Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/195

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

lodge (a common institution in America) was observed by Loskiel among the Delaware Indians. After a feast in honor of the fire-god and his twelve attendant manitous, a hut was constructed of skins stretched upon twelve poles tied together at the top. Into this hut twelve men were crowded, twelve red-hot stones were placed among them, and upon these stones an old man threw twelve pipefuls of tobacco. The men had to remain inside as long as they could endure the heat and smoke, and when taken out at last they were almost suffocated, generally falling in a swoon. The precise object of this ceremony is not mentioned, but it is probable that the dominant idea was that of a spiritual intercourse between the swooning men and the deities.

The origin of the custom of smoking tobacco may, with some degree of probability, be traced to the ceremonies here recounted. That stage of primitive culture which is characterized by a strong belief in the reality of dream figures and the prophetic nature of visions tended inevitably to engender a class of professional dreamers and soothsayers. When dreams were in great demand, it was natural that some man in every savage community, on account of a mental peculiarity—a taint of insanity, or some powerful nervous derangement—should become distinguished above his fellows for vivid and frequent visions. As the business of the prophet and seer increased, it became necessary for him to adopt artificial measures for bringing on the condition of stupor which was essential to the exercise of his calling. He therefore resorted to fasting, or, more frequently, to the use of narcotic drugs. Along the Amazon the seeds of Mimosa acacioides were thus employed; among the Peruvians and the Darien Indians it was the Datura sanguinea; in Brazil, the West Indies, and North America the great narcotic was tobacco.

In like manner it may be reasonably conjectured that tobacco did not become an article of sacrifice and incense until it had passed out of the hands of the medicine-men, by whom alone it was at first used. In every age men have offered in sacrifice that which they valued most—the best and first fruits, and the most precious of their flocks. Tobacco must have come into general use and become one of the Indian's most prized possessions before it was offered as a gift to his deities. It is not difficult to trace this advance from its restricted use by professional dreamers as just described. When men had learned that the sacred herb could drive away disease, recall the past and reveal the future, they naturally wished to try its effects upon themselves—to walk in person in the hidden land of spirits, instead of sending the medicine-man as a deputy. Thus, in time, every man became his own seer, tobacco rose in the estimation of the Indian above all his other possessions, and smoking became a common practice.