MAGIC THROUGH TANGIBLE THINGS
THE dread of being harmed through so intangible a thing as his name, which haunts the savage, is the extreme and more subtle form of the same dread which, for a like reason, makes him adopt precautions against cuttings of his hair, parings of his nails, his saliva, excreta, and the water in which his clothes--when he wears any--are washed, falling under the control of the sorcerer. Miss Mary Kingsley says that 'the fear of nail and hair clippings getting into the hands of evilly disposed persons is ever present to the West African: The Igalwa and other tribes will allow no one but a trusted friend to do their hair, and bits of nails or hair are carefully burnt or thrown away into a river. Blond., even that from a small cut on the finger. or from a fit of nose-bleeding, is most carefully covered up and stamped out if it has fallen on the earth. Blood is the life, and life in Africa means a spirit, hence the liberated blood is the liberated spirit, and liberated spirits are always whipping into people who don't want them. [a] Crammed with Pagan superstitions, the Italian who is reluctant to trust a lock of his hair to another stands on the same plane as the barbarian. Sometimes, as was the custom among the Incas, and as is still the custom among Turks and Esthonians, the refuse of hair and nails is preserved so that the owner may have them at the resurrection of the body. [b] In connection with this, one of my sons tells me that his Jamaican negro housekeeper speaks of the old-time blacks keeping their hair-cuttings to be put in a pillow in their coffins, and preserving the parings of their nails, because they would need them in the next world. It is a common superstition among ourselves that when children's teeth come out they should not be thrown away, lest the child has to seek for the lost tooth after death. On the other hand, it is an equally common practice to throw the teeth in the fire 'out of harm's way.'
But the larger number of practices give expression to the belief in what is known as 'sympathetic magic'; as we say, 'like cures like,' Or more appositely, in barbaric theory, 'kills like.' Things outwardly resembling one another are believed to possess the same qualities, effects being thereby brought about in the man himself by the production of like effects in things belonging to him, or in images or effigies of him. The Zulu sorcerers, when they have secured a portion of their victim's dress, will bury it in some secret place, so that, as it rots away, his life may decay. In the New Hebrides it was the common practice to hide nail-parings and cuttings of hair, and to give the remains of food carefully to the pigs. 'When the mae snake carried away a fragment of food into the place sacred to a spirit, the man who had eaten of the food would sicken as the fragment decayed.[c] Brand tells that in a witchcraft trial in the seventeenth century, the accused confessed 'having buried a glove of the said Lord Henry in the ground, so that as the glove did rot and waste, the liver of the said lord might rot and waste'; and the New Britain sorcerer of to-day will burn a castaway banana skin, so that the man who carelessly left it unburied may die a tormenting death. A fever-stricken Australian native girl told the doctor who attended her that 'some moons back, when the Goulburn blacks were encamped near Melbourne, a young man named Gibberook came behind her and cut off a lock of her hair, and that she was sure he had buried it, and that it was rotting somewhere. Her marm-bu-la (kidney fat) was wasting away, and when the stolen hair had completely rotted she would die.' She added that her name had been lately cut on a tree by some wild black, and that was another sign of death. Her name was Murran, which means 'a leaf,' and the doctor afterwards found that the figure of leaves had been carved on a gum-tree as described by the girl. The sorceress said that the spirit of a black fellow had cut the figure on the tree. [d]
The putting of sharp stones in the foot-tracks of an enemy is believed to maim him, as a nail is driven into a horse's footprint to lame him, [e] while the chewing of a piece of wood is thought to soften the heart of a man with whom a bargain is being driven. Folk-medicine, the wide world through, is full of prescriptions based on sympathetic or antipathetic magic. Its doctrine of 'seals' or 'signatures' is expressed in the use of yellow flowers for jaundice, and of eye-bright for ophthalmia, while among the wonder-working roots there is the familiar mandrake of human shape, credited, in virtue of that resemblance, with magic power. In Umbria, where the peasants seek to nourish the consumptive on rosebuds and dew, the mothers take their children, wasted by sickness, to some boundary stone, perchance once sacred to Hermes, and pray to God to stay the illness or end the sufferer's life. The Cheroki make a decoction of the cone-flower for weak eyes because of the fancied resemblance of that plant to the strong-sighted eye of the deer; and they also drink an infusion of the tenacious burrs of the common beggars' lice, an Americai species of the genus Desmodium, to strengthen the memory. To ensure a fine voice, they boil crickets, and drink the liquor. In Suffolk and other parts of these islands, a common remedy for warts is to secretly pierce a snail or 'dodman with a gooseberry-bush thorn, rub the snail on the wart, and then bury it, so that, as it decays the wart may wither away.
