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Folk-Lore in the Old Testament:
Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend & Law
by Sir James George Frazer
   ©1918 - Now in Public Domain, i.e. Free to Copy
Table of
Contents &
Introduction
CHAPTER 1
Creation
of Man
CHAPTER 2
The Fall
of Man
CHAPTER 3
The Mark
of Cain
CHAPTER 4
The
Great Flood
CHAPTER 5
The Tower
of Babel

 
Chapter 3 - The Mark of Cain



 
The theory that the mark was a tribal badge  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   78
Homicides shunned as infected  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    79
Attic law concerning homicides  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   80
Seclusion of murderers in Dobu  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    80
Belief in the infectiousness of homicides in Africa  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    81
Earth supposed to spurn the homicide  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    82
Wanderings of the matricide Alcmaeon  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    83
Earth offended by bloodshed and appeased by sacrifice  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    84
The homicide's mark perhaps a danger-signal to others  .    .    .    .    .    .    .   85
The mark perhaps a protection against the victim's ghost  .    .    .    .    .    .    .  86
Ceremonies to appease the ghosts of the slain  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  86
Seclusion of murderer through fear of his victim's ghost  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    88
Fear of ghosts of the murdered, a motive for executing murderers  .    .    .    .  89
Protection of executioners against the ghosts of their victims  .    .    .    .    .    .  89
Bodily marks to protect people against ghosts of the slain  .    .    .    .    .    .  91
Need of guarding warriors against the ghosts of the slain  .    .    .    .    .    .    92
Various modes of guarding warriors against the ghosts of the slain  .    .    .    .   93
Faces or bodies of manslayers painted in diverse colours  .    .    .    .    .    .   95
The mark of Cain perhaps a disguise against the ghost of Abel  .    .    .    .    98
Advantage of thus interpreting the mark  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    . 100
The blood rather than the ghost of Abel prominent in the narrative  .    .    .   101
Fear of leaving blood of man or beast uncovered  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .101
Superstition a crutch of morality  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   103



We read in Genesis that when Cain had murdered his brother Abel he was driven out from society to be a fugitive and a vagabond on earth. Fearing to be slain by any one who might meet him, he remonstrated with God on the hardness of his lot, and God had so far compassion on him that he " set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him." 1 What was the mark that God put on the first murderer ? or the sign that he appointed for him ?

That we have here a reminiscence of some old custom observed by manslayers is highly probable ; and, though we cannot hope to ascertain what the actual mark or sign was, a comparison of the customs observed by manslayers in other parts of the world may help us to understand at least its general significance. Robertson Smith thought that the mark in question was the tribal mark, a badge which every member of the tribe wore on his person, and which served to protect him by indicating that he belonged to a community that would avenge his murder.2 Certainly such marks are common among peoples who have preserved the tribal system. For example, among the Bedouins of to-day one of the chief tribal badges is a particular mode of wearing the hair.1 In many parts of the world, notably in Africa, the tribal mark consists of a pattern tattooed or incised on some part of the person.2 That such marks might serve as a protection to the tribesman in the way supposed by Robertson Smith seems probable ; though on the other hand it is to be remembered that in a hostile country they might, on the contrary, increase his danger by advertising him as an enemy. But even if we concede the protective value of a tribal mark, still the explanation thus offered of the mark of Cain seems hardly to fit the case. It is too general. Every member of a tribe was equally protected by such a mark, whether he was a manslayer or not. The whole drift of the narrative tends to show that the mark in question was not worn by every member of the community, but was peculiar to a murderer. Accordingly we seem driven to seek for an explanation in another direction.

From the narrative itself we gather that Cain was thought to be obnoxious to other dangers than that of being slain as an outlaw by any one who met him. God is represented saying to him, " What hast thou done ? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand ; when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength ; a fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be in the earth." 3 Here it is obvious that the blood of his murdered brother is regarded as constituting a physical danger to the murderer; it taints the ground and prevents it from yielding its increase. Thus the murderer is thought to have poisoned the sources of life and thereby jeopardized the supply of food for himself, and perhaps for others. On this view it is intelligible that a homicide should be shunned and banished the country, to which his presence is a continual menace. He is plague-stricken, surrounded by a poisonous atmosphere, infected by a contagion of death ; his very touch may blight the earth. Hence we can understand a certain rule of Attic law. A homicide who had been banished, and against whom in his absence a second charge had been brought, was allowed to return to Attica to plead in his defense ; but he might not set foot on the land, he had to speak from a ship, and even the ship might not cast anchor or put out a gangway. The judges avoided all contact with the culprit, for they judged the case sitting or standing on the shore.1 Clearly the intention of this rule of law was to put the manslayer in quarantine, lest by touching Attic earth even indirectly through the anchor or the gangway he should blast it. For the same reason, if such a man, sailing the sea, had the misfortune to be cast away on the country where his crime had been perpetrated, he was allowed indeed to camp on the shore till a ship came to take him off, but he was expected to keep his feet in sea - water all the time,2 evidently in order to counteract, or at least dilute, the poison which he was supposed to instill into the soil.

