« ZurückWeiter »
with articles of food less important than the luminaries of heaven.
Such is the shape now taken in India of the ancient myth of the eclipse. When at the churning of the ocean to find the nectar of immortality, a demon with dragontail was tasting that nectar, the sun and moon told on him, but not until his head had become immortal; and it is this head of Ráhu which seeks now to devour the informers—the Sun and Moon.Mythologically, too, this Ráhu has been divided; for we shall hereafter trace the dragon-tail of him to the garden of Eden and in the christian devil, whereas in India he has been improved from a vindictive to a merely voracious demon.
The fires kindled by the Hindus to frighten Ráhu on his latest appearance might have defeated the purpose of the expedition by the smoke it was sending up, had not two officers leaped upon the fire and scattered its fuel; but just about the time when these courageous gentlemen were trampling out the fires of superstition whose smoke would obscure the vision of science, an event occurred in England which must be traced to the same ancient belief — the belief, namely, that when anything is apparently swallowed up, as the sun and moon by an eclipse, or a village by earthquake or flood, it is the work of a hungry dragon, earthworm, or other monster. The Pelsall mine was flooded, and a large number of miners drowned. When the accident became known in the village, the women went
1 The Persian poet Sádi uses the phrase, “The whale swallowed Jonah,' as a familiar expression for sunset; which is in curious coincidence with a Mimac (Nova Scotian) myth that the holy hero Glooscap was carried to the happy Sunset Land in a whale. The story of Jonah has indeed had interest. ing variants, one of them being that legend of Oannes, the fish-god, emerging from the Red Sea to teach Babylonians the arts (a saga of Dagon); but the phrase in the Book of Jonah—'the belly of Hell'—had a prosaic significance for the christian mind, and, in connection with speculations concerning Behe. moth and Leviathan, gave us the mediæval Mouth of Hell.
out with the families of the unfortunate men, and sat beside the mouth of the flooded pit, at the bottom of which the dead bodies yet remained. These women then yelled down the pit with voices very different from ordinary lamentation. They also refused unanimously to taste food of any kind, saying, when pressed to do so, that so long as they could refrain from eating, their husbands might still be spared to them. When, finally, one poor woman, driven by the pangs of hunger, was observed to eat a crust of bread, the cries ceased, and the women, renouncing all hope, proceeded in silent procession to their homes in Pelsall.
The Hindu people casting their food out of the window during an eclipse, the Pelsall wives refusing to eat when the mine is flooded, are acting by force of immemorial tradition, and so are doing unconsciously what the African woman does consciously when she surrounds the bed of her sick husband with rice and meat, and beseeches the demon to devour them instead of the man. To the same class of notions belong the old custom of trying to discover the body of one drowned by means of a loaf of bread with a candle stuck in it, which it was said would pause above the body, and the body might be made to appear by firing a gun over it—that is, the demon holding it would be frightened off. A variant, too, is the Persian custom of protecting a woman in parturition by spreading a table, with a lamp at each corner, with seven kinds of fruits and seven different aromatic seeds upon it.
In 1769, when Pennant made his ‘Scottish Tour,' he found fully observed in the Highlands the ceremony of making the Beltane Cake on the first of May, and dedicating its distributed fragments to birds and beasts of prey, with invocation to the dread being of whom they were the supposed agents to spare the herds. Demons SATAN AS MOON-DEVOURER.
especially love milk: the Lambton Worm required nine cows' milk daily; and Jerome mentions a diabolical baby which exhausted six nurses.
