Lecture 9. Funeral Ceremonies.
The Import of Customs.
WE have hitherto examined the evidence which lies imbedded in the very words for life, soul., and mind, such as we find them in some of the more important languages of the world. Every one, as we saw, tells the same story. Man began, by naming what he could perceive; and by simply ignoring what was purely material in his words, he gained possession of a large array of expressions to convey to himself and to others what could not be perceived, but had to be conceived, something more abstract, yet by no means less real than what was perceived. Heart, for instance, though no longer meant for a mere muscle, was still meant for something that could account for real feelings, for real passions, for real thoughts. Breath, though being divested of its visible attributes, remained in man's language as the sure sign of something or of some one that breathed and lived. This simple process of slow and almost unconscious divestment revealed behind the perceptible world a now world which, though invisible, became to man the necessary substratum of the visible world. We saw that the discovery of the soul was not a mere accident, but that it was the necessary consequence of the progress of human language from the singular to the general, from the concrete to the abstract, from the phenomenal to the noumenal, from what seems to be to what is.
After having explored this lowest stratum of language, in order to discover, if possible, some of man's earliest thoughts about the soul, we shall now have to carry on our search for new evidence to a new stratum, the stratum of ancient customs. Ancient customs contain, no doubt, a less articulate expression of man's thoughts and feelings than ancient words, or what we shall have to examine afterwards, ancient poetry and ancient philosophy. But, for that very reason, they are important to us when we wish to discover the earliest impressions of the human mind, when brought face to face with the great problems of life, and more particularly the greatest of all, namely, the problem of death.
Motives of Customs.
The feelings roused by death are naturally of a religious character. The sight of death brings man, whether ho likes it or not, face to face with what is beyond, with what transcends the limits of our senses, with what may be called once more the Infinite. If anything was solemn and sacred, if anything could stir even the hardest heart, it was the sight of a sudden and violent death, or the watching of the slow ebbing away of a beloved life. Whatever mode of disposing of the dead was adopted, we can perfectly understand that the place where the body, the bones, or the ashes were deposited, was regarded as different from other places, was entered with a certain awe, and soon acquired a sacred character. So far scholars, such as Stackelberg for instance, were right when they imagined that much of the worship of the gods of Greece had been derived from the custom of addressing prayers to the dead, or offering gifts to them on their graves. In some countries, particularly in China, the room of the ancestors became really a temple, but that was not the case in Greece. In the eyes of the Greeks the care bestowed on the graves was considered the truest measure of the real culture of a people. It may seem a mere superstition when we find how the Greeks from the earliest times thought that the departed found no rest till they had received a proper funeral, or till their bones had at least been covered with a handful of earth. But the concatenation of ideas which led to this belief was likewise perfectly natural. At first came the impulse to treat the body with respect and kindness. This surely requires no explanation, though it is well known that there are what seem to us startling exceptions1. Then followed the thought that what was done for the dead was for their good, and would be appreciated by them; and at last came the conclusion that the souls would be displeased or would find no rest, unless and until these acts of kindness had been rendered to them. Homer, though he touches but seldom on the state of the departed after death, was evidently familiar with these ideas. You remember how the soul of Elpenor is the first to meet Odysseus in the Nekyia (Od. xi. 51). Elpenor had broken his neck in the house of Circe, but had been forgotten and left behind, unburnt and unhonoured. He therefore could not join the other departed, and could find Do rest till Odysseus should have performed the proper funeral rites for him.
In the case of Patroklos, we see that the departed may appear to his friends. Achilles saw the soul of his friend, he recognised his eyes and his voice, but he could not touch him. We must remember, however, that the soul of Patroklos had at that time not yet entered the gates of Hades. After the bones had once been consumed by fire, the departed were not supposed by the Greeks to reappear to the living.
Again, if Odysseus gives the shades blood to drink, we must recollect that blood was looked upon as the condition of life. As the word had become almost synonymous with life, it was but a natural conclusion that the departed in the house of Hades were without blood, that is, without life, and that they had to drink blood, before they could live, and hear, and speak again.
Still, this need not have been a general belief, nor is this process of reviving the departed with blood, I believe, mentioned anywhere else. We must not expect Consistency, where so much had to be left to the fancy of the poet or the poets. In the Iliad, for instance, the abode of Hades is supposed to be beneath the earth, in the Odyssey it is placed in the West, behind the island of Circe. We speak of Hades as a place, and so did the later Greeks. In Homer, however, there is no passage where Hades need be taken as anything but the name of the god.
But though Homer may differ from himself, and though other Greek poets may differ from Homer, on one point all Creek testimonies agree, namely, that some funeral obsequies are essential to the repose of the dead. This belief prevails in Homeric as well as in post-Homeric times. Antigone, as represented by Sophocles (v. 132), looks upon them as ordained by a divine law, a law before which all human laws must give way. Euripides goes so far as to call the graves ‘the sacred temples of the dead2.’ They became places of solemn meetings, the natural centres of a family, of a clan, and in time of a whole neighbourhood.
The great national festivals in Greece were mostly games, instituted at first in honour of some departed hero or benefactor. They began like the games celebrated by Achilles and his companions in honour of Patroklos, and when repeated grew into national institutions.
The earliest account of an Aryan funeral is found in the Âranyaka of the Taittirîya-veda. Here, however, we find only a large collection of the hymns and verses, which are to be recited at different parts of a funeral. The description of the funeral itself we must take from the Sûtras, which are later than the Âranyakas.
I place the Âranyakas at the end of the Brâhmana period, about 600 B.C. This is, of course, hypothetical, like all dates in India, previous to the rise of Buddhism. But a welcome confirmation of that date has been supplied by the editor of the Taittirîya-âranyaka, Rajendralal Mitra. I had pointed out that nowhere in Vedic literature is there any mention of the burning of widows at the funeral of their husbands. On the contrary, there is clear evidence that they were not burnt. Rajendralal Mitra, however, calls our attention to the fact that nevertheless, according to Diodorus Siculus, xix. 33, this custom was fully recognised in India in 316 B.C. Diodorus, the contemporary of Caesar and Augustus, gives a full description how the two wives of Keteus were both anxious to be burnt with hire. One of them, however, being with child, could not be burnt, but the other, the younger one, was burnt in the sight of the Greek army, rejoicing in her victory, and offering no resistance, when lying on the funeral pile by the side of the dead husband. This shows that a custom, not yet recognised in the Veda, was recognised in the fourth century B.C. Nay, Dr. Rajendralal Mitra might have added that Diodorus states that this cruel custom was then sanctioned by an ancient law (ὄντος δὲ παλαιου̑ νόμου), which would push the date of the Âranyaka still further back. However, though there is some force in this argument, we must not forget that India is a large country, and that an old law may have existed in the North-West and among the martial nobility, which was unknown among the Brâhmans of Âryâvarta at a much later date. We are told, for instance, in the Khândogya-upanishad, VIII. 8, 5, that the so-called Âsuras had their own form of burial, that they ‘decked out the body of the dead with perfumes, flowers, and fine raiment by way of ornament, and thought thus to conquer the next world.’
We find a more detailed description of a Vedic funeral in the Sûtras of Âsvalâyana. Without claiming for this description a very primitive character or an extravagant age, we must remember that, even if it presents to us what a funeral was at about 600 B.C., we have nothing more ancient in any other Aryan literature.