The quarantine which Attic law thus imposed on the manslayer has its counterpart in the seclusion still enforced on murderers by the savages of Dobu, an island off the south-eastern extremity of New Guinea. On this subject a missionary, who resided for seventeen years in the island, writes as follows : " War may be waged against the relatives of the wife, but the slain must not be eaten. The person who kills a relation by marriage must never after partake of the general food or fruit from his wife's village. His wife alone must cook his food. If his wife's fire goes out she is not allowed to take a fire-stick from a house in her village. The penalty for breaking this tabu is that the husband dies of blood-poisoning ! The slaying of a blood relation places an even stricter tabu on the slayer. When the chief Gaganumore slew his brother (mother's sister's son) he was not allowed to return to his own village, but had to build a village of his own. He had to have a separate lime-gourd and spatula ; a water-bottle and cup of his own; a special set of cooking pots ; he had to get his drinking cocoanuts and fruit elsewhere ; his fire had to be kept burning as long as possible, and if it went out it could not be relit from another fire, but by friction. If the chief were to break this tabu, his brother's blood would poison his blood so that his body would swell, and he would die a terrible death." 1

In these Dobuan cases the blood of the slain man is supposed to act as a physical poison on the slayer, should he venture to set foot in, or even to hold indirect communication with, the village of his victim. His seclusion is therefore a precaution adopted in his own interest rather than in that of the community which he avoids ; and it is possible that the rules of Attic law in the matter of homicide ought to be similarly interpreted. However, it is more probable that the danger was believed to be mutual; in other words, that both the homicide and the persons with whom he came into contact were thought liable to suffer from blood-poisoning caused by contagion. Certainly the notion that a manslayer can infect other people with a malignant virus is held by the Akikuyu of British East Africa. They think that if a man who has killed another comes and sleeps at a village and eats with a family in their hut, the persons with whom he has eaten contract a dangerous pollution (thahu), which might prove fatal to them, were it not removed in time by a medicine-man. The very skin on which the homicide slept has absorbed the taint and might infect any one else who slept on it. So a medicine-man is called in to purify the hut and its inmates.1

Similarly among the Moors of Morocco a manslayer " is considered in some degree unclean for the rest of his life. Poison oozes out from underneath his nails ; hence anybody who drinks the water in which he has washed his hands will fall dangerously ill. The meat of an animal which he has killed is bad to eat, and so is any food which is partaken of in his company. If he comes to a place where people are digging a well, the water will at once run away. In the Hiáina, I was told, he is not allowed to go into a vegetable garden or an orchard, nor to tread on a threshing-floor or enter a granary, nor to go among the sheep. It is a common, although not universal, rule that he must not perform the sacrifice at the Great Feast with his own hands ; and in some tribes, mostly Berber-speaking ones, there is a similar prohibition with reference to a person who has killed a dog, which is an unclean animal. All blood which has left the veins is unclean and haunted by jnun" 2 (jinn).

But in the Biblical narrative of the murder of Abel the blood of the murdered man is not the only inanimate object that is personified. If the blood is represented as crying aloud, the earth is represented as opening her mouth to receive the blood of the victim.3 To this personification of the earth Aeschylus offers a parallel, for he speaks of the ground drinking the blood of the murdered Agamemnon.4 But in Genesis the attribution of personal qualities to the earth seems to be carried a step further, for we are told that the murderer was " cursed from the ground " ; and that when he tilled it, the land would not yield him her strength, but that a fugitive and a wanderer should he be in the world. The implication apparently is that the earth, polluted by blood and offended by his crime, would refuse to allow the seed sown by the murderer to germinate and bear fruit; nay, that it would expel him from the cultivated soil on which he had hitherto prospered, and drive him out into the barren wilderness, there to roam a houseless and hungry vagabond. The conception of earth as a personal being, who revolts against the sin of the dwellers upon it and spurns them from her bosom, is not foreign to the Old Testament. In Leviticus we read that, defiled by human iniquity, " the land vomiteth out her inhabitants ";1 and the Israelites are solemnly warned to keep God's statutes and judgments, " that the land vomit not you out also, when ye defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you." 2

The ancient Greeks apparently entertained similar notions as to the effect of polluting earth by the shedding of human blood, or, at all events, the blood of kinsfolk ; for tradition told how the matricide Alcmaeon, haunted by the ghost of his murdered mother Eriphyle, long wandered restlessly over the world, till at last he repaired to the oracle at Delphi, and the priestess told him, that " the only land whither the avenging spirit of Eriphyle would not dog him was the newest land, which the sea had uncovered since the pollution of his mother's blood had been incurred ;"3 or, as Thucydides puts it, " that he would never be rid of his terrors till he had found and settled in a country which, when he slew his mother, the sun had not yet shone on, and which at that time was not yet dry land ; for all the rest of the earth had been polluted by him." 4 Following the directions of the oracle, he discovered at the mouth of the Achelous the small and barren Echinadian Islands which, by washing down the soil from its banks, the river was supposed to have created since the perpetration of his crime; and there he took up his abode.5 According to one version of the legend, the murderer had found rest for a time in the bleak upland valley of Psophis, among the solemn Arcadian mountains, but even there the ground refused to yield its increase to the matricide, and he was forced, like Cain, to resume his weary wanderings.1

