Myth, Ritual, and Religion, Vol. 1
by Andrew Lang
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

(1) Rites and Laws of the Yncas, p. 4, Hakluyt Society, 1873.

The story, as told by Cieza de Leon, runs thus:(1) A white man of great stature (in fact, "a magnified non-natural man") came into the world, and gave life to beasts and human beings. His name was Ticiviracocha, and he was called the Father of the Sun.(2) There are likenesses of him in the temple, and he was regarded as a moral teacher. It was owing apparently to this benevolent being that four mysterious brothers and sisters emerged from a cave—Children of the Sun, fathers of the Incas, teachers of savage men. Their own conduct, however, was not exemplary, and they shut up in a hole in the earth the brother of whom they were jealous. This incident is even more common in the marchen or household tales than in the regular tribal or national myths of the world.(3) The buried brother emerged again with wings, and "without doubt he must have been some devil," says honest Cieza de Leon. This brother was Manco Ccapac, the heroic ancestor of the Incas, and he turned his jealous brethren into stones. The whole tale is in the spirit illustrated by the wilder romances of the Popol Vuh.

(1) Second Part of the Chronicles of Peru, p 5.

(2) See Making of Religion, pp. 265-270. Name and God are much disputed.

(3) The story of Joseph and the marchen of Jean de l'Ours are well-known examples.

Garcilasso gives three forms of this myth. According to "the old Inca," his maternal uncle, it was the sun which sent down two of his children, giving them a golden staff, which would sink into the ground at the place where they were to rest from wandering. It sank at Lake Titicaca. About the current myths Garcilasso says generally that they were "more like dreams" than straightforward stories; but, as he adds, the Greeks and Romans also "invented fables worthy to be laughed at, and in greater number than the Indians. The stories of one age of heathenism may be compared with those of the other, and in many points they will be found to agree." This critical position of Garcilasso's will be proved correct when we reach the myths of Greeks and Indo-Aryans. The myth as narrated north-east of Cuzco speaks of the four brothers and four sisters who came out of caves, and the caves in Inca times were panelled with gold and silver.

Athwart all these lower myths, survivals from the savage stage, comes what Garcilasso regards as the philosophical Inca belief in Pachacamac. This deity, to Garcilasso's mind, was purely spiritual: he had no image and dwelt in no temple; in fact, he is that very God whom the Spanish missionaries proclaimed. This view, though the fact has been doubted, was very probably held by the Amautas, or philosophical class in Peru.(1) Cieza de Leon says "the name of this devil, Pachacamac, means creator of the world". Garcilasso urges that Pachacamac was the animus mundi; that he did not "make the world," as Pund-jel and other savage demiurges made it, but that he was to the universe what the soul is to the body.

(1) Com. Real., vol. i. p. 106.

Here we find ourselves, if among myths at all, among the myths of metaphysics—rational myths; that is, myths corresponding to our present stage of thought, and therefore intelligible to us. Pachacamac "made the sun, and lightning, and thunder, and of these the sun was worshipped by the Incas". Garcilasso denies that the moon was worshipped. The reflections of the sceptical or monotheistic Inca, who declared that the sun, far from being a free agent, "seems like a thing held to its task," are reported by Garcilasso, and appear to prove that solar worship was giving way, in the minds of educated Peruvians, a hundred years before the arrival of Pizarro and Valverde with his missal.(1)

(1) Garcilasso, viii. 8, quoting Blas Valera.

From this summary it appears that the higher Peruvian religion had wrested to its service, and to the dynastic purposes of the Incas, a native myth of the familiar class, in which men come ready made out of holes in the ground. But in Peru we do not find nearly such abundance of other savage origin myths as will be proved to exist in the legends of Greeks and Indo-Aryans. The reason probably is that Peru left no native literature; the missionaries disdained stories of "devils," and Garcilasso's common sense and patriotism were alike revolted by the incidents of stories "more like dreams" than truthful records. He therefore was silent about them. In Greece and India, on the other hand, the native religious literature preserved myths of the making of man out of clay, of his birth from trees and stones, of the fashioning of things out of the fragments of mutilated gods and Titans, of the cosmic egg, of the rending and wounding of a personal heaven and a personal earth, of the fishing up from the waters of a tiny earth which grew greater, of the development of men out of beasts, with a dozen other such notions as are familiar to contemporary Bushmen, Australians, Digger Indians, and Cahrocs. But in Greece and India these ideas coexist with myths and religious beliefs as purely spiritual and metaphysical as the belief in the Pachacamac of Garcilasso and the Amautas of Peru.


Authorities—Vedas—Brahmanas—Social condition of Vedic India—Arts—Ranks—War—Vedic fetishism—Ancestor worship—Date of Rig-Veda Hymns doubtful—Obscurity of the Hymns—Difficulty of interpreting the real character of Veda—Not primitive but sacerdotal—The moral purity not innocence but refinement.

Before examining the myths of the Aryans of India, it is necessary to have a clear notion of the nature of the evidence from which we derive our knowledge of the subject. That evidence is found in a large and incongruous mass of literary documents, the heritage of the Indian people. In this mass are extremely ancient texts (the Rig-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda), expository comments of a date so much later that the original meaning of the older documents was sometimes lost (the Brahmanas), and poems and legendary collections of a period later still, a period when the whole character of religious thought had sensibly altered. In this literature there is indeed a certain continuity; the names of several gods of the earliest time are preserved in the legends of the latest. But the influences of many centuries of change, of contending philosophies, of periods of national growth and advance, and of national decadence and decay, have been at work on the mythology of India. Here we have myths that were perhaps originally popular tales, and are probably old; here again, we have later legends that certainly were conceived in the narrow minds of a pedantic and ceremonious priesthood. It is not possible, of course, to analyse in this place all the myths of all the periods; we must be content to point out some which seem to be typical examples of the working of the human intellect in its earlier or its later childhood, in its distant hours of barbaric beginnings, or in the senility of its sacerdotage.

The documents which contain Indian mythology may be divided, broadly speaking, into four classes. First, and most ancient in date of composition, are the collections of hymns known as the Vedas. Next, and (as far as date of collection goes) far less ancient, are the expository texts called the Brahmanas. Later still, come other manuals of devotion and of sacred learning, called Sutras and Upanishads; and last are the epic poems (Itihasas), and the books of legends called Puranas. We are chiefly concerned here with the Vedas and Brahmanas. A gulf of time, a period of social and literary change, separates the Brahmanas from the Vedas. But the epics and Puranas differ perhaps even still more from the Brahmanas, on account of vast religious changes which brought new gods into the Indian Olympus, or elevated to the highest place old gods formerly of low degree. From the composition of the first Vedic hymn to the compilation of the latest Purana, religious and mythopoeic fancy was never at rest.

Various motives induced various poets to assign, on various occasions the highest powers to this or the other god. The most antique legends were probably omitted or softened by some early Vedic bard (Rishi) of noble genius, or again impure myths were brought from the obscurity of oral circulation and foisted into literature by some poet less divinely inspired. Old deities were half-forgotten, and forgotten deities were resuscitated. Sages shook off superstitious bonds, priests forged new fetters on ancient patterns for themselves and their flocks. Philosophy explained away the more degrading myths; myths as degrading were suggested to dark and servile hearts by unscientific etymologies. Over the whole mass of ancient mythology the new mythology of a debased Brahmanic ritualism grew like some luxurious and baneful parasite. It is enough for our purpose if we can show that even in the purest and most antique mythology of India the element of traditional savagery survived and played its part, and that the irrational legends of the Vedas and Brahmanas can often be explained as relics of savage philosophy or faith, or as novelties planned on the ancient savage model, whether borrowed or native to the race.

The oldest documents of Indian mythology are the Vedas, usually reckoned as four in number. The oldest, again, of the four, is the Sanhita ("collection") of the Rig-Veda. It is a purely lyrical assortment of the songs "which the Hindus brought with them from their ancient homes on the banks of the Indus". In the manuscripts, the hymns are classified according to the families of poets to whom they are ascribed. Though composed on the banks of the Indus by sacred bards, the hymns were compiled and arranged in India proper. At what date the oldest hymns of which this collection is made up were first chanted it is impossible to say with even approximate certainty. Opinions differ, or have differed, between 2400 B.C. and 1400 B.C. as the period when the earliest sacred lyrics of the Veda may first have been listened by gods and men. In addition to the Rig-Veda we have the Sanhita of the Sama-Veda, "an anthology taken from the Rik-Samhita, comprising those of its verses which were intended to be chanted at the ceremonies of the soma sacrifice".(1) It is conjectured that the hymns of the Sama-Veda were borrowed from the Rig-Veda before the latter had been edited and stereotyped into its present form. Next comes the Yajur-Veda, "which contains the formulas for the entire sacrificial ceremonial, and indeed forms its proper foundations," the other Vedas being devoted to the soma sacrifice.(2) The Yajur-Veda has two divisions, known as the Black and the White Yajur, which have common matter, but differ in arrangement. The Black Yajur-Veda is also called the Taittirya, and it is described as "a motley undigested jumble of different pieces".(3) Last comes Atharva-Veda, not always regarded as a Veda properly speaking. It derives its name from an old semi-mythical priestly family, the Atharvans, and is full of magical formulae, imprecations, folk-lore and spells. There are good reasons for thinking this late as a collection, however early may be the magical ideas expressed in its contents.(4)

(1) Weber, History of Indian Literature, Eng. transl., p. 63.

