Words of Power
THERE is no essential difference
between Names of Power and Words of Power, and the justification of any
division lies wholly in its convenience. For although the implication
may be that the one is associated with persons, and the other with things,
we have sufficing evidence of the hopeless entanglement of the two in
the barbaric mind. Both are regarded as effective for weal or woe through
the magic power assumed to inhere in the names, and through the control
obtained over them through knowledge of those names. In examining this
attitude, it may be well to bear in mind what has been said already concerning
magic as a primitive form of science; bad science, it is true, yet possessing
the saving grace of some perception of possible relations between phenomena.
For here the apparatus of the priest--prayer, sacrifice, and so forth--is
superseded, or, at least, suspended, in favour of the apparatus of the
sorcerer with his 'whole bag of tricks '--spells, incantations, curses,
passwords, charms, and other machinery of white or black magic. In his
invaluable Asiatic Studies, Sir Alfred Lyall remarks that among the lower
religions 'there seem always to have been some faint sparks of doubt as
to the efficacy of prayer and offerings, and thus as to the limits within
which deities can or will interpose in human affairs, combined with embryonic
conceptions of the possible capacity of man to control or guide Nature
by knowledge and use of her ways, or with some primeval touch of that
feeling which now rejects supernatural interference in the order and sequence
of physical processes. Side by side with that universal conviction which
ascribed to divine volition all effects that could not be accounted for
by the simplest experience, and which called them miracles, omens, or
signs of the gods, there has always been a remote manifestation of that
less submissive spirit which locates within man himself the power of influencing
things, and which works vaguely toward the dependence of man on his own
faculties for regulating his material surroundings. [a]
Words of Power, broadly classified, may be
divided, with more or less unavoidable overlapping, into (a) Creative
Words; (b) Mantrams and their kin; (c) Passwords; (d) Spells or Invocations
for conjuring up the spirit of the dead, or for exorcising demons, or
for removing spells on the living; and (e) Cure-Charms in formulae or
magic words. Of each of these five intermingled classes a few examples
(a) CREATIVE WORDS
The confusion of person and thing meets us
at starting, and the deification of speech itself warrants its inclusion
in this section. Probably the most striking example of such deification
is the Hindu goddess Vãc, who is spoken of in the Rig Veda [b]
as 'the greatest of all deities; the Queen, the first of all those worthy
of worship,' and in one of the Brahmanas, or sacerdotal commentaries on
the Vedas, as the 'mother '[c] of
those sacred books. Another hymn to her declares that when she was first
sent forth, all that was hidden, all that was best and highest, became
disclosed through love. [d] By
sacrifice Speech was thought out and found, and he who sacrifices to her
'becomes strong by speech, and speech turns unto him, and he makes speech
subject unto himself.' [e] When
'Whom I love I make mighty, I make him a
Brãhman, a Seer, and Wise. .
I have revealed the heavens to its inmost
depths, I dwell in the waters and in sea,
echoes of the sublime claims of Wisdom in
the Book of Proverbs haunt the ear.
'The Lord possessed me in the beginning of
his way before his works of old.
In the Wisdom of Solomon, the high place
of 'Chockmah' or Wisdom, as co-worker with the Deity, is still more prominent;
in the Targums 'Memra' or 'Word' is one of the phrases substituted by
the Jews for the great Name; while the several speculations concerning
the nature and functions of Wisdom in the canonical and apocryphal books
took orderly shape in t:he Logos, the Incarnate Word of God, of Saint
John's Gospel. In Buddhism, Manjusri is the personification of Wisdom,
[h] although in this connection
we have to remark that this religion has no theory of the origin of things,
and that for the nearest approach to the Vãc of Hinduism (as the
possible influence of which on the wisdom the Book of Proverbs, and through
it on Logos, nothing can be said here) we must cross into ancient Persia,
in whose sacred books we read of Honovar or Ahuna-variya, the 'Creating
Word' or the 'Word Creator.' When Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) asks Ahuramazda,
the Good God of the Parsi religion, which was the word that he spoke 'before
the heavens, the water, the earth, and so forth,' Ahuramazda answers by
dwelling on the sacred Honovar, the mispronunciation of which subjects
a man to dire penalties, while 'whoever in this my world supplied with
creatures takes off in muttering a part of the Ahuna-variya, either a
half, or a third, or a fourth, or a fifth of it, his soul will I, who
am Ahuramazda, separate from paradise to such a distance in width and
breadth as the earth is.' [i] In
his translation of Salaman and Absal, wherein these lines occur,
'. . . The Sage began,
Edward FitzGerald appends as note on Kun-fa-Yakun,
'Be, and it is--the famous word of Creation stolen from Genesis by the
Kurán.' In that book we read, 'The Originator of the heavens and
the earth when He decrees a matter He doth but say, unto it, "BE,"
and it is,' [j]--a declaration
which the Genesis creation-legend, doubtless a transcript [k]
of Accadian originals, anticipates in the statement, 'And Elohim said,
Let there be light, and there was light.' In this connection the three
shouts of the Welsh, which created all things, should be noted.