The belief that the earth is a powerful divinity, who is defiled and offended by the shedding of human blood and must be appeased by sacrifice, prevails, or prevailed till lately, among some tribes of Upper Senegal, who exact expiation even for wounds which have merely caused blood to flow without loss of life. Thus at Laro, in the country of the Bobos, " the murderer paid two goats, a dog, and a cock to the chief of the village, who offered them in sacrifice to the Earth on a piece of wood stuck in the ground. Nothing was given to the family of the victim. All the villagers, including the chief, afterwards partook of the flesh of the sacrificial victims, the families of the murderer and his victim alone being excluded from the banquet. If it was an affair of assault and wounds, but blood had not been shed, no account was taken of it. But when blood had been spilt, the Earth was displeased at the sight, and therefore it was necessary to appease her by a sacrifice. The culprit gave a goat and a thousand cowries to the chief of the village, who sacrificed the goat to the Earth and divided the cowries among the elders of the village. The goat, after being offered to the Earth, was also divided among the village elders. But the injured party throughout the affair was totally forgotten and received nothing at all, and that, too, logically enough. For the intention was not to compensate the injured party for his wrong at the cost of the wrongdoer, but to appease the Earth, a great and redoubtable divinity, who was displeased at the sight of bloodshed. In these circumstances there was nothing for the injured party to get. It sufficed that the Earth was pacified by eating the soul of the goat that had been sacrificed to her ;" 2 for " among the Bobos, as among the other blacks, the Earth is esteemed a great goddess of justice." 3

Among the Nounoumas, another tribe of Upper Senegal, the customs and beliefs in regard to bloodshed were similar. A murderer was banished for three years and had to pay heavy fine in cowries and cattle, not as a blood-wit to the family of his victim, but to appease the Earth and the other local divinities, who had been offended by the sight of spilt blood. The ox or oxen were sacrificed to the angry Earth by a priest who bore the title of the Chief of the Earth, and the flesh together with the cowries, was divided among the elders of the village, the family of the murdered man receiving nothing, or at most only a proportionate share of the meat and money. In the case of brawls where no life had been taken, but blood had flowed, the aggressor had to pay an ox, a sheep, a goat, and four fowls, all of which were sacrificed to pacify the anger of the local deities at the sight of bloodshed. The ox was sacrificed to the Earth by the Chief of the Earth in presence of all the elders of the village ; the sheep was sacrificed to the River ; and the fowls to the Rocks and the Forest. As for the goat, it was sacrificed, by the chief of the village to his private fetish. If these expiatory sacrifices were not offered, it was believed that the gods in their wrath would slay the culprit and all his family. The Chief of the Earth received as his due the intestines, hide, head, horns, and one shoulder of the sacrificial ox ; the rest of the ox and the remaining victims were divided between the chief of the village, the headmen of the various wards, and the elders. Every one carried off his portion of flesh to his own house and ate it there. In some places the assailant had also to pay a fine in cowries proportioned to the seriousness of the wound which he had inflicted.1

The foregoing facts suggest that a mark put on a homicide might be intended primarily, not for his protection, but for the protection of the persons who met him, lest by contact with his pollution they should defile themselves and incur the wrath of the god whom he had offended, or of the ghost by whom he was haunted ; in short, the mark might be a danger-signal to warn people off, like the special garb prescribed in Israel for lepers.2

However, there are other facts which tend to show that the murderer's mark was designed, as the story of Cain implies, for the benefit of the murderer alone, and further that the real danger against which it protected him was not the anger of his victim's kinsfolk, but the wrath of his victim's ghost. Here again, as in the Athenian customs already mentioned, we seem to touch the bed-rock of superstition in Attica. Plato tells us that according to a very ancient Greek belief the ghost of a man who had just been killed was angry with his slayer and troubled him, being enraged at the sight of the homicide stalking freely about in his, the ghost's, old familiar haunts ; hence it was needful for the homicide to depart from his country for a year until the wrath of the ghost had cooled down, nor might he return before sacrifices had been offered and ceremonies of purification performed. If the victim chanced to be a foreigner, the slayer had to shun the native land of the dead man as well as his own, and in going into banishment he had to follow a prescribed road ;l for clearly it would never do to let him rove about the country with the angry ghost at his heels. Again, we have seen that among the Akikuyu a murderer is believed to be tainted by a dangerous pollution (thahu} which he can communicate to other people by contact. That this pollution is connected with his victim's ghost appears from one of the ceremonies which are performed to expiate the deed. The elders of the village sacrifice a pig beside one of those sacred fig-trees which play a great part in the religious rites of the tribe. There they feast on the more succulent parts of the animal, but leave the fat, intestines, and some of the bones for the ghost, who is supposed to come that very night and devour them in the likeness of a wild cat; his hunger being thus stayed, he considerately refrains from returning to the village to trouble the inhabitants. It deserves to be noticed that a Kikuyu homicide incurs ceremonial pollution (thahu) only through the slaughter of a man of his own clan; there is no ceremonial pollution incurred by the slaughter of a man of another clan or of another tribe.2