(2) Ibid., p. 86.

(3) Ibid, p. 87. The name Taittirya is derived from a partridge, or from a Rishi named Partridge in Sanskrit. There is a story that the pupils of a sage were turned into partridges, to pick up sacred texts.

(4) Barth (Les Religions de l'Inde, p. 6) thinks that the existence of such a collection as the Atharva-Veda is implied, perhaps, in a text of the Rig-Veda, x. 90, 9.

Between the Vedas, or, at all events, between the oldest of the Vedas, and the compilation of the Brahmanas, these "canonised explanations of a canonised text,"(1) it is probable that some centuries and many social changes intervened.(2)

(1) Whitney, Oriental and Linguistic studies, First Series, p. 4.

(2) Max Muller, Biographical Essays, p. 20. "The prose portions presuppose the hymns, and, to judge from the utter inability of the authors of the Brahmanas to understand the antiquated language of the hymns, these Brahmanas must be ascribed to a much later period than that which gave birth to the hymns."

If we would criticise the documents for Indian mythology in a scientific manner, it is now necessary that we should try to discover, as far as possible, the social and religious condition of the people among whom the Vedas took shape. Were they in any sense "primitive," or were they civilised? Was their religion in its obscure beginnings or was it already a special and peculiar development, the fruit of many ages of thought? Now it is an unfortunate thing that scholars have constantly, and as it were involuntarily, drifted into the error of regarding the Vedas as if they were "primitive," as if they exhibited to us the "germs" and "genesis" of religion and mythology, as if they contained the simple though strange utterances of PRIMITIVE thought.(1) Thus Mr. Whitney declares, in his Oriental and Linguistic Studies, "that the Vedas exhibit to us the very earliest germs of the Hindu culture". Mr. Max Muller avers that "no country can be compared to India as offering opportunities for a real study of the genesis and growth of religion".(2) Yet the same scholar observes that "even the earliest specimens of Vedic poetry belong to the modern history of the race, and that the early period of the historical growth of religion had passed away before the Rishis (bards) could have worshipped their Devas or bright beings with sacred hymns and invocations". Though this is manifestly true, the sacred hymns and invocations of the Rishis are constantly used as testimony bearing on the beginning of the historical growth of religion. Nay, more; these remains of "the modern history of the race" are supposed to exhibit mythology in the process of making, as if the race had possessed no mythology before it reached a comparatively modern period, the Vedic age. In the same spirit, Dr. Muir, the learned editor of Sanskrit Texts, speaks in one place as if the Vedic hymns "illustrated the natural workings of the human mind in the period of its infancy".(3) A brief examination of the social and political and religious condition of man, as described by the poets of the Vedas, will prove that his infancy had long been left behind him when the first Vedic hymns were chanted.

(1) Ibid., Rig-Veda Sanhita, p. vii.

(2) Hibbert Lectures, p. 131.

(3) Nothing can prove more absolutely and more briefly the late character of Vedic faith than the fact that the faith had already to be defended against the attacks of sceptics. The impious denied the existence of Indra because he was invisible. Rig-Veda, ii. 12, 5; viii. 89, 3; v. 30, 1-2; vi. 27, 3. Bergaigne, ii. 167. "Es gibt keinen Indra, so hat der eine und der ander gesagt" (Ludwig's version).

As Barth observes, the very ideas which permeate the Veda, the idea of the mystic efficacy of sacrifice, of brahma, prove that the poems are profoundly sacerdotal; and this should have given pause to the writers who have persisted in representing the hymns as the work of primitive shepherds praising their gods as they feed their flocks.(1) In the Vedic age the ranks of society are already at least as clearly defined as in Homeric Greece. "We men," says a poet of the Rig-Veda,(2) "have all our different imaginations and designs. The carpenter seeks something that is broken, the doctor a patient, the priest some one who will offer libations.... The artisan continually seeks after a man with plenty of gold.... I am a poet, my father is a doctor, and my mother is a grinder of corn." Chariots and the art of the chariot-builder are as frequently spoken of as in the Iliad. Spears, swords, axes and coats of mail were in common use. The art of boat-building or of ship-building was well known. Kine and horses, sheep and dogs, had long been domesticated. The bow was a favourite weapon, and warriors fought in chariots, like the Homeric Greeks and the Egyptians. Weaving was commonly practised. The people probably lived, as a rule, in village settlements, but cities or fortified places were by no means unknown.(3) As for political society, "kings are frequently mentioned in the hymns," and "it was regarded as eminently beneficial for a king to entertain a family priest," on whom he was expected to confer thousands of kine, lovely slaves and lumps of gold. In the family polygamy existed, probably as the exception. There is reason to suppose that the brother-in-law was permitted, if not expected, to "raise up seed" to his dead brother, as among the Hebrews.(4) As to literature, the very structure of the hymns proves that it was elaborate and consciously artistic. M. Barth writes: "It would be a great mistake to speak of the primitive naivete of the Vedic poetry and religion".(5) Both the poetry and the religion, on the other hand, display in the highest degree the mark of the sacerdotal spirit. The myths, though originally derived from nature-worship, in an infinite majority of cases only reflect natural phenomena through a veil of ritualistic corruptions.(6) The rigid division of castes is seldom recognised in the Rig-Veda. We seem to see caste in the making.(7) The Rishis and priests of the princely families were on their way to becoming the all-powerful Brahmans. The kings and princes were on their way to becoming the caste of Kshatriyas or warriors. The mass of the people was soon to sink into the caste of Vaisyas and broken men. Non-Aryan aborigines and others were possibly developing into the caste of Sudras. Thus the spirit of division and of ceremonialism had still some of its conquests to achieve. But the extraordinary attention given and the immense importance assigned to the details of sacrifice, and the supernatural efficacy constantly attributed to a sort of magical asceticism (tapas, austere fervour), prove that the worst and most foolish elements of later Indian society and thought were in the Vedic age already in powerful existence.

(1) Les Religions de l'Inde, p. 27.

(2) ix. 112.

(3) Ludwig, Rig-Veda, iii. 203. The burgs were fortified with wooden palisades, capable of being destroyed by fire. "Cities" may be too magnificent a word for what perhaps were more like pahs. But compare Kaegi, The Rig-Veda, note 42, Engl. transl. Kaegi's book (translated by Dr. Arrowsmith, Boston, U.S., 1886) is probably the best short manual of the subject.

(4) Deut. xxv. 5; Matt. xxii. 24.

(5) Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, i. 245.

(6) Ludwig, iii. 262.

(7) On this subject see Muir, i. 192, with the remarks of Haug. "From all we know, the real origin of caste seems to go back to a time anterior to the composition of the Vedic hymns, though its development into a regular system with insurmountable barriers can be referred only to the later period of the Vedic times." Roth approaches the subject from the word brahm, that is, prayer with a mystical efficacy, as his starting-point. From brahm, prayer, came brahma, he who pronounces the prayers and performs the rite. This celebrant developed into a priest, whom to entertain brought blessings on kings. This domestic chaplaincy (conferring peculiar and even supernatural benefits) became hereditary in families, and these, united by common interests, exalted themselves into the Brahman caste. But in the Vedic age gifts of prayer and poetry alone marked out the purohitas, or men put forward to mediate between gods and mortals. Compare Ludwig, iii. 221.

Thus it is self-evident that the society in which the Vedic poets lived was so far from being PRIMITIVE that it was even superior to the higher barbarisms (such as that of the Scythians of Herodotus and Germans of Tacitus), and might be regarded as safely arrived at the threshold of civilisation. Society possessed kings, though they may have been kings of small communities, like those who warred with Joshua or fought under the walls of Thebes or Troy. Poets were better paid than they seem to have been at the courts of Homer or are at the present time. For the tribal festivals special priests were appointed, "who distinguished themselves by their comprehensive knowledge of the requisite rites and by their learning, and amongst whom a sort of rivalry is gradually developed, according as one tribe or another is supposed to have more or less prospered by its sacrifices".(1) In the family marriage is sacred, and traces of polyandry and of the levirate, surviving as late as the epic poems, were regarded as things that need to be explained away. Perhaps the most barbaric feature in Vedic society, the most singular relic of a distant past, is the survival, even in a modified and symbolic form, of human sacrifice.(2)

(1) Weber, p. 37.

(2) Wilson, Rig-Veda, i. p. 59-63; Muir, i. ii.; Wilson, Rig-Veda i. p. xxiv., ii. 8 (ii. 90); Aitareya Brahmana, Haug's version, vol. ii. pp. 462, 469.

