Cesare Lombroso

Italian University professor and criminologist, who became renowned worldwide for his studies and theories in the field of characterology, or the relation between mental and physical characteristics. Highlighted the importance of the scientific study of the criminal mind, a field which became known as criminal anthropology. Studied at the universities of Padua, Vienna, and Paris, and was later (1862-1876) a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pavia and of forensic medicine and hygiene (1876), psychiatry (1896) and criminal anthropology (1906) at the University of Turin. He was also the director of a mental asylum in Pesaro, Italy.

Belief in the Spirits of the Dead among Savages and among Ancient Peoples

 - Cesare Lombroso -

          PERHAPS THE proof that appeals to me with most insistent force is the universality of the belief among all peoples (at least in the humble classes, who are frequently nearer to the fountain of truth than they seem) in the existence not only of mediums or magicians, but of spirits, and especially the souls of the dead, active, operant, - sometimes beneficently and sometimes malevolently, - fluttering around us in the atmosphere, in houses, in the rocks, and who communicate with men especially through the agency of magicians or mediums.

To prove the universality of this belief, one needs only to weigh and ponder some of the data of that most excellent and erudite work, Le Spiritisme, by Cesar De Vesme.

The Veddahs have not the faintest shadow of a religion; yet they believe in the survival of souls and offer food to the shades of the dead to ward off their wrath. The Hottentots have no idea of a future life or of gods. Their souls seem blank pages (said a missionary) in the matter of religion; but then many of them, according to Lichtenstein (Ratzel, Die menschlichen Rassen), believe that the dead leave behind them ghosts, frequently malevolent. The Tasmanians, according to Bouvich (Origin of the Tasmanians), do not admit the existence of divinities, but people with spirits the rocks of the mountains, - malevolent spirits.

According to Letourneau, when the negroes of Africa affirm that all is finished after death, they find it necessary to add, "except the terrible spectre of the phantasm."

Worship among primitive peoples, writes Alfred Molury, being reduced to the exorcism of spirits and to the adoration of the amulet, the priests teach neither morals nor pious works, but are simple sorcerers whose business it is to get into relation with the spirits so much dreaded (La Magie, cap. ii.). "Among the Fuegians, the Tasmanians, the Australians, the Hottentots, no temples or religious rites are to be seen," says Letourneau (Évolution Réligieuse, lib. iii.). "Religion consists in the belief in the existence of anthropomorphic or zoömorphic spirits that people the grottoes and the trees, and no one among primitive folk has any idea of communicating with them. Later man comes to fancy that gifts and genuflections may change the decisions of the gods, made in his image; and, since the divinities are wanderers through the air, they offer them a house of rest, which will later become the temple; and with the temple comes the priest, who either in good or in bad faith claims to possess the privilege of communicating with the spirits and of serving as a mediator between them and men."

Dr. Shepley Part, who was on the Gold Coast and was there the witness of many spiritistic and telepathic phenomena, observed, in respect to the transmission of thought by unknown means, that there are individuals in that country who succeed in it at whatever distance, just as in transferring themselves from point to point. In a night march in a forest the caravan was preceded by a luminous globe that fluttered along in the air up to the very gates of the city to which they were going. The negroes said it was the double of a spirit sent to them as a guide.

One day the doctor was informed by the natives that, an hour and a half before, the governor had entered Kumassi, a town five days' march away. He asked a chief how he knew it, and the man said he had means of communication more rapid than ours, - methods that were the monopoly of a kind of secret society. But the doctor very soon understood that their clairvoyance was attained by very simple methods and by means of continual practice. Yet there were very different degrees of it: first, simple clairvoyance; second, a projection of the consciousness to a distance; third, the same, with the power of materializing the entity projected and transporting objects, including the body itself, - the last a gift bestowed, however, on very few. The doctor saw in certain cemeteries nebulous masses which the natives claimed were the phantasms of the dead. He visited an ancient fortification built by the Portuguese in the seventeenth century, the temporary residence of the functionaries who make journeys to that region. One day, when one of these gentlemen was getting ready to go to dinner, he learned from his "boy" that a white man had come to take dinner, too. "Where in the devil is he?" said he. "He is sitting there at the table." And he pointed him out and described him and his Portuguese costume of the seventeenth century. The gentleman saw nothing; but the other negroes all affirmed that they saw it, and would not remain in the fort at night.