Dr. Wallis Budge remarks that among the magic
formulae of which the ancient Egyptians made use for the purpose of effecting
results outside man's normal power, was repetition of the names of gods
and supernatural beings, certain ceremonies accompanying the same. For
they believed that every word spoken under given circumstances must be
followed by some effect good or bad. The same idea prompts the belief
of the Irish peasant that a curse once uttered must alight on something;
it will float in the air seven years, and may descend any moment on the
party it was aimed at [l] Allied
to this is the old Scandinavian belief that a curse is powerful unless
it can be turned back, when it will harm its utterer, for harm some one
it must. [m] The origin of the
Egyptian superstition lies further back than Dr. Budge suggests, although
he is probably correct in assuming that its development received impetus
from the belief that the world and all things therein came into being
immediately after Thoth, the god of writing, especially of sacred literature,
had interpreted in words the will of the Deity in respect of the creation,
and that creation was the result of the god's command. [n]
Belief in the virtue of mystic phrases, faith
in whose efficacy would seem to be increased in the degree that the utterers
do not know their meaning, is world-wide. The old lady who found spiritual
'comfort in 'that blessed word, Mesopotamia,' has her representatives
in both hemispheres, in the matamanik of the Red Indian and the karakias
of the New Zealander, [o] while
the Roman Catholic can double the number of beads on his rosary by exchanging
strings with the Tibetan. The latter, as we know, fills his 'praying-wheels,'
more correctly, praising-wheels, with charms or texts from his sacred
books, the words of wonder-working power frequently placed therein, or
emblazoned on silk flags, being 'Om Mani padme hum,' 'Ah, the jewel in
the lotus,' i.e. 'the self-creative force is in the kosmos.'
But most typical of all are the sacred formulas
of the Hindus, the mantrams which are believed 'to enchain the power of
the gods themselves.' They are charged with both bane and bliss; there
is nothing that can resist their effect. At their bidding the demons will
enter a man or be cast out of him, and the only test of their efficacy
is supplied by themselves, since a stronger mantram can neutralise a weaker.
'The most famous and the most efficacious mantrani for taking away sins,
whose power is so great that the very gods tremble at it, is that which
is called the gayatri. It is so ancient that the Vedas themselves were
born from it only a Brahmin has the right to recite it, and he must prepare
himself by the most profound meditation. It is a prayer in honour of the
sun. There are several other mantrams which are called gayatri, but this
is the one most often used.' [p]
Next in importance to the gayatri, the most powerful mantram, is the monosyllable
OM or AUM, to which reference has been made. But, all the world over,
that which may have been the outcome of genuine aims has become the tool
of necromancers, soothsayers, and their kin. These recite the mystic charms
for the ostensible purpose of fortune-telling, of discovering stolen property,
hidden treasure, and of miracle-mongering generally. Certain mantrams
are credited with special power in the hands of those who have the key
to the true pronunciation, reminding us of the race--test in the pronunciation
of the old word Shibboleth. [q]
To the rishis or sorcerers who know how to use and apply these bija-aksharas,
as such mantrams are called, nothing is impossible. Dubois quotes the
following story in proof of this from the Hindu poem, Brahmottara-Kanda,
composed in honour of Siva:--'Dasarha, King of Madura, having married
Kalavali, daughter of the King of Benares, was warned by the princess
on their wedding-day that he must not exercise his rights as a husband,
because the mantram of the five letters which she had learned had so purified
her that no man could touch her save at the risk of his life, unless he
had been himself cleansed from all defilement by the same word-charm.
The princess, being his wife, could not teach him the mantram, because
by so doing she would become his guru, and, consequently, his superior.
