1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mythology
MYTHOLOGY (Gr. μυθολογία, the science which examines μῦθα, myths or legends of cosmogony and of gods and heroes. Mythology is also used as a term for these legends themselves. Thus when we speak of “the mythology of Greece” we mean the whole body of Greek divine and heroic and cosmogonic legends. When we speak of the “science of mythology” we refer to the various attempts which have been made to explain these ancient narratives. Very early indeed in the history of human thought men awoke to the consciousness that their religious stories were much in want of explanation. The myths of civilized peoples, as of Greeks and the Aryans of India, contain two elements, the rational and what to modern minds seems the irrational. The rational myths are those which represent the gods as beautiful and wise beings. The Artemis of the Odyssey “taking her pastime in the chase of boars and swift deer, while with her the wild wood-nymphs disport them, and high over them all she rears her brow, and is easily to be known where all are fair,” is a perfectly rational mythic representation of a divine being. We feel, even now, that the conception of a “queen and huntress, chaste and fair,” the lady warden of the woodlands, is a beautiful and natural fancy which requires no explanation. On the other hand, the Artemis of Arcadia, who is confused with the nymph Callisto, who, again, is said to have become a she-bear, and later a star and the Brauronian Artemis, whose maiden ministers danced a bear-dance, are goddesses whose legend seems unnatural, and is felt to need explanation. Or, again, there is nothing not explicable and natural in the conception of the Olympian Zeus as represented by the great chryselephantine statue of Zeus at Olympia, or in the Homeric conception of Zeus as a god who “turns everywhere his shining eyes” and beholds all things. But the Zeus whose grave was shown in Crete, or the Zeus who played Demeter an obscene trick by the aid of a ram, or the Zeus who, in the shape of a swan, became the father of Castor and Pollux, or the Zeus who was merely a rough stone, or the Zeus who deceived Hera by means of a feigned marriage with an inanimate object, or the Zeus who was afraid of Attes, is a being whose myth is felt to be unnatural and in great need of explanation. It is this irrational and unnatural element—as Max Müller says, “the silly, savage and senseless element”—that makes mythology the puzzle which men have so long found it.
Early Explanations of Myths.—The earliest attempts at a crude science of mythology were efforts to reconcile the legends of the gods and heroes with the religious sentiment which recognized in these beings objects of worship and respect. Closely as religion and myth are intertwined, it is necessary to hold them apart for the purposes of this discussion. Religion may here be defined as the conception of divine, or at least supernatural powers entertained by men in moments of gratitude or of need and distress, in hours of weakness, when, as Homer says, “all folk yearn after the gods.” Now this conception may be rude enough, and it is nearly related to, purely magical ideas, to efforts to secure supernatural aid by magical ceremonies. Still the roughest form of spiritual prayer has for its basis the hypothesis of beneficent beings, visible or invisible. The senseless stories or myths about the gods are soon felt to be at variance with this hypothesis. As an example we may take the instance of Qing, the Bushman hunter. Qing, when first he met white men, was asked about his religion. He began to explain, and mentioned Cagn. Mr Orpen, the chief magistrate of St John’s Territory, asked: “Is Cagn good or malicious? how do you pray to him?” Answer (in a low imploring tone): “ ‘O Cagn! O Cagn! are we not your children? do you not see our hunger? give us food;’ and he gives us both hands full” (Cape Monthly Magazine, July 1874). Here we see the religious view of Cagn, the Bushman god. But in the mythological account of Cagn given by Qing he appears as a kind of grasshopper, supernaturally endowed, the hero of a most absurd cycle of senseless adventures. Even religion is affected by these irrational notions, and the gods of savages and of many civilized peoples are worshipped with cruel, obscene, and irrational rites. But, on the whole, the religious sentiment strives to transcend the mythical conceptions of the gods, and is shocked and puzzled by the mythical narratives. As soon as this sense of perplexity is felt by poets, by priests, or by most men in an age of nascent criticism, explanations of what is most crude and absurd in the myths are put forward. Men ask themselves why their gods are worshipped in the form of beasts, birds, and fishes; why their gods are said to have prosecuted their amours in bestial shapes; why they are represented as lustful and passionate—thieves, robbers, murderers and adulterers. The answers to these questions sometimes become myths themselves. Thus both the Mangaians and the Egyptians have been puzzled by their own gods in the form of beasts. The Egyptians invented an explanation—itself a myth—that in some moment of danger the gods concealed themselves from their foes in the shapes of animals. The Mangaians, according to W. W. Gill, hold that “the heavenly family had taken up their abode in these birds, fishes, and reptiles.”
A people so curious and refined as the Greeks were certain to be greatly perplexed by even such comparatively pure mythical narratives as they found in Homer, still more by the coarser legends of Hesiod, and above all by the ancient local myths preserved by local priesthoods. Thus, in the 6th century before Christ, Xenophanes of Colophon severely blamed the poets for their unbecoming legends, and boldly called certain myths “the fables of men of old.” Theagenes of Rhegium (520 B.C.?), according to the scholiast on Iliad, xx. 67, was the author of a very ancient system of mythology. Admitting that the fable of the battle of the gods was “unbecoming,” if literally understood, Theagenes represented it as an allegorical account of the war of the elements. Apollo, Helios, and Hephaestus were fire, Hera was air, Poseidon was water, Artemis was the moon, καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ὁμοίως. Or, by another system, the names of the gods represented moral and intellectual qualities. Heraclitus, too, disposed of the myth of the bondage of Hera as allegorical philosophy. Socrates, in the Cratylus of Plato, expounds “a philosophy which came to him all in an instant,” an explanation of the divine beings based on crude philological analyses of their names. Metrodorus, rivalling some recent flights of conjecture, resolved not only the gods but even heroes like Agamemnon, Hector and Achilles “into elemental combinations and physical agencies.” Euripides makes Pentheus (but he was notoriously impious) advance a “rationalistic” theory of the story that Dionysus was stitched up in the thigh of Zeus.
When Christianity became powerful the heathen philosophers evaded its satire by making more and more use of the allegorical and non-natural system of explanation. That method has two faults. First (as Arnobius and Eusebius reminded their heathen opponents), the allegorical explanations are purely arbitrary, depend upon the fancy of their author, and are all equally plausible and equally unsupported by evidence. Secondly, there is no proof at all that, in the distant age when the myths were developed, men entertained the moral notions and physical philosophies which are supposed to be “wrapped up,” as Cicero says, “in impious fables.” Another system of explanation is that associated with the name of Euemerus (316 B.C.). According to this author, the myths are history in disguise. All the gods were once men, whose real feats have been decorated and distorted by later fancy. This view suited Lactantius, St Augustine and other early Christian writers very well. They were pleased to believe that Euemerus “by historical research had ascertained that the gods were once but mortal men.” Precisely the same convenient line was taken by Sahagun in his account of Mexican religious myths. As there can be no doubt that the ghosts of dead men have been worshipped in many lands, and as the gods of many faiths are tricked out with attributes derived from ancestor-worship, the system of Euemerus retains some measure of plausibility. While we need not believe with Euemerus and with Herbert Spencer that the god of Greece or the god of the Hottentots was once a man, we cannot deny that the myths of both these gods have passed through and been coloured by the imaginations of men who practised the worship of real ancestors. For example, the Cretans showed the tomb of Zeus, and the Phocians (Pausanias x. 5) daily poured blood of victims into the tomb of a hero, obviously by way of feeding his ghost. The Hottentots show many tombs of their god, Tsui-Goab, and tell tales about his death; they also pray regularly for aid at the tombs of their own parents. We may therefore say that, while it is rather absurd to believe that Zeus and Tsui-Goab were once real men, yet their myths are such as would be developed by people accustomed, among other forms of religion, to the worship of dead men. Very probably portions of the legends of real men have been attracted into the mythic accounts of gods of another character, and this is the element of truth at the bottom of Euemerism.
Later Explanations of Mythology.—The ancient systems of explaining what needed explanation in myths were, then, physical, ethical, religious and historical. One student, like Theagenes, would see a physical philosophy underlying Homeric legends. Another, like Porphyry, would imagine that the meaning was partly moral, partly of a dark theosophic and religious character. Another would detect moral allegory alone, and Aristotle expresses the opinion that the myths were the inventions of legislators “to persuade the many, and to be used in support of law” (Met. xi. 8, 19). A fourth, like Euemerus, would get rid of the supernatural element altogether, and find only an imaginative rendering of actual history. When Christians approached the problem of heathen mythology, they sometimes held, with St Augustine, a form of the doctrine of Euemerus. In other words, they regarded Zeus, Aphrodite and the rest as real persons, diabolical not divine. Some later philosophers, especially of the 17th century, misled by the resemblance between Biblical narratives and ancient myths, came to the conclusion that the Bible contains a pure, the myths a distorted, form of an original revelation. The abbé Banier published a mythological compilation in which he systematically resolved all the Greek myths into ordinary history. Bryant published (1774) A New System, or an Analysis of Ancient Mythology, wherein an Attempt is made to divest Tradition of Fable, in which he talked very learnedly of “that wonderful people, the descendants of Cush,” and saw everywhere symbols of the ark and traces of the Noachian deluge. Thomas Taylor, at the end of the 18th century, indulged in much mystical allegorizing of myths, as in the notes to his translation of Pausanias (1794). At an earlier date (1760) De Brosses struck on the true line of interpretation in his little work Du Culte des dieux fétiches, ou parallèle de l'ancienne religion de l'Égypte avec la religion actuelle de Nigritie. In this tract De Brosses explained the animal-worship of the Egyptians as a survival among a civilized people of ideas and practices springing from the intellectual condition of savages, and actually existing among negroes. A vast symbolical explanation of myths and mysteries was attempted by Friedrich Creuzer. The learning and sound sense of Lobeck, in his Aglaophamus, exploded the idea that the Eleusinian and other mysteries revealed or concealed matter of momentous religious importance. It ought not to be forgotten that Lafitau, a Jesuit missionary in North America, while inclined to take a mystical view of the secrets concealed by Iroquois myths, had also pointed out the savage element surviving in Greek mythology.
Recent Mythological Systems.—Up to a very recent date students of mythology were hampered by orthodox traditions, and still more by ignorance of the ancient languages and of the natural history of man. Only recently have Sanskrit and the Egyptian and Babylonian languages become books not absolutely sealed. Again, the study of the evolution of human institutions from the lowest savagery to civilization is essentially a novel branch of research, though ideas derived from an unsystematic study of anthropology are at least as old as Aristotle. The new theories of mythology are based on the belief that “it is man, it is human thought and human language combined, which naturally and necessarily produced the strange conglomerate of ancient fable.” But, while there is now universal agreement so far, modern mythologists differed essentially on one point. There was a school (with internal divisions) which regarded ancient fable as almost entirely “a disease of language,” that is, as the result of confusions arising from misunderstood terms that have survived in speech after their original significance was lost. Another school (also somewhat divided against itself) believes that misunderstood language played but a very slight part in the evolution of mythology, and that the irrational element in myths is merely the survival from a condition of thought which was once common, if not universal, but is now found chiefly among savages, and to a certain extent among children. The former school considered that the state of thought out of which myths were developed was produced by decaying language; the latter maintains that the corresponding phenomena of language were the reflection of thought. For the sake of brevity we might call the former the “philological” system, as it rests chiefly on the study of language, while the latter might be styled the “historical” or “anthropological” school, as it is based on the study of man in the sum of his manners, ideas and institutions.
The System of Max Müller.—The most distinguished and popular advocate of the philological school was Max Müller, whose views may be found in his Selected Essays and Lectures on Language. The problem was to explain what he calls “the silly, savage and senseless element” in mythology (Sel. Ess. i. 578). Max Müller says (speaking of the Greeks), “their poets had an instinctive aversion to everything excessive or monstrous, yet they would relate of their gods what would make the most savage of Red Indians creep and shudder”—stories, that is, of the cannibalism of Demeter, of the mutilation of Uranus, the cannibalism of Cronus, who swallowed his own children, and the l1ke. “Among the lowest tribes of Africa and America we hardly find anything more hideous and revolting.” Max Muller refers the beginning of his system of mythology to the discovery of the connexion of the Indo-European or, as they are called, “Aryan” languages. Celts, Germans, speakers of Sanskrit and Zend, Latins and Greeks, all prove by their languages that their tongues may be traced to one family of speech. The comparison of the various words which, in different forms, are common to all Indo-European languages must inevitably throw much light on the original meaning of these words. Take, for example, the name of a god, Zeus, or Athene, or any other. The word may have no intelligible meaning in Greek, but its counterpart in the allied tongues, especially in Sanskrit or Zend, may reveal the original significance of the terms. “To understand the origin and meaning of the names of the Greek gods, and to enter into the original intention of the fables told of each, we must take into account the collateral evidence supplied by Latin, German, Sanskrit and Zend philology” (Lect. on Lang., 2nd series, p. 406). A name may be intelligible in Sanskrit which has no sense in Greek. Thus Athene is a divine name without meaning in Greek, but Max Müller advances reasons for supposing that it is identical with ahana, “the dawn,” in Sanskrit. It is his opinion, apparently, that whatever story is told of Athene must have originally been told of the dawn, and that we must keep this before us in attempting to understand the legends of Athene. Thus again (op. cit. p. 410), he says, “we have a right to explain all that is told of him” (Agni, “fire”) “as originally meant for fire.” The system is simply this: the original meaning of the names of gods must be ascertained by comparative philology. The names, as a rule, will be found to denote elemental phenomena. And the silly, savage and senseless elements in the legends of the gods will be shown to have a natural significance, as descriptions of sky, storms, sunset, water, fire, dawn, twilight, the life of earth, and other celestial and terrestrial existences. Stated in the barest form, these results do not differ greatly from the conclusions of Theagenes of Rhegium, who held that “Hephaestus was fire, Hera was air, Poseidon was water, Artemis was the moon, καὶ τὰ λοιπα ὁμοίως.” But Max Müller's system is based on scientific philology, not on conjecture, and is supported by a theory of the various processes in the evolution of myths out of language.
It is no longer necessary to give an elaborate analysis of this theory, because neither in its philological nor mythological side has it any advocates who need be reckoned with. The attempt to disengage the history of times forgotten and unknown, by means of analysis of roots and words in Aryan languages, has been unsuccessful, or has at best produced disputable results. Max Müller's system was a result of the philological theories that indicated the linguistic unity of the Indo-European or “Aryan” peoples, and was founded on an analysis of their language. But myths precisely similar in irrational and repulsive character, even in minute details, to those of the Aryan races, exist among Australians, South Sea Islanders, Eskimo, Bushmen in Africa, among Solomon Islanders, Iroquois, and so forth. The facts being identical, an identical explanation should be sought, and, as the languages in which the myths exist are essentially different, an explanation founded on the Aryan language is likely to prove too narrow. Once more, even if we discover the original meaning of a god's name, it does not follow that we can explain by aid of the significance of the name the myths about the god. For nothing is more common than the attraction of a more ancient story into the legend of a later god or hero. Myths of unknown antiquity, for example, have been attracted into the legend of Charlemagne, just as the bons mots of old wits are transferred to living humorists. Therefore, though We may ascertain that Zeus means “sky” and Agni “fire,” we cannot assert, with Max Müller, that all the myths about Agni and Zeus were originally told of fire and sky. When these gods became popular they would inevitably inherit any current exploits of earlier heroes or gods. These exploits would therefore be explained erroneously if regarded as originally myths of sky or fire. We cannot convert Max Müller's proposition “there was nothing told of the sky that could not in some form or other be ascribed to Zeus” into “there was nothing ascribed to Zeus that had not at some time or other been told of the sky.” This is also, perhaps, the proper place to observe that names derived from natural phenomena-sky, clouds, dawn and sunare habitually assigned by Brazilians, Ojibways, Australians and other savages to living men and women. Thus the story originally told of a man or woman bearing the name “sun,” “dawn,” “cloud,” may be mixed up later with myths about the real celestial dawn, cloud or sun. For all these reasons the information obtained from philological analysis of names is to be distrusted. We must also bear in mind that early men when they conceived, and savage men when they conceive, of the sun, moon, wind, earth, sky and so forth, have no such ideas in their minds as we attach to these names. They think of sun, moon, wind, earth and sky as of living human beings with bodily parts and passions. Thus, even when we discover an elemental meaning in a god's name, that meaning may be all unlike what the word suggests to civilized men. A final objection is that philologists differ widely as to the true analysis and real meaning of the divine names. Max Müller, for example, connects Kronos (Κρόνος) with χρόνος, “time”; Preller with κραἰνω, “I fulfil,” and so forth.
The civilized men of the Mythopoeic age were not obliged, as Max Müller held, to believe that all phenomena were persons, because the words which denoted the phenomena had gender terminations. On the other hand, the gender-terminations were survivals from an early stage of thought in which personal characteristics, including sex, had been attributed to all phenomena. This condition of thought is demonstrated to be, and to have been, universal among savages, and it may notoriously be observed among children. Thus Max Müller's theory that myths are “a disease of language” seems destitute of evidence, and inconsistent with what is historically known about the relations between the language and the social, political and literary condition of men.
