The Soul minus the Body.
WE saw in a former Lecture how the name and concept of soul arose. It was a perfectly simple process; what may almost be called a mere process of subtraction. There was man a living body acting feeling perceiving thinking and speaking. Suddenly after receiving one blow with a club that living body collapses dies putrefies falls to dust. The body therefore is seen to be destroyed. But there is nothing to prove that the agent within that body who felt who perceived who thought and spoke had likewise been destroyed had died putrefied and fallen to dust. Hence the very natural conclusion that though that agent had departed it continued to exist somewhere even though there was no evidence to show how it existed and where it existed.
Continuance of Feelings towards the Dead.
We next examined the different ways in which some of the principal nations of antiquity treated the dead bodies of their friends and we could clearly perceive that they were all suggested by feelings of either love or fear not directed towards the material remains which had either been destroyed by fire or hidden in the earth but directed towards something else which they called the souls or the spirits or the shades.
If a father had been loved and revered while living among his children it would have been against all the tendencies of the human heart if those sentiments had suddenly ceased at death. And if an enemy had died or had actually been killed it seemed by no means unnatural that feelings of hatred and fear should be entertained against him even after his death.
However whether it was due to the fact that among uncivilised races the sentiment of love was loss prevalent or whether the terrible appearances which often accompanied death told on the survivors certain it is that in ancient times the feelings towards the departed consisted more largely of fear or awe than of tenderness and love.
The Zulus however when giving an account of their ancestral worship to Bishop Callaway laid great stress on their feelings of love and gratitude towards the deceased. Their father whom they knew is the head by whom they begin and end in their prayer for they know him best and his love for his children; they remember his kindness to them whilst he was living; they compare his treatment of them whilst he was living support themselves by it and say: ‘he will still treat us in the same way now he is dead.’
It was this feeling of love that led to a continuance of acts of kindness towards the departed. Not only was their body carefully disposed of but their memory was cherished and at the ordinary meals of the family and at festive gatherings some share of food and drink was often thrown into the fire of the hearth as a gift to them. This led to what I believe to have been a subsequent belief namely that in some way or other the souls were really able to enjoy these gifts nay that they had a right to them and would resent their withdrawal.
The feelings of fear would dictate almost the same acts though the motive would be rather a wish to propitiate than a desire to benefit the departed. The thought that the souls of the dead had the power of injuring the survivors seems to have been very common and the great attention paid to a proper disposal of the dead bodies was due in no small degree to a desire to pacify the departed spirits and to give them what was considered their due (τὰ νόμιμα).
I hardly think however that as has lately been suggested we can ascribe the wide-spread custom of burning the dead to an apprehension lest if only buried their ghosts might return. There are many much more natural motives that would have suggested cremation rather than burial. Nor do I know of any evidence that people who burnt the dead bodies thought that they were safe thereby against the mischievous power of the ghosts of the departed or that they were freed from the obligation of honouring and appeasing the ancestral spirits by commemorations and sacrificial offerings.
The Germs of Ancestral Religion.
Two results would almost inevitably follow. The honours paid to the dead at the time of the funeral would assume a solemn and sacred character and their continuance at certain times and seasons would become part and parcel of the religious life of the people. Secondly the souls themselves to whom these honours were paid would soon assume a more and more exalted character and occupy in the minds of their worshippers a place second only to that which had been assigned to the gods.
This process would naturally assume different forms among different people but its general character would be the same. A second religion would arise a second class of no longer human and soon of half-divine beings would be believed in and the powers ascribed to them and the worship paid to them would become almost if not entirely identical with those of the gods.
The First Ancestor.