So the next day both husband and wife went in quest of the great Rishi,
or penitent Garga, who, learning the object of their visit, bade them
fast one day and bathe the following day in the holy Ganges. This being
done, they returned to the Rishi, who made the husband sit down on the
ground facing the East, and, having seated himself by his side, but with
face to the West, whispered these two words in his ear, "Namah Sivaya."
Scarcely had Dasarha heard these marvellous words before a flight of crows
was seen issuing from different parts of his body, these birds being the
sins which he had committed.' [r]
That the mantrams do not now work the startling
effects of which tradition tells, is explained by the Brahmins as due
to mankind now living in the Kali-Yuga, or Fourth Age of the World, a
veritable age of Iron; but they maintain that it is still not uncommon
for miracles to be wrought akin to that just narrated, and to this which
follows. Siva had taught a little bastard boy the mysteries of the bjja-akshara
or mantram of the five letters. The boy was the son of a Brahmin widow,
and the stain on his birth had caused his exclusion from a wedding-feast
to which others of his caste had been invited. He took revenge by pronouncing
two or three of the mystic letters through a crack in the door of the
room where the guests were assembled. Immediately all the dishes that
were prepared for the feast were turned into frogs. Consternation spread
among the guests, all being sure that the mischief was due to the little
bastard, so, fearing that worse might happen, they rushed with one accord
to invite him to come in. As he entered, they asked his pardon for the
slight, whereupon he pronounced the same words backwards, [s]
and the cakes and other refreshments appeared, while the frogs vanished.
'I will leave it,' remarks the Abbé, 'to some one else to find,
if he can, anything amongst the numberless obscurations of the human mind
that can equal the extravagance of this story, which a Hindu would nevertheless
believe implicitly.' Were that veracious recorder of Oriental belief and
custom alive, he would be supplied from the narratives of proceedings
at spiritualist séances with examples of modern credulity as strong
as those which he collected in the land on which the Mahatmas look down
from their inaccessible peaks.
The famous Word of Power, 'Open, Sesame,'
pales before the passwords given in the Book of the Dead, or, more correctly,
The Chapters of Coming Forth by Day. This oldest of sacred literature,
venerable four thousand years B.C., contains the hymns, prayers, and magic
phrases to be used by Osiris (the common name given to the immortal counterpart
of the mummy [t]) in his journey
to Amenti, the underworld that led to the Fields of the Blessed. To secure
unhindered passage thither, the deceased must know the secret and mystical
names of the Gods of the Northern and Southern Heaven, of the Horizons,
and of the Empyreal Gate. 'As the Egyptian made his future world a counterpart
of the Egypt which he knew and loved, and gave to it heavenly counterparts
of all the sacred cities thereof, he must have conceived the existence
of a waterway like the Nile, whereon he might sail and perform his desired
voyage.' Strangest evidence of the Egyptian extension of belief in Words
of Power is furnished in the requirement made of the deceased that he
shall tell the names of every portion of the boat in which he desires
to cross the great river flowing to the underworld. Although there is
a stately impressiveness throughout the whole chapter, the citation of
one or two sentences must suffice. Every part of the boat challenges the
'Tell me my name,' saith the Rudder. 'Leg
of Hapiu is thy name.'
'Tell me my name,' saith the Rope. 'Hair,
with which Anubis finisheth the work of my embalmment, is thy name.'
'Tell us our names, say the Oar-rests. 'Pillars
of the underworld is your name.'
And so on; hold, mast, sail, blocks, paddles,
bows, keel, and hull each putting the same question, the sailor, the wind,
the river, and the river-banks chiming in, and the Rubric ending with
the assurance to the deceased that if 'this chapter be known by him,'
he shall 'come forth into Sekhet-Aarru, and bread, wine, and cakes shall
be given him at the altar of the great god, and fields, and an estate
. . . and his body shall be like unto the bodies of the gods.' [u]
But the difficulties of the journey are not
ended, because ere he can enter the Hall of the Two Truths, that is, of
Truth and Justice, where the god Osiris and the forty-two judges of the
dead are seated, and where the declaration of the deceased, that he has
committed none of the forty-two sins, [v]
is tested by weighing his heart in the scales against the symbol of truth,
Anubis requires him to tell the names of every part of the doors, the
bolts, lintels, sockets, woodwork, threshold, and posts; while the floor
forbids him to tread on it until it knows the names of the two feet wherewith
he would walk upon it. These correctly given, the doorkeeper challenges
him, and, that guardian satisfied, Osiris bids the deceased approach and
partake of 'the sepulchral meal.' Then after more name-tests are applied,
those of the watchers and heralds of the seven ants or mansions, and of
the twenty-one pylons of the domains of Osiris, the deceased 'shall be
among those who follow Osiris triumphant. The gates of the underworld
shall be opened unto him, and a homestead shall be given unto him, and
the followers of Horus who reap therein shall proclaim his name as one
of the gods who are therein.'
