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The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

Part 19 out of 19

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covered with boils. This belief instigates to many deeds of
darkness; for a sly rogue will sometimes surreptitiously administer
the magical drug to his enemy in his food, and having thus smuggled
the other's soul into an animal will destroy the creature, and with
it the man whose soul is lodged in it.

The negroes of Calabar, at the mouth of the Niger, believe that
every person has four souls, one of which always lives outside of
his or her body in the form of a wild beast in the forest. This
external soul, or bush soul, as Miss Kingsley calls it, may be
almost any animal, for example, a leopard, a fish, or a tortoise;
but it is never a domestic animal and never a plant. Unless he is
gifted with second sight, a man cannot see his own bush soul, but a
diviner will often tell him what sort of creature his bush soul is,
and after that the man will be careful not to kill any animal of
that species, and will strongly object to any one else doing so. A
man and his sons have usually the same sort of animals for their
bush souls, and so with a mother and her daughters. But sometimes
all the children of a family take after the bush soul of their
father; for example, if his external soul is a leopard, all his sons
and daughters will have leopards for their external souls. And on
the other hand, sometimes they all take after their mother; for
instance, if her external soul is a tortoise, all the external souls
of her sons and daughters will be tortoises too. So intimately bound
up is the life of the man with that of the animal which he regards
as his external or bush soul, that the death or injury of the animal
necessarily entails the death or injury of the man. And, conversely,
when the man dies, his bush soul can no longer find a place of rest,
but goes mad and rushes into the fire or charges people and is
knocked on the head, and that is an end of it.

Near Eket in North Calabar there is a sacred lake, the fish of which
are carefully preserved because the people believe that their own
souls are lodged in the fish, and that with every fish killed a
human life would be simultaneously extinguished. In the Calabar
River not very many years ago there used to be a huge old crocodile,
popularly supposed to contain the external soul of a chief who
resided in the flesh at Duke Town. Sporting vice-consuls used from
time to time to hunt the animal, and once an officer contrived to
hit it. Forthwith the chief was laid up with a wound in his leg. He
gave out that a dog had bitten him, but no doubt the wise shook
their heads and refused to be put off with so flimsy a pretext.
Again, among several tribes on the banks of the Niger between Lokoja
and the delta there prevails "a belief in the possibility of a man
possessing an _alter ego_ in the form of some animal such as a
crocodile or a hippopotamus. It is believed that such a person's
life is bound up with that of the animal to such an extent that,
whatever affects the one produces a corresponding impression upon
the other, and that if one dies the other must speedily do so too.
It happened not very long ago that an Englishman shot a hippopotamus
close to a native village; the friends of a woman who died the same
night in the village demanded and eventually obtained five pounds as
compensation for the murder of the woman."

Amongst the Zapotecs of Central America, when a woman was about to
be confined, her relations assembled in the hut, and began to draw
on the floor figures of different animals, rubbing each one out as
soon as it was completed. This went on till the moment of birth, and
the figure that then remained sketched upon the ground was called
the child's _tona_ or second self. "When the child grew old enough,
he procured the animal that represented him and took care of it, as
it was believed that health and existence were bound up with that of
the animal's, in fact that the death of both would occur
simultaneously," or rather that when the animal died the man would
die too. Among the Indians of Guatemala and Honduras the _nagual_ or
_naual_ is "that animate or inanimate object, generally an animal,
which stands in a parallel relation to a particular man, so that the
weal and woe of the man depend on the fate of the _nagual._"
According to an old writer, many Indians of Guatemala "are deluded
by the devil to believe that their life dependeth upon the life of
such and such a beast (which they take unto them as their familiar
spirit), and think that when that beast dieth they must die; when he
is chased, their hearts pant; when he is faint, they are faint; nay,
it happeneth that by the devil's delusion they appear in the shape
of that beast (which commonly by their choice is a buck, or doe, a
lion, or tigre, or dog, or eagle) and in that shape have been shot
at and wounded." The Indians were persuaded that the death of their
_nagual_ would entail their own. Legend affirms that in the first
battles with the Spaniards on the plateau of Quetzaltenango the
_naguals_ of the Indian chiefs fought in the form of serpents. The
_nagual_ of the highest chief was especially conspicuous, because it
had the form of a great bird, resplendent in green plumage. The
Spanish general Pedro de Alvarado killed the bird with his lance,
and at the same moment the Indian chief fell dead to the ground.

In many tribes of South-Eastern Australia each sex used to regard a
particular species of animals in the same way that a Central
American Indian regarded his _nagual,_ but with this difference,
that whereas the Indian apparently knew the individual animal with
which his life was bound up, the Australians only knew that each of
their lives was bound up with some one animal of the species, but
they could not say with which. The result naturally was that every
man spared and protected all the animals of the species with which
the lives of the men were bound up; and every woman spared and
protected all the animals of the species with which the lives of the
women were bound up; because no one knew but that the death of any
animal of the respective species might entail his or her own; just
as the killing of the green bird was immediately followed by the
death of the Indian chief, and the killing of the parrot by the
death of Punchkin in the fairy tale. Thus, for example, the
Wotjobaluk tribe of South-Eastern Australia "held that 'the life of
Ngunungunut (the Bat) is the life of a man, and the life of
Yártatgurk (the Nightjar) is the life of a woman,' and that when
either of these creatures is killed the life of some man or of some
woman is shortened. In such a case every man or every woman in the
camp feared that he or she might be the victim, and from this cause
great fights arose in this tribe. I learn that in these fights, men
on one side and women on the other, it was not at all certain which
would be victorious, for at times the women gave the men a severe
drubbing with their yamsticks, while often women were injured or
killed by spears." The Wotjobaluk said that the bat was the man's
"brother" and that the nightjar was his "wife." The particular
species of animals with which the lives of the sexes were believed
to be respectively bound up varied somewhat from tribe to tribe.
Thus whereas among the Wotjobaluk the bat was the animal of the men,
at Gunbower Creek on the Lower Murray the bat seems to have been the
animal of the women, for the natives would not kill it for the
reason that "if it was killed, one of their lubras [women] would be
sure to die in consequence." But whatever the particular sorts of
creature with which the lives of men and women were believed to be
bound up, the belief itself and the fights to which it gave rise are
known to have prevailed over a large part of South-Eastern
Australia, and probably they extended much farther. The belief was a
very serious one, and so consequently were the fights which sprang
from it. Thus among some tribes of Victoria "the common bat belongs
to the men, who protect it against injury, even to the half-killing
of their wives for its sake. The fern owl, or large goatsucker,
belongs to the women, and, although a bird of evil omen, creating
terror at night by its cry, it is jealously protected by them. If a
man kills one, they are as much enraged as if it was one of their
children, and will strike him with their long poles."

The jealous protection thus afforded by Australian men and women to
bats and owls respectively (for bats and owls seem to be the
creatures usually allotted to the two sexes) is not based upon
purely selfish considerations. For each man believes that not only
his own life but the lives of his father, brothers, sons, and so on
are bound up with the lives of particular bats, and that therefore
in protecting the bat species he is protecting the lives of all his
male relations as well as his own. Similarly, each woman believes
that the lives of her mother, sisters, daughters, and so forth,
equally with her own, are bound up with the lives of particular
owls, and that in guarding the owl species she is guarding the lives
of all her female relations besides her own. Now, when men's lives
are thus supposed to be contained in certain animals, it is obvious
that the animals can hardly be distinguished from the men, or the
men from the animals. If my brother John's life is in a bat, then,
on the one hand, the bat is my brother as well as John; and, on the
other hand, John is in a sense a bat, since his life is in a bat.
Similarly, if my sister Mary's life is in an owl, then the owl is my
sister and Mary is an owl. This is a natural enough conclusion, and
the Australians have not failed to draw it. When the bat is the
man's animal, it is called his brother; and when the owl is the
woman's animal, it is called her sister. And conversely a man
addresses a woman as an owl, and she addresses him as a bat. So with
the other animals allotted to the sexes respectively in other
tribes. For example, among the Kurnai all emu-wrens were "brothers"
of the men, and all the men were emu-wrens; all superb warblers were
"sisters" of the women, and all the women were superb warblers.

