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THE GUARD/AM OF TREASURE. 353
become the symbol of life, and after that it would do duty in any capacity whatever. An ingenious anthropologist, Mr. C. Staniland Wake, supposes the Serpent in India to have been there also the symbol of praeternatural and occult knowledge. Possibly this may have been so to a limited extent, and in postVedic times, but to me the accent of Hindu serpentmythology appears to be emphatically in the homage paid to it as the guardian of the treasures. I may mention here also the theory propounded by Miss A. W. Buckland in a paper submitted to the Anthropological Institute in London, March 10, 1874, on ‘The Serpent in connection with Primitive Metallurgy.” In this learned monograph the writer maintains that a connection may be observed between the early serpent-worship and a knowledge of metals, and indeed that the Serpent was the sign of Turanian metallurgists in the same way as I have suggested that in Egypt and Assyria it was the sign of physicians. She believes that the Serpent must have played some part in the original discovery of the metals and precious stones by man, in recognition of which that animal was first assumed as a totem and thence became an emblem. She states that traditional and ornamentational evidences show that the Turanian races were the first workers in metals, and that they migrated westward, probably from India to Egypt and Chaldaea, and thence to Europe, and even to America, bearing their art and its sign ; and that they fled before the Aryans, who had the further art of smelting, and that the Aryan myths of serpent-slaying record the overthrow of the Turanian serpent-worshippers. I cannot think that Miss Buckland has made out a case for crediting nomadic Turanians with being the original * In a paper on the “Origin of Serpent-worship,” read before the Anthro
phological Institute in London, December 17, 1872.
354 MISS BUCKLAND’S THEORY
metallurgists; though it is not impossible that it may have been a Scythian tribe in Southern India who gave its fame to ‘the gold of Ophir, which Max Müller has shown to have been probably an Indian region." But that these early jewellers may have had the Serpent as their sign or emblem is highly probable, and in explanation of it there seems little reason to resort to the hypothesis of aid having been given by the Serpent to man in his discovery of metals. Surely the jewelled decoration of the serpent would in itself have been an obvious suggestion of it as the emblem of gems. Where a reptile for some reasons associated with the snake—the toad—had not the like bright spots, the cognate superstition might arise that its jewel is concealed in its head. And, finally, when these reptiles had been connected with gems, the eye of either would easily receive added rays from manifold eye-beams of superstition. We might also credit the primitive people with sufficient logical power to understand why they should infer that an animal so wonderfully and elaborately provided with deadliness as the Serpent should have tasks of corresponding importance. The medicine which healed man (therefore possibly gods), the treasures valued most by men (therefore by anthropomorphic deities), the fruit of immortality (which the gods might wish to monopolise), might seem the supreme things of value, which the supreme perfection of the serpent's fang might be created to guard. This might be so in the heavens as well as in the world or the underworld. The rainbow was called the “Celestial Serpent’ in Persia, and the old notion that there is a bag of gold at the end of it is known to many an English and American child. Whatever may have been the nature of the original sug
OAWDER WORLD PLUTOCRACY. 355
gestion, there are definite reasons why, when the Serpent was caught up to be part of combinations representing a Principle of Evil, his character as guardian of treasures should become of great importance. Wealth is the characteristic of the gods of the Hades, or unseen world beneath the surface of the earth. In the vast Sinhalese demonology we find the highest class of demons (dewatawas) described as resident in golden palaces, glittering with gems, themselves with skins of golden hue, wearing cobras as ornaments, their king, Wessamony seated on a gem-throne and wielding a golden. sword. Pluto is from the word for wealth (TAoûtos), as also is his Latin name Dis (dives). For such are lords of all beneath the sod, or the sea's surface. Therefore, it is important to observe, they own all the seeds in the earth so long as they remain seeds. So soon as they spring to flower, grain, fruitage, they