« ZurückWeiter »
FIRE-GOD OF PEKING.
sacrifice show that the colour of this selected heifer was typical. The heifer was not a usual sacrifice : a red one was obviously by its colour marked for the genii of firethe terrible Seven—and not to be denied them. Its blood was sprinkled seven times before the tabernacle, and the rest was utterly consumed—including the hide, which is particularly mentioned—and the ashes taken to make the 'water of separation. Calmet notes, in this connection, that the Apis of India was red-coloured.
The following interesting story of the Chinese Fire-god was supplied to Mr. Dennys 1 by Mr. Playfair of H.M. Consulate, to whom it was related in Peking :
'The temples of the God of Fire are numerous in Peking, as is natural in a city built for the most part of very combustible materials. The idols representing the god are, with one exception, decked with red beards, typifying by their colour the element under his control. The exceptional god has a white beard, and 'thereby hangs a tale.'
A hundred years ago the Chinese imperial revenue was in much better case than it is now. At that time they had not yet come into collision with Western Powers, and the word 'indemnity' had not, so far, found a place in their vocabulary; internal rebellions were checked as soon as they broke out, and, in one word, Kien Lung was in less embarrassed circumstances than Kwang Hsu; he had more money to spend, and did lay out a good deal in the way of palaces. His favourite building, and one on which no expense had been spared, was the 'Hall of Contemplation. This hall was of very large dimensions; the rafters and the pillars which supported the roof were of a size such as no trees in China furnish now-a-days. They were , not improbably originally sent as an offering by the tributary monarch of some tropical country, such as Burmah or
1 'Folklore of China,' p. 121.
Siam. Two men could barely join hands round the pillars; they were cased in lustrous jet-black lacquer, which, while adding to the beauty of their appearance, was also supposed to make them less liable to combustion. Indeed, every care was taken that no fire should approach the building; no lighted lamp was allowed in the precincts, and to have smoked a pipe inside those walls would have been punished with death. The floor of the hall was of different-coloured marbles, in a mosaic of flowers and mystic Chinese characters, always kept polished like a mirror. The sides of the room were lined with rare books and precious manuscripts. It was, in short, the finest palace in the imperial city, and it was the pride of Kien Lung.
‘Alas for the vanity of human wishes! In spite of every precaution, one night a fire broke out, and the Hall of Contemplation was in danger. The Chinese of a century ago were not without fire-engines, and though miserably inefficient as compared with those of our London fire brigade, they were better than nothing, and a hundred of them were soon working round the burning building. The Emperor himself came out to superintend their efforts and encourage them to renewed exertions. But the hall was doomed; a more than earthly power was directing the flames, and mortal efforts were of no avail. For on one of the burning rafters Kien Lung saw the figure of a little old man, with a long white beard, standing in a triumphant attitude. “It is the God of Fire,' said the Emperor, 'we can do nothing;' so the building was allowed to blaze in peace. Next day Kien Lung appointed a commission to go the round of the Peking temples in order to discover in which of them there was a Fire-god with a white beard, that he might worship him, and appease the offended deity. The search was fruitless; all the Fire-gods had red beards. But the commission had done its work badly; being highly
respectable mandarins of genteel families, they had confined their search to such temples as were in good repair and of creditable exterior. Outside the north gate of the imperial city was one old, dilapidated, disreputable shrine which they had overlooked. It had been crumbling away for years, and even the dread figure of the God of Fire, which sat above the altar, had not escaped desecration.
Time had thinned his flowing locks,' and the beard had fallen away altogether. One day some water-carriers who frequented the locality thought, either in charity or by way of a joke, that the face would look the better for a new beard. So they unravelled some cord, and with the frayedout hemp adorned the beardless chin. An official passing the temple one day peeped in out of curiosity, and saw the hempen beard. “Just the thing the Emperor was inquiring about,' said he to himself, and he took the news to the palace without delay. Next day there was a state visit to the dilapidated temple, and Kien Lung made obeisance and vowed a vow.
O Fire-god,' said he, 'thou hast been wroth with me in that I have built me palaces, and left thy shrine unhonoured and in ruins. Here do I vow to build thee a temple surpassed by none other of the Fire-gods in Peking; but I shall expect thee in future not to meddle with my palaces.
'The Emperor was as good as his word. The new temple is on the site of the old one, and the Fire-god has a flowing beard of fine white hair.'
In the San Francisco Bulletin, I recently read a description of the celebration by the Chinese in that city of their Feast for the Dead, in which there are some significant features. The chief attention was paid, says the reporter, to a figure 'representing what answers in their theology to our devil, and whom they evidently
think it necessary to propitiate before proceeding with their worship over individual graves.' This figure is on the west side of their temple; before and around it candles and joss-sticks were kept burning. On the east side was the better-looking figure, to which they paid comparatively little attention.
It was of course but natural that the demons of fire should gradually be dispelled from that element in its normal aspects, as its uses became more important through human invention, and its evil possibilities were mastered. Such demons became gradually located in the region of especially dangerous fires, as volcanoes and boiling springs. The Titan whom the ancients believed struggling beneath Ætna remained there as the Devil in the christian age. St. Agatha is said to have prevented his vomiting fire for a century by her prayers. St. Philip ascended the same mountain, and with book and candle pronounced a prayer of exorcism, at which three devils came out like fiery flying stones, crying, 'Woe is us! we are still hunted by Peter through Philip the Elder!' The volcanoes originated the belief that hell is at the earth's centre, and their busy Vulcans of classic ages have been easily transformed into sulphurous lords of the christian Hell. Such is the mediæval Haborym, demon of arson, with his three heads-man, cat, and serpent--who rides through the air mounted on a serpent, and bears in his hand a flaming torch. The astrologers assigned him command of twenty-six legions of demons in hell, and the superstitious often saw him laughing on the roofs of burning houses. But still more dignified is Raum, who com
1 In Russia the pigeon, from being anciently consecrated to the thunder goa, has become emblem of the Holy Ghost, or celestial fire, and as such the foe of earthly fire. Pigeons are trusted as insurers against fire, and the flight of one through a house is regarded as a kindly warning of conflagration.
mands thirty legions, and who destroys villages; hence, also, concerned in the destructions of war, he became the demon who awards dignities; and although this made his usual form of apparition on the right bank of the Rhine that of the Odinistic raven, on the left bank he may be detected in the little red man who was reported as the familiar of Napoleon I. during his career.
Among Mr. Gill's South Pacific myths is one of a Prometheus, Maui, who by assistance of a red pigeon gets from the subterranean fire-demon the secret of producing fire (by rubbing sticks), the demon (Mauike) being then consumed with his realm, and fire being brought to the upper world to remain the friend of man. In Vedic legend, when the world was enveloped in darkness, the gods prayed to Agni, who suddenly burst out as Tvashtri -pure fire, the Vedic Vulcan—to the dismay of the universe. In Eddaic sagas, Loki was deemed the most voracious of beings until defeated in an eating match with Logi (devouring fire).
Survivals of belief in the fiery nature of demons are very numerous. Thus it is a very common belief that the Devil cannot touch or cross water, and may therefore be escaped by leaping a stream. This has sometimes been supposed to have something to do with the purifying character of water; but there are many instances in christian folklore where the Devil is shown quite independent of even holy water if it is not sprinkled on him or does not wet his feet. Thus in the Norfolk legend concerning St. Godric, the Devil is said to have thrown the vessel with its holy water at the saint's head out of anger at his singing a canticle which the Virgin taught him. But when the Devil attacked him in various ferocious animal shapes, St. Godric escaped by running into the Wear, where he sometimes stood all night in water up to his neck.