But when a savage names himself after an animal, calls it his
brother, and refuses to kill it, the animal is said to be his totem.
Accordingly in the tribes of South-Eastern Australia which we have
been considering the bat and the owl, the emu-wren and the superb
warbler, may properly be described as totems of the sexes. But the
assignation of a totem to a sex is comparatively rare, and has
hitherto been discovered nowhere but in Australia. Far more commonly
the totem is appropriated not to a sex, but to a clan, and is
hereditary either in the male or female line. The relation of an
individual to the clan totem does not differ in kind from his
relation to the sex totem; he will not kill it, he speaks of it as
his brother, and he calls himself by its name. Now if the relations
are similar, the explanation which holds good of the one ought
equally to hold good of the other. Therefore, the reason why a clan
revere a particular species of animals or plants (for the clan totem
may be a plant) and call themselves after it, would seem to be a
belief that the life of each individual of the clan is bound up with
some one animal or plant of the species, and that his or her death
would be the consequence of killing that particular animal, or
destroying that particular plant. This explanation of totemism
squares very well with Sir George Grey's definition of a totem or
_kobong_ in Western Australia. He says: "A certain mysterious
connexion exists between a family and its _kobong,_ so that a member
of the family will never kill an animal of the species to which his
_kobong_ belongs, should he find it asleep; indeed he always kills
it reluctantly, and never without affording it a chance to escape.
This arises from the family belief that some one individual of the
species is their nearest friend, to kill whom would be a great
crime, and to be carefully avoided. Similarly, a native who has a
vegetable for his _kobong_ may not gather it under certain
circumstances, and at a particular period of the year." Here it will
be observed that though each man spares all the animals or plants of
the species, they are not all equally precious to him; far from it,
out of the whole species there is only one which is specially dear
to him; but as he does not know which the dear one is, he is obliged
to spare them all from fear of injuring the one. Again, this
explanation of the clan totem harmonises with the supposed effect of
killing one of the totem species. "One day one of the blacks killed
a crow. Three or four days afterwards a Boortwa (crow) [_i.e._ a man
of the Crow clan] named Larry died. He had been ailing for some
days, but the killing of his _wingong_ [totem] hastened his death."
Here the killing of the crow caused the death of a man of the Crow
clan, exactly as, in the case of the sex-totems, the killing of a
bat causes the death of a Bat-man or the killing of an owl causes
the death of an Owl-woman. Similarly, the killing of his _nagual_
causes the death of a Central American Indian, the killing of his
bush soul causes the death of a Calabar negro, the killing of his
_tamaniu_ causes the death of a Banks Islander, and the killing of
the animal in which his life is stowed away causes the death of the
giant or warlock in the fairy tale.

Thus it appears that the story of "The giant who had no heart in his
body" may perhaps furnish the key to the relation which is supposed
to subsist between a man and his totem. The totem, on this theory,
is simply the receptacle in which a man keeps his life, as Punchkin
kept his life in a parrot, and Bidasari kept her soul in a golden
fish. It is no valid objection to this view that when a savage has
both a sex totem and a clan totem his life must be bound up with two
different animals, the death of either of which would entail his
own. If a man has more vital places than one in his body, why, the
savage may think, should he not have more vital places than one
outside it? Why, since he can put his life outside himself, should
he not transfer one portion of it to one animal and another to
another? The divisibility of life, or, to put it otherwise, the
plurality of souls, is an idea suggested by many familiar facts, and
has commended itself to philosophers like Plato, as well as to
savages. It is only when the notion of a soul, from being a
quasi-scientific hypothesis, becomes a theological dogma that its
unity and indivisibility are insisted upon as essential. The savage,
unshackled by dogma, is free to explain the facts of life by the
assumption of as many souls as he thinks necessary. Hence, for
example, the Caribs supposed that there was one soul in the head,
another in the heart, and other souls at all the places where an
artery is felt pulsating. Some of the Hidatsa Indians explain the
phenomena of gradual death, when the extremities appear dead first,
by supposing that man has four souls, and that they quit the body,
not simultaneously, but one after the other, dissolution being only
complete when all four have departed. Some of the Dyaks of Borneo
and the Malays of the Peninsula believe that every man has seven
souls. The Alfoors of Poso in Celebes are of opinion that he has
three. The natives of Laos suppose that the body is the seat of
thirty spirits, which reside in the hands, the feet, the mouth, the
eyes, and so on. Hence, from the primitive point of view, it is
perfectly possible that a savage should have one soul in his sex
totem and another in his clan totem. However, as I have observed,
sex totems have been found nowhere but in Australia; so that as a
rule the savage who practises totemism need not have more than one
soul out of his body at a time.

If this explanation of the totem as a receptacle in which a man
keeps his soul or one of his souls is correct, we should expect to
find some totemic people of whom it is expressly said that every man
amongst them is believed to keep at least one soul permanently out
of his body, and that the destruction of this external soul is
supposed to entail the death of its owner. Such a people are the
Bataks of Sumatra. The Bataks are divided into exogamous clans
(_margas_) with descent in the male line; and each clan is forbidden
to eat the flesh of a particular animal. One clan may not eat the
tiger, another the ape, another the crocodile, another the dog,
another the cat, another the dove, another the white buffalo, and
another the locust. The reason given by members of a clan for
abstaining from the flesh of the particular animal is either that
they are descended from animals of that species, and that their
souls after death may transmigrate into the animals, or that they or
their forefathers have been under certain obligations to the
creatures. Sometimes, but not always, the clan bears the name of the
animal. Thus the Bataks have totemism in full. But, further, each
Batak believes that he has seven or, on a more moderate computation,
three souls. One of these souls is always outside the body, but
nevertheless whenever it dies, however far away it may be at the
time, that same moment the man dies also. The writer who mentions
this belief says nothing about the Batak totems; but on the analogy
of the Australian, Central American, and African evidence we may
conjecture that the external soul, whose death entails the death of
the man, is housed in the totemic animal or plant.

Against this view it can hardly be thought to militate that the
Batak does not in set terms affirm his external soul to be in his
totem, but alleges other grounds for respecting the sacred animal or
plant of his clan. For if a savage seriously believes that his life
is bound up with an external object, it is in the last degree
unlikely that he will let any stranger into the secret. In all that
touches his inmost life and beliefs the savage is exceedingly
suspicious and reserved; Europeans have resided among savages for
years without discovering some of their capital articles of faith,
and in the end the discovery has often been the result of accident.
Above all, the savage lives in an intense and perpetual dread of
assassination by sorcery; the most trifling relics of his
person--the clippings of his hair and nails, his spittle, the
remnants of his food, his very name--all these may, he fancies, be
turned by the sorcerer to his destruction, and he is therefore
anxiously careful to conceal or destroy them. But if in matters such
as these, which are but the outposts and outworks of his life, he is
so shy and secretive, how close must be the concealment, how
impenetrable the reserve in which he enshrouds the inner keep and
citadel of his being! When the princess in the fairy tale asks the
giant where he keeps his soul, he often gives false or evasive
answers, and it is only after much coaxing and wheedling that the
secret is at last wrung from him. In his jealous reticence the giant
resembles the timid and furtive savage; but whereas the exigencies
of the story demand that the giant should at last reveal his secret,
no such obligation is laid on the savage; and no inducement that can
be offered is likely to tempt him to imperil his soul by revealing
its hiding-place to a stranger. It is therefore no matter for
surprise that the central mystery of the savage's life should so
long have remained a secret, and that we should be left to piece it
together from scattered hints and fragments and from the
recollections of it which linger in fairy tales.

4. The Ritual of Death and Resurrection

THIS view of totemism throws light on a class of religious rites of
which no adequate explanation, so far as I am aware, has yet been
offered. Amongst many savage tribes, especially such as are known to
practice totemism, it is customary for lads at puberty to undergo
certain initiatory rites, of which one of the commonest is a
pretence of killing the lad and bringing him to life again. Such
rites become intelligible if we suppose that their substance
consists in extracting the youth's soul in order to transfer it to
his totem. For the extraction of his soul would naturally be
supposed to kill the youth or at least to throw him into a
death-like trance, which the savage hardly distinguishes from death.
His recovery would then be attributed either to the gradual recovery
of his system from the violent shock which it had received, or, more
probably, to the infusion into him of fresh life drawn from the
totem. Thus the essence of these initiatory rites, so far as they
consist in a simulation of death and resurrection, would be an
exchange of life or souls between the man and his totem. The
primitive belief in the possibility of such an exchange of souls
comes clearly out in a story of a Basque hunter who affirmed that he
had been killed by a bear, but that the bear had, after killing him,
breathed its own soul into him, so that the bear's body was now
dead, but he himself was a bear, being animated by the bear's soul.
This revival of the dead hunter as a bear is exactly analogous to
what, on the theory here suggested, is supposed to take place in the
ceremony of killing a lad at puberty and bringing him to life again.
The lad dies as a man and comes to life again as an animal; the
animal's soul is now in him, and his human soul is in the animal.
With good right, therefore, does he call himself a Bear or a Wolf,
etc., according to his totem; and with good right does he treat the
bears or the wolves, etc., as his brethren, since in these animals
are lodged the souls of himself and his kindred.

Examples of this supposed death and resurrection at initiation are
as follows. In the Wonghi or Wonghibon tribe of New South Wales the
youths on approaching manhood are initiated at a secret ceremony,
which none but initiated men may witness. Part of the proceedings
consists in knocking out a tooth and giving a new name to the
novice, indicative of the change from youth to manhood. While the
teeth are being knocked out an instrument known as a bull-roarer,
which consists of a flat piece of wood with serrated edges tied to
the end of a string, is swung round so as to produce a loud humming
noise. The uninitiated are not allowed to see this instrument. Women
are forbidden to witness the ceremonies under pain of death. It is
given out that the youths are each met in turn by a mythical being,
called Thuremlin (more commonly known as Daramulun) who takes the
youth to a distance, kills him, and in some instances cuts him up,
after which he restores him to life and knocks out a tooth. Their
belief in the power of Thuremlin is said to be undoubted.