It has been asserted that in some cases this worship of the departed formed all that can be called religion among certain tribes. Religion has sometimes been called a retrogressio in infinitum and by a very simple retrogressio in infinitum certain tribes were supposed to have argued that as they had known a father a grandfather and a great-grandfather there must have been earlier fathers and fathers of fathers all to be honoured and to be feared all in their way powerful able to punish and able to reward till at last human reason wanted a rest and postulated at the beginning of all things one father the father of all fathers and very soon the maker of all things. You see that this process of reasoning is perfectly natural however startling its result may seem to us. When a missionary tells us for the first time that a savage believes that the world was made by his grandfather we find it difficult to believe such a statement. Nevertheless the train of thought that leads from a real father to a father of all fathers is not so very different from that which leads our own minds from the conception of one cause to the conception of a cause of all causes. The Zulus for instance believe in Unkulunkulu the great-grandfather and this great-grandfather is regarded by some of the Zulu tribes as the creator and ruler of the world.
Were there Races without Physical Religion?
Some students assure us that there are races whose religion consists entirely of ancestral worship. This question whether there are and whether there have been races whose whole religion consists in worship of ancestors can only be solved by a careful examination of those very troublesome accounts of travellers of which I had to speak before. As far as my own studies go I have not succeeded in discovering one single race believing in ancestral souls only and not in gods. Among civilised and literary nations whose history must always form the starting-point and the foundation of any truly scientific research there is no trace of such a state of things. That does not prove its entire impossibility by no means. But it will certainly make the true historian very careful before he draws his general conclusions from the fragmentary accounts of travellers among Zulus and Australians rather than from the sacred literature of the great nations of the world.
Are there Races whose Religion is exclusively Ancestor-worship?
I have been looking out for many years wherever there was any likelihood of meeting with a religion that consisted entirely of ancestor-worship. There is no à priori reason why races should not exist now who even in the eyes of careful observers might seem to worship nothing but their ancestors. Even where a worship of nature-gods existed it is quite possible that it might have vanished and have been superseded by a worship of ancestral spirits.
Religion of Zulus.
The best-known of the races who were formerly considered as having no religion except ancestor-worship are the Zulus and the other so-called Bântu tribes of South Africa. I do not wonder that this mistake should have arisen. These tribes are migratory they are not held together by a common priesthood and like most savages they are very unwilling to allow themselves to be examined on religious topics. It was quite natural therefore that some missionaries when they were told that these Kafirs worshipped Unkulunkulu the great-grandfather should have stated that the whole religion of these natives consisted in worship of grandfathers and ancestors. When at a later time some missionaries such as Dr. Colenso or Dr. Callaway acquired a more accurate knowledge of the dialects spoken by the Bântu tribes and were able to carry on rational discussions with some old chiefs and priests they were able to give a much better account. But they also were under the impression for a long time that the Zulu religion was exclusively ancestral.
We owe the best description of the Zulu religion to Bishop Callaway in his Religious System of the Amazulus a book which certainly leaves us under the impression that at present the Zulu religion consists almost exclusively of worship of ancestors. Their ancestral spirits are called Amatongo1 and at their head stands Unkulunkulu.
This Unkulunkulu their great primal ancestor has come to be regarded as the Creator though other authorities deny that the Zulus have any idea of creation. The Rev. J. Macdonald2 for instance assures us that ‘they hold that the earth and the heavenly bodies have always been as we see them now and that they will thus always continue unless some terrestrial catastrophe should set the whole on fire or in some other way disperse everything.’ But even when Unkulunkulu is regarded as the Creator he is not exactly an object of worship awe or reverence with the Zulus. He is often supposed to have given place to newer men of more recent times. The great objects of fear and reverence to which they pray and sacrifice are the spirits of dead ancestors for the last few generations.
‘Ancestor-worship’ as the same intelligent observer the Rev. J. Macdonald remarks3 ‘is not only professed by them but they actually regulate their conduct by it. If a man has a narrow escape from accident and death he says “My father's soul saved me” and he offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving accordingly. In cases of sickness propitiatory sacrifices are offered to remove the displeasure of the ancestors and secure a return of their favour. Should any one neglect a national custom in the conduct of his affairs he must offer sacrifice to avert calamity as the consequence of his neglect. When offering propitiatory sacrifices the form of prayer used by the priest is: “Ye who are above accept our offering and remove our trouble.” In free-will offerings as in escape from danger or at the ripening of crops the prayer takes the following form: “Ye who are above accept the food we have provided for you; smell our offering now burning and grant us prosperity and peace.”’
