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But by others of these nations the absurd system of Pythagorean transmigration was embraced. This dream of philosophy, which was so ancient in its origin, and so extensive in its prevalence, found its way into the new world many centuries before the immortal Columbus stepped on its shores. According to this system, the brutes of the field, and the birds of the air, are animated by human souls. Those individuals of elevated station, and illustrious virtue, entered at death the most noble quadrupeds that excel among domestic animals, or range over the boundless plains. Others of this class were allowed, at their demise, to change into the most sprightly birds-those adorned in the most dazzling plumage, and warbling the sweetest songs. But to the multitude which descended to death from the common walks of life humbler allotments were assigned. The souls of such inhabited the lower classes of brute beings—the croaking frog or crawling reptile was the form in which many of them appeared. Those citizens who died of a certain class of diseases or accidents ascended, with the souls of infants, to the god, to whom those innocents had been sacrificed, to enjoy with that deity all the pleasure peculiar to a god of his rank, especially the most delicious repasts, with all the enchantments of celestial music. The Mistecas persuaded themselves, that a vast cavern, located in their province, was the entrance into that paradise to which men of high birth were admitted. Near the mouth, therefore, of this famous cavern their nobles were usually interred, that their journey might be shorter, and their access more ready to the sacred regions of subterranean bliss.
But the religion of these superstitious millions did not consist in a harmless system of these golden dreams; its integral parts were composed of many black and bloody realities. It required a number of priests so enormous as to impose an alarming burden on the state. Those of Mexico amounted to at least one million. Thus every two families, on an average, throughout the nation was computed to support one of these instruments of superstition. This expense was exclusive of that vast sum required to build the thousands of their temples, to feed the perpetual fires with which their sacred ovens glowed, and to supply their altars with those un numbered offerings which were heaped upon them.
This system of superstition inflicted cruelties on its votaries at the very contemplation of which Christian sympathies stand aghast. Among these their public fasts may be reckoned. Some of these con. tinued three, four, and five days; others twenty, eighty, and one hundred and sixty days, respectively; and one of their most distin. guished fasts—which was only observed by some of the priests—was protracted through four years : but this could never be repeated a second term; for, if the constitutions of those who endured the agony of this abstemiousness were such that they survived four years, they became so entirely prostrated as to be incapable of future hardship. In all other fasts one meal was taken each twenty-four hours, but no wine or animal food could be allowed. But during this fast only enough of the most simple food was taken to prevent death by starva. tion.
Several fasts were preparatory to great festive occasions, and during that, especially, of one hundred and sixty days, they inflicted on
themselves the most shocking sufferings. They shed their blood as if it had been a redundant fluid, and tore their own flesh as exasperated sa vages would mangle the victims of their fury. Many of them pierced through their ears, lips, tongues, and the inuscles of their legs and arms, daily, with the sharpest thorns of aloes. Through the holes thus cruelly made, they introduced pieces of cane prepared for the purpose. These were sixty in number : the first was the smallest; the other fifty-nine were so prepared as that their size gradually increased with their number, and thus each one successively inserted in the incision enlarged the wound, and rendered the pain increasingly excruciating. They also had rough rods prepared to draw through the holes made in their tongues. This operation was performed du. ring several months, at stated intervals of a few days; and though these voluntary sufferers became exceedingly weak by this penitential process, and endured the most indescribable torments during the passage of these rods through their inflamed tongues, they were com. pelied, during the whole operation, with a loud voice, to sing praises to their gods. All these bloody instruments of torture were deposited as sacred memorials of the sufferer's penitence. So bloody were these men in their penance, that a lake in which they bathed, near the great temple, was perpetually tinged with their gore. And so monstrous were their ideas of what would be grateful to their divinities, that, prior to their offering a sacrifice to them, on a mountain, or in a cavern, they daubed themselves with a horrible ointment, composed of the ashes of poisonous insects, and' the mashed bodies of living ones, combined with noxious herbs. After this odious composition was prepared, and had been offered to the gods, the priests covered themselves with it, and then were considered proof against harm of every descrip. tion. The great temple was the exclusive residence of the high priest. All his ceremonious duties must be performed with the most scrupulous exactitude: any failure was fatal. In such an event, he was torn in pieces, and, as a matter of warning, his bloody limbs were exbibited to his successor.
