HUNDREDS of acts and practices in the life of Christian households in civilized lands pass muster before the bar of æsthetic propriety and society, and even of the church, as not only harmless and allowable, but as commendable, and conducive to kindness, good-will, and healthful social entertainment; but in the doing of these acts few are aware of the fact that some of them in their origin were heathenish and in their meaning idolatrous, and that long ago they would have brought on the doer church censure.
Norse legends and Celtic and Gaelic folk-lore abound in superstitions that were held by our forefathers in honor of false gods and demons. Their Christian descendants, to the present generations in Great Britain and the United States, delight our children with the beautifully printed fairy tale, forgetting, or not even. knowing, that once, long ago, that tale was a tale of sin. The superstitious peasant of Germany, Ireland, and other European countries, while as at least a nominal son of the church the worships God, fears the machinations of trolls and the "good little people," and wards off their dreaded influence by vocal and material charms,--a practice for--which the African Negro just emerging from heathenism is debarred church-membership. The practice is common to the three,--the untaught heathen, the ignorant peasant, and the enlightened Christian,--but its significance differs for each. To the Christian it is only a national or household tradition, without religious or moral significance, and his belief in the power of the cliarm is seldom seriously held. To the peasant the practice is also a tradition; it is not his religion, but be thinks that somehow under the divine Providence, in whom he believes and whom he worships in the church, it will be conducive to his physical well-being. But to the heathen it is a part of his religion, and leads to the exclusion of the true God, whom he does not know, or at least does not worship.
In our Christian homes, around the Christmas tree, with all its holy, happy thoughts, we decorate with the holly bush and we hang the mistletoe bough, never thinking that the December festival itself was originally a heathen feast, and that our superstitious forefathers spread the holly as a guard against evil fairies, and hung the mistletoe as part of the ceremonies of a Druid's human sacrifice.
The superstitious African Negro does precisely the same thing to-day, because be believes in witchcraft; the holly bush not growing in his tropical air, he has substituted the cayenne pepper bush. The witch or wizard whom he fears can no more pass over that pepper leaf with its red pods than the Irish fairy can dare the holly leaf with its red berries. Superstitious acts are thus rooted in us all, heathen and Christian, the world over; only with this great difference,--that to the Christian they bear no religious or even moral significance; to the heathen their entire raison d'être is that they are his religion, or rather part of his worship in the practice of his religion.
In emerging from his heathenism and abandoning his fetichism for the acceptance of Christianity, no part of the process is more difficult to the African Negro than the entire laying aside of superstitious practices, even after his assertion that they do not express his religious belief. From being a thief, he can grow up an honest man; from being a liar, he can beconie truthful; from being indolent, he can become diligent; froin being a polygamist, he can become a niouogamist; froin a status of ignorance and brutality, he can develop into educated courtesy. And yet in his secret thought, while he would not wear a fetich, he believes in its power, and dreads its influence if possibly it should be directed against himself.
Some church-members thus believing and fearing, do wear fetiches, claiming that their use is simply defensive. In their moral thought they make a distinction, which to them is clear and satisfactory in the present stage of the enlightenment of their conscience, between the defensive and the offensive use of the fetich,--the latter is a black art; the former is a white art. Only the heathen and non-Christian element of the community practise the black art. They ignore not God's existence, but deny that He plays any part in the economy of human life. They believe in evil spirits, and that they themselves can have association with them, by which they may obtain power for all purposes; they use enchantments to obtain that power; and having it, or professing to have it, they exercise it for the gratification of revenge or avarice, or in other ways to injure other persons. They become, in heart, murderers; and if occasion serve, by poison or other means, are willing to become actual murderers. The community regards them as criminals, and executes them as such when it is proved that they used black art to accomplish the death of some one who has recently died.
The Christian, of course, will practise none of the black arts, but believing in their existence and power as permitted to the Evil One under the divine government, he is willing to allow himself to use, as a counter-influence, a fetich of the white art in self-defence.