Theory of Herbert Spencer.—The system of Herbert Spencer, as explained in Principles of Sociology, has many points in common with that of Max Müller. Spencer attempts to account for the state of mind (the foundation of myths) in which man personifies and animates all phenomena. According to his theory, too, this habit of mind may be regarded as the result of degeneration, for in his view, as in Max Müller's, it is not primary, but the result of misconceptions. But, while language is the chief cause of misconceptions with Max Müller, with Spencer it is only one of several forces all working to the same result. Statements which originally had a different significance are misinterpreted, he thinks, and names of human beings are also misinterpreted in such a manner that early races are gradually led to believe in the personality of phenomena. He too notes “the defect in early speech”—that is, the “lack of words free from implications of vitality”—as one of the causes which “favour personalization.” Here, of course, we have to ask Spencer, with Max Muller, why words in early languages “imply vitality.” These words must reflect the thought of the men who use them before they react upon that thought and confirm it in its misconceptions. So far Spencer seems at one with the philological school of mythologists, but he warns us that the misconstructions of language in his system are “different in kind, and the erroneous course of thought is opposite in direction.” According to Spencer (and his premises, at least, are correct), the names of human beings in an early state of society are derived from incidents of the moment, and often refer to the period of the day or the nature of the weather. We find, among Australian natives, among Abipones in South America, and among Ojibways in the North, actual people named Dawn, Gold Flower of Day, Dark Cloud, Sun, and so forth. Spencer's argument is that, given a story about real people so named, in process of time and forgetfulness the anecdote which was once current about a man named Storm and a woman named Sunshine will be transferred to the meteorological phenomena of sun and tempest. Thus these purely natural agents will come to be “personalized” (Prin. Soc. 392), and to be credited with purely human origin and human adventures. Another misconception would arise when men had a tradition that they came to their actual seats from this mountain, or that lake or river, or from lands across the sea. They will mistake this tradition of local origin for one of actual parentage, and will come to believe that, like certain Homeric heroes, they are the sons of a river (now personified), or of a mountain, or, like a tribe mentioned by Garcilasso de la Vega, that they are descended from the sea. Once more, if their old legend told them that they came from the rising sun, they will hold, like many races, that they are actually the children of the sun. By this process of forgetfulness and misinterpretation, mountains, rivers, lakes, sun and sea would receive human attributes, while men would degenerate from a more sensible condition into a belief in the personality and vitality of inanimate objects. As Spencer thinks ancestor-worship the first form of religion, and as he holds that persons with such names as sun, moon and the like became worshipped as ancestors, his theory results in the belief that nature-worship and the myths about natural phenomena—dawn, wind, sky, night and the rest—are a kind of transmuted worship of ancestors and transmuted myths about real men and women. “Partly by confounding the parentage of the race with a conspicuous object marking the natal region of the race, partly by literal interpretation of birth names, and partly by literal interpretation of names given in eulogy” (such as Sun and Bull, among the Egyptian kings), and also through “implicit belief in the statements of forefathers,” there has been produced belief in descent from mountains, sea, dawn, from animals which have become constellations, and from persons once on earth who now appear as sun and moon. A very common class of myths (see Totemism) assures us that certain stocks of men are descended from beasts, or from gods in the shape of beasts. Spencer explains these by the theory that the remembered ancestor of a stock had, as savages often have, an animal name, as Bear, Wolf, Coyote, or what not. In time his descendants came to forget that the name was a mere name, and were misled into the opinion that they were children of a real coyote, wolf or bear. This idea, once current, would naturally stimulate and diffuse the belief that such descents were possible, and that the animals are closely akin to men.
The chief objection to these processes is that they require, as a necessary condition, a singular amount of memory on the one hand and of forgetfulness on the other. The lowest contemporary savages remember little or nothing of any ancestor farther back than the grandfather. But men in Spencer's Mythopoeic age had much longer memories. On the other hand, the most ordinary savage does not misunderstand so universal a custom as the imposition of names peculiar to animals or derived from atmospheric phenomena. He calls his own child Dawn or Cloud, his own name is Sitting Bull or Running Wolf, and he is not tempted to explain his great-grandfather's name of Bright Sun or Lively Raccoon on the hypothesis that the ancestor really was a raccoon or the sun. Moreover, savages do not worship ancestresses or retain lively memories of their great-grandmothers, yet it is through the female line in the majority of cases that the animal or other ancestral name is derived. The son of an Australian male, whose kin or totem name is Crane, takes, in many tribes, his mother's kin-name, Swan or Cockatoo, or whatever it may be, and the same is a common rule in Africa and America among races who rarely remember their great-grandfathers. On the whole, then (though degeneracy, as well as progress, is a force in human evolution), we are not tempted to believe in so strange a combination of forgetfulness with long memory, nor so excessive a degeneration from common sense into a belief in the personality of phenomena, as are required no less by Spencer's system than by that of Max Müller.
Preliminary Problems.—We have stated and criticized the more prominent modern theories of mythology. It is now necessary first to recapitulate the chief points in the problem, and then to attempt to explain them by a comparison of the myths of various races. The difficulty of mythology is to account for the following among other apparently irrational elements in myths: the wild and senseless stories of the beginnings of things, of the origin of men, sun, stars, animals, death, and the world in general; the infamous and absurd adventures of the gods; why divine beings are regarded as incestuous adulterous, murderous, thievish, cruel, cannibals, and addicted to wearing the shapes of animals, and subject to death in some stories; the myths of metamorphosis into plants, beasts and stars; the repulsive stories of the state of the dead; the descents of the gods into the place of the dead, and their return thence. It is extremely difficult to keep these different categories of myths separate from each other. If we investigate myths of the origin of the world, we often find gods in animal form active in the work of world-making. If we examine myths of human descent from animals, we find gods busy there, and if we try to investigate the myths of the origin of the gods, the subject gets mixed up with the mythical origins of things in general.
Our first question will be, Is there any stage of human society, and of the human intellect, in which facts that appear to us to be monstrous and irrational are accepted as ordinary occurrences of every day life? E. W. Lane, in his preface to the Arabian Nights, says that the Arabs have an advantage over us as story-tellers. They can introduce such incidents as the change of a man into a horse, or of a woman into a dog, or the intervention of an afreet, without any more scruple than our own novelists feel in describing a duel or the concealment of a will. Among the Arabs the actions of magic and of spirits are regarded as at least as probable and common as duels and concealments of wills in European society. It is obvious that we need look no farther for the explanation of the supernatural events in Arab romances. Now let us apply this system to mythology. It is admitted that Greeks, Romans, Aryans of India in the age of the Sanskrit commentators, Egyptians of the Ptolemaic and earlier ages, were as much puzzled as we are by the mythical adventures of their gods. But is there any known stage of the human intellect in which these divine adventures, and the metamorphoses of men into animals, trees, stars, and converse with the dead, and all else that puzzles us in the civilized mythologies, are regarded as possible incidents of daily human life? Our answer is that everything in the civilized mythologies which we regard as irrational seems only part of the accepted and rational order of things (at least in the case of “medicine-men” or magicians) to contemporary savages, and in the past seemed equally rational and natural to savages concerning whom we have historical information. Our theory is, therefore, that the savage and senseless element in mythology is, for the most part, a legacy from ancestors of the civilized races who were in an intellectual state not higher than that of Australians, Bushmen, Red Indians, the lower races of South America, Mincopies, and other worse than barbaric peoples. As the ancestors of the Greeks, with the Aryans of India, the Egyptians, and others advanced in civilization, their religious thought was shocked and surprised by myths (originally dating from the period of savagery, and natural in that period) which were preserved down to the time of Pausanias by local priesthoods, or which were stereotyped in the ancient poems of Hesiod and Homer, or in the Brahmanas and Vedas of India, or were retained in the popular religion of Egypt. This theory recommended itself to Lobeck. “We may believe that ancient and early tribes framed gods like themselves in action and in experience, and that the allegorical element in myths is the addition of later peoples who had attained to purer ideas of divinity, yet dared not reject the religion of their ancestors” (Aglaoph. i. 153). The senseless element in the myths would by this theory be for the most part a “survival.” And the age and condition of human thought from which it survived would be one in which our most ordinary ideas about the nature of things and the limits of possibility did not yet exist, when all things were conceived of in quite other fashion—the age, that is, of savagery. It is universally admitted that “survivals” of this kind do account for many anomalies in out institutions, in law, politics, society, even in dress and manners. If isolated fragments of an earlier age abide in these, it is still more probable that other fragments will survive in anything so closely connected as mythology with the conservative religious sentiment.
If this view of mythology can be proved, much will have been done to explain a problem which we have not yet touched, namely, the distribution of myths. The science of mythology has to account, if it can, not only for the existence of certain stories in the legends of certain races, but also for the presence of stories practically the same among almost all races. In the long history of mankind it is impossible to deny that stories may conceivably have spread from a single centre, and been handed on from races like the Indo-European and the Semitic to races as far removed from them in every way as the Zulus, the Australians, the Eskimo, the natives of the South Sea Islands. But, while the possibility of the diffusion of myths by borrowing and transmission must be allowed for, the hypothesis of the origin of myths in the savage state of the intellect supplies a ready explanation of their wide diffusion. Archaeologists are acquainted with objects of early art and craftsmanship, rude clay pipkins and stone weapons, which can only be classed as “human,” and which do not bear much impress of any one national taste and skill. Many myths may be called “human” in this sense. They are the rough products of the early human mind, and are not yet characterized by the differentiations of race and culture. Such myths might spring up anywhere among untutored men, and anywhere might survive into civilized literature. Therefore where similar myths are found among Greeks, Australians, Egyptians, Mangaians and others, it is unnecessary to account for their wide diffusion by any hypothesis of borrowing, early or late. The Greek “key” pattern found on objects in Peruvian graves was not necessarily borrowed from Greece, nor did Greeks necessarily borrow from Aztecs the “wave” pattern which is common to both. The same explanation may be applied to Greek and Aztec myths of the deluge, to Australian and Greek myths of the original theft of fire. Borrowed they may have been, but they may as probably have been independent inventions.
It is true that some philologists deprecate as unscientific the comparison of myths which are found in languages not connected with each other. The objection rests on the theory that myths are a disease of language, a morbid offshoot of language, and that the legends in unconnected languages must therefore be kept apart. But, as the theory which we are explaining does not admit that language is more than a subordinate cause in the development of myths, as it seeks for the origin of myths in a given condition of thought through which all races have passed, we need do no more than record the objection.
The Intellectual Condition of Savages.—Our next step must be briefly to examine the intellectual condition of savages, that is, of races varying from the condition of the Andaman Islanders to that of the Solomon Islanders and the ruder Red Men of the American continent. In a developed treatise on the subject of mythology it would be necessary to criticize, with a minuteness which is impossible here, our evidence for the very peculiar mental condition of the lower races. Max Müller asked (when speaking of the mental condition of men when myths were developed), “was there a period of temporary madness through which the human mind had to pass, and was it a madness identically the same in the south of India and the north of Iceland?” To this we may answer that the human mind had to pass through the savage stage of thought, that this stage was for all practical purposes “identically the same” everywhere, and that to civilized observers it does resemble “a temporary madness.” Many races are still abandoned to that temporary madness; many others which have escaped from it were observed and described while still labouring under its delusions. Our evidence for the intellectual ideas of man in the period of savagery we derive partly from the reports of voyagers, historians, missionaries, partly from an examination of the customs, institutions, and laws in which the lower races gave expression to their notions.
As to the first kind of evidence, we must be on our guard against several sources of error. Where religion is concerned, travellers in general and missionaries in particular are biased in several distinct ways. The missionary is sometimes anxious to prove that religion can only come by revelation, and that certain tribes, having received no revelation, have no religion or religious myths at all. Sometimes the missionary, on the other hand, is anxious to demonstrate that the myths of his heathen flock are a corrupted version of the Biblical narrative. In the former case he neglects the study of savage myths; in the latter he unconsciously accommodates what he hears to what he calls “the truth.” The traveller who is not a missionary may either have the same prejudices, or he may be a sceptic about revealed religion. In the latter case he is perhaps unconsciously moved to put burlesque versions of Biblical stories into the mouths of his native informants, or to represent the savages as ridiculing the Scriptural traditions which he communicates to them. Yet again we must remember that the leading questions of a European inquirer may furnish a savage with a thread on which to string answers which the questions themselves have suggested. “Have you ever had a great flood?” “Yes” “Was any one saved?” he question starts the invention of the savage on a deluge-myth, of which, perhaps, the idea has never before entered his mind. There still remain the difficulties of all conversation between civilized men and unsophisticated savages, the tendency to hoax, and other sources of error and confusion. By this time, too, almost every explorer of savage life is a theorist. He is a Spencerian, or a believer in the universal prevalence of the faith in an “All-Father,” or he looks everywhere for gods who are “spirits of vegetation.” In receiving this kind of evidence, then, we need to know the character of our informant, his means of communicating with the heathen, his power of testing evidence, and his good faith. His testimony will have addition weight if supported by the “undersigned coincidences” of other evidence, ancient and modern. If Strabo and Herodotus and Pomponius Mela, for example, describe a custom, rite or strange notion in the Old World, and if mariners and missionaries find the same notion or custom or rite in Polynesia or Australia or Kamchatka, we can scarcely doubt the truth of the reports. The evidence is best when given by ignorant men, who are astonished at meeting with an institution which ethnologists are familiar with in other parts of the world.
Another method of obtaining evidence is by the comparative study of savage laws and institutions. Thus we find in Asia, Africa, America and Australia that the marriage laws of the lower races are connected with a belief in kinship or other relationship with animals. The evidence for this belief is thus entirely beyond suspicion. We find, too, that political power, sway and social influence are based on the ideas of magic, of metarnorphosis, and of the power which certain men possess to talk with the dead and to visit the abodes of death. All these ideas are the stuff of which myths are made, and the evidence of savage institutions, in every part of the world, proves that these ideas are the universal inheritance of savages.
Savage men are like ourselves in curiosity and anxiety causas cognoscere rerum, but with our curiosity they do not possess Savage Ideas about the World. our powers of attention. They are as easily satisfied with an explanation of phenomena as they are eager to possess an explanation. Inevitably they furnish themselves with their philosophy out of their scanty stock of acquired ideas, and these ideas and general conceptions seem almost imbecile to civilized men. Curiosity and credulity, then, are the characteristics of the savage intellect. When a phenomenon presents itself the savage requires an explanation, and that explanation he makes for himself, or receives from tradition, in the shape of a myth. The basis of these myths, which are just as much a part of early conjectural science as of early religion, is naturally the experience of the savage as construed by himself. Man's craving to know “the reason why” is already “among rude savages an intellectual appetite,” and “even to the Australian scientific speculation has its germ in actual experience.” How does he try to satisfy this craving? E. B. Tylor replies, “When the attention of a man in the myth-making stage of intellect is drawn to any phenomenon or custom which has to him no obvious reason, he invents and tells a story to account for it.” Against this statement it has been urged that men in the lower stages of culture are not curious, but take all phenomena for granted. If there were no direct evidence in favour of Tylor's opinion, it would be enough to point to the nature of savage myths themselves. It is not arguing in a circle to point out that almost all of them are nothing more than explanations of intellectual difficulties, answers to the question, How came this or that phenomenon to be what it is? Thus savage myths answer the questions—What was the origin of the world, and of men, and of beasts? How came the stars by their arrangement and movements? How are the motions of sun and moon to be accounted for? Why has this tree a red flower, and this bird a black mark on the tail? What was the origin of the tribal dances, or of this or that law of custom or etiquette? Savage mythology, which is also savage science, has a reply to all these and all similar questions, and that reply is always found in the shape of a story. The answers cannot be accounted for without the previous existence of the questions.
We have now shown how savages come to have a mythology. It is their way of satisfying the early form of scientific curiosity, their way of realizing the world in which they move. But they frame their stories, necessarily and naturally, in harmony with their general theory of things, with what we may call “savage metaphysics.” Now early man, as Max Müller says, “not only did not think as we think, but did not think as we suppose he ought to have thought.” The chief distinction between his mode of conceiving the world and ours is his vast extension of the theory of personality. To the savage, and apparently to men more backward than the most backward peoples we know, all nature was a congeries of animated personalities. The savage's notion of personality is more a universally diffused feeling than a reasoned conception, and this feeling of a personal self he impartially distributes all over the world as known to him. One of the Jesuit missionaries in North America thus describes the Red Man's philosophy: “Les sauvages se persuadent que non seulement les hommes et les autres animaux, mais aussi que toutes les autres choses sont animées.” Crevaux, in the Andes, found that the Indians believed that the beasts have piays (sorcerers and doctors) like themselves. This opinion we may name personalism, and it is the necessary condition of savage (and, as will be seen, of civilized) mythology. The Jesuits could not understand how spherical bodies like sun and moon could be mistaken for human beings. Their catechumens put them off with the answer that the drawn bows of the heavenly bodies gave them their round appearance. “The wind was formerly a person; he became a bird,” say the Bushmen, and g’ ōō ka! kai, a respectable Bushman once saw the personal wind at Haarfontein. The Egyptians, according to Herodotus (iii. 16), believed fire to be θηρίον ἔμψυχον, a live beast. The Bushman who saw the Wind meant to throw a stone at it, but it ran into a hill. From the wind as a person the Bhinyas in India (Dalton, p. 140) claim descent, and in Indian epic tradition the leader of the ape army was the son of the wind. The Wind, by certain mares, became the father of wind-swift steeds mentioned in the Iliad. The loves of Boreas are well known. These are examples of the animistic theory applied to what, in our minds, seems one of the least personal of natural phenomena. The sky (which appears to us even less personal) has been regarded as a personal being by Samoyeds, Red Indians, Zulus, and traces of this belief survive in Chinese, Greek and Roman religion.
We must remember, however, that to the savage, Sky, Sun, Sea, Wind, are not only persons, but they are savage persons. Their conduct is not what civilized men would attribute to characters so august; it is what uncivilized men think probable and befitting among beings like themselves.
The savage regards all animals as endowed with personality. “Ils tiennent les poissons raisonnables, comme aussi les cerfs,” Savage Theory of Man's Relations with the World. says a Jesuit father about the North-American Indians (Relations, loc. cit.). In Australia the natives believe that the wild dog has the power of speech, like the cat of the Coverley witch in the Spectator. The Breton peasants, according to P. Sébillot, credit all birds with language, which they even attempt to interpret. The old English and the Arab superstitious about the language of beasts are examples of this opinion surviving among civilized races. The bear in Norway is regarded as almost a man, and his dead body is addressed and his wrath deprecated by Samoyeds and Red Indians. “The native bear Kur-bo-roo is the sage counsellor of the aborigines in all their difficulties. When bent on a dangerous expedition, the men will seek help from this clumsy creature, but in what way his opinions are made known is nowhere recorded.” H.R. Schoolcraft mentions a Red Indian story explaining how “the bear does not die,” but this tale Schoolcraft (like Herodotus in Egypt) “cannot bring himself to relate.” He also gives examples of Iowas conversing with serpents. These may serve as examples of the savage belief in the human intelligence of animals. Man is on an even footing with them, and with them can interchange his ideas. But savages carry this opinion much further. Man in their view is actually, and in no figurative sense, akin to the beasts. Certain tribes in Java “believe that women when delivered of a child are frequently delivered at the same time of a young crocodile.” The common European story of a queen accused of giving birth to puppies shows the survival of the belief in the possibility of such births among civilized races, while the Aztecs had the idea that women who saw the moon in certain circumstances would produce mice. But the chief evidence for the savage theory of man's close kinship with the lower animals is found in the institution called totemism (q.v.)—the belief that certain stocks of men in the various tribes are descended by blood descent from, or are developed out of, or otherwise connected with, certain objects animate or inanimate, but especially with beasts. The strength of the opinion is proved by its connexion with very stringent marriage laws. No man (according to the rigour of the custom) may marry a woman who bears the same kin name as himself, that is, who is descended from the same inanimate object or animal. Nor may people (if they can possibly avoid it) eat the flesh of animals who are their kindred. Savage man also believes that many of his own tribe-fellows have the power of assuming the shapes of animals, and that the souls of his dead kinsfolk revert to animal forms.
