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The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

Part 16 out of 19

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over, he is taken to an inner sanctuary and beheaded. His last words
or dying groans are the signal for an outburst of joy among the
people assembled outside, who believe that the sacrifice has been
accepted and the divine wrath appeased.

In Siam it used to be the custom on one day of the year to single
out a woman broken down by debauchery, and carry her on a litter
through all the streets to the music of drums and hautboys. The mob
insulted her and pelted her with dirt; and after having carried her
through the whole city, they threw her on a dunghill or a hedge of
thorns outside the ramparts, forbidding her ever to enter the walls
again. They believed that the woman thus drew upon herself all the
malign influences of the air and of evil spirits. The Bataks of
Sumatra offer either a red horse or a buffalo as a public sacrifice
to purify the land and obtain the favour of the gods. Formerly, it
is said, a man was bound to the same stake as the buffalo, and when
they killed the animal, the man was driven away; no one might
receive him, converse with him, or give him food. Doubtless he was
supposed to carry away the sins and misfortunes of the people.

Sometimes the scapegoat is a divine animal. The people of Malabar
share the Hindoo reverence for the cow, to kill and eat which "they
esteem to be a crime as heinous as homicide or wilful murder."
Nevertheless the "Bramans transfer the sins of the people into one
or more Cows, which are then carry'd away, both the Cows and the
Sins wherewith these Beasts are charged, to what place the Braman
shall appoint." When the ancient Egyptians sacrificed a bull, they
invoked upon its head all the evils that might otherwise befall
themselves and the land of Egypt, and thereupon they either sold the
bull's head to the Greeks or cast it into the river. Now, it cannot
be said that in the times known to us the Egyptians worshipped bulls
in general, for they seem to have commonly killed and eaten them.
But a good many circumstances point to the conclusion that
originally all cattle, bulls as well as cows, were held sacred by
the Egyptians. For not only were all cows esteemed holy by them and
never sacrificed, but even bulls might not be sacrificed unless they
had certain natural marks; a priest examined every bull before it
was sacrificed; if it had the proper marks, he put his seal on the
animal in token that it might be sacrificed; and if a man sacrificed
a bull which had not been sealed, he was put to death. Moreover, the
worship of the black bulls Apis and Mnevis, especially the former,
played an important part in Egyptian religion; all bulls that died a
natural death were carefully buried in the suburbs of the cities,
and their bones were afterwards collected from all parts of Egypt
and interred in a single spot; and at the sacrifice of a bull in the
great rites of Isis all the worshippers beat their breasts and
mourned. On the whole, then, we are perhaps entitled to infer that
bulls were originally, as cows were always, esteemed sacred by the
Egyptians, and that the slain bull upon whose head they laid the
misfortunes of the people was once a divine scapegoat. It seems not
improbable that the lamb annually slain by the Madis of Central
Africa is a divine scapegoat, and the same supposition may partly
explain the Zuni sacrifice of the turtle.

Lastly, the scapegoat may be a divine man. Thus, in November the
Gonds of India worship Ghansyam Deo, the protector of the crops, and
at the festival the god himself is said to descend on the head of
one of the worshippers, who is suddenly seized with a kind of fit
and, after staggering about, rushes off into the jungle, where it is
believed that, if left to himself, he would die mad. However, they
bring him back, but he does not recover his senses for one or two
days. The people think that one man is thus singled out as a
scapegoat for the sins of the rest of the village. In the temple of
the Moon the Albanians of the Eastern Caucasus kept a number of
sacred slaves, of whom many were inspired and prophesied. When one
of these men exhibited more than usual symptoms of inspiration or
insanity, and wandered solitary up and down the woods, like the Gond
in the jungle, the high priest had him bound with a sacred chain and
maintained him in luxury for a year. At the end of the year he was
anointed with unguents and led forth to be sacrificed. A man whose
business it was to slay these human victims and to whom practice had
given dexterity, advanced from the crowd and thrust a sacred spear
into the victim's side, piercing his heart. From the manner in which
the slain man fell, omens were drawn as to the welfare of the
commonwealth. Then the body was carried to a certain spot where all
the people stood upon it as a purificatory ceremony. This last
circumstance clearly indicates that the sins of the people were
transferred to the victim, just as the Jewish priest transferred the
sins of the people to the scapegoat by laying his hands on the
animal's head; and since the man was believed to be possessed by the
divine spirit, we have here an undoubted example of a man-god slain
to take away the sins and misfortunes of the people.

In Tibet the ceremony of the scapegoat presents some remarkable
features. The Tibetan new year begins with the new moon which
appears about the fifteenth of February. For twenty-three days
afterwards the government of Lhasa, the capital, is taken out of the
hands of the ordinary rulers and entrusted to the monk of the Debang
monastery who offers to pay the highest sum for the privilege. The
successful bidder is called the Jalno, and he announces his
accession to power in person, going through the streets of Lhasa
with a silver stick in his hand. Monks from all the neighbouring
monasteries and temples assemble to pay him homage. The Jalno
exercises his authority in the most arbitrary manner for his own
benefit, as all the fines which he exacts are his by purchase. The
profit he makes is about ten times the amount of the purchase money.
His men go about the streets in order to discover any conduct on the
part of the inhabitants that can be found fault with. Every house in
Lhasa is taxed at this time, and the slightest offence is punished
with unsparing rigour by fines. This severity of the Jalno drives
all working classes out of the city till the twenty-three days are
over. But if the laity go out, the clergy come in. All the Buddhist
monasteries of the country for miles round about open their gates
and disgorge their inmates. All the roads that lead down into Lhasa
from the neighbouring mountains are full of monks hurrying to the
capital, some on foot, some on horseback, some riding asses or
lowing oxen, all carrying their prayer-books and culinary utensils.
In such multitudes do they come that the streets and squares of the
city are encumbered with their swarms, and incarnadined with their
red cloaks. The disorder and confusion are indescribable. Bands of
the holy men traverse the streets chanting prayers, or uttering wild
cries. They meet, they jostle, they quarrel, they fight; bloody
noses, black eyes, and broken heads are freely given and received.
All day long, too, from before the peep of dawn till after darkness
has fallen, these red-cloaked monks hold services in the dim
incense-laden air of the great Machindranath temple, the cathedral
of Lhasa; and thither they crowd thrice a day to receive their doles
of tea and soup and money. The cathedral is a vast building,
standing in the centre of the city, and surrounded by bazaars and
shops. The idols in it are richly inlaid with gold and precious

Twenty-four days after the Jalno has ceased to have authority, he
assumes it again, and for ten days acts in the same arbitrary manner
as before. On the first of the ten days the priests again assemble
at the cathedral, pray to the gods to prevent sickness and other
evils among the people, "and, as a peace-offering, sacrifice one
man. The man is not killed purposely, but the ceremony he undergoes
often proves fatal. Grain is thrown against his head, and his face
is painted half white, half black." Thus grotesquely disguised, and
carrying a coat of skin on his arm, he is called the King of the
Years, and sits daily in the market-place, where he helps himself to
whatever he likes and goes about shaking a black yak's tail over the
people, who thus transfer their bad luck to him. On the tenth day,
all the troops in Lhasa march to the great temple and form in line
before it. The King of the Years is brought forth from the temple
and receives small donations from the assembled multitude. He then
ridicules the Jalno, saying to him, "What we perceive through the
five senses is no illusion. All you teach is untrue," and the like.
The Jalno, who represents the Grand Lama for the time being,
contests these heretical opinions; the dispute waxes warm, and at
last both agree to decide the questions at issue by a cast of the
dice, the Jalno offering to change places with the scapegoat should
the throw be against him. If the King of the Years wins, much evil
is prognosticated; but if the Jalno wins, there is great rejoicing,
for it proves that his adversary has been accepted by the gods as a
victim to bear all the sins of the people of Lhasa. Fortune,
however, always favours the Jalno, who throws sixes with unvarying
success, while his opponent turns up only ones. Nor is this so
extraordinary as at first sight it might appear; for the Jalno's
dice are marked with nothing but sixes and his adversary's with
nothing but ones. When he sees the finger of Providence thus plainly
pointed against him, the King of the Years is terrified and flees
away upon a white horse, with a white dog, a white bird, salt, and
so forth, which have all been provided for him by the government.
His face is still painted half white and half black, and he still
wears his leathern coat. The whole populace pursues him, hooting,
yelling, and firing blank shots in volleys after him. Thus driven
out of the city, he is detained for seven days in the great chamber
of horrors at the Samyas monastery, surrounded by monstrous and
terrific images of devils and skins of huge serpents and wild
beasts. Thence he goes away into the mountains of Chetang, where he
has to remain an outcast for several months or a year in a narrow
den. If he dies before the time is out, the people say it is an
auspicious omen; but if he survives, he may return to Lhasa and play
the part of scapegoat over again the following year.

This quaint ceremonial, still annually observed in the secluded
capital of Buddhism--the Rome of Asia--is interesting because it
exhibits, in a clearly marked religious stratification, a series of
divine redeemers themselves redeemed, of vicarious sacrifices
vicariously atoned for, of gods undergoing a process of
fossilisation, who, while they retain the privileges, have
disburdened themselves of the pains and penalties of divinity. In
the Jalno we may without undue straining discern a successor of
those temporary kings, those mortal gods, who purchase a short lease
of power and glory at the price of their lives. That he is the
temporary substitute of the Grand Lama is certain; that he is, or
was once, liable to act as scapegoat for the people is made nearly
certain by his offer to change places with the real scapegoat--the
King of the Years--if the arbitrament of the dice should go against
him. It is true that the conditions under which the question is now
put to the hazard have reduced the offer to an idle form. But such
forms are no mere mushroom growths, springing up of themselves in a
night. If they are now lifeless formalities, empty husks devoid of
significance, we may be sure that they once had a life and a
meaning; if at the present day they are blind alleys leading
nowhere, we may be certain that in former days they were paths that
led somewhere, if only to death. That death was the goal to which of
old the Tibetan scapegoat passed after his brief period of licence
in the market-place, is a conjecture that has much to commend it.
Analogy suggests it; the blank shots fired after him, the statement
that the ceremony often proves fatal, the belief that his death is a
happy omen, all confirm it. We need not wonder then that the Jalno,
after paying so dear to act as deputy-deity for a few weeks, should
have preferred to die by deputy rather than in his own person when
his time was up. The painful but necessary duty was accordingly laid
on some poor devil, some social outcast, some wretch with whom the
world had gone hard, who readily agreed to throw away his life at
the end of a few days if only he might have his fling in the
meantime. For observe that while the time allowed to the original
deputy--the Jalno--was measured by weeks, the time allowed to the
deputy's deputy was cut down to days, ten days according to one
authority, seven days according to another. So short a rope was
doubtless thought a long enough tether for so black or sickly a
sheep; so few sands in the hour-glass, slipping so fast away,
sufficed for one who had wasted so many precious years. Hence in the
jack-pudding who now masquerades with motley countenance in the
market-place of Lhasa, sweeping up misfortune with a black yak's
tail, we may fairly see the substitute of a substitute, the vicar of
a vicar, the proxy on whose back the heavy burden was laid when it
had been lifted from nobler shoulders. But the clue, if we have
followed it aright, does not stop at the Jalno; it leads straight
back to the pope of Lhasa himself, the Grand Lama, of whom the Jalno
is merely the temporary vicar. The analogy of many customs in many
lands points to the conclusion that, if this human divinity stoops
to resign his ghostly power for a time into the hands of a
substitute, it is, or rather was once, for no other reason than that
the substitute might die in his stead. Thus through the mist of ages
unillumined by the lamp of history, the tragic figure of the pope of
Buddhism--God's vicar on earth for Asia--looms dim and sad as the
man-god who bore his people's sorrows, the Good Shepherd who laid
down his life for the sheep.

4. On Scapegoats in General

THE FOREGOING survey of the custom of publicly expelling the
accumulated evils of a village or town or country suggests a few
general observations.

In the first place, it will not be disputed that what I have called
the immediate and the mediate expulsions of evil are identical in
intention; in other words, that whether the evils are conceived of
as invisible or as embodied in a material form, is a circumstance
entirely subordinate to the main object of the ceremony, which is
simply to effect a total clearance of all the ills that have been
infesting a people. If any link were wanting to connect the two
kinds of expulsion, it would be furnished by such a practice as that
of sending the evils away in a litter or a boat. For here, on the
one hand, the evils are invisible and intangible; and, on the other
hand, there is a visible and tangible vehicle to convey them away.
And a scapegoat is nothing more than such a vehicle.

