Archive for the ‘philosophical essays’ Category

inoue_enryoEnryō Inoue (井上円了) 1858-1919 was a philosopher and a pioneer of occult studies in early modernity in Japan. His views on occult, or Yōkai, was unique in that he categorized anything supernatural or superstitious as well as natural things that are simply unexplained as Yōkai. His aim in occult studies, or henceforth Yōkai studies, was to explain away the unexplained by means of reason and rationality. He divided the category of Yōkai into four segments: 1) that which cannot be explained with the present method of scientific reasoning, 2) that which can be explained as a natural phenomenon, 3) that which occurs psychologically and therefore a creation of mind due to fear or misunderstanding or prejudice, and lastly 4) that which is made up by people. He published a 8-volume book on these Yokai phenomena that exists in the world, and below is a small section he wrote on the generation and corruption of the soul as well as the status of the soul.

Because the topic at hand is interesting for the Western scholars who study on the soul, and because for reasons incomprehensible to me, Inoue’s work on metaphysics has not been translated into English, I have offered as best as I can a translation on the sections he specifically deals with such topics. For those of you who want to see the original text, from which I have translated, click here: enryo-on-the-soul


Chapter 7 “On the Generation and Corruption of Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. vii, pp33-35, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


Before explaining what the soul per se is, it should be noted first and foremost on one of the most difficult problems in the ancient religions, that is to say, concerning the generation and corruption of the souls. It is often said, on the one hand, that “Souls must at all perish. For we have never heard that once a living body has died, that which is now dead has returned to life. Further, no one has yet to have examined on the existence of a soul after death. This is because the soul dies with the body.” However, such opinion is of an utmost absurdity for it is no different from the argument that when you see someone in a deep sleep, you judge him to be dead, because you have called his name but he does not respond. On the other hand, it is also said that “He who has died sometimes appears in the form of a ghost, or a certain someone has returned to life after death. These suffice to prove that the souls must not perish.” Such opinion too is of a result of a faulty reasoning due to not knowing what a soul per se is, and hence, neither side of opinions is less than credible. First of all, those who argue that souls must perish focus only on the non-existence of the souls after death, yet they do not talk or examine at all about the existence of souls in the living beings. For come to think of it, aside from whether the souls exist or not after death, our minds do not at all agree whether souls exist or not even in the living beings. Nevertheless, they say souls that have already existed in living beings must perish simultaneously at the time of death. Such an opinion is far from rational. For many things often change their shapes but do not perish. For instance, a glass full of water evaporates into steam when it is heated, yet we do not say that water per se has perished. Thus, it would be even more mysterious and the strangest thing to say that the soul that has once existed has perished all of the sudden than to say that the soul is immortal. If we say that the souls have existed in the living beings, from whence they have come from? In other words, we must investigate their origin as well by looking back into the past.

Thus, generally speaking, those who argue that souls are mortal only tell us that there are no souls after death but never stop to think from whence the souls have come in the living beings. It must be concluded that they have such narrow minds. However, on the other hand, those who argue that the souls are immortal too busy themselves with scanty explanations on reincarnation and souls manifesting as ghosts, and it is obvious that they too have no idea what they are talking about. For they say that they have proofs of having seen someone reincarnated or having seen ghosts, yet the number of ghosts seen is one or two even though millions of people have died in the past. Those particular instances far from guarantee the universality of the phenomenon. For they must first of all explain how in the world these numerous dead have never communicated to us or manifested to us. In sum, both of these opinions regarding the souls’ [im]mortality result from the fact that they are at a loss for they do not understand the nature of the souls. If we want to argue for a position clarifying what the souls as such consist of, it would be far more imperative to study the souls in the living beings than the souls after death. For all the emotions of happiness and sadness, of laughter with our mouths wide open, and of sorrow with our tearful eyes; uttering the beauty on seeing flowers, feeling pleasant on listening to the music, all these mysterious changes in behaviors are all due to the faculty of the souls. What a mysterious power souls must have and how they manifest such power! Without understanding the status of the soul in the living being, it would not be easy to understand the soul after death. For if you only speak of after death, and not before death, such an opinion would be a narrow insight and falls short to speak of the souls in general.


Chapter 8 “On the Immortality of the Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. viii, pp35-36, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


In aligning with the academic reasoning of the immortality of the soul, first of all, nothing really perishes according to the law of conservation of mass and the law of conservation of energy. For it has been scientifically proven that one thing does not spontaneously occur and perish completely all of the sudden. The law of physics and the chemistry is built upon such premises. In other words, in the academic world now, that the universe conserves and maintains mass and energy is a principle to which we all adhere. However, my mind too exists as one of the things existing in this universe, hence such law of conservation must also apply to my mind as well. If the mind is nothing but energy, like materialists would argue, it sill must obey the law of conservation and it must be admitted that it never perishes. Suppose that the materialists would say that the mind is neither a thing nor energy, but rather an experience or feeling. Still then, as soon as they admit of saying that there is such a thing as a soul, whatever it is, they must deny that it does not exist. When reasoning with the conservation of mass and energy, they must necessarily say that the mind is immortal.

Second, by the latent power and apparent power of the soul, we can say that the soul active and manifests its apparent power even though it is unable to exercise its apparent power and hidden latent when dead. In this way, it is easy to see that even though the soul seems to perish when the body is dead, even though it was apparent when the body was alive, it would just mean that the soul ceases to manifest apparently in the dead body. The difference is truly in that the difference between latency and apparency of the soul. Take an example of moving your hand. The force exerted in moving your hand does not arise spontaneously. When you suddenly stop the force as to cancel moving your hand, that force does not return to nothingness. In the first case, the force is manifested apparently, but in the second example, the force still exists latent within the body. Power that is latent is only activated when a certain condition is met. Take an example of a seed of a plant, for if you plant it underneath the earth, it will come out and form a specific plant and flower, yet the same seed will remain as it is – a seed – if it is kept in the basket, away from the soil. However, the seed in the basket still possesses the power to become a plant, neither is it the case that the seed planted in the earth gets its power from outside the seed itself. Kept inside the basket, its power is latent and not apparent, whereas once it is planted in the earth its power is made apparent. It is obvious from this that the power itself existing in the seed is any different from the seed being in the basket or underneath the earth. Considered in this line of reasoning, it is natural to think that the mind becomes activated so conditioned when alive, while it conceals its power as latent when the body is dead, that is to say, the actuality of power turns back into potentiality when is it not conditioned to exercise its power.

By the two reasons raised above, it is proved how the mind [soul] is immortal. If so, then, what we need to consider is how the soul in the present and the soul in the future can be different. Yet, that is a topic for the next section.



Chapter 9: “On the Status of the Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. ix, pp36-41, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


If the soul is to be immortal, what could be the status of the soul after death? That is a big question. When compared the soul after death to the soul in the living, the soul in the living is comprehended in the body with senses perceptions. Everything external is seen by the soul through the window of the sense perceptions, yet when dead, the mind has already departed the body, and the things cannot be seen through the same window of the sense perceptions. Therefore, the first difference between the soul after death and the soul in the living body is that while in the living it is embedded with sense perceptions, it is without sense perceptions after death. Next, the soul in the living is affected in the consciousness, but it enters into the realm of the unconsciousness after death. For instance, it is like the difference between the soul when the body is awake during daytime and when the body is asleep during nighttime, for the status of the mind is different on the one hand being conscious and on the other hand being unconscious. The soul in the living and the dead is the same as such example, which is the second difference. The third difference is that while in the living, the soul establishes a certain individual identity, yet when after death, it has no such tie to the individuality; namely, it enters into the complete equality with the sea of non-self. Judging from the above three points of difference, the soul after death is in the infinitely vast, elegantly boundless place where there is no suffering nor pleasure, no wisdom nor consciousness. Nonetheless, we have said that the soul is immortal, what difference does it make from being its dead? Even though they say there is nirvana, hell, dying with peace or salvation, such can be just a manner of speech. However, in religion, they do not only preach the immortality of the soul, but also there is the status of the soul’s being suffering or pleasant, and further in Buddhism, on what principle and reasoning can we explain the belief in the endless circle of transmigration of six posthumous worlds (Rokudōrin’ne, 六道輪廻) and the rise and fall of fate? This further requires the studies and researches on the part of scholars. To begin with, such a theory differs from the perspective of the materialists and from that of the rationalists. Yet, this is not the time to enumerate the disagreements between the two schools of thoughts. What follows below will just explain the reasons for why the soul must, even after death, maintain and continue to possess the individuality or identity.

A person’s mind-body relationship is neither that of a single relationship, although a person has one identity, nor that of a double relationship, although a person is composed of two distinct attributes; mind and body. As it were, it has neither a single nor a double relationships, and in one’s life time, every single action with regard to body and mind is acquired through perfuming[1] by means of customs and repetitions, and the more habitual it becomes, the more solidified such an action becomes so as to form as a kind of individuality. Therefore, upon death, when the soul departs body, even though the soul enters upon the sea of equality, the customs once acquired through perfuming in the past must still yet to be differentiated in the soul. Thus, that the cognition during its life time of such soul, however the body it was attached to may have died, due to the power of habit, enters into a kind of the world distinct from other souls differently perfumed goes without saying. By means of such perfuming, my own soul arises into the boundary where there is suffering and pleasantries after death. Such is the reasoning given in order to explain the cause and effect of good and evil, namely, that of Rokudōrin’ne.

Howbeit, if we escape from the self-love and attachment to selfish desire in our lifetime, develop the pure and good light, and if we die with a complete detachment from worldly business and enter upon the rational world of equality, that truly is enlightenment of Buddhist teachings. Hence, should the soul arise and sink into the boundary between suffering and pleasantry due to the individual so perfumed, it exists itself in a kind of state of quandary, but precisely by taking this quandary state as the enlightenment does the soul enter into the sea of equality. In this way, just as the Buddha enters into the enlightenment, whether the soul becomes something of an equal, indiscriminating stuff (平等無差別byoudou musabetsu) and a lone and quiet, non-perceptive entity (空寂無覚 kuujaku mukaku), it is said, “not so.” This point has been debated and argued by various religions, yet if we consider this according to Buddhism, it says that by achieving bodhisattva there exists infinite pleasure and infinite wisdom. Now how can this be, it remains to be a question. Such a question, to begin with, should not be dealt with by means of the current philosophical reasoning. In the realm of absolute, as it were, on the matter of religion, one should wait for the message from the heavens; yet still I wish to explain by means of reason, perhaps according to the perspectives of the religion, so that I may dissolve this doubt that resides within me.

The substratum of the universe and the origin of the consciousness is described as T’ai Chi[2] (太極 taikyoku) in Confucianism and Thusness, or Suchness, (真如shinnyo)[3] in Buddhism. Yet Thusness, when seen from the one side of the equality, it truly means the entity with emptiness and unconsciousness, but when seen from the discriminative side, it means the purest entity of cognition. In other words, Thusness possesses two-sidedness.

The living beings in the terrestrial world, according to the belief in the cosmogony, began as non-conscious state of being and evolved into the conscious and sentient beings, eventually acquiring intelligence[4] as human beings. However, this evolutionary state does not stop at humanity, nor does it mean at all that humanity has manifested all the enlightened attributes that the universe has yet to offer. As the more the universe evolves, the more enlightened the whole state of universe becomes. Even among the same species, the vulgar shines less and dimly, whereas the intellectuals and the scholars demonstrate so much more intelligence. Considering this as a fact, it is not difficult to imagine that there may come a time when there is intelligence that shines tens of hundreds of, or even thousands of, times more. However, this light of intelligence is wisdom of mind, and not something requiring a physical body. Therefore, it is the light emitted from within the mind. In this way, it is not unreasonable to say that this light is the bare individuality of the soul itself. Even though there is a difference between animals and humans, the light of cognizance is similar in quality, for in the case of animals the light is latent within the soul, whereas humanity leaks the light somewhat into the external world. Yet, the humans too do not emit out the light they withhold in their soul, for if they do, the amount of light would probably be near infinite. Therefore, if we have the means to emit all the light out of the soul, it would manifest as the infinite wisdom, the infinite virtue and the infinite pleasure. Speaking in this line of reasoning, the state of complete enlightenment, namely, to achieve the status of gods and Buddha one day is not al all impossible. Hence, Thusness that Buddhism talks of too should be understood as having two sides of interpretation. That is to say, on the one hand, the state of Thusness is utter emptiness, absolutely non-conscious and complete absence of suffer and pleasure, but on the other hand, within this Thusness is also hidden and late the state of infinite wisdom and the infinite tolerance, and when the soul is evolved enough it emits the light of virtue in our minds, becoming itself Thusness, that is to say, the entity of complete cognizance.

In other words, it must be known that Thusness itself possesses the passive and the active qualities.[5] If this is true, even if the state of the soul is now passively following day-by-day activities, if we see it in the active light, it is possible to suddenly shine all its wisdom latent within it, reflecting all the things past and present in the mind’s mirror, reaching the new level of virtue and enlightenment. However, in this physical world, the mind is mesmerized by the sensations from the body, so even the purest mind is surrounded by the clouds of maze and fogs of desire that no one can see through the truth. These clouds and fogs are called kleśa[6] or also known as sins. If now I cultivate good deeds and earn virtue in my body, dissipating the vulgarity once and for all, for the first time in my lifetime, the latent wisdom within my soul will transilluminate the entire universe. The original enlightenment from “Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana”[7] is manifested in such a state. However, the populace preaches in general in the negatively on both souls and the state of Thusness, and they never consider them proactively but only see them on the surface and never argues intrinsically. Arguing thus, they think that the souls after death are like dead trees and ashes, and the nirvana and the hell in the future become idealized and confused, resulting in our never doubting of their existence. However, how or if our own souls came to have consciousness has never been even clarified. What else can you call stupidity, if not this general attitude of the populace?

(Here, Inoue cites two books by Chinese authors who summarize his views so far propounded in the original Chinese and his translation of them for about a page. Because it only reiterates what he has spoken already, and because it is not his writing, I omit the part)

In sum, people do not yet know what the intrinsic light of the soul per se, yet they only see it from the negative aspect of how the soul manifests itself and do not see the proactive side of it. However, Buddhism reasons proactively when it preaches death with one’s mind at ease and achieving enlightenment. Nevertheless, on this point, we can neither offer a physical explanation nor psychological explanation, and it is in actuality a matter concerning the unknowable and the mysterious. We must then enter into the realm of such a state in thinking about it. The kind of religion I speak of opens the gate of the mysterious, and demonstrates the scenery of the realm of the absolute by means of explaining the intrinsicality of the soul according to the proactive reasoning.




[1] Italics mine. This is a Buddhist terminology meaning “affect” (In Japanese, 薫習;くんじゅうread as kunjuu). It explains that experiences through thought and sense-perceptions constantly affect how a person behaves and thinks, gradually coming to form the individual characteristics and hence all current actions and thoughts are the result of what that person has been behaving and thinking in the past. For example, the Consciousness-Only school of Buddhism explains thus: “The first transformation of consciousness is called storehouse in both Mahayana and Hinayana … the other consciousnesses which ‘perfume’ (affect) it and the consciousness which is perfumed arise and perish together, and the concept of perfuming is thus established. The act of enabling the seeds that lie within what is perfumed (the storehouse consciousness) to grow, as hemp plant is perfumed, is called perfuming. As soon as the seeds are produced, the consciousness which can perfume become in their turn causes whch perfume and produce seeds. The three dharmas (the seeds, the manifestations, and perfuming) turn on and on, simultaneously acting as cause and effect…” [excerpted from “A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy”, Chapter 23: Buddhist Idealism, p.p. 370-395, translated and compiled by Wing-Tsit Chan, Princeton University Press, 1963]

[2] It is a supreme ultimate state of undifferentiated, absolute and infinite potential; the oneness from which the duality of yin-yang originated.

[3] Tathātā in Sanskrit. A central concept in Mahayana Buddhism, synonymous with dharma.

[4] I translated 知光 (chikou) and 光明 (koumyou) variously as intelligence, the light, the light of intelligence, the light of cognizance, or enlightenment, depending on how it fits in the context in which it is used. In all cases, however, it appears to refer to the enlightened state of the soul (?) or that which is enlightened, or the virtue.

[5] It appears that the words used in Japanese in this context, 消極 (shoukyoku) and積極 (sekkyoku) may have various meanings present all at the same time. The former can mean passive, negative, pessimistic, latent, hidden, whereas the latter can mean active, positive, proactive, assertive, apparent, and so on.

[6] Sanskrit word for desire, or kleshas in English and煩悩 bonnou in Japanese.

[7] 『大乗起信論』Dai Jo Kishinron, particularly popularized in Kamakura New Buddhism era in Japan during the 13th century. See my paper for more on this topic at


Read Full Post »

鬼            Having spoken of the scientific attitude in pre-modern Japan through the eyes of Ninja, who supposedly possessed supra human knowledge of the human behavior and natural medicine, it is now time to delve further into the Buddhist conception of how the world operated. In the first part of my research, I discussed the ways in which a particular group of war specialists in Japan developed their own system of scientific knowledge, prior to the Western contact, and thus making it distinctly Japanese. This group of war specialists, Ninja, studied extensively on human behavior and psychology but my studies have shown that they had poor understanding of medicine and lacked the interest as well as the philosophical rigor in discovering the causes of illness, which in turn led them to essentially rely on nothing but the placebo effect in curing sickness. Hence, in this second part of my research into the history and philosophy of science and medicine in pre-modern Japan, I will look at the broader perspective on medical theory and attitudes towards illness amongst the monastic doctors as well as the commoners prior to the importation of the Western science. In particular, my interest is in the etiology of various types of sickness and how people in Japan dealt with the symptoms. It is of course not possible to speak of purely Japanese practice, since Chinese influence is everywhere seen. However, my study will show that Japanese Buddhist philosophy nevertheless developed distinct features unique to Japan, perhaps as a result of the synthesis of the Buddhism with the Japanese native religion of Shintoism. It is in this context that I will be discussing about the medical philosophy proper to Japan, which must have existed in order to account for sickness and beliefs unique to the culture that were not found in the continent. In this article, I will focus on the supernatural yet real causes of illness according to the Shinto-Buddhist philosophy. In pre-modern period Japan, the causes of illness were explained in terms of Traditional Chinese medical philosophy, Taoism, and Buddhist medical theory. For example, Chigi智顗(538-597), the founder of Tien T’ai school and the author of Makashikan, a widely studied book exploring etiology, asserted that there were six major causes of illness. They are 1) the imbalance of four elements, 2) excessive eating and drinking, 3) lifestyle related diseases, 4) daimon, 5) evil spirits, and 6) deeds in the previous life.[1] Of these, the first three are natural causes and thereby can be treated with the medical knowledge. On the other hand, the latter three are supernatural causes and cannot be treated except spiritually, i.e. one must follow the path of the Buddha. I will focus in particular on the daimon and evil spirits in the field of medical thought in pre-modern Japan, and unveil the familiar concepts of Oni and Yokai in light of medical context in the history of Japan, analyzing the ways in which these supernatural forces came into the medical philosophy in the Japanese monastic medicine. This paper will be divided into three parts, preceded by a brief preliminary remark. First, I will examine what Oni, Yokai and evil spirits are, what their attributes include and what they have to do with the causes of illness. This part will be a socio-historical exposition, and as such, I will mention several prominent figures in the history of Yokai monsters and discuss about the stories told of them. These figures include: Kappa, Zashiki Warashi, Tsukumo-gami, Tenjo-Name, Uji no Hashihime, Shuten-Doji, Onryou as Evil Spirits. I will begin with laying out the socio-cultural belief that the different demons were said to cause different illnesses, and each illness was attributed to a task-oriented deity or a spirit. The second part is a philosophical exposition, in which a detailed analysis on the Buddhist doctrines that were introduced to Japan during the Heian Period in the beginning of the 9th century are examined, which set the stage for the intellectuals of the time to explain these phenomena in terms of the Buddhist doctrines of Consciousnesses, which later became interfused with the native Shinto beliefs and Chinese Ying-Yang theory of medicine, creating Japan’s own philosophical system called Onmyoudo. However, Onmyoudo is more concerned with the natural science as in concoction of medicine or regulae for the dietary recommendations. Since my aim in this paper is to explain the supernatural aspect of the causation of illnesses, I will postpone the analysis of the Onmyoudo as the philosophical system, and I shall only focus on the Buddhist philosophy of Consciousnesses. In the last part of this paper, having reflected upon the socio-cultural beliefs about the causes of illness and having examined the philosophical framework of the time, I will offer an interpretation of the causes of illness, as synthesized version of the two, and conclude that what has usually been considered as distinct fields of study, i.e. socio-anthropology of evil spirits and the philosophy of Buddhism, are in fact deeply related to one another and the ontology of Yokai and evil spirits cannot be fully explained without having an recourse to the fundamental system of Buddhist philosophy. For it has been written and explained that the demons and evil spirits were thought of as causes of illness in Japanese literature, and everyone in Japan knows that demons and evil spirits would bring misfortunes and sickness, but it appears that no one actually has talked about this in light of philosophical reflections but only as a historical fact. People have taken for granted that these demons and evil spirits existed and then discussed about what they would and could do. But upon reflecting on the contemporary philosophy, it seems the beliefs in the demons and particular monsters are rooted in the conception of consciousness as the cosmic force in the Buddhist literature. Furthermore, such demonstration of Yokai phenomena and Buddhist philosophy as a unified framework that constitutes a holistic intellectual system would show how Japanese medical philosophy did not show any interests in the qualitative-quantitative dichotomous way of conceiving the medicine and nature as in the West, and hence no such thing as a ‘scientific revolution’ (dissatisfaction with the way things were explained) came into the scene.   Preliminary Remarks: Defining the Yokai monsters800px-Hyakki_Yako   According to the most widely read medical treatise written by Chigi, Makashikan, of the late 6th century, some of the main causes of illness include demons and evil spirits as well as the deeds done in the past life. In Japan, demons as well as evil spirits are said to belong to the larger category of what is called Yokai. Yokai is written with the kanji characters that mean attractive, bewitching, suspicious 妖and 怪mysterious, creepy. It may be translated as monsters, demons or sometimes as goblins or evil spirits. In this way, Yokai may be said to include all of these supernatural entities, though as we will see, some have acquired distinct attributes and popularity that they may be better expressed as Oni, Onryou or simply as evil spirits in general. These entities are said to enter from outside into the body from the five sense and torment people either physically or spiritually.[2] One medical treatise of the time lists the causes of illness as due to the deeds done in the previous life, blasphemy against Buddha, gods of pestilence or fierce gods and departed souls as well as spirits of fox and Yokai monsters.[3] And this same treatise recommends recitation of sutras and exorcism as well as performing an Onmyo ceremonial rituals. In particular, chanting and reciting sutra were said to have the definitive effect in curing illness, so much so that the 13th century monk, Mujuu 無住 (1227-1312), spoke that “even if you make a mistake reciting the sutra, as long as you believe in it, it has the power to cure even malaria,” suggesting that the placebo effect is a large factor in treatment.[4] Hence, the same monk argued that “it is better to transcribe sutras and read them, hence accumulating good deeds, than to pay money to doctors who do not know anything about medicine. In fact, those quack doctors would not only be able to cure the illness but also make it worse.”[5] Furthermore, yet another treatise specifically refers to the 15 types of demons that are task oriented and how each of them spreads particular illness and makes children sick.[6] Seeing in this light, Yokai may be said to be beings that possess supranatural powers and cause phenomena or experiences in us that are inexplicable according to the modern science. These phenomena or experiences not only refer to the spirits that cause illness and misfortunes but also came to refer to the experiences of simply having seen an animals that talk, encountered with aliens or been in a haunted house. These so-called Yokai phenomena are oftentimes dismissed in our modern society as being unscientific or superstitions, i.e. that which is contrary to the scientific thinking. But by the scientific reasoning is simply meant that a particular experience or an instance of phenomenon to be quantified and measured, and yields the same outcome upon repeated experiments. If regularity and quantifiable phenomenon are what is lacking in classifying Yokai as a scientific phenomenon, then Yokai are not scientific phenomena. But that does not mean Yokai beliefs are at the same time unreasonable or irrational. Just as many of us believe in ghosts or in karmic forces, these beliefs do nevertheless affect us and shape our understanding of the world as a cosmic entity. Further, the fact that these beliefs are held by rational people suggests that there is a rational explanation for why they believe in what they do. Just as people who believed in the existence of witches and feared them as imminent danger in Europe not too long ago in history for which there is a rational explanation, there must have been a similar mindset or a framework that allowed people to believe in the existence of Yokai monsters as well as ghosts and demons in the past. Just because we cannot explain them with our science, it does not mean that the people living in a different place and time did not know what they were doing. It is my aim in this essay to shed light on the philosophical framework and sociological mindset of the period in history that we seem to dismiss as irrational and nonsensical, and explain that what seems unreal or unscientific to us does indeed have a sophisticated theoretical justification that warranted them rationality for their belief.