Chinese doctors administer the head, middle or roots of plants, as the case may be, to cure the complaints of their patients in the head body, or legs. And with the practice of the Zulu medicine-man, who takes the bones of the oldest bull or dog of the tribe, giving scrapings of these to the sick, so that their lives may b prolonged to old age, [f] we may compare that of doctors in the seventeenth century, who with lest logic, but perchance unconscious humour, gav their patients pulverised mummy to prolong their years. [g]'Mummie,' says Sir Thomas Browne, 'is become merchandise. Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams.' [h]
In Plutarch's Roman Questions, which Dr. Jevons, in his valuable preface to the reprint of Philemon Holland's translation, [i] remarks 'may fairly be said to be the earliest formal treatise written on the subject of folk-lore,' reference is made to the Roman customs of not completely clearing the table of food, and 'never putting foorth the light of a lampe, but suffering it to goe out of the owne accord.' These obviously come under the head of sympathetic magic, 'being safeguards against starvation and darkness.' In Melanesia, if a man wounds another with an arrow, he will drink hot juices and chew irritat~ ing leaves to bring about agony to the wounded, and he will keep his bow taut, pulling it at intervals to cause nerve-tension and tetanus in his victim. Here, though wide seas between them roll, we may compare the same philosophy of things at work. The 'sympathetic powder' used by Sir Kenelm Digby in the seventeenth century was believed to cure a wound if applied to the sword that inflicted it; and, to-day, the Suffolk farmer keeps the sickle with which he has cut himself free from rust, so that the wound may not fester. Here, too, lies the answer to the question that puzzled Plutarch. 'What is the reason that of all those things which be dedicate and consecrated to the gods, the custome is a Rome, that onely the spoiles of enemies conquered in the warres are neglected and suffered to run to decay in processe of time: neither is ther any reverence done unto them, nor repaired be they at any time when they wax olde?' Of course the custom is the outcome of the belief that the enemy's power waned as his armour rusted away.
Equally puzzling to Plutarch was the custom among Roman women 'of the most noble an auncient houses' to 'carry little moones upon their shoes.' These were of the nature of amulets, designed to deceive the lunacy-bringing moon spirit, so that it might enter the crescent charm instead of the wearer. 'The Chaldeans diverted the spirit of disease from the sick man by providing an image in the likeness of the spirit to attract the plague.' [j] 'Make of it an image in his likeness (i.e. of Namtar, the plague); apply it to the living flesh of his body (i.e. of the sick man), may the malevolent Namtar who possesses him pass into the image.' [k] But the reverse effect was more frequently the aim. A Chaldean tablet records the complaint of some victim, that 'he who enchants images has charmed away my life by image'; and Ibn Khaldun, an Arabian writer of the fourteenth century, describes how the Nabathean sorcerers of the Lower Euphrates made an image of the person whom they plotted to destroy. They transcribed his name on his effigy, uttered magic curses over it, and then, after divers other ceremonies, left the evil spirits to complete the fell work. [l] In ancient Egyptian belief the ka of a living person could be transferred to a wax image by the repetition of formulae and there is no break in the long centuries between Accadian magic, which so profoundly influenced the West, and the practice of injuring a man through his image, which flourishes to-day. The Ojibways believe that 'by drawing the figure of any person in sand or clay, or by considering any object as the figure of a person, and then pricking it with a sharp stick or other weapon, or doing anything that would be done to the living body to cause pain or death, the person thus represented will suffer likewise.' [m] King James I., in his Daemonology, Book is. ch. v., speaks of 'the devil teaching how to make pictures of wax or clay, that by roasting thereof the persons that they bear the name of may be continually melted or dried away by sickness; and, as showing the continuity of the idea, there are exhibited in the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, besides similar objects from the Straits Settlements, a 'Corp Creidh' or 'clay body' from the Highlands, and a pig's heart from Devonshire, with pins stuck in them.
