THAT MEDIUMS have so preponderating a power in spiritistic matters is a fact
strengthened and buttressed by what is observed among almost all primitive
peoples and savage tribes, who believe in the powers of certain individuals, -
wizards, prophets. These are all true mediums having an influence in the
political and religious constitution of the community, individuals who act in
our realm of space as if they were living in a space of the fourth dimension,
upsetting our laws of time, space, and gravity: prophets and saints who predict
the future and transport themselves through the air; witches who pass with their
entire bodies through a keyhole and transport themselves in a flash to a
distance of thousands of miles.
 C. di Vesme, Storia dello Spiritismo.
3 vols. Torino.
It is in vain to disparage the opinions of the vulgar; for if it is true that
they do not possess the means of the learned scientist for the attainment of
truth, nor his culture and talent, they supplement this by manifold illiterate
and empirical observations, the result of which in the end is superior in many
cases to that attained by the highest scientific genius. And so the influence of
the moon and of meteors on the human mind, the inheritance of disease, and the
contagiousness of consumption were recognized by the plain people before they
were by the learned scientist. The latter received the assertion of these facts
with loud bursts of laughter, and perhaps still does so (the learned academies
do not exist for nothing!).
It is to be noted that among the Hebrews an insane man or a neurotic passed for
a prophet; and Saul, when he prophesied, stripped himself naked, as madmen did
(I Sam. xix. 24. Richard Mead, Medic. Sacra, III.). In I Samuel, also, we
see bands of false prophets running naked through the fields and elsewhere, and
we behold them committing crazy and indecent acts in public, - cutting their
hands, eating dung, going to brothels and boasting of it, and the like deeds.
In the huge work on the Scientific Exploration of Algiers, Rel. di El Ajach,
we read: "The people of Tripoli are famous for their sincerity and for the great
number of medjdub among them" (p. 100). Further on, speaking of one of
them, he says: "He was the best of the medjdub; his djedjeb (convulsion)
was powerful" (p. 130). "The word medjdubim stands in Tripoli for those
individuals who under special circumstances fall into a condition that recalls
exactly that of the convulsionaries of Saint-Medard. They are numerous in
Algiers, and are better known under the name of aicaovi or ammarim."
Among the Kosa Kaffirs the doctor, or magician, receives his diploma or
credentials (so to speak) after a mental malady, during which he believes he
sees the powers of water, earth, and sky, and horses, and is mentally disturbed
thereby. The facts are set before the chief, who according to their importance
either approves of them or refuses to nominate him for the office.
The yogis of India are regarded as possessing the most perfect holiness,
thanks to yoga, or union with God, a something attained by fixing the
gaze on the point of the nose or on the navel. The yogis have the power
of so governing the senses as not to perceive external sensations, or else of
falling into a hypnotic trance.
Amongst the Batachi, when they find a man possessed of an evil spirit, they
respect him most profoundly and look on him as an oracle. "They pointed out to
me," says a traveller, "a girl whom they called 'the daughter of the demon,'
because her father was mad. She was continually visited by evil spirits and
hence all her wishes were executed."
Modigliani observes that the Nias select for their magicians or doctors those
afflicted with some special deformity, notwithstanding the fact that they have a
supreme contempt for deformity. Above all, they choose those whom the genii (bela)
strike with madness suddenly, thus showing that they (the genii) pick them out
for their intermediaries. Then the Nias drive them out of the village to take up
their habitation in the trees. And, when their compatriots find them perched up
there, they pull them down, consign them to the chief magician, who instructs
them for fourteen days, during which they are obliged to feast the whole village
as well as their instructors. But they have their retaliation, for in their turn
they are sumptuously feasted and cared for during life, so that many feign
madness that they may obtain so rich an honor.
In Peru, besides the priests, the sacred virgins, etc., there were magicians or
prophets of a secondary order who improvised prophecies (called hecheloc)
while in the midst of convulsions and terrible contortions. They were venerated
by the people, but despised by the more cultivated class.
The Patagonians have female magicians and doctors who prophesy while affected
with convulsive fits. Men may also be elected to the priesthood; but they must
dress like women and must always have exhibited from youth up special
dispositions. Epileptics receive lawful election because they possess the divine
Among the Carajas of Brazil he who is born or becomes epileptic or neurotic, and
so is disposed by nature to nervous ailments, becomes a doctor.
