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consulting Fetish.J Scottish Highlanders never use
iron nails or hammers in makino^ the fire-wheel

* Journal Anthrop Ax. t J. G. Frazer.

X C. J. Gordon Cummino-.


apparatus for the celebration of certain Yule fef
tivals ; they use wooden pegs and stone hammers
instead. The Jews used no iron tools in building
their Temple in Jerusalem, nor in making an altar.

The objection to iron arose in all probability when
the metal was new and scarce, and so regarded
with superstitious awe and reverence. But soon,
daring spirits like Lamech arose, who, defying
custom and taboo, and believing only in the strength
of his own arm and the trusty weapons his son had
forged for him, turned the dreaded metal to good
account. A substance charged with such power
that spirits could not endure it in their presence,
and before wdiich kings might fall down dead, put
into men's hands a terrible weapon Avhich could be
used with disastrous effects even against the gods
themselves. But if iron could be used against the
gods, they in turn could use it against evil-doers,
and the priesthood would not be slow in availing
themselves of so potent a weapon. Apart from its
obvious utility as an arm, when properly forged and
shaped, it would be regarded as having magic and
miraculous power, when properly used, for the expul-
sion of evil. And so we find iron, and the metals
generally, occupying a prominent place in the
superstitions of all countries. When a Scottish
fisherman hears "the unclean animal" — a pig — men-
tioned, he feels for the nails in his boots and mutters
" cauld iron." So, too, if one of the crew utters
certain oaths or curses when at sea. He bans the
devil of ill-luck and disaster by nailing a horse-
shoe, preferably that of a stallion, to the stern of


liis boat. A Golspie fisherman a few years ago
had a small boat with which he had an extraordinary
run of luck in the prosecution of his calling. Inside
the stem was nailed an entire horse's shoe, ofiven to
him by "a wise person" As he prospered his
ambition grew till he purchased a larger boat,
selling the small one and its belongings to a neigh-
bour. From the first day he went to sea with his
new boat luck forsook him, nor would fickle fortune
be wooed. He bethought him of his horse-shoe,
and went to his neighbour to demand restitution.
This was denied, the new owner coxitendino- success-
fully that he had purchased the " boat and its
gear." * To this day that man believes that to
pai-ting with an old shoe was due the entire failure
of his season's fishing. Whether returning luck —
for he still lives and prospers — had an educative
eftect upon his mind, I do not know.

Sutherlandshire crofters and cottars ban, or expel,
the spirit of death from a house after one dies, by
placing bits of iron in the meal chest, the butter jar,
whisky bottle, and other articles of food, without
Avhich precaution they would speedily " go to rotten-
ness and corruption." Whisky not treated so has been
known to turn white as milk and curdle. Among
savages iron is held in the same veneration. The
Baralongs, who are famous smiths, regard the black-
smith's trade as a sacred art. Furnaces are placed
at a distance from the houses, and none dare
approach when the metal begins to flow, except
those versed in the mysteries of the craft.

* Rev. A, Mackay, MS. notes.


But in Africa it is on articles from the person, or
which have belonged to one regarded as sacred, that
the greatest care is bestowed. This is common to
the Zulu and the Dinka, to the Galla and Dahomeyan.
We meet with it in every possible relation of life.
For example, a'young Zulu soldier, who was travel-
ling to join his regiment with a companion, arrived
at a village where they were to spend the night.
They were directed to the "travellers' hut," where
they found a mat such as natives sleep upon. The
soldier took the mat and unrolled it, \\'hen, to his
dismav, he found it contained head ornaments and
other articles of female dress, such as is only used
by the king's household. Seeing this, he rolled the
mat up again and put it aside. It belonged to a girl
of the king's harem, on her way to the capital, who
had stayed there a few nights before. She had for-
gotten her mat and ornaments. On arriving at
headquarters he was at once detailed for cattle-
guard, but on his return in the evening he was met
by a young man of his regiment, who told him his
companion had been put to death, and that he was
to he killed for having touched articles belonging to
sacred persons.* He fled, but was overtaken and
put to death. If touching ornaments is a capital
offence, stepping over the head of a recumbent
African is a yet more serious crime, if the sleeper be
a person sacred in virtue of position or office. The
head is peculiarly sacred, and to step over it is the
most sfrievous offence that a man can commit, if it
be not excelled in enormity by pulling his hair.