In the famous scene in Macbeth, when the
witches make the 'hellbroth boil and bubble' in their 'caldron,' Shakespeare
drew upon the folk-lore of his time. Two years before he came to London,
Reginald Scot had published his Discoverie of Witchcraft, a work which,
in Mr. Lecky's words, 'unmasked the imposture and delusion of the system
with a boldness that no previous writer had approached, and an ability
which few subsequent writers have equalled.' In that book may be found
the record of many a strange prescription, of which other dramatists of
Shakespeare's period, notably Middleton, Heywood, and Shadwell, made use
in their thaumaturgic machinery. Scot's exposure of the 'impietie of inchanters'
and the 'knaverie of conjurers' is accompanied by examples of a number
of spells for raising the various grades of spirits, from the ghost of
a suicide to the innumerable company of demons. In each case the effectiveness
of the spell depends on the utterance of names which are a jumble of strange
or manufactured tongues. For example, the spirits of the 'Airy Region'
are conjured by 'his strong and mighty Name, Jehovah,' and by his 'holy
Name, Tetragrammaton,' and by all his 'wonderful Names and Attributes,
Sadat, Ollon, Emillat, Athanatos, Paracletus.' Then the exorcist, turning
to the four quarters, calls the names, 'Gerson, Anek, Nephrion, Basannah,
Cabon,' whereupon the summoned spirits, casting off their phantasms, will
stand before him in human form to do his bidding, to bestow the gift of
invisibility, foreknowledge of the weather, knowledge of the raising and
allaying of storms, and of the language of birds. Then the exorcist dismisses
them to their aerial home, in 'the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The witch of Endor secured the appearance
of Samuel by the mere invocation of his name, a far simpler process [x]
than availed the medieval necromancer, for he had to go to the grave at
midnight with candle, crystal, and hazel wand on which the Name of God
was written, and then, repeating the words, 'Tetragrammaton, Adonai, Agla,
Crabon,' to strike on the ground three times with his wand, thereby conjuring
the spirit into the crystal.
The importance which the ancient Egyptians
attached to dreams is well known. It was the universal belief that they
were sent by the gods; and as matters of moment hinged on them, magic
was brought into play to secure the desired dream. Among the formulae
used for this purpose which survive is the following:--Take a cat, black
all over, which has been killed: prepare a tablet, and write these words
with a solution of myrrh, also the dream desired, which put in the mouth
of the cat:--' Keimi, Keimi, I am the Great One, in whose mouth rests
Mommon, Thoth, Nanumbre, Karikha
. the sacred Lanieê ien aëo
eieeieiei aoeeo,' and so on in a string of meaningless syllables which
were supposed to convey the hidden name of the god, and thereby make him
subject to the magician. Then, as the conclusion, 'Hear me, for I shall
speak the great Name, Thoth. Thy name answers to the seven vowels.'
The Babylonian libraries have yielded a large
number of incantations for use against evil spirits, sorcery, and human
ills generally, the force of the magic conjurations being increased in
the degree that they are unintelligible. For it is needful to preserve
the old form of the name, because, although the meaning may be lost, another
name, or a variation of it, would not possess the same virtue.
