Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/441

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427
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CALMUCKS.

he had frequent quarrels both with the sun and the moon, and sometimes he fought with them. During these duels there was an eclipse upon the earth.

The stars, likewise, are equally great globes of crystal, inhabited by spirits. One only among all the stars—the pole-star, called the "pile of gold"—is fixed. All the others, to the number of 225,000,000, are transposed by ærial horses from one place to another. The fall of a star signifies the death of its inhabiting spirit, whose soul then descends into the abyss to animate another body.

The change of seasons is produced by a winged dragon. During the whole of winter it is in repose, lying upon the seven seas. In summer it rises up with the vapors, and ascends toward the upper strata of the atmosphere. The creature which rides this dragon excites it from time to time to thunder and to vomit flames. From time to time also he shoots from heaven fiery and deadly arrows.

As to the past destinies of the human race, the Buddhists teach thus. Men, having tasted the fruit shime, could not any longer do without nutriment; and, since the shime could not suffice for them all, they began to feed upon terrestrial honey and some vegetables. The fear of the want of food has forced every one to think only of himself, and to seek to provide for the future. Indigent people began to envy those who were richer. The discord which arose among men forced them to choose chiefs charged with their well-being. These chiefs abused the confidence placed in them, and, supporting themselves upon their power, changed into despots.

In proportion as iniquities multiplied among men, their longevity decreased more and more, and at length arrived at its present degree. During this period of continual calamities, many deities, clothed in human form, descended from time to time upon the earth, and preached penitence and correction. There were four of them; and the last is recognized as the founder of Buddhism. He taught his doctrine to sixty nations, each one of which understood it differently, which has occasioned the origin of so many different religions that prevail upon the earth.

As to what concerns the future destinies of the human race, they teach that the stature and the age of men will sink by degrees, and that there will come a time at which human stature will not exceed twenty-eight inches and a half. Then each child will speak immediately after its birth, and the next day it will be capable of undertaking its own management. They will marry at five years of age, and will not live longer than ten years. The human race having arrived at such a state will be the sign that the moment of universal destruction is at hand. Seven years before this cataclysm, the earth will become completely sterile, and the greater part of mankind will die. Afterward a great number of swords will be cast down from heaven, which will put to death the rest of the survivors, excepting a single