E. W. Lane, in his introduction to the Arabian Nights (i. 58), says he found the belief in these transmigrations accepted seriously in Cairo. H. H. Bancroft brings evidence to prove that the Mexicans supposed pregnant women would turn into beasts, and sleeping children into mice, if things went wrong in the ritual of a certain solemn sacrifice. There is a well-known Scottish legend to the effect that a certain old witch was once fired at in her shape as a hare, and that where the hare was hit there the old woman was found to be wounded. J. F. Lafitau tells the same story as current among his Red Indian flock, except that the old witch and her son took the form of birds, not of hares. A Scandinavian witch does the same in the Egil saga. In Lafitau's tale the birds were wounded b the magic arrows of a medicine man, and the arrow-heads were found in the bodies of the human culprits. In Japan people chiefly transform themselves into badgers. The sorcerers of Honduras (Bancroft, i. 740) “possessed the power of transforming men into wild beasts.” J. F. Regnard, the French dramatist, found in Lapland (1681) that witches could turn men into cats, and could themselves assume the forms of swans, crows, falcons and geese. Among the Bushmen “sorcerers assume the form of beasts and jackals.” M. Dobrizhofer, a missionary in Paraguay (1717-1791), learned that “sorcerers arrogate to themselves the power of changing men into tigers” (Eng. trans., i. 63). He was present at a conversion of this sort, though the miracle beheld by the people was invisible to the missionary. Near Loanda Livingstone noted that “a chief may metamorphose himself into a lion, kill any one he chooses, and resume his proper form.” The same accomplishments distinguish the Barotse and Balonda. Among the Mayas of Central America sorcerers could transform themselves “into dogs, pigs and other animals; their glance was death to a victim” (Bancroft, ii. 797). The Thlinkeets hold that their shamans have the same powers. A bamboo in Sarawak is known to have been a man. Metamorphoses into stones are as common among Red Indians and Australians as in Greek mythology. Compare the cases of Niobe and the victims of the Gorgon's head. Zulus, Red Indians, Aztecs, Andaman Islanders and other races believe that their dead assume the shapes of serpents and of other creatures, often reverting to the form of the animal from which they originally descended. In ancient Egypt “the usual prayers demand for the deceased the power of going and coming from and to everywhere under any form they like.” A trace of this opinion may be noticed in the Aeneid. The serpent that appeared at the sacrifice of Aeneas was regarded as possibly a “manifestation” of the soul of Anchises (Aeneid, v. 84)—
|“||Dixerat haec, adytis quum lubricus anguis ab imis|
|Septem ingens gyros, septena volumma, traxit,”|
and Aeneas is
|“||Incertus, geniumne loci, famulumne parentis|
On the death of Plotinus, as he gave up the ghost, a snake glided from under his bed into a hole in the wall. Compare Pliny on the cave “in quo manes Scipionis Africani majoris custodire draco dicitur.”
The last peculiarity in savage philosophy to which we need call attention here is the belief in spirits and in human intercourse with the shades of the dead. With the savage natural death is not a universal and inevitable ordinance. “All men must die” is a generalization which he has scarcely reached; in his philosophy the proposition is more like this—“all men who die die by violence.” A natural death is explained as the result of a sorcerer's spiritual violence, and the disease is attributed to magic or to the action of hostile spirits. After death the man survives as a spirit, sometimes taking an animal form, sometimes invisible, sometimes to be observed “in his habit as he lived” (see Apparitions). The philosophy of the subject is shortly put in the speech of Achilles (Iliad, xxiii. 103) after he has beheld the dead Patroclus in a dream: “Ay me, there remaineth then even in the house of Hades a spirit and phantom of the dead, for all night long hath the ghost of hapless Patroclus stood over me, wailing and making moan.” It is almost superfluous to quote here the voluminous evidence for the intercourse with spirits which savage chiefs and medicine men are believed to maintain. They can call up ghosts, or can go to the ghosts, in Australia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, North America, Zululand, among the Eskimo, and generally in every quarter of the globe. The men who enjoy this power are the same as they who can change themselves and others into animals. They too command the weather, and, says an old French missionary, “are regarded as very jupiters, having in their hands the lightning and the thunder” (Relations, loc. cit.). They make good or bad seasons, and control the vast animals who, among ancient Persians and Aryans of India, as among Zulus and Iroquois, are supposed to grant or withhold the rain, and to thunder with their enormous wings in the region of the clouds.
Another fertile source of myth is magic, especially the magic designed to produce fertility, vegetable and animal. From the natives of northern and central Australia to the actors in the ritual of Adonis, or the folk among whom arose the customs of crowning the May king or the king of the May, all peoples have done magic to encourage the breeding of animals as part of the food supply, and to stimulate the growth of plants, wild or cultivated. In the opinion of J. G. Frazer, the human representatives or animal representatives, in the rites, of the spirit of vegetation; of the corn spirit; of the changing seasons, winter or summer, have been developed into many forms of gods, with appropriate myths, explanatory of the magic, and of the sacrifice of the chief performer. In the same way the adoration of living human beings, the deification of living kings—whose title survives in our king or queen of the May, and in the rex nemorensis, the priest of Diana in the grove of Aricia—has been most fruitful in myths of divine beings. These human beings are often sacrificed, for various reasons, actual or hypothetical, and gods and heroes are almost as likely to be explained as spirits of vegetation now, as they were likely to become solar mythological figures in the system of Max Müller. It is certainly true that divine beings in most mythologies are apt to acquire solar with other elemental attributes, including vegetable attributes. But that the origins of such mythical beings were, ab initio, either solar or vegetable, or, for that matter, animal, it would often be hard to prove.
Frazer's ideas are to be found in a work of immense erudition, The Golden Bough (London, 1900). Two studies by him, pursuing the same set of ideas in more detail, are Adonis, Attis, Osiris (1906) and Lectures on the Early History of the Kingship (1905). See A. Lang, Magic and Religion (London, 1901), for a criticism in detail of the general theory as set forth in The Golden Bough. Whatever may be said, Frazer has certainly made the most important of recent contributions to the study of mythology. He has fixed the attention of students on a mass of early ideas, previously much neglected save by W. Mannhardt, and on the facts of ritual, which preserve these ideas and represent them in a kind of mystery plays.
We are new in a position to sum up the ideas of savages about man's relations to the world. We started on this inquiry because we found that savages regarded sky, wind, sun, earth and so forth as practically men, and we had then to ask, what sort of men, men with what powers? The result of our examination, so far, is that in savage opinion sky, wind, sun, sea and many other phenomena have, being personal, all the powers attributed to real human persons. These powers and qualities are: (1) relationship to animals and ability to be transformed and to transform others into animals and other objects; (2) magical accomplishments, as—(a) power to visit or to procure the visits of the dead; (b) other magical powers, such as control over the weather and over the fertility of nature in all departments. Once more, the great forces of nature, considered as persons, are involved in that inextricable confusion in which men, beasts, plants, stones, stars, are all on one level of personality and animated existence. This is the philosophy of savage life, and it is on these principles that the savage constructs his myths, while these, again, are all the scientific explanations of the universe with which he has been able to supply himself.
Examples of Mythology.—Myths of the origin of the world and man are naturally most widely diffused. Man has everywhere asked himself whence things came and how, and his myths are his earliest extant form of answer to this question. So confused and inconsistent are the mythical answers that it is very difficult to classify them according to any system. If we try beginning with myths of creative gods, we find that the world is sometimes represented as pre-existent to the divine race. If we try beginning with myths of the origin of the world, we frequently find that it owes its origin to the activity of pre-existent supernatural beings. According to all modern views of creation, the creative mind is prior to the universe which it created. There is no such consistency of opinion in myths, whether of civilized or savage races. Perhaps the plan least open to objection is to begin with myths of the gods. But when we speak of gods, we must not give to the word a modern significance. As used here, gods merely mean non-natural and powerful beings, sometimes “magnified non-natural men,” sometimes beasts, birds or insects, sometimes the larger forces and phenomena of the universe conceived of as endowed with human personality and passions. When Plutarch examined the Osirian myth (De Isid. xxv.) he saw that the “gods” in the tale were really “demons,” “stronger than men, but having the divine part not wholly unalloyed”—“magnified non-natural men,” in short. And such are the gods of mythology.
In examining the myths of the gods we shall begin with the conceptions of the most backward tribes, and advance to the divine legends of the ancient civilized races. It will appear that, while the non-civilized gods are often theriomorphic, made in accordance with the ideas of non-civilized men, the civilized gods retain many characteristics of the savage gods, and these characteristics are the “irrational element” in the divine myths.
Myths of Gods: Savage Ideas.—It is not easy to separate the discussion of savage myths of gods from the problem, Whence and how arose the savage belief in gods? The orthodox anthropological explanation has been that of E. B. Tylor, which closely resembles Herbert Spencer's “ghost theory.” By reflection on dreams, in which the self, or “spirit,” of the savage seems to wander free from the bounds of time and space, to see things remote, and to meet and recognize dead friends or foes; by speculation on the experiences of trance and of phantasms of the dead or living, beheld with waking eyes; by pondering on the phenomena of shadows, of breath, of death and life, the savage evolved the idea of a separable soul or spirit capable of surviving bodily death. The spirit of the dead may tenant a material object, a “fetish,” or may roam hungry and comfortless and need propitiation by food, for unpropitiated it is dangerous, or may be reincarnated, or may “go to its own herd” in another world. Again, it is naturally kind to its living kinsfolk, and so may be addressed in prayer. These are the doctrines of animism (q.v.), and, according to the usual anthropological theory, these spirits come to thrive to god's estate in favourable circumstances, as where the dead man, when alive, had great mana or wakan a great share of the ether, so to speak, which, in savage metaphysics, is the viewless vehicle of magical influences. Thus the ghost of the hero or medicine man of a kin or tribe may be raised to divine rank, while again—the doctrine of spirits once developed, and spirits once allotted to the great elemental forces and phenomena of nature, sky, thunder, the sea, the forests—we have the beginnings of departmental deities, such as Agni, god of fire; Poseidon, god of the sea; Zeus, god of the sky—though in recent theories Zeus appears to be regarded as primarily the god of the oak tree, a spirit of vegetation.
On this theory animism, the doctrine of spirits, is the source of all belief in gods. But it is found that among the lowest or least cultured races, such as the south-eastern tribes of Australia, who do not propitiate ancestral spirits by offerings of food, or address them in prayer, there often exists a belief in an “All-Father,” to use Howitt's convenient expression. This being cannot have been evolved out of the cult of ancestors, where ancestors are not worshipped; and he is not even regarded as a spirit, but, in Matthew Arnold's phrase, as “a magnified non-natural man.” He existed before death came into the world, and he still exists. His home is in or above the sky, but there was a time when he walked the earth, a potent magic-worker; endowed mankind with such arts and institutions as they possess; and left to them certain rules of life, ethics and ritual. Often he is regarded as the maker of things, or of most things, and of mankind; or mankind are his children, descended from disobedient sons of his, whom he cast out of heaven. Very frequently he is the judge of souls, and sends the good and bad to their own places of reward and punishment. He is usually supposed to watch over human conduct, but this is by no means invariably the case. Sometimes he, like the Atnatu of the Kaitish tribe of central Australia, is only vigilant in matters of ritual, such as circumcision, subincision and the use of the sacred bull-roarer, the Greek ῥόμβος. As an almost universal rule, in the lowest culture, no prayers are addressed to this being; he has no sacrifices, no dwelling made with hands; and the images of him, in clay, that are made and danced round with invocations of his name at the tribal ceremonies of initiation, are destroyed at the close of the performances. If the name of “god” is denied to such beings because they receive little cult, it may still be admitted that the belief might easily develop into a form of theism, independent of and underived from animism, or the ghost theory.
The best account of this All-Father belief in the lowest culture is to be read in R. Howitt's Native Races of South-East Australia. Under Australian Savages. the names of Baiame, Pundjel, Mulkari, Daramulun and many others, the south-eastern tribes (both those who reckon descent in the female and those who reckon by the male line) have this faith in an All-Father, the attributes varying in various communities. The most highly developed All-Father is the Baiame or Byamee of the Euahlayi tribe of north-western New South Wales, to whom prayers for the welfare of the souls of the dead are, or recently were, addressed—the tribe dwelling a hundred miles away from the nearest missionary station (Protestant).
In the centre of Australia, Atnatu, self-created, is known, as has been said, to the Kaitish tribe, next neighbours of the Arunta of the Macdonnell Hills. Among the Arunta, Mr Strehlow (Globus, May 1907) finds such a being as Atnatu, and also among some other adjacent tribes, as the Luritja. See, too, Strehlow and von Leonhardi, in Veröffentlichungen aus dem städtischen Völker-Museum (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1907, vol. i.). But Messrs B. Spencer and F. J. Gillen, who discovered Atnatu, did not find any trace of an All-Father among the Arunta, or any other of the tribes to the north and north-east of the centre. Mr Strehlow's branch of the Arunta they did not examine.
It is plain that the All-Father belief, in favourable circumstances, especially if ghost worship remained undeveloped, might be evolved into theism. But all over the savage world, especially in Africa, spirit worship has sprung up and choked the All-Father, who, however, in most savage regions, abides as a name, receiving no sacrifice, and, save among the Masai, seldom being addressed in prayer. A list of such otiose great beings in the background of religion is given in Lang's The Making of Religion (1898). Since the publication of that book much additional evidence has accrued from Africa and Melanesia, where the belief occurs in a few islands, but, in the majority, is absent or unrecorded. Most of the fresh evidence is given in La Notion de l'être suprême chez les peuples non-civilisés, by René Hoffmann (Geneva, 1907). See also the Journal of the Anthropological Institute (1899-1907), vols. xxix., xxxii., xxxiv., xxxv., and the works of Miss Mary Kingsley, and Spieth, Die Ewe-Stämme, Reimer (Berlin, 1906), and Sundermann in Warneck's Allgemeine Missionszeitschrift, vol. xi. An excellent statement is that of Père Schmidt, S.V.D., in Anthropos, Bd. III., Hft. 3 (1908), pp. 559-611. Tylor's efforts to show that these All-Fathers were derived from missionary or other European influences (Nineteenth Century, 1892) have not been successful (see Lang, Magic and Religion, “The Theory of Loan Gods”) and N. W. Thomas in Man (1905), v. 49 et seq. The All-Father belief is most potent among the lowest races, and always tends to become obsolete under the competition of serviceable ancestral spirits, or gods made in the image of such spirits, who can be bribed by sacrifices or induced by prayers to help man in his various needs.
The belief in the All-Father in south-eastern Australia is concealed from the women and children who, at most, know his exoteric name, often meaning “Our Father,” and is revealed only to the initiate, among whom are a very few white men, like Howitt. Mrs Langloh Parker, of course, was not initiated (indeed, no white man has gone through the actual and very painful rites), but confidences were made to her with great secrecy. The All-Father, even at his best, among the Kurnai, Kamilaroi and Euahlayi, is the centre of many grotesque and sportive myths. He usually has a wife and children, not in all cases born, but rather they are emanations. One of these children is often his mediator with men, and has the charge of the rites and the mystic bull-roarer. The relation is that of Apollo to Zeus in Greek myth.
Many of the wilder myths are the expressions of the sportive and humorous faculties. Some arise naturally thus: Baiame, say, originated everything, therefore he originated the grotesque mummeries and dances of the mysteries. To explain these, myths have been developed to show that they arose in some grotesque incident of Baiame's personal existence on earth. Many Greek myths, most derogatory to the dignity of Demeter, Dionysus, Zeus or Hera, arose in the same way, as explanations of buffooneries in the Eleusinian or other mysteries. In medieval literature the most sacred persons of our religion have grotesque associations attached to them in the same manner.
While the All-Father belief is common in the tribes of south-eastern Australia, the tribes round Lake Eyre, the Arunta (as known to Messrs Spencer and Gillen), and the other central and northern tribes, are credited with no germs of belief in what is called a supreme, and may truly be styled a superior being. That being, in many cases, but not so commonly in Australia, has a malevolent opposite who thwarts his work, an Ahriman to his Ormuzd. In one district, where the superior being is a crow, his opposite is an eagle-hawk. These two birds in many tribes give names to the two great exogamous and intermarrying divisions; in their case there is a va et vient of divine, human and theriomorphic elements, just as in the Greek myths of Zeus. As a rule, however, the Australian All-Father is anthropomorphic, and fairly well described in the native term when they speak English as “the Big Man,” powerful, deathless, friendly, “able to go everywhere and do everything,” “to see whatever you do.” The existence of the belief in this being was accepted by T. Waitz, and, though disputed by many squatters and most anthropologists, is now admitted on the strength of the evidence of Howitt, Cameron, Mrs Langloh Parker, Dawson, W. E. Roth in Ethnological Studies, and many other close observers. The belief being esoteric, a secret of the initiated, necessarily escaped casual inquirers.
