Shaman  Previous   



ON THE hypothesis that the method of man's creation was evolution, that he is the finest product of nature's forces working in continuous upward striving, how are we to explain man's arrival at the realization of soul or spirit, of something which is intelligently and not merely instinctively directive of action? The possession of soul, in this sense, by even the highest animals is disallowed by scientists; though recognition is growing that elements that are acknowledged to belong to the intellectual and even to the moral powers already exist in brute psychology. Such elements are shame or chagrin, and fear of what seems to the animal what we might call the uncanny. The writer remembers a scene in Meadville, Pa., where as reminiscences of a former iron foundry there exist in some of the dooryards castings of dogs. One day notice was attracted by a street cur which had stopped a few feet distant from one of these cast-iron dogs. The cur was "pointing" at the image and wagging rapidly his short tail in the manner of dogs intimating friendly intentions towards another dog, and desire for acquaintance with it. Seeing no hostile demonstrations on the part of the acquaintance-to-be, he went up to the iron replica slowly, smelt of it, and at once dropped his apology for a tail and made off with chagrin plainly stamped in his entire demeanor. Mr. Romanes tells of a trick on a pet dog that was fond of playing with bones, which it would worry and toss and growl at, evidently making believe that they were alive. The owner tied a thin but strong thread to the bone with which it was one day playing, and after a little time, when the dog had cast the bone some distance away and was creeping up to it as to an object of prey, he began gently to pull the string. The manner of the dog changed at once, first evidently in surprise; then it continued to crawl up to investigate. But as the bone continued to retreat, the dog finally withdrew and hid under the furniture.[1] The animal evidently recognized (1) that the bone was lifeless, inert, therefore (2) unendowed with power of motion. But (3) this thing had moved, and fear (dread

[1. Cited by Clodd, in Animism, pp. 22-23.]

of the unknown) entered evidently as the result of a sort of rational process. It will be noted that this case is to be differentiated from those where fear enters as the result of punishment, in which case the "fear" may be only the result of association of ideas and the formation of "instinctive" habit. There was manifestation of chagrin in the first case cited, for such was the clear impression furnished when the animal looked back at the witnesses of the scene as they burst into laughter; and of fear in the second case, since the animal showed what in a human being we should call superstitious apprehension. There is therefore no adequate reason for denying to primeval man a large degree of rationality, growing in extension and intension with enlarging experience and exercise. He was no longer sheer animal. Of course, it was by achievement of rationality, in however small degree, that be became man. He was no longer a mere observer--animals are observant--but a thinker, who reflected and reasoned, however faultily, upon his observations. The salient mark of his differentiation from the animal lies in his recognition of possession of this quality. Before this, relapse into sheer animality was perhaps possible; after it, such relapse is inconceivable. How then did this come about?

The answer most in favor with anthropologists is that it began (1) with the phenomena of sleep--(a) the evident difference between that state and waking life, combined with (b) the occurrence of dreams which often so closely mimic or deal with the active and conscious existence of the individual;[2] and (2) in the difference between the living and the dead. It is to be recognized that (1a) and (2) are compared and combined in the logic of the savage, and afford new ground for his belief in something apart from and different from the body which eventually becomes known as soul. Through observation often repeated, and through reasoning and reflection upon the facts thus presented, man arrived at the conclusion that he is himself a dual being, possessing body and (what was eventually recognized as) soul or spirit. Having arrived at this conclusion, he deduced from

[2. Cf. the dreams of Pharaoh's butler and of his baker, as narrated in Gen. 39; each of the individuals dreams of matters connected with his specific duties.]

experience and observation, or else jumped to the conclusion, that other objects were similarly constituted; he might attribute life, soul, intention, and action to each and every object, to any object, that came under his observation, no matter what its constitution. It may be remarked, en passant, that the dream life of man is separated from that of animals probably only by the character of the content of his dream, as it reproduces or recomposes experiences registered in the (conscious or unconscious, subliminal) memory. It is well known that some animals dream. The twitching of the muscles or the whining or even barking of a dog in sleep has often been noticed, and is explicable best on the hypothesis of a dream. If animals dream and exhibit elements of consciousness, there is every reason to carry back to a very early period in human history the beginning of the chain of thinking that, on the hypothesis here presented, led to the conception of spirit or soul as animating physical objects.

