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Sorcery as the Cause of Death.


he was deprived of many a night's rest by the unearthly sounds of the shell trumpet, for several of these plaintive signals were sometimes audible in different directions. It is unquestionable that the Papuan Shamans seriously believe in their own arts, for whenever one of the craft is overtaken by illness or the fear of death he also sends out a shell trumpet. It is only against the illnesses introduced into the island by Europeans that the natives confess that all counter charms have proved ineffectual. The Nahak ceremony reappears with little variation on the Marquesas island of Nukahiva,' which is inhabited by pure-bred Polynesians; it exists also in the Fiji Islands under the name of an “act with leaves," 16 and even in Australia the death of a sick person is considered certain if a malevolent Shaman has burnt the Pringurru, a sacred piece of bone which is also used for letting blood.17

Passing round almost a third part of the world, from Australia to South Africa, we find that the Kaffir princes, before they go out to war, raise the courage of their followers by displaying a fragment of clothing, the shaft of a spear, a snuff-box, or any other property of their opponents which they have been able to procure. The court Shaman has a magic liquid ready prepared, in which in the presence of the assembled community he steeps and dissolves some portion of the captured treasure. The chief has only to swallow this draught to possess irresistible power over his antagonist. This explains the fact that a Kaffir king, whenever he moves to a new hut, has the old one carefully swept out, and that, as Theophilus Hahn relates, an entire kraal (village) has been burnt down, only to prevent the enemy from obtaining any household implement by means of which to exercise a spell.18

Let us dwell a little longer on the unquestionably strange uniformity of such superstitions. We might perhaps account for it by supposing that Papuan and Kaffir races once inhabited a common home, and then separated by a series of migrations. But this would imply periods which must be reckoned by thousands of years, for the differences between these races are very great, and

15 Langsdorff, Reise um die Welt. 16 According to Williams in the Ausland. 1858. 1. Eyre, Central Australia. 18 Theophilus Hahn in the Globus. 1871.

such alterations take place as slowly as geological processes. Nor must we satisfy ourselves by fancying that these superstitions are only due to the yet inexperienced intellects of so-called savages. It is but lately that the superstition flourished among ourselves that the parings of nails, and hair which has been cut off, ought to be carefully destroyed. An Italian scholar, Caroline Coronedi, has lately stated that even now, at Bologna, combed-out hairs are carefully burnt, as they are particularly liable to be employed in the arts of witchcraft.19 Tylor even gives full credit to the report that a witch was burnt in 1860 at Camargo, in Mexico. 20 The similarity of these superstitions almost forces us against our will to believe that the intellectual powers of man are a mechanism, which, under the influence of like excitations, necessarily performs the same acts.

Of all nations the South African Bantus suffer most from this mental malady of Shamanism. Whenever a death occurs, inquiries are made of the Mganga, or local Shaman, as to its author. He has the credit of possessing superior knowledge. To Shamanism must also be referred all interpretation of signs, the institution of oracles, and also the spirit-rapping of modern days. When the seer indicates a suspected person, a trial by ordeal takes place. Here we at once encounter a new form of necromancy, for faith in decision by ordeal is based on the illusion that there is an invisible regulating power which, when properly interrogated, cannot fail to declare infallible verdicts. Trial by ordeal is still habitual among the Dravida races in India,21 and among Brahminical Hindoos, and in Southern Arabia it was maintained among our own ancestors long after the Christian era.22 In the persecution of witches, the water ordeal was still in use until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Jacob Grimm thought that the last traces of the superstition occur in the modern duel. 23 The Papuans of New Guinea also hold it possible to ascertain the guilt or innocence of an accused person by the process of immersion,24 and a similar


19 Ida von Düringsfeld in the Ausland. 1872.
20 Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 138.

Jellinghaus in the Zeitsherift für Ethnologie, vol. iii. 1871.
22 Maltzan in the Globus, vol. xxi. 1872.
23 Deutsche Rechtsalterthümer. 24 Otto Finsch, Neu-Guinea.

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method is employed by the negroes of the Gold Coast.25 Otherwise in South Africa (where it extends from the Atlantic tribes to the Masai), trial by ordeal generally takes the form of swallowing a goblet full of Mbundu juice. If the poisonous beverage does not at once act as an emetic, the guilt of the accused is proved. When the small-pox broke out on the Rembo in Mayolo (2° south lat., 11° east long.) in 1865, Du Chaillu saw victims of this Shamanistic deception perish by the side of the victims of the pestilence. 26

The judicial trials, accompanied by the torture of the accused, of the Amazosa Kaffirs, 27 have been strikingly described by Maclean. Belief in the efficacy of the black art is all the more difficult to eradicate, owing to the fact that the accused sometimes confesses that he has worked charms. It is beyond question that such attempts at magic actually take place, for Martius 28 the traveller caught a revengeful slave in a Brazilian hut in the act of performing her nocturnal incantations. It is difficult to see how this vicious practice is to be done away, for although the miracles of the Shamans frequently fail, this, in the eyes of the prejudiced, affords no proof of the nullity of the means employed, but merely that the medicines or incantations were too weak to counteract the evil work of some distant Shaman. All observers of foreign races of mankind unanimously assure us that the wizards themselves are among the deceived, and firmly believe in their own arts.29 The Siberian Shamans, the North American medicine-men, the Brazilian Piai, the South African Mganga, the Australian and Papuan magicians, live apart from their tribes, educate their disciples by fasts and self-mortifications, and only thus reveal to them the treasures of their occult knowledge.