Kiernan says that among the nomadic peoples of Mongolia the symptoms exhibited
by the fetichistic magicians (shaman) are so similar to epilepsy, in
furious ragings, and visions, that the two states were long confounded under the
single name of "the sacred malady." It was always believed that this was due to
some supernatural power, benign or malign; and they accordingly were in the
habit of either placating it or driving it out.
Amongst the Zulus, the Bechuanas, and the Walla-Wallas the profession of
medicine is hereditary, therefore the fathers choose certain sons, to whom they
give counsel, even (it is claimed) after death. The same is true with the
Siberian shamans. In certain Siberian tribes the medical gift or power (the
shamanic force) comes upon one suddenly, like a nervous disease. It manifests
itself in weakness and tension of the limbs, in tremors and inarticulate cries,
fevers and convulsions and epileptic attacks, until the victims fall insensible.
Afterwards they touch and swallow with impunity needles and glowing-hot pieces of
iron. They also become delirious, until, all of a sudden, they take the magic
drum and set up as shaman, or fetich doctor.
Among the Diujeric of South Australia those become doctors who from childhood up
have had visions of the Devil. They have frightful dreams, with visions of
incubi and the like.
The Kaffirs are an extremely superstitious folk. Superstition plays a great part
in the relations of their life, and forms a part of their laws, customs,
religion. Their religion consists in veneration of the spirit of the departed (amadhlosi).
They call their predicters, or diviners, isanusi, or isangoma.
They may be regarded as the priests of the Kaffirs and are the intermediaries
between the living and the dead. Their power over good and evil, like their
power over the hearts of the Kaffirs, is unbounded. The art of divination may be
exercised both by women and men, and all those who engage in this profession
form a very distinct class among the South African stocks. Europeans confound
diviners and magicians. On the contrary, diviners, or prophets, among the
Kaffirs are defined as a religious sect who act for the benefit of the people.
If one were to give to an isangoma (diviner) the title untakati
(sorcerer), it would give him very serious offence. It would be like calling a
policeman a thief in Europe. Among the Kaffirs the diviner is thought of as the
protector of the people. To him it belongs to unmask the kings and wizards and
bring them to judgment and punishment.
While the magician exercises his art for his own proper behoof, the diviner must
work for the common good by legitimate means, in the character of a servant of
the state. For this reason he has the entire confidence and respect of the
Kaffirs. Before electing a diviner, it behooves to test his skill in the
discovery of malefactors, finding lost articles, and recognizing a disease and
its cause. Mastery in such things as these is indispensable to a diviner. In
addition, he may also become an inganga (doctor) in other departments of
knowledge. There are specialists for rain, hail, thunder, the grass, and what
not. Usually the diviner is also an expert in the medical art. However, all
these specialties are not necessary; they are merely attributes of the diviner,
who ought to be able to communicate with the spirits of the departed in order to
disclose their thoughts and secure their protection. In the fulfilling of their
task, imagination and deception co-operate.
Fig. 45. The Priestess Uyitshigitshi During a Prediction
He who possesses sensitive nerves and has uneasy dreams is considered to be
skilful in holding communication with the spirits of those who have passed
beyond, and it is for this reason that women have greater aptitude for
divination. No one can of his own volition and alone declare himself a diviner.
The candidates must for some time be instructed by a wise diviner, chosen from
among the oldest of the tribe, and be nominated with the consent of the chiefs.
In the spring, with the budding of the leaves, appear the first symptoms of the
future diviners. If at this season a young man has agitated dreams, he presently
imagines that the spirits are in communication with him. He seems to hear their
voices. He goes wandering about aimlessly in solitary places, dives into deep
waters to receive communications from the spirits, and, when at night he returns
to his home, he is dark of mood, refuses food (whereas formerly he ate like a
wolf), and then falls into a state of ecstasy (see Fig. 45).