Du Chaillu, in his Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, says that the inhabitants of Gaboon have no clear idea of future existence, but believe that when a man dies he leaves behind him a ghostly form that survives for some time and haunts the place where the corpse was interred.

Winwood Reade (Savage Africa) notes that in the Congo the sons often kill the mother, in order that, having become a potent spirit, she may lend them assistance.

According to the Kaffirs, when a man dies he leaves behind him a sort of vaporous form resembling the shadow cast by his body when he lived (Bourchell, Travels, p. 550). In order to obtain a kind of guardian angel they select the spirit of a chief or of a friend, and invoke him when in great straits.

In Madagascar, according to a native doctor named Ramisiras (Croyances Médicales du Madagascar, 1904), "the superstition of the natives leads them to believe that the spirits of their ancestors always remain in the midst of the living, whether to lend them succor or to do them harm; hence their elaborate worship of the dead."

Indeed, Dr. Dancet knew a magician of the Bora race who invoked the souls of a captain and a lieutenant who had died in battle four years previous. Neither he nor the other natives saw anything; but they heard in the empty hut the words of command, which the natives could not imitate, and the gun-shots and cries and blows. It all lasted about twenty-five minutes.

When the Tuaregs of the Sahara, according to Duversie, set out on long expeditions, their women, in order to get news from them, go and sleep on the tombs of their dead, evoking them and obtaining from them information the truth of which is afterwards authenticated. The geographer Pomponius Mela long before had observed the same thing. The Angelis, he says, know no other god than the spirits of the dead, and consult them as oracles. In order to have responses from them they sleep upon their tombs.

Mary Kingsley, in a lecture upon "The Forms of Apparitions in Western Africa," testifies that there are few persons in that region who have not seen apparitions either of a god or of the spirits of the dead. As to the priests, they claim to be in continual relation with the spirits. Often a god will take possession of a priest and speak through his mouth, but with another voice. Probably their more sensitive nervous system permits them to see things that we more obtuse races do not see. Their mind would in that case be a more sensitive photographic plate on which the world of spirits would be more readily impressed.

The Bayaka in the vicinity of the Congo believe that after death the souls of warriors dwell in the air and appear to the living in dreams to complain of the mal-treatment or neglect of their tombs, and to ask for revenge on their slayer (Journal Anthrop. Inst., xxxvi. 1906).

The Awemba of Central Africa hold that the shades of the departed (mipashi) wander about in the groves where they were buried. Sometimes they incarnate themselves in the body of a serpent, or appear to the faithful in sleep, but more frequently are related to the living through the intermediary of a female psychic or magician. These women mediums take their names, imitate their acts, give themselves up to sacred dances, fall into ecstasies (uttering words which the physician-priest alone interprets), and give useful information to the warriors and the hunters.

The physician-priests are the mediums of dead criminals; they eat the bodies of enemies, and spread abroad homicide and madness (Journal Anthrop. Inst., xxxvi. 150, 1906).

The Australians refrain from pronouncing the name of one who has died, for fear of raising his ghost. According to Dumont D'Urville (Voyage autour du Monde, ii.), they go to the graveyards at night to communicate with the dead. See also Perron D'Arc (Aventures en Australie, p. 173). At Tahiti, in the Marianne Islands, exorcism is practised, and the natives think the shades of the dead watch continually over them. The aborigines of New Zealand believe in an intelligent and immaterial something belonging to a man slain in battle, and practise certain rites to shelter themselves from the revenge his shade would take (Spencer). Judge Manning, of Kehapaheha, tells us about a real Spiritualistic séance among the Maoris. One of their chiefs having died in battle, by request of many friends the tounga, or priest, invoked his spirit in the central public building, where all the people were gathered together in the dark. The first thing they knew they heard the words: "I salute all, I salute my family, I salute my friends. Speak to me, you of my family." A brother of his said to him, "How do you feel?" "I am well," was the reply; and, when requested to give news of the other dead, the spirit promised to impart their messages. He asked that a pig and his gun be given to the priest, to the great grief of the brother. It being known that he had written and afterwards hidden a diary of his tribe, he was asked where it was to be found. He indicated the hiding-place, and it was at once discovered there[1].

