Sacred Texts  Shamanism  Index  Previous  Next 



IF what precedes be accepted, it can be taken as; established that primitive man, or at least man in an early stage of culture, determined himself to be a duality, soul and body. But the two constituents did not appear to be inseparably connected. The soul might leave the body, either temporarily or permanently, and in the latter case the body perished. The presence of the soul is therefore essential to life. But incidentally reference has been made to the absence of the soul for periods usually brief. In fact, primitive races hold that the soul absents itself voluntarily at times, goes on travels, performs tasks, and the like; and also that some have the power to send forth the soul--their own or others'--for their own purposes. It may even happen that the soul is either lured forth or departs unwisely, and has to return. In New Guinea when a person faints, he is said to be dead; and when he revives, the explanation is that he "died green," and perhaps because the soul was not wanted in the spirit land, it had to take up again its old life with the body.[1] For the wandering of the soul in dreams there is abundant testimony,--so abundant, in fact, that we will content ourselves with a single reference.[2] The Japanese are persuaded that this same constituent of personality leaves the body that it may sport itself untrammelled.[3] The satirist Lucian and the scientist Pliny relate the story of the seer Hermotimus, who sent forth his spirit to explore distant regions. At last, during an unwontedly long absence, his wife supposed him to be dead and burned his body, so that on its return the spirit found no dwelling for itself.[4] A slightly different case is that reported of the Scandinavian chief Ingimund, who shut up three Finns that their spirits might visit Iceland, discover the lie of the land where he proposed to settle, and report to him on their return. An instance

[1. Newton, In Far New Guinea, p. 220.

2, Kingsley, West African Studies, pp. 200 ff.

3. Griffis, Mikado's Empire, p. 472.

4. Cited by Tylor, Primitive Culture, i. 439; cf. Jevons, Introduction, pp. 44 ff., and the cases there cited.]

like that of Hermotimus is the case of Epimenides, the Cretan prophet and magician, who was reputed to be able to dispatch his spirit in quest of knowledge and recall it at will.[5] And Hermotimus had in recent years an African disciple, whose exploits were worthy, if reports are to be credited, of his unknown master.[6]

Since belief in the absence of the soul, at least for a temporary period, could be held over so wide an area and even among comparatively developed peoples, it is not surprising that there should arise a belief in the existence of the animating spirit seated not in the body, but in some place where security would be greater. The evidences are many of a belief that the soul might reside either from birth or from some later period in some object other than its normal home. This is the phenomenon known to anthropologists as the "external" or "separable" soul. A dilution of this is the form which is christened "the life token," in which the clouding of a liquid or the tarnishing of a weapon is the sign either of danger, sickness, or death of the

[5. Hesychius, Lexikon, under "Epimenides."

6. Talbot, In the Shadow of the Bush, p. 231.]

person for whom the liquid or object stands. It can be shown, however, in most cases, that when the life token is the center of the story, it is the result of an advanced stage of culture, if it is not directly stated that such object is the residence of the soul.

The earliest example of this belief so far known to literature occurs in the Egyptian tale of "Anpu and Bata, or the Two Brothers."[7] The younger brother commits his soul apparently to the keeping successively of acacia flowers, of a bull, and then of two trees, while a chip from one of the latter causes conception. Another view of the latter experiences, however, is that they are cases of transmigration. The case of the Balong of the Cameroons who believe that a man may have several souls, one in his own body and others in different animals of the jungle, has already been cited. It is quite usual for them to account for a man's sudden death by supposing that one of his soul-containing animals has been killed by a hunter.[8] Frequent in folk-lore is the theme of the wicked and oppressive ogre or giant or wizard who

[7. Petrie, Egyptian Tales, 2d series, pp. 48 ff.

