifice of the goddess herself; the decaying powers of nature put to death in order that the spirit of these powers might re-enter the earth as a creative and reproductive power, in the same manner as the spirit of the slain king entered his successor and dwelt there. Confirmation of this view is derived from the manner in which the flesh was disposed of, which was as peculiar as it is suggestive.

The strips and shreds of flesh cut from the Meriah were instantly carried away by appointed persons to the several villages represented at the festival and sacrifice. To secure prompt arrival, relays of runners were posted at short intervals along the roads. Arrived at the village, the runner deposited the flesh in the place of public assembly, and there the priest divided it into two portions.

p. 55

[paragraph continues] One portion he buried in a hole in the ground, to which, while he performed the operation, he kept, his back carefully turned. Then each villager, all having rigidly fasted till now, added a little earth till the hole was filled up. The other portion of flesh the priest divided among heads of families,. who wrapped up each his share in green leaves and proceeded at once to bury it in their corn-fields. "For three days no house was swept, and silence was generally observed." * In three days corn sown sprouts; so, too, by inference, the spirit of corn represented by the Meriah. The head and entrails of the victim, which, as we have seen, had been left intact, were watched by the priests for a night, and next day burned with a whole sheep, and the ashes scattered over the fields.

These observances clearly show that power was ascribed to the victim other than is associated with. sacrifice to secure the favour of deity. But it may he objected that there is no connection between such bloody rites as those represented by Khond sacrifices and the merry-making on fine summer mornings, as ruddy youths and fair maidens dance around the village May-pole. To trace that connection we must go back to a time when May-day festivities meant, not the exuberant energy and frolic of youth, but the stern realities of a religion observed by men in terrible earnest, and accompanied by the sacrifice of quivering human beings to secure life and favour from the gods. In order to understand this we must trace briefly the history of another form

p. 56

of sacrifice and development of divinity common among the Celtic tribes of Europe.

The story of the death of Balder, the good and beautiful god, is familiar to all readers of Professor Rhys' Celtic Heathenism. The goddess Frigg obtained an oath from fire, water, metals, trees, beasts of all kinds, birds, and creeping things, that they would not touch or injure Balder. When this was done the god was regarded as invulnerable and immortal. Loke, the evil-worker, was displeased at what Frigg had done, and sought to discover if anything had been omitted from the oath by which he could injure or kill the god. He discovered that the mistletoe had not been included, as being too young to swear. So Loke went and pulled the mistletoe, which he brought to the assembly of the gods. A twig of it was given to Hödur, who made it into an arrow, which he shot at Balder. It pierced him through the heart and he fell down dead. The assembled gods stood speechless for a great space, and then lifted up their voices and wept, for the best and bravest had fallen. Then Balder's ship was launched by a giantess who came riding on a wolf, and his body placed on board on a funeral pile. When his wife Nanna saw what was done her heart burst for sorrow and she died. Her body was laid beside her husband, and so too were his horse and trappings. The ship having been fired, was sent to sea with its sad freight, and so ended the life of Balder. This is briefly the story which in the original Edda is told with great amplification of

p. 57

circumstance. Its very minuteness suggests that it belongs to that class of myths which are invented to explain ritual; for a myth is never so graphic as when it is a transcript of what the narrator has seen. * The main incidents are: first, the pulling of the mistletoe; and secondly, the death and burning of the god. Both these incidents appear to have formed an essential part of Celtic observances, as cut flowers and the death of the Meriah did of the ritual of the Khonds. We may now turn to May-day customs.

In all parts of Europe the peasantry, from time immemorial, have been in the habit of kindling fires and performing ceremonial acts on certain days of the year. It is a universal custom to dance round Midsummer fires, leap over them, and treat them as in a manner sacred. These customs can be traced back to the time of the Druids. They, in various forms, survived all and every change, and still persist, though thousands of years have elapsed since the reasons which gave them birth have passed away from the public mind. In Caithness, within the last seventy years, each family in the neighbourhood of Watten carried bread and cheese, before sunrise on May morning, to the top of a hill called Heathercow, and left it there.  After sunrise the cowherds might take away the spoil for their own use. No one could explain the origin of the practice; it was unlucky to neglect it, that was all. Here we have a survival of an offering to the earth goddess, which in Druidical times was accompanied