Part I: Yokai, Oni and Evil Spirits


  As has been mentioned, I will first introduce some Yokai monsters and what they are said to do. There are a countless number of Yokai monsters in the history of Japanese folklore, and it is neither possible nor necessary to discuss all of them for the purpose of this essay. I will here pick some of the major and minor Yokai monsters for analysis rather arbitrarily; namely, Kappa, Zashiki-Warashi, Tsukumo-gami, Tenjo-Name, and Rokuro-Kubi. In the Koshinto belief (the Ancient Way of the Gods), the souls were found in everything. Resulting from this animistic worldview was the belief that things either animate or inanimate, after having been used or lived for a long time, would become holy and be elevated to the status of the gods. These old things that become gods are then called “Tsukumogami” and they may bring you fortune or cause you harm, depending on how you have treated them. As it will be seen, gods in Shintoism are rather like deified spirits in that while they can be worshipped as guardian gods, they can be feared as ill-disposed gods as well. This appears to be the general trend in describing Yokai monsters, i.e. as those gods that have been neglected and forgotten, causing misfortunes to people so people would notice their presence once again so that they can worship them. This is why the Yokai scholar, Kazuhiko Komatsu, describes Yokai as the deities that are not worshipped and gods as the deities that are worshipped.[7] Some examples of these Tsukumogami may include the one-eyed one-footed umbrella and the human shaped cat. The former is said to sneak up on humans and lick them with its large oily tongue,[8] while the latter is more pernicious in that it feeds on humans.[9] Yet another Yokai, Zashiki-Warashi has an appearance of human child, usually aged from 3 to 15. It can take either gender, and when it is a boy it wears a black traditional kimono, and when it is a girl it wears a red padded sleeves kimono jacket. They are heard playing in the tatami room or in the hallway by themselves usually during the nighttime, and when you go to the room where the child’s voice is coming from, you find nothing but the toys and footprints. In recent years, there have been reports that an employee in a building, when working until late at night, heard children’s voices and footsteps from upstairs, and when she went up to see who were there, she only found old toys on the floor and no one else in the building. This Yokai, however, is said to bring fortune to the household in which it resides, and when Zashiki-Warashi leaves the house, the house becomes poor. SekienTenjonameToriyama Sekien, the ukiyo-e artist, in the 18th century depicted yet another Yokai that lives in an old house and leaves stains on the ceiling. This Yokai, Tenjo-Name, appears when there is no one in the room and licks the ceiling to leave marks and disappears.[10] One cannot help but wondering what it wants to do. But probably, some of the most popular Yokai in the popular folklore are Rokuro-Kubi and Kappa. Rokuro-Kubi is usually a female, whose neck stretches or comes off completely to attack people at night and suck their blood. It often comes off completely when she is asleep, and if the body is moved to elsewhere while the head is detached, the head cannot find its way back to the body and goes missing.[11] Kappa too is a Yokai that has a weakness. Kappa is often translated into English as a water imp. It is shaped like a human child and sometimes depicted with scales on its body. Its body is greenish and has a plate on its head. The plate is always wet with water and if it should dry out or gets broken, Kappa loses its power or dies. It has a small beak, a shell, and its hands are web-like. Its arms are connected in the body, and if you pull out one, the other one comes with it. It likes cucumbers and sumo wrestling. This is why we call sushi rolls with cucumbers, “Kappa-maki”. Kappa is usually said to take kids into the water and drown them. [12] So parents in Japan would often tell their kids not to go near the water.Kappa_water_imp_1836 When looking at these Yokai figures, one would immediately see that there are no universally shared characteristics in what they do. Not only is their ontological status ambiguous but also their social functions are obscure at best. Where do they come from? Do they generate from species to species? They must, if these witness accounts across centuries are to be trusted. Or perhaps they are immortal and the same individual keeps appearing throughout the history. One cannot help but asking what sort of purpose, if any, it serves to live for centuries by licking the ceilings of houses or playing with old toys, when there are video games and smartphones available. Indeed, the only social function they play seems to be that they frighten people. But why do they? The answer to this question may be found in more specific Yokai that has its root in Buddhism. For Yokai, after all, are a Shinto belief combined with Buddhist philosophy, which gives the intellectual framework for the native deities to thrive in accordance with the Buddhist teachings. Without understanding the Buddhist origin of the spirits, it is not possible to understand the reason for Yokai’s continuing presence in Japanese intellectual history. I will now examine Oni and evil spirits as causes of illness. Oni is often translated as demons in English, but more strictly speaking, Oni has the same connotation as the Greek word for gods, i.e. daimon. Its essential characteristics do not involve goodness or badness, but only that of powerfulness. Daimons can be good or bad depending upon how we interpret their actions. This is the notion of Oni we have in Japan, for sometimes Oni are seen as harbingers of wealth and fortune. I will deem this notion of Oni as only subjectively true, and according to the Buddhist tradition, Oni are to be always feared as “dreadful supernatural beings emerging from the abyss of Buddhist hell to terrify wicked mortals [and] their grotesque and savage demeanor and form [should] instill instant fear” in us.[13] Further, Oni are described as at one time one-eyed giant who sucks the human’s vital energy and devours humans, or at another time as having one or two horns protruding from their scalps, as having the third eye in the center of the forehead, and as wearing a loincloth of fresh tiger skin.[14] Above all, the most common attributes of Oni are their cannibalistic nature and their ability to transform themselves into anything.[15] It is indeed the Yokai with utmost negative association. In fact, we can see that a lot of illnesses were attributed to the gatherings of Oni from antiquity. For example, in the “Explanation of the Dharani Teachings on the Guardian Gods of the Children” (仏説護諸童子陀羅尼経所説)[16] written in the 6th century, fifteen different Oni were described that are said to make kids sick. These Oni appear as various animals or demon-gods and possess the children. For instance, one Oni takes the shape of a snake, and makes a child belch incessantly as to suffocate him. Another Oni appears as a lion and makes a child vomit. And yet another appears as a bird-like man and causes the possessed kid’s shoulders to shake. The other symptoms caused by the Oni’s possession include baby colic, diarrhea, high fever, dizziness, foaming in the mouth and crunching fists and so on. There were also Oni that spread epidemics, and depressions or mental illness too were attributed to the Oni’s doings. In the 15th century, various studies were conducted in order to identify which Oni is responsible for which illness or epidemics.[17] Although Oni were oftentimes depicted as having some kind of physical appearances, they were often depicted as such simply to render them visibility. For example, in Onmyoudo, Oni referred specifically to the immaterial evil spirits that caused human infirmity. Their invisibility was, in fact, a predominant feature of Oni in their very early stage and it was their invisibility that made them dreadful to us, because there was no way of defending ourselves against what we could not see.[18] Insofar as the Oni refer to the immaterial evil spirits, there does not seem to be much difference between Oni and Ma, which is the evil spirits proper that is listed as the distinct cause of illness from Oni in Makashikan.[19] What is different indeed lies not in their supposed appearances, but in the way in which they affect human health. For Oni enters into the body from the five senses to those who wish ill of others and try to do evil deeds and physically torment them, whereas the evil spirits proper will corrupt apperception and strip away the wisdom to attain Buddhahood. Further, they stir up the ill will in people and destroy the good deeds.[20] In other words, Oni cause physical harm to people, whereas Ma causes spiritual harm. Moreover, whereas Oni choose to cause harm to those who are harmful to the others, Ma will come into people’s body when in the midst of their training as soon as they allow a room for accepting any desires by thinking of impure thoughts.[21] They are on a spiritual, psychological level, attached to the clothes people desire or food people take in, and they enter into one’s body when he gladly accepts those desires and is taken in by them. So according to this tradition, vengeful spirits and ghosts who cause harm to people or who scare them cannot be classified as evil spirits but rather Oni or more broadly as Yokai, for they do not impinge upon people’s effort to attain Buddhahood. Nevertheless, both Oni and Ma are treatable by the Buddhist purification methods, and this is why exorcisms were often recommended in addition to the recitation of Buddhist sutras.epidemic oni We now know what we mean by Yokai, Oni and evil spirits – we also know that they affect us in various different ways. Some seem to exist to scare us and make us recognize the gods who have long been neglected, while others are there to keep an eye on who amongst us have ill intentions and desires to harm others. Yet others try to hinder us from attaining Buddhahood, luring us with material goods and pleasures of life. What I want to focus on now is precisely what happens in us when these external enemies come to affect us. In order to understand why we see Yokai monsters around us, we will need to understand the mechanisms of how Oni are said to attack us. This is because Oni appears to be more closely connected with us than many of the Yokai monsters, for as we have seen, although some Yokai come to hunt us, either with the rolling head that sucks human blood or by abducting kids into the abyss of the water late at night, but many of them are relatively harmless and mind their own businesses. The head of Rokuro-Kubi is not conscious of attacking any particular persons but only subconsciously aware of its actions. This is why a manservant at a certain temple asked the monk in one morning, ‘Has my head come to visit last night?’ The monk responded that a person’s head came to his chest as he slept, and he grabbed it and threw it out. The manservant replied that he had a habit of losing his head and asked that for fear of not causing the monk more trouble, he would like to take a leave.[22] Kappa, too, does not go out of his way to drown children but captures only those who come near the water after dark. Oni, on the other hand, seeks out people with malicious intent, and possesses them to make them sick or severely injure them. From this, I argue that Yokai monsters are rather like variations of Oni – distant relatives, as it were. Just like Oni, Yokai too were feared as vindictive spirits, as we see from some of the older accounts of spiritual Yokai in Shoku-Nihongi 続日本紀 (797) and Makura no Soushi 枕草子in Heian period.[23] But after the Heian period, Oni came to dominate the role of vengeful spirits and Yokai came to be set aside to refer to some innocuous yet mysterious phenomena that could not be attributed to the sheer negativity portrayed in Oni. This is probably because Oni is a Buddhist concept that came to Japan along with the Chinese philosophy, whereas Yokai developed out of a native Shinto concept of animism and only shares the qualitative similarity with Oni. With the spread of Onmyoudo in Heian period, Oni came to symbolize the fearful and the illness, and Yokai phenomena were confined to the rather minor role of Tsukumogami and the other mysterious events. It was only during the Edo period that, with the gradual disappearance of strong belief in Onmyoudo, the concept of Oni deep rooted in such doctrine too came to be dismantled, and what was left were the mysterious but rather innocuous phenomena supposedly attributed to the shapeless Yokai and invisible spirits. Because the core beliefs about Yokai as the fearful spirits were passed onto Oni, and Oni played in large part the role of spreading illness, understanding the cause and the essence of Oni would necessarily clarify what the intellectual basis for the belief and acceptance of such entity. For this, we will now look at the development in Chinese Buddhist philosophy on consciousness, which were largely studied in Japan. In particular, I will focus on the two Buddhist schools that had a tremendous influence on the later development of Buddhism in Japan that I believe would help shed light on the rational acceptance of supernatural entities as the agents of illness.     Part II: Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness摩訶止観   The first school I discuss is called the Consciousness-Only School, which represented the major development of Mahayana philosophy in India, and this school prepares the way for understanding the T’ien T’ai School, which was introduced to Japan by Saicho in 806. As was mentioned earlier, T’ien T’ai School was established by Chigi in the 6th century in China, and one of his most-studied treatises on Buddhist practice, Makashikan, or the Great Concentration and Insight, lists Oni and Evil Spirits as the causes of illness. T’ien T’ai philosophy is best known for its idea of three thousand worlds immanent in a single instant of thought. What this means, however, is best illustrated with the understanding of dharmas and differing levels of Truth. And the understanding of consciousness in Buddhist philosophy, I believe, will also explain the roles played by Oni and evil spirits as the causes of illness in Japanese society. The central doctrine of the Consciousness-Only School is that of eight Consciousnesses. According to this school, the mind or the consciousness is divided into eight functions and consists of the five sense-consciousnesses of touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell; one sense-center consciousness that organizes sense data and forms conceptions of objects; one though-center consciousness, which wills and reasons on a self-centered basis, and one store-house consciousness (alaya). These Consciousnesses are in perpetual change, involving threefold transformation. The first of which happens at the storehouse consciousness, where the ‘seeds’ or effects of good and evil deeds, which exist from time immemorial are stored, that become the energy to produce the external manifestation such as ideas and images of things existing.[24] This consciousness brings these seeds into manifestation spontaneously through contacts with the other consciousnsses. Although it itself is indifferent to its associations, the storehouse consciousness is constantly affected and perfumed or influenced by incoming perceptions and cognitions by these external manifestations. In this way, “the three dharmas (the seeds, manifestations and perfuming) turn on and on, simultaneously acting as cause and effect.”[25] This transformation in the storehouse consciousness is not external nor does it come to an end, and is thought to be a perpetual transformation from time immemorial. There was never a time at which there was no consciousness nor will the consciousness remain the same at any point in time. Indeed, the Consciousness-Only School argues that there has always been consciousness transforming without interruption and explains that it is like a violent torrent and “the basis of the constructions in the four realms which form the substance of existence, the five stages of transmigration, and the four kinds of living beings, and its nature is so firm that it holds the seeds without losing them,” and as the violent torrent continues for a long time, “some sentient beings will float and others will sink.”[26] This is important, as it means the four realms of substance (Earth, Water, Air, and Fire), the five stages of transmigration (the hells, those of ghosts, animals, human beings and heavenly beings) and the four kinds of living beings (those produced from the womb, from eggs, from moisture and through metamorphosis) are all combined in this consciousness and they constantly influence, or perfume, each other to produce manifestations. The second transformation of consciousness involves the thought-center consciousness, and perpetually takes the storehouse consciousness as an object and is always accompanied by the four evil defilements of self-delusion, self-view, self-conceit and self-love. In the first transformation, we saw the storehouse consciousness as pure consciousness itself with perceptions flowing in and out and producing something while the consciousness itself remained indifferent to any of the seeds, manifestations and perfuming. But here at the second transformation, we see the emergence of self in consciousness. As soon as one cognizes oneself as a thinking subject, self-view exists, which is the belief that exists, “erroneously imagining certain dharmas to be the self that are not the self.”[27] At the same time, self-delusion, or ignorance and lack of understanding of the character of the self emerge. Where there was the principle of non-self in the storehouse consciousness, now self-conceit gives rise to doubt about the possibility of non-self. It produces a sense of pride in the self in feeling of superiority and self-love develops a deep attachment to what is clung to as the self. Through this perpetual transformation, the sentient beings are bound to the cycle of life and death, and the “four defilements constantly arise and pollute the inner minds and cause the six other transforming consciousnesses to be continuously defiled.”[28] The third transformation of consciousness consists of the last six Consciousnesses all together. They are the Consciousnesses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste with the binding sense-center consciousness, and they discriminate the spheres of objects. Because their job is to discriminate sphere of objects only, it is important to note that they too are neither good nor evil in themselves. The difference between the common five Consciousnesses and the sense-center consciousness is that whereas the each of the five has its own sphere of objects, the sense-center consciousness takes the external world as a whole as its object. What is interesting is that while all three transformations take place at the same time and influence each other, and therefore are governed by cause and effect, each transformation is hierarchically organized in that without the thought-center consciousness, there is no grasping of an idea of any external manifestation. Nor would there be any conceptual activity and identification of the self independently of the external world had there been no storehouse consciousness. It all depends on the alaya and it is only through the root consciousness of alaya, can the five sense Consciousnesses manifest themselves in accordance with various causes.[29] Because all depends upon the storehouse consciousness, it is argued that everything is consciousness only and inseparable from consciousness. The word “only”, the Treatise explains, is intended not to deny however that “there are mental qualities, dharmas and so forth inseparable from consciousness.”[30] Further, what follows from this is that because dharmas and manifestations are not separated from minds, sentient beings become pure or impure in accordance with the mind. This is again explained and supported in the Four Wisdoms of bodhisattvas that the contradictory Consciousnesses are but characters, meaning the same thing perceived by ghosts, human beings and deities appear differently to them in accordance with their past deeds. If there was an external sphere as actually existing, how could this be possible? Such is only possible if consciousness takes non-being as its object. Indeed, “he who has realized the freedom and the ease of mind can change and transform earth into gold without fail according to his desires[, but] if there really was an external sphere, how can these transformations be possible?”[31] Here, the Treatise uses an instance in alchemy to support the view that there really is not an external world independently of our consciousness and argues that an apparent transmutation of base metals into precious ones is nothing but a manifestation caused by mental qualities. Although external spheres are apprehended by the consciousness, its externality is still erroneously formed and created by the sense-center consciousness, and these objective spheres that are immediately apprehended are in fact the perceived portions of the Consciousnesses themselves. It is only in this sense that we say they exist externally. But because we know that the colour and so forth that the sense-center consciousness conceives as external and real are erroneously imagined to be existent, we say also that they are nonexistent.[32] In this way, the Consciousness-Only School steers “far away from the two extremes of holding that dharmas are real (although they have no nature of their own) or holding that dharmas are unreal (although they function as causes and effects),” and establishes the Middle Path, which the school holds it to be the correct view.[33] Only through this Middle Path can we differentiate the three kinds of dharmas, avoids being deceived by the worldly existence and discern what has the real existence. For when we know the Middle Path, we can immediately see what is conceived by the vast imagination through juxtapositions of external manifestations, such as horns of a rabbit and unicorns, and recognize that these are purely illusory, being qualities of the mind, and have only false existence.[34] Similarly, those dharmas that depend on others for productions, such as capsizing of the boat in the sea, have purely temporary and dependent existence, and hence have no nature of their own.[35] So the school holds that only the reality that transcends all specific characters and represents Thusness has the true existence and is the Ultimate Reality. Such reality is only realizable “when through discipline and enlightenment the pure seeds in the storehouse consciousness are cultivated and the impure aspect of the storehouse is overcome.”[36] It is only when one is not enlightened does one see horns of a rabbit, a unicorn or a walking umbrella that are purely illusory and therefore have only false existence. Further, some beings may be said to depend on each other for their existence, such as the capsizing of a boat. Suppose a boat was capsized in the sea. And further suppose that this was caused by the successive waves hitting the boat. In this case, the chief condition of the wave is the combination of the wind and water in the sea in such a way that produced a wave. This wave is further followed by succeeding waves enough to capsize the boat. There is the chief constitutive condition, which is wind and water; the immediate condition, which is the following waves; the objective condition, which is the boat on the water; and the upheaving condition, which is the last wave that brings all conditions to the climax, i.e. upsets the boat. This series of event is apparently caused and as a result the boat is capsized, but its causes only have dependent and thus temporary existence, for the capsizing of the boat cannot happen unless all causes are present at the same time. The process of enlightenment resembles that of being in a dream. For, just as we do not know that we are in a dream while sleeping, we do not become aware of the fact that the sphere of objects are unreal before we reach the state of true awakening, and we would be perpetually in the midst of a dream.[37] Having examined the Consciousness-Only School, I will now look at the philosophy of T’ien T’ai School. In the Consciousness-Only School, the Middle Path is identified with Thusness that transcends all specific characters and hence it attempts to arrive at the middle ground between realism and nihilism. T’ien T’ai philosophy, on the other hand, aims to synthesize the both realms in which transcendence (noumenon) and immanence (phenomenon) are harmonized, producing the perfect harmony of the Three Levels of Truth: the Truth of Emptiness, the Temporary Truth, and the Truth of the Mean. The first two levels of truth have already been discussed; namely, that all dharmas are empty because they have no nature of their own but depend on causes for their production (the Truth of Emptiness) and that the dharmas are nonetheless produced and do possess temporary and dependent existence (the Temporary Truth).[38] The third level of Truth is the combination of the first two, that is, it is the very nature of dharmas that they are both empty and temporary (the Truth of the Mean). By not taking on the middle ground between the emptiness and temporary truth, as the Consciousness-Only School did, but rather combining the two into its philosophical system, T’ien T’ai School was able to include all that there is, without making any distinctions between the external manifestations that are qualities of the mind and the internal activities of the pure consciousness in which the production of seeds and perfuming the manifestations perpetually took place. In this way, T’ien T’ai School achieved what is called the three thousand worlds of immanent in an instance of thought. In the realm of the Temporary Truth, there exists ten realms: Buddhas, bodhisattvas, Buddha-for-themselves, direct disciples of the Buddha, heavenly beings, spirits, human beings, departed beings, beasts, and deprived men. In each of these realm involves the other realms as well. So in the realm of Buddha, all the other realms are included, and in the realm of heavenly beings, all the other realms are included, and so on, making it one hundred realms. Each of these realms in turn possesses the ten characters of Thusness: character, nature, substance, energy, activity, cause, condition, effect, retribution, and being ultimate from beginning to end. Each of these then possesses living beings, of space and of aggregates (matter, sensation, thought, disposition, and consciousness), which resulting in the three thousand worlds and the totality of manifested reality.[39] It is the world as the totality of all the worlds. All these realms are so interpenetrated that they are said to be immanent in a single instant of thought. These are not produced by any mind, nor are they included in an instant of though, but rather “all the possible worlds are so much identified that they are involved in every moment of thought.” Unlike the Consciousness-Only School, where the world is the consciousness itself, in T’ien T’ai philosophy, all phenomena are manifestations of the Mind and each manifestation is the Mind in its totality.[40] As has been mentioned, because this philosophy involves all, and since everything involves everything else, it implies the doctrine of universal salvation. All beings possess Buddha-nature and are therefore capable of salvation. And this salvation is achieved through the method of concentration and insight, or Makashikan. Namely, by recognizing the three levels of Truth just discussed.