Among the Bagesu of Mount Elgon, in British East Africa, when a man has been guilty of manslaughter and his victim was a member of the same clan and village, he must leave the village and find a new home elsewhere, even though he may settle the matter amicably with the relations of the deceased. Further, he must kill a goat, smear the contents of its stomach on his chest, and throw the remainder upon the roof of the house of the murdered man " to appease the ghost." l In this tribe very similar ceremonies of expiation are performed by a warrior who has slain a man in battle ; and we may safely assume that the intention of the ceremonies is to appease the ghost of his victim. The warrior returns to his village, but he may not spend the first night in his own house, he must lodge in the house of a friend. In the evening he kills a goat or sheep, deposits the contents of the stomach in a pot, and smears them on his head, chest, and arms. If he has any children, they must be smeared in like manner. Having thus fortified himself and his progeny, the warrior proceeds boldly to his own house, daubs each door-post with the stuff, and throws the rest on the roof, probably for the benefit of the ghost who may be supposed to perch, if not to roost, there. For a whole day the slayer may not touch food with the hands which shed blood ; he conveys the morsels to his mouth with tw6 sticks cut for the purpose. On the second day he is free to return home and resume his ordinary life. These restrictions are not binding on his wife ; she may even go and mourn over the slain man and take part in his obsequies.2 Such a pretence of sorrow may well mollify the feelings of the ghost and induce him to spare her husband.

Again, among the Nilotic Kavirondo, another tribe of British East Africa, a murderer is separated from the members of his village and lives in a hut with an old woman, who attends to his wants, cooks for him, and also feeds him, because he may not touch his food with his hands. This separation lasts for three days, and on the fourth day a man, who is himself a murderer, or who has at some time killed a man in battle, takes the murderer to a stream, where he washes him all over. He then kills a goat, cooks the meat, and puts a piece of it on each of four sticks ; after which he gives the four pieces to the murderer to eat in turn. Next he puts four balls of porridge on the sticks, and these also the murderer must swallow. Finally, the goat-skin is cut into strips, and one strip is put on the neck, and one strip round each of the wrists of the homicide. This ceremony is performed by the two men alone at the river. After the performance the murderer is free to return home. It is said that, until this ceremony is performed, the ghost cannot take its departure for the place of the dead, but hovers about the murderer.1

Among the Boloki of the Upper Congo a homicide is not afraid of the ghost of the man whom he has killed, when his victim belongs to any of the neighboring towns, because the area within which Boloki ghosts can travel is extremely limited ; but murder, which in that case he might commit with an easy mind, assumes a much more serious complexion when it is perpetrated on a man of the same town, for then he knows himself to be within striking distance of the ghost. The fear of ghostly vengeance now sits heavy on him. There are unfortunately no rites by the observance of which he could allay these terrors, but in default of them he mourns for his victim as though he were a brother, neglecting his toilet, shaving his head, fasting, and lamenting with torrents of crocodile tears.2 Thus the symptoms of sorrow, which the ingenuous European might take for signs of genuine repentance and remorse of conscience, are nothing but shams intended to deceive the ghost.
Once more among the Omaha Indians of North America a murderer, whose life was spared by the kinsmen of his victim, had to observe certain stringent regulations for a period which varied from two to four years. He must walk barefoot, and he might eat no warm food, nor raise his voice, nor look around. He had to pull his robe about him and to keep it tied at the neck, even in warm weather; he might not let it hang loose or fly open. He might not move his hands about, but had to keep them close to his body. He might not comb his hair, nor allow it to be blown about by the wind. No one would eat with him, and only one of his kindred was allowed to remain with him in his tent. When the tribe went hunting, he was obliged to pitch his tent about a quarter of a mile from the rest of the people, " lest the ghost of his victim should raise a high wind which might cause damage." 1 The reason here alleged for banishing the murderer from the camp probably gives the key to all the similar restrictions laid on murderers and manslayers among primitive peoples ; the seclusion of such persons from society is dictated by no moral aversion to their crime : it springs purely from prudential motives, which resolve themselves into a simple dread of the dangerous ghost by which the homicide is supposed to be pursued and haunted.

This fear of the wrathful ghost of the slain is probably at the root of many ancient customs observed in connection with homicide ; it may well have been one of the principal motives for inflicting capital punishment on murderers. For if such persons are dogged by a powerful and angry spirit, which makes them a danger to their fellows, society can obviously protect itself very simply by sacrificing the murderer to the ghost; in other words, by putting him to death. But then it becomes necessary to guard the executioners in their turn against the ghosts of their victims, and various precautions are adopted for this purpose. For example, among the Bakongo, of the Lower Congo, when a man has been executed for murder, his body is burnt to ashes. " By reducing the body to ashes they believe that they thereby destroy his spirit, and thus prevent the spirit from seeking revenge by bewitching his executioners." 2 At Porto Novo, on the coast of Guinea, the public executioner used to decorate the walls of his house with the jawbones of his victims in order to prevent their ghosts from troubling him at night.3 At Issini, on the Gold Coast, executioners used to remain in seclusion for three days after doing their office ; during that time they lived in a hut built for the purpose at a distance from the village. When the three days were up, they proceeded to the place of execution, and there called thrice by name on the criminal whom they had put to death.1 The invocation was probably supposed to protect the executioners against the ghost of their victim.