The Ualaroi of the Upper Darling River said that at initiation the
boy met a ghost, who killed him and brought him to life again as a
young man. Among the natives on the Lower Lachlan and Murray Rivers
it was Thrumalun (Daramulun) who was thought to slay and resuscitate
the novices. In the Unmatjera tribe of Central Australia women and
children believe that a spirit called Twanyirika kills the youth and
afterwards brings him to life again during the period of initiation.
The rites of initiation in this tribe, as in the other Central
tribes, comprise the operations of circumcision and subincision; and
as soon as the second of these has been performed on him, the young
man receives from his father a sacred stick (_churinga_), with
which, he is told, his spirit was associated in the remotest past.
While he is out in the bush recovering from his wounds, he must
swing the bull-roarer, or a being who lives up in the sky will swoop
down and carry him off. In the Binbinga tribe, on the western coast
of the Gulf of Carpentaria, the women and children believe that the
noise of the bull-roarer at initiation is made by a spirit named
Katajalina, who lives in an ant-hill and comes out and eats up the
boy, afterwards restoring him to life. Similarly among their
neighbours the Anula the women imagine that the droning sound of the
bull-roarer is produced by a spirit called Gnabaia, who swallows the
lads at initiation and afterwards disgorges them in the form of
initiated men.

Among the tribes settled on the southern coast of New South Wales,
of which the Coast Murring tribe may be regarded as typical, the
drama of resurrection from the dead was exhibited in a graphic form
to the novices at initiation. The ceremony has been described for us
by an eye-witness. A man, disguised with stringy bark fibre, lay
down in a grave and was lightly covered up with sticks and earth. In
his hand he held a small bush, which appeared to be growing in the
soil, and other bushes were stuck in the ground to heighten the
effect. Then the novices were brought and placed beside the grave.
Next, a procession of men, disguised in stringy bark fibre, drew
near. They represented a party of medicine-men, guided by two
reverend seniors, who had come on pilgrimage to the grave of a
brother medicine-man, who lay buried there. When the little
procession, chanting an invocation to Daramulun, had defiled from
among the rocks and trees into the open, it drew up on the side of
the grave opposite to the novices, the two old men taking up a
position in the rear of the dancers. For some time the dance and
song went on till the tree that seemed to grow from the grave began
to quiver. "Look there!" cried the men to the novices, pointing to
the trembling leaves. As they looked, the tree quivered more and
more, then was violently agitated and fell to the ground, while amid
the excited dancing of the dancers and the chanting of the choir the
supposed dead man spurned from him the superincumbent mass of sticks
and leaves, and springing to his feet danced his magic dance in the
grave itself, and exhibited in his mouth the magic substances which
he was supposed to have received from Daramulun in person.

Some tribes of Northern New Guinea--the Yabim, Bukaua, Kai, and
Tami--like many Australian tribes, require every male member of the
tribe to be circumcised before he ranks as a full-grown man; and the
tribal initiation, of which circumcision is the central feature, is
conceived by them, as by some Australian tribes, as a process of
being swallowed and disgorged by a mythical monster, whose voice is
heard in the humming sound of the bull-roarer. Indeed the New Guinea
tribes not only impress this belief on the minds of women and
children, but enact it in a dramatic form at the actual rites of
initiation, at which no woman or uninitiated person may be present.
For this purpose a hut about a hundred feet long is erected either
in the village or in a lonely part of the forest. It is modelled in
the shape of the mythical monster; at the end which represents his
head it is high, and it tapers away at the other end. A betel-palm,
grubbed up with the roots, stands for the backbone of the great
being and its clustering fibres for his hair; and to complete the
resemblance the butt end of the building is adorned by a native
artist with a pair of goggle eyes and a gaping mouth. When after a
tearful parting from their mothers and women folk, who believe or
pretend to believe in the monster that swallows their dear ones, the
awe-struck novices are brought face to face with this imposing
structure, the huge creature emits a sullen growl, which is in fact
no other than the humming note of bull-roarers swung by men
concealed in the monster's belly. The actual process of deglutition
is variously enacted. Among the Tami it is represented by causing
the candidates to defile past a row of men who hold bull-roarers
over their heads; among the Kai it is more graphically set forth by
making them pass under a scaffold on which stands a man, who makes a
gesture of swallowing and takes in fact a gulp of water as each
trembling novice passes beneath him. But the present of a pig,
opportunely offered for the redemption of the youth, induces the
monster to relent and disgorge his victim; the man who represents
the monster accepts the gift vicariously, a gurgling sound is heard,
and the water which had just been swallowed descends in a jet on the
novice. This signifies that the young man has been released from the
monster's belly. However, he has now to undergo the more painful and
dangerous operation of circumcision. It follows immediately, and the
cut made by the knife of the operator is explained to be a bite or
scratch which the monster inflicted on the novice in spewing him out
of his capacious maw. While the operation is proceeding, a
prodigious noise is made by the swinging of bull-roarers to
represent the roar of the dreadful being who is in the act of
swallowing the young man.

When, as sometimes happens, a lad dies from the effect of the
operation, he is buried secretly in the forest, and his sorrowing
mother is told that the monster has a pig's stomach as well as a
human stomach, and that unfortunately her son slipped into the wrong
stomach, from which it was impossible to extricate him. After they
have been circumcised the lads must remain for some months in
seclusion, shunning all contact with women and even the sight of
them. They live in the long hut which represents the monster's
belly. When at last the lads, now ranking as initiated men, are
brought back with great pomp and ceremony to the village, they are
received with sobs and tears of joy by the women, as if the grave
had given up its dead. At first the young men keep their eyes
rigidly closed or even sealed with a plaster of chalk, and they
appear not to understand the words of command which are given them
by an elder. Gradually, however, they come to themselves as if
awakening from a stupor, and next day they bathe and wash off the
crust of white chalk with which their bodies had been coated.

It is highly significant that all these tribes of New Guinea apply
the same word to the bull-roarer and to the monster, who is supposed
to swallow the novices at circumcision, and whose fearful roar is
represented by the hum of the harmless wooden instruments. Further,
it deserves to be noted that in three languages out of the four the
same word which is applied to the bull-roarer and to the monster
means also a ghost or spirit of the dead, while in the fourth
language (the Kai) it signifies "grandfather." From this it seems to
follow that the being who swallows and disgorges the novices at
initiation is believed to be a powerful ghost or ancestral spirit,
and that the bull-roarer, which bears his name, is his material
representative. That would explain the jealous secrecy with which
the sacred implement is kept from the sight of women. While they are
not in use, the bull-roarers are stowed away in the men's
club-houses, which no woman may enter; indeed no woman or
uninitiated person may set eyes on a bull-roarer under pain of
death. Similarly among the Tugeri or Kaya-Kaya, a large Papuan tribe
on the south coast of Dutch New Guinea, the name of the bull-roarer,
which they call _sosom,_ is given to a mythical giant, who is
supposed to appear every year with the south-east monsoon. When he
comes, a festival is held in his honour and bull-roarers are swung.
Boys are presented to the giant, and he kills them, but
considerately brings them to life again.

In certain districts of Viti Levu, the largest of the Fijian
Islands, the drama of death and resurrection used to be acted with
much solemnity before the eyes of young men at initiation. In a
sacred enclosure they were shown a row of dead or seemingly dead men
lying on the ground, their bodies cut open and covered with blood,
their entrails protruding. But at a yell from the high priest the
counterfeit dead men started to their feet and ran down to the river
to cleanse themselves from the blood and guts of pigs with which
they were beslobbered. Soon they marched back to the sacred
enclosure as if come to life, clean, fresh, and garlanded, swaying
their bodies in time to the music of a solemn hymn, and took their
places in front of the novices. Such was the drama of death and

The people of Rook, an island between New Guinea and New Britain,
hold festivals at which one or two disguised men, their heads
covered with wooden masks, go dancing through the village, followed
by all the other men. They demand that the circumcised boys who have
not yet been swallowed by Marsaba (the devil) shall be given up to
them. The boys, trembling and shrieking, are delivered to them, and
must creep between the legs of the disguised men. Then the
procession moves through the village again, and announces that
Marsaba has eaten up the boys, and will not disgorge them till he
receives a present of pigs, taro, and so forth. So all the
villagers, according to their means, contribute provisions, which
are then consumed in the name of Marsaba.