belong not to the gods of Hades but to man: an idea which originated the myth of Persephone, and seems to survive in a school of extreme vegetarians, who refuse to eat vegetables not ripened in the sun. These considerations may enable us the better to apprehend the earlier characters of Ahi, the Throttler, and Vritra, the Coverer. As guardians of such hidden treasures as metals and drugs the Serpent might be baroneted and invoked to bestow favours; but those particular serpents which by hiding away the cloud-cows withheld the rain, or choked the rivers with drought, all to keep under-world garners fat and those of the upper world lean, were to be combated. Against them man invoked the celestial deities, reminding them that their own altars must lack offerings if they did not vanquish these thievish Binders and Concealers. The Serpent with its jewelled raiment, its self-renovating power, and its matchless accomplishments for lurking,
hiding, fatally striking, was gradually associated with undulations of rivers and sea-waves on the earth, with the Milky-way, with “coverers’ of the sky—night and cloud—above all, with the darting, crooked, fork-tongued lightning. It may have been the lightning that was the Amrita churned out of the azure sea in the myth of the ‘Mahābhārata,’ when the gods and demons turned the mountain with a huge serpent for cord (p. 59), meaning the descent of fire, or its discovery; but other fair and fruitful things emerged also, the goddess of wine, the cow of plenty, the tree of heaven. The inhabitants of Burmah still have a custom of pulling at a rope to produce rain. A rain party and a drought party tug against each other, the rain party being allowed the victory, which, in the popular notion is generally followed by rain. I have often seen snakes hung up after being killed to bring rain, in the State of Virginia. For there also rain means wealth. It is there believed also that, however much it may be crushed, a snake will not die entirely until it thunders. These are distant echoes of the Vedic sentences. ‘Friend Vishnu, says Indra, ‘stride vastly; sky give room for the thunderbolt to strike; let us slay Vritra and let loose the waters.” “When, Thunderer, thou didst by thy might slay Vritra, who stopped up the streams, then thy dear steeds grew.” Vritra, though from the same root as Varuna (the sky), means at first a coverer of the sky—cloud or darkness; hence eventually he becomes the hider, the thief, who steals and conceals the bounties of heaven—a rainless cloud, a suffocating night; and eventually Vritra coalesces with the most fearful phantasm of the Aryan mind—the serpent Ahi. The Greek word for Adder, 3xts, is a modification of Ahi. Perhaps there exists no more wonderful example
of the unconscious idealism of human nature than the history of the name of the great Throttler, as it has been traced by Professor Max Müller. The Serpent was also called ahi in Sanskrit, in Greece echis or echidna, in Latin anguis. The root is ah in Sanskrit, or amh, which means to press together, to choke, to throttle. It is a curious root this amh, and it still lives in several modern words, In Latin it appears as ango, anri, anctum, to strangle; in angina, quinsy; in angor, suffocation. But angor meant not only quinsy or compression of the neck: it assumed a moral import, and signifies anguish or anxiety. The two adjectives angustus, narrow, and anarius, uneasy, both came from the same root. In Greek the root retained its natural and material meaning; in eggys, near, and echis, serpent, throttler. But in Sanskrit it was chosen with great truth as the proper name of sin. Evil no doubt presented itself under various aspects to the human mind, and its names are many; but none so expressive as those derived from our root amh, to throttle. Amhas in Sanskrit means sin, but it does so only because it meant originally throttling —the consciousness of sin being like the grasp of the assassin on the throat of the victim. All who have seen and contemplated the statue of Laokoon and his sons, with the serpent coiled around them from head to foot, may realise what those ancients felt and saw when they called sin amhas, or the throttler. This amhas is the same as the Greek agos, sin. In Gothic the same root has produced agis, in the sense of fear, and from the same source we have awe, in awful, i.e., fearful, and ug in ugly. The English anguish is from the French angoise, a corruption of the Latin angustia, a strait." In this wonderful history of a word, whose biography, as Max Müller in his Hibbert Lectures said of Deva, might fill a volume, may also
* ‘Lectures on Language," i. 435.