Meanwhile, among some of the Arunta of the centre, among the Dieri and Urabunna tribes near Lake Eyre and their congeners, and among the tribes north by east of the Arunta, no such belief has been discovered by Messrs Spencer and Gillen, from whom the tribes kept no secrets, or by Mr Siebert, a missionary among the now all but extinct Dieri. There is just a trace of a dim sky-dwelling being, Arawotja, possibly an all but obliterated survival of an All-Father. Howitt speaks too of the Dieri Kutchi, who inspires medicine-men with ideas, but about him our information is scanty. Among all these tribes religion now takes another line, the belief in a super normal race of Titanic beings, with no superior, who were the first dwellers on earth; who possessed powers far exceeding those of the medicine-men of to-day; and who, in one way or another, were connected with, or developed from, the totem animals, vegetables and other objects. These beings modified the face of the country; in Arunta belief rocks and trees arose to mark the places where they finally “went into the ground” (Oknanikilla), and their spirits still haunt certain places such as these; and are reincarnated in native women who pass by. These beings, in Arunta called “the people of the Alcheringa, or dream time” (but cf. Strehlow in Globus, ut supra), originated the tribal rites of initiation. In Dieri they are called Mura-Mura, and to them prayers are made for rain, accompanied by rain-making magic ceremonies, which in this case may be a symbolical expression of the prayers. There is a large body of myths about the Alcheringa folk, or Mura-Mura (see Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, Native Tribes of Northern Australia, and Howitt, Native Tribes of South-Eastern Australia), and the myths of their wanderings, prodigies and institution of rites and magic are represented in the dances of the mysteries. Most of the magic is worked (Intichiuma in Arunta) by the members of each totem kin or group for the behoof of the totem as an article of food supply. These rites are common in North America, but are worked by members of gilds or societies, not by totem kins.
The belief in these Mura-Mura or Alcheringa folk may obviously develop, in favourable circumstances, into a polytheism like that of Greece, or of Egypt, or of the Maoris. The old Irish gods in the poetic romances appear to have the same origin and shade away into the fairies. The baser Greek myths of the wanderings, amours and adventures of the gods, myths ignored by Homer, are parallel to the adventures of the Alcheringa people, and the fable of the mutilation of Osiris and the search for the lost organ by Isis, actually occurs among the Alcheringa tales of Messrs Spencer and Gillen. Among the Arunta, the Alcheringa folk are part of a strangely elaborate theory of evolution and of animism, which leaves no room for a creative being, or for a future life of the spirit, which is merely reincarnated at intervals.
Thus the doctrines of evolution and of creation, or the making of things, stand apart, or blend, in the metaphysics and religion of the lowest and least progressive of known peoples. The question as to which theory came first, whether Alcheringaism is a scientific effort that swept away All-Fatherism, or whether All-Fatherism is a religious reaction in despair of science and of the evolutionary doctrine, is settled by each inquirer in accordance with his personal bias. It has been argued that All-Fatherism is an advance, conditioned by coastal influences—more rain and more food—concomitant with a social advance to individual marriage, and reckoning of kin in the male line. But tribes far from the sea, as in northern New South Wales and Queensland, have the All-Father belief, with individual marriage and female descent, while tribes of the north coast, with male descent, are credited with no All-Father; and the Arunta, as far as possible from the sea, have no All-Father (save in Strehlow's district), and have individual marriage and male reckoning of descent in matters of inheritance; while the Urabunna and Dieri, with female descent and the custom of pirrauru (called “group marriage” by Hewitt), are not credited with the All-Father belief. Thus coastal conditions have clearly no causal influence on the development of the All-Father belief. If they had, the natives of central Queensland, remote from the sea, should not have their All-Father (Mulkari), and the natives of the northern and north-eastern coasts should have an All-Father, who is still to seek. The Arunta of Messrs Spencer and Gillen may have possessed and deposed the Altjira superior being of the Arunta known to Mr Strehlow, like the Atnatu of the adjacent Kaitish, or the All-Father of the neighbouring Luritja; or these beings may be more recent divergences of doctrine, departures from pure Alcheringaism with no All-Father. At present, at least, it is premature to dogmatize on these problems.
The chief being among the supernatural characters of Bushman mythology is the insect called the Mantis. Cagn or Ikaggen, the African Savages. Mantis, is sometimes regarded with religious respect as a benevolent god. But his adventures are the merest nightmares of puerile fancy. He has a wife, an adopted daughter, whose real father is the “swallower” in Bushman swallowing myths, and the daughter has a son, who is the Ichneumon. The Mantis made an eland out of the shoe of his son-in-law. The moon was also created by the Mantis out of his shoe, and it is red, because the shoe was covered with the red dust of Bushman-land. The Mantis is defeated in an encounter with a cat which happened to be singing a song about a lynx. The Mantis (like Poseidon, Hades, Metis and other Greek gods) was once swallowed, but disgorged alive. The swallower was the monster Ilkhwāi-hemm. Like Heracles when he leaped into the belly of the monster which was about to swallow Hesione, the Mantis once jumped down the throat of a hostile elephant, and so destroyed him. The heavenly bodies are gods among the Bushmen, but their nature and adventures must be discussed among other myths of sun, moon and stars. As a creator Cagn is sometimes said to have “given orders, and caused all things to appear to be made.” He struck snakes with his staff and turned them into men, as Zeus did with the ants in Aegina. But the Bushmen's mythical theory of the origin of things must, as far as possible, be kept apart from the fables of the Mantis, the Ichneumon and other divine beings. Though animals, these gods have human passions and character, and possess the usual magical powers attributed to sorcerers.
Concerning the mythology of the Hottentots and Namas, we have a great deal of information in a book named Tsuni-Goam, the Supreme Being of the Khoi-Khoi (1881), by Dr T. Hahn. This author collected the old notices of Hottentot myths, and added material from his own researches. The chief god of the Hottentots is a being named Tsuni-Goam, who is universally regarded by his worshippers as a deceased sorcerer. According to one old believer, “Tsui-Goab” (an alternative reading of the god's name) “was a great powerful chief of the Khoi-Khoi—in fact, he was the first Khoi-Khoib from whom all the Khoi-Khoi tribes took their name.” He is always represented as at war (in the usual crude dualism of savages) with “another chief” named Gaunab. The prayers addressed to Tsui-Goab are simple and natural in character, the “private ejaculations” of men in moments of need or distress. As usual, religion is more advanced than mythology. It appears that, by some accounts, Tsui-Goab lives in the red sky and Gaunab in the dark sky. The neighbouring race of Namas have another old chief for god, a being called Heitsi Eibib. His graves are shown in many places, like those of Osiris, which, says Plutarch, abounded in Egypt. He is propitiated by passers-by at his sepulchres. He has intimate relations in peace and war with a variety of animals whose habits are sometimes explained (like those of the serpent in Genesis) as the result of the curse of Heitsi Eibib. Heitsi Eibib was born in a mysterious way from a cow, as Indra in the Black Yajur-Veda entered into and was born from the womb of a being who also bore a cow. The Rig-Veda (iv. 18, 1) remarks, “His mother, a cow, bore Indra, an unlicked calf”—probably a metaphorical way of speaking. Heitsi Eibib, like countless other gods and heroes, is also said to have been the son of a virgin who tasted a particular plant, and so became pregnant, as in the German and Gallophrygian märchen of the almond tree, given by Grimm and Pausanias. Incest is one of the feats of Heitsi Eibib. Tsui-Goab, in the opinion of his worshippers, as we have seen, is a deified dead sorcerer, whose name means Wounded Knee, the sorcerer having been injured in the knee by an enemy. Dr Hahn tries to prove (by philology's “artful aid”) that the name really means “red dawn,” and is a Hottentot way of speaking of the infinite. The philological arguments advanced are extremely weak, and by no means convincing. If we grant, however, for the sake of argument, that the early Hottentots worshipped the infinite under the figure of the dawn, and that, by forgetting their own meaning, they came to believe that the words which really meant “red dawn” meant “wounded knee” we must still admit that the devout have assigned to their deity all the attributes of an ancestral sorcerer. In short, “their Red Dawn,” if red dawn he be, is a person, and a savage person, adored exactly as the actual fathers and grandfathers of the Hottentots are adored. We must explain this legend, then, on these principles, and not as an allegory of the dawn as the dawn appears to civilized people. About Gaunab (the Ahriman to Tsui-Goab's Ormuzd) Dr Hahn gives two distinct opinions. “Gaunab was at first a ghost, a mischief-maker and evil-doer” (op. cit. p. 85). But Gaunab he declares to be “the night-sky” (p. 126). Whether we regard Gaunab, Heitsi Eibib and Tsui-Goab as originally mythological representations of natural phenomena, or as deified dead men, it is plain that they are now venerated as non-natural human beings, possessing the customary attributes of sorcerers. Thus of Tsui-Goab it is said, “He could do wonderful things which no other man could do, because he was very wise. He could tell what would happen in future times. He died several times, and several times he rose again” (statement of old Kχarab in Hahn, p. 61).
The mythology of the Zulus as reported by H. Callaway (Unkūlunkūlu, 1868-1870) is very thin and uninteresting. The Zulus are great worshippers of ancestors (who appear to men in the form of snakes), and they regard a being called Unkūlunkūlu as their first ancestor, and sometimes as the creator, or at least as the maker of men. It does not appear they identify Unkūlunkūlu, as a rule, with “the lord of heaven,” who, like Indra, causes the thunder. The word answering to our lord is also applied, “even to beasts as the lion and the boa.” The Zulus, like many distant races, sometimes attribute thunder to the “thunder-bird,” which, as in North America, is occasionally seen and even killed by men. “It is said to have a red bill, red legs and a short red tail like fire. The bird is boiled for the sake of the fat, which is used by the heaven-doctors to puff on their bodies, and to anoint their lightning-rods.” The Zulus are so absorbed in propitiating the shades of their dead (who, though in serpentine bodies, have human dispositions) that they appear to take little pleasure in mythological narratives. At the same time, the Zulus have many “nursery tales,” the plots and incidents of which often bear the closest resemblance to the heroic myths of Greece, and to the märchen of European peoples. These indications will give a general idea of African divine myths. On the west coast the “ananzi” or spider takes the place of the mantis insect among the Bushmen. For some of his exploits Dasent's Tales from the Norse (2nd ed., Appendix) may be consulted. For South African religion see Lang, Magic and Religion; Dennett, At the Back of the Black Man's Mind; Junod, Les Barotsa; Spieth, Die Ewe-Stämme; Frazer, The Golden Bough.
Turning from the natives of Australia, and from African races of various degrees of culture, to the Papuan inhabitants of Melanesia, Melanesian Savages. we find that mythological ideas are scarcely on a higher level. An excellent account of the myths of the Banks Islanders and Solomon Islanders was given in Journ. Anthropol. Inst. (Feb. 1881) by the Rev. R. H. Codrington. The article contains a critical description of the difficulty with which missionaries obtain information about the prior creeds. The people of the Banks Islands are chiefly ancestor-worshippers, but they also believe in, and occasionally pray to, a being named I Qat, one of the prehuman race endowed with supernatural powers who here, as elsewhere, do duty as gods. Here is an example of a prayer to Qat—the devotee is supposed to be in danger with his canoe: “Qate! Marawa! look down on me, smooth the sea for us two that I may go safely on the sea. Beat down for me the crests of the tide-rip; let the tide-rip settle down away from me, beat it down level that it may sink and roll away, and I may come to a quiet landing-place.” Compare the prayer of Odysseus to the river, whose mouth he had reached after three days' swimming on the tempestuous sea. “ ‘Hear me, O king, whosoever thou art, unto thee I am come as to one to whom prayer is made . . . nay, pity me, O king, for I avow myself thy suppliant.’ So spake he, and the god stayed his stream, and withheld his waves, and made the water smooth before him” (Odyssey v. 450). The prayer of the Melanesian is on rather a higher religious level than that of the Homeric hero. The myths of Qat's adventures, however, are very crude, though not so wild as some of the Scandinavian myths about Odin and Loki, while they are less immoral than the adventures of Indra and Zeus. Qat was born in the isle of Vanua Levu; his mother was either a stone at the time of his birth, or was turned into a stone afterwards, like Niobe. The mother of Apollo, according to Aelian, had the misfortune to be changed into a wolf. Qat had eleven brothers, not much more reputable than the Osbaldistones in Rob Roy. The youngest brother was “Tangaro Loloqong, the Fool.” His pastime was to make wrong all that Qat made right, and he is sometimes the Ahriman to Qat's Ormuzd. The creative achievements of Qat must be treated of in the next section. Here it may be mentioned that, like the hero in the Breton märchen, Qat “brought the dawn” by introducing birds whose notes proclaimed the coming of morning. Before Qat's time there had been no night, but he purchased a sufficient allowance of darkness from I Qong, that is, night considered as a person in accordance with the law of savage thought already explained. Night is a person in Greek mythology, and in the fourteenth book of the Iliad we read that Zeus abstained from punishing Sleep “because he feared to offend swift Night.” Qat produced dawn, for the first time, by cutting the darkness with a knife of red obsidian. Afterwards “the fowls and birds showed the morning.” On one occasion an evil power (Vui) slew all Qat's brothers, and hid them in a food-chest. As in the common “swallowing-myths” which we have met among bushmen and Australians, and will find among the Greeks, Qat restored his brethren to life. Qat is always accompanied by a powerful supernatural spider named Marawa. He first made Marawa's acquaintance when he was cutting down a tree for a canoe. Every night (as in the common European story about bridge-building and church-building) the work was all undone by Marawa, whom Qat found means to conciliate. In all his future adventures the spider was as serviceable as the cat in Puss in Boots or the other grateful animals in European legend. Qat's great enemy, Qasavara, was dashed against the hard sky, and was turned into stone, like the foes of Perseus. The stone is still shown in Vanua Levu, like the stone which was Zeus in Laconia. Qat, like so many other “culture-heroes,” disappeared mysteriously, and white men arriving in the island have been mistaken for Qat. His departure is sometimes connected with the myth of the deluge. In the New Hebrides, Tagar takes the rôle of Qat, and Suqe of the bad principle, Loki, Ahriman, Tangaro Loloqong, the Australian Crow and so forth. These are the best known divine myths of the Melanesians. For their All-Fathers see Holmes, J. A. I., vol. xxxv., and O'Farrell, J. A. I., vol. xxxiv., with Sundermann in Warneck's Allgemeine Missionszeitschrift, vol. xi. 1884.
It is “a far cry” from Vanua Levu to Vancouver Island, and, ethnologically, the Ahts of the latter region are extremely remote American Savages. from the Papuans with their mixture of Malay and Polynesian blood. The Ahts, however, differ but little in their mythological beliefs from the races of the Banks Islands or of the New Hebrides. In Sproat's Scenes from Savage Life (1868) there is a good account of Aht opinions by a settler who had won the confidence of the natives between 1860 and 1868. “There is no end to the stories which an old Indian will relate,” says Mr Sproat, when “one quite possesses his confidence.” “The first Indian who ever lived” is a divine being, something of a creator, something of a first father, like Unkūlunkūlu among the Zulus. His name is Quawteaht. He married a pre-existent bird, the thunder-bird Tootah (we have met him among the Zulus), and by the bird he became the father of Indians. Wispohahp is the Aht Noah, who, with his wife, his two brothers and their wives escaped from the deluge in a canoe. Quawteaht is inferior as a deity to the Sun and Moon. He is the Yama of an Aht paradise, or home of the dead, where “everything is beautiful and abundant.” From all that is told of Quawteaht he seems to be an ideal and powerful Aht, imaginatively placed at the beginning of things, and quite capable of intermarriage with a bird. His creative exploits must be considered later. Quawteaht is the Aht Prometheus Purphoros, or fire-stealer.
Passing down the American continent from the north-west, we find Yehl the chief hero-god and mythical personage among the Tlingits. Like many other heroes or gods, Yehl had a miraculous birth. His mother, a Tlingit woman, whose sons had all been slain, met a friendly dolphin, which advised her to swallow a pebble and a little sea-water. The birth of Yehl was the result. In his youth he shot a supernatural crane, and can always fly about in its feathers, like Odin and Loki in Scandinavian myth. He is usually, however, regarded as a raven, and holds the same relation to men and the world as the eagle-hawk Pund-jel does in Australia. His great opponent (for the eternal dualism comes in) is Khanukh, who is a wolf, and the ancestor or totem of the wolf-race of men as Yehl is of the raven. The opposition between the Crow and Eagle-hawk in Australia will be remembered. Both animals or men or gods take part in creation. Yehl is the Prometheus Purphoros of the Tlingits, but myths of the fire-stealer would form matter for a separate section. Yehl also stole water, in his bird-shape, exactly as Odin stole “Suttung's mead” when in the shape of an eagle. Yehl's powers of metamorphosis and of flying into the air are the common accomplishments of sorcerers, and he is a rather crude form of first father, “culture-hero” and creator.
Among the Karok Indians we find the great hero and divine benefactor in the shape of, not a raven, nor an eagle-hawk, nor a mantis insect, nor a spider, but a coyote. Among both Karok and Navaho the coyote is the Prometheus Purphoros, or, as the Aryans of India call him, Matarisvan the fire-stealer. Among the Papagos, on the eastern side of the Gulf of California, the coyote or prairie wolf is the creative hero and chief supernatural being. In Oregon the coyote is also the “demiurge,” but most of the myths about him refer to his creative exploits, and will be more appropriately treated in the next section.
Moving up the Pacific coast to British Columbia, we find the musk-rat taking the part played by Vishnu, when in his avatar as a boar he fished up the earth from the waters. Among the Tinneh a miraculous dog, who, like an enchanted fairy prince, could assume the form of a handsome young man, is the chief divine being of the myths. He too is chiefly a creative or demiurgic being, answering to Purusha in the Rig Veda. So far the peculiar mark of the wilder American tribe legends is the bestial character of the divine beings, which is also illustrated in Australia and Africa, while the bestial clothing, feathers or fur, drops but slowly off Indra, Zeus and the Egyptian Ammon, and the Scandinavian Odin. All these are more or less anthropomorphic, but retain, as will be seen, numerous relics of a theriomorphic condition.
See C. Hill-Tout and F. Boas in various publications, and, generally, the volumes of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington, U.S.A. For Ti-ra-wa, “the Ruler of the Universe,” also styled A-ti-us, “father,” among the Pawnees, see G. B. Grinnell, Pawnee Hero Stories (1893).