In the west of Ceram boys at puberty are admitted to the Kakian
association. Modern writers have commonly regarded this association
as primarily a political league instituted to resist foreign
domination. In reality its objects are purely religious and social,
though it is possible that the priests may have occasionally used
their powerful influence for political ends. The society is in fact
merely one of those widely-diffused primitive institutions, of which
a chief object is the initiation of young men. In recent years the
true nature of the association has been duly recognised by the
distinguished Dutch ethnologist, J. G. F. Riedel. The Kakian house
is an oblong wooden shed, situated under the darkest trees in the
depth of the forest, and is built to admit so little light that it
is impossible to see what goes on in it. Every village has such a
house. Thither the boys who are to be initiated are conducted
blindfold, followed by their parents and relations. Each boy is led
by the hand of two men, who act as his sponsors or guardians,
looking after him during the period of initiation. When all are
assembled before the shed, the high priest calls aloud upon the
devils. Immediately a hideous uproar is heard to proceed from the
shed. It is made by men with bamboo trumpets, who have been secretly
introduced into the building by a back door, but the women and
children think it is made by the devils, and are much terrified.
Then the priests enter the shed, followed by the boys, one at a
time. As soon as each boy has disappeared within the precincts, a
dull chopping sound is heard, a fearful cry rings out, and a sword
or spear, dripping with blood, is thrust through the roof of the
shed. This is a token that the boy's head has been cut off, and that
the devil has carried him away to the other world, there to
regenerate and transform him. So at sight of the bloody sword the
mothers weep and wail, crying that the devil has murdered their
children. In some places, it would seem, the boys are pushed through
an opening made in the shape of a crocodile's jaws or a cassowary's
beak, and it is then said that the devil has swallowed them. The
boys remain in the shed for five or nine days. Sitting in the dark,
they hear the blast of the bamboo trumpets, and from time to time
the sound of musket shots and the clash of swords. Every day they
bathe, and their faces and bodies are smeared with a yellow dye, to
give them the appearance of having been swallowed by the devil.
During his stay in the Kakian house each boy has one or two crosses
tattooed with thorns on his breast or arm. When they are not
sleeping, the lads must sit in a crouching posture without moving a
muscle. As they sit in a row cross-legged, with their hands
stretched out, the chief takes his trumpet, and placing the mouth of
it on the hands of each lad, speaks through it in strange tones,
imitating the voice of the spirits. He warns the lads, under pain of
death, to observe the rules of the Kakian society, and never to
reveal what has passed in the Kakian house. The novices are also
told by the priests to behave well to their blood relations, and are
taught the traditions and secrets of the tribe.

Meantime the mothers and sisters of the lads have gone home to weep
and mourn. But in a day or two the men who acted as guardians or
sponsors to the novices return to the village with the glad tidings
that the devil, at the intercession of the priests, has restored the
lads to life. The men who bring this news come in a fainting state
and daubed with mud, like messengers freshly arrived from the nether
world. Before leaving the Kakian house, each lad receives from the
priest a stick adorned at both ends with a cock's or cassowary's
feathers. The sticks are supposed to have been given to the lads by
the devil at the time when he restored them to life, and they serve
as a token that the youths have been in the spirit land. When they
return to their homes they totter in their walk, and enter the house
backward, as if they had forgotten how to walk properly; or they
enter the house by the back door. If a plate of food is given to
them, they hold it upside down. They remain dumb, indicating their
wants by signs only. All this is to show that they are still under
the influence of the devil or the spirits. Their sponsors have to
teach them all the common acts of life, as if they were newborn
children. Further, upon leaving the Kakian house the boys are
strictly forbidden to eat of certain fruits until the next
celebration of the rites has taken place. And for twenty or thirty
days their hair may not be combed by their mothers or sisters. At
the end of that time the high priest takes them to a lonely place in
the forest, and cuts off a lock of hair from the crown of each of
their heads. After these initiatory rites the lads are deemed men,
and may marry; it would be a scandal if they married before.

In the region of the Lower Congo a simulation of death and
resurrection is, or rather used to be, practised by the members of a
guild or secret society called _ndembo._ "In the practice of Ndembo
the initiating doctors get some one to fall down in a pretended fit,
and in that state he is carried away to an enclosed place outside
the town. This is called 'dying Ndembo.' Others follow suit,
generally boys and girls, but often young men and women. . . . They
are supposed to have died. But the parents and friends supply food,
and after a period varying, according to custom, from three months
to three years, it is arranged that the doctor shall bring them to
life again. . . . When the doctor's fee has been paid, and money
(goods) saved for a feast, the _Ndembo_ people are brought to life.
At first they pretend to know no one and nothing; they do not even
know how to masticate food, and friends have to perform that office
for them. They want everything nice that any one uninitiated may
have, and beat them if it is not granted, or even strangle and kill
people. They do not get into trouble for this, because it is thought
that they do not know better. Sometimes they carry on the pretence
of talking gibberish, and behaving as if they had returned from the
spirit-world. After this they are known by another name, peculiar to
those who have 'died Ndembo.' . . . We hear of the custom far along
on the upper river, as well as in the cataract region."

Among some of the Indian tribes of North America there exist certain
religious associations which are only open to candidates who have
gone through a pretence of being killed and brought to life again.
In 1766 or 1767 Captain Jonathan Carver witnessed the admission of a
candidate to an association called "the friendly society of the
Spirit" (_Wakon-Kitchewah_) among the Naudowessies, a Siouan or
Dacotan tribe in the region of the great lakes. The candidate knelt
before the chief, who told him that "he himself was now agitated by
the same spirit which he should in a few moments communicate to him;
that it would strike him dead, but that he would instantly be
restored again to life; to this he added, that the communication,
however terrifying, was a necessary introduction to the advantages
enjoyed by the community into which he was on the point of being
admitted. As he spoke this, he appeared to be greatly agitated; till
at last his emotions became so violent, that his countenance was
distorted, and his whole frame convulsed. At this juncture he threw
something that appeared both in shape and colour like a small bean,
at the young man, which seemed to enter his mouth, and he instantly
fell as motionless as if he had been shot." For a time the man lay
like dead, but under a shower of blows he showed signs of
consciousness, and finally, discharging from his mouth the bean, or
whatever it was that the chief had thrown at him, he came to life.
In other tribes, for example, the Ojebways, Winnebagoes, and Dacotas
or Sioux, the instrument by which the candidate is apparently slain
is the medicine-bag. The bag is made of the skin of an animal (such
as the otter, wild cat, serpent, bear, raccoon, wolf, owl, weasel),
of which it roughly preserves the shape. Each member of the society
has one of these bags, in which he keeps the odds and ends that make
up his "medicine" or charms. "They believe that from the
miscellaneous contents in the belly of the skin bag or animal there
issues a spirit or breath, which has the power, not only to knock
down and kill a man, but also to set him up and restore him to
life." The mode of killing a man with one of these medicine-bags is
to thrust it at him; he falls like dead, but a second thrust of the
bag restores him to life.

A ceremony witnessed by the castaway John R. Jewitt during his
captivity among the Indians of Nootka Sound doubtless belongs to
this class of customs. The Indian king or chief "discharged a pistol
close to his son's ear, who immediately fell down as if killed, upon
which all the women of the house set up a most lamentable cry,
tearing handfuls of hair from their heads, and exclaiming that the
prince was dead; at the same time a great number of the inhabitants
rushed into the house armed with their daggers, muskets, etc.,
enquiring the cause of their outcry. These were immediately followed
by two others dressed in wolf-skins, with masks over their faces
representing the head of that animal. The latter came in on their
hands and feet in the manner of a beast, and taking up the prince,
carried him off upon their backs, retiring in the same manner they
entered." In another place Jewitt mentions that the young prince--a
lad of about eleven years of age--wore a mask in imitation of a
wolf's head. Now, as the Indians of this part of America are divided
into totem clans, of which the Wolf clan is one of the principal,
and as the members of each clan are in the habit of wearing some
portion of the totem animal about their person, it is probable that
the prince belonged to the Wolf clan, and that the ceremony
described by Jewitt represented the killing of the lad in order that
he might be born anew as a wolf, much in the same way that the
Basque hunter supposed himself to have been killed and to have come
to life again as a bear.

This conjectural explanation of the ceremony has, since it was first
put forward, been to some extent confirmed by the researches of Dr.
Franz Boas among these Indians; though it would seem that the
community to which the chief's son thus obtained admission was not
so much a totem clan as a secret society called Tlokoala, whose
members imitated wolves. Every new member of the society must be
initiated by the wolves. At night a pack of wolves, personated by
Indians dressed in wolf-skins and wearing wolf-masks, make their
appearance, seize the novice, and carry him into the woods. When the
wolves are heard outside the village, coming to fetch away the
novice, all the members of the society blacken their faces and sing,
"Among all the tribes is great excitement, because I am Tlokoala."
Next day the wolves bring back the novice dead, and the members of
the society have to revive him. The wolves are supposed to have put
a magic stone into his body, which must be removed before he can
come to life. Till this is done the pretended corpse is left lying
outside the house. Two wizards go and remove the stone, which
appears to be quartz, and then the novice is resuscitated. Among the
Niska Indians of British Columbia, who are divided into four
principal clans with the raven, the wolf, the eagle, and the bear
for their respective totems, the novice at initiation is always
brought back by an artificial totem animal. Thus when a man was
about to be initiated into a secret society called Olala, his
friends drew their knives and pretended to kill him. In reality they
let him slip away, while they cut off the head of a dummy which had
been adroitly substituted for him. Then they laid the decapitated
dummy down and covered it over, and the women began to mourn and
wail. His relations gave a funeral banquet and solemnly burnt the
effigy. In short, they held a regular funeral. For a whole year the
novice remained absent and was seen by none but members of the
secret society. But at the end of that time he came back alive,
carried by an artificial animal which represented his totem.