[1] The Old New Zealand for a Pakeka, 1878.

Dumont D'Urville says that the priests of the Tonga Islands seem to repeat all the phenomena which the ancients observed in their pythonesses and sibyls and which magnetism reproduces. Marner saw in Tonga individuals under the inspiration of the divinity who could truly divine the future to the sound of the drum, as among the shamans of Siberia.

Lafitte found that the American Indians believed in spirits, or genii of the dead, with whom certain privileged persons could communicate. According to Schoolcraft (Indian Tribes), the Sioux feared so much the vengeance of the spirits that homicide was unknown among them. Missionaries, in the volume entitled Lettres Édifiantes, tell of cradles transported through the air to distant points by the order of a priest. The medicine-man, or magician, during consultations shakes the wigwam in which he sits, which by jerks and blows replies to questions, just as do the white man's séance tables. The divinations take place in a cylindrical cell made of oak bark, within the dark interior of which a man may stand upright. It corresponds to the mediumistic cabinet. Scarcely has the diviner entered when a great noise begins and voices are heard, one weak, the other very loud (that of the priest). The first, or weak, voice imparts the revelation.

Judge Larrabe saw an Indian medicine-man construct three little wigwams of hides, each hardly large enough to hold a man. He placed them about two feet apart. In one he put his moccasins, in another his leggins, in the third himself. Every Indian who wished to speak with a deceased person applied to the medicine-man, and soon the tents began to be shaken and voices issued from all three even at the same time, but they could be interpreted only by the medicine-man.

According to Fitzgibbons, the last governor of Bay Islands (Gibier, Spiritisme), there are many mediums among the American Indians, and they obtain better results than do our psychics. The spirits that choose them as the channel of their communications bear Spanish-American names, or affirm that they belong to the prehistoric races the remains of whose architecture are found imbedded in the tropical forests of Central America, and whose cliff dwellings are seen on the mesas and in the canyons of the Colorado and the Rio Grande.

But more curious still is the narrative of a certain "Henry," prisoner of the Hurons during the war of 1750. In the councils of this warlike tribe the question came up, Ought they to accept a proposal made by Sir William Johnson to send their chiefs to Fort Niagara to conclude a peace? The question at stake being one of the very highest importance, they wished to consult the spirit of one of their celebrated chiefs deceased, whose name was Great Turtle. This ghostly warrior manifested himself in the magic wigwam, first by shaking it, and then by his voice. On being asked if there were many soldiers at the fort, he disappeared and then returned, saying there were very few, but that there were many of them along the river in small boats, and further said that if the chiefs went there they would be loaded down with presents. And all happened as the voice said[2].

[2] The locus classicus for the true incident in American pioneer life, here cited by Professor Lombroso, I had the hap to find after considerable search. It is Chapter XXI of a valuable and not very common little monograph published in New York in 1809, and entitled Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories, between the Years 1760 and 1776, by Alexander Henry. The incident is told very interestingly in detail: the building of the magic wigwam, the entrance of the priest, the terrible hullabaloo of noises, and finally "the still small voice" of the spirit of "the chief that never lied" (Great Turtle). - Translator (William Sloane Kennedy).

Judge Larrabe tells how once a merchant had been waiting many days for a clerk of his, when a medicine-man said he would give him news of him. So he covered his head with his blanket and said, "At sunset your friend will be here." And it was so.

The Esquimaux believe in spirits, the most potent of whom is a certain Cordarsuc, who has under him an army of inferior ghosts, many of whom are in the habit of putting themselves at the service of the magicians.

