Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/March 1893/Ghost Worship and Tree Worship II

1198741Popular Science Monthly Volume 42 March 1893 — Ghost Worship and Tree Worship II1893Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen




PROVIDED with this universal master-key, then, we can now proceed to unlock many intricate puzzles of tree and plant worship which have hitherto baffled us. How full of meaning from our present standpoint, for example, is Mr. Turner's statement that at a certain spot in the island of Savaii there was "an old tree inland of the village, which was a place of refuge for murderers and other capital offenders! If that tree was reached by the criminal he was safe, and the avenger of blood could pursue no farther, but wait investigation and trial. It is said that the king of a division of Upolu, called Atua, once lived at that spot. After he died, the house fell into decay; but the tree was fixed on as representing the departed king, and out of respect for his memory it was made the substitute of a living and royal protector."[1] Not less striking is the case of the large tree, Hernandia peltata, in which "a family god of the same name" (as the native one of the tree) "was supposed to live; and hence no one dared to pluck a leaf or break a branch." In all these relatively primitive cases it is noticeable that it is a family god who is believed to inhabit the tree. We stand as yet quite close to the original form of worship which is almost exclusively domestic and directed straight at the heads of the family ghosts. After all this, it is interesting to read that on the closely related Savage Island the kings—who would of course be the descendants of such divine ancestors, and therefore themselves both gods and priests—"were supposed to cause the food to grow"; and that "the people got angry with them in times of scarcity, and killed them; and, as one after another was killed, the end of it was that no one wished to be king."[2] Readers of The Golden Bough, however, will be more likely to suspect that the kings were sacrificed on the same principle as the Rex Nemorensis, and that at last the royal stock got exhausted by too rapid using up of the whole available supply of divinity. Indeed, the proper keeping up of the king-god's family, in cases where godship has to pay for its dignity by the unpleasant incident of final sacrifice, willing or unwilling, must be an endless source of anxiety and trouble to primitive politicians. Where the safety of the crops and of the tribesmen themselves depends entirely upon a single life, a very painful state of tension must often exist, and the authorities must frequently feel the strain imposed upon their consciences harder than they can bear.

One of the most striking pieces of evidence I have been able to obtain, however, is that of the Tanese in the New Hebrides, who, says Mr. Turner, in a passage I have already partly quoted, "have no idols. The banyan tree forms their sacred grove or temple for religious worship. . . . The spirits of their departed ancestors were among their gods. Chiefs who reached an advanced age were after death deified, addressed by name, and prayed to on various occasions. They were supposed especially to preside over the growth of the yams and the different fruit trees. The first fruits were presented to them, and in doing this they laid a little of the fruit on some stone" (query, a gravestone?) "or shelving branch of the tree, or some more temporary altar of a few rough sticks from the bush, lashed together with strips of bark, in the form of a table with its four feet stuck in the ground. All being quiet, the chief acted as high priest and prayed aloud thus: 'Compassionate father, here is some food for you; eat it; be kind to us on account of it.' And instead of an amen, all united in a loud shout."[3]

In Fiji, once more, the first fruits of the yam harvest are presented to the ancestors in the Nanga or sacred stone inclosure; and no man may taste of the new crop till the presentation has been made, a trait found also among other savages. The yams thus offered are piled up in the inclosure, and no one is allowed to touch them under pain of severe ghostly punishment. A mission teacher told Mr. Fison that when he visited the spot he saw among the weeds that grew there numerous yam vines which had sprung from the piles of decayed offerings—a most suggestive fact in the light of the origin I conjecturally assign to cultivation.[4]

In all these cases, and many others that might be quoted, it is to ancestral spirits as such that the offering is made. But often our authorities mention gods rather than ghosts, though the distinction between the two is probably but a small one. Among the Basutos, for instance, when the corn has been thrashed, it is left in a heap on the thrashing-floor, and can not be touched till a religious ceremony has been performed to sain it. The owners bring a new vessel, never used, to the spot, in which they boil a little of the corn as a sacrificial duty. Then they throw a few handfuls on the heap, saying: "Thank you, gods; give us bread to-morrow also." When this has been done, the rest may safely be eaten.[5] Many other cases are recorded by Mr. Frazer in the appendix to The Golden Bough.

