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Human Animals Part 3

Natives in Simbang, in German New Guinea, are convinced that their relatives turn into crocodiles, and they recognise a certain crocodile known by the name of "Old Butong" as head of the family. They say he was born of a woman. Mary Kingsley tells a similar story in her "Travels in West Africa," describing human beings, who, disguised as alligators, swim in the creeks, attack the canoes and carry off the crew. The natives believe in the spirit of the man actually possessing the animal's body.

In New Guinea and the East Indies as well as in West Africa crocodiles are thought to be the abodes of the souls of ancestors, and the victim of this dangerous reptile is said to have incurred the vengeance of some human being who has taken the form of the animal, while those who kill crocodiles become themselves transformed after death. Spenser's "cruell craftie crocodile" was held to be sacred in Egypt, and the god Sebek was said to take its shape whenever he so desired.

The Malagasy view is that the crocodile is the ally of a magician during his lifetime, and that he can send him forth as a familiar to wreak harm upon his enemies.

The alligator is closely allied to the crocodile. Among the legends of the Arawak Indians of British Guiana is one about a half human beast of this species which received its extraordinary markings in the following manner: Arawadi, the sun-god, coming to earth saw an alligator disporting himself on the banks of a stream which he had preserved specially for fish. To get rid of the enemy he seized and smote him with a hard club upon the head and tail, but the alligator, crying out to him to stay his hand, promised in return for clemency a beauteous water-sprite to be his bride. Arawadi agreed to the proposal.

"The reptile's wounds were healed. Those blows No more his hide assail; But still their marks are seen, 'tis said, Indented on his battered head And notched along his tail!"

The domestic animals, bulls, cows, horses, asses, cats, and dogs, have been regarded at one time or another as gifted with human powers, or as suitable vehicles for the reception of human souls. The Tlaxcallans believe that man can be transformed into a dog. The wild dog, the coyote, according to the ideas of the Navajos, may be a bad man transformed at death for his sins.

Armenians sacrifice an ass at the graves of people who owe them money, their belief being that if payment is not forthcoming the ancestor's souls will enter asses' bodies.

The Corn Spirit is supposed to take the form of a cat, and in some places in Germany children have been warned not to go into the corn-fields because "The cat sits there." In Silesia the reaper who cuts the last corn is called the "Tom-cat" and is dressed up in rye-stalks, wearing a long plaited tail. Sometimes another man accompanies him called "the female cat."

The Lapps of the North Cape are said to consult a black cat when in trouble, and they regard it more as a human being than as an animal.

The cat is among the soul-animals familiar to the inhabitants of the British Islands, who, owing to this country's immunity from wild beasts, are satisfied to "humanise" the milder species of creatures such as the ant, butterfly, gull, moth, sparrow, and swan.

In the parish of Ballymoyer in Ireland butterflies are said to be the souls of grandfathers, whilst the Malagasy trace their descent from a moth, believing that a man was changed into a moth when he died. Many races believe that moths and butterflies are the souls of the dead.

In the Solomon Islands, if a native declared he intended to transmigrate into a butterfly, his children, on seeing one of these insects would cry "That is Daddy" and make some suitable offering of food. Witches have been known to have butterflies and moths as familiars.

In Cornwall ants are thought to be the souls of children who died without baptism. Hindus also associate this insect with the souls of the dead, and natives of New Guinea believe that a second death occurs after the first and that the soul is transformed into an ant.

The Athabascan Dog-Ribs believe that an ant inserted beneath the skin of the palm endows the owner of the hand with the gift of prophecy.

The Sudanese think that a wer-man has to approach an ants' nest before being transformed into a hyaena.

Besides the ant the bat is regarded as a mysterious creature, and this form was frequently assumed by Chamalcan, god of the Cakchiquels.

Large bats abound in an island on the Ivory Coast in West Africa and are regarded as embodying the souls of the dead. In Tonga the same superstition holds good. Bats and birds appear so similar when flying at dusk that it is natural to find that birds also are often the form in which human spirits take wing.