In the second place, when a general clearance of evils is resorted
to periodically, the interval between the celebrations of the
ceremony is commonly a year, and the time of year when the ceremony
takes place usually coincides with some well-marked change of
season, such as the beginning or end of winter in the arctic and
temperate zones, and the beginning or end of the rainy season in the
tropics. The increased mortality which such climatic changes are apt
to produce, especially amongst ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-housed
savages, is set down by primitive man to the agency of demons, who
must accordingly be expelled. Hence, in the tropical regions of New
Britain and Peru, the devils are or were driven out at the beginning
of the rainy season; hence, on the dreary coasts of Baffin Land,
they are banished at the approach of the bitter Arctic winter. When
a tribe has taken to husbandry, the time for the general expulsion
of devils is naturally made to agree with one of the great epochs of
the agricultural year, as sowing, or harvest; but, as these epochs
themselves naturally coincide with changes of season, it does not
follow that the transition from the hunting or pastoral to the
agricultural life involves any alteration in the time of celebrating
this great annual rite. Some of the agricultural communities of
India and the Hindoo Koosh, as we have seen, hold their general
clearance of demons at harvest, others at sowing-time. But, at
whatever season of the year it is held, the general expulsion of
devils commonly marks the beginning of the new year. For, before
entering on a new year, people are anxious to rid themselves of the
troubles that have harassed them in the past; hence it comes about
that in so many communities the beginning of the new year is
inaugurated with a solemn and public banishment of evil spirits.

In the third place, it is to be observed that this public and
periodic expulsion of devils is commonly preceded or followed by a
period of general license, during which the ordinary restraints of
society are thrown aside, and all offences, short of the gravest,
are allowed to pass unpunished. In Guinea and Tonquin the period of
license precedes the public expulsion of demons; and the suspension
of the ordinary government in Lhasa previous to the expulsion of the
scapegoat is perhaps a relic of a similar period of universal
license. Amongst the Hos of India the period of license follows the
expulsion of the devil. Amongst the Iroquois it hardly appears
whether it preceded or followed the banishment of evils. In any
case, the extraordinary relaxation of all ordinary rules of conduct
on such occasions is doubtless to be explained by the general
clearance of evils which precedes or follows it. On the one hand,
when a general riddance of evil and absolution from all sin is in
immediate prospect, men are encouraged to give the rein to their
passions, trusting that the coming ceremony will wipe out the score
which they are running up so fast. On the other hand, when the
ceremony has just taken place, men's minds are freed from the
oppressive sense, under which they generally labour, of an
atmosphere surcharged with devils; and in the first revulsion of joy
they overleap the limits commonly imposed by custom and morality.
When the ceremony takes place at harvest-time, the elation of
feeling which it excites is further stimulated by the state of
physical wellbeing produced by an abundant supply of food.

Fourthly, the employment of a divine man or animal as a scapegoat is
especially to be noted; indeed, we are here directly concerned with
the custom of banishing evils only in so far as these evils are
believed to be transferred to a god who is afterwards slain. It may
be suspected that the custom of employing a divine man or animal as
a public scapegoat is much more widely diffused than appears from
the examples cited. For, as has already been pointed out, the custom
of killing a god dates from so early a period of human history that
in later ages, even when the custom continues to be practised, it is
liable to be misinterpreted. The divine character of the animal or
man is forgotten, and he comes to be regarded merely as an ordinary
victim. This is especially likely to be the case when it is a divine
man who is killed. For when a nation becomes civilised, if it does
not drop human sacrifices altogether, it at least selects as victims
only such wretches as would be put to death at any rate. Thus the
killing of a god may sometimes come to be confounded with the
execution of a criminal.

If we ask why a dying god should be chosen to take upon himself and
carry away the sins and sorrows of the people, it may be suggested
that in the practice of using the divinity as a scapegoat we have a
combination of two customs which were at one time distinct and
independent. On the one hand we have seen that it has been customary
to kill the human or animal god in order to save his divine life
from being weakened by the inroads of age. On the other hand we have
seen that it has been customary to have a general expulsion of evils
and sins once a year. Now, if it occurred to people to combine these
two customs, the result would be the employment of the dying god as
a scapegoat. He was killed, not originally to take away sin, but to
save the divine life from the degeneracy of old age; but, since he
had to be killed at any rate, people may have thought that they
might as well seize the opportunity to lay upon him the burden of
their sufferings and sins, in order that he might bear it away with
him to the unknown world beyond the grave.

The use of the divinity as a scapegoat clears up the ambiguity
which, as we saw, appears to hang about the European folk-custom of
"carrying out Death." Grounds have been shown for believing that in
this ceremony the so-called Death was originally the spirit of
vegetation, who was annually slain in spring, in order that he might
come to life again with all the vigour of youth. But, as I pointed
out, there are certain features in the ceremony which are not
explicable on this hypothesis alone. Such are the marks of joy with
which the effigy of Death is carried out to be buried or burnt, and
the fear and abhorrence of it manifested by the bearers. But these
features become at once intelligible if we suppose that the Death
was not merely the dying god of vegetation, but also a public
scapegoat, upon whom were laid all the evils that had afflicted the
people during the past year. Joy on such an occasion is natural and
appropriate; and if the dying god appears to be the object of that
fear and abhorrence which are properly due not to himself, but to
the sins and misfortunes with which he is laden, this arises merely
from the difficulty of distinguishing, or at least of marking the
distinction, between the bearer and the burden. When the burden is
of a baleful character, the bearer of it will be feared and shunned
just as much as if he were himself instinct with those dangerous
properties of which, as it happens, he is only the vehicle.
Similarly we have seen that disease-laden and sin-laden boats are
dreaded and shunned by East Indian peoples. Again, the view that in
these popular customs the Death is a scapegoat as well as a
representative of the divine spirit of vegetation derives some
support from the circumstance that its expulsion is always
celebrated in spring and chiefly by Slavonic peoples. For the
Slavonic year began in spring; and thus, in one of its aspects, the
ceremony of "carrying out Death" would be an example of the
widespread custom of expelling the accumulated evils of the old year
before entering on a new one.

LVIII. Human Scapegoats in Classical Antiquity

1. The Human Scapegoat in Ancient Rome

WE are now prepared to notice the use of the human scapegoat in
classical antiquity. Every year on the fourteenth of March a man
clad in skins was led in procession through the streets of Rome,
beaten with long white rods, and driven out of the city. He was
called Mamurius Veturius, that is, "the old Mars," and as the
ceremony took place on the day preceding the first full moon of the
old Roman year (which began on the first of March), the skin-clad
man must have represented the Mars of the past year, who was driven
out at the beginning of a new one. Now Mars was originally not a god
of war but of vegetation. For it was to Mars that the Roman
husbandman prayed for the prosperity of his corn and his vines, his
fruit-trees and his copses; it was to Mars that the priestly college
of the Arval Brothers, whose business it was to sacrifice for the
growth of the crops, addressed their petitions almost exclusively;
and it was to Mars, as we saw, that a horse was sacrificed in
October to secure an abundant harvest. Moreover, it was to Mars,
under his title of "Mars of the woods" (_Mars Silvanus_), that
farmers offered sacrifice for the welfare of their cattle. We have
already seen that cattle are commonly supposed to be under the
special patronage of tree-gods. Once more, the consecration of the
vernal month of March to Mars seems to point him out as the deity of
the sprouting vegetation. Thus the Roman custom of expelling the old
Mars at the beginning of the new year in spring is identical with
the Slavonic custom of "carrying out Death," if the view here taken
of the latter custom is correct. The similarity of the Roman and
Slavonic customs has been already remarked by scholars, who appear,
however, to have taken Mamurius Veturius and the corresponding
figures in the Slavonic ceremonies to be representatives of the old
year rather than of the old god of vegetation. It is possible that
ceremonies of this kind may have come to be thus interpreted in
later times even by the people who practised them. But the
personification of a period of time is too abstract an idea to be
primitive. However, in the Roman, as in the Slavonic, ceremony, the
representative of the god appears to have been treated not only as a
deity of vegetation but also as a scapegoat. His expulsion implies
this; for there is no reason why the god of vegetation, as such,
should be expelled the city. But it is otherwise if he is also a
scapegoat; it then becomes necessary to drive him beyond the
boundaries, that he may carry his sorrowful burden away to other
lands. And, in fact, Mamurius Veturius appears to have been driven
away to the land of the Oscans, the enemies of Rome.

2. The Human Scapegoat in Ancient Greece

THE ANCIENT Greeks were also familiar with the use of a human
scapegoat. In Plutarch's native town of Chaeronea a ceremony of this
kind was performed by the chief magistrate at the Town Hall, and by
each householder at his own home. It was called the "expulsion of
hunger." A slave was beaten with rods of the _agnus castus,_ and
turned out of doors with the words, "Out with hunger, and in with
wealth and health." When Plutarch held the office of chief
magistrate of his native town he performed this ceremony at the Town
Hall, and he has recorded the discussion to which the custom
afterwards gave rise.

But in civilised Greece the custom of the scapegoat took darker
forms than the innocent rite over which the amiable and pious
Plutarch presided. Whenever Marseilles, one of the busiest and most
brilliant of Greek colonies, was ravaged by a plague, a man of the
poorer classes used to offer himself as a scapegoat. For a whole
year he was maintained at the public expense, being fed on choice
and pure food. At the expiry of the year he was dressed in sacred
garments, decked with holy branches, and led through the whole city,
while prayers were uttered that all the evils of the people might
fall on his head. He was then cast out of the city or stoned to
death by the people outside of the walls. The Athenians regularly
maintained a number of degraded and useless beings at the public
expense; and when any calamity, such as plague, drought, or famine,
befell the city, they sacrificed two of these outcast scapegoats.
One of the victims was sacrificed for the men and the other for the
women. The former wore round his neck a string of black, the latter
a string of white figs. Sometimes, it seems, the victim slain on
behalf of the women was a woman. They were led about the city and
then sacrificed, apparently by being stoned to death outside the
city. But such sacrifices were not confined to extraordinary
occasions of public calamity; it appears that every year, at the
festival of the Thargelia in May, two victims, one for the men and
one for the women, were led out of Athens and stoned to death. The
city of Abdera in Thrace was publicly purified once a year, and one
of the burghers, set apart for the purpose, was stoned to death as a
scapegoat or vicarious sacrifice for the life of all the others; six
days before his execution he was excommunicated, "in order that he
alone might bear the sins of all the people."

From the Lover's Leap, a white bluff at the southern end of their
island, the Leucadians used annually to hurl a criminal into the sea
as a scapegoat. But to lighten his fall they fastened live birds and
feathers to him, and a flotilla of small boats waited below to catch
him and convey him beyond the boundary. Probably these humane
precautions were a mitigation of an earlier custom of flinging the
scapegoat into the sea to drown. The Leucadian ceremony took place
at the time of a sacrifice to Apollo, who had a temple or sanctuary
on the spot. Elsewhere it was customary to cast a young man every
year into the sea, with the prayer, "Be thou our offscouring." This
ceremony was supposed to rid the people of the evils by which they
were beset, or according to a somewhat different interpretation it
redeemed them by paying the debt they owed to the sea-god. As
practised by the Greeks of Asia Minor in the sixth century before
our era, the custom of the scapegoat was as follows. When a city
suffered from plague, famine, or other public calamity, an ugly or
deformed person was chosen to take upon himself all the evils which
afflicted the community. He was brought to a suitable place, where
dried figs, a barley loaf, and cheese were put into his hand. These
he ate. Then he was beaten seven times upon his genital organs with
squills and branches of the wild fig and other wild trees, while the
flutes played a particular tune. Afterwards he was burned on a pyre
built of the wood of forest trees; and his ashes were cast into the
sea. A similar custom appears to have been annually celebrated by
the Asiatic Greeks at the harvest festival of the Thargelia.

