Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/December 1891/Dress and Adornment IV
|DRESS AND ADORNMENT.|
IV. RELIGIOUS DRESS.
By Prof. FREDERICK STARR.
UNDER this subject we shall consider a variety of different matters—the dress of religious officers; the dress of worshipers; the dress of victims; the garb of mourners; amulets and charms; and the religious meaning of mutilations.
In any society we need to know four individuals only—the babe, the woman, the priest, and the dead man. If we know these, we know the community. The ethnographer usually seeks for the average man in any tribe; we believe he would better seek to know these four. Of the four the priest is usually the most remarkable. What an influence the shaman or the medicine-man wields in every community where he exists! His power is largely due to the terror which he causes, and to add to this he makes use of every auxiliary. Thus in his dress he aims at the wild and grotesque. By it he seeks to mark himself off as distinct from common men, and, although it may often be rich and costly, it must at the same time strike terror. The Kaffir sorcerer wears the ordinary kilt, but puts a gall-bladder in his hair and winds a snake's skin about his shoulders. A "queen of witches" wore large coils of entrails stuffed with fat about her neck, while her hair was stuck over in all directions with, the gall-bladders of animals (Wood). In any collection of articles from. Alaska tribes a large proportion of the specimens will be garments or paraphernalia of the shaman. A Tlingit shaman fully dressed for his professional duties is a striking and terrible sight. Over his shoulders he wears a neat robe of dressed skin, to which are hung
Fig. 2.—Shaman's Crown. Alaska.
the beaks of puffins, ivory charms, and jingling bits of metal. The charms are many of them neatly carved, and possess great spirit power in the cure of disease and the driving out of witches. A waist robe of the same material is adorned in the same way. Upon his head the shaman wears a crown of horns. These crowns are endowed with great spirit power. They are particularly interesting also as an unusually fine example of our old law—that old patterns are copied in new materials. The oldest type of these crowns was made from mountain-goat horns. These were simply carved with some design at base and were then attached to a headband—the upper ends of the horns being connected with one another by a sinew cord. From ten to fifteen horns were used in a single crown. Later this type was copied in mountain-sheep horn and in wood—the material being carved out into little bodies, like the horns of the mountain goat in size and shape. Still later copper was rolled into horn-shaped cones, which were then connected in the same way. Over his face the shaman may wear a wooden mask skillfully carved with grotesque designs. These vary infinitely, but each part usually has its own meaning and spirit power. Often there was worn a head-dress of human hair. In the hands the shaman carries carved rattles which make a loud noise, or carved wands of wood or ivory, powerful in healing or in witchcraft. It must be noticed that here every article has spirit power, and all or nearly all are calculated to inculcate feelings of terror or dread. There are some special articles, at times worn or carried by the shaman, which are very interesting. Among them are the curiously carved hollow bone tubes, used by the Haida shamans, into which the soul of a sick man is tempted and kept prisoner until it is restored to him upon his recovery to health. Every Tlingit shaman would carry also a scratcher of stone or bone, carved neatly, which he uses in treating the sick. It would be unlucky—disastrous—for him to touch the patient with his hand, but the scratcher may touch him without damage.
Turning from such savage garments to the dress of religious officers in civilized communities, we no longer find the chief design to be production of terror, but rather to impress by grandeur or magnificence. Of course, the fundamental idea in both is the same—to mark off or distinguish the priest from the layman. In the vestments of priests we find numerous cases of survival. What is meant by a "survival" in religion is well shown by the sacred fire of various peoples. Among the Sacs and Foxes matches made by white men are commonly used for the production of fire. On the occasion of religious ceremonies, however, the priest kindles a fire by friction of pieces of wood, using a spindle of cedar rapidly whirled by a bow between two boards of the same kind. Such fire is sacred, and is supposed to come direct from heaven. It is, we think, perfectly certain that anciently these Indians used the fire-drill as their only means of kindling fire. As better means, such as flints, were found, the old drill passed out of every-day use, but it lingered on in religious rite, and still survives. In the same way, in Japan to-day, we are informed by a Japanese friend, the Buddhist priests still use the flint and steel in rites, although the common people use matches. What the Indian medicine-man in Iowa and the Buddhist priest in Japan have done in the matter of fire-making, the priests of the Roman and Greek churches have done in the matter of dress. They have brought down the past into the present. The garments of the priesthood, of the acolytes and of the choir-boys in the cathedral, is the civil dress of ancient Rome—modified, it is true, and symbolical in its modification, but still recognizable. It is the old southern type of dress, preserved by the second great conservative element in society—the Church—just as it has been by that other conservator, woman.
