Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/672

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form of tree worship, where the ghost itself is actually supposed to inhabit the branches of the sacred pine or the ancestral poplar. "The peasant folk lore of Europe," says Mr. Tylor, "still knows of willows that bleed and weep and speak when hewn; of the fairy maiden that sits within the fir tree; of that old tree in Rugaard forest that must not be felled, for an elf dwells within; of that old tree on the Heinzenberg near Zell, which uttered its complaint when the woodman cut it down, for in it was Our Lady, whose chapel now stands upon the spot. One may still look on where Franconian damsels go to a tree on St. Thomas's day, knock thrice solemnly, and listen for the indwelling spirit to give answer by raps from within what manner of husbands they are to have."[1] These cases fall at once into place if we recollect that elves and fairies are mere minor varieties of ancestral spirits, and that Our Lady often replaces for modern votaries the older and pre-Christian divinities of very ancient origin.

Other instances collected by Mr. Tylor are hardly less obviously explicable on similar principles. Here are a few select cases from savage peoples. The North American Indians of the far West will often hang offerings on trees, "to propitiate the spirits." Darwin, in the Voyage of the Beagle, describes the loud shouts with which the Indians of South America will often greet some sacred tree, standing solitary on some high part of the Pampas, a landmark visible from afar, and therefore, one might almost be inclined to guess from analogy, occupying the summit of some antique barrow.[2] Libations of spirits and maté were poured into a hole at its foot to gratify the soul of the indwelling deity. So, too, the New-Zealanders hang an offering of food on a branch at a landing place, or throw a bunch of rushes to some remarkable tree as an offering to the spirit that dwells within it. And in all such cases we must remember that to the savage mind the word spirit still means what it has half ceased to mean with us through long misuse—the actual ghost or surviving double of a departed tribesman. Worship, it seems to me, lies at the very root of religion, as distinguished from mere mythology; and the basis or core of worship is surely offering—that is to say, the propitiation of the ghost by just such gifts of food, drink, slaves, or women as the savage would naturally make to a living chief with whom he desired to curry favor.

I do not wish to deny, however, that in later stages of evolution the worship or reverence once paid to the ghost or spirit may come to be envisaged in the minds of devotees as worship or reverence paid to the actual trunk or to some vague sanctity of the surrounding forest. Thus the Yakuts of Siberia hang iron, brass,

  1. Primitive Culture, vol. i, p. 221.
  2. Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, p. 68.