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Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, [1919], at

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Although the pouring of libations and the burning of incense played so prominent a part in the ritual of animating the statue or the mummy, the most important incident in the ceremony was the "opening of the mouth," which was regarded as giving it the breath of life.

Elsewhere 1 I have suggested that the conception of the heart and blood as the vehicles of life, feeling, volition, and knowledge may have been extremely ancient. It is not known when or under what circumstances the idea of the breath being the "life" was first entertained. The fact that in certain primitive systems of philosophy the breath was supposed to have something to do with the heart suggests that these beliefs may be a constituent element of the ancient heart-theory. In some of the rock-pictures in America, Australia, and elsewhere the air-passages are represented leading to the heart. But there can be little doubt that the practice of mummification gave greater definiteness to the ideas regarding the "heart" and "breath," which eventually led to a differentiation between their supposed functions. 2 As the heart and the blood were obviously present in the dead body they could no longer be regarded as the "life". The breath was clearly the "element" the lack of which rendered the body inanimate. It was therefore regarded as necessary to set the heart working. The heart then came to be looked upon as the seat of knowledge, the organ that feels and wills during waking life. All the pulsating motions of the body seem to have been regarded, like the act of respiration, as expressions of the vital principle or "life," which Dutch ethnological writers refer to as "soul substance". The neighbourhood of certain joints where the pulse can be felt most readily, and the top of the head, where pulsation can be felt in the infant's fontanelle, were therefore regarded by some Asiatic peoples as the places where the substance of life could leave or enter the body.

It is possible that in ancient times this belief was more widespread

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than it is now. It affords an explanation of the motive for trephining the skull among ancient peoples, to afford a more ready passage for the "vital essence" to and from the skull.

In his lecture on "The Socratic Doctrine of the Soul," 1 Professor John Burnet has expounded the meaning of early Greek conceptions of the soul with rare insight and lucidity. Originally, the word ψυχή meant "breath," but, by historical times, it had already been specialized in two distinct ways. It had come to mean courage in the first place, and secondly the breath of life, the presence or absence of which is the most obvious distinction between the animate and the inanimate, the "ghost" which a man "gives up" at death. But it may also quit the body temporarily, which explains the phenomenon of swooning (λιποψυχία). It seemed natural to suppose it was also the thing that can roam at large when the body is asleep, and even appear to another sleeping person in his dream. Moreover, since we can dream of the dead, what then appears to us must be just what leaves the body at the moment of death. These considerations explain the world-wide belief in the "soul" as a sort of double of the real bodily man, the Egyptian ka2 the Italian genius, and the Greek ψυχή.

Now this double is not identical with whatever it is in us that feels and wills during our waking life. That is generally supposed to be blood and not breath.

What we feel and perceive have their seat in the heart: they belong to the body and perish with it.


It is only when the shades have been allowed to drink blood that consciousness returns to them for a while.

At one time the ψυχή was supposed to dwell with the body in the grave, where it had to be supported by the offerings of the survivors, especially by libations (χοαί).

An Egyptian psychologist has carried the story back long before the times of which Professor Burnet writes. He has explained "his conception of the functions of the 'heart (mind) and tongue'. 'When

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the eyes see, the ears hear, and the nose breathes, they transmit to the heart. It is he (the heart) who brings forth every issue and it is the tongue which repeats the thought of the heart.'" 1

"There came the saying that Atum, who created the gods, stated concerning Ptah-Tatenen: 'He is the fashioner of the gods. … He made likenesses of their bodies to the satisfaction of their hearts. Then the gods entered into their bodies of every wood and every stone and every metal.'" 2

That these ideas are really ancient is shown by the fact that in the Pyramid Texts Isis is represented conveying the breath of life to Osiris by "causing a wind with her wings." 3 The ceremony of opening the mouth" which aimed at achieving this restoration of the breath of life was the principal part of the ritual procedure before the statue or mummy. As I have already mentioned (p. 25), the sculptor who modelled the portrait statue was called "he who causes to live," and the word "to fashion" a statue is identical with that which means "to give birth". The god Ptah created man by modelling his form in clay. Similarly the life-giving sculptor made the portrait which was to be the means of securing a perpetuation of existence, when it was animated by the "opening of the mouth," by libations and incense.