Jacolliot relates of a certain fakir that, having performed various marvels, - such as flights through the air, departures from the body and returning, - he said, in reply to the question of Jacolliot as to how he could do such things: "I have nothing to do with it; it is the spirits of your ancestors who do it. So true is it that I am going to set out and go a long way off, and the spirits alone will make you feel their power." And, in fact, when he was locked up in a room far from the palace, there occurred in the night a series of shocks (movements of tables and raps) that lasted till morning.

Now this is the thing that convinces me, - the occurrence of the same affirmation in India and in America; that in the one place as in the other the medium (or magician) is considered as the passive agent of the phenomena, while the spirit of the dead is the active operator, in spite of the fact that the very opposite would seem more natural and more in accordance with verisimilitude.

Belief in the Spirits of the Dead in Time

What we have seen as true in space, among the various peoples scattered over the surface of the globe, we might view also as occurrences in time, inasmuch as belief in the spirits of the dead has never suffered an interruption, from the earliest ages down to our day.

"I say nothing of Egypt and of its Book of the Dead," writes Brofferio (Per lo Spiritismo, Bocca, 1903, pp. 112 et seq.); "nor of India, which believes more in the other world than in this; nor of Persia, whose custom of calling forth the dead must have been imported, according to Varro (in Augus., Civitate D., vii. 35); nor of the necromancy of the Babylonians.

"But it is known that the evocation of the dead was practised by the ancient Hebrews, since Deuteronomy forbids it (xviii. 10), and Saul consulted the spirit of Samuel called up by the Witch of Endor (Josephus, Jewish Antiq., vi. 14. 2). In Greece, not merely the vulgar believed in apparitions of the dead, but the philosophers, especially the Platonists, and, first of all, the Pythagoreans. The latter went so far as to express wonder if any one said he had never seen a daimon (Apul., De Soc., C. 20, citing Aristotle). Even Democritus said that visible and audible phantasms appear to men (ειδωλα θεωρούμενα καί Φωνάς άΦιέντα Sesto, Contro Mat., ix. 19; Cic., De Nat. Deor., i. 120), making announcement of future events. The evocation of the dead was a most ancient custom in Greece. So early as the time of the composition of the Iliad, Ulysses is represented as calling up the spirits of the dead (Odyssey, xi. 23-50), - about five centuries before Simmias of Thebes, one of the characters in Plato's Phædo, evoked the shade of Lysis, the teacher of Epaminondas (Plut., De Gen. Soc.). The Eleusinian mysteries were probably, as Du Prel well says, necromantic ceremonies. It is certain that the ψυχαγωγοί (psychagogues, summoners of souls) made a practice of calling up the shades of the departed in certain temples. As early as the time of Herodotus that writer speaks (V. 92) of a νεκυομαντήιον, or oracle of the dead, near the river Acheron, to which the tyrant Periandros sent, in order to question the spirit of his deceased wife Melissa, and she gave him a rational proof of her identity which decency hinders me from mentioning. It is certain, also, that Plotinus, Porphyry, and Jamblichus assert that the Alexandrian priests and philosophers called up spirits of every kind (theurgy, goezia, - witchcraft, - and necromancy). Wallace cites a passage from Jamblichus which seems like the description of a seance of the medium Home.

"As to the Romans, the Mostellaria of Plautus proves that the vulgar believed in apparitions. Among the writers, Pliny, Suetonius, and five or six others speak of this. Both in the time of the republic and under the empire mediums sprinkled with blood practised the evocation of speaking phantasms from the abyss of Acheron, or Hades. Writers who show a knowledge of this are Cicero (Tusc., i. 37; In Vatinium, ii. 6); Horace (Sat., i. 8, 24, ss.); and Pliny (Hist. Nat., 30. 2). Lucan (Pharsal., vi. 452, ss.) describes the thing, the modus operandi. Several of the emperors were accused of it, among others Nero (Suet., Nero, 34) and Caracalla (Herodian, iv. 12. 3). There were even temples in Italy consecrated to this cult, the most celebrated of which was that of Lake Avernus at Misenum, spoken of by Virgil (Æneid, vi. 237) and Lucretius (vi. 740), and described by Maximus Tyrius (Diss., 14. 2)."