III: The Etiology of Illness by Supernatural Entities

oni We have seen that Yokai, Oni and evil spirits are said to cause fear and illness. We have also seen what the Buddhist philosophy teaches us this world really is. It is nothing but the consciousness, and the apparent external phenomena are but mental qualities and manifestations of one’s own mind. It is how the mind perceives the floating manifestations arising from imagination. The kinds of manifestation one sees, then, differ from person to person, as the Four Wisdoms of the Consciousness-Only School explains. What we see with our consciousness is dictated by what we do and what we eat. If there is an imbalance in our constituent elements, we become deluded and fall into an easy prey by Oni. Our weakened body will not resist the intrusion of various daimons and the very fact that we become ill serves as a warning and a reminder that we need to be more mindful of our dietary restriction. Similarly, we become sick due to the deeds we did in our previous life, for the soul of such individual is tainted, and the manifestations of the consciousness too will become muddied with malignant seeds. Indeed, illness was such an essentially feature of what it is to be a human that many monks conceived the state of illness as dharma, and taught that one should use the illness as the object of our consciousness and observe it with the wisdom arising from the immobile faith. It is the times of illness, he argued, when one attains enlightenment. Through such means, then, one should discover the reasons as well as the meanings that such illness has brought to him, and search for the treatment, and attain enlightenment by experiencing the entire process as the totality.[41] So Chigi as well as other monks often perceived illness as an opportunity to reflect oneself and the others around him, and this attitude was known as “Byousoku-Bosatsu” 病即菩薩, or the attainment of Buddhahood in sickness.[42] Especially amongst the T’ien T’ai monks in Japan, they preferred to consult with Mahā-prajñāpāramitā-śāstra 大智度論, authored by Nāgārjuna 龍樹, and argued that illness are either caused by the past deeds or by kleshas, i.e. worldly desires.[43] In both physical and spiritual illness, the true cause is said to be in the kleshas煩悩. Once kleshas get activated, it will cause imbalance in the body and bring disharmony in the life rhythm, causing one to be sick. The treatment, therefore, is to actually recognize what is causing the kleshas, and avoid having an attachment arising from the imagination, and further to understand that everything is in a state of flux and nothing is absolute. Things in this world exist as dependent on one another and constantly changing. When you understand this, you will recover from illness.[44] Similarly, Komatsu argues that when a person does something bad, he starts feeling guilty and becomes convinced anyone may harm him because of what he did. This sense of insecurity and fear in turn cultivate the Yokai in his mind. In other words, it is this very fear he feels himself that causes him to fall ill, while attributing the cause for his illness to the evil spirits of the other people.[45] When looked at this way, it is natural to perceive Buddha as the wise doctor and sutra as the medicine, as they were often spoken of as such. Monks then offer the words of Buddha by prescribing the patients the spells or citation of sutras. Indeed, there is an account of medical practice in Japan given by a Jesuit missionary in the 16th century, which reads that   In Japan , when you become sick, a doctor comes and takes the pulse, perform an acupuncture on stomach, back and arms. Although they do not perform bloodletting, they follow dietary restrictions that are contrary to out customs, and take in medicine. They also pray to Buddha and gods, make others observe dharma, have monks read them sutras, and call in exorcists who can perform sorcery.[46]   These monks whose job it is to exorcise were called Genza験者. How this was performed was that they would summon the protector daimons, who then would enter into the sick person. These protector daimons would chase away the Yokai or evil spirits that possessed the sick, which in turn is transferred to another body called Yorimashi憑座. Yorimashi are persons or objects capable of attracting spirits, giving them the physical space to occupy. Once this is done, the protector daimon would once again chase away the evil spirits from Yorimashi to complete the exorcism.[47] There is, of course, this problem of where the spirits would go afterwards. This is not really explained, but granting that all phenomena are mental qualities, evil spirits thrive well in sick person’s mind most comfortably. But once transferred to the healthy subject, the mind of Yorimashi is presumably strong and resistant, so the evil spirits will be driven away from such a subject relatively easily. Once separated from a subject, they lose the consciousness in which they inhere, and disappear into Emptiness. Yokai then are the mental manifestations of one’s own kleshas and how one deals with the external world as such. This is why there are a countless number of different kinds of Yokai and none seems to appear in bulk but always individually – i.e. those who are chased after by Rokuro-Kubi are not on the same night attacked by Kappa and see Tenjou-Name when he comes home. And when many Yokai are depicted, they always appear simultaneously with the other types of Yokai monsters, as in Hyakki Yagyou 百鬼夜行, or Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, throughout Japanese history. In this case, they do not attack specific individuals but walk around at night perhaps representing the kleshas of the phenomenal world. In the case of Oni, however, is rather different, for they represent the evil deeds in the generality. This is why they all share the generic features and they all exist for one purpose, i.e. to cause physical harm to those with malicious intent in order to prevent them from attaining the Buddhahood. Evil spirits further differ from both Yokai and Oni in that Yokai and Oni may appear to ordinary people but evil spirits are normally reserved for those monks who are about to attain Buddhahood but fell prey to the worldly desires in the midst of their training, as we have seen from the account given by Chigi in Makashikan.[48] In this respect, evil spirits may be more pernicious, for they also prey on the Buddhist monks, or those who learn to attain Buddhahood. Perhaps, these evil spirits are so persistent in nature that even with the exorcism using Yorimashi, they may remain independently of anyone’s mind, and it may possess a consciousness of its own. Such evil spirits may materialize and bring about misfortunes of natural disasters, as in the case of the vengeful spirit of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903). Michizane’s vengeful spirit is a famous example of Onryou 怨霊 causing a catastrophic damage to the Heian capital in the 10th century. Michizane, a skilled statesman and a poet, was disgraced, demoted and sent to an exile by jealous Fujiwara leaders. Soon after he died in exile in Kyushu in 903, the Palace at the capital was struck by lightening, and “week after week the capital was drenched by rainstorms and shaken by thunderbolts,” followed by “the violent death of prominent men and the constant outbreak of fires.”[49] These misfortunes continued successively and were of such a magnitude that it was attributed to the vengeful spirit of Michizane. Even after restoring him to the office and ranks he had held during his lifetime and all his official documents sentencing him to exile were destroyed, the calamities continued. In 942, finally an oracle was decreed that a shrine should be erected, where Michizane was to be worshipped as a deity. The calamities finally stopped, and this shrine, Kitano Tenmangu, is still popularly visited by the Japanese in Kyoto to this day, and he was given a title as Tenjin, the Heavenly Deity, in 986.[50] This is a case where the carrier of the evil spirit was never exorcised, nor was he a practicing Buddhist, but not having been exorcised, one could imagine that such a wrathful spirit may grow on to discharge its negative energy until it rested on the shrine which was built to calm the anger of the spirit. Here, I am merely offering a possible interpretation of how such vengeful spirits of aristocrats in the absence of subjects to inhere in could have caused destructions and political instability. But this explanation also well accords with the Shinto belief that daimons become gods when worshipped and become Yokai when neglected. In fact, we do see quite often that evil spirits appear from time to time after the death of the subjects throughout literature and history. It appears that this happens when the grudge of the living subject is so strong that the manifestation of malicious mental qualities becomes attached to this world and somewhat materialized sometimes as Oni and Onryou. Such spirits remain in the phenomenal world and frequently visit specific individuals. Thus Komatsu also argues that while jealousy and irrational emotions residing in the unconsciousness may be restrained by the codes of ethics ordinarily, when opportunities arise, Yokai that lives in this unconsciousness breaks out its boundary and tries to control people. This uncontrollable emotion can oftentimes hurt people and become dangerous to other people as well. It starts with hatred or jealousy, which grows into the demonic will when unrestrained, and then to demonic activity, which finally leads to making the subject a demon with an appearance of demon.[51] This is best evidenced by the story of the princess under the Uji Bridge 宇治の橋姫. There are various versions of this story, but one that appears in the Tale of Heike 平家物語 tells a story of a certain princess who was overly jealous of another woman. She visited the altar of the gods in Kibune and asked the deity to turn her into a demon so she could kill the other woman. She was given an oracle telling her to change her appearance and go to the riverbank at Uji. So she went, having tied up her hair into five sections and shaped them into five horns. She also painted her face in red ink, put an iron tripod on her head and held three torches in her mouth. She sat and submerged herself in water at the riverbank. After twenty-one days, she turned into a living Oni and went out abducting and killing people whom she had grudge against.[52] This theme of abduction by Oni is a common narrative in the ancient writings. Shuten-Doji 酒呑童子, the Oni said to be the master of all other Oni, too abducted people in the capital and fed on the flesh and blood of the abducted. In most cases, the abduction occurs as a result of cheating and betrayal, a blasphemy against Buddhist teachings. In the case of Shuten-Doji too, the young daughter of the retired emperor’s councilor was abducted because the councilor “failed to keep a promise to Kannon when [he] sought her blessing for the birth of the child,” and the diviner who figured out her whereabouts advised the councilor to appeal to Kannon with the appropriate prayers in order to get his daughter back, and it was only with the aid of the deities and Buddha that Shuten-Doji was defeated.[53] 酒呑童子2

IV: Conclusion

  In this paper, I have explained the socio-historical origin of the spirits and Yokai phenomena as well as the Buddhist origin of Oni and evil spirits and how they are said to affect us and make us sick, i.e. by failing to observe the Buddhist teachings and turning away from enlightenment. However, it seems after the Edo period, these supernatural entities gradually came to walk on their own, as it were, and Yokai as effects of the manifestation of consciousness remained and were depicted, clothed with material appearance. These entities seem to have lost their philosophical justification for their existence and instead obtained independent reality in modern day Japan. While their existence continues to both amuse and frighten us, I think it is also important to understand that these entities posed immanent danger for the people in the past with good reasons. In Buddhism, it is said that there are four kinds of beings: those produced from wombs, from eggs, from moisture and through metamorphosis. What does it mean for something to come to be through metamorphosis? Clearly, this refers to the manifestations of the consciousness of the Buddhist philosophy. In this sense, although they do not generate from species to species in the natural means of generation, Yokai and other super natural beings are certainly granted their being-hood in this world. They are not merely imaginary beings but they too are the members of the “one thousand worlds” of immanence in a single instant of thought. Hokusai_rokurokubiThat is why the long neck of Rokuro-Kubi was also explained in terms of ectoplasm, where the soul is said to escape from the body and becomes materialized, and it was believed that the neck is connected with the body through a spiritual thread. Buddhist philosophy also explains the regularity of the phenomena by means of the characters of dharmas and their seeds. For it does seem strange that we have many accounts of the same Yokai with the said characteristics from time to time if all these phenomena are merely attributable to the distinct and individual consciousness. But such problem is easily dissolved by appealing to the doctrine of the causality in Consciousness-Only School that regularity is simply characters of dharmas and as such involves the process of mutual cause and effect, i.e. perfuming. In this process, “certain seeds regularly perfume in a certain way, and therefore people with similar seeds in them are perfumed in the same way.”[54] The way this manifests in our world, again, is the kleshas. Certain conditions also must meet, as in the case of the Four Causes mentioned earlier with the capsizing of a boat example. In order to see Kappa, for instance, one must be situated in such and such an environment that manifestations are perfumed in the similar way so as to have a reason to fear such creature. Further, one must be near a pond or a river, and not in the center of downtown or in a bathroom stall in an old school. These are all preconditions that influence the seeds in certain ways. So, it is futile to say, as Komatsu warns us perhaps jokingly, that in order to avoid getting attacked by Yokai spirits, one must simply avoid encountering one.[55] Nor is it possible to follow his advice not to go outside at night because at the moment when we decide to go outside, our consciousness is not yet properly warned that no effort can be made to change the course of perfuming. However, it is possible to avoid going to places where they cause you to feel fearful, such as graveyards or abandoned buildings, because the perfuming of the manifestations is not the same as a soft-determinism. Suppose I am at home in the evening, and realize that I need to get some milk at the store. Although it is not possible to change the desire to go out to buy the milk, I can decide not to take the route that makes me go through the graveyard or the route that leads me into a dark alley just because it is a shortcut to the store. Similarly, once I find myself in an abandoned building, I can either stay or leave the area at will because essentially it is my own consciousness that shapes the external manifestations and the internal activities of perfuming in bringing about a particular course of action. At the same time, precisely because it is our own consciousness that determines the phenomena and the activity of the soul, it is even possible for anyone who holds grudge against someone or jealous of someone to send out, without his knowing, the vengeful spirits of his own or even of his pets to those he has in mind, and direct these spirits to possess them to make them ill or cause them misfortunes. [56] If the Buddhist philosophy teaches anything about prevention and treatment of the illness, it is that we should never be so attached to the material world and worldly desires that we would feel the need to cling onto the present, but rather be unattached to the mundane world and, like Buddha, we should be like the lotus flower floating on the water.[57] For “if the mind is attached to something, it is bound to it and cannot be emancipated from birth and old age, sickness and death, sorrow and grief, and suffering and distress.”[58] Suuhi_Nekomata Shunkosai_Hokuei_Obake Enshin_Kasa-obake   [1] Taku Shinmura, Medical History in Japanese Buddhism 日本仏教の医療史, 34-36. [2] Taku Shinmura, 36-37. [3] 『日本霊異記』、『今昔物語集』cited in Shinmura, 30. [4] Shinmura, 15. [5] Mujuu paraphrased in Shinmura, 20. [6] 『仏説護諸童子陀羅尼経所説』mentioned in Shinmura, 30. [7] Kazuhiko Komatsu, Yokai-gaku Shinko 妖怪学新考, 17. [8] http://yokai.com/karakasakozou/ [9] http://yokai.com/nekomata/, http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/猫又#cite_note-12 [10] Kazuhiko Komatsu, 62. [11] http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ろくろ首 [12] http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/河童 [13] Noriko T. Reider, Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present, 1, 3. [14] Ibid., 7. [15] Ibid. 27-35. [16] Translation mine. See, http://www.suttaworld.org/Collection_of_Buddhist/taisho_tripitaka/pdf/menu/19index.htm for the original text, and for the rough description of its content in Japanese, http://i80000.com/japanese/html/cyber/sub_cyber_1_list.asp?Page=44&Search=&SearchString= (accessed Jan. 21st 2015) [17] See Shinmura, 31. The documents published in 1473 and in 1480 are mentioned as evidence of this. [18] Reider, 13. [19] Again, see Shinmura, 36. [20] Ibid. [21] Ibid. [22] http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ろくろ首 (accessed on Jan. 22nd, 2015) [23] http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/妖怪 (accessed on Jan. 22nd, 2015) [24] Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan. “Buddhist Idealism: Hsuan-Tsang of the Consciousness-Only School” in A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy, 371. [25] Ibid., 380f. [26] Ibid., 382. [27] Ibid., 383. [28] Ibid. [29] Ibid., 385. See 15., “Sometimes the senses manifest themselves together, and sometimes not, just as waves manifest themselves depending on water conditions.” [30] Ibid., 386. [31] Ibid., 388. [32] Ibid., 390. [33] Ibid., 387. [34] Ibid., 372. [35] Ibid., 372f. wind and water making a wave, succession of waves, a boat in the sea, capsizing the boat… [36] Ibid., 373. [37] [38] Ibid., “The T’ien T’ai Philosophy of Perfect Harmony,” 396. [39] Ibid., 396f. [40] Ibid., 397. [41] Shinmura, 11. [42] Ibid. [43] Ibid., 37. [44] Ibid., 37f. [45] Komatsu, Yokaigaku Shinko, 44f. [46] Ibid., quoted from Shinmura, 19. Translation mine. [47] Ibid, 14. [48] Ibid., see 34. [49] Geroge Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334, 215. [50] Ibid., 215f. [51] Komatsu, Yokaigaku Shinko, 44. [52] Ibid., 180. See also Reider, Japanese Demon Lore, 54. [53] Reider, 186f. [54] Sourcebook of Chinese Philosopy, [55] Komastu, 45. [56] Ibid., 205. [57] Sourcebook, 367f [58] Ibid.

Read Full Post »




One of the seven sacraments, Eucharist, is an activity of taking in consecrated bread and wine, which has literally become the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. This miraculous event is explained in the doctrine of transubstantiation. According to this theory, the accidental properties of the bread and wine (colour, smell, taste, and shape, etc…) remain the same but its substance is replaced by that of Christ’s. This poses an obvious problem not only for philosophers but also the Catholic Church who endorses it. For the Catholic Church adapted predominantly Aristotelian scholasticism, and Aristotle does not allow the change of substance while its accidents remain intact possible. In a word, the transfer of the substance alone, i.e. transubstantiation, is not an option. Philosophers and theologians alike in the Medieval as well as in the Early Modern period had hard time supporting this doctrine, which was now officially an article of faith. Descartes, in his correspondence with Arnauld, tried to explain the phenomena without success, Aquinas struggled to explicate transubstantiation in his Summa Theologiae, while plenty others would argue against it, leading up to the split of the Christianity into Catholicism and Reformers.

I would like to explicate the origins of the theoretical problems of this infamous doctrine in the history of Christianity, and deal with important questions such as whether transubstantiation is an instance of cannibalism, at what point in time exactly does the Host turn into the body of Christ? Does the priest have the power to conjure up God at his will? For how long does the Host remain the body of Christ after consecration? For if it remains to be the body of Christ after the initial consecration, the bread being material is subject to decay. Could the body of Christ be left alone until it starts to rot? What about the stories about ‘Breeding Host’ that many faithful believers apparently witnessed? Did the Jews really kidnap the consecrated Host from the Catholic Church so they could desecrate it and torture it? In which case, what was the method of torture? For they could not have crucified the Host, it being about 3 centimeters in length. On the other hand, if transubstantiation is not the case, is the priest guilty of idolatry for worshipping a piece of bread? What happens when a fly goes into the chalice, thereby ‘merging with’ Christ? Does any of its substance change? Do the bread crumbs fallen onto the floor constitute as the body of Christ, since Christ is supposed to be present in the whole of Host in its parts? What about those old people who have no teeth that cannot effectually chew the bread? Are they automatically denied admission to heaven? When Christ said to his disciples at the Last Supper, ‘This is my body’, did he give the part of his flesh to his disciples as well as ate it himself?

In dealing with these questions, philosophical questions such as how is it that they can claim that the body of Christ is present in the Host, while it has no spatial location as to which part of the bread Christ is in? For they claim Christ is present in the whole of the bread, yet at the same time maintains that Christ is not in a particular place. Not only their insistence on Christ’s body being present without locality questionably curious, but also how could Aristotelian scholasticism allow the change of substance while its accidents still remain intact? And even if, as Protestants have it, it is to be taken metaphorically, how is it that they could claim the Eucharist is a metaphor while claiming that the resurrection of Christ is not? For both miracles – the Eucharist and the resurrection – appeal to the senses – yet we are supposed to disregard the senses in the former case, while accepting them in the case of the latter.

I will focus primarily on the historical development of the Eucharist while touching on some of the pressing issues, both theological and philosophical, propounded by some later medieval and Early Modern thinkers, like Berengarius, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, Luther, Calvin and Descartes as well as Leibniz. It is my hope to try to make at least some coherence historically as well as philosophically how the doctrine of transubstantiation has been dealt with in the course of history of ideas.



PART I: Iconoclasm and mid-Medieval debates


Material cult has played an important role as a mediator between the divine and the human since ancient times. In fact, primitive men conceived natural death as the wrath of the dead or the revenge of offended spirits. So called ‘disease-demons’ were so numerous that men had to be constantly careful not to provoke the anger of the spirits.[1] It was natural for them to call for help on powers beyond the perceived natural order outside their social system.[2] Cult is characteristically material, since material objects are believed to catch spiritual power and to serve as a medium of transaction. For instance, evil spiritual forces, or disease-demons, in us may be transferred onto specific objects, and burned or eaten so they can be driven away or made to disappear. On the other hand, one may wish to benefit from the divine power, but is afraid that a direct contact with it may be too overwhelming, can have material objects that are said to possess the positive force from divinity. In this way, people reasoned, the overwhelming force of divinity is also toned down by being hosted in the material stuff.[3] In Christianity, this cultic tradition manifested itself in the forms of relics and of saints, and divinely vested living spiritual authorities, such as holy men. Material stuff, in this way, served as relics that “mediated between God and humanity, and thus allowed ordinary people access to divine power,” and in the 4th centuries and on, by means of this model of exchange, kings and imperial powers claimed divine sanction for its power, authority and success.[4] However, the defeat of the Roman Empire and the failure of the individual emperors to protect the Roman people suggested that the very failure of the emperors to ensure the orthodoxy of the Chosen People led them to eventually foster heresy and heterodoxy.[5] Consequently, wandering hermits and monks practicing a wide variety of activities, such as fortune-telling and prophecy, the use of sympathetic magic, amulets and charms were condemned as a challenge to the established spiritual authority, as these offered an alternative channel through which divine guidance is obtained.[6] This emergence of alternative ways to divinity was a clear indication that the rulers had their imperial authority weakened. One preferred means of an access to divinity was by the cult of relics, that is to say, the bodies of the saints or objects that had touched them. This was supported by following reasons: 1) because fallen humans are often attached to sensible things, it would be helpful if some of those relics pointed themselves towards “where grace, the theological virtues, the spiritual gifts, even Christ Himself are to be found,”[7] and also because 2) humans are enslaved by various appetites and are prone to sins, commandments and cult therefore serve humans well as following them would leave us little time for vice.[8] In this way, humans continued to rely on an intermediary to arbitrate on their behalf with Christ, and this gave rise to the cult of saints and martyrs.[9] What differentiated Christianity from pagan religions in this respect was that these saints or relics did not heal directly, but only through Christ. Similarly, images of saints and Christ were often admired as miraculous and divine. For instance, images that were not made by human hand were especially of value. The so-called mandylion of Edessa, attested c. 590, an imprint of Christ’s face on a piece of linen as well as images of Christ also found naturally in Egypt at around 570 and in modern day Syria at the same period were believed to have salvatory power. Furthermore, in 626, another natural image of Christ is said to have saved Constantinople from Avars.[10]

The word for image in Greek is eikon, which has a much broader meaning of its modern derivative icon. Eikon would often refer to “a scared image in any medium, visual or rhetorical,” and “[a]n eikon could be a picture, but it could also represent the divine in the medium of figural and metaphorical language.” However, in most cases, images were, owing to its materiality, thought to be unfitting as referents to the divine.[11] Material images, such as portraits, were “expressions of divine essences which were otherwise imperceptible to humankind except in through this particular form,” and religious portraits or statues were images that could point the onlookers to the divine “by means of which the celestial divinities could be grasped by the human intellect.”[12] But the argument prevailed that material images could not possibly refer to the divine, owing to their materiality as well as to the transcendental nature of Trinity, and that the “only true image was the virtuous and pious Christian, in whose soul God and the Holy Spirit resided.”[13] This thesis, in fact, was canonized in 306 at the Council of Elvira, where a general prohibition on portraying that which was worshipped was pronounced.[14] However, these strict views on the imagery were not universally shared among the churchmen themselves, primarily because it was not the visual representation of what is divine that posed them a theological problem, but the epistemology of the divine was at issue. That is to say, how can we know God and in what ways could we describe God? This knowability of God inevitably concerned eucharist, and discussions ensued about what visual depictions of which participated divine were possible.[15] Hence, the general attitude towards the eikon was this: “images of Christ were idolatrous, figments of the painters’ imagination, and blasphemous. God was uncircumscribable and incomprehensible, so visual representations of him were impossible, and the emperor is requested to destroy such images and replace them with crosses.”[16]

Now, the problem of transubstantiation, i.e. or the physical presence of Christ, was first officially addressed in 787 at the Second Council of Nicea. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson, the corporeal presence of Christ was first discussed as a response to the disputes concerning the worship of images in the year 750, and the argument was that “[t]hat our Lord having left us no other image of himself but the Scarament, in which the substance of bread is the image of his body, we ought to make no other image of our Lord.”[17] The Second Council of Nicea, then, proceeded to respond that “the Sacrament after Consecration is not the image and antitype of Christ’s body and blood, but is properly his body and blood.”[18] In this way, Tillotson establishes that the doctrine of transubstantiation has not always been the belief held by the church, but it was rather incorporated into the article of faith at the Fourth General Council of Lateran in 1215. That is to say, before the Council of Lateran in 1215, it was okay for Christians not to have believed in the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Many had argued, following the Augustinian inspiration,[19] for the non physical identity of the bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ, simply because it was a “grotesquely physical conception of the eucharist.”[20] It was seen as vividly cannibalistic and blasphemous by theologians and non-believers alike. For instance, according to St. Austin, “the literal eating of the flesh of Christ and drinking his blood would have been a great impiety.”[21] Further, a theologian and a teacher, Barengarius, spoke that “if Christ had truly died and was by the right hand of the father, then his ‘presence’ at the altar could not be hid body or blood.’”[22] Yet, he was soon forced to make a confession of faith that recanted his earlier statement and said that “the bread and wine which are placed on the altar are not merely a sacrament after consecration, but are rather the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ – and that these are truly, physically and not merely sacramentally, touched and broken by the hands of the priests and crushed by the teeth of the faithful,”[23] it seems evident that the literal interpretation of the Eucharist was the brief of the Holy Roman Church.

If as the Church says the literal interpretation was the case, and after the consecration the bread and wine literally are body and blood of Christ, some obvious and inevitable questions ensue. For instance, at what point in time exactly does the transubstantiation occur? During or immediately after all the words are pronounced? At the words “hoc est corpus meum [this is my body]”? or at the words “hic est calix sanguinis mei [this is the cup of my blood]”? Or do the bread and wine convert at the same time? These are serious questions, for if the hoisting of the Host is done before the conversion has fully taken place, they would be committing an idolatry, worshiping a piece of bread. Further questions to be asked is that if the conversion happens at the very last pronunciation of the words, not only would it mean that the words pronounced before the last syllable have no power whatsoever to make the conversion, but also it would mean that the conversion is dictated by the act rather than the mind, in which case, the ordained priest is endowed with the power to freely conjure up the body of Christ at his convenience.[24] Ambrose in the 4th century deals with this question. It is here worth quoting the relevant text from his On the Sacraments in its entirety. He says…


“at the consecration this bread becomes the body of Christ. Let us reason this out. How can something which is bread be the body of Christ? Well, by what words is the consecration effected, and whose words are they? The words of the Lord Jesus. All that is said before are the words of the priest… But when the moment comes for bringing the most holy sacrament into being, the priest does not use his own words any longer: he uses the words of Christ. Therefore, it is Christ’s word that brings this sacrament into being.”[25]


His emphasis on the words of the Christ proves to be influential in the later periods, but for now it is simply important to note that for Ambrose, the priest does not possess free reign over transubstantiating whatever he wishes, but it happens only when God speaks through him in the Eucharist. St. Augustine, similarly, argued for the affirmation of the change in the Eucharistic rite, but he emphasized the spiritual aspect of the ritual rather than merely physical presence of Christ on the altar, for he interprets Jesus to say that “[u]nderstand what I have said spiritually. You will not eat this body that you see, nor will you drink the blood that will be shed by those who will crucify me. A sacrament is what I have given to you: understood spiritually, it will give you life. Even if it is necessary to celebrate [this sacrament] visibly, it should be understood invisibly.”[26] By doing so, it seems as though Augustine was forestalling any ‘cannibalistic’ interpretation of the Eucharist – Christians eat and drink the Lord’s risen body and blood in a sacrament; they do not eat flesh as if from a ‘butcher shop.’[27]

By the early 9th century, however, the issues were not only theological concerns about the Eucharist, that is, simply dealing with the source of the change as in the words of Jesus or in the Spirit, but also became philosophical. Let us now look at some of the primary opposing arguments in the Early-Mid-Medieval periods.

