MANY and wide-branched are the results that flow from the anthropomorphizing by man of other objects in nature, from the transference to them, in thought, of personality with all its qualities, and from the conception that unseen and intangible, yet in effect substantial, beings exist "free" in the universe. Among the most interesting results are those that issue as almost a necessary consequence of this estimate of things interchange of form and mode of being. Indeed, this lies on the very surface of the conception, although its logical relationship does not seem to have been pointed out.
If man, stones, trees, plants, animals, spirits, and gods are all in the same scale of existence, why should they not exchange forms, undergo metamorphosis? Why should not the soul of a man enter the body of a being in what we regard as a different scale of existence and animate it either in play or in earnest, voluntarily or under stress of superior power exerted by some other superior in the necessary amount or quality of force, and do this either temporarily or permanently? What is to hinder, for example, man's becoming an animal, especially if he does not distinguish between his own being and that of an animal? Or, on the contrary, why should not animals become men? And why should not countless changes take place among other grades of existence? In fact, according to savage man's account of things, all this does occur. Body and soul, we have seen, constitute a duality, in which, in the stage of thought we are examining, the soul is, so to speak, a free partner, able to take its flight and often to return and resume its normal activities in its own abode. It is the "separable" factor, with a life all its own, the seat of impulse, will, passion, and desire. We have, therefore, now to develop the fact of the easy passage from what modern man would regard as one grade of existence to another, either lower or higher,
[1. See above, p. 8, and cf Rivers, Melanesian Society, i. 151 ff., where persons in Banks Islands are believed to be plants, animals, etc., with appropriate taboos.]
or the possession of qualities by one class of beings which in a more sophisticated stage of culture is considered the exclusive possession of a different class.
Supernatural or semi-human beings are conceived as having or assuming the form of birds, animals, serpents, etc., in what we might call their normal state, but by putting off their covering of skin, feather, or scale may assume the human form divine. Among illustrations of this occur with greatest frequency the mouse, jackal, monkey, dove, and tortoise. Obassi Osaw, one of the two great beings worshipped by the Etoi of Africa, was originally a man and a chief. In the Oceanican mythology the firemaking gods appear to have the form of birds. Maui, the Polynesian hero, was able to assume the form of animal, bird, or insect, and Rupe, another being in the same cycle of stories, changes himself into a bird. Among the Ainus a goddess may
[2. Parker, Village Folk Tales, pp. 308ff.; Frere, Old Deccan Days, pp. 183, 193; Stokes, Indian Fairy Tales, pp. 41 ff.; Swynnerton, Indian Nights Entertainment, p. 344; Natesu Sestri, Madana Kama Raja, pp. 56, 57.
3. Talbot, In the Shadow of the Bush, pp. 183, 184.
4. Westervelt, Legends of Maui, passim.
5. Ib., pp. 11, 20, 24, 38, 114, 125-126.]
become a flower, a woman, or a frog. Reference may be made in passing to the gods of Egypt, with their composite make-up of bird, reptile, or beast and man. There seems to be good reason for holding that this composite form is not original, and that the partly human form is the result of the refining influence of culture. Originally, it seems, the forms were those of birds, beasts, etc. Certainly the explanation given that the gods were once in human form and that, hard pressed by their enemies, they took the form of beasts in order to deceive or elude their oppressors, is purely animistic and in accord with the principle under exposition.
The cases where superhuman beings take human form are innumerable, apart altogether from the usual course of anthropomorphization of the gods. In the Old Testament the appearances to Adam, Abram, Lot, Gideon, and Manoah occur to the mind at once. In "Hordedef's Tale" four female deities and one male god assume human shape.
This being so, it is not at all wonderful
[6. Batchelor, Ainu, pp. 26, 262-263.