In the ritual just described the scourging of the victim with
squills, branches of the wild fig, and so forth, cannot have been
intended to aggravate his sufferings, otherwise any stick would have
been good enough to beat him with. The true meaning of this part of
the ceremony has been explained by W. Mannhardt. He points out that
the ancients attributed to squills a magical power of averting evil
influences, and that accordingly they hung them up at the doors of
their houses and made use of them in purificatory rites. Hence the
Arcadian custom of whipping the image of Pan with squills at a
festival, or whenever the hunters returned empty-handed, must have
been meant, not to punish the god, but to purify him from the
harmful influences which were impeding him in the exercise of his
divine functions as a god who should supply the hunter with game.
Similarly the object of beating the human scapegoat on the genital
organs with squills and so on, must have been to release his
reproductive energies from any restraint or spell under which they
might be laid by demoniacal or other malignant agency; and as the
Thargelia at which he was annually sacrificed was an early harvest
festival celebrated in May, we must recognise in him a
representative of the creative and fertilising god of vegetation.
The representative of the god was annually slain for the purpose I
have indicated, that of maintaining the divine life in perpetual
vigour, untainted by the weakness of age; and before he was put to
death it was not unnatural to stimulate his reproductive powers in
order that these might be transmitted in full activity to his
successor, the new god or new embodiment of the old god, who was
doubtless supposed immediately to take the place of the one slain.
Similar reasoning would lead to a similar treatment of the scapegoat
on special occasions, such as drought or famine. If the crops did
not answer to the expectation of the husbandman, this would be
attributed to some failure in the generative powers of the god whose
function it was to produce the fruits of the earth. It might be
thought that he was under a spell or was growing old and feeble.
Accordingly he was slain in the person of his representative, with
all the ceremonies already described, in order that, born young
again, he might infuse his own youthful vigour into the stagnant
energies of nature. On the same principle we can understand why
Mamurius Veturius was beaten with rods, why the slave at the
Chaeronean ceremony was beaten with the _agnus castus_ (a tree to
which magical properties were ascribed), why the effigy of Death in
some parts of Europe is assailed with sticks and stones, and why at
Babylon the criminal who played the god scourged before he was
crucified. The purpose of the scourging was not to intensify the
agony of the divine sufferer, but on the contrary to dispel any
malignant influences by which at the supreme moment he might
conceivably be beset.

Thus far I have assumed that the human victims at the Thargelia
represented the spirits of vegetation in general, but it has been
well remarked by Mr. W. R. Paton that these poor wretches seem to
have masqueraded as the spirits of fig-trees in particular. He
points out that the process of caprification, as it is called, that
is, the artificial fertilisation of the cultivated fig-trees by
hanging strings of wild figs among the boughs, takes place in Greece
and Asia Minor in June about a month after the date of the
Thargelia, and he suggests that the hanging of the black and white
figs round the necks of the two human victims, one of whom
represented the men and the other the women, may have been a direct
imitation of the process of caprification designed, on the principle
of imitative magic, to assist the fertilisation of the fig-trees.
And since caprification is in fact a marriage of the male fig-tree
with the female fig-tree, Mr. Paton further supposes that the loves
of the trees may, on the same principle of imitative magic, have
been simulated by a mock or even a real marriage between the two
human victims, one of whom appears sometimes to have been a woman.
On this view the practice of beating the human victims on their
genitals with branches of wild fig-trees and with squills was a
charm intended to stimulate the generative powers of the man and
woman who for the time being personated the male and the female
fig-trees respectively, and who by their union in marriage, whether
real or pretended, were believed to help the trees to bear fruit.

The interpretation which I have adopted of the custom of beating the
human scapegoat with certain plants is supported by many analogies.
Thus among the Kai of German New Guinea, when a man wishes to make
his banana shoots bear fruit quickly, he beats them with a stick cut
from a banana-tree which has already borne fruit. Here it is obvious
that fruitfulness is believed to inhere in a stick cut from a
fruitful tree and to be imparted by contact to the young banana
plants. Similarly in New Caledonia a man will beat his taro plants
lightly with a branch, saying as he does so, "I beat this taro that
it may grow," after which he plants the branch in the ground at the
end of the field. Among the Indians of Brazil at the mouth of the
Amazon, when a man wishes to increase the size of his generative
organ, he strikes it with the fruit of a white aquatic plant called
_aninga,_ which grows luxuriantly on the banks of the river. The
fruit, which is inedible, resembles a banana, and is clearly chosen
for this purpose on account of its shape. The ceremony should be
performed three days before or after the new moon. In the county of
Bekes, in Hungary, barren women are fertilised by being struck with
a stick which has first been used to separate pairing dogs. Here a
fertilising virtue is clearly supposed to be inherent in the stick
and to be conveyed by contact to the women. The Toradjas of Central
Celebes think that the plant _Dracaena terminalis_ has a strong
soul, because when it is lopped, it soon grows up again. Hence when
a man is ill, his friends will sometimes beat him on the crown of
the head with _Dracaena_ leaves in order to strengthen his weak soul
with the strong soul of the plant.

These analogies, accordingly, support the interpretation which,
following my predecessors W. Mannhardt and Mr. W. R. Paton, I have
given of the beating inflicted on the human victims at the Greek
harvest festival of the Thargelia. That beating, being administered
to the generative organs of the victims by fresh green plants and
branches, is most naturally explained as a charm to increase the
reproductive energies of the men or women either by communicating to
them the fruitfulness of the plants and branches, or by ridding them
of the maleficent influences; and this interpretation is confirmed
by the observation that the two victims represented the two sexes,
one of them standing for the men in general and the other for the
women. The season of the year when the ceremony was performed,
namely the time of the corn harvest, tallies well with the theory
that the rite had an agricultural significance. Further, that it was
above all intended to fertilise the fig-trees is strongly suggested
by the strings of black and white figs which were hung round the
necks of the victims, as well as by the blows which were given their
genital organs with the branches of a wild fig-tree; since this
procedure closely resembles the procedure which ancient and modern
husbandmen in Greek lands have regularly resorted to for the purpose
of actually fertilising their fig-trees. When we remember what an
important part the artificial fertilisation of the date palm-tree
appears to have played of old not only in the husbandry but in the
religion of Mesopotamia, there seems no reason to doubt that the
artificial fertilisation of the fig-tree may in like manner have
vindicated for itself a place in the solemn ritual of Greek

If these considerations are just, we must apparently conclude that
while the human victims at the Thargelia certainly appear in later
classical times to have figured chiefly as public scapegoats, who
carried away with them the sins, misfortunes, and sorrows of the
whole people, at an earlier time they may have been looked on as
embodiments of vegetation, perhaps of the corn but particularly of
the fig-trees; and that the beating which they received and the
death which they died were intended primarily to brace and refresh
the powers of vegetation then beginning to droop and languish under
the torrid heat of the Greek summer.

The view here taken of the Greek scapegoat, if it is correct,
obviates an objection which might otherwise be brought against the
main argument of this book. To the theory that the priest of Aricia
was slain as a representative of the spirit of the grove, it might
have been objected that such a custom has no analogy in classical
antiquity. But reasons have now been given for believing that the
human being periodically and occasionally slain by the Asiatic
Greeks was regularly treated as an embodiment of a divinity of
vegetation. Probably the persons whom the Athenians kept to be
sacrificed were similarly treated as divine. That they were social
outcasts did not matter. On the primitive view a man is not chosen
to be the mouth-piece or embodiment of a god on account of his high
moral qualities or social rank. The divine afflatus descends equally
on the good and the bad, the lofty and the lowly. If then the
civilised Greeks of Asia and Athens habitually sacrificed men whom
they regarded as incarnate gods, there can be no inherent
improbability in the supposition that at the dawn of history a
similar custom was observed by the semibarbarous Latins in the
Arician Grove.

But to clinch the argument, it is clearly desirable to prove that
the custom of putting to death a human representative of a god was
known and practised in ancient Italy elsewhere than in the Arician
Grove. This proof I now propose to adduce.

3. The Roman Saturnalia

WE have seen that many peoples have been used to observe an annual
period of license, when the customary restraints of law and morality
are thrown aside, when the whole population give themselves up to
extravagant mirth and jollity, and when the darker passions find a
vent which would never be allowed them in the more staid and sober
course of ordinary life. Such outbursts of the pent-up forces of
human nature, too often degenerating into wild orgies of lust and
crime, occur most commonly at the end of the year, and are
frequently associated, as I have had occasion to point out, with one
or other of the agricultural seasons, especially with the time of
sowing or of harvest. Now, of all these periods of license the one
which is best known and which in modern language has given its name
to the rest, is the Saturnalia. This famous festival fell in
December, the last month of the Roman year, and was popularly
supposed to commemorate the merry reign of Saturn, the god of sowing
and of husbandry, who lived on earth long ago as a righteous and
beneficent king of Italy, drew the rude and scattered dwellers on
the mountains together, taught them to till the ground, gave them
laws, and ruled in peace. His reign was the fabled Golden Age: the
earth brought forth abundantly: no sound of war or discord troubled
the happy world: no baleful love of lucre worked like poison in the
blood of the industrious and contented peasantry. Slavery and
private property were alike unknown: all men had all things in
common. At last the good god, the kindly king, vanished suddenly;
but his memory was cherished to distant ages, shrines were reared in
his honour, and many hills and high places in Italy bore his name.
Yet the bright tradition of his reign was crossed by a dark shadow:
his altars are said to have been stained with the blood of human
victims, for whom a more merciful age afterwards substituted
effigies. Of this gloomy side of the god's religion there is little
or no trace in the descriptions which ancient writers have left us
of the Saturnalia. Feasting and revelry and all the mad pursuit of
pleasure are the features that seem to have especially marked this
carnival of antiquity, as it went on for seven days in the streets
and public squares and houses of ancient Rome from the seventeenth
to the twenty-third of December.

But no feature of the festival is more remarkable, nothing in it
seems to have struck the ancients themselves more than the license
granted to slaves at this time. The distinction between the free and
the servile classes was temporarily abolished. The slave might rail
at his master, intoxicate himself like his betters, sit down at
table with them, and not even a word of reproof would be
administered to him for conduct which at any other season might have
been punished with stripes, imprisonment, or death. Nay, more,
masters actually changed places with their slaves and waited on them
at table; and not till the serf had done eating and drinking was the
board cleared and dinner set for his master. So far was this
inversion of ranks carried, that each household became for a time a
mimic republic in which the high offices of state were discharged by
the slaves, who gave their orders and laid down the law as if they
were indeed invested with all the dignity of the consulship, the
praetorship, and the bench. Like the pale reflection of power thus
accorded to bondsmen at the Saturnalia was the mock kingship for
which freemen cast lots at the same season. The person on whom the
lot fell enjoyed the title of king, and issued commands of a playful
and ludicrous nature to his temporary subjects. One of them he might
order to mix the wine, another to drink, another to sing, another to
dance, another to speak in his own dispraise, another to carry a
flute-girl on his back round the house.

Now, when we remember that the liberty allowed to slaves at this
festive season was supposed to be an imitation of the state of
society in Saturn's time, and that in general the Saturnalia passed
for nothing more or less than a temporary revival or restoration of
the reign of that merry monarch, we are tempted to surmise that the
mock king who presided over the revels may have originally
represented Saturn himself. The conjecture is strongly confirmed, if
not established, by a very curious and interesting account of the
way in which the Saturnalia was celebrated by the Roman soldiers
stationed on the Danube in the reign of Maximian and Diocletian. The
account is preserved in a narrative of the martyrdom of St. Dasius,
which was unearthed from a Greek manuscript in the Paris library,
and published by Professor Franz Cumont of Ghent. Two briefer
descriptions of the event and of the custom are contained in
manuscripts at Milan and Berlin; one of them had already seen the
light in an obscure volume printed at Urbino in 1727, but its
importance for the history of the Roman religion, both ancient and
modern, appears to have been overlooked until Professor Cumont drew
the attention of scholars to all three narratives by publishing them
together some years ago. According to these narratives, which have
all the appearance of being authentic, and of which the longest is
probably based on official documents, the Roman soldiers at
Durostorum in Lower Moesia celebrated the Saturnalia year by year in
the following manner. Thirty days before the festival they chose by
lot from amongst themselves a young and handsome man, who was then
clothed in royal attire to resemble Saturn. Thus arrayed and
attended by a multitude of soldiers he went about in public with
full license to indulge his passions and to taste of every pleasure,
however base and shameful. But if his reign was merry, it was short
and ended tragically; for when the thirty days were up and the
festival of Saturn had come, he cut his own throat on the altar of
the god whom he personated. In the year A.D. 303 the lot fell upon
the Christian soldier Dasius, but he refused to play the part of the
heathen god and soil his last days by debauchery. The threats and
arguments of his commanding officer Bassus failed to shake his
constancy, and accordingly he was beheaded, as the Christian
martyrologist records with minute accuracy, at Durostorum by the
soldier John on Friday the twentieth day of November, being the
twenty-fourth day of the moon, at the fourth hour.