But if any doubt exists that these gifts are in every case thank-offerings to the ghosts or ancestors who caused the crops to grow, it will be removed by the consideration that often the first fruits are offered not to spirits or gods at all, but to the divine king himself, who is the living representative and earthly counterpart of his deified ancestors.

In Ashantee a harvest festival is held in September, when the yams are ripe. During the festival the king eats the new yams, but none of the people may eat them till the close of the festival, which lasts a fortnight. During its continuance the grossest liberty prevails; theft, intrigue, and assault go unpunished, and each sex abandons itself to its passions. The Hovas of Madagascar present the first sheaves of the new grain to the sovereign. The sheaves are carried in procession to the palace from time to time as the grain ripens. So in Burma, when the pangati fruits ripen, some of them used to be taken to the king's palace that he might eat of them: no one might partake of them before the king.[6]

These cases, with many others of like sort which I forbear to quote, strikingly display the exact equivalence of the king, the ghost, and the god in the savage mind; for we find what is offered here to the living chief is offered there to his dead predecessor, and yonder, again, to the great deity who has grown slowly out of him. The god is the dead king; the king is the living god, and the descendant of gods, his deified ancestors.

Almost equally to the point is a statement of Mr. Macdonald's about the Blantyre negroes. "When there is no rain at the proper season," he says, "there ensues much distress. Famine is dreaded above all other evils. After private offerings have all failed, the chief of the country calls a national meeting for supplication. Much beer is brewed and offered to the spirit. The chief addresses his own god; he calls on him to look at the sad state of matters for himself, and think on the evils that are impending. He requests him to hold a meeting with all the other gods that have an interest or influence in the matter. . . . After the supplication there is a great dance in honor of the god. The people throw up water toward the heavens as a sign that it is water that is prayed for." [Say rather, as a sympathetic charm to make the rain follow.] "They also smear their bodies with mud or charcoal to show that they want washing. If rain do not come, they must wash themselves in the rivers or streams. If rain fall, they are soon washed in answer to their prayers. When the good crops follow, they present as a thanksgiving some the first heads of maize and some pumpkins."[7]

This striking passage, remarkable enough in itself, becomes all the more important when we remember who are the gods to whom such prayers are offered and such thanksgivings due. They are, as Mr. Macdonald himself informs us, the deified relatives of the chief. "The chief of a village," says this acute observer, "has another title to the priesthood. It is his relatives that are the village gods. Every one that lives in the village recognizes these gods; but if any one remove to a new village, he changes his gods. He recognizes now the gods of his new chief. One wishing to pray to the god (or gods) of any village, naturally desires to have his prayers presented through the village chief, because the latter is nearly related to the village god, and may be expected to be better listened to than a stranger."[8]

Almost equally explicit as to the true nature of primitive ghosts and primitive tree worship is Sir William Hunter. "A Bengal village," he says, "has usually its local god, which it adores either in the form of a rude unhewn stone or a stump, or a tree marked with red lead." [Probably a substitute for the blood of human victims with which it was once watered.] "Sometimes a lump of clay placed under a tree does duty for a deity; and the attendant priest, when there is one, generally belongs to one of the half-Hinduized low castes. The rude stone represents the non-Aryan fetich; and the tree seems to owe its sanctity to the non-Aryan belief that it forms the abode of the ghosts or gods of the village."[9]

Omitting the mere guess-work about the fetich (whatever that may mean), and the gratuitous supposition, hazarded out of deference to the dying or defunct creed of Max-Müllerism, that ancestor worship must necessarily be a "non-Aryan" feature, this lucid account shows us the cult of the sacred tree in a very simple and early form as mere ordinary worship of the ancestral ghosts in the place where they are believed to make their home, without complications of any sort.

From these naïve and primitive types of sacred tree to the dark groves of cedar or cypress that surrounded the fetich-stone shrines of civilized Hellas is not surely a very far cry. We are already well on the track of the groves of Artemis, well within sight of the "opaca silvis redimita loca deæ," where Phrygian votaries worshiped with awful rites the mysterious goddess who rules over Dindima's height. Existing savages or low-caste Orientals thus give us the keynote that enables us to understand these dark places of antique usage and antique superstition.