In continuation of these phenomena his parents conclude to have him examined by
a diviner. If this man finds his vocation genuine, he orders him a medicine to
strengthen his mysterious symptoms, puts a bunch of feathers on his head, and
initiates him into the secrets of the science. The candidate continues his cure
by means of medicine and rubbings. Seized with frenzy, he dashes himself against
the rocky walls of the house or throws himself into the water, exposing his life
to danger so seriously that his friends are compelled to watch him and keep him
from succumbing. He charms serpents and winds them about his body and neck.
During the different tests he grows visibly thinner, - which increases his
worth, for the natives have little faith in fat diviners. Other diviners come
into his hut; and not unfrequently it happens that they quarrel concerning their
art, charging each other with being deceivers.
After a time the novice calms down, his appetite returns, his dreams are
tranquil, and he begins practice as a finder of lost objects. Before being
publicly received, he must prove himself before the people. Various objects are
hidden in secret places, and, if he alone is unable to find them, other diviners
come to his aid. If the trial gives good results, he is declared to be a true
Among the Kaffirs consecrations never take place without plenty of meat and
beer, and the instructors of the new man, after having revealed to their
colleague the secrets of the science, for fear that he should forsake them and
return to his former life, kill in his honor the animal that suffices for a
public banquet. His friends make him presents to supply his first necessities.
In the sequel, with a good stock of cunning and self-possession, he can lead his
clients about by the nose and procure wealth. That will not be difficult for him
if he puts on a bold front and assumes a firm deportment. During his novitiate
he has already had experience of that kind. If his predictions come true, he
takes the fancy of the Kaffirs, becomes celebrated, and soon acquires a rich
clientele. If he makes an error, he needs only to say, as do the Spiritualists,
that the spirits have deceived him to-day, or else that they were in a bad humor
and would not reveal anything to him.
The confession that a certain old Kaffir woman (magician) makes is very
interesting. Her name is Paula, of Marianhill. For twelve years now she has been
a Christian, but for forty years before this she was a celebrated diviner. She
gives this curious account of herself and of her divining powers:
"When I was a young woman, after I had had my third
child, I continued ill; I was attacked by convulsions and had visions; my
appetite left me, I became as thin as a stake. My parents came to the
determination to consult a diviner. But my father, who was famous in this craft,
said, 'Bring her to me, I will make a clairvoyante of her.' My husband was at
first opposed, fearing he should have to spend too much money, but finally I was
approved by a diviner. His verdict was this: 'She is one of us.' I was taken to
the house of a woman-diviner, who, with my father, taught me how to see clearly
into mysteries. They brought me the three excellent medicines, Kindness,
Gentleness, and Conformity with the Spirits of the Departed. I drank them for
thirty days, then was thoroughly washed and rubbed with them. They placed
goatskins on my shoulders as a sign of my merit. The spirits kept communicating
more and more with me. In my dreams I saw the living and the 'dead. The spirits
of my ancestors appeared to me under the form of gray lizards, sat on my
shoulders, and encircled me. I began to make predictions of future events.
People brought me money and other things.
"After passing all the proofs, I was declared capable and conducted to my own
native town, where a great feast was held in my honor. Oxen were killed and
utschwala (the beer of the Kaffirs) was drunk. My instructors each received
two oxen as a gift. I took a young cock and rubbed and drenched it with the
medicines. I then put it on the roof of my hut, and there it remained night and
day, giving me notice by its crowing of the approach of my clients. When the
convulsions were about to attack me, I would cry, 'Help! Quick! come and help
me! The spirits are attacking me!' The people would run up and sing and dance,
stamping their feet. About seventeen years ago the magistrate of Maritzburg had
me called before him, for he had lost two horses. I said, 'Go to the waterfall
of Umgeni; you will find the two horses there tied, but the robbers have cut off
their tails and their manes.' A posse of policemen was sent to the place
indicated by me and found the horses just as I said. The thief, who was waiting
near by to run them off, was put into prison."
Fig. 46. Kaffir Priestess
For his Investigations the diviner makes use of the
bones of animals or of sticks which he throws on the ground, drawing his
conclusions from the way the sticks fall. When thrown high up into the air, if
they fall back horizontally, the question gets a negative answer. If they make
as if they would strike the client, the answer is "Yes." And, if it is a case of
a sick stomach, the sticks ought to fall on the man's belly. If, on the
contrary, they hit another part of the body, it means that the evil lies there.