As the outcome of this process of rationalization in Egypt a vast crop of creation-legends came into existence, which have persisted with remarkable completeness until the present day in India, Indonesia, China, America, and elsewhere. A statue of stone, wood, or clay is fashioned, and the ceremony of animation is performed to convey to it the breath of life, which in many places is supposed to be brought down from the sky. 4

In the Egyptian beliefs, as well as in most of the world-wide legends that were derived from them, the idea assumed a definite form that the vital principle (often referred to as the "soul," "soul-substance," or "double") could exist apart from the body. Whatever

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the explanation, it is clear that the possibility of the existence of the vital principle apart from the body was entertained. It was supposed that it could return to the body and temporarily reanimate it. It could enter into and dwell within the stone representation of the deceased. Sometimes this so-called "soul" was identified 1 with the breath of life, which could enter into the statue as the result of the ceremony of "opening the mouth".

It has been commonly assumed by Sir Edward Tylor and those who accept his theory of animism that the idea of the "soul" was based upon the attempts to interpret the phenomena of dreams and shadows, to which Burnet has referred in the passage quoted above. The fact that when a person is sleeping he may dream of seeing absent people and of having a variety of adventures is explained by many peoples by the hypothesis that these are real experiences which befell the "soul" when it wandered abroad during its owner's sleep. A man's shadow or his reflection in water or a mirror has been interpreted as his double. But what these speculations leave out of account is the fact that these dream- and shadow-phenomena were probably merely the predisposing circumstances which helped in the development of (or the corroborative details which were added to and, by rationalization, incorporated in) the "soul-theory," which other circumstances were responsible for creating. 2

I have already called attention (p. 5) to the fact that in many of the psychological speculations in ethnology too little account is taken of the enormous complexity of the factors which determine even the simplest and apparently most obvious and rational actions of men. I must again remind the reader that a vast multitude of influences, many of them of a subconscious and emotional nature, affect men's decisions and opinions. But once some definite state of feeling inclines a man to a certain conclusion, he will call up a host of other circumstances to buttress his decision, and weave them into a complex net of rationalization. Some such process undoubtedly took place in the development of "animism"; and though it is not possible yet to

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reconstruct the whole history of the growth of the idea, there can be no question that these early strivings after an understanding of the nature of life and death, and the attempts to put the theories into practice to reanimate the dead, provided the foundations upon which has been built up during the last fifty centuries a vast and complex theory of the soul. In the creation of this edifice the thoughts and the aspirations of countless millions of peoples have played a part: but the foundation was laid down when the Egyptian king or priest claimed that he could restore to the dead the "breath of life" and, by means of the wand which he called "the great magician," 1 could enable the dead to be born again. The wand is supposed by some scholars 2 to be a conventionalized representation of the uterus, so that its power of giving birth is expressed with literal directness. Such beliefs and stories of the "magic wand" are found to-day in scattered localities from the Scottish Highlands to Indonesia and America.

In this sketch I have referred merely to one or two aspects of a conception of vast complexity. But it must be remembered that, once the mind of man began to play with the idea of a vital essence capable of existing apart from the body and to identify it with the breath of life, an illimitable field was opened up for speculation. The vital principle could manifest itself in all the varied expressions of human personality, as well as in all the physiological indications of life. Experience of dreams led men to believe that the "soul" could also leave the body temporarily and enjoy varied experiences. But the concrete-minded Egyptian demanded some physical evidence to buttress these intangible ideas of the wandering abroad of his vital essence. He made a statue for it to dwell in after his death, because he was not able to make an adequately life-like reproduction of the dead man's features upon the mummy itself or its wrappings. Then he gradually persuaded himself that the life-substance could exist apart from the body as a "double" or "twin" which animated the statue.

Searching for material evidence to support his faith primitive man not unnaturally turned to the contemplation of the circumstances of his birth. All his beliefs concerning the nature of life can ultimately be referred back to the story of his own origin, his birth or creation.

When an infant is born it is accompanied by the after-birth or

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placenta to which it is linked by the umbilical cord. The full comprehension of the significance of these structures is an achievement of modern science. To primitive man they were an incomprehensible marvel. But once he began to play with the idea that he had a double, a vital essence in his own shape which could leave the sleeping body and lead a separate existence, the placenta obviously provided tangible evidence of its reality. The considerations set forth by Blackman, 1 supplementing those of Moret, Murray and Seligman, and others, have been claimed as linking the placenta with the ka.

Much controversy has waged around the interpretation of the Egyptian word ka, especially during recent years. An excellent summary of the arguments brought forward by the various disputants up to 1912 will be found in Moret's "Mystères Égyptiens". Since then more or less contradictory views have been put forward by Alan Gardiner, Breasted, and Blackman. It is not my intention to intervene in a dispute as to the meaning of certain phrases in ancient literature; but there are certain aspects of the problems at issue which are so intimately related to my main theme as to make some reference to them unavoidable.

