Page:The Folk-Lore Journal Volume 7 1889.djvu/165

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157
THE PHILOSOPHY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN.

dead; among the Connecticut tribes it w.as a capital offence; among the Northern tribes, when a death occurred, if a relation of the deceased was libsent, his friends loitered along the road by which he was expected, so as to tell him the news and thus prevent him naming the dead on his return. Im Thurn says, that, although the Indians of British Guiana have an intricate system of names, it is of little use, in that owners have a very strong objection to telling or using them, apparently on the ground that the name is part of the man, and that he who knows it has part of the owner of that name in his power.[1] Morgan says that among the Iroquois, upon the death of a man, his name could not be used again in the lifetime of his oldest surviving son without the consent of the latter.[2]

Illustrations of this could be multiplied ad infinitum, but it is obvious, without further evidence, that with a universal belief in spiritual agents, and the identification of name with being, such practices as those cited must arise, practices of which the adage, "De mortuis nil nisi bonum," i.e. lest his ghost harm you, embodies a survival. Hence the adoption of euphemisms, in which complimentary phrases are employed in place of such as might grate or annoy, "goodomen words," as the Cantonese call them,[3] the most familiar example of which is the title of Eumenides or "gracious ones" given to the Furies. The Dyaks of Borneo speak of the small pox as the "chief or "jungle leaves," and the Cantonese call it "heavenly flower" or "good intention"; in Annam the tiger is called "grandfather" or "lord;" in the forty-sixth rune of the Kalevala, which celebrates the slaying of the bear, he is addressed in profuse, flowing metaphor, as "forest-apple," "golden light-foot," "honey-pawed." In Thorpe's Northern Mythology,[4] a list of both dead and living things which are to be called by euphemistic names to arrest evil influences is given, and perchance a survival of this dread exists in the modern housewife's notion that if one comments upon some household god

  1. Among the Indians of Guiana, p. 220.
  2. Ancient Society, p. 79.
  3. Folklore Record, iv. 80.
  4. Vol. ii. p. 83. And see Callaway's Zulu Tales, p. 3, n.