'The lion and the lizard keep
these references to the superstitions that
dominated the ancient civilisations of the East, and through them, in
their elaborated magical forms, of the West, are of service to-day. That
they persisted so long is no matter of wonder, when we remember how late
in human history is perception of the orderly sequence of phenomena; and
that persistence also explains why like confusion prevails in communities
where the scientific stage has not been reached. In this matter, even
in these post-Darwinian days, 'there are few that be saved' from the feeling
that, in some vaguely defined way, man can influence the unseen by the
power of spoken words. The terrible curses which accompanied the once-dreaded
excommunication have their pale echoes in our Commination Service (which
to most persons nowadays only suggests the 'Jackdaw of Rheims'), and both
are the outcome of the barbaric belief that the utterance of the word
has a direct effect on the man against whom it is spoken. The belief in
that power was extended to the written word. Reginald Scot gives the following
charm 'against thieves,' which 'must never be said, but carried about
one':--'I doo go, and I doo come unto you with the love of God, with the
humility of Christ, with the holmes of our blessed ladle, with the faith
of Abraham, with the justice of Isaac with the vertue of David, with the
might of Peter, with the constancie of Paule, with the word of God, with
the authoritie of Gregorie with the praier of Clement, with the floud
Jordan,pppcgegaqq est pti ka bglk 2 ax tgtb am g 242 i q; pxcgkqqaqqpqqr.
Oh onelie Father + oh onlie lord + and Jesus + passing through the middest
of them + went + In the Name of the Father + and of the Sonne + and of
the Holie ghost [y]
To this class belong Gnostic amulets with
the~ cabalistic inscriptions; the Jewish phylacteries or frontlets, whose
virtue was supposed to rest in the texts shut up in the leathern case;
amulets with the secret name of God chased on then worn by those very
barbaric Christians, the Abyssinians, to avert the evil eye and ward off,
demons; passages from the Koran enclosed in bags and hung on Turkish and
Arab horses to protect them from like maleficence; and prayers to the
Madonna slipped into charm-cases an worn by the Neapolitans. Horns, as
symbolic of the lunar cusps, are a common form of amulet against the evil
eye, whether 'overlooking' man or beast, and the superstitious Italians
believe that, in default of a horn or some horn-shape object, the mere
utterance of the word corno coma is an effective talisman. Mr. Elworthy
tells of a fright which he unwittingly gave secondhand bookseller in Venice
when asking about a copy of Valletto's Cicalata sul Fascino. On hearing
the last two words of the title, 'the man actually turned and bolted into
his inner room, leaving the customer in full possession the entire stock.'
[z] In modern Greece garlic the
popular antidote to the evil eye, so the term [?????] is used to undo
the effect of any hast or inauspicious words. The German peasant says
unberufen ('unspoken' or 'called back '), and raps three times under the
table if any word 'tempting Providence' has fallen from his lips many
a fragment of cabalistic writing is cherished and concealed about their
persons by the rustics of Western Europe as safeguards against black magic;
and not a few still resort, in times of devotional book at random, hoping
to see in the passage that first catches the eye direction as to action,
or some monition of the future. For this purpose the ancients consulted
the Iliad or the Aeneid; but, changing only the instrument while retaining
the belief, Sortes Homericae and Sortes Virgilinae have been superseded
by Sortes Biblicae. [aa] As for
the spells which guard the departed, the Book of the Dead supplied any
number. Its chapters were inscribed on basalt scarabs to protect the Osiris
in his passage to Amenti; on heart-shaped amulets, so that the heart of
the man might not be stolen from his tomb; while on others his name was
engraved, because the blotting-out of a man's name brought with it his
extinction. There is nothing new under the sun. At the burial of the late
Czar a prayer was chanted, and also printed on a scroll of paper, and
then placed by the priest in the hands of the corpse as a document enabling
him, when wandering about the spirit-world during the first few days after
death, to pass on his way unmolested by evil spirits. [ab]
'Nimmy nimmy not,
Italian folk-medicine, which perhaps more
than in any other country in Europe has preserved its empirical remedies,
whose efficacy largely depends on magic formulae being uttered over them,
has its inconsequential jingle-charms. Traces of the use of these occur
among the polished Romans; while Grimm refers to a song-charm for sprains
which was current for a thousand years over Germany, Scandinavia, and
Scotland. [af] How the pre-Christian
cure-charms are transferred by change of proper names to the Christian,
like the conversion of Pagan deities into Christian saints, is seen in
these original and Christianised versions:--
'Phol and Woden
'Jesus rode to the heath,
Probably a like substitution of names disguises
many barbaric word-spells; for medicine remained longer in the empirical
stage than any other science, while the repute of the miracles of healing
wrought by Jesus largely explains the invocation of his name over both
drug and patient. The persistence of the superstition is seen in a story
told, among others of the like character, in Miss Burne's Shropshire Folk-Lore.