Maori and Polynesian Beliefs.—Passing from the lower savage myths, of which space does not permit us to offer a larger selection, we turn to races in the upper strata of barbarism. Among these the Maoris of New Zealand, and the Polynesian people generally, are remarkable for a mythology largely intermixed with early attempts at more philosophical speculation. The Maoris and Mangaians, and other peoples, have had speculators among them not very far removed from the mental condition of the earliest Greek philosophers, Empedocles, Anaximander, and the rest. In fact the process from the view of nature which we call personalism to the crudest theories of the physicists was apparently begun in New Zealand before the arrival of Europeans. In Maori mythology it is more than usually difficult to keep apart the origin of the world and the origin and nature of the gods. Long traditional hymns give an account of the “becoming out of nothing” which resulted in the evolution of the gods and the world. In the beginning (as in the Greek myths of Uranus and Gaea), Heaven (Rangi, conceived of as a person) was indissolubly united to his wife Earth (Papa), and between them they begat gods which necessarily dwelt in darkness. These gods were some in vegetable, some in animal form; some traditions place among these gods Tiki the demiurge, who (like Prometheus) made men out of clay. The offspring of Rangi and Papa (kept in the dark as they were) held a council to determine how they should treat their parents, “Shall we slay them, or shall we separate them?” In the Hesiodic fable, Cronus separates the heavenly pair by mutilating his oppressive father Uranus. Among the Maoris the god Tutenganahan cut the sinews which united Earth and Heaven, and Tane Mahuta wrenched them apart, and kept them eternally asunder. The new dynasty now had earth to themselves, but Tawhiramatea, the wind, abode aloft with his father. Some of the gods were in the forms of lizards and fishes; some went to the land, some to the water. As among the gods and Asuras of the Vedas, there were many wars in the divine race, and as the incantations of the Indian Brahmanas are derived from those old experiences of the Vedic gods, so are the incantations of the Maoris. The gods of New Zealand, the greater gods at least, may be called “departmental”; each person who is an elementary force is also the god of that force. As Te Heu, a powerful chief, said, there is division of labour among men, and so there is among gods. “One made this, another that; Tane made trees, Ru mountains, Tanga-roa fish, and so forth.” The “departmental” arrangement prevails among the polytheism of civilized peoples, and is familiar to all from the Greek examples. Leaving the high gods whose functions are so large, while their forms (as of lizard, fish and tree) are often so mean, we come to Maui, the great divine hero of the supernatural race in Polynesia. Maui in some respects answers to the chief of the Adityas in Vedic mythology; in others he answers to Qat, Quawteaht, and other savage divine personages. Like the son of the Vedic Aditi, Maui is a rejected and abortive child of his mother, but afterwards attains to the highest reputation. As Qat brought the hitherto unknown night, so Maui settled the sun and moon in their proper courses. He induced the sun to move orderly by giving him a violent beating. A similar feat was performed by the Sun-trapper, a famous Red Indian chief. These tales belong properly to the department of solar myths. Maui himself is thought by E. B. Tylor to be a myth of the sun, but the sun could hardly give the sun a drubbing. Maui slew monsters, invented barbs for fish-hooks, frequently adopted the form of various birds, acted as Prometheus Purphoros the fire-stealer, drew a whole island up from the bottom of the deep; he was a great sorcerer and magician. Had Maui succeeded in his attempt to pass through the body of Night (considered as a woman) men would have been immortal. But a little bird which sings at sunset wakened Night, she snapped up Maui, and men die. This has been called a myth of sunset, but the sun does what Maui failed to do, he passes through the body of Night unharmed. The adventure is one of the myths of the origin of death, which are almost universally diffused. Maui, though regarded as a god, is not often addressed in prayer.
The whole system, as far as it can be called a system, of Maori mythology is obviously based on the savage conceptions of the world which have already been explained. The Polynesian system differs mainly in detail; we have the separation of heaven and earth, the animal-shaped gods, the fire-stealing, the exploits of Maui, and scores of minor myths in W. W. Gill's Myths and Songs of the South Pacific, in the researches of W. Ellis, of Williams, in G. Turner's Polynesia, and in many other accessible works.
Mexican and Peruvian Beliefs.—The Maoris and other Polynesian peoples are perhaps the best examples of a race which has risen far above the savagery of Bushmen and Australians, but has not yet arrived at the stage in which great centralized monarchies appear. The Mexican and Peruvian civilizations were far ahead of Maori culture, in so far as they possessed the elements of a much more settled and highly-organized society. Their religion had its fine lucid intervals, but their mythology and ritual were little better than savage ideas, elaborately worked up by the imagination of a cruel and superstitious priesthood. In cruelty the Aztecs surpassed perhaps all peoples of the Old World, except certain Semitic stocks, and their gods, of course, surpassed almost all other gods in blood-thirstiness. But in grotesque and savage points of faith the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Vedic Indians ran even the Aztecs pretty close.
Bernal Diaz, the old “conquistador,” has described the hideous aspect of the idols which Cortes destroyed, “idols in the shape of hideous dragons as big as calves,” idols half in the form of men, half of dogs, and serpents which were worshipped as divine. The old contemporary missionary Sahagun has left one of the earliest detailed accounts of the natures and myths of these gods, but, though Sahagun took great pains in collecting facts, his speculations must be accepted with caution. He was convinced (like Caxton in his Destruction of Troy, and like St Augustine) that the heathen gods were only dead men worshipped. Ancestor-worship is a great force in early religion, and the qualities of dead chiefs and sorcerers are freely attributed to gods, but it does not follow that each god was once a real man, as Sahagun supposes. Euemerism cannot be judiciously carried so far as this. Of Huitzilopochtli, the famed god, Sahagun says that he was a necromancer, loved “shape-shifting,” like Odin, metamorphosed himself into animal forms, was miraculously conceived, and, among animals, is confused with the humming-bird, whose feathers adorned his statues. This humming-bird god should be compared with the Roman Picus (Servius, 189). That the humming-bird (Nuitziton), which was the god's old shape, should become merely his attendant (like the owl of Pallas, the mouse of Apollo, the goose of Priapus, the cuckoo of Hera), when the god received anthropomorphic form, is an example of a process common in all mythologies. Plutarch observes that the Greeks, though accustomed to the conceptions of the animal attendants of their own gods, were amazed when they found animals worshipped as gods by the Egyptians. Müller mentions the view that the humming-bird, as the most beautiful flying thing, is a proper symbol of the heaven, and so of the heaven-god, Huitzilopochtli. This vein of symbolism is so easy to work that it must be regarded with distrust. Perhaps it is safer to attribute theriomorphic shapes of gods, not to symbolism (Zeus was a cuckoo), but to survivals from that quality of early thought which draws no line between man and god and beast and bird and fish. If spiders may be great gods, why not the more attractive humming-birds? Like many other gods, Huitzilopochtli slew his foes at his birth, and hence received names analogous to Δειμός and Φόβος: Tylor (Primitive Culture, ii. 307) calls Huitzilopochtli an “inextricable compound parthenogenetic god.” His sacrament, when paste idols of him were eaten by the communicants, was at the winter solstice, whence it may, perhaps, be inferred that Huitzilopochtli was not only a war-god but a nature-god—in both respects anthropomorphic, and in both bearing traces of the time when he was but a humming-bird, as Yehl was a raven (Müller, op. cit. p. 595). As a humming-bird, Huitzilopochtli led the Aztecs to a new home, as a wolf led the Hirpini, and as a woodpecker led the Sabines. Quetzalcoatl, the Toltec deity, is as much a sparrow (or similar small bird) as Huitzilopochtli is a humming-bird. Acosta says he retained the sparrow's head in his statue. For the composite character of Quetzalcoatl as a “culture-hero” (a more polished version of Qat), as a “nature-god,” and as a theriomorphic god see Müller (op. cit. pp. 583-584). Müller frankly recognizes that not only are animals symbols of deity and its attributes, not only are they companions and messengers of deity (as in the period of anthropomorphic religion), but they have been divine beings in and for themselves during the earlier stages of thought. The Mexican “departmental” gods answer to those of other polytheisms; there is an Aztec Ceres, an Aztec Lucina, an Aztec Vulcan, an Aztec Flora, an Aztec Venus. The creative myths and sun myths are crude and very early in character.
Egyptian Myths.—On a much larger and more magnificent scale, and on a much more permanent basis, the society of ancient Egypt somewhat resembled that of ancient Mexico. The divine myths of the two nations had points in common, but there are few topics more obscure than Egyptian mythology. Writers are apt to speak of Egyptian religion as if it were a single phenomenon of which all the aspects could be observed at a given time. In point of fact Egyptian religion (conservative though it was) lasted through perhaps five thousand years, was subject to innumerable influences, historical, ethnological, philosophical, and was variously represented by various schools of priests. We cannot take the Platonic speculations of Iamblichus about the nature and manifestations of Egyptian godhead as evidence for the belief of the peoples who first worshipped the Egyptian gods an innumerable series of ages before Iamblichus and Plutarch. Nor can the esoteric and pantheistic theories of priests (according to which the various beast-gods were symbolic manifestations of the divine essence) be received as an historical account of the origin of the local animal-worships. It has already been shown that the lowest and least intellectual races indulge in local animal-worship, each stock having its parent bird, beast, fish, or even plant, or inanimate object. It has also been shown that these backward peoples recognize a non-natural race of men or animals, or both, as the first fathers, heroes, and, in a sense, gods. Such ideas are consonant with, and may be traced to the confused and nebulous condition of, savage thought. Precisely the same ideas are found at various periods among the ancient Egyptians. If we are to regard the Egyptian myths about the gods in animal shape, and about the non-natural superhuman heroes, and their wars and loves, as esoteric allegories devised by civilized priests, perhaps we should also explain Pund-jel, Qat, Quawteaht, the Mantis god, the Spider creator, the Coyote and Raven gods as priestly inventions, put forth in a civilized age, and retained by Australians, Bushmen, Hottentots, Ahts, Thlinkeets, Papuans, who preserve no other vestiges of high civilization. Or we may take the opposite view, and regard the story of Osiris and his war with Seth (who shut him up in a box and mutilated him) as a dualistic myth, originally on the level of the battle between Gaunab and Tsui-Goab, or between Tagar and Suqe. We may regard the local beast- and plant-gods of Egypt as survivals of totems and totem-gods like those of Australia, India, America, Africa, Siberia and other countries. In this article the latter view is adopted. The beast-gods and dualistic and creative myths of savages are looked on as the natural product of the savage reason and fancy. The same beast-gods and myths in civilized Egypt are looked on as survivals from the rude and early condition of thought to which such conceptions are natural.
In the most ancient Egyptian records the gods are not pictorially represented, and we have not obtained from these records any descriptions of adoration and sacrifice. There is a prayer to the Sky on the cofiin of the king of Dynasty IV., known as Mycerinus to the Greeks. The king describes himself as the child of Sky and Earth. He also somewhat obscurely identifies himself with Osiris.
We thus find Osiris very near the beginning of what is known about Egyptian religion. This being is rather a culture-hero, a member of a non-natural race of men like Qat or Manabozho, than a god. His myth, to be afterwards narrated, is found pictorially represented in a tomb and in the late temple of Philae, is frequently alluded to in the litanies of the dead about 1400 B.C., is indicated with reverent awe by Herodotus, and after the Christian era is described at full length by Plutarch. Whether the same myth was current in the far more distant days of Mycerinus, it is, of course, impossible to say with dogmatic certainty. The religious history of Egypt, from perhaps Dynasty X. to Dynasty XX., is interrupted by an invasion of Semitic conquerors and Semitic ideas. Prior to that invasion the gods, when mentioned in monuments, are always represented by animals, and these animals are the object of strictly local worship. The name of each god is spelled in hieroglyphs beside the beast or bird. The jackal stands for Anup, the hawk for Har, the frog for Hekt, the baboon for Tahuti, and Ptah, Asiri, Hesi, Nebhat, Hat-hor, Neit, Khnum and Amun-hor are all written out phonetically, but never represented in pictures. Different cities had their different beast-gods. Pasht, the cat, was the god of Bubastis; Apis, the bull, of Memphis; Hapi, the wolf, of Sioot; Ba, the goat, of Mendes. The evidence of Herodotus, Plutarch and the other writers shows that the Egyptians of each district refused to eat the flesh of the animal they held sacred. So far the identity of custom with savage totemism is absolute. Of all the explanations, then, of Egyptian animal-worship, that which regards the practice as a survival of totemism and of savagery seems the most satisfactory. So far Egyptian religion only represented her gods in theriomorphic shape. Beasts also appeared in the royal genealogies, as if the early Egyptians had filled up the measure of totemism by regarding themselves as actually descended from animals.
With one or two exceptions, “the first (semi-anthropomorphic) figures of gods known in the civilized parts of Egypt are on the granite Obelisk of Bezig in the Fayyúm, erected by Usertesen I. of Dynasty XII., and here we find the forms all full-blown at once. The first group of deities belongs to a period and a district in which Semitic influences had undoubtedly begun to work” (Petrie). From this period the mixed and monstrous figures, semi-theriomorphic, semi-anthropomorphic, hawk-headed and ram-headed and jackal-headed gods become common. This may be attributed to Semitic influence, or we may suppose that the process of anthropomorphizing theriomorphic gods was naturally developing itself; for Mexico has shown us and Greece can show us abundant examples of these mixed figures, in which the anthropomorphic god retains traces of his theriomorphic past. The heretical worship of the solar disk interrupted the course of Egyptian religion under some reforming kings, but the great and glorious Ramesside Dynasty (XIX.) restored “Orus and Isis and the dog Anubis” with the rest of the semi-theriomorphic deities. These survived even their defeat by the splendid human gods of Rome, and only “fled from the folding star of Bethlehem.”
Though Egypt was rich in gods, her literature is not fertile in myths. The religious compositions which have survived are, as a rule, hymns and litanies, the funereal service, the “Book of the Dead.” In these works the myths are taken for granted, are alluded to in the course of addresses to the divine beings, but, naturally, are not told in full. As in the case of the Vedas, hymns are poor sources for the study of mythology, just as the hymns of the Church would throw little light on the incidents of the gospel story or of the Old Testament. The “sacred legends” which the priests or temple servants freely communicated to Herodotus are lost through the pious reserve of the traveller. Herodotus constantly alludes to the most famous Egyptian myth, that of Osiris, and he recognizes the analogies between the Osirian myth and mysteries and those of Dionysus. But we have to turn to the very late authority of Plutarch (De Iside et Osiride) for an account, confessedly incomplete and expurgated, of what mythology had to tell about the great Egyptian “culture-hero,” “daemon,” and god. Osiris, Horus, Typhon (Seth), Isis and Nephthys were the children of Seb (whom the Greeks identified with Cronus); the myths of their birth were peculiarly savage and obscene. Osiris introduced civilization into Egypt, and then wandered over the world, making men acquainted with agriculture and the arts, as Pund-jel in his humbler way did in Australia. On his return Typhon laid a plot for him. He had a beautiful carved chest made which exactly fitted Osiris, and at an entertainment offered to give it to any one who could lie down in it. As soon as Osiris tried, Typhon had the box nailed up, and threw it into the Tanaite branch of the Nile. Isis wandered, mourning, in search of the body, as Demeter sought Persephone, and perhaps in Plutarch's late version some incidents may be borrowed from the Eleusinian legend. At length she found the chest, which in her absence was again discovered by Typhon. He mangled the body of Osiris (as so many gods of all races were mangled), and tossed the fragments about. Wherever Isis found a portion of Osiris she buried it; hence Egypt was as rich in graves of Osiris as Namaqualand in graves of Heitsi Eibib. The phallus alone she did not find, but she consecrated a model thereof; hence (says the myth) came the phallus-worship of Egypt. Afterwards Osiris returned from the shades, and (in the form of a wolf) urged his son Horus to revenge him on Typhon. The gods fought in animal shape (Birch, in Wilkinson, iii. 144). Plutarch purposely omits as “too blasphemous” the legend of the mangling of Horus. Though the graves of these non-natural beings are shown, the priests (De Is. et Os. xxi.) also show the stars into which they were metamorphosed, as the Eskimo and Australians and Aryans of India and Greeks have recognized in the constellations their ancient heroes. Plutarch remarked the fact that the Greek myths of Cronus, of Dionysus, of Apollo and the Python, and of Demeter, “all the things that are shrouded in mystic ceremonies and are presented in rites,” “do not fall short in absurdity of the legends about Osiris and Typhon.” Plutarch naturally presumed that the myths which seem absurd shrouded some great moral or physical mystery. But we apply no such explanation to similar savage legends, and our theory is that the Osirian myth is only one of these retained to the time of Plutarch by the religious conservatism of a race which, to the time of Plutarch, preserved in full vigour most of the practices of totemism. As a slight confirmation of the possibility of this theory we may mention that Greek mysteries retained two of the features of savage mysteries. The first was the rite of daubing the initiated with clay. This custom prevails in African mysteries, in Guiana, among Australians, Papuans, and Andaman Islanders. The other custom is the use of the turndun, as the Australians call a little fish-shaped piece of wood tied to a string, and waved so as to produce a loud booming and whirring noise and keep away the profane, especially women. It is employed in New Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. This instrument, the κῶνος, was also used in Greek mysteries. Neither the use of the κῶνος nor of the clay can very well be regarded as a civilized practice retained by savages. The hypothesis that the rites and the stories are savage inventions surviving into civilized religion seems better to meet the difficulty. That the Osirian myth (much as it was elaborated and allegorized) originated in the same sort of fancy as the Tacullie story of the dismembered beaver out of whose body things were made is a conclusion not devoid of plausibility. Typhon's later career, “committing dreadful crimes out of envy and spite, and throwing all things into confusion,” was parallel to the proceedings of most of the divine beings who put everything wrong, in opposition to the being who makes everything right. This is perhaps an early “dualistic” myth.
Among other mythic Egyptian figures we have Ra, who once destroyed men in his wrath with circumstances suggestive of the Deluge; Khnum, a demiurge, is represented at Philae as making man out of clay on a potter's wheel. Here the wheel is added to the Maori conception of the making of man. Khnum is said to have reconstructed the limbs of the dismembered Osiris. Ptah is the Egyptian Hephaestus; he is represented as a dwarf; men are said to have come out of his eye, gods out of his mouth—a story like that of Purusha in the Rig Veda. As creator of man, Ptah is a frog. Bubastis became a cat to avoid the wrath of Typhon. Ra, the sun, fought the big serpent Apap, as Indra fought Vrittra. Seb is a goose, called “the great cackler”; he laid the creative egg.