In many parts of the world mendicants and fakirs are numerous. They are men who on account of their piety expect to be supported by their more industrious but less pious fellows. Such dress in a way to be readily recognized. In the garb they wear two ideas are embodied: (1) individualization; (2) extreme simplicity symbolical of the poverty of the mendicant.
Another sort of religious dress is that worn by the worshipers of some special divinity by members of religious orders and by participants in some religious service. These are too numerous and varied to be more than mentioned. In some of these cases the dress is symbolical; in many the symbolism has been lost. Monastic orders have their characteristic dress, distinguishing them alike from the world and from each other. Shakers, Quakers, and Dunkards all present examples of this kind of dress. The choir-boys in the cathedral and the acolytes might perhaps be better mentioned here than in the preceding group. Matthews, in his descriptions of Navajo ceremonies and dances, describes carefully the way in which the participants dress or are painted. Many of the masks from the South Sea Islands are used only in religious or society dances, and are properly a part of religious dress. The same is true of many of the masks of North American tribes. Similar in idea are the curious and often really beautiful neck-girdles of red cedar bark worn by the secret religious organizations of the Kwakiutl and their neighbors in the far Northwest.
Somewhat akin to dress worn by worshipers and servants are those garments worn by victims who are to be sacrificed to the gods. At Teotihuacan in Mexico there have been and still are found great numbers of neatly made little terra-cotta heads of human beings. These are exceedingly various in design, the differences being most marked in the head-dresses. There is considerable uncertainty as to the purpose of these little heads, but Mrs. Zelia Nuttall has written an article wherein is offered an explanation that seems plausible. She suggests that they were buried with the dead, and that the head-dresses represent those worn by victims for sacrifice. That such victims were differently adorned for different gods is certain, and it may be that these pretty little relics really give representations of the way in which they were dressed.
Some time perhaps civilized peoples will give up the wearing of mourning for the dead. Why should any men or women force their private griefs upon all about them? Why increase the dolefulness of death? No doubt many who wear black would say that they do so from respect for the dead. Is it not in reality because fashion dictates it? Mourning dress is nothing new, nor is it confined to civilized races. Nor is the color of mourning a fixed thing. Black is very widely used, but some peoples use white. In New Zealand old people paint themselves freely with red ochre and wear wreaths of green leaves. Besides the wearing of a peculiar garb or of a special color to show grief, the mourners may disfigure themselves, or they may wear some relic of the dead friend. The curious practice of cutting off joints of the fingers is wide-spread. Among some American tribes, among Australians, Africans, and Polynesians it is a sign of grief. The Fijians used to chop off finger-joints to appease an angry chieftain, or for death of a relative, or as a token of affection. In Tonga finger-joints were cut when a superior relative was ill. In all these cases present grief did not blind the mourner to future convenience, and the joints cut were usually from the fingers of the left hand. In the Andaman Islands, when a child dies it is buried under the house floor and the building is deserted for a time. Finally, the family returns; the bones are dug up and the mother distributes them among friends as mementoes. These bits of bone are generally worn as parts of necklaces. In Tasmania and Australia portions of the dead are prepared with some care and worn as sacred and loved objects. Thus the zygomata are broken from a child's skull, sinews of kangaroo are passed through the orbits, and the whole is worn about the mother's neck. A lower jaw may be carefully and neatly wrapped with sinew cord from one condyle to the other and supplied with a suspension cord. Long bones, entire or partial, were wrapped and worn in the same way. These objects were all highly prized, and Bonwick says, "So many skulls and limb bones were taken by the poor natives when they were exiled, that Captain Bateman tells me that, when he had forty with him in his vessel, they had quite a bushel of old bones among them." These were in Tasmania, but similar relics abound among the Andamanese. In Australia drinking-cups were made from the skulls of the nearest and dearest relatives and carried everywhere. The lower jaw was removed, the brain extracted, and the skull cleaned; a rope handle of bulrush fibers was added, and a plug of grass was put in the vertebral aperture. All these may be considered as examples of mourning dress. There has also been a great variety of dress for the corpse itself. To describe such dress in any detail would be too much. Black is often used for shrouds. In the Tales of Hawaii, as narrated by King Kalakaua, frequent reference is made to the wrapping of the dead in the black kapa. In the Society Islands the dead chief is laid out in a special dress of shell.