But the most heart.chilling feature in this gloomy system was the fearful destruction it made of human life. Of the twenty thousand human victims it annually demanded, a large majority were prisoners of war; others were purchased for that dreadful purpose. The man. ner in which these horrid rites were performed varied in some parts of the ceremony at different occasions. Usually six priests were em. ployed in each offering. The victim was placed with his back on the altar, one priest was placed at each hand and foot, another at the head, with a wooden instrument, in the form of a coiled serpent fixed about the neck, that the least degree of motion might be prevented. The form of the altar being convex, raised the body of the victim in an arched position; while his breast was thus raised, and kept motionless as the stone on which he was stretched, the bloody priest approached, and with a knife of fint opened the breast, tore out the heart, and while it was yet palpitating, offered it to the sun ; then, after casting it at the feet of the idol, he offered it in due form to that divinity, and finally burning it, he preserved the ashes with the most sacred vene. ration. But, when the idol was sufficiently large and hollow, the heart of the victim was introduced by a golden spoon into the mouth of the
god, and his lips were anointed by the blood of the sacrifice. No sooner was the heart of the victim torn from his breast, than his head was taken off, and the bloody corpse cast to the ground from the loft in which the altar was placed. Then those who claimed a right to the remains cooked the body, and, with their friends, feasted on that human flesh which had been offered to their gods. But when the Otomies tore the sacrificed victim to pieces they hung it up about the market for sale.
The Zapotecas sacrificed men to their great gods, women to their goddesses, and children to their inferior deities. The mode of their doing this varied as the different occasions demanded on which the sacrifices were offered. The women, who represented certain god. desses, were beheaded, standing on the shoulders of other women.
At the great festival of the arrival of their gods, the victim was put to death by fire. To the great god llatoe they sacrificed two children of each sex, by cruelly drowning them; and to the honor of the same idol, several boys, at the age of seven, were devoted at another festi. val. These were purchased for the purpose of sacrificing. They did not, however, die at a stroke by the butcher's hand, but were confined in dismal caverns, which rung with their shrieks, till wasted by hunger and overwhelmed by fear they sunk unpitied into a most agonizing death.
But the most distinguished of all the human sacrifices offered by the Mexicans was that which was entitled the Gladiatorian. This was performed near the great temple in each of the larger cities, near which a large space was reserved for that purpose. In the centre of this area there was elevated a polished stone, several feet in diameter, eight feet above the common level; the prisoner, standing on this stone, was chained to it by one foot; a shield and sword were then put into his hands : he was to contend with an antagonist perfectly unconfined, and much better armed than himself. If the prisoner succeeded in vanquishing six in succession, he then received his li. berty, and recovered whatever he had lost. But, if he failed to do this, the moment he was conquered the priests dragged him away to the great altar; and, whether they found him dead or alive, they tore his heart from his breast, and, as on other occasions, with great ceremony, offered it to their god. This chance, however, of avoiding so dreadful a death was deemed a special privilege granted only to the bravest of the prisoners. The citizen who vanquished the intended sacrifice was cheered by the loud applause of the assembled thousands, which roared like thunder from the mighty throng: he was rewarded by the king himself with distinguished honor.
But of all the Satanic rites connected with this horribly bloody system none was more appalling than that which commenced the festival of each four years. On this occasion two slaves were sacri. ficed; from each of these the skin was taken entire, and their thigh bones were perfectly stripped of their covering. The next day two of the most eminent priests wrapped themselves in these bloody skins, and armed themselves with the thigh bones of these victims, and with dismal howling descended the stairs of the temple, raving like demo. niacs. The vast crowd below caught the phrensy, and with the most deafening shouts exclaimed, Yonder come our gods !
At the close of these memorable rites six prisoners were taken by as many priests and fastened to the tops of trees planted for the occasion. Scarcely had the priests descended the trees when their bound victims were transfixed by a thousand arrows; they then reascended, unchained the dying wretches, cast them to the ground, dragged them to the altar, tore out their hearts, and, as in other cases, offered them to their gods. This sacrifice completed the dreadful round of bloody rites observed on this great festival.
Large portions of South America are still the dominions of uncivilized Indians. Though the Spaniards subdued the most closelypopulated parts, and converted all such into Catholics, the remaining tribes are very numerous which have never been subdued by European arms, or converted by Roman missionaries. These still practice all the superstitious rites which they had observed centuries before the discovery of the new world. Whatever therefore was true of the monstrous superstitions of these at the conquest is no less true of them at this moment. The most improved nations of South America worshiped the sun; and, in the remotest periods to which the faint lights of tradition carry us back, many of them offered human sacrifice to that imaginary deity.