It was in the year 1855 that I published in the journal of the German Oriental Society, the text and translation of the Sûtras of Âsvalâyana. I shall here give you an abstract of them.
If it was death that made man conscious for the first time of life, we have a right to expect that the acts of men in the presence of death will disclose to us something of what passed through his mind at that solemn moment. It is true that when these acts become known to us they have almost ceased to be real acts, and have become more customs, half-understood traditions, nay often, misunderstood ceremonial. Still, we may discover in them some relics of what is ancient, for there is in customs, as in language, an unbroken continuity. Much may be changed, but little is entirely thrown away.
Funeral Ceremonies in India.
I shall begin with a description of the funeral ceremonies in India, as preserved to us in the Âranyakas and Sûtras, both still belonging to the Vedic period of literature.
Âsvalâyana-sûtras IV. 1:
‘If some one who has set up the sacred fires (in his own house) begins to ail, he should depart (with his fires) towards the east, the north, or the north-east. People say, the fires love the village, and hence it is understood that longing and desirous to return (to the village), they will make him whole. If he is well again, he should sacrifice with Soma or with an animal, and settle down again in his house, or also without such a sacrifice.’
Here you have an old piece of folk-lore. First of all, a proverb—‘the fires love the village.’ Here we need hardly think of the fires as divine beings, though such sayings contain, no doubt, the germs of mythology. We ourselves might say just the same, without being in any sense fire-worshippers, or even believers in Agni. Secondly, the proverb leads to a superstition. Because the fires love their village, therefore, if you take them away with you, they will try to make you return to their home and to their hearth, and in order to induce a sick person to return home, they will make him whole.
Then the Sutra continues:
‘If he dies, let some one have a piece of land dug up, south-east or south-west (of the village), inclining towards the south or the south-east; others say, towards the south-west. It should be as long as a man with outstretched arms, one fathom (vyâma) in breadth, and one span (vitasti) in depth.’
Here there is nothing to remark, except the names of the ancient measures. What Protagoras said in a philosophical sense, is true in a material sense also. Man was the measure of all things. One measure is the man with his arms lifted up, the other a vyâma, as much as a man can embrace with his two arms, five aratnis or ells3, as the commentator explains it. The next is vitasti4, the outstretched hand, or twelve fingers.
The place (smasâna) should be free on all sides and rich in plants. If they should be thorny and milky, let it be as said before. One requirement of a burning ground (smasâana) is that the water should run down from it on all sides.’
The place is the cemetery, but it is the place both for burning and afterwards for burying also. Smasâna is one of those old words in Sanskrit, the origin and formation of which we cannot explain. They must have been formed of materials which exist no longer in the language, such as we know it.
Why thorny and milky plants should be removed, is not explained. In a former passage (II. 7, 5) it had been said that in building a house a man should clear the ground of thorny and milky plants. ‘].'his is intelligible, but for burning purposes thorny plants would have been useful, and they were often preferred for constructing a pile5.
‘What has to be done with the hair of the head, the beard, and the hair of the body, has been explained before (Srauta-sûtra VI. 10, 2). There should be a full supply of sacrificial grass and of butter. Then they pour clarified butter into curds, which makes the sprinkled butter for the Fathers.’
Certain rules as to how the dead body should be treated before it is taken to the place of burning bad been given in the Srauta-sûtras, the rules for the Srauta or great sacrifices. Burial does not properly fall under the Srauta, but under the Grihya or domestic sacrifices. But it may happen that a man dies while offering one of these great sacrifices. This is considered as an accident, just as the breaking of a sacrificial vessel, and has to be remedied. Certain rules had therefore to be inserted in order to explain what should be done with the dead body of the sacrifices, if he should die before the sacrifice is finished.
‘When he dies they take him out on the sacrificial path (or, according to others, not on the sacrificial path), and perform the adornments of the dead in the place where the sacrificial vessels are cleaned. They shave the hair of the head, the beard, and the hair of the body. They anoint him with spikenard and put on him a wreath of spikenard. Some clear the body of its contents and fill it with sprinkled butter. They then cut off the seam of a new piece of cloth, and cover the body so that the other seam is turned towards the west, and the feet remain uncovered. The sons should keep the piece that has been cut off.’
All these rules should be observed at the time of an ordinary funeral also, but as they had been learnt by heart before, they need not be repeated here6.
The ceremony now proceeds, IV. 2:
‘They now carry his fires and his sacrificial vessels to the same place. The old people follow with the dead, in odd numbers, and not in couples (i.e. not men and women together). Some say (that the dead should be carried) on a car drawn by cows. Some lead an animal behind (the anustaranî, that is to be burnt with the dead), a cow, or a she-goat, of one colour, or, according to some, a black one, after having tied a rope to its left fore-foot (bah’ for bâhû). Then follow the relatives (amâtya), wearing their sacrificial thread below (round the body), with their hair-locks untied, the old men first, the young ones last7.
‘When they have thus reached the place, the performer walks three times round the spot with his left side turned towards it, sprinkles water on it with a Samî branch, and says:
‘Go away, disperse, remove from hence,
The Fathers have made this place for him.
Yama grants him this resting-place,
Sprinkled with water day and night.’
This is a verse which is found in the Rig-veda, X. 14, 9. It is supposed to be addressed to spirits hovering round the place of burial. Yama, as we shall see, is the god of the fathers, and he is supposed to have assigned this place to the dead person as his final resting-place. When it is said that the place is sprinkled with water day and night, this implies that it ought to be thus honoured by the relations of the dead.
‘He then places the fires on an elevated corner, the Âhavanîya-fire to the south-east, the Gârhapatya-fire to the north-west, and the Dakshina-fire to the south-west.
‘Thereupon a person who understands it, piles up between the fires a pile of fuel for him. After the sacrificial grass and the skin of a black antelope with the hair outside have been spread over this, they place the dead on it, taking him north of the Gârhapatya-fire, and with his head turned towards the Âhavanîya-fire. North of him (they place) his wife, and for a Kshatriya the bow. Then her brother-in-law, standing in the place of her husband, or a pupil, or an old servant, should make her rise, reciting the verse (Rv. X. 18, 8):
‘Rise, O woman; come to the world of the living; thou liest by him whose breath is gone, come back! Thou hast fulfilled this thy wifehood to him who took thy hand and made thee a mother8.’
‘If an old servant (a Sûdra) makes her rise, the performer should repeat this verse. He then removes the bow, saying (Rv. X. 18, 9):
‘I take the bow from the hand (of the dead), to be to us protection, glory, and strength. Then art there, we are here with good men; let us overcome all the wiles of the enemy.’
‘;If it is a Sûdra, the same applies as before. After he has stringed the bow, he should walk round the pile, break it, and throw it (on the pile).’
These rules are full of interest, but also of difficulty. What is quite clear is that in Vedic times the widow, though she was placed for a time near her husband on the pile, was not burnt with him. Nothing can be clearer than the words of the verse when she is asked to return to the world of the living. Yet, with all their regard for the divine authority of the Veda, the Brahmans tried to explain it away, and to change the world of the living into the world of the dead.
That the old servant is not allowed to recite the Vedic verses, shows that these rules date from a time when the Brahmans had secured already the exclusive privilege of the three upper classes, so that no Sûdra was allowed to learn the Veda by heart. The word used, however, in the text is not Sûdra, but Vrishala.
The second half of the verse is not quite clear, but I believe my translation is the right one.