Since this narrative was published by Professor Cumont, its
historical character, which had been doubted or denied, has received
strong confirmation from an interesting discovery. In the crypt of
the cathedral which crowns the promontory of Ancona there is
preserved, among other remarkable antiquities, a white marble
sarcophagus bearing a Greek inscription, in characters of the age of
Justinian, to the following effect: "Here lies the holy martyr
Dasius, brought from Durostorum." The sarcophagus was transferred to
the crypt of the cathedral in 1848 from the church of San
Pellegrino, under the high altar of which, as we learn from a Latin
inscription let into the masonry, the martyr's bones still repose
with those of two other saints. How long the sarcophagus was
deposited in the church of San Pellegrino, we do not know; but it is
recorded to have been there in the year 1650. We may suppose that
the saint's relics were transferred for safety to Ancona at some
time in the troubled centuries which followed his martyrdom, when
Moesia was occupied and ravaged by successive hordes of barbarian
invaders. At all events it appears certain from the independent and
mutually confirmatory evidence of the martyrology and the monuments
that Dasius was no mythical saint, but a real man, who suffered
death for his faith at Durostorum in one of the early centuries of
the Christian era. Finding the narrative of the nameless
martyrologist thus established as to the principal fact recorded,
namely, the martyrdom of St. Dasius, we may reasonably accept his
testimony as to the manner and cause of the martyrdom, all the more
because his narrative is precise, circumstantial, and entirely free
from the miraculous element. Accordingly I conclude that the account
which he gives of the celebration of the Saturnalia among the Roman
soldiers is trustworthy.

This account sets in a new and lurid light the office of the King of
the Saturnalia, the ancient Lord of Misrule, who presided over the
winter revels at Rome in the time of Horace and Tacitus. It seems to
prove that his business had not always been that of a mere harlequin
or merry-andrew whose only care was that the revelry should run high
and the fun grow fast and furious, while the fire blazed and
crackled on the hearth, while the streets swarmed with festive
crowds, and through the clear frosty air, far away to the north,
Soracte showed his coronal of snow. When we compare this comic
monarch of the gay, the civilised metropolis with his grim
counterpart of the rude camp on the Danube, and when we remember the
long array of similar figures, ludicrous yet tragic, who in other
ages and in other lands, wearing mock crowns and wrapped in sceptred
palls, have played their little pranks for a few brief hours or
days, then passed before their time to a violent death, we can
hardly doubt that in the King of the Saturnalia at Rome, as he is
depicted by classical writers, we see only a feeble emasculated copy
of that original, whose strong features have been fortunately
preserved for us by the obscure author of the _Martyrdom of St.
Dasius._ In other words, the martyrologist's account of the
Saturnalia agrees so closely with the accounts of similar rites
elsewhere which could not possibly have been known to him, that the
substantial accuracy of his description may be regarded as
established; and further, since the custom of putting a mock king to
death as a representative of a god cannot have grown out of a
practice of appointing him to preside over a holiday revel, whereas
the reverse may very well have happened, we are justified in
assuming that in an earlier and more barbarous age it was the
universal practice in ancient Italy, wherever the worship of Saturn
prevailed, to choose a man who played the part and enjoyed all the
traditionary privileges of Saturn for a season, and then died,
whether by his own or another's hand, whether by the knife or the
fire or on the gallows-tree, in the character of the good god who
gave his life for the world. In Rome itself and other great towns
the growth of civilisation had probably mitigated this cruel custom
long before the Augustan age, and transformed it into the innocent
shape it wears in the writings of the few classical writers who
bestow a passing notice on the holiday King of the Saturnalia. But
in remoter districts the older and sterner practice may long have
survived; and even if after the unification of Italy the barbarous
usage was suppressed by the Roman government, the memory of it would
be handed down by the peasants and would tend from time to time, as
still happens with the lowest forms of superstition among ourselves,
to lead to a recrudescence of the practice, especially among the
rude soldiery on the outskirts of the empire over whom the once iron
hand of Rome was beginning to relax its grasp.

The resemblance between the Saturnalia of ancient and the Carnival
of modern Italy has often been remarked; but in the light of all the
facts that have come before us, we may well ask whether the
resemblance does not amount to identity. We have seen that in Italy,
Spain, and France, that is, in the countries where the influence of
Rome has been deepest and most lasting, a conspicuous feature of the
Carnival is a burlesque figure personifying the festive season,
which after a short career of glory and dissipation is publicly
shot, burnt, or otherwise destroyed, to the feigned grief or genuine
delight of the populace. If the view here suggested of the Carnival
is correct, this grotesque personage is no other than a direct
successor of the old King of the Saturnalia, the master of the
revels, the real man who personated Saturn and, when the revels were
over, suffered a real death in his assumed character. The King of
the Bean on Twelfth Night and the mediaeval Bishop of Fools, Abbot
of Unreason, or Lord of Misrule are figures of the same sort and may
perhaps have had a similar origin. Whether that was so or not, we
may conclude with a fair degree of probability that if the King of
the Wood at Aricia lived and died as an incarnation of a sylvan
deity, he had of old a parallel at Rome in the men who, year by
year, were slain in the character of King Saturn, the god of the
sown and sprouting seed.

LIX. Killing the God in Mexico

BY NO PEOPLE does the custom of sacrificing the human representative
of a god appear to have been observed so commonly and with so much
solemnity as by the Aztecs of ancient Mexico. With the ritual of
these remarkable sacrifices we are well acquainted, for it has been
fully described by the Spaniards who conquered Mexico in the
sixteenth century, and whose curiosity was naturally excited by the
discovery in this distant region of a barbarous and cruel religion
which presented many curious points of analogy to the doctrine and
ritual of their own church. "They took a captive," says the Jesuit
Acosta, "such as they thought good; and afore they did sacrifice him
unto their idols, they gave him the name of the idol, to whom he
should be sacrificed, and apparelled him with the same ornaments
like their idol, saying, that he did represent the same idol. And
during the time that this representation lasted, which was for a
year in some feasts, in others six months, and in others less, they
reverenced and worshipped him in the same manner as the proper idol;
and in the meantime he did eat, drink, and was merry. When he went
through the streets, the people came forth to worship him, and every
one brought him an alms, with children and sick folks, that he might
cure them, and bless them, suffering him to do all things at his
pleasure, only he was accompanied with ten or twelve men lest he
should fly. And he (to the end he might be reverenced as he passed)
sometimes sounded upon a small flute, that the people might prepare
to worship him. The feast being come, and he grown fat, they killed
him, opened him, and ate him, making a solemn sacrifice of him."

This general description of the custom may now be illustrated by
particular examples. Thus at the festival called Toxcatl, the
greatest festival of the Mexican year, a young man was annually
sacrificed in the character of Tezcatlipoca, "the god of gods,"
after having been maintained and worshipped as that great deity in
person for a whole year. According to the old Franciscan monk
Sahagun, our best authority on the Aztec religion, the sacrifice of
the human god fell at Easter or a few days later, so that, if he is
right, it would correspond in date as well as in character to the
Christian festival of the death and resurrection of the Redeemer.
More exactly he tells us that the sacrifice took place on the first
day of the fifth Aztec month, which according to him began on the
twenty-third or twenty-seventh day of April.

At this festival the great god died in the person of one human
representative and came to life again in the person of another, who
was destined to enjoy the fatal honour of divinity for a year and to
perish, like all his predecessors, at the end of it. The young man
singled out for this high dignity was carefully chosen from among
the captives on the ground of his personal beauty. He had to be of
unblemished body, slim as a reed and straight as a pillar, neither
too tall nor too short. If through high living he grew too fat, he
was obliged to reduce himself by drinking salt water. And in order
that he might behave in his lofty station with becoming grace and
dignity he was carefully trained to comport himself like a gentleman
of the first quality, to speak correctly and elegantly, to play the
flute, to smoke cigars and to snuff at flowers with a dandified air.
He was honourably lodged in the temple, where the nobles waited on
him and paid him homage, bringing him meat and serving him like a
prince. The king himself saw to it that he was apparelled in
gorgeous attire, "for already he esteemed him as a god." Eagle down
was gummed to his head and white cock's feathers were stuck in his
hair, which drooped to his girdle. A wreath of flowers like roasted
maize crowned his brows, and a garland of the same flowers passed
over his shoulders and under his armpits. Golden ornaments hung from
his nose, golden armlets adorned his arms, golden bells jingled on
his legs at every step he took; earrings of turquoise dangled from
his ears, bracelets of turquoise bedecked his wrists; necklaces of
shells encircled his neck and depended on his breast; he wore a
mantle of network, and round his middle a rich waistcloth. When this
bejewelled exquisite lounged through the streets playing on his
flute, puffing at a cigar, and smelling at a nosegay, the people
whom he met threw themselves on the earth before him and prayed to
him with sighs and tears, taking up the dust in their hands and
putting it in their mouths in token of the deepest humiliation and
subjection. Women came forth with children in their arms and
presented them to him, saluting him as a god. For "he passed for our
Lord God; the people acknowledged him as the Lord." All who thus
worshipped him on his passage he saluted gravely and courteously.
Lest he should flee, he was everywhere attended by a guard of eight
pages in the royal livery, four of them with shaven crowns like the
palace-slaves, and four of them with the flowing locks of warriors;
and if he contrived to escape, the captain of the guard had to take
his place as the representative of the god and to die in his stead.
Twenty days before he was to die, his costume was changed, and four
damsels delicately nurtured and bearing the names of four
goddesses--the Goddess of Flowers, the Goddess of the Young Maize,
the Goddess "Our Mother among the Water," and the Goddess of
Salt--were given him to be his brides, and with them he consorted.
During the last five days divine honours were showered on the
destined victim. The king remained in his palace while the whole
court went after the human god. Solemn banquets and dances followed
each other in regular succession and at appointed places. On the
last day the young man, attended by his wives and pages, embarked in
a canoe covered with a royal canopy and was ferried across the lake
to a spot where a little hill rose from the edge of the water. It
was called the Mountain of Parting, because there his wives bade him
a last farewell. Then, accompanied only by his pages, he repaired to
a small and lonely temple by the wayside. Like the Mexican temples
in general, it was built in the form of a pyramid; and as the young
man ascended the stairs he broke at every step one of the flutes on
which he had played in the days of his glory. On reaching the summit
he was seized and held down by the priests on his back upon a block
of stone, while one of them cut open his breast, thrust his hand
into the wound, and wrenching out his heart held it up in sacrifice
to the sun. The body of the dead god was not, like the bodies of
common victims, sent rolling down the steps of the temple, but was
carried down to the foot, where the head was cut off and spitted on
a pike. Such was the regular end of the man who personated the
greatest god of the Mexican pantheon.

The honour of living for a short time in the character of a god and
dying a violent death in the same capacity was not restricted to men
in Mexico; women were allowed, or rather compelled, to enjoy the
glory and to share the doom as representatives of goddesses. Thus at
a great festival in September, which was preceded by a strict fast
of seven days, they sanctified a young slave girl of twelve or
thirteen years, the prettiest they could find, to represent the
Maize Goddess Chicomecohuatl. They invested her with the ornaments
of the goddess, putting a mitre on her head and maize-cobs round her
neck and in her hands, and fastening a green feather upright on the
crown of her head to imitate an ear of maize. This they did, we are
told, in order to signify that the maize was almost ripe at the time
of the festival, but because it was still tender they chose a girl
of tender years to play the part of the Maize Goddess. The whole
long day they led the poor child in all her finery, with the green
plume nodding on her head, from house to house dancing merrily to
cheer people after the dulness and privations of the fast.

