Monday, April 21, 2014

Beans & the Dead: Part II

“Whether the souls of men after death are or are not in the world below, is a question which may be argued in this manner: The ancient doctrine of which I have been speaking affirms that they go from this into the other world, and return hither, and are born from the dead. Now if this be true, and the living come from the dead, then our souls must be in the other world, for if not, how could they be born again?”
- Plato, Phaedo.

“Wretches, utter wretches, keep your hands from beans!”
- Empedocles.
While I just wrapped up the last entry on beans and the dead, it seemed insufficient compared to the rather extensive list of associations found with the beans. As such, I felt that a second entry should be prepared with a range of sources – from academic to magical – involving the item.

One of these is the – though dated – excellent article by Alfred C. Andrews entitled The Bean in Indo-European Totemism (1949). The article itself is too long to quote in its entirety, but can be found for download by way of the provided link. There is no reason not to quote chunks of the article, however:
“The sacrifices made to the old Italic deity Carna on the first of June consisted of bean-meal and lard, and this day was known as the Kalendae fabariae. Beans were also used to lay ghosts at the Lemuria and figured in the sacrifices performed at the Parentalia. Beans also played a role in magic rites conducted in connection with Tacita or Muta, a goddess of the dead, and must have been used at a festival of the dead in honor of the bean goddess Fabola or Fabula. The Priest of Jupiter was forbidden to touch a bean or even to mention its name. The name of Fufetia, an early Vestal, as well as that of Mettius Fufetius, is derived from faba by Pfund, who also identifies with it that of Modius Fabidius, reputed founder of the Cures, and even ventures to conclude that a period once existed among the early Romans when agriculture was devoted almost exclusively to beans. His argument entails ingenious analysis of Roman and Sabine land measures and is plausible in so far as it applies to beans; but there is no question that the cultivation of spelt in Italy is at least as old as that of the bean, and that puls made from spelt was probably the first staple food derived from field crops. This much at least is certain, that beans were under cultivation in Italy as early as the Neolithic age and were an important food crop for the early Romans. It is indeed by no means improbable that the bean was their first cultivated vegetable.”

[...]

“One significant and provocative factor, with respect to this abstention, is that the ancients felt toward beans a mingled respect and dread, a complex of emotions suggested by the Greek term ίερός, which apparently was generally applied to an object believed to be charged with some supernatural force, contact with which might be either beneficial or harmful. Today we generally call this mysterious power mana in its helpful aspect and taboo in its harmful aspect, Beans belonged in the category of objects possessing both mana and taboo.

The ancients advanced most divergent explanations for the taboo on beans some religious or spiritual, some dietetic or hygienic. Aristotle (or his source) proposes no fewer than five different explanations, without settling on any one of them. The heart of the problem is to determine whether this ambivalent attitude toward beans is an echo of earlier totemism or whether it is of different origin.

With the concept of totemism in mind, one sees a glimmer of sense in Horace’s allusion to the faba Pythagorae cognata and in the perplexing Pythagorean maxim, “It is an equal crime to eat beans and the heads of one’s parents.” It now seems clearer, too, why Pythagoras forbade his followers to eat beans as being human flesh, on the ground that beans were occupied by the souls of the dead and thereby took on the qualities of human flesh. As Pliny says, “The souls of the dead are in them.”

If we accept this notion of beans being the residence of the souls of the dead as the original, primitive concept, diverse and apparently conflicting beliefs and practices current in the historic period take on sense and consistency. The simplest and most direct development was the notion that beans assumed the character of human flesh, as the result of the presence of souls in them. By this presence beans were rendered dynamic receptacles of generative power, and we accordingly find peeled green beans compared to human testicles and even said to be the generative principle itself, the abstinence of the Pythagoreans explained as due to the resemblance of beans to testicles, the beans of Empedocles interpreted as an esoteric or symbolic allusion to testicles, and beans alleged to resemble eggs in embodying the generative principle...”

[…]

“The basic concept of beans as the abode of the souls of the dead created an intimate association of beans with death and gave rise to strict rules for priests concerned with the life principle. Thus the Priest of Jupiter, whose functions required scrupulous avoidance of contact with the dead and everything associated with them, was forbidden, as we have seen, to touch a bean or even to speak its name. It is therefore puzzling to read that beans were regularly eaten at funerary banquets, funerary sacrifices, and invocations to the deceased, for few things are more intimately associated with death than such ceremonies as these.”

[…]

“Beans were conceived to be the abodes of the souls of the dead, but we must be careful not to think of these souls in terms of Christian theology as eternal entities possessing the attributes of the physical beings in which they once lodged. We must rather visualize them as modicums of the life principle, vague and intangible, released from the body at the moment of death. This packet of force, if we may so term it, was both beneficent and maleficent. If it entered an alien organism, it could produce malign effects; but it could be absorbed with benefit by a related organism.