7. Gen. 3:8; 18:2 ff.; 19:1 ff.; Judges 6:12; 13:3, 9, etc.
8. Petrie, Egyptian Tales, i. 33 ff.]
that mating takes place between these different orders and that offspring partaking of the qualities of both are produced. Especially do superhuman beings mate with humans, earth- and heaven-born beings marry. Outside the mythology of classical Greece detailing the amours of the Olympians of both sexes from Zeus down, one may recall the union of the "sons of God" and the daughters of men; the numerous cases in the poems of Homer, Pindar, and Vergil where the heroes boast a mingled ancestry partly divine; the many tribes whose eponym is a being semi-divine, such as the Koyis of India, who trace their origin to the union of Bhima and a wild woman; and the beautiful story of Ono (which is typical of several cycles of tales), who greatly longed for his ideal of feminine beauty. She finally appeared and became his wife. With the birth of their son there appeared also in the neighborhood a dog which became intensely hostile to Ono's wife. One day the animal attacked her with unusual fury; then in uncontrollable fear she resumed her former shape as a fox, leaped the fence, and disappeared. In this case the myth has
[9. Rivers, Melanesian Society, i. 25-26.]
a rather uncertain meaning: some construe it as indicating that a fox had assumed the form of a woman; another and more probable reading is that we have to do here with a sort of genie in animal shape; a third interpretation is that the fox shape was assumed for escape. The second rendering or the first accords with the hostility of the dog, which recognized his enemy though in another (human) form.
With the prevalence of such views as these it is not strange that the origin of children is often sought not in the sexual act but in some chance affair, and that "miraculous" conception or even the virgin birth is no stranger in popular beliefs. It must be remembered, in considering this particularly errant idea, that nine months elapse between conception and birth, and a considerable number of weeks between conception and the knowledge that a new life has begun. The idea is therefore not surprising to one who realizes how aberrant is savage reasoning in tracing cause and effect. And when to this added the conservatism
[10. Gen. 6:1-4; Thurston, Omens and Superstitions, p. 78; Talbot, In the Shadow of The Bush, p. 340; J. C. Berry, in Blakeslee, Japan and Japanese-American Relations, p. 139.
11 Milloué, in Revue de 1'histoire de la religion, xlix (1904), 34-47.]
of the primitive thinker, the tenacity with which he holds to notions that have once gained entrance, the fear of letting go of these notions and of admitting that what has been his faith is mistaken, we may begin to realize how such beliefs, once entertained, persist. Thus, in the New Hebrides "women sometimes have a notion that the origin, the beginning, of one of their children is a cocoanut, or a breadfruit." Mr. Frazer points out what is indicated above, that the connection between sexual intercourse and conception is unknown. To the more sophisticated, indeed, this error seems not only impossible but literally ridiculous. Mr. Frazer goes on to show that at the moment when life is first perceived the mother may be intensely observant of some natural object, and [through the ideas of interpenetration of spirit to be dealt with later] she supposes being or power to have passed from the object, entered her body, and produced the effect she feels. Consequently "she might imagine that the spirit of a kangaroo, of grass-seed, of water, or of a gum-tree (or of any other object) had passed into her, and accordingly that her child . . .
[12. Codrington, JAI, xviii. 310-311.
13. FR, Sept. 1905.]
was really a kangaroo . . . though to the bodily eye it presented the outward form of a human being." Mr. Todd has also registered the fact that conception is ascribed to various objects, animate and inanimate. Among American Indians rain falling on a maiden's navel induces conception. And among the Nigerian peoples a child may come into being through incarnation of a human spirit or by the entrance into the mother of tree-spirits.
If human beings can arise from sources such as these, it will not come as a surprise if we find that whole tribes trace descent from animals or plants, or make alliances with them. This, however, raises the large question of totemism, which can not be treated here. Mention is made of the subject in order to avoid the appearance of overlooking this very important phase or consequence of animistic thinking. The single example may be noted here of the Etoi of Africa, who hold the crab to have been grandfather to a tribe.
One of the important results of this mode of thought is the belief that men, either voluntarily
[14. Todd, Primitive Family, pp. 70ff.