* Hon. C. Brownlee.


When this sanctity of the head and the consequent
(Hfficulty of disposing of shorn locks is borne in
mind, it will be seen that the barber's vocation is,
if an honourable one, a dangerous office. Suppose
an artist is called to perform a necessary office for
his chief, whose ample locks have become too secure
a retreat for the colonies that take shelter under
them, he must be first purified with sprinkling, and
have the tools of his craft cleansed by the magi-
cians. He then proceeds to the royal residence, and,
in presence of the king's guards and officers of State,
removes the mass close to the skull. If after the
operation the king takes a chill the poor barber is
accused of something more than neglect of duty :*
he bewitched the king-, or he mav have criven a hair
to his friend the wizard to enable the latter to do
the evil deed. In either case the barber must
stand his trial, in the first case as a principal, in
the second as an accessory, and failing his divulging
the wizard's name, must take the consequences of
his guilt if the magicians decide the case as one of

But should he honestly perform his office and no
\nitoward events follow, there remains the difficulty
of disposing of the shorn locks. Burn them, says
common sense ; but to the savage common sense
often is what the law w^as to the elder Weller, " a
hass." To burn shorn locks would be to invite all
the demons of a locality to secure and treasure up
the very essence they are in search of in the ascend-
ing smoke. To them the smell of burning hair or

* J. Sutton, MS. notes.


nail clippings is what the carcase is to the vulture.
Nor is it safe to keep them by one, for who can
cuard aofainst rats and white ants, not to speak of
accidents of fire, war, and theft. The only prudent
course is to bury them.* But how and where 7
And here the sacred and lawful art of the magician
comes to the aid of the perplexed. Sacred spots
are set apart for such purposes — a kind of conse-
crated ground where the chief can bury his shorn
locks and cut nails, as well as dispose of other neces-
sary superfluities in the most approved fashion
prescribed in Deuteronomy xxiii. 1 3 ; there as a wise
sanitary precaution ; in Africa as a sacred function ;
at the lowest as a precaution against the works of
the devil.

And here I may say that those who had charge
of my own youth were most remiss in a necessary
and most important particular, evidence of which I
have to go before any jury of Celts over seventy
years of age with. One of my earliest recollections
is having my hair cut by an itinerant tailor, who
combined the art of clothing one's limbs with that
of unclothing^ the head. I remember him still : a
gaunt, lean-looking man, with hollow eyes and a
sepulchral voice. When the operation was finished
he directed that the severed locks should be gathered
up and burned, because, should the birds — it was
spring-time, and the danger was real — get the
smallest particle, even a single hair, to build
their nests, I should be grey at twenty-one. This
he insisted upon with the strongest asseveration

* Livingstone.


of its truth ; while 1, evil imp as I must have been,
gathered up a handful of hair, which I threw over
the window for the robins. The deed was done.
The artist stood aghast, and now, though a good
decade from the time when grey hairs should appear,
I carry the evidence of my own folly to kirk and

The gods of the Dakota Indians are mortal, and
propagate their kind. Their Onkteri resemble a
bull, and can extend their tails and horns to the
sky, the seat of their power.* The earth is believed
to be animated by the spirit of the female Onkteri,
while the water and the earth beneath the water is
the abode of the male god. The Onkteri have power
to issue from their bodies an essence, signifying a
o'od's arrow, which can work wholesale destruction.t
The j)riests possess or claim all the power ascribed
to the gods, and are believed to pass through a
series of inspirations by which they receive the god-
spirit. They lay hold on all that is mysterious,
predict events, and declare that they bring about
events of which they made no prediction. They have
duplicate souls, one of which remains with the body,
while the other wanders at will. Clearly it is neces-
sary that such persons should be surrounded by such
restrictions as will ensure the peace and safety of tlie
community. And so we find in Africa, America, Asia,
and the South Seas the same system of taboo ; the
same objections to certain objects and animals, and
the same sanctit}' of others, running into clan badges
and totems, which are at once sacred and to be cared

* Schoolcraft. t Bettany.



lor, while they afford protection to those whose
symbols they are.

