Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/515

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GHOST WORSHIP AND TREE WORSHIP.

plies that to the body of the meriah there was rather ascribed "a direct or intrinsic power of making the crops to grow." In other words, the flesh and ashes of the victim were believed to be endowed with a magical or physical power of fertilizing the land. Again, intrinsic supernatural power as an attribute of the meriah appears in the sovereign virtue believed to reside in anything that came from his person, as his hair or spittle. The ascription of such power to the meriah indicates that he was much more than a mere man sacrificed to propitiate an angry deity. Once more, the extreme reverence paid him would point to the same conclusion. Major Campbell speaks of the meriah as "being regarded as something more than mortal"; and Major Macpherson says that "a species of reverence which it is not easy to distinguish from adoration is paid to him." In short, by common consent of our authorities, the meriah appears to have been regarded as himself divine.

To a certain extent, then, I would venture to differ, with all deference and humility, as of a scholar toward his master, from Mr. Frazer, in the explanation which he gives of this and sundry kindred ceremonies. To him the human god, who is so frequently sacrified for the benefit of the crops, is envisaged as primarily the embodiment of vegetation; I would make bold to suggest, on the contrary, that the corn or other crop is rather itself regarded as the embodiment or ghost of the divine personage.

Here are some more very striking cases that look that way, extracted once more from Mr. Frazer's vast repertory: "A West African queen used to sacrifice a man and woman in the month of March. They were killed with spades and hoes, and their bodies buried in the middle of a field which had just been tilled. At Lagos, in Guinea, it was the custom annually to impale a young girl alive, soon after the spring equinox, in order to secure good crops. Along with her were sacrificed sheep and goats, which with yams, heads of maize, and plantains, were hung on stakes on each side of her. The victims were bred up for the purpose in the king's seraglio, and their minds had been so powerfully wrought upon by the fetich men that they went cheerfully to their fate. A similar sacrifice is still annually offered at Benin, Guinea. The Marimos, a Bechuana tribe, sacrifice a human being for the crops. The victim chosen is generally a short, stout man. He is seized by violence, or intoxicated, and taken to the fields, where he is killed among the wheat to serve as 'seed' (so they phrase it). After his blood has coagulated in the sun, it is burned along with the frontal bone, the flesh attached to it, and the brain; the ashes are then scattered over the ground to fertilize it. The rest of the body is eaten."[1]


  1. The Golden Bough, vol. i, p. 383.