Even in the midst of our own struggling civilization we shall not look in vain for obvious traces of this earliest and crudest 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."[10] 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.[11] 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, 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.[12] 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.[13] 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 the simple process of slaughtering a superfluous meriah at the stone, exactly as in mediæval Europe, and long before a guardian spirit was provided for a bridge, a town wall, or any other important building, by immuring a human victim alive into the solid masonry—a curious and horrible superstition to which I shall have occasion to recur more fully further on in my argument.

Rome herself had such a sacred foundation tree—the holy fig of Romulus—whose very name connected it at once with the origin of the city; and so closely was it bound up in the popular mind with the fortunes of the state, that the withering of its trunk was regarded in the light of a public calamity. So, too, to this day, London has still her London Stone, which probably dates back to the earliest ages of the Roman town, or of the little Celtic village that once preceded it. This London Stone was for ages considered as the representative and embodiment of the entire community. Proclamations and other important businesses of state were transacted from its top; the defendant in trials at the Lord Mayor's court was summoned to attend from London Stone, as though the stone itself spoke with the united voice of the assembled citizens. Of the similar sacred stone at Bovey Tracey in Devonshire, Ormerod tells us that the mayor, on the first day of his tenure of office, used to ride round it and strike it with a stick. According to the Totnes Times of May 13, 1882, the young men of the town were compelled on the same day to kiss the magic stone, and to pledge allegiance in upholding the ancient rights and privileges of Bovey.[14] In these two cases we can clearly observe that stone and tree alike are regarded as the embodiment of the city, town, or village; and, as I believe, they derive their sanctity from the foundation god or spirit, who, as I shall have occasion to show hereafter, was probably killed on the spot, to provide a specific or artificial deity for the new creation.

Elsewhere we get still clearer evidence that it is the ghost, not the mere tree, to whom the adoration of the worshipers is primarily offered. "A clump of larches on a Siberian steppe," says Mr. Tylor, "is the chosen sanctuary of a Turanian tribe. But beneath it stand gayly decked little idols in warm fur coats, each set up under a great tree, on whose branches hang offerings of reindeer hides and household goods."[15] Clearly these idols represent the ancestral spirits protected from the rigor of the climate, as in life, by their thick fur coverings, and supplied by their relations with all that is necessary to make existence comfortable for them in the new world they are supposed after death to inhabit.

Even more striking and conclusive, from our present point of view, is another of Mr. Tylor's well-selected cases. "In Esthonian districts," he says, "within the present century, the traveler might often see the sacred tree, generally an ancient lime, oak, or ash, standing inviolate in a sheltered spot near the dwelling-house; and old memories are handed down of the time when the first blood of a slaughtered beast was sprinkled on its roots that the cattle might prosper, or when an offering was laid beneath the holy linden, on the stone where the worshiper knelt on his bare knees, moving from east to west and back, which stone he kissed thrice when he had said, 'Receive the food as an offering!'"[16] To this case I say confidently, "Either ancestral spirits or the devil." Within the last two hundred years, indeed, there were old men in Gothland who would still go to pray under a great tree, as their forefathers had done in their time before them.

That single sentence of Mr. Duff Macdonald's already quoted, tells us more about the meaning of all these rites than pages of conjectural talk as to indwelling divinities. "It is the great tree at the veranda of the dead man's house," says this acute and original observer, "that is their temple; and if no tree grow there, they erect a little shade, and there perform their simple rites."[17] Mr. Macdonald has lived long among the people whose faith and practice he so clearly describes. He thoroughly understands their ideas and point of view; and I confess I attach a great deal more importance to his trained evidence in such a delicate matter than to a vast amount of uncertain classical argument. Moreover, the Blantyre negroes are still in the most primitive stage of religion; the process of god-making goes on among them to this hour as an every-day occurrence. We catch the phenomenon of the manufacture of deity in the earliest stages of its evolution.