We should observe that the bow given to the dead, if he is a Kshatriya, is broken before it is burnt. It was, therefore, a mere gift, and the idea, that he might have to use it in the next world, seems not to have presented itself to the Indian mind.
Then follow special regulations (IV. 3) as to how the various sacrificial implements should be placed on the different parts of the dead body. These again show a considerable development of the Brâhmanic ceremonial, but are otherwise of little interest. That the Vedic Indians with all their devotion to the dead were thrifty, may perhaps be gathered from the fact that the two mill-stones, and all that is made of copper, iron, and earthenware is kept by the son, who is here mentioned for the first time. There may, however, have been another reason, namely, the fact that these things were not combustible.
Then follow rules as to how the animal should be dissected and how again different portions of it should be placed on different parts of the dead body.
‘After cutting out the omentum of the Anustaranî, (the animal that had been brought to the pile) he should cover the head and mouth with it, saying (Rv. X. 16, 7):
‘Put on, this armour against Agni (fire), (taken) from the cows; cover thyself with their fat and marrow, that the fierce Agni, rejoicing ill his glare, the bold one, may not, when he flares up, injure thee.’
‘Having taken out the kidneys, he should lay them into his hands, saying (Rv. X. 14, 10):
‘On the good path run past the two dogs, the brood of Sararnâ, the four-eyed, the grey; then go towards the wise Pitris who are happily rejoicing with Yama.’
Here we enter on mythological ground. It is quite clear that the dead is supposed to proceed on a good or right path till he reaches the Pitris, the fathers, who have died before him. On that path he has to run past two dogs. These dogs are called sârameya, according to the Brâhmans, the sons of Saramâ, four-eyed, and grey or dark.
Now it is well known that the Greeks also believed that the entrance of the realm of Hades was guarded by a dog, a (log with several heads, called Kerberos by Hesiod. The idea itself is natural enough. Their houses were probably guarded by a dog or (logs, therefore why not the house of the Pitris? Still we should remember that this watch-dog has a name in Greece, Kerberos, and that the Greek language supplies no etymology and no meaning of that word. If then it can be proved that sarvarî is a name of the night, can there be any possible doubt that the Greek word κϵρβϵρος is the same as the Sanskrit sarvara. I hold the original meaning of sarvara to have been dark, like the night, not speckled, and as sarvara has become savara in certain words, I hold that cabala, the adjective applied to the two dogs of Yarna, meant originally dark or grey, like the night.
This identification is so perfectly simple and clear and unobjectionable that it has been accepted by the severest critics9. But a small acquaintance with phonetic rules is certainly required in order to see the force of the argument, and we must not be surprised if writers, ignorant of the Sanskrit alphabet and of the invariable correspondence between Sk. palatal s and Greek k, express a learned doubt as to the identity of sarvara and kerberos. Every letter is simply the same in the two words, and if we are to doubt this equation, we may as well doubt the equation of Sk. Mâtar and Lat. mater.
Âsvalâyana then continues, IV. 4:
‘The heart of the animal is placed on the heart of the (lead, and two rice-cakes, according to some; according to others, only when the kidneys are absent.
‘Having thus distributed the whole animal, limb by limb, and having covered it with its hide, he recites, while the Pranîtâ water is carried forward, the following verse (X. 16, 8):
‘Agni, do not hurt this clip, which is dear to the gods and to the Somyas (the Fathers). It is that which the gods drink, and in which the immortal gods delight.’
‘Bending his left knee he should sacrifice âgya-oblations (clarified butter) in the Dakshina fire, saying: “Svâhâ to Agni! Svâhâ to Kâma (love)! Svâhâ to the world! Svâhâ to Anumati!”
‘A fifth oblation (is to be poured) on the chest of the deceased, with the verse:
‘Thou (Agni) hast verily been born from him, may lie (N. N.) now be born from thee. Svâhâ to the heaven-world10!’
‘He now gives the word of command, “Light the fires together!” If the Âhavanîya-fire reaches him first, he should know that it has brought him to the Svarga-world (heaven). He will prosper there, and this, his son, here on earth.
If the Gârhapatya-fire reaches him first, he should know that it has brought him to the Antariksha-world (air). He will prosper there, and this, his son, here on earth.
‘If the Dakshina-fire reaches him first, he should know that it has brought him to the Manushya world (the world of men). He will prosper there, and this, his son, here on earth.
‘If the three fires reach him at the same moment, they call it the highest luck.
‘While the body is being burnt, he recites the following verses in the same way as described before11:
‘Rig-veda X. 14, 7; 8; 10; 11.
‘Go forth, go forth on those ancient paths on which our forefathers departed. Thou shalt see the two kings delighting in Svadhâ, Yama, and the god Varuna.
‘Come together with the Pitris, and with Yama in the highest heaven, as the fulfilment of all desires. Having left all that is unspeakable (sin), go home again, and radiant in thy body come together with them.
‘On the good path run past the two dogs, the brood of Saramâ, the four-eyed, the grey; then go towards the wise Pitris, who are happily rejoicing with Yama.
‘Protect him, O king, from those two dogs, which are thy watchers, O Yama, the four-eyed guardians of the road, spying for men. Grant him happiness and health!’
‘Rig-veda X. 16, 1-6.
‘Do not burn him altogether, O Agni, do not scorch him, do not confound his skin and his body; when thou shalt have cooked him, O Gâtavedas, then send him forth to the Pitris.
‘As soon as thou cookest him, O Gâtavedas, thou shouldst hand him over to the Pitris. As soon as he enters that life, he will become the servant of the gods.
‘May the eye go to the sun, the breath to the wind; go to the sky and the earth, as is right, or go to the waters, if it is good for thee there, rest in the plants.
‘The unborn part12, warm it with thy warmth, may thy heat warm it and thy flame! O Gâtavedas, carry Lion in thy kindliest shape to the world of those who have done well.
‘O Agni, send him bade to the Pitris, he who comes sacrificed with offering to thee! When clothed with life, may what remains13 come back, may he be joined with a body, O Gâltavedas!
‘Whatever the black bird injured, the ant, the snake, or wild beast, may Agni make that whole from all (mischief), and Soma who has entered into the Brâhmans!’
‘Rig-veda X. 17, 3-6.
‘May Pûshan carry thee hence, the provident shepherd of the world, who never lost an animal; may he deliver thee to those Pitris, and Agni to the wise gods!
‘Âyu, (life), the all-enlivening, will guard thee; may Pûshan guard thee in front at the outset. May the god Savitri place thee where the good people dwell and whither they have gone.
‘Pûshan knows all those places; may he lead us on the safest path! May he, the knowing, walk in front without faltering, he who gives blessings, the brilliant, the great hero!
Pûshan was born at the outset of the roads, at the outset of the sky, at the outset of the earth; he, the wise, walks to and fro to the two best homesteads.’
‘Rig-veda X. 18, 10-13.
‘Creep close to the mother, that earth there, the broad, the all-embracing, the blissful! She is like a maiden, soft like wool to the pious; may she guard thee from the lap of Nirriti (destruction).
‘O Earth, open wide, do not press him, be kind in admitting and in embracing him! Cover him, O Earth, as a mother covers her son with her cloth.
‘May the opened earth stand firm, and may a thousand supports stand near; may these dwellings be running with ghrita-offerings, and may there always be safety for him there!
