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In his "Roman Questions," that delightful storehouse of oldworld lore, Plutarch asks "When a man who has been falsely reported to have died abroad, returns home alive, why is he not admitted by the door, but gets up on the tiles and so lets himself down into the house?" The curious custom to which Plutarch here refers prevails in modern Persia, for we read in "Hajji Baba" (c. 18) of the man who went through "the ceremony of making his entrance over the roof, instead of through the door; for such is the custom when a man who has been thought dead returns home alive." From a passage in Agathias we may perhaps infer that the custom is at least as old as the sixth century of our era. A custom so remote from our modern ways must necessarily have its roots far back in the history of our race. Imagine a modern Englishman, whom his friends had given up for dead, rejoining the home circle by coming down the chimney, instead of entering by the front door. In this paper I propose to show that the custom originated in certain primitive beliefs and observances touching the dead-beliefs and observances by no means confined to Greece and Rome, but occurring in similar if not identical forms in many parts of the world.

The importance attached by the Romans in common with most other nations to the due performance of burial rites is well known, and need not be insisted upon. For the sake of my argument, however, it is necessary to point out that the attentions bestowed on the dead sprang not so much from the affections as from the fears of the survivors. For, as every one knows, ghosts of the unburied dead haunt the earth and make themselves exceedingly disagreeable, especially to their undutiful relatives. Instances would be superfluous; it is the way of

1 Some additions have been made to the paper as read on March 10th.

2 No. 5. It is to be observed that the explanations which I give of many of the following customs are not the explanations offered by the people who practise these customs. Sometimes people give no explanation of their customs, sometimes (much oftener than not) a wrong one. The reader is therefore to understand that the authorities referred to are quoted for the fact of the customs, not for their explanation.

3 Agathias ii, 23. A man grievously sick was exposed in a desert place, and if he recovered and came home he was shunned as a ghost by every one till he had been purified by the Magi, and had, as it were, come back to life (olov ἀνταπολάβοι τὸ αὖθις βιῶναι).

ghosts all the world over from Brittany to Samoa. But burial by itself was by no means a sufficient safeguard against the return of the ghost; many other precautions were taken by primitive man for the purpose of excluding or barring the importunate dead. Some of these precautions I will now enumerate. They exhibit an ingenuity and fertility of resource worthy of a better cause.

In the first place an appeal was made to the better feelings of the ghost. He was requested to go quietly to the grave, and at the grave he was requested to stay there."

But to meet the possible case of hardened ghosts, upon whom moral persuasion would be thrown away, more energetic measures were resorted to. Thus among the South Slavonians and Bohemians, the bereaved family, returning from the grave, pelted the ghost of their deceased relative with sticks, stones, and hot coals. The Chuwashé, a tribe in Finnland, had not even the decency to wait till he was fairly in the grave, but opened fire on him as soon as the coffin was outside the house. The Jewish missiles are potsherds before, and clods after, the burial." Again, heavy stones were piled on his grave to keep him. down, on the principle of "sit tibi terra gravis." This is the origin of funeral cairns and tombstones. As the ghosts of murderers and their victims are especially restless, every one who passes their graves in Arabia, in Germany, and in Spain is bound to add a stone to the pile. In Oldenburg (and no doubt elsewhere) if the grave is shallow the ghost will certainly walk."

One of the most striking ways of keeping down the dead man is to divert the course of a river, bury him in its bed, and then allow the river to resume its course. It was thus that Alaric was buried, and Commander Cameron found the same mode of

1 Sebillot, "Traditions et Superstitions de la Haute-Bretagne," I, p. 238; Turner, "Samoa," p. 150. The Annamese and Hindus particularly dread the ghosts of the unburied dead (J. G. Scott, "France and Tongking," p. 99; Monier Williams, "Religious Thought and fein India," p. 239 sqq.).

2 J. H. Gray, "China," I, pp. 300, 304. Similarly the Dacotahs address the ghost begging him to remain in his own place and not disturb his friends (Schoolcraft, "Indian Tribes," V, p. 65). The Karieng address their dead in like manner (Pallegoix, "Description du Royaume Thai ou Siam,” I, p. 58).

3 Ralston, "Songs of the Russian People," p. 319; A. Bastian, "Der Mensch in der Geschichte," II, p. 329. Cf. K. Schwenk, "Slawische Mythologie,” p. 325. Castren, "Vorlesungen über die finnische Mythologie," p. 120.

Buxtorf, "Synagoga Judaica," p. 701 sqq.; Bodenschatz, "Kirchliche Verfassung der heutigen Juden," iv, pp. 173, 175.

6 W. Sonntag, "Todtenbestattung," p. 197; Brand, "Popular Antiquities," II, p. 309; Wuttke, “Deutscher Aberglaube," § 754, cf., 739, 748, 756, 758, 761; Klemm, "Culturgeschichte," II, p. 225; Waitz, "Anthropologie der Naturvölker," II, pp. 195, 324, 325, 524; ib. III, p. 202; Ratzel, “Völkerkunde," I, p. 74; K. Weinhold," Altnordisches Leben," p. 488; L. Strackerjan, “Aberglaube und Sagen aus dem Herzogthum Oldenburg," I, p. 154.



burial still in vogue for chiefs amongst a tribe of Central Africa. Du Chaillu was informed that the Obongos, a dwarf tribe of negroes on the Equator, sometimes bury their dead thus.1

The expedient of enclosing the grave with a fence too high for the ghost to "take" it, especially without a run, is common to the Finnlanders and the Dyaks.2

Another simple but effectual plan is to nail the dead man to the coffin (the Chuwashé again)3 or to tie his feet together (among the Arabs), or his hands together (in Voigtland), or his neck to his legs (among the Troglodytes, Damaras, and New Zealanders). The Wallachians drive a long nail through the skull and lay the thorny stem of a wild rose bush on the shroud. The Californians and Damaras clinched matters by breaking his spine. The corpses of suicides and vampires had stakes run through them. Sometimes the heads of vampires are cut off, or their hearts torn out and hacked in pieces, and their bodies burned,10 or boiling water and vinegar are poured on their graves."

