Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/61

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51
A FLOCK OF MYTHOLOGICAL CROWS.

tion to the gift of prophecy. Faithful John, who understands the language of the crows, is enabled, by overhearing their colloquy, to save the lives of the prince and his bride; his motives, however, are misunderstood by his royal master, who sends him to the scaffold, whereupon he tells the prophecy of the crows and explains all his conduct; telling the secret, however, seals his fate, and while his master is begging forgiveness the faithful servant is turned into stone.[1]

This tale in varying forms is one of the most widely spread of all the stories of the Aryan tribes. Cox says it comes from the same source as the Deccan story of Rama and Luxman; and we find a somewhat erratic form of it in the touching little story of Prince Llewellyn and his faithful hound Gellert.

Philosophers at various times have attempted to account for this peculiar veneration of animals, which by many of the nations of antiquity was heightened into worship, and which, among some of the rude and barbarous tribes of Africa and the South-Sea Islands, still exists as almost their only recognition of a religion.[2] But a bare recital of the numberless theories would serve no good purpose, and draw out this article to unnecessary length. There are, however, two theories which not only seem plausible, but which seem to be supported by the facts of history and the practices of the savage tribes of the present day.

One is, that zoölatry is an outgrowth of a primitive worship of ancestors (necrolatry). The other is, that zoolatry as well as heliolatry, sabæanism, sex-worship, and probably other cults, are all derived from a primitive worship of the deified powers of nature (pantheism).

Though history affords many noted examples of the apotheosis of ancestors, and particularly in the patriarchal form of government, when the ancestor was also the ruler, yet it is only since the scientific study of ethnology has become general that the means have been afforded students of becoming acquainted on any extended scale with the crude and primitive beliefs of the lower races of man.

After the examination of a great mass of facts bearing upon the subject, Herbert Spencer arrives at the conclusion that the first ideas of ghosts or other supernatural beings have arisen in the mind of primitive man through the agency of dreams, somnambulism, trance, catalepsy, and other analogous conditions; and that the same conditions are continually reproducing the same ideas in the minds of his more civilized descendants. This alter ego, which exists in the dreams and visions of the primitive man, he believes also exists during the sleep of death; and that it is then more powerful than during life, and is able to perform not only all the vagaries and metamorphoses which he believes have actually occurred during sleep, but is also able to enter into and take possession of the bodies of animals, and even other human beings. As the vague notions of ghosts and spirits grow into

  1. Grimms' "Popular Tales."
  2. Sir John Lubbock, "Origin of Civilization," chap. v.