Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

FIO W THE HOLY TREE FEI L. 303

its worshippers and to borrow some of the immemorial sanctity of the spot. This missionary fixed a hungry eye upon that holy timber, and reflected how much holier it would be if ending its career in the beams of a christian chapel. So one day—English authorities being conveniently near—he and his workmen began to cut down the sacred Tree. The natives gradually gathered around, and looked on with horror. While the cutting proceeded a tiger drew near, but shouts drove him off: the natives breathed freer; the demon had come and looked on, but could not protect the Tree from the Englishman. They still shuddered, however, at the sacrilege, and when at last the Holy Tree of Travancore fell, its crash was mingled with the cries and screams of its former worshippers. The victorious missionary may be pointing out in his chapel the cut-up planks which reveal the impotence of the deity so long feared by the natives; and perhaps he is telling them of the bigness of his Tree, and claiming its flourishing condition in Europe as proof of its supernatural character. Possibly he may omit to mention the blood and ashes which have fattened the root and enlarged the trunk of his Holy Tree That Tree in Travancore could never have been so destroyed if the primitive natural religion in which lay its deeper root had not previously withered. The gods, the natural forces, which through so many ages had not heeded man's daily martyrdoms, had now for a long time been shown quite as impotent to protect their own shrines, images, holy trees, and other interests. The priests as vainly invoked those gods to save their own country from subjugation by other nations with foreign gods, as the masses had invoked their personal aid. For a long time the gods in some parts of India have received only a formal service, coextensive with their association with a

3o4 THE WEPA UL ICOMOCZAST

lingering order, or as part of princely establishments; but they topple down from time to time, as the masses realise their freedom to abandon them with impunity. They are at the mercy of any strong heretic who arises. The following narrative, quoted by Mr. Herbert Spencer, presents a striking example of what some Hindoos had been doing before the missionary cut down the Tree at Travancore:— ‘A Nepaul king, Rum Bahádur, whose beautiful queen, finding her lovely face had been disfigured by smallpox, poisoned herself, cursed his kingdom, her doctors, and the gods of Nepaul, vowing vengeance on all. Having ordered the doctors to be flogged, and the right ear and nose of each to be cut off, he then wreaked his vengeance on the gods of Nepaul, and after abusing them in the most gross way, he accused them of having obtained from him I2,OOO goats, some hundred-weights of sweetmeats, 2000 gallons of milk, &c., under false pretences. He then ordered all the artillery, varying from three to twelvepounders, to be brought in front of the palace. All the guns were then loaded to the muzzle, and down he marched to the headquarters of the Nepaul deities. All the guns were drawn up in front of the several deities, honouring the most sacred with the heaviest metal. When the order to fire was given, many of the chiefs and soldiers ran away panic-stricken, and others hesitated to obey the sacrilegious order; and not till several gunners had been cut down were the guns opened. Down came the gods and the goddesses from their hitherto sacred positions; and after six hours' heavy cannonading, not a vestige of the deities remained.’ However panic-stricken the Nepaulese may have been at this ferocious manifestation, it was but a storm bred out of a more general mental and moral condition. Rum MORAZ MAN AAVD UAVMORAZ NATURE. 305

Bahádur only laid low in a few moments images of gods who, passing from the popular interest, had been successively laid to sleep on the innumerable shelves of Hindu mythology. The early Dualism was developed into Moral Man on one side, and Unmoral Nature on the other. Man had discovered that moral order in nature was represented solely by his own power: by his culture or neglect the plant or animal grew or withered, and where his control did not extend, there sprang the noxious weed or beast. So far as good gods had been imagined they were respected now only as incarnate in men. But the active powers of evil still remained, hurtful and hateful to man, and the pessimist view of nature became inevitable. To man engaged in his life-and-death struggle with nature many a beauty which now nourishes the theist's optimism was lost. The fragrant flower was a weed to the man hungry for bread, and he viewed many an idle treasure with the disappointment of Sãdi when, travelling in the desert, he found a bag in which he hoped to discover grain, but found only pearls. Fatal to every deity not anthropomorphic was the long pessimistic phase of human faith. Each became more purely a demon, and passed on the road to become a devil. Many particular demons man conquered as he progressively carried order amid the ruggedness and wildness of his planet. Every new weapon or implement he invented punctured a thousand phantoms. Only in the realms he could not yet conquer remained the hostile forces to which he ascribed praeternatural potency, because not able to pierce them and see through them. Nevertheless, the early demonic forms had to give way, for man had discovered that they were not his masters. He could cut down the Upas and root up the nightshade; he had bruised many a serpent's head and slain many a wolf. VOL. I. U