The discussion of the morality of this white art is often a difficult question in the church sessions in the discipline of some offending church-member. Few of the natives have emerged so far into the light as to stand squarely and fully with the missionary in his civilized attitude toward this question of the allowability of a fetich charm under any circumstances. Even the missionary, if he is wise and would not be unjust, will look with the leniency of charity on an offence of this kind in the case of a convert only lately come out of heathenism, which he would not or should not exercise toward a fortune-teller or hoodoo practitioner under the broad light of civilization.
In electing men as ruling elders in the church session, or accepting candidates for the gospel ministry, while a certain degree of intellectuality is desired, and a certain amount of education required, we look first and always for the quality of their moral fibre, whether or not it be untrammelled by the fetich cult.
A rare and noble example of utter freedom from any such superstitious bias was the late Rev. lbia ja Ikenge. From his youth, believing in, using, and practising fetich white art, when he became a Christian his conversion was so clear and decided that he was soon made a ruling elder, was accepted as a candidate, grew up to licensure as a probationer, subsequently reached ordination to the ministry, and finally became pastor of the Corisco church of his own Benga tribe. Honored during his ministerial life by all classes, foreigners and natives, he died regretted by all, even by the heathen whose sins he had unsparingly denounced. But there are few so morally clear as be.
A few years ago, while I was in charge of the Gabun church, in the Mpongwe tribe, at the oldest station and outwardly the most civilized part of the mission, I was surprised by a charge of witchcraft practice laid against a very lady-like woman who was one of my intimate native friends. I had known her from her childhood; had admired her intelligence, vivacity, and purity; had unfortunately helped her into a disastrous marriage from which, as her pastor, I afterwards rescued her with legal grounds for divorce; and subsequently she had married a Sierra Leone man who professed to be a Christian. It was discovered that she had hanging over the doorway in her bedroom a fetich regularly made and bought from a fetich doctor. On trial of the case, she denied that it was hers, stated that it was her husband's, admitted that she knew of its existence and use, that she allowed it to be placed in the usual spot for warding off evil spirits, and was not clear in denial of belief that it might be of some use to her in that way.
My three ruling elders looked on the case more lightly than even I was charitably disposed to do, and my own duty as a judge was obscured by my friendship for the accused. It was a great pain for me to have even to rebuke a lady I had so loved and trusted. She kept her anger wonderfully under control while in the session meeting; but she resented the rebuke, broke our friendship, and subsequently sought to injure me by slander. If there was any doubt about her complicity with the fetich, there was no doubt about the fact of her effort to injure me. I did not prosecute her (as I would have done had she slandered any one else), lest I be suspected of making-my position of session moderator an engine for personal revenge. She subsequently made a noble reparation. She still affirms that she does not believe in fetich, and remains in "good standing" in the church, while occasionally hanging a charm on. her garden fence for its "moral effect" on trespassers.
Lately a fellow missionary told me that in a conversation with certain natives, professed Christians, they admitted their fear lest their nail-clippings should be used against them by an enemy, and candidly acknowledged that when they pared their nails they threw the pieces on the thatch of the low roof of their house.
The missionary was surprised, and, perhaps with a little suspicion or perhaps as a test, turning to a man present who had remained silent during the discussion, said, "And you--what do you do with your parings?" He honestly replied, "I throw them on the roof!" And this man is an elder, and had been advanced to be a local preacher. There is no expectation of his ordination, for though he can preach a good sermon, he is lacking in all other abilities desirable in a minister. He is probably fifty years of age, and for forty years has been in mission employ of some kind, and living in the mission household much of that time. But this mission association has not been to him the benefit it would have been to almost any one else; for, being of slave origin, he seemed to prefer to keep aloof from the free-born, grew up without companionship, and is extremely secretive. Though a Christian and a good man, be bad not opened his inner life to all the ennobling influences of the light.
A difficulty, admitted by the missionary in judging of the morality of the use of a fetich charm, is the explanation offered by the natives, even by some professedly Christian, that the charm is of the nature of a "medicine," and, generally, actually has medicines in it. It is known to the native that civilized and Christian therapeutics recognize a great variety of medicinal articles, solid and liquid, and that they are employed in a variety of ways,--as lotions, ointments, and powders; and that some are drunk, some are rubbed into the skin, and some are worn on the body,--e.g., a sachet of sulphur in skin diseases, or of pungent essential oils to fend off insects,--and that certain herbs whose scent is attractive to fish are rubbed on the fisherman's hook. The missionary knows, too, that certain native medicinal plants are used, and with efficiency, in precisely these ways and with precisely these reasons as, at least in part, the ground for their use.
