« PreviousContinue »
not unfairly, that if the Earth herself is a goddess, what is she other than Tellus, and “if the Earth, the Sea too, whom thou saidst to be Neptune.”] Here is direct natureworship in its extremest sense of fetish-worship. But in the anthropomorphic stage appear that dim præ-Olympian figure of Nereus the Old Man of the Sea, father of the Nereids in their ocean caves, and the Homeric Poseidon the Earth-shaker, who stables his coursers in his cave in the Ægean deeps, who harnesses the gold-maned steeds to his chariot and drives through the dividing waves, while the subject sea-beasts come up at the passing of their lord, a king so little bound to the element he governs, that he can come from the brine to sit in the midst of the gods in the assembly on Olympos, and ask the will of Zeus.
Fire-worship brings into view again, though under different aspects and with different results, the problems presented by water-worship. The real and absolute worship of fire falls into two great divisions, the first belonging rather to fetishism, the second to polytheism proper, and the two apparently representing an earlier and later stage of theological ideas. The first is the rude barbarian's adoration of the actual flame which he watches writhing, roaring, devouring like a live animal; the second belongs to an advanced generalization, that any individual fire is a manifestation of one general elemental being, the Fire-god. Unfortunately, evidence of the exact meaning of fire-worship among the lower races is scanty, while the transition from fetishism to polytheism seems a gradual process of which the stages elude close definition. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that rites performed with fire are, though often, yet by no means necessarily, due to worship of the fire itself. Authors who have indiscriminately mixed up such rites as the new fire, the perpetual fire, the passing through the fire, classing them as acts of fire-worship, without proper evidence as to their meaning in any particular case, have added to the perplexity of a subject not too easy to deal with, even under strict precautions. Two sources of error are especially to be noted. On the one hand, fire happens to be a usual means whereby sacrifices are transmitted to departed souls and deities in general ; and on the other hand, the ceremonies of earthly fire-worship are habitually and naturally transferred to celestial fire-worship in the religion of the Sun.
i Cicero, De Natura Deorum, iii. 20. • Homer, II. i. 538, xiii. 18, xx. 13. Gladstone, ‘Juventus Mundi.' Welcker, Griech. Götterl.' vol. i. p. 616, etc. Cox, Mythology of Aryan Nations, vol. ii. ch. vi.
It may best serve our present purpose to carry a line of some of the best-defined facts which seem to bear on fireworship proper, from savagery on into the higher culture. In the last century, Loskiel, a missionary among the North American Indians, remarks that “In great danger, an Indian has been observed to lie prostrate on his face, and throwing a handful of tobacco into the fire, to call aloud, as in an agony of distress, " There, take and smoke, be pacified, and don't hurt me.'” Of course this may have been a mere sacrifice transmitted to some other spiritual being through fire, but we have in this region explicit statements as to a distinct fire-deity. The Delawares, it appears from the same author, acknowledged the Fire-manitu, first parent of all Indian nations, and celebrated a yearly festival in his honour, when twelve manitus, animal and vegetable, attended him as subordinate deities. In North-West America, in Washington Irving's account of the Chinooks and other Columbia River tribes, mention is made of the spirit which inhabits fire. Powerful both for evil and good, and seemingly rather evil than good in nature, this being must be kept in good humour by frequent offerings. The Fire-spirit has great influence with the winged aërial supreme deity, wherefore the Indians implore him to be their interpreter, to procure them success in hunting and fishing, fleet horses, obedient wives, and male children. In the elaborately
systematic religion of Mexico, there appears in his proper place a Fire-god, closely related to the Sun-god in character, but keeping well marked his proper identity. His name was Xiuhteuctli, Fire-lord, and they called him likewise Huehueteot), the old god. Great honour was paid to this god Fire, who gives them heat, and bakes their cakes, and roasts their meat. Therefore at every meal the first morsel and libation were cast into the fire, and every day the deity had incense burnt to him. Twice in the year were held his solemn festivals. · At the first, a felled tree was set up in his honour, and the sacrificers danced round his fire with the human victims, whom afterwards they cast into a great fire, only to drag them out half roasted for the priests to complete the sacrifice. The second was distinguished by the rite of the new fire, so well known in connexion with solar worship; the friction-fire was solemnly made before the image of Xiuhteuctli in his sanctuary in the court of the great teocalli, and the game brought in at the great hunt which began the festival was cooked at the sacred fire for the banquets that ended it. Polynesia well knows from the mythological point of view Mahuika the Fire-god, who keeps the volcano-fire on his subterranean hearth, whither Maui goes down.(as the Sun into the Underworld) to bring up fire for man; but in the South Sea islands there is scarcely a trace of actual rites of fire-worship. In West Africa, among the gods of Dahome is Zo the firefetish; a pot of fire is placed in a room, and sacrifice is offered to it, that fire may “live” there, and not go forth to destroy the house.3
Asia is a region where distinct fire-worship may be peculiarly well traced through the range of lower and higher civilization. The rude Kamchadals, worshipping all things
that did them harm or good, worshipped the fire, offering to it noses of foxes and other game, so that one might tell by looking at furs whether they had been taken by baptized or heathen hunters. The Ainos of Yesso have many gods, but Fire is the principal deity, to whom, not to Sun, Moon, and Stars, they pray for all they need. Turanian tribes likewise hold fire a sacred element, many Tunguz, Mongol, and Turk tribes sacrifice to Fire, and some clans will not eat meat without first throwing a morsel upon the hearth. The following passage from a Mongol wedding-song to the personified Fire, seems curiously to acknowledge the precedence of the ancient friction-fire made by the wooden drill, over that made by the more modern flint and steel. “Mother Ut, Queen of Fire, thou who art made from the elm that grows on the mountain-tops of Changgai-Chan and Burchatu-Chan, thou who didst come forth when heaven and earth divided, didst come forth from the footsteps of Mother Earth, and wast formed by the King of Gods. Mother Ut, whose father is the hard steel, whose mother is the flint, whose ancestors are the elm-trees, whose shining reaches to the sky and pervades the earth. Goddess Ut, we bring thee yellow oil for offering, and a white wether with yellow head, thou who hast a manly son, a beauteous daughter-in-law, bright daughters. To thee, Mother Ut, who ever lookest upward, we bring brandy in bowls, and fat in both hands. Give prosperity to the King's son (the bridegroom), to the King's daughter (the bride), and to all the people ! ”3 As an analogue to Hephaistos the Greek divine smith, may stand the Circassian Fire-god, Tleps, patron of metal-workers and the peasants whom he has provided with plough and hoe.*
i Steller, ‘Kamtschatka,' p. 276.
8 Castrén, Finn. Myth.' p. 57 ; Billings, ‘N. Russia,' p. 123 (Yakuts) : Bastian, Vorsteilungen von Wasser und Feuer,' in Zeitschr. für Ethnologie,' vol. i. p. 333 (Mongols).
4 Klemm, 'Cultur-Gesch.' vol. vi. p. 85 (Circassia). Welcker, vol. i. p.
The fire-worship of Assyria, Chaldæa, Phænicia, is famous in history, the fire-pillars, the temple of the Tyrian Baal where stood no image but the eternal fire burning on the hearth, the Canaanitish Moloch to whom (whether in actual or symbolic sacrifice) children passed through the fire. “And they built the high places of Baal, in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through to Moloch."1 But the records which have reached us of these ancient deities are obscure and complex in their definition, and their study is perhaps more valuable in compiling the history than in elucidating the principles of religion. For this scientific purpose, the more full and minute documents of Aryan religion can give a better answer. In various forms and under several names, the Fire-god is known. Nowhere does he carry his personality more distinctly than under his Sanskrit name of Agni, a word which keeps its quality, though not its divinity, in the Latin “ignis.” The name of Agni is the first word of the first hymn of the Rig Veda : “ Agnim île puro-hitam yajnasya devam ritvijam !— Agni I entreat, divine appointed priest of sacrifice !” The sacrifices which Agni receives go to the gods, he is the mouth of the gods, but he is no lowly minister, as it is said in another hymn : “No god indeed, no mortal is beyond the might of thee, the mighty
one, with the Maruts come hither, O Agni!”. Such the mighty Agni is among the gods, yet he comes within the peasant's cottage to be protector of the domestic hearth. His worship has survived the transformation of the ancient patriarchal Vedic religion of nature into the priest-ridden ritualistic Hinduism of our own day, where Agni still, as among the ruder Mongol hordes north of the Himalaya, is new-born of the twirling fire-sticks, and receives the melted butter of the sacrifice. Among the
1 2 Kings, xxiji 10; Jerem. xxxii. 35; etc. Movers, 'Phönizier,' vol. i. p. 327 etc., 337 etc., 401.
3 • Rig Veda,' i. 1. 1, 192, iii. 1. 18, etc. ; Max Müller, vol. i. p. 39 Ward, “Hindoos,' vol. ii. p. 63.