Divine Myths of the Aryans of India. Indra.—The gods of the Vedas and Brahmanas (the ancient hymns and canonized ritual-books of Aryan India) are, on the whole, of the usual polytheistic type. More than many other gods they retain in their titles and attributes the character of elemental phenomena personified. That personification is, as a rule, anthropomorphic, but traces of theriomorphic personification are still very apparent. The ideas which may be gathered about the gods from the hymns are (as is usual in heathen religions) without consistency. There is no strict orthodoxy. As each bard of each bardic family celebrates his favourite god he is apt to make him for the moment the pre-eminent deity of all. This way of thinking about the gods leads naturally in the direction of a pantheistic monotheism in which each divine being may be regarded as a manifestation of the one divine essence. No doubt this point of view was attained in centuries extremely remote by sages of the civilized Vedic world. It is easy, however, to detect certain peculiar characteristics of each god. As among races much less advanced in civilization than the Vedic Indians, each of the greater powers has his own separate department, however much his worshippers may be inclined to regard him as an absolute premier with undisputed latitude of personal government. Thus Indra is mainly concerned with thunder and other atmospheric phenomena; but Vayu is the wind, the Maruts are wind-gods, Agni is fire or the god of fire, and so connected with lightning. Powerful as Indra is in the celestial world, Mitra and Varuna preside over night and day. Ushas is the dawn, and Tvashtri is the mechanic among the gods, corresponding to the Egyptian Ptah and the Greek Hephaestus. Though lofty moral qualities and deep concern about the conduct of men are attributed to the gods in the Vedic hymns, yet the hymns contain traces (and these are amplified in the ritual books) of a divine chronique scandaleuse. In this chronique the gods, like other gods, are adventurous warriors, adulterers, incestuous, homicidal, given to animal transformations, cowardly, and in fact charged with all human vices, and credited with magical powers. It would be difficult to speak too highly of the ethical nobility of many Vedic hymns. The “hunger and thirst after righteousness” of the sacred poet recalls the noblest aspirations and regrets of the Hebrew psalmist. But this aspect of the Vedic deities is essentially matter for the science of religion rather than of mythology, which is concerned with the stories told about the gods. Religion is always forgetting, or explaining away, or apologizing for these stories. Now the Vedic deities, so imposing when regarded as vast natural forces (as such forces seem to us), so benignant when appealed to as forgivers of sins, have also their mythological aspect. In this aspect they are natural phenomena still, but phenomena as originally conceived of by the personifying imagination of the savage, and credited, like the gods of the Maori or the Australian, with all manner of freaks, adventures and disguises. The Veda, it is true, does not usually dilate much on the worst of these adventures. The Veda contains devotional hymns; we can no more expect much narrative here than in the Psalms of David. Again, the religious sentiment of the Veda is half-consciously hostile to the stories. As M. A. Barth says, “Le sentiment religieux a écarté la plupart de ces mythes, mais il ne les a écartés tous.” The Brahmanas, on the other hand, later compilations, canonized books for the direction of ritual and sacrifice, are rich in senseless and irrational myths. Sometimes these myths are probably later than the Veda, mere explanations of ritual incidents devised by the priests. Sometimes a myth probably older than the Vedas, and maintained in popular tradition, is reported in the Brahmanas. The gods in the Veda are by no means always regarded as equal in supremacy. There were great and small, young and old gods (R. V. i. 27, 13). Elsewhere this is flatly contradicted: “None of you, oh gods, is small or young, ye are all great” (R. V. viii. 30, 1). As to the immortality and the origin of the gods, there is no orthodox opinion in the Veda. Many of the myths of the origin of the divine beings are on a level with the Maori theory that Heaven and Earth begat them in the ordinary way. Again, the gods were represented as the children of Aditi. This may be taken either in a refined sense, as if Aditi were the “infinite” region from which the solar deities rise, or we may hold with the Taittirya-Brahmana that Aditi was a female who, being desirous of offspring, cooked a brahmandana offering for the Sadhyas. Various other fathers and mothers of the gods are mentioned. Some gods, particularly Indra, are said to have won divine rank by “austere fervour” and asceticism, which is one of the processes that makes gods out of mortals even now in India. The gods are not always even credited with inherent immortality. Like men, they were subject to death, which they overcame in various ways. Like most gods, they had struggles for pre-eminence with Titanic opponents, the Asuras, who partly answer to the Greek Titans and the Hawaiian foes of the divine race, or to the Scandinavian giants and the enemies who beset the savage creative beings. Early man, living in a state of endless warfare, naturally believes that his gods also have their battles. The chief foes of Indra are Vrittra and Ahi, serpents which swallow up the waters, precisely as frogs do in Australian and Californian and Andaman myths. It has already been shown that such creatures, thunder-birds, snakes, dragons, and what not, people the sky in the imagination of Zulus, Red Men, Chinese, Peruvians, and all the races who believe that beasts hunt the sun and moon and cause eclipses. Though hostile to Asuras, Indra was once entangled in an intrigue with a woman of that race, according to the Atharva-Veda (Muir, S. T. v. 82). The gods were less numerous than the Asuras, but by a magical stratagem turned some bricks into gods (like a creation of new peers to carry a vote)—so says the Black Yajur-Veda.
Turning to separate gods, Indra first claims attention, for stories of Heaven and Earth are better studied under the heading of myths of the origin of things. Indra has this zoomorphic feature in common with Heitsi Eibib, the Namaqua god, that his mother, or one of his mothers, was a cow (R. V. iv. 18, 1). This statement may be a mere way of speaking in the Veda, but it is a rather Hottentot way. Indra is also referred to as a ram in the Veda, and in one myth this ram could fly, like the Greek ram of the fleece of gold. He was certainly so far connected with sheep that he and sheep and the Kshatriya caste sprang from the breast and arms of Prajapati, a kind of creative being. Indra was a great drinker of soma juice; a drinking-song by Indra, much bemused with soma, is in R. V. x. 119. On one occasion Indra got at the soma by assuming the shape of a quail. In the Taitt. Samh. (ii. 5; i. 1) Indra is said to “have been guilty of that most hideous crime, the killing of a Brāhmana.” Once, though uninvited, Indra drank some soma that had been prepared for another being. The soma disagreed with Indra; part of it which was not drunk up became Vrittra the serpent, Indra's enemy. Indra cut him in two, and made the moon out of half of his body. This serpent was a universal devourer of everything and everybody, like Kwai Hemm, the all-devourer in Bushman mythology. If this invention is a late priestly one, the person who introduced it into the Satapatha-Brahmana must have reverted to the intellectual condition of Bushmen. In the fight with Vrittra, Indra lost his energy, which fell to the earth and produced plants and shrubs. In the same way plants, among the Iroquois, were made of pieces knocked off Chokanipok in his fight with Manabozho. Vines, in particular, are the entrails of Chokanipok. In Egypt, wine was the blood of the enemies of the gods. The Aryan versions of this sensible legend will be found in Satapatha-Brahmana. The civilized mind soon wearies of this stuff, and perhaps enough has been said to prove that, in the traditions of Vedic devotees, Indra was not a god without an irrational element in his myth. Our argument is, that all these legends about Indra, of which only a sample is given, have no necessary connexion with the worship of a pure nature-god as a nature-god would now be constructed by men. The legends are survivals of a time in which natural phenomena were regarded, not as we regard them, but as persons, and savage persons, Alcheringa folk, in fact, and became the centres of legends in the savage manner. Space does not permit us to recount the equally puerile and barbarous legends of Vishnu, Agni, the loves of Vivasvat in the form of a horse, the adventures of Soma, nor the Vedic amours (paralleled in several savage mythologies) of Pururavas and Urvasi.
Divine Myths of Greece.—If any ancient people was thoroughly civilized the Greeks were that people. Yet in the mythology and religion of Greece we find abundant survivals of savage manners and of savage myths. As to the religion, it is enough to point to the traces of human sacrifice and to the worship of rude fetish stones. The human sacrifices at Salamis in Cyprus and at Alos in Achaia Phthiotis may be said to have continued almost to the conversion of the empire (Grote i. 125, ed. 1869). Pausanias seems to have found human sacrifices to Zeus still lingering in Arcadia in the 2nd century of our era. “On this altar on the Lycaean hill they sacrifice to Zeus in a manner that may not be spoken, and little liking had I to pry far into that sacrifice. But let it be as it is, and as it hath been from the beginning.” Now “from the beginning” the sacrifice, according to Arcadian tradition, had been a human sacrifice. In other places there were manifest commutations of human sacrifice, as at the altar of Artemis the Implacable at Patrae, where Pausanias saw the wild beasts being driven into the flames. Many other examples of human sacrifice are mentioned in Greek legend. Pausanias gives full and interesting details of the worship of rude stones, the oldest worship, he says, among the Greeks. Almost every temple had its fetish stone on a level with the pumice stone, which is the Poseidon of the Mangaians. The Argives had a large stone called Zeus Cappotas. The oldest idol of the Thespians was a rude stone. Another has been found beneath the pedestal of Apollo in Delos. In Achaean Pharae were thirty squared stones, each named by the name of a god. Among monstrous images of the gods which Pausanias, who saw them, regarded as the oldest idols, were the three-headed Artemis, each head being that of an animal, the Demeter with the horse's head, the Artemis with the fish's tail, the Zeus with three eyes, the ithyphallic Hermes, represented after the fashion of the Priapic figures in paintings on the walls of caves among the Bushmen. We also hear of the bull and the bull-footed Dionysus. Phallic and other obscene emblems were carried abroad in processions in Attica both by women and men. The Greek custom of daubing people all over with clay in the mysteries results as we saw in the mysteries of negroes, Australians and American races, while the Australian turndun was exhibited among the toys at the mysteries of Dionysus. The survivals of rites, objects of worship, and sacrifices like these prove that religious conservatism in Greece retained much of savage practice, and the Greek mythology is not less full of ideas familiar to the lowest races. The authorities for Greek mythology are numerous and various in character. The oldest sources as literary documents are the Homeric and Hesiodic poems. In the Iliad and Odyssey the gods and goddesses are beautiful, powerful and immortal anthropomorphic beings. The name of Zeus (Skr. Dyaus) clearly indicates his connexion with the sky. But in Homer he has long ceased to be merely the sky conceived of as a person; he is the chief personage in a society of immortals, organized on the type of contemporary human society. “There is a great deal of human nature” in his wife Hera (Skr. Svar, Heaven). It is to be remembered that philologists differ widely as to the origin and meaning of the names of almost all the Greek gods. Thus the light which the science of language throws on Greek myths is extremely uncertain. Hera is explained as “the feminine side of heaven” by some authorities. The quarrels of Hera with Zeus (which are a humorous anthropomorphic study in Homer) are represented as a way of speaking about winter and rough weather. The other chief Homeric deities are Apollo and Artemis, children of Zeus by Leto, a mortal mother raised to divinity. Apollo is clearly connected in some way with light, as his name φοῖβος seems to indicate, and with purity. Homer knows the legend that a giant sought to lay violent hands on Leto (Od. xi. 580). Smintheus, one of Apollo's titles in Homer, is connected with the field-mouse (σμίνθος), one of his many sacred animals. His names, Λύκιος, Λυκηγενής, were connected by antiquity with the wolf, by most modern writers with the light. According to some legends Leto had been a were-wolf. The whole subject of the relations of Greek gods to animals is best set forth in the words of Plutarch (De Is. et Os. lxxi.), where he says that the Egyptians worship actual beasts, “whereas the Greeks both speak and believe correctly, saying that the dove is the sacred animal of Aphrodite, the raven of Apollo, the dog of Artemis,” and so forth. Each Greek god had a small menagerie of sacred animals, and it may be conjectured that these animals were originally the totems of various stocks, subsumed into the worship of the anthropomorphic god. For the new theory of vegetation spirits and corn spirits see The Golden Bough. Apollo, in any case, is the young and beautiful archer-god of Homer; Artemis, his sister, is the goddess of archery, who takes her pastime in the chase. She holds no considerable place in the Iliad; in the Odyssey, Nausicaa is compared to her, as to the pure and lovely lady of maidenhood. Her name is commonly connected with ἀρτεμής—pure, unpolluted. Her close relations (un-Homeric) with the bear and bear-worship have suggested a derivation from ἄρκτος—Ἄρκτεμις. In Homer her “gentle shafts” deal sudden and painless death; she is a beautiful Azrael. A much more important daughter of Zeus in Homer is Athene, the “grey-eyed” or (as some take γλαυκῶπις, rather improbably) the “owl-headed” goddess. Her birth from the head of Zeus is not explicitly alluded to in Homer. In Homer, Athene is a warlike maiden, the patron-goddess of wisdom and manly resolution. In the twenty-second book of the Odyssey she assumes the form of a swallow, and she can put on the shape of any man. She bears the aegis, the awful shield of Zeus. Another Homeric child of Zeus, or, according to Hesiod (Th. 927), of Hera alone, is Hephaestus, the lame craftsman and artificer. In the Iliad will be found some of the crudest Homeric myths. Zeus or Hera throws Hephaestus or Ate out of heaven, as in the Iroquois myth of the tossing from heaven of Ataentsic. There is, as usual, no agreement as to the etymology of the name of Hephaestus. Preller inclines to a connexion with ἥφθαι, to kindle fire, but Max Müller differs from this theory. About the close relations of Hephaestus with fire there can be no doubt. He is a rough, kind, good-humoured being in the Iliad. In the Odyssey he is naturally annoyed by the adultery of his wife, Aphrodite, with Ares. Ares is a god with whom Homer has no sympathy. He is a son of Hera, and detested by Zeus (Iliad, v. 890). He is cowardly in war, and on one occasion was shut up for years in a huge brazen pot. This adventure was even more ignominious than that of Poseidon and Apollo when they were compelled to serve Laomedon for hire. The payment he refused, and threatened to “cut off their ears with the sword” (Iliad, xxi. 455). Poseidon is to the sea what Zeus is to the air, and Hades to the underworld in Homer. His own view of his social position may be stated in his own words (Iliad, xv. 183, 211). “Three brethren are we, and sons of Cronus, sons whom Rhea bare, even Zeus and myself, and Hades is the third, the ruler of the people in the underworld. And in three lots were all things divided, and each drew a lot of his own, and to me fell the hoary sea, and Hades drew the mirky darkness, and Zeus the wide heaven in clear air and clouds, but the earth and high Olympus are yet common to all.”
Zeus, however, is, as Poseidon admits, the elder-born, and therefore the revered head of the family. Thus Homer adopts the system of primogeniture, while Hesiod is all for the opposite and probably earlier custom of Jüngsten-recht, and makes supreme Zeus the youngest of the sons of Cronus. Among the other gods Dionysus is but slightly alluded to in Homer as the son of Zeus and Semele, as the object of persecution, and as connected with the myth of Ariadne. The name of Hermes is derived from various sources, as from ὁρμᾶν and ὁρμή, or, by Max Müller, the name is connected with Sarameya (Sky). If he had originally an elemental character, it is now difficult to distinguish, though interpreters connect him with the wind. He is the messenger of the gods, the bringer of good luck, and the conductor of men's souls down the dark ways of death. In addition to the great Homeric gods, the poet knows a whole “Olympian consistory” of deities, nymphs, nereids, sea-gods and goddesses, river-gods, Iris the rainbow goddess, Sleep, Demeter who lay with a mortal, Aphrodite the goddess of love, wife of Hephaestus and leman of Ares, and so forth. As to the origin of the gods, Homer is not very explicit. He is acquainted with the existence of an older dynasty now deposed, the dynasty of Cronus and the Titans. In the Iliad (viii. 478) Zeus says to Hera, “For thine anger reck I not, not even though thou go to the nethermost bounds of earth and sea, where sit Iapetus and Cronus . . . and deep Tartarus is round about them.” “The gods below that are with Cronus” are mentioned (Il. xiv. 274; xv. 225). Rumours of old divine wars echo in the Iliad, as (i. 400) where it is said that when the other immortals revolted against and bound Zeus, Thetis brought to his aid Aegaeon of the hundred arms. The streams of Oceanus (Il. xiv. 246) are spoken of as the source of all the gods, and in the same book (290) “Oceanus and mother Tethys” are regarded as the parents of the immortals. Zeus is usually called Cronion and Cronides, which Homer certainly understood to mean “son of Cronus,” yet it is expressly stated that Zeus “imprisoned Cronus beneath the earth and the unvintaged sea.” The whole subject is only alluded to incidentally. On the whole it may be said that the Homeric deities are powerful anthropomorphic beings, departmental rulers, united by the ordinary social and family ties of the Homeric age, capable of pain and pleasure, living on heavenly food, but refreshed by the sacrifices of men (Od. v. 100, 102), able to assume all forms at will, and to intermarry and propagate the species with mortal men and women. Their past has been stormy, and their ruler has attained power after defeating and mediatizing a more ancient dynasty of his own kindred.
From Hesiod we receive a much more elaborate—probably a more ancient, certainly a more barbarous—story of the gods and their origin. In the beginning the gods (here used in a wide sense to denote an early non-natural race) were begotten by Earth and Heaven, conceived of as beings with human parts and passions (Hesiod, Theog. 45). This idea recurs in Maori, Vedic and Chinese mythology. Heaven and Earth, united in an endless embrace, produced children which never saw the light. In New Zealand, Chinese, Vedic, Indian and Greek myths the pair had to be sundered. Hesiod enumerates the children whom Earth bore “when couched in love with Heaven.” They are Ocean, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys and the youngest, Cronus, “and he hated his glorious father.” Others of this early race were the Cyclopes, Bronte, Sterope and Arge, and three children of enormous strength, Cottus, Briareus (Aegaeon) and Gyes, each with one hundred hands and fifty heads. Uranus detested his offspring, and hid them in crannies of Earth. Earth excited Cronus to attack the father, whom he castrated with a sickle. From the blood of Uranus (this feature is common in Red Indian and Egyptian myths) were born furies, giants, ash-nymphs and Aphrodite. A number of monsters, as Echidna, Geryon and the hound of hell, were born of the loves of various elemental powers. The chief stock of the divine species was continued by the marriage of Rhea (probably another form of the Earth) with Cronus. Their children were Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. All these Cronus swallowed; and this “swallow-myth” occurs in Australia, among the Bushmen, in Guiana, in Brittany (where Gargantua did the swallow-trick) and elsewhere. At last Rhea bore Zeus, and gave Cronus a stone in swaddling bands, which he disposed of in the usual way. Zeus grew up, administered an emetic to Cronus (some say Metis did this), and had the satisfaction of seeing all his brothers and sisters disgorged alive. The stone came forth first, and Pausanias saw it at Delphi (Paus. x. 24). Then followed the wars between Zeus and the gods he had rescued from the maw of Cronus against the gods of the elder branch, the children of Uranus and Gaea—Heaven and Earth. The victory remained with the younger branch, the immortal Olympians of Homer. The system of Hesiod is a medley of later physical speculation and of poetic allegory, with matter which we, at least, regard as savage survivals, like the mutilation of Heaven and the swallow-myth.