The Devil nominally inherits, among the peasantry of Christendom, the attributes of the demons which preceded him ; but it must be understood that in every case where mere voracity is ascribed to the Devil, a primitive demon is meant, and of this fact the superstitious peasant is dimly conscious. In Franconia, when a baker is about to put dough biscuits into an oven to be baked, he will first throw half-a-dozen of them into the fire, saying, “There, poor devil! those are for you. If pressed for an explanation, he will admit his fear that but for this offering his biscuits are in danger of coming out burnt; but that the 'poor devil'is not bad-hearted, only driven by his hunger to make mischief. The being he fears is, therefore, clearly not the Devil at all—whose distinction is a love of wickedness for its own sake—but the half-starved gobbling ghosts of whom, in christian countries, Devil' has become the generic name. Of their sacrifices, Grace before meat is a remnant. In Moslem countries, however, ‘Sheitan' combines the demonic and the malignant voracities. During the late lunar eclipse, the inhabitants of Pera and Constantinople fired guns over their houses to drive 'Sheitan' (Satan) away from the moon, for, whoever the foe, the Turk trusts in gunpowder. But superstitions representing Satan as a devourer are becoming rare. In the church of Notre Dame at Hal, Belgium, the lectern shows a dragon attempting to swallow the Bible, which is supported on the back of an eagle.
There is another and much more formidable form in which the Hunger-demon appears in Demonology. The fondness for blood, so characteristic of supreme gods, was distributed as a special thirst through a large class of
demons. In the legend of Ishtar descending to Hades 1 to seek some beloved one, she threatens if the door be not opened—
I will raise the dead to be devourers of the living !
Upon the living shall the dead prey ! This menace shows that the Chaldæan and Babylonian belief in the vampyre, called Akhkharu in Assyrian, was fully developed at a very early date. Although the Hunger - demon was very fully developed in India, it does not appear to have been at any time so cannibalistic, possibly because the natives were not great flesh-eaters. In some cases, indeed, we meet with the vampyre superstition; as in the story of Vikram and the Vampyre, and in the Tamil drama of Harichandra, where the frenzied Sandramáti says to the king, "I belong to the race of elves, and I have killed thy child in order that I might feed on its delicate flesh. Such expressions are rare enough to warrant suspicion of their being importations. The Vetala's appetite is chiefly for corpses. The poor hungry demons of India-such as the Bhút, a dismal, ravenous ghost, dreaded at the moon-wane of the month Katik (Oct.-Nov.)—was not supposed to devour man, but only man's food. The Hindu demons of this class may be explained by reference to the sráddha, or oblation to ancestors, concerning which we read directions in the Manu Code. •The ancestors of men are satisfied a whole month with tila, rice, &c.; two months with fish, &c. The Manes say, Oh, may that man be born in our line who may give us 'milky food, with honey and pure butter, both on the thirteenth of the moon and when the shadow of an elephant falls to the east!' The bloodthirsty demons of India have pretty generally been caught up like Kali into a higher symbolism, and their 1 Tablet K 162 in the British Museum. See 'Records of the Past,' i. 141.
voracity systematised and satisfied in sacrificial commutations. The popular belief in the southern part of that country is indicated by Professor Monier Williams, in a letter written from Southern India, wherein he remarks that the devils alone require propitiation. It is generally a simple procedure, performed by offerings of food or other articles supposed to be acceptable to disembodied beings. For example, when a certain European, once a terror to the district in which he lived, died in the South of India, the natives were in the constant habit of depositing brandy and cigars on his tomb to propitiate his spirit, supposed to roam about the neighbourhood in a restless manner, and with evil proclivities. The very same was done to secure the good offices of the philanthropic spirit of a great European sportsman, who, when he was alive, delivered his district from the ravages of tigers. Indeed all evil spirits are thought to be opposed by good ones, who, if duly propitiated, make it their business to guard the inhabitants of particular places from demonic intruders. Each district, and even every village, has its guardian genius, often called its Mother.1
Such ideas as these are represented in Europe in some varieties of the Kobold and the Goblin (Gk. kóbalos). Though the goblin must, according to folk-philosophy, be fed with nice food, it is not a deadly being; on the contrary, it is said the Gobelin tapestry derives its name because the secret of its colours was gained from these ghosts. Though St. Taurin expelled one from Evreux, he found it so polite that he would not send it to hell, and it still haunts the credulous there and at Caen, without being thought very formidable.
The denion that 'lurks in graveyards’ is universal, and may have suggested cremation. In the East it is
i London ‘Times,’ July 11, 1877.