On the whole, then, I think all the evidence is congruous with the theory that tree worship originated in ancestor worship or ghost worship, and with no alternative theory whatsoever. This is the hypothesis that fits all the facts, harmonizes all the discrepancies, and reduces to a plain meaning all the seeming absurdities of strange savage creeds and still stranger ceremonies. And to say the truth, no other hypothesis as to the origin of worship has ever been offered. Mr. Spencer's ghost theory, independently arrived at almost simultaneously by Mr. William Simpson, alone gives us a real explanation of the facts under notice. We find ourselves face to face at the outset with the very curious phenomenon of early races who people the whole world with imginary or nonexistent beings of a most shadowy description, and who treat these queer creatures of their own fancy with such respect and tenderness that they actually offer to them food and drink, and all the other things the savage holds most dear, out of pure apparent superabundance of philanthropy. Why on earth should they take the trouble to begin making presents of food and drink to mere wood-spirits or oreads with whom they had no earthly connection or interest of any sort? Here, as elsewhere, c'est le premier pas qui coúte. The offerings made to tree-spirits are precisely the same in kind as the offerings made to dead relations. Dead relations are buried under trees; the nearer we get to primitive customs, the more do we see that the tree-spirit is the ghost, and the more does everybody who has anything to do with him recognize and admit the patent fact. It is only when we have moved very far away from primitive usage and primitive modes of thought, that we begin to find tree-gods whose ghostliness is uncertain, and tales about their origin in which their former humanity is ignored or forgotten. The lowest savages never seem to harbor the faintest doubt that the gods whom they worship in tree or stone or temple are nothing more or less than their own ghostly ancestors.

Again, all the prerogatives which Mr. Frazer assigns to sacred trees[18] are also prerogatives of the deified ancestor. Thus, trees or tree-spirits are believed to give rain and sunshine. But we saw this was precisely the function of the ancestral ghosts among Mr. Duff Macdonald's Blantyre negroes, as indeed it is in endless other cases which I need hardly recall to the anthropological reader.[19] Once more, tree-spirits make the crops grow. Of this belief Mr. Frazer gives many interesting examples. Among the Mundaris, "the grove deities are held responsible for the crops, and are especially honored at all the great agricultural festivals." Swedish peasants stick a leafy branch in each furrow of their cornfields, believing that this will insure an abundant crop. Among the tribes of Gilgit in India, the sacred tree is a species of cedar—as usual an evergreen—and at the beginning of sowing, the people mix their seed-corn with sprigs of this holy conifer, and smoke it all above a bonfire of the sacred cedar wood. But all this goes on all fours with the common belief, on which I need not further enlarge, that it is the deified ancestors who make the earth bring forth her increase, and that all crops are the immediate gift of the "compassionate father," to whom the savage prays for the simple boons which make up all his happiness. Furthermore, the tree-spirit causes the herds to multiply, and blesses women with many children. But this is a natural function of the ancestral ghosts, who, as the fathers of the tribe, are often—nay, one may even say habitually—envisaged under phallic guises. It is also a well-known function of the sacred stones, which originate in standing stones or grave slabs (as I have endeavored to show elsewhere), and which are universally regarded as of phallic potency. Indeed, to this day barren women in Brittany go to pray at ancient monoliths (thinly Christianized by having a small cross stuck on top) for the birth of children, which, says the Hebrew poet appositely, "are the gift of Jahveh."[20] Thus every one of the attributes claimed for the tree-spirits turns out on examination to be also an attribute of the ancestral ghost.

There are, I think, three main objects of human worship all the world over. The first is the ghost, or actual soul of the dead man, which gets sublimated or magnified in course of time into the spirit or shade, and then into the god. The second is the sacred stone. The third is the sacred tree. And these three are one. The ghost is the core and central reality of the whole vast superstructure of faith and practice. The sacred stone derives its sanctity from standing at the head of the dead man's grave. The sacred tree owes its position equally to its identification with the spirit of the chief or father who lies buried beneath it. In the striking and almost prophetic words of a great poet, God is indeed "the shade cast by the soul of man."[21]

How easily these three forms of primitive godhead run into one another has already been abundantly pointed out in many departments. The whole of The Golden Bough is from one point of view one long exposition of the interchangeability of the man-god and the tree-spirit or corn-spirit—an interchangeability which may surprise us the less when we remember that to this day one half of Christendom confidently identifies its own man-god with a piece of consecrated wheaten wafer. Mr. Frazer shows us how the slain god and the corn or the tree absolutely merge in the minds of their worshipers, so that at last it becomes almost impossible to separate them in thought one from the other. I believe the same thing to be true of sacred stones. Men worshiped stones, identified stones with their fathers, talked of themselves as descended from stones, looked upon the stones with affection and reverence, prayed to them, made gifts to them of wine and ghee, of milk and honey, till they almost forgot there was ever any difference at all to speak of between stones and humanity. The Laches, says Piedrahita, "worshiped every stone as a god, as they said that they had all been men." Arriaga tells us the ancient Peruvians paid honor to "very large stones, saying that they were once men." In the American Report of the Bureau of Ethnology for 1880, several stories are told as to the metamorphosis of men into stones from the Iroquois legends. According to Dorman, the Oneidas and Dakotas claim descent from stones, to which they ascribe both sense and animation. What is all this but early men's way of expressing the fact that these stones which they worship represent the ghosts of their deceased ancestors? Sometimes, indeed, we get an interesting connecting link, as in Arriaga's pregnant statement that the Marcayoc or idol worshiped in Peru as the patron of the village "is sometimes a stone and sometimes a mummy"; in other words, it depended upon circumstances whether the people reverenced the body itself or the gravestone that covered it."[22]