Another mode of effecting the same purpose is to taste of his blood ; this has been customary with executioners on the Lower Niger in West Africa, and among the Shans of Burma. The alleged intention of the custom is to prevent the executioner from being affected by a kind of homicidal madness or otherwise contracting a fatal illness ;2 but these effects are in all probability believed to be wrought by the ghost of the slain man, who has entered into and taken possession of the body of his slayer, and the motive for tasting of his blood is to bring about a reconcilement between the slayer and the slain by establishing a blood covenant between them.3

Among the Tupi Indians of Brazil a man who had publicly executed a prisoner had to fast and lie in his hammock for three days, without setting foot on the ground ; further, he had to make incisions in his breast, arms, and other parts of his body, and a black powder was rubbed into the wounds, which left indelible scars so artistically arranged that they presented the appearance of a tight-fitting garment. It was believed that he would die if he did not observe these rules and draw blood from his own body after slaughtering the captive.4 The fear of his victim's ghost is not indeed mentioned by our authorities as the motive for practising these customs ; but that it was the real motive is not only suggested by the analogy of the West African customs, but is practically proved by a custom which these same Brazilian Indians observed before the execution. They formally invited the doomed man to avenge his death, and for this purpose they supplied him with stones or potsherds, which he hurled at his guards, while they protected themselves against the missiles with shields made of hide.1 The form of the invitation, which ran thus, "Avenge your death before your deceased," clearly implies a hope that if a man had thus satisfied his thirst for vengeance in his lifetime, his ghost would not trouble them after death. But to make assurance doubly sure the executioner secluded himself, and observed the curious precautions which I have described. The drawing of blood from his own body, which was regarded as essential to the preservation of his life,2 may have been intended to satisfy the ghost's demand of blood for blood, or possibly to form a blood covenant with him, while the permanent marks left on the slayer's body would be a standing evidence that he had given satisfaction to his victim and made his peace with him. Could any reasonable ghost ask for more ?

This interpretation of the marks on the executioner's body is confirmed by the following custom. Among the Yabim, on the north-eastern coast of New Guinea, when the kinsmen of a murdered man have accepted a blood-wit instead of avenging his death, they take care to be marked with chalk on the forehead by the relatives of the murderer, "lest the ghost should trouble them for failing to avenge his death, and should carry off their pigs or loosen their teeth."3

In this custom it is not the murderer but the kinsmen of his victim who are marked, but the principle is the same. The ghost of the murdered man naturally turns in fury on his heartless relatives who have not exacted blood for his blood. But just as he is about to swoop down on them to loosen their teeth, or steal their pigs, or make himself unpleasant in other ways, he is brought up short by the sight of the white mark on their black or coffee-colored brows. It is the receipt for the payment in full of the blood-wit; it is the proof that his kinsfolk have exacted a pecuniary, though not a sanguinary, compensation for his murder; with this crumb of consolation he is bound to be satisfied, and to spare his family any molestation in future. The same mark might obviously be put for the same purpose on the murderer's brows to prove that he had paid in cash, or whatever may be the local equivalent for cash, for the deed he had done, and that the ghost therefore had no further claim upon him. Was the mark of Cain a mark of this sort ? Was it a proof that he had paid the blood-wit ? Was it a receipt for cash down ?

It may have been so, but there is still another possibility to be considered. On the theory which I have just indicated it is obvious that the mark of Cain could only be put on a homicide when his victim was a man of the same tribe or community as himself, since it is only to men of the same tribe or community that compensation for homicide is paid. But the ghosts of slain enemies are certainly not less dreaded than the ghosts of slain friends ; and if you cannot pacify them with a sum of money paid to their kinsfolk, what are you to do with them? Many plans have been adopted for the protection of warriors against the spirits of the men whom they have sent out of the world before their due time. Apparently one of these precautions is to disguise the slayer so that the ghost may not recognize him ; another is to render his person in some way so formidable or so offensive that the spirit will not meddle with him. One or other of these motives may explain the following customs, which I select from a large number of similar cases.1

Among the Ba-Yaka, a Bantu people of the Congo Free State "a man who has been killed in battle is supposed to send his soul to avenge his death on the person of the man who killed him ; the latter, however, can escape the vengeance of the dead by wearing the red tail-feathers of the parrot in his hair, and painting his forehead red."1 The Thonga of south-eastern Africa believe that a man who has killed an enemy in battle is exposed to great danger from his victim's ghost, who haunts him and may drive him mad. To protect himself from the wrath of the ghost, the slayer must remain in a state of taboo at the capital for several days, during which he may not go home to his wife, and must wear old clothes and eat with special spoons off special plates. In former times it was customary to tattoo such a man between the eyebrows, and to rub in medicines into the incisions, so as to raise pimples and to give him the appearance of a buffalo when it frowns.2 Among the Basutos "warriors who have killed an enemy are purified. The chief has to wash them, sacrificing an ox in the presence of the whole army. They are also anointed with the gall of the animal, which prevents the ghost of the enemy from pursuing them any farther." 3