The ultimate idea of Shamanism, which, under all its numerous names and guises, is always fundamentally the same, is based on the superstition that man is able to communicate with the invisible

25 Bosman, Guinese Goud-Kust.
26 Du Chaillu, Ashango Land, p. 175.
27 Kaffir Laws and Customs. Mount Coke, 1858.
28 Ethnographie, vol. i.

29 So says Dobrizhoffer of the Abipones (Geschichte der Abiponer), and Mariner (Tonga Islands), of the Polynesian inhabitants of the Friendly group

powers, and to force them to obedience.

In either case symbolical practices and incantations are employed, and these have preserved their efficiency because human reason is so weak that one affirmative instance, ineradicably impressed upon the memory, completely outweighs nine negative instances, which are speedily forgotten.

In its highest refinements this self-deception is able to insinuate itself into the purest minds. It attaches itself to symbolism and ritualism, and is in operation wherever a definite but not necessarily inevitable effect is expected from a symbolical act. When pious people in Protestant countries wish to obtain a revelation to guide them in the difficulties of life, they open a psalm book, expecting a divine answer in the first psalm or verse on which their eye may fall. They thus unconsciously make a covenant with the God within them that, when interrogated in this manner and with full faith, he is bound to bestow an answer.

Nothing is more capable of Shamanistic abuse than prayer, for it becomes a magic spell the instant that the words of the supplicant are supposed to have any sort of influence on the divine will. That such errors have taken root in some places is easily seen in the fact that repetitions of prayers are employed in an extreme degree; and the Buddhists are so deeply sunk in this self-deception that they have invented prayer machines, which are revolving cylinders, on which is rolled a paper with the prayers inscribed upon it. The intention is to outwit the Deity by this apparatus at each revolution of the cylinder, for he is supposed to accept the prayers as though spoken. Ingenious Mongols have even set such prayerrolls in motion by wind and water-wheels, and thus endeavoured to gain the rewards of piety.

Sacrifice tends to lead men into yet greater error. The purest motives, an overflow of gratitude, the avowal of a fault and the desire for its expiation may lead the believer to the altar. Imperceptibly, and almost inevitably, another aspect of sacrifice introduces itself behind this purer view. The Deity is then regarded as the recipient, and the donor expects a return for his benefits. 30

30 Tylor (Primitive Culture, vol. ii. p. 400) justly calls to mind that in English, and, we may add, in German, sacrifice signifies a self-inflicted loss.

Prayer and Sacrifice.


Thus the Homeric heroes, invoking the aid of their invisible protectors, reminded them of the many libations which they had offered up to them.31 But the superstition is most evil in its effects when symbolism is associated with the sacrifice. Nowhere has self-deception of this sort obtained such complete mastery over intelligent and even sagacious thinkers as in India; for the Brahmins are the chief of all Shamans--systematically educated, refined by depth of thought, and supported by the practice of a thousand years. Their most powerful charm is the juice of the Soma plant (Sarcostemma viminale) with which they reinforce their sacrifices. Like the Mganga, or South African rain-makers, they summon the desired wet weather ; for only when invigorated by their sacred rites is the thunder-god Indra able to open the clouds and extract from them the fertilizing shower. A creative power is attributed to the sacrifice, for Brahma is supposed to be omnipresent in all offerings.32 According to their doctrine, penances, if prolonged for an unlimited period, as were those of Vishvâmitra, at last confer such mighty power on the sufferer that the epic gods fear lest he may destroy both heaven and earth. But as, according to the Shamanistic hypothesis, by means of prayers and hymns, and above all by sacrifice, accompanied by effectual symbolical acts, the gods may be forced to perform the desired services, the logical conclusion is that penances, prayers, and sacrifices are stronger than the gods. Thus the Indians obtained the conception of Brahma, a spiritual power existing in the ritualistic mysteries and predominating over the gods. The Brahmins themselves, as the initiated to whom alone were known the occult meaning and the efficacy of the practices and sayings, were ultimately obliged to lay claim to superhuman qualities, and exalt themselves into incarnate deities. According to their doctrine, all success depended on the proper performance of sacrifice. To this act they owed their rank and prosperity. The sacrifices themselves, simple at first, became more and more complicated. Before long they required more than one day, then weeks, months, and years, and at the same time, by constant quadrupling, the number of officiating priests rose to sixty-four, according to Martin Haug, who

31 Iliad, i. 37-42.

32 Martin Haug, Alleg. Zeitung. 1873.

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