The development of the custom of making statues of the dead necessarily raised for solution the problem of explaining the deceased's two bodies, his actual mummy and his portrait statue. During life on earth his vital principle dwelt in the former, except on those occasions when the man was asleep. His actual body also gave expression to all the varied attributes of his personality. But after death the statue became the dwelling place of these manifestations of the spirit of vitality.

Whether or not the conception arose out of the necessities unavoidably created by the making of statues, it seems clear that this custom must have given more concrete shape to the belief that all of those elements of the dead man's individuality which left his body at the time of death could shift as a shadowy double into his statue.

At the birth of a king he is accompanied by a comrade or twin exactly reproducing all his features. This double or ka is intimately associated throughout life and in the life to come with the king's welfare.

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[paragraph continues] In fact Breasted claims that the ka "was a kind of superior genius intended to guide the fortunes of the individual in the hereafter" … there "he had his abode and awaited the coming of his earthly companion". 1 At death the deceased "goes to his ka, to the sky". The ka controls and protects the deceased: he brings him food which they eat together.

It is important clearly to keep in mind the different factors involved in the conception of the ka:

(a) The statue of the deceased is animated by restoring to it the breath of life and all the other vital attributes of which the early Egyptian physiologist took cognisance.

(b) At the time of birth there came into being along with the child a "twin" whose destinies were closely linked with the child's.

(c) As the result of animating the statue the deceased also has restored to him his character, "the sum of his attributes," his individuality, later raised to the position of a protecting genius or god, a Providence who watches over his well-being. 2

The ka is not simply identical with the breath of life or animus, as Burnet supposes (op. cit. supra), but has a wider significance. The adoption of the conception of the ka as a sort of guardian angel which finds its appropriate habitation in a statue that has been animated does not necessarily conflict with the view so concretely and unmistakably represented in the tomb-pictures that the ka is also a double who is born along with the individual.

This material conception of the ka as a double who is born with and closely linked to the individual is, as Blackman has emphasized, 3 very suggestive of Baganda beliefs and rites connected with the placenta. At death the circumstances of the act of birth are reconstituted, and for this rebirth the placenta which played an essential part in the original process is restored to the deceased. May not the original meaning of the expression "he goes to his ka" be a literal description of this reunion with his placenta? The identification of the ka with the moon, the guardian of the dead man's welfare, may have enriched the symbolism.

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Blackman makes the suggestion that "on the analogy of the beliefs entertained by the Hamitic ruling caste in Uganda," according to Roscoe, "the placenta, 1 or rather its ghost, would have been supposed by the Ancient Egyptians to be closely connected with the individual's personality, as "he maintains was also the case with the god or protecting genius of the Babylonians. 2 "Unless united with his twin's [i.e. his placenta's] ghost the dead king was an imperfect deity, i.e. his directing intelligence was impaired or lacking," presumably because the placenta was composed of blood, which was regarded as the material of consciousness and intelligence.

In China, as the quotations from de Groot (see footnote) show, the placenta when placed under felicitous circumstances is able to ensure the child a long life and to control his mental and physical welfare.

In view of the claims put forward by Blackman to associate the placenta with the ka, it is of interest to note Moret's suggestion concerning the fourteen forms of the ka, to which von Bissing assigns

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the general significance "nourishment or offerings". He puts the question whether they do not "personify the elements of material and intellectual prosperity, all that is necessary for the health of body and spirit" (op. cit. p. 209).

The placenta is credited with all the varieties of life-giving potency that are attributed to the Mother-Goddess. It therefore controls the welfare of the individual and, like all maternal amulets (vide supra), ensures his good fortune. But, probably by virtue of its supposed derivation from and intimate association with blood, it also ministered to his mental welfare.

In my last Rylands Lecture I referred to the probability that the essential elements of Chinese civilization were derived from the West. I had hoped that, before the present statement went to the printer, would have found time to set forth in detail the evidence in substantiation of the reality of that diffusion of culture.

Briefly the chain of proof is composed of the following links: (a) the intimate cultural contact between Egypt, Southern Arabia, Sumer, and Elam from a period at least as early as the First Egyptian Dynasty; (b) the diffusion of Sumerian and Elamite culture in very early times at least as far north as Russian Turkestan and as far east as Baluchistan; (e) at some later period the quest of gold, copper, turquoise, and jade led the Babylonians (and their neighbours) as far north as the Altai and as far east as Khotan and the Tarim Valley, where their pathways were blazed with the distinctive methods of cultivation and irrigation; (d) at some subsequent period there was an easterly diffusion of culture from Turkestan into the Shensi Province of China proper; and (e) at least as early as the seventh century B.C. there was also a spread of Western culture to China by sea. 1

I have already referred to some of the distinctively Egyptian traits in Chinese beliefs concerning the dead. Mingled with them are other equally definitely Babylonian ideas concerning the liver.