Among the Wawanga, of the Elgon district in British East Africa, a man on returning from a raid, on which he has killed one of the enemy, may not enter his hut until he has taken cow's dung and rubbed it on the cheeks of the women and children of the village, and has purified himself by the sacrifice of a goat, from whose forehead he cuts a strip of skin and wears it round his right wrist for the next four days.4 Among the Bantu tribes of Kavirondo, in British East Africa, when a man has killed a foe in battle he shaves his head on his return home, and his friends rub a medicine, which generally consists of cow's dung, over his body to prevent the spirit of the slain man from troubling him.1 In these cases the cow's dung may serve either to wipe off the ghost or to disgust and repel him. Among the Ja-Luo, a Nilotic tribe of Kavirondo, the warrior who has slain a foe in battle shaves his head three days after his return from the fight; and before he enters his village he must hang a live fowl, head uppermost, round his neck ; then the bird is decapitated and its head left hanging round his neck. Soon after his return a feast is made for the slain man, in order that his ghost may not haunt his slayer.2

According to another account the ceremonies observed on such occasions by the Nilotic tribes of Kavirondo are as follows. "When a warrior kills another in battle, he is isolated from his village, lives in a separate hut some four days, and an old woman cooks his food and feeds him like a child because he is forbidden to touch any food. On the fifth day he is escorted to the river by another man, who washes him ; a white goat is killed and cooked by the attendant, who feeds the man with the meat; the goat-skin is cut into strips and put upon the man's wrists and round his head, and he returns to his temporary home for the night. The next day he is again taken to the river and washed, and a white fowl is presented to him. He kills it and it is cooked for him, and he is again fed with the meat. He is then pronounced to be clean and may return to his home. It sometimes happens that a warrior spears another man in battle, and the latter dies from the wound some time after. When death takes place, the relatives go to the warrior and tell him of the death, and he is separated at once from the community until the ceremonies above described have been performed. The people say that the ceremonies are necessary in order to release the ghost of the dead man, which is bound to the warrior who slew him, and is only released on the fulfillment of the ceremonies. Should a warrior refuse to fulfill the ceremonies, the ghost will ask, ' Why don't you fulfill the ceremonies and let me go?' Should a man still refuse to comply, the ghost will take him by the throat and strangle him." 3

We have seen that among the Nilotic tribes of Kavirondo a very similar ceremony is observed by a murderer for the avowed purpose of freeing himself from the ghost of his victim, which otherwise haunts him.1 The close resemblance of the ritual in both cases, together with the motives expressly assigned for it, set in the clearest light the essential purpose of the purificatory ceremonies observed by a homicide, whether he is a warrior or a murderer : that purpose is simply to rid the man of his victim's ghost, which will otherwise be his undoing. The intention of putting strips of goat-skin round his head and wrists may be to disguise him from the ghost.

A similar custom is observed by other tribes of East Africa on a variety of occasions, which will be noticed later on.2 Even when no mention is made of the ghosts of the slain by our authorities, we may still safely assume that the purificatory rites performed by or for warriors after bloodshed are intended to appease or repel or deceive these angry spirits. Thus among the Ngoni of British Central Africa, when a victorious army approaches the royal village, it halts by the bank of a stream, and all the warriors who have killed enemies smear their bodies and arms with white clay, but those who were not the first to dip their spears in the blood of the victims, but merely helped to dispatch them, whiten their right arms only. That night the manslayers sleep in the open pen with the cattle, and do not venture near their own homes. In the early morning they wash off the white clay from their bodies in the river. The witch-doctor attends to give them a magic potion, and to smear their persons with a fresh coating of clay. This process is repeated on six successive days, till their purification is complete. Their heads are then shaved, and being pronounced clean they are free to return to their own homes.3 Among the Borâna Gallas, when a war-party has returned to the village, the victors who have slain a foe are washed by the women with a mixture of fat and butter, and their faces are painted red and white.4

Masai warriors, who have killed barbarians in a fight, paint the right half of their bodies red and the left half white.1 Similarly a Nandi, who has slain a man of another tribe, paints one side of his body red, and the other side white; for four days after the slaughter he is deemed unclean and may not go home. He must build a small shelter by the river and live there ; he may not associate with his wife or sweetheart, and he may only eat porridge, beef, and goat's flesh. At the end of the fourth day he must purify himself by drinking a strong purge made from the segetet tree, and by drinking goat's milk mixed with bullock's blood.2  Among the Wagogo, of German East Africa, a man who has killed an enemy in battle paints a red circle round his right eye and a black circle round his left eye.3
 

Among the Thompson Indians of British Columbia it used to be customary for men who had slain enemies to blacken their faces. If this precaution were neglected, it was believed that the spirits of their victims would blind them.4 A Pima Indian who slew one of his hereditary foes, the Apaches, had regularly to undergo a rigid seclusion and purification, which lasted sixteen days. During the whole of that time he might not touch meat or salt, nor look at a blazing fire, nor speak to a human being. He lived alone in the woods attended by an old woman, who brought him his scanty dole of food. He kept his head covered almost the whole time with a plaster of mud, and he might not touch it with his fingers.5

A band of Tinneh Indians, who had massacred a helpless party of Eskimo at the Copper River, considered themselves to be thereby rendered unclean, and they observed accordingly a number of curious restrictions for a considerable time afterwards. Those who had actually shed blood were strictly prohibited from cooking either for themselves or for others ; they might not drink out of any dish nor smoke out of any pipe but their own; they might eat no boiled flesh, but only flesh that was raw or had been broiled at a fire or dried in the sun ; and at every meal, before they would taste a morsel, they had to paint their faces with red ochre from the nose to the chin and across the cheeks almost to the ears.1