Many missionaries who did not consider that ancestor-worship could be considered as religion declared in consequence that the South African tribes had no religion at all and no belief in God. Even Dr. Callaway though fully aware of the religious character of ancestral worship seems to have been doubtful for a time whether the Bântu tribes had any knowledge of divine beings apart from their ancestral spirits.
All observers4 however agree now that these tribes believe in other spirits also besides those of men. They speak of water or river spirits whom they describe as dwarfs or fairies. These are called Incanti and are always mischievous.
They have also a number of superstitions about thunder lightning rain the rainbow eclipses of sun and moon and other physical phenomena. But all this would not yet prove that they believed in any of the gods of physical religion or in a Supreme Being above the ancestral spirits.
However in his last paper ‘On the Religious Sentiment amongst the Tribes of South Africa’ Dr. Callaway reports the statement made to him by an intelligent Gqika chief. ‘We used not to say’ he told the bishop ‘Utikxo for God but Ukqamata. When men feared anything they used to say “May Ukqamata help us.”’ ‘Here then’ the bishop writes ‘we have hidden in the language of the people a word which shows that long ago before the word Utikxo was introduced amongst them for God they had a name representative to them of the Supreme—a being not like Unkulunkula amongst the Zulus who is sometimes represented as having begun died and passed away; but one who is seen now with them and to whom they constantly appeal in time of necessity much in the same way as the devout amongst ourselves appeal to God.’
Other people whom the bishop asked told him that Ukqamata is a living spirit but that they knew not where it dwells; and if asked where it dwells they would answer ‘It goes beside me and yet I see it not.’ And they said ‘Spirits go out of men to go to Ukqamata to the place where they dwell with him. The corpse does not go to Ukqamata it is the spirit only which goes to him; the corpse remains in the earth.’
Dr. Callaway then continues: ‘I have been long aware that apparently apart from above and beyond their more ancestral worship…the Kafir races…universally speak of a Great Itongo and appeal to it pretty much in the same way as these frontier Kafir tribes are said to appeal to Ukqamata.’ The bishop also states that the Kafirs seem quite aware that the various names applied to the Supreme Spirit are but various names of the same Being. They admitted that they had borrowed Utikxo as the name of the Supreme Spirit from their neighbours the Hottentots.
In spite of much confusion in these statements one thing is clear that the Kafir races of South Africa are not exclusively worshippers of ancestral spirits but that they recognise or remember a Supreme Spirit standing above their ancestors and exercising a personal power over nature5.
Religion of the Niassans.
Another race which quite recently revived my hopes of finding a religion consisting exclusively of ancestor-worship are the Niassans. An interesting description of the religion of the Niassans was published lately by Kramer in the Tijdschrift vor Indische Taal- Land- en Volkenkunde deel xxxii 1890.
These Niassans who live in a solitary island west of Sumatra have more than a hundred idols. Formerly they had less now they go on adding to their number. Priests and priestesses make a living by serving these idols.
Their really important and permanent idols are the images of ancestors and house-idols. The ancestors are represented as human figures about six to eight inches high and carefully carved. Poor people however have to be satisfied with a piece of wood with holes for eyes and mouth.
The house-idols are in the shape of children and in the houses of rich chief's these also are carefully executed.
After a man has been buried the priest covers his grave with a mat and seeks till he find a six-legged spider under it. That is taken as the soul of the departed deposited in a reed and placed by the side of the image.
Such images however are made of those only who have left male descendants. They occasionally borrow them from one another.