As to the religious condition of the Vedic Aryans, we must steadily remember that in the Vedas we have the views of the Rishis only, that is, of sacred poets on their way to becoming a sacred caste. Necessarily they no more represent the POPULAR creeds than the psalmists and prophets, with their lofty monotheistic morality, represent the popular creeds of Israel. The faith of the Rishis, as will be shown later, like that of the psalmists, has a noble moral aspect. Yet certain elements of this higher creed are already found in the faiths of the lowest savages. The Rishis probably did not actually INVENT them. Consciousness of sin, of imperfection in the sight of divine beings, has been developed (as it has even in Australia) and is often confessed. But on the whole the religion of the Rishis is practical—it might almost be said, is magical. They desire temporal blessings, rain, sunshine, long life, power, wealth in flocks and herds. The whole purpose of the sacrifices which occupy so much of their time and thought is to obtain these good things. The sacrifice and the sacrificer come between gods and men. On the man's side is faith, munificence, a compelling force of prayer and of intentness of will. The sacrifice invigorates the gods to do the will of the sacrificer; it is supposed to be mystically celebrated in heaven as well as on earth—the gods are always sacrificing. Often (as when rain is wanted) the sacrifice imitates the end which it is desirable to gain.(1) In all these matters a minute ritual is already observed. The mystic word brahma, in the sense of hymn or prayer of a compelling and magical efficacy, has already come into use. The brahma answers almost to the Maori karakia or incantation and charm. "This brahma of Visvamitra protects the tribe of Bharata." "Atri with the fourth prayer discovered the sun concealed by unholy darkness."(2) The complicated ritual, in which prayer and sacrifice were supposed to exert a constraining influence on the supernatural powers, already existed, Haug thinks, in the time of the chief Rishis or hymnists of the Rig-Veda.(3)

(1) Compare "The Prayers of Savages" in J. A. Farrer's Primitive Manners, and Ludwig, iii. 262-296, and see Bergaigne, La Religion Vedique, vol. i. p. 121.

(2) See texts in Muir, i. 242.

(3) Preface to translation of Aitareya Brahmana, p. 36.

In many respects the nature of the idea of the divine, as entertained by the Rishis of the Rig-Veda, is still matter for discussion. In the chapter on Vedic gods such particulars as can be ascertained will be given. Roughly speaking, the religion is mainly, though not wholly, a cult of departmental gods, originally, in certain cases, forces of Nature, but endowed with moral earnestness. As to fetishism in the Vedas the opinions of the learned are divided. M. Bergaigne(1) looks on the whole ritual as, practically, an organised fetishism, employed to influence gods of a far higher and purer character. Mr. Max Muller remarks, "that stones, bones, shells, herbs and all the other so-called fetishes, are simply absent in the old hymns, though they appear in more modern hymns, particularly those of the Atharva-Veda. When artificial objects are mentioned and celebrated in the Rig-Veda, they are only such as might be praised even by Wordsworth or Tennyson—chariots, bows, quivers, axes, drums, sacrificial vessels and similar objects. They never assume any individual character; they are simply mentioned as useful or precious, it may be as sacred."(2)

(1) La Religion Vedique, vol. i. p. 123. "Le culte est assimilable dans une certaine mesure aux incantations, aux pratiques magiques."

(2) Hibbert Lectures, p. 198.

When the existence of fetish "herbs" is denied by Mr. Max Muller, he does not, of course, forget Soma, that divine juice. It is also to be noted that in modern India, as Mr. Max Muller himself observes, Sir Alfred Lyall finds that "the husbandman prays to his plough and the fisher to his net," these objects being, at present, fetishes. In opposition to Mr. Max Muller, Barth avers that the same kind of fetishism which flourishes to-day flourishes in the Rig-Veda. "Mountains, rivers, springs, trees, herbs are invoked as so many powers. The beasts which live with man—the horse, the cow, the dog, the bird and the animals which imperil his existence—receive a cult of praise and prayer. Among the instruments of ritual, some objects are more than things consecrated—they are divinities; and the war-chariot, the weapons of defence and offence, the plough, are the objects not only of benedictions but of prayers."(1) These absolute contradictions on matters of fact add, of course, to the difficulty of understanding the early Indo-Aryan religion. One authority says that the Vedic people were fetish-worshippers; another authority denies it.

(1) Barth, Les Religions de l'Inde, p. 7, with the Vedic texts.

Were the Rishis ancestor-worshippers? Barth has no doubt whatever that they were. In the pitris or fathers he recognises ancestral spirits, now "companions of the gods, and gods themselves. At their head appear the earliest celebrants of the sacrifice, Atharvan, the Angiras, the Kavis (the pitris, par excellence) equals of the greatest gods, spirits who, BY DINT OF SACRIFICE, drew forth the world from chaos, gave birth to the sun and lighted the stars,"—cosmical feats which, as we have seen, are sometimes attributed by the lower races to their idealised mythic ancestors, the "old, old ones" of Australians and Ovahereroes.

A few examples of invocations of the ancestral spirits may not be out of place.(1) "May the Fathers protect me in my invocation of the gods." Here is a curious case, especially when we remember how the wolf, in the North American myth, scattered the stars like spangles over the sky: "The fathers have adorned the sky with stars".(2)

(1) Rig-Veda, vi. 52,4.

(2) Ibid., x. 68, xi.

Mr. Whitney (Oriental and Linguistic Studies, First Series, p. 59) gives examples of the ceremony of feeding the Aryan ghosts. "The fathers are supposed to assemble, upon due invocation, about the altar of him who would pay them homage, to seat themselves upon the straw or matting spread for each of the guests invited, and to partake of the offerings set before them." The food seems chiefly to consist of rice, sesame and honey.

Important as is the element of ancestor-worship in the evolution of religion, Mr. Max Muller, in his Hibbert Lectures, merely remarks that thoughts and feelings about the dead "supplied some of the earliest and most important elements of religion"; but how these earliest elements affect his system does not appear. On a general view, then, the religion of the Vedic poets contained a vast number of elements in solution—elements such as meet us in every quarter of the globe. The belief in ancestral ghosts, the adoration of fetishes, the devotion to a moral ideal, contemplated in the persons of various deities, some of whom at least have been, and partly remain, personal natural forces, are all mingled, and all are drifting towards a kind of pantheism, in which, while everything is divine, and gods are reckoned by millions, the worshipper has glimpses of one single divine essence. The ritual, as we have seen, is more or less magical in character. The general elements of the beliefs are found, in various proportions, everywhere; the pantheistic mysticism is almost peculiar to India. It is, perhaps, needless to repeat that a faith so very composite, and already so strongly differentiated, cannot possibly be "primitive," and that the beliefs and practices of a race so highly organised in society and so well equipped in material civilisation as the Vedic Aryans cannot possibly be "near the beginning". Far from expecting to find in the Veda the primitive myths of the Aryans, we must remember that myth had already, when these hymns were sung, become obnoxious to the religious sentiment. "Thus," writes Barth, "the authors of the hymns have expurgated, or at least left in the shade, a vast number of legends older than their time; such, for example, as the identity of soma with the moon, as the account of the divine families, of the parricide of Indra, and a long list might be made of the reticences of the Veda.... It would be difficult to extract from the hymns a chapter on the loves of the gods. The goddesses are veiled, the adventures of the gods are scarcely touched on in passing.... We must allow for the moral delicacy of the singers, and for their dislike of speaking too precisely about the gods. Sometimes it seems as if their chief object was to avoid plain speaking.... But often there is nothing save jargon and indolence of mind in this voluntary obscurity, for already in the Veda the Indian intellect is deeply smitten with its inveterate malady of affecting mystery the more, the more it has nothing to conceal; the mania for scattering symbols which symbolise no reality, and for sporting with riddles which it is not worth while to divine."(1) Barth, however, also recognises amidst these confusions, "the inquietude of a heart deeply stirred, which seeks truth and redemption in prayer". Such is the natural judgment of the clear French intellect on the wilfully obscure, tormented and evasive intellect of India.

(1) Les Religions de l'Inde, p. 21.

It would be interesting were it possible to illuminate the criticism of Vedic religion by ascertaining which hymns in the Rig-Veda are the most ancient, and which are later. Could we do this, we might draw inferences as to the comparative antiquity of the religious ideas in the poems. But no such discrimination of relative antiquity seems to be within the reach of critics. M. Bergaigne thinks it impossible at present to determine the relative age of the hymns by any philological test. The ideas expressed are not more easily arrayed in order of date. We might think that the poems which contain most ceremonial allusions were the latest. But Mr. Max Muller says that "even the earliest hymns have sentiments worthy of the most advanced ceremonialists".(1)

(1) History of Sanskrit Literature, p. 556.

The first and oldest source of our knowledge of Indo-Aryan myths is the Rig-Veda, whose nature and character have been described. The second source is the Atharva-Veda with the Brahmanas. The peculiarity of the Atharva is its collection of magical incantations spells and fragments of folklore. These are often, doubtless, of the highest antiquity. Sorcery and the arts of medicine-men are earlier in the course of evolution than priesthood. We meet them everywhere among races who have not developed the institution of an order of priests serving national gods. As a collection, the Atharva-Veda is later than the Rig-Veda, but we need not therefore conclude that the IDEAS of the Atharva are "a later development of the more primitive ideas of the Rig-Veda". Magic is quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus; the ideas of the Atharva-Veda are everywhere; the peculiar notions of the Rig-Veda are the special property of an advanced and highly differentiated people. Even in the present collected shape, M. Barth thinks that many hymns of the Atharva are not much later than those of the Rig-Veda. Mr. Whitney, admitting the lateness of the Atharva as a collection, says, "This would not necessarily imply that the main body of the Atharva hymns were not already in existence when the compilation of the Rig-Veda took place".(1) The Atharva refers to some poets of the Rig (as certain hymnists in the Rig also do) as earlier men. If in the Rig (as Weber says) "there breathes a lively natural feeling, a warm love of nature, while in the Atharva, on the contrary, there predominates an anxious apprehension of evil spirits and their magical powers," it by no means follows that this apprehension is of later origin than the lively feeling for Nature. Rather the reverse. There appears to be no doubt(2) that the style and language of the Atharva are later than those of the Rig. Roth, who recognises the change, in language and style, yet considers the Atharva "part of the old literature".(3) He concludes that the Atharva contains many pieces which, "both by their style and ideas, are shown to be contemporary with the older hymns of the Rig-Veda". In religion, according to Muir,(4) the Atharva shows progress in the direction of monotheism in its celebration of Brahman, but it also introduces serpent-worship.

