Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/674

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

effect with it a union which on the one side implies submission, and on the other side friendliness.

On this hypothesis we have a reason for the great prevalence of self-bleeding as a funeral-rite, not among existing savages only, but among ancient and partially-civilized peoples—the Jews, the Greeks, the Huns, the Turks. We are shown how there arise kindred rites as permanent propitiations of those more dreaded ghosts which become gods—such offerings of blood (now taken from slain victims, now from their own bodies, and now from their newly-born infants) as those which the Mexicans gave the idols of their cannibal deities; such offerings as were implied by the self-gashings of the priests of Baal; and such as were sometimes made even in propitiating Jahveh—as by the fourscore men who came from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria. Moreover, the instances of bloodletting as a complimentary act in social intercourse cease to be inexplicable. During a Samoan marriage-ceremony the friends of the bride, to testify their respect, "took up stones and beat themselves until their heads were bruised and bleeding." In his account of the Central Americans, Martyr says, "When the Indians of Potonchan receive new friends, . . . as a proof of friendship, they, in the sight of the friend, draw some blood . . . . from the tongue, hand, or arm, or from some other part."

Here, however, my purpose in naming these offerings of blood under the head of mutilations is not so much to show their kinship of origin as to prepare the way for explaining the mutilations which result from them.


Gashings and tearings of the flesh make wounds which leave scars. If the blood-offerings which entail them are made by relatives to the departed spirit of an ordinary person, these scars are not likely to have any permanent significance; but, if they are made in propitiation of some deceased chief, not by his relatives alone, but by unrelated members of the tribe who stood in awe of him and fear his ghost, then like other mutilations they become signs of subjection. The Huns who "at the burial of Attila cut their faces with hollow wounds," in common with the Turks who did the like at royal funerals, thus inflicted on themselves marks which thereafter distinguished them as servants of their respective rulers. So, too, did the Lacedæmonians, who, "when their king died, had a barbarous custom of meeting in vast numbers, where men, women, and slaves, all mixed together, tore the flesh from their foreheads with pins and needles . . . . to gratify the ghosts of the dead." Customs of this kind would sometimes have further results. With the apotheosis of some notable king whose conquests gave him the character of founder of the nation, such marks, borne not by his contemporary followers only, but imposed by them on their children, might become national marks.

That the scars caused by propitiatory bloodletting at funerals do