Myths and Myth-Makers - Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by Comparative Mythology
by John Fiske
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We have seen that the original werewolf, howling in the wintry blast, is a kind of psychopomp, or leader of departed souls; he is the wild ancestor of the death-dog, whose voice under the window of a sick-chamber is even now a sound of ill-omen. The swan-maiden has also been supposed to summon the dying to her home in the Phaiakian land. The Valkyries, with their shirts of swan-plumage, who hovered over Scandinavian battle-fields to receive the souls of falling heroes, were identical with the Hindu Apsaras; and the Houris of the Mussulman belong to the same family. Even for the angels,—women with large wings, who are seen in popular pictures bearing mortals on high towards heaven,—we can hardly claim a different kinship. Melusina, when she leaves the castle of Lusignan, becomes a Banshee; and it has been a common superstition among sailors, that the appearance of a mermaid, with her comb and looking-glass, foretokens shipwreck, with the loss of all on board.

October, 1870.


WHEN Maitland blasphemously asserted that God was but "a Bogie of the nursery," he unwittingly made a remark as suggestive in point of philology as it was crude and repulsive in its atheism. When examined with the lenses of linguistic science, the "Bogie" or "Bug-a-boo" or "Bugbear" of nursery lore turns out to be identical, not only with the fairy "Puck," whom Shakespeare has immortalized, but also with the Slavonic "Bog" and the "Baga" of the Cuneiform Inscriptions, both of which are names for the Supreme Being. If we proceed further, and inquire after the ancestral form of these epithets,—so strangely incongruous in their significations,—we shall find it in the Old Aryan "Bhaga," which reappears unchanged in the Sanskrit of the Vedas, and has left a memento of itself in the surname of the Phrygian Zeus "Bagaios." It seems originally to have denoted either the unclouded sun or the sky of noonday illumined by the solar rays. In Sayana's commentary on the Rig-Veda, Bhaga is enumerated among the seven (or eight) sons of Aditi, the boundless Orient; and he is elsewhere described as the lord of life, the giver of bread, and the bringer of happiness. [94]

Thus the same name which, to the Vedic poet, to the Persian of the time of Xerxes, and to the modern Russian, suggests the supreme majesty of deity, is in English associated with an ugly and ludicrous fiend, closely akin to that grotesque Northern Devil of whom Southey was unable to think without laughing. Such is the irony of fate toward a deposed deity. The German name for idol—Abgott, that is, "ex-god," or "dethroned god"—sums up in a single etymology the history of the havoc wrought by monotheism among the ancient symbols of deity. In the hospitable Pantheon of the Greeks and Romans a niche was always in readiness for every new divinity who could produce respectable credentials; but the triumph of monotheism converted the stately mansion into a Pandemonium peopled with fiends. To the monotheist an "ex-god" was simply a devilish deceiver of mankind whom the true God had succeeded in vanquishing; and thus the word demon, which to the ancient meant a divine or semi-divine being, came to be applied to fiends exclusively. Thus the Teutonic races, who preserved the name of their highest divinity, Odin,—originally, Guodan,—by which to designate the God of the Christian, [95] were unable to regard the Bog of ancient tradition as anything but an "ex-god," or vanquished demon.

The most striking illustration of this process is to be found in the word devil itself: To a reader unfamiliar with the endless tricks which language delights in playing, it may seem shocking to be told that the Gypsies use the word devil as the name of God. [96] This, however, is not because these people have made the archfiend an object of worship, but because the Gypsy language, descending directly from the Sanskrit, has retained in its primitive exalted sense a word which the English language has received only in its debased and perverted sense. The Teutonic words devil, teufel, diuval, djofull, djevful, may all be traced back to the Zend dev, [97] a name in which is implicitly contained the record of the oldest monotheistic revolution known to history. The influence of the so-called Zoroastrian reform upon the long-subsequent development of Christianity will receive further notice in the course of this paper; for the present it is enough to know that it furnished for all Christendom the name by which it designates the author of evil. To the Parsee follower of Zarathustra the name of the Devil has very nearly the same signification as to the Christian; yet, as Grimm has shown, it is nothing else than a corruption of deva, the Sanskrit name for God. When Zarathustra overthrew the primeval Aryan nature-worship in Bactria, this name met the same evil fate which in early Christian times overtook the word demon, and from a symbol of reverence became henceforth a symbol of detestation. [98] But throughout the rest of the Aryan world it achieved a nobler career, producing the Greek theos, the Lithuanian diewas, the Latin deus, and hence the modern French Dieu, all meaning God.

If we trace back this remarkable word to its primitive source in that once lost but now partially recovered mother-tongue from which all our Aryan languages are descended, we find a root div or dyu, meaning "to shine." From the first-mentioned form comes deva, with its numerous progeny of good and evil appellatives; from the latter is derived the name of Dyaus, with its brethren, Zeus and Jupiter. In Sanskrit dyu, as a noun, means "sky" and "day"; and there are many passages in the Rig-Veda where the character of the god Dyaus, as the personification of the sky or the brightness of the ethereal heavens, is unmistakably apparent. This key unlocks for us one of the secrets of Greek mythology. So long as there was for Zeus no better etymology than that which assigned it to the root zen, "to live," [99] there was little hope of understanding the nature of Zeus. But when we learn that Zeus is identical with Dyaus, the bright sky, we are enabled to understand Horace's expression, "sub Jove frigido," and the prayer of the Athenians, "Rain, rain, dear Zeus, on the land of the Athenians, and on the fields." [100] Such expressions as these were retained by the Greeks and Romans long after they had forgotten that their supreme deity was once the sky. Yet even the Brahman, from whose mind the physical significance of the god's name never wholly disappeared, could speak of him as Father Dyaus, the great Pitri, or ancestor of gods and men; and in this reverential name Dyaus pitar may be seen the exact equivalent of the Roman's Jupiter, or Jove the Father. The same root can be followed into Old German, where Zio is the god of day; and into Anglo-Saxon, where Tiwsdaeg, or the day of Zeus, is the ancestral form of Tuesday.

Thus we again reach the same results which were obtained from the examination of the name Bhaga. These various names for the supreme Aryan god, which without the help afforded by the Vedas could never have been interpreted, are seen to have been originally applied to the sun-illumined firmament. Countless other examples, when similarly analyzed, show that the earliest Aryan conception of a Divine Power, nourishing man and sustaining the universe, was suggested by the light of the mighty Sun; who, as modern science has shown, is the originator of all life and motion upon the globe, and whom the ancients delighted to believe the source, not only of "the golden light," [101] but of everything that is bright, joy-giving, and pure. Nevertheless, in accepting this conclusion as well established by linguistic science, we must be on our guard against an error into which writers on mythology are very liable to fall. Neither sky nor sun nor light of day, neither Zeus nor Apollo, neither Dyaus nor Indra, was ever worshipped by the ancient Aryan in anything like a monotheistic sense. To interpret Zeus or Jupiter as originally the supreme Aryan god, and to regard classic paganism as one of the degraded remnants of a primeval monotheism, is to sin against the canons of a sound inductive philosophy. Philology itself teaches us that this could not have been so. Father Dyaus was originally the bright sky and nothing more. Although his name became generalized, in the classic languages, into deus, or God, it is quite certain that in early days, before the Aryan separation, it had acquired no such exalted significance. It was only in Greece and Rome—or, we may say, among the still united Italo-Hellenic tribes—that Jupiter-Zeus attained a pre-eminence over all other deities. The people of Iran quite rejected him, the Teutons preferred Thor and Odin, and in India he was superseded, first by Indra, afterwards by Brahma and Vishnu. We need not, therefore, look for a single supreme divinity among the old Aryans; nor may we expect to find any sense, active or dormant, of monotheism in the primitive intelligence of uncivilized men. [102] The whole fabric of comparative mythology, as at present constituted, and as described above, in the first of these papers, rests upon the postulate that the earliest religion was pure fetichism.