But let men guard as they may ; let them sur-
round divinities with restrictions, and take every
precaution against evil persons getting possession
of objects dangerous to their lives, accidents will
happen and evils will accumulate, with a correspond-
ing increase among those spirits who cause them. So,
as we have a jDrocess of evolution going on among the
gods, we have also a development of the doctrine of
devils. This I do not propose to trace fully, but it
is necessary to refer to the subject in general terms
before we consider the methods adopted for their

How man arrived at the idea of good and evil
spirits as personal beings is impossible to determine
with accuracy. It is probable after he reached the
conception of a soul separate from the body, per-
sonal and immortal, or at least capable of existence
in a distinct spirit-world, he began to attribute
to such souls the same character as was borne by
the man while he lived. The soul of a seditious
man would foment sedition on earth amonsf those
whom he could influence after his death. So, too,
the soul of a murderer, a thief, or a contentious man
would incite to similar crimes. These would be
regarded as evil spirits, to be dealt with as men of
like disposition are dealt with. To secure society
against their Influence, only two ways were open to
primitive man : one, to defy them, as is often done
In the case of men of evil disposition, and so make
them practically outcasts ; another to conciliate


them, and so by acts of bribery and flattery secure
their good offices, or at least their neutrahty.
Both these methods are found wherever savage man
dwells. Devils are cursed, defied, expelled the
country, and treated as we do our dangerous classes.
At other times they are flattered, cozened, and
feasted with sacrifice, in order that the largeness of
the offering may be a sufficient inducement for them
to refrain from evil. We shall in the present inquiry
meet frequently with devil-worship, but here it
may be well to inquire how primitive man sought
to rid himself of spirits which he both feared and



When man found his steps dogged by demons, he
sought for means by which he could rid himself of
those imps of evil which rendered his life an insup-
portable burden. His first impulse was to surround
himself with safeguards, as a warrior in mail armour.
But this necessitated an increase of restrictions each
time evil spirits or daring men discovered means of
breaking through his taboos. With the discovery of
gunpowder mail armour became useless. Bullets
could only be resisted by an increase in the weight
and thickness of the protecting coat of mail, and
warriors found it necessary to change their methods.
So the savage whose taboos are rendered useless by
a Lamech, finds it necessary to re-examine the whole
surrounding. Must he add to the number of re-
strictions, to the weight of the already over-
burdened taboos, till they become like swaddling
clothes in which he cannot move or breathe ? Are
his movements to be restricted as dangers multiply?
Does the advent of each fresh enemy necessitate a
re-adjustment of his whole philosophy ?

The savage, feeling the awkwardness of his position
bv ever-increasinof restrictions, arrived at the con-
-ception that, by a supreme eftbrt made periodically,


or as occasion might arise, he could rid himself,
for a time at least, of the evils which surrounded
him. And when we come to this doctrine of devils
and their expulsion, we arrive at a point which
marks a distinct advance in thought. Under the
earlier forms the king or earth spirit did good or evil
according to humour or caprice ; but with the con-
ception of j^ersonal spirits, divided into a good class
and a bad, we find men projecting into the super-
natural what they experienced in the natural world.
Their philosophy, crude as it was, was based on
observation, and embodied the results of experience
so far as savage man could formulate his experience
into a system. When taboos failed to meet the case^
men adopted the bolder policy of making war on
devils. Nor is the savage singular in the methods
adopted to expel evils. When fasts and prayers
failed the inhabitants of European cities in the
expulsion of the devils of epidemic diseases, they
made war upon them in sewers and cellars, and
to far better purpose than by the older and more
pious method of priestly intercession. A comparison
of the methods adopted for the expulsion of evils in
Africa, and survivals amongst ourselves, gives one
the impression that popular imagination is not yet
far removed from the age of Balac, whose only hope
lay in having a powerful magician, like the prophet
Balaam, to curse his enemies before he joined his
forces in battle with theirs.

