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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 112

So long as corpses were left in their graves, the spirits of the dead were, it would appear, believed to be safe. But they required food and refreshment. Food vessels and drinking urns were therefore included in the funerary furniture, and the dead were given food offerings at regular intervals. Once a year the living held feasts in the burial ground, and invited the ghosts to share in the repast. This custom was observed in Babylonia, and is not yet obsolete in Egypt; Moslems and Coptic Christians alike hold annual all-night feasts in their cemeteries.

The Japanese "Land of Yomi" is similarly an underworld, or great grave, where ghosts mingle with the demons of disease and destruction. Souls reach it by "the pass of Yomi". The Mikado, however, may be privileged to ascend to heaven and join the gods in the "Eternal Land".

Among the ancient Romans the primitive belief survived that the spirit of the dead "just sank into the earth where it rested, and returned from time to time to the upper world through certain openings in the ground (mundi), whose solemn uncovering was one of the regular observances of the festal calendar".[248]

According to Babylonian belief, the dead who were not properly buried roamed through the streets searching for food, eating refuse and drinking impure water.

Prior to the period of ceremonial burials, the dead were interred in the houses in which they had lived--a custom which has made it possible for present-day scientists to accumulate much valuable data regarding primitive races and their habits of life. The Palaeolithic cave-dwellers of Europe were buried in their caves. These were then deserted and became the haunts of wild animals. After a long interval a deserted cave was occupied by strangers. In certain characteristic caves the various layers containing human remains represent distinct periods of the vast Pleistocene Age.

When Mediterranean man moved northward through Europe, he utilized some of these caves, and constructed in them well-built graves for his dead, digging down through older layers. In thus making a "house" within a "house", he has provided us with a link between an old custom and a new. Apparently he was influenced by local practices and beliefs, for he met and mingled in certain localities with the men of the Late Palaeolithic Age.

The primitive house-burial rite is referred to in the Ethiopic version of the life of Alexander the Great. The "Two-horned", as the hero was called, conversed with Brahmans when he reached India. He spoke to one of them, "saying: 'Have ye no tombs wherein to bury any man among ye who may die?' And an interpreter made answer to him, saying: 'Man and woman and child grow up, and arrive at maturity, and become old, and when any one of them dieth we bury him in the place wherein he lived; thus our graves are our houses. And our God knoweth that we desire this more than the lust for food and meat which all men have: this is our life and manner of living in the darkness of our tombs.'" When Alexander desired to make a gift to these Brahmans, and asked them what they desired most, their answer was, "Give us immortality".[249]


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