The Niassans expect all blessings from their ancestors who likewise protect them against all dangers. But for that purpose it is necessary that they should receive constant offerings. No event of any importance takes place without some communication being made or some honour shown to the ancestral images. On some occasions their names have to be repeated. In fact their whole life seems to be under the sway of their ancestors. It is true they believe in evil spirits also (Bechus) and even in a devil (Bela). But these might be traced back to a belief in hostile ancestors or ancestors of hostile tribes. At all events they would not prove the existence of anything like a belief in nature-gods. What are called their hazimas (p. 492) and what many people would call fetishes are really nothing but amulets stones teeth pieces of lead &c. which they wear as a protection against evil spirits. They are often supposed to have fallen from the sky to have been the head of a serpent or to consist of condensed stormwind.
However within and above all this chaos of ancestral spirits ghosts and fetishes there suddenly appears our old friend the sun. Yes solar worship even among the Niassans! The owner the lord and master of all men is Lature and he dwells in the sun. As we are the possessors of our pigs the Niassans say Lature is the possessor of all men. Nay they are proud to call themselves the pigs of the sun. Sacrifices are offered to the sun-god that he may grant a long life to his pigs.
But though we look in vain for a religion consisting of ancestor-worship only we often find that in the same religion the worship of ancestral spirits and the worship of the gods of nature exist side by side and what is important we find that they are never confounded but kept carefully distinct even in the terminology that is applied to them (pp. 478 490).
Worship of Gods and Worship of Ancestors kept distinct.
Professor Ch. de la Saussaye in his Manual of the Science of Religion (p. 113) has pointed out that in Greece for instance ‘other names are applied to the altars sacrifices and offerings connected with the dead than those used in the worship of the Olympian gods. The altar is called ἐσχάρα not βωμός; the offering of the sacrifice ἐναγίζϵιν ἐντέμνϵιν not θύϵιν; the libations themselves χοαί not σπονδαί.’ This is the rule but there are exceptions.
Dr. Rohde also in his Psyche p. 140 remarks that ‘the Greeks sacrificed to the gods by day to the heroes in the evening or by night not on high altars but on a low sacrificial hearth which was close to the ground and sometimes hollow. Black-coloured animals of the male sex were killed for them and their heads were not as in the case of victims intended for the gods turned towards the sky but pressed down to the ground. The blood was allowed to run on the ground or on the sacrificial hearth as a blood-feast (αἱμακουρία) to the heroes; their body was burnt entire so that no man might eat of it. Sometimes cooked viands were offered to the heroes and they were invited to partake of them.’
Much the same applies to Sanskrit. When offerings are made to the gods the Brâhmanic thread has to hang from the left shoulder under the right arm (upavîtin). When the offering is intended for the departed spirits the same thread has to be hung on the right shoulder and under the left arm (prâtîna-vîtin)6.
The departed spirits arc called Pitris fathers the gods Devas the bright.
The exclamation used in sacrificing to the gods is svâhâ; in sacrifices to the departed it is svadhâ.
This shows among two nations so widely separated as Greeks and Hindus but whose language is known to us accurately a clear recollection of the different meaning with which from the very first gods and ancestors were worshipped by the Âryas.
Let us now see more in detail what some of the Aryan nations thought on this subject and what place in their religion they assigned respectively to the worship of the gods and to the worship of ancestral spirits.
It is easy to see that when we speak of worship of ancestors and worship of gods the meaning of worship must be different according to the different nature of those to whom it is addressed. The worship of the dead began with acts of kindness shown to the departed from the day of their death to the day of their funeral; the worship of gods was inspired by a feeling of awe and arose from a sense of what was due to higher powers. In the end these two kinds of worship may have become almost identical but in their first motives they stand wide apart.
Before we proceed further however we must first try to find out by what process of reasoning or it may be unreasoning people came to believe anything about the dead beyond their mere existence. The fact of their existence as we saw was proved if it required any proof at all by an argument as irresistible to-day as it was thousands of years ago. In the absence of all proof to the contrary the agent in man was believed to exist on the same ground on which the agents in nature were believed to exist. There can be no action without an agent. Agni the agent of fire was not believed to be destroyed and annihilated although the individual fire in which he appeared might be extinguished. And the soul the agent in man could not be believed to be destroyed and annihilated although the individual body in which it appeared had fallen to dust and ashes.
