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The Holy Tree of Travancore—The growth of Demons in India and their decline—The Nepaul Iconoclast—Moral Man and unmoral Nature—Man's physical and mental migrations—Heine's “Gods in Exile'—The Goban Saor—Master Smith—A Greek caricature of the Gods—The Carpenter v. Deity and Devil—Extermination of the Werewolf—Refuges of Demons—The Giants reduced to Little People—Deities and Demons returning to nature.
HAVING indicated, necessarily in mere outline and by selected examples, the chief obstacles encountered by primitive man, and his apprehensions, which he personified as demons, it becomes my next task to show how and why many of these demons declined from their terrible proportions and made way for more general forms, expressing comparatively abstract conceptions of physical evil. This will involve some review of the processes through which man's necessary adaptation to his earthly environment brought him to the era of Combat with multiform obstruction. There was, until within a few recent years, in a mountain of Travancore, India, an ancient, gigantic Tree, regarded by 3oo THE HOLY TREE OF TRAVANCORE.
the natives as the residence of a powerful and dangerous deity who reigned over the mountains and the wild beasts." Sacrifices were offered to this tree, sermons preached before it, and it seems to have been the ancient cathedral of the district. Its trunk was so large that four men with outstretched arms could not compass it. This tree in its early growth may symbolise the upspringing of natural religion. Its first green leaves may be regarded as corresponding to the first crude imaginations of man as written, for instance, on leaves of the Vedas. Perceiving in nature, as we have seen, a power of contrivance like his own, a might far superior to his own, man naturally considered that all things had been created and were controlled by invisible giants; and bowing helplessly beneath them sang thus his hymns and supplications. ‘This earth belongs to Varuna, the king, and the wide sky, with its ends far apart: the two seas (sky and ocean) are Varuna's loins; he is also contained in this drop of water. He who would flee far beyond the sky even he would not be rid of Varuna. His spies proceed from heaven towards this earth.” “Through want of strength, thou ever strong and bright god, have I gone wrong: have mercy, have mercy!' ‘However we break thy laws from day to day, men as we are, O god Varuna, do not deliver us to death !’ “Was it an old sin, Varuna, that thou wished to destroy the friend who always praises thee!’ “O Indra, have mercy, give me my daily bread | Raise up wealth to the worshipper, thou mighty Dawn!’ ‘Thou art the giver of horses, Indra, thou art the giver of cows, the giver of corn, the strong lord of wealth : the old guide of man disappointing no desires: to him we
* The history of this tree which I use for a parable is told in the Rev. Samuel Mateer's ‘Land of Charity.' Iondon: John Snow & Co. 1871.
MAN'S COMTRACT WITH HIS GODS. 3 or
address this song. All this wealth around here is known to be thine alone: take from it conqueror, bring it hither l’ In these characteristic sentences from various hymns we behold man making his first contract with the ruling powers of nature: so much adoration and flattery on his part for so much benefit on theirs. But even in these earliest hymns there are intimations that the gods were not fulfilling their side of the engagement. “Why is it, pleads the worshipper, “that you wish to destroy one who always praises you? Was it an old sin o' The simple words unconsciously report how faithfully man was performing his part of the contract. Having omitted no accent of the prayer, praise, or ritual, he supposes the continued indifference of the gods must be due to an old sin, one he has forgotten, or perhaps one committed by some ancestor. In this state of mind the suggestion would easily take root that words alone were too cheap to be satisfactory to the gods. There must be offerings. Like earthly kings they must have their revenues. We thus advance to the phase of sacrifices. But still neither in answer to prayer, flattery, or sacrifice did the masses receive health or wealth. Poverty, famine, death, still continued their remorseless course with the silent machinery of sun, moon, and star. But why, then, should man have gone on fulfilling his part of the contract—believing and worshipping deities, who when he begged for corn gave him famine, and when he asked for fish gave him a serpent? The priest intervened with ready explanation. And here we may consult the holy Tree of Travancore again * Why should that particular Tree—of a species common in the district and not usually very large—have grown so huge 2 “Because it is holy,” said the priest. ‘Because it was believed holy,” says the fact. For ages the blood and ashes of victims fed its roots and swelled its trunk; until, by an argument not 302 HOW THE HOLY TREE GRE IV.
confined to India, the dimensions of the superstition were assumed to prove its truth. When the people complained that all their offerings and worship did not bring any returns the priest replied, You stint the gods and they stint you. The people offered the fattest of their flocks and fruits: More yet! said the priest. They built fine altars and temples for the gods: More yet! said the priest. They built fine houses for the priests, and taxed themselves to support them. And when thus, fed by popular sacrifices and toils, the religion had grown to vast power, the priest was able to call to his side the theologian for further explanation. The theologian and the priest said— “Of course there must be good reasons why the gods do not answer all your prayers (if they did not answer some you would be utterly consumed); mere mortals must not dare to inquire into their mysteries; but that there are gods, and that they do attend to human affairs, is made perfectly plain by this magnificent array of temples, and by the care with which they have supplied all the wants of us, their particular friends, whose cheeks, as you see, hang down with fatness.’ If, after this explanation, any scepticism or rebellion arose among the less favoured, the priest might easily add— “Furthermore, we and our temples are now institutions; we are so strong and influential that it is evident that the gods have appointed us to be their representatives on earth, the dispensers of their favours. Also, of their disfavours. We are able to make up for the seeming indifference of the gods, rewarding you if you give us honour and wealth, but ruining you if you turn heretical.’ So grew the holy Tree. But strong as it was there was something stronger. Some few years ago a missionary from London went to Travancore, and desired to build a chapel near the same tree, no doubt to be in the way of