Other mutilations of the dead were intended not so much to keep the dead man in his grave as to render his ghost harmless. Thus the Australians cut off the right thumb of a slain enemy, that his ghost might not be able to draw the bow,12 and Greek murderers used to hack off the extremities of their victims with a similar object.13

Again, various steps are taken to chase away the lingering ghost from the home he loves too well. Thus, the New Zealanders thrash the corpse in order to hasten the departure

1 Jordanes, "Getica," c. xxx, § 158; Cameron, "Across Africa," I, p. 110; Du Chaillu, "A Journey to Ashango-land," p. 321.

2 Castren, op. cit., p. 121; Bastian, "Mensch," II, p. 368.

3 Bastian, ib. p. 337; likewise the Cheremissé (ib. p. 365). The modern Greeks sometimes resort to this practice, but only after a ghost has proved himself troublesome (B. Schmidt, "Das Volksleben der Neugriechen, p. 167, seq.). 4 Köhler, "Volksbrauch im Voigtland," p. 251.

5 Strabo xvi, c. 4, 17; Diodorus Siculus iii, 33; J. G. Wood, "Natural History of Man," I, p. 348; Yate, "New Zealand," p. 136. The Burmese tie together the two big toes, and usually also the two thumbs of the corpse ("The Burman : his Life and Notions," by Shway Yoe [J. G. Scott], II, p. 338; C. J. F. S. Forbes," British Burma," p. 93).

6 Schott, "Wallachische Mährchen," p. 298; H. F. Tozer, "Researches in the Highlands of Turkey," II, p. 92.

7 Bastian, "Mensch," II, p. 331; C. J. Andersson, "Lake Ngami," p. 226.

8 Bastian, II, p. 365; Ralston, "Songs of the Russian People," p. 413. Tettau und Temme, "Die Volkssagen Ostpreussens, Litthauens und Westpreussens," p. 275, seq; Wuttke, "Deutscher Aberglaube," § 765; Töppen, "Aberglauben aus Masuren," p. 114.

10 B. Schmidt, loc. cit.

J. T. Bent, "The Cyclades," p. 45.
"Primitive Culture," I, p. 451.

12 Tylor,

13 Suidas, s.. μασχαλισθῆναι, μασχαλίσματα.



of the soul; the Algonkins beat the walls of the death-chamber with sticks to drive out the ghost; the Chinese knock on the floor with a hammer; and the Germans wave towels about or sweep the ghost out with a besom, just as in old Rome the heir solemnly swept out the ghost of his predecessor with a broom made specially for the purpose. Amongst the Battas in Sumatra the priest officiates as ghost-sweeper, and he is helped by the female mourners." In modern Greece, as soon as the corpse is out of the house, the whole house is scoured.' In Madagascar when it rains heavily the people beat the walls of their houses violently, in order to drive out the ghosts who may be taking shelter from the inclemency of the weather. In Scotland and Germany when the coffin was lifted up the chairs on which it had rested were carefully turned upside-down, in case the ghost might be sitting on them. The Kakhyens in Northern Burma, on the Chinese frontier, dance the ghost out of the house, accelerating his departure by a liberal application of stick.10 In ancient Mexico certain professional men were employed, who searched the house diligently till they found the lurking ghost of the late proprietor, whom they there and then summarily ejected." In Siberia they give the ghost forty days' "law"; after which, if he is still hanging about, the shaman (medicine-man) hunts him out and drums him down to hell. To prevent the possibility of a mistake the shaman conducts the lost soul personally to the lower regions and secures him a favourable reception by standing brandy to the devils all round.12

1 Yate, "New Zealand," p. 136; Polack, "Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders," I, p. 69.

2 Brinton, "Myths of the New World," p. 255; "Relations des Jésuites,” 1634, p. 23 (Canadian reprint).


Gray, "China," I, p. 280.

Wuttke, "Deutscher Aberglaube," §§ 725, 737; F. Schmidt, "Sitten und Gebrauche bei Hochzeiten, Taufen und Begräbnissen in Thüringen," p. 85; Köhler, "Volksbrauch, &c., im Voigtlande," p. 254.

5 Festus, s.v. everriator.

6 Marsden, "History of Sumatra," p. 388.

7 C. Wachsmuth, "Das alte Griechenland im neuen," p. 120; J. T. Bent, "The Cyclades," p. 45.

8 H. W. Little," Madagascar, its History and People,” p. 84.

9"Folk-lore Record," II, p. 214; Wuttke, "Deutscher Aberglaube," § 737 ; Köhler, loc. cit.; F. Schmidt, "Sitten und Gebraüche," &c., p. 92; Kuhn und Schwartz, "Norddeutsche Sagen, Märchen und Gebrauche," p. 435 seq.

10 J. Anderson, “Mandalay to Momien,” p. 77 seq. This death-dance was witnessed by Dr. Anderson and his companion, Col. Sladen. Indeed, by special invitation the learned doctor and the gallant colonel joined in the lugubrious dance and exerted themselves to such good purpose that after two turns the ghost fairly took to his heels and bolted out of the house, hotly pursued by the premier danseur with a stick.

11 H. H. Bancroft, "Native Races of the Pacific States of North America," I, p. 641. F 2

12 W. Radloff, "Aus Siberien," II, p. 52 sqq.


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