CHAPTER VIII. THE IDEA OF THE SOUL

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IN the preceding chapters we have been studying the funda­mental principles of the totemic religion. We have seen that no idea of soul or spirit or mythical personality is to be found among these. Yet, even if the idea of spiritual beings is not at the foundation of totemism or, consequently, of religious thought in general, still, there is no religion where this notion is not met with. So it is important to see how it is formed. To make sure that it is the product of a secondary formation, we must discover the way in which it is derived from the more essential conceptions which we have just described and explained. Among the various spiritual beings, there is one which should receive our attention first of all because it is the prototype after which tlie others liave been constructed : this is the soul.

Just as there is no known society without a religion, so there exist none, howsoever crudely organized they may be, where we do not find a whole system of collective representations concerning the soul, its origin and its destiny. So far as we are able to judge from the data of ethnology, the idea of the soul seems to have been contemporaneous with humanity itself, and it seems to have had all of its essential characteristics so well formulated at the very outset that the work of the more advanced religions and philosophy has been practically confined to refining it, while adding nothing that is really fundamental. In fact, all the Australian societies admit that every human body shelters an interior being, the principle of the life which animates it : this is the soul. It sometimes happens, it is true, that women form an exception to this general rule : there are tribes where they are believed to have no souls.1 If Dawson is to be believed, it is the same with young children in the

tribes that he has observed.1 But these are exceptional and probably late cases;2  the last one even seems to be suspect and may well be due to an erroneous interpretation of the facts.3

It is not easy to determine the idea which the Australian makes of the soul, because it is so obscure and floating ; but we should not be surprised at this. If someone asked our own contem­poraries, or even those of them who believe most firmly in the existence of the soul, how they represented it, the replies that he would receive would not have much more coherence and precision. This is because we are dealing with a very complex notion, into which a multitude of badly analysed impressions enter, whose elaboration has been carried on for centuries, though men have had no clear consciousness of it. Yet from this come the most essential, though frequently contradictory, characteristics by which it is defined.

In some cases they tell us that it has the external appearance of the body.4 But sometimes it is also represented as having the size of a grain of sand ; its dimensions are so reduced that it can pass through the smallest crevices or the finest tissues.5 We shall also see that it is represented in the appearance of animals. This shows that its form is essentially inconsistent and un­determined;6 it varies from one moment to another with the demands of circumstances or according to the exigencies of the myth and the rite. The substance out of which it is made is no less indefinable. It is not without matter, for it has a form, howsoever vague this may be. And in fact, even during this life, it has physical needs : it eats, and inversely, it may be eaten. Sometimes it leaves the body, and in the course of its

travels it occasionally nourishes itself on foreign souls.1 After it has once been completely freed from the organism, it is thought to lead a life absolutely analogous to the one it led in this world; it eats, drinks, hunts, etc.2 When it nutters among the branches of trees, it causes rustlings and crackings which even profane ears hear.3 But at the same time, it is believed to be invisible to the vulgar.4 It is true that magicians or old men have the faculty of seeing souls ; but it is in virtue of special powers which they owe either to age or to a special training that they perceive things which escape our senses. According to Dawson, ordinary individuals enjoy the same privilege at only one moment of their existence : when they are on the eve of a premature death. Therefore this quasi-miraculous vision is considered a sinister omen. Now, invisibility is generally considered one of the signs of spirituality. So the soul is conceived as being immaterial to a certain degree, for it does not affect the senses in the way bodies do : it has no bones, as the tribes of the Tully River say.5 In order to conciliate all these opposed characteristics, they represent it as made of some infinitely rare and subtle matter, like something ethereal,6 and comparable to a shadow or breath.7

It is distinct and independent of the body, for during this life it can leave it at any moment. It does leave it during sleep, fainting spells, etc.8 It may even remain absent for some time without entailing death; however, during these absences life is weakened and even stops if the soul does not return home.9 But it is especially at death that this distinction and independence manifest themselves with the greatest clarity. While the body no longer exists and no visible traces of it remain, the soul continues to live : it leads an autonomous existence in another world.

But howsoever real this duality may be, it is in no way absolute. It would show a grave misunderstanding to represent the body

as a sort of habitat in which the soul resides, but with which it bas only external relations. Quite on the contrary, it is united to it by the closest bonds ; it is separable from it only imperfectly and with difficulty. We have already seen that it has, or at least is able to have, its external aspect. Consequently, everything that hurts the one hurts the other; every wound of the body spreads to the soul.1 It is so intimately associated with the life of the organism that it grows with it and decays'with it. This is why a man who has attained a certain age enjoys privileges refused to young men; it is because the religious principle within him has acquired greater force and efficacy as he has advanced in life. But when senility sets in, and the old man is no longer able to take a useful part in the great religious ceremonies in which the vital interests of the tribe are concerned, this respect is no longer accorded to him. It is thought that weakness of the body is communicated to the soul. Having the same powers no longer, he no longer has a right to the same prestige.2