But the human mind and more especially the human heart is not satisfied with this general belief in the mere existence of souls. It wants to know what it cannot possibly know where and how the soul exists after the body has left it or rather after it has left the body. Here we enter into the domain of mythology as different from that of religion. A study of the imaginations of ancient people with regard to the state of the soul after death may be useful for a knowledge of the character of different nations possibly for a knowledge of human character in general. But it can no longer influence our own convictions. What Plato says in support of his belief in one God ‘who holds in His hands the beginning middle and end of all that is and moves according to His nature in a straight line’ is said for us quite as much as for the ancient Greeks and even the name of Zeus if we but know its true meaning need not offend us. But the mythological stories told of Zeus and the other Olympian gods are nothing to us. They were very little even to Plato.
It is the same with the mythology concerning the souls of the departed. That these souls exist is as true for us as it was for Plato. But where they exist and how they exist is a question the various answers to which may form an important subject of study to the historian but can hardly if at all influence our own conviction that here as in so many other things we must learn to wait and for a while to remain ignorant.
Such ignorance however was difficult to brook and we find I believe among all nations some attempts however futile at lifting the veil and catching a few glimpses of the life of the souls after death.
Where do the Departed exist?
With people who burn their dead there can be little doubt that the body as such has come to an end when there is nothing left of it but dust and ashes. Their views about the abode of the departed souls are therefore generally less coarse and material than the views of people who bury their dead near their own abodes sometimes beneath their own houses; or of the Egyptians and other races who mummify the bodies and keep them daily before their eyes.
When the Greeks say that the likenesses of men the eidôla mere shadows went to the realm of Hades we have only to restore the meaning of Hades namely Aides the Invisible and we could ourselves use their language that the likenesses of the departed go to the realm of the Invisible. It is only a more poetical expression for what we express in more homely terms when we say that the soul has departed and has become invisible. You know however how very soon this invisible world this house of the Invisible becomes a Hades with terrible rivers to be crossed in Charon's boat7; with a three-headed watch-dog with judges judging the souls and punishments and tortures inflicted on the wicked.
All this is mythology and cannot affect us.
With people who buried their dead new ideas sprang up as we see for instance among the Jews who placed the abode of the dead below the earth. Their Sheol was indeed a lower world and the same idea gained ground among other nations also. So long as the souls of the departed were supposed to exist in a place separated from the seats of the gods they were naturally considered as Inferi living below in opposition to Superi the gods living above. From this simple distinction have sprung in time all the horrors of the infernal regions which are supposed to have influenced the lives of men more powerfully than any other article of religious faith.
Before this definite localisation of the departed took place we find another very general impression prevailing among civilised and uncivilised nations that the departed went to the West. The Hervey islanders believed that when a man died his spirit returned to Avaiki the original home of their ancestors in the region of sunset. Sometimes this region is called te-po the night i.e. the place where the sun hides itself at night or in other words the West. Dr. William Wyatt Gill8 thinks that this is due to the fact that the Eastern Polynesians came originally from the West from Avaiki (=Hawaiki Hawai'i Savaiki Savai'i all forms of the same name). This may be so. But Avaiki is conceived also as a vast hollow beneath the earth. In it there are many regions bearing separate names but all to be regarded as parts of spirit-land. And in this sense Avaiki is clearly the West as the land of departed spirits.
It required but little poetical imagination to speak of the sun as dying every day and vanishing in the west and no expression seemed more natural than to speak of man's day having closed of his life having set of his soul following the path of the sun to the abode of the Blessed. The sun was even conceived as the first who found the way to a realm beyond and under various names he soon assumed the character of the Lord of the Departed and then by a natural reaction was claimed as a man as the first of men who had lived and died9. Sometimes however as in the Veda that realm of Yama the first of the departed and the Pitris the Fathers is placed in the highest heaven an expression which almost ceases to be local and assumes something of an ethical character.