Among the Chinook Indians of Oregon and Washington a man who had killed another had his face painted black with grease and charcoal, and wore rings of cedar bark round his head, his ankles, knees, and wrists. After five days the black paint was washed off his face and replaced by red. During these five days he might not sleep nor even lie down ; he might not look at a child nor see people eating. At the end of his purification he hung his head-ring of cedar bark on a tree, and the tree was then supposed to dry up.2 Among the Eskimo of Langton Bay the killing of an Indian and the killing of a whale were considered to be equally glorious achievements. The man who had killed an Indian was tattooed from the nose to the ears ; the man who had killed a whale was tattooed from the mouth to the ears. Both heroes had to refrain from all work for five days, and from certain foods for a whole year; in particular, they might not eat the heads nor the intestines of animals.3

Among the Southern Massim of British New Guinea a warrior who has slain a man remains secluded in his house for six days. During the first three days he may eat only roasted food and must cook it for himself. Then he bathes and blackens his face for the remaining three days.4 When a party of Arunta, in Central Australia, are returning from a mission of vengeance, on which they have taken the life of an enemy, they stand in fear of the ghost of their victim, who is believed to pursue them in the likeness of a small bird, uttering a plaintive cry. For some days after their return they will not speak of their deed, and continue to paint themselves all over with powdered charcoal, and to decorate their foreheads and noses with green twigs. Finally) they paint their bodies and faces with bright colors, and become free to talk of the affair; but still of nights they must lie awake listening for the plaintive cry of the bird in which they fancy they hear the voice of their victim.1

In Fiji any one who had clubbed a human being to death in war was consecrated or tabooed. He was smeared red by the king with turmeric from the roots of his hair to his heels. A hut was built, and in it he had to pass the next three nights, during which he might not lie down, but must sleep as he sat. Till the three nights had elapsed he might not change his garment, nor remove the turmeric, nor enter a house in which there was a woman.2 That these rules were intended to protect the Fijian warrior from his victim's ghost is strongly suggested, if not proved, by another Fijian custom. When these savages had buried a man alive, as they often did, they used at nightfall to make a great uproar by means of bamboos, trumpet-shells, and so forth, for the purpose of frightening away his ghost, lest he should attempt to return to his old home. And to render his house unattractive to him they dismantled it and clothed it with everything that to their thinking seemed most repulsive.3 So the North American Indians used to run through the village with hideous yells, beating on the furniture, walls, and roofs of the huts to drive away the angry ghost of an enemy whom they had just tortured to death.4 A similar custom is still observed in various parts of New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago.5

Thus the mark of Cain may have been a mode of disguising a homicide, or of rendering him so repulsive or formidable in appearance that his victim's ghost would either not know him or at least give him a wide berth. Elsewhere I have conjectured that mourning costume in general was originally a disguise adopted to protect the surviving relatives from the dreaded ghost of the recently departed.1 Whether that be so or not, it is certain that the living do sometimes disguise themselves to escape the notice of the dead. Thus in the western districts of Timor, a large island of the Indian Archipelago, before the body of a man is coffined, his wives stand weeping over him, and their village gossips must also be present, " all with loosened hair in order to make themselves unrecognizable by the nitu (spirit) of the dead." 2 Again, among the Herero of South-West Africa, when a man is dying he will sometimes say to a person whom he does not like, "Whence do you come? I do not wish to see you here," and so saying he presses the fingers of his left hand together in such a way that the tip of the thumb protrudes between the fingers. " The person spoken to, now knows that the other has decided upon taking him away (okutuaerera) after his death, which means that he must die. In many cases, however, he can avoid this threatening danger of death. For this purpose he hastily leaves the place of the dying man, and looks for an onganga (i.e. 'doctor,' 'magician'), in order to have himself undressed, washed, and greased again, and dressed with other clothes. He is now quite at ease about the threatening of death caused by the deceased ; for, says he, 'Now, our father does not know me' (Nambano tate ke ndyi i). He has no longer any reason to fear the dead." 3

In like manner we may suppose that, when Cain had been marked by God, he was quite easy in his mind, believing that the ghost of his murdered brother would no longer recognize and trouble him. What the mark exactly was which the divinity affixed to the first murderer for his protection, we have no means of knowing ; at most we can hazard a conjecture on the subject. If it is allowable to judge from the similar practices of savages at the present day, the deity may have decorated Cain with red, black, or white paint, or perhaps with a tasteful combination of these colors. For example, he may have painted him red all over, like a Fijian ; or white all over, like a Ngoni ; or black all over, like an Arunta; or one half of his body red and the other half white, like the Masai and the Nandi. Or if he confined his artistic efforts to Cain's countenance, he may have painted a red circle round his right eye and a black circle round his left eye, in the Wagogo style ; or he may have embellished his face from the nose to the chin, and from the mouth to the ears, with a delicate shade of vermilion, after the manner of the Tinneh Indians. Or he may have plastered his head with mud, like the Pimas, or his whole body with cow's dung, like the Kavirondo. Or again, he may have tattooed him from the nose to the ears, like the Eskimo, or between the eyebrows, like the Thonga, so as to raise pimples and give him the appearance of a frowning buffalo. Thus adorned the first Mr. Smith—for Cain means Smith 1 —may have paraded the waste places of the earth without the least fear of being recognized and molested by his victim's ghost.