Truth gains nothing by an indiscriminate denunciation of all native "medicine"; for the native knows by the personal experience of himself and his observation of others that a given "medicine" has helped or cured himself and others. His belief in this case is not a mere theory; it is actual fact. The missionary loses in the native's respect, and in the native's trust in his judgment or the value of his word, if he asserts unqualifiedly that "native medicine" is "foolishness," especially if, as was the case before the desirability of medical missionaries was as generally recognized by the church as it now is, the missionary was able to give him no substitute for the magic doctor. The native Christian's sense of justice was aggrieved at being disciplined for the use of a medicine in sickness, which experience told him had been of benefit and in place of which the missionary offered him no other.
The native's error in his judgment of the case and the missionary's justification of bis position lay in the idolatrous ceremonies that are associated with the administration of the medicine. In the native's ignorant mind, and in the distress of his disease, he was unable to see a distinction between the therapeutic action of a drug and the mode of its administration. In fact, to him that mode may be as important a factor contributive to the desired result as the drug itself. In the heathen belief of the native doctor it is admittedly true that the administration, not the drug, is the important factor, both mode of administration and the drug itself deriving all their efficiency from a spirit claimed by the magician to be under his control, which is in some vague way pleased to be associated with the particular drug and those special ceremonies. The native doctor does not understand therapeutics as such. Some one of his ancestors happened to observe that a certain leaf, bark, or root exhibited internally proved efficient in cases where the symptoms indicated a certain disease which he had failed to cure by his dances, drums, auguries, and other enchantments. Not knowing the modus operandi of the drug itself, he had jumped to the conclusion that he had finally happily found the adjuvant herb necessary to please the spirit for whom he had been making enchantments, without which herb the spirit had hitherto withheld its assistance. And ever afterward the secret of this particular drug was guarded by his family, the knowledge of its tree being handed down as an heirloom, the secret kept as jealously and carefully as the recipe for the proprietary medicine of any quack in civilized lands. In his medical ethics there was no quæ prosunt omnibus.
The dividing line of morality between the fetich doctor and the Christian physician is a narrow but deep chasm. The latter knows that, with all his skill in physiology and the infallibility of his drug's indication, results lie in the hand of God, with whom are the issues of life and death, who has sovereignly and beneficently endowed certain plants or minerals with properties befitting certain pathological conditions. The former ignores God, and firmly believes that his own encbantments have subsidized the power of a spirit, so that the spirit itself is to enter into the body of the patient, and, searching through his vitals, drive out the antagonizing spirit, which is the supposed actual cause of the disease. The etiology of disease is to the native obscure. His attempts at explanation are somewhat inconsistent; the sickness is spoken of as a disease, and yet the patient is said to be sick because of the presence of an evil spirit, which being driven out by the magician's benevolent spirit the patient will recover.
The drug exhibited with the ceremonies by which the friendly spirit is induced to enter the body is entirely secondary and adjuvant, and is not supposed to be any more efficient in producing a cure than was the Old Testament incense of the Temple ritual in obtaining an answer to prayer.
But the drug is often a really valuable medicine, and does cure the patient. Yet the native Christian must be forbidden to submit to its use, because of the invariably associated heathen ceremonies. The magician alone knows from what plant the drug came, and he positively refuses to administer it unless its associated ceremonies are carefully observed. For the Christian to consent to do that, is to "kiss the calves"  of idolatrous Israel, or to partake of the "meats offered to idols." 
The manner of practising the white art by the magic doctor may be purely ritual without his making or the patient's wearing any material amulet, but the performance is none the less fetich in its character.
According to the usual procedure an article is prepared with incantations referring to spiritual influences to be wom by the applicant either as a cure for an actually existing disease or any other expected danger, or, irrespective of disease, for the attainment of a desired object or for success in some cherished plan. Its application may be as limitless as the entire range of human desire.