In connection with relics of dead friends used as a part of costume, it may be pertinent here to refer to curious preserved heads found among various tribes. They may be simply the heads themselves, as trophies of war or reminders of friends, or they may be masks made in part from the heads of the dead. The former are hardly a part of dress; the latter are. Both kinds will be considered. The Dyaks of Borneo are famous "head-hunters" and often prepare their trophies with great care. Barnard Davis had several specimens in his great collection, and he describes them in his Thesaurus. One was a whole skull; the lower jaw was stained inside to a deep red; it was fastened to the cranium by rattan; light, soft wood was fitted in the places of the teeth, into the nostrils, and into the ear-holes; other inequalities were filled with red-brown resin. The entire skull was covered with tin-foil; two cowrie-shells made the eyes; a small tuft of beard was made of stiff black hair; on the vertex and sides of the calvarium an ornamental, regular, and symmetrical device was cut through the tin-foil and painted red. These heads vary greatly in pattern and treatment. They were kept in head-houses, and were looked upon as treasures and as sacred objects. In the Solomon Islands, the Marquesas, and New Zealand we find heads preserved for one or another reason. Among the strangest of these most curious relics are the heads prepared by the Jivaros of South America. These are trophies of war. The heads are cut from the bodies of slain enemies; the brain and bones are removed through the neck; the whole head is then shrunken down. The result is a strange, diminutive, black head, with abundant and long hair, and with features all preserved, but so small as to be hardly recognizable as those of a human being. In all these Jivaros' heads the lips are sewed together with cords, and in some cases spiked together in addition. If Bollaert is to be trusted, this is done in order that the head may not answer the abuse that is heaped upon it at times! In the same part of the world, among the Mundurucus, are other interesting preserved heads. These are of full size; they are partly shaved; ornaments of feathers are hung at the ears; the eye-sockets are filled with black gum, into which are inserted bits of shell. These heads are apparently those of friends, not of enemies. In some respects akin to these real preserved heads are the very curious skull-masks from certain South Sea Islands. These are built up from parts of human skulls, pieced out with wood, cements, hair, and ornaments into horrid representations of faces. These are worn in dances and hence are true objects of dress.