In the unsystematic nature-worship of the old Aryans the gods are presented to us only as vague powers, with their nature and attributes dimly defined, and their relations to each other fluctuating and often contradictory. There is no theogony, no regular subordination of one deity to another. The same pair of divinities appear now as father and daughter, now as brother and sister, now as husband and wife; and again they quite lose their personality, and are represented as mere natural phenomena. As Muller observes, "The poets of the Veda indulged freely in theogonic speculations without being frightened by any contradictions. They knew of Indra as the greatest of gods, they knew of Agni as the god of gods, they knew of Varuna as the ruler of all; but they were by no means startled at the idea that their Indra had a mother, or that their Agni [Latin ignis] was born like a babe from the friction of two fire-sticks, or that Varuna and his brother Mitra were nursed in the lap of Aditi." [103] Thus we have seen Bhaga, the daylight, represented as the offspring, of Aditi, the boundless Orient; but he had several brothers, and among them were Mitra, the sun, Varuna, the overarching firmament, and Vivasvat, the vivifying sun. Manifestly we have here but so many different names for what is at bottom one and the same conception. The common element which, in Dyaus and Varuna, in Bhaga and Indra, was made an object of worship, is the brightness, warmth, and life of day, as contrasted with the darkness, cold, and seeming death of the night-time. And this common element was personified in as many different ways as the unrestrained fancy of the ancient worshipper saw fit to devise. [104]

Thus we begin to see why a few simple objects, like the sun, the sky, the dawn, and the night, should be represented in mythology by such a host of gods, goddesses, and heroes. For at one time the Sun is represented as the conqueror of hydras and dragons who hide away from men the golden treasures of light and warmth, and at another time he is represented as a weary voyager traversing the sky-sea amid many perils, with the steadfast purpose of returning to his western home and his twilight bride; hence the different conceptions of Herakles, Bellerophon, and Odysseus. Now he is represented as the son of the Dawn, and again, with equal propriety, as the son of the Night, and the fickle lover of the Dawn; hence we have, on the one hand, stories of a virgin mother who dies in giving birth to a hero, and, on the other hand, stories of a beautiful maiden who is forsaken and perhaps cruelly slain by her treacherous lover. Indeed, the Sun's adventures with so many dawn-maidens have given him quite a bad character, and the legends are numerous in which he appears as the prototype of Don Juan. Yet again his separation from the bride of his youth is described as due to no fault of his own, but to a resistless decree of fate, which hurries him away as Aineias was compelled to abandon Dido. Or, according to a third and equally plausible notion, he is a hero of ascetic virtues, and the dawn-maiden is a wicked enchantress, daughter of the sensual Aphrodite, who vainly endeavours to seduce him. In the story of Odysseus these various conceptions are blended together. When enticed by artful women, [105] he yields for a while to the temptation; but by and by his longing to see Penelope takes him homeward, albeit with a record which Penelope might not altogether have liked. Again, though the Sun, "always roaming with a hungry heart," has seen many cities and customs of strange men, he is nevertheless confined to a single path,—a circumstance which seems to have occasioned much speculation in the primeval mind. Garcilaso de la Vega relates of a certain Peruvian Inca, who seems to have been an "infidel" with reference to the orthodox mythology of his day, that he thought the Sun was not such a mighty god after all; for if he were, he would wander about the heavens at random instead of going forever, like a horse in a treadmill, along the same course. The American Indians explained this circumstance by myths which told how the Sun was once caught and tied with a chain which would only let him swing a little way to one side or the other. The ancient Aryan developed the nobler myth of the labours of Herakles, performed in obedience to the bidding of Eurystheus. Again, the Sun must needs destroy its parents, the Night and the Dawn; and accordingly his parents, forewarned by prophecy, expose him in infancy, or order him to be put to death; but his tragic destiny never fails to be accomplished to the letter. And again the Sun, who engages in quarrels not his own, is sometimes represented as retiring moodily from the sight of men, like Achilleus and Meleagros: he is short-lived and ill-fated, born to do much good and to be repaid with ingratitude; his life depends on the duration of a burning brand, and when that is extinguished he must die.

The myth of the great Theban hero, Oidipous, well illustrates the multiplicity of conceptions which clustered about the daily career of the solar orb. His father, Laios, had been warned by the Delphic oracle that he was in danger of death from his own son. The newly born Oidipous was therefore exposed on the hillside, but, like Romulus and Remus, and all infants similarly situated in legend, was duly rescued. He was taken to Corinth, where he grew up to manhood. Journeying once to Thebes, he got into a quarrel with an old man whom he met on the road, and slew him, who was none other than his father, Laios. Reaching Thebes, he found the city harassed by the Sphinx, who afflicted the land with drought until she should receive an answer to her riddles. Oidipous destroyed the monster by solving her dark sayings, and as a reward received the kingdom, with his own mother, Iokaste, as his bride. Then the Erinyes hastened the discovery of these dark deeds; Iokaste died in her bridal chamber; and Oidipous, having blinded himself, fled to the grove of the Eumenides, near Athens, where, amid flashing lightning and peals of thunder, he died.

Oidipous is the Sun. Like all the solar heroes, from Herakles and Perseus to Sigurd and William Tell, he performs his marvellous deeds at the behest of others. His father, Laios, is none other than the Vedic Dasyu, the night-demon who is sure to be destroyed by his solar offspring In the evening, Oidipous is united to the Dawn, the mother who had borne him at daybreak; and here the original story doubtless ended. In the Vedic hymns we find Indra, the Sun, born of Dahana (Daphne), the Dawn, whom he afterwards, in the evening twilight, marries. To the Indian mind the story was here complete; but the Greeks had forgotten and outgrown the primitive signification of the myth. To them Oidipous and Iokaste were human, or at least anthropomorphic beings; and a marriage between them was a fearful crime which called for bitter expiation. Thus the latter part of the story arose in the effort to satisfy a moral feeling As the name of Laios denotes the dark night, so, like Iole, Oinone, and Iamos, the word Iokaste signifies the delicate violet tints of the morning and evening clouds. Oidipous was exposed, like Paris upon Ida (a Vedic word meaning "the earth"), because the sunlight in the morning lies upon the hillside. [106] He is borne on to the destruction of his father and the incestuous marriage with his mother by an irresistible Moira, or Fate; the sun cannot but slay the darkness and hasten to the couch of the violet twilight. [107] The Sphinx is the storm-demon who sits on the cloud-rock and imprisons the rain; she is the same as Medusa, Ahi, or Echidna, and Chimaira, and is akin to the throttling snakes of darkness which the jealous Here sent to destroy Herakles in his cradle. The idea was not derived from Egypt, but the Greeks, on finding Egyptian figures resembling their conception of the Sphinx, called them by the same name. The omniscient Sun comprehends the sense of her dark mutterings, and destroys her, as Indra slays Vritra, bringing down rain upon the parched earth. The Erinyes, who bring to light the crimes of Oidipous, have been explained, in a previous paper, as the personification of daylight, which reveals the evil deeds done under the cover of night. The grove of the Erinyes, like the garden of the Hyperboreans, represents "the fairy network of clouds, which are the first to receive and the last to lose the light of the sun in the morning and in the evening; hence, although Oidipous dies in a thunder-storm, yet the Eumenides are kind to him, and his last hour is one of deep peace and tranquillity." [108] To the last remains with him his daughter Antigone, "she who is born opposite," the pale light which springs up opposite to the setting sun.

These examples show that a story-root may be as prolific of heterogeneous offspring as a word-root. Just as we find the root spak, "to look," begetting words so various as sceptic, bishop, speculate, conspicsuous, species, and spice, we must expect to find a simple representation of the diurnal course of the sun, like those lyrically given in the Veda, branching off into stories as diversified as those of Oidipous, Herakles, Odysseus, and Siegfried. In fact, the types upon which stories are constructed are wonderfully few. Some clever playwright—I believe it was Scribe—has said that there are only seven possible dramatic situations; that is, all the plays in the world may be classed with some one of seven archetypal dramas. [109] If this be true, the astonishing complexity of mythology taken in the concrete, as compared with its extreme simplicity when analyzed, need not surprise us.

The extreme limits of divergence between stories descended from a common root are probably reached in the myths of light and darkness with which the present discussion is mainly concerned The subject will be best elucidated by taking a single one of these myths and following its various fortunes through different regions of the Aryan world. The myth of Hercules and Cacus has been treated by M. Breal in an essay which is one of the most valuable contributions ever made to the study of comparative mythology; and while following his footsteps our task will be an easy one.

