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The Golden Bough

Chapter 17. The Burden of Royalty
1. Royal and Priestly Taboos
AT A CERTAIN stage of early society the king or priest is often thought to be endowed
with supernatural powers or to be an incarnation of a deity, and consistently with this
belief the course of nature is supposed to be more or less under his control, and he is held
responsible for bad weather, failure of the crops, and similar calamities. To some extent it
appears to be assumed that the king's power over nature, like that over his subjects and
slaves, is exerted through definite acts of will; and therefore if drought, famine,
pestilence, or storms arise, the people attribute the misfortune to the negligence or guilt of
their king, and punish him accordingly with stripes and bonds, or, if he remains obdurate,
with deposition and death. Sometimes, however, the course of nature, while regarded as
dependent on the king, is supposed to be partly independent of his will. His person is
considered, if we may express it so, as the dynamical centre of the universe, from which
lines of force radiate to all quarters of the heaven; so that any motion of histhe turning of
his head, the lifting of his handinstantaneously affects and may seriously disturb some
part of nature. He is the point of support on which hangs the balance of the world, and the
slightest irregularity on his part may overthrow the delicate equipoise. The greatest care
must, therefore, be taken both by and of him; and his whole life, down to its minutest
details, must be so regulated that no act of his, voluntary or involuntary, may disarrange
or upset the established order of nature. Of this class of monarchs the Mikado or Dairi,
the spiritual emperor of Japan, is or rather used to be a typical example. He is an
incarnation of the sun goddess, the deity who rules the universe, gods and men included;
once a year all the gods wait upon him and spend a month at his court. During that
month, the name of which means without gods, no one frequents the temples, for they are
believed to be deserted. The Mikado receives from his people and assumes in his official
proclamations and decrees the title of manifest or incarnate deity, and he claims a general
authority over the gods of Japan. For example, in an official decree of the year 646 the
emperor is described as the incarnate god who governs the universe.
The following description of the Mikado's mode of life was written about two hundred
years ago:
Even to this day the princes descended of this family, more particularly those who sit on
the throne, are looked upon as persons most holy in themselves, and as Popes by birth.
And, in order to preserve these advantageous notions in the minds of their subjects, they
are obliged to take an uncommon care of their sacred persons, and to do such things,
which, examined according to the customs of other nations, would be thought ridiculous
and impertinent. It will not be improper to give a few instances of it. He thinks that it
would be very prejudicial to his dignity and holiness to touch the ground with his feet; for
this reason, when he intends to go anywhere, he must be carried thither on men's
shoulders. Much less will they suffer that he should expose his sacred person to the open
air, and the sun is not thought worthy to shine on his head. There is such a holiness
ascribed to all the parts of his body that he dares to cut off neither his hair, nor his beard,
 
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