[ag] A blacksmith's wife, who
had suffered from toothache, was given a charm by a young man who told
her to wear it in her stays. As so as she had done so the pain left her,
and never troubled her again. It was 'words from Scripture that cured
her,' she, said, adding that she had relieved 'a many with it.' After
some trouble she consented to make a copy of the talisman. It proved to
be an imperfect version of an old ague charm given in Brand, and this
the form in which the woman had it: 'In the Name of God, when Juses saw
the Cross wich he was to be crucfied all is bones began to shiver. Peter
standing by said, Jesus Christ cure all Deseces, Jesue Christ cure thy
tooth ak.' The following is a copy of a charm also against toothache,
stitched inside their clothing and worn by the Lancashire peasants: 'Ass
Saint Petter sat at the geats of Jerusalm our Bless Lord and Sevour Jesus
Crist Pased by ai Sead, What Eleth thee? Hee sead, Lord, my teeth ecketh.
Hee sead, Arise and follow mee and thy teeth shall never Eake Eney mour.
Fiat + Fiat + Fiat.' [ah] Among
cures for the same complaint in Jewish folk-medicine one prescribes the
driving of a nail into the wall, the formula, 'Adar Gar Vedar Gar' being
uttered, and then followed by these words: 'Even as this nail is firm
in the wall and is not felt, so let the teeth of So-and-so, son of So-and-so,
be firm in his mouth, and give him no pain.' In North-German charm-cures
the three maidens (perchance echoes of the Norns) who dwell in green or
hollow ways gathering herbs and flowers to drive away diseases may re-appear
in the disguise to which we are accustomed in the angels of many a familiar
incantation, as in this for scalds or burns--
'There were three angels came from East and
Brand gives a long list of saints whose names
are invoked against special diseases, and the efficacy believed to attach
to the names of Joseph and Mary is shown by sending children suffering
from whooping-cough to a house where the master and mistress are so named.
'The child must ask, or rather demand, bread and butter. Joseph must cut
the bread, Mary must spread the butter and give the slice to the child,
then a cure will certainly follow. In Cheshire it is unlucky to take plain
currant-cake from a woman who has married a man of her own-name--a superstition
allied to the belief in ill-luck resulting from marriage between people
whose surnames begin with the same letter--
'If you change the name and not the letter,
In the preparation of a drink for the frenzied,
the Saxon leech recommended, besides recitations of litanies and the paternoster,
that over the herbs twelve masses should be sung in honour of the twelve
apostles, [ai] while the name
of the sick should be spoken when certain simples are pulled up for his
use. So, among the Amazulu, the sorcerer Ufaku called Uncapayi by name
that the medicine might take due effect on him, [aj]
A medieval remedy for removing grit from the eye
was to chant the psalm 'Qui habitat' three times over water, with which
the eye was then to be douched, while modern Welsh folk-lore tells of
the farmer who, having a cow sick on a Sunday, gave her physic, and then,
fearing that she was dying, ran into the house to fetch a Bible and read
a chapter to her. [ak] An Abyssinian
remedy for fever is to drench the patient daily with cold water for a
week, and to read the Gospel of Saint John to him; and in the Chinese
tale of the Talking Pupils, Fang is cured of blindness by a man reading
the Kuang-ming sutra to him. [al]
Among the Hindus, doctors would be regarded as very ignorant, and would
inspire no confidence, if they were unable to recite the special mantram
that suits each complaint, because the cure is attributed quite as much
to the mantram as to the treatment. It is because the European doctors
recite neither mantrams nor prayers that the native puts little faith
in their medicines. Midwives are called Mantradaris because the repeating
of mantrams by them is held to be of great moment at the birth of the
child. 'Both the new-born babe and its mother are regarded as specially
liable to the influence of the evil eye, the inauspicious combination
of unlucky planets or unlucky days, and a thousand other baleful elements.
And a good midwife, well primed with efficacious mantrams, foresees all
these dangers, and averts them by reciting the proper words at the proper
moment.' [am] Obviously, it is
but a step from listening to the charm-working words of sacred texts to
swallowing them; hence the Chinese practice of burning papers on which
charms are written and mixing the ashes with tea; and the Moslem practice
of washing off a verse of the Koran and drinking the water. The amulet
written on virgin parchment, and suspended towards the sun on threads
spun by a virgin named Mary, equates itself with the well-known cabalistic
Abracadabra charm against fevers and agues, which was worn for nine days,
and then thrown backwards before sunrise into a stream running eastward.