In these ceremonies the essence of the rite appears to be the
killing of the novice in his character of a man and his restoration
to life in the form of the animal which is thenceforward to be, if
not his guardian spirit, at least linked to him in a peculiarly
intimate relation. It is to be remembered that the Indians of
Guatemala, whose life was bound up with an animal, were supposed to
have the power of appearing in the shape of the particular creature
with which they were thus sympathetically united. Hence it seems not
unreasonable to conjecture that in like manner the Indians of
British Columbia may imagine that their life depends on the life of
some one of that species of creature to which they assimilate
themselves by their costume. At least if that is not an article of
belief with the Columbian Indians of the present day, it may very
well have been so with their ancestors in the past, and thus may
have helped to mould the rites and ceremonies both of the totem
clans and of the secret societies. For though these two sorts of
communities differ in respect of the mode in which membership of
them is obtained--a man being born into his totem clan but admitted
into a secret society later in life--we can hardly doubt that they
are near akin and have their root in the same mode of thought. That
thought, if I am right, is the possibility of establishing a
sympathetic relation with an animal, a spirit, or other mighty
being, with whom a man deposits for safe-keeping his soul or some
part of it, and from whom he receives in return a gift of magical

Thus, on the theory here suggested, wherever totemism is found, and
wherever a pretence is made of killing and bringing to life again
the novice at initiation, there may exist or have existed not only a
belief in the possibility of permanently depositing the soul in some
external object--animal, plant, or what not--but an actual intention
of so doing. If the question is put, why do men desire to deposit
their life outside their bodies? the answer can only be that, like
the giant in the fairy tale, they think it safer to do so than to
carry it about with them, just as people deposit their money with a
banker rather than carry it on their persons. We have seen that at
critical periods the life or soul is sometimes temporarily stowed
away in a safe place till the danger is past. But institutions like
totemism are not resorted to merely on special occasions of danger;
they are systems into which every one, or at least every male, is
obliged to be initiated at a certain period of life. Now the period
of life at which initiation takes place is regularly puberty; and
this fact suggests that the special danger which totemism and
systems like it are intended to obviate is supposed not to arise
till sexual maturity has been attained, in fact, that the danger
apprehended is believed to attend the relation of the sexes to each
other. It would be easy to prove by a long array of facts that the
sexual relation is associated in the primitive mind with many
serious perils; but the exact nature of the danger apprehended is
still obscure. We may hope that a more exact acquaintance with
savage modes of thought will in time disclose this central mystery
of primitive society, and will thereby furnish the clue, not only to
totemism, but to the origin of the marriage system.

LXVIII. The Golden Bough

THUS the view that Balder's life was in the mistletoe is entirely in
harmony with primitive modes of thought. It may indeed sound like a
contradiction that, if his life was in the mistletoe, he should
nevertheless have been killed by a blow from the plant. But when a
person's life is conceived as embodied in a particular object, with
the existence of which his own existence is inseparably bound up,
and the destruction of which involves his own, the object in
question may be regarded and spoken of indifferently as his life or
his death, as happens in the fairy tales. Hence if a man's death is
in an object, it is perfectly natural that he should be killed by a
blow from it. In the fairy tales Koshchei the Deathless is killed by
a blow from the egg or the stone in which his life or death is
secreted; the ogres burst when a certain grain of sand--doubtless
containing their life or death--is carried over their heads; the
magician dies when the stone in which his life or death is contained
is put under his pillow; and the Tartar hero is warned that he may
be killed by the golden arrow or golden sword in which his soul has
been stowed away.

The idea that the life of the oak was in the mistletoe was probably
suggested, as I have said, by the observation that in winter the
mistletoe growing on the oak remains green while the oak itself is
leafless. But the position of the plant--growing not from the ground
but from the trunk or branches of the tree--might confirm this idea.
Primitive man might think that, like himself, the oak-spirit had
sought to deposit his life in some safe place, and for this purpose
had pitched on the mistletoe, which, being in a sense neither on
earth nor in heaven, might be supposed to be fairly out of harm's
way. In a former chapter we saw that primitive man seeks to preserve
the life of his human divinities by keeping them poised between
earth and heaven, as the place where they are least likely to be
assailed by the dangers that encompass the life of man on earth. We
can therefore understand why it has been a rule both of ancient and
of modern folk-medicine that the mistletoe should not be allowed to
touch the ground; were it to touch the ground, its healing virtue
would be gone. This may be a survival of the old superstition that
the plant in which the life of the sacred tree was concentrated
should not be exposed to the risk incurred by contact with the
earth. In an Indian legend, which offers a parallel to the Balder
myth, Indra swore to the demon Namuci that he would slay him neither
by day nor by night, neither with staff nor with bow, neither with
the palm of the hand nor with the fist, neither with the wet nor
with the dry. But he killed him in the morning twilight by
sprinkling over him the foam of the sea. The foam of the sea is just
such an object as a savage might choose to put his life in, because
it occupies that sort of intermediate or nondescript position
between earth and sky or sea and sky in which primitive man sees
safety. It is therefore not surprising that the foam of the river
should be the totem of a clan in India.

Again, the view that the mistletoe owes its mystic character partly
to its not growing on the ground is confirmed by a parallel
superstition about the mountain-ash or rowan-tree. In Jutland a
rowan that is found growing out of the top of another tree is
esteemed "exceedingly effective against witchcraft: since it does
not grow on the ground witches have no power over it; if it is to
have its full effect it must be cut on Ascension Day." Hence it is
placed over doors to prevent the ingress of witches. In Sweden and
Norway, also, magical properties are ascribed to a "flying-rowan"
(_flögrönn_), that is to a rowan which is found growing not in the
ordinary fashion on the ground but on another tree, or on a roof, or
in a cleft of the rock, where it has sprouted from seed scattered by
birds. They say that a man who is out in the dark should have a bit
of "flying-rowan" with him to chew; else he runs a risk of being
bewitched and of being unable to stir from the spot. Just as in
Scandinavia the parasitic rowan is deemed a countercharm to sorcery,
so in Germany the parasitic mistletoe is still commonly considered a
protection against witch-craft, and in Sweden, as we saw, the
mistletoe which is gathered on Midsummer Eve is attached to the
ceiling of the house, the horse's stall or the cow's crib, in the
belief that this renders the Troll powerless to injure man or beast.

The view that the mistletoe was not merely the instrument of
Balder's death, but that it contained his life, is countenanced by
the analogy of a Scottish superstition. Tradition ran that the fate
of the Hays of Errol, an estate in Perthshire, near the Firth of
Tay, was bound up with the mistletoe that grew on a certain great
oak. A member of the Hay family has recorded the old belief as
follows: "Among the low country families the badges are now almost
generally forgotten; but it appears by an ancient MS., and the
tradition of a few old people in Perthshire, that the badge of the
Hays was the mistletoe. There was formerly in the neighbourhood of
Errol, and not far from the Falcon stone, a vast oak of an unknown
age, and upon which grew a profusion of the plant: many charms and
legends were considered to be connected with the tree, and the
duration of the family of Hay was said to be united with its
existence. It was believed that a sprig of the mistletoe cut by a
Hay on Allhallowmas eve, with a new dirk, and after surrounding the
tree three times sunwise, and pronouncing a certain spell, was a
sure charm against all glamour or witchery, and an infallible guard
in the day of battle. A spray gathered in the same manner was placed
in the cradle of infants, and thought to defend them from being
changed for elfbairns by the fairies. Finally, it was affirmed, that
when the root of the oak had perished, 'the grass should grow in the
hearth of Errol, and a raven should sit in the falcon's nest.' The
two most unlucky deeds which could be done by one of the name of Hay
was, to kill a white falcon, and to cut down a limb from the oak of
Errol. When the old tree was destroyed I could never learn. The
estate has been sold out of the family of Hay, and of course it is
said that the fatal oak was cut down a short time before." The old
superstition is recorded in verses which are traditionally ascribed
to Thomas the Rhymer:

While the mistletoe bats on Errol's aik,
And that aik stands fast,
The Hays shall flourish, and their good grey hawk
Shall nocht flinch before the blast.

But when the root of the aik decays,
And the mistletoe dwines on its withered breast,
The grass shall grow on Errol's hearthstane,
And the corbie roup in the falcon's nest.

It is not a new opinion that the Golden Bough was the mistletoe.
True, Virgil does not identify but only compares it with mistletoe.
But this may be only a poetical device to cast a mystic glamour over
the humble plant. Or, more probably, his description was based on a
popular superstition that at certain times the mistletoe blazed out
into a supernatural golden glory. The poet tells how two doves,
guiding Aeneas to the gloomy vale in whose depth grew the Golden
Bough, alighted upon a tree, "whence shone a flickering gleam of
gold. As in the woods in winter cold the mistletoe--a plant not
native to its tree--is green with fresh leaves and twines its yellow
berries about the boles; such seemed upon the shady holm-oak the
leafy gold, so rustled in the gentle breeze the golden leaf." Here
Virgil definitely describes the Golden Bough as growing on a
holm-oak, and compares it with the mistletoe. The inference is
almost inevitable that the Golden Bough was nothing but the
mistletoe seen through the haze of poetry or of popular

Now grounds have been shown for believing that the priest of the
Arician grove--the King of the Wood--personified the tree on which
grew the Golden Bough. Hence if that tree was the oak, the King of
the Wood must have been a personification of the oakspirit. It is,
therefore, easy to understand why, before he could be slain, it was
necessary to break the Golden Bough. As an oak-spirit, his life or
death was in the mistletoe on the oak, and so long as the mistletoe
remained intact, he, like Balder, could not die. To slay him,
therefore, it was necessary to break the mistletoe, and probably, as
in the case of Balder, to throw it at him. And to complete the
parallel, it is only necessary to suppose that the King of the Wood
was formerly burned, dead or alive, at the midsummer fire festival
which, as we have seen, was annually celebrated in the Arician
grove. The perpetual fire which burned in the grove, like the
perpetual fire which burned in the temple of Vesta at Rome and under
the oak at Romove, was probably fed with the sacred oak-wood; and
thus it would be in a great fire of oak that the King of the Wood
formerly met his end. At a later time, as I have suggested, his
annual tenure of office was lengthened or shortened, as the case
might be, by the rule which allowed him to live so long as he could
prove his divine right by the strong hand. But he only escaped the
fire to fall by the sword.

Thus it seems that at a remote age in the heart of Italy, beside the
sweet Lake of Nemi, the same fiery tragedy was annually enacted
which Italian merchants and soldiers were afterwards to witness
among their rude kindred, the Celts of Gaul, and which, if the Roman
eagles had ever swooped on Norway, might have been found repeated
with little difference among the barbarous Aryans of the North. The
rite was probably an essential feature in the ancient Aryan worship
of the oak.

It only remains to ask, Why was the mistletoe called the Golden
Bough? The whitish-yellow of the mistletoe berries is hardly enough
to account for the name, for Virgil says that the bough was
altogether golden, stems as well as leaves. Perhaps the name may be
derived from the rich golden yellow which a bough of mistletoe
assumes when it has been cut and kept for some months; the bright
tint is not confined to the leaves, but spreads to the stalks as
well, so that the whole branch appears to be indeed a Golden Bough.
Breton peasants hang up great bunches of mistletoe in front of their
cottages, and in the month of June these bunches are conspicuous for
the bright golden tinge of their foliage. In some parts of Brittany,
especially about Morbihan, branches of mistletoe are hung over the
doors of stables and byres to protect the horses and cattle,
probably against witchcraft.

The yellow colour of the withered bough may partly explain why the
mistletoe has been sometimes supposed to possess the property of
disclosing treasures in the earth; for on the principles of
homoeopathic magic there is a natural affinity between a yellow
bough and yellow gold. This suggestion is confirmed by the analogy
of the marvellous properties popularly ascribed to the mythical
fern-seed, which is popularly supposed to bloom like gold or fire on
Midsummer Eve. Thus in Bohemia it is said that "on St. John's Day
fern-seed blooms with golden blossoms that gleam like fire." Now it
is a property of this mythical fern-seed that whoever has it, or
will ascend a mountain holding it in his hand on Midsummer Eve, will
discover a vein of gold or will see the treasures of the earth
shining with a bluish flame. In Russia they say that if you succeed
in catching the wondrous bloom of the fern at midnight on Midsummer
Eve, you have only to throw it up into the air, and it will fall
like a star on the very spot where a treasure lies hidden. In
Brittany treasure-seekers gather fern-seed at midnight on Midsummer
Eve, and keep it till Palm Sunday of the following year; then they
strew the seed on the ground where they think a treasure is
concealed. Tyrolese peasants imagine that hidden treasures can be
seen glowing like flame on Midsummer Eve, and that fern-seed,
gathered at this mystic season, with the usual precautions, will
help to bring the buried gold to the surface. In the Swiss canton of
Freiburg people used to watch beside a fern on St. John's night in
the hope of winning a treasure, which the devil himself sometimes
brought to them. In Bohemia they say that he who procures the golden
bloom of the fern at this season has thereby the key to all hidden
treasures; and that if maidens will spread a cloth under the
fast-fading bloom, red gold will drop into it. And in the Tryol and
Bohemia if you place fern-seed among money, the money will never
decrease, however much of it you spend. Sometimes the fern-seed is
supposed to bloom on Christmas night, and whoever catches it will
become very rich. In Styria they say that by gathering fern-seed on
Christmas night you can force the devil to bring you a bag of money.

Thus, on the principle of like by like, fern-seed is supposed to
discover gold because it is itself golden; and for a similar reason
it enriches its possessor with an unfailing supply of gold. But
while the fern-seed is described as golden, it is equally described
as glowing and fiery. Hence, when we consider that two great days
for gathering the fabulous seed are Midsummer Eve and
Christmas--that is, the two solstices (for Christmas is nothing but
an old heathen celebration of the winter solstice)--we are led to
regard the fiery aspect of the fern-seed as primary, and its golden
aspect as secondary and derivative. Fern-seed, in fact, would seem
to be an emanation of the sun's fire at the two turning-points of
its course, the summer and winter solstices. This view is confirmed
by a German story in which a hunter is said to have procured
fern-seed by shooting at the sun on Midsummer Day at noon; three
drops of blood fell down, which he caught in a white cloth, and
these blood-drops were the fern-seed. Here the blood is clearly the
blood of the sun, from which the fern-seed is thus directly derived.
Thus it may be taken as probable that fern-seed is golden, because
it is believed to be an emanation of the sun's golden fire.

Now, like fern-seed, the mistletoe is gathered either at Midsummer
or at Christmas--that is, either at the summer or at the winter
solstice--and, like fern-seed, it is supposed to possess the power
of revealing treasures in the earth. On Midsummer Eve people in
Sweden make divining-rods of mistletoe, or of four different kinds
of wood one of which must be mistletoe. The treasure-seeker places
the rod on the ground after sundown, and when it rests directly over
treasure, the rod begins to move as if it were alive. Now, if the
mistletoe discovers gold, it must be in its character of the Golden
Bough; and if it is gathered at the solstices, must not the Golden
Bough, like the golden fern-seed, be an emanation of the sun's fire?
The question cannot be answered with a simple affirmative. We have
seen that the old Aryans perhaps kindled the solstitial and other
ceremonial fires in part as sun-charms, that is, with the intention
of supplying the sun with fresh fire; and as these fires were
usually made by the friction or combustion of oak-wood, it may have
appeared to the ancient Aryan that the sun was periodically
recruited from the fire which resided in the sacred oak. In other
words, the oak may have seemed to him the original storehouse or
reservoir of the fire which was from time to time drawn out to feed
the sun. But if the life of the oak was conceived to be in the
mistletoe, the mistletoe must on that view have contained the seed
or germ of the fire which was elicited by friction from the wood of
the oak. Thus, instead of saying that the mistletoe was an emanation
of the sun's fire, it might be more correct to say that the sun's
fire was regarded as an emanation of the mistletoe. No wonder, then,
that the mistletoe shone with a golden splendour, and was called the
Golden Bough. Probably, however, like fern-seed, it was thought to
assume its golden aspect only at those stated times, especially
midsummer, when fire was drawn from the oak to light up the sun. At
Pulverbatch, in Shropshire, it was believed within living memory
that the oak-tree blooms on Midsummer Eve and the blossom withers
before daylight. A maiden who wishes to know her lot in marriage
should spread a white cloth under the tree at night, and in the
morning she will find a little dust, which is all that remains of
the flower. She should place the pinch of dust under her pillow, and
then her future husband will appear to her in her dreams. This
fleeting bloom of the oak, if I am right, was probably the mistletoe
in its character of the Golden Bough. The conjecture is confirmed by
the observation that in Wales a real sprig of mistletoe gathered on
Midsummer Eve is similarly placed under the pillow to induce
prophetic dreams; and further the mode of catching the imaginary
bloom of the oak in a white cloth is exactly that which was employed
by the Druids to catch the real mistletoe when it dropped from the
bough of the oak, severed by the golden sickle. As Shropshire
borders on Wales, the belief that the oak blooms on Midsummer Eve
may be Welsh in its immediate origin, though probably the belief is
a fragment of the primitive Aryan creed. In some parts of Italy, as
we saw, peasants still go out on Midsummer morning to search the
oak-trees for the "oil of St. John," which, like the mistletoe,
heals all wounds, and is, perhaps, the mistletoe itself in its
glorified aspect. Thus it is easy to understand how a title like the
Golden Bough, so little descriptive of its usual appearance on the
tree, should have been applied to the seemingly insignificant
parasite. Further, we can perhaps see why in antiquity mistletoe was
believed to possess the remarkable property of extinguishing fire,
and why in Sweden it is still kept in houses as a safeguard against
conflagration. Its fiery nature marks it out, on homoeopathic
principles, as the best possible cure or preventive of injury by

These considerations may partially explain why Virgil makes Aeneas
carry a glorified bough of mistletoe with him on his descent into
the gloomy subterranean world. The poet describes how at the very
gates of hell there stretched a vast and gloomy wood, and how the
hero, following the flight of two doves that lured him on, wandered
into the depths of the immemorial forest till he saw afar off
through the shadows of the trees the flickering light of the Golden
Bough illuminating the matted boughs overhead. If the mistletoe, as
a yellow withered bough in the sad autumn woods, was conceived to
contain the seed of fire, what better companion could a forlorn
wanderer in the nether shades take with him than a bough that would
be a lamp to his feet as well as a rod and staff to his hands? Armed
with it he might boldly confront the dreadful spectres that would
cross his path on his adventurous journey. Hence when Aeneas,
emerging from the forest, comes to the banks of Styx, winding slow
with sluggish stream through the infernal marsh, and the surly
ferryman refuses him passage in his boat, he has but to draw the
Golden Bough from his bosom and hold it up, and straightway the
blusterer quails at the sight and meekly receives the hero into his
crazy bark, which sinks deep in the water under the unusual weight
of the living man. Even in recent times, as we have seen, mistletoe
has been deemed a protection against witches and trolls, and the
ancients may well have credited it with the same magical virtue. And
if the parasite can, as some of our peasants believe, open all
locks, why should it not have served as an "open Sesame" in the
hands of Aeneas to unlock the gates of death?