In 831, a monk and a theologian, Paschasius Radbertus, published a treatise entitled De Corpore et Sanguine Domini (“On the Body and Blood of the Lord”), where he represented “the first attempt to deal with the eucharist in a systematically doctrinal way.”[28] Paschasius insisted on the realism of Christ’s presence by claiming that there was no difference at all between the Eucharistic body of Christ and the historical body of Christ born of the Virgin, for he says, “just as the true flesh [of Christ] was created, without intercourse, from the Virgin through the Spirit, so through the same [Spirit], the same body and blood of Christ is mystically consecrated from the substance of bread and wine.”[29] This realism of his attributed to a sort of mystical cannibalism especially evident when he spoke of ‘bleeding host,’ recounting a story of a sceptic old man who did not believe in the real presence of Christ in the eucharist. According to the mystery, this old man was approached by two young monks who took him to the church on Sunday at Mass, and during the sacrament, he saw a young child on the altar. As the priest broke the bread, an angel of the Lord descended with a knife in hand and sacrificed the child, pouring his blood into chalice. When he stepped forward to receive the communion in his hand, he clearly saw a piece of bread soaked in blood. He then cried out “Lord, I believe that the bread which is placed on the altar is your body, and the cup is your blood.” Then the flesh in his hand immediately became bread.[30] Paschasius also reminds us that “[n]o one who reads the lives and deeds of saints can remain unaware that often these mystical sacraments of the body and blood have been revealed under the visible form of a lamb or the actual color of flesh and blood.”[31] These claims sound dangerously close to saying that the faithful are literally ‘tear the flesh’ or ‘crush the bones’ of Christ when participating in the Eucharist, and his more refined theology clearly rejected so called the ‘butcher-shop theology.’ For although he was clear about the distinction between image and truth being perceived only through faith and suggested that external signs such as figures and images of the Eucharist only contribute as a triggering effect in the believers to see the spiritual truth of the sacrament,[32] his theology that there is no difference between the Eucharistic body of Christ and the historical body of Christ, and that the appearances of the bread and wine remain merely “because God knows that human nature cannot bear to eat raw flesh was repulsive to many.

In an attempt to redefine what Eucharist is, yet another monk by the name of Ratramnus felt the need to express his concern in his work ingeniously entitled as the Body and Blood of the Lord.[33] In his treatise, he emphasized the fact that the Eucharistic body of Christ and the historical body of Christ are not identical. Instead, he argued that in the manner which the body of Christ is in the bread is only sacramental, i.e., it is present in a spiritual manner. For him, Christ’s presence in a natural mode of flesh and blood would destroy the very notion of a sacrament, for he says that, a mystery would no longer be called a mystery if it is celebrated under no figure at all. The Eucharist is properly a mystery because it manifests itself externally to the sense as one thing, whereas at the same time it internally demands recognition from the minds of the faithful as something different.[34] Unlike Paschasius whose concern was with the actual presence of Christ’s natural body, Ratramnus emphasized the importance of sacrament and the necessity of faith for the proper perception of sacramental signs.[35] For Ratramnus, the Eucharistic sacrament is both a material food to feed the body and spiritual nourishment for the souls. The historical body of Christ is not literally or physically re-created in the sacrament, but only is a true sacramental body. That is to say, he insisted that the eucharist is a true ‘mystery’ of the flesh of Christ, but it is not a physical recreation of the natural body of Christ.



II: Transubstantiation in the 11th century


Before moving on to the philosophical debates in the 11th century onwards, in order to understand how popularly the doctrine of transubstantiation was believed in general, it may be worthwhile to go over some common theological problems and customs regarding the Eucharist in this period. If you recall, we have seen the old sceptic who had doubts about the nature of Christ’s presence in the sacrament. He received the communion in his hand, but this tradition began to change in the 9th century. Ordo Romanus Bk. X, which described the manners in which the Mass was performed, implied that “[l]et not the eucharist be put in the hand of any lay man or woman, but only in the mouth,” and further in the 10th century, “all persons who are not at least in deacons’ orders must be communicated in the mouth, not in the hand.”[36] Why did it change? Some of the examples of the abuse of sacrament are abundantly reported in medieval stories.[37] For instance, it is reported that one woman used the eucharist as an aphrodisiac, and another woman laid the consecrated bread in a beehive in order to cure sickness. In yet another story tells us the Host [i.e., bread] was often kidnapped by the Jews for the purpose of desecration or torture.[38] In England and France, “people claimed that Jews would steal consecrated host wafers and torture them… to reenact Jesus’ crucification.[39] But could it have been possible at all to crucify the host? Just how large was the host, really? According to the extant molds, made of iron, from the 13th century through the 17th century, it provides us with the information about the shape, size and imprints of what the Host looked like. “Hosts were round and thin, easily broken into three pieces to symbolize the Trinity,” though they ranged in size depending on the purpose. Those for consumption by the clergy was small, as little as twenty-nine millimeters, whereas those that were elevated for the laity better to see the miracle of transubstantiation was larger, fifty-four millimeters in one instance. It looked white, round, nearly transparent in thinness, and visible at a distance.[40] It hardly sounds likely that such events as torturing the hosts took place. However, it is a historical fact that this accusation against the Jews brought thousands of them at stake, “[e]ven when such an accusation was supported only by the testimony of a thief… or some one having a grudge against the accused Jews.”[41] They were condemned and burned on the basis of a confession exacted by torture, sometimes with all the other Jews in the city. According to these accusations, “[t]he Jews were alleged to steal the host or to acquire it by purchase or bribery, to break it or seethe it, and to stick needles into it or transfix it, whereupon it began to bleed.”[42] But the Jews were not said to have destroyed the hosts, after piercing it. The story has it that it was because “[t]he Jews, frightened on seeing the blood, endeavoured to hide the host, but while doing so miracles happened which aroused the attention of the Christian population and led to the discovery of the crime,” for instance, “[t]he blood from the host was said to have splashed the foreheads of the Jews, leaving an indelible mark that betrayed them,” or “the pierced host had once whimpered and cried like an infant.”[43] These accusations of the desecration of the host only came to be reported after the Fourth General Council of Lateran, where Pope Innocent III recognized the doctrine of transubstantiation and made it an article of faith, i.e. whoever does not believe in the physical transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ will be deemed heretic and executed. It was only after this council in 1215 that the public and general worship of the consecrated bread became popular. Particularly in narratives of Host desecration, these stories served as an affirmation of the doctrine of transubstantiation in public arena as well as to expose  those who had betrayed the Host and to effect, qua miracle, led to the conversion of other Jews and non-believers. [44]Not surprisingly, it was after 1215 the doctrine of transubstantiation came to be subject to rigorous philosophical debates.

First, I will discuss the theological and philosophical debates leading up to the Lateran Council in 1215, and then discuss more philosophical problems dealt with by later medieval scholars. The 11th century marked a crucial point in the history and philosophy of transubstantiation. As we have seen earlier, Berengarius attacked the realistic account of Eucharist. His Eucharistic theology was constructed on three levels. First is to ask ‘what real presence means’ and how the bread and wine can be said to become Christ’s body and blood. Second, what it means to speak of the Eucharist as a sacrament, and if something is a sacrament, whether it is real or merely a sign or image of something else. Third, what it is that a Christian receives in Eucharistic communion.[45] Here, once again, we need to look at what he concluded after his condemnation at Rome in 1059. He says, “whoever affirms that the body of Christ, in whole or in part, is touched by the hands of the priest at the altar, or broken, or crushed, by the teeth – except insofar as this pertains to the sacrament – speaks against the truth and against the dignity of the teaching of Christ.”[46] Here, Berengarius is clear that “the nature of bread and wine remains unchanged in the eucharist” and that “they do not ‘become’ something else.”[47] For him, the only rational explanation was to speak of a change in terms of the sacramental signs, and to insist upon physical change in the bread and wine would be contrary to the principles of nature.[48] His argument was also Christological – it should be noted, he believed, that having conquered death, the body of Christ is no longer subject to suffering and morality, and that “the risen and glorified Lord cannot therefore be injured by a priest’s hands or a Christian’s teeth.”[49] In other word, he appealed to the impassibility of Christ after the resurrection as a glorified body.[50] The glorified body of Christ is indeed spiritual in nature insofar as it does not occupy the same dimension as we do – the distinction which will be important in later theology – and to think such a body can be physically broken by the hands of a priest would be to doubt the truth of Christ’s resurrection.[51] His argument from the Eucharist as a sacrament also supports his thesis that the change in the bread and wine is not physical. He argued, like St. Augustine, that “[a] sign is something beyond the outward appearance which the senses perceive; by doing one thing it brings something else to mind.”[52] Therefore, he argued, it is obvious a sign appeals to the human intellect or mind rather than senses. Since visible signs point to what is signified and invisible, if the bread and wine physically turned into the body and blood of Christ, a sacrament would lose its significance since there would not be anything for the physical signs to point to. He thus concludes that Eucharist “[a]s sacrament and sign, [it] has nothing to do with physical change in material realities, [and that w]hat lies on the altar after the consecration is not the flesh and blood of Christ, but the [sacramental signs] of that flesh and blood.”[53] As for what we receive in communion is clear from this that although Berengarius did believe that Christians truly partake of Christ’s body and blood, as signaled by the sacrament, it also did not mean we are eating Christ’s body merely in a spiritual sense. For Berengarius, the body of Christ is not an illusion or a mere apparition, but it actually does signify the historical body of Christ, which is now in heaven, and “through signification of sacraments, puts us spiritually in touch with Christ in his authentic humanity.”[54] Unfortunately for him, many of his contemporaries did not agree with his distinction between physical sign and the truth it signifies. Even though Berengarius tried to show that visible sign and invisible truth are intrinsically related, his opponents interpreted his view as a denial of the reality or “truth” of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.[55] Against his ‘sacramentalism’, theologians argued for crude realism, “insisting that the bread and wine are not only changed, but physically converted into the flesh of Christ, ‘broken by the hands of the priest and crushed by the teeth of the faithful.”[56] One such theologian was Lanfranc, who wrote The Book on the Body and Blood of the Lord in 1063 as a response to Berengarius’ sacramentalism. Just as Berengarius revived the sacramentalism of St. Augustine, Lanfranc resurrected an insight from Ambrose’s On Sacrament.[57] Berengarius had claimed, apparently quoting Ambrose, that “[t]hrough consecration at the altar, bread and wine become a sacrament of religion – but they do not cease to be what they were.”[58] To this, Lanfranc responded that Berengarius deliberately misquoted Ambrose. In fact, Lanfranc was right and Berengarius’ quotation was faulty.[59] What Ambrose actually said was “before the consecration it was not the body of Christ, but after the consecration I tell you that it is now the body of Christ. He spoke and it was made, he commanded and it was created.”[60] This testimony not only proved Berengarius was an unreliable scholar but also affirmed that God’s power can change bread and wine into the body of Christ in the Eucharist.[61] Lanfranc’s conviction that God’s infinite power can cause the Eucharistic conversion to happen consequently led him to reach radically different conclusions from those of Berengarius’ about real presence, sacrament and communion. He argued that in the Eucharist, “through the ministry of the priest, the earthly substances on the Lord’s table are… changed into the essence of the Lord’s body, even though the appearances of earthly elements remain.”[62] By introducing the distinction between outward appearances and hidden truth, a theme that would become of a central importance in later scholastic theology, he is said to be the first to use Aristotelian concept of substance and accidents. Contrary to what Berengarius said about sacramental significance, i.e. sacraments are visible signs and visible signs point to something invisible, Lanfranc believed that without hidden truth, i.e. Christ’s body and blood actually present in it, the entire meaning of the eucharist is destroyed.[63] To recapitulate each of their argument, for Berengarius, the sacrament is destroyed if bread and wine are changed into something else, whereas for Lanfranc, if bread and wine are changed into something else, the sacrament is destroyed. For Berengarius, the reality of body and blood signified by the sacramental signs of bread and wine must remain independent of those signs, while for Lanfranc, the signs must be changed into that very reality.[64] As you can see, they are opposed on all points – further, Lanfranc insisted upon the distinction between the flesh of Christ and the body of Christ. One of the largest issues was how it was possible for the body of Christ, which is impassable, to be physically cut into pieces. By making a distinction between the body, which is impassable, and the flesh of Christ, which is not impassable, he was able to be consistent with the Christology. For Lanfranc, the outward appearances are bread and wine, while the hidden truth under the substances is flesh and blood of Christ. Flesh can be broken into pieces as long as the body of Christ remains in heaven, glorified and impassable.[65] Lanfranc’s contribution to the debate did not end there. He also defended how it is possible for the flesh of Christ to be eaten every day, yet his body still remains in heaven in its entirety. He did it in quoting the passages from the Bible that “[n]o one doubts that the widow of Serepta ate oil from the jar which the prophet Elijah miraculously filled; yet scripture testifies that the jar never ran dry, even after the widow and her son had eaten from it for a year. This is the case with the eucharist as well: we eat Christ’s flesh and blood daily, yet the body of Christ remains whole and intact in heaven.”[66]

In summary, not only Berengarius forced the Latin theologians to confront the inadequacies of crude realism in the Eucharist, but also Lanfranc’s philosophy paved the way for later thinkers like Aquinas in dealing with more subtle issues of the Eucharist. By insisting that the Eucharistic body and the historical body of Christ are essentially the same, only differing in appearances, Lanfranc was able to reconcile the 9th century disagreement between Paschasius and Radbertus. In the Eucharist, that is, Christ’s flesh appears hidden by forms of bread and wine, but his historical body remains whole and intact in heaven. In this way, Christian theology explained the eucharist is real without being crudely realistic, and symbolic without being unreal.[67]

Now, before we move on to the core issue of transubstantiation in the 13th century onward, we need to be familiar with one more aspect of the doctrine of transubstantiation, that is, when exactly it happens. As has been mentioned earlier, one primary concern was this problem of idolatry – after all, it was the initial concern when the Eucharist came to be seen somewhat problematic. The fact that this issue concerned the clergies and theologians alike is obvious from the clerical debates on the moment of consecration long before 1215. From roughly 1160 to Lateran IV, the major debate was at what point in time exactly the bread became the body. The process of consecration is nothing but a combination of the words of Institution from the Gospel texts and specified gestures of the celebrant. This question directed concerned the elevation of the host upon consecration, a practice popular by the 12th century. In 1208, Pope Innocent III, before he called for the Lateran IV, affirmed the separate consecration of each element, but also the unity of the whole action.[68] This resolution was issued to address the danger of idolatry and the people’s desire to see the Host, and determined that the bread became the body of Christ only after the words, “Hoc est corpus meum,” and the celebrant should elevate the Host after the last word has been pronounced.[69] It was also at this time that a small bell, specifically designed for the purpose of being rung at the moment of consecration, signaled the miracle of transubstantiation, “and calling the congregation to turn fully their attention, their eyes and their devotion, to the now present body of Christ, held aloft by the priest.”[70] Soon, by the late 13th century, the larger church bell rang immediately after the smaller bell of the elevation of the Host so that people outside the church could also pause and turn to the church in devotion to the body of Christ.[71]

Now, the resolution offered by Pope Innocent III clearly did not suffice to satisfy philosophers and theologians alike, especially when the belief in transubstantiation now concerns with whether they can be true Christians. Again, this issue would also be taken up by the later medieval thinkers like Aquinas and Duns Scotus, but here in order to appreciate the later philosophical debate on this issue more, let us be acquainted with what their predecessors had to say about it. In doing so, we will look at two major players, namely Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Peter the Singer, a French Roman Theologian, at the very end of 11th century.

Stephen Langton was in favour of the view that the consecration of the bread and wine happen separately, claiming that the Church should literally imitate the actions of Jesus, that is, first consecrating and distributing the bread, and then the wine.[72] On the other hand, Peter the Singer insisted that if a priest were to stop after the words ‘This is my body,’ the consecration would not take have taken place. His reasoning was that since a true body cannot exist without blood, and there is no blood in this sacrament until the wine too is consecrated, the bread cannot possibly be consecrated until the entire formula for both species has been said by the priest.[73] His argument was that “the two clauses of the consecratory formula are so interdependent that one is not effective without the other.”[74] This was important to recognize because Christians would be guilty of idolatry if they adored the bread before the wine gets consecrated. The synod convened at Paris in the early 12th century recognized the significance of these objections and stated that when the consecration of bread happens, the blood is necessarily present, since it is true that a body cannot exist without blood. Hence, Christ’s blood is “concomitantly or consequentially present as soon as the bread is consecrated.”[75]


Part III: Aquinas and Duns Scotus on Transubstantiation


We will now be discussing several of the issues that were promulgated in the later Medieval Ages. Let me here deal with three specific issues that pestered medieval thinkers. First, in dealing with the problem of how transubstantiation is possible, I will look at the problems unique to the Eucharist, and argue that theological impossibility of transubstantiation. Second, moving onto philosophical issues, when in time exactly the conversion happens by St. Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus and Giles of Rome. Third, which is philosophically most important is how the substance alone can be said to change while its accidental qualities remain intact in the realm of Aristotelian Scholasticism. This last problem is and would remain to be the core issue for philosophers for centuries to come. In dealing with these issues, I shall also touch little on the vulnerability of the consecrated bread and wine, i.e. what happens if a fly goes into the consecrated wine, hence affecting the quality of the blood of Christ? What about when mice take the bread crumb away and eat it? And further, the body of Christ being corporeal in the theory of transubstantiation, how long does it last for a safe consumption? What happens when the bread starts to mold? Does that mean Christ’s body too becomes moldy?

First, let me emphasize in what manner the Eucharist is seen as special, that is, distinct from all the other sacraments. There are seven new-law sacraments: baptism, confirmation, penance, eucharist, ordination, matrimony, and extreme unction. Among them, the holy eucharist stands out as unique. There is a distinction to be made between sacraments whose efficacy depends on the beliefs and motives of the participants (i.e. those that work ex opere operantis) and those whose efficacy depends only on the performance of the outward rite (i.e. those that work ex opere operato).[76] The other sacraments are perfected in their use, i.e. when someone is baptized, etc, and require participants, for instance, “[o]fficiating clergy can go through the preliminaries, but there will be no baptism unless there is someone to be baptized!”[77] But the Eucharist involves a double layer in that first, the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ, and then they are received. In other words, in the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ would be there even if no one received the host or chalice, that is to say, even if the priest has a heart attack and died just as he has finished the prayer of consecration and no communicants were around.[78] The bread and wine would become the body and blood of Christ even if those who receive the sacraments are indisposed, perhaps because they are non-believers or their mortal sins are not yet absolved.[79] This is because the effect of the Eucharistic prayer, i.e. the real presence of Christ’s body and blood, does not exist in the souls of the receivers, but exists independently under the appearances of bread and wine.[80] In the Eucharistic consecration, the body and blood of Christ “come to be really present on the altar, whether we are ready or not, and whether we recognize it or not,” and “[t]his sacrament can be somehow perfected independently of worthy reception.”[81] The Eucharist is special in that the true body of Christ is always present when the rite is performed, whereas the other sacraments depend upon the disposition of the receiver and do not outlast their use or the performance of the rite. In the Eucharist alone is the effect produced before the use of the bread and wine, that is, before their being received.[82] Not surprisingly, questions like the following were asked: what happens if mortal sinners eat the bread or whether an immoral priest could take into his stomach the true body of Christ, to which a number of anecdotes tell us that the Host actually disappears when the consecration is performed by immoral priests or the Host turns into stone or ash when taken in by mortal sinners. Also popularly asked were whether eating of the flesh of Christ only to be disposed as excrement is blasphemous[83] or whether subjecting the body of Christ to the horror of digestive process is as cruel a torture as crucification. It does indeed seem abominable to believe that the body of Christ is capable of corruption, and oftentimes eaten by worms, weasels, rats, and mice, and so on… further, when a Pope of Rome by the name of Victor III was poisoned by the transubstantiated wine, did this have anything to do with Christ? Or when the Emperor Henry VII was also poisoned by eating a little round consecrated and transubstantiated Host, was it without substance when it caused him to die?[84] The Catholic belief in transubstantiation further encouraged skeptics and other theologians to doubt and generated related questions such as whether old people with no teeth can be admitted into heaven, because they cannot effectually chew the bread.[85] It was also seen theologically incorrect to make Christ descend from heaven onto the altar and return his body in flesh and bones every single time when the Eucharist is performed, even though he said he would only be back once in his Second Coming.[86] Moreover, when Jesus Christ admonished his Apostle saying that “they were the Salt of the Earth, did he therefore transubstantiate or convert them into Statues or Pillars of Salt”?[87] As is well known, Christ often spoke in parables, so why take one instance literally while other instances as mere metaphors? John Tillotson, a theologian in Early Modern period, framed the issue well. The Eucharist is often said to be a miracle performed by God, since it happens but is not easily explained by reason. But, Tillotson points out, that the way in which we can be assured that something is a miracle is because it depends upon the certainty of sense. This is also evident in numerous passages in the scripture, for instance, when Moses turned rots into serpents or Jesus turned water into wine. In both miracles, they appealed to senses. From instances in the scripture where miracles are said to be performed, he induces that there are two conditions necessary for a miracle. First, there must be a supernatural effect, and second, its effect must be evident to senses. So if a miracle occurs but does not appeal to senses, there can be no testimony or proof of anything and “it self stands in need of another Miracle to give testimony to it and to prove that it [happened].”[88] Here, I would like to quote another argument against the veracity of transubstantiation posed by Tillotson in its entirety, as the way in which it is phrased is both illuminating and straightforward; here is what he says,


“I would like to ask what we are to think of the Argument which our Savior used to convince his Disciples after his Resurrection that his Body was really risen, and that they were not deluded by a Ghost or Apparition. *And he said unto them, why are ye troubled? And why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I my self; for a Spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. But now if we suppose with the Church of Rome the Doctrine of Transubstantiation to be true, and that he had instructed his Disciples in it just before his death, strange thoughts might justly have said to him; Lord, it is but a few days ago since [you taught] us not to believe our senses, but directly contrary to what we saw, i.e., that the bread which [you gave] us in the Sacrament, though we saw it and handled it and tasted it to be bread, yet was not bread but [your] own natural body; and now you appealed to our senses to prove that this is [your] body which we now see. If seeing and handling be an unquestionable evidence that things are what they appear to our senses, then we were deceived before in the Sacrament; and if they be not, then we are not sure now that this is [your] body which we now see and handle, but it may be perhaps bread under the appearances of flesh and bones, just as in the Sacrament, that which we saw and handled and tasted to be bread was [your] flesh and bones under the form and appearance of bread.” *Luke 24:38-39.[89]


Since the Resurrection is the truth upon which Christian religion is based, the Eucharistic Sacrament cannot possibly be interpreted literally. And if it were to be interpreted literally, we must also interpret it thoroughly with consistency. That is, when he said ‘This cup is the new Testament in my blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of Sins,” it must mean that it is not the wine that gets transubstantiated but the cup, and not into the blood of Christ but into the new Testament or new Covenant in his blood.[90] Further, it this Sacrament were to be interpreted literally, it would mean that Christ was giving his own flesh and ate it himself. That this could not be possible is evident from the fact that the Disciples “saw him alive at the very time and beheld his body whole and unpierced,”[91] and surely no Disciples would have thought that “our Savior did literally hold himself in his hand, and give away from himself with his own hands.”[92] All of which are beyond absurdity, not to mention sheer madness. And “to impose [this] belief upon the Christian World under no less penalties than of temporal death and Eternal damnation” seems irrational, to say the least.[93]

Origen wrote a commentary on Matthew15:17, which says “That food which is sanctified by the word of God and prayer, as to that of which is material, goes into the belly and is cast out into the draught.” And there he says it is not the matter of the bread, but the word which is spoken over it, which profits him that worthily eats the Lord; and this he had spoken concerning the typical and Symbolical body.”[94] Indeed, may theologians thought “it is impious to understand the eating of the flesh of the Son of man and drinking his blood literally.[95] Hence, the Arabic philosopher, Averroes, also criticized Christianity when he said, “I have traveled over the world, and have found divers Sects; but so sottish a Sect or Law I have never found as is the Sect of the Christians; because with their own teeth, they devour their God whom they worship.”[96] Tillotson believes that “the Christian Religion was never so horribly exposed to the scorn of Atheists and Infidels, as it has been by this most absurd and senseless Doctrine” of Transubstantiation, which says ‘Let us make a God that we may eat him.’[97] From all these points raised, namely, that it is not to be counted as a miracle, it is impious to speak of God as being cast out into the draught upon digestion, and the contradictions that will arise if we take Christ’s words in the Sacrament literally rather than figuratively, it seems evident that the transubstantiation cannot be explained theologically.