The battle between Hercules and Cacus, although one of the oldest of the traditions common to the whole Indo-European race, appears in Italy as a purely local legend, and is narrated as such by Virgil, in the eighth book of the AEneid; by Livy, at the beginning of his history; and by Propertius and Ovid. Hercules, journeying through Italy after his victory over Geryon, stops to rest by the bank of the Tiber. While he is taking his repose, the three-headed monster Cacus, a son of Vulcan and a formidable brigand, comes and steals his cattle, and drags them tail-foremost to a secret cavern in the rocks. But the lowing of the cows arouses Hercules, and he runs toward the cavern where the robber, already frightened, has taken refuge. Armed with a huge flinty rock, he breaks open the entrance of the cavern, and confronts the demon within, who vomits forth flames at him and roars like the thunder in the storm-cloud. After a short combat, his hideous body falls at the feet of the invincible hero, who erects on the spot an altar to Jupiter Inventor, in commemoration of the recovery of his cattle. Ancient Rome teemed with reminiscences of this event, which Livy regarded as first in the long series of the exploits of his countrymen. The place where Hercules pastured his oxen was known long after as the Forum Boarium; near it the Porta Trigemina preserved the recollection of the monster's triple head; and in the time of Diodorus Siculus sight-seers were shown the cavern of Cacus on the slope of the Aventine. Every tenth day the earlier generations of Romans celebrated the victory with solemn sacrifices at the Ara Maxima; and on days of triumph the fortunate general deposited there a tithe of his booty, to be distributed among the citizens.

In this famous myth, however, the god Hercules did not originally figure. The Latin Hercules was an essentially peaceful and domestic deity, watching over households and enclosures, and nearly akin to Terminus and the Penates. He does not appear to have been a solar divinity at all. But the purely accidental resemblance of his name to that of the Greek deity Herakles, [110] and the manifest identity of the Cacus-myth with the story of the victory of Herakles over Geryon, led to the substitution of Hercules for the original hero of the legend, who was none other than Jupiter, called by his Sabine name Sancus. Now Johannes Lydus informs us that, in Sabine, Sancus signified "the sky," a meaning which we have already seen to belong to the name Jupiter. The same substitution of the Greek hero for the Roman divinity led to the alteration of the name of the demon overcome by his thunderbolts. The corrupted title Cacus was supposed to be identical with the Greek word kakos, meaning "evil" and the corruption was suggested by the epithet of Herakles, Alexikakos, or "the averter of ill." Originally, however, the name was Caecius, "he who blinds or darkens," and it corresponds literally to the name of the Greek demon Kaikias, whom an old proverb, preserved by Aulus Gellius, describes as a stealer of the clouds. [111]

Thus the significance of the myth becomes apparent. The three-headed Cacus is seen to be a near kinsman of Geryon's three-headed dog Orthros, and of the three-headed Kerberos, the hell-hound who guards the dark regions below the horizon. He is the original werewolf or Rakshasa, the fiend of the storm who steals the bright cattle of Helios, and hides them in the black cavernous rock, from which they are afterwards rescued by the schamir or lightning-stone of the solar hero. The physical character of the myth is apparent even in the description of Virgil, which reads wonderfully like a Vedic hymn in celebration of the exploits of Indra. But when we turn to the Veda itself, we find the correctness of the interpretation demonstrated again and again, with inexhaustible prodigality of evidence. Here we encounter again the three-headed Orthros under the identical title of Vritra, "he who shrouds or envelops," called also Cushna, "he who parches," Pani, "the robber," and Ahi, "the strangler." In many hymns of the Rig-Veda the story is told over and over, like a musical theme arranged with variations. Indra, the god of light, is a herdsman who tends a herd of bright golden or violet-coloured cattle. Vritra, a snake-like monster with three heads, steals them and hides them in a cavern, but Indra slays him as Jupiter slew Caecius, and the cows are recovered. The language of the myth is so significant, that the Hindu commentators of the Veda have themselves given explanations of it similar to those proposed by modern philologists. To them the legend never became devoid of sense, as the myth of Geryon appeared to Greek scholars like Apollodoros. [112]

These celestial cattle, with their resplendent coats of purple and gold, are the clouds lit up by the solar rays; but the demon who steals them is not always the fiend of the storm, acting in that capacity. They are stolen every night by Vritra the concealer, and Caecius the darkener, and Indra is obliged to spend hours in looking for them, sending Sarama, the inconstant twilight, to negotiate for their recovery. Between the storm-myth and the myth of night and morning the resemblance is sometimes so close as to confuse the interpretation of the two. Many legends which Max Muller explains as myths of the victory of day over night are explained by Dr. Kuhn as storm-myths; and the disagreement between two such powerful champions would be a standing reproach to what is rather prematurely called the SCIENCE of comparative mythology, were it not easy to show that the difference is merely apparent and non-essential. It is the old story of the shield with two sides; and a comparison of the ideas fundamental to these myths will show that there is no valid ground for disagreement in the interpretation of them. The myths of schamir and the divining-rod, analyzed in a previous paper, explain the rending of the thunder-cloud and the procuring of water without especial reference to any struggle between opposing divinities. But in the myth of Hercules and Cacus, the fundamental idea is the victory of the solar god over the robber who steals the light. Now whether the robber carries off the light in the evening when Indra has gone to sleep, or boldly rears his black form against the sky during the daytime, causing darkness to spread over the earth, would make little difference to the framers of the myth. To a chicken a solar eclipse is the same thing as nightfall, and he goes to roost accordingly. Why, then, should the primitive thinker have made a distinction between the darkening of the sky caused by black clouds and that caused by the rotation of the earth? He had no more conception of the scientific explanation of these phenomena than the chicken has of the scientific explanation of an eclipse. For him it was enough to know that the solar radiance was stolen, in the one case as in the other, and to suspect that the same demon was to blame for both robberies.

The Veda itself sustains this view. It is certain that the victory of Indra over Vritra is essentially the same as his victory over the Panis. Vritra, the storm-fiend, is himself called one of the Panis; yet the latter are uniformly represented as night-demons. They steal Indra's golden cattle and drive them by circuitous paths to a dark hiding-place near the eastern horizon. Indra sends the dawn-nymph, Sarama, to search for them, but as she comes within sight of the dark stable, the Panis try to coax her to stay with them: "Let us make thee our sister, do not go away again; we will give thee part of the cows, O darling." [113] According to the text of this hymn, she scorns their solicitations, but elsewhere the fickle dawn-nymph is said to coquet with the powers of darkness. She does not care for their cows, but will take a drink of milk, if they will be so good as to get it for her. Then she goes back and tells Indra that she cannot find the cows. He kicks her with his foot, and she runs back to the Panis, followed by the god, who smites them all with his unerring arrows and recovers the stolen light. From such a simple beginning as this has been deduced the Greek myth of the faithlessness of Helen. [114]

These night-demons, the Panis, though not apparently regarded with any strong feeling of moral condemnation, are nevertheless hated and dreaded as the authors of calamity. They not only steal the daylight, but they parch the earth and wither the fruits, and they slay vegetation during the winter months. As Caecius, the "darkener," became ultimately changed into Cacus, the "evil one," so the name of Vritra, the "concealer," the most famous of the Panis, was gradually generalized until it came to mean "enemy," like the English word fiend, and began to be applied indiscriminately to any kind of evil spirit. In one place he is called Adeva, the "enemy of the gods," an epithet exactly equivalent to the Persian dev.

In the Zendavesta the myth of Hercules and Cacus has given rise to a vast system of theology. The fiendish Panis are concentrated in Ahriman or Anro-mainyas, whose name signifies the "spirit of darkness," and who carries on a perpetual warfare against Ormuzd or Ahuramazda, who is described by his ordinary surname, Spentomainyas, as the "spirit of light." The ancient polytheism here gives place to a refined dualism, not very different from what in many Christian sects has passed current as monotheism. Ahriman is the archfiend, who struggles with Ormuzd, not for the possession of a herd of perishable cattle, but for the dominion of the universe. Ormuzd creates the world pure and beautiful, but Ahriman comes after him and creates everything that is evil in it. He not only keeps the earth covered with darkness during half of the day, and withholds the rain and destroys the crops, but he is the author of all evil thoughts and the instigator of all wicked actions. Like his progenitor Vritra and his offspring Satan, he is represented under the form of a serpent; and the destruction which ultimately awaits these demons is also in reserve for him. Eventually there is to be a day of reckoning, when Ahriman will be bound in chains and rendered powerless, or when, according to another account, he will be converted to righteousness, as Burns hoped and Origen believed would be the case with Satan.