Taking South Africa — with the practice of which
I was long familiar — first, it may be said in a general
way that no " commoner " dare interfere with spirits


either good or bad, beyond offering such sacrifices
as are sanctioned by custom. Demons may haunt a
man, and render his Hfe a burden, but he must
submit to their machinations until the case is taken
in hand by the proper authorities. A baboon may
be the messenger of evil spirits, and perch itself on
a tree within easy gunshot, or regale itself in his
maize field ; but to pull a trigger at the brute would
be worse than suicide. As long as the man remains
a solitary sufierer he has little chance of redress. It
is assumed he has been guilty of some crime, and
that the ancestors have in their wrath sent the
demon to torment him. But should his neighbours
sufter ; should the baboon from choice or necessity —
for men do pluck up courage to scare the brutes —
select a fresh field in which to glean its supper, or
another man's barn roof for its perch, the case alters
its complexion. The magicians now take the matter
up seriously. One man may be visited by the
ancestors with severe reproof, as being haunted by
a demon, but a whole community is another matter.
Clearly in that case there is something amiss, and a
remedy must be found. To shoot the baboon will
not serve the purpose. African spirits are not amen-
able to powder and lead, as Scottish witches are to
powder and silver l^uUets, and to kill the baboon
would only be to enrage the demon and increase the
dano-er. The first thine: to do is to discover where
the devil has his permanent abode. This is generally
a deep pool of water with overhanging banks and
dark recesses. There the villagers gather with
priests and magicians. Under the direction of their


ghostly counsellors, and secured from harm by their
presence, men, women, and children pelt the demon
with stones. Drums are beaten and horns blown at
intervals, and when all are worked ujd into a frenzy
of excitement, as one after another catches a glimpse
of the imp as he tries to avoid the missiles, he takes
his flight at a sino-le bound, and the villaoe is free
from his influence for a time. Baboons may now
be killed and crops jDrotected. While the stone
throwing goes on, all present, and esjDecially the
women, hurl the most abusive ejoithets at the object
of their fear and veno-eance.


There is no periodic purging of devils, nor are more
spirits than one expelled at a time. I have noticed
frequently a connection between the quantity of grain
that could be spared for making beer, and the
frequency of gatherings for the purging of evils and
other necessary purposes. No large gathering can
be held in Africa without feastino- and drinkino-
especially the latter. Like the Scotch factor,
anxious to let a barren moor with hardly a feather
on it, to an Englishman, as " one of the finest bits o'
ground i' the north," and who after the second
tumbler of "toddy," suggested a third before closing
the bargain, on the ground that " it's dry wark
talking," the African finds all public functions, even
his devotions, " dry wark," and needs his pombe. If
this is not to be had, the assured result is failure.

There are demons who are not amenable to stone-
throwing and abuse. Such methods would only give
them further opportunity for mischief by an increased
knowledge of village affairs. They in that case could


adapt their methods to the new conditions, and the
end of that place would be worse than the first, for
they would enter it clean swept of all effectual means
of defence. So the Dinka and Bongo expel their
devils by guile.* There the exorcist begins by
holding a conversation with the demon. He ascer-
tains his name ; how long he has been there ; where
he belongs to ; his permanent residence ; kinsfolk,
acquaintances, and other particulars, all the while
disguising his own identity as a devil-doctor. When
he ascertains all he wishes to know, he hurries to the
woods to collect such medicines as are effectual for
the expulsion of demons of the class to which the one
in question belongs. After this his course is clear :
he sends the evil one beyond the bounds of his
diocese by bell, book, and candle, or, to be literal,
by horn, calabash, and torch.

The Wazeramas, more tender of heart towards
their demons, expelled them by gentler means than
a shower of stones or a drastic purge. Suppose a
patient is devil-possessed, he is taken out of his hut
and propped up against a tree in presence of the
assembled villag-ers. An ancient crone ladles out
beer to all who wish a draught. When she has
completed her round of the crowd, drums are beaten,
horns blown, and all manner of musical instruments
played. The demon, captivated by the music, has
his senses — " 'cuteness " — dulled for the time, and at
the auspicious moment, when the noise has reached
a maddening pitch, the magician entices him to enter
a stool, wooden pillow, or any other object that can

* Schweinfurth.


be easily carried about.* This he conveys to a safe
place, where he can deal with the demon at will
and prevent his re-entering the j^atient. He, poor
beggar, standing on one leg propped against the tree,
is either killed outright by noise and excitement, or
by a process of reaction obtains sleep, and frequently
recovers within a few days or even hours.

