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The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

Part 8 out of 19

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horizons like a curtain. I am he who openeth his eyes and it is
light, and who shutteth them and it is dark. At his command the Nile
riseth, but the gods know not his name. I am Khepera in the morning,
I am Ra at noon, I am Tum at eve." But the poison was not taken away
from him; it pierced deeper, and the great god could no longer walk.
Then said Isis to him, "That was not thy name that thou spakest unto
me. Oh tell it me, that the poison may depart; for he shall live
whose name is named." Now the poison burned like fire, it was hotter
than the flame of fire. The god said, "I consent that Isis shall
search into me, and that my name shall pass from my breast into
hers." Then the god hid himself from the gods, and his place in the
ship of eternity was empty. Thus was the name of the great god taken
from him, and Isis, the witch, spake, "Flow away, poison, depart
from Ra. It is I, even I, who overcome the poison and cast it to the
earth; for the name of the great god hath been taken away from him.
Let Ra live and let the poison die." Thus spake great Isis, the
queen of the gods, she who knows Ra and his true name.

From this story it appears that the real name of the god, with which
his power was inextricably bound up, was supposed to be lodged, in
an almost physical sense, somewhere in his breast, from which Isis
extracted it by a sort of surgical operation and transferred it with
all its supernatural powers to herself. In Egypt attempts like that
of Isis to appropriate the power of a high god by possessing herself
of his name were not mere legends told of the mythical beings of a
remote past; every Egyptian magician aspired to wield like powers by
similar means. For it was believed that he who possessed the true
name possessed the very being of god or man, and could force even a
deity to obey him as a slave obeys his master. Thus the art of the
magician consisted in obtaining from the gods a revelation of their
sacred names, and he left no stone unturned to accomplish his end.
When once a god in a moment of weakness or forgetfulness had
imparted to the wizard the wondrous lore, the deity had no choice
but to submit humbly to the man or pay the penalty of his contumacy.

The belief in the magic virtue of divine names was shared by the
Romans. When they sat down before a city, the priests addressed the
guardian deity of the place in a set form of prayer or incantation,
inviting him to abandon the beleaguered city and come over to the
Romans, who would treat him as well as or better than he had ever
been treated in his old home. Hence the name of the guardian deity
of Rome was kept a profound secret, lest the enemies of the republic
might lure him away, even as the Romans themselves had induced many
gods to desert, like rats, the falling fortunes of cities that had
sheltered them in happier days. Nay, the real name, not merely of
its guardian deity, but of the city itself, was wrapt in mystery and
might never be uttered, not even in the sacred rites. A certain
Valerius Soranus, who dared to divulge the priceless secret, was put
to death or came to a bad end. In like manner, it seems, the ancient
Assyrians were forbidden to mention the mystic names of their
cities; and down to modern times the Cheremiss of the Caucasus keep
the names of their communal villages secret from motives of

If the reader has had the patience to follow this examination of the
superstitions attaching to personal names, he will probably agree
that the mystery in which the names of royal personages are so often
shrouded is no isolated phenomenon, no arbitrary expression of
courtly servility and adulation, but merely the particular
application of a general law of primitive thought, which includes
within its scope common folk and gods as well as kings and priests.

XXIII. Our Debt to the Savage

IT would be easy to extend the list of royal and priestly taboos,
but the instances collected in the preceding pages may suffice as
specimens. To conclude this part of our subject it only remains to
state summarily the general conclusions to which our enquiries have
thus far conducted us. We have seen that in savage or barbarous
society there are often found men to whom the superstition of their
fellows ascribes a controlling influence over the general course of
nature. Such men are accordingly adored and treated as gods. Whether
these human divinities also hold temporal sway over the lives and
fortunes of their adorers, or whether their functions are purely
spiritual and supernatural, in other words, whether they are kings
as well as gods or only the latter, is a distinction which hardly
concerns us here. Their supposed divinity is the essential fact with
which we have to deal. In virtue of it they are a pledge and
guarantee to their worshippers of the continuance and orderly
succession of those physical phenomena upon which mankind depends
for subsistence. Naturally, therefore, the life and health of such a
god-man are matters of anxious concern to the people whose welfare
and even existence are bound up with his; naturally he is
constrained by them to conform to such rules as the wit of early man
has devised for averting the ills to which flesh is heir, including
the last ill, death. These rules, as an examination of them has
shown, are nothing but the maxims with which, on the primitive view,
every man of common prudence must comply if he would live long in
the land. But while in the case of ordinary men the observance of
the rules is left to the choice of the individual, in the case of
the god-man it is enforced under penalty of dismissal from his high
station, or even of death. For his worshippers have far too great a
stake in his life to allow him to play fast and loose with it.
Therefore all the quaint superstitions, the old-world maxims, the
venerable saws which the ingenuity of savage philosophers elaborated
long ago, and which old women at chimney corners still impart as
treasures of great price to their descendants gathered round the
cottage fire on winter evenings--all these antique fancies
clustered, all these cobwebs of the brain were spun about the path
of the old king, the human god, who, immeshed in them like a fly in
the toils of a spider, could hardly stir a limb for the threads of
custom, "light as air but strong as links of iron," that crossing
and recrossing each other in an endless maze bound him fast within a
network of observances from which death or deposition alone could
release him.

Thus to students of the past the life of the old kings and priests
teems with instruction. In it was summed up all that passed for
wisdom when the world was young. It was the perfect pattern after
which every man strove to shape his life; a faultless model
constructed with rigorous accuracy upon the lines laid down by a
barbarous philosophy. Crude and false as that philosophy may seem to
us, it would be unjust to deny it the merit of logical consistency.
Starting from a conception of the vital principle as a tiny being or
soul existing in, but distinct and separable from, the living being,
it deduces for the practical guidance of life a system of rules
which in general hangs well together and forms a fairly complete and
harmonious whole. The flaw--and it is a fatal one--of the system
lies not in its reasoning, but in its premises; in its conception of
the nature of life, not in any irrelevancy of the conclusions which
it draws from that conception. But to stigmatise these premises as
ridiculous because we can easily detect their falseness, would be
ungrateful as well as unphilosophical. We stand upon the foundation
reared by the generations that have gone before, and we can but
dimly realise the painful and prolonged efforts which it has cost
humanity to struggle up to the point, no very exalted one after all,
which we have reached. Our gratitude is due to the nameless and
forgotten toilers, whose patient thought and active exertions have
largely made us what we are. The amount of new knowledge which one
age, certainly which one man, can add to the common store is small,
and it argues stupidity or dishonesty, besides ingratitude, to
ignore the heap while vaunting the few grains which it may have been
our privilege to add to it. There is indeed little danger at present
of undervaluing the contributions which modern times and even
classical antiquity have made to the general advancement of our
race. But when we pass these limits, the case is different. Contempt
and ridicule or abhorrence and denunciation are too often the only
recognition vouchsafed to the savage and his ways. Yet of the
benefactors whom we are bound thankfully to commemorate, many,
perhaps most, were savages. For when all is said and done our
resemblances to the savage are still far more numerous than our
differences from him; and what we have in common with him, and
deliberately retain as true and useful, we owe to our savage
forefathers who slowly acquired by experience and transmitted to us
by inheritance those seemingly fundamental ideas which we are apt to
regard as original and intuitive. We are like heirs to a fortune
which has been handed down for so many ages that the memory of those
who built it up is lost, and its possessors for the time being
regard it as having been an original and unalterable possession of
their race since the beginning of the world. But reflection and
enquiry should satisfy us that to our predecessors we are indebted
for much of what we thought most our own, and that their errors were
not wilful extravagances or the ravings of insanity, but simply
hypotheses, justifiable as such at the time when they were
propounded, but which a fuller experience has proved to be
inadequate. It is only by the successive testing of hypotheses and
rejection of the false that truth is at last elicited. After all,
what we call truth is only the hypothesis which is found to work
best. Therefore in reviewing the opinions and practices of ruder
ages and races we shall do well to look with leniency upon their
errors as inevitable slips made in the search for truth, and to give
them the benefit of that indulgence which we ourselves may one day
stand in need of: _cum excusatione itaque veteres audiendi sunt._

XXIV. The Killing of the Divine King

1. The Mortality of the Gods

MAN has created gods in his own likeness and being himself mortal he
has naturally supposed his creatures to be in the same sad
predicament. Thus the Greenlanders believed that a wind could kill
their most powerful god, and that he would certainly die if he
touched a dog. When they heard of the Christian God, they kept
asking if he never died, and being informed that he did not, they
were much surprised, and said that he must be a very great god
indeed. In answer to the enquiries of Colonel Dodge, a North
American Indian stated that the world was made by the Great Spirit.
Being asked which Great Spirit he meant, the good one or the bad
one, "Oh, neither of _them,_" replied he, "the Great Spirit that
made the world is dead long ago. He could not possibly have lived as
long as this." A tribe in the Philippine Islands told the Spanish
conquerors that the grave of the Creator was upon the top of Mount
Cabunian. Heitsi-eibib, a god or divine hero of the Hottentots, died
several times and came to life again. His graves are generally to be
met with in narrow defiles between mountains. When the Hottentots
pass one of them, they throw a stone on it for good luck, sometimes
muttering, "Give us plenty of cattle." The grave of Zeus, the great
god of Greece, was shown to visitors in Crete as late as about the
beginning of our era. The body of Dionysus was buried at Delphi
beside the golden statue of Apollo, and his tomb bore the
inscription, "Here lies Dionysus dead, the son of Semele." According
to one account, Apollo himself was buried at Delphi; for Pythagoras
is said to have carved an inscription on his tomb, setting forth how
the god had been killed by the python and buried under the tripod.

The great gods of Egypt themselves were not exempt from the common
lot. They too grew old and died. But when at a later time the
discovery of the art of embalming gave a new lease of life to the
souls of the dead by preserving their bodies for an indefinite time
from corruption, the deities were permitted to share the benefit of
an invention which held out to gods as well as to men a reasonable
hope of immortality. Every province then had the tomb and mummy of
its dead god. The mummy of Osiris was to be seen at Mendes; Thinis
boasted of the mummy of Anhouri; and Heliopolis rejoiced in the
possession of that of Toumou. The high gods of Babylon also, though
they appeared to their worshippers only in dreams and visions, were
conceived to be human in their bodily shape, human in their
passions, and human in their fate; for like men they were born into
the world, and like men they loved and fought and died.

2. Kings killed when their Strength fails

IF THE HIGH gods, who dwell remote from the fret and fever of this
earthly life, are yet believed to die at last, it is not to be
expected that a god who lodges in a frail tabernacle of flesh should
escape the same fate, though we hear of African kings who have
imagined themselves immortal by virtue of their sorceries. Now
primitive peoples, as we have seen, sometimes believe that their
safety and even that of the world is bound up with the life of one
of these god-men or human incarnations of the divinity. Naturally,
therefore, they take the utmost care of his life, out of a regard
for their own. But no amount of care and precaution will prevent the
man-god from growing old and feeble and at last dying. His
worshippers have to lay their account with this sad necessity and to
meet it as best they can. The danger is a formidable one; for if the
course of nature is dependent on the man-god's life, what
catastrophes may not be expected from the gradual enfeeblement of
his powers and their final extinction in death? There is only one
way of averting these dangers. The man-god must be killed as soon as
he shows symptoms that his powers are beginning to fail, and his
soul must be transferred to a vigorous successor before it has been
seriously impaired by the threatened decay. The advantages of thus
putting the man-god to death instead of allowing him to die of old
age and disease are, to the savage, obvious enough. For if the
man-god dies what we call a natural death, it means, according to
the savage, that his soul has either voluntarily departed from his
body and refuses to return, or more commonly that it has been
extracted, or at least detained in its wanderings, by a demon or
sorcerer. In any of these cases the soul of the man-god is lost to
his worshippers, and with it their prosperity is gone and their very
existence endangered. Even if they could arrange to catch the soul
of the dying god as it left his lips or his nostrils and so transfer
it to a successor, this would not effect their purpose; for, dying
of disease, his soul would necessarily leave his body in the last
stage of weakness and exhaustion, and so enfeebled it would continue
to drag out a languid, inert existence in any body to which it might
be transferred. Whereas by slaying him his worshippers could, in the
first place, make sure of catching his soul as it escaped and
transferring it to a suitable successor; and, in the second place,
by putting him to death before his natural force was abated, they
would secure that the world should not fall into decay with the
decay of the man-god. Every purpose, therefore, was answered, and
all dangers averted by thus killing the man-god and transferring his
soul, while yet at its prime, to a vigorous successor.