In Homer and in Hesiod myths enter the region of literature, and become, as it were, national. But it is probable that the local myths of various cities and temples, of the “sacred chapters” which were told by the priests to travellers and in the mysteries to the initiated, were older in form than the epic and national myths. Of these “sacred chapters” we have fragments and hints in Herodotus, Pausanias, in the mythographers, like Apollodorus, in the tragic poets, and in the ancient scholia or notes on the classics. From these sources come almost all the more inhuman, bestial and discreditable myths of the gods. In these we more distinctly perceive the savage element. The gods assume animal forms: Cronus becomes a horse, Rhea a mare; Zeus begets separate families of men in the shape of a bull, an ant, a serpent, a swan. His mistress from whom the Arcadians claim descent becomes a she-bear. It is usual with mythologists to say that Zeus is the “All-Father,” and that his amours are only a poetic way of stating that he is the parent of men. But why does he assume so many animal shapes? Why did various royal houses claim descent from the ant, the swan, the she-bear, the serpent, the horse and so forth? We have already seen that this is the ordinary pedigree of savage stocks in Asia, Africa, Australia and America, while animals appear among Irish tribes and in Egyptian and ancient English genealogies. It is a plausible hypothesis that stocks which once claimed descent from animals, sans phrase, afterwards regarded the animals as avatars of Zeus. In the same way “the Minas, a non-Aryan tribe of Rajputana, used to worship the pig; when the Brahmans got a turn at them, the pig became an avatar of Vishnu” (Lyall, Asiatic Studies). The tales of divine cannibalism to which Pindar refers with awe, the mutilation of Dionysus Zagreus, the unspeakable abominations of Dionysus, the loves of Hera in the shape of a cuckoo, the divine powers of metamorphosing men and women into beasts and stars—these tales come to us as echoes of the period of savage thought. Further evidence on this point will be given below in a classification of the principal mythic legends. The general conclusion is that many of the Greek deities were originally elemental, the elements being personified in accordance with the laws of savage imaginations. But we cannot explain each detail in the legends as a myth of this or that natural phenomenon or process as understood by ourselves. Various stages of late and early fancy have contributed to the legends. Zeus is the sky, but not our sky; he had originally a personal character, and that a savage or barbarous character. He probably attracted into his legend stories that did not originally belong to him. He became anthropomorphic, and his myth was handled by local priests, by family bards, by national poets, by early philosophers. His legend is a complex embroidery on a very ancient tissue. The other divine myths are equally complex.
See L. R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States; Miss Jane Harrison, Prolegomena to Greek Religion; and Frazer, The Golden Bough, especially as regards the vegetable or “probably arboreal” aspect of Zeus.
Scandinavian Divine Myths.—The Scandinavian myths of the gods are numerous and interesting, but the evidence on which they have reached us demands criticism for which we lack space. That there are in the Eddas and Sagas early ideas and later ideas tinged by Christian legend seems indubitable, but philological and historical learning has by no means settled the questions of relative purity and antiquity in the myths. The Eddic songs, according to F. Y. Powell, one of the editors of the Corpus poeticum septentrionale (the best work on the subject), “cannot date earlier” in their present form “than the 9th century,” and may be vaguely placed between A.D. 800-1100. The collector of the Edda probably had the old poems recited to him in the 13th century, and where there was a break in the memory of the reciters the lacuna was filled up in prose. “As one goes through the poems, one is ever and anon face to face with a myth of the most childish and barbaric type,” which “carries one back to prae-Aryan days.” Side by side with these old stories come fragments of a different stratum of thought, Christian ideas, the belief in a supreme God. the notion of Doomsday. The Scandinavian cosmogonic myth (with its parallels among races savage and civilized) is given elsewhere. The most important god is Odin, the son of Bestla and Bor, the husband of Frigg, the father of Balder and many other sons, the head of the Aesir stock of gods. Odin's name is connected with that of Wuotan, and referred to the Old High-German verb watan wuot = meare, cum impetu ferri (Grimm, Teut. Myth., Eng. transl., i. 131). Odin would thus (if we admit the etymology) be the swift goer, the “ganger,” and it seems superfluous to make him (with Grimm) “the all-powerful, all-permeating being,” a very abstract and scarcely an early conception. Odin's brethren (in Gylfi's Mocking) are Vile and Ve, who with him slew Ymir the giant, and made all things out of the fragments of his body. They also made man out of two stocks. In the Hava-Mal Odin claims for himself most of the attributes of the medicine-man. In Loka Senna, Loki, the evil god, says that “Odin dealt in magic in Samsey.” The goddess Frigg remarks, “Ye should never talk of your old doings before men, of what ye two Aesir went through in old times.” But many relics of these “old times,” many traces of the medicine-man and the “skin-shifter,” survive in the myth of Odin. When he stole Suttung's mead (which answers somewhat to nectar and the Indian soma), he flew away in the shape of an eagle. The hawk is sacred to Odin; one of his names is “the Raven-god.” He was usually represented as one-eyed, having left an eye in pawn that he might purchase a draught from Mimir's well. This one eye is often explained as the sun. Odin's wife was Frigg; their sons were Thor (the thunder-god) and Balder, whose myth is well known in English poetry. The gods were divided into two—not always friendly—stocks, the Aesir and Vanir. Their relations are, on the whole, much more amicable than those of the Asuras and Devas in Indian mythology. Not necessarily immortal, the gods restored their vigour by eating the apples of Iduna. Asa Loki was a being of mixed race, half god, half giant, and wholly mischievous and evil. His legend includes animal metamorphoses of the most obscene character. In the shape of a mare he became the mother of the eight-legged horse of Odin. He borrowed the hawk-dress of Freya, when he recovered the apples of Iduna. Another Eddic god, Hoene, is described in phrases from lost poems as “the long-legged one,” “lord of the ooze,” and his name is connected with that of the crane. The constant enemies of the gods, the giants, could also assume animal forms. Thus in Thiodolf's Haust-long (composed after the settlement of Iceland) we read about a shield on which events from mythology were painted; among these was the flight of “giant Thiazzi in an ancient eagle's feathers.” The god Herindal and Loki once fought a battle in the shapes of seals. On the whole, the Scandinavian gods are a society on an early human model, of beings indifferently human, animal and divine—some of them derived from elemental forces personified, holding sway over the elements, and skilled in sorcery. Probably after the viking days came in the conceptions of the last war of gods, and the end of all, and the theory of Odin All-Father as a kind of emperor in the heavenly world. The famous tree that lives through all the world is regarded as “foreign, Christian, and confined to few poems.” There is, almost undoubtedly, a touch of the Christian dawn on the figure and myth of the pure and beloved and ill-fated god Balder, and his descent into hell. The whole subject is beset with critical difficulties, and we have chiefly noted features which can hardly be regarded as late, and which correspond with widely distributed mythical ideas.
Dasent's Prose or Younger Edda (Stockholm, 1842); the Corpus Septentrionale already referred to; C. F. Keary's Mythology of the Eddas (1882); Pigott's Manual of Scandinavian Mythology (1838); and Laing's Early Kings of Norway may be consulted by English students.
Classification of Myths.—It is now necessary to cast a hasty glance over the chief divisions of myths. These correspond to the chief problems which the world presents to the curiosity of untutored men. They ask themselves (and the answers are given in myths) the following questions: What is the Origin of the World? The Origin of Man? Whence came the Arts of Life? Whence the Stars? Whence the Sun and Moon? What is the Origin of Death? How was Fire procured by Man? The question of the origin of the marks and characteristics of various animals and plants has also produced a class of myths in which the marks are said to survive from some memorable adventure, or the plants and animals to be metamorphosed human beings. Examples of all these myths are found among savages and in the legends of the ancient civilizations. A few such examples may now be given.
Myths of the Origin of the World.—We have found it difficult to keep myths of the gods apart from myths of the origin of the world and of man, because gods are frequently regarded as creative powers. The origin of things is a problem which has everywhere exercised thought, and been rudely solved in myths. These vary in quality with the civilization of the races in which they are current, but the same ideas which we proceed to state pervade all cosmogonical myths, savage and civilized. All these legends waver between the theory of creation, or rather of manufacture, and the theory of evolution. The earth, as a rule, is supposed to have grown out of some original matter, perhaps an animal, perhaps an egg which floated on the waters, perhaps a fragment of soil fished up out of the floods by a beast or a god. But this conception does not exclude the idea that many of the things in the world—minerals, plants, people, and what not—are fragments of the frame of an animal or non-natural magnified man, or are excretions from the body of a god. We proceed to state briefly the various forms of these ideas. The most backward races usually assume the prior existence of the earth.
The aborigines of the northern parts of Victoria (Australia) believe that the earth was made by Pund-jel, the bird-creator, who sliced the valleys with a knife. Another Australian theory is that the men of a previous race, the Nooralie (very old ones), made the earth.
The problem of the origin of the world seems scarcely to have troubled the Bushmen. They know about “men who brought the sun,” but their doctrines are revealed in mysteries, and Qing, the informant of Mr Orpen (Cape Monthly Magazine, July 1874), “did not dance that dance”—that is, had not been initiated into all the secret doctrines of his tribe. According to Qing, creation was the work of Cagn (the mantis insect), “he gave orders and caused all things to appear.” Elsewhere in the myth Cagn made or manufactured things by his skill.
As a rule the most backward races, while rich in myths of the origin of men, animals, plants, stones and stars, do not say much about the making of the world. Among people a little more advanced, the earth is presumed to have grown out of the waters. In the Iroquois myth (Lafitau, Mœurs des sauvages, 1724), a heavenly woman was tossed out of heaven, and fell on a turtle, which developed into the world. Another North-American myth assumes a single island in the midst of the waters, and this island grew into the world. The Navaho and the Digger Indians take earth for granted as a starting-point in their myths. The Winnebagos, not untouched by Christian doctrine, do not go farther back. The Great Manitou awoke and found himself alone. He took a piece of his body and a piece of earth and made a man. Here the existence of earth is assumed (Bancroft iv. 228). Even in Guatemala, though the younger sons of a divine race succeed in making the earth where the elder son (as usual) failed, they all had a supply of clay as first material. The Pima, a Central-American tribe, say the earth was made by a powerful being, and at first appeared “like a spider's web.” This reminds one of the Ananzi or spider creator of West Africa. The more metaphysical Tacullies of British Columbia say that in the beginning nought existed but water and a musk-rat. The musk-rat sought his food at the bottom of the water, and his mouth was frequently filled with mud. This he kept spitting out, and so formed an island, which developed into the world. Among the Tinneh, the frame of a dog (which could assume the form of a handsome young man) became the first material of most things. The dog, like Osiris, Dionysus, Purusha and other gods, was torn to pieces by giants; the fragments became many of the things in the world (Bancroft i. 106). Even here the existence of earth for the dog to live in is assumed.
Coming to races more advanced in civilization, we find the New Zealanders in possession of ancient hymns in which the origin of things is traced back to nothing, to darkness, and to a metaphysical process from nothing to something, from being to becoming. The hymns may be read in Sir George Grey's Polynesian Mythology, and in Taylor's New Zealand. It has been suggested that these hymns bear traces of Buddhist and Indian influence; in any case, they are rather metaphysical than mystical. Myth comes in when the Maoris represent Rangi and Papa, Heaven and Earth, as two vast beings, male and female, united in a secular embrace, and finally severed by their children, among whom Tane Mahuta takes the part of Cronus in the Greek myth. The gods were partly elemental, partly animal in character; the lists of their titles show that every human crime was freely attributed to them. In the South Sea Islands, generally, the fable of the union and separation of Heaven and Earth is current; other forms will be found in Gill's Myths and Songs from the South Pacific.
The cosmogonies myths of the Aryans of India are peculiarly interesting, as we find in the Vedas and Brahmanas and Puranas almost every fiction familiar to savages side by side with the most abstract metaphysical speculations. We have the theory that earth grew, as in the Iroquois story of the turtle, from a being named Uttanapad (Muir v. 335). We find that Brahmanaspati “blew the gods forth from his mouth,” and one of the gods, Tvashtri, the mechanic among the deities, is credited with having fashioned the earth and the heaven (Muir v. 354). The “Purusha Sukta,” the 90th hymn of the tenth book of the Rig Veda, gives us the Indian version of the theory that all things were made out of the mangled limbs of Purusha, a magnified non-natural man, who was sacrificed by the gods. As this hymn gives an account of the origin of the castes (which elsewhere are scarcely recognized in the Rig Veda), it is sometimes regarded as a late addition. But we can scarcely think the main conception late, as it is so widely scattered that it meets us in most mythologies, including those of Chaldaea and Egypt, and various North-American tribes. Not satisfied with this myth, the Aryans of India accounted for the origin of species in the following barbaric style. A being named Purusha was alone in the world. He differentiated himself into two beings, husband and wife. The wife, regarding union with her producer as incest, fled from his embraces as Nemesis did from those of Zeus, and Rhea from Cronus, assuming various animal disguises. The husband pursued in the form of the male of each animal, and from these unions sprang the various species of beasts (Satapatha-Brahmana, xiv. 4, 2; Muir i. 25). The myth of the cosmic egg from which all things were produced is also current in the Brahmanas. In the Puranas we find the legend of many successive creations and destruct ions of the world a myth of world-wide distribution.
As a rule, destruction by a deluge is the most favourite myth, but destructions by fire and wind and by the wrath of a god are common in Australian, Peruvian and Egyptian tradition. The idea that a boar, or a god in the shape of a boar, fished up a bit of earth, which subsequently became the world, out of the waters, is very well known to the Aryans of India, and recalls the feats of American musk-rats and Coyotes already described. The tortoise from which all things sprang, in a myth of the Satapatha-Brahmana, reminds us of the Iroquois turtle. The Greek and Mangaian myth of the marriage of Heaven and Earth and its dissolution is found in the Aitareya-Brahmana (Haug's trans. ii. 308; Rig Veda, i. lxii.).
So much for the Indian cosmogonic myths, which are a collection of ideas familiar to savages, blended with sacerdotal theories and ritual mummeries. The philosophical theory of the origin of things, a hymn of remarkable stateliness, is in Rig Veda, x. 129. The Scandinavian cosmogonic myth starts from the abyss, Ginnungagap, a chaos of ice, from which, as it thawed, was produced the giant Ymir. Ymir is the Scandinavian Purusha. A man and woman sprang from his armpit, like Athene from the head of Zeus. A cow licked the hoar-frost, whence rose Bur, whose children, Odin, Vile and Ve, slew the giant Ymir. “Of his flesh they formed the earth, of his blood seas and waters, of his bones mountains, of his teeth rocks and stones, of his hair all manner of plants.” This is the story in the Prose Edda, derived from older songs, such as the Grimnersmal. However the distribution of this singular myth may be explained, its origin can scarcely be sought in the imagination of races higher in culture than the Tinneh and Tacullies, among whom dogs and beavers are the theriomorphic form of Purusha or Ymir.
Myths of the Origin of Man.—These partake of the conceptions of evolution and of creation. Man was made out of clay by a supernatural being. Australia: man was made by Pund-jel. New Zealand: man was made by Tiki; “he took red clay, and kneaded it with his own blood.” Mangaia: the woman of the abyss made a child from a piece of flesh plucked out of her own side. Melanesia: “man was made of clay, red from the marshy side of Vanua Levu”; woman was made by Qat of willow twigs. Greece: men were πλάσματα πηλοῦ, figures baked in clay by Prometheus. India: men were made after many efforts, in which the experimental beings did not harmonize with their environment, by Prajapati. In another class of myths, man was evolved out of the lower animals—lizards in Australia; coyotes, beavers, apes and other beasts in America. The Greek myths of the descent of the Arcadians, Myrmidons, children of the swan, the cow, and so forth, may be compared. Yet again, men came out of trees or plants or rocks: as from the Australian wattle-gum, the Zulu bed of reeds, the great tree of the Ovahereros, the rock of the tribes in Central Africa, the cave of Bushman and North-American and Peruvian myth, “from tree or stone” (Odyssey, xix. 163). This view was common among the Greeks, who boasted of being autochthonous. The Cephisian marsh was one scene of man's birth according to a fragment of Pindar, who mentions Egyptian and Libyan legends of the same description.
Myths of the Arts of Life.—These are almost unanimously attributed to “culture-heroes,” beings theriomorphic or anthropomorphic, who, like Pund-jel, Qat, Quawteaht, Prometheus, Manabozho, Quetzalcoatl, Cagn and the rest, taught men the use of the bow, the processes (where known) of pottery, agriculture (as Demeter), the due course of the mysteries, divination, and everything else they knew. Commonly the teacher disappears mysteriously. He is often regarded by modern mythologists as the sun.
Star Myths.—“The stars came otherwise,” says Browning's Caliban. In savage and civilized myths they are usually metamorphosed men, women and beasts. In Australia, the Pleiades, as in Greece, were girls. Castor and Pollux in Greece, as in Australia, were young men. Our Bear was a bear, according to Charlevoix and Lafitau, among the North-American Indians; the Eskimo, according to Egede, who settled the Danish colony in Greenland, regarded the stars “very nonsensically,” as “so many of their ancestors”; the Egyptian priests showed Plutarch the stars that had been Isis and Osiris. Aristophanes, in the Pax, shows us that the belief in the change of men into stars survived in his own day in Greece. The Bushmen (Bleek) have the same opinion. The Satapatha-Brahmana (Sacred Books of the East, xii. 284) shows how Prajapati, in his incestuous love, turned himself into a roebuck, his daughter into a doe, and how both became constellations. This is a thoroughly good example of the savage myths (as in Peru, according to Acosta) by which beasts and anthropomorphic gods and stars are all jumbled together. The Rig Veda contains examples of the idea that the good become stars.