The Warrar races of Guiana have a very poetical belief about the spirits of the departed. They visit the fair isle of Trinidad,

"Where souls of good men they could find, In glittering humming-birds confined."

The Arawaks believe that vultures belong to a race which lives in a country above the sky. When at home the vultures cease to be birds and assume the shape and habits of human beings.

The Kalitas hold that when a man dies his soul is carried to spirit-land by a little bird, and if he has been an evil-doer during his lifetime, a hawk overtakes and swallows the bird.

In County Mayo swans are the souls of virgins who have been remarkable for the purity of their lives. This idea is as beautiful as the Bohemian tradition that children hop about the meadows in the form of frogs is quaint.

An old Hindu story that monkeys were originally men has a distinctly comic side to it. They contracted debts and when called upon to pay fled from their creditors by changing into monkeys and putting their tails between their legs. In this undignified position they made off at full speed into the jungle.

The stories of human souls in various animal bodies would fill a volume, and perhaps one of the most picturesque ideas of the kind is that of the Cornish fisherfolk who say they see the spirits of their drowning companions transformed into animal shapes as they pass away from this earth.

FOOTNOTE:

[15] Frazer, J. G., "The Golden Bough," "Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild," 1912, Vol. II, p. 297. See also "Balder the Beautiful,"

1913, Vol. II, pp. 196-218, "The External Soul in Animals."

CHAPTER V

ANIMAL DANCES

The ceremonial dances and festivals of primitive races in which animal masks and skins are used are closely connected with the idea of ancestor worship and with transformation. After careful study of the subject it will be regarded as certain that the performers, by means of mimic action, rhythmic and imitative sounds, as well as by narcotic drugs and pungent or penetrating perfumes, induce in themselves an hypnotic or excited state in which they believe they change into the actual animal they represent.

Some of the dances are infinitely elaborate in detail, and are so complicated in their various figures and their symbolic intention that primitive ideas are almost lost sight of, but a certain fundamental similarity can be found in them all which is based on root ideas of animal worship, the desire to propitiate animals in the chase, the belief in animal gods, or spirits of ancestors appearing in animal form and the desire to bring about, by sacrifice and offering, the fertility of the species.

Such exercises are both religious and magical, to secure charms against bodily ills, and for good hunting as well as for recreation.

In special family dances the performers mimic the actions and cries of their totemic animals.

In its most primitive form the animal disguise was used by savages when acting in the capacity of a decoy, with the object of securing food and clothing. The early Indian when trapping buffalo went forth carrying a dress made of the skin of a buffalo, wearing its head and horns over his own head. As soon as he had induced the herd to pursue him, he led them into a trap or ambush, or over a precipice which was fatal to many of them.

The Eskimo, when hunting the seal, wears a sealskin garment which makes him look so much like his prey that at a distance he is only distinguished from it with difficulty. When close to the animal he utters sounds like those of a blowing seal.

Also when hunting deer he imitates their grunt, and two hunters on the same track carry guns on their shoulders to resemble the animal's antlers. Zuni hunters after deer wear cotton shirts with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow, the back and front of the shirt being coloured so as to represent the animal's body, the arms stained to represent the deer's forelegs. Head and antlers are carried on the shoulders, and the stalkers approach the game, browsing as they go.

Out of the simple imitation of animal motions and cries for the purpose of decoy, the dance grew more complicated, with wild whirling figures and elaborate dresses and masks. From a useful and necessary disguise for purposes of obtaining food, the wolf-robe and mask became, in unscrupulous hands, an instrument for personal aggrandisement and gain through intimidation. The hideous animal-mask was first used as a shield or protection for the face in defence against the onslaught upon an opposing force. Then it became an instrument with which to inspire terror and fear in those who beheld it from the point of view of its ugliness or frightfulness, and finally it was worn as a device or symbol of superhuman agencies. At this stage it formed an integral part of the paraphernalia used in religious performances, and when worn during ceremonial the wearer became imbued in some mysterious manner with the spirit of the being represented by the mask.