(1) Journal of the American Oriental Society. iv. 253.

(2) Muir, ii. 446.

(3) Ibid., ii. 448.

(4) Ibid., ii. 451.

As to the Atharva, then, we are free to suppose, if we like, that the dark magic, the evil spirits, the incantations, are old parts of Indian, as of all other popular beliefs, though they come later into literature than the poetry about Ushas and the morality of Varuna. The same remarks apply to our third source of information, the Brahmanas. These are indubitably comments on the sacred texts very much more modern in form than the texts themselves. But it does not follow, and this is most important for our purpose, that the myths in the Brahmanas are all later than the Vedic myths or corruptions of the Veda. Muir remarks,(1) "The Rig-Veda, though the oldest collection, does not necessarily contain everything that is of the greatest age in Indian thought or tradition. We know, for example, that certain legends, bearing the impress of the highest antiquity, such as that of the deluge, appear first in the Brahmanas." We are especially interested in this criticism, because most of the myths which we profess to explain as survivals of savagery are narrated in the Brahmanas. If these are necessarily late corruptions of Vedic ideas, because the collection of the Brahmanas is far more modern than that of the Veda, our argument is instantly disproved. But if ideas of an earlier stratum of thought than the Vedic stratum may appear in a later collection, as ideas of an earlier stratum of thought than the Homeric appear in poetry and prose far later than Homer, then our contention is legitimate. It will be shown in effect that a number of myths of the Brahmanas correspond in character and incident with the myths of savages, such as Cahrocs and Ahts. Our explanation is, that these tales partly survived, in the minds perhaps of conservative local priesthoods, from the savage stage of thought, or were borrowed from aborigines in that stage, or were moulded in more recent times on surviving examples of that wild early fancy.

(1) Muir, iv. 450.

In the age of the Brahmanas the people have spread southwards from the basin of the Indus to that of the Ganges. The old sacred texts have begun to be scarcely comprehensible. The priesthood has become much more strictly defined and more rigorously constituted. Absurd as it may seem, the Vedic metres, like the Gayatri, have been personified, and appear as active heroines of stories presumably older than this personification. The Asuras have descended from the rank of gods to that of the heavenly opposition to Indra's government; they are now a kind of fiends, and the Brahmanas are occupied with long stories about the war in heaven, itself a very ancient conception. Varuna becomes cruel on occasion, and hostile. Prajapati becomes the great mythical hero, and inherits the wildest myths of the savage heroic beasts and birds.

The priests are now Brahmans, a hereditary divine caste, who possess all the vast and puerile knowledge of ritual and sacrificial minutiae. As life in the opera is a series of songs, so life in the Brahmanas is a sequence of sacrifices. Sacrifice makes the sun rise and set, and the rivers run this way or that.

The study of Indian myth is obstructed, as has been shown, by the difficulty of determining the relative dates of the various legends, but there are a myriad of other obstacles to the study of Indian mythology. A poet of the Vedas says, "The chanters of hymns go about enveloped in mist, and unsatisfied with idle talk".(1) The ancient hymns are still "enveloped in mist," owing to the difficulty of their language and the variety of modern renderings and interpretations. The heretics of Vedic religion, the opponents of the orthodox commentators in ages comparatively recent, used to complain that the Vedas were simply nonsense, and their authors "knaves and buffoons". There are moments when the modern student of Vedic myths is inclined to echo this petulant complaint. For example, it is difficult enough to find in the Rig-Veda anything like a categoric account of the gods, and a description of their personal appearance. But in Rig-Veda, viii. 29, 1, we read of one god, "a youth, brown, now hostile, now friendly; a golden lustre invests him". Who is this youth? "Soma as the moon," according to the commentators. M. Langlois thinks the sun is meant. Dr. Aufrecht thinks the troop of Maruts (spirits of the storm), to whom, he remarks, the epithet "dark-brown, tawny" is as applicable as it is to their master, Rudra. This is rather confusing, and a mythological inquirer would like to know for certain whether he is reading about the sun or soma, the moon, or the winds.

(1) Rig-Veda, x. 82, 7, but compare Bergaigne, op. cit., iii. 72, "enveloppes de nuees et de murmures".

To take another example; we open Mr. Max Muller's translation of the Rig-Veda at random, say at page 49. In the second verse of the hymn to the Maruts, Mr. Muller translates, "They who were born together, self-luminous, with the spotted deer (the clouds), the spears, the daggers, the glittering ornaments. I hear their whips almost close by, as they crack them in their hands; they gain splendour on their way." Now Wilson translates this passage, "Who, borne by spotted deer, were born self-luminous, with weapons, war-cries and decorations. I hear the cracking of their whips in their hands, wonderfully inspiring courage in the fight." Benfey has, "Who with stags and spears, and with thunder and lightning, self-luminous, were born. Hard by rings the crack of their whip as it sounds in their hands; bright fare they down in storm." Langlois translates, "Just born are they, self-luminous. Mark ye their arms, their decorations, their car drawn by deer? Hear ye their clamour? Listen! 'tis the noise of the whip they hold in their hands, the sound that stirs up courage in the battle." This is an ordinary example of the diversities of Vedic translation. It is sufficiently puzzling, nor is the matter made more transparent by the variety of opinion as to the meaning of the "deer" along with which the Maruts are said (by some of the translators) to have been born. This is just the sort of passage on which a controversy affecting the whole nature of Vedic mythological ideas might be raised. According to a text in the Yajur Veda, gods, and men, and beasts, and other matters were created from various portions of the frame of a divine being named Prajapati.(1) The god Agni, Brahmans and the goat were born from the mouth of Prajapati. From his breast and arms came the god Indra (sometimes spoken of as a ram), the sheep, and of men the Rajanya. Cows and gods called Visvadevas were born together from his middle. Are we to understand the words "they who were born together with the spotted deer" to refer to a myth of this kind—a myth representing the Maruts and deer as having been born at the same birth, as Agni came with the goat, and Indra with the sheep? This is just the point on which the Indian commentators were divided.(2) Sayana, the old commentator, says, "The legendary school takes them for deer with white spots; the etymological school, for the many-coloured lines of clouds". The modern legendary (or anthropological) and etymological (or philological) students of mythology are often as much at variance in their attempts to interpret the traditions of India.

(1) Muir, Sanskrit Texts, 2nd edit., i. 16.

(2) Max Muller, Rig-Veda Sanhita, trans., vol. i. p. 59.

Another famous, and almost comic, example of the difficulty of Vedic interpretation is well known. In Rig-Veda, x. 16, 4, there is a funeral hymn. Agni, the fire-god, is supplicated either to roast a goat or to warm the soul of the dead and convey it to paradise. Whether the soul is to be thus comforted or the goat is to be grilled, is a question that has mightily puzzled Vedic doctors.(1) Professor Muller and M. Langlois are all for "the immortal soul", the goat has advocates, or had advocates, in Aufrecht, Ludwig and Roth. More important difficulties of interpretation are illustrated by the attitude of M. Bergaigne in La Religion Vedique, and his controversy with the great German lexicographers. The study of mythology at one time made the Vedas its starting-point. But perhaps it would be wise to begin from something more intelligible, something less perplexed by difficulties of language and diversities of interpretation.

(1) Muir, v. 217.

In attempting to criticise the various Aryan myths, we shall be guided, on the whole, by the character of the myths themselves. Pure and elevated conceptions we shall be inclined to assign to a pure and elevated condition of thought (though such conceptions do, recognisably, occur in the lowest known religious strata), and we shall make no difficulty about believing that Rishis and singers capable of noble conceptions existed in an age very remote in time, in a society which had many of the features of a lofty and simple civilisation. But we shall not, therefore, assume that the hymns of these Rishis are in any sense "primitive," or throw much light on the infancy of the human mind, or on the "origin" of religious and heroic myths. Impure, childish and barbaric conceptions, on the other hand, we shall be inclined to attribute to an impure, childish, and barbaric condition of thought; and we shall again make no difficulty about believing that ideas originally conceived when that stage of thought was general have been retained and handed down to a far later period. This view of the possible, or rather probable, antiquity of many of the myths preserved in the Brahmanas is strengthened, if it needed strengthening, by the opinion of Dr. Weber.(1) "We must indeed assume generally with regard to many of those legends (in the Brahmanas of the Rig-Veda) that they had already gained a rounded independent shape in tradition before they were incorporated into the Brahmanas; and of this we have frequent evidence in the DISTINCTLY ARCHAIC CHARACTER OF THEIR LANGUAGE, compared with that of the rest of the text."

(1) History of Indian Literature, English trans., p. 47.

We have now briefly stated the nature and probable relative antiquity of the evidence which is at the disposal of Vedic mythologists. The chief lesson we would enforce is the necessity of suspending the judgment when the Vedas are represented as examples of primitive and comparatively pure and simple natural religion. They are not primitive; they are highly differentiated, highly complex, extremely enigmatic expressions of fairly advanced and very peculiar religious thought. They are not morally so very pure as has been maintained, and their purity, such as it is, seems the result of conscious reticence and wary selection rather than of primeval innocence. Yet the bards or editors have by no means wholly excluded very ancient myths of a thoroughly savage character. These will be chiefly exposed in the chapter on "Indo-Aryan Myths of the Beginnings of Things," which follows.


