Mysticism and Greater Male Variability

ctqda7fweae8tnbBuzzwords like “the male gaze” “objectification” “stereotype threat” “structural oppression” “white privilege” etc. are all really just re-hashings of the Evil Eye. We’ve shed the formal structure of religion but not the impulse for mystical thinking.

Today while debating with a friend about whether men or women have it better, it became plain that we were approaching the question from very different perspectives. He looked at men’s higher incomes and over-representation among CEOs and government officials and saw what I’ll call the mystical explanation: male oppression of women. I looked at the same data plus male over-representation among the homeless, mentally ill, suicides, and murder victims, and advocated the scientific explanation: greater male variability. 

What do I mean by mystical?

In primitive tribes, an accusation of witchcraft can quickly get you killed. What might inspire an accusation of witchcraft? A sick cow, a sudden death, a snake in a spot where it wasn’t yesterday, a drought, a flood, a twisted ankle–pretty much anything unexpected or unfortunate.

People understand cause and effect. Things happen because other things make them happen. But without a good scientific understanding of the world, the true causes of many events are unfindable, so people turn to mystical explanations. Why does it rain? Because a goddess is weeping. Why do droughts happen? Because someone forgot to make a sacrifice and angered the gods. Why do people get sick and die? Because other people cursed them.

If you’ve never encountered animist or mystical thought before, I recommend starting with some of my previous posts on the subject, which are thoroughly-researched and include lots of quotes from first-hand sources: Animism 1, 2, and 3; Aboriginal Witchcraft, more Australia 1, 2, and 3; mysticism and voodoo 1, 2, and 3. In this post I will be drawing on summaries of these and similar works.

A curse need not be deliberate. Simply being mad at someone or bearing them ill-will might be enough trigger the Evil Eye, curse them, and be forced by angry villagers to undo the curse–however the witchdoctor determines the curse must be undone. (This can be quite expensive.)

In animist thinking, things do not just happen. Things happen for reasons–usually malicious reasons.

In The Life and Adventure of William Buckley, 32 Years a Wanderer amongst the Aborigines, Buckley recounts: “They have an odd idea of death, for they do not suppose that any one dies from natural causes, but from human agencies: such as those to which I have alluded in previous pages of this narrative.”

The death of a companion via snakebite (probably a  common occurrence among people who walk barefoot in Australia) triggered a brutal “revenge” killing once it was determined who had cast the curse that motivated the snake:

“The cause of this sudden unprovoked cruelty was not, as usual, about the women, but because the man who had been killed by the bite of the snake belonged to the hostile tribe, and they believed my supposed brother-in-law carried about with him something that had occasioned his death. They have all sorts of fancies of this kind, and it is frequently the case, that they take a man’s kidneys out after death, tie them up in something, and carry them round the neck, as a sort of protection and valuable charm, for either good or evil.”

Buckley’s adoptive Aboriginal family, his sister and brother-in-law, who had been helping him since the tribe saved his life years ago, was killed in this incident.

“I should have been most brutally unfeeling, had I not suffered the deepest mental anguish from the loss of these poor people, who had all along been so kind and good to me. I am not ashamed to say, that for several hours my tears flowed in torrents, and, that for a long time I wept unceasingly. To them, as I have said before, I was as a living dead brother, whose presence and safety was their sole anxiety. Nothing could exceed the kindness these poor natives had shown me, and now they were dead, murdered by the band of savages I saw around me, apparently thirsting for more blood. Of all my sufferings in the wilderness, there was nothing equal to the agony I now endured.” …

“I returned to the scene of the brutal massacre; and finding the ashes and bones of my late friends, I scraped them up together, and covered them over with turf, burying them in the best manner I could, that being the only return I could make for their many kindnesses. I did so in great grief at the recollection of what they had done for me through so many years, and in all my dangers and troubles. ”

An account of Florence Young’s missionary work in the Solomon Islands (which are near Australia) recounts an identical justification for the cycle of violence on the Solomon Islands (which was quite threatening to Florence herself.) Every time someone died of any natural cause, their family went to the local witch doctor, who then used magic to determine who had used evil magic to kill the dead guy, and then the family would go and kill whomever the witch doctor indicated.

The advent of Christianity therefore caused a power struggle between the missionaries and the witch doctors, who were accustomed to being able to extort everyone and trick their followers into killing anyone who pissed them off. (See also Isaac Bacirongo’s account of the witch doctor who extorted his pre-pubescent sister as payment for a spell intended to kill Isaac’s wife–note: Isaac was not the one buying this spell; he likes his wife.)

So why do women make less money than men? Why are they underrepresented among CEOs and Governors and mathematicians? Something about the patriarchy and stereotype threat; something about men being evil.

Frankly, it sounds like men have the Evil Eye. A man thinks “Women are worse at math” and women suddenly become worse at math.

To be fair, my friend had only half the data, and when you have only half the data, the situation for men looks a lot better than the situation for women. But men aren’t only over-represented at the high ends of achievement–they’re also over-represented at the bottom. If patriarchy and stereotypes keep women from getting PhDs in math, why are little boys over-represented in special ed classes? Why are they more likely to be homeless, schizophrenic, commit suicide, or be murdered? Neither patriarchy nor male privilege can explain such phenomena.

Biology supplies us with a totally different explanation: greater male variability.

To review genetics, you have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Most of them are roughly X-shaped, except for the famous Y chromosome.

You have two chromosomes because you received one from each of your parents. Much of what the chromosomes do is redundant–for example, if you have blue eyes, then you received a gene for blue eyes from one parent and one from your other parent. One blue eye gene would be enough to give you blue eyes, but you have two.

Eye color isn’t terribly important, but things like how your immune system responds to threats or how your blood clots are. A rare mutation might make you significantly better or worse at these things, but the fact that you have two (or more) genes controlling each trait means that each very rare mutation tends to be paired with a more common version–lessening its effect.

There is, however, one big exception: the XY pair. Men don’t have a pair of Xs or a pair of Ys; they have one of each. If something is wrong on the X, the Y may have nothing to fix it, and vice versa.

The upshot is that if a man happens to get a gene that makes him extra tall, smart, conscientious, creative, charismatic, etc. somewhere on his X or Y chromosomes, he may not have a corresponding gene on the other chromosome to moderate its effects–and if he has a gene that makes him extra short, dumb, impulsive, dull, or anti-social, he is still unlikely to have a corresponding gene to dull the effect.

ci_generos
ASVAB scores: women in pink, men in blue.

Height is an uncontroversial example. Yes, the average man is taller than the average woman, but the spread of male heights is wider than the spread of female heights. More women are clustered around the average female height, while more men are both taller than the average man and shorter than the average man.

The graph to the right shows test scores from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, but it shows the same basic idea: different means with women clustered more closely around average than men.

Whether the greater male variability hypothesis is true or not, it is an explanation that assumes no malice on anyone’s part. No one is maliciously forcing little boys into special ed, nor grown men into homelessness and suicide. The architecture of the XY and XX chromosome pairs is simply part of how humans are constructed.

But notice that you are much more likely to hear the theory that uses mysticism to blame people than the theory that doesn’t. One is tempted to think that some people are just inclined to assume that others are malicious–while ignoring other, more mundane explanations.

 

 

 

Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 3/3

Welcome back. Today we’re finishing up with The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a Wanderer among the Aborigines.

Buckley (in case you missed parts 1 and 2 of our adventure,) was an English convict sent to Australia in the early 1800s. He escaped from the prison ship, hoping to make it to Sydney, which turned out to be about 1000 miles away. He had nearly died of thirst before some friendly Aborigines found him, saved his life, and, believing him to be a recently deceases relative returned from the grave, adopted him into their tribe.

Unfortunately, life in the “state of nature” was horribly violent, with tribes frequently attacking each other. Buckley blames most of the violence on fights over women, but occasionally notes the ways local animist beliefs also contribute to unending cycles of murder and revenge, in this case after a man who’d joined their community died of a snake bite:

1426857301587“The cause of this sudden unprovoked cruelty was not, as usual, about the women, but because the man who had been killed by the bite of the snake belonged to the hostile tribe, and they believed my supposed brother-in-law carried about with him something that had occasioned his death. They have all sorts of fancies of this kind, and it is frequently the case, that they take a man’s kidneys out after death, tie them up in something, and carry them round the neck, as a sort of protection and valuable charm, for either good or evil.”

EvX: Note that Buckley’s adoptive family, his sister and brother-in-law, who’ve been helping him since the tribe saved his life years ago, was killed in this incident.

I recently read an account of Florence Young’s missionary work in the Solomon Islands (which are near Australia.) I haven’t been using these Christian Heroes books for Anthropology Friday sources because they aren’t first hand sources and I have no capacity to judge their accuracy, but they are still pretty interesting if you’re a middle schooler hankering to read about Christian missionaries. Anyway, the book recounts an identical justification for the cycle of violence on the Solomon Islands (which was quite threatening to Florence herself.) Every time someone died of any natural cause, their family went to the local witch doctor, who then used magic to determine who had used malicious magic to kill the dead guy, and then the family would go and kill whomever the witch doctor indicated.

The advent of Christianity therefore caused a power struggle between the missionaries and the witch doctors, who were used to being able to extort everyone and trick their followers into killing anyone who pissed them off. (See also Isaac Bacirongo’s account of the witch doctor who extorted his pre-pubescent sister as payment for a spell intended to kill Isaac’s wife–note: Isaac was not the one buying this spell; he likes his wife.)

Returning to Buckley, after the death of his friends:

“I should have been most brutally unfeeling, had I not suffered the deepest mental anguish from the loss of these poor people, who had all along been so kind and good to me. I am not ashamed to say, that for several hours my tears flowed in torrents, and, that for a long time I wept unceasingly. To them, as I have said before, I was as a living dead brother, whose presence and safety was their sole anxiety. Nothing could exceed the kindness these poor natives had shown me, and now they were dead, murdered by the band of savages I saw around me, apparently thirsting for more blood. Of all my sufferings in the wilderness, there was nothing equal to the agony I now endured.” …

“I returned to the scene of the brutal massacre; and finding the ashes and bones of my late friends, I scraped them up together, and covered them over with turf, burying them in the best manner I could, that being the only return I could make for their many kindnesses. I did so in great grief at the recollection of what they had done for me through so many years, and in all my dangers and troubles. ”

After this, Buckley cares for his deceased relatives’ children, a blind boy and a little girl. This goes about as depressingly as expected:

“Our small community remained in perfect harmony for many months, until, unfortunately, a young man about twenty years of age, belonging to another tribe, arrived. This youth was taken seriously ill a few days after joining us, and although we did all we could for him he died. This event created great distress, and by way of changing the scene, our small party broke up, and left the Karaaf on a short hunting excursion. After a time we fell in with the deceased young man’s family, who, on being informed of his death, expressed great astonishment and rage, fancying it had been brought about by some unfair means on our part. This excitement arose to such a height, as to approach what it would be mercy to describe insanity. After a time, they forced the poor blind boy away from me, and killed him on the spot, because he had happened to be in the same hut in which the young man died, believing he had been in some way the means of his death.

