Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small]

The beautiful boy Menaceus must be sacrificed to save Thebes; the gods will not have aged and tough Creon, though a king, in his place. Iphigenia, though herself saved from the refined palate of Artemis, through the huntress's fondness for kid's blood, becomes the priestess of human sacrifices. The human offering deemed halfdivine could alone at last satisfy the Deity, gathered in his side this sheaf of sacrificial knives, whetted in many lands and ages, and in his self-sacrifice the Hunger-demon himself was made the victim. Theologians have been glad to rescue the First Person of their Trinity from association with the bloodthirsty demons of barbarous ages by describing the sacrifice of Jesus as God himself becoming the victim of an eternal law. But, whatever may be said of this complex device, it is sufficient evidence that man's primitive demon which personified his hunger has ended with being consumed on his own altar. For though fasting is a survival of the same savage notion that man may secure benefits from invisible beings by leaving them the food, it is a practice which survives rather through the desire of imitating ascetic saints than because of any understood principle. The strange yet natural consummation adds depth of meaning to the legend of Odin being himself sacrificed in his disguise on the Holy Tree at Upsala, where human victims were hung as offerings to him; and to his rune in the Havamal

I know that I hung
On a wind-rocked tree
Nine whole nights,
With a spear wounded,
And to Odin offered
Myself to myself.

CHAPTER II.

HEAT.

Demons of Fire-Agni-Asmodeus - Prometheus – Feast of fire

Moloch—Tophet—Genii of the lamp-Bel-fires-Hallowe'enNegro superstitions—Chinese fire-god—Volcanic and incendiary demons—Mangaian fire-demon-Demons' fear of water.

FIRE was of old the element of fiends. No doubt this was in part due to the fact that it also was a devouring element. Sacrifices were burnt; the demon visibly consumed them. But the great flame-demons represent chiefly the destructive and painful action of intense heat. They originate in regions of burning desert, of sunstroke, and drouth.

Agni, the Hindu god of fire, was adored in Vedic hymns as the twin of Indra.

'Thy appearance is fair to behold, thou bright-faced Agni, when like gold thou shinest at hand; thy brightness comes like the lightning of heaven; thou showest splendour like the splendour of the bright sun.

'Adorable and excellent Agni, emit the moving and graceful smoke.

•The flames of Agni are luminous, powerful, fearful, and not to be trusted.

'I extol the greatness of that showerer of rain, whom men celebrate as the slayer of Vritra : the Agni, Vaiswanara, slew the stealer of the waters.'

[ocr errors][merged small]

The slaying of Vritra, the monster, being the chief exploit of Indra, Agni could only share in it as being the flame that darted with Indra's weapon, the disc (of the sun).

'Thou (Agni) art laid hold off with difficulty, like the young of tortuously twining snakes, thou who art a consumer of many forests as a beast is of fodder.'

Petrifaction awaits all these glowing metaphors of early time. Verbal inspiration will make Agni a literally tortuous serpent and consuming fire. His smoke, called Kali (black), is now the name of Siva's terrible bride.

Much is said in Vedic hymns of the method of producing the sacred flame symbolising Agni; namely, the rubbing together of two sticks. 'He it is whom the two sticks have engendered, like a new-born babe.' It is a curious coincidence that a similar phrase should describe 'the devil on two sticks,' who has come by way of Persia into European romance. Asmodeus was a lame demon, and his 'two sticks' as 'Diable Boiteux' are crutches; but his lameness may be referable to the attenuated extremities suggested by spires of flame—'tortuously twining snakes,'-rather than to the rabbinical myth that he broke his leg on his way to meet Solomon. Benfey identified Asmodeus as Zend Aêshma-daêva, demon of lust. His goat-feet and fire-coal eyes are described by Le Sage, and the demon says he was lamed by falling from the air, like Vulcan, when contending with Pillardoc. It is not difficult to imagine how flame engendered by the rubbing of sticks might have attained personification as sensual passion, especially among Zoroastrians, who would detach from the adorable Fire all associations of evil. It would harmonise well with the Persian tendency to diabolise Indian gods, that they should note the lustful character occasionally ascribed to Agni in the Vedas. “Him alone, the

[merged small][ocr errors]

ever-youthful Agni, men groom like a horse in the evening and at dawn; they bed him as a stranger in his couch; the light of Agni, the worshipped male, is lighted.' Agni was the Indian ‘Brulefer' or love-charmer, and patron of marriage; the fire-god Hephaistos was the husband of Aphrodite; the day of the Norse thunder-and-lightning god Thor (Thursday), is in Scandinavian regions considered the luckiest for marriages.

The process of obtaining fire by friction is represented by a nobler class of myths than that referred to. In the Mahábhárata the gods and demons together churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality; and they use for their churning-stick the mountain Manthara. This word appears in pramantha, which means a fire-drill, and from it comes the great name of Prometheus, who stole fire from heaven, and conferred on mankind a boon which rendered them so powerful that the jealousy and wrath of Zeus were excited. This fable is generally read in its highly rationalised and mystical form, and on this account belongs to another part of our general subject; but it may be remarked here that the Titan so terribly tortured by Zeus could hardly have been regarded, originally, as the friend of man. At the time when Zeus was a god genuinely worshipped—when he first stood forth as the supplanter of the malign devourer Saturn-it could have been no friend of man who was seen chained on the rock for ever to be the vulture's prey. It was fire in some destructive form which must have been then associated with Prometheus, and not that power by which later myths represented his animating with a divine spark the man of clay. The Hindu myth of churning the ocean for the immortal draught, even if it be proved that the ocean is heaven and the draught lightning, does not help us much, The traditional association of Prometheus with the Arts

60

PARSEE RESTORATIONISM.

might almost lead one to imagine that the early use of fire by some primitive inventor had brought upon him the wrath of his mates, and that Zeus' thunderbolts represented some early 'strike' against machinery.

It is not quite certain that it may not have been through some euphemistic process that Fire-worship arose in Persia. Not only does fire occupy a prominent place in the tortures inflicted by Ahriman in the primitive Parsee Inferno, but it was one of the weapons by which he attempted to destroy the heavenly child Zoroaster. The evil magicians kindled a fire in the desert and threw the child on it; but his mother, Dogdo, found him sleeping tranquilly on the flames, which were as a pleasant bath, and his face shining like Zohore and Moschteri (Jupiter and Mercury). The Zoroastrians also held that the earth would ultimately be destroyed by fire; its metals and minerals, ignited by a comet, would form streams which all souls would have to pass through: they would be pleasant to the righteous, but terrible to the sinful,—who, however, would come through, purified, into paradise, the last to arrive being Ahriman himself.

The combustible nature of many minerals under the surface of the earth,—which was all the realm of Hades (invisible),—would assist the notion of a fiery abode for the infernal gods. Our phrase 'plutonic rock' would then have a very prosaic sense. Pliny says that in his time sulphur was used to keep off evil spirits, and it is not impossible that it first came to be used as a medicine by this route.

Fire - festivals still exist in India, where the ancient i Du Perron, ‘Vie de Zoroastre.

? The principle similia similibus curantur is a very ancient one; but though it may have originated in a euphemistic or propitiatory aim, the homeopathist may claim that it could hardly have lived unless it had been found to have some practical advantages.

« ZurückWeiter »