The mystic kings of Fire and Water in Cambodia are not allowed to
die a natural death. Hence when one of them is seriously ill and the
elders think that he cannot recover, they stab him to death. The
people of Congo believed, as we have seen, that if their pontiff the
Chitomé were to die a natural death, the world would perish, and the
earth, which he alone sustained by his power and merit, would
immediately be annihilated. Accordingly when he fell ill and seemed
likely to die, the man who was destined to be his successor entered
the pontiff's house with a rope or a club and strangled or clubbed
him to death. The Ethiopian kings of Meroe were worshipped as gods;
but whenever the priests chose, they sent a messenger to the king,
ordering him to die, and alleging an oracle of the gods as their
authority for the command. This command the kings always obeyed down
to the reign of Ergamenes, a contemporary of Ptolemy II., King of
Egypt. Having received a Greek education which emancipated him from
the superstitions of his countrymen, Ergamenes ventured to disregard
the command of the priests, and, entering the Golden Temple with a
body of soldiers, put the priests to the sword.

Customs of the same sort appear to have prevailed in this part of
Africa down to modern times. In some tribes of Fazoql the king had
to administer justice daily under a certain tree. If from sickness
or any other cause he was unable to discharge this duty for three
whole days, he was hanged on the tree in a noose, which contained
two razors so arranged that when the noose was drawn tight by the
weight of the king's body they cut his throat.

A custom of putting their divine kings to death at the first
symptoms of infirmity or old age prevailed until lately, if indeed
it is even now extinct and not merely dormant, among the Shilluk of
the White Nile, and in recent years it has been carefully
investigated by Dr. C. G. Seligman. The reverence which the Shilluk
pay to their king appears to arise chiefly from the conviction that
he is a reincarnation of the spirit of Nyakang, the semi-divine hero
who founded the dynasty and settled the tribe in their present
territory. It is a fundamental article of the Shilluk creed that the
spirit of the divine or semi-divine Nyakang is incarnate in the
reigning king, who is accordingly himself invested to some extent
with the character of a divinity. But while the Shilluk hold their
kings in high, indeed religious reverence and take every precaution
against their accidental death, nevertheless they cherish "the
conviction that the king must not be allowed to become ill or
senile, lest with his diminishing vigour the cattle should sicken
and fail to bear their increase, the crops should rot in the fields,
and man, stricken with disease, should die in ever-increasing
numbers." To prevent these calamities it used to be the regular
custom with the Shilluk to put the king to death whenever he showed
signs of ill-health or failing strength. One of the fatal symptoms
of decay was taken to be an incapacity to satisfy the sexual
passions of his wives, of whom he has very many, distributed in a
large number of houses at Fashoda. When this ominous weakness
manifested itself, the wives reported it to the chiefs, who are
popularly said to have intimated to the king his doom by spreading a
white cloth over his face and knees as he lay slumbering in the heat
of the sultry afternoon. Execution soon followed the sentence of
death. A hut was specially built for the occasion: the king was led
into it and lay down with his head resting on the lap of a nubile
virgin: the door of the hut was then walled up; and the couple were
left without food, water, or fire to die of hunger and suffocation.
This was the old custom, but it was abolished some five generations
ago on account of the excessive sufferings of one of the kings who
perished in this way. It is said that the chiefs announce his fate
to the king, and that afterwards he is strangled in a hut which has
been specially built for the occasion.

From Dr. Seligman's enquiries it appears that not only was the
Shilluk king liable to be killed with due ceremony at the first
symptoms of incipient decay, but even while he was yet in the prime
of health and strength he might be attacked at any time by a rival
and have to defend his crown in a combat to the death. According to
the common Shilluk tradition any son of a king had the right thus to
fight the king in possession and, if he succeeded in killing him, to
reign in his stead. As every king had a large harem and many sons,
the number of possible candidates for the throne at any time may
well have been not inconsiderable, and the reigning monarch must
have carried his life in his hand. But the attack on him could only
take place with any prospect of success at night; for during the day
the king surrounded himself with his friends and bodyguards, and an
aspirant to the throne could hardly hope to cut his way through them
and strike home. It was otherwise at night. For then the guards were
dismissed and the king was alone in his enclosure with his favourite
wives, and there was no man near to defend him except a few
herdsmen, whose huts stood a little way off. The hours of darkness
were therefore the season of peril for the king. It is said that he
used to pass them in constant watchfulness, prowling round his huts
fully armed, peering into the blackest shadows, or himself standing
silent and alert, like a sentinel on duty, in some dark corner. When
at last his rival appeared, the fight would take place in grim
silence, broken only by the clash of spears and shields, for it was
a point of honour with the king not to call the herdsmen to his

Like Nyakang himself, their founder, each of the Shilluk kings after
death is worshipped at a shrine, which is erected over his grave,
and the grave of a king is always in the village where he was born.
The tomb-shrine of a king resembles the shrine of Nyakang,
consisting of a few huts enclosed by a fence; one of the huts is
built over the king's grave, the others are occupied by the
guardians of the shrine. Indeed the shrines of Nyakang and the
shrines of the kings are scarcely to be distinguished from each
other, and the religious rituals observed at all of them are
identical in form and vary only in matters of detail, the variations
being due apparently to the far greater sanctity attributed to the
shrines of Nyakang. The grave-shrines of the kings are tended by
certain old men or women, who correspond to the guardians of the
shrines of Nyakang. They are usually widows or old men-servants of
the deceased king, and when they die they are succeeded in their
office by their descendants. Moreover, cattle are dedicated to the
grave-shrines of the kings and sacrifices are offered at them just
as at the shrines of Nyakang.

In general the principal element in the religion of the Shilluk
would seem to be the worship which they pay to their sacred or
divine kings, whether dead or alive. These are believed to be
animated by a single divine spirit, which has been transmitted from
the semi-mythical, but probably in substance historical, founder of
the dynasty through all his successors to the present day. Hence,
regarding their kings as incarnate divinities on whom the welfare of
men, of cattle, and of the corn implicitly depends, the Shilluk
naturally pay them the greatest respect and take every care of them;
and however strange it may seem to us, their custom of putting the
divine king to death as soon as he shows signs of ill-health or
failing strength springs directly from their profound veneration for
him and from their anxiety to preserve him, or rather the divine
spirit by which he is animated, in the most perfect state of
efficiency: nay, we may go further and say that their practice of
regicide is the best proof they can give of the high regard in which
they hold their kings. For they believe, as we have seen, that the
king's life or spirit is so sympathetically bound up with the
prosperity of the whole country, that if he fell ill or grew senile
the cattle would sicken and cease to multiply, the crops would rot
in the fields, and men would perish of widespread disease. Hence, in
their opinion, the only way of averting these calamities is to put
the king to death while he is still hale and hearty, in order that
the divine spirit which he has inherited from his predecessors may
be transmitted in turn by him to his successor while it is still in
full vigour and has not yet been impaired by the weakness of disease
and old age. In this connexion the particular symptom which is
commonly said to seal the king's death-warrant is highly
significant; when he can no longer satisfy the passions of his
numerous wives, in other words, when he has ceased, whether
partially or wholly, to be able to reproduce his kind, it is time
for him to die and to make room for a more vigorous successor. Taken
along with the other reasons which are alleged for putting the king
to death, this one suggests that the fertility of men, of cattle,
and of the crops is believed to depend sympathetically on the
generative power of the king, so that the complete failure of that
power in him would involve a corresponding failure in men, animals,
and plants, and would thereby entail at no distant date the entire
extinction of all life, whether human, animal, or vegetable. No
wonder, that with such a danger before their eyes the Shilluk should
be most careful not to let the king die what we should call a
natural death of sickness or old age. It is characteristic of their
attitude towards the death of the kings that they refrain from
speaking of it as death: they do not say that a king has died but
simply that he has "gone away" like his divine ancestors Nyakang and
Dag, the two first kings of the dynasty, both of whom are reported
not to have died but to have disappeared. The similar legends of the
mysterious disappearance of early kings in other lands, for example
at Rome and in Uganda, may well point to a similar custom of putting
them to death for the purpose of preserving their life.

On the whole the theory and practice of the divine kings of the
Shilluk correspond very nearly to the theory and practice of the
priests of Nemi, the Kings of the Wood, if my view of the latter is
correct. In both we see a series of divine kings on whose life the
fertility of men, of cattle, and of vegetation is believed to
depend, and who are put to death, whether in single combat or
otherwise, in order that their divine spirit may be transmitted to
their successors in full vigour, uncontaminated by the weakness and
decay of sickness or old age, because any such degeneration on the
part of the king would, in the opinion of his worshippers, entail a
corresponding degeneration on manking, on cattle, and on the crops.
Some points in this explanation of the custom of putting divine
kings to death, particularly the method of transmitting their divine
souls to their successors, will be dealt with more fully in the
sequel. Meantime we pass to other examples of the general practice.

The Dinka are a congeries of independent tribes in the valley of the
White Nile. They are essentially a pastoral people, passionately
devoted to the care of their numerous herds of oxen, though they
also keep sheep and goats, and the women cultivate small quantities
of millet and sesame. For their crops and above all for their
pastures they depend on the regularity of the rains: in seasons of
prolonged drought they are said to be reduced to great extremities.
Hence the rain-maker is a very important personage among them to
this day; indeed the men in authority whom travellers dub chiefs or
sheikhs are in fact the actual or potential rain-makers of the tribe
or community. Each of them is believed to be animated by the spirit
of a great rain-maker, which has come down to him through a
succession of rain-makers; and in virtue of this inspiration a
successful rain-maker enjoys very great power and is consulted on
all important matters. Yet in spite, or rather in virtue, of the
high honour in which he is held, no Dinka rain-maker is allowed to
die a natural death of sickness or old age; for the Dinka believe
that if such an untoward event were to happen, the tribe would
suffer from disease and famine, and the herds would not yield their
increase. So when a rain-maker feels that he is growing old and
infirm, he tells his children that he wishes to die. Among the Agar
Dinka a large grave is dug and the rain-maker lies down in it,
surrounded by his friends and relatives. From time to time he speaks
to the people, recalling the past history of the tribe, reminding
them how he has ruled and advised them, and instructing them how
they are to act in the future. Then, when he has concluded his
admonition, he bids them cover him up. So the earth is thrown down
on him as he lies in the grave, and he soon dies of suffocation.
Such, with minor variations, appears to be the regular end of the
honourable career of a rain-maker in all the Dinka tribes. The
Khor-Adar Dinka told Dr. Seligman that when they have dug the grave
for their rain-maker they strangle him in his house. The father and
paternal uncle of one of Dr. Seligman's informants had both been
rain-makers and both had been killed in the most regular and
orthodox fashion. Even if a rain-maker is quite young he will be put
to death should he seem likely to perish of disease. Further, every
precaution is taken to prevent a rain-maker from dying an accidental
death, for such an end, though not nearly so serious a matter as
death from illness or old age, would be sure to entail sickness on
the tribe. As soon as a rain-maker is killed, his valuable spirit is
supposed to pass to a suitable successor, whether a son or other
near blood relation.

In the Central African kingdom of Bunyoro down to recent years
custom required that as soon as the king fell seriously ill or began
to break up from age, he should die by his own hand; for, according
to an old prophecy, the throne would pass away from the dynasty if
ever the king were to die a natural death. He killed himself by
draining a poisoned cup. If he faltered or were too ill to ask for
the cup, it was his wife's duty to administer the poison. When the
king of Kibanga, on the Upper Congo, seems near his end, the
sorcerers put a rope round his neck, which they draw gradually
tighter till he dies. If the king of Gingiro happens to be wounded
in war, he is put to death by his comrades, or, if they fail to kill
him, by his kinsfolk, however hard he may beg for mercy. They say
they do it that he may not die by the hands of his enemies. The
Jukos are a heathen tribe of the Benue River, a great tributary of
the Niger. In their country "the town of Gatri is ruled by a king
who is elected by the big men of the town as follows. When in the
opinion of the big men the king has reigned long enough, they give
out that 'the king is sick'--a formula understood by all to mean
that they are going to kill him, though the intention is never put
more plainly. They then decide who is to be the next king. How long
he is to reign is settled by the influential men at a meeting; the
question is put and answered by each man throwing on the ground a
little piece of stick for each year he thinks the new king should
rule. The king is then told, and a great feast prepared, at which
the king gets drunk on guinea-corn beer. After that he is speared,
and the man who was chosen becomes king. Thus each Juko king knows
that he cannot have very many more years to live, and that he is
certain of his predecessor's fate. This, however, does not seem to
frighten candidates. The same custom of king-killing is said to
prevail at Quonde and Wukari as well as at Gatri." In the three
Hausa kingdoms of Gobir, Katsina, and Daura, in Northern Nigeria, as
soon as a king showed signs of failing health or growing infirmity,
an official who bore the title of Killer of the Elephant appeared
and throttled him.

