Anthropology Friday: The souls of stones

Hello, everyone! Today we are finishing up with Tylor’s Primitive Culture:

“Plants, partaking with animals the phenomena of life and death, health and sickness, not unnaturally have some kind of soul ascribed to them. In fact, the notion of a vegetable soul, common to plants and to the higher organisms possessing an animal soul in addition, was familiar to medieval philosophy, and is not yet forgotten by naturalists. But in the lower ranges of culture, at least within one wide district of the world, the souls of plants are much more fully identified with the souls of animals. The Society Islanders seem to have attributed ‘varua,’ i.e. surviving soul or spirit, not to men only but to animals and plants.

“The Dayaks of Borneo not only consider men and animals to have a spirit or living principle, whose departure from the body causes sickness and eventually death, but they also give to the rice its ‘samangat padi,’ or ‘ spirit of the paddy/ and they hold feasts to retain this soul securely, lest the crop should decay.

“The Karens say that plants as well as men and animals have their ‘la’ (‘kelah’), and the spirit of sickly rice is here also called back like a human spirit considered to have left the body. Their formulas for the purpose have even been written down, and this is part of one : ‘ O come, rice kelah, come. Come to the field. Come to the rice Come from the West. Come from the East. From the throat of the bird, from the maw of the ape, from the throat of the elephant. …'”

“On the one hand, the doctrine of transmigration widely and clearly recognises the idea of trees or smaller plants being animated by human souls; on the other, the belief in tree-spirits and the practice of tree-worship involve notions more or less closely coinciding with that of tree-souls, as when the classic hamadryad dies with her tree, or when the Talein of South-East Asia, considering every tree to have a demon or spirit, offers prayers before he cuts one down. …”

“Certain high savage races distinctly hold, and a large proportion of other savage and barbarian races make a more or less close approach to, a theory of separable and surviving souls or spirits belonging to stocks and stones, weapons, boats, food, clothes, ornaments, and other objects which to us are not merely soulless but lifeless. …

“Among the Indians of North America, Father Charlevoix wrote, souls are, as it were, the shadows and the animated images of the body, and it is by a consequence of this principle that they believe everything to be animate in the universe. This missionary was especially conversant with the Algonquins, and it was among one of their tribes, the Ojibwas, that Keating noticed the opinion that not only men and beasts have souls, but inorganic things, such as kettles, &c., have in them a similar essence. In the same district Father Le Jeune had described, in the seventeenth century, the belief that the souls, not only of men and animals, but of hatchets and kettles, had to cross the water to the Great Village, out where the sun sets.

“In interesting correspondence with this quaint thought is Mariner’s description of the Fiji doctrine, ‘If an animal or a plant die, its soul immediately goes to Bolotoo; if a stone or any other substance is broken, immortality is equally its reward; nay, artificial bodies have equal good luck with men, and hogs, and yams. If an axe or a chisel is worn out or broken up, away flies its soul for the service of the gods. If a house is taken down or any way destroyed, its immortal part will find a situation on the plains of Bolotoo; and, to confirm this doctrine, the Fiji people can show you a sort of natural well, or deep hole in the ground, at one of their islands, across the bottom of which runs a stream of water, in which you may clearly perceive the souls of men and women, beasts and plants, of stocks and stones, canoes and houses, and of all the broken utensils of this frail world, swimming, or rather tumbling along one over the other pell-mell into the regions of immortality.’ …

“The theory among the Karens is stated by the Rev. E. B. Cross, as follows: ‘Every object is supposed to have its “kelah.” Axes and knives, as well as trees and plants, are supposed to have their separate “kelahs.” “The Karen, with his axe and cleaver, may build his house, cut his rice, and conduct his affairs, after death as before.”

EvX: Notice how many of these informants are Reverends. There is definitely a connection between early anthropology and missionaries–who were, perhaps, the first whites to spend large amounts of time inquiring after the local beliefs of obscure peoples in certain far-flung, undeveloped corners of the world, and happened also to write fairly frequent letters back to friends and parishioners back home. We may question the truthfulness of some of these reports (missionaries may lie as much as any other men,) but the ones I have checked, so far, have been pretty accurate.

