Paper 87— The Ghost Cults — Page 959

be provided for a corpse; a dead body was never permitted to remain in the dark. In the twentieth century, candles are still burned in death chambers, and men still sit up with the dead. So-called civilized man has hardly yet completely eliminated the fear of dead bodies from his philosophy of life.

But despite all this fear, men still sought to trick the ghost. If the death hut was not destroyed, the corpse was removed through a hole in the wall, never by way of the door. These measures were taken to confuse the ghost, to prevent its tarrying, and to insure against its return. Mourners also returned from a funeral by a different road, lest the ghost follow. Backtracking and scores of other tactics were practiced to insure that the ghost would not return from the grave. The sexes often exchanged clothes in order to deceive the ghost. Mourning costumes were designed to disguise survivors; later on, to show respect for the dead and thus appease the ghosts.


In religion the negative program of ghost placation long preceded the positive program of spirit coercion and supplication. The first acts of human worship were phenomena of defense, not reverence. Modern man deems it wise to insure against fire; so the savage thought it the better part of wisdom to provide insurance against ghost bad luck. The effort to secure this protection constituted the techniques and rituals of the ghost cult.

It was once thought that the great desire of a ghost was to be quickly “laid” so that it might proceed undisturbed to deadland. Any error of commission or omission in the acts of the living in the ritual of laying the ghost was sure to delay its progress to ghostland. This was believed to be displeasing to the ghost, and an angered ghost was supposed to be a source of calamity, misfortune, and unhappiness.

The funeral service originated in man's effort to induce the ghost soul to depart for its future home, and the funeral sermon was originally designed to instruct the new ghost how to get there. It was the custom to provide food and clothes for the ghost's journey, these articles being placed in or near the grave. The savage believed that it required from three days to a year to “lay the ghost”—to get it away from the vicinity of the grave. The Eskimos still believe that the soul stays with the body three days.

Silence or mourning was observed after a death so that the ghost would not be attracted back home. Self-torture—wounds—was a common form of mourning. Many advanced teachers tried to stop this, but they failed. Fasting and other forms of self-denial were thought to be pleasing to the ghosts, who took pleasure in the discomfort of the living during the transition period of lurking about before their actual departure for deadland.

Long and frequent periods of mourning inactivity were one of the great obstacles to civilization's advancement. Weeks and even months of each year were literally wasted in this nonproductive and useless mourning. The fact that professional mourners were hired for funeral occasions indicates that mourning was a ritual, not an evidence of sorrow. Moderns may mourn the dead out of respect and because of bereavement, but the ancients did this because of fear.

The names of the dead were never spoken. In fact, they were often banished from the language. These names became taboo, and in this way the languages