Nor is this more exalted view as to the abode of the departed confined to civilised races. Though the Zulus for instance localise some of their spirits in caverns on the roofs of houses and other places yet their general idea seems to be that at death the spirit goes upwards to the spirit-land. This is best shown by their own usual form of prayer which is: ‘Ye who are above ye who have gone before10.’
So much with regard to the ideas as to where the departed existed after death.
How do the Departed exist?
The answer to the question how they existed was suggested in the first place by moral sentiments. We know of several nations who though they believed in the existence of the departed after death did not believe that they were liable to punishments or rewards for what they had done in this life.
Belief in Punishments and Rewards.
But suppose a crime had been discovered after the death of the man who had committed it how could the thought be suppressed that he would be punished in the next world? And if people stood at the funeral pile of a father or a mother or a friend whose kindness they had not been able to requite during life what was more natural for them than to hope and to believe that their love would be rewarded in the next world? And this did not remain a fond hope. It was soon looked upon as a necessity and a certainty for without it there would be no justice in the world and that there is justice in the world is an ineradicable belief of the human heart.
I know that this expression ‘an ineradicable belief of the human heart’ gives great offence to certain philosophers. They either deny the existence of such beliefs in toto or they try to account for them as the result of repeated experience. But in our case how could it be said that a belief in universal justice arises from repeated experience? Surely no one would say that our experience teaches us again and again that the good are rewarded and the bad punished in this life. One might even go so far as to say that it is the repeated experience of the very contrary namely of the misfortunes of the good and the triumphs of the bad that provokes an appeal to and a belief in a higher justice.
Plato in a famous passage in the Laws p. 959 says: ‘Now we must believe the legislator when he tells us that the soul is in all respects superior to the body and that even in life what makes each one of us to be what we are is only the soul; and that the body follows us about in the likeness of each of us and therefore when we are dead the bodies of the dead are rightly said to be our shades or images; for the true and immortal being of each one of us which is called the soul goes on her way to other gods that before them she may give an account—an inspiring hope to the good but very terrible to the bad as the law of our fathers tells us.’
I quote this passage not because it is Plato's but because we see from it how even Plato submits to the authority of this νόμος πάτριος this law of our fathers which without vouchsafing any proof declares that justice will prevail.
The Law of Cause and Effect.
But though I call this an ineradicable belief of the human heart I do not mean to say that no proof can be produced for it. I only mean that no proof is required until doubt has first been thrown on it. When this belief in justice has been challenged it requires but little reflection to see that it is but another form of the old law of causality which underlies the whole of our thoughts nay without which no thought whatever would be possible. It may be said that this law of causality is an abstraction which must of necessity belong to a much later phase in the history of the human mind. So it does. But it exists nevertheless even in the most ancient times and in the laws of our fathers; nay it exercises its influence on the thoughts of men even though they have as yet no name for it.
We saw in our last course of Lectures how the same hidden law of causality necessitated a belief in agents behind the acts of nature. In its most general form this belief might be called the inevitable result of the simple and universal proposition Ex nihilo nihil fit. Applied to the phenomena of nature it would mean ‘Nothing can be done without a doer.’
Now the ancient belief in justice is likewise but another version of the same rule namely Ex aliquo fit aliquid. If we call the former the law of causality we may call the latter the law of effect which denies in the most absolute way that anything can be annihilated can be without an effect.
Karma na kshîyate.
There is a saying among the old laws of our fathers in India which as applied to our moral actions expresses this truth in the simplest and strongest words karma na kshîyate11 ‘a deed does not perish’ that is to say whatever guilt or merit there is in a human action man will not come out of it till he has paid or received the uttermost farthing.
This idea of karma which forms the foundation of the system of Buddhist morality does not belong to the Buddhists only. In the Upanishads karma has become already a technical term and its power and influence must help to account for many things that otherwise seem unaccountable. Thus in a dialogue between Yâgñavalkya and Gâratkârava Ârtabhâga (Brih.-Âr. Up. III. 2) the latter asks: ‘When the speech of this dead person enters into the fire breath into the air the eye into the sun the mind into the moon the hearing into space into the earth the body into the ether the self into the shrubs the hairs of the body into the trees the hairs of the head when the blood and the seed are deposited in the water where is the man himself?’
