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No. 056 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 56
Friday, May 4, 1711.

‘Felices errore suo …’


The Americans believe that all Creatures have Souls, not only Men and Women, but Brutes, Vegetables, nay even the most inanimate things, as Stocks and Stones. They believe the same of all the Works of Art, as of Knives, Boats, Looking-glasses: And that as any of these things perish, their Souls go into another World, which is inhabited by the Ghosts of Men and Women. For this Reason they always place by the Corpse of their dead Friend a Bow and Arrows, that he may make use of the Souls of them in the other World, as he did of their wooden Bodies in this. How absurd soever such an Opinion as this may appear, our European Philosophers have maintained several Notions altogether as improbable. Some of Plato’s followers in particular, when they talk of the World of Ideas, entertain us with Substances and Beings no less extravagant and chimerical. Many Aristotelians have likewise spoken as unintelligibly of their substantial Forms. I shall only instance Albertus Magnus, who in his Dissertation upon the Loadstone observing that Fire will destroy its magnetick Vertues, tells us that he took particular Notice of one as it lay glowing amidst an Heap of burning Coals, and that he perceived a certain blue Vapour to arise from it, which he believed might be the substantial Form, that is, in our West-Indian Phrase, the Soul of the Loadstone. [1]

There is a Tradition among the Americans, that one of their Countrymen descended in a Vision to the great Repository of Souls, or, as we call it here, to the other World; and that upon his Return he gave his Friends a distinct Account of every thing he saw among those Regions of the Dead. A Friend of mine, whom I have formerly mentioned, prevailed upon one of the Interpreters of the Indian Kings, [2] to inquire of them, if possible, what Tradition they have among them of this Matter: Which, as well as he could learn by those many Questions which he asked them at several times, was in Substance as follows.

The Visionary, whose Name was Marraton, after having travelled for a long Space under an hollow Mountain, arrived at length on the Confines of this World of Spirits; but could not enter it by reason of a thick Forest made up of Bushes, Brambles and pointed Thorns, so perplexed and interwoven with one another, that it was impossible to find a Passage through it. Whilst he was looking about for some Track or Path-way that might be worn in any Part of it, he saw an huge Lion crouched under the Side of it, who kept his Eye upon him in the same Posture as when he watches for his Prey. The Indian immediately started back, whilst the Lion rose with a Spring, and leaped towards him. Being wholly destitute of all other Weapons, he stooped down to take up an huge Stone in his Hand; but to his infinite Surprize grasped nothing, and found the supposed Stone to be only the Apparition of one. If he was disappointed on this Side, he was as much pleased on the other, when he found the Lion, which had seized on his left Shoulder, had no Power to hurt him, and was only the Ghost of that ravenous Creature which it appeared to be. He no sooner got rid of his impotent Enemy, but he marched up to the Wood, and after having surveyed it for some Time, endeavoured to press into one Part of it that was a little thinner than the rest; when again, to his great Surprize, he found the Bushes made no Resistance, but that he walked through Briars and Brambles with the same Ease as through the open Air; and, in short, that the whole Wood was nothing else but a Wood of Shades. He immediately concluded, that this huge Thicket of Thorns and Brakes was designed as a kind of Fence or quick-set Hedge to the Ghosts it inclosed; and that probably their soft Substances might be torn by these subtle Points and Prickles, which were too weak to make any Impressions in Flesh and Blood. With this Thought he resolved to travel through this intricate Wood; when by Degrees he felt a Gale of Perfumes breathing upon him, that grew stronger and sweeter in Proportion as he advanced. He had not proceeded much further when he observed the Thorns and Briars to end, and give place to a thousand beautiful green Trees covered with Blossoms of the finest Scents and Colours, that formed a Wilderness of Sweets, and were a kind of Lining to those ragged Scenes which he had before passed through. As he was coming out of this delightful Part of the Wood, and entering upon the Plains it inclosed, he saw several Horsemen rushing by him, and a little while after heard the Cry of a Pack of Dogs. He had not listned long before he saw the Apparition of a milk-white Steed, with a young Man on the Back of it, advancing upon full Stretch after the Souls of about an hundred Beagles that were hunting down the Ghost of an Hare, which ran away before them with an unspeakable Swiftness. As the Man on the milk-white Steed came by him, he looked upon him very attentively, and found him to be the young Prince Nicharagua, who died about Half a Year before, and, by reason of his great Vertues, was at that time lamented over all the Western Parts of America.