“After this, they roasted the body in the usual manner; but whilst this was going on I left, with the little girl, moving on, and on, until meeting the tribe to which the man belonged to whom in her infancy she had been promised; I explained all the particulars of the sacrifice of her poor blind brother. They immediately vowed vengeance, and two or three of them set out for the purpose of murder, returning in a few days with the intelligence that they had killed two
of the children of their enemies. …

“Having transferred her to the care of these people, I set off alone, determined to live by myself in order to avoid a repetition of the scenes I had witnessed, and all further intercourse with the natives.”

EvX: Buckley didn’t live entirely alone–he got married twice in this period–but he did try to avoid large tribal gatherings for a long while, and lived mostly alone for some time, out of both grief and a practical desire to avoid danger. During that time he built himself a couple of huts and a fishing weir that served him well. After several years it appears he resumed interacting more with others, as he reflects later:

“I had seen a race of children grow up into women and men, and many of the old people die away, and by my harmless and peaceable manner amongst them, had acquired great influence in settling their disputes. Numbers of murderous fights I had prevented by my interference, which was received by them as well meant; so much so, that they would often allow me to go
amongst them previous to a battle, and take away their spears, and waddies, and boomerangs. My visits were always welcomed, and they kindly and often supplied me with a portion of the provisions they had, assuring me, in their language, of the interest they took in my welfare.”

Stanley island rock art showing European ships
Stanley island rock art showing European ships

EvX: Despite his friends and remaining family, at the first news of English ships in the area, Buckley rushed to the spot. He attempted to make contact, but couldn’t swim out to the ship and couldn’t convince the ship to send a boat to him (Buckley had, at this point, forgotten how to speak English.) Buckley was again heartbroken until another ship showed up, and he found the English colonists and tried to approach them:

“Presently some of the natives saw me, and turning round, pointed me out to one of the white people; and seeing they had done so, I walked away from the well, up to their place, and seated myself there, having my spears and other war and hunting implements between my legs. The white men could not make me out–my half-cast colour, and extraordinary height and figure [Buckley was around 6’5” or taller,]–dressed, or rather undressed, as I was–completely confounding them as to my real character. At length one of them came up and asked me some questions, which I could not understand; but when he offered me bread–calling it by its name–a cloud appeared to pass from over my brain, and I soon repeated that, and other English words after him. …

The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861
The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861

“Word by word I began to comprehend what they said, and soon understood, as if by instinct, that they intended to remain in the country; that they had seen several of the native chiefs, with whom–as they said–they had exchanged all sorts of things for land; but that I knew could not have been, because, unlike other savage communities, or people, they have no chiefs claiming or possessing any superior right over the soil: theirs only being as the heads of families. I also knew that if any transactions had taken place, it must have been because the natives knew nothing of the value of the country, except as hunting grounds, supplying them with the means of present existence. I therefore looked upon the land dealing spoken of, as another hoax of the white man, to possess the inheritance of the uncivilized natives of the forest, whose tread on the vast Australian Continent will very soon be no more heard, and whose crimes and sorrows are fast fading away amongst other recollections of the past.”

EvX: Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people, with whom Buckley lived, claims that they did have chiefs:

Prior to European settlement, 25 separate clans existed, each with an arweet, or clan headman.[5] Arweet held the same tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.

The page on ngurungaeta says:

Ngurungaeta is a Woi-Wurrung word meaning ‘head man’ or ‘tribal leader’. Used by Clans of the Woi-Wurrung tribes and Taung Wurrung Ngurai-illum Wurrung ref First Peoples, GaryPresland.[1] Ngurungaeta held the same tribal standing as an Arweet of the Bunurong and Wathaurong people. The current Ngurungaeta is Murrundindi.

Ngurungaeta include:

  • Bebejan – one of the seven ngurungaeta who signed the 1835 treaty with John Batman[2]

Signing of the threaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist's impression)
Signing of the treaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist’s impression)

John Batman is the leader of the colonists Buckley is here discussing. By all accounts, Batman was not a nice guy–he massacred villages, kidnapped children, and negotiated treaties with people who had no hope of understanding what he really meant.

According to Buckley, the Aborigines had intended to murder Batman and take all of his trade goods–something was definitely opposed to. Despite his friendships with the natives, Buckley longed to be rescued and return to English society. He therefore worked hard to convince the Aborigines not to kill Batman, and likewise, tried to stop the settlers from killing the Aborigines (including acting as an interpreter in a capital murder trial, successfully preventing an Aborigine man from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit.) In the end, of course, there was nothing Buckley could do about white treatment of the Aborigines, a subject matter far too vast for me to deal with it here.

I find it interesting that throughout these sorts of accounts–and I include here Napoleon Chagnon’s account of the Yanomamo, famed for their violence–people still tend to believe in the essential goodness of their companions. Buckley does not say, “Oh, these Aborigines, they’re evil people who kill people and eat them!” No, he repeatedly states his gratitude to them for saving his life, taking them in, and treating him kindly. His feelings of grief upon the loss of his Aborigine family appear quite genuine. He does not think they should murder and eat each other, but he does not seem to attirbute these behaviors to character flaws. Likewise, though Buckley criticizes the English for their mistreatment of the Aborigines, he does not declare them evil, either.

Nor does Napoleon Chagnon dislike the Yanomamo tribesmen he’s lived with, despite the fact that he knows full well that a great many of them are murderers!

Which leaves us with our ultimate questions:

What does it mean to be good?

What does it mean to be evil?

Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 2

1280px-aboriginal_art_wall_-_panoramioWelcome back to Anthropology Friday, The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years among the Aborigines.

To be fair, Buckley was not an anthropologist. He was just a soldier-convict-guy who happened to get lost in Australia and was adopted into an Aborigine tribe. Years later he found colonists, re-joined white society, and dictated his life’s story, resulting in this book.

Buckley doesn’t relate many of the standard “cultural” tropes that I tend to associate with Aborigines–he makes no mention of the Dreamtime, says very little about myths, and is silent on coming of age rituals or magic rites.

Perhaps these weren’t prominent among the Aborigines he happened to live with, or he never learned about them, or he just thought them less interesting or important to his future readers than his accounts of violence. Certainly they were much less important to his life than the constant threat of death.

But he does include some cultural details, many of which I’ve excerpted below. (BTW, I’m including some images of Aborigine art, but none of them are–as far as I know–related to the folks Buckley lived with. They’re just here to look nice.)

Aborigine counting:

“We remained in peace and quietness, until a messenger came from another tribe, saying we were to meet them some miles off. Their method of describing time is by signs on the fingers, one man of each party marking the days by chalkings on the arm, and then rubbing one off as each day passes. ”

The bunyip--a very confused beast
The bunyip–a very confused beast

The Bunyip, a mythical creature:

“In this lake, as well as in most of the others inland, and in the deep water rivers, is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip, of which I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf, and sometimes larger; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm, And the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail, so that I could not form a correct idea
of their size, or what they were like. ”

EvX: Some people claim that the inclusions of details like the bunyip imply that Buckley’s account is untrustworthy. Obviously any account probably has some inaccuracies, but I don’t think the bunyip should be counted against Buckley anymore than Herodotus’s giant ants against his Histories. Buckley lived in a land of unfamiliar plants and animals, and his friends told him, “That thing in the tree is a koala; that hoppy thing is a kangaroo; that thing that just went swish plop out of sight in the swamp is a bunyip,” and he took them at their word.

Later in the account Buckley expresses some doubts on the matter, noting that the aborigines were afraid of the bunyip and thought it bad luck to try to hunt it, but he wanted to find and kill one when they weren’t around to figure out what sort of creature it was.

On marriage (paging HBDChick):

Bradshaw rock paintings,
Bradshaw rock paintings

“The only ceremonies they use preparatory to marriage are, in the first place, to get the parents’ consent, the suitor’s best claim is being a good fighter, and an expert hunter, so as to be able to protect and provide for a family. They are not at all particular as to the number of wives such men have; consequently some have five or six wives, and others none at all. If a man wishes to have a man’s grown up sister for a wife, he must give his own, if he has one, in exchange; but they are very averse to marrying one of their own relations, even of a distant degree.

“If a woman is supposed to have a child who is not her husband’s, they consider it a great disgrace; and to the infant, death is almost certain. If again, a family increases too rapidly,
for instance, if a woman has a child within twelve months of .a previous one, they hold a consultation amongst the tribe she belongs to, as to whether it shall live or not; but if the father insists upon the life of the child being spared, they do not persist in its destruction, and especially if it is a female.”

EvX: Female privilege.

I have read that the % of fetuses aborted in the US today and the % of infants infanticided in premodern cultures is about the same.

Continuing:

“I may as well here also mention a curious custom they have relative to their domestic affairs … In many instances, a girl, almost as soon as she is born, is given to a man. After this promise, the mother of the child never again voluntarily speaks to the intended husband before he takes her to himself nor to any of his brothers, if he has any; on the contrary she shuns them in the most careful manner.”

EvX: I don’t know if we should take him literally that infants were engaged to grown men, but at any rate, since the stated cause of much violence was that a girl who had been promised at birth to one man was desired at marrying age by another man, it seems like a great deal of violence could have been eliminated by discontinuing this custom.

Air burial:

“The next morning, those who remained went to the tribe to which the murdered man belonged, and found him rolled up in his rug, ready to be tied up in a tree, a mode of disposing of the dead, who were not enemies, unknown to me before. They selected a strong, if not a lofty tree, and in the branches, about twelve feet up, they placed some logs and branches across, and sheets of bark; on these they laid the body with the face upwards, inclining toward the setting sun, and over it was placed some more bark and boughs, and then logs as heavy as the branches would bear; all this being done to protect the body from the birds of prey.”

Religion:

“They have no notion of a Supreme Being, although they have of an after life, as in my case; and they do not ofler up any’ kind of prayer, even to the son or moon, as is customary with most other uncivilized people. They have a notion, that the world is supported by props, which are in the charge of a man who lives at the farthest end of the earth. They were dreadfully alarmed on one occasion when I was with them, by news passed from tribe to tribe, that unless
they could send him a supply of tomahawks for cutting some more props with, and some more rope to tie them with, the earth would go by the run, and all hands would be smothered. Fearful of this, they began to think, and enquire, and calculate where the highest mountains were, and how to get to them …so as to have some chance of escape from the threatened
danger.”

“The next day we moved on to another fresh water lake of considerable extent, where we encamped, not very much at our ease, as we saw another tribe on the opposite shore. In the middle of the night we heard a dreadful uproar in that direction, and in the morning learned that those we had seen before dark had been fallen upon by some others whilst they were sleeping; so on hearing this we went to their assistance. On our arrival a horrid scene presented itself, many women and children laying about in all directions, wounded and sadly mutilated. Several of the poor creatures had rushed into the lake and were drowned. The few who had escaped were hiding themselves in the reeds; but on our proffering assistance and protection, they joined us, and went to our huts. The dead were left, it not being safe to lose time in burying them, as our number was not sufficient to make us safe from a similar attack.”