It must be apparent that in the course of the spread of a complex system of religious beliefs to so great a distance, only certain of their features would survive the journey. Handed on from people to people, each of whom would unavoidably transform them to some

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extent, the tenets of the Western beliefs would become shorn of many of their details and have many excrescences added to them before the Chinese received them. In the crucible of the local philosophy they would be assimilated with Chinese ideas until the resulting compound assumed a Chinese appearance. When these inevitable circumstances are recalled the value of any positive evidence of Western influence is of special significance.

According to the ancient Chinese, man has two souls, the kwei and the shen. The former, which according to de Groot is definitely the more ancient of the two (p. 8), is the material, substantial soul, which emanates from the terrestrial part of the universe, and is formed of yin substance. In living man it operates under the name of p‘oh, and on his death it returns to the earth and abides with the deceased in his grave.

The shen or immaterial soul emanates from the ethereal celestial part of the cosmos and consists of yang substance. When operating actively in the living human body, it is called khi or "breath," and hwun; when separated from it after death it lives forth as a refulgent spirit, styled ming1

But the shen also, in spite of its sky-affinities, hovers about the grave and may dwell in the inscribed grave-stone (p. 6). There may be a multitude of shen in one body and many "soul-tablets" may be provided for them (p. 74).

Just as in Egypt the ka is said to "symbolize the force of life which resides in nourishment" (Moret, p. 212), so the Chinese refer to the ethereal part of the food as its khi, i.e. the "breath" of its shen.

The careful study of the mass of detailed evidence so lucidly set forth by de Groot in his great monograph reveals the fact that, in spite of many superficial differences and apparent contradictions, the early Chinese conceptions of the soul and its functions are essentially identical with the Egyptian, and must have been derived from the same source.

From the quotations which I have already given in the foregoing pages, it appears that the Chinese entertain views regarding the functions of the placenta which are identical with those of the Baganda, and a conception of the souls of man which presents unmistakable analogies with Egyptian beliefs. Yet these Chinese references do

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not shed any clearer light than Egyptian literature does upon the problem of the possible relationship between the ka and the placenta.

In the Iranian domain, however, right on the overland route from the Persian Gulf to China, there seems to be a ray of light. According to the late Professor Moulton, "The later Parsi books tell us that the Fravashi is a part of a good man's identity, living in heaven and reuniting with the soul at death. It is not exactly a guardian angel, for it shares in the development or deterioration of the rest of the man." 1

In fact the Fravashi is not unlike the Egyptian ka on the one side and the Chinese shen on the other. "They are the Manes, 'the good folk'" (p. 144): they are connected with the stars in their capacity as spirits of the dead (p. 143), and they "showed their paths to the sun, the moon, the sun, and the endless lights," just as the kas guide the dead in the hereafter.

The Fravashis play a part in the annual All Soul's feast (p. 144), for which Breasted has provided an almost exact parallel in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom: 2 All the circumstances of the two ceremonies are essentially identical.

Now Professor Moulton suggests that the word Fravashi may be derived from the Avestan root var, "to impregnate," and fravaši mean "birth-promotion" (p. 142). As he associates this with childbirth the possibility suggests itself whether the "birth-promoter" may not be simply the placenta.

Loret (quoted by Moret, p. 202), however, derives the word ka from a root signifying "to beget," so that the Fravashi may be nothing more than the Iranian homologue of the Egyptian ka.

The connecting link between the Iranian and Egyptian conceptions may be the Sumerian instances given to Blackman 3 by Dr. Langdon.

The whole idea seems to have originated out of the belief that the sum of the individual attributes or vital expressions of a man's personality could exist apart from the physical body. The contemplation of the phenomena of sleep and death provided the evidence in corroboration of this.

At birth the newcomer carne into the world physically connected with the placenta, which was accredited with the attributes of the life-giving and birth-promoting Great Mother and intimately related

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to the moon and the earliest totem. It was obviously, also, closely concerned in the nutrition of the embryo, for was it not the stalk upon which the latter was growing like some fruit on its stem? It was a not unnatural inference to suppose that, as the elements of the personality were not indissolubly connected with the body, they were brought into existence at the time of birth and that the placenta was their vehicle.