This dualism of the ancient Persians has exerted a powerful influence upon the development of Christian theology. The very idea of an archfiend Satan, which Christianity received from Judaism, seems either to have been suggested by the Persian Ahriman, or at least to have derived its principal characteristics from that source. There is no evidence that the Jews, previous to the Babylonish captivity, possessed the conception of a Devil as the author of all evil. In the earlier books of the Old Testament Jehovah is represented as dispensing with his own hand the good and the evil, like the Zeus of the Iliad. [115] The story of the serpent in Eden—an Aryan story in every particular, which has crept into the Pentateuch—is not once alluded to in the Old Testament; and the notion of Satan as the author of evil appears only in the later books, composed after the Jews had come into close contact with Persian ideas. [116] In the Book of Job, as Reville observes, Satan is "still a member of the celestial court, being one of the sons of the Elohim, but having as his special office the continual accusation of men, and having become so suspicious by his practice as public accuser, that he believes in the virtue of no one, and always presupposes interested motives for the purest manifestations of human piety." In this way the character of this angel became injured, and he became more and more an object of dread and dislike to men, until the later Jews ascribed to him all the attributes of Ahriman, and in this singularly altered shape he passed into Christian theology. Between the Satan of the Book of Job and the mediaeval Devil the metamorphosis is as great as that which degraded the stern Erinys, who brings evil deeds to light, into the demon-like Fury who torments wrong-doers in Tartarus; and, making allowance for difference of circumstances, the process of degradation has been very nearly the same in the two cases.

The mediaeval conception of the Devil is a grotesque compound of elements derived from all the systems of pagan mythology which Christianity superseded. He is primarily a rebellious angel, expelled from heaven along with his followers, like the giants who attempted to scale Olympos, and like the impious Efreets of Arabian legend who revolted against the beneficent rule of Solomon. As the serpent prince of the outer darkness, he retains the old characteristics of Vritra, Ahi, Typhon, and Echidna. As the black dog which appears behind the stove in Dr. Faust's study, he is the classic hell-hound Kerberos, the Vedic Carvara. From the sylvan deity Pan he gets his goat-like body, his horns and cloven hoofs. Like the wind-god Orpheus, to whose music the trees bent their heads to listen, he is an unrivalled player on the bagpipes. Like those other wind-gods the psychopomp Hermes and the wild huntsman Odin, he is the prince of the powers of the air: his flight through the midnight sky, attended by his troop of witches mounted on their brooms, which sometimes break the boughs and sweep the leaves from the trees, is the same as the furious chase of the Erlking Odin or the Burckar Vittikab. He is Dionysos, who causes red wine to flow from the dry wood, alike on the deck of the Tyrrhenian pirate-ship and in Auerbach's cellar at Leipzig. He is Wayland, the smith, a skilful worker in metals and a wonderful architect, like the classic fire-god Hephaistos or Vulcan; and, like Hephaistos, he is lame from the effects of his fall from heaven. From the lightning-god Thor he obtains his red beard, his pitchfork, and his power over thunderbolts; and, like that ancient deity, he is in the habit of beating his wife behind the door when the rain falls during sunshine. Finally, he takes a hint from Poseidon and from the swan-maidens, and appears as a water-imp or Nixy (whence probably his name of Old Nick), and as the Davy (deva) whose "locker" is situated at the bottom of the sea. [117]

According to the Scotch divines of the seventeenth century, the Devil is a learned scholar and profound thinker. Having profited by six thousand years of intense study and meditation, he has all science, philosophy, and theology at his tongue's end; and, as his skill has increased with age, he is far more than a match for mortals in cunning. [118] Such, however, is not the view taken by mediaeval mythology, which usually represents his stupidity as equalling his malignity. The victory of Hercules over Cacus is repeated in a hundred mediaeval legends in which the Devil is overreached and made a laughing-stock. The germ of this notion may be found in the blinding of Polyphemos by Odysseus, which is itself a victory of the sun-hero over the night-demon, and which curiously reappears in a Middle-Age story narrated by Mr. Cox. "The Devil asks a man who is moulding buttons what he may be doing; and when the man answers that he is moulding eyes, asks him further whether he can give him a pair of new eyes. He is told to come again another day; and when he makes his appearance accordingly, the man tells him that the operation cannot be performed rightly unless he is first tightly bound with his back fastened to a bench. While he is thus pinioned he asks the man's name. The reply is Issi ('himself'). When the lead is melted, the Devil opens his eyes wide to receive the deadly stream. As soon as he is blinded, he starts up in agony, bearing away the bench to which he had been bound; and when some workpeople in the fields ask him who had thus treated him, his answer is, 'Issi teggi' ('Self did it'). With a laugh they bid him lie on the bed which he has made: 'selbst gethan, selbst habe.' The Devil died of his new eyes, and was never seen again."

In his attempts to obtain human souls the Devil is frequently foiled by the superior cunning of mortals. Once, he agreed to build a house for a peasant in exchange for the peasant's soul; but if the house were not finished before cockcrow, the contract was to be null and void. Just as the Devil was putting on the last tile the man imitated a cockcrow and waked up all the roosters in the neighbourhood, so that the fiend had his labour for his pains. A merchant of Louvain once sold himself to the Devil, who heaped upon him all manner of riches for seven years, and then came to get him. The merchant "took the Devil in a friendly manner by the hand and, as it was just evening, said, 'Wife, bring a light quickly for the gentleman.' 'That is not at all necessary,' said the Devil; 'I am merely come to fetch you.' 'Yes, yes, that I know very well,' said the merchant, 'only just grant me the time till this little candle-end is burnt out, as I have a few letters to sign and to put on my coat.' 'Very well,' said the Devil, 'but only till the candle is burnt out.' 'Good,' said the merchant, and going into the next room, ordered the maid-servant to place a large cask full of water close to a very deep pit that was dug in the garden. The men-servants also carried, each of them, a cask to the spot; and when all was done, they were ordered each to take a shovel, and stand round the pit. The merchant then returned to the Devil, who seeing that not more than about an inch of candle remained, said, laughing, 'Now get yourself ready, it will soon be burnt out.' 'That I see, and am content; but I shall hold you to your word, and stay till it IS burnt.' 'Of course,' answered the Devil; 'I stick to my word.' 'It is dark in the next room,' continued the merchant, 'but I must find the great book with clasps, so let me just take the light for one moment.' 'Certainly,' said the Devil, 'but I'll go with you.' He did so, and the merchant's trepidation was now on the increase. When in the next room he said on a sudden, 'Ah, now I know, the key is in the garden door.' And with these words he ran out with the light into the garden, and before the Devil could overtake him, threw it into the pit, and the men and the maids poured water upon it, and then filled up the hole with earth. Now came the Devil into the garden and asked, 'Well, did you get the key? and how is it with the candle? where is it?' 'The candle?' said the merchant. 'Yes, the candle.' 'Ha, ha, ha! it is not yet burnt out,' answered the merchant, laughing, 'and will not be burnt out for the next fifty years; it lies there a hundred fathoms deep in the earth.' When the Devil heard this he screamed awfully, and went off with a most intolerable stench." [119]

One day a fowler, who was a terrible bungler and could n't hit a bird at a dozen paces, sold his soul to the Devil in order to become a Freischutz. The fiend was to come for him in seven years, but must be always able to name the animal at which he was shooting, otherwise the compact was to be nullified. After that day the fowler never missed his aim, and never did a fowler command such wages. When the seven years were out the fowler told all these things to his wife, and the twain hit upon an expedient for cheating the Devil. The woman stripped herself, daubed her whole body with molasses, and rolled herself up in a feather-bed, cut open for this purpose. Then she hopped and skipped about the field where her husband stood parleying with Old Nick. "there's a shot for you, fire away," said the Devil. "Of course I'll fire, but do you first tell me what kind of a bird it is; else our agreement is cancelled, Old Boy." There was no help for it; the Devil had to own himself nonplussed, and off he fled, with a whiff of brimstone which nearly suffocated the Freischutz and his good woman. [120]