The Matiamvo is a great king or emperor in the interior of Angola.
One of the inferior kings of the country, by name Challa, gave to a
Portuguese expedition the following account of the manner in which
the Matiamvo comes by his end. "It has been customary," he said,
"for our Matiamvos to die either in war or by a violent death, and
the present Matiamvo must meet this last fate, as, in consequence of
his great exactions, he has lived long enough. When we come to this
understanding, and decide that he should be killed, we invite him to
make war with our enemies, on which occasion we all accompany him
and his family to the war, when we lose some of our people. If he
escapes unhurt, we return to the war again and fight for three or
four days. We then suddenly abandon him and his family to their
fate, leaving him in the enemy's hands. Seeing himself thus
deserted, he causes his throne to be erected, and, sitting down,
calls his family around him. He then orders his mother to approach;
she kneels at his feet; he first cuts off her head, then decapitates
his sons in succession, next his wives and relatives, and, last of
all, his most beloved wife, called Anacullo. This slaughter being
accomplished, the Matiamvo, dressed in all his pomp, awaits his own
death, which immediately follows, by an officer sent by the powerful
neighbouring chiefs, Caniquinha and Canica. This officer first cuts
off his legs and arms at the joints, and lastly he cuts off his
head; after which the head of the officer is struck off. All the
potentates retire from the encampment, in order not to witness his
death. It is my duty to remain and witness his death, and to mark
the place where the head and arms have been deposited by the two
great chiefs, the enemies of the Matiamvo. They also take possession
of all the property belonging to the deceased monarch and his
family, which they convey to their own residence. I then provide for
the funeral of the mutilated remains of the late Matiamvo, after
which I retire to his capital and proclaim the new government. I
then return to where the head, legs, and arms have been deposited,
and, for forty slaves, I ransom them, together with the merchandise
and other property belonging to the deceased, which I give up to the
new Matiamvo, who has been proclaimed. This is what has happened to
many Matiamvos, and what must happen to the present one."

It appears to have been a Zulu custom to put the king to death as
soon as he began to have wrinkles or grey hairs. At least this seems
implied in the following passage written by one who resided for some
time at the court of the notorious Zulu tyrant Chaka, in the early
part of the nineteenth century: "The extraordinary violence of the
king's rage with me was mainly occasioned by that absurd nostrum,
the hair oil, with the notion of which Mr. Farewell had impressed
him as being a specific for removing all indications of age. From
the first moment of his having heard that such a preparation was
attainable, he evinced a solicitude to procure it, and on every
occasion never forgot to remind us of his anxiety respecting it;
more especially on our departure on the mission his injunctions were
particularly directed to this object. It will be seen that it is one
of the barbarous customs of the Zoolas in their choice or election
of their kings that he must neither have wrinkles nor grey hairs, as
they are both distinguishing marks of disqualification for becoming
a monarch of a warlike people. It is also equally indispensable that
their king should never exhibit those proofs of having become unfit
and incompetent to reign; it is therefore important that they should
conceal these indications so long as they possibly can. Chaka had
become greatly apprehensive of the approach of grey hairs; which
would at once be the signal for him to prepare to make his exit from
this sublunary world, it being always followed by the death of the
monarch." The writer to whom we are indebted for this instructive
anecdote of the hair oil omits to specify the mode in which a
grey-haired and wrinkled Zulu chief used "to make his exit from this
sublunary world"; but on analogy we may conjecture that he was

The custom of putting kings to death as soon as they suffered from
any personal defect prevailed two centuries ago in the Caffre
kingdom of Sofala. We have seen that these kings of Sofala were
regarded as gods by their people, being entreated to give rain or
sunshine, according as each might be wanted. Nevertheless a slight
bodily blemish, such as the loss of a tooth, was considered a
sufficient cause for putting one of these god-men to death, as we
learn from the following passage of an old Portuguese historian: "It
was formerly the custom of the kings of this land to commit suicide
by taking poison when any disaster or natural physical defect fell
upon them, such as impotence, infectious disease, the loss of their
front teeth, by which they were disfigured, or any other deformity
or affliction. To put an end to such defects they killed themselves,
saying that the king should be free from any blemish, and if not, it
was better for his honour that he should die and seek another life
where he would be made whole, for there everything was perfect. But
the Quiteve (king) who reigned when I was in those parts would not
imitate his predecessors in this, being discreet and dreaded as he
was; for having lost a front tooth he caused it to be proclaimed
throughout the kingdom that all should be aware that he had lost a
tooth and should recognise him when they saw him without it, and if
his predecessors killed themselves for such things they were very
foolish, and he would not do so; on the contrary, he would be very
sorry when the time came for him to die a natural death, for his
life was very necessary to preserve his kingdom and defend it from
his enemies; and he recommended his successors to follow his

The king of Sofala who dared to survive the loss of his front tooth
was thus a bold reformer like Ergamenes, king of Ethiopia. We may
conjecture that the ground for putting the Ethiopian kings to death
was, as in the case of the Zulu and Sofala kings, the appearance on
their person of any bodily defect or sign of decay; and that the
oracle which the priests alleged as the authority for the royal
execution was to the effect that great calamities would result from
the reign of a king who had any blemish on his body; just as an
oracle warned Sparta against a "lame reign," that is, the reign of a
lame king. It is some confirmation of this conjecture that the kings
of Ethiopia were chosen for their size, strength, and beauty long
before the custom of killing them was abolished. To this day the
Sultan of Wadai must have no obvious bodily defect, and the king of
Angoy cannot be crowned if he has a single blemish, such as a broken
or a filed tooth or the scar of an old wound. According to the Book
of Acaill and many other authorities no king who was afflicted with
a personal blemish might reign over Ireland at Tara. Hence, when the
great King Cormac Mac Art lost one eye by an accident, he at once

Many days' journey to the north-east of Abomey, the old capital of
Dahomey, lies the kingdom of Eyeo. "The Eyeos are governed by a
king, no less absolute than the king of Dahomey, yet subject to a
regulation of state, at once humiliating and extraordinary. When the
people have conceived an opinion of his ill-government, which is
sometimes insidiously infused into them by the artifice of his
discontented ministers, they send a deputation to him with a present
of parrots' eggs, as a mark of its authenticity, to represent to him
that the burden of government must have so far fatigued him that
they consider it full time for him to repose from his cares and
indulge himself with a little sleep. He thanks his subjects for
their attention to his ease, retires to his own apartment as if to
sleep, and there gives directions to his women to strangle him. This
is immediately executed, and his son quietly ascends the throne upon
the usual terms of holding the reins of government no longer than
whilst he merits the approbation of the people." About the year
1774, a king of Eyeo, whom his ministers attempted to remove in the
customary manner, positively refused to accept the proffered
parrots' eggs at their hands, telling them that he had no mind to
take a nap, but on the contrary was resolved to watch for the
benefit of his subjects. The ministers, surprised and indignant at
his recalcitrancy, raised a rebellion, but were defeated with great
slaughter, and thus by his spirited conduct the king freed himself
from the tyranny of his councillors and established a new precedent
for the guidance of his successors. However, the old custom seems to
have revived and persisted until late in the nineteenth century, for
a Catholic missionary, writing in 1884, speaks of the practice as if
it were still in vogue. Another missionary, writing in 1881, thus
describes the usage of the Egbas and the Yorubas of West Africa:
"Among the customs of the country one of the most curious is
unquestionably that of judging, and punishing the king. Should he
have earned the hatred of his people by exceeding his rights, one of
his councillors, on whom the heavy duty is laid, requires of the
prince that he shall 'go to sleep,' which means simply 'take poison
and die.' If his courage fails him at the supreme moment, a friend
renders him this last service, and quietly, without betraying the
secret, they prepare the people for the news of the king's death. In
Yoruba the thing is managed a little differently. When a son is born
to the king of Oyo, they make a model of the infant's right foot in
clay and keep it in the house of the elders (_ogboni_). If the king
fails to observe the customs of the country, a messenger, without
speaking a word, shows him his child's foot. The king knows what
that means. He takes poison and goes to sleep." The old Prussians
acknowledged as their supreme lord a ruler who governed them in the
name of the gods, and was known as "God's Mouth." When he felt
himself weak and ill, if he wished to leave a good name behind him,
he had a great heap made of thorn-bushes and straw, on which he
mounted and delivered a long sermon to the people, exhorting them to
serve the gods and promising to go to the gods and speak for the
people. Then he took some of the perpetual fire which burned in
front of the holy oak-tree, and lighting the pile with it burned
himself to death.

3. Kings killed at the End of a Fixed Term

IN THE CASES hitherto described, the divine king or priest is
suffered by his people to retain office until some outward defect,
some visible symptom of failing health or advancing age, warns them
that he is no longer equal to the discharge of his divine duties;
but not until such symptoms have made their appearance is he put to
death. Some peoples, however, appear to have thought it unsafe to
wait for even the slightest symptom of decay and have preferred to
kill the king while he was still in the full vigour of life.
Accordingly, they have fixed a term beyond which he might not reign,
and at the close of which he must die, the term fixed upon being
short enough to exclude the probability of his degenerating
physically in the interval. In some parts of Southern India the
period fixed was twelve years. Thus, according to an old traveller,
in the province of Quilacare, "there is a Gentile house of prayer,
in which there is an idol which they hold in great account, and
every twelve years they celebrate a great feast to it, whither all
the Gentiles go as to a jubilee. This temple possesses many lands
and much revenue: it is a very great affair. This province has a
king over it, who has not more than twelve years to reign from
jubilee to jubilee. His manner of living is in this wise, that is to
say: when the twelve years are completed, on the day of this feast
there assemble together innumerable people, and much money is spent
in giving food to Bramans. The king has a wooden scaffolding made,
spread over with silken hangings: and on that day he goes to bathe
at a tank with great ceremonies and sound of music, after that he
comes to the idol and prays to it, and mounts on to the scaffolding,
and there before all the people he takes some very sharp knives, and
begins to cut off his nose, and then his ears, and his lips, and all
his members, and as much flesh off himself as he can; and he throws
it away very hurriedly until so much of his blood is spilled that he
begins to faint, and then he cuts his throat himself. And he
performs this sacrifice to the idol, and whoever desires to reign
another twelve years and undertake this martyrdom for love of the
idol, has to be present looking on at this: and from that place they
raise him up as king."

The king of Calicut, on the Malabar coast, bears the title of
Samorin or Samory. He "pretends to be of a higher rank than the
Brahmans, and to be inferior only to the invisible gods; a
pretention that was acknowledged by his subjects, but which is held
as absurd and abominable by the Brahmans, by whom he is only treated
as a Sudra." Formerly the Samorin had to cut his throat in public at
the end of a twelve years' reign. But towards the end of the
seventeenth century the rule had been modified as follows: "Many
strange customs were observed in this country in former times, and
some very odd ones are still continued. It was an ancient custom for
the Samorin to reign but twelve years, and no longer. If he died
before his term was expired, it saved him a troublesome ceremony of
cutting his own throat, on a publick scaffold erected for the
purpose. He first made a feast for all his nobility and gentry, who
are very numerous. After the feast he saluted his guests, and went
on the scaffold, and very decently cut his own throat in the view of
the assembly, and his body was, a little while after, burned with
great pomp and ceremony, and the grandees elected a new Samorin.
Whether that custom was a religious or a civil ceremony, I know not,
but it is now laid aside. And a new custom is followed by the modern
Samorins, that jubilee is proclaimed throughout his dominions, at
the end of twelve years, and a tent is pitched for him in a spacious
plain, and a great feast is celebrated for ten or twelve days, with
mirth and jollity, guns firing night and day, so at the end of the
feast any four of the guests that have a mind to gain a crown by a
desperate action, in fighting their way through 30 or 40,000 of his
guards, and kill the Samorin in his tent, he that kills him succeeds
him in his empire. In anno 1695, one of those jubilees happened, and
the tent pitched near Pennany, a seaport of his, about fifteen
leagues to the southward of Calicut. There were but three men that
would venture on that desperate action, who fell in, with sword and
target, among the guard, and, after they had killed and wounded
many, were themselves killed. One of the desperados had a nephew of
fifteen or sixteen years of age, that kept close by his uncle in the
attack on the guards, and, when he saw him fall, the youth got
through the guards into the tent, and made a stroke at his Majesty's
head, and had certainly despatched him if a large brass lamp which
was burning over his head had not marred the blow; but, before he
could make another, he was killed by the guards; and, I believe, the
same Samorin reigns yet. I chanced to come that time along the coast
and heard the guns for two or three days and nights successively."

