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Snake Indians of America, and on the other of the Ophiogenes or Serpent-race of the Troad, kindred of the vipers whose bite they could cure by touch, and descendants of an ancient hero transformed into a snake.1
Serpents hold a prominent place in the religions of the world, as the incarnations, shrines, or symbols of high deities. Such were the rattlesnake worshipped in the Natchez temple of the Sun, and the snake belonging in name and figure to the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl ; ? the snake as worshipped still by the Slave Coast negro, not for itself but for its indwelling deity;3 the snake kept and fed with milk in the temple of the old Slavonic god Potrimpos ;* the serpent-symbol of the healing deity Asklepios, who abode in or manifested himself through the huge tame snakes kept in his temples 5 (it is doubtful whether this had any original connexion with the adoption of the snake, from its renewal by casting its old slough, as the accepted emblem of new life or immortality in later symbolism); and lastly, the Phænician serpent with its tail in its mouth, symbol of the world and of the Heaven-god Taaut, in its original meaning probably a mythic world-snake like the Scandinavian Midgard-worm, but in the changed fancy of later ages adapted into an emblem of eternity. It scarcely seems proved that savage races, in all their mystic contemplations of the serpent, ever developed out of their own minds the idea, to us so familiar, of adopting it as a personification of evil.7 In ancient times, we may ascribe this character perhaps to the monster whose well-known form is to be seen on the mummy-cases, the Apophis-serpent of the Egyptian
1 Strabo, xiii, 1, 14. ? J. G. Müller, ‘Amer. Urrel.' pp. 62, 585. 3 J. B. Schlegel, “Ewe-Sprache,' p. xiv. 4 Hanusch, 'Slaw. Myth.' p. 217. 5 Pausan. ii. 28 ; Ælian. xvi. 39. See Welcker, "Griech, Götterl.' vol. ii.
6 Macrob. Saturnal. i. 9. Movers, Phönizier,' vol. i. p. 500.
7 Details such as in Schoolcraft, ‘Ind. Tribes,' part i. pp. 38, 414, may be ascribed to Christian intercourse. Sce Brinton, p. 121.
Hades ; 1 and it unequivocally belongs to the Wicked Serpent of the Zarathustrians, Aji Dahaka, a figure which bears so remarkable a relation to that of the Semitic serpent of Eden, which may possibly stand in historical connexion with it. A wondrous blending of the ancient rites of Ophiolatry with mystic conceptions of Gnosticism appears in the cultus which tradition (in truth or slander) declares the semiChristian sect of Ophites to have rendered to their tame snake, enticing it out of its chest to coil round the sacramental bread, and worshipping it as representing the great king from heaven who in the beginning gave to the man and woman the knowledge of the mysteries. Thus the extreme types of religious veneration, from the soberest matter-of-fact to the dreamiest mysticism, find their places in the worship of animals. *
Hitherto in the study of animistic doctrine, our attention has been turned especially to those minor spirits whose functions concern the closer and narrower detail of man's life and its surroundings. In passing thence to the consideration of divine beings whose functions have a wider scope, the transition may be well made through a special group. An acute remark of Auguste Comte's calls attention to an important process of theological thought, which we may here endeavour to bring as clearly as possible before our minds. In his “ Philosophie Positive,” he defines deities proper as differing by their general and abstract character from pure fetishes (i. e., animated objects), the humble fetish governing but a single object from which it is inseparable, while the gods administer a special order of phenomena at once in different bodies. When, he con
Lepsius, 'Todtenbuch' and Birch's transl. in Bunsen's ' Egypt,' vol. v.
Spiegel, “Avesta,'tr. by Bleek, vol. ii. p. 51, vol. iii. p. 35. 3 Epiphan. Adv. Hæres. xxxvii. Tertullian. De Præscript. contra Hæreticos, 47.
4 Further collections of evidence relating to Zoolatry in general may be found in Bastian, “Das Thier in seiner mythologischen Bedeutung,' in Bastian and Hartmann's · Zeitschrift für Ethnologie,' vol. i. ; Meiners, • Geschichte der Religionen,' vol. i.