And if men become stones, so too do stones give birth to men. We get a classical instance of this in the legend of Deucalion. Beside the road, near the city of the Panopseans, lay the stones out of which Prometheus made men. Manke, the first man in the Mitchell Island, came out of a stone. On Francis Island, says Mr. Turner, "close by the temple there was a seven-feet-long beach sandstone slab erected, before which offerings were laid as the people united for prayer"; and the natives here told him that one of their gods had made stones become men. "In Melanesia," says Mr. Andrew Lang, "matters are so mixed that it is not easy to decide whether a worshipful stone is the dwelling of a dead man's soul, or is of spiritual merit in itself, or whether the stone is the spirit's outward part or organ." And, indeed, a sort of general confusion between the stone, the tree, the ghost, and the ancestor at last seems to pervade the mind of the savage everywhere. "The curious anthropomorphic idea of stones being husbands and wives," as Mr. Tylor calls it—an idea familiar to the Fijians as to the Peruvians and Lapps—is surely explicable at once by the existence of headstones to men and women, and the confusion between the mark and the ghost it commemorates.

I have introduced this question of the sacred stone at so great length, mainly because of the close analogy which subsists between it and the similar question of the sacred tree. For, just in like fashion, Mr. Galton tells us how on one of his South African wanderings he passed "a magnificent tree. It was the parent of all the Damaras. . . . The savages danced round and round it in great delight."[23] But I also wish to point out how the general interchangeability of all the various forms of the ghost extends even to what might seem the impossible cases of the sacred stone and the corn-spirit. At first sight it would almost look as if there could be no conceivable community of any sort between these two very distinct and unlike manifestations of the ancestral ghost or the slain man-god. Yet in Mr. Gregor's Folk Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, I find the following very interesting passage, which clearly shows the occasional equivalence of the two ideas: "It was believed by some that a very mysterious animal, which when met with by the reapers among the corn had the appearance of a gray stone, but which could change its shape, lived among the corn. When met with, a small quantity of the crop was left standing around it, and the ears of grain only were cut off. This animal looks like the hedgehog."[24] Readers of The Golden Bough will be very familiar with this "mysterious animal," which is in point of fact nothing more or less than the corn-spirit itself, hiding, as it were, in its own vegetal embodiment,[25] The rye wolf, the harvest goat, the cock, pig, and horse, are all various avatars of this polymorphic spirit; and now, in the interesting Scotch case above quoted, we find him similarly and unexpectedly equated with a gray stone.

There is one more point of considerable importance to which I wish to call attention in passing, before I quit this part of my subject, and that is the question of the immolation of the mangod as a deliberate mode of producing a corn-spirit or guardian soul of vegetation for the growing crops. Of the practice itself there can not now remain the slightest doubt after the brilliant demonstration given by Mr. Frazer in his epoch-making work. But it may have seemed a hard saying to some when I attributed these immolations to the definite desire to manufacture artificially an indwelling spirit for the growing corn. Nevertheless, such definite manufacture would seem much less curious to primitive man than to his modern and more squeamish or humane descendants. We must recollect that the chiefs or kings of primitive peoples, being the offspring of the deified ghosts who form the tribal gods, are therefore necessarily divine. That kings are gods, Mr. Frazer has now abundantly shown us; and we learned from Mr. Loftie how the divinity of the Pharaoh formed a prime element in the faith of the pyramid-builders in Egypt. Now, this being so, nothing is more natural, when you want a departmental god for any particular purpose, than to release before its time one of these divine souls from its fleshly tabernacle, and turn it loose upon space to perform whatever work you may happen to require of it. We must remember in this connection that primitive men really believe in the world and the life beyond the grave. To them it is all very ordinary reality. Thus, slaves are sacrificed on the tombs of their masters to bear them company in their ghostly life. "The practice of sending messengers to the world beyond the grave," says Mr. Macdonald, "is found on the west coast. A chief summons a slave, delivers to him a message, and then cuts off his head. If the chief forgets anything that he wanted to say, he sends another slave as a postscript." Nor are all the victims unwilling sufferers. Wives perform suttee of their own accord on the pyres of their husbands; young men offered themselves voluntarily for the fatherland to Baal; Marcus Curtius devoted himself by leaping into the gulf in the forum.