‘I raise up the earth all around thee, may I not hart thee in putting down this slab; may the Pitris hold this cairn of thine; may Yawn there make seats for thee.’
‘Rig-veda X. 154, 1-5.
'For some (Pitris) Soma is clarified, some sit down to cream (ghrita); those also for whom honey runs,—may he go to them indeed!
‘They who are unapproachable by their penance, they who went to heaven by penance, they who performed penance mightily, to those also may he go indeed!
‘They who fight in battle, the heroes who lost their life, or they who gave a thousand gifts, to those also may lie go!
‘And they who formerly followed the right, who did the right, and increased the right, to those also may lie go, O Yama, to the Pitris rich in penance!
‘The poets of a thousand lays, they who guard the sun, the Rishis rich in penance, O Yama, may he go to them, the sons of penance!’
‘Rig-veda X. 14, 12.
‘The two messengers of Yama, broad-nosed, blood-thirsty, and tawny, go about among men; may they grant us again happy life here, so that we may see the sun!’
‘If a man is burnt by some one who knows all this, it is understood (from the Sruti) that together with the smoke he goes to the Svarga-world.
‘North-east of the Âhavanîya-fire he should dig a pit, knee-deep, and deposit in it an Avakâ, that is, a water-plant, called Sîpâla. For it is understood from the Sruti that the deceased, when he comes out thence, will go with the smoke to the world of Svarga.’
It would take a long time to bring out all that is contained in these verses. Unfortunately, we do not know whether they originally succeeded each other as we now read them. It seems as if they had been taken from different hymns as they suited certain portions of the funeral ceremony. But other scholars would probably say that they were written originally for the funeral, and afterwards worked up into hymns. The decision is difficult, perhaps impossible, but I incline towards regarding the succession of the verses, as they stand in the hymns of the Rig-veda as more original than their order in the Sûtras.
What we learn from the verses as I have just translated them, is that the departed, the Pitris, the Fathers, have gone to a realm of Yama and Varuna, in the highest heaven. Nothing is said of their going to a lower world. The dead in being burnt, is supposed to follow the old path of the Pitris, to be guided by Pûshan, Savitri, and Agni, to pass the two watchdogs, to escape from the lap of Nirriti, and to arrive in the world of the pious, to become the servant of the gods.
The process of burning is not supposed to destroy the body altogether, but only to warm or to cook it, and thus prepare it for a new life with a new body. The elements are supposed to return to the elements, the eye to the sun, the breath to the wind. But, if my translation is right, an unborn or eternal part is mentioned, and this part Agni is asked to carry gently to the world of the good.
So far there is a thread that may be followed. But immediately after, the earth is invoked to receive the dead, as a mother receives her child, and to keep him from the lap of Nirriti or destruction. The grave is spoken of as the resting-place of the dead, and Yama is said to have prepared a seat for him there.
It is the same everywhere. There can be no consistency where everybody has a right to express his own imaginations, as if they were real, and his wishes, as if they had been fulfilled.
We now proceed to consider the ceremonies which follow the actual burning of the corpse. The corpse is as yet left on the pile, but the idea evidently is, not that it should be completely reduced to ashes, but that it should be warmed, roasted, and made ready for a new life, and that any injury it may have suffered should be made good by Agni.
‘They now turn to the left, and go away without looking back, reciting the verse (Rv. X. 18, 3):
‘These living people have turned away from the dead, the sacrifice of the gods was auspicious for us to-day. We went forth to dance and laughter, we who continue a longer life.’
‘When they have come to a place where there is standing water, they dive once, throw up one handful of water, pronounce the name of the deceased and his family (gotra), go out from the water, put on new garments, wring the others once, spread them out towards the north, and then sit down till they see the stars, or the sun.
‘When they have come to their dwelling, they touch a stone, the fire, cow-dung, fried barley-corns, oil, and water.
They should not cook food during that night. They should live on what has been bought or what is there. For three nights they should not eat anything pungent and salt. They may also for twelve nights omit almsgiving and study (of the Veda), if one of their great Gurus (father, mother, or teacher) has died; or for ten nights, if one of their near relations (Sapindas) has died, or the guru, if unrelated, or unmarried female relatives, or a child that has no teeth, or a deadborn child; or for one day, if a fellow-pupil has died, or any learned Brâhman of the same village.’
We now come to a new ceremony, namely, the gathering of the bones. The corpse is supposed to have been left on the pile, covered with the sacrificial implements of the deceased.
The collection of the bones takes place after the tenth day (after death), on odd days of the dark fortnight, and under a single Nakshatra16.’
This would mean that ten days must have passed, first of all, after the day on which the death took place, and that then they must wait for the dark fortnight and for an odd day in it17.
‘A man is placed into an urn (kumbha, masc.) without any marks, a woman into an urn (kumbhî, fem., an urn with a spout, according to Rajendralal Mitra) without any marks. It is done by old people of an odd number, and without their wives.
‘Then the performer walks three times round the place turning his left to it, and with a Samî branch sprinkles milk and water on it, reciting a verse, Rv. X. 16, 4.
They should put each bone (into the urn) with the thumb and the fourth finger, without rattling them, the feet first, the head last. Having well gathered them, and swept them together with a broom, they should put (the urn) into the pit, where the water does not run together from all sides except in the rainy season, and recite the verse, Rv. X. 18, 10:
‘Creep close to the mother, that earth there, the broad, the all-embracing, the blissful! She is like a maiden, soft like wool to the pious; may she guard thee from the lap of Nirriti (destruction).’
‘With the following verse, Rv. X. 18, 11, he should throw earth (into the pit):
‘O Earth, open wide, do not press him, be kind in admitting, and in embracing him, cover him, O Earth, as a mother covers her son with her cloth.’
‘After he has thrown the earth, he should recite the next verse, Rv. X. 18, 12
‘May the opened earth stand firm, and may a thousand supports stand near: may these dwellings be running with ghrita offerings, and may there always be safety for him there.’
‘He then covers (the urn) with a lid, saying, Rv. X. 18, 13:
‘I raise up the earth all around thee, may I not hurt thee in putting down this slab. May the Pitris hold this cairn of thine, may Yama there make seats for thee.’
‘Then returning without looking back, and after bathing, they should give him the Srâddha offering18.’
The actual burial is now finished, and it is clear that the Vedic Indians both burnt and buried their dead. The urn into which the bones were deposited must have been large, and it is strange that none of them, so far as I know, should ever have been discovered.
The honours to be paid to the dead do not cease, however, with the burial. We saw that at the end of it a Srâddha offering was to be made. These offerings, meant for the deceased, are continued afterwards during a whole year. After that time they cease to be addressed to him individually, he having taken his place among the three ancestors, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and receiving the common Srâddhas at the times appointed19.
Before, however, we proceed to consider this important branch of the Indian religion, the Srâddha, we have still to follow the mourners to a kind of expiatory service, which was meant to pacify death, and to guard the survivors against every evil.
‘They who have lost a Guru (father, mother, or teacher), or have been afflicted in any other way, should on the day of the new moon perform an expiatory service. Other authorities fix on the ninth day after death, i.e. on the tenth day, for this ceremony. Before sunrise they should carry the fire and ashes in a receptacle southward, saying, Rv. X. 16, 9:
‘Agni, the flesh-eater. O send away far; may he, the evil-bringer, go to those who own Yama as their king.’
