Paper 87— The Ghost Cults — Page 958


The ghost cult evolved as an offset to the hazards of bad luck; its primitive religious observances were the outgrowth of anxiety about bad luck and of the inordinate fear of the dead. None of these early religions had much to do with the recognition of Deity or with reverence for the superhuman; their rites were mostly negative, designed to avoid, expel, or coerce ghosts. The ghost cult was nothing more nor less than insurance against disaster; it had nothing to do with investment for higher and future returns.

Man has had a long and bitter struggle with the ghost cult. Nothing in human history is designed to excite more pity than this picture of man's abject slavery to ghost-spirit fear. With the birth of this very fear mankind started on the upgrade of religious evolution. Human imagination cast off from the shores of self and will not again find anchor until it arrives at the concept of a true Deity, a real God.


Death was feared because death meant the liberation of another ghost from its physical body. The ancients did their best to prevent death, to avoid the trouble of having to contend with a new ghost. They were always anxious to induce the ghost to leave the scene of death, to embark on the journey to deadland. The ghost was feared most of all during the supposed transition period between its emergence at the time of death and its later departure for the ghost homeland, a vague and primitive concept of pseudo heaven.

Though the savage credited ghosts with supernatural powers, he hardly conceived of them as having supernatural intelligence. Many tricks and stratagems were practiced in an effort to hoodwink and deceive the ghosts; civilized man still pins much faith on the hope that an outward manifestation of piety will in some manner deceive even an omniscient Deity.

The primitives feared sickness because they observed it was often a harbinger of death. If the tribal medicine man failed to cure an afflicted individual, the sick man was usually removed from the family hut, being taken to a smaller one or left in the open air to die alone. A house in which death had occurred was usually destroyed; if not, it was always avoided, and this fear prevented early man from building substantial dwellings. It also militated against the establishment of permanent villages and cities.

The savages sat up all night and talked when a member of the clan died; they feared they too would die if they fell asleep in the vicinity of a corpse. Contagion from the corpse substantiated the fear of the dead, and all peoples, at one time or another, have employed elaborate purification ceremonies designed to cleanse an individual after contact with the dead. The ancients believed that light must