« ZurückWeiter »
316 GIANTS TURNED TO LITTLE PEOPLE.
fringe, called the Gude Man's Croft, is derived from the ancient belief that unless some wild place is left to the sylvan spirits they will injure the grain and vegetables; and, no doubt, some such notion leads the farmers of Thurgau still to graft mistletoe upon their fruit-trees. Many who can smile at such customs do yet preserve in their own minds, or those of their servants or neighbours, crofts which the ploughshare of science is forbidden to touch, and where the præternatural troops still hide their shrivelled forms. But this wild girdle becomes ever narrower, and the images within it tend to blend with rustling leaf and straw, and the insects, and to be otherwise invisible, save to that second sight which is received from Glam. As in some shadow-pantomime, the deities and demons pursue each other in endless procession, dropping down as awe-inspiring Titans, vanishing as grotesque pigmies—vanishing beyond the lamp into Nothingness!
So came most of the monsters we have been describing -Animals, Volcanoes, Icebergs, Deserts, though they might be—by growing culture and mastery of nature to be called 'the little people;' and perhaps it is rather through pity than euphemism when they were so often called, as in Ireland (Duine Matha), 'the good little people.’i At every step in time or space back of the era of mechanic arts the little fairy gains in physical proportions. The house-spirits (Domovoi) of Russia are fullsized, shaggy human-shaped beings. In Lithuania the corresponding phantoms (Kaukas) average only a foot in height. The Krosnyata, believed in by the Slavs on the Baltic coast, are similarly small; and by way of the kobolds, elves, fays, travelling westward, we find the size
i Elf has, indeed, been referred by some to the Sanskrit alpa= little; but the balance of authority is in favour of the derivation given in a former chapter.
GODS RETURNING TO NATURE.
of such shapes diminishing, until warnings are given that the teeth must never be picked with a straw, that slender tube being a favourite residence of the elf! In Bavaria a little red chafer with seven spots (Coccinella septempunctata) is able to hold Thor with his lightnings, and in other regions is a form of the goddess of Love !1 Our English name for the tiny beetle 'Lady-bug' is derived from the latter notion; and Mr. Karl Blind has expressed the opinion that our children's rune
Lady-bug, lady-bug, fly away home,
Thy house is on fire, thy children will roamis last echo of the Eddaic prophecies of the destruction of the universe by the fire-fiend Loki !2 Such reductions of the ancient gods, demons, and terrors to tiny dimensions would, of course, be only an indirect result of the general cause stated. They were driven from the great world, and sought the small world: they survived in the hut and were adapted to the nerves of the nursery. So alone can Tithonos live on: beyond the age for which he is born he shrinks to a grasshopper; and it is now by only careful listening that in the chirpings of the multitudinous immortals, of which Tithonos is type, may be distinguished the thunders and roarings of deities and demons that once made the earth to tremble.
2 Mannhardt, 'Götter,' 287.
2 Freia-Holda, the Teutonic goddess of Love. 1872.
“Cornhill Magazine,' May,
( 318 )
GENERALISATION OF DEMONS.
The Demons' bequest to their conquerors-Nondescripts—Exaggera
tions of tradition-Saurian Theory of Dragons—The Dragon not primitive in Mythology-Monsters of Egyptian, Iranian, Vedic, and Jewish Mythologies—Turner's Dragon-Della Bella— The Conventional Dragon.
AFTER all those brave victories of man over the first chaos, organic and inorganic, whose effect upon his phantasms has been indicated; after fire had slain its thousands, and iron its tens of thousands of his demons, and the rough artisan become a Nemesis with his rudder and wheel pursuing the hosts of darkness back into Night and Invisibility ; still stood the grim fact of manyformed pain and evil in the world, still defying the ascending purposes of mankind. Moreover, confronting these, he is by no means so different mentally from that man he was before conquering many foes in detail, and laying their phantoms, as he was morally. More courage man had gained, and more defiance; and, intellectually, a step had been taken, if only one: he had learned that his evils are related to each other. Hunger is of many heads and forms. Its yawning throat may be seen in the brilliarit sky that lasts till it is as brass, in the deluge, the earthquake, in claw and fang; and then these together do but relate the hunger-brood to Fire and Ferocity; the summer sun
NONDESCRIPT AND EXAGGERATIONS. 319
beam may be venomous as a serpent, and the end of them all is Death. Some tendency to these more general conceptions of an opposing principle and power in the world seems to be represented in that phase of development at which nondescript forms arise. These were the conquered demons' bequest.
It is, of course, impossible to measure the various forces which combined to produce the complex symbolical forms of physical evil. Tradition is not always a good draughtsman, and in portraying for a distant generation in Germany a big snake killed in India might not be exact as to the number of its heads or other details. Heroes before Falstaff were liable to overstate their foes in buckram. The less measurable a thing by fact, the more immense in fancy: werewolves of especial magnitude haunted regions where there had not been actual wolves for centuries; huge serpents play a large part in the annals of Ireland, where not even the smallest have been found. But after all natural influences have been considered, one can hardly look upon the sphynx, the chimæra, or on a conventional dragon, without perceiving that he is in presence of a higher creation than a demonic bear or a giant ruffian. The fundamental difference between the two classes is that one is natural, the other præternatural. Of course a werewolf is as præternatural as a gryphon to the eye of science, but as original expressions of human imagination the former could hardly have been a more miraculous monster than the Siamese twins to intelligent people to-day. The demonic forms are generally natural, albeit caricatured or exaggerated. And this effort at a præternatural conception is, in this early form, by no means mere superstition; rather is it poetic and artistic,-a kind of crude effort at allgemeinheit, at realisation of the types of evil—the clawprinciple, fang-principle in the universe, the physiognomies 320
SAURIAN THEORY OF DRAGONS.
of venom and pain detached from forms to which they are accidental.
Some of the particular forms we have been considering are, indeed, by no means of the prosaic type. Such conceptions as Ráhu, Cerberus, and several others, are transitional between the natural and mystical conceptions; while the sphynx, however complete a combination of ideal forms, is not all demonic. In this part III. are included those forms whose combination is not found in objective nature, but which are yet travesties of nature and genuine fauna of the human mind.
Perhaps it may be thought somewhat arbitrary that I should describe all these intermediate forms between demon and devil by the term DRAGON; but I believe there is no other fabulous form which includes so many individual types of transition, or whose evolution may be so satisfactorily traced from the point where it is linked with the demon to that where it bequeathes its characters to the devil. While, however, this term is used as the best that suggests itself, it cannot be accepted as limiting our inquiry or excluding other abstract forms which ideally correspond to the dragon,—the generalised expression for an active, powerful, and intelligent enemy to mankind, a being who is antagonism organised, and able to command every weapon in nature for an antihuman purpose.
The opinion has steadily gained that the conventional dragon is the traditional form of some huge Saurian. It has been suggested that some of those extinct forms may have been contemporaneous with the earliest men, and that the traditions of conflicts with them, transmitted orally and pictorially, have resulted in preserving their forms in fable (proximately). The restorations of Saurians on their islet at the Crystal Palace show how much common sense there is in this theory. The discoveries of