This explanation of the mark of Cain has the advantage of relieving the Biblical narrative from a manifest absurdity. For on the usual interpretation God affixed the mark to Cain in order to save him from human assailants, apparently forgetting that there was nobody to assail him, since the earth was as yet inhabited only by the murderer himself and his parents. Hence by assuming that the foe of whom the first murderer went in fear was a ghost instead of a living man we avoid the irreverence of imputing to the deity a crave lapse of memory little in keeping with the divine omniscience. Here again, therefore, the comparative method approves itself a powerful advocatus Dei.

To this explanation of the mark of Cain it may be objected, with some show of reason, that the ghost of the murdered Abel is nowhere alluded to in the Biblical narrative, according to which it was not the ghost, but the blood, of his victim which endangered the murderer by calling aloud from the ground for vengeance. It is true that the conception of blood thus endowed with a voice and with a thirst for vengeance differs from the conception of a ghost, being a simpler and possibly a more primitive idea ; yet in practice it perhaps made little material difference to the manslayer whether he believed himself to be pursued by the bloody phantom or only by the dolorous voice of his victim's blood shrieking after him. Still it cannot be denied that in the Old Testament it is the actual blood, and not the ghost, of the murdered person which figures prominently in the references to manslaughter and to the retribution which should overtake the slayer.

Thus in the Priestly Document we read, with regard to homicide, that "blood, it polluteth the land: and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it." 1 The notion seems to have been, that so long as the blood lay exposed to the air and had not run away or soaked into the ground, it continued to call aloud for vengeance on the murderer, but that its mouth could be stopped and its voice stifled by a handful of earth. Hence Job, looking for death and passionately appealing against the injustice of his fate, cries out in his agony, "O earth, cover not my blood, and let my cry have no resting place." 2 And in denouncing the wrath of God on Jerusalem for all the innocent blood shed in the city, the prophet Ezekiel ex-claims, "Woe to the bloody city, to the caldron whose rust is therein, and whose rust is not gone out of it! bring it out piece by piece ; no lot is fallen upon it. For her blood is in the midst of her ; she set it upon the bare rock ; she poured it  not  on  the  ground  to  cover it with  dust ; that it might cause  fury  to  come  up  to take vengeance, I have  set her blood  upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered." J Here it is mentioned as a great aggravation alike of the guilt and of the danger of Jerusalem, that the blood shed in her midst still weltered in clotted pools, like rust, on her rocky surface instead of being mercifully covered with dust or allowed to soak into the ground ; for so long as  it  lay there festering in the sun, the multitudinous voices of the slain would ascend up to heaven, clamoring in a doleful chorus for vengeance on their slayers.2

The belief that unavenged human blood cries aloud from the ground is still held by the Arabs of Moab.  A Bedouin of that country told a preaching friar that "the blood cries from the earth, and it continues to cry until the blood of an enemy has been shed."3 So scrupulous indeed were the ancient Hebrews about leaving  blood of any sort exposed to the air, that the Levitical law commands the hunter or fowler to cover up with dust the blood of the beast or fowl which  he has poured out on the  ground.4  The precept may well embody a traditional usage based on an  ancient belief that animals, like men, acknowledged the obligation of avenging the death of their kind  on  their murderer or his  kinsfolk, and  that consequently if their blood was  left uncovered, it would  cry aloud  to  all  beasts or birds of the  same sort to exact  retribution from  the guilty hunter or fowler who had spilt it on the ground.

At all events similar notions  as  to the practice of blood  revenge by animals and birds are common  among savages in  modern  times,5  and  they may well have prevailed among the Semites in antiquity, though we need not suppose that they were consciously present to the mind of the author or editor of Leviticus.   It would appear that in the opinion of some savages not only may the blood of animals cry to heaven for vengeance, but if its cry is not answered, the slayer of the beast may be compelled, like Cain, to roam an outlaw from land to land for the rest of his life. Thus in a legend of the Waboungou, a tribe of German East Africa, we hear of a skilful hunter who one day killed an elephant with his arrows. Thereupon a mysterious personage called the Great Sultan appeared to him and said, "The smell of spilt blood has reached even to me. That blood calls for vengeance. If you do not bring me the bones of the elephant, there can be no peace between us. I will tell all the Sultans to drive you from their countries, so that you will henceforth find no place where to build a hut." But the obstinate hunter refused to bring the bones of the elephant to the Great Sultan. Therefore the Sultan drove him from his kingdom, and the wretch went roving from land to land till the day of his death.1

We may smile if we please at these quaint fancies of vengeful ghosts, shrieking gore, and Earth opening her mouth to drink blood or to vomit out her guilty inhabitants ; nevertheless it is probable that these and many other notions equally unfounded have served a useful purpose in fortifying the respect for human life by the adventitious aid of superstitious terror. The venerable framework of society rests on many pillars, of which the most solid are nature, reason, and justice ; yet at certain stages of its slow and laborious construction it could ill have dispensed with the frail prop of superstition.2 If the day should ever come when the great edifice has been carried to completion and reposes in simple majesty on adamantine foundations, it will be possible, without risk to its stability, to cut away and destroy the rotten timbers that shored it up in the process of building.

Oct.2002

 
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