Native American Myths and Legends of the
REPOSE OF THE SOUL OF THE DEAD
When an Indian corpse is put in a coffin, among the tribes of the Lake Algonquins, the lid is tied down, and not nailed. On depositing it in the grave, the rope or string is loosed, and the weight of the earth alone relied on, to keep it in a fixed position. The reason they give for this, is, that the soul may have free egress from the body.
Over the top of the grave a covering of cedar bark is put, to shed the rain. This is roof-shaped and the whole structure looks, slightly, like a house in miniature. It has gable ends. Through one of these, being the head, an aperture is cut. On asking a Chippewa why this was done, he replied,—"To allow the soul to pass out, and in."
"I thought," I replied, "that you believed that the soul went up from the body at the time of death, to a land of happiness. How, then, can it remain in the body?"
"There are two souls," replied the Indian philosopher.
"How can this be? my friend."
"It is easily explained," said he.
"You know that, in dreams, we pass over wide countries, and see hills and lakes and mountains, and many scenes, which pass before our eyes, and affect us. Yet, at the same time, our bodies do not stir, and there is a soul left with the body,—else it would be dead. So, you perceive, it must be another soul that accompanies us."
This conversation took place, in the Indian country. I knew the Indian very well, and had noticed the practice, not general now, on the frontiers, of tying the coffin-lid, in burials. It is at the orifice in the bark sheeting mentioned, that the portion of food, consecrated in feasts for the dead, is set. It could not but happen, that the food should be eaten by the hystrix, wolf, or some other animal, known to prowl at night; nor that, Indian superstition, ever ready to turn slight appearances of this kind to account, should attribute its abstraction to the spirit of the deceased.