Comparison of Vedic and savage myths—The metaphysical Vedic account of the beginning of things—Opposite and savage fable of world made out of fragments of a man—Discussion of this hymn—Absurdities of Brahmanas—Prajapati, a Vedic Unkulunkulu or Qat—Evolutionary myths—Marriage of heaven and earth—Myths of Puranas, their savage parallels—Most savage myths are repeated in Brahmanas.

In discussing the savage myths of the origin of the world and of man, we observed that they were as inconsistent as they were fanciful. Among the fancies embodied in the myths was noted the theory that the world, or various parts of it, had been formed out of the body of some huge non-natural being, a god, or giant, or a member of some ancient mysterious race. We also noted the myths of the original union of heaven and earth, and their violent separation as displayed in the tales of Greeks and Maoris, to which may be added the Acagchemem nation in California.(1) Another feature of savage cosmogonies, illustrated especially in some early Slavonic myths, in Australian legends, and in the faith of the American races, was the creation of the world, or the recovery of a drowned world by animals, as the raven, the dove and the coyote. The hatching of all things out of an egg was another rude conception, chiefly noted among the Finns. The Indian form occurs in the Satapatha Brahmana.(2) The preservation of the human race in the Deluge, or the creation of the race after the Deluge, was yet another detail of savage mythology; and for many of these fancies we seemed to find a satisfactory origin in the exceedingly credulous and confused state of savage philosophy and savage imagination.

(1) Bancroft, v. 162.

(2) Sacred Books of the East, i. 216.

The question now to be asked is, do the traditions of the Aryans of India supply us with myths so closely resembling the myths of Nootkas, Maoris and Australians that we may provisionally explain them as stories originally due to the invention of savages? This question may be answered in the affirmative. The Vedas, the Epics and the Puranas contain a large store of various cosmogonic traditions as inconsistent as the parallel myths of savages. We have an Aryan Ilmarinen, Tvashtri, who, like the Finnish smith, forged "the iron vault of hollow heaven" and the ball of earth.(1) Again, the earth is said to have sprung, as in some Mangaian fables, "from a being called Uttanapad".(2) Again, Brahmanaspati, "blew the gods forth like a blacksmith," and the gods had a hand in the making of things. In contrast with these childish pieces of anthropomorphism, we have the famous and sublime speculations of an often-quoted hymn.(3) It is thus that the poet dreams of the days before being and non-being began:—

(1) Muir, v. 354.

(2) Rig-Veda, x. 72, 4.

(3) Ibid., x. 126.

"There was then neither non-entity nor entity; there was no atmosphere nor sky above. What enveloped (all)?... Was it water, the profound abyss? Death was not then, nor immortality: there was no distinction of day or night. That One breathed calmly, self-supported; then was nothing different from it, or above it. In the beginning darkness existed, enveloped in darkness. All this was undistinguishable water. That One which lay void and wrapped in nothingness was developed by the power of fervour. Desire first arose in It, which was the primal germ of mind (and which) sages, searching with their intellect, have discovered to be the bond which connects entity with non-entity. The ray (or cord) which stretched across these (worlds), was it below or was it above? There were there impregnating powers and mighty forces, a self-supporting principle beneath and energy aloft. Who knows? who here can declare whence has sprung, whence this creation? The gods are subsequent to the development of this (universe); who then knows whence it arose? From what this creation arose, and whether (any one) made it or not, he who in the highest heaven is its ruler, he verily knows, or (even) he does not know."(1)

(1) Muir, Sanskrit Texts, 2nd edit., v. 357.

Here there is a Vedic hymn of the origin of things, from a book, it is true, supposed to be late, which is almost, if not absolutely, free from mythological ideas. The "self-supporting principle beneath and energy aloft" may refer, as Dr. Muir suggests, to the father, heaven above, and the mother, earth beneath. The "bond between entity and non-entity" is sought in a favourite idea of the Indian philosophers, that of tapas or "fervour". The other speculations remind us, though they are much more restrained and temperate in character, of the metaphysical chants of the New Zealand priests, of the Zunis, of Popol Vuh, and so on. These belong to very early culture.

What is the relative age of this hymn? If it could be proved to be the oldest in the Veda, it would demonstrate no more than this, that in time exceedingly remote the Aryans of India possessed a philosopher, perhaps a school of philosophers, who applied the minds to abstract speculations on the origin of things. It could not prove that mythological speculations had not preceded the attempts of a purer philosophy. But the date cannot be ascertained. Mr. Max Muller cannot go farther than the suggestion that the hymn is an expression of the perennis quaedam philosophia of Leibnitz. We are also warned that a hymn is not necessarily modern because it is philosophical.(1) Certainly that is true; the Zunis, Maoris, and Mangaians exhibit amazing powers of abstract thought. We are not concerned to show that this hymn is late; but it seems almost superfluous to remark that ideas like those which it contains can scarcely be accepted as expressing man's earliest theory of the origin of all things. We turn from such ideas to those which the Aryans of India have in common with black men and red men, with far-off Finns and Scandinavians, Chaldaeans, Haidahs, Cherokees, Murri and Maori, Mangaians and Egyptians.

(1) History of Sanskrit Literature, p. 568.

The next Vedic account of creation which we propose to consider is as remote as possible in character from the sublime philosophic poem. In the Purusha Sukta, the ninetieth hymn of the tenth book of the Rig-Veda Sanhita, we have a description of the creation of all things out of the severed limbs of a magnified non-natural man, Purusha. This conception is of course that which occurs in the Norse myths of the rent body of Ymir. Borr's sons took the body of the Giant Ymir and of his flesh formed the earth, of his blood seas and waters, of his bones mountains, of his teeth rocks and stones, of his hair all manner of plants, of his skull the firmament, of his brains the clouds, and so forth. In Chaldean story, Bel cuts in twain the magnified non-natural woman Omorca, and converts the halves of her body into heaven and earth. Among the Iroquois in North America, Chokanipok was the giant whose limbs, bones and blood furnished the raw material of many natural objects; while in Mangaia portions of Ru, in Egypt of Set and Osiris, in Greece of Dionysus Zagreus were used in creating various things, such as stones, plants and metals. The same ideas precisely are found in the ninetieth hymn of the tenth book of the Rig-Veda. Yet it is a singular thing that, in all the discussions as to the antiquity and significance of this hymn which have come under our notice, there has not been one single reference made to parallel legends among Aryan or non-Aryan peoples. In accordance with the general principles which guide us in this work, we are inclined to regard any ideas which are at once rude in character and widely distributed, both among civilised and uncivilised races, as extremely old, whatever may be the age of the literary form in which they are presented. But the current of learned opinions as to the date of the Purusha Sukta, the Vedic hymn about the sacrifice of Purusha and the creation of the world out of fragments of his body, runs in the opposite direction. The hymn is not regarded as very ancient by most Sanskrit scholars. We shall now quote the hymn, which contains the data on which any theory as to its age must be founded:—(1)

(1) Rig-Veda, x. 90; Muir, Sanskrit Texts, 2nd edit., i. 9.

"Purusha has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. On every side enveloping the earth, he overpassed (it) by a space of ten fingers. Purusha himself is this whole (universe), whatever is and whatever shall be.... When the gods performed a sacrifice with Purusha as the oblation, the spring was its butter, the summer its fuel, and the autumn its (accompanying) offering. This victim, Purusha, born in the beginning, they immolated on the sacrificial grass. With him the gods, the Sadhyas, and the Rishis sacrificed. From that universal sacrifice were provided curds and butter. It formed those aerial (creatures) and animals both wild and tame. From that universal sacrifice sprang the Ric and Saman verses, the metres and Yajush. From it sprang horses, and all animals with two rows of teeth; kine sprang from it; from it goats and sheep. When (the gods) divided Purusha, into how many parts did they cut him up? What was his mouth? What arms (had he)? What (two objects) are said (to have been) his thighs and feet? The Brahman was his mouth; the Rajanya was made his arms; the being (called) the Vaisya, he was his thighs; the Sudra sprang from his feet. The moon sprang from his soul (Mahas), the sun from his eye, Indra and Agni from his mouth, and Yaiyu from his breath. From his navel arose the air, from his head the sky, from his feet the earth, from his ear the (four) quarters; in this manner (the gods) formed the world. When the gods, performing sacrifice, bound Purusha as a victim, there were seven sticks (stuck up) for it (around the fire), and thrice seven pieces of fuel were made. With sacrifice the gods performed the sacrifice. These were the earliest rites. These great powers have sought the sky, where are the former Sadhyas, gods."

