The nonmaterial part of man has been variously termed ghost, spirit, shade, phantom, specter, and latterly soul. The soul was early man’s dream double; it was in every way exactly like the mortal himself except that it was not responsive to touch. The belief in dream doubles led directly to the notion that all things animate and inanimate had souls as well as men. This concept tended long to perpetuate the nature-spirit beliefs; the Eskimos still conceive that everything in nature has a spirit.
The ghost soul could be heard and seen, but not touched. Gradually the dream life of the race so developed and expanded the activities of this evolving spirit world that death was finally regarded as “giving up the ghost.” All primitive tribes, except those little above animals, have developed some concept of the soul. As civilization advances, this superstitious concept of the soul is destroyed, and man is wholly dependent on revelation and personal religious experience for his new idea of the soul as the joint creation of the God-knowing mortal mind and its indwelling divine spirit, the Thought Adjuster.
Early mortals usually failed to differentiate the concepts of an indwelling spirit and a soul of evolutionary nature. The savage was much confused as to whether the ghost soul was native to the body or was an external agency in possession of the body. The absence of reasoned thought in the presence of perplexity explains the gross inconsistencies of the savage view of souls, ghosts, and spirits.
The soul was thought of as being related to the body as the perfume to the flower. The ancients believed that the soul could leave the body in various ways, as in:
1. Ordinary and transient fainting.
2. Sleeping, natural dreaming.
3. Coma and unconsciousness associated with disease and accidents.
4. Death, permanent departure.
The savage looked upon sneezing as an abortive attempt of the soul to escape from the body. Being awake and on guard, the body was able to thwart the soul’s attempted escape. Later on, sneezing was always accompanied by some religious expression, such as “God bless you!”
Early in evolution sleep was regarded as proving that the ghost soul could be absent from the body, and it was believed that it could be called back by speaking or shouting the sleeper’s name. In other forms of unconsciousness the soul was thought to be farther away, perhaps trying to escape for good—impending death. Dreams were looked upon as the experiences of the soul during sleep while temporarily absent from the body. The savage believes his dreams to be just as real as any part of his waking experience. The ancients made a practice of awaking sleepers gradually so that the soul might have time to get back into the body.
All down through the ages men have stood in awe of the apparitions of the night season, and the Hebrews were no exception. They truly believed that God spoke to them in dreams, despite the injunctions of Moses against this idea. And Moses was right, for ordinary dreams are not the methods employed by the personalities of the spiritual world when they seek to communicate with material beings.
The ancients believed that souls could enter animals or even inanimate objects. This culminated in the werewolf ideas of animal identification. A person could be a law-abiding citizen by day, but when he fell asleep, his soul could enter a wolf or some other animal to prowl about on nocturnal depredations.
Primitive men thought that the soul was associated with the breath, and that its qualities could be imparted or transferred by the breath. The brave chief would breathe upon the newborn child, thereby imparting courage. Among early Christians the ceremony of bestowing the Holy Spirit was accompanied by breathing on the candidates. Said the Psalmist: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” It was long the custom of the eldest son to try to catch the last breath of his dying father.
The shadow came, later on, to be feared and revered equally with the breath. The reflection of oneself in the water was also sometimes looked upon as proof of the double self, and mirrors were regarded with superstitious awe. Even now many civilized persons turn the mirror to the wall in the event of death. Some backward tribes still believe that the making of pictures, drawings, models, or images removes all or a part of the soul from the body; hence such are forbidden.
The soul was generally thought of as being identified with the breath, but it was also located by various peoples in the head, hair, heart, liver, blood, and fat. The “crying out of Abel’s blood from the ground” is expressive of the onetime belief in the presence of the ghost in the blood. The Semites taught that the soul resided in the bodily fat, and among many the eating of animal fat was taboo. Head hunting was a method of capturing an enemy’s soul, as was scalping. In recent times the eyes have been regarded as the windows of the soul.
Those who held the doctrine of three or four souls believed that the loss of one soul meant discomfort, two illness, three death. One soul lived in the breath, one in the head, one in the hair, one in the heart. The sick were advised to stroll about in the open air with the hope of recapturing their strayed souls. The greatest of the medicine men were supposed to exchange the sick soul of a diseased person for a new one, the “new birth.”
The children of Badonan developed a belief in two souls, the breath and the shadow. The early Nodite races regarded man as consisting of two persons, soul and body. This philosophy of human existence was later reflected in the Greek viewpoint. The Greeks themselves believed in three souls; the vegetative resided in the stomach, the animal in the heart, the intellectual in the head. The Eskimos believe that man has three parts: body, soul, and name.