Early Civilization: An Introduction to Anthropology

By Alexander A. Goldenweiser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
RELIGION AND MAGIC (Continued)

ANTHROPOMORPHISM AND THE HIGHER GODS

Chukchee Supernaturalism

In the world view of the Chukchee all nature is animated. Every material object can act, speak and walk. Everything that exists has its own "voice" or "master." Reindeer skins have a "master" of their own. In the night-time they turn into reindeer and walk to and fro. The trees in the woods talk to one another. The very shadows on the wall live in tribes in their own country where they have huts and subsist by hunting.

Special beliefs are entertained about mushrooms and mushroom-men. Mushrooms, when they grow up, are so powerful that they split whole trees. These mushrooms appear to intoxicated men in the shape of human beings, resembling, however, their real shapes in some particular. Thus, one may have but one leg, another a very large head, and so on. The number of mushrooms that appear to a man varies in accordance with the number of mushrooms he has eaten. The mushroom-men lead the dreamer through the world and show him real and imaginary things. They take him to the places where the dead live, through which they travel along many intricate paths.

Wooden amulets in a bag become herdsmen and go out at night to protect the herd from wolves. Black and polar bears, eagles, small birds, sea mammals, all have countries of their own and live like humans. They can turn into human beings while preserving some of their own qualities. Mice people live in underground houses, using a certain root as their reindeer. They have sledges made of grass. Off and on they become transformed into real hunters with regular sledges and hunt polar bears.

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