When a Galla exorcist is called upon to exercise
his powers over the unseen world, against any one
of the eighty-eight demons that haunt the tribe,t he
kills a goat, the entrails of which he hangs about
his neck. Thus arrayed, he carries in one hand a
bell, which he rings " to waken the demon," and in
the other a whip. After he has capered about for
a time ringing his bell, he suddenl}^ raises his whip,
with which he gives the patient several sharp cuts.
The demon, not liking such treatment, takes to his
heels ; a final flourish of the whip in the air as the
demon flies past completes the process, and the
magician goes his way carrying his fee along with
him. which is the only guarantee ao-ainst the demon's
return. I recommend this method to European
physicians whose accounts are of long standing !

Of all methods employed for the expulsion of evil
spirits that found among the Wanika is the gentlest
I have met with. There they are treated with the
care and consideration with which ladies of quality
were treated when they walked abroad a century
ago. This method may be illustrated by taking the
case of a patient who is devil-possessed, as has been
done with the preceding. A mortar filled with water

* J. Thomson. t Krapf.


is placed at his bedside. Next a gaudily-coloured
stick, richly ornamented with beads, bits of glass,
and ornaments, is stuck in the ground close at hand.
A boy dips a bundle of twigs in the water, with
which he sprinkles the head of the })atient. The
people beat drums, dance, sing, and play as if round
a May-pole. The demon loves music, and he loves
beads and gewgaws. As the merriment proceeds he
tliinks people are off their guard, and he looks at
the stick. As he looks he becomes fascinated and
leans towards it. Finally, he leaves the patient and
enters the stick, when it is promptly pulled from the
o-round bv the macncian."^ What he does with the
demon so tenderly treated the historian does not
record. He probably mars all his previous kindness
by throwing the stick, devil and all, into lake or

But the demons of South and East Africa are as
water to whisky when compared to those of the
West Coast, where their expulsion wholesale, at
stated intervals is a necessity of existence. So
potent are they for evil that the people of Dahomey,
w^ho may in a few weeks thereafter exj^el them
wholesale, sacrifice sheep and goats to them before
sowing their crops.t If they neglected this pre-
caution, so powerful are evil spirits, no corn would
ripen, even should every demon be expelled before
it comes into ear. Along the coast, where large
towns have to be purged, the ceremonies are both
elaborate and protracted. Rude wicker figures of
elephants, tigers, cows, and other animals are made,

* Krapf. t Winterbotham. \


and carefully covered over with cloth. Of these, one
is set up before every house door.* Each family
needs a figure, and the animals are selected from a
supposed connection between them and the spirits
of departed ancestors. Old Tiger-face's son would
naturally select the animal whose name his father
bore when taking part in the great ceremony of
expelling devils from the town and from his own
fireside. The figures are intended as receptacles or
places of temporary retreat for the demons when
the process of })urgatioii begins.

At 3 A.M. a tempest of noise begins simultaneously
in all parts of the town. Drums beat, bugles bray,
horns roar, bells tingle, whistles screech. Every-
thing which can be made to emit sound is brought
into requisition and kept going till the owner is
exhausted, or the instrument gives way, a frequent
occurrence. This pandemonium of noise continues
till high noon. At that hour floors are swept, dusty
corners turned out, the ashes of the previous day's
fires carefully collected, and everything where a
demon could lurk removed and placed inside the
wicker fio-ure at the door. The imagoes are then
carried in tumultuous procession to the river and
tossed into the \^'ater with beat of drum. The
demons dare not return ; they are now beyond the
boundaries of the town, and but for untoward
accidents men might live in peace for an indefinite
time. But as ill-luck will have it, the next tribe
may be expelling their own devils, and these, turned
out of comfortal)le quarters, may enter the newly

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Online LibraryJames MacDonaldReligion and myth → online text (page 7 of 18)