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serpents. Dante and Milton call Satan a worm. Yo doubt among the two hundred names for the Serpent, said to be mentioned in an Arabic work, we should find parallels to this old adaptation of the word 'worm. In countriesas Germany and England—where no large serpents are found, the popular imagination could not be impressed by merely saying that Siegfried or Lambton had slain a snake. The tortuous character of the snake was preserved, but, by that unconscious dexterity which so often appears in the making of myths, it was expanded so as to include a power of supernatural transformation. The Lambton worm comes out of the well very small, but it afterwards coils in nine huge folds around its hill. The hag-ridden daughter of the King of Northumberland, who .
crept into a hole a worm
And out stept a fair ladye, did but follow the legendary rule of the demonic serpent tribe.
Why was the Serpent slipped into the Ark or coffer and hid behind veils ? To answer this will require here an episode.
In the Etruscan theology and ceremonial the supreme power was lodged with certain deities that were never seen. They were called the Diï Involuti, the veiled gods. Not even the priests ever looked upon them. When any dire calamity occurred, it was said these mysterious deities had spoken their word in the council of the gods,-a word always final and fatal.
There have been fine theories on the subject, and the Etruscans have been complimented for having high transcendental views of the invisible nature of the Divine Being. But a more prosaic theory is probably true. These gods were wrapped up because they were not fit to be seen. The rude carvings of some savage tribe, they had been
seen and adored at first : temples had been built for them, and their priesthood had grown powerful; but as art advanced and beautiful statues arose, these rude designs could not bear the contrast, and the only way of preserving reverence for them, and the institutions grown up around them, was to hide them out of sight altogether. Then it could be said they were so divinely beautiful that the senses would be overpowered by them.
There have been many veiled deities, and though their veils have been rationalised, they are easily pierced. The inscription on the temple of Isis at Sais was: 'I am that which has been, which is, and which shall be, and no one has yet lifted the veil that hides me.' Isis at this time had probably become a negro Madonna, like that still worshipped in Spain as holiest of images, and called by the same title, 'Our Immaculate Lady. As the fair race and the dark mingled in Egypt, the primitive Nubian complexion and features of Isis could not inspire such reverence as more anciently, and before her also a curtain was hung. The Ark of Moses carried this veil into the wilderness, and concealed objects not attractive to look at-probably two scrawled stones, some bones said to be those of Joseph, a pot of so-called manna, and the staff said to have once been a serpent and afterwards blossomed. Fashioned by a rude tribe, the Ark was a fit thing to hide, and hidden it has been to this day. When the veil of the Temple was rent,—allegorically at the death of Christ, actually by Titus,-nothing of the kind was found; and it would seem that the Jews must long have been worshipping before a veil with emptiness behind it. Paul discovered that the veil said to have covered the face of Moses when he descended from Sinai was a myth; it meant that the people should not see to the end of what was nevertheless tran
sient. “Their minds were blinded; for unto this day, when Moses is read, that veil is on their heart.'
Kircher says the Seraphs of Egypt were images without any eminency of limbs, rolled as it were in swaddling clothes, partly made of stone, partly of metal, wood, or shell. Similar images, he says, were called by the Romans 'secret gods.' As an age of scepticism advanced, it was sometimes necessary that these 'involuti' should be slightly revealed, lest it should be said there was no god there at all. Such is the case with the famous bambino of Araceli Church in Rome. This effigy, said to have been carved by a pilgrim out of a tree on the Mount of Olives, and painted by St. Luke while the pilgrim was sleeping, is now kept in its ark, and visitors are allowed to see part of its painted face. When the writer of this requested a sight of the whole form, or of the head at any rate, the exhibiting priest was astounded at the suggestion. No doubt he was right : the only wonder is that the face is not hid also, for a more ingeniously ugly thing than the flat, blackened, and rouged visage of the bambino it were difficult to conceive. But it wears a very cunning veil nevertheless. The face is set in marvellous brilliants, but these are of less effect in hiding its ugliness than the vesture of mythology around it. The adjacent walls are covered with pictures of the miracles it has performed, and which have attracted to it such faith that it is said at one time to have received more medical fees than all the physicians in Rome together. Priests have discovered that a veil over the mind is thicker than a veil on the god. Such is the popular veneration for the bambino, that, in 1849, the Republicans thought it politic to present the monks with the Pope's state coach to carry the idol about. In the end it was proved that the Pope was securely seated beside
the bambino, and he presently emerged from behind his veil also.
There came, then, a period when the Serpent crept behind the veil, or lid of the ark, or into a chalice,-a very small worm, but yet able to gnaw the staff of Solomon. No wisdom could be permitted to rise above fear itself, though its special sources might be here and there reduced or vanquished. The snake had taught man at last its arts of war. Man had summoned to his aid the pig, and the ibis made havoc among the reptiles; and some of that terror which is the parent of that kind of devotion passed away. When it next emerged, it was in twofold guise, -as Agathodemon and Kakodemon,—but in both forms as the familiar of some higher being. It was as the genius of Minerva, of Esculapius, of St. Euphemia. We have already seen him (Fig. 13) as the genius of the Eleans, the Sosopolis, where also we see the Serpent hurrying into his cavern, leaving the mother and child to be worshipped in the temple of Lucina. In christian symbolism the Seraphim-'burning (sáraf) serpents’-veiled their faces and forms beneath their huge wings, crossed in front, and so have been able to become “the eminent,' and to join in the praises of modern communities at being delivered from just such imaginary fiery worms as themselves !
The Naturalistic Theory of Apophis—The Serpent of Time-Epic of
the Worm—The Asp of Melite—Vanquishers of Time-NachashBeriach-The Serpent-Spy—Treading on Serpents.
The considerations advanced in the previous chapter enable us to dismiss with facility many of the rationalistic interpretations which have been advanced to explain the monstrous serpents of sacred books by reference to imaginary species supposed to be now extinct. Flying serpents, snakes many-headed, rain-bringing, woman-hating, &c., may be suffered to survive as the fauna of bibliolatrous imaginations. Such forms, however, are of such mythologic importance that it is necessary to watch carefully against this method of realistic interpretation, especially as there are many actual characteristics of serpents suffciently mysterious to conspire with it. A recent instance of this literalism may here be noticed.
Mr. W. R. Copper? supposes the evil serpent of Egyptian Mythology to have a real basis in a large and unidentified species of coluber, of great strength and hideous longitude,' which ‘was, even from the earliest ages, associated as the representative of spiritual, and occasionally physical evil, and was named Hof, Rehof, or Apophis, the destroyer, the enemy of the gods, and the devourer of the souls of men.'
i See his learned and valuable treatise, “The Serpent Myths of Ancient Egypt.' Hardwicke, 1873.