Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 6.djvu/17

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introduction.

The position of women amongst them was not an elevated one, and although there are instances on record of heroines and poetesses who exalted or celebrated the honour of their clan, they were for the most part looked on with contempt. The marriage knot was tied in the simplest fashion and untied as easily, divorce depending only on the option and caprice of the husband.

As for government they had, virtually, none; the best born and bravest man was recognised as head of the tribe, and led them to battle; but he had no personal authority over them, and no superiority but that of the admiration which his bravery and generosity gained for him.

The religion of the Arabs was Sabæanism, or the worship of the hosts of heaven, Seth and Enoch being considered as the prophets of the faith.

This cult no doubt came from Chaldea, and the belief in the existence of angels, which they also professed, is traceable to the same source. Their practice of making the circuit of the holy shrines, still continued as part of the ‘Hagg ceremonies, probably also arose from this planetary worship.

The comparatively simple star-worship of the Sabæans was, however, greatly corrupted; and a number of fresh deities, superstitious practices, and meaningless rites had been introduced.

The strange sounds that often break the terrible stillness of the desert; the sudden storms of sand or rain that in a moment cover the surface of a plain, or change a dry valley into a roaring torrent; these and a thousand other such causes naturally produce a strong effect upon an imagination quickened by the keen air and the freedom of the desert.

The Arab, therefore, peopled the vast solitudes amidst which he dwelt with supernatural beings, and fancied that every rock, and tree, and cavern had its ginn or presiding genius. These beings were conceived to be both beneficent and malevolent, and were worshipped to propitiate their help or avert their harm. From the worship of these personifi-