The myth here stated is plain enough in its essential facts. The gods performed a sacrifice with a gigantic anthropomorphic being (Purusha = Man) as the victim. Sacrifice is not found, as a rule, in the religious of the most backward races of all; it is, relatively, an innovation, as shall be shown later. His head, like the head of Ymir, formed the sky, his eye the sun, animals sprang from his body. The four castes are connected with, and it appears to be implied that they sprang from, his mouth, arms, thighs and feet. It is obvious that this last part of the myth is subsequent to the formation of castes. This is one of the chief arguments for the late date of the hymn, as castes are not distinctly recognised elsewhere in the Rig-Veda. Mr. Max Muller(1) believes the hymn to be "modern both in its character and in its diction," and this opinion he supports by philological arguments. Dr. Muir(2) says that the hymn "has every character of modernness both in its diction and ideas". Dr Haug, on the other hand,(3) in a paper read in 1871, admits that the present form of the hymn is not older than the greater part of the hymns of the tenth book, and than those of the Atharva Veda; but he adds, "The ideas which the hymn contains are certainly of a primeval antiquity.... In fact, the hymn is found in the Yajur-Veda among the formulas connected with human sacrifices, which were formerly practised in India." We have expressly declined to speak about "primeval antiquity," as we have scarcely any evidence as to the myths and mental condition for example, even of palaeolithic man; but we may so far agree with Dr. Haug as to affirm that the fundamental idea of the Purusha Sukta, namely, the creation of the world or portions of the world out of the fragments of a fabulous anthropomorphic being is common to Chaldeans, Iroquois, Egyptians, Greeks, Tinnehs, Mangaians and Aryan Indians. This is presumptive proof of the antiquity of the ideas which Dr. Muir and Mr. Max Muller think relatively modern. The savage and brutal character of the invention needs no demonstration. Among very low savages, for example, the Tinnehs of British North America, not a man, not a god, but a DOG, is torn up, and the fragments are made into animals.(4) On the Paloure River a beaver suffers in the manner of Purusha. We may, for these reasons, regard the chief idea of the myth as extremely ancient—infinitely more ancient than the diction of the hymn.

(1) Ancient Sanskrit Literature, 570.

(2) Sanskrit Texts, 2nd edit., i. 12.

(3) Sanskrit Text, 2nd edit., ii. 463.

(4) Hearne's Journey, pp. 342-343.

As to the mention of the castes, supposed to be a comparatively modern institution, that is not an essential part of the legend. When the idea of creation out of a living being was once received it was easy to extend the conception to any institution, of which the origin was forgotten. The Teutonic race had a myth which explained the origin of the classes eorl, ceorl and thrall (earl, churl and slave). A South American people, to explain the different ranks in society, hit on the very myth of Plato, the legend of golden, silver and copper races, from which the ranks of society have descended. The Vedic poet, in our opinion, merely extended to the institution of caste a myth which had already explained the origin of the sun, the firmament, animals, and so forth, on the usual lines of savage thought. The Purusha Sukta is the type of many other Indian myths of creation, of which the following(1) one is extremely noteworthy. "Prajapati desired to propagate. He formed the Trivrit (stoma) from his mouth. After it were produced the deity Agni, the metre Gayatri,... of men the Brahman, of beasts the goat;... from his breast, and from his arms he formed the Panchadasa (stoma). After it were created the God Indra, the Trishtubh metre,... of men the Rajanya, of beasts the sheep. Hence they are vigorous, because they were created from vigour. From his middle he formed the Saptadasa (stoma). After it were created the gods called the Yisvadevas, the Jagati metre,... of men the Vaisya, of beasts kine. Hence they are to be eaten, because they were created from the receptacle of food." The form in which we receive this myth is obviously later than the institution of caste and the technical names for metres. Yet surely any statement that kine "are to be eaten" must be older than the universal prohibition to eat that sacred animal the cow. Possibly we might argue that when this theory of creation was first promulgated, goats and sheep were forbidden food.(2)

(1) Taittirya Sanhita, or Yajur-Veda, vii. i. 1-4; Muir, 2nd edit., i. 15.

(2) Mr. M'Lennan has drawn some singular inferences from this passage, connecting, as it does, certain gods and certain classes of men with certain animals, in a manner somewhat suggestive of totemism (Fornightly Review), February, 1870.

Turning from the Vedas to the Brahmanas, we find a curiously savage myth of the origin of species.(1) According to this passage of the Brahmana, "this universe was formerly soul only, in the form of Purusha". He caused himself to fall asunder into two parts. Thence arose a husband and a wife. "He cohabited with her; from them men were born. She reflected, 'How does he, after having produced me from himself, cohabit with me? Ah, let me disappear.' She became a cow, and the other a bull, and he cohabited with her. From them kine were produced." After a series of similar metamorphoses of the female into all animal shapes, and a similar series of pursuits by the male in appropriate form, "in this manner pairs of all sorts of creatures down to ants were created". This myth is a parallel to the various Greek legends about the amours in bestial form of Zeus, Nemesis, Cronus, Demeter and other gods and goddesses. In the Brahmanas this myth is an explanation of the origin of species, and such an explanation as could scarcely have occurred to a civilised mind. In other myths in the Brahmanas, Prajapati creates men from his body, or rather the fluid of his body becomes a tortoise, the tortoise becomes a man (purusha), with similar examples of speculation.(2)

(1) Satapatha Brahmana, xiv. 4, 2; Muir, 2nd edit., i. 25.

(2) Similar tales are found among the Khonds.

Among all these Brahmana myths of the part taken by Prajapati in the creation or evoking of things, the question arises who WAS Prajapati? His role is that of the great Hare in American myth; he is a kind of demiurge, and his name means "The Master of Things Created," like the Australian Biamban, "Master," and the American title of the chief Manitou, "Master of Life",(1) Dr. Muir remarks that, as the Vedic mind advances from mere divine beings who "reside and operate in fire" (Agni), "dwell and shine in the sun" (Surya), or "in the atmosphere" (Indra), towards a conception of deity, "the farther step would be taken of speaking of the deity under such new names as Visvakarman and Prajapati". These are "appellatives which do not designate any limited functions connected with any single department of Nature, but the more general and abstract notions of divine power operating in the production and government of the universe". Now the interesting point is that round this new and abstract NAME gravitate the most savage and crudest myths, exactly the myths we meet among Hottentots and Nootkas. For example, among the Hottentots it is Heitsi Eibib, among the Huarochiri Indians it is Uiracocha, who confers, by curse or blessing, on the animals their proper attributes and characteristics.(2) In the Satapatha Brahmana it is Prajapati who takes this part, that falls to rude culture-heroes of Hottentots and Huarochiris.(3) How Prajapati made experiments in a kind of state-aided evolution, so to speak, or evolution superintended and assisted from above, will presently be set forth.

(1) Bergaigne, iii. 40.

(2) Avila, Fables of the Yncas, p. 127.

(3) English translation, ii. 361.

In the Puranas creation is a process renewed after each kalpa, or vast mundane period. Brahma awakes from his slumber, and finds the world a waste of water. Then, just as in the American myths of the coyote, and the Slavonic myths of the devil and the doves, a boar or a fish or a tortoise fishes up the world out of the waters. That boar, fish, tortoise, or what not, is Brahma or Vishnu. This savage conception of the beginnings of creation in the act of a tortoise, fish, or boar is not first found in the Puranas, as Mr. Muir points out, but is indicated in the Black Yajur Veda and in the Satapatha Brahmana.(1) In the Satapatha Brahmana, xiv. 1, 2, 11, we discover the idea, so common in savage myths—for example, in that of the Navajoes—that the earth was at first very small, a mere patch, and grew bigger after the animal fished it up. "Formerly this earth was only so large, of the size of a span. A boar called Emusha raised her up." Here the boar makes no pretence of being the incarnation of a god, but is a mere boar sans phrase, like the creative coyote of the Papogas and Chinooks, or the musk-rat of the Tacullies. This is a good example of the development of myths. Savages begin, as we saw, by mythically regarding various animals, spiders, grasshoppers, ravens, eagles, cockatoos, as the creators or recoverers of the world. As civilisation advances, those animals still perform their beneficent functions, but are looked on as gods in disguise. In time the animals are often dropped altogether, though they hold their place with great tenacity in the cosmogonic traditions of the Aryans in India. When we find the Satapatha Brahmana alleging(2) "that all creatures are descended from a tortoise," we seem to be among the rude Indians of the Pacific Coast. But when the tortoise is identified with Aditya, and when Adityas prove to be solar deities, sons of Aditi, and when Aditi is recognised by Mr. Muller as the Dawn, we see that the Aryan mind has not been idle, but has added a good deal to the savage idea of the descent of men and beasts from a tortoise.(3)

(1) Muir, 2nd edit., vol. i. p. 52.

(2) Muir, 2nd edit., vol. i. p. 54.

(3) See Ternaux Compans' Nouvelles Annales des Voyages, lxxxvi. p. 5. For Mexican traditions, "Mexican and Australian Hurricane World's End," Bancroft, v. 64.

Another feature of savage myths of creation we found to be the introduction of a crude theory of evolution. We saw that among the Potoyante tribe of the Digger Indians, and among certain Australian tribes, men and beasts were supposed to have been slowly evolved and improved out of the forms first of reptiles and then of quadrupeds. In the mythologies of the more civilised South American races, the idea of the survival of the fittest was otherwise expressed. The gods made several attempts at creation, and each set of created beings proving in one way or other unsuited to its environment, was permitted to die out or degenerated into apes, and was succeeded by a set better adapted for survival.(1) In much the same way the Satapatha Brahmana(2) represents mammals as the last result of a series of creative experiments. "Prajapati created living beings, which perished for want of food. Birds and serpents perished thus. Prajapati reflected, 'How is it that my creatures perish after having been formed?' He perceived this: 'They perish from want of food'. In his own presence he caused milk to be supplied to breasts. He created living beings, which, resorting to the breasts, were thus preserved. These are the creatures which did not perish."

(1) This myth is found in Popol Vuh. A Chinook myth of the same sort, Bancroft, v. 95.

(2) ii. 5, 11; Muir, 2nd edit., i. 70.