In the evening all the people assembled at the temple, the courts of
which they lit up by a multitude of lanterns and candles. There they
passed the night without sleeping, and at midnight, while the
trumpets, flutes, and horns discoursed solemn music, a portable
framework or palanquin was brought forth, bedecked with festoons of
maize-cobs and peppers and filled with seeds of all sorts. This the
bearers set down at the door of the chamber in which the wooden
image of the goddess stood. Now the chamber was adorned and
wreathed, both outside and inside, with wreaths of maize-cobs,
peppers, pumpkins, roses, and seeds of every kind, a wonder to
behold; the whole floor was covered deep with these verdant
offerings of the pious. When the music ceased, a solemn procession
came forth of priests and dignitaries, with flaring lights and
smoking censers, leading in their midst the girl who played the part
of the goddess. Then they made her mount the framework, where she
stood upright on the maize and peppers and pumpkins with which it
was strewed, her hands resting on two bannisters to keep her from
falling. Then the priests swung the smoking censers round her; the
music struck up again, and while it played, a great dignitary of the
temple suddenly stepped up to her with a razor in his hand and
adroitly shore off the green feather she wore on her head, together
with the hair in which it was fastened, snipping the lock off by the
root. The feather and the hair he then presented to the wooden image
of the goddess with great solemnity and elaborate ceremonies,
weeping and giving her thanks for the fruits of the earth and the
abundant crops which she had bestowed on the people that year; and
as he wept and prayed, all the people, standing in the courts of the
temple, wept and prayed with him. When that ceremony was over, the
girl descended from the framework and was escorted to the place
where she was to spend the rest of the night. But all the people
kept watch in the courts of the temple by the light of torches till
break of day.

The morning being come, and the courts of the temple being still
crowded by the multitude, who would have deemed it sacrilege to quit
the precincts, the priests again brought forth the damsel attired in
the costume of the goddess, with the mitre on her head and the cobs
of maize about her neck. Again she mounted the portable framework or
palanquin and stood on it, supporting herself by her hands on the
bannisters. Then the elders of the temple lifted it on their
shoulders, and while some swung burning censers and others played on
instruments or sang, they carried it in procession through the great
courtyard to the hall of the god Huitzilopochtli and then back to
the chamber, where stood the wooden image of the Maize Goddess, whom
the girl personated. There they caused the damsel to descend from
the palanquin and to stand on the heaps of corn and vegetables that
had been spread in profusion on the floor of the sacred chamber.
While she stood there all the elders and nobles came in a line, one
behind the other, carrying saucers full of dry and clotted blood
which they had drawn from their ears by way of penance during the
seven days' fast. One by one they squatted on their haunches before
her, which was the equivalent of falling on their knees with us, and
scraping the crust of blood from the saucer cast it down before her
as an offering in return for the benefits which she, as the
embodiment of the Maize Goddess, had conferred upon them. When the
men had thus humbly offered their blood to the human representative
of the goddess, the women, forming a long line, did so likewise,
each of them dropping on her hams before the girl and scraping her
blood from the saucer. The ceremony lasted a long time, for great
and small, young and old, all without exception had to pass before
the incarnate deity and make their offering. When it was over, the
people returned home with glad hearts to feast on flesh and viands
of every sort as merrily, we are told, as good Christians at Easter
partake of meat and other carnal mercies after the long abstinence
of Lent. And when they had eaten and drunk their fill and rested
after the night watch, they returned quite refreshed to the temple
to see the end of the festival. And the end of the festival was
this. The multitude being assembled, the priests solemnly incensed
the girl who personated the goddess; then they threw her on her back
on the heap of corn and seeds, cut off her head, caught the gushing
blood in a tub, and sprinkled the blood on the wooden image of the
goddess, the walls of the chamber, and the offerings of corn,
peppers, pumpkins, seeds, and vegetables which cumbered the floor.
After that they flayed the headless trunk, and one of the priests
made shift to squeeze himself into the bloody skin. Having done so
they clad him in all the robes which the girl had worn; they put the
mitre on his head, the necklace of golden maize-cobs about his neck,
the maize-cobs of feathers and gold in his hands; and thus arrayed
they led him forth in public, all of them dancing to the tuck of
drum, while he acted as fugleman, skipping and posturing at the head
of the procession as briskly as he could be expected to do,
incommoded as he was by the tight and clammy skin of the girl and by
her clothes, which must have been much too small for a grown man.

In the foregoing custom the identification of the young girl with
the Maize Goddess appears to be complete. The golden maize-cobs
which she wore round her neck, the artificial maize-cobs which she
carried in her hands, the green feather which was stuck in her hair
in imitation (we are told) of a green ear of maize, all set her
forth as a personification of the corn-spirit; and we are expressly
informed that she was specially chosen as a young girl to represent
the young maize, which at the time of the festival had not yet fully
ripened. Further, her identification with the corn and the
corn-goddess was clearly announced by making her stand on the heaps
of maize and there receive the homage and blood-offerings of the
whole people, who thereby returned her thanks for the benefits which
in her character of a divinity she was supposed to have conferred
upon them. Once more, the practice of beheading her on a heap of
corn and seeds and sprinkling her blood, not only on the image of
the Maize Goddess, but on the piles of maize, peppers, pumpkins,
seeds, and vegetables, can seemingly have had no other object but to
quicken and strengthen the crops of corn and the fruits of the earth
in general by infusing into their representatives the blood of the
Corn Goddess herself. The analogy of this Mexican sacrifice, the
meaning of which appears to be indisputable, may be allowed to
strengthen the interpretation which I have given of other human
sacrifices offered for the crops. If the Mexican girl, whose blood
was sprinkled on the maize, indeed personated the Maize Goddess, it
becomes more than ever probable that the girl whose blood the
Pawnees similarly sprinkled on the seed corn personated in like
manner the female Spirit of the Corn; and so with the other human
beings whom other races have slaughtered for the sake of promoting
the growth of the crops.

Lastly, the concluding act of the sacred drama, in which the body of
the dead Maize Goddess was flayed and her skin worn, together with
all her sacred insignia, by a man who danced before the people in
this grim attire, seems to be best explained on the hypothesis that
it was intended to ensure that the divine death should be
immediately followed by the divine resurrection. If that was so, we
may infer with some degree of probability that the practice of
killing a human representative of a deity has commonly, perhaps
always, been regarded merely as a means of perpetuating the divine
energies in the fulness of youthful vigour, untainted by the
weakness and frailty of age, from which they must have suffered if
the deity had been allowed to die a natural death.

These Mexican rites suffice to prove that human sacrifices of the
sort I suppose to have prevailed at Aricia were, as a matter of
fact, regularly offered by a people whose level of culture was
probably not inferior, if indeed it was not distinctly superior, to
that occupied by the Italian races at the early period to which the
origin of the Arician priesthood must be referred. The positive and
indubitable evidence of the prevalence of such sacrifices in one
part of the world may reasonably be allowed to strengthen the
probability of their prevalence in places for which the evidence is
less full and trustworthy. Taken all together, the facts which we
have passed in review seem to show that the custom of killing men
whom their worshippers regard as divine has prevailed in many parts
of the world.

LX. Between Heaven and Earth

1. Not to touch the Earth

AT THE OUTSET of this book two questions were proposed for answer:
Why had the priest of Aricia to slay his predecessor? And why,
before doing so, had he to pluck the Golden Bough? Of these two
questions the first has now been answered. The priest of Aricia, if
I am right, was one of those sacred kings or human divinities on
whose life the welfare of the community and even the course of
nature in general are believed to be intimately dependent. It does
not appear that the subjects or worshippers of such a spiritual
potentate form to themselves any very clear notion of the exact
relationship in which they stand to him; probably their ideas on the
point are vague and fluctuating, and we should err if we attempted
to define the relationship with logical precision. All that the
people know, or rather imagine, is that somehow they themselves,
their cattle, and their crops are mysteriously bound up with their
divine king, so that according as he is well or ill the community is
healthy or sickly, the flocks and herds thrive or languish with
disease, and the fields yield an abundant or a scanty harvest. The
worst evil which they can conceive of is the natural death of their
ruler, whether he succumb to sickness or old age, for in the opinion
of his followers such a death would entail the most disastrous
consequences on themselves and their possessions; fatal epidemics
would sweep away man and beast, the earth would refuse her increase,
nay, the very frame of nature itself might be dissolved. To guard
against these catastrophes it is necessary to put the king to death
while he is still in the full bloom of his divine manhood, in order
that his sacred life, transmitted in unabated force to his
successor, may renew its youth, and thus by successive transmissions
through a perpetual line of vigorous incarnations may remain
eternally fresh and young, a pledge and security that men and
animals shall in like manner renew their youth by a perpetual
succession of generations, and that seedtime and harvest, and summer
and winter, and rain and sunshine shall never fail. That, if my
conjecture is right, was why the priest of Aricia, the King of the
Wood at Nemi, had regularly to perish by the sword of his successor.

But we have still to ask, What was the Golden Bough? and why had
each candidate for the Arician priesthood to pluck it before he
could slay the priest? These questions I will now try to answer.

It will be well to begin by noticing two of those rules or taboos by
which, as we have seen, the life of divine kings or priests is
regulated. The first of the rules to which I would call the reader's
attention is that the divine personage may not touch the ground with
his foot. This rule was observed by the supreme pontiff of the
Zapotecs in Mexico; he profaned his sanctity if he so much as
touched the ground with his foot. Montezuma, emperor of Mexico,
never set foot on the ground; he was always carried on the shoulders
of noblemen, and if he lighted anywhere they laid rich tapestry for
him to walk upon. For the Mikado of Japan to touch the ground with
his foot was a shameful degradation; indeed, in the sixteenth
century, it was enough to deprive him of his office. Outside his
palace he was carried on men's shoulders; within it he walked on
exquisitely wrought mats. The king and queen of Tahiti might not
touch the ground anywhere but within their hereditary domains; for
the ground on which they trod became sacred. In travelling from
place to place they were carried on the shoulders of sacred men.
They were always accompanied by several pairs of these sanctified
attendants; and when it became necessary to change their bearers,
the king and queen vaulted on to the shoulders of their new bearers
without letting their feet touch the ground. It was an evil omen if
the king of Dosuma touched the ground, and he had to perform an
expiatory ceremony. Within his palace the king of Persia walked on
carpets on which no one else might tread; outside of it he was never
seen on foot but only in a chariot or on horseback. In old days the
king of Siam never set foot upon the earth, but was carried on a
throne of gold from place to place. Formerly neither the kings of
Uganda, nor their mothers, nor their queens might walk on foot
outside of the spacious enclosures in which they lived. Whenever
they went forth they were carried on the shoulders of men of the
Buffalo clan, several of whom accompanied any of these royal
personages on a journey and took it in turn to bear the burden. The
king sat astride the bearer's neck with a leg over each shoulder and
his feet tucked under the bearer's arms. When one of these royal
carriers grew tired he shot the king onto the shoulders of a second
man without allowing the royal feet to touch the ground. In this way
they went at a great pace and travelled long distances in a day,
when the king was on a journey. The bearers had a special hut in the
king's enclosure in order to be at hand the moment they were wanted.
Among the Bakuba, or rather Bushongo, a nation in the southern
region of the Congo, down to a few years ago persons of the royal
blood were forbidden to touch the ground; they must sit on a hide, a
chair, or the back of a slave, who crouched on hands and feet; their
feet rested on the feet of others. When they travelled they were
carried on the backs of men; but the king journeyed in a litter
supported on shafts. Among the Ibo people about Awka, in Southern
Nigeria, the priest of the Earth has to observe many taboos; for
example, he may not see a corpse, and if he meets one on the road he
must hide his eyes with his wristlet. He must abstain from many
foods, such as eggs, birds of all sorts, mutton, dog, bush-buck, and
so forth. He may neither wear nor touch a mask, and no masked man
may enter his house. If a dog enters his house, it is killed and
thrown out. As priest of the Earth he may not sit on the bare
ground, nor eat things that have fallen on the ground, nor may earth
be thrown at him. According to ancient Brahmanic ritual a king at
his inauguration trod on a tiger's skin and a golden plate; he was
shod with shoes of boar's skin, and so long as he lived thereafter
he might not stand on the earth with his bare feet.

But besides persons who are permanently sacred or tabooed and are
therefore permanently forbidden to touch the ground with their feet,
there are others who enjoy the character of sanctity or taboo only
on certain occasions, and to whom accordingly the prohibition in
question only applies at the definite seasons during which they
exhale the odour of sanctity. Thus among the Kayans or Bahaus of
Central Borneo, while the priestesses are engaged in the performance
of certain rites they may not step on the ground, and boards are
laid for them to tread on. Warriors, again, on the war-path are
surrounded, so to say, by an atmosphere of taboo; hence some Indians
of North America might not sit on the bare ground the whole time
they were out on a warlike expedition. In Laos the hunting of
elephants gives rise to many taboos; one of them is that the chief
hunter may not touch the earth with his foot. Accordingly, when he
alights from his elephant, the others spread a carpet of leaves for
him to step upon.

