I picked up a used book a few days ago and was just leafing through it. The book is the Wordsworth Reference 1993 paperback of James George Frazer’s 1922 abridgment of his massive work of comparative religion, The Golden Bough. On virtually every page, I find something which moves me to exclaim “Interesting, if true!” I’m pretty sure that 99% of Frazer’s factual claims are total bullshit, as for example this story, chosen entirely at random, alleged to be a description of the practices of traditional healers among the indigenous people of British Columbia:
The Indians of the Nass river, in British Columbia, are impressed with a belief that a physician may swallow his patient’s soul by mistake. A doctor who is believed to have done so is made by the other members of the faculty to stand over the patient, while one of them thrusts his fingers down the doctor’s throat, another kneads him in the stomach with his knuckles, and a third slaps him on the back. If the soul is not in him after all, and if the same process has been repeated upon all the medical men without success, it is concluded that the soul must be in the head-doctor’s box. A party of doctors, therefore, waits upon him at his house and requests him to produce his box. When he has done so and arranged its contents on a new mat, they take the votary of Aesculapius and hold him up by the heels with his head in a hole in the floor. In this position they wash his head, and “any water remaining from the ablution is taken and poured upon the sick man’s head.” No doubt the lost soul is in the water.
I take it the characters in this tale of Frazer’s are supposed to be the Nisga’a people of the Nass river valley; if any Nisga’a are reading these, please use the comments to tell me whether you think Frazer may by some odd chance be telling the truth about what your ancestors did a hundred years ago.
When I was typing the passage above up, I realized something about it seemed familiar. Then I remembered Star Trek 3, a 1984 movie in which the ship’s surgeon has somehow ingested the soul of one of his patients. It is by no means impossible that this passage may have inspired that story. Comparative mythology was very much in vogue in Hollywood in those days, especially in the person of Joseph Campbell, and Frazer is a small step from Campbell.