Paper 87— The Ghost Cults — Page 960

were constantly impoverished. This eventually produced a multiplication of symbolic speech and figurative expression, such as “the name or day one never mentions.”

The ancients were so anxious to get rid of a ghost that they offered it everything which might have been desired during life. Ghosts wanted wives and servants; a well-to-do savage expected that at least one slave wife would be buried alive at his death. It later became the custom for a widow to commit suicide on her husband's grave. When a child died, the mother, aunt, or grandmother was often strangled in order that an adult ghost might accompany and care for the child ghost. And those who thus gave up their lives usually did so willingly; indeed, had they lived in violation of custom, their fear of ghost wrath would have denuded life of such few pleasures as the primitives enjoyed.

It was customary to dispatch a large number of subjects to accompany a dead chief; slaves were killed when their master died that they might serve him in ghostland. The Borneans still provide a courier companion; a slave is speared to death to make the ghost journey with his deceased master. Ghosts of murdered persons were believed to be delighted to have the ghosts of their murderers as slaves; this notion motivated men to head hunting.

Ghosts supposedly enjoyed the smell of food; food offerings at funeral feasts were once universal. The primitive method of saying grace was, before eating, to throw a bit of food into the fire for the purpose of appeasing the spirits, while mumbling a magic formula.

The dead were supposed to use the ghosts of the tools and weapons that were theirs in life. To break an article was to “kill it,” thus releasing its ghost to pass on for service in ghostland. Property sacrifices were also made by burning or burying. Ancient funeral wastes were enormous. Later races made paper models and substituted drawings for real objects and persons in these death sacrifices. It was a great advance in civilization when the inheritance of kin replaced the burning and burying of property. The Iroquois Indians made many reforms in funeral waste. And this conservation of property enabled them to become the most powerful of the northern red men. Modern man is not supposed to fear ghosts, but custom is strong, and much terrestrial wealth is still consumed on funeral rituals and death ceremonies.


The advancing ghost cult made ancestor worship inevitable since it became the connecting link between common ghosts and the higher spirits, the evolving gods. The early gods were simply glorified departed humans.

Ancestor worship was originally more of a fear than a worship, but such beliefs did definitely contribute to the further spread of ghost fear and worship. Devotees of the early ancestor-ghost cults even feared to yawn lest a malignant ghost enter their bodies at such a time.

The custom of adopting children was to make sure that someone would provide offerings after death for the peace and progress of the soul. The savage lived in fear of the ghosts of his fellows and spent his spare time planning for the safe conduct of his own ghost after death.

Most tribes instituted an all-souls' feast at least once a year. The Romans had twelve ghost feasts and accompanying ceremonies each year. Half the days