1024px-st_georges_road_aboriginal_history_mural_3Organization:

“Having come to another halt, the better way perhaps will be, for me here to state, that the tribes are divided into families; or rather, I should say, composed of them, each tribe comprising from twenty to sixty of them. They acknowledge no particular Chief as being
superior to the rest; but, he who is most skilful and useful to the general community, is looked upon with the greatest esteem, and is considered to be entitled to more wives than any of the others. They contrive to keep a tolerable account, by recollection, of their pedigree, and will not, as I observed before, knowingly marry a relation, except where two brothers happened
to be married, and one dies; in that case the survivor claims the widow; in fact, as many wives or widows as he has left behind him. Should the women object, there is little chance of their lives being spared, as this law of custom is absolute.”

EvX: Not female privilege.

“They are in general, very kind to their children, excepting the child is from any cause, believed to be illegitimate ; and again, when a woman has been promised to one man, and is afterwards given to another; in such case, her first-born is almost invariably killed at its birth. The tribes would be much more numerous were it not for these barbarous and inhuman sacrifices.

“As soon as the children are able to toddle about, they begin, as if by instinct, to search for food, and at four or five years of age, are able to dig roots and live without the aid of their parents, to whom, as may be supposed, their drapery, and washing and combing, etc., is no sort of trouble. They are all stark naked, and tumble about in the lagoons and rivers, like so many jolly young porpoises playing in the sun.”

EvX: I suspect he is overestimating the foraging capabilities of 5 yr olds.

Cannibalism and mental illness:

“They have a brutal aversion to children who happen to be deformed at their birth. I saw the brains of one dashed out at a blow, and a boy belonging to the same woman made to eat the mangled remains. The act of cannibalism was accounted for in this way. The woman at particular seasons of the moon, was out of her senses; the moon, as they thought, having affected the child also, and, certainly, it had a very singular appearance. This caused her husband to deny his being the father, and the reason given for making the boy eat the child
was, that some evil would befall him if he had not done so.”

“However, the man himself having escaped, he, with others, went in the night to the hut of the savage who had killed his brother, and speared him dead; having done which, they cut the most of the flesh off his body, carrying it away on their spears to mark their triumph. The next day and night there was a continued uproar of dancing and singing, to notify their joy at these horrible events, during which, the mangled remains of the man were roasted between heated stones, and they eat part of them, and no mistake; for I saw them join in the horrible repast, and was requested to do so likewise, which of course I refused to do, evincing the greatest disgust at their proceedings.”

EvX: Buckley appears to feel some guilt upon relating this incident, because it will reflect badly upon his friends in the minds of his readers:

“Having been rescued from death by starvation, it is only natural that I should, from a feeling of gratitude, desire to save the natives from so great a reproach; but the truth must prevail, and that many of the natives inhabiting this part of the continent of New Holland are cannibals, under particular circumstances, cannot be doubted.” …

“Strange as all these cannibal ceremonies may appear, it is proper to explain, that many are performed out of what they consider respect for the deceased, the cap bones of whose knees, in this instance, after being carefully cleaned, were tied up in a sort of net of hair and twisted bark. Under such circumstances, these relics are carried by the mothers, tied round their necks
by day, and placed under their heads by night, as affectionate remembrancers of the dead. ”

1426857301587Music:

“All those I met with, excepting in times of war, or lamentation, I found to be particularly fond of what they consider music, although they have no kind of instrument except the skin rug, which, stretched from knee to knee, they beat upon, others keeping time with sticks. So passionately attached are they even to this noise, that they often commence in the night, one family setting them on, until at last they one and all become a very jolly set, keeping it up in one continual strain until daylight. I have often wished them and their enchanting enlivening strains on the other side of the Continent, with the queer old conjuror who manages the props already mentioned…”

Life and Death:

“Considering how they are exposed to the weather, it is wonderful how little they suffer from idleness; for, excepting a sort of erysipelas, or scurvy, with which they are sometimes afflicted, they are In general very healthy. I never observed any European contagious disease prevalent, in the least degree; and this I thought strange. There was at one time however, I now recollect, a complaint which spread through the country, occasioning the loss of many lives, attacking generally the healthiest and strongest, whom it appeared to fix upon in preference to the more weakly. It was a dreadful swelling of the feet, so that they were unable to move about, being
also afflicted with ulcers of a very painful kind. ” …

“The natives live to about the same age, generally, as civilized people, some of them, to be very grey-headed. They have an odd idea of death, for they do not suppose that any one dies from natural causes, but from human agencies: such as those to which I have alluded in previous pages of this narrative. The women seldom have more than six children, and not often so many. So soon as they have as many as they can conveniently carry about and provide for, they kill the rest immediately after birth : not to eat them, as may be supposed, but with the idea that, for the sake of both parties, and under such circumstances, death is practical mercy.”

Technology and trade:

“… I must say something about their tomahawks … The heads of these instruments are made from a hard black stone, split into a convenient thickness, without much regard to shape. This they rub with a very rough granite stone, until it is brought to a fine thin edge, and so hard and sharp as to enable them to fell a very large tree with it. There is only one place that I ever heard of in that country, where this hard and splitting stone is to be had. The natives call it karkeen; and say that it is at a distance of three hundred miles from the coast, inland. The journey to fetch them is, therefore, one of great danger and difficulty; the tribes who inhabit the immediate localities being very savage, and hostile to all others. I was told, that it required an armed party of resolute fighting men, to obtain supplies of this very necessary article; so that the tomahawk is considered valuable for all purposes.”

EvX: Constant war makes trade impossible.

In a second incident that, like the Bunyip, appears to be based more in myth than reality, Buckley relates having met the Pallidurgbarrans:

“I had almost forgotten to say, that in my wanderings about, I met with the Pallidurgbarrans, a tribe notorious for their cannibal practices; not only eating human flesh greedily after a fight, but on all occasions when it was possible. They appeared to be the nearest approach to the brute creation of any I had ever seen or heard of; and, in consequence, they were very much dreaded. Their colour was light copper, their bodies having tremendously large and protrubing bellies. Huts, or artificial places for shelter, were unknown to them, it being their custom to lay about in the scrub, anyhow and anywhere. The women appeared to be most unnaturally ferocious, children being their most valued sacrifice. Their brutality at length became so harrassing, and their assaults so frequent, that it was resolved to set fire to the bush where they had sheltered themselves, and so annihilate them, one and all, by suffocation. This, in part, succeeded, for I saw no more of them in my time. The belief is, that the last of the race was turned into a stone, or rock, at a place where a figure was found resembling a man, and exceedingly well executed; probably the figure-head of some unfortunate ship. ”

The Pallidurgbarrans are apparently mythical, (I’ve been able to find rather little about them at all,) and Buckley’s account is given with no particular context connecting it to the rest of the narrative, indicating that it might, indeed, have been made up.

Of course this does not rule out the possibility of the account having some basis in fact–perhaps they are a tribe known more popularly under another name–though it seems unlikely that Buckley himself ever actually encountered them.

The story is actually a very common mythic trope–the woods (or swamps) are filled with sub-humans who engage in various acts seen as evil by their neighbors, such as cannibalism, incest, rape (carrying off women from nearby tribes,) etc. For example, the aboriginal people of Taiwan have a festival that commemorates a tribe of “dark-skinned pygmies” which they claim to have wiped out 400+ years ago for being too friendly with their women. Folks on the isle of Flores, Indonesia, speak of the Ebu Gogo–literally, “grandmother who will eat anything.” Wikipedia recounts:

The Nage people believe that the Ebu Gogo were alive at the time of the arrival of Portuguese trading ships in the 17th century, and some hold that they survived as recently as the 20th century, but are now no longer seen. The Ebu Gogo are believed to have been hunted to extinction by the human inhabitants of Flores. They believe that the extermination, which culminated around seven generations ago, was undertaken because the Ebu Gogo stole food from human dwellings, and kidnapped children.[4]

An article in New Scientist (Vol. 186, No. 2504) gives the following account of folklore on Flores surrounding the Ebu Gogo: The Nage people of central Flores tell how, in the 18th century, villagers disposed of the Ebu Gogo by tricking them into accepting gifts of palm fiber to make clothes. When the Ebu Gogo took the fiber into their cave, the villagers threw in a firebrand to set it alight. The story goes that all the occupants were killed except perhaps for one pair, who fled into the deepest forest, and whose descendants may be living there still.

Europeans, of course, have their child-snatching fairies and man-eating trolls, and we Americans have our “the woods are full of creepy serial killers” horror-movie trope.

We’ll continue next week!

Anthropology Friday: Aboriginal Witchcraft

Another installment of Smith’s Aborigine:

“… it may be said that a rain-maker may neither have, nor profess to have, any skill outside of his own profession of rain-making. A medicine-man is generally one who uses the pointing-stick or the pointing-bone, the wirrie, the crystal, or the thumie, or the ngathungi. He professes to point the stick or bone at a person and to cause it to enter the body; and it is he who takes it or extracts it from the body, sometimes with the help of Puckowe [footnote: Known as the Grandmother Spirit. She is supposed to inhabit the dark spot, the Coal-sack, in the Milky Way.] …”

The author has very little respect for the rain making profession, which he believes is trickery practiced on the gullible:

“On some clear morning there may be no cloud in the sky, … But the rain-maker notes indications that a thunderstorm is coming, and that it will arrive, say, in three hours. He begins his incantation, and his wife advises all present that to warn their children that a storm is coming. … After a while black clouds appear in the distance, followed by a flash of lightning. … the storm is all around them. The rain-maker leaps out of his wurley, chanting his song of invocation to the spirits of the lightning, the thunder, the rain, and the wind, … ‘You have heard my call… you have come at my bidding.’ The children and youths and maidens are astounded at what they consider a wonderful performance.”

The Neilyeri … If, for instance, the Frilled Lizard totem tribe is desirous of doing an injury to the Carpet-snake totem tribe, one of its members would seek the aid of another person, say, a member of the Opossum totem tribe. The Frilled Lizard man would instruct the Opossum man to make the acquaintance of a Carpet-snake man. This he would do by asking a Tortoise totem tribe man to effect a meeting.”

The Opossum man goes and hangs out with the Carpet-snake guy for a week.

“… one night the Opossum man would whisper into the ear of the Carpet-snake man a word of warning, saying that the Frilled Lizard man was in possession of a great number of neilyeries, and was preparing them for use. Furthermore, he would say that he had heard that one of the neilyeries was to be used on a member of the Carpet-snake totem family…”

At that point, the Carpet-snake man looks across the fire and sees a Frilled Lizard man making weird hand motions with a pointing-bone, which causes the Carpet-snake man to become anxious and worried and have bad dreams, and the Opossum man keeps saying things to make him more paranoid.

“So the Carpet-snake man decides to consult the doctor, but the cunning Lizard man has already seen the doctor, and has retained his services with bribes.”

A big show is made, and the medicine-man says he has partially healed the man but cannot do it completely, because the spirits are hanging onto his sickness because they want him to die.

“The medicine-man … begins to cry softly, the tears flowing down his cheeks, and then he bid his patient good-bye. After his departure the relatives and friends congregate at the sick man’s wurley, and the latter tells them that the medicine-man is unable to cure him, and that he must submit to the wishes of his loved ones, who are standing beside him ready to welcome him to the Spirit World. So he turns his face toward the west, that mysterious land, and allows his spirit to take flight… Thus the soul passes away through the power of suggestion.”

I know that the “power of suggestion” is suspected to be the mechanism behind which many curses are supposed to work, but I still find the whole scenario rather over-complicated and far too prone to the intended victim deciding not to go along with it, especially compared with the rather fool-proof method of punching the guy you’re mad at.