6. Globus, 69 (1896), 277, cited in Hastings, ERE, 4, 412-413.]

holds in his power maiden or youth, and is invincible to ordinary attack because his soul is safe-guarded in an egg inside a duck that swims on a pond in a distant island guarded by a dragon within a walled and inaccessible fortress. Not until the many obstacles have been overcome and the egg obtained is the luckless maiden or youth released by the crushing of the egg and the consequent immediate demise of ogre, giant, or wizard. This theme of a receptacle strongly guarded (though in this case it is not a soul, but the "Book of Thoth," a book of magic) comes, curiously enough, in its earliest form from Egypt, and suggests that this idea of an object, and perhaps the separable soul, secured by many safeguards, may have been a particularly widely diffused idea. The "Book of Thoth" was in an iron box, which enclosed successively one of bronze, of kété-wood, of ivory and ebony, of silver, and last of gold, the entire nest being in the middle of the river, surrounded by snakes, scorpions, and "all manner of creeping things," and above all by a snake that no man could kill--which however a man did kill. In this case, as in most of those in folk-lore where the soul is supposedly unassailable, the conquest is effected through magic.[9]

In many cases the story has to do with the miraculous birth (not always virgin birth, however) of twins or triplets, simultaneous with which appears some plant or tree or other copied which is the repository of the soul or is the "life-token." The fading or withering of bloom or plant here indicates disaster. Sometimes, instead of the plants, weapons (which undergo modernization in successive generations of story-tellers) spring up, or a spring wells forth, and in them reside the souls of the children. Then if hilt falls from sword or sheen tarnishes on blade, or if lock looses from gun or the clear water of the spring begins to run clouded, the event betokens danger or catastrophe to the possessor of the soul.[10] In the Ramayana, Garuda says to Rama: "I am thy friend, thy life free-

[1. The story of the Book of Thoth is told in Petrie, Egyptian Tales, ii. 89 ff.; Spiegelberg, Demotische Papyrus; and Murray, Ancient Egyptian Legends, pp. 31 ff.

2. A number of interesting cases exhibiting these phenomena, not usually cited in the books can be found in Parker, Village Folk Tales of Ceylon (e.g., i. 164, 166-168, 190, et passim); Day, Folk-Tales of Bengal, pp. 2, 6, 85-86, 189, 253, etc.; Indian Antiquary, i. 86, 117, xvii. 54; Steel, Tales of the Punjab, pp. 52, 55, 75, etc.]

ranging, external to thyself."[11] It may be sufficient here, without going further into details in this interesting subject, to note that a considerable number of folk-tales of this and kindred types have been brought together and their points of similarity and difference discussed in Hartland's fascinating volumes,[12] a work which is urged upon all who wish to note the salient characteristics of this fertile field. It is interesting to remark that a new area for the existence of this curious belief has recently been discovered in the far north, since it is a part of the mental possessions of the Tshimsheans of Alaska.[13]

If it be objected that the principal evidence for all this is found in the region of Märchen, of folk-tale, and therefore purely imaginative, the reply is: even were this all, it shows a mode of thought and possibilities of conception, of psychological activity. But above all this, we can adduce the fact that transition to actual belief is furnished by the many cases in which a tree is planted when a child is born, and the life of tree and child are thought

[11. Nivedita, Myths of Hindus, p. 82.

12. The Legend of Perseus, 3 vols.

13. Arctander, Apostle of Alaska, p. 93.]

to be intimately connected. The Maori bury the navel cord or the placenta and plant a tree over the spot, and the latter becomes the life token .[14] Similarly, in Old Calibar the burial of the placenta and planting of a tree are conjoined.[15] In Pomerania a tree already growing is employed. Similar beliefs may be cited from Western Africa, Oceanica (e.g., Banks Islands [16]), Madagascar, Russia, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and England, and even in China traces of like customs are found.[17] In these cases fate of tree and person are so bound together that withering of or damage to the tree results in or indicates harm to the person. Thus certain Nigerian tribes hold that a tree has the life or breath of a person in it, and that harm to either may mean death to the other.[18]

[14 Taylor, Te Ika a Maui, p. 184.

15. Burton, Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 411.

16. Rivers, Melanesian Society i. 155.

17. Cases are collected in Hartland, Legend of Perseus, ii. 28 ff.

18. Thomas, Anthropological Report, pp. 29, 31, et passim.]

Next: Chapter V. Parity of Being