The subject of amulets and charms would, of itself, furnish more material than could be used in our whole course of lectures. Scarcely any trinket or odd object exists that may not be worn upon the person "for luck," or to ward off danger or harm. All peoples use them. Savage, barbarian, and civilized man are alike here. Nubians are inveterate wearers of charms. Theirs usually consist of something done up in a red leathern case; the contents must not be known. For what will charms not be worn? I know American mothers who buy seeds—"Job's tears"—at drug-stores, to string them into a necklace to hang about the baby's neck to ward off eye troubles. The Bechuana mother strings beetles of a certain species and hangs them about the neck of her baby to help it in teething. Prof. Putnam found metacarpal bones of birds buried with babies in the little graves which he discovered under the hard clay floor of old house circles in Arkansas and Missouri. From analogy with modern Indian customs, he believes these were charms to help the child in cutting its teeth. We can not find that asafœtida is a specific for or a preventive of diphtheria, but we did find a small Afro-American who wore a little bag of it about his neck as a charm against the disease. Hundreds of Roman Catholic boys do not take off the medals they wear about their necks when they go in swimming, as these are a sure preventive against drowning. One of the most precious and beautiful amulets of history is that of which Moncure D. Conway tells us. It was a treasure from the past, owned by the Emperor Louis Napoleon III. It was set with a blaze of precious stones, the gifts of many princes. It descended to the Prince Imperial, who wore it as a watch-charm. He wore it when he was killed among the Zulus, and it is gone, no one knows where. Ah! if he had but known the rules of amulet-wearing among those people, and had worn it about his neck! No matter how precious it was, it would then have been left untouched. The dead of battle may be stripped of every garment or ornament but that about the neck. No doubt the priceless talisman of centuries is now the choicest decoration in some neck ornament of claws and teeth and feathers. The most interesting charm of the American Indians is the "medicine." This may be almost anything to which the superstitious barbarian attributes some supernatural power. Commonly it is the skin of some animal. In many tribes, the boy who is approaching manhood withdraws to the woods or to some lonely place, where he undergoes a long fast. Weakened by his abstinence, he falls into a slumber, in which he dreams of some animal. With recovered consciousness he hunts for an individual of this species, kills it, and with great care removes the skin. This is his "medicine," and to increase its power various articles may be inclosed within it. To part with his medicine would be most unlucky; worn or carried upon the person, it serves as a powerful protector. We once purchased a medicine-bag from a Fox Indian. Its original owner was dead. It was kept in a small pouch of worsted, and consisted of the skin of a mole, carefully tied up and containing five different kinds of roots and barks. One of the most intelligent Indians in the tribe refused to look at the contents, assuring us that it would cause him bad luck, and was disrespect to the man whose protector it had formerly been. Among many Mohammedans we find amulets worn which consist of little pouches containing strips of parchment, on which are written passages from the Koran. This suggests certain practices of the Jews, both ancient and modern. One evening we had occasion to have a little Russian Jew boy try on some garments. Several of his young friends came with him. When he had removed his jacket and shirt, one of the boys eagerly called our attention to a queer little knitted garment worn over the undershirt. At its four corners hung bits of blue worsted twisted into a sort of tassel. The garment had little corner pockets into which these blue twists might be tucked. "Did you ever see that kind that Abraham has on?" asked Sammie. "No," we replied; "what is it for?" Abraham himself replied that it was something he wore for luck and to help him, and that every morning when he said his prayers he kissed these blue cords. We found that most of the boys had these, though one said he had not, but his father wore a large one which he let him kiss every day. Sammie told us that he had a different kind which he wore on his arm and on his forehead; that it was made of leather. He volunteered to show us one, which he did a few days later. Before he put this on for us he washed his hands and face and brushed his hair. He also fasted until he took it off, as he said he never wore it except before breakfast. Whatever the fringes of the garments and phylacteries may have been once, they are now, with these children and the more ignorant of the adult Jews, nothing more nor less than charms. It will here be of interest to quote some references to these things. In Numbers, XV, 38-41: "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes [tassels in the corners] in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringes of each border a cord of blue: and it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them. . . . That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the Lord your God, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God."
As to the phylacteries, there is no such explicit direction as to their making. The details were, however, very exactly arranged by the religious teachers. The leathern boxes could be only made of cowskin; the thongs must be applied to the left arm and forehead in a particular way. The little box contains four passages of Scripture—Exod. xiii. 2-10, 11-14; Deut. vi, 4-9, 13-22—written on rolled strips of parchment. The ink used must be of a particular kind. The purpose was to remind the Israelites of the "bringing up out of the land of Egypt." The passages refer to that event and also to the command, which forms the excuse for the phylactery itself: "And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart: . . . And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes."
