Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/54

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44
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the light which comparative mythology is able to throw upon them, we find that what at first seemed only childish fables are really degraded fragments of the religion of our forefathers, and as such they are surely worthy of the attention of their descendants.

In the infancy of mankind almost every system of mythology included the worship or veneration of animals. In one land the deity was a bull, in another it was a serpent, in yet another it was a bird; and in lands like India and Egypt almost every known animal was either an incarnated deity or demon. The same reasons that caused the animal to be deified and worshiped would, in a short time, surround its worship with numberless myths and legends, that would be remembered long after the occasion that called them into existence had been forgotten. As an instance of this, we need only cite the return of the Israelites in the desert of Sinai to the worship of the golden calf—the image of the Apis god of the Egyptians—they probably being no more aware that under this eidolon was represented the sun-god in the zodiacal sign Taurus than were the mass of the Egyptians themselves. Still another reason why these myths and legends would remain long after their real meaning had been forgotten, is due to the metaphoric nature of all early languages; and this cause would act still more strongly if the various shades of meaning of each metaphorical term were not limited by accurate writing. Brinton says the Algonquins, who translated "Michabo" into "The Great Hare," lost by a false etymology a great part of their religion, the true meaning of the term undoubtedly being, "The Spirit of the Light" or "The Dawn."[1]

The great storehouse of myth and fable for all the Indo-European nations is the sacred books of the Hindoos; and it is here, among the religious beliefs of these old Nature-worshipers recorded away back in the morning of time, that we should first look for myths concerning the crow. In this curious pantheism all nature was divided into two opposing principles: the one containing all that was bright and life giving and beneficent for mankind—devas; the other including all that was dark and malignant and destructive—demons. Among these malignant powers of nature, we find frequent mention made of the crow, and usually associated with such ill-omened animals as the wolf and the owl. De Gubernatis says that in the Vedic hymns the term "vrikas" may mean both wolf and crow;[2] but we find that, though the wolf and the crow were equivalent in many respects, and were both enemies to the devas or bright gods, yet the wolf was always demoniacal, while the crow in some of its aspects was benignant; and when the sun-god had finished his daily battle with dragons and monsters, and had sunk into the sleep of death, the crow bore him on his pinions down into the dismal land of darkness and the

  1. Brinton, "Myths of the New World," pp. 178, 179.
  2. Angelo de Gubernatis, "Zoölogical Mythology," vol. ii, p. 250.