‘They then throw the fire away where four roads meet, or somewhere else, and walk three times round it, turning their left to it, and striking their left thighs with their left hands. They then return home without looking back, wash, have their hair, their beard, the hair of the body, and their nails cut, and procure for themselves new jars, pots, and vessels for rinsing, adorned with wreaths of Samî flowers, fuel of Samî wood, two pieces for kindling fire and (fifteen) for laying round it, also dung of bulls, a hide, fresh butter, a stone, and as many bunches of Kusa grass as there are young women (in the house). Then at the time of the Agnihotra (in the afternoon) he (the oldest person present) should kindle the fire, saying, Rv. X. 16, 9:
‘But here may this other (Agni) Gâtavedas, carry the sacrifice to the gods, knowing (how to do it).’
‘Keeping that fire burning they sit until the still night, repeating the tales of the old, and having sacred stories, such as Itihâsas and Purânas, recited to them.
‘When all sounds have ceased, and when (others) have gone to their house or resting-place, he (the performer), stopping from the south side of the door to the north, should pour out a continuous stream of water, reciting a verse (Rv. X. 16, 9).
‘Having then lit a fire (aupâsana), he spreads west of it the hide of a, bull, its neck turned to the east, and the hair outside, and asks the people of the house (amâtya), to step on it, saying, Rv. X. 18, 6:
‘Mount up the, life, choosing old age, striving forward, as many as you are, one after the other. Tvashtri who grants good offspring may graciously yield you here a long life to live.’
‘He should then place logs round the fire, the first with the words, Rv. X. 18, 4:
‘This fence I place for the living, may no other of these here go to that place; may they live through full a hundred harvests, hiding death with this stone.’
‘While he says, “hiding death with this stone,” he places a stone north of the fire. He then recites four verses, and sacrifices with each, Rv. X. 18, 1:
‘O Death, go off on another path, that is thy own, and different from the way of the gods. I speak to thee who hast eyes to see and ears to hear, do not hurt our offspring, or our men!’
‘Be pure and clean, ye who are partakers in the sacrifice, so that, effacing the track of death, ye may continue a longer life, abounding in offspring and wealth.’
Then follow two verses, translated before. He should then look at his people (amâtya) and recite, Rv. X. 18, 5:
‘As days follow one another, as seasons go rightly with seasons, so shape our lives, O Creator, that the young may not leave the old behind.’
‘The young women should then with some young Darbha-blades take fresh butter, and anoint their eyes with the thumbs and fore-fingers of both hands (at the same time); and after that turn round and throw (the blades) away. While they are anointing themselves, the performer should look at them and say, Rv. X. 18, 7:
‘These women, not widows, but having good husbands, may anoint themselves with collyrium and butter. Without tears, without ailments, and well adorned, may the wives go first to the, house20.’
This has indeed proved a fatal verse to thousands of women who have been burnt on the pile with their husbands, on the strength of a spurious reading. ‘They should go first to the house’ is in the text yonim agre. By changing agre into agneh, the line would mean, ‘They should go into the house, or into the lap of Agni (fire).’ This reading was foisted into the Veda, and after that, widow-burning was represented as having a sacred authority in the Veda.
‘Then the performer should first touch the stone, (the others after him), saying, Rv. X. 53, 3:
‘The river full of stones flows on; hold together, rise up, and move on, O friends! Let us leave here these who are luckless; we shall turn out on lucky raids.’
‘Then, while the others walk round with the fire, with the dung of the bull, and with an uninterrupted stream of water, the performer, stationing himself to the north-east, should recite the verse, Rv. X. 155, 5:
‘They have led the cow round, they have taken the fire round, they have given praise to the gods,—who then will defy them?’
‘While they pour out the stream of water, they recite three verses, Rv. X. 9, 1:
‘You are truly the blissful waters, give us strength, that we may see great rejoicing,’ &c.
Whatever is your best sap, let us here share in it, like loving mothers,’ &c.
‘A brown bull should be led round, thus they say.
‘Then they sit down where they like, covering themselves with a new garment, and they sit till sunrise without sleeping.
‘When the sun has risen they repeat the hymns sacred to the sun and benedictions, prepare food, and offer libations with every verse, while reciting the hymn, Rv. I. 97, “May he by his light drive evil away from us,” &c.
“After having fed the Brâhmans, he should make them repeat a benediction.
‘A cow, a metal jar, and a new garment form the priestly fee.’
I have given you this description of an ancient Indian funeral in full, because it is less known than the funeral ceremonies of Greeks and Romans, and may serve as a typical instance of an ancient Aryan funeral.
Funeral Ceremonies in Greece.
We do not possess the same minute accounts of the funeral among Greeks and Romans. There was probably more local variety with regard to funeral rites in different parts of Greece and Italy than there was in India, if indeed we may judge of the whole of India by the literature preserved by the Brâhmans. Still, making allowance for the greater spirit of independence and the more restricted influence of a priestly caste among Greeks and Romans, we can gain some general idea at least of what their funeral was, and we can discover in their customs also some indications of the thoughts which they had funned about the dead21.
The Greek language has preserved a curious relic which testifies to the ancient and wide-spread custom of burning as antecedent to burying. The verb θάπτω, which means to bury, must originally have meant to burn. All scholars agree that θάπ-τω and τάϕος are connected with the Sanskrit root dah, which means to burn and to burn only. It is a root common to several of the Aryan languages, and wherever it occurs, it means to burn. It must therefore have had the same meaning in Greek also (as we see in the name Daphne)22, and have lost it when burying took the place of burning. A similar transition of meaning has been pointed out by Schott in some of the words for burying in the Ural-Altaic languages.
In Greece it was primarily the duty of the son to bury his father. This was a duty from which nothing could release him. A son might under certain circumstances be released from his obligation to support his father during life, but after death the law of Solon, as quoted by Aeschines (Timarch. 13), made it incumbent on him to bury his father and to perform all that was considered right (ἀποθανόντα δ᾽ αὐτὸν θαπτέτω καὶ τἄλλα ποιϵίτω τὰ νομιζόμϵνα). If, however, there was no son and no relative to perform the last sacred rites, the whole community or the Demos was held responsible for the proper disposal of the dead body, or, during war, the General. The vengeance of the gods was believed to fall on all who left a corpse unburied. It was not only a crime, it was felt to be an ἄγος, a sin, probably because there was the old belief among the Greeks that the dead found no rest or could not enter Hades till their body had been burnt or buried, and that they would haunt the abode of their relatives and friends till this last duty had been performed. There is a meaning in most customs, and even mere superstitions have generally a foundation of truth.
It was the custom in Greece that the nearest relative should close the eyes and the mouth of the departed, that the women should wash and anoint the body, clothe it in clean garments, as in India, and then leave it on a couch in the interior of the house. Here people might come to see it, and it was usual at Athens to place a vessel full of water near the door, so that those who had become impure by entering the house, might purify themselves. The purifying by touching; water was mentioned in India also. The house with the dead in it was considered impure, though that is hardly the right translation for μιαρός in Greek, or for asauka in Sanskrit, both conveying the feeling of awe, with which the Greek felt inspired by death, rather than the sense of actual impurity. Even the water, in order to be pure, had to be fetched from another house.