A curious analogy elsewhere will make this point, I hope, both clearer and more certain. It is a practice with early or undeveloped races to supply an artificial guardian god or spirit for a building, in precisely the same way as I suppose the guardian god or spirit for the growing crops to have been supplied by agriculturists—namely, by killing a human victim, whose blood was sometimes actually used as cement for the walls, so that his ghost might, as it were, be implicitly bound up in the very stones and fabric of the building. There is a legend current in Scotland, says Mr. Tylor,[26] that the Picts bathed their foundation stones with human blood; and St. Columba, not much more advanced in thought than his heathen contemporaries, "found it necessary to bury St. Oran alive beneath the foundation of his monastery." As the chronicler phrases it, "Columbkille said to his people, 'It would be well for us that our roots should pass into the earth here.' And he said to them, 'It is permitted to you that some one of you go under the earth to consecrate it.'" Oran accepted the sacrifice.[27] Even in modern Europe such usages survived late. When the broken dam of the Nogat had to be repaired in 1463, the peasants, being advised to throw in a living man, are said to have made a beggar drunk and utilized him for the purpose. Thuringian legend declares that to make the castle of Liebenstein fast and impregnable, a child was bought for hard money of its mother and walled in. Notice here the analogy to Kandh custom with the meriahs. The child was eating a cake while the masons were at work and it cried out, "Mother, I see thee still"; then after a little time, "Mother, I see thee a little still"; finally, as they put in the last stone, "Mother, now I see thee no more." The wall of Copenhagen, says Mr. Tylor, to whom I am indebted for most of these cases, sank as fast as it was built; so they took an innocent little girl, and set her at a table with toys and eatables; then, while she played and ate, twelve master masons closed a vault over her; and with clanging music the wall was raised, and stood firm ever afterward. In Italy, again, the bridge of Arta fell in time after time till they walled in the master builder's wife, the last point being a significant detail, which brings us very near to the sacrificial savage pattern. At Scutari, in Servia, once more, the fortress could only be satisfactorily built after a human victim was walled into it; so the three brothers who wrought at it decided to offer up the first of their wives who came to the place to bring them food. And so, too, in Welsh legend, Vortigern could not finish his tower till the foundation stone was wetted with the blood of a child born of a mother without a father—a common trait in the generation of man-gods.

In Polynesia, where we always stand nearer to the roots and beginning of things, Ellis heard that the central pillar of one of the temples at Maeva was planted upon the body of a human victim. Among the Dyaks of Borneo, a slave girl was crushed to death under the first post of a house. Even in Japan, a couple of centuries since, when a great wall was to be built, "some wretched slave would offer himself as a foundation." Observe here, too, the further important fact that the immolation in this case was apparently quite voluntary. Mr. Tylor, indeed, treats all these instances as though the victim were offered up to appease the earth-demons; but one of his own authorities, Mason, was told by an eye-witness that, at the building of the new city of Tavoy in Tennasserim, "a criminal was put in each post-hole to become a protecting demon." Here we have, I think, the more probable explanation, an explanation which exactly accords in every point with the principles and practice of the Kandhs and the other human-sacrificing savages.

In October, 1881, the king of Ashanti put fifty girls to death, that their blood might be mixed with the mud used to repair the royal palace, injured by an earthquake. "Some years ago, the piers of a railway bridge under construction in central India were twice washed away, when nearly finished, by the floods, and a rumor spread abroad among the Bheels of the neighboring jungles that one of them was to be seized and sacrificed by the engineers, who had received such manifest proof of mysterious opposition to their work."[28] Schrader says that when the great railway bridge over the Ganges was begun, every mother in India trembled for her child.[29] Mr. Baring-Gould has contributed a striking article on this subject to Murray's Magazine for March, 1887; and he differs from Mr. Tylor in attributing the practice of immolation (rightly, as I believe) to the desire to produce a protecting spirit for the edifice to be erected.[30] Ubicini well defines a stahic as "the ghost of a person who has been immured in the walls of a building in order to make it more solid."[31]

It is not houses alone, however, that are thus protected by an artificially made guardian. The vikings used to "redden their rollers" with human blood. That is to say, when a warship was launched, human victims were bound to the rollers over which the galley was run down to the sea, so that the stem was sprinkled with their blood.[32] The last trace of such consecration among ourselves is the breaking of a wine-bottle over the ship's bows. Captain Cook found the South Sea Islanders similarly christened their war-canoes with the blood of human victims.

Furthermore, as the position of protecting spirit is rather a dignified and beatified one than otherwise, it is kept reasonably enough in the family of the king, the founder, or the master builder. This is a common trait in all stories of these human sacrifices, and it helps to bring them into line with the similar stories of corn-spirits and self-immolated gods. For it is the dearly beloved son that is especially chosen for such self-immolation. Thus, we read in the Book of Kings that when Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho, "he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub." And may we not put down in the same category the case of Remus, represented in legend as brother of Romulus, the founder of Rome?

To sum up, then, I would say in one word, while I accept in all their main results Mr. Frazer's remarkable conclusions, I believe that, in order to understand to the very bottom the origin of tree worship, we must directly affiliate it upon primitive ancestor or ghost worship, of which it is an aberrant and highly specialized offshoot.


According to the English journal Iron, Lieutenant Apostolow, of the Russian navy, has some marvelous plans for expediting ocean navigation. He recently exhibited to some naval officers in Odessa a new style of ship, having no screw or paddle, but instead, "a kind of running electrical gear right round the vessel's hull under the water-line, and a revolving mechanism which will propel the ship from Liverpool to New York in twenty-eight hours." To those who are too timid to undertake this voyage, he offers the alternative of a submarine passage, "without rock, roll, or vibration, and with a good supply of oxygen and hydrogen during the short voyage."
  1. Turner, Samoa, p. 65.
  2. Ibid., p. 305.
  3. Op. cit., p. 319.
  4. Rev. L. Fison in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. xiv, p. 27
  5. Casalis, The Basutos, p. 252.
  6. The Golden Bough, vol. ii, p. 374.
  7. Africana, vol. i, p. 89.
  8. Africana, vol. i, p. 64.
  9. Imperial Gazetteer of India, article "India," s. v. "Religion."
  10. Primitive Culture, vol. i, p. 221.
  11. Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, p. 68.
  12. Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. i, p. 224, quoting Castrén.
  13. Ibid., p. 225.
  14. See Gomme, Village Community, p. 218; Ormerod, Archæology of Eastern Dartmoor, p. 11; and an article on London Stone by myself in Longman's Magazine.
  15. Primitive Culture, vol. ii, p. 224.
  16. Primitive Culture, vol. i, p. 224.
  17. Africana, vol. i, p. 59.
  18. The Golden Bough, vol. i, p. 66
  19. See Herbert Spencer, Principles of Sociology, vol. i, part i, passim.
  20. Priapus, the garden god, is a phallic deity: the ark of Khem represents a garden, and Khem himself is always phallic. Fertility, I take it, is the common note of all these conceptions.
  21. Swinburne, Songs before Sunrise.
  22. Arriaga, Extirpation de la Idolatria, p. 89.
  23. Galton, Narrative of an Explorer, pp. 188, 204.
  24. Rev. Walter Gregor, Folk Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 181.
  25. The Golden Bough, vol. i, p. 404, segq., and vol. ii, pp. 1-67.
  26. Primitive Culture, vol. i, p. 104.
  27. Reeves's Life of St. Columba, p. 288.
  28. Sir A. Lyall, Asiatic Studies, p. 19.
  29. Clodd, Childhood of Religion, p. 268.
  30. See also Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, vol. ii, p. 844, and Folk Lore Record, vol. iii, p. 282.
  31. Ballades et Chants Populaires de la Roumanie, p. 198.
  32. Vigfusson and Powell, Corpus Poeticum Boreale, vol. i, p. 410.