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At all periods of the world's history and in every country people have believed in the "external soul" of a man appearing in animal form. For instance, in the island of Florida the natives tell the story of an alligator which used to come out of the sea and visit the village in which the man whose ghost it was had dwelt. It was known by his name and was on friendly terms with the natives, allowing children to ride on its back.
In Syria there are stories of girls being carried off by bears and giving birth to human-animal offspring. The Creeks believe the offspring to be bears which later turn into men. Japan is famous for its white bear-god and the Tartars believe that earth spirits take the form of bears.
The Gilyaks believe that if one of their race is killed by a bear, his soul transmigrates into the animal's body. Californian Indians have been heard to plead hard for the life of a she-bear. They said its wrinkled face was like the withered features of a dead grandmother whose soul had entered into the animal.
One of the Omaha clans believe they are descended from bison and the males wear their hair in imitation of the animal which is their totem.
The Ewe negroes of Togoland ascribe to the souls of buffaloes and leopards the power of killing the hunter who slew them, or of misleading him in the chase so that he confuses men with animals and gets into difficulties from being accused of murdering the former. The souls of these dangerous animals are thought to haunt and plague the hunter, perhaps by making him crazy, so that when he finds his way back into the town he loses all his property and is sold into slavery. A quaint ceremony is performed to prevent such power emanating from the dead prey.
The Baganda natives are in deadly terror of the ghosts of the buffaloes they have killed, believing that they may work harm to them.
The crocodile especially has played a large part in these beliefs about human and ghostly animals.
Natives in Simbang, in German New Guinea, are convinced that their relatives turn into crocodiles, and they recognise a certain crocodile known by the name of "Old Butong" as head of the family. They say he was born of a woman. Mary Kingsley tells a similar story in her "Travels in West Africa," describing human beings, who, disguised as alligators, swim in the creeks, attack the canoes and carry off the crew. The natives believe in the spirit of the man actually possessing the animal's body.
In New Guinea and the East Indies as well as in West Africa crocodiles are thought to be the abodes of the souls of ancestors, and the victim of this dangerous reptile is said to have incurred the vengeance of some human being who has taken the form of the animal, while those who kill crocodiles become themselves transformed after death. Spenser's "cruell craftie crocodile" was held to be sacred in Egypt, and the god Sebek was said to take its shape whenever he so desired.
The Malagasy view is that the crocodile is the ally of a magician during his lifetime, and that he can send him forth as a familiar to wreak harm upon his enemies.
The alligator is closely allied to the crocodile. Among the legends of the Arawak Indians of British Guiana is one about a half human beast of this species which received its extraordinary markings in the following manner: Arawadi, the sun-god, coming to earth saw an alligator disporting himself on the banks of a stream which he had preserved specially for fish. To get rid of the enemy he seized and smote him with a hard club upon the head and tail, but the alligator, crying out to him to stay his hand, promised in return for clemency a beauteous water-sprite to be his bride. Arawadi agreed to the proposal.
"The reptile's wounds were healed. Those blows
No more his hide assail;
But still their marks are seen, 'tis said,
Indented on his battered head
And notched along his tail!"
The domestic animals, bulls, cows, horses, asses, cats, and dogs, have been regarded at one time or another as gifted with human powers, or as suitable vehicles for the reception of human souls. The Tlaxcallans believe that man can be transformed into a dog. The wild dog, the coyote, according to the ideas of the Navajos, may be a bad man transformed at death for his sins.
Armenians sacrifice an ass at the graves of people who owe them money, their belief being that if payment is not forthcoming the ancestor's souls will enter asses' bodies.
The Corn Spirit is supposed to take the form of a cat, and in some places in Germany children have been warned not to go into the corn-fields because "The cat sits there." In Silesia the reaper who cuts the last corn is called the "Tom-cat" and is dressed up in rye-stalks, wearing a long plaited tail. Sometimes another man accompanies him called "the female cat."
The Lapps of the North Cape are said to consult a black cat when in trouble, and they regard it more as a human being than as an animal.
The cat is among the soul-animals familiar to the inhabitants of the British Islands, who, owing to this country's immunity from wild beasts, are satisfied to "humanise" the milder species of creatures such as the ant, butterfly, gull, moth, sparrow, and swan.
In the parish of Ballymoyer in Ireland butterflies are said to be the souls of grandfathers, whilst the Malagasy trace their descent from a moth, believing that a man was changed into a moth when he died. Many races believe that moths and butterflies are the souls of the dead.
In the Solomon Islands, if a native declared he intended to transmigrate into a butterfly, his children, on seeing one of these insects would cry "That is Daddy" and make some suitable offering of food. Witches have been known to have butterflies and moths as familiars.
In Cornwall ants are thought to be the souls of children who died without baptism. Hindus also associate this insect with the souls of the dead, and natives of New Guinea believe that a second death occurs after the first and that the soul is transformed into an ant.
The Athabascan Dog-Ribs believe that an ant inserted beneath the skin of the palm endows the owner of the hand with the gift of prophecy.
The Sudanese think that a wer-man has to approach an ants' nest before being transformed into a hyæna.
Besides the ant the bat is regarded as a mysterious creature, and this form was frequently assumed by Chamalcan, god of the Cakchiquels. Large bats abound in an island on the Ivory Coast in West Africa and are regarded as embodying the souls of the dead. In Tonga the same superstition holds good. Bats and birds appear so similar when flying at dusk that it is natural to find that birds also are often the form in which human spirits take wing.
The Warrar races of Guiana have a very poetical belief about the spirits of the departed. They visit the fair isle of Trinidad,
"Where souls of good men they could find,
In glittering humming-birds confined."
The Arawaks believe that vultures belong to a race which lives in a country above the sky. When at home the vultures cease to be birds and assume the shape and habits of human beings.
The Kalitas hold that when a man dies his soul is carried to spirit-land by a little bird, and if he has been an evil-doer during his lifetime, a hawk overtakes and swallows the bird.
In County Mayo swans are the souls of virgins who have been remarkable for the purity of their lives. This idea is as beautiful as the Bohemian tradition that children hop about the meadows in the form of frogs is quaint.
An old Hindu story that monkeys were originally men has a distinctly comic side to it. They contracted debts and when called upon to pay fled from their creditors by changing into monkeys and putting their tails between their legs. In this undignified position they made off at full speed into the jungle.
The stories of human souls in various animal bodies would fill a volume, and perhaps one of the most picturesque ideas of the kind is that of the Cornish fisherfolk who say they see the spirits of their drowning companions transformed into animal shapes as they pass away from this earth.