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


I should like to emphasize the fact that my protest (on p. 63) was directed against the claim that the custom of offering food and drink to the dead was inspired primarily to prevent them from troubling the living. Its original purpose was to sustain and reanimate the dead; but, of course, when its real meaning was forgotten, it was explained in a great variety of ways by the people who made a practice of presenting offerings to the dead without really knowing why they did so.

Dr. Alan Gardiner himself has made a statement which casual readers (i.e., those who do not discriminate between the motive for the invention of a procedure and the reasons subsequently given for its continuance) might regard as a contradiction of my quotation from his writings on p. 62. Thus he says: "Any god could doubtless attack human beings, but savage and malicious deities, like Seth [Set], the murderer of Osiris, or Sakhmet, [Sekhet], the 'lady of pestilence' (nb-t ’idw), were doubtless most to be feared." [This attitude of the malignant goddesses is revealed in a most obtrusive form in the village deities of the Dravidians of Southern India.] "The dead were specially to be feared; nor was it only those dead who were unhappy or unburied that might torment the living, for the magician sometimes warns them that their tombs are endangered" (Article "Magic (Egyptian)," Hastings’ Encycl. Ethics and Religion, p. 264).

But it is important to bear in mind, as the same scholar has explained elsewhere ["Life and Death (Egyptian)," Hastings’ Encycl., p. 23]: "Nothing could be farther from the truth [than the statement that 'the funerary rites and practices of the Egyptians were in the main precautionary measures serving to protect the living against the dead]; it is of fundamental importance to realize that the vast stores of wealth and thought expended by the Egyptians on their tombs—that wealth and that thought which created not only the pyramids, but also the practice of mummification and a very extensive funerary literature—were due to the anxiety of each member of the community with regard to his own individual future welfare, and not to feelings of respect, or fear, or duty felt towards the other dead."

It was only in response to certain binding obligations that the living observed all those costly and troublesome rules which were believed to insure the welfare of the deceased. But this recognition of the primary and real purpose of the food offerings as sustenance for the dead or the gods

p. 75

must not be allowed to blind us to the fact that there is widespread throughout the world a real fear of the dead and ghosts, and that in many places food-offerings are made for the specific purpose "of appeasing the fairies".

Mr. Donald Mackenzie tells me that offerings of milk and porridge are made at the stone monuments in Scotland, and children carry meal in their pockets to protect themselves from the fairies. For the dead went to Fairyland.

Beliefs of a similar kind can be collected from most parts of the world: but the point I specially want to emphasize is that they are secondary rationalizations of a custom which originally had an utterly different significance.

Next: Appendix C