The assumed correspondence between physical phenomena and human actions is further shown in Dr Johnson's observation, when describing his visit to the Hebrides, that the peasants expect better crops by sowing their seed at the new moon; and he recalls from memory a precept annually given in the almanack, 'to kill hogs when the moon is waxing, that the bacon may prove the better in boiling.' With the ancient Roman custom of throwing images of the corn-spirit (doubtless substitutes of actual human offerings) into the river, so that the crops might be drenched with rain, we may compare the practice of the modern Servians and Thessalians, who strip a little girl naked, but wrap her completely in leaves and flowers, and then dance and sing round her, while bowls of water are poured over her to make the rain come. The life of man pulsates with the great heart of nature in many a touching superstition, as in the belief in the dependence of the earth's fertility on the vigour of the tree-spirit incarnated in the priest-king [n] in the group which connects the waning of the days with the decline of human years; and, pathetically enough, in the widespread notion, of which Dickens makes use in David Copperfield, that life goes out with the ebb-tide.
'I was on the point of asking him if he knew me, when he tried to stretch out his arm, and said te me, distinctly, with a pleasant smile, "Barkis is willin'."
'And, it being low water, he went out with the tide.'
The general idea has only to be decked ii another garb to fit the frame of mind which still reserves some pet sphere of nature for the operation of the special and the arbitrary. 'The narrower the range of man's knowledge of physical causes, the wider is the field which he hat to fill up with hypothetical causes of a metaphysical or supernatural character.'
We must not pass from these examples of belief in sympathetic connection, drawn from home at well as foreign sources, without reference to its significance in connection with food outside the prohibitions which are usually explained by the totem, that is, abstinence from the plant or animal which is regarded as the tribal ancestor.
Captain Wells, who was killed near Chicago in 1812, and who was celebrated for his valour among the Indians, was cut up into many parts, which were distributed among the allied tribes, so that all might have the opportunity of getting a taste of the courageous soldier. For it is a common belief among barbaric folk that by eating the flesh of a brave man a portion of his courage is absorbed. The Botecudos sucked the blood of living victims that they might imbibe spiritual force, and among the Brazilian natives the first food given to a child, when weaning it, was the flesh of an enemy. [o] Cannibalism, the origin of which is probably due to a scarcity of animal food, therefore acquires this superadded motive, in which also lies the explanation of the eating of, or abstaining from, the flesh of certain animals. The lion's flesh gives courage, the deer's flesh causes timidity; and in more subtle form of the same idea, barbaric hunters will abstain from oil lest the game slip through their fingers. Contrariwise, the Hessian lad thinks that he may escape the conscription by carrying a baby girl's cap in his pocket: a symbolic way of repudiating manhood. [p]
Most suggestive of all is the extension of the idea to the eating of the slain god, whereby his spirit is imbibed, and communion with the unseen secured. To quote Mr. Frazer, the savage believes that 'by eating the body of the god he shares in the god's attributes and powers; and when the god is a corn-god, the corn is his proper body; when he is a vine-god, the juice of the grape is his blood; and so, by eating the bread and drinking the wine, the worshipper partakes of the real body and blood of his god. Thus the drinking of wine in the rite of a vine-god, like Dionysus, is not an act of revelry; it is a solemn sacrament.' [q] Experience shows that people possessing intelligence above the ordinary often fail to see the bearing of one set of facts upon another set, especially if the application can be' made to their traditional beliefs, whether these are only mechanically held, or ardently defended. It is, therefore, not wholly needless to point out that Mr. Frazer's explanation is to be extended to the rites attaching to Christianity, transubstantiation being, laterally [r] or lineally, the descendant of the barbaric idea of eating the god, whereby the communicant becomes a 'partaker of the divine nature.' In connection with this we may cite Professor Robertson Smith's remark, that a notable application of the idea of eating the flesh or drinking the blood of another being, so that a man absorbs its nature or life into his own, is the rite of blood-brotherhood, the simplest form of which is in two men opening their veins and sucking one another's blood. 