Apparently holiness, magical virtue, taboo, or whatever we may call
that mysterious quality which is supposed to pervade sacred or
tabooed persons, is conceived by the primitive philosopher as a
physical substance or fluid, with which the sacred man is charged
just as a Leyden jar is charged with electricity; and exactly as the
electricity in the jar can be discharged by contact with a good
conductor, so the holiness or magical virtue in the man can be
discharged and drained away by contact with the earth, which on this
theory serves as an excellent conductor for the magical fluid. Hence
in order to preserve the charge from running to waste, the sacred or
tabooed personage must be carefully prevented from touching the
ground; in electrical language he must be insulated, if he is not to
be emptied of the precious substance or fluid with which he, as a
vial, is filled to the brim. And in many cases apparently the
insulation of the tabooed person is recommended as a precaution not
merely for his own sake but for the sake of others; for since the
virtue of holiness or taboo is, so to say, a powerful explosive
which the smallest touch may detonate, it is necessary in the
interest of the general safety to keep it within narrow bounds, lest
breaking out it should blast, blight, and destroy whatever it comes
into contact with.

2. Not to see the Sun

THE SECOND rule to be here noted is that the sun may not shine upon
the divine person. This rule was observed both by the Mikado and by
the pontiff of the Zapotecs. The latter "was looked upon as a god
whom the earth was not worthy to hold, nor the sun to shine upon."
The Japanese would not allow that the Mikado should expose his
sacred person to the open air, and the sun was not thought worthy to
shine on his head. The Indians of Granada, in South America, "kept
those who were to be rulers or commanders, whether men or women,
locked up for several years when they were children, some of them
seven years, and this so close that they were not to see the sun,
for if they should happen to see it they forfeited their lordship,
eating certain sorts of food appointed; and those who were their
keepers at certain times went into their retreat or prison and
scourged them severely." Thus, for example, the heir to the throne
of Bogota, who was not the son but the sister's son of the king, had
to undergo a rigorous training from his infancy; he lived in
complete retirement in a temple, where he might not see the sun nor
eat salt nor converse with a woman; he was surrounded by guards who
observed his conduct and noted all his actions; if he broke a single
one of the rules laid down for him, he was deemed infamous and
forfeited all his rights to the throne. So, too, the heir to the
kingdom of Sogamoso, before succeeding to the crown, had to fast for
seven years in the temple, being shut up in the dark and not allowed
to see the sun or light. The prince who was to become Inca of Peru
had to fast for a month without seeing light.

3. The Seclusion of Girls at Puberty

NOW it is remarkable that the foregoing two rules--not to touch the
ground and not to see the sun--are observed either separately or
conjointly by girls at puberty in many parts of the world. Thus
amongst the negroes of Loango girls at puberty are confined in
separate huts, and they may not touch the ground with any part of
their bare body. Among the Zulus and kindred tribes of South Africa,
when the first signs of puberty show themselves "while a girl is
walking, gathering wood, or working in the field, she runs to the
river and hides herself among the reeds for the day, so as not to be
seen by men. She covers her head carefully with her blanket that the
sun may not shine on it and shrivel her up into a withered skeleton,
as would result from exposure to the sun's beams. After dark she
returns to her home and is secluded" in a hut for some time. With
the Awa-nkonde, a tribe at the northern end of Lake Nyassa, it is a
rule that after her first menstruation a girl must be kept apart,
with a few companions of her own sex, in a darkened house. The floor
is covered with dry banana leaves, but no fire may be lit in the
house, which is called "the house of the Awasungu," that is, "of
maidens who have no hearts."

In New Ireland girls are confined for four or five years in small
cages, being kept in the dark and not allowed to set foot on the
ground. The custom has been thus described by an eye-witness. "I
heard from a teacher about some strange custom connected with some
of the young girls here, so I asked the chief to take me to the
house where they were. The house was about twenty-five feet in
length, and stood in a reed and bamboo enclosure, across the
entrance to which a bundle of dried grass was suspended to show that
it was strictly '_tabu._' Inside the house were three conical
structures about seven or eight feet in height, and about ten or
twelve feet in circumference at the bottom, and for about four feet
from the ground, at which point they tapered off to a point at the
top. These cages were made of the broad leaves of the pandanus-tree,
sewn quite close together so that no light and little or no air
could enter. On one side of each is an opening which is closed by a
double door of plaited cocoa-nut tree and pandanus-tree leaves.
About three feet from the ground there is a stage of bamboos which
forms the floor. In each of these cages we were told there was a
young woman confined, each of whom had to remain for at least four
or five years, without ever being allowed to go outside the house. I
could scarcely credit the story when I heard it; the whole thing
seemed too horrible to be true. I spoke to the chief, and told him
that I wished to see the inside of the cages, and also to see the
girls that I might make them a present of a few beads. He told me
that it was '_tabu,_' forbidden for any men but their own relations
to look at them; but I suppose the promised beads acted as an
inducement, and so he sent away for some old lady who had charge,
and who alone is allowed to open the doors. While we were waiting we
could hear the girls talking to the chief in a querulous way as if
objecting to something or expressing their fears. The old woman came
at length and certainly she did not seem a very pleasant jailor or
guardian; nor did she seem to favour the request of the chief to
allow us to see the girls, as she regarded us with anything but
pleasant looks. However, she had to undo the door when the chief
told her to do so, and then the girls peeped out at us, and, when
told to do so, they held out their hands for the beads. I, however,
purposely sat at some distance away and merely held out the beads to
them, as I wished to draw them quite outside, that I might inspect
the inside of the cages. This desire of mine gave rise to another
difficulty, as these girls were not allowed to put their feet to the
ground all the time they were confined in these places. However,
they wished to get the beads, and so the old lady had to go outside
and collect a lot of pieces of wood and bamboo, which she placed on
the ground, and then going to one of the girls, she helped her down
and held her hand as she stepped from one piece of wood to another
until she came near enough to get the beads I held out to her. I
then went to inspect the inside of the cage out of which she had
come, but could scarely put my head inside of it, the atmosphere was
so hot and stifling. It was clean and contained nothing but a few
short lengths of bamboo for holding water. There was only room for
the girl to sit or lie down in a crouched position on the bamboo
platform, and when the doors are shut it must be nearly or quite
dark inside. The girls are never allowed to come out except once a
day to bathe in a dish or wooden bowl placed close to each cage.
They say that they perspire profusely. They are placed in these
stifling cages when quite young, and must remain there until they
are young women, when they are taken out and have each a great
marriage feast provided for them. One of them was about fourteen or
fifteen years old, and the chief told us that she had been there for
five years, but would soon be taken out now. The other two were
about eight and ten years old, and they have to stay there for
several years longer."

In Kabadi, a district of British New Guinea, "daughters of chiefs,
when they are about twelve or thirteen years of age, are kept
indoors for two or three years, never being allowed, under any
pretence, to descend from the house, and the house is so shaded that
the sun cannot shine on them." Among the Yabim and Bukaua, two
neighbouring and kindred tribes on the coast of Northern New Guinea,
a girl at puberty is secluded for some five or six weeks in an inner
part of the house; but she may not sit on the floor, lest her
uncleanliness should cleave to it, so a log of wood is placed for
her to squat on. Moreover, she may not touch the ground with her
feet; hence if she is obliged to quit the house for a short time,
she is muffled up in mats and walks on two halves of a coco-nut
shell, which are fastened like sandals to her feet by creeping
plants. Among the Ot Danoms of Borneo girls at the age of eight or
ten years are shut up in a little room or cell of the house, and cut
off from all intercourse with the world for a long time. The cell,
like the rest of the house, is raised on piles above the ground, and
is lit by a single small window opening on a lonely place, so that
the girl is in almost total darkness. She may not leave the room on
any pretext whatever, not even for the most necessary purposes. None
of her family may see her all the time she is shut up, but a single
slave woman is appointed to wait on her. During her lonely
confinement, which often lasts seven years, the girl occupies
herself in weaving mats or with other handiwork. Her bodily growth
is stunted by the long want of exercise, and when, on attaining
womanhood, she is brought out, her complexion is pale and wax-like.
She is now shown the sun, the earth, the water, the trees, and the
flowers, as if she were newly born. Then a great feast is made, a
slave is killed, and the girl is smeared with his blood. In Ceram
girls at puberty were formerly shut up by themselves in a hut which
was kept dark. In Yap, one of the Caroline Islands, should a girl be
overtaken by her first menstruation on the public road, she may not
sit down on the earth, but must beg for a coco-nut shell to put
under her. She is shut up for several days in a small hut at a
distance from her parents' house, and afterwards she is bound to
sleep for a hundred days in one of the special houses which are
provided for the use of menstruous women.

In the island of Mabuiag, Torres Straits, when the signs of puberty
appear on a girl, a circle of bushes is made in a dark corner of the
house. Here, decked with shoulder-belts, armlets, leglets just below
the knees, and anklets, wearing a chaplet on her head, and shell
ornaments in her ears, on her chest, and on her back, she squats in
the midst of the bushes, which are piled so high round about her
that only her head is visible. In this state of seclusion she must
remain for three months. All this time the sun may not shine upon
her, but at night she is allowed to slip out of the hut, and the
bushes that hedge her in are then changed. She may not feed herself
or handle food, but is fed by one or two old women, her maternal
aunts, who are especially appointed to look after her. One of these
women cooks food for her at a special fire in the forest. The girl
is forbidden to eat turtle or turtle eggs during the season when the
turtles are breeding; but no vegetable food is refused her. No man,
not even her own father, may come into the house while her seclusion
lasts; for if her father saw her at this time he would certainly
have bad luck in his fishing, and would probably smash his canoe the
very next time he went out in it. At the end of the three months she
is carried down to a freshwater creek by her attendants, hanging on
to their shoulders in such a way that her feet do not touch the
ground, while the women of the tribe form a ring round her, and thus
escort her to the beach. Arrived at the shore, she is stripped of
her ornaments, and the bearers stagger with her into the creek,
where they immerse her, and all the other women join in splashing
water over both the girl and her bearers. When they come out of the
water one of the two attendants makes a heap of grass for her charge
to squat upon. The other runs to the reef, catches a small crab,
tears off its claws, and hastens back with them to the creek. Here
in the meantime a fire has been kindled, and the claws are roasted
at it. The girl is then fed by her attendants with the roasted
claws. After that she is freshly decorated, and the whole party
marches back to the village in a single rank, the girl walking in
the centre between her two old aunts, who hold her by the wrists.
The husbands of her aunts now receive her and lead her into the
house of one of them, where all partake of food, and the girl is
allowed once more to feed herself in the usual manner. A dance
follows, in which the girl takes a prominent part, dancing between
the husbands of the two aunts who had charge of her in her

Among the Yaraikanna tribe of Cape York Peninsula, in Northern
Queensland, a girl at puberty is said to live by herself for a month
or six weeks; no man may see her, though any woman may. She stays in
a hut or shelter specially made for her, on the floor of which she
lies supine. She may not see the sun, and towards sunset she must
keep her eyes shut until the sun has gone down, otherwise it is
thought that her nose will be diseased. During her seclusion she may
eat nothing that lives in salt water, or a snake would kill her. An
old woman waits upon her and supplies her with roots, yams, and
water. Some Australian tribes are wont to bury their girls at such
seasons more or less deeply in the ground, perhaps in order to hide
them from the light of the sun.

Among the Indians of California a girl at her first menstruation
"was thought to be possessed of a particular degree of supernatural
power, and this was not always regarded as entirely defiling or
malevolent. Often, however, there was a strong feeling of the power
of evil inherent in her condition. Not only was she secluded from
her family and the community, but an attempt was made to seclude the
world from her. One of the injunctions most strongly laid upon her
was not to look about her. She kept her head bowed and was forbidden
to see the world and the sun. Some tribes covered her with a
blanket. Many of the customs in this connection resembled those of
the North Pacific Coast most strongly, such as the prohibition to
the girl to touch or scratch her head with her hand, a special
implement being furnished her for the purpose. Sometimes she could
eat only when fed and in other cases fasted altogether."