The Artificial Creation of Mediums and Sorcerers
Mediums, prophets, magicians, who are masters in a
greater or less degree of nature, of time and space, have become rare in our
day, because accurate scientific instruments (especially in meteorology) and the
wisdom of scientific authorities supply them with greater certainty. But in
ancient times and among barbarous peoples they were very common. And it is a
curious thing that when they became scarce people created them artificially. by
stimulating neuropathic symptoms in certain ones predisposed to these,
instilling fears into them during infancy or even during conception, and
compelling them to long fasts.
One of their chief methods in this creation of artificial magicians is the
moulding and modifying of the whole character and life of the novice from birth
"The Aleouts," says Reclus, "when they beget
handsome boys, dress them and bring them up as women, and sell them at the age
of fifteen to some rich man, although at the same time consecrating them to the
priesthood. The first freshness of youth is scarcely over when they pass with
the greatest facility into sacred orders. In Borneo the Dyaks who become priests
assume female names and dress, marry a man and a woman, - the former to
accompany them and protect them in public. Further, the Aleout priest receives
as pupils the fittest girls, perfects them in the art of dancing, of pleasures,
and of love, and they become women magicians and priestesses" (Réclus, Les
Primitifs, p. 83).
To make priests and prophets, they subject the
neophytes to special treatment, the priests selecting them from the two sexes
indifferently. They also apply to picked married couples to manufacture them by
special treatment, - as fasting long and often, and eating certain foods and
avoiding others. Scarcely is the expected child born than they gather around it
and bathe it with urine and dung. When grown up, the novice must be left whole
days silent, alone. He then passes through a series of initiations. To
communicate with the spirits, he must at intervals absent himself for a long
time from the settlement, and should go hunting and fishing now and then alone.
The farther they go in such a regime, the more do they become alienated. They do
not know whether they are asleep or. awake, take abstractions for realities, and
create strong sympathies and violent antipathies around them. As among the yogis
and fakirs of India and the shamans of Siberia, their supreme aspiration is to
attain the rapt, trance-like state of ecstasy. They exhibit symptoms which may
be classed with epilepsy. They possess strange lucidity of mind and
hyperaesthesia, and believe in the persecution of demons who come to torment
them. During their prophetic fury they abandon themselves to strange convulsive
contortions, to unearthly howlings, foaming at the mouth, with face and eyes so
congested that for the time they lose their sight. If they get hold of knives,
they now and then wound themselves or others.
When all these initiations are passed, the selected individual becomes the
magician (either "grand hangacoc" or" ancient hangacoc"). He assembles the
members of the council, the justices of the peace, the arbitrators in public and
private affairs, the comic poet, the doctor.
In the case of the Bilculas the initiation into medicine is accomplished with
fastings and prayers; among the red Pollis, with fastings, dreams, and
withdrawal into the forest' and into solitude; among the black aborigines of
Australia, by solitary search for the spirit of a dead doctor. It is the custom
of the Indians of Gamina to have their candidate for the doctor's degree eat
leaves of a special kind and live alone in the forest until the spirit appears.
The future "medicine-men" of the Wascos, the Caiusos, and the Walla-Wallas begin
their careers as early as the eighth or tenth year. They must sleep in a wigwam
on the bare ground, where they receive the spirit under the strange form of a
buffalo-like dog, who makes important revelations to them. When the spirit fails
to appear, they must fast until it does appear. They then impart to the head
medicineman what they have heard.
Among the Xosa Kaffirs the candidate remains in solitude in his hut until there
appear to him in his dream the images of leopards, serpents, lightning-birds.
These assist him in his task. Lastly appears to him the ghost of the deceased
chief, which makes him dance and become restless.
In Sumatra the candidate must stay all day in a basket dangling aloft from the
balcony of a house, and is furnished with a minimum of food. During the day he
prays to the gods to make him invulnerable. If the basket sways to and fro, that
means that the spirit has entered the candidate. Then they prick him and make
holes in him with lance and sword, and the wounds cease to bleed and close up
when he touches them with his hand.
A special diet is prescribed to the thay-phap (prophet-doctor) of the Annamese.
He is not allowed to eat the flesh of the ass or the buffalo, but must always
eat of a plant that has heart-shaped leaves.