How this could come about is abundantly illustrated from the interpretations of dream phenomena by primitive peoples. The dream life of a savage being is conditioned by his waking existence, it mirrors more or less perfectly the life he leads. It is very probable that the dreams of savages mimic even more closely the waking existence than those of man in a more advanced stage of culture. The reason for this is that the primitive mode of existence is less complex. Fewer elements of interest go to make up life, and the course of events is more uniform. Mr. F. Granger remarks: "If yesterday was like the day before, and is going to be repeated in a thousand tomorrows, the dreams which echo the life of the past will presage, with fair accuracy, the life of the days to come. Add to all this that the primitive mind distinguishes with difficulty [we should prefer to say, distinguishes not at all] between what is real and what is imagined [i.e., to the savage the dream and the vision of the night are equally real with the sights and experiences of his waking hours] and we can understand why the dream existence is often placed on a level with that of waking hours.[3] Lying down to rest, the savage dreams of the chase or of the search for vegetable food. On awaking he tells his

[3. Worship of The Romans, pp. 28-29; cf. Fiske, Myths and Myth-makers, p. 18.]

companions that he has been away on a hunt or the like, and relates the adventures through which he believes he has passed. But his companions assure him that his body has been with them all the time, and both he and they naturally deduce a dual existence-an invisible soul, usually inhabiting but on occasion leaving a visible body.[4] Here then is one almost certain source of the idea of soul.

How conclusive such reasoning is to the primitive mind, how firmly the savage believes in the dream as consisting of actual experience, may be seen in the comparatively exhaustive collection of cases by Dr. J. G. Frazer.[5] Thus an Indian dreamed that at his master's orders he had (during the night) hauled a canoe up a series of rapids, and next morning reproached the master for making him work so hard in the hours appropriated to rest.[6] To this savage the dream was real and the toll exhausting. Of the actuality of the belief in the absence of the soul during sleep there is abundant evidence. Numerous peoples in a

[4. C.f. Budge, Osiris and The Egyptian Resurrection, ii. 122, 135-136. Gomes, Seventeen Years among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo, p. 177.

5. Taboo, chap. V.

6. pp. 36, 37; c.f. Gomes, Sea Dyaks of Borneo, p. 161.]

lowly stage of culture use caution in awaking a sleeper. It is held that his soul is away, and that he must be aroused gradually so that the soul may have time to return; the same reasoning applies to infants.[7] Melanesians explain the phenomena of a fainting fit in the same way, holding that such cases indicate premature death, but that the soul was not yet wanted in the spirit world and so was sent back to earth.[8]

A different source of the idea of soul is found in the phenomena of death, powerfully reënforcing the deductions made from sleep and dreams. While in the one case there was seen the inertness of the body, perhaps with breathing hardly perceptible, which yet was experiencing dreams that were interpreted as the activity of the absent soul; in the other there was noted the expiring breath and the subsequent inertness of the body, only more pronounced than in sleep, passing into rigidity and finally into decay. Action had ceased with that last exhalation. If in sleep the dream was interpreted as absence of

[7. Frazer, Taboo, pp. 39-42; Roscoe, The Baganda, p. 18; Seligmann, Melanesians, pp. 189 ff.

8. Brown, Melanesians, pp. 192 ff.]

soul, much more applicable would that interpretation seem when the bystanders had noted the last breath and the (consequent) absence of motion, action, speech, life. Something had gone away with the last sigh, something unseen, the absence of which brought about a great change. That man lying there--companion, husband, father, brother, friend--used to live and move and talk and breathe. He was wont to respond to call and to react to the various stimuli about him. Now calls were unheard, appeals brought no reply, promptings met no response. And the difference was brought about (so men reasoned) by the absence of that which had issued forth unseen, never to return, at least to its former home, as survivors would observe.

But the full consequences of observance of the phenomena of death in the direction under investigation are not seen till we take into account certain other phases of human fallibility. Particularly is it necessary to note primitive man's relatively smaller experience and confused perceptions, and the aberrant conclusions often drawn from these.[9]

Most men are and always have been deficient

[9. Granger, Worship of the Romans, pp. 28-29.]

in power both of observation and of deduction. (1) They assume as real many things that do riot exist, events that do not occur, and relations that have no reality. Illustrations are found in the belief in the existence of a directive power in the object picked up by the fetish worshiper, the superstition of the Celt that a fairy has left in the place of his own baby a fairy changeling,[10] and the belief in the descent of a human gens from, e.g., eagle, fox, or snake, as in totemism. Similarly boys of Mafulu, New Guinea, while making a drum must drink only what is found in axils of certain plants, else the embers which are to hollow out their drums will not burn-drinking any other water will put it out, or certain other restrictions are felt to be necessary.[11] (2) They take obvious facts and interpret them wrongly. Thus in the mediæval ordeal of the sacrament (a late example chosen only because of its familiarity, but exemplifying perfectly earlier conditions-, the phenomena can be parallelled in any quarter of the world and every grade of culture) the sacramental wafer was employed

[10. Rhys, Celtic Folk-lore, p. 102.

