I USED to wonder how the wirreenuns or doctor-wizards of the tribe attained their degrees.
I found out that the old wizards fix upon a young boy who is to follow their profession. They take him to a tribal burial-ground at night. There they tie him down and leave him , after having lit some fires of fat at short distances round him.
During the night that boy, if he be shaky in his nerves, has rather a bad time.
One doctor of our tribe gave me a recital of his own early experience.
He said, after the old fellows had gone, a spirit came to him, and without undoing his fastenings by which he was bound, turned him over, then went away. Scarcely had the spirit departed when a big star fell straight from the sky alongside the boy; he gazed fixedly at it, and saw emerge from it, first the two hind legs, then the whole of a Beewee or iguana. The boy's totem was a Beewee, so he knew it would not hurt him. It ran close up to him, climbed on him, ran down his whole length, then went away.
Next came a snake straight towards his nose, hissing all the time. He was frightened now, for the snake is the hereditary enemy of the iguana. The boy struggled to free himself, but ineffectually. He tried to call out but found himself dumb. He tried to shut his eyes, or turn them from the snake, but was powerless to do so. The snake crawled on to him and licked him. Then it went away, leaving the boy as one paralysed. Next came a huge figure to him, having in its hand a gunnai or yam stick. The figure drove this into the boy's head, pulled it out through his back, and in the hole thus made placed a 'Gubberah,' or sacred stone, with the help of which much of the boy's magic in the future was to be worked.
This stone was about the size and something the shape of a small lemon, looking like a smoothed lump of semi-transparent crystal. It is in such stones that the wi-wirreenuns, or cleverest wizards, see visions of the past, of what is happening in the present at a distance, and of the future; also by directing rays from them towards their victims they are said to cause instantaneous death.
Next, to the doctor-boy on trial, came the spirits of the dead who corroboreed round him, chanting songs full of sacred lore as regards the art of healing, and instructions how, when he needed it, he could call upon their aid.
Then they silently and mysteriously disappeared. The next day one of the old wizards came to release the boy; he kept him away from the camp all day and at night took him to a weedah, or bower-bird's, playground. There he tied him down again, and there the boy was visited again by the spirits of the dead, and more lore was imparted to him.
The reason given for taking him to a weedah's playground is, that before the weedah was changed into a bird, he was a great wirreenun; that is why, as a bird, he makes such a collection of pebbles and bones at his playground.
The bower-bird's playgrounds are numerous in the bush. They are made of grass built into a tent-shaped arch open at each end, through which the weedahs run in and out, and scattered in heaps all around are white bones and black stones, bits of glass, and sometimes we have found coins, rings, and brooches.
The weedahs do not lay their eggs at their playgrounds their nests are hard to find. A little boy always known as 'Weedah,' died lately, so probably a new name will have to be found for the bird, or to mention it will be taboo, at all events before the old people, who never allow the names of the dead to be mentioned.
For several nights the medical student was tied down in case he should be frightened and run away, after that he was left without bonds. He was kept away from the camp for about two months. But he was not allowed to become a practitioner until he was some years older: first he dealt in conjuring, later on he was permitted to show his knowledge of pharmacy.
His conjuring cures are divers.
A burn he cures by sucking lumps of charcoal from it. Obstinate pains in the chest, the wizard says, must be caused by some enemy having put a dead person's hair', or bone in it. Looking wisdom personified in truly professional manner, he sucks at the affected spot, and soon produces from his mouth hair, bones, or whatever he said was there.
If this faith-healing does not succeed, a stronger wizard than he must have bewitched the patient; he will consult the spirits. To that end he goes to his Minggah, a tree or stone-more often a tree, only the very greatest wirreenuns have stones, which are called Goomah--where his own and any spirits friendly towards him may dwell.
He finds out there who the enemy is, and whence he obtained his poison. If a wirreenun is too far away to consult his friendly spirits in person, he can send his Mullee Mullee, or dream spirit, to interview them.
He may learn that an enemy has captured the sick person's Doowee, or dream spirit--only wirreenuns' dream spirits are Mullee Mullee, the others are Doowee--then he makes it his business to get that Doowee back.
These dream spirits are rather troublesome possessions while their human habitations sleep they can leave them and wander at will. The things seen in dreams are supposed to be what the Doowees see while away from the sleeping bodies. This wandering of the Doowees is a great chance for their enemies: capture the Doowee and the body sickens; knock the Doowee about before it returns and the body wakes up tired and languid. Should the Doowee not return at all, the person from whom it wandered dies. When you wake up unaccountably tired in the morning, be sure your Doowee has been 'on the spree,' having a free fight or something of that sort. And though your Doowee may give you at times lovely visions of passing paradises, on the whole you would be better without him.
