Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/204

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200
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
THE FUNCTIONS OF PRIMITIVE RITUALISTIC CEREMONIES
By Dr. CLARK WISSLER
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

IF we take a naive attitude toward primitive ritualism, we must wonder how it ever came about that people believe the proper method for attaining any desired end to be the use of a formula. Thus, we may note a Dakota Indian tossing a handful of dust into the air when going into battle to ensure victory, and wonder how a people, who otherwise impress one as intelligent, could possibly entertain so absurd a belief. Again when we see a primitive doctor singing and demonstrating a ritual over a sick man, we are moved at its pathetic folly. These things are incomprehensible to us chiefly because we can see no reason why the activities involved in the demonstration of a ritual can be considered as directly contributory causes to the ends desired. So long as we confine our attention to isolated cases of ritualism like the preceding our amazement will not abate, but if we examine in detail a large number and variety of primitive rituals, the phenomena become far more intelligible.

One striking feature of primitive ceremonials is the elaboration of ritualistic procedure relating to the food supply. Particularly in aboriginal America we have many curious and often highly complex rituals associated with the cultivation of maize and tobacco. These often impress the student of social phenomena as extremely unusual but still highly suggestive facts, chiefly because the association seems to be between things that are wholly unrelated. Thus among the Pawnee we find an elaborate ritual in which a few ears of maize are raised almost to the status of a god. At a certain fixed time in the autumn the official priest of this ritual proceeds with great ceremony to the field and selects a few ears according to definite standards. These are further consecrated and carefully guarded throughout the winter. At planting time the women present themselves ceremonially to receive the seed, the necessary planting instructions, etc. Thus, it appears that during the whole yearly cycle there is a definite ritual in function associated with maize culture.[1]

Again in the tobacco cultures of the Crow and the Blackfoot Indians, respectively, we find a close parallel. In the former case the ritual is expressed in the organization of a society whose chief function seems to be the direction and control of tobacco production. In the latter, the

  1. The reader wishing a good detailed example of maize rituals should scan the writings of Frank H. Cushing, particularly in volume 9 of "The Millstone."