The gangas of Loango can drink only in certain places and at certain
hours of the day. They have their meat diet much restricted, the flesh of
certain quadrupeds being prohibited. In compensation they may enjoy a good many
Another method is to incite convulsions and delirium by rapid motions of the
head and by intoxicating substances.
The sect of the Aissaui among the Arabs of Algiers owes its origin to Mohammed
Ben Hissa in the ninth century. This man, chief of a caravan, girt about by all
the dangers that spring from the desert, -isolation, the simoom, robbers, and
hunger, - resorted to extraordinary expedients of religious fanaticism where
human power was of no avail. When famine stared the caravan in the face, he
ordered the eating of scorpions and serpents in the name of Allah; and when
these failed he taught them the djedjeb, the prayers that make hunger
dumb. The djedjeb is a violent movement imparted to the head from left to
right; the arms hang supine the while, and the bystanders keep time to the
movements of the head and body. After an hour of such exercise there ensues a
kind of fury and intoxication, which afterwards changes into a singular
But let us consider particulars of more importance. The members of the sect are
gathered in an appropriate room brilliantly lighted; the musicians begin beating
on two enormous drums two slow taps and one very rapid. Then the brethren (or
Aissaui) accompany them in a barbarous chant:
"Allah, Allah, Allah our Lord, Allah our Allah,
Ben Hissah commanded to love Allah; the serpent
Ben Hissah makes me drink his remedy," etc.
This chant, although foolish and inconclusive as are
all the songs of the idolatrous ascetics, from the point of view of a European,
yet excites a strange tremor, a boiling enthusiasm even in the veins of the most
Next, those of the faithful who were most smitten, so to speak, swept along by
the singing, fall into the djedjeb, or sacred convulsion. The chorus now
ceases, but the drums continue to accompany the contortions of the madmen, who
"The head is exalted. Ben Hissah exalts it," etc.
In proportion as the Aissaui circle about in their
furious dance the blood is seen mounting to their faces and the veins of the
neck visibly swell. The breathing is now only a kind of hiss through the tightly
compressed windpipe. Every trace of singing disappears to give place to an
inarticulate sound which is the last effort of an obstructed respiration.
At this point in the proceedings the Aissaui seizes a bar of red-hot iron and
strikes his brow and head with it, licks it with his tongue, bites it with his
teeth. Says a distinguished traveller, "I have smelled the nauseous odor of the
roasted live flesh of these fellows, and heard the crackling of their skin." So
it was no illusion. Now Djedjeb, becomes master of ceremonies. All are howling
and running about, ferociously striking each other on the arms or shoulders.
Some, on all fours, imitate the roaring of the lion and the cry of the camel.
They ask from the chief something to cat, and receive from him cactus leaves and
live scorpions, which they devour with delight.
An attaché of the French consulate at Algiers, not believing his own eyes,
promised gold to one of the sectaries if he would devour in his presence a viper
that had previously killed a cock and a hen. The Aissaui took the steps needed
to get himself into djedjeb, and, having reached the point of supreme
exaltation, ate the viper.
There are four other sects in Algiers similar to this. The tenth or fifth part
of the population of a city, and often the whole city, is admitted to their
A society as widely extended as it is fantastic and cruel exists at the present
time among the negroes of San Domingo. It is the Voudou Society. The origin of
this word is unknown. Perhaps it is from vou, a serpent, and dou,
a country. It is the name applied to the divinity, the institution, and its
devotees. At San Domingo the god is the ordinary snake; at New Orleans, the
rattlesnake. But the deity is of purely African origin, and especially of the
Congo and Juidala regions. The priest of the god, Papa Voudou, exercises
extraordinary authority over all the adherents of the sect, the same in Haiti as
in their native Congo region. At the end of the room where the Voudouists are
assembled is the chest in which lies the serpent. At one side are "papa," and
"mamma" the priestess, the latter wearing a great ragged red cloak (red being
the pure symbol of the deity). Papa, placing his foot and hand on the box,
intones a barbarous chant:
"Eh, eh, Bomba hen hen,
Canga basio te,
Canga mouni de li."