In the legend of Gambrinus, the fiend is still more ingloriously defeated. Gambrinus was a fiddler, who, being jilted by his sweetheart, went out into the woods to hang himself. As he was sitting on the bough, with the cord about his neck, preparatory to taking the fatal plunge, suddenly a tall man in a green coat appeared before him, and offered his services. He might become as wealthy as he liked, and make his sweetheart burst with vexation at her own folly, but in thirty years he must give up his soul to Beelzebub. The bargain was struck, for Gambrinus thought thirty years a long time to enjoy one's self in, and perhaps the Devil might get him in any event; as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. Aided by Satan, he invented chiming-bells and lager-beer, for both of which achievements his name is held in grateful remembrance by the Teuton. No sooner had the Holy Roman Emperor quaffed a gallon or two of the new beverage than he made Gambrinus Duke of Brabant and Count of Flanders, and then it was the fiddler's turn to laugh at the discomfiture of his old sweetheart. Gambrinus kept clear of women, says the legend, and so lived in peace. For thirty years he sat beneath his belfry with the chimes, meditatively drinking beer with his nobles and burghers around him. Then Beelzebub sent Jocko, one of his imps, with orders to bring back Gambrinus before midnight. But Jocko was, like Swiveller's Marchioness, ignorant of the taste of beer, never having drunk of it even in a sip, and the Flemish schoppen were too much for him. He fell into a drunken sleep, and did not wake up until noon next day, at which he was so mortified that he had not the face to go back to hell at all. So Gambrinus lived on tranquilly for a century or two, and drank so much beer that he turned into a beer-barrel. [121]

The character of gullibility attributed to the Devil in these legends is probably derived from the Trolls, or "night-folk," of Northern mythology. In most respects the Trolls resemble the Teutonic elves and fairies, and the Jinn or Efreets of the Arabian Nights; but their pedigree is less honourable. The fairies, or "White Ladies," were not originally spirits of darkness, but were nearly akin to the swan-maidens, dawn-nymphs, and dryads, and though their wrath was to be dreaded, they were not malignant by nature. Christianity, having no place for such beings, degraded them into something like imps; the most charitable theory being that they were angels who had remained neutral during Satan's rebellion, in punishment for which Michael expelled them from heaven, but has left their ultimate fate unannounced until the day of judgment. The Jinn appear to have been similarly degraded on the rise of Mohammedanism. But the Trolls were always imps of darkness. They are descended from the Jotuns, or Frost-Giants of Northern paganism, and they correspond to the Panis, or night-demons of the Veda. In many Norse tales they are said to burst when they see the risen sun. [122] They eat human flesh, are ignorant of the simplest arts, and live in the deepest recesses of the forest or in caverns on the hillside, where the sunlight never penetrates. Some of these characteristics may very likely have been suggested by reminiscences of the primeval Lapps, from whom the Aryan invaders wrested the dominion of Europe. [123] In some legends the Trolls are represented as an ancient race of beings now superseded by the human race. "'What sort of an earth-worm is this?' said one Giant to another, when they met a man as they walked. 'These are the earth-worms that will one day eat us up, brother,' answered the other; and soon both Giants left that part of Germany." "'See what pretty playthings, mother!' cries the Giant's daughter, as she unties her apron, and shows her a plough, and horses, and a peasant. 'Back with them this instant,' cries the mother in wrath, 'and put them down as carefully as you can, for these playthings can do our race great harm, and when these come we must budge.'" Very naturally the primitive Teuton, possessing already the conception of night-demons, would apply it to these men of the woods whom even to this day his uneducated descendants believe to be sorcerers, able to turn men into wolves. But whatever contributions historical fact may have added to his character, the Troll is originally a creation of mythology, like Polyphemos, whom he resembles in his uncouth person, his cannibal appetite, and his lack of wit. His ready gullibility is shown in the story of "Boots who ate a Match with the Troll." Boots, the brother of Cinderella, and the counterpart alike of Jack the Giant-killer, and of Odysseus, is the youngest of three brothers who go into a forest to cut wood. The Troll appears and threatens to kill any one who dares to meddle with his timber. The elder brothers flee, but Boots puts on a bold face. He pulled a cheese out of his scrip and squeezed it till the whey began to spurt out. "Hold your tongue, you dirty Troll," said he, "or I'll squeeze you as I squeeze this stone." So the Troll grew timid and begged to be spared, [124] and Boots let him off on condition that he would hew all day with him. They worked till nightfall, and the Troll's giant strength accomplished wonders. Then Boots went home with the Troll, having arranged that he should get the water while his host made the fire. When they reached the hut there were two enormous iron pails, so heavy that none but a Troll could lift them, but Boots was not to be frightened. "Bah!" said he. "Do you suppose I am going to get water in those paltry hand-basins? Hold on till I go and get the spring itself!" "O dear!" said the Troll, "I'd rather not; do you make the fire, and I'll get the water." Then when the soup was made, Boots challenged his new friend to an eating-match; and tying his scrip in front of him, proceeded to pour soup into it by the ladleful. By and by the giant threw down his spoon in despair, and owned himself conquered. "No, no! don't give it up yet," said Boots, "just cut a hole in your stomach like this, and you can eat forever." And suiting the action to the words, he ripped open his scrip. So the silly Troll cut himself open and died, and Boots carried off all his gold and silver.

Once there was a Troll whose name was Wind-and-Weather, and Saint Olaf hired him to build a church. If the church were completed within a certain specified time, the Troll was to get possession of Saint Olaf. The saint then planned such a stupendous edifice that he thought the giant would be forever building it; but the work went on briskly, and at the appointed day nothing remained but to finish the point of the spire. In his consternation Olaf rushed about until he passed by the Troll's den, when he heard the giantess telling her children that their father, Wind-and-Weather, was finishing his church, and would be home to-morrow with Saint Olaf. So the saint ran back to the church and bawled out, "Hold on, Wind-and-Weather, your spire is crooked!" Then the giant tumbled down from the roof and broke into a thousand pieces. As in the cases of the Mara and the werewolf, the enchantment was at an end as soon as the enchanter was called by name.

These Trolls, like the Arabian Efreets, had an ugly habit of carrying off beautiful princesses. This is strictly in keeping with their character as night-demons, or Panis. In the stories of Punchkin and the Heartless Giant, the night-demon carries off the dawn-maiden after having turned into stone her solar brethren. But Boots, or Indra, in search of his kinsfolk, by and by arrives at the Troll's castle, and then the dawn-nymph, true to her fickle character, cajoles the Giant and enables Boots to destroy him. In the famous myth which serves as the basis for the Volsunga Saga and the Nibelungenlied, the dragon Fafnir steals the Valkyrie Brynhild and keeps her shut up in a castle on the Glistening Heath, until some champion shall be found powerful enough to rescue her. The castle is as hard to enter as that of the Sleeping Beauty; but Sigurd, the Northern Achilleus, riding on his deathless horse, and wielding his resistless sword Gram, forces his way in, slays Fafnir, and recovers the Valkyrie.

In the preceding paper the Valkyries were shown to belong to the class of cloud-maidens; and between the tale of Sigurd and that of Hercules and Cacus there is no difference, save that the bright sunlit clouds which are represented in the one as cows are in the other represented as maidens. In the myth of the Argonauts they reappear as the Golden Fleece, carried to the far east by Phrixos and Helle, who are themselves Niblungs, or "Children of the Mist" (Nephele), and there guarded by a dragon. In all these myths a treasure is stolen by a fiend of darkness, and recovered by a hero of light, who slays the demon. And—remembering what Scribe said about the fewness of dramatic types—I believe we are warranted in asserting that all the stories of lovely women held in bondage by monsters, and rescued by heroes who perform wonderful tasks, such as Don Quixote burned to achieve, are derived ultimately from solar myths, like the myth of Sigurd and Brynhild. I do not mean to say that the story-tellers who beguiled their time in stringing together the incidents which make up these legends were conscious of their solar character. They did not go to work, with malice prepense, to weave allegories and apologues. The Greeks who first told the story of Perseus and Andromeda, the Arabians who devised the tale of Codadad and his brethren, the Flemings who listened over their beer-mugs to the adventures of Culotte-Verte, were not thinking of sun-gods or dawn-maidens, or night-demons; and no theory of mythology can be sound which implies such an extravagance. Most of these stories have lived on the lips of the common people; and illiterate persons are not in the habit of allegorizing in the style of mediaeval monks or rabbinical commentators. But what has been amply demonstrated is, that the sun and the clouds, the light and the darkness, were once supposed to be actuated by wills analogous to the human will; that they were personified and worshipped or propitiated by sacrifice; and that their doings were described in language which applied so well to the deeds of human or quasi-human beings that in course of time its primitive purport faded from recollection. No competent scholar now doubts that the myths of the Veda and the Edda originated in this way, for philology itself shows that the names employed in them are the names of the great phenomena of nature. And when once a few striking stories had thus arisen,—when once it had been told how Indra smote the Panis, and how Sigurd rescued Brynhild, and how Odysseus blinded the Kyklops,—then certain mythic or dramatic types had been called into existence; and to these types, preserved in the popular imagination, future stories would inevitably conform. We need, therefore, have no hesitation in admitting a common origin for the vanquished Panis and the outwitted Troll or Devil; we may securely compare the legends of St. George and Jack the Giant-killer with the myth of Indra slaying Vritra; we may see in the invincible Sigurd the prototype of many a doughty knight-errant of romance; and we may learn anew the lesson, taught with fresh emphasis by modern scholarship, that in the deepest sense there is nothing new under the sun.

I am the more explicit on this point, because it seems to me that the unguarded language of many students of mythology is liable to give rise to misapprehensions, and to discredit both the method which they employ and the results which they have obtained. If we were to give full weight to the statements which are sometimes made, we should perforce believe that primitive men had nothing to do but to ponder about the sun and the clouds, and to worry themselves over the disappearance of daylight. But there is nothing in the scientific interpretation of myths which obliges us to go any such length. I do not suppose that any ancient Aryan, possessed of good digestive powers and endowed with sound common-sense, ever lay awake half the night wondering whether the sun would come back again. [125] The child and the savage believe of necessity that the future will resemble the past, and it is only philosophy which raises doubts on the subject. [126] The predominance of solar legends in most systems of mythology is not due to the lack of "that Titanic assurance with which we say, the sun MUST rise"; [127] nor again to the fact that the phenomena of day and night are the most striking phenomena in nature. Eclipses and earthquakes and floods are phenomena of the most terrible and astounding kind, and they have all generated myths; yet their contributions to folk-lore are scanty compared with those furnished by the strife between the day-god and his enemies. The sun-myths have been so prolific because the dramatic types to which they have given rise are of surpassing human interest. The dragon who swallows the sun is no doubt a fearful personage; but the hero who toils for others, who slays hydra-headed monsters, and dries the tears of fair-haired damsels, and achieves success in spite of incredible obstacles, is a being with whom we can all sympathize, and of whom we never weary of hearing.

With many of these legends which present the myth of light and darkness in its most attractive form, the reader is already acquainted, and it is needless to retail stories which have been told over and over again in books which every one is presumed to have read. I will content myself with a weird Irish legend, narrated by Mr. Patrick Kennedy, [128] in which we here and there catch glimpses of the primitive mythical symbols, as fragments of gold are seen gleaming through the crystal of quartz.

Long before the Danes ever came to Ireland, there died at Muskerry a Sculloge, or country farmer, who by dint of hard work and close economy had amassed enormous wealth. His only son did not resemble him. When the young Sculloge looked about the house, the day after his father's death, and saw the big chests full of gold and silver, and the cupboards shining with piles of sovereigns, and the old stockings stuffed with large and small coin, he said to himself, "Bedad, how shall I ever be able to spend the likes o' that!" And so he drank, and gambled, and wasted his time in hunting and horse-racing, until after a while he found the chests empty and the cupboards poverty-stricken, and the stockings lean and penniless. Then he mortgaged his farm-house and gambled away all the money he got for it, and then he bethought him that a few hundred pounds might be raised on his mill. But when he went to look at it, he found "the dam broken, and scarcely a thimbleful of water in the mill-race, and the wheel rotten, and the thatch of the house all gone, and the upper millstone lying flat on the lower one, and a coat of dust and mould over everything." So he made up his mind to borrow a horse and take one more hunt to-morrow and then reform his habits.

As he was returning late in the evening from this farewell hunt, passing through a lonely glen he came upon an old man playing backgammon, betting on his left hand against his right, and crying and cursing because the right WOULD win. "Come and bet with me," said he to Sculloge. "Faith, I have but a sixpence in the world," was the reply; "but, if you like, I'll wager that on the right." "Done," said the old man, who was a Druid; "if you win I'll give you a hundred guineas." So the game was played, and the old man, whose right hand was always the winner, paid over the guineas and told Sculloge to go to the Devil with them.

Instead of following this bit of advice, however, the young farmer went home and began to pay his debts, and next week he went to the glen and won another game, and made the Druid rebuild his mill. So Sculloge became prosperous again, and by and by he tried his luck a third time, and won a game played for a beautiful wife. The Druid sent her to his house the next morning before he was out of bed, and his servants came knocking at the door and crying, "Wake up! wake up! Master Sculloge, there's a young lady here to see you." "Bedad, it's the vanithee [129] herself," said Sculloge; and getting up in a hurry, he spent three quarters of an hour in dressing himself. At last he went down stairs, and there on the sofa was the prettiest lady ever seen in Ireland! Naturally, Sculloge's heart beat fast and his voice trembled, as he begged the lady's pardon for this Druidic style of wooing, and besought her not to feel obliged to stay with him unless she really liked him. But the young lady, who was a king's daughter from a far country, was wondrously charmed with the handsome farmer, and so well did they get along that the priest was sent for without further delay, and they were married before sundown. Sabina was the vanithee's name; and she warned her husband to have no more dealings with Lassa Buaicht, the old man of the glen. So for a while all went happily, and the Druidic bride was as good as she was beautiful But by and by Sculloge began to think he was not earning money fast enough. He could not bear to see his wife's white hands soiled with work, and thought it would be a fine thing if he could only afford to keep a few more servants, and drive about with Sabina in an elegant carriage, and see her clothed in silk and adorned with jewels.

"I will play one more game and set the stakes high," said Sculloge to himself one evening, as he sat pondering over these things; and so, without consulting Sabina, he stole away to the glen, and played a game for ten thousand guineas. But the evil Druid was now ready to pounce on his prey, and he did not play as of old. Sculloge broke into a cold sweat with agony and terror as he saw the left hand win! Then the face of Lassa Buaicht grew dark and stern, and he laid on Sculloge the curse which is laid upon the solar hero in misfortune, that he should never sleep twice under the same roof, or ascend the couch of the dawn-nymph, his wife, until he should have procured and brought to him the sword of light. When Sculloge reached home, more dead than alive, he saw that his wife knew all. Bitterly they wept together, but she told him that with courage all might be set right. She gave him a Druidic horse, which bore him swiftly over land and sea, like the enchanted steed of the Arabian Nights, until he reached the castle of his wife's father who, as Sculloge now learned, was a good Druid, the brother of the evil Lassa Buaicht. This good Druid told him that the sword of light was kept by a third brother, the powerful magician, Fiach O'Duda, who dwelt in an enchanted castle, which many brave heroes had tried to enter, but the dark sorcerer had slain them all. Three high walls surrounded the castle, and many had scaled the first of these, but none had ever returned alive. But Sculloge was not to be daunted, and, taking from his father-in-law a black steed, he set out for the fortress of Fiach O'Duda. Over the first high wall nimbly leaped the magic horse, and Sculloge called aloud on the Druid to come out and surrender his sword. Then came out a tall, dark man, with coal-black eyes and hair and melancholy visage, and made a furious sweep at Sculloge with the flaming blade. But the Druidic beast sprang back over the wall in the twinkling of an eye and rescued his rider, leaving, however, his tail behind in the court-yard. Then Sculloge returned in triumph to his father-in-law's palace, and the night was spent in feasting and revelry.

Next day Sculloge rode out on a white horse, and when he got to Fiach's castle, he saw the first wall lying in rubbish. He leaped the second, and the same scene occurred as the day before, save that the horse escaped unharmed.

The third day Sculloge went out on foot, with a harp like that of Orpheus in his hand, and as he swept its strings the grass bent to listen and the trees bowed their heads. The castle walls all lay in ruins, and Sculloge made his way unhindered to the upper room, where Fiach lay in Druidic slumber, lulled by the harp. He seized the sword of light, which was hung by the chimney sheathed in a dark scabbard, and making the best of his way back to the good king's palace, mounted his wife's steed, and scoured over land and sea until he found himself in the gloomy glen where Lassa Buaicht was still crying and cursing and betting on his left hand against his right.

"Here, treacherous fiend, take your sword of light!" shouted Sculloge in tones of thunder; and as he drew it from its sheath the whole valley was lighted up as with the morning sun, and next moment the head of the wretched Druid was lying at his feet, and his sweet wife, who had come to meet him, was laughing and crying in his arms. November, 1870.


THE theory of mythology set forth in the four preceding papers, and illustrated by the examination of numerous myths relating to the lightning, the storm-wind, the clouds, and the sunlight, was originally framed with reference solely to the mythic and legendary lore of the Aryan world. The phonetic identity of the names of many Western gods and heroes with the names of those Vedic divinities which are obviously the personifications of natural phenomena, suggested the theory which philosophical considerations had already foreshadowed in the works of Hume and Comte, and which the exhaustive analysis of Greek, Hindu, Keltic, and Teutonic legends has amply confirmed. Let us now, before proceeding to the consideration of barbaric folk-lore, briefly recapitulate the results obtained by modern scholarship working strictly within the limits of the Aryan domain.

In the first place, it has been proved once for all that the languages spoken by the Hindus, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Kelts, Slaves, and Teutons are all descended from a single ancestral language, the Old Aryan, in the same sense that French, Italian, and Spanish are descended from the Latin. And from this undisputed fact it is an inevitable inference that these various races contain, along with other elements, a race-element in common, due to their Aryan pedigree. That the Indo-European races are wholly Aryan is very improbable, for in every case the countries overrun by them were occupied by inferior races, whose blood must have mingled in varying degrees with that of their conquerors; but that every Indo-European people is in great part descended from a common Aryan stock is not open to question.

In the second place, along with a common fund of moral and religious ideas and of legal and ceremonial observances, we find these kindred peoples possessed of a common fund of myths, superstitions, proverbs, popular poetry, and household legends. The Hindu mother amuses her child with fairy-tales which often correspond, even in minor incidents, with stories in Scottish or Scandinavian nurseries; and she tells them in words which are phonetically akin to words in Swedish and Gaelic. No doubt many of these stories might have been devised in a dozen different places independently of each other; and no doubt many of them have been transmitted laterally from one people to another; but a careful examination shows that such cannot have been the case with the great majority of legends and beliefs. The agreement between two such stories, for instance, as those of Faithful John and Rama and Luxman is so close as to make it incredible that they should have been independently fabricated, while the points of difference are so important as to make it extremely improbable that the one was ever copied from the other. Besides which, the essential identity of such myths as those of Sigurd and Theseus, or of Helena and Sarama, carries us back historically to a time when the scattered Indo-European tribes had not yet begun to hold commercial and intellectual intercourse with each other, and consequently could not have interchanged their epic materials or their household stories. We are therefore driven to the conclusion—which, startling as it may seem, is after all the most natural and plausible one that can be stated—that the Aryan nations, which have inherited from a common ancestral stock their languages and their customs, have inherited also from the same common original their fireside legends. They have preserved Cinderella and Punchkin just as they have preserved the words for father and mother, ten and twenty; and the former case, though more imposing to the imagination, is scientifically no less intelligible than the latter.

Thirdly, it has been shown that these venerable tales may be grouped in a few pretty well defined classes; and that the archetypal myth of each class—the primitive story in conformity to which countless subsequent tales have been generated—was originally a mere description of physical phenomena, couched in the poetic diction of an age when everything was personified, because all natural phenomena were supposed to be due to the direct workings of a volition like that of which men were conscious within themselves. Thus we are led to the striking conclusion that mythology has had a common root, both with science and with religious philosophy. The myth of Indra conquering Vritra was one of the theorems of primitive Aryan science; it was a provisional explanation of the thunder-storm, satisfactory enough until extended observation and reflection supplied a better one. It also contained the germs of a theology; for the life-giving solar light furnished an important part of the primeval conception of deity. And finally, it became the fruitful parent of countless myths, whether embodied in the stately epics of Homer and the bards of the Nibelungenlied, or in the humbler legends of St. George and William Tell and the ubiquitous Boots.

Such is the theory which was suggested half a century ago by the researches of Jacob Grimm, and which, so far as concerns the mythology of the Aryan race, is now victorious along the whole line. It remains for us to test the universality of the general principles upon which it is founded, by a brief analysis of sundry legends and superstitions of the barbaric world. Since the fetichistic habit of explaining the outward phenomena of nature after the analogy of the inward phenomena of conscious intelligence is not a habit peculiar to our Aryan ancestors, but is, as psychology shows, the inevitable result of the conditions under which uncivilized thinking proceeds, we may expect to find the barbaric mind personifying the powers of nature and making myths about their operations the whole world over. And we need not be surprised if we find in the resulting mythologic structures a strong resemblance to the familiar creations of the Aryan intelligence. In point of fact, we shall often be called upon to note such resemblance; and it accordingly behooves us at the outset to inquire how far a similarity between mythical tales shall be taken as evidence of a common traditional origin, and how far it may be interpreted as due merely to the similar workings of the untrained intelligence in all ages and countries.

Analogies drawn from the comparison of languages will here be of service to us, if used discreetly; otherwise they are likely to bewilder far more than to enlighten us. A theorem which Max Muller has laid down for our guidance in this kind of investigation furnishes us with an excellent example of the tricks which a superficial analogy may play even with the trained scholar, when temporarily off his guard. Actuated by a praiseworthy desire to raise the study of myths to something like the high level of scientific accuracy already attained by the study of words, Max Muller endeavours to introduce one of the most useful canons of philology into a department of inquiry where its introduction could only work the most hopeless confusion. One of the earliest lessons to be learned by the scientific student of linguistics is the uselessness of comparing together directly the words contained in derivative languages. For example, you might set the English twelve side by side with the Latin duodecim, and then stare at the two words to all eternity without any hope of reaching a conclusion, good or bad, about either of them: least of all would you suspect that they are descended from the same radical. But if you take each word by itself and trace it back to its primitive shape, explaining every change of every letter as you go, you will at last reach the old Aryan dvadakan, which is the parent of both these strangely metamorphosed words. [130] Nor will it do, on the other hand, to trust to verbal similarity without a historical inquiry into the origin of such similarity. Even in the same language two words of quite different origin may get their corners rubbed off till they look as like one another as two pebbles. The French words souris, a "mouse," and souris, a "smile," are spelled exactly alike; but the one comes from Latin sorex and the other from Latin subridere.

Now Max Muller tells us that this principle, which is indispensable in the study of words, is equally indispensable in the study of myths. [131] That is, you must not rashly pronounce the Norse story of the Heartless Giant identical with the Hindu story of Punchkin, although the two correspond in every essential incident. In both legends a magician turns several members of the same family into stone; the youngest member of the family comes to the rescue, and on the way saves the lives of sundry grateful beasts; arrived at the magician's castle, he finds a captive princess ready to accept his love and to play the part of Delilah to the enchanter. In both stories the enchanter's life depends on the integrity of something which is elaborately hidden in a far-distant island, but which the fortunate youth, instructed by the artful princess and assisted by his menagerie of grateful beasts, succeeds in obtaining. In both stories the youth uses his advantage to free all his friends from their enchantment, and then proceeds to destroy the villain who wrought all this wickedness. Yet, in spite of this agreement, Max Muller, if I understand him aright, would not have us infer the identity of the two stories until we have taken each one separately and ascertained its primitive mythical significance. Otherwise, for aught we can tell, the resemblance may be purely accidental, like that of the French words for "mouse" and "smile."

A little reflection, however, will relieve us from this perplexity, and assure us that the alleged analogy between the comparison of words and the comparison of stories is utterly superficial. The transformations of words—which are often astounding enough—depend upon a few well-established physiological principles of utterance; and since philology has learned to rely upon these principles, it has become nearly as sure in its methods and results as one of the so-called "exact sciences." Folly enough is doubtless committed within its precincts by writers who venture there without the laborious preparation which this science, more than almost any other, demands. But the proceedings of the trained philologist are no more arbitrary than those of the trained astronomer. And though the former may seem to be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel when he coolly tells you that violin and fiddle are the same word, while English care and Latin cura have nothing to do with each other, he is nevertheless no more indulging in guess-work than the astronomer who confesses his ignorance as to the habitability of Venus while asserting his knowledge of the existence of hydrogen in the atmosphere of Sirius. To cite one example out of a hundred, every philologist knows that s may become r, and that the broad a-sound may dwindle into the closer o-sound; but when you adduce some plausible etymology based on the assumption that r has changed into s, or o into a, apart from the demonstrable influence of some adjacent letter, the philologist will shake his head.