The common myth which derives the world from a great egg—the myth perhaps most familiar in its Finnish shape—is found in the Satapatha Brahmana.(1) "In the beginning this universe was waters, nothing but waters. The waters desired: 'How can we be reproduced?' So saying, they toiled, they performed austerity. While they were performing austerity, a golden egg came into existence. It then became a year.... From it in a year a man came into existence, who was Prajapati.... He conceived progeny in himself; with his mouth he created the gods." According to another text,(2) "Prajapati took the form of a tortoise". The tortoise is the same as Aditya.(3)

(1) xi. 1, 6, 1; Muir, Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, 1863.

(2) Satapatha Brahmana, vii. 4, 3, 5.

(3) Aitareya Brahmana, iii. 34 (11, 219), a very discreditable origin of species.

It is now time to examine the Aryan shape of the widely spread myth about the marriage of heaven and earth, and the fortunes of their children. We have already seen that in New Zealand heaven and earth were regarded as real persons, of bodily parts and passions, united in a secular embrace. We shall apply the same explanation to the Greek myth of Gaea and of the mutilation of Cronus. In India, Dyaus (heaven) answers to the Greek Uranus and the Maori Rangi, while Prithivi (earth) is the Greek Gaea, the Maori Papa. In the Veda, heaven and earth are constantly styled "parents";(1) but this we might regard as a mere metaphorical expression, still common in poetry. A passage of the Aitareya Brahmana, however, retains the old conception, in which there was nothing metaphorical at all.(2) These two worlds, heaven and earth, were once joined. Subsequently they were separated (according to one account, by Indra, who thus plays the part of Cronus and of Tane Mahuta). "Heaven and earth," says Dr. Muir, "are regarded as the parents not only of men, but of the gods also, as appears from the various texts where they are designated by the epithet Devapatre, 'having gods for their children'." By men in an early stage of thought this myth was accepted along with others in which heaven and earth were regarded as objects created by one of their own children, as by Indra,(3) who "stretched them out like a hide," who, like Atlas, "sustains and upholds them"(4) or, again, Tvashtri, the divine smith, wrought them by his craft; or, once more, heaven and earth sprung from the head and feet of Purusha. In short, if any one wished to give an example of that recklessness of orthodoxy or consistency which is the mark of early myth, he could find no better example than the Indian legends of the origin of things. Perhaps there is not one of the myths current among the lower races which has not its counterpart in the Indian Brahmanas. It has been enough for us to give a selection of examples.

(1) Muir, v. 22.

(2) iv. 27; Haug, ii. 308.

(3) Rig-Veda, viii. 6, 5.

(4) Ibid., iii. 32, 8.


The Greeks practically civilised when we first meet them in Homer—Their mythology, however, is full of repulsive features—The hypothesis that many of these are savage survivals—Are there other examples of such survival in Greek life and institutions?—Greek opinion was constant that the race had been savage—Illustrations of savage survival from Greek law of homicide, from magic, religion, human sacrifice, religious art, traces of totemism, and from the mysteries—Conclusion: that savage survival may also be expected in Greek myths.

The Greeks, when we first make their acquaintance in the Homeric poems, were a cultivated people, dwelling, under the government of royal families, in small city states. This social condition they must have attained by 1000 B.C., and probably much earlier. They had already a long settled past behind them, and had no recollection of any national migration from the "cradle of the Aryan race". On the other hand, many tribes thought themselves earth-born from the soil of the place where they were settled. The Maori traditions prove that memories of a national migration may persist for several hundred years among men ignorant of writing. Greek legend, among a far more civilised race, only spoke of occasional foreign settlers from Sidon, Lydia, or Egypt. The Homeric Greeks were well acquainted with almost all the arts of life, though it is not absolutely certain that they could write, and certainly they were not addicted to reading. In war they fought from chariots, like the Egyptians and Assyrians; they were bold seafarers, being accustomed to harry the shores even of Egypt, and they had large commercial dealings with the people of Tyre and Sidon. In the matter of religion they were comparatively free and unrestrained. Their deities, though, in myth, capricious in character, might be regarded in many ways as "making for righteousness". They protected the stranger and the suppliant; they sanctioned the oath, they frowned on the use of poisoned arrows; marriage and domestic life were guarded by their good-will; they dispensed good and evil fortune, to be accepted with humility and resignation among mortals.

The patriarchal head of each family performed the sacrifices for his household, the king for the state, the ruler of Mycenae, Agamemnon, for the whole Achaean host encamped before the walls of Troy. At the same time, prophets, like Calchas, possessed considerable influence, due partly to an hereditary gift of second-sight, as in the case of Theoclymenus,(1) partly to acquired professional skill in observing omens, partly to the direct inspiration of the gods. The oracle at Delphi, or, as it is called by Homer, Pytho, was already famous, and religion recognised, in various degrees, all the gods familiar to the later cult of Hellas. In a people so advanced, so much in contact with foreign races and foreign ideas, and so wonderfully gifted by nature with keen intellect and perfect taste, it is natural to expect, if anywhere, a mythology almost free from repulsive elements, and almost purged of all that we regard as survivals from the condition of savagery. But while Greek mythology is richer far than any other in beautiful legend, and is thronged with lovely and majestic forms of gods and goddesses, nymphs and oreads ideally fair, none the less a very large proportion of its legends is practically on a level with the myths of Maoris, Thlinkeets, Cahrocs and Bushmen.

(1) Odyssey, xx. 354.

This is the part of Greek mythology which has at all times excited most curiosity, and has been made the subject of many systems of interpretation. The Greeks themselves, from almost the earliest historical ages, were deeply concerned either to veil or explain away the blasphemous horrors of their own "sacred chapters," poetic traditions and temple legends. We endeavour to account for these as relics of an age of barbarism lying very far behind the time of Homer—an age when the ancestors of the Greeks either borrowed, or more probably developed for themselves, the kind of myths by which savage peoples endeavour to explain the nature and origin of the world and all phenomena.

The correctness of this explanation, resting as it does on the belief that the Greeks were at one time in the savage status, might be demonstrated from the fact that not only myths, but Greek life in general, and especially Greek ritual, teemed with surviving examples of institutions and of manners which are found everywhere among the most backward and barbarous races. It is not as if only the myths of Greece retained this rudeness, or as if the Greeks supposed themselves to have been always civilised. The whole of Greek life yields relics of savagery when the surface is excavated ever so slightly. Moreover, that the Greeks, as soon as they came to reflect on these matters at all, believed themselves to have emerged from a condition of savagery is undeniable. The poets are entirely at one on this subject with Moschion, a writer of the school of Euripides. "The time hath been, yea, it HATH been," he says, "when men lived like the beasts, dwelling in mountain caves, and clefts unvisited of the sun.... Then they broke not the soil with ploughs nor by aid of iron, but the weaker man was slain to make the supper of the stronger," and so on.(1) This view of the savage origin of mankind was also held by Aristotle:(2) "It is probable that the first men, whether they were produced by the earth (earth-born) or survived from some deluge, were on a level of ignorance and darkness".(3) This opinion, consciously held and stated by philosophers and poets, reveals itself also in the universal popular Greek traditions that men were originally ignorant of fire, agriculture, metallurgy and all the other arts and conveniences of life, till they were instructed by ideal culture-heroes, like Prometheus, members of a race divine or half divine. A still more curious Athenian tradition (preserved by Varro) maintained, not only that marriage was originally unknown, but that, as among Australians and some Red Indians, the family name, descended through the mother, and kinship was reckoned on the female side before the time of Cecrops.(4)

(1) Moschion; cf. Preller, Ausgewahlte Aufsatze, p. 206.

(2) Politics, ii. 8-21; Plato, Laws, 667-680.

(3) Compare Horace, Satires, i. 3, 99; Lucretius, v. 923.

(4) Suidas, s.v. "Prometheus"; Augustine, De Civitate Dei, xviii. 9.

While Greek opinion, both popular and philosophical, admitted, or rather asserted, that savagery lay in the background of the historical prospect, Greek institutions retained a thousand birth-marks of savagery. It is manifest and undeniable that the Greek criminal law, as far as it effected murder, sprang directly from the old savage blood-feud.(1) The Athenian law was a civilised modification of the savage rule that the kindred of a slain man take up his blood-feud. Where homicide was committed WITHIN the circle of blood relationship, as by Orestes, Greek religion provided the Erinnyes to punish an offence which had, as it were, no human avenger. The precautions taken by murderers to lay the ghost of the slain man were much like those in favour among the Australians. The Greek cut off the extremities of his victim, the tips of the hands and feet, and disposed them neatly beneath the arm-pits of the slain man.(2) In the same spirit, and for the same purpose, the Australian black cuts off the thumbs of his dead enemy, that the ghost too may be mutilated and prevented from throwing at him with a ghostly spear. We learn also from Apollonius Rhodius and his scholiast that Greek murderers used thrice to suck in and spit out the gore of their victims, perhaps with some idea of thereby partaking of their blood, and so, by becoming members of their kin, putting it beyond the power of the ghosts to avenge themselves. Similar ideas inspire the worldwide savage custom of making an artificial "blood brotherhood" by mingling the blood of the contracting parties. As to the ceremonies of cleansing from blood-guiltiness among the Greeks, we may conjecture that these too had their primitive side; for Orestes, in the Eumenides, maintains that he has been purified of his mother's slaughter by sufficient blood of swine. But this point will be illustrated presently, when we touch on the mysteries.

(1) Duncker, History of Greece, Engl. transl., vol. ii. p. 129.