Can it, then, be explained philosophically? Some of the primary theologico-philosophical debates in the later Medieval period included the timing problem. Since the Eucharist involves strings of spoken words, in order not to waste any of God’s power to effect the change in the sacrament, each word and each syllable must have some kind of effecting causal power. If the power to transubstantiate rests on only the last pronounced word, for instance, then there is no need to speak the entire sentences but only spell out the last word or the last syllable of the sentence to effect the change. One major figure theologian in the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas, engages in the discussion about this problem of the timing of the consecration by reasoning that the syllable is endowed with partial power, and it is only when all the words, i.e. ‘This is my body,’ have been spoken does the bread transubstantiate into the body of Christ. His opponents, however, argued that “the last syllable of the sacramental formula does [not do] the causing, since that syllable itself takes time,” and “even if it did not, it would follow that the other syllables were superfluous and not instrumentally active in producing the disposition for grace.”[98] Nor is it the case that “the last syllable acts on the preceding syllables” in the same way the “last drop of water breaks through the rock in the power of all the others that went before it.” This is because in the case of the water drops, each drop has left some disposing effect in the rock, but this is not the case with the syllable – if it does, then it would mean that the each power by itself has no sufficient power to produce any effect. Also it poses a further problem that if indeed each syllable has temporally distributed power, would the power so distributed be the same power in each syllable? If it were the same power existing in each syllable, it would mean that an accident would migrate from subject to subject, i.e. existing first in syllable and then moving on to the next syllable.[99] Moreover, if it were the same power existing in each syllable, why would all the syllables be needed? Why not just say ‘…body’ instead of having to complete the sentence with ‘This is my body’? But since accidents are dependent on the subject in which it inheres, i.e. accidents cannot exist without the substance, the migration of the power from subject to subject would imply that the accident would not have depended its existence on that subject after all. On the other hand, if different powers were distributed to each syllable, then “the sacrament consisting of the whole speech would not have any one power, but an aggregate of powers.” But since the power defines the sacrament, this would necessarily compromise the unity of the sacrament.[100] Not only do the spoken words take time, but even after the last syllable has been pronounced, it takes time for the vibration of the air to be propagated from the region of the celebrant’s mouth to the bread. So the spoken words cannot possibly play a causal role, because if it did, “the bread would not be transubstantiated for some time after the celebrant had finished speaking.”[101] Unfortunately, Aquinas was not clear about these points. Furthermore, somewhat related to the timing problem is that where in the bread this power is said to exist. Since sacraments are spatio-temporally extended corporeal things, if the body of Christ were to exist in the Host, it would have to exist either whole in the whole and each in each part of the Host, or whole in the whole and whole in each part of the Host. It cannot be the former, because grace-producing power of Christ’s body is spiritual, and what is only spiritual has no parts, nor can it be extended in space. So it must be the case that Christ exists whole in each part of the bread, where the bread is not broken into parts, but rather it is broken into whole.

If then, the body of Christ is present in the whole in each part of the Host, it follows that whenever bread crumb falls onto the altar or onto the floor, it is the body of Christ that has fallen and gone waste. Christ’s body is there for you to receive grace, not for insects and animals to eat. In addition to philosophically complex topics like the moment of conversion and Christ’s physical presence, Aquinas also dealt with genuine theological concerns such as what would happen if a mouse or a dog were to eat the consecrated Host. The general opinion at the time was that the body of Christ would cease to exist as soon as it has been consumed by non-human agents, and reverts back itself to the substance of bread. To this, Aquinas answers that the body of Christ would still remain even if it were eaten by animals. This is because he grants somewhat unique view of corporeality to the substance of Christ. He says in Part III of Summa Theologica that “as long as the species last [of the bread], Christ’s body does not cease to be under them… [and] the species [of the bread] last so long as the substance of the bread would remain, if it were there.”[102] In this way, he grants Christ’s physical presence in the bread species until the bread substance would have ceased had it been there.[103] So it seems the best before date for consuming the body of Christ is as same as that of the bread substance. By the same reasoning, it could be said that when the bread gets moldy, it is not the body of Christ that gets moldy, but the species of the bread, as if it had its own substance. Further, Aquinas sees no problem whatsoever if a mouse or a dog eats the body of Christ, because the irrational animals do not eat Christ’s body sacramentally, that is to say, to recognize it as the body of Christ for receiving grace. Hence, Aquinas argues, they eat Christ’s body [only] accidentally.[104] Having dealt with the bread incident, he then responds to what happens when a fly or a spider goes falls into the chalice, or if it is found out that the wine has been poisoned, both before and after the consecration. In the case of unexpected incidents before the consecration takes place, Aquinas concedes there is no problem to deal with – all the priest has to do is to empty the chalice and pour in the new wine again. The problem occurs when these incidents happen after the consecration. Aquinas has a very thorough way of dealing with these incidents, for he says “the insect should be caught carefully and washed thoroughly, then burned, and the ablution,” i.e. washing of yourself, and throwing ashes into the drain.[105] And the priests who do not keep proper custody over the sacrament, if a mouse or other animals consume it must do forty days penance” and “he who loses it in a church, or if a part fall and be not found, shall do thirty days’ penance.”[106] In the case of discovering poison in the wine, the priest is advised not to receive or administer the wine to others, and “in order that the sacaremnt may not remain incomplete, he ought to put other wine into the chalice, resume the mass from the consecration of the blood, and complete the sacrifice. If a drop falls onto the board which is fixed to the ground, the priest is to take up with the tongue and scrape the board. If however a drop falls from the chalice onto the altar, the priest must “suck up the drop, and do penance during three days; if it falls upon the altar cloth and permeates to the second the altar cloth,” he will do four days’ penance.[107] Further, Aquinas discusses what to do in case when a priest is stricken by death or grave sickness both before and after the consecration. As is excepted, there is no conceivable problem if a priest dies before the consecration, other than the death of the priest. But when he becomes suddenly unable to continue the consecration, for instance, when the body has been consecrated but blood has not yet been consecrated, then the celebration of the mass ought to be finished by someone else.[108] Aquinas then mentions that this same rule applies for when a priest, during the consecration, suddenly remembers that he has been excommunicated or has committed a mortal sin. I am not sure how to make of this statement, since why would any priest is unaware that he has been excommunicated and proceeds with his daily duties?





















[1] Victor Robinson, Medicine in the Stone Age, Ancient Egypt, Greece, Alexandria and Rome (USA: Kessinger Publishing, 2010), 3.

[2] Marilyn McCord Adams, Some Later Medieval Theories of the Eucharist (NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 31.

[3] Ibid., 32.

[4] Leslie Brubaker and John Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680-850 (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 15. See also, 33, “The cult of relics began in the mid-4th century and was well developed by the 5th.”

[5] Ibid., 29.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Adams, Medieval Theories of the Eucharist, 42.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, 32. The earliest attested example of a relic, however, dates in 336 (or more plausibly in 357 or 360). See 34-35.

[10] Ibid., 35-36. Avars were Eurasian nomadic people that conquered parts of Central and South Eastern Europe in the early Middle Ages.

[11] Ibid., 40-41.

[12] Ibid., 41.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 43.

[16] Ibid., 44. Also ‘cross’ was defended as an object of Christian devotion and images, and for some reason it was granted throughout the history. See, 45.

[17] John Tillotson, A Discourse Against Transubstantiation, 1685, 21.

[18] Ibid., 21-22.

[19] That is, “Christians eat and drink the Lord’s risen body and blood in a sacrament; they do not eat flesh from a ‘butcher shop’” Augustine was specifically concerned with the importance of understanding the eucharist spiritually, i.e. sacramentally.

[20] James F. McCue, “The Doctrine of Transubstantiation From Berengar Through Trent: The Point at Issue” Harvard Theological Review 61 (1968): 386. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1509156 (accessed October 20, 2011).

[21] Tillotson, A Discourse Against Transubstantiation, 17.

[22] Lee Palmer Wandel, The Eucharist in the Reformation: Incornation and Liturgy (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 21.

[23] Nathan Mitchell, Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass (USA: Pueblo Publishing Company, Inc., 1982), 137.

[24] Adams, Later Theologians, …

[25] Quoting Ambrose from Mitchell, Cult and Controversy, 56.

[26] Quoting Augustine’s Enarrationes in Psalmos 98.9, from Cult and Controversy, 45.

[27] Mitchell, Cult and Controversy, 45.

[28] Ibid., 74.

[29] Quoting Paschasius’ De Corpore in Cult and Controversy, 75.

[30] Mitchell, Cult and Controversy, 79.

[31] Ibid., 75.

[32] Ibid., 78-79.

[33] Ibid., 82.

[34] Ibid., 81-82.

[35] Ibid., 82.

[36] Ibid., 87.

[37] Wandel, The Eucharist in the Reformation, 26.

[38] Ibid., 38.

[39] Parker, Phillip M. Transubstantiation ~ Webster’s Timeline History 1062 – 2005 (USA: ICON Group International, Inc., 2009), 5.

[40] Wandel, the Eucharist in the Reformation, 33.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Wandel, The Eucharist in the Reformation, 38.

[45] Mitchell, Cult and Controversy, 140.

[46] Ibid., 141.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] The notion of ‘glorified body’ becomes significant in later medieval and early modern debates on transubstantiation.

[51] Mitchell, Cult and Controversy, 142.

[52] Ibid., quoting Augustine, 142.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid, 144.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., 145.

[58] Ibid., 146.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid., quoting Ambrose, 146.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., 146-147.

[63] Ibid., 147.

[64] Ibid., 147-148.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid., 149.

[67] Ibid., 150-151.

[68] Wandel, The Eucharist in the Reformation, 37.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid., 152.

[73] Ibid., 152-153.

[74] Ibid., 153.

[75] Ibid., 158.

[76] Adams, Some Later Medieval Theories of the Eucharist, 42-43.

[77] Ibid., 48.

[78] Ibid., 49.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid., 49-50.

[83] John Tillotson, A Discourse Against Transubstantiation, 13.

[84] Anon, The Anatomy of Transubstantiation (1680), 11.

[85] R.A., A Brief History of Transubstantiation (1674), 5.

[86] Anon, The Anatomy of Transubstantiation (1680), 10.

[87] Ibid., 17.

[88] Tillotson, A Discourse Against Transubstantiation, 31.

[89] Ibid., 40-41.

[90] Ibid., 4.

[91] Ibid., 9-10

[92] Ibid., 7.

[93] Ibid., 3.

[94] Ibid., 15-16.

[95] Ibid., 11.

[96] Ibid., 34.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Adams, Some Later Medieval Theories of the Eucharist, 62.

[99] Ibid., 64.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid., 63.

[102] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, Q80, 2482.

[103] Ibid.

[104] Ibid, 2482-2483.

[105] Ibid., 2518.

[106] Ibid., 2520.

[107] Ibid., 2519.

[108] Ibid., 2518.

Read Full Post »

The doctrine of transubstantiation has puzzled philosophers and theologians alike since at least the time when Berengarius expressed his confession of faith in 1059 and 1079.[1] Berengarius’s vivid expression of the bread and wine in the Eucharist as “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ… [and] truly handled and broken by the hands of the priests and ground by the teeth of the faithful.”[2] The account from the New Testament was not clear from the beginning as to whether it meant ‘This bread is my body’ or ‘This is my body and not bread,’ as seen in Christ’s own words: “Hoc est corpus meus.” However, the Eucharist would not be seen as problematic until the Iconoclast era in the 8th century, when worshipping of images was rendered heretical.[3] This was because unless the bread is the real body of Christ, the Eucharist would just be a worshipping of a piece of bread, which is idolatrous. A theory that could explain how it is possible for the body of Christ to be really present in the Sacrament was henceforth contrived, which came to be known as the doctrine of transubstantiation. Thus the appropriateness of this doctrine, that the Eucharistic bread is converted into the body of Christ, as well as how such a conversion would take place came to be a concern for theologians. The need for an explanation of this doctrine arose from the scholastic view that properties such as colour, taste and smell are not essential to something’s being what it is. And these non-essential properties, i.e. accidental qualities, are said to be dependent on the substance in which they inhere. In other words, accidental qualities cannot subsist without a substance. That is, there cannot be any self-subsisting accidents. But if transubstantiation is true, the substance of Christ is to be found in what appears to be a piece of bread instead of the bread substance in it. In this way, the bread is said to possess the accidental qualities of the bread, i.e. appearance, while possessing the substance of Christ’s body.  But because the scholastic philosophy could not admit accidents without substance, an alternative view came to be held that proposes the body of Christ be present simultaneously with the substance of the bread. This view, known as consubstantiation, could explain why the accidental qualities of the bread would still remain intact after the consecration. This position was tolerated by the Church at least by the time of Aquinas, who was the first to label consubstantiation heretical and impossible.[4] Thomas’ objection also included that it would be idolatrous if any substance of the bread remained when the host was being worshipped.[5] But still, the difficulty attached to explaining how accidental qualities could remain without substance troubled later theologians. During the time of Reformation, Luther argued that there was nothing heretical about believing in consubstantiation[6], and that in fact it would make more sense to hold that view.

In response to the growing threat of the Reformists, Descartes was compelled to explain how his ‘new philosophy’ could deal with the difficulty posed by transubstantiation in favour of the belief of the Roman Catholic Church. In this paper, I argue that Descartes had no choice but to admit the doctrine of transubstantiation as propounded by the Church, and suggest that Descartes saw the debate rather trivial yet he had to provide a way to rationalize transubstantiation in order that he not be associated with the Reformists and accused of idolatry. I will then show that Descartes’ metaphysical physics cannot consistently be held as a coherent explication for the possibility of the doctrine of transubstantiation.

First, what exactly is transubstantiation and what are the core issues Descartes had to deal with? As briefly mentioned above, the doctrine of transubstantiation requires that the accidental qualities of the bread and wine be separated out from the substance of the bread and wine. In other words, it requires subsistent accidents – qualities that can exist independently of the substance in which they inhere. As Luther and Reformists would argue, following the early theological explanation of the Eucharist, if the body of Christ were present in the bread in the same form as when he was resurrected and ascended into the heaven, i.e. in the form of glorified body, then because such a body is said to exist in a different dimension from that of bread or of wine or any other non-glorified bodies, accepting such a theory would eliminate the need for explaining how the bread qualities could still remain, since the bread substance has never left and the substance of Christ is coexistent with it. But following the Scholastic teaching, earlier Thomas Aquinas had already labeled consubstantiation both heretical and impossible, arguing for the alternative view of transubstantiation where the substance of the bread had to be converted into that of Christ. He reasoned by the method of elimination, and on the basis of the scripture. First, he thought it was impossible because in consubstantiation, if the body of Christ were present where there is the substance of bread, a change must take place. But since there can be no change in the bread substance, the substance of Christ must be changed at least spatially so that it could be present by means of spatial motion. But for this to take place, the body of Christ must move simultaneously to different places, which is altogether impossible as it would mean the presence of contrary motions in a single body.[7] Secondly, if indeed Christ had meant that ‘this bread’ was his body, suggesting that there is a still substance of bread present at the time he pronounced these words, then he would have said “Hic est corpus meum,” using the masculine noun, which implies Hic refers to another masculine noun, “panis,” and not as he actually said “Hoc est,” which is a neuter noun, referring merely to that which he points at, suggesting the complete absence of the bread substance.[8] This is crucial because if he meant that the bread was still present with his own body, rather than it had changed into his body, he would have used the masculine noun to refer to the bread as his body. Note that Aquinas was silent on the metaphysics of accidents without substance in favouring transubstantiation. Instead, he merely expressed that “[t]he accidents of bread and wine must remain, because to eat flesh and blood directly would be revolting, [and] also lead to contempt from unbelievers.”[9] So the metaphysical problem of the accidents without substance remained troublesome for the Roman Catholics who held transubstantiation as an article of faith.

Descartes’ metaphysics, however, does not include the vocabulary of an accident without substance nor does it include the convenient concept of glorious bodies – everything in the world must be the substance or modes of either mind or body.[10] Some theologians defended the more difficult stance that there are accidents without substance.[11] Yet, as Descartes  himself recognizes, this argument is flawed, for he says “this task [of explaining how accidents can remain without substance] presented so many difficulties that this alone should have told them that they had strayed from the true path.”[12] Descartes’ objection against those who defend real qualities is straightforward. If, as the Council of Trent affirms, “the whole substance of the bread is changed into the substance of the body of Our Lord Christ while the species[13] of the bread remains unaltered”, then by insisting that some accidental qualities remain as self-subsistent real qualities, i.e. real accidents, those theologians are saying nothing but “that the whole substance of the bread changes but nevertheless a part of that substance called a ‘real accident’ remains,” which is to say that this real accident is an accident by name only and it actually is something that can subsist by its own, i.e. substance.[14] Although this does not lead to a verbal contradiction, it certainly leads to a conceptual contradiction.

Because accepting the notion of glorious bodies necessarily attaches him to the Reformists’ view and because accepting real accidents would mean admitting modes and qualities could exist without the substance of either mind or body, making them substances themselves,[15] Descartes had to contrive a new way of conceiving this Sacrament. How could he effectively approach this issue? He immediately recognizes two major problems to be resolved in the letter found with the manuscript containing the letter to Clerselier[16], namely, “[H]ow it can come about that all the accidents of the bread remain in a place where the bread is no longer present, and where another body is taking its place [and] how the body of Jesus Christ can exist within the same dimensions where the bread was.”[17] The two issues here are 1) the perception problem: the remaining accidents seemingly without the substance, and 2) the mechanics of transubstantiation: the body of Christ existing within the same dimension as the bread. He cannot opt for subsistent accidents, since accidents are modes of substance and they cannot remain the same when their substance undergoes changes.[18] He cannot argue with the Reformists either, since glorious bodies are bodies without local extension that exists in their own dimension, separate from the dimension of the bread. Neither alternative accords with his philosophy, which admits of no subsistent accidents or bodies without extension.[19] Here Descartes ingeniously lays his eyes on the fact that we perceive everything solely from our senses’ coming into contact with the surfaces of objects.[20] The surface, he explains, is not merely the external shape of a body but also any gaps found even in between the particles of flour that make up the bread. The surface of the bread, in other words, is not simply the figure of the bread that makes us perceive it as bread, but is what immediately surrounds its individual particles.[21] Further, it is not in any way a part or an accident of the substance or of the surrounding air. It is nothing but the boundary common to the individual particles in the bread, and as such it “has no absolute reality except a modal one.”[22] So it is a mode, but a mode of what? If it is of the bread, since transubstantiation takes away the whole substance of the bread, its surface as a mode must also disappear. Descartes distinguishes three surfaces[23], namely i) the surface of the bread, ii) the surface of the surrounding air, and finally iii) the surface intermediate between the air and the bread. In this way, he explains that there is a surface that does not belong either to the bread or to the air that surrounds it, but is simply a surface in between the air and the bread, and by that he means the surface [i.e. mode] does not change with either the bread or the air, but only with the shape of the dimensions which separates one from the other, that is to say, with the dimensive[24] points at which two substances meet. He observes that because this surface intermediate between the bread and the air that surrounds it belongs neither to the bread substance nor the air substance, when the substance of the bread (or of the air) has been changed, this surface intermediate between the two substances would still remain numerically the same.[25] He draws upon a mundane example of the Loire river in explicating numerical identity from the fact that we call the river the same river, even though the water that flows, the air that touches the water or the earth that surrounds it is no longer the same as ten years ago.[26] That is, he argues that we identify something to be the same as before merely by looking at the surface and not the substance, which we cannot see. He further observes that transubstantiation occurs naturally in our everyday life in the form of nutrition. That this is the case is obvious, he argues, because clearly the individual particles that constitute a human body as an adult are different from those constituting a human body in infancy. Just as with circulation of blood, “nutrition takes place by a continual expulsion of parts of our body, which are driven from their place by the arrival of others” and hence, “there is no longer in [our bodies] any part of the matter which then belonged to them… so that they are numerically the same only because they are informed by the same soul.”[27]

In this way, Descartes was able to, at least somewhat intelligibly, answer how transubstantiation is possible: that the surface intermediate is dimensively independent[28] from the surface of the bread or the air, allowing the change of the underlying substance of the bread without a change in its appearance. But this solution brings about new problems. For Descartes’ view seems to imply the denial of real presence. This is because since in order for a natural transubstantiation or the example of the Loire river to be compatible, there must be the substance of the human body intact in the former case, and the continuity of the same substance, “water”, in the latter case both before and after the ‘transubstantiation’ takes place. By drawing a parallel example of the nutrition with the Sacramental transubstantiation, Descartes implied that the substance of the bread remains and it changes into the substance of Christ only by the word of the institution, i.e., by faith alone. Consequently, it made Antoine Arnauld, an advocate of Descartes though with some reservations, worry that he “came too close to denying the real presence of Christ’s body in the host.”[29]  Descartes now turns to the second issue about the mechanics of transubstantiation, i.e. how to explain the quantification of Christ’s body that has supposedly taken place. Christ’s body is supposedly dimensive – that is, it cannot be measured or located with coordinates in which place it actually exists.[30] But if Christ’s body is contained under the same dimension as the bread’s, Christ’s body has been quantified, that is, his body becomes somehow measurable  – but just exactly how much body does Christ have to be quantified? Descartes explains that the substance of the bread is converted into Christ’s body not by means of annihilation of the bread substance and addition of the new substance of Christ, but simply by means of “the soul of Jesus Christ inform[ing] the matter of the host.”[31] In this way, the soul of Christ is supernaturally joined with the particles of the bread and wine by the power of the words of consecration alone, accounting for the fact that “the body of Christ is present only once in the whole host… and yet whole and entire in its parts, when it is divided; because all the matter, however large or small… is taken for a whole and entire human body.”[32] Descartes responds that it is neither fitting nor necessary for this Sacrament to have Christ’s body with the same quantity, shape and matter as when He ascended into heaven,[33] possibly at the same time dismissing the charges often raised against the Catholic theologians that it is, to say the least, blasphemous to actually eat the flesh of Christ in the Sacrament.[34] In other words, Christ’s body is separated out from its own dimension, thus it makes no sense to talk about quantity, shape or matter as we conceive them in the bread: it exists extra-dimensionally, and thus it possesses no local extension. This argument may be good enough for transubstantiation, but certainly not for res extensa, since here is a case for a body without local extension. Descartes’ claim is that “the essence of matter is extension and a body just is its dimensions,” so it follows that “[o]n Cartesian principles a body is inseparable from its extension.”[35] This leads us to another problem: since body cannot be distinguished from its local extension, how is it that Christ’s body can really be present in the sacrament without its own proper extension, i.e., without that which individuates it as Christ’s body?[36] Even though Descartes himself seemed to be aware of this problem[37], he ultimately did not answer this question.[38]

How is it possible for the body of Christ to be separable from its own dimension? For if it is possible, it undermines the very foundation of Cartesian metaphysics – that body just is dimension and the extension is its essence. This eventually unanswered question would haunt Cartesians even after Descartes’ death. Arnauld had once held the view that “Cartesians were better off acknowledging the inexplicability of this matter.”[39] He eventually became the major proponent of Cartesian philosophy, but he never seemed to be fully satisfied with this aspect of Cartesian metaphysics, and rather simply accepted that “philosophical conclusions reached by reason alone are not intended to place any limits on what may be believed about the infinite power of God” and that “Descartes’ natural philosophy was not evidence that, on the issue of the Eucharist, he departed from the Catholic faith.” Even for such a fervent supporter of Cartesian metaphysics, he clearly recognized the incompatibility of Descartes’ philosophy with the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

There is one more serious problem with Descartes’ philosophy of the mystery of transubstantiation. In the letter to Mesland, dated May 2nd, 1644, Descartes states, “there is no doubt that at least one mode which belongs to bread remains in the Blessed Sacrament, since its outward shape, which is a mode, remains.”[40] This is conspicuously opposed to what he later wrote to Mesland in 1645 that the surface is responsible for the appearance of the bread and that the surface neither belongs to the bread nor to the air surrounding it[41], as well as also in 1647 in Objections and Replies that the surface is not a part of the substance and that it is only the boundary common to the particles, having absolutely no reality except a modal one.[42] This change of view clearly tells us that Descartes had not yet formulated the explication of transubstantiation as of 1644 yet, contrary to what Vlad Alexandrescu proposes.[43] The facts that Descartes was still uncertain as to the explication of transubstantiation according to his own philosophy in the 1640’s, his own reluctance to talk about transubstantiation as much as possible as shown in a number of letters[44], and when he did talk about transubstantiation, he was never able to give an answer on record such a crucial problem as how the body of Christ can exist in the place where the bread once was without its proper extension according to his philosophy, show that Descartes’ awareness that his philosophy could not explain rationally how transubstantiation is possible, nor did he think it important that his philosophy must be able to explain it. It seems evident that Descartes wished he would not have to talk about transubstantiation if he could, but when he had to, he was compelled to make sense out of his own metaphysical system, which was less suited for explaining the doctrine. As a result, we see in his statements some inconsistencies, as shown above, particularly when he confuses surfaces with modes of the substance of the bread. These inconsistencies are, I believe, enough evidence to show that Descartes never really did offer a coherent explanation for transubstantiation but was only impelled to make sense out of the doctrine at his inconvenience as necessities arose.

[1] McCue, James. F, “The Doctrine of Transubstantiation from Berengar Through Trent: The Point at Issue” The Harvard Theological Review, vol.61:3 (Jul., 1968), 385-430. Although the issue had been debated much earlier, this seems to be the time when it rendered the doctrine of transubstantiation problematic for many theologians, scandalizing the Berengarius’s so-called ‘Butcher Theology’.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Leslie Brubaker and John Haldon, Byzentium in the Iconoclast Era c.680-850: A History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011),  9-68.

[4] McCue, “Doctrine of transubstantiation,” 401

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p416. Luther, for instance, argues that “[i]n red-hot iron, the two substances, fire and iron, are so mingled that every part is both iron and fire. Why is it not even more possible that the body of Christ be contained in every part of the substance of the bread?”

