Chapter 21. Tabooed Things : Section 3. Sharp Weapons tabooed

Chapter 21. Tabooed Things.

Section 3. Sharp Weapons tabooed.

THERE is a priestly king to the north of Zengwih in Burma, revered by the Sotih as the highest spiritual and temporal authority, into whose house no weapon or cutting instrument may be brought. This rule may perhaps be explained by a custom observed by various peoples after a death; they refrain from the use of sharp instruments so long as the ghost of the deceased is supposed to be near, lest they should wound it. Thus among the Esquimaux of Bering Strait “during the day on which a person dies in the village no one is permitted to work, and the relatives must perform no labour during the three following days. It is especially forbidden during this period to cut with any edged instrument, such as a knife or an axe; and the use of pointed instruments, like needles or bodkins, is also forbidden. This is said to be done to avoid cutting or injuring the shade, which may be present at any time during this period, and, if accidentally injured by any of these things, it would become very angry and bring sickness or death to the people. The relatives must also be very careful at this time not to make any loud or harsh noises that may startle or anger the shade.” We have seen that in like manner after killing a white whale these Esquimaux abstain from the use of cutting or pointed instruments for four days, lest they should unwittingly cut or stab the whale’s ghost. The same taboo is sometimes observed by them when there is a sick person in the village, probably from a fear of injuring his shade which may be hovering outside of his body. After a death the Roumanians of Transylvania are careful not to leave a knife lying with the sharp edge uppermost so long as the corpse remains in the house, “or else the soul will be forced to ride on the blade.” For seven days after a death, the corpse being still in the house, the Chinese abstain from the use of knives and needles, and even of chopsticks, eating their food with their fingers. On the third, sixth, ninth, and fortieth days after the funeral the old Prussians and Lithuanians used to prepare a meal, to which, standing at the door, they invited the soul of the deceased. At these meals they sat silent round the table and used no knives and the women who served up the food were also without knives. If any morsels fell from the table they were left lying there for the lonely souls that had no living relations or friends to feed them. When the meal was over the priest took a broom and swept the souls out of the house, saying, “Dear souls, ye have eaten and drunk. Go forth, go forth.” We can now understand why no cutting instrument may be taken into the house of the Burmese pontiff. Like so many priestly kings, he is probably regarded as divine, and it is therefore right that his sacred spirit should not be exposed to the risk of being cut or wounded whenever it quits his body to hover invisible in the air or to fly on some distant mission.   1



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