In the same way other spiritistic phenomena - such as prediction of the future, typtology, incombustibility, levitation, immediate healing, xenoglossia, or "the gift of tongues" - we find duplicated in ancient times; for instance, among the Etruscans, and at the time of the Emperor Valens (emperor of the East), who put to death a certain Asiatic medium of Antioch who had typtologically predicted who should be his successor[3].

[3] And also took occasion to execute any other magicians and necro-mancers on whom he could lay his hands. - Translator (William Sloane Kennedy).

If we come down now to the Middle Ages and to Christianity, "Who can tell me," continues Brofferio, "how many souls have come from Purgatory to torment mortal men?" And, on the other hand, referring to "blessed spirits," Benedict XIV says (De Serv. Dei Beat., iv. 1. 32. 5), "Innumera sunt apparitionum exempla, quibus sancti se eternam consecutos fuisse felicitatem ostenderunt" ("Innumerable are the instances of apparitions by which the saints have shown that they have attained to eternal happiness"). Furthermore, it will be remembered that St. Francis, St. Theresa, and St. Agnes gave proof of possessing the power of levitation.

Needless to say, many in modern times also have believed in spiritism and the apparition of phantasms, even before Swedenborg, and in our time, also, before the famous occurrences that took place in the Fox family at Hydesville, New York, in 1848, and from which modern Spiritualism dates. Kiesewetter gives us an accurate list of those who have written about it (between six and seven hundred). Wallace, in Chambers's Cyclopedia (1892), refers to the following: "The long series of disorders and noises that took place in the old hall at Woodstock in 1649; those that happened to M. Mompesson at Redworth, in1661; those of Epworth, in 1716, in the family of Wesley, father of the founder of Methodism; the ghost of Cock Lane (case examined by Dr. Samuel Johnson, Bishop Percy, and other gentlemen); the extraordinary facts in the case of M. Jobson, in Sunderland, in 1839, which were studied and published by Dr. Clanny, member of the Royal Society, and certified as authentic by sixteen witnesses, among whom five were doctors and surgeons; and many less important occurrences referred to in the works of William Howitt, Robert Dale Owen, Dr. Eugene Crowell, and others."

Wallace cites only English examples, and knows nothing of those narrated by Du Prel, Perty, Jung Stilling, and a whole phalanx of German writers of this day, whose names the reader will find in the catalogue of Siegismund.

Certain persons wished to present before Lodovico, the Moor, a youth through whose mediation the spirits became visible, looking at men face to face. John Bee, the famous mathematician and astronomer at the Court of Queen Elizabeth, held a long series of spiritistic seances with the medium Kelley, and preserved reports of them, published in that day by Casaubon (1659). Cardano and Benvenuto Cellini possessed the mediumistic faculty. The former affirmed that he had spoken with the elemental spirits; the latter admits in the second book of his autobiography that he called up malignant spirits.

Finally, in the phenomenon of the doubling of the personality; in the levitation of sorcerers and their power to act at a distance; in the diviningrod (noticed as early as the time of Paracelsus and of Agricola by those scholars, practically operated by the married couple Beausoleil in 1635, procuring the discovery of 150 mineral veins, being employed by Breton in 1690, by Parauguet in 1760, by the abbot Daramel, - who in twenty-five years revealed by its aid 10,275 springs of water, -and by Ajmar, to whom it revealed both springs and robbers), - in these things, I say, and in the epidemic convulsionaries of Louviers and of Loudun, who speak in strange tongues (Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew), predict the future and practise clairvoyance; in the phenomenon of the Camisard infants' prophesyings, and the existence of invulnerability and incombustibility among certain of the Camisard adults; in the phenomenon of the Quakers' inner light, and the convulsionary Jansenists of the cemetery of Saint-Medard, - in all these things we have representations in quasi-modern times, of the same phenomena that the spirits produce in the séance cabinets of our latest psychics.

Source: "After Death - What? Researchers in Hypnotic and Spiritualistic Phenomena" (1909).


Other articles by Cesare Lombroso

Mediums and Magicians in Savage Tribes

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