[7] McCue, “Doctrine of Transubstantiation,” 402

[8] This position was first argued by Albert the Great, and was popularly debated especially in the 16th century. McCue, “Doctrine of transubstantiation,” 397, 401 and 420. Italics mine.

[9] David Crownfield, “The Seminal Trace: Presence, Difference, and Transubstantiation” Journal of the American Academy of Religion Vol.59:2 (Summer, 1991) 361-371. See also Aquinas Summa Theologia Q75, 7.

[10] Julian Bourg, “The Rhetoric of Modal Equivocacy,” Journal of History of Ideas Vol.62:1 (Jan., 2001) 121-140. Although Vlad Alexandrescu, in his article “Descartes and Pascal on the Eucharist” shows that in the manuscript found in the 19th century, recopied by Leibniz, on an observation made by Descartes, if legit, Descartes held the belief that there are glorious bodies and that such bodies are “capable of penetrating other bodies, invisible, or diaphanous, impassible and capable of all other properties which are attributed to the glorious bodies”, Descartes’ metaphysics never mentioned anything resembling to it elsewhere at all and it seems to undermine his own metaphysical allegiance that mind and body are the only two substances in the world and that they cannot interact with one another except through the pineal gland. It may be surmised that it is not the glorious body of Christ itself that goes into the Eucharist, as Thomists have it, but rather, it is the power of the soul of the glorious body of Christ that exercises ‘embodiment’ of his body in the Sacrament. But as this is an area of study that requires further research, and as this seems to be the only instance where Descartes wrote about glorious bodies, and also because this does not help us understand why Descartes would contrive such an intricate metaphysical explanation as to how transubstantiation is possible, I shall disregard what Descartes says about glorious bodies in this newly discovered manuscript for the purpose of my present paper.

[11] See Descartes, “Fourth Set of Replies,” in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes Volume II, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008) 172-178. “The theologians who first attempted to give a philosophical account of this topic were so firmly convinced that accidents… were something real and distinct from a substance… they supposed that the ‘forms’ of the bread were real accidents of this sort; and they became wholly occupied with explaining how these accidents could exist without a subject.”

[12] Descartes, “Fourth Set of Replies,” 176

[13] Accidents. Descartes interprets it as ‘form’, which then he argues is nothing but a surface of an object. See Descartes, “Fourth Set of Replies,” 176.

[14] Descartes, “Fourth Set of Replies,” 176.

[15] This may also involve consubstantiation, since if the real accidents are turned into a part of substance, because the whole substance of bread is supposed to be changed into the substance of Christ, and because a part of the substance seems to remain without undergoing a change, it would mean that there still is a part of the substance of bread when the substance of Christ is present under the form of bread.

[16] The letter to Clerselier is dated March 2nd, 1546, in which Descartes gives a brief exposition on how God can bring about and replace the substance A with the numerically same substance B. This letter has neither addressee nor the date on which it was written, but comes immediately after the aforementioned letter to Clerselier.

[17] Descartes, Correspondences, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes Volume III: The Correspondence, trans. John Cottingham, Robet Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 284

[18] See Descartes’ letter to Mesland, dated February 9th, 1645, “…By ‘surface’ I do not mean any substance or real nature which could be destroyed by the omnipotence of God, but only a mode or manner of being, which cannot be changed without a change in that which oe through which it exists.”

[19] Steven M. Nadler, in his article “Arnauld, Descartes, and Transubstantiation: Reconciling Cartesian Metaphysics and Real Presence”, notes Arnauld’ claim that “the opinion that extension is the essence of matter is not in itself contrary à la foi de ce mystère [de l’Eucharistie]. It is a philosophical position that in no way determines what may or may not be an article of faith.” Nevertheless, it is clear that Descartes’ own philosophical view is that extension is the essence of matter/body.

[20] See Descartes, “Fourth Set of Replies,” “what affects our sense is simply and solely the limit of the dimensions of the body which is perceived by the senses. For contact with an object takes place only at the surface…”

[21] See Descartes, “Fourth Set of Replies,” 174.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Descartes, To Mesland, February 9th, 1645, in “Correspondence,” 241-244, “This surface intermediate between the air and the bread does not differ in reality from the surface of the bread, or from the surface of the air touching the bread; these three surfaces are in fact a single thing and differ only in relation to our thought.”

[24] A technical term used by Aquinas; a “dimensive quantity”, for instance, refers to that in which substance is contained by dimension. See Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q.76 Art.5. “Christ’s body is not in this sacrament as in a place, but after the manner of substance, that is to say, in that way in which substance is contained by dimension.” If the body is in a place, then it has to move out of the dimensive quantity occupied by itself, which is problematic since then there would be an empty space or a duration of time there is void in the dimensive quantity when a change is taking place; but if the body moves out with its dimensive quantity, replaced by another dimensive quantity, then “the substance of Christ’s body succeeds the substance of bread in [the] sacrament.” Italic mine.

[25] Descartes, To Mesland, February 9th, 1645, in “Correspondence,” 241-244.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] It belongs neither to the dimension of the bread nor of the air.

[29] Steven M. Nadler, “Arnauld, Descartes, and Transubstantiation: Reconciling Cartesian Metaphysics and Real Presence” Journal of History of Ideas Vol.49:2 (Apr. – Jun., 1988): 229-246. Also ‘by the word of institution’ or ‘by the faith alone’ dangerously reminds us of Luther’s argument against Catholics.

[30] Just like the soul of a thing, it shares no locative space, i.e. it does not exist in the same dimension as material bodies such as bread, which actually is located in a place.

[31] Descartes Correspondence, February 9th.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] As this was the initial charge brought against the Catholics at the time of Berengarius. See my introduction paragraph.

[35] Steven M. Nadler, “Arnauld, Descartes, and Transubstantiation,” 234

[36] Ibid., see also Arnauld’s letter to Descartes, “You maintain that an extended body cannot, in any manner, be distinguished from its local extension. You will do me a large favor, then, by telling me whether you have contrived some means of reconciling this doctrine with the Catholic faith, which obliges us to believe that the body of Christ is present in the holy sacrament without its local extension.” (XXXVIII, 73)

[37] It can be surmised that he was aware of the problem of the body without its own dimension by the letter without the addressee that we have earlier seen, for there he explicitly recognizes the problem as “how the body of Jesus Christ can exist within the same dimensions where the bread was.” See also my footnote 10.

[38] See Descartes’ letter for Arnauld, dated June 4th, 1648, “Since the Council of Trent was unwilling to explain how the body of Christ is in the Eucharist, and wrote that it was there ‘in a manner of existing which we can scarcely express in words,’ I should fear the accusation of rashness if I dared to come to any conclusion on the matter; and such conjectures as I make I would prefer to communicate by word of mouth rather than in writing.” However, 3 years earlier, he was eager to explain to Mesland how surfaces account for the appearance of the bread with the substance of Christ’s body on basis that “since the Council does not lay it down that ‘we cannot express it in words’, but only that ‘we can scarcely express it in words.” Italics mine.

[39] Steven M. Nadler, p.238

[40] Descartes to Mesland, May 2nd, 1644. Italics mine.

[41] “[by] the surface intermediate between the air the bread, we mean that it does not change with either [the substance of bread or that of air], but only with the shape of the dimensions which separate one from the other… it is by that shape alone that it exists, and also by that alone it can change.”

[42] “Finally we must note that the surface of the bread or wine or any other body should not in this context be taken to be a part of the substance or the quantity of the body in question, nor should it be taken to be a part of the surrounding bodies. It should be taken to be simply the boundary that is conceived to be common to the individual particles and the bodies that surround them; and this boundary has absolutely no reality except for a modal one.”

[43] Vlad Alexandrescu says in his article, “Descartes and Pascal on the Eucharist,” that “we may take for granted that Descartes formulated early enough a theory of the Eucharist that would be in simultaneous agreement with both his physics and his metaphysics,” suggesting that Descartes had his theory concerning the Eucharist in the 1630’s.

[44] Some of the signs of reluctance can be gathered from the following letters: [To Vatier, February 22nd, 1638] “Transubstantiation… is very easily explained by [my philosophy]. But I see no sign that the conditions which could oblige me to do so will be fulfilled, at least for a long time…”, [To Mesland, May 1645] with regard to the letter in which Descartes wrote a lengthy response for explicating the transubstantiation about 4 months prior. “You may do what you please with my letter, but since it is not worth keeping, please simply destroy it, without bothering to return it to me.”, [To unknown addressee, March 1646] “…I do not need to look for any new explanation; and even if I could find one, I would not wish to divulge it, because in these matters the most common opinions are the best.”

Read Full Post »

One of the seven sacraments, Eucharist, is an activity of taking in consecrated bread and wine, which literally become the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. This miraculous event is explained in the doctrine of transubstantiation. According to this theory, the accidental properties of the bread and wine (colour, smell, taste, and shape, etc…) remain the same but its substance is replaced by that of Christ’s. This poses an obvious problem not only for philosophers but also the Catholic Church who endorses it. For the Catholic Church is still a predominantly Aristotelian scholasticism, and Aristotle does not allow the change of substance while its accidents remain intact possible. In a word, the transfer of the substance alone, i.e. transubstantiation, is not an option. Philosophers and theologians alike in the Medieval as well as in Early Modern had hard time supporting this doctrine, which was now officially an article of faith. Descartes, in his correspondence with Arnauld, tried to explain the phenomena without success, Aquinas struggled to explicate transubstantiation in his Summa Theologiae, while plenty others would argue against it, leading up to the split of the Christianity into Catholicism and Reformers.

I would like to explicate the origins of the theoretical problems of this infamous doctrine in the history of Christianity, and deal with important questions such as whether transubstantiation is an instance of cannibalism, at what point in time exactly does the Host turn into the body of Christ? Does the priest have the power to conjure up God at his will? For how long does the Host remain the body of Christ after consecration? For if it remains to be the body of Christ after the initial consecration, the bread being material is subject to decay. Could the body of Christ be left alone until it starts to rot? What about the stories about ‘Breeding Host’ that many faithful believers apparently witnessed? Did the Jews really kidnap the consecrated Host from the Catholic Church so they could desecrate it and torture it? In which case, what was the method of torture? For they could not have crucified the Host, it being about 3 centimeters in length. On the other hand, if transubstantiation is not the case, is the priest guilty of idolatry for worshipping a piece of bread? What happens when a fry goes into the chalice, thereby ‘merging with’ Christ? Does any of its substance change? Do the bread crumbs fallen onto the floor constitute as the body of Christ, since Christ is supposed to be present in the whole of Host in its parts? What about those old people who have no teeth that cannot effectually chew the bread? Are they automatically denied admission to heaven? When Christ said to his disciples at the Last Supper, ‘This is my body’, did he give the part of his flesh to his disciples?

In dealing with these questions, philosophical questions such as how is it that they can claim that the body of Christ is present in the Host, while it has no spacial location as to which part of bread is Christ in? For they claim Christ is present in the whole of the bread, yet at the same time maintains that Christ is not in a particular place. Not only their insistence on Christ’s body being present without locality questionably curious, but also how could Aristotelian scholasticism allow the change of substance while its accidents still remain intact? And even if, as Protestants have it, it is to be taken metaphorically, how is it that they could claim the Eucharist is a metaphor while claiming that the resurrection of Christ is not? For both miracles – the Eucharist and the resurrection – appeal to the senses – yet we are supposed to disregard the senses in the former case, while accepting them in the case of the latter.

I will focus on primarily the arguments propounded by some later medieval philosophers/theologians like Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham as well as Early Moderns such as Luther, Hobbes, Descartes, Arnauld and Leibniz, and try to make sense historically as well as philosophically how the doctrine of transubstantiation has been dealt with in the course of history of ideas.

Read Full Post »

Can zombies run? This is one of the many questions that one may come across when watching any zombie films. For, on the one hand, if their flesh is rotten, rapid motion would be impossible, but on the other hand, if their flesh is not rotten, most of the depictions about zombies in films would prove to be unreal. However, that zombies do exist is not in dispute but only whether they are really like the ones portrayed in films is. For zombies we see in films have their origin in the Haitian religion of Vodoun rituals. This essay will focus on the nature of zombies and how they operate and for what purpose in relation to the Vodoun religion. The aim of this essay is also to get rid of the common misconceptions with regard to zombies due to popular films, question accuracies and answer some of the obvious problems in the depiction of zombies in popular culture. Above all, this essay will deal with the essence of zombies and how they come about according to the Haitian religion. In the course of exposition, I will first speak and discuss about less rigorous myths yet firmly believed folk notions of zombies, and then I will compare and discuss about the results of Wade Davis’ extensive field research on the folk notions as well as on the ethnobiological origins of zombies. I will also raise some of the interesting philosophical implications as I deal with these issues.

The rumour has it that there is a specific poison in Haiti that zombifies people, so-called ‘Zombie Powder’. The way in which it happsn is that when one ingests this poison in the form of powder or liquid, it will cause him a temporal ‘apparent death’, only to come back to life again in a short while. However, the organs would be severely damaged, having stopped operating for however long time it has taken them to revive. This, they say, is the cause of disfiguration in their face and body in zombies. A problem, however, is that how can someone after a long pause from life get resuccitated? Since for this to be possible, the blood must stop circulating once (thereby causing death) and again start circulating in a while. What then causes the blood to set into motion again? What exactly suppresses the blood cicrulation during this apparent death?

The story is complicated by the fact that the chemical component found in puffer fish (or fugu) called tetradotoxin makes people zombies – yet in the country where people occasionally consume puffer fish, i.e. Japan, there has never been evidence that zombies ever existed. In fact, zombies seem to be cultural specific, involving a sorceror bringing up the dead from the grave in order to use them as slaveworkers. According to this tradition, a sorceror must call a dead person by his original name before the grave, and the dead rises only to follow the orders from the ‘master’, or the bokor the sorceror. The victim now zombified is “made to work like a robot in the fields, on construction sites, in a bakery or a shop, [and] the zombi[e] may serve as a watchman, keep the books, steal crops or money from its master, or be rented out for or sold to others.”[1] And these zombies would work until they reach a natural death or they are given salt. Once they consume salt, they are said to become ‘spoiled’ and would kill their master.[2] Further, zombies are said to eat people, both as in films and as in Vodoun religion. But this creates more problems, for how can they eat people without consuming salt, or sodium? For them to actually succeed in becoming cannibals while retaining their status as somewhat alive, it seems implausible that they eat living human beings. Indeed, the only way they can be said legitimately to be cannibals is if they eat other zombies like themselves. Yet this poses at least two rather theoretical problems, for first assuming that eating is a way to receive nutrition, why would they want to eat other dead people whose flesh may possibly be rotten? What sort of nutrition can zombies possibly provide us? Second, do not even the dead retain sodium in their body, thereby making themselves an implausible candidate for zombie’s diet? In fact, if they do eat zombies, then zombies themselves must be without salt in them, which would be only possible if sodium content has been somewhat eliminated from the time of their burial and their zombification. How could that happen? Again, there are only two causes of death for zombies: natural death and ingestion of salt. Aside from how what has died once can come to a natural death, it is hard to conceive how being eaten by another zombie can count as a natural death, since it is not a death by ingestion of salt and zombies are assumed to be saltless. Perhaps, then, is it that zombies can endure even after having been eaten? How does cannibalism among zombies even conceptually possible?

To answer all those disquieting questions, we must first look at some literature concerning the beliefs about zombies in the Haitian tradition. First, the term ‘zombie’ has a number of possible etymological origins, but one possibility is that we take it from the French word for shadows, les ombres.[3] This makes sense, since the term Vodoun is not actually used by the natives to refer to their religion, but only addresses a specific event: “a dance ritual during which the spirits arrive to mount and possess the believer.”[4] Next, the way in which zombies are made seem to be consistent and share similarities among various African cultures; namely, an intended victim is killed by the use of specifically prepared poison, i.e. zombie powder, and upon death, he is buried, and a sorceror, i.e. bokor, comes to the grave at night, calling the victim by name. The victim, then, responds to the bokor and comes out of the grave, “remains stunned and incapable of selfdirection, so as to be at the mercy of the sorceror.”[5] This procedure normally takes place on the same day the victim is killed and buried, and “[t]he resurrected individual is deprived of will, memory, and consciousness, speaks with a nasal voice, and is recognized chiefly by dull, glazed eyes and an absent air.”[6] This is perhaps one of the primary reasons for the common belief that “zombies are thought of as individuals who either do not speak at all, or who only communicate little… apparently unable to direct their own activities and do not know their own names.”[7] Quite possibly, as Ackermann and Gauthier suggest, the reason why zombies are thought to speak with nasal voice is associated with the native spirits of death and of cemetary, the Guede, who are said to possess people, dressed in black and purple, wearing dark glasses, and speaking in highpitched nasal voice.[8]

Zombies are said to continue to live for two to five years, unless they have consumed salt.[9] What happens, though, if they are given salt? Do they die? According to a number of folk beliefs, the answer is ambiguous. Rather, a zombie “awakens, realizes its condition, seeks its grave, and may kill its master in vengeance” for having controlled him.[10] Another scholar reports that “[o]nce the sorceror has revived his victim, he carefully avoids letting him eat salt, which would help the zombi recover his senses, remember his name, and the fact that he is dead, and consequently cause him to fall dead.”[11] Yet another account tells us a similar account that if they are fed salt, “they become conscious of the state of their abnormal existence and are therefore likely to desert their masters.”[12] It seems, however, this belief about zombies’ saltless diet seems to originate in the Vodoun belief that “an unbaptized child may be taken by the devil, incarnated in the form of Baron Samedi, the spirit of the dead, and that to release the infant from his grasp, a small taste of salt must be placed upon the child’s tongue.”[13] It is perhaps because the salt is said to repel the evil spirit, though there is another pharmacological importance in the choice of salt as a evil-spirit repeller, as opposed to pepper or ginger, etc., which will provide us with the more scientific reasons for why salt is said to nullify zombie phenomenon.

The inquiry into salt brings us to an enquiry into how zombies are actually made. For the essence of zombie making is found in the pharmacologically prepared poison, Zombie Powder, and salt is said to counteract its primary ingredient. The ethnobiologist, Wade Davis, has uncovered some of the recipes for making the powder in his field research with bokor and houngan – a Vodoun preist. One recipe the local bokor at Saint Marc in Haiti prepared included: two types of sea toad[14], fufu fish[15], a sea snake[16], a large Buga toad[17] as well as several lizards[18] and tarantulas[19]. Once the capturing of these ingredients are done, “the toad and sea snake were placed in a sealed container, to be left there overnight before they were killed the next morning,” which is done to irritate the toad as buga toad is equipped with large patroid glands that secrete potent chemicals when irritated. In the morning, these animals are killed and placed in the sun to dry. Meanwhile, two more plant ingredients are gathered – a kind of shade tree locally called tcha-tcha and an itching pea, “a weedy climbing liana whose fruitpods are covered with vicious urticating hairs.”[20] Lastly, the crushed and ground remains of a human cadaver are added. The more fresh the cadaver is, the better its effect becomes. Hence, normally the cadavers are collected at night in the graveyard. As it is essential to gaining insights on in what way ‘zombies’ are said to exist, I have taken the excerpt from Davis’ book, The Passage of Darkness, which explains the procedure of the powder making.

Earlier in the day [bokor’s] assistant had dug up the cadaver in the courtyard and, with great caution, [the bokor] had lifted pieces of the child’s skull and brain into a glass jar… [h]e placed these fragments, along with the carcasses of the lizards, sea snake, and tarantulas, on a grill, roasting them to an oily consistency before transferring them to a mortar. The bones of the child stayed on the gril until they had burned almost to charcoal. Then they, too, were placed into the mortar. Another assistant had meanwhile taken a metal grater and begun to grind the tip of a human tibia and a skull, collecting the shavings in a small tin cup. A small handful of the seeds of Albizia lebbeck, eight fruits of Mucuna pruriens, and several shards of broken glass were placed in the mortar. The dried fish were then placed carefully on the grill and left only long enough to ensure that they were completely dried, whereupon they, too, were added the other ingredients in the mortar. The assistant then ground all the contents of the mortar to a coarse consistency and sifted them. He pounded the residue a number of times, until the bulk of the raw ingredients had collected as a fine brown powder at the base of a calabash. The final product was placed into jars to be carried back to the hounfour [the Vodoun temple], where it would be buried inside the coffin in the lap of the dead child for forty-eight hours.[21]

Both the ingredients and the procedure become extremely important in understanding where the folk beliefs come from as well as the science of zombie making. Although the number and types of ingredients vary from region to region, all preparation for zombie powder seem to include at least one or more species of puffer fish, the large buga toad, the hyla tree frog, ground human remains, and several plants that are capable of irritating the human skin.[22] For instance, the preparation at Valley of Léogane, about 40km west of Port-au-Prince, included human cadavers, a mixture of centipedes, tarantulas and lizards as well as tree frogs two species of puffer fish.[23] The one prepared at Gonaïves, over 100km north of Pot-au-Prince, had three stages to the preparation, taking about an entire week to complete the poison. In the first degree of preparation, again, are included a toad and a snake being sealed in a jar. About twenty grams of ground centipedes and two whole tarantulas are mixed with some plants similar to the ones we have listed above. Once they are ground to a powder, they are placed in a jar and buried underground for two days. In the second degree, two more plants locally known as tremblador and desmembres are added, and in the final degree, four more plants capable of causing severe topical irritation are mixed as well as a number of animals, such as ground two species of tarantulas with the skins of the white tree frog in addition to buga toad and a puffer fish.[24] This also somewhat explains the popular belief supported by the account frequently reported why zombies are sometimes seen to “vomit up a number of leaves, or small lizards or a large centipede” which is said to be a sign of illness.[25]

Having administered the poison on the intended victim by either topically applying it on the victim’s skin or by spreading it in the form of a cross on the threshold of the doorway or inside the victim’s shoes, the victim is said to die usually within the next six hours.[26] The Haitians hastily bury their dead to avoid the pungent smell of death in such a warm, tropical climate.[27] This may perhaps explain one of the reasons why zombies are more effectively made during the summer. On the same day at night, the bokor will come to the grave of the buried victim, calling by his name. Then the victim is said to come back to life as a zombie. When the zombie comes out of the ground, it is beaten severely, and “force-fed a paste made up of thee constituents: sweet potato, cane syrup, and concombre zombi.”[28] Concombre zombi, or zombi’s cucumber, is a plant called Datura stramonium, which, containing atropine and scopolamine, can hence induce a state of psychotic delirium marked by disorientation, acute confusion and complete amnesia, as well as agitation, hallucination and rambling speech in the patient. This hallucinogenic paste is applied to the zombie again in the morning after the resurrection, when it reaches its place of confinement.[29] Why is this necessary? After all, a zombie has been successfully made upon its rising from the ground. This beating and ingestion of the paste is what may be termed as an initiation, a baptisim for zombies.

Many questions come to be raised. How is it possible that a person who has died to come back to life at the name-calling by the bokor? What significance is there that all those ingredients for zombie powder involve specific species of toads, puffer fish and irritatable plants? And further, what is the nature and the role of zombi’s cucumber? Can this all be explained scientifically, or is it all ‘black magic’ as the locals call it? Zombies are actually not completely dead, but they are who have gone through apparent death. The secrets are hidden among the primary ingredients of the zombie powder. For instance, puffer fish is known to be extremely toxic – in fact, it is so toxic that people who eat fugu, i.e. puffer fish, are willingly taking the risk of death. It appears that eating fugu has been nothing more than having an aesthetic experience, giving the consumers a sense of tingling paralysis that boarders between life and death. Its toxin comes from tetradotoxin, a chemical component found in fugu. Tetradotoxin (TTX) blocks the sodium channels of the excitable membranes of nerves and muscles, thereby causing neuromascular paralysis.[30] The victims of tetradotoxication may experience a tingling or prickering sensation starting with fingers and extremities, eventually leading to the numbness of the entire body, hypersalivation, profuse sweating, subnormal body temperative due to the decresed blood pressure. The pupils are constricted and later become dilated, making them glassy, and the victims “may become comatose but in most cases retain consciousness, and the mental faculties remain acute until shortly before death”, even though since the lips and throat are normally paralyzed amongst other things, they cannot move or utter a single word.[31] This induced state of complete paralysis can last for several hours to twenty-four hours or even more in extremely rare cases, when the apparently dead victim wakes up again. Many case studies have been done with regard to fugu poisonings, and in dealing with the patients, even trained physicians have hard time recognizing if the patints are dead or merely ‘apparently’ dead. This is because not only the breathing stops, but also the symptoms resemble and are consistent with brain death. There are a number of accounts where physicians are reported to have performed artificial respiration and other appropriate treatments only to discover that the patients show no sign of life, but later the supposedly dead patients come back to life, and report how they had wanted to say something when the family members of the ‘deceased’ wept over their body.[32] How were the victims able to fool the experienced physicians? After all, is it not necessary that if the systems in the body utterly shut down for hours the patients could not be revived? Some investigators seem to posit the possibility that, in some cases, the patient’s heart continues to beat even after the cessesation of breathing, maintaining the peripheral circulation of blood. Another account tells us the case where hospital staffs could not detect pulsation in the patient, but the patient obviously maintained rapid, shallow breathing.[33] According to the medical authorities, the symptoms occur within an hour upon ingestion of tetradotoxin, culminating a crisis in no more than six hours, and death normally occurs between three to eight hours after the ingestion of the poison.[34] The victim would recover naturally if he survives this period.

