In considering the general development and relations of The Grateful Dead, to which we must now turn, it is proper to inquire first of all as to its origin. Hitherto the existence of the story-theme as such has been taken well nigh for granted, though the discussion of variants in simple form necessitated some reference to the point of separation between the märchen and whatever beliefs or social customs lie beyond. Now that the tale has been followed through its various modifications and has been proved by a systematic study of its forms to be, if I may use the expression, a living organism, the debateable land outside can be entered with measurable security.
There can be no doubt that The Grateful Dead as a theme is based upon beliefs about the sacred duty of burial and upon the customs incident to withholding burial for the sake of revenge or recompense. To study these phenomena in detail is not necessary to the scheme of this book, but belongs rather to the province of primitive religion and law. It is sufficient for our purpose to show the nature and extent of such observances and beliefs for the sake of the light which they may throw on the genesis of the tale itself.
The belief that no obligation is more binding on man than that he pay proper respect to the dead is as old as civilization itself. Indeed, it probably antedates what