Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": THE ROAD TO THE SOUL'S WORLD

AS CONCEIVED BY THE THOMPSON RIVER TRIBES


The country of the souls is underneath us, toward the sunset; the trail leads through a dim twilight. Tracks of the people who last went over it. and of their dogs, are visible. The path winds along until it meets another road which is a short cut used by the shamans when trying to intercept a departed soul. The trail now becomes much straighter and smoother, and is painted red with ochre. After a while it winds to the westward, descends a long gentle slope, and terminates at a wide shallow stream of very dear water. This is spanned by a long slender log, on which the tracks of the souls may be seen. After crossing, the traveller finds himself again on the trail, which now ascends to a height heaped with an immense pile of clothes-the belongings which the souls have brought from the land of the living and which they must leave here. From this point the trail is level and gradually grows lighter. Three guardians are stationed along this road, one on either side of the river and the third at the end of the path; it is their duty to send back those souls whose time is not yet come to enter the land of the dead. Some souls pass the first two of these, only to be turned back by the third, who is their chief and is an orator who sometimes sends messages to -the living by the returning souls. All of these men are very old, grey-headed, wise, and venerable. At the end of the trail is a great lodge, moundlike in form, with doors at the eastern and the western sides, and with a double row of fires extending through it. When the deceased friends of a person expect his soul to arrive, they assemble here and talk about his death. As the deceased reaches the entrance, he hears people on the other side talking, laughing, singing, and beating drums. Some stand at the door to welcome him and call his name. On entering, a wide country of diversified aspect spreads out before him. There is a sweet smell of flowers and an abundance of grass, and all around are berry-bushes laden with ripe fruit. The air is pleasant and still, and it is always light and warm. More than half the people are dancing and singing to the accompaniment of drums. All are naked but do not seem to notice it. The people are delighted to see the new comer, take him up on their shoulders, run around with him, and make a great noise.


H.B. Alexander, North American Mythology (Boston, 1916), pp. 147-9; adapted from James Teit, Traditions of the Thompson River Indians of British Columbia (Boston and New York, 1898)

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