It has been remarked already that among all
barbaric peoples disease and death are believed to be the work of evil
spirits, either of their own direct malice prepense or through tile agency
of sorcerers. 'Man after man dies in the same way, but it never occurs
to the savage that there is one constant and explicable cause to account
for all cases. Instead of that, he regards each successive death as an
event wholly by itself--apparently unexpected--and only to be explained
by some supernatural agency.' [an] In
West Africa, if a person dies without shedding blood it is looked on as
uncanny. Miss Mary Kingsley tells of a woman who dropped down dead on
a factory beach at Corisco Bay. 'The natives could not make it out at
all. They were irritated about her conduct. "She no sick; she no
complain; she no nothing, and then she go die one time." The post-mortem
showed a burst aneurism. The native verdict was, 'She done witch herself,'--i.e.
she was a witch eaten by her own familiar. [ao] That
verdict was logical enough, as logical as that delivered by English juries
two centuries ago under which women were hanged as witches. In trying
two widows for witchcraft at Bury St. Edmunds in 1664, Sir Matthew Hale,
a humane and able judge, laid it down in his charge 'that there are such
creatures as witches I make no doubt at all the Scripture affirms it,
and the wisdom of al nations has provided laws against such persons. Given
a belief in spirits, the evidence of their. direct or indirect activity
appears in aught that is unusual, or which has sufficing explanation ii
the theory of demoniacal activity. In barbarian belief, the soul or intelligent
principle in which a man lives, moves, and has his being plays all sorts
of pranks in his normal life, quitting the body at sleep or in swoons,
thereby giving employment to an army of witch-doctors in setting traps
to capture it for a ruinous fee Consequently, all the abnormal things
that happen are attributed to the wilfulness of alien spirits that enter
the man and do the mischief The phenomena attending diseases lend further
support to the theory. When any one is seen twisting and writhing in agony
which wring piercing shrieks from him, or when he shiver and shakes with
ague, or is flung to the ground in convulsive fit, or runs 'amok' with
incoherent ravings, and with wild light flashing from his eyes, the logical
explanation is that a disease-demon has entered and 'possessed' him. Man
is the same everywhere at bottom; if there are many varieties, there is
but one species. His civilisation is the rare topmost shoot of the tree
whose roots are in the earth, and whose trunk and larger branches are
in savagery. Hence, although the study of anatomy and physiology--in other
words, of structure and function--paved the way, no real advance in pathology
was possible until the fundamental unity and interdependence of mind and
body were made clear, the recency of which demonstration explains the
persistency of barbaric theories of disease in civilised societies. The
Dacotah medicine-man reciting charms over the patient and singing, 'He-la-li-ah'
to the music of beads rattling inside a gourd, is the precursor of the
Chaldean with his incantations to drive away the 'wicked demon who seizes
the body, or the wind spirit whose hot breath brings fever,' and to cure
'the disease of the forehead which proceeds from the infernal regions.'
The drinking of holy water and herb decoctions out of a church-bell, to
the saying of masses, so that the demon might be exorcised from the possessed,
has warrant in the legends which tell of the casting-out of 'devils' by
Jesus and, through the invocation of his Name, by the apostles; while
the continuity of barbaric ideas in their grosser form has illustration
in the practice of a modern brotherhood in the Church of England--the
Society of St. Osmund--based on the theory that not only unclean swine,
but the sweet flowers themselves, are the habitat of evil spirits. In
the Services of Holy Week from the Sarum Missal the 'Clerks' are directed
to 'venerate the Cross, with feet unshod,' and to perform other ceremonies
which are preceded by the driving of the devil out of flowers through
the following 'power of the word':
'I exorcise thee, creature of flowers or
branches: in the Name of God+the Father Almighty, and in the Name of Jesus
Christ+ His son, our Lord, and in the power of the+Holy Ghost; and henceforth
let all strength of the adversary, all the host of the devil, every power
of the enemy, every assault of fiends, be expelled and utterly driven
away from this creature of flowers or branches.' Here the flowers and
leaves shall be sprinkled with HOLY WATER, and censed (pp. 3-5).
The antiquity of the demon-theory of disease
has curious illustration in the prehistoric and long surviving practice
of trepanning skulls so that the disease-bringing spirit might escape.