There is on the Queensland border country a dillee bag full of unclaimed Doowees. The wirreenun who has charge of this is one of the most feared of wirreenuns; he is a great magician, who, with his wonder-working glassy stones, can conjure up visions of the old fleshly habitations of the captured Doowees.
He has Gubberahs, or clever stones, in which are the active spirits of evil-working devils, as well as others to work good. Should a Doowee once get into this wirreenun's bag, which has the power of self-movement, there is not a great chance of getting it back, though it is sometimes said to be done by a rival combination of magic. The worst of it is that ordinary people have no power over their Doowees; all they can do is to guard against their escaping by trying to keep their mouths shut while asleep.
The wirreenuns are masters of their Mullee Mullees, sending them where they please, to do what they are ordered, always provided they do not meet a greater than themselves.
All sorts of complications arise through the substitution of mad or evil spirits for the rightful Doowee. Be sure if you think any one has suddenly changed his character unaccountably, there has been some hankey-pankey with that person's Doowee. One of the greatest warnings of coming evil is to see your totem in a dream; such a sign is a herald of misfortune to you or one of your immediate kin. Should a wirreenun, perhaps for enmity, perhaps for the sake of ransom, decide to capture a Doowee, he will send his Mullee Mullee out to do it, bidding the Mullee Mullee secrete the Doowee in his--the wirreenun's--Minggah, tree or rock.
When he is consulted as to the return of the missing Doowee, he will order the one who has lost it to Sleep, then the Doowee, should the terms made suit the wirreenun, re-enters the body. Should it not do so, the Doowee-less one is doomed to die.
In a wirreenun's Minggah, too, are often secreted shadow spirits stolen from their owners, who are by their loss dying a lingering death, for no man can live without Mulloowil, his shadow. Every one has a shadow spirit which he is very careful not to parade before his enemies, as any injury to it affects himself. A wirreenun can gradually shrink the shadow's size, the owner sickens and dies. 'May your shadow never be less!'
The shadow of a wirreenun is, like his head, always mahgarl, or taboo; any one touching either will be made to suffer for such sacrilege.
A man's Minggah is generally a tree from amongst his multiplex totems,' as having greater reason to help him, being of the same family.
In his Minggah a wirreenun will probably keep some Wundah, or white devil spirits, with which to work evil. There, too, he often keeps his yunbeai, or animal spirit--that is, his individual totem, not hereditary one. All wirreenuns have a yunbeai, and sometimes a special favourite of the wirreenuns is given a yunbeai too--or in the event of any one being very ill, he is given a yunbeai, and the strength of that animal goes into the patient, making him strong again, or a dying wirreenun leaves his yunbeai to some one else. Though this spirit gives extra strength it likewise gives an extra danger, for any injury to the animal hurts the man too; thus even wirreenuns are exposed to danger.
No one, as we have said, must eat the flesh of his yunbeai animal; he may of his family totem, inherited from his mother, but of his yunbeai or individual familiar, never.
A wirreenun can assume the shape of his yunbeai; so if his yunbeai were, for example, a bird, and the wirreenun were in danger of being wounded or killed, he would change himself into that bird and fly away.
A great wirreenun can substitute one yunbeai for another, as was done when the opossum disappeared from our district, and the wirreenun, whose yunbeai it was, sickened and lay ill for months. Two very powerful wirreenuns gave him a new yunbeai, piggiebillah, the porcupine. His recovery began at once. The porcupine had been one of his favourite foods; from the time its spirit was put into him as his yunbeai, he never touched it.
A wirreenun has the power to conjure up a vision of his particular yunbeai, which he can make visible to those whom he chooses shall see it.
The blacks always told me that a very old man on the Narran, dead some years ago, would show me his yunbeai if I wished; it was Oolah, the prickly lizard.
One day I went to the camp, saw the old man in his usual airy costume, only assumed as I came in sight, a tailless shirt. One of the gins said something to him; he growled an answer; she seemed persuading him to do something. Presently he moved away to a quite clear spot on the other side of the fire; he muttered something in a sing-song voice, and suddenly I saw him beating his head as if in accompaniment to his song, and then--where it came from I can't say--there beside him was a lizard. That fragment of a shirt was too transparent to have hidden that lizard; he could not have had it up his sleeve, because his sleeves were in shreds. It may have been a pet lizard that he charmed in from the bush by his song, but I did not see it arrive.
They told me this old man had two yunbeai, the other was a snake. He often had them in evidence at his camp, and when he died they were seen beside him; there they remained until he was put into his coffin, then they disappeared and were never seen again. This man was the greatest of our local wizards, and I think really the last of the very clever ones. They say he was an old grey-headed man when Sir Thomas Mitchell first explored the Narran district in 1845. We always considered him a centenarian.
It was through him that I heard some of the best of the old legends, with an interpreter to make good our respective deficiencies in each other's language.
In the lives of blacks, or rather in their deaths, the Gooweera, or poison sticks or bones, play a great part.
