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of the return of spring. This legend of the herald birds is one of the most widely spread and most easily understood of Asiatic myths. We can see at a glance why the white stork, on his way to the northern marshes, is regarded as a bird of good omen; why the swallow in Babylonia was the herald of good tidings; why the sad voices of the cranes flying south portended to the nymphs the approach of the Greek deluge. To watch the flight of birds from the south or the north was one of the earliest of human efforts to divine the coming seasons long before a calendar existed.

The religion-if religion it can be called-of these early migrants, was indeed primitive and childlike. Fear and hope, sorrow and joy, lay at its roots, and ignorance of all natural phenomena was the motive of blind attempts to deprecate the wrath or to secure the favour of the countless spiritual beings wherewith man saw himself surrounded. The sky to the Altaic shepherds was not an expanse of atmosphere, but an adamantine dome with windows, through which were let down the great bags or barrels containing the rain. The earth, an inverted cup, floated on the ocean under this dome, and in the horizon mountains there were 180 holes or doors towards the east, and an equal number towards the west, through which the sun came forth from the under world, or again descended thereto, soaring during the day as a great bird across the sky. The earth itself was a goddess, the mother of all. The gloomy regions beneath the world were full of feathered ghosts, which beat their wings against the walls of their prison-house, and fed in the darkness-only lighted by the red-hot orb as it passed

through the city of the dead at night-upon mire and clay; while the dust lay thick on the rusty gates, and the terrible king of hell, with his lion-headed consort, devoured the bodies of the wicked. From another point of view, this region was called "the land of no life," or "the country where there is no movement." The entrance was sometimes thought to lie in the ocean, and through it ran the river over which the dead must pass, and beside which the infernal deities found the ghosts, as it were, of those propitiatory offerings which friends of the dead had buried or burned with the corpse. Among the reeds of its banks the ghosts wandered; but the righteous were led to a place of repose where they were safe from the demons, beside the stream of the water of life, guarded by the goddess of the nether world. This is no fancy picture of early beliefs, for every touch may be verified from existing records.

The greatest, wisest, most just, and most merciful of the gods was the supreme deity of heaven and of the ocean. The old name which he bore is said to mean "the House" or "the House of Water," and he was the spirit of the great temple, the floor of which was the firmament, and dwelt also beneath the waves of the ocean. He was represented with bull's horns to signify his power, and held the great snake wherewith he lashed the waves of the sea into fury. Seated on his throne in the depths, he is shown as the judge of the wicked soul in a form half bird, half man, condemning the ghost to the prison-house beneath the earth. He also appears guiding the souls of the pious beneath the ocean to some abode of rest and peace. The power of this great spirit of heaven and ocean seems to have

been regarded as supreme over gods and demons alike.

The "three lords of justice," who also formed the principal objects of worship, were the fire, the water, and the sun. Fire the Altaic tribes had learned to produce with the fire-drill, and to hold so sacred that the fire-drill itself was a deity, or the emblem of a god. The hymns to fire are numerous among the Akkadians; and the brightness, the devouring might, the warmth, and life-giving power of the fire, are constantly celebrated. It appears that iron was never allowed to approach the flame-the fire was not to be stirred with a sword, and presumably all the pokers were of wood. This superstition, which is very widely spread still among the Tatars, and which is said to have been a Pythagorean maxim, seems to have been based either on the fear of killing a beneficent creature in the flame, or of exciting the wrath of the fire-spirit by wounding it with the sword. Curiously enough, the later Jews had a similar belief, and forbade the approach of iron to the altar fire. The fire was a purifier not only of metals, but even of human beings. It was pacified by offerings of infants burnt alive, or of captives cast into the furnace. Probably, as among the rude tribes of the west, diseased flocks were also driven through the fire, as in the case of the Needfire of German tribes. The ancient custom of ordeal by fire, common to all Asiatics, was no doubt based on this same belief in the justice of the god of flame. There is, more-. over, conclusive evidence that at the earliest times many, if not all, the Altaic tribes burned their dead, and offered slaves, wives, horses, and other property of the dead chief, upon his funeral pyre –


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wholesale suttee, of which traces still remain to the present age in China, in India, and elsewhere. The death - horse, on which the ghost was conducted by the terrible Charon of the Etruscans, may perhaps have been the ghost of his own horse so burned with his body. In one representation the goddess of hell rides on such a horse in her boat on the infernal river, and the death-horse is well known in European folk-lore.