While the dead body was exposed in the house, various marks of affection were bestowed on it. If we may judge from legal enactments, forbidding the killing of sacrificial animals and restraining the excessive wailing of women, before the body was carried away (ἐκϕορά udvÂha), these marks of love and outbursts of grief must at times have been carried to excess in Greece as in other countries. After a time, however, a reaction set in in Greece as elsewhere, particularly in Germany23, and a new popular belief arose that the dead could find no rest till the violent grief of their friends had been appeased24.
On the morning of the third day25, before sunrise, the couch with the body on it was carried out of the house. Here again there must have been at times much extravagance, for the law had to interfere and limit vain display. Though the prevalent custom was to burn the dead, yet it was never forbidden in Greece to bury without burning. We must remember also that burning did not mean a complete reduction of the body to ashes, but that often, after it had been for some time on the funeral pile, the bones were collected without having been entirely destroyed or reduced to ashes, and then deposited in a tomb. Traces of these different kinds of burial are found in Greece. There are urns holding ashes, containing corpses, there are tombs in which skeletons, more or less perfect, are placed on the ground, and there are graves in which the bodies have simply been deposited in the earth. There are coffins also of wood or earthenware, but this is supposed to be a custom of foreign origin. Even the embalming of dead bodies was not unknown in Greece, as, for instance, in the case of the kings of Sparta.
As many tombs have been found to contain various articles that had been dear or useful to the living, it has been supposed that the Greeks also believed that the dead remained, for some time at least, in or near their tombs. But although such a belief may have existed, for even Plato alludes to it, the custom itself admits, as we shall see, of a different explanation.
The general idea among the Greeks seems to have been that, after the body had been properly disposed of, the soul, the ψυχή, would join the better ones. (βϵλτίοϵς καὶ κρϵίττονϵς). It is supposed that in ancient times the Greeks deposited the remains of the dead in their own houses, near the hearth, which was the primitive altar of the family. Here the memory of the departed was kept alive by various observances. In later times also, when the bodies were deposited outside the town, each family liked to keep its tombs separate, and as a sacred spot for family gatherings. These places were enclosed, marked by monuments, ornamented with trees and flowers, and often covered with gifts which by a kind of unreasoning love were intended for the dead. Many of these customs, whether reasonable or unreasonable, were apt to be repeated by others without any clear motive beyond that very common motive of doing what others had done before. After a time they became fixed, and were regarded as proper, as necessary, nay as sacred. These offerings began even at the time of the funeral, and consisted of wine, oil, honey, sometimes of sacrificial animals also.
When the relatives and friends of the departed had returned from the funeral, they were expected to purify themselves, and then, adorned with wreaths, to proceed to a common meal in honour of the dead. While this meal was sometimes considered as given by the departed, the departed himself was honoured with a meal on the third (τὰ τρίτα) and on the ninth day (τὰ ἔνατα) after the funeral. After that the proper mourning was supposed to be at an end. Sometimes, however, we hear of eleven days of mourning, and at Athens a funeral meal was celebrated also on the thirtieth day. After that, sacrificial offerings (ἐναγίζϵιν) were due to the departed on certain days, such as the thirtieth day of the month, and his birthday.
On great occasions, when the members of a family were gathered to celebrate the birth of a new child or a wedding or some other joyful event, the souls of the departed were seldom forgotten, particularly those of the Tritopátores, probably the three generations of ancestors who in. India also received on joyful occasions26 regular offerings (srâddha), and who represent the whole body of ancestors, and, in a certain sense, the family heroes and gods.
There were also certain days set apart on which the souls of all departed had to be honoured or pacified. In Athens this All Souls celebration took place in spring, at the end of the Anthesteria. When it was over, the souls were asked to depart again, with the words: θύραζϵ Κη̑ρϵς, οὐκ ἔτ᾽ ᾽Αν¸ϵστήρια, ‘Away, ye Kêres, the Anthesteria are over.’
In all these customs we must distinguish between their first impulse and their later interpretation. At first the idea of impurity attaching to the house and the relations of the departed, need not have meant more than a wish to be left alone, not to be spoken to, and not to be disturbed. After a time, the awe that was inspired by a death would have caused people to regard the family that was ‘in mourning’ as sacred for a time, possibly as afflicted and disgraced, and thus as impure. This so-called impurity seems, in fact, to be something like the taboo which by other tribes is placed for a time on all the relations of the dead. It is not restricted to the days of mourning, for a family may be placed under the same kind of taboo at the birth of a child also, otherwise one of the most joyful events. In the law-book of Vishnu, 20, this kind of impurity is clearly distinguished from being in mourning. We read: ‘As both his good and his bad actions follow a man after his death like companions, what does it profit a man whether his relations mourn for him or not? But so long as they remain impure, the departed guest finds no rest, and returns to visit his relatives.’
Again, the mere fact that offerings were made to the dead near their tombs would impress the popular mind with the idea that the souls in some form or other were hovering round their tombs27. The next step would be that the souls were believed to rejoice in these offerings, and if to rejoice, then actually to eat and to drink what was offered to them. There is no evidence to show that the educated classes in. Greece believed that the souls actually devoured the offerings of honey mixed with milk (μϵλίκρητον) which were poured on the grave, yet the offerings were made, and we can easily understand that it did their hearts good to give up something, whatever it was, for those who had been the object of love and reverence, though they were no longer present in the body. That feeling exists to the present day in spite of all so-called enlightenment.
The Theory of Survivals.
I know it is the custom to call such things survivals. But that name should, I think, be reserved for customs which have no longer any intelligible object, and can be made intelligible only when traced back to times and circumstances in which their origin can be shown to have been perfectly natural. A survival means what has no longer any life in it, ‘was sick übeelebt hat.’ There are many customs, however, which may seem to us irrational or unintelligible, but which need not therefore be traced back to the childhood of the human race. They seem to me to receive a far easier explanation in that never-ceasing childhood of the human heart, which breaks out in different strata of our own society as it did thousands of years ago.
I remember, when. Lord Palmerston was buried in Westminster Abbey, a friend, a member of Parliament, was seen to take off some valuable rings and throw them into the grave. Some people called it foolishness, others fondness. It might, no doubt, be called a survival, for the habit of throwing what seemed most precious upon the funeral pile or into the grave, was certainly more common in former times than it is with us. But the true sense in which it may be called a survival28 is that the same sentiment which prompted the ancients, whether civilised or uncivilised, to give up something to the dead, to make some kind of sacrifice, has survived in our hearts also. There was but a small step from throwing a ring into the grave to saying, ‘He would have liked it, let him have it, let him enjoy it.’
There is a similar case, so well known that I suppose it may be mentioned without indiscretion. An eminent English poet insisted on placing the MS. of his own unpublished poems—probably the most valued treasure which he possessed—wife's coffin. We need not try to analyse all his feelings, but we should probably be not very far wrong, if we recognised here too a real survival, that is, a permanent manifestation of that profound human impulse which prompted the ancient mourners to sacrifice what they valued most, on the funeral pile of their dearest friends.
Gifts produced a Belief that they would be used by the Dead.