He communicates his excitement to "mamma," she to
the whole circle of bystanders, who are agitated by lateral dancing movements in
which head and shoulders seem to be dislocated. All the faithful are seized with
a feverish exaltation. The whirling dance goes on in blind fury; the negroes
become frenzied, sob, immerse their arm in boiling water, cut and slash their
flesh with knife and finger-nails, have mortars placed on their backs and
support strong men on them.
Similar things have been observed among the Ottoman dervishes. Every convent of
dervishes has its own special kind of sacred dance, or, better stated, of
epileptic convulsions. Some pray, making lateral movements with the head; others
bow the body from left to right and from in front backward. But in the case of
most of the members of convents, such as the Kufai, Cadris, Beyrami, they hold
themselves tight by the hand in a circle. They put the right foot forward,
throwing new life and energy into every step. The Kufai begin with chanting
"Allah," wag their heads from side to side, and, each putting his arms on the
shoulders of his neighbor, they turn ever more rapidly, so that they soon fall
down in the 'haloth, or ecstasy. While in this stage they submit to the
test of red-hot iron, slash themselves with sabres, etc.
Similar marvels are told in the Bible of the priests of Baal, and by Lucian, and
the monuments of Nineveh attest their truth. In India the priests of Siva and of
Durga repeat the same kind of convulsive movements, followed by similar
self-inflicted sufferings and (I would add) lascivious acts.
The same things are noted still among the santons of Egypt. One of the most
curious ceremonies is that practised by the howling dervishes in Egypt, and
called the zikr. It is performed by uttering the word "Allah," at the
same time continually wagging the head. Shaken and weakened by such motions,
their bodies fall to the floor, their faces congested, mouths foaming like
epileptics; and during these frenzies, like the convulsionaries of Saint-Medard,
they mutilate and burn their flesh.
The coexistence of so extraordinary a custom among race-stocks so diverse and
distant as the Semitic, Caucasian, and Hamitic, points to a source more profound
and physiological than religion, which, springing from the sentiment of the
people, is modelled upon them rather than modelled by them, and hence is not
On the contrary, we must place among the most characteristic tendencies of the
human race the need of those artificial stimuli of the brain which we call
intoxicants, and which increase in number and refinement with the growth of
evolution. The strangest substances, as we shall see, have been employed by man
for this purpose, - wine, alcohol, manioc, the kola nut, soma, ghee, bitra,
opium, and even acetic lactic acid (tartar), and injection through the nostrils
of the niope of Kamtchatka.
Peoples whose special life-conditions and training (for instance, negroes and
the Aissaui), or whose laws (the Mohammedans) do not permit the use of alcoholic
drinks or similar substances, find substitutes in the lateral movement of the
head, - the most primitive method of intoxication that is known or possible. It
is an actual fact that the lateral movement of the body and the head produces
cerebral congestion. Any one who will make the experiment for a few minutes will
be more than sure of it. The Annals of Medicine (1858), for example,
contain registered cases of apoplexy and cerebral vertigo due to movements of
Once it was discovered that intoxication and convulsions could be brought on by
these methods (conditions so anomalous that primitive folk were unable to
explain them as other than avatars of the gods, as a new and sacred secondary
personality), they thereupon proceeded to make use of said methods to get into
communication with the divinities in the same way that they made use of true
epileptics and of madmen, and, later, of intoxicated persons.
More frequently, indeed, they resorted to inebriating substances. The priests of
ancient times, who were the first to note the action of fermented beverages on
the mind, at first reserved them for themselves, declaring them sacred, just as,
for the same reason, they declared epilepsy sacred.
The legend runs that life arose from a drop of divine blood that fell to the
earth, - the meth, or mead, drink of the Norse Sagas; from the blood of Quasio,
the wisest of the gods. Osiris and Lyaeus, or Dionysus, were gods, discoverers
of the vine and originators of civilization. Bacchus is the savior deity, the
magician god, the physician god, a trace of whose great power still exists in
the Italian oaths, "Blood of Bacchus!" "Body of Bacchus!" The Egyptians (see
Rode) allowed wine only to their priests. Wine appears as a sacred liquor in
their liturgies, libations, ablutions.