There is not only a close union of soul and body, but there is also a partial confusion, of the two. Just as there is something of the body in the soul, since it sometimes reproduces its form, so there is something of the soul in the body. Certain regions and certain products of the organism are believed to have a special affinity with it: such is the case with the heart, the breath, the placenta,3 the blood,4 the shadow,5 the liver, the fat of the liver, the kidneys,6 etc. These various material substrata are not mere habitations of the soul; they are the soul itself seen from without. When blood flows, the soul escapes with it. The soul is not in the breath ; it is the breath. It and the part of the body where it resides are only one. Hence comes the conception according to which a man has a number of souls. Being dispersed in various parts of the organism, the soul is differentiated and broken up into fragments. Each organ has individualized, as it were, the portion of the soul which it con­tains, and which has thus become a distinct entity. The soul of

the heart could not be that of the breath or the shadow or the placenta. While they are all related, still they are to be dis­tinguished, and even have different names.1

Moreover, even if the soul is localized especially in certain parts of the organism, it is not absent from the others. In varying degrees, it is diffused through the whole body, as is well shown by the funeral rites. After the last breath has been expired and the soul is believed to be gone, it seems as though it should profit by the liberty thus regained, to move about at will and to return as quickly as possible to its real home, which is elsewhere. Never­theless, it remains near to the corpse ; the bond uniting them has been loosened, but not broken. A whole series of special rites are necessary to induce it to depart definitely. It is invited to go by gestures and significant movements.2 The way is laid open for it, and outlets are arranged so that it can go more easily.3 This is because it has not left the body entirely ; it was too closely united to it to break away all at once. Hence comes the very frequent rite of funeral anthropophagy ; the flesh of the dead is eaten because it is thought to contain a sacred principle, which is really nothing more than the soul.4 In order to drive it out definitely, the flesh is melted, either by submitting it to the heat of the sun,5 or to that of an artificial fire.6 The soul departs with the liquids which result. But even the dry bones still retain some part of it. Therefore they can be used as sacred objects or instruments of magic;7  or if someone wishes to give complete liberty to the principle which they contain, he breaks these.8

But a moment does arrive when the final separation is accom­plished; the liberated soul takes flight. But by nature it is so intimately associated with the body that this removal cannot take place without a profound change in its condition. So it takes a new name also.9 Although keeping all the distinctive traits of the individual whom it animated, his humours and his good

For example, among the peoples on the Pennefather River (Roth, ibid.. § 68), there is a name for the soul residing in the heart (Ngai), another for the one in the placenta (Cho-i), and a third for the one which is confounded with the breath (Wanji). Among the Euahlayi, there are three or even four souls (Parker, The Euahlayi, p. 35).

and bad qualities,1 still it has become a new being. From that moment a new existence commences for it.

It goes to the land of souls. This land is conceived differently by different tribes ; sometimes different conceptions are found existing side by side in the same society. For some, it is situated under the earth, where each totemic group has its part. This is at the spot where the first ancestors, the founders of the clan, entered the ground at a certain time, and where they live since their death. In the subterranean world there is a geographical disposition of the dead corresponding to that of the living. There, the sun always shines and rivers flow which never run dry. Such is the conception which Spencer and Gillen attribute to the central tribes, Arunta,2 Warramunga,3 etc. It is found again among the Wotjobaluk.4 In other places, all the dead, no matter what their totems may have been, are believed to live together in the same place, which is more or less vaguely localized as beyond the sea, in an island,5 or on the shores of a lake.6 Sometimes, finally, it is into the sky, beyond the clouds, that the souls are thought to go. " There," says Dawson, " there is a delectable land, abounding in kangaroos and game of every sort, where men lead a happy life. Souls meet again there and recog­nize one another."7 It is probable that certain of the features of this picture have been taken from the paradise of the Christian missionaries;8 but the idea that souls, or at least some souls, enter the skies after death appears to be quite indigenous ; for it is found again in other parts of the continent.9

In general, all the souls meet the same fate and lead the same life. However, a different treatment is sometimes accorded them based on the way they have conducted themselves upon earth, and we can see the first outlines of these two distinct and even opposed compartments into which the world to come will later be divided. The souls of those who have excelled, during life, as hunters, warriors, dancers, etc., are not confounded

with the common horde of tne others; a special place is granted to them.1 Sometimes, this is the sky.2 Strehlow even says that according to one myth, the souls of the wicked are devoured by dreadful spirits, and destroyed.3 Nevertheless, these conceptions always remain very vague in Australia;4 they begin to have a clarity and determination only in the more advanced societies, such as those of America.5