Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/17

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
7
RELIGION AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

ever, it is dreaded and mysterious animate things — the gloomy, awe-inspiring forest, the venomous serpent, the terrible lion — that most agitate man's heart, there we see, as in Africa, e. g., and among the American aborigines, tree-worship and beast-worship abounding.

There are certain great natural phenomena that are common to all countries, familiar with all tribes and nations, such as sun, moon, stars, earth, rain, wind, etc. These are, therefore, the objects universally divinized. In some countries, where the scenery is very slightly diversified, these few objects, personified over and over again, in varied aspects and under various symbols, seem to constitute the whole pantheon, the whole mythology. It was thus in Egypt, e. g., whose numberless gods represent, after all, but about half a dozen great natural objects. But when we pass out of the level plains of such countries as Egypt and Babylon, to countries where the mountains rise to stupendous and frowning heights, and bowlders and cliffs abound, we have a new class of divinities added to the objects that man worships. The mountaineer, gazing aloft to the white peak, saw, far up, the shining morn strike the cheek of virgin snow, and in his guileless faith it became an abode of the gods; or a deity itself, holding aloft the heavenly dome. If on the soft sandstone of a hill, before petrifaction, bird or beast had left its tracks, then the place, like the Enchanted Mountain of Georgia, was deemed haunted. If the mount, like Kineo, in the north of Maine, happens to have the shape of a moose, then it is reputed to be the queen and progenitor of the moose-tribe turned to stone.

When the barbarian cries out in joy or pain beneath the rocky wall, he hears a mysterious voice answering him back — a voice that belongs to no material creature, and that must, therefore, belong to some divinity or departed spirit. So the sounds that come from caverns, or the roar of the billows on the sea-shore, are thought to be produced by the spirits that have their haunt there; and the kobolds and water-nixies are accordingly added to the lists of the gods popularly believed in. The strange phenomena of volcanoes, or the explosion of confined gases in certain rocks, in their ebullition through springs, would suggest the idea of mighty superhuman beings who lived beneath the earth, and to whose activity the volcano's eruptions were due. The Koniagas think that, when the craters of Alaska send forth fire and smoke, the gods are cooking their food and heating their sweat-houses. So among the Australians, the volcanic rocks found in various places suggest the belief that sulky demons, the igna, have made great fires and thrown out red-hot stones; and the Nicaraguans offered vessels of food and even human victims to Popogatipec, i. e., smoking mountain, to appease her when there was a storm or an earthquake.

Wave and frost are great sculptors of rude images, bearing near enough likeness to man or beast to impress profoundly the imagina-