The first step in the process is the selection of an object in which to enclose the various articles deemed necessary to attract and please the spiritual being whose aid is to be
[1. Hosea xiii. 2.
2. Acts xv. 29.]
invoked. In this selection it is not probable that superstitious or other moral consideration enters. It is simply a matter of taste as to shape or availability or convenience. The article usually chosen is a horn of a gazelle or young antelope, or of a goat. The ground for the choice is availability; those animals are common. The horns are preserved and are therefore always at hand. They are small, light, and easily carried. They are durable, not liable to rust and decay, as would be an article of vegetable origin, and they have a convenient cavity.
The next step in the process is the selection of the substances which are to be packed into the hollow of the horn. These are of both animal and vegetable origin, but mostly vegetable. They may be very absurd to our civilized view, they may be disgusting and even filthy; but they are all ranked as "medicine," have actually some fitness to the end in view, as described in the previous chapter, and are to be as carefully regarded as are the ingredients of a physician's prescription by a druggist. Their absurdity must not militate against the view of them as "medicine," even to a civilized mind. We are not to forget that, all superstitious and fetich ideas aside, our own pharmacopoeia one hundred years ago contained animal products of supposed therapeutic value that were clumsy, annoying, and even disgusting. Indeed, it is only in very modern medicine that the profession have thought it worth while to regard the matter of agreeable look and pleasant taste. Homceopathy, even if we do not all believe in it, must be given credit for at least eliminating nauseous taste from the attributes of a good medicine, even of an emetic.
From the wide range of substances, mineral, animal, and vegetable, the magic doctor takes generally some plant. Indeed, so associated is the doctor's thought of a tree and some spirit belonging to it, that an educated and very intelligent native chief at Gabun who still clings to many heathen practices, of whom recently I asked an explanation of fetich from the native point of view, said sententiously, "A principle of fetich comes from trees." This carried to me very little meaning. I asked him to explain at length. He did so. He said that in the long ago, while still his ancestors knew of God and had not entirely forgotten to give him some kind of worship, their medicine men were botanists, and, like Solomon, "spake of trees." The herbs and barks they used were employed solely for their own intrinsically curative qualities. But as people became more degraded and "like people, like priest," the medicine men added a ritual of song, dances, incantations, and auguries by which to dignify their profession with mystery. As they grew in power, they added claims of spiritual influence, by which to impress their patients with fear and to exact obedience even from kings, until finally the idea of a spirit as the efficient agent in the cure was substituted for that of the drug itself, and fetich belief dominated all.
The reason for the choice of one tree rather than another in a given case of sickness is almost impossible to find out. Perhaps there is a vague tradition of the fact that it was used long ago by those who first happened to discover that it bad real medicinal quality, and the present generation continues to use it, though having forgotten what that quality was, or even that it had any intrinsic quality of its own, their etiology of disease assigning as the cause of all sickness the antagonistic presence of an evil spirit.
The laity, heathen and Christian, positively do not know from what particular tree the leaf or piece of bark was obtained, and they would not be able to recognize it even if they were allowed to see it. They see only the dry powder or ashes. Even if the heathen laity were able to tell me, they will not do so. Even if they were bribed, I would have no certainty that they were showing me the plant that was actually used; for they would know that I would have no means of comparing specimens or of proving their deception. The native will tell foreigners many things for friendship or for regard, and he enjoys conversation with us; but superstition slams his heart's door shut when he is asked to reveal secrets of the spirits. His prompt thought is: "White man's knowledge has given him power. There is little left of land, authority, women, or wealth in my country that he has not seized. Shall I add to his power by telling him the secrets of my spirits?" Of course the magic doctor will not tell. That would be giving himself entirely away.
Even Christian men and women who have inherited from a parent knowledge of some plant, and who use it rationally for its purely medicinal quality without any reference whatever to spiritual influences, can barely be induced to tell me of it. The fee they obtain is part of their means of living. They make honest "medicine" in the circle of their acquaintances for certain sicknesses for which their drug happens to be fitted. Of a cure for any other sickness they know nothing, and must themselves go to some one else who happens to possess the knowledge.