15. Fewkes, American Ethnology, 28th Report, pp. 44, 48, 65, etc.
16. Thomas, Anthropological Report, p. 31.
17. Talbot, In the Shadow of the Bush, p. 196.]
or under force majeure exercised by sorcerer or witch, pass from the human to the brute form of life. Among the concomitants of the belief in witches existent as late as in the eighteenth century and so balefully dominant during the Middle Ages, in Europe, were the notion of were-wolves and the idea that witches took the forms of cats, bares, or bats. Many are the tales of deadly destruction wrought by fiendish humans who, to sate a gluttony for blood or for revenge, transformed themselves into wolves and performed wolfish deeds. Equally well-known are the tales, not told as mere fiction but held as truth, of the conversion, as by Circe in the Odyssey, of men into beasts, or, as in the Arabian Nights, into stones or other forms of non-human being. A few cases only will be cited here of the persistence of such beliefs among primitive races of the present. Particularly in Africa is this idea widely diffused. The leopard-man is as real to the people of West Africa as was the were-wolf to the European peasant of the fifteenth century. This leopard-man assumes at pleasure the form of the animal from which be takes his name, preying on strangers or on his own people." The Fangs hold that under the magic of an enemy they may be changed into monkeys. In Oceanica Maui transforms an enemy into a dog. Among the Dyaks a man may be suspected of changing himself into a tiger, and is immune to ordinary methods of punishment. Only strong medicine is equal to the task of discipline. In other parts of Malaysia also men transform themselves into tigers or into fishes, and a woman becomes an ape. In India it would seem as if there were hardly any animal shape which may not become the refuge of man or the means of his working evil deeds. In other words, as the gods of Egypt were regarded as abandoning in part their own shape and taking that of animals, birds, or reptiles, so human beings could put on the forms or grades of life of lower animals (as we regard them and primitive peoples did not).
[18. Milligan, Fetish Folk, p. 53; Talbot, In the Shadow of the Bush, pp. 71, 82, 191-195, 247-254, and chap. VII.
19. Milligan, pp.123-I24.
20. Westervelt, Legends of Maui, p. 80.
21. Gomes, Sea Dyaks of Borneo, pp. 265-278
22. Skeat, Malay Magic, p. 162; Cox, Folk-lore, chap. II.
23 Thurston, Omens and Superstitions, p. 260, et passim.
24 Interesting reading on this whole subject of metamorphosis will be found in Lang's Myth, Ritual and Religion, chap. IV.]
One may go still farther and find humans transforming themselves into inanimate objects. So the Basques have a story of a witch who determined to drown the crew of a fishing boat, The boat was to meet three waves, the first and second of which the boat might ride, but the third, which would be the witch herself, would overwhelm the boat and its crew. But the cabin boy overheard the plot and the means of foiling it also came to him, so he launched a harpoon into the heart of the third wave, which divided and dashed on the shore, a mass of bloody foam. On the captain's return, he found his wife dying of her wound.
Sometimes, before power can be obtained to effect these transformations, either on self or on another, some magical rite or process must be performed or undergone, or some chance happening must have been encountered. In the Far East a common belief is that an animal that has drunk water which has lain for twenty years in a human skull acquires power to assume the human form at will. This is alleged to have been the case of a vixen
[25. Vinson, Le Folk-lore du Pays Basque, p. 20.
26. C. T. Collyer, in Baltimore Christian Advocate, Oct. 23, 1913.]
in China, who became a woman, the "Cleopatra of the East," and this transformation led to the founding of the first kingdom in Korea.
If the higher ranks of life might be changed into lower grades, the reverse process was equally possible. It is established that in Egypt the practice was prevalent which until recent times was current throughout Africa of sacrificing attendants upon the death of a chief that their souls might serve his in the spirit world. But the softening effects of culture in the Nile land refined away in early historic times this cruel custom. The problem remained--how provide service for the dead nobles and chiefs? The difficulty was surmounted by magic. Images of clay and pottery were created and placed in the tomb, and these, by utterance of the magic formula, were animated in the spirit world as attendants of the deceased. These little figures, called ushabtiu, are found literally by hundreds in the tombs of Egypt. There is reason to believe that the same principle was employed in Korea, Japan, China, and Mongolia. There at the tombs are often found, in clay, wood, and stone, effigies of attendants and of various animals. The most reasonable explanation of these, which is borne out by explanations given to the writer by Koreans, is that these were supposed to be animated in the spirit world to do the will of the deceased nobles or rulers at whose tombs they were placed. Confirmation of this is found in the Nihongi (one of the books of Japan coming nearest in estimation to that we render to our Scriptures), where the book professes to give an account of events occurring 2 B.C.-3 A.D. The story narrates the burial up to the neck of the personal attendants of a deceased brother of the mikado, this being the method of execution in such cases. But the laments of the victims so affected the mikado that when the empress died, clay figures were substituted. The dating of this event is probably wrong, since at the funeral of an empress in 247 A.D., sacrifice of attendants was still in vogue.
[27 Aston, Shinto, pp. 56-58; Underwood, Religions of Eastern Asia, pp. 89-90.]