It is generally said that because among many people the dead were supposed to carry on the work of which they had been most fond in this life, therefore a bow and arrow were placed in the grave of the hunter, a sword and shield were buried with the soldier, and even horses and wives were burnt with the body of their master. Psychologically, I believe, the process was exactly the reverse. Bow and arrow were thrown on the grave because it seemed natural. In India, as we saw, the bow was actually broken. Sword and shield were essential almost to the complete dress of a soldier; and wives at first were certainly prompted by fondness to follow their husbands into death. But when people were pressed for an answer, what could they say? Some might say, it was all mere foolishness. But the early rationalists would soon discover a reason. What could be the use of the bow and arrow, unless there was in the other world also a hunting-ground? Why waste a valuable sword and shield, unless the departed really wanted them for their defence? And why should a wife wish to be burnt with her husband, if the dead rise not, if there is not another world in which husband and wife will be united again? What seems the effect may here, as in so many cases, have really been the cause. Anyhow, the cause and effect of customs are here as elsewhere inseparably united. Because honey mixed with milk was poured on the graves, the dead were believed to be fond of milk and honey. The real cause having been forgotten, another was soon supplied, just as the old negro woman, when pressed about the medicine bottles thrown on the tombs of children, replied that people thought they would help the children after their burial. The human heart has many chambers, and we must be on our guard against supposing that we know and can count all its pulses and impulses.
And what gave rise in every family to these simple gifts of milk and honey offered to their deceased parents, led afterwards to a more elaborate worship of ancestors, and likewise to the worship of national heroes. When we are told that the Lokrians always left a place empty for Ajax Oileus in their battle array, did they believe that this national hero was actually present in the flesh during the fight, that they saw him, touched him, or spoke to him? No doubt there were many who said so, for there are many things that we can say, many things that we can say we believe, many things that we can believe we believe, and which nevertheless are but metaphorical and poetical expressions, and at first not meant to be anything else. And yet this belief soon became a reality, nay more than a reality. The presence of Ajax during the battle was a real presence, nay more than a real presence. Those who held the place of honour as fighting on each side of the half-divine hero, would probably fight with greater bravery than if he himself had been present. When the excitement of the fight was over, they would declare that they had felt his presence, that they had been inspirited by him, very soon, that they had seen and heard him. And when they celebrated their victory, was it so very strange that they should have poured out the first drops of wine to Ajax, that they should have expressed their gratitude for his help, or celebrated his valorous deeds in song? From such thoroughly natural beginnings arose the worship of heroes, belonging no longer to one family only, or receiving honour from their own descendants only, but claimed as their own by a whole village, or a town, or a state, or, at last, by the whole of Greece.
We can thus distinguish in Greece four stages in the worship of ancestral spirits, (1) mourning for relatives and friends (Trauer), (2) honour paid to one's own ancestors (Ahnen-cult), (3) memorial services of national heroes (Heroen-cult), (4) worship paid to departed souls in general (Seelen-cult).
These four forms of ancestral worship often co-exist, but it is sometimes useful to distinguish between them.
Funeral Ceremonies in Rome.
The funeral ceremonies of the Romans have been very carefully studied by classical scholars. The well-known work by Kirchmann, De Funeribus Romanorum, 1672, contains all the evidence most carefully collected, and has formed the chief foundation for all subsequent treatises on this subject.
It seems to have been the custom at Rome, after the dead body had been washed, anointed, and clothed, to keep it for seven days in the vestibule of the house. Possibly this was done to prevent the possibility of a person being buried while in a trance. During that time the house itself and all that belonged to it were considered impure, and passers-by were warned by a cypress tree placed before the door. On the eighth day the corpse was carried out and burnt. Afterwards the remains were collected, sprinkled with wine and milk, placed in an urn, and deposited in the sepulchre. The relations on returning home stepped over a fire and were sprinkled with water.
The departed was now believed to be a kind of divine being, and on the eighth day after the funeral the sacrificium novendiale or the feriae denicales were celebrated in his honour. The offering consisted in a swine or a sheep, dedicated to Ceres, and was followed by a feast, called the silicernium, during which much was said and sung in honour of the departed, libations were made for him, and incense was burnt. But though the body was burnt, it was always considered essential that some earth should be thrown on it. Sometimes, particularly in war, a single bone was taken and covered with holy earth. No Roman would pass a dead body anywhere without throwing some earth on it. This looks like a survival of the more ancient custom of burying, and it is well known that in certain. Roman families, for instance, in that of the Cornelii, the bodies were not burnt, but buried. It may also contain a remnant of the old feeling for the Earth, as the mother of all living beings29.
When all had been done that was required (justa facere), the soul of the departed was supposed to be at rest. It had become one of the Manes. Once every year, on the 19th of February, there was a commemoration festival, called Feralia or Parentalia, on which certain offerings were made to the Manes. This was called parentare. Similar offerings, however, had to be made on certain days, such as the calendae, nonae, and idus, and other occasions also, whenever some important event brought the members of a family together, such as the investiture with the toga virilis, the arrival of the bride, &c. We also hear of funeral games at Rome, like those described by Homer at the funeral of Patroklos. In Rome they were chiefly gladiatorial contests, lasting sometimes for several days. Some scholars have seen in these bloody combats survivals of an original human sacrifice in honour of the dead, but this can hardly be proved.
The Manes were supposed to dwell in the lower world (mundus and orcus), though little is said about their receiving either rewards or punishments. A distinction, however, was made. As kind beings, they were called lares; as unkind, larvae. They were called dii manes also, or simply dii, though they were not supposed to live in company with the great gods. The Romans swore by the Manes as well as by their gods, and how near the Manes were sometimes brought to the gods, we may gather from the scoffing words of Pliny (vii. 56), that ‘those who had ceased to be men were worshipped as manes and exalted into gods.’ Tertullian also (Apol. 13) inveighs against these superstitions, though from a different point of view: ‘What honour do you show to the gods,’ he says, ‘which you do not show to the dead? What difference is there between a funeral feast and a feast of Jupiter; between the obba, goblet, with which you sacrifice to the dead, and the simpulum used at sacrifices; between a pollinctor (who washes the corpse) and a haruspex? You employ a haruspex even for the service of the dead.’
All this shows how near in the thoughts of the Romans the dead were to the gods. That this was not a late idea, influenced by Greek thought, we may gather from Cicero, who says (Leg. ii. 22) in so many words, that the days kept sacred for the dead, would not, like the days kept sacred for the gods, have been called feriae, had not our ancestors wished that the departed should be considered as gods. We are told even of a treatise ascribed to Labeo, a Roman lawyer, De diis quibus origo animalis est (Servius, ad Aen. iii. 168), and these gods who derive their origin from human souls are the lares. Apuleius (‘De deo Sacr.’ p. 688), who may have known Labeo's work, tells us that ‘Every departed spirit is called a lemur. If he abides in the house peaceful and beneficent, and confers security and bliss on his descendants, he is called a lar. If, tormented by the consciousness of his evil deeds, he reams about restlessly, distracting the good and terrifying the bad, he is called larva. If he is indifferent, he is simply counted as one of the manes.’
There are private and public lares. The former are also called penates. The latter, such as Romulus, Remus, Acca Larentia, &c., come nearest to the Greek heroes. Then there are lares of the town, of the field, of the high roads, and of the sea, to all of whom some kind of worship has to be paid on certain occasions.
Funeral Ceremonies among Savages.
The funeral ceremonies of Indians, Greeks, and Romans which we have hitherto examined, though they are old, do not claim to be considered as the customs of primitive men. They cannot even be considered as primitive, in the sense in which I sometimes use that word, namely as requiring no antecedent, and as being perfectly natural and intelligible. There are features in all these ceremonies which are no longer quite intelligible, and the origin of which can only be discovered by conjecture, sometimes not even by that. How the so-called primitive savages disposed of their dead, we shall never know. There has been considerable discussion whether cremation or interment was the more primitive form of burial. By those who believe that modern savages represent to us the customs of primitive humanity, an appeal has been made to the lowest of savages, such as the Australians, and whatever their mode of burial is, has been supposed to have been the first and most natural.