Doubtless the disorders arising from brain-pressure, diseased bone, convulsions,
and so forth, led to the application of a remedy which, in the improved
form of a cylindrical saw, and other mechanism composing the trephine,
modern surgery has not disdained to use where removal of a portion of
the skull or brain is found necessary to afford relief. Prehistoric trepanning,
as evidenced by the skulls found in dolmens, caves, and other burying-places
all the world over, from the Isle of Bute to Peru, was effected by flint
scrapers, and fragments of the skulls of the dead who had been thus operated
upon were cut off to be used as amulets by the living, or placed inside
the skulls themselves as charms against the dead being further vexed.
[ap] The trepannings in Michigan,
about which we have more complete details, were always made after death,
and only on adults of the male sex. [aq] They
were probably obtained by means of a polished stone drill, which was turned
round rapidly. Whether, or in what degree, the Neolithic surgeon supplemented
his rude scalpel by the noisy incantations which are part of the universal
stock-in-trade of the savage medicine-man, we shall never know; but the
practice of his representatives warrants the inference which connects
him with the mantram-reciters, the charm-singers, and all others who to
this day believe that the Word of Power is the most essential ingredient
in the remedy applied.
[a] See above.
[b] X. p.125.
[c] Satapatha Brahmana, iii. 8;
Muir, Sanskrit Text, vol. v. p. 342.
[d] R. W. Frazer, Literary History
of India, p. 60.
[e] Ibid. p. 74.
[f] Rig Veda, x. 125.
[g] Prov. viii. 22-24, 30.
[h] Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p. 201.
[i] Hang's trans. of Ysana xix
p. 7. Sacred Languages and Writings of the Parsis, p. 186.
[j] The Qur'an, trans. Palmer,
Sacred Books of the East, vol vi. p. 15.
[k] Probably modified by a priestly hand
in Babylonia after the Exile.
[l] Grimm, T. M., 1227.
[m] Saxo Grammaticus, Introduction
by Professor York Powell, p. lxxx.
[n] Introd. to trans. of the Book of
the Dead, p. cxlviii.
[o] Taylor, Te Ika a Maori, pp.
[p] Abbi Dubois, Hindu Manners and
Customs, vol. i. pp. 140 ff.
[q] Judges xii. 6.
[r] Dubois, vol. i.
[s] An illustration of withershins (German
vider Schein), or against the sun, as when the witches went thrice round
anything in that direction, or repeated the Lord's prayer backwards as
an oath of allegiance to the devil. The idea has well-known outcome in
the jocose objection to not passing the bottle sunwise, and other customs
whose significance has vanished.
[t] The soul was conceived to have such
affinity with the god Osiris as to be called by his name.--Wiedemann,
Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 244.
[u] Oh. xcix. (Budge, pp. 157-160).
[v] Ibid. p. 197. 'The oldest known code
of private and public morality.'--Le Page Renouf, Hibbert Lectures,
[w] Scot, pp. 481, 482 (1886 reprint of
the 1584 edition).
[x] Samuel xxviii. 11, 12.
[y] (Reprint), p. 188.
[z] The Evil Eye p. 18
[aa] Brand's Pop. Antiq., vol.
iii. p. 290; Gibbon, vol. iv. p. 358 (ch. xxxviii.).
[ab] Daily Telegraph, Nov. 20,
[ac] Kalevala, Rune xvii.
[ad] Ibid. Rune viii.
[ae] Quoted in Lang's Custom and Myth,
[af] Teutonic Mythology, p. 1233.
[ah] Harland and Wilkinson, Lancashire
Folk-Lore, p. 77.
[ai] Cockayne's Saxon Leechdoms,
vol. ii. p. 139, quoted in Black's Folk-Medicine, p. 91.
[aj] Calloway, p. 432.
[ak] Elias Owen, Welsh Folk-Lore,
[al] Giles, Strange Stories front
a Chinese Studio, vol i. p. 6.
[am] Dubois, vol. i. p. 143.
[an] Lionel Decle, Three Years in
Savage Africa, p. 512.
[ao] Travels in West Africa, p.
[ap] Munro, Prehistoric Problems pp.
[aq] Nadailac, Prehistoric, America,
Clodd, Edward. Tom Tit Tot: An Essay on Savage Philosophy in Folk-Tale. London: Duckworth and Co. 1898.