The English traveller, whose account I have quoted, did not himself
witness the festival he describes, though he heard the sound of the
firing in the distance. Fortunately, exact records of these
festivals and of the number of men who perished at them have been
preserved in the archives of the royal family at Calicut. In the
latter part of the nineteenth century they were examined by Mr. W.
Logan, with the personal assistance of the reigning king, and from
his work it is possible to gain an accurate conception both of the
tragedy and of the scene where it was periodically enacted down to
1743, when the ceremony took place for the last time.

The festival at which the king of Calicut staked his crown and his
life on the issue of battle was known as the "Great Sacrifice." It
fell every twelfth year, when the planet Jupiter was in retrograde
motion in the sign of the Crab, and it lasted twenty-eight days,
culminating at the time of the eighth lunar asterism in the month of
Makaram. As the date of the festival was determined by the position
of Jupiter in the sky, and the interval between two festivals was
twelve years, which is roughly Jupiter's period of revolution round
the sun, we may conjecture that the splendid planet was supposed to
be in a special sense the king's star and to rule his destiny, the
period of its revolution in heaven corresponding to the period of
his reign on earth. However that may be, the ceremony was observed
with great pomp at the Tirunavayi temple, on the north bank of the
Ponnani River. The spot is close to the present railway line. As the
train rushes by, you can just catch a glimpse of the temple, almost
hidden behind a clump of trees on the river bank. From the western
gateway of the temple a perfectly straight road, hardly raised above
the level of the surrounding rice-fields and shaded by a fine
avenue, runs for half a mile to a high ridge with a precipitous
bank, on which the outlines of three or four terraces can still be
traced. On the topmost of these terraces the king took his stand on
the eventful day. The view which it commands is a fine one. Across
the flat expanse of the rice-fields, with the broad placid river
winding through them, the eye ranges eastward to high tablelands,
their lower slopes embowered in woods, while afar off looms the
great chain of the western Ghauts, and in the furthest distance the
Neilgherries or Blue Mountains, hardly distinguishable from the
azure of the sky above.

But it was not to the distant prospect that the king's eyes
naturally turned at this crisis of his fate. His attention was
arrested by a spectacle nearer at hand. For all the plain below was
alive with troops, their banners waving gaily in the sun, the white
tents of their many camps standing sharply out against the green and
gold of the ricefields. Forty thousand fighting men or more were
gathered there to defend the king. But if the plain swarmed with
soldiers, the road that cuts across it from the temple to the king's
stand was clear of them. Not a soul was stirring on it. Each side of
the way was barred by palisades, and from the palisades on either
hand a long hedge of spears, held by strong arms, projected into the
empty road, their blades meeting in the middle and forming a
glittering arch of steel. All was now ready. The king waved his
sword. At the same moment a great chain of massy gold, enriched with
bosses, was placed on an elephant at his side. That was the signal.
On the instant a stir might be seen half a mile away at the gate of
the temple. A group of swordsmen, decked with flowers and smeared
with ashes, has stepped out from the crowd. They have just partaken
of their last meal on earth, and they now receive the last blessings
and farewells of their friends. A moment more and they are coming
down the lane of spears, hewing and stabbing right and left at the
spearmen, winding and turning and writhing among the blades as if
they had no bones in their bodies. It is all in vain. One after the
other they fall, some nearer the king, some farther off, content to
die, not for the shadow of a crown, but for the mere sake of
approving their dauntless valour and swordsmanship to the world. On
the last days of the festival the same magnificent display of
gallantry, the same useless sacrifice of life was repeated again and
again. Yet perhaps no sacrifice is wholly useless which proves that
there are men who prefer honour to life.

"It is a singular custom in Bengal," says an old native historian of
India, "that there is little of hereditary descent in succession to
the sovereignty. . . . Whoever kills the king, and succeeds in
placing himself on that throne, is immediately acknowledged as king;
all the _amirs, wazirs,_ soldiers, and peasants instantly obey and
submit to him, and consider him as being as much their sovereign as
they did their former prince, and obey his orders implicitly. The
people of Bengal say, 'We are faithful to the throne; whoever fills
the throne we are obedient and true to it.'" A custom of the same
sort formerly prevailed in the little kingdom of Passier, on the
northern coast of Sumatra. The old Portuguese historian De Barros,
who informs us of it, remarks with surprise that no wise man would
wish to be king of Passier, since the monarch was not allowed by his
subjects to live long. From time to time a sort of fury seized the
people, and they marched through the streets of the city chanting
with loud voices the fatal words, "The king must die!" When the king
heard that song of death he knew that his hour had come. The man who
struck the fatal blow was of the royal lineage, and as soon as he
had done the deed of blood and seated himself on the throne he was
regarded as the legitimate king, provided that he contrived to
maintain his seat peaceably for a single day. This, however, the
regicide did not always succeed in doing. When Fernăo Peres
d'Andrade, on a voyage to China, put in at Passier for a cargo of
spices, two kings were massacred, and that in the most peaceable and
orderly manner, without the smallest sign of tumult or sedition in
the city, where everything went on in its usual course, as if the
murder or execution of a king were a matter of everyday occurrence.
Indeed, on one occasion three kings were raised to the dangerous
elevation and followed each other in the dusty road of death in a
single day. The people defended the custom, which they esteemed very
laudable and even of divine institution, by saying that God would
never allow so high and mighty a being as a king, who reigned as his
vicegerent on earth, to perish by violence unless for his sins he
thoroughly deserved it. Far away from the tropical island of Sumatra
a rule of the same sort appears to have obtained among the old
Slavs. When the captives Gunn and Jarmerik contrived to slay the
king and queen of the Slavs and made their escape, they were pursued
by the barbarians, who shouted after them that if they would only
come back they would reign instead of the murdered monarch, since by
a public statute of the ancients the succession to the throne fell
to the king's assassin. But the flying regicides turned a deaf ear
to promises which they regarded as mere baits to lure them back to
destruction; they continued their flight, and the shouts and clamour
of the barbarians gradually died away in the distance.

When kings were bound to suffer death, whether at their own hands or
at the hands of others, on the expiration of a fixed term of years,
it was natural that they should seek to delegate the painful duty,
along with some of the privileges of sovereignty, to a substitute
who should suffer vicariously in their stead. This expedient appears
to have been resorted to by some of the princes of Malabar. Thus we
are informed by a native authority on that country that "in some
places all powers both executive and judicial were delegated for a
fixed period to natives by the sovereign. This institution was
styled _Thalavettiparothiam_ or authority obtained by decapitation.
. . . It was an office tenable for five years during which its bearer
was invested with supreme despotic powers within his jurisdiction.
On the expiry of the five years the man's head was cut off and
thrown up in the air amongst a large concourse of villagers, each of
whom vied with the other in trying to catch it in its course down.
He who succeeded was nominated to the post for the next five years."

When once kings, who had hitherto been bound to die a violent death
at the end of a term of years, conceived the happy thought of dying
by deputy in the persons of others, they would very naturally put it
in practice; and accordingly we need not wonder at finding so
popular an expedient, or traces of it, in many lands. Scandinavian
traditions contain some hints that of old the Swedish kings reigned
only for periods of nine years, after which they were put to death
or had to find a substitute to die in their stead. Thus Aun or On,
king of Sweden, is said to have sacrificed to Odin for length of
days and to have been answered by the god that he should live so
long as he sacrificed one of his sons every ninth year. He
sacrificed nine of them in this manner, and would have sacrificed
the tenth and last, but the Swedes would not allow him. So he died
and was buried in a mound at Upsala. Another indication of a similar
tenure of the crown occurs in a curious legend of the deposition and
banishment of Odin. Offended at his misdeeds, the other gods
outlawed and exiled him, but set up in his place a substitute, Oller
by name, a cunning wizard, to whom they accorded the symbols both of
royalty and of godhead. The deputy bore the name of Odin, and
reigned for nearly ten years, when he was driven from the throne,
while the real Odin came to his own again. His discomfited rival
retired to Sweden and was afterwards slain in an attempt to repair
his shattered fortunes. As gods are often merely men who loom large
through the mists of tradition, we may conjecture that this Norse
legend preserves a confused reminiscence of ancient Swedish kings
who reigned for nine or ten years together, then abdicated,
delegating to others the privilege of dying for their country. The
great festival which was held at Upsala every nine years may have
been the occasion on which the king or his deputy was put to death.
We know that human sacrifices formed part of the rites.

There are some grounds for believing that the reign of many ancient
Greek kings was limited to eight years, or at least that at the end
of every period of eight years a new consecration, a fresh
outpouring of the divine grace, was regarded as necessary in order
to enable them to discharge their civil and religious duties. Thus
it was a rule of the Spartan constitution that every eighth year the
ephors should choose a clear and moonless night and sitting down
observe the sky in silence. If during their vigil they saw a meteor
or shooting star, they inferred that the king had sinned against the
deity, and they suspended him from his functions until the Delphic
or Olympic oracle should reinstate him in them. This custom, which
has all the air of great antiquity, was not suffered to remain a
dead letter even in the last period of the Spartan monarchy; for in
the third century before our era a king, who had rendered himself
obnoxious to the reforming party, was actually deposed on various
trumped-up charges, among which the allegation that the ominous sign
had been seen in the sky took a prominent place.

If the tenure of the regal office was formerly limited among the
Spartans to eight years, we may naturally ask, why was that precise
period selected as the measure of a king's reign? The reason is
probably to be found in those astronomical considerations which
determined the early Greek calendar. The difficulty of reconciling
lunar with solar time is one of the standing puzzles which has taxed
the ingenuity of men who are emerging from barbarism. Now an
octennial cycle is the shortest period at the end of which sun and
moon really mark time together after overlapping, so to say,
throughout the whole of the interval. Thus, for example, it is only
once in every eight years that the full moon coincides with the
longest or shortest day; and as this coincidence can be observed
with the aid of a simple dial, the observation is naturally one of
the first to furnish a base for a calendar which shall bring lunar
and solar times into tolerable, though not exact, harmony. But in
early days the proper adjustment of the calendar is a matter of
religious concern, since on it depends a knowledge of the right
seasons for propitiating the deities whose favour is indispensable
to the welfare of the community. No wonder, therefore, that the
king, as the chief priest of the state, or as himself a god, should
be liable to deposition or death at the end of an astronomical
period. When the great luminaries had run their course on high, and
were about to renew the heavenly race, it might well be thought that
the king should renew his divine energies, or prove them unabated,
under pain of making room for a more vigorous successor. In Southern
India, as we have seen, the king's reign and life terminated with
the revolution of the planet Jupiter round the sun. In Greece, on
the other hand, the king's fate seems to have hung in the balance at
the end of every eight years, ready to fly up and kick the beam as
soon as the opposite scale was loaded with a falling star.

Whatever its origin may have been, the cycle of eight years appears
to have coincided with the normal length of the king's reign in
other parts of Greece besides Sparta. Thus Minos, king of Cnossus in
Crete, whose great palace has been unearthed in recent years, is
said to have held office for periods of eight years together. At the
end of each period he retired for a season to the oracular cave on
Mount Ida, and there communed with his divine father Zeus, giving
him an account of his kingship in the years that were past, and
receiving from him instructions for his guidance in those which were
to come. The tradition plainly implies that at the end of every
eight years the king's sacred powers needed to be renewed by
intercourse with the godhead, and that without such a renewal he
would have forfeited his right to the throne.

