Paper 88 Fetishes, Charms, and Magic Page 971
primitive superstitions; there was progressive driving power in the olden magic. These superstitions represented the emergence of the human desire to know and to control planetary environment.
Magic gained such a strong hold upon the savage because he could not grasp the concept of natural death. The later idea of original sin helped much to weaken the grip of magic on the race in that it accounted for natural death. It was at one time not at all uncommon for ten innocent persons to be put to death because of supposed responsibility for one natural death. This is one reason why ancient peoples did not increase faster, and it is still true of some African tribes. The accused individual usually confessed guilt, even when facing death.
Magic is natural to a savage. He believes that an enemy can actually be killed by practicing sorcery on his shingled hair or fingernail trimmings. The fatality of snake bites was attributed to the magic of the sorcerer. The difficulty in combating magic arises from the fact that fear can kill. Primitive peoples so feared magic that it did actually kill, and such results were sufficient to substantiate this erroneous belief. In case of failure there was always some plausible explanation; the cure for defective magic was more magic.
5. MAGICAL CHARMS
Since anything connected with the body could become a fetish, the earliest magic had to do with hair and nails. Secrecy attendant upon body elimination grew up out of fear that an enemy might get possession of something derived from the body and employ it in detrimental magic; all excreta of the body were therefore carefully buried. Public spitting was refrained from because of the fear that saliva would be used in deleterious magic; spittle was always covered. Even food remnants, clothing, and ornaments could become instruments of magic. The savage never left any remnants of his meal on the table. And all this was done through fear that one's enemies might use these things in magical rites, not from any appreciation of the hygienic value of such practices.
Magical charms were concocted from a great variety of things: human flesh, tiger claws, crocodile teeth, poison plant seeds, snake venom, and human hair. The bones of the dead were very magical. Even the dust from footprints could be used in magic. The ancients were great believers in love charms. Blood and other forms of bodily secretions were able to insure the magic influence of love.
Images were supposed to be effective in magic. Effigies were made, and when treated ill or well, the same effects were believed to rest upon the real person. When making purchases, superstitious persons would chew a bit of hard wood in order to soften the heart of the seller.
The milk of a black cow was highly magical; so also were black cats. The staff or wand was magical, along with drums, bells, and knots. All ancient objects were magical charms. The practices of a new or higher civilization were looked upon with disfavor because of their supposedly evil magical nature. Writing, printing, and pictures were long so regarded.
Primitive man believed that names must be treated with respect, especially names of the gods. The name was regarded as an entity, an influence distinct from the physical personality; it was esteemed equally with the soul and the shadow. Names were pawned for loans; a man could not use his name until it had been redeemed by payment of the loan. Nowadays one signs his name to a note. An individual's name soon became important in magic. The savage had two