306 PHYSICAL AND MENTAL MIGRATIONS.

In detail innumerable enemies had been proved his inseriors in strength and intelligence. Important migrations took place: man passes, geographically, away from the region of some of his worst enemies, inhabits countries more fruitful, less malarious, his habitat exceeding that of his animal foe in range; and, still better, he passes by mental migration out of the stone age, out of other helpless ages, to the age of metal and the skill to fashion and use it. He has made the fire-fiend his friend. No longer henceforth a naked savage, with bit of stone or bone only to meet the crushing powers of the world and win its reluctant supplies' There is a sense far profounder than its charming play of fancy in Heine's account of the ‘Gods in Exile, an essay which Mr. Pater well describes as ‘full of that strange blending of sentiment which is characteristic of the traditions of the Middle Age concerning the Pagan religions.'" Heine writes: ‘Let me briefly remind the reader how the gods of the older world, at the time of the definite triumph of Christianity, that is, in the third century, fell into painful embarrassments, which greatly resembled certain tragical situations of their earlier life. They now found themselves exposed to the same troublesome necessities to which they had once before been exposed during the primitive ages, in that revolutionary epoch when the Titans broke out of the custody of Orcus, and, piling Pelion on Ossa, scaled Olympus. Unfortunate gods! They had, then, to take flight ignominiously, and hide themselves among us here on earth under all sorts of disguises. Most of them betook themselves to Egypt, where for greater security they assumed the form of animals, as is generally known. Just in the same way they had to take flight again, and seek entertainment in * “Studies in the History of the Renaissance.’ Macmillan & Co. 1873.

THE GODS IN EXILE. 307

remote hiding-places, when those iconoclastic zealots, the black brood of monks, broke down all the temples, and pursued the gods with fire and curses. Many of these unfortunate emigrants, entirely deprived of shelter and ambrosia, had now to take to vulgar handicrafts as a means of earning their bread. In these circumstances, many, whose sacred groves had been confiscated, let themselves out for hire as wood-cutters in Germany, and had to drink beer instead of nectar. Apollo seems to have been content to take service under graziers, and as he had once kept the cows of Admetus, so he lived now as a shepherd in Lower Austria. Here, however, having become suspected, on account of his beautiful singing, he was recognised by a learned monk as one of the old pagan gods, and handed over to the spiritual tribunal. On the rack he confessed that he was the god Apollo; and before his execution he begged that he might be suffered to play once more upon the lyre and to sing a song. And he played so touchingly, and sang with such magic, and was withal so beautiful in form and feature that all the women wept, and many of them were so deeply impressed that they shortly afterwards fell sick. And some time afterwards the people wished to drag him from the grave again, that a stake might be driven through his body, in the belief that he had been a vampire, and that the sick women would by this means recover. But they found the grave empty.' Naturally: it is hard to bury Apollo. The next time he appeared was, no doubt, as musical director in the nearest cathedral. The young singers and artists discovered by such severe lessons that it was dangerous to sing Pagan ballads too realistically ; that a cowl is capable of a high degree of decoration; that Pan's pipe sounds well evolved into an organ; that Cupids look just as well if called Cherubs. It is odd that it should have required Robert

« ZurückWeiter »