An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 45The idea of the separable soul thus evolved from visions and dreams and applied to godhead might assist in the making of several varying forms of deity, as in fetishism, totemism, or the worship of the dead—if, indeed, it did not originate in this latter form. The application of spirit to deity perhaps found[Pg 104] its first illustration in the worship of ancestors—a low form of evolution in the line of godhead, as few gods evolved from ancestors survive more than several generations, and few of the great departmental deities of the higher early religions display signs of having evolved from ancestors. Moreover, where such signs are present they are of doubtful value. The religion of China is perhaps the only great example of the continuity of the worship of ancestors. But it is important to note that this form of deity may have been that to which the idea of spirit was first applied.
Fetishism forms an important link in the evolution of the mere animistic spirit into the god. Before examining the manner in which a fetish originates and rises to godhead, let us see exactly what class of spirit is supposed to inhabit it.
The fetish is pre-eminently a personal familiar—that is, a spirit which for certain reasons (the desire for shelter and food, or because a powerful spell has been laid upon it) becomes attached to a human being. It is acquired by a person or a family for luck, and in return requires a certain amount of worship or respect, sacrifice, and feasting. It may receive good or evil treatment according as it behaves to its votaries. It is by no means a tutelar deity, since it may be bought or sold, loaned or inherited. It generally has its home in some object, preferably of a peculiar shape or character, inhabiting a figure shaped in human or animal form, a stone, bone, necklace of fingers, a carved or painted stick, a curious fossil, a stuffed skin, the dried hand of an enemy—in short, anything that fancy or caprice may dictate.
The manner of making a fetish is almost universally the same. Says Mr Davenport Adams of the Samoyede image-makers: "The bleak and lonely island of Waigatz is still, as in the days of the Dutch adventurer, Barentz, supposed to be the residence of the chief of these minor divinities. There a block of stone, pointed at the summit, bears a certain resemblance to a human head, having been wrought into this likeness[Pg 105] by a freak of nature. The Samoyede image-makers have taken it for their model, and multiplied it in wood and stone; and the idols thus easily manufactured they call sjadaei, because they wear a human (or semi-human) countenance (sja). They attire them in reindeer skins, and embellish them with innumerable coloured rags. In addition to the sjadaei, they adopt as idols any curiously contorted tree or irregularly shapen stone; and the household idol (Hahe) they carry about with them, carefully wrapped up, in a sledge reserved for the purpose, the hahengan. One of the said Penates is supposed to be the guardian of wedded happiness, another of the fishery, a third of the health of his worshippers, a fourth of their herds of reindeer. When his services are needed, the Hahe is removed from its resting-place, and erected in the tent or on the pasture-ground, in the wood, or on the river's bank. Then his mouth is smeared with oil or blood, and before him is set a dish of fish or flesh, in return for which repast it is expected that he will use his power on behalf of his entertainers. When his aid is no longer needed, he is returned to the hahengan."
Mr Payne in his History of the New World called America has an admirable passage about the fetish. He says: "The spirits, then, whom the savage believes to share the world with him, are considered to be substantial beings, consisting of flesh and blood like man himself; and like him nourished by food and drink. They are therefore not immortal: like man, they are liable to death by violence or starvation. They are also subject to that alternation of want and abundance which occupies so large a space in human experience. In this circumstance, coupled with the fact that some of these spirits are conceived as injurious or evil, others as benevolent or good, we have the key of primitive theology. Man seeks to keep the good or benevolent spirits alive, to satisfy their wants, and to give them pleasure, in the hope of interesting them by this means in the success of his own enterprises: and for this purpose he provides them with food and drink. Hunting peoples, who have no gods, occasionally sacrifice food to the[Pg 106] spirits, in order to obtain success in the chase: thus the Veddah of Ceylon place on the ground offerings of blood and burnt flesh for the Vedde-Yakko (spirit of the chase), promising further offerings of the same kind when the game is caught If the spirit accepts these offerings, he is understood to appear to them in dreams, telling them where to hunt. Some low agricultural and cattle-keeping tribes, who have not attained the conception of gods, place pieces of manioc-root and ears of maize on branches of trees, to propitiate the spirits. These sacrifices of the Veddah illustrate in its simplest form the principle which lies at the root of all. The spirits for whom they are intended are beings of animal nature, chiefly differing from other animals in that they are naturally invisible, but have the power of assuming various forms, and of moving swiftly through the air from place to place. Air, perhaps, rather than earth, is conceived to be their proper element: it is at any rate certain that food-offerings, in order to reach them, must be committed to the air. There are only two methods of doing this, libation and combustion: the former adapted to liquids, the latter to solids. Liquids are poured on the ground, on a stone, or into a bowl or other receptacle, and pass into the air by simple evaporation. Solids are burnt, and pass into the air in the form of smoke. In offering to the spirits food in the form of blood, the Veddah follows the universal logic of primitive savagery. Man once consumed his game warm and raw. Fatigued with the chase, emaciated perhaps by previous fasting, the savage slays his victim, drinks of the hot blood, feels himself at once invigorated, and makes his meal upon its flesh at leisure. The rest of the blood, spilled on the ground, quickly dries up. The savage, who has but one solution for most physical phenomena, concludes that the spirits have drunk it. Blood, therefore, is their natural food. In this, repugnant as it is to modern prejudices, the savage sees nothing revolting or unnatural. Blood, which is in truth only the material of flesh, is to him a perfectly natural food; scarcely less so, perhaps, than milk, which is nothing but blood filtered through a gland. Henceforth, a part of the blood of all animals that man slays, wild or domestic, will be poured out for the spirits, or for the[Pg 107] gods who succeed them. Ultimately, when man abandons the practice, once universal, of feeding on blood, all the blood of a slaughtered animal is poured out as the share of the invisible powers. Sometimes, in a later stage, when sacrifice is more fully developed, clotted blood is collected when the carcase is cold, and wrapped in a cloth; this is placed in a basket and suspended in the air. Such was the practice of the advanced Indians of Nicaragua, between the lake and the ocean, emigrants from Mexico, when sacrificing, after the chase, to the teomazat and