CHAPTER IX. THE IDEA OF SPIRITS AND GODS

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WHEN we come to the idea of the soul, we have left the circle of purely impersonal forces. But above the soul the Australian religions already recognize mythical personalities of a superior order: spirits, civilizing heroes and even gods who are properly so-called. While it will be unnecessary to enter into the detail of the mythologies, we must at least seek the form in which these three categories of spiritual beings are presented in Australia, and the way in which they are connected with the whole religious system.

A soul is not a spirit. In fact, it is shut up in a determined organism ; though it may leave it at certain moments, it is ordinarily a prisoner there. It definitely escapes only at death, and we have already seen the difficulties under which the separa­tion is accomplished. A spirit, on the contrary, though often tied by the closest bonds to some particular object, such as a spring, a rock, a tree, a star, etc., and though residing there by preference, may go away at will and lead an independent exist­ence in free space. So it has a more extended circle of action. It can act upon ,the individuals who approach it or whom it approaches. The soul, on the contrary, has almost no influence except over the body it animates ; it is very exceptional that it succeeds in influencing outside objects during the course of its terrestrial life.

But if the soul does not have the distinctive characteristics of the spirit, it acquires them, at least in part, at death. In fact, when it has been disincarnated, so long as it does not descend into a body again, it has the same liberty of movement as a spirit. Of course, after the rites of mourning have been accom­plished, it is thought to go to the land of souls, but before this it remains about the tomb for a rather long time. Also, even after it has definitely departed, it is believed to prowl about in

the brush near the camp.1 It is generally represented as a rather beneficent being, especially for the surviving members of its family ; we have seen that the soul of the father comes to aid the growth of his children or his grandchildren. But it also happens sometimes that it shows signs of a veritable cruelty ; everything depends upon its humour and the manner in which it is treated by the living.2 So it is recommended, especially to women and children, not to venture outside of the camp during the night so as not to expose oneself to dangerous encounters.3

However, a ghost is not a real spirit. In the first place, it generally has only a limited power of action ; also, it does not have a definite province. It is a vagabond, upon whom no determined task is incumbent, for the effect of death has been to put it outside of all regular forms ; as regards the living, it is a sort of a exile. A spirit, on the other hand, always has a power of a certain sort and it is by this that it is defined; it is set over a certain order of cosmic or social phenomena ; it has a more or less precise function to fulfil in the system of the universe.

But there are some souls which satisfy this double condition and which are consequently spirits, in the proper sense of the word. These are the souls of the mythical personages whom popular imagination has placed at the beginning of time, the Altjirangamitjina or the men of the Alcheringa among the Arunta; the Mura-mura among the tribes of Lake Eyre; the Muk-Kurnai among the Kumai, etc. In one sense, they are still souls, for they are believed to have formerly animated bodies from which they separated themselves at a certain moment. But even when they led a terrestrial life, they already had, as we have seen, exceptional powers ; they had a mana superior to that of ordinary men, and they have kept it. Also, they are charged with definite functions.

In the first place, whether we accept the version of Spencer and Gillen or that of Strehlow, it is to them that the care of assuring the periodical recruiting of the clan falls. They have charge of the phenomena of conception.

Even when the conception has been accomplished, the task of the ancestor is not yet completed. It is his duty to guard over the new-born child. Later, when the child has become a man, he accompanies him in the hunt, brings game to him, warns him by dreams of the dangers he may run, protects him

against his enemies, etc. On this point, Strehlow is entirely in accord with Spencer and Gillen.1 It is true that someone may ask how it is possible, according to the version of these latter, for the ancestor to fulfil this function ; for, since he reincarnates himself at the moment of conception, it seems as though he should be confounded with the soul of the child and should therefore be unable to protect it from without. But the fact is that he does not reincarnate himself entirely ; he merely dupli­cates himself. One part of him enters the body of the woman and fertilizes her ; another part continues to exist outside and, under the special name of Arumburinga, fulfils the office of guardian genius.2

Thus we see how great a kinship there is between this ancestral spirit and the genius of the Latins or the Sawv of the Greeks.3 The identification of function is complete. In fact, at first the genius is the one who begets, qui gignit; he expresses and personifies the powers of generation.4 But at the same time, he is the protector and director of the particular individual to whose person he is attached.5 He is finally confused with the personality itself of this individual; he represents the totality of the proclivities and tendencies which characterize him and give him a distinctive appearance among other men.6 Hence come the well-known expressions indulgere genio, defraudere genium with the sense of to follow one's natural temperament. At bottom, the genius is another form or double of the soul of the individual. This is proved by the partial synonomy of genius and manes.'' The manes is the genius after death ; but it is also all that survives of the dead man, that is to say, his soul. In the same way, the soul of the Arunta and the ancestral spirit which serves as his genius are only two different aspects of one and the same being.

But it is not only in relation to persons that the ancestor has a definite situation ; he also has one in relation to things. Though he is believed to have his real residence under the ground, they think that he is always haunting the place where his nanja-tree or rock is, or the water-hole which was spontaneously formed at the exact spot where he disappeared into the ground, having terminated his first existence. As this tree or rock is

believed to represent the body of the hero, they imagine that the soul itself is constantly coming back there, and lives there more or less permanently ; it is by the presence of this soul that they explain the religious respect inspired by these localities. No one can break the branch of a nanja-tree without a risk of falling sick.1 " Formerly the act of breaking it down or injuring it was punished with death. An animal or bird taking refuge there could not be killed. Even the surrounding bushes had to be respected : the grass could not be burned, the rocks also had to be treated with respect. It was forbidden to remove them or break them."2 As this sacred character is attributed to the ancestor, he appears as the spirit of this tree or rock, of this water-hole or spring.3 If the spring is thought of as having some connection with rain,4 he will become a spirit of rain. Thus, the same souls which serve as protecting geniuses for men also fulfil cosmic functions at the same time. It is undoubtedly in this sense that we must understand the text of Roth where he says that in northern Queensland, the spirits of nature are the souls of the dead who have chosen to live in the forests or caves.5

So we have here some spiritual beings that are different from the wandering souls with no definite powers. Strehlow calls them gods;6 but this expression is inexact, at least in the great majority of cases. If it were true, then in a society like the Arunta where each one has his protecting ancestor, there would be as many or more gods than there are individuals. It would merely introduce confusion into our terminology to give the name of god to a sacred being with only one worshipper. It may be, of course, that the figure of the ancestor grows to a point where it resembles a real divinity. Among the Warra-munga, as we have already pointed out,7 the clan as a whole is thought to be descended from one sole and unique ancestor. It is easily seen how this collective ancestor might, under certain circumstances, become the object of a collective devotion. To choose a notable example, this is what has happened to the snake Wollunqua.8 This mythical beast, from whom the clan of the same name is held to be descended, continues to live, they believe, in water-holes which are therefore surrounded

with a religious respect. Thus it becomes the object of a cult which the clan celebrates collectively: through determined rites, they attempt to please him and to win his favours, and they address to him all sorts of prayers, etc. So we may say that he is like a god of the clan. But this is a very exceptional case, or even, according to Spencer and Gillen, a unique one Normally, the word " spirits " is the only one suitable for desig­nating these ancestral personages.

As to the manner in which this conception has been formed, we may say that it is evident from what has preceded.

As we have already shown, the existence of individual souls, when once admitted, cannot be understood unless one imagines an original supply of fundamental souls at the origin of things, from which all the others were derived. Now these architype souls had to be conceived as containing within them the source of all religious efficacy ; for, since the imagination does not go beyond them, it is from them and only from them that all sacred things are believed to come, both the instruments of the cult, the members of the clan and the animals of the totemic species. They incarnate all the sacredness diffused in the whole tribe and the whole world, and so they are attributed powers noticeably superior to those enjoyed by the simple souls of men. Moreover, time by itself increases and reinforces the sacred character of things. A very ancient churinga inspires much more respect than a new one, and is supposed to have more virtues. The sentiments of veneration of which it has been the object during the series of successive generations who have handled it are, as it were, accumulated in it. For the same reason, the personages who for centuries have been the subject of myths respectfully passed on from mouth to mouth, and periodically put into action by the rites, could not fail to take a very especial place in the popular imagination.

But how does it happen that, instead of remaining outside of the organized society, they have become regular members of it?

This is because each individual is the double of an ancestor. Now when two beings are related as closely as this, they are naturally conceived as incorporated together ; since they partici­pate in the same nature, it seems as though that which affects one ought to affect the other as well. Thus the group of mythical ancestors became attached to the society of the living ; the same interests and the same passions were attributed to each ; they were regarded as associates. However, as the former had a higher dignity than the latter, this association takes, in the

public mind, the form of an agreement between superiors and inferiors, between patrons and clients, benefactors and recipients. Thus comes this curious idea of a protecting genius who is attached to each individual.

The question of how this ancestor came to have relations not only with men, but also with things, may appear more embarrassing ; for, at the first glance, we do not see what con­nection there can be between a personage of this sort and a rock or tree. But a fact which we owe to Strehlow furnishes us with a solution of this problem, which is at least probable.

These trees and rocks are not situated at any point in the tribal territory, but, for the most part, they are grouped around the sanctuaries, called ertnatulunga by Spencer and Gillen and arknanaua by Strehlow, where the churinga of the clan is kept.1 We know the respect with which these localities are enhaloed from the mere fact that the most precious instruments of the cult are there. Each of these spreads sanctity all about it. It is for this reason that the neighbouring trees and rocks appear sacred, that it is forbidden to destroy or harm them, and that all violence used against them is a sacrilege. This sacred character is really due to a simple phenomenon of psychic contagiousness ; but in order to explain it, the native must admit that these different objects have relations with the different beings in whom he sees the source of all religious power, that is to say, with the ancestors of the Alcheringa. Hence comes the system of myths of which we have spoken. They imagined that each ertnatulunga marked the spot where a group of ancestors entered into the ground. The mounds or trees which covered the ground were believed to represent their bodies. But as the soul retains, in a general way, a sort of affinity for the body in which it dwelt, they were naturally led to believe that these ancestral souls continued to frequent these places where their material envelope remained. So they were located in the rocks, the trees or the water-holes. Thus each of them, though remaining attached to some determined individual, became transformed into a sort of genius loci and fulfilled its functions.2

The conceptions thus elucidated enable us to understand a form of totemism which we have left unexplained up to the present: this is individual totemism.

An individual totem is defined, in its essence, by the two following characteristics : (1) it is a being in an animal or vege­table form whose function is to protect an individual; (2) the fate of this individual and that of his patron are closely united : all that touches the latter is sym pathetically communicated to the former. Now the ancestral spirits of which we have just been speaking answer to this same definition. They also belong, at least in part, to the animal or vegetable kingdoms. They, too, are protecting geniuses. Finally, a sympathetic bond unites each individual to his protecting ancestor. In fact, the nanja-tree, representing the mystical body of this ancestor, cannot be destroyed without the man's feeling himself menaced. It is true that this belief is losing its force to-day, but Spencer and Gillen have observed it, and in any case, they are of the opinion that formerly it was quite general.1

The identity of these two conceptions is found even in their details.

The ancestral souls reside in trees or rocks which are considered sacred. Likewise, among the Euahlayi, the spirit of the animal serving as individual totem is believed to inhabit a tree or stone.2 This tree or stone is sacred ; no one may touch it except the proprietor of the totem ; when it is a stone or rock, this inter­diction is still absolute.3 The result is that they are veritable places of refuge.

Finally, we have seen that the individual soul is only another aspect of the ancestral spirit, according to Strehlow, this serves after a fashion, as a second self.4 Likewise, following an expression of Mrs. Parker, the individual totem of the Euahlayi, called Yunbeai, is the alter ego of the individual: " The soul of a man is in his Yunbeai and the soul of his Yunbeai is in him."5 So at bottom, it is one soul in two bodies. The kinship of these two notions is so close that they are sometimes expressed by one and the same word. This is the case in Melanesia and in Poly­nesia : atai in the island Mota, tamaniu in the island Aurora, and talegia in Motlaw all designate both the soul of the individual and his personal totem.6 It is the same with aitu in Samoa.7

This is because the individual totem is merely the outward and visible form of the ego or the personality, of which the soul is the inward and invisible form.1

Thus the individual totem has all the essential characteristics of the protecting ancestor and fills the same role : this is because it has the same origin and proceeds from the same idea.

Each of them, in fact, consists in a duplication of the soul. The totem, as the ancestor, is the soul of the individual, but externalized and invested with powers superior to those it is believed to possess while within the organism. Now this duplica­tion is the result of a psychological necessity ; for it only expresses the nature of the soul which, as we have seen, is double. In one sense, it is ours : it expresses our personality. But at the same time, it is outside of us, for it is only the reaching into us of a religious force which is outside of us. We cannot confound ourselves with it completely, for we attribute to it an excellence and a dignity by which it rises far above us and our empirical individuality. So there is a whole part of ourselves which we tend to project into the outside. This way of thinking of our­selves is so well established in our nature that we cannot escape it, even when we attempt to regard ourselves without having recourse to any religious symbols. Our moral consciousness is like a nucleus about which the idea of the soul forms itself ; yet when it speaks to us, it gives the effect of an outside power, superior to us, which gives us our law and judges us, but which also aids and sustains us. When we have it on our side, we feel ourselves to be stronger against the trials of life, and better assured of triumphing over them, just as the Australian who, when trusting in his ancestor or his, personal totem, feels himself more valiant against his enemies.2 So there is something objec­tive at the basis of these conceptions, whether we have in mind the Roman genius, the individual totem, or the Alcheringa ancestor ; and this is why they have survived, in various forms, up to the present day. Everything goes just as if we really had two souls ; one which is within us, or rather, which is us ; the other which is above us, and whose function it is to control and

assist the first one. Frazer thought that the individual totem was an external soul; but he believed that this exteriority was the result of an artifice and a magic ruse. In reality, it is implied in the very constitution of the idea of the soul.1