Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/69

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OWING to the demand of the uneducated mind for any kind of a crude guess rather than an acknowledgment of ignorance, strange stories often spring up around natural phenomena, attributing, in most absurd ways, effects to causes which have no more connection than the barnacles and geese of Gerarde. Especially is this true of the savage who deifies everything beyond his knowledge and attributes to it influences for good or evil to himself, according to his first impressions of them. Such stories often find credence in the minds of more enlightened people upon the plea that 'the Indian lives so close to nature that he can not be far wrong in his estimate of natural phenomena.' These believers in the infallibility of the 'untutored races' fail to remember that the most superstitious person on earth is he who reads nature, as does the savage, only by the awe-inspiring phenomena that have forced themselves upon his attention most strongly by some accident, without any reference whatever to cause and effect. Cases in point might be cited from every stage in the life of native races, but the following will serve as an example, and at the same time may clear up in the minds of some as to what is the cause of the peculiar growths known as 'wooden roses' or 'wooden flowers,' they having frequently been described to the writer by different botanists as 'fungi,' 'galls,' 'knots,' 'disease swellings,' etc.

Volcanoes have ever been looked upon with fear by native races and the crater shunned as the doorway to the 'infernal regions.' Agua, in Guatemala, had, however, been inactive for so long that when peculiar forms of plant life, known nowhere else in the region, were found near its summit, they were supposed in some way to be connected through the extinct, though still feared crater, with the regions of fire beneath. They were, therefore, called by the euphonious title of 'roses of hell,' because they were believed to be the only flowers that grew in the 'lower world' and, having escaped through the crater from that region, were supposed to exist nowhere in the world except upon the upper portion of the sloping sides of this volcano.

Because of their supposed origin, these 'flowers' were feared as having great power for evil. They were supposed to be more poisonous than anything upon earth, and any person coming within the influence of their inodorous, though not unbeautiful, 'petals' was marked for sure destruction.