Even by me my native friends--though with their personal respect or affection for me they would be willing to do much--do not like to be asked. They know that I, in asking for information, expect to utilize it in letters or lectures or books. Their secret would not be safe even with me, and it may die with them. One of the noblest of my native female friends at Gabun, a Christian, well educated, with only a minimum of superstition remaining, and no belief at all in fetich, inherited from her mother much botanical and medicinal knowledge. I observe her decocting a medicine for a sick friend, and I ask her, "What medicine is that?" She turns away her usually frank eyes and simply says, "Sijavi" (leaves). "Yes, I see they are leaves. But I asked you what they are. Where do you get them?" With eyes still turned away, she only says, "Go-iga" (in the forest). "Exactly; of course it's a plant. But is it a tree or a vine or a shrub, or what?" And she looks at me steadily, and quietly says, "Mi amie" (I don't know). I have long ago learned that "mi amie," though only sometimes true, is not always a lie. It is equivalent to our conventional "Not at home, "or a polite version of, "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies." From my friend it is a kind notification that the conversation had better be changed. It having reached this acute stage, the pursuance of it would be worse than useless. I talk about something else, and immediately she resumes her wonted cordiality.
Probably the particular herb selected by the fetich-man does possess some therapeutic value (for cures are effected) of which he does not himself know. He knows that that plant was said by his ancestors to be the proper one to use in case of a certain sickness, but knowledge of the raison d'user has been lost.
The use of drugs in decoctions is less likely to be merely superstitious. The fresh leaves and barks are recognized. There is not likely to be a secret about them. Whatever of fetich is introduced in the case will be in the mode of administration.
The next step, the admixture of the ingredients, is secret. They are ground or triturated, or reduced to ashes, and only the ash or charcoal of their wood is used. Among the common ingredients are colored earths, chalk, or potter's blue clays. Beyond the usual constituents constantly employed, there are other single ones, which vary according to the end to be obtained by the user of the fetich,--for one end, as elsewhere already mentioned, some small portion of an enemy's body; for another, an ancestor's powdered brain; for another, the liver or gall-bladder of an animal; for another, a finger of a dead first-born child; for another, a certain fish; and so on for a thousand possibilities. These ingredients are compounded in secret, and with public drumming, dancing, songs to the spirit, looking into limpid water or a mirror, and sometimes with the addition of jugglers' tricks, e.g., the eating of fire.
The ingredients having been thus properly prepared, and the spirit, according to the magician's declaration, having associated itself lovingly with these mixed articles, they and it are put into the cavity of the selected horn or other hollow thing (a gourd, a nut-shell, and so forth). They are packed in firmly. A black resin is plastered over the opening. Perbaps also a twine is netted tightly on the top of it. A red paint--triturated red-wood mixed with palm or other oil--is daubed on it. While the resin is still soft, the red tail-feathers of the gray African parrot are stuck into it. This description is typical. It would be equally true if the chosen material object had no cavity, e.g., if it were a pebble or a piece of bark; in which case the sacred ingredients plastered on it would be held in situ by the twine netting. A hole is bored in the apex of the horn, and it is hung by a string from the neck, arm, waist, or ankle of the purchaser, or from his door, roof, or garden fence; or from the prow of his canoe; or from any one of a hundred other points, according to the convenience of the owner or the object to be obtained by its use.
Those objects may be, all of them, not only desirable, but commendable, even from a Christian point of view. In the exercise of the white art there is no ill-will to or malice against any other known person. The owner of the fetich amulet is only using, from his point of view, one of the known means of success in life,--somewhat as a business man in civilized lands uses his signs and tricks of trade to attract and influence customers.
It is true that our native convert, in abjuring fetich and refraining from the white art, is at a disadvantage, humanly speaking, alongside of his heathen fellow, just as the honest grocer who does not adulterate his foods is somewhat at a disadvantage with the man who does.