Nor is this diabolical practice of pouring out human blood on the altars of superstition yet entirely extinct among these superstitious millions. A horrid example of this is found among the Muyseas, near the Oronoco. This tribe, which was once numerous, brave, and con. siderably cultivated, is extremely sanguinary in its worship. One of the cruelties to which they were led by their superstition was the sacrifice of a boy, fifteen years of age. This victim was compelled to live from infancy in the chief temple of the nation until he was to be offered: then the priests led him out to a high column, erected for the purpose, on a sacred spot. This was done with great ceremony, in the presence of the assembled tribe; he was then firmly bound to the column and murderously dispatched by the arrows of the warriors. The priest then approached the bleeding victim, tore out his heart, and offered it on the altar of Bochica, in honor of this and other divi. nities which they adored.
If we except a few of the most degraded tribes, we shall find the aborigines of South America to have believed from time immemorial in the immortality of both men and brutes. The ground of their be. lief, with regard to the animal tribes, is to be sought in the Pytha. gorean system of transmigration; that absurd fancy, which teaches that human souls at death enter brutal natures, to feed in the field, roam in the desert, swim in the waters, or soar in the air, was doubt. less brought from the eastern continent by the early wanderers of the new world. Though it did not lead them, as it had done millions in the East, to hold sacred the life of the meanest animals, it served to reduce more nearly to a level in their view the brutal and human na. tures. Hence the horrid practice of eating human flesh, which still obtains among these savage tribes ; for, according to this system, the difference between an ox and a man consisted merely in the one being the less noble, and the other, the more noble form of the same being : to eat the ox and the man, therefore, was to eat the same being in different modes of existence. Hence the cannibalism of these tribes, at which the traveler has so often stood aghast.
The belief in the existence of evil spirits, and in their powerful agency in human affairs, is almost universal among the aborigines. Indeed, there are entire tribes which believe in no other or higher supernatural beings. The power of these malign beings they dread with the utmost horror, and resort to the means which they believe will be best adapted to propitiate them. Disease, pain, and death are supposed to proceed from them; and it is believed that a revengeful person can induce them to inflict these calamities on the object of his hatred. Hence, in every instance of severe sickness or death, they consult one of their machis, (wise men,) for the purpose of ascertain. ing who has induced an evil spirit to inflict the disease, or to take life. To make this discovery the wizard kindles several lights in the hut of the patient, or deceased ; places in one corner of it, among several laurel branches, a large bow of canelo, to which is suspended the magical drum : near these is placed the sheep intended for sacrifice; then the women, attending on the occasion, sing in loud tones a most doleful song, accompanied by the sound of small drums. Meantime the machi fumigates by tobacco smoke the branches, sheep, women, and the deceased, or patient. After this is thrice repeated, he proceeds to sacrifice the animal, take out its heart, suck its blood, and to stain the branch with the gore. He next approaches the patient, and by certain charms pretends to open his stomach to discover the poison given him by the sorcerer; then taking the magical drum, and slowly walking around the women, he beats and sings in strains adapted to call forth the wonders soon to be witnessed. Suddenly he drops like a corpse to the ground; and, after a momentary insensibility, he is thrown into the most frightful agitation; his gesticulations and horrible contortions are of the most demoniacal character, his eyes shut and wildly open alternately. Then, amid his dreadful convulsions, he is inquired of who the author of the disease may be? To which, he in. stantly replies, by naming some suspected person. Now the supposed culprit flies for life, and, if overtaken, must submit to the most cruel death! Then closes the farcical scene. This dreadful fanaticism, among other guilty causes, has prevented the advance of population in these tribes.
The peculiar religious views of several tribes regulate their manner of disposing of their dead. They suppose that the deceased is carried down a stream to the ocean, over which he is wafted to a place of delight, called Gulchoman, where the sun sets in all his glory ; that he there springs into new life, and enjoys the unfading bloom of an elysium. To furnish the dead for such a voyage they bury him in his canoe on the bank of a stream, deposit with his remains a jar of chicha, (an intoxicating liquor,) a bag of toasted corn, his lance, and lasso ; and, if a female, her spinning implements, and cooking utensils, with whatever might be a remembrancer to her of the past. By the corn and drink the departed were to refresh themselves on their long voyage, and by the instruments of labor and amusement, they were again to resume their business, and enter on their former diversions. This view of the human allotment after death is so nearly identical