(2) See "Arm-pitting in Ancient Greece," in the American Journal of Philology, October, 1885, where a discussion of the familiar texts in Aeschylus and Apollonius Rhodius will be found.

Ritual and myth, as might be expected, retained vast masses of savage rites and superstitious habits and customs. To be "in all things too superstitious," too full of deisidaimonia, was even in St. Paul's time the characteristic of the Athenians. Now superstition, or deisidaimonia, is defined by Theophrastus,(1) as "cowardice in regard to the supernatural" ((Greek text omitted)). This "cowardice" has in all ages and countries secured the permanence of ritual and religious traditions. Men have always argued, like one of the persons in M. Renan's play, Le Pretre de Nemi, that "l'ordre du monde depend de l'ordre des rites qu'on observe". The familiar endurable sequence of the seasons of spring, and seed-sowing, and harvest depend upon the due performance of immemorial religious acts. "In the mystic deposits," says Dinarchus, "lies the safety of the city."(2) What the "mystic deposits" were nobody knows for certain, but they must have been of very archaic sanctity, and occur among the Arunta and the Pawnees.

(1) Characters.

(2) Ap. Hermann, Lehrbuch, p. 41; Aglaophamus, 965.

Ritual is preserved because it preserves LUCK. Not only among the Romans and the Brahmans, with their endless minute ritual actions, but among such lower races as the Kanekas of New Caledonia, the efficacy of religious functions is destroyed by the slightest accidental infraction of established rules.(1) The same timid conservatism presides over myth, and in each locality the mystery-plays, with their accompanying narratives, preserved inviolate the early forms of legend. Myth and ritual do not admit of being argued about. "C'etait le rite etabli. Ce n'etait pas plus absurde qu'autre chose," says the conservative in M. Renan's piece, defending the mode of appointment of

The priest who slew the slayer, And shall himself be slain.

(1) Thus the watchers of the dead in New Caledonia are fed by the sorcerer with a mess at the end of a very long spoon, and should the food miss the mouth, all the ceremonies have to be repeated. This detail is from Mr. J. J. Atkinson.

Now, if the rites and myths preserved by the timorousness of this same "cowardice towards the supernatural" were originally evolved in the stage of savagery, savage they would remain, as it is impious and dangerous to reform them till the religion which they serve perishes with them. These relics in Greek ritual and faith are very commonly explained as due to Oriental influences, as things borrowed from the dark and bloody superstitions of Asia. But this attempt to save the native Greek character for "blitheness" and humanity must not be pushed too far.(1) It must be remembered that the cruder and wilder sacrifices and legends of Greece were strictly LOCAL; that they were attached to these ancient temples, old altars, barbarous xoana, or wooden idols, and rough fetish stones, in which Pausanias found the most ancient relics of Hellenic theology. This is a proof of their antiquity and a presumption in favour of their freedom from foreign influence. Most of these things were survivals from that dimly remembered prehistoric age in which the Greeks, not yet gathered into city states, lived in villages or kraals, or pueblos, as we should translate (Greek text omitted), if we were speaking of African or American tribes. In that stage the early Greeks must have lacked both the civic and the national or Panhellenic sentiment; their political unit was the clan, which, again, answered in part to the totem kindred of America, or Africa, or Australia.(2) In this stagnant condition they could not have made acquaintance with the many creeds of Semitic and other alien peoples on the shores of the Levant.(3) It was later, when Greece had developed the city life of the heroic age, that her adventurous sons came into close contact with Egypt and Phoenicia.

(1) Claus, De Antiq. Form. Dianae, 6,7,16.

(2) As C. O. Muller judiciously remarks: "The scenes of nine-tenths of the Greek myths are laid in PARTICULAR DISTRICTS OF GREECE, and they speak of the primeval inhabitants, of the lineage and adventures of native heroes. They manifest an accurate acquaintance with individual localities, which, at a time when Greece was neither explored by antiquaries, nor did geographical handbooks exist, could be possessed only by the inhabitants of these localities." Muller gives, as examples, myths of bears more or less divine. Scientific Mythology, pp. 14, 15.

(3) Compare Claus, De Dianae Antiquissima Natura, p. 3.

In the colonising time, still later—perhaps from 900 B.C. downwards—the Greeks, settled on sites whence they had expelled Sidonians or Sicanians, very naturally continued, with modifications, the worship of such gods as they found already in possession. Like the Romans, the Greeks easily recognised their own deities in the analogous members of foreign polytheistic systems. Thus we can allow for alien elements in such gods and goddesses as Zeus Asterios, as Aphrodite of Cyprus or Eryx, or the many-breasted Ephesian Artemis, whose monstrous form had its exact analogue among the Aztecs in that many-breasted goddess of the maguey plant whence beer was made. To discern and disengage the borrowed factors in the Hellenic Olympus by analysis of divine names is a task to which comparative philology may lawfully devote herself; but we cannot so readily explain by presumed borrowing from without the rude xoana of the ancient local temples, the wild myths of the local legends, the sacra which were the exclusive property of old-world families, Butadae or Eumolpidae. These are clearly survivals from a stage of Greek culture earlier than the city state, earlier than the heroic age of the roving Greek Vikings, and far earlier than the Greek colonies. They belong to that conservative and immobile period when the tribe or clan, settled in its scattered kraals, lived a life of agriculture, hunting and cattle-breeding, engaged in no larger or more adventurous wars than border feuds about women or cattle. Such wars were on a humbler scale than even Nestor's old fights with the Epeians; such adventures did not bring the tribe into contact with alien religions. If Sidonian merchantmen chanced to establish a factory near a tribe in this condition, their religion was not likely to make many proselytes.

These reasons for believing that most of the wilder element in Greek ritual and myth was native may be briefly recapitulated, as they are often overlooked. The more strange and savage features meet us in LOCAL tales and practices, often in remote upland temples and chapels. There they had survived from the society of the VILLAGE status, before villages were gathered into CITIES, before Greeks had taken to a roving life, or made much acquaintance with distant and maritime peoples.

For these historical reasons, it may be assumed that the LOCAL religious antiquities of Greece, especially in upland districts like Arcadia and Elis, are as old, and as purely national, as free from foreign influences as any Greek institutions can be. In these rites and myths of true folk-lore and Volksleben, developed before Hellas won its way to the pure Hellenic stage, before Egypt and Phoenicia were familiar, should be found that common rude element which Greeks share with the other races of the world, and which was, to some extent, purged away by the genius of Homer and Pindar, pii vates et Phaebo digna locuti.

In proof of this local conservatism, some passages collected by K. F. Hermann in his Lehrbuch der Griechischen Antiquitaten(1) may be cited. Thus Isocrates writes,(2) "This was all their care, neither to destroy any of the ancestral rites, nor to add aught beyond what was ordained". Clemens Alexandrinus reports that certain Thessalians worshipped storks, "IN ACCORDANCE WITH USE AND WONT".(3) Plato lays down the very "law of least change" which has been described. "Whether the legislator is establishing a new state or restoring an old and decayed one, in respect of gods and temples,... if he be a man of sense, he will MAKE NO CHANGE IN ANYTHING which the oracle of Delphi, or Dodona, or Ammon has sanctioned, in whatever manner." In this very passage Plato(4) speaks of rites "derived from Tyrrhenia or Cyprus" as falling within the later period of the Greek Wanderjahre. On the high religious value of things antique, Porphyry wrote in a late age, and when the new religion of Christ was victorious, "Comparing the new sacred images with the old, we see that the old are more simply fashioned, yet are held divine, but the new, admired for their elaborate execution, have less persuasion of divinity,"—a remark anticipated by Pausanias, "The statues Daedalus wrought are quainter to the outward view, yet there shows forth in them somewhat supernatural".(5) So Athenaeus(6) reports of a visitor to the shrine of Leto in Delos, that he expected the ancient statue of the mother of Apollo to be something remarkable, but, unlike the pious Porphyry, burst out laughing when he found it a shapeless wooden idol. These idols were dressed out, fed and adorned as if they had life.(7) It is natural that myths dating from an age when Greek gods resembled Polynesian idols should be as rude as Polynesian myths. The tenacity of LOCAL myth is demonstrated by Pausanias, who declares that even in the highly civilised Attica the Demes retained legends different from those of the central city—the legends, probably, which were current before the villages were "Synoecised" into Athens.(8)

(1) Zweiter Theil, 1858.

(2) Areop., 30.

(3) Clem. Alex., Oxford, 1715, i. 34.

(4) Laws, v. 738.

(5) De. Abst., ii. 18; Paus., ii. 4, 5.

(6) xiv. 2.

(7) Hermann, op. cit., p. 94, note 10.

(8) Pausanias, i. 14, 6.

It appears, then, that Greek ritual necessarily preserves matter of the highest antiquity, and that the oldest rites and myths will probably be found, not in the Panhellenic temples, like that in Olympia, not in the NATIONAL poets, like Homer and Sophocles, but in the LOCAL fanes of early tribal gods, and in the LOCAL mysteries, and the myths which came late, if they came at all, into literary circulation. This opinion is strengthened and illustrated by that invaluable guide-book of the artistic and religious pilgrim written in the second century after our era by Pausanias. If we follow him, we shall find that many of the ceremonies, stories and idols which he regarded as oldest are analogous to the idols and myths of the contemporary backward races. Let us then, for the sake of illustrating the local and savage survivals in Greek religion, accompany Pausanias in his tour through Hellas.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse