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Myths and Myth-Makers - Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by Comparative Mythology
by John Fiske
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[Footnote 154: I have no opinion as to the nationality of the Earth-shaker, and, regarding the etymology of his name, I believe we can hardly do better than acknowledge, with Mr. Cox, that it is unknown. It may well be doubted, however, whether much good is likely to come of comparisons between Poseidon, Dagon, Oannes, and Noah, or of distinctions between the children of Shem and the children of Ham. See Brown's Poseidon; a Link between Semite, Hamite, and Aryan, London, 1872,—a book which is open to several of the criticisms here directed against Mr. Gladstone's manner of theorizing.]

[Footnote 155: "The expression that the Erinys, Saranyu, the Dawn, finds out the criminal, was originally quite free from mythology; IT MEANT NO MORE THAN THAT CRIME WOULD BE BROUGHT TO LIGHT SOME DAY OR OTHER. It became mythological, however, as soon as the etymological meaning of Erinys was forgotten, and as soon as the Dawn, a portion of time, assumed the rank of a personal being."—Science of Language, 6th edition, II. 615. This paragraph, in which the italicizing is mine, contains Max Muller's theory in a nutshell. It seems to me wholly at variance with the facts of history. The facts concerning primitive culture which are to be cited in this paper will show that the case is just the other way. Instead of the expression "Erinys finds the criminal" being originally a metaphor, it was originally a literal statement of what was believed to be fact. The Dawn (not "a portion of time,"(!) but the rosy flush of the morning sky) was originally regarded as a real person. Primitive men, strictly speaking, do not talk in metaphors; they believe in the literal truth of their similes and personifications, from which, by survival in culture, our poetic metaphors are lineally descended. Homer's allusion to a rolling stone as essumenos or "yearning" (to keep on rolling), is to us a mere figurative expression; but to the savage it is the description of a fact.]

[Footnote 156: Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom By Edward B. Tylor. 2 vols. 8vo. London. 1871.]

[Footnote 157: Tylor, op. cit. I. 107.]

[Footnote 158: Rousseau, Confessions, I. vi. For further illustration, see especially the note on the "doctrine of signatures," supra, p. 55.]

[Footnote 159: Spencer, Recent Discussions in Science, etc., p. 36, "The Origin of Animal Worship."]

[Footnote 160: See Nature, Vol. VI. p. 262, August 1, 1872. The circumstances narrated are such as to exclude the supposition that the sitting up is intended to attract the master's attention. The dog has frequently been seen trying to soften the heart of the ball, while observed unawares by his master.]

[Footnote 161: "We would, however, commend to Mr. Fiske's attention Mr. Mark Twain's dog, who 'couldn't be depended on for a special providence,' as being nearer to the actual dog of every-day life than is the Skye terrier mentioned by a certain correspondent of Nature, to whose letter Mr. Fiske refers. The terrier is held to have had 'a few fetichistic notions,' because he was found standing up on his hind legs in front of a mantel-piece, upon which lay an india-rubber ball with which he wished to play, but which he could not reach, and which, says the letter-writer, he was evidently beseeching to come down and play with him. We consider it more reasonable to suppose that a dog who had been drilled into a belief that standing upon his hind legs was very pleasing to his master, and who, therefore, had accustomed himself to stand on his hind legs whenever he desired anything, and whose usual way of getting what he desired was to induce somebody to get it for him, may have stood up in front of the mantel-piece rather from force of habit and eagerness of desire than because he had any fetichistic notions, or expected the india-rubber ball to listen to his supplications. We admit, however, to avoid polemical controversy, that in matter of religion the dog is capable of anything." The Nation, Vol. XV. p. 284, October 1, 1872. To be sure, I do not know for certain what was going on in the dog's mind; and so, letting both explanations stand, I will only add another fact of similar import. "The tendency in savages to imagine that natural objects and agencies are animated by spiritual or living essences is perhaps illustrated by a little fact which I once noticed: my dog, a full-grown and very sensible animal, was lying on the lawn during a hot and still day; but at a little distance a slight breeze occasionally moved an open parasol, which would have been wholly disregarded by the dog, had any one stood near it. As it was, every time that the parasol slightly moved, the dog growled fiercely and barked. He must, I think, have reasoned to himself, in a rapid and unconscious manner, that movement without any apparent cause indicated the presence of some strange living agent, and no stranger had a right to be on his territory." Darwin, Descent of Man, Vol. 1. p. 64. Without insisting upon all the details of this explanation, one may readily grant, I think, that in the dog, as in the savage, there is an undisturbed association between motion and a living motor agency; and that out of a multitude of just such associations common to both, the savage, with his greater generalizing power, frames a truly fetichistic conception.]

[Footnote 162: Note the fetichism wrapped up in the etymologies of these Greek words. Catalepsy, katalhyis, a seizing of the body by some spirit or demon, who holds it rigid. Ecstasy, ekstasis, a displacement or removal of the soul from the body, into which the demon enters and causes strange laughing, crying, or contortions. It is not metaphor, but the literal belief ill a ghost-world, which has given rise to such words as these, and to such expressions as "a man beside himself or transported."]

[Footnote 163: Something akin to the savage's belief in the animation of pictures may be seen in young children. I have often been asked by my three-year-old boy, whether the dog in a certain picture would bite him if he were to go near it; and I can remember that, in my own childhood, when reading a book about insects, which had the formidable likeness of a spider stamped on the centre of the cover, I was always uneasy lest my finger should come in contact with the dreaded thing as I held the book.]

[Footnote 164: Tylor, Primitive Culture, I. 394. "The Zulus hold that a dead body can cast no shadow, because that appurtenance departed from it at the close of life." Hardwick, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore, p. 123.]

[Footnote 165: Tylor, op. cit. I. 391.]

[Footnote 166: Harland and Wilkinson, Lancashire Folk-Lore, 1867, p. 210.]

[Footnote 167: Tylor, op. cit. II. 139.]

[Footnote 168: In Russia the souls of the dead are supposed to be embodied in pigeons or crows. "Thus when the Deacon Theodore and his three schismatic brethren were burnt in 1681, the souls of the martyrs, as the 'Old Believers' affirm, appeared in the air as pigeons. In Volhynia dead children are supposed to come back in the spring to their native village under the semblance of swallows and other small birds, and to seek by soft twittering or song to console their sorrowing parents." Ralston, Songs of the Russian People, p. 118.]

[Footnote 169: Tylor, op. cit. I. 404.]

[Footnote 171: Tylor, op. cit. I. 407.]

[Footnote 172: Tylor, op. cit. I. 410. In the next stage of survival this belief will take the shape that it is wrong to slam a door, no reason being assigned; and in the succeeding stage, when the child asks why it is naughty to slam a door, he will be told, because it is an evidence of bad temper. Thus do old-world fancies disappear before the inroads of the practical sense.]

[Footnote 173: Agassiz, Essay on Classification, pp. 97-99.]

[Footnote 174: Figuier, The To-morrow of Death, p. 247.]

[Footnote 175: Here, as usually, the doctrine of metempsychosis comes in to complete the proof. "Mr. Darwin saw two Malay women in Keeling Island, who had a wooden spoon dressed in clothes like a doll; this spoon had been carried to the grave of a dead man, and becoming inspired at full moon, in fact lunatic, it danced about convulsively like a table or a hat at a modern spirit-seance." Tylor, op. cit. II. 139.]

[Footnote 176: Tylor, op. cit. I. 414-422.]

[Footnote 177: Tylor, op. cit. I. 435, 446; II. 30, 36.]

[Footnote 178: According to the Karens, blindness occurs when the SOUL OF THE EYE is eaten by demons. Id., II. 353.]

[Footnote 179: The following citation is interesting as an illustration of the directness of descent from heathen manes-worship to Christian saint-worship: "It is well known that Romulus, mindful of his own adventurous infancy, became after death a Roman deity, propitious to the health and safety of young children, so that nurses and mothers would carry sickly infants to present them in his little round temple at the foot of the Palatine. In after ages the temple was replaced by the church of St. Theodorus, and there Dr. Conyers Middleton, who drew public attention to its curious history, used to look in and see ten or a dozen women, each with a sick child in her lap, sitting in silent reverence before the altar of the saint. The ceremony of blessing children, especially after vaccination, may still be seen there on Thursday mornings." Op. cit. II. 111.]

[Footnote 180: Want of space prevents me from remarking at length upon Mr. Tylor's admirable treatment of the phenomena of oracular inspiration. Attention should be called, however, to the brilliant explanation of the importance accorded by all religions to the rite of fasting. Prolonged abstinence from food tends to bring on a mental state which is favourable to visions. The savage priest or medicine-man qualifies himself for the performance of his duties by fasting, and where this is not sufficient, often uses intoxicating drugs; whence the sacredness of the hasheesh, as also of the Vedic soma-juice. The practice of fasting among civilized peoples is an instance of survival.]

THE END

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