11. Williamson, South Sea Savage, pp. 258-259.]

as a proof of innocence or guilt. Constriction of the throat and inability to swallow was often the result of the administration of the wafer. If it did not result, deity was held to have shown the innocence of the accused; if it did, guilt was declared manifest. How really irrelative this test was to the facts is shown by the frequent experience of inability to swallow a medicinal pill or tablet without the aid of a liquid to "wash it down." Yet here is no question of innocence or guilt. The explanation is that attention to the ad of swallowing (which is usually effortless and automatic) causes effort and so constriction. Swallowing in the ordeal was doubtless sometimes impossible just for the reason given here; but deity did not intervene, guilt or innocence was not necessarily revealed by this fact, nor did inability to swallow necessarily result from guilt-the innocent might also find the task difficult simply because of the attention directed to it.

On the difference in respect of observational and reasoning power of savage and highly civilized man let Grant Allen speak.

"To us the conception of human life as a relatively short period, bounded by a known duration, and naturally terminated at a fixed end, is a common and familiar one. We forget, however, that to the savage this is quite otherwise. He lives in a small and scattered community, where deaths are rare, and where natural death is comparatively infrequent. Most of his people are killed in war, or devoured by wild beasts, or destroyed by accident in the chase, or by thirst or starvation. Some are drowned in rapid rivers; some crushed by falling trees or stones; some poisoned by deadly fruits, or bitten by venomous snakes; some massacred by chiefs or murdered in quarrels with their own tribesmen. In a large majority of instances there is some open and obvious cause of death, and this cause is generally due either to the hand of man or to some other animal; or failing that, to some apparently active effort of external nature, such as flood or lightning or forest fires or landslip or earthquake."[12]

Man recognized his own volitional agency in causing death in the chase or in personal conflicts. So to each of the agencies which had produced disaster he attributed powers like his own--the volitional behind the

[11. Evolution of the Idea of God, pp. 44-45.]

physical. He had, perhaps, himself narrowly escaped the fate he had seen befall others and ascribed his escape to his own cleverness. But not all of his acquaintances had suffered what we should call a violent death. Some had passed away in disease or even in old age. Surely it was evident, one would say, that no external cause was at work there. But that was not his way of thinking. He knew of unseen powers that send or are the wind, the storm, the lightning.[13] And so the body that was racked with pain and eventually became inert in death was held to be tortured by an invisible something. In many cases, he knew, death resulted from external violence; in all cases, he reasoned, the great change was wrought by powers external to the victim, which sometimes worked with invisible weapons.[14]

Bearing in mind, then, the faulty observation and logic of primitives, and connecting the two sources of the idea of soul previously discussed, viz. (1) sleep and dreams, and (2) the phenomenon of death, together with

[12. The Ekoi of South Africa regard thunder as a giant who strides across the heavens, while lightning is either his servant or his enemy. Talbot, In the Shadow of the Bush, p. 73.

13. See chapter IX for cases of disbelief in natural death.]

(3) the inference therefrom of a something that leaves the body either temporarily in sleep or permanently in death, we are brought to notice next what apparently corroborated the evidence (as it would seem) respecting the existence of soul, that is, the appearance in dreams of those who had died. This was in all probability a more frequent occurrence with early than with modern man, because of the smaller content of his experience and the consequent more frequent repetition of its elements. We have already remarked that the distinction between reality and fancy, fact and the merely apparent, is often missed in early cultural stages. It was quite in accordance with natural logic to reason that the apparition in the dream was real. The dead, therefore, still lived, had been seen, and had possibly engaged in conversation, The wandering spirit of the dreamer had met the disembodied spirit; or the latter had visited his former friends while they slept.[15] The tremendous consequences flowing from these beliefs will be developed a little later.

By these various experiences, dovetailing and appearing to force a conclusion, man

[15. Lang, The Making of Religion, pp. 54 ff.]

certainly in a very primitive stage of culture drew the inference that he was a duality - the body which he could see and feel, and a something of which in his conscious existence he knew nothing except that it existed. Moreover, it is demonstrable that among many primitive peoples the priority in importance is assigned to the spirit. Thus of the New Guineans it is affirmed: "These and other things [specified in the context] seem to show that a sharp distinction is drawn between body and spirit by the natives. Certainly the body gains from long associations virtues from the indwelling spirit; but it is the spirit which is the real man, higher than, and superior to, the body in which the spirit dwells."[16]

One can not go far astray if he maintain that it was the discovery of the soul which was the most momentous in the history of the human race; to it must be traced all man's uplift in the millenniums of his existence.

[16. Newton, In Far New Guinea, p. 194.]

Next: Chapter III. The Soul's Nature

Shaman | Shamanism FAQ | About Shamanism | Native American Shamanism | Celtic Shamanism |
North Pacific shamanism | Siberian Shamanism | Mongolian Shamanism | Links



Kama Sutra art - ancient love teachings.

Vintage Photos - history of erotic art photography.
Sex News - sexual knowledge and guide.