Monday, 23 February 2015

"After the battle..."

Poul Anderson, Fire Time (St Albans, Herts, 1977), p. 57.

I am sure that, after winning a battle, there are sound strategic and practical reasons to make an hour's march in order to camp at another water hole rather than to stay put and use the one nearby. Surely it is advisable to get safely away from the battlefield before recuperating? Despite this, Arnanak presents a superstitious reason that he himself, as an initiate into the mysteries of the Triad, does not believe in:

if the victors remain overnight, then the carrion eaters will not approach;

but, in that case, the spirits of the dead will be trapped that much longer;

whereas to give them a quick release will be an honorable, therefore lucky, act.

So a spirit is released from a dead body only when the body is consumed, apparently. In fact, leaving their enemies for the carrion eaters, Arnanak's people take their own dead to eat them themselves. To be eaten in this way is such a "...noble...liberation into the afterworld..." that "...they wouldn't greatly mind waiting a day or two in the anguish and bewilderment of flesh..." So the spirits are not only trapped in the dead though still intact flesh but also conscious of their entrapment, therefore anguished and bewildered? An unpleasant notion - although I think that Anderson borrowed it from primitive Terrestrial religion rather than creating it de novo for the Ishtarians. And he so understates the idea in this passage that we could well read past without noticing it.

After the flesh is eaten, the bones are used to conjure oracular dreams, then buried in (or under?) dolmens. I suppose that this expresses a "waste not, want not" philosophy. Not only has the spirit gone to the right place but also every part of the body has been put to some good use before the bones are finally laid to rest.

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