Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/509

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GHOST WORSHIP AND TREE WORSHIP.

dared to cut that timber. A story is told of a party from Upolu who once attempted it, and the consequence was that blood flowed from the tree, and that the sacrilegious strangers all took ill and died." Till 1855, says Mannhardt, there was a sacred larch tree at Nauders in the Tyrol, which was thought to bleed whenever it was cut. In some of these cases, it is true, we do not know that the trees grew on tumuli, but this point is specially noticed about Polydorus's dogwood, and is probably implied in the Samoan case, as I gather from the title given to the spirit as King of Fiji.

In other instances, however, this doubt does not exist; we are expressly told it is the souls of the dead which are believed to animate the bleeding or speaking trees. "The Dieyerie tribe of South Australia," says Mr. Frazer, "regard as very sacred certain trees which are supposed to be their fathers transformed; hence they will not cut the trees down, and protest against settlers doing so."

Again, we must remember that most early worship is offered directly to the spirits of ancestors in the expectation of definite benefits to be derived from their aid. In New Guinea, for example, where religion has hardly progressed at all beyond the most primitive stage of direct ancestor worship, Mr. Chalmers tells us "when the natives begin planting, they first take a bunch of bananas and sugar cane, and go to the center of the plantation and call over the names of the dead belonging to their family, adding, 'There is your food, your bananas and sugar cane; let our food grow well and let it be plentiful. If it does not grow well and plentifully you all will be full of shame, and so shall we.' "[1]

Abundant other evidence could be forthcoming, were it necessary, to show that the ancestral spirits are regarded by the most primitive types of men as causing the earth to bring forth fruit in due season. But I hardly think further formal proof of this proposition necessary.

But how did the ancestral ghosts acquire in the first instance this peculiar power of causing growth in vegetation? The explanation, it seems to me, though crude and barbaric, is a very simple and natural one. In the first place, in many of the earlier and more native forms of sepulture, the dead are buried under a tumulus or barrow. Such tumuli, of course, go back in time to a remote antiquity. Now, many circumstances would make vegetation upon the turf of the barrows exceptionally luxuriant. In the first place, the soil there has been largely piled up and labored; it consists for the most part of an accumulation of deep vegetable mold, gathered together from all the surrounding surface; and at an age when cultivation was wholly unknown—for tumuli, we


  1. Chalmers. Work and Adventure in New Guinea, p. 85.