“As so many races perform funeral sacrifices of men and animals, in order to dispatch their souls for the service of the soul of the deceased, so tribes who hold this doctrine of object-souls very rationally sacrifice objects, in order to transmit these souls. Among the Algonquin tribes, the sacrifice of objects for the dead was a habitual rite, as when we read of a warrior’s corpse being buried with musket and
war-club, calumet and war-paint, and a public address being made to the body at burial concerning his future path; while in like manner a woman would be buried with her paddle and kettle, and the carrying-strap for the everlasting burden of her heavily-laden life. …

“The whole idea is graphically illustrated in the following Ojibwa tradition or myth. Gitchi Gauzini was a chief who lived on the shores of Lake Superior, and once, after a few days’ illness, he seemed to die. He had been a skilful hunter, and had desired that a fine gun which he possessed should be buried with him when he died. But some of his friends not thinking him really dead, his body was not buried; his widow watched him for four days, he came back to life, and told his story. After death, he said, his ghost travelled on the broad road of the dead toward the happy land, passing over great plains of luxuriant herbage… . He came in view of herds of stately deer arid moose, and other game, which with little fear walked near his path. But he had no gun, and remembering how he had requested his friends to put his gun in his grave, he turned back to go and fetch it. Then he met face to face the train of men, women, and children who were travelling toward the city of the dead. They were heavily laden with guns, pipes, kettles, meats, and other articles… . Refusing a gun which an overburdened traveller offered him, the ghost of Gitchi Gauzini travelled back in quest of his own, and at last reached the place where he had died. There he could see only a great fire before and around him, and finding the flames barring his passage on every side, he made a desperate leap through, and awoke from his trance. Having concluded his story, he gave his auditors this counsel, that they should no longer deposit so many burdensome things with the dead, delaying them on their journey to the place of repose, so that almost everyone he met complained bitterly. It would be wiser, he said, only to put such things in the grave as the deceased was particularly attached to, or made a formal request to have deposited with him.”

EvX: This Gitchi Gauzini was a very clever reformer.

King Tut: defiitely overburdened
King Tut: definitely overburdened

“With purpose no less distinct, when a dead Fijian chief is laid out oiled and painted and dressed as in life, a heavy club is placed ready near his right hand, which holds one or more of the much-prized carved ‘whale’s tooth’ ornaments. The club is to serve for defence against the adversaries who await his soul on the road to Mbulu, seeking to slay and eat him. We hear of a Fijian taking a club from a companion’s grave, and remarking in explanation to a missionary who stood by, ‘The ghost of the club
has gone with him.’ The purpose of the whale’s tooth is this: on the road to the land of the dead, near the solitary hill of Takiveleyawa, there stands a ghostly pandanus-tree, and the spirit of the dead man is to throw the spirit of the whale’s tooth at this tree, having struck which he is to ascend the hill and await the coming of the spirits of his strangled wives. …”

Wikipedia notes of Margaret Mead‘s peaceful paradise, the nearby islands of Samoa:

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the early 1700s, Samoa’s history was interwoven with that of certain chiefdoms of Fiji as well as the history of the kingdom of Tonga. The oral history of Samoa preserves the memories of many battles fought between Samoa and neighboring islands. Too, intermarriage of Tongan and Fijian royalty to Samoan nobility has helped build close relationships between these island nations that exist to the present; these royal blood ties are acknowledged at special events and cultural gatherings. Other Samoan folklore tells of the arrival of two maidens from Fiji who brought the art of tatau, or tattoo, to Samoa, whence came the traditional Samoan malofie.

“The Caribs, holding that after decease man’s soul found its way to the land of the dead, sacrificed slaves on a chief’s grave to serve him in the new life, and for the same purpose buried dogs with him, and also weapons. The Guinea negroes, at the funeral of a great man, killed several wives and slaves to serve him in the other world, and put fine clothes, gold fetishes, coral, beads, and other valuables, into the coffin, to be used there too. When the New Zealand chief had slaves killed at his death for his service, and the mourning family gave his chief widow a rope to hang herself with in the woods and so rejoin her husband, it is not easy to discern here a motive different from that which induced them at the same time to provide the dead man also with his weapons. Nor can an intellectual line well be drawn between the intentions with which the Tunguz has buried with him his horse, his bow and arrows, his smoking apparatus and kettle. …

“So in old Europe, the warrior with his sword and spear, the horse with his saddle, the hunter’s hound and hawk and his bow and arrow, the wife with her gay clothes and jewels, lie together in the burial-mound. Their common purpose has become one of the most undisputed inferences of Archaeology.”