'Thenceforth their lives are not two, but one. ' [s] Among the Unyamuezi the ceremony is performed by cutting incisions in each other's legs and letting the blood trickle together. [t] Fuller reference. to this widely diffused rite will, however, have more fitting place later on, when treating of the custom of the exchange of names which, as will be seen, often goes with it. Belief in virtue inhering in the dead man's body involves belief in virtue in his belongings, in which is the key to the belief in the elEcacy of relics as vehicles of supernatural power. Here the continuity is clearly traceable. There is no fundamental difference between the savage who carries about with him the skull-bones of his ancestor as a charm or seat of oracle, and the Buddhist who places the relics of holy men beneath the tope, or the Catholic who deposits the fragments of saints or martyrs within the altar which their presence sanctifies; while the mother, treasuring her dead child's lock of hair, witnesses to the vitality of feelings drawn from perennial springs in human nature. Well-nigh every relic which the Church safeguards beneath her shrines, or exhibits, at stated seasons, for the adoration of the crowd, is spurious, [u] yet no amount of ridicule thrown on these has impaired the credulity whose strength lies in the dominance of the wish to believe over the desire to know. [v]
In 'Whuppity Stoorie' the widow and the witch 'watted thooms' over their bargain. Man's saliva plays a smaller, but by no means inactive, part in his superstitions. A goodly-sized book might be written on the history and ethnic distribution of the customs connected with it. Employed as vehicle of blessing or cursing, of injury or cure, by peoples intellectually as far apart as the Jews, the South Sea Islanders, the medieval Christians, and the Central Africans of to-day, the potencies of this normally harmless secretion have been most widely credited. [w] Among ourselves it is a vehicle of one of the coarsest forms of assault, or the degenerate representative of the old luck-charm in the spitting on money by the cabman or the costermonger. Among certain barbaric races, however, the act expresses the kindliest feeling and the highest compliment. Consul Petherick says that a Sudanese chief, after grasping his hand, spat on it, and then did the like to his face, a form of salute which the consul returned with interest, to the delight of the recipient. Among the Masai the same custom is universal; and while it is bad form to kiss a lady, it is comme il faut to spit on her.[x] authority who reports this adds an account of certain generative virtues with which saliva, especially if administered by a white man, is accredited. [y] But it is as a prophylactic, notably in the form of fasting spittle, and as a protection against sorcery and all forms of black magic, that we meet with frequent references to it in ancient writers, and in modern books of traveL 'Spittle,' says Brand, 'was esteemed a charm against all kinds of fascination, [z] notably against the evil eye, the remedy for which, still in vogue among the Italians, is to spit three times upon the breast, as did the urban maiden in Theocritus when she refused her rustic wooer. It came out in the course of a murder trial at Philippopolis, that the Bulgarians believe that spitting gives immunity from the consequences of perjury. [aa] An example of its use in benediction occurs, as when the Abomel of Alzpirn spat on his clergy and laity; but more familiar are the cases of its application in baptism and name-giving. Seward says that 'the custom of nurses lustrating the children by spittle was one of the ceremonies used on the Dies Nominalis, the day the child was named; so that there can be no doubt of the Papists deriving this custom from the heathen nurses and grandmothers. They have indeed christened it, as it were, by flinging in some Scriptural expressions; but then they have carried it to a more filthy extravagance by daubing it on the nostrils of adults as well as of children.' [ab] Ockley tells that when Hasan was born, his grandfather, Mohammed, spat in his mouth as he named him; and Mungo Park thus describes the name-giving ceremony among the Mandingo people. 'A child is named when it is seven or eight days old. The ceremony commences by shaving the head. The priest offers a prayer, in which he solicits the blessing of God upon the child and all the company, and then whispering a few sentences in the child's ear, spits three times in his face, after which, pronouncing his name aloud, be returns the child to its mother.'