tinues, the similar vegetation of the different oaks of a forest led to a theological generalization from their common phenomena, the abstract being thus produced was no longer the fetish of a single tree, but became the god of the forest; here, then, is the intellectual passage from fetishism to polytheism, reduced to the inevitable preponderance of specific over individual ideas. Now this observation of Comte's may be more immediately applied to a class of divine beings which may be accurately called species-deities. It is highly suggestive to study the crude attempts of barbaric theology to account for the uniformity observed in large classes of objects, by making this generalization from individual to specific ideas. To explain the existence of what we call a species, they would refer it to a common ancestral stock, or to an original archetype, or to a speciesdeity, or they combined these conceptions. For such speculations, classes of plants and animals offered perhaps an early and certainly an easy subject. The uniformity of each kind not only suggested a common parentage, but also the notion that creatures so wanting in individuality, with qualities so measured out as it were by line and rule, might. not be independent arbitrary agents, but mere copies from a common model, or mere instruments used by controlling deities. Thus in Polynesia, as has been just mentioned, certain species of animals were considered as incarnations of certain deities, and among the Samoans we learn that the question as to the individuality of such creatures was actually asked and answered. If, for instance, a village god were accustomed to appear as an owl, and one of his votaries found a dead owl by the roadside, he would mourn over the sacred bird and bury it with much ceremony, but the god himself would not be thought to be dead, for he remains incarnate in all existing owls.
existing owls. According to Father Geronimo Boscana, the Acagchemen tribe of Upper California furnish a curious parallel to this notion. They
· Comte, ‘Philosophie Positive,' vol. v. p. 101.
worshipped the “panes” bird, which seems to have been an eagle or vulture, and each year, in the temple of each village, one of them was solemnly killed without shedding blood, and the body burned. Yet the natives maintained and believed that it was the same individual bird they sacrificed each year, and more than this, that the same bird was slain by each of the villages. Among the comparatively cultured Peruvians, Acosta describes another theory of celestial archetypes. Speaking of star-deities, he says that shepherds venerated a certain star called Sheep, another star called Tiger protected men from tigers, etc.: “And generally, of all the animals and birds there are on the earth, they believed that a like one lived in heaven, in whose charge were their procreation and increase, and thus they accounted of divers stars, such as that they call Chacana, and Topatorca, and Mamana, and Mizco, and Miquiquiray, and other such, so that in a manner it appears that they were drawing towards the dogma of the Platonic ideas." 2 The North American Indians also have speculated as to the common ancestors or deities of species. One missionary notes down their idea as he found it in 1634. “They say, moreover, that all the animals of each species have an elder brother, who is as it were the principle and origin of all the individuals, and this elder brother is marvellously great and powerful. The elder brother of the beavers, they told me, is perhaps as large as our cabin." Another early account is that each species of animals has its archetype in the land of souls; there exists, for example, a manitu or archetype of all oxen, which animates all oxen. Here, again, occurs a noteworthy correspondence with the ideas of a distant
In Buyán, the island paradise of Russian myth, there
1 Brinton, 'Myths of New World,' p. 105.
2 Acosta, “Historia de las Indias,' book v. c. iv. ; Rivero & Tschudi, pp. 161, 179; J. G. Müller, p. 365.
3 Le Jeune in “Rel. des Jes. dans la Nouvelle France,'1634, p.13. Lafitau, • Meurs des Sauvages,' vol. i. p. 370. See also Waitz, vol. iii. p. 194 ; Schoolcraft, part iii. p. 327.
are to be found the Snake older than all snakes, and the prophetic Raven, elder brother of all ravens, and the Bird, the largest and oldest of all birds, with iron beak and copper claws, and the Mother of Bees, eldest among bees. Morgan's comparatively modern account of the Iroquois mentions their belief in a spirit of each species of trees and plants, as of oak, hemlock, maple, whortleberry, raspberry, spearmint, tobacco; most objects of nature being thus under the care of protecting spirits. The doctrine of such species-deities is perhaps nowhere more definitely stated than by Castrén in his “ Finnish Mythology.” In his description of the Siberian nature-worship, the lowest level is exemplified by the Samoyeds, whose direct worship of natural objects for themselves may perhaps indicate the original religious condition of the whole Turanian race. But the doctrine of the comparatively cultured heathen Finns was at a different stage. Here every object in nature has a “haltia,” a guardian deity or genius, a being which was its creator and thenceforth became attached to it. These deities or genii are, however, not bound to each single transitory object, but are free personal beings which have movement, form, body, and soul. Their existence in no wise depends on the existence of the individual objects, for although no object in nature is without its guardian deity, this deity extends to the whole race or species. This ash-tree, this stone, this house, has indeed its particular “haltia,” yet these same “haltiat” concern themselves with other ash-trees, stones, and houses, of which the individuals may perish, but their presiding genii live on in the species. It seems as though some similar view ran through the doctrine of more civilized races, as in the well-known
Ralston, “Songs of the Russian People,' p. 375. The Slavonic myth of Buyán, with its dripping oak and the snake Garafena lying beneath, is. obviously connected with the Scandinavian myth of the dripping ash, Yggdrasill, the snake Nidhögg below, and the two Swans of the Urdhar-fount, parents of all swans.
Morgan, 'Iroquois,' p. 162. 3 Castrén, 'Finn. Myth.' pp. 106, 160, 189, etc.