Among the Chinook Indians who inhabited the coast of Washington
State, when a chief's daughter attained to puberty, she was hidden
for five days from the view of the people; she might not look at
them nor at the sky, nor might she pick berries. It was believed
that if she were to look at the sky, the weather would be bad; that
if she picked berries, it would rain; and that when she hung her
towel of cedar-bark on a spruce-tree, the tree withered up at once.
She went out of the house by a separate door and bathed in a creek
far from the village. She fasted for some days, and for many days
more she might not eat fresh food.

Amongst the Aht or Nootka Indians of Vancouver Island, when girls
reach puberty they are placed in a sort of gallery in the house "and
are there surrounded completely with mats, so that neither the sun
nor any fire can be seen. In this cage they remain for several days.
Water is given them, but no food. The longer a girl remains in this
retirement the greater honour is it to the parents; but she is
disgraced for life if it is known that she has seen fire or the sun
during this initiatory ordeal." Pictures of the mythical
thunder-bird are painted on the screens behind which she hides.
During her seclusion she may neither move nor lie down, but must
always sit in a squatting posture. She may not touch her hair with
her hands, but is allowed to scratch her head with a comb or a piece
of bone provided for the purpose. To scratch her body is also
forbidden, as it is believed that every scratch would leave a scar.
For eight months after reaching maturity she may not eat any fresh
food, particularly salmon; moreover, she must eat by herself, and
use a cup and dish of her own.

In the Tsetsaut tribe of British Columbia a girl at puberty wears a
large hat of skin which comes down over her face and screens it from
the sun. It is believed that if she were to expose her face to the
sun or to the sky, rain would fall. The hat protects her face also
against the fire, which ought not to strike her skin; to shield her
hands she wears mittens. In her mouth she carries the tooth of an
animal to prevent her own teeth from becoming hollow. For a whole
year she may not see blood unless her face is blackened; otherwise
she would grow blind. For two years she wears the hat and lives in a
hut by herself, although she is allowed to see other people. At the
end of two years a man takes the hat from her head and throws it
away. In the Bilqula or Bella Coola tribe of British Columbia, when
a girl attains puberty she must stay in the shed which serves as her
bedroom, where she has a separate fireplace. She is not allowed to
descend to the main part of the house, and may not sit by the fire
of the family. For four days she is bound to remain motionless in a
sitting posture. She fasts during the day, but is allowed a little
food and drink very early in the morning. After the four days'
seclusion she may leave her room, but only through a separate
opening cut in the floor, for the houses are raised on piles. She
may not yet come into the chief room. In leaving the house she wears
a large hat which protects her face against the rays of the sun. It
is believed that if the sun were to shine on her face her eyes would
suffer. She may pick berries on the hills, but may not come near the
river or sea for a whole year. Were she to eat fresh salmon she
would lose her senses, or her mouth would be changed into a long

Amongst the Tlingit (Thlinkeet) or Kolosh Indians of Alaska, when a
girl showed signs of womanhood she used to be confined to a little
hut or cage, which was completely blocked up with the exception of a
small air-hole. In this dark and filthy abode she had to remain a
year, without fire, exercise, or associates. Only her mother and a
female slave might supply her with nourishment. Her food was put in
at the little window; she had to drink out of the wing-bone of a
white-headed eagle. The time of her seclusion was afterwards reduced
in some places to six or three months or even less. She had to wear
a sort of hat with long flaps, that her gaze might not pollute the
sky; for she was thought unfit for the sun to shine upon, and it was
imagined that her look would destroy the luck of a hunter, fisher,
or gambler, turn things to stone, and do other mischief. At the end
of her confinement her old clothes were burnt, new ones were made,
and a feast was given, at which a slit was cut in her under lip
parallel to the mouth, and a piece of wood or shell was inserted to
keep the aperture open. Among the Koniags, an Esquimau people of
Alaska, a girl at puberty was placed in a small hut in which she had
to remain on her hands and feet for six months; then the hut was
enlarged a little so as to allow her to straighten her back, but in
this posture she had to remain for six months more. All this time
she was regarded as an unclean being with whom no one might hold

When symptoms of puberty appeared on a girl for the first time, the
Guaranis of Southern Brazil, on the borders of Paraguay, used to sew
her up in her hammock, leaving only a small opening in it to allow
her to breathe. In this condition, wrapt up and shrouded like a
corpse, she was kept for two or three days or so long as the
symptoms lasted, and during this time she had to observe a most
rigorous fast. After that she was entrusted to a matron, who cut the
girl's hair and enjoined her to abstain most strictly from eating
flesh of any kind until her hair should be grown long enough to hide
her ears. In similar circumstances the Chiriguanos of South-eastern
Bolivia hoisted the girl in her hammock to the roof, where she
stayed for a month: the second month the hammock was let half-way
down from the roof; and in the third month old women, armed with
sticks, entered the hut and ran about striking everything they met,
saying they were hunting the snake that had wounded the girl.

Among the Matacos or Mataguayos, an Indian tribe of the Gran Chaco,
a girl at puberty has to remain in seclusion for some time. She lies
covered up with branches or other things in a corner of the hut,
seeing no one and speaking to no one, and during this time she may
eat neither flesh nor fish. Meantime a man beats a drum in front of
the house. Among the Yuracares, an Indian tribe of Eastern Bolivia,
when a girl perceives the signs of puberty, her father constructs a
little hut of palm leaves near the house. In this cabin he shuts up
his daughter so that she cannot see the light, and there she remains
fasting rigorously for four days.

Amongst the Macusis of British Guiana, when a girl shows the first
signs of puberty, she is hung in a hammock at the highest point of
the hut. For the first few days she may not leave the hammock by
day, but at night she must come down, light a fire, and spend the
night beside it, else she would break out in sores on her neck,
throat, and other parts of her body. So long as the symptoms are at
their height, she must fast rigorously. When they have abated, she
may come down and take up her abode in a little compartment that is
made for her in the darkest corner of the hut. In the morning she
may cook her food, but it must be at a separate fire and in a vessel
of her own. After about ten days the magician comes and undoes the
spell by muttering charms and breathing on her and on the more
valuable of the things with which she has come in contact. The pots
and drinking-vessels which she used are broken and the fragments
buried. After her first bath, the girl must submit to be beaten by
her mother with thin rods without uttering a cry. At the end of the
second period she is again beaten, but not afterwards. She is now
"clean," and can mix again with people. Other Indians of Guiana,
after keeping the girl in her hammock at the top of the hut for a
month, expose her to certain large ants, whose bite is very painful.
Sometimes, in addition to being stung with ants, the sufferer has to
fast day and night so long as she remains slung up on high in her
hammock, so that when she comes down she is reduced to a skeleton.

When a Hindoo maiden reaches maturity she is kept in a dark room for
four days, and is forbidden to see the sun. She is regarded as
unclean; no one may touch her. Her diet is restricted to boiled
rice, milk, sugar, curd, and tamarind without salt. On the morning
of the fifth day she goes to a neighbouring tank, accompanied by
five women whose husbands are alive. Smeared with turmeric water,
they all bathe and return home, throwing away the mat and other
things that were in the room. The Rarhi Brahmans of Bengal compel a
girl at puberty to live alone, and do not allow her to see the face
of any male. For three days she remains shut up in a dark room, and
has to undergo certain penances. Fish, flesh, and sweetmeats are
forbidden her; she must live upon rice and ghee. Among the Tiyans of
Malabar a girl is thought to be polluted for four days from the
beginning of her first menstruation. During this time she must keep
to the north side of the house, where she sleeps on a grass mat of a
particular kind, in a room festooned with garlands of young coco-nut
leaves. Another girl keeps her company and sleeps with her, but she
may not touch any other person, tree or plant. Further, she may not
see the sky, and woe betide her if she catches sight of a crow or a
cat! Her diet must be strictly vegetarian, without salt, tamarinds,
or chillies. She is armed against evil spirits by a knife, which is
placed on the mat or carried on her person.

In Cambodia a girl at puberty is put to bed under a mosquito
curtain, where she should stay a hundred days. Usually, however,
four, five, ten, or twenty days are thought enough; and even this,
in a hot climate and under the close meshes of the curtain, is
sufficiently trying. According to another account, a Cambodian
maiden at puberty is said to "enter into the shade." During her
retirement, which, according to the rank and position of her family,
may last any time from a few days to several years, she has to
observe a number of rules, such as not to be seen by a strange man,
not to eat flesh or fish, and so on. She goes nowhere, not even to
the pagoda. But this state of seclusion is discontinued during
eclipses; at such times she goes forth and pays her devotions to the
monster who is supposed to cause eclipses by catching the heavenly
bodies between his teeth. This permission to break her rule of
retirement and appear abroad during an eclipse seems to show how
literally the injunction is interpreted which forbids maidens
entering on womanhood to look upon the sun.

A superstition so widely diffused as this might be expected to leave
traces in legends and folk-tales. And it has done so. The old Greek
story of Danae, who was confined by her father in a subterranean
chamber or a brazen tower, but impregnated by Zeus, who reached her
in the shape of a shower of gold, perhaps belongs to this class of
tales. It has its counterpart in the legend which the Kirghiz of
Siberia tell of their ancestry. A certain Khan had a fair daughter,
whom he kept in a dark iron house, that no man might see her. An old
woman tended her; and when the girl was grown to maidenhood she
asked the old woman, "Where do you go so often?" "My child," said
the old dame, "there is a bright world. In that bright world your
father and mother live, and all sorts of people live there. That is
where I go." The maiden said, "Good mother, I will tell nobody, but
show me that bright world." So the old woman took the girl out of
the iron house. But when she saw the bright world, the girl tottered
and fainted; and the eye of God fell upon her, and she conceived.
Her angry father put her in a golden chest and sent her floating
away (fairy gold can float in fairyland) over the wide sea. The
shower of gold in the Greek story, and the eye of God in the Kirghiz
legend, probably stand for sunlight and the sun. The idea that women
may be impregnated by the sun is not uncommon in legends, and there
are even traces of it in marriage customs.

4. Reasons for the Seclusion of Girls at Puberty

THE MOTIVE for the restraints so commonly imposed on girls at
puberty is the deeply engrained dread which primitive man
universally entertains of menstruous blood. He fears it at all times
but especially on its first appearance; hence the restrictions under
which women lie at their first menstruation are usually more
stringent than those which they have to observe at any subsequent
recurrence of the mysterious flow. Some evidence of the fear and of
the customs based on it has been cited in an earlier part of this
work; but as the terror, for it is nothing less, which the
phenomenon periodically strikes into the mind of the savage has
deeply influenced his life and institutions, it may be well to
illustrate the subject with some further examples.

Thus in the Encounter Bay tribe of South Australia there is, or used
to be, a "superstition which obliges a woman to separate herself
from the camp at the time of her monthly illness, when if a young
man or boy should approach, she calls out, and he immediately makes
a circuit to avoid her. If she is neglectful upon this point, she
exposes herself to scolding, and sometimes to severe beating by her
husband or nearest relation, because the boys are told from their
infancy, that if they see the blood they will early become
grey-headed, and their strength will fail prematurely." The Dieri of
Central Australia believe that if women at these times were to eat
fish or bathe in a river, the fish would all die and the water would
dry up. The Arunta of the same region forbid menstruous women to
gather the _irriakura_ bulbs, which form a staple article of diet
for both men and women. They think that were a woman to break this
rule, the supply of bulbs would fail.

In some Australian tribes the seclusion of menstruous women was even
more rigid, and was enforced by severer penalties than a scolding or
a beating. Thus "there is a regulation relating to camps in the
Wakelbura tribe which forbids the women coming into the encampment
by the same path as the men. Any violation of this rule would in a
large camp be punished with death. The reason for this is the dread
with which they regard the menstrual period of women. During such a
time, a woman is kept entirely away from the camp, half a mile at
least. A woman in such a condition has boughs of some tree of her
totem tied round her loins, and is constantly watched and guarded,
for it is thought that should any male be so unfortunate as to see a
woman in such a condition, he would die. If such a woman were to let
herself be seen by a man, she would probably be put to death. When
the woman has recovered, she is painted red and white, her head
covered with feathers, and returns to the camp."

In Muralug, one of the Torres Straits Islands, a menstruous woman
may not eat anything that lives in the sea, else the natives believe
that the fisheries would fail. In Galela, to the west of New Guinea,
women at their monthly periods may not enter a tobacco-field, or the
plants would be attacked by disease. The Minangkabauers of Sumatra
are persuaded that if a woman in her unclean state were to go near a
rice-field, the crop would be spoiled.

