The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion
Page: 487Evidence of this primitive belief is furnished by a class of folk-tales of which the Norse story of “The giant who had no heart in his body” is perhaps the best-known example. Stories of this kind are widely diffused over the world, and from their number and the variety of incident and of details in which the leading idea is embodied, we may infer that the conception of an external soul is one which has had a powerful hold on the minds of men at an early stage of history. For folk-tales are a faithful reflection of the world as it appeared to the primitive mind; and we may be sure that any idea which commonly occurs in them, however absurd it may seem to us, must once have been an ordinary article of belief. This assurance, so far as it concerns the supposed power of disengaging the soul from the body for a longer or shorter time, is amply corroborated by a comparison of the folk-tales in question with the actual beliefs and practices of savages. To this we shall return after some specimens of the tales have been given. The specimens will be selected with a view of illustrating both the characteristic features and the wide diffusion of this class of tales.
In the first place, the story of the external soul is told, in various forms, by all Aryan peoples from Hindoostan to the Hebrides. A very common form of it is this: A warlock, giant, or other fairyland being is invulnerable and immortal because he keeps his soul hidden far away in some secret place; but a fair princess, whom he holds enthralled in his enchanted castle, wiles his secret from him and reveals it to the hero, who seeks out the warlock’s soul, heart, life, or death (as it is variously called), and by destroying it, simultaneously kills the warlock. Thus a Hindoo story tells how a magician called Punchkin held a queen captive for twelve years, and would fain marry her, but she would not have him. At last the queen’s son came to rescue her, and the two plotted together to kill Punchkin. So the queen spoke the magician fair, and pretended that she had at last made up her mind to marry him. “And do tell me,” she said, “are you quite immortal? Can death never touch you? And are you too great an enchanter ever to feel human suffering?” “It is true,” he said, “that I am not as others. Far, far away, hundreds of thousands of miles from this, there lies a desolate country covered with thick jungle. In the midst of the jungle grows a circle of palm trees, and in the centre of the circle stand six chattees full of water, piled one above another: below the sixth chattee is a small cage, which contains a little green parrot;—on the life of the parrot depends my life;—and if the parrot is killed I must die. It is, however,” he added, “impossible that the parrot should sustain any injury, both on account of the inaccessibility of the country, and because, by my appointment, many thousand genii surround the palm trees, and kill all who approach the place.” But the queen’s young son overcame all difficulties, and got possession of the parrot. He brought it to the door of the magician’s palace, and began playing with it. Punchkin, the magician, saw him, and, coming out, tried to persuade the boy to give him the parrot. “Give me my parrot!” cried Punchkin. Then the boy took hold of the parrot and tore off one of his wings; and as he did so the magician’s right arm fell off. Punchkin then stretched out his left arm, crying, “Give me my parrot!” The prince pulled off the parrot’s second wing, and the magician’s left arm tumbled off. “Give me my parrot!” cried he, and fell on his knees. The prince pulled off the parrot’s right leg, the magician’s right leg fell off; the prince pulled off the parrot’s left leg, down fell the magician’s left. Nothing remained of him except the trunk and the head; but still he rolled his eyes, and cried, “Give me my parrot!” “Take your parrot, then,” cried the boy; and with that he wrung the bird’s neck, and threw it at the magician; and, as he did so, Punchkin’s head twisted round, and, with a fearful groan, he died! In another Hindoo tale an ogre is asked by his daughter, “Papa, where do you keep your soul?” “Sixteen miles away from this place,” he said, “is a tree. Round the tree are tigers, and bears, and scorpions, and snakes; on the top of the tree is a very great fat snake; on his head is a little cage; in the cage is a bird; and my soul is in that bird.” The end of the ogre is like that of the magician in the previous tale. As the bird’s wings and legs are torn off, the ogre’s arms and legs drop off; and when its neck is wrung he falls down dead. In a Bengalee story it is said that all the ogres dwell in Ceylon, and that all their lives are in a single lemon. A boy cuts the lemon in pieces, and all the ogres die.