“The wirrie is a charm stick of wood or bone … It is placed inside a dead human body, and is allowed to remain there until the corpse is decomposed. It is then removed and wrapped in emu-feathers, and surrounded by kangaroo or wallaby skin. Thus prepared, it is regarded as the most dangerous instrument of death. It requires very careful handling, as a prick from the point of it is capable of causing blood-poisoning and death. It may be, and usually is, thrust completely into the body of the victim while he is fast asleep.”

It’s amazing how many people think hunter-gatherers were all non-violent pacifists who never killed anyone or had any wars and, of course, were all nature-loving feminists.

The other amazing thing is that doctors in the 1800s couldn’t figure out that inadequate hand washing was behind the correlation between dissecting corpses in one’s spare time and one’s patients dying. Surely “dead things magically spread death” is just some dumb superstition.

Argh I a am still mad about that.

“The thumie is another death-dealing instrument. It consists of a rope or string made from human hair that has been taken from hundreds of people, alive or dead. It is believed that the minds of these people and their desires, loves, and hatreds are contained in the hair. …

“When one of the elders of the tribe is sick unto death the maker of this thumie asks a brother or a son of the sick one if he will take it to the sick man’s bed and place it under his body, and let him lie on it until he passes from this life into the Spirit Land. Thus his spirit will be absorbed by it. … he gives consent… the rope is wound about him, first at the hips, then round the trunk several times, and up under the arms, then loosely over the back of the neck and the head. One end is placed in the dying man’s hand, and the other is given to a person standing outside the wurley. …”

Australian Aborigines posing in front of their wurley.
Australian Aborigines posing in front of their wurley.

“The rope is left for several weeks twined about the corpse, and by this time the body is putrefied or decomposed. Meantime the thumie has absorbed into itself the strength of the spirit of the departed. The thumie is considered to be sensitive to a wish or a desire on the part of the person who makes use of it… ”

“When many persons communicate to the hair rope a wish that some one shall give himself up as a victim to the ceremony that will cause death the sacrifice is willingly made without any effort to resist the demand. So it is thought that not only does the spirit assist in capturing a victim, but that in the pursuit it guides the operators through the forest of scrub, over mountain-tops, into fern-covered valleys, and across rivers, until they reach their destination. They say they walk on air, and that the spits have made or caused the air for a foot above the earth to become solid and soft. The air is moving, and they are being carried along with it in a direct line toward there victim.”

Then there is also dancing around and ritual chanting and drawing of effigies and declarations that the guy to be murdered must die. There follows a very long and much more mundane description of the murderers tracking down their victim on foot, taking lots of care to be extremely quiet and sneaky.

“At about three or four o-clock in the morning all the others arrive separately, one after another, until the whole twelve are assembled. Then the medicine-man unrolls the hair-rope, and places it upon a null-nulla, and the person holding the nulla-nulla wind the hair several time round it, and then creeps along toward the victim in the wurley, who, of course, is sound asleep. They wind the hair rope round his arms and neck in such a manner that they themselves shall not be exposed to the danger of allowing the sleeper to hold the rope with his hand. … Those holding the rope are unanimous in their thought-suggestion. [The victim] arises from his bed as if awake, and comes toward the men who are sitting upon the ground. he walks forward of his own accord, and lays himself upon their knees, with his face turned toward the sky, as if about to rest upon his bed. He remains in this position, and the medicine-nan comes forward, holding in his hand a flint knife made expressly for an occasion like this. He draws the skin of the victim from the hip toward the small rib. He makes a small hole in the body, and thrusts his little finger through it, and scoops out a small portion of the kidney-fat. Then the skin is allowed to return to its original position. The wound is pressed with smooth pieces of wood made for the purpose of keeping the edges together. …”

Nulla-nulla, with thanks to
Nulla-nulla

“Puckowe comes and heals the wound so that o one might be able to see the cut, and she takes from the man all consciousness of what has happened a few hours before

“Puckowe also goes to the place whee the ceremony was performed and removes all signs of the enemy and blood, and make the grass or broken twigs appear undisturbed. Then she returns to her home int he dark spot in the Milky Way. The medicine0man and the other men return to their homes, happy that they have secured their revenge and taken a life for a life.”

Meanwhile, the victim feels awful,  and his tribe decides that clearly he has been bewitched with a thumie and had a piece of his kidney removed, so they call upon their medicine man to get their thumie and go take revenge on whichever tribe did it to them.

 

 

Animism, HeLa cells, and Mystical Flesh (pt 1)

Click here for: Part 2 and Part 3

(Do you ever just want to link to about a dozen posts and say, “Here, read all of this quickly and then carry on?)

I did a fair amount of research on animist religious traditions–specifically, those related to West African Vodun–for the Satanic Daycare Posts. Most of that didn’t make it into the posts, but it did manage to give me nightmares.

(Content warning: human sacrifice)

The past three “Anthropology Fridays” have focused on Edward B. Tylor’s description of Animism, the general religious belief that non-human entities, like animals, plants, and stones–have souls or spirits. (AF1: human sacrifice; AF2: animal sacrifice; AF3: plant and object sacrifice.)  Tylor believes that animism constitutes the original form of religious belief from which all others descended (an intriguing position, but nigh impossible to prove,) and that the practice of sacrifice (of people, animals, plants, and things,) follows naturally from the belief that their souls will journey on to the afterlife or spirit realm. Eg:

Of such rites in the Pacific islands, the most hideously purposeful accounts reach us from the Fiji group. Till lately, a main part of the ceremony of a great man’s funeral was the strangling of wives, friends, and slaves, for the distinct purpose of attending him into the world of spirits. Ordinarily the first victim was the wife of the deceased, and more than one if he had several, and their corpses, oiled as for a feast, clothed with new fringed girdles, with heads dressed and ornamented, and vermilion and turmeric powder spread on their faces and bosoms, were laid by the side of the dead warrior. Associates and inferior attendants were likewise slain, and these bodies were spoken of as ‘ grass for bedding the grave.’

(See also: Pictures from Oceana/Indonesia/Polynesia etc.)

“Animism” is a broad term that could be applied to thousands of religions; this post is specifically concerned with West African traditions and their religious descendants, aka Voodoo.

Organized religions like Christianity and Islam have conveniently (for me) written down their beliefs and worked hard to ensure that all of their members believe the same thing. Of course they don’t all believe the same thing, and there are always groups that are exceptions, but overall, we can say things like, “Jews are monotheists who focus on the diasporic experience;” “Muslims are monotheists who really like their prophet, Mohammad;” “Christians are monotheists but their god manifests in multiple different forms.” Talk to just about any adherent of these religions in the world, (Mormons excepted,) and you’ll find someone who agrees with one of these statements.

Polytheistic animist religions from non-literate societies are not so convenient. They happily morph and absorb new traditions and deities wherever they go–Catholicism where there were Catholics; Protestantism where there were Protestants; Islam where there were Muslims; indigenous American beliefs where there were Natives; and these days, apparently, Hindu iconography due to Hindus producing attractive-looking pictures of their deities. This creates a great deal of variation in individual local traditions, though we will be generally ignoring these to focus more on underlying commonalities and big-picture differences.

Of course, people are never content to leave names alone, presumably because there is some sort of elite cred to be earned by carefully enunciating the difference between “Voodoo” and “Vodou,” and because Vodou priests don’t like being associated with schlocky horror movies and Louisiana tourist shops.

So we have a proliferation of terms: West African Vodun, Haitian Vodou (aka Vaudou/Vadoun,) Cuban Vodu, Dominican Vudu, Brazilian Vodum aka Candomble, Louisiana Voodoo, American Hoodoo, West African Juju, Obeah, Santeria, Palo, etc.

For the sake of this post, if it sounds like “Voodoo,” I’m going to spell it “Voodoo.” If I mean a specific variant, like “Haitian Voodoo” or “West African Voodoo,” I’ll say that. If it’s a variety with a really different name, I’ll say something like, “Obeah Voodoo” or just “Obeah.”

I’ve collected some pictures:

Voodoo fetish market in Togo, West Africa
Voodoo fetish market in Togo, West Africa
Voodoo statue from Togo, West Africa
Voodoo statue from Togo, West Africa
Voodoo altar with fetishes, Benin, West Africa
Voodoo altar with fetishes, Benin, West Africa

Some Voodoo art is better looking, eg:

Voodoo Shrine, Benin
Is this what happens when the egg refuses to leave its nest? Voodoo Shrine, Benin
Voodoo Pantheon by sculptor Cyprien Tokoudagba of Benin
Voodoo Pantheon by sculptor Cyprien Tokoudagba of Benin

I think it’s reasonable to conclude that this religion involves a lot of penises.

All of the Voodoo variants basically believe that spirits exist, and you can get them to help you out by sacrificing things to them. These things can be anything from other people to cigarettes. The African varieties seem more likeley to involve human sacrifice, the Latin American and Caribbean varieties tend more toward animal sacrifice, and the American varieties toward herbal remedies and inanimate sacrifice, but exceptions always exist.

I should note that human sacrifice is not some kind of African universal, but it is more common than we like to think.

In 2001, the ritually-dismembered, headless torso of “Adam,” a Nigerian child about 5 or 6 years old, was found floating in the Thames. An autopsy revealed, via stomach contents and pollen found in his lungs, that he’d only been in Britain for a few days and had drunk a potion used in West African ritual magic. (There are approximately 180,000 Nigerians living in the UK.)

Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the victim’s real name is Ikpomwosa. In an interview with ITV’s London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before travelling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent. ..

Asked who killed him, she said a ‘group of people’. She added: “They used him for a ritual in the water.” Claiming the boy was six years old, she said: ‘He was a lively boy. A very nice boy, he was also intelligent.’ Detailed analysis of a substance in the boy’s stomach was identified as a ‘black magic’ potion. It included tiny clay pellets containing small particles of pure gold, an indication that Adam was the victim of a Muti ritual killing in which it is believed that the body parts of children are sacred. Bodies are often disposed of in flowing water. (source)

These cases more normally happen in Africa, but then we tend to lack official police investigations, autopsies, and BBC articles, but there’s plenty of documentation if you look:

The Leopard Society was a West African secret society active in the early- to mid-20th century that practiced cannibalism.[1] They were centred in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.

Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards’ claws and teeth. The victims’ flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the secret society. According to their beliefs, the ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the secret society as well as their entire tribe. (source)

The “Refworld” (Refugee World) article on human sacrifice in Nigeria (from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) claims that,

According to various sources, ritual killings in Nigeria are performed to obtain human body parts for use in rituals, potions, and charms. The Lagos-based newspaper This Day explains that “ritualists, also known as headhunters, … go in search of human parts at the request of herbalists, who require them for sacrifices or for the preparation of various magical potions”. …

According to This Day, ritual murders are “a common practice” in Nigeria. … Similarly, a 2012 Daily Independent article states that “in recent times, the number of … brutal murders, mostly for ritual purposes and other circumstances, involving couples and their partners has been on a steady progression.” …

This Day reported that a confidential memo from the Nigerian police to registered security service providers indicated that ritual killings were particularly prevalent in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Abia, Kwara, Abuja, Rivers, and Kogi. … In 2010, one newspaper reported that dead bodies with missing organs were being discovered on a daily basis on a road close to Lagos State University that was described as a “hot spot for ritual killers.” A second newspaper reported in February 2011 that, in the same area, ten people had been killed in suspected ritual murders in the preceding two months. A 2009 article published by Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a state government official, the kidnapping of children for ritual murder was on the rise in Kano.

(I have removed the in-line citations because they make the article unreadable; check the original if you want their sources.)

Ju-Ju (Voodoo) house, Nigeria
Ju-Ju (Voodoo) house, Nigeria

According to Wikipedia,

Juju is sometimes used to enforce a contract or ensure compliance. In a typical scenario, a juju spell will be placed on a Nigerian woman before she is trafficked into Europe for a life in prostitution, to ensure that she will pay back her traffickers and won’t escape.[5][6][7]

From the BBC, Witch-Doctors Reveal Extent of Child Sacrifice in Uganda:

A BBC investigation into human sacrifice in Uganda has heard first-hand accounts which suggest ritual killings of children may be more common than authorities have acknowledged.

One witch-doctor led us to his secret shrine and said he had clients who regularly captured children and brought their blood and body parts to be consumed by spirits.

Meanwhile, a former witch-doctor who now campaigns to end child sacrifice confessed for the first time to having murdered about 70 people, including his own son.

The Ugandan government told us that human sacrifice is on the increase, and according to the head of the country’s Anti-Human Sacrifice Taskforce the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity, and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly.

Wow, that’s a terrible side effect of increased prosperity. (You know it’s bad when you have an “Anti-Human Sacifice Taskforce.”)

A witch doctor explains:

“They capture other people’s children. They bring the heart and the blood directly here to take to the spirits… They bring them in small tins and they place these objects under the tree from which the voices of the spirits are coming,” he said.

Asked how often clients brought blood and body parts, the witch-doctor said they came “on average three times a week – with all that the spirits demand from them.”

We saw a beaker of blood and what appeared to be a large, raw liver in the shrine before it was destroyed, although it was not possible to determine whether they were human remains.

The witch-doctor denied any direct involvement in murder or incitement to murder, saying his spirits spoke directly to his clients.

He told us he was paid 500,000 Ugandan shillings (£160 or $260) for a consultation, but that most of that money was handed over to his “boss” in a nationwide network of witch-doctors.

Remember, reputable economists and immigration experts all agree that stemming the tide of mass migration from Africa to Europe is physically impossible, but not to worry, because all of these migrants will revitalize the European economy with their fecund vitality.

Thankfully, there is an anti-child-sacrifice movement in Uganda:

Former witch-doctor turned anti-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela says he has persuaded 2,400 other witch-doctors to give up the trade since he himself repented in 1990.

Mr Angela told us he had first been initiated as a witch-doctor at a ceremony in neighbouring Kenya, where a boy of about 13 was sacrificed.

“The child was cut with a knife on the neck and the entire length from the neck down was ripped open, and then the open part was put on me,” he said.

When he returned to Uganda he says he was told by those who had initiated him to kill his own son, aged 10.

Ugandan child mutilated by witch doctors
Ugandan child mutilated by witch doctors

Okay, technically, Uganda is more central Africa than west Africa.

The Guardian reports:

Uganda has been shocked by a surge in ritualistic murders and human sacrifice, with police struggling to respond and public hysteria mounting at each gruesome discovery.

In 2008 more than 300 cases of murder and disappearances linked to ritual ceremonies were reported to the police with 18 cases making it to the courts. There were also several high-profile arrests of parents and relatives accused of selling children for human sacrifice. …

Both police and NGOs are attributing the surge to a new wave of commercial witch-doctors using mass media to market their services and demand large sums of money to sacrifice humans and animals for people who believe blood will bring great prosperity.

“Cases of child sacrifice have always existed, mainly in the Ugandan central region, but there is a new strain of traditional healers in Uganda and their geographical spread is mainly attributed to increased unemployment and poverty,” said Elena Lomeli. …

Maybe the BBC got the prosperity angle wrong.

“My experience working with victims suggests that the abusers are greedy people who want to get rich quick. In rural areas, people can sacrifice their own child. In urban areas, educated and rich people will look for somebody else’s.”

Looming food shortages and famine hitting Uganda’s poorest in the north and east are also feeding the demand for sacrificial rituals. “These are not poor people paying for these rituals, they are the wealthy elite taking advantage of the desperate poor,” said Binoga. “In January a 21-year-old woman was jailed for 16 months for kidnapping a child and trying to sell him to a witch-doctor for a large sum. These cases are on the increase.”

Ugandan police are increasingly linking the sudden increase in cases to organ trafficking. The anti-human trafficking taskforce said many of the bodies found in the past few months were missing organs such as kidneys, hearts and livers, a detail not consistent with many traditional ritualistic practices.

Sadly, Uganda may still be doing better than neighboring Rwanda (genocide) and the DRC (cannibalism):

Pygmy activists from Congo have demanded the United Nations set up a tribunal to try government and rebel fighters accused of slaughtering and eating Pygmies who are caught in the country’s civil war.

Army, rebel and tribal fighters – some believing the Pygmies are less than human or that eating the flesh would give them magic power – have been pursuing the Pygmies in the dense jungles, killing them and eating their flesh, the activists said at a news conference yesterday.

There have been reports of markets for Pygmy flesh, the representatives alleged.

“In living memory, we have seen cruelty, massacres, genocide, but we have never seen human beings hunted and eaten literally as though they were game animals, as has recently happened,” said Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of the Mbuti Pygmies in Congo.

… Earlier this year, human rights activists and UN investigators confirmed that rebels cooked and ate at least a dozen Pygmies and an undetermined number of people from other tribes during fighting with rival insurgents. There have been no reports of Congolese Army soldiers engaging in similar activity. (bold mine.)

Well.

That’s the end of the Africa section of this post.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the New World Voodoo varieties, where human sacrifice is thankfully less common. (Thank you, Columbus.)

Click here for: Part 2 and Part 3

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.”

Megalithic Burials are so Weird

The vast majority of the world’s oldest, still-standing human-built structures are tombs of one sort or another. (To be fair, this excludes not-still standing structures, like ruins.)

The Wikipedia page on the oldest buildings in the world lists 67 tombs, 11 religious buildings, 9 ruins people lived in (including settlements), 5 used for things like grain storage, and one amphitheater–or 72% of sites built specifically for holding dead people. Additionally, many religious buildings double as tombs–take your typical cathedral with its small graveyard–and we don’t know the purpose of some sites. Stonehenge, for example, contains over a hundred human burials, but we don’t know if Stonehenge was intended as a fancy graveyard, if the people were sacrificed there to sanctify the site, or if it was primarily a religious site at which important people were interred.

The Wikipedia list, alas, is far from complete–it mentions, for example, that over 1,000 Neolithic dolmens (believed to have been ancient burial sites,) have been found in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, but doesn’t list them.

Wikipedia claims that there are 35,000 Neolithic and Broze Age dolmens from Korea, constituting 40% of the total–implying a total of 87,500, most of which are found in Europe. The stone circle–and stone ship–tradition in Iron Age Scandinavia was linked to burials. We’re not sure about the 1,000+ British stone circles, but Avebury–the largest stone circle in Europe–like Stonehenge, contained burials. 800 Bronze Age graves called “Giants’ Tombs” have been found in Sardinia; large “Beehive” tombs were built across Greece, southern Europe, and parts of the Middle East.

A tumulus is a mound of earth or stone raised over a grave, ranging in size from small mounds to hills 100 meters wide. Goodness knows how many of them there are; there are over 20,000 in Denmark alone.

Even the great pyramids of Egypt are nothing more than enormous tombs.

In other words, when ancient people died, their relatives–if they had any money–put a remarkable amount of effort into building them enormous, sturdy tombs.

Meanwhile, outside of a few settlements, people don’t seem to have put nearly so much effort into building houses for, you know, people who were still alive and could actually enjoy them.

Folks regularly filled the graves with the deceased’s personal belongings, including wagons, chariots, mummified pets, sacrificed horses, sacrificed wives, sacrificed slaves, food, mancala boards, spinning wheels, jewelry, pots, etc. The ancients believed that you really could take it with you.

I recall one account which noted a particular society that was having trouble accumulating wealth or building up any material development just because every time someone died, all of their belongings were buried with them.

In another account, an Indian chief claimed to have fallen ill and journeyed almost to the land of the dead. On his way back to his body, he encountered a line of deceased villagers, struggling to carry the great quantity of goods they’d been buried with all the way to the land of the dead. Upon waking, he instructed his tribe that the dead had asked to be buried with just the things they could easily carry–a very clever approach to reforming inefficient customs if I ever heard one!

Now imagine King Tut–or Ramses the Great–trying to carry all of that stuff he was buried with to the Egyptian afterlife.

As someone who thinks we should just compost bodies that aren’t being used for organ donation or scientific purposes, I find the whole idea of building giant tombs and filling them with stuff for dead people really weird. How much better off could the Egyptians (and Europeans,) have been if they had devoted of that effort and wealth to building irrigation system, aqueducts, sewer systems, better houses, schools, etc.–or just relaxing–instead of giant tombs for their dead?

But there is some logic to this madness.

Rituals surrounding human interment–whether by water, fire, air, or soil–go back at least 100,000 years, and even the Neanderthals may have buried their dead (also, potentially elephants and chimpanzees.) If there exists any modern or recent human society that does not have some form of rituals surrounding the proper disposal of dead bodies, I have not heard of them. (But maybe this?) Whether motivated by some animist impulse, grief, abhorence of dead things, or respect for the dead, these ritual are important to people.

And outside of communities that practice air burial, people dislike it when stray animals dig up the recently buried corpses of their deceased loved ones and scatter their bones about.

Thus most likely arose the sensible practice of piling rocks atop a grave, both to mark the spot for later mourning (and avoidance) and also to deter the depredations of wild animals.

The more important the person, the more relatives show up at the funeral to pile up rocks and the more importance the tribe places on ensuring that the body is not defiled. So it become a matter of social obligation to create nice cairns for one’s deceased relatives, and a matter of social status to have the biggest cairn.

Next thing you know, your country’s entire economy s devoted to building giant tombs and filling them with stuff.

Ancient Egyptian peacocks' tails
Ancient Egyptian peacocks’ tails

And then these burial monuments have stuck around for so long because of the taboo against disturbing them–people will happily disassemble an old house for the stones so they can build a new one, but people don’t like disassembling old graves to build houses out of.

Interestingly, though, these kinds of enormous burial mounds seem to have completely died out. Perhaps this is a side effect due to the lack of wolves digging up modern cemeteries.

Anthropology Friday: Animal Souls

I hear the Pope has declared that dogs can get into Heaven, now. (I guess technically he can do that? Like, the opposite of excommunication? But don’t only humans have souls under Catholic doctrine? Can some Catholic expert clarify?)

Continuing with Edward B. Tylor’s Primitive Culture:

“In now passing from the consideration of the souls of men to that of the souls of the lower animals, we have first to inform ourselves as to the savage man’s idea, which is very different from the civilized man’s, of the nature of these lower animals. …

“Savages talk quite seriously to beasts alive or dead as they would to men alive or dead, offer them homage, ask pardon when it is their painful duty to hunt and kill them. A North American Indian will reason with a horse as if rational. Some will spare the rattlesnake, fearing the vengeance of its spirit if slain; others will salute the creature reverently, bid it welcome as a friend from the land of spirits, sprinkle a pinch of tobacco on its head for an offering, catch it by the tail and dispatch it with extreme dexterity, and carry off its skin as a trophy.

“If an Indian is attacked and torn by a bear, it is that the beast fell upon him intentionally in anger, perhaps to revenge the hurt done to another bear. When a bear is killed, they will beg pardon of him, or even make him condone the offence by smoking the peace-pipe with his murderers, who put the pipe in his mouth and blow down it, begging his spirit not to take revenge.

S”o in Africa, the Kafirs will hunt the elephant, begging him not to tread on them and kill them, and when he is dead they will assure him that they did not kill him on purpose, and they will bury his trunk, for the elephant is a mighty chief, and his trunk is his hand that he may hurt withal. The Congo people will even avenge such a murder by a pretended attack on the hunters who did the deed.

“Such customs are common among the lower Asiatic tribes. The Stiens of Kambodia ask pardon of the beast they have killed; the Ainos [Ainu] of Yesso kill the bear, offer obeisance and salutation to him, and cut up his carcase. The Koriaks, if they have slain a bear or wolf, will flay him, dress one of their people in the skin, and dance round him, chanting excuses that they did not do it, and especially laying the blame on a Russian. But if it is a fox, they take his skin, wrap his dead body in hay, and sneering tell him to go to his own people and say what famous hospitality he has had, and how they gave him a new coat instead of his old one. The Samoyeds excuse themselves to the slain bear, telling him it was the Russians who did it, and that a Russian knife will cut him up. The Goldi will set up the slain bear, call him ‘my lord’ and do ironical homage to him, or taking him alive will fatten him in a cage, call him ‘son’ and ‘brother’ and kill and eat him as a sacrifice at a solemn festival. …”

Ainu bear sacrifice
Ainu bear sacrifice
Ainu bear hunt
Ainu bear hunt

“Even now the Norse hunter will say with horror of a bear that will attack man, that he can be “no Christian bear.” …

“Men to whom the cries of beasts and birds seem like human language, and their actions guided as it were by human thought, logically enough allow the existence of souls to beasts, birds, and reptiles, as to men. The lower psychology cannot but recognize in beasts the characteristics which it attributes to the human soul, namely, the phenomena of life and death, will and judgment, and the phantom seen in vision or in dream. As for believers, savage or civilized, in the great doctrine of metempsychosis, these not only consider that an animal may have a soul, but that this soul may have inhabited a human being, and thus the creature may be in fact their own ancestor or once familiar friend. …

“North American Indians held every animal to have its spirit, and these spirits their future life; the soul of the Canadian dog went to serve his master in the other world; among the Sioux, the prerogative of having four souls was not confined to man, but belonged also to the bear, the most human of animals. The Greenlanders considered that a sick human soul might be replaced by the sorcerer with a fresh healthy soul of a hare, a reindeer, or a young child. Maori tale-tellers have heard of the road by which the spirits of dogs descend to Reinga, the Hades of the departed; the Hovas of Madagascar know that the ghosts of beasts and men, dwelling in a great mountain in the south called Ambondrombe, come out occasionally to walk among the tombs or execution-places of criminals. The Kamchadals held that every creature, even the smallest fly, would live again in the under- world. The Kukis of Assam think that the ghost of every animal a Kuki kills in the chase or for the feast will belong to him in the next life, even as the enemy he slays in the field will then become his slave. The Karens apply the doctrine of the spirit or personal life-phantom, which is apt to wander from the body and thus suffer injury, equally to men and to animals. The Zulus say the cattle they kill come to life again, and become the property of the dwellers in the world beneath. …”

“Animals being thus considered in the primitive psychology to have souls like human beings, it follows as the simplest matter of course that tribes who kill wives and slaves, to dispatch their souls on errands of duty with their departed lords, may also kill animals in order that their spirits may do such service as is proper to them. The Pawnee warrior’s horse is slain on his grave to be ready for him to mount again, and the Comanche’s best horses are buried with his favourite weapons and his pipe, all alike to be used in the distant happy hunting-grounds. 1 In South America not only do such rites occur, but they reach a practically disastrous extreme. Patagonian tribes, says D’Orbigny, believe in another life, where they are to enjoy perfect happiness, therefore they bury with the deceased his arms and ornaments, and even kill on his tomb all the animals which belonged to him, that he may find them in the abode of bliss; and this opposes an insurmountable barrier to all civilization, by preventing them from accumulating property and fixing their habitations.

Certain Esquimaux, as Cranz relates, would lay a dog’s head in a child’s grave, that the soul of the dog, who is everywhere at home, might guide the helpless infant to the land of souls. In accordance with this, Captain Scoresby in Jameson’s Land found a dog’s skull in a small grave, probably a child’s. Again, in the distant region of the Aztecs, one of the principal funeral ceremonies was to slaughter a techichi, or native dog ; it was burnt or buried with the corpse, with a cotton thread fastened to its neck, and its office was to convey the deceased across the deep waters of Chiuhnahuapan, on the way to the Land of the Dead. The dead Buraet’s favourite horse, led saddled to the grave, killed, and flung in, may serve for a Tatar example. In Tonquin, even wild animals have been customarily drowned at funeral ceremonies of princes, to be at the service of the departed in the next world. …

“Among the nations of the Aryan race in Europe, the prevalence of such rites is deep, wide, and full of purpose. Thus, warriors were provided in death with horses and housings, with hounds and falcons. Customs thus described in chronicle and legend, are vouched for in our own time by the opening of old barbaric burial-places. How clear a relic of savage meaning lies here may be judged from a Livonian account as late as the fourteenth century, which relates how men and women slaves, sheep and oxen, with other things, were burnt with the dead, who, it was believed, would reach some region of the living, and find there, with the multitude of cattle and slaves, a country of life and happiness. … It is mentioned as a belief in Northern Europe that he who has given a cow to the poor will find a cow to take him over the bridge of the dead, and a custom of leading a cow in the funeral procession is said to have been kept up to modern times.”

EvX, here: Turning to the European intellectual tradition on the subject of animal souls, Tylor observes:

“Although, however, the primitive belief in the souls of animals still survives to some extent in serious philosophy, it is obvious that the tendency of educated opinion on the question whether brutes have soul, as distinguished from life and mind, has for ages been in a negative and sceptical direction. The doctrine has fallen from its once high estate. It belonged originally to real, though rude science. It has now sunk to become a favourite topic in that mild speculative talk which still does duty so largely as intellectual conversation, and even then its propounders defend it with a lurking consciousness of its being after all a piece of sentimental nonsense.”

Sentimental nonsense, and may it remain that way.

Anthropology Friday: Tylor’s “Primitive Culture”

Today’s author is Edward B. Tylor, 1832 – 1917, father of modern anthropology. According to Wikipedia:

[Tylor] believed that there was a functional basis for the development of society and religion, which he determined was universal. … Tylor reintroduced the term animism (faith in the individual soul or anima of all things, and natural manifestations) into common use. He considered animism to be the first phase of development of religions. …

Tylor’s first publication was a result of his 1856 trip to Mexico with Christy. His notes on the beliefs and practices of the people he encountered were the basis of his work Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (1861). … Tylor continued to study the customs and beliefs of tribal communities, both existing and prehistoric (based on archaeological finds). He published his second work, Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, in 1865. Following this came his most influential work, Primitive Culture (1871). This was important not only for its thorough study of human civilisation and contributions to the emergent field of anthropology, but for its undeniable influence on a handful of young scholars, such as J. G. Frazer…

Tylor was an “evolutionist,” but not necessarily in the sense of having read Darwin’s Origins of the Species. Rather, the “evolution” of things–societies, philosophies, art styles, animals–from simpler to more complex forms over time was part of the zeitgeist of the age.

His methods were comparative and historical ethnography. He believed that a “uniformity” was manifest in culture, which was the result of “uniform action of uniform causes.” He regarded his instances of parallel ethnographic concepts and practices as indicative of “laws of human thought and action.” … The task of cultural anthropology therefore is to discover “stages of development or evolution.”

Evolutionism was distinguished from another creed, diffusionism, postulating the spread of items of culture from regions of innovation. A given apparent parallelism thus had at least two explanations: the instances descend from an evolutionary ancestor, or they are alike because one diffused into the culture from elsewhere. These two views are exactly parallel to the tree model and wave model of historical linguistics, which are instances of evolutionism and diffusionism, language features being instances of culture.

Also, things can arise independently, like echidnas and hedgehogs.

Anthropology basically abandoned this kind of thinking ages ago, partly because “evolution” as applied to human societies became a dirty word, partly because Marxist-Freudians took over the profession, and partly because cultures don’t always evolve uniformly and predictably from less to more complex.

That said, what I have read so far of Tylor’s work (one whole chapter!) is much better–and on a much more solid footing–than a great deal of what follows. He started from actual observations (most of which look pretty sound,) noticed a lot of parallels, and attempted to work out why. As a result, I think his work still interesting and valuable enough to be worth quoting.

For the sake of readability, I will be using “” marks, rather than blockquote-formatting.

So let’s begin!

Primitive Culture, ch. 11

“It is habitually found that the theory of Animism divides into two great dogmas, forming parts of one consistent doctrine; first, concerning souls of individual creatures, capable of continued existence after the death or destruction of the body ; second, concerning other spirits, upward to the rank of powerful deities. Spiritual beings are held to affect or control the events of the material world, and man’s life here and hereafter; and it being considered that they hold intercourse with men, and receive pleasure or displeasure from human actions, the belief in their existence leads naturally, and it might almost be said inevitably, sooner or later to active reverence and propitiation.”

“But a quaint and special group of beliefs will serve to display the thoroughness with which the soul is thus conceived as an image of the body. … Thus it was recorded of the Indians of Brazil by one of the early European visitors, that they ‘ believe that the dead arrive in the other world wounded or hacked to pieces, in fact just as they left this.’ Thus, too, the Australian who has slain his enemy will cut off the right thumb of the corpse, so that although the spirit will become a hostile ghost, it cannot
throw with its mutilated hand the shadowy spear, and may be safely left to wander, malignant but harmless.”

“Departing from the body at the time of death, the soul or spirit is considered set free to linger near the tomb, to wander on earth or flit in the air, or to travel to the proper region of spirits the world beyond the grave. …

“Men do not stop short at the persuasion that death releases the soul to a free and active existence, but they quite logically proceed to assist nature, by slaying men in order to liberate their souls for ghostly uses. [bold mine] Thus there arises one of the most widespread, distinct, and intelligible rites of animistic religion that of funeral human sacrifice for the service of the dead. When a man of rank dies and his soul departs to its own place, wherever and whatever that place may be, it is a rational inference of early philosophy that the souls of attendants, slaves, and wives, put to death at his funeral, will make the same journey and continue their service in the next life, and the argument is frequently stretched further, to include the souls of new victims sacrificed in order that they may enter upon the same ghostly servitude. It will appear from the ethnography of this rite that it is not strongly marked in the very lowest levels of culture, but that, arising in the lower barbaric stage, it develops itself in the higher, and thenceforth continues or dwindles in survival.

“Of the murderous practices to which this opinion leads, remarkably distinct accounts may be cited from among tribes of the Indian Archipelago. The following account is given of the funerals of great men among the rude Kayans of Borneo: ‘Slaves are killed in order that they may follow the deceased and attend upon him. Before they are killed the relations who surround them enjoin them to take
great care of their master when they join him, to watch and shampoo him when he is indisposed, to be always near him, and to obey all his behests. The female relatives of the deceased then take a spear and slightly wound the victims, after which the males spear them to death. Again, the opinion of the Idaan is ‘that all whom they kill in this world shall attend them as slaves after death.’

“This notion of future interest in the destruction of the human species is a great impediment to an intercourse with them, as murder goes farther than present advantage or resentment. From the same principle they will purchase a slave, guilty of any capital crime, at fourfold his value, that they may be his executioners.’

“With the same idea is connected the ferocious custom of ‘ head-hunting’ so prevalent among the Dayaks before Rajah Brooke’s time. They considered that the owner of every human head they could procure would serve them in the next world, where, indeed, a man’s rank would be according to his number of heads in this. They would continue the mourning for a dead man till a head was brought in, to provide him with a slave to accompany him to the ‘habitation of souls;’ a father who lost his child would go out and kill the first man he met, as a funeral ceremony ; a young man might not marry till he had procured a head, and some tribes would bury with a dead man the first head he had taken, together with spears, cloth, rice, and betel. Waylaying and murdering men for their heads became, in fact, the Dayaks’ national sport, and they remarked ‘ the white men read books, we hunt for heads instead.'”

EvX, here: Wikipedia confirms this report:

Interior of a Dayak house, decorated with skulls and weapons.
Interior of a Dayak house, decorated with skulls and weapons.

“There were various reasons for headhunting as listed below:

  • For soil fertility so Dayaks hunted fresh heads before paddy harvesting seasons after which head festival would be held in honour of the new heads.
  • To add supernatural strength which Dayaks believed to be centred in the soul and head of humans. Fresh heads can give magical powers for communinal protection, bountiful paddy harvesting and disease curing.
  • To avenge revenge for murders based on “blood credit” principle unless “adat pati nyawa” (customary compensation token) is paid.
Dayak headhunters
Dayak headhunters
  • To pay dowry for marriages e.g. “derian palit mata” (eye blocking dowry) for Ibans once blood has been splashed prior to agreeing to marriage and of course, new fresh heads show prowess, bravery, ability and capability to protect his family, community and land
  • For foundation of new buildings to be stronger and meaningful than the normal practice of not putting in human heads.
  • For protection against enemy attacks according to the principle of “attack first before being attacked”.
  • As a symbol of power and social status ranking where the more heads someone has, the respect and glory due to him. The warleader is called tuai serang (warleader) or raja berani (king of the brave) while kayau anak (small raid) leader is only called tuai kayau (raid leader) whereby adat tebalu (widower rule) after their death would be paid according to their ranking status in the community.

The Dutch eventually put an end to headhunting:

As the Dutch secured the islands they eliminated slavery, widow burning, head-hunting, cannibalism, piracy, and internecine wars.[21] Railways, steamships, postal and telegraph services, and various government agencies all served to introduce a degree of new uniformity across the colony. Immigration within the archipelago—particularly by ethnic Chinese, Bataks, Javanese, and Bugis—increased dramatically.

In 1901 the Dutch adopted what they called the Ethical Policy, under which the colonial government had a duty to further the welfare of the Indonesian people in health and education. Other new measures under the policy included irrigation programs, transmigration, communications, flood mitigation, industrialisation, and protection of native industry.[13] Industrialisation did not significantly affect the majority of Indonesians, and Indonesia remained an agricultural colony; by 1930, there were 17 cities with populations over 50,000 and their combined populations numbered 1.87 million of the colony’s 60 million.

See also: Pictures from Oceana / Indonesia / Polynesia etc.

Returning to Tylor:

“Of such rites in the Pacific islands, the most hideously purposeful accounts reach us from the Fiji group. Till lately, a main part of the ceremony of a great man’s funeral was the strangling of wives, friends, and slaves, for the distinct purpose of attending him into the world of spirits. Ordinarily the first victim was the wife of the deceased, and more than one if he had several, and their corpses, oiled as for a feast, clothed with new fringed girdles, with heads dressed and ornamented, and vermilion and turmeric powder spread on their faces and bosoms, were laid by the side of the dead warrior. Associates and inferior attendants were likewise slain, and these bodies were spoken of as ‘ grass for bedding the grave.’ When Ra Mbithi, the pride of Somosomo, was lost at sea, seventeen of his wives were killed; and after the news of the massacre of the Namena people, in 1839, eighty women were strangled to accompany the spirits of their murdered husbands. Such sacrifices took place under the same pressure of public opinion which kept up the widow-burning in modern India. The Fijian widow was worked upon by her relatives with all the pressure of persuasion and of menace; she understood well that life to her henceforth would mean a wretched existence of neglect, disgrace, and destitution;
and tyrannous custom, as hard to struggle against in the savage as in the civilized world, drove her to the grave.

“Thus, far from resisting, she became importunate for death, and the new life to come, and till public opinion reached a more enlightened state, the missionaries often used their influence in vain to save from the strangling-cord some wife whom they could have rescued, but who herself refused to live. So repugnant to the native mind was the idea of a chieftain going unattended into the other world, that
the missionaries’ prohibition of the cherished custom was one reason of the popular dislike to Christianity. Many of the nominal Christians, when once a chief of theirs was shot from an ambush, esteemed it most fortunate that a stray shot at the same time killed a young man at a distance from him, and thus provided a companion for the spirit of the slain chief.

“In America, the funeral human sacrifice makes its characteristic appearance. A good example may be taken from among the Osages, whose habit was sometimes to plant in the cairn raised over a corpse a pole with an enemy’s scalp hanging to the top. Their notion was that by taking an enemy and suspending his scalp over the grave of a deceased friend, the spirit of the victim became subjected to the spirit of the buried warrior in the land of spirits. Hence the last and best service that could be performed for a deceased relative was to take an enemy’s life, and thus transmit it by his scalp. The correspondence of this idea with that just mentioned among the Dayaks is very striking. With a similar intention, the Caribs would slay on the dead master’s grave any of his slaves they could lay hands on.

“Among the native peoples risen to considerably higher grades of social and political life, these practices were not suppressed but exaggerated, in the ghastly sacrifices of warriors, slaves, and wives, who departed to continue their duteous offices at the funeral of the chief or monarch in Central America and Mexico, in Bogota and Peru.”

EvX here:

400px-Magliabchanopage_73r 400px-Kodeks_tudela_21

The Aztecs were lovely folks.

Back to Tylor:

“Of such funeral rites, carried out to the death, graphic and horrid descriptions are recorded in the countries across Africa East, Central, and West. A headman of the Wadoe is buried sitting in a shallow pit, and with the corpse a male and female slave alive, he with a bill-hook in his hand to cut fuel for his lord in the death-world, she seated on a little stool with the dead chief’s head in her lap. A chief of Unyamwezi is entombed in a vaulted pit, sitting on a low stool with a bow in his right hand, and provided with a pot of native beer ; with him are shut in alive three women slaves, and the ceremony is concluded with a libation of beer on the earth heaped up above them all.

“The same idea which in Guinea makes it common for the living to send messages by the dying to the dead, is developed in Ashanti and Dahome into a monstrous system of massacre. The King of Dahome must enter Deadland with a ghostly court of hundreds of wives, eunuchs, singers, drummers,
and soldiers. Nor is this all. Captain Burton thus describes the yearly ‘Customs:’ ‘They periodically supply the departed monarch with fresh attendants in the shadowy world. For unhappily these murderous scenes are an expression, lamentably mistaken but perfectly sincere, of the liveliest filial piety.’ Even this annual slaughter must be supplemented by almost daily murder. Whatever action,
however trivial, is performed by the King, it must dutifully be reported to his sire in the shadowy realm. A victim, almost always a war-captive, is chosen ; the message is delivered to him, an intoxicating draught of rum follows it, and he is dispatched to Hades in the best of humours.'”

EvX, here. In 1859, the Macon Messenger published an obituary for King Gezo of Dahomey:

His majesty, the King of Dahomey, the great negro seller of Africa, has departed this life. He was in the habit of ransacking all the neighboring African kingdoms, for the purpose of making captives, whom he sold to the slavers. At his funeral obsequies, his loving subjects manifested their sorrow by sacrificing eight hundred negroes to his memory. He is succeeded by his son, King Gezo II.

 

Scandal that should have never been: Satanic Daycares

Hey, readers in their 30s or above, remember the 80s? And the Satanic Daycare Scare?

It all started with a bunch of bad therapy, The Exorcist, and rumors of West African secret societies. (And probably drugs.) It ended with thousands of people being accused of ritually abusing, murdering, and eating children–50,000 a year–as part of a million-member multi-generational secret Satanic cult. Many of the accused went to prison; some are still in prison.

I think most of us would like to pretend that never happened, but it did.

The worst of it is not that gullible housewives of the out-party gobbled up this blather from Geraldo Rivera, Oprah, or evangelical preachers. Ignorant people have always believed ignorant things. The worst of it is that Janet Reno–and many other supposedly intelligent people in positions of actual authority–believed this bullshit, and yet is still allowed to have a job making decisions that affect the lives of other people.

(And we expect people not to fall for bullshit that sounds halfway decent?)

Background

People believed a lot of dubious things in the 70s and 80s. They believed in “pyramid power,” UFOs, and telekinesis. Enough LSD, and you can probably believe all sorts of things.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have the internet or Wikipedia or even Snopes, so it was a lot harder to figure out when someone was putting one over you. If you’re living in Oklahoma in 1980, chances are you’re not exactly sure what’s going on over in California, but you’re pretty sure it has something to do with godless heathens and demons, because for goodness’s sakes, it’s California, they had that Manson guy. And when someone starts repeating rumors about ritually sacrificed chickens in Toronto or human sacrifice cults in Uganda, or actual Satanists* practicing openly in California (again with the California!) then it’s time to freak out because the agents of Satan are clearly on the march.

*While there exists an actual “Church of Satan” founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, none of the members of the CoS were ever charged with ritual Satanic abuse or murder, and according to Wikipedia, they don’t even worship Satan, they just call themselves that to stick up a middle finger to society. But the mere fact that these people existed was enough to send a good number of respectable housewives into pearl-clutching tizzies.

If we want to be especially thorough, the widespread conviction that witches and devils were conspiring together long predates the 1980s; James R. Lewis’s “The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements” has an excellent chapter (#10) that traces the development of the Christian witchcraft myth through the occultism of the late 1800s, feminist propaganda, the emergence of the Neopagan movement, H. P. Lovecraft, etc. But for the sake of time, we’re starting with the recovered memory movement.

Back in the 70s, when feminists weren’t busy proclaiming that the Christian Patriarchy had murdered millions of Medieval witches in order to stamp out a once-universal Matriarchal religion and therefore all women should abandon Christianity and become Neopagans, (not only is this factually untrue, but I was actually assigned readings on the subject in my totally respectable university course on Feminism 101,) they were promoting the idea that America was a seething hotbed of violence–rape and abuse–directed primarily at women and children.

Of course, unlike Medieval witches, rape and abuse are real, but often difficult to prove sufficiently in a court of law to get a conviction–once two people are behind closed doors, what happened next often becomes a matter of he-said-she-said, and you are not actually supposed to convict based on “story sounded convincing” in the absence of any actual evidence a crime took place.

And for good reason–otherwise, anyone could put their personal enemies or rivals in prison for life simply by make up a story.

The feminists’ response to this was a push for all claims of rape and abuse to be accepted without question. To question even the most outrageous story was treated as an act of violence against already victimized women.

At about the same time, psychiatrists discovered that you can get people to say all manner of crazy things while under hypnosis, and promptly used their new-found powers to convince mentally ill women in their care that they had been victims of ritual Satanic abuse.

You can use hypnosis to convince people that the number “3” does not exist, then watch them attempt to count their fingers–“One, two, four, five, six.” You can convince them that they are warm enough to shed their jackets while sitting in an ice hotel. You can get them to act like a chicken.

The fact that people will do and think absurd things while under hypnosis is why people find it entertaining. (And a little frightening.) That’s also why it’s commonly part of magic shows–but normally, people don’t believe that there are actually a bunch of rabbits in that hat.

That memories are unreliable has been extensively documented by police (and psychiatry) departments, which have to deal with conflicting and changing witness testimony all the time. Yu’ve probably also experienced this if you’ve ever gotten into a fight with your parents or spouse over something you supposedly did several years before.

It is quite easy to change people’s memories under normal conditions. EG:

Studies by Elizabeth Loftus and others have concluded that it is possible to produce false memories of childhood incidents.[24] The experiments involved manipulating subjects into believing that they had some fictitious experience in childhood, such as being lost in a shopping mall at age 6. This involved using a suggestive technique called “familial informant false narrative procedure,” in which the experimenter claims the validity of the false event is supported by a family member of the subject. (source)

So just saying to someone, “Oh yeah, I was talking to your Aunt Susie yesterday, and we were laughing about that time you got lost at the mall when you were six and we found you hiding under a table in the furniture department,” can make them “remember” this.

(Please only use your new-found powers for good.)

To convince someone they were the victim of ritual Satanic abuse:

  1. Get a patient, preferably suffering some mental illness like schizophrenia or depression, but insomnia or headaches will suffice.
  2. Put them under hypnosis and suggest that their troubles are due to “repressed” memories of childhood trauma.
  3. Helpfully suggest various Satanic rituals they may have endured
  4. Encourage them to imagine a scenario in which they were abused.
  5. Un-hypnotize them and celebrate having “uncovered” their repressed memory of infant cannibalism.

If you’re really lucky, you can even get the patient to believe they have uncovered alternative personalities that they switch to under hypnosis (much like a stage magician getting a hypnotized volunteer to cluck like a chicken.)

Afterwards:

  1. Call the police and accuse their parents of cannibalism, rape, torture, kidnapping, etc.
  2. Get taken seriously by the police!
  3. Make lots of money treating the patient for the trauma incurred by “remembering” being abused and treating their ever-expanding suite of personalities.
  4. Make even more money consulting with police across the country about Ritual Satanic Abuse, now that you’re an “expert” on the subject.

Yes, this is terribly unethical.

In 1980, a Canadian Psychiatrist named Lawrence Pazder published Michelle Remembers, a “biography” purporting to document the childhood Satanic abuse his patient endured in the 50s:

Isn't that a face you can trust?
Isn’t that a face you can trust?

Interestingly, Pazder lived and worked in Nigeria in the 60s, a part of the world that actually does have legit, child-sacrificing cults. As recently as 2001, the ritually-dismembered, headless torso of “Adam,” a Nigerian child about 5 or 6 years old, was found floating in the Thames. An autopsy revealed, via stomach contents and pollen found in his lungs, that he’d only been in Britain for a few days and had drunk a potion used in West African ritual magic. (There are approximately 180,000 Nigerians living in the UK.)

Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the victim’s real name is Ikpomwosa. In an interview with ITV’s London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before travelling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent. ..

Asked who killed him, she said a ‘group of people’. She added: “They used him for a ritual in the water.” Claiming the boy was six years old, she said: ‘He was a lively boy. A very nice boy, he was also intelligent.’ Detailed analysis of a substance in the boy’s stomach was identified as a ‘black magic’ potion. It included tiny clay pellets containing small particles of pure gold, an indication that Adam was the victim of a Muti ritual killing in which it is believed that the body parts of children are sacred. Bodies are often disposed of in flowing water. (source)

These cases more normally happen in Africa, but then we tend to lack official police investigations, autopsies, and BBC articles, but there’s plenty of documentation if you look:

The Leopard Society was a West African secret society active in the early- to mid-20th century that practiced cannibalism.[1] They were centred in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.

Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards’ claws and teeth. The victims’ flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the secret society. According to their beliefs, the ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the secret society as well as their entire tribe. (source)

The “Refworld” (Refugee World) article on human sacrifice in Nigeria (from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) claims that,

According to various sources, ritual killings in Nigeria are performed to obtain human body parts for use in rituals, potions, and charms. The Lagos-based newspaper This Day explains that “ritualists, also known as headhunters, … go in search of human parts at the request of herbalists, who require them for sacrifices or for the preparation of various magical potions”. …

According to This Day, ritual murders are “a common practice” in Nigeria. … Similarly, a 2012 Daily Independent article states that “in recent times, the number of … brutal murders, mostly for ritual purposes and other circumstances, involving couples and their partners has been on a steady progression.” …

This Day reported that a confidential memo from the Nigerian police to registered security service providers indicated that ritual killings were particularly prevalent in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Abia, Kwara, Abuja, Rivers, and Kogi. … In 2010, one newspaper reported that dead bodies with missing organs were being discovered on a daily basis on a road close to Lagos State University that was described as a “hot spot for ritual killers.” A second newspaper reported in February 2011 that, in the same area, ten people had been killed in suspected ritual murders in the preceding two months. A 2009 article published by Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a state government official, the kidnapping of children for ritual murder was on the rise in Kano.

(I have removed the in-line citations because they make the article unreadable; check the original if you want their sources.)

Native Nigerian religion is basically Voodoo, aka Vodun, aka Santeria and whatever else you want to call it to confuse your audience. These are not “organized” religions, but a widespread set of common beliefs about magic and the supernatural, including, of course, the idea that ritually sacrificed bits of humans or animals have magic powers.

In other words, if you thought Boko Haram was Nigeria’s worst problem, I’m sorry.

Also, if you used to live in Nigeria, you may be forgiven for believing that ritual sacrifice and child murder are happening all over the place (though the fact that Canada doesn’t have a lot of fetish markets where you can buy animal parts for your ritual magic ought to be a tip-off that it’s a lot less common outside of Africa.)

In 1973, Pazder was back in Canada and treating Michelle, who apparently became depressed following a miscarriage. Pazder decided this must actually be a sign of repressed memories of childhood abuse (an idea that comes straight out of Freud, even though Freud himself later repudiated this train of thought and all Freudianism had been discredited and generally abandoned by the psychiatric community by the 70s, due to being psuedo-scientific nonsense.)

Uninterested in the recommended best practices in his industry, psychiatric developments of the previous 50 years, or general ethics, Pazder spent over 600 hours (over 14 months) encouraging Michelle, under hypnosis, to “remember” being ritually abused by her mother, a member of the world-wide, pre-Christian “Church of Satan” based in Victoria, Canada. According to Wikipedia,

The first alleged ritual attended by [Michelle] Smith took place in 1954 when she was five years old, and the final one documented in the book was an 81-day ritual in 1955 that summoned the devil himself and involved the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Michael the Archangel, who removed the scars received by Smith throughout the year of abuse and removed memories of the events “until the time was right”. During the rites, Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in various rituals, witnessed several murders and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of various murdered babies and adults. …

Former neighbors, teachers and friends were interviewed and yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school were reviewed and found no indication of Smith being absent from school or missing for lengthy periods of time, including the alleged 81-day non-stop ceremony. Ultimately the book’s authors were unable to find anyone who knew Smith in the 1950s who could corroborate any of the details in her allegations.

… Among other things, Cuhulain noted that it seemed unlikely that a sophisticated cult that had secretly existed for generations could be outwitted by a five-year-old; that the cult could hold rituals in the Ross Bay Cemetery unnoticed given that Smith claimed she was screaming and given that the Ross Bay Cemetery is surrounded on three sides by residential neighborhoods; that an 81-day non-stop ceremony involving hundreds of participants and a massive round room could have gone on in Victoria unnoticed; and that none of Smith’s tormentors (other than her mother) have ever been identified, especially given that some of them had cut off one of their middle fingers at the Black Mass. He also notes that during the alleged 81-day ritual, Michelle was confirmed to be attending school, with no remarkable absences and no apparent signs that she was being abused. Like other authors,[6][7][8] Cuhulain also noted that many of Smith’s recovered memories appear to have reflected elements in popular culture at the time (e.g.: the movie The Exorcist)

In 1979, Michelle and Pazder (both supposedly Catholics) divorced their own spouses (Pazder already had 4 children,) to marry each other. Having romantic (or just sexual) relationships with your patients is a major no-no in psychiatry because it is generally considered super-unethical to take advantage of mentally ill people in your care.

Pazder became so concerned that he went to the Vatican to inform the Pope that he’d uncovered a massive, ancient, organized, Satanic cult operating in secret throughout Canada, the US, and Europe, that incredibly, no one had ever noticed before!

The Catholic Church quietly distanced itself from Pazder.

Despite this, “Michelle Remembers” earned Pazder and Michelle $342,000, plus royalties. Pazder became a kind of celebrity expert on Satanic Ritual Abuse, appearing on TV, taking part in police seminars on ritual abuse, and eventually being consulted in over 1,000 cases of alleged Satanic Abuse. (source)

All of this played into another horrible trend in psychiatry at the time (also involving hypnosis!) Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).

Back in 1973, just as Michelle was beginning treatment, Sybil: The True Story of a Woman Possessed by 18 Personalities was published. Sybill was originally being treated for anxiety and memory loss, but after copious quantities of drugs and hypnosis (it was the 70s, after all,) she went really crazy and began “manifesting” 18 different personalities, including two men and a French girl (despite Sybil herself having been raised in Minnesota.

Long story short, the book was nonsense and Sybil was merely an unfortunate, mentally unwell woman (possibly due to anemia,) taken advantage of by an unscrupulous psychiatrist and writer, whose book sold over 400,000 copies, launched a small industry of Sybil-related merchandise, and was made into two movies. (Michelle Remembers never got made into a movie because everyone involved would have gotten their pants sued off for libel.) He also, of course, got paid for years of psychotherapy.

Effects

Now, you might think that people would be cautious about accepting absurd claims coming from actually diagnosed, mentally-ill people receiving psychiatric treatment, but personal experience suggests that they don’t. Combine this with the feminist claim that you must always believe and support the victim and never question their claims, and you have the ingredients for thousands of destroyed lives.

But that is a story we will have to continue tomorrow.