Without being unduly rash we may surmise that the tribute of seven
youths and seven maidens whom the Athenians were bound to send to
Minos every eight years had some connexion with the renewal of the
king's power for another octennial cycle. Traditions varied as to
the fate which awaited the lads and damsels on their arrival in
Crete; but the common view appears to have been that they were shut
up in the labyrinth, there to be devoured by the Minotaur, or at
least to be imprisoned for life. Perhaps they were sacrificed by
being roasted alive in a bronze image of a bull, or of a bull-headed
man, in order to renew the strength of the king and of the sun, whom
he personated. This at all events is suggested by the legend of
Talos, a bronze man who clutched people to his breast and leaped
with them into the fire, so that they were roasted alive. He is said
to have been given by Zeus to Europa, or by Hephaestus to Minos, to
guard the island of Crete, which he patrolled thrice daily.
According to one account he was a bull, according to another he was
the sun. Probably he was identical with the Minotaur, and stripped
of his mythical features was nothing but a bronze image of the sun
represented as a man with a bull's head. In order to renew the solar
fires, human victims may have been sacrificed to the idol by being
roasted in its hollow body or placed on its sloping hands and
allowed to roll into a pit of fire. It was in the latter fashion
that the Carthaginians sacrificed their offspring to Moloch. The
children were laid on the hands of a calf-headed image of bronze,
from which they slid into a fiery oven, while the people danced to
the music of flutes and timbrels to drown the shrieks of the burning
victims. The resemblance which the Cretan traditions bear to the
Carthaginian practice suggests that the worship associated with the
names of Minos and the Minotaur may have been powerfully influenced
by that of a Semitic Baal. In the tradition of Phalaris, tyrant of
Agrigentum, and his brazen bull we may have an echo of similar rites
in Sicily, where the Carthaginian power struck deep roots.

In the province of Lagos, the Ijebu tribe of the Yoruba race is
divided into two branches, which are known respectively as the Ijebu
Ode and the Ijebu Remon. The Ode branch of the tribe is ruled by a
chief who bears the title of Awujale and is surrounded by a great
deal of mystery. Down to recent times his face might not be seen
even by his own subjects, and if circumstances obliged him to
communicate with them he did so through a screen which hid him from
view. The other or Remon branch of the Ijebu tribe is governed by a
chief, who ranks below the Awujale. Mr. John Parkinson was informed
that in former times this subordinate chief used to be killed with
ceremony after a rule of three years. As the country is now under
British protection the custom of putting the chief to death at the
end of a three years' reign has long been abolished, and Mr.
Parkinson was unable to ascertain any particulars on the subject.

At Babylon, within historical times, the tenure of the kingly office
was in practice lifelong, yet in theory it would seem to have been
merely annual. For every year at the festival of Zagmuk the king had
to renew his power by seizing the hands of the image of Marduk in
his great temple of Esagil at Babylon. Even when Babylon passed
under the power of Assyria, the monarchs of that country were
expected to legalise their claim to the throne every year by coming
to Babylon and performing the ancient ceremony at the New Year
festival, and some of them found the obligation so burdensome that
rather than discharge it they renounced the title of king altogether
and contented themselves with the humbler one of Governor. Further,
it would appear that in remote times, though not within the
historical period, the kings of Babylon or their barbarous
predecessors forfeited not merely their crown but their life at the
end of a year's tenure of office. At least this is the conclusion to
which the following evidence seems to point. According to the
historian Berosus, who as a Babylonian priest spoke with ample
knowledge, there was annually celebrated in Babylon a festival
called the Sacaea. It began on the sixteenth day of the month Lous,
and lasted for five days, during which masters and servants changed
places, the servants giving orders and the masters obeying them. A
prisoner condemned to death was dressed in the king's robes, seated
on the king's throne, allowed to issue whatever commands he pleased,
to eat, drink, and enjoy himself, and to lie with the king's
concubines. But at the end of the five days he was stripped of his
royal robes, scourged, and hanged or impaled. During his brief term
of office he bore the title of Zoganes. This custom might perhaps
have been explained as merely a grim jest perpetrated in a season of
jollity at the expense of an unhappy criminal. But one
circumstance--the leave given to the mock king to enjoy the king's
concubines--is decisive against this interpretation. Considering the
jealous seclusion of an oriental despot's harem we may be quite
certain that permission to invade it would never have been granted
by the despot, least of all to a condemned criminal, except for the
very gravest cause. This cause could hardly be other than that the
condemned man was about to die in the king's stead, and that to make
the substitution perfect it was necessary he should enjoy the full
rights of royalty during his brief reign. There is nothing
surprising in this substitution. The rule that the king must be put
to death either on the appearance of any symptom of bodily decay or
at the end of a fixed period is certainly one which, sooner or
later, the kings would seek to abolish or modify. We have seen that
in Ethiopia, Sofala, and Eyeo the rule was boldly set aside by
enlightened monarchs; and that in Calicut the old custom of killing
the king at the end of twelve years was changed into a permission
granted to any one at the end of the twelve years' period to attack
the king, and, in the event of killing him, to reign in his stead;
though, as the king took care at these times to be surrounded by his
guards, the permission was little more than a form. Another way of
modifying the stern old rule is seen in the Babylonian custom just
described. When the time drew near for the king to be put to death
(in Babylon this appears to have been at the end of a single year's
reign) he abdicated for a few days, during which a temporary king
reigned and suffered in his stead. At first the temporary king may
have been an innocent person, possibly a member of the king's own
family; but with the growth of civilisation the sacrifice of an
innocent person would be revolting to the public sentiment, and
accordingly a condemned criminal would be invested with the brief
and fatal sovereignty. In the sequel we shall find other examples of
a dying criminal representing a dying god. For we must not forget
that, as the case of the Shilluk kings clearly shows, the king is
slain in his character of a god or a demigod, his death and
resurrection, as the only means of perpetuating the divine life
unimpaired, being deemed necessary for the salvation of his people
and the world.

A vestige of a practice of putting the king to death at the end of a
year's reign appears to have survived in the festival called
Macahity, which used to be celebrated in Hawaii during the last
month of the year. About a hundred years ago a Russian voyager
described the custom as follows: "The taboo Macahity is not unlike
to our festival of Christmas. It continues a whole month, during
which the people amuse themselves with dances, plays, and
sham-fights of every kind. The king must open this festival wherever
he is. On this occasion his majesty dresses himself in his richest
cloak and helmet, and is paddled in a canoe along the shore,
followed sometimes by many of his subjects. He embarks early, and
must finish his excursion at sunrise. The strongest and most expert
of the warriors is chosen to receive him on his landing. This
warrior watches the canoe along the beach; and as soon as the king
lands, and has thrown off his cloak, he darts his spear at him, from
a distance of about thirty paces, and the king must either catch the
spear in his hand, or suffer from it: there is no jesting in the
business. Having caught it, he carries it under his arm, with the
sharp end downwards, into the temple or _heavoo._ On his entrance,
the assembled multitude begin their sham-fights, and immediately the
air is obscured by clouds of spears, made for the occasion with
blunted ends. Hamamea [the king] has been frequently advised to
abolish this ridiculous ceremony, in which he risks his life every
year; but to no effect. His answer always is, that he is as able to
catch a spear as any one on the island is to throw it at him. During
the Macahity, all punishments are remitted throughout the country;
and no person can leave the place in which he commences these
holidays, let the affair be ever so important."

That a king should regularly have been put to death at the close of
a year's reign will hardly appear improbable when we learn that to
this day there is still a kingdom in which the reign and the life of
the sovereign are limited to a single day. In Ngoio, a province of
the ancient kingdom of Congo, the rule obtains that the chief who
assumes the cap of sovereignty is always killed on the night after
his coronation. The right of succession lies with the chief of the
Musurongo; but we need not wonder that he does not exercise it, and
that the throne stands vacant. "No one likes to lose his life for a
few hours' glory on the Ngoio throne."

XXV. Temporary Kings

IN SOME places the modified form of the old custom of regicide which
appears to have prevailed at Babylon has been further softened down.
The king still abdicates annually for a short time and his place is
filled by a more or less nominal sovereign; but at the close of his
short reign the latter is no longer killed, though sometimes a mock
execution still survives as a memorial of the time when he was
actually put to death. To take examples. In the month of Méac
(February) the king of Cambodia annually abdicated for three days.
During this time he performed no act of authority, he did not touch
the seals, he did not even receive the revenues which fell due. In
his stead there reigned a temporary king called Sdach Méac, that is,
King February. The office of temporary king was hereditary in a
family distantly connected with the royal house, the sons succeeding
the fathers and the younger brothers the elder brothers just as in
the succession to the real sovereignty. On a favourable day fixed by
the astrologers the temporary king was conducted by the mandarins in
triumphal procession. He rode one of the royal elephants, seated in
the royal palanquin, and escorted by soldiers who, dressed in
appropriate costumes, represented the neighbouring peoples of Siam,
Annam, Laos, and so on. In place of the golden crown he wore a
peaked white cap, and his regalia, instead of being of gold
encrusted with diamonds, were of rough wood. After paying homage to
the real king, from whom he received the sovereignty for three days,
together with all the revenues accruing during that time (though
this last custom has been omitted for some time), he moved in
procession round the palace and through the streets of the capital.
On the third day, after the usual procession, the temporary king
gave orders that the elephants should trample under foot the
"mountain of rice," which was a scaffold of bamboo surrounded by
sheaves of rice. The people gathered up the rice, each man taking
home a little with him to secure a good harvest. Some of it was also
taken to the king, who had it cooked and presented to the monks.

In Siam on the sixth day of the moon in the sixth month (the end of
April) a temporary king is appointed, who for three days enjoys the
royal prerogatives, the real king remaining shut up in his palace.
This temporary king sends his numerous satellites in all directions
to seize and confiscate whatever they can find in the bazaar and
open shops; even the ships and junks which arrive in harbour during
the three days are forfeited to him and must be redeemed. He goes to
a field in the middle of the city, whither they bring a gilded
plough drawn by gaily-decked oxen. After the plough has been
anointed and the oxen rubbed with incense, the mock king traces nine
furrows with the plough, followed by aged dames of the palace
scattering the first seed of the season. As soon as the nine furrows
are drawn, the crowd of spectators rushes in and scrambles for the
seed which has just been sown, believing that, mixed with the
seed-rice, it will ensure a plentiful crop. Then the oxen are
unyoked, and rice, maize, sesame, sago, bananas, sugar-cane, melons,
and so on, are set before them; whatever they eat first will, it is
thought, be dear in the year following, though some people interpret
the omen in the opposite sense. During this time the temporary king
stands leaning against a tree with his right foot resting on his
left knee. From standing thus on one foot he is popularly known as
King Hop; but his official title is Phaya Phollathep "Lord of the
Heavenly Hosts." He is a sort of Minister of Agriculture; all
disputes about fields, rice, and so forth, are referred to him.
There is moreover another ceremony in which he personates the king.
It takes place in the second month (which falls in the cold season)
and lasts three days. He is conducted in procession to an open place
opposite the Temple of the Brahmans, where there are a number of
poles dressed like May-poles, upon which the Brahmans swing. All the
while that they swing and dance, the Lord of the Heavenly Hosts has
to stand on one foot upon a seat which is made of bricks plastered
over, covered with a white cloth, and hung with tapestry. He is
supported by a wooden frame with a gilt canopy, and two Brahmans
stand one on each side of him. The dancing Brahmans carry buffalo
horns with which they draw water from a large copper caldron and
sprinkle it on the spectators; this is supposed to bring good luck,
causing the people to dwell in peace and quiet, health and
prosperity. The time during which the Lord of the Heavenly Hosts has
to stand on one foot is about three hours. This is thought "to prove
the dispositions of the Devattas and spirits." If he lets his foot
down "he is liable to forfeit his property and have his family
enslaved by the king, as it is believed to be a bad omen, portending
destruction to the state, and instability to the throne. But if he
stand firm he is believed to have gained a victory over evil
spirits, and he has moreover the privilege, ostensibly at least, of
seizing any ship which may enter the harbour during these three
days, and taking its contents, and also of entering any open shop in
the town and carrying away what he chooses."

Such were the duties and privileges of the Siamese King Hop down to
about the middle of the nineteenth century or later. Under the reign
of the late enlightened monarch this quaint personage was to some
extent both shorn of the glories and relieved of the burden of his
office. He still watches, as of old, the Brahmans rushing through
the air in a swing suspended between two tall masts, each some
ninety feet high; but he is allowed to sit instead of stand, and,
although public opinion still expects him to keep his right foot on
his left knee during the whole of the ceremony, he would incur no
legal penalty were he, to the great chagrin of the people, to put
his weary foot to the ground. Other signs, too, tell of the invasion
of the East by the ideas and civilisation of the West. The
thoroughfares that lead to the scene of the performance are blocked
with carriages: lamp-posts and telegraph posts, to which eager
spectators cling like monkeys, rise above the dense crowd; and,
while a tatterdemalion band of the old style, in gaudy garb of
vermilion and yellow, bangs and tootles away on drums and trumpets
of an antique pattern, the procession of barefooted soldiers in
brilliant uniforms steps briskly along to the lively strains of a
modern military band playing "Marching through Georgia."

