THE RELIGION OF THE HOME
Three stages of ancestor-worship are to be distinguished in the general course of religious and social evolution; and each of these finds illustration in the history of Japanese society. The first stage is that which exists before the establishment of a settled civilization, when there is yet no national ruler, and when the unit of society is the great patriarchal family, with its elders or war-chiefs for lords. Under these conditions, the spirits of the family-ancestors only are worshipped; - each family propitiating its own dead, and recognizing no other form of worship. As the patriarchal families, later on, become grouped into tribal clans, there grows up the custom of tribal sacrifice to the spirits of the clan-rulers; - this cult being superadded to the family-cult, and marking the second stage of ancestor-worship. Finally, with the union of all the clans or tribes under one supreme head, there is developed the custom of propitiating the spirits of national, rulers. This third form of the cult becomes the obligatory religion of the country; but it does not replace either of the preceding cults: the three continue to exist together.
Though, in the present state of our knowledge, the evolution in Japan of these three stages of ancestor-worship is but faintly traceable, we can divine tolerably well, from various records, how the permanent forms of the cult were first developed out of the earlier funeral-rites. Between the ancient Japanese funeral customs and those of antique Europe, there was a vast difference, - a difference indicating, as regards Japan, a far more primitive social condition. In Greece and in Italy it was an early custom to bury the family dead within the limits of the family estate; and the Greek and Roman laws of property grew out of this practice. Sometimes the dead were buried close to the house. The author of 'La Cite Antique' cites, among other ancient texts bearing upon the subject, an interesting invocation from the tragedy of Helen, by Euripides: - "All hail! my father's tomb! I buried thee, Proteus, at the place where men pass out, that I might often greet thee; and so, even as I go out and in, I, thy son Theoclymenus, call upon thee, father! ..." But in ancient Japan, men fled from the neighbourhood of death. It was long the custom to abandon, either temporarily, or permanently, the house in which a death occurred; and we can scarcely suppose that, at any time, it was thought desirable to bury the dead close to the habitation of the surviving members of the household. Some Japanese authorities declare that in the very earliest ages there was no burial, and that corpses were merely conveyed to desolate places, and there abandoned to wild creatures. Be this as it may, we have documentary evidence, of an unmistakable sort, concerning the early funeral-rites as they existed when the custom of burying had become established, - rites weird and strange, and having nothing in common with the practices of settled civilization. There is reason to believe that the family-dwelling was at first permanently, not temporarily, abandoned to the dead; and in view of the fact that the dwelling was a wooden hut of very simple structure, there is nothing improbable in the supposition. At all events the corpse was left for a certain period, called the period of mourning, either in the abandoned house where the death occurred, or in a shelter especially built for the purpose; and, during the mourning period, offerings of food and drink were set before the dead, and ceremonies performed without the house. One of these ceremonies consisted in the recital of poems in praise of the dead, - which poems were called shinobigoto. There was music also of flutes and drums, and dancing; and at night a fire was kept burning before the house. After all this had been done for the fixed period of mourning - eight days, according to some authorities, fourteen according to others - the corpse was interred. It is probable that the deserted house may thereafter have become an ancestral temple, or ghost-house, - prototype of the Shinto miya.
At an early time, - though when we do not know, - it certainly became the custom to erect a moya, or "mourning-house" in the event of a death; and the rites were performed at the mourning-house prior to the interment. The manner of burial was very simple: there were yet no tombs in the literal meaning of the term, and no tombstones. Only a mound was thrown up over the grave; and the size of the mound varied according to the rank of the dead.
The custom of deserting the house in which a death took place would accord with the theory of a nomadic ancestry for the Japanese people: it was a practice totally incompatible with a settled civilization like that of the early Greeks and Romans, whose customs in regard to burial presuppose small landholdings in permanent occupation. But there may have been, even in early times, some exceptions to general custom - exceptions made by necessity. To-day, in various parts of the country, and perhaps more particularly in districts remote from temples, it is the custom for farmers to bury their dead upon their own lands.