Yâgñavalkya answers: “Give me thy hand O friend. We two alone shall know of this; let this question of ours not be (discussed) in public.” Then these two went out and argued and what they said was karma what they proclaimed was karma viz. that man becomes good by good karma and evil by evil karma.’
In the ancient codes of law the same idea occurs again and again. In the Code of Vishnu for instance it is fully placed before us among the words of comfort to be addressed to the mourners at funeral ceremonies. Here we read (xx. 28 seq.): ‘Every creature is seized by Kâla (time) and carried into the other world. It is the slave of its actions. Wherefore then should you wail?’ (28.) ‘As both his good and bad actions will follow him like associates what does it matter to a man whether his relatives mourn over him or no?’ (31.)
You see that here again there is no doubt in the mind of the old lawgiver on this subject. It is simply stated as a fact that his good and his bad actions follow a man into the next world and that he is the slave of his acts that is that he has to bear their consequences.
The same idea meets us again though in a more mythological dress in the Kaushîtaki Upanishad (I. 4) where the good and evil deeds are represented as following the departed till he approaches the hall Vibhu and the glory of Brahma reaches him. Then he shakes them all off and his good deeds go to his beloved his evil deeds to his unbeloved relatives.
Still more mythological is the account given of the soul after death in the Avesta (Vîstâsp Yast 56). Here the soul is represented as being met by a beautiful maiden white-armed tall and noble as if in her fifteenth year and when he asks her who she is she replies: ‘O thou youth of good thoughts good words and good deeds of good religion! I am thy own conscience.’
If then I call this belief in rewards and punishments ‘an ineradicable belief of the human heart’ I mean that if divested of its many mythological disguises it is but one of the many paraphrases of the law of cause and effect a law which for beings such as we are is irresistible which requires no proof nay which admits of no proof because it is self-evident.
Are the Departed conscious of what passes on Earth?
These two beliefs the belief in the continued existence of the soul after death and that in its liability to rewards and punishments seem to me as irresistible to-day as they were in the days of Plato. We cannot say that a belief in rewards and punishments is universal. We look for it in vain for instance in the Old Testament or in Homer. But when that belief has once presented itself to the human mind it holds its own against all objections. It is possible no doubt to object to the purely human distinction between rewards and punishments because from a higher point of view punishment itself may be called a reward. Even eternal punishment as Charles Kingsley used to say is but another name for eternal love and the very fire of hell may be taken as a childish expression only for the constant purification of the soul. All this may be conceded if only the continuity of cause and effect between this life and the next is preserved.
But when we come to the next question whether the Departed as has been fondly supposed are able to feel not only what concerns them but likewise what concerns their friends on earth we may call this a very natural deduction a very intelligible hope we may even admit that no evidence can be brought forward against it but beyond that we cannot go.
Still if we have followed the thoughts of the early Greeks so far that they did not like Homer believe the departed souls to be simply senseless ἀϕραδέϵις or like the Jews simply to sleep and be at rest but capable of suffering from punishments and rejoicing in rewards we can understand at least even though we cannot follow them when they go a step beyond and hold that the departed souls could be cognisant of and take pleasure in the honours rendered to them by their relatives and friends on earth. It is curious to find that Plato (Laws xi. 927) admits that the souls of the dead have the power after their death of taking an interest in human affairs. It is true he does not attempt any proof of this belief but he appeals to ancient tales and traditions and to law-givers who tell us that these things are true nay he actually condescends to use the old though by no means extinct argument that these ancient lawgivers would have been utter fools if they had said such things without knowing them to be true.
