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rairnent of Agni has been divided up and distributed among many deities. At the popular annual festival in honour of Dharma Rajah, called the Feast of Fire, the devotees walk barefoot over a glowing fire extending forty feet. It lasts eighteen days, during which time those that make a vow to keep it must fast, abstain from women, lie on the bare ground, and walk on a brisk fire. The eighteenth day they assemble on the sound of instruments, their heads crowned with flowers, their bodies daubed with saffron, and follow the figures of Dharma Rajah and Draupadi his wife in procession. When they come to the fire, they stir it to animate its activity, and take a little of the ashes, with which they rub their foreheads; and when the gods have been carried three times round it they walk over a hot fire, about forty feet. Some carry their children in their arms, and others lances, sabres, and standards. After the ceremony the people press to collect the ashes to rub their foreheads with, and obtain from devotees the fowers with which they were adorned, and which they carefully preserve.1
The passion of Agni reappears in Draupadi purified by fire for her five husbands, and especially her union with Dharma Rajah, son of Yama, is celebrated in this unorthodox passion-feast. It has been so much the fashion for travellers to look upon all'idolatry' with biblical eyes, that we cannot feel certain with Sonnerat that there was anything more significant in the carrying of children by the devotees, than the supposition that what was good for the parent was equally beneficial to the child. But the identification of Moloch with an Aryan deity is not important; the Indian Feast of Fire and the rites of Moloch are derived by a very simple mental process from the most obvious aspects of the Sun as the quickening
1 Sonnerat’s ‘Travels,' ii. 38.
and the consuming power in nature. The child offered to Moloch was offered to the god by whom he was generated, and as the most precious of all the fruits of the earth for which his genial aid was implored and his destructive intensity deprecated. Moloch, a word that means 'sacrifice,' was in all probability at first only a local (Ammonite) personification growing out of an ancient shrine of Baal. The Midianite Baal accompanied the Israelites into the wilderness, and that worship was never thoroughly eradicated. In the Egyptian Confession of Faith, which the initiated took even into their graves inscribed upon a scroll, the name of God is not mentioned, but is expressed only by the words Nuk pu Nuk, ‘I am he who I am.’i The flames of the burning bush, from which these same words came to Moses, were kindled from Baal, the Sun; and we need not wonder that while the more enlightened chiefs of Israel preserved the higher ideas and symbols of the countries they abandoned, the ignorant would still cling to Apis (the Golden Calf), to Ashtaroth, and to Moloch. Amos (v. 26), and after him Stephen the martyr (Acts vii. 43), reproach the Hebrews with having carried into the wilderness the tabernacle of their god Moloch. And though the passing of children through the fire to Moloch was, by the Mosaic Law, made a capital crime, the superstition and the corresponding practice retained such strength that we find Solomon building a temple to Moloch on the Mount of Olives (1 Kings xi. 7), and, long after, Manasseh making his son pass through the fire in honour of the same god.
It is certain from the denunciations of the prophets ? that the destruction of children in these flames was actual. From Jeremiah xix. 6, as well as other sources, we know that the burnings took place in the Valley of Tophet or
1 Deutsch, Literary Remains,' p. 178. ? Isa. lvii. 5 ; Ezek. xvi. 20; Jer. xix. 5.
Hinnom (Gehenna). The idol Moloch was of brass, and its throne of brass; its head was that of a calf, and wore a royal crown ; its stomach was a furnace, and when the children were placed in its arms they were consumed by the fierce heat,—their cries being drowned by the beating of drums; from which, toph meaning a 'drum,' the place was also called Tophet. In the fierce war waged against alien superstitions by Josiah, he defiled Gehenna, filling it with ordure and dead men's bones to make it odious, 'that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch' (2 Kings xxiii. 10), and a perpetual fire was kept there to consume the filth of Jerusalem.
From this horrible Gehenna, with its perpetual fire, its loathsome worm, its cruelties, has been derived the picture of a never-ending Hell prepared for the majority of human beings by One who, while they live on earth, sends the rain and sunshine alike on the evil and the good. Wo Chang, a Chinaman in London, has written to a journal1 his surprise that our religious teachers should be seized with such concern for the victims of Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria, while they are so calm in view of the millions burning, and destined to burn endlessly, in the flames of hell. Our Oriental brothers will learn a great deal from our missionaries; among other things, that the theological god of Christendom is still Moloch.
The Ammonites, of whom Moloch was the special demon, appear to have gradually blended with the Arabians. These received from many sources their mongrel superstitions, but among them were always prominent the planet-gods and fire-gods, whom their growing monotheism (to use the word still in a loose sense) transformed to powerful angels and genii. The genii of Arabia are
1 The Jewish World.'
slaves of the lamp; they are evoked by burning tufts of hair; they ascend as clouds of smoke. Though, as subordinate agents of the Fire-fiend, they may be consumed by flames, yet those who so fight them are apt to suffer a like fate, as in the case of the Lady of Beauty in the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. Many stories of this kind preceded the declarations of the Old Testament, that Jehovah breathes fire and brimstone, his breath kindling Tophet; and also the passages of the Koran, and of the New Testament describing Satan as a fiery fiend.
Various superstitions connecting infernal powers with fire survive among the Jews of some remote districts of Europe. The Passover is kept a week by the Jewish inhabitants in the villages on the Vosges mountains and on the banks of the Rhine. The time of omer is the interval between the Passover and Pentecost, the seven weeks elapsing from the departure from Egypt and the giving of the law, marked in former days by the offering of an omer of barley daily at the temple. It is considered a fearful time, during which every Jew is particularly exposed to the evil influence of evil spirits. There is something dangerous and fatal in the air; every one should be on the watch, and not tempt the schedim (demons) in any way. Have a strict eye upon your cattle, say the Jews, for the sorceress will get into your stables, mount your cows and goats, bring diseases upon them, and turn their milk sour. In the latter case, try to lay your hand upon the suspected person ; shut her up in a room with a basin of sour milk, and beat the milk with a hazel-wand, pronouncing God's name three times. Whilst you are doing this, the sorceress will make great lamentation, for the blows are falling upon her. Only stop when you see blue flames dancing on the surface of the milk, for then the charm is
broken. If at nightfall a beggar comes to ask for a little charcoal to light his fire, be very careful not to give it, and do not let him go without drawing him three times by his coat-tail ; and without losing time, throw some large handfuls of salt on the fire. In all of which we may trace traditions of parched wildernesses and fiery serpents, as well as of Abraham's long warfare with the Fireworshippers, until, according to the tradition, he was thrown into the flames he refused to worship.
It is probable that in all the popular superstitions which now connect devils and future punishments with fire are blended both the apotheosis and the degradation of demons. The first and most universal of deities being the Sun, whose earthly representative is fire, the student of Comparative Mythology has to pick his way very carefully in tracing by any ethnological path the innumerable superstitions of European folklore in which Fireworship is apparently reflected. The collection of facts and records contained in a work so accessible to all who care to pursue the subject as that of Brand and his editors, renders it unnecessary that I should go into the curious facts to any great extent here. The uniformity of the traditions by which the midsummer fires of Northern Europe have been called Baal-fires or Bel-fires warrant the belief that they are actually descended from the ancient rites of Baal, even apart from the notorious fact that they have so generally been accompanied by the superstition that it is a benefit to children to leap over or be passed through such fires. That this practice still survives in out-of-the way places of the British Empire appears from such communications as the following (from the
l'Observations on Popular Antiquities,' &c., by John Brand. With the additions of Sir Henry Ellis. . An entirely new and revised edition. Chatto & Windus, 1877. See especially the chapter on 'Sunimer Solstice,' p. 165.