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The Golden Bough

Chapter 8. Departmental Kings of Nature
THE PRECEDING investigation has proved that the same union of sacred functions with
a royal title which meets us in the King of the Wood at Nemi, the Sacrificial King at
Rome, and the magistrate called the King at Athens, occurs frequently outside the limits
of classical antiquity and is a common feature of societies at all stages from barbarism to
civilisation. Further, it appears that the royal priest is often a king, not only in name but in
fact, swaying the sceptre as well as the crosier. All this confirms the traditional view of
the origin of the titular and priestly kings in the republics of ancient Greece and Italy. At
least by showing that the combination of spiritual and temporal power, of which Graeco-
Italian tradition preserved the memory, has actually existed in many places, we have
obviated any suspicion of improbability that might have attached to the tradition.
Therefore we may now fairly ask, May not the King of the Wood have had an origin like
that which a probable tradition assigns to the Sacrificial King of Rome and the titular
King of Athens? In other words, may not his predecessors in office have been a line of
kings whom a republican revolution stripped of their political power, leaving them only
their religious functions and the shadow of a crown? There are at least two reasons for
answering this question in the negative. One reason is drawn from the abode of the priest
of Nemi; the other from his title, the King of the Wood. If his predecessors had been
kings in the ordinary sense, he would surely have been found residing, like the fallen
kings of Rome and Athens, in the city of which the sceptre had passed from him. This
city must have been Aricia, for there was none nearer. But Aricia was three miles off
from his forest sanctuary by the lake shore. If he reigned, it was not in the city, but in the
greenwood. Again his title, King of the Wood, hardly allows us to suppose that he had
ever been a king in the common sense of the word. More likely he was a king of nature,
and of a special side of nature, namely, the woods from which he took his title. If we
could find instances of what we may call departmental kings of nature, that is of persons
supposed to rule over particular elements or aspects of nature, they would probably
present a closer analogy to the King of the Wood than the divine kings we have been
hitherto considering, whose control of nature is general rather than special. Instances of
such departmental kings are not wanting.
On a hill at Bomma near the mouth of the Congo dwells Namvulu Vumu, King of the
Rain and Storm. Of some of the tribes on the Upper Nile we are told that they have no
kings in the common sense; the only persons whom they acknowledge as such are the
Kings of the Rain, Mata Kodou, who are credited with the power of giving rain at the
proper time, that is, the rainy season. Before the rains begin to fall at the end of March
the country is a parched and arid desert; and the cattle, which form the people's chief
wealth, perish for lack of grass. So, when the end of March draws on, each householder
betakes himself to the King of the Rain and offers him a cow that he may make the
blessed waters of heaven to drip on the brown and withered pastures. If no shower falls,
the people assemble and demand that the king shall give them rain; and if the sky still
continues cloudless, they rip up his belly, in which he is believed to keep the storms.
Amongst the Bari tribe one of these Rain Kings made rain by sprinkling water on the
ground out of a handbell.