We shall close this rather rambling lecture with some suggestions relative to the religious meaning of mutilations, some of which were described in our first lecture, on deformations. We must first realize how savage and barbarous man looks upon blood. To begin with, he personally loves warm blood. He delights to drink it, to eat flesh reeking with it, to dip his hands into it, to splash his face and body with it. He has also some curious notions regarding it. A Brazilian bathes his infant in his enemy's blood, in order that the child may grow up a brave warrior. In Oceania the warrior dips his lance-tip into the blood of his slain foe to render himself invincible. In New Zealand the body of the dead foe was eaten in order that his blood might render the victor the heir of his bravery. Now, when savage and barbarous man, with his love for and his notions regarding blood, comes to think of higher beings, invisible but potent, whom he wishes to ally to himself, how can he better gain their friendship than by offering to them blood? And the best sacrifice is his own blood. Here we have the fundamental idea of every blood covenant. There are of course in any one instance other ideas present. But whatever these various significant features may be, in all we see a man trying to establish an artificial relationship with a deity by the shedding of his own blood. The people of any one clan or family worshiping the same god, the peculiar mode of shedding blood prevalent among them might become a tribal mark or sign. In Jewish circumcision—not originally Hebraic, but Egyptian—we see a good illustration of a blood covenant giving rise to a characteristic tribal mutilation. We see, too, in it very clearly a substitute for human sacrifice (see Exod. iv, 24). In Gen. xvii, 7, 10, 11, 17, 23: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. . . . This is my covenant: . . . Every male child among you shall be circumcised; . . . and ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. . . . And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin, in the self-same day, as God had said unto him." We have no time, nor is it pertinent here, to consider all that circumcision has to teach, nor to trace its wide-spread practice in varying forms. Enough to say that everywhere we find underlying it the idea of sacrifice of one's own blood as a symbol of compact with some deity, more or less clearly. The Jew and the Egyptian circumcised, but many peoples do not do so. Such may, however, have some other bodily mutilation; for instance, a perforation as the sign of a blood covenant. Wherever the part of the body operated upon was visible to every passer, and the operation itself was a perforation, it might be that some object might be inserted in the opening to keep it open and to render it conspicuous. In such a way may have arisen the use of labrets and earrings. These plugs, at first rude, may become beautiful. When this occurs, the original religious idea may be lost sight of, and the perforation may still be made simply to admit of ornaments being worn.
The history of the ear perforation is particularly interesting. In its origin this is no doubt as truly a sign of a blood covenant as is the Jewish circumcision. It seems possible that the ancestors of the Jews were in compact with a god whose sign of covenant was ear-piercing. After this god was renounced and Jehovah accepted, ear piercing among them was heathenism. Whether this is so or not, it is certain that the descendants of Ishmael were in covenant with such a god.
Judges, viii, 24, 25: "And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that you should give me every man the ear-rings of his prey. For they had golden ear-rings, because they were Ishmaelites. And they answered. We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the ear-rings of his prey." And the suggestion of the same thing is very strong in Genesis, xxxv, 4: "And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their ear-rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem."
This sign of covenant with some other god than Jehovah crept at an early day, like so many other customs of heathenism, into the Christian Church. It has gradually disappeared. Lippert says that in the early Church it was customary to have the ears pierced, at the same time invoking the protection of saints against disease. Gradually this dwindled to invocation of a single saint's assistance against a single class of diseases—those of the eye. A remnant of this still lingers among those people who, in our own day and land, claim that they pierce their ears to help their eyesight. Such persons present us the last picture in a series the first of which is a savage man, whose ears are pierced merely to shed blood for the gratification of a deity whose aid he desires to secure.
We have thus considered a large number of curious and interesting points regarding dress and adornment. We have seen how the curious deformations so widely practiced have arisen, and how they are useful. We have queried as to the motives which have led to dress development and its results. We have emphasized the influence that the desire for adornment has exercised upon man's progress. We have lastly shown how a large number of articles of dress and ornament have come to have a religious significance, and how many other deformations have begun in connection with acts of worship.