A Gooweera is a stick about six inches long and half an inch through, pointed at both ends. This is used for sickening' or killing men.
A Guddeegooree is a similar stick, but much smaller, about three inches in length, and is used against women.
A man wishing to injure another takes one of these sticks, and warms it at a small fire he has made; he sticks the gooweera in the ground a few inches from the fire. While it is warming, he chants an incantation, telling who he wants to kill, why he wants to kill him, how long he wants the process to last, whether it is to be sudden death or a lingering sickness.
The chant over, and the gooweera warmed, he takes it from the fire. Should he wish to kill his enemy quickly, he binds opossum hair cord round the stick, only leaving one point exposed; should he only want to make his enemy ill, he only partially binds the stick. Then he ties a ligature tightly round his right arm, between the wrist and elbow, and taking the gooweera, or guddeegooree, according to the sex of his enemy, he points it at the person he wishes to injure, taking care he is not seen doing it.
Suddenly he feels the stick becoming heavier, he knows then it is drawing the blood from his enemy. The poison is prevented from entering himself by the ligature he has put round his arm. When the gooweera is heavy enough he ceases pointing it.
If he wants to kill the person outright, he goes away, makes a small hole in the earth, makes a fire beside it. In this hole he puts a few Dheal leaves--Dheal is the tree sacred to the dead; on top of the leaves he puts the gooweera, then more leaves this done, he goes away. The next day he comes back with his hand he hits the earth beside the buried stick, out jumps the gooweera, his enemy is dead. He takes the stick, which may be used many times, and goes on his way satisfied. Should he only wish to inflict a lingering illness on his enemy, he refrains from burying the gooweera, and in this case it is possible to save the afflicted person.
For instance, should any one suspect the man with the gooweera of having caused the illness, knowing of some grudge he had against the sick person, the one who suspects will probably intercede for mercy. The man may deny that he knows anything about it. He may, on the other hand, confess that he is the agent. If the intercessions prevail, he produces the gooweera, rubs it all over with iguana fat, and gives the intercessor what fat is left to rub over the sick person, who, on that being done, gradually regains his normal condition after having probably been reduced to a living skeleton from an indescribable wasting sickness, which I suspect we spell funk.
The best way to make a gooweera effective is to tie on the end of it some hair from the victim's head-a lock of hair being, in this country of upside-downs, a hate token instead of one of love.
When the lock of hair method is chosen as a means of happy dispatch, the process is carried out by a professional.
The hair is taken to the Boogahroo--a bag of hair and gooweeras--which is kept by one or two powerful wirreenuns in a certain Minggah. The wirreenun on receiving the hair asks to whom it belongs. Should it belong to one of a tribe he is favourably disposed towards, he takes the gooweera or hair, puts it in the bag, but never sings the I death song' over it, nor does he warm it.
Should he, however, be indifferent, or ill-disposed towards the individual or his tribe, he completes the process by going through the form already given, or rather when there are two wirreenuns at the Boogahroo, the receiver of the hair gives it to the other one, who sings the death-song, warms the gooweera, and burns the hair. The person from whose head the hair on the gooweera came, then by sympathetic magic, at whatever distance he is, dies a sudden or lingering death according to the incantation sung over the poison-stick. Gooweeras need not necessarily be of wood; bone is sometimes used, and in these latter days even iron.
Sometimes at a large meeting of the blacks the Boogahroo wirreenuns bring the bag and produce from it various locks of hair, which the owners or their relations recognise, claim, and recover. They find out, from the wirreenun, who put them there; on gaining which knowledge a tribal feud is declared-a regular vendetta, which lasts from generation to generation.
If it be known that a man has stolen a lock of hair, he will be watched and prevented from reaching the Boogahroo tree, if possible.
These gooweeras used to be a terrible 'nuisance to us on the station. A really good working black boy would say he must leave, he was going to die. On inquiry we would extract the information that some one was pointing a gooweera at him.
Then sometimes the whole camp was upset; a strange black fellow had arrived, and was said to have brought gooweeras. This reaching the boss's ears, confiscation would result in order to restore peace of mind in the camp. Before I left the station a gin brought me a gooweera and told me to keep it; she had stolen it from her husband, who had threatened to point it at her for talking to another man.
Some of them, though they still had faith in the power of such charms, had faith also in me. I used to drive devils out with patent medicines; my tobacco and patent medicine accounts while collecting folk-lore were enormous.
A wirreenun, or, in fact, any one having a yunbeai, has the power to cure any one suffering an injury from whatever that yunbeai is; as, for example, a man whose yunbeai is a black snake can cure a man who is bitten by a black snake, the method being to chant an incantation which makes the yunbeai enter the stricken body and drive out the poison. These various incantations are a large part of the wirreenun's education; not least valuable amongst them is the chant sung over the tracks of snakes, which renders the bites of those snakes innocuous.