« ZurückWeiter »
DUBUFE'S PICTURE. From being venerated as the arbiter of life and death, it might thus actually become such in large districts of country. In Dubufe's picture of the Fall of Man, the wrath of Jehovah is represented by the lightning, which has shattered the tree beneath which the offending pair are now crouching; beyond it Satan is seen in human shape raising his arm in proud defiance against the blackened sky. So would the Serpent appear. His victims were counted by many thousands where the lightning laid low one. Transmitted along the shuddering nerves of many generations came the confession of the Son of Sirach, 'There is no head above the head of a serpent.'
( 332 )
An African Serpent-drama in America—The Veiled Serpent—The Ark
of the Covenant-Aaron's Rod—The Worm-An Episode on the
On the eve of January 1, 1863,—that historic New Year's Day on which President Lincoln proclaimed freedom to American slaves,—I was present at a Watchnight held by negroes in a city of that country. In opening the meeting the preacher said,—though in words whose eloquent shortcomings I cannot reproduce :— Brethren and sisters, the President of the United States has promised that, if the Confederates do not lay down their arms, he will free all their slaves to-morrow. They have not laid down their arms. To-morrow will be the day of liberty to the oppressed. But we all know that evil powers are around the President. While we sit here they are trying to make him break his word. But we have come together to watch, and see that he does not break his word. Brethren, the bad influences around the President to-night are stronger than any Copperheads.1 The Old Serpent is abroad tonight, with all his emissaries, in great power. His wrath is great, because he knows his hour is near. He will be in
* A deadly Southern snake, coloured like the soil on which it lurks, had become the current name for politicians who, while professing loyalty to the Union, aided those who sought to overthrow it.
AFRICAN SERPENT-DRAMA IN AMERICA. 333
this church this evening. As midnight comes on we shall hear his rage. But, brethren and sisters, don't be alarmed. Our prayers will prevail. His head will be bruised. His back will be broken. He will go raging to hell, and God Almighty's New Year will make the United States a true land of freedom.'
The sensation caused among the hundreds of negroes present by these words was profound; they were frequently interrupted by cries of Glory!' and there were tears of joy. But the scene and excitement which followed were indescribable. A few moments before midnight the congregation were requested to kneel, which they did, and prayer succeeded prayer with increasing fervour. Presently a loud, prolonged hiss was heard. There were cries—'He's here! he's here!' Then came a volley of hisses ; they seemed to proceed from every part of the room, hisses so entirely like those of huge serpents that the strongest nerves were shaken ; above them rose the preacher's prayer that had become a wild incantation, and ecstatic ejaculations became so universal that it was a marvel what voices were left to make the hisses. Finally, from a neighbouring steeple the twelve strokes of midnight sounded on the frosty air, and immediately the hisses diminished, and presently died away altogether, and the New Year that brought freedom to four millions of slaves was ushered in by the jubilant chorus of all present singing a hymn of victory.
Far had come those hisses and that song of victory, terminating the dragon-drama of America. In them was the burden of Ezekiel : “Son of man, set thy face against Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt, saying, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah : Behold I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lietl in the midst of the rivers ... I will put a hook in thy jaws.' In them was the burden of
Isaiah: 'In that day Jehovah with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent: he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.' In it was the cry of Zophar: * His meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him. He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again: God shall cast them out of his belly. And these Hebrew utterances, again, were but the distant echoes of far earlier voices of those African slaves still seen pictured with their chains on the ruined walls of Egypt,-voices that gathered courage at last to announce the never-ending struggle of man with Oppression, as that combat between god and serpent which never had a nobler event than when the dying hiss of Slavery was heard in America, and the victorious Sun rose upon a New World of free and equal men.
The Serpent thus exalted in America to a type of oppression is very different from any snake that may this day be found worshipped as a deity by the African in his native land. The swarthy snake-worshipper in his migration took his god along with him in his chest or basket-at once ark and altar—and in that hiding-place it underwent transformations. He emerged as the protean emblem of both good and evil. In a mythologic sense the serpent certainly held its tail in its mouth. No civilisation has reached the end of its typical supremacy. Concerning the accompanying Eleusinian form (Fig. 24),
Calmet says : The mysterious trunk, coffer, or basket, may be justly reckoned among the most remarkable and sacred instruments of worship, which formed part
of the processional ceremonies in the Fig. 24.-SERPENT AND heathen world. This was held so sacred
AK "coin). Oreck that it was not publicly exposed to view, or publicly opened, but was reserved for the inspection
ARK OF THE COVENANT.
of the initiated, the fully initiated only. Completely to explain this symbol would require a dissertation; and, indeed, it has been considered, more or less, by those who have written on the nature of the Ark of the testimony among the Hebrews. Declining the inquiry at present, we merely call the attention of the reader to what this mystical coffer was supposed to contain—a serpent!' The French Benedictine who wrote this passage, though his usual candour shames the casuistry of our own time, found it necessary to conceal the Hebrew Ark: it was precisely so that the occupant of the Ark was originally concealed ; and though St. John exorcised it from the Chalice its genius lingers in the Pyx, before whose Host lifted up' the eyes of worshippers are lowered.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (chap. ix.), de- · scribing the Tabernacle, says: ‘After the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.' But this rod of Aaron, which, by budding, had swallowed up all rival pretensions to the tribal priesthood, was the same rod which had been changed to a serpent, and swallowed up the rod-serpents of the sorcerers in Pharaoh's presence. So soft and subtle is 'the way of a serpent upon a rock!'
This veiling of the Serpent, significant of a great deal, is characteristic even of the words used to name it. Of these I have selected one to head this chapter, because it is one of the innumerable veils which shielded this reptile's transformation from a particular external danger to a demonic type. This general description of things that wind about or turn (verines, traced by some to the Sanskrit root hvar, curved '), gradually came into use to express the demon