The heathen, armed with his fetich, feels strong. He believes in it; has faith that it will help him. He can see it and feel it. He goes on his errand inspired with confidence of success. Confidence is a large part of life's battle. If he should happen to fail, be excuses the failure by remembering that he had not obeyed all the minute "orunda" directions that the magician told him to follow. It is entirely in his power carefully to obey all directions next time; and then be cannot possibly fail! The Christian convert is weak in his faith. He would like to have something tangible. He is not sure that he will succeed on his errand. He goes at it somewhat half-hearted, and probably fails. His not very encouraging explanation is that God is trying his faith. That explanation is perhaps not the true one, but it is sufficient as his explanation. But it does not nerve him for the next effort; only the strong rise to overcoming faith. The weak ask the missionary whether they may not be allowed to carry a fetich only f or "show." That "show" is for effect on a heathen competitor; for the moral effect on that competitor's mind,--that he should not think that the convert, in becoming a Christian, was at a disadvantage as to chances of success in the race with him. But that would be allowing even the "appearance of evil."
It was actually true, in the early days of mission effort, that converts were oppressed by heathen under the idea that, as the gospel proclaimed by the missionary was a message of peace, all the "peace" was to be on the Christian's side, and that he dared not strike a blow even in self-defence. But we did not understand the angels' song of good-will as explained by the followers of George Fox, and by precept and example we allowed the use of force in the defence of right.
As to the use of fetich by those who did not really believe in it, it was true that some Europeans, non-Christian men in their trade with the natives, seeing what a power the fetich was in the native thought, and knowing that it was exercised against themselves, deemed it a matter simply of sharp praetice to adopt a fetich themselves, and play the native at his own game. To my knowledge this was done by an Englishman now dead. I was intimately acquainted with him; and though his morals were objectionable and his religion agnosticism, I enjoyed his society. He was a gentleman in manners, intelligent, well-read, interested, in common with myself, in African philology and ethnology, and his river steamers often generously helped me in my itinerations. His trade interests were large; he spoke the native language well, was practically acquainted with native customs and native mode of thought. He was a good hater and a firm friend, strict with subordinates to the point of severity, but on occasions free-handedly generous. Naturally such a character, while it made for him many friends, developed some enemies. A few hated him, most liked him, even while all feared him. To checkmate them on their own ground and to carry prestige in dealing with the heathen chiefs of wild tribes, he caused to be made for himself, and allowed it to be known in advance that he carried, a powerful fetich. The effect was very decided in increasing his power, influence, and trade success, so successful that I am not sure but that he grew himself to have some faith in it,--an illustration of the oft-noted fact in moral philosophy that non-Christian credulity often leads men's beliefs further than does Christian faith. The after history of my trader friend is a sad illustration of the wings that ill-gotten wealth develops. His fetich assisted in amassing a fortune several times over, but it did not retain it for him. He died in pitiful want.
Practice of this white art holds all over South Africa and among all its tribes. "They believe in charms, fetiches, and witchcraft. The latter is the source of great dread to a Mashona, who fears that death or accident may overtake him through the instrumentality of some fellow-being who may perchance hold against him a grudge. For the purpose of avoiding these calamities, charms are worn about the person, usually around the neck. Divining bones or blocks of wood called 'akata' are thrown by the witch-doctors to discover a witch or evil spirit, and they are also employed to ascertain the probable results of a journey, a hunt, or a battle,--in short, any and all of the events of life." 
"The tribes we have passed through seem to have one common religion, if it can be called by that name. They say there is one great spirit, who rules over all the other spirits; but they worship and sacrifice to the spirits of ancestors, so far as I can learn, and have a mass of fetich medicines and enchantments. The hunter takes one kind of charm. with
[1. Brown, On the South African Frontier, p. 113.]
him; the warrior another. For divining they have a basket filled with bones, teeth, finger-nails, claws, seeds, stones, and such articles, which are rattled by the diviner till the spirit comes and speaks to him by the movement of these things. When the spirit is reluctant to be brought up, a solemn dirge is chanted by the people. All is attention while the diviner utters a string of short sentences in different tones, which are repeated after him by the audience." '
[1. Arnot, Garenganze, p. 106.]