Sunday, April 29, 2012


Though not liable to many disorders, the gypsies in Eastern Europe, from their wandering, out-of-doors life, and camping by marshes and pools where there is malaria, suffer a great deal from fevers, which in their simple system of medicine are divided into the shilale--i.e., chills or cold--and the tate shilalyi, "hotcold," or fever and ague. For the former, the following remedy is applied: Three lungs and three livers, of frogs are dried and powdered and drunk in spirits, after which the sick man or woman says

"Cuckerdya pal m're per
Cáven save miseçe!
Cuckerdya pal m're per
Den miseçeske drom odry prejiál!"

"Frogs in my belly
Devour what is bad
Frogs in my belly
Show the evil the way out!"

By "the evil" is understood evil spirits. According to the old Shamanic belief, which was the primæval religion of all mankind, every disease is caused by an evil spirit which enters the body and can only be driven out by magic. We have abundant traces of this left in our highest civilization and religion among people who gravely attribute every evil to the devil instead of the unavoidable antagonisms of nature. Nothing is more apparent in the New Testament than that all diseases were anciently regarded as coming from devils, or evil occult, spiritual influences, their negative or cure being holiness in some form. This the Jews, if they did not learn it from the Assyrians in the first place, had certainly studied deeply in Babylon, where it formed the great national cult. "It was the devil put it into my head," says the criminal; and there is not a point of this old sorcery which is not earnestly and seriously advocated by the Roman Catholic Church and the preachers of the Salvation Army. Among the American Red Indians the idea of evil spirits is carried to logical extremes. If a pen drops from our fingers, or a penny rolls from our grasp, the former of course falls on our new white dress, while the latter nine times out of ten goes directly to the nearest grating, or crack or rat-hole. I aver that it is literally true, if I ever search for a letter or paper it is almost always at the bottom of the rest, while ink-wipers and pens seem to be endowed with more than mere instinct or reason--they manifest genius in concealing themselves. The Indians having observed this have come to the conclusion that it is all the work of certain busy little mischievous goblins, in which I, to a certain extent, agree with them, holding, however, that the dwelling-place of these devilkins, is in our own brain. What are our dreams but the action of our other mind, or a second Me in my brain? Certainly it is with no will or effort, or act of mine, that I go through a diabolical torturing nightmare, or a dreadful dream, whose elaborate and subtle construction betrays very often more ingenuity than I in my waking hours possess. I have had philosophical and literary dreams, the outlines of which I have often remembered waking, which far transcended anything of the kind which I could ever hope to write. The maker of all this is not I or my will, and he is never about, or on hand, when I am self-conscious. But in the inadvertent moments of oblivion, while writing, or while performing any act, this other I, or I's, (for there may be a multitude of them for aught I know) step in and tease--even as they do in dreams. Now the distinction between this of subjective demons acting objectively, and objective or outside spirits, is really too fine to be seen even by a Darwinian-Carpenterian-Häeckelite, and therefore one need not be amazed that PIEL SABADIS or TOMAQUAH, of the Passamaquoddy tribe, or OBEAH GUMBO of New Orleans, should, with these experiences, jump at ghosts and "gobblers," is not to be wondered at; still less that they should do something to conciliate or compel these haunting terrors, or "buggs," as they were once called--whence bogeys. It is a fact that if one's ink-wipers  get into the habit of hiding all we have to do is to deliberately destroy them and get others, or at  least watch them carefully, and they will soon be cured of wandering. On the other hand, sacrifices to conciliate and please naturally occur, and the more expensive these are the better are they supposed to be. And as human beings were of old the most valuable property, they were as naturally supposed to be most acceptable to the gods, or, by the monotheists, to God. A West Indian voodoo on being reproached for human sacrifices to the serpent, and for eating the bodies slain, replied, "Do you believe that the Son of God was sacrificed to save man, and do you not eat what your priests say is His very body?" So difficult is it to draw distinctions between that which is spiritual and the mockeries which appear to be such!

The scape-goat, or sufferer, who is martyred that many may escape--or in other words, the unfortunate minority--is a natural result of sacrifice. There is a curious trace of it in Hungarian Gypsy Shamanism. On Easter Monday they make a wooden box or receptacle which is called the bìcáben, pronounced like the English gypsy word bitchapen and meaning the same, that is--a sending, a thing sent or gift. In this, at the bottom, are two sticks across, "as in a cradle," and on these are laid herbs and other fetish stuff which every one touches with the finger; then the whole is enveloped in a winding of white and red wool, and carried by the oldest person of the tribe from tent to tent; after which it is borne to the next running stream and left there, after every one has spat upon it. By doing this they think that all the diseases and disorders which would have befallen them during the coming year are conjured into the box. But woe to him who shall find the box and open it, instead of throwing it at once into the stream! All the diseases exorcised by the gypsy band will fall upon him and his in full measure.

It would be an interesting question to know how many good people there are, let us say in London, who, if they had all opportunity to work off all their colds, gouts, scarlet-fevers, tooth- head- and stomach-aches, with the consequent doctors' bills, or all suffering and expenses, on some other family by means of secret sorcery, would or would not "try it on"? It is curious to observe the resemblance of the gypsy ceremony., with its box full of mischief, and the Jewish goat; not forgetting the red wool handed down from heathen sacrifice and sorcery of old. In the Bible white wool is the symbol of purification (Isaiah i. 18). The feet of the statues of the gods were enveloped in wool--Dü laneos habent pedes--to signify that they are slow to avenge, if sure. It is altogether an interesting object, this gypsy casket, and one would like to knowwhat all the channels were through which the magic ran ere it carne to them.


No comments:

Post a Comment