I have taken some pains to examine the accounts which eye-witnesses have given us of the manner in which the Australians disposed of their dead. This evidence, however, so far as I can judge, leaves the question as to the priority of cremation or burial quite undecided. There is hardly any kind of burial that is not practised by the Australians. They inter, but they also cremate30. They take little trouble about the corpses of women and children, but men are interred with a good deal of ceremony. The corpse is firmly tied together, enveloped in a rug or in strips of bark, and placed in soft ground or sand, at the depth of three or four feet. Above the grave a mound, generally a foot or two high, but sometimes rising to five feet, is erected and covered with logs to prevent wild dogs from disturbing the corpse. Some tribes erect a hut over the grave. Not unfrequently some trees close at hand are marked with rude cuttings in memory of the deceased, and curved paths made round the grave, which is visited from time to time and kept in order for several years.
When the corpse is burnt, the few bones which remain are likewise deposited in the earth. But that is not all. Some Australian tribes make a sort of mummy of a dead body by drying it before the fire. Others, again, erect a stage either on posts or among the branches of trees, and there leave the corpse, between sheets of bark, until the flesh has decayed. The bones are then cleaned, made into a parcel, and carried about for many months, till at last they are either dropped into a hollow tree or interred.
Among the most savage tribes the flesh of the deceased is cut off the bones, the skulls are used as drinking vessels, and in some cases the dead are actually eaten by the aborigines of Australia.
What then is the most primitive form of burial? Is it the devouring of the dead bodies? I doubt it; for I feel convinced that what are called the lowest savages, are quite as often the result of centuries of corruption and degeneracy as the survivals of a primitive and unadulterated state of human life on earth.
Among the Polynesians also, who stand no doubt on a higher level among savages than the Australians, we find nothing that seems more primitive than the funeral customs of Hindus, Greeks, and Romans.
The Rev. W. Wyatt Gill, to whom we owe so much of really trustworthy information about the Polynesians, has lately given us the following description of a funeral in Mangaia (Hervey Islands)31:—
‘The bodies of deceased friends were anointed with scented oil, carefully wrapped up in a number of pieces of cloth, and the same day committed to their last resting-place. A few were buried in the earth within the sacred precincts of the appropriate marae; but by far the greater number were hidden in caves regarded as the special property of certain families.
‘If a body were buried in the earth, the face was invariably laid downwards, chin and knees meeting, and the limbs well secured with strongest sinnet cord. A thin covering of earth was laid over the corpse, and large heavy stones piled over the grave. The intention was to render it impossible for the dead to rise up and injure the living! The head of the buried corpse was always turned to the rising sun, in accordance with their ancient solar worship.
‘It was customary to bury with the dead some article of value—a female would have a cloth-mallet laid by her side; whilst her husband would enjoin his friends to bury with him a favourite stone adze, or a beautiful white shell (Ovula ovum, Linn.) worn by him in the dance. Such articles were never touched afterwards by the living.
‘Numbers were buried in caves easily accessible, to enable the relatives to visit the remains of the dearly-loved lost ones from time to time. The corpse was occasionally exposed to the sun, re-anointed with oil, and then wrapped in fresh tikoru (white native cloth).
The dead were never disembowelled for the purpose of embalming. The corpse was simply desiccated, and daily anointed with cocoa-nut oil. A month would suffice for this.
‘Warriors were in general carefully hidden by their surviving friends, through fear of their being disinterred and burnt in revenge.
‘The people of the entire district where the deceased lived take up “taro” and prepare a feast in honour of the dead. A grand interchange of presents is usual on these occasions; but, excepting the near relatives of the deceased, no one is really the worse for it, as it is etiquette to see that distant relatives get back similar articles to what they brought.
‘Whatever is laid upon the corpse is buried with it and no further notice taken of it; but whatever is placed by the side, without touching it, is repaid.
‘The moment the sick died, the bodies of near relatives were cut with sharks’ teeth, so that the blood might stream down the bodies; their faces were blackened, and the hair cut off. At Rarotonga it was usual to knock out some of the front teeth in token of sorrow. Everywhere the moment of death was the signal for the death-wail to commence. The most affecting things are said on such occasions, but always in a set form, commencing thus:—
“Aue tou e! Aue! Aus! Alas for us! Alas! Alas!” &c.
The wailers usually lose their voices for several days, and their eyes are frightfully swollen with crying.
‘As soon as the corpse was committed to its last resting-place, the mourners selected five old cocoa-nuts, which were successively opened, and the water poured out upon the ground. These nuts were then wrapped up in leaves and native cloth, and thrown towards the grave; or, if the corpse were let down with cords into the deep chasm of “Auraka,” the nuts and other food would be successively thrown down upon it. Calling loudly each time the name of the departed, they said, “Here is thy food; eat it.” When the fifth nut and the accompanying “raroi,” or pudding, were thrown down, the mourners said, “Farewell! we come back no more to thee.”
A death in the family is the signal for a change of names amongst the near relatives of the deceased.
‘Chiefs and priests occasionally received the honour of a “spirit-burial,” the corpse being borne to the most renowned marae of his tribe on the island, and allowed to remain within the sacred enclosure for some hours, but the same day hidden away in the tribal cave. In such cases the depositing of the body in the marae was “the burial,” or the committal of the spirit to the care of the god worshipped in life, whilst the letting down of the corpse into the deep chasm was designated “the throwing away of the bones” (tiringa ivi), the well-wrapped-up body being regarded as a mere bundle of bones after the exit of the spirit.
In the olden times, relatives of the deceased wore only “pakoko,” or native-cloth, dyed red in the sap of the candle-nut tree, and then dipped in the black mud of a taro-patch. The very offensive smell of this mourning garment was symbolical of the putrescent state of the dead. Their heads were encircled with chaplets of mountain fern, singed with fire to give it a red appearance.
The eva, or dirge, and the mourning dance succeeded. Of this dirge, four varieties are known. They invariably took place by day, occupying from ten to fifteen days, according to the rank of the deceased. Sometimes a “death-talk” was preferred, consisting of sixty songs in honour of the dead, mournfully chanted at night in a large house built for the purpose, and well lighted with torches. Each adult male relative recited a song. A feast was the inevitable finale.
‘Each island of the Hervey Group had some variety of custom in relation to the dead. Perhaps the chiefs of Atiu were the most outrageous in mourning. I knew one to mourn for seven years for an only child (a woman), living all that time in a hut in the vicinity of the grave, and allowing his hair and nails to grow, and his body to remain unwashed. This was the wonder of all the islanders. In general, all mourning ceremonies were over in a year.’
It seems to me that in spite of some savage ingredients, these funeral customs of Australians and Polynesians differ but little from those of the civilised nations of the ancient world. Those of the Polynesians, in particular, are full of indications of deep sentiment and even of exalted thoughts about death and life after death. In fact, when brought face to face with the great problems of life and death, when welcoming the rising of a new life at birth, or standing by the grave of a beloved child, men differ far less than we imagine. They all have tears of joy and team of sorrow, and in the end there is for all of them the same silence.