Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/28

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18
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

word ceased to be used for the good gods, to whom the term devas was appropriated. And to the Iranians, the devas of their foes became so hateful that the word became synonymous with evil spirit — a meaning still retained in our word devil. Out of the throes of this bitter early contest of the Parsees came that trumpet-call to intensest and unceasing struggle against all sin and impurity and wickedness that put the religion of Zarathushtra on such an astonishingly lofty moral plane.

Thus, when two nations stand for a length of time in hostility, neither prevailing, the result is usually to intensify the special peculiarities in the faith of each and widen their diversity. But, when one conquers the other, the result is generally to amalgamate the religions of the two peoples, in more or less degree. It is natural, of course, that the faith of the subjected people should be shaped over in the mold of the victor's faith. But the reverse of this is almost equally common, and we repeatedly see, as we follow down the course of history, the race conquered in battle gradually reasserting itself under the new régime, and subduing the conquerors, socially and religiously, by infusing among them the customs and faith they had sought at first to trample under foot. Thus, we find the Turanian peoples whom the Iranians subdued in Persia retaliating upon the victors, by unconsciously, as the years went by, introducing into the higher Zarathushtran faith the doctrine of the fravashis, or ancestral tutelary spirits, the magical practices and excessive adoration of fire, and the soma, or drink of immortality — none of which seemed native to the Aryan religion.

So in the Brahman religion, the idea of the transmigration of souls, quite absent from the early Vedic hymns, becomes, when we reach the time of the collection called the laws of Manu, one of the most prominent features of the religion. Unknown as it is in all other branches of the Aryan family, its rise and prominence among the Brahmans are to be referred to the pre-Aryan occupants of the Ganges Valley, whom the Aryans conquered and absorbed, and from whose belief in it the Brahmans derived it, when, at length, the conquerors and conquered had been fused together into one people. So with the animal-worship of Egypt, so opposite in character to the worship of Osiris and Ra. It is best explainable as a remnant of the religion of the inferior people who inhabited the land of the Nile in far remote ages, and who were subdued by the emigrants from Asia, who brought higher knowledge and a more spiritual faith with them and founded the wonderful civilization that in ancient times distinguished that land. The new faith, unfortunately, could not wean the common people altogether from their grosser faith, but was forced to receive much of it into itself.

Again, we may notice the influence of political considerations, in establishing some of the peculiar institutions of religion, such as that