Chapter Nine. Of Souls

Kinjuro, the ancient gardener, whose head shines like an ivory ball, sat him down a moment on the edge of the ita-no-ma outside my study to smoke his pipe at the hibachi always left there for him. And as he smoked he found occasion to reprove the boy who assists him. What the boy had been doing I did not exactly know; but I heard Kinjuro bid him try to comport himself like a creature having more than one Soul. And because those words interested me I went out and sat down by Kinjuro.

'O Kinjuro,' I said, 'whether I myself have one or more Souls I am not sure. But it would much please me to learn how many Souls have you.'

'I-the-Selfish-One have only four Souls,' made answer Kinjuro, with conviction imperturbable.

'Four? re-echoed I, feeling doubtful of having understood 'Four,' he repeated. 'But that boy I think can have only one Soul, so much is he wanting in patience.'

'And in what manner,' I asked, 'came you to learn that you have four Souls?'

'There are wise men,' made he answer, while knocking the ashes out of his little silver pipe, 'there are wise men who know these things. And there is an ancient book which discourses of them. According to the age of a man, and the time of his birth, and the stars of heaven, may the number of his Souls be divined. But this is the knowledge of old men: the young folk of these times who learn the things of the West do not believe.'

'And tell me, O Kinjuro, do there now exist people having more Souls than you?'

'Assuredly. Some have five, some six, some seven, some eight Souls. But no one is by the gods permitted to have more Souls than nine.'

[Now this, as a universal statement, I could not believe, remembering a woman upon the other side of the world who possessed many generations of Souls, and knew how to use them all. She wore her Souls just as other women wear their dresses, and changed them several times a day; and the multitude of dresses in the wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth was as nothing to the multitude of this wonderful person's Souls. For which reason she never appeared the same upon two different occasions; and she changed her thought and her voice with her Souls. Sometimes she was of the South, and her eyes were brown; and again she was of the North, and her eyes were grey. Sometimes she was of the thirteenth, and sometimes of the eighteenth century; and people doubted their own senses when they saw these things; and they tried to find out the truth by begging photographs of her, and then comparing them. Now the photographers rejoiced to photograph her because she was more than fair; but presently they also were confounded by the discovery that she was never the same subject twice. So the men who most admired her could not presume to fall in love with her because that would have been absurd. She had altogether too many Souls. And some of you who read this I have written will bear witness to the verity thereof.]

'Concerning this Country of the Gods, O Kinjuro, that which you say may be true. But there are other countries having only gods made of gold; and in those countries matters are not so well arranged; and the inhabitants thereof are plagued with a plague of Souls. For while some have but half a Soul, or no Soul at all, others have Souls in multitude thrust upon them, for which neither nutriment nor employ can be found. And Souls thus situated torment exceedingly their owners. . . . .That is to say, Western Souls. . . . But tell me, I pray you, what is the use of having more than one or two Souls?'

'Master, if all had the same number and quality of Souls, all would surely be of one mind. But that people are different from each other is apparent; and the differences among them are because of the differences in the quality and the number of their Souls.'

'And it is better to have many Souls than a few?' 'It is better.'

'And the man having but one Soul is a being imperfect?'

'Very imperfect.'

'Yet a man very imperfect might have had an ancestor perfect?'

'That is true.'

'So that a man of to-day possessing but one Soul may have had an ancestor with nine Souls?'

'Yes.'

'Then what has become of those other eight Souls which the ancestor possessed, but which the descendant is without?'

'Ah! that is the work of the gods. The gods alone fix the number of Souls for each of us. To the worthy are many given; to the unworthy few.'

'Not from the parents, then, do the Souls descend?'

'Nay! Most ancient the Souls are: innumerable, the years of them.'

'And this I desire to know: Can a man separate his Souls? Can he, for instance, have one Soul in Kyoto and one in Tokyo and one in Matsue, all at the same time?'

'He cannot; they remain always together.'

'How? One within the other - like the little lacquered boxes of an inro?'

'Nay: that none but the gods know.'

'And the Souls are never separated?'

'Sometimes they may be separated. But if the Souls of a man be separated, that man becomes mad. Mad people are those who have lost one of their Souls.'

'But after death what becomes of the Souls?'

'They remain still together. . . . When a man dies his Souls ascend to the roof of the house. And they stay upon the roof for the space of nine and forty days.'

'On what part of the roof?'

'On the yane-no-mune - upon the Ridge of the Roof they stay.'

'Can they be seen?'

'Nay: they are like the air is. To and fro upon the Ridge of the Roof they move, like a little wind.'

'Why do they not stay upon the roof for fifty days instead of forty-nine?'

'Seven weeks is the time allotted them before they must depart: seven weeks make the measure of forty-nine days. But why this should be, I cannot tell.'