This explains a lot about zombification, since a victim is killed by the posion, buried alive while retaining consciousness, and the bokor comes to the grave to dig him up. Zombies, in this sense, are indeed not dead, but rather rightly called living dead or undead. The use of buga toad is then rather supplementary. Even though the skin of the toad contains crucial dose of toxic cardiosteroids capable of inducing hypersalivation as well as vocalization and difficulty in breathing, its primary use is probably as a hallucinogenic agent. Since when the victim is in comatose, he still retains his consciousness clearly. Even though being buried alive in a coffin creates a sense of panick as well as psychological confusion, it would not be enough to make him believe that he is actually dead. With this hallucinogenic substance, as he wakes up from his apparent death, his mind is still confused and remains disrupted. When in such psychological states, if he is dug up and severely beaten without warnings, his mind becomes completely ‘messed up’ so as not to be able to make sense of any degree of reality. This happens at night in the country whose folk belief about the existence of zombies is deeply rooted in their mind from the earliest years of their life, and naturally, the victim himself begins to believe that he has been dead and zombified. This is why upon resurrection of zombies, the bokor force-feed the zombie the paste containing Datura stramonium, zombi’s cucumber, which also induces a severe degree of hallucination. What becomes of the irritable plants? What role does it have? It may not play a significant role as a toxin that kills or hallucinates the intended victim, but it plays a pivotal role in the poison’s application to the victim. As Davis found out, any of the zombie powders are normally placed under the victim’s feet or by topical application to the body, and the poison is said to work most effectively when applied to an open wound.[35] For this reason, the irritants contained in the plant preparation in making the zombie powder pave the way for the poison to get into the body. This is an effective way, since some of the pharmacologically active poison employed in the making of the powder do not work when taken orally, but only when it is applied directly into the blood. This also explains why some preparation for the powder includes ground glass, and why it is suggested that the toxic powder to be applied after “pricking the victim’s skin with a thorn.”[36] All these precedures presuppose that the victim is in the same mindset as the Vodoun culture, as psychological beliefs such as the existence of zombies and what happens to them play a significant role in creating a zombie. The victim is not just a passive recipient of the violence, but also gives a psychological framework in order for the zombie to be made. This is precisely why there is no record or report as to the existence of zombies in Japan, where fugu consumption as well as the number of death or premature burial by fugu poisonings is great. Zombification, indeed, is a socially sanctioned cultural tradition, and where there is no belief whatsoever of the Vodoun religion, there cannot be a zombie, even if there are plenty of materials available to turn people into zombies. Such may be the origin of the folk belief in Haiti that “the power of zombis [is] limited… [and] that if someone does not believe in them, they can do no harm.”[37] This is so precisely because if someone believes in no zombies there is no such a thing as a zombie, hence a ‘zombie’ becomes nothing but an empty concept, and such a concept can neither physically nor psychologically harm that person. Incidentally, the fact that tetradotoxin is involved in the zombie-making also explains why salt is believed to be the cure for zombie phenomenon, since tetradotoxin “prevents the generation of action potentials by blocking the voltage-sensitive sodium channels of the excitable membrane of nerve and muscle,” and the laboratory research shows that “an increased concentration of sodium ions (Na+) might offer protection against tetradotoxication.”[38] Indeed, folk belief that zombies are vulnerable to salt, or sodium content, seems to have some basis in neurochemistry after all.

Now that we have seen how zombies are made, let us take a further step and explore the reasons for why zombies are made. For what purpose does it serve? What do we do with the body supposedly deprived of will, memory or ability to communicate? And can they function during the day or are they available for employment only at night? Can they run, or do they move or stop only with the permission and acknowledgment of the bokor? This last question now sounds even silly to ask, for zombies are nothing but people who have undergone apparent death with their minds perpetually confused due to the hallucinogenic substance. Of course they can run. And of course they can move or stop without the permission or acknowledgment of the bokor. In fact, their status can better described as a perpetual enslavement. It is the worst kind of enslavement because no one supposedly knows that the zombified victims are still alive. Upon the burial, the victims have lost all status enjoyed by living persons in a legal society. And when they come back to life as zombies, they have no social status, hence “do not speak, cannot fend for themselves, do not even know their names.”[39] It is also gathered from the fact that a “second dose of this hallucinogenic paste is given to the victim the morning after the resurrection,” that they can function during the daytime, and not just at night.[40] What remains as a crucial question is that why such corpses without will or memory are needed. To answer this question, we must first take a recourse to the ‘two types of zombies’ that the Haitians speak of, for only then does it become apparent why zombification is not just a ‘pastime’ of some individual bokors with lots of time to waste, goofing around making surplus zombies, but is in fact a necessary element in the Haitian society to maintain justice rather than simply to spread fear.

In the Haitian Vodoun tradition, there believed to be five basic components that make up human.[41] These are the z’étoile, the gros bon ange, the ti bon ange the n’âme, and the corps cadavre. These are respectively translated as the spiritual component in the sky that determines one’s life and destiny (z’étoile), the ‘big good angel’ is the energy that animates the body and is undifferentiated. Upon clinical death, “it returns immediately to God and once again becomes part of the great reservoir of energy that supports all life.”[42] The ‘little good angel’ is the source of individuals’ willpower and personality; it is what gives the gros bon ange a characteristic content in which it can perform. If the gros bon ange is the source of animation, the ti bon ange is the source of individuality. The n’âme is spirit of the flesh; it is with n’âme that a body can have a definite shape. It gradually leaves the body into the organisms of the soil upon the dealth of corps cadavre, the corpse. This explains the gradual decomposition of the corpse, which is nothing but a slow transferral of this energy, taking eighteen months to complete.[43]

The bokor’s job is to take away and capture the personal spirit, the ti bon ange, so that the created zombies are deprived of willpower and left only with the material body. This happens at the graveyard ceremony at night when the victim wakes up from coma. During the initiation, the ti bon ange is extracted from the body by the bokor calling the victim by name at the graveyard site[44] and then it is housed in a clay jar, which is placed at the inner sanctum of the temple. During this ceremony, the bokor must make sure that the ti bon ange would not reenter the victim’s body, and one way to do so is by excessive beating. Deprived of the willpower and personality, but still possessing the gros bon ange, the body continues to animate. In this way, two types of zombie are created – a zombie of the spirit and a zombie of the flesh.[45] This zombie of the flesh is the one often portrayed in the popular culture – a zombie that is robotic and moves without purpose. The gros bon ange, separated from the ti bon ange, animates the body, but without the ti bon ange, “the body is but an empty vessel, subject to the direction of the bokor or whoever maintains control of the zombi ti bon ange.”[46] What controls the zombie of the flesh is this spirit zombie, carefully stored in a jar in the temple. In this way, the bokor not only gains control over the zombie of the flesh but also he can magically transmute the ti bon ange into insects, animals or humans to freely direct the body. The reason why zombies are said to be the ‘living dead’ is now evident. It is because they have no individual character but solely controled the by the massive undifferentiated energy whose job is only to animate the body. This duality of zombie also tells us that there is a lot one can do with the spirit zombies. If all one gets is the zombie of the flesh, there is not much use, since these zombies do not have willpower and it is hard to imagine how they could be of any use. But with the possession of the zombi ti bon ange, the spirit zombie, the benefit of making zombies becomes enormously expanded. In this way, the zombies are said to be “dispatched to kill, to inflict disease on people or livestock, or to destroy harvests,” and the ones that trasmit disaese are called zombi toussé, or “coughing zombi” who are said to have died of tuberculosis.[47] The spirit zombies can also be tranformed into inanimate objects such as stones, or into “cows, pigs or sheep that are sold on the market for meat, [and t]hese animals may cry out to reveal their human nature, and their meat may foam in the pot or contain gold teeth, human fingernails, even hands or feet.”[48] Although it is dubious whether spirit zombies transformed into a stone can be of any use and rather incomprehensible for what purpose the bokor would turn the otherwise useful spirit zombie into an inanimate object except to exercise his magical power to his own satisfaction, spirit zombies turned into humans or animals such as horses are said to be put to work in a sugar mill as well as in the field. Further, these zombies may be used to “attract customers to a shop, or even correct a poor student’s homework… [and they] can also act as messengers, returning runaway women to their homes.”[49] Again, these claims are somewhat unsubstantiated, coming from folk beliefs themselves, but even so, it is hard to imagine how zombies can attract costumers to a shop or even correct student’s homework, especially since they are deprived of any willpower. But perhaps, the real worry is not whether zombies can correctly do homework, but rather why anyone would want zombies who do not even know their names to correct his or her school assignments.

Here it may be beneficial to speak of the ways and nature of zombies so as to gain better insight as to what they are like, and more importantly, so that we can compare the traditional beliefs about zombies with those dipicted in popular culture. In this way, we can at least shed some light on the accuracy of the representation of zombies in films. For questions are numerous concerning the nature of zombies. For instance, do they age at all? They should, if we are to believe in the claim that zombies can actually come to a natural death. Such may be the case with the zombie of the flesh, however, the spirit zombie is said to be “immortal and does not age… It is never ill (even if it was frequently during its life time), does not eat, and is able to move.”[50] The zombies of the flesh, on the other hand, walk with their heads down, and as has been suggested earlier, speak with a nasal voice. Raised in a comatose trance from their graves, they are usually recognizable by their docile natures, glassy, emptry empty eyes.[51] One striking difference of the popular depiction of zombies from the traditional folk beliefs of them is that in actuality zombies are afraid of living people and try to flee from them.[52] This may be due to the ceremonial beatings of the raised victim at the initiation, when his consciousness is deprived and is under delusion. For such initiation is reported to be one of the most traumatizing experiences by the victims who survived zombification.[53] As has been previously dealt with, other physical as well as mental attributes of zombies such as lameness, the sensations of vertigo, nausea, falling, formication as well as disarticulation, too can be now well explained by the effects of tetradotoxication which interfers with the functionings of nerves and muscles, whose effect is further sustained after the zombification by means of malnutrition and the continuous application of the hallucinogenic paste to the victim. Some questions concerning rather enigmatic accounts still remain to be answered, such are the claims that zombies are invisible except at noon, they live and sleep in cemetaries and are at home between three o’clock and three-thirty in the morning, or they go to church in the evening and are afraid of red objects.[54] Some of these claims not only do not make much sense but also are internally inconsistent, for the same source tells us that zombies “may be put to work, but only after sunset.”[55] How can invisible zombies ‘attract customers to a shop’? What does the two claims tell us that zombies are put to work after sunset and they go to church in the evening? Further, the claim that they are at home at a particular time period seems particularly unconvincing, for they have no home. The only time they may go back to their grave is when their spell has been broken either by the bokor’s death or by ingesting enough salt, thereby regaining their consciousness. In any case, these claims are ‘anomalies’, or what I may call the enigmas, sole folk beliefs originated without substantial theoretical background.

Having spoken of how zombies are made and what they are like, we may proceed to discuss about how to prevent one from becoming a zombie. For this marks an essential importance in the Haitian tradition of zombie phenomenon, since without the existence of preventions or antidote to the zombification, people are left without defense. Naturally, the preventive measures can be taken to counteract the application of the poison or by preventing the bokor from successfully ‘reviving’ the dead. To ensure that the deceased would not be zombified, some locals cut off the limbs and head of the corpse and even blade through the victim’s heart or put a bullet in the temple before burial, so that such a body would be no use to the bokor. According to the tradition, because “a corpse may only be raised if it answers the call of the bokor, the lips of the dead are sometimes sewn up with brass wire.”[56] Unfortunately, there is no known medical antidote for tetradotoxication. Datura stramonium, or zombie’s cucumber, supposedly acts as a partial antidote to tetradotoxin, but it is, as has been said, what the bokor uses after the resurrection of the dead body from the ground because, although it is said to restore the body to activity, it leaves the mind only to semiconsciousness. In other words, Datura stramonium may relieve some of the symptoms of tetradotoxication, as it is highly psychoactive, it is primarily used to induce and maintain zombie state rather than to ‘unzombify’ the victim.

Not surprisingly, however, there have been a number of recipes of locally prepared antidote for the Zombie Powder by the bokor and his assistants. These antidotes are made before the actual poison is made for the poisoners’ own protection. For it is highly possible that any of the poisoners could ingest highly toxic powders during the preparation, and it is for this reason that any of the poisons are always prepared some distance from human habituation.[57] Whereas the posion had consistency in its ingredients, the antidotes differed vastly both in its ingredients and in its composition from region to region. Below are some of the recipes for the antidote; for a comparison, I think it best to cite excerpts from Wade Davis’ findings.

Antidote 1: (at Saint Marc)

The houngan began by placing in a mortar several handful of the dried or fresh leaves of six plants: aloe (Aloe vera L.); guaiac (Guaiacum officinale L.); cedre (Cedrela odorata L.); bois chandelle (Amyris maritima Jacq.); and cadavre gaté (cf. Capparis sp.). This plant material was ground with a quarter-ounce of rock salt, then added to an enamel basin containing ten crushed mothballs, a cup of seawater, several ounces of clairin or cane alcohol, a bottle of perfume, and a quarter-litre of a solution purchased from the local apothecary and known as magic noire, “black magic.” Additional ingredients included ground human bones, shavings from a mule’s tibia and a dog’s skull, various coloured and magically named talc powders, ground match heads, and sulphur powder… The end product was a green liquid with a strong ammonia scent.[58]

Antidote 2: (at Petite Rivière de Nippes)

The representative antidote [in this region] included clairin, rum, sugar, basil leaves (Ocimum basilicum L.), ground human bones, cadavre gaté (cf. Capparis sp.), and corn (Zea mays L.). Integral to this… preparation was the ritual paraphernalia – a candle composed of wax into which magic powders had been kneaded, a cross of feathers plucked from the sacrificed rooster – that promised to guard the individual from the power of his own poison. In this sense, the antidote was believed not only to neutralize the effects of the poison on the actual victim, but also to protect the poisoner.[59]

These antidotes are said to be in effect for two to three weeks upon the exposure to the poison. After this, the houngan performs the standard Vodoun rituals to exorcise any death spirit that may be hovering around the victim.[60] As you can see, one at Saint Marc is decorated with over thirty exotic ingredients, whereas the one prepared at Petite Rivière de Nippes has much fewer ingredients, which are rather simple compared to the first one. What catches our attention is not just dissimilarities in the ingredients in each potion but also the inclusion of ritual in the making of the second antidote, whereas the preparation is rather straightforward without rituals in the first antidote. Although many of the plants used in the either of the antidote are medicinally active, these rather non-universalized recipes for the poison suggest that there is no agreed effective antidote. Indeed, these antidotes take a ‘better than nothing’ approach, and do not guarantee the recovery of the poisoned. In other words, once the poison has been applied to the victim, there is no sure way of undoing the poison.

This brings us back to the earlier notion that there is no known medical antidote to tetradotoxin, for what the powder ultimately is is tetradotoxication, and any antidotes prepared by the bokor are aimed at counter-effecting against the poison, i.e., tetradotoxin, so as not to cause the death in the first place. As has been explained previously, Datura stramonium, or zombie’s cucumber, is said to relieve some of the symptoms of tetradotoxication, but it cannot be applied as an antidote, since it too possesses a psychoactive power that induces in the consumed to a “psychotic delirium marked by disorientation, acute confusion, and complete amnesia.”[61] This leaves us with only two other options to combat tetradotoxin: either to fall back on the folk belief of ingesting salt or disolve the poison in tetradotoxin before it is ingested. The first option has a very slim chance of succeeding it, if there is any chance at all. For, as Davis believes, for the ingestion of salt to have any influence at all on the poison, it has to be ingested almost immediately after the exposure to the poison. Otherwise “any administration of salt to the purported zombies” would be pointless as “the effects of their initial exposure to the zombie poison and to tetradotoxin would have [already] run their course.”[62] Even if salt was ingested immediately after the exposure to the poison, there is no evidence that it would have much effect on stopping the poison from affecting the victim. There is simply no pharmacological basis to the widely held beliefs that “if imprudently [zombies] are given a plate containing even a grain of salt the fog that cloaks their minds instantly clear away and they become conscious of their terrible servitude,”[63] or “a bar of candy containing salted peanuts [is] said to have released the fury of the zombies.”[64]

Tetradotoxin, however, has this peculiar aspect that it is very sensitive to pH, and breaks down in basic solution. So “if the powders were put into a nonbuffered solvent (water, for example), the resulting solution would have a basicity that would denature the tetradotoxin.”[65] This is why “the powder is never put into a solution; it is not administered orally or made into a salve or cream for topical administration.” [66] The way the Zombie Powder is applied to a victim is by putting directly into blood through abraded skin. Dry powders do not have pH, since they have no interacting hydrogen ions, and blood is a well-buffered solution.[67]

It seems as though there is only one way to ensure that the poison does not get to you – disolve it in water before its administration. But this option is not possible for either fugu poison victims, who enjoy eating the very effect the poison induces in them, or zombie victims, who are totally unaware of the poison being administered to them. This, however, leaves us still yet another question – for how can the bokor ensure that the victim does not die from it but only causes them an apparent death so that the bokor can revive the victim? For the whole purpose of zombie powder is to cause an apparent death for six hours or so, and if the victim actually dies from the overdose of the poison, there is no point in going through all the troubles in making such an elaborate poison, taking over a week. Just like the fugu poisoning, the amount of tetradotoxin consumed plays a great role in determining whether the victim who has consumed the poison would survive or not. In order to have a precisely expected result, the bokor must have a highly sophisticated knowledge as to how much poison is found in which types of puffer fish and what time of the year the fish should be caugh, etc… since the level of tetradotoxin found in puffer fish differ from species to species, from season to season, and even amongst the same species. For instance, female are said to possess more poison in general, and the poison is most abundantly found from May to July, which is their copulation period. But some male puffer fish are more toxic than female puffer within the same species, and the toxic level also depends on which region the particular puffer is found. It seems improbable that neither the bokors nor the fugu chefs could articulate the level of poison contained in any given puffer fish. So how do they do it? The question is legit enough, and the answer is as expected. They do not know the level of poison contained in each puffer fish; all they know is that fish are more toxic in summer. From the emic point of view, after all, it is not the poison that kills the victim, but is the highly sophisticated magic that the bokor possesses, and the rest depends on the god or the spirit. Just like people who have died of natural causes cannot made into zombies,[68] because it is believed that those who have died naturally are called upon by the god, and nothing the bokor would do makes any difference, people who have died of overdose of the poison contrary to the bokor’s expectation are said to be called upon by the god. Davis indeed concurs with this point by stating that “the physical resurrection of a zombie is likely to be an exceedingly rare event… [and] the acknowledged variability of toxin levels in natural populations of the puffer fish – as well as the diversity of formulas concocted by the bokor – dosage is bound to be imprecise.”[69] What maintains this belief in zombification so real is perhaps the fact that the failed attempts by the bokor are never recorded or counted, thus making the successes stand out, strengthening the cultural conviction that zombification is real and universal.

If even the bokor knows there is a great chance that the intended victim might actually die in the process of zombification, why do they even bother going through such an elaborate process to raise the dead from the grave to begin with? If all zombies are worth is either for assasignation or enslavement, or less honourably for correcting students’ assignments or minding the shops, is it not too much a labour and risk to take to make zombies? After all, zombies may come back to their senses any moment, and in the event of it, they may kill their masters. It seems that there is much more work to be done in collecting all those ingredients to make zombies and performing ceremonial rituals than there is for these people involved to actually correct students’ assignments or work in the fields. Do these people even get paid? Is there a company that hires people who make zombies? These are some of the concerns occasionally raised by the sceptics. Wade Davis himself answers to these questions by explicitly denying that there is such a thing an assembly-line of mass production of zombies in Haiti, and that zombification still remains to be infrequent and highly unusual occurrence.[70] So why is the tradition still maintained? To answer this question, one needs to delve into the Haitian cultural social justice system observed by the secret societies all over the island. I will not discuss here what these societies are or how they came about in detail, but for the purpose of this essay, I will breifly summarize their roles in the Haitian society. These secret societies have various names depending on the regions; and even though they are termed as ‘secret societies’ everyone knows of their existence, and the government seems to work in accordance with them. Zombification is a form of social justice in the Haitian societies, and the members of the secret societies serve somewhat as modulators of public morality. Not everyone is vulnerable to zombification, but only those who have been particularly obnoxious towards their family members or in the society they live in. There is a list of offenses one of the secret societies, Bizango, whom Wade Davis came in contact with told him. If a person transgresses these actions abanduntly, the members of the society may sunction the zombification of such a person and the targeted victim is duly ‘eaten’, i.e. the extraction of the ti bon ange. These seven actions are as follows:

1.              Ambition – excessive material advancement at the obvious expense of

family and dependents.

2.              Displaying lack of respect for one’s fellows.

3.              Denigrating the Bizango society.

4.              Stealing another man’s woman.

5.              Spreading loose talk that slanders and affects the well-being of others.

6.              Harming members of one’s family.

7.              Land issues – any action that unjustly keeps another from working the


The societies observe these rules, and when they are violated, the societies are

informed of the events, and send members to judge whether the accused is in the wrong or not. Once found guilty, the accused becomes the target of zombification. It seems that many of the zombifications take place when these rules are severely ignored, that is to say, when almost all the rules are violated by the accused to the extent that the accused is hated by all the people around. Davis’ findings tell us that, by no means, zombification is not an arbitrary practice. These secret societies have been existent since long before the colonial period, and it has been done even before the government came in place, and these codes of morality are respected as a cultural heritage.[72]

I have now dealt with the essences or nature of zombies both according to the folk belief traditions and according to the religio-scientific basis. In the course of exposition, I have laid out some of the popular beliefs about zombies and what they are made for, and compared those beliefs to the ethnobiological findings of Wade Davis in the light of Vodoun religion. I have discussed how zombies are actually made and what the social implications of zombification are within the cultural settings of the Haitian tradition. In dealing with these issues, I have focused particularly on the pharmacological nature of Zombie Powder as well as the lack thereof in the ingredients used to make its antidote. The duality of the soul is also mentioned, and the theoretical ground for zombification has been explained with great emphasis. What remains for me now to discuss is the alleged cannibalistic nature of zombies, for it is of a particular importance to us whose lives are threatened by the fear of being eaten by zombies.

It is imporant to note first that when the death spirit is sent by the bokor to extract the ti bon ange of the intended victim, the death spirit is said to ‘eat away’ its victim. In the same token, when illness or death takes hold of someone, the victim of illness or of death is viewed as being eaten by the evil spirit. In like manner, Bourguignon contends that “no basis exists for the statement that cannibalism and human sacrifice, as more commonly understood, actually do exist in Haiti.”[73] The belief about cannibal zombies comes from the tradition that the bokor can turn people into animals.[74] This is done by the bokor who makes a rope of human intestines and throws it at the intended victim, who then turns into an animal.[75] The victim thus turned into an animal is then sold at a distance market for meat, which is recognizable by its foams in the cook pot and falling to the floor when somebody tried to eat it, an obviously implying that a conscious human soul is housed in the cooked meat. Such victims who have been turned into animals too are called by the name of zombies, for they are in essence nothing but the captured spirit zombies, transferred into animal bodies. Davis discusses Elsie Clews Parsons’ claim that “a bokor who has a zombie, in this case a zombi astral, or zombie of the spirit, may transform him into a stone or any kind of animal… such a creature would be considered a person, and this its flesh, sold in the market, would quite properly be said to be human flesh.”[76] As a matter of fact, this belief is the one and only basis for the various reports and popular correlation of zombies and cannibalism.[77] This then answers the conundrum whether zombies can eat humans without being affected by the sodium content, for zombies do not eat humans, but by cannibalism is meant the meat of zombies eaten by the general public. This concludes my discussions about the zombies and the zombification according to the Haitian tradition.

[1] Hans-W. Ackermann and Jeanine Gauthier, “The Ways and Nature of the Zombi” The Journal of American Folklore vol.104:414 (Autumn 1991): 466-494. http://www.jstor.org/stable/541551 (accessed Septemner 29th, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. The other possible candidates include the West Indian term for ghost, duppy or jumbie, a descent from zemi, which is the Arawak name for spirits or their images. See the pages 467-468 of the same article for more possibilities.

[4] Wade Davis, Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (USA: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 291.

