Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/673

This page has been validated.

and shiny trinkets on any very large and conspicuous tree; they sacrifice horses and oxen under its spreading branches, fixing the heads on the boughs; and they chant extemporized songs to the Spirit of the Wood, to whom they dedicate offerings of horsehair, an emblematic devotion of their most valued possession.[1] Yet even here we see from the essentially religious act of sacrifice that a ghost is supposed to reside in the tree; and it would take a very delicate investigation indeed to show that in any particular case under examination no interment ever took place under the sacred tree. Whenever we see a shaped stone standing at the head of a little mound or diminutive barrow, we naturally infer that a burial has taken place there; whenever we see a sacred tree, unless grave reason exist to the contrary, we naturally infer a ghost and an interment. For the case stands thus: We know that in many instances savages inter their dead under the shade of great trees. We know that such trees are thereafter often accounted sacred. We know that young shrubs or bushes are frequently planted on graves in all countries. We know that whatever comes up on or out of the grave of a relative is counted as an embodiment or representative of the ghost within it. The presumption is therefore in favor of any particular sacred tree being of funereal origin and significance; and the onus of proving the opposite lies with the person who asserts some more occult and less obvious explanation.

Even where newly grown trees acquire a factitious or artificial sanctity, one can still see through the account some abiding relic of the same antique funereal origin. For instance, we learn that when our old friends the Kandhs settle a new village, a sacred cotton tree must be planted with solemn rites, and beneath it is placed the stone which enshrines and embodies the village deity.[2] Now, what is this stone? Possibly, to be sure, a mere casual bowlder, picked out at haphazard; but far more probably, as all analogy would show, the holy monolith or headstone of some ancient chief of the parent village. Nothing is more common than for migrating people to carry with them their sacred stones, their country's gods, their lares and penates, their ark, their teraphim; nothing more common than to take up the bones of their Josephs out of Egypt for interment in the new land which their lords and gods give them. In any case, however, be this as it may, the performance under the cotton tree is clearly on the very face of it a mimic interment. Considering what we know in other ways of the Kandhs, it would not surprise one to learn that a guardian deity used once to be provided for the new village by

  1. Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. i, p. 224, quoting Castrén.
  2. Ibid., p. 225.