At the moment of death the soul or life principle of a Roman escaped from his body by way of his mouth, and the next of kin caught and inhaled this last exhalation, absorbing the life principle. This could be done not only without danger, but with actual benefit, for the two organisms were closely related. But death is dangerous, inimical to life, and a person needed all the extra vitality he could obtain from any source, not only on occasions directly associated with death, such as mortuary banquets, but even when making funerary sacrifices and conducting invocations to the deceased. Therefore he ate beans, as containing the life principle. In this connection, we may well stress again the statement of Pliny that the animae mortuorum, i.e., the breath-souls of the dead, were in beans. And since beans contained a life force, it was natural for them to be eaten on Carna’s day to insure good digestion and health for the coming year.”
And so forth. Honestly, despite objections might have to the recurrent themes of Indo-European totemism in the article, it still remains one of the more fascinating places to look for information on beans and their associations with the dead.

Given wide-spread associations with beans as being both a generative force and a container for the soul, it is rather surprising that beans don't factor in any of the PGM spells and rituals involving the dead. Rather one finds them in the PGM spells for contraception:

PGM LXIII. 24-25:
A contraceptive: Pick up a bean that has a small bug in it, and attach it as an amulet.

PGM LXIII. 26-28
A contraceptive: Take a pierced bean and attach it as an amulet after tying it up in a piece of mule hide.
(Betz, P. 295).
Dioscorides, meanwhile, merely notes that beans may cause “bad dreams.”

Be that as it may, the bean does feature in spells and rituals in later magical literature, such as the Grimorium Verum:

To make yourself invisible:
Begin this operation on a Wednesday before sunrise, then take seven black beans and a human skull. Put one bean in the mouth of the skull, two in the nostrils, two in the eyes, and two in the ears. Next make on the head the characters show. (Note: characters omitted. See text for reference.) Then bury the skull so it faces the sky.

For nine days before sunrise, sprinkle it with excellent brandy. On the eighth day, you will find there the spirit of the deceased who will awake, and will ask you: “What are you doing here?” You will answer: “I am watering my plant,” and it will take the bottle, saying, “Given me this bottle so I may water it.” You should refuse this demand, and it will ask you again, but you must continue to refuse until he stretches out his hand, and there you will see figures similar to the ones you made on the head hanging from the tips of his fingers. In this case, you may be assured that this is the true spirit of the head.

This is done because some other spirit could surprise you, causing you harm and causing the operation to be in vain.

When you give him the bottle of liquor, he will water it himself, and you can retire. On the following day, which is the ninth day, return and you will find that the bean crop has matured. Harvest them and put them in your mouth, watching yourself in a mirror, and when you find one that makes you not see yourself, this bean will be a good one to save. You can also try them in the mouth of a child. A note that all those which don't work should be buried with the head.”
(Joseph H. Peterson translation, p. 49. Also see Jake Stratton-Kent's discussion on altering the spell for other purposes in the True Grimoire.)
A certain Mr. Smith notes:
Grimm's Teutonic Mythology, Appendix, states that beans should not be eaten during the weihnachten (12 nights of Yule).”

This particularly stood out to me due to something in the earlier cited text by Alfred C. Andrews:
“It is interesting to note in this connection that the custom of electing by lot a King and often also a Queen of the Bean on Twelfth Night or the eve thereof used to prevail in France, Belgium, Germany, and England. It can be traced back to the first half of the sixteenth century and probably dates from much more remote antiquity.”
Later he adds:
“Their use in Athenian elections by lots is probably of too recent origin to be attributed to any such notion and was probably motivated merely by convenience; but the use of beans in taking the auspices among the Romans is a relic of earlier times and may embody some such belief. One may note also the custom of ancient diviners of placing salt and beans before their clients. This practice has persisted into modern times, so that we find beans used for divination on Midsummer Eve in the Azores and for the same purpose on Twelfth Night in many other places.”

Meanwhile, for a bit of syncretism with magical practices in the Americas, Mr. Stratton-Kent notes:
“In comparative approaches its interesting that beans are also employed in offerings to Omolu, a god of the cemetery in Kimbanda. Pretty sure that's only one New World example, just happens to be the most immediate for me.

Roles for a single type of black beans and of diverse beans varying in colour might be differentiated; black beans are often used directly in magic, while multi-coloured beans appear as offerings.”

While I cannot claim this entry answers questions about all the different associations between beans, generative forces, and the dead, it will hopefully give others a few places to look. It is also worth noting that Macrobius's Saturnalia details a number of Roman festivals and rites involving beans, which may also be worth looking into.

Jack.

1 comment:

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