On the first day of the sixth month, which was regarded as the
beginning of the year, the king and people of Samarcand used to put
on new clothes and cut their hair and beards. Then they repaired to
a forest near the capital where they shot arrows on horseback for
seven days. On the last day the target was a gold coin, and he who
hit it had the right to be king for one day. In Upper Egypt on the
first day of the solar year by Coptic reckoning, that is, on the
tenth of September, when the Nile has generally reached its highest
point, the regular government is suspended for three days and every
town chooses its own ruler. This temporary lord wears a sort of tall
fool's cap and a long flaxen beard, and is enveloped in a strange
mantle. With a wand of office in his hand and attended by men
disguised as scribes, executioners, and so forth, he proceeds to the
Governor's house. The latter allows himself to be deposed; and the
mock king, mounting the throne, holds a tribunal, to the decisions
of which even the governor and his officials must bow. After three
days the mock king is condemned to death; the envelope or shell in
which he was encased is committed to the flames, and from its ashes
the Fellah creeps forth. The custom perhaps points to an old
practice of burning a real king in grim earnest. In Uganda the
brothers of the king used to be burned, because it was not lawful to
shed the royal blood.

The Mohammedan students of Fez, in Morocco, are allowed to appoint a
sultan of their own, who reigns for a few weeks, and is known as
_Sultan t-tulba,_ "the Sultan of the Scribes." This brief authority
is put up for auction and knocked down to the highest bidder. It
brings some substantial privileges with it, for the holder is freed
from taxes thenceforward, and he has the right of asking a favour
from the real sultan. That favour is seldom refused; it usually
consists in the release of a prisoner. Moreover, the agents of the
student-sultan levy fines on the shopkeepers and householders,
against whom they trump up various humorous charges. The temporary
sultan is surrounded with the pomp of a real court, and parades the
streets in state with music and shouting, while a royal umbrella is
held over his head. With the so-called fines and free-will
offerings, to which the real sultan adds a liberal supply of
provisions, the students have enough to furnish forth a magnificent
banquet; and altogether they enjoy themselves thoroughly, indulging
in all kinds of games and amusements. For the first seven days the
mock sultan remains in the college; then he goes about a mile out of
the town and encamps on the bank of the river, attended by the
students and not a few of the citizens. On the seventh day of his
stay outside the town he is visited by the real sultan, who grants
him his request and gives him seven more days to reign, so that the
reign of "the Sultan of the Scribes" nominally lasts three weeks.
But when six days of the last week have passed the mock sultan runs
back to the town by night. This temporary sultanship always falls in
spring, about the beginning of April. Its origin is said to have
been as follows. When Mulai Rasheed II. was fighting for the throne
in 1664 or 1665, a certain Jew usurped the royal authority at Taza.
But the rebellion was soon suppressed through the loyalty and
devotion of the students. To effect their purpose they resorted to
an ingenious stratagem. Forty of them caused themselves to be packed
in chests which were sent as a present to the usurper. In the dead
of night, while the unsuspecting Jew was slumbering peacefully among
the packing-cases, the lids were stealthily raised, the brave forty
crept forth, slew the usurper, and took possession of the city in
the name of the real sultan, who, to mark his gratitude for the help
thus rendered him in time of need, conferred on the students the
right of annually appointing a sultan of their own. The narrative
has all the air of a fiction devised to explain an old custom, of
which the real meaning and origin had been forgotten.

A custom of annually appointing a mock king for a single day was
observed at Lostwithiel in Cornwall down to the sixteenth century.
On "little Easter Sunday" the freeholders of the town and manor
assembled together, either in person or by their deputies, and one
among them, as it fell to his lot by turn, gaily attired and
gallantly mounted, with a crown on his head, a sceptre in his hand,
and a sword borne before him, rode through the principal street to
the church, dutifully attended by all the rest on horseback. The
clergyman in his best robes received him at the churchyard stile and
conducted him to hear divine service. On leaving the church he
repaired, with the same pomp, to a house provided for his reception.
Here a feast awaited him and his suite, and being set at the head of
the table he was served on bended knees, with all the rites due to
the estate of a prince. The ceremony ended with the dinner, and
every man returned home.

Sometimes the temporary king occupies the throne, not annually, but
once for all at the beginning of each reign. Thus in the kingdom of
Jambi in Sumatra it is the custom that at the beginning of a new
reign a man of the people should occupy the throne and exercise the
royal prerogatives for a single day. The origin of the custom is
explained by a tradition that there were once five royal brothers,
the four elder of whom all declined the throne on the ground of
various bodily defects, leaving it to their youngest brother. But
the eldest occupied the throne for one day, and reserved for his
descendants a similar privilege at the beginning of every reign.
Thus the office of temporary king is hereditary in a family akin to
the royal house. In Bilaspur it seems to be the custom, after the
death of a Rajah, for a Brahman to eat rice out of the dead Rajah's
hand, and then to occupy the throne for a year. At the end of the
year the Brahman receives presents and is dismissed from the
territory, being forbidden apparently to return. "The idea seems to
be that the spirit of the Rájá enters into the Bráhman who eats the
_khir_ (rice and milk) out of his hand when he is dead, as the
Brahman is apparently carefully watched during the whole year, and
not allowed to go away." The same or a similar custom is believed to
obtain among the hill states about Kangra. The custom of banishing
the Brahman who represents the king may be a substitute for putting
him to death. At the installation of a prince of Carinthia a
peasant, in whose family the office was hereditary, ascended a
marble stone which stood surrounded by meadows in a spacious valley;
on his right stood a black mother-cow, on his left a lean ugly mare.
A rustic crowd gathered about him. Then the future prince, dressed
as a peasant and carrying a shepherd's staff, drew near, attended by
courtiers and magistrates. On perceiving him the peasant called out,
"Who is this whom I see coming so proudly along?" The people
answered, "The prince of the land." The peasant was then prevailed
on to surrender the marble seat to the prince on condition of
receiving sixty pence, the cow and mare, and exemption from taxes.
But before yielding his place he gave the prince a light blow on the

Some points about these temporary kings deserve to be specially
noticed before we pass to the next branch of the evidence. In the
first place, the Cambodian and Siamese examples show clearly that it
is especially the divine or magical functions of the king which are
transferred to his temporary substitute. This appears from the
belief that by keeping up his foot the temporary king of Siam gained
a victory over the evil spirits, whereas by letting it down he
imperilled the existence of the state. Again, the Cambodian ceremony
of trampling down the "mountain of rice," and the Siamese ceremony
of opening the ploughing and sowing, are charms to produce a
plentiful harvest, as appears from the belief that those who carry
home some of the trampled rice, or of the seed sown, will thereby
secure a good crop. Moreover, when the Siamese representative of the
king is guiding the plough, the people watch him anxiously, not to
see whether he drives a straight furrow, but to mark the exact point
on his leg to which the skirt of his silken robe reaches; for on
that is supposed to hang the state of the weather and the crops
during the ensuing season. If the Lord of the Heavenly Hosts hitches
up his garment above his knee, the weather will be wet and heavy
rains will spoil the harvest. If he lets it trail to his ankle, a
drought will be the consequence. But fine weather and heavy crops
will follow if the hem of his robe hangs exactly half-way down the
calf of his leg. So closely is the course of nature, and with it the
weal or woe of the people, dependent on the minutest act or gesture
of the king's representative. But the task of making the crops grow,
thus deputed to the temporary kings, is one of the magical functions
regularly supposed to be discharged by kings in primitive society.
The rule that the mock king must stand on one foot upon a raised
seat in the rice-field was perhaps originally meant as a charm to
make the crop grow high; at least this was the object of a similar
ceremony observed by the old Prussians. The tallest girl, standing
on one foot upon a seat, with her lap full of cakes, a cup of brandy
in her right hand and a piece of elm-bark or linden-bark in her
left, prayed to the god Waizganthos that the flax might grow as high
as she was standing. Then, after draining the cup, she had it
refilled, and poured the brandy on the ground as an offering to
Waizganthos, and threw down the cakes for his attendant sprites. If
she remained steady on one foot throughout the ceremony, it was an
omen that the flax crop would be good; but if she let her foot down,
it was feared that the crop might fail. The same significance
perhaps attaches to the swinging of the Brahmans, which the Lord of
the Heavenly Hosts had formerly to witness standing on one foot. On
the principles of homoeopathic or imitative magic it might be
thought that the higher the priests swing the higher will grow the
rice. For the ceremony is described as a harvest festival, and
swinging is practised by the Letts of Russia with the avowed
intention of influencing the growth of the crops. In the spring and
early summer, between Easter and St. John's Day (the summer
solstice), every Lettish peasant is said to devote his leisure hours
to swinging diligently; for the higher he rises in the air the
higher will his flax grow that season.

In the foregoing cases the temporary king is appointed annually in
accordance with a regular custom. But in other cases the appointment
is made only to meet a special emergency, such as to relieve the
real king from some actual or threatened evil by diverting it to a
substitute, who takes his place on the throne for a short time. The
history of Persia furnishes instances of such occasional substitutes
for the Shah. Thus Shah Abbas the Great, being warned by his
astrologers in the year 1591 that a serious danger impended over
him, attempted to avert the omen by abdicating the throne and
appointing a certain unbeliever named Yusoofee, probably a
Christian, to reign in his stead. The substitute was accordingly
crowned, and for three days, if we may trust the Persian historians,
he enjoyed not only the name and the state but the power of the
king. At the end of his brief reign he was put to death: the decree
of the stars was fulfilled by this sacrifice; and Abbas, who
reascended his throne in a most propitious hour, was promised by his
astrologers a long and glorious reign.

XXVI. Sacrifice of the King's Son

A POINT to notice about the temporary kings described in the
foregoing chapter is that in two places (Cambodia and Jambi) they
come of a stock which is believed to be akin to the royal family. If
the view here taken of the origin of these temporary kingships is
correct, we can easily understand why the king's substitute should
sometimes be of the same race as the king. When the king first
succeeded in getting the life of another accepted as a sacrifice
instead of his own, he would have to show that the death of that
other would serve the purpose quite as well as his own would have
done. Now it was as a god or demigod that the king had to die;
therefore the substitute who died for him had to be invested, at
least for the occasion, with the divine attributes of the king.
This, as we have just seen, was certainly the case with the
temporary kings of Siam and Cambodia; they were invested with the
supernatural functions, which in an earlier stage of society were
the special attributes of the king. But no one could so well
represent the king in his divine character as his son, who might be
supposed to share the divine afflatus of his father. No one,
therefore, could so appropriately die for the king and, through him,
for the whole people, as the king's son.

We have seen that according to tradition, Aun or On, King of Sweden,
sacrificed nine of his sons to Odin at Upsala in order that his own
life might be spared. After he had sacrificed his second son he
received from the god an answer that he should live so long as he
gave him one of his sons every ninth year. When he had sacrificed
his seventh son, he still lived, but was so feeble that he could not
walk but had to be carried in a chair. Then he offered up his eighth
son, and lived nine years more, lying in his bed. After that he
sacrificed his ninth son, and lived another nine years, but so that
he drank out of a horn like a weaned child. He now wished to
sacrifice his only remaining son to Odin, but the Swedes would not
allow him. So he died and was buried in a mound at Upsala.