All which, of course, has vital connection with the belief in inherent virtue in saliva, and therefore with the widespread group of customs which have for their object the prevention of its falling within the power of the sorcerer. Suabian folk-medicine prescribes that the saliva should at once be trodden into the ground lest some evil-disposed. person use it for sorcery. As the result of extensive acquaintance with the North American Indians, Captain Bourke says that all of them are careful to spit into their cloaks or blankets and Kane adds his testimony that the natives of Columbia River are never seen to spit without carefully stamping out the saliva. This they do lest an enemy should find it, and work injury through it. The chief officer of the 'king' of Congo receives the royal saliva in a rag, which he doubles up and kisses; while in Hawaii the guardianship of the monarch's expectorations was intrusted only to a chief of high rank, who held the dignified office of spittoon-bearer to the king, and who, like his fellow-holders of the same trust under other Polynesian rulers, buried the saliva beyond the reach of malicious medicine-men. Finally, as bearing on the absence of any delimiting lines between a man's belongings, there may be cited Brand's reference to Debrio. He 'portrays the manners and ideas of the continent, and mentions that upon those hairs which come out of the head in combing they spit thrice before they throw them away.' [ac]
The reluctance of savages to have their portraits taken is explicable when brought into relation with the group of confused ideas under review. Naturally, the man thinks that virtue has gone out of him, that some part of his vulnerable self is put at the mercy of his fellows, when he sees his 'counterfeit presentment' on a sheet of paper, or peering from out magic glass. The reluctance of unlettered people among ourselves to have their likenesses taken is not uncommon. From Scotland to Somerset [ad] there comes evidence about the ill-health or ill-luck which followed the camera, of folks who 'took bad and died' after being 'a-tookt.' These facts will remove any surprise at Catlin's well known story of the accusation brought against him by the Yukons that he had made buffaloes scarce by putting so many pictures of them in his book. [ae]
[a] Travels in West Africa, p. 447.
[b] The Golden Bough, vol. i p. 203
[c] Codrington, Melanesians, p. 203
[d] Brough Smyth, Aborigines of Victoria, vol. i. p. 468.
[e] Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, p. 1093.
[f] Bishop Callaway, Zulu Nursery Tales, p. 175.
[g] Lang's Myth, Ritual, and Religion, vol. i. p. 96. The inclusion of mummy in the old pharmacopoeias was perhaps due to certain virtues in the aromatics used in embalming.
[h] Urn-Burial, iii. p. 46 (collected works).
[i] Bibliothéque de Carabas, vol. vii. (Nutt, 1892).
[j] Jevons, Plutarch's Romane Questions, p. 79.
[k] Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, p. 51.
[l] lb. p. 63.
[m] Dorman, Primitive Superstitions. p. 139.
[n] See infra, p. 150.
[o] Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, vol i. p. 88.
[p] Dorman, Primitive Superstitions, p. 149.
[q] Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 107.
[r] Golden Bough, vol. i. p. 89.
[s] See, on this matter, Professor Percy Gardner's tract on the Origin of the Lord's, Supper, pp. 18-20 (MacmIllan and Co.).
[t] .Religiort of the Semites, p. 296.
[u] Speke, Journal of Discovery of the Source of the Nile, p. 96
[v] On the manufacture of and traffic in relics, see Froude, Erasmus, p. 128; Gregorovius, Hist. of Rome in the Middle Ages, vol. ii. pp. 73-77; iii. pp. 72-75.
[w] In John Heywood's Enterlude of the Four P's (a Palmer, a Pardoner, a 'Poticary, and a Pedlar), the author, a sixteenth-century writer of Morality Plays, did not allow his staunch Catholicism to hinder his flinging some coarse satire at the relic-mongers. He represents the Pardoner as exhibiting, among other curios, the jaw-bone of All Saints, a buttock-bone of the Holy Ghost, and the great toe of the Trinity.
[x] Art, on 'Saliva Superstitions,' by Fanny D. Bergen, American Folk-Lore Soc. Journal, vol. iii. p. 52.
[y] Joseph Thomson, Through Masai Land, p. 166.
[y] Ibid. p. 165.
[z] Popular Antiquities, iii. p. 228 (Hazlitt's edition).
[aa] Westminster Gazette, 28th July 1897.
[ab] Conformity between Popery and Pagnism, p. 14; Brand, iii.
[ac] Pop. Antiq. iii. p. 231.
[ad] Napier, Folklore of West Scotland, p. 142; Elworthy, Evil Eye, p. 86.
[ae] Dorman, p. 140.