[5] Erika Bourguignon, “The Persistence of Folk Belief: Some Notes on Cannibalism and Zombis in Haiti”, The Journal of American Folklore, vol.72:283 (Jan. – Mar., 1959): 36-46. http://www.jstor.org/stable/538386. (accessed September 29th, 2010).

[6] Ackermann and Gauthier, “The Ways and Nature of the Zombi,” 466-494.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bourguignon, “The Persistence of Folk Belief,” 36-46.

[9] Ackermann and Gauthier, 466-494.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Bourguignon, 36-46.

[12] Louis P. Mars, “The Story of Zombi in Haiti” Man, vol. 45 (Mar. – Apr., 1945): 38-40.

[13] Davis, The Passage of Darkness, 180.

[14] Crapaud du mer, checkered puffer fish or Sphoeroides testudineus L., and Sphoeroides spengleri Bloch.

[15] Diodon hystrix L., spot-fin purcupinefish

[16] A polychaete worm, or Hermodice carunculata Pallas.

[17] Bufo marinus L.

[18] Ameiva chrysolaema Cope and Leiocephalus schreibersi Gravenhost.

[19] Crabe araignee, or Theraphosidae.

[20] Davis, The Passage of Darkness, 110-112.

[21] Ibid., 112-114.

[22] Ibid., 124.

[23] Ibid., 119.

[24] Ibid., 121-122.

[25] F. J. H. Huxley, “The Ritual of Voodoo and the Symbolism of the Body” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences Vol.251:772 (Dec. 29, 1966):423-427. http://www.jstor.org/stable2416754 (accessed September 29th, 2010)

[26] Davis, 114.

[27] Ibid., 93.

[28] Ibid., 122.

[29] Ibid., 122-123.

[30] Ibid., 146, 180.

[31] Ibid., 154-155.

[32] Ibid., 156-165.

[33] Ibid., 158.

[34] Ibid., 164.

[35] Ibid., 131.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ackermann and Gauthier, 466-494.

[38] Davis, 180.

[39] Ibid., 207.

[40] Ibid., 124.

[41] Incidentally, Vodoun religion means nothing but a collection of diverse rites that originate in various parts of Africa, and the word ‘voodoo’ simply means “god” or “spirit” in Fon language of Dahomey and Tago. See also 273, Davis.

[42] Ibid., 186.

[43] Ibid.

[44] But the much of the work or preparation for the extraction of the ti bon ange has already been done when the toxic powder has been spread onto the victim’s feet before the death. Also there are other ways to capture ti bon ange while the victim is still alive according to the findings of Wade Davis: “the coup l’aire (a magical spell that breaks the victim’s equilibrium, causing misfortune and illness), the coup nam (a soul spell and a magical means of capturing the ti bon ange), the coup poudre (a powerful spell, a magical powder that may cause illness and/or death), and the l’envoi morts (the sending of the death spirits). To administer these spells, the ‘executioner’ sets ‘traps’ in places the accused is known to frequent.” These powders can either be directly or indirectly administered to the victim. See Davis, 280.

[45] Ibid., 183, 187. A zombie of the spirit is called zombi astral or zombi ti bon ange, and that of the flesh is called zombie corpse cadavre.

[46] Ibid., 191.

[47] Ackermann and Gauthier, 466-494.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Davis, 60.

[52] Ackermann and Gauthier, 466-494.

[53] For more information on recent cases of zombifications, see Davis, 75-85.

[54] Ackermann and Gauthier, 466-494. The claim that zombies are afraid of red objects appears in much literature, and red clothings are often worn to prevent spirit zombies from possessing the living.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Davis, 64-65.

[57] Ibid., 166.

[58] Ibid., 166-167.

[59] Ibid., 167.

[60] Ibid., 174.

[61] Ibid., 179.

[62] Ibid., 180.

[63] Ibid., quoted Alfred Métraux in Davis, 179.

[64] Ibid., quoted Seabrook in Davis, 179.

[65] Ibid., 194.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid., 194.

[69] Ibid., 195.

[70] Ibid., 196.

[71] Ibid., 278.

[72] See page 11 of this paper.

[73] Bourguignon, 36-46.

[74] See pages 12-13 in this paper.

[75] Bourguignon, 36-46.

[76] Davis, 65.

[77] Ibid.

Read Full Post »

In the history of philosophy, cannibalism plays a pivotal role in the development of early modern medicine across the world. In its early years, cannibalism, in the form of ingesting mummies, was recommended by Avicenna (980-1037) as a subtle but resolutive remedy that could be used as an antidote to poison, and could cure epilepsy or nausea and other popular cold symptoms.[i] By the late sixteenth century, the ingestion of mummies became a renowed pharmaceutical drug used widely all over the Europe, and they were still sold at reputable German phamacies as recent as 1908.[ii] Further, ingestion of human bodies was practiced in many islands abroad until the second half of the twentieth century. The question necessarily occurs: what’s good about it? Ingestion of human bodies is not necessarily an appealing notion even to the people in the sixteenth century. When one is prescribed a half a pound of mummy dust by a doctor as a remedy for a cold, it sounds like the risk isn’t worth taking, for one could ask many questions such as, ‘For how long do I need to take it?’ or more obviously, ‘Does that work?’ and so on. Dwelling deeper, can one consume another being of the same species? What would its moral implication be? Apparently, these are types of questions that were asked and have been asked by those who promote(d) medicinal ingestion of flesh as well as the deliberate act of cannibalism. In this paper, I will examine the types of cannibalisms as well as ways to prepare human flesh, discuss the theoretical and practical implications of cannibalism and briefly touch upon the alleged relationship between cannibalism and witchcraft in early modern Europe.

The term ‘cannibal’ was first coined after Columbus’ second voyage to the Caribbean (or Caribs, so they were referred to) where the Caribs were seen eating human flesh.[iii] Shirley Lindenbaum, in her article, gives us brief descriptions for different types of cannibalisms that may be worth mentioning. Broadly speaking, there are two types: survival cannibalism and psychopathological cannibalism. The former of the two is sporadically wistnessed in the modern times – that is, it is a form of cannibalism that forces you to consume human flesh out of necessity to survive, e.g., stranded on a deserted island due to a plane crash, etc., and the latter of which is more or less what we normally understand cannibalism as when we hear the word – that is, simply put, what the messed up people might do. Anthropologically, however, psychopathological cannibalism may further be divided into endocannibalism, which is to eat someone from within the group, and exocannibalism, in which case the desire to eat someone is geared towards the people outside the group. It may be useful to associate endocannibalism as eating out of affection – ingesting someone dear to us – whereas exocannibalism as eating out of aggression – ingesting the enemies.[iv] These differences are remarkably evident in the case of Asabano tribes in the Papua New Guinea prior to their contact with Europeans in 1972. Although Asabano people did not eat the people they liked, exocannibalism was sometimes practiced as a sign of expression to destroy the victim’s souls.[v] What is the focus of my interest is, however, the third type of cannibalism, that is, medicinal cannibalism. Medicinal cannibalism is concerned with consuming human flesh, blood, heart, skull, bones and tissues as well as other parts of the body as a cure for epilepsy amongst other things. Lindenbaum gives an account of the best condition of human flesh for ingestion, citing Paracelsians who were the followers of Paracelsus – the seventeeth century medical philosopher and an alchemist, one of the most influential philosophers in the early modern Europe, as “[h]uman flesh obtained from ‘mummy shops,’ where the remains of an embalmed, dried, or otherwise prepared human body that had ideally met with sudden, violent death.”[vi] This is because “[a] violent death is essential to ensure the ‘occult qualities of medicines’ … because the corpse must possess the ‘balsamick spiritual substance fit to nourish’ [that is] absent from those of ‘diseased dispositions’ who ‘dye of themselves.’”[vii] The Paracelsians believed that the human body could contain the spirits after death as long as the death comes so suddenly that there is no time for the spirits to escape.[viii] Another source tells us that the best human flesh is obtained from those bodies that are dried in the desert sand by the continuous heat of the sun, for a “mummy made of these bodies was particularly prized because ‘this sudden suffocation doth concentrate the spirits in all the parts by reason of the fear and sudden surprisal which seizes on the travellers.’”[ix] The opposing school of thought, current in the Renaissance, was that of Galenic tradition. However, Galenic medicine too, though not as explictly as the Paracelsians, promote cannibalism as somewhat natural. This is because, coming from the Aristotelian tradition, “the four humours make human flesh tasty to humans who are made of the same stuff,” and because of the belief that sickness is caused by imbalance in a human body of the humoural temparaments, and ingesting a healthy human flesh would rectify such a deficiency.[x] Indeed, the seventeenth century doctors as well as theologians did not think of cannibalism as a theological sin and it was nothing but “a form of immoderate eating.”[xi] [xii]

This fact is well portrayed in a number of surviving accounts about the scene of the public execution. For instance, one account from a Danish forklore tells us how “ecliptics stood around the scafforld in crowds, cup in hand, ready to quaff the red blood as it flowed from the still quiverling body.”[xiii] Its method of collecting blood is also most consistent with the Paracelsian prescription of fresh blood from a decapitated man, which has to be administered according to certain astrological rules.[xiv] Such practice, however, faced some serious moral issues, specifically regarding the possible effect on the well-being of the blood drinker that he might inherit the criminality of the executed. Indeed, the primary ethical implication had to do with the moral risk that the one who feeds on the criminal’s blood could most likely result in the acquisition of the criminalistic character as well as the criminal career the beheaded was to pursue. [xv] The satirical work by Jonathan Swift, Modest Proposal, anonymously published in 1729, argues that “the sale of small children for human consumption would rescue the economy, please the Irish nation, prevent the children of the poor from being a burden to their parents … put a stop to abortions, and make men fond of their pregnant wives as they were of their mares in foal … no longer beating them for fear of miscarrige.”[xvi] This, though satirical, displays how widespread the social attitude towards the consumption of human flesh tended to be ambivalent. Another curious decree given by King James I in 1604 regulates the dissection of human bodies, either public or private, only to the licenced, skilled practitioners at the Barber-Surgeon’s Company in order to control the disorderly, barbaristic theft of human flesh and to prevent individuals from freely engaging in dissection of human bodies.[xvii] This decree was to guarantee and to maintain the civilized standard of the Western tradition as opposed to islanders who would devour human flesh at any given time anywhere without proper manner. Despite the obvious inconsistency in declaring the people in the New World barbarians for their cannibalistic character while the European people themselves were consuming human flesh and prided themselves for their civilized attitudes towards their own practice of cannibalism (I suppose the difference lies in the way in which the flesh is prepared: the barbarians prepare flesh on a barbecue grill[xviii] whereas the Europeans prepare it medicinally), several of the accounts left in the literature continue to tell us that even the flesh professionally prepared medicinally can invoke in us the sense of intricate barbarousity performed through the early modern Europe.

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary of English (1785), for example, tells us that human flesh was still commonly used for various medical purposes and was sold at stores. Even in the beginning of the twentieth century, in 1908 Germany, a few pharmacuetical companies were selling the “genuine Egyptian mummy, as long as the supply lasts, 17 marks 50 per kilogram.”[xix] Perhaps here, it is worthwhile to list and quote some of the most famous recipes for preparing human flesh.  What follows is the recipe by Oswald Croll (circa. 1560-1608) for the preparation of a new mummy:

Take the flesh, unspotted cadaver of a redheaded man (because in them the blood is thinner and the flesh hence more excellent) aged about twenty-four, who has been executed and died a violent death. Let the corpse lie one day and night in the sun and moon – but the weather must be good. Cut the flesh in pieces and sprinkle it myrrh[xx] and just a little aloe. Then soak it in spirits of wine[xxi] for several days, hang it up for 6 or 10 hours, soak it again in spirits of wine, then let the pieces dry in dry air in a shady spot. Thus they will be similar to smoked meat, and will not stink.[xxii]

Johann Schroeder (1600-1664), a German physician and a pharmacologist, gives us yet another recipe, which is representative of all of the mummy preparations: “take finely cut mummy or dried human flesh, pour spirits of terpentine[xxiii] on it, and put it in a hermetically sealed[xxiv] container for one month to petrify,” and “the liquid drained out of this [flesh] is to be mixed with several parts of rectified spirits of wine, then distilled and what not, so that the liquid, or the quintessence[xxv] in the most subtle form, is to be mixed with the spirits of wine.”[xxvi]

Just how much popular medicinal cannibalism became is also evident from the fact that the Lodon Pharmacopoeia[xxvii] in 1618 included mummy as well as human blood and skull as Paracelsian remedies. The Pharmacopoeia was issued a number of times throughout the seventeenth century with updates, and by the end of the century the book treated other human parts as officially approved remedies, such as “excrements, fat, mummy, man’s skull, bones, ‘moss of mummy,’ perspiration, urine, bladder stone, woman’s milk and afterbirth, saliva of a fasting man, etc.”[xxviii] Among which, the ‘moss of mummy’ is particularly of a curious one. According to Paracelsians, it refers to a greenish moss that appear in the top of the skull, also called ‘usnea’, after about six years after a man is hanged, for when hanged “his vital spirits would ‘burst forth to the circumsference’ of his skull and [would] remain there for six years” until the aforementioned moss comes to grow.[xxix] Such moss was greatly treasured by the apothecaries that the price of each skull at stores varied depending on how much moss the skull possessed.[xxx]

But why was medicinal cannibalism so popular in the Europe? To go back to the initial question posed, what is good about ingestible mummies? The answer to this, in fact, has its origin in the ancient Greek philosophy of Aristotle, and later propounded by the famous Hellenistic medical philosopher Galen in the 3rd century. Aristotle had said that things in the terrestial world are made out of four basic elements: fire, air, water and earth. Of these, each element possesses two qualities, viz., fire is made out of the qualities of hot and dry, air is made out of the qualities of hot and wet, those of water are cold and wet, while those of earth cold and dry. Further, Artistotle’s view dictates that changes occur only from one opposite to another, that is, what is cold becomes cold from what is hot, and vice versa. Such is the nature of change that it is impossible for one thing to be both hot and cold, or both wet and dry, at the same time in every respect. Indeed, the changes occur between the contraries that if something is too hot, by adding cold to it, it can rectify the imbalance between the said quality and bring it to an equilibrium in said object. By the same token, Galenist physicians believed that by finding out what qualities are lacking, or defective, and by restoring the supposed imbalance of the four humours, i.e., hot, cold, wet and dry, in a patient, they could restore health of the sick. This is the precept of so-called, ‘contraries cure’.[xxxi] It is by such a precept that Galen could consider using excrements as well as other bodily substances as remedies, as these were believed to occasionally contain some curative qualities, even though Galen himself thought drinking sweat or urine and “certain other uses of feces as ‘outrageous and disgusting’.”[xxxii] However, towards the sixteenth century, as Paracelsian medicine became prevalent throughout the Europe, in addition to the bodily derivatives, the extensive employment of mummy or human corpse as a sovereign remedy came to be regarded as the norm. This is due to the Paracelsian doctrine of ‘like cures like’, as opposed to that of Galenists’. The sixteenth century physicist, botanist, alchemist, astrologer and chymist, Theophrastus Paracelsus (1493-1541), promoted the view that there is a corresponding relation between the celestial world and the terrestial world. In this line of thought, each man is a mirror of the universe, and in every man there is a corresponding aspect of the whole universe, in the form of reflection. The only difference is that, as Pico della Mirandola puts it, a degree of perfection between the world above and the world below.[xxxiii] Paracelsians believed that because each part of the human body is a mirror reflection of a superior world, by means of appealing to the corresponding parts of the terrestial world to those of the celestial world, one could induce the celestial influence, or the sympathetic attraction from above. Since man is a microcosm, “he had within himself all the forms of external nature – minerals, plants, animals, and the celestial bodies … [w]ith his knowledge of of the sympathies and antipathies existing between macrocosm and microcosm,” Paracelsians used medicine as a means to “channel the healing influences of a particular celestial body – of the World Soul – into the corresponding organ of man’s ailing body.”[xxxiv] It is this tradition of the precept, ‘like cures like’, that came to prevail in early modern medical practices across the continent over the Galenic precept that was previously dominant. The English poet, Edward Taylor, who had also served as a town physician for forty years, and a Puritan pastor, had compiled a medical Dispensatory. He was largely influenced by the Paracelsian doctrine, and his Dispensatory lists a number of animal remedies, such as wolves’ teeth, hare’s kidneys, boar’s urine, fox fat and the blood taken from a donkey’s ear.[xxxv] Among these lists of remedies, there is an entry for the listing of medicinal uses of human flesh and parts. Indeed, “[e]ntry number 61 in Taylor’s alphabetical list of animals is ‘Man. Homo. Anthropos’ … [with] the subheadings ‘[Regarding] his Materialls while living,’” and “‘Touching the Deade body of fflesh’[sic.] of ‘Man.’”[xxxvi] Not surprisingly, the remedies listed there are in accordance with the Paracelsian precept of ‘like cures like’, and some are not too hard to make sense of, such as that the hair distilled in liquor makes hair grow, or that man’s skull is good for head diseases, etc.[xxxvii] But what remains of a primary interest to us is, do they work? Indeed, even if we granted those opinions in our time that drinking urine can be good for us, it is still hard to accept claims like “[t]he earwax drunk in Beer is chiefly recommended as a present cure of the Colick, and externally it cures the strokes of scorpions.”[xxxviii] It is not at all clear who is to drink the earwax (though, applying the Paracelsian belief of heavenly influences acting upon the patients, or the ‘action from distance’, it seems likely that the person who is suffering the effect of the colick should drink the earwax and not the baby crying), and what the possible connections are to the healing of the strokes of scorpions. When one hears that man’s dung eases pain, and some burn it and drink it, one could only imagine that whoever it is that prescribes him human feces as a cure for pain is doing it for fun. For does it not matter whose dung is to be taken, since depending on whose it is and what that person has consumed, does it not have different ingredients, thus having differing effects on the patient? Such a worry was not without precedence. In fact, a lot of contemporaries were quite often disgusted by such remedies. In a much similar way to the Greek physicians reacting against the dirt therapy, many of the early modern contemporaries too voiced their concerns against the mainstream employment of mummy as well as human blood and its derivatives. For instance, one “physician Mundella declare[d] such practice to be ‘abominable and detestable’, [while another] condemn[ed] mummy as ‘a true posion’ and ‘a useless drug.’”[xxxix] Another English explorer left us an account of how he was forced to swallow mummies in the name of cure.[xl] Quite a number of the contemporaries did recognize the ingestion of human flesh as well as blood as cannibalism, and Ambroise Pare (1510-1590), the great surgeon for the kings Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III, as well as an expert in battlefield wounds, for instance, expressed his repulsion, explaining his reasons for rejecting mummy treatment as the following:

The ancients were very eager to embalm the bodies of their dead, but not with the intention that they should serve as food and drink for the living as is the case at the present time. They did not contemplate such an abomination but were either thinking of the universal resurrection or of the memory of their dead parents or friends.[xli]

The Puritan minister of England, Cotton Mather (1663-1728), also expressed his abhorrence towards the medicinal ingestion of human body, in referrence to the use of human skulls:

I declare, I abominate it. For I take Mans Skull to be not only a meer dry Bone, void of all Vertue, but also a nasty, mortified, putrid, carrionish piece of our own species; and to take it Inwardly, seems an Execrable Fact that even the Anthropophagi would shiver at. And therefore, in my Opinion, it would be decent; and almost pious, to carry them all out of the Shops, and heap up a sepulchral mound for the reception of the bones.[xlii]

But if so many of the influential people also believed the practice of ingesting human body, or its parts, to be abhorrent, why did this practice continue to spread, uninterrupted? It is probably because those who argued against it did nothing but opine their own feeling of repusion or disgust against such practices, and did not go farther than these complaints. Indeed, in this sense, the Paracelsians were strong and persistent since their practices were supported by their theory, even though a lot of patients might have found such treatment dubitable.

This brings us to the question: who actually were the willing participants of cannibalism? Aside from the barbarians in the New World as well as in the small islands that were free from contact with Europeans, there was one more group that was said to consume human flesh with delight. Those cannibals were the ones who abducted children at night and burnt them on a dinner table, namely, the witches. But was there really a connection between the witchcraft and cannibalism? Considering those paintings in early modern Europe that depict witches, it is hard to tell. Charles Zika, in his article, “Cannibalism and Witchecraft in Early Modern Europe: Reading the Visual Images”, seems to show, by his extensive study, that the claim that witches devour human flesh is dubious at best. For most early paintings prior to the seventeenth century did not depict witches as children eaters.[xliii] Further, although depictions can be found where witches are cooking human children in a large pot, it is never certain for what purposes they are cooking them. It was not until the beginning of the seventeenth century that many of the paintings depicting witches began to explicitly show the witches with body parts of children in one hand, devouring the flesh.[xliv] In other words, it was only at around the time of Paracelsus when the witches in the drawings started to eat children. From this, it seems plausible that cannibalism was still seen as a barbaristic activity even in the midst of the seventeenth century by the artists, when the Paracelsian doctrine of ingestible mummy came to be one of the most reputable medicine. The matter becomes even more curious when the paintings from the ealy sixteenth century that depict cannibals abroad, i.e., in the New World, are taken into consideration. For explicit dipiction of cannibalism is there already present, as can be seen in the figure above. There seems to be, to me, a connection between the flourishing of medicinal cannibalism in Europe after Paracelsus and the depiction of witches as flesh eaters, for primarily witches were seen to cook with abhorring ingredients in order to make salves and use them as spells, but not to eat. It may have been the case that the reason why witches began to consume human flesh, especially that of children, was an expression of abominance by the artists, or the common public, towards the rapidly prevailing tendency of cannibalism in the development of early modern medicine. The employment of witches as a means of visual conveyance served well for such a purpose, for generally speaking, “[t]he threat of witch was that she could insinuate herself into everyday life through the process of the food chain, through the words of curse, through the look of the eyes – essentially through the everyday human contact and human exchange.”[xlv] Although Zika argues that the increasing depiction of witches as man eaters suggest the social fragility and religious divisions brought about in the Europe in the late sixteenth century, I think the depiction is also demonstrated on a literal level. That is, an expression of a social fragility in public life followed by the invasion of a barbaric trend into the private life through such a mundane yet prevailing concept as medical treatment.

[i][i] Louise Noble, “And Make Two Pasties of Your Shameful Heads: Medical Cannibalism and Healing the Body Politic in ‘Titus Andronicus’” The Johns Hopkins University Press 70:3 (Fall, 2003): 677-708. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30029895(accessed January 21, 2010).

[ii] Shirley Lindenbaum, “Thinking about Cannibalism” Annual Reviews vol. 33 (2004): 475-498. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25064862 (accessed January 20, 2010).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Roger Ivar Lohmann, “The Afterlife of Asabano Corpses: Relationship with the Deceased in Papua New Guinea” University of Pittsburgh – Of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education vol. 44:2 (Spring, 2005): 189-206. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3773996 (accessed January 21, 2010).

[vi] Lindenbaum, “Thinking about Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[vii] Louise Noble, “Medical Cannibalism” 677-708.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix]Karen Gordon-Grube, “Evidence of Medicinal Cannibalism in Puritan New England: ‘Mummy’ and Related Remedies in Edward Taylor’s ‘Dispensatory’” University of North Carolina Press vol. 28:3 (1993): 185-221. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25056942 (accessed January 21, 2010).

[x] Lindenbaum, “Thinking about Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Theodore de Bry, “Tupinamba grilling human body parts”.

[xiii] Mabel Peacock, qtd. in Noble, “Medical Cannibalism”

[xiv]Lousie Noble, “Medical Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Jonathan Swift, qtd. in Lindenbaum.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] see the figure 1. Theodore de Bry, “Tupinamba grilling human body parts”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cannibals.23232.jpg (accessed February 7, 2010)

[xix] Annonymous account qtd. in Noble.

[xx] i.e., the dried sap of a tree

[xxi] aqua vitae, water of life, i.e., concentrated aqueous solution of ethanol

[xxii] Oswald Croll qtd. in Noble (Trans.)

[xxiii] i.e., a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin from pine trees

[xxiv] a seal which is airtight

[xxv] that is, a universal tincture, or the soul of an object.

[xxvi] Lousie Noble, “Medical Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[xxvii] A book for dispensing chemists, or the pharmacists, which contains the instructions for the preparing of compound medicine and information on diagnoses. First published in 1618 in London, following the charter of 1617 that prohibited grocers from keeping apothecary’s shops.

[xxviii] Louise Noble, “Medical Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Lindenbaum, “Thinking about Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[xxxiii] Louise Noble, “Medical Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] Edward Taylor, qtd. in Noble, “Medical Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[xxxix] Lindenbaum, “Thinking about Cannibalism”, 475-498.

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Ambroise Pare, qtd. in Noble.

[xlii] Cotton Mather, qtd. in Noble.

[xliii] Charles Zika, “Cannibalism and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe: Reading the Visual Images” History of Workshop Journal 44 (Autumn, 1997): 77-105. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4289520 (accessed January 21, 2010).

[xliv] Ibid.

[xlv] Ibid.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »