« PreviousContinue »
records of fire-worship in Asia, is the account in Jonas Hanway's · Travels,' dating from about 1740, of the everlasting fire at the burning wells near Baku, on the Caspian. At the sacred spot stood several ancient stone temples, mostly arched vaults 10 to 15 feet high. One little temple was still used for worship, near the altar of which, about three feet high, a large hollow cane conveyed the gas up from the ground, burning at the mouth with a blue flame. Here were generally forty or fifty poor devotees, come on pilgrimage from their country to make expiation for themselves and others, and subsisting on wild celery, etc. These pilgrims are described as marking their foreheads with saffron, and having great veneration for a red cow; they wore little clothing, and the holiest of them kept one arın on their heads, or continued unmoved in some other posture; they are described as Ghebers, or Gours, the usual Moslem term for Fire-worshippers.?
In general, this name of Ghebers is applied to the Zoroastrians or Parsis, whom a modern European would all but surely point to if asked to instance a modern race of Fire-worshippers. Classical accounts of the Persian religion set down fire-worship as part and parcel of it; the Magi, it is recorded, hold the gods to be Fire and Earth and Water; and again, the Persians reckon the Fire to be a god (0coqopoiolv). On the testimony of the old religious books of the Parsis themselves, Fire, as the greatest Ized, as giver of increase and health, as craving for wood and scents and fat, seems to take the distinctest divine personality. Their doctrine that Ardebehist, the presiding angel or spirit of fire, is adored, but not the material object he belongs to, is a perfect instance of the development of the idea of an elemental divinity from that of an animated fetish. When, driven by Moslem persecution from Persia,
Parsi exiles landed in Gujarat, they described their religion in an official document as being the worship of Agni or Fire, thus claiming for themselves a place among recognized Hindu sects. In modern times, though for the most part the Parsis have found toleration and prosperity in India,, yet an oppressed remnant of the race still keeps up the everlasting fires at Yezd and Kirman, in their old Persian land. The modern Parsis, as in Strabo's time, scruple to defile the fire or blow it with their breath, they abstain from smoking out of regard not to themselves but to the sacred element, and they keep up consecrated ever-burning fires before which they do worship. Nevertheless, Prof. Max Müller is able to say of the Parsis of our own day: “ The so-called Fire-worshippers certainly do not worship the fire, and they naturally object to a name which seems to place them on a level with mere idolators. All they admit is, that in their youth they are taught to face some luminous object while worshipping God, and that they regard the fire, like other great natural phenomena, as an emblem of the Divine power. But they assure us that they never ask assistance or blessings from an unintelligent material object, nor is it even considered necessary to turn the face to any emblem whatever in praying to Ormuzd.” 2 Now, admitting this view of fire-worship as true of the more intelligent Parsis, and leaving aside the question how far among the more ignorant this symbolism may blend (as in such cases is usual) into actual adoration, we may ask what is the history of ceremonies which thus imitate, yet are not, fire-worship. The ethnographic answer is clear and instructive. The Parsi is the descendant of a race in this respect represented by the modern Hindu, a race who did simply and actually worship Fire. But the development of the more philosophic Zarathustrian doctrines has led to a result common in the history of religion, that the ancient distinctly
meant rite has dwindled to a symbol, to be preserved with changed sense in a new theology
Somewhat of the same kind may have taken place among the European race who seem in some respects the closest relatives of the old Persians. Slavonic history possibly keeps up some trace of direct and absolute fire-worship, as where in Bohemia the Pagans are described as worshipping fires, groves, trees, stones. But though the Lithuanians and Old Prussians and Russians are among the nations whose especial rite it was to keep up sacred everlasting fires, yet it seems that their fire-rites were in the symbolic stage, ceremonies of their great celestial-solar religion, rather than acts of direct worship to a Fire-god. Classical religion, on the other hand, brings prominently into view the special deities of fire. Hephaistos, Vulcan, the divine metallurgist who had his temples on Ætna and Lipari, stands in especial connexion with the subterranean volcanic fire, and combines the nature of the Polynesian Mahuika and the Circassian Tleps. The Greek Hestia, the divine hearth, the evervirgin venerable goddess, to whom Zeus gave fair office instead of wedlock, sits in the midst of the house, receiving fat :
« Τη δε πατήρ Ζευς δώκε καλόν γέρας αντί γάμοιο,
Και τε μέσω οίκω κατ' άρ' έζετο πλαρ έλουσα.”
In Greek civil life, Hestia sat in house and assembly as
representative of domestic and social order. Like her in name and origin, but not altogether in development, is Vesta with her ancient Roman cultus, and her retinue of virgins to keep up her pure eternal fire in her temple, needing no image, for she herself dwelt within :
“Esse diu stultus Vesta simulacra putavi:
Mox didici curvo nulla subesse tholo.
Effigiem nullam Vesta nec ignis habet.” 1 The last lingering relics of fire-worship in Europe reach us, as usual, both through Turanian and Aryan channels of folklore. The Esthonian bride consecrates her new hearth and home by an offering of money cast into the fire, or laid on the oven for Tule-ema, Fire-mother. The Carinthian peasant will “ fodder” the fire to make it kindly, and throw lard or dripping to it, that it may not burn his house. To the Bohemian it is a godless thing to spit into the fire, “God's fire ” as he calls it. It is not right to throw away the crumbs after a meal, for they belong to the fire. Of every kind of dish some should be given to the fire, and if some runs over it is wrong to scold, for it belongs to the fire. It is because these rites are now so neglected that harmful fires so ofter break out.
What the Sea is to Water-worship, in some measure the Sun is to Fire-worship. From the doctrines and rites of earthly fire, various and ambiguous in character, generalized from many phenomena, applied to many purposes, we pass to the religion of heavenly fire, whose great deity has a perfect definiteness from his embodiment in one great individual fetish, the Sun.
Rivalling in power and glory the all-encompassing Heaven, the Sun moves eminent among the deities of nature, no mere cosmic globe affecting distant material worlds by force
i Ovid. Fast. vi. 295. • Boecler, “Ehsten Abergl. Gebr.' p. 29, etc. 3 Wuttke, Volksabergl.' p. 86. Gröhmann, "Aberglauben aus Böhmen,'
in the guise of light and heat and gravity, but a living reigning Lord :
“O thou, that with surpassing glory crown'd,
Look'st from thy sole dominion like the God
It is no exaggeration to say, with Sir William Jones, that one great fountain of all idolatry in the four quarters of the globe was the veneration paid by men to the sun : it is no more than an exaggeration to say with Mr. Helps of the sun-worship in Peru, that it was inevitable. Sun-worship is by no means universal among the lower races of mankind, but manifests itself in the upper levels of savage religion in districts far and wide over the earth, often assuming the prominence which it keeps and develops in the faiths of the barbaric world. Why some races are sun-worshippers and others not, is indeed too hard a question to answer in general terms. Yet one important reason is obvious, that the Sun is not so evidently the god of wild hunters and fishers, as of the tillers of the soil, who watch him day by day giving or taking away their wealth and their very life. On the geographical significance of sun-worship, D'Orbigny has made a remark, suggestive if not altogether sound, connecting the worship of the sun not so much with the torrid regions where his glaring heat oppresses man all day long, and drives him to the shade for refuge, as with climates where his presence is welcomed for his life-giving heat, and nature chills at his departure. Thus while the low sultry forests of South America show little prominence of Sun-worship, this is the dominant organized cultus of the high table-lands of Peru and Cundinamarca. The theory is ingenious, and if not carried too far may often be supported. We may well compare the feelings with which the sun-worshipping Massagete of Tartary must have sacrificed their horses to the deity who freed them from the miseries of winter, with the thoughts of men in those burn
? D'Orbigny, ‘L'Homme Américain,' vol. i. p. 242.