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Spirits, Ghosts, And Bogies

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Giants, dwarfs, talking animals, ogre-like cannibals, many-headed water monsters, man-stealing rocs, sky-serpents, and desert witches are all forms which, in the jargon of the northwest, are regarded as tamanos, or powerful, though they are neither gods nor spirits, and, indeed, may be destroyed by an adroit and bold warrior. These beings must be put in the general class of bogies, and, though one is tempted to see, especially in the prevalence and ferocity of cannibal tales, some reminiscence of former practices or experiences, there is probably nothing more definite behind them than the universal fancy of mankind.

To a somewhat different category belong the tutelaries, or daemons attached as guardians to individuals, and the residua of once-living beings which correspond to the European's conceptions of ghosts and souls. Both of these classes of beings are related to visionary experience. The Indian's tutelary 4 is commonly revealed to him in a fast-induced vision, especially in the period of pubescence; from the nature of the revelation comes his own conception of himself vision of a weapon or a scalp will mean that he is to be a warrior, of a game-animal that he will succeed in the chase, of a ghostly being that he will be a medicine-man of renown; and from it he fashions an image or fabricates a bundle which is to be his personal and potent medicine; sometimes, he even derives his name the secret name, which he may reveal only after some exploit has justified it from the same source. Similarly, ghosts and their kind are likeliest seen in the course of spirit journeys, in trance or dream; or, if beheld by the eyes of flesh, they may be dispelled by the taunt, "Thou art only a ghost! Get thee gone."

On the other hand, a ghost that is feared may be a fatal antagonist.

Ghosts and souls are distinct. In several tribes ghosts are regarded as the shadows of souls; they dress and appear like the man himself. Souls may make journeys from the living body and return again; in the case of shamans they may reach the land of souls itself, and still come back. Souls of the dead may be reincarnated in human bodies; usually this is in their own families; some tribes say that only children are so reborn. Again, souls are frequently regarded as manikins, a few inches high a conception found all over the earth; and the noises of the spirit-world, especially the voices of the shades, are thin and shrill or like the crying of a child.

Ghosts, as distinguished from souls or spirits, are of a more substantial character. They are wraiths of the dead, but they assume material forms, and at times enter into human relations with living people, even marriage and parentage. Often the ghost is detected as such only when his body is seen trans-parent, with the skeleton revealed - and we are reminded of the Eskimo ghosts, men when beheld face to face, but skeletons when perceived from behind. Reminiscent of another Eskimo idea, the Cannibal Babe, is the Montana legend of the Weeping Child. A traveller passing a certain place would hear an infant crying; going thither, he would find the babe and take it in his arms and give it his finger to quiet it; but the child would suck all the flesh from his bones, so that a great pile of skeletons marked its monstrous lair. The Klickitat, a Shahaptian tribe of the lower Columbia, have a story of the union of a mortal and a ghost curiously like the Pawnee tale of "The Man who Married a Spirit." The Klickitat buried their dead on islands of the river, and it was here that the body of a young chief was carried. But neither his soul, on the isle of the dead, nor the mind of his beloved, who was with her people, could forget one another, and so he came to her in a vision and called her to him. At night her father took her in a canoe to the isle and left her with the dead. There she was conducted to the dance-house of the spirits, and found her lover more beautiful and strong than ever he was upon earth. When the sun rose, however, she awoke with horror to find herself surrounded by the hideous remains of the dead, while her body was clasped by the skeleton arm of her lover. Screaming she ran to the water's edge and paddled across the river to her home. But she was not allowed to remain, for the fear of the departed was now upon the tribe; and again she was sent back, and once more passed a night of happiness with the dead. In the course of time a child was born to her, more beautiful than any mortal. The grandmother was summoned, but was told that she must not look upon the child till after the tenth day; unable to restrain her curiosity, she stole a look at the sleeping babe, whereupon it died. Thenceforth, the spirit-people decreed, the dead should nevermore return, nor hold intercourse with the living."

The path from the land of the living to the land of the dead is variously described by the different tribes. Generally it lies westward, toward the setting sun, or downward, beneath the earth. Often it is a journey perilous, with storms and trials to be faced, narrow bridges and yawning chasms to be crossed a hard way for the ill-prepared soul. Teit has given us a full account of which the following is a paraphrase of the road to the soul's world, as conceived by the Thompson River tribes a description interesting for its analogies to the classical Elysium, lying beyond Styx, and the three judges of the dead :

The country of the souls is underneath us, toward the sun-set; the trail leads through a dim twilight. Tracks of the people who last went over it, and of their dogs, are visible. The path winds along until it meets another road which is a short cut used by the shamans when trying to intercept a departed soul. The trail now becomes much straighter and smoother, and is painted red with ochre. After a while it winds to the westward, descends a long gentle slope, and terminates at a wide shallow stream of very clear water. This is spanned by a long slender log, on which the tracks of the souls may be seen. After crossing, the traveller finds himself again on the trail, which now ascends to a height heaped with an immense pile of clothes the belongings which the souls have brought from the land of the living and which they must leave here. From this point the trail is level, and gradually grows lighter. Three guardians are stationed along this road, one on either side of the river and the third at the end of the path; it is their duty to send back those souls whose time is not yet come to enter the land of the dead. Some souls pass the first two of these, only to be turned back by the third, who is their chief and is an orator who sometimes sends messages to the living by the returning souls. All of these men are very old, grey-headed, wise, and venerable. At the end of the trail is a great lodge, mound-like in form, with doors at the eastern and the western sides, and with a double row of fires extending through it. When the deceased friends of a person expect his soul to arrive, they assemble here and talk about his death. As the deceased reaches the entrance, he hears people on the other side talking, laughing, singing, and beating drums. Some stand at the door to welcome him and call his name. On entering, a wide country of diversified aspect spreads out before him. There is a sweet smell of flowers and an abundance of grass, and all around are berry-bushes laden with ripe fruit. The air is pleasant and still, and it is always light and warm. More than half the people are dancing and singing to the accompaniment of drums. All are naked, but do not seem to notice it. The people are delighted to see the new comer, take him up on their shoulders, run around with him, and make a great noise.



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