Now, too, we can conjecture why Virbius at Nemi came to be
confounded with the sun. If Virbius was, as I have tried to show, a
tree-spirit, he must have been the spirit of the oak on which grew
the Golden Bough; for tradition represented him as the first of the
Kings of the Wood. As an oak-spirit he must have been supposed
periodically to rekindle the sun's fire, and might therefore easily
be confounded with the sun itself. Similarly we can explain why
Balder, an oak-spirit, was described as "so fair of face and so
shining that a light went forth from him," and why he should have
been so often taken to be the sun. And in general we may say that in
primitive society, when the only known way of making fire is by the
friction of wood, the savage must necessarily conceive of fire as a
property stored away, like sap or juice, in trees, from which he has
laboriously to extract it. The Senal Indians of California "profess
to believe that the whole world was once a globe of fire, whence
that element passed up into the trees, and now comes out whenever
two pieces of wood are rubbed together." Similarly the Maidu Indians
of California hold that "the earth was primarily a globe of molten
matter, and from that the principle of fire ascended through the
roots into the trunk and branches of trees, whence the Indians can
extract it by means of their drill." In Namoluk, one of the Caroline
Islands, they say that the art of making fire was taught men by the
gods. Olofaet, the cunning master of flames, gave fire to the bird
_mwi_ and bade him carry it to earth in his bill. So the bird flew
from tree to tree and stored away the slumbering force of the fire
in the wood, from which men can elicit it by friction. In the
ancient Vedic hymns of India the fire-god Agni "is spoken of as born
in wood, as the embryo of plants, or as distributed in plants. He is
also said to have entered into all plants or to strive after them.
When he is called the embryo of trees or of trees as well as plants,
there may be a side-glance at the fire produced in forests by the
friction of the boughs of trees."

A tree which has been struck by lightning is naturally regarded by
the savage as charged with a double or triple portion of fire; for
has he not seen the mighty flash enter into the trunk with his own
eyes? Hence perhaps we may explain some of the many superstitious
beliefs concerning trees that have been struck by lightning. When
the Thompson Indians of British Columbia wished to set fire to the
houses of their enemies, they shot at them arrows which were either
made from a tree that had been struck by lightning or had splinters
of such wood attached to them. Wendish peasants of Saxony refuse to
burn in their stoves the wood of trees that have been struck by
lightning; they say that with such fuel the house would be burnt
down. In like manner the Thonga of South Africa will not use such
wood as fuel nor warm themselves at a fire which has been kindled
with it. On the contrary, when lightning sets fire to a tree, the
Winamwanga of Northern Rhodesia put out all the fires in the village
and plaster the fireplaces afresh, while the head men convey the
lightning-kindled fire to the chief, who prays over it. The chief
then sends out the new fire to all his villages, and the villagers
reward his messengers for the boon. This shows that they look upon
fire kindled by lightning with reverence, and the reverence is
intelligible, for they speak of thunder and lightning as God himself
coming down to earth. Similarly the Maidu Indians of California
believe that a Great Man created the world and all its inhabitants,
and that lightning is nothing but the Great Man himself descending
swiftly out of heaven and rending the trees with his flaming arms.

It is a plausible theory that the reverence which the ancient
peoples of Europe paid to the oak, and the connexion which they
traced between the tree and their sky-god, were derived from the
much greater frequency with which the oak appears to be struck by
lightning than any other tree of our European forests. This
peculiarity of the tree has seemingly been established by a series
of observations instituted within recent years by scientific
enquirers who have no mythological theory to maintain. However we
may explain it, whether by the easier passage of electricity through
oak-wood than through any other timber, or in some other way, the
fact itself may well have attracted the notice of our rude
forefathers, who dwelt in the vast forests which then covered a
large part of Europe; and they might naturally account for it in
their simple religious way by supposing that the great sky-god, whom
they worshipped and whose awful voice they heard in the roll of
thunder, loved the oak above all the trees of the wood and often
descended into it from the murky cloud in a flash of lightning,
leaving a token of his presence or of his passage in the riven and
blackened trunk and the blasted foliage. Such trees would
thenceforth be encircled by a nimbus of glory as the visible seats
of the thundering sky-god. Certain it is that, like some savages,
both Greeks and Romans identified their great god of the sky and of
the oak with the lightning flash which struck the ground; and they
regularly enclosed such a stricken spot and treated it thereafter as
sacred. It is not rash to suppose that the ancestors of the Celts
and Germans in the forests of Central Europe paid a like respect for
like reasons to a blasted oak.

This explanation of the Aryan reverence for the oak and of the
association of the tree with the great god of the thunder and the
sky, was suggested or implied long ago by Jacob Grimm, and has been
in recent years powerfully reinforced by Mr. W. Warde Fowler. It
appears to be simpler and more probable than the explanation which I
formerly adopted, namely, that the oak was worshipped primarily for
the many benefits which our rude forefathers derived from the tree,
particularly for the fire which they drew by friction from its wood;
and that the connexion of the oak with the sky was an after-thought
based on the belief that the flash of lightning was nothing but the
spark which the sky-god up aloft elicited by rubbing two pieces of
oak-wood against each other, just as his savage worshipper kindled
fire in the forest on earth. On that theory the god of the thunder
and the sky was derived from the original god of the oak; on the
present theory, which I now prefer, the god of the sky and the
thunder was the great original deity of our Aryan ancestors, and his
association with the oak was merely an inference based on the
frequency with which the oak was seen to be struck by lightning. If
the Aryans, as some think, roamed the wide steppes of Russia or
Central Asia with their flocks and herds before they plunged into
the gloom of the European forests, they may have worshipped the god
of the blue or cloudy firmament and the flashing thunderbolt long
before they thought of associating him with the blasted oaks in
their new home.

Perhaps the new theory has the further advantage of throwing light
on the special sanctity ascribed to mistletoe which grows on an oak.
The mere rarity of such a growth on an oak hardly suffices to
explain the extent and the persistence of the superstition. A hint
of its real origin is possibly furnished by the statement of Pliny
that the Druids worshipped the plant because they believed it to
have fallen from heaven and to be a token that the tree on which it
grew was chosen by the god himself. Can they have thought that the
mistletoe dropped on the oak in a flash of lightning? The conjecture
is confirmed by the name thunder-besom which is applied to mistletoe
in the Swiss canton of Aargau, for the epithet clearly implies a
close connexion between the parasite and the thunder; indeed
"thunder-besom" is a popular name in Germany for any bushy nest-like
excrescence growing on a branch, because such a parasitic growth is
actually believed by the ignorant to be a product of lightning. If
there is any truth in this conjecture, the real reason why the
Druids worshipped a mistletoe-bearing oak above all other trees of
the forest was a belief that every such oak had not only been struck
by lightning but bore among its branches a visible emanation of the
celestial fire; so that in cutting the mistletoe with mystic rites
they were securing for themselves all the magical properties of a
thunder-bolt. If that was so, we must apparently conclude that the
mistletoe was deemed an emanation of the lightning rather than, as I
have thus far argued, of the midsummer sun. Perhaps, indeed, we
might combine the two seemingly divergent views by supposing that in
the old Aryan creed the mistletoe descended from the sun on
Midsummer Day in a flash of lightning. But such a combination is
artificial and unsupported, so far as I know, by any positive
evidence. Whether on mythical principles the two interpretations can
really be reconciled with each other or not, I will not presume to
say; but even should they prove to be discrepant, the inconsistency
need not have prevented our rude forefathers from embracing both of
them at the same time with an equal fervour of conviction; for like
the great majority of mankind the savage is above being hidebound by
the trammels of a pedantic logic. In attempting to track his devious
thought through the jungle of crass ignorance and blind fear, we
must always remember that we are treading enchanted ground, and must
beware of taking for solid realities the cloudy shapes that cross
our path or hover and gibber at us through the gloom. We can never
completely replace ourselves at the standpoint of primitive man, see
things with his eyes, and feel our hearts beat with the emotions
that stirred his. All our theories concerning him and his ways must
therefore fall far short of certainty; the utmost we can aspire to
in such matters is a reasonable degree of probability.