In ancient Greece there seems to have been at least one kingly house
of great antiquity of which the eldest sons were always liable to be
sacrificed in room of their royal sires. When Xerxes was marching
through Thessaly at the head of his mighty host to attack the
Spartans at Thermopylae, he came to the town of Alus. Here he was
shown the sanctuary of Laphystian Zeus, about which his guides told
him a strange tale. It ran somewhat as follows. Once upon a time the
king of the country, by name Athamas, married a wife Nephele, and
had by her a son called Phrixus and a daughter named Helle.
Afterwards he took to himself a second wife called Ino, by whom he
had two sons, Learchus and Melicertes. But his second wife was
jealous of her stepchildren, Phrixus and Helle, and plotted their
death. She went about very cunningly to compass her bad end. First
of all she persuaded the women of the country to roast the seed corn
secretly before it was committed to the ground. So next year no
crops came up and the people died of famine. Then the king sent
messengers to the oracle at Delphi to enquire the cause of the
dearth. But the wicked stepmother bribed the messenger to give out
as the answer of the god that the dearth would never cease till the
children of Athamas by his first wife had been sacrificed to Zeus.
When Athamas heard that, he sent for the children, who were with the
sheep. But a ram with a fleece of gold opened his lips, and speaking
with the voice of a man warned the children of their danger. So they
mounted the ram and fled with him over land and sea. As they flew
over the sea, the girl slipped from the animal's back, and falling
into water was drowned. But her brother Phrixus was brought safe to
the land of Colchis, where reigned a child of the sun. Phrixus
married the king's daughter, and she bore him a son Cytisorus. And
there he sacrificed the ram with the golden fleece to Zeus the God
of Flight; but some will have it that he sacrificed the animal to
Laphystian Zeus. The golden fleece itself he gave to his wife's
father, who nailed it to an oak tree, guarded by a sleepless dragon
in a sacred grove of Ares. Meanwhile at home an oracle had commanded
that King Athamas himself should be sacrificed as an expiatory
offering for the whole country. So the people decked him with
garlands like a victim and led him to the altar, where they were
just about to sacrifice him when he was rescued either by his
grandson Cytisorus, who arrived in the nick of time from Colchis, or
by Hercules, who brought tidings that the king's son Phrixus was yet
alive. Thus Athamas was saved, but afterward he went mad, and
mistaking his son Learchus for a wild beast, shot him dead. Next he
attempted the life of his remaining son Melicertes, but the child
was rescued by his mother Ino, who ran and threw herself and him
from a high rock into the sea. Mother and son were changed into
marine divinities, and the son received special homage in the isle
of Tenedos, where babes were sacrificed to him. Thus bereft of wife
and children the unhappy Athamas quitted his country, and on
enquiring of the oracle where he should dwell was told to take up
his abode wherever he should be entertained by wild beasts. He fell
in with a pack of wolves devouring sheep, and when they saw him they
fled and left him the bleeding remnants of their prey. In this way
the oracle was fulfilled. But because King Athamas had not been
sacrificed as a sin-offering for the whole country, it was divinely
decreed that the eldest male scion of his family in each generation
should be sacrificed without fail, if ever he set foot in the
town-hall, where the offerings were made to Laphystian Zeus by one
of the house of Athamas. Many of the family, Xerxes was informed,
had fled to foreign lands to escape this doom; but some of them had
returned long afterwards, and being caught by the sentinels in the
act of entering the town-hall were wreathed as victims, led forth in
procession, and sacrificed. These instances appear to have been
notorious, if not frequent; for the writer of a dialogue attributed
to Plato, after speaking of the immolation of human victims by the
Carthaginians, adds that such practices were not unknown among the
Greeks, and he refers with horror to the sacrifices offered on Mount
Lycaeus and by the descendants of Athamas.

The suspicion that this barbarous custom by no means fell into
disuse even in later days is strengthened by a case of human
sacrifice which occurred in Plutarch's time at Orchomenus, a very
ancient city of Boeotia, distant only a few miles across the plain
from the historian's birthplace. Here dwelt a family of which the
men went by the name of Psoloeis or "Sooty," and the women by the
name of Oleae or "Destructive." Every year at the festival of the
Agrionia the priest of Dionysus pursued these women with a drawn
sword, and if he overtook one of them he had the right to slay her.
In Plutarch's lifetime the right was actually exercised by a priest
Zoilus. The family thus liable to furnish at least one human victim
every year was of royal descent, for they traced their lineage to
Minyas, the famous old king of Orchomenus, the monarch of fabulous
wealth, whose stately treasury, as it is called, still stands in
ruins at the point where the long rocky hill of Orchomenus melts
into the vast level expanse of the Copaic plain. Tradition ran that
the king's three daughters long despised the other women of the
country for yielding to the Bacchic frenzy, and sat at home in the
king's house scornfully plying the distaff and the loom, while the
rest, wreathed with flowers, their dishevelled locks streaming to
the wind, roamed in ecstasy the barren mountains that rise above
Orchomenus, making the solitude of the hills to echo to the wild
music of cymbals and tambourines. But in time the divine fury
infected even the royal damsels in their quiet chamber; they were
seized with a fierce longing to partake of human flesh, and cast
lots among themselves which should give up her child to furnish a
cannibal feast. The lot fell on Leucippe, and she surrendered her
son Hippasus, who was torn limb from limb by the three. From these
misguided women sprang the Oleae and the Psoloeis, of whom the men
were said to be so called because they wore sad-coloured raiment in
token of their mourning and grief.

Now this practice of taking human victims from a family of royal
descent at Orchomenus is all the more significant because Athamas
himself is said to have reigned in the land of Orchomenus even
before the time of Minyas, and because over against the city there
rises Mount Laphystius, on which, as at Alus in Thessaly, there was
a sanctuary of Laphystian Zeus, where, according to tradition,
Athamas purposed to sacrifice his two children Phrixus and Helle. On
the whole, comparing the traditions about Athamas with the custom
that obtained with regard to his descendants in historical times, we
may fairly infer that in Thessaly and probably in Boeotia there
reigned of old a dynasty of which the kings were liable to be
sacrificed for the good of the country to the god called Laphystian
Zeus, but that they contrived to shift the fatal responsibility to
their offspring, of whom the eldest son was regularly destined to
the altar. As time went on, the cruel custom was so far mitigated
that a ram was accepted as a vicarious sacrifice in room of the
royal victim, provided always that the prince abstained from setting
foot in the town-hall where the sacrifices were offered to
Laphystian Zeus by one of his kinsmen. But if he were rash enough to
enter the place of doom, to thrust himself wilfully, as it were, on
the notice of the god who had good-naturedly winked at the
substitution of a ram, the ancient obligation which had been
suffered to lie in abeyance recovered all its force, and there was
no help for it but he must die. The tradition which associated the
sacrifice of the king or his children with a great dearth points
clearly to the belief, so common among primitive folk, that the king
is responsible for the weather and the crops, and that he may justly
pay with his life for the inclemency of the one or the failure of
the other. Athamas and his line, in short, appear to have united
divine or magical with royal functions; and this view is strongly
supported by the claims to divinity which Salmoneus, the brother of
Athamas, is said to have set up. We have seen that this presumptuous
mortal professed to be no other than Zeus himself, and to wield the
thunder and lightning, of which he made a trumpery imitation by the
help of tinkling kettles and blazing torches. If we may judge from
analogy, his mock thunder and lightning were no mere scenic
exhibition designed to deceive and impress the beholders; they were
enchantments practised by the royal magician for the purpose of
bringing about the celestial phenomena which they feebly mimicked.

Among the Semites of Western Asia the king, in a time of national
danger, sometimes gave his own son to die as a sacrifice for the
people. Thus Philo of Byblus, in his work on the Jews, says: "It was
an ancient custom in a crisis of great danger that the ruler of a
city or nation should give his beloved son to die for the whole
people, as a ransom offered to the avenging demons; and the children
thus offered were slain with mystic rites. So Cronus, whom the
Phoenicians call Israel, being king of the land and having an
only-begotten son called Jeoud (for in the Phoenician tongue Jeoud
signifies 'only begotten'), dressed him in royal robes and
sacrificed him upon an altar in a time of war, when the country was
in great danger from the enemy." When the king of Moab was besieged
by the Israelites and hard beset, he took his eldest son, who should
have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering on
the wall.

XXVII. Succession to the Soul

TO THE VIEW that in early times, and among barbarous races, kings
have frequently been put to death at the end of a short reign, it
may be objected that such a custom would tend to the extinction of
the royal family. The objection may be met by observing, first, that
the kingship is often not confined to one family, but may be shared
in turn by several; second, that the office is frequently not
hereditary, but is open to men of any family, even to foreigners,
who may fulfil the requisite conditions, such as marrying a princess
or vanquishing the king in battle; and, third, that even if the
custom did tend to the extinction of a dynasty, that is not a
consideration which would prevent its observance among people less
provident of the future and less heedful of human life than
ourselves. Many races, like many individuals, have indulged in
practices which must in the end destroy them. The Polynesians seem
regularly to have killed two-thirds of their children. In some parts
of East Africa the proportion of infants massacred at birth is said
to be the same. Only children born in certain presentations are
allowed to live. The Jagas, a conquering tribe in Angola, are
reported to have put to death all their children, without exception,
in order that the women might not be cumbered with babies on the
march. They recruited their numbers by adopting boys and girls of
thirteen or fourteen years of age, whose parents they had killed and
eaten. Among the Mbaya Indians of South America the women used to
murder all their children except the last, or the one they believed
to be the last. If one of them had another child afterwards, she
killed it. We need not wonder that this practice entirely destroyed
a branch of the Mbaya nation, who had been for many years the most
formidable enemies of the Spaniards. Among the Lengua Indians of the
Gran Chaco, the missionaries discovered what they describe as "a
carefully planned system of racial suicide, by the practice of
infanticide by abortion, and other methods." Nor is infanticide the
only mode in which a savage tribe commits suicide. A lavish use of
the poison ordeal may be equally effective. Some time ago a small
tribe named Uwet came down from the hill country, and settled on the
left branch of the Calabar River in West Africa. When the
missionaries first visited the place, they found the population
considerable, distributed into three villages. Since then the
constant use of the poison ordeal has almost extinguished the tribe.
On one occasion the whole population took poison to prove their
innocence. About half perished on the spot, and the remnant, we are
told, still continuing their superstitious practice, must soon
become extinct. With such examples before us we need not hesitate to
believe that many tribes have felt no scruple or delicacy in
observing a custom which tends to wipe out a single family. To
attribute such scruples to them is to commit the common, the
perpetually repeated mistake of judging the savage by the standard
of European civilisation. If any of my readers set out with the
notion that all races of men think and act much in the same way as
educated Englishmen, the evidence of superstitious belief and custom
collected in this work should suffice to disabuse him of so
erroneous a prepossession.

The explanation here given of the custom of killing divine persons
assumes, or at least is readily combined with, the idea that the
soul of the slain divinity is transmitted to his successor. Of this
transmission I have no direct proof except in the case of the
Shilluk, among whom the practice of killing the divine king prevails
in a typical form, and with whom it is a fundamental article of
faith that the soul of the divine founder of the dynasty is immanent
in every one of his slain successors. But if this is the only actual
example of such a belief which I can adduce, analogy seems to render
it probable that a similar succession to the soul of the slain god
has been supposed to take place in other instances, though direct
evidence of it is wanting. For it has been already shown that the
soul of the incarnate deity is often supposed to transmigrate at
death into another incarnation; and if this takes place when the
death is a natural one, there seems no reason why it should not take
place when the death has been brought about by violence. Certainly
the idea that the soul of a dying person may be transmitted to his
successor is perfectly familiar to primitive peoples. In Nias the
eldest son usually succeeds his father in the chieftainship. But if
from any bodily or mental defect the eldest son is disqualified for
ruling, the father determines in his lifetime which of his sons
shall succeed him. In order, however, to establish his right of
succession, it is necessary that the son upon whom his father's
choice falls shall catch in his mouth or in a bag the last breath,
and with it the soul, of the dying chief. For whoever catches his
last breath is chief equally with the appointed successor. Hence the
other brothers, and sometimes also strangers, crowd round the dying
man to catch his soul as it passes. The houses in Nias are raised
above the ground on posts, and it has happened that when the dying
man lay with his face on the floor, one of the candidates has bored
a hole in the floor and sucked in the chief's last breath through a
bamboo tube. When the chief has no son, his soul is caught in a bag,
which is fastened to an image made to represent the deceased; the
soul is then believed to pass into the image.

Sometimes it would appear that the spiritual link between a king and
the souls of his predecessors is formed by the possession of some
part of their persons. In southern Celebes the regalia often consist
of corporeal portions of deceased rajahs, which are treasured as
sacred relics and confer the right to the throne. Similarly among
the Sakalavas of southern Madagascar a vertebra of the neck, a nail,
and a lock of hair of a deceased king are placed in a crocodile's
tooth and carefully kept along with the similar relics of his
predecessors in a house set apart for the purpose. The possession of
these relics constitutes the right to the throne. A legitimate heir
who should be deprived of them would lose all his authority over the
people, and on the contrary a usurper who should make himself master
of the relics would be acknowledged king without dispute. When the
Alake or king of Abeokuta in West Africa dies, the principal men
decapitate his body, and placing the head in a large earthen vessel
deliver it to the new sovereign; it becomes his fetish and he is
bound to pay it honours. Sometimes, in order apparently that the new
sovereign may inherit more surely the magical and other virtues of
the royal line, he is required to eat a piece of his dead
predecessor. Thus at Abeokuta not only was the head of the late king
presented to his successor, but the tongue was cut out and given him
to eat. Hence, when the natives wish to signify that the sovereign
reigns, they say, "He has eaten the king." A custom of the same sort
is still practised at Ibadan, a large town in the interior of Lagos,
West Africa. When the king dies his head is cut off and sent to his
nominal suzerain, the Alafin of Oyo, the paramount king of Yoruba
land; but his heart is eaten by his successor. This ceremony was
performed not very many years ago at the accession of a new king of

Taking the whole of the preceding evidence into account, we may
fairly suppose that when the divine king or priest is put to death
his spirit is believed to pass into his successor. In point of fact,
among the Shilluk of the White Nile, who regularly kill their divine
kings, every king on his accession has to perform a ceremony which
appears designed to convey to him the same sacred and worshipful
spirit which animated all his predecessors, one after the other, on
the throne.

XXVIII. The Killing of the Tree-Spirit

1. The Whitsuntide Mummers

IT remains to ask what light the custom of killing the divine king
or priest sheds upon the special subject to our enquiry. In an
earlier part of this work we saw reason to suppose that the King of
the Wood at Nemi was regarded as an incarnation of a tree-spirit or
of the spirit of vegetation, and that as such he would be endowed,
in the belief of his worshippers, with a magical power of making the
trees to bear fruit, the crops to grow, and so on. His life must
therefore have been held very precious by his worshippers, and was
probably hedged in by a system of elaborate precautions or taboos
like those by which, in so many places, the life of the man-god has
been guarded against the malignant influence of demons and
sorcerers. But we have seen that the very value attached to the life
of the man-god necessitates his violent death as the only means of
preserving it from the inevitable decay of age. The same reasoning
would apply to the King of the Wood; he, too, had to be killed in
order that the divine spirit, incarnate in him, might be transferred
in its integrity to his successor. The rule that he held office till
a stronger should slay him might be supposed to secure both the
preservation of his divine life in full vigour and its transference
to a suitable successor as soon as that vigour began to be impaired.
For so long as he could maintain his position by the strong hand, it
might be inferred that his natural force was not abated; whereas his
defeat and death at the hands of another proved that his strength
was beginning to fail and that it was time his divine life should be
lodged in a less dilapidated tabernacle. This explanation of the
rule that the King of the Wood had to be slain by his successor at
least renders that rule perfectly intelligible. It is strongly
supported by the theory and practice of the Shilluk, who put their
divine king to death at the first signs of failing health, lest his
decrepitude should entail a corresponding failure of vital energy on
the corn, the cattle, and men. Moreover, it is countenanced by the
analogy of the Chitomé, upon whose life the existence of the world
was supposed to hang, and who was therefore slain by his successor
as soon as he showed signs of breaking up. Again, the terms on which
in later times the King of Calicut held office are identical with
those attached to the office of King of the Wood, except that
whereas the former might be assailed by a candidate at any time, the
King of Calicut might only be attacked once every twelve years. But
as the leave granted to the King of Calicut to reign so long as he
could defend himself against all comers was a mitigation of the old
rule which set a fixed term to his life, so we may conjecture that
the similar permission granted to the King of the Wood was a
mitigation of an older custom of putting him to death at the end of
a definite period. In both cases the new rule gave to the god-man at
least a chance for his life, which under the old rule was denied
him; and people probably reconciled themselves to the change by
reflecting that so long as the god-man could maintain himself by the
sword against all assaults, there was no reason to apprehend that
the fatal decay had set in.

The conjecture that the King of the Wood was formerly put to death
at the expiry of a fixed term, without being allowed a chance for
his life, will be confirmed if evidence can be adduced of a custom
of periodically killing his counterparts, the human representatives
of the tree-spirit, in Northern Europe. Now in point of fact such a
custom has left unmistakable traces of itself in the rural festivals
of the peasantry. To take examples.

At Niederpöring, in Lower Bavaria, the Whitsuntide representative of
the tree-spirit--the _Pfingstl_ as he was called--was clad from top
to toe in leaves and flowers. On his head he wore a high pointed
cap, the ends of which rested on his shoulders, only two holes being
left in it for his eyes. The cap was covered with water-flowers and
surmounted with a nosegay of peonies. The sleeves of his coat were
also made of water-plants, and the rest of his body was enveloped in
alder and hazel leaves. On each side of him marched a boy holding up
one of the _Pfingstl's_ arms. These two boys carried drawn swords,
and so did most of the others who formed the procession. They
stopped at every house where they hoped to receive a present; and
the people, in hiding, soused the leaf-clad boy with water. All
rejoiced when he was well drenched. Finally he waded into the brook
up to his middle; whereupon one of the boys, standing on the bridge,
pretended to cut off his head. At Wurmlingen, in Swabia, a score of
young fellows dress themselves on Whit-Monday in white shirts and
white trousers, with red scarves round their waists and swords
hanging from the scarves. They ride on horseback into the wood, led
by two trumpeters blowing their trumpets. In the wood they cut down
leafy oak branches, in which they envelop from head to foot him who
was the last of their number to ride out of the village. His legs,
however, are encased separately, so that he may be able to mount his
horse again. Further, they give him a long artificial neck, with an
artificial head and a false face on the top of it. Then a May-tree
is cut, generally an aspen or beech about ten feet high; and being
decked with coloured handkerchiefs and ribbons it is entrusted to a
special "May-bearer." The cavalcade then returns with music and song
to the village. Amongst the personages who figure in the procession
are a Moorish king with a sooty face and a crown on his head, a Dr.
Iron-Beard, a corporal, and an executioner. They halt on the village
green, and each of the characters makes a speech in rhyme. The
executioner announces that the leaf-clad man has been condemned to
death, and cuts off his false head. Then the riders race to the
May-tree, which has been set up a little way off. The first man who
succeeds in wrenching it from the ground as he gallops past keeps it
with all its decorations. The ceremony is observed every second or
third year.

In Saxony and Thüringen there is a Whitsuntide ceremony called
"chasing the Wild Man out of the bush," or "fetching the Wild Man
out of the wood." A young fellow is enveloped in leaves or moss and
called the Wild Man. He hides in the wood and the other lads of the
village go out to seek him. They find him, lead him captive out of
the wood, and fire at him with blank muskets. He falls like dead to
the ground, but a lad dressed as a doctor bleeds him, and he comes
to life again. At this they rejoice, and, binding him fast on a
waggon, take him to the village, where they tell all the people how
they have caught the Wild Man. At every house they receive a gift.
In the Erzgebirge the following custom was annually observed at
Shrovetide about the beginning of the seventeenth century. Two men
disguised as Wild Men, the one in brushwood and moss, the other in
straw, were led about the streets, and at last taken to the
market-place, where they were chased up and down, shot and stabbed.
Before falling they reeled about with strange gestures and spirted
blood on the people from bladders which they carried. When they were
down, the huntsmen placed them on boards and carried them to the
ale-house, the miners marching beside them and winding blasts on
their mining tools as if they had taken a noble head of game. A very
similar Shrovetide custom is still observed near Schluckenau in
Bohemia. A man dressed up as a Wild Man is chased through several
streets till he comes to a narrow lane across which a cord is
stretched. He stumbles over the cord and, falling to the ground, is
overtaken and caught by his pursuers. The executioner runs up and
stabs with his sword a bladder filled with blood which the Wild Man
wears round his body; so the Wild Man dies, while a stream of blood
reddens the ground. Next day a straw-man, made up to look like the
Wild Man, is placed on a litter, and, accompanied by a great crowd,
is taken to a pool into which it is thrown by the executioner. The
ceremony is called "burying the Carnival."

In Semic (Bohemia) the custom of beheading the King is observed on
Whit-Monday. A troop of young people disguise themselves; each is
girt with a girdle of bark and carries a wooden sword and a trumpet
of willow-bark. The King wears a robe of tree-bark adorned with
flowers, on his head is a crown of bark decked with flowers and
branches, his feet are wound about with ferns, a mask hides his
face, and for a sceptre he has a hawthorn switch in his hand. A lad
leads him through the village by a rope fastened to his foot, while
the rest dance about, blow their trumpets, and whistle. In every
farmhouse the King is chased round the room, and one of the troop,
amid much noise and outcry, strikes with his sword a blow on the
King's robe of bark till it rings again. Then a gratuity is
demanded. The ceremony of decapitation, which is here somewhat
slurred over, is carried out with a greater semblance of reality in
other parts of Bohemia. Thus in some villages of the Königgrätz
district on Whit-Monday the girls assemble under one lime-tree and
the young men under another, all dressed in their best and tricked
out with ribbons. The young men twine a garland for the Queen, and
the girls another for the King. When they have chosen the King and
Queen they all go in procession two and two, to the ale-house, from
the balcony of which the crier proclaims the names of the King and
Queen. Both are then invested with the insignia of their office and
are crowned with the garlands, while the music plays up. Then some
one gets on a bench and accuses the King of various offences, such
as ill-treating the cattle. The King appeals to witnesses and a
trial ensues, at the close of which the judge, who carries a white
wand as his badge of office, pronounces a verdict of "Guilty," or
"Not guilty." If the verdict is "Guilty," the judge breaks his wand,
the King kneels on a white cloth, all heads are bared, and a soldier
sets three or four hats, one above the other, on his Majesty's head.
The judge then pronounces the word "Guilty" thrice in a loud voice,
and orders the crier to behead the King. The crier obeys by striking
off the King's hats with the wooden sword.

But perhaps, for our purpose, the most instructive of these mimic
executions is the following Bohemian one. In some places of the
Pilsen district (Bohemia) on Whit-Monday the King is dressed in
bark, ornamented with flowers and ribbons; he wears a crown of gilt
paper and rides a horse, which is also decked with flowers. Attended
by a judge, an executioner, and other characters, and followed by a
train of soldiers, all mounted, he rides to the village square,
where a hut or arbour of green boughs has been erected under the
May-trees, which are firs, freshly cut, peeled to the top, and
dressed with flowers and ribbons. After the dames and maidens of the
village have been criticised and a frog beheaded, the cavalcade
rides to a place previously determined upon, in a straight, broad
street. Here they draw up in two lines and the King takes to flight.
He is given a short start and rides off at full speed, pursued by
the whole troop. If they fail to catch him he remains King for
another year, and his companions must pay his score at the ale-house
in the evening. But if they overtake and catch him he is scourged
with hazel rods or beaten with the wooden swords and compelled to
dismount. Then the executioner asks, "Shall I behead this King?" The
answer is given, "Behead him"; the executioner brandishes his axe,
and with the words, "One, two, three, let the King headless be!" he
strikes off the King's crown. Amid the loud cries of the bystanders
the King sinks to the ground; then he is laid on a bier and carried
to the nearest farmhouse.

In most of the personages who are thus slain in mimicry it is
impossible not to recognise representatives of the tree-spirit or
spirit of vegetation, as he is supposed to manifest himself in
spring. The bark, leaves, and flowers in which the actors are
dressed, and the season of the year at which they appear, show that
they belong to the same class as the Grass King, King of the May,
Jack-in-the-Green, and other representatives of the vernal spirit of
vegetation which we examined in an earlier part of this work. As if
to remove any possible doubt on this head, we find that in two cases
these slain men are brought into direct connexion with May-trees,
which are the impersonal, as the May King, Grass King, and so forth,
are the personal representatives of the tree-spirit. The drenching
of the _Pfingstl_ with water and his wading up to the middle into
the brook are, therefore, no doubt rain-charms like those which have
been already described.

But if these personages represent, as they certainly do, the spirit
of vegetation in spring, the question arises, Why kill them? What is
the object of slaying the spirit of vegetation at any time and above
all in spring, when his services are most wanted? The only probable
answer to this question seems to be given in the explanation already
proposed of the custom of killing the divine king or priest. The
divine life, incarnate in a material and mortal body, is liable to
be tainted and corrupted by the weakness of the frail medium in
which it is for a time enshrined; and if it is to be saved from the
increasing enfeeblement which it must necessarily share with its
human incarnation as he advances in years, it must be detached from
him before, or at least as soon as, he exhibits signs of decay, in
order to be transferred to a vigorous successor. This is done by
killing the old representative of the god and conveying the divine
spirit from him to a new incarnation. The killing of the god, that
is, of his human incarnation, is therefore merely a necessary step
to his revival or resurrection in a better form. Far from being an
extinction of the divine spirit, it is only the beginning of a purer
and stronger manifestation of it. If this explanation holds good of
the custom of killing divine kings and priests in general, it is
still more obviously applicable to the custom of annually killing
the representative of the tree-spirit or spirit of vegetation in

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