p. 58

with bloody rites and sacrifices, in which the sacred mistletoe played an important part. It seems to carry us back to the days of Balder, when men killed the spirit of vegetation and creative energy in the person of their god, that it might re-enter the growing corn and make the earth fruitful once more. In the Western Isles the people on a given day poured out libations to the sea-god Shony, and then held a festival with curious rites, which were observed not more than two centuries ago. There is an account of the practice, written about 1690, as performed at that date, and with which the writer seems to have been familiar:—"The inhabitants of this island (Lewis) had an ancient custom to sacrifice to the sea-god called Shony at Hallowtide, in the manner following. The inhabitants round the island came to the Church of St. Malvay, having each man his provision along with him; every family furnished a peck of malt, and this was brewed into ale. One of their number was picked out to wade into the sea up to the middle, and, standing still in that posture, cried out with a loud voice: 'Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you'll be so kind as to send us plenty of sea-ware for enriching our land for the ensuing year;' and so threw the cup into the sea. At his return to the land, they all went into the church, where there was a candle burning upon the altar; and then, standing silent for a time, one of them gave a signal at which the candle was put out, and immediately all of them went to the fields, where they fell a-drinking their ale, and spent the remainder of the

p. 59

night in dancing, singing, &c." * One would very much like to know what the worthy chronicler meant to convey by "&c.," and whether here, as in savagedom generally, the worship of Venus formed an essential part of the ceremony as performed at that time. He does tell us that the reformed pastors had spent years trying to suppress the practice, but with indifferent success. Corresponding acts of devotion, now represented by ceremonial usages, were performed by the Celts in early spring and at Midsummer.

Similar customs are common in every country in Europe. For example. In Bohemia the Spring Queen is dressed with garlands and crowned with flowers. She then, accompanied by a band of girls, who whirl round her continually, singing as they go, proceeds from house to house announcing that spring has come, and wishing them the blessings of the year. "In Ruhea, as soon as the trees begin to grow green in spring, the children assemble on Sunday and go out into the woods, where they choose one of their playmates to be the Little Leaf Man. They break branches from the trees and twine them about the child till only his shoes peep out from the leafy mantle. Singing and dancing, they take him from house to house asking for gifts of food. Lastly, they sprinkle the Leaf Man with water, after which they feast on the food they have collected."  A somewhat similar custom is observed in England, where a chimney-sweep walks about encased in holly and ivy, and accompanied by his

p. 60

fellow-craftsmen, who collect money with which to have a carouse.

These customs, which might be illustrated indefinitely, are all analogous to the setting up and decoration of the village May-pole. Formerly it had to be renewed from year to year, the carrying of the new pole into the town being accompanied by crowds in holiday attire, who kept up a continual singing and clapping of hands with whirling and dancing. The object of the custom undoubtedly was to bring in the fructifying spirit of vegetation newly awakened, and for this purpose a newly cut pole and freshly gathered flowers were necessary. As the ancient Druidical sacrifices were abolished under the influence of an advancing conception of divinity, the festivals remained, merely changing their outward form and expression. What was stern reality became a pleasant pastime, and so came to be continued through the centuries, after men had forgotten the object served by them in a ruder age. And this affords an illustration of how among a savage people customs change so slowly. Two or three generations of literature do more to change thought and obliterate myth than thousands of years of tradition. Hence it is that in Africa, Australia, parts of India, and the South Sea Islands, we have at present time conditions similar to what obtained in Europe long before the rise of the Greek Republic. From this long digression we must now return to the consideration of African sacrifices, substitutionary and propitiatory.


36:* J. G. Frazer, Golden Bough.

38:* Livingstone.

39:* A lady living in the highlands of Scotland a few years ago had a cock that crowed in the evening. Her peasant neighbours urged her to kill it. She consulted a local gentleman, who replied to her question: "No, no, Mrs. Brown, there is no harm in the creature, none whatever: but I will tell you what, if I were in your place I would wring that cock's neck."

39:† Krapf.

40:* Krapf.

40:† Ibid.

41:* Krapf.

41:† Ibid.

41:‡ Dalton.

41:§ Monnier.

42:* Krapf.

43:* Krapf.

47:* Rowley, Africa Unveiled.

49:* Rowley.

49:† Winterbotham.

50:* Rowley.

50:† Schweinfurth.

50:‡ Ibid.

50:§ Ibid.

50:** Mackay.

52:* MacPherson.

55:* Campbell.

57:* J. G. Frazer.

57:† Rev. A. Gunn, MS. Notes.

59:* Martin.

59:† J. G. Frazer, quoting Mannhardt.

Next: Chapter IV. Sacrifice