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Human Animals

Frank Hamel

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Human Animals is a book that contains records and accounts of traditions dealing with the belief that certain men and women can transform themselves into animals. The causes of transformation are various: contact with a wer-animal, touching what he has touched, wearing an animal skin, rubbing the body with ointment, slipping on a girdle, buckling on a strap, and many other expedients, magical and otherwise, may bring about the metamorphosis. Chapters include: Transformation; The Bush-Soul; Human Souls in Animal Bodies; Animal Dances; Man-Animal and Animal-Man; Scapegoat and Saint; The Wer-Wolf Trials; The Wer-Wolf in Myth and Legend; Lion- and Tiger-Men; Wer-Fox and Wer-Vixen; Witches; Familiars; Transformation in Folk-lore and Fairy-tale; Fabulous Animals and Monsters; Human Serpents; Cat and Cock Phantoms; Bird-Women; Family Animals; Animal Ghosts; The Phantasmal Double; Animal Elementals; and, Animal Spirits in Ceremonial Magic.

This book has 173 pages in the PDF version.

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Excerpt from 'Human Animals'

The belief that men can change into animals and animals into men is as old as life itself. It originates in the theory that all things are created from one substance, mind or spirit, which according to accident or design takes a distinctive appearance, to mortal eye, of shape, colour, and solidity. Transformation from one form to another then becomes a thinkable proposition, especially if it be admitted that plastic thought in the spirit world takes on changed forms and conditions more readily than in the world of matter. The belief of primitive races that all created beings have an immortal soul dwelling in a material body applies equally to the brute creation and to the human race. "In the beginning of things," says Leland, "men were as animals and animals as men." The savage endows brutes with similar intelligence and emotions to his own. He does not distinguish between the essential nature of man, of various beasts, and even of inanimate objects, except where outward form is concerned; and he senses, even more clearly than his civilised brother, the psychic bonds which unite man and the animals. Folk-lore abounds in incidents which are based on the impermanence of form and which tell of people changing into animals or animals changing into human beings.

The scientific problems of to-day which deal with the theory of breaking up matter into electrons may quite possibly have a bearing on this subject and may not be so far removed, as appears at first sight to be the case, from the intuitive beliefs of the savage.

Transformation was held to be accomplished in various ways, a sorcerer, a witch or the evil one himself being the agent through whom the change was effected. Certain people have had ascribed to them the power of self-transformation, a curious psychical gift which to this day appeals to imaginative people, and which may be regarded as a projection of mind in animal form.

Changes may be voluntary or involuntary, self-transformation belonging more frequently to the former class and transformation by sorcery, witchcraft or black magic more often to the latter class. The motives of a human being who wishes to change into an animal are naturally regarded with suspicion. Greed, cruelty, and cannibalism are accusations brought against those who were tried in the Middle Ages for the crime of lycanthropy, the transformation into a wolf or other wild beast. The desire to taste human flesh is a horrible but not improbable reason for the offence. The wish to inspire fear or to gain personal power over others are motives for impersonating wild and fearsome animals, as effective where superstitious people are concerned as the less common faculty of transforming actual flesh.

Savage races do not necessarily connect the idea of transformation with any thought of evil. They find the plan of impersonating an animal in its lair, for the sake of safety, say, extremely useful. They have also the best of reasons for developing a special attribute, such as the keen scent of the hound, the long sight of the eagle, the natural protective power against cold possessed by the wolf and so forth, imitative suggestion which occurs in many of their primitive customs. Thus the Cherokee Indian when starting on a winter's journey endeavours by singing and other mimetic action to identify himself with the wolf, the fox, the opossum or other wild animal, of which the feet are regarded by him as impervious to frost-bite. The words he chants mean, "I become a real wolf, a real deer, a real fox, and a real opossum." Then he gives a long howl to imitate the wolf or barks like a fox and paws and scratches the ground. Thus he establishes a belief in transformation by sympathetic or homœopathic magic, and starts forth on his difficult journey in perfect confidence, the power of auto-suggestion aiding him on his way. Such customs are closely allied with the superstitions of the dark ages, when it was assumed without question that bodily transformation took place.

Involuntary change into animal shape was thought to occur as a punishment for crime, and was looked upon as a judgment of the gods. Few beliefs are more common among savages than that reincarnation in a lower form is the result of sin in a previous existence. Bats especially are held to be the abode of the souls of the dead, and to some races they are sacrosanct for this reason. Most animals have been looked upon as a possible receptacle of man's soul, and many primitive tribes believe that man can choose in which animal body he prefers to dwell. In the Solomon Islands, for instance, a dying man informs the members of his family in what sort of animal shape he expects to live again. One among hundreds of similar superstitions is that if a cat jumps over a corpse, the soul of the deceased enters its body.

Murder of what is holy, and the offering of human sacrifices are two offences punishable by transformation, but once transformed, the soul-animal wins respect rather than contempt, and care is taken that no injury shall befall it, lest a relative or friend should suffer. A savage avoids harming his own family animal, but does not hesitate to kill the soul-animal into which a member of a hostile tribe has entered. Should such an animal die, the soul is thought by many races to pass into another body of the same type, but other tribes, especially in Madagascar, believe that the death of the animal releases the human soul that had lodged within it.

A more original idea is that certain human beings possess animal doubles and that the soul-animal roams at large while the man remains visible in his ordinary form, and many of the vampire and wer-wolf stories are traceable to this belief. The Toradjas of Central Celebes believe that the inside parts only of the man take on the animal shape, a state which they term lamboyo. The lamboyo may be distinguished from an ordinary animal by being misshapen to some extent, for instance, a buffalo may have only one horn, or a dog may have a pig's snout. The lamboyo, like the vampire, has a preference for human victims, whom he grievously tortures and maims.

Far more beautiful is the myth of tanoana, the divine essence in man which goes forth from his body, as in sleep, and, being of the same nature as the soul of the animal, allows of interchange to take place between the human and the animal bodies.

Production notes: This edition of Human Animals was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 19th March 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'The Swan Maidens' by Walter Crane.

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