Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/27

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17
RELIGION AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

became the seat of the central government — now This, now Thebes, now Memphis, now Tanais — or as the royal house (through some dynastic change, or intermarriage with princesses from a distance) favored one or another local group of gods or particular deity, so the hierarchical order and the very character of the deities shifted. Thus, when the Hyksos came into power, a Semitic dynasty, they favored especially the god Set, whom they fancied identical with their own Sedeq or El-Shaddai. They took him for their providential leader, and discouraged the worship of the other gods. But when, by their oppressions, they had stirred up the Egyptians, at length, to revolt, and were driven out of the country, Set, though before an honored deity, was now associated with all that was evil, and was credited with entire malevolence, and made, instead of Apap, the serpent of darkness, the great antagonist of the beneficent Osiris. The hatred of the Egyptians for the very name of Set was carried so far that it was chiseled out of the monuments; the day that had been dedicated to him became the Black Friday of the Egyptians; and the animals chosen to symbolize him were the most hateful monsters known to them, the crocodile and the hippopotamus: he became, in short, the almighty destroyer and blighter — the great devil of their pantheon.

This is no isolated instance. Repeatedly do we find wars between nations, arraying their gods, in the popular belief, in hostility; and the only historical record we have of the military conflict is the myth of the wars between the supernatural guardians of the different peoples. Such a myth is that of the wars between the Hellenic gods and the Titans and giants, and the celestial usurpation by which Zeus and Apollo drive Saturn from his throne, banishing the sons of earth to the regions of night and death, burying Enceladus under Etna, and fastening Prometheus by eternal fetters to his rock of punishment. The historical fact beneath this is the struggle between the celestial deities of the Aryan invaders and the rude, burly peasant gods of the peasant aborigines.

Similarly, out of the conflicts of the Iranians with their brother-people, the Brahmans — whom they seem at first to have accompanied in their migration from Bactria — we have a religious change of a notable character. One part of the immigrants, the Iranians, seemed to desire to cease their wanderings and adopt a settled agricultural life; the other were unwilling to do so, and would not respect the inclosed fields of the Iranians. Hence an hereditary feud, that antagonized them religiously as well as politically. Originally, both the words devas, i. e., the bright ones, and asuras, the living ones, were used as names of the Aryan gods, both terms being terms of respect and love. But gradually the term deva came to be the favorite with the Brahmans, and the term asura or ahura the favorite with the Iranians. But, after the feud broke out, we find the asuras of the Iranians becoming such an object of dislike to the Brahmans that gradually the

VOL. XXIV. — 2