Solar and Lunar Myths.—These are universally found, and are too numerous to be examined here. The sun and moon, as in the Bulgarian ballad of the Sun's Bride (a mortal girl), are looked on as living beings. In Mexico they were two men, or gods of a human character who were burned. The Eskimo know the moon as a man who visits earth, and, again, as a girl who had her face spotted by ashes which the Sun threw at her. The Khasias make the sun a woman, who daubs the face of the moon, a man. The Homeric hymn to Helios, as Max Müller observes, “looks on the sun as a half-god, almost a hero, who had once lived on earth.” This is precisely the Bushman view; the sun was a man who irradiated light from his armpit. In New Zealand and in North America the sun is a beast, whom adventurers have trapped and beaten. Medicine has been made with his blood. In the Andaman Islands the Sun is the wife of the Moon (Jour. of Anth. Soc., 1882). Among aboriginal tribes in India (Dalton, p. 186) the Moon is the Sun's bride; she was faithless and he cut her in two, but occasionally lets her shine in full beauty. The Andaman Islanders account for the white brilliance of the moon by saying that he is daubing himself with white clay, a custom common in savage and Greek mysteries. The Red Men accounted to the Jesuits for the spherical forms of sun and moon by saying that their appearance was caused by their bended bows. The Moon in Greek myths loved Endymion, and was bribed to be the mistress of Pan by the present of a fleece, like the Dawn in Australia, whose unchastity was rewarded by a gift of a red cloak of opossum skin. Solar and lunar myths usually account for the observed phenomena of eclipse, waning and waxing, sunset, spots on the moon, and so forth by various mythical adventures of the animated heavenly beings. In modern folk-lore the moon is a place to which bad people are sent, rather than a woman or a man. The mark of the hare in the moon has struck the imagination of Germans, Mexicans, Hottentots, Sinhalese, and produced myths among all these races.
Myths of Death.—Few savage races regard death as a natural event. All natural deaths are supernatural with them. Men are assumed to be naturally immortal, hence a series of myths to account for the origin of death. Usually some custom or “taboo” is represented as having been broken, when death has followed. In New Zealand, Maui was not properly baptized. In Australia, a woman was told not to go near a certain tree where a bat lived; she infringed the prohibition, the bat fluttered out, and men died. The Ningphoos were dismissed from Paradise and became mortal, because one of them bathed in water which had been tabooed (Dalton, p. 13). In the Atharva Veda, Yama, like Maui in New Zealand, first “spied out the path to the other world,” which all men after him have taken. In the Rig Veda (x. 14), Yama “sought out a road for many.” In the Solomon Islands (Jour. Anth. Inst., Feb. 1881), “Koevari was the author of death, by resuming her cast-off skin.” The same story is told in the Banks Islands. In the Greek myth (Hesiod, Works and Days, 90), men lived without “ill diseases that give death to men” till the cover was lifted from the forbidden box of Pandora. As to the myths of Hades, the place of the dead, they are far too many to be mentioned in detail. In almost all the gates of hell are guarded by fierce beasts, and in Ojibway, Finnish, Greek, Papuan and japanese myths no mortal visitor may escape from Hades who has once tasted the food of the dead.
Myths of Fire-stealing.—Those current in North America (where an animal is commonly the thief) will be found in Bancroft, vol. iv. The Australian version, singularly like one Greek legend, is given by Brough Smyth. Stories of the theft of Prometheus are recorded by Hesiod, Aeschylus, and their commentators. Muir and Kuhn may be consulted for Vedic fire-stealing.
Heroic and Romantic Myths.—In addition to myths which are clearly intended to explain facts of the universe, most nations have their heroic and romantic myths. Familiar examples are the stories of Perseus, Odysseus, Sigurd, the Indian epic stories, the adventures of Ilmarinen and Wainamoinen in the Kalewala, and so forth. To discuss these myths as far as they can be considered apart from divine and explanatory tales would demand more space than we have at our disposal. It will become evident to any student of the romantic myths that they consist of different arrangements of a rather limited set of incidents. These incidents have been roughly classified by Von Hahn. We may modify his arrangement as follows.
There is (1) the story of a bride or bridegroom who transgresses a commandment of a mystic nature, and disappears as a result of the sin. The bride sins as in Eros and Psyche, Freja and Oddur, Pururavas and Urvasi. The sin of Urvasi and Psyche was seeing their husbands—naked in the latter case. The sin was against “the manner of women.” Now the rule of etiquette which forbids seeing or naming the husband (especially the latter) is of the widest distribution. The offence in the Welsh form of the story is naming the partner—a thing forbidden among early Greeks and modern Zulus. Presumably the tale (with its example of the sanction) survives the rule in many cases. (2) “Penelope formula.” The man leaves the wife and returns after many years. A good example occurs in Chinese legend. (3) Formula of the attempt to avoid fate or the prophecy of an oracle. This incident takes numerous shapes, as in the story of the fatal birth of Perseus, Paris, the Egyptian prince shut up in a tower, the birth of Oedipus. (4) Slaughter of a monster. This is best known in the case of Andromeda and Perseus. (5) Flight, by aid of an animal usually, from cannibalism, human sacrifice, or incest. The Greek example is Phrixus, Helle, and the ram of the golden fleece. (6) Flight of a lady and her lover from a giant father or wizard father. Jason and Medea furnish the Greek example. (7) The youngest brother the successful adventurer, and the head of the family. We have seen the example of Greek mythic illustrations of “Jüngsten-recht,” or supremacy of the youngest, in the Hesiodic myth of Zeus, the youngest child of Cronus. (8) Bride given to whoever will accomplish difficult adventures or vanquish girl in race. The custom of giving a bride without demanding bride-price, in reward for a great exploit, is several times alluded to in the Iliad. In Greek heroic myth Jason thus wins Medea, and (in the race) Milanion wins Atalanta. In the Kalewala much of the Jason cycle, including this part, recurs. The rider through the fire wins Brunhild but this may belong to another cycle of ideas. (9) The grateful beasts, who, having been aided by the hero, aid him in his adventures. Melampus and the snakes is a Greek example. This story is but one specimen of the personal human character of animals in myths, already referred to the intellectual condition of savages. (10) Story of the strong man and his adventures, and stories of the comrades Keen-eye, Quick-ear, and the rest. Jason has comrades like these, as had Ilmarinen and Heracles, the Greek “strong man.” (11) Adventure with an ogre, who is blinded and deceived by a pun of the hero's. Odysseus and Polyphemus is the Greek example. (12) Descent into Hades of the hero. Heracles, Odysseus, Wainamoinen in the Kalewala, are the best-known examples in epic literature. These are twelve specimens of the incidents, to which we may add (13) “the false bride, " as in the poem of Berte aux grans Piés, and (14) the legend of the bride said to produce beast-children. The belief in the latter phenomenon is very common in Africa, and in the Arabian Nights, and we have seen it in America.
Of these formulae (chosen because illustrated by Greek heroic legends)—(1) is a sanction of barbarous nuptial etiquette; (2) is an obvious ordinary incident; (3) is moral, and both (3) and (1) may pair off with all the myths of the origin of death from the infringement of a taboo or sacred command; (4) would naturally occur wherever, as on the West Coast of Africa, human victims have been offered to sharks or other beasts; (5) the story of flight from a horrible crime, occurs in some stellar myths, and is an easy and natural invention; (6) flight from wizard father or husband, is found in Bushman and Namaqua myth, where the husband is an elephant; (7) success of youngest brother, may have been an explanation and sanction of “Jüngsten-recht”—Maui in New Zealand is an example, and Herodotus found the story among the Scythians; (8) the bride given to successful adventurer, is consonant with heroic manners as late as Homer; (9) is no less consonant with the belief that beasts have human sentiments and supernatural powers; (IO) the “strong man,” is found among Eskimo and Zulus, and was an obvious invention when strength was the most admired of qualities; (11) the baffled ogre, is found among Basques and Irish, and turns on a form of punning which inspires an “ananzi” story in West Africa; (12) descent into Hades, is the natural result of the savage conception of Hades, and the tale is told of actual living people in the Solomon Islands and in New Caledonia; Eskimo Angekoks can and do descend into Hades—it is the prerogative of the necromantic magician; (13) “the false bride,” found among the Zulus, does not permit of such easy explanation—naturally, in Zululand, the false bride is an animal; (14) the bride accused of bearing beast-children, has already been disposed of; the belief is inevitable where no distinction worth mentioning is taken between men and animals. English folk-lore has its woman who bore rabbits.
The formulae here summarized, with others, are familiar in the märchen of Samoyeds, Zulus, Bushmen, Hottentots and Red Indians. For an argument intended to show that Greek heroic myths may be adorned and classified märchen, in themselves survivals of savage fancy, see Fortnightly Review, May 1872, “Myths and Fairy Tales.” The old explanation was that märchen are degenerate heroic myths. This does not explain the mārchen of African, and perhaps not of Siberian races.
In this sketch of mythology that of Rome is not included, because its most picturesque parts are borrowed from or adapted into harmony with the mythology of Greece. Greece, India and Scandinavia will supply a fair example of Aryan mythology (without entering on the difficult Slavonic and Celtic fields). (A. L.)
- Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride.
- Myths and Songs from the South Pacific, p. 35 (1876).
- Xenoph. Fr. i. 42.
- Dindorf’s ed., iv. 231.
- Grote, Hist. of Greece, (ed. 1869) i. 404.
- Cf. Lobeck, Aglaophamus, i. 151-152, on allegorical interpretation of myths in the mysteries.
- Hahn, Tsuni-Goam, the Supreme Being of the Khoi-Khoi, p. 113.
- De civ. dei., vii. 18; viii. 26.
- La Mythologie et les fables expliquées par l'histoire (Paris, 1738; 3 vols. 4t0).
- Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker (Leipzig and Darmstadt, 1836-1843).
- Mœurs des sauvages (Paris, 1724).
- Max Müller, Lectures on Language (1864), 2nd series, p. 410.
- E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, i. 369 (1871).
- Relations (1636), p. 114.
- Voyages, p. 159.
- South African Folk-Lore Journal (May 1880).
- E. B. Tylor, op. cit. ii. 256.
- R. Brough Smyth, Aborigines of Victoria, i. 446 (1878).
- J. Hawkesworth, Voyages, iii. 756.
- Lord Redesdale, Tales of Old Japan (1871).
- Bleek, Brief Account of Bushman Folk-Lore, pp. 15, 40.
- Missionary Travels, pp. 615, 642.
- W. H. Dall, Alaska, p. 423 (1870).
- Dorman, Origin of Primitive Superstitions, pp. 130, 134.
- Sahagun, French trans., p. 226.
- Records of the Past, x. 10.
- Plotini vita, pp. 2, 95.
- H. N. xv. 44, 85.
- See Mrs Langloh Parker's The Euahlayi Tribe.
- The drawback to knowledge is the rarity of full acquaintance with native languages. Strehlow, Roth and Ridley seem best equipped on the linguistic side. Spencer and Gillen do not tell us that they have a colloquial knowledge of any Australian language. Gason, author of a work on the Dieri tribe, knew their language well, but several of his statements appear to be inaccurate. Mrs Langloh Parker describes her methods of checking and controlling native statements made in English.
- Accounts of the Mantis and of his performances will be found in the Cape Monthly Magazine (July 1874), and in Dr Bleek's Brief Account of Bushman Folk-Lore.
- These are collected by Callaway, Zulu Nursery Tales (1868). Similar Kafir stories, also closely resembling the popular fictions of European races, have been published by Theal. Many other examples are published in the South African Folk-Lore Journal (1879, 1880).
- Dasent, Bragi's Telling: Younger Edda, p. 94.
- Bancroft, vol. iv.
- Taylor, New Zealand, p. 108.
- Rig Veda, x. 72, 1, 8; Muir, Sanskrit Texts, iv. 13, where the fable from the Satapatha-Brahmana is given.
- The best authorities for the New Zealand myths are the old traditional priestly hymns, collected and translated in the works of Sir George Grey, in Taylor's New Zealand, in Shortland's Traditions of New Zealand (1857), in Bastian's Heilige Sage der Polynesier, and in White's Ancient History of the Maori, i. 8-13.
- See also Bancroft, iii. 288-290, and Acosta, pp. 352-361.
- Geschichte der amerikanischen Urreligionen, p. 592.
- Demosthenes, De corona, p. 313, καὶ καθαίρων τοὺς τελουμένους καὶ ἀπομάττων τῷ πηλῷ καὶ τοῖς πιτύροις.
- Κῶνος ξυλάριον οὗ ἐξῆπται τὸ σπαρτίον, καὶ ἐν ταῖς τελεταῖς ἐδονεῖτο ἵνα ῥοιζῇ. Quoted by Lobeck, Aglaophamus, i. 700, from Bastius ad Gregor., 241, and from other sources; cf. Arnobius, v. c. 19, where the word turbines is the Latin term.
- Wilkinson, iii. 62, see note by Dr Birch. A more detailed account of Egyptian religion is given under Egypt. Unfortunately Egyptologists have rarely a wide knowledge of the myths of the lower races, while anthropologists are seldom or never Egyptologists.
- For examples of the lofty morality sometimes attributed to the gods, see Max Müller, Hibbert Lectures, p. 284; Rig-Veda, ii. 28; iv. 12, 4; viii. 93 seq.; Muir, Sanskrit Texts, v. 218.
- Müller, Hibbert Lectures, p. 230.
- Muir, S. T., v. 55; i. 27.
- See Sir A. Lyall, Asiatic Studies. For Vedic examples, see R.-V. x. 167, 1; x. 159, 4; Muir, S. T. v. 15.
- See Tylor, Primitive Culture, i. 288, 329, 356.
- The chief authority for the constant strife between gods and Asuras is the Satapatha-Brahmama, of which one volume is translated in Sacred Books of the East (vol. xii.).
- Hahn, Tsuni-Goam, the Supreme Being of the Hottentots, p. 68.
- See Muir, S. T., v. 16, 17, for Indra's peculiar achievements with a cow.
- Sacred Books of the East, xii. 1, 48.
- Sacred Books of the East, xii. 176, 177.
- On the whole subject, Dr Muir's Ancient Sanskrit Texts, with translations, Ludwig's translation of the Rig Veda, the version of the Satapatha-Brahmana already referred to, and the translation of the Aitareya-Brahmana by Haug, are the sources most open to English readers. Max Müller's translation of the Rig Veda unfortunately only deals with the hymns to the Maruts. The Indian epics and the Puranas belong to a much later date, and are full of deities either unknown to or undeveloped in the Rig Veda and the Brahmanas. It is much to be regretted that the Atharva-Veda, which contains the magical formulae and incantations of the Vedic Indians, is still untranslated, though, by the very nature of its theme, it must contain matter of extreme antiquity and interest.
- Pausanias iii. 16; vii. 18. Human sacrifice to Dionysus, Paus. vii. 21; Plutarch, De Is. et Os. 35; Porphyry, De Abst. ii. 55.
- Gill, Myths and Songs from the South Pacific, p. 60.
- Cf. Preller, Griechische Mythologie, i. 128, note 1, for this and other philological conjectures.
- The derivation of Ἀπόλλων remains obscure. The derivation of Leto from λαθεῖν, and the conclusion that her name means “the concealer”—that is, the night, whence the sun is born—is disputed by Curtius (Preller i. 190, 191, note 4), but appears to be accepted by Max Müller (Selected Essays, i. 386) Latmos being derived from the same root as Leto, Latona, the night.
- Aristotle, H. An. 6; Aelian, N. A. iv. 4.
- Her name, as usual, is variously interpreted by various etymologists.
- xiv, 257; xviii. 395; xix. 91, 132.
- The root of his name is sought in such words as πότος and ποταμός.
- We learn from the Odyssey (xiv. 209) that this was the custom of sons on the death of their father.
- See Tylor, Prim. Cult. i. 326.
- Bleek, Bushman Folk-Lore, pp. 6-8. Max Müller suggests another theory (Selected Essays, i. 460): “Κρόνος did not exist till long after Ζεύς in Greece.” The name Κρονίων, or Κρονίδης, looks like a patronymic. Müller, however, thinks it originally meant only “connected with time, existing through all time.” Very much later the name was mistaken for a genuine patronymic, and “Zeus the ancient of days” became “Zeus the son of Cronus.” Having thus got a Cronus, the Greeks—and “the misunderstanding could have happened in Greece only”—needed a myth of Cronus. They therefore invented or adapted the “swallow-myth” so familiar to Bushmen and Australians. This singular reversion to savagery itself needs some explanation. But the hypothesis that Cronus is a late derivation from Κρονίδης and Κρονίων is by no means universally accepted. Others derive Κρόνος from κραίνω, and connect it with κρόνια, a kind of harvest-home festival. Schwartz (Prähistorisch-anthropologische Studien) readily proves Cronus to be the storm, swallowing the clouds. Perhaps we may say of Schwartz's view, as he says of Preller's—“das ist Gedankenspiel, aber nimmermehr Mythologie.”
- Elton, Origins of English History, pp. 298-301.
- Indra was a hawk when, “being well-winged, he carried to men the food tasted by the gods” (R. V. iv. 26, 4). Yehl, the Tlingit god-hero, was a raven or a crane when he stole the water (Bancroft iii. 100-102). The prevalence of animals, or of god-animals, in myths of the stealing of water, soma and fire, is very remarkable. Among the Andaman Islanders, a kingfisher steals fire for men from the god Puluga (Anthrop. Journal, November 1882.
- Black Yajur-Veda and Satapatha-Brahmana; Muir, i. 52.
- Aristophanes, Aves, 686; Etym. Magn., s.v. Ἰκόνιον. Pausanias saw the clay (Paus. x. iv.). The story is also quoted by Lactantius from Hesiod.
- See also Vishnu Purana, i. 131.
- See Cornhill Magazine, “How the Stars got their Names” (1882, p. 35), and “Some Solar and Lunar Myths” (1882, p. 440); Max Müller, Selected Essays, i. 609-611.
- Griechische und albanesische Märchen, i. 45.
- Tenth Book of Rig Veda and “Brahmana” of Yajur-Veda; Müller Selected Essays, i. 410.