To conclude these enquiries we may say that if Balder was indeed, as
I have conjectured, a personification of a mistletoe-bearing oak,
his death by a blow of the mistletoe might on the new theory be
explained as a death by a stroke of lightning. So long as the
mistletoe, in which the flame of the lightning smouldered, was
suffered to remain among the boughs, so long no harm could befall
the good and kindly god of the oak, who kept his life stowed away
for safety between earth and heaven in the mysterious parasite; but
when once that seat of his life, or of his death, was torn from the
branch and hurled at the trunk, the tree fell--the god died--smitten
by a thunderbolt.

And what we have said of Balder in the oak forests of Scandinavia
may perhaps, with all due diffidence in a question so obscure and
uncertain, be applied to the priest of Diana, the King of the Wood,
at Aricia in the oak forests of Italy. He may have personated in
flesh and blood the great Italian god of the sky, Jupiter, who had
kindly come down from heaven in the lightning flash to dwell among
men in the mistletoe--the thunder-besom--the Golden Bough--growing
on the sacred oak in the dells of Nemi. If that was so, we need not
wonder that the priest guarded with drawn sword the mystic bough
which contained the god's life and his own. The goddess whom he
served and married was herself, if I am right, no other than the
Queen of Heaven, the true wife of the sky-god. For she, too, loved
the solitude of the woods and the lonely hills, and sailing overhead
on clear nights in the likeness of the silver moon looked down with
pleasure on her own fair image reflected on the calm, the burnished
surface of the lake, Diana's Mirror.

LXIX. Farewell to Nemi

WE are at the end of our enquiry, but as often happens in the search
after truth, if we have answered one question, we have raised many
more; if we have followed one track home, we have had to pass by
others that opened off it and led, or seemed to lead, to far other
goals than the sacred grove at Nemi. Some of these paths we have
followed a little way; others, if fortune should be kind, the writer
and the reader may one day pursue together. For the present we have
journeyed far enough together, and it is time to part. Yet before we
do so, we may well ask ourselves whether there is not some more
general conclusion, some lesson, if possible, of hope and
encouragement, to be drawn from the melancholy record of human error
and folly which has engaged our attention in this book.

If then we consider, on the one hand, the essential similarity of
man's chief wants everywhere and at all times, and on the other
hand, the wide difference between the means he has adopted to
satisfy them in different ages, we shall perhaps be disposed to
conclude that the movement of the higher thought, so far as we can
trace it, has on the whole been from magic through religion to
science. In magic man depends on his own strength to meet the
difficulties and dangers that beset him on every side. He believes
in a certain established order of nature on which he can surely
count, and which he can manipulate for his own ends. When he
discovers his mistake, when he recognises sadly that both the order
of nature which he had assumed and the control which he had believed
himself to exercise over it were purely imaginary, he ceases to rely
on his own intelligence and his own unaided efforts, and throws
himself humbly on the mercy of certain great invisible beings behind
the veil of nature, to whom he now ascribes all those far-reaching
powers which he once arrogated to himself. Thus in the acuter minds
magic is gradually superseded by religion, which explains the
succession of natural phenomena as regulated by the will, the
passion, or the caprice of spiritual beings like man in kind, though
vastly superior to him in power.

But as time goes on this explanation in its turn proves to be
unsatisfactory. For it assumes that the succession of natural events
is not determined by immutable laws, but is to some extent variable
and irregular, and this assumption is not borne out by closer
observation. On the contrary, the more we scrutinise that succession
the more we are struck by the rigid uniformity, the punctual
precision with which, wherever we can follow them, the operations of
nature are carried on. Every great advance in knowledge has extended
the sphere of order and correspondingly restricted the sphere of
apparent disorder in the world, till now we are ready to anticipate
that even in regions where chance and confusion appear still to
reign, a fuller knowledge would everywhere reduce the seeming chaos
to cosmos. Thus the keener minds, still pressing forward to a deeper
solution of the mysteries of the universe, come to reject the
religious theory of nature as inadequate, and to revert in a measure
to the older standpoint of magic by postulating explicitly, what in
magic had only been implicitly assumed, to wit, an inflexible
regularity in the order of natural events, which, if carefully
observed, enables us to foresee their course with certainty and to
act accordingly. In short, religion, regarded as an explanation of
nature, is displaced by science.

But while science has this much in common with magic that both rest
on a faith in order as the underlying principle of all things,
readers of this work will hardly need to be reminded that the order
presupposed by magic differs widely from that which forms the basis
of science. The difference flows naturally from the different modes
in which the two orders have been reached. For whereas the order on
which magic reckons is merely an extension, by false analogy, of the
order in which ideas present themselves to our minds, the order laid
down by science is derived from patient and exact observation of the
phenomena themselves. The abundance, the solidity, and the splendour
of the results already achieved by science are well fitted to
inspire us with a cheerful confidence in the soundness of its
method. Here at last, after groping about in the dark for countless
ages, man has hit upon a clue to the labyrinth, a golden key that
opens many locks in the treasury of nature. It is probably not too
much to say that the hope of progress--moral and intellectual as
well as material--in the future is bound up with the fortunes of
science, and that every obstacle placed in the way of scientific
discovery is a wrong to humanity.

Yet the history of thought should warn us against concluding that
because the scientific theory of the world is the best that has yet
been formulated, it is necessarily complete and final. We must
remember that at bottom the generalisations of science or, in common
parlance, the laws of nature are merely hypotheses devised to
explain that ever-shifting phantasmagoria of thought which we
dignify with the high-sounding names of the world and the universe.
In the last analysis magic, religion, and science are nothing but
theories of thought; and as science has supplanted its predecessors,
so it may hereafter be itself superseded by some more perfect
hypothesis, perhaps by some totally different way of looking at the
phenomena--of registering the shadows on the screen--of which we in
this generation can form no idea. The advance of knowledge is an
infinite progression towards a goal that for ever recedes. We need
not murmur at the endless pursuit:

Fatti non foste a viver come bruti
Ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza.

Great things will come of that pursuit, though we may not enjoy
them. Brighter stars will rise on some voyager of the future--some
great Ulysses of the realms of thought--than shine on us. The dreams
of magic may one day be the waking realities of science. But a dark
shadow lies athwart the far end of this fair prospect. For however
vast the increase of knowledge and of power which the future may
have in store for man, he can scarcely hope to stay the sweep of
those great forces which seem to be making silently but relentlessly
for the destruction of all this starry universe in which our earth
swims as a speck or mote. In the ages to come man may be able to
predict, perhaps even to control, the wayward courses of the winds
and clouds, but hardly will his puny hands have strength to speed
afresh our slackening planet in its orbit or rekindle the dying fire
of the sun. Yet the philosopher who trembles at the idea of such
distant catastrophes may console himself by reflecting that these
gloomy apprehensions, like the earth and the sun themselves, are
only parts of that unsubstantial world which thought has conjured up
out of the void, and that the phantoms which the subtle enchantress
has evoked to-day she may ban to-morrow. They too, like so much that
to common eyes seems solid, may melt into air, into thin air.

Without dipping so far into the future, we may illustrate the course
which thought has hitherto run by likening it to a web woven of
three different threads--the black thread of magic, the red thread
of religion, and the white thread of science, if under science we
may include those simple truths, drawn from observation of nature,
of which men in all ages have possessed a store. Could we then
survey the web of thought from the beginning, we should probably
perceive it to be at first a chequer of black and white, a patchwork
of true and false notions, hardly tinged as yet by the red thread of
religion. But carry your eye farther along the fabric and you will
remark that, while the black and white chequer still runs through
it, there rests on the middle portion of the web, where religion has
entered most deeply into its texture, a dark crimson stain, which
shades off insensibly into a lighter tint as the white thread of
science is woven more and more into the tissue. To a web thus
chequered and stained, thus shot with threads of diverse hues, but
gradually changing colour the farther it is unrolled, the state of
modern thought, with all its divergent aims and conflicting
tendencies, may be compared. Will the great movement which for
centuries has been slowly altering the complexion of thought be
continued in the near future? or will a reaction set in which may
arrest progress and even undo much that has been done? To keep up
our parable, what will be the colour of the web which the Fates are
now weaving on the humming loom of time? will it be white or red? We
cannot tell. A faint glimmering light illumines the backward portion
of the web. Clouds and thick darkness hide the other end.

Our long voyage of discovery is over and our bark has drooped her
weary sails in port at last. Once more we take the road to Nemi. It
is evening, and as we climb the long slope of the Appian Way up to
the Alban Hills, we look back and see the sky aflame with sunset,
its golden glory resting like the aureole of a dying saint over Rome
and touching with a crest of fire the dome of St. Peter's. The sight
once seen can never be forgotten, but we turn from it and pursue our
way darkling along the mountain side, till we come to Nemi and look
down on the lake in its deep hollow, now fast disappearing in the
evening shadows. The place has changed but little since Diana
received the homage of her worshippers in the sacred grove. The
temple of the sylvan goddess, indeed, has vanished and the King of
the Wood no longer stands sentinel over the Golden Bough. But Nemi's
woods are still green, and as the sunset fades above them in the
west, there comes to us, borne on the swell of the wind, the sound
of the church bells of Aricia ringing the Angelus. _Ave Maria!_
Sweet and solemn they chime out from the distant town and die
lingeringly away across the wide Campagnan marshes. _Le roi est
mort, vive le roi! Ave Maria!_

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