The Bushmen of South Africa think that, by a glance of a girl's eye
at the time when she ought to be kept in strict retirement, men
become fixed in whatever positions they happen to occupy, with
whatever they were holding in their hands, and are changed into
trees that talk. Cattle-rearing tribes of South Africa hold that
their cattle would die if the milk were drunk by a menstruous woman;
and they fear the same disaster if a drop of her blood were to fall
on the ground and the oxen were to pass over it. To prevent such a
calamity women in general, not menstruous women only, are forbidden
to enter the cattle enclosure; and more than that, they may not use
the ordinary paths in entering the village or in passing from one
hut to another. They are obliged to make circuitous tracks at the
back of the huts in order to avoid the ground in the middle of the
village where the cattle stand or lie down. These women's tracks may
be seen at every Caffre village. Among the Baganda, in like manner,
no menstruous woman might drink milk or come into contact with any
milk-vessel; and she might not touch anything that belonged to her
husband, nor sit on his mat, nor cook his food. If she touched
anything of his at such a time it was deemed equivalent to wishing
him dead or to actually working magic for his destruction. Were she
to handle any article of his, he would surely fall ill; were she to
touch his weapons, he would certainly be killed in the next battle.
Further, the Baganda would not suffer a menstruous woman to visit a
well; if she did so, they feared that the water would dry up, and
that she herself would fall sick and die, unless she confessed her
fault and the medicine-man made atonement for her. Among the Akikuyu
of British East Africa, if a new hut is built in a village and the
wife chances to menstruate in it on the day she lights the first
fire there, the hut must be broken down and demolished the very next
day. The woman may on no account sleep a second night in it; there
is a curse both on her and on it.

According to the Talmud, if a woman at the beginning of her period
passes between two men, she thereby kills one of them. Peasants of
the Lebanon think that menstruous women are the cause or many
misfortunes; their shadow causes flowers to wither and trees to
perish, it even arrests the movements of serpents; if one of them
mounts a horse, the animal might die or at least be disabled for a
long time.

The Guayquiries of the Orinoco believe that when a woman has her
courses, everything upon which she steps will die, and that if a man
treads on the place where she has passed, his legs will immediately
swell up. Among the Bri-bri Indians of Costa Rica a married woman at
her periods uses for plates only banana leaves, which, when she has
done with them, she throws away in a sequestered spot; for should a
cow find and eat them, the animal would waste away and perish. Also
she drinks only out of a special vessel, because any person who
should afterwards drink out of the same vessel would infallibly pine
away and die.

Among most tribes of North American Indians the custom was that
women in their courses retired from the camp or the village and
lived during the time of their uncleanness in special huts or
shelters which were appropriated to their use. There they dwelt
apart, eating and sleeping by themselves, warming themselves at
their own fires, and strictly abstaining from all communications
with men, who shunned them just as if they were stricken with the

Thus, to take examples, the Creek and kindred Indians of the United
States compelled women at menstruation to live in separate huts at
some distance from the village. There the women had to stay, at the
risk of being surprised and cut off by enemies. It was thought "a
most horrid and dangerous pollution" to go near the women at such
times; and the danger extended to enemies who, if they slew the
women, had to cleanse themselves from the pollution by means of
certain sacred herbs and roots. The Stseelis Indians of British
Columbia imagined that if a menstruous woman were to step over a
bundle of arrows, the arrows would thereby be rendered useless and
might even cause the death of their owner; and similarly that if she
passed in front of a hunter who carried a gun, the weapon would
never shoot straight again. Among the Chippeways and other Indians
of the Hudson Bay Territory, menstruous women are excluded from the
camp, and take up their abode in huts of branches. They wear long
hoods, which effectually conceal the head and breast. They may not
touch the household furniture nor any objects used by men; for their
touch "is supposed to defile them, so that their subsequent use
would be followed by certain mischief or misfortune," such as
disease or death. They must drink out of a swan's bone. They may not
walk on the common paths nor cross the tracks of animals. They "are
never permitted to walk on the ice of rivers or lakes, or near the
part where the men are hunting beaver, or where a fishing-net is
set, for fear of averting their success. They are also prohibited at
those times from partaking of the head of any animal, and even from
walking in or crossing the track where the head of a deer, moose,
beaver, and many other animals have lately been carried, either on a
sledge or on the back. To be guilty of a violation of this custom is
considered as of the greatest importance; because they firmly
believe that it would be a means of preventing the hunter from
having an equal success in his future excursions." So the Lapps
forbid women at menstruation to walk on that part of the shore where
the fishers are in the habit of setting out their fish; and the
Esquimaux of Bering Strait believe that if hunters were to come near
women in their courses they would catch no game. For a like reason
the Carrier Indians will not suffer a menstruous woman to cross the
tracks of animals; if need be, she is carried over them. They think
that if she waded in a stream or a lake, the fish would die.

Amongst the civilised nations of Europe the superstitions which
cluster round this mysterious aspect of woman's nature are not less
extravagant than those which prevail among savages. In the oldest
existing cyclopaedia--the _Natural History_ of Pliny--the list of
dangers apprehended from menstruation is longer than any furnished
by mere barbarians. According to Pliny, the touch of a menstruous
woman turned wine to vinegar, blighted crops, killed seedlings,
blasted gardens, brought down the fruit from trees, dimmed mirrors,
blunted razors, rusted iron and brass (especially at the waning of
the moon), killed bees, or at least drove them from their hives,
caused mares to miscarry, and so forth. Similarly, in various parts
of Europe, it is still believed that if a woman in her courses
enters a brewery the beer will turn sour; if she touches beer, wine,
vinegar, or milk, it will go bad; if she makes jam, it will not
keep; if she mounts a mare, it will miscarry; if she touches buds,
they will wither; if she climbs a cherry tree, it will die. In
Brunswick people think that if a menstruous woman assists at the
killing of a pig, the pork will putrefy. In the Greek island of
Calymnos a woman at such times may not go to the well to draw water,
nor cross a running stream, nor enter the sea. Her presence in a
boat is said to raise storms.

Thus the object of secluding women at menstruation is to neutralise
the dangerous influences which are supposed to emanate from them at
such times. That the danger is believed to be especially great at
the first menstruation appears from the unusual precautions taken to
isolate girls at this crisis. Two of these precautions have been
illustrated above, namely, the rules that the girls may not touch
the ground nor see the sun. The general effect of these rules is to
keep her suspended, so to say, between heaven and earth. Whether
enveloped in her hammock and slung up to the roof, as in South
America, or raised above the ground in a dark and narrow cage, as in
New Ireland, she may be considered to be out of the way of doing
mischief, since, being shut off both from the earth and from the
sun, she can poison neither of these great sources of life by her
deadly contagion. In short, she is rendered harmless by being, in
electrical language, insulated. But the precautions thus taken to
isolate or insulate the girl are dictated by a regard for her own
safety as well as for the safety of others. For it is thought that
she herself would suffer if she were to neglect the prescribed
regimen. Thus Zulu girls, as we have seen, believe that they would
shrivel to skeletons if the sun were to shine on them at puberty,
and the Macusis imagine that, if a young woman were to transgress
the rules, she would suffer from sores on various parts of her body.
In short, the girl is viewed as charged with a powerful force which,
if not kept within bounds, may prove destructive both to herself and
to all with whom she comes in contact. To repress this force within
the limits necessary for the safety of all concerned is the object
of the taboos in question.

The same explanation applies to the observance of the same rules by
divine kings and priests. The uncleanness, as it is called, of girls
at puberty and the sanctity of holy men do not, to the primitive
mind, differ materially from each other. They are only different
manifestations of the same mysterious energy which, like energy in
general, is in itself neither good nor bad, but becomes beneficent
or maleficent according to its application. Accordingly, if, like
girls at puberty, divine personages may neither touch the ground nor
see the sun, the reason is, on the one hand, a fear lest their
divinity might, at contact with earth or heaven, discharge itself
with fatal violence on either; and, on the other hand, an
apprehension that the divine being, thus drained of his ethereal
virtue, might thereby be incapacitated for the future performance of
those magical functions, upon the proper discharge of which the
safety of the people and even of the world is believed to hang. Thus
the rules in question fall under the head of the taboos which we
examined in an earlier part of this book; they are intended to
preserve the life of the divine person and with it the life of his
subjects and worshippers. Nowhere, it is thought, can his precious
yet dangerous life be at once so safe and so harmless as when it is
neither in heaven nor in earth, but, as far as possible, suspended
between the two.

LXI. The Myth of Balder

A DEITY whose life might in a sense be said to be neither in heaven
nor on earth but between the two, was the Norse Balder, the good and
beautiful god, the son of the great god Odin, and himself the
wisest, mildest, best beloved of all the immortals. The story of his
death, as it is told in the younger or prose _Edda,_ runs thus. Once
on a time Balder dreamed heavy dreams which seemed to forebode his
death. Thereupon the gods held a council and resolved to make him
secure against every danger. So the goddess Frigg took an oath from
fire and water, iron and all metals, stones and earth, from trees,
sicknesses and poisons, and from all four-footed beasts, birds, and
creeping things, that they would not hurt Balder. When this was done
Balder was deemed invulnerable; so the gods amused themselves by
setting him in their midst, while some shot at him, others hewed at
him, and others threw stones at him. But whatever they did, nothing
could hurt him; and at this they were all glad. Only Loki, the
mischief-maker, was displeased, and he went in the guise of an old
woman to Frigg, who told him that the weapons of the gods could not
wound Balder, since she had made them all swear not to hurt him.
Then Loki asked, "Have all things sworn to spare Balder?" She
answered, "East of Walhalla grows a plant called mistletoe; it
seemed to me too young to swear." So Loki went and pulled the
mistletoe and took it to the assembly of the gods. There he found
the blind god Hother standing at the outside of the circle. Loki
asked him, "Why do you not shoot at Balder?" Hother answered,
"Because I do not see where he stands; besides I have no weapon."
Then said Loki, "Do like the rest and show Balder honour, as they
all do. I will show you where he stands, and do you shoot at him
with this twig." Hother took the mistletoe and threw it at Balder,
as Loki directed him. The mistletoe struck Balder and pierced him
through and through, and he fell down dead. And that was the
greatest misfortune that ever befell gods and men. For a while the
gods stood speechless, then they lifted up their voices and wept
bitterly. They took Balder's body and brought it to the sea-shore.
There stood Balder's ship; it was called Ringhorn, and was the
hugest of all ships. The gods wished to launch the ship and to burn
Balder's body on it, but the ship would not stir. So they sent for a
giantess called Hyrrockin. She came riding on a wolf and gave the
ship such a push that fire flashed from the rollers and all the
earth shook. Then Balder's body was taken and placed on the funeral
pile upon his ship. When his wife Nanna saw that, her heart burst
for sorrow and she died. So she was laid on the funeral pile with
her husband, and fire was put to it. Balder's horse, too, with all
its trappings, was burned on the pile.

Whether he was a real or merely a mythical personage, Balder was
worshipped in Norway. On one of the bays of the beautiful Sogne
Fiord, which penetrates far into the depths of the solemn Norwegian
mountains, with their sombre pine-forests and their lofty cascades
dissolving into spray before they reach the dark water of the fiord
far below, Balder had a great sanctuary. It was called Balder's
Grove. A palisade enclosed the hallowed ground, and within it stood
a spacious temple with the images of many gods, but none of them was
worshipped with such devotion as Balder. So great was the awe with
which the heathen regarded the place that no man might harm another
there, nor steal his cattle, nor defile himself with women. But
women cared for the images of the gods in the temple; they warmed
them at the fire, anointed them with oil, and dried them with

Whatever may be thought of an historical kernel underlying a
mythical husk in the legend of Balder, the details of the story
suggest that it belongs to that class of myths which have been
dramatised an ritual, or, to put it otherwise, which have been
performed as magical ceremonies for the sake of producing those
natural effects which they describe in figurative language. A myth
is never so graphic and precise in its details as when it is, so to
speak, the book of the words which are spoken and acted by the
performers of the sacred rite. That the Norse story of Balder was a
myth of this sort will become probable if we can prove that
ceremonies resembling the incidents in the tale have been performed
by Norsemen and other European peoples. Now the main incidents in
the tale are two--first, the pulling of the mistletoe, and second,
the death and burning of the god; and both of them may perhaps be

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