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.”

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.