Not less sacred than fire was water to the Altaic tribes. As the source of life, in streams, in dew, in rain, and in the springs, it was adored and propitiated. The brightness, the movement, the power, and the life-giving properties of the water, caused it to be regarded as itself alive. The only cure for sickness seems to have been to sprinkle with magic water. The only cure for death was the water of life. The temple god presided over the waters, and the moon was closely connected with water in the popular belief. Whether the difficulty which puzzled the later Zoroastrians had yet been discussed does not appear. The latter could not understand how, if water was so pure, so good, and so holy, water might yet compass the death of men by drowning; and how fire, also being so good, could also slay. It was explained by the learned that these evils were due, not to the water nor to the fire, but to independent demons who lurked in or beside the sacred elements. Probably in this early age the puzzle was solved in a simpler manner by supposing that the spirits of water and of fire might slay the offender, while extending their grace to the pious.

The third "lord of justice" was the sun, regarded as a being controlled by the power of a yet greater deity, taught to pursue an

unerring path or condemned by endless journeys to labour for man, and to fight his battle against the countless monsters of night, of winter, and of storm. By some he was thought to be a great bird, and was therefore represented, like the Persian Rukh, soaring in heaven, or with his wings cut flapping helpless in the forest by night; by some he was regarded as a hare springing from its form in the east, and coursing over the sky in a day; by some an armed warrior, called the "Friend of Man," standing with fiery weapons on the Eastern mountain, before whose face the demons of shadow and of cold fled away.


The sun was also called the son of the heaven-god, and represented as an infant new-born in spring; in summer as the hero who slays monsters and wanders over the earth; in winter as the aged, feeble, and persecuted monarch, driven from his throne and slain by his foes, or devoured by monsters. The gradual change of his place of rising was watched with anxiety from the remote days when pointer-stones were set up to mark his furthest deviation north or south; and when it was recognised that the return of summer was presaged by a return northwards of the point of sunrise, annual rejoicings accompanied the reports from these rude and early observatories (cromlechs as we call them in the West), telling that the limit of southern deviation had been reached, and that the sun again, as in former years, was beginning to rise further towards the north.

Not less anxiously, night by night, must the shepherd have watched for the first brightening of the light of dawn. The fire having gone out, the moon having set, the chill of the early morn stiffening his limbs, the terror of


darkness-so much feared by all savages-in his heart, he turned his eyes to the east where the first dim whitening of the sky might be watched. The great aurora, which has become so famous a figure in Aryan poetry, was likened by the Egyptians, just as it still is by the Hottentots, to a glorious tree with jewelled boughs growing from the mountain. At the foot of this tree they said the sun was sleeping, and through its radiant branches he climbed up-like Jack up his beanstalk-to the heavens. Chaldea they called it the "tree of light" and the "tree of Asshur." Horus is represented in Egypt climbing this tree; and the Chinese preserve the same idea, as their emblem for light was the sun on the tree-top, and for darkness the sun under the tree. Down to the middle ages this emblem of the tree of light was still a feature of popular belief. They said in the time of Alexander that the hero went eastwards till he came to the tree in which the Phoenix (the suneagle) sat, and there learned his fate. This "tree-like one" is one of the Hottentot gods; and probably the emblem is much older than that with which we are familiar in classic myths, which represents the rosy maiden preceding the chariot of the sun.

The counterpart to this eastern tree was the sunset tree of the Paradise in the west-the land of Cockaygne, or garden of the Hesperides, which in Chaldea was said to have its entrance by the door in the sea. The appearance of the sunset glow was regarded with feelings opposite to those greeting the dawn. The Egyptians and many other early peoples said that the sun was falling into a furnace, or that his blood was flowing over the sky, or that he climbed down the western tree into the region

of the dead, or burned himself upon a funeral pyre. Thus the western tree was connected with the under world, and in its branches sat the goddess of night and of fate. The idea of these two trees still influences Moslem beliefs concerning the tree of Paradise and the thorny tree of hell; and there is no known system of Asiatic belief from which they are altogether absent.


Next to the long-suffering and friendly sun, the moon was object of affectionate adoration. They called her sometimes the "lady of the horned face," sometimes the "light of earth," sometimes the " great princess Istar." They believed her to be the lover of the sun, always pursuing him through heaven and hell.

The Akkadians told of her visit to the under world when she was shorn of her crown and jewels, and at length (during the dark quarter) disappeared altogether as a prisoner of the infernal goddess. But by the Water of Life-the dew always connected with the moon -she recovered her strength, and came forth again to light the world, her jewels and her crown being one by one restored to her till her full glory was recovered.