Now in the study of stories there are no such simple rules all cut and dried for us to go by. There is no uniform psychological principle which determines that the three-headed snake in one story shall become a three-headed man in the next. There is no Grimm's Law in mythology which decides that a Hindu magician shall always correspond to a Norwegian Troll or a Keltic Druid. The laws of association of ideas are not so simple in application as the laws of utterance. In short, the study of myths, though it can be made sufficiently scientific in its methods and results, does not constitute a science by itself, like philology. It stands on a footing similar to that occupied by physical geography, or what the Germans call "earth-knowledge." No one denies that all the changes going on over the earth's surface conform to physical laws; but then no one pretends that there is any single proximate principle which governs all the phenomena of rain-fall, of soil-crumbling, of magnetic variation, and of the distribution of plants and animals. All these things are explained by principles obtained from the various sciences of physics, chemistry, geology, and physiology. And in just the same way the development and distribution of stories is explained by the help of divers resources contributed by philology, psychology, and history. There is therefore no real analogy between the cases cited by Max Muller. Two unrelated words may be ground into exactly the same shape, just as a pebble from the North Sea may be undistinguishable from another pebble on the beach of the Adriatic; but two stories like those of Punchkin and the Heartless Giant are no more likely to arise independently of each other than two coral reefs on opposite sides of the globe are likely to develop into exactly similar islands.

Shall we then say boldly, that close similarity between legends is proof of kinship, and go our way without further misgivings? Unfortunately we cannot dispose of the matter in quite so summary a fashion; for it remains to decide what kind and degree of similarity shall be considered satisfactory evidence of kinship. And it is just here that doctors may disagree. Here is the point at which our "science" betrays its weakness as compared with the sister study of philology. Before we can decide with confidence in any case, a great mass of evidence must be brought into court. So long as we remained on Aryan ground, all went smoothly enough, because all the external evidence was in our favour. We knew at the outset, that the Aryans inherit a common language and a common civilization, and therefore we found no difficulty in accepting the conclusion that they have inherited, among other things, a common stock of legends. In the barbaric world it is quite otherwise. Philology does not pronounce in favour of a common origin for all barbaric culture, such as it is. The notion of a single primitive language, standing in the same relation to all existing dialects as the relation of old Aryan to Latin and English, or that of old Semitic to Hebrew and Arabic, was a notion suited only to the infancy of linguistic science. As the case now stands, it is certain that all the languages actually existing cannot be referred to a common ancestor, and it is altogether probable that there never was any such common ancestor. I am not now referring to the question of the unity of the human race. That question lies entirely outside the sphere of philology. The science of language has nothing to do with skulls or complexions, and no comparison of words can tell us whether the black men are brethren of the white men, or whether yellow and red men have a common pedigree: these questions belong to comparative physiology. But the science of language can and does tell us that a certain amount of civilization is requisite for the production of a language sufficiently durable and wide-spread to give birth to numerous mutually resembling offspring Barbaric languages are neither widespread nor durable. Among savages each little group of families has its own dialect, and coins its own expressions at pleasure; and in the course of two or three generations a dialect gets so strangely altered as virtually to lose its identity. Even numerals and personal pronouns, which the Aryan has preserved for fifty centuries, get lost every few years in Polynesia. Since the time of Captain Cook the Tahitian language has thrown away five out of its ten simple numerals, and replaced them by brand-new ones; and on the Amazon you may acquire a fluent command of some Indian dialect, and then, coming back after twenty years, find yourself worse off than Rip Van Winkle, and your learning all antiquated and useless. How absurd, therefore, to suppose that primeval savages originated a language which has held its own like the old Aryan and become the prolific mother of the three or four thousand dialects now in existence! Before a durable language can arise, there must be an aggregation of numerous tribes into a people, so that there may be need of communication on a large scale, and so that tradition may be strengthened. Wherever mankind have associated in nations, permanent languages have arisen, and their derivative dialects bear the conspicuous marks of kinship; but where mankind have remained in their primitive savage isolation, their languages have remained sporadic and transitory, incapable of organic development, and showing no traces of a kinship which never existed.

The bearing of these considerations upon the origin and diffusion of barbaric myths is obvious. The development of a common stock of legends is, of course, impossible, save where there is a common language; and thus philology pronounces against the kinship of barbaric myths with each other and with similar myths of the Aryan and Semitic worlds. Similar stories told in Greece and Norway are likely to have a common pedigree, because the persons who have preserved them in recollection speak a common language and have inherited the same civilization. But similar stories told in Labrador and South Africa are not likely to be genealogically related, because it is altogether probable that the Esquimaux and the Zulu had acquired their present race characteristics before either of them possessed a language or a culture sufficient for the production of myths. According to the nature and extent of the similarity, it must be decided whether such stories have been carried about from one part of the world to another, or have been independently originated in many different places.

Here the methods of philology suggest a rule which will often be found useful. In comparing, the vocabularies of different languages, those words which directly imitate natural sounds—such as whiz, crash, crackle—are not admitted as evidence of kinship between the languages in which they occur. Resemblances between such words are obviously no proof of a common ancestry; and they are often met with in languages which have demonstrably had no connection with each other. So in mythology, where we find two stories of which the primitive character is perfectly transparent, we need have no difficulty in supposing them to have originated independently. The myth of Jack and his Beanstalk is found all over the world; but the idea of a country above the sky, to which persons might gain access by climbing, is one which could hardly fail to occur to every barbarian. Among the American tribes, as well as among the Aryans, the rainbow and the Milky-Way have contributed the idea of a Bridge of the Dead, over which souls must pass on the way to the other world. In South Africa, as well as in Germany, the habits of the fox and of his brother the jackal have given rise to fables in which brute force is overcome by cunning. In many parts of the world we find curiously similar stories devised to account for the stumpy tails of the bear and hyaena, the hairless tail of the rat, and the blindness of the mole. And in all countries may be found the beliefs that men may be changed into beasts, or plants, or stones; that the sun is in some way tethered or constrained to follow a certain course; that the storm-cloud is a ravenous dragon; and that there are talismans which will reveal hidden treasures. All these conceptions are so obvious to the uncivilized intelligence, that stories founded upon them need not be supposed to have a common origin, unless there turns out to be a striking similarity among their minor details. On the other hand, the numerous myths of an all-destroying deluge have doubtless arisen partly from reminiscences of actually occurring local inundations, and partly from the fact that the Scriptural account of a deluge has been carried all over the world by Catholic and Protestant missionaries. [132]

By way of illustrating these principles, let us now cite a few of the American myths so carefully collected by Dr. Brinton in his admirable treatise. We shall not find in the mythology of the New World the wealth of wit and imagination which has so long delighted us in the stories of Herakles, Perseus, Hermes, Sigurd, and Indra. The mythic lore of the American Indians is comparatively scanty and prosaic, as befits the product of a lower grade of culture and a more meagre intellect. Not only are the personages less characteristically pourtrayed, but there is a continual tendency to extravagance, the sure index of an inferior imagination. Nevertheless, after making due allowances for differences in the artistic method of treatment, there is between the mythologies of the Old and the New Worlds a fundamental resemblance. We come upon solar myths and myths of the storm curiously blended with culture-myths, as in the cases of Hermes, Prometheus, and Kadmos. The American parallels to these are to be found in the stories of Michabo, Viracocha, Ioskeha, and Quetzalcoatl. "As elsewhere the world over, so in America, many tribes had to tell of.... an august character, who taught them what they knew,—the tillage of the soil, the properties of plants, the art of picture-writing, the secrets of magic; who founded their institutions and established their religions; who governed them long with glory abroad and peace at home; and finally did not die, but, like Frederic Barbarossa, Charlemagne, King Arthur, and all great heroes, vanished mysteriously, and still lives somewhere, ready at the right moment to return to his beloved people and lead them to victory and happiness." [133] Everyone is familiar with the numerous legends of white-skinned, full-bearded heroes, like the mild Quetzalcoatl, who in times long previous to Columbus came from the far East to impart the rudiments of civilization and religion to the red men. By those who first heard these stories they were supposed, with naive Euhemerism, to refer to pre-Columbian visits of Europeans to this continent, like that of the Northmen in the tenth century. But a scientific study of the subject has dissipated such notions. These legends are far too numerous, they are too similar to each other, they are too manifestly symbolical, to admit of any such interpretation. By comparing them carefully with each other, and with correlative myths of the Old World, their true character soon becomes apparent.

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