Drawing of the interior of the Leubingen Tumulus
Drawing of the interior of the Leubingen Tumulus

“The Australian will take his weapons with him to his paradise. A Tasmanian, asked the reason of a spear being deposited in a native’s grave, replied ‘To fight with when he is alseep.’ Many Greenlanders thought that the kayak and arrows and tools laid by a man’s grave, the knife and sewing implements laid by a woman’s, would be used in the next world. The instruments buried with the Sioux are for him to make a living with hereafter; the paints provided for the dead Iroquois were to enable him to appear decently in the other world. The Aztec’s water-bottle was to serve him on the journey to Mictlan, the land of the dead; the bonfire of garments and baskets and spoils of war was intended to send them with him, and somehow to protect him against the bitter wind; the offerings to the warrior’s manes on earth would reach him on the heavenly plains. …

“In Cochin China, the common people object to celebrating their feast of the dead on the same day with the upper classes, for this excellent reason, that the aristocratic souls might make the servant souls carry home their presents for them. These people employ all the resources of their civilization to perform with the more lavish extravagance the savage funeral sacrifices. Here are details from an account published in 1849 of the funeral of a late king of Cochin China. ‘When the corpse of Thien Tri was deposited in the coffin, there were also deposited in it many things for the use of the deceased in the other world, such as his crown, turbans, clothes of all descriptions, gold, silver, and other precious
articles, rice and other provisions.’ Meals were set out near the coffin, and there was a framed piece of damask with woollen characters, the abode of one of the souls of the defunct. In the tomb, an enclosed edifice of stone, the childless wives of the deceased were to be perpetually shut up to guard the sepulchre, and prepare daily the food and other things of which they think the deceased has need in the other life.’

“At the time of the deposit of the coffin in a cavern behind the tomb building, there were burnt there great piles of boats, stages, and everything used in the funeral, ‘and moreover of all the objects which had been in use by the king during his lifetime, of chessmen, musical instruments, fans, boxes, parasols, mats, fillets, carriages, &c., &c., and likewise a horse and an elephant of wood and pasteboard.’ Some months after the funeral, at two different times, there were constructed in a forest near a pagoda two magnificent palaces of wood with rich furnishings, in all things similar to the palace which the defunct monarch had inhabited. Each palace was composed of twenty rooms, and the most scrupulous attention was given in order that nothing might be wanting necessary for a
palace, and these palaces were burned with great pomp, and it is thus that immense riches have been given to the flames from the foolish belief that it would serve the dead in the other world.'”

Terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang
Terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang (these guys sure were lucky the Chines didn’t believe it was necessary to inter the actual army with the emperor.)

1024px-Qin_bronze_chariot_two 800px-Soldier_Horse

“The souls of the Norse dead took with them from their earthly home servants and horses, boats and ferry-money, clothes and weapons. Thus, in death as in life, they journeyed, following the long dark ‘hell-way’ (helvegr). The ‘hell-shoon’ (helsko) were bound upon the dead man’s feet for the toilsome journey ; and when King Harald was slain in the battle of Bravalla, they drove his war-chariot, with the corpse upon it into the great burial-mound, and there they killed the horse, and King Hring gave his own saddle beside, that the fallen chief might ride or drive to Walhalla, as it pleased him.”

Recreation of the Sutton Hoo burial
Recreation of the Sutton Hoo burial

EvX: Tylor then draws his account to a close, concluding:

“Among races within the limits of savagery, the general doctrine of souls is found worked out with remarkable breadth and consistency. The souls of animals are recognized by a natural extension from
the theory of human souls; the souls of trees and plants follow in some vague partial way; and the souls of inanimate objects expand the general category to its extremest boundary. Thenceforth, as we explore human thought onward from savage into barbarian and civilized life, we find a state of theory more conformed to positive science, but in itself less complete and consistent. Far on into civilization, men still act as though in some half-meant way they believed in souls or ghosts of objects, while nevertheless their knowledge of physical science is beyond so crude a philosophy. … In our own day and country, the notion of souls of beasts is to be seen dying out. Animism, indeed, seems to be drawing in its outposts, and concentrating itself on its first and main position, the doctrine of
the human soul. …

“The theory of the soul is one principal part of a system of religious philosophy which unites, in an unbroken line of mental connexion, the savage fetish-worshipper and the civilized Christian. The divisions which have separated the great religions of the world into intolerant and hostile sects are for the most part superficial in comparison with the deepest of all religious schisms, that which divides Animism from Materialism.”

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Anthropology Friday: The souls of stones

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s