Sometimes we meet with a still lower though likewise quite intelligible view that the Departed could actually be pleased by food and drink and such other things as they enjoyed during their life on earth. Here no doubt the evidence of the senses would soon lead to a wholesome scepticism. Gifts thrown into the fire and burnt in it might be supposed to reach the Departed as the smoke of sacrifices was believed to reach the nostrils of the gods. But other gifts left untouched on the graves could hardly be supposed to have benefitted the Departed. However even the savages of Rarotonga have found a way out of these difficulties. It is true they say that the visible part of the food is eaten by the rats but the gods come at dusk and feed on the essence of these offerings. This is not bad for a Rarotongan casuist.
We have thus seen how the psyché the breath the anima had in the eyes of the ancients whether civilised or uncivilised become endowed with all that was implied by the thymós or animus the mind and man's fancy was thenceforth set free to finish the picture with such colours and such light and shade as best suited the taste of poets artists philosophers and last not least of priests.
The poets would speak of the souls flitting about in the air like birds or hiding beneath the earth like serpents. This was purely symbolical language. But as soon as artists began to speak the same language we find in sculpture and paintings the souls of the departed represented as small winged beings others also as serpents dwelling near their graves. Such symbolical representations are apt to become myths and to be believed in their literal sense by a portion at least of the people. But we must take care not to see in them proofs of a former serpent-worship as little as of bird-worship. Their true explanation is much more simple and natural.
Even philosophers remain poets. The Emperor Hadrian though initiated in Greek philosophy and in the Greek mysteries addressed his soul when dying in words half-childish half-poetical:
Animula vagula blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca?
Pallidula rigida nudula
Nee ut soles dabis jocos.
‘Whither—thou wandering fondling sprite
The body's mate and guest—
Soon must thou fly?
Wan robeless homeless formless mite!
Why mirth and wonted jest
With thee shall die.’
(Translated by the Hon. Lionel A. Tollemache in Saje Studies p. 396.)
Influence of Priests.
Lastly we must not forget when we sometimes wonder at the elaborate and extravagant offerings made to the Departed that there was somebody else to be fed besides the spirits. The profession of a priest is a very old one and we find it almost everywhere. Now it stands to reason that if people want to have priests they must feed them or as we call it by a slightly changed term they must fee them. I mean that fee is the same word as the Latin pecus and meant originally an animal given by way of payment. What is called a sacrifice to the gods and to ancestral spirits was almost always an offering to the priest also. And if it did not mean a fee it always meant a feast more particularly in the case of funeral functions. A single case will serve to make this clearer than any general theories.
The Rev. J. Macdonald12 tells us that ‘should a Zulu dream the same dream more than once he consults the magicians who profess to have much of their own revelations through dreams.…If a dreamer sees a departed relative the magician says oracularly “He is hungry.” A beast is then killed as a quasi-sacrifice. The blood is carefully collected and placed in a vessel at the side of the hut farthest from the door. The liver is hung up in the hut and must not be eaten until all the flesh of the animal has been used. During the night the spirit is regaled and refreshed by the food thus provided and eats or withdraws the essence that goes to feed and sustain spirits. After a specified time all may be eaten except the portions the magician orders to be burned; generally bones and fat.’
Is not all this simple human nature? The man is disturbed by a repeated dream. He asks the priest. The priest says ‘the spirit is hungry’ the fact being that he himself is hungry. He advises the killing of an animal. The essence of the animal goes to the spirit the fat and bones are burnt and the rest is eaten by the hungry priest and his friend who after a good feast has probably another terrible dream and thus provides fresh employment to the priest.
It is easy to see how rapidly a stone will roll downhill after the first impulse has been given. It is that first impulse which interests the psychologist and that must if possible be accounted for. To discover the secret springs of the first movements of the human mind when brought face to face with the problems of nature and the problems of its own existence has been my chief object throughout all these lectures. Our progress I know has sometimes been slow and tedious. But it seems to me that to discover the sources of religion in the darkest antiquity is a task worthy at least of the same devotion and the same perseverance as to discover the sources of the Nile in darkest Africa.