The gentle breezes of the summer were not unnaturally thought to come from the sun, who was said by the Akkadians to breathe on the shining waters of the Euphrates; but the tempestuous wind was an unseen demon, whose blows could be felt, but whose form was hid in the dark robe of the storm-cloud. The lightning was the fiery weapon of the sungod wherewith he smote the stormdragon, whose bellowing men heard immediately after the stroke though some said it was the triumphant braying of the swift ass on which the hero was riding.

This bolt of fire - the club of Mithra or of Hercules, the hammer of Thor, the crooked serpent of the Hottentots - was regarded with awe, but yet connected with the idea of an essential fire of life on which all human or animal existence was thought to depend. Not only did the Medes and other Asiatics develop this theory of the essential spark, but it has lately been found that the Egyptians had a similar belief. The water of life and the fire of life were the spirits whom men adored in the rushing stream and the household flame.

Among the most extraordinary pieces of symbolism known to have been used by these early Asiatics was that of the ass-head, as representing a deity. There is no doubt whatever that such an emblem was used among Hittites, Egyptians, and others, in connection with the the red god Set or Sut. The same emblem comes down to us in the ass of Dionysus, in the swift ass of Indra, in thousands of popular stories such as the Donkey Cabbage-and on the gnostic representations found in Syria and in Rome. The wild ass of Asia was, however, a very different animal from the patient donkey of Europe; and the strength, the speed, and the tamelessness of the wild ass, which are celebrated in the Book of Job, are portrayed in most spirited manner on Assyrian sculptures.

Another ancient figure widely reproduced was that of mother earth, represented, like the Indian goddess, pressing streams of milk from her breast, or nursing the infant sun of the spring-time in her arms. In Troy, in Chaldea, in Syria, in Cyprus, in Egypt, mother earth is again and again so represented, though without the beauty of form and of sentiment

which the Greeks afterwards attained in reproducing her divinity. In honour of these good powers the annual festivals were celebrated with joy or with sorrow. The

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winter feast of fire celebrated the solstice; the spring and harvest rejoicings and the vintage festival were followed by the mourning for the autumn, when the leaves fell, and the cold, the rain, and the darkness began to reappear. It was perhaps not until the Altaic tribes reached Asia Minor that they began to know the vine and to drink wine, but they must very early have discovered intoxicants like the Aryan soma; and the Egyptians drank beer as well as wine. We have a very early sculpture showing the god of wine and of corn-perhaps as old as 1600 B.C. at least-near Tarsus, in Asia Minor. As early, at least, as the time of Herodotus, the Tatar peoples knew how to make the celebrated koumiss drink from mares' milk, and sprinkled libations of koumiss in their temples and houses and tents, and to the four quarters of heaven. Koumiss is said to be the most exquisite of intoxicants, and leaves no "head" next morning. That the Akkadians, however, suffered from headaches, we know from the fact that their magical texts speak of a "splitting headache" accompanying as it still does the malarious fevers in the plains of the Euphrates.

The dark side of the Altaic beliefs was represented by the terror of demons, ghosts, vampires, incubi, succubi, and all manner of fiends of the storm, the darkness, the flood, the fever, and of death or the plague. These demons they represented with the heads of tigers or wolves, with tongues hanging out of mouths armed with the fangs of wild beasts. Their bodies


were those of wolves or of cats, their hind-legs had eagles' claws, and their tails were serpents; while two or four wings added to their terrors and to their power. The demon of the hot wind has been found so represented in Chaldea, while according to other texts the demons crept into houses as serpents, or caused the beasts of the field to start and tremble with fear, and flung the callow nestlings from the trees, and lurked in the ruins to leap on men as their prey.

How to defeat demons was the great question of the day. The chief reliance was placed in the goodwill of the "Friend of Man," who chased them away. Magic potions were brewed, just as Zulu chiefs still spend their days in concocting magic broth to be sprinkled on men, on houses, or on cattle. There were also written charms in leather or metal cases, hung to the walls or round the neck-just like those which the Mahdi distributed to his soldiers; and bands of linen with written spells were bound to the limbs or forehead of the sick, driving the demon of disease gradually from the body. Stone-cut texts were built into the walls of houses, or little statues of the gods were buried under the foundations. The diseased flocks were passed through the fire, or one as a sacrifice was cast down a precipice or thrown into the river. The malignant earth-demon was pacified by a human victim to save the new building from the shock of earthquake-supposed to be due to the heaving of the shoulders of the giant below. the giant below. The knowledge of certain spells or forms of invocation which was kept as a secret by the wizards or priests, was a most powerful means of counteracting evil. Witches were hunted

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