To gain the characteristics of an animal a wizard attached crow and owl plumes to his head, that he might have the eyes of a crow and quickly become aware of the approach of man, or of the owl that he might travel by night.

A Zuni man, hearing the hoot of an owl, yet recognising it as human, discovered one of his own race hidden in the thicket. "Ah," he cried, "why do you wear those plumes upon your head? Aha! you must be a wizard!"

The Omaha coyote dance is performed by warriors to keep up their spirits. Each dancer wears an animal skin, and imitates the action of a coyote, trotting and glancing round. In dance and song the performers imagine themselves to be transformed into the animal. In the Omaha buffalo dance, four men are attired in great shaggy skins, the horns above their heads and the hair hanging down below the chest. Other dances are in imitation of wolves, grizzly bears, horses or tigers.

Pawnees dance the bison dance in war habit and with bison skins and horns over their heads. The Creeks dance similarly, uttering sounds in imitation of the bison, their bodies bent almost double and two staffs being held to represent the animal's forelegs.

The initiation day has at its root the idea of transforming the man into a member of the kin by giving him a share of the nature of the animal. Dances may give magical power over the animal to be chased, and are performed before a hunting expedition. In the dance the animal goes down before the onslaught of the hunter, and so the real animal, it is hoped, will fall a victim to his weapons. Dances after hunting are of a protective nature, so that the soul of the slaughtered animal may have no evil effect upon the slayer. Another form of animal dance is performed with a view to increase the number of animals. Among the Mandan Indians, for instance, an animal festival is held, at which a man, painted black to represent the evil one, enters a village from the prairie, chases and terrifies the women and acts the part of a buffalo in a dance which is intended to ensure a good supply of this valuable animal during the year to come. Other American tribes have a similar masquerade, in which males, dressed in buffalo skins, take the part of male buffaloes and the females personify the female animals, with a view to bringing about an increase of the species.

Legendary animals, or spirits, are also represented in the elaborate masked pantomimes of the Indian tribes in North West America. The explanation given by the natives is that the ceremonial was instituted in ancient days when man had still the form of an animal; and before the great transformer had given him a distinctive shape. This ceremonial, performed by man-animals, is a dramatised form of myth, in which the actors attempt to reproduce certain trance-states by sympathetic mimicry.

The Eskimos of Bering Strait perform remarkable dances in which curious mythological beasts, said to inhabit sea and land, become visible and occasionally play a part. Strange forms, probably of known animals modified and adapted, are conjured to appear. The dance is based on the old belief that in the early days all animate beings had a dual existence, choosing to be men or animals as the will prompted them. If an animal wished to be transformed into a man, the body was drawn erect and the foreleg or wing was raised so that it pushed up the jowl or beak, and thus changed the form and features into something more manlike. It is still believed by these races that animals have this power, and the form taken is called _inua_ and represents the psychical part of the creature, at death appearing as its shade. The wizards are said to have the power of piercing the animal mask and recognising the human features it conceals.

Masks may also represent totemic animals, and the dancers are then transformed into these special creatures, or at least are moved by their spiritual essence.

Some of these masks are made with double faces, so that the muzzle of the animal fits over and conceals the face of the _inua_ and the outer mask is hinged on or held in place by pegs so that it may be removed at any minute. The psychological moment when actual transformation occurs is symbolised at a particular part of the ceremony.

The wearer of the mask then becomes imbued with the true spirit of the animal represented, and the dance turns into a species of thanksgiving for the hunter's success.[16]

Dancing is sometimes used as a form of exorcism.

In Abyssinia a disorder similar to that of being possessed by a _bouda_, or sorcerer, is called _tigritiya_, and is a supposed possession by the devil in which the victim, who is generally a woman, believes that she has been transformed into an animal. Whatever the patient demands must be procured, for else she becomes sulky and, covering up her head, remains for days without eating or speaking.

Since the symptoms always include the wasting away of the attacked person, this state is very dangerous.

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