The Hindu priest is called a drinker of soma. To the fermented juice of the
asclepias plant (i.e., the soma) he attributed poetic inspiration, the courage
of heroes, and the power of man to immortalize his life (namely, by drinking
also the amrita, which is the same word as the ambrosia of the
gods, - Greek am-brotos, Latin immortalis; or, as was later said,
The Rig Veda, viii. 48, says: "We have drunk the soma; we became immortal; we
entered into the light."
In one of the yasma of Zoroaster's writings the juice of haoma
(the same as soma) "defers death."
The soma itself becomes a god, to be comforted or placated with fire. "Soma,
thou who createst the Rishis, who bestowest blessings, who dost immortalize men
and gods" (Rig Veda).
The soma drink was permitted only to the Brahmins, just as in Peru the coca was
allowed only to the descendants of the Incas, and, among the Chibchas, to the
priests, who made use of it as a means of authenticating their power. Let it be
noted that the soma is called in Sanskrit madhu, which in Zendic
signifies "wine," a fact which links the Norse meth, the Lithuanian
madus, and the Sanskrit mad to the Italian matto (insane).
Note, too, that the Bacchic delirium is a prophetic power, the peculiar
possession of the god, and that Æsculapius, the god of healing, is the son of
It would seem as if those who first noticed the beneficent and maleficent
effects of wine created the legend of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil. We may suppose this tree was the apple-tree, from the fruit of which the
first fermented liquors were made.
The Assyrians had a sacred tree, the tree or plant of life. This was at first
the asclepias, then the palm, from which latter a fermented liquor is made
Among the Egyptians it was the ficus religiosus, the fermented juice of
which rendered the soul immortal.
Others, to bring on the divine madness, resorted to hypnosis, to ecstasy, to the
fumes of poisonous gases.
The oracles of Delphi, Delos, Abae, Tegyra, etc., in Greece, were in the hands
of the priests. It was their device to have one, two, or even three women, under
the influence of hysteria, deliver the prophetic oracles, after they had been
intoxicated by the fumes of the laurel or emanations of other gases. The Pythian
priestess essentially prepared herself by ablutions, by fumigations of laurel,
and by burnt barley. She sat on a basin placed on a tripod, which itself stood
directly over a crevice in the rock. From out this crevice rose the fumes of
intoxicating and poisonous gases (hydroerburic and hydrosulphuric, Giacosa
writes me) which enveloped the entire lower part of her body (Strabo, ix. 419)
until she fell into the state of ecstasy or trance, sometimes eventuating in
She often spoke in verse or raved in disconnected nonsensical sentences, to
which the priests gave appropriate meaning and even a rhythmic form, attaching
to themselves for that purpose special poets. " In a dark and narrow recess of a
cliff at Delphi," writes Justinian, "there was a little open glade, and in this
a hole, or cleft, in the earth, out of which blew a strong draft of air,
straight up and out as if impelled by a wind, and which filled the minds of
poets with madness," - "mentes vatum in vecordiam vertit" (Id.
xxiv. 6; Cicero, De Divin., i. 3). At first the property of the gas was
unknown. But certain shepherds were in the habit of feeding their flocks there,
and one day a she-goat fell into the cleft and was immediately taken with
convulsions. Now, undoubtedly, the superstition which (as in the case of
djedjeb also) saw an intimate relation between convulsions and the divine
inspiration, thereby consecrating epileptics as sacred beings, gave rise to the
idea of employing these intoxicating vapors at Delphi for producing prophecy. In
fact, they were at first associated with Bacchic intoxication. Some Pythian
priestesses were Thuiadi, or Bacchantes, devotees of Dionysus (or Bacchus), and
Dionysus, according to legend, dwelt a long time at Delphi.
Wherever gas escaped from the earth there were these oracles inspired by the
intoxicating fumes, - for instance, at Lake Avernus, Heraclea, and Phigaleia,
places which, believing themselves on this account in communication with Hades,
claimed to be places for the evocation of the dead, and (what is more simple)
for the inebriation, or intoxication, of the living, who thus became
interpreters of the dead, or necromancers.
Thus the pathological, epilepsoid origin of the medium is attested by the
universal consensus of all ancient and barbarous peoples, - a consensus carried
to the point of adoration of epilepsy and to the artificial creation of
epileptics in order thereby to secure a prophet, who is the genius of primitive
Source: "After Death - What? Researchers in Hypnotic
and Spiritualistic Phenomena"