The Ghost World by T. F. Thiselton Dyer

The Ghost World

byT. F. Thiselton Dyer

Kobo ebook | April 18, 2014

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In the Iliad,[1] after the spirit of Patroclus has visited Achilles in his dream, it is described as taking its departure, and entering the ground like smoke. In long after years, and among widely scattered communities, we meet with the same imagery; and it is recorded how the soul of Beowulf the Goth ‘curled to the clouds,’ imaging the smoke which was curling up from his pyre. A similar description of the soul’s exit is mentioned in one of the works of the celebrated mystic, Jacob Boehme,[2] who observes: ‘Seeing that man is so very earthly, therefore he hath none but earthly knowledge; except he be regenerated in the gate of the deep. He always supposeth that the soul—at the deceasing of the body—goeth only out at the mouth, and he understandeth nothing concerning its deep essences above the elements. When he seeth a blue vapour go forth out of the mouth of a dying man, then he supposeth that is the soul.’ The same conception is still extensively believed throughout Europe, and the Russian peasant often sees ghostly smoke hovering above graves. The Kaffirs hold that at death man leaves after him a sort of smoke, ‘very like the shadow which his living body will always cast before it,’[3] reminding us of the hero in the Arabian romance of Yokdnan, who seeks the source of life and thought, and discovers in one of the cavities of the heart a bluish vapour—the living soul. Among rude races the original idea of the human soul seems to have been that of vaporous materiality, which, as Dr. Tylor observes,[4] has held so large a place in modern philosophy, and in one shape or another crops up in ghost stories. The Basutos, speaking of a dead man, say that his heart has gone out, and the Malays affirm that the soul of a dying man escapes through the nostrils.

Hogarth has represented the figure of Time breathing forth his last—a puff of breath proceeding from his mouth; and a correspondent of ‘Notes and Queries’[5] relates that, according to a popular belief, a considerable interval invariably elapses between the first semblance of death and what is considered to be the departure of the soul, about five minutes after the time when death, to all outward appearances, has taken place, ‘the last breath’ may be seen to issue with a vapour ‘or steam’ out of the mouth of the departed. According to some foreign tribes, the soul was said to dwell mainly in the left eye; and in New Zealand men always ate the left eye of a conquered enemy. At Tahiti, in the human sacrifices, the left eye of the victim was always offered to the chief presiding over the ceremony. It was further believed in New Zealand that ‘in eating the left eye they doubled their own soul by incorporating with it that of the conquered man. It was also thought by some people in the same archipelago that a spirit used to dwell in both eyes.’[6]

The supposed escape of the soul from the mouth at death gave rise to the idea that the vital principle might be transferred from one person to another; and, among the Seminoles of Florida, when a woman died in childbirth, the infant was held over her face to receive her parting spirit. Algonquin women, desirous of becoming mothers, flocked to the bed of those about to die, in the hope that they might receive the last breath as it passed from the body; and to this day the Tyrolese peasant still fancies a good man’s soul to issue from his mouth at death like a little white cloud.[7] We may trace the same fancy in our own country, and it is related[8] that while a well-known Lancashire witch lay dying, ‘she must needs, before she could “shuffle off this mortal coil,” transfer her familiar spirit to some trusty successor. An intimate acquaintance from a neighbouring township was sent for in all haste, and on her arrival was immediately closeted with her dying friend. What passed between them has never fully transpired; but it is asserted that at the close of the interview the associate received the witch’s last breath into her mouth, and with it her familiar spirit. The powers for good or evil were thus transferred to her companion.’

Title:The Ghost WorldFormat:Kobo ebookPublished:April 18, 2014Publisher:Liongate PressLanguage:English

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