The Egyptians' own terms of reference to the sculptor of a statue show that the ideas of birth were uppermost in their minds when the custom of statue-making was first devised. Moret has brought together (op. cit. supra) a good deal of evidence to suggest the far-reaching significance of the conception of ritual rebirth in early Egyptian religious ceremonial. With these ideas in his mind the Egyptian would naturally attach great importance to the placenta in any attempt to reconstruct the act of rebirth, which would be regarded in a literal sense. The placenta which played an essential part in the original act would have an equally important rôle in the ritual of rebirth. [For a further comment upon the problem discussed in the preceding ten pages, see Appendix A, p. 73]


41:1 "Primitive Man," Proceedings of the British Academy, 1917, p. 41.

It is important to remember that the real meaning of respiration was quite unknown until modern science revealed the part played by oxygen.

41:2 The enormous complexity and intricacy of the interrelation between the functions of the "heart," and the "breath" is revealed in Chinese philosophy (see de t root, op. cit. Chapter vii. inter alia).

42:1 Second Annual Philosophical Lecture, Henriette Hertz Trust, Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. VII, 26 Jan., 1916.

42:2 The Egyptian ka, however, was a more complex entity than this comparison suggests.

43:1 Breasted, op. cit. pp. 44 and 45.

43:2 Op. cit. pp. 45 and 46.

43:3 Ibid. p. 28.

43:4 W. J. Perry has collected the evidence preserved in a remarkable series of Indonesian legends in his recent book, "The Megalithic Culture of Indonesia". But the fullest exposition of the whole subject is provided in the Chinese literature summarized by de Groot (op. cit.).

44:1 See, however, the reservations in the subsequent pages.

44:2 The thorough analysis of the beliefs of any people makes this abundantly clear. De Groot's monograph is an admirable illustration of this (op. cit. Chapter vii.). Both in Egypt and China the conceptions of the significance of the shadow are later and altogether subsidiary.

45:1 Alan H. Gardiner, Davies and Gardiner, op. cit. p. 59.

45:2 F. Ll. Griffith, "A Collection of Hieroglyphs," 1898, p. 60.

46:1 Aylward M. Blackman, "Some Remarks on an Emblem upon the Head of an Ancient Egyptian Birth-Goddess," Journal of Egyptian Archæology, Vol. III, Part III, July, 1916, p. 199; and "The Pharaoh's Placenta and the Moon-God Khons," ibid. Part IV, Oct., 1916, p. 235.

47:1 "Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt," p. 52. Breasted denies that the ka was an element of the personality.

47:2 For an abstruse discussion of this problem see Alan H. Gardiner, "Personification (Egyptian)," Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, pp. 790 and 792.

47:3 Op. cit. supra.

48:1 Mr. Blackman is puzzled to explain what "possible connexion there could be between the Pharaoh's placenta and the moon beyond the fact that it is the custom in Uganda to expose the king's placenta each new moon and anoint it with butter.

To those readers who follow my argument in the later pages of this discussion the reasoning at the back of this association should be plain enough. The moon was regarded as the controller of menstruation. The placenta (and also the child) was considered to be formed of menstrual blood. The welfare of the placenta was therefore considered to be under the control of the moon.

The anointing with butter is an interesting illustration of the close connexion of these lunar and maternal phenomena with the cow.

The placenta was associated with the moon also in China, as the fol. lowing quotation shows.

According to de Groot (op. cit. p. 396), "in the Siao ’rh fang or Medicament for Babies, by the hand of Ts‘ui Hing-kung [died 674 A.D.], it is said: 'The placenta should be stored away in a felicitous spot under the salutary influences of the sky or the moon … in order that the child may be ensured a long life'". He then goes on to explain how any interference with the placenta will entail mental or physical trouble to the child.

The placenta also is used as the ingredient of pills to increase fertility, facilitate parturition, to bring back life to people on the brink of death and it is the main ingredient "in medicines for lunacy, convulsions, epilepsy, etc." (p. 397). "It gives rest to the heart, nourishes the blood, increases the breath, and strengthens the tsing" (p. 396).

These attributes of the placenta indicate that the beliefs of the Baganda are not merely local eccentricities, but widespread and sharply defined interpretations of the natural phenomena of birth.

48:2 Op. cit. p. 241.

49:1 See "The Origin of Early Siberian Civilization," now being published in the Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society.

50:1 De Groot, p. 